Commentary

The case for wearing two masks

At President Joe Biden's inauguration last week, many viewers were keen to notice Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) mittens. But there was another inauguration fashion accessory sported by many that caught eyes: politicians donning not one, but two masks. The practice was quickly dubbed "double-masking." Indeed, former South Bend mayor and Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg wore two facemasks, a white one beneath a cloth black one. His spouse, Chasten, sported a double-masked look as well.

Anecdotally, I have noticed more people opting to wear two masks instead of one in the Bay Area, which raises the question: Is two better than one?

On Monday, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in on double-masking, stating, "it just makes common sense."

"If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective," Fauci said. "That's the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95."

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to officially recommend double-masking — and scientists who have been studying the coronavirus and its mitigation strategies tell Salon it's unnecessary for them to do so, for now, for a number of reasons. One being, that while it may be "common sense," the issue is nuanced. That's partly because the effectiveness of double-masking largely depends on the material of the masks, and how that material compares to the material of one really effective mask.

"More layers is probably better, that does make sense . . . if a droplet gets through one layer maybe you'll be stopped by the next layer — that to me is logical," said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Davis. "But of course it would also depend on the material, and then the coverage of the mask."

For example, one N95 mask is better than two cloth masks.

Dr. John Volckens, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University, said that the take home message is certainly "any mask is helpful," but agreed that "double masking" is better than one because of the quality of masks that most of the public is wearing. Studies show the best protection against the coronavirus is an N95 mask. However, they are in short supply and prioritized for healthcare workers. Not only are N95 masks hard to come by, but they need to be professionally fitted to one's face to ensure a tight seal. When this happens, the mask can block 95 percent of very small particles— hence, the name. Even a "suboptimal" fit though can block more than 90 percent of small particles, according to research published before the pandemic. This is why healthcare workers wear N95 masks, which are often accompanied by face shields. But the public isn't wearing N95 masks—they're either wearing cloth masks, or disposable surgical ones.

"A lot of masks that I see out in the wild don't fit very well on people's faces, there are gaps in them, and this is especially true of those blue surgical masks," Volckens said. "Those aren't meant to seal against the face, and if they don't seal against your face, then they leak."

Volckens said after wearing an N95, a person has a ring around their face like they've been snorkeling. That's because the mask has created a seal around that person's face, protecting them from 95 percent of aerosols. Yet that doesn't happen when a person wears either a surgical mask or a cloth mask—there are gaps and leaks on the sides.

"Double masking is a way to combat that lack of protection," Volkens said, "because you have a good mask as the bottom layer like one of those blue surgical masks. The filters in those masks are protective, but they're not allowed to do their job if they're leaking on the side," he continued. "So the second mask you put on holds that filter closer to your face, and provides for a better seal."

The second mask, Volckens said, should be anything that helps press the first one around your face more tightly. He added that the second layer of protection could even be a "mask fitter" or "mask sealer" that holds the mask more tightly around a person's face.

While cloth masks aren't as effective as N95 masks in protecting the person wearing them and other people, they do provide a layer of protection that can have a profound public health impact on a community. For example, a study published in Health Affairs compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers found that mask mandates led to a reduction in daily COVID-19 cases; after five days, the growth rate declined by 0.9 percent. At three weeks, the daily growth rate slowed by 2 percentage points.

"A bad mask is better than no mask at all," Volkens emphasized.

Epidemiologist George Rutherford, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco, agreed that the more layers you have, the better. Rutherford emphasized that the public wears masks for three reasons.

"The first one is because 60 percent of people who transmit are asymptomatic when they're at their most infectious, the second is we also want to protect ourselves," Rutherford said. "And then the third is if people do manage to get infected, despite wearing masks, you probably get infected with smaller inoculums, fewer viral particles, and as a result they get less sick."

Rutherford said that wearing two masks is especially a good idea when you're on public transportation, or in any situation where can't control the people around you. But don't expect double masking to be a singular means to get us out of this pandemic— so as long as many people continue to refuse to wear masks.

"I'd rather spend my time getting people to wear masks who aren't wearing masks," he said. "Rather than getting people to wear double masks."

Trump's radicalized followers must be forced to see who he really is

Donald Trump is gone. Jan. 20 has come and gone. Joe Biden is our 46th president and Kamala Harris is our vice president. Celebration has been on display and our democracy is breathing easier.

But our glow of hopefulness will inevitably be dampened by the penetrating darkness of the past four years. The aftermath of Donald Trump is before us. And it cannot be avoided. For example, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and several other members of the "sedition caucus" are still in Congress and stand as a constant reminder of how much accountability and healing must still occur.

Many of us are at high risk for the development of trauma, stress-related and anxiety-related symptoms (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD). We have been subjected to physical and psychological abuse by the now-departed president. The sickness and death associated with the coronavirus pandemic has been catastrophic. Our crippled economy has created widespread depression and anxiety. Trump's racism, xenophobia, misogyny, nativism, white supremacy, violence and incitement of insurrection have all been traumatic forces as well.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms are increasingly evident among us: distressing and intrusive thoughts, anxiety, worry, fear, flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, disturbed sleep and more. These symptoms occur most notably in those with close proximity to the horrific nature of the deadly disease, such as first responders, medical providers and friends and families of victims. All are due to the impact of a cruel and corrupt leader who harmed us after swearing to be our protector. Much like a domestic abuser, Trump deceived, betrayed and mistreated us.

Beyond that, millions of Americans continue to view Trump as their beloved cult leader — even though he has been defeated, disgraced and repudiated. Trump's followers have been radicalized by the cumulative effects of his lies, conspiracy theories, magical thinking and fake narratives. Americans were bombarded with misinformation and propaganda. As a result, there are many passionate supporters who, at least until now, have refused to allow facts and the truth to shape their perceptions of their leader. Trump's demagoguery and fear-mongering has worked.

