The disastrous saga of the F-35

Somehow the United States has managed to develop a fighter jet for all three services — the Air Force, Navy and Marines — that goes for $100 million apiece, ran up almost a half-trillion dollars in total development costs, will cost almost $2 trillion over the life of the plane, and yet it can't be flown safely.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

How did this happen, you ask? Well, it's a long, complicated story, but basically it involves taking something that's supposed to do one thing and do it well, like take off from the ground and fly really fast, and adding stuff like being able to take off and land on an aircraft carrier or hover like a hummingbird.

That's why they call it the "flying Swiss Army knife." Have you ever tried to use one of the things? First of all, you can't find the knife blade, hidden as it is among scissors and screwdrivers and can openers and nose hair tweezers and nail files and pliers. The geniuses at the Pentagon decided they needed to replace the aging F-16 fighter, and everybody wanted in on it.

The F-16 is what you would call the M1A1 airplane of U.S. forces. The Air Force currently has about 1,250 of the planes, with 700 of those in the active duty Air Force, about 700 in the Air National Guard, and 50 in the Reserves. General Dynamics has built about 4,600 of them since the plane became operational in the mid-1970s, and they are used by allied air forces all over the world. You fill them up with jet fuel, push the starter button and take off. It will fly at twice the speed of sound, it will carry 15 different bombs, including two nuclear weapons, it can shoot down enemy aircraft with five different varieties of air-to-air missiles, it can knock out ground targets with four different air-to-ground missiles, and it can carry two kinds of anti-ship missiles. The thing is an all-around killing machine.

The F-35, on the other hand, can't fly at twice the speed of sound. In fact, it comes with what amounts to a warning label on its control panel marking supersonic flight as "for emergency use only." So it's OK to fly the thing like a 737, but if you want to go really fast, you have to ask permission, which promises to work really, really well in a dogfight. What are pilots going to do if they're being pursued by a supersonic enemy jet?

The F-35 will carry four different air-to-air missiles, six air-to-ground missiles and one anti-ship missile, but the problem is, all of them have to be fired from the air, and right now, the F-35 isn't yet "operational," which means, essentially, that it's so unsafe to fly the damn things, they spend most of their time parked.

Take the problem they have with switches. The developers of the F-35 decided to go with touchscreen switches rather than the physical ones used in other fighters, like toggles or rocker switches. That would be nice if they worked, but pilots report that the touchscreen switches don't function 20 percent of the time. So you're flying along, and you want to drop your landing gear to land, but your touchscreen decides "not this time, pal" and refuses to work. How would you like to be driving your car and have your brakes decide not to work 20 percent of the time, like, say, when you're approaching a red light at a major intersection?

But it gets worse. The heat coating on the engine's rotor blades is failing at a rate that leaves 5 to 6 percent of the F-35 fleet parked on the tarmac at any given time, awaiting not just engine repairs, but total replacement. Then there's the canopy. You know what a canopy is, don't you? It's the clear bubble pilots look through so they can see to take off and land, not to mention see other aircraft, such as enemy aircraft. Well, it seems F-35 canopies have decided to "delaminate" at inappropriate times, making flying the things dangerous if not impossible. So many of them have failed that the Pentagon has had to fund an entirely new canopy manufacturer to make replacements.

There's also the problem with the plane's "stealth" capability, which is compromised if you fly the thing too fast, because the coating that makes the plane invisible to radar has a bad habit of peeling off, making the planes completely visible to enemy radar.

But fear not, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. has come up with a solution. He announced last week that henceforth, the Pentagon is going to treat the F-35 as the "Ferrari" of the U.S. combat air fleet. "You don't drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our 'high end' fighter, we want to make sure we don't use it all for the low-end fight," he said in a press conference on Feb. 17.

Got it. If an enemy decides to start a war on a Tuesday or Wednesday, we'll just "drive" our aging F-16's, so our precious F-35s can be left in the garage waiting for good weather on Sunday. I'm sure we can get everyone to sign up for the "we'll only go to war on Sunday" treaty.

