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​Manchin's Vote May Depend On Weird Coal-Crypto Conflict Of Interest

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The fate of the Build Back Better legislation, including the future of U.S. participation in attempts to limit the impact of the climate crisis, may depend on one of the weirdest phenomena of the modern world. It's a trend that crosses an outdated technology from a dying market with a still-growing craze which baffles much of the public. And it all comes down to putting money in the pocket of one man.

The outdated industry is coal-powered electrical plants. The growing craze is cryptocurrency. And the man is, of course, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

Stitch that all together, and you get a Politico report on how the Grant Town power plant near Morgantown, West Virginia has put forward a proposal to turn itself into a giant, coal-powered, cryptocurrency "mine." If that proposal moves forward, it could ensure that the lone contract that defines Manchin's "coal brokerage firm" will continue to hand him over $500,000 a year for doing very close to nothing. Then maybe we can all have nice things. Or, if the crypto-plant proposal fails, Manchin could still hold the entire bill hostage to his personal interest in fossil fuels.

Not only does all of this represent a massive conflict of interest, the timing of events serves to showcase what may be the height of placing individual greed above the greater good.

Cryptocurrency is a still a phenomenon that leaves many people scratching their heads. Whether it's a Bitcoin or a Sol, cryptocurrency doesn't exist as a block of gold in a vault, a physical coin in a drawer, or a promissory note backed by a government. It's a series of numbers embedded in a blockchain, which is itself a kind of storage system for these numbers that makes it very difficult to falsify or alter information. The numbers can't be guessed, and don't follow a regular pattern. They can only be calculated using a laborious set of equations that can discover the next sequence in a process popularly called "mining." Through mining, new "blocks" of verified transactions are added to the blockchain. Those blocks are owned by the miners.

In the early days, discovering these sequences was relatively easy and could even be done on generic desktop computers. But finding new crypto "coins" rapidly becomes more difficult, and the equations aren't really optimized to work on the kind of generic microprocessors at the heart of most laptops and desktops. Systems expanded to allow many computers to work together in discovering a block. Then computer gamers and graphic artists found that the dedicated graphics cards they needed were simply unavailable, because cryptocurrency miners had discovered that the type of processors on these cards was much better suited to digging up that next coin.

That's still true today to some extent, but in large part, crypto mining has moved on to even more specialized hardware, designed expressly to deal with the particular equations involved in uncovering a new transaction. This dedicated hardware has taken crypto mining well beyond the limits of what many early adherents of Bitcoin or other currencies thought to be practical.

Over time, the real cost of mining a new block has become defined by one thing: power. Anyone trying to mine a Bitcoin at home these days is almost certain to spend more money on the power it costs to mine that coin than the coin is actually worth. At the other end of the mining spectrum, rooms full of specialized mining machines, all digging away at the blockchain, consume a lot of energy, but the cost of the power is still lower than the profit that can be returned—especially when the crypto market is surging.

Rather than the cost of power, the availability of power has become a constraint on these high-end mining operations. There are systems out there that need more power than a mid-sized town to handle their ongoing search for that next transaction. So where do they get it? They buy a power plant.

There are some rather ingenious alternatives being put forward—including solar-powered EV charging stations that would use all solar power to mine for cryptocurrency using any excess energy—but all too often, the easiest form of power for the crypto-hungry to find can be defined in one word: coal.

Across the nation and in many parts of the world, coal power plants are closing for the simplest reason: They cost too much. The cost of operating a coal-powered plant is now so far above adding new power in the form of solar or wind, that systems are finding it cheaper to overbuild renewables and close down the aging coal plants. Some plants are being converted to burn natural gas instead. Others are just being shuttered.

A plant that's about to be written off and remaindered is a great target for a crypto operation. Using that dedicated hardware, they can afford the higher cost of the coal-based power. That's led to crypto miners buying up multiple plants in Pennsylvania and in New York. That New York plant had been used as a "peaker" plant, filling in when there was high demand on the grid. Its continuous use in powering crypto mining has reportedly made a nearby glacial lake used to cool the plant "feel like a bathtub."

In the case of the Grant Town plant in West Virginia, operating it for power no longer makes any sense. It's a relatively small power plant, only 80 megawatts. It's also the only plant in the state that still burns "waste coal."

Coal mines often generate a spoil pile of mostly non-coal material that is picked off the conveyor belt, often by hand, and pitched aside. Before the coal is sent to the power plant, it is often sent through a "prep plant," where the coal is crushed to a more uniform size and sent through a series of chemical baths in which the lighter coal floats, while heavier minerals—especially those rich in sulfur—sink. This leaves behind a second spoil pile of waste material.

Producing waste coal requires going back through the spoil piles for coal that was missed the first time. That coal is worse in almost every way than what was produced on the first pass. It contains more non-coal material, lowering the energy output and increasing the amount of ash. It also contains more sulfur and heavy metals, creating toxins that either go up the smokestack or into the coal slurry at the plant.

All coal is dirty, but waste coal is the dirtiest form of coal. Waste coal is what Joe Manchin sells.

Using waste coal made a tiny amount of sense in 2008, when the coal market was at its peak and supply was having a hard time keeping up with demand. It makes no sense now, when a majority of mines have been idled and there is still enormous overcapacity. But Manchin has a contract, and that contract has netted him over $5 million in the last decade.

The result of all this is that Grant Town isn't just the dirtiest plant using the dirtiest fuel, it's also the most expensive plant in the state, in terms of dollars per megawatt. That plant has lost $117 million in just the last five years while paying Manchin $500,000 a year—not even for the waste coal itself, but just to manage the contract that delivers the waste coal.

Joe Manchin is almost singularly responsible for removing $1.8 trillion in funding from the Build Back Better legislation. Thanks to Sen. Manchin's refusal to support the bill as it was originally proposed, dozens of major programs have already been reduced in scope or eliminated completely. Some of the things that were removed—including two years of free community college—seemed like complete no-brainers which would have not only decreased the debt students now face upon emerging from college, but given the U.S. a competitive advantage by creating a more educated work force.

The funds for climate change included in the legislation that just passed the House are much smaller than those included in the original proposal that came from the White House. However, they do include over $500 billion in funds dedicated to expanding the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles. Funds for the creation of the Civilian Climate Corps are also still in there, which would create jobs dedicated to restoring and maintaining lost areas of forest and wetland.

Also still included is a program that will give utilities a bonus for the switching production to renewable power. As Popular Science explains, that program could be a massive game-changer when it comes to transitioning not just coal plants, but also natural gas-powered plants, to solar or wind. Manchin has specifically opposed that program, saying, "Why pay the utilities for something they're going to do anyway, because we're transitioning?"

This is why. Because the program supporting those increased payments is expected to speed the transition by four precent a year. And that adds up.

A 4 percent yearly increase would get the energy mix to about 70 to 80 percent in 2030, whereas business as usual would put Americans around 48 percent by the same date.

If the U.S. is even going to come close to meeting the goals that must be met to ward off the worst of the climate crisis, it needs Manchin to vote for inclusion of the Clean Energy Performance Program as part of Build Back Better.

