Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Last Call For Retribution Execution, Con't

As I said back in 2016 when it came to Turkey, if you want to stage a coup, you need five things:

  • Armed forces
  • Airwaves
  • Airports
  • Allies
  • and the Asshole in charge you're trying to overthrow.

If you think about what Trump's doing in the US right now, it's trying to get a hold of these five things, where the "asshole" is Joe Biden.  Allies he's had from the beginning: the GOP will let Trump do whatever he wants.  Airports, Trump has control of those too if needed.  Airwaves, he has not one but two state TV networks in FOX and OANN, and he's currently going after Biden with Barr and "Obamagate".

That leaves the Armed Forces, the really dangerous one.

I don't have good news in that regard.

President Donald Trump has always prized loyalty in his subordinates, but news about pending personnel moves at the Pentagon could indicate the president is determined to root out perceived enemies within the Defense Department.

Jonathan Swan of Axios first reported in February that the White House had compiled a list of civil servants across the government who should be dismissed because they allegedly had not been loyal enough to the president. The ousted government officials will reportedly be replaced by people who are more ardently pro-Trump.

Since then, it has emerged that Trump intends to nominate retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, a Fox News contributor, to fill the No. 3 leadership position in the Pentagon. Tata left the Army after an investigation found he had affairs with at least two women while serving in uniform, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. More recently, Tata has lauded Trump for his support of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.
Tata is already serving as a senior advisor to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a defense official confirmed following a May 15 news story by Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer.

The two Foreign Policy reporters also first revealed that Michael Cutrone will move from Vice President Mike Pence’s office to the Pentagon, raising concern from some administration officials that Cutrone will undermine Esper by vetting political appointees to the Defense Department based on how loyal they are to Trump.

Considering what's most likely coming as the Trump Depression and COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, looking a few miles downstream is warranted at this point.

While the recent personnel moves may signal a more aggressive push by the president to exert direct control over the Pentagon, the White House has been deeply involved in selecting officials for defense jobs since the beginning of the Trump administration.

Under then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, several defense officials faced a protracted vetting process because the White House felt that their social media posts were not sufficiently loyal to Trump, a former Defense Department official told Task & Purpose.

But since the Senate acquitted Trump in February of allegedly withholding $250 million of military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to get that country's government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the president has been particularly vindictive against defense officials over any sign of disloyalty — real or perceived.

If confirmed by the Senate, Tata would replace John Rood, who was fired in February. Rood had certified in May 2019 that Ukraine had made enough progress fighting corruption to allow for the military assistance package to go through, thus undermining Trump's arguments about why he withheld the aid.

Trump has also withdrawn Elaine McCusker’s nomination to be the Pentagon’s comptroller. McCusker had reportedly raised concerns with the Office of Management and Budget about whether the president’s freeze of military aid to Ukraine was legal.

Likewise, The White House removed Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council in February. During the president’s impeachment inquiry in November, Vindman told lawmakers there was “no ambiguity” that Trump had asked Ukraine’s president to investigate former Biden during the July 25 phone call between the two leaders.

The president is retaliating against defense officials who argued in favor of providing the military aid Ukraine and anyone who stood up to Trump himself, said Evelyn Farkas, a former Defense Department official in the Obama administration whose purview included Russian and Ukraine.

“I don’t think the president minds that we know this,” said, Farkas, who is running for Congress in New York as a Democrat. “I think that he’s trying to send a signal internally and externally: don’t cross him

Getting rid of anyone in the Pentagon who played a role in his impeachment is one thing, but I think Trump's playing a longer game, perhaps much longer.

It's definitely a far more dangerous one, as Jon Chait reminds us.

The most dangerous elements of Trump’s anti-democratic agenda are as-yet-unexploded ordnance, which may over time prove either terrifying or meaningless. His regular incitements to violence, goading his “tough” supporters in the military, police, and biker gangs to finally take off the gloves, have not yet produced a republic-shaking tragedy. And his embrace of Republican vote-suppression logic — he is now threatening to withhold funds from states that allow absentee voting — may, or may not, prevent a free and fair election. These actions are democratic tail risks. Like abolishing the pandemic response team, they’re quickly denounced and quickly forgotten, because they probably won’t matter in the end — unless they do matter, in which case their effect will be catastrophic.

Maybe Trump doesn't have the balls to arrest Joe Biden.  But he'll do everything up to that point, and if civil unrest happens, then all bets are off.

The Return Of Austerity Hysteria

Republicans continue to say there's no reason to do anything even though 30 million Americans have lost their jobs and 90,000 have died needlessly to COVID-19.

Top Republicans on Capitol Hill are pumping the brakes on new coronavirus stimulus spending days after House Democrats pushed forward with a sweeping relief package, underscoring a deep partisan divide as the nation grapples with the pandemic. 
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said Tuesday that he does not currently see a need for another relief package, telling CNN there's been no change in his posture despite meeting earlier in the day with Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the economy. 
"I don't see the need right now," he said of another package. McCarthy said they talked about the economy, the number of states opening back up and progress in testing.
Asked if there's been a change in his posture against moving now on another relief package, he replied, "No." 
Pence planned to discuss "economic impacts of the coronavirus" during his meeting with Mnuchin, McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier Tuesday morning, according to a source familiar with the Vice President's meeting on Capitol Hill. 
Leaving the Senate floor and after meeting with Pence on Tuesday, McConnell wouldn't respond to questions about whether there's any desire for another rescue package. 
Asked by CNN last week about the possibility of moving ahead on a phase four recovery package, McConnell said, "I don't think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately. That time could (come), but I don't think it has yet." 
As Mnuchin left McConnell's office, he said they got a "good update" that was "very helpful" and that he was off to testify before the Senate Banking Committee. 
He declined to respond to a question about whether he thought more Covid-19 aid was needed now.

