Thursday, March 4, 2021


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Last Call For Can't Get No Relief

Senate Democrats are struggling to keep all 50 on board for Biden's American Rescue Plan, while Senate Republicans are doing everything they can to delay the bill as long as possible in hopes that it falls apart and that they can blame Democrats for the suffering.

President Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a concession to moderate Senate Democrats as party leaders moved Wednesday to lock down support and finalize the sweeping legislation.

Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels, compared to the way the direct payments were structured in Biden’s initial proposal and the version of the bill passed by the House on Saturday.

The change came as the Senate prepared to take an initial procedural vote to move forward on the bill as early as Wednesday evening. Biden and Senate Democratic leaders were scrambling to keep their caucus united since they cannot lose a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate if Republicans unite against the legislation.

In addition to the stimulus checks, the sweeping economic package would also extend unemployment benefits through August, as well as set aside $350 billion for state and local aide; $130 billion for schools; $160 billion for vaccinations, testing and other health care system support; an enhanced child tax credit and other provisions including rental aid and food assistance.

At least one Senate Republican -- Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) -- appeared open to considering a vote in favor of the legislation, telling reporters, “My state needs relief.” Elsewhere, though, GOP opposition was hardening, as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced plans to force Senate officials to read the entire 600-page-plus bill aloud before debate could even begin -- a process he predicted would take around 10 hours.

“I don’t want to sound like a leftist, but I’m gonna resist,” Johnson told a talk radio host in Wisconsin.

Under the plan for stimulus checks passed by the House, individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year would qualify for the full $1,400 payment. The size of the payments would then begin to scale down before zeroing out for individuals making $100,000 per year and couples making $200,000.

Under the changes agreed to by Biden and Senate Democratic leadership, individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.

That means singles making between $80,000 and $100,000 and couples earning between $160,000 and $200,000 would be newly excluded from seeing any benefit under the revised structure Biden agreed to.
There's no real good reason to limit who gets checks even further, but moderate Blue Dogs like Joe Manchin and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are insisting that the limits be changed and the money that would have gone to upper middle class folks be given to hospitals and schools for vaccination help instead.

The good news is that Republicans like Lisa Murkowski may sign on to the bill, yay!  The bad news is nobody should really give a single damn about what anyone rancid enough to remain in the Trump white supremacist party has to say.

So, we'll see. Personally I want to see someone call Manchin's bluff and make him personally responsible for sinking this bill, but the stakes are too high. People are going to hurt badly without this money. We can't afford gamesmanship here.

But Senators are going to Senate.

Texas Goes Very Viral, Con't

In a brilliant effort to make Texans stop hating him over the power and water issues in the state, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is lifting all COVID-19 regulations for people, businesses, and schools effective next Wednesday, so they'll hate him for killing tens of thousands of Texans over the next couple of months instead.

"It is now time to open Texas 100%," said Gov. Greg Abbott this afternoon, signaling the ease of COVID-19 restrictions.

Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type are allowed to open 100 percent and the mask mandate will be lifted, the governor stated as part of his executive order to rescind previous orders.

While Abbott acknowledged the virus isn't going away, he insisted the state is far better equipped to fight COVID-19 than a year ago thanks to vaccines.

Late last week, the Texas governor indicated an announcement is coming "pretty soon" on whether he'll relax current COVID-19 mandates, including one in effect since last July that requires masks in public.

"We're working right now on evaluating when we're gonna be able to remove all statewide orders, and we will be making announcements about that pretty soon," Abbott said during a news conference in Corpus Christi last Thursday.

Abbott's announcement took place inside a locally-owned Mexican restaurant in the Lubbock area.

"We don't want to continue to prevent people from doing what they want to do. But let's get down to a good level," Fauci said in an interview on "Face the Nation." "Let's get many, many more people vaccinated. And then you could pull back on those types of public health measures. But right now, as we're going down and plateauing, is not the time to declare victory because we're not victorious yet."

