Republicans have a plan to hold America hostage

Sometime during the next session of Congress, Republicans will check the box on one of their perennial agenda items whenever a Democrat is president: Threatening to crash the entire U.S. economy if the president doesn't submit to their demand to slash the safety net of senior citizens.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Leading up to the midterm elections, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, did a lot of thinking out loud about entitlement "reform" (meaning cuts to Social Security and Medicare) that Republicans might undertake should the expected red wave bring them into the majority. Around the same time, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy began talking about the spending cuts a putative House majority would force by using the extension of the statutory debt limit as a bargaining chip, although he refused to be precise as to which programs would be slashed.

The red wave, of course, never reached the shore: Democrats retained the Senate, while McCarthy is presumed to become the speaker of a slim and nearly unmanageable Republican House majority. But Satan never sleeps, and neither do Republicans. Even though their political position is considerably weaker than they had hoped, they have pressed on with their policy intentions. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of Senate Republican leadership, has explicitly linked social program cuts to an extension of the debt ceiling. He downplayed the risk of default, even though there is no point in linking the two issues unless the Republicans plausibly threaten to trigger such a credit crisis. To do otherwise would be like holding a rubber knife to a hostage's throat.

To date, President Biden's response has been mystifying. He insisted in October that he "would not yield" to Republican pressure, but also said he opposed either repealing the debt ceiling or raising the limit by such a large number as to pull the issue off the table for a long time to come, since such a bill might run into a Republican filibuster. Admittedly, neither approach would enjoy smooth legislative sailing, either in a lame-duck session or in the succeeding Congress (the debt limit could be reached as soon as the first quarter of 2023). But Biden's reactions so far have weakened any political leverage he might have had.

Some Democrats are tired of the periodic debt ceiling spectacle and want to be rid of it for all time. During the most recent debt limit fight in October 2021, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, "I'd be glad to see us get rid of the debt limit. It serves no purpose to restrict spending, it just creates opportunities for political gamesmanship and threats to our economy. It's time to get rid of it." To be sure, perennial nuisances like conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and no-longer-a-Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema make legislative abolition of the debt ceiling a difficult needle to thread, even with a 51-seat Democratic caucus. But Biden has the power to accomplish the same goal unilaterally.

Biden should invoke Section Four of the 14th Amendment, which states that "the public debt of the United States, authorized by law" shall "not be questioned." It's the cleanest option to stymie the GOP's extortion game.

During the last debt limit melodrama, I argued that the president should invoke Section Four of the 14th Amendment, which states that "the public debt of the United States, authorized by law" shall "not be questioned." This provision was designed to prevent representatives of the Southern states from voting to repudiate Northern war debt upon readmission to the Union. The language is sufficiently plain that it does not require a cryptanalyst to unlock its meaning, and it remains the cleanest option to stymie the periodic extortion games by congressional Republicans.

Invoking the 14th Amendment is undoubtedly rolling out the heavy artillery. Does Biden really need to do so in the event of an imminent debt default, now that the issue has become a semi-regular bit of Republican theatrics with no grave consequences thus far?

But in fact, there have been measurable consequences: the U.S. government came close to default under Barack Obama in 2011 (causing a government bond rating downgrade and a slower recovery from the Great Recession) and again in 2013 (also bringing a debt downgrade amid Republican agitation for the privatization of Social Security and Medicare).

That the worst was averted on those occasions is no guarantee that Republicans will pull back from the brink this time. With every election cycle, Republicans have grown more and more extreme. When they were House speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan at least attempted to rein in the crazies, albeit with distinctly limited success. It has become obvious that Kevin McCarthy's path to the speakership — which is not yet a done deal by any means — is to let the crazies rule, with himself as the front man. A House in which people like Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene rule as a kind of Politburo, with McCarthy as their figurehead, is capable of anything.

Should the world's largest economy and linchpin of the international financial system enter default, we would enter uncharted territory. Before the last go-around, many Republicans apparently convinced themselves that sovereign default would be no big deal. Economists argue otherwise, suggesting a range of scenarios: recession, a drop in the dollar that would spike inflation amid rising interest rates, a plunge in equities, a halt to Social Security payments, a freeze-up in banking liquidity, panic in money market funds and global financial disruptions.

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Let me suggest one more scenario. Ever since Richard Nixon de-linked the dollar from gold a half-century ago, doomsayers have been predicting the imminent dethronement of the dollar as the world reserve currency. This prophecy has proved consistently wrong; the dollar's dominance is hardly less than it was in Nixon's time, and it actually increased its safe-haven status during the pandemic.

It is issuance of the world reserve currency that has allowed the United States to run very large budget, merchandise trade and current account deficits for decades. Why? Because the dollars that flow abroad as a result of those deficits are needed by other countries to purchase commodities like oil and conduct other kinds of bilateral trade. Nations with large dollar surpluses don't sit on them; they recycle them as investments in the United States. That is why New York has the deepest and most liquid financial markets in the world. These deep and liquid markets in turn encourage many foreign central banks to hold their assets in New York as well.

Adversarial states like China and Russia have been attempting for years to dethrone the U.S. as issuer of the world reserve currency, so far with meager success. It is the very fact that most international financial settlements are cleared in dollars, just as the SWIFT international transaction network is dominated by the U.S., that makes Washington's economic sanctions against various regimes as effective as they are.

A Republican-fueled debt default would offer them a huge opportunity.

There are many economic arrangements that seem so stable and habitual that they might as well be eternal. But the fact is, like the 19th-century system in which the British pound sterling was pegged at a fixed rate to gold, such arrangements only work until they cease to work. Should a U.S. sovereign debt default occur, the money centers in Europe and East Asia might well shrug their collective shoulders and continue to clear transactions in dollars and purchase U.S. debt instruments just as before. There is little reason to prognosticate a sudden collapse of the dollar's status as the coin of the global realm.

But there is a greater probability of a slow unraveling over several years. Foreign investors will begin to hedge on buying U.S. debt, or explore the possibility of using the euro instead or a basket of stable currencies, or consider financializing the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights. Following a default, some oil-exporting countries would be more likely to accept settlement in instruments other than dollars.

The consequences of a default in 2023 would probably be more serious than economists have predicted during past political deadlocks. The world has been through three years of pandemic, along with supply-chain disruptions, global inflation, a world splitting into hostile power blocs and now a major European war with no end in sight. U.S. sovereign default could be the culmination of a world polycrisis.

Over time, the U.S. economy would be forced to adjust downward, as massive current account deficits could no longer be sopped up by the rest of the world. More productive investment would have to be generated by domestic manufacturing, while consumption would have to be curtailed. In short, the famously high American standard of living would trend downward for the foreseeable future, until domestic production and consumption could come into closer balance. America's international leadership for the last 75 years has in part rested on what many call the dollar's "exorbitant privilege." As with Britain's retrenchment from empire after World War II, the balance of payments could make U.S. global dominance an unaffordable luxury.