The F-35 can be understood best as a na-na-na-na-na problem. Originally developed for the Air Force, the minute the thing was on the drafting table, the Navy and Marines started crying, "Hey, what about us?" To quiet the jealous fit being thrown by the other services, the Pentagon agreed to turn the thing into the "Swiss Army knife" it has become.

A variant capable of taking off from and landing on carriers was promised to the Navy, with bigger wings and a tail hook. Except the tail hook refused to work for the first two years it was tested, meaning that every carrier landing had to take place in sight of land so the Navy F-35 could fly over to the coast and land safely on a runway.

The Marine variety had to be capable of vertical takeoff and landing, because the Navy was jealous of its carriers and would only agree to allow the Marines to have mini-carriers with landing surfaces big enough for vertical use. That meant the Marine version had to be redesigned so it had a big flap under the engine to divert thrust so the thing could land on Marine ships. This meant the Marine version had added weight and space that would otherwise be used to carry weapons.

So you're a Marine, and you're flying along in your F-35 and an enemy comes along and starts shooting at you, and you shoot back and miss, but you don't have another missile, because where that missile should be is where your damn vertical landing flap is.

Maybe they should just issue F-35 pilots a bunch of flags to use when they take to the air, and then they'd be ready for anything. Tail starts coming off because you went supersonic for too long? Fly your NO FAIR flag. Cockpit delaminating? Grab your JUST A MINUTE I can't see you flag. Engine rotor blades burning up? That would be the OOOPS can't dogfight right now, I'm waiting on a replacement engine flag.

Not to worry, pilots, the Pentagon is on the problem and they have a solution. Brown says they're going back to the drawing board for a "fifth generation-minus" fighter jet, meaning they want to come up with something that looks like and flies like and has the combat capabilities of the good old F-16. Only problem is, if you use the F-35 project as a benchmark, it will be two decades before the "minus" jet is operational. Until then, guys, have fun watching your F-35's gather dust on the tarmac while you continue to fly your F-16's, which will be older than the average pilot's grandfather by the time the new plane is ready.

Donald Trump's last stand: How his desperate attempt to overturn the election failed

Many things have confounded me about Donald Trump over the last five years, but perhaps most confounding has been the spectacle of so many Republicans cowering and shivering in fear of his almighty tweets. I simply could not understand why they were so afraid of him. Yeah, I read all of the analysis pointing to the likelihood that if Republicans didn't go along with Trump's every little whim, he would insure they were "primaried" the next time they came up for election. They were in fear for their political careers, it was said. I got it. I've watched many men during my lifetime exhibit abject cowardice in the face of nothing more fearsome than an unreasonable asshole of a boss. Some of them had wives and kids and mortgages and didn't want to lose their jobs. Others simply got comfortable where and were willing to put up with crap from their superiors so they could stay put. So it's understandable, if hardly commendable, that so many Republicans lived in dread of the fearsome Tweeter in Chief.

This article first appeared in Salon.

I waited in vain for some Republican, any Republican to stand up to him. In the end, it took losing re-election for Trump to appear wounded enough that Republicans, or at least a few of them, began to show some backbone. After he was beaten and on the ground, a few of them finally decided it was safe to give him a few kicks.

This week, Democratic House managers described Trump's campaign to intimidate Republicans around the country into helping him overturn the election.. They showed how a few of them stood up to him, as if suggesting to the senators in his party that they could risk his wrath and survive, too.

Trump fired his first shot at the courts. His campaign, and outside forces friendly to him, filed no fewer than 61 lawsuits aimed at overturning the presidential election in Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. When he began to lose the lawsuits one by one, Trump ramped up his tweeting, trying to intimidate the judges, some of whom were Republican appointees, who consistently and repeatedly ruled against him. He turned loose his house hit man, Rudy Giuliani, in appearances such as the notorious Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference, and in hearings held by rogue legislative committees in Michigan and elsewhere, trying to intimidate the local judges who were hearing his cases. When his campaign of intimidation didn't work, he simply ignored adverse rulings and filed new cases in the same states — in different jurisdictions, and based on marginally different claims. When he had lost 60 of the 61 cases, he sent his lawyers directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which he apparently thought was bought and paid for. When the Supreme Court slapped him down in two or three sentences, he erupted in rage.

