Saturday, April 04, 2020
As Donald Trump states that some states are not at risk from COVID-19 and lies and claims he never said the pandemic would be over by April, the grim reality is that every state now as cases of those sick with the virus, in just two weeks 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment - expect another big number next week - and Trump has insanely put his grifter and equally dishonest son-in-law in charge of the response to the national emergency. Thankfully, the majority of the nation's governors are stepping up and leading in the vacuum coming from Washington. D.C. A piece in New York Magazine looks at Trump's fantasy world that discounts facts, goes against the advice of true experts, and seeks to gas light Americans. Worse yet, Trump appears to be playing favorites in doling out desperately needed supplies, favoring states with Republican governors while stiffing those lead by Democrats. Here are column highlights:
[I]t now appears that the Trump administration may be playing favorites, distributing supplies to political allies and states important for the president’s reelection campaign. How bad will the fallout be?
Because Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and the hacks and grifters around them lie about everything, there’s no way to come up with an empirical answer as to how much such petty politics, let alone the sheer incompetence, complete lack of planning, and rank corruption, are making this nightmare worse. Everything is a ruse. The administration’s promised numbers of coronavirus tests, masks, and ventilators were all fiction. The real mission of the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort that Trump dispatched from Norfolk was to give him a photo op; it sits in New York Harbor idle, having admitted only 20 patients because of bureaucratic barriers. Even the origins of the White House’s estimated death toll of 100,000 to 240,000 are being questioned by the nation’s leading disease forecasters, reports the Washington Post. Remember Trump’s inaugural address, with its dark portents of “American carnage”? Well, that turns out to be the only Trump prophecy that is literally coming true.
The crucial electoral state of Florida — whose mini-Trump of a governor, Ron DeSantis, endangered the entire country by refusing to call off spring break — has all the medical equipment it has asked for. Desperate states like Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina are reduced to begging for help from a federal government with a depleted stockpile. What these three states have in common is that their governors are Democrats.
No matter. We know from Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair that the latest corona czar, Jared Kushner, has declared that “New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” The next number that the Trump administration will be lying about is the inventory of available body bags.
But the catastrophic failure of the Trump White House to mobilize government to procure and distribute medical essentials where needed is just the most visible piece of this Boschian landscape of chaos and horror. Now that Congress has enacted a $2 trillion stimulus package, we’re sure to see the Trump family and its kleptocratic cohort play political and personal favorites with economic relief as well. The Trumps are nothing if not impressive in their ability to help themselves and their fellow grifters to every buck not nailed down. . . . . inquiring minds want to know if the administration scheme to have FEMA bid against states for PPE, thereby driving up prices, was sheer dereliction of duty or a concerted effort to benefit war profiteers in or close to the White House.
In the same vein, this week The Atlantic reported that the nonexistent Google testing website hawked by Dr. Deborah Birx in a White House press briefing was assigned not to Google but to a company whose co-founder is Jared Kushner’s brother. (That company quietly scrapped the project even as American casualties spiked in part for lack of the administration’s promised testing.) The Times now reports that the Trump Organization, among other financial machinations, is leaning on Palm Beach County to waive monthly payments on land it leases for its golf club.
Meanwhile, in what is likely to become a national paradigm of unequal relief efforts to come, ordinary Floridians can’t file for unemployment benefits because of an inadequate system and crashing website, both the work of the state’s previous Republican governor (and current senator), Rick Scott. That calamity is surely a preview of the soon-to-arrive train wreck as the Trump administration fails to deliver on Steven Mnuchin’s promise of a speedy distribution of checks to individual households and loans to small businesses.
At this time of emergency and medical need, it is impossible to know which is inflicting the most damage on a suffering American public: the president and his administration’s complete lack of a plan, the incessant lying to create a Potemkin simulation of action, or the politicization and corruption of the various ad hoc schemes Trump and his lackeys are creating on the fly. Trump has taken to speaking of himself as a “wartime president,” but as I’ve said before, the bone spurs that exempted him from military service have now migrated to his brain.
Everyone knows by now that unless Anthony Fauci is speaking, these daily episodes of Trump reality television, running nearly as long as The Irishman (but less well acted), are founts of misinformation that may be dangerous to your health with digressions for self-aggrandizement, political hit jobs, press bashing, and utter drivel.
Network news organizations have started to cut away from them more and more, as they should. Pointing a camera at a news event is not the same thing as reporting on it. Networks can broadcast any effusions that are newsworthy on slight delay — with immediate fact-checking — and go back to reporting actual news happening elsewhere throughout a nation on the ropes. Those who want the whole unedited feed can turn to Fox News while waiting for the next open-mike night from Jeanine Pirro.
