Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Retribution Execution, Con't

House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff is sending up a warning flag to see if Donald Trump will continue his run of firing and replacing various inspectors general watchdogs in the regime with loyalists, Trump has already fired two in the last five days.  Greg Sargent:

After President Trump fired the inspector general of the intelligence community, he didn’t bother disguising his true reason for doing so: because that IG had conducted his lawful duties in a manner that resulted in Trump being held accountable for his misdeeds and corruption.

As Trump himself put it, Michael Atkinson, the fired IG, had done a “terrible job.” How so? Easy: Atkinson had evaluated the whistleblower complaint exposing Trump’s Ukraine shakedown scheme with procedural correctness.

“He took a fake report and he brought it to Congress,” Trump said. That’s what Atkinson was supposed to do, and the complaint turned out to be almost entirely accurate, leading to Trump getting justly impeached over the extraordinary misconduct that came out as a result.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) just announced that the House Intelligence Committee, which he chairs, will be examining Trump’s firing of Atkinson. And buried in Schiff’s letter making this announcement is an unsettling glimpse of where all this could be going.
hiff’s letter, which is addressed to acting director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, expresses Schiff’s concern that Grenell is politicizing that office on Trump’s behalf, noting that every Senate-confirmed person in the DNI has been removed.

Schiff’s letter argues that Atkinson “acted with the highest integrity and remarkable professionalism,” while being subjected to a campaign of attacks by Trump and his allies simply for adhering to his oath of office.

Notably, in the section announcing the investigation of Atkinson’s dismissal, Schiff calls on Grenell to confirm in writing whether he ever exercised his “authority” to “prohibit” any other “investigation, inspection, audit, or review” that Atkinson might have undertaken.

Schiff’s letter also calls on Grenell to stipulate in writing that he “will not permit retaliation or reprisals against anyone who has made, or in the future makes, protected disclosures of misconduct.”

Who might make such reprisals against such protected disclosures? Why, one Donald J. Trump, of course.

Those are very suggestive moves by Schiff. They in effect throw down the gauntlet and challenge Grenell not to stipulate to those things.

Ned Price, a former senior National Security Council official and CIA analyst, told me that if Grenell refuses to make these stipulations — which is plausible if not likely — it will underscore how abnormal this administration truly is.

“His decision not to answer would be incredibly telling,” Price said.
Price added that a failure on Grenell’s part to state that he hadn’t interfered in any other ongoing investigations, or a refusal to pledge to defend employees in the future, might signal a willingness to allow Trump to proceed with a “campaign of retaliation.”

Putting Grenell on the spot is the right move, but it's not like House Dems have been able to do much to actually keep Trump from continuing his retribution campaign.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could use a "phase 4" COVID-19 bill to deliver oversight, but Trump has already said he'd completely ignore the oversight put in the third COVID-19 bill.

Trump continues to have the full support of the Senate GOP, who have already said that Trump has every right to dismiss any and every inspector general working "for him".

“Obviously those people serve at the pleasure of the president and as is usually the case, it’s not something that we have any control over,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the GOP whip. “The president made it pretty clear why he did. But he has the prerogative. We don’t always have to agree with his actions. As we’ve learned in the past he’s going to do what he’s to do.”

Thune said it was too early to assess whether the firing was unwarranted: “I want to talk to the people who are close to it and get some context on it. I don’t understand it at this point. But that’s a question for another day when I can figure out what went into it.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who presided over a pro forma session of the Senate on Monday morning, also said more information was needed.

“I think we should get more detail. I agree with that,” she said. “It’s such an odd time it’s hard to say how we’re going to get that info — I mean, you know what kind of priority that information is going to have — but I think that’ll all come out.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a top Trump ally, said he was more consumed with reforming the foreign surveillance courts than Atkinson’s firing. But he also made clear it didn’t trouble him, either: “I don’t necessarily have any issues with it.”

“My view is that this is the president’s decision, it’s a decision that’s his to make. It doesn’t give me enormous heartburn,” Hawley said in an interview on Monday. “It’s not the main issue.”

Trump will continue to use COVID-19 to destroy democracy.  The GOP Senate will let him do whatever he wants.

Nobody can or will stop him.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Last Call For Supreme Disenfranchisement

The era of free and fair elections in America ended today, probably permanently, as Martin Longman discusses. Wisconsin's absentee ballot extension deadline due to COVID-19 was annulled by the US Supreme Court yesterday, and today's Wisconsin primary turnout will be in the single digits, all but guaranteeing a Republican sweep of local and state races.

It seems inevitable that Milwaukee will have an immensely reduced turnout, which is tantamount to handing the Republicans victory in every statewide contested election on the ballot. But it gets worse.

Once the Democrats understood that the election would go forward, they went to court to try to make sure that absentee ballots could serve as an alternative, and they convinced an Obama-appointed federal judge to extend the deadline for submitting an absentee ballot from 8pm April 7 to 4pm on April 13. The judge reasoned that this was reasonable because the state had received 1.2 million ballot requests and was struggling to get them mailed out in time for voters to receive them.

