A New Confederacy: Trump and the Republicans have already seceded

You know which ones they are: Nineteen states have enacted 33 laws that make it harder for people to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Fifteen states made it harder to apply for a mail-in ballot. Four states limited mail-in ballot drop boxes. Four states imposed stricter mail-in ballot signature requirements. Eight states imposed harder voter ID requirements. Seven states made it easier to purge voters from the rolls. Three states reduced the number of polling places and voting hours. Three more states reduced the number of days or hours of early voting. Five states made it harder to vote for people with disabilities and two states made it a crime to hand out water or snacks to voters waiting in long lines to vote.

Nineteen states have enacted a total of 106 new laws restricting a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Twelve states enacted outright abortion bans, and Texas enacted a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is effectively a ban on abortion since most women don't even know they are pregnant at six weeks. Twenty-five states require a waiting period, usually 24 hours, before an abortion can be performed. Twelve of those states effectively mandate that women must return to a clinic twice over a two-day period before obtaining an abortion. Eighteen states require "counseling" before abortions, including notices of a purported link between abortion and breast cancer, the alleged ability of a fetus to feel pain, and the unproven long-term mental health consequences of abortion.

Twelve states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, leaving as many as two million people without health insurance. Three of those states have Democratic governors who have attempted to get their legislatures to go along with Medicaid expansion but have been stymied by the state legislatures. Six states that recently expanded Medicaid coverage did so only after citizens forced the issue with ballot measures. All had governors and legislatures that had previously refused to extend coverage.

All of the states that refused Medicaid expansion and have passed restrictions on voting and abortion are controlled by the Republican Party. Many of those same states have also passed bans on mask and vaccine mandates, and nearly all of them have endured more cases per capita of COVID-19, more hospitalizations and more deaths from the virus. In effect, without any states (yet) seceding from the Union, we already live in two Americas.

One of those countries-within-a-country, in the words of the esteemed lawyer and Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, "has no set of constraints, no belief in the norms, no commitment to the Constitution or the rule of law, while the other side is trying to observe the rules." He said this on Wednesday night on "All in With Chris Hayes" on MSNBC, while discussing the challenges we face going into the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Even the subject of that show seems quaint at this point, because I don't think we are able to hold what we have always thought of as "elections" in this country anymore. If politics in the United States were a basketball game, the rules of the game along with fouls and penalties would apply to one team, the Democrats, and not to the other, the Republicans. The game, in the immortal words of Donald Trump, has been "rigged." It's not possible for the Democratic Party to win elections, because the Republican Party has decided it won't recognize Democratic victories. The only "wins" that are "legitimate" are Republican wins.

That's what these so-called audits have been about. I mean, just take the Arizona "audit." It was conducted on the orders of the Republican-controlled state Senate, but they didn't order that the entire election held in Arizona be audited. No, they just ordered that one election in one county be audited: the presidential contest in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix, by far the state's largest city). They didn't audit the races for the state Senate, which they won. They just audited the election for president, which their candidate lost, in the largest county won by his opponent, Joe Biden.

Similar audits are planned for other states carried by Biden: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Republicans are trying to have another audit in Georgia, another state Trump lost. Are they auditing the elections won by Republicans who ran for Congress or the state legislatures? No, they aren't, because the Republican-dominated legislatures are run by Republicans who won elections. No need for an audit!

It's like counting all the baskets made in a game by one team and not counting those made by the other team. There is only one way to win the game: If you're on the team whose baskets get counted, i.e., the Republican team. If you're on the Democratic team, your points don't go up on the board.

Which is exactly what Donald Trump did way back in 2011 when he set out on his years-long challenge to the presidency of Barack Obama. Trump's "birther" campaign was the seed-corn of what we're seeing on a national level with the Republican Party today. What Trump was effectively saying was that Obama couldn't have won the game because he wasn't on the right team. He wasn't one of us. He wasn't one of us in religious terms because he was Muslim, and he wasn't one of us as an American because he wasn't born here, he was an immigrant. Therefore, his points don't count. He's not really our president. He is illegitimate. (To be clear, Obama isn't a Muslim or an immigrant.)

Tucker Carlson's "replacement" theory, which he now pushes almost nightly, is just another birther campaign like Trump's. Brown people and Black people and immigrants don't count, and their votes are no good because they're playing for the wrong team. They can't "replace" us because they're not "real" Americans. Hitler did the same thing in Germany in the 1930s when he declared that Jews were not real Germans. Then he passed the Nuremberg laws and formally stripped Jews of their citizenship. Then he took their wealth and businesses. Then he took their lives. Republicans have already made plans to challenge birthright citizenship. It's past time to wonder what they plan to do next, because they're already doing it.

The laws restricting voting that have been passed largely in Republican states apply to others, not to us. We've got our IDs because we own cars and have drivers' licenses. They take the bus; they don't. Their points don't count. We live in neighborhoods with a lot of precincts and voting locations. They live where there are far fewer voting places and more rules. The long lines they stand in to vote mean their points don't get on the board. They don't count.

We don't pass laws against vasectomies because we have dicks and we might need them. Laws restricting or outlawing abortion, on the other hand, are about women — and we're not women, we're Republicans! We can do whatever we like in the game out there on the floor because we're on the correct team! We don't get a foul called because of six weeks or 15 weeks or waiting periods, because the rules don't apply to us, they apply to them. Our points count. Theirs don't.

This is what I mean when I say that Republicans have already seceded. They're a white party and they're forming a white country with white laws and white companies and white jobs where white votes count and others don't. They can live in the states that comprise that country, but they can't survive there without our money. It was the same way with the South before the Civil War. They lived in their states with slavery, but they couldn't survive without the economy of the North, so they started a war. They never intended to "secede." They intended to win, and run the new country, which would be the South writ large, with slave-owners in power and slavery everywhere.

That's what Republicans and Donald Trump are doing right now. They know they can't win legitimate elections. There aren't enough of them. So they are engaged in a war, with the aim not of winning elections, but of taking over and exercising the power that, at least until now, came from winning elections. Republicans can't rely on doing that, so they have transformed their party from one that participates in democracy to a fascist party engaged in a takeover of the United States of America.

Democrats may or may not "win" in 2022 and 2024, but the elections are already over. Republicans have declared that only their votes count. Unless we get together and stay together and use our numbers to protect our democracy, we will end up living in their fascist country ruled by their dictator.

Empire of chickenhawks: Why America's chaotic departure from Afghanistan was actually perfect

The biggest fallacy about our exit from Afghanistan is that there was a "good" way for us to get out. There is no good way to lose a war. With defeat comes humiliation. We were humiliated in the way we pulled out of Kabul — and we should have been, because we believed the lies we had been told right up to the last moment.

This article first appeared in Salon

The lies we heard at the end of our war in Afghanistan wereas the same ones we were told, and were only too happy to believe, for 20 long years: that everything was going swimmingly. Remember earlier in the summer when the headlines were about how the Taliban controlled a large percentage of the territory in Afghanistan, but the Afghan government and its supposed army still controlled the provincial capitals and Kabul, and that was where the power was.

What a total crock of shit. Everyone was shocked — shocked — when the headlines started to come. Aug. 9, from the AP: "Taliban press on, take two more provincial capitals." That story was a doozie. "On Monday they [the Taliban] controlled five of the country's 34 provincial capitals." It didn't really matter which two capitals the Taliban had taken. You had to read way down in the story to discover they were Aybak, capital of Samangan province, and Sar-e-Pul, capital of Sar-e-Pul province. Where the hell were they? Who had even heard of them?

That was Monday. By Wednesday, Aug. 11, here was the headline in Al Jazeera: "Timeline: Afghanistan provincial capitals captured by the Taliban." How many, you might ask? In two days, the count had ballooned from five capitals to 18. Eighteen. Later that day, both Al Jazeera and Reuters were reporting that U.S. intelligence sources were saying that Kabul could "fall to Taliban within 90 days."

Surprise! Three days later, the evacuation of Kabul began. On Sept. 1, two weeks later, CBS News headlined: "This is the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan" with an eerie night-vision video capture of Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, headed up the ramp of a C-17 cargo jet wearing full combat gear including bulletproof vest and helmet with night-vision goggles attached, carrying his M-4 automatic rifle.

How did Afghanistan collapse so quickly to Taliban control? Because "we" — the U.S. military and its NATO allies — never controlled it to begin with. Nor did our puppets in the so-called Afghan government. The idea that we ever did, that we ever "controlled" or even had our finger on the pulse of the "graveyard of empires" was a lie.

You know who told us that lie? Every government from George W. Bush on, and every general ever put in charge of that doomed mission. Every single one of them reported that all was well, that the Afghan army was 300,000 strong, that the Taliban was on the run, that the Afghan air force was taking over from the missions flown by American warplanes, that the Afghans had their own helicopters now. And that the Afghan president, whether it was Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai, was firmly in charge back in Kabul.

And you know who went along with that fiction? The United States Congress, which voted for 20 years to spend the $2 trillion we pissed away over there, and each of the presidents — yes, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump — who approved every increase of troops, every troop withdrawal, every "surge" that was advertised as the solution to end all solutions, the thing that would finally put the Taliban on the run. Remember all the Taliban commanders we were told were killed? A drone strike took out this one! Another drone strike took out that one! Wow! We had to be winning if the Taliban was losing so many important leaders!

And then there were the keyboard commandos back in Washington and New York, and the neocons from the Council on Foreign Relations, and the growing chorus of retired generals — among them all of the commanders of our Afghanistan mission — who were all over the op-ed pages and cable news assuring us that All Was Well, as they racked up the megabucks sitting on the boards of defense contractors selling all the military shit that was winning the war for us. "The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018 have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards," the Washington Post reported on Sept. 4, three days after we exited from Kabul with our tail between our legs.

There was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the big "surge" of 2009 that was the answer-to-end-all-answers to every problem we were having over there. He has been "a board member or adviser for at least 10 companies since 2010, according to corporate filings and news releases," the Post reported. There was Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who commanded allied forces in 2013 and 2014, who went on to serve on the board of Lockheed Martin, the gigantic defense contractor. There was Gen. John R. Allen, commander in Afghanistan before Dunford, who is the president of the Brookings Institution, which has received $1.5 million over three years from Northrop Grumman, according to the Post. And Gen. David Petraeus, who preceded Allen and now sits on the board of KKR, a private equity firm in New York with many investments in the defense industry.

All of these gentlemen — and let's take a moment to note they are all men, not a female commander among them — reported back to us from their command posts in Afghanistan how well things were going over there, how we were all over the Taliban, how the Afghan government was successfully "standing up" its well-equipped, well-trained army to defend the country from the Taliban. And then they went on cable TV and continued their lies when they got back to the U.S. and retired from the Army, because that's what generals today do. They sit on corporate boards, they give incredibly well-paid speeches, they go on TV and they rake in the Big Bucks because they were so successful in Afghanistan … and in Iraq, too. Remember Petraeus and his "surge" in 2007? Boy, were we ever surging, huh? I remember Newsweek published a cover image of Petraeus in 2004 wearing his combat fatigues, standing on a tarmac with a Blackhawk helicopter behind him, with the headline: "Can this man save Iraq?" The story, believe it or not, was about how Petraeus was taking over the training of the Iraqi army, and that was what was going to "save Iraq." Don't you think we should have concluded, when the "surge" became necessary in 2007, that Petraeus had utterly failed in his mission to train the Iraqi army and "save Iraq" back in 2004?

