Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Costs of the Anti-Vaxxers Among us

Trump Country Rejects Vaccines Despite Growing Delta Threat. President Biden missed a July 4 target for shots after politically conservative areas balked.

“There hasn’t been enough research done on it, and I’d rather take my chances with the virus than I would to get the vaccine. I trust my immune system,” [the niece] said in an interview. “If I get it, and it’s my time to die, then I get it and it’s my time to die.”

I, your Scriber, heard that one from one of the pickle ball players the other day.

Jonathon V. Last published this Bulwark piece in his “Triad” column today (July 22).

The Costs of Anti-Vaxxers

From CBS This Morning: “Many states are facing another surge of COVID–19 cases. David Begnaud spoke with a COVID–19 patient in a Louisiana hospital who says he won’t vaccinate because there are too many issues with the vaccine.”

The reporter asks this very fine, high-IQ citizen if, knowing what he knows now, he could go back in time to take the vaccine and avoid getting sick, being hospitalized, and almost dying—would he get the vaccine?

Dude does not even hesitate for a second.

Hearing that, I wondered: Who is paying for the costs of his hospitalization? I hope he has health insurance. And if he does, he’ll pay some out-of-pocket minimum to meet his deductible. Then the insurer will reach a negotiated settlement with the hospital. And then, next year, the insurance company will pass on the costs of that large payment to the rest of its customers.

The people in the insurance pool who got the vaccine will pick up the tab for the treatment of the people who got sick after refusing to get the vaccine.

That’s conservative, rugged individualism, circa 2021.

And it’s a pretty sweet deal, too. You can make whatever damn fool choices you want, and someone else—the hospital, your insurance company, your neighbors paying into the insurance pool—will pick up the tab.

Why would these people ever change?

Why, indeed?

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The storm might be here.

This is a must-read - if you care about the dangers to our democracy being manufactured hourly by Trumpist hoodlums. You will see why that label includes the ex-president and the right-wing members of congress.

Luke Mogelson chronicled the Jan 6 insurrection for the New Yorker in Among the Insurrectionists The Capitol was breached by Trump supporters who had been declaring, at rally after rally, that they would go to violent lengths to keep the President in power. A chronicle of an attack foretold.

For example:

… When Chris Krebs, a Trump appointee in charge of national cybersecurity, deemed the election “the most secure in American history,” the President fired him. Joe diGenova, Trump’s attorney, then said that Krebs “should be drawn and quartered—taken out at dawn and shot.”

Published in the print edition of the January 25, 2021, issue, with the headline “The Storm.”

Saturday, July 3, 2021

An In-Depth Look at How a Mob Stormed the Capitol

The New York Times has published an investigatory video about the Jan 6 capitol riot. This is a must view!

NY Times reports on the Day of Rage: An In-Depth Look at How a Mob Stormed the Capitol. A six-month Times investigation has synchronized and mapped out thousands of videos and police radio communications from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, providing the most complete picture to date of what happened — and why.

Here is the link: https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007606996/capitol-riot-trump-supporters.html

A Republican Senator who told the truth about the election

Tim Alberta, in The Atlantic, reports on The (Republican) Senator Who Decided to Tell the Truth. A Michigan Republican spent eight months searching for evidence of election fraud, but all he found was lies.

Thanks to Scriber’s Editor-at-Large (Sherry). Snippets follow.

… a Republican state senator who chairs the [Michigan state] Oversight Committee, had released a report detailing his eight-month-long investigation into the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

"Our clear finding is that citizens should be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan,” [Ed] McBroom wrote in the report. “There is no evidence presented at this time to prove either significant acts of fraud or that an organized, wide-scale effort to commit fraudulent activity was perpetrated in order to subvert the will of Michigan voters.”

For good measure, McBroom added: “The Committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain.”

A little while earlier, when discussing the scourge of social media, Ed McBroom joked about quitting Facebook to keep his sanity. Then he rattled off the incoming fire he’s been dealing with daily—not just social-media posts and messages, but angry emails and texts from random numbers. Some people accuse him of being in league with Biden; others claim that China bought him off. Occasionally the screeds get nasty and downright threatening, though he said the most disturbing communications of that nature are delivered in middle-of-the-night phone calls. The senator knows that people can locate his farm easily enough, and worries about being gone so much during the week, leaving Sarah and Susan alone with the 13 children. (Both women, he noted, are trained and highly qualified to operate the collection of rifles that hung in a cabinet behind us.)

Still, whatever fleeting dread he feels about personal backlash is diminished by his concern for the country’s sudden epistemological crisis. Not long ago, McBroom said, he would have defaulted to dismissing any notions of mass societal irrationality. He is not dismissive anymore. He sees large portions of the voting public rejecting the basic tenets of civic education and sequestering into “this alternate world” of social media. He hears from constituents about “enemies” on the other side of political disputes and a looming civil conflict to resolve them. And he wonders, as an amateur historian, whether the “very real trouble” we’re in can be escaped.

"It’s easy to look at the current status of American culture, American politics, the American church, and be really apoplectic right now. It’s very easy to give in to that sense of panic,” McBroom told me. “But we go through different cycles in this country. I’m hoping we’re in a cycle of riots and demonstrations on and off, [and not] the cycle where we end up in civil war. I’ve encountered some folks who are like, ‘Maybe it’s time to rise up’—you know, ‘refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots,’ that stuff. And I say to them, ‘Are you seriously going to go looking for people with biden signs in their yards? I mean, is that what you’re going to do? Make a list? Is this what this is coming to? You’re ready to go out and fight your neighbors? Because I don’t think you really are. I think you’re talking stupid.’”

McBroom closed his eyes and took a heavy breath. “These are good people, and they’re being lied to, and they’re believing the lies,” he said. “And it’s really dangerous.”

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Trump regarded by historians as near the bottom of US presidents. In the new study Obama ranked near the top

Scriber’s Editor-at-Large Sherry calls our attention to a USA Today report:

Historians rank Trump near the bottom of U.S. presidents as Obama rises into the top 10. Historians ranked Donald Trump lowest of any president in 150 years, but he remains the GOP’s most influential figure and a possible 2024 candidate.

More snippets from the report:

Abraham Lincoln has been ranked at the top of the list in each of the four surveys. George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt have also been steadily among the top five. Dwight Eisenhower was ranked fifth this year and in 2017.

The lowest ranking president is James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, whose divisive tenure helped precipitate the Civil War.

Among other modern presidents, Barack Obama has risen to No. 10, compared with No. 12 in the last C-SPAN historians’ survey, in 2017. Ronald Reagan is ranked at No. 9; Bill Clinton at No. 19; George H.W. Bush at No. 21, and George W. Bush at No. 29.

Richard Nixon, the only president forced to resign the office amid scandal, is rated No. 31.

That last one is interesting. Trump (rank 41) is rated as worse than Nixon. Now that is one hell of an accomplishment.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Trump vs. America's lawyers - including William Barr

George T. Conway III, Washington Post Contributing columnist, thinks that America owes thanks to Trump’s lawyers — even William Barr.

BEGIN QUOTE

Donald Trump could never really count on the lawyers.

No matter how many cynical or craven congressmen, toadying aides, grifting consultants, unhinged activists, disinforming talking heads and deluded cultists he may have had, Trump still needed the lawyers. He needed serious members of the bar to provide at least some semblance of a legal justification for his attempted self-coup.

They never did.

Nearly six months after Jan. 6, as Trump’s private business stands on the verge of indictment, we’ve been learning more about how lawyers stood in the way of his attempt to commit the ultimate abuse of public trust during his final days in office.

The latest revelations involve former attorney general William P. Barr. An excerpt from a forthcoming book by ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl describes what Barr thought about the 45th president’s claims of electoral fraud: “It was all bulls—t.“ The Justice Department “realized from the beginning it was just bulls—.” No legal term, English or Latin, fits better than that.

Barr shared a similar assessment with Trump at the White House on Dec. 1, 2020, Karl reports. You’ve shown no fraud, Barr explained, and yet “your people keep on shoveling this s— out.”

Barr’s opposition left Trump enraged. One attendee described the president as having “the eyes and mannerism of a madman.” The book reports that the “livid” president responded by saying, “You must hate Trump. You must hate Trump.”

To be sure, Barr’s rectitude that day doesn’t excuse his earlier kowtowing to Trump or his politicization of the Justice Department. And what Barr had done to precipitate his confrontation with Trump — issuing a bombshell public statement that the Justice Department had found no significant electoral fraud — didn’t exactly arise from high-minded motive: Karl reports that then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had prevailed upon Barr to make the announcement, fearing that Trump’s campaign to overturn the presidential election would cost their party the Senate.

