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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Viktor Orban Is A Racist Bully — And A Failed Leader

Nobody should still pretend to be shocked that the Conservative Political Action Conference, an entity no longer "conservative" in any meaningful sense, would feature an appearance by an authoritarian leader like Viktor Orban. The Hungarian autocrat is the idol of the international far Right. He has repeatedly enjoyed the bootlicking attentions of Tucker Carlson on Fox News and indeed, CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp led his gang to celebrate Orban in Budapest earlier this year.

What makes Orban so alluring to the American far rightists is his example as an illiberal politician who, unlike their idol former President Donald Trump, has managed to corrupt Hungarian democracy so thoroughly as to guarantee his own continuing rule.

Trump attempted to steal the 2020 election by an assortment of tactics that included mob violence but failed (although he and his followers are poised to try again). Trump complains about the news media, while Orban seized control of media outlets in Hungary and ruthlessly suppressed his critics. Trump blurts out racist and anti-Semitic allusions, but Orban openly encourages bigotry against Jews, immigrants, gays and lesbians along with state action against the vulnerable targets of his Christian nationalist dogma — which echoes the fascist ideology that once ruled his homeland. Both of these pseudo-populists decry "globalism," whatever that means (and what it means can change instantly according to political convenience).


In short, the Orban regime is just what Republicans like Schlapp and Carlson envision for America's future, with or without Trump himself.

Behind the aggressive rhetoric of the Budapest boss, however, lies a less imposing reality. In Dallas, Orban exhorted the boisterous CPAC crowd to join his angry movement against "the globalists." That conspiratorial rubric includes the European Union, of course, despite the inconvenient fact that Hungary is an EU member state. "We must take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels," he thundered.

To the cowboy fascists, Orban must sound like one tough hombre — except that he is currently on his knees before the European authorities, ten-gallon hat in hand, as he pleads for their financial assistance. Years of his incompetent rule have inflicted fiscal and monetary disaster on Hungary, and he is begging the "globalists" to bail him out. But his admirers in the West are much too polite (and dishonest) to mention these embarrassing realities.

Consider inflation, the rallying issue that Republicans hope will create a "red wave" in midterm elections. Nearly every day, outfits like CPAC issue broadsides against President Joe Biden that blame him and Democrats for rising prices. They won't acknowledge the real inflationary pressures caused by pandemic disruptions and the Russian assault on Ukraine.

And what CPAC won't ever mention is that inflation in many other nations is higher than here — including Hungary, where year-on-year prices have spiked by almost 12 percent so far and are expected to keep going up. Orban recently made matters worse for the average Hungarian family by ending a price cap on household utilities, but his mismanagement left no other choice. The same inexorable forces led him to raise taxes on small business, which will be passed on to consumers.

The Hungarian currency is plunging to new lows, along with its stock market, while the country's deep budget deficit has yet to reach bottom. Naturally, the middle-class and working-class voters who voted to back Orban are infuriated by his failures - and thousands of them have taken to the streets in protest. They didn't mention that in Dallas either.

In Brussels, meanwhile, the European Union leaders have given Hungary's finance ministry a long list of demands that Orban must meet before any bailout funds will be released. The conditions include restoring the rule of law, curbing the government's dictatorial tendencies and dealing more transparently with Hungary's rampant corruption. Rather than defying the EU as he suggested in Dallas, Orban meekly stopped baiting Brussels over LGBTQ issues — and has instead proclaimed his eagerness to make a deal.

Yes, like most bullies, he retreats when anyone his own size hits back.

Americans should beware the populist temptation offered by thuggish politicians of Orban's stripe. They promise to lift up the "forgotten man," whom they invariably betray in favor of plutocratic cronies and corrupt plunderers. And they consistently seek to shift public anger toward minorities, immigrants, feminists, gays, transsexuals, public school teachers and any other scapegoats perceived as too weak to resist.

Not long before his CPAC appearance, Orban spoke on immigration in Romania, declaring that Europeans "do not want to become peoples of mixed race." So horrified was one of his closest advisers that she resigned publicly, denouncing the speech as "a purely Nazi diatribe worthy of Joseph Goebbels."

That sickening incident didn't disturb Orban's CPAC fans at all, of course. Everyone knows that's what they like about him.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Why Don't Republicans Act Against Their Party's Neo-Nazi Infestation?

As the Republican Party gives off an increasingly strong stench of fascism — with the anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic attitudes inherent in that ideology — the party establishment looks more and more like the "Junker" conservatives of Germany in the 1930s. While those monarchists and militarists felt distaste for Hitler and his Nazi thugs, many of them nevertheless abetted his rise to power.

A disturbingly similar scenario is now visible in what was once the party of Lincoln, where the spineless Rep. Kevin McCarthy, conniving Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and sundry other "leaders" say little or nothing as fascists openly conspire to take over. Rather than confront the repeated provocations by their Nazi-adjacent colleagues over the past year, those timid figures are instead allowing the authoritarian cancer to grow out of control. Both McCarthy and McConnell know what's happening in the GOP, but their weak character will likely prevent them from acting with any resolve until it is far too late, if ever.

Instead, the scandalous connections continue to metastasize between far-right Republican officials and a motley assortment of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and fascist thugs.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, an election-denying insurrectionist and Christian nationalist, won the party's gubernatorial primary last spring. Mastriano, a state senator, then proceeded to bring a vocal and aggressive anti-Semite named Andrew Torba into his campaign, along with Torba's followers. Torba operates Gab, the tiny social media site that serves as a headquarters for unsavory rightists — notably including the maniac who murdered 11 people at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue just after posting a diatribe on the website.

To save face, Torba denounced that massacre and insisted he opposes violence. But he isn't shy about expressing his desire for a nation free of Jews, which he frames in furious terms. He promotes violently anti-Semitic material, and recently opined that Jews can no longer be accepted as conservatives.

In this appalling saga's latest development, Mastriano declared that he opposes anti-Semitism and that Torba "doesn't speak for me or my campaign." But a few weeks ago, Mastriano, who rarely speaks to mainstream outlets, sat down for an interview with Torba and gushed: "Thank God for what you've done."

Reacting to the erupting controversy, Torba denied being a Mastriano consultant and — in a revealing remark — explained that the Republican was merely buying advertising on Gab. "The campaign paid Gab as a business for advertising during the primary," he wrote. "The campaign posts on Gab, as do 50-plus other campaigns from around the country."

So more than 50 Republican candidates are buying ads to entice the troglodytic Nazi subscribers on Gab — and providing many thousands of dollars in revenue to its obnoxious proprietor.

The official Republican response to this filthy tableau has been feeble indeed. The Republican Jewish Coalition, such as it is, tweeted its pathetic "hope" that Mastriano would reject Gab. Of all Mastriano's GOP colleagues in the state legislature, exactly one has spoken up to condemn Torba and demand his "total rejection" by Mastriano, which isn't happening. The Republican Governors Association, the Republican National Committee, the GOP congressional leaders, and the entire party apparatus evidently see no cause for alarm.

Sadly, it would be foolish to expect anything better from the Republican Party, because its Dear Leader Donald Trump has created a permission structure for fascism and even anti-Semitism, despite the fact that his oldest daughter and a couple of his grandchildren are Jews. Trump's own anti-Semitic emissions long ago became notorious, along with his coddling of neo-Nazis.

Why? Principally because those scum constantly praise his bigotry and bullying, so he sees nothing wrong with them. It's always and only about him — and the Nazi sympathizers are his most faithful fans, dating back to Richard Spencer's "Heil Trump" salute during the 2016 Republican convention.

But the white nationalist disease within the GOP now extends far beyond Trump and will surely outlast him. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) talks about Jewish space lasers and repeats anti-Semitic slurs about George Soros, as do so many of her colleagues. She and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) both spoke before the neo-Nazi America First Political Action Committee, an outfit run by Holocaust denier Nicholas Fuentes. So did Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, another raving Republican anti-Semite who called Fuentes "the most persecuted man in America."