The words "crock of shit" again come to mind, but they are far, far from adequate. These presidents, and these members of Congress, and these generals, and these war-happy pundits, ran a great big gigantic con on the citizens of this country who were paying the taxes which — someday, perhaps — will pay for the $2 trillion we pissed away over in Afghanistan, and the trillions we pissed away in Iraq, too. They lied over and over and over again that with just another troop surge, or another troop withdrawal (because suddenly everything was hunky-dory) and of course just another infusion of billions and billions of dollars and the loss of a couple thousand more American lives we could "win" in Afghanistan and "win" in Iraq.

Over there, they laughed at us. The Afghans and the Iraqis who took the money, took all the equipment we gave them, took 20 years of our politics and our "prestige" as a nation, and the whole time they were laughing their heads off, because they knew what we didn't know. None of it was working. None of it would ever work. And one day we would be headed out of both countries with our tails between our legs, because that's what you do when you lose.

That's why our frantic, chaotic exit from Kabul was perfect, because it perfectly capped off 20 years of lies about what was really going on over there, 20 years of frantic, chaotic thrashing around and throwing money and the bodies of young American men and women at a problem that could never be solved. It was an enormous delusion that we, the United States of America, could march into those countries thousands of miles away from our shores and — if we spent enough money and invented and fielded enough "mine resistant vehicles" and fired enough missiles from enough drones at enough "Taliban commanders" — could somehow emerge from those quagmires victorious.

We couldn't, and we didn't, and when that American major general, all kitted-out in the combat gear we spent 20 years dressing our soldiers in, scampered up the ramp of that cargo jet to steal away from the Kabul airport in the middle of the night, it was the absolute perfect ending to the perfect disaster the war in Afghanistan had always been. We were humiliated in front of the entire world, as we should have been. The way we left Afghanistan "did damage to our credibility and to our reputation," the famous Gen. Petraeus told CBS when it was all over.

Yeah, it did, Dave, and it should have. Maybe now the geniuses who got us into those godforsaken disastrous wars and kept us there will think twice before they do it again.

Except, wait. That was supposed to have been the great "lesson of Vietnam." Never mind.

9/11 and the birth of Trump's Big Lie

What drove this country crazy after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11? Was it how vulnerable we had been shown to be, that a group of 19 men armed with nothing more than box-cutters could bring the entire country to a halt? Was it that the attack was aimed primarily against innocent civilians, with nearly 3,000 killed at the Twin Towers alone? Was it that with the 19 hijackers dead in the suicidal attacks, we didn't seem to have anyone to retaliate against? Was it that we had no grasp whatsoever on understanding why our country, the freest and most democratic ever, was hated so much that they would attack us?

I remember how disconnected things felt for days, even weeks, after the attacks. Travelers outside the country didn't have a way to get home because flights had been canceled. People stranded in cities they were visiting within the country couldn't find cars to rent, there were so many trying to get home. Everyone seemed to feel a need to gather with families and friends and hunker down, as if another attack could come at any moment.

The country's leadership was frozen, stunned. Remember the photos of George W. Bush as an aide leaned over his shoulder and whispered the news into his ear? He was the president of the United States, and he looked scared to death. In fact, he was rushed from the school he was visiting in Florida to Air Force One, and his plane took off on what amounted to a flight to nowhere as his administration tried to pull itself together and decide how they would respond. It wasn't until hours later that Air Force One landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Bush hurriedly addressed the press in a windowless conference room, vowing to "hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts." Three days would pass before the president was flown to New York to appear atop the rubble of the World Trade Center at what became known as Ground Zero to take a bullhorn and make the pledge that would launch the country on a trajectory that has yet to change: "I can hear you!" he shouted to the workers at the site, "The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"

A collective madness ensued. A great scrambling began to protect us against … well, against what? Box-cutters first and foremost, it seemed, as a new regime of inspections began at airports everywhere. The initial panic over the hijacked flights would lead to the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, a kind of domestic department of defense which proceeded to put us on what amounted to a wartime footing within our own country that persists even today. How many times have you had to throw a set of fingernail clippers into a bin at airport security because a TSA agent was defending us from terrorism? How about removing your shoes because a lone lunatic made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up an airplane with a "shoe bomb"?

The entire paranoid regimen under which we still live 20 years later grew out of a supposed "war on terror" begun after 9/11 that has never ended. It took a decade to find and kill the actual terrorist who ordered the attacks on 9/11, but in the meantime two shooting wars were launched, only one of which had even the slightest connection to the terrorists who attacked us. There was an elemental problem: The war on terror wasn't against an enemy, it was against an idea, and ideas don't die when you hit them with bombs and bullets.

And so, without a readily definable enemy who could be seen and shot and killed and defeated, which is what wars are usually for, lies were substituted. We were buried with lies, and not just any lies. They had to justify the movement of hundreds of thousands of troops and the expenditure of trillions of dollars in treasure and the loss of thousands more American lives than died on 9/11 and countless more lives — enemies, civilians and, my goodness gracious, even a few real flesh and blood terrorists.

Sept. 11, 2001, was when the Big Lie was born. Or should we say, Big Lies, because they came fast and furious. By now they are known to be so completely without any basis in reality, so wholly bogus, that they hardly bear recounting. Weapons of mass destruction? Connections between Iraq and its government and leaders and the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11? Ha!

And then came new Big Lies to support the earlier Big Lies: that we were "winning" the war on terror. How many times were we reassured that all those lives and all those dollars were not being pissed away for nothing? How many times were we reassured that we were rebuilding the countries that hadn't needed rebuilding until we attacked them? How many times were we told of the miraculous training of the Iraqi and Afghan armies? They even invented a new word that I never learned in the classes I took in military history at West Point, a word to describe the magic bullet that was going to win both wars: the surge. If only we sent 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 or 50,000 more troops, we could win the mythical war on terror.

"Shock and awe" was a lie. "Taking Baghdad was a lie. The army of Iraq just went away. The "surge," each and every one of them, was a lie. "Winning" was a lie, every single time the word was used. Every. Single. Time. The Afghan army was a lie. It didn't even bother surrendering to the Taliban. It just went … poof. The Afghan "government" was a lie. It too went poof. The Iraqi government is a lie. Everything we have done to win the war on terror for two decades, 20 long years, has been a lie. We wasted trillions of dollars that could have been spent to, I don't know, feed hungry children in Arkansas? Pay for health care for poor families? Send kids to college? Reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and save our planet?

We wasted all those lives, American and Afghan and Iraqi and German and Australian and Polish and every other soldier from every other NATO country who died fighting "terror." And we killed hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi people for nothing.

For nothing.

The biggest Big Lie of them all was that it had meaning, that we accomplished something, that we somehow won the war on terror. Terror hasn't gone away. Hell, we're growing it ourselves now, right here at home.

I'll tell you another war we lost, maybe even a bigger and more important war than the war on terror. We lost the war on truth. And we were warned. Oh yes, we were warned. Take Donald Trump's first Big Lie right after 9/11 as just one example. He claimed — I hope you're sitting down for this — that he could see from his office window in Trump Tower crowds of Muslims across the Hudson River, several miles away, on the roofs of buildings in Jersey City, cheering as the World Trade Center fell.

Remember that one? It was such a patently outrageous lie that it zoomed right past without anyone noticing as the rest of the Big Lies hit one after another.

But Trump got away with it, and he learned from it. Oh, yes. He learned how the Big Lie worked. He learned from watching Bush get away with lying about WMDs, and he learned from the Big Lies that we were winning in Iraq and Afghanistan. So he started trying out other Big Lies of his own, like the one about how Barack Obama wasn't a citizen of the United States, that he had a fake birth certificate, that he was a "secret Muslim." Remember when Trump was all over the TV for days and days claiming that he had sent detectives to Hawaii? All we had to do was wait and he was going to reveal the "truth" about Obama.

He got away with his "birther" Big Lie, and he learned something that he has used ever since, something that helped him drive us into the ditch of the pandemic he lied about for a year, something that has helped him transform an entire political party, the Republican Party, from one of two normal political parties in this country into an authoritarian cult.

He learned that if he told Big Lies that were big enough, and if he repeated them enough times, that he could get away with it, just like Bush got away with lying about WMDs to get us into Iraq. And his party, the Republican Party, learned right along with him. Look at what they are doing right this minute about the insurrection he incited against the Congress of the United States in his naked attempt to overturn the election he lost. Donald Trump and the Republican Party are on a campaign to deny that it happened. They are trying to make a case that it wasn't Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol, it was somebody else, and those who were arrested are political prisoners facing false charges … and on and on and on.

The legacy 9/11 has left us is that there is no common set of facts we can agree on about anything: Not about the COVID pandemic and masks and vaccines; not about the climate change that has killed hundreds and left town after town burned to the ground or under water and destroyed by tornadoes and hurricanes. We cannot agree that votes counted amount to elections won or lost. We cannot even agree on the common good of vaccines that will save us, that science is worth studying, that learned experts are worth listening to.

The lies that followed 9/11 have torn us apart as a nation and put our democracy in peril. That's our legacy: Lies are now considered by an entire political party to be legitimate political currency. A man who has told so many lies we have lost count of them is now a legitimate political figure supported for the highest office of the land by one of our two political parties.

Lies began tearing us apart after the attacks on 9/11, and we have not regained our footing as a nation. The question hanging over us now is whether we ever will.

How we got COVID: We did everything right — and still got breakthrough cases

We've had quite an August. We got married, dodged a hurricane and came down with breakthrough COVID. While I would happily recommend the first two, I wouldn't wish the last on my worst enemy.

This article first appeared in Salon.

It hit completely out of the blue. One night last week, I fixed a nice supper — Italian sausage pasta with fresh tomato sauce — and sat down to eat and my appetite just disappeared. I didn't feel anything else, just a complete loss of the desire to eat. I didn't think much of it at the time. I'd had a late lunch — maybe that was it. So we finished dinner, watched an episode of something on Amazon and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up with a fever of 100.5 degrees. I was weak, having trouble breathing, headachy – it felt like a case of the flu, and not a light one. I took some ibuprofen and by noon my temperature was normal. But just to be on the safe side, I called my doctor and made an appointment for later in the day. Between the time I called the doctor and the time we left, I was too weak to drive, so Tracy drove.

The doctor took my vitals — which were normal — but she gave me a COVID test as a precaution. By the time we got home, the news was showing Hurricane Henri heading straight for us out here on the east end of Long Island. Full moon tide, three-to-five-foot storm surge, 75-mile-an-hour winds, the whole thing. We live only a few feet above sea level with one of our doors at the lowest point of the entire property.

Somehow, with a surge of adrenaline, we pulled ourselves together to prepare. We got our sump pump ready, and backed it up with a power inverter we could hook up to the car if the electricity went out.

We were already well-provisioned with bottled water and food, so on Saturday we settled down to wait out the coming storm that never came. Henri took a right turn at Montauk Point and headed off to New England and we were thankfully spared, because my COVID test came back positive right in the middle of everything.