The situation is terrifying as is the fact that Trump's base continues to believe the lies Trump propagates and which Fox News (now facing a consumer fraud lawsuit) amplifies. One can only hope that the 12 Republican lead states with no social distancing orders in place suffer exponential increases in virus cases that will perhaps force the willfully ignorant and brainwashed to at last wake up.
Friday, April 03, 2020
|Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis.|
For more than two decades, the Republican Party has followed what I call a reverse Robin Hood agenda: take from the poor, working class and middle class and give to the very wealthy and big business. It is one reason America has such a lousy social safety net which was pathetic under good economic conditions and which the Coivd-19 triggered recession - some might argue depression - is proving totally inadequate. Florida - a must win state in the 202 presidential election - is a case in point as the degraded unemployment system (which was further weakened by then governor Rick Scott to save big business billions of dollars) is on the verge of collapse. Thousands cannot successfully file claims and those who do will find that the benefits they receive are among the lowest in the nation. A piece in Politico looks at the ongoing disaster that with luck will haunt Republicans in November 2020 and beyond. Many Floridians are going to learn that GOP pandering to their prejudices and/or religious extremism does absolutely nothing for them in a severe economic downturn. Here are article excerpts:
The staggering unemployment exploding on President Donald Trump’s watch would worry any incumbent running for reelection, but troubles in Florida are injecting an added dose of fear into a jittery GOP.Already anxious about Trump’s chances in the nation’s biggest swing state, Republicans now are dealing with thousands of unemployed workers unable to navigate the Florida system to apply for help. And the blowback is directed straight at Trump’s top allies in the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott.
Privately, Republicans admit that the $77.9 million system that is now failing Florida workers is doing exactly what Scott designed it to do — lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims after the great recession. . . . “It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”
Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters was more succinct: “$77 million? Someone should go to jail over that.”
With hundreds of thousands of Floridians out of work, the state’s overwhelmed system is making it nearly impossible for many people to even get in line for benefits.
The new online system was part of a series of changes designed to limit benefits. The ultimate goal — which it delivered on — was to lower unemployment taxes paid by Florida businesses. A 2011 analysis done by the Florida Legislature estimated that the changes pushed by Scott would save businesses more than $2.3 billion between 2011 and 2020.
Now, as thousands of people try to get help, the system crashes or denies them access. Nearly 400,000 people have managed to file claims in the last two and half weeks. It’s not known how many have tried and failed.
Most of those who do submit applications won’t qualify for aid, and the benefits that are paid out are among the most meager in the country — a maximum of $275 a week.
“Everyone we talk to in that office when we ask them what happened tells us, ‘the system was designed to fail,’” the adviser said. “That’s not a problem when unemployment is 2.8 percent, but it’s a problem now. And no system we have can handle 25,000 people a day.”
Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat who as a Republican governor led Florida through the last downturn, said the state’s current economic catastrophe could doom Trump in the state the president needs if he wants to win reelection.
“If unemployment continues to go up, and if so many people stay unemployed, it’s a nightmare for [Trump]
the presidentin this state,” Crist said. “I should know. When I was governor and I was running for the Senate in the Great Recession — and there was nothing great about it — it was a nightmare.”
An adviser to Marco Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign didn’t argue.
“We’ve got unemployed, pissed-off people. They can’t get benefits. And when they get them, it’s not going to be enough,” he said. “They’re there for the taking by the Democrats. We killed Charlie with the bad economy in 2010. Democrats are gonna repay the favor.”
Republicans in the Legislature share the blame, said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat.
“Rick Scott is the most culpable human being when we look at who’s responsible for the failed system,” Rodriguez said. “But I don’t know of any Republican who resisted these efforts to make Florida the most Scrooge-like state in the nation.”
|Alabama governor, Kay Ivey.|
The last number I heard was that 12 states still have no "stay at home" or mandatory "social distancing" orders. All 12 are states with right wing Republican governors who seemingly see Covid-19 as purely a blue state problem. Florida likely belatedly adopted such a measure but even then exempted church gathers from the social distancing requirements and the ban on large gatherings. As one friend stated, if these Christofascists would only infect themselves and die, it might be a positive thing socially, but unfortunately, they will infect others and put medical personnel at risk, Sadly, from 25 years following right wing "Christian" groups, the last thing they think about is others, it's always all about them. The governor of Alabama - a state where George Wallace would not be able to be elected today because he'd be too liberal - exemplifies the idiocy that courses through GOP controlled governors' mansions. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon and what may come home to roost in this sates. Here are article excerpts (Hobby Lobby mentioned in the article is privately owned by Christofascists):
Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of Alabama, put down a marker last week in affirming that it was “not the time to order people to shelter in place.”“Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California,” she said, suggesting that the fate of hard-hit parts of the country would not be shared by Alabama.