And getting that vote may depend on whether or not the Grant Town plant gets turned into a dedicated crypto mining plant … all so that Joe Manchin can continue to sell the dirtiest coal, to the dirtiest plant, to line his pocket with the dirtiest money.

Far-Right School Board Elections Wave Was A Trickle

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Virginia may have seemed like the big prize on Tuesday night, but across the nation, Republicans had a bigger plan: Leveraging fears over "critical race theory" to take over school boards everywhere. Not only have school boards long been regarded as providing the first step on the political ladder,
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Which Part Of US Is Leading On Vaccination? It's Puerto Rico

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

When news out of Puerto Rico catches the attention of the rest of the United States, too often that news is bad. Whether it's hurricane damage, a struggling power grid, or a health care system swamped with debt, Puerto Rico seems like … exactly what you would get it you took a small island state and used it to test everyone's latest pet economic theory,
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Coup Plotter Eastman Used Capitol Violence To Pressure Pence On Jan 6

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Earlier this week, news leaked that the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 is planning to subpoena conservative lawyer and former Trump adviser John Eastman. But the real question isn't when, or even if, Eastman will appear before the committee. It's why hasn't the Department of Justice dusted off charges of sedition and put Eastman in handcuffs.

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How Trump May Be Scheming To Bilk 'Truth' Investors For $340 Million

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

On Wednesday evening, Donald Trump's get-around-the-ban surrogate on Twitter, Liz Harrington, issued a statement announcing the formation of the "Trump Media and Technology Group" (TMTG). Most of the attention focused on this missive has been centered around the announcement of something called "TRUTH Social"—also known as yet-another-Trump-focused-Twitter-clone.
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Gaetz And Jordan Try To Protect Bannon — And It Backfires Badly

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee met to vote on whether the recommendation for charges of criminal contempt against former Trump campaign chair and Jan. 6 conspirator Steve Bannon would be forwarded to the full House. At the end of the hearing, the committee voted along party lines, which means that the full House could vote to drop Bannon's file on the Department of Justice by Thursday.

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With Worst Vaccination Rate In Developed World, US Sees Death Rate Explode

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Last week, the United States fell to last place in vaccination among G-7 nations. Until spring, the U.S. had been one of the leaders in vaccination rates, but as Democrats got vaccinated and vaccine hostility set in among 40 percent of Republicans, the increase in vaccinations in America slowed to a crawl. Even Japan, which had a vaccination rate of just 1 percent in May—and which has a high level of anti-vaccination sentiment going back decades—has moved ahead of the U.S. Despite hopes that the Delta wave might finally wake Republicans' willingness to engage in public health, the rate has barely moved.
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Exposure Of Trump’s Coup Attempt Reveals Bannon As Central Figure

When it comes to events surrounding the January 6 insurrection, there are some whose involvement remains unclear. Did Rep. Lauren Boebert lead future insurgents on a tour of the Capitol in order to help them identify the shortest route to the people they wanted to hang? Not certain. There are others who will pretend that their calls to storming the Capitol and spilling a swimming pool of patriotic blood were purely metaphorical. Right, Rep. Mo Brooks?

And then there's Steve Bannon.

The Trump campaign chair, shining with the glow of his last-minute pardon from the fraud he definitely committed, didn't just assist a few would-be Mike Pence-hangers. He didn't just get up there and sound the horn to get out there and fight like there was nothing but a commie-filled America-free tomorrow. He worked to create both the political crisis and the maddened crowd that placed the United States within a few seconds, and a handful of steps, of seeing members of Congress marched to a gallows on the Capitol lawn.

On Friday, Bannon was the undoubtedly proud recipient of one of the first four subpoenas handed out by the House Select Committee. However, giving the head of a Brussels-based fascist movement—tastefully called "The Movement"—a couple of weeks to decide whether he wants to make an appearance before a Congress he dismisses, or a court system he sneers about, seems like far too mild an approach.

Here's a checklist of "fun" Steve Bannon moments, over just the last couple of years.

But that's just the small stuff. Because Bannon's involvement in the events around January 6 easily trumps (yes, pun intended) even trying to abscond with an 800-year-old monastery as a base for bringing down the Catholic church and creating baby Hitlers.

To a large extent, the whole idea of using January. 6 as a lever to tip over democracy came from Bannon. As the recent book Peril reported, Bannon called up Trump on December 30 and told him, "'You've got to call Pence off the f**king ski slopes and get him back here today. This is a crisis."

The point of dragging Pence back—which happened—was to explain how January 6 could be turned into "a reckoning." Bannon explained to Trump how upsetting the prescribed process on January 6 could "cast enough of a shadow over Biden's victory" that it would cause millions of Americans to consider Biden an illegitimate president. They didn't actually have to prove any election fraud. They only had to create a spectacle that would destroy faith in the system.

"People are going to go, 'What the f**k is going on here?'" said Bannon. "We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, f**king bury him."

But it doesn't take going to the pages of a book to discover Bannon's involvement in the attempted overthrow, because Bannon himself just keeps talking about it.

Bannon met with Trump and Rudy Giuliani in advance of the insurgency, with an open goal of destroying the American government.

As Newsweek reports, Bannon's open admission is that he told the others "it's time to kill the Biden presidency in the crib." On his podcast platform, Bannon went on to brag about the success of his plan, claiming that "42% of the American people think that Biden did not win the presidency legitimately"—a belief supported by the actions on Jan. 6 to deliberately undermine that presidency.

As Professor Lawrence Tribe points out. "It'd be hard to justify DOJ inaction in the face of this rapidly mounting evidence of a criminal conspiracy to commit sedition against the US Government and to give aid and comfort to an insurrection. See 18 USC secs. 2383 & 2384."

Tribe's name has recently been in the news because Trump attorney John Eastman distorted Tribe's past statements in his attempt to declare Trump the "winner" by simply leaving off as many Biden states as it took to get the numbers they wanted. But there's no misinterpreting what Tribe is saying here:

18 U.S. Code § 2383 - Rebellion or insurrection
Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
18 U.S. Code § 2384 - Seditious conspiracy
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

Bannon, Trump, Giuliani, Eastman … they all engaged in a seditious conspiracy, a plan that Bannon spelled out with the declared intent of destroying the lawful government of the United States.

It's worth noting that, in their schemes, neither Bannon nor Eastman even attempted to make a case that Trump had actually won, or that there had been anything like the level of fraud Giuliani was claiming. Both plans were simply to cripple the United States by creating confusion and distrust.

It's almost what you might expect from someone who said this:

"Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

It's past time to stop sending Steve Bannon subpoenas and start sending him to jail. Let Eastman fight with Giuliani over who has be his cellmate.

Trump Campaign Memo Shows Giuliani, Powell Knew Election Fraud Claims Were False

Reprinted with permission from Aternet

A memo obtained by The New York Times makes clear that the Trump campaign not only spread propaganda and misinformation about the results of the 2020 election, they did so with full knowledge that what they were telling the American people was simply a lie.

