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SAY WHAT? - "VLADI GO HOME," read the sign held by a woman protester in Germany, thus succinctly summarizing - along with the hashtag #PutinIsaWarCriminal - an aghast world's response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia's paranoid, power-mad Ivan-the-Terrible wannabe. The escalation came quickly, with much drama. Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky offered an impassioned plea to the Russian people - in Russian, which he typically avoids using - to “listen to the voice of reason” and spare what would be too many lives lost. Putin gave an incendiary, rambling speech about the need to defend the "new republics" from a "nightmare (of) persecution and genocide" by the "Neo-Nazi" regime of Zelensky, who's Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors. America's right-wing tools, goons and useful idiots hastened to take the wrong side, from the stunned lunacy of the former guy - man, woman, person, camera, TV - to the brownshirt bilge of Steve Bannon and Erik Prince, blathering that at least the anti-woke Putin never made your kids read about slavery, use a same-sex bathroom or wear a skirt like Harry Styles. Meanwhile, experts seeing "a preview of great brutality" pondered the surreal implications of Putins's unveiled nuclear threats, murky "endgame" and possible problematic occupation of a nation of 41 million, an act akin to "committing suicide for fear of death," all to assuage the ego and hubris and greed of a guy who may have "lost the plot." And as always, the fearsome costs are borne by the people, whose stories and images quickly began pouring out on hashtags like #Ukraine and #UkraineUnderAttack

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SAY WHAT? - On this date 57 years ago, Malcolm X - former inmate, fierce civil rights warrior, "one of the greatest leaders this country has ever seen" and for what he proudly deemed Afro-Americans "our own black shining prince" - was assassinated while giving a speech at New York City's Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. He was just 39. Malcolm had become a key figure in the fight for civil rights in part through his fiery oratory, famously insisting, "We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day...by any means necessary." Clear-eyed, he knew the harsh realities of a country where, "We are brutalized because we are black people in America." "I'm not an American. I'm one of 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism," he said in a 1964 speech. "I speak as a victim of America's so-called democracy. You and I have never seem democracy; all we've seen is hypocrisy...We don't see any American dream; we've experienced only the American nightmare." Often, he referenced not just the physical but psychic pain inflicted by our racism. "America's greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but (teaching him) to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt," he said. "They cripple the bird's wing, and then condemn it for not flying as fast as they."

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SAY WHAT? - Intent on making America bigoted again, GOP-controlled states - because who else would do it - have cavalierly added LGBTQ+ identity to racism as a "divisive" subject in order to support their feverish efforts to push queer or other "other" kids back in the fearful closet with deliberately vague, singularly cruel bills essentially banning any discussion or material that supports, addresses, depicts or even friggin' recognizes the existence of, you know. Because the right's censorship crusade was never gonna stop with Critical Race Theory, their new focus on sexuality in addition to race is a logical extension of an unprecedented "national assault on our education system, censoring both what teachers can say and what students may learn," argues PEN, which has already documented a steep rise in educational gag orders and book bans, often accompanied by uncommonly harsh punishments. Now, they say, "bills silencing speech about LGBTQ+ identities have also surged to the fore," rising on the tide of an anti-Critical-Race-Theory and "indoctrination" hysteria that has "primed the public to support sweeping censorship of classroom speech." The sorry result: a "once-in a generation opportunity" for anti-LGBTQ+ activists to "lock LGBTQ+ topics on the wrong side of the schoolhouse gate."

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SAY WHAT? - In furious tribute to this week's anniversary of the murder of his 17-year-old son Joaquin and 16 others in one of this country's worst mass school shootings, Manuel Oliver scaleda towering construction crane across from the White House to remind its occupant that 45,000 people, still and all, had "died of gun violence on your watch." Oliver's action on Monday came exactly four years after a gunman killed 14 students and three staff, and injured 17 more, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. It also came as Sandy Hook families finally won some accountability from the gunmaker who killed 20 of their children, and as the financially floundering but still-sociopathic NRA continue to fight even modest limits on their power to kill innocents - offering proof, one more infuriating time, the filibuster has to go. In 2018, in the wake of the Parkland massacre, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill calling for what advocates called "baby steps" toward sensible gun reform: raising the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21, imposing a three-day waiting period for the purchase, and banning bump stocks that turn standard firearms into automatic weapons, like the one the sick kid used in Parkland to mow down 17 people in six minutes. In its enduring, obscene zeal, the NRA sued to block the bill, charging that making any aspiring young mass murderer wait till he's 21 to shoot up a school violates his vital 2nd Amendment rights; legal arguments on that unholy stance begin in March.