In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson said he was not inclined to “make a blanket policy,” adding, “It’s going to come down to individual responsibilities.”
And in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order this week under growing pressure as his state’s death toll mounted, a Tampa-area megachurch pastor who was arrested for holding services in violation of a local order announced Thursday he was considering reopening the church in time for Easter and is “praying and seeking the Lord for wisdom.”
[G]overnment and private-sector leaders across a large swath of the country remain defiant that the devastation unfolding in New York and other seemingly faraway cities should not curtail life in their own communities.
In some cases, skeptics have been slow to acknowledge the science behind the spread of the novel coronavirus. In others, such as Florida, politicians took heed of demands from the business community, which lobbied DeSantis as recently as during a Monday webinar to balance medical imperatives with economic needs. Elsewhere, adamance about local autonomy was pronounced. Some, meanwhile, maintained that it was religious authority that mattered.
Experts are now warning that a group of governors in the South and the Great Plains — largely Republican-led states — risk acting too late.
Alabama, for example, has more than 1,100 cases, with just five counties untouched by the virus. New infections have risen as sharply as in California.
In some cases, the resistance has led to rising political tensions, with often Democratic mayors imposing orders of their own that they acknowledge have limited effect when surrounding jurisdictions do not act. “As a city, we need to operate as if we could be anyone else,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Ala. “I think we’re in the middle of a storm.”
Lyda Krewson, the mayor of St. Louis, said her city’s stay-at-home order was undermined by the absence of a blanket policy, warning, “We have a fluid society, frankly.”
The pleas have not been from politicians alone. Joining Krewson and others in appealing to the Missouri governor was the state’s medical association, which sent a letter to Parson saying a statewide order was the “only way to curb the exponential spread of covid-19 in Missouri.” In Texas, the state’s hospital and nurses associations sent a joint letter to the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, telling him, “The time has come for Texas to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.” Abbott announced a new statewide directive Tuesday but refused to call it a stay-at-home order.
“Part of the problem is just reluctance to wrap your head around the fact that the numbers could get that bad that fast,” said W. Craig Fugate, a former FEMA administrator.
He singled out the South, saying, “It’s almost a different approach, waiting to know it’s bad. I’m afraid that by the time they have reports of cases, it’s already too late.”
Effective planning has been thwarted by the multiple models available to state officials, who choose to rely on certain numbers and not others, the official said, based on a “political decision that is out of the hands of the responders.”
Interviews with mayors, business leaders and health officials in states where stay-at-home orders were recently imposed illustrated how decisive Tuesday’s White House briefing was to their thinking, as Trump struck a newly solemn tone and his advisers unveiled grim projections even with best-case mitigation efforts.
DeSantis acknowledged as much in remarks Wednesday, saying of his statewide order, “I did speak with the president about it.”
The industries exempted from his order, including landscaping and boating in addition to food service and others, resembled the catalogue of essential services requested by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which sent a letter to DeSantis outlining its view of an appropriate government response on March 22., . . . . “we must be mindful that the policies intended to protect human health and curb the pandemic do not also cause an even worse effect on the economy and jobs.”
After initially barring local jurisdictions from ordering residents to stay at home, Arizona’s governor, Republican Doug Ducey, this week reversed himself and issued a statewide order.
But Will Humble, a former director of the state’s health department, said it was unenforceable. “It says it’s a stay-at-home order, but try to find something that’s not exempted that wasn’t already closed,” he said.
Within states that have issued sweeping directives, there has also been defiance from businesses, as well as religious leaders and vacationers.
The decision by Hobby Lobby to reopen stores in multiple states that had ordered nonessential businesses closed prompted state law enforcement officials to send cease-and-desist letters to the company, which is based in Oklahoma City. . . . . Hobby Lobby’s corporate office did not respond to a request for comment.
Thursday, April 02, 2020
By many accounts Donald Trump has played political favoritism in doling out coronavirus aid and has bad mouthed governors of blue states yet at some point the virus crisis is going to engulf red states - many of which have been slow to enact stay home orders and other measures to slow the spread of the virus. Some red states still have not taken such measures. While Trump hasn't paid a price as yet since blue states won't vote for him anyway, the equation could rapidly change as red states find themselves slipping into crisis mode. Suddenly, Trump's failed leadership and ego driven reaction to the crisis could have serious political consequences. A piece in The Atlantic looks at what may transpire in the near term. Here are excerpts:
On Sunday morning, President Donald Trump got on the phone with Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss what New York City needs to survive a white-hot outbreak that is only getting worse. De Blasio asked him to send more ventilators and military personnel, warning that in a week’s time, the health-care system could be overwhelmed.Until recently, de Blasio told me, none of his calls to the upper reaches of the White House were returned. Two weeks ago, the Democratic mayor said publicly that Trump was “betraying” his native city by not sending more life-saving medical equipment. Ever sensitive to criticism, Trump said, in turn: “I’m not dealing with him.”