As this article was being written, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto dictator of Saudi Arabia. The main subject of their conversation, of course, was oil, but another topic was the possibility of China settling its oil bill in whole or in part with its own currency. Could the possibility of a U.S. credit default in the next year become the tipping point?

Congressional Republicans are playing Russian roulette with America's continued primacy over the global financial system — a uniquely privileged position that props up our standard of living and international influence. The only beneficiaries of a U.S. debt default would be hostile actors like Russia and China. In this context, Biden would be the well-advised to take all constitutionally available measures to thwart Republicans' willful malfeasance in protecting the nation's interests.


Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member and the author of The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted."

Democrats hold Senate majority — and the House is still in play

our full days after Election Day, the improbable 2022 midterms have reached their penultimate chapter in dramatic fashion, with confirmation that Democrats will maintain control of the U.S. Senate in the next Congress.

This article first appeared in Salon.

All major news outlets declared Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada the projected winner over Republican Adam Laxalt on Saturday night, after a near-final count of mail ballots in the Las Vegas area pushed her ahead by a few thousand votes. Combined with Sen. Mark Kelly's re-election in Arizona over Republican Blake Masters, which was confirmed on Friday, that will give Democrats 50 seats in the Senate — enough for a majority, given Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote.

One seat in the Senate remains undecided, but is now less consequential: The Georgia contest between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will be decided in a Dec. 8 runoff election. Warnock finished slightly ahead of Walker, but did not reach the 50 percent threshold required by state law.

Even more implausibly, it now appears possible that Democrats could hold their majority in the House of Representatives as well, something that seemed virtually inconceivable to most observers going into this election, and even in the first day or two after it concluded. Such a victory remains relatively unlikely — it would require Democrats to win nearly all of the undecided races on the West Coast, some of which are currently led by Republicans — but the 2022 midterms have already made clear that the unlikely and the impossible are different things

MSNBC analyst Steve Kornacki (once a Salon reporter) has projected an approximate House total of 219 Republicans and 216 Democrats, which would be the narrowest majority in recent political history. As Kornacki and other analysts have observed, there are hundreds of thousands of mail ballots yet to count in California House races. Those generally tend to break in Democrats' favor. and it's not inconceivable that late-arriving ballots could push Democrats to the required 218 seats, or even beyond.

Vote counting, and in some cases recounts, may continue for another week or longer. The neck-and-neck race in Colorado's 3rd congressional district between far-right Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert and Democrat Adam Frisch, for example, may take weeks to decide, with late-arriving military ballots and "cured" ballots still being counted and a likely recount ahead.

Mitch McConnell's darkest hour: Is the 'Grim Reaper' nearing the final curtain?

By Ira Shapiro

Discovery comes most often not from finding something unknown or long hidden but from seeing afresh what has been on the table all along. — David McCullough

After all this time, is it still possible to underestimate Mitch McConnell's political skill and his destructive impact on our country?

The question came to mind most recently after reading a Washington Post article about the difficulties that Senate Republican candidates and the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) were having in fundraising. The article understandably buoyed the spirits of Democrats. But its closing paragraphs report that McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund was flush with cash, with more than $100 million as of June, and that McConnell had transferred $28 million to the struggling campaign of Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, while earmarking other large sums for the races anticipated to be most closely contested. More recently, a senior Republican operative with knowledge of GOP fundraising put the McConnell war chest at closer to $500 million.

This article first appeared on Salon.

At 80 years old, McConnell is finishing his 16th year as a Senate leader, tying the record of the great Mike Mansfield for longest tenure. No Senate leader — not even Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert A. Caro's legendary "master of the Senate" — has had more impact on the country's politics and history. McConnell began Barack Obama's presidency by opposing the economic stimulus legislation needed to prevent a second Great Depression, and waged a scorched-earth war against the Affordable Care Act. In Obama's last year, when Justice Antonin Scalia died, McConnell famously took the unprecedented step of refusing to allow the Senate to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. As the election approached, McConnell blocked a proposal for congressional leaders to make a bipartisan condemnation of Russian interference in the election.

When Donald Trump became president, McConnell the partisan obstructionist became McConnell the partisan battering ram. He orchestrated the massive Trump tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and came within one vote of repealing the Affordable Care Act without hearings, committee action or consultation with any affected interest groups. He focused all his experience and energy on his highest priority: putting an extreme, right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, through a corrupted confirmation process. If not for McConnell's iron will and laser focus, Garland would be on the court today, while Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett would not. As McConnell said proudly: "A lot of what we have done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won't be able to do much about this for a long time to come." The constitutional right of women to choose an abortion and the power of states to regulate guns were quickly eviscerated, for openers.

At the end of Trump's presidency, McConnell denounced him forcefully: First on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, for spreading the big lie that the election had been stolen, and then a few weeks later on Feb. 13, when he gave a speech that any Democrat or Liz Cheney would have admired, a scorching attack on the former president for inciting the insurrection — even as he voted to acquit Trump on the lame grounds that a former president could not be impeached. Although Nancy Pelosi and others blasted him for his hypocrisy, McConnell's political calculation was clear enough. He wanted nothing more than to be rid of Trump, but the time was not right: Trump remained too strong. Better to wait until Trump withered away naturally, his hold on the Republican Party diminished from a damaging barrage of state and federal investigations.

Now, 19 months later, McConnell faces his toughest challenge. McConnell specializes in the politics of off-year elections; he counted on Biden, like Obama in 2010 and 2014, taking severe losses in the midterms, when a dissatisfied electorate is likely to turn on the president. But Biden's recent legislative victories and a fierce reaction to the Supreme Court's abortion decision have given the Democrats new momentum, presenting the possibility of an exception to the historical pattern. Trump's hold on the GOP base seems as strong as ever, particularly since the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home inflamed his loyal supporters, and he remains furious at McConnell. Trump-endorsed candidates have won a string of contested primaries, handing McConnell what he most detests: extremist or arguably unqualified nominees in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Ohio, who will have difficulty winning a statewide general election.

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McConnell's greatest strength — his enduring hold over his Senate Republican colleagues — comes from his mastery of the obscene dark-money system of unlimited contributions that he and the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United have created. The Republican donor base of wealthy individuals and corporations, including the banking and securities industry, fossil fuel companies and the NRA and gun manufacturers, deliver the money, and McConnell's leadership PAC and its 501(c)(4) affiliate, One Nation — both run by his former chief of staff Steven Law — spreads the money around to Republican candidates, while McConnell delivers the legislative and regulatory outcomes and judicial appointments that suit the donors' purposes.

McConnell remains a master of the obscene dark-money system — but he lost the battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Unlike Liz Cheney, he went down without a fight.

