Thursday, April 30, 2020

Why Trump wants to kill the Post Office

The lead this morning is from Scriber subscriber Steve Gilbert who offers some thoughts about why Trump wants to kill the US Post Office.

I was reading this morning how in Ohio, since they postponed the primary election in March, they still are not able to hold a safe, in person election.  Instead they have turned to a total vote-by-mail  election.  Voters send in applications, receive ballots and submit completed ballots all by U.S. Mail.

Switch now to Trump refusing to approve any money for bailing the post office out of Covid 19 shortfalls as well as his general expressed disdain for it.    He says he faults the post office for not charging Jeff Bezo’s company(Amazon) enough for package delivery.  I have wondered why Trump is so determined to kill off the post office.  It can’t be just Bezos and it can’t be that he is concerned that the post office burns up cash–he doesn’t care about other inefficient government programs.

Just imagine if the post office goes away, it will be very, very difficult for anyone to vote without actually going to a physical polling place, greatly increasing Republican chances.  Obviously, this concept is much too complex for Trump to have thought of it, but someone did and he is running with it.  Watch as this unfolds over the next few months.

Of the alternatives Steve considered, the last is the one supported by Trump’s own words (now a matter of public record). For example, earlier this month Business Insider reported Trump baselessly claimed that expanding voting access would lead to a Republican never being elected in America again.

In a Monday morning interview on “Fox & Friends,” President Donald Trump explicitly said that congressional Republicans opposed expanding voting access in the coronavirus stimulus package because it would hurt them politically.

The stimulus package presented by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives included several provisions that would require states to expand options for voters to safely cast ballots.

The bill would have mandated that states offer 15 days of early voting prior to every election, allow voters to request an absentee ballot without an excuse, and send a mail-in ballot to every voter in an emergency situation where holding in-person elections would be logistically unfeasible or dangerous.

But Republicans in Congress accused Democrats of using the crisis specifically to pass their own pet projects through Congress. Some, like GOP Congressman Thomas Massie, even argued the expanded voting access measures would be “the end of our Republic as we know it.”

On “Fox & Friends,” Trump went several steps further by directly suggesting that Republicans shot down those measures specifically because they would increase voter turnout and make it harder for the GOP to win elections.

“I will tell you this, when you look at the before and after, the things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. "They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again, they had things in there about election days, and what you do…and it was totally crazy."

The [New York] Times’ polling of voters in 2018 battleground districts and estimates based on voter file data found that Trump’s approval ratings were nearly the same among voters and non-voters, suggesting that non-voters aren’t necessarily more anti-Trump than those who did cast ballots.

But here is the thing. Even though the evidence suggests otherwise, Trump and his GOPlin followers will continue efforts to suppress voter turnout because deep down, they just believe this truthiness to be true: if all Americans voted “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

If only.

Trump just running scared. But he may be saved by a 3rd party candidate.

Trump running scared

In her morning email, Heather Cox Richardson reports some interesting insider information about Trump’s fears.

On Monday, Trump downplayed the need for widespread testing and cheered on states that were reopening despite growing infection rates. His eagerness to put the pandemic behind him, even as it rages on, reflects internal polling that shows him losing to former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.

We know about his anxiety over this poll thanks to leaks from people who work in the White House.

And that is the second story that jumped out at me today. People with good access to circles of power at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are leaking major stories to the media. On Monday, they offered up the story that Trump’s Presidential Daily Briefings had warned of the deadly danger of the coronavirus since January and that Trump had ignored the warnings. Today they leaked that Trump is so upset about his internal polling numbers that he ranted last week to Kushner and head of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel, as well as other officials, before attacking Brad Parscale, his campaign manager, and threatening to sue him.

Wow.

Trump’s polling is bad, to be sure, but it’s too far out from the election to conclude much about those polls. More significant in these stories right now is that people in the White House are leaking sensitive stories to reporters. That says either that they want to undermine Trump or that they think he is already such a bad bet for future employment that they are auditioning for their next job.

But all that could change if there were a 3rd party candidate offering a choice to anti-Trump conservatives. And there is - Justin Amash.

Is Justin Amash just another spoiler?

The Washington Post reports that Justin Amash could have a big impact on the 2020 presidential race. But how?

Rep. Justin Amash’s decision to form an exploratory committee for a run for president as the Libertarian Party candidate could wind up being a very significant moment in the 2020 race.

Amash has been toying with a third-party run since a well-documented rift between him and the Republican Party, which he left symbolically on July 4 to become an independent. Amash, who says he will now change his party affiliation to Libertarian, was a founding member of the tea-party-oriented House Freedom Caucus, but his politics have always skewed more libertarian, and he said he became frustrated with the GOP over time. He went on to support the impeachment of President Trump, even as all of his former party mates in the House voted against it.

… there are also plenty of reasons to believe that Amash, assuming he’s not actually competing for a win, could wind up helping Trump.

A poll conducted in May by the Detroit News, for instance, showed that Biden led Trump in Michigan by 12 points in a head-to-head race, 53 to 41. But adding Amash to the equation reduced Biden’s margin by half, with Biden leading 45 to 39 and Amash pulling a significant 10 percent.

Amash also drew 16 percent of independent voters in that poll, reducing Biden’s 13-point lead among them to a tie with Trump.

… what [polls] suggest is that voters who are disillusioned with both of their top options in 2020 are primed to help Biden significantly and have very little interest in voting for Trump. Giving them a formidable third option — especially in a state such as Michigan — could logically mean that that costs Biden more than Trump.

I really liked Amash for his principled stand against Trump. Now, to me, he looks like just a spoiler in the mold of other 3rd party candidates.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Bleach and Beaches - how human behavior amplifies COVID-19

To be sure, the coronavirus is deadly on its own. But human behaviors being the fallible things they are can amplify COVID–19. Here are two cases in point.

Case 1. I knew this was coming. The Daily Beast reports that a Kansas Man Chugged Cleaning Product After Trump’s Disinfectant Comments

He obviously didn’t pick up on the sarcasm. A Kansas man drank a disinfectant product over the weekend after President Donald Trump pondered out loud whether ingesting cleansers could help fight COVID–19. Lee Norman, the state’s health officer, appeared to blame Trump when he said the man drank the product “because of the advice he’d received.” He added that Kansas Poison Control Center has reported a more than 40 percent increase in cleaning-chemical cases. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has asked manufacturers making hand sanitizer to make sure their products don’t taste or smell nice so kids and teens will stop drinking it. In a Monday advisory, the agency said that calls to the National Poison Data System about hand sanitizer were up by 79 percent last month, compared to March 2019. “Hand sanitizers are not proven to treat COVID–19, and like other products meant for external use, are not for ingestion, inhalation, or intravenous use,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said.

The Wichita Eagle has the full story which, contains this gem.

… the incident reflects the power of the president’s influence at a time when people across the country are looking for information about the coronavirus and how they can prevent becoming infected.

Asked by a reporter on Monday about “Maryland and other states” where governors say they have seen “a spike in people using disinfectant after your comments last week, I know you said they were ‘sarcastic’“ – the president interjected before the reporter could finish and said, “I can’t imagine why. I can’t imagine why.”

“Do you take any responsibility?” the reporter followed up.

Trump said, “No, I don’t. No, I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine that.”

Case 2: It is certain to happen. Just check out the photos showing crowds on Southeastern beaches. The Daily Beast reports on the CDC ’s evaluation of models showing that Easing State Lockdowns Too Early Would Be Disastrous. Seven new scientific models all show U.S. deaths continuing to rise, but easing restrictions now would cost many more lives.

The number of deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in the U.S. will continue to rise sharply if states rush to reopen, according to scientific models reported by CNN. Seven coronavirus models reportedly show deaths will continue to rise in the coming weeks—but how sharply the death toll increases depends on how much “contact reduction” people practice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Models that factor in a lot of reduction see new deaths “slow substantially over the next four weeks,” according to the CDC. “Conversely, models that do not incorporate as strong contact reductions… suggest that total deaths may continue to rise quickly.” The widely watched projection by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation raised its U.S. death toll estimate late Monday by 6,000 to 74,073, noting that several states have extended the epidemic’s peak. The Daily Beast first reported on one model prepared by epidemiologists and computer scientists at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which showed Gov. Brian Kemp’s rush to lift Georgia out of COVID–19 lockdown could cost thousands of additional lives.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

By the end of the week the U. S. toll will be 60,000 dead - and counting. In Trump world it's idiocy compounded by ideology

Writing in the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky observes America Is About to Blow Past the 60,000 Coronavirus Deaths Trump Said Would Be a Win. Trumpism is an ideology in which the only thing that matters, the only thing that is true, is what the leader believes and says at any given moment.

