Monday, September 14, 2020

Last Call For Kentucky Goes Viral, Con't

As Kentucky has now passed 1,000 deaths and 57,000 COVID-19 cases, state Republican lawmakers are again openly accusing Gov. Andy Beshear of inflating the number of casualties and cases to "manipulate" and "control" Kentuckians.

On Thursday, the same day Kentucky announced its highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths — 22 — some lawmakers continued to question the accuracy of the state's data and whether the public should believe it.

Leading the criticism was Sen. Danny Carroll, a Paducah Republican and co-chairman of the Program Review and Investigations Committee, which called in Dr. Steven Stack, public health commissioner, for a second round of questions about how the state gets the COVID-19 numbers that Gov. Andy Beshear releases daily.

"What I do have problems with is the way that information is being used, not being completely accurate," Carroll said. "It's being used to manipulate our people, to make our people scared, to control our people."

Carroll said he gets daily complaints from people in his Western Kentucky district.

"Half of this state doesn't believe a word you all say when it comes to this data," he said, a repeat of his comments to Stack last month when the physician appeared before the committee.

Sen. Mike Nemes, a Shepherdsville Republican, wondered why restrictions are imposed on businesses such as bars when most of the deaths are occurring among the elderly, the majority in nursing homes.

"There's no 80-year-olds coming out of a bar at night," he said. "What are we doing to stop the elderly from dying?"

Stack told the committee that the state's numbers overall are reliable and provide an accurate picture of the spread and impact of COVID-19 in Kentucky, which he said he has stated in public repeatedly.

"The data has limitations. The data has imperfections," he said. "But even allowing for all those things, the data is incredibly valuable and incredibly informative and helps to guide decision-making when used in the proper context."

He said the elderly continue to be at greatest risk from the virus and stringent measures are in effect for nursing homes to try to limit spread. And anyone who visits a bar and gets infected has the potential to spread it to others, he said.

As at the previous meeting, the discussion broke down along partisan lines, with Republicans who control the legislature criticizing Beshear, a Democrat, and members of the governor's party defending him.

Sen. Karen Berg, a Louisville Democrat and the only physician on the panel, sounded incredulous as she accused committee members including Carroll of seeking to discredit data about COVID-19.

"I talk to constituents daily whose response is, 'Thank God, thank God, our governor is acting, thank God our administration is acting,'" she said. "Think how many more people would be dead."

Berg added she found the debate especially upsetting because "I'm on the front lines. I go to the hospital and fight this every day."

It really says something that there's only one medical professional on the General Assembly's main oversight committee. It's also astonishing to me that six months after the pandemic started, we still have state lawmakers that lack basic knowledge of epidemiology.

Lawmakers asked about recent news reports of a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found 94% of deaths linked to COVID-19 were among people with "comorbidities," other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

"Is COVID really the basis" (of such deaths)? asked Rep. Lynn Bechler, a Marion Republican and committee co-chairman.

Yes, Stack said. While evidence shows people with other health conditions are more likely to have serious or fatal outcomes from COVID-19, only deaths believed caused by the coronavirus are listed as such, he said.

"We've said all along people with chronic medical problems are in the highest of risk categories," Stack told the committee. "I think there are a lot of people, perhaps some people in this room, who are taking blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills, diabetes medication and are doing just fine and will continue to live for quite a few more decades."

And that's important to point out: the comorbidities have existing prevention and treatment options. COVID-19 doesn't have an effective treatment.

I shudder to think of how many thousands would be dead over the last six months if Matt Bevin were in his second term.

Biden, Su Tiempo

A lot has been made of Biden's performance with Latino voters compared to Hillary Clinton four years ago, especially in Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and the biggest battleground prize, Florida. It's been a problem for Biden since the primaries, it remained a problem over the summer, Biden took steps to dramatically increase outreach in July and it hasn't gotten any better in the last three months.

The perception is that Biden is taking the Latino vote overall for granted. It's not true, but it's the perception.

Latinos are one of the largest growing demographics in the country, and their support is essential to ensuring a win that cannot be challenged or litigated – especially in key battleground states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

However, according to a new survey conducted by the Voter Participation Center in partnership with Voto Latino and Latino Decisions, less than 60 percent of eligible Latino voters say they definitely plan to cast a ballot in 2020 and demonstrate a low enthusiasm about the candidacy of Vice President Joe Biden.