The list of anti-Jewish and racist offenders in the GOP could take up many more pages, ad nauseam. There are less blatant but equally dangerous figures closer to the party's power centers, such as billionaire Peter Thiel, the would-be kingmaker who has courted a white nationalist leader and revealed his disdain for democracy — and is now financing U.S. Senate candidates in Arizona and Ohio.

The question remains whether decent Republicans, of whom there must still be many, intend to save their once-great party from slime and shame. So far, they've only demonstrated blindness and cowardice. And they seem fated to end like the Junkers, who waited until 1944 to act against Hitler — and ended up on the gallows.

They can't say nobody warned them.

Joe Conason is editor-in-chief of The National Memo and editor-at-large of Type Investigations. To find out more about him and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Bannon's Bluster Exposed The Trump Coup Before It Even Began

In the world according to former President Donald Trump and his apologists, the former president sincerely believed — and still believes — that election fraud and "irregular" voting deprived him of victory in the 2020 election. They will tell you that he never thought those he had summoned to Washington on January 6 would physically attack the Capitol, and that rather than inciting violence, he tried to send the mob home "in peace."

But the evidence that continues to emerge is vaporizing that fabricated version of events, despite the increasingly frantic and obscene repetition of his insulting lies. As the true story of Trump's attempted coup unfolds, it is more and more obvious that he not only knew the fraud claims were false, but that he and his criminal gang had planned their election deception for months in advance.

The latest proof comes directly from the mouth of Steve Bannon, the crypto-fascist agitator who formerly served Trump as his 2016 campaign manager and White House political strategist.

On July 12, Mother Jones magazine published an audiotape of Bannon boasting privately about Trump's strategy of deception on Oct. 31, 2020, a few days before the election. Speaking to a group of right-wing Chinese immigrants sponsored by Guo Wengui, a dubious business figure who backs Bannon's political ventures, he predicted in accurate detail how Trump would behave on Election Night.

After noting that Republicans would tend to vote in person while Democrats were more likely to vote by mail, Bannon explained why this meant a delay in counting ballots that afforded Trump a "natural advantage... And Trump's going to take advantage of it. That's our strategy. He's gonna declare himself a winner."

Their simple plan was to exploit the "red mirage" of an early lead.

"What Trump's gonna do is just declare victory. Right? He's gonna declare victory. But that doesn't mean he's a winner," Bannon chortled. "He's just gonna say he's a winner." Describing what would happen when, as Bannon expected, Trump amassed an early lead in key states, he added, "As it sits here today," at 10 or 11 o'clock Trump's gonna walk in the Oval, tweet out, 'I'm the winner. Game over. Suck on that.'"

Of course, there was no way for Bannon or Trump to know on Election Night how many votes would ultimately accrue to either candidate, or whether any irregularity or "fraud" swayed the outcome. Nor did any of that matter to them at all. Days before a single vote was tallied, Bannon knew that his candidate would claim victory, ignore the actual votes of Americans and deny the peaceful transfer of power, possibly by instigating violence.

At no point on the hourlong tape does Bannon proffer any complaints about actual Democratic "fraud," the Big Lie he and Trump and their claque have since shrieked so insistently. No, there isn't even a hint of the usual fake indignation that is a favorite GOP propaganda tactic. Instead, he laughs about the very real and cold-blooded fraud that his old boss is about to perpetrate on American democracy — and the bloody response that he hopes will ensue.

Those remarks were the ranting of a criminal conspirator, in Bannon's case a remorseless crook whose monetizing of political extremism earned him a federal fraud indictment for swindling Trump's gullible donors in his "We Build the Wall" scheme. According to The Washington Post, Trump pardoned him (though not his co-conspirators) because of his ardent advocacy of the Big Lie and support for the attempted January 6 coup. He was in frequent contact with Trump, speaking to the then-president on January 5 and 6, 2021, and was present in the Trump campaign "war room" at the Willard Hotel on those days leading up to the coup and insurrection.

But now he is under indictment again, for defying a House select committee subpoena, and he has been trying to worm his way out of that difficulty by promising to testify. It's too late for that, however. He will almost certainly be convicted of contempt, with a potential sentence of two years in prison and large fines. The gravity of his offenses makes a maximum penalty imperative — unless he finally abandons his authoritarian daydreams, turns over every document and testifies fully and honestly.

Bannon knows much more about the plot against America than he has revealed so far. The Justice Department's constitutional duty is to squeeze the truth out of him — and all of the treacherous gang around Trump.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

In January 6 Probe, Things Are Getting 'Real Bad' For Trump Gang

The stunning revelations from the last public session of the January 6 committee have not yet been fully analyzed. Side disputes concerning the details of Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony — such as whether the former president assaulted a Secret Service agent on January 6 for refusing to drive him to the Capitol (though there is no doubt that he intended to go there) — have distracted from the emerging clues about Trump's coup plot.

First, it's critical to understand that the bizarre fracas alleged to have occurred inside the presidential vehicle was not merely an impulsive outburst by an enraged Donald Trump. His Secret Service detail's refusal to take him to the riot scene at the Capitol infuriated the president because that trip up the hill was part of an elaborate plan he and his gang were trying to execute. He had dispatched a huge mob he knew to be armed and angry to intimidate Pence from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president.

Whatever Trump aide and former Secret Service agent Anthony Ornato said to Hutchinson about the president's hissy fit was far less significant than what Rudy Giuliani told her four days before the riot.

"Are you excited?" the former New York mayor asked her, clearly excited himself. "The sixth is going to be a great day. We're going to the Capitol. The president's going to be there. He's going to look powerful. He's going to be with the members [of Congress], he's going to be with the senators. Talk to the chief about it" — meaning her boss, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — "he knows about it."

When Hutchinson mentioned her cryptic chat to Meadows, he said: "There's a lot going on, Cass. Things might get real, real bad on January 6."

Things got worse than "real bad," in part because Vice President Mike Pence was resisting the role set for him by coup strategist John Eastman, a conservative law professor recruited to develop a scheme to deny the constitutional process of accepting the rightful electors. Defending his constitutional responsibilities, Pence declined to accept their fake electors or to send the electoral count back to the states to be "fixed" by Republican state legislators.

And that led not only to demands for his summary lynching by Trump's supporters, but a gambit to remove him from his traditional role in the counting of electoral votes and replace him with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the president pro tempore of the Senate.

On January 5, the dim Grassley suddenly blurted a rather bald hint about what he anticipated the next day during the joint session of Congress where the electoral votes were to be tallied. "Well, first of all, I will be — if the vice president isn't there, and we don't expect him to be there, I will be presiding over the Senate." Recall here that the next day, Pence refused to get into a vehicle with Secret Service agents from his detail under the Capitol, as rioters roamed its hallways seeking to murder him, because he feared the agents might kidnap him to prevent the certification of Biden's victory.

What if they had? Without Pence present, Grassley could have carried out the Eastman scheme. His Senate staff quickly tried to whitewash that incriminating remark, but emails from Trump lawyers prove they wanted Grassley, not Pence, to oversee the count for precisely that reason.

It may not be mere coincidence that Grassley's top aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee was Barbara Ledeen, a notorious intriguer closely associated with Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas. Ginni Thomas is known to have expended great energy promoting the coup in communications with Meadows and others — and has recently reneged on an agreement to testify before the select committee. She no longer seems "eager" to answer questions under oath. Stonewalling is the Ginni Thomas defense.

At this point in the investigation many crucial aspects of the plot remain opaque, including the precise roles played by Roger Stone and Mike Flynn, who urged a new banana-republic style election under military control, and by the members of Congress who were prepared to toss out the votes of their constituents and install Trump as dictator. Both Stone and Flynn took the Fifth Amendment, Flynn infamously doing so when asked whether he supported the peaceful transition of power under the Constitution.

Meanwhile more witnesses have come forward, including former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who testified for eight hours without invoking the Fifth Amendment. There's a lot more information that we will soon know — and it's "real, real bad."

