Sunday, February 21, 2021

Last Call For Going Less Viral, Con't

Biden's first 30 days have helped to turn around America's dire COVID-19 issues, as cases, hospitalizations, and death rates are all down significantly from their post-New Year's peaks as vaccinations are ramping up.

Covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States are at the lowest level since early November, when a fall surge in cases and deaths was picking up steam, data showed Saturday. 
This comes as federal officials say they're pushing large shipments of vaccines to states this weekend, in part to make up for a backlog from winter storms -- and as public health experts push for faster inoculations before more-transmissible coronavirus variants get a better foothold. 
About 59,800 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Friday -- down about 55% from a pandemic peak of more than 132,470 on January 6, according to The COVID Tracking Project
Friday's number is the first below 60,000 since November 9, when daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths were on a several-month incline through the holidays. 
Averages for daily new cases and deaths also have been declining for weeks after hitting all-time peaks around mid-January. Public health experts have been pressing for faster vaccinations, before more transmissible variants have a chance to spread, fearing they could reverse recent progress. 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said an apparently more-transmissible variant first identified in the United Kingdom could be the dominant strain in the US by next month. 
"This is why we're telling people to not stop masking, not stop avoiding indoor social gatherings quite yet, because we don't really know what's going to happen with this variant," Dr. Megan Ranney, and emergency medicine physician with Rhode Island's Brown University, told CNN Saturday. 
"And we saw what happened last winter when we didn't take Covid seriously enough."
The national test positivity rate -- or the percentage of tests taken that turn out to be positive -- averaged about 4.8% over the last week as of early Saturday, according to The COVID Tracking Project. 
That's the first time the average has dropped below 5% since October, and it's far below a winter peak of about 13.6% near the start of January. 
The World Health Organization has recommended governments not reopen until the test positivity rate is 5% or lower for at least two weeks.
That's the good news.  The bad news is that we still have a long way to go. We're still well above the March and July peaks of the pandemic, we're still recording a half-million new cases a week, and we're still seeing 2,000 people a day die from the virus in America. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but slacking off on masks and social distancing created the last three surges in cases, and my real fear is that Americans will ignore masking and we'll find ourselves in a fourth spike later this spring.

4 bar charts showing weekly COVID-19 metrics for the US. Tests, cases, average weekly hospitalized, and deaths all fell this week - deaths by over 20%. 
The numbers are getting better, but it will be months before we can get this under control still, and that depends largely on the UK strain and any other strains that could get loose in the country and reinfect.
Stay safe, stay masked, stay home.

Time For Duty Garland

Confirmation hearings for Biden's Attorney General pick, DC Appeals COurt Chief Justice Merrick Garland, begin this week, and Garland's opening statement is sure to cause lots of Republican wailing gnashing of teeth.
Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, is pledging he’ll take the lead in prosecuting participants in the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 -- a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” Garland said in an opening statement prepared for his confirmation hearing on Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Garland also signaled he’ll make decisions independently from Biden. “The president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer -- not for any individual, but for the people of the United States,” he said in the brief prepared testimony of less than three pages.

Former President Donald Trump openly pressed his attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, to protect him and his associates from prosecution and to go after his political enemies. Biden has said he’ll let his attorney general make the tough calls on touchy matters -- including pending investigations of his son, Hunter Biden, and inquiries touching on Trump.

“One of the most serious pieces of damage done by the last administration was the politicizing of the Justice Department,” Biden said at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee on Feb. 16. “Their prosecutorial decisions will be left to the Justice Department, not me.”

In the testimony released Saturday night, Garland indicated that, if confirmed, he’ll seek to restore policies and practices the department developed before the Trump administration, including those that the nominee said protect the agency “from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations,” those that “strictly regulate” communications with the White House and those that respect the professionalism of career employees.

Just getting a hearing for the cabinet post will be vindication for Garland almost five years after Senate Republicans blocked consideration of his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. This time, Garland has bipartisan support and is expected to be confirmed.

The Jan. 6 insurrection has only added to a roster of politically charged issues that Garland will be asked about when he finally has his confirmation hearing.