How did this happen? For 18 months I've been writing about this disease and taking every precaution. Hell, I went out and got masks and latex gloves from the hardware store back in March of last year, before the CDC was even recommending them, and we wore them everywhere. I remember being the only person in a mask in the supermarket. We wore masks and gloves at the gas station, at the local deli, even walking down the street around other people, all of whom at the time were unmasked.

We didn't go anywhere. We didn't travel. We didn't have anyone over to the house. Like millions of others, we just hunkered down. Then in the spring came the opportunity to get vaccinated and we were among the first when they set up mass-vaccine points out here. Although the vaccine gave us some sense of security, we still wore our masks everywhere we went indoors, following CDC guidelines.

We got married on Aug. 9, outdoors in the presence of a few of our friends. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn't wear masks, and afterwards we had dinner outdoors, well-spaced away from others at a restaurant. None of the people in our wedding party have come down with the disease, so that wasn't it.

The only time I didn't wear a mask was at a local outdoor farmers market. Once. But looking back, I remember being in line for a moment to pay, with a few people in front of me and behind me. No one at the farmers market was masked, so that must have been it.

Outdoors, for a grand total of maybe two minutes without a mask in the presence of others. If you needed evidence of the virulence of the delta variant, there it is.

Tracy's test was positive, of course, and both of us have been laid low all week. Lots of coughing, no sense of taste or smell, fatigue — and by this I mean hardly being able to move your arms and legs — shortness of breath, everything you would expect, and more. But as we began to recover, it wasn't bad enough to necessitate another trip to the doctor, much less to the hospital, for either of us, thank goodness. We've been eating fruit and homemade chicken soup with rice, as much of it as we could stand. The symptoms started to subside a day ago, and we knew we were on the way back when we both laughed at something last night and at that moment realized we hadn't laughed for almost a week. Who knew that COVID took your sense of humor too?

I've been looking for a lesson in all of this beyond the obvious one — wear your mask even when you think you don't have to, even when you're around people you know are vaccinated. The only place we're not going to mask-up from now on will be inside the house and in our yard. That's how careful I think we're going to have to be.

We've known for at least a couple of months that being vaccinated won't protect you from contracting COVID, and I'm here to tell you that Tracy and I are walking, talking evidence of that. I've been recounting the statistics for this disease for more than a year, but never have those numbers seemed more ominous to me than when we became two of them. We have both been on the phone with the New York State Department of Health's contact tracing unit. They are incredibly thorough and efficient, so when I tell you that the national seven-day average of new cases is 156,300, I can assure you that number is as accurate as it can be, at least with respect to New York State. But the number that's truly staggering is the average number of daily deaths over the last week, which is 1,233 – with 2,210 having died on Thursday alone.

It now seems nearly beside the point to break down COVID statistics between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. It could be that whoever exposed me was vaccinated but showing no symptoms. I'm certain I was positive without symptoms for several days before I came down with a fever and was first aware that I was sick. I feel lucky that I didn't expose anyone during that time because I didn't go anywhere and I wasn't around anyone.

It was the politicization of this disease right from the beginning that has gotten us where we are, with statistics for new cases, hospitalizations and deaths approaching the highs they hit in January of this year. Insane opposition to imposing mask mandates in states like Florida and Texas and others are making things worse, and we're just getting started when it comes to the reaction that's sure to come with vaccination mandates by localities, businesses and entertainment venues. Irrationality has been the hallmark of this disease and it shows no signs of letting up.

I have to admit that during the past year I have joined in what Paul Krugman called in a recent column in the New York Times "the quiet rage of the responsible." But I must tell you that having contracted COVID, I have a whole new idea about what being responsible means, because it means us: Tracy and me. Even though we acted responsibly in getting vaccinated and wearing masks early on and throughout the pandemic, we still came down with this terrible disease.

I have reluctantly concluded that over time, practically everyone is going to get sick with the virus. It's going to be a part of our lives the way the weather is. We're going to have to learn that while there will be times it is warm and sunny, we're going to have to endure not just one winter of COVID, but many. COVID is well on its way to moving from pandemic to endemic. It is going to be with us for a very long time. We have to come to grips with the fact that while vaccines will protect us, there is no immunity to this disease. Living with it will mean more than just taking care of ourselves. It will take respect for others and the patience and endurance of all of us.

Lay off Joe Biden: He didn’t 'lose' Afghanistan — we are finally leaving it alone

Do you really think our pull-out from Afghanistan would have looked any different under the man who handled the coronavirus pandemic so well that he cashiered 400,000 American lives? He claimed over and over that he was going to end the "forever wars" and get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan once and for all. He was the president who said he could "make a deal" with the Taliban that was supposed to lead to a peaceful reconciliation with the Afghan government upon the withdrawal of American troops.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Taliban insurgents cleverly allowed cameras from Al Jazeera to film them walking through the presidential palace in Kabul demonstrating how a neat and tidy transfer of power looks, compared with what was attempted by the violent Trump mob that tried to take over the U.S. Capitol. This has led to predictable hand-wringing and pearl-clutching by the usual gaggle of Trump puppets, who the likes of MSNBC and CNN have been only too happy to allow on air to spew their anti-Biden garbage.

I swear, if I see the grim visage of one more Republican congressman lamenting the "chaos" caused by Joe Biden and the promises we broke with our "Afghan partners," I'm going to puke. We didn't have Afghan partners; we had people in a foreign country we showered with money and ordered around and told what to think and who to believe, which was us. Republicans have been waiting to hang "losing" the Afghanistan war around the neck of Joe Biden since he announced back in April that we would withdraw the troops remaining in that country by the end of this month. Unmentioned by all the Trump-puppets is the fact that Biden is doing nothing more or less than carrying out to the letter the deal Trump made with the Taliban last year: that we would pull all our troops out, that we wouldn't engage Taliban fighters in hostilities and they wouldn't engage us, and that the Taliban would pledge not to turn the country back into a stronghold for terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Afghanistan didn't have a functioning government, but rather a bunch of people with official titles who were paid to do what we told them. Afghanistan didn't have a functioning army, it had a uniformed gang of men we gave M-16s and taught how to march and shoot. At least some of them were Taliban sympathizers. Some of those expensively trained Afghan soldiers shot and killed their American "partners," proving just what side they were really on. That the Afghan army is said to have "melted" into the populace as the Taliban walked triumphantly into Kabul should hardly be a surprise. Raise your hand if you expected anything different to happen. I'll wait.

Hmmm. No takers? I didn't think so.

With Afghanistan, we didn't even have the excuse that we were supporting a "war of independence" like we claimed about Vietnam. It was a big-power police action from day one. Bin Laden and al-Qaida hit us, so we went in there to take them out. We began losing Afghanistan the day we "took" Kabul from the Taliban and said we had driven al-Qaida terrorists out of the country.

Here's the deal with a big, muscular country like the United States that thinks it should have so much say about the way the world is run that we have military outposts in 140 countries: The minute we "take" a city, or a region, or a country, we've lost it, because everyone who lives there knows two things.

One, that we were never really going to live there, like we would if we changed citizenship or got a visa to move to a country like France. That's living in a country. We did what we always do in countries we occupy but don't live in. We walled off limited areas and turned them into Little Americas and called them "base camps" complete with resident McDonald's and KFC outlets. That's where the Americans who "took" Afghanistan lived, and nobody knew that better than the Afghans themselves.

Sure, there were some American civilians who actually lived in Afghan homes or apartments they rented or bought. Most of them worked for NGOs or international aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders or the dozens of groups that set up programs to help establish schools to educate Afghan girls and women. But few were in that country on official business of the American government. Most of the Americans representing our government lived behind gigantic concrete walls or Hesco barriers topped with razor wire and traveled in armored SUVs and Humvees in heavily defended convoys.

When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan around American troops, I used to ask them how they would like it if some foreign country moved a bunch of soldiers into their hometowns and seized property owned by locals and walled off that property and topped it with razor wire and then began moving around their hometowns in armored vehicles carrying soldiers with machine guns and grenades and even heavier weapons. To a soldier, they replied that would never happen in their hometowns, because people wouldn't let it.

Everywhere we established an American presence in Afghanistan was a hometown that didn't like being occupied by heavily armed American soldiers. So what did we expect?

The other thing the locals know with certainty is that we would leave. Hell, they watched 20 years of American soldiers cycle through their service in one-year tours. If they worked with the American military, Afghans could get to know a lieutenant in 2002 and watch them return as a captain in 2006, as a major in 2010, as a colonel in 2016, even as a general in 2020. But nobody stayed. Few became familiar with Afghan customs. Even fewer learned the language. They knew we wouldn't stay the course because most Americans Afghans came into contact with didn't stay more than a year.

The very worst thing about an American occupation of a foreign country is our arrogance of power. It infects everything. We have the biggest army, we have the biggest air force, we have the biggest navy; we have the biggest, most accurate, deadliest weapons; we have the most money, we can buy the most stuff, we can provide the most aid, and we can spread the most influence, which is to say we can insist on setting the rules and we can get our way. Our arrogance breeds contempt for those who don't recognize how right we are. If I had a dollar for every time I heard an American soldier use the word "backward" to describe something about either Iraq or Afghanistan, I could have retired by now.

The arrogance of belittling the "backward" way of life of those in a country like Afghanistan is breathtaking. I have known people in this country, the allegedly modern United States, who grew up without electricity in their homes, who carried water in a bucket from a spring to a house that had no indoor plumbing, who didn't see a store-bought piece of clothing until they were 30 years old, who never slept under anything but a homemade quilt and didn't see a wool blanket until they were middle aged; people who grew up without a family car, who fed themselves with what they grew and slaughtered. You want to talk about backward? How about refusing to be vaccinated for COVID, or states which have passed laws that control women's lives by limiting or completely ending their right to abortions? Or worshiping god by holding that women cannot be leaders or pastors in church?

The Afghan people know who they are and more than that, they know who they have always been, and they are just as proud as we are. I once sat down in a family compound behind 20-foot mud brick walls with a farmer and his sons who were descended from the family that had farmed that land and lived on it in mud brick compounds exactly like that one for more than 1000 years. When I used the word "Taliban" with the father, it meant "religious people" to him, not enemy. He took me outside and pointed down the road to a nearby farm. "Taliban," he said. He pointed further to another farm. "No Taliban," he said. Both farms were his neighbors. What he couldn't point to was the presence of anyone or anything having to do with the Afghan government, because in the remote region where his farm was along the border with Pakistan, there was no Afghan government.

We spent 20 messed-up years in Afghanistan flexing our muscles and spreading our money around, and now we are making a messed-up exit. We are leaving behind a country comprised largely of people just like the farmer I visited in his mud-brick compound, people who have never had contact with their government, people who live by religious rules and customs which are foreign to us and with which we don't agree, even rules which we consider to be cruel and "backward."

But it's their country, and those are their rules and customs, and now they will return to living as they did before we got there and started ordering them around and demanding that they do things our way, or else.

It's "or else" time in Afghanistan, folks, only this time it's their "or else" that counts. That's what you get when you invade and occupy foreign countries. You get shown the door and told not to let it hit you on the way out.