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SAY WHAT? - Cowards and liars and frauds, oh my. In what Nancy Pelosi has called their  longstanding, by-now-wearisome "limbo contest with themselves to see how low they can go," milksop Republicans are ever more frantically fleeing accountability and reality itself as a steadfast Jan. 6 Committee keeps digging for truths they don't want revealed. With their outlandish Cheney/Kinzinger censure claim that rioting thugs represented "legitimate political discourse," Pelosi suggests, the GOP may at long last have reached "rock bottom," but God knows we've thought that before. Still, they're definitely getting down there. Despite the scandalous news their former Dear Leader illegally, relentlessly ripped up records of his catastrophic reign - and stole a bunch - Lock-her-up Hillary haters have fallen strangely silent on the whole "full disclosure and full exposure" idea. They include Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who said, "I really don't know enough to comment" - but his documents! - even though a few years back he was harumphing that Clinton's possible, minor breach of email protocol “raises serious concerns for Americans who believe in open government and the accountability of our highest officials.” Curious what he thinks of the new revelation Orange Julius flushed some of that accountability down the toilet, an ewww on so many levels we can't even. Hillary, meanwhile, is peaceably having coffee. 

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SAY WHAT? - Somehow, brazen crimes by the former fascist-in-chief keep surfacing. (Feel free to stop now if you understandably don't want to read any more about this affront to humanity. Lamentably, it's still news.) Less than shockingly, it seems the lying grifter who hid his school grades, tax returns, sexual assaults and countless financial transgressions also blithely ripped up hundreds of documents, often in violation of the Presidential Records Act and despite warnings from legal experts; later, his minions, or National Archives staff, had to paw through papers to tape them back together for shredded posterity and, now, the Jan. 6 Committee. “He didn’t want a record of anything,” said one former staff member. “He never stopped ripping things up.” Sometimes, he also took home - ie stole - stuff, including his "love letters" from Kim Jong Un. But what about her emails?

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SAY WHAT? - Yeah, wearisome, venomous, crackpot Nazis are still everywhere. Following the lead of a craven GOP unfathomably declaring a riot "legitimate political discourse" to its logical toxic conclusion and never mind the death, trauma and overthrowing-ness of it, the sickest of the sick are shrieking that needle-wielding white cultists are raping children with COVID vaccines, degenerate Jews are molesting and sacrificing "goyim" children, and liberals are "genociding us" by bringing in refugees from "shithole countries" while teaching them to hate white people, as in,  "Every single thing Jake Tapper says, he might as well just say, 'Go kill whitey.'" To fight back, a rabid, Stop-the-Steal, masks-are-Satanic "pastor" in Tennessee (oh, Tennessee) who believes Mitch McConnell is controlled by “Illuminati hand signals” - though, ok, he may have something there - cited a Biblical mandate to call for and then preside over book-burning of devil-worshipping Harry Potter and Twilight books as "a deliverance from demons." "We're exposing the Kingdom of Darkness," he proclaimed. "It's time for people to be delivered."

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SAY WHAT? - In a rare move against white privilege and for racial equity, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood has rejected a federal plea deal for the three white thugs who murdered Ahmaud Arbery for jogging while black; her ruling came after Arbery's mother, who's fought fiercely for justice for her son, denounced the deal as "a betrayal." In November, Travis McMichael, his father Greg, and their neighbor William Bryan were convicted by an almost all-white jury of chasing, trapping and killing Arbery, 25, in their Georgia neighborhood in February 2020; last month, they were all sentenced to life in prison. But with the men also facing a federal hate crimes trial next week - any convictions there would be immune from pardons from future wingnut governors - Department of Justice prosecutors suddenly struck a deal to allow at least the McMichaels to serve somewhat cushier time. In exchange for skipping that trial and pleading guilty to one hate crime - killing Arbery simply because he was black - the men could do 30 years in a slightly more civilized federal prison, likely safer especially for the elder McMichaels as a former cop, rather than the hell-holes that are most Georgia prisons; only after that would they be transferred back to the state system.  