But the Republicans appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 along completely partisan lines to rescind the lower court’s decision and uphold the 8pm April 7 deadline for receiving an absentee ballot. 
Predictably, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was incensed:

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes in her dissent, “the presidential primaries, a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, three seats on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, over 100 other judgeships, over 500 school board seats, and several thousand other positions” are at stake in the Wisconsin election…

…Again, many voters are not expected to receive their ballots until after this April 7 deadline. As Justice Ginsburg notes, “as of Sunday morning, 12,000 ballots reportedly had not yet been mailed out…”

Now, the most egregious thing here is that the Republicans are defying their governor and putting people’s lives at risk. But it’s almost equally offensive that they’re using this crisis to guarantee themselves a slew of easy victories in what are actually competitive elections. And this is all possible because Republican-controlled legislatures and courts are willing to go to any length to help their party electorally, even if it destroys the bench’s reputation for impartiality, and even if it annihilates any respect for the outcome of elections. How can anyone argue that you can have a fair election when Milwaukee can only produce five polling locations rather than the 180 that are needed? How can they say they’re not disenfranchising people when folks have to choose between possible death if they go out in public to vote or not voting at all because they didn’t receive an absentee ballot in time to mail it in by Tuesday night’s deadline?

Expect this nightmare to be repeated in every state that doesn't have universal mail-in ballots.

Imagine in November with COVID-19 still raging across the country that 75% of polling locations are closed on Election Day, that turnout is in the low teens or high single digits, and Republicans easily win every remotely competitive House and Senate race, as well as giving Trump a huge electoral college win.

Imagine what Republicans would do with a 5-4 SCOTUS majority, the House, and 60+ Senate seats, and Trump leading the way, still using "emergency powers" because of the pandemic.

It would be a catastrophe.

We're headed there right now.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

Dear Leader no longer needs a proxy for his daily mandatory session of lying to the planet, so his press secretary is gone without ever holding a briefing.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is leaving the job without ever having briefed the press. CNN has learned she is returning to the East Wing as first lady Melania Trump's chief of staff as President Donald Trump's new chief of staff Mark Meadows shakes up the communications team in the West Wing. 
Meadows is currently considering several candidates for the press secretary job, including Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany. The new chief of staff is also considering hiring Alyssa Farah, the current spokeswoman for the Defense Department, for a communications role, among others, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN. 
Farah has held several roles in the Trump administration. After leaving her job as the spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus to become Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary, she moved to the Pentagon last August. But this would be her first position in the West Wing. Farah has remained close with Meadows since her days at the Freedom Caucus. 
Grisham, who still speaks with first lady Melania Trump on a daily basis, is returning to where she has spent the majority of her time in the administration, the East Wing. 
Grisham did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

Grisham is being replaced by campaign press flack Kayleigh McEnany, as new Chief of Staff Mark Meadows retools the White House press office as the campaign propaganda department.

Again, Trump loves this.  He gets to be on TV in prime time every day, seven days a week if he wants, and everyone has to pay attention to him.  He believes he is the star of the Coronavirus Hour and that he'll easily win in November with daily briefings ahead for months. 

Nobody is paying attention to what Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, or Chuck Schumer are saying, but Trump gets on TV live from the White House daily.   The broken media will cover him every day, no matter how much they protest, and the Dems' irrelevancy will continue through November.  2020 is Trump vs. COVID-19, if we even have an election in November, which is now seriously in doubt.

Unless Dems change the message with a major legislative push from Pelosi and Schumer, Trump will use the deaths and destruction to make himself leader for life. Every day is now The Trump Show for a captive, shut-in American audience of hundreds of millions.

And he gets to spread his lies daily. Example #6829 that the Trump regime was warned about how bad a pandemic would be and that Trump wasted weeks and weeks anyway came from all people, Trump's own trade guru, Peter Navarro, at the end of January.

A top White House adviser starkly warned Trump administration officials in late January that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death. 
The warning, written in a memo by Peter Navarro, President Trump’s trade adviser, is the highest-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing as the administration was taking its first substantive steps to confront a crisis that had already consumed China’s leaders and would go on to upend life in Europe and the United States. 
“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” Mr. Navarro’s memo said. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”

Dated Jan. 29, it came during a period when Mr. Trump was playing down the risks to the United States, and he would later go on to say that no one could have predicted such a devastating outcome.

I guess this is Navarro openly covering his ass here, as he's not going to take the fall for "Nobody could have known".  That particular lie was repeated this week by Trump regime economics adviser Larry "Always Wrong" Kudlow, and I guess Navarro's smart enough to see that Trump's going to blame somebody for the failure of the federal government's COVID-19 response and he doesn't want it to be him.

