Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Last Call For Food For Thought, Con't

Growing food shortages around the country as COVID-19 wreaks havoc with our food supply chains and as more Americans stock up as eating out is now a thing of the past are now spiking prices at grocery stores by the most in 45 years.

Prices Americans paid for eggs, meat, cereal and milk shot higher in April as people flocked to grocery stores to stock up on food amid government lockdowns designed to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The Labor Department reported Tuesday that prices U.S. consumers paid for groceries jumped 2.6% in April, the largest one-month pop since February 1974. The spike in supermarket prices was broad based and impacted items from broccoli and ham to oatmeal and tuna.

The price of the meats, poultry, fish and eggs category rose 4.3%, fruits and vegetables climbed 1.5%, cereals and bakery products advanced 2.9%, and dairy goods gained 1.5%.

The grocery numbers stand in stark contrast to the broader trend in U.S. prices, which fell 0.8% in April and clinched their largest one-month decline since 2008 as a swoon in oil and gasoline dragged the headline CPI number lower.

“Food price gains were robust as we know there are empty shelves out there,” Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, wrote in an email. “Demand we know in most areas of the economy has collapsed and prices are falling in response.”

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, so-called core CPI dropped 0.4%, its largest slump ever through records kept since 1957.

“In areas where demand has hung in, like ‘food at home’ we have inflation because the supply side has been damaged, whether directly via infected facilities or because of the higher costs of finding freight capacity,” Boockvar added.

In other words, the Trump Depression is making it harder to find food because farmers, truckers, food processors, warehouses and grocery chains themselves are dealing with the economic chaos.

This is only going to get worse in the months ahead as more parts of the food supply chain are disrupted by the pandemic or disintegrate entirely due to the Trump Depression's economic effects.

The people elected to "break the government" have broken it.

We may not be able to fix it.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

As Donald Trump's emotional breakdown continues, we've now reached the Nixon in the Bunker moment that we all knew was coming.

Most White House officials will be asked to wear masks or face coverings in public spaces on complex grounds, a move to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading further inside the presidential compound, according to three administration officials with knowledge of a directive to be issued Monday.

The request does not apply to offices, however, and President Trump is still unlikely to wear a mask or face covering, aides say.
Here are some significant developments:

  • At a Rose Garden news conference, President Trump declared that the United States has “prevailed” in terms of testing for the novel coronavirus. Later, Trump walked out after a tense exchange with two reporters.
  • Democratic senators are preparing to grill top federal health officials at a highly-anticipated hearing scheduled for Tuesday on the coronavirus, with much of the questioning centered on whether the nation is ready to reopen parts of the country.
  • Tesla chief executive Elon Musk announced that he would defy Alameda Country orders and reopen a factory, daring officials to arrest him and threatening to move business to Texas or Nevada.
  • Even if scientists find an effective vaccine against covid-19, medical experts say there almost certainly will not be enough global supply for several years.
  • China is struggling to put an end to transmission, with new cases reported in the cities of Wuhan and Shulan.

White House press corps reporters Weijia Jiang of CBS News and CNN's Kaitlan Collins were too much for Trump to handle Monday afternoon and he stormed out of the Rose Garden.

Referring to Trump’s repeated declarations that the United States is “doing far better than any other country” on coronavirus testing, CBS News’s Weijia Jiang asked the president: “Why does that matter? Why is this a global competition to you if every day Americans are still losing their lives and we’re still seeing more cases every day?”

Trump did not answer directly, instead telling Jiang, “Maybe that’s a question you should ask China.”

Jiang, who is Chinese American, responded by asking the president why he had aimed that remark specifically at her. Trump again deflected, telling Jiang that it was because she had asked a “nasty question.”

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins then approached the microphone and attempted to ask a question, noting that Trump had called on her. But the president sought to ignore her and instead called on a reporter in the back. After Collins continued pressing him, Trump quickly ended the news conference.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much,” he said, before turning and leaving the Rose Garden.

Indeed, things are getting much worse as the days go on and Trump knows it.

Coronavirus infection rates are spiking to new highs in several metropolitan areas and smaller communities across the country, according to undisclosed data the White House's pandemic task force is using to track rates of infection, which was obtained by NBC News.

The data contained in a May 7 coronavirus task force report are at odds with President Donald Trump's Monday declaration that "all throughout the country, the numbers are coming down rapidly."

The top 10 areas saw surges of 72.4 percent or greater over a seven-day period compared to the prior week, according to a set of tables produced for the task force by its Data and Analytics unit. They include Nashville, Tennessee; Des Moines, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and — atop the list with a 650 percent increase — Central City, Kentucky.