His rage at the courts, he hoped, would intimidate Republican secretaries of state and Republican leaders in state legislatures. Trump began tweeting directly at some of them, mentioning Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger by name and calling him 18 times before he finally got him on the phone. Trump invited the leaders of Michigan and Pennsylvania's state legislatures to the White House and tried to talk them into refusing to certify their states' electoral votes and appoint Trump electors in their stead. When Raffensberger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, ignored Trump's entreaties or outright denied them, Trump effectively blackmailed Georgia's two U.S. senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — both of whom faced tight runoff elections — into calling for Raffensberger and Kemp's resignations. When that didn't work, Trump fired more tweets calling Raffensberger and Kemp RINOs and traitors. Raffensberger and his family began getting death threats and had to be protected by Georgia state police. It shouldn't be shocking, but actually is, that none of the battleground-state officials targeted by Trump yielded to his attempts to intimidate them.

On Dec. 14, the Electoral College met and certified Joe Biden as the winner of the election. Having lost with the courts and the state legislatures, Trump then took his campaign directly to the U.S. Congress, directing his threats and tweets at Republican senators and House members. In a series of rallies, he called Republicans in Congress who weren't going along with his scheme traitors to their party and the country. He mentioned by name senators and congressmen he had campaigned for and called on them to "Stop the Steal," making clear that otherwise he would make sure they'd find themselves out of a job come re-election time.

He turned next to his own Department of Justice, calling on Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate all the election fraud he had been yapping about (but failing to prove) for the past month and a half. In mid-December, Barr announced that "we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election." Trump called him to the White House and screamed at him in anger. House managers reported during the impeachment trial this week that Barr responded by "towering over Trump in the private White House dining room" and calling his charges of fraud "bullshit."

Barr quit just before Christmas, and then Trump went after the deputy attorney general who had replaced him, Jeffrey Rosen. He called Rosen into the Oval Office and tried to get him to order yet another Justice Department investigation of voting fraud. When Rosen refused, Trump threatened to fire him and replace him with a lower-level lackey he had identified in the department who would follow his orders. He kept up his efforts to intimidate Rosen until Jan. 3 when his threats nearly caused a "Sunday Night Massacre," with multiple deputy attorneys general threatening to resign en masse if Rosen was fired. Trump backed down.

It was only three days before the Congress met to certify the Electoral College ballots, and Trump had gotten more and more desperate. Now he turned on his own vice president, Mike Pence. Trump called him into the Oval Office for repeated tongue lashings, trying to get Pence to use his ceremonial role in the certification of electoral ballots to overturn the election by approving challenges to the totals in battleground states and giving those electoral votes to Trump. Pence apparently refused several times, sending Trump to Twitter to punish him with one blast after another, calling him a coward and telling him he'd be remembered as a "pussy" if he didn't do his "duty" to help Trump cheat and overturn the election.

Pence stood up to Trump and was in the middle of overseeing the certification of the electoral votes when Trump sent his mob of looters, racists and militia members to attack the Capitol. More than 140 Republicans in the House and Senate caved to Trump's pressure and objected to the electoral ballots from two states — even after a full day of televised violence — but all the Democrats and the other Republicans in both houses voted them down. In the wee hours of Jan. 7, Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Pelosi — who only hours before had fled from a mob that wanted to kill them — presided over a joint session in the still-damaged House chamber and announced that Joe Biden had been elected president of the United States.

Trump tried to strong-arm and intimidate every level of government in the United States from the courts to state legislatures to secretaries of state and governors to the Department of Justice to individual congressmen and senators to a final violent attack on the U.S. Capitol itself. He failed. Now he stands accused of inciting an insurrection against the government and the Constitution he had sworn to uphold and protect. The House managers have made their case, step by step, incident by incident, tweet by tweet, threat by threat.

Trump lost the presidency. He failed in his attempt to overturn the election and remain in power. He's a beaten man. Now we'll see how many Republicans in the Senate are willing to recognize the corpse at their feet and finally put him in the ground.