Donald Trump is a proven traitor — at least in the colloquial sense, and perhaps the legal sense as well — who spent four years disavowing the Constitution, attacking our democracy and abusing the public. He must be prosecuted and punished for his misdeeds and malfeasance.

We know that victims of abuse are better able to recover their self-esteem and hopefulness when abusers are held to account and victim safety is assured. Victims often feel unheard, misunderstood and unloved because their horrific experiences are minimized or not believed altogether. Prosecution of the abuser can go a long way to validate the intrinsic worth of the victim, and to help recapture positive mental health.

So, in a very real way, prosecution of Donald Trump is necessary for individual Americans to heal from their psychological distress and trauma and to feel liberated and positive going forward.

In a similar vein, the radicalization of Trump supporters can be deprogrammed if they see him being prosecuted and punished for his nefarious acts. He must be exposed for who he is — a con man whose cruelty, indifference and anti-democratic leanings were unleashed on the public. The realization of Trump's menace might help sweep away the false view of him as an esteemed leader. For some, this realization began last Wednesday, as President Biden was sworn in and Trump's supporters realized that their delusional belief in an ongoing Trump reign was shattered.

Dealing with the maliciousness and destructiveness of Donald Trump has begun. His oxygen of attention has been taken away. He has been banned from social media platforms. He is being ostracized and purged in most circles. But more than that, he must be prosecuted and punished for his transgressions against America and its people. He cannot simply be given a free pass because he is finally out of office. This would convey a dangerous message. We cannot stick our heads in the sand when abuse and radicalization have run rampant.

It appears that Trump is already considering another presidential run in 2024. Such is an unfathomable proposition in light of his past four years of abuse, death and insurrection. His lack of shame and remorse is appalling — but in no way surprising.

Trump must be convicted in the Senate for his second impeachment offense. He must be banned from future elected office as well. We must send a clear message to him and to all other future or potential presidential candidates that corrupt and criminal behavior will not be tolerated. We will not be abused all over again.

It will take time for us to heal, but that will happen more quickly and completely if prosecution and punishment is meted out to Donald Trump. In a democracy, no person is above the law. We must all be held accountable for our actions. Especially someone who misused and debased the highest office in the land, and whose reign of terror has traumatized us all.

How Chuck Schumer sent McConnell a 'calculated reminder' — and proved he has the upper hand

Some liberals said after the 2016 election that Nancy Pelosi was the worst person to lead the resistance to Donald Trump's authoritarian reign. Turns out, they were wrong. Pelosi was exactly the leader America needed. She handed his ass to him every time they negotiated. She led two historic impeachments against him. She held her caucus together through thick and thin. The doubters were once loud. Now, they're quiet.

The same thing can't yet be said of Chuck Schumer. I suspect liberals doubt the new Senate majority leader more than they ever did the House speaker. Monday, for instance, saw an intense debate over how to organize the Senate that rose to a feverish pitch until it broke all of a sudden. The outcome suggests Schumer is on the same trajectory as Pelosi once was. The doubters are loud, but they may soon be quieted.

The outcome of last night's stand-off suggests Schumer is on the same trajectory as Nancy Pelosi once was.

With twin victories in Georgia, the Democrats control the Senate. Control depends, however, on the Senate president breaking ties. Kamala Harris, as the vice president, has other duties. (She can't be running from the White House to the Senate to settle every dispute.) So Schumer and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, have to establish rules and procedures to determine who does what, etc. Until last night, the Senate was at a stand-still. The leaders could not agree. Meanwhile, the old rules still applied. Despite everything, the Senate Republicans remained functionally in charge.

That pissed off a lot of liberals. Some said Stacey Abrams had not moved heaven and earth to turn Georgia blue and flip the United States Senate just so Schumer could act squishy. But he wasn't. His first priority, naturally, is getting his caucus members set up with their respective committees. That couldn't happen until McConnell agreed to proceed. McConnell refused until Schumer guaranteed the Democrats would not kill the filibuster, the rule giving the minority veto power. Schumer said no dice. Killing it is totally on the table. That's where things stood until McConnell caved last night.

Why did he cave? It's hard to say for sure. It might be because two conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they opposed killing the filibuster. (McConnell cited their remarks Monday in claiming a "win.") But it might be as Amee Vanderpool argued today—that McConnell caved as a result of Schumer sending a message of some kind during an interview with Rachel Maddow. "We have ways to deal with him," Schumer said. Even before the interview finished airing last night, McConnell folded. "It is apparent," Vanderpool said, "that the final blow was executed by Majority Leader Schumer in his calculated reminder, that appeared to be directly aimed at and done for the benefit of Mitch McConnell."

You could say McConnell didn't cave. He won. He got two Democrats to kneecap their own caucus, clearing the way for McConnell to sabotage Joe Biden's agenda just like he did Barack Obama's. This appears to be true, but appearances can be deceiving. First, assurances mean little. Schumer runs the floor, not Manchin and Sinema. Two, assurances can be reversed. Three, they probably will be when the GOP inevitably abuses the filibuster. While McConnell might appear to have won, in truth, he played the only hand he had. His only hope for success is two Democrats standing against a Democratic president's popular agenda in order to protect an obscure Senate rule. Are Manchin and Sinema going to oppose $2,000 in covid relief to defend the filibuster?

Vanderpool speculated what Schumer's "calculated reminder" might be. "He could have inside information about McConnell's plan to have Democrats convict Trump in the Senate for him, so that he continues to keep his hands clean. Or, Democrats might be planning to pass legislation curtailing campaign finance that would limit the GOP and McConnell substantially. Maybe there is some incriminating evidence against McConnell, that we still don't know about, that could greatly implicate him in something big, from which he can't easily escape." (Read her newsletter here.)