McCarthy's opinions are meaningless, he's literally the least powerful person in Washington DC right now.  But McConnell continuing to refuse to even offer a package at this point underscores what I've been saying all long: there will be no "phase 4" bill, and you're 100% on your own.

As far as the GOP is concerned, the pandemic is over, you should go back to work, back out to eat, back out to the movies, the gym, the salon, the malls, and spend spend spend. It's your fault the economy is bad.

Meanwhile, Georgia and now Florida have been caught red-handed manipulating COVID-19 data to make sure tourists flock in and hit the beaches.

Late last Friday, the architect and manager of Florida's COVID-19 dashboard — praised by White House officials for its accessibility — announced that she had been removed from her post, causing outcry from independent researchers now worried about government censorship.

The dashboard has been a one-stop shop for researchers, the media and the public to access and download tables of COVID-19 cases, testing and death data to analyze freely. It had been widely hailed as a shining example of transparency and accessibility.

But over the last few weeks it had "crashed" and gone offline; data has gone missing without explanation and access to the underlying data sheets has become increasingly difficult.

The site was created by a team of Florida Department of Health data scientists and public health officers headed by Rebekah Jones. She announced last week her removal as of May 5 in a heartfelt farewell note emailed to researchers and other members of the public who had signed up to receive updates on the data portal.

Citing "reasons beyond my division’s control," Jones said her office is no longer managing the dashboard, is no longer involved in publication, fixing errors or answering questions "in any shape or form."

She warned that she does not know what the new team's intentions are for data access, including "what data they are now restricting."

"I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come," she wrote.

"As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it."

And yes, Jones was told to delete all COVID-19 data so it could later be replaced with better, happier data.  Republican states are actively rewriting away the dead to save themselves in November.

One day before a top Florida Department of Health data manager was taken off her role maintaining the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, officials had directed her to remove data from public view that showed Floridians reported symptoms of the disease before cases were officially announced, according to internal emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. She has since been asked to resign, she said Tuesday.

According to the emails, department staff gave the order shortly after reporters requested the same data from the agency on May 5. The data manager, Rebekah Jones, complied with the order, but not before she told her supervisors it was the “wrong call.”

By the next morning, control over the data was given to other employees, according to an email Jones posted Friday on a public listserv. Jones, the department’s Geographic Information Systems manager, wrote that she was no longer the point person for questions about the department’s “Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.” She implied her removal was an act of retribution.

Jones confirmed Tuesday that she was offered a settlement and the option to resign in lieu of being fired, effective May 26.

To recap, Republicans in Congress are pointing to COVID-19 cases and deaths "dropping dramatically" in red states proof that blue states are failing, and shouldn't be bailed out.  Those who don't play ball are fired.

There's your "conspiracy theory" only we know it's happening in real time.

We'll never know how many people this virus ends up killing, because it will be hidden in dozens of states and by the White House while the economic cost rises like a tsunami.

Now go to Applebee's, citizen. You have a duty to your country and your leader to make him look good.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

GOP Sen. Martha McSally is going down in flames in Arizona, and Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband to former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, now has a double-digit lead. Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts:

From the Republican uh-oh department: Arizona Sen. Martha McSally is sliding in the polls, dropping four percentage points in a month.

McSally now trails Democrat Mark Kelly by 13 points, according to the latest tracking poll by OH Predictive Insights.

While the April poll of 600 likely voters favored Kelly 51% to McSally’s 42%, in May it’s now 51%-38%.

The poll shows independents breaking more than 2-1 for Kelly.

“McSally is doing terribly,” pollster Mike Noble told me on Monday. “There’s no way to find a bright spot on that one.”

And that’s not even the bad news for McSally.

The bad news comes from Maricopa County, where Republicans rule.

At least, they did rule, until Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated McSally there in 2018 -- stealing 88 mostly-suburban precincts that normally would go to the Republican nominee.

McSally's declining support lies within the 4 percent margin of error in the May tracking poll, a blend of live and automated calls made between May 9 to May 11. But her Maricopa County numbers are a disaster.

In May 2019, this same tracking poll showed Kelly up over McSally, 46%-41%, among likely voters in Maricopa County.

In May 2020, Kelly has climbed to 54% in Maricopa County while McSally has dropped to 36%.

Just think about that for a moment. Kelly has gone from a five-point advantage in Maricopa County to an 18-point cruise

McSally is losing Maricopa County, by far the largest GOP stronghold in the state, by 18 points. It shows that Trump's collapse among senior voters in Arizona as a result of demanding they be fed to the COVID-19 monster and oh yeah, openly planning to cut Socials Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is not going to spare McSally in any way.

McSally has firmly gotten behind Trump on both sacrificing grandma to the virus and cutting social programs.

This is her position. In Arizona.

Democrats are looking better and better in the Senate almost daily.


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