Whether or not we'll learn a lesson this time is doubtful. But what's not doubtful is that it's not Biden's fault. It's ours, because we paid the taxes and elected the politicians who put us there, and we elected the politicians who kept us there, and now we have elected the politician who is getting us out.

Good on him.

Cuomo and Trump have similar sordid histories — but only Republicans are sticking with their man no matter what

Andrew Cuomo is out as governor of New York. Reeling from allegations in a 165-page report by New York Attorney General Leticia James that he sexually harassed 11 women and assaulted at least one, most of whom worked under him in state government, and facing impeachment proceedings, Cuomo announced last Monday that he will resign on Aug. 24.

Cuomo faces charges that he groped and engaged in unwanted touching of several women, made inappropriate and suggestive comments and created a hostile work environment for women who worked for him. One of the women, Brittany Commisso, his former executive assistant, filed a criminal complaint accusing Cuomo of groping and rubbing her butt and slipping his hand inside her blouse and bra and grabbing her breast. The charge filed by Commisso is the most serious allegation against Cuomo. Four district attorneys from jurisdictions in Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, and Nassau counties have announced that they are reviewing the evidence presented in the attorney general's report.

Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat. Both houses of the New York state legislature are controlled by Democrats. Had Cuomo not announced he would resign, he would clearly have been impeached and convicted and removed from office by the state legislature.

Cuomo's rapid fall after allegations of sexual harassment and assault is reminiscent of Al Franken's resignation from the U.S. Senate. Franken faced allegations that he had forcibly kissed and groped several women. He was never accused of sexual assault, but less than a month after the first sexual harassment allegation was made against him in November of 2017, Franken announced he would resign from the Senate.

It has been said that Democrats eat their own, but it's more accurate to say that Democratic men, when they are caught acting being disgusting, at least have the sense to apologize and resign their positions. Democrat Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign as New York governor in 2008 following allegations that he had been a frequent customer of a high-priced prostitution ring. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, another incredibly disgusting New York political figure, resigned from office in 2018 after the New Yorker reported that four women had accused him of physical abuse during sex. The women said that Schneiderman had choked, hit or slapped them without their consent.

Republicans, on the other hand, are not known for having a problem with men in their party when they are charged with sexual harassment and assault. Take the man who has been the leader of the Republican Party since he won the presidency in 2016: Donald Trump. In addition to various affairs Trump has had during three of his marriages, and the payoffs he has made to keep the women quiet, Trump has faced many accusations of harassment and abuse over several decades.

Let's take a look at what the Republican Party believes does not amount to behavior that would disqualify you from holding office. This list of Trump's alleged incidents of sexual misconduct is compiled from reports on ABC News and Time Magazine.

In a divorce filing, Trump's then-wife, Ivana, charged him with forcibly raping her in 1989. She is the mother of Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka. Later, under pressure to settle her divorce case, she withdrew her allegation, explaining that while she did feel "violated," she did not mean rape "in a literal or criminal sense."

Former model and photographer Kristin Anderson says that Trump shoved his hand under her dress and forcibly grabbed her vagina without her consent in a nightclub in the early 1990s. Anderson, who was in her early 20's at the time, said Trump was a stranger, a guy sitting next to her in a nightclub.

Jill Harth, a makeup artist, says that Trump groped her under her skirt at a dinner for contestants in one of his beauty pageants in 1992. She told the Guardian Trump had "pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress" in one of his children's rooms at Mar-a-Lago in the early 1990s.

Temple Taggart McDowell, a former Miss USA contestant, says that Trump forcibly kissed her on the lips more than once at the pageant in 1997.

Amy Dorris, a former model, told the Guardian that Trump groped her and forcibly shoved his tongue down her throat in 1997 at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. "I was pushing him off. And then that's when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything," she said. "I felt trapped."

Lisa Boyne told HuffPost in 2016 that at a dinner she attended in 1996, women were forced her to walk across the table in order to leave the room. She says Trump commented on her underwear and vagina as she passed him.

Advice columnist E. Jean Carroll says that Trump pushed her up against the wall of a department store dressing room in the mid 1990s and forced his penis inside her. She has filed a lawsuit against Trump accusing him of rape.

Mariah Billado, who was Miss Vermont at the Miss Teen USA pageant in 1997, says Trump walked into her dressing room without her consent while she and other contestants were partially undressed. Trump admitted walking into dressing rooms and looking at undressed contestants on the Howard Stern Show in 2005, telling Stern he got away with it because "I'm the owner of the pageant."

Jessica Leeds says that Trump shoved his hand beneath her skirt and groped her "everywhere" while sitting next to him on a flight in the late 1970s. When she ran into him at a party in New York City several years later, Trump recognized her and called her a "cunt." She told the New York Times in 2016, "It was shocking. It was like a bucket of cold water being thrown over me."

Cathy Heller told The Guardian she was celebrating a Mother's Day brunch at Mar-a-Lago in the late 1990s with her husband, children, and mother in law when Trump walked up to her table and forcibly kissed her and grabbed her. She said Trump got angry when she tried to avoid his kiss and said, "Oh, come on!"

Karena Virginia told a press conference in 2016 that Trump walked up to her in the parking lot of the U.S. Open in 1998 and groped her breast against her will and asked her, "Don't you know who I am?"

Karen Johnson, a member of the Mar-a-Lago club, says that Trump pulled her behind a set of drapes and forcibly grabbed her vagina and kissed her on the lips in the early 2000's. "I didn't have a say in the matter," she says. Trump continued to pursue her by calling her repeatedly and offering to fly her to New York.

Miss Teen USA contestant Bridget Sullivan says that Trump walked into the dressing room at the pageant while she was undressed and hugged her "a little low on [her] back" against her will. He was like "a creepy uncle," Sullivan says.

Tasha Dixon, another Miss Teen USA contestant, made a similar claim against Trump, saying that he entered her dressing room at the pageant when she and the other girls were "half naked changing in our bikinis. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything." Dixon was 18 years old when Trump ogled her in 2001.

Natasha Stoynoff, a reporter for People Magazine, says that Trump sexually assaulted her at his Mar-a-Lago club in 2005 while Melania – whom he had just married – was in another room changing for a photo shoot. Trump said he would take her to Peter Luger's steakhouse and told her, "You know we're going to have an affair, don't you?"

Former porn actress Jessica Drake told a press conference held by attorney Gloria Allred in 2016 that Trump kissed her and grabbed her without her permission in his hotel room at Lake Tahoe after a charity golf tournament in 2006. She said two other young women were also present, and he forcibly kissed them, too. Trump offered her $10,000 to return to his hotel room alone later. When she declined his offer, he said "What do you want? How much?" and offered her the use of his private plane.

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," told a news conference in 2016 that during a private meeting in his room at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007, Trump "grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again and placed his hand on my breast."

Rachel Crooks, a former receptionist for the Bayrock Group, one of Trump's companies at Trump Tower, says that Trump forcibly kissed her without her consent outside an elevator in 2005. "It was so inappropriate," Crooks told the New York Times in 2016.

Mindy McGillivray says that Trump forcibly grabbed her buttocks without her consent in 2003 in a backstage area of a Ray Charles concert at Mar-a-Lago.

Samantha Holvey, a Miss USA contestant in 2006, told CNN in 2016 that Trump "inspected" her and other contestants "like we were just meat, we were just sexual objects," before the pageant. It made her feel "the dirtiest I felt in my entire life," she says.

Former Miss Finland Ninni Laaksonen told a Finnish newspaper that Trump groped her without her consent and "grabbed my butt" backstage at the David Letterman show in 2006 when she made an appearance with other Miss Universe contestants. Trump was the owner of the Miss Universe pageant at the time.

Cassandra Searles, a former Miss USA contestanty, says that Trump "continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room" at the pageant in 2013. She says Trump treated her and the other contestants "like cattle." Trump was the owner of the Miss USA pageant.

Sexual assault by forcibly grabbing and touching breasts and vaginas. Forcible kissing. Shoving women against walls and holding them against their will. Pulling a woman behind a set of drapes and assaulting her. Making disgusting and demeaning comments about genitalia and other body parts. Leering at naked teenagers backstage at a pageant.

And violent forcible rape, more than once.

Donald Trump isn't alone among Republican sexual abusers. Right now, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies for sex trafficking a minor, procuring sex and having sex with a minor.

Andrew Cuomo is out as governor of New York. Donald Trump just reported raising $100 million, likely in preparation to run for president again in 2024. His support among members of the Republican Party is currently above 80 percent. Republicans evidently believe sexual harassment and assault of women is a sign of strength and manhood, and a reason to vote for a disgusting slimeball like Donald Trump.

There's a difference between Democrats and Republicans. Don't forget it.

How Trump blew his chance to steal the election

The months leading up to Nov. 3, 2020, were for Donald Trump almost a carbon copy of what he had done going into the presidential election four years previously: He thumbed tweets, whined at his rallies and complained to anyone who would listen that the election had been "rigged" by Democrats. Of course, after election eve in 2016, we never heard another peep out of him about the dastardly Democrats and the wily ways they had rigged the election against him, because he won.

This article was originally published at Salon

But from the moment that his network of pet poodles at Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden in November of 2020, causing a series of eruptions in the private quarters at the White House, culminated in a call to Fox executives to demand that the network reverse its Arizona projection, Trump understood that this time it would be different. He would lose.

Trump turned immediately to the courts, filing more than 60 federal lawsuits in the battleground states he lost claiming that the election had been "stolen" from him. But as one case after another went down to defeat or outright dismissal, he turned to loyalist loons like former general Michael Flynn, online conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, My Pillow guy Mike Lindell and — wait for it — the Proud Boys to push his obsession that he hadn't lost, and that the election had been rigged by nefarious forces.

See if this doesn't sound familiar. On Dec. 12, several thousand pro-Trump demonstrators showed up in Washington for at least two rallies, one on the Mall and the other on the steps of the Supreme Court, to protest its decision the previous day to throw out a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Texas seeking to bar the states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania from casting their electoral ballots for Biden. The court issued a brief unsigned order on Dec. 11 saying that Texas had no "interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections" and dismissed the lawsuit. A few days earlier, the court had dismissed another suit filed by Pennsylvania Republicans seeking to throw out that state's Biden electors, thus disenfranchising millions of voters.

Trump was watching closely. With Proud Boys marching through downtown Washington in mock-military formations shouting "Move out!" and "1776!" Trump tweeted "Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn't know about this, but I'll be seeing them! #MAGA." A bit later, he tweeted, "WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!"

He must have liked what he saw on the streets of the nation's capital that Saturday, because seven days later, on Dec. 19, Trump was tweeting "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" The next week, on Dec. 26, he tweeted "The 'Justice' Department and the FBI have done nothing about the 2020 Presidential Election Voter Fraud, the biggest SCAM in our nation's history, despite overwhelming evidence. They should be ashamed. History will remember. Never give up. See everyone in D.C. on January 6th."

After seven hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Saturday by former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, and five hours of testimony before the same committee on Friday by Rosen's former acting deputy, Richard Donoghue, we now know that behind the scenes, Trump was very busy.