… Republicans lie about virtually everything. They have to—to advance their goals, which are both insanely unpopular (more tax cuts for rich people!) and completely fantastical (those tax cuts will lift all boats), they have to try to create a reality that is the opposite of real reality and then spend billions getting people to believe it.

They’ve been doing it for decades. That’s why Trump isn’t some accident. It was inevitable that eventually they’d nominate and fawn over someone who lies every time he opens his mouth.

With Trump, though, it’s gotten to a scale I never thought we’d see in the United States. Trumpism is an ideology in which the only thing that matters, the only thing that is true, is what the leader believes and says at any given moment. Which is surreal, of course, because virtually everything he says is untrue. But objective truth is a lib trap. And the vast majority of Republicans endorse this.

As for where we may be headed, Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert who’s been warning about pandemics for more than a decade, told CNN’s Peter Bergen that he thinks the ultimate tally in the United States over the next 18 months or so will be around 800,000. You’re thinking, “Ah, no way”? Go read his reasoning and see what you think then.

(See excerpts from that interview after the break.)

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office released a report last week making a few predictions on the economy. CBO sees a real GDP of –39.6 percent in the second quarter of this year (April, May, and June). Then it forecasts a good rebound, 23.5 percent in Q3 and 10.5 percent in Q4, but that still leaves us at –5.6 percent for the year. At the worst of the Great Recession, in 2009, it was –2.5 percent. Unemployment will be above 15 percent into the fall and above 10 percent all of this year—and next.

We’re in deep trouble, and the idiot President of the United States is telling people to drink Lysol, and idiot politicians like Brian Kemp and other governors are trying to make sure that Osterholm becomes a prophet, and idiot protesters are out there acting like common-sense public safety is a conspiracy against liberty, and idiot reactionaries like the Dorr brothers of Iowa are financing these protests because, well, you know, the libs suck. These Dorrs have launched Facebook pages in at least five states that abcnews.com calls a “hotbed of misinformation.”

It’s idiocy top to bottom, but it’s more than that, and it’s important that we understand this and never lose sight of this. It’s ideology.

It’s tragic to think that in this country, thousands of people are dying because the president is a vain and fragile imbecile who won’t read a study and who cares more about his polls than public health statistics, and because the Republican Party has become such a Kool-Aid Society that protecting the leader’s ego matters more than life itself.

So as the death count passes 60,000 this week—exceeding American casualties in the Vietnam War—I’ll be thinking about how different things would be if we’d had a president, and a political party supporting her, who took facts seriously and read papers and acted on the advice of experts. How many of the dead would still be alive?

But hey, it’s not Donald’s fault. Who could have foreseen this, aside from Bill Gates and Ron Klain and virtually every public health expert in the world? But there I go, talking about facts again.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Republicans might finally be waking up to Trump's toxicity

Trump is toxic. His supporters might finally get it. Hitching their political wagon to a man who is essentially unfit for office is not a winning combination. Clorox injections anyone? How about UV lights in your body?

The NY Times reports that Nervous Republicans See Trump Sinking, and Taking Senate With Him. The election is still six months away, but a rash of ominous new polls and the president’s erratic briefings have the G.O.P. worried about a Democratic takeover.

Many Republicans believe President Trump’s daily news briefings are inflicting grave damage on his political standing.

Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Trump’s single best advantage as an incumbent — his access to the bully pulpit — has effectively become a platform for self-sabotage.

That last point is amplified by NY Times columnist Frank Bruni. Injections of Bleach? Beams of Light? Trump Is Self-Destructing Before Our Eyes. The notion that he is bound for four more years is pure superstition.

There’s incessant talk of how fervent his base is, but the many Americans appalled by him have a commensurate zeal. For every Sean Hannity, there’s a Rachel Maddow. For every Kellyanne Conway, a George Conway. She and her ilk may be wily in their defense of the president. He and his tribe are even better in their evisceration of him.

As Katie Rogers and Annie Karni reported in The Times, the president feels isolated and embattled and is panicked that he’ll lose to Joe Biden in November. That state of mind, they wrote, prompted his executive order to halt the issuing of green cards, which is precisely the kind of base-coddling measure that he resorts to “when things feel out of control.”

He can read the polls as well as the rest of us can, and they show that while he stands there nightly in the White House briefing room and blows kisses at himself, Americans aren’t blowing kisses back.

One can hope.

How Trump, master of the con, got conned

Writing at The Bulwark, Tim Miller and Barry Rubin identify a significant date in the pandemic saga, February 7: A Day That Will Live in Infamy

February 7 is a day that changed the world.

It’s a day that defines the Trump administration’s failures on COVID–19.

A day that will shape the campaign around the president’s reelection.

On February 7, Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese ophthalmologist who sounded the alarm about COVID–19, succumbed to the virus. After sending a WeChat message to a group of other doctors about the virus’ spread, he was detained by the Chinese government and forced to sign a statement denouncing his warning as an unfounded and illegal rumor.

His death following this shameful and destructive treatment by the Chinese government should have been a wake-up call to America’s leaders.

Instead, when Trump was asked about China’s handling of the outbreak later that day, the U.S. president delivered Chinese government propaganda. (Again.)

And a few hours after that, Trump’s State Department announced that they were sending 17.8 tons of donated medical equipment—supplies that American hospitals would soon desperately need—to China.

February 7 changed everything.

Watch it now.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

INJESTIGATE - latest Trump scandal showcases Trump's essential unfitness

The Washington Post reported that Trump floats another bogus coronavirus cure — and his administration scrambles to stop people from injecting disinfectants.

There are two things you should understand about this one. First, yes, Trump really did speculate that chemicals useful for disinfecting surfaces (like counter tops) might be used to cure COVID–19 when injected into the human body. Trump tried to dismiss it as a joke. His press agent dismissed it as the press taking his words out of context. All that is either just not true or more B.S. by a president who lies every day about everything. Second, the word does need to get out that injecting this sh!t can kill you. “Trump’s latest fantasy cure mushroomed into a potential crisis for public health officials. In Maryland alone, the state government’s emergency hotline received more than 100 calls from residents inquiring whether injecting a disinfectant really was a cure.”

The general problem was identified by Steve Schmidt, quoted in the WaPo report.

… it was the president who floated the idea of an injection of disinfectant — something that shocked a number of his aides. “No one knows where it came from,” said a senior administration official.

Steve Schmidt, a former top adviser in the George W. Bush White House and a vocal Trump critic, said, “As reckless as it is, it’s absurd that the president of the United States is on a stage telling the American people to shoot up Lysol to cure the virus.”

“These briefings have become a daily symposium on unfitness,” Schmidt said. “He gets up there, he’s completely unprepared, he has no idea what he’s talking about and he says things that shock the conscience and make no sense.”

And, you should be aware that this is not the first time that Trump has donned the scrubs to become Dr. Fauxi, NMD.

Last month, after Trump declared that hydroxychloroquine was a “game-changer” in the fight against the virus, an Arizona couple noticed the pharmaceutical name matched the label on a bottle of chemicals they used to clean their koi pond. The couple ingested the chemical, chloroquine phosphate, hoping to stave off an infection. The husband died shortly after arriving at a Maricopa County hospital, according to the hospital. The wife survived.

Fast forward, to the latest scandal - let’s call it Bleach Gate, or Injestigate. Mark Sumner at Daily Kos has a short version. Dr. Fauci warned in advance that someone needed to tell Trump you can’t drink bleach.

On Saturday, there is no scheduled White House briefing on the COVID–19 crisis. This follows an abbreviated Friday session in which Donald Trump made only brief remarks and left without taking question. And that follows a Thursday session in which Trump suggested drinking or injecting disinfectant as a possible treatment. As well as finding a way to put a bright UV light “inside the body.” All of which makes it seem that, after allowing Trump to spew unchecked for hour after hour, he may finally have said something so obviously awful that even Trump may feel … what is that feeling … that strange, strange feeling … is it … embarrassment?

Maybe. But it’s certainly anger. Because the hunt for someone else to blame goes on.