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SAY WHAT? - Eerily echoing Adolf Hitler's vow to "burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of LIBERAL excess," a Tennessee school board in their unholy wisdom has banned Art Spiegelman's singularly searing, brutally tender, Pulitzer-winning graphic novel Maus, which uses cartoon animals - Nazis as cats, Jews as mice, Poles as pigs - to tell the harrowing story of his survivor parents and the carnage, horror and enduring trauma of the Holocaust. Unsparing and multi-layered, Spiegelman merges personal and historical devastation by documenting the lives of his father Vladek and mother Anja, Polish Jews who survive Auschwitz deeply scarred, and his own struggle to unspool their painful stories. Disquietingly, there is no redemptive arc, no real justice in the end, just a dark account that must be recorded. Anja committed suicide in 1968, when Spiegelman was 20; Vladek, who lost a six-year-old son and most of his extended family during the war, emerges as a controlling, cranky, shut-down old man; their fraught relationship leads Spiegelman to the pitiless conjecture that, "Unimaginable suffering doesn't make you better - it just makes you suffer." Through much of Maus,Vladek harshly resists his son's inquiries into a past whose losses still haunt him. "It would take many books, my life," he says bitterly, "and no one wants anyway to hear such stories."

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SAY WHAT? - On the vital, longtime, increasingly bonkers battleground of culture wars that are our schools and our kids and what they can learn, it keeps getting worse. A new report finds wingnuts in calamitous power are begetting a flood of "educational gag orders" that are often sloppily written, factually inaccurate, vague enough to invite confusion if not egregious abuse, extreme enough to spark chaos, and "pedagogically pernicious," from banning ill-defined "divisive concepts" that cause "discomfort" to setting up a snitch line - cue helpful "tips" on Albus Dumbledore, creeping Sharia, teachers teaching and the terrorist group al-gebra - to report teachers "behaving objectionably." In the process, they chillingly create "an Orwellian hellscape" where teachers are treated "as subversive internal threats who must be zealously rooted out at any deviation from orthodoxy" - a toxic, growing trend, writes Greg Sargent, that can "make teachers feel on such thin ice they end up whitewashing the U.S. past rather than communicating hard truths about it." The new report from PEN America, which for over a year has been tracking "censorious legislative efforts" across the country, finds a "steep rise" in gag orders," with over 71 bills introduced in state legislatures, or about three a day. Most are about sex, race or U.S. history; like earlier ones, writes Jeffrey Sachs, "All are sweeping, all are draconian, and few make any kind of sense...This is about putting the fear of God into teachers."

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SAY WHAT? - In an ongoing tragicomedy of malignant errors, Senate Minority Leader, racist turtle and "sloppy first attempt at a pancake with blueberry eyes" Mitch McReaper scrambled to defend his indefensible "Klanian slip" this week suggesting he views African-American voters as a different species from "American" voters, and never mind this country was built on their black ancestors' oft-whipped backs. Asked how African-American voters might respond to his retrogade party of thugs blocking the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, he infamously replied, "The concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African-American(s) are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans"; also, if you look at the video, you can see him re-enforce his screaming dogwhistle with a repugnant them-and-us flip of his limp hand. At a Friday press conference amidst a storm of entirely understandable outrage, he huffed it was "deeply offensive" and an "outrageous mischaracterization" of his stellar civil rights record - except for all the times he's said Jim-Crow-y things or smirkingly posed in front of a giant Confederate flag - to suggest he was partaking in the othering of people of color just because he "inadvertently" omitted a word that he then had to come back twice to the mic to fumblingly identify as  either "almost," or "all," or, the day before, "other." Ok, so he doesn't have the best words. At this point, that's the least of his crimes.

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SAY WHAT? - Even as the Senate bitterly, implausibly debates fundamental voting rights that not long ago were almost universally deemed non-negotiable, Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking Orwell's "1984" and running with it into a despotic dystopia of his own feverish imagining with his hoped-for, first-in-the-nation creation of an Office of Election Crimes and Security to ensure "elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law," though, in fact, they already are. The Himmler-wannabe's shiny new police force, which would be part of Florida's Department of State, would hire over 50 investigators to “detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws, with Gestapo snitches posted at unspecified “field offices" through the state to act on dubious tips from “government officials or any other person” to "facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws," which, did we mention, already occurs. Also - see Himmler - they'd report directly to him. Herr DeSantis, who once considered forming his own private militia, asked the GOP-led legislature for $6 million for the new stormtroopers in a State of the State address teeming with freedom-y bilge: Florida is "the freest state in these United States," standing as "freedom's vanguard" for "those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates" due to "a coercive biomedical apparatus" in "blind adherence to Faucian declarations," but "Florida is a free state" that "has stood strong as the rock of freedom." Fascistic, but strong.

