Manchin and Sinema have been allowed to lie about the filibuster

We’ve now reached a critical stage in which President Biden went full force in attacking those standing in the way of voting rights, comparing them to the racists of the past, including George Wallace. And the president, in his powerful speech in Georgia yesterday in which he demanded the Senate create a filibuster carve-out for voting rights, didn’t distinguish between Republicans and those two Senate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who refuse to back a carve-out.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

The media has, however, allowed Manchin and Sinema to distinguish themselves from GOP senators — who don’t support the voting rights legislation at all — as defending democracy in opposing a carve-out for the filibuster even as they support the voting rights bills. Reporters do this by not challenging the lies and distortions the two senators offer up.

Manchin, who has steadfastly refused to support a carve-out to the filibuster for voting rights legislation — ready to allow democracy to be destroyed — said this to reporters just a few days ago:

[The filibuster is] the tradition of the Senate here in 232 years now. … We need to be very cautious what we do. … That’s what we’ve always had for 232 years. That’s what makes us different than any place else in the world.

The statement is completely false (yet wasn’t challenged by the reporters), as the Washington Post’s fack-checker Glenn Kessler explained today:

The filibuster, contrary to Manchin’s suggestion, is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, which went into effect 232 years ago…
…[I]t was decades — 1856 — before the Senate established a right of unlimited debate…The word “filibustering” was first used on the Senate floor to connote unlimited debate in 1853, according to [legal scholars Catherine] Fisk and [Erwin] Chemerinsky. But it was not until the 1880s that filibusters were successful in derailing legislation…

That would make it 166 years that it’s been around, not 232 (and certainly not created by the nation’s founders, who explicitly rejected a supermajority for passing bills). Except even that is not exactly true. The current form of the filibuster, in which 60 votes are needed to even open debate — and an opposing senator is no longer required to hold the floor, speaking throughout the filibuster (eventually giving up or changing minds of proponents of a bill) — has only been around since 1975, as attorney Max Kennerly notes.

The filibuster has been changed, modified, reformed — whatever word you want to use — several times during the 20th century, and many exemptions have been made to it. That included just last month when the Senate raised the debt ceiling.

Moreover, while Democrats led by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted to end the use of the filibuster for lower court federal judges during the Obama years — because Republicans were blocking every one of President Obama’s appointees — Republicans led by Mitch McConnell ended the filibuster for Supreme Court justices just in time for Donald Trump to pack the court with extremists.

None of this is ever raised by reporters and interviewers with Manchin, or with Sinema, as they refuse to support ending or reforming the filibuster while Republicans are intent on blocking everything President Biden and Democrats want to accomplish for the American people.

Both Manchin and Sinema are allowed to promote themselves as upholding constitutional principles — again, though the Constitution has no stipulation for a filibuster — and the sanctity of Senate rules and procedures, as if those haven’t changed hundreds of times.

Sinema claimed last year that, “the filibuster was not created to accomplish one thing or another. It was created to bring together members of different parties to find compromise and coalition.”

That was preposterous, as many noted on social media. The filibuster wasn’t “created” so there would be comity; it was put in place many years after the nation’s founding and has been used by the minority to obstruct, overwhelmingly used to block civil rights legislation.

Sinema rarely gives interviews, though she goes to one reporter, Burgess Everett, at Politico — who never raises any of these issues or her lies. A recent rare CNN sit down with her also was a puffy interview that didn’t challenge her on her lies and distortions about the filibuster. It seems as if interviews aren’t granted unless certain conditions are met — like not bringing up specific issues — and media outlets are only too willing to get an interview with an elusive subject and beat out competition, even if means that subject gets a pass.

In the case of Manchin, he does give interviews in the hallways of Congress and elsewhere as he goes about his business, but he decides whom he allows to question him on the spot and ignores questions from others. Those he does speak with don’t challenge him on the lies he spouts in response — as we saw this week — and allow him, like Sinema, to promote himself as a defender of something sacred.

But if Sinema and Manchin really believed the minority should always have outsized power they wouldn’t support budget reconciliation — which is how the American Rescue Plan, which they voted for, was passed — since that is a filibuster carve-out itself, passed with only 51 votes. Of course, Republicans used the procedure to pass massive tax cuts for the wealthy under Trump, so it would be hard for Manchin and Sinema to oppose its use.

The truth is that Manchin and Sinema are bowing to donors who want the filibuster in place for legislation like voting rights because they don’t want Democrats advancing their agenda and want the GOP to have power in the minority, and, ultimately, to seize back the majority. As we’re headed for a showdown on the filibuster and a carve-out for voting rights, blame should also be laid at the feet of the media, which has allowed the lies to go unchecked.

At this time last year, the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was being plotted – and was predicted

On December 23, 2020 I wrote a piece in this newsletter, sent out on email just like the hundred or so since then, and posted to social media. It was headlined, “The GOP's January 6th assault on democracy.”

That was followed up a week later, on December 28th, with a piece headlined, “More on the GOP's alarming Jan. 6th assault on democracy.”

The subhead of that one was: “Trump is encouraging protests that could lead to violence, after which he might invoke the Insurrection Act and bring in the military.”

To some that sounded like it was a stretch. But Donald Trump did in fact incite violence — a full-blown insurrection which resulted in death and destruction — and we’ve now learned, via a Powerpoint that has surfaced, that there was indeed a plan to declare a state of emergency and use the National Guard to, as Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “protect the pro-Trump people.”

By far, I wasn’t the only one writing things like this, and I was in fact following the lead of the reporting and analysis of people like the prescient John Nichols of The Nation, who comes on my SiriusXM program every Monday and who’d warned of the dangerous actions underway for January 6th back on December 15th. Barton Gellman at The Atlantic had of course predicted what might happen as far back as September (and he’s predicting it’s going to happen again), and many other reporters and pundits tried to get the message out, even as much of the rest of the media seemed to dismiss it as hyperventilating.

As the date came closer though, even some of in the establishment media became worried. But we were well into the holidays and too many people were checked out.

David Ignatius in the Washington Post, in a column on December 26th, literally began his column with, “Not to be alarmist,” before going on to say that, “the United States will be in the danger zone until the formal certification of Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6, because potential domestic and foreign turmoil could give President Trump an excuse to cling to power.”

The truth is that we’re still in danger because Trump, promoting the Big Lie, is still trying to cling to power.

The point I’m making is that many people tried to warn about a domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and other extremists groups were organizing, and those who track them, like Jared Holt, then at Right-Wing Watch, were trying to get the word out. Progressive political analysts were highlighting the dangers of what various GOP members of the House and Senate were plotting — not just in supporting the “Stop the Steal” rally but in refusing to certify the election of Joe Biden.

And it just seems, looking back, that too many people, including many political leaders, didn’t take it seriously.

When we now have warnings of Republicans planning an authoritarian takeover right before our eyes, passing laws to keep people from voting and gerrymandering to rig all elections, will our political leaders get the message this time?

Sadly, for an entire year we’ve been hoping they would. Yet here we are with the January 6th anniversary approaching, and the filibuster has survived. The Supreme Court has done enormous damage, but any thoughts of expanding it have been snuffed out.

Trump and his gang of thugs are running out the clock on the January 6th select committee, and the Justice Department doesn’t seem to be investigating on its own. And voting rights legislation, which was the priority of so many in electing Democrats and Joe Biden in order to save democracy, languishes.

I’m still hoping that the system holds up and that those bringing justice are doing so with greater speed than we currently see. But if the worst case scenario plays out — and we’ll know a year from now if we’re on that track — no one will be able to say it wasn’t predicted.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

Will Trump and other GOP officials be charged for the January 6th attack?