While there has been a drop in the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since early January, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned Friday that the declines could be stalling at a high number, which she said was a "very concerning shift in the trajectory." As of Friday, the seven-day average is just under 73,000 new infections, according to the CDC.

While Fauci said the fall in coronavirus cases was "really sharp and encouraging," he agreed a plateau of around 70,000 new cases per day is "concerning."

"That's exactly the thing that happened during previous surges," he said. "As it peaked and started to come down, people withdrew some of the intensity of the public health measures and it kind of stabilized at a very high level. That's very dangerous."

Fauci stressed Americans should continue to comply with public health measures such as wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and social distancing. He said the leveling off in new cases also underscores the need to vaccinate as many people "as quickly and as expeditiously as you possibly can."

"That's why adding yet again another really good vaccine into the mix is really very important," he said.


So expect to see another spike in COVID cases in March and hospitalizations and deaths in April. Hopefully Texas won't suffer too badly in the meantime, but I'm betting with zero mask and social distancing mandates, the spike will be rapid and devastating and very obvious to officials by April 1.

Sorry, Texas friends.  Your 2021 is only going to get worse.

Georgia On Trump's Mind, Con't

Fulton County, Georgia DA Fani Willis's election fraud case against Donald "find me those votes" Trump is headed to an Atlanta grand jury this week.

Fulton County prosecutors are expected to appear before a grand jury this week seeking subpoenas for documents and witnesses related to their investigation of former President Donald Trump and some of his top associates for possible election fraud, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

Legal experts are split as to whether there’s a strong case to be made, but most agree Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s election results merit greater scrutiny. Fani Willis, Fulton’s new district attorney, has said she’s prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Some believe the recording of Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger leaning on him to “find” the votes to reverse Joe Biden’s win is grounds to move forward.

“If there were a textbook (example of) how to commit criminal election fraud, this would be it,” said Atlanta attorney David Walbert, who has represented Fulton County and the state of Georgia in several elections and redistricting cases.

Longtime criminal defense attorney Don Samuel believes the matter isn’t cut-and-dried.

“You’ve got to prove not only that he encouraged the secretary of state to commit a crime, but that he did so willfully and aware that what he was doing was illegal,” said Samuel, whose high-profile clients have included football stars Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger and attorney Claud “Tex” McIver. That “is kind of an uphill battle, it seems to me, when you’re surrounded by lawyers when you’re making the call.”

Willis, an experienced prosecutor admired even by courtroom adversaries, said during a recent interview that she has no choice but to investigate.

“Nobody is above the law,” she said.
Nobody is above the law, but the law changes depending on who's enforcing it.
Needless to say, watch Georgia Republicans carefully on this one.  This is still Georgia, and if the grand jury goes badly, Republicans will keep their mouths shut. But if the proceedings turn into what I think will happen -- a viable case for indicting Donald Trump -- then the GOP will unleash its full fury against her, and I even expect Gov. Brian Kemp to try to remove her from office somehow.
And also, there's the very real possibility that violence, possibly lethal violence, mind you, could be employed. After the attempted January 6th coup, all bets are off as to what happens.
But you'd better believe Georgia is on Trump's mind, and the attacks on Willis will start very, very soon.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Last Call For Operation Rehabilitation

There will always be one place where having a Trump regime job on the resume will actually help getting you hired, and that's the right-wing noise machine at FOX News.

Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany will officially join Fox News as an on-air commentator, the network announced Tuesday.

The news, which was announced by Fox News host Harris Faulkner, comes after weeks during which the network had equivocated about McEnany's role at the network.

"It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Kayleigh McEnany to the Fox family," Faulkner said. "We will be seeing much more of her."

A spokesperson for Fox News declined to comment beyond Faulkner's statements.

McEnany, a former CNN contributor, was a spokesperson for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign and took on the role of White House press secretary last spring. She told reporters as she took the job: "I will never lie to you."