On July Fourth, Appreciation For The Truly Patriotic Conservatives

When the flags fly proudly on the Fourth of July, I remember what my late father taught me about love of country. Much as he despised the scoundrels and pretenders he liked to call "jelly-bellied flag flappers," after a line in a favorite Rudyard Kipling story, he was deeply patriotic. It is a phrase that aptly describes the belligerent chicken hawk who never stops squawking — someone like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

Like many who volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II, my dad never spoke much about his four tough years of military service, which brought him under Japanese bombardment in the Pacific theater. But eventually there came a time when he attached to his lapel a small eagle-shaped pin known as a "ruptured duck" — a memento given to every veteran. With this proof of service, he demonstrated that as a lifelong liberal, he loved his country as much as any conservative.

That gesture occurred during one of those periods when the political polarization now plaguing our country began to metastasize. It seemed important to my father -- and to me over these many years since -- to lay down a marker for liberals and progressives who love America, with her manifest flaws and conflicted past. Over these past two years, however, living through the pandemic and the insurrection, it has become equally important to recognize that patriotism can still bring us together across sectarian and ideological divides. And on this holiday, to celebrate the determined defense of democracy and law that brings together patriots of all partisan stripes.

On this Independence Day, it doesn't seem so important to argue, as I have in years past, that the liberal left is equally as devoted to American institutions and values as our compatriots on the right -- because so many of the latter have demonstrated, in their fealty to Trump, that they love their would-be dictator more than they love their country. Democrats have proved to be staunch and unified in their defense of the Constitution, with the party's elected officials leading the fight to uphold democracy both at home and around the world.

What feels vital today is to appreciate the allies from the other side of the political aisle who have rallied to the cause, at no small cost to themselves and their families. It is a list that grows longer by the day, starting with Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Republicans who broke with their party to demand truth and justice in the wake of Trump's attempted January 6 coup. Both have proved willing to sacrifice their promising political futures and to subject themselves to vile abuse as they stood up against their degenerating quasi-fascist party and its criminal leader. They have forged real friendships as well as strong working relationships with the Democrats on the House Select Committee, because that is what Americans do in a time of crisis.

Both Kinzinger and Cheney still profess what I would consider misguided views or worse on many issues, and have adopted some positions -- on voting rights, for instance -- that contradict their professed love of democracy. So have other Republican and former Republican officials and leaders who have nevertheless proven their independence from Trump's authoritarian mob. Rusty Bowers, the Arizona Republican legislator who refused to bow to that mob, has even said he would vote for Trump again -- a truly bizarre statement.

And yet we must be grateful to Bowers, and to Brad Raffensperger and Gabriel Sperling of Georgia, as well as the eight other Congressional Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January 2020, the seven Republican senators who voted to convict him, and the many conservatives who have chosen law and liberty over chaos, lies, and tyranny. Yes, that even includes Mike Pence, the former vice president who merely did his duty but performed that constitutional task under threat of death from the leader to whom he had shown such obsequious loyalty.

I cannot help but hope that all of these good people, forced to turn away from their party and many of their friends, will reconsider their reactionary views on all kinds of matters. Some conservatives, including a few whom I've gotten to know better in these moments, are indeed looking back and questioning rigid perspectives from the past. In many cases that is what their intelligence and ethics will eventually require of them.

Yet on this July Fourth, any such considerations matter much less to me than their willingness to set aside our differences in a common cause. Disagreements about the best way to fulfill our nation's promise will endure -- and I look forward to the day when we can again debate those matters in a democratic society secure from authoritarian threats.

Meanwhile, we ought to appreciate all the leaders, thinkers, and activists who have joined America's united front against fascism. We will be struggling together to preserve our common birthright for years to come.


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The Big Lie, Wrapped In More Lies -- And Finally Stripped Bare

Now Americans know for certain what many suspected since Election Day 2020, which is that Donald Trump, his enablers in the Congress, his publicists on Fox News and his co-conspirators in the White House were in on the Big Lie from the very beginning. All of them understood all along that Trump's insistent claim about election fraud was false and intended solely to deceive their followers.

Both the original deception and its protective wrapping were ripped away by the House Select Committee's revelatory hearing on June 9.

It is now undeniable that Trump and his gang were aware from the first week of November 2020 that he had lost the election to Joe Biden. Trump aide Jason Miller testified to the select committee that the campaign's own data expert had informed the then-president he "was going to lose," based on an internal assessment of the reported "county-by-county, state by state results."

According to Miller, Trump rejected this incontrovertible judgment because he wanted to fight the outcome in court. But his campaign swiftly lost every case brought to contest the election on both the state and federal levels, in courts overseen by judges of both parties, culminating in the summary dismissal of its claims by the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority that included three of his appointees.

Trump and his cronies knew from the start that their legal claims were entirely meritless. So did the lawyers representing him, including Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom have suffered court disciplinary action for their conscious lies.

Everybody around Trump, and their brothers and sisters and cousins, knew that he and they were lying about the election, even as they stoked outrage among his gullible true believers. But they continued to promote the Big Lie — and all the subsidiary lies — as the fateful date of January 6 approached.

Attorney General William Barr testified that he told Trump on three separate occasions that the claims of fraud were absolutely baseless. "I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit."

Yet instead of accepting the blunt assessment of the nation's highest law enforcement official, who had defended him during the Russia investigation, even misleading the public about the Mueller report, Trump threw Barr out of the Oval Office. He then attempted to appoint an eager flunky, Jeffrey Clark, as acting attorney general in order to foist a conscious lie on the states by misusing the authority of the Justice Department.

On December 28, 2020, Clark had drafted a letter to Georgia officials falsely asserting that the department had found voting irregularities that affected election results in several states. This was itself a conscious lie. What stopped Clark's appointment was a threat by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and other top attorneys in the Justice Department and the White House to resign en masse, a potentially ruinous scandal.

The pattern was clear as the hearing proceeded, with Ivanka Trump testifying that she believed Barr (confirming a New York Times report that neither she nor her husband Jared Kushner credited Trump's "fraud" nonsense). But nobody around Trump saw any evidence to support the Big Lie, including the president himself.

Neither did the professional liars at Fox News, who gulled their audience into believing claims that they knew were ridiculous. At the hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney displayed an ominous text from Fox host Sean Hannity to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany: "Key now, no more crazy people, no more stolen election talk. Yes, impeachment and 25th amendment are real. Many people will quit." In other words, Hannity knew that the Big Lie was a lie, even as he and his network mendaciously promoted it.

Conscious of its own guilt and involvement, Fox refused to televise the hearings, devoting its airtime to conspiracy theories. The same consciousness of guilt also seems to have seized a number of Republican members of Congress, whose futile efforts to obtain pardons from Trump during his final days in office were also disclosed by Cheney.

The only people who honestly swallowed the Big Lie were Trump's followers, thousands of whom assaulted the Capitol on that "wild" day of January 6. Now many of those unfortunate fools — the same crowd who invested their faith in fascist nonsense about coronavirus vaccines and Hollywood pedophiles — will go to prison because they believed in their golden calf, Donald Trump, who knew he was lying to them and leading them to the slaughter.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Do Republicans Really Want To End School Shootings? Not That Much

Before the next mass shooting, which is likely to occur tomorrow, someone should mention what is most obvious and disturbing about America's endless gun safety debate. Congressional Republicans are unwilling to restrict their constituents' access to assault weapons, even though they know that means many more innocent children (and adults) will die.

Or to put it even more bluntly, Republicans block sensible gun legislation because they are perfectly willing to sacrifice little kids in order to protect the most extreme interpretation of "Second Amendment rights." When Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). asked at a recent hearing whether his Republican colleagues were there to protect "the kids or the killers," they fumed in outrage. But they had no honest answer to his question.

Instead, Republicans offer a continuous stream of irrelevant and pointless "solutions" that will do nothing to stem the tidal wave of bloodshed. They yammer about mental health, as if they've ever been willing to fund adequate access to psychological services — and as if the mentally ill are a principal source of gun violence, which is assuredly untrue. They vow to "harden schools," and to check the locks on school doors every week, as if that would prevent a shooter from getting inside — or stop a shooter who lurks outside a school building when classes end.

They will pontificate ad nauseam about anything and everything except the kind of gun laws that could mitigate the slaughter.