In all of the drama of the last few days, in which Donald Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows has now been referred by the full House to the Justice Department to be charged with criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena, House select committee vice chair Liz Cheney three times raised the possibility that Trump committed a felony by not following the pleas of others and stopping the attack.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

On three occasions — during the select committee’s vote Monday night, during the committee’s presentation to the Rules Committee on Monday morning, and during the debate on the House floor — Cheney asked a question that is taken right from the text of U.S. criminal code:

Mr. Meadows's testimony will bear on another key question before this committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceeding to count electoral votes?

It’s through the “action or inaction” of an individual that the law is key. As Salon’s Heather Parton noted on my SiriusXM program yesterday, this law, which punishes impeding a Congressional official proceeding with up to 20 years in prison — and a presidential certification certainly is an official proceeding — is what is being used to arrest, charge and convict most of the January 6th defendants. Many people have wondered why sedition or treason isn’t being charged. But as Parton explained, that’s hard to prove and the goal is to get convictions. But 18 U.S. Code 1512, a felony, is not hard to prove in this case. The insurrectionists did, through their “action,” impede the certification.

And, as Cheney is implying, Trump, per the law’s inclusion of “inaction,” is guilty of the same crime.

A lot of people are frustrated, and many called my show, regarding why the Justice Department didn’t just arrest Trump for this crime and others after Merrick Garland was sworn in. The other two guests on my program yesterday — legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern of Slate and Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, chair of the House Anti-Trust Committee, formerly a member of the Judiciary Committee and one-time impeachment manager against Trump — gave further explanation, including about what the process now seems to be.

I’m not sure it assuages the critics of the DOJ but at least it gives an idea of what the plans have been. Stern pointed out that it appeared Democrats had essentially divvied up duties in taking on January 6th, knowing there were time constraints before the 2022 elections: The DOJ would focus on the low-level thugs who stormed the Capitol and the extremist groups, like Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, while Congress would focus on their own colleagues who might have been ringleaders, as well the White House, including Trump, and key aides both inside and outside the government.

Again, whether or not that was a great plan — and it’s possible there is a parallel investigation in the DOJ to what’s going on in Congress, though doubtful — is open to debate. But it is true there is limited time. The idea is that DOJ would prosecute the criminals among the mob — which they’ve been doing — while Congress would investigate the big names and refer any charges to the DOJ.

Rep. Cicilline told me that the select committee, at any time, could go to the DOJ and present evidence of a crime. In voting for contempt charges, and having the entire House vote first, the committee is going through highly visible formalities and rules necessary for a criminal contempt of Congress charge. But if the committee sees enough evidence of any other crime directly related to January 6th it can privately go directly to the DOJ.

For all we know, they may have done that already. But if not, from what it sounds like, they likely will be doing it at some point.

Cicilline said that could happen during an interim or final report, when they lay out a whole bunch of recommendations, or the committee could at any time go to the DOJ to made a recommendation each time it finds evidence of a crime — “they are duty bound” to do so, Cicilline said — even while the committee continues its work.

Whether or not the DOJ would move on any of those charges is a whole other matter. Obviously the DOJ did move on the Steve Bannon contempt charge and has responded forcefully to Trump and the GOP on some issues. But on some other matters regarding Trump, the DOJ has pulled back, angering many, certainly including me. We can only hope Democrats on the hill investigating January 6th have worked this out with DOJ officials. Rep. Cicilline told me [bold for emphasis]:

The Justice Department doesn’t typically share the status or even the existence of ongoing investigations so I don’t think we have a clear way to know exactly what they’re investigating. But there is no question that based on what we know already, the select committee has uncovered at least evidence that the Justice Department, in my view, should consider in deciding whether or not to bring criminal charges against individuals. And so I expect that at some appropriate time the select committee will make a referral to the Department of Justice based on their findings as it is related to particular individuals.”

So we’ll see where this is all going. The select committee, which has interviewed over 300 people, has been wisely dribbling out information — often bombshells, such as in the last few days — and is smart to do that to keep the January 6th attack in the news.

At the beginning of next year the committee will hold public hearings and Chairman Bennie Thompson says that that is when we’ll find out the names of GOP House members who were texting Meadows during and after the attack — one of them actually apologizing for not overturning the election — and I think we’ll find out a lot more at that time as well.

Madison Cawthorn urged Americans to 'raise monsters' -- a Trump-loyal mom in Michigan obliged

It’s impossible not to make all the connections regarding the terrible school shooting at Oxford High School in Oakland County, Michigan, in which four students were shot and killed by 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley and several others were injured.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

The shooter’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, now charged with several counts of involuntary manslaughter and held on $500,000 bond each, bought him the gun that he used, had a very clear idea of what he was going to do — after being warned by school officials about violent drawings he made, and after he was found searching on his phone for ammunition — and they didn’t try to stop him.

They didn’t take out him of school. They let him proceed. And they knew he’d kill.

The Crumbleys are a family deep in the far-right Trumpist movement, radicalized just like the January 6th insurrectionists into a cult of violence. They’re akin to a militia family or a familial terrorist cell, taking cues from what they see in the culture or on social media, inspired by messages from those they view as their leaders.

A clear motive isn’t necessary to deduce from their actions that the Crumbleys are angry and they are trying to intimidate others, enabled by a hate movement that promotes grievance and sees violent actions as a means to an end.

Jennifer Crumbley, who praised Donald Trump and grotesquely bragged on social media about getting her teen son a firearm as a “Christmas present,” appears to have been taking orders from extremist politicians within the Republican Party — the same ones who have defended the January 6th insurrectionists as “political prisoners.”

Those extremists who encourage violence — from gun-toting anti-Muslim Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Beobert of Colorado to white supremacist sympathizers Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina — now control the House GOP. They aren’t punished by leadership for their violence-inciting speeches and actions because leaders like Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are immensely fearful of them, bowing to Trump, who emboldens these extremists.

After the not guilty verdict two weeks ago in the case of another teen killer, Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who killed two people at a Black Lives Matter protest and claimed self-defense, Cawthorn gloated about the verdict, urging his legions to follow Rittenhouse’s lead and to be “armed and dangerous.”

And only a few weeks ago, Cawthorn, speaking at an event, warned about attempts in American culture to “demasculate” boys, and he issued a command: “And I’m telling all you moms here — the people who I said are the most vicious in our movement — if you you are raising a young man, please raise them to be a monster! Raise them to be a freedom-loving patriot.”

To end this thread, everyone needs to be clear that this is the GOP strategy. The GOP wants more mothers just like this. Just ask Madison Cawthorn who recently said, “If you are raising a young man, raise them to be a monster!”

Jennifer Crumbley followed that command, whether she directly saw the video or picked up on it and all the other similar demented messages coming out of the extremist and violent white supremacist movement which is now embraced by the Republican Party. She’d written an open letter to Trump days after the election in November of 2016, praising him, including for his vows to allow more weapons to proliferate in society.

The letter is actually a case study of indoctrination into the Trump cult, particularly chilling because Crumbley describes herself as having been a “pro-choice” feminist and supporter of LGBT rights who “used to be a Democrat” and who struggled with voting for Trump for those reasons. But she gave in. No matter any of her prior beliefs, Crumbley was perfectly primed to get drawn into the Trump cult as Trump tapped into the toxic white grievance that consumed her.

She loved his vow to build “the wall,” she wrote, which would stop “people that come over here from other countries and get free everything,” while she and her husband are “good fucking Americans that cannot get ahead.” (Like many racists, she even announced, "I am not a racist,” in making these statements. )

In the open letter she also lauded Trump for his empty (and now, even more laughable) promises to “shut down Big Pharma” and “make health care affordable for me,” in addition to his promise of “allowing my right to bear arms.” Crumbley ended the letter by showing how deeply she’d been sucked in: “I have NEVER had this much belief in one person, and you are it.”

People like that never turn back. They make excuses for the failures of Dear Leader, and just keep following on the road to even more extreme, violent actions. By 2021 this woman was buying her son a gun for Christmas and sitting on the sidelines after learning he’d engage in violent actions.

