Friday, March 26, 2021

Editorial: Controlling Trump’s Virus

 Former president Donald Trump wants credit for developing a coronavirus vaccine, but, as usual, his claims fall short of the truth.

When Pfizer announced Nov. 9, 2020, that its COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective, Trump claimed full credit for the development under Operation Warp Speed to encourage development of the vaccine and treatments for the virus. In fact, Pfizer did not participate in Operation Warp Speed and did not accept government money to develop the vaccine. 

Instead, Pfizer partnered with the vaccine’s original developer, Germany’s BioNTech, in March 2020. Pfizer risked $2 billion of its own money and conducted the first human study in Germany. The White House announced Operation Warp Speed in May 2020. Pfizer in July 2020 did sign an agreement with the US government worth $1.95 billion to provide 100 million doses, which guaranteed a market once the vaccine was approved for use in December 2020. A second vaccine was also produced by the biotech firm Moderna in December.

But Trump also did more than any other person to allow the coronavirus to spread throughout the USA. As early as February 2020, Trump told journalist Bob Woodward in a taped interview that COVID-19 is “deadly stuff,” and that, “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.” Trump added that he decided to “play down” the pandemic so as not to scare people. He refused to wear a face mask, which was the only way to stop the spread of the airborne virus; for months he ridiculed people who wore masks and he held “super spreader” events around the country that attracted thousands of supporters, most of whom didn’t wear masks. He also supported protests that challenged state and local efforts to require face masks and restrict public gatherings to stop the pandemic’s spread. By the time the vaccines were approved for shipment, COVID-19 had killed more than 300,000 Americans — the highest death rate in the developed world. By the time Trump left office, 400,000 Americans had died of the coronavirus.

The vaccines have been praised as a triumph of the free market, but both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines relied on a new genetic technology and a specially designed spike protein developed by scientists at the federal Vaccine Research Center, which was created in 1997 at the National Institutes of Health, at the urging of Dr. Anthony Fauci, to bring together researchers from different disciplines to defeat diseases, with a heavy focus on HIV and coronaviruses. Research on a coronavirus vaccine had been going on since 1961, when scientists learned of messenger RNA, the genetic material that makes life possible, taking the instructions inscribed in DNA and delivering those to the protein-making parts of the cell.

Researchers sought to make messenger RNA into a powerful medical tool that could encode fragments of virus to teach the immune system to defend against pathogens. It could also create whole proteins that are missing or damaged in people with devastating genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. But University of Pennsylvania researchers Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman found little interest at biotech and pharmaceutical companies to fund the research in the late 1990s, Weissman told the Washington Post. Eventually, Kariko went to BioNTech, a German firm working on developing RNA therapies, to continue her work.

The Vaccine Research Center targeted coronaviruses in the early 2000s when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) broke out in 2012. When VRC officials heard of a new coronavirus in China, they got genome from Chinese scientists and shared it with researchers in Texas and Maryland, who designed a vaccine, using the knowledge they had gained from years of work. But they still needed a technology that could deliver it into the body — and they had already been working with Moderna, using its messenger RNA technology to create a vaccine against a different bat virus.

Carolyn Y. Johnson wrote in the Washington Post Dec. 6, 2020, “The world faced an unparalleled threat, and companies leaped into the fight. Pfizer plowed $2 billion into the effort. Massive infusions of government cash helped remove the financial risks for Moderna.

“But the world will also owe their existence to many scientists outside those companies, in government and academia, who pursued ideas they thought were important even when the world doubted them. Some of those scientists will receive remuneration, since their inventions are licensed and integrated into the products that could save the world.

“As executives become billionaires, many scientists think it is fair to earn money from their inventions that can help them do more important work. But [Jason] McLellan’s laboratory at the University of Texas is proud to have licensed an even more potent version of their spike protein, royalty-free, to be incorporated into a vaccine for low- and middle-income countries.”

Joe Biden’s administration organized the distribution of the vaccines and delivered 100 million doses to states and territories in his first two months in office. As of March 21, 81.4 million Americans have received at least one dose and 44.1 million have been fully vaccinated, and new COVID cases have dropped from a high of 300,669 on Jan. 8 to an average of 54,599 per day the week of March 20. But polls show one-half of Republican men say they won’t take the vaccines, which could make it hard to achieve “herd immunity” to stomp out the virus, and Trump has done little to urge his followers to use either mask or vaccine to stop the virus. 

Instead, Trump continued to blame the coronavirus on China, where the virus originated, despite 3,800 hate-related incidents reported against Asian Americans during the pandemic. 