Whatever it was, it was wily, it worked, and it's a reminder of another kind. Schumer labored under Pelosi's shadow for four years. He labored under McConnell's. Either he seemed weak one way or he seemed weak another. That wasn't fair. (Schumer deserved more credit than he got.) But that was his cross to bear. As the new majority leader, he must find ways to instill trust in liberals—and he is. Last night, he told Maddow the Democrats would no longer trust the Republicans to act in good faith! (He said his party will not repeat the mistakes they made during the Obama years.) And last night, the man most responsible for that bad faith surrendered. It's time to trust Chuck.

'Pro-insurrection' Marco Rubio goes down in flames for calling impeachment a 'waste of time'

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called impeachment a "waste of time," and he was drowned in fury and ridicule for sucking up to former president Donald Trump.

The Florida Republican made clear he would not vote to convict Trump for inciting a violent insurrection Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol in a last-ditch effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's election win.

"Waste of time impeachment isn't about accountability," Rubio tweeted. "It's about demands from vengeance from the radical left. And a new 'show' for the 'Political Entertainment Industry.'"


Rubio's tweet was swiftly condemned by other social media users.
























Corporations' newfound concern about democracy is bunk: Robert Reich

The sudden lurch from Trump to Biden is generating vertigo all over Washington, including the so-called fourth branch of government – CEOs and their army of lobbyists.

Notwithstanding Biden's ambitious agenda, dozens of giant corporations have said they will not donate to the 147 members of Congress who objected to the certification of Biden electors on the basis of Trump's lies about widespread fraud, which rules out most Republicans on the Hill.

After locking down Trump's account, social media giants like Twitter and Facebook are policing against instigators of violence and hate, which hobbles Republican lawmakers trying to appeal to Trump voters.

As a result of moves like these, CEOs are being hailed – and hailing themselves – as guardians of democracy. The New York Times praises business leaders for seeking "stability and national unity." Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, says "our voice is seen as more important than ever." A recent study by Edelman finds the public now trusts business more than nonprofit organizations, the government or the media.

Give me a break. For years, big corporations have been assaulting democracy with big money, drowning out the voices and needs of ordinary Americans and fueling much of the anger and cynicism that opened the door to Trump in the first place.

Their assault hasn't been as dramatic as the Trump thugs who stormed the Capitol, and it's entirely legal – although more damaging over the long term.

A study published a few years ago by two of America's most respected political scientists, Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin Page, concluded that the preferences of the average American "have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy." Instead, lawmakers respond almost exclusively to the moneyed interests – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

The capture of government by big business over the last several decades has infuriated average Americans whose paychecks have gone nowhere even as the stock market has soared.

The populist movements that fueled both Bernie Sanders and Trump began in the 2008 financial crisis when Wall Street got bailed out and no major bank executive went to jail, although millions of ordinary people lost their jobs, savings and homes.

So now, in wake of Trump's calamitous exit and Biden's ascension, we're to believe CEOs care about democracy?

"No one thought they were giving money to people who supported sedition," explained Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase and chairman of the Business Roundtable, referring to the disgraced Republicans.

Yet Dimon has been a leader of the more insidious form of sedition. He piloted the corporate lobbying campaign for the Trump tax cut, deploying a vast war chest of corporate donations.

For more than a decade Dimon has driven Wall Street's charge against stricter bank regulation, opening bipartisan doors in the Capitol with generous gifts from the Street. (Dimon calls himself a Democrat.)

When Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg shut Trump's Facebook account, he declared "you just can't have a functioning democracy without a peaceful transition of power."

Where was Zuckerberg's concern for a "functioning democracy" when he amplified Trump's lies for four years?

After taking down Trump's Twitter account, CEO Jack Dorsey expressed discomfort about "the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation."

Spare me. Dorsey has fought off all attempts to limit Twitter's power over the "global conversation." He shuttered Trump only after Democrats secured the presidency and control of the Senate.

Look, I'm glad CEOs are penalizing the 147 Republican seditionists and that Big Tech is starting to police social media content.

But don't confuse the avowed concerns of these CEOs about democracy with democracy itself. They aren't answerable to democracy. At most, they're accountable to big shareholders and institutional investors who don't give a fig as long as profits keep rolling in.

If they were committed to democracy, CEOs of big corporations would permanently cease corporate donations to all candidates, close their PACs, stop giving to secretive "dark money" groups, and discourage donations by their executives.

They'd stop placing ads in media that have weaponized disinformation – including Fox News, Infowars, Newsmax and websites affiliated with right-wing pundits. Social media giants would start acting like publishers and take responsibility for what they promulgate.

If corporate America were serious about democracy it would throw its weight behind the "For the People Act," the first bills of the new Congress, offering public financing of elections among other reforms.

Don't hold your breath.

Joe Biden intends to raise corporate taxes, increase the minimum wage, break up Big Tech, and strengthen labor unions.

The fourth branch is already amassing a war chest for the fight.

How Joe Biden is proving he won't hesitate to use his power to undo Trump's damage

On day one of his presidency, Joe Biden signed numerous executive orders to undo his predecessor's "deeply inhumane" anti-immigrant policies. These included reversing the "Muslim ban," ensuring non-citizens are counted in the census, pulling back on the harsh deportation priorities of the past four years, and cutting off funds to Donald Trump's most vaunted border wall with Mexico. For many among us who feared that Biden would hesitate to use his presidential power to undo Trump's damage, these actions offer immediate vindication of the idea that there is indeed a difference to the lives of marginalized human beings between having a Democrat versus a Republican in the White House.