Jennifer and James Crumbley even allowed their son to post a photo of the hideous “gift” to his Instagram account, where he wrote, “Just got my new beauty today. SIG SAUER 9mm. Any questions I will answer.” According to the AP, he included “an emoji of a smiling face with heart eyes.” The next day Jennifer Crumbley posted on social media, apparently from a shooting range, that it’s “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present.”

When school personnel contacted Jennifer Crumbley by voicemail and email, warning her that Ethan was seen by a teacher searching on his phone for ammunition, she didn’t respond — but she did text her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

The next day the Crumbleys were called to the school after a teacher saw a drawing and notes Ethan made, including a drawing of a handgun and the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The parents refused to take him out of school and decided to just go back to work. Of course they could surmise what he was planning. And hours later, not surprisingly, Ethan went on a shooting rampage.

Just like many of the January 6th insurrectionists — equally drawn into the cult of violence that is Trumpism — the Crumbley parents went on the run, cowards refusing to face the consequences of their recklessness. After their son was arrested and after the Oakland County prosecutor announced they’d be charged on counts of involuntary manslaughter, the Crumbleys became fugitives, attempting to hide out until they were apprehended over the weekend in Detroit (and they’ve shown “no remorse,” according to the Oakland County sheriff).

These people were ready to let their son rot in prison — the son they enabled to engage in mass murder — while playing out their own little insurrection.

All the while, the Crumbleys were likely proud they’d raised a monster, just as they’d been told to do by the white supremacist terrorist movement that has been embraced by the GOP.

The American right's actions are right out of the Nazi playbook

A Virginia school board voted unanimously last week to ban all "sexually explicit" books from school libraries after a woman found the acclaimed novel about a gay relationship, "Call Me by Your Name" — which was made into an Oscar-winning film — as well as "33 Snowfish," about three homeless teenagers, in the district's online library catalogue.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

And two board members said all these terrible books should be burned:

"I think we should throw those books in a fire," [Rabih] Abuismail said, and [Kirk] Twigg said he wants to "see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff."

Also last week, the governor of South Carolina called on the state's Department of Education to ban the book, "Gender Queer: A Memoir," from school shelves, calling it "obscene."

In Texas, one legislator in recent weeks has targeted 850 books that focus on racism, women's rights and LGBTQ issues to be banned — with Governor Greg Abbott's encouragement — and in Kansas a school board had put a "pause" on checking out 29 books, including "The Handmaid's Tale," and a non-fiction book telling the history of the KKK as a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, in Eagle Grove, Iowa late last week a weekend drag queen show at a local bar was forced to be canceled after a letter from the city attorney claimed it violated the city's municipal code.

Let's not mince words about what's happening in this country as the Trumpifed far-right continues to embrace the totalitarian actions of the Nazis, who infamously burned thousands of books and supervised all of culture, including performances, plays and films, through the Reich Chamber of Culture.

Gay culture and the previously burgeoning gay rights political movement in Germany were crushed, as were other movements for liberation, upon Hitler's rise. The Institute of Sexology, founded by the pioneering gay researcher and activist Magnus Hirshfield, was raided and 20,000 books were taken out and burned.

While these actions may seem distant and extreme, the impulses behind them are right here and now in America — as indicated by the words of the Virginia school board members who wants to burn books.

The authoritarian fervor behind these actions has been promoted by Donald Trump, who, let's not forget, told his former chief of staff John Kelly that Hitler "did a lot of good things." It's the same authoritarianism that has now taken hold in other countries, such as Hungary, whose anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ self-styled dictator, Victor Orban, is being embraced by the Trumpist movement.

What's happening in Iowa is chilling, particularly since the state has laws banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In October, Martha Kaiser, owner of Doña Martha's Office, booked several drag queen performers from Des Moines for her venue. She opened just five months ago in Eagle Grove, a city of little over 3000 people, 95 miles north of Des Moines. A second show with six drag performers was scheduled for November 13th. She told KCCI Des Moines:

The drag queen show — it's so magnificent, so unique, and I haven't seen that here before. I've seen bands, and the musicians, but the drag queen show just brings a different ethnicity, a different concept.

But on November 10th Eagle Grove City Attorney Brett Legvold sent Kaiser a letter demanding she cancel the November 13th show.

Legvold's grave concerns were that the performances were focused on "anatomical areas" by "female impersonators" — and other such nonsense:

Specifically, prohibited adult amusement or entertainment includes an amusement or entertainment characterized by an emphasis on sex acts or specified anatomical areas such as those depicting, describing or relating to sex acts or specified anatomical areas (i.e., female impersonators, strippers, or similar entertainment) within 1,000 feet of other businesses.

That is ludicrous and quite frankly frightening. Legvold later added that a video of the previous show depicted such actions occurring — which Kaiser denies — and he added: "The ordinance at issue is intended to regulate entertainment of such nature — whether performed by a man or woman of any sexual or gender identity or preference — by mandating that it occur in certain areas of town."

The fact that LGBTQ people are protected in the state from discrimination — and that drag is part of queer culture — doesn't register at all to the public moralists, instilled with confidence by Trumpian rhetoric, because in truth they are hellbent on stamping out queer culture.

The very same impulse is at play in the efforts to ban books, not just about LGBTQ culture, life and history, but about racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry in America.

This toxic fervor has taken over the minds of a group that feels its power is threatened, experiencing insecurity and humiliation — and posing itself as the victim while it victimizes others. And it is engaging in violent actions, from the vigilante justice in Kenosha and threats against politicians to animated videos depicting themselves murdering their enemies and parents sending death threats to school officials endorsing mask mandates the literal storming and looting of the U.S. Capitol.

Anyone who doesn't see the parallels to history is simply looking away.

Triggered Trumper gets a jolt of reality

This is one that you just have to listen to.

I'd been talking to a caller on my SiriusXM show about the right-wingers and Trumpers who listen to the show and claim they just are cruising down the dial and find it —- when, lo and behold, Dan from Omaha calls in and claims just that.

He was absolutely shocked that we could say the "good people" at Donald Trump rallies were doing anything bad, even as they're belting out violent and racist chants.

Oh and he defended the January 6th insurrectionists too.

Poor Dan just wasn't up to answering questions, however, and ultimately we had to say bub-bye.

Listen to the audio here.

IN OTHER NEWS: Lawyer representing Ahmaud Arbery's killers objects to Al Sharpton in courtroom: 'Don't want any more black pastors here' Brad Reed

Lawyer representing Ahmaud Arbery's killers objects to Al Sharpton in courtroom www.youtube.com

Biden’s DOJ emboldens Trump loyalists by dragging its feet on Bannon -- and sends a message of fear and weakness

American democracy is on fire. But Merrick Garland and the Justice Department appear to think it's a false alarm.

It's been two weeks since Steve Bannon was referred to the Justice Department by the House, voting to proceed with criminal contempt of Congress, at the urging of the select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

Only the DOJ can make the charge and indict Bannon.

And Garland sits at the top of the DOJ, put there by a president who spoke out forcefully about the threat that January 6th posed to American democracy—and still does—and promised to bring justice.

But we're still waiting.

And CNN reports that Justice Department officials are "unfazed" by calls for swift action on Bannon:

Justice Department officials tell CNN that prosecutors don't feel pressure to act more quickly. Given that criminal referrals are rare and even more rarely enforced by the department, the Bannon decision will be dissected for years to come so the lawyers have to be sure they get it right, officials say….
…[W]ith the Bannon decision in limbo, much of the committee's work hangs in the balance, most notably its ability to compel cooperation from Trump allies who so far have remained elusive.

This line of thinking is enormously problematic. The DOJ, according to CNN, is more concerned about its long-term reputation than about an imminent threat to our democracy. There isn't an emergency posture there; no sense of the urgency we face. Instead, they're worried about how they'll be seen. Sure, of course they have to get it right so that it holds up right now. Any mistake can jeopardize the case and the work of the January 6th committee.