McConnell is not a MAGA Republican, and he is working hard to remind the Republican donor base that he is their best bet to combat the purported liberal excesses of Biden and the Democrats. He has been on good behavior, breaking with his pattern of obstruction to help deliver bipartisan accomplishments such as infrastructure legislation, the CHIPS Act, the first modest but important gun safety legislation in decades, support for Ukraine and adding Finland and Sweden to NATO. Having captured the Supreme Court, McConnell may be trying to airbrush his legacy by being marginally constructive on other issues. More likely, McConnell has calculated that going to the voters with a record of total obstruction was not the best plan for the Senate GOP.

McConnell's problem is that he lost the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, and unlike Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, he went down without a fight. With a position of extraordinary power in the party and the country, McConnell failed to convict Trump after his impeachments, failed to stop the big lie from spreading in the weeks after the election and has been conspicuously silent as Trump and his MAGA supporters have embraced full-scale election denial and advocated violence. McConnell seriously underestimated Trump's depravity and overestimated his own ability to control the situation. By now, he may have learned the wisdom of George Ball, the Kennedy administration diplomat who opposed the escalation of the Vietnam War: "He who rides the tiger cannot choose where he dismounts."

We should be crystal clear about one other point. If McConnell's fondest hope had been realized — Trump withering away into irrelevance — this year's Senate elections would still pose a crucial test. The principle of Occam's razor, which holds that the simplest explanation for any phenomenon is most likely the right one, applies here. Our politics were poisonous and our government was gridlocked well before Donald Trump became president. The accelerating downward spiral of the Senate and our government correlates 100% with McConnell's tenure as Republican leader. For Democrats, independents and disillusioned Republicans, every bad road leads to and from Mitch McConnell, an architect of division, a champion of inequality and the self-proclaimed "grim reaper" of progressive legislation. The 2022 Senate elections present the first opportunity for voters to pass judgment not only on Donald Trump and MAGA extremism, but also on McConnell and his Republican Senate colleagues, who consciously failed to protect our democracy from Trump's assault but gave us a radical Supreme Court majority prepared to take away our freedoms and erode our right to govern ourselves. Nothing would change American politics more profoundly and rapidly than a huge turnout that produces an expanded Democratic majority.

Ira Shapiro is the author of "The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America." His website is here.

The insurrection will be decentralized: How the next Jan. 6 could happen in the state houses

A year ago, a stunned world watched rapt as pro-Trump insurrectionists smashed through windows and barricades at our nation's Capitol, disrupting the constitutionally mandated tally of Electoral College votes certifying President Biden's win. But that display of violence ought to have come as no surprise, as escalating threats and violence in our state houses throughout 2020 presaged the Capitol insurrection.

A year later, we must again look to our state houses for a preview of what is to come. In key battleground states, Republicans are steadily building toward a future where they can engineer election outcomes. GOP-controlled legislatures are setting the stage for another attempted coup. The next insurrection will be decentralized, coming from our state houses with the sheen of legal authority. If we do nothing to stop their plans, then as the 2024 votes are tallied in our states, the laws and rules governing the process and outcome will have been rewritten for a particular outcome: Republican wins, regardless of the votes. And an arch-conservative Supreme Court could stand poised to thwart a constitutional challenge to this state power grab. We have the opportunity to stop this in its tracks — by pouring resources and attention into key state legislative chambers and races immediately. What we do next for our states could determine the fate of our democracy.

In the year since the Capitol riot, Republicans have made their 2024 play well known. Step one in this strategy is to pass state-level laws making it harder to vote. And indeed, Republican-controlled state legislatures enacted far more restrictive voting laws in 2021 than in the past decade. Step two is to change state laws so that partisan actors can interfere with election processes or reject election results outright. Here too, we see the strategy in action: At least 14 states enacted laws in 2021 that give state legislatures more power over election administration and certification, or impose criminal penalties on election officials. More were proposed but not passed, including an Arizona bill that would have given the state legislature power to undo the certification of presidential electors by a simple majority vote, right up until the inauguration. Looking ahead, at least 100 restrictive bills have been pre-filed for the 2022 legislative session or will carry over from 2021.

These state law changes will lay the groundwork for Republican legislatures to challenge and discredit any 2022 and 2024 election results with which they disagree. And it won't take many states passing election subversion laws in order to tip the scales in 2024. In his hamfisted legal efforts to challenge the 2020 election results, Trump and his team focused on just six states to flip the results: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. His efforts failed, but not necessarily because Republican state legislators weren't supportive. The real problem was that those states' laws didn't give the legislatures the authority to jettison the votes and go their own way. Republicans learned this lesson, and are pursuing state legislative action now, to tee things up for election subversion or reversal whenever they need it.

But would such state laws be constitutional? Can Republicans really engineer their way into power by rigging the rules? The conservative machinery has anticipated this potential objection, and has also prepared a legal strategy that would further imbue their efforts with the veneer of legal respectability.

Once a stealth effort in right-wing legal circles, the Independent State Legislatures doctrine is rising in prominence as a result of election-related litigation in state supreme courts and the federal courts, much of it related to the "Big Lie." This doctrine argues that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the sole authority to set all election rules — including the assigning of Electoral College votes — independently and with no possibility of judicial review. This means that election laws set by state legislatures would supersede any rights provided in state constitutions, or even ballot initiatives passed by voters. It effectively concludes that there can be no possible checks and balances on state legislatures' authority over election law. While this might sound like a fringe belief, four justices on the Supreme Court have already indicated some level of support for this doctrine — and Amy Coney Barrett has yet to weigh in.

We ignore what is happening in our state capitals at our democracy's continued peril. As we reflect on a year since the Jan. 6 riot, we must be clear-eyed about the dangers to our democracy ahead, and the outsized role that state legislatures will play in the looming battle. Next time the call will be coming from inside the state house. But it's not too late. We can and must invest heavily in pro-democracy state government actors and advocates. This year's midterm elections offer us one last chance to oust MAGA-faction legislators and instead build progressive, pro-democratic power in our state legislatures, particularly in states like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where newly redistricted state legislative maps may be fairer. And we must support year-round state-based power-building organizations that are doing the hard work of community organizing around progressive, pro-democracy candidates and issues. But time is running out. Will we heed the call and invest in our states — or once again be surprised to discover it's too late?

False prophets: When preachers defy COVID — and then it kills them

For millennia, religious leaders have offered guidance, redemption and fellowship for those interested in dedicating themselves to a life of charity, compassion and hope. But what happens when religious leaders support beliefs or prevailing social customs that significantly harm others?