Even though Donald Trump has no viable path to gain majority Latino support as he makes anti-immigration a foundation of his re-election, Biden’s approval among young Latinos is waning.

Today, Biden’s support is down seven points from 67 percent back in February. By comparison, during this time in 2016, Hillary Clinton enjoyed 73 percent support among Latinos.

A big issue is outreach. Most Latinos say they haven’t even heard from Joe Biden’s campaign nor the Democratic party. Just 32 percent of low-propensity Latino voters say the Democrats are doing a good job of outreach while only 27 percent of Latinos ages 18-29 agree.

On the contrary, Latino Republicans report higher levels of connectivity with their party than Democrats, with 53 percent of self-identified Republican respondents saying they were contacted by someone, compared to 43 percent of Democrats

So why isn't Biden's Latino outreach working?

It's funny you should ask.

George Soros directs a “Deep State” global conspiracy network. A Joe Biden win would put America in control of “Jews and Blacks.” The Democratic nominee has a pedophilia problem.

Wild disinformation like this is inundating Spanish-speaking residents of South Florida ahead of Election Day, clogging their WhatsApp chats, Facebook feeds and even radio airwaves at a saturation level that threatens to shape the outcome in the nation’s biggest and most closely contested swing state.

The sheer volume of conspiracy theories — including QAnon — and deceptive claims is already playing a role in stunting Biden’s growth with Latino voters, who comprise about 17 percent of the state’s electorate.
“The onslaught has had an effect,” said Eduardo Gamarra, a pollster and director of the Latino Public Opinion Forum at Florida International University.

“It’s difficult to measure the effect exactly, but the polling sort of shows it and in focus groups it shows up, with people deeply questioning the Democrats, and referring to the ‘Deep State’ in particular — that there’s a real conspiracy against the president from the inside,” he said. “There’s a strain in our political culture that’s accustomed to conspiracy theories, a culture that’s accustomed to coup d'etats.”

Gamarra, a political science and international relations professor with extensive experience polling in Latin America and Hispanic voters in Florida, pointed to recent large-sample surveys of Latinos in the state and in the Latino-heavy county of Miami-Dade. They showed Biden underperforming with this crucial Democratic leaning segment of the electorate, though he’s still running ahead of President Trump by double digits. The race overall in the state is essentially tied.

Florida’s Latino community is a diverse mix of people with roots across Latin America. There’s a large population of Republican-leaning Cubans in Miami-Dade and a growing number of Democratic-leaning voters with Puerto Rican, Colombian, Nicaraguan, Dominican and Venezuelan heritage in Miami and elsewhere in the state. Many register as independents but typically vote Democratic. Those independents — especially recently arrived Spanish-speakers — are seen as more up for grabs because they’re less tied to U.S. political parties and are more likely than longtime voters to be influenced by mainstream news outlets and social media.

Democrats fear that’s where the role of disinformation and conspiracy theories might prove effective against Biden, because it plants seeds of doubt in an otherwise-Democratic bloc of the electorate that the former vice president needs to win. The net effect would be to depress turnout, possibly enabling President Donald Trump to carry a state that is essential to his reelection.

Biden is getting worked over by Trump in social media, particularly by a widespread disinformation campaign over Facebook. And yes, it's the same QAnon conspiracy crap we're seeing out in other parts of the country, only aimed directly at Latino voters. Biden's people are missing these attacks and they are going to slip in Florida because of them if they don't start fighting back immediately.

And it's not just social media where Biden is getting hurt.

Some of the information shared in chat groups and pulled from YouTube and Facebook goes beyond hyperbolic and caustic rhetoric.

On Informativo G24, long-time Colombian news anchor Sandra Valencia brings on guests via webcam for discussions about Latin America and U.S. politics with analysis that often relies on conspiracy theories, such as how Black Lives Matter and other activist groups are planning a “siege” on the White House later this month. The site does not detail who funds it, but asks supporters to donate to a PayPal account registered to Valencia.