But again, it doesn't sound like they're focused so much on getting it right for this case as much as they're worried about the DOJ's longer-term processes, as Garland prioritizes efforts to bring back the DOJ's integrity and its independence from the White House, even if it means brushing aside the four years of corruption the country experienced. We've seen that already in a few outrageous actions, such as defending Trump in a defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her.

We all get that Garland's larger mission is important — but it's not more important than the immediate threat we face. Every day that Bannon is flouting a legally-served subpoena he is thumbing his nose to the federal government. And he is teaching the rest of the Trump loyalists exactly what they need to do.

Former Trump DOJ official, Jeffrey Clark, the low-level staffer whom Trump was intent on installing as acting attorney general because he'd been pushing to pressure Georgia officials to overturn election results, stonewalled the January 6th committee last week.

Much was made of Clark actually complying with the committee, rather than following in Bannon's footsteps and ignoring the subpoena the committee issued. But instead of answering questions, Clark gave committee members a letter from his attorney, who'd himself worked on a lawsuit challenging the Georgia election results. That letter amounted to a bogus claim of executive privilege, which is exactly what Donald Trump has told loyalists to claim in refusing to talk.

Now the select committee is threatening a contempt of Congress referral to the DOJ for Clark.

"That's on the table," Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the committee said last week as committee members were infuriated and, oddly, seemed surprised by Clark's refusal to talk.

But isn't that becoming an empty threat? Does the committee's bark mean much if the DOJ doesn't provide the bite — and quickly enough so we get real results and protect democracy?

Trump and his stooges are expertly playing the game they did during his presidency: stalling, and stopping any action that would bring them to justice. A long delay in a Bannon indictment, or any others — and there will be more than Clark facing contempt charges, that is for sure — could prevent the committee from finishing its work in early 2022.

It's already perilous for Democrats in the 2022 mid-terms, with the GOP further gerrymandering Congressional districts and passing extreme voter suppression laws. The inability to deliver swift justice will not only depress voter turnout among Democrats and independents who will feel betrayed; it will allow the GOP's promotion of the Big Lie to be even more successful for 2022 and beyond.

And any investigation of January 6th will then be buried forever.

Many thought 2020 would be the end of the Trumpist cult -- but it's actually gotten bigger

Alison from Los Angeles is one of many women who called my SiriusXM program after the 2016 election to express the turmoil they'd experienced because the men in their lives were committed Trumpists.

They were among many others callers who relayed tense conflicts — some of which boiled over into angry confrontations — with parents, children, siblings, friends and co-workers who were deep in the Trump cult. Many of these people cut off communication with the Trump loyalists in their lives, unable to have any kind of interaction that wasn't explosive, mostly because the Trumpers can't be reasoned with, become enraged and promote propaganda. Others found ways to cope, imperfect as they were.

I eventually interviewed Alison and other women later for a piece I wrote in 2018 specifically about Democratic women married to MAGA men — a piece that received a lot of attention and connected with so many more people.

In Alison's case it was her then-fiancé — the father of her twin girls — who had created chaos in their relationship as he became more immersed in the MAGA movement through the Trump years. His treatment of her was often demeaning, as he spun out lies and conspiracies. She realized there was no way they could marry, though he had to be in her life because they were parents to two children.

After the election, at the end of November, at around the same time that I posted a discussion thread here on the issue again, I connected with Alison, who reported that things had gotten a bit better.

He said he would accept [the] results of [the] election. Although he didn't at first. He didn't watch [the] inauguration and he still thought for awhile [that] Trump was going to pull through. But at some point I was able to delete all the right wing crap off his Facebook and he stopped watching Fox. He may still occasionally watch a show here and there but we don't talk politics at all. Nothing. He can still be a mean Trumper underneath and that's why I don't think we will have anything [together] as things slowly return to normal.

So, Alison knew they could never be together again, but there was hope that he was getting out of the cult and they could have civil interactions as things "return to normal."

But of course things didn't return to normal. Trump is more influential than ever, the MAGA cult has only grown, and now it embraces the 1/6 insurrectionists. In April of this year I connected with Alison again.

"The last couple times [we talked] we got into it [and] he called me a liberal/left wing cunt," she said. "He accused me of training the girls to be nasty."

The father of Alison's children is as deep in the cult as he ever was. And so many other people have unfortunately found something similar happening with husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, friends and co-workers. It's almost like a switch dimmed the lights a bit, then went back on to full power.

A lot of people have written me in recent months asking for a discussion thread to connect with others going through the same stress. And there have been many callers to my show expressing similar sentiments.

So this is a thread for people to discuss how this has affected them and their families, friends and co-workers.

Are you experiencing something similar? Did people close to you seem to snap out of it, only to go back? Or was there never really a change at all? Maybe some of you have something hopeful to say as well — seeing someone leave the MAGA cult completely.

Newsom humiliated Republicans in California -- and provided a blueprint for Democrats

For months, as Democratic voters in California seemed complacent in the face of the Republican effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, much of the national political and punditry class in the media claimed California would send dire warnings to the Democratic Party.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

But now that Newsom trounced in a spectacular victory, with 64% of Californians voting no to the recall, the same political media — always pandering to a bullying GOP — is saying not to read much into the outcome in California.

In their latest iteration, Newsom "got lucky" because his chief opponent was Larry Elder, right-wing extremist and 25-year former radio host who pundits said had a lot of "baggage." This presupposes that some other mythical GOP candidate could have pulled it out. But no other candidate could emerge that didn't support Donald Trump, which is the real poison here.

What actually killed Elder wasn't his "baggage" in the form of things he said on the radio over the years. It was his embracing Trumpism in the here and now. He attacked vaccine and mask mandates, vowing to end them as soon as he took office. That turned out to be a driving force that got many California Democrats and independents concerned about the pandemic to pay attention.

And he promulgated the Big Liewhich he actually previously didn't support, having said earlier this year that "Biden won the election fair and square," only to reverse in August after Trumpists expressed anger. Then he went further and actually promoted a "big lie" about the 2020 election, saying it was tainted with "fraud" before it was even over, following up on Trump's same claim about the recall.

As extreme as all that sounds, it's now pretty standard for GOP elected officials and candidates all across the country. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and Governor Greg Abbott of Texas promote both dangerous themes, as do the vast majority of GOP governors.

Former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt, challenging Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Mastro, is endorsed by Trump, supports the Big Lie, is against vaccine mandates and is even hinting he's ready to go to court to contest the 2022 election should he lose. Republican Glenn Youngkin, running for governor in Virginia this November and having hugged Trump to get the support of his base, has attended right-wing "election integrity" rallies built on the Big Lie and talks about making "reforms" to battle election "fraud."

I could go on and on, as scores of GOP House, Senate, gubernatorial and state legislative candidates are doing the exact same thing.

And they have no choice because Trump has taken the entire party hostage. That's why it's completely false to say Newsom "got lucky" with Elder. If he got lucky, then every Democrat in a competitive race is going to get lucky.

And what does that claim even mean? It's not like Elder was picked out of thin air and put into place as the main contender to Newsom just by chance. There were over 40 candidates vying to topple Newsom in the recall. Elder rose to the top because that is what the GOP base is now, built on hardcore Trumpism.

And it's even worse — for the GOP — than it seems. In polls before the race, Elder was leading the others with 26% of the vote and would have been elected governor if voters had voted yes on the first question to recall Newsom. But in the election tallies, of those who voted for a candidate after the first question on the recall, Elder pulled in 47% of the vote. That means the GOP consolidated and rallied around him, even as there were more moderate GOP candidates in the race.