That promise quickly became the subject of criticism, as McEnany routinely defended and promoted misleading statements made by then-President Donald Trump. McEnany proved to be one of Trump's most ardent defenders during the election, with Fox News at one point cutting away from a press conference she held in early November in which she pushed false claims of voting irregularities.

McEnany is the latest person to walk through the revolving door between Fox News and the Trump White House: Sarah Sanders, another former press secretary, joined Fox News before leaving to eye a run for Arkansas governor. Larry Kudlow, Trump's former economic director, recently joined Fox Business Network where he hosts his own show. Hope Hicks, Trump's longtime communications director, also joined Fox News' parent company, Fox Corp., in 2018 to serve as its executive vice president and chief communications officer. She later returned to the Trump White House.
As the Big Lie machine gears up for attacking Biden and the Dems and supporting Trump through his legal woes, the familiar faces of Trump's propaganda corps on FOX will put them back on top. It's what the cultists want, and it's what they'll get.
Kayleigh the professional liar only changed who signs her paychecks, not her job. 

But I bet there's an extra zero on the salary at the new gig.

It's About Suppression, Con't

Georgia state House Republicans have passed their raft of voter suppression measures to make sure Black turnout can never again approach what it was in November and January.

A bill to restrict ballot drop boxes, require more ID for absentee voting and limit weekend early voting days passed the Georgia House on Monday amid protests that the proposals would make it harder for voters to participate in democracy.

The House voted along party lines, 97-72, on the sweeping elections bill supported by Republicans who want to impose new voting requirements after losing presidential and U.S. Senate races in Georgia.

Democrats opposing the legislation said it creates obstacles for voting that will do more to reduce turnout than increase election security.

The bill now heads to the state Senate, where a committee voted Monday to end no-excuse absentee voting, which would require most voters to cast ballots in person. That legislation could receive a vote in the full Senate within days.

Georgia is at the center of a nationwide debate over election access and security, brought on by Republican Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud. Election officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, have said there’s no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the election, and the results were verified by recounts and audits.

During a 2 1/2-hour debate in the Georgia House, state Rep. Kimberly Alexander said the bill would lead to voter suppression by creating hurdles to casting a ballot.

“Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly are trying to change the rules of the election here in Georgia, rules that you wrote, because you were handed defeat,” said Alexander, a Democrat from Hiram. “You know that your only chance of winning future elections is to prevent Georgians from having their votes counted and their voices heard.”

But Republican legislators said their proposals will build voters’ trust in elections after it was shaken by members of their own political party. Their policies would put new limits on absentee voting, used by a record 1.3 million Georgians in the presidential election, two-thirds of whom voted for Democrat Joe Biden.

Legislative Republicans who supported Trump’s claims have not contested the results of their own General Assembly elections.

“Our goal in this bill is to make sure that Georgia’s election results get back quickly and accurately,” said state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem. “The way we begin to restore confidence in our voting system is by passing this bill. There are many commonsense measures improving elections in this bill.”

Other backers of the bill said it would help prevent the possibility of fraud and create consistency across the state in voting access and funding.

Protesters waved signs and chanted “no voter suppression” at the Capitol on Monday, making their voices heard as legislators prepared to vote. A previous protest on Friday led to a confrontation when an officer grabbed Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon’s arm after she stood in front of an officer’s bullhorn.

“This bill is going against all the accessibility that makes voting possible by removing absentee and early voting hours,” said Regine Shabazz, an Atlanta resident protesting at Liberty Plaza outside the Capitol.

Limits on absentee voting will harm the poor and those without transportation to polling places, said Melissa McCollum of Gainesville who was in the group of protesters.

“We have proven again and again that our election was fair and not compromised, so why are they trying to reduce voting rights? I don’t get it,” McCollum said.


There's not much to get. It's voter suppression of Black voters in a Southern state in service to white supremacy. It's a tale as old as America itself.

It's all the GOP has left.