Anticipating Biden's executive actions on immigration, the Trump administration created some potentially difficult hurdles to Biden's agenda, via a series of so-called Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment (SAFE) agreements between a handful of states and the Department of Homeland Security, which signed them during Trump's final days in office. These agreements require cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies and require a 180-day notice of intent to terminate. It was Trump's parting shot to a nation that uses and abuses immigrant labor, revenue, culture, and other benefits.

But President Biden has not restricted himself to executive actions on immigration. He has sent an outline of a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress for consideration that has as its centerpiece a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented residents of the nation. It is a bold move but precisely the correct one in a nation reeling from four toxic years of Donald Trump. Given that Trump rode into office on the winds of anti-immigrant hate that he vigorously fanned during his campaign, it is fitting that Biden begins his term by undoing the damage by whatever means he can—legislative and executive action.

With a view to the long-term problems of immigration, Biden's proposed bill includes a mechanism for immigrants registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to immediately apply for legal residency if they meet certain work or educational criteria. Those enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, as well as farmworkers, will also be eligible for the same. Others in the nation without papers as of January 1, 2021, would have a five-year pathway to legal residency if they pay their taxes and pass a background check, and then have the option of pursuing citizenship three years later.

It will not be an easy task to pass such a bill. For decades, congressional failure to tackle immigration reform has stemmed from a toxic recipe that includes one-part Republican intransigence and one-part Democratic spinelessness. Those two forces have worked in tandem to ensure the nation marches ever-rightward. Democrats will need to adopt the combative and aggressive posture that Republicans do when they cut safety net programs or hand more money to billionaires.

As if on cue, Republicans denounced the bill before they had even read it. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called it "blanket amnesty," while Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas denounced it as "total amnesty." Iowa senator and top-ranking Republican Chuck Grassley echoed the same, calling it "mass amnesty," and a "nonstarter." Even Trump's former White House adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of the cruelest anti-immigrant policies of the past four years, and who by all rights ought to disappear from public view in shame, had the audacity to speak out against the bill.

When Republican critics of the Biden immigration plan use the word "amnesty" to refer to an arduous pathway to citizenship, they are already playing hardball. By characterizing the plan in these terms, they are once more playing into nativist sentiments in the American public to stoke mass resentment and imply that those breaking U.S. law will simply be forgiven without consequence. It is the same dangerous impulses that gave rise to Trump.

If anything, the word "amnesty" when used in relation to immigrants ought to be associated most directly with the GOP demigod Ronald Reagan, whose signature on a sweeping immigration bill helped nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants. In order to reconcile the cognitive dissonance on Reagan's mythical status and their racist anti-immigrant hate, conservatives turned to their favorite pastime: claiming the opposite is true. In a 2013 op-ed, Cotton claimed that Reagan considered the bill to be "the biggest mistake of his presidency." More recently, former Arizona state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward echoed the same, saying it was Reagan's "biggest regret." It was not.

A researcher with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative organization, wrote on the far-right website the Daily Caller that the claim of Reagan's regret is built on hearsay and concluded that "Reagan would understand that his law failed to stop illegal immigration, not because we allowed people to stay, but because we refused to allow more to come." He added, "in his farewell address, he said he wanted an America 'open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.' That doesn't sound like regret to me."

Indeed, various times over many years, Republicans have openly backed immigration reform that offered pathways to citizenship. "The reason we have Donald Trump as a nominee today is because we as Republicans have failed on this issue," said former Republican congressman Raúl Labrador, a Tea Party conservative who was one of the "gang of eight," a bipartisan group of lawmakers who came tantalizingly close to pushing through comprehensive immigration reform during President Barack Obama's second term. Even Fox News' virulently nativist host Sean Hannity said nearly a decade ago, "If people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done."

The Trump presidency revealed just what is wrought when anti-immigrant sentiment infuses the ideology of a political party. By any ethical standard, the GOP ought to have been cowed after four years of shamelessly backing a president openly seething with a hatred for nonwhites and who after fanning the flames of racism for years guided his white supremacist mob to attack the Capitol itself. But Republicans have proven over and over again that there is no depth to which they will not fall to declare self-righteous shock at the barest hint of progress if it is under Democratic leadership. Regardless of political brinkmanship, the well-being, safety and security of millions of human beings are at stake, people who are forced to exist in the margins of a society that is content with exploiting them indefinitely.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

It's time to treat Republican officials like children

I think children understand justice better than most members of the Republican Party. I think they would understand better than pretty much any grownup that something serious is missing from the debate over the former president's crimes, his pending trial in the U.S. Senate, and the complicity of some of his fellow Republicans.

Right now, most of us insist that truth is a necessary precondition to unity. In other words, if all the Republicans who said, or implied, that Joe Biden stole the election concede the truth—which is that Donald Trump lost fair and square—then we can have unity. That's not enough. We can't see it, though. We're too focused on insisting the Republicans tell the truth. Fact is, lying is an injury. It's going to take more than accepting the truth to restore trust in the Republicans. It's going to take an apology.

The republic can't endure without the truth. It can't endure without justice either. But the Republicans want peace without it. They want unity without it. They want you to trust them without having done the work to restore your trust.

Look, when my 9-year-old hurts a friend's feelings, she knows there are three steps toward reconciliation. One, accept the truth. She hurt a friend. Yes, she didn't mean to. But she did. Now she needs to accept the fact of her friend's hurt feelings. She needs to accept that—if she values their friendship. If she does not, well, then we need to talk.

Two, ask for forgiveness. In asking, my daughter is demonstrating understanding and acceptance of the truth. Her friend's feelings are real. They are legitimate. And she is accountable for her actions. Her friend may not forgive her. Their friendship might not survive. But that's not in my daughter's power. What is is accepting responsibility.

Three, say sorry. In saying sorry, my daughter is affirming that her interests are equal to their friendship, but at the same time, her interests do not supersede their mutual interest. Friendship isn't about what one person can do for another, but what we can do for each other, and most importantly, what we can do together in unity. In saying sorry, she is recognizing the reality of a third entity worthy of respect: me, you and us.