Long before Jan. 6, in the days immediately following the election, Trump's team was aware that claims about voting machines made by Dominion and Smartmatic were utterly false. The interal memo, prepared by Trump's communication team, includes a thorough debunking of claims about the software, hardware, origins, and political connections of each company, One by one, everything circulating in the fever swamp of right-wing claims about the election was stood up, and just as quickly shot down.

Despite this, Trump's legal team would step forward six days after that memo was circulated and make exactly the claims they already knew not to be true. That included false claims about how the companies were connected to antifa. False claims about how the software had originated in Venezuela. False claims about the connections between the two companies. False claims about connections to George Soros. And false claims about votes being counted overseas.

Now that memo has surfaced in court papers as part of a defamation lawsuit against Trump's campaign. And a quick look at the information suggests that another, very brief, memo could be written. The title of that memo: Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell are f***ked.

On Nov. 19, 2020, Rudy Giuliani stepped out to deliver another round of nonsense claims, random non sequiturs, and outright lies concerning the 2020 presidential election. It was on this occasion that Giuliani explained the legal basis of his claims about voter fraud. "I know crimes," said the former prosecutor. "I can smell them. You don't have to smell this one, I can prove it to you 18 different ways. I can prove to you that Trump won Pennsylvania by 300,000 votes. I can prove to you that he won Michigan, probably by 50,000 votes." Needless to say, he provided no such proof.

But other than Giuliani's crime-sniffing nose, that press event is mostly remembered for two things.

First, that a steady stream of dark hair dye trickled down Giuliani's face as he spoke, lending his overt lies about how Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had blocked votes in Pennsylvania or how Michigan's most populous county had decertified its vote total an extra air of comic desperation. Again and again, Giuliani threw out numbers along with a claim that he could "prove" some level of malfeasance on the part of election officials and voting machine companies. Again and again, he offered absolutely no proof.

Second, it was at that event that Powell, until then best known for her judge-infuriating defense of disgraced general Michael Flynn, stepped forward to present a jaw-dropping collection of claims that included how Democrats had engaged in a multistate conspiracy to "inject" hundreds of thousands of Biden votes by using voting machines built to appease Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez with the help of wealthy Jew George Soros and sent American votes overseas to servers in Germany, where they could be altered according to orders from antifa.

Powell was detailed, if little short of deranged, in her claims about connections between Dominion and Smartmatic, the origins of their systems as a means of ensuring the election of long-dead dictator Hugo Chavez, the control of mysterious figures from antifa, and a connection to this Biden-Venezuelan-Jewish-Cuban-antifa conspiracy and the Clinton Foundation.

The simple amount of hogwash, hooey, and absurdity in the statements from Giuliani and Powell would have been amusing had all that propaganda not been in service of a lie that led directly to the January 6 insurgency and fueled ongoing claims of election fraud now supported by a majority of Republicans. In the course of the morning, Giuliani and Powell managed to hit Every. Single. One. Of the claims that the Trump team had already investigated and found to be false.

It was if they had taken the internal memo and used it as a checklist to be sure they punched every button on the defamation elevator.

Clearly, someone on Trump's team was listening well enough to hear all the alarms that the claims—particularly those made by Powell—were setting off. Just three days later, Giuliani issued a statement in which he made another false claim: "Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own," wrote Giuliani. "She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity."

Unfortunately for them, not only had Giuliani introduced Powell and appeared with her in front of the nation's cameras while she went on her everything-but-the-kitchen sink rant; Powell had been introduced by Trump attorney Jenna Ellis as part of "an elite strike team that is working on behalf of the president and the campaign to make sure that our Constitution is protected."

And there was some other fellow. Some guy on Twitter. What did he say?

"I look forward to Mayor Giuliani spearheading the legal effort to defend OUR RIGHT to FREE and FAIR ELECTIONS! Rudy Giuliani, Joseph diGenova, Victoria Toensing, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, a truly great team, added to our other wonderful lawyers and representatives!"

Within days of Trump's "distancing" from Powell, she was right back at the center of his representation, acting as the lead attorney on lawsuits filed in December and January. Any claim that she was not connected to the Trump campaign is less believable than Hugo Chavez and George Soros counting votes in Spain using an antifa-branded server.

What's absolutely clear is that both Giuliani and Powell were members of Donald Trump's legal team, who not only stepped forward on November 19—and on many other occasions—to make false claims about the 2020 president election, they did so knowingly. In particular, despite having investigated and found the claims about Dominion and Smartmatic absolutely false, Trump's team went on to file at least four lawsuits against the company and publicly accuse it of crimes in statements they were well aware did not reflect reality. Those accusations generated threats of violence about the companies and their employees, as well as interfering in the ability of the companies to do business.

The only real question should be, will Dominion get the pleasure of taking Giuliani's last dime before the FBI finally completes their actions?

And just in case someone thought either of these two was being more sensible these days …

January 6 Probe Advancing As House Panel Readies Subpoenas

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

On Monday, Rep. Bennie Thompson made it clear that the House Select Committee investigating events related to the January 6 insurgency could begin issuing subpoenas within the next few days. Back on August 25, the committee sent a request for documents to a long list of recipients. While some recipients have turned over the requested information, a large number have not. As CNN reports, Thompson will skip right past the farce of sending any of these people or groups reminders or asking them politely to show up at the House. Instead, the committee will move straight to the subpoena phase and let the courts tell them how much executive privilege does not apply to this case.

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New Texas Law Shields Online Hate Speech, Terror Threats, And Holocaust Denial

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

It's been a busy couple of weeks for the one-star state. In addition to gaining the cooperation of the Trump-flavored Supreme Court to strip away women's rights, Gov. Greg Abbott has been right on top of the threat to the coronavirus, promising to protect COVID-19 from any effort to slow its spread. It's that kind of dedication that has allowed Texas to both seize the top spot from Florida in new cases and hospitalizations, and support the local mortuary industry with more than 400 deaths per day.

Truly, for Texas energy speculators and mortuary truck rentals, Abbott has brought on a golden age. But even though the governor spent much of his day complaining that President Joe Biden insisting that people get vaccinated was a violation of the rights of businesses—unlike executive orders that forbid companies from requiring that people get vaccinated—he did have time for other things.

One of those things was signing HB 20, a bill that severely limits the ability of large social media platforms to remove disinformation, harmful propaganda, hate speech, and incitement of violence.

This bill is a response to the mythical claims that social media sites are somehow suppressing conservative speech, despite repeated analysis that shows that these sites actually selectively promote conservative voices and place conservatives in positions of power, while actively soliciting for more Republican content. Despite all this, Republicans are certain that, were it not for some "shadow banning" and other devious actions, the brilliant words of conservative tweeters would surely be getting many, many more likes.

And since modern Republican statements are indistinguishable from disinformation about an ongoing pandemic, shot through with vile racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, the bill makes sure that all of those things are protected.

On first reading, the text of the bill might seem to be offering some level of protection. For example, here's what it says about the kind of things that social media can remove. Platforms can take down or edit material that is:

"the subject of a referral or request from an organization with the purpose of preventing the sexual exploitation of children and protecting survivors of sexual abuse from ongoing harassment; directly incites criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group because of their race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, sex, or status as a peace officer or judge; or is unlawful expression."