But make no mistake: Barr, in Karl’s telling, did the right thing by refusing to treat Trump’s fraud claims as anything other than what he believed them to be: factual and legal manure.

And after Barr had resigned in the wake of that fiery confrontation, the remaining political appointees at the Justice Department similarly stood up to Trump. Barr’s successor, then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, steadfastly refused Trump’s demand that the department seek to overturn the election.

Rosen did that despite knowing that the president might replace him with Jeffrey Clark, an official who was apparently eager to do Trump’s bidding. The remaining members of the Justice Department’s senior leadership likewise stood firm. They entered into a bureaucratic suicide pact by which they would all resign if Rosen were fired.

Emails recently unearthed by a congressional investigation show that Trump and his White House relentlessly urged these senior Justice Department officials to put Trump’s interests over the nation’s, and to follow Trump’s desires over the rule of law. They balked — and succeeded in running out the clock on Trump’s mendacious claims and his term of office.

Not attempting to destroy constitutional democracy would seem to be a low standard for members of the bar. And it is. But the importance of these lawyers’ refusals to behave lawlessly in the waning days of Trump’s presidency can’t be overstated.

As Barr put it at the White House with Trump on Dec. 1, according to Karl, “No self-respecting lawyer” would go “anywhere near” the president’s meritless claims. He was right: A number of lawyers quit their representation of Trump’s campaign as the absurdity of his claims became clear.

Their assessment was upheld by Trump-appointed judges, who in turn dealt scathing decisional blows to Trump’s electoral-fraud litigation charade. Those jurists included Stephanos Bibas, an appellate court appointee from Pennsylvania who emphatically affirmed that “democracy depends on counting all lawful votes promptly and finally not setting them aside without weighty proof.”

Precisely because good lawyers couldn’t fathom Trump’s false claims of fraud, Trump was left with what Barr aptly called a “clown show” of a legal effort — the clown show led by Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani got his well-earned due last week. His ceaseless public lying in support of Trump led a New York court to suspend his license to practice law because his conduct had undermined “the profession’s role as a crucial source of reliable information.”

The lawyers of the Trump era weren’t perfect — far from it — but Americans should still be grateful there were more Rosens than Giulianis. Even Barr deserves some credit.

And for that, in the end, we owe the essential culture of America’s legal profession. As exemplified by the decision suspending Giuliani, that culture, at its best, seeks to vindicate factual truth and the rule of law — values entirely anathematic to Trump. Which is why the lawyers could never really be on his side.

END QUOTE

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

What is wrong with US Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

She does seem to line up more with GOPlins than with the political party that put her in the Senate. Is she just being Sinematic or does she really bellieve the fountain of crap she spouts?

Kyrsten Sinema Doesn’t Give a Fuck. Does Her Party? The senator from Arizona is willing to let Republicans demolish democracy so long as she can claim she’s being “bipartisan” by doing that.

Molly Jong-Fast, Beast Editor-At-Large, has some fiery observations about what Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is doing.

Democrats find themselves on a sticky wicket. They now control the presidency, the House and the Senate, and have a chance to protect voting rights. But Republicans seem unified and emboldened by defeat to fight tooth and nail against democracy itself.

The Brennan Center is tracking some “389 bills with restrictive provisions in 48 states” at a time when, according to Pew, “just 28% of Republicans and Republican leaners say everything possible should be done to make voting easy.” More than 50 percent of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the last election was stolen from their orange idol.

So it’s up to Democrats to save democracy, but they don’t seem to be in control of their own party or up to the challenge, as we saw Tuesday when the “For the People Act” fell predictably short in the Senate. One big reason why is Sen. Joe Manchin, who actually voted to advance the bill but who has steadfastly opposed ending the filibuster, which means it stands no chance without the support of 10 sane Republicans, and there are not 10 sane Republicans to back it or, likely, to back his slimmed-down alternative.

But Manchin at least has an excuse for his defense of the filibuster that ensured the voting rights bill fell short, and that the rest of the party’s agenda will as well: He is the only Democrat who could possibly hold on in West Virginia, a state where Trump won 68.6 percent of the vote in 2020. His partner in partisan pettifoggery, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, has no excuse at all for her defense of the filibuster.

She tried to provide one in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, an essay in defense of the filibuster. But the filibuster is largely indefensible. According to Sinema, “The best way to achieve durable, lasting results? Bipartisan cooperation” since, she argues, bills that are passed on a party line vote will be reversed when Republicans come back into power. Of course, this wasn’t true for Obamacare, nor was it true earlier this year when Democrats passed the American Rescue Act, which soon became so popular that Republicans tried to take credit for it, pretending they had supported it all along.

GOP voters pretty much agree with Democratic Senators about infrastructure and voting rights. But GOP Senators are completely uninterested in what their voters want. Like Groucho Marx, whatever it is, they’re against it.

It’s a real MAGA moment, as Sinema pretends that she’s living in a pre-Trump world, even as her defense of bipartisanship is oddly Trumpian in her hostility towards the media with her dig about how “bipartisanship seems outdated to many pundits.” But it’s not that her fellow Democrats are against bipartisanship—it’s that Republicans are no longer even pretending to negotiate in good faith.

Maybe Sinema missed what happened on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters violently tried to overturn the election and hang Mike Pence, and even after that eight of her fellow senators voted to overturn a free and fair election because it didn’t go their way. These people have no interest in bipartisanship; they don’t even want democracy anymore.

Ultimately Sinema argues that she doesn’t support getting rid of the filibuster because the filibuster protects democracy as “Instability, partisanship and tribalism continue to infect our politics. The solution, however, is not to continue weakening our democracy’s guardrails.”

It’s a pretty amazing statement considering the precarious state our democracy is in. The guardrails are already real fucking weak. Democrats are trying to pass the For the People Act to repair them while there’s still time, and as the other party is working extremely hard to undermine democracy with countless state bills doing everything from making it illegal to bring voters water to making it so that partisans can overturn results they don’t like.

What do I think? Perhaps Sinema is taking a line from the Melania Trump book of favorites: I really don’t care, do u?

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

crAZy's Fraudit is 'insane'

‘This is insane’: GOP Arizona county official slams election ‘audit’
Republican Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer says the so-called forensic audit of the 2020 presidential election occurring in his county is “insane just from a competence standpoint.”

Read Anderson Cooper’s interview in CNN Politics: https://apple.news/AjzPJBCc-QhC_aBxMv3-AIA

Shared by Sherry Moreau.

Monday, June 21, 2021

What Sinema has wrong about the filibuster

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains how Sinema’s case against the filibuster isn’t getting any better. To hear Kyrsten Sinema tell it, leaving filibuster rules alone is what’s “best for our democracy.” That’s a difficult pitch to take seriously.

BEGIN QUOTE

It is no secret that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is one of the shrinking number of Senate Democrats fiercely opposed to reforming the institution’s filibuster rules. It’s also no secret that the Arizonan is under considerable pressure to reconsider, especially with filibuster abuses standing in the way of voting-rights legislation.

But as the debate continues to unfold, Sinema continues to make the case that she’s right and those pressuring her from the left are wrong. The trouble is, her case just isn’t very good.

In April, the centrist Democratic senator said, rather than restoring the institution’s majority-rule traditions, members should simply “change their behavior.” And if Republicans’ “behavior” doesn’t change? Well, then the legislative process will remain sclerotic, Americans seeking policy solutions will go without, and abuses in the Senate will continue indefinitely.

For that matter, it’s curious for someone whose literal job it is to write laws to argue that rule changes are a poor substitute for asking people to simply do the right thing.

When this taking point didn’t prove persuasive, Sinema also said that the filibuster “was created as a tool to bring together members of different parties to find compromise.” Senators are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to just make up historical details that don’t exist – and the Arizonan’s argument about how the filibuster was created was just spectacularly and demonstrably untrue.

Now, the Senate Democrat is trying a slightly different tack:

Sinema’s office told NBC News her support for the filibuster is “not based on the importance of any particular policy,” but rather “based on what is best for our democracy, including the fact that the filibuster helps protect the country from wild swings back and forth between opposing policy poles.”

Let’s take those one at a time.

First, there’s no reason to assume a majority-rule Senate will necessarily produce wild policy swings. Not only is this at odds with what history shows us – remember, filibuster abuses are a fairly modern phenomenon – but both parties have recently struggled to put together 50 votes for major partisan priorities, reinforcing the kind of challenges associated with dramatic governing changes. Consider what happened, for example, when Republicans tried to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

Besides, the power should remain in voters’ hands. If they elect policymakers who go too far with “wild” policy swings, voters in the next election cycle can elect new officials to do the opposite.

Second, there’s Sinema’s suggestion that mandatory super-majorities for nearly all legislation is what’s “best for our democracy.”