Trump’s first go-to in the search for someone to take the fall went to his standard fall guys, with the current kinda-sorta press secretary Kayleigh McEnany calling out the press for taking Trump “out of context” while claiming that Trump never tried to give medical advice. The only problem with that is that there was no “context,” other than the context of how the networks have been broadcasting Trump’s increasingly off the rails press events in full. Actually, that’s not the only problem, because McEnany’s statement also requires ignoring the dozens of other times Trump tried to dispense advice.

Right-wing media, both on Fox News and radio, tried to help out by coming up with the pretense that Trump was talking about some new and radical treatment—something too cool to be known by plain old medical doctors like Deborah Birx or Anthony Fauci. Are they supergenius messiahs? No! Then how can they be aware of the brilliance of ideas like a Clorox vape? There doesn’t yet seem to be a body count attached to this particular effort to own the libs … but it’s early.

Meanwhile, the White House seems to have pinned down a new scapegoat for Bleachgate. As The Washington Post reports, the whirling finger of blame has landed on Department of Homeland Security undersecretary William Bryan. And what did Bryan do? He had a briefing for Trump in which he discussed how UV light and disinfectants were effective in removing coronavirus from surfaces. Apparently, when giving this information to Trump, Bryan neglected to say that surfaces doesn’t include the interior of lungs or veins.

Apparently, a number of White House officials had deep concerns about this demonstration of cleaning something being taken in front of Donald Trump. Several people seemed to believe that Bryan had a lot of information in his presentation, and that the whole thing “was not ready” to go in front of Trump. Dr. Fauci seems to have predicted where Trump would take it, with worries the presentation might be taken as “the cure for humans.”

Of course, it’s understandable that Trump had to be given a briefing on how things are cleaned. For Trump, a can of Lysol or a jug of Clorox are arcane objects he has never handled in his life. He may have glimpsed such things being wielded by invisible people who scurried in to clear away the remains of his latest donuts and taco salad conquest. Or he made demand that those people only come out at night. Anyway, it’s an easy bet that he’s never used any such product in his entire life.

Really, people should understand that Trump has never used a disinfectant, never swiped a cleaning cloth, and never even contemplated whether a load of laundry needs a shot of bleach. These things are all new to him. Exotic. It shouldn’t be surprising that Donald Trump had to be given a briefing on how to clean a counter top, or that he had no understanding of the chemicals involved. After all, he’s not a plain old fool. He’s a rich fool.

If you’ve ever wondered why there were warning levels on the side of consumer products, the answer appears to be: Donald Trump.

Warning: Not to be taken internally. Keep refrigerated after opening. Do not place toaster in the oven.

The Lincoln Project asks - what kind of American are you

Here’s a new ad from the Lincoln Project.

“Trump supporters’ unwavering trust in him will lead to more chaos, confusion, and illness. In a crisis we need a leader who will steer the country toward clarity, unity, and healing—not a leader who aims to sow more discord, hate, and division.”

We already know where Trump falls along those dimensions - what kind of American he is. The question for all Americans is:
What kind of American are you?

Friday, April 24, 2020

McConnell on states' fiscal crunch - let them eat bankruptcy papers

McConnell to Every State: Drop Dead. Paul Krugman says Blocking federal aid is vile, but it’s also hypocritical.

Covid–19 has killed tens of thousands of Americans, and will clearly kill many more. The lockdown needed to contain the coronavirus is causing an economic slump several times as deep as the Great Recession.

Yet this necessary slump doesn’t have to be accompanied by severe financial hardship. We have the resources to ensure that every American has enough to eat, that people don’t lose health insurance, that they don’t lose their homes because they can’t pay rent or mortgage fees. There’s also no reason we should see punishing cuts in essential public services.

Unfortunately, it’s looking increasingly likely that tens of millions of Americans will in fact suffer extreme hardship and that there will be devastating cuts in services. Why? The answer mainly boils down to two words: Mitch McConnell.

On Wednesday, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, declared that he is opposed to any further federal aid to beleaguered state and local governments, and suggested that states declare bankruptcy instead. Lest anyone accuse McConnell of being even slightly nonpartisan, his office distributed two memos referring to proposals for state aid as “blue state bailouts.”

When I say that we have the resources to avoid severe financial hardship, I’m referring to the federal government, which can borrow vast sums very cheaply. In fact, the interest rate on inflation-protected bonds, which measure real borrowing costs, is minus 0.43 percent: Investors are basically paying the feds to hold their money.

So Washington can and should run big budget deficits in this time of need. State and local governments, however, can’t, because almost all of them are required by law to run balanced budgets. Yet these governments, which are on the front line of dealing with the pandemic, are facing a combination of collapsing revenue and soaring expenses.

The obvious answer is federal aid. But McConnell wants states and cities to declare bankruptcy instead.

Stupid? Absolutely. Krugman observes that “states don’t even have the legal right to declare bankruptcy”.

So McConnell’s position is stupid. But it’s also vile.

Think of who would be hurt if state and local governments are forced to make drastic cuts. A lot of state money goes to Medicaid, a program that should be expanding, not shrinking, as millions of Americans are losing their health insurance along with their jobs.

As for the state and local government workers who may be either losing their jobs or facing pay cuts, most are employed in education, policing, firefighting and highways. So if McConnell gets his way, America’s de facto policy will be one of bailing out the owners of giant restaurant chains while firing schoolteachers and police officers.

Thanks to our Roving Reporter for this tip.

That was Thing 1. There is a related Thing 2.

McConnell’s stupid/vile stance against aid to states does not spare inflicting misery on his own state.

This post in the Daily Beast documents McConnell’s treatment of his own state: McConnell Delivers Gut Punch to His Home State, Dems Say. “If the city isn’t getting any revenue, which right now it basically is not, how are they going to pay their first responders?” asked Rep. John Yarmuth.

"It was kind of like a punch in the stomach to read,” Joni Jenkins, the Democratic minority leader in Kentucky’s state House of Representatives, told The Daily Beast. She explained that Kentucky, like nearly every state and local government in the country, is staring down an unprecedented fiscal squeeze. With normal business and commerce ground to a halt, sales tax revenue is drying up; skyrocketing unemployment rates mean that state income tax revenues will crater, too.

… Rep. Peter King, a Republican who represents a Long Island district near the disease’s epicenter in New York City, called the bankruptcy remark “shameful and indefensible.”

“To say that it is ‘free money’ to provide funds for cops, firefighters, and healthcare workers makes McConnell the Marie Antoinette of the Senate,” said King. …

Dr. Donald J. Fauxi, NMD, speculates about injecting disinfectants. Real doctors freak.

Trump comments prompt doctors, and Lysol, to warn against injecting disinfectants

After a presentation Thursday that touched on the disinfectants that can kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces and in the air, President Trump pondered whether those chemicals could be used to fight the virus inside the human body.

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said during Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

The question, which Trump offered unprompted, immediately spurred doctors, lawmakers and the makers of Lysol to respond with incredulity and warnings against injecting or otherwise ingesting disinfectants, which are highly toxic.

"My concern is that people will die. People will think this is a good idea,” Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told The Washington Post. “This is not willy-nilly, off-the-cuff, maybe-this-will-work advice. This is dangerous.”

[snip]

As the president spoke, one of his top public health experts, Deborah Birx, who serves as the response coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus task force, listened in a chair a few feet away from the podium.

Birx’s response is here in a tweet by Daniel Lewis.

“People will do extraordinary things if you give them the idea,” said Dara Kass, associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.

BTW - we already know that from the incident of an Arizona man dying after ingesting chloroquine (used to clean home aquariums) - another of Trump’s snake oils.

Trump’s Thursday musings have the potential to cause even greater harm [than that done by his touting of hydroxychloroquine], Kass said to The Post.

“The difference between this and the chloroquine is that somebody could go right away to their pantry and start swallowing bleach. They could go to their medicine cabinet and swallow isopropyl alcohol,” Kass said. “A lot of people have that in their homes. There’s an immediate opportunity to react.”

People who ingest such chemicals often die, Kass said. Those who survive usually end up with feeding tubes, a result of their mouth and esophagus being eroded by the cleaning agents.

“It’s horrific,” she said.

Still, despite the prolific warnings, doctors told The Post not everyone is going to listen.

