Saturday, December 25, 2021
Friday, December 24, 2021
In a rare dalliance with the truth, Donald Trump championed COVID-19 vaccines in an interview published Wednesday, pushing back on an attempt by the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens to undermine the shots, calling them "very, very good.” The former president’s defense of the inoculations was, of course, as self-serving as anything he’s ever done, and by no means makes him some heroic defender of public health. But it is a welcome—albeit belated—gesture that one hopes will help convince his resistant supporters to finally get vaxxed.
The exchange with Owens began, as most Trump conversations do, with an egocentric boast. “I came up with a vaccine, with three vaccines,” he said, conjuring an image of the former president in a lab coat and goggles in the Oval Office. “All are very, very good. Came up with three of them in less than nine months. It was supposed to take five to 12 years.”
“Yet more people have died under COVID this year,” Owens responded, emphasizing that it was more deaths “under Joe Biden than under you.” She added, “and more people took the vaccine this year. So people are questioning how…”
“Oh no, the vaccines work,” Trump interrupted, telling Owens that “the ones who get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don’t take the vaccine.
Trump maintained that “it’s still their choice” whether people want to get the jabs or not. But in clearly saying that “if you take the vaccine, you’re protected”—even if it was in the service of annoying self-congratulation—Trump finally advocated for the most effective tool we have to fight the pandemic in a way that he should have done before. Indeed, while Trump has consistently sought credit for the vaccines that were developed while he was in office, he has sent mixed signals about the shots and declined to forcefully advocate for them, even though he, himself, has been vaccinated and boosted.
The results don’t appear to be a coincidence: Counties that went for Trump, who spent his final year in office downplaying the pandemic and politicizing public health measures, have lagged behind counties that went for Biden when it comes to vaccination rates. That resistance has put not only his own supporters at greater risk for the worst effects of COVID —it has affected the nation’s pandemic response as a whole.
With the more transmissible omicron variant surging across the country, Biden has redoubled his efforts to rally Americans around vaccines and boosters—even giving his predecessor credit for their development during an address this week. But such pleas from the Democratic president seem unlikely to move those steeped in misinformation, including those who have been conditioned by Trump to view Biden as illegitimate and by the right-wing media to view vaccines and public health measures as government tyranny.
Vaccine hesitancy can be a complex issue that incorporates multiple factors, not only political affiliation. But for those who might be inclined to listen to Trump, a question remains as to whether he can even convince such holdouts at this point. . . . But the mistrust he sowed in public health and the politics he injected into the pandemic response have become entrenched to the point that he may not be able to do anything about it, even if he really wanted to. When Trump revealed in an appearance with Bill O’Reilly on Sunday that he had received his COVID booster shot and suggested attendees do the same, his own supporters booed him. He said the jeers came from a “very tiny group” and that, by remaining unvaccinated, conservatives were “playing right into [Democrats’] hands.” But the reaction suggested that some in his base might be out of reach.
It’s nice that he’s pushing back directly against misinformation—even if it’s because, as he acknowledged to O’Reilly on Sunday, he wants to “take credit” for the life-saving vaccines. It would’ve been nicer, though, if it hadn’t taken him until now to do so.
I suspect many in MAGA land will still refuse to get vaccinated and that base will continue to have a disproportionate death rate. Trump's turnabout may be a case of too little too late.
Thursday, December 23, 2021
In his nine months in office, Attorney General Merrick Garland has done a great deal to restore integrity and evenhanded enforcement of the law to an agency that was badly misused for political reasons under his predecessor. But his place in history will be assessed against the challenges that confronted him. And the overriding test that he and the rest of the government face is the threat to our democracy from people bent on destroying it.
Mr. Garland’s success depends on ensuring that the rule of law endures. That means dissuading future coup plotters by holding the leaders of the insurrection fully accountable for their attempt to overthrow the government. But he cannot do so without a robust criminal investigation of those at the top, from the people who planned, assisted or funded the attempt to overturn the Electoral College vote to those who organized or encouraged the mob attack on the Capitol. To begin with, he might focus on Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and even Donald Trump — all of whom were involved, in one way or another, in the events leading up to the attack.