That long list at the end of this passage—including color, disability, sex, etc.—might seem as if it's offering the kind of protections usually afforded when platforms take down hate speech. But look again. All of those other words are just window dressing. The bill actually allows sites to remove such speech only if it "consists of specific threats of violence." This is the very narrowest definition of incitement to violence. It's the kind of very narrow requirement that has protected both KKK leaders and Tucker Carlson when calling for violence or other harmful acts against groups, without making a specific threat,

By prohibiting social media platforms from removing text that doesn't feature a specific threat, they have created a "must carry" situation, one in which the social media platforms that fit their definition (which seems to be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and Snapchat, but could expand to Google, Apple, and others thanks to some broad language) can not remove hate speech or disinformation, no matter how malignant.

To see how intentional this result is takes no more than looking at the amendments that were rejected.

  • Here's one that would have allowed sites to take down posts that promoted "any international or domestic terrorist group or any international or domestic terrorist acts."

That amendment was rejected.

  • Here's another that would have at least allowed sites to take down a post that "includes the denial of the Holocaust."

That amendment was rejected.

  • Here's a third that would have allowed sites to remove information that "promotes or supports vaccine misinformation."

Of course that amendment was rejected.

Seriously. Texas just passed a law (and Abbott just signed it) which prohibits social media sites from removing hate speech, or posts that promote terrorism, or intentional misinformation about vaccines, orholocaust denial.

And it doesn't stop there. Because Texas doesn't just require that sites leave these posts intact: the state also prohibits platforms from "censoring" these posts in any way. That includes "demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to ..." That requirement means that not only do sites have to carry a post, no matter how vile, they have to promote it and pay for it equally with other posts.

So, if someone in Texas were to post a YouTube video that was full of holocaust denial, revived every antisemitic claim in history, and called for driving Jews out of the country and burning down synagogues—but didn't mention a specific time and place for people to gather with torches—YouTube would not only be forbidden from removing it, they wouldn't be allowed to add any warning, would have to promote it equally with other videos, and would have to pay the creator if it got enough racists to watch.

As the tech industry group Chamber for Progress puts it: "This law is going to put more hate speech, scams, terrorist content, and misinformation online."

Naturally, platforms and organizations have already announced lawsuits, mostly focused on the idea that the Texas law redefines social media platforms as "common carriers." It's unlikely that any of these platforms will ever be bound by this law.

Even so … it gives great insight into the type of speech Republicans are really out to promote.

Suffer, Little Children: Anti-Vax, Anti-Masking, And The Faces Of Evil

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The origin of evil is an issue that would seem as difficult to fathom as the meaning of life, or the purpose of the universe. It's not. Evil is not simply when something bad happens. Hurricanes aren't evil. Not even a disease is evil. Evil takes understanding. Evil is when someone displays indifference or experiences pleasure in the face of suffering.

The worst sort of evil comes when empathy and consideration are replaced with a perverse joy, one that doesn't just refuse to acknowledge someone else's pain, but takes pride in dismissing the thought that others deserve consideration. And it looks like this.

What's happening in that Tennessee school board meeting is a tiny subset, a pixel in the larger picture, of what's happening on multiple issues across the country. Another part of that greater image can be seen when CNN asked Dr. Anthony Fauci about a statement by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And in the responses of a school superintendent from Mississippi.

As CNN reports, children too young to be vaccinated now make up 26% of all new cases of COVID-19 cases. That number has grown enormously as schools have reopened for in-person instruction in districts where masks are not mandated and vaccination for staff is not a requirement. In fact, the total number of children infected across the course of the pandemic has grown by 10% in just the last two weeks.

That's because the reopening of schools, especially in areas where school boards have bowed to pressure—or the executive orders of Republican governors—and refused to institute mask mandates or vaccination requirements and are seeing an "explosions of cases." That explosion generated over 14,000 cases among students in Florida within the first week of classes. It resulted in thousands of cases in Texas, where district after district has been forced to suspend classes.

Florida and Texas may have been grabbing the headlines thanks to the deeply twisted statements from Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, but they're far from alone. In just four days in August, the Clarion Ledgerreports that over 5,700 students tested positive in a single week, putting over 30,000—6.5% of the state's total student population—into quarantine.

In this interview, Mississippi school superintendent John Strycker explains that he doesn't require masks in his school, even after a teacher died. Strycker says, "I'm confident in what we're doing."

Strycker: I wept. Okay? It's very hard on me. But when I'm making my decisions, I need to do the best I can to make non-emotional decisions.
Reporter: But your non-emotional decision is to do nothing.
Strycker: Right.

Strycker then claims that the children in his care are "safe relative to the other schools." In the first three week of school there, 6.4 percent of students have tested positive for COVID-19.

Following this interview, CNN moves to looking at the large Los Angeles unified school district where the superintendent has made very different decisions. At that school, every member of the staff is required to report their vaccination status and everyone—students, teachers, and visitors—is required to wear a mask. Over the same period, the infection rate in Los Angeles schools was 0.5 percent.

What's become clear across the nation is simply this: School districts that do not have a mandatory mask policy are very likely to see a high incidence of COVID-19 cases within a period of a few weeks. Those levels are very likely to lead to that school district being forced to quarantine a substantial subset of its student and staff population, and almost as likely to result in classes being suspended for a period.

The reason is simple enough: As much as anti-mask forces want to make wearing a mask an emblem of personal fear, it's not. The mask is simply societal responsibility. Masks reduce the rate of transmission of COVID-19, as well as other viruses, but they are really only highly effective if nearly everyone is wearing them. One person wearing a masks in a sea of bare faces gains very little, if anything, in the way of personal protection. If everyone is wearing masks, there is a large decrease in the spread of disease.

The same rule applies to vaccines. As NPR reports, DeSantis has repeatedly dismissed the role of vaccines as anything more than personal protection.

"At the end of the day though," said the Florida governor, "it's about your health and whether you want that protection or not. It really doesn't impact me or anyone else."

And as Dr. Anthony Fauci has made clear, DeSantis is "completely incorrect." Vaccines, like masks, do provide some protection to the individual, but their greater role is in breaking the chain of transmission. A high level of vaccination doesn't just protect the vaccinated, it protects everyone. Whether someone has been vaccinated definitely affects those around them.

"When you're dealing with an outbreak of an infectious disease, it isn't only about you," said Fauci. "There's a societal responsibility that we all have."

And there's that phrase again: societal responsibility—the need to take action that protects not just yourself or your family, but everyone in the greater society. What's missing from every insistence that masks or vaccines are a "personal choice" is that these choices have an impact on others. Saying that masks or vaccines don't affect anyone else is like saying that driving drunk doesn't affect anyone else. Or firing a weapon through a loaded room doesn't affect anyone else. These actions may nothave an immediate impact, but there is a recognized societal responsibility that makes them illegal even if they don't result in immediate loss.

What does evil look like? It looks like someone standing in front of a camera and saying that a decision that can cost the lives of thousands is a personal choice. It looks like that.