“There is an emergency department in America in the week that will probably get a bleach ingestion because of this,” Kass said. “We know that because people are scared and vulnerable, and they’re not going to think it’s that dangerous because they can get it in their house.”

Now you know what NMD stands for: Not a Medical Doctor.

Thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry for this one.

Aw, I couldn’t stop without words from Rick Wilson about Idiot Alchemist Donald Trump Says Sun and Bleach Will Save You. Never forget that the man spouting a stream of absurd bullshit is the president of the United F*cking States.

Abandoning the little things like science, medicine, chemistry, and pharmacology, Alchemist in Chief Donald Trump used his daily rant session to leap so far off the deep end that viewers would not have been shocked to see him in a wizard’s robe covered in mystic symbols.

“So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just a very powerful light,” Trump said. “And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way and I think you said you’re going to test that too.”

Case closed!

The Liar Tweets Tonight - A Must View

We need a little (or a lot) of humor these days.

Thanks to Myra Christeck for this great YouTube video.

Trump's many lies mess with your mind. His favorite 'game changer' drug messes with your heart.

The AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona reports a couple of developments on the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, Dr. Trump’s miracle cure ‘showed no benefit’ in recent medical studies; Update: a new whistleblower scandal.

In brief, that antimalarial drug messes with your heart.

… it turns out that “Dr. Trump’s miracle cure” really is snake oil that is toxic to patients, and likely killed some patients before the Covid–19 did.

Those new findings are probably responsible for those Faux Gnus going silent. Will Trump recant? Dumb question.

"Dr. Trump,” snake oil salesman, is casting doubt on the medical studies, rather than come clean and admit his fraud. “Obviously there have been some very good reports and perhaps this one’s not a good report—but we’ll be looking at it,” Trump said at his Tuesday briefing.

After reviewing the evidence, AZ Blue Meanie concludes:

Trump and his propagandists lied, people died. They are criminally negligent and should all be held accountable for consumer fraud for promoting a snake oil cure to give false hope to desperate patients who lost their lives because of taking this drug.

But that hasn’t stopped the Trumpies for insisting on blind loyalty to Herr Drumpf. AZ Blue Meanie cited the NY Times report on the sacking of an HHS scientist.

The New York Times reports today that Dr. Rick Bright, the doctor who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said on Wednesday that he was removed from his post after he pressed for a rigorous vetting of a coronavirus treatment embraced by President Trump. The doctor said that science, not “politics and cronyism” must lead the way. Doctor Says He Was Removed From Federal Post After Questioning Hydroxychloroquine Treatment:

Dr. Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

Instead, he was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health. “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid–19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in a statement to The Times’s Maggie Haberman.

“I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way,” he said.

“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Dr. Bright said.

“I will request that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit,” he said. “Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. *Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.*”

Dr. Bright has lawyered up and appears ready to go to the mat in this latest whistleblower retaliation scandal.

As bad as this is, it does get worse. You see, the White House is on a full fledged campaign to destroy the civil service. Heather Cox Richardson (Letters from an American) pulls it all together.

The OPM [Office of Personnel Management] oversees the 2 million workers in the federal government. In mid-February, after Republican Senators acquitted him in his impeachment trial, Trump set out to purge the federal workforce of civil servants, whom he sees as “snakes,” and replace them with political appointees loyal to him.

To head the Presidential Personnel Office, which recruits candidates for the executive branch, Trump brought in John McEntee, who had been fired from a former position in the White House by former chief of staff John Kelly over a security clearance. On March 17, McEntee forced the director of the Office of Personnel Management, Dale Cabaniss, who had significant personnel experience, to resign. Michael Rigas, formerly of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, took his place. (Phew. I know… but this is going somewhere important.)

The change from Cabaniss to Rigas at the head of OPM transpired just as the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the nation hard.

Rigas has said he believes the 1883 Pendleton Act is unconstitutional. Congress passed the Pendleton Act, also known as the Civil Service Act, after a mentally-ill office seeker shot President James Garfield in 1881. Until then, government positions had been handed out to political loyalists, regardless of their capacity to do the job, but the assassination created a public outcry. Charles Guiteau shot Garfield with the expectation that, once elevated to the presidency, Garfield’s vice president would give Guiteau the position his delusions made him think he deserved. The assassination built momentum behind the idea that government should be non-partisan, and that positions should be filled by people actually equipped to do the job. This sentiment has ruled the nation ever since.

Non-partisan civil service has proved a blessing to the nation in two ways. First of all, over time, as more and more positions came under the act, the government got much more efficient. Second, a non-partisan corps of officials has kept the nation stable since they give their loyalty to the country’s government, rather than to any particular president. Administrations come and go, but government bureaucrats keep the nation on an even keel.

Now, Rigas, the man at the head of the federal government’s 2 million workers, wants to get rid of that system and make all employees of the executive branch political appointees, loyal not to the country but to Trump. Rigas is working with McEntee at the PPO. As of a few weeks ago, agencies now have to submit job openings to the PPO to see if they have anyone they want in the position before they can submit their own choice for it. PPO is filling positions with keen regard for their loyalty: recently it has hired four college seniors to become administration officials.

OPM is the office that is refusing to tell Congress what it’s up to.

Today offered some guesses. Dr. Rick Bright, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, claimed that he was let go from his job for crossing Trump. (Snip. See above for related coverage.)

Demanding loyalty to Trump is about cementing the power of the president, and service to that power means he will sacrifice his loyalists whenever necessary to protect himself. People are noting that Trump tossed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp under the bus today over Kemp’s reopening of certain Georgia businesses against the advice of public health officials. After a week of calling for states to reopen, Trump told reporters that he “disagree[s] strongly” with Kemp’s decision to start that process.

Today’s more significant underbussing was that of Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, who was skewered in a piece in the Wall Street Journal for what appears to have been extraordinarily inept handling of the coronavirus crisis. My guess is that he is shortly going to be out of a job, taking the blame for the White House’s poor response to the pandemic.

Considering that Trump’s OPM wants to remove qualified civil servants from the government in favor of political cronies, the piece of the Azar story that has attracted the most outrage is ironic. Azar tapped a key aide with little experience or education in public health, management, or medicine to head up the response of Health and Human Services to the coronavirus crisis.

Before going to work for Azar, the aide, Brian Harrison, was a dog breeder who specialized in labradoodles.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Earth Day was created by, and abandoned by ...

… Republicans!

New Yorker science writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, issues An Earth Day Reminder of How the Republicans Have Forsaken the Environment. She starts with the history of Earth Day and then explores how Republicans have become crusaders against environmental protections.

The idea for Earth Day came to Gaylord Nelson all of a sudden one day in the middle of 1969. That summer, “teach-ins” about the Vietnam War were all the rage. It occurred to Nelson, then the junior U.S. senator from Wisconsin: How about a “teach-in” about the environment?

To attract the widest possible audience, Nelson, a Democrat, invited Representative Pete McCloskey, a Republican from California, to co-chair the event. The response was way more enthusiastic than either man had anticipated: on April 22, 1970, some twenty million Americans—a tenth of the country’s population—took to the streets. It was the largest public demonstration in U.S. history, and, as Jamie Henn, one of the founders of 350.org, has put it, it “had bite.” By the end of the year, a Republican President, Richard Nixon, had created the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This was followed in relatively short order by the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. All of these measures were approved with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Today, as Earth Day turns fifty, it’s hard to imagine more dolorous circumstances for the occasion. covid–19 has forced online (or cancelled) virtually all the celebrations and protests that had been planned for the anniversary. The Trump Administration has barely even taken the day off from gutting the nation’s environmental regulations. (Last week, the Administration weakened rules governing the emission of mercury and other toxic chemicals from power plants; late last month, it weakened fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.)

Meanwhile, in Congress, environmental protection has become such a thoroughly partisan issue that across-the-aisle collaborations like Nelson and McCloskey’s are rarer than Amur leopards. Owing to this divide, environmental problems that have emerged since 1970 have simply gone unaddressed. Congress has not passed—or even really come close to passing—a single piece of legislation aimed at addressing climate change. (All the steps taken by the Obama Administration to try to curb carbon emissions were done through regulation.) Precisely at the “moment when such legislative action is most needed,” James Morton Turner, a professor at Wellesley College, and Andrew Isenberg, a professor at the University of Kansas, have written, it has become “almost politically unimaginable.”