Republicans are no longer a political party -- they’re a mob

If the people you saw on your television in the violent mob outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 seemed familiar, that's because they were. You have seen them before — at Donald Trump's political rallies, standing in line behind you at the supermarket, driving the car in front of you at the drive-thru, in the pickup line at your kid's school. If you don't believe me, Google some videos taken that day. Look at their faces. They're from every walk of life: middle, lower and upper class, construction workers, shop owners, stockbrokers, husbands, wives, students, off-duty cops and soldiers, accountants, actors, writers, teachers, online media stars, even one recently elected state representative.

This article first appeared in Salon.

What did they have in common? Three things: They were white, almost to a man and woman, they were supporters of Donald Trump, and they were Republicans. They are, in fact, the Republican Party. That's why the political party that once nominated Abraham Lincoln isn't even a party anymore. It's a mob. They were there at the Capitol to do what their members of congress and senators were already at work doing in the well of the House of Representatives: attempting to block the certification of electoral ballots, trying to claim that the election was fraudulent and that it had been stolen from Donald Trump. Their aims were identical. Inside and outside the Capitol, they were there for Donald Trump.

Their president had sent them, directing them to "walk down to the Capitol" in his speech on the Ellipse. They didn't have to be told what to do when they got there. They understood what Trump was telling them. They were his voters, the lot of them. They were the people who put him in the White House. They voted for the Republican representatives and senators who were at the very moment of Trump's speech trying to overturn the election of Joe Biden. They were the Republican Party, and they were a riotous, violent mob.

Have you asked yourself why you have heard only a handful of Republicans criticize the mob that yelled "fight for Trump," and "hang Mike Pence," and "we're coming for you Pelosi"? Oh, a few Republicans like Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois have stood up to the mob, and because they did, their fellow Republicans are moving to censure them and run against them and beat them in primaries when they run for office again next year. The rest of them — in effect, the entire Republican Party — have remained silent. Have you heard even one of the Republicans who voted to support Trump's bogus claims in the House and Senate criticize the mob for assaulting 81 Capitol police officers and 58 members of the D.C. Metropolitan police force? Those are the numbers of cops who reported being injured during the attack on the Capitol, according to a document filed in federal court in Washington by the Department of Justice this week. Have you seen any television footage of Republican members of the House or Senate displaying the damage done to their desks or offices by the mob? Have you seen even one of them stand next to one of the shattered leaded-glass windows in the doors to the House chamber and point to the damage and denounce the people who committed that crime? Did even one of them hold a press conference and denounce the attack on the Capitol by a mob waving Trump flags and screaming "Fight for Trump"?

No, you haven't, because the Republicans in the House and Senate know they can't criticize the people who assaulted the Capitol and turned the chambers of both houses into crime scenes — because all that damage was done by the mob, not just in Donald Trump's name, in an attempt to overturn the election, but in their name too. Those congressmen and congresswomen and senators who stood on the floors of their respective chambers only a couple of hours after they had been overrun by a mob and voted to reject the electoral ballots for Joe Biden in the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania — they believed (or pretended to believe) the fantasies about fraud and stolen ballots and Dominion voting machines and Hugo Chavez just like the mob believed them.

The Republicans in the House and the Senate knew who put them in their seats, and they knew if they wanted to stay there, they had better do what was expected of them and vote the way the mob wanted them to vote. That's why almost immediately after the Capitol was cleared of insurrectionists, both houses of Congress reconvened and seven Republican senators and 138 Republican members of the House voted, in effect, to overturn the election of Joe Biden and hand it to Donald Trump.

They couldn't vote against the will of the mob that attacked the Capitol and stole their private documents and rested feet on their desks and destroyed their place of business — the seat of government of the United States — any more than they could have voted against the man who sent the mob there, Donald Trump. To hell with the Constitution, to hell with law and order, to hell with the cops who were out there defending them and getting beaten by the mob, to hell with the sanctity of elections, to hell with representative democracy, to hell in fact with everything but Donald Trump.

That mob wasn't there to preserve democracy and "make America great again." They were there to destroy it. You've heard the old saying that we are a nation of laws, not of men? Wrong. To that mob and the congressmen and women and senators they elected — to the entire Republican Party, for that matter — we are a nation of "not of men," but of one man, Donald Trump.