While the Republicans and their sponsors in the gun lobby try to distract us from plain facts, the prevention of mass shootings is not mysterious or arcane. Exceptionally clear data show that banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines tends to prevent mass shootings.

When President Bill Clinton and congressional Democrats passed an assault-weapons ban in 1994, mass shootings declined; when that ban expired 10 years later, mass shootings increased. Millions of those weapons of war were already in private hands when the ban commenced, so the decline in mass shootings was gradual — but when the ban ended, skyrocketing sales of the AR-15 and similar rifles initiated a very robust resumption of carnage.

Last year, a team of researchers at Northwestern University's School of Medicine again examined the history of the assault-weapons ban. They eliminated a source of confusion about the law by looking only at mass shootings — incidents resulting in the deaths of four or more people — rather than all gun deaths, as prior studies had done.

According to Dr. Lori Ann Post, who led that 2021 study (and who happens to belong to the National Rifle Association), their review found that "if you prevent the access to assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and semi-automatic or rapid-fire guns, it prevents the actual incident itself... people don't even go out and do a mass shooting in the absence of an assault rifle."

The study found that during the ban, its provisions prevented at least 11 mass shootings and that had it continued, another 30 such incidents would have been prevented. Post also remarked that "purchase of the assault weapon is often the final step in the preparation and execution of a mass shooting," an observation confirmed again this week when a perp bought his AR-15 just hours before going into a Tulsa hospital to kill his doctor and three others.

The Republican deniers may scoff at the 1994 ban, citing cherry-picked data to claim it didn't work. They may point out, correctly, that mass shootings represent a very small percentage of gun deaths. But in the meantime, we have seen several major industrial countries that legislated weapons bans after horrific school shootings and similar bloody tragedies.

The results of that gigantic, worldwide social experiment are undeniable: Those countries suffer a tiny fraction of the mass shootings that now occur here constantly.

Bear in mind that other industrialized nations endure all the same conflicts that afflict us. Their populations include platoons of alienated boys, frustrated men, hateful racists and seething lunatics of all sorts. Yet in those places, dangerous men don't have easy access to weapons that kill many people very quickly.

So, let's stop pretending that we don't know how to stop mass shootings — and let's also stop pretending that Republican legislators who oppose gun regulation actually care about saving our kids from those atrocities. They don't.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Blood On Their Hands -- And NRA Money In Their Pockets

The gut-wrenching tragedy in Texas has turned into a thoroughly degraded political spectacle of corruption and cowardice. If anyone still wonders why America suffers from gun violence at a level unmatched by any other nation, the answer can be found on gaudy display in Houston. The Republican politicians who obediently kneel at the National Rifle Association's annual gathering there — as well as those too sniveling to show up right now in person but instead on video, like Gov. Greg Abbott — have blood on their hands and money in their pockets.

The crooked gang that has driven the NRA toward bankruptcy through the graft of millions in crony contracts and lavish "expenses" over their decades of self-dealing has greased its political allies, too. At last count the organization has doled out upwards of $100 million over the last few election cycles to its faithful servants, who echo its litany of bogus constitutionalism and absurd alibis against gun safety regulation.

That the NRA event will occur just across the Lone Star State from the bereaved town of Uvalde is more than a tragic coincidence. Under pressure of investigation from the attorney general of New York, where the NRA has been registered as a public charity for 150 years, the outfit's leaders may relocate to the more corruption-friendly Texas climate. The Republican leadership there is an utterly servile instrument of the gun lobby, insisting that they will tolerate no regulation of firearms whatsoever. If a disturbed teenager has the cash to buy two assault weapons that he will use to brutally murder small children, why should they stop him when the gun lobby says no?

Abbott, who held a happy hour fundraiser on the same day as the Uvalde slaughter, embodies the callous indifference to the murderous consequences and deceptions of the gun lobby. He is a quintessential "thoughts and prayers" and "pro-life" hypocrite, whose devout faith doesn't extend to protecting children after they are actually born. Abbott is the kind of deliberately "do-nothing" placeholder who leaves open the door to the massacre of children that makes people question democratic governance and fills them with despair.

While children are giving traumatic accounts of the slaying of their classmates and how they smeared themselves with their blood to pretend to be dead, Abbott is pretending that he will do something. Only the most naive will believe him, however, because we have seen this rodeo clown show before.

Four years ago in Texas, when a 17-year-old student shot dead eight students and two teachers, and grievously wounded 13 others at Santa Fe High School, Abbott promised he would offer new solutions. He called for "roundtable" discussions reflecting all points of view. He hinted at expanded background checks and ways to keep guns away from obviously dangerous individuals. "It's time in Texas that we take action to step up," he said, "and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in the history of the state of Texas." Oh yeah.

But Greg Abbott did nothing — absolutely nothing — as bloody murders continued across his state— at the El Paso Walmart, in Midland-Odessa, and now Uvalde. In fact, he has continued to promote unfettered access of weapons of war to wanton killers. Now the Texas rodeo clown is telling the crowd he's concerned about "mental health," when the truth is that he has cut the state's mental health budget consistently.

To be sure, Americans need expanded access to mental health care, especially now in the aftermath of the pandemic, but that isn't the most effective way to address gun violence. We know that gun regulation works, because even the most violent cities that curb guns have fewer killings than those that do not. New York City has far fewer murders than Houston, where the monstrous NRA will celebrate as the innocents are buried. Today, the leading cause of death among children and teenagers in the United States is gun violence.

Don't mess with Texas? Sorry, but Texas is a bloody mess — and the enablers of its terrible distress begin but do not end with its governor.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

If They're 'Pro-Life,' Why Did Republicans Vote No On Baby Formula?

In the long era of anti-abortion demagoguery, “babies” have been the enduring symbol of Republican caring. They want to defend the rights of babies as persons even before they are born. Or, as former Congressman Barney Frank quipped, “From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

And yet Congressional Republicans proved beyond doubt this week that they regard living, breathing babies solely as political props, not real human beings with actual needs. True to compassionless form, nearly every Republican in the House voted no when the chance came to feed infants, living ones.

Did you get that latest “pro-life” hypocrisy? The Republicans almost unanimously opposed a bill to increase the supply of infant formula during a crisis—192 Republicans against, with only 12 breaking ranks. What could make them behave so irresponsibly and even cruelly? Because they always want the problem and never want the solution.

What this midterm election season is teaching us about the Republican Party is a political lesson we ought to have learned years ago. When a real problem arises, like soaring inflation or supply chain disruptions, they propose nothing and oppose everything. They just want to exploit whatever the problem is for political profit—and often for the financial profit of their dark money benefactors.

By voting against an emergency Biden administration bill to alleviate the nationwide shortage of baby formula, the House Republicans again proved Barney Frank’s adage that their party is “pro-life” until the moment of birth. After that, it’s every baby for herself. The Republicans’ complaint that the White House is “throwing money at the problem” sounds especially absurd because the bill’s cost to solve a very serious problem is a mere $28 million, literally a rounding error in the Food and Drug Administration budget, let alone overall federal spending.

Given the usual glacial pace of Washington, the White House has in fact moved with blinding speed to solve the shortage, slashing away barriers to safely import formula from abroad and reopen the Abbott Labs factory whose closure from contamination had sharply limited domestic supplies.

Acting decisively, President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to corral raw materials for the formula manufacturers and ordered the Pentagon to airlift specialty formulas from overseas that are urgently needed by several thousand families. The result, according to White House data, is that during the past four weeks more formula has been produced than during the same period preceding the Abbott formula recall that caused shortages in many states.

Instead of embracing solutions, of course, the Republicans are constantly searching for scapegoats, with particular attention to inflaming ethnic and racial hostility. Recall that the baby-formula debate began with Republican leaders attacking the White House over pallets of formula sent to the southern border, where infants in migrant families detained by authorities also needed to be fed.

The freak show contingent of the GOP has set the tone. Led by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, they accused Democrats of feeding migrant babies instead of native-born babies, as if the government policy should allow those other infants to starve to death. See, that’s how much these “replacement theory” racists value and love babies. “Pro-life” apparently means let living babies die.