Trump and his followers derisively call COVID-19 “the Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” or “kung flu,” despite the World Health Organization urging people to avoid the use of those terms, fearing a backlash against Asians. Trump ignored the advice and first tweeted the phrase “China virus” March 16, 2020, the Washington Post noted. That single tweet, researchers later found, fueled exactly the kind of backlash the WHO had feared: It was followed by an avalanche of tweets using #chinesevirus, along with other anti-Asian phrases.

Trump refused to moderate his reckless rhetoric, even after eight people were shot dead, including six women of Asian descent, at three Asian massage parlors in and around Atlanta, March 16, 2021. 

In a telephone interview with Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo the night of the Atlanta shootings, Trump again used the term “China virus” to describe the coronavirus.

The gunman has denied that race was a factor in the rampage. However, even if it’s only a coincidence that the Atlanta spa killer targeted six women of Asian descent, it would help if the former president would stop stirring the pot of racism.

Until then, we suggest that the proper credit for Trump’s contribution to the coronavirus pandemic is to rename it the “Trump Virus” in recognition of the former president’s service. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2021

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Copyright © 2020 The Progressive Populist

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Selections from the April 15, 2021 issue

 COVER/Reynard Loki 

You may become a casualty in the war against weeds

Controlling Trump’s virus

SATIRE/Frank Lingo
New theory of creation


Madison Cawthorne’s star keeps on a-risin’

Who do we blame for not farming the way we know we should?

Prosecutor who led Capitol riot inquiry sees sedition charges. 
Social Security still in hands of Trumpers, and Biden needs to fix that. 
Progressive Dems demand repeal of PAYGO law as automatic Medicare cuts loom. 
Former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell admits her claims about Dominion Voting Systems conspiracies were unbelievable. 
Dems call out GQP hypocrisy and media enabling on border.
Texas congressman speaks up for lynching.
Kevin McCarthy twisted by loyalty to vulgar talking yam.
Mar-A-Lago 'partially closed' after Covid outbreak.
Trump said to be planning return to social media with his own alt-twitter app ...

Betting a third wave could restart middle America

Water is life. Can we protect it? 

The fraught politics of wolf hunting

‘Doddering Joe’ takes off like a geyser

It’s time to roll back Reagan’s middle-class tax increases!

White racist republicans plot to sacrifice minority voters on the altar of the big lie

Growing up ecologically

A historic save for retirees

COVID relief: The biggest health care expansion in a decade

Biden’s first 50 days

Stereotypes generally rooted in white supremacy and misogyny

US government should promote general welfare

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Vaccinate! Vaccinate!

Stand up for filibuster

Advocates sound alarm over quiet Trump era move that could further privatize Medicare

Minimum effort on wages

Vaccine politics: Rich nations get vaccines, poor nations don’t, which is a big danger to rich nations

What can nuclear powers agree upon? 

The United States and Europe should pressure Saudi America to become a democratic state

Saving the free press

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
I’m lovin’ it

Is pot really more potent these days? Does it matter?

MOVIE REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky 
Rebel with a cause

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson  
And the Emmy goes to ... 

Nate Parker takes the gloves off with ‘American Skin’

Joe Biden takes on childhood poverty

and more ...

Friday, March 12, 2021

Editorial: Democrats Take Big Win

 The American Rescue Plan for COVID relief got through the Senate March 6, but it took an overnight session after an 11-hour reading of the 688-page bill, followed by debate over more than 30 amendments, most of them put up by Republicans in an effort to peel off Democrats, and nine hours of negotiations to keep centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) in line. Eventually, Dems passed the $1.9 trillion bill over unified Republican opposition.

Many progressives were upset that the bill did not include an increase in the minimum wage to $15, but the fight over the minimum wage might have delayed passage of the bill past the March 14 deadline, when the federal supplement to unemployment benefits lapses, and the minimum wage increase might have caused some Democrats to reconsider support for the rescue bill. 

Progressives should celebrate the big win and not get hung up about what they didn’t get this time around.

Manchin stalled the momentum when he balked at supporting the rescue bill, insisting that the weekly federal unemployment benefit remain at $300, and be cut off in mid-summer. The House had approved $400 per week. Since the Senate is tied 50-50, Democrats need every vote to stay in line so Vice President Kamala Harris can break that tie. With the assistance of President Joe Biden, who appealed to Manchin in a phone call, Manchin agreed to support $300 weekly benefits through Sept. 6, with forgiveness of federal income taxes on unemployment income for jobless Americans.

As it stands, after passing on a 50-49 vote March 6, with one Republican opponent absent for a funeral, the Senate bill will send $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals making under $75,000, or $2,800 for married couples making under $150,000, as well as $1,400 per dependent. The payments would phase out above those income levels and disappear above income caps of $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples. 