This, apparently, needs to be said for the benefit of some Republicans who continue to insist, or imply childishly, that Trump was wronged in some way, and that their efforts are honest and noble instead of what they are, which is malicious and treasonable. My child, like many children, understands the moral character of the body politic better than most of the GOP. The republic can't endure without the truth. It can't endure without justice either. But the Republicans want peace without it. They want unity without it. They want you to trust them without having worked to restore your trust.

But why should they? We aren't demanding it. So far, the only demand is that they stop denying the truth. Rand Paul, the fascist senator from Kentucky, was on ABC's "This Week." George Stephanopoulos asked Paul if he believed that Biden won fair and square. Paul declined. The more he was asked, the more he denied it. Stephanopoulos should have stated Paul was giving voice to falsehoods, then asked what he was going to do to restore trust in him. Stephanopoulos made news in any case. He and his employers might be satisfied with that. Justice isn't, though. Neither is the republic.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a new House Republican, agreed in 2018 that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged by the Democrats in order to take people's guns away. In old social media posts unearthed by Media Matters, she said the Parkland massacre was also staged, along with Ronald Reagan's assassination attempt and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Newtown, Conn., is a few miles from where I'm writing these words. It's hard for me to overstate how despicable the "false flag" lie is. People like Taylor Greene can't be trusted with anything except perhaps pissing on 20 dead kids' graves.

Does she still believe that? According to her spokesman, no! And yet in 2018, before she entered the Congress, she wrote: "I'm told that Nancy Pelosi tells Hillary Clinton several times a month that 'we need another school shooting in order to persuade the public to want strict gun control.'" How did she go from authoritative insider peddling lies to honest broker? No one asked. Can we trust her? She wants us to. She's the Congress's most prominent believer in a conspiracy theory holding the Democrats prey sexually on innocent children before eating them. Why wouldn't we trust her?

Fact is, Taylor Greene knows the Sandy Hook massacre was real. She knows QAnon is bunk. She knows Joe Biden did not steal the election. She's lying, as other Republicans are lying. While they know lying is injurious—it does real harm to the republic—they do it anyway, because why not? It gets them where they want to go, and there are no consequences. Barack Obama isn't a citizen. Good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns. Climate change is a hoax. Mexico will pay for the wall. Covid is just like the flu. And now, courtesy of fascist senator Josh Hawley, there's "the muzzling of America." There will be no end to the lying until there are consequences for lying, and there will never been consequences as long as truth and reconciliation are divorced.

Children understand this, because parents teach it to them.

It's time to treat the Republicans like children.

Joe Biden is already facing the first test of his commitment to diplomacy in Iran

President Biden's commitment to re-entering the Iran nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA—is already facing backlash from a motley crew of warhawks both domestic and foreign. Right now, opponents of re-entering the deal are centering their vitriol on one of the nation's foremost experts on both the Middle East and diplomacy: Robert Malley, who Biden might tap to be the next Iran envoy.

On January 21, conservative journalist Eli Lake penned an opinion piece in Bloomberg News arguing that President Biden should not appoint Malley because Malley ignores Iran's human rights abuses and "regional terror". Republican Senator Tom Cotton retweeted Lake's piece with the heading: "Malley has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime & animus towards Israel. The ayatollahs wouldn't believe their luck if he is selected." Pro regime-change Iranians such as Mariam Memarsadeghi, conservative American journalists like Breitbart's Joel Pollak, and the far-right Zionist Organization of America are opposing Malley. Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed opposition to Malley getting the appointment and Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, a close advisor to the prime minister, said that if the U.S. reenters the JCPOA, Israel may take military action against Iran. A petition opposing Malley has even started on Change.org.

What makes Malley such a threat to these opponents of talks with Iran?

Malley is the polar opposite of Trump's Special Representative to Iran Elliot Abrams, whose only interest was squeezing the economy and whipping up conflict in the hopes of regime change. Malley, on the other hand, has called U.S. Middle East policy "a litany of failed enterprises" requiring "self-reflection" and is a true believer in diplomacy.

Under the Clinton and Obama administrations, Malley helped organize the 2000 Camp David Summit as Special Assistant to President Clinton; acted as Obama's White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf region; and was the lead negotiator on the White House staff for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. When Obama left office, Malley became president of the International Crisis Group, a group formed in 1995 to prevent wars.

During the Trump years, Malley was a fierce critic of Trump's Iran policy. In an Atlantic piece he coauthored, he denounced Trump's plan to withdraw and refuted critiques about the sunset clauses in the deal not extending for more years. "The time-bound nature of some of the constraints [in the JCPOA] is not a flaw of the deal, it was a prerequisite for it," he wrote. "The real choice in 2015 was between achieving a deal that constrained the size of Iran's nuclear program for many years and ensured intrusive inspections forever, or not getting one."

He condemned Trump's maximum pressure campaign as a maximum failure, explaining that throughout Trump's presidency, "Iran's nuclear program grew, increasingly unconstrained by the JCPOA. Tehran has more accurate ballistic missiles than ever before and more of them. The regional picture grew more, not less, fraught."

While Malley's detractors accuse him of ignoring the regime's grim human rights record, national security and human rights organizations supporting Malley said in a joint letter that since Trump left the nuclear deal, "Iran's civil society is weaker and more isolated, making it harder for them to advocate for change."

Hawks have another reason for opposing Malley: his refusal to show blind support for Israel. In 2001 Malley co-wrote an article for the New York Review arguing that the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian Camp David negotiations had not been the sole fault of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat but included then-Israeli leader Ehud Barak. The U.S. pro-Israel establishment wasted no time accusing Malley of having an anti-Israel bias.