Perhaps “democracy” wasn’t the best choice of words in this pitch.

Americans can elect one party to lead the White House, the Senate, and the House, with polls showing robust public support for that party’s legislative agenda. But thanks to filibuster abuses, that party won’t be able to pursue its own governing vision unless some members of the Senate minority agree to let them.

Jon Chait added this morning that in the current Senate, “New laws require 60 votes, but existing programs can be defunded with 51. Judges, who can be appointed with a mere 51 votes, can strike down laws that required 60 to pass.”

How in the world is this what’s “best for our democracy”?

The Senate was not designed to work this way. It traditionally didn’t even try to work this way. Given the status quo, it obviously doesn’t work this way. (Sinema herself has said the chamber appears “broken.”)

Suggesting that democracy, of all things, benefits from ongoing procedural abuses that makes legislating so difficult is a mistake.

END QUOTE

Covid-19 pandemic triggered fundamental economic shifts

Here is a link to a longish article about what we can expect over the next few years (or longer).

The economy isn’t going back to February 2020. Fundamental shifts have occurred. A new era has arrived of greater worker power, higher housing costs and very different ways of doing business writes Heather Long in the Washington Post.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

How modern science and engineering produced the mRNA covid vaccine - and what is next for modern medicine.

Take time to read this one! Inside Pfizer’s race to produce the world’s biggest supply of covid vaccine.

At the Washington Post Christopher Rowland tells the story of how “Pfizer engineers used a ‘bulldozer’ approach to go from ‘utter failure’ to 3 billion doses.”

Here is the short version of two miracles of science and engineering and the high stakes for modern medicine.

After the “miracle of science” to develop the mRNA vaccine, [President Joe] Biden said, the Pfizer accomplishments in Kalamazoo were “a second miracle — a miracle of manufacturing — to produce hundreds of millions of doses.”

Pfizer and other companies are building mRNA vaccine pipelines for influenza, HIV, tuberculosis, rabies, rotavirus, malaria, and Zika, according to an analysis by the investment advisory firm Berenberg Capital Markets. BioNTech and Moderna are conducting extensive work on the use of mRNA against cancer.

Katie Hobbs in the Washington Post - 'Democracy Is Under Siege'

AZ Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wrote this op-ed: I’m leading the fight for voting rights in Arizona. We need the Senate to step up, now. Here it is in full, reprinted from the Washington Post.

BEGIN QUOTE

PHOENIX — Democracy is under siege in Arizona. As part of the “big lie” that Republicans have been pushing about electoral fraud, they’re conducting an “audit” in our largest county, Maricopa, to dig up nonexistent evidence. It’s an absurd spectacle. The proliferation of conspiracy theories is staggering: ballots are being disqualified because of Sharpies; ballots were shipped in from China; ballots were burned in a chicken-farm fire.

My office won a court order to send impartial observers to the audit, and I try to keep the public informed about its dangers. For insisting on straightforward truths, I and my family have received death threats. Armed protesters have shown up at my home. Twice, I’ve been assigned a security detail to protect me.

Most Arizonans — Democrats, Republicans and independents — understand that the audit is a farce. They saw the 2020 election with their own eyes, and they don’t want their ballots scrutinized by a shadowy, partisan company.

But Republicans aren’t just protesting the results of our most recent presidential election; they are laying the groundwork to steal the next one. They are sowing doubt about our electoral process to justify a crackdown on voting rights: The 2020 election was insecure, they say, and so our next election must be airtight. This twisted logic has propelled voter-suppression laws across the country, in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Montana and other states.

Here, Republicans just got rid of one of Arizona’s most effective voting measures: the Permanent Early Voter List. Previously, anyone who signed up for the list would automatically receive a mail-in ballot at their home for each election they are eligible to vote in. This law, enacted by a Republican-controlled state legislature in 2007, is hugely popular: Some 75 percent of eligible voters relied on the list to receive their mail-in ballots in 2020, and nearly 80 percent decided to vote by mail.

Last month, though, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation that removes people from the list if they do not vote by mail in two election cycles — even if they choose to vote by other methods. This subtle adjustment — changing the Permanent Early Voter List to the Active Early Voter List — could prevent more than 100,000 Arizonans from receiving their ballots. And Republicans will not stop there. Several other bills, each designed to further restrict access to voting, are under consideration in the Arizona legislature.

I am working with our legislators to defeat those bills, many of which are designed to depress turnout of minority and lower-income voters. But with Republicans in control of both chambers of our legislature, my options on a state level are limited. So I am sounding the alarm and appealing to my Democratic colleagues in Washington for help.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering two voting rights bills. One, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would prevent states from passing further measures to restrict ballot access that disproportionately target minority voters. But that legislation would do nothing to roll back anti-voting laws that are already on the books. Republicans have instituted 22 voter-suppression laws in 14 states so far this year. To simply let these regressive measures stand would be to abandon our duty as public officials.

Another federal bill, the For the People Act, would strike down the senseless restrictions that Republicans have rushed to impose. What’s more, the bill includes many long overdue, common-sense ideas that would expand voting rights such as automatic national voter registration. Passing these provisions would be a huge victory — not for Democrats specifically but for democracy.

Yet the For the People Act is in jeopardy because 50 Republican senators and several Democratic ones are not taking the steps needed to pass it. Democrats including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona either do not support the bill or refuse to touch the filibuster — an arcane Senate rule that has often been used to block voting rights — in order to bring the bill to a vote.

Sinema and I serve the same state. We both know that if we do nothing now, Arizonans’ access to the ballot will be stripped away by Republican legislators. If Republicans want to make the right to vote a partisan issue, that’s their problem. I know — and I believe that U.S. senators know, too — that access to the ballot isn’t a red or blue policy but a basic American value.

Voter-suppression efforts in Arizona are part of a nationwide dismantling of voting rights — the most sustained and egregious assault on U.S. democracy since the Jim Crow era. I am taking what steps I can to fight back on a local level. But I cannot succeed without help from Congress. Please, act decisively and pass the For the People Act. We are running out of time.

END QUOTE

Research reports - Vaccines are effective against the 'delta variant' of COVID-19

Regarding the COVID–19 from the Washington Post: Your questions, answered

“Are current vaccines effective against the delta variant of covid 19?” — Colleen in Ohio

Yes, coronavirus vaccines have been shown to be effective against the highly transmissible delta variant.

Following are summaries of supporting research from the Post.

BEGIN QUOTE

The delta variant, which has been listed as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, was first seen in India and has since been reported in dozens of other countries. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, recently told reporters that the delta variant, also known as B.1.617, is “essentially taking over as the dominant variant” in the United Kingdom. But he said vaccines seem to be slowing the variant’s spread in the United States, where it currently accounts for some 6 percent of new infections.

Fauci said the two-dose messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are doing “very well” in being able to protect against the variant. He said Johnson & Johnson’s single shot is likely doing well too, but there is not as much data as with the mRNA vaccines.

Some early research has shown that vaccination was somewhat less effective against the delta variant.

However, a preprint released last month by Public Health England showed that when the vaccines series were completed, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were highly effective against B.1.617.2, the delta sub-variant that’s in Britain.

The vaccines were 33 percent effective against symptomatic infection from the delta variant after the first dose. But after the second dose, the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent effective and the AstraZeneca vaccine, an adenovirus-vectored vaccine, was 60 percent effective, according to the findings.

“We expect the vaccines to be even more effective at preventing hospitalization and death,” said Mary Ramsay, who is head of immunization at Public Health England, “so it is vital to get both doses to gain maximum protection against all existing and emerging variants.”

END QUOTE

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Arizona Fraudit shows that Trump's attempted coup is not yet over

Writing in The Bulwark, Tim Miller advises us to Get Ready for the Shitstorm That Will Follow the Arizona “Recount”. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy’s plan for Arizona is the same as it was before January 6. Following is Miller’s conclusion.

Sometime soon the results of the Arizona audit will be brought forth. It seems quite likely, given the participants, that the auditor ninjas will claim that Donald Trump won Arizona. Or probably won Arizona—who can say! Or would have won Arizona, if not for those meddling kids.

And if this happens, the former president and his MAGA media echo chamber will once again stoke the flames of insurrection. Q-adherents will convince themselves that one of the seven seals has been revealed. Millions (tens of millions) of Republicans throughout the country will believe it. And some of them will demand action.

So when the Arizona audit bell tolls, what exactly is McConnell and McCarthy’s plan?

Because it sure looks as though they are dooming us all to repeat the same history we just lived through, humoring Trump’s delusions and hoping that none of their supporters die in their imaginary fight for freedom this time.