If that sounds like Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, it's because that is where we are. The attack on the Capitol was our Reichstag fire, our Kristallnacht. The offices they looted and the glass they broke was in the Capitol. But what they really broke was our hearts.

Who loves America? Inciting a riot to sack the Capitol gives us the answer

At its core, the Constitution of the United States sets forth the rules for attaining power, limiting power, sharing power and transferring power. With his speech on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, Donald Trump violated every one of them. A man obsessed with power and panicked about losing it threw away his oath to protect and defend the Constitution and incited a mob to violate his oath alongside him. With the same lies he used to get elected president in the first place — the lies of racism and white supremacy, and fealty not to country but to tribe — he whipped his crowd of followers into a frenzy and set them upon his enemies in the Congress, the body which was at that moment certifying the election of his opponent, Joe Biden, as president. He told them Biden's election was illegitimate. His presidency was being stolen from him. His followers were to "stop the steal" by stopping the count of the legitimate votes of state electors in the Electoral College. He encouraged his mob, nearly every one of them white, to steal back the election from Biden and return him to the White House.

This article first appeared in Salon.

If you hate democracy and the democratic process, you cannot love the country founded on those principles. Donald Trump hates America, and he has managed over four years to turn the Republican Party into a party that hates America along with him. Here's the beauty part. They are guilty of the very thing they accuse their opponents of every day: That quarterback over there taking a knee during the National Anthem? He hates America. Those Black Lives Matter protesters against police brutality and the killing of unarmed Black people in the streets? They hate America. Those doctors in that Planned Parenthood clinic providing safe and legal medical procedures to women, everything from pap smears to abortions? They hate America. Those brown mothers and fathers and their babies at the border seeking asylum in this country, protection from killings and persecution at home? Amazingly, they hate America, the very country in which they seek shelter and want to join by becoming its citizens.

You want to talk about turning logic upside down on his own head? Looking at a blue sky and declaring it is black? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Donald Trump's Republican Party. He has remade it in his own image. He has turned the party of Lincoln into the party of George Lincoln Rockwell. He has brought the Confederate flag into the hallowed halls of the Union. He re-fought the Civil War, and having lost yet again, he has created a new Lost Cause: today's Republican Party.

The 149 Republican members of Congress who within hours of the sacking of the Capitol voted against certifying the electoral ballots of Arizona and Pennsylvania — in effect, to steal the votes of citizens and throw them away — they think they don't hate America. But they voted against democracy immediately after a howling mob of insurrectionists had been driven from the halls of the Capitol. With their votes, the new Republican Party pledged allegiance not to America, but to Donald Trump.

This is where we are, folks. Remember the two-party system? It's over. One of our political parties, the Republican Party, has allowed itself to be taken over by revolutionaries and insurrectionists. We now have one political party and a mob.

The Republicans have also sought to tear apart the system of checks and balances established in the Constitution by seeking to turn one branch, the judiciary, into an outpost of their party. They have packed the courts with factotums loyal not to America, but to them. They made no bones about what they were doing. They even went so far as to establish a mechanism for the destruction of the judiciary, an association from which they drew judicial candidates who would rule not impartially, not loyal to their oaths or the Constitution or the rule of law, but to the party that put them on the bench. Not satisfied with disabusing logic and law, they turned language upside down by naming their authoritarian club the Federalist Society. You can almost hear them chortling every time they meet in one of their little conclaves to dine and lift toasts to their anti-democratic goals.

That's why the assault on the Capitol last week was more than a mob scene of trespassing and looting and destruction and desecration. It was an attack not on a building but on the Constitution itself, on the principles the country was founded on. Sure, they displayed Confederate flags and broke doors and windows and attempted to locate and kidnap congressional leaders and the vice president. They violated numerous laws, which are now listed in the indictments being handed down against them. And much has been made of the hypocrisy of people who carried flags displaying the thin blue line of "Blue lives matter" battering and even killing the police officers who tried to defend the Capitol.

