Liz Cheney's dilemma: Cast out by the Republicans — but hardly cut out to be a Democrat

Most people spend their entire lives trying to avoid coming to a place in their lives where no matter which way they turn there's a place they don't want to be. That's where Liz Cheney, Wyoming's sole member of Congress, finds herself today. She has called this moment, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, a turning point for the Republican Party. But it's not a turning point. It's an end point, the logical conclusion of more than 50 years of delusions and lies. It's not about choosing between Donald Trump and democracy. It's about having gotten yourself into a corner where you are even presented with such a choice.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Pundits are fond of saying stuff like, "Republicans used to stand for something." What they're talking about is an imaginary day in an imaginary past when the Republican Party "stood for" low taxes, small government, reducing the deficit and something called a "strong national defense," as if there had ever been a countervailing position by Democrats or anyone else that wanted a weak national defense.

It was all bullshit, the original Big Lie. They didn't stand for "low taxes." They wanted to lower the taxes of one group, wealthy people, while keeping taxes comparatively high on everyone else. They didn't stand for "small government." The size of the government grew in every single Republican administration going back at least to Eisenhower. Richard Nixon created an entirely new department of the national government, the Environmental Protection Agency, where there had been none before. George W. Bush created another, much larger division of government, the Department of Homeland Security, and bequeathed to it a budget in the tens of billions of dollars. They didn't believe in "cutting the deficit." The deficit has grown by hundreds of billions in every single Republican administration, and under the last one, Donald Trump's administration, it grew by more than $2 trillion. As for a "strong national defense," the budget for the Department of Defense has grown steadily as a percentage of GDP under Republican and Democratic administrations alike without interruption since the end of World War II. We spend more on "national defense" than the rest of the world combined, making it hard to imagine that our national defense could possibly get any stronger no matter which party is in power.

The only difference between then and now for Republicans was the arrival of Donald Trump. The big purveyor of fake news exposed the fake edifice of their party. You think I'm kidding? Reflect back to 2015 and the so-called "debates" during the Republican primary campaign. What were there, something like 16 candidates on stage in the early debates? They looked so ridiculous, and the collective array was so absurd, it was frequently described as the "clown car." I remember thinking, how in hell is one of them going to emerge from this pack of goofs?

Well, Donald Trump did, and he did it pretty fast — mostly by refusing to take the whole process seriously. He didn't want to debate "issues" like defense and which government departments should be cut. (Neither did Rick Perry, as he proved when he couldn't even remember which ones he had recently said he intended to shut down.) So he didn't. Trump just stood there and made fun of the rest of them, calling them names and belittling their appearance and laughing at their fumbling attempts to fake gravitas. They began to fall one by one. Trump intuited that the "base" of the Republican Party was in on the joke that the so-called issues the moderators earnestly asked questions about had no meaning at all. Which they didn't: The "issues" Republican voters cared about were offstage, whispered among themselves in living rooms and diners and on golf courses. If they were mentioned at all by candidates, it was via what were quaintly called "dog whistles," as if by reference to America's favorite pet, the dog, the red meat of racism and xenophobia and sexism could be kept secret from everyone who wasn't in on the joke.

Trump did away with the joke. He came right out and said what Republican voters wanted to hear. When he told them he was going to make America great "again," he was confirming that going backward to a time when gays were in the closet, women were in the kitchen and Black people either couldn't vote or voted the way they were told was what the election was really about.

This, in effect, is what Liz Cheney has put on the table by standing up to Donald Trump. She knows that her party hasn't turned into a "cult of personality" around a single man — it has become what its voters actually want it to be. The issue facing Republican House members who will vote next week on whether to retain Cheney in her position as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference isn't what Trump did on Jan. 6 or whether he was the "real" winner of the election of 2020. They all know he lost. They all know he instigated the riot that overran and occupied both chambers of Congress and destroyed offices in the Capitol and resulted in the deaths of at least one policeman and one rioter. She knows it. They know it. And she knows that they know it.

The issue isn't even whether or not Trump will retain control of the party. He will. She knows it. They know it. The issue is whether or not the Republican Party will return to faking its "principles" of low taxes and small government and all the rest of it, or will simply admit that it's the white people's party, bent on maintaining white power and defending the white race from what so many of them see as certain destruction at the hands of Black and brown people and foreigners.