And this week, following that compassionate “pro-life” agenda, those same Republican extremists voted against expanding the Women, Infants and Children program to allow lower income families to buy more varieties of formula. Instead, they seized on the chance to blame poor families for the shortage too. There were only nine of those monstrous members in the GOP caucus, but they’re the party vanguard.

If the Democrats were more like their partisan adversaries – that is, more concerned with pointing fingers than nourishing children – they might well have seized the opportunity to blame the Trump administration for the formula shortfall. Pursuing his futile and destructive trade war with China, Trump’s trade advisers wrote provisions into the US-Mexico-Canada Act that hindered exports of baby formula from Canada. To thwart a Chinese investment in an Ontario, Canada dairy plant, they made it virtually impossible to bring formula over the northern border. American infants are now going hungry thanks to that typically counter-productive and thoughtless action.

The Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have scarcely mentioned this Trumpian predicate to the current national predicament. They’re too busy figuring out how to get actual bottles of formula into the mouths of real infants that need them. They’re too concerned with solving the problem. Meanwhile, the Republicans chortle that they have manipulated public opinion into believing that it was all Biden’s fault at the same time they attempt to sabotage the solution. It’s their heartless, cynical, and absurdly predictable game. They are not crying about spilt milk.

Americans need to understand that if they vote for Republicans, real live children are going to suffer. Just look no farther than those 192 House Republicans who voted against baby formula.

The Sordid History Behind Rick Scott's Medicare Mess

In Washington, acrimonious public disagreements among congressional leaders of the same party are unusual, which was why reporters took note not long ago when Sen. Mitch McConnell publicly spanked Sen. Rick Scott for what he considered an act of monumental stupidity.

What infuriated the Senate minority leader, who yearns above all to become the majority leader again, was Scott's unveiling of a 60-page "plan" describing what the Republicans will do if and when their party regains the majority. As chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott's job is to ensure victory in the November midterm by doling out tens of millions to candidates.

But McConnell saw Scott's plan as the equivalent of a loud emission of noxious gas: unpleasant, unhelpful, and very much to be avoided. McConnell has steadfastly refused to state what Republicans would do if they win the Senate; now, the lunkhead Rick Scott has let the cat out of the bag.

Especially irksome to McConnell were two aspects of Scott's blueprint. "Let me tell you what would not be part of our agenda," snapped McConnell. "We will not have, as part of our agenda, a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda."

Of course, McConnell just doesn't want to tell voters what his party will do, because their ideas are deeply unpopular and always get them in trouble, like when Newt Gingrich proposed privatizing Medicare and former President George W. Bush proposed privatizing Social Security.

Scott's scheme to raise income taxes on most households struck McConnell as politically insane, and so did the plan's endorsement of allowing "all federal legislation," including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, to simply expire within five years.

Scott, for his part, has portrayed himself as a "bold" visionary victimized by conventional thinkers. Polling, however, indicates that the Scott scheme is profoundly unpopular among all voters, including Republicans, with majorities north of 65% rejecting it. No more than 15% like it.

So, the Florida senator has simply lied since then.

"No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security," he insists, although that's exactly what his plan urges.Perhaps McConnell was too polite to mention the other utterly politically crazy aspect of the Scott proposal: namely, the likelihood that attacking Medicare and Medicaid will remind America about the massive health care fraud underlying Rick Scott's enormous personal fortune, estimated at $300 million.

Beginning in 1987, Scott founded and built Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain that included hundreds of health care providers across multiple states and engorged itself on billions in Medicare and Medicaid fees. Unfortunately, this lucrative business involved truly gigantic levels of fraud, which by early 1997 drew the attention of federal investigators. Columbia/HCA illegally scammed billions of dollars intended for patient care, perpetrating what remains the biggest fraud on government ever by any health care institution.

The company's board forced Scott to resign within months after the federal investigation became public. He pleaded ignorance, barely escaped indictment and walked away with vast wealth. He claims to have accepted "responsibility," although he consistently blamed others, adding piously that the experience "made me a better leader."

Somehow, Florida's voters narrowly elected him governor in 2010 and then to the U.S. Senate in 2018. The words of his 2010 primary opponent Bill McCollum, a former Navy prosecutor and Florida attorney general, still ring true. During the campaign McCollum denounced Scott as "the disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA who is inseparably associated with one of the most massive Medicare fraud schemes in American history."

Scott's sordid narrative raises an obvious question. How did this come to pass? We know that Florida voters have a habit of electing some truly awful politicians, and that Scott spent $60 million to win his first election. We know that Republican leaders in Washington have no problem with fraud or corruption, so long as it accrues to their own power. Just ask "Moscow Mitch," who was in the tank for Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch with Kentucky investments. We know that the Republican concern for ensuring the fairness and stability of our health care system is nil, given their long war against Medicare and, more recently, the Affordable Care Act. Now, they won't even act to reduce the cost of lifesaving insulin.

Voters should be aware that this corporate malefactor is in charge of handing out the big campaign bucks from the Senate Republican campaign — and that he aims to destroy the nation's most successful and popular domestic programs. Somebody better tell them before November. Buyer beware.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The 'Deep Roots' Of Justice Alito's Illegitimate Opinion

Not so long ago, the Supreme Court possessed sufficient stature that nobody — least of all its own justices — felt obliged to reassure the public of its legitimacy. Neither Chief Justice John Roberts nor his colleagues had to promise that the court reaches its decisions based on law, not partisanship or ideology. Today they regularly utter such cheerful bromides — and the more they talk, the less anyone believes them.

The highest court's credibility has trended downward for the past two decades, ever since a Republican majority handed the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, with consequences that most Americans agree were disastrous. That steep slide will seem gentle if and when, as now appears inevitable, the conservative majority's draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade becomes law.

Stunningly ill-advised and contrary to constitutional order, that decision will starkly highlight the crisis of the court — and demonstrate once more how Republicans have gnawed like termites at the lawful foundation of democracy.

The decision's illegitimate foundations lie in the very construction of the court majority that will make it possible. Justice Samuel Alito, who auditioned for his appointment as a relentless foe of abortion, is only on the court thanks to the partisan outcome of Bush v. Gore — which awarded the presidency to a man who had decidedly lost the popular vote and probably lost the Electoral College as well. The three Trump justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — likewise gained their appointments via an election that saw the popular-vote loser elevated to power.

Far worse, the conservative majority exists only because Senate Republicans denied an appointment to Barack Obama on spurious grounds that they abandoned at the end of Trump's presidency. By that measure, neither Gorsuch nor Barrett belongs in their seats. When Mitch McConnell whipped those swindles through the Senate, he irrevocably stained the justices who benefited from them. (The McConnell rule is simple: When a Supreme Court vacancy arises, it's always too late for a Democratic president to appoint, but never too late for a Republican.)

Next came the deception perpetrated by the Trump justices during their confirmations, when asked about how they would handle this vital issue. At least two of them clearly stated in public hearings — and privately told senators who supported them — that Roe was settled law, validated many times over the past five decades. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins both now profess astonishment that these men misled them during the confirmation process.

The same lie was reiterated in conservative media. In July 2018, The Wall Street Journal, that repository of reactionary falsehood, published an editorial mocking the "abortion scare campaign" that accompanied the appointment of Republican justices. According to the Journal editorial board, nobody needed ever to fear for Roe: "The reason is the power of stare decisis, or precedent, and how conservatives view the role of the Court in supporting the credibility of the law." (Be warned: That editorial board now breezily insists that vacating Roe won't endanger same-sex marriage, contraception or any of the other "unenumerated" privacy rights whose demise Alito strongly hinted in his opinion.)

Yet there is another stigma of illegitimacy on this act that overshadows all the rest: the almost mindless misogyny that is, to use a favorite Alito phrase, so "deeply rooted" in the court's ongoing repeal of abortion rights. The draft opinion exposed Alito's profound sexist contempt in a way that would be comical if not for the fact that it has cost so many women's lives and will continue to destroy them.

