Friday, September 3, 2021

Last Call For Kabuki Politics

Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga is resigning as the country reels from COVID delta, a stagnant economy, and a sub-30% approval rating for his government, with the choice of resignation or a no-confidence vote no doubt being offered. 
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a surprise move on Friday he would step down, setting the stage for a new premier after a one-year tenure marred by an unpopular COVID-19 response and sinking public support.

Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resigned last September citing ill health, has seen his approval ratings drop below 30% as the nation struggles with its worst wave of COVID-19 infections ahead of a general election this year.

Suga did not capitalise on his last major achievement - hosting the Olympics, which were postponed months before he took office as coronavirus cases surged.

His decision not to seek reelection as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president this month means the party will choose a new leader, who will become prime minister.

There is no clear frontrunner, but the popular minister in charge of Japan's vaccination rollout, Taro Kono, intends to run, broadcaster TBS said on Friday without citing sources. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida has already thrown his hat in the ring.

Before Abe's record eight-year tenure, Japan had gone through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe's own troubled first one-year term.

Tokyo stocks jumped on news of Suga's decision, with the benchmark Nikkei (.N225) rising 2% and the broader Topix (.TOPX) hitting its highest levels since 1991.

"I want to focus on coronavirus response, so I told the LDP executive meeting that I've decided not to run in the party leadership race," Suga told reporters. "I judged that I cannot juggle both and I should concentrate on either of them."

He said he would hold a news conference as early as next week.

Suga's abrupt resignation ended a rollercoaster week in which he pulled out all the stops to save his job, including suggestions he would sack his long-term party ally, as well as plans to dissolve parliament and reshuffle party executive and his cabinet.

He is expected to stay on until his successor is chosen in the party election slated for Sept. 29. The winner, assured of being premier due to the LDP's majority in the lower house of parliament, must call the general election by Nov. 28.

Suga has been an important ally for U.S. President Joe Biden in pushing back against China's increasingly assertive behavior and he was the first foreign leader Biden welcomed in person at the White House in April. read more

A State Department spokesperson said Biden was grateful for Suga’s leadership and partnership on shared challenges, including COVID-19, climate change, North Korea, China, and preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

"The U.S.-Japan alliance is and will remain ironclad, not just between our governments, but our people," the spokesperson said.

Really can't underestimate the importance of Suga being the first foreign head of state to visit the Biden White House for an official visit with President Biden, and for Suga to then resign as Biden faces his own growing domestic problems. Biden did this to emphasize Japan as a counter to China's ambitions. Somehow I think China believes it can continue to do whatever it damn well pleases after the events of the last few weeks.

That's not going to be good in the short or the long run.

Klep-Trump-Cracy Update, September 2021 Edition

With The Former Guy gone, we're still finding out examples where Trump officials engaged in open grift and pay-for-play with the goal of enriching their Orange Emperor at the expense of our closest international neighbors.
Kelly Craft, who was appointed to two ambassadorships under President Donald Trump, directed government business to Trump’s hotel in Washington while in office, emails released by the State Department show.

In November 2018, Craft — then the U.S. ambassador to Canada — received an email about an upcoming conference in Washington for ambassadors and other chiefs of mission. The email included a list of five recommended hotels in Washington that had blocks of rooms set aside for conference attendees, along with specially negotiated rates between $119 and $181 per night.

Craft apparently ignored those recommendations.

“Is this a meeting I should attend? If so, I would prefer the TRUMP HOTEL,” Craft wrote after forwarding the email to a staffer, referring to the Trump International Hotel, which was owned by Trump’s company and in a building leased from the federal government.

The staffer replied that the conference was one Craft would “definitely” want to attend.

“I’ll make reservations at the Trump Intl Hotel,” the staffer added.

Craft’s emails were obtained from the State Department by the nonprofit legal watchdog group American Oversight through a records request under the Freedom of Information Act, and they were reported earlier Thursday by Forbes. The watchdog group accused Craft of using her position as an American diplomat “to line the president’s pockets” and said it was “an example of the casual corruption that permeated the Trump administration and undermines confidence in the United States.”

“Ambassador Craft’s apparent eagerness to direct business to a Trump-owned hotel sends a signal that U.S. foreign policy is pay-to-play,” American Oversight spokesman Jack Patterson said in a statement.

Craft could not be reached for comment Thursday.

It was not the first time Craft showed an affinity for the hotel owned by Trump’s company. According to the emails, Craft stayed at the Trump International Hotel multiple times while in Washington. On Jan. 8, 2018, a staffer sent a “friendly reminder” for Craft to provide the name and contact details for the Trump hotel manager “so that I could arrange a suite for you” later that month.

In April 2018, the obtained emails showed Craft had a reservation at the Trump hotel to catch an event with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

In June 2018, Craft was scheduled to attend a conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., about 10 miles away from the Trump hotel in Washington. According to the emails, a staffer asked Craft in May if she would be interested “in a boutique hotel near the Gaylord” for the conference.

“Let’s keep TRUMP Hotel,” Craft replied from her BlackBerry device.

On June 18, 2018, Craft and her husband, Joe Craft, were expected to check in to the Trump hotel in Washington for a three-night stay, according to an internal hotel “VIP Arrivals” list obtained by The Washington Post. The list, which allowed hotel staff to recognize important guests, listed the Crafts as repeat customers paying a “high rate,” and as gold-level members of the company’s Trump Card rewards program.