Malley has also been pilloried for meeting with members of the Palestinian political group Hamas, designated a terror organization by the U.S. In a letter to The New York Times, Malley explained that these encounters were part of his job when he was Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group, and that he was regularly asked by both American and Israeli officials to brief them on these meetings.

With the Biden administration already facing opposition from Israel about its intent to return to the JCPOA, Malley's expertise on Israel and his willingness to talk to all sides will be an asset.

Malley understands that re-entering the JCPOA must be undertaken swiftly and will not be easy. Iranian presidential elections are scheduled for June and predictions are that a hardline candidate will win, making negotiations with the U.S. harder. He is also keenly aware that re-entering the JCPOA is not enough to calm the regional conflicts, which is why he supports a European initiative to encourage de-escalation dialogues between Iran and neighboring Gulf states. As U.S. Special Envoy to Iran, Malley could put the weight of the U.S. behind such efforts.

Malley's Middle East foreign policy expertise and diplomatic skills make him the ideal candidate to reinvigorate the JCPOA and help calm regional tensions. Biden's response to the far-right uproar against Malley will be a test of his fortitude in standing up to the hawks and charting a new course for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Peace-loving Americans should shore up Biden's resolve by supporting Malley's appointment.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ariel Gold is the national co-director and Senior Middle East Policy Analyst with CODEPINK for Peace.

Trump came closer to stealing a 2nd term than many realize — here's what really stopped him

Last week, Donald Trump finally left the White House, after two and a half months of trying to steal the election — which culminated in Trump inciting a violent insurrection at the Capitol. Even before he sent a mob to violently interrupt the certification of Joe Biden's win on January 6, Trump's efforts to overturn the election were relentless to the point of being uncountable: Dozens of lawsuits (which were nearly all struck down), pressure campaigns on local election boards and state legislators, an extortion scheme against Senate Republicans, threats against state officials, demands that then-Vice President Mike Pence illegally invalidate the election, and even meetings to explore the possibility of a military coup.

In the face of all this, a narrative has shaped up: Trump's failure to pull off a coup was largely due to his own shortcomings.

It's a narrative that started early, with Max Boot of the Washington Post opining shortly after the election that he's "never been more grateful for President Trump's incompetence," because he "can't even organize a coup d'état properly." It culminated in Adam Serwer of the Atlantic arguing that Trump's "assault was most often futile, almost always buffoonish."

To be clear, no one is saying that Trump's efforts were inconsequential, just because he failed to steal the election. Even Ross Douthat, who was most devoted to the "incompetence" narrative, admitted in his New York Times column that it was bad that a violent mob had descended on the Capitol, killing a police officer and coming perilously close to getting their hands on the lawmakers they were threatening. As Ed Kilgore wrote last week at the New Yorker, the lesson we all learned is that there were "some moments of real peril," and Trump got distressingly close to pulling it off at times. Still, the focus on why Trump failed is largely on his own inadequacies and bad planning — Kilgore suggests he could have succeeded with "better timing and better lawyers" — and some lucky breaks, such as the quick thinking of some Capitol police who saved lawmakers from the insurrectionists.

Over the weekend, however, a piece by Alexander Burns of the New York Times highlighted how much the credit to ending Trump's coup should go to Democratic and progressive activists. Far from standing by idly while Trump bumbled his way towards failure, these groups never underestimated Trump's likelihood of winning. If not for these groups and their organized and devoted efforts, the odds are quite high that Trump could have stolen himself a second term.

Defeating Trump took a "long season of planning and coordination by progressives who anticipated Mr. Trump's postelection schemes, including his premature attempt to claim a victory he had not achieved, his pressure campaigns targeting Republican election administrators and county officials and his incitement of far-right violence," Burns writes. It took a remarkable "degree of collaboration among progressive groups that often struggle to work so closely together because of competition over political turf, funding and conflicting ideological priorities."

The Democracy Defense Coalition brought together over 200 groups, guided by the correct assumption that Trump would try to stage a coup after he lost the election. Their work was largely quiet, no doubt to keep Trump and his minions from finding out about it and interfering with it. But without this coordinated response, it's quite likely Trump would have been able to pull off at least one of his many plans to steal the election.

As I chronicled at Salon back in October, with help from activists doing this work, defeating Trump required an organized, calm, and persistent response from Democratic voters. For instance, activists recognized that Trump was going to use the partisan divergence on voting styles — coronavirus-concerned Democrats would vote by mail and COVID-denying Republicans would vote in person — as a wedge point, and try to get mail-in ballots thrown out in large numbers. The counteraction to that was to convince Democratic voters to vote as early as possible, on the theory that ballots that arrived before Election Day were easier to protect from Trump's legal assault.

The strategy was effective.

In Pennsylvania, so few mail-in ballots arrived after Election Day that even if Trump had been successful in arguing that they should be thrown out, it wouldn't have changed the outcome of the election. The result was swifter court decisions shutting down Trump's challenges, depriving him of the momentum needed for a successful coup. As Burns notes, the activists had a nearly impossible task, of striking a balance between taking the coup seriously but also projecting an air of confidence that Trump would fail. Defeating a coup is very much about convincing the public that your side will prevail. This balance was struck, but not by accident. It took lots of hard work by activists, often working quietly behind the scenes, to organize progressives in a way that showed concern-but-confidence. The result was events such as one night in Philadelphia when pro-democracy crowds ran off Rudy Giuliani and Eric Trump from the convention center, where the two men were trying to whip a right-wing crowd up to harass vote counters. After Giuliani and Trump took off, the protest broke out into a dance party.

It's important to learn from this recent history for a very simple reason: The effort to end democracy isn't over.