Defeating a pandemic is hard enough, but Trump has introduced another layer of complexity: He has personalized the battlefield. He calls COVID-19 “the invisible enemy,” but he also seems fixated on the visible variety—all Democratic leaders, who in his view have been insufficiently grateful for the federal government’s response.
But Democrats can be useful foils for only so long—the virus is already moving beyond blue-state hot spots into the rural red states that are the pillars of Trump’s support. As more people become infected in broader swaths of the country, Trump will face a fresh wave of calls for ventilators, masks, and money. It won’t be so easy to demonize a handful of discontented governors and mayors. Complaints will be coming from friends.Trump has called Washington Governor Jay Inslee a “snake” and said he won’t speak to him. Inslee’s team sounds utterly baffled about what to do. “We’re trying to act as if we’re interacting with a normal president, or at least a normal Republican president,” an aide in Inslee’s administration told me.
“The administration’s response in general has been an abysmal failure, and he compounds that failure by regularly attacking the governors to whom he has passed the buck,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, told me. “I just don’t think we can allow ourselves to normalize a president who is politically attacking the very governors who are trying to save lives right now in the absence of real federal leadership.”
Inside the White House, there seems to be little sympathy for some of the Democratic governors who have complained the loudest. . . . . Trump, though, is sensitive to anything he sees as ingratitude. If his administration sends planeloads of ventilators—a national resource—he wants a thank you, not a complaint about why it didn’t come sooner.
“It’s unprecedented that a president in the middle of something like this would ask you to bow down and kiss his you-know-what in order to get things that every citizen in the United States should get right now,” Jim Ananich, the Democratic leader of the Michigan state Senate, told me.
The virus’s spread will create political pressures Trump has so far escaped. At first the disease took root in densely packed blue states where many residents travel internationally and to which tourists flock. Trump seized on that fact, pointing to red states that have had comparatively few infections.
Conservative pundits have amplified Trump’s message. “These spreads are mainly in the blue states,” the author Dinesh D’Souza said in a recent Fox News appearance. “What I find kind of interesting is these blue-state governors and mayors, they’re criticizing Trump, but they also have the outstretched hand.”
Over time, though, Trump may find even some of his closest political allies demanding more help from the White House. Republicans’ traditional aversion to government intervention and economic aid will face a severe test as more and more of their constituents fall ill. Health experts expect infections to appear more widely as people living in red America travel out of state and then return home, and as people in stricken areas venture out.
“New York is the hardest-hit state right now only because New York has been doing more testing per capita pretty much than anyone else, and New York has a much higher population density, which is what we would expect,” Michael LeVasseur, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor at Drexel University, told me.
Before long, Republicans may be the ones with the outstretched hands. How Trump responds will prove revealing. Will he see pleas for help as more legitimate when they’re coming from red states rather than blue?
Mitch McConnell has told Nancy Pelosi to forget about drafting a second stimulus bill demonstrating either how out of touch he is with reality or how little he cares about average Americans finding themselves suddenly unemployed (either one you pick is an indictment) with state unemployment offices unable to keep up with new claims being filed. Today, the past weeks new unemployment number swill be released and it looks like it will be horrific. One can hope it will force McConnell to get his head out of his ass, but don't hold your breath. This is a man who thinks giving huge tax breaks to the very wealthy is fine, but who begrudges increasing meager unemployment payments. A piece in the New York Times looks at projections of what today's numbers may look like. Here are excerpts:
The Department of Labor reported last week that more than three million people filed for unemployment from March 15 to March 21, the largest single-week increase in American history.But this Thursday’s number, which reflects claims filed last week, could rise to 5.6 million, according to an analysis of Google search data by the economists Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham of Yale and Aaron Sojourner of the University of Minnesota.
Morgan Stanley estimates that claims will rise to 4.5 million in tomorrow’s report; Goldman Sachs’s estimate is 5.5 million.
If these forecasts are accurate, there will be as many claims in two weeks as in the first six months of the Great Recession.
A few weeks ago, state agencies were releasing their own counts of jobless claims ahead of the federal government, but as those numbers reached record levels, the Trump administration asked them to withhold their counts before the official national release. (Some states, like Pennsylvania, are ignoring that request.)
State resources have been severely strained with astronomical levels of interest from recently laid-off workers, leading to long wait times, nonworking websites and jammed phone lines. This suggests the true numbers are higher than what the Department of Labor will report Thursday.