How and why this happened is the subject of Turner and Isenberg’s recent book, “The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump.” The two trace the G.O.P.’s turn against conservation to Ronald Reagan, who equated environmentalism with pessimism, and pessimism with a lack of patriotism.

Reagan combined a sunny faith in the future with an equally sunny indifference to facts. Running for President in 1980, he claimed that acid rain was not caused by power-plant and auto emissions, as scientists had shown, but by the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, in Washington State, earlier that year. Also during the campaign, he declared that “eighty per cent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation.” Once elected, Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch—an inexperienced ideologue (and the mother of the future Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch—to head the E.P.A. Among her first moves was to propose slashing the agency’s budget by more than forty per cent. One staffer complained that morale was so low there was “no known scientific method to measure it.”

Since Reagan, control of the White House has, of course, swung between the parties, as has control of Congress. Throughout the swings, anti-environmentalism has only become that much more entrenched in G.O.P. politics. (McCloskey, it’s worth noting, switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, in 2007, at the age of seventy-nine.) A great deal of money has changed hands to help change minds; according to the Web site Open Secrets, which tracks federal campaign contributions, the oil-and-gas industry contributed nearly twenty-four million dollars to House and Senate Republicans during the past election cycle, compared with five million to Democrats.

But, according to Turner and Morton, money is only part of the equation; the other part is votes. For Republican politicians, there’s no incentive to, say, back legislation to limit climate change: “Neither their corporate donors nor evangelicals nor the struggling Rust Belt workers who voted for Trump in 2016 see any advantage to it.” The situation is such that, as Aaron Huertas, who works with WeCanVote.US, recently pointed out, were Democrats inclined to pass meaningful climate legislation, they’d need to win not just the Presidency this fall but also a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Can this situation be changed? Certainly the hour is late and the facts—if you happen to be concerned about such things—are stark. What the original Earth Day showed is that, when Americans are mobilized, remarkable things are possible. What the past few years have shown is that Americans can be mobilized by the most remarkable falsehoods. To say that the future of the world depends on which of these tendencies prevails is at this point, unfortunately, no exaggeration.

From the standpoint of what I regard as real conservatism, what could more worth conserving than the planet that houses us all? So why do Republicans not understand that? Instead, lemming-like, led by, a man at war with the environment, they goose step into the future of environmental disaster.

A spot on analysis of Trump from across the pond

Michael Stevenson posted this to his blog, Pas de Merde. (With thanks to Miriam Lindmeier for the alert.)

British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read

Someone on Quora asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England wrote the following response:

A few things spring to mind. Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers. And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface. Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul. And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist. Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that. He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat. He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead. There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

  • Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
  • You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss. After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum. God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid. He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish: ‘My God… what… have… I… created? If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Georgia Republican plan to decrease the surplus population

Quote of the Day - from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
SCROOGE: “Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
SCROOGE: “And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
SCROOGE: “Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
SCROOGE: “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

I’lll come back to that quote presently.

Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letters from an American, covers two items of note.

Today, once again, the Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump president. The Senate Intelligence committee is chaired by North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, and the report released today was approved by the committee unanimously. …

Overshadowing this news today, though, was a razor sharp observation made yesterday by George Chidi, a Georgia journalist and former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Chidi examined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, nail salons, restaurants, theaters, and massage therapists, among other businesses, next week.

Kemp said the businesses would be required to screen workers for illness, increase sanitation rules, separate workspaces by at least six feet, telework where at all possible, and have staggered shifts. He also said that more restrictive local rules could not override his order.

Kemp told reporters that his concern was to protect small businesses, hurt by the economic shutdown, but Chidi had a different interpretation. “It’s about making sure people can’t file unemployment,” he wrote.

The state’s unemployment fund has about $2.6 billion. The shutdown has made claims skyrocket—Chidi says the fund will empty in about 28 weeks. There is no easy way to replenish the account because Georgia has recently set a limit on income taxes that cannot be overridden without a constitutional amendment. It cannot borrow enough to cover the fund either, because by law Georgia can’t borrow more than 5% of its previous year’s revenue in any year, and any borrowing must be repaid in full before the state can borrow any more.

By ending the business closures, Kemp guarantees that workers can no longer claim they are involuntarily unemployed, and so cannot claim unemployment benefits. Chidi notes that the order did not include banks, software firms, factories, or schools. It covered businesses usually staffed by poorer people that Kemp wants to keep off the unemployment rolls.

Kemp threw onto businesses responsibility for reassuring customers that reopening was the right thing to do. He warned that the “The private sector is going to have to convince the public that it’s safe to come back into these businesses,” Kemp said. “That’s what a barber is going to have to do. It’s what a tattoo parlor is going to have to do.” He also acknowledged that cases of Covid–19 would rise, but noted that the state had expanded its hospital bed capacity.

Chidi’s observations are shocking, and believable. The modern Republican program calls for the end to business regulation, social welfare programs, and infrastructure development, with the idea that freedom from restraint will allow businesses to thrive and the country will prosper in turn.

To bring their ideology to life, Republicans have slashed regulation, taxation, and social programs. Under such a regime, a few individuals have done very well indeed, while the majority of Americans has fallen behind. Georgia has been aggressive in putting the Republican program into action. Now, the lack of a social safety net in Georgia has stripped the veneer off this system. Far from spreading prosperity as “makers” stimulate the economy, it appears that the determination to keep taxes low and social welfare systems small is now forcing workers to risk their lives in a deadly pandemic.

This is the logical outcome of an ideology of radical individualism: as one Tennessee protester’s sign put it “Sacrifice the weak/Reopen T[ennessee].” In 1883, during a time of similar discussions over the responsibility of government to provide a social safety net, Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner wrote a famous book: What Social Classes Owe to Each Other. Sumner’s answer was… nothing. Sumner argued that protecting the weak was actually bad for society because it wasted resources and would permit weaker people to dilute the population. Far from helping poorer Americans, the government should let them die out for the good of society.

And that completes the equation. Republican ideology, realized by Kemp, aims to, in Scrooge’s words, “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Sumner wanted the government to stay out of social welfare programs, but thought it should continue to protect businesses, which men like Sumner believed helped everyone.

Today, corporations are asking Congress to protect them from lawsuits from employees and customers who might get infected with the novel coronavirus when they begin to reopen. According to Republican Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a member of Trump’s congressional task force on the economy, “There’s been a lot of discussion among conservative Republicans…. On the Republican side, I think there would be broad support, probably near-unanimous support.”

Republicans protest efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19. The GOP is not the party of life

Republican managed protests against the efforts to contain and mitigate effects of COVID–19 seem more criminal than just “recklessness.” That’s because congregating en masse without even the most rudimentary personal protections will result in (and has resulted in) the spread of the coronavirus and deaths.

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post wants us to Hold these Republicans accountable for deaths caused by recklessness.

Could Trumpers protesting in crowds without masks, Floridians heading for beaches and Texans visiting parks in metropolitan areas spark new outbreaks, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths? Quite possibly, yes. Those who congregate for protests or recreation endanger not only themselves but also others. Elderly Americans and those with compromised immune systems (including from cancer treatment and heart and lung disease) remain among the most vulnerable. What is most disturbing, however, is how little Republican leaders and their cult followers seem to care about protecting life. Some in the self-proclaimed pro-life party are being anything but protective of innocent life.

Here is my nomination for an addition to Rubin’s list. Gov. Brian Kemp sets Georgia on aggressive course to reopen, putting his state at center of deepening national debate

The announcement from Kemp (R), who was among the last of the nation’s governors to impose a statewide stay-at-home directive, caused blowback from public health experts, who said the state did not yet meet the criteria issued by the White House, and set up a potential confrontation with the mayor of Atlanta and leaders from other cities advising residents to stay at home.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) condemned the decision.

“More than 19,000 Georgians have tested positive for covid–19 and the numbers continue to increase,” she said in a statement. “It is the governor’s prerogative to make this decision for the state, but I will continue to urge Atlanta to stay at home, stay safe and make decisions based on the best interests of their families.”

Had Kemp not stolen the election, Georgia’s actions would have been dramatically different and for the better under Stacey Abrams as Georgia’s Governor. Abrams is one candidate for Biden’s running mate.