The Day Hell Froze Over In Texas, Con't

The lights may be back on and the water is working for some, but millions of Texans are still suffering after decades of Republican mismanagement left infrastructure vulnerable, and they need immediate help from a federal government that Texans have been told can't help them, won't help them, and shouldn't help them. One of Joe Biden's first real tests is to prove Republicans wrong.

The plumbing in Marilu Leyva's mobile home looks as if it was mangled by a monster, and it no longer delivers water. The damage to Hussein Kamel's power-washing equipment by the freeze forced his family business to cancel jobs. The recliner where Albert Hoelscher's wife sat for days and nights in the bone-chilling cold is now empty.

Two weeks after a deadly winter storm led to a near-collapse of the Texas power grid, temperatures in many cities are back in the 60s and 70s, the ice and snow have melted, and electricity and water service have mostly been restored. But widespread damage remains: burst pipes that must be replaced; crops and livestock that died in the cold; business equipment that was destroyed; and the loss of more than 30 lives.

Millions of Texans are wondering what it will take to recover, how much it will cost and who will help them.

Large swaths of the state are still assessing the extent of the damage, and the state legislature is holding hearings to determine what went wrong and what changes are needed. President Biden visited Houston on Friday and promised that the federal government is “in for the long haul” and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide millions of dollars in aid, including help for uninsured homeowners.

Since the storm hit, local elected leaders and volunteers pulled together in cities and communities across the state to fill people’s immediate needs of food and water. But the longer-term fixes needed to make Texans whole are a window into the disparities that disasters magnify, especially in affluent cities such as Austin.

“Please don’t forget about us,” said Leyva, 40, whose beloved mobile home park is tucked between a creek and railroad tracks near million-dollar homes, trendy restaurants and a popular beer garden in a rapidly gentrifying area three miles from downtown Austin. “We still need help.”

For 15 years, Leyva has saved her wages from working as a nanny to beautify the interior of the home she shares with her teenage son. But beneath the carefully laid linoleum was a deteriorating plumbing system that snapped when water froze inside the plastic pipes. Power has returned after being out for roughly five days, but she and about 50 families in her community have not had running water since the first freeze.

Those who live in this largely immigrant community rarely ask for help from outsiders. But they have had to rely uncomfortably on the kindness of friends and strangers in the short term, because the price tag for repairs is beyond what they can afford. Losing a week of work after a year of inconsistent employment is also not helping matters.

Early on, neighbors trudged through the snow to a nearby brewery in search of drinking water. Others posted pleas on social media that were seen by local community organizers who brought food, bottled water and a cube of potable water to the mobile home park. Another local arranged for a food truck to cook meals for the community.

The trailer park residents relish being hidden away from the bustle of the capital city to live their quiet lives. But their predicament required them to yell for help and accept the generosity.

“I don’t know how much longer we can endure this,” said Julia De Los Santos, 45, who lives in the park and posted a plea on social media.
Nobody expects GOP Gov. Greg Abbott to lift a finger. He'll just blame Biden. Meanwhile, Abbott says he's going to lift all COVID-19 restrictions "pretty soon". And Texas Republicans are just going to pretend that everything is fine and normal again.

But it's not. We need a national infrastructure plan, a multi-trillion dollar Marshall Plan for the US, another Public Works Administration for a new era.

Republicans will never allow it.

And on top of that, people in Texas need help today. Right now.

Hoping they get it won't be enough.


Monday, March 1, 2021

Last Call For Eating The Rich

Sen. Liz Warren is taking aim at the pandemic billionaires with a new tax proposal that would levy taxes on people with more than $50 million in wealth.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced legislation on Monday that would tax the net worth of the wealthiest people in America, a proposal aimed at persuading President Biden and other Democrats to fund sweeping new federal spending programs by taxing the richest Americans.

Ms. Warren’s wealth tax would apply a 2 percent tax to individual net worth — including the value of stocks, houses, boats and anything else a person owns, after subtracting out any debts — above $50 million. It would add an additional 1 percent surcharge for net worth above $1 billion. It is co-sponsored in the House by two Democratic representatives, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania, a moderate.