It's not like Trump has any plausible deniability on this anyway.  Multiple sources warned of a pandemic, intelligence, diplomatic, military, public health, the previous administration, and now his own advisers warned him.  Surely Navarro knows his only job is to protect Donald Trump politically though, right?

He must believe his position is pretty solid if this leaked out.

But Trump is getting rid of anyone who is supposed to hold him accountable, as his war on Inspectors General continues.  Hence his real move today, firing the watchdog over the CARES package slush fund after just two weeks.

President Donald Trump has upended the panel of federal watchdogs overseeing implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus law, tapping a replacement for the Pentagon official who was supposed to lead the effort.

A panel of inspectors general had named Glenn Fine — the acting Pentagon watchdog — to lead the group charged with monitoring the coronavirus relief effort. But Trump on Monday removed Fine from his post, instead naming the EPA inspector general to serve as the temporary Pentagon watchdog in addition to his other responsibilities.

That decision, which began circulating on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, effectively removed Fine from his role overseeing the coronavirus relief effort, since the new law permits only current inspectors general to fill the position.

“Mr. Fine is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee," Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon inspector general’s office, confirmed.
Fine’s removal is Trump’s latest incursion into the community of independent federal watchdogs — punctuated most dramatically by his late Friday ouster of the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, whose handling of a whistleblower report ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment.

Trump has also begun sharply attacking Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, following a report from her office that described widespread testing delays and supply issues at the nation’s hospitals.

“Another Fake Dossier!” Trump tweeted, mentioning Grimm’s tenure as inspector general during the Obama administration. He didn’t mention, though, that Grimm has been serving as a federal watchdog since 1999, spanning administrations of both parties.

Trump’s targeting of Atkinson drew an unusual rebuke from Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department who also oversees a council of inspectors general. Horowitz said Atkison handled the whistleblower matter appropriately and defended the broader IG community.

At this point Trump is openly doing whatever he wants, and leaving us to deal with a pandemic killing thousands daily.  Removing him from power has never been more necessary and more impossible.

Cruel And Usual Punishment

Alabama's department of corrections is preparing for widespread COVID-19 casualties and mass riots inside jails and prisons that may take calling in the National Guard to put down.

Alabama’s prisons are underprepared to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19, prompting a worst-case scenario plan that could call on the National Guard to work in the prisons should the virus take hold in the system
, according to an internal Department of Corrections document obtained by

The 263-page planning document states that the physical design of Alabama's prisons, severe overcrowding and understaffing combine to make it impossible to follow recommended protocols for keeping prisoners and employees from contracting the coronavirus.

In the worst-case scenario outlined in the plan, system-wide shortfalls could result in widespread infection, the need for military intervention and nearly 200 inmate deaths. And the plan shows that the department anticipates that it may need to spend more than $2 million on supplies to respond to the pandemic, including personal protective equipment, medication and body bags. obtained a copy of the document, dubbed 2020 Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan, on Thursday, the same day some officials first received it via email. The document was dated April 1 and signed on that date by Ruth Naglich, the department’s associate commissioner for health services.

Inmates and their families, correctional officers, attorneys, journalists and other stakeholders have been asking the department about the impact of coronavirus on the state prison system and its nearly 22,000 inmates for weeks. Epidemiologists, professors and other experts have been ringing alarm bells about the need for Alabama and other states with overcrowded prisons to take swift, decisive action to keep coronavirus from spreading behind bars and killing large numbers of prisoners.

In a telephone call Friday night, DOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn said he and the department he runs are doing everything in their power to avoid such a result in Alabama.

"The number one thing in my mind is safety, is trying our best to prevent the virus from getting into the facilities, and then mitigating the impact," he said.

But the DOC has provided little in the way of information about how it is managing the crisis, beyond three written statements since March 19 that failed to address many concerns about its coronavirus response. The DOC planning document was dated nearly two weeks after Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency in response to coronavirus on March 13, the same day her office released a statement about Alabama’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.

The department says that none of its prisoners have been diagnosed with COVID-19. It recently posted a chart on its website detailing the amount of testing for the virus that has been undertaken in its facilities. The chart showed that only 17 state prisoners had been tested for the virus as of Tuesday. Twelve of those tests came back negative and the results of the other five were still pending, according to the chart.

The department, which operates more than two dozen correctional facilities across the state, reported on Wednesday that two of its employees had tested positive for coronavirus as of that date.

The planning document characterizes prisoners as being at “Very High” risk of being exposed to the disease and says it is “unrealistic to assume cases of COVID-19 will not be found within one or more ADOC facilities.”

This worst-case scenario is already beginning to materialize inside NYC's infamous Rikers Island prison.

A Rikers Island inmate became the first prisoner based in New York to die from COVID-19 Sunday.
The 53-year-old convict passed away at Bellevue Hospital after he was transferred from the infamous Big Apple facility, said the New York Post, citing a statement from Department of Corrections spokesperson Peter Thorne.