To justify his assertion that abortion is an affront to Western legal traditions, Alito went deep indeed. He cited the views of a 17th-century British jurist named Edward Coke, who declared abortion to be a heinous crime. As Lawrence O'Donnell noted on MSNBC, that same Coke believed some women (and a few men) were witches and should be torturously put to death for assisting the devil. As an additional legal authority, Alito also cited several times Sir Matthew Hale, another 17th-century British judge who oversaw the execution of alleged witches — and came up with the stunning theory that a man by definition could not rape his wife, regardless of her consent.

It seems possible that one of Alito's clerks pranked him with these choices, but he circulated the draft that included the embarrassing citations, so it's on him. Evidently such barbaric jurisprudence is what the likes of Alito mean when they blather on about "original intent."

More than two-thirds of Americans believe that Roe should be preserved to protect the health and security of women and their families. When it is cast aside, the political consequences for those responsible should be severe — because the damage done to one of our most important institutions will be so grave.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Who Are The Real Sexual Predators? There's A List

Of all the big lies that Republican officials and media personalities have deployed for partisan advantage over the past several years, the most sickening by far is their current campaign to depict Democrats as “groomers” – meaning that they are sexual predators who recruit underage victims.

For years this sort of smear was weaponized against gays and lesbians. These dark insinuations have surfaced again and again in right-wing propaganda ever since the 2016 “Pizzagate” fabrication, accusing the most prominent Democrats of imprisoning children in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor to be kept as sex slaves. (There was, by the way, no basement.)

Most recently the perverse accusation has been raised to defame Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her successful Supreme Court confirmation hearings, when Republican Senators claimed that she is “sympathetic to pedophiles.” Ironically, it was Judge Jackson who sentenced a man who opened fire in the pizza parlor with an automatic rifle duped into believing that he was rescuing the non-existent child prisoners.

From this conspiracy sprouted the QAnon cult, founded online by a dubious figure with ties to child porn, now running for Congress in Arizona. In fact, more than 70 QAnon proponents are running as Republicans in this year’s midterm election.

The worst of the latest round of bizarre pedophilia slurs have been, promoted by Fox News and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. This nonsense originated from an outfit known as “Libs of TikTok,” whose author was anonymous until the Washington Post exposed her identity and outraged her right-wing fans. Chaya Raichik, the disinformation spreader, is a Brooklyn real estate salesperson.

The “groomer” charges are of course lies, but they are not just ordinary falsehoods. When Republicans, from Internet crazies to Rupert Murdoch’s cable sewer to U.S. senators, claim that Democrats are guilty of sexual predation, they are engaging in a frame-up designed to deflect from a disturbing truth: the perverse and criminal conduct of literally scores of Republican officials, activists, and clergy -- factual, indisputable, and appalling.

Republican sexual hypocrisy is a longstanding cliché in American politics, from the hordes of closeted anti-gay gays and moralizing adulterers like Ken Starr to the former president whose debauched lifestyle has never troubled his evangelical worshippers. Yet now the Republicans’ “groomer” accusations have raised the ante – and inadvertently opened a Pandora’s box of newspaper and TV clips describing the criminal sexual misconduct of a long roster of Republicans.

An astonishingly comprehensive Google document of these offenders, complete with more than 800 citations and links, can be found here under the rubric of #RepublicanSexualPredators. It has apparently been maintained and updated scrupulously for years—and undoubtedly will be added to for years to come.

This list includes more than a few already familiar names, from serial killers such as Dennis Rader and Ted Bundy (who—did you know?-- attended the 1968 GOP national convention) to serial child molester Dennis “Coach” Hastert, the longest-serving Republican House Speaker, sent to prison six years ago. It includes Kenneth Starr, the Clinton-era inquisitor booted out of Baylor University as chancellor for protecting rapists; Roger Ailes, the late Fox News chief and manic sexual harasser; several conservative bishops who notoriously covered up for pedophile priests; and many, others guilty of harassment and other offenses that fall well short of felonies.

Anyone who peruses the #RepublicanSexualPredators list will, however, also find an extensive and shocking aggregation of convicted pedophiles, child rapists, and child pornographers. Among the notables are a former staff researcher for Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, whose 2017 arrest sparked a brief scandal, and a couple of well-known Republican fundraisers from the nation’s capital. Others were county commissioners, party chairmen, city council members, state legislators, and so on down the list, covering almost every level of officialdom.

There was, for example, the former Cobb County, Georgia party chair, convicted of child molestation in 2016. There was the “Republican of the Year,” so named by the National Republican Congressional Committee, who died in prison while serving a 26-year sentence for sexually assaulting children. There was the “Faith and Family Alliance” leader who solicited sex from minors on the Internet. There was the Kentucky Republican leader arrested for having sex with a five year-old boy. There were the Republican fundraiser, the downstate Virginia mayor, and the upstate New York mayor, all convicted of child pornography charges, as were the Republican staffers, from Brooklyn to Minnesota to Florida, guilty of the same offenses.

Indeed, the list goes on and on with infuriating detail. (Not every single link is still fresh, although even on the dead links, names and locations will reveal the offenders if searched on Google.)

What does this troubling record of Republican predation mean? Obviously, it does not mean that no Democrat has ever committed a sexual offense, against an adult or a child, nor that all Republicans are somehow implicated in such offenses. What it clearly does mean, at the very least, is that Republican propagandists misusing such accusations for partisan gain need to look in the mirror. Like the violent insurrectionist creeps behind QAnon, they are not “protecting children” – and that was never their purpose. They are engaged in a slander campaign that has accused innocent people and served only to conceal real predators.

Meet your Republican Party today.

Blame Biden For Higher Prices -- But Then What?

No subject inflames political passions more than the powerful inflationary pressures that now squeeze every working family — and nobody likes to talk about inflation more than Republicans, who have reason to believe that rising prices will lift their political boats next November. Polls show that Americans furious over the costs of gasoline, food, housing and nearly everything else blame President Joe Biden, just as Republican leaders insist they should.

When playing this blame game, the Republicans like to keep things simple. The price hikes must be Biden's fault, because he is president while they are going up. And the way to bring them down is to elect congressional Republicans in 2022 and a Republican president, perhaps Donald Trump again, in 2024.

The problem with this simple-minded approach is that, like most economic analysis focused on a snapshot, it eliminates all the important facts and context. It is like saying that the COVID-19 pandemic — not the response, but the contagion itself — was Trump's fault because he was president when it occurred.

According to the Republicans, inflation's principal cause was Biden's spending on the American Rescue Plan, which pumped too much liquidity into the economy at a moment when production could not keep up. Fewer goods chased by more money inevitably made prices rise. But if that's true, then those same Republicans must explain why prices have risen at nearly the same rate across the developed world — and much more rapidly in some countries.

Across Europe, the current year-on-year inflation rate is 7.5 percent, or roughly one percent lower than in the United States, which clearly has nothing to do with Biden or his spending policies. The main causes behind this round of global inflation are the supply-chain disruptions caused by the global pandemic, which are affecting every country, and the Russian war against Ukraine.

Would we be happier if we were living with Europe's inflation rate? Not much — and we would be coping with much higher unemployment. Whatever else is said about the Biden economic plan, he has succeeded in driving unemployment down to the lowest level in 50 years, at roughly 3.6 percent. That is a historic jobs boom, resulting in higher wages for the lowest-paid workers in our economy.

Meanwhile, unemployment across the European Union is now around 6.2 percent. Higher prices harm working families, but buying the necessities is far more challenging when the family's breadwinners are out of work.

So perhaps one percent or a little more of the present inflation rate can be attributed plausibly to the American Rescue Plan. But that spending did nothing to raise gas or food prices, both vulnerable to the effects of pandemic and war. And when Republicans complain about the inflationary impact of Biden's economic program, someone should ask what they plan to do about the problem if and when they regain power. They appear to have no answer.

In fact, Sean Hannity, Trump's favorite Fox News host, had the temerity to pose that question to the former president last week. "If you're president, what would you do?" asked Hannity, after framing his query with a damning denunciation of Biden and the economy.