It also looks like these events at a charter school in Boise as reported by the Idaho Statesman.

At the beginning of the year, the board of the Peace Valley Charter School passed a mask mandate. But they rolled back that mandate after hearing from Dr. Ryan Cole—the same doctor who referred to COVID-19 vaccines as both "fake" and "needle rape." Following that statement, Cole was made a member of Idaho's Central District Health Board.

At a special meeting of the school board, Cole testified that masks didn't work and that there was "not one study" showing that masks could help stop a viral disease. Cole also testified that masks "retain carbon dioxide" and can cause "inflammation in the brain." None of these things has any basis in fact. (For reference, here's a large study showing that masks work and here's a broad review of the topic which confirms that effectiveness).

At that meeting, board members were also given a packet of documents, which included one titled "COVID-19 Masks Are a Crime Against Humanity and Child Abuse." The board reversed its vote, eliminating the mask mandate.

What does evil look like? It looks like a woman snickering at a child talking about his dead grandmother. It looks like a doctor knowingly passing along false information that places children and teacher in danger. Most of all, it looks like a governor denying that individuals have any obligation beyond self preservation, and pretending that societal responsibilities do not exist.

'Completely incorrect': Dr. Fauci pushes back on DeSantis' vaccine claim

Wednesday, Sep 8, 2021 · 11:59:27 AM EDT · Mark Sumner

And as that Idaho school votes to drop mask mandates in response to disinformation …

Most-Cited Study Promoting Ivermectin Appears To Be Fraudulent

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Everyone wants the same thing when it comes to COVID-19: A cheap, effective, reliable treatment that can be easily administered to anyone who shows symptoms, with good assurance that they'll quickly recover. There are existing treatments for COVID-19 in the form of monoclonal antibody treatments from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Vir Biotechnology, but those treatments are expensive, difficult to administer, and available in limited quantities. Unless those factors change, these treatments will never become the kind of panacea we need.

If there was something that could be packaged into a pill, or even an EpiPen-style injectable, and handed to everyone as soon as they received a positive test for COVID-19, it would be great. Every health professional wishes that hydroxychloroquine had turned out to be that safe and effective treatment. It just didn't. Every health professional wishes the same about ivermectin. Widely available? Check. Easily administered? Yes. Safe and effective? Well …

For months, fans of ivermectin persuaded by online enthusiasm have been pushing the anti-parasitic based on the same kind of evidence that was once behind the hydroxychloroquine buzz: small, non-clinical "trials" that mostly consist of anecdotal results from a single doctor or proactive. More recently, there have been supposed "metanalyses" that, unfortunately, have lumped a lot of low-reliability data together and given it a veneer of respectability. Some of those involved in these studies have even been invited to the Senate as guests of Republicans, where they have claimed ivermectin is 100 percent effective in stopping COVID-19, and included completely false data to create the impression of a "wonder drug."

The claims about ivermectin have been so pervasive—and apparently, so persuasive—that they've made regular appearances in Daily Kos comments. Doctors are being pushed to prescribe the stuff by patients who refuse to accept other treatment unless they're first given ivermectin. And the refusal to accept the truth about ivermectin is costing lives.

Here's the truth about ivermectin: It's a widely prescribed drug used in treatment of parasites in both humans and animals. With proper dosages and duration of treatment, it has a very good safety record, and it is extremely effective at treating everything from common roundworm to the parasites that carry river blindness.

If someone is getting ivermectin in normal doses, using genuine pharmaceutical-grade drugs that don't contain ingredients not meant for human consumption (many veterinary formulations do have such ingredients) and sticking to the standard timeline of treatment, they are unlikely to suffer lasting harm. As with almost any drug, ivermectin has common side effects: skin rash, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. It also has some rarer side effects, including severe liver damage. If you need ivermectin because you are facing a parasite for which it is the standard treatment, take it.

Here's the other truth about ivermectin: If it has any positive effect on the treatment of COVID-19, that effect is small, difficult to detect, and far from universal.

How is it possible to know this? Because the National Institutes of Health have compiled a list of studies on the use of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19. What that list shows, over and over again, is results such as this:

  • "A 5-day course of IVM did not improve time to resolution of symptoms in patients with mild COVID-19."
  • "A 5-day course of IVM in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 did not result in clinical improvement at the end of treatment, and no reduction in mortality was observed."
  • "Use of IVM did not reduce risk of oxygen requirement, ICU admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, or death in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19."
  • "IVM showed no effect on symptom resolution in patients with mild COVID-19."
  • "Compared to SOC, use of IVM did not lead to faster recovery from mild to moderate COVID-19."
  • "Patients who received IVM showed no difference in viral clearance compared to those who received placebo."
  • "In hospitalized patients with COVID-19 pneumonia who were not critically ill, neither IVM nor HCQ decreased the number of in-hospital days, rate of respiratory deterioration, or mortality."

Several of these were studies where the original authors suggested that there had been positive effects from treatment with ivermectin, but these effects disappeared on closer analysis from researchers at the NIH.

Among the list of studies, there are a handful that do appear to indicate positive results.

  • A study that supposedly demonstrated that ivermectin combined with doxycycline was a superior treatment to hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, but the actual results showed no statistical difference or evidence that either treatment was an improvement over standard of care.
  • A very small study showed some evidence that the level of virus was reduced when ivermectin was given at three times the normal dose.
  • Another very small study indicated that ivermectin shortened hospital stays, but didn't have a placebo group or consider co-morbidities.
  • Another very small study indicated that a handful of patients had reduced hospital stays, but the number being treated was so small it easily could have been a statistical fluke.
  • The best of the studies showing some durable positive result involved about 250 patients, with a lowering of both hospital stays and mortality after a single dose of ivermectin.

And that's pretty much it. That's what the real literature has to show when it comes to studies, including most of those in pre-print that have not faced peer review. That handful of positive results is enough that the NIH is continuing studying the effectiveness of ivermectin and working it into a large trial. The U.K. is also adding ivermectin to its massive RECOVERY trial.

Either of these trials, or other large trials going on around the world, may find positive benefits from ivermectin. But those benefits, if they exist are going to be marginal, not miraculous. We know that, because that's what the data—positive and negative—already makes clear. In addition to the data examined by the NIH, the World Health Organization reviewed available data and indicated that there was "very low certainty" of any net positive effect from ivermectin.

Of course, this result doesn't match what's circulating widely in social media, and even on broadcast media. That includes how Japan has supposedly seen such good results from ivermectin, they've made it standard of care for all COVID-19 patients. Except they haven't. As NHK World reports, Japan's ministry of health has placed ivermectin "in a category of drugs whose efficacy and safety have not been established." A quick Google search on Japan will bring up studies like this one titled "wonder drug from Japan," but it refers to how the treatment was originally extracted from bacteria located near a Japanese golf course—and earned its discoverer a Nobel Prize. Ivermectin really is very good against parasites.

What about [Insert Country Here]? The answers in most cases are the same as in Japan. There are some countries, particularly in South America, which have authorized the use of ivermectin against COVID-19. Those authorizations appear to be connected to a study that came from Argentina. That study, referenced by many of the positive "meta analyses" as well as figures like vaccine skeptic Joe Rogan, indicated that ivermectin was that dream drug: easily administered, almost universally effective, and safe.

