MONEY IS NOT WEALTH
by A. Richard Miller
Begun September 29, 2008; last updated October 22, 2020

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On the eve of USA's November 2008 national election, an urgent proposal for an unsecured $700-Billion, maybe $800-Billion loan to mismanaged banks and stockbrokers was generating understandable controversy. In its initial form the Bush Buddies Bailout was one more Weapon of Mass Deception, a (later, a two-step) public welfare program for wealthy people who game the system. But the problem remains.

What, exactly, went - and continues to go - wrong? What ARE reasonable goals, what are NOT, and how might a more populist government reach good ones?

Jill and I searched, asked friends, and found part of the discussion in the mainline U.S. Press. It is dominated by large corporations, and is quickly becoming a large corporation that reports with bias and too-often avoids reporting. We find the parts they don't want us to find - overseas, in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and in the Alternative Press. Some favorites are: Alternet, Campaign for America's Future, Common Dreams, Daily KOS, Demand Progress, Democracy Now, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, The Nation, Nation of Change, Dan Rather's News&Guts, Politico, The Raw Story, TruthOut, and Russ Baker's WhoWhatWhy.org. But we keep a sense of perspective; know which news is biased, and how.

The more we read, the more we realize that - as much as we want our money back - that is only one of many ways our country is becoming impoverished. Often by corporations, which most definitely are NOT people! (For one thing, these rapacious corporations have no shame.)



You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. What I mean by that, is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.
- Rahm Emanuel (Wall Street Journal Weekend Interview, Nov. 7, 2008)

Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.
- Niccolo Machiavelli (Fifteenth Cent.Florentine writer and statesman)

Yes, as through this world I've wandered,
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

- Woody Guthrie, Dust Bowl Ballads

What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?
- Bertolt Brecht

Yes, We're Corrupt.
-
A List of Politicians Admitting That Money Controls Politics

Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.
- Jimmy Carter (1979, as U.S. President)

Cycling Is Bad For The Economy
A cyclist is a disaster for the country’s economy: He does not buy a car and does not take out a car loan. He does not buy car insurance
. He does not buy fuel. He does not send his car for servicing & repairs. He does not use paid parking. He does not become obese.
Healthy people are not needed for the economy. They do not buy drugs. They do not go to hospitals and doctors. They add nothing to the country’s GDP.
On the contrary, every new McDonald's creates at least 30 jobs: 10 cardiologists, 10 dentists, 10 weight-loss experts
apart from people working in McDonald's.
Choose wisely: A bike ride, or a Big Mac with cheese? Think about it!
P.S.
Walkers are even worse. They do not even buy a bicycle.
- NOT Sanjay Thakrar, CEO at Euro Exim Bank Ltd. (2018)

It is not particularly easy for one to climb up out of the working-class - especially if he is handicapped by the possession of ideals and illusions.
- What Life Means to Me, by Jack London (1905)

... peace was not in the interest of a stable society, that even if lasting peace "could be achieved, it would almost certainly not be in the best interests of society to achieve it." War was a part of the economy. Therefore, it was necessary to conceive a state of war for a stable economy. The government, the group theorized, would not exist without war, and nation states existed in order to wage war. War served the vital function of diverting collective aggression. They recommended "credible substitutes" and paying a "blood price" to emulate the economic functions of war. Prospective government-devised alternatives to war included reports of alien life-forms, the reintroduction of a "euphemized form" of slavery "consistent with modern technology and political processes", and - one deemed particularly promising in gaining the attention of the malleable masses - the threat of "gross pollution of the environment".
- Wikipedia's summary of The Report From Iron Mountain (1967)

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
- U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower (April 16, 1953)

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
- John Adams, letter to Jonathan Jackson (2 October 1780), The Works of John Adams, vol 9, p.511.

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.
-- President Abraham Lincoln (1864 letter to William Fletcher Elkin), or faked in Caldwell Remedy Company pamphlet (May 10, 1888), or...
<http://abrahamlincolnassociation.org/Newsletters/1-1.pdf> (pp. 4-6)
<https://americanmissive.com/2009/03/20/did-abraham-lincoln-say-that/>

What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth. For the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish, and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs to him only?
- Massasoit

Only when the last tree has been cut down, only when the last river has been poisoned, only when the last fish has been caught, only then will you realize your money cannot be eaten.
- an old Cree saying? Maybe not; but good.

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.
- U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1938

Train communities through all their grades, beginning with individuals and ending there again, to rule themselves.
- Walt Whitman

This planet has -- or rather had -- a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
- Douglas Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (1979)

The Fragile States Index (Fund For Peace)

US National Debt Clock, by Ed Hall

The Freecycle Network (Good. A grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.)

Time Trade Circle (Good. Time Banking in eastern Massachusetts.)

Buy Nothing Project (Bad?)
(See its Person-to-Person section - on Facebook - and then see Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life , below).

Calculated Risk (blog)

The Conscience of a Liberal (NY Times blog by Paul Krugman)

To Build A Better Ballot; an interactive guide to alternative voting systems, by Nicky Case, 2016)

OurFuture.org (Campaign for America's Future)

Lifton's Thought Reform, (ca. 1997; Changing Minds)
Milieu control, mystical manipulation, confession, self-sanctification through purity, aura of sacred science, loaded language, doctrine over person, dispensed existence.

Secret Worlds: The Universe Within (Molecular Expressions, 1998)
View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.

The Market as God, by Harvey Cox (The Atlantic, 1999)
Living in the new dispensation.

NEW: The Bible as God - or, Owning a Canadian, Amongst Other Fallacies (The Internet, 2018?)
Which part of Leviticus do YOU choose not to believe?

The 14 Characteristics of Fascism, by Lawrence Britt (Free Inquiry magazine, 2003)

NEW: The Legacy of F.D.R. (Time, major series from 2009)
Franklin D. Roosevelt led the U.S. through a depression and a world war. By the time he died, the nation was profoundly changed — and we owe much of the change to him and his bold presidency.

Global surveillance disclosures (Wikipedia, 2013–present)
Ongoing news reports in the international media have revealed operational details about the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and its international partners' global surveillance of both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. The reports mostly emanate from a cache of top secret documents leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Strange Disappearance of Cooperation in America, by Peter Turchin (Cliodynamica, 2013)

Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life (Institute for Critical Digital Culture, 2018)
Every click on a website and every swipe on a smartphone may trigger a wide variety of hidden data sharing mechanisms distributed across several companies and, as a result, directly affect a person’s available choices. Digital tracking and profiling, in combination with personalization, are not only used to monitor, but also to influence peoples’ behavior. ...
"Facebook uses at least 52,000 personal attributes to sort and categorize its 1.9 billion users by, for example, their political views, ethnicity, and income. In order to do so, the platform analyzes their posts, likes, shares, friends, photos, movements, and many other kinds of behaviors.
"In addition, Facebook acquires data on its users from other companies. In 2013, the platform began its partnership with the four data brokers Acxiom, Epsilon, Datalogix and BlueKai, the latter two of which were subsequently acquired by the IT giant Oracle. These companies help Facebook track and profile its users even better than it already does by providing it with data collected from beyond its platform.

Help Us Cure Online Publishing of Its Addiction to Personal Data, by Doc Searls (Linux Journal, March 14, 2018)
(and The Big Datastillery that targets YOU)

It's Official: Watching Fox Makes You Stupider (The Nation, 2012)

Ten True Facts Guaranteed to Short-Circuit Republican Brains (Daily Kos, 2012)

ALEC Exposed (Center for Media and Democracy, 2011)

His Grief, and Ours: Paul Ryan's nasty ideal of self-reliance (New Republic, 2012)

We All Built This Great Nation Together: Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, and the Myth of Radical Individualism (Nick Gier)

The Foul Reign Of Emerson's "Self-Reliance (New York Times, 2011)

"A Declaration of Conscience, June 1, 1950 speech by U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith (U.S. Senate, 1950)
(The beginning of the end for Senator Joe McCarthy but, unfortunately, not for McCarthyism.)

The Death Of God, by Friedrich Nietzsche (1885)

Losing my religion for equality (Jimmy Carter, 2009)
"The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God."

Invented Symbols, by James Carroll (Boston Globe, January 3, 2006)
'Homo Sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority," Joyce Carol Oates once remarked, ''then forgets that symbols are inventions." This lesson applies across the human condition, although it shows up regularly in the realm of religion, where symbolism is the native language.
Now the church is acknowledging that the passion and authority once invested in limbo, however ''unofficially," can yield. Limbo is an invented symbol that can be left behind.
So is the nation-state. It is not religion that draws the most fervent investment of passion and authority in our time, but rather the politically autonomous entity for which humans have learned to kill and die. That the invented character of the nation-state is forgotten is revealed whenever God is invoked as its source and justification. ''For God and country" is an idolatrous slogan, and a dangerous one. It is scrawled on walls across the world.
The new invention was the United Nations. Far more than an organization, it, too, was a symbol in which passion and authority could be invested. Not only weaponry, but new modes of transport and communication, and then a revolution in information technology all forced a redefinition of the human condition, and the symbolic power of a cooperative world entity came ever more into its own. Not ''God and country" anymore, but Earth itself as holy.
But, in one of history's great ironies, the main inventors of the United Nations, the Americans, found it impossible to stop treating their own nationhood as an absolute value. There were, perhaps, reasons for this during the Cold War, but since then the United States, more than any other nation-state, has reiterated its narrow autonomy, repudiating treaties, promulgating unilateralism, making aggressive war, and treating the global environment as a private waste dump. The United States, in sum, has invested its national sovereignty with passion and authority proper to God, not to an invention of human beings.
The United Nations, where the United States is represented by a man who holds it in contempt, is now a symbol of the planet's new jeopardy. Just as the church is letting go of one limbo, America is condemning the world's best hope to another. 

RELIGION: What It Was For; What Went Wrong; How To Fix It, by Benjamin Becula

The New Populism (Campaign for America's Future, 2014)

Grokking Republicans: The Non-Cooperator's Dilemma (Daily Kos, 2014)
"To create More and Better Democrats means to increase cooperation. Punishing cooperation is the declared Republican mission. 'The Evolution of Cooperation', by Robert Axelrod, proposes a theory that says they lose, and recommends particular political strategies to make it happen faster.

Freethinkers and Libertarianism, by David Niose

EXXON: The Road Not Taken (Inside Climate News, 2015)
"This multi-part series describes how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.

The history of volcanic eruptions since Roman times (Past Global Changes Magazine, 2015)

What's Really Warming The World? (Bloomberg, 2015)

Vanishing: The Sixth Mass Extinction (CNN, 2016)
We're entering the Earth's sixth era of extinction -- and it's the first time humans are to blame. CNN introduces you to the key species and people who are trying to prevent them from vanishing.

Yale Climate Opinion Maps, U.S. 2016

The Legend of Hercules Mulligan (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, June 30, 2016)
We’re all familiar with the legendary heroes who fought to secure our independence from the British: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere and his midnight ride. But there are many other influencers of the Revolutionary War whose names don’t immediately come to mind when reflecting on the birth of this great nation. Their efforts and contributions are no less significant or important to securing the freedoms we enjoy every day. The heroics of their lives and stories remain unsung, like many of those serving their country in the shadows today.
This Fourth of July, to celebrate the anniversary of our independence, we are shining the spotlight on one such hero, a man who risked his life to save General George Washington. Twice. A man who helped convert Alexander Hamilton from a Tory to a Patriot. A man who successfully ran his own New York City business and used that business to live among the British, befriending them and covertly acquiring information while overtly tarnishing his reputation with the Patriots. That’s right, Hercules Mulligan.

History of Boston's Water System (slide presentation; Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, October 6, 2016)

Earthquakes of the First 15 Years of the 21st Century (4-min. video; NOAA, December 2, 2016)

Why Excessive Consumption Limits your Creativity (Medium, May 2016)

Is the World Ready for a Guaranteed Basic Income? (Freakonomics, 2016)

Scientists Are Pro-Testing (Science, 2017)

The Gerasimov Doctrine (Politico, 2017)
"It’s Russia’s new chaos theory of political warfare. And it’s probably being used on you.

We All Want Healthcare To Cost Much Less  -  But We Are Asking The Wrong Question, by Joe Flowers (Medium, 2017)
"Imagine this: Healthcare  -  the whole system  -  for half as much. Better, more effective. No rationing. Everybody in.

Kim Hill: Sustainability is Destroying the Earth: The Green Economy vs. The Planet (Deep Green Resistance News Service, May 25, 2017)
What is it we are trying to sustain? A living planet, or industrial civilization? Because we can’t have both.

Thirteen things the public sector does better than the 'free' market (Daily Kos, October 1, 2017)

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest An Answer. (New York Times, November 7, 2017)

MichaelMoore.com

Our Revolution

Angry White House Staffer

GOP Rape Advisory Chart

The Loneliness of Donald Trump; On the Corrosive Privilege of the Most Mocked Man in the World, by Rebecca Solnit

Vote Sleuth: Investigating Democracy (Los Angeles Times, 2017)

The way Donald Trump is handling his job as president (Gallup Poll Daily Data)

PutinTrump.org

Donald Trump (Vice)

Obamacare 101: Here's what you need to know (Los Angeles Times, 2017)

Duty To Warn (Duty To Warn, 2017)
Duty To Warn is an association of mental health professionals and other concerned citizens who advocate Trump’s removal under the 25th Amendment on the grounds that he is psychologically unfit.

The way Donald Trump is handling his job as president (Gallup Poll Daily Data)

"Who am I? Why am I here?" (#25thAmendmentNow)
A running thread of Trump not knowing where he is, how he got there, or the appropriate response to give in the moment. Some mental health professionals are concerned that he may be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's, but he might just be an idiot.

The Hamilton 68 Dashboard tracks Russian influence operations on Twitter. (Hosted by the Alliance for Securing Democracy.)

How Facebook’s destructive ethos imperils democracy (The Guardian, March 17, 2018)

Atlas Of Utopias (Transformative Cities, 2018)

CONGRESSIONAL SCORECARD; Congressional Civil Liberties Record in the Trump Era ACLU, 2018)

Chart: The percentage of women and men in each profession (Boston Globe)

Smoking bans in private vehicles (Wikipedia)

Light Cycles, by Quinn Norton

States of Anarchy (New Republic, 2010)
America’s long, sordid affair with nullification.

"The Suffocation of Democracy", by Christopher R. Browning (New York Review Of Books, October 13, 2018)
If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments.
Trump's personal flaws and his tactic of appealing to a narrow base while energizing Democrats and alienating independents may lead to precisely that rare wave election needed to provide a congressional check on the administration as well as the capture of enough state governorships and legislatures to begin reversing current trends in gerrymandering and voter suppression. The elections of 2018 and 2020 will be vital in testing how far the electoral system has deteriorated.
Alongside the erosion of an independent judiciary as a check on executive power, other hallmarks of illiberal democracy are the neutralization of a free press and the steady diminution of basic human rights. On these issues, often described as the guardrails of democracy against authoritarian encroachment, the Trump administration either has won or seems poised to win significant gains for illiberalism. Upon his appointment as chancellor, Hitler immediately created a new Ministry of People's Enlightenment and Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels, who remained one of his closest political advisers. In Trump’s presidency, those functions have effectively been privatized in the form of Fox News and Sean Hannity. The highly critical free media not only provide no effective check on Trump's ability to be a serial liar without political penalty; on the contrary, they provide yet another enemy around which to mobilize the grievances and resentments of his base. A free press does not have to be repressed when it can be rendered irrelevant and even exploited for political gain.

She Votes (NPR's special SERIES on women and the vote, October 20, 2018)

Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2017 (ADL Center on Extremism, February 27, 2018)
Over the past 10 years (2008-17), domestic extremists have been responsible for at least 387 murders; of these, 274 (71%) were committed by right-wing extremists of one type or another.

Quantifying Hate: A Year of Anti-Semitism on Twitter (ADL Report, May 7, 2018)

Why read Aristotle today? (Aeon, May 29, 2018)
Modern self-help draws heavily on Stoic philosophy. But Aristotle was better at understanding real human happiness.

The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready? (Atlantic, July 1, 2018)
The epidemics of the early 21st century revealed a world unprepared, even as the risks continue to multiply. Much worse is coming.
On average, in one corner of the world or another, a new infectious disease has emerged every year for the past 30 years: mers, Nipah, Hendra, and many more. Researchers estimate that birds and mammals harbor anywhere from 631,000 to 827,000 unknown viruses that could potentially leap into humans. Valiant efforts are under way to identify them all, and scan for them in places like poultry farms and bushmeat markets, where animals and people are most likely to encounter each other. Still, we likely won’t ever be able to predict which will spill over next; even long-known viruses like Zika, which was discovered in 1947, can suddenly develop into unforeseen epidemics.
One hundred years ago, in 1918, a strain of H1N1 flu swept the world. It might have originated in Haskell County, Kansas, or in France or China—but soon it was everywhere. In two years, it killed as many as 100 million people—5 percent of the world’s population, and far more than the number who died in World War I. It killed not just the very young, old, and sick, but also the strong and fit, bringing them down through their own violent immune responses. It killed so quickly that hospitals ran out of beds, cities ran out of coffins, and coroners could not meet the demand for death certificates. It lowered Americans’ life expectancy by more than a decade. “The flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death,” Laura Spinney wrote in Pale Rider, her 2017 book about the pandemic. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history—a potent reminder of the threat posed by disease.
Despite advances in antibiotics and vaccines, and the successful eradication of smallpox, Homo sapiens is still locked in the same epic battle with viruses and other pathogens that we’ve been fighting since the beginning of our history. When cities first arose, diseases laid them low, a process repeated over and over for millennia. When Europeans colonized the Americas, smallpox followed. When soldiers fought in the first global war, influenza hitched a ride, and found new opportunities in the unprecedented scale of the conflict. Down through the centuries, diseases have always excelled at exploiting flux.
Humanity is now in the midst of its fastest-ever period of change. There were almost 2 billion people alive in 1918; there are now 7.6 billion, and they have migrated rapidly into cities, which since 2008 have been home to more than half of all human beings. In these dense throngs, pathogens can more easily spread and more quickly evolve resistance to drugs. Not coincidentally, the total number of outbreaks per decade has more than tripled since the 1980s.
Globalization compounds the risk: Airplanes now carry almost 10 times as many passengers around the world as they did four decades ago. In the ’80s, HIV showed how potent new diseases can be, by launching a slow-moving pandemic that has since claimed about 35 million lives. In 2003, another newly discovered virus, sars, spread decidedly more quickly. This is a new epoch of disease, when geographic barriers disappear and threats that once would have been local go global.
The United States has nationwide vaccination programs, advanced hospitals, the latest diagnostic tests. In the National Institutes of Health, it has the world’s largest biomedical research establishment, and in the CDC, arguably the world’s strongest public-health agency. America is as ready to face down new diseases as any country in the world.
Yet even the U.S. is disturbingly vulnerable—and in some respects is becoming quickly more so. It depends on a just-in-time medical economy, in which stockpiles are limited and even key items are made to order. Most of the intravenous bags used in the country are manufactured in Puerto Rico, so when Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September, the bags fell in short supply. Some hospitals were forced to inject saline with syringes—and so syringe supplies started running low too. The most common lifesaving drugs all depend on long supply chains that include India and China—chains that would likely break in a severe pandemic. “Each year, the system gets leaner and leaner,” says Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It doesn’t take much of a hiccup anymore to challenge it.”
Perhaps most important, the U.S. is prone to the same forgetfulness and shortsightedness that befall all nations, rich and poor—and the myopia has worsened considerably in recent years. Public-health programs are low on money; hospitals are stretched perilously thin; crucial funding is being slashed. And while we tend to think of science when we think of pandemic response, the worse the situation, the more the defense depends on political leadership.
When Ebola flared in 2014, the science-minded President Barack Obama calmly and quickly took the reins. The White House is now home to a president who is neither calm nor science-minded. We should not underestimate what that may mean if risk becomes reality.
American hospitals, which often operate unnervingly close to full capacity, likewise struggled with the surge of patients. Pediatric units were hit especially hard by H1N1, and staff became exhausted from continuously caring for sick children. Hospitals almost ran out of the life-support units that sustain people whose lungs and hearts start to fail. The health-care system didn’t break, but it came too close for comfort—especially for what turned out to be a training-wheels pandemic. The 2009 H1N1 strain killed merely 0.03 percent of those it infected; by contrast, the 1918 strain had killed 1 to 3 percent, and the H7N9 strain currently circulating in China has a fatality rate of 40 percent.
That the U.S. could be so ill-prepared for flu, of all things, should be deeply concerning. The country has a dedicated surveillance web, antiviral drugs, and an infrastructure for making and deploying flu vaccines. None of that exists for the majority of other emerging infectious diseases.
The Hospital Preparedness Program is a funding plan that was created in the wake of 9/11 to help hospitals ready themselves for disasters, run training drills, and build their surge capacity—everything that Shelly Schwedhelm’s team does so well in Nebraska. It transformed emergency planning from an after-hours avocation into an actual profession, carried out by skilled specialists. But since 2003, its $514 million budget has been halved. Another fund—the Public Health Emergency Preparedness program—was created at the same time to help state and local health departments keep an eye on infectious diseases, improve their labs, and train epidemiologists. Its budget has been pruned to 70 percent of its $940 million peak. Small wonder, then, that in the past decade, local health departments have cut more than 55,000 jobs. That’s 55,000 people who won’t be there to answer the call when the next epidemic hits.
These sums of money are paltry compared with what another pandemic might cost the country. Diseases are exorbitantly expensive. In response to just 10 cases of Ebola in 2014, the U.S. spent $1.1 billion on domestic preparations, including $119 million on screening and quarantine. A severe 1918-style flu pandemic would drain an estimated $683 billion from American coffers, according to the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health. The World Bank estimates that global output would fall by almost 5 percent—totaling some $4 trillion.
The U.S. is not unfamiliar with the concept of preparedness. It currently spends roughly half a trillion dollars on its military—the highest defense budget in the world, equal to the combined budgets of the next seven top countries. But against viruses—more likely to kill millions than any rogue state is—such consistent investments are nowhere to be found.
Organizing a federal response to an emerging pandemic is harder than one might think. The largely successful U.S. response to Ebola in 2014 benefited from the special appointment of an “Ebola czar”—Klain—to help coordinate the many agencies that face unclear responsibilities. In 2016, when Obama asked for $1.9 billion to fight Zika, Congress devolved into partisan squabbling. Republicans wanted to keep the funds away from clinics that worked with Planned Parenthood, and Democrats opposed the restriction. It took more than seven months to appropriate $1.1 billion; by then, the CDC and NIH had been forced to divert funds meant to deal with flu, HIV, and the next Ebola.
At some point, a new virus will emerge to test Trump’s mettle. What happens then? He has no background in science or health, and has surrounded himself with little such expertise. The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, a group of leading scientists who consult on policy matters, is dormant. The Office of Science and Technology Policy, which has advised presidents on everything from epidemics to nuclear disasters since 1976, is diminished. The head of that office typically acts as the president’s chief scientific consigliere, but to date no one has been appointed. Other parts of Trump’s administration that will prove crucial during an epidemic have operated like an Etch A Sketch. During the nine months I spent working on this story, Tom Price resigned as secretary of health and human services after using taxpayer money to fund charter flights (although his replacement, Alex Azar, is arguably better prepared, having dealt with anthrax, flu, and sars during the Bush years). Brenda Fitzgerald stepped down as CDC director after it became known that she had bought stock in tobacco companies; her replacement, Robert Redfield, has a long track record studying HIV, but relatively little public-health experience. Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer, a veteran malaria fighter, was appointed to the National Security Council, in part to oversee the development of the White House’s forthcoming biosecurity strategy. When I met Ziemer at the White House in February, he hadn’t spoken with the president, but said pandemic preparedness was a priority for the administration. He left in May.