"So what you're saying sounds all very easy and sounds very simple, not actually that simple," Trump began, careening into a long, indeed very long reply that was full of self-praise but empty of an actual answer to his fanboy's question. Because he has no answer.

Now, Trump rarely offers any coherent response on policy issues, which is one of the reasons that he abolished the Republican platform altogether in 2020. What about his fellow partisans on Capitol Hill, whose midterm campaign rides on voter anger over inflation? Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently released an 11-point program that mostly consists of hollow culture war rhetoric rather than concrete proposals. (One of his brilliant ideas is to complete the border-wall boondoggle, at enormous cost, and name it after Trump.)

Scott has no answer to inflation — which his program doesn't even mention — but he does want to raise tax rates for working families that earn too little to pay federal income taxes now. And then there's Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, another leading Republican voice, who recently clogged up border crossings with a "truck inspection" stunt. He wanted to make a point about immigration, but only succeeded in driving up the price of food imported from Mexico and harming industries in his own state.

No, the Republicans only have one idea: Scream about Joe Biden, and hope voters don't realize they have no plan and no clue until after Election Day.

To find out more about Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The 'Soft On Crime' Party? It's Not The Democrats

"Soft on crime" is the old dog whistle that Republican senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley used to smear Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as they attempted to derail her historic Supreme Court nomination. Their racist deception failed. Jackson is almost certain to be confirmed — and her strong public approval ratings rose after the disgraceful performance of Cruz, Hawley and their GOP colleagues during her nomination hearings.

But let's consider the Republican regurgitation of that familiar phrase, certain to be heard over and over again before November's midterm election. Look back in history, look around today, and one fact is pretty obvious: It's the Republican Party and its leadership that are ridiculously squishy on crime, perhaps due to their continuing propensity for criminal behavior.

The president who most memorably deployed that epithet in my own early political experience was Richard M. Nixon, whose campaigns relied heavily on racialized crime rhetoric. Of course, he resigned from office just ahead of the prosecutors who could easily have sent him to prison for a long roster of felonies — from bribery, extortion, obstruction of justice and witness tampering to conspiracy and tax evasion. His vice president Spiro Agnew also departed under a cloud of criminal prosecution and barely avoided prison after acknowledging various petty bribes.

"I am not a crook," Nixon lied. (His symbolic legacy can be seen in a tattoo on the back of political crook Roger Stone, who made his bones as a low-level Watergate offender and whose more recent felony convictions were pardoned by Donald Trump — but we'll get to that.)

Despite Nixon's epoch-making scandal, he was surpassed in at least one respect by Ronald Reagan, another loud critic of Democrats' supposed coddling of criminals. By the end of Reagan's two terms, his administration had established a new and still unsurpassed record for the number of felony convictions of federal officials in American presidential history. In scandals that ranged from Pentagon procurement scams to influence peddling, perjury and the sale of arms to the Iranian mullahs, the Reaganites displayed an impressive range of delinquency — including Edwin Meese, the law-and-order attorney general who came within a hair's breadth of indictment in a defense contracting scandal and resigned his office in disgrace.

Given that tawdry history, it may be hard to believe that those were the good old days. Yet the Republican Party has since developed an even greater tolerance for villainy of every kind, as epitomized by its Dear Leader and would-be 2024 nominee, Donald J. Trump.

Trump had mastered the art of escaping accountability for felonious misconduct even before he entered the Oval Office — as we know from looking back at his numerous alleged tax crimes, swindles and perjuries. It is an art he has since perfected, as anyone can see by consulting the handy catalog provided by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group. Included there is the copious evidence revealed by former FBI director Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican, that Trump committed numerous obstructions of justice. He couldn't be prosecuted because he was president.

Certainly, no president has ever been as "soft on crime" as Trump himself. He repeatedly abused the pardon power to protect his own hide from potential testimony by his criminal associates — notably including the aforementioned Stone, his former campaign manager and massive tax criminal Paul Manafort and his former adviser Steve Bannon, who escaped trial for swindling gullible conservatives in his "We Build the Wall" crowdfunding scam. Trump also pardoned Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, two former Republican members of Congress convicted on a raft of felony charges — but then again, Republican voters had already reelected both scoundrels.

If he could, Trump would surely exonerate the mob that attacked police officers, vandalized the Capitol and sought to murder his own vice president on Jan. 6, 2021 — many of them losers, like Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, with extensive prior criminal records. In fact, he praised them even before their excrement was mopped up from the Capitol hallways. To Trump and many of the Republicans in his political entourage, those insurrectionist thugs are "patriots."

Still, the criminal and other deviant behavior among Republican politicians is now worrying party leaders, who fear that prominent GOP midterm candidates are just too sleazy to win. Why is it even possible for a man like Eric Greitens — who resigned as Missouri governor because of his violent crimes against women — to return as a serious contender in that state's U.S. Senate race? Well, Greitens boasts the support of that law-and-order avatar Rudy Giuliani, now under criminal investigation, and members of the Trump family. The former president has enthusiastically endorsed other candidates credibly accused of similar offenses, including Herschel Walker in Georgia and Max Miller in Ohio.

Maybe the Republicans should stop calling anybody "soft on crime" — unless they're talking about themselves.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Apprehending The Supreme Court's Bonnie And Clyde

What is to be done about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his deranged spouse?

That vexed question arose again this week when the Washington Post and CBS News revealed dozens of text messages exchanged by Virginia Thomas, the right-wing jurist's wife, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the period following the 2020 election. Those messages spectacularly confirmed what The New Yorker and The New York Times have reported in recent months about Ginni Thomas and her feverish participation in former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn that election.

From her communications with the former president's top aide, Ginni appears to be a disturbed personality who traffics in comic-book conspiracies and disparages political opponents as "evil." Unless he was just humoring her, Meadows displayed a similarly manic disposition, predicting that the "King of Kings" would save Trump's presidency and America. (He was committing voter fraud himself at the time, but that's another story.)

Evidently Mrs. Thomas believed whatever mad claims advanced her partisan will to overturn the 2020 election and keep Trump in office. It seems not to have mattered to her at all when her husband's colleagues on the highest court, including the hardcore conservatives, rejected Trump's claims of voter fraud.

Like many on the Republican Right, where she has a long history of dubious activity, Mrs. Thomas had decided in advance that any election result displeasing to her was by definition crooked. Of course, that position is itself inherently fraudulent — but such bad faith has been endemic among so-called conservatives for decades.

On Nov. 5, 2020, the day after the election, Mrs. Thomas sent Meadows a link to a YouTube video titled "TRUMP STING w CIA Director Steve Pieczenik, The Biggest Election Story in History, QFS-BLOCKCHAIN." A former employee of the State Department, Pieczenik is one of those right-wing fabulists who dismissed the 2012 school massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut, as a "false-flag" deception. In the video sent by Mrs. Thomas, Pieczenik appeared on InfoWars, the Alex Jones conspiracy broadcast, to proclaim that Trump had somehow marked every 2020 mail ballot with an "encryption code" in a "sting operation" against the Democratic Party.

"I hope this is true; never heard anything like this before, or even a hint of it," she wrote to Meadows. "Possible???..Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states." She also forwarded news that the "Biden crime family" and various other officials and journalists were "being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition."

None of it was "possible" or even coherent. Yet such were her frothing messages, often recirculating the latest lunacy from the QAnon conspiracy cult. She was a big fan of Sidney Powell, the Trump lawyer kicked out after declaring that President Joe Biden's victory was covertly engineered by communists in Venezuela and China. Her firing puzzled poor Ginni.

Now, all this mindless maundering would be solely a matter for psychiatric intervention, except that Ginni Thomas is married to a Supreme Court justice. Specifically, the only justice who dissented from the high court's decision on the Trump election case — and later held that Trump could withhold White House documents, including those we now know might implicate his wife, from the House Select Committee investigating the attempt to overturn the election.