So Liz Cheney's dilemma is real, but it's not the dilemma everyone says it is. She can't go back and undo her vote to impeach Trump or her votes to accept the Electoral College ballots on Jan. 6 —or actually the wee hours of Jan. 7, after the insurrectionists had been driven from the Capitol. Her votes weren't against Donald Trump. They were for a Republican Party that doesn't exist anymore, a party that allegedly stands for something and takes positions on issues like taxes and deficits and defense and all the old stuff that used to matter.

Liz Cheney has reached that point in her life where everywhere she turns is a place she doesn't want to be. She isn't up against the Big Lie of Donald Trump. She's up against the Big Lie of her own party. When it comes to politics, she has become stateless.

Standing up to Donald Trump doesn't make her "one of us," of course. She opposed gay rights and marriage equality right down the line, even though her own sister is a lesbian. She's got a zero percent rating from Planned Parenthood. She pretty much voted for the whole Trump agenda (if there could be said to be such a thing) right up until he attempted to overturn the election and make himself President for Life.

But does that mean the Democratic Party should shun her the same way the Republicans are shunning? Are Democrats going to establish a loyalty test too? Or should we say hey, run as an independent or run as a Democrat, and we'll give you a hand — maybe even invite you to caucus with us if you'll vote for Nancy for speaker and parts of the Biden agenda like infrastructure and support for families?

We can be the place Republicans with a conscience end up when there's no place left to go. Jump in, Liz. Put an "I" or even a "D" after your name. Give heresy a shot. You're already there when it comes to the authoritarian in chief.

America's gun madness: How guns went from tools to ideology to identity

The target range was in the basement of one of the old buildings on the main post at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It had a low ceiling, and I remember posts every 10 feet or so holding up the floor above. Our father, who was then a major in the Army, sent my brother Frank and me there every Saturday morning for NRA target shooting with .22 caliber rifles. I guess you could say it was part of our introduction into manhood. I was 13 and in the 7th grade at the time. Frank was 11 and in the 6th grade.

This article first appeared in Salon.

They took guns very seriously at that Army post. We spent the first couple of Saturdays disassembling and assembling and cleaning the target rifles and learning what they called "range discipline" and safety at the firing range. I think three weeks had passed by the time we were first given a few .22 long rifle rounds to shoot at small bullseye targets hung about 25 feet away.

"Ready on the left! Ready on the right! Ready on the firing line!" I can still hear the sergeant's voice booming from his position just behind where we lay prone ready to fire. "Commence firing!" he would bellow, and we were then allowed to pick up one of the five .22 rounds we had been given and load it into the bolt-action receiver of our target rifles and fire it downrange. We would repeat the process four more times, and then we would hear the sergeant call out, "Cease fire on the firing line!" Then we'd get up and turn our firing position over to the next boy.

We spent the next couple of Saturdays learning to shoot in the kneeling and standing positions. Same process: Five rounds, ready on the left, ready on the right, commence firing. Then we learned how to safely handle the rifles when we moved from the prone to the kneeling to the standing position, always holding our weapons unloaded with the barrels aimed downrange.

Finally, after a month of practice, they held the first competition. It was timed. We had, I think, two or three minutes to fire five rounds in each shooting position. After firing in all three positions, the sergeant would call out "cease fire," and we would all go downrange and retrieve our targets and take them back to the officers supervising the competition, and they would calculate who had won, who was second and third and so forth. This went on for the whole year, every Saturday. By the end of the year, Frank and I were competent shooters, at least with a .22 caliber target rifle.

We were all boys, because shooting guns was a male thing. That was part of what we were being conditioned to believe. I don't know what girls our age were doing every Saturday morning, but boys were over on the old post shooting target rifles in an NRA-sponsored competition.

That's what the NRA did back then. It sponsored courses in gun safety, range safety and shooting competitions and promoted hunting with rifles — hence its name, the National "Rifle" Association. I don't remember my father being a member, or Frank or I having an NRA membership. On an Army post, the NRA just did that stuff:, They ran the gun safety course and shooting competition because that was their purpose, their reason for being.