ADL H.E.A.T. Map (ADL, August 9, 2018)

Mapped: How every part of the world has warmed – and could continue to warm (Carbon Brief, September 26, 2018)

The Future Of Electric Cars Is China (Quartz, series beginning December 10, 2018)
The world awaits an electric-car future, but that future is rapidly becoming the present in China. The country is on track to sell more than 1 million electric vehicles in 2018, nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. And with tens of billions of dollars already invested to build up an electric-car infrastructure (and tens of billions more on the way), China is not letting up in its pace to become the world leader in EVs.

The Great Filter - the most important question in history (Daily Kos, November 3, 2018)

NEW: Trump’s Hidden Powers (Brennan Center for Justice, December 5, 2018)
A vast array of obscure presidential powers spans everything from the military to criminal law, and some are ripe for abuse. They need to be re-examined.
Building on previous research in this area, the Brennan Center has identified 123 statutory powers that may become available to the president when she declares a national emergency. An additional 13 statutory powers become available when a national emergency is declared by Congress. We created a database that assembles these 136 powers by subject matter, specifies the conditions triggering their use, and lists the occasions, if any, on which they have been invoked. (The methodology we used to compile the database is available here.) We have also developed a running list of national emergencies declared since the National Emergencies Act went into effect.
These resources are eye-opening in many ways: in the nature of the powers provided, in how easily the executive can access them, and in how they have been used (or misused).

NEW: In Case Of Emergency: What Can a President Do During a State of Emergency? (The Atlantic, January-February  2019)
From seizing control of the internet to declaring martial law, President Trump may legally do all kinds of extraordinary things.
More is at stake here than the outcome of one or even two elections. Trump has long signaled his disdain for the concepts of limited presidential power and democratic rule. During his 2016 campaign, he praised murderous dictators. He declared that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, would be in jail if he were president, goading crowds into frenzied chants of “Lock her up.” He hinted that he might not accept an electoral loss. As democracies around the world slide into autocracy, and nationalism and antidemocratic sentiment are on vivid display among segments of the American populace, Trump’s evident hostility to key elements of liberal democracy cannot be dismissed as mere bluster.

Voices From The Field; FBI Agent Accounts of the Real Consequences of the Government Shutdown (FBI Agents Assn., January 2019)
If the FBI and Dept. of Justice are not funded, the Agents will continue to face challenges in carrying out our mission to protect the nation.

50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency (The Atlantic, January 21, 2019)

Tracking Trump: The President’s Standing Across America (Morning Consult)
On a daily basis, Morning Consult is surveying over 5,000 registered voters across the United States on President Trump. Each month, we’ll update this page with the latest survey data, providing a clear picture of Trump’s approval and re-election prospects.

Russia Investigation Summary (Teri Kanefield, continuing)
Muller Probe Overview: Documents Filed, Crimes, etc.

A Timeline of Earth's Average Temperature Since The Last Ice Age Glaciation (xkcd)

Global Climate Change; Vital Signs Of The Planet (NASA, current)

Climate Change (United Nations)

Bernie Sanders: The Green New Deal (2019)

Sizing Up the Carbon Footprint of Cities (NASA, April 11, 2019)
Large and wealthy cities have the biggest carbon footprints.

Earthquake and Volcano Activity, Worldwide, 2001-2015 (NASA, NOAA)

Nancy Pelosi, by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Time100, 2019)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by Elizabeth Warren (Time100, 2019)
Greta Thunberg, by Emma González (Time100, 2019)

The Privacy Project (New York Times, 2019)

Zero Waste: Our country has a waste problem. It’s time for new solutions, and a renewed commitment to move toward zero waste. (MassPIRG, 2019)

NEW: God on Grass (Permaculture Research Institute, October 8, 2010)
[We have met the enemy, and he is us! --Pogo]

50 Days to the Moon (Fast Company, 2019)

On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt (Princeton University)
I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis.

It’s Time to Break Up Facebook, by Chris Hughes (New York Times, May 9, 2019)
Mr. Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, is a co-chairman of the Economic Security Project and a senior adviser at the Roosevelt Institute:
"Mark Zuckerberg’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive. The company’s mistakes - the sloppy privacy practices that dropped tens of millions of users’ data into a political consulting firm’s lap; the slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news; and the unbounded drive to capture ever more of our time and attention - dominate the headlines.
Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. He controls three core communications platforms - Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - that billions of people use every day. Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares. Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.
"Mark is a good, kind person. But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders. And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them. The government must hold Mark accountable."

Demand an impeachment inquiry (Common Cause, July 25, 2019)
No American, especially not the President, is above the law.

Leading Civil Rights Lawyer Shows 20 Ways Trump Is Copying Hitler’s Early Rhetoric and Policies (Common Cause, August 9, 2019)
Burt Neuborne questions whether federal government can contain Trump and GOP power grabs.
Many recent presidents have been awful, but then there was Donald Trump, the only president in recent American history to openly despise the twin ideals—individual dignity and fundamental equality—upon which the contemporary United States is built. When you confront the reality of a president like Trump, the state of both sets of brakes—internal [constitutional] and external [public resistance]—become hugely important because Donald Trump’s political train runs on the most potent and dangerous fuel of all: a steady diet of fear, greed, loathing, lies, and envy. It’s a toxic mixture that has destroyed democracies before, and can do so again.
Give Trump credit. He did his homework well and became the twenty-first-century master of divisive rhetoric. We’re used to thinking of Hitler’s Third Reich as the incomparably evil tyranny that it undoubtedly was. But Hitler didn’t take power by force. He used a set of rhetorical tropes - codified in Trump’s bedside reading - that persuaded enough Germans to welcome Hitler as a populist leader. The Nazis did not overthrow the Weimar Republic. It fell into their hands as the fruit of Hitler’s satanic ability to mesmerize enough Germans to trade their birthright for a pottage of scapegoating, short-term economic gain, xenophobia, and racism. It could happen here.

United States Of Plastic (The Guardian, August 2019)

100 Photos - The Most Influential Images of All Time (Time Magazine, 2016)
Explore the stories behind 100 images that changed the world, selected by TIME and an international team of curators.
Top 100 Photos of 2018 (Time Magazine)

Globalization Isn’t Dying, It’s Just Evolving (Bloomberg, July 23, 2019)
We are entering a new era in which data is the new shipping container and there are far more disruptive forces at work in the world economy than Trump’s tariffs. New manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing and the automation of factories are reducing the economic incentives to offshore production. The smartphones we carry with us are not just products of globalization but accelerants for it. For good or bad, we are more exposed to a global culture of ideas than we have ever been. And we are only becoming more global as a result.

The 1619 Project (The New York Times, August 14, 2019)
In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. In the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

"Tending Soil", by Emma Marris (with podcast; Emergence Magazine, October 2019)
In almost every culture, Earth is female: Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama, Terra, Prithvi - goddesses that, like the soil, have the power to create new life. The mystery of working with soil is that the best way to make it more fertile - more life-giving - is to mix in dead things. Soil is the medium through which death becomes life. It is the liminal stuff that exists after death and rot but before sprouting life, growth, and nourishment.

Millionaires Surtax: A Winning Issue In 2020 (Surtax, October 2019)

WMO Provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019 (World Meteorological Association, December 3, 2019)

Global Transport of Smoke from Australian Bushfires (2-min. video; NASA)

The Deep Sea (Neal Agarwal)

The 21st-Century American Axis Of Evil (Jonathan Gordon, 2019)

The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report (U.S. House Intelligence Committee, December 3, 2019
Also, here is CNN's annotated version.

Impeachment in the United States (Wikipedia)

President Trump House Impeachment Brief (U.S. House of Representatives, January 18, 2020)

Tracking President Trump's Unprecedented Conflicts of Interest (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington)

Environmental voter guide (Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, 2020)
We graded the 2020 Democratic candidates on four key environmental areas, and produced this environmental report card.

100th Anniversary of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, January 2020)
"So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy." - ACLU founder Roger Baldwin
When a roomful of civil liberties activists - led by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, and Albert DeSilver - formed the ACLU in 1920, the Supreme Court had yet to uphold a single free speech claim. Activists languished in jail for distributing anti-war literature. State-sanctioned violence against African-Americans was routine. Women won the right to vote only in August of that year. And constitutional rights for LGBT people were unthinkable.
The ACLU was founded to ensure the promise of the Bill of Rights and to expand its reach to people historically denied its protections. In our first year, we fought the harassment and deportation of immigrants whose activism put them at odds with the authorities. In 1939, we won in the Supreme Court the right for unions to organize. We stood almost alone in 1942 in denouncing our government's round-up and internment in concentration camps of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans. And at times in our history when frightened civilians have been willing to give up some of their freedoms and rights in the name of national security, the ACLU has been the bulwark for liberty.

There isn’t a simple story about looting. (Vox, June 2, 2020)
“The question you have to ask yourself is: Why are there so many people in our society who don’t have a lot to lose?” says sociologist Darnell Hunt.

Neo-Völkisch (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Born out of an atavistic defiance of modernity and rationalism, present-day neo-Völkisch, or Folkish, adherents and groups are organized around ethnocentricity and archaic notions of gender.

Political Coordinates Test (Individual Differences Research, 2020)
This free political observance test will allow you to obtain your scores on the two major political scales found in Western democracies. Though there are several other "political coordinates" and "political observance" tests in existence, these tests have commonly been criticized for seeking to trick the respondent into answering in a certain way, for example by applying spin to the questions or framing them in such a way as to provoke emotional reactions in the respondent. By contrast, this test attempts to simply confront you with the questions without any coating or spin.

Benjamin Franklin and the Power of Long-Term Investing (Edelman Financial Engines, 2020)
Remembered for being a publisher, scientist, diplomat and inventor, he was also the first truly long-term investor.

Shoshana Zuboff: You Are Now Remotely Controlled. (New York Times, January 24, 2020)
The belief that privacy is private has left us careening toward a future that we did not choose. Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth.

The Day Democracy Died (9-min. YouTube video sung by The Founding Fathers, February 8, 2020)

White-Collar Crime (Huffington Post, February 10, 2020)
Over the last two years, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. Corporate behemoths like Boeing and Wells Fargo have traded blue-chip credibility for white-collar callousness. Elite universities are selling admission spots to the highest Hollywood bidder. Silicon Valley unicorns have revealed themselves as long cons (Theranos), venture-capital cremation devices (Uber, WeWork) or straightforward comic book supervillains (Facebook). Every week unearths a cabinet-level political scandal that would have defined any other presidency. From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it.
And why wouldn't they? The criminal justice system has given up all pretense that the crimes of the wealthy are worth taking seriously. The rich are enjoying a golden age of impunity unprecedented in modern history. Elite deviance has become the dark matter of American life, the invisible force around which the country's most powerful legal and political systems have set their orbit.

A Short History Of Arson (Phys.org, December 5, 2014)
Arson has evolved from a wrongful individual act into an effective means of collective violence.

Opinion Polls (Civiqs)

The Long-Term Impact of DACA: Forging Futures Despite DACA’s Uncertainty (Harvard University, 2019)
The experiences of our respondents over the last seven years powerfully highlight the importance and success of DACA—the results are indisputable. DACA has given its beneficiaries and their families a giant boost and they have achieved significant social mobility. It has also powerfully shaped personhood and agency. Nevertheless, the temporary and partial nature of DACA leaves many issues unaddressed and has created some new dilemmas. The findings of this report have clear implications for U.S. immigration policy and community practice.
In the last section, we offer a set of recommendations for policymakers, stakeholders, and educators. Ultimately, we believe that a broader immigration reform that includes a pathway to legalization would resolve most challenges experienced by DACA beneficiaries and their families. However, we also acknowledge that needs are urgent, and that a range of community stakeholders may be able to address many issues locally and immediately.

Joe Biden's Vision For America (Biden for President, July 4, 2020)

NEW: MAGA2020.com (Donald Trump's vision)

NEW: 2020 U.S. Election Forecast (FiveThirtyEight, 2020)
[Why FiveThirtyEight? Let Daily Kos explain, or read his 2016 prediction.]

NEW: Five takeaways from final Senate Intel Russia report (The Hill, August 18, 2020)

NEW: Animated Map: The History of U.S. Counties (Visual Capitalist, July 31, 2020)
This quick-moving animation shows how the U.S. county map has evolved since the 17th century.

Resources re Coronavirus pandemic:
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak (World Health Organization, latest status and advice)
How the Virus Won (New York Times, June 25, 2020)
Invisible outbreaks sprang up everywhere. The United States ignored the warning signs. We analyzed travel patterns, hidden infections and genetic data to show how the epidemic spun out of control.
Inside the Coronavirus (Scientific American, July 2020 Issue)
What scientists know about the inner workings of the pathogen that has infected the world.
Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker (New York Times)
Researchers around the world are developing more than 155 vaccines against the coronavirus, and 23 vaccines are in human trials. Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before reaching the clinic, but scientists are racing to produce a safe and effective vaccine by next year.
What’s the Best Material for a Mask? (New York Times, June 20, 2020)
Scientists are testing everyday items to find the best protection from coronavirus. Pillow cases, flannel pajamas and origami vacuum bags are all candidates.
Coronavirus May Be a Blood Vessel Disease, Which Explains Everything. (Medium, June 1, 2020)
Many of the infection’s bizarre symptoms have one thing in common.
Monster or Machine? A Profile of the Coronavirus at 6 Months (New York Times, June 2, 2020)
Our “hidden enemy,” in plain sight.
3D model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at atomic resolution (2-min. video; Vimeo, May 11, 2020)
From hair salons to gyms, experts rank 36 activities by coronavirus risk level. (Michigan Live, June 8, 2020)
From Camping To Dining Out: Here's How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities (NPR, May 23, 2020)
The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them (Erin Bromage, May 6, 2020)
Comprehensive COVID-19 reporting (by Seattle-area 17-year-old Avi Schiffman)
Infection Trajectory: See Which Countries are Flattening Their COVID-19 Curve (Visual Capitalist)
The 7 Best COVID-19 Resources We’ve Discovered So Far (Visual Capitalist)
Coronavirus Worldwide Graphs (Worldometers)
COVID-19 Global Visualizer (Carnegie Mellon University)
Rt Covid-19 Curves for U.S. States (June 6, 2020)
These are up-to-date values for Rt, a key measure of how fast the virus is growing. It’s the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person.
How to Talk About the Coronavirus (The Atlantic, March 31, 2020)
Four ways to help those around you be better informed about the pandemic.
Epidemic Calculator (GitHub)
U.S. Projected hospital resource use based on COVID-19 deaths, assuming continued social distancing until the end of May 2020 (IHME Group at the Washington Univ. St. Louis)
Daily Coronavirus Briefing (New York Times)
What Is Coronavirus? (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
Coronavirus Myths and Facts (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
Misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic (Wikipedia)
We Need to Talk About Ventilation. (The Atlantic, July 30, 2020)
How is it that six months into a respiratory pandemic, we are still doing so little to mitigate airborne transmission?
Coronavirus: Disinfectant firm warns after Trump comments. (BBC News, April 24, 2020)
How to Wear a Face Mask Correctly: Common Mistakes to Avoid (NBC Boston, April 22, 2020)
Here’s What We Know about the Most Touted Drugs Tested for COVID-19 (Scientific American, April 16, 2020)
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Research and Statistics (Our World In Data)
Coronavirus Resource Hub (Consumer Reports)
Information on the Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Massachusetts Department of Public Health)
2020 coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts (Wikipedia)
Information about the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Stanford CA Hospital)
Coronavirus is most contagious before and during the first week of symptoms. (Science News, March 13, 2020)
People stop making infectious virus once the body’s antibody response kicks in. All symptoms may not appear, and NO symptoms may appear until after most contagious period.
Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, MD: Safety tips for grocery and take-out shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic (14-min. video; YouTube, March 28, 2020)
Michael Osterholm on the Coronavirus pandemic (1.5-hour video; Joe Rogan Experience #1439, March 10, 2020)
Michael Osterholm is an internationally recognized expert in infectious disease epidemiology. He is Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School, all at the University of Minnesota. Look for his book "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Deadly Germs" for more info.
Doctors and nurses demonstrate breathing techniques proven to help with coronavirus symptoms. (Daily Kos, April 8, 2020)
Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19. (The Atlantic, August 19, 2020)
Without understanding the lingering illness that some patients experience, we can’t understand the pandemic.
How Trump Gutted Obama’s Pandemic-Preparedness Systems (Vanity Fair, May 1, 2020)
Former officials: Trump’s reshuffling of positions and departments, focus on business solutions, downgrading of science, left the country dangerously unprepared for an unprecedented pandemic.
A Complete List of Trump’s Attempts to Play Down Coronavirus (New York Times, March 15, 2020)
He could have taken action. He didn’t. Instead, he has continued many of his old patterns of self-congratulation, blame-shifting and misinformation. Trump now seems to understand that coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon. But he also seems to view it mostly as a public-relations emergency for himself rather than a public-health emergency for the country.
Answers to Common Questions About Coronavirus and the Food You Eat (Consumer Reports, April 1, 2020)
Food safety experts address 12 top concerns.
'It will disappear': the disinformation Trump spread about the coronavirus – timeline (The Guardian, April 14, 2020)
Heather Cox Richardson: Today, Trump and his supporters doubled down on the idea that the coronavirus is a “hoax”. (Letters from an American, February 28, 2020)
Today, Trump and his supporters doubled down on the idea that the coronavirus is a “hoax,” as Trump said, perpetrated by Democrats eager to tank his presidency. That would explain the dramatic drop of the stock market this week as nothing but an emotional reaction to “fake news.” It would mean that the strong economy Trump has hyped as his major contribution to the country—he denies that his predecessor Barack Obama had anything to do with it, although economic numbers under Obama were as good or better than today’s—remains intact, so long as people will ignore those dastardly Democrats... the Democrats that Donald Trump, Jr. says are hoping the coronavirus “comes here and kills millions of people so that they can end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.”
This is one heck of a gamble, and it reveals the corner into which the administration’s reliance on a false narrative has painted it. Under Trump, the country is great again… so the virus can’t be a problem. The rising stock market has proved that the economy is brilliant and Trump gets all the credit for it… so the falling stock market must be fake, or else the fault of jealous Democrats.
But the virus isn’t playing Trump’s game. It is spreading. Today, after we learned there are more than 85,000 known cases in the world and more than 2,900 known deaths, the director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program warned “every government on the planet” to “wake up. Get ready. You have a duty to your citizens. You have a duty to the world to be ready.”
America’s uniquely bad Covid-19 epidemic, explained in 18 maps and charts (Vox, August 11, 2020)
It’s now clear the United States has failed to contain its Covid-19 epidemic, with case counts far ahead of other developed nations and more than 1,000 deaths reported a day for over two weeks and counting. Asked if America’s coronavirus outbreak is the worst in the world, White House adviser and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci admitted it was on August 5: “Yeah, it is. Quantitatively, if you look at it, it is. I mean, the numbers don’t lie.”
It didn’t have to be this way. In March and April, other developed countries had significant Covid-19 outbreaks, but they did a much better job than the US in containing the coronavirus and keeping it down after the virus arrived. So while some other developed nations have experienced upticks, they all pale in comparison to the massive surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that the US has seen since May and June.
Here’s what you need to know.
Food and Coronavirus Disease 2019/COVID-19 (CDC, Aug. 22, 2020)
- The risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food (including frozen food and produce) and food packages is considered very low.
- Take everyday actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Continue following basic steps for food safety and eat nutritious foods to take care of your physical and mental health.
CDC reverses itself and says guidelines it posted on coronavirus airborne transmission were wrong. (5-min. video; Washington Post, September 21, 2020)
Despite expert recommendations, CDC removes statement, claiming website error. The agency had posted information Friday stating the virus can transmit over a distance beyond six feet, suggesting that indoor ventilation is key to protecting against a virus that has now killed nearly 200,000 Americans. Where the agency previously warned that the virus mostly spreads through large drops encountered at close range, on Friday, it had said “small particles, such as those in aerosols,” were a common vector.
The edited Web page has removed all references to airborne spread, except for a disclaimer that recommendations based on this mode of transmission are under review.
For months, scientists and public health experts have warned of mounting evidence that the coronavirus is airborne, transmitted through tiny droplets called aerosols that linger in the air much longer than the larger globs that come from coughing or sneezing.
Despair at CDC after Trump influence: 'I have never seen morale this low.' (The Hill, September 23, 2020)
NEW: The Coronavirus Unveiled (with stunning photos and links; New York Times, October 9, 2020)
The first pictures of the coronavirus, taken just seven months ago, resembled barely discernible smudges. But scientists have since captured the virus and its structures in intimate, atomic detail, offering crucial insights into how it functions.
Less than a millionth of an inch wide, the virus is studded with proteins called spikes that attach to cells in people’s airways, allowing the virus to infiltrate. But under an electron microscope, the proteins look more like tulips than spikes, consisting of long stems topped with what looks like a three-part flower. These spikes also swivel on a three-way hinge, which may increase their odds of encountering and attaching to proteins on human cells.
NEW: UN: New daily record as COVID-19 cases hit more than 350,000 (Associated Press, October 9, 2020)
In a press briefing on Friday, WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan acknowledged that even as COVID-19 continues to surge across the world, “there are no new answers.” He said that although the agency wants countries to avoid the punishing lockdowns that have devastated economies, governments must ensure the most vulnerable people are protected and numerous measures must be taken. “The majority of people in the world are still susceptible to this disease,” Ryan warned. He said countries should focus not just on restrictive measures, but also on bolstering their surveillance systems, testing, contact tracing and ensuring populations are engaged.
Globally, more than 36 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including more than 1 million deaths. Experts say the tally far underestimates the real number of cases and Ryan said on Monday that the WHO’s “best estimates” were that one in 10 people worldwide — or roughly 760 million people — may have been infected.
NEW: The White House blocked the C.D.C. from requiring masks on public transportation. (New York Times, October 9, 2020)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted a sweeping order last month requiring all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation in the United States, but it was blocked by the White House, according to two federal health officials. The order would have been the toughest federal mandate to date aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which continues to infect more than 40,000 Americans a day. The officials said that it was drafted under the agency’s “quarantine powers” and that it had the support of the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, but the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, declined to even discuss it. The order would have required face coverings on airplanes, trains, buses and subways, and in transit hubs such as airports, train stations and bus depots.
A task force official said the decision to require masks should be left up to states and localities. The administration requires the task force to sign off on coronavirus-related policies.
NEW: Lungs (and COVID-19) (Quartz, October 14, 2020)
The thing about lungs—and most of our health for that matter—is that when they’re working well, we barely notice them. It’s only when they’re threatened by something like a global respiratory pandemic that we start to notice just how talented these organs actually are.