Did he know what his wife was doing — or how his rulings might affect her and the right-wing groups that were in some cases paying her? In The New Yorker, reporter Jane Mayer made a convincing argument that Justice Thomas must have known about the hysterically seditious antics of his "best friend." In case after case that implicated her interests, he not only failed to recuse himself but didn't even disclose his obvious conflict.

Clarence and Ginni Thomas can play these sleazy games because, bizarrely enough, the Supreme Court is not subject to the federal code of judicial conduct. Any judge on a lower court who behaved like him would be subject to discipline and possibly removal.

The time has come for Congress to pass legislation that would restore the highest court's honor, dignity and credibility by bringing it under the ethics code. That process can begin with hearings in the House and Senate judiciary committees on the matter of Clarence Thomas. If he won't resign and can't be impeached, his gross misconduct must at least be publicly exposed.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Behind Josh Hawley's Disgusting QAnon Slur Against Judge Jackson

Of all the Senate Republicans who regularly engage in gutter politics, none is more likely to scrape bottom than Josh Hawley. The junior senator from Missouri was best known, at least until now, for his pseudo-macho fist-pumping display outside the besieged Capitol on January 6, 2021 — and his seditious attempt to deny Electoral College certification to President Joe Biden on that same day.

But Hawley has found a new way to drag our politics into the partisan sewer with a false, grotesque, and inflammatory attack on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, just days before her Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin. Seizing upon a handful of cases and a comment she made in law school, he has smeared her as "soft on child pornographers."

At the outset of his Twitter thread, Hawley lied: "Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker. She's been advocating for it since law school. This goes beyond 'soft on crime.' I'm concerned that this (is) a record that endangers our children."

With that foul smear, Hawley joins an undeniably psychotic element of his party — the growing cohort affiliated with the QAnon conspiracy cult, which proclaims constantly that prominent Democrats and Hollywood stars are sexually exploiting and even murdering children. There is no evidence for these sick accusations, but that hasn't stopped the fascist-leaning wing of the GOP — including no less a figure than Trump's disgraced national security adviser Mike Flynn — from endorsing them.

Before examining the real friends of kiddie porn in American politics, it is vital to unpack Hawley's fabricated assault on Jackson, a highly qualified and upright Black female jurist whose nomination has turned her into a target for the usual collection of racists and misogynists on the Right. What he accuses her of doing is what literally hundreds of judges of both parties have done regularly in sentencing child sex abuse and child pornography offenders. In law school and since, she has made the same observation as many of her fellow judges and even some prosecutors: Federal sentencing guidelines on those crimes require adjustment in the interest of justice.

According to Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman, an expert on federal sentencing policy, the guidelines on child porn are broadly "considered 'too severe' and poorly designed to 'measure offender culpability' in the digital age." Which is why, Berman writes, "federal judges nationwide rarely follow them." In fact, Berman reports that judges deliver sentences below the guidelines in two out of three child porn cases, with "typical sentences of 54 months below the calculated guideline minimum."

Among nine examples cited to support Hawley's smear, five were cases in which the prosecution advocated a sentence lower than the federal guidelines — and reiterated Jackson's point that the current guidelines cannot reflect mitigating factors or congressional intent. (That is why she suggested in law school that they should be revised.) In eight of the nine cases, Judge Jackson's sentence was less than two years lower than what prosecutors recommended.

In short, Hawley's smear shows either that he's too stupid to understand how federal sentencing works or he's deliberately distorting the facts to foster an ugly untruth. Anyone surprised by his behavior hasn't been paying attention.

By mimicking QAnon, Hawley invites an unflattering question: Which political party is actually preferred by child sex offenders? The conspiracist cult has always looked suspiciously like a perfect cover for such predators. The cult began on an internet channel that has long hosted child pornographers — and its apparent founder, Arizona GOP Congressional candidate Jim Watkins, profited from Web domains that were apparently used to promote child porn.

Beyond QAnon itself is a seemingly endless rogues gallery of child porn and sex abuse criminals associated with the Republican Party. Finding them on Google is a simple and revealing exercise. Last year, federal investigators busted an online kiddie porn ring that included Ruben Verastigui, a digital strategist for the Trump campaign, and Adam Hageman, a Trump Commerce Department official, while separate probes busted Republican consultant Anton Lazzaro, as well as Trump's Oklahoma campaign chair Ralph Shortey and Trump Kentucky delegate Timothy Nolan.

Those are only the most recent entries on the docket, which infamously includes right-wing "Christian" TV personality Josh Duggar — the Arkansas pal of the Huckabees who admitted to molesting young girls, including two of his sisters, and is facing child porn charges. (Not long before Duggar's indictment, Huckabee praised him for leading "a responsible and circumspect life.") And let's not forget Trump associate and influence peddler George Nader, who will spend a long time behind bars for trafficking a child into the United States for sex and distributing child porn.

As noted, it's a long and grimy list. And Republicans who try to suggest that their opponents are "soft" on pedophilia and child porn — currently a favorite theme in right-wing media —-should take a hard look at their own gamy milieu before repeating those disgusting slurs.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

When Putin Strikes Ukraine, He Is Aiming For America

When Tucker Carlson insists there is no reason for Americans to distrust Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that his reputation for criminal brutality is simply fabricated by the "globalist deep state" controlled by George Soros — his rhetoric conceals the true source of friction between the United States and Russia. Having erupted in the bloody destruction wreaked by Putin on Ukraine, that uniquely alarming conflict will persist even if the world escapes the worst consequences now.

To understand this peril means setting aside the myths and lies promulgated by Putin's enormous worldwide propaganda apparatus and its operatives in this country — not just Carlson but former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon and a virtual army of the minions of former President Donald Trump.

Let's be clear: No matter what Putin or his apologists may claim, he didn't invade because of fears that Ukraine will join NATO, which he knows won't happen anytime soon. He didn't invade because he worries about alleged Ukrainian nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs, which he knows do not exist. And he certainly didn't invade because he fears that Ukraine is overrun with "Nazis," since he clearly doesn't much object to actual Nazism or any other variety of fascism. (To take just one example from among the many Nazis supported or tolerated by Putin, he has permitted the main neo-Nazi media outlet in the United States to operate from Russian territory for years.)

What troubles Putin and his ultra-nationalist coterie in the Kremlin is something much deeper. He believes that authoritarian rule in Russia is threatened by the example of Western democracies, whose people are accustomed to affluence and freedom that are enjoyed in his country only by the oligarchs who surround him (who mainly reside in American and European cities). Worse than Ukraine joining NATO, according to his worldview, is its urge to join the European Union — a symbol not only of Western power but of liberal democratic values. That was why he covertly financed the "Brexit" campaign that led to Britain's exit from the EU.

Naturally, Putin regards the example of Ukraine, with its improving economy and popularly elected government, as a menace to his own regime. Although Russia's living standards have improved during the past two decades, its gross domestic product still lags far behind much smaller nations such as Italy and France — and remains less than one-tenth the size of the United States. Russians are well aware that their authoritarian system incubates corruption like excrement breeds flies.

But simply denouncing Western democracy and materialism is a hard sell. So, in recent years, Putin has increasingly depicted himself as a defender of traditional Christian values against the supposed "decadence" of America and Europe, meaning that he persecutes lesbians and gays while proclaiming the mystical superiority of the Russian Orthodox church and a powerful new Russia that reclaims the lost Soviet empire. Although divorced from his wife and reputed to be a hedonist with a harem of younger girlfriends, Putin is well aware of how eagerly right-wing "Christians" accept hate as a substitute for actual morality. Anyone who has observed Trump's embrace by American evangelicals, despite his platoon of porn stars and Playboy models, knows that much.

What does Putin believe? Nobody but him may know and that scarcely matters anyway. His objectives are as clear as his bloody criminality — and his loud-mouthed media apparatchiks regularly enunciate his regime's hostility toward us. They exult in any setback for the United States, they imagine themselves rising with our destruction, they attack us covertly every day, and they persistently aim to divide Americans by race, region, religion, and partisan affiliation.

Vladimir Putin is an implacable and exceptionally dangerous enemy of the United States and of the values enshrined in our Constitution. Those who provide aid and comfort to his regime betray this country and those values.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.