On Dec. 15, the day after Bill Barr announced that he would be leaving his post as attorney general, Trump summoned Rosen to the Oval Office and told him he wanted the DOJ to file legal briefs supporting the lawsuits he had not yet lost challenging election results in battleground states. He demanded that Rosen appoint special counsels to investigate Dominion Voting Systems, which had provided voting machines in multiple states. Rosen demurred, citing what Barr had already reported to Trump, which was that the DOJ had investigated his charges and had found no evidence of widespread or significant voter fraud.

Rosen told the Judiciary Committee that Trump called him almost daily trying to get him to have the Department of Justice declare that the presidential election was "corrupt" and announce that the department was initiating investigations of "election irregularities" in multiple states, including Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — all states Trump had lost narrowly to Biden.

Rosen continued to defer and delay on the phone, and Trump started talking with the acting head of the DOJ's civil division, Jeffrey Clark, who was more amenable to Trump's conspiracies. Rosen described to the Judiciary Committee five separate "encounters" with Clark over his plotting behind Rosen's back with Trump, all of which took place between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3.

Trump became fixated on his narrow defeat in Georgia, placed a now-famous phone call to Gov. Brian Kemp on Dec. 5, trying to get him to pressure the state legislature to overturn Biden's victory in the state. Kemp deflected, telling him that he had no power to call for investigations into signatures on absentee ballots or any of the other things Trump was urging him to do.

On Dec. 27, at Trump's urging, Clark produced a letter dated the following day he wanted Rosen and Donoghue to sign. Aware that the governor of Georgia had rejected Trump's entreaties, Clark's letter amounted to a DOJ legal analysis that the state legislature could call itself into session without the governor's authority, reject the electors pledged to Joe Biden and appoint its own slate of Trump electors. "Time is of the essence," the Clark letter pleaded, because Congress would convene in joint session to certify the election on Jan. 6.

Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign the letter, telling Clark "this is not even within the realm of possibility."

That didn't end it. Clark apparently demanded a meeting with Rosen and Donohue, which took place at the DOJ on New Year's Eve. Clark told them Trump was planning on firing Rosen and replacing him with Clark so he could carry out his plan to manipulate the Georgia legislature into appointing a new slate of Trump electors. Clark told his two bosses that he was meeting with Trump the next week to carry this out.

Instead, Clark met with Trump a day later and showed him the letter, discussing their plan for a Trumpian "Saturday Night Massacre." Rosen and Donoghue demanded a meeting with Trump, at which they planned on telling him that the entire senior leadership of the Justice Department would resign en masse if Trump appointed Clark as acting attorney general.

Before that meeting took place, news emerged that Trump had placed a lengthy call to the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, demanding that the latter "find" enough votes to overturn the election results in his state. "I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump said, according to a tape of the call obtained by the Washington Post.

The Oval Office meeting between Trump, Rosen, Donoghue and Clark went on the next evening, attended by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who advised the president not to fire Rosen because such a move would trigger congressional investigations and distract from Trump's attempts to overturn the election. After three hours, the meeting broke up, with Rosen and Donoghue still in their jobs.

Rosen and Donoghue told the Senate Judiciary Committee that with only 17 days remaining until the presidential inauguration, they believed they had avoided a constitutional crisis. But we all know what happened three days later, on Jan. 6, when a violent mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol building and delayed for several hours the certification of the electoral ballots which made Joe Biden president.

Between the early hours of Nov. 4, when Trump first realized he had lost the election, and Jan. 6, when the assault on the Capitol dominated every news cycle until the inauguration (and beyond), Trump was all over the place in his attempts to overturn the election. He was consumed with the lawsuits being filed around the country on his behalf — but was losing them, one after another. He was obsessed with following conspiracy theories about Biden ballots being carried by Special Forces soldiers from Germany and stuffed into ballot boxes in battleground states, about mysterious computers and satellites controlled by Italy switching Biden votes for Trump votes in battleground states, and multiple other outlandish conspiracies.

But beginning on Dec. 12, with the Proud Boys march through Washington and the demonstrations on the Mall and at the Supreme Court, Trump became fixated on holding a rally on Jan. 6 that he believed could prevent the certification of electoral ballots taking place that day. Two days later, he began his campaign to get the Department of Justice to join his plan to pressure state legislatures in a handful of states he had lost to throw out Biden electors and appoint their own slates of Trump electors.

He tweeted on Dec. 19, 26, 27 and 30, all dates coinciding with his pressure on Rosen and Donoghue to use the Department of Justice to help him overturn the election. On Jan. 1, the day he met with Jeffrey Clark to discuss firing Rosen, he tweeted "The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C. will take place at 11:00 A.M. on January 6th. Locational details to follow. StopTheSteal!" On Jan. 4, Trump traveled to Georgia to hold a rally, nominally in support of the two Republican candidates in the U.S. Senate runoff election, but really to put pressure on Georgia legislators to overturn the election.

Practically every move Trump made in December and January in advance of Jan. 6 was a crime. Pressuring Jeffrey Rosen to misuse the Department of Justice to support his private lawsuits was a crime. Conspiring with Jeffrey Clark to fire Rosen so Clark could send the letter to the Georgia legislature was a crime. Calling Brad Raffensperger and Brian Kemp and pressuring them to "find" votes and use the legislature to overturn the election was a crime. Meeting with his own White House staff and outside advisers to plan the rally on the Ellipse at which he would incite the assault on the Capitol was a crime.

Trump's problem, to put it frankly, was that he didn't start committing crimes early enough. The crimes he committed in December and January were largely impulsive, not carefully planned or focused. He exploded with tweets and phone calls and meetings and rallies.

In short, Trump was Trump, as incompetent a criminal conspirator as he was a president. The only question left to be answered at this point is whether Merrick Garland and the Biden Department of Justice will have the courage to charge him and his co-conspirators with the felonies they committed: defrauding the United States by attempting to illegally influence the outcome of the 2020 election.

If that crime sounds familiar, that is because it is the same one special counsel Robert Mueller charged 24 Russian nationals with committing in 2016, when they illegally hacked into Democratic National Committee servers, stole campaign emails and set up fake accounts to influence voters on American social media platforms. With Donald Trump, nothing is ever new. Just watch him. He's out there right now raising $100 million to do it all over again in 2024. And the entire Republican Party is right there with him.

Will things ever return to normal? It doesn't look that way right now

The message of the Centers for Disease Control's documents obtained by the Washington Post and the New York Times on Friday isn't specified in those documents themselves, but in one epidemiologist's reaction to them. "Herd immunity is not relevant as we are seeing plenty of evidence of repeat and breakthrough infections," Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University epidemiologist, told the Post.

This article first appeared in Salon.

If you're like me, you will probably need a moment to let that sink in. Until Friday morning, July 30, 2021, herd immunity was the goal we were all working towards. Remember when President Biden set his goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by July 4? What followed was an extended discussion among experts and politicians about whether that goal would amount to the country reaching "herd immunity." The hope was that COVID would turn out to be similar to chicken pox or measles or polio, diseases for which herd immunity was long ago reached with vaccines. When enough people had been vaccinated, those diseases simply went away, with only occasional outbreaks of measles in communities which lost their herd immunity, due largely to anti-vaccine movements.

Most experts believed that it would take vaccinating somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of Americans for the country to reach something resembling herd immunity. The fact that COVID is a global pandemic, with many countries in the developing world lacking widespread vaccine distribution, argued against the kind of herd immunity eventually reached against diseases like polio. Still, the goal seemed within reach if enough of us could be convinced to get vaccinated. At that point, it was hoped, normal life in this country could resume, with people eating in restaurants, going to the movies, attending concerts, singing in church choirs, playing sports and attending school uninhibited by requirements to social distance or keep wearing masks.

On Friday, that hope went out the door. The CDC internal health document obtained by the Post and the Times urges federal health officials to "acknowledge the war has changed." What changed the CDC's approach to COVID was "unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated," according to the Post.

Herd immunity has to do with transmissibility. A disease goes away when enough people become immune to the infectious agent such that it can no longer be transmitted among a population. The CDC on Friday essentially admitted that being vaccinated against COVID doesn't make you immune. You can still contract the disease, especially the delta variant, and having become infected, you can still transmit the disease to others whether you have symptoms or not.

If you get down in the weeds of the CDC findings, you find that the lack of immunity provided by the current vaccines has to do with the way the antibodies produced by the vaccines act within the body. When the COVID vaccines are injected, the antibodies produced by the human immune system appear mostly in the blood. "Some antibodies may make their way into the nose, the main port of entry for the virus, but not enough to block it," the Times reported Friday. "The Delta variant seems to flourish in the nose, and its abundance may explain why more people than scientists expected are experiencing break-through infections and cold-like symptoms."

Vaccinated people can spread the virus almost as easily as unvaccinated people because the so-called "viral loads" in their noses and upper respiratory tracts can be nearly as strong as in unvaccinated people. When vaccinated people become infected, the virus attempts to travel from the nose and throat into the lungs. This is where the antibodies built up by the vaccines go to work, preventing a severe enough infection to need hospitalization.

"The vaccines — they're beautiful, they work, they're amazing," Dr. Frances Lund, a viral immunologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Times. "But they're not going to give you that local immunity." Vaccinated people will be contagious for a much shorter time, Dr. Lund told the Times. "But that doesn't mean that in those first couple of days, when they're infected, they can't transmit it to somebody else."

There's the rub about COVID. Since vaccinated people can still "catch" the delta variant of COVID and transmit it to other people almost as easily as unvaccinated people, "in some sense, vaccination is now about personal protection — protecting oneself against severe disease," Dr. Shaman, the Columbia University epidemiologist told the Post. So it's not about the "herd," it's just about you.

This is why the CDC's findings this week are a game-changer. It's also why the CDC has released new guidelines suggesting a return to mask-wearing, even among vaccinated people, in areas of the country that are experiencing an uptick in breakouts of the disease. Getting the vaccine doesn't keep you from getting the disease, and it doesn't keep you from spreading it.

Of course, this might raise the question among the unvaccinated of why they should get the vaccine at all. If everybody can still get the disease and spread it to the extent that the CDC is going back to saying we've got to wear masks again – all of us, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike – what's the use?

For one thing, all the available vaccines provide protection against coming down with a bad enough case of the disease that you'll need to be hospitalized and run the risk of dying. And vaccines at least lower the possibility that you'll contract the disease and be likely to spread it. So we've gone from expecting that the vaccines will make us immune to the knowledge that the vaccines will protect us from severe infection and the symptoms of "long COVID" and the possibility of dying from the disease.

The message is, COVID is as contagious as chicken pox, Ebola or the common cold, and getting vaccinated isn't going to prevent you from catching it. But it will save your life.

That is a more nuanced argument for the vaccines, and it will have to be the argument that health care professionals and politicians take to the population that isn't yet vaccinated. Telling them that getting vaccinated is some kind of cure-all would be a lie, so tell them the truth.

I think the other thing the CDC findings published on Friday tell us is that the unvaccinated population is no longer "the problem." They are part of the problem, because they can of course catch the disease and spread it, but, as we just learned, so can those of us who are vaccinated. We may be returning to the point where "the problem," if there is one, is more about people who refuse to adhere to mask mandates, or those politicians who, faced with outbreaks of the disease, refuse to impose them.

