Sunday, August 9, 2020

Last Call For Europe Sees Us Going Viral

Europeans are flabbergasted that we've allowed Trump to take us to five million COVID-19 cases and rising and want to know what we plan to do about him. Even the Italians think our government is broken.

With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 5 million Sunday, by far the highest of any country, the failure of the most powerful nation in the world to contain the scourge has been met with astonishment and alarm in Europe.

Perhaps nowhere outside the U.S. is America’s bungled virus response viewed with more consternation than in Italy, which was ground zero of Europe’s epidemic. Italians were unprepared when the outbreak exploded in February, and the country still has one of the world’s highest official death tolls at 35,000.

But after a strict nationwide, 10-week lockdown, vigilant tracing of new clusters and general acceptance of mask mandates and social distancing, Italy has become a model of virus containment.

“Don’t they care about their health?” a mask-clad Patrizia Antonini asked about people in the United States as she walked with friends along the banks of Lake Bracciano, north of Rome. “They need to take our precautions. ... They need a real lockdown.”

Much of the incredulity in Europe stems from the fact that America had the benefit of time, European experience and medical know-how to treat the virus that the continent itself didn’t have when the first COVID-19 patients started filling intensive care units.

Yet, more than four months into a sustained outbreak, the U.S. reached the 5 million mark, according to the running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Health officials believe the actual number is perhaps 10 times higher, or closer to 50 million, given testing limitations and the fact that as many as 40% of all those who are infected have no symptoms.

“We Italians always saw America as a model,” said Massimo Franco, a columnist with daily Corriere della Sera. “But with this virus we’ve discovered a country that is very fragile, with bad infrastructure and a public health system that is nonexistent.”

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza hasn’t shied away from criticizing the U.S., officially condemning as “wrong” Washington’s decision to withhold funding from the World Health Organization and expressing amazement at President Donald Trump’s virus response.

After Trump finally donned a mask last month, Speranza told La7 television: “I’m not surprised by Trump’s behavior now; I’m profoundly surprised by his behavior before.”

With America’s world’s-highest death toll of more than 160,000, its politicized resistance to masks and its rising caseload, European nations have barred American tourists and visitors from other countries with growing cases from freely traveling to the bloc.

France and Germany are now imposing tests on arrival for travelers from “at risk” countries, the U.S. included.

“I am very well aware that this impinges on individual freedoms, but I believe that this is a justifiable intervention,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said last week.

Europe is now treating us like we should have been treated for decades now: as a broken, white-supremacist theocracy that is a threat to the globe. I can't imagine Americans actually being welcome in a foreign country for the rest of my lifetime at a minimum.

We shouldn't be.  The rest of the world has every right to laugh at us. Removing the Trump infection and regaining the trust of the world will take decades, and it's going to cost us dearly.

Folks, even Italy got their shit together enough to fix the COVID-19 problem.


But some of us decided Trump would make a good president. And we'll all have to live with that forever.

Some of us won't live much longer though. 165,000 and counting.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

As Republicans in Congress have failed to pass a COVID-19 relief deal leaving tens of millions of Americans stranded as one in three renters are now expected to miss their August rent payments entirely, Donald Trump has decided that he can now do whatever he wants to through executive order and Congress and the Supreme Court be damned.

President Trump on Saturday attempted to bypass Congress and make dramatic changes to tax and spending policy, signing executive actions that challenge the boundaries of power that separate the White House and Capitol Hill.

At a news event in Bedminster, N.J., Trump said the actions would provide economic relief to millions of Americans by deferring taxes and, he said, providing temporary unemployment benefits. The measures would attempt to wrest away some of Congress’s most fundamental, constitutionally mandated powers — tax and spending policy. Trump acknowledged that some of the actions could be challenged in court but indicated he would persevere.

Trump bemoaned how Democrats had refused to accept his demands during the recent negotiations but attempted to brush it aside, saying four measures he signed Saturday “will take care of pretty much this entire situation.”