However, as BuzzFeed makes clear, there are some problems with that study. In fact, that study is nothing but a problem. That includes the study taking place at a hospital that says it never happened, along with basic patient data that changes from page to page. The researcher behind the study refuses to share notes or data.

In short, it doesn't look like the study was just badly put together. It looks like it was completely fabricated. And this is the study. The one that's been cited over and over as the justification for going all in on ivermectin.

There have also been claims, including testimony before the Senate, that Peru added ivermectin to its standard of care and immediately saw a decrease in COVID-19 cases. Only that testimony has the timeline completely backward. When it comes to ivermectin, Peru is where America is now back in the fall of 2020. That's when Nature reported on how rumors and false claims had driven a nationwide fury for ivermectin. Doctors could not prescribe it fast enough. Thousands of doses of animal-grade ivermectin were seized from smugglers. So many people were taking ivermectin that one researcher had trouble beginning a controlled trial. "Of about 10 people who come, I'd say eight have taken ivermectin and cannot participate in the study."

All of this came before cases in Peru soared. The same is true of Bolivia. The same is true of Guatemala. Widespread use of ivermectin in all these countries did not stop them from experiencing massive spikes in disease, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Finally, ivermectin in the U.S. has been pushed heavily by groups like Front Line COVID Critical Care (FLCCC), who are—and this is putting it mildly—scam artists. Before they were handing out scripts for ivermectin, they were all in on pushing hydroxychloroquine. Before that, their founder was busy explaining that ovarian cysts were caused by demon sperm. In this pandemic, FLCCC is nothing but war profiteers of the worst kind and the disinformation and propaganda they are spreading, including attacks on the FDA and NIH, are designed to generate false hope of a miracle cure for the purpose of lining their pockets.

The idea that any treatment is being suppressed by some coalition of U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization, and the health care agencies of practically every nation on the planet is a conspiracy theory. If there was evidence of ivermectin's efficiency, it would be used. It's not used because there is no such evidence.

It is not being held back because it's cheap and other treatments are expensive. Ivermectin actually costs more than any of the available vaccines. Other treatments, like anti-inflammatory steroids, have become part of standard of care exactly because they have proven effective.

If ivermectin works against COVID-19 at all, its value will almost certainly be marginal. That's okay. Almost every drug that comes to market is of marginal, and sometimes picayune, benefit. If taking ivermectin provides even a small benefit in protecting COVID-19 patients, it will become part of the standard of care. That's how this works.

That doesn't mean there isn't a conspiracy that's killing those infected with COVID-19. There is. It's the one pushing ivermectin as a miracle cure. That false idea is getting people killed.

I wish that wasn't the case. The FDA wishes that wasn't the case. Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci and every doctor in every ICU in America wishes that wasn't the case. But it is.

Over 70,000 Evacuated From Kabul As CIA Chief Meets With Taliban Leader

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

On Tuesday morning, the Pentagon provided an update on the number of people who have been airlifted out of Kabul since the U.S. began evacuations in the last week of July. In that time, 63,900 people have left Afghanistan on U.S. military flights. However, the more impressive number might be what's happened in the last few days. As the Taliban moved in, the U.S. and allies have accelerated operations.

The media may be focused on claims of "chaos," but what the numbers show is a military evacuation flight leaving Kabul every 45 minutes and a flight coming in or out every two minutes. In just the last 24 hours before the morning briefing, 37 U.S. military evacuation flights carried 12,700 away from Kabul. Another 57 flights involving allies, commercial, and charter aircraft carried out 8,900. That's 21,600 people flying out in a day.

The previous day military spokesmen reported over 10,000 evacuations. It may not match the kind of traffic seen in many major U.S. airports, but then, Kabul's airport has, along with other difficulties, only a single runway. The Pentagon describes it as "an exhausting pace" that involves over 200 aircraft and 6,000 troops from the U.S. along with allied forces. With a week to go before the current "red line" for U.S. forces to leave the country, Army Gen. Stephen Lyons said he was confident that the military can keep up, or even increase, the pace of people coming out.

On Tuesday morning, NBC News reported that Kabul International is now an "extremely busy airfield" where departures were "orderly" with no one cutting lines, bags being searched, and "even candy for the kids." They also reported that "the Taliban are helping make it go smoothly by providing security outside the airport." But while that segment ran on the Today show, it would be hard to find anything equivalent on any news site, including NBC's, where all the headlines are of "chaos," "pressure," and how how this supposed failure is crashing approval ratings for President Biden.

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, President Biden noted that 50 flights have left Kabul in the last 12 hours. That included 19 U.S. military evacuation flights and 31 other flights from coalition partners. In total, 70,700 people have now been evacuated. Biden said that he had held extensive discussions with G7 partners, praised allies for the evacuees they were taking in, and explained that Afghan coming to America will have undergone background checks. Biden also took a moment to mention that Trump had destroyed the SIV program, causing some delays in clearing Afghan evacuees.

Biden also mentioned, as had previously been discussed, that he has asked the military and State Department to prepare contingencies if the U.S. is unable to evacuate those who want to get out by August 31. However, he acknowledge that the longer the U.S. is present on the ground, the more inviting a target Kabul's airport comes for militants who want to strike a blow against both the U.S. and the Taliban.

On Tuesday morning The Washington Post reported that CIA Director William Burns held a covert meeting on Monday with the Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar—the same man that Donald Trump pressured Pakistan to release from jail. Baradar not only led the negotiations with Trump that created an agreement which excluded the existing Afghan government, he is now expected to take over as the new president when the Taliban leadership settles in.

That meeting likely means the U.S. has informed Baradar that, despite previous announcement that the U.S. would be out by August 31, that deadline may be extended if necessary to get Americans and Afghans who worked with the American military out of the country. Even though it was Biden who gave the August 31 date for when he expected operations to be complete, he has been definitive in saying that those Americans and Afghan allies who want to leave will get that opportunity. Despite the accelerating pace of evacuations, that may require staying more than the week that remains.

On Tuesday morning, military advisers stated that the U.S. should attempt to stick with the August 31 date, and anonymous sources told Politico that Biden agrees with that decision. There is absolutely no doubt that the U.S. will attempt to get everyone out in that time. There's also no doubt that, no matter what date the U.S. leaves, there will still be reports of Americans or others who got left behind. That's inevitable. But no matter what's being said publicly, the meeting between Burns and Barador is a good indicator that in private the Taliban is being informed that, in spite of threats, the U.S. will remain at the Kabul airport if there are still lines of people attempting to leave.

That meeting might also serve another purpose: getting the Taliban to provide more assistance in getting people out of the country. In fact, there might be a direct relationship between that meeting between Burns and Baradar, and NBC reports that Taliban forces are helping evacuations run "smoothly."