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SAY WHAT? - On what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 93rd birthday, voting rights advocates and progressive lawmakers rallied in Arizona on Saturday to target the first-term Democratic senator blocking legislation aimed at strengthening ballot access amid growing GOP-led suppression efforts.

In attendance at Saturday's demonstrations in Phoenix were members of the King family, which is planning to lead a march to Washington, D.C. on MLK Day with a simple message to lawmakers: "No celebration without legislation."

Referring to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's (D-Ariz.) Thursday speech defending the 60-vote legislative filibuster, Martin Luther King III argued Saturday that "what she said is, 'I support voting rights, but not as much as I support the ability of someone to take those rights away.'"

"The filibuster is a meaningless Senate rule," he added. "It's a remnant of slavery used to block civil rights for generations."

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SAY WHAT? - In an admirable, longstanding tradition, heedful Americans are taking multiple, pragmatic, science-based precautions against a virus that in two years has killed 900,000 people, is poised this week to set new records for surging hospitalizations, and is still infecting almost 700,000 people a day. LOL. Just kidding. In moronic fact, despite an "extraordinarily contagious" Omicron variant that doctors at overwhelmed hospitals say poses challenges that kindle, "I don't want to say despair, (but at least) fatigue," crackpots still roam the land, spewing their crazy. As always, the most disheartening are those with, inexplicably, power and a platform. They range from the former guy mindlessly berating his fans to "Rise up!" against often non-existent vaccine mandates to Rand Paul ranting at Dr. Fauci for trying to save lives not make money to Florida's so-called Surgeon Generalurging the COVID-ravaged state's health officials to "unwind the testing psychology" and rely on "natural immunity" A "well-educated COVID crank" - Harvard?! - and fan of hydroxychloroquine and wingnut demon-sperm doctors who's not big on masks or vaccines, Dr.  Joseph Ladapo held a press conference to announce the state would  work to "unwind this" - here, he haplessly spun his finger around in search of good words - "planning and living one's life around testing." "It's really time for people to be living," he said, "to make the decisions they want regarding vaccination, to enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity." Testing has "been treated almost like a religion, and that's just senseless," he scolded at a podium that read, "Early Treatment Saves Lives," because if we restrict tests to, say, only grandmothers, we'll magically have fewer COVID cases! We love science.

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SAY WHAT? - A year after a mob of delusional, autocrat-loving thugs tried to overthrow our admittedly flawed and fragile democracy, Joe Biden gave a fiery speech denouncing "the defeated former president" - "You can't love your country only when you win" - andasking, "Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies?" An excellent question for those of us witnessing the ongoing, increasingly unhinged onslaught of revisionist lies and crimes and stonewalling underway, alarmingly encouraged by millions in large part because, "To the privileged, equality feels like oppression." In response to the madness, A.G. Merrick Garland assured the country, the wheels of justice are slowly and creakily turning: The DOJ has issued over 5,000 subpoenas or search warrants, seized about 2,000 devices, watched 20,000-plus hours of video, and arrested and charged over 725 defendants. To those frustrated by the slow and creaking part, he offered a reality check: Large investigations take time, typically starting with gathering the evidence and low-hanging fruit - ie: rioters - before moving on to their evil masters. Justice, he said, will hold "all perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law," and "follow the facts wherever they lead."