The income caps were lowered from the House version, which set cutoffs at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for married couples, but 85% of American households will get checks and Democrats should get all the credit.

The Senate bill also temporarily expands the child tax credit, which is currently $2,000 per child under 17, to $3,600 for children up to age 5 and $3,000 for children 6 to 17. For the second half of this year, the federal government would send advance payments of the credit to Americans in periodic installments, establishing a guaranteed income for families with children.

The bill also expands the earned-income tax credit for workers without children for this year. Through 2025, it exempts student loan forgiveness from income taxes.

The bill provides funding for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing, contact tracing and genomic sequencing. It gives money to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for COVID.

It provides $350 billion for states, local governments, territories and tribal governments to prevent layoffs, and it contains $130 billion for schools to help them reopen safely. In voting against it, Republicans were literally defunding police, firefighters, other first responders and workers in public services. The bill also includes funding for colleges and universities, transit agencies, housing aid, child care providers and food assistance, over GQP opposition.

In addition, the bill contains funding to help businesses, including restaurants and live venues, and it includes a long-sought bailout for multiemployer pension plans that have become financially troubled, as industries have changed and union jobs have disappeared, particularly in construction, trucking and mining. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government-run entity that insures the plans, gets $86 billion to secure pensions for more than a million retirees.

The Affordable Care Act gets a boost, with increased subsidies for people purchasing health insurance through the healthcare marketplaces. It includes billions of dollars for public health programs and veterans’ health care. Republicans couldn’t care less, as they spent the week complaining that Dr. Seuss’s publisher took six of the late author’s outdated books out of print.

The bill also helps Americans who have lost jobs keep health insurance coverage they had through their employer, covering the full cost of premiums through September.

That’s a great day’s work, and Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called it “the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working families in the modern history of this country.” He was disappointed that his $15 minimum wage plan failed. Democrats who voted against putting the minimum wage in the budget bill included Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine who caucuses with the Democrats), and Chris Coons and Tom Carper (Del.). Some of them opposed the $15 minimum wage as too much; others may have thought it would imperil the COVID relief.

With the American Rescue Plan headed for final passage in the House, Democrats should bring up the minimum wage in a separate bill and force Republicans to vote up or down on it. It is popular, and Manchin suggested an increase in the minimum wage to $11 an hour, which small businesses could better afford. After that, he said, “it should be indexed so it never becomes a political football again.” Manchin’s plan at least would bring a full-time worker’s income above the federal poverty level for a family of three — and Sanders’ plan, which is phased in over four years, wouldn’t reach $11 until 2022 anyway. If Manchin could get Republican support for $11 with indexed rate increases, that would be a major accomplishment. If he can’t get Republicans to sign on, it will show the GQP is simply obstructionist and maybe that will give Manchin more motive to support filibuster reform.

The House and Senate also should proceed with the For the People Act (HR 1), which would limit states’ authority to restrict voting in federal elections. Republicans will fight that bill to the end because, as they’ve admitted, they can’t win in a fair fight.

Democrats are likely to face an insurmountable task in getting major bills passed if they keep the current filibuster rules, which require 60 votes to advance a controversial bill. Manchin and Sinema oppose eliminating the filibuster, but Manchin said he might support a return to the old rules that required a senator to stand and talk on the Senate floor to keep the filibuster going. “This filibuster should be painful,” Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday,” noting that senators now can conduct a filibuster just be sending an email.

Ultimately, if Democrats want to pass major bills outside the budget reconciliation process against an obstructive minority, they need to improve their numbers in 2022. That includes holding onto the House majority and Democratic Senate incumbents, including Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, and flipping at least two Republican Senate seats on a map that includes open seats in Pennsylvania, where Pat Toomey is retiring; North Carolina, where Richard Burr is retiring; Ohio, where Rob Portman is retiring; and vulnerable incumbents Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Marco Rubio in Florida. Roy Blunt also is retiring in Missouri, but that state may be too far gone for the next cycle. In the meantime, progressives should take the win on the American Rescue bill and get back to organizing. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2021

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PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the April 1, 2021 issue

 COVER/Hal Crowther

Staring down the barrel in the land of the smoking gun

Democrats take big win

Creating a fair standard of living on all Indian reservations in the US


Lebron, Ibra and Fox News: A yawner gone wrong

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Hold off the land grabbers

Republican incompetence makes federal government popular again.
Dems hail big spending, with an eye on infrastructure package. 
Supreme Court dumps last Trump election appeal. 
If democracy loses to money, it may not rise again. 
Lindsey Graham admits Trump could ‘destroy’ the GOP, after he sends RNC a cease-and-desist letter. 
Trump vandalism at USDA is just conservative government.
Republican governors roll back COVID-19 restrictions — and health experts are horrified.
Held back out of fear of Trump, female generals finally get promoted by Biden.
Post-insurrection crackdown on far-right extremists leads to arrests, charges around the country.
The call (to the Proud Boys) is coming from inside the (White) House ...