That's because, no matter how quickly the Taliban rolled over the U.S.-trained Afghan forces, the last thing they want is to actually reengage with the U.S. military. Baradar doesn't want to give the U.S. any excuse to take actions such as bombing military bases now occupied by the Taliban, or pushing U.S military forces back toward the heart of Kabul to provide an expanded corridor. More than anything, Baradar simply wants the U.S. to be gone. So hearing that the U.S. might need to extend their departure date should light at least as big a fire under Baradar as it is for leaders at the Pentagon.

Staying around past the end of this month is a contingency that no one wants to deal with. The increasing pace of departures from Kabul International Airport make that contingency less likely. And the best thing about the meeting between Burns and Baradar may have been that it reminded the Taliban to save their gloating until after the U.S. military is not around.

Tuesday, Aug 24, 2021 · 12:45:00 PM EDT · Mark Sumner

This is a big deal.

Study Finds DeSantis And Abbott Culpable In Nearly 5000 Excess COVID Deaths

What happens when Republican governors institute policies that are 100 percent about showing their Trumpism, and zero percent about taking care of the people in their state? Here are two good examples.

In Texas, Greg Abbott has declared that no one can require proof of vaccination, As a direct result of this decision, the Texas Tribune reports that only half of workers at Texas nursing homes are vaccinated. And as a direct result of that, "The number of nursing homes across the state with at least one active COVID-19 case has shot up nearly 800% in the past month."

That's right. Remember all the work that was put into trying to protect people in nursing homes? The desperate scramble to buy protective gear from anywhere on the planet? All those tragic images of elderly family members isolated from their children and grandchildren for month after month? Yeah. Greg Abbott has sabotaged every moment of time and every ounce of effort by issuing a rule that any business that requires vaccination can't get a state contract — which directly impacts every nursing home in the state.

In Florida, Ron DeSantis has not just failed to institute mask mandates in the most COVID-riddled schools in the nation, but has spent the last weeks threatening any school that attempts to protect its students. As a direct result of that, hundreds of school boards have bowed down and sent kids off to classrooms they know are unsafe. That includes Pinellas County where, as the St. Pete Catalyst reports, the board sent kids back into classrooms without masks in spite of 204 cases of COVID-19 in just the first two days of school. That board directly cited DeSantis' order as the reason they couldn't take the simplest, cheapest, most effective step in protecting the children under their care.

Back in March, researchers calculated that the polices of Donald Trump were responsible for at least 400,000 deaths in the United States. But Trump's biggest contribution to the pandemic was having the federal government just sit it out—no national testing effort, no national lockdown, no rules on masks or anything else. When it comes to the individual states, it turns out there are some bonus deaths to be allocated to those governors who went above and beyond in placing their political ambitions ahead of their states—especially Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis.

A study conducted by Yale researchers and published at Commonwealth Fund, looked specifically at how policies around vaccination converted into hospitalizations and deaths. For a cluster of Northeastern states—Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island—the rate of vaccination average 74 percent in residents over the age of 18 by the end of July. Those states have turned out to be among the lowest in the nation when it comes to new cases during the wave of delta variant cases. On Friday, every one of those states was in the bottom seven in terms of cases per capita.

On the other hand, Florida and Texas once again topped the charts. As of the same time those other states were hitting 74% of their adult populations vaccinated, Florida reported 59 percent and Texas 56 percent. Those aren't the lowest levels in the nation, but they're in the bottom half. Considering the size of Florida and Texas, it shouldn't be surprising that the combination of high population, low vaccination, and destructively bad policy has kept the pair at the top of the charts for new cases of COVID-19.

But what it if, in some alternate universe, Texas and Florida had been governed by competent people. Yes, it seems like science fiction, but hang in there. What if these two states had competent leadership; leadership that rather than fighting against vaccination, encouraged it. What if Texas and Florida had vaccination rates as high as those of states in the Northeast? What kind of difference might it have made?

It's not as outlandish as it may seem. Yes, both Florida and Texas have millions of deep red voters who have folded anti-mask and anti-vaxx into the general anti-science / anti-sense philosophy that has come to dominate the Republican Party. But it didn't have to be that way. At any point in the pandemic, either Abbott or DeSantis could have demonstrated leadership [ lee-der-ship ]. They might have chosen to stop bowing down to the demands of the worst in their party, spoken forcefully in favor of good public health practices, and differentiated themselves from the rest of presumed 2024 field by doing the right thing. The Republican embrace of anti-mask and anti-vaxx could have been changed had any of the party's "rising stars" chosen to go with saving lives instead of appealing to the worst.

That didn't happen.

Instead, Florida had 39,000 unnecessary hospitalizations and 2,806 more deaths than it would have if DeSantis hadn't championed every wrong policy. And across the Gulf in Texas, Abbott might have saved his state from 32,000 additional vaccinations and over 1,900 deaths. These are, of course, just estimates. But if anything, the numbers they represent are low for several reasons.

First, the study looked only at vaccination rates. That's certainly reasonable considering how both governors have persecuted businesses, schools, and governments that have tried to institute any kind of vaccine policy. Whether it's cruise ships in Florida, or universities and nursing homes in Texas, facilities that elsewhere would have insisted on vaccination have backed away. Because they had to. DeSantis and Abbott didn't just voice an opinion, they blackmailed these businesses and schools into either operating an unsafe environment, or going out of business.

These numbers don't include the number of hospitalizations or deaths generated because both governors have failed to institute mask mandates and blocked the use of mandates by schools and local governments. The numbers also don't include the damage done by forcing businesses to reopen and schools to conduct in-person classes even though conditions had pointedly not reached the guidelines each state had put in place. And these numbers only run through July, meaning they don't catch hospitalizations and deaths from the ongoing wave of delta variant cases.

It's not that Ron DeSantis caused 2,800 unnecessary deaths in Florida and Greg Abbott caused 1,900 deaths in Texas. It's that they caused at least that number. Oh, and no one should forget that 700 Texans who died because the power grid failed due to a design that makes it purposefully fragile. Greg Abbott deserves his share of those, as well.

Nation Grows Impatient With Unvaccinated As Mandates Expand

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

One thing that's rising even more quickly than COVID-19 cases in Florida is the frustration with the unvaccinated across the nation. Back in the spring, vaccination rates reached over 4 million doses in a single day. With President Joe Biden ensuring adequate supplies for every person in the country, an army of healthcare workers (including the actual Army) engaged in giving vaccines, and a series of targets met (100 million doses! 200 million doses!) it seemed everyone was on their way to a relaxing beach vacation, or that long-delayed visit with distant relatives. And then came the vaccine resisters. Or to be more clear, Republican vaccine resisters. Fueled by a raft of social media rumors, the exhaust from Tucker Carlson's auxiliary anus, and pure cussedness, a solid 40% of Republicans sat down on the second base line and refused the play the game with the rest of America.

While they pouted about whatever Fox News last told them to pout about, the vaccine hostile were really counting on one simple thing, something they've counted on their whole lives: Reasonable people would save them. What the holdouts really expected was that things would be fine. Because they're always fine. They get to scream and make claims about pizza tunnels, while Reasonable People make the world keep spinning.