If there is an enemy in the war against COVID it's the virus itself, which is far more virulent than we knew. It is mutating, and mutations like the delta variant are making the disease much worse than it was in the beginning. I think we will have to assume that there will be new mutations, new variants, meaning this disease is going to be with us in one form or another for years – maybe forever, like the seasonal flu and the common cold. We're going to have to learn to live with the disease even if more and more Americans come around to getting vaccinated, because while the vaccine may protect us as individuals, it will never protect us as the "herd" we hoped to become by getting vaccinated. We're never going to reach herd immunity, but it behooves us as a nation to reach a herd understanding that for better or worse, we're all in this together.

Democrats have a massive opportunity with Capitol riot committee: Shove it down the GOP's throat

Democrats have the opportunity of a lifetime when they open hearings of the House select committee on the Capitol insurrection Tuesday morning, but they can miss that opportunity by making three mistakes: If they fail to prominently show videos of the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, if they fail to announce that hearings of the committee will resume immediately following the August recess and continue until the committee has completed its work, and if they turn Rep. Liz Cheney into a rock star.

Let's put the Cheney matter away first. Sure, she was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump the second time around for his role in provoking the assault on the Capitol, and her statements about Trump's culpability are helpful. But every time she starts running her mouth about the Constitution, I take a moment to consider her abject opposition to constitutional rights like abortion and marriage equality. This is a woman who picks and chooses the battles she wants to fight, and her late-blooming anti-Trumpism may have less to do with preserving our democracy and the Constitution than it does with her ambition. Democrats aren't fooling anyone with Cheney and the recent appointment of Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. They aren't the loyal opposition. Among Republicans, their opposition to Trump is as convenient as it is rare, but that doesn't deserve excessive thank-yous from Democrats.

This committee is about as nonpartisan as Trey Gowdy's Benghazi committee. You remember that wonderfully principled inquiry, don't you? Formed in May of 2014, the Benghazi committee managed to string out hearings over two years and did not shut down until December of 2016, after spending more than $4 million on its spurious "investigation" of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the Obama administration's response.

The Benghazi committee wasn't intended to be nonpartisan. No less a figure than Kevin McCarthy went on Sean Hannity's show, halfway through the committee's lifespan, and said, "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable."

Along with coining brand-new words like "untrustable," McCarthy and the Benghazi committee accomplished every one of the Republicans' goals. They dragged out the process right through the entire 2016 presidential election cycle, through the primaries, through both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, right through the November election itself. They held hearings. They leaked. They exaggerated. They lied. They put Hillary Clinton at the witness table for eight hours on Oct. 22, 2015, almost exactly a week after the first Democratic primary debate in Nevada, and three weeks before the second and much more important debate in Iowa. They did everything they possibly could to drag her through the political mud. They didn't try to hide it. They just did it.

If Democrats don't do the same thing with their Jan. 6 select committee, they will be missing the chance to tar and feather not only Donald Trump but the entire Republican Party. Everybody knows what happened on Jan. 6. Everybody knows who assaulted the Capitol. It was a violent mob of Trump supporters. They didn't try to conceal who they were. They waved Trump flags. They wore MAGA hats. They chanted Trump slogans. They filmed themselves with their cell phones and immediately posted the clips on social media. They tweeted. They Facebooked. They Instagrammed. They gave interviews to whoever from the mainstream media was present. And then they went home and bragged about it.

Everybody knows that some 550 of the Trump supporters present at the Capitol on Jan. 6 have been arrested and charged with federal crimes. Several have already pled guilty and at least one has been sentenced to jail. Everybody knows that 165 of them have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement officers.

And everyone knows that the man who incited the riot at the Capitol, Donald Trump, has been on a tour of rallies bent on lying his way out of culpability for the insurrection. Trump and his Republican acolytes have been characterizing the assault on the Capitol as just another day of "tourist visits" by a "loving crowd." Everybody knows they're attempting to pull off the old "who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" scam. Trump is the past master of that one. Nobody in American politics has told so many lies or repeated them as often as Donald Trump. He's good at wielding the Big Lie, but he is also the master blaster of the Blizzard of Lies. He knows he can't insult the intelligence of his base. Hell, they're out there believing every lie that gets thrown at them about how vaccines are responsible for more deaths than COVID and masks don't prevent the disease, they spread it. They'll believe his lies that pipe-wielding Proud Boys were just showing the Capitol police some love.

The problem faced by the House select committee is this: What do you do in the face of such blissful ignorance? Well, so far Democrats have been winning the insurrection-commission wars because they have Nancy Pelosi leading them. She has outmaneuvered McCarthy every time he's tried to throw up a Trump-licking roadblock. He thought he could beat her by getting together with Mitch McConnell to cancel the truly nonpartisan 9/11-style commission Pelosi proposed to investigate the attack on the Capitol. Pelosi fired back with the select committee. McCarthy thought he could turn her committee into a clown car by appointing the two Jims, Ohio Republican Jordan and Indiana Republican Banks, to the committee. Pelosi rejected both of them. Then McCarthy announced Republicans would boycott the committee entirely, apparently thinking Pelosi would wilt under charges that her committee was too partisan. Pelosi shot back by appointing Cheney and Kinzinger.

What the Lickspittle Caucus is now looking at is a committee entirely controlled by the toughest Democratic speaker of the House to come along since … who? Sam Rayburn? Tip O'Neill? Neither of those glad-handers could carry Nancy Pelosi's purse. If McCarthy and the Republicans had gone along with the nonpartisan commission originally worked out between the parties in the House, they would have had veto power over subpoenas and at least some role in which witnesses to call and how long the commission would last.

Gone. Republicans won't be able to stop Democrats on the committee from subpoenaing key witnesses to Trump's behavior during the insurrection, including Ivanka Trump and even McCarthy, who spoke with the instigator in chief on the phone that day. If Pelosi wants to call Trump himself to testify before the committee, she can do it. If Republicans contest the subpoenas, Pelosi can order House lawyers into court to fight, and if the court cases drag out, so will the term of the committee. Pelosi will be free to have the committee hold hearings through the fall and winter, right into the middle of the 2022 campaign season if she so chooses.

And why shouldn't she? Trump is going to stay out there on the rally circuit spreading his lies, but Democrats will have the select committee to counter them. If Pelosi wants to schedule a hearing for the day after every one of Trump's rallies, she can. If she wants to call witnesses to rebut specific lies he blathers, she can. Best of all, there are enough hours of videos from the assault on the Capitol that the select committee will be able to play a couple hours of video every time they hold a hearing and hardly make a dent in the supply. The video of the murder of George Floyd is what convicted Derek Chauvin. Videos of the Capitol insurrection present the same sort of damning evidence.

I lost track years ago of the number of times I've wished Democrats would learn to fight as hard as Republicans. Nancy Pelosi is, thankfully, as principled as she is tough, and she's exactly what we need right now. As for Kevin McCarthy, he can make all the pilgrimages he wants to Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago or wherever else Trump is holed up with his golf clubs and his Diet Cokes and his burgers. He can huff and puff all he wants, but he won't be able to blow Nancy's House down.

Republicans have become the Death Wish Party

"Death Wish" was a hit movie in 1974, starring Charles Bronson as a violent vigilante. Now it's the primary motivation for the Republican Party. As of this week, in 13 states you have a legal right not merely to have a death wish but to inflict it on others by refusing to get vaccinated against COVID. In 21 more states, bills have been introduced that would limit any requirements that individuals produce evidence that they have been vaccinated. In six of those states, the laws specify that schools, including public primary and secondary schools and public colleges, cannot require coronavirus vaccines, even while the same schools continue to require vaccinations against whooping cough, polio, measles and chicken pox.

This article first appeared in Salon.

"It seems to be kind of a mixed bag of all the things going on here — there's the limiting of requiring proof of vaccine, there's the limiting of requiring the vaccination itself, the prohibition of the mandates. So, there's a lot," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN.

These bills are being called "vaccine freedom laws," as in, you have a right to be free of the vaccines against COVID. What's not a mixed bag is the political leaning of the states. All the states where such laws are in effect are controlled by Republican governors and legislatures: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

You could call them the death wish states, or the Kevorkian states, after the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was jailed for eight years after assisting a man to commit suicide who suffered from ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease. So if you want to enjoy your freedom to catch COVID and possibly die, those 13 states are the states for you. In six of them, you are guaranteed the freedom to subject your unvaccinated children to the virus as well.

At the same time the Republican Party is moving to protect your right to refuse the COVID vaccine, rates of infection are on the rise across the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, the new case rate is 10 percent higher in 46 states than it was last week. According to CNN, "In 31 states, new cases this past week are at least 50% higher than new cases the previous week."

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN that more than 99 percent of deaths from Covid in June were unvaccinated patients. CNN reports that "the vast majority of new Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths … are among unvaccinated people, doctors say."

The Delta variant of the virus is causing more infections among children and young adults than before. In Missouri, where just 39 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, the situation is so bad that the CDC and FEMA have sent teams of specialists to the state to help stop the spread of the disease. "We've been seeing a much younger population," Dr. Harold Jarvis, an emergency physician in Springfield, Missouri, told CNN. "We're seeing a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, early 50s. We're seeing some teenagers and some pediatric patients as well."

Missouri is one of the states that has passed a law forbidding the requirement of a COVID vaccine or evidence of vaccination such as a so-called vaccine passport.

In Mississippi, where the vaccination rate is only 33 percent, seven children are in intensive care with COVID disease and two are on ventilators, according to the state health officer, Thomas Dobbs. On Monday, Dobbs tweeted "Pretty much ALL cases in MS are Delta variant right now. Vast majority of cases/hospitalizations/deaths UNVACCINATED." By Wednesday, Dobbs was tweeting that the state had suffered a "Big jump," and reported 641 new cases and five deaths in one day, along with 36 new outbreaks of the virus in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

Mississippi has three bills pending before the state legislature that would prohibit issuing a "vaccine passport" and prohibit businesses and state facilities from requiring proof of vaccination.. One bill has passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature.

But it's in Tennessee that promotion of the Republican death wish has reached its nadir. On Monday, the state fired its top immunization official for her efforts to get teenagers vaccinated against the COVID virus. "This is about a partisan issue around covid vaccines and around people in power in Tennessee not believing in the importance in vaccinating the people, and so they terminated the person in charge of getting it done," Michelle Fiscus told the Washington Post. She was director of all immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health. "The government is sacrificing public health to be in the good graces of our legislators; it's a horrid dereliction of duty," she said on Monday. The Tennessean, the state's largest daily newspaper, reported on Tuesday that the state would stop promoting vaccinations for all teenagers, and would cease sending out reminders for teenagers who had received one vaccination to get their second dose.

That's more than a death wish. With 99 percent of all deaths from Covid among the unvaccinated, that is more like the organized and state-sanctioned killing of children.