Today, just as in centuries before, there are religious leaders propagating beliefs that are both harmful and deadly. Since March of 2020, more than 5 million people worldwide, including 800,000 Americans, have died from the coronavirus. Americans are still dying at a rate of about 1,400 people per day. Despite these incontrovertible facts, confirmed by a long trail of death certificates, burials and cremation urns, some religious leaders around the U.S. continue to deny the severity of the pandemic and discourage others from taking basic life-saving precautions to protect themselves from infection.

On Aug. 17, Roger Dale Moon, pastor of Revelation Fire Ministries in South Carolina, wrote that he did not fear COVID-19 since "the blood of Jesus that covers me stops every kind of disease or virus that tries to enter my spirit, soul and body." He died on Oct. 19, shortly after contracting COVID-19.

Tim Parsons, pastor of Center Point Church in Lexington, Kentucky, died on Aug. 26 from COVID-19, after his church had advised members "not to worry" about the virus since God was "in control."

RELATED: Now evangelicals want to depict "social justice" as un-Christian: I hope God will forgive them

So many white evangelical Christians are so openly hostile and dismissive of public health measures that users of the social media platform Reddit recently created an archive and discussion thread documenting individuals who make public declarations of their anti-mask, anti-vaccine or COVID-hoax views — and then die from the disease. The archive is a sad and sobering catalog of Americans who have vilified Dr. Anthony Fauci, mocked mask-wearers and dismissed the danger of the very virus that eventually takes their lives.

A shocking number of church pastors appear in the archive. Recently deceased clergy members have come from all over the United States: Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church in Colorado, Dean Kohn of Descending Dove Outreach International in California, Robert Marson of Umpqua Valley Community Fellowship in Oregon and Rob Skiba of Virtual House Church, a Texas-based online community.

The beliefs of those church leaders not only led to their own deaths, but also likely contributed to the deaths of others in their social networks and members of their congregation. Some believed that God would not allow them to fall ill. When many were hospitalized with severe symptoms after contracting COVID, they believed that "prayer warriors" might heal them, while distrusting or even rejecting life-saving treatment from doctors and nurses. Families who turn to faith-based healers and preachers in lieu of professional health care providers when facing crisis — whether physical, emotional or psychological — endanger their long-term health and all too often their lives.

Misplaced faith in religious leaders who eschew logic and reason are as harmful and dangerous today as they were in previous generations and societies.

As painful as it is to acknowledge this, Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities joined their peers in the trafficking and sale of other humans for centuries. When ancient empires engaged in the conquest of neighboring lands and massacred indigenous peoples, religious literature characterized and praised such actions as divinely sanctioned. When free-thinkers and heretics questioned what was considered orthodoxy in premodern Christian or Muslim societies, religious leaders justified their persecution and execution.

Religious leaders derive their authority from their piety and knowledge of a religious tradition. But such piety and knowledge grants them neither infallibility nor expertise in matters outside their purview, be it public health or science. The sanctity and beauty of religion does not safeguard its figureheads from having blind spots and supporting some of humanity's worst ideas. We are losing parents, spouses, brothers and sisters in this pandemic in the most tragic way: without the opportunity to say goodbye or provide them comfort in their final moments. The above pastors — and too many of their parishioners — are dying isolated, in pain and intubated in COVID wards. There is a profound sense of loss when we lose those we love, but this grief is compounded when we are prevented from seeing and speaking to them one last time.

World religions are communities with ancient stories and parables. Some of them are inspirational and triumphant, while others are cautionary tales. I cannot help but consider how the above pastors have become the subjects, rather than the preachers, of a cautionary tale that we must now share with future generations.

After 20 years of dreadful mistakes, U.S. heads for exit as Taliban retakes Afghanistan

Nearly two full decades of lies and wishful thinking from U.S. generals, politicians, liberal interventionists and neoconservative talking heads came into full view Sunday as the Taliban in Afghanistan surrounded Kabul while American military forces and diplomatic personnel rapidly evacuated the U.S. embassy and the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani negotiated a surrender and transition government with opposition forces.

This article first appeared in Salon.

With reports that Bagram Air Base and nearby Parwan Prison had both fallen out of Afghan government hands, Taliban spokeperson Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that his group expects a peaceful transfer of power within days and assured the people of Afghanistan, including those in Kabul, that retribution and revenge would not follow.

"We assure the people in Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe. There will be no revenge on anyone," Shaheen said.

The Taliban leadership, he continued, has "instructed our forces to remain at the gates of Kabul" and that they had no plans yet to to enter the city. "We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power," Shaheen said.

Asked to explain what a "peaceful transfer of power" means in practice, he said: "It means that the city and the power should be handed over to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and then, in future, we will have an Afghan inclusion Islamic government in which all Afghans will have participation."

A press statement issued from the Taliban echoed that message, urging Afghans not to flee their own country and vowing that both their lives and property would not be threatened.

Subsequently — amid reports that Ghani has already left the country on a flight to Uzbekistan — Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal announced a "peaceful transfer of power" had been agreed to and that a transitional government was being formed.

"The Afghan people should not worry," Mirzakwal said in a recorded speech, according to Agence France-Presse.

"The safety of [Kabul] is guaranteed," he said."There will be no attack on the city, and the agreement is such that the transition of power will take place in a peaceful manner."

In recent days, antiwar voices who opposed the initial invasion in 2001 and have railed against the U.S. occupation ever since have pointed out the inevitability of what is now unfolding, the rapid return of Taliban rule despite 20 years — during which trillions of dollars were spent and hundreds of thousands of innocent lives were lost — of U.S. military leaders claiming that some kind of victory was possible.

"The tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan are yet further proof of the utter failure of our country's endless wars and the mindset that enables them," said Stephen Miles, executive director of the U.S.-based group Win Without War, on Friday. "Nearly two decades of military intervention and occupation did not build lasting peace. No number of bombs dropped, no length of time occupied, would have."

On Sunday, veteran peace activist Medea Benjamin was among those wondering whether anyone in the U.S. military or foreign policy establishment would ever be held accountable for the deceit or failures in Afghanistan. "Who is going to be fired for 20 years of horrific failure in Afghanistan?" Benjamin asked on social media. "Who would you suggest?"

In a separate Sunday morning tweet, Benjamin said: "As the blame game for the Afghan crisis heats up, I want to add all who supported this disastrous invasion from the beginning, including those who bashed us at anti-war protests. We were right, you were wrong. We should have never invaded Afghanistan. Period."

"The whole war on terror has proved a terrible failure and this should be admitted," said Lindsey German, convener of the U.K.-based Stop the War coalition, in a statement on Sunday.

"We should also consider how the lives of Afghanis would have been improved if only a fraction of the money committed to this war ... had gone into improving their lives through investment in infrastructure, housing, education, agriculture," German added. "That was an opportunity that could have been taken but was ignored in favor of military solutions. And those have brought us to where we are today."