They could be as vaccine hostile as they wanted, because everyone else would get the vaccine. Then they could go around wagging their finger over how America was populated by sheep and robots, while leaning back on the knowledge that those sheep and robots were saving their unvaccinated necks. But the delta variant came along and screwed up that little plan. With an R0 value roughly the same as a googol (not Google), the "wave my gun and scream about freedom" faction soon found that, this time at least, the Reasonable People could not drag the unmasked ship of fools across the finish line.

And now, dammit, it's get vaccinated or else. Because the Reasonable People are tired of being reasonable.

On Friday, a number of companies threw up their hands and declared that they were going to require vaccination for employees. As The New York Timesreported, the list of companies slapping down a mandate included some big names. Names like Walmart and Disney. Those are two names that could be especially fun for certain red state governors who have made being the most unreasonable a point of honor.

Disney has already demonstrated that it's willing to thumb its giant Mickey nose at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Though when it comes to the state legislature, the House of Mouse doesn't really have to worry—the state carved out a giant Disney-shaped exception when pushing businesses to pretend the pandemic was over.

There is no such exemption for Walmart, though that Walmart news isn't as big as it might sound. Because the company is actually only moving to protect workers in its corporate offices, and managers who travel between stores. The actual workers at the Walmart nearest you will continue to be treated as disposable commodities, more easily restocked than the toilet paper aisle. As always. So the Walmart problem will actually just fall on the shoulders of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and there is nothing more reliable than that Republican officials in Arkansas will do as Bentonville tells them.

The ruling from the DOJ that vaccine mandates by local governments and business are legal opened the floodgates this week. As The Wall Street Journalreports, several Wall Street banking firms have instructed their employees to take the jab. Some of those companies, like Citigroup, are following revised CDC guidelines and requiring everyone to wear masks in the office, regardless of vaccination status. On the big tech side, Google and Facebook have also announced they will require all employees at their U.S. campuses to be vaccinated.

Businesses aren't alone; some universities and private schools are announcing that all staff will be vaccinated. As the Lansing State Journalreports, Michigan State University will require vaccinations for all staff and students when classes begin on Sept. 1, and will also require everyone to wear a mask when indoors. The California State University system has also announced vaccination will be required for all faculty, staff, and students who attend in-person classes.

What's not happening is a federal mandate that would force every American to be vaccinated, regardless of how it's being reported over at the National Review. CDC director Rochelle Walensky has already made it clear that she was talking about a mandate for federal workers and contractors, not a federal vaccine corps marching to every door in America. And that, of course, will mean that Republicans will drop this claim that was already exploding across right-wing media (spoiler alert: They won't).

Republicans are already working hard on the unreasonable response. As the Associate Press reports, Republican state legislators in Wisconsin are trying to pre-empt the university there by blocking them from instituting requirements for vaccination, masking, or even testing. Take that, student safety! As The Guardian notes, the Oklahoma Republican Party didn't hesitate to whip out their Nazi metaphors, comparing COVID-19 vaccine mandates "to the persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany." That included placing a yellow star of David on the Party's official Facebook page, and calling for a special session of the state legislature to pass bills prohibiting prohibit employers from requiring vaccination.

But Texas is, as usual, ahead of the unreasonable curve. As NBC reports, Gov. Greg Abbott moved quickly in response to new CDC guidelines suggesting that children wear masks in school, and that everyone wear masks in COVID-19 hot spots (which would include the entire Lone Star State). Abbott soon dashed off an executive order that blocks schools from requiring either vaccination or masks. That executive order ends with the claim that it was done to "provide clarity and uniformity in the Lone Star State's continued fight against COVID-19."

If what Abbott's order is trying to say is that Texans are not going to fight at all, and intend to passively hand their children over to the virus—sure, that's clear. And it does fit in with Texas' founding tradition of getting people pointlessly killed in boneheaded stands over causes favored by white supremacists.

Texas had over 13,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, exceeded only by the 17,000+ in Florida. Both states are now back to where they were in February, with cases still climbing. Maybe that's making both Abbott and DeSantis think that being on the side of the virus is the winning team.

They might want to think again.

Vaccine Or Viagra: COVID-19 Can Cause ’Severe Erectile Dysfunction’

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

For more than 18 months, it's been clear that the SARS-CoV-2 virus—originally better known as the "novel coronavirus"—can cause serious lingering illness, as well as death. Many people whose initial brush with COVID-19 appeared to be mild have found themselves suffering lingering effects, including heart issues, lung issues, joint pain, dizziness, hearing loss, and memory problems that can mimic or lead to Alzheimer's. COVID-19 has also led directly to thousands of instances of amputations. COVID-19 patients have found themselves needing kidney, lung, double-lung, or heart-lung transplants. And then there's the little matter of over 600,000 deaths (more likely close to a million) in the United States alone.

It might seem that all of that would be enough to make anyone rush to the nearest available source of vaccine and elbow their way to the front of the line. In fact, that seems to be happening in other countries. In Canada, 71 percent of the total population is at least partially vaccinated. That's a full 15 percent higher than the United States. But then, Canada—though it certainly has vaccine protesters—doesn't have a major faction of its people dedicated to the idea that accepting rationality is surrendering to the enemy.

As Civiqs shows, Republicans are still locked into a vaccine hostile position, with 44 percent saying they will not take the vaccine. This number has not been dented by the Delta variant surge, or by the lukewarm endorsements of the vaccine cautiously mouthed by GOP politicians. It seems there may be nothing that will change Republicans' minds and get them to take action that's not only vital for the nation, but for themselves. We might as well give up and …

Oh, wait a sec … Dear Republican men, COVID-19 makes your dick limp. Please form an orderly line.

Market Watch may not seem like the first place to turn for medical news, but Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy, the author of the Market Watch article, is also one of the members of a team which found that COVID-19 causes both erectile dysfunction and infertility in men.

For months, rumors have been circulating about the COVID-19 vaccines causing such issues. Those rumors are simply untrue. There is no evidence that the vaccines can cause infertility among men or women.

But the disease certainly can.

In a study that included dissecting the testicles of six men (all dead, so stop screaming), Dr. Ramasamy and a team or urologists found that half of those tested had reduced sperm count. Oh, and sampling from a survivor (you can resume screaming now) showed that not only were sperm counts reduced, COVID-19 can continue to live in the testes months after the initial infection.

And that isn't even the part of this news that will cause most men to flinch. Because another study involved "an analysis of penile tissue" from two men who needed "penile implants" after COVID-19 led to severe erectile dysfunction. The suspected cause here is the same thing that is thought to be behind much of the damage COVID-19 can do to the heart, brain, and other organs—blood clots. Those clots lead to decreased blood flow. Decreased blood flow leads to frustration and embarrassment.

On the other hand, a new study shows that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are fine for the male reproductive system. That's something that Republicans might want to keep in mind going forward, especially as they hammer their "no votes for the childless" theme. Those who have been vaccinated will at least have that option, those catching COVID … maybe not so much.

From the beginning, there have been Republicans out there screaming about how the vaccine involved "population control." And it turns out they're right. Because by turning down the vaccine, Republicans may be not just putting their lives at risk, but taking themselves right out of the gene pool.