Monday, April 11, 2022

Last Call For America Goes Viral Yet Again, Con't

As the COVID Omicron.BA2 variant sweeps across the country, with wishful thinking somehow not stopping the pandemic as we enter year three of widespread infections, cities are suddenly realizing that mask mandates are necessary. For cities still allowed to take action still instead of being made to suffer by Republican governors and state legislatures, a return to indoor mask mandates will be inevitable this spring, and Philadelphia is just the first US city to reinstate them.

With new coronavirus cases low but rising sharply in recent days, the city of Philadelphia announced on Monday that it will reinstate an indoor mask mandate a little more than a month after lifting it, becoming the first major U.S. city to do so.

“This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic,” said Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, in a news conference. She acknowledged that the average number of daily new cases, currently at 142, is still nowhere near what it was at the beginning of the year, when the Omicron variant was pushing the seven-day average to nearly 4,000.

But she said that if the city failed to require masks now, “knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, then it will be too late for many of our residents.” Over the past week, the city reported that the number of residents who had died of Covid-19 passed 5,000.

The mandate will go into effect next week. A spokesman for the city’s health department said it would end when case numbers and rates go beneath a certain threshold.

The decision comes as cases are ticking up across the country, fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2. While the national increase is so far relatively small — about 3 percent over the last two weeks — the growth in cases in Northeastern cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., has been significantly steeper. Some colleges in the Northeast, including Columbia, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, have reinstated indoor mask mandates in recent days.

Speaking at a virtual news conference on Monday afternoon, Mayor Eric Adams of New York City said that he would follow the advice of his health team in making any determination on reinstating mask mandates in spite of his positive test result on Sunday, rising virus cases in the city and Philadelphia’s decision.

“I am not special as being the mayor. What happens to me personally should not determine how I make policies,” Mr. Adams said. “It should be what happens to the City of New York.”

“I feel fine, no fever, no running nose, no aches and pains,” the mayor said, adding that with his health history of diabetes, “I would probably have had different outcomes if I was not vaccinated and boosted.”

Under Philadelphia’s Covid response plan, mitigation measures are triggered when caseloads or case trajectories pass certain thresholds. Since early March, as Omicron swiftly receded, the city had been at Level 1, or “all clear,” meaning most mandatory measures — including indoor mask mandates as well as proof-of-vaccine requirements in restaurants — had been lifted. Masks have no longer been required at city schools, though people visiting hospitals or riding public transportation still have had to wear them.

The indoor mask mandate is reinstated automatically when the city rises to Level 2, in which average new daily case counts and hospitalizations are still low but “cases have increased by more than 50 percent in the previous 10 days.” The health departments spokesman said over the last 10 days case the average number of news cases had risen nearly 70 percent.

Philadelphia’s system “allow us to be clear, transparent and predictable in our response to local Covid-19 conditions,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement after the announcement was made. “I’m optimistic that this step will help us control the case rate,” he added.
Philly made it clear what the criteria is for reinstating mask measures, and the city has exceeded those numbers.

Expect more major cities to follow suit in the weeks ahead.

The Manchin On The Hill, Con't

Rolling Stone's Andy Kroll documents the atrocities of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, and how he made sure the Voting Rights Act will be left unprotected from the GOP assault as soon as they get power back, something already happening in GOP-run states.

“Giddy” is not a word people use to describe Jon Tester. The towering senior U.S. senator from Montana is blunt and pragmatic. In the halls of Congress, he’s one of the last surviving rural Democrats. When he’s not in Washington, D.C., Tester runs a dirt farm in Montana that’s been in his family for three generations.

A dirt-farming rural Democrat knows better than to overhype. So it came as a surprise when, one day this winter, Tester showed up visibly excited at the office of his friend Michael Bennet, one of Colorado’s two Democratic senators, to share a tantalizing piece of information.

“I think we’re gonna get this voting-rights thing done,” he said to Bennet.

“You got to be kidding me,” Bennet said.

Tester said that Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a critical swing vote on sweeping voting-rights reforms, had signaled his support for the bill and, more crucially, the parliamentary-rules change needed to bypass a Republican filibuster of that bill. “I think it’s gonna happen,” Tester said.

For the previous six months, Tester and two of his colleagues, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Angus King of Maine, had lobbied Manchin on voting rights and the fate of the filibuster. On weekends and holidays, on conference calls and huddled in one another’s hideaways in the bowels of the Capitol, Kaine, King, and Tester had urged Manchin to support his party’s proposal for overhauling the country’s voting laws.

They needed him, with Senate Democrats holding onto the barest majority possible — 50 votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as tiebreaker. Not a single Republican had said they would support the voting bill, which left Democrats with only one path to passage: Change the filibuster, the procedural tactic that requires a 60-vote majority to advance most types of legislation. Manchin had remained steadfast in his opposition to this plan, arguing that the filibuster protected small states like his and forced lawmakers to seek bipartisan compromise. Yet during months of conversations with Kaine, King, and Tester, Manchin had increasingly lamented the dysfunction in the Senate. He wanted, as he put it, “some good rule changes to make the place work better.”

By early January, Manchin had given the impression — at least according to his colleagues — that he was ready to amend the filibuster in a way that would open a path to passing voting rights. At the end of one of their calls, Tester recalls saying that with everyone in agreement on a filibuster deal, all they had to do was put the finishing touches on the voting legislation itself and they were ready to proceed. “Yeah,” Manchin replied, according to Tester.

A “yes” vote from Manchin could not have been more critical for free and fair elections. The Republican Party responded to Joe Biden’s victory with a backlash on the right to vote. Last year, GOP-run legislatures passed 34 laws in at least 19 states that limit access to voting, put partisan operatives in charge of running elections, and make it harder to participate in American democracy. At the same time, a belief that the last election was somehow stolen or fraudulent — the so-called Big Lie — has become an article of faith for many Republicans.