With a massive U.S. evacuation operation underway, the UN warned Saturday of the potential for a massive refugee crisis as many Afghans — not assured they will be safe, or unwilling to live under Taliban rule — try to leave the country. On Friday, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on neighboring countries "to keep their borders open in light of the intensifying crisis" and warned that "inability to seek safety may risk innumerable civilian lives." The UNHCR said it was standing ready to help counties scale up their humanitarian and assistance efforts as needed.

In a statement issued by the White House on Saturday, President Biden said that while he had mobilized approximately 5,000 U.S. soldiers to provide security and assist with the evacuation of Afghanistan, he was not considering changing course to maintain the occupation of the country which has been ongoing since 2001.

"I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats," Biden said. "I would not, and will not, pass this war on to a fifth."

Meghan McCain suggests Black Lives Matter protests led to Capitol riot

On Thursday's edition of ABC's "The View," co-host and conservative pundit Meghan McCain equated the insurrection with the protests against police violence during the summer of 2020.

"When I think of people doing things in the name of political violence, I just think of terrorists, I just think this is crap that happens in other countries," McCain said of the insurrectionists and rioters who capitalized on Black Lives Matter protests last June. "I worry about this line that has been moving and moving and moving since last summer, and now we see this."

Comparing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol to last summer's race riots is a concerted right-wing effort to defend Donald Trump during his second impeachment trial.

McCain effectively downplayed the violent attack by delusional Trump supporters by insinuating that killing five people and destroying the U.S. capitol based on a baseless lie that the election was stolen is somehow similar to millions of Americans taking the street to protest the continual murder of innocent black bodies.

Race riots, however, are not a new phenomenon that 2020 miraculously uncovered. In fact, uprisings against the violence of white supremacy have been around since the inception of this country, spurred on first by the violence against Native American genocide and then African slaves.

McCain's ahistorical reference to political violence being terrorism fails to recognize that the point of BLM protests is to combat state-sponsored violence and terrorism against Americans.

"I'm just having a hard time watching this trauma and revisiting this trauma over and over again," McCain said of the new video footage from the Senate trial. "It's disgusting, it looks like something out of a third world country, or a horror movie, it's unfathomable, it almost doesn't look real."

"As an analyst, I understand that the argument from the Republican side is that we have to move on, we have to be focusing on Covid relief… I disagree," she said. "I still think there should be a fine line and that there should be a standard that this cannot happen."

She continued: "But that fine line, for me, isn't only with the capitol riots, it's also when you are standing as a journalist on TV and there is a city on fire behind you and things are being rioted and small businesses are being looted. There is no political cause that I justify violence, or looting, or burning things down, or attacking people across the board. And i think we need to hold that standard no matter what, as Sarah said, no matter what your political ideology is."

Senate Republicans could still save their party from disaster -- but we already know they won't

Make no mistake about it: This is Donald Trump's Republican Party. The party has become a wasteland of Trumpism. Rather than embracing Trump's exit and beginning to reinvent itself, the party has chosen to double down on Trumpism. As a result, the Republican Party is in grave danger of becoming a fringe group, unmoored from reality and antagonistic to democracy. All because of Donald Trump and his four-year history of pathology and self-serving maliciousness.

Trump's mental pathology has been projected onto the country. Divisiveness, tribalism, cruelty, violence, lies, propaganda and conspiracy theories are all manifestations of his pathology. In the beginning, Republicans were enablers who were complicit in Trump's mission of securing absolute power, politicizing the Department of Justice, grifting the American public and breaking all norms, rules and laws with impunity.

Even at the tail end of his regime, many Republicans supported or participated in Trump's incitement of insurrection against our democratic election. Nothing could have been more anti-American and treasonous than an attempted coup of our election process, led by a sitting president. Trump understood that Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were in grave danger and could have been murdered. He did not care a whit. Many congressional Republicans were on board. Some may have given tours to the insurrectionists the day before the Jan. 6 crisis at the Capitol. To be sure, the attempted rebellion against our government was orchestrated and sanctioned by President Trump. It was a history-making, jaw-dropping, America-bashing maneuver by a president who was trying to overturn the will of the people.

After Jan. 6, the Republican party could have reawakened and changed course. Instead, it has regressed into an abyss of extremism, lies, conspiracy theories and threats of violence. House Republicans have refused to repudiate or expel Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who in effect has now become the poster child for the party. Her vile and incendiary rhetoric has not been rebuffed or stamped out, and at best has only been set aside for the moment. Rep. Matt Gaetz has traveled to Wyoming to rile up supporters to denounce Rep. Liz Cheney for the sin of voting to impeach Trump.

Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who led the attempt in the Senate to overturn a legitimate election, have not repudiated the insurrectionists. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has traveled to Florida to kiss Trump's ring and enlist his further influence in the party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks out of both sides of his mouth. Sen. Lindsey Graham is a firm supporter of Trumpism, even while voting to reject the coup attempt itself. The list goes on.

It is inconceivable that all of Trump's 74 million voters are supportive of the aberrant and imploding Republican party. They cannot possibly all believe that wildfires were started by "Jewish space lasers," that school shootings which devastated the entire country were elaborate hoaxes, that Trump won the election by a landslide, and that the attempted overthrow of democracy is to be rewarded. Most reasonable and thoughtful Americans must understand that the Republican Party has devolved into an extremist faction that does not have our country's viability and sustainability at heart. These conspiracy theorists, and those in Congress who support them, are anti-democratic in their basic belief system. They are unhinged from reality, and their unimaginable conspiracy theories are now at the core of Trumpism.

Donald Trump was never a healthy and effective national leader — and most certainly will never be one in the future — because his mental pathology will not allow it. Because of his disorder, Trump will forever be divisive, hostile, cruel, paranoid and wedded to propaganda. It is impossible for him to be rational, compromising, empathetic or unifying. He is a transactional opportunist who simply does not understand public service, care for others, sacrifice or mutual understanding. He is a destroyer rather than a builder. He is consumed with greed and self-aggrandizement rather than an altruistic desire to help others.

To have any kind of healthy future in American politics, the Republican Party must divorce itself from Trump immediately. It must reinvent itself with renewed democratic principles and ideals. The party must find fresh leaders who are courageous and fearless. Unfortunately, we already know this is unlikely to happen.

Senate Republicans still have a chance, at least hypothetically, to forge their final divorce from Donald Trump during his upcoming impeachment trial. This their chance to make their mark in history. This is their chance to shape the new trajectory of their party, and create the possibility of a healthy political future. Convicting Trump and banning him from future elected office would send a dramatic message to all Americans. Republicans have a chance to be true heroes — rather than spineless cowards. Many of them must understand that their party is dead in the water if they hitch their wagon to Trumpism going forward. It has no chance of success. Americans are not ready to lose their cherished democracy in the name of treasonous Donald Trump. It is not going to happen.