Trump may run again, and as he did in every election he's been in, he will cheat and encourage others to cheat on his behalf. But even if Trump doesn't run again, he's empowered a movement of anti-democracy Republicans who will look for every advantage they can to nullify the results of elections they lose. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is already doing this, with his plot to keep the Senate from even beginning business unless the Democratic majority simply relinquishes the power given to them by the voters.

To defeat the longer-term assault on democracy, it's critical for everyday voters to understand that they do have power, and that, by taking action, they can help preserve and restore democracy.

The reason why Republicans have gotten so far in their efforts to undermine democracy is that they've trained ordinary people into believing that efforts to stop them will all be in vain. The true story of how Trump was defeated, by regular people who fought for their democracy, is empowering. It can convince people to keep up the fight. So while no one should doubt Trump is an idiot, it's important to give credit where it's due for his defeat: On the progressives who fought him, every step of the way.

Democrats are the new Senate majority — so why is Mitch McConnell still running the show?

This article was paid for by Raw Story subscribers. Not a subscriber? Try us and go ad-free for $1. Prefer to give a one-time tip? Click here.

Terry H. Schwadron, DCReport @ RawStory

Days into the new government, it's clear that Joe Biden is running an energetic, activist White House while new Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is still stuck in the same stalled Senate that he served in the ever-victimized minority.

Whatever else you want to say about Schumer, he's no Lyndon Baines Johnson, who dominated as a Senate majority leader, or even Harry Reid.

From the outside, it looks like majority leading by pleading, not arm-twisting. You don't hear that other senators fear Schumer as much as hope that he can stand up to the ever-manipulative tactics of a crafty Mitch McConnell, who has lost the majority leader title, but not its magic to set the agenda.

Schumer got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness.

It could be because Schumer's gotten the majority leader office by the barest of margins – the potential tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris when it will be needed. Or perhaps it is because the real majority leader emerging is centrist Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who seems repeatedly to forget that he is a Democrat, and who doesn't mind hanging Schumer and Democratic goals in thin air. It might even be because Biden himself, a longtime senator, has personal relationships in the chamber to pursue himself.

Whatever.

Somehow, everyone in the House knows that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with her narrowed Democratic majority, is still the swaying voice for everything from impeachment votes to requiring that members leave their guns at the door to the chamber. It is the deference of others to her power that we are examining.

We recognize in Schumer a certain caution in trying to get the most from a split, now-stuck Senate, someone who got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness. Maybe it is his speaking voice, which borders on annoying rather than one inspiring attention, or his pleading tone. Maybe he was just better at offering obstructions as a minority leader than serving at the front of the Senate.

Of course, maybe he'll settle in and be more effective, but right now, the focus for political wins in the Senate still seems to be on McConnell.

Deftness?

On ABC News recently, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, commenting on the continuing Schumer-McConnell wrangles over the timing of the impeachment trial, the makeup of Senate committees and the rules governing a 50-50 Senate split said, "The one thing Chuck isn't is deft. Definitely not deft."

"Chuck Schumer has finally realized his dream of becoming majority leader. And given the circumstances, it's a bit of a nightmare," noted Politico. Without an agreement on new rules, for example, Republicans maintain most of the committee chairmanships, reviewing confirmations and legislation.

What does seem apparent are that there is a lot to get done at once in a Biden presidency both to reverse what are seen as bad mistakes from the Donald Trump years and to be aggressive about taking advantage of the next two years until another election will put the Senate majority on the ballot again.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demands hearings over whistleblower complaint — says the Republican-led Senate has 'remained silent and submissive'

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demands hearings over whistleblower complaint — says the Republican-led Senate has 'remained silent and submissive' Royalty-free stock photo ID: 596958572 Washington, DC - February 27, 2017: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to a press conference at the National Press Club

The healthy argument between Schumer and McConnell about whether to eliminate filibuster rules – rules that effectively require 60 votes for any substantial legislation rather than a simple majority are going McConnell's way – in part because Schumer does not have the votes of Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The impeachment trial for Trump has been delayed – just as McConnell had asked, though a week earlier. The committees needed for confirmation hearings and to review the immediate demands for Biden-proposed legislation on COVID-19 aid, on extending jobless benefits and immigration changes are being held hostage to the inside game in the Senate.

Again, filibuster rule debates are inside baseball, they don't get jobs or food or vaccines done.

From the outside, it looks as if what drives Republicans' votes in the Senate is fear – from McConnell over life as a senator and from Trump, whose continuing influence is in aiming his insults and primary threats for reelection. By contrast, what seems to drive Democratic votes is a general plea to reason rather than the use of power.

As the opposition party, Republicans, of course, already are lining up to give Trump a pass on impeachment conviction and a permanent bar to run for office again, and, while open to approving Biden's cabinet, generally are vocal about a too-large investment in anti-COVID efforts based on the new-found need to care for the national debt.

Title Without Authority

The new heavyweight in the Senate is the center, with Manchin from Democrats meeting up with Susan Collins (R-Maine), and a smallish group from Republicans. Somehow, they want to buck both parties with their insistence on moderation and politeness – even as the Capitol is assaulted, even as the coronavirus deaths soar again, even as hunger is growing.

Schumer himself is up for reelection in 2022 and could face a long-shot primary challenge from the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

"The talks of bipartisanship are quickly getting ensnared by must-move Senate business, not the least of which is getting an agreement on how the Senate will be run over the next two years. It seems simple, but it's a big deal and it's proving far harder to secure than anyone had anticipated," noted CNN.

Schumer is seeing pressure from his left to dump the filibuster to make it easier to pass improvements in health, infrastructure, environment and national security issues. Biden, again, thinks that bipartisanship can be made to work, but needs a strong Schumer.