The proposal, which mirrors the plan Ms. Warren unveiled while seeking the 2020 presidential nomination, is not among the top revenue-raisers that Democratic leaders are considering to help offset Mr. Biden’s campaign proposals to spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure, education, child care, clean energy deployment, health care and other domestic initiatives. Unlike Ms. Warren, Mr. Biden pointedly did not endorse a wealth tax in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.

But Ms. Warren is pushing colleagues to pursue such a plan, which has gained popularity with the public as the richest Americans reap huge gains while 10 million Americans remain out of work as a result of the pandemic.

Polls have consistently shown Ms. Warren’s proposal winning the support of more than three in five Americans, including a majority of Republican voters.

“A wealth tax is popular among voters on both sides for good reason: because they understand the system is rigged to benefit the wealthy and large corporations,” Ms. Warren said. “As Congress develops additional plans to help our economy, the wealth tax should be at the top of the list to help pay for these plans because of the huge amounts of revenue it would generate.”
It's a popular plan.
It also has no chance whatsoever of even passing the House, let alone the Senate, and even if it did, it would never survive the Roberts Court

So, like universal firearms background checks, raising the means testing limit on Social Security checks, and Election day as a holiday, this too will never pass until Republicans actually start losing elections because of these things.

And right now, the GOP is all Trump, all day.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

As Trump spent what seemed like hours at his CPAC speech on Sunday spewing more of the Big Lie -- how the election was "stolen" -- it's important to remember than Republicans who remain in power are echoing him and white supremacist terrorist groups by openly talking of secession and formation of a white ethnostate, and introducing legislation calling for leaving the country.

After days of insisting they could paper over their intraparty divisions, Republican lawmakers were met with a grim reminder of the challenge ahead on Sunday when former President Donald J. Trump stood before a conservative conference and ominously listed the names of Republicans he is targeting for defeat.

As Democrats pursue a liberal agenda in Washington, the former president’s grievances over the 2020 election continue to animate much of his party, more than a month after he left office and nearly four months since he lost the election. Many G.O.P. leaders and activists are more focused on litigating false claims about voting fraud in last year’s campaign, assailing the technology companies that deplatformed Mr. Trump and punishing lawmakers who broke with him over his desperate bid to retain power.

In an address on Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, his first public appearance since he left the White House, Mr. Trump read a sort of hit list of every congressional Republican who voted to impeach him, all but vowing revenge.

“The RINOs that we’re surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker and will destroy our country itself,” he said, a reference to the phrase “Republicans In Name Only,” adding that he would be “actively working to elect strong, tough and smart Republican leaders.”

Mr. Trump took special care to single out Representative Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. He called Ms. Cheney “a warmonger” and said her “poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I’ve ever seen.” Then he falsely claimed he had helped revive Mr. McConnell’s campaign last year in Kentucky. 
 It gets far worse when you realize Trump has spent months telling Republicans that elections can't be trusted, and he did so again on Sunday.

Yet even as he dutifully read his scripted attacks on his successor, the former president drew louder applause for pledging to purge his Republican antagonists from the party.

“Get rid of them all,” he said

"Get rid of them all" is not an idle threat.
As author Casey Michel tells us, this is all part of justifying more brutal violence like the US Capitol terrorist attack, and Texas is ground zero. Not only do they want Republican "traitors" dealt with, they want to deal with the rest of us, too.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Texas is leading this charge. As The Daily Beast reported, a Texas state lawmaker — one who attended the Capitol rally on Jan. 6 and claimed it was “the most amazing day” — recently filed the first serious secession bill the country has seen since the Civil War. The Texas Republican Party promptly endorsed the bill, which would give Texans the right to vote in a secession referendum later this year, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott refusing to denounce the legislation.