Garland made no reference in the testimony to calls for him to consider criminal charges against Trump, a possibility that has been advanced not only by Democrats but also by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

After joining most Republicans in blocking the former president’s conviction in his second impeachment trial this month, McConnell took to the Senate floor to denounce Trump as “practically and morally responsible” for the riot and pointedly added that former presidents can be subject to criminal and civil litigation. Trump “didn’t get away with anything yet -- yet,” he said.
McConnell would love to see Trump prosecuted by the Justice Department, as he would suddenly have all the cover in the world to pretend he never said anything about Trump facing justice and to attack the "partisan witch hunt" along with the rest of the GOP.  In fact, all the Republicans would forget they said that Trump should face justice, and they'll all get away with it when it happens.

Luckily, Merrick Garland looks like he'll do that job that's required, not just the job to show up for, and yes, he'll be confirmed easily in the end.

And then, well, I'm still not confident of Trump indictments, but if anyone will do it, it's Garland.

Sunday Long Read: Thirty Pieces Of Silver Flair

As Trump's post-White House financial and criminal woes grow, now that he's no longer plopped like a tumor in the Oval Office, the people that work for him are more than happy to share their stories of his gross imposition among the little people of his paper empire. Jessica Sidman at the Washingtonian got a hold of some real doozy stories in this week's Sunday Long Read and the people that gravitated towards Trump are even more awful than he is, it turns out.

Everyone knew Table 72 belonged to the President. The round booth in the middle of the Trump Hotel’s mezzanine was impossible to miss. It didn’t matter how many Congress members were clamoring for a reservation at the steakhouse or whether some tourist tried to slip a manager some cash (which they definitely did). No one sat at Trump’s table except the President, his children, and, occasionally, an approved member of his inner circle like Rudy Giuliani or Mike Pence.

In practical terms, the restaurant wanted to avoid the horror of turning away the leader of the free world if he happened to show up on a whim. But the seat also developed a kind of mystique. Sure, it may now be a relic in an underperforming venue. But for those four epic years, it was a carefully curated prop in the Trump Show.

And when the star appeared, you had to stick to the script. A “Standard Operating Procedure” document, recently obtained by Washingtonian, outlined step by step exactly what to do and what to say anytime Trump dined at BLT Prime, the hotel restaurant.

As soon as Trump was seated, the server had to “discreetly present” a mini bottle of Purell hand sanitizer. (This applied long before Covid, mind you.) Next, cue dialogue: “Good (time of day) Mr. President. Would you like your Diet Coke with or without ice?” the server was instructed to recite. A polished tray with chilled bottles and highball glasses was already prepared for either response. Directions for pouring the soda were detailed in a process no fewer than seven steps long—and illustrated with four photo exhibits. The beverage had to be opened in front of the germophobe commander in chief, “never beforehand.” The server was to hold a longneck-bottle opener by the lower third of the handle in one hand and the Diet Coke, also by the lower third, in the other. Once poured, the drink had to be placed at the President’s right-hand side. “Repeat until POTUS departs.”

Trump always had the same thing: shrimp cocktail, well-done steak, and fries (plus sometimes apple pie or chocolate cake for dessert). Popovers—make it a double for the President—had to be served within two minutes and the crustaceans “immediately.” The manual instructed the server to open mini glass bottles of Heinz ketchup in front of Trump, taking care to ensure he could hear the seal make the “pop” sound.

Garnishes were a no-no. Melania Trump once sent back a Dover sole because it was dressed with parsley and chives, says former executive chef Bill Williamson, who worked at the restaurant until the start of the pandemic. Trump himself never returned a plate, but if he was disappointed, you can bet the complaint would travel down the ranks. Like the time the President questioned why his dining companion had a bigger steak. The restaurant already special-ordered super-sized shrimp just for him and no one else. Next time, they’d better beef up the beef.

“It was the same steak. Both well done. Maybe it was a half ounce bigger or something, I don’t know,” says Williamson, who had previously run the kitchens of DC staples Birch & Barley and the Riggsby. The chef had always prepared a bone-in rib eye or filet mignon for Trump. After Steakgate, he switched to a 40-ounce tomahawk. Trump would never again gripe that he didn’t have the greatest, hugest, most beautiful steak.