Almost a year after the insurrection, we have yet to see any clear indicators that such an investigation is underway, raising the alarming possibility that this administration may never bring charges against those ultimately responsible for the attack.
While the Justice Department has filed charges against more than 700 people who participated in the violence, limiting the investigation to these foot soldiers would be a grave mistake: As Joanne Freeman, a Yale historian, wrote this month about the insurrection, “Accountability — the belief that political power holders are responsible for their actions and that blatant violations will be addressed — is the lifeblood of democracy. Without it, there can be no trust in government, and without trust, democratic governments have little power.”
The legal path to investigate the leaders of the coup attempt is clear. The criminal code prohibits inciting an insurrection or “giving aid or comfort” to those who do, as well as conspiracy to forcibly “prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” The code also makes it a crime to corruptly impede any official proceeding or deprive citizens of their constitutional right to vote.
Based purely on what we know today from news reports and the steady stream of revelations coming from the House select committee investigating the attack, the attorney general has a powerful justification for a robust and forceful investigation into the former president and his inner circle. As White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows was intimately involved in the effort to overturn the election.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio reportedly promoted a scheme to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to reject duly certified Joe Biden electors. And from their war room at the Willard Hotel, several members of the president’s inner circle hatched the legal strategy to overturn the results of the election.
The president himself sat back for three hours while his chief of staff was barraged with messages from members of Congress and Fox News hosts pleading with him to have Mr. Trump call off the armed mob whose violent passion he had inflamed. That evidence, on its own, may not be enough to convict the former president, but it is certainly enough to require a criminal investigation.
By this point in the Russia investigation, the special counsel Robert Mueller had indicted Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and secured the cooperation of George Papadopoulos after charging him with lying to the F.B.I. The media was reporting that the special counsel’s team had conducted or scheduled interviews with Mr. Trump’s aides Stephen Miller and Mr. Bannon, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Of course, there is no way to know for sure whether Mr. Garland’s Department of Justice is investigating the leaders of the attack behind closed doors. Justice Department policy does not permit announcing investigations, absent exceptional circumstances. Mr. Garland, unlike his predecessor, plays by the book, keeping quiet about investigations until charges are filed. But the first of the rioters to plead guilty began cooperating with the Justice Department back in April. If prosecutors have been using their cooperation to investigate the top officials and operatives responsible for the siege of the Capitol and our democracy, there would likely be significant confirmation in the media by now.
It is possible that the department is deferring the decision about starting a full-blown investigative effort pending further work by the House select committee. . . . . But such an approach would come at a very high cost. In the prosecution business, interviews need to happen as soon as possible after the events in question, to prevent both forgetfulness and witness coordination to conceal the truth. A comprehensive Department of Justice probe of the leadership is now more urgently needed than ever.
It is also imperative that Mr. Trump be included on the list of those being investigated. The media has widely reported his role in many of the relevant events, and there is no persuasive reason to exclude him.
First, he has no claim to constitutional immunity from prosecution. The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel has recognized such immunity only for sitting presidents because a criminal trial would prevent them from discharging the duties of their office. Mr. Trump no longer has those duties to discharge.
Nor is exclusion of the former president remotely justified by the precedent President Gerald Ford set in pardoning Richard Nixon to help the country “heal” from Watergate. Even our proud tradition of not mimicking banana republics by allowing political winners to retaliate against losers must give way in the wake of violence perpetrated to thwart the peaceful transition of power.
Furthermore, the pending state and local investigations in New York and Atlanta will never be able to provide the kind of accountability the nation clearly needs. . . . . even if the Atlanta district attorney is able to convict Mr. Meadows and Mr. Trump for interfering in Georgia’s election, they could still run for office again. Only convicting them for participating in an insurrection would permanently disqualify them from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
[C]oncerns about a conviction are no reason to refrain from an investigation. If anything, a federal criminal investigation could unearth even more evidence and provide a firmer basis for deciding whether to indict.