   
Pertinent Posts

A Day-By-Day Guide to What Could Happen If This Election Goes Bad (Politico, October 23, 2020)
The coronavirus pandemic was always going to make the 2020 election uniquely complicated, and Donald Trump’s norm-busting style was always going to make it tense, but headlines in recent days have started to read like political thriller plot lines. We’ve seen Iranian skullduggery, dummy ballot boxes and mysterious threatening emails. Congressional Democrats are pleading with the military to respect a peaceful transition of power. A poll shows that barely a fifth of Americans believe this year’s election will be “free and fair.” There’s concern about violence, especially by militias and white supremacists. Some Americans are even laying in extra food and water, fearing what comes next.
Americans have little experience navigating disputed elections at this scale, and none at all doing so with a president hinting he might not leave office if he loses.
Visualizing How the Pandemic is Impacting American Wallets (Visual Capitalist, October 23, 2020)
In the past seven months, 42% of U.S. consumers have missed paying one or more bills, while over a third (39%) believe they will need to skip payments in the future. This visualization breaks down the state of U.S. consumers’ personal finances during the COVID-19 era, and projects into future concerns around savings.
U.S. Virus Hospitalizations Up 40 Percent in the Last Month. (New York Times, October 23, 2020)
More than 75,000 new cases were reported in the U.S. on Thursday, the second-highest daily total nationwide since the pandemic began.
The Trump administration shut down a vaccine safety office last year. Now what? (New York Times, October 23, 2020)
A Debate Pledge to ‘Transition’ From Oil Puts Climate at Center of Campaign Finale. (New York Times, October 23, 2020)
In no political year has climate change been as dominant an issue as in 2020. Both presidential debates delved into the matter in depth for the first time in history.
Mr. Biden campaigned hard on promises to reduce planet-warming emissions, proposing a $2 trillion program to promote clean energy, construct 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations and build 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes.
President Trump has worked sporadically to moderate his longtime climate denial by promoting tree-planting as an environmental solution, even as he has maintained his avid support for the coal and oil industries, taken steps to roll back climate regulation implemented by his predecessor and moved to withdraw the United States from the international Paris Agreement on climate change.
Fact-Checking the Final Presidential Debate (New York Times, October 23, 2020)
In their final debate, President Trump unleashed an unrelenting series of false, misleading and exaggerated statements as he sought to distort former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s record and positions and boost his own re-election hopes. The president once again relied heavily on well-worn talking points that have long been shown to be false.
The president appeared determined to reinvent the reality of the last four years — and the history of the pandemic in 2020 — as he faces judgment on his actions in just 12 days. He once again falsely dismissed the Russia investigations as a “phony witch hunt.” He insisted that aside from Abraham Lincoln, “nobody has done more for the Black community,” an assertion that people in both parties find laughable. And he tried again to wish away the pandemic, saying “we are rounding the turn” even as daily cases of the virus this week topped 70,000 in the United States for the first time since July.
The clash between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump was contentious but more well-behaved than their first debate, with fewer interruptions. Mr. Biden made false statements, too: He falsely accused Mr. Trump of having “caused the deficit with China to go up,” and he exaggerated when he suggested that “red states” in the Midwest were having spikes in the virus. But Mr. Trump relied more on questionable and specious arguments about Mr. Biden’s family, Democratic policy positions and his own record, leading Mr. Biden to repeatedly express exasperation by saying, “C’mon, man!"
Mr. Trump has repeatedly sought to reinvent the history of investigations into his campaign’s connections to Russia. He did so again on Thursday, insisting that the special counsel inquiry led by Robert S. Mueller III “found absolutely no collusion and nothing wrong.” That is not true. After a 22-month investigation, Mr. Mueller issued a 448-page report that detailed numerous contacts between the president’s aides and Russians, found that the Trump campaign was aware of and welcomed the Kremlin’s operations to sabotage the 2016 election, and also detailed efforts by the president and his advisers to thwart the investigation.
The United States is not “rounding the turn”, as Trump claimed, when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, there is now a third surge.
No Debate Disaster. No National Embarrassment. No One Cares. (Politico, October 23, 2020)
There was a rough consensus in the political class before Thursday night’s presidential debate about what both candidates and the moderator needed to do to avoid a disaster. Defying precedent, both candidates and the moderator did those things.
The result: No disaster. No national embarrassment with a debate that hurtled off the rails. And likely no big alterations in a race that has stayed basically stable even through 2020’s twin traumas of pandemic and racial unrest and will finally end just 11 days from now.
Heather Cox Richardson: Tonight’s final presidential debate will likely not change the trajectory of the election. (Letters From An American, October 22, 2020)
Also: Intelligence officials warned today that Russia recently hacked into our local and state computer networks. This could compromise our voting infrastructure. Intelligence officials believe our adversaries will try to help Trump, possibly by casting doubt on the voting results.
Hospital Bills For Uninsured COVID-19 Patients Are Covered, But No One Tells Them. (NPR, October 22, 2020)
TriStar, like most major health systems, participates in program through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in which uninsured patients with COVID-19 have their bills covered. It was set up through the pandemic relief legislation known as the CARES Act.
But TriStar doesn't tell its patients that upfront. Neither do other hospitals or national health systems contacted by WPLN News. There's no requirement to, which is one of the program's shortcomings, says Jennifer Tolbert of the Kaiser Family Foundation who studies uninsured patients. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.) "This is obviously a great concern to most uninsured patients," Tolbert says. Her research finds that people without insurance often avoid care because of the bill or the threat of the bill, even though they might qualify for any number of programs if they asked enough questions.
Diplomats and intelligence agents in three countries have fallen ill. Is it imaginary, or an attack? (Daily Kos, October 21, 2020)
Some want to dismiss all the incidents as imaginary, no matter what doctors are seeing in scans. Others are still fixed on the idea of some kind of weapon that uses ultrasound, or infrasound, or … some kind of sound to cause brain damage.
The association of some injuries with sound has also pointed some speculation toward weapons using some an electromagnetic “ray.” Strangely enough, people can perceive some forms of radiation as sound. For example, the Frey Effect can make people hear crackling or popping sounds from microwave band radiation. Careful modulation of the energy can even be used to transmit what is perceived as speech, even though there’s no actual sound. Just there are auditory weapons, the Frey Effect has also been used as a weapon. The U.S. Navy worked on such a device shortly after the turn of the century, but abandoned it because the results suggested that the device would be more deadly than disorienting. Essentially, trying to generate enough microwaves to make someone perceive a loud sound, meant blasting them with enough energy to cook them.
Is it realistic to think that someone might be using the same unknown weapon against U.S. personnel in a Cuban embassy, a Moscow hotel room, and at multiple sites in China? It certainly reads like science fiction. In fact, in 1991 retired military officer Ralph Peters wrote a military science fiction novel called The War in 2020, in which U.S. troops are disabled by an electromagnetic weapon which damages their brains. It’s certain that the U.S. military has been looking for such weapons. It’s far from impossible that someone has developed them.
Only … if someone, say China, had such a weapon, would they be trying it out in Cuba? Would they loan it to Russia to blast a CIA operative in Moscow? Could two, or even three, other nations have developed such a weapon and still have it be secret? That seems highly unlikely.
Still, why not investigate? Pompeo’s initial statements, and hasty walk back, make it clear that the State Department made the connection between events in Cuba and China. The incident in Moscow might be dismissed as it was just one or two people … or because Donald Trump is terrified of doing something that might upset Vladimir Putin.
But there’s another thought that goes beyond just Trump and his “personal relationships” with Putin or Xi Jinping. After all, if any nation on the planet has a weapon that’s portable, capable of firing undetected through buildings, and able to leave its victims suffering such disorientation and genuine physical injuries that they’re no longer able to work … that’s a hell of a blackmail tool.
Note: Researching this story leads down enough rabbit holes to rival Watership Down. In addition to many different explanations for the injuries, some amateur sleuths have tied these events to the “hum” heard in areas like Taos, New Mexico, and Bristol, England. Those sounds, heard by only a percentage of the population, have been described in similar ways to those in Cuba and have also been reported to cause symptoms such as disorientation and fatigue. There are others who continue to believe the entire set of events are coincidence and nonsense, and that the “brain injuries” found are no worse than what might be observed in a very close examination of typical adults. There are certainly elements of this story that both lend it credence … and knock it down. Expect an even longer look at this some day … say, after November 3.
[Also see The Mystery of the Immaculate Concussion, below.]
Trump needs a psychiatric test now. He's evaded it for years, and COVID-19 can affect the brain long after the illness fades. (Business Insider, October 21, 2020)
- If or how COVID-19 and its treatments affected President Trump's cognition is hard to tell. Some typical cognitive consequences are characteristic of Trump himself.
- The public remains in the dark about the president's true mental state since commanders-in-chief aren't required to undergo the types of assessments common in jobs from air-traffic control to reality TV.
- Trump is his doctors' boss, which likely influenced his return to work post-COVID despite having been on drugs linked to especially erratic and bizarre behavior. 
- A coalition of psychiatrists says it's their duty to warn the public about what they call the president's dangerous mental state, despite a controversial ethical standard to keep quiet.
How Trump plowed through $1 billion, losing cash advantage (AP News, October 21, 2020)
President Donald Trump’s sprawling political operation has raised well over $1 billion since he took the White House in 2017 — and set a lot of it on fire.
Trump bought a $10 million Super Bowl ad when he didn’t yet have a challenger. He tapped his political organization to cover exorbitant legal fees related to his impeachment. Aides made flashy displays of their newfound wealth — including a fleet of luxury vehicles purchased by Brad Parscale, his former campaign manager.
Meanwhile, a web of limited liability companies hid more than $356 million in spending from disclosure, records show.
Now, just two weeks out from the election, some campaign aides privately acknowledge they are facing difficult spending decisions at a time when Democratic nominee Joe Biden has flooded the airwaves with advertising. That has put Trump in the position of needing to do more of his signature rallies as a substitute during the coronavirus pandemic while relying on an unproven theory that he can turn out supporters who are infrequent voters at historic levels.
“They spent their money on unnecessary overhead, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous activity by the campaign staff and vanity ads,” said Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican consultant who advised John McCain and Jeb Bush and is an outspoken Trump critic. “You could literally have 10 monkeys with flamethrowers go after the money, and they wouldn’t have burned through it as stupidly.”
For Trump, it’s a familiar, if not welcome, position. In 2016, he was vastly outraised by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton but still pulled off a come-from-behind win. This time around, though, he was betting on a massive cash advantage to negatively define Biden and to defend his own record.
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump is acting as if he expects to lose the election. (Letters From An American, October 20, 2020)
Trump used his campaign war chest like an ATM. Now it's dead broke and GOP donors are furious. (Daily Kos, October 20, 2020)
Suckers. That's clearly how major GOP donors feel after realizing that Trump's campaign is basically dead broke, he's dragging down the entire party, and he's even put Democrats in position to potentially take back the Senate.
Republicans donors feel burned after the state of Trump's campaign war chest has come into clearer view in the final months of the race. Some of them even founded a separate pro-Trump super PAC, Preserve America, that was explicitly not run by Trump's people because he's clearly not sending his finest. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson recently poured $75 million into that PAC instead of just handing it over to the Trump campaign.
On the one hand, the Biden campaign is spending more than twice as much in the closing days of race—$142 million to the Trump campaign's coordinated buy with the Republican National Committee (RNC) of $55 million. On the other, Trump and his campaign aides burned through $1 billion like they were on a drunken Beverly Hills lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous bender.
There's the already reported $10 million Super Bowl ad bought by the campaign so Trump could feel powerful before Democrats had even settled on a nominee. There's also more than $310 million in spending that's concealed by a web of limited liability companies, notes the AP. And somehow, former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale managed to purchase a Ferrari, a Range Rover, a $400,000 yacht, and several million-dollar-plus condos after siphoning some $40 million from the Trump campaign alone. But really, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here're some other choice purchases made by the Trump camp and RNC, according to the AP:
- Nearly $100,000 to prop up the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s book, “Triggered,” pushing it to the top of The New York Times’ bestsellers list.
- Over $7.4 million spent at Trump-branded properties since 2017
- At least $35.2 million spent on Trump merchandise
- $38.7 million in legal and “compliance” fees, including the legal costs of his impeachment proceedings
- At least $14.1 million spent on the Republican National Convention, which was relocated several times and ended up being a mostly virtual event
- A $250,000 ad run during Game 7 of the 2019 World Series after Trump was booed by spectators for attending Game 5
- $1.6 million on TV ads so Trump could see himself in the Washington, D.C., media market, where Biden is polling at about 87%
[Also see its Comments thread.]
Beheading in France could bolster president’s claim that Islam is in ‘crisis’ – but so is French secularism. (The Conversation, October 20, 2020)
French secularism, which is embraced by both the progressive left and the Islamophobic right, goes well beyond the American democratic concept of separating religion and state. Called “laïcité,” it essentially excludes religious symbols from public institutions. France has banned Muslim women’s headscarves in schools and outlawed religious face coverings everywhere. There are no such bans in the United States.
While both America and France have ongoing debates about “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Muslim terrorists” and views that can be defined as Islamophobic and have some popular support, American democracy generally provides better opportunities for the integration of various religious groups.
In France, the Constitution defines the state only as secular, without delineating the boundaries of that secularism. In the United States, the First Amendment restricts the secular state’s engagement with religion, saying the government can neither establish a religion nor prohibit a religion’s free exercise. It would be difficult for the U.S. to announce, as Macron did, a state-sponsored project to “forge a type of Enlightenment Islam.”
Joe Biden has a better option than court-packing: Legislating. (Washington Post, October 20, 2020)
A Democratic Congress and president could prevent an activist Supreme Court from dismantling the regulatory state.
The Senate’s presumed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court would finally hardwire the “McConnell rule” into American politics: Elections matter, and the party that wins them can do anything it wants.
Not surprisingly, some Democrats anticipating a sweep in next month’s election are eager to use the McConnell rule to justify ending the Senate filibuster and add to the Supreme Court two or even four new justices appointed by a potential new Democratic president and confirmed by a possible new Democratic Senate.
There is, however, a better way for Democrats to achieve their policy goals without responding to Republican court-packing with court-packing of their own. For if Democrats are able to expand the Supreme Court, then they could just as well use the same legislative power to overturn many of the worst decisions of the Rehnquist and Roberts courts over the last 30 years and stymie a new conservative majority on the court in its quest to dismantle the regulatory state.
USA Today Editorial Board: Elect Joe Biden. Reject Donald Trump. (USA Today, October 20, 2020)
Our View: In 2016, we broke tradition in urging you not to vote for Trump. Now we're making our first presidential endorsement. We hope it's our last.
Recent polls show that more than 90% of voters have decided between Biden and Trump, and nothing at this point will change their minds. This editorial is for those of you who are still uncertain about which candidate to vote for, or whether to vote at all. It’s also for those who settled on Trump but might be having last-minute doubts.
Now, two weeks until Election Day, we suggest you consider a variation of the question Republican Ronald Reagan asked voters when he ran for president in 1980: Is America better off now than it was four years ago? Beset by disease, economic suffering, a racial reckoning and natural disasters fueled by a changing climate, the nation is dangerously off course. This is not a normal election, and these are not normal times. This year, character, competence and credibility are on the ballot. Given Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, so, too, is the future of America's democracy.
For nearly four decades, the Editorial Board has stood for certain core values: truth, accountability, civility in public discourse, opposition to racism, common-ground solutions to the nation’s problems, and steadfast support for First Amendment rights. These aren’t partisan issues, or at least they shouldn’t be. Donald Trump has trampled each of these principles, making more than 20,000 false or misleading statements, ducking responsibility for his actions, spewing streams of invective at his critics, trafficking in racial fearmongering, governing more as the leader of the red states than of the United States, and relentlessly attacking the free press.
Everything about Biden’s nearly half-century political career suggests he would do a far better job of respecting these values. “We need to revive the spirit of bipartisanship in this country, the spirit of being able to work with one another,” the Democratic nominee said in a recent speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Russian media may be joining China and Iran in turning on Trump. (The Conversation, October 20, 2020)
It can be easy to overlook how the rest of the world is making sense of America’s chaotic campaign season. But in many cases, they’re paying attention just as closely as U.S. voters are. After all, who wins the U.S. presidency has implications for countries around the world.
Since Sept. 22, we’ve been using machine-learning algorithms to identify the predominant themes in foreign media coverage. How different countries cover the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden can shed some light on how foreign citizens discern the candidates and the American political process, especially in places that have strict state control of media like China, Russia and Iran. Unlike in the U.S., where there is a cacophony of perspectives, by and large the media in these three countries follow very similar narratives.
In 2016, we did the same exercise. Back then, one of the main themes that emerged was the decline of U.S. democracy. With scandal and the disillusionment of voters dominating the headlines, America’s global competitors used the 2016 election to advance their own political narratives about U.S. decline.
Some of these themes have emerged in the coverage of the current race. But the biggest difference is their portrayal of Trump. The last election cycle, candidate Trump was an unknown. Although foreign nations acknowledged his political inexperience, they were cautiously optimistic about Trump’s deal-making ability. Russian media outlets were particularly bullish on Trump’s potential. Now, however, the feelings appear to have changed. China, Iran and even Russia seem to crave a return to normalcy – and, to some extent, American leadership in the world.
McConnell warns White House against making stimulus deal as Pelosi and Mnuchin inch closer. (Washington Post, October 20, 2020)
GOP leader suggests Democrats are not negotiating in good faith and could disrupt Supreme Court nomination.
Paul Krugman: What worries me about the prospects for doing the right thing economically (Krugman Newsletter, October 20, 2020)
Today’s column was about the case for large-scale deficit spending if we get a Democratic president and Senate. As I said in the column, it was mainly about the economics; the political discussion will come later, maybe Friday, depending on how many outrageous and horrible things happen over the next couple of days. But I thought I could use this newsletter to get a bit ahead of the curve.
So let me tell you what worries me about the prospects for doing the right thing economically.
When the housing bubble burst, leading not just to a plunge in home building but a slide in private spending across the board, the economy was in desperate need of fiscal support; because the private sector wasn’t willing to spend, it was essential that the public sector pick up the slack. But this meant running budget deficits — and in 2010 or thereabouts it somehow became conventional wisdom that debt and deficits were a huge threat, far more important than mass unemployment.
Where did this conventional wisdom come from? Not from the markets, which showed no concern whatsoever about U.S. solvency. Not from the math, which didn’t suggest any problem with running large deficits for multiple years. Not from history: advanced countries like Britain for much of the 20th century and Japan for much of the 21st so far saw debt exceed 150 percent of GDP without experiencing any kind of crisis.
But going on about debt, talking about the need to make tough choices, sounded serious and hardheaded. It sounded even more serious because all the other serious-sounding people were saying the same thing.
Oh, and obvious phonies like Paul Ryan, who pretended to care about deficits when all they really wanted was to cut social programs and hobble President Obama, were treated with great respect.
As far as I can tell, it’s now almost universally agreed that the result of all this seriousness was a premature withdrawal of government support that greatly slowed economic recovery. But let me tell you, those of us arguing against the deficit obsession in real time felt pretty isolated.
So now we’re in another crisis, and once again we desperately need to maintain government spending despite big deficit numbers. Will we actually do what needs to be done?
It’s a given that Republicans, who ignored deficits under Trump, will proclaim imminent economic doom. Nothing can be done about that.
What’s still unclear is how centrists and the news media will react. Last time around they went all in on deficit panic, lionizing those who spread it. Will they do it again?
The Mystery of the Immaculate Concussion (GQ, October 20, 2020)
He was a senior CIA official tasked with getting tough on Russia. Then, one night in Moscow, Marc Polymeropoulos's life changed forever. He says he was hit with a mysterious weapon, joining dozens of American diplomats and spies who believe they’ve been targeted with this secret device all over the world—and even at home, on U.S. soil. Now, as a CIA investigation points the blame at Russia, the victims are left wondering why so little is being done by the Trump administration.
How does Google’s monopoly hurt you? Try these searches. (Washington Post, October 19, 2020)
Right under our noses, the Internet’s most-used website has been getting worse.
Qasim Rashid: Flag-Waving, Horn-Honking Trump Supporters Crash Qasim Rashid for Congress Event. What Happened Next Will Surprise and Inspire You. (Blue Virginia, October 19, 2020)
Inside the ‘Malarkey Factory,’ Biden’s online war room (Washington Post, October 19, 2020)
Joe Biden’s campaign has quietly built a multimillion-dollar operation over the past two months that’s largely designed to combat misinformation online, aiming to rebut President Trump while bracing for any information warfare that could take place in the aftermath of the election. The effort, internally called the “Malarkey Factory,” consists of dozens of people around the country monitoring what information is gaining traction digitally, whether it’s resonating with swing voters and, if so, how to fight back. The three most salient attacks the Malarkey Factory has confronted so far are claims that Biden is a socialist, that he is “creepy” and that he is “sleepy” or senile.