The base of the GOP, in California and everywhere, wants Trumpist candidates, because Trump has transformed the party into a ghoulish nightmare of hate and lies, bringing in more and more conspiracists and pushing out people who've rejected Trumpism.

The Washington Post, in a piece that broke from much of the media's narrative, rightly noted that the recall made Newsom stronger, able to repel challengers and look to the future. What he did in California is key for Democrats everywhere: Focus on the dangers of GOP candidates and their embrace of Trump. In races in House battleground districts and in competitive Senate races in 2022, that kind of campaign can make a big difference.

The conventional wisdom that the party in power loses seats in the mid-terms can and must be turned on its head because we are in an extraordinary time in which democracy is in the balance. "Trumpism is not defeated in this country," Newsom said in his victory speech in offering both a warning and a blueprint to Democrats. They need to take that to heart.

The Supreme Court has declared war. President Biden must end it

President Biden showed enormous courage in withdrawing all American troops from Afghanistan and bringing the 20-year war to a close. It might have been politically easier, if more costly in American lives and dollars, to continue it, even sending in more troops.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

But Biden said no. He took on the military-industrial complex, his Republican enemies, hawks within his own party, and an often sensational media that stoked fires and overly-amplified critics of withdrawal.

He was resolute and committed, and never backed down.

Now we need to see the same fortitude, determination and fearlessness in response to the Supreme Court's declaration of war on women's bodies and on American democracy itself.

In a cruel action with theocratic implications, and in defiance of its own precedents, the Supreme Court, led by five far-right members, allowed the draconian Texas law banning abortions past 6 weeks of pregnancy, including for pregnancies due to rape and incest, to stand. As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern pointed out, the court effectively overturned Roe v. Wade without even addressing it — and the court did so in an unsigned decision, a decree in the middle of the night. Even Chief Justice John Roberts, a hardline conservative, couldn't go this far and sided with the court's liberals.

The Texas law, which deputizes citizens to sue people who "aid or abet" a woman seeking an abortion and receive $10,000 if they're successful, has had no judicial review at all. The Supreme Court has allowed Texas Republicans to turn citizens into bounty hunters, and to create a tip line to put targets on lists.

This is a true turn toward fascism, coming on the heels of an authoritarian president who emboldened extremists in the GOP, including Christian nationalists in the evangelical movement, and who still leads the Republican Party.

Biden issued two statements on the law — and assailed the Supreme Court — vowing to put the full force of his presidency behind protecting a woman's right to choose, a "whole-of-government" response.

But if the president is serious about that he will right now do everything he can to end or reform the Senate filibuster, including publicly and privately pressuring Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the two Democrats who've adamantly spoken against changing the filibuster, but whose votes are needed in the closely divided Senate. Then he and the Democrats in Congress must move to expand the number of judges on the federal courts, including the Supreme Court.

On both issues — ending the filibuster and expanding the courts — Biden has tepidly pushed back against the base of the Democratic Party and certainly the progressives who worked hard to get him elected. He's allowed Sinema and Manchin wide latitude by telegraphing that he's with them.

In July he once again threw cold water on ending the filibuster, even as President Obama and other Democratic Party leaders have said that it's time to end it. On court expansion — and all of the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, can be and have been expanded or made smaller in the past by Congress — Biden has shown reluctance, keeping the issue somewhat open while creating a commission to study it and other court reforms.

Yesterday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden's position on court expansion "has not changed." What that's supposed to mean is anyone's guess, since Biden didn't take a position on it and punted to a commission, which is usually a way that presidents send issues to die a slow death.

But continued reluctance is not acceptable. Biden can issue all the strong statements he wants. But there's very little he and Democrats in Congress can do with the filibuster in place.

There is not going to be a law passed codifying Roe v. Wade — as the White House and Democrats are now suggesting as a course of action — unless the filibuster is gone. And even if that were done, courts, including the Supreme Court, could rule it unconstitutional — just as they would likely do if Democrats got voting rights legislation passed.

The only answer is to right the wrongs of the GOP and Trump. Mitch McConnell blocked Merrick Garland from the Supreme Court, trampling on President Obama, and blocked many other Obama nominees to the federal courts. Then, once Trump became president, McConnell ended the filibuster for Supreme Court justice nominations, allowing Trump to put three justices on the court with just 51 votes, and fast-tracked all the other federal court appointments, allowing Trump to appoint over 200 judges — almost as many in four years as Obama appointed in eight years.

There's simply no way out of this disaster, and the continued assault on democracy, without expanding the courts. And then means ending the filibuster.

The president has been responsive to the Democratic base on a range of issues, committed to change in the face of opposition. But not on this one. And yet, this is arguably more important than any other issue now, because the Supreme Court has declared war on American democracy. It's only a matter of time before they destroy it.

Some people say that the president can't force Manchin and Sinema to change if they're determined to stay the course. But the truth is, Biden hasn't even tried, at least not publicly. And it's hard to believe that he's privately pressured them much or at all, since his own public position on the filibuster is largely the same as theirs. Why should we believe he's advocating for something privately, pressuring others to move their position, when his own public position is in line with theirs?

The reluctance must end. We need to see the same firm and committed president who stopped the war in Afghanistan now bring an end to the war the Supreme Court has declared and the continued war launched by Republicans in the Senate.

This is a do or die moment, in which the critics must be damned. Let them attack the Democrats and call them radicals. In a short period of time the American people will be very happy things are getting done and won't care about the process. And they certainly will want to see democracy saved.

Unvaccinated Mississippi man claims it's ventilators that are killing people

Continuing in my new policy on my SiriusXM show, in which unvaccinated people may call in to argue their case if they first pledge not to be hospitalized if they get a bad case of Covid, I took a call from Jeff in Mississippi.

As I explained in a previous post:

I have a new policy for anti-vaxxers. It arose after many other listeners called the program in recent days with heartbreaking stories about friends or relatives who had non-Covid emergencies in places like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Mississippi, where ICU beds are over capacity, as hospitals are swamped with Covid patients.

Jeff immediately said he will not go to the hospital — because, he said, most people with Covid who go to the hospital and go on ventilators die. At first I couldn't believe he was making this claim — that it is ventilators that cause death rather than Covid — but he persisted.

We had to strike up the "Twilight Zone" theme.

This was just astounding, and shows how deep in the cult these people are.

I explained how it is Covid that is putting people on ventilators, and that it's your last chance, as your lungs are giving out, and the ventilator is actually keeping you alive, hopefully long enough to survive. But Jeff eventually said he was "afraid" of hospitals altogether, and explicitly took the pledge again, saying that he will not go to the hospital if he gets a bad case of Covid.

He was actually the first unvaxxed person to take the pledge. Most stopped calling altogether, while others refused to take the pledge, like Roz from California.

I'm sure a lot of you will say, "Great. If he isn't vaxxed and won't go to the hospital, I'm fine with that."

I have a hard time, however, believing that when it all goes bad people like him will not seek hospital care. The same thing happened with many prominent vocal anti-vaxxers, like conservative radio talk show hosts Phill Valentine and Dick Farrel, both of whom spouted anti-vax lies only to change their minds, telling people to get vaccinated as they were hospitalized and went on ventilators. Both eventually died.

But maybe Jeff is an exception. Whatever the case, it's truly sad and demented, an example of how the right-wing has put so many lives at risk by promoting dangerous lies about Covid-19.

Listen to the call here.

Here is what Tucker Carlson forgot to tell you to save himself from embarrassment

Tucker Carlson recently full-on embraced Hungary's authoritarian leader Victor Orban, who has attacked immigrants and LGBTQ people with a vengeance. Carlson, broadcasting his show from Hungary for a week earlier this month — meeting with Orban and speaking at a far-right conference there — held Orban's anti-democratic regime up as a model for the U.S.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

Orban, whom Donald Trump lauded and whom the American right is now revering, has built a wall to keep out immigrants — in particular Muslims, whom he demonizes — and deports asylum seekers without due process. And Orban's government, promoting "Christian traditions," has recently imposed a law that bans selling children's books that "promote" homosexuality or "gender change" unless the books are in "closed wrappers." And sales are completely banned within 700 feet of a church or school.