I don't remember a lot of guns being around. We both had friends and when we visited their houses, there weren't any guns displayed on wall racks or lying around in closets. My father had a Remington pump-action 12 gauge shotgun he used for hunting. After a couple years of target shooting with the 22s, one Christmas morning we awoke to discover 16 gauge single-shot shotguns under the tree for each of us.

Dad started taking us hunting once a month or so, all three of us with our shotguns. I remember the experience as being like a combat patrol, especially after we had loaded our shotguns and had them on safety. He would line us up in a field or in the woods, 10 or 15 feet apart, no one ahead of anyone else, and we would proceed, walking carefully, hunting for rabbits, but mainly being careful to follow his rules so nobody would accidentally shoot one another. Frank shot a couple of rabbits, and so did Dad, but I don't remember coming across one at my end of the line of the three of us. But for our father, whether we shot a rabbit or not wasn't the point. Learning about guns was the point. "You have to respect firearms, boys," I remember him telling us again and again. "A gun can kill. That's what it's for. That's why you must respect them. You should always be at least a little afraid of a gun, boys. Any gun, because any gun can kill."

The next time I touched a gun was in high school ROTC. It was a mandatory course for sophomores in Kansas back then. We were issued M-1 rifles and learned to assemble and disassemble and clean them. We carried them during drill and for weekly inspections. I was on the drill team, so I was issued an '03 Springfield and learned all about that weapon, too. One of the main things I learned about those rifles was what a pain in the ass they were. We had to clean them constantly, and we never even fired them. All they were for was practicing marching and drill: Left shoulder arms! Right shoulder arms! Present arms! Inspection arms! Order arms! Column right, march! Column left, march! Squad, halt!

The next time I touched a gun was at West Point. We were issued M-14s, which we used at parades and learned to shoot on a firing range. I remember that we spent weeks learning everything about safely using those weapons before we ever saw a bullet. And then we fired them, one bullet at a time, for most of a day before we were issued a clip to load with bullets and shoot. We qualified on the M-14, and then the M-16 came along and we qualified on it, too. More cleaning, more taking them apart and putting them together, more inspections with demerits if a tactical officer found a single grain of dust in a barrel, or a smear of oil on a trigger assembly or stock. A pain in the ass, that's what those rifles were. A big pain in the ass.

In training, we learned to shoot everything from the .45 caliber military-issue pistol to the main gun on an M-60 battle tank. We shot recoilless rifles, bazookas, M-60 machine guns, .50 caliber machine guns, "LAWS" (Light Anti-tank Weapons) and more. Every time we turned around we were handed another weapon to point downrange and shoot.

More cleaning, more safety protocols, more inspections, more pain in the ass. I was appointed "weapons officer" as a lieutenant in an infantry company in the Army. That meant I had to inspect the weapons room every day to insure that all of our M-16s and M-60 machine guns and pistols and mortars were present, and I had to sign what amounted to an affidavit every day attesting that every single weapon was there and locked away. Lying on that document was punishable by five years in Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks. Negligent homicide was punishable with less time in prison — that's how seriously the Army took the security and safety of its weapons. That was in 1970.

And then one day in 1985, I went to a gun show in New Orleans, where I was living at the time, and this is what I saw: table after table covered end to end with military-style assault rifles and machine pistols and AK-47s and chrome .44 magnum handguns and more assault rifles and silencers and kits that would transform a civilian AR-15 rifle from semiautomatic operation into a fully automatic weapon of war. Tables covered with Nazi memorabilia, Luger pistols from the Nazi era, Nazi helmets, gray Nazi uniforms, black Nazi uniforms with SS insignia, Nazi medals like the Iron Cross, swastika flags. Whole tables of Confederate flags, Confederate memorabilia like gray "Kepi" caps with crossed-rifle insignia, Kerr M-1855 revolvers used by the Confederate cavalry, Lefaucheux M-1854 revolvers carried by Confederate officers, gray wool Confederate uniforms — some replicas, some original — Confederate officer's swords, Civil War-era bayonets and "short sword" fighting knives carried by Confederate soldiers. More Nazi flags, more Lugers, more Nazi helmets, more assault rifles, more silencers, more of everything in a gigantic convention center hall that took 20 minutes to traverse … and that was a single row of tables.