Thorne extended the Department's condolences to the inmate's family, adding that their number priority is still the “safety and well-being of those in custody.”

The New York Times pointed that an anonymous official said the inmate had been sentenced on Rikers Island since February 28 before he was transferred to the said hospital on March 26.

As of Sunday, at least 273 inmates, 321 correction employees and 52 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Four corrections employees have died since, according to the outlet.

New York City officials have released at least 200 inmates in order to slow down the spread of the virus among detainees, most of which are crammed inside prison blocks.

America's prison system is going to be absolute hell soon, and wouldn't you know it, more black people are going to die from systemic racism in the US, too.


Monday, April 6, 2020

Last Call For Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

For the first time, the Trump State Department is designating a white supremacist group as terrorists, and of course the group is Russian in origin.

The Trump administration is expected to announce on Monday that it is designating an ultranationalist group based in Russia as a terrorist organization, according to officials. It is the first time the government will apply the label to a white supremacist group.
While the label of specially designated global terrorist has been frequently used for Islamist extremists, there have been growing concerns among U.S. officials about violent white supremacists with transnational links over the past five years. In 2018, the White House added that threat to the government’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism.

“These designations are unprecedented,” said Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator. “This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacists as terrorists, and this illustrates how seriously this administration takes the white supremacist terrorist threat. We are doing things no previous administration has done to counter this threat.”

The State Department’s designation for the organization, the Russian Imperial Movement, sets up the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to block any American property or assets belonging to the group. It will also bar Americans from financial dealings with the organization and make it easier to ban its members from traveling to the United States.

The United States is also designating three of the group’s leaders — Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov — as individual terrorists who will face similar sanctions, the officials said.

The authority for either the Treasury Department or the State Department to deem a group or an individual a specially designated global terrorist traces back to an executive order issued by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. President Trump in September signed an executive order expanding that authority to cover groups that provide training for terrorists even if the groups are not directly linked to any attack.

The system parallels in some ways but is different from when the government designates a group as a foreign terrorist organization, which has separate criteria and applies only to groups rather than individuals.

The move could cut against criticism that the Trump administration has played down the threat of white nationalist violence for political reasons, based on the so-called alt-right’s support for Mr. Trump and his statement in 2017 that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The Russian Imperial Movement is not considered to be sponsored by the Russian government, officials said, although President Vladimir V. Putin has tolerated its activities and it has helped advance the Russian government’s external goals by recruiting Russian fighters to aid pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

On one side, yeah, this is Trump saying "See, we're not racists, and we are tough on Russia!"  On the other hand, it's even easier to imagine that Putin has told Trump that RIM's political usefulness has come to an end, and that Putin wants help in pressuring them.  Besides, it's win-win for both of them.

Concerns have been escalating for several years that there is a growing transnational white supremacist or alt-right movement, as illustrated by the 2019 mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by an Australian man who streamed the killings of 51 people on Facebook Live.

Against that backdrop, national security officials are said to have been searching for a neo-Nazi-style group that the U.S. government could designate as a foreign terrorist organization.

One challenge to finding an appropriate candidate was that designating a group with significant American ties would also raise major First Amendment issues, officials said. Although a Russian Imperial Movement member has visited the United States, the organization does not appear to have domestic members. It is not clear if the group has provided training to U.S.-based neo-Nazis.

So domestic white supremacist terrorists can carry on as normal, and Trump can say he's doing something about foreign white supremacist terrorists.


Plugged In, Dropped Out

Forcing thousands of school districts into online learning for the rest of the school year is turning into a complete disaster, especially for the students without broadband access, and it's one that will almost certainly cost an entire generation of post-Millennials a year of education or more.

Chronic absenteeism is a problem in American education during the best of times, but now, with the vast majority of the nation’s school buildings closed and lessons being conducted remotely, more students than ever are missing class — not logging on, not checking in or not completing assignments.

The absence rate appears particularly high in schools with many low-income students, whose access to home computers and internet connections can be spotty. Some teachers report that less than half their students are regularly participating.

The trend is leading to widespread concern among educators, with talk of a potential need for summer sessions, an early start in the fall, or perhaps having some or even all students repeat a grade once Americans are able to return to classrooms.

Students are struggling to connect in districts large and small. Los Angeles said last week that about a third of its high school students were not logging in for classes. And there are daunting challenges for rural communities like Minford, Ohio, where many students live in remote wooded areas unserved by internet providers.

Educators say that a subset of students and their parents have dropped out of touch with schools completely — unavailable by phone, email or any other form of communication — as families struggle with the broader economic and health effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

Even before the outbreak, chronic absenteeism was a problem in many schools, especially those with a lot of low-income students. Many obstacles can prevent children who live in poverty from making it to class: a parent’s broken-down car or a teenager’s need to babysit siblings, for example. But online learning presents new obstacles, particularly with uneven levels of technology and adult supervision.