Mr. Goldsmith-Pinkham and Mr. Sojourner expect the previous numbers to be revised upward with the release of the new numbers Thursday.
In normal times and even during typical recessions, so many people are being hired and fired daily that it’s hard to predict how many people will end up filing for unemployment.
The difference this time is that there is very little hiring to replace the losses, and the researchers thought their forecasts could be more accurate. So far, Mr. Goldsmith-Pinkham and Mr. Sojourner have found the relationship between searches and claims to be relatively stable.
Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Donald Trump is trying mightily to (i) make the public forget his previous lies about the coronavirus and his regime's failure to act when it should have, and (ii) change the subject such as co-opting today's press conference with a drug trafficking announcement. But, it is important to remember that Trump was aided and abetted in his failure to properly respond by Republicans, especially those in the U.S. Senate who ignored the pandemic threat and did what they always do: kiss Trump's ass and attack Democrats sounding the alarm. Among the worse offenders is Mitch McConnell who is in a race with Trump for the title of who most damaged constitutional government. A column in the Washington Post looks at McConnell's recent disingenuous remarks and his own malfeasance in failing to protect the nation while preoccupied protecting Trump (and lining his own and his wife's pockets), Here are column excerpts:
Mitch McConnell got an early jump on April Fools’ Day this year, blaming Democrats for the Trump administration’s failure to prepare for the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It came up while we were, you know, tied down in the impeachment trial,” the Senate majority leader said Tuesday. “And I think it diverted the attention of the government.”
In addition to implicitly acknowledging that
PresidentTrump wasn’t paying attention to the growing danger, it was a curious entry into the blame game for the Kentucky Republican, who recently said this isn’t “a time for partisan bickering.”
If anybody was diverted, it was McConnell, who, along with most of his GOP colleagues, again put lockstep defense of the president ahead of the national interest. During the three weeks of the impeachment trial, public health experts gave stark warnings about the growing biological threat. In that same time, several Senate Democrats (and a few Republicans) urged a more robust mobilization.
You know who said nothing? McConnell. . . . the first time he spoke about the coronavirus in public was Feb. 25, nearly three weeks after the impeachment trial ended, when he was asked at a news conference whether administration officials are “on the same page when it comes to combating coronavirus.”
In his first substantive remarks on the virus, two days later, he praised the Trump administration’s response to the virus and condemned Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “partisan political attacks,” “posturing” and “performative outrage” because Schumer called Trump’s coronavirus funding request inadequate.
After the impeachment trial ended and as the coronavirus menace grew, McConnell had the Senate take up two campaign-year abortion bills that had no chance of passage.
It was an echo of the impeachment trial itself. During impeachment, public servants and Democrats warned that Trump was putting his political interests (an announced probe of his opponent) over national security (by withholding military aid to an ally in distress) — and Republicans stood by him. Likewise, as the virus spread, experts and many Democrats pleaded for more urgency. But Trump put his political interests (stock market gains) ahead of public health (by playing down the virus danger). And Republicans averted their gaze.
In the middle of the impeachment trial, on Jan. 26, Schumer demanded that the administration declare a public health emergency so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could access more funds. . . . Senate Democrats point to 32 other warnings, requests and statements they made seeking action against the virus — all while the Senate impeachment trial was underway.
More general warnings long pre-dated impeachment and came from a few Republicans, too. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) warned in 2017 about Trump’s attempts to cut funding for pandemic preparedness. In 2018, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) repeatedly warned the White House that we are “unprepared for pandemic outbreaks.”
Senate Republicans knew the coronavirus danger. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (N.C.), while saying publicly that we were “better prepared than ever,” seems to have been spooked enough about the coming pandemic to sell off stock worth as much as $1.7 million in mid-February and is now under Justice Department investigation. Around the same time, Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), the Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, complained that administration officials refused to participate in a hearing where he received alarming forecasts about the virus.
And so a bad situation turned into a catastrophe because of a familiar pathology: a president who repeatedly puts self-interest above the national interest — and political allies in Congress who let him.
With the latest "good news" projections indicating between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die of COVID-19 before the pandemic is over - which assumes strict social distancing even as some states have imposed no lock down orders - Americans need to know what went so terribly wrong. One will not get this answer listening to Donald Trump's statements during his daily news conferences which are all aimed at political spin. Nor is his panel of experts inclined to provide the real story either as the members try to deal with a largely out of control situation. As a consequence, some in Congress want a commission established to review how this disaster happened and, in the process, make sure the USA never again finds itself so unprepared. Any investigation will likely find that much of the blame traces to the top of the Trump/Pence regime which tried to bury inconvenient facts and spin matters to assist Trump's re-election effort first and foremost. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the first stages of this effort. Here are highlights:
When America has recovered from the coronavirus crisis and people are back to work, Rep. Adam B. Schiff thinks Congress should consider a 9/11-style independent commission to examine why the nation was so unprepared for the pandemic.