You could take out your wallet and show your driver's license and hand over some cash and buy anything in that hall. You could buy semiautomatic AR-15 rifles and the kit to make them fully automatic. You could buy switchblade knives. You could buy silencers. You could buy all the Nazi shit and the Confederate shit. You could buy as many deadly weapons as you had the money for.

How did we get from a little NRA indoor firing range with .22 target rifles to an entire convention hall filled with weapons of war and nostalgia for America's enemies from the Civil War and World War II? How did we get from guns as tools to guns as lifestyle? How did we get from guns manufactured specifically for target shooting and hunting to guns manufactured for killing people and styled as "military" and "tactical" and "assault"? How did we get from magazines like Field and Stream, featuring stories about hunting, to Guns and Ammo, featuring stories about the Hecker and Koch HK416A5 with its "slimline telescopic butt stock" and "Non-stop NATO Stanag 4694 top rail" and magazine capability holding up to 100 rounds of military-grade 5.56 X 45mm NATO ammunition?

Three letters: NRA. Beginning in the 1970s, the National Rifle Association transformed itself from a shooting sports organization into a political lobbying arm of the Republican Party. It formed a PAC, the Political Victory Fund, in time for the 1976 elections and started endorsing and funding conservative, mostly Republican, candidates. The NRA invited Ronald Reagan to address its 1983 convention, in advance of his campaign for reelection in 1984, when they endorsed him for a second time.

Gun manufacturers supported the NRA with huge contributions and began making hundreds of variations of the M-16 military rifle. They started manufacturing large-capacity magazines for pistols and military-style rifles. They went from manufacturing rifles that were intended to hunt rabbits and deer to rifles intended to hunt human beings. NRA firing ranges did away with bullseye targets and started putting up human silhouette targets. In 1991, the NRA appointed its chief lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, as executive vice president, and the transformation of the group was complete. It was now the fulcrum between gun manufacturers and the Republican Party.

In 1998, two boys named Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Goodman from Jonesboro, Arkansas, took nine weapons, including a Ruger .44 caliber rifle and a Universal .30 caliber carbine and 2,000 rounds of ammunition from one of the boys' grandfather's home. They went to a hill overlooking their middle school. One of the boys went into the school and pulled the fire alarm, emptying the school. He rejoined the other boy and the two of them shot and killed four students and a teacher and wounded nine more students and one teacher.

The boys were 13 and 11, the same age my brother and I were when we first learned to shoot rifles at the NRA range at Fort Leavenworth. But these boys had had an entirely different experience with firearms. Their fathers had taken them to "practical shooting courses" where they learned to shoot at human silhouette targets. All they knew about firearms was shooting military spec guns at targets shaped like people. Both of them had been taught to shoot pistols and military-style rifles beginning when they were 8 and 10 years old.

That there were even nine firearms in a single house, along with 2,000 rounds of ammunition — stored, it was reported, atop the grandfather's refrigerator — tells you all you need to know about the American descent into what became known as "gun culture." Guns had gone from firing ranges and rabbit hunts to kitchens.

There is a direct line you can draw between the Jonesboro shooting and the massacres in Atlanta and Boulder. The line runs straight through the NRA. Guns went from tools to politics to identity. A gun went from something you use for a sporting purpose, like target shooting or hunting rabbits, to a thing that makes a statement about you. Hollywood went right along with them, from a .44 magnum revolver in "Dirty Harry" that said I'm a tough guy, to fully automatic AR-15 assault rifles with grenade launchers in "Scarface" that said I'm a killing machine and I'll kill everyone I can see.

A by-no-means-definitive chart in Time magazine showing 37 years of mass shootings in America reveals three mass shootings in 1998, with a total of 13 killed and 36 wounded. Time counts seven incidents in 2019, with 57 killed and 78 wounded. The Gun Violence Archive, on the other hand, shows that in 2019 there were 434 mass shootings, with 517 killed, and 2,160 people wounded. (The Archive defines "mass shooting" as more than four people killed or wounded.) Using the same rules, I'm sure the figure for 1998 would be higher, but who knows, and what does it matter, when one of the deadliest shootings for that year was carried out by 11- and 13-year-old boys?