Titilayo Aluko, 18, a junior at Landmark High School in Manhattan, is one of the students trying hard to keep up with her classes who has been thwarted by her lack of access to technology. She has a district-issued laptop, but no home Wi-Fi network any more. The cable company removed the router from her family’s Bronx apartment after they had trouble paying the monthly bill.

For classes like statistics and neuroscience, Ms. Aluko has tried to complete assignments and participate in video conferences using her cellphone, but that is sometimes impossible.

“I actually need my teachers, who know me and understand me, to help me, and I don’t have that,” she said. “I just keep thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I might not pass.’ I’m just really scared for the future.”

Cratering attendance in some districts contrasts with reports from several selective or affluent schools where close to 100 percent of students are participating in online learning. The dramatic split promises to further deepen the typical academic achievement gaps between poor, middle-class and wealthy students.

The gap is essentially going to be permanent.  Imagine trying to graduate in this catastrophe, let alone dealing with not knowing if your family can get power, water, food, or the money to pay for it right now.  Then imagine trying to apply for colleges on top of that.  Now try to imagine competing for admission slots with students who can easily transition to online learning without skipping a beat.

We're going to see dropout rates through the roof in a lot of districts this year and next.  We will have failed a generation of kids.

Retribution Execution, Con't

As I mentioned last week, Donald Trump has fired Inspector General for the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson, saying he "no longer has confidence" in Atkinson to do his job.  Leave it to Trump to do it while the world is paying attention to COVID-19, but there's no doubt that Atkinson was fired because of his role in the Ukraine whistleblower scandal that led to Trump's impeachment.

The intelligence community watchdog removed abruptly late Friday by President Donald Trump says he believes Trump ousted him because of his evenhanded handling of a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the president's impeachment. 
"It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General," Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general said in a statement Sunday, "and from my commitment to continue to do so."

Atkinson was the federal official who revealed to Congress in September the existence of a whistleblower complaint against Trump, which indicated that the president improperly pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. When Atkinson sought to share that complaint with Congress under a federal whistleblower law, the White House and Justice Department intervened and blocked the transmission of the complaint for days.

Ultimately, amid withering pressure, Trump provided the whistleblower complaint to Congress, as well as a transcript of a July 2019 call with Ukraine's president, two pieces of evidence that became crucial factors in the House's decision to impeach Trump for abuse of power. The Senate later acquitted him on a nearly party-line vote. 
"As an Inspector General, I was legally obligated to ensure that whistleblowers had an effective and authorized means to disclose urgent matters involving classified information to the congressional intelligence committees, and that when they did blow the whistle in an authorized manner, their identities would be protected as a guard against reprisals," Atkinson said in his statement. "Inspectors General are able to fulfill their critical watchdog functions because, by law, they are supposed to be independent of both the Executive agencies they oversee and of Congress." 
Trump informed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees late Friday that he would be removing Atkinson after a required 30-day wait. But Atkinson was immediately placed on administrative leave, according to congressional sources, effectively circumventing the one-month delay. The move has prompted some Senate Republicans to demand more details about Atkinson's removal.

Sadly, Trump now has the perfect political cover to make sure his retribution against Atkinson goes unpunished.  Congress is going to have a much bigger problem on its hands in April than a fired Inspector General.  It's worth noting that under nearly any other scenario, Trump would be getting fried right now by the press over this, but Congress is in recess, and frankly nobody has time right now with a deadly pandemic killing thousands of Americans daily.

Just another day in the Trump regime, I suppose.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Last Call For A Race Against The Virus, Con't

As I said yesterday, the evidence is piling up that decades of environmental, housing, and public health racism means black America is bearing the brunt of COVID-19's fatalities.

The COVID-19 virus is killing black residents in Cook County at disproportionately high rates, according to early data analyzed by WBEZ.

While black residents make up only 23% of the population in the county, they account for 58% of the COVID-19 deaths. And half of the deceased lived in Chicago, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

As of Saturday, 107 of Cook County’s 183 deaths from COVID-19 were black. In Chicago, 61 of the 86 recorded deaths – or 70% – were black residents. Blacks make up 29% of Chicago’s population. 
The majority of the black COVID-19 patients who died had underlying health conditions including respiratory problems and diabetes. Eighty-one percent of them had hypertension, or high blood pressure, diabetes or both. 
As the virus continues to spread, the high mortality rate for black residents is alarming.
“It’s disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising,” said Linda Rae Murray, health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is just a reflection of the facts that we already know about these pandemics. People who are vulnerable will die quicker and won’t have as many resources.” 
It’s still early in the pandemic and health officials are assessing information on which groups of people are being affected, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Saturday. Ezike said she “would not be entirely surprised” if a disproportionate number of deaths were occuring in black communities. 
“As we put on our health equity lenses, we already know [that] before COVID was ever established that the health outcomes for various communities are already different,” she said. “So if you know those disparities exist in terms of health outcomes, you can imagine that overlaying a new disease is only going to exacerbate whatever inequities already exist.” 
Historically, Chicago’s black communities have been disproportionately affected by health-related issues including poverty, environmental pollution, segregation and limited access to medical care. 
These conditions contribute to high rates of hypertension and diabetes. In Illinois, the rate of high blood pressure for black residents is around 48%.