What we're all getting wrong

What we’re all getting wrong writes Steve Schmidt from The Lincoln Project (via email).

“Everyone is still making an assumption that there are these two parties…but that’s not the fight we’re in … There is no bipartisanship anymore.”

BEGIN QUOTE

We’re all getting this wrong, … , and I wanted to make sure you saw my note from yesterday. It’s too important to miss.

You have probably heard by now that it is very unlikely that HR1, the federal bill to protect voting rights, has any chance of passing the Senate. Joe Manchin is unwilling to get rid of the filibuster because he is still hopeful of a bipartisan solution.

This is not to blame Joe Manchin personally. But it’s clear that he, too many of his colleagues, and too many in the media have read the situation completely wrong.

There is no bipartisanship anymore. The GOP of old - and the idea that both parties come together and negotiate to get things done - is dead. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Matthew Dowd called it the GOP’s “black mold problem” and made it clear: you do not negotiate with black mold. You have to rip out everything it touched and rebuild. And if you deny it exists…and breathe it in…it makes you sick.

What we all have to realize is that we are falling into a trap. The media, Democratic leadership, former Republican leaders - we are mistakenly believing this is still a two party system, and we’re missing the point.

Everyone is still making an assumption that there are these two parties…but that’s not the fight we’re in. There is only the Democratic Party, and on the other side is an authoritarian movement fueled by Donald Trump. That movement has grown to hold so much power in what used to be the Republican party that it has purged former leaders and left them fearful for the future.

So when we mistakenly think “bipartisanship” is the solution, who are we negotiating with? Either those held hostage by the black mold - or the hostage takers. Neither is a tenable solution for our democracy.

This is no longer a choice between two parties. You’re either part of the authoritarian movement and support their treasonous activities or you are against it. This is what we are tasked to do. You, me, the Lincoln Project, and every American who wants to stand up for our democracy.

And it’s also important to remember that many of our fellow citizens have been lied to. And they believe those lies. But those people, they are not the enemy. In order to help them overcome this and wake up to what is happening, we need to offer those people the truth.

This is no longer a political fight. It is an existential threat to the future of our democracy.

Our role in this is simple. We need to deliver the truth to the people who have been lied to. And every time that someone uses bipartisanship as a reason to negotiate with the black mold, we have to call it out. We need to make every American realize what the stakes are not just next November, but every time someone repeats the Big Lie or cries bipartisanship.

The truth matters.

The more that Marjorie Taylor Green takes the mic and shows the rot in a Republican party fully co-opted by Trump, she proves it is in fact now a movement of autocrats who seek to destroy democracy.

This is bigger than Trump. This autocratic movement will not implode while we stand by and wait. We have to take action now because it is much larger than that. If these people regain the House and the Senate, how much further do you think they’ll go?

We have to stop the spread and we can’t do it alone. Talk to your neighbors. Reach out in your community. We have to start having these conversations before it’s too late.

END QUOTE

The latest bad news about the COVID-19

Given the successful vaccines and opening of theaters and restaurants we might be led to the conclusion that we are quits with the COVID–19 pandemic. Trust me. The virus is not yet done with us.

But first, some good news: Large study finds Novavax COVID–19 shot about 90% effective.

Vaccine maker Novavax said Monday its shot was highly effective against COVID–19 and also protected against variants in a large, late-stage study in the U.S. and Mexico.

The vaccine was about 90% effective overall and preliminary data showed it was safe, the company said.

While demand for COVID–19 shots in the U.S. has dropped off dramatically, the need for more vaccines around the world remains critical. The Novavax vaccine, which is easy to store and transport, is expected to play an important role in boosting vaccine supplies in the developing world.

That help is still months away, however. The company says it plans to seek authorization for the shots in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere by the end of September and be able to produce up to 100 million doses a month by then.

“Many of our first doses will go to … low- and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with,” Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck told The Associated Press.

But …

The Daily Beast (to which I subscribe) has lots to say about what may be headed our way. Millions More Will Die of COVID–19 Before It’s Over is documented in “Beast Inside: Rabbit Hole” emails@thedailybeast.com. It’s a long read but well worth your time to get informed about what is in store for the planet - especially for disadvantaged countries.

BEGIN QUOTE

If you live in the United States, you could be forgiven for thinking the novel-coronavirus pandemic is almost over. New infections, hospitalizations and deaths are down, way down, thanks to one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination campaigns.

But beyond the borders of the U.S. and a few other wealthy countries, the situation couldn’t be more different. Lots of people are still getting sick and dying—in record numbers in some places—and there’s not nearly enough vaccine to halt the pathogen’s spread.

“The places where we are able to implement high-quality vaccines and seeing declines, there’s this palpable sense that the worst is over and life is coming back to normal,” Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Daily Beast. “That is not what it looks like in Central and South America, in East and Central Asia, in South Asia, in much of the world.”

More than 3.7 million people all over the world have died of COVID–19 since authorities in China registered the first infections back in December 2019.

That’s the official count. Owing to the inability, or unwillingness, of many governments to accurately count and attribute deaths, the real number is undoubtedly much, much higher, experts told The Daily Beast. Beyrer for one estimated as many as nine million people have already died.

And barring some dramatic improvement in the global distribution of the best vaccines, millions more will die before the expanding immunity cuts off the virus’ transmission pathways, experts said. Inoculating enough people to achieve worldwide immunity could take another two years at current rates, Beyrer said.

If it takes longer—a distinct possibility as the novel-coronavirus continues to mutate into more dangerous variants—the death toll could swell even higher.

No one can predict for sure what the final toll might be, especially considering authorities have never accurately counted COVID–19 deaths. But some experts have given it their best shot. Beyrer would only say that millions more deaths are likely on top of the up to nine million he believes have already died.

The computational biologists at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle crunched COVID–19 stats from all over the world, charted the trends and concluded that as many as 9.7 million people could die by late September. If the trend line continues, COVID–19 could kill 20 million by 2023, according to IHME’s model.

The IHME, like Beyrer and many health-data brokers, assumes that the current official death toll of 3.7 million represents a major undercount. After looking at death rates in many countries and U.S. states and comparing them to previous years’ death stats, IHME concluded that 8.1 million people have died of COVID–19 so far. American authorities have been undercounting COVID–19 deaths by nearly 60 percent, according to the group.

Still, it’s a safe bet the United States and other well-off countries will be okay moving forward as long as their vaccines continue to work. Chances are, poor countries are going to bear the overwhelming brunt of the suffering as the 18-month-old pandemic enters its likely middle. The inequity is deeply baked in.

More than two billion doses of COVID–19 vaccine have been administered worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s authoritative coronavirus tracker. But look at where those doses are concentrated. Eight of 10 shots have been in rich countries.

The United States with its 328 million people has administered 299 million doses—most of them the gold-standard, two-dose messenger-RNA jabs from Moderna and Pfizer. That’s enough to at least begin inoculating 51 percent of Americans. Only a few countries—the United Kingdom and Israel, for instance—are better vaccinated.

Check out the trend lines in those three countries. The United States registered just 15,000 new COVID–19 infections a day last week (32 per 100,000 people), matching the low rate of fresh cases the country counted in late March 2020. And whereas the trend was upward a year-and-a-half ago, the trend now is downward.

The situation is similar in the U.K., with 3,300 new cases a day (42 per 100,000 people)—and Israel with 20 new cases a day (1 per 100,000 people).

Now consider what’s happening in India, where a devastating spike in infections—nearly 400,000 new infections a day in early May (74 per 100,000 people)—is finally subsiding despite a flagging vaccination campaign that relies heavily on the middling AstraZeneca jab.

Or what’s going on in Brazil, where a total lack of national leadership—and stubbornly low vaccine-uptake—has allowed a third surge in infections.

Brazil’s uncontrolled transmission (74 fresh infections per 100,000 people per day) has not only produced a new and more dangerous variant of SARS-CoV–2, it has also made the country a major exporter of the pathogen. Smaller, poorer countries bordering Brazil, including Paraguay and Uruguay, have some of the highest rates of new cases in the world. 274 per 100,000 people in Paraguay. A staggering 694 per 100,000 people in Uruguay.

The uneven distribution of vaccine helps explain the disparity. The United States has administered 85 doses per 100 people. In South America, countries have administered only 25 doses per 100 people, on average. India only recently cracked 10 doses per 100 people. African countries are still below five shots per 100 people, on average.

The quality of the vaccines is uneven, too. In the developed world, the best vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are readily available. But the developing world, outbid for the most effective jabs, has had to make do with the less-effective AstraZeneca vaccine—or, worse, weak Chinese- and Russian-made shots that don’t even have solid data behind them.