In preparation for misinformation spreading as voters head to the polls, especially a stretch around Election Day when Facebook will not let campaigns buy new ads, the campaign has partnered with dozens of Facebook pages associated with liberal individuals or groups that have large followings. The campaign has also enlisted 5,000 surrogates with big social media platforms who can pump out campaign messages.
Trump Official’s Tweet, and Its Removal, Set Off Flurry of Anti-Mask Posts. (New York Times, October 19, 2020)
For months, public health experts — backed by guidelines from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have stood firm on one resounding refrain: Against the coronavirus, masks work.
But on Saturday, Dr. Scott Atlas, one of President Trump’s most prominent science advisers, took to Twitter to say otherwise. “Masks work? NO: LA, Miami, Hawaii, Alabama, France, Phlippnes, UK, Spain, Israel,” Dr. Atlas tweeted, rattling off a list of locations where masks had, in his view, failed to protect large swaths of the population.
The tweet was rapidly debunked by experts, who pointed to a wealth of evidence showing that face coverings reduce the risk that the coronavirus will hop from person to person. Masks, they’ve said, cut down on the amount of virus that is sprayed out of an infected person’s airway. They might also thwart inbound virus by loosely shielding the wearer’s nose and mouth.
Dr. Atlas, a radiologist with no background in infectious disease or public health, has come under heavy fire in recent months for his stances on the coronavirus, which has killed more than 219,000 Americans. Experts have widely dismissed and criticized his views on lockdowns and masking mandates after he has derided them as unnecessary and even harmful in the fight to halt the pandemic.
Dr. Atlas has also promoted the controversial idea that herd immunity — the point at which a virus can no longer spread easily because enough people have contracted it — can be reached when only a small sliver of the community at large has been infected.
In his now-defunct Saturday tweet about masks, Dr. Atlas cast doubt on their usefulness, saying there was little evidence that they reduce disease transmission. As a send-off, he shared a link to an indictment of face coverings published on Friday by the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian think tank that recently sponsored a declaration arguing that the coronavirus should be allowed to spread among young healthy people to expedite herd immunity.
Masks, like all other protective measures, cannot halt the coronavirus on their own. But experts consider the accessories a crucial part of the public health tool kit needed to combat the pandemic, alongside tactics such as physical distancing and widely available testing.
Fauci quotes 'The Godfather' in response to latest Trump attacks. (The Hill, October 19, 2020)
After having Trump's comments read back to him during the radio appearance, Fauci dismissed it as a "distraction."
“I would prefer not to comment on that and just get on with what we are really trying to do and what we are trying to do is to protect the health and welfare and safety of the American people predominantly, and ultimately, of the world," he said. "We are seeing an uptick in cases — higher than they’ve ever been. Many, many states that had been doing reasonably well are now showing upticks, that’s what we should be concentrating on."
He added he doesn't want to create a “me against the president” mentality, calling it unhelpful. “[Addressing the virus is] the only thing I really care about. That other stuff, it’s like in 'The Godfather': Nothing personal, strictly business as far as I’m concerned. I just want to do my job and take care of the people of this country,” Fauci said.
The president’s remarks criticizing Fauci followed an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” in which Fauci said he was not surprised Trump contracted the coronavirus after a White House event announcing Trump’s Supreme Court nominee during which guests were not wearing masks or social distancing.
GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci amid Trump criticism. (The Hill, October 19, 2020)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, defended Anthony Fauci on Monday after President Trump lashed out at the nation's top infectious disease expert. “Dr. Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servants. ... If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat," Alexander said in a statement.
The public pushback from Alexander, who is retiring at the end of the year, comes after Trump blasted Fauci as a "disaster" on a campaign call earlier Monday.
Trump labels Fauci a 'disaster' on campaign call. (The Hill, October 19, 2020)
“People are tired of COVID. Yup, there’s going to be spikes, there’s going to be no spikes, there’s going to be vaccines. With or without vaccines, people are tired of COVID,” Trump said on the private call, according to audio obtained by The Hill. “I have the biggest rallies I have ever had and we have COVID. People are saying whatever, just leave us alone. They’re tired of it.”
Trump then accused Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, of providing inconsistent advice about the coronavirus pandemic and claimed baselessly that if he had followed all of Fauci’s advice the United States would have “700,000 to 800,000 deaths right now.”
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots, these people, these people that have gotten it wrong. Fauci is a nice guy, he’s been here for 500 years, he called every one of them wrong,” Trump told campaign staffers.
Trump’s den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges (Washington Post, October 19, 2020)
The U.S. response is increasingly plagued by distrust, infighting and lethargy, just as experts predict coronavirus cases could surge this winter and deaths could reach 400,000 by year’s end.
As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place. (New York Times, October 18, 2020)
A nationwide operation of 1,300 local sites publishes coverage that is ordered up by Republican groups and corporate P.R. firms.
The sites appear as ordinary local-news outlets, with names like Des Moines Sun, Ann Arbor Times and Empire State Today. They employ simple layouts and articles about local politics, community happenings and sometimes national issues, much like any local newspaper. But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate P.R. firms to promote a Republican candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals.
The 16 sites targeting Massachusetts bear names that are similar to local newspapers and television stations, according to a list compiled by the Times. The title of the Metric Media-affiliated "Metro West Times," for example, is similar to the "MetroWest Daily News." Others have more unusual names, like the "Bean Town Times" and "Mid Massachusetts News." The sites are often populated with press releases, posts about campaign donations and government salaries and stories about local government.
This is big; Bloomberg announces a shift. (Daily Kos, October 18, 2020)
Ever since Richard Nixon officially severed the  strings between currency and  the relatively scarce mineral, gold, there  has been an effort to achieve scarcity by an alternate route. Why?  Because, if it ain’t scarce, nobody’s going to borrow and lend it. Obviously, if something can be “created” by sending out electronic bits, as the U.S. Treasury recently did when it distributed three trillion certified IOUs to banks, businesses and individual households, it ain’t rare.
So, this Bloomberg article, Next Big Shift in Economics Takes Shape Under Covid Shadow, is just giving context to the obvious. The only thing I would quibble with is the false attribution of agency, a common journalistic flaw, which assigns action to inanimate objects.  Fiscal concerns about who’s got enough money and who’s got none did not “fall” out of favor.  They were shoved off stage by the money changers.
So I went to the chump protest in Orange County today... (Daily Kos, October 18, 2020)
...and we found a place on one side of the bridge that goes over Newport Harbor and takes you onto the Newport Peninsula. Little did I know that it would be a major wildlife crossing for that most dangerous of animals — the Trump fanatic — for over two hours as they made their way toward the Trump talk on Lido Isle.
So what kind of species behaviors did we see?  I’ll tell you.
Trump sees a contest between public health and his reelection. Which one is winning? (Daily Kos, October 18, 2020)
Lara Trump defends Donald's continued attacks on Michigan governor as 'having fun'. (Daily Kos, October 18, 2020)
Judge slaps down Trump's cruel plan to deprive 700,000 people of Food Stamps during the pandemic. (Daily Kos, October 18, 2020)
The Case Against Donald Trump (w/related articles; The Editorial Board of the New York Times, October 18, 2020)
Anger, Chaos, Incompetence, Lies, Decay - End Our National Crisis!
The Editorial Board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II. Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.
The editorial board does not lightly indict a duly elected president. During Mr. Trump’s term, we have called out his racism and his xenophobia. We have critiqued his vandalism of the postwar consensus, a system of alliances and relationships around the globe that cost a great many lives to establish and maintain. We have, again and again, deplored his divisive rhetoric and his malicious attacks on fellow Americans.
Yet when the Senate refused to convict the president for obvious abuses of power and obstruction, we counseled his political opponents to focus their outrage on defeating him at the ballot box. Nov. 3 can be a turning point. This is an election about the country’s future, and what path its citizens wish to choose.
Mr. Trump stands without any real rivals as the worst American president in modern history. In 2016, his bitter account of the nation’s ailments struck a chord with many voters. But the lesson of the last four years is that he cannot solve the nation’s pressing problems because he is the nation’s most pressing problem.
 He is a racist demagogue presiding over an increasingly diverse country; an isolationist in an interconnected world; a showman forever boasting about things he has never done, and promising to do things he never will. He has shown no aptitude for building, but he has managed to do a great deal of damage. He is just the man for knocking things down. 
NEW: Instead of adding more seats to the Supreme Court, what if Biden just ... lopped off the last three? (Daily Kos, October 17, 2020)
The term “court packing” was coined by opponents of a judicial reform bill proposed in 1937 by Franklin Roosevelt. While it’s often presented as if that bill would have filled the Supreme Court chambers with a football team worth of justices, in fact it would have allowed the president to appoint justices for for each seated justice over the age of 70, up to a maximum of six justices. The idea was that, since Supreme Court seats are for life, it’s very easy to end up with a room full of people whose ideas are generations out of synch with either the ideas or needs of the nation. See ,,, just about every Supreme Court ever. Roosevelt’s opponents successfully vilified the idea, and the bill was ultimately stalled in the Senate. However, just raising the idea seemed to get the conservatives-laden court to suddenly shift its ideas on significant rulings, such as deciding that a minimum-wage law was not unconstitutional after all, despite what it had ruled just one year earlier.
Roosevelt’s bill may have failed, but the official size of the court has changed at least seven times, sometimes with no more lofty goal than specifically allowing a new president to appoint more justices. In fact, it’s been done the other way, as well. In 1801, Congress cut the size of the court from 6 justices to just 5, expressly to prevent Thomas Jefferson from making any appointments.
The Court has gone down as many times as it has gone up. From 1863 to 1866, there were actually 10 Supreme Court justices. Then Congress trimmed that all the way back to 7 with the goal of eliminating justices from Southern states. Then just three years after that, Congress stepped in again to raise it to the current level of 9 justices, following a restructuring of federal courts.
So what could Biden do? Honestly, just about anything. The Constitution calls for a court, but has nothing to say about how many people sit on that Court.
The bogus U.S. census numbers showing slavery’s ‘wonderful influence’ on the enslaved. (Washington Post, October 17, 2020)
Americans have long looked to the decennial census for truths about themselves, and the 1840 version presented them with an improbable and incendiary notion. Slavery was good for Black people, the figures indicated, and freedom led to insanity. Specifically, free Black people were far more likely than the enslaved to succumb to insanity. “Insanity and idiocy” was ten times more common among free Black people than among those who were slaves.
What else could this mean, advocates of slavery asked, but that Black people were mentally unsuited for freedom? The idea quickly spread to newspapers across the United States, the reports of elite European scientists and the halls of Congress.
Hudson Valley 2020-21 Winter Outlook - from New Zealand! (Ben Noll Weather, October 17, 2020)
In New Zealand, this is what I do for a living: assess long range weather and climate patterns to help people plan for impactful events like drought, hurricanes, and heatwaves. I’m in my element with this post. So sit back, grab a cup of your favorite beverage, and get ready to learn about the ins and outs of a long range outlook and what the Hudson Valley might expect to see this coming winter!
Meet Apep: This pair of dancing stars will one day collide and explode. (1-min. video; Popular Science, October 16, 2020)
They could give us insight into the biggest kinds of explosions in the Universe.
PFAS Contamination Site Tracker (Northeastern University, October 16, 2020)
Our public PFAS contamination site tracker now contains more than 850 PFAS-contaminated sites and over 600 contaminated water systems in the United States. This is an increase of over 500 sites and systems from our last update in July.
NEW: $3.1 Trillion - The 2020 deficit was nearly twice as large as the deficit in 2009, when the government enacted stimulus spending in response to the Great Recession. (USA Facts, October 16, 2020)
Donald Trump Has At Least $1 Billion In Debt, More Than Twice The Amount He Suggested. (Forbes, October 16, 2020)
The president’s liabilities are spelled out in dozens of documents, published here.
What does kindness look like? It wears a mask. (Big Think, October 16, 2020)
The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread of coronavirus is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Why won’t Trump supporters admit they’ve been conned? (Darwin Investing Network, October 16, 2020)
Trump and Republicans have played a neat trick these past four years, claiming to act on behalf of the economically and politically disenfranchised, and then getting them to turn a blind eye to the fact that their own actions in office are designed to line the pockets of elite supporters. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim victims and disrupt lives, the evidence of Trump’s perfidy is harder than ever to ignore. Little wonder some turn to outlandish conspiracies such as QAnon to justify their continued belief in Trump. As crazy as it is, it’s less embarrassing than admitting you are just another patsy in Trump’s lifelong con.
Heather Cox Richardson: Biden reminded us of what a president is supposed to sound like. (Letters From An American, October 15, 2020)
Tonight was supposed to be the night of a televised town hall meeting featuring both President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. But, after Trump tested positive for coronavirus, the organizers of the event turned it into a virtual meeting. Trump refused to participate. So Biden arranged an event of an hour and a half on ABC. Then Trump arranged his own, separate hour-long town hall on NBC.
NBC faced deep criticism for giving Trump a platform when he had ditched the official plan. But the network made up for that criticism by giving the position of moderator to journalist Savannah Guthrie, who has a J.D. from Georgetown Law School and worked as a litigator. Although the setting of the NBC event was oddly partisan—the backdrop consisted of masked women nodding along with the president’s answers—Guthrie repeatedly pressed Trump on his evasive answers to questioners, and his frustration was palpable. Before the event, Trump had denigrated it. “They asked me if I’d do it, I figured, ‘What the hell? We get a free hour on television,’” he said. But the questioning did him no favorss. He refused to distance himself from QAnon supporters, who believe in the conspiracy theory that Trump is secretly orchestrating an assault on a ring of pedophiles and cannibals made up of the country’s elites. He admitted he owes $400 million to someone, but insists that he doesn’t owe it to Russia or any “sinister people” and that it is a “very, very small percentage” compared to his assets. He refused to say whether he had tested negative for coronavirus on September 29, the day of his first debate with Biden, and said he could not release his tax returns because they were under audit (when Guthrie noted that there was no rule stopping him from releasing them anyway, he got visibly angry). He maintained that he has a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, but could not describe what that is. As usual, he insisted he is treated terribly.
Meanwhile, over at his own town hall, Biden put to rest Trump’s accusations that he is senile or “sleepy.” Biden answered questions from voters ranging from what he would do about racial inequality to our standing in foreign affairs. He showed deep knowledge of the issues, citing history and statistics, as well as providing detailed plans for what he would do to address the nation's problems. He was empathetic and human—the word people keep using is “decent”—and seemed energetic and eager to get underway with his plans for getting America back on track.
After the events, fact-checkers provided the grounding for the obvious: Trump made it up as he went along, hitting some of his favorite debunked talking points, while Biden misspoke on some of the details he outlined (he got troop levels in Afghanistan wrong, for example) but stayed close to the facts. More than anything, though, Biden reminded us of what a president is supposed to sound like. It was an extraordinary relief to hear someone actually talk about the issues the country faces, rather than make everything about himself.
Savannah Guthrie grilled Trump like few others have, taking the heat off NBC for its town hall. (Washington Post, October 15, 2020)
The network was criticized for accommodating Trump after he rejected a debate. But then the “Today” host started asking him questions.
Trump Calls NBC the ‘Worst,’ Mocks Savannah Guthrie Hours Before Town-Hall Event. (Daily Beast, October 15, 2020)
The United States of Paranoia: From the Salem Witch Hunt to Conspirator-in-Chief Donald Trump (Tom Dispatch, October 15, 2020)
News is “faked”; elections are “rigged”; a “deep state” plots a “coup”; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suspiciously in bed with a pillow over his face; aides of ex-president Barack Obama conspire to undermine foreign policy from a “war room”; Obama himself was a Muslim mole; the National Park Service lied about the size of the crowd at the president’s inauguration; conspiracies are afoot in nearly every department and agency of the executive branch, including the State Department, the CIA, the Justice Department, the Federal Drug Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI (“What are they hiding?”). Thus saith, and maybe even believeth, the president of the United States.
Donald Trump is not the first commander-in-chief to believe in conspiracies. And some of those conspiracies were real enough, but he is our first conspiracist president. “Conspire” in Latin means to “breathe together.” Conspiracy thinking is the oxygen that sustains the political respiration of Trumpism. Oval Office paranoid fantasies metastasize outside the Beltway and ignite passions -- fear and anger especially -- that leave armies of Trump partisans vigilant and at the ready.
Inside the Fall of the CDC (Pro Publica, October 15, 2020)
How the world’s greatest public health organization was brought to its knees by a virus, the president and the capitulation of its own leaders, causing damage that could last much longer than the coronavirus.
Once seen as an apolitical bulwark, the CDC endured meddling on multiple fronts by officials with little or no public health experience, from Trump’s daughter Ivanka to Stephen Miller, the architect of the president’s immigration crackdown. A shifting and mysterious cast of political aides and private contractors — what one scientist described as young protégés of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, “wearing blue suits with red ties and beards” — crowded into important meetings about key policy decisions.
In interviews and internal correspondence, CDC employees recounted the stunning fall of the agency many of them had spent their careers building. Some had served on the front lines of the CDC’s most storied battles and had an earned confidence that they could swoop in and save the world from the latest plague, whether it was E. coli on a fast-food burger or Ebola in a distant land. Theirs was the model other nations copied. Their leaders were the public faces Americans turned to for the unvarnished truth. They’d served happily under Democrats and Republicans.
Now, 10 months into the crisis, many fear the CDC has lost the most important currency of public health: trust, the confidence in experts that persuades people to wear masks for the public good, to refrain from close-packed gatherings, to take a vaccine.
The Trump administration is “appropriating a public enterprise and making it into an agent of propaganda for a political regime,” one CDC scientist said in an interview as events unfolded. “It’s mind-boggling in the totality of ambition to so deeply undermine what’s so vitally important to the public.”
Prescription Politics (Stat, October 15, 2020)
First-of-its-kind examination shows how widely pharma showers campaign cash at the state level.
NEW: The courts have already been packed—with white men. (Daily Kos, October 14, 2020)
The pejorative phrase “court packing” flows from a couple of questionable premises. First, that there is some morally or legally correct limit on the number of judges that should sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and second that the use of political power to shift the balance of the court is unseemly. Neither is accurate, since it’s completely within the legitimate power of Congress to pass a law changing the size of the Supreme Court, or any other federal court. In reality, what the outcry against court packing reveals is a preference for the status quo, which not coincidentally entrenches white male minority rule. While the latest round in the court-packing fight has been touched off by the nomination of a white woman to the Supreme Court, make no mistake: From top to bottom, the federal courts have already been packed—with white men. Given how little the courts reflect the increasingly diverse American population, it’s not changing the size of a single court that will bring about a crisis of legitimacy. The crisis is already here.
Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing live updates: Trump nominee faces questions on abortion, voting rights. (Washington Post, October 14, 2020)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett faces the final day of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as Republicans fast-track her nomination to the Supreme Court. During nearly 12 hours of testimony Tuesday, the conservative jurist declined to share her legal views on abortion rights, the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage while insisting that her personal opinions would not influence her rulings if she is confirmed. Barrett refused to commit to recusing herself from cases involving disputes over next month’s presidential election, but she told senators she will not allow herself “to be used as a pawn to decide the election for the American people.”
The panel is expected to vote on Oct. 22nd as President Trump pressures the Senate to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3 election.
'It's extremely problematic': Republicans inject new chaos into 2020 election with unauthorized ballot dropboxes in California. (CNN, October 14, 2020)
Republicans claimed they merely wanted to use their makeshift dropboxes to collect people's ballots and return them to election officials. The dropboxes were spotted at churches and gun shops in more conservative-leaning areas, suggesting they were an effort to boost turnout among GOP voters where there are competitive House races.
Did Republicans break the law? Yes, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat who is overseeing the election. His office sent a five-page memo to counties explaining their interpretation of the relevant state laws, which regulate ballot dropboxes and ballot collection efforts by third parties.
Padilla's office says state law only permits election officials -- not political parties -- to establish dropboxes for voters to return their ballots. Therefore, the GOP-installed boxes are illegal. The memo also said Republicans violated laws on ballot collection, which is pejoratively called "ballot harvesting." California lets voters designate any "person" to return their ballot on their behalf, often a family member of a volunteer from a political campaign. But the GOP dropboxes eliminated this person-to-person part of the process, which is a key safeguard against fraud.
Trump has repeatedly undermined the integrity of the election and lied about the prevalence of voter fraud in California and other states. He falsely claimed ballot dropboxes are dangerous and lead to vote-rigging, and he waded into the California dispute Tuesday with two tweets. "You mean only Democrats are allowed to do this? But haven't the Dems been doing this for years? See you in court. Fight hard Republicans!" Trump tweeted Tuesday night, inaccurately describing state laws, which allow any party to collect ballots, as long as it is done in-person. And in an earlier tweet, Trump encouraged Republicans in two other reliably Democratic states to try similar tactics, saying, "New York and Illinois -- go for it!"
A ruling against expanding online voting is a win for cybersecurity advocates. (Washington Post, October 14, 2020)