And it's not just black America, either.  It's actually even worse for Native Americans.

They hastily piled all the dumbbells and treadmills in the back of a gym to make room for 23 extra hospital beds. The beds aren’t needed yet, but on a reservation where residents suffer high rates of diseases that exist throughout Indian Country, the Lummi Tribal Health Clinic is taking every precaution to prepare for the deadly coronavirus.

Two thousand miles away at the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, where 11 people have tested positive for the virus as of Friday and one has died, Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said: “We’re preparing for the worst.” Health workers plan to move hospital beds into a nearby university and a job-training facility shuttered because of the pandemic. “This is the worst public health crisis we’ve had in a generation.”

At the Navajo Nation that crosses three western states, 321 people were infected as of Saturday, an increase of 51 cases in a single day with 13 fatalities, the most in Indian Country. Police started issuing citations to anyone who violates a stay-at-home order.

“This is a matter of life and death," President Jonathan Nez said in a statement, "especially for those who have underlying health issues. Before you consider going out for any reason, think of the well-being of your elders and your children. Be mindful that the numbers we are seeing are two to three days old due to the delay in test results for covid-19.”

The coronavirus is ravaging the United States, but experts say more than 5 million people who identify as American Indian and Alaskan Native are especially vulnerable.

“When you look at the health disparities in Indian Country — high rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma and then you combine that with the overcrowded housing situation where you have a lot of people in homes with an elder population who may be exposed or carriers — this could be like a wildfire on a reservation and get out of control in a heartbeat,” said Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians. 
“We could get wiped out,” Allis said.

The genocide is a feature, not a bug.  And everything this regime is doing is making the death toll higher, especially among non-white Americans.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

The Washington Post has put together a pretty informative and revealing timeline of the Trump regime's multiple failure points on COVID-19, and how at every given opportunity Donald Trump deliberately chose the most awful path to take.

The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief. 
And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered. 
Trump’s baseless assertions in those weeks, including his claim that it would all just “miraculously” go away, sowed significant public confusion and contradicted the urgent messages of public health experts. 
“While the media would rather speculate about outrageous claims of palace intrigue, President Trump and this Administration remain completely focused on the health and safety of the American people with around the clock work to slow the spread of the virus, expand testing, and expedite vaccine development," said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the president. "Because of the President’s leadership we will emerge from this challenge healthy, stronger, and with a prosperous and growing economy.” 
The president’s behavior and combative statements were merely a visible layer on top of deeper levels of dysfunction.

The most consequential failure involved a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass produced and distributed across the United States, enabling agencies to map early outbreaks of the disease, and impose quarantine measure to contain them. At one point, a Food and Drug Administration official tore into lab officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telling them their lapses in protocol, including concerns that the lab did not meet the criteria for sterile conditions, were so serious that the FDA would “shut you down” if the CDC were a commercial, rather than government, entity. 
Other failures cascaded through the system. The administration often seemed weeks behind the curve in reacting to the viral spread, closing doors that were already contaminated. Protracted arguments between the White House and public health agencies over funding, combined with a meager existing stockpile of emergency supplies, left vast stretches of the country’s health-care system without protective gear until the outbreak had become a pandemic. Infighting, turf wars and abrupt leadership changes hobbled the work of the coronavirus task force.
It may never be known how many thousands of deaths, or millions of infections, might have been prevented with a response that was more coherent, urgent and effective. But even now, there are many indications that the administration’s handling of the crisis had potentially devastating consequences. 
Even the president’s base has begun to confront this reality. In mid-March, as Trump was rebranding himself a wartime president and belatedly urging the public to help slow the spread of the virus, Republican leaders were poring over grim polling data that suggested Trump was lulling his followers into a false sense of security in the face of a lethal threat.

The poll showed that far more Republicans than Democrats were being influenced by Trump’s dismissive depictions of the virus and the comparably scornful coverage on Fox News and other conservative networks. As a result, Republicans were in distressingly large numbers refusing to change travel plans, follow “social distancing” guidelines, stock up on supplies or otherwise take the coronavirus threat seriously.

And they still are not.  A good 8-10 Republican-led states still refuse stay-at-home orders like Iowa and Utah, another dozen are chafing at the bonds and have moved to weaken them, like Georgia and Florida, after being dragged kicking and screaming.  Kentucky, Ohio, and Washington state were well ahead of the curve.

Meanwhile Trump is pressuring governors to reopen businesses, schools, and tourist areas demanding that America get back to work, and no, he hasn't actually dropped his "Easter miracle" timeline fantasy, either.