Stacey Abrams Is the Only Vice Presidential Pick for Joe Biden. Here’s Why. She’s succeeded at everything she’s ever done (except one rigged election). And she excites millions. You bet she’s ready.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Death by Quackery and other facts about how Trumpism is killing America

The Ten Weeks That Lost the War: A Timeline of How Trump Lied, Bungled and Screwed America in the COVID–19 Crisis. Tim Miller, writing at The Bulwark documents how Trump’s horrible, ghastly incompetence amplified the deadly effects of the COVID–19. “This timeline provides a look at the key inflection points in the crucial ten-week period where the United States lost the ability to effectively respond to the virus that is causing unprecedented death and economic destruction.”

Here’s where we stand today. Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) tweets the Reported US coronavirus deaths:

7 weeks ago: 6 deaths
6 weeks ago: 26 deaths
5 weeks ago: 86 deaths
4 weeks ago: 541 deaths
3 weeks ago: 3,003 deaths
2 weeks ago: 10,986 deaths
1 week ago: 23,649 deaths
Right now: 42,295 deaths

Paul Krugman explains howThe Right Sends In the Quacks Covid–19 highlights the conservative reliance on fake experts. As if the COVID–19 were not enough on its own, now we have “death by quackery”.

40,000 dead and more, many more to come. Protestors encouraged by Trump apparently think that's OK

Scriber’s readers might remember my search for explanatory coherence as a means to view multiple current events and trends. In this post I will focus first on an explanation of what’s driving the recent protests against those policies that are meant to combat the ravages of COVID–19. Then I will comment on two examples of such protests.

Charlie Warzel at the NY Times provides a theoretical wrapper from which to view the recent right-wing protests in Protesting for the Freedom to Catch the Coronavirus. The reopen America protests are the logical conclusion of a twisted liberty movement. (Tnx to our Roving Reporter Sherry)

At a string of small “reopen America” protests across the country this week, mask-less citizens proudly flouted social distancing guidance while openly carrying semiautomatic rifles and waving American flags and signs with “ironic” swastikas. They organized chants to lock up female Democrat governors and to fire the country’s top infectious disease experts. At one point during protests at the Michigan Capitol, the group’s orchestrated gridlock blocked an ambulance en route to a nearby hospital.

For those who’ve chosen to put their trust in science during the pandemic it’s hard to fathom the decision to gather to protest while a deadly viral pathogen — transmitted easily by close contact and spread by symptomatic and asymptomatic people alike — ravages the country. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This week’s public displays of defiance — a march for the freedom to be infected — are the logical conclusion of the modern far-right’s donor-funded, shock jock-led liberty movement. It was always headed here.

Few demonstrate this movement better than Alex Jones of Infowars — one of the key figures of Saturday’s “You Can’t Close America” rally on the steps of the Capitol building in Austin, Tex. For decades, Mr. Jones has built a thriving media empire harnessing (real and understandable) fear, paranoia and rage, which in turn drive sales of vitamin supplements and prepper gear in his personal store. …

Jones’ opportunistic rantings fit neatly into a larger right-wing strategy, which has grown alongside Infowars. Just as Infowars rallies are tied to the media outlet’s financial interest in antigovernment paranoia, a few of this week’s rallies have been underwritten by political organizations with ties to the Republican Party and the Trump administration. Regardless of who’s behind them, the intent is to sow division and attempt to reshape public opinion. As Vox’s Jane Coaston wrote, they’re “designed to pit Republican-voting areas of states against their Democratic-voting neighbors, even rural Republicans against urban Republicans.”

It’s important to note that the reopen protests have been generally small (at most, hundreds of people in states of millions of citizens responsibly staying at home) and don’t even reflect the polled opinions of many conservatives. But they fit neatly into a larger campaign playbook and take on outsize importance. They take place frequently in swing states or states with Democratic governors and are plastered across social media, reported in mainstream organizations, openly cheered on by Fox News and right-wing media, and ultimately end up amplified (tacitly or explicitly) by the president. The strategy has worked well in recent years, consolidating support among the Trump base.

… so here we are in 2020, protesting statewide lockdowns intended to save lives while thousands of Americans across the country grow sick and die each day. That a virus that demands a united front — where our public health is only as strong as our least vigilant citizens — should come at a moment of extreme polarization is a tragedy. But this moment is what we’ve been headed toward for years. And so the “reopen America” protests feel unconscionable and yet completely predictable. The playbook isn’t new. The only thing that’s changed are the stakes, which get higher every day.

Here are a pair of reports on the protests, the first is from Arizona. (With thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry.)

’Operation Gridlock’ protesters decry ‘fake’ pandemic, restrictions. That is from a report by the AZ Mirror.

Conservatives angry about the catastrophic economic situation caused by the COVID–19 pandemic and government restrictions on businesses and citizens drove around the state Capitol Sunday in protest, hoping to persuade Gov. Doug Ducey to lift his stay-at-home order and “re-open” Arizona.

Many of the protesters displayed support of President Donald Trump, flying Trump flags, wearing the president’s signature red campaign hats and other campaign paraphernalia.

Trump has encouraged such protests, saying that some restrictions enacted by governors to blunt the spread of COVID–19 “are too much.” In Arizona, only businesses deemed “essential” are allowed to remain open, and they must enforce social-distancing measures that keep customers six feet apart. Ducey’s executive order runs through April 30, though he can choose to extend it past that date.

Ducey has so far resisted calls to quickly lift restrictions, and has said science and public health concerns will guide when and how he does so.

The protest, dubbed Operation Gridlock by organizers and an off-shoot of a controversial Michigan protest last week that was tied to a group funded by the family of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, consisted of cars circling the Capitol for about two hours as protesters inside displayed signs and honked their horns. Some blared air horns, while others blasted patriotic music from their vehicle sound systems.

Some of the protesters wore masks and gloves, but many did not wear any protective gear. A common theme among attendees was that fear of COVID–19 was overblown and that the illness was not as serious as infectious disease experts and government officials – including Trump – have said it is.

“Fake pandemic, fake numbers, fake news,” read a t-shirt worn by one attendee. “It’s not the plague, it’s just the flu,” a sign held by another attendee said.

As of April 19, there had been 4,929 confirmed cases of COVID–19 in Arizona, and 184 deaths have been attributed to the illness. Nationally, more than 722,000 people have tested positive for COVID–19 and almost 34,000 have died.

A few protesters brandished weapons, including Jennifer Harrison, leader of the far-right extremist group AZ Patriots, who walked around the Capitol grounds with an AR-style assault rifle.

What on earth is she thinking? What, or who, is she going to shoot? Doctors? Nurses? Other responders? The virus?

That would be funny except that it is not. Without even firing a shot Harrison enables more deaths caused by the coronamvirus.

With that as a segue, Jonathon V. Last writing in The Bulwark takes a critical look at these protests.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a walking, talking joke?

Ask the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, who over the weekend—in the midst of a global pandemic that was about to go over the 40,000-dead American mark—used the WSJ’s prime real estate to, well,

No Timeout for FBI Scandals. More teeth remain to be pulled, and the biggest may concern James Comey and Hillary’s emails.

Yup. Gotta get to the bottom of Hillary’s emails. Don’t let up now, Holman!

And then there’s Alex Jones. On Saturday Infowars staged a protest in Austin. About 200 highly-intelligent patriots showed up to demonstrate to America that they will not be … cooped up at home? Told to wear masks? Who can say, really. They chanted about firing Fauci and making America free again and I have to assume that these folks must all really hate Donald Trump, since he’s the one who asked for a period of national social distancing and has total control over whether or not Fauci gets fired.

They must think that Trump is a total traitor. I bet they were this close to chanting “Lock him up.”

Except that someone at the rally then made an announcement. I can’t tell from the audio who it is. Maybe it’s Jones or one of the other Infowars guys.

Here’s what the person says over a bullhorn: “It’s now confirmed, AP reporting, that the bioweapon came out of the Chinese Wuhan laboratory.”

Big news, if true!

But I’m less interested in fact checking this than in the reaction of the protestors.

They cheer.

Like, they really cheer. Like it’s a … good thing that 40,000 Americans have now been killed in an act of war by a nefarious Chinese bioweapon? Because that’s a better scenario than the virus being a zoonotic accident?

I’ll be honest: I’m not following the logic there. I would have thought that if COVID–19 was a Chinese bioweapon then things are a lot worse, because it means we have to get into, like, a shooting war with a country that has a billion people. And we kind of have a lot on our plate right now.