Schiff, a California Democrat, told me in an interview Monday that his staff has already started working on a discussion draft modeled after the 9/11 Commission, and that he would be talking about the possibility with others in Congress. And he said the House Intelligence Committee, which he chairs, has begun reviewing the committee’s intelligence materials on the pandemic.
“We will need to delay the work of the commission until the crisis has abated to ensure that it does not interfere with the agencies that are leading the response,” Schiff explained in an email. “But that should not prevent us from beginning to identify where we got it wrong and how we can be prepared for the next pandemic.”
A review of the Trump administration’s performance would find many negatives but also some pluses. President Trump’s public statements appeared to minimize the virus and its impact until recently. But the National Security Council staff, led by deputy Matthew Pottinger, a Chinese-speaking former Wall Street Journal correspondent in Beijing, was aggressive.
What accounts for the failure to translate this concern into action? One explosive issue in any inquiry would be whether Trump discounted intelligence warnings because of concerns about the impact of the virus on his reelection campaign. Indeed, the question implicates a broader set of concerns among Schiff and other critics about what they see as the politicization of intelligence, in particular Trump’s firing in February of Joseph Maguire and Andrew P. Hallman, the acting director of national intelligence and his deputy, respectively, and then the replacement of the top two officials at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
Career officials fear that Richard Grenell, the acting DNI, is trying to shape intelligence that might challenge or embarrass Trump. “Grenell is a professional press spokesman,” said one senior retired intelligence officer, referring to Grenell’s stint as U.S. press spokesman at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration. “Over the next six months, Trump wants someone [as DNI] who has his back.”
On March 19, just after the NCTC shake-up, Grenell received a previously undisclosed cautionary letter from Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The letter, as described by a Senate source, urged Grenell to consult with the committee before making further changes in the DNI’s office; to keep Congress fully informed about intelligence activities, as required by law; and to refrain from further personnel changes until Trump’s nominee for a permanent DNI had been confirmed or rejected by the Senate. Grenell responded briefly, the Senate source said.
Schiff fears that, as intelligence is politicized, career officers are becoming gun-shy. “I don’t think that there’s any question it’s affecting the work product of the intelligence community,” he told me. There’s less reporting to Congress, with fewer details, on issues that might embarrass Trump, such as election security, Schiff noted.
The coronavirus pandemic has some eerie similarities to 9/11. Trump certainly didn’t cause the virus, any more than President George W. Bush plotted Osama bin Laden’s attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. And Trump’s NSC laudably tried to ring the alarm. But did the White House “connect the dots” and take action that could have reduced the coronavirus damage?
The last thing America needs right now is more partisan squabbling. But when we’re back on our feet, the country needs to know what went wrong. The challenge, now as in 2001, is to prevent the next attack.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
A biographer of Donald Trump has a column at CNN which lays out what any sentient American not motivated by racism, religious extremism and bigotry in general ought to know, namely that Trump is a disaster as president and that history will be brutal in its assessment of him. This is particularly true of his utterly incompetent handling of the coronavirus pandemic where all of his defining traits - narcissism, lack of empathy, rejection of experts and objective fact, and divisiveness - are on constant display. Hopefully, history will judge him extremely harshly, But history needs to be equally harsh in its judgment of those who voted for him and, worse yet, continue to support him. Good, moral people cannot support an individual like Trump and his supporters - especially evangelical Christians - have shown their moral bankruptcy to the world. Here are column excerpts:
In a crisis, all is revealed. After a lifetime devoted to avoiding responsibility and accountability -- for his lies, his deceptions, his hype, and his cruelty --
PresidentDonald Trump has met his match in the pandemic of 2020. His bluff and bluster are powerless as thousands of Americans die and the blame falls, in part, on his failure to heed the warnings and execute a robust national response. This occurred even though a pandemic playbook had been left behind by the Obama administration.
On one level, Trump's failure can be traced to his original lie: the false image he sold to the American people in order to hide his shortcomings. Never a competent manager of complex organizations -- witness his many bankruptcies -- Trump rose to fame pitching the illusion that he was a great businessman. As he sought the presidency he used counterattacks, lies, and skillful denials to avoid answering for his record and gain the White House.
As someone who has studied Trump for years, I thought it was inevitable that he would eventually reach a moment of reckoning as president. I couldn't have imagined that it would come with the catastrophic consequences now facing the nation. . . . . Trump's profound personal shortcomings -- deficiencies of his heart and mind -- helped bring us to this moment.