Taken together, the data point to a pandemic that’s ending (or at least pausing) in the richer part of the world… and raging on, or even getting worse, everywhere else. Beyrer for one said he dreads the day SARS-CoV–2 spreads across rural Central Asia. There, authorities don’t even have the means to accurately count deaths. “With these enormous populations, the deaths are going to go up and reporting is going to go down.”

The longer the virus has free rein across more than half the planet, the worse the inequity could get. If America and other rich countries reopen their economies, resume travel and trade and move on to other challenges while poor countries continue to struggle against a lethal virus, the rich could get richer while the poor get even poorer.

“Inequality in vaccine rollout, both within countries and between them, already displays a strong income-related pattern, which suggests there exists a risk of letting inequities undermine the global pandemic recovery,” Paul Caesar von Chamier, a researcher at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, told The Daily Beast.

Needless to say, poorer countries lack the same tools richer countries possess for addressing the pandemic. The United States can afford to pay workers’ stimulus checks and encourage them to stay home. Malaysia, for example, can’t.

If a developing country can’t pay for the full range of non-pharmaceutical interventions and lacks access to adequate supplies of the best vaccines, it’s doubly vulnerable to the virus.

Ultimately, that’s bad news for everyone. “The same underprivileged communities that have been hotspots of SARS-CoV–2 infections can become a fertile ground for the virus to develop new strains,” von Chamier said.

With every day that passes, the likelihood grows that the virus will evolve into a variant that can evade even the best vaccines.

If that happens, the vaccine-induced protection that the U.S. and other industrialized countries currently enjoy could collapse virtually overnight. A vaccine-evading mutant would be a great leveler. It could reset the world back to where it was in late 2019: defenseless against a fast-spreading, lethal pathogen.

Which is why the sense of security you, a resident of a rich country, feel right now is a false one. America bought, at a cost of tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars, early protection from the novel coronavirus. Other advanced countries could afford the same protection.

But the protection is fragile. COVID–19 continues to rage across the portion of the world that couldn’t buy itself a pharmaceutical wall against the disease. And if the novel coronavirus travels far enough, for long enough, it just might revisit the developed world in a brand new and far more dangerous form.

Mechanisms exist for the developed world to buy vaccine for the developing world and, in so doing, help to safeguard everyone. Foremost, the international COVAX consortium. The administration of President Biden has recently upped its support for COVAX.

At the G7 summit in Cornwall last week, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan pledged to donate at least a billion vaccine doses to the developing world. The U.S. contribution, 500 million jabs, is by far the biggest.

But the developed world—and America, in particular—could and should do more, experts said. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Institute for Health, urged converted action by rich countries. “Increase production of vaccines now, distribute them equally and fast, support some failing economies to avoid instabilities and migration due to food shortages and disease outbreaks.”

Even leaving aside our shared humanity, it’s in the interest of the world’s rich countries to do everything they can to protect the world’s poor countries. And fast.

Because the virus moves fast, too.

END QUOTE

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

It's time for Sinema to move against the filibuster

Grant Woods: Kyrsten Sinema Doesn’t Belong In The Senate Unless She Abolishes The Filibuster charges AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona.

Here’s the short version …

Brahm Resnik @brahmresnik Calls our attention to this tweet: Best-selling author @donwinslow is coming after Arizona’s senior senator. He’s not a politician. He’s not a PAC. But he can be relentless.

… and the rest of the Blue Meanie’s post.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods prominently backed Kyrsten Sinema, but he says she now needs to support getting rid of the filibuster. Huffington Post reports, Major Kyrsten Sinema Supporter Says Abolish Filibuster Or Get Out Of The Senate:

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, who prominently backed Kyrsten Sinema’s election to the Senate, is now saying she doesn’t belong in office anymore unless she helps abolish the filibuster.

Woods, a former Republican, was attorney general from from 1991–1999 and worked for the late Sen. John McCain (R). In 2018, he switched parties and became a Democrat.

That year, he also endorsed Sinema, and the campaign even featured him in one of its ads saying, “We need more people who are not just politicians who will say or do anything to get elected.”

But on Friday, Woods was much less enthusiastic about Sinema in comments to HuffPost. He said he feels very strongly about passage of H.R. 1 ― the For the People Act, a democracy reform and voting rights bill ― and believes the Senate must abolish the filibuster, which is something Sinema has said she is adamantly against. (Sinema is, however, a co-sponsor of the For the People Act.)

“I do think that Sen. Sinema and every senator should support ending the filibuster for the voting rights bill,” he said, adding, “To keep the Jim Crow filibuster while losing some of these basic voting rights that are central to our democracy is preposterous.”

“Sen. Sinema should know that, so should Sen. Manchin,” Woods said, referring to West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, who also opposes removing the filibuster. “At the end of the day, I’m very hopeful that they’ll come around and do the right thing. But if they don’t, then I don’t think they belong in the Senate anymore.”

Woods had also tweeted his thoughts about the filibuster on Thursday, without directly naming Sinema.

He did have this tweet: At the end of the day, if you don’t vote to protect voting rights and save our democracy by breaking the Jim Crow filibuster, it should be your last vote as a United States Senator. No exceptions. #CountryFirst #FILIBUSTER #EndTheFilibuster

Sinema’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Until now, Woods has been a strong defender of Sinema. In March, when Sinema received widespread Democratic criticism for voting against a $15/hour minimum wage with an exaggerated thumbs down, Woods stood by her.

But this past week, Sinema reiterated her refusal to abolish the filibuster, which remains a major impediment to passing much of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

[B]ut as New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg noted Friday, Sinema’s history is inaccurate.

“The filibuster was created by mistake when the Senate, cleaning up its rule book in 1806, failed to include a provision to cut off debate. (A so-called cloture rule allowing two-thirds of senators to end a filibuster was adopted in 1917; the proportion was reduced to three-fifths in 1975.) The filibuster encouraged extremism, not comity: It was a favorite tool of pro-slavery senators before the Civil War and segregationists after it,” Goldberg wrote.

No more bullshit revisionist history excuses from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Grant Woods is right. She either votes to end the filibuster to pass the voting rights bills she professes to support, or she can start packing her bags.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Insurrection redux - The Great Pretender, the Delusional Donald Trump, is not done with us yet.

The Platters’ song, The Great Pretender, premiered in December 1955. Given the claims being made by the modern Great Pretender Donald J. Trump, it seems apropos, to introduce “The Delusional Donald Trump” with some lines from that song.

Oh oh, yes I’m the great pretender
Pretending that I’m doing well
My need is such I pretend too much
I’m lonely but no one can tell

Oh oh, yes I’m the great pretender
Adrift in a world of my own

Too real is this feeling of make believe

Yes I’m the great pretender
Just laughin’ and gay like a clown
I seem to be what I’m not, you see

Delusional Donald Trump And His Cult Followers Are Plotting A Second Insurrection reports the AZ BlueMeanie in the Blog for Arizona.

Earlier this week, Maggie Habberman of the New York Times posted that Donald Trump has become full-blown delusional, he actually believes that he is going to be “reinstated” as president by August.

Seth Masket @smotus
Jun 3, 2021
If Trump is trying to recruit allies for his reinstatement, at what point to we treat this not as a delusion but as a coup attempt? He kinda has priors. … And, you know, no biggie, but insurrection is a crime. And I’m no law-talking guy but it’s probably better to prosecute such criminal acts than look the other way. https://law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2383…

18 U.S. Code § 2383 - Rebellion or insurrection
Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Jonathan Bernstein warns that Trump’s Planned Return Isn’t Really a Joke:

We have something new in U.S. politics: a pretender. Former President Donald Trump is still claiming that he really won the election, and is now saying he’ll be “reinstated” to office by August, after an audit of some kind provides proof of voter fraud. Some of his supporters are egging him on; others are going along with portions of the charade; still more are trying to ignore it all.

It’s tempting to treat the whole thing as a joke. But there are reasons to take it seriously.

[I]t’s quite possible that Trump doesn’t realize what he’s proposing is flat-out illegal. That is, the choice Masket is posing is no choice at all: What Trump claims will happen, an extra-legal seizure of power, would be a coup regardless of whether he’s delusional or not. And we don’t even have to explore what he really thinks; as Benjy Sarlin points out, “What’s definitely true is he ACTS on conspiracy theories as if they were real.”

[O]f course, it could all amount to nothing. Reporting suggests that some of Trump’s advisers are trying to talk him “off the ledge.”

Former President Donald Trump plans to resume his signature campaign-style rallies in a series of battleground states this summer as he inches closer to a decision on whether to mount a comeback presidential bid in 2024.

“We’ll be doing one in Florida, we’re going to do one in Ohio, we’re going to do one in North Carolina,” the 45th President told the right-wing media outfit One America News in an interview Thursday, adding that he would release a rally schedule “relatively soon.”