The overseas voters who brought the suit hail from seven states and said they fear restrictions and slowdowns between the U.S. Postal Service and the postal services where they live raise dangers their ballots won’t arrive in time to be counted. They wanted an option of submitting the ballots as PDF attachments to emails or using a secure fax system managed by the Defense Department. Similar voting methods are available to overseas voters from 30 other states.
Cognition all the way down (Aeon, October 13, 2020)
Biology’s next great horizon is to understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones).
Instead of treating human ‘genius’ as a sort of black box made of magical smartstuff, we can reinterpret it as an explosive expansion of the bag of mechanical-but-cognitive tricks discovered by natural selection over billions of years. By distributing the intelligence over time – aeons of evolution, and years of learning and development, and milliseconds of computation – and space – not just smart brains and smart neurons but smart tissues and cells and proofreading enzymes and ribosomes – the mysteries of life can be unified in a single breathtaking vision.
G.O.P. Senators Have a Lot to Say in Ads, but Not Much About Trump. (New York Times, October 13, 2020)
Across 48 television ads in seven competitive Senate races, the Republican incumbents haven’t mentioned the president once.
‘Unmasking’ probe commissioned by Barr concludes without charges or any public report. (Washington Post, October 13, 2020)
Legal analysts feared that Bash’s review was yet another attempt by Trump’s Justice Department to target political opponents of the president. Even if it ultimately produced no results of consequence, legal analysts said, it allowed Trump and other conservatives to say Obama-era officials were under scrutiny, as long as the case stayed active. The department — both under Barr and Trump’s previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions — has repeatedly turned to U.S. attorneys across the country to investigate matters of Republican concern, distressing current and former Justice Department officials, who fear that department leaders are repeatedly caving to Trump’s pressure to benefit his allies and target those he perceives as political enemies.
The Coney Barrett Nomination: Elite Lawyers Are Not Entitled to Supreme Court Seats. (WGBH, October 12, 2020)
Democracy dies in the elitist networks created and maintained by lawyers. As students at Harvard Law School (“HLS”), we know that many perceive Harvard as epitomizing the legal elite—HLS is historically the most represented school on the Supreme Court and has a similarly outsized presence in the broader federal judiciary. The HLS website contends that “no law school has done more to shape law.” But HLS applauds power, regardless of how it is deployed. Rather than counting its trophies, HLS must reckon with the toxic culture of elitism it perpetuates—and the disastrous effects this culture has on the most vulnerable in our country.
What Dr. Fauci actually said versus how Trump used clip in campaign ad – (1-min. video; The Guardian, October 12, 2020)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, has criticised Donald Trump’s re-election campaign for using his words out of context to make it appear as if he was praising the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In the video released on Saturday, Fauci can be heard saying: 'I can’t imagine that … anyone could be doing more' as the advert boasts of Trump’s response to Covid-19, which in the US has killed more than 214,000 and infected more than 7.7m. The clip came from an interview Fauci gave to Fox News, in which he was describing the work that he and other members of the White House coronavirus task force undertook to respond to the virus.
Anthony Fauci criticises Donald Trump for using his words out of context. (The Guardian, October 11, 2020)
Doctor says use of his comments to praise president in Republican campaign ad is misleading. GOP says Fauci is wrong, will keep on using ad anyway.
[Is it a surprise, that our lying president has lying staff?]
Republicans, it’s a little late to start distancing. (3-min. video; Washington Post, October 11, 2020)
[Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin long since split away from Trump.]
The big problem is that Senate Republicans wrapped themselves so tightly around Trump — defending his plainly impeachable conduct in the Senate trial, excusing his covid-denialism, ignoring his racist language and incitement to violence and declining to stop his financial self-dealing — that it’s too late to scurry away from the sinking Trump ship. When the GOP eschewed a convention platform this summer in favor of heaping praise on Trump, Republicans made clear that they have no position other than Trump idolatry. Even now, they seem not to have learned anything.
Lindsay Graham makes the mistake of thinking that confirming a staunchly conservative justice will help him; in fact, it underscores his disconnect from voters he once carried easily.
The crazier Trump seems in the last stretch (pleading for indictments of his political opponents, recklessly spreading covid-19, on-again-off-again stimulus negotiations), the more pathetic the Republicans who enabled him look. This is the guy you said had it all figured out? This was the guy you defended as a victim of liberal elites? These Republicans long ago threw away independent judgment, character, responsiveness to the voters back home and honesty, for fear of provoking Trump’s ire or the condemnation of the right-wing media and the MAGA crowd. It turns out winning is awfully hard, even in red states, when your Trump sycophancy horrifies women, college-educated voters, non-White voters, young voters and seniors. Money is the least of Republicans’ troubles.
Trump has given up. He now is targeting only his base, with a dose of voter suppression. (3-min. video; Daily Kos, October 11, 2020)
In these final days, Donald Trump is doing multiple Fox News interviews. He's on Rush Limbaugh for three hours later today. He's eager to get back out on those rallies all things to target his base. And the strategy there, it's no longer about trying to appeal to suburban women or you know, minority voters or Hispanics. It is about trying to drive out as many white working-class non-college-educated voters as they can from the hills of Pennsylvania and the woods of Michigan and hope that those numbers can overwhelm all the other areas where he at this point just can't pick up ground with every action that he is taking.
NEW: Next Big Shift in Economics Takes Shape Under Covid Shadow. (Bloomberg, October 11, 2020)
Fiscal policy dominates and central bankers take a back seat. Risk is early withdrawal of public spending, like after 2008.
New Jersey raised taxes on the rich and it worked. Biden's plan will do it at the federal level. (Daily Kos, October 11, 2020)
New Jersey is leading the way. First-term Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned in 2017 on a promise to restore a previously expired tax hike on the wealthy, and has spent the last three years trying to do just that. Last month, with the pandemic having battered state finances, as well as the bottom line of most households, Murphy and the Democratic-led state legislature finally made good on that promise.
Previously, only earnings over $5 million per year were taxed at the state’s highest rate of 10.75%, but now that rate will kick in on earnings over $1 million per year. This measure should, according to estimates, bring in around $400 million annually. The majority of that money is going to dual income households earning under $150,000, or single income ones earning under $75,000, in the form of a one-time check of up to $500.
"We're not learning to live with the virus Larry...the death rate is the highest in the world." (Daily Kos, October 11, 2020)
Due to its priorities toward corporate profiteering, the Trump administration dropped the ball with Regeneron production. Mass production could have been initiated in April with or without the Defense Production Act. All that’s left is finger pointing about a disaster. Now there will be drug rationing, and more deaths.
ABC host Jon Karl says White House 'wouldn't allow' expert Dr. Anthony Fauci to appear on show. (Daily Kos, October 11, 2020)
In an ideal—or even mildly acceptable—world, the American public would not be relying on the children of sitting presidents to relay details of their health and fitness for office. We would be getting transparent information from the president’s physician, who, for example, has yet to explicitly say Trump has tested negative for the virus. Karl claimed that Dr. Fauci, a trusted, leading expert on the coronavirus, wanted to participate in today’s segment but the White House did not allow him to. The fact that Eric Trump babbled about a “vaccine” and antifa is only icing on a surreal, shameful cake.
Fighting for the right to repair your own stuff. (CBS News, October 11, 2020)
"The manufacturers are cutting off all the things that we need in order to fix things – shortening life spans, and forcing us to go to them to just buy a new one rather than fixing what we already have," said Weins. And why are they doing this? "To increase their service revenues," he said. "They want to make as much money fixing things as possible."
[See Right To Repair. On the current Massachusetts Election Ballot, we strongly support Question 1!]
Exploring fig trees’ chemical tricks and reviving ancient date palms (Chemical & Engineering News, October 10, 2020)
Fig trees are native to Israel—and so are date palms. Since 2005, the Newscripts crew has been drooling over a project to revive the region’s ancient Judaean dates, which are praised in ancient texts but have been replaced by different varieties and were lost for centuries.
Just in time for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), a team of scientists picked the first crop of fruits made by breeding two trees sprouted from 2,000-year-old seeds found on an archaeological dig in the 1970s. The scientists have been working to revive ancient dates for the past 15 years.
Sabine Hossenfelder: You don’t have free will, but don’t worry. (11-min. video; Back Reaction, October 10, 2020)
Today I want to talk about an issue that must have occurred to everyone who spent some time thinking about physics. Which is that the idea of free will is both incompatible with the laws of nature and entirely meaningless. I know that a lot of people just do not want to believe this. But I think you are here to hear what the science says. So, I will tell you what the science says. In this video I first explain why free will does not exist, indeed makes no sense, and then tell you why there are better things to worry about.
NEW: Michigan kidnapping plot, like so many other extremist crimes, foreshadowed on social media. (Washington Post, October 10, 2020)
In June, one of the suspects in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took to the relative privacy of a Facebook group to make clear his brewing hatred. Adam Fox called Whitmer a “tyrant bitch,” according to an FBI affidavit, and declared, “I don’t know boys, we gotta do something… give me some ideas of what we can do.”
Such online declarations, brimming with anger and potentially violent intent, have become staples of extremism-fueled crime news in recent years, from police killings to synagogue massacres to bombing plots. Before they become real, they percolate online, courtesy of a social media ecosystem that is ubiquitous, barely moderated and well suited to helping aggrieved people find each other.
“Social media companies have been allowing these communities to build and grow, ignoring the mounting evidence that memes, posts and images encouraging violence can and do translate into actual violence,” said Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst and vice president of analysis for the Alethea Group, which tracks online threats and discovered the Wolverines page. “Not only have many of these Michigan pages and groups been on Facebook for years, the Facebook algorithm actively recommended other militia-related groups and pages to join, allowing each page and group to expand their reach.”
The President's Taxes: The Swamp That Trump Built (New York Times, October 10, 2020)
A businessman-president transplanted favor-seeking in Washington to his family’s hotels and resorts — and earned millions as a gatekeeper to his own administration.
In a gold-adorned ballroom filled with Republican donors, an Indian-born industrialist from Illinois pressed Mr. Trump to tweet about easing immigration rules for highly skilled workers and their children. “He gave a million dollars,” the president told his guests approvingly, according to a recording of the April 2018 event.
In early March, a Tennessee real estate developer who had donated lavishly to the inauguration, and wanted billions in loans from the new administration, met the president at the club and asked him for help. Mr. Trump waved over his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen. “Get it done,” the president said, describing the developer as “a very important guy,” Mr. Cohen recalled in an interview.
Campaigning for president as a Washington outsider, Mr. Trump electrified rallies with his vows to “drain the swamp.” But Mr. Trump did not merely fail to end Washington’s insider culture of lobbying and favor-seeking. He reinvented it, turning his own hotels and resorts into the Beltway’s new back rooms, where public and private business mix and special interests reign.
As president-elect, he had pledged to step back from the Trump Organization and recuse himself from his private company’s operation. As president, he built a system of direct presidential influence-peddling unrivaled in modern American politics. Federal tax-return data for Mr. Trump and his business empire, which was disclosed by The New York Times last month, showed that even as he leveraged his image as a successful businessman to win the presidency, large swaths of his real estate holdings were under financial stress, racking up losses over the preceding decades
But once Mr. Trump was in the White House, his family business discovered a lucrative new revenue stream: people who wanted something from the president. An investigation by The Times found over 200 companies, special-interest groups and foreign governments that patronized Mr. Trump’s properties while reaping benefits from him and his administration. Nearly a quarter of those patrons have not been previously reported. Just 60 customers with interests at stake before the Trump administration brought his family business nearly $12 million during the first two years of his presidency. Almost all saw their interests advanced, in some fashion, by Mr. Trump or his government.
Patrons at the properties ranged widely: foreign politicians and Florida sugar barons, a Chinese billionaire and a Serbian prince, clean-energy enthusiasts and their adversaries in the petroleum industry, avowed small-government activists and contractors seeking billions from ever-fattening federal budgets. Mr. Trump’s administration delivered them funding and laws and land. He handed them appointments to task forces and ambassadorships, victories as weighty as a presidential directive and as ephemeral as a presidential tweet.
The Taliban on Trump: "We hope he will win the election" and withdraw U.S. troops. (CBS News, October 10, 2020)
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Saturday that they "reject" the Taliban support. "The Taliban should know that the president will always protect American interests by any means necessary," Murtaugh said.
The Taliban's enthusiasm for Mr. Trump is grounded in the goal they share of getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan after 19 years of war – a longtime promise of the president. This week, President Trump said all troops should be "home by Christmas," although it is unclear if that is actually expected to happen or if he was simply reiterating his position on wanting to bring troops home.
That timeline is at odds with the advice of U.S. military commanders, who do not believe it is safe to reduce troop levels below 4,500 unless the Taliban breaks with al Qaeda and reduces the level of violence. It is also unclear how it will affect talks peace between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Qatar.
Pelosi says White House proposal on COVID-19 relief is "one step forward, two steps back". (CBS News, October 10, 2020)
"When the president talks about wanting a bigger relief package, his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold, rather than agreeing on language prescribing how we honor our workers, crush the virus and put money in the pockets of workers," Pelosi wrote. "At this point, we still have disagreement on many priorities, and Democrats are awaiting language from the Administration on several provisions as the negotiations on the overall funding amount continue."
Earlier, on Tuesday, Mr. Trump slammed the door shut on a deal before the election, but then appeared to change his mind, first calling on the House to pass standalone relief bills and then indicating that he would support a large relief package. In a tweet on Friday morning, the president said, "Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!"
In her letter to colleagues on Saturday, Pelosi said the plan produced by the administration does not include "a strategic plan to crush the virus." She compared it to the HEROES Act which the House passed last month, which provides a national regimen on testing and tracing. The $2.4 trillion relief bill would also restore a popular benefit providing an additional $600 per week on top of unemployment benefits, deliver another round of direct payments and provide funding for schools and state and local jurisdiction. The legislation was a slimmed-down version of a $3.4 trillion bill the House initially passed in May.
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump continues his meltdown. (Letters From An American, October 9, 2020)
The major, obvious, in-your-face story of the day is that the president is melting down. He has spent much of the last two days calling in to the Fox News Channel and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and ranting in a manic way that suggests he is having trouble with the steroids he is taking for his illness. In an interview with Rush Limbaugh today, Trump boasted that “our nuclear is all tippy top now,” and said about Iran, “If you f*** around with us, if you do something bad to us, we’re gonna do things to you that have never been done before.” He tweeted that “Obama, Biden, Crooked Hillary and many others got caught in a Treasonous Act of Spying and Government Overthrow, a Criminal Act. How is Biden now allowed to run for President?” This is pure fiction, of course, but his campaign later put it in a fundraising email.
It doesn’t help that, when interviewed on MSNBC, White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern refused six times to say when Trump had last tested negative for coronavirus, indicating that either he was not regularly being tested—contrary to what the White House said—or he tested positive earlier than the public knows. Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged that September 26 White House celebration was a superspreader event.
Although Trump has not yet been cleared for interactions with people again, today the White House announced that Trump has invited 2000 people for a rally on the South Lawn of the White House Saturday—another violation of the Hatch Act, which still matters for all that it seems to be taking a back seat to the issue of the administration’s disregard for public safety.
The president insists he is fine, and that the danger of the coronavirus has been overblown. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted an order for masks on all public transportation, but Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, refused even to discuss it. Trump’s reelection pitch is that the coronavirus is not a big deal, and we should just live with it. He told Limbaugh: “People are going to get immediately better like I did. I mean, I feel better now than I did two weeks ago. It’s crazy…. And I recovered immediately, almost immediately.” Today more than 850 Americans died of Covid-19, bringing our official total to more than 213,000.
As their chief is imploding, lots of key Republican players are silent. A number of people who were at the September 26 event have gone off the radar screen, including Attorney General William Barr. Barr has, though, told top Republicans that the review of the origins of the Russia probe by his own, hand-picked investigator after the Inspector General for the Department of Justice determined the investigation had been begun legitimately and conducted without political bias, will not be out before the election. Barr had been promising the release of the report by U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut John Durham in time to sway voters, although such a release ran contrary to DOJ policies.
Congressional Republicans are also wildly silent about the president's behavior, except for inklings they are distancing themselves from him and focusing on the confirmation of Barrett to the Supreme Court. Even this, though, does not suggest great support for Trump. To the contrary, Republicans appear to be determined to jam her through because they expect Trump to lose the election. Although 59% of Americans think the next president should fill the seat, and although the Senate is ignoring a desperately needed coronavirus relief bill, they are planning to shepherd her through to a seat on the court before November 3.
Americans were already upset over the administration’s handling of the coronavirus and the resulting recession, but the superspreader event and Trump’s manic behavior since have made his polls crumble further. Republican strategist Ken Spain told Sahil Kapur of NBCNews, “The president has had possibly the worst two-week stretch that a candidate could have going in to the final month of an election.”
He appears to be planning to combat his low numbers by spurring his supporters to violence and by rigging the system. Yesterday, he told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that Pence’s “best answer” at the vice presidential debate was when he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in January. He is now saying that Biden committed “treason” and “shouldn’t be allowed to run.” His rhetoric is stoking radical fires, as extremists hear his advice to “Stand back and stand by” as a rallying cry. The president is pushing the idea that, unless he is reelected, the election will be fraudulent, and that he will not accept the results.
The Trump campaign is also looking the other way as Russia again interferes on his behalf.
In all of this—except the Russia part—Trump looks oddly like President Andrew Johnson, who took over the White House after Abraham Lincoln’s death at the hands of an assassin. Johnson was a former Democrat, and could not stand the idea of the Republican government ending systemic Black enslavement and leveling the playing field among races. He wanted to reclaim the nation for white men. Convinced he was defending America from a mob and that his supporters must retake control of the government in the midterm election of 1866 or the nation was finished, Johnson became increasingly unhinged until he began to compare himself to both the martyred Lincoln and Jesus Christ. He called his congressional opponents traitors who should be executed. Egged on by the president, white supremacist gangs attacked Black Americans and their white allies, convincing Johnson that his party would sweep the midterms and he would gain control of the government to end Black rights.
Voters heard Johnson, all right. They were horrified by his attacks on the government and the violence he urged. It was an era in which only white men could vote, but even so, they elected to office not Johnson’s white supremacists, but Johnson’s opponents. And they didn’t just elect enough of those reasonable men to control Congress… voters gave them a supermajority.
‘If you f--k around with us ... we are gonna do things’: Trump threatens Iran in unhinged interview with Rush Limbaugh. (New York Daily News, October 9, 2020)
President Trump went on expletive-ridden rant against Iran on Friday, threatening the leaders of the Islamic Republic that his administration will do unspeakable things to them if they “f--k around with us.” Trump, who’s still recovering from COVID-19 in quarantine at the White House, lobbed the un-presidential threat during a freewheeling interview on conservative firebrand Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. “If you f--k around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are gonna do things to you that have never been done before,” Trump said.
With more than 213,000 Americans dead and the U.S. economy in tatters, Trump has sought to shift focus away from the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks as the Nov. 3 election looms less than four weeks away. Iran has been a foil for Trump for years.
Volunteer lawyers will advise military personnel who question the legality of orders during protests, election disputes. (Washington Post, October 9, 2020)
A group of lawyers is offering advice to military and National Guard members who worry they may be given unlawful orders if deployed during protests or disputes over next month’s elections. The Orders Project was formed in response to the use of force against protesters this summer in Lafayette Square.
Some of the scenarios the lawyers have imagined are rooted in recent history with this year’s protests. But President Trump has also raised the prospect of unprecedented legal challenges. For instance, the lawyers say he could federalize the National Guard and order members to seize disputed ballots. Trump has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that mail-in ballots, expected to be cast in historic numbers, are rife with fraud and could imperil his reelection chances.
“Military personnel don’t have to follow an unlawful order, but they take a risk when deciding not to,” said Eugene R. Fidell, one of the country’s leading experts on military law and an Orders Project co-founder. Fidell advised concerned personnel to consult first with lawyers in their chain of command and to seek out the group as a kind of backup, if they want another opinion. The volunteer attorneys are all experts on the Uniform Code of Military Justice and will consult with service members on a case-by-case basis.
The group hopes to provide “a guide for the perplexed,” Fidell said, and has compiled a legal sourcebook for military personnel as well as lawyers.
NEW: Cyber Command has sought to disrupt the world’s largest botnet, hoping to reduce its potential impact on the election. (Washington Post, October 9, 2020)
In recent weeks, the U.S. military has mounted an operation to temporarily disrupt what is described as the world’s largest botnet — one used also to drop ransomware, which officials say is one of the top threats to the 2020 election. U.S. Cyber Command’s campaign against the Trickbot botnet, an army of at least 1 million hijacked computers run by Russian-speaking criminals, is not expected to permanently dismantle the network, said four U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. But it is one way to distract them at least for a while as they seek to restore operations.