But the real crime of the mob was not loving the country which has given them a place to prosper in good times and succor in times of loss and distress. Many of them wore military-style camouflage clothing and Kevlar helmets and vests, but few of them actually served their country as soldiers. The "patriotic" slogans they shouted marked not only the death of irony, but the death of democracy itself. Like husbands who batter their wives and children, when they're caught they claim they love what they sought to destroy. Their protestations don't merely ring hollow, they are a mark of the system of oppression they represent.

Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2020, was Donald Trump's America writ large. On display was the inverse of the country we have always seen ourselves as, the country that told the rest of the world, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore," and we will welcome them and give them warmth.

Donald Trump's Republican Party took those words and laughed at them and threw them in the trash. They will continue in their campaign of hate and destruction. If we let them, we won't have a country to love anymore, because they will have hated it out of existence. It's our choice.

Another scandal at West Point -- where secrecy comes before honor

There are two things you can be sure of when you read the words, "West Point honor scandal": It's always way bigger than they say, and it's never as simple as it appears. That's why the "scandal" announced at the U.S. Military Academy last week, after 73 freshman cadets were apparently caught cheating on a calculus exam in May, is almost certainly not what it seems.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Of the 73 plebes charged, 59 have admitted cheating on the test, four have resigned from the academy, two cases were dropped, and eight cadets have opted to face a formal hearing. West Point announced last week that 55 of the cadets charged in the scandal will be retained at the academy and enrolled in a rehabilitation program called the "willful admission process" whereby they will receive training in honor and be assigned officer-mentors who will monitor their progress.

None of this would be remarkable were it not for the fact that "West Point" and "honor" have been pretty much inseparable since the Academy's founding in 1802. The words of the cadet honor code, "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do," are engraved in a granite tablet cadets walk past every day on Thayer Road, the main street through the barracks area at West Point. The honor codes at the Air Force and Naval academies are based on West Point's code, and many prominent civilian colleges and universities founded their honor codes in imitation of West Point's.

So it's always a big deal when cracks appear in the granite upon which West Point claims to be founded. I say "always" because honor scandals have happened before. The first was in 1951, when more than 100 cadets were charged with cheating on an exam, 30 of them players on the football team. In that scandal, 90 cadets were found guilty and dismissed from West Point.

The next time the public discovered there had been a mass violation of the cadet honor code was in 1976, when about 200 cadets were charged with cheating on an electrical engineering exam taken by more than 800 juniors in the spring. Of that number, 134 cadets were found guilty and resigned from the academy. In a letter to the secretary of the Army, 10 military lawyers representing the accused cadets alleged that more than 300 cadets had cheated on the exam. Inequities and inconsistencies in the way cadets were charged and found guilty had led to the lower number who ended up being dismissed from the academy, the lawyers said.

But there had been another honor scandal a decade before that the academy successfully covered up and hid from the public. About 30 cadets in the class of 1968 were dismissed from the academy in 1965 for collaborating on an exam. Among them was the son of the chief of staff of the army, Gen. Harold K. Johnson, whom I had known in high school in Leavenworth, Kansas. Prior to going home that year for Christmas leave, cadets were told not to talk about the cheating scandal with their families or anyone else outside the academy. We were warned that if we talked, we faced expulsion from West Point. That's how West Point successfully covered up the scandal: by telling us, in effect, to lie about it.

I wrote a couple of stories in the Village Voice about how the honor code at West Point had been corrupted and was in danger of falling apart. When the 1976 cheating scandal happened, the secretary of the Army appointed a commission headed up by former astronaut (and West Point graduate) Frank Borman to study the problem. Also on the commission was retired Gen. Harold K. Johnson — the same general mentioned above — and the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., John T. Walker.

When the commission showed up to study the problem, West Point stonewalled them. Academy officials were uncooperative when asked for access to cadets and staff for interviews and were not forthcoming with providing official documents about the honor code. The commission's deputy chief of staff had seen my articles and asked me to drive up to West Point to talk to them about what I knew. I was able to point them to a series of reports written by cadet honor committee members during the 1960s that described disillusionment among cadets and a gradual disintegration of the code. The honor committee chairman for my own class, 1969, had reported that "a significant number of cadets are 'alienated from the Code'" and that "many cadets currently feel that the Honor Code works against them rather than for them."