“We’ll be announcing them very soon over the next week or two,” Trump said.

The North Carolina rally is scheduled this Saturday. Former President Trump speaking in NC Saturday: Here’s exactly when and where

Former President Donald Trump will speak at North Carolina’s annual state Republican Party convention on Saturday.

Trump will speak in person at the June 5 convention dinner in Greenville. He is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m., according to a release from the NC Republican Party.

Trump’s speech will be closed to the media, and journalists won’t be able to view it via livestream or alternate forms, said Livy Polen, a spokeswoman for the NC GOP.

You are forewarned, America. You saw what happened at Donald Trump’s last rally on January 6 in Washington, D.C. He tried to overthrow the U.S. government in a coup d’etat.

As Rep. Liz Cheney said:

The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.

Delusional Donald Trump is not done. He is still plotting an insurrection.

Friday, June 4, 2021

SkyIslandScriber takes a break

Your Scriber must attend to some personal matters among which are preparations for upcoming travels. The blog will be published occasionally during June, July, and the first part of August.

Be safe!

In the meantime, here’s one more from our Editor-at-Large Sherry.

An AZ Senator goes Sinematic. Again!

Sinema and Manchin’s Nihilistic Bipartisanship writes NY Times columnist Michele Goldberg.

We are in the eye of the storm of American democratic collapse. There is, outwardly, a feeling of calm. The Biden administration is competent and placid. The coronavirus emergency is receding nationally, if not internationally. Donald Trump, once the most powerful man on earth and the emperor of the news cycle, is now a failed blogger under criminal investigation.

Yet in red states, Trump’s party, motivated by his big lie about his 2020 loss, is systematically changing electoral rules to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote and, should Democrats win anyway, easier for Republicans to overturn elections.

You’ve probably heard the details already — Democrats are repeating them ad nauseam, with a growing sense of desperation. States are accelerating voter roll purges and empowering Fox News-addled partisan poll watchers to roam election sites searching for signs of malfeasance. They are stripping the authority to administer elections from those who stood up for the rule of law this past year. A Texas bill would, among other things, significantly lower the burden of proof a judge would need to throw out an election result based on allegations of fraud. Democrats were able to thwart it temporarily with a last-minute walkout, but Republicans are expected to pass it in a special session.

Republicans have an excellent chance of gerrymandering their way to control of the House in 2022, whether or not they increase their vote share. A Republican-dominated House is unlikely to smoothly ratify even a clear Democratic presidential victory in 2024. We may be living through a brief interregnum before American democracy is strangled for a generation.

Two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, could save us by joining their colleagues in breaking the filibuster and passing new voting rights legislation. But they prefer not to.

On Tuesday, Sinema, touring migrant facilities with her Texas Republican colleague John Cornyn, defended the filibuster by spouting an alternative history nearly as delusional as Trump’s claims to have actually won the election. “The idea of the filibuster was created by those who came before us in the United States Senate to create comity and to encourage senators to find bipartisanship and work together,” she said.

This is nonsense. The filibuster was created by mistake when the Senate, cleaning up its rule book in 1806, failed to include a provision to cut off debate. (A so-called cloture rule allowing two-thirds of senators to end a filibuster was adopted in 1917; the proportion was reduced to three-fifths in 1975.) The filibuster encouraged extremism, not comity: It was a favorite tool of pro-slavery senators before the Civil War and segregationists after it.

More than any other type of legislation, the filibuster was used in the 20th century to derail civil rights bills, from anti-lynching measures to bans on housing discrimination. During Barack Obama’s administration, Republicans began using it to an unprecedented degree to block his nominations. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, “Out of the 168 cloture motions ever filed (or reconsidered) on nominations, 82 (49 percent) were cloture motions on nominations made since 2009.” The filibuster’s history is both ignominious and ever-changing.

It is impossible to know whether Sinema believes what she said, or whether she simply doesn’t care. Both she and Manchin are committed to bipartisanship as a supreme good, which in practice means bowing to the wishes of a party that doesn’t believe Joe Biden is a legitimate president and wants above all to see him fail. (“One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said last month.)

When you have a system that’s not working effectively, said Sinema, “the way to fix that is to change your behavior,” not the rules. This is a bizarre stance for a legislator, whose work is all about changing rules. But it also ignores the fact that the system is working perfectly well for Republicans.

Democrats hope that Manchin, who has said Democrats should have faith that there are “10 good people” in the Republican caucus, will lessen his opposition to filibuster reform when Senate Republicans repeatedly prove him wrong. It’s harder to know what Sinema actually believes and thus what could sway her; she seems above all dedicated to a view of herself as a quirky maverick, and delights in trolling the Democrats who elected her. In April, after infuriating progressives by voting against including a federal minimum wage increase in the coronavirus relief package, she posted an Instagram photo of herself wearing a ring spelling out a dismissive obscene phrase that begins with “F” and ends with “off.”

This gap between the scale of the catastrophe bearing down on us and the blithe refusal of Manchin and Sinema to help is enough to leave one frozen with despair. Democrats have no discernible leverage over Manchin and little over Sinema, though they ought to consider primarying her. (Unlike Manchin, she’s not the only Democrat who could win a Senate seat in her state.) Those who want our democracy to endure have no choice but to keep asking, imploring and cajoling these two lawmakers to value it above the false idol of bipartisanship, but so far there’s little sign they will.

So we’re stuck. The overarching story of American politics right now is that Republicans are laying the groundwork to accomplish legally what they failed to do by force on Jan. 6. Sinema could help fortify our country against a tide of Trumpist authoritarianism that could soon wash away everything that makes it worthwhile. Instead she’s showing us her ring.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

This is the way Trump's blog ends. Not with a bang but a whimper. So also ends his hope for reinstatement. 'This entire line of thought is stark raving mad.'

Two Trumpy Topics (with apologies to T. S. Eliot.)

With anti-election crusade, Trump reportedly has an endgame in mind . Trump has reportedly told associates he hopes to be “reinstated” to the presidency by August. This entire line of thought is stark raving mad.

It was unsettling to see former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn appear at a right-wing gathering over the weekend and endorse a military coup in the United States. Asked about Myanmar’s coup, the retired Army general specifically said, “I mean it, it should happen here.”

But a day earlier, attorney Sidney Powell appeared at the same event, and as the Washington Examiner noted, she went down a similarly outlandish path.

Attorney Sidney Powell, who is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems for spreading allegedly defamatory claims about the 2020 election, insisted on Saturday former President Donald Trump could “simply be reinstated” as president and fill the rest of President Joe Biden’s term.

To the delight of attendees, Powell specifically declared, “It should be that [Trump] can simply be reinstated, that a new inauguration date is set.”

Remember, Powell was a member of Donald Trump’s hapless legal operation late last year until she was fired for pushing conspiracy theories considered so hysterically ridiculous that the then-president’s other attorneys showed her the door. Nevertheless, by late December, Powell was making frequent trips to the White House. Axios reported at the time that in the West Wing, there was a “consensus” that Trump was “listening to Sidney Powell more than just about anyone who is on his payroll, certainly more than his own White House Counsel.”

My concern is that the former president continues to do exactly that. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noted this morning that Trump “has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated” to the presidency by August. The reporter added that the Republican “is not putting out statements about the ‘audits’ in states just for the sake of it.”

There’s no shortage of related data points, which in isolation are easy to look past, but are more alarming when considered in context.

In late April, for example, Trump spoke to a small group at Mar-a-Lago and sounded like a politician who expected assorted partisan “audits” to tell him what he wanted to hear. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump asked soon after, “This appears to be Trump at Mar-a-Lago telling his customers that the bizarre Arizona recount will be the first domino to fall in apparently somehow undoing the election?”

The Times’ Haberman noted soon after that Trump had told people the Arizona audit “could undo” the 2020 presidential election.

Two weeks later, the former president issued another written statement filled with more election conspiracy theories, arguing, “If a thief robs a jewelry store of all of its diamonds (the 2020 Presidential Election), the diamonds must be returned.” In context, the Republican was making it sound as if power had been taken from him improperly, so he expected power to be returned to him.

Last week, he also celebrated a poll showing most Republican voters “believe Donald Trump is the true President.” He added, “I always knew America was smart!” (In his mind, there is no meaningful difference between the beliefs of the GOP base and the beliefs of the nation at large.)

In case this isn’t painfully obvious, there is literally no scenario in which Trump will return to the White House unless he runs and wins again in 2024. The election cannot be “undone.” The former president cannot be “reinstated.” This entire line of thought is stark raving mad.

But to assume that Trump recognizes the reality of the circumstances is almost certainly a mistake.