Valencia bills her Spanish-language YouTube page, which has more than 378,000 followers, as a channel for geopolitical analysis. But it often resembles English-language right-wing news sources, such as Infowars, sharing conspiracy theories and strong anti-globalization messages.

And unlike the conspiracy theories that circulate in English-language news media and social media, there’s relatively little to no Spanish-language media coverage of the phenomenon nor a political counterpunch from the left.

Some of the disinformation discussed on Informativo G24 has been led by Omar Bula-Escobar, a former United Nations representative and Colombian geopolitical analyst, who in recent years has become a frequent guest on various Latin American radio and television news shows to talk about globalization. Bula-Escobar, who’s also a frequent guest on Miami-based Radio Caracol — which is one of Colombia’s main radio networks and widely respected throughout Latin America — has gained an increasing amount of notoriety for pushing the claim, often seen as anti-Semitic, that billionaire George Soros is “the world’s biggest puppet master” and is the face of the American Democratic Party.

“Who’s going to celebrate the day, God forbid, Trump loses? Cuba; ISIS, which Trump ended; Hezbollah, which Obama gave the greenlight to enter Latin America; Iran; China… All the filth of the planet is against Donald Trump. So, if you want to be part of the filth, then go with the filth,” Bula-Escobar said in a recent episode of Informativo G24.

Other shared content has included a translated clip of Christian conservative pastor John MacArthur claiming that there is no pandemic and coronavirus death numbers have been wildly exaggerated.

In June, a Noticias 24, a Venezuela-focused news site that has a large following in Latin America, amplified disinformation with a story bearing the headline “social networks also accuse Joe Biden of being a pedophile.” A month later, when the lie resurfaced, “#BidenPedofilio” trended in Spain.

It's almost like there's a level of political disinformation here and voter suppression that approaches a state-sponsored scope, from a foreign actor that definitely wants to see Trump prevail in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, to keep Texas, Ohio and Georgia, and to take Nevada, a foreign state that specializes in such political disinformation activities and has possibly run them against other Democratic party base groups in the past.

Now I can't imagine who that could be...

Stepping back though, it's important to remember that Biden is still doing very well with Latino voters overall.

A new survey released Monday morning shows Trump in deep trouble in Arizona. The survey, conducted by Phoenix-based OH Predictive Insights, shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump by a 52 percent to 42 percent margin.

It is the eighth consecutive public poll that has showed Biden leading in Arizona and Biden has led in 17 of the last 20 polls. A CBS News poll released Sunday showed Biden leading by a smaller three-point margin, 47 percent to 44 percent.

OH Predictive Insights, a nonpartisan firm, has showed Biden leading Trump throughout the year, by between four and ten points. In August, before either party convention, the firm found Biden ahead 49 percent to 45 percent. Biden’s current lead comes in a survey sample in which Republicans outnumber Democrats by five percentage points.

The latest poll underscores the foundations of Biden’s lead over Trump, in both national and swing-state surveys: He is winning about the same percentage of voters as Hillary Clinton did in 2016 among groups that lean toward Democrats, but he is doing substantially better among groups that chose Trump over Clinton four years ago.

Biden and Clinton pull about the same percentage of Hispanic or Latino voters, 59 percent in the current poll and 61 percent for Clinton four years ago. But where Clinton lost white voters in Arizona by 14 points, according to exit polls, Biden leads by six among those voters.

And that's the difference.  Biden is actually doing about the same with Latino voters but he's doing substantially better with white voters, in particular white college-educated voters and specifically with white college-educated women.

The conspiracy nonsense still has a chance to hurt Biden in the long run, however.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

I have to agree with Philly Inquirer columnist Will Bunch here, as I have several times in the past. The problem in America is not Donald Trump, but the series of enablers and broken guardrails that made the last four years possible in the first place, and there's no greater empirical proof that the American democratic process is flat busted than the fact Trump and his nutjob voters are within a couple of consecutive bad coin flips of another term.

Maybe Trump’s neo-fascist narcissism was the big story in the fall of 2016, but the bigger story in the fall of 2020 is the mass delusion of the millions who elected him once and who are within striking distance of doing it again. I’d argue that the most important journalism of the week was neither the Woodward book nor Goldberg’s Atlantic scoop but from Time’s Charlotte Alter: “How Conspiracy Theories Are Shaping the 2020 Election — and Shaking the Foundation of American Democracy.”