Orban announced last month that he is bringing that law to a national vote to show that Hungarians support his anti-LGBTQ agenda — a referendum campaign that allows him to scapegoat LGBTQ people and distract from more salient issues, and which will surely whip up hate and violence against queer people.

So what's not to love for the anti-immigrant, white supremacist and Christian nationalist Trumpian base?

Well, what Carlson failed to tell his viewers is that in Hungary only holders of a "certificate of protection" may currently attend any indoor or outdoor event of over 500 people, effectively shutting out sporting events, concerts, theaters, museums, fitness facilities, amusement parks, any large political rallies and much else to those without their medical papers:

Hungarian authorities issue certificates of protection to individuals who have either been vaccinated against or recovered from COVID-19. Restrictions are less stringent for individuals with certificates of protection; such persons may visit indoor cultural, leisure, and fitness facilities, and be seated at indoor areas of catering establishments.

That's right, a vaccine mandate (granted, except for those who had Covid, which is dubious public health, since one could be infected again) to enter many public venues. All private gatherings, such as parties or other events, are not to be larger than 100 people (expect for weddings, limited to 400). And all healthcare workers in the country must be vaccinated against Covid, by decree of the government.

"Already there are certain vaccines that are mandatory for people working in the healthcare sector ... we have now extended this to the coronavirus," Orban said in issuing that mandate in July.

Most astounding about this is that Carlson, during his week of shows from Hungary, went on diatribes against vaccine mandates in several of his show's segments focused on the U.S., pushing his usual conspiracy theories questioning the science behind the vaccines. On one show in which Carlson glorified Orban in an interview with him and mocked those who called Orban a "fascist," he shifted into a segment attacking vaccine passports, which he clearly poses as a fascistic danger:

But now, the biggest cities in our country are mandating vaccine passports. You must show your medical papers to have lunch. Can this continue? …
..New York City just got vaccine passports and that means everybody has to show medical papers to go anywhere…but it's just the beginning.

This came literally right after he interviewed a national leader he reveres who has instituted his own vaccine passports nationally, across every city and region — and Carlson never brought it up. Orban, however, has gone much further than following good public health guidelines; he's truly used the pandemic to consolidate power in dangerous ways. The empty charge being used by the MAGA crowd against Joe Biden and Democrats —"they're taking away your freedoms! "— actually does apply to Orban.

The authoritarian leader has used the imposition of a "state of emergency" to seize power time and again. In 2015, Hungary was the only country in the European Union to impose a "mass migration emergency," triggering deportations and shutting the borders. And in 2020, Orban imposed a "pandemic emergency" and then pushed through legislation that allowed him to solely, indefinitely impose decrees regarding Covid-19. The British legal group Blackstone Chambers noted:

The Hungarian government's extraordinary power was broad in scope and without express temporal limit or strict rational connection to the areas where an urgent response to the pandemic was required.

After criticism from the Council of Europe and other international groups, the Hungarian parliament, which only works in tandem with Orban, revoked those powers — but then pretty much gave those powers back under an imposed "medical emergency."

Kriszta Kovacs at the Center for Global Constitutionalism in Berlin explains what happened next:

When the second wave of Covid-19 arrived, the country was in a mass migration emergency and a medical emergency. Yet, the government introduced the third state of emergency, this time, a state of danger. The powers that Orbán has in the state of danger are on top of those granted by the two previous emergencies. And with a constitutional amendment, a further step has been taken on the road to full-out authoritarianism. The constitutional amendment substantially broadens the conditions in which emergencies can be declared.

While countries in Europe, including Hungary, closed their borders during the pandemic's early months, they — Hungary included — also imposed strict lockdowns. But Hungary went further and canceled local elections and closed the courts, with Orban declaring an "extraordinary court holiday." Hungary also "criminalized the dissemination of falsehood and distorted facts 'suitable to interfere with the successful protection of the public'. The provision was vague enough to have a chilling effect and be used against critics and political rivals."

Hungary has had on-again, off-again nationwide mask mandates throughout the pandemic — and yes, faced Covid spikes when they were lifted — and banned the right to assembly even outdoors earlier this year, which effectively shut down any kind of protest, including, presumably, anti-mask rallies. For Orban it was another way to inhibit speech.

And again, as of now, any public assemblies of over 500 people outdoors as well as indoors can only be attended by those with a "certificate of protection." Can you imagine telling the hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters who just attended the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota — where Covid cases spiked — that they needed to have a "certificate of protection" in order to attend?

But Tucker Carlson forgot to report on Victor Orban's Covid lockdowns, mask mandates and vaccine mandates just as wannabe Orbanesque dictator Ron DeSantis was facing a Covid explosion in Florida while banning mask mandates and vaccine passports.

How convenient.

The frightening progression from intelligent person to Trump-loving anti-vaxxer

It's easy to dismiss Trump supporters as largely uneducated, and uninformed — stupid people swept up in a cult of hate that plays upon the biases rampant in American culture.

It is true that Trumpism is a cult of hate, and it's true that it emboldens bigotry and white grievance.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

But most people know some highly educated people who are supporters of Donald Trump, people who have deeply studied science and history.

And when we look at the GOP we see that only a small handful of what we'd call the educated elites of the party, the Bill Kristols and the David Frums of the world, broke away and became Never Trumpers. These people and many others in the GOP of course laid the groundwork for Trump over a period of decades, going back to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, courting bigots via dog whistles — or looking the other way as others did. Then Trump just came in and said it more blatantly.

While that was just too overt for a few of them, causing their defections, there are plenty of educated Republicans who stayed, grudgingly supporting Trump at first and then often becoming completely enthusiastic backers, giving him lots of money and fighting off any detractors.

There have been many studies on political peer pressure, and how people's political affiliation and the candidates they support are driven by their communities — family, friends, and co-workers — and how it sometimes changes dramatically as the groups pressuring them change. So it's not shocking that this happened, as horrifying as it is.

But what then could make otherwise intelligent people who've always supported medical science — some of them scientists themselves — become anti-vaxxers amid a global pandemic killing millions?

Not all of the Trumpist GOP is anti-vax of course. Trump himself got vaccinated. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has told people to get vaccinated, if not so emphatically.

But at the same time they and other Republican leaders promoted the very anti-science conspiracies about Covid and about vaccines as part of their larger attack on government institutions. It's almost as if Trump's having been vaccinated is not believed — or is ignored by his followers — and his overriding attacks on government send a larger message not to trust the CDC and thus the vaccines.

A fascinating and scary example arose on my SiriusXM program last week when Eric from New Jersey, a retired Naval officer who served on submarines, called in. He talked about a Facebook group of fellow former Naval officers to which he belonged. As has happened with many of us, these people found one another on Facebook years after having been in each others' lives, and then connected regularly. At first it was great reminiscing and chatting.

But then came the 2016 election, and the battles over Trump and Hillary Clinton. Eric explained how, going way back, "we were all Reagan Republicans" (and you can listen to the call above), but these individuals weren't very political nor talked much about politics. They were Republican, he said, in the way many in the military have tended to be Republican, almost as a cultural identification rather than a political one.

But "when this whole Trump thing started" in 2016 the arguments in the group became tense. He agreed that some were grudgingly behind Trump but then became full on. You can understand how this happens because, while "Reagan Republican" might seem very different, it's actually just a less bombastic version of a Trump Republican. Surely the road from Reagan supporter to Trump supporter is a lot shorter than the road from Reagan supporter to Hillary Clinton supporter.