To decline from the outset to investigate would be appeasement, pure and simple, and appeasing bullies and wrongdoers only encourages more of the same. Without forceful action to hold the wrongdoers to account, we will likely not resist what some retired generals see as a march to another insurrection in 2024 if Mr. Trump or another demagogue loses.
[O]nly by holding the leaders of the Jan. 6 insurrection — all of them — to account can he secure the future and teach the next generation that no one is above the law. If he [Garland] has not done so already, we implore the attorney general to step up to that task.
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
A billionaire from Utah, Jeff T. Green, said he was resigning this week from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an unusually high-profile rebuke of the church’s wealth and position on social issues.
Mr. Green, who runs an advertising technology firm and is believed to be one of the wealthiest people from Utah, did not say what caused him to make such a public exit this week. But he said in a letter to Russell M. Nelson, the church’s president, that he was concerned about the church’s history, finances and advocacy.
“While most members are good people trying to do right, I believe the church is actively and currently doing harm in the world,” he wrote in the letter, which was reported Monday by The Salt Lake Tribune.
In the letter, a copy of which was dated Dec. 23, he said he had stopped believing in the church’s teachings more than a decade ago and had spent several years reflecting on his issues with it. “I believe the Mormon Church has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights,” he wrote.
In the letter, Mr. Green, 44, asked for his records to be removed from the church and for his only other contact from the organization to be a letter confirming that he was no longer a member. One of his friends and 11 of his family members were also resigning, he said.
Kathleen Flake, a professor of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said this sort of formal exit from the church was similar to a renunciation of citizenship. To return to the church, a person would have to be rebaptized.
“Renouncing it is a political act; it’s a way of making a political statement, not just a religious statement,” she said.
She said it was unlikely that the church, which has more than 16 million members, would respond. “I think they care, but I don’t think they are surprised by such public statements,” Professor Flake, a church member, said.
Mr. Green, who now lives in Southern California, was also critical of the church’s wealth, which includes an investment fund paid for with contributions by members. The fund had $48 billion worth of stocks as of Sep. 30, according to SEC filings.
“This money comes from people, often poor, who wholeheartedly believe you represent the will of Jesus,” Mr. Green wrote. “They give, expecting the blessings of heaven.”
The management of the fund has come under scrutiny in recent years after a former manager accused the church of misleading members about the use of the funds. Church officials told The Wall Street Journal last year that the money was to be used during possible economic downturns.
Mr. Green, the chief executive of the firm The Trade Desk, is worth $5.2 billion, according to Forbes. In November, he pledged to give away more than 90 percent of his wealth before or at his death.
This week Mr. Green also announced he was donating $600,000 to Equality Utah, a group that advocates L.G.B.T.Q. rights in the state.
He told The Tribune that almost half the money would go to a scholarship fund for students in Utah, including those who “may need or want” to leave Brigham Young University, which is sponsored by the church and has an honor code that prohibits same-sex “romantic behavior.”
Sadly, the Mormon Church leadership will likely ignore Green's action - they know there remain millions of members who they can continue to fleece while peddling a dogma based on Medieval knowledge.
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Sarah Palin, rocket scientist, offered her thoughts on the coronavirus vaccine at a far-right conference in Arizona over the weekend. “It will be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot,” she proclaimed.
Palin’s talk of dead bodies is on point. By discouraging vaccination, she and Tucker Carlson and the rest of the anti-science right are quite literally getting people killed. Studies show that those living in the most pro-Trump counties in the United States are dying from covid-19 at a rate more than five times higher than in the most anti-Trump counties.
Palin’s pronouncements should come with a surgeon-general-style caution: “WARNING: SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASES YOUR RISK OF DYING FROM COVID.”
The Fox News crowd bristles at the notion that the Trumpified Republican Party has taken on aspects of a cult. But it’s looking more and more like a death cult, as my friend Sidney Blumenthal puts it. Nine hundred members of the Peoples Temple died at Jonestown. Thirty-nine died in the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. But tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Republicans are dying unnecessarily from covid-19 because they refuse to get vaccinated.