Other honor committee members reported that officers at the academy had been "using cadets' honor against them," which sounds like a contradiction in terms but isn't. What they meant, and what cadets were experiencing, was a situation where officers felt free to lie to cadets while making use of the honor code to enforce rules and regulations. The honor code was also being misused to remove cadets considered "undesirable" from the academy by bringing false charges and manipulating the honor system.

In 1974, the outgoing superintendent of West Point wrote in a report to his successor that "the honor code is in trouble at West Point." It was, to put it bluntly, an understatement. What had happened over the previous decade was that officers on the faculty at the academy had brought back from their service in Vietnam a culture of lying that had pervaded that war from beginning to end. They had infected the academy with the corruption of that war. Cadets were smart. When they realized that the honor code was being applied to them but not to the officers running the academy, they refused to accept it. By the mid-1970s, large numbers of cadets were secretly in rebellion against a system they saw as unworkable and corrupt.

By 1976, the problem had become so severe that hundreds of cadets were cheating. One of the lawyers assigned to represent cadets charged in the scandal was a classmate of mine. He told me that his clients had reported to him that as many as 600 out of the 800 cadets who took the test in 1976 had cheated, and that officials at the academy knew it and covered up the real numbers. The fact that only 150 suffered for something nearly everyone had done only added to the disillusionment among cadets. They were aware that the honor code was being applied selectively and unfairly and weren't happy.

As it happened, 1976 was also the year women were first admitted to all four of the military academies. This is not acknowledged by West Point, but graduates have known for years that the honor code was applied unfairly and inequitably against certain female cadets and used to separate them from the academy. The code was also used as a weapon by racists against Black and other minority cadets.

The legacy of the honor code at West Point is as flawed as the human beings who comprise its corps of cadets and faculty. The sooner the academy faces up to the imperfect nature of the principle upon which the academy was founded, the better. Yet another honor scandal should be evidence enough that West Point still has a long way to go.

Trump and the Republicans want to turn losing into winning — and it might work

Raise your hand if you remember the invasion of Grenada. Anyone? You mean to tell me you don't recall the morning 37 years ago when two battalions of the 75th Rangers, units from the 82nd Airborne Division, Navy Seals and Army Delta Force, along with elements of the Jamaican military and Regional Security System forces of the Eastern Caribbean — something like 7,600 troops altogether — swarmed the tiny island nation of Grenada?

I'm shocked … shocked … so few of you recall that glorious day, because the invasion of Grenada was the only war this country has won since World War II. Not that you'd be expected to see our great victory over Grenada in that way, because of course we didn't exactly lose the war in Vietnam, and we didn't lose the Iraq war, and we haven't yet lost the war in Afghanistan, even as the number of our soldiers there is scheduled to dwindle from 4,500 to 2,000 by Jan.15, and none of the remaining troops are, in fact, fighting.

Indeed, this country has a long history of turning losing into winning, beginning with the South's century long "Lost Cause" revision of the surrender at Appomattox into a noble victory celebrated across the land with the erection of glorious statues honoring the great generals who led the South to its great victory, including within the halls of the U.S. Capitol, the headquarters, if you will, of the very Union they betrayed, against which they fought, which in fact defeated them.

It's almost as if losing wars and turning those losses into victories is what prepared the ground for the way Donald Trump and the Republican Party are currently treating his defeat in the presidential election of 2020. We didn't lose the war in Vietnam! Why, just have a look at the body count! It wasn't Trump who lost the election, the thinking among Republicans goes. It was all those damn illegitimate votes by the other side.

"Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up," Trump tweeted on Wednesday after the Senate majority leader finally recognized Joe Biden's victory in a speech on the Senate floor. "Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!"

It's as if Trump simply can't believe that he got 75 million votes and lost. (Actually, he didn't: Trump received 74,222,958 votes, according to ABC News, while Biden received 81,283,098 votes.)