Separately, The Post obtained government receipts showing more than $3,500 in spending by the State Department or its employees at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump’s term. None of those receipts referenced a stay by Craft, but they give a sense of the rates that the Trump hotel charged the State Department: In those cases, it was between $175 and $251 per night.

During Trump’s term, millions of government and GOP dollars flowed to his properties, and high-ranking Republican officials and newsmakers could often be seen at his luxury hotel in Washington, less than a mile from the White House. Even after leaving office, Trump has continued to direct taxpayer dollars to his businesses, in May charging the Secret Service nearly $10,200 for agents’ rooms at his Florida resort.

Trump appointed Craft to two ambassadorships while in office: as ambassador to Canada in 2017 and as ambassador to the United Nations in 2019. Craft has since continued to tout her connections to the Trump administration and to praise the former president as she reportedly eyes a run for Kentucky governor.

Yes, Craft is from right here in Kentucky, and if you think the fact she's corrupt as hell in the name of Donald Trump is going to in any way hurt her chances of being the state's next governor, you're out of your mind. Republican primary voters here in Kentucky expect GOP politicians to serve Donald Trump as his vassals. That's what ambassadors are supposed to do, you see.

No doubt Trump will reward her with an endorsement, which is how American politics works these days.

And that's the point. Politics of open vassal states to the high lord.

The Vax Of Life, Local Edition

Here in Kentucky we're now topping 5,400 new cases of COVID-19 daily, and there seems to be no end in sight. Hospitals in the state, especially in the rural west and east, are facing critical staffing, supply, and oxygen shortages as ICU beds increasingly maxed out due to unvaccinated COVID patients.

Officials with Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes appealed for help Thursday from state lawmakers to fight the coronavirus pandemic that is overwhelming their facilities.

The officials primarily raised concerns about staffing shortages. A nursing home official said the closure of some nursing homes in the state is possible without help, noting that a nursing home in Oldham County already has closed because of COVID-19.

State legislators are preparing for a special session on COVID-19 that could begin early next week. Gov. Andy Beshear has said he wants to call a special session soon due to a recent Kentucky Supreme Court decision last month that said COVID-19 emergency measures need legislative approval, not just the governor’s say.

Members of the legislature’s Health and Welfare committees heard nearly three hours of testimony Thursday on steps to deal with the pandemic.

Senate Health and Welfare Chair Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, told the hospital and nursing home officials that they can expect funding to help retain and recruit nurses, aides, respiratory therapists and EMS personnel.

Alvarado, a physician, also said the legislature will look at expanding what paramedics can do in hospitals, proving more rapid testing of COVID-19 for hospitals and nursing homes, finding ways to administer more treatment for the virus, helping certain health-related boards to recruit retired people to help, and extending liability protection.

Nancy Galvagni, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, gave the lawmakers some grim statistics about Kentucky hospitals and the pandemic.

She said COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are at a record high, growing from just over 500 patients at the end of July to 2,267 on Sept. 1.

COVID-19 patients are now occupying one-half of all intensive care unit beds in the state, she said, adding that as of Wednesday, there were only 135 open and staffed ICU beds statewide.

Many hospitals are postponing medically necessary procedures, such as knee replacements, hernia repairs and certain cancer treatments, said Galvagni.
Kentucky Republicans can do whatever they want to, as they can simply override any Beshear veto with a simple majority in both the state House and Senate, and control two-thirds of the House and nearly 75% of the Senate. The question is what the KY GOP will decide on doing. They control 100% of the state's COVID response now, and they passed the very laws making that the case.

At Thursday's meeting, testimony also focused on masks in child care centers, vaccines and immunity to COVID-19 as lawmakers continued to map out ideas for the possible session.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, led the child care discussion, saying he's working on a proposed bill to clarify how child care centers would operate "as we move forward with the pandemic."

While the bill is a "work in progress," Carroll said he anticipates proposing changes that include giving families and day care owners more control over operations at centers.

Most were closed temporarily at the start of the pandemic under emergency orders by the Beshear administration and, when allowed to reopen, did so with strict requirements on capacity, staffing, masks and other measures.

Much of the child care discussion focused on current state rules requiring masks for children age 2 or older in child care programs.

Carroll brought as a witness Jennifer Washburn, owner of iKids child care center in Benton, who said masks present a problem for younger children at her center.

The children, especially 2-year-olds, take off the masks, throw them away, take masks off other children or chew on or play with them, Washburn said.

"Teacher are continually struggling with keeping the masks on the faces of our toddlers, our 2-year-olds," she said. "It has become increasingly more difficult to become the enforcer, especially of our 2s and 3s, of mask wearing."

Carroll, CEO of Easterseals West Kentucky, oversees a child care center and said he questions the benefit of requiring masks for the youngest children.

"The children simply aren't wearing them properly, and they take them off throughout the day,"' Carroll said.

A few members on the committee appeared to share Carroll's concerns about masks, including Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell.

Bentley, a pharmacist, questioned whether masks are effective against microscopic viruses and whether they can actually spread COVID-19 by accumulating germs.

"Most of masks are made in China," Bentley said. "Are we guaranteeing these masks are pure?
So nothing will be done, and everyone will blame Beshear, and he'll be replaced by a lunatic Republican in 2023, but by then there won't be a lot of things in Kentucky, like working hospitals, open schools, civil rights, or women's bodily autonomy, or bridges, so really it's all for the best.


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