In response to this onslaught, Democrats in Congress introduced multiple pieces of legislation and vowed to pass the bills in time for the 2022 midterms. In public, Democratic leaders spoke in existential terms about the need for reform. “Failure is not an option,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. In private, lawmakers and activists predicted victory, arguing that the importance of the issue would overcome the challenge of unifying a 50-member caucus.

They were wrong.

Rolling Stone interviewed more than 30 key figures inside and outside of Congress to understand how the most ambitious voting-rights bill in generations and the Democratic Party’s main policy response to the Jan. 6 insurrection ended in failure. The blame for this defeat, sources say, lies with multiple parties: Manchin either strung along his party for months with no intention of actually supporting the reforms or gave indications to his colleagues that he was on board only to reverse his position on multiple occasions. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, miscalculated that if they could flip Manchin, another swing vote, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, would follow his lead. As for the White House, these sources say, President Biden — despite saying as a candidate that “one of the first things I’ll do as president” is restore the Voting Rights Act — never seemed fully committed to passing voting-rights legislation. When Biden, who had vowed to run an “FDR-sized presidency,” did inject himself into the negotiations late in the fight, his contributions did more harm than good.

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon says the senator “never said he was open to eliminating the filibuster.” If his colleagues believed that, she adds, they were mistaken. The White House responds by saying just because “we didn’t get the result we wanted, we can’t say the power of the presidency wasn’t behind it.” Nevertheless, a question lingers: Why did Democrats’ efforts fail?

“It was like riding a roller coaster,” Sen. Tester tells Rolling Stone. “There were many nights when I went to bed and I thought, ‘This thing is done. We just have to hammer out the details.’ But then something would always happen,” he added. “I don’t know what happened. I can guess. But I don’t know.”
Manchin and Sinema will never allow passage of bills like this. Biden fucked up the White House effort, such as it was. I can't remember the last time a President was afraid of pissing off a Senator, but Biden has been since day one in the White House.  Maybe because of his decades as a Senator himself, he knows all too well how much trouble Manchin could cause by making good on his threats to jump party.

Jared, The Galleria Of Crime, Con't

Donald Trump's son-in-law got $2 billion from the Saudis for his "investment firm" despite serious concerns about ever seeing a dime in profit from it, because the point was to pay off the Trump Crime family.

Six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince, a close ally during the Trump administration, despite objections from the fund’s advisers about the merits of the deal.

A panel that screens investments for the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund cited concerns about the proposed deal with Mr. Kushner’s newly formed private equity firm, Affinity Partners, previously undisclosed documents show.

Those objections included: “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management”; the possibility that the kingdom would be responsible for “the bulk of the investment and risk”; due diligence on the fledgling firm’s operations that found them “unsatisfactory in all aspects”; a proposed asset management fee that “seems excessive”; and “public relations risks” from Mr. Kushner’s prior role as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, according to minutes of the panel’s meeting last June 30.

But days later the full board of the $620 billion Public Investment Fund — led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and a beneficiary of Mr. Kushner’s support when he worked as a White House adviser — overruled the panel.

Ethics experts say that such a deal creates the appearance of potential payback for Mr. Kushner’s actions in the White House — or of a bid for future favor if Mr. Trump seeks and wins another presidential term in 2024.

Mr. Kushner played a leading role inside the Trump administration defending Crown Prince Mohammed after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that he had approved the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post and resident of Virginia who had criticized the kingdom’s rulers.
So a $2 billion bribe from Prince Hacksaw of the Desert. Here's the real question: would you trust Jared Kushner with $2 billion, given his long track record as a grifter, thief, slum landlord and con man?

No sane person would. Look, investing 10 million or so is a big risk. Investing $2 billion in anything is alarming. Investing $2 billion in a member of the Trump family is laughably illegal. And how do we know it's a payoff and not an investment? The real investment money went to Trump's money guy, former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Saudi fund agreed to invest twice as much and on more generous terms with Mr. Kushner than it did at about the same time with former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who was also starting a new fund — even though Mr. Mnuchin had a record as a successful investor before entering government, the documents show. The amount of the investment in his firm, Liberty Strategic Capital — $1 billion — has not been previously disclosed.

A spokesman for Mr. Kushner’s firm said of its relationship with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, “Affinity, like many other top investment firms, is proud to have PIF and other leading organizations that have careful screening criteria, as investors.”

A spokesman for the Saudi fund declined to comment on its investment process. If any additional discussions about the deal took place, they were not reflected in the documents and correspondence obtained by The New York Times.

The Times reported last fall that Mr. Kushner had been seeking a Saudi investment. Now, the internal fund records and correspondence obtained by The Times show the outcome, scale and timing of his firm’s deal as well as the debate it aroused. Those documents and other filings indicate that at this point Mr. Kushner’s venture depends primarily on the Saudi money.

Mr. Kushner planned to raise up to $7 billion in all, according to a document prepared last summer for the Saudi fund’s board. But so far he appears to have signed up few other major investors.

Weird how Kushner can't get anything else other than the Saudi money in his firm. It's almost like other folks in Trump's orbit don't think it's a wise financial investment. After all, a firm the Saudis are willing to give $2,000,000,000 to ought to be a shoe-in for RoI, right?

I mean it's not like this is a huge, massive bribe right in front of our eyes that happened ten months ago, right? And surely these billions in overseas money would never end up in Trump's campaign coffers, going forward, yes?

Oh well. The documents that showed all this weren't on Hunter Biden's laptop, so nobody gives a good good god damn I guess.

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