There is one last connection between mass shootings and the NRA. Many, if not most, mass killers bought the firearms they used right before they carried out their killings. The shooter in Atlanta bought his gun the morning he killed eight people at the two massage parlors. The shooter in Boulder bought the Ruger assault rifle he used to kill 10 people six days before the killings. The shooter who killed three and wounded 16 at a festival in Gilroy, California, in 2019 bought his AR-15 a couple of weeks earlier in Nevada. The man who killed 60 and wounded more than 400 at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017 bought 14 AR-15 style assault rifles and eight AR-10 style assault rifles and the "bump stocks" to make them fully automatic in the weeks immediately before the massacre.

All of the firearms used in every mass killing incident discussed in this article were legally purchased. In this country, even if you're frothing at the mouth, as long as you have a driver's license you can buy as many deadly weapons and as much ammunition as you can carry. The gun stores and sellers at gun shows will be glad to sell them to you because the NRA has spent tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, ensuring that it's legal to do so. The NRA, however, hasn't spent a nickel on mandating that you receive training in gun safety, or that you must have a license to buy a deadly weapon, or even that you must learn how to safely load and unload a gun without killing yourself. All they care about is that you can buy a gun as quickly as possible and with as little trouble as possible. Once you're out the door, they don't give a damn what you do with it.

I visited the web page for the Ruger AR-556 "pistol" used by the shooter in Boulder, which is actually a short-barrel assault rifle. The thing is frightening to look at. It's got a collapsible stock and a ventilated handguard with something called "Free-float M-LOK attachment slots" and an "SB Tactical SB 3 Pistol Stabilizing Brace." Those features are all trademarked, by the way, apparently because Ruger doesn't want any other gun manufacturer to steal the military jargon used to describe its military-style gun.

But that isn't what got me about the page for the gun used to kill 10 people in Boulder this week. In the upper right-hand corner of the page, a little box appeared showing a short video of the AR-556 firing its military-spec, NATO-approved ammunition. All you can see in the video is the ventilated barrel and the muzzle flashes — and the heavily muscled forearm of the man holding it. The gun goes off in dramatic slow motion, and every time the muzzle shoots out orange flames, the guy's arm muscles flex.

The message is unmistakable. It's supposed to be sexy, and it's supposed to sell guns, and for all we know, it's exactly what convinced the shooter in Boulder to buy the Ruger AR-556 and use it to kill 10 of his fellow human beings this week.

Everything the shooter did right up until he pulled the trigger, including carrying his gun into the supermarket in front of the people he was going to kill, was completely legal.

It's madness, but it's a fact that we are manufacturing and selling the instruments of our own destruction, and because we're doing it in America, it's completely legal.

Time to see Trump for what he is -- grubby, grasping, corrupt and boring

Let's say you're an American political figure and you recently lost an election. Now you're plotting a comeback. What would you do? Well, you might sit down with the people who ran your campaign last time and go over what happened — states you carried and why you were successful, states you lost and why your strategy didn't seem to pan out.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Maybe you'd sit down with some of the people who were on your campaign but left for one reason or another, listen to what they think happened, do a little probing into what went on behind the scenes — the kind of stuff you wouldn't have necessarily heard about when it happened. What mistakes did they spot along the way? What might the campaign have done differently?

Or maybe you'd call up some brand new people and ask them what they think you should do, what your strategy should be if you want to stay in touch with the people who voted for you and hope to inspire new people to get on board.

Or maybe you could sit down with that well-known, well-respected political consultant who has been right there in the red-hot center of American political life, the man everybody would turn to if they were looking to make a comeback. You know who I'm talking about! Dick Morris!

That Dick Morris, you ask? The top adviser to President Bill Clinton who had to resign from his campaign in the middle of the 1996 Democratic Convention after he was photographed on a hotel balcony in the arms of a prostitute? The one-and-the-same Dick Morris who was described by the prostitute as having a fondness for sucking her toes? The Dick Morris who allowed the prostitute to listen in on his campaign strategy calls with the Big Guy, his candidate, the president of the United States?