The first of Trump's weaknesses? His lack of emotional intelligence and empathy, which causes him to struggle to relate to human suffering. The developer who made tenants miserable so they would move out allowing him to build luxury condos, became the president who downplayed hurricane deaths in Puerto Rico, and now barely speaks of those stricken and killed by the coronavirus. Instead, he obsesses over TV ratings . . . .
The second of Trump's deficiencies is a habit of mind that discounts expertise and elevates convenient opinions supported by cherry-picked sources of misinformation. Businessman Trump exhibited this willful ignorance when, for example, he said the scientific connection between asbestos exposure and disease was a matter of a conspiracy carried out by mobsters. Candidate Trump discounted the expertise of experts leading the war on terror.
[I]t puts America's fate into the hands of a man who was incapable of learning even from his own aides. Faced with an enemy that is literally killing people he stayed true to form as he pushed an unproven coronavirus treatment that's still under scientific review.
Ignorant as he can seem, [Trump]
the Presidentseems to sense that this moment will establish his reputation in perpetuity. He said as much last week when he observed that, "the history books will never forget" America's response to the coronavirus. What he did not mention, however, is that his response to the pandemic will be examined in minute detail -- it is this prospect, the prospect of accountability, that looms over him now.
Until this crisis, Trump had avoided accountability with remarkable consistency. Born into astounding wealth, he avoided accountability by persuading creditors that he was too big to fail even after he ran businesses into the ground. In politics, he deflected accountability by blaming others, especially the press and Democrats, for problems that occurred on his watch.
Historians will eventually write books detailing what journalists already know about the Trump administration's dereliction of duty when the pandemic hit. America's Covid-19 death toll now passes 2,800 and the caseload exceeds 157,200 cases, But through much of the time that the number of cases was growing, the White House offered no coherent national response to the crisis.
No federal agency is rallying health care workers to move to hot spots where they are needed. Instead of assertively coordinating and distributing vital equipment, the administration is letting states, hospitals, and federal agencies compete against each other.
Recently Trump introduced a bit of personal petulance to this dynamic, suggesting that governors who aren't sufficiently deferential should be ignored by the White House.
The president'scomplaints about not being appreciated remind us that he takes everything personally and that his personal qualities of heartlessness and intellectual dishonesty will hobble his response to our suffering. Acutely attuned to his own feelings, he's so numb to the pain of others that he avoids talking about it. . . . . Likewise, he remains devoted to discounting reliable scientific information that shows things getting worse in favor of happy talk.
Meanwhile, governors across the country are demonstrating what competence, empathy, and intelligence look like. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for one, has used his televised briefings to offer accurate information and authentic human concern. . . . Where Trump repeats buzzwords and tries to sell himself as all-powerful, Cuomo demonstrates that he understands the pandemic and can communicate the facts.
Cuomo has been reminding us that the worst of the crisis is just beginning. The same is true for history's assessment of President Trump. The coronavirus is immune to his manipulation and spin. It is the defining challenge of his presidency and of his life. Compared with other presidential crises, like the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina, it has occurred slowly, with ample warning, giving [Trump]
the presidentmany opportunities to act and, we see now, fail.
The accounting will continue. And like the pandemic, it will be devastating.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Despite gubernatorial orders imposing social distancing measures and restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people, mega-church pastors and scamvangelists like Jerry Falwell, Jr., have ignored the orders and held church services and gatherings that could increase the spread of coronavirus thereby putting the lunacy and social irresponsible nature of Christofascists on open display. In Texas, three pastors are challenging the constitutionality of a stay-at-home order issued by Texas officials in Harris County (which encompasses Houston). The whining charlatans claim the mandate improperly tramples on individual freedoms by closing churches. Their related bitch is that the order failed to designate gun stores “essential” businesses. Of course, the real reason for their complaint is that they will miss out on collections at services if they comply with the order, showing once again that money is their true god. Also of note is that among these pastors is notorious anti-LGBT activist and hate group leader Steven Hotze, who has compared LGBT individuals to murders, rapists, and pedophiles.
Thankfully, in Florida one of this type of religious extremists in the Tampa area has been arrested for failure to comply with that state's ban on large gatherings. A piece in New York Magazine looks at the mega-church pastor who has ignored the ban on large gatherings for weeks now, endangering both his lemming like parishioners and the larger community. Here are article highlights:
You knew it had to transpire sooner or later: a religious leader claiming both spiritual and constitutional immunity from laws aimed at protecting people from COVID-19. As it happens, the first “martyr” to this dubious cause was a controversial Tampa pentecostal minister named Rodney Howard-Browne who has been defying official guidelines on protecting the members of his flock for weeks now. Here’s the Tampa Bay Times’ write-up of the arrest he deliberately provoked:The pastor of a Tampa megachurch who held two services on Sunday for scores of worshipers was arrested Monday for violating a county order requiring residents to stay at home to limit the spread of coronavirus. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, co-founder of the River at Tampa Bay Church, turned himself in to the Hernando County jail and was booked on Hillsborough charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, jail records show.