This has created a certain amount of, shall we say, cognitive dissonance among Republicans. Politico reported this week that the Republican Party "has ditched election post-mortems. For the final act of his showman-like presidency, Donald Trump has convinced the Republican Party that despite losing the White House by 7 million votes — and despite seeing five states flip in 2020 — things could hardly be better inside the GOP."

Why should you study the reasons you lost an election when you didn't lose? It makes a sick kind of sense, when you think about it. The whole election came down to Donald Trump. Seventy-four million people voted for him. Eighty-one million people voted against him. And that was what it was, in the end. Trump was the issue, and if you're not going to get rid of Trump and what he stands for — if, in fact, you're going to remake an entire political party in his image and dedicate it to him — then why analyze anything at all? They already know the answer: It wasn't Trump's fault. It was the fault of the election itself.

"It wasn't a matter of our candidate," Bill Pozzi, chair of the Republican Party in heavily Republican Victoria County, Texas, told Politico. "It was a matter of the process."

In other words, too many damn people voted. Republicans aren't worried about why women voted against them in the suburbs, or why they lost the votes of young people by record-breaking margins, or even why their support among the elderly, long a bulwark of the party, eroded. They are preparing to turn Trump's endless whining about voter fraud and stolen votes and Hugo Chavez's supposed Dominion voting machines into a campaign to turn back the clock to the years of Jim Crow. If you want to control the results at the ballot box, then you've got to control who gets to drop the ballots in the box. Fifty years of scamming, by way of the "Southern strategy," has taught them that much.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said it out loud when he told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, "I'm very, very concerned that if you solicit votes from typically non-voters, that you will affect and change the outcome. So I'm very worried Democrats will control all three branches of the government and really truly transform America, but not for the better."

Bingo, Rand! Come on down and pick up your big prize!

Seemingly in answer to Paul's "concerns," Republicans have filed three lawsuits in Georgia, two in federal court and one in state court, seeking to make it more difficult to vote by mail ahead of the runoff election in January for the two Senate seats currently held by Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Georgia is one of two traditionally Republican states — the other is Arizona — that Biden narrowly won in this year's election. Republicans are understandably worried that the same thing will happen to Perdue and Loeffler that happened to Trump in November. They'll lose.

Judges in Georgia threw out the two federal lawsuits this week. One challenged Georgia's signature verification process on absentee ballots, and the other sought to block the use of drop-boxes for returning absentee ballots. The state lawsuit also wants to restrict the use of drop-boxes and seeks to change the rules for election observers. A hearing on that suit is scheduled for Christmas Eve.

Republicans in other states where they control state legislatures are also planning on tightening the rules regarding absentee ballots. Republican legislators in North Carolina, Alaska and Pennsylvania have already announced they will introduce bills intended to reduce absentee voting. Michael Whatley, chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, told Politico, "I think nationally there's going to be a huge focus on absentee voting and election integrity. There has to be a significant tightening of the rules around absentee balloting, and we need to have that conversation with state legislatures all around the country."

It all comes down to who gets to vote and how you count their votes. That's why Republicans were so happy with Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision that made it easier for states to impose voter ID laws, purge voter lists and restrict the number of polling places, all rules that disproportionately affected Democratic voters. That's why they're trying, in both courts and state legislatures, to limit absentee voting with petty rules about applications and signatures and witnesses and what kind of envelopes you mail your ballot in.

Republicans want elections to be like wars where they get to use guns and bullets, but Democrats don't. That's why you haven't heard a single one of them denounce the death threats against governors and election officials who refuse to go along with their attempts to reverse the results of elections in Georgia and Michigan and Pennsylvania. They don't care how they win. They'll be happy to "win" the same way we "won" in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: with alternative facts. This ain't the invasion of Grenada, folks. We're in a war for democracy itself.

Psycho secession: Texas' lost-cause lawsuit was the first shot in a new Civil War

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The 18 states and 126 members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are seceding from democracy. It amounts to nothing less than an act of sedition by the entire Republican Party, 70 percent of whom believe that Joe Biden's election was illegitimate, according to a Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday. In contrast, 98 percent of Democrats think Biden's victory was legitimate, along with 62 percent of independents.

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Remember this number: $3.

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