President Donald Trump pushed to reopen the country Saturday, despite warning Americans "it's not going to be a good-looking situation" as the number of deaths approach their peak in the coming days while talking at a briefing with the White House coronavirus task force. 
The president also responded to questions about a tweet that suggested creating another White House coronavirus task force that would focus on the economy and reopening the country, he said that it is something he is thinking about.

"I started by saying that, and I continue to say it. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. We've got to get our country open," Trump said. 
The president discussed a Saturday morning call he had with commissioners of most of the major sports to discuss the effects of coronavirus to the industry, emphasizing that he wants fans "back in the arena" as soon as they can be. 
"You know, they want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice clean, beautiful fresh air," Trump said. "No, I can't tell you a date, but I think it's going to be sooner rather than later." 
He said that sports aren't "designed" for closures, which he said is also true of the country, emphasizing that he wants citizens to get back to work. 
"It has to get open. This country was not designed to be closed," Trump said. "Think of it. We're paying people not to go to work, how about that? How does that play?" 
Trump had responded to a tweet by George W. Bush's former White House press secretary Dana Perino earlier in the day saying he agreed with the idea of another task force examining how the country's economy can reopen and get back on track.

Trump wants things back to normal.  He doesn't care how many people he has to infect in order for it to happen, and eventually he's going to do something precipitous that forces the hands of America's governors. And remember, the official case count and death count are, if anything, far, far too low.

The fast-spreading novel coronavirus is almost certainly killing Americans who are not included in the nation’s growing death toll, according to public health experts and government officials involved in the tally.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts only deaths in which the presence of the coronavirus is confirmed in a laboratory test, agency spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. “We know that it is an underestimation.”

A widespread lack of access to testing in the early weeks of the U.S. outbreak means people with respiratory illnesses died without being counted, epidemiologists say. Even now, some people who die at home or in overburdened nursing homes are not being tested, according to funeral directors, medical examiners and nursing home representatives.

Postmortem testing by medical examiners varies widely across the country, and some officials say testing the dead is a misuse of scarce resources that could be used on the living. In addition, some people who have the virus test negative, experts say.

As a result, public health officials and government leaders lack a complete view of the pandemic’s death toll as they assess its course and scramble to respond.

Scientists who analyze mortality statistics from influenza and other respiratory illnesses say it is too early to estimate how many fatalities have gone unrecorded. For a disease with common symptoms such as covid-19, they said, deaths with positive results almost certainly represent only a fraction of the total caused by the disease.

We're already to the point where people are dying without being tested, as COVID-19 causes multiple organ failure.  The number of cases is far higher than the official numbers.  The number of deaths are far higher than are being recorded.  Social distancing is still not happening in a many places.

And at every juncture, Democratic-led states are finding their equipment taken by Trump and given to who knows. Even Kentucky isn't safe anymore, Mitch McConnell or not.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear says his administration is doing everything it can to prepare hospitals to be inundated with cases of COVID-19, but nearly every time the state has placed an order for medical protective gear, the federal government has prevented its transfer. 
Kentucky is scaling up the number of hospital beds, enlisting state manufacturers to make protective equipment and doing its best to acquire supplies for medical workers amid a critical shortage. 
State officials have also requested additional gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Strategic National Stockpile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and through private contracts. 
But in most cases, Beshear said the federal government got it first. 
“Our biggest problem is that just about every single order that we have out there for PPE, we get a call right when it’s supposed to be shipped and it’s typically the federal government has bought it,” Beshear said during a Saturday press conference. “It’s very hard to buy things when the federal government is there and anytime they want to buy it, they get it first.”

This is not going to be over by Easter.  It's not going to be over by April.  It's not going to be over by May.  It's going to be a serious problem for a long, long time.

Sunday Long Read: Stranger Than Fiction

Our Sunday Long Read this week comes to us from Vulture, where multiple TV writers and showrunner legends ranging from Norman Lear to Tina Fey to Christopher Lloyd give us the plots for how their characters would handle the coronavirus and lockdown.

Archie Bunker would prefer you stand six miles from him. Sawyer from Lost will probably face criminal charges for hoarding and reselling precious items. Elmo is playing musical chairs with his parents. The coronavirus hasn’t seeped into the shows we’re all bingeing to pass the time — and it won’t for a while since the industry is shut down — but how would TV’s most beloved characters navigate social distancing in these dark days? 
We posed that question to dozens of showrunners, creators, and writers; 37 of them responded with scene scripts, monologues, and episode outlines, including a hilarious Skype session between Frasier and Niles, a classic locker-room speech from Coach Taylor, an excerpt from Selina Meyer’s biography, and a vlog for Rogelio De La Vega’s biggest fans. We even learned what caused the whole pandemic — you can blame it on Veep’s Mike McLintock.