He got sprung on bail immediately, and will likely use the incident for massive publicity purposes.
Howard-Browne encouraged personal contact and claimed his sanctuary contained “machines” that would “kill every virus in the place,” making it “the most sterile building in…all of America.” He is also, of course, arguing the local order he defied violated his religious liberty rights. . . .
Howard-Browne has also suggested those believers who fear the coronavirus are “pansies,” and as reported in the New York Times, has argued he’s fighting a global socialist conspiracy:
“Because the climate change narrative for global governance failed,” Mr. Howard-Browne said in a video of the [March 15] service, “they are using the World Health Organization to then come in and take over the control of nations.” He added, “There’s going to be forced vaccines” to “kill off many people.”
You might think Howard-Browne is cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs and dismiss him as a fringe character. But he seems to have some friends in high places: He shared a photo to Facebook on July 11, 2017, as he stood over President Donald Trump with his hands on the president’s back. Vice President Mike Pence can be seen amongst the men in the group, with his head bowed in prayer.
Sunday, March 29, 2020
The sickness of the far right in America is truly frightening. In a time when the nation faces an extreme health threat and people are literally dying, many on the far right are attacking medical experts who, in their sick and warped view, criticize or challenge their "glorious leader," Donald Trump. The embrace of ignorance and partisanship is stunning yet is in keeping with the Republican Party's descent into a body where ignorance is celebrated, unqualified individuals are appointed to positions because of their extreme ideology, and loyalty to a man who is loyal to no one. The latest preferred target is Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. Speaking the truth and medically correct information is unacceptable to the Far right and Trump cult members. A piece in the New York Times looks at the right wing lie machine. Here are excerpts:
At a White House briefing on the coronavirus on March 20, President Trump called the State Department the “Deep State Department.” Behind him, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, dropped his head and rubbed his forehead.Some thought Dr. Fauci was slighting the president, leading to a vitriolic online reaction. On Twitter and Facebook, a post that falsely claimed he was part of a secret cabal who opposed Mr. Trump was soon shared thousands of times, reaching roughly 1.5 million people.
A week later, Dr. Fauci — the administration’s most outspoken advocate of emergency measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak — has become the target of an online conspiracy theory that he is mobilizing to undermine the president.
That fanciful claim has spread across social media, fanned by a right-wing chorus of Mr. Trump’s supporters, even as Dr. Fauci has won a public following for his willingness to contradict the president and correct falsehoods and overly rosy pronouncements about containing the virus.
The anti-Fauci sentiment is being reinforced by posts from Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group; Bill Mitchell, host of the far-right online talk show “YourVoice America”; and other outspoken Trump supporters such as Shiva Ayyadurai, who has falsely claimed to be the inventor of email.
The torrent of falsehoods aimed at discrediting Dr. Fauci is another example of the hyperpartisan information flow that has driven a wedge into the way Americans think. For the past few years, far-right supporters of President Trump have regularly vilified those whom they see as opposing him. Even so, the campaign against Dr. Fauci stands out because he is one of the world’s leading infectious disease experts . . .
It is the latest twist in the ebb and flow of right-wing punditry that for weeks echoed Mr. Trump in minimizing the threat posed by the coronavirus and arguably undercut efforts to alert the public of its dangers. . . . [right wing “news” outlets] now accuse Democrats and journalists of trying to use the pandemic to damage Mr. Trump politically.
“There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of Trump supporters to spread misinformation about the virus aggressively,” said Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington who has studied misinformation.
The Trump administration has previously shown a distaste for relying on scientific expertise, such as when dealing with climate change. But misinformation campaigns during a pandemic carry a unique danger because they may sow distrust in public health officials when accurate information and advice are crucial, said Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who teaches digital ethics.
“What this case will show is that conspiracy theories can kill,” she said.
Ms. Phillips, the Syracuse assistant professor, said the campaign was part of a long-term conspiracy theory propagated by Mr. Trump’s followers.
“Fauci has just been particularly prominent,” she said. “But any public health official who gets cast in a conspiratorial narrative is going to be subject to those same kinds of suspicions, the same kinds of doubt.”
On Thursday, he joined a 30-minute Instagram Live discussion about the coronavirus hosted by the National Basketball Association star Stephen Curry.
In the session, Dr. Fauci, with a miniature basketball hoop behind him, conveyed the same message that he had said for weeks about the outbreak. “This is serious business,” he said. “We are not overreacting.”