On a separate list of "locations to watch," which didn't meet the precise criteria for the first set: Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Montgomery, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix, Arizona. The rate of new cases in Charlotte and Kansas City represented an increase of more than 200 percent over the prior week, and other tables included in the data show clusters in neighboring counties that don't form a geographic area on their own, like Wisconsin's Kenosha and Racine counties, which neighbor each other between Chicago and Milwaukee.

So instead of one New York City/Boston megaplex sized outbreak, we'll have a dozen Charlotte, Nashville, and Omaha sized outbreaks with scores of Central City, KY (population 6,000 and an hour north of Nashville) sized outbreaks with the butcher bill rising across the US.

By the end of the month it's going to be readily apparent just how failed "reopening the economy" will be.

Lowering The Barr, Con't

After Donald Trump spent Mother's Day on Sunday screaming on Twitter about all this being Obama's fault somehow and that he needs to go to jail, the adults in the room are calling on Bill Barr to resign (again) over Michael Flynn's meta-pardon.

Nearly 2000 Justice Department officials have signed onto a letter calling for Attorney General William Barr to resign over what they describe as his improper intervention in the criminal case of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Last week, the DOJ moved to drop charges against Flynn who had pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the former Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

The letter, signed mostly by former career officials in the department, accuses Barr of joining with President Trump in "political interference in the Department’s law enforcement decisions."

"Attorney General Barr’s repeated actions to use the Department as a tool to further President Trump’s personal and political interests have undermined any claim to the deference that courts usually apply to the Department’s decisions about whether or not to prosecute a case," reads the letter, which was organized by the group 'Protect Democracy'.

Barr, in an interview last week, denied he was acting at the president's behest in his support of the move to drop the charges against Flynn.

The federal judge in the case as of Monday morning had not yet responded to the DOJ filing.

The letter is the latest in a wave of backlash among former officials to the DOJ's surprise reversal in the Flynn case.

Barr has said he supported dropping the charges based on a recommendation from the U.S. attorney from the Eastern District of Missouri Jeffrey Jensen, who was tasked by Barr with reviewing how FBI agents handled their interview of Flynn at the White House in January of 2017.

The filing last Thursday by the U.S. Attorney in D.C. Timothy Shea cited new evidence uncovered in Jensen's review that the department said rendered the investigation into Flynn illegitimate at the time of his interview.

Mary McCord, who served as the former acting assistant Attorney General for National Security during the early stages of the Russia investigation, said in a New York Times op-ed Sunday that the DOJ's filing to dismiss the charges cited comments she made in an interview "more than 25 times."

McCord accused the department of "twisting" her comments in a misleading effort to undercut the department's case against Flynn.

"The report of my interview is no support for Mr. Barr’s dismissal of the Flynn case," McCord said. "It does not suggest that the F.B.I. had no counterintelligence reason for investigating Mr. Flynn. It does not suggest that the F.B.I.’s interview of Mr. Flynn — which led to the false-statements charge — was unlawful or unjustified.

I'm glad that this is all being said, but like the last time this happened, I don't expect anything to come of it because our institutions that we're trying so hard to protect here have been broken for decades.

Nothing has changed from three months ago when Bill Barr stepped in on Roger Stone's sentence and reassigned all the US attorneys on all Trump-related federal cases, and then announced an investigation into the prosecution on the Michael Flynn case, which only prompted 1,100 former Justice Department officials to sign on to the call for Barr to resign.

When Barr then said "oops, my bad, if Trump ever ordered me to do anything illegal I'd resign" everyone bought it and the calls for resignation stopped, and yet here we are again because apparently former Justice Department officials are pretty goddamn bad judges of character.

Meanwhile, Barr's efforts to shatter rule of law in the US will get a major assist from Trump's new Director of National Intelligence.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has declassified a list of former Obama administration officials who were allegedly involved in the so-called “unmasking” of former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his conversations with the former Russian ambassador during the presidential transition, a senior U.S. official tells ABC News.

Grenell, who remains the U.S. ambassador to Germany along with being the acting DNI, visited the Justice Department last week and brought the list with him, according to the official.

His visit indicates his focus on an issue previously highlighted in 2017 by skeptics of the investigation into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia, specifically allegations that former officials improperly unveiled Flynn's identity from intercepts of his call with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Grenell's visit came the same week that Attorney General William Barr moved to dismiss the criminal case against Flynn following his guilty plea for lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak.

So yeah, Lucy and the football, legal edition.  And Barr's next inevitable awful enabling of Trump's fascism will be worse, I guarantee.
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