Even beyond Trump, the Republican Party must jettison its extremist and fringe followers. There must be no room for lies, conspiracy theories, white supremacy, radical violence or insurrection against our democracy.

We are at an inflection point in the American experiment. Donald Trump is gone from office at last, but his influence is still metastasizing like a cancer within the Republican party.

Senate Republicans face a historic choice. They can nail Donald Trump's political coffin closed, or send our democracy down a dark and rocky path.

Can evangelical Christians be redeemed from bigotry and hatred?

I have been writing letters to the editor for a long time in a desperate hope to change the direction of the evangelical Christian church as it relates to politics. It is difficult to express how hard it is to not be heard. In truth, this is why social media is such a popular thing. Being on Twitter or Facebook or TikTok allows millions of people to pretend they are being seen and heard. As I look back at my previous letters, I notice a progression that has led me into attempting a true reform of what we might call the "God vote."

This article first appeared in Salon.

President Biden proclaims a deep connection to the Christian faith. Newly elected Sen. Raphael Warnock is pastor at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and nearly every other presidential candidate in the last 200 years or so have discussed their faith. For the last 50 years or so, however, right-wing evangelicals have dominated the God influence in politics. So who is right — or is the question, which side is closer to Christianity? In other words which political party deserves the God vote?

I have attended evangelical churches where the pastor preaches that God pays attention to what we do in the voting booth. The pastor made it clear that you will be judged based on that vote. It has also been argued that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, which seems obvious. It is difficult for me to imagine the creator of the universe registering with some political party. It sounds like asking whether God roots for the Yankees or the Red Sox. Theologically speaking, I am confident God is wearing the jersey of the team with the least amount of money. God loves the least of these. Anyway, yes, God has not picked a political party. The real question is for everyone to decide how to live their life and to publicly decide what issues they support.

I do believe in choosing sides, and I believe in being vocal about it. I certainly believe that many political issues should be important to all people of faith. I also believe that many politicians on both sides have used the God vote in ways that may not have been sincere. Politics tends to pollute the sincerity of everything, including faith. Either way, I think exploring the God vote has merit as long we as individuals are not simply defined by those choices. We must remember that our most basic responsibilities are found in the day-to-day interactions with the people in our lives. That is why I connect the political choices that need to be made to the choices we make in our lives.

For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to assume that God is real, and that within that faith I can't forget that the name of God has been used to promote genocide, enslave millions and promote oppression — and that the name of God has been used to free slaves, promote equality and liberate societies.

The question of why the two issues of abortion and the rights of LBGTQ people became such attractive issues for the conservatives is easily answered. The most obvious answer is that they have required no self-judgment on the part of the leadership of the evangelical church. The evangelical leadership, at least outwardly, are heterosexual married white men of serious financial means, which excludes them from any judgment regarding these issues. I find it fascinating that in the entire Bible — which is a massive read, by the way — the only issues these evangelicals can find to be public about have nothing to do with the leaders that choose the very foundation of the evangelical political movement. Doesn't anyone else find that uniquely convenient for evangelical leaders?

It also should be noted that this message has proven to be extremely dangerous through evangelical missionary work. In many poor countries, the conservative brand of Christianity ends up becoming a significant part of the culture. Thus, there has been extreme laws written within these countries that have permitted executions, imprisonment and social rejection of people within the LBGTQ population. I have seen speakers from some of these countries who have been forced from their own families and threatened by the government with execution because of who they are and whom they love. This is directly related to the evangelical movement and should not be overlooked. I could also write a book about the effects on these poorer nations that relate to the abortion issue.

The issue of abortion is by far the most theologically ridiculous. I have read the whole Bible and studied under some incredible theologians at a conservative seminary. Abortion is simply not mentioned. Not once. I believe this attack on women from the church comes from the anger many men felt at the strides that were taking place in the women's movement during the 1970s. Women were entering the workforce in large numbers, going to college and showing a strength and independence that many men both inside and outside the church did not enjoy.

Just as a quick FYI, the #MeToo movement died a slow death in the evangelical church a couple of years back. It was discussed for a couple minutes and then dropped quickly as a non-issue. Many evangelical men still believe in the idea of wives submitting to their husbands. I hear it every day on evangelical radio stations. Traditional roles in the household means that men are in charge. According to the church, divorce is a problem in this country because of the women's movement and wives believing they are equal to their husbands.

Condemning abortion as murder tapped into this male rage in response to the women's liberation movement. As I stated earlier, there is not one verse on the Bible that refers to this act. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Ani DiFranco, from her song "Play God": "You don't get to play God, man, I do." She sees through all the BS of the "pro-life" movement and understands that abortion is about control, not morality.

The conservatives' second-favorite issue at least has some biblical mention. Homosexuality is mentioned a whole three times in the Bible. If Christians are to take the three mentions of homosexuality as evangelicals do, then the church needs to put the rest of the law into practice the same way. Anyone caught stealing needs to have their hands cut off. Anyone who lusts should have their eyes cut out, and of course stoning should be a thing again for adulterers. That last part could be a problem for a lot of these evangelical leaders, not to mention some former presidents. Besides, the Bible also teaches us to accept slavery, and counsels that women do not belong in places of authority, like the Supreme Court. Suddenly hair length could become a crucial and defining issue.

The thing is that God, if God is a real thing, happens to have given us a brain and a conscience, and it is time we use both at the same time. As I look at my 14-year-old daughter, who has known herself to be gay for as long as she knew that "gay" was a thing, I see one of the most wonderful, loving and giving people I know. I know she is exactly as God made her to be. I cannot imagine telling her otherwise and I feel completely biblically confident when I say that.

Reform of the God vote must also include a call to what people of faith support. The first issue surrounds the very biblical idea of welcoming the stranger, the traveler, the foreigner. This means that a real God agenda supports an amnesty plan for the millions of people living in the U.S. without the appropriate documents. The argument that these people have cut in front of some imaginary line does not hold up when I look at the Bible. In every church service I have attended, especially in conservative churches, the message is preached that no one deserves God's love and forgiveness. Christians did not earn their salvation, or their house and car and financial security. These are gifts from God to the undeserving person of faith. So when God welcomes undeserving sinners into citizenship in heaven, how can those same followers of Christ turn toward these millions of foreigners and say that those people need to be turned away? For people of faith, there is no greater command than to love our neighbor. It is an expression of our love and gratitude toward the creator that welcomes us. To turn them away is to turn away from God.

The second issue should be equally obvious to those who have studied the word of God. Healing the sick is the very foundation of how to serve God's creation. True ministry has nothing to do with potluck dinners, or trustee meetings or even Sunday worship. Healing the sick is at the heart of all ministry. I cannot think of a better way to heal the sick than to provide health insurance for every man, woman and child living in the United States. I have lost insurance in my life on more than one occasion, and I can tell you that I was not less deserving than the times that I had insurance.