Barr tells Republicans that the Durham report won't be ready by election. (Axios, October 9, 2020)
Republicans had long hoped the report, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, would be a bombshell containing revelations about what they allege were serious abuses by the Obama administration and intelligence community probing for connections between President Trump and Russia. But Barr has made clear that they should not expect any further indictments or a comprehensive report before Nov. 3rd.
“This is the nightmare scenario. Essentially, the year and a half of arguably the number one issue for the Republican base is virtually meaningless if this doesn't happen before the election," a GOP congressional aide told Axios.
Trump Engineered a Sudden Windfall in 2016 as Campaign Funds Dwindled. (New York Times, October 9, 2020)
Tax records expose more than $21 million in highly unusual payments from the Las Vegas hotel Donald Trump owns with Phil Ruffin, routed through other Trump companies and paid out in cash.
NYC should replace 9/11 funds erroneously taken by federal government: Mnuchin tells de Blasio. (NY Daily News, October 9, 2020)
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has a message for ailing 9/11 city firefighters whose funding his agency has withheld: we’re not giving your money back - go ask NYC. For years, the U.S. Treasury Department has withheld nearly $4 million from the FDNY’s World Trade Center Health Program to satisfy still-unexplained debts that other, unrelated city agencies have with the feds.
Mnuchin sent a letter to Mayor De Blasio on Thursday saying that the city should make up the shortfall. And if the city doesn’t pay up, Mnuchin threatened to take other federal healthcare funding meant for New York, and give that to the fire department instead.
Asked about Mnuchin’s hardline stance Friday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) again pointed back to the law she helped write. “It is absurd that Secretary Mnuchin hasn’t yet taken action to rectify the problem,” Maloney said. “The Debt Collection Improvement Act (PL 104-134), which I worked on with then Oversight Committee Chair Steven Horn, clearly gives the Secretary and his department the ability and discretion to make sure that this program is made whole. He needs to stop playing games with these heroes' lives.”
The Coronavirus Unveiled (with stunning photos and links; New York Times, October 9, 2020)
The first pictures of the coronavirus, taken just seven months ago, resembled barely discernible smudges. But scientists have since captured the virus and its structures in intimate, atomic detail, offering crucial insights into how it functions.
Less than a millionth of an inch wide, the virus is studded with proteins called spikes that attach to cells in people’s airways, allowing the virus to infiltrate. But under an electron microscope, the proteins look more like tulips than spikes, consisting of long stems topped with what looks like a three-part flower. These spikes also swivel on a three-way hinge, which may increase their odds of encountering and attaching to proteins on human cells.
UN: New daily record as COVID-19 cases hit more than 350,000 (Associated Press, October 9, 2020)
In a press briefing on Friday, WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan acknowledged that even as COVID-19 continues to surge across the world, “there are no new answers.” He said that although the agency wants countries to avoid the punishing lockdowns that have devastated economies, governments must ensure the most vulnerable people are protected and numerous measures must be taken. “The majority of people in the world are still susceptible to this disease,” Ryan warned. He said countries should focus not just on restrictive measures, but also on bolstering their surveillance systems, testing, contact tracing and ensuring populations are engaged.
Globally, more than 36 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including more than 1 million deaths. Experts say the tally far underestimates the real number of cases and Ryan said on Monday that the WHO’s “best estimates” were that one in 10 people worldwide — or roughly 760 million people — may have been infected.
The White House blocked the C.D.C. from requiring masks on public transportation. (New York Times, October 9, 2020)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted a sweeping order last month requiring all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation in the United States, but it was blocked by the White House, according to two federal health officials. The order would have been the toughest federal mandate to date aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which continues to infect more than 40,000 Americans a day. The officials said that it was drafted under the agency’s “quarantine powers” and that it had the support of the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, but the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, declined to even discuss it. The order would have required face coverings on airplanes, trains, buses and subways, and in transit hubs such as airports, train stations and bus depots.
A task force official said the decision to require masks should be left up to states and localities. The administration requires the task force to sign off on coronavirus-related policies.
Mapped: America’s $2 Trillion Economic Drop, by State and Sector (Visual Capitalist, October 9, 2020)
It only took a handful of months for the U.S. economy to reel from COVID-19’s effects. Between March-June 2020, stay-at-home orders resulted in disruptions to consumer activity, health, and the broader economy, causing U.S. GDP to fall by 31.4% from numbers posted in Q1. As unemployment rates hit all-time highs and businesses scrambled to stay afloat, new data shows that current dollar GDP plummeted from nearly $21.6 trillion down to $19.5 trillion between Q1’2020 and Q2’2020 (seasonally adjusted at annual rates).
While all states experienced a decline, the effects were not distributed equally across the nation.
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (People For the American Way, October 9, 2020)
Michigan sheriff says accused terrorists were within their rights to 'arrest' Gov. Whitmer. (2-min. video; Daily Kos, October 9, 2020)
On Thursday, shockwaves rippled throughout the U.S. after 13 men were arrested for conspiring to kidnap or kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with additional plots to blow up a bridge near her home to delay law enforcement response and other plots to kill police officers in the hope that Black Lives Matter supporters would be blamed, thus sparking a new civil war.
As additional details come to light, the picture of what these men were plotting has become even more frightening. Kidnapping plot aside, perhaps the most disturbing element is just how cozy they are with law enforcement—including Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf. When Fox 17 reporter Aaron Parseghian caught up with Leaf to get his thoughts on the men facing charges, specifically whether he regrets appearing on stage with these men at a May 16 rally in opposition to the lockdown orders issued by Gov. Whitmer—orders Leaf said he would not enforce—Leaf gave a downright chilling response. Not only did Leaf say he had no regrets, he said these men were within their rights to conduct a citizen’s arrest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Militia group plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, feds say. (Detroit MI Free Press, October 8, 2020)
The federal government has charged six people with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in an alleged domestic terrorist plot, according to newly unsealed court records. Seven others face state charges, brought by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. All 13 are in custody, officials said.
Members of a militia group purchased weapons, conducted surveillance, and held training and planning meetings, but were foiled in part because the FBI was able to infiltrate the group with informants, according to charges officials planned to detail Thursday. Plans included kidnapping Whitmer and putting her on trial for treason, officials allege.
"I knew this job would be hard," Whitmer said hours after learning of the alleged plot to kidnap her. "But I never could have imagined anything like this." Whitmer thanked law enforcement and prosecutors for thwarting the plot and pursing criminal charges "to bring these sick and depraved men to justice." Whitmer also lashed out at President Trump and accused him of "stoking distrust," "fomenting anger" and emboldening hate groups who "spread fear and hatred and division."
Trump officials admit diverting 9/11 treatment funds was wrong, but stall returning $4M. (NY Daily News, October 8, 2020)
Top officials in the Trump administration responsible for withholding nearly $4 million from the Fire Department’s 9/11 treatment program now say it was “unacceptable” — but still haven’t figured out how to give back money siphoned away from ailing EMTs and firefighters.
The money was taken in bits and pieces by the Treasury Department since 2016 to pay down a still-unexplained Medicare debt purportedly owed by the city that has nothing to do with the Fire Department.
New York lawmakers have pointed out that federal law gives Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin the authority to waive such debt collections, and Treasury officials have pledged to find a way to stop them.
Heather Cox Richardson: The President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, appears to be melting down. (Letters From An American, October 8, 2020)
On October 8, 2020, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, appears to be melting down. Over the course of the day, he has called for the imprisonment of his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, as well as his own predecessor, President Barack Obama, and called Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris a “monster” and a “communist.”
This morning, he announced that he would not take part in the planned October 15 town hall debate if it were turned into an on-line event. But then, after Biden said he was willing to postpone the debate so Trump could take part, said he would participate in another debate on October 22.
He released a video addressed to seniors, who are leaving him in droves, calling them "my favorite people in the world," and speculated that he could continue to hold rallies as early as this weekend, before his quarantine period is over. He called into the Fox News Channel twice, ranting. Of his bout with coronavirus, he said: “I’m back because I’m a perfect physical specimen and I’m extremely young.”
He is erratic enough that tomorrow, the House will begin to consider a bill seeking to enforce the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, designed to provide an exit ramp for a president who is experiencing physical or mental impairments that make him unable to lead the nation. The bill, advanced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, will not pass, but it will keep focus on what seems to be the president’s precarious mental state. Vice President Mike Pence, who was supposed to go to Indiana to vote tomorrow, after campaigning in Arizona, has cancelled his scheduled events and is headed back to Washington, D. C.
The 48 most unhinged lines from Donald Trump's Fox Business interview. (CNN, October 8, 2020)
[This is the sort of discussion that fits in my Black Humor section; but, sorry to say, it's totally accurate!]
New Coronavirus study: 86% of people who tested positive did not have cough, fever or loss of taste or smell. (Independent, October 8, 2020)
Scientists warn testing needs to be ramped up to catch ‘silent transmitters’
Trump to host Limbaugh radio show Friday as virtual MAGA rally. (PolitiZoom, October 8, 2020)
Donald Trump, the incumbent republican nominee for president, will host the Rush Limbaugh radio program tomorrow as a surrogate to holding an in-person rally. It is unclear if Trump will host all three hours of the Limbaugh show.  Limbaugh made the announcement in a pre-recorded statement because he is undergoing treatment for Stage-4 lung cancer.
The legality of giving Trump airtime to host a rally is legally dubious because it can be seen as a donation of advertising time for a specifically political purpose.
The treatment that Trump touted as a ‘cure’ for Covid-19 was developed using cells derived from fetal tissue. (New York Times, October 8, 2020)
The antibody cocktail for Covid-19 that President Trump touted on Wednesday afternoon was developed with cells originally derived from fetal tissue, a practice that his administration has moved to restrict. In June 2019, the Trump administration suspended federal funding for most new scientific research involving fetal tissue derived from abortions.
Is that why Pence is rushing back to Washington D.C.?
What We Know About Regeneron’s “Cocktail” Of Drugs Trump Received For COVID-19 Treatment. (Refinery29, October 8, 2020)
At Walter Reed Hospital, Trump was said to have "mild" COVID symptoms, including coughing and a fever, which led to him being treated by supplemental oxygen, vitamin D, zinc, melatonin, a daily aspirin, and famotidine, and biotechnology company Regeneron's "polyclonal antibody cocktail."
The cocktail, also known as REGN-COV2, is still in the experimental stage and has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has allegedly "rapidly reduced viral load and associated symptoms in infected COVID-19 patients," George D. Yancopoulos, MD, PhD, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron, said in a press release. They base this statement on an analysis of 275 COVID-19 patients which, according to Regeneron's website, were randomized to receive a one-time infusion of 8 grams of REGN-COV2 (high dose), 2.4 grams of REGN-COV2 (low dose) or a placebo. The trial found that the use of the antibody cocktail reduced viral levels and improved symptoms in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Trump has described this treatment as a "cure," although there's currently no scientific evidence that Regeneron's cocktail is what made Trump allegedly feel better or that it's a cure at all. The company has requested that the FDA grant them emergency use approval on Wednesday, just a few days after Trump was administered the drug.
No, the Regeneron drug Trump received is not a Covid-19 “cure”. (Vox, October 8, 2020)
Why Trump’s promise to bring America a free antibody cocktail to treat Covid-19 is so absurd.
Do the scientists your life depends on have the freedom to make a difference? Watch Rewind! (Free Software Foundation, October 8, 2020)
Trump said he'd make the "cure" free to all. Some of his donors won't like losing billions of dollars for their proprietary solutions.
Is that why Pence is rushing back to Washington D.C.?
Mike Pence cancels events, set to return to DC. (1-min. video; KRON4, October 8, 2020)
Pence is currently in Arizona for his latest campaign stop. He was supposed to hold a rally in Peoria later Thursday. However, the vice president is reportedly heading back to D.C.
This comes just one day after the Vice Presidential Debate in Salt Lake City. Less than two weeks ago, an unmasked Pence attended the now infamous White House Rose Garden ceremony that is widely suspected to be the coronavirus “superspreader” event that infected at least eight attendees, including Trump himself.
‘Nobody’s Sick’ says White House When Mike Pence Abruptly Cancels Trip To Indiana. (PolitiZoom, October 8, 2020)
Mike Pence was going to travel to Indiana today where he and Mother were going to vote early. But for undisclosed reasons, the trip has been cancelled — and the White House felt the need to say, “nobody’s sick” maybe after all the brouhaha over Pence’s pink eye, since that frequently accompanies COVID-19.
First, I don’t know if you can even believe a declaration that a diagnosis is negative from this White House. It’s not exactly a high credibility zone these days.
Second, and this is very plausible — the Great Trumpkin’s condition may have worsened and Pence needs to stand by to take the reins. The timing for a crash from dexamethasone would be right about now, three days after returning to the White House. Like Trump told the Proud Boys, stand by.
"I sent the fly.": The internet is buzzing over this Ruth Bader Ginsburg debate meme. (The List, October 8, 2020)
When we saw a fly land on Vice President Mike Pence's head during the debate last night, we knew it would only be a matter of time before the internet exploded with memes making light of situation — and we have not been disappointed. While the jokes have ranged from horror movie references to puns about excrement, one of the memes garnering the most attention was one suggesting the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg sent the fly from the great beyond as punishment for the Trump administration's failure to honor her dying wish - that no new justice be nominated until after the election.
Mike Pence fly memes land on the vice presidential debate. (CNet, October 8, 2020)
The fly knew when two minutes were up, even if Pence didn't.
(Note: Trump did NOT call that fly "a Blessing From God".]
Trump Calls His Illness ‘a Blessing From God’. (New York Times, October 8, 2020)
In a video on Wednesday evening, the president portrayed an unproven antibody cocktail being developed by the drug maker Regeneron as a miracle cure.
Mr. Trump said he planned to make the antibody cocktail being developed by the drug maker Regeneron, which does not yet have government approval, free to anyone who needs it. He did not explain how he would do it.
The president’s statement, in a video released early Wednesday evening by the White House, was his latest effort to repair the political damage he has suffered after months of trying to minimize the effects of a pandemic that has killed more than 211,000 Americans. In remarks he made while he was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was taken by helicopter on Friday night, and then when he returned to the White House on Monday, Mr. Trump did his best to play down the virus’s effects, telling Americans, “Don’t be afraid of it,” and saying that he felt “better than 20 years ago.”
It was the first time that Mr. Trump tacitly acknowledged another appearance problem — that he has received the kind of intensive and costly medical care for coronavirus that is not available to any member of the general public.
Trump insults Harris as 'a monster' morning after vice presidential debate. (ABC News, October 8, 2020)
He's also falsely called her a "communist" in a Fox Business interview.
Trump Rejects Virtual Debate With Biden, Vows to Do Live Rallies. (2-min. video; Bloomberg, October 8, 2020)
President Donald Trump said he will skip next week’s October 15th debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden if it’s not in-person, saying he’ll instead hold live rallies as polls show him headed for a possible defeat. Trump’s comments Thursday came moments after the Commission on Presidential Debates said that the Oct. 15 town hall-style forum in Miami -- the second of three presidential debates -- would be conducted virtually as a precaution against the [further] spread of [Trump's] coronavirus. Trump said the panel was trying “to protect Biden” by canceling the in-person debate. “No I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said in a telephone interview with Fox Business Thursday morning. “That’s not what debating’s about.”
[It's NOT? He's ducking! See "Virtual Presidential Debates? We Had One in 1960. (Real Clear Politics, May 20, 2020)]
CPD Announces Second Presidential Debate Will Be Virtual, (US Commission On Presidential Debates, October 8, 2020)
In order to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate, scheduled for October 15, 2020, The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced the following today:
The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations.
Mitch McConnell: "I haven't visited the White House recently because of lax coronavirus rules." (Cincinnatti OH Enquirer, October 8, 2020)
"My impression was their approach to how to handle this (pandemic) was different from mine and what I insisted we do in the Senate, which was to wear a mask and practice social distancing,'' McConnell said during an appearance in Northern Kentucky.
McConnell also shrugged off President Donald Trump's vow not to participate in next week's presidential debate if it was held virtually. "I don't have any particular reaction to it,' McConnell said, during a press conference at Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport's corporate offices. "It's really up to him to decide whether it's to his advantage or not to his advantage to participate.''
VP debate fact check: Daniel Dale selects the lie of the night. (14-min. video; CNN, October 8, 2020)
Heather Cox Richardson: Republicans see the writing on the wall. (Letters From An American, October 8, 2020)
Trump’s plan for the election was to present himself as a strong leader who had overcome the pandemic—which he maintains was inflicted on us by China—and who would rebuild the economy that the Democrats had sabotaged with their insistence on shutting down the country when coronavirus hit. To that end, Trump and his people have acted as if the danger is over, refusing to wear masks or social distance, gathering in crowds, and insisting on reopening schools.
This plan has exploded as the president himself, along with his wife and many of his top advisers, have come down with the coronavirus. They appear to have spread it not only through the White House, but also to people who attended an event for Gold Star families the day after the Rose Garden event celebrating Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and then to people who attended fundraisers for Trump during the week. The circle of those infected by the White House widens every day.
Republicans see the writing on the wall, and those up for reelection are distancing themselves from the president to try to hold onto their seats. Today, the New England Journal of Medicine called for voters to turn out of office “our current political leaders [who] have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent…. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.” And this morning, on the Fox News Channel, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina, who ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, explained that she was voting for Biden, since Trump has “damaged” the Republican Party.
Senate Republicans now seem concerned enough about Trump’s reelection that they are laser-focused on getting Barrett onto the Supreme Court. Indeed, they are so focused that they are refusing to quarantine even though many have been exposed to coronavirus.
Tonight was the vice presidential debate, and it transpired about as anyone would have expected. With the poll numbers as they are, the burden was on Vice President Mike Pence to try to move undecided voters into Trump’s camp, while Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris (CA) simply had to make sure to avoid any major gaffes. But she is a good enough debater that she had a loftier goal, too: to make people who didn’t know her well connect with her as a person. Surprisingly, the moderator, Susan Page, the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, seemed unprepared for Pence to bully as Trump had. Pence talked far past his time, interrupted, and refused to answer questions, so the debate went off the rails quickly while Page tried to stop him only by saying “Thank you, Mr. Vice President,” an admonition he simply blew through.
Pence did not make up the ground he needed to if his goal was to help move voters into the Trump camp. He looked tired and weak and wooden, and one of his eyes was bloodshot. His answers were smooth, but they were Trump talking points and debunked conspiracy theories that we have all heard a thousand times. He turned away from questions of substance, quite explicitly refusing to answer them and turning back to a previous question. So, for example, he said the Trump administration had a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, but when asked what it was, talked instead about the Supreme Court.
The only truly notable moment in his answers was notable indeed: he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he and Trump lose the election.
Pence needed to turn Trump’s numbers, and he did not. His repetition of debunked claims—I mean, he was really just lying—while talking over his opponent and the moderator, played terribly with women. Trump needs to make up ground there and, if anything, Pence lost it. What he did do, of course, was to play to Trump’s base, just as Trump did last week.
Harris did what she set out to do. She provided detailed, clear accounts of Biden-Harris policies—her explanation of the principles of foreign affairs was terrific: simple, clear, and a dig at Trump—and she connected with viewers who did not know her well by speaking personally about her mother, her talks with Biden, and about what people’s lives are actually like under this administration. Her masterful handling of Pence’s badgering also personalized her for the vast numbers of us who have dealt with That Guy in meetings, especially since, as a Black woman, she had to counter his gaslighting without coming across as “angry.”
Harris’s extraordinary historical significance as a Black woman on a debate stage vying to become America’s next vice president was not lost on anyone. America’s Black and Brown observers noted her significance to their own representation in government, and also noted how perfectly she was using facial expressions they had grown up with from older women to demonstrate that someone was out of line.
Women rated Harris’s performance higher than men did, but still about 60% of observers in a CNN poll gave Harris the win. Positive impressions of Harris also rose from about 56% to 63%. Pence’s favorability of 41% stayed the same. So, Harris nailed what she needed to: she solidified her ticket’s lead.
Still, the biggest winner of the debate was a large fly that landed on Pence’s head and roosted in his hair for two minutes without any reaction from the candidate. The hilarity that ensued on social media—you can just imagine the commentary—quickly overrode the few memorable words of the debate, leaving us with memorable impressions alone.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Cheered Every Time Kamala Harris Told Mike Pence 'I'm Still Speaking'. (Elle, October 8, 2020)