Plus—and I’m not just saying this because I’m trying to cover for President Trump—it would mean that Trump has been really, really derelict in his duties as commander-in-chief.

Boy these Infowars people must really hate him. It’s like they’re suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome or something.

Anyway, there’s some inaudible stuff and then the guy on the megaphone says “The Chinese Communists launched the bio attack.”

And there’s more cheering.

As my buddy Ryan Kinney notes: So we’re now at war with a Chinese bioweapon designed to destroy America. But also … open up?

40 percent or so of those polled continue to support Trump - no matter what he says or does. 40 thousand is the number of deaths - many of which are traceable to Trump’s lackadaisical response to timely warnings by WHO and other experts.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Trump's search for a scapegoat - WHO is not it

White House’s case against World Health Organization crumbles reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). Despite Trump’s talk of a cover-up, U.S. officials knew what the World Health Organization knew in real time.

In January, the World Health Organization issued global warnings about the need for “isolation” and “prevention” measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. At the time, Donald Trump was dismissive of the threat, assuring the public that he wasn’t worried about the danger because “we have it totally under control.”

The president, however, believes he has an explanation for the juxtaposition: the WHO, the Republican insisted last week, was “covering up” the crisis. Indeed, Trump used this argument to justify his highly controversial decision to halt U.S. financial support for the World Health Organization.

The White House’s line, however, appears to have effectively collapsed. The Washington Post reported:

More than a dozen U.S. researchers, physicians and public health experts, many of them from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were working full time at the Geneva headquarters of the World Health Organization as the novel coronavirus emerged late last year and transmitted real-time information about its discovery and spread in China to the Trump administration, according to U.S. and international officials…. Senior Trump-appointed health officials also consulted regularly at the highest levels with the WHO as the crisis unfolded, the officials said.

Keep in mind, as Dana Milbank noted, when Trump tries to rationalize his decision to cut off funding for the world’s public health body in the middle of a pandemic, he specifically argued that the WHO failed to “share information in a timely and transparent fashion.”

But this obviously wasn’t quite right: U.S. officials knew what the World Health Organization knew in real time.

Indeed, Milbank’s column added, “15 officials from his administration were embedded with the WHO in Geneva, working full time, hand-in-glove with the organization on the virus from the very first day China disclosed the outbreak to the world, Dec. 31. At least six other U.S. officials at WHO headquarters dedicated most of their time to the virus, and two others worked remotely with the WHO on covid–19 full time. In the weeks that followed, they and other U.S. government scientists engaged in all major deliberations and decisions at the WHO on the novel coronavirus, had access to all information, and contributed significantly to the world body’s conclusions and recommendations.”

When Trump started lashing out at the World Health Organization, it had all the characteristics of a post-hoc rationalization: the president had cycled through a series of people and institutions he hoped to blame for his administration’s missteps, and the WHO became a convenient target that struggled to fight back.

But it looks like he’ll need to keep looking for a credible scapegoat.

What the GOP gave Trump in return for its soul

Quote of the Day: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” -Jesus, Mark 8:34–38 English Standard Version (ESV).

In modern terms, what can a Republican party give in return for its soul?

Reed Galen writing in The Bulwark answers.

Look What He Makes You Give. The COVID–19 crisis shows how little elite Republicans got in exchange for the soul they had to give to Donald Trump.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Republican elites claimed that they didn’t like Donald Trump very much. They didn’t support him in the primary. Many said or implied that they wouldn’t vote for him in the general election.

But at some point each one of them reasoned that the right thing to do was to don the MAGA hat in order to ensure that Trump made good on the policy priorities they most valued.

They acknowledged the trade-off. Trump would make them eat some shit sandwiches with the tweets and the corruption and the protectionism and the race baiting. But they’d get theirs. This was the genesis of the “But Gorsuch” meme.

At the time, some of us asked … are you sure you know what’s in this sandwich?

Today that’s now clear.

More than 39,000 Americans are dead from a pandemic that was ignored while the president was vainly consumed with the state of the stock market and keeping the numbers down. We are confronted daily with a president utterly incapable of truthfully explaining the stakes, or calling the nation to shared sacrifice, or even merely striking a tone that allows for communal grieving.

That elite Republicans have endorsed this horrifying display of tragic mismanagement lays bare what Trump has taken from each person who made this deal, how much of their soul he has sucked from their body.

It’s striking how little they actually got out of the bargain.

But what’s even more striking is that, instead of being angered at their having been being suckered by Trump, or ashamed of it, Republicans decided to accept—and even to celebrate—the parts of Trumpism that they had once regarded as the regrettable price of the exchange.

Look what he has made them give.

Accepting his party’s nod in Cleveland, Trump gave a dark, dispiriting, angry speech. Those who cut the deal looked both ways and cheered.

Mounting the dais on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Inauguration Day, he delivered his “American Carnage” address, the least uplifting, uniting, or optimistic inaugural address on record. And yet they cheered.

Once in office, Trump turned his rhetoric on immigration to action at the border. He ordered crackdowns on asylum seekers, separated children from their parents, and kept human beings in cages. They cheered.

He went to Europe and insulted our NATO allies, praised Vladimir Putin, and began dismantling the post-World War II security apparatus. They cheered.

He pushed through spending programs that blew a massive hole in our budget, grew the deficit, and sent our national debt into orbit. He passed a tax cut that overwhelmingly favored the wealthy and large corporations. And what did the Republicans, the party of fiscal responsibility and “main street” conservatism do? They cheered.

When Trump started a trade war with China that drove up prices of consumer goods and pushed small farms into bankruptcy what did Republicans say? Trump is showing the Chinese who’s boss! When he then bailed out Big Ag and corporate farms to cover his losses, where was the GOP? Somewhere in a lonely field, kicking the dirt.

Last summer, when Donald Trump made his “perfect phone call” to the Ukrainian president pressuring him to undertake a domestic political errand, and subsequently withholding military aid from an ally facing down the Russian bear, how did Republicans respond? They said that the president can do what he wants. That presidents do this all the time. That Joe Biden is the real crook. That no one can find Ukraine on a map.

After being impeached for abusing his office, what did Republicans say? That it’s a witch hunt. That they’re trying to keep us down. That it’s all the media and socialist Democrats’ fault.

As the evidence of Trump’s malfeasance mounted, what did Republicans do? They asked no questions, called no witnesses, and claimed the president was within his rights to do whatever he wants.

In February, when it became clear that COVID–19 was a crisis and that Trump had fumbled it, what did Republicans say? It’s not as bad as everyone says. It’s the fault of the Chinese Communist Party. Let the old people die.

And this week, when Donald Trump finally said the not-so-quiet part out loud, that he’s the president and that means he has “total” authority, as if he were a king? Where was the party of federalism and small government and the rule of law? At least this time, some of them didn’t cheer. They just insisted that the media was worse.

The deal that Republicans made with Donald Trump was never going to be a good one.

But with tens of thousands of people dead, the economy in shambles, and a historic crisis requiring a competent leader, do they still, in the silence of their own hearts, think, “But Gorsuch”?

For it should no longer surprise us that Republicans have turned over the kingdom to Donald Trump.

It is sad, though, how cheaply they gave it up.

Reed Galen is an independent political strategist and advisor to The Lincoln Project. He previously worked for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Economic and political outlooks - a pair of scares

New Yorker columnist John Cassidy thinks that There Is No Panacea for the Coronavirus Economy. Even under optimistic scenarios, restoring the economy to health is going to be an extended and difficult task.

In terms of necessary and sufficient conditions for opening up, “Practically everybody agrees that comprehensive testing will be vital going forward. …” But:

The reality is we are not even testing health-care workers,” Paul Romer, a Nobel-winning economist who is a professor at New York University, told me on Friday. “We need to be testing all of them regularly, and many others, too. Trump’s medical advisers are stuck with blinkers on. They are not stepping back and looking at the big picture.’’ In Romer’s view, this involves creating a public-health strategy that can be sustained for a year or eighteen months, until a vaccine is developed. The only available options, he said, are continued shutdowns or a massive expansion of testing to find and isolate asymptomatic carriers before they spread the disease. Romer, who served as the chief economist at the World Bank from 2016 to 2018, is calling for at least ten million tests per day, and ideally as many as twenty million or thirty million.