Some of these are really hysterical, some down-to-earth, and some are just weird.  But it's nice change of pace from the usual fare these days, and it's good for what ails you.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Last Call For Labour Pains

Screaming anti-Semite and racist Jeremy Corbyn is finally out as UK Labour Party leader, and his reign entirely made it possible for Boris Johnson to take over in a massive Tory uprising that made Brexit a foregone conclusion and could keep conservatives in power for a very long time.  Now Corbyn's replacement, Sir Keir Starmer, is trying to pick up the pieces of the British Left.

After a decade in the political wasteland, members of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party have chosen a moderate, un-flashy lawyer as their new leader. Their hope is that turning the page on the socialist radical Jeremy Corbyn, who was resoundingly rejected by voters last year, will see them re-take power.

Keir Starmer, 57, offers dry competence and seriousness after a turbulent five years under the firebrand Corbyn. At a time when the U.K. is grappling with the global coronavirus crisis and its own exit from the European Union, a steady hand could prove popular.

“Maybe being boringly competent is a magical thing -- because we haven’t got many boringly competent politicians at the moment, particularly in government,” said Steven Fielding, a professor at Nottingham University and historian of the Labour party. “People just flock to him like a safety raft from a sinking ship.”

Starmer faces one urgent decision before he embarks on his long-term mission. First he must decide how far he should support Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s strategy for countering the pandemic and how stridently he should speak out against the government’s mistakes. There has been speculation that he could even join a government of national unity to see the country through the crisis, as happened in World War II.

In the years ahead, Starmer’s defining task will be to revive a battered opposition party, broken by its worst election defeat in 80 years, and then persuade Britain’s 47 million voters that he is the prime minister the country needs to put itself back together. 
Starmer was born in 1962 in south London to a nurse and a toolmaker. He was the first member of his family to go to an academically selective grammar school. After studying at the universities of Leeds and Oxford he began the 30-year campaigning career in human rights law that would set him up for front-line politics. 
He represented peace activists and environmental campaigners, and led a legal challenge against the sinking of an oil rig. 
Gavin Millar, a top lawyer who interviewed the young Starmer for a junior position in the late 80s, remembers him as “very radical” with strong views about the law. In a legal world of high intellects, Starmer’s first-rate brain stood out, but so too did his commitment to the protesters and activists fighting the powerful during Margaret Thatcher’s decade of Tory rule. 
The two shared an office, where Starmer, who loved indie-pop bands such as The Smiths, was known for working long hours. “I got a lot of two-in-the-morning emails from him,” Millar said.

Competency. What a concept.

Wish we had it here.

The Worst-Case Scenario, Con't

The Pentagon had a detailed plan for a novel coronavirus global pandemic scenario back in the last days of the Obama administration, because the US military operates in dozens of countries around the globe.  They predicted unprepared countries would have shortages of equipment and hospital beds, disrupted recessionary economies, restrictions on freedom of movement, and a populace that could require military personnel to maintain order.

They didn't so much as say the US would be one of those countries, but they did put forth the possibility that the US would be overwhelmed logistically and economically.  You know, if the country was say, led by a adderall-addicted malignant narcissist con man of a reality TV game show host.

Despite President Trump’s repeated assertions that the Covid-19 epidemic was “unforeseen” and “came out of nowhere,” the Pentagon was well aware of not just the threat of a novel influenza, but even anticipated the consequent scarcity of ventilators, face masks, and hospital beds, according to a 2017 Pentagon plan obtained by The Nation. 
“The most likely and significant threat is a novel respiratory disease, particularly a novel influenza disease,” the military plan states. Covid-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the novel (meaning new to humans) coronavirus. The document specifically references coronavirus on several occasions, in one instance saying, “Coronavirus infections [are] common around the world.” 
The plan represents an update to an earlier Department of Defense pandemic influenza response plan, noting that it “incorporates insights from several recent outbreaks including…2012 Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus.” 
Titled “USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560: Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response,” the draft plan is marked for official use only and dated January 6, 2017. The plan was provided to The Nation by a Pentagon official who requested anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. 
Denis Kaufman, who served as head of the Infectious Diseases and Countermeasures Division at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2014 to 2017, stressed that US intelligence had been well-aware of the dangers of coronaviruses for years. (Kaufman retired from his decades-long career in the military in December of 2017.) 
“The Intelligence Community has warned about the threat from highly pathogenic influenza viruses for two decades at least. They have warned about coronaviruses for at least five years,” Kaufman explained in an interview. 
“There have been recent pronouncements that the coronavirus pandemic represents an intelligence failure…. it’s letting people who ignored intelligence warnings off the hook.” 
In addition to anticipating the coronavirus pandemic, the military plan predicted with uncanny accuracy many of the medical supply shortages that it now appears will soon cause untold deaths. 
The plan states: “Competition for, and scarcity of resources will include…non-pharmaceutical MCM [Medical Countermeasures] (e.g., ventilators, devices, personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves), medical equipment, and logistical support. This will have a significant impact on the availability of the global workforce.”

They knew.  Trump ignored them.

And now thousands, perhaps millions will die as a direct result.
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