But there were instant questions about whether Trump’s actions were as ironclad as he made them out to be. A leading national expert on unemployment benefits said one of the actions would not increase federal unemployment benefits at all. Instead, the expert said it would instead create a new program that could take “months” to set up. And Trump’s directive to halt evictions primarily calls for federal agencies to “consider” if they should be stopped.

Trump also mischaracterized the legal stature of the measures, referring to them as “bills.” Congress writes and votes on bills, not the White House. The documents Trump signed on Saturday were a combination of memorandums and an executive order.

The White House and Democrats have clashed for weeks about what to do with the $600 enhanced weekly unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July.

One of the measures Trump signed on Saturday aims to provide $400 in weekly unemployment aid for millions of Americans. Trump said 25 percent of this money would be paid by states, many of which are already dealing with major budget shortfalls. The federal contribution would be redirected from disaster relief money at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those funds are not likely to last more than two months, and Trump would not say when the benefits would kick in.

Another document signed by Trump on Saturday attempts to defer payroll tax payments from September through December for people who earn less than $100,000. The impact of this measure could depend on whether companies decide to comply, as they could be responsible for withdrawing large amounts of money from their employees’ paychecks in a few months when the taxes are due.

The president said that if he wins reelection, he would seek to extend the deferral and somehow “terminate” the taxes that are owed. He also dared presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to try to recoup those tax dollars if elected in November. The payroll tax funds Social Security and Medicare benefits, and it’s unclear where those programs will get funding if the taxes are deferred.

Trump is now fully behind doing whatever he wants to keep Trump in power. He promised he would simply eliminate the payroll tax completely, meaning there would be no tax revenue for Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid and he's now daring Joe Biden and the Democrats to do anything about it.

Even worse, he did all this as performative nonsense at his Bedminster resort in New Jersey on a Saturday.

It's ridiculous, and we have months of this ahead, and politically Trump can actually win here because he once again refuses to play by anyone's rules but his own. There's a 99.9% chance he gets away with this and eliminates Biden's lead. Your Trump friends on Facebook will gladly tell you in a couple of weeks how he "saved" us even though it's his fault we're in this mess.  He creates a disaster and then takes the credit for a minimal cleanup effort while Dems scream and point and by the time anyone pays attention, he's on to the next disaster.

The one issue here is that Trump has officially jettisoned any need for Mitch McConnell anymore. It's not Republicans running away from Trump, it's now Trump running away from McConnell. I predict this is going to blow up in his face very quickly, because if there's anything old white Republican senators will not stand for, it's being made irrelevant by the guy in the Oval Office.

Already Pelosi and Mnuchin want to restart talks. But nothing matters unless the Senate GOP plays ball.

We'll see how this goes.

Sunday Long Read: The Final Torch Job

In this week's Sunday Long Read, Dvora Meyers asks that if in the Age of COVID and Black Lives Matter, the Olympics can and should even bother to exist. There's a non-zero chance that we've already seen the final Summer and Winter Games of the modern Olympics era. 

A year ago, back when we were still allowed to gather in groups larger than a minyan, activists convened in Tokyo to talk about how they were going to end the biggest global gathering of them all — the Olympic Games.

The activists came from all over: past host cities like Rio, London, Nagano, and Pyeongchang; future host cities Paris and Los Angeles; cities that had managed to derail their bids, including Boston and Hamburg; and places like Jakarta, which is gearing up for a 2032 bid.

They were in Tokyo exactly a year out from the scheduled start of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, attending the first-ever transnational anti-Olympic summit, which was organized by Hangorin no Kai, a group of unhoused and formerly unhoused people based in Tokyo. The activists, along with academics and members of the media, talked about common Games-related issues, like displacement and police militarization, and discussed strategies for resisting local political forces and the IOC to protect their communities. Elsewhere in Tokyo, Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, and the rest of the IOC crew had arrived to mark the start of the 365-day countdown to the Opening Ceremonies.