A few weeks ago, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters, “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election…. I think that is all over with.” Wouldn’t it be great if McCarthy had been right?

Trump tried to sell one more thing - an outdated blog, viewed by few.

Trump’s underwhelming blog ends with an embarrassing whimper. Team Trump said his blog would “completely redefine the game.” That’s not at all what happened.

Lately, as part of my routine news consumption, I’ve checked Donald Trump’s blog to see if he’s published anything related to voting rights or election systems. This morning, however, the former president’s blog wasn’t there.

I assumed Team Trump was having technical troubles. As CNBC reported this morning, that wasn’t the problem.

Former President Donald Trump’s blog — a webpage where he shared statements after larger social media companies banned him from their platforms — has been permanently shut down, his spokesman said Wednesday. The page, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” has been scrubbed from Trump’s website after going live less than a month earlier.

Jason Miller, a top aide to the former president, confirmed to CNBC that the blog “will not be returning.”

To fully appreciate why this is an amazing end to an unfortunate story, let’s review how we arrived at this point.

After Trump was forced from the major social-media platforms for violating their terms of service, the Associated Press reported in March that the Republican was planning to unveil his own social-media platform “in two or three months.”

Jason Miller told Fox News at the time that the former president was poised to “completely redefine the game” with his new tech initiative.

It was against this backdrop that Fox News reported on May 4 – not quite a month ago – that Trump and his team had launched a new “communications platform,” powered by a “digital ecosystem” created by Brad Parscale, the former president’s former campaign manager.

Right off the bat, there was an obvious problem: the new “communications platform” was little more than a rudimentary blog, utilizing technology that’s existed for many years.

A week after the blog went live, NBC News reported that things were “not going well” for the former president’s online home, with weak traffic and little reader engagement.

Two weeks later, the Washington Post reported that the blog was failing so badly that Trump was sliding into online “irrelevance.” The article added, “Since the blog’s launch … online data shows relatively few people have paid attention.”

At a certain level, this didn’t come as too big of a surprise. After all, at issue was a former president with an unimpressive blog, utilizing outdated tech, which apparently didn’t even allow for clean paragraph breaks. Of course its traffic was weak.

But the context made matters worse. For one thing, Team Trump said his online presence would “redefine the game,” which, as his blog disappears after less than a month, obviously did not happen.

For another, Trump is supposed to be overseeing a legion of obsessive followers who eagerly await his every thought. Evidently, these supporters continue to hold the former president in high regard, but they couldn’t be bothered to check out his underwhelming website.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Recommended reading

American Democracy Isn’t Dead Yet, but It’s Getting There writes Susan B. Glasser at The New Yorker. A country that cannot even agree to investigate an assault on its Capitol is in big trouble, indeed.

Sinema skips Senate vote on Jan 6 commission. Manchin still has hope for Republican suppoort.

What is with these people?

In the May 28, 2021 edition of Letters from an American Heather Cox Richardson has some observations about the Senate’s massacre of the Jan 6 commission bill.

[Last week], Republicans in the Senate killed the bill to establish a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. The vote was 54 to 35, and yet the thirty-five “no” votes won because of the current shape of the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to break, even if the minority doesn’t show up to vote.

[And then] McConnell responded to the budget proposal with words that were somewhat unfortunate coming, as they did, on the same day the Republicans refused to create a bipartisan commission to investigate an attack on our government. “If Washington Democrats can move beyond the socialist daydreams and the go-it-alone partisanship,” he said, “we could get a lot of important work done for our country.”

On Thursday, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) continued to hope Republicans would vote for the commission, saying, “…the Democrats have basically given everything they’ve asked for, any impediment that would have been there, and there’s no reason not to now unless you just don’t want to hear the truth.” Today, after the vote, he said, “I never thought I’d see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. I’m going to fight to save this country.”

Robert Reich
@RBReich
Says @Sen_JoeManchin about McConnell’s use of filibuster to kill independent commission: “I never thought I’d see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. I’m going to fight to save this country.”

You can save this country, Joe, by ending the filibuster

Chris Murphy
@ChrisMurphyCT
So how did we lose a 54–35 vote on the January 6 commission?

Because you need 60 votes, no matter how many people show.

So it’s the OPPOSITE of a traditional filibuster. If you oppose the bill, you don’t even have to be in town.

Indeed, our AZ Senator Krysten Sinema went AWOL in advance of the floor vote. I assume her absence signified her opposition to the Jan 6 commission. SHAME!

Friday, May 28, 2021

UPDATE - vaccine passports

Associated Press, CNN, via the Daily Star reports that US taking ‘very close look’ at vaccine passports… - for international travel!

WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the government is taking “a very close look” at the possibility of vaccine passports for travel into and out of the United States.

As head of the Department of Homeland Security, Mayorkas oversees the Transportation Security Administration, which safeguards the nation’s transportation systems.

Mayorkas told ABC on Friday that one of his guiding principles throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been “the value of diversity, equity and inclusion and making sure that any passport that we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised.”

The European Union, some Asian governments and the airline industry are scrambling to develop COVID–19 vaccine passports to help kickstart international travel. They’re working on systems that would allow travelers to use mobile phone apps to prove they’ve been vaccinated, helping them avoid quarantine requirements at their destinations.

Mayorkas says the underlying point is: “Everyone should get vaccinated.”

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'Hell's broke loose in Georgia'

From “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” by Charlie Daniels.
He was lookin’ for a soul to steal.

The Gaetz-Greene Traveling Freak Show Is the GOP’s Future reports Matt Lewis at the Daily Beast. And that’s bad news for Trump, whether he knows it or not, as these attention-hungry creeps are trying to get in on the hustle he’s monopolized over the last five years.

The last time an “America First” MAGA rally was held in Georgia, Republicans lost two U.S. Senate seats, and America lost what might end up being around $6 trillion. The Matt Gaetz-Marjorie Taylor Greene show on Thursday night probably won’t cost us as much. Just some time with our family—and our dignity.

The event opened with Rep. Jody Hice, who is running a primary against Republican Brad Raffensperger for Georgia secretary of state. The crowd changed “Lock Him Up,” which was directed at Raffensperger, whose decision to follow the rule of law (though he’s wobbling now while running for re-election) obviously put him on the wrong side of the mob. With a warm-up act like that, there’s no need for an announcer to say, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” The sentiment is implicit.

Gaetz hit the stage first, throwing out a bunch of populist, demagogic rhetoric (“forever wars,” “socialism,” “rebuild America,” “world’s policeman,” “deep state”) and pandering (“gun control just means we have a steady aim!”). He took shots at the Bushes and the McCains and the Romneys and James Comey and Anthony Fauci. He observed that “Paul Ryan was giving a speech” in California, and added that after Ryan ran for vice president, the party “literally needed an autopsy.” The upshot? “This is Donald Trump’s party and I’m a Donald Trump Republican,” Gaetz declared. One thing he didn’t talk about was his wingman Joel Greenberg’s guilty pleas for crimes including paying a 17-year-old to have sex with both of them (which Gaetz has previously denied).

Not to be upstaged, Greene entered the room in a Humvee, before making her way on stage, grinning from ear to ear. But her smile belied the populist anger apparently bubbling up inside her. She called out the Democrats who tear down monuments. “You better bet we’re gonna protect Stone Mountain’s monument,” she said of America’s largest monument to the Confederacy. She feigned the Mexican accent of a supposed cartel leader talking about how much he loved Joe Biden, who she said wants a “woke” military. She also called the Squad “the Jihad Squad” and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “O’Crazyo-Cortez.” Really classy stuff. You see, she’s not a politician. She’s just like you. If you’re a jerk like that, at least.

There’s lots more, but for now, just in case you missed the messaging, here is Gaetz advocating violent overthrow of the government. Matt Gaetz Tells Fans to Carry Out ‘Armed Rebellion’ Against Government if Necessary.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) appeared next to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) at a Georgia rally Thursday night, giving MAGA fans the chance to see two of most crazed lawmakers in the land at one terrible event. They lived up to their billing, with Greene putting on a mocking Mexican accent, and Gaetz—having learned precisely zero lessons from the Capitol riot—spouting off about “armed rebellion.” After whining about conservatives being “canceled,” or, in other words, being removed from social media for inciting hate and violence, the congressman moved on to talk about the Second Amendment. “It’s not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports,” he said. “The Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted a clip of the speech and said: “This is not speech protected by the First Amendment. This is beyond yelling fire in a theater.”

Remember (paraphrased):
The Devils Went Down To Georgia
lookin’ for your soul to steal.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Bait for Bubbas

Charlie Sykes, in this morning’s Bulwark, tells us about Boob Bait For The Bubbas He adds Maybe it’s the GOP that is overreaching.