So, Schumer's time is short to prove effectiveness. He did not win his title until Georgia improbably elected two Democrats on Jan. 5, and it has been a race to get the new rules in place at a time of simultaneous public tidal waves. Succeeding as majority leader has meant going toe-to-toe with McConnell over arcane rules.

McConnell simply is acting as if he gets a veto over all that passes to the Senate. He is still acting as majority leader without the title.

Schumer needs to step up to his new job.

Leaving Mitch in the ditch: Trump loyalty may prove too potent a force in the GOP for McConnell to handle

It took a little longer for the inevitable post-election Republican implosion than might have been expected. Perhaps they were exhausted from all the excitement of witnessing a historic violent insurrection or maybe they are just aimless without former President Donald Trump's Twitter feed to guide them. It's possible they were a little bit gun-shy since people are being investigated for committing sedition all over the country after their assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Whatever the reason, the normally voluble Republicans went uncharacteristically quiet for a few days during Joe Biden's Inauguration week. That silence ended over the weekend after two state Republican parties decided it was time to deal with the traitors in their midst.

In Arizona, the party reelected Kelli Ward — a Trump fanatic who lost her bid for the GOP nomination to the Senate in 2018— as the state chairman and her first order of business was to offer a censure motion against a raft of prominent Republicans, including former Senator Jeff Flake, Cindy McCain, the wife of former Senator John McCain and sitting Governor Steve Ducey, all for the crime of failing to be properly loyal to Donald Trump. The first two are vocal critics and didn't vote for Trump, but Gov. Ducey has been a loyal minion whose only crime was refusing to break the law and somehow give Donald Trump more votes in the election.

Meanwhile, the Republican State Central Committee of Kentucky met on Saturday to vote on a resolution demanding that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell support former President Donald Trump and condemn his second impeachment. The resolution failed on procedural grounds but the people who brought it up say they plan to bring another motion demanding McConnell's resignation. There is no chance that will pass either. Mitch McConnell is the most powerful Republican in the federal government and the Kentucky political establishment knows that. But both of these events reveal that Trump loyalty remains a potent force in the party.

It also illustrates the bind that Mitch McConnell finds himself in.

Polling shows that a large majority of Republicans are still in thrall to Trump to be sure, but somewhere between one-fifth and one-fourth of the party has fallen away. A Pew poll taken after the insurrection found that more than 30% of Republicans disapprove of Trump. That may not seem like much but it is enough to make it impossible for Republicans to win nationally if those people fall away from the GOP permanently. As the Atlantic's Ron Brownstein put it, "if Biden could lastingly attract even a significant fraction of the Republican voters dismayed over the riot, it would constitute a seismic change in the political balance of power."

Nobody knows that better than Mitch McConnell who just lost four Senate seats in Arizona and Georgia, states that were solid red not long ago. Those kind of wins are predictable in purple states like Colorado (which the Republicans also lost) but losing four seats in Arizona and Georga is a harbinger of big problems for the GOP in metro and suburban areas around the country. And after what happened on Jan. 6th, Trump and his agitated, radical following are very likely to make things even worse. In that Pew Poll, 43% of Republicans said they do not want Trump to remain a major political figure.

It has long been obvious that Mitch McConnell doesn't care for Donald Trump. He's a big pain in the neck if nothing else and McConnell understands that a leader who can never get above 50% approval is not someone they can count on to deliver for the party. In fact, Trump never did. He barely pulled out an electoral college win in 2016, lost in 2020 and lost both the House and the Senate during his only term. It's not a good record.

McConnell gave a strong speech condemning the move to object to the electoral votes before the riot started on Jan. 6th, even making the point that the election was "not unusually close." And after the attack, he floated several trial balloons in the mainstream press to test out the appetite for convicting Trump in a second impeachment trial. He's made it clear that his senators are free to vote their conscience and even gave a speech on the floor saying "the mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people."

But before we get too excited about this born again, patriotic Mitch McConnell, let's not forget that he declined to step up and say that the election was decided until very late in the game and then held back from his criticism until the Georgia runoff elections were over, just in case he got to keep the majority. He, along with all the other GOP leaders, allowed Trump's Big Lie to spread and metastasize into a massive conspiracy theory that led hundreds of people to storm the Capitol. And for four years, knowing what Trump was didn't stop McConnell from using the power he had while he had it. Just because Trump was driving the party into the ditch was no reason not to confirm a whole bunch of right-wing judges and pass some huge tax cuts, am I right? He even went out of his way to make sure that Trump stayed in office when the Democrats conveniently offered him a way to get rid of him and replace him with good old, reliable right-wing Mike Pence. McConnell made that deal with the devil and he's scrambling to figure out what to do about old Beelzebub now that he's on the outside looking in.

McConnell isn't the only member of the GOP leadership who is dancing as fast as he can either.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of the most verbally incontinent politicians in Washington, doesn't know which way to turn either. At first, he said Trump won the election and he voted to overturn the electoral college, then turned around and said Trump bears some responsibility for the insurrection, then reversed himself and said Trump didn't provoke it and finally laid the blame at the feet of all Americans.

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are being threatened including Liz Cheney who is in danger of losing her leadership role in the caucus. The House Republicans are all at McCarthy's, and each other's, throats.

And nobody knows what they're going to do about the Senate impeachment trial. Some Republicans would like to draw it out and make it a Trumpian spectacle, while McConnell would prefer not to have Trump back in the spotlight. And now there may even be some jockeying for power within the Senate leadership:




McConnell has plenty of tricks up his sleeves and it's unlikely Cornyn is actually maneuvering. But it's been years since they had this much tension within their caucus and he may not be able to control his fractious bunch of Trumpish radicals like Josh Hawley, R-Mo, Ted Cruz, R-Tx, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who is strangely obsessed with defending Trump far beyond what is politically useful. I hope the Democrats are prepared to battle a party that's in disarray. It may not be as easy as it seems.