Blogger Charles Gaba, who has been tracking coronavirus death rates by county, reported Monday that since June 30, there have been about 117 deaths per 100,000 people in the reddest 10 percent of the United States (as measured by counties’ vote share for Donald Trump in 2020) — nearly six times the death rate of about 21 per 100,000 in the bluest decile. Likewise, the 100 million people who live in the most pro-Trump 30 percent of the United States had a death rate of about 98 per 100,000 since June 30 — more than triple the 30 per 100,000 among the people who live in the least pro-Trump 30 percent.
In the early days of the pandemic, those in urban areas — Democratic strongholds — were disproportionately likely to die from covid-19. That leveled out in January of this year. Then, the vaccines became available, and the delta variant struck. In August, there were more than 7 deaths per 100,000 in the reddest counties for every 1 death per 100,000 in the bluest. This month, Gaba projects there will be 5.62 deaths per 100,000 in the Trumpiest 10 percent for every 1 death per 100,000 in the least-Trumpy decile of America. (Gaba’s data is consistent with other recent studies.)
The cause of the disparity, which persists when accounting for age and health-care access of the different populations, is obvious: As of Dec. 20, among the bluest 10 percent of the population, 68.8 percent are fully vaccinated. In the reddest 10 percent, only 41.9 percent are fully vaccinated. The pattern is consistent through all deciles of the population: the more pro-Trump, the less vaccinated the population — and the higher the death rate.
Little wonder. In Washington, Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government to block a vaccine mandate, and they are still trying to force President Biden to veto their attempt to overturn the requirement. Republican-led states are fighting mandates and even incentivizing people not to take the vaccine. And Fox News and similar outlets have filled the airwaves with vaccine paranoia.
Turning Point USA’s Americafest, where Palin spoke this past weekend, was a revival meeting of the death sect. The group fights coronavirus vaccine mandates, and its leader, Charlie Kirk, told the gathering that the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, “should be in prison.”
The speakers included the usual suspects of the Trump-Fox nexus: Carlson and Palin; Reps. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Jim Jordan; Sen. Ted Cruz; Jesse Watters, Greg Gutfeld and Jeanine Pirro; Donald Trump Jr.; Seb Gorka. Kyle Rittenhouse, recently acquitted after killing two people at a racial-justice demonstration, appeared on Monday.
Palin told the crowd to “stiffen your spine” in the battle against vaccine requirements. She claimed she had “natural immunity” because she had covid-19 early this year, and therefore, “I won’t do it and, um, they better not touch my kids either.”
Back in September, Palin had boasted on Fox News: “I am one of those White, common-sense conservatives, I believe in science, and I have not taken the shot.” And now she says she won’t take it — unless and until she’s a dead body.
Thanks to Palin and other death-cult leaders, countless Republicans have become exactly that.
One can only hope that the Republican suicide pact will reduce the number of Republican voters enough so that Democrats can win in close elections.
Monday, December 20, 2021
"Masks are not healthy for most people. Just the bacteria that grows in them is causing more issues than any issues masks would prevent," Nicole Konz claimed in a Facebook post last February. On Nov. 2, she was elected to the school board of Academy District 20, near Colorado Springs, a district serving more than 23,000 students. It wasn't an accident. There was a lot of money and power behind her. And Konz wasn't alone.
The district's other new board member was Aaron Salt, already the board chair of a nearby charter academy, who said after his election, "We know that mask usage increases mental health problems and issues. ... That's not something that I'm willing to sacrifice." They were just two of 28 school board candidates elected across Colorado with the backing of a Christian nationalist organization — the Truth and Liberty Coalition (TLC) — whose ambitions are "national, international . . .
Pandemic restrictions and the moral panic over "critical race theory" are the most recent hot-button recruiting tools integrated into a broader menu of carefully nurtured grievances reflected in TLC's five-issue "Christian Voter Guides," under the headings "Critical Race Theory," "Parental Rights," "Boys Playing Girl Sports" [sic], "Sex Education" and "Gender Identity Pronouns." What's missing is even the pretext of concern for academic content or achievement, budgeting or any other traditional responsibility of a school board.