I've been reading these stories all week and trying to figure out what's driving this madness. The evidence is out there for everyone to see. There can't be a state legislator or governor in this country who isn't aware that virtually all people who come down with COVID today, and 98 or 99 percent of those who die from the disease, are unvaccinated. They have to be aware of the fact, and it is a fact, that if you want to avoid being hospitalized with this disease and dying from it, a vaccination will not only help, it will absolutely prevent both outcomes.

They're not just standing up and speaking out against the COVID vaccines, they are passing laws with the express purpose of making it easier for people to refuse vaccinations. In some cases, these laws are specifically aimed at school-age children. It's one thing to put your adult neighbors and employees and fellow workers at risk. It's quite another to put not only your children, but all children at greater risk of getting sick with a virus that, with the spread of the Delta Variant, is showing signs of being deadly to children as well as adults.

The only answer I've been able to come up with is the obvious one. It's about politics, and not just any politics. These Republican death wish laws have one purpose: they are designed to make President Biden's push to get all Americans vaccinated fail. Republicans at the CPAC gathering last week in Dallas were laughing at references to Biden's goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by the Fourth of July. One speaker received an ovation when he told the crowd, "The government was hoping they could sucker 90% of the population into getting vaccinated. And it isn't happening."

"The government," of course, is no longer being run by the man the whole CPAC conference was designed to celebrate, former president Donald Trump. It's run by the man who beat him, Joe Biden, and the Republican Party seems determined to do as much damage to his vaccination program as they can, even if that means enacting laws that will surely cause more people to get sick from the virus and die.

Republicans have become the death wish party. Unsatisfied with passing laws to take away people's right to vote, they have moved on to passing laws that will, without a doubt, take away people's right to life.

The next insurrection: They don't have the votes, but they've got the guns

You want to know what has doomed Nancy Pelosi's attempts to get a bipartisan agreement to investigate the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6? Every time she has talked about why we need a bipartisan commission or the select committee, she said they were necessary "so nothing like this will ever happen again."

This article first appeared in Salon.

Republicans aren't against investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection because they fear it will make them look bad. They're against doing anything to make sure that such an insurrection doesn't happen again.

The assault on the Capitol is already damaging to the Republican Party image, at least to outsiders. The Capitol was attacked by a violent mob of Trump supporters. It's doubtful there were any Democrats among them. The assault took place immediately after a Trump rally on the Ellipse and was incited by the then-president. Several Republican members of Congress joined Trump in addressing the crowd, along with other famous party stalwarts like Rudy Giuliani. It was a Republican rally with a Republican crowd. So was the mob at the Capitol.

Republican members of Congress know it was their supporters out there beating down the doors of the Capitol, ransacking the well of the Senate and looting congressional offices. Republicans don't want to investigate the violence at the Capitol because they want to leave the door open for it to happen again.

Most of them come from safe seats in Republican-majority congressional districts, many of them in Republican-controlled states. Republican senators, not all of them but most, come from Republican states in the South and Midwest. But every one of them can read census numbers, and every one of them understands that their days are numbered, even in states that have been Republican strongholds for decades, like Arizona and Texas. They saw the Election Day returns which showed previously Republican suburbs falling to the Democrats all over the country. They read the depressing voting numbers for millennials and younger voters that show them strongly leaning Democratic. Even a dull, lumbering beast like the Republican Party can tell when a water hole runs dry.

They can read the polls showing how popular Democratic issues are, including improved access to health care, the pandemic rescue bill, the infrastructure bill and the American Family Plan. How many calls have you heard Republicans make lately for repealing Obamacare? How many speeches have you heard them make saying we don't need to spend money on crumbling bridges, obsolete airports and ancient, failing mass transit like the Long Island Railroad or the Chicago Transit Authority or the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority? They don't dare oppose spending that is in any way grounded in reality. All they can come up with is screaming about "socialism" and "Democratic Party wish-lists," because their constituents drive across cracking bridges and commute on failing transit systems and pay a third of their income on rent and a third on child care and way more than they can afford on health care.

Electorally, Republicans are hanging on by their fingernails. In 2020, in the midst of the worst pandemic since 1918, before a single American had received a life-saving vaccination, with 230,000 already dead from the coronavirus and more deaths on the way, voters turned out in record numbers. And Republicans lost. They lost the White House. They lost the House of Representatives. After a runoff election, they lost control of the Senate. They did well locally in Republican-controlled states, maintaining control of state houses and governorships, but they lost ground in the areas where the country is growing. They lost the big cities. They lost the suburbs. They lost in population centers in the South and Midwest and West. They lost in the places where people are moving, where young people are getting jobs when they graduate from college, where many seniors are choosing to retire.

After the 2020 election, Gallup found in a December poll that 31 percent of Americans identified as Democrats, 25 percent as Republicans and 41 percent as independents. When independents were asked whether they were "Democratic leaners" or "Republican leaners," 50 percent said they leaned Democratic, and 39 percent leaned Republican. These were not good numbers for the Republican Party. Nobody knows better than Republicans that there are fewer of them than there are of us.

You've heard chapter and verse from me and others about how Republicans are passing voter suppression laws to make it more difficult for Democrats to vote. They know they don't have the votes. They don't have them now, and they'll have even fewer of them in the future.

That's why they've started to concentrate their efforts at the state level on laws that change how votes are counted and who counts them, moving the center of power from elected officials like secretaries of state and appointed officials like election administrators to state legislatures, inherently political bodies where the counting can be managed and controlled politically.

It's why they're clinging to Trump's lie that the election was stolen from him, and it's why their own efforts to "audit" the 2020 election results in places like Arizona are so shambolic and absurd. They know that if honest assessments are done of how the election turned out in battleground states, they will come to the same conclusions that a 55-page report by the Michigan state Senate did last week: There was no election fraud in the 2020 election. None. Zero. Nada.

They've been downplaying the assault on the Capitol, calling it "a normal tourist visit" as Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia did during a hearing a few weeks ago. He is among a growing number of Republicans in Congress who are making the case that nothing really bad happened on Jan. 6, so there's no need to investigate it. They blocked the creation of a nonpartisan 9/11 style commission to investigate the insurrection, and they're in the process of undercutting Pelosi's select committee by labeling it as a Democratic exercise in blame-laying.

Furthermore, they're absolutely right. When the select committee issues its report, it's going to lay the blame where Republicans want it least: on Trump for inciting the riot, and on their own constituents for committing insurrection against the government. And the select committee will likely produce evidence that Republicans are not interested in seeing in the light of day: detailed accounts of the violence committed by the mob and reports of the preparations some of the mob had taken that we haven't seen yet, such as evidence of weapons caches — and planning by some insurrectionists to use them.

Republicans don't want a report that basically comes out and says, Here's how close we came to a coup against our government, and here is what they are planning next. Laws that put partisan political bodies like legislatures in charge of counting votes make it much more likely that an upcoming election will end up in a political wrangle — not down in the states where the counting takes place, but in Washington.

Think about it: there were no controls whatsoever on that mob in Washington on Jan. 6. Estimates of the size of the crowd at Trump's rally on the Ellipse ran as high as 30,000. More than 800 rioters are estimated to have broken through police barricades and entered the Capitol, with as many as 10,000 outside. They outnumbered police by the thousands.

What if that crowd had been armed? What if instead of carrying iron pipes and bear spray and flag poles they had been carrying AR-15s and pistols? What if some of them were carrying the kinds of bombs that were found outside the Democratic and Republican headquarters? Capitol police couldn't stop them from overwhelming barricades and gaining entrance to the Capitol. Do you think they could have searched that mob for hidden weapons and bombs?

This is why Republicans don't want to see an intensive investigation of the insurrection on Jan. 6. If an investigation proves how bad the insurrection was this time, it might predict what will be possible if a mob of 100,000 or more assault the Capitol or other governmental buildings in Washington, and what that mob might be capable of if they're organized and armed next time.

The Republican Party has reached the point where it does not recognize the legitimacy of elections unless it wins them. Democratic political victories are per se illegitimate in Republican eyes. Republicans are lapping up their own lawlessness and ramping up the insanity. They are turning right-wing lunatics like Kyle Rittenhouse into folk heroes. He is the shooter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who killed two people and wounded a third during Black Lives Matter protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Republican state legislatures in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed laws granting immunity to drivers who hit protesters with their cars during demonstrations on public streets. Multiple states already have laws allowing both open and concealed carry of firearms without a license, with more such laws on the way.

These are the kinds of laws that not only allow insurrection, but encourage it. The Proud Boys and the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers and their ilk aren't the right's political fringe anymore. They are the Republican base — and the Republican future.

Donald Trump and the new Lost Cause

Lies are a denomination of power. The bigger the lie, the more power it represents. Right now in this country, we are being treated daily to the Big Lie that Donald Trump was the true winner of the presidential election of 2020, and the only reason he's not in the White House right now is because the election was stolen from him.

This article first appeared in Salon.

You may have noticed that the people pushing the Big Lie today are very good at it. This is because many of them have been pushing an even bigger Big Lie for most of their lives: the lie of the Lost Cause, that the Civil War wasn't really fought over the disgraceful secession of the Southern states and slavery, it was instead a noble cause fought for the "honor" of the South, and that slavery itself wasn't bad or immoral, because enslaved people were happy workers living much better lives than they would have lived where they came from in Africa.

The Lost Cause was — or still is, because it lives today across a broad swath of America — the foundational ethos of racism and was used to perpetuate the racial crimes of the Jim Crow era, when Black Americans in the South were stripped of the right to vote and segregated from whites and subjected to the pernicious political and social discriminatory practices of white supremacy.

The Civil War was, of course, lost by the Confederacy, but you wouldn't know it if you lived in the South through the disgraceful years of Jim Crow or even today in the states which comprised the Confederacy. One of the truths about wars is that they are often won or lost not in the big battles which become famous and end up celebrated — or lamented — in the history books, but in smaller out-of-the-way battles that get largely forgotten.

The battle of Franklin, Tennessee, was one such battle in the Civil War. Little celebrated in the history books or anywhere except Franklin itself, the battle was fought late in the war, on November 30, 1864, and was part of the campaign by the Army of Tennessee following the Confederate defeat by the Union Army of Lt. Gen. William T. Sherman in the battle of Atlanta. Commanded by Confederate General John Bell Hood, the Army of Tennessee, instead of pursuing Sherman after he left Atlanta and began his famous "March to the Sea," turned westward and began a campaign to take Nashville from the Union forces which occupied this important manufacturing center of the South.

The battle of Franklin and the battle of Nashville, which followed quickly on its heels, were a disaster for the Confederacy. The Army of Tennessee began its campaign with 38,000 men in November of 1864. By January of 1865, the Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was in overall command of the Confederate armies in the West, would report to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, that his army was reduced in strength to 15,000, having lost more than 6,000 men on a single day in the battle of Franklin, and 2,500 more in the battle of Nashville. More than 2,000 losses were attributed to desertion in the ranks during both battles.

John Bell Hood was incompetent as a tactician and bloody awful as a combat commander. His campaign after the loss in Atlanta was "unfortunate" in the words of some sympathetic texts about the war. Confederate losses in the battle of Franklin were by some counts the largest in a single day in the war. Fourteen Confederate generals were either killed or wounded, along with 55 regimental commanders, decimating the leadership of the Confederate army in the west.