Of course, state-level secession remains illegal in the U.S.; as the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2006, “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.” But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from defending the bill, claiming that it’s simply giving Texans a “voice.” (It’s unclear if these figures think Texans should be able to vote on other illegal acts in the interest of expressing their voice.)

While much of the secessionist rhetoric remains couched in claims about things like fiscal responsibility and burdensome federal regulations, it doesn’t take much to discern the ethno-nationalism driving the push. Just like so much of Trumpian America, secession in places like Texas is rooted in a combination of nativism, xenophobia and white racial grievance. Texas secession Facebook pages are saturated with fantasies of forcing Democrats to leave the state, seizing their property and forcing them to “convert” (to what is unclear). Just like the Confederates before them, this modern secessionist ethos is rooted at least in large part in maintaining white supremacy and authoritarian governance, regardless of the costs.

On their own, the increasing marriage of secessionist chatter and GOP ideology would be cause enough for concern. But this month’s disastrous winter storm in Texas also points to how idiotic such secessionist dreams truly are. Thanks to an electric grid carved out separately from the rest of the country, Texas remained effectively stranded while storms wrought rolling blackouts, boil-water advisories and dozens of deaths thus far. Scenes reminiscent of catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina illustrated what state-level collapse looks like in modern America.

Thanks to the devastating storms, Texas secessionists have gone quiet for now. Meanwhile, regular Texans have begun looking to the federal government for help, with Washington already announcing plans for federal disaster assistance. As it should.

But imagine, for instance, if Texas somehow managed to declare independence in the near future. Rather than simply carrying on with the status quo ante, as many secessionists and increasing numbers of Republicans appear to assume, any independence push would presumably shut off the federal tap, which currently sends Texas tens of billions of dollars more than it receives from the state. A successful secession push would likewise (and presumably) send industry, spooked by political instability, scattering, gutting Texas’s vibrant economy.

Along the way, millions of patriotic Americans would promptly uproot, taking their skills elsewhere, exacerbating knock-on economic struggles. Washington would probably try to dissuade other states from joining Texas by placing punitive economic measures — blocking Social Security checks, imposing new tariffs and removing federal installations, perhaps even launching a naval blockade — on the breakaway region. Texas would be, in effect, stranded.

And this isn’t even touching on the political violence that could ensue. Given that Texas’s economic powerhouses remain the primarily Democratic cities of Houston, Austin, and Dallas — and that America’s primary political divides remain on an urban-rural axis — who knows how messy that could get. (In other words, blinkered liberals should stop trying to thoughtlessly encourage GOP secessionism.)

All of which is to say: The devastation in Texas highlights but a small sample of how awful an actual secession push would likely be. As University of Houston Professor Robert Zaretsky wrote this month, the “spirit of secessionism… carries terrible human costs.” And he’s exactly right. It’s a terrible proposal, with terrible consequences, of which Texas is getting but a taste right now

Again, we live in an era where one party is "radical" for wanting civil rights, and the other party is radical for wanting white rights. The parties are not the same, and anyone saying it after the last four years is part of the problem.




March Begins With April Haines

President Biden's Director of National Intelligence, April Haines, has four years worth of Trump regime disasters to deal with, and it's a Herculean task for any one person. Luckily, she'll be joined by a top team at CIA, FBI, and NSA...once those nominations are done in the weeks ahead.
As the top U.S. intelligence official for just over a month, Avril Haines has an overflowing inbox.

A massive computer hack blamed on Russia is still under investigation. President Biden has raised the possibility of rejoining a nuclear agreement with Iran. And right before Haines sat down Friday with a team from NPR, for her first interview in office, aides handed out a report she'd just declassified: it said Saudi Arabia's crown prince was responsible for the brutal 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Haines has taken over after a turbulent time. Former President Donald Trump was frequently at odds with his handpicked national security team when its assessments did not fit his preferred narrative. During his one-term presidency, he had five directors of national intelligence.