Alter spoke with voters in places like Ozaukee County, Wis., who almost surely weren’t watching the TV clucking about the Woodward book because more likely they were on Facebook or wherever they determined that “an evil cabal operates tunnels under the U.S. in order to rape and torture children and drink their blood.”

Voter Kelly Ferro told Time that Trump is revealing the truth and that Americans' “eyes are being opened to the darkness that was once hidden" — referring to the QAnon conspiracy theory in which an anonymous whistleblower named "Q" (who may be, some even think, a John F. Kennedy Jr. who didn’t die in a 1999 plane crash) says Trump has been sent not only to smash “the deep state” but also to break up a child-sex ring of top Democrats and Hollywood stars.

The growing belief in conspiracy theories like QAnon — and its bold move into the mainstream by hijacking legitimate concern but also deep misunderstanding about the actual issue of sex trafficking —helps explain why voters and opinion leaders on the right are less than concerned this weekend about the coronavirus death toll nearing 200,000 and more about a Netflix movie called Cuties, an acclaimed French coming-of-age film that has been conspiracy-mangled into Hollywood (and even Barack Obama, who has a deal with Netflix) promoting pedophilia.

QAnon and its tentacles are perhaps the most overt example of an electorate where suspicion, rage and resentment is far more likely to fuel public reaction to the 2020 election — and all the concurrent crises like COVID-19 or the West Coast wildfires — than the rational responses that political science majors (like me) were wrongly trained to expect.

We see it in the growing backlash against any sort of racial reckoning in America, where thousands of football fans in Kansas City loudly booed a simple moment of silent pregame solidarity among Black and white players on the Chiefs and the Texans. We see it in the growing paranoia in Oregon, where a mass tragedy such as the wildfire that calls for a communal response has instead seen militias setting up armed checkpoints because of wild rumors about antifa. And we saw it on Saturday night at a Nevada airport where thousands of Trumpists raced like lemmings, packed together and not wearing masks, in a state that’s had high rates of COVID infection, to hear their Dear Leader and pretend the virus had never existed.

It’s why Trump seems impervious to the fallout from national dysfunction that caused 20th-century incumbent presidents like Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bush I to lose elections. Neither sky-high unemployment nor a deadly pandemic has kept the polls from showing Trump in striking distance here in Pennsylvania, the state which — given the daunting Electoral College math — could prevent Biden’s rescue mission. My Inquirer colleague Julia Terruso visited the Western Pennsylvania outpost of Norvelt — a town literally created by the it-takes-a-village communalism of FDR’s New Deal — and found an electorate instead wrapped in a reality created by Fox News. “We don’t want our houses burned down,” a rural pastor told Terruso.

Trump may have broken all the rules, but will he break the rule in modern America that presidents who’ve been elected once tend to win a second time? — which is what happened seven out of nine tries since World War II. Trump’s political success in 2016 and possibly again in 2020 — with more than 40% of people supporting him no matter how many devastating books are written — is not based on America’s headlines but its national psyche, which is severely damaged. That’s why I’m so numb to whatever latest gross thing Trump has said, yet in a state of utter panic over the American voters and how their misinformation may decide our election.

In the short term, I hate to sound so cynical but there’s next to nothing that can be said in the next 50 days that will change the Trump-fried brains of voters in Norvelt or thousands of other communities like it. That doesn’t mean Biden cannot be elected — there’s a good chance he can — but it will take uncommon unity among the 55% of Americans who don’t like Trump, a massive focus on getting those voters to the polls and making sure their votes are counted, and a well-planned response for a scenario in which the president loses but tries to claim victory anyway.

The rest of us, which thankfully are a majority, have to man that wall and stand firm against the onslaught. We have decades of work ahead of us, but that work starts with electing Joe Biden and stopping Donald Trump, and even then the demonic hold that he has over his deth cult will take years to weaken, let alone to break.

There will be another Trump, with more animal cunning, with even less shame, without the baggage and the ego and the exploitable faults. And the next time, America will not escape their grasp, and we will be done.

Unless we are ready now, at this moment in history.


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