Some talk about "choice" and the freedom to choose from different insurance companies. I do not understand that either. No blue-collar, working-class person truly has a choice. My insurance company is usually whatever my boss tells me it is. Even if I had a choice, I do not know the difference. I am generally confident that both Harvard Pilgrim and Blue Cross Blue Shield will screw me over the first chance they get. I also think that when they suck, I will have no recourse. I have no representative to help me change how I am treated by my insurance company. I simply talk to some distant and detached person on the phone who tells me there is nothing they can do. "We just don't cover that procedure, sir, but there are payment plans for the $300,000 fee." Thanks a lot. I have clearly had some frustrating moments with my insurance companies — an issue that unites us all, regardless of faith or color — and I am glad that supporting a single-payer health care system would not only help me personally but is also the right thing to do spiritually.

Lastly, I think the God vote can circle around a basic political agenda that support equality. There is nothing in the Bible that ever refers to an idea of one person deserving more opportunity than another. There is, however, a lot in that book about being equal. There is a lot about the fact that all need forgiveness, love and grace. How that all plays out in a political agenda can be debated, but I think standing up for equality is a good place to start.

I see that first playing out in the school systems. In my 20 years working in education I have seen how far apart the education system is, depending on the community where a person lives. The likelihood of graduating from a four-year college or university are extremely high if a student is born in a wealthier school district, as opposed to someone born in a poorer area. That needs to change. People of faith should also support equality in the justice system, which clearly favors people who can afford a lawyer. Anyone who has stood before a judge without a lawyer — or what is sometimes worse, with a court-appointed attorney — understands that is not a good place to be. This equality idea extends to marriage, reproductive choice, equal work for equal pay and numerous other elements of American society.

The oppressive forces in this country remind me of the bullies I experienced as a kid. I never liked bullies and I see a lot of them in this country, which is why I keep on writing my little letters to the editor. The bullies need to be dealt with and I am more than willing to do it, given the opportunity. A long time ago, this big kid in my neighborhood used to bully me and a few of my buddies. I was around 12 and the bully was about 16. One winter day I was walking home, and he came up from behind me and pushed me into the snow. He got on top of me and pushed my face further into the snow and then got up laughing and feeling victorious. I'd had enough at that point so I made an ice-ball (a snowball, but harder) and I wound up and threw it at him. As soon as it left my hand, I knew it had a real chance of connecting. The stars aligned and it landed on top of his head and knocked him down. He got up and pursued me until I got myself into the local grocery store where I taunted him through the window. It was awesome and he never messed with me or my friends again.

A lot of people have had enough of the bullies who seem to run this country, run the white evangelical churches and control everything. I hope the recent ice-ball that removed Donald Trump from office can translate to a lot more bullies being removed from power and that true opportunity becomes possible in this amazing country. I will continue to write my letters because I have no other choice. There is something deeply wrong with this country, especially among many people who claim a connection to the Christian faith. My faith is a faith of truth and I hope to preach that truth to as many people as I can.

Nathaniel Manderson

Nathaniel Manderson was educated at a conservative seminary, trained as a minister, ordained through the American Baptist Churches USA and guided by liberal ideals. Throughout his career he has been a pastor, a career counselor, an academic adviser, a high school teacher and an advocate for first-generation and low-income students, along with being a paper delivery man, a construction worker, a FedEx package handler and whatever else he could do to try to take care of his family.

Susan Collins suggests going light on Donald Trump while lashing out at Chuck Schumer

Senators Susan Collins, R-ME, and Tim Kaine, D-VA, are privately floating the idea of censuring Trump as the chances of a post-impeachment conviction grow slimmer without substantial Republican support, according to Axios.

On Tuesday, forty-five Senate Republicans voted against holding a trial for Trump's impeachment, dismissing the trial as "unconstitutional." While the 45-55 split will allow the trial to move forward, such a critical mass of Republican opposition does not bode well for a proper conviction, which would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate. A least seventeen more Senate Republicans will be needed to convict.

"I think it's pretty obvious from the vote...that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president will be convicted," Collins said following the vote, "Just do the math."

The Maine Republican who spent nearly the entirety of Trump's term in a perpetual state of disappointment seems to hold more animosity for her new Senate Leader, Chuck Schumer, D-NY.

"What this campaign taught me about Chuck Schumer is that he will say or do anything in order to win," Collins recently told CNN. "It was a deceitful, despicable campaign that he ran."

Sen. John Boozman, R-AR, joined Collins' pessimism that Republicans could possibly hold a former president accountable for inciting an insurrection. "I can't see how you get 17," said Boozman, "I think that that was a test vote."

Now, Senators Collins and Kaine reportedly have their eyes set on a censure, which would require a 60-vote margin in the upper chamber. Unlike an impeachment trial, a censure cannot be challenged as unconstitutional, closing the escape hatch used by Senate Republicans to condemn the trial on procedural grounds without having to address Trump's problematic conduct leading up to the Capitol riot. A censure would be a symbolic denunciation of the former President's actions, which several Republicans have already acknowledged as completely unacceptable.

In fact, a small coterie of House Republicans led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA, introduced a censure earlier this month, calling Trump's "attempts to undermine the outcome of the 2020 election…unconscionable." Those backing the effort included Reps. Young Kim, R-CA, John Curtis, R-UT, Peter Meijer, R-MI, Tom Reed, R-NY, and Fred Upton, R-MI. At the time, however, House Democrats shut down the Republican-backed censure, deriding it as a lukewarm attempt to hold the President accountable.

Despite the lack of support needed in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has vowed to nevertheless hold a proper impeachment trial, tabling a point order by Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, a vocal objector to the trial.

Schumer called the Republicans' move to dismiss the trial "deeply irresponsible."

"I would simply say to all of my colleagues," Schumer declared, "There will be a trial, and the evidence against the former president will be presented in living color for the nation and every one of us to see once again."

Schumer faces challenges from both sides of the aisle as questions over the filibuster loom large with a 50-50 Senate split. Even with Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's, R-KY, power-sharing agreement –– which seeks to circumvent procedural impasses in committee organizing –– the debate surrounding the filibuster is far from over.

Progressive Democrats see the filibuster as an outdated holdover that Republicans have historically used to undermine legislative progress, posing Congressional obstacles for a Biden presidency. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, tweeted last September, "The filibuster wasn't made w/ purpose. It's the result of an accident in rulebook revision & bloomed as a cherished tool of segregationists," adding, "Now it empowers minority rule. That's not "special," it's unjust." Sen. Elizabeth Warren has likewise expressed a strong interest in killing the filibuster.