"I think it has been a challenging time, particularly for the office of the director of national intelligence," Haines told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of All Things Considered. "There was a lot of turnover during the last administration and I think, more generally, that intelligence analysis wasn't necessarily being appreciated in the same way that it normally had been in the past."

"It looked to me from the outside as if there were political pressures being put on the intelligence community," she added.

Asked if that was something that could be easily fixed, she said, "Clearly not. I think this is one of those things where it's so much about the culture of the institution that gets damaged in those moments. And it's one of the hardest things to course correct."

Haines did not criticize members of the Trump administration by name, and described her immediate predecessor, John Ratcliffe, as "very good to me, very civil" during the transition in January.

Haines wore a navy blue mask throughout the interview at the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, part of a compound that's hidden away ever-so-slightly from the highways and shopping malls of suburban Washington.

She's had a longstanding working relationship with Biden. Haines became a lawyer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007, when Biden was a Delaware senator and committee chairman. She followed Biden to the White House, working on the National Security Council when he was vice president. She also served in the No. 2 position at the CIA from 2013-15.

Now she's going to the White House on weekday mornings to oversee the president's daily intelligence briefing. She says she'll be joined by William Burns, the nominee to head the CIA, when he's confirmed by the Senate, which appears likely within days.

"You have now a president who very much wants to hear what you have to say, regardless of whether or not it's consistent with his particular policy views or any of those things," said Haines. 
And that's the main thing: Biden actually listens to people. Still, the intelligence community has an active burning toxic waste fire to clean up, and the Russians and Chinese have compromised us so badly, we may not be able to do it for decades.

Remember, it all started with one man who decided that America's intelligence agencies needed to be destroyed...


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Last Call For Un-Vaccination Nation

As The Atlantic's Derek Thompson notes, the roughly one-quarter to one-third of Americans that are actively refusing a COVID-19 vaccine have multiple different reasons for not trusting or wanting it for them or their families, and finding the alchemical formula for convincing them otherwise is the major public health issue of our time.

Why wouldn’t someone want a COVID-19 vaccine?

Staring at the raw numbers, it doesn’t seem like a hard choice. Thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 every day. Meanwhile, out of the 75,000 people who received a shot in the vaccine trials from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, zero died and none were hospitalized after four weeks. As the United States screams past 500,000 fatalities, the choice between a deadly disease and a shot in the arm might seem like the easiest decision in the world.

Or not. One-third of American adults said this month that they don’t want the vaccine or are undecided about whether they’ll get one. That figure has declined in some polls. But it remains disconcertingly high among Republicans, young people, and certain minority populations. In pockets of vaccine hesitancy, the coronavirus could continue to spread, kill, mutate, and escape. That puts all of us at risk.

Last week, I called several doctors and researchers to ask how we could reverse vaccine hesitancy among the groups in which it was highest. They all told me that my initial question was too simplistic. “Vaccine hesitancy” isn’t one thing, they said. It is a constellation of motivations, insecurities, reasonable fears, and less reasonable conspiracy theories.

“I call it vaccine dissent,” Kolina Koltai, who studies online conspiracy theories at the University of Washington, told me. “And it’s way more complicated than being anti-vaccine. It goes from highly educated parents who are interested in holistic, naturalistic child-rearing to conspiracy theorists who want to abolish vaccines entirely.”

“I call it vaccine deliberation,” said Giselle Corbie-Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina and the director of the UNC Center for Health Equity Research. “For Black and Brown people, this is a time of watchful waiting. It’s a skepticism of a system that has consistently demonstrated that their health is not a priority.”

“It’s not vaccine hesitancy among American Indians, but rather hesitancy and distrust regarding the entire government,” said Margaret Moss, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing and an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota. “After decades of distrust, on top of centuries of genocide, now they appear and say, ‘Here, you have to take this!’”