Going into the evening's event, the bar for doing a good job was fairly low. Last week's presidential debate had been labeled the worst in American history as President Trump repeatedly interrupted Joe Biden, leaving little time for any sort of substantive conversation. Though the VP debate was surely less chaotic, Warren says she saw some of the same strategies on the Republican side. "Mike Pence tried to run a bunch of the same plays [as Trump]," she says. "Remember the questions he was asked. The number one for me was: Can you reassure the American people that if Trump/Pence loses that you all are going to go quietly, and there will be a peaceful transfer of power? Did you hear the answer to that? I didn't hear an answer where he said yes. This is like, Constitution 101. That's the heart of the democracy. He had no answer there." She continues, "Also, Mike Pence spoke over Kamala repeatedly. My favorite moments were when Kamala would look at him and say very calmly, 'I am speaking.' I cheered every time she did that."
Beyond the plexiglass, COVID-19 is drastically shaping the future of the debates. On Thursday morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the second presidential debate, set to be in the style of a town hall, would be virtual. Trump responded by saying he would not take part: "I'm not gonna waste my time on a virtual debate." Warren's take on the breaking news? "He knows how badly he lost the first debate, and he's looking for any excuse not to have to show up for a second one," Warren says, before imitating a squawking chicken over the phone. "If the debate commission is serious about seeing independent verification of negative COVID tests before he can appear on the debate stage, Trump may simply be unwilling to let anyone know how long he's sick with COVID. But I think the bottom-line reason is: Trump lost and, even though he works hard to construct a fantasy bubble for himself, he's got to know how badly he lost the first debate."
"The very first words out of her mouth were about how Donald Trump's failure to deal with the COVID crisis was the worst failure of an American president in history," Warren recalls. "It showed she could land a punch hard and with confidence and dignity. It showed a woman leader." It was a moment that, if Warren's correct, will more than likely bother Trump for days to come.
During the first debate, Trump couldn't help but bring up Warren, though he didn't call her by name, instead using the racial slur "Pocahontas."  Was it at all satisfying, I asked, to know she was still top of mind for the president? "Strong women get under Donald Trump's skin," she says. "It's a reminder how weak the man really is."
Trump handmaid Mike Pence faces off with an impressive Kamala Harris. (2-min. video; USA Today, October 8, 2020)
Pence didn't even pretend Trump has a plan to protect insurance for people with preexisting conditions. And Harris didn't answer on 'packing the court.'
Jill: Pence was also good at using ridiculous math to obscure the impact of the Trump-Pence tax cuts. He can repeat ad infinitum that the average American family got a $2,000 tax cut, but that doesn't mean your family got a $2,000 tax cut. Eighty percent of families got far less. As actor Will Swenson tweeted of himself and his wife, actress Audra McDonald, "Between my wife and I we have an average of three Tonys each. (Her 6, me 0)."
David: I don’t know how you could have been impressed with Harris. She completely failed to explain how completely abnormal the Trump administration has been. It was like she was having a debate with a regular Republican instead of the gray-haired handmaid for insanity.
You are right that Pence was cold. He was so deadly still that a fly landed on his head and cuddled in for the night.
The V.P. debate (New York Times, October 8, 2020)
Mike Pence and Kamala Harris are both skilled debaters. And their debate last night was far easier to watch than last week’s presidential debate. But there was also a problem with the vice-presidential debate: Pence repeatedly made statements that were either misleading or untrue. Rather than laying out his honest disagreements with Harris and Joe Biden — be they on tax policy, abortion, policing, immigration, the environment, or any number of other issues — Pence misrepresented the Trump administration’s record and Biden’s.
To be clear, both Pence and Harris also engaged in mild overstatement and rhetorical flourishes at times. That’s normal in politics. Harris, for example, exaggerated the job losses that President Trump’s trade war with China has caused. But Pence was far more dishonest. At several points, he seemed to want to run on a record that didn’t exist. Here’s a partial list:
- “On day one, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes,” Pence said. This is false: Biden has proposed tax increases only on households making more than $400,000 a year.
- Pence said he and Trump had a plan to “protect pre-existing conditions for every American.” The administration has repeatedly attempted to take health insurance away from Americans, and the number of uninsured people has risen during Trump’s presidency.
- Pence claimed that Trump had “suspended all travel from China.” He did not. Although Trump claimed to have done so, hundreds of thousands of people traveled from China to the U.S. after the coronavirus appeared.
- Pence said the Trump administration would “continue to listen to the science” on climate change. The administration has defied or ignored the views of scientists on climate change.
- Pence said Biden would “ban fracking.” Biden would not.
- Pence said Trump revered members of the military. In 2015, Trump publicly mocked John McCain because he had been a prisoner during the Vietnam War. More recently, Trump has described Americans soldiers killed in war as “losers” and “suckers,” The Atlantic has reported.
- Pence said voting by mail created “a massive opportunity for voter fraud.” This contradicts all of the available evidence and history about mail voting.
- Pence said he and Trump have “always” told the American people the truth.
Vice presidential debate: Harris for the prosecution, Pence on the witness stand for Trump. (USA Today, October 8, 2020)
Pence is aiming for adjectives like boring and stable. Harris will press for answers in what could be the Biden campaign's only chance to get them.
NEW: White House hides Trump status as agent of infection; Trump blames Gold Star families. (6-min. video; Rachel Maddow, October 8, 2020)
Rachel Maddow points out that the Trump administration has been forthcoming in the past about Donald Trump testing negative for Covid-19, which makes it all the more mysterious that they won't now say when Trump last tested negative. Meanwhile, Trump is blaming his infection on Gold Star families.
34 people connected to White House, more than previously known, infected by coronavirus: Internal FEMA memo. (ABC News, October 7, 2020)
The administration has sought to downplay the spread.
Vice-Presidential Debate Live Updates: Harris and Pence Will Face Off, Divided by Plexiglass and Politics. (New York Times, October 7, 2020)
Joe Biden is edging ahead of President Trump in Iowa and Wisconsin, tied in Ohio, and firmly leading in Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada, polls found. Tonight’s debate starts at 9 p.m. Eastern. Federal judges ruled that New York prosecutors can obtain the president’s tax returns.
The plexiglass barriers at tonight’s debate will be pretty useless, virus experts say. (New York Times, October 7, 2020)
“Those plexiglass barriers are really only going to be effective if the vice president or Kamala Harris are spitting at each other,” said Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. “Those are really just splatter shields.”
“At 12 feet 3 inches apart, spray droplet transmission is not the issue,” said Donald Milton, an aerosol expert at the University of Maryland. “What is the ventilation like? What is the direction of the airflow?” Dr. Milton and his colleagues contacted the debate commission and both campaigns to recommend purchasing plug-and-play air filters — excellent ones run to just about $300 each — or four box fans and air filters taped together. Each debater would have one device positioned to suck up and clean the air exhaled, and another to produce clean air.
The safest solution, experts said, is to move the debate online.
[$10 solution by Dick Miller: Give the moderator a desk bell and two microphone cut-off switches. At the second ding, cut that mike.
 $5 higher solution by Jill Miller: Also suspend a bucket of water over each candidate's head - to increase national audience and the dignity of the debate.]
The vice presidential debate should be canceled. Since it's not, here's the deal. (Daily Kos, October 7, 2020)
Wednesday night is 2020’s one and only vice presidential debate, and let’s start with the main fact about it: this debate should be canceled. Mike Pence was in repeated contact with Donald Trump in the days leading up to Trump’s diagnosis (or the public announcement of it), he could still be in an incubation period for COVID-19, and his every action is showing that he cannot be trusted to keep others safe.
At the debate, Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, will be seated 12 feet apart (Pence’s people pushed for them to be closer) and separated by teeny tiny plexiglass (check out the picture below). The debate begins at 9 PM ET and is scheduled to last 90 minutes. It’s set to be moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page, who last month was revealed to have hosted a Girls' Night party for the Trump administration's Seema Verma.
In 2016, Pence’s debate strategy was to present himself as calm, smug, and condescending while lying outrageously. Nothing in his record since offers reason to think he’ll do any differently in 2020.
Harris, for her part, had an inconsistent history at Democratic primary debates in 2019, with some debate-defining standout moments but at other times faltering a bit. She faces multiple challenges Wednesday: tied for first among them overcoming Pence’s lying and overcoming the ways she, as a woman of color, is tone-policed and likely to be portrayed as angry or mean. Beyond that, she has to hold Trump to account on coronavirus, without going too far on his personal condition in case he takes a turn for the worse, and be ready to answer questions about both her own record and positions and Biden’s record and positions. No big deal, right?
But the White House COVID-19 outbreak is the key backdrop to this entire debate. Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen laid out why CDC guidelines say Pence should be in quarantine until at least October 13—even though the CDC, which has been under so much political pressure lately, has given Pence its blessing to debate.
And check out this ludicrously inadequate amount of plexiglass. Even a significant plexiglass barrier couldn’t do much about aerosols circulating through the air, but this is a mockery of the idea that it could do anything.
Regeneron Asks F.D.A. for Emergency Approval for Drug That Trump Claimed Cured Him. (5-min. video; New York Times, October 7, 2020)
The drugmaker Regeneron said on Wednesday evening that it had submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval of the experimental antibody cocktail that President Trump had praised just hours earlier without evidence as a “cure” for the coronavirus.
The company said that at first, access to the treatment would be extremely limited, with only enough doses for 50,000 patients, a far cry from the “hundreds of thousands” of doses that Mr. Trump said in a video released Wednesday he would soon be making available to Americans free of charge. In the five-minute video, Mr. Trump said that it was a “blessing from God” that he had been infected with the coronavirus and that the Regeneron cocktail had suddenly made him feel better. “I felt unbelievable,” he said. “I felt good immediately.”
There is no evidence that the treatment is the reason he was feeling better, and his doctors have said he has taken other drugs as well. “I call that a cure,” Mr. Trump said in the video, adding that he would make sure it was in every hospital as soon as possible. Mr. Trump gave the impression that he would push the F.D.A. to approve Regeneron’s treatment, even though the agency’s scientists are supposed to make independent decisions about approvals.
The news of Regeneron’s application on the same day that Mr. Trump effusively praised the unproven drug is likely to intensify fears that the president is pressuring federal health agencies to make decisions aimed at benefiting him politically. In the video, Mr. Trump repeated his desire to get a vaccine approved before the election, even though the vaccine makers themselves have said that is highly unlikely.
Regeneron’s treatment is a cocktail of two powerful antibodies that are believed to boost the immune response to the virus. Early results seem promising. In a press release, the company has said the cocktail lowered virus levels particularly in people who had not made their own antibodies, but the company has not yet released detailed data to back up its claim. Clinical trials are not yet complete. Drugs are not generally considered to be proven safe or effective until they undergo rigorous clinical trials that compare one group of people who received the treatment with those who receive a placebo.
The company has received more than $500 million from the federal government to develop and manufacture its experimental treatment as part of Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to come up with viable vaccines and treatments for the virus and to help distribute them once they are available. The company said that it expects to have doses available for 300,000 patients in the next few months. Under the agreement with the federal government, it said those doses would be made available free of charge. In August, it announced a partnership with the pharmaceutical company Roche to ramp up production to about 250,000 doses a month by next year.
Mr. Trump received the antibody cocktail on Friday, but it is not the only drug that he was prescribed. He has been taking the antiviral drug remdesivir, as well as the steroid dexamethasone, which the World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health recommend only for people who have severe or critical cases of Covid-19.
In an interview on Wednesday before the company’s announcement, Dr. George Yancopoulos, Regeneron’s president and chief scientific officer, said it was possible that Mr. Trump responded to the treatment and that the level of virus had declined. “That’s a logical conclusion,” Dr. Yancopoulos said. “Based on his symptomology, that has to have happened.” But neither Dr. Yancopoulos nor Mr. Trump can definitively say whether the treatment worked. Any number of factors could complicate the picture, including the fact that most people who are infected with the virus recover. That is why drugs are typically tested in large clinical trials with hundreds and sometimes thousands of people.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at U.C.S.F. Health in San Francisco, said in his opinion, there was “one million percent no” chance that the Regeneron treatment could have cured Mr. Trump in 24 hours, as the president claimed. Another explanation, he said, is that the president is experiencing the effects of the steroid dexamethasone, which he has been receiving since Saturday, which is known to reduce fever and can create feelings of well-being and euphoria in patients. “This is all in keeping with the dexamethasone speaking,” Dr. Chin-Hong said.
Donald Trump returns to Oval Office, breaking COVID-19 quarantine, and talks up experimental drug. (1-min. video; USA Today, October 7, 2020)
President Donald Trump, confined to the White House residence since returning home from the hospital Monday where he was being treated for COVID-19, spent Wednesday afternoon in the Oval Office and taped a video near it, even as the West Wing has become a hot zone for the virus. Trump's return to the Oval Office prompted a flurry of precautions by his staff in an office building where the president and at least a dozen employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.
Doctors had wanted Trump to stay in the White House residence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say patients are supposed to quarantine for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms – in Trump's case, last Thursday.
Pete Buttigieg Drops Firebomb On Trump And Pence In Fox News Interview. (1-min. video; Huffington Post, October 7, 2020)
Buttigieg wonders "why an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence wants to be on a ticket with a president caught with a porn star."
New England’s Forests Are Sick. They Need More Tree Doctors. (New York Times, October 7, 2020)
Climate change is taking a toll on woodlands in the Northeast.
A wave of polls paints a dire picture for Trump. (Politico, October 7, 2020)
The new surveys fall into two buckets: those that are bad for the president, and those that are horrible.
No. 2 Marine general tests positive for COVID-19. (The Hill, October 7, 2020)
The Marine Corps reported Gen. Gary Thomas's diagnosis in a press release Wednesday, adding that he had been in quarantine after being notified that he had come into contact with the Coast Guard’s vice commandant, Adm. Charles Ray, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday after feeling mild symptoms over the weekend. Following news of Ray’s diagnosis, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who met with Ray at the Pentagon on Friday began quarantining, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, as well as the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and National Guard.
It is not clear where Ray contracted the virus, although his recent schedule included a visit to the White House, which is now at the center of a coronavirus outbreak that includes President Trump and several members of the commander in chief’s inner circle.
Hayden endorses Biden, says Trump 'doesn't care about facts'. (The Hill, October 7, 2020)
Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who served as director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency under multiple presidents, on Tuesday night endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. “If there is another term for President Trump, I don’t know what happens to America,” Hayden said in his testimonial. “Truth is really important, but especially in intelligence. “President Trump doesn’t care about facts. President Trump doesn’t care about the truth. He doesn’t listen to his experts.”
Hayden cited the FBI warning about white nationalist groups following congressional testimony from Director Christopher Wray, who said racially motivated violent extremism cases account for the bulk of the bureau's work on domestic terrorist threats. Trump “doesn’t want to talk” about white nationalism, Hayden said in the clip. “He doesn't keep the country safe. It's unbelievable,” he added.
“I absolutely disagree with some of Biden’s policies,” Hayden stated. “But that’s not important. What’s important is the United States and I’m supporting Joe Biden. Biden is a good man. Donald Trump is not.”
The ad from the anti-Trump group went viral, quickly racking up more than 2.5 million views on Twitter as of Wednesday morning.
The gray revolt against Trump (New York Times, October 7, 2020)
President Trump is losing his fellow baby boomers. Their turnabout is the central reason he trails Joe Biden by a substantial — and apparently growing — margin.
Four years ago, Trump handily won his own generation, which is generally defined as being born between 1946 and 1964, while losing every younger generation. The Pew Research Center estimates that Trump beat Hillary Clinton by nine percentage points among voters 65 and older.
The latest polls this year show a radically different situation. A CNN poll released yesterday found Biden leading Trump by 21 points — 60 percent to 39 percent — among likely voters 65 and older. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found an even bigger gap: 27 points. Dave Wasserman of The Cook Political Report calls it “the ‘gray revolt’ against Trump.”
Russia’s the top election threat but top Trump officials rarely say it. (Washington Post, October 7, 2020)
Russia remains the prime threat to November's elections, a new Department of Homeland Security report makes clear, even as the Trump administration tries to shift blame to other adversaries.
The body of DHS’s first-ever homeland threat assessment warns that “Russia is the likely primary covert influence actor and purveyor of disinformation and misinformation within the Homeland.” The Kremlin’s “overarching objective is to undermine the U.S. electoral process and weaken the United States through discord, division, and distraction in hopes America becomes less able to challenge Russia’s strategic objectives,” the report states.
That’s far starker language than the foreword by acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf, which draws no clear distinction between Russian efforts to influence the election and those of other adversaries.
Trump’s team trusts Russian intelligence over U.S. intelligence. (Washington Post, October 6, 2020)
As the election draws near, President Trump’s political appointees, private lawyers and GOP allies on Capitol Hill are escalating their campaign to help the Russians interfere in U.S. politics. Now they’re effectively asking Americans to side with Russian intelligence services over the U.S. intelligence community — and the president is going along. Over the past few months, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, GOP senators, U.S. lobbyists and pro-Trump media organizations have been working with Russian intelligence agents to launder Russian disinformation about the Bidens and Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This effort is “probably” directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, according to a secret CIA assessment I revealed in September.
Biden makes plea for American unity in Gettysburg: 'Once again, we are a house divided'. (22-min. videoText of speech; Washington Times, October 6, 2020)
Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden invoked the spirit of President Lincoln on Tuesday as he called for the nation to overcome deeply entrenched divisions. The former vice president attempted to blend party lines together as he delivered his hopeful plea for unity in the country from the graveyard of Gettysburg, where thousands died in the pivotal Civil War battle.
“On this sacred ground Abraham Lincoln reimagined America itself,” Mr. Biden said. “He believed in the rescue, redemption, and rededication of the Union … Today, once again, we are a house divided. But that, my friends, can no longer be.”
Heather Cox Richardson: The Writing On The Wall (Letters From An American, October 6, 2020)
In the past three years, it has so often felt like things were reaching the breaking point. But the image of Trump on the balcony of the White House last night, defiantly taking off his mask as he gasped for breath, truly looked to me like the beginning of the final chapter.
Kellyanne Conway's daughter strikes again on TikTok as the 'whistleblower of our time'. (Daily Kos, October 6, 2020)
After Donald Trump shared his positive COVID-19 diagnosis Friday, members of his administration and supporters at the White House followed. The number of those who tested positive following an event for Trump’s Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett in the White House Rose Garden last week continues to grow. At least 10 people have been infected with the virus after attending the event on Sept. 26.
Before former White House aide Kellyanne Conway could admit to a positive COVID-19 test following the event, one of her children shared their suspicions on TikTok. Conway’s 15-year-old daughter Claudia Conway posted a video Friday following Trump’s announcement that her mother was “coughing all around the house.” In another post hours later she announced that her mom tested positive for COVID-19, followed by another video with her feelings about it. “im furious. wear your masks. dont listen to our idiot fucking president piece of shit. protect yourself and those around you,” the video caption read. Conway not only attended the garden event at the end of September but the presidential debate Tuesday during which Trump’s posse was seen without masks.
In Reversal, White House Approves Stricter Guidelines for Vaccine Makers. (New York Times, October 6, 2020)
The guidelines make it highly unlikely that a coronavirus vaccine will be given emergency authorization by Election Day.
Even in a Pandemic, Trump and Republicans Want to Take Americans' Health Insurance. (2-min. video; Newsweek, October 6, 2020)
During last week's presidential debate, President Donald Trump was asked about his plans for health care reform, given the court challenge to the Affordable Care Act that his administration is supporting. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case, California v. Texas, on November 10, one week after the election. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Trump administration and 20 Republican-led states challenging the ACA, then it will cease to exist—and tens of millions of Americans could lose health coverage almost instantly.
Trump has spent much of his presidency talking about how he's going to replace the ACA with something better. Yet that hasn't happened. Efforts to repeal the ACA and replace it with a slimmed-down GOP version failed in 2017, and there hasn't been any legislative traction since. Trump's recent executive order that he claims would "protect pre-existing conditions" lacks the necessary legal firepower—such sweeping protections can come only from legislation. One health care policy expert called the move "an election year gimmick."
The president's recent attempts at health care policy are designed to distract voters from the fact that he and the GOP despise the ACA, as California v. Texas shows. Now, with a new vacancy on the Supreme Court, Trump and the Senate even get to pick their jury: In Amy Coney Barrett, they hope to add a justice who could tip the scales in their favor.
America May Need International Intervention. (New York Times, October 6, 2020)
Even Democrats may find it hard to imagine, but the “leader of the free world” would benefit from United Nations oversight.
Paul Krugman: Lessons from a super-spreading White House (New York Times, October 6, 2020)
One thing I’ve concluded is that I and most others thinking about it were wrong about climate change. I don’t mean that we were wrong about the science. Where I’m starting to think we were wrong was the politics.
Even a few months ago I would have said that the politics of climate action were hard, despite the scientific consensus, because of space and time. Space: the damage from greenhouse gas emissions falls on the planet as a whole, not the people next door, which makes it hard to motivate action against polluters. Time: the consequences of emissions unfold over decades, which makes it even harder to get people to act now.