Eric didn't support Trump and was caught in the middle of the battles in the group but stayed in it during Trump's four years. It was only after the pandemic, when members started to promote anti-vaccine propaganda, that he decided he had to finally leave the group. He had to actually counter conspiracies, and explain that no, "5G, has nothing to do with [the vaccines,] and that vaccine technology has been around for hundreds of years."

Some of these people were nuclear engineers, educated scientists with multiple degrees. But he said they'd respond with personal attacks, calling him a a "village idiot" or saying "I've been sick of you since Hillary." And they'd further push the distortions and lies.

That is a frightening progression, which both explains some of what we're seeing now, and underscores the dangers we face. It shows that political peer pressure works — not just with regard to party affiliation and candidates, as extreme as they might be, but with regard to even anti-science, crazy propaganda.

These are people for whom it was more comfortable, as long-time Republicans, to stay with Trump than move away. And then, it was more comfortable to hitch on to anti-vaccine dogma that had taken over the Republican Party — and presumably taken over their friends, families and co-workers — even if it went against everything they'd been taught.

I'm just speculating, but perhaps some of these people still know better and secretly got a vaccine — or even more quietly did so, like Trump, saying it while still promoting skepticism of government.

But others probably have so bought into it that they haven't been vaccinated and have encouraged the same among people they know.

Eric said what he experienced, what he saw, was something like "brainwashing and cultism."

It made me realize that, even if Trump made a pro-vaccine video urging people to get vaccinated — as many have urged him to do — it would be far too little, too late. He'd need to completely overhaul his message that government — and government science — is evil and go on a speaking tour or do ad after ad, interview after interview. And even then, these people, having so re-oriented their thinking, would have to buy it, making a complete turnaround. Even when he does briefly mention the vaccine at his rallies — and tried to take credit for them — the crowd is pretty silent.

At least with regard to this particular kind of anti-vaxxer, the Trumpian resisters — and Republican men are the largest group resisting vaccines — there really is no turning them around. Vaccine mandates by local governments, employers, schools and businesses such as restaurants, movie theaters and indoor sporting arenas are the only answer.

Trump demands Republicans keep spotlight on the insurrection -- and they do

Republicans, fearful of what will come out of the House January 6th select committee which gets underway today, keep insinuating that Democrats are obsessed with it and that there already have been many investigations — when in fact there's been no deep look at what precipitated the coordinated attack on the Capitol, including alleged ties to members of Congress and back to officials in the Trump administration.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

Nonetheless it's been Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's main go-to argument for why a bipartisan commission wasn't necessary. And it's been the same with the select committee investigation of January 6th, which came about only because Republicans stopped a bipartisan commission from happening.

Over the weekend Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania even accused Democrats of wanting to focus on January 6th because they get "political advantage" out of it. In a breathtaking statement on CNN he claimed that he supported a bipartisan commission — in fact, he never voted on it, as he wasn't there for the vote which Republicans, his party, ultimately filibustered — and that when that didn't happen, Democrats should have basically moved on.

He then said that Congress should be focused on the current president rather than the former president. This was pretty ridiculous for a few reasons. First off, the January 6th assault committee investigation isn't focused on Donald Trump per se as much as on the origins of the attack on the Capitol led by his supporters and those who attended and organized the "Stop the Steal" rally, though it surely shines a light on Trump's incitement and could bring more facts to bear regarding him and other political leaders.

Secondly, Congress can do many things at once — and can surely both focus on current legislation and, as Toomey put it, the actions of the current president, as well as investigate an insurrection. Third, everyone, no matter what party, should want to find out what happened, and it's what well over 70% of Americans want. So Congress truly is doing the people's business, as it is mandated to do.

One of the most important reasons to investigate is that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI believe there will be more domestic terrorist attacks, incited by Trump and his followers, particularly around the demented conspiracy that Trump will be reinstated in August. The new chief of the Capitol Police said he fears a "repeat" of January 6th because of this. Why wouldn't the GOP want to prevent that from happening?

Fourth and most significant, it is Republicans who are actually keeping January 6th in the news, contrary to the GOP's insinuations that Democrats are obsessed with it and looking for "political advantage."

Of course, Democrats do get political advantage from pointing to domestic terrorism excused by the opposition party — something Democrats should be doing to protect the American people — but Republicans are handing it to them.

The GOP leadership could easily be taking up the issue along with Democratic leaders, just like Republican House members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinsinger, both on the select committee, are doing. But GOP leaders have chosen to embrace the twice-impeached disgraced president who defends the people who attacked the Capitol as "special" people who showed a lot of "love."

Besides the select committee, Democrats actually haven't been focused on January 6th, but rather have been focused — some would say obsessively — on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, which surely falls in line with what Toomey thinks Congress should be focused on it. Except for the news now and again about people who were charged in the Capitol assault and sentences handed down by judges, January 6th itself as a news story has largely faded into the background — and the select committee rightly will focus new attention on it.

It's Republicans, however, who are keeping it alive as a political issue by continually promoting the Big Lie, which was the entire reason why this domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol — and the "Stop the Steal" really at which the attackers gathered just prior — happened.

Over the weekend, Trump spoke in Arizona, where the GOP has been engaged for months in a fraudulent recount, claiming the election was stolen, and Trump not only continued to promote the dangerous conspiracy; he demanded that all Republicans follow him or else GOP voters won't go to the polls, and he's sent threats to many of them. He's basically handing the Democrats — and the GOP — the same environment that existed during the Georgia runoffs, which benefitted Democrats, who mobilized.

Though that was damaging to the GOP, the vast majority of Republicans in elected office right now are complying with him once again, embracing Trump's twisted lie and attempting to use it it for electoral advantage. They're running on it in statehouse races, governors' races, House races and Senate races.

As long as the GOP uses the Big Lie as an organizing tool and a political issue, they are the ones promoting and exploiting January 6th, keeping it in the forefront of politics. Democrats must respond forcefully and realize that, for the GOP this is a political mistake, as the American people overwhelmingly support an investigation and do not in any way excuse what happened.

Rather than run from it — fearful of claims by Republicans like Toomey that they are exploiting January 6th — Democrats need to supercharge the message that the opposition party is embracing the Big Lie that incited the Capitol attack, and is excusing domestic terrorism.

Right-wing Catholic moralists outed a Catholic official as gay

When news broke that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, resigned after revelations that he was connecting with men on the gay hookup app Grindr, it seemed like something that's become familiar, bubbling over with schadenfreude. Here was another hypocrite in power — the Catholic bishop's conference is an extremely anti-LGBTQ force in the American church — revealed by gay and bisexual men who'd connected with him.

We've come to revel in these kinds of stories, where gay men on gay hookup apps reveal the truth about a right-wing politician, or sometimes a conservative religious zealot, with whom they've engaging in sexually charged chats or even met with — a person aiding and abetting the harm done to LGBTQ people with religious condemnations that drive some LGBTQ youth take their own lives, or influencing lawmakers who are lobbied to strip away rights. The story often goes viral on social media, and we're all glad to see a homophobe fall from power.

But this story isn't anything familiar. It's actually something very new (or reborn from times past) and emanates from a sinister operation: Those who collected information on Burrill are Catholic extremists, right-wing journalists at a newsletter here on Substack called The Pillar, who claim to have gotten a hold of tracking information which many Grindr users assume is anonymous, and which, if obtained, would be difficult and expensive to get. It all points to a well-funded, well-coordinated organization.

When all is said and done — and this story is still playing out — this may well lead to Steven Bannon or any one of a number of dangerous players on the right and in Trump World who've both mastered data analytics and have an agenda to crush liberal reforms within the Catholic church and hobble Pope Francis.

The Pillar editors include former editors at the right-wing Catholic News Agency (owned by EWTN), J. D. Flynn and Ed Condon, who've written for publications like the historically anti-LGBTQ National Review, as well as other conservative outfits, like the Spectator, the New York Post and the Washington Examiner. They are also Catholic canon lawyers.