Let’s not forget vaccine indifference. Two-thirds of Republicans under 30 without a college degree say that they are “not concerned at all” about COVID-19 in their area, according to polling from Civiqs. The same percentage of this group says that they won’t take the vaccine, making them the most vaccine-resistant cohort among all of those surveyed.

Dissent. Deliberation. Distrust. Indifference. Vaccine hesitancy is not one thing. It’s a portfolio. And we’re going to need a portfolio of strategies to solve it.

Kolina Koltai has been studying online disinformation since 2015, with a special focus on anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. “People come into the space for a variety of reasons,” she said. “At first, it was mostly parents, more women than men, and overwhelmingly white, ranging from stay-at-home moms to people with high levels of education who wanted a naturalistic upbringing for their child.” The group didn’t initially have a political lean. But in the past few years, Republican politicians have played more directly to anti-vaccine fears, pulling these groups to the right.

Today, resistance among the GOP seems to be the most significant problem for vaccinating the country. Just half of Republicans say that they plan to get the shot, while the share of pro-vaccine Democrats has increased to more than 80 percent.

Online denialism and conspiracy theorizing about the COVID-19 vaccine is more complex than previous anti-vaccine skepticism, Koltai said. “Crisis often breeds conspiracies, and the extended nature of this public-health crisis has given conspiratorial people lots of time to build elaborate theories,” she told me. Beyond the more outlandish theories—for example, that Bill Gates is using the shots to inject Americans with his microchips—she said that most online skepticism is more prosaic. People claim that the vaccine trials were rushed and shoddy. They worry about the long-term side effects of a newfangled chemical that monkeys around with our cells. They read news reports of people getting sick after having taken the shots, and become afraid.

“You shouldn’t say that people are idiots for believing false or misleading information, because they’re not idiots,” she said. “That’s part of what makes this such a hard problem to solve.”


This is the country that gave us Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. This is also the country that gave us the Tuskeegee Experiment and gave smallpox-laden blankets to Native Americans, and to this day uneven health outcomes for people of color continue to exist.
There are reasons for distrust. But there's also a lot of disinformation out there, and there are also more than 500,000 Americans dead.

That last part is the most important and why we need to solve this problem, and it's going to take a multi-directional, multi-disciplinary solution.

Another #MeToo Moment, Con't

A second former aide has accused New York Dem Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, as state Republicans (and not a small number of Democrats) call for his resignation and/or impeachment over COVID-19 spread in nursing homes.
A second former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is accusing him of sexual harassment, saying that he asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.

The aide, Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November, told The New York Times that the governor had harassed her late last spring, during the height of the state’s fight against the coronavirus.

Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.

Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times on Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He said he had requested an independent review of the matter and asked that New Yorkers await the findings “before making any judgments.”
Ms. Bennett said that during the June encounter, the governor, 63, also complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone,” before turning the focus to Ms. Bennett. She said that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who did I last hug?”

Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said.

Mr. Cuomo never tried to touch her, Ms. Bennett said, but the message of the entire episode was unmistakable to her.

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Ms. Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Cuomo said he wants a full, fair, and independent investigation into the matter and has asked state AG Tisha James and Janet DiFiore, the state's Chief Judge of the state's Court of Appeals, to do just that.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the state's attorney general and chief appeals court judge to jointly appoint an independent lawyer to investigate claims that he sexually harassed at least two women who worked for him. 
The move came after legislative leaders assailed Cuomo's plan to appoint a retired federal judge to conduct the probe.

“The Governor’s Office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the Governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, said. “We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics."

Garvey said the Democratic governor's administration has asked Attorney General Letitia James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, “to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report.”

Garvey said the report “will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge.”


Tish James is calling BS on this, as state law makes it clear that it's her call. Cuomo has to face the music sooner rather than later, resignation, impeachment, or election.

Or indictment. 

It's ironic that Cuomo would be prosecuted successfully by Tisha James before Donald Trump would be, but we Democrats have to take a close look at the failures of our own leaders before we can truly fix everyone's problems.

Regardless, Cuomo's days look to be numbered.

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