Eight months after these two very different gatherings in Tokyo, the IOC announced that the 2020 Olympics were going to be postponed by a full year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. By the time they made the announcement, most other major sports tournaments planned for the summer had been canceled or postponed and the athletes, many of whom were shut out of training facilities due to lockdowns, were calling on the IOC to act for over a week. Once the IOC made the inevitable official, the athletes were able to reset and refocus their training on July 2021.

That even a stripped-down version of the 2021 Games will happen is hardly a foregone conclusion. The pandemic may not be under control by then. Even if it is, and even if an effective vaccine against the coronavirus is developed in time, the Games still might not happen. The postponement is likely going to add billions to a budget that was already triple that of the original projection of the Tokyo bid that the IOC had accepted in 2013. Public opinion in Japan seems to be swinging against the Games, too. In a recent survey, 77 percent of respondents said that the Olympics could not be held next year. In another poll, a slim majority of Tokyo residents said the same thing.

The horrors of the pandemic are real and massive. Yet COVID-19 has offered an opportunity to derail the Games — one that didn’t exist just a few months ago and certainly hadn’t existed when the activists came to Tokyo last July. Dr. Satoko Itani, a professor of sport, gender, and sexuality studies at Kansai University, told me that the pandemic is a “powerful wake-up call to the people who otherwise wouldn’t have given a thought about the costs of the Olympics.”

“Now that a lot of people in Japan are counting and monitoring the government’s spending to fight the pandemic, it became ever more clear actually just how much taxpayers’ money we had allowed the TOCOG [Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games] and the government to spend on the two-week-long sport spectacle while we don’t have enough money to equip ‘essential workers’ with the essential protective gear,” they wrote in an email.
The Games’ postponement is happening not just against the backdrop of a global pandemic, but also that of a global uprising against state-sanctioned murders of Black people by the police. The catalyst for this movement was the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by Derek Chauvin, but the protests quickly spread beyond the Twin Cities to the rest of the U.S. and then around the world, including Japan.

The pandemic, police brutality, and the Olympics are not unconnected events. While COVID-19 might be a virus incapable of racial bias, the course it has taken through the population of the U.S., wending its way through Black, Latinx, and poor communities, was determined by decades of racist policy and discrimination. American police forces have killed Black people for decades with impunity as part of the same system that allowed more African Americans to die from COVID-19 than any other group. It’s also the system that has allowed the Olympic Games in the post-war period to reshape the cities that host the event, rarely for the benefit of all citizens. The Games have been a driving force behind displacement, police militarization, increased surveillance, and violence against the working class and poor people, especially Black and Brown, in the cities where they’ve touched down. The very same groups that the pandemic has disproportionately killed and that the police disproportionately target are those who become the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of the Olympics.

But people are growing wise to what the Olympic Games are actually about. “It wasn’t 15, 20 years ago you could say, ‘We’re going to have a bid in our city,’ and stand behind the podium and jabber on about jobs and economic upticks floating everybody’s boat, and people just nodded along,” Jules Boykoff told me. (Boykoff is a professor at Pacific University and author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics and NOlympians: Inside the Fight Against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Beyond.) “Today, no way. People aren’t nodding along like they once did.”

Over the last decade, residents of potential Olympic host cities have voted overwhelmingly to reject the Games. The IOC and local organizers have lost referenda in Hamburg, Calgary, Graub√ľnden, Krakow, Munich, Sion, Vienna, and Innsbruck. Activists in other cities like Boston, Budapest, and Graz/Schladming managed to turn public opinion against the Games so decisively that the bids were pulled before the IOC and Olympic boosters could be embarrassed by yet another referendum loss. If the anti-Olympics activists have their way, soon no city will be a safe harbor for the Games.

The arguments after Beijing, London, and Rio especially were that the Olympics were a sign of governmental excess, that the billions each game cost should have been used on citizens, infrastructure and programs, not expensive stadiums and sports facilities.

The calculus on that just got a lot harder to use to justify holding the Games anymore.  I don't think we'll see much of them in the future.

Retribution Execution, Con't

At this point the Trump regime is no longer hiding behind pretense and is actively searching for legal justification to openly disenfranchise as many mail-in ballot voters in the country as it can.