Another editor is a data analytics professional. It's not known who funds The Pillar, but with editors who are journalism professionals who left full-time jobs it's highly doubtful that Substack subscriptions are paying for their livelihoods, as well as the kind of nefarious and costly research needed to do this kind of work.

Holding up their kill

The way the Pillar went about the story is quite alarming. They appear to have collected all of their information on Burrill not by engaging in reporting in which they interviewed various individuals who interacted with Burrill, confirming what they may or may not know; rather they say they "obtained" geolocation data of Grindr interactions from his phone — even claiming to have located him in a bathhouse in Las Vegas at one point — over a period of time going back to 2018. (And they are thus making assumptions based on nothing but circumstantial, if surely suggestive, information.)

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And then they went to the Catholic bishops with the information — dates and times of Burrill allegedly connecting with various men on Grindr, and locations, including the bathhouse. Soon after, the USCCB announced Burrill had resigned because of "impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior."

But The Pillar didn't publish its story until the day after the resignation.

So, they held the resignation up as a trophy, a kill, waving it around as a threat to others in the future.

In their report, they couched their rationale for pursuing the story not only as one about exposing that Burrill was "engaged in serial and illicit sexual activity."; they grotesquely attempted to conflate the use of Grindr and hookup apps with predation of underage boys — though there was no evidence of Burrill having connected with anyone underage.

They promoted the vicious stereotype of gay men as pedophiles, which is actually what hardline conservatives in the church have done in recent years to try to excuse their own leadership's toleration of child rapists within their ranks — shuffling them around from parish to parish, not bringing the issue to law enforcement — by vilely blaming it on gay priests.

It's everything the church claimed under Pope Benedict — and investigations and studies have shown it to be absolutely false — and that may give us a clue as to their motives, as The Pillar appears to be an arm of the traditionalists in the church fighting against Pope Francis's more enlightened outlook and attempts at reform.

A Warning Shot

The story in fact comes a week after Francis rankled traditionalists again by imposing restrictions on the old Latin Mass, reversing Pope Benedict. But it could also be a warning shot to Francis and others that Burrill is just the beginning, and that they'll start going after many more powerful figures in the church hierarchy.

Burrill is a priest who came up through a Wisconsin diocese with has long had staunchly conservative, homophobic leadership, like most U.S. dioceses. And he's been working for the Bishop's conference, which has fought for decades against LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people, and continues to do so. Many of the American bishops themselves still defend the church's actions in the sex abuse scandals, and still propagate the lie conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. More recently, the USCCB was in the news for threatening to vote to withhold communion to President Biden, a devout church-going Catholic, because he supports abortion rights.

So it's doubtful Burrill was a secret liberal force for change within in the conference, and more clear he is every bit the hypocrite he appears to be. You don't get to be elected general secretary of USCCB without toeing the line. After reading a fair number of Catholic commentators on the story, and speaking with some observers and academics, I don't believe Burrill was targeted because he was doing anything to undermine traditionalists. I think he was a pawn — and probably an easy target because he may have had so much out there regarding his activities — taken down by a group sending a message that this is what they are capable of doing.

As as journalist known for revealing the sexual orientation of public figures who were often harming the LGBTQ community, I find myself in an interesting place in following this story. I was at the center of "outing" controversies many years ago when Time magazine coined the term based on my and others' work, around the time I revealed that the multimillionaire publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes was gay after his death in 1990. So, I'm certainly not opposed to telling the truth about public figures who are working against LGBTQ rights while secretly gay themselves.

But this is about something far bigger, not in the service of helping LGBTQ people and very much in the service of seizing power within the Catholic church — ultimately in a way that harms LGBTQ people. And most alarming is the use of geolocation data that users believe is anonymous, something that tech privacy advocates have been warning about for years.

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The massive problem with Grindr

Grindr told the Washington Post "there is absolutely no evidence supporting the allegations of improper data collection or usage related to the Grindr app as purported" and said it was "infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely."

But Grindr has been slammed in the past for selling data to third parties — who can conceivably sell it to others — while still promising privacy to users. As Recode notes, "despite app developers' and data brokers' frequent assurances that the data they collect is 'anonymized' to protect people's privacy, this data can and does fall into the wrong hands." And there are ways to "de-anonymize" the data and track it to a particular phone, which is what happened in this case if The Pillar's claims are true.

As Recode explains:

While it's not known how Burrill's data was obtained from Grindr (assuming, again, that the Pillar's report is truthful), app developers usually send location data to third parties through software development kits, or SDKs, which are tools that add functions to their apps or serve ads…
…[Grindr] does say in its own privacy policy that it shared users' age, gender, and location with advertisers until April 2020. The Pillar said its data on Burrill is from 2018 to 2020.

All of this, however, requires sophisticated operators and, if data is being bought from third parties, lots of money. The Pillar — again, whose funders are unknown — hasn't been transparent about where and how it got the data, whether it paid for it or was given the data by someone else who might have paid for it. The Catholic News Agency, where the two top Pillar editors previously worked, published a piece the day before the resignation, warning of surveillance by tracking via apps and claiming they were offered information by an individual, which they turned down.

While that may be true, Mike Lewis, who founded the Catholic news siteWhere Peter Is and regularly covers the entities involved, wondered if CNA and The Pillar were actually working together:

The Pillar story also leaves many unanswered questions. For example, both the Pillar and Catholic News Agency (which ran a cryptic article on Monday that indicated something like this would be happening) withheld the name of the agency that provided the data. The Pillar didn't indicate who paid for the data set (note that their article said "obtained" rather than bought or purchased). For that matter, the Pillar has never disclosed their primary source(s) of funding. Did CNA and the Pillar work in tandem? Why did they target Msgr. Burrill, of all people?

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Who is behind this well-funded operation?

Dawn Eden Goldstein, a Catholic theology professor, author and journalist, dug into the story quite a bit, and in a Twitter thread offers up three people who could be behind this kind of operation and helping to fund it:

  1. Steve Bannon, who has joined ultra-conservatives in launching blistering attacks on Pope Francis (who's defended migrants and has spoken against nationalism), and certainly is familiar with data harvesting;
  2. Sean Fieler, "a multimillionaire hedge-fund manager and major GOP power player," who is also prominent in TrumpWorld or;
  3. Frank J. Hanna III, "a longtime Legion of Christ funder who made his millions selling subprime credit cards--and on his ownership of the Official Catholic Directory."
Twitter avatar for @DawnofMercyDawn Eden Goldstein: Get the Vaxx/Stop the Spread @DawnofMercyThe first possible source for The Pillar's Catholic data set is Steve Bannon. When the UK Catholic Herald launched its US publication, its directors consulted with Bannon, who advised them on collecting a mailing list of "Catholic influencers." ... A British Catholic Magazine Met With Steve Bannon To Come Up With A List Of "Catholic Influencers And Millionaires"One of Bannon's ideas was to create the "Catholic Spectator", a source said, adding that the magazine was on a "holy mission" to take on Pope Francis.buzzfeed.com

July 21st 2021

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Her thread is worth a read, as there's other illuminating information. She's speculating about who might be behind this affair, of course, but based on much knowledge of the players and the field. It might be one or more of them — or none of them. But it becomes clear that this kind of story couldn't be done without people who have the contacts, capabilities and resources.

Obviously there are so many issues raised by Burrill's forced resignation based on The Pillar's actions. Certainly, the U.S. needs more laws protecting data, as privacy experts have been stressing for years.

But one of the biggest takeaways here is how, amid what is becoming an epic battle inside the Catholic church, the traditionalists have shown they will stop at nothing. Personally, I think it's a sign of weakness, an act of desperation by people trying to retain power who know they're losing, as Catholics have changed with the world, many even leaving the church; it mirrors the larger political struggle in the United States.

I don't think they will ultimately win the war, but there will likely be more casualties.