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SAY WHAT? - In case you missed it, dimwitted, thin-skinned, uber-Trumpy "treasonous cowpoke" Devin Nunes officially resigned from Congress on Monday to take a "job" as CEO of Trump's new media "company," leaving behind an illustrious legacy of renaming a post office, undermining Congressional oversight, pushing bogus conspiracy theories, trying to erect a wall in House Intelligence offices to keep Democrats separate, and suing imaginary livestock for mean tweets "that no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life," because he's, like, 12. In Congress since 2003, Nunes managed to achieve staggeringly little - aptly, for the guy about whom it was once said, "No one is asking him to bring the potato salad to the Mensa picnic." There was his 2017 rush to tell the Trump White House he had proof Obama put "wire tapps" on them during "the very sacred election process," except it was Trump who said that. There were the breathless scandals - FBI misdeeds, Carter Page, Steele Dossier - that fell flat. There were frantic errands to Putin, rumors he had Mad Cow Disease, whispers that, alongside Greene and Boebert, he'd no longer take top prize for dullest tool in the shed. There were ignoble hashtags that trailed after him like tin cans strung on a sorry dog's tail - 

#DevinNunesIsAnIdiot

#TreasonousCowpoke, 

#DevinNunesIsCorrupt, 

#DevinNunesIsStillAnIdiot

- and ceaseless, stupid lawsuits against Rachel Maddow,Twitter, WaPo and his constituents when they hurt his feelings. Most notoriously, there was his $250 million lawsuit against an Internet cow for making fun of him, after which the newly famous cow swiftly garnered over 700,000 Twitter followers, because we are all the cow.

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SAY WHAT? - Two weary, relentless, life-rupturing years into the pandemic, there are modest glimpses of glad news. A team of doctors at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, doing what Big Pharma won't, has developed "the world's vaccination," a safe, open-source vaccine whose patent they're now transferring free of charge to manufacturers in poor countries - first India, then hopefully Indonesia, Bangladesh, Botswana and elsewhere. Doctors call Cobervax, created at the Center for Vaccine Development with generous philanthropic support, "a gift to the world" that could mark a first step in both vaccinating the rest of the world and halting the emergence of new variants. Around the same time, a team of scientists at UC San Francisco and University College London announced they have solved the mystery of the Omicron variant's rapid spread; their discovery of a critical protein that stifles the body's immune response, they hope, can lead to breakthrough treatments against Omicron. Okay, that's about it in good news.

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Say What? - The January 6 Committee just announced they'll begin holding public hearings in the new year, which is good news. But it's clear that, even before they open that particular Pandora's Box of malfeasance, we're already awash in ever more sordid details about the ongoing right-wing march to fascism. There's asshats telling the  president to go fuck himself on a benign Christmas call with his kids and then whining about freedom of speech when they're castigated for being asshats. There's MAGA conspiracy wingnuts working to boost the careers of other wingnuts so the party can tilt so far right they fall off the planet. There's the dozen militia thugs plotting to kidnap and/or kill Michigan's Dem governor for trying to save lives during a pandemic now arguing the government entrapped them.

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SAY WHAT? - A nod to the real meaning of the holiday, the birth of a Jesus who was not divine but "supremely human" - a "radical non-violent revolutionary who hung around with lepers, hookers and crooks... was anti-wealth, anti-death penalty, anti-public prayer; but was never anti-gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never asked a leper for copay, and was a long-haired, brown-skinned, homeless, community-organizing anti- slut-shaming Middle Eastern Jew."

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SAY WHAT? - Given....everything, it's not much. But in a glimmer of good news, the Lost Cause lost again earlier this month when Nashville TN finally took down the moral and aesthetic "abomination" that was its deranged fiberglass statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a millionaire antebellum slave trader, Confederate general and war criminal who later served as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Long deemed "a blight" on a city that sees itself as a symbol of "the new South" - albeit in a state where a black man just won a new trial after being convicted by an all-white jury in a room named for the daughters of the Confederacy and hung with a Confederate flag - the "objectively hideous," 27-foot-high statue stood a few miles south of Nashville in plain view of the highway for over 20 years, a  rare Confederate monument as ugly as the racist history it marks.

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SAY WHAT? - Ohhh....So that's why the Repubs didn't want a Jan. 6 Commission. It's taken almost a year for the glacial, creaking wheels of justice to gear up, but lawmakers, legal officials and even penitent rioters have finally begun unveiling a mountain of sublimely damning evidence on the whos and hows of the "gutless attack" that was the Capitol Riot. With subpoenas still dropping for unnamed witnesses, this week's most sensational moments featured Liz Cheney - as the daughter of Lord Voldemort, really, who'da thought? - reading aloud eye-popping text messages Mark Meadows received during the riot from unlikely correspondents who never imagined one day they'd be unwittingly thrown under the bus by a guy so dumb and indecisive he turned over all this incriminating stuff and only when the shit hit the fan thought, oh wait, maybe not.

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