Just because Trump’s claims of rampant mail-in voting fraud aren’t supported by evidence doesn’t mean election experts aren’t concerned about problems holding a presidential election during a pandemic. It’s unknown whether the United States Postal Service can handle a surge of mail-in ballots in a timely fashion, and other officials have cautioned about long lines and a shortage of workers at in-person polling stations, which have been limited during the coronavirus outbreak. 
Some have predicted the crush of remote voting could mean a final winner in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden won’t be known for days or even weeks. Democrats are pushing for $25 billion for USPS in the next coronavirus recovery bill to help address those concerns, but it remains a source of disagreement with Republicans. 
There have already been some some notable delays in down-ballot elections during the pandemic, including one New York race this summer. Six weeks after a Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat, all of the ballots have yet to be counted. 
“This is a rare case where the president is not overstating the case,” argued Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group that has sued in North Carolina and Pennsylvania over the accuracy of voting rolls. “Frankly he’s understating the problem that I think we are going to face on Election Day. The system is going to break.”
Trump and his team are trumpeting these fears. 
The Trump campaign is holding events touting its legal actions on voting rules. And privately, the White House is debating possible further action, according to two people familiar with the situation. The White House declined to comment on whether Trump would be signing an executive order on the issue. 
“All Americans deserve an election system that is secure and President Trump is highlighting that Democrats’ plan for universal mail-in voting would lead to fraud,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews. “While Democrats continue to call for a radical overhaul of our nation’s voting system, President Trump will continue to work to ensure the security and integrity of our elections.” 
Trump has spent months railing against mail-in voting as the pandemic raged and his poll numbers dropped nationally and in battleground states. Yet on Tuesday, Trump appeared to change his mind for one battleground state: Florida. He claimed that because the state’s two back-to-back Republican governors — Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott — had managed elections professionally. Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, dubbed Trump’s action “hypocritical.”
Voting specialists also note that five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — already conduct elections entirely by mail with few problems. This fall, three additional states — California, Vermont and Nevada — plan to send ballots to registered voters because of the pandemic. 
Voters in most other states can request an absentee ballot by mail without providing a reason. And numerous states are still reviewing their voting policies as coronavirus infections continue to rise. 
Already, Democrats and left-leaning groups are pushing to make voting by mail easier and to educate voters about how to properly cast remote ballots. Republicans are fighting voting rule changes in 17 states, going to court 40 times, drawing on a recently doubled legal budget of $20 million. At the RNC and Trump campaign, 12 staff attorneys and several dozen more outside lawyers are working on the issue across the country, according to an RNC official. 
Republicans have intervened to do just that in numerous states. In Iowa, they sued to prevent third parties from filling out personal information on absentee ballot requests. In Minnesota, they tried to prevent ballots from being sent to inactive voters. And in Nevada, the Trump campaign on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the state over a plan to send ballots to active registered voters this November. 
“This unconstitutional legislation implements the exact universal vote-by-mail system President Trump has been warning against for months,” said Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser for the Trump campaign. 
Republicans have already won some battles. A Democratic super-PAC and other left-leaning groups agreed to drop a lawsuit over voting rules in Florida after a judge refused to order changes immediately, including a request that the government cover postage costs for mail-in ballots. Another lawsuit seeking to extend the state’s absentee ballot deadline was dismissed in Pennsylvania. 
“All politicians are paranoid about potential fraud in their campaigns. And sometimes rightfully so,” said Pat McCrory, the former Republican governor of North Carolina, who blamed fraud when he lost his 2016 reelection bid by 10,000 votes out of more than 4.6 million ballots cast. “He knows states like Michigan and North Carolina — like last time — could be close.”

At this point I fully expect Trump and the GOP to tie up every red state election result in so much red tape that the country is forced to go to House delegations, which favor Trump. He's going to steal an entire second term and the country will do nothing.

Actually I take that back. We'll try to resist and we'll be cut to pieces for our efforts by his fascist troops.
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