Absent large-scale testing, the outlook is grim, he said. “As soon as we stop the shutdowns, we’ll go right back to exponential growth. It won’t even help us much if we get down to very low rates of infection first, because exponential growth is so fast you get right back there very quickly.” Given the limits to testing capacity and the Trump Administration’s refusal to take the lead in this area, Romer suggested that the most likely outcome is a series of reopenings and renewed shutdowns, as the infection rate rebounds. “From an economic perspective, that is almost as bad as a permanent shutdown,” he said. “Nobody is going to invest. Nobody is going to reopen a restaurant.”

Not everybody agrees with that analysis, of course. But there is general agreement among economists that even under optimistic scenarios, where the rate of infection doesn’t shoot back up immediately, restoring the economy to health is going to be an extended and difficult task. “Absent a vaccine or treatment breakthrough, reopening will be gradual,” the economists at Goldman Sachs wrote this week. “Several other countries have taken steps toward reopening. We see three lessons from their experiences. First, initial reopening timelines often prove too optimistic. Second, even countries at the forefront of reopening have gradual and conservative plans. Third, recovery is easier and quicker in manufacturing and construction than in consumer services.”

The reason why #3 is problematic is that consumer services make up a huge proportion of our economy.

Today’s American economy is predominantly a service economy … Private-service industries, such as retail, finance, lodging, entertainment, and restaurants, contribute close to seventy per cent of the gross domestic product. Even if some restaurants do defy Romer’s prediction and reopen, they will have to meet social-distancing requirements, which will reduce their capacity. The same goes for airlines, hotels, gyms, and many other businesses. …

For now, the stock market is focussing on the upside. [Ian Shepherdson, founder of Pantheon Macroeconomics] said that institutional investors, whose performance is often measured against the market, can’t afford to miss out on a rebound, and they are placing a great deal of faith in the Federal Reserve. “If you are out of the market now, you are fighting against the momentum, you are fighting the stimulus, and you are fighting the Fed,” he said. “The only thing you have going for you is the truth—the recovery is going to be very slow, and on the virus front there are going to be relapses.”

And if all that was not enough to scare the bejesus out of everyone who is paying attention, we have our wannabe king fomenting civil unrest (to put it mildly). The Arizona Blue Meanie warns us that Trump is inciting insurrection and rebellion … and a ‘Covid Civil War’? Here are excerpts.

Trump has continued his baseless assertions of widespread voter fraud since his election. Does anyone seriously doubt that if he loses the election in November he will insist that the election was rigged and fraudulent and question the legitimacy of the results, as he was prepared to do in 2016? And does anyone seriously doubt that this could trigger violence from his most unhinged personality cult followers?

Mary McCord, former acting U.S. assistant attorney general for national security from 2016 to 2017, and legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center explains at the Washington Post, Trump’s ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN!’ tweets incite insurrection. That’s illegal.

President Trump incited insurrection Friday against the duly elected governors of the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. Just a day after issuing guidance for re-opening America that clearly deferred decision-making to state officials — as it must under our Constitutional order — the president undercut his own guidance by calling for criminal acts against the governors for not opening fast enough.

Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” followed immediately by “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and then “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

It’s an echo of the “Second Amendment remedies” rhetoric of the 2010 midterm election. It’s clearly a violation of federalism principles, and it’s quite possibly a crime under federal law. And insurrection or treason against state government is a crime in Virginia, Michigan and Minnesota, as well as most states. Assembling with others to train or practice using firearms or other explosives for use during a civil disorder is also a crime in many states. But the president himself is calling for just that.

Republican strategist Rick Wilson suggests that Trump is, in fact, fomenting a “civil war” from his unhinged personality cult followers. Trump Leads Pro-Plague States of America to a COVID Civil War (excerpts):

Let’s be clear about the things he’s going to do and the risks he is willing to take with the American people. Trump is telling us bluntly and plainly that he will stoke civil unrest to find a political pathway out of a galactic-scale fuck-up of his own making. He’s willing to let a disease that’s already killed 33,000 Americans due to his inaction and dishonesty spread further, faster, and more widely.

Many of the people at his ‘liberation’ rallies may well get or spread COVID–19, just when the country’s continued diligence and caution about flattening the curve through social distancing is most vital. These engineered protests are taking resources that first responders desperately need to respond to the crisis, not Trump’s crisis actors. The one person who won’t pay a price? Donald Trump.

… The simplest solution is for voters to vote out of office every Republican enabler of Donald Trump, from president on down to your local school board. Such a complete and total devastating defeat would suck any oxygen out of Trump’s vain attempt to claim the election was illegitimate in order to hold onto power.

And if his unhinged personality cult followers do resort to violence in a fit of rage, they will have revealed themselves to be anti-democratic domestic terrorists engaged in unlawful insurrection and rebellion against the legitimate U.S. government, a federal crime under 18 U.S. Code § 2383:

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.

This last clause would apply to Donald Trump and any other damn fool Republican politician who would join him in such a heinous act against America.

In any event, the media must stop normalizing this behavior. This is not normal nor acceptable. Treat this with the seriousness and level of concern that this merits.

Friday, April 17, 2020

GOP cares less about American lives than the economy - a case study of N=1

OK, I’ve got to ’fess up. Only one GOP Rep was asked this question. I wonder what would result from a larger sample of GOPlins. Read on.

GOP lawmaker calls letting Americans die of coronavirus ‘lesser of these two evils’ reports Lauren Floyd (Daily Kos Staff).

Indiana Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth actually admitted to caring less about American lives than he does about the economy Tuesday in a WIBC radio interview. Hollingsworth said he recognizes the biological challenge of the coronavirus but the economic challenge is “growing and much, much larger.” He said he wants to get Americans “back to work, back to their businesses, back to school, and back to churches” where they want to be.

When asked his response to people who tell him “you’re going to get people killed, Congressman Hollingsworth,” the legislator said, “there is no zero harm choice here. Both of these decisions will lead to harm for individuals, whether that’s dramatic economic harm or whether that’s the loss of life,“ Hollingsworth said. ”But it is always the American government’s position to say in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life of American lives, we have to always choose the latter."

Hollingsworth attempted to clarify his statement Wednesday with IndyStar. He told the newspaper he was trying to explain a need for better planning as officials make difficult decisions regarding the pandemic. “I believe that I stood up and said on a radio show, we are going to have to make tough decisions going forward,” Hollingsworth told IndyStar, "and we owe a plan that acknowledges the reality that the risk of coronavirus will never be equal to zero and there are costs associated with this shutdown of our economy, real costs that Hoosiers and Americans are bearing.

“What I got back was Trey wants people to die. I never said that, and it’s not true.”

Uh, well, yes it is.

“it is always the American government’s position to say in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”

Hollingsworth, who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, said the country’s gross domestic product is expected to fall 20% this quarter alone, and legislators have to work to improve economic conditions even in the face of what science tells us about the progression of the coronavirus. “It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say this is the lesser of these two evils, and it is not zero evil,” he said. “But it is the lesser of these evils and we intend to move forward that direction. That is our responsibility and to abdicate that is to insult the Americans that voted us into office.”

Social media users wasted little time calling the congressman out for his dangerous and selfish priorities. “Trey Hollingsworth is ‘pro-life’, y’all,” op-ed writer Holly Figueroa O’Reilly tweeted. Luke Turner, page to former U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, said he is “once again disappointed” in his congressman. “How dare you tell working families that they have to go back to work and put themselves in danger, when you have been too scared to host a single town hall in three years,” Turner tweeted. Scott Dworkin, a co-founder of the Democratic Coalition, called the congressman’s words “wrong” in his tweet. “The evil is actually monsters saying absurd s— like this,” Dworkin said.

A 2018 video, however, reminds onlookers of exactly why they shouldn’t be surprised by Hollingsworth’s commitment to his own prosperity. He’s serving his second term as Indiana’s 9th congressional district representative. Liz Watson, the congressman’s former opponent for the seat, said Hollingsworth put up $3 million and his dad drudged up $1.5 million from a Super PAC to buy his congressional seat four years ago.

"He’s a Tennessean who decided to waltz in here in 2016 taking advantage of the chaos downticket from Trump to buy our congressional seat out from under us,” she said, “and then his singular accomplishment during his term in Congress has been to give himself a $4.5 million tax cut.” He essentially “broke even,” spending $4.5 million and recouping $4.5 million, so two years later he decided to “go back and double his money,” Watson said.

In the words of MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid, let’s "hope his constituents take note” this time.