Yes, that Dick Morris. That's who Donald Trump met with early this week during his quick trip from Mar-a-Lago to his gilded residence in Trump Tower in Manhattan. The New York Times reported this week that Morris had been "encouraging him to take on the party he once led," because of course the way to stay in the good graces of your party and your voters is to pick a fight with them.

Trump is so grubby and grasping that he sent a "cease and desist" letter to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, instructing all three of the top Republican political campaign arms to stop using his name and likeness in their fundraising campaigns. He then proceeded to suggest that people should instead donate to his own "Save America PAC at DonaldJTrump.com."

The RNC soon wrote back to Trump, informing him that they had no plans to stop their use of a "public figure" (i.e., him) in their fundraising efforts, which were in any case "core, First Amendment protected speech."

What do you figure big tough-guy Superman did next, huh? Tell the RNC to stuff it and get in line and stop your whining? That's what "war time president" Donald Trump would have done! But what's this? You say the Man From Mar-a-Lago, the man who when he lost the presidency by seven million votes would simply not be denied, that tough guy just sat there and wimped-out and wrote back to the RNC and just caved? "I fully support the Republican Party and important GOP Committees," Trump bleated, tail firmly fixed between his legs, "but I do not support RINOs and fools, and it is not their right to use my likeness or image to raise funds."

It wasn't RINOs and fools who were using Trump's name and likeness. It was the establishment Republican hacks Trump keeps saying he wants to drum out of the party, the very same establishment hacks on whose asses he is now planting placing big, fat juicy kisses.

What do you figure happened between Trump's big "cease and desist" threat and his craven caving?

Well, one possibility is that he turned into just another political hack and went straight back to what he does best, fleecing rubes out of their hard-earned cash and putting it where it belongs, which is under his control. He doesn't want his followers to donate to them. He wants them to donate to him.

This is what ordinary politicians do, even within their own political parties. Politics is a zero-sum game. Every dollar going to someone else is not going to them, so they set up personal PACs and take every dollar they can get. Trump OK'd a whole bunch of leaks about what his plans were for the political money he's raising. He's going to endorse Republican candidates in the 2022 midterms and bind them to him with campaign cash from his personal PAC. Gee, sounds a little like a political hack, doesn't it? Endorsing schmucks you've never met in your life and couldn't care less about and then spreading some cash around.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump's part-time critic and part-time slavering fan-club cheerleader, gave a very peculiar interview to Axios while Trump was meeting with expert political adviser and toe-sucker Dick Morris in New York. "What I'm tryin' to do is just harness the magic," Graham said. "To me, Donald Trump is sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and P.T. Barnum."

After pouring on that bucketload of faint praise, Graham went on to tell Axios what he thought Trump could do for the Republican Party while out of office: "He can make it bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it."

Because Trump's enthusiasm for broadening the base of the Republican Party beyond his MAGA-hat wearing hordes is so well known. Or not.

Graham may be a leech-like little suck-ass, but he's always been a clever leech-like little suck-ass. He knows that Trump has always had only one big goal in life and that is to feather his own nest, which is where the "could destroy it" speculation comes from. Trump doesn't care whose backs he walks over on his way to that pile of cash on the other side of the political river, and if they're Republican backs, so be it.

Republicans, currently fumbling around in the wilderness of being out of power for the first time since Barack Obama's first term, are so addicted to Trump they think they have to depend on him to win in the midterms. What they're forgetting is that Trump turned out his voters for himself, not for down-ballot candidates. He spent more time dancing to "YMCA" at his rallies than he did introducing other Republicans. And those he did take the time to campaign for lost, like Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the now-former Republican senators from Georgia. As did the last big candidate he backed in an important Senate race in the South, Roy Moore, defeated by Democrat Doug Jones in a 2017 special election. The Republican Party may look at Trump as their Superman, but so far he's been kryptonite when it comes to endorsements.

Money is the connective tissue in everything Trump has done politically since losing the presidency. In the two months following Nov. 4, he used his campaign of lies that the election had been stolen from him to raise some $255 million. Some of that money went to the RNC, but a huge chunk of it went straight into Trump's PAC and can be used to staff up his post-presidential political activities, including paying for travel and even more fundraising.