One more thing. Don’t forget the snacks. A tray of junk food needed to be available for every Trump visit: Lay’s potato chips (specifically, sour cream and onion), Milky Way, Snickers, Nature Valley Granola Bars, Tic Tacs, gummy bears, Chips Ahoy, Oreos, Nutter Butters, Tootsie Rolls, chocolate-covered raisins, and Pop-Secret.

The whole SOP reads like a pop star’s rider, which is apt for a place that served as center stage for the Trump drama and its entire cast of characters. Now, though, the Washington hotel is in the process of figuring out its next act. In 2019, the Trump Organization started trying to unload it for a reported $500 million—a number that industry pros reportedly balked at even before Covid devastated the hospitality world. Between the pandemic, Trump’s defeat, and the fallout from the US Capitol attack, the hotel’s cachet has plummeted since then. A financial disclosure released at the end of Trump’s presidency shows that the property took a 63-percent hit to its revenue in 2020.

If the hotel is ultimately sold, the new owner would likely start from scratch. And for the people who popped the ketchup and bussed the ungarnished plates, that means their jobs would be done. Well done.

But hey, it was a wild ride while it lasted!

Now veterans of the place are opening up about what it was really like behind the curtains of “America’s Living Room,” where right-wing operatives were treated like celebrities and political power determined the seating chart. If you weren’t in the business of Making America Great Again, well, sweetheart, you quickly learned to fake it. Working for the Trump hotel meant putting on a performance every night—right down to the gummy bears and popcorn

Imagine this carbuncle on the scrotum of America being the leader of the free world, wolfing down burnt-to-hell steaks and junk food and Diet Coke all the time. Don't feel too bad for the employees though.
The upper echelon of hotel management portrayed themselves as true Trump believers, but the majority of those who fed and cleaned up after the right-wing clientele were ambivalent at best. They clocked in because the place paid well. Really well. Michel Rivera, a former bartender at the lobby bar, says he pulled in more than $100,000 a year with tips (at least $30K more than he made at the Hay-Adams). He says it’s the best-paying job he’s had in his 25-year career, with generous health benefits to boot—a comment echoed by many other ex-employees.

“People would literally come up to me and give me $100 bills and be like, ‘You must be the best bartender in the world if you work here!’ ” Rivera says. “A group of three or four guys would come up, have a round of drinks—I could easily sell them over $1,000. You don’t see that at too many bars.” One restaurant manager says she’s never worked anyplace else where guests would so often try to grease her palm “like the old Mafia days,” angling for proximity to power. “I’d have people try to palm me to get closer to someone’s table, if a politician was in, or try to sit at Trump’s table, which is a big no-no,” she says. “I declined, obviously. I would get fired if we moved someone to Trump’s table.”
They were there for the money and the fame too, which is exactly why a chief executive of the US owning hotels and restaurants is a bad idea

Everyone was in on it.

They always are.

Orange You Glad He's Back?

Like a particularly persistent brain parasite, Donald Trump has emerged, sticky and gravid, from his Florida lair and will return to the national stage at CPAC 2021 next weekend in all his Huttese infamy.

Donald Trump will be making his first post-presidential appearance at a conservative gathering in Florida next weekend.

Ian Walters, spokesman for the American Conservative Union, confirmed that Trump will be speaking at the group’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28.

Trump is expected to use the speech to talk about the future of the Republican Party and the conservative moment, as well as to criticize President Joe Biden’s efforts to undo his immigration policies, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

CPAC is being held this year in Orlando, Florida, and will feature a slew of former Trump administration officials and others who represent his wing of the GOP, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

Trump has been keeping a relatively low profile since he retired from the White House to Palm Beach, Florida, in January, but reemerged last week to conduct a series of phone-in interviews to commemorate the death of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.

Trump has a long history with CPAC, which played a key role in his emergence as a political force.
Last year at CPAC, Mick Mulvaney was telling conservatives that COVID was a hoax and the conference promptly turned into one of the first major Trump regime-caused super spreader events in the nation as several conference attendees got sick with COVID and passed it along because of course nobody worse masks.

This year, Trump will again spread his virus of hate and destruction.
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