Midwest in the catbird’s seat to make history

Rural America shouldn’t be a dump site for corporate America 

The long history of ‘America Uncanceled’

Deregulation always benefits — somebody

Biden needs to keep promises on immigration

Republicans trying to restrict voting may see their schemes backfire 

Keeping America self-reliant

Danny Glover: ‘The best anti-poverty program is a union’

Essential workers deserve $15 an hour

Small towns and rural communities need transit, too

Where all lands and all peoples are sacred

Poor people’s army accupies vacant homes

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas  
Welcome, COVID-submicrobes, class of 2027

Rescuing the climate is complicated

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky p. 15
Mapping COVID-19

The disloyal opposition

Fallacies of minimum wage opponents

FBI guy says Antifa didn’t storm the Capitol, but MAGA loons still love their big lie

The disinformation party

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel  
The burnout is real

Rock’n’Roll is wreckless abandon on a good night

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson  
Take that, you monster

Paid sick and family leave can’t wait

Black movies matter: Pan African Film Festival goes virtual

Lincoln and the GOP

and more ...

Friday, February 26, 2021

Editorial: Free-Market Freezer Burn

 It took a catastrophic week of sub-freezing weather in Texas to distract public attention from the disgrace of 43 Senate Republicans who held out to let Donald Trump off on the charge he incited the failed insurrection on Jan. 6.

The Senate voted 57-43 on Feb. 13 to convict Trump for his role in promoting the rally of his supporters in D.C. that turned into a storming of the Capitol, and his refusal to send forces to rescue Congress from violent insurrectionists. But the 57 who voted to convict Trump were 10 short of the number of senators needed to bar him from holding public office again. Trump supporters called the vote an exoneration, but we call it a hung jury, and we expect Trump to be prosecuted in federal court in D.C. in due time, along with the many high crimes and felonies that various prosecutors are building cases against him in New York, Georgia and other jurisdictions. 

However, the day after the Senate vote, an icy storm driven by a polar vortex caused temperatures to plunge far below freezing on Valentine’s Day from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Demand for electricity to heat Texas homes shot up while gas wells and generators that were not designed to operate in freezing weather failed. The wholesale price of electricity skyrocketed from the usual $20 per megawatt-hour to $9,000 in the largely unregulated wholesale power market. That means a Texan who signed up for an electricity plan tied to the spot price of power on the Texas grid, such as Griddy offers, which usually costs from 2 to 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, would see the cost soar to $9 per kWh. A Griddy customer told the Dallas Morning News her electricity bill for her 2,700-square-foot house in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb, would be more than $5,000 for the five days of the freeze. Her monthly bill normally runs $125 to $150.

Karen Cosby told the News she flipped the breakers connected to her heating units and moved into a small bedroom with an air mattress and her two dogs, and shut off the rest of the house. Her energy use was limited to a space heater, making a cup of coffee in the morning and using the microwave for four or five minutes to heat her meals.

“It’s been 43 degrees in the house since Monday, and I still have a $5,000 bill,” she said. Bills as high as $17,000 were reported. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) operates the grid within Texas to avoid federal oversight, and it allows electricity suppliers to charge up to $9,000 per MWh as an incentive to add generating capacity, but the price has never stayed that high that long. The price per MWh reached the limit Sunday night, Feb. 14, and stayed at or near there through Thursday before it dropped to 85 cents the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 19, the News reported.

The extended freeze was a boon for natural gas producers, as the spot market price increased from less than $4 per million British thermal units a week before the deep freeze to more than $1,000 per million BTUs in East Texas and northern Louisiana and $1,250 per million BTUs in Oklahoma. Spot gas in Houston shot up as much as $400 during the week and averaged $201. 

Texas has a generating capacity of 67,000 megawatts in the winter, compared with peak capacity of 86,000 megawatts in the summer, as many plants are taken offline for maintenance and declining demand during the colder months. But by Feb. 17, another 46,000 megawatts were offline, leaving only 21,000 megawatts in the grid while millions of Texas families shivered in frigid homes. What were supposed to be “rolling blackouts” lasted for hours or days. (Our office in Manchaca, Texas, was out of power for 22 hours and was out of water for six days.)