We got a glimpse of how Republicans — even "good" Republicans — slip and slime the money they raise with the internecine warfare that came to light last week in the Lincoln Project. That group of anti-Trump do-gooders managed to raise at least $87 million during their campaign to unseat Trump last year. A third of that, $27 million, was cycled through payments to a "consulting firm" owned by one of the project's founders. At least some of that money was used to pay salaries and other expenses of the project's other founders.

You can expect Trump to do the same thing. Look for a similar roundelay with the funds raised by Trump's PAC, which can be used to pay salaries to his family members, if he chooses, or to pay consultants friendly to Trump and his family, not to mention pay for travel, hotels, five-star meals and all the rest of it. I'll bet Trump has already set up a political office at Mar-a-Lago and is paying himself exorbitant "rent" from his PAC money for the space, the way he charged the Secret Service "rent" at Mar-a-Lago and his golf courses as president.

Trump didn't drain the swamp. He filled it up and fleeced it. This is what ordinary, corrupt, greedy politicians do. They come up with ways to use the business of politics to fill their own pockets. Trump was never a good businessman. He wasn't a good politician either. He was always just a cheap crook like the rest of them.

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

They didn't bother with writing articles of secession this time. No, Ken Paxton, the disgraced attorney general of the state of Texas, did that for them when he filed a lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the presidential election. On Wednesday, Missouri and 16 other states filed a brief with the court seeking to join the Texas lawsuit, which alleges that the four decisive swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia violated the Constitution by allowing mail-in voting in the November election. On Thursday, a majority of the Republican caucus in the House, 126 members of Congress, signed on to the lawsuit along with the instigator in chief, Donald Trump. Twenty-five states and territories signed a brief opposing the Texas lawsuit. Friday evening, the Supreme Court rejected the suit out of hand.

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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Biden hasn't even taken office yet but we're already beginning to rid our mouths of the bad taste left by Trump

You don't have to be overly optimistic about the coming Biden administration to know that we will never see "My Pillow guy" in the White House again. We had to read about the pathetic SOB last week when he and former TV star Ricky Schroeder, of all people, were reported to have put up the $2 million bail to spring teenage Rambo Kyle Rittenhouse from jail, where he was confined after being indicted for homicide in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But I think we can be assured that the Trumpazoid bedding manufacturer has darkened the door of the White House for the last time.

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Trump is going out the way he came in: A loser, a liar and a cheat

It's one of the sad truths of the human experience that you can't count tears. Maybe the first few you might be able to, but then they just flow from your eyes, running down your cheeks until you can taste them on your lips, a flood of salty sorrow and pain and helplessness.

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Joe Biden may have won -- but America is lost

It's not a perfect comparison, but it's close enough: The way I felt when I went to bed on Tuesday night was almost exactly the way I felt on election night in 1972. Richard Nixon had been president for four long years. Watergate was just the most recent outrage in what had essentially been one long crime spree. Nixon had installed his consigliere, John Mitchell, as attorney general, and Mitchell had proceeded to turn the Department of Justice into Nixon's personal retribution headquarters, empaneling grand juries, investigating political opponents, indicting enemies and jailing antiwar protest leaders. Nixon had ordered the secret carpet-bombing of Cambodia and Laos, killing thousands of civilians over a period of four years. He used the IRS, FBI and CIA against his political enemies, employing illegal wiretaps and mail cover and creating an entire surveillance system, known as COINTELPRO, to illegally investigate, surveil and harass members of the press, political enemies and antiwar activists. And in June 1972, Nixon sent the "Plumbers" into Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex to bug his opponents' phones and rifle campaign records.

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Donald Trump is driven by insatiable greed -- he must be stopped

Remember this number: $3.

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Defeating Donald Trump won't heal the damage of 2020

How many times can you say "I'm so sorry" without the words losing their meaning? How many times can you answer a text or an instant message or an email by typing "I'm so sorry" without becoming inured to the feeling of sorrow? Even if you manage to pause your constant grief, you're hit between the eyes with another statistic, another story. The day the coronavirus death total hit 220,000, we learned that the parents of 545 children who were separated at the border cannot be found. Can you even imagine? Can you imagine being a three-year-old child and not knowing where your mommy and daddy are? Can you imagine being a father or a mother and having no idea if you'll ever see your daughter or your son again?

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