Clarkson wrote that these school board races in Colorado "were the pilot project in a long-term campaign by the Truth and Liberty Coalition and its de facto training institute, nearby Charis Bible College, in Woodland Park, a suburb of Colorado Springs."
Andrew Wommak, who founded the unaccredited Bible college in 2014, co-founded TLC in 2017 along with Lance Wallnau, preeminent promoter of the "Seven Mountain Mandate," a manifesto for evangelical Christians to conquer and claim dominion over seven key facets of life: education, religion, family, business, government, entertainment and media.
"The 'biblical worldview' is code for a theocratic or theonomic vision of society, in tension or at odds with secular institutions," Clarkson told Salon. "It's not the siloed issues. It's the whole enchilada."
Wallnau was also one of Donald Trump's earliest and most prominent evangelical endorsers. His book "God's Chaos Candidate" was published during the 2016 campaign, just a week before the "Access Hollywood" tape became public. One prominent TLC board member is the evangelical pseudo-historian David Barton
TLC and its allies' ability to turn out agitated and misinformed voters in low-turnout elections is yet another ominous sign about the electoral landscape Democrats face in the 2022 midterms. In El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, Republican turnout was 47.3%, compared to 37.6% for Democrats and 28.9% for independent voters.
This was not an isolated phenomenon. Clarkson writes that as in "past waves of fresh political action, there are other organizations doing similar things for similar reasons, often in close collaboration. Their impact is undoubtedly greater than the sum of their parts in the movement." He specifically cites a group called Church Voter Guides, . . . . casting the election as "a referendum on parental rights."
On the national level, Business Insider noted the involvement of the 1776 Project PAC, which won all 11 of its targeted Colorado school board races, and a majority of the 55 races it targeted nationwide — in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Kansas — focusing on the bogeyman of critical race theory.
Clarkson also mentioned the "School Board Boot Camp" run by FRC Action, the political action arm of the Family Research Council [a certified hate group]. "Calling these trainings 'boot camps' and illustrating them with military boots," he said, "is consistent with the theme that they are in a war, and that it is more than metaphorical and is more than a little ominous, post-Jan. 6."
This is how these people think: Teaching science that was revolutionary 160 years ago, but that undergirds all of biology today, is evidence of an organized leftist takeover of America's institutions — all of which need to be "taken back for God" (as in the "Seven Mountains Mandate"). Of course this requires a specific version of God, since many millions of Americans — including many evangelicals — have no trouble reconciling religion and science. For those who refuse to do that, any scientific advance whatever can potentially be construed as sinister heresy, and the more firmly the science is established, the more vast and sinister the Satanic plot must be. That's the basic conspiracy-theory logic that drives Perkins, his organization and a wide range of like-minded allies.
"The FRC boot camps reveal how the school board campaigns fit in the evolving coalition that constitutes the religious and business right in the age of Trump," Clarkson told Salon via email. . . . . another group, FEC United ("Faith, Education, and Commerce") that drew significant local media attention, particularly from the Colorado Springs Independent, where Heidi Beedle reported that "FEC United has organized protests against masks, vaccines and critical race theory at school board meetings across the Front Range. [Founder Joe] Oltmann has stated on his podcast, Conservative Daily, that teachers are 'recruiting kids to be gay' and that LGBTQ teachers should be 'dragged behind a car until their limbs fall off.'"
[I]t is of a piece with the movement's longstanding hostility to public education. The Rev. Jerry Falwell made the agenda clear in 1979 when he wrote, 'I hope to see the day when there are no more public schools. Churches will have taken them over and Christians will be running them.'" That aptly describes the Truth and Liberty Coalition's agenda today.
But it's only one facet of that agenda. "The religious right's animosity toward public education is just one part of a general assault on the foundations of modern liberal democracy," Stewart said. "Undermining confidence in our public institutions, in science and critical thinking, and in the social compact that public schools represent is a way of delegitimizing the process of rational policymaking. The growth of irrationalism and anti-intellectualism in education and in society lets powerful religious and economic leaders, along with their political allies, pretend that they represent the will of the people even as they advance their own interests."
There's much more in the piece. Be VERY afraid of these people.