While living in Franklin a few years back, I visited part of the Franklin battlefield at Carnton Plantation with my son on a Cub Scout troop excursion. The house was transformed into a Confederate hospital during the battle of Franklin, and on the property is a cemetery containing 1,481 Confederate graves. The 48-acre site was the location of a plantation consisting of about 1,000 acres of land owned by Randal McGavock, who had been a state supreme court clerk and mayor of Nashville. The 1850 census showed 28 enslaved people working at the Carnton plantation. The plantation house and all the outbuildings, including a large sawmill, were built with slave labor. Records show that in 1859, McGavock's son John, who had inherited the plantation upon his father's death, "purchased a slave" for $2500 to run his sawmill. Currently owned by the Battle of Franklin Trust, you can visit the "historic" site seven days a week. An adult ticket costs $18, a child's ticket $8. All of the land you walk on was worked by the people enslaved at Carnton plantation. Every structure you walk through on the tour was built by enslaved people. Throughout the time the plantation existed, there were more enslaved people on the property than there were white people who owned them.

During the tour of the house, I was stricken by the way the docent described the battle of Franklin. Facing a group of us from a few steps up on the house's grand staircase, with a lavishly furnished entrance hall behind us, the docent went on at some length about what an "idiot" General Hood was, how he should never have been given command of a Confederate army, how his foolishness had led to so many sad deaths on the day of the battle. All of those now lying in the cemetery less than a hundred yards from the house were killed under Hood's command, due to his malfeasance as a commanding general. The docent's emphasis throughout his talk was on the tragedy of the deaths of so many good Southern boys. He didn't mention once the "cause" they fought for. In fact, the the words "slave" or "slavery" didn't pass his lips. It was as if the fact of slavery and the enslaved people owned by the McGavock family didn't exist.

Outside we had passed reenactors in Confederate army costumes. Inside the house, listening to the docent describe the incompetent General Hood and the incredible losses suffered in the battle, we could hear the reenactors firing blanks, showing the tourists how the Confederate soldiers fired their rifles. Omitted from the reenactor's demonstration was the fact that their rifles were fired in vain in a battle that cost the lives of several thousand Confederate soldiers attired just like them.

It was impossible to miss the implications of the whole scene at the plantation. The life of the distinguished McGavock family within the house was orderly, elegant, refined. The furnishings in the house were beautiful. The battle, as reenacted in a minor way outside and described by the docent inside, was tragic only in that the dastardly Hood had lost it. The Confederate soldiers had fought bravely, nobly for their cause, the Lost Cause that was on display all around us in the structures and land and furnishings. Unstated was the fact that the house itself was built by the enslaved and furnished and cleaned by them, the land was worked by the enslaved, indeed the life of the McGavock family had been made possible by slavery.

Carnton in its day was one of the grandest plantations in the whole Nashville area and had been voted "best farm" at the Williamson County Fair in 1860. For your $18 admission fee, you support the Franklin Battlefield Trust and visit this tribute to the nobility of a time and a way of life that is still celebrated in Tennessee and at similar sites of plantations and other battlefields across the South. Cherished for its "historical" value, the Carnton plantation is all the evidence you need that the Lost Cause was lost in name only.

The Lost Cause of Donald Trump's defeat at the polls is being celebrated in much the same way every day across the land by his supporters who send money to his political action committee, who buy and wear MAGA gear, who wave huge TRUMP flags alongside Confederate flags at MAGA demonstrations, and of course who wore and waved all of their Trump gear when thousands of them assaulted the Capitol on January 6 in his name.

Some of them are even paying for memberships to his personal plantation at Mar-a-Lago, and to his golf clubs in Sterling, Virginia; Bedminster, New Jersey; and Briarcliff Manor, New York. It has recently been reported that Trump himself has been seen wandering through Mar-a-Lago and his golf clubs, stopping to visit gatherings of members at their weddings and birthdays — in effect acting as his own docent, delivering lengthy descriptions of the Battle of the 2020 Election, which while lost, was nonetheless fought valiantly, nobly by his supporters. The battle is still being fought today in places like Arizona by his own army laboring tirelessly in reenactments in their so-called "audit" as they shove ballots beneath black lights looking for shreds of bamboo fibers which would show their origin in China and give evidence of having been "stuffed" into ballot boxes on election day on behalf of the dastardly Joe Biden.

They're going to keep this up. They've kept up the fiction of the Lost Cause of the South's defeat in the Civil War for more than 150 years, so why shouldn't they keep pushing the Lost Cause of Donald Trump's defeat in the election of 2020? The South has been enslaved by the lies they have told about the Civil War. Look at John Bell Hood! They even managed to get a United States Army base named after the man who lost more Confederate soldiers on a single day than anyone during the entire war! Why give up now? Next thing you know, they'll be pushing to erect monuments to General Michael "Let's have a coup!" Flynn! If they can celebrate the criminally incompetent Hood, why not the criminally pardoned Flynn? Why not rename the FBI building after Rudy "Hunter Biden! Burisma!" Giuliani? Or re-name the building housing the Department of Justice after William "What Mueller report?" Barr? Or erect a grand statue of Mitch "I forgot where I was on January 6" McConnell? Or name a federal courthouse after Sidney "I lost every election lawsuit I filed" Powell?

Just watch what they're going to do with the assault on the Capitol, which is perfect for the Lost Cause of Donald Trump. It's like their very own Battle of Franklin. They failed to stop the certification of the Electoral College ballots. Joe Biden was named president. They lost the battle of the Capitol, 400 have been indicted, and they accomplished exactly nothing. All they need now is a new Lost Cause battle flag. Or maybe they'll just adopt the old one, the Confederate battle flag, because that's what the followers of the new Lost Cause have become: Donald Trump's Confederacy of Dunces.

There's only one thing that's sacred to the GOP -- and it's all on the line now

They've been after the right to abortion for decades. The next thing they did was go after the Voting Rights Act. And just watch: They'll go after Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act next.

Nothing is sacred to Republicans anymore. Not the right to vote. Not the right to be free of search and seizure in your own home. Not the right to be free of religion if you so choose. Not the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, creed or national origin. The only "right" they respect in this day and age is the right to follow Donald Trump, and they are in the process of turning that right, at least within their own Republican Party, into an obligation. To have rights, such as those enumerated in the Bill of Rights, is a founding principle of democracy. To impose obligations, as in the obligation to adhere unquestioningly to a leader, is a principle of authoritarianism.

The Republican Party has turned against democracy. They will not let anything stand in their way. This week, the Supreme Court, with six justices appointed by Republican presidents, agreed to hear a case arising from a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Just yesterday, the governor of the state of Texas signed a law banning all abortions the moment a fetal heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks after a woman becomes pregnant — and before most women realize that they are, in fact, pregnant. A similar bill was signed into law in South Carolina in February. The state of Tennessee passed a fetal heartbeat law last year. Now the Volunteer State has a bill under consideration that would allow the father of an unborn child, even if that father is a rapist who caused the pregnancy, to get a court order stopping the mother from getting an abortion. The veto power of the father over the abortion rights of the mother would be absolute, putting men, even criminals, in overall control of women's bodies. According to NARAL Pro Choice America, more than 60 bills have been introduced or passed in state legislatures this year to restrict abortion.

The defenestration of the Voting Rights Act is all the evidence you need that the Republican Party is refighting the Civil War with words. Chief Justice John Roberts relied on the principle of so-called "equal sovereignty" to justify overturning Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required nine states, mostly in the Deep South, to get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws. Congress included the pre-clearance provision in the law because the states of the Deep South had a long history of restricting the voting rights of Black citizens. Justice Roberts found in his decision that treating states "unequally" by requiring certain states to get pre-clearance while not requiring the same of others was unconstitutional. He went on to say that the instances of Southern states discriminating against their Black citizens' voting rights were 40 years old and could therefore be dismissed as relics of another era.

In a previous decision in 2007, Roberts had written that "the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," which is like saying "the way to stop getting wet is to come in out of the rain," ignoring that you might be wet because someone is pouring water on you.

That's what was happening with Black people voting in the Deep South, of course. Black people were not voting because they were not being permitted to vote. Using Roberts' reasoning, the way to allow Black people to vote was to allow Black people to vote. But that's not the way it worked. States passed requirements for voter registration that they knew Black citizens would not be able to meet, thus Black citizens were prevented from voting.

The year after the Voting Rights Act was passed, one Southern state passed a law requiring prospective voters to produce an ID to register. The Department of Justice, in its pre-clearance process, found that the law discriminated on the basis of race because the Black citizens of the state were far less likely to have IDs such as driver's licenses, because many Black people in the mid-1960s in the South didn't own cars and thus didn't have occasion to drive.

Within 24 hours of the Shelby County decision in 2013, the state of Texas announced that it would implement a strict voter ID law that had already been passed and then overturned by a federal court decision. Two other states, Mississippi and Alabama, began to enforce voter ID laws that had been barred under the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. Two months after Shelby County, North Carolina passed a particularly harsh voter suppression bill that included a strict voter ID requirement.

Within five years of the Supreme Court decision, more than 1,000 polling places had been closed, many of them in predominantly Black counties in Southern states. Other states had passed laws allowing the purging of voter rolls and restricting early voting and voting by mail.

In other words, the states that had previously been covered by the pre-clearance clause of the Voting Rights Act jumped with joy over their new freedom to restrict the voting rights of minority voters. The shackles of the Voting Rights Act were off, and they're still off. Three hundred and sixty-one bills restricting voting rights are under consideration by state legislatures controlled by Republicans around the country. It's an anti-democratic free for all out there.

What's going on is a full-on attack on two of the three amendments passed after the Civil War. The 13th Amendment ended slavery. The 14th Amendment extended full citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," and went on to mandate that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The 15th Amendment said that neither the United States nor "any state" could deny or abridge the right to vote "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

You would think those words are easy to understand and uncomplicated. Reading the Shelby County decision by Justice Roberts proves that you would be dead wrong. The Supreme Court and Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country are finding new ways to get around the simple, straightforward words of the 14th and 15th amendments every day.

Not only Roe v. Wade, but Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act are in danger. In 1954, the Supreme Court found in a 9-0 decision that segregated schools were inherently unequal and thus unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate in public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels and public transportation on the basis of race. Roe v. Wade made abortion legal up to the point of viability, when a fetus, if given birth, would likely survive outside the womb.

I am increasingly afraid that we citizens of the United States have built a house of cards out of laws and the plain text of Supreme Court decisions and that house is coming down around us. The Republican Party has already fomented a violent physical assault on the house of our government, the Capitol, and they are assaulting daily the house of laws which have protected our most sacred democratic principles of equality based on sex, race and creed. Nothing is safe. Justice Roberts and his "brethren" have already told us that they believe states should be treated equally, but that people need not be. Through that door lie segregated schools, the end of birthright citizenship and restricted access to public accommodations. If it's unfair to forbid some states to discriminate on the basis of race in voting, shouldn't it be unfair to forbid some states from discriminating in other ways?

Folks, we are right back where we started. The words "equal sovereignty" are just a fancy way to say "states' rights." We are in a new Civil War. The only question left is when the other side will stop using words to attack our laws and pick up their guns.

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.

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