More centrist Democrats are, however, less enthused with the idea of eliminating the procedural relic. Senators Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, are holding out hope for bipartisan cooperation. "Busting the filibuster under any conditions is wrong," said Sen. Manchin, "We can organize the Senate. I'm sure we can work through that.

Meanwhile, Schumer –– a Democratic centrist who has a reputation as a "consensus builder, not a dictator," –– is still trusted by many of his GOP colleagues to live by this reputation with respect to the filibuster. Sen. Lindsey Graham called Schumer "capable, smart, hard-working, tenacious." Graham told CNN, "I've found him to be honest [...] He's got a problem. He's the majority leader with a primary challenge looming over his shoulder."

With pressure on both sides of the aisle, Schumer will play a consequential role in determining the fate of the filibuster. Hopefully, Sen. McConnell, who did away with a 60-vote threshold to confirm President Trump's three conservative Supreme Court nominees, is poised to get a taste of his own medicine.

Fueled by tips from family and friends, FBI ramps up arrests of Capitol rioters

The FBI is showing no signs of slowing down in its pursuit of those involved in the Capitol riot earlier this month. From lawmakers to militia members to right-wing activists, those recently arrested run the gamut, but many have ties to both law enforcement and the military.

Last week, the FBI reported that it has received over 200,000 digital tips from the public, many of which have been provided by friends, family, relatives, and coworkers of those involved. More than 200 cases have been opened and over 100 people have been apprehended in connection with the riot.

"The American people have demonstrated that they will not allow mob violence to go unanswered," said Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in a statement.

On Monday, Brandon Straka, a right-wing activist who spoke at the "Stop the Steal" rally was arrested in Nebraska for impeding a police officer and disorderly conduct. He made national headlines last June after refusing to wear a mask on an American Airlines flight, citing an unspecified medical condition, after which he was permanently banned from the airline. Straka is the founder of the "#WalkAway" campaign which encouraged those on the left to "walk away" from the "divisive tenets the Democratic Party." CNN's David A. Love called the campaign "a psychological operation" that was "connected to Kremlin-linked Russian bots" attempting to overstate the popularity of the moment.

Two Virginia police officers Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker were also identified as rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol. After Robertson and Fracker told The Roanoke Times that they were ushered in by Capitol police and that their involvement was purely "a joke," the FBI later found that Robertson and Fracker evaded the police and had intent to harm members of Congress. According to an affidavit, Robertson told a friend that seeing Senators "cowering on the floor with genuine fear on their faces is the most American thing I've ever seen in my life." Fracker reportedly bragged to friends on social media that he had urinated on Nancy Pelosi's desk. Both officers are currently on unpaid leave.

In Texas, Jackson Reffitt, 18, the son of Capital rioter Guy Reffitt, revealed his own father's involvement in the unrest to the FBI. According to Jackson, his father threatened him well in advance of the insurrection. "If you turn me in, you're a traitor," Guy told his son, "And you know what happens to traitors. Traitors get shot." Jackson nonetheless turned his father in, outing Guy as a member of the Three Percenters, a far-right militia group with a history of violence. In 2017, a Three Percenter was unsuccessfully attempted to detonate a car bomb in Oklahoma City. According to Jackson's affidavit, Guy brought a pistol with him to D.C.

A small-town Ohio bar owner and veteran, Jessica Watkins, was accused of conspiring in the Capitol insurrection, along with her co-conspirators Donovan Crowl, a former Marine, and Thomas Caldwell, who served in the Navy. According to Watkins' boyfriend with whom she owns the Jolly Roger bar in Woodstock, Watkins was "not a violent person...She can be very spirited, but she is a very good person at heart and she just really wants to try to help people." Watkins is a member of the Oathkeepers, a far-right anti-government militia group that threatened to declare "civil war" if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was elected in 2016. Following the riot, Jessica Watkins told the Ohio Capital Journal, "To me, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash. That's when we knew things had gotten really bad."

Former marine Michael Foy, who was caught on tape striking an officer ten times with a hockey stick, was arrested on January 21st. Foy received an honorable discharge from the military in 2019 and was given a "good conduct medal" after securing the rank of corporal. Foy's public defender Colleen Fitzharris argued that her client is suicidal and is struggling with mental health issues. "He didn't go to D.C. to cause violence," said Fitzharris, who alleges that Foy got caught up in "mob mentality." Foy was charged with four felonies and faces twenty years in prison, and was denied bond behind ahead of his hearing.

On January 8th, federal prosecutors arrested a Trump supporter by the name of John Lolos, who was repeatedly yelling "Trump 2020" on a Delta flight that turned around due to the disturbance. After being kicked off the flight, Lolos was identified by a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police officer. The officer had miraculously recognized Lolo after scrolling through his Instagram feed and seeing Lolo in the Capitol riot. "During the video Lolos can be seen exiting the U.S. Capitol doorway, wearing the same shirt he was wearing (at) the airport," said the airport police officer. He "was waving a red 'Trump 2020 Keep American Great' flag hooked together with the United States flag, yelling 'we did it, yeah!'"

The FBI also apprehended the man who tweeted "Assassinate AOC" just before joining in on the violent storming of the Capitol. Garret Miller, 34, who posted the tweet in response to AOC's call for Trump's impeachment, explained over Facebook that "[he] just wanted to impeach himself a little bit lol. Garrett Miller later received five criminal charges following the insurrection after local law enforcement tipped off the FBI, making Miller's wish come true.

Here are 10 things Joe Biden can do immediately to undo the damage Trump has done

Donald Trump loves executive orders as a tool of dictatorial power, avoiding the need to work through Congress. But that works both ways, making it relatively easy for incoming President Joe Biden to reverse many of Trump's most disastrous decisions. Here are 10 things Biden can do as soon as he takes office. Each one can set the stage for broader progressive foreign policy initiatives, which we have also outlined.

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Are you sure Trump's plan to steal the election has failed? Here's why you shouldn't be

Freddy's dead. So we are assured in pop culture by everyone from Curtis Mayfield to the "Nightmare on Elm Street" film cycle (which I might remind you now consists of nine installments, with Freddy appearing and reappearing in all nine of them). Those assurances that Freddy, Jason and their ilk are dead never work out well in horror flicks, and I wouldn't advise prematurely counting on them to work out in politics either.

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Evangelical pastor explains why nobody understands Trump voters

Based on the last two presidential elections, there is clearly a failure in reporting, polling and understanding of almost half of America. Perhaps liberals would simply like to govern and run for office by only mobilizing their half of the population and overlooking that other half, but I would imagine this country won't get closer to equal opportunity with that type of thinking. It's true that much of the divisive language comes from Trump supporters who seems to enjoy Trump's deplorable approach to life and politics. Does that embody every single person who voted for Donald Trump in the last two elections? If you think that, then you are as lost as the narrow reporting and polling I have witnessed during the last four years.This article first appeared in Salon.

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