He makes an excellent case for the spread of craziness at the state level. Lest you think that he is overstating things, consider the AZ “audit”.

Onward … Charlie leads off.

During our podcast discussion today, Bill Kristol reminded me of the phrase “Boob Bait for the Bubbas,” which was colorful shorthand for “tough-sounding rhetoric designed to placate conservative voters.”

Kristol brought it up to describe the aggressive agenda of GOP state legislatures, who seem to be caught up in aggressive competition of performative demagoguery. At the state level, the GOP is at ramming speed on issues ranging from vaccinations and elections, to yoga, critical race theory, and guns.

Much of that legislation seems designed to signal cultural allegiances rather than deal with actual problems, and so raises this question: Is it the GOP who is overreaching right now?

That seems contrarian, because the conventional wisdom is that the Biden Administration and Democrats in Washington are overplaying their hand. That charge is not without merit, but let’s look at what’s happening at the state level.

In Ohio, Republican legislators are pushing a genuinely insane assault on vaccinations.

Republicans in the state General Assembly, meanwhile, are pushing sweeping legislation to weaken Ohio’s vaccination laws — for all vaccines, not just COVID–19….

The legislation would ban vaccine requirements on customers, employees or students from businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, K–12 schools, colleges, daycares, or others. It would also prevent governments, insurers, or businesses from offering incentives for people to get vaccinated, or even requesting that people get vaccinated.

In Texas, Republicans are about to legalize carrying handguns without a license, permit, training, or background check of any kind. As the Texas Tribune notes “Under current state law, Texans must generally be licensed to carry handguns openly or concealed. Applicants must submit fingerprints, complete four to six hours of training, and pass a written exam and a shooting proficiency test.” That’s all gone now and that’s nuts.

In Florida, the GOP just enacted a new social media law that is both unconstitutional and a cynical attack on free speech. As David French noted: “One of the incredibly bizarre developments of this dysfunctional modern time is the extent to which a faction of the Republican Party is now rejecting the crown achievements of the conservative legal movement.

“Increasingly, the GOP is looking at remarkable legal advances in the fight against speech codes, against government regulation of corporate speech, and against government-mandated viewpoint discrimination—and declaring that it prefers power over liberty. It wants more government control over speech. It wants speech codes.”

In Alabama (as I mentioned in an earlier newsletter), Republicans continue to regulate yoga in the schools, while banning the use of any Sanskrit words such as “Namaste.”

In West Virginia (and a slew of other states), GOP legislators have rushed to pass bans on transgender athletes. When pressed, the WV governor, Jim Justice, was unable to cite a single example to justify the measure.

Across the country, GOP legislators are passing bills that ban “critical race theory,” even though it’s likely that only a handful have any idea was the academic term actually means. Not that precision matters.

In Arizona, GOP legislators have not only launched a farcical “audit” of voting in Maricopa County, but then stripped the State’s Secretary of state of her authority over elections after she criticized the “Cyber Ninja” fiasco.

Arizona, of course, is only one of the many states where GOP legislatures are pushing legislation to make it harder to vote and increasingly partisan control over the election process.

The contagion of crazy is spreading quickly.

In Wisconsin, the state’s top GOP legislator “is hiring retired police officers to investigate aspects of the November election, joining with Republicans from around the country who have questioned President Joe Biden’s victory.”

And we haven’t even gotten into the festival of crazy going on in GOP primaries around the country. (Check out Missouri, where the senate race may pit the disgraced former governor against a guy famous for pointing a loaded gun at BLM protestors.)

Meanwhile…

Back in DC, Republicans are still in heads-up-their ass mode about how to not deal with Marjorie Taylor Greene. Our colleague Amanda Carpenter writes:

Make no mistake: At this moment, the power in the GOP is with Trump and anyone who can keep his voters pulling the lever for Republicans in 2022. That’s why MTG is untouchable.

MTG isn’t chastened by verbal slaps on the wrists. She’s emboldened…

Greene knows where she stands. As long as she has Trump’s support and keeps his voters in the GOP tent, she’s calling the shots. Not McCarthy.

Exit take: The conventional wisdom is that the GOP won’t pay a price for this in the mid-terms.

The conventional wisdom may be wrong.

One can hope.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Recommended reading - status of COVID vaccine passports

wired.com reports: As the US Unmasks, the Pressure Is on for Vaccine Passports. Now that the CDC has relaxed mask requirements, a verification system might help identify who’s vaccinated—but it’ll be a technical and political mess.

And that’s just for the US. Multiply the hassles and SNAFUs to see the problems with international travel.

Now we know who attended the Jan 6 insurrection - real patriots, tourists, and middle schoolers

New Yorker Satirist Andy Borowitz reports: Republicans Claim January 6th Rioters Were Middle Schoolers on Field Trip.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Republicans on Capitol Hill are arguing that a proposed January 6th commission is uncalled for because the rioters were merely middle schoolers on a field trip.

Speaking to reporters, Senator Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, said that, after reviewing footage of the riot, “It’s plain to see that this was just a bunch of middle-school kids who got a little rowdy.”

"I’ve had teen-agers, and I know what kind of horseplay and tomfoolery they can get up to,” he said. “I didn’t set up a commission every time they raised a little heck.”

Claiming that the rioters’ behavior should be expected of “a bunch of crazy kids looking to cut loose,” Johnson said that the responsibility for investigating them belongs “not to Congress but to their teachers.”

"I think the teachers need to find out who were the class clowns behind these stunts, and say to them, ‘Any more nonsense like this and you’re not going to the water park on the last day of school,’ ” he said.

Flying is back ... and so is the good, the bad, and the ugly

Natalie B. Compton, Washington Post travel reporter, tells us about the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of flying in a post-vaccine world.

Here are 30 observations from my first vaccinated flight. Everything you hated about flying is back, baby.

Many people took a hiatus from travel last year, because — well, you know why. Road warriors stayed home. Newlyweds put off their honeymoons. But now that millions of people are vaccinated and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said immunized people can travel with less risk, people are taking trips again en masse.

I’m one of those people.

Two weeks after I got Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen shot, I decided to fly home to celebrate my dad’s birthday in Fresno. After a year of writing things like, “Wish I was there to celebrate with you!” in greeting cards, I could finally go eat birthday cake with my parents in person.

So I left for D.C.’s Reagan National Airport to take my first fully-vaccinated trip.

When I flew in November, airports looked like ghost towns and the tension between passengers was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Not anymore. Flying’s back, baby, and so is everything you used to hate about it. I’m talking crowds swarming the gate a half-hour before boarding; lines at every Starbucks in every terminal; barefoot travelers sprinting to their connecting flights, sandals in hand.

To paint a picture of what flying’s like now, here’s everything I noticed along the way.

Trump and his Trumpublicans are enduring threats to our national security

There is some old news in this post but the accompanying graphic prompted me to remind us of the enduring threats to our democracy.

Christopher Cox Krebs (born 1977) is an American attorney who served as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security from November 2018 to November 2020.

Krebs Capchas

Fired director of U.S. cyber agency Chris Krebs explains why President Trump’s claims of election interference are false. Chris Krebs, a lifelong Republican, was put in charge of the agency handling election security by President Trump two years ago. When Krebs said the election was the country’s most secure ever, Mr. Trump fired him. Now, Krebs speaks to Scott Pelley.

Chris Krebs: We had the Department of Defense Cyber Command. We had the National Security Agency. We had the FBI. We had the Secret Service. We also had representatives from the Election Assistance Commission, which is the federal independent agency that supports the actual administration of elections. We had representatives from some of the– vendors, the election equipment vendors. And they’re critical because they’re the ones out there that know what’s going on on the ground if there’s any sort of issue with some of their systems. And we had representatives from state and local governments.

Scott Pelley: How did the day go?

Chris Krebs: It was quiet. And there was no indication or evidence that there was any sort of hacking or compromise of election systems on, before or after November 3rd.

Scott Pelley: The president tweeted after that statement, quote, “The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud.” Do you remember what the president said at the end of that tweet?

Chris Krebs: Oh, I was terminated? Is that– yes. I recall that.

And then Jan 6.

Former election security chief Krebs: Trump ‘fanned flames’ of violence.

Christopher Krebs, who led the federal government’s election security efforts before President Donald Trump fired him in November, said Trump should have known his words would one day spark a mob.

“We called out #disinfo repeatedly before & after the election. Yet the President & his campaign/lawyers/supporters fanned the flames for their own selfish reasons culminating with today’s objections followed by his video message,” Krebs said on Twitter Wednesday, after a mob breached the Capitol.

“WHAT DID THEY THINK WOULD HAPPEN? They own this,” he said.