Texans on fixed-rate plans, such as those offered by most electric utilities, shouldn’t see the spectacular increases in bills, but they may have spent more time without power because their utilities were reluctant to pay that $9,000 per megawatt-hour from speculators at the peak spot market (at 450 times their normal operating cost) to reduce the numbers of their customers that were blacked out.

Gov. Greg Abbott at first blamed wind turbines, which were disabled by the sub-freezing temperatures. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Feb. 15. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. ... It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.” But wind turbines are used throughout the winter in northern states, where they are equipped to handle freezing weather. And Texas lost 28,000 megawatts from natural gas, coal and nuclear plants going offline because they were not winterized. 

Until 1995, Texas regulated electric utilities, which were guaranteed a profit based upon the price of fuels (mostly coal or natural gas). At the urging of the Houston-based energy trading firm Enron, after the election of George W. Bush, the state Legislature deregulated the electric industry, starting with the wholesale power industry in 1995 and it expanded the deregulation in 1999.

ERCOT created a market where companies that own power plants, bid to provide electricity for the “day ahead” and in real time during the day. As demand increased, generators could charge more for their electricity. Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, noted in a Washington Post column Feb. 18 the Texas system was not much different than what Enron did in the California electricity market in 2000-2001. Except that market manipulation was illegal in California — but not in Texas, thanks to ERCOT. It was destined to come crashing down, and the polar vortex of 2021 was the force that finally broke the Texas grid.

The Texas energy industry was urged to implement winterization guidelines after a similar freeze in 2011 led to power-plant shutdowns that knocked out power to 3.2 million Texans, but the Legislature rejected new regulations. Instead electricity generators were asked to adopt voluntary guidelines developed by an industry group. Few made the recommended investments in equipment and other measures, such as insulating generators, gas wells and pipelines. 

Former Gov. Rick Perry, Trump’s former energy secretary, said, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” But Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Texas should consider putting its grid under federal oversight. “We just have to be honest about the situation: The grid failed us,” Johnson said. As a Democratic state representative in 2015, Johnson authored a bill that would have required power plants to prepare for weather and climate change. The bill was rejected in a House vote.

Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith (D) called for federal regulators to investigate natural gas prices that spiked as high as 100 times typical levels, forcing utilities and other natural gas users to incur exorbitant costs, many of which were passed on to customers.

In a letter to federal regulators, the Associated Press reported, Smith said the price spikes will not just harm consumers, but could “threaten the financial stability of some utilities that do not have sufficient cash reserves to cover their short-term costs in this extraordinary event.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a strong proponent of the Green New Deal proposal, slammed Texas Republicans for blaming renewable energy sources for the blackouts. “The infrastructure failures in Texas are quite literally what happens when you don’t pursue a Green New Deal,” she said in a tweet Feb. 16. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2021

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Copyright © 2020 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the March 15, 2021 issue

 COVER/April M. Short 

COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of our food system — here’s how we can localize it

Free-market freezer burn

Climate consciousness courtesy of the Wall Street Journal


Two pastors, two prophets

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen  
Keep the peace and get things done

Dems march ahead with COVID relief bill while Republicans whine. 
US Supreme Court denies Trump effort to block release of his tax returns. 
With Trump gone, CNN pulls plug on White House press briefings. 
Defeated and impeached, Trump still commands loyalty of GQP loyalists. 
Republicans who voted to convict Trump in impeachment trial face backlash.
Voting machine company sues pillow CEO to quash stolden election lies.
Republicans are shocked! by partisan animosity.
Lawmakers pull in opposite directions on voting rights.
Federal judges continue to step back, allowing Biden to choose their replacements.
Anti-Black hate crimes have plummeted in US.
Pandemic recession pain continues ...

Frozen in: A new civic battery will help us restart

Expose the insurrection financiers 

Education won’t stop conspiracy theories

Wanted: Jurors who aren’t accomplices

Can Uncle Sam hold the line against mob rule? 

The best way to start fighting big meat is to start

US labor laws need a major update — and the PRO Act is a great start

Cuomo and Newsom symbolize the rot of corporate democrats — and the dire need for progressive populism

Raise the floor: Time to boost the minimum wage

Raising the minimum wage will expand the economy

Impeachment does not get in way of providence & manifest destiny

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas  
Rural hospitals: Congress acts

Conspiracies: What do you believe? 

Vaccine rules: Intellectual property rights and COVID-19

State of the Democrats

True financial literacy

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel  
Keeping history honest

What happens next

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson  
Those who can, do — those who can’t ...

New documentary poses the question: Reform or revolution? 

GOP senators said Trump was culpable, but he’s a ‘private citizen’ now. Fine — indict him like one. 

and more ...