But dealing with Covid-19, while it bears a strong conceptual relationship to climate change — like emitting greenhouse gases, irresponsible behavior in a pandemic is an “externality,” a cost you impose on other people — is everything dealing with climate change is not. The consequences of bad pandemic policy take months, not decades, to become obvious — it only took about two months for Trump’s “LIBERATE” tweets, and the premature reopening they helped inspire, to produce a deadly viral surge in the Sunbelt. And it turns out to be relatively easy to link harm to specific actions. The coronavirus, we’re learning, isn’t mainly disseminated by those annoying people who can’t figure out that their masks should cover their noses as well as their mouths; instead, the main culprits are a relative handful of super-spreader events, in which large groups of people clump together while ignoring basic safety precautions.
So this should be easy. Cause and effect are pretty clearly linked, so it shouldn’t be hard to build a political consensus to do the right thing. Yet what we’re actually seeing is irresponsibility and denial. Taking even the simplest, cheapest actions to protect others — like wearing a face covering in public places — has become a partisan issue. And the party in power isn’t just refusing to crack down on potential super-spreader events, it’s holding such events itself. Future generations will find it hard to believe that the Rose Garden event for Amy Coney Barrett took place amid a pandemic; they’ll find it even harder to believe that Trump and company show every sign of having learned nothing from the wave of infections that has swept through Republican ranks.
The lesson I take is that our political dysfunction is even worse, our ability to rise to the occasion even lower, than I imagined. It’s hard to look at what’s happening now without feeling a sense of despair.
Another member of Team Trump tests positive for COVID-19 after flouting public health guidelines. (Daily Kos, October 5, 2020)
The morning after she gaggled with reporters without a mask, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has become the latest case in the White House COVID-19 hot spot.
”We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here… isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?”
— Kayleigh McEnany, February 2, 2020
"The science should not stand in the way of reopening schools."
— Kayleigh McEnany, July 16, 2020
Robert Reich: Trump's COVID-19—Empathy for the World's Least Empathetic Man (2-min. video; Newsweek, October 5, 2020)
Whether responding to Trump's hospitalization this weekend or to Trump's larger political maneuvers, Democrats want to act decently and fairly. They want to protect democratic norms, values and institutions. This is admirable. It's also what Democrats say they stand for.
But the other side isn't playing the same game. Trump and his enablers will do anything to retain and enlarge their power. What kind of society do we want: one based on decency and democracy, or on viciousness and raw power?
You will not believe this insane Trump campaign spin about the pr*sident's COVID. (5-min. Fox video; Daily Kos, October 5, 2020)
“And listen, he has experience as commander in chief, he has experience as a businessman, he has experience now fighting the coronavirus as an individual. Those firsthand experiences — Joe Biden, he doesn’t have those."
— Erin Perrine, Fox News
“Don Jr. Thinks Trump Is Acting Crazy”: The President’s COVID Joyride Has the Family Divided. (Vanity Fair, October 5, 2020)
The president’s recklessness at Walter Reed has Don Jr. pushing for an intervention, but Ivanka and Jared “keep telling Trump how great he’s doing,” a source says.
Dexamethasone: Rare Side Effect of Drug Given to Trump for COVID Includes Grandiose Delusions. (Newsweek, October 5, 2020)
President Donald Trump has been prescribed dexamethasone for COVID-19, a steroid that has a range of potential side effects including mental problems such as aggression, agitation, and anxiety.
At a press conference on Sunday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Trump is being treated for COVID-19, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley said the president was prescribed dexamethasone after the president's blood oxygen levels dropped twice. Dexamethasone is a steroid that suppresses the immune system to prevent the release of substances that can trigger inflammation. The drug was found to benefit critically ill patients in trials in the U.K., raising questions about the severity of the president's condition.
A desperate sickly Trump cannot lose his deplorable base. (Daily Kos, October 5, 2020)
On Saturday I wrote that Donald Trump’s “coronavirus diagnosis and hospitalization will crush his supporters’ intensity, damage both turnout and even the possibility of post-Election Day violence.” It was pure conjecture at the time, but Trump’s every action this weekend suggests that even if it’s not true, Trump himself believes it.
Electorally, this isn’t so much a problem for Trump. He’s already losing. But it’s utterly devastating to Republicans, who are already facing deep losses. Democrats in places like Kansas, South Carolina, and even Mississippi (!) are posing strong challenges in what should be safe Republican territory, and every Trump supporters who tunes the election out because his Big Daddy is actually a frail broken old man is one more obstacle those Republicans must overcome.
And as for Trump, how can he contest an election if he can’t project power and strength? It’s clear Trump is keenly aware of that challenge, thus leading to utterly reckless and potentially self-destructive behavior. For example, he decided to put his Secret Service detail at severe risk by staging a ridiculous photo op, driving around the block in his motorcade to wave at supporters outside Walter Reed Medical Center. The comparisons to his Lafayette Square PR stunt were clear and obvious—the one where he violently cleared out protesters in order to wave a Bible outside a church across the park. While Lafayette Park was the brainchild of superspreader Hope Hicks and Jared Kushner, I would bet this one is all Trump, yet equally outrageous and ineffective.
He reinforced the damage with his recorded message from inside his hospital suite: “We're going to pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots. They've got Trump flags and they love our country so I'm not telling anybody but you but I'm about to make a little surprise visit so perhaps I'll get there before you get to see me.” His message wasn’t directed at well-wishers around the country, or directed at all Americans. He was hyper focused on the kind of supporters who would stage a vigil outside his hospital, the “great patriots,” the ones with “Trump flags.” It was micro-targeting at its most absurd extreme. Then there was Trump pretending to “work.” If by “work” you mean “sign blank pieces of paper because why even pretend they’re real?” On top of all that, we have the ridiculous tinpot dictator-like medical briefings, in which Trump’s doctor literally admitted to lying to reporters (and America) about Trump’s treatments.
All of this stagecraft has one purpose: to maintain the appearance of strength, health, and vigor necessary to maintain his hold on his deplorable base. Everyone else looks on with abject horror at the whole embarrassing spectacle. Two polls so far have been conducted entirely after Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. YouGov was 44-37 immediately before COVID-19, 48-40 after COVID-19. Ipsos for Reuters was 50-41 before COVID-19, and 51-41 after COVID-19. Both of those are a net +1 toward Democratic nominee Joe Biden, which doesn’t seem like much, and it isn’t much. But it does suggest that Trump isn’t getting any “sympathy bounce,” and why would he? Just the act of putting his Secret Service security detail in grave danger is reason alone to deny Trump any benefit of the doubt. As I’ve said over and over again, people’s minds are made up. You won’t see big swings in public opinion. But we don’t need big swings to dramatically change the results of this election. If 1-2% of Americans swing away from Trump and the Republicans, and maybe 5% of Trump’s most ardent supporters stay home, dejected at their impending loss and broken hero, then we’re talking about picking up 20 more House seats instead of single digits. We’re talking a Senate that goes from 50-50 or 51-49 Democratic to 55-45.
A big Senate majority means an easier end to the filibuster, statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico (if its residents want it), and the passage of more aggressive action on health care, climate change, economic stimulus, and all sorts of other Democratic priorities. And court expansion. Definitely court expansion. A bigger Democratic wave means we take control of more state legislatures, meaning better legislation for millions, as well as bigger Democratic say in redistricting both at the state and federal levels.
There is so much at stake, which is why Trump is panicking at the thought of being trapped in that hospital suite. It’s why he’s staging these photo op stunts to keep his core supporters engaged and motivated. He can’t afford to see any slippage or loss of intensity. And Trump’s Republican Party even less so.
It is a gamble, however. Imagine if Trump does talk his doctors into releasing him today. He is the president, after all—it’ll be hard to lock him up against his will. What happens if he degenerates over the next week or two? What happens if he has to be taken back to the hospital, except this time on a gurney?
We only have four weeks left. But we still have four weeks left. There will be more twists and turns to this story. That is just about inevitable.
What happens if the president may be unable or unwilling to give up power? (The Conversation, October 5, 2020)
When the president checks into a hospital suffering from a potentially deadly virus, it’s time to call on the constitutional law scholars. That’s because the law is clear that if the commander in chief is too ill to carry out his duties, he may transfer power to the vice president. George W. Bush did that when he had to undergo anesthesia for a colonoscopy.
But the law is murkier about what happens if the president may be unable or unwilling to give up power, even if he is clearly too ill to do his job.
10 Things You Need to Know to Stop a Coup (Choose Democracy, October 5, 2020)
Democracy is fragile. We have reason to worry that this fall we may see an undemocratic power grab — a coup. We also know that the people can defend our democracy. Nonviolent mass protests have stopped coups in other places, and we may have to do the same in this country.
Elections work because the public agrees to honor the results. Similarly, coups work only if the public honors them. When the public refuses to accept the coup as legitimate, coups fall apart. Refusal looks like millions of people using nonviolent tools to delegitimize the coup by demonstrating, resisting orders, and shutting down the country until democracy prevails.
The best way to stop a coup is to never have one. People are doing lots of good work on issues of voting rights, urging turn-out, stopping repression, uncovering fraud, and getting people to commit to democracy. That may be enough.
One of the easiest things you can do is to sign the pledge to Choose Democracy and get a lot of people across the political spectrum signing it as well! Because the best way to stop a coup is to deter it.
NEW: As Trump Seeks to Project Strength, Doctors Disclose Alarming Episodes. (New York Times, October 4, 2020)
President Trump sought to dispel any perception of weakness on Sunday with a surprise and seemingly risky outing from his hospital bed to greet supporters even as his doctors once again rewrote the official narrative of his illness by acknowledging two alarming episodes they had previously not disclosed. The doctors said that Mr. Trump’s blood oxygen level dropped twice in the two days after he was diagnosed with the coronavirus, requiring medical intervention, and that he had been put on steroids, suggesting his condition might be more serious than initially described. But they insisted that his situation had improved enough since then that he could be released from the hospital as early as Monday.
The acknowledgment of the episodes raised new questions about the credibility of the information provided about the commander in chief of a superpower as he is hospitalized with a disease that has killed more than 209,000 people in the United States. With the president determined not to concede weakness and facing an election in just 30 days, officials acknowledged providing rosy assessments to satisfy their prickly patient.
NEW: The Quantum Internet Will Blow Your Mind. Here’s What It Will Look Like. (5-min. video; Discover, October 3, 2020)
The next generation of the Internet will rely on revolutionary new tech — allowing for unhackable networks and information that travels faster than the speed of light.
NEW: The Pandemic Depression Is Over. The Pandemic Recession Has Just Begun. (New York Times, October 3, 2020)
Signs of a slower, grinding recovery sure look familiar.
There is a straightforward narrative of the economy in 2020: The world shut down in the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, causing an economic collapse without modern precedent. A sharp recovery began in May as businesses reopened.
That is accurate as far as it goes. But the snapback effect over the summer has masked something more worrying: We’ve entered a longer, slower grind that puts the economy at risk for the indefinite future. In the details of government employment data — covering hundreds of industries — can be seen a jobs crisis that penetrates deeply into the economy. Sectors that in theory shouldn’t be much affected by the pandemic at all are showing patterns akin to a severe recession.
Even as public health restrictions loosen and as vaccines get closer, the overall economy is not poised for a quick snapback to pre-pandemic levels. Rather, scarring is taking place across a much wider range of sectors than the simple narrative of shutdown versus reopening suggests.
When the economy does get back to full health, many jobs will no longer exist, and American workers will need to find other types of work — and historically, those kinds of readjustments take time.
NEW: Screening of potential drug from Azadirachta Indica (Neem) extracts for SARS-CoV-2: An insight from molecular docking and MD-simulation studies (US National Institute of Health, October 3, 2020)
VP Pence ordered borders closed after CDC experts refused. (Associated Press, October 3, 2020)
Vice President Mike Pence in March directed the nation’s top disease control agency to use its emergency powers to effectively seal the U.S. borders, overruling the agency’s scientists who said there was no evidence the action would slow the coronavirus, according to two former health officials. The top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doctor who oversees these types of orders had refused to comply with a Trump administration directive, saying there was no valid public health reason to issue it, according to three people with direct knowledge of the doctor’s refusal.
The action has so far caused nearly 150,000 children and adults to be expelled from the country.
We nearly lost our first president to the flu. The country could have died, too. (Washington Post, October 3, 2020)
In 1790, George Washington fell severely ill, threatening his life and the young nation he led.
Trump’s Symptoms Described as ‘Very Concerning’ Even as Doctors Offer Rosier Picture. (New York Times, October 3, 2020)
The White House offered a barrage of conflicting messages and contradictory accounts about President Trump’s health on Saturday as he remained hospitalized with the coronavirus for a second night and the outbreak spread to a wider swath of his political allies.
Just minutes after the president’s doctors painted a rosy picture of his condition on television, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, gave reporters outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a far more sober assessment off camera, calling Mr. Trump’s vital signs worrisome and warning that the next two days would be pivotal to the outcome of the illness. “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning, and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care,” Mr. Meadows told the reporters, asking not to be identified by name. “We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
By evening, the president released a four-minute video meant to reassure the nation, showing him sitting at a conference table at the hospital and wearing a suit jacket but no tie. He looked wan and sounded less energetic than usual in a rambling message that included campaign talk and boasts about his record.
in reality, Mr. Trump has had difficult and even scary moments since being diagnosed with the virus that has killed more than 208,000 in the United States so far. Two people close to the White House said in separate interviews with The New York Times that the president had had trouble breathing on Friday and that his oxygen level had dropped, prompting his doctors to give him supplemental oxygen while he was at the White House and to transfer him to Walter Reed, where he could be monitored with better equipment and treated more rapidly in case of trouble.
The inconsistencies and confusion may presage an unsettling period for the president and the country. As the doctors indicated, it may be a week to 10 days before the course of Mr. Trump’s illness becomes clear, leaving America, as well as its allies and adversaries, guessing about the leadership in the world’s only superpower in the final days of a momentous election campaign.
What President Trump’s emergency COVID-19 therapies say about his condition. (National Geographic, October 3, 2020)
The White House’s physicians are responding to the challenge with a mixture of medications—including an experimental drug known as a monoclonal antibody cocktail, a treatment that has raised questions because its safety and efficacy aren’t fully proven. “We’re witnessing in real time the intersection between a national crisis and one person’s life-threatening medical emergency,” says emergency medicine doctor Jeremy Faust, an attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The question of whether the president has needed supplemental oxygen is crucial: Requiring such treatment is seen as a fork in the road between a mild infection and a more severe one. Faust of Brigham and Women’s Hospital says that doctors likely will monitor the president closely for signs of labored breathing and dropping blood oxygen levels. “I can’t overstate how important the next 24 to 48 hours are,” he says, a point echoed by Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, according to the AP. Several of Trump’s aides have tested positive for the virus but Meadows is not among them.
The gold standard for vetting any medical treatment is a clinical trial in which patients are randomly assigned a treatment or an ostensibly ineffective placebo. Regeneron is running the early stages of those trials for REGN-COV2. However, full results haven’t been published—leaving some medical experts leery of using it on anyone, let alone a world leader. Trump’s doctors are “just so worried about him, that even if it’s really harmful or even if it does nothing, they might as well do it,” Faust adds. “It doesn’t project anything positive at all.”
With Trump hospitalized, more Covid cases emerge in White House and campaign. (photos; CNN, October 3, 2020)
President Donald Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center early Friday evening less than 24 hours after news broke of his Covid-19 diagnosis, plunging the country into a deepening crisis as the circle of current and former aides to the President testing positive rapidly widened.
By early Saturday, former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and the President's campaign manager Bill Stepien had both tested positive, which followed the positive diagnoses of two US senators who had attended Trump's Supreme Court nomination announcement last weekend, and Trump senior adviser Hope Hicks on Thursday. A third Republican US senator, who did not attend the nomination event, announced a positive diagnosis later Saturday morning.
It was a remarkably fast escalation of the virus' threat -- which the President has long downplayed -- from an infection that caused him mild symptoms, to a fever to then being airlifted to the hospital, all while spreading quickly throughout the government and his campaign.
The decision to take Trump to the hospital marked a sharp turn from the statement Conley made early Friday when he first confirmed the Covid-19 diagnosis of Trump and first lady Melania Trump, and said the couple would remain at the White House during their convalescence. He left for Walter Reed after receiving a dose of the experimental medical treatment Regeneron -- which may have signaled a rising level of concern among his physicians.
Though White House staff claimed the President made the move "out of an abundance of caution," there were still more questions than answers about the President's condition on Friday, in part because of the consistent lack of transparency from this White House and the fact that his physicians have not briefed the press, which has been typical protocol when past presidents have faced health concerns. White House officials underscored that the President has not transferred power to Vice President Mike Pence, as is sometimes customary when a president is ill or scheduled to undergo a procedure that could require anesthesia.
Melania Trump remained at the White House with what the White House physician described as a mild cough and a headache. But her husband's age, his sex and the fact that he is clinically obese put him at greater risk of complications from the virus. It was unclear exactly when the couple was tested and how long they could have been contagious.
Following the same recklessness the President has shown throughout the pandemic, Trump decided to go to a campaign fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, Thursday evening even though he had learned before the trip that Hicks, one of his senior aides who had traveled with him throughout the week, had tested positive for the virus. The President not only traveled earlier in the week to the first presidential debate with Biden, who tested negative on Friday, but he also attended several campaign rallies over the past week.
The lack of information about the severity of Trump's illness Friday night was complicated by the fact that the President and his allies have downplayed the dangers of Covid-19 ever since the virus reached the US. Trump and members of his administration already faced a major credibility gap because of their extensive history of putting out false or misleading information about a variety of topics over the past four years, including the severity of the pandemic and the risks to public health.
The descriptions of the President's condition shifted throughout the day Friday -- and much of the early information about his well-being was reported by the press first and then confirmed by the White House, underscoring the lack of transparency from this administration. On Friday morning, as the White House tried to project a business-as-usual demeanor, chief of staff Mark Meadows described Trump as energetic. But later in the day, Conley, the doctor intimately involved in Trump's care, wrote in a memo that he was "fatigued." And CNN learned from another source that the President had a fever for much of the day. In the afternoon memo, Conley said Trump was given the Regeneron polyclonal antibody cocktail, an experimental drug that has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Trump's doctor also said he is taking zinc, vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and a daily aspirin. Within a few hours, Trump was headed to Walter Reed.
Dr. Leonard Schleifer, the CEO of biotechnology company Regeneron, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Trump would have received the experimental antibody treatment that his company manufactures to help boost his immune system, which he said is now in "a race" against the virus.
The Ultimate October Surprise is Not a Surprise at All. (with cartoon; Dick Polman, October 2, 2020)
Karma (noun): The sum of a person’s actions decide that person’s fate… The intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual. And so it has happened. Trump testing positive for the coronavirus – four weeks before the election, no less – certainly looks like the ultimate October surprise. But when we consider his long string of actions (or, more precisely, his lack of action), it doesn’t seem surprising at all.
Yes, I am offering thoughts and prayers for Trump’s health. Nobody should have such a disease. But right now I’m more concerned about whether the COVID poster child’s 90-minute spittle-yelling put Joe Biden in any danger. The future of this benighted nation may hinge on that.
Chris Wallace, Awaiting Virus Test, Tells Fox News Viewers: ‘Wear the Damn Mask!’. (New York Times, October 2, 2020)
The anchor, who sat about 12 feet from President Trump at Tuesday’s debate, also criticized one of Mr. Trump’s pandemic advisers.
Appearing Friday on “Fox & Friends” and other Fox News programs, Mr. Wallace repeatedly emphasized the threat of the coronavirus, pointed out the lack of qualifications of one of Mr. Trump’s top medical advisers, and said he was acutely aware of his potential exposure after the president had tested positive for the virus. “Follow the science,” Mr. Wallace said. “If I could say one thing to all of the people out there watching: Forget the politics. This is a public safety health issue.”
The anchor, who has expressed regret about the chaotic nature of Tuesday’s debate, said he planned to take a coronavirus test on Monday on the advice of his doctors, who said that any infection could take several days to generate a positive result.
Several Fox News opinion hosts have accused much of the national news media of overstating the dangers of the virus, while defending Mr. Trump’s prerogative to hold large rallies on the campaign trail against the advice of health experts. One frequent Fox News guest who downplayed the risks, Dr. Scott Atlas, has since become a top pandemic adviser to the president. On Friday, Mr. Wallace was unequivocal in warning against Dr. Atlas’s advice — even as his colleague, the Fox News anchor Sandra Smith, teased an exclusive interview with Dr. Atlas in which the doctor said he expected Mr. Trump would make a full recovery and return to the campaign trail. “I’m going to say something and, folks, I’m just trying to give you the truth,” Mr. Wallace said. “Dr. Scott Atlas is not an epidemiologist, is not an infectious disease expert — he has no training in this area at all. There are a number of top people on the president’s coronavirus task force who have had grave concerns about Scott Atlas and his scientific bona fides.”
“I know I’m going to get a lot of push-back from this,” Mr. Wallace continued, adding: “Listen to people like Anthony Fauci, listen to people like Deborah Birx, who have been largely cut off. Listen to the independent people who do not have a political ax to grind, and I frankly don’t think Scott Atlas is one of those people.”
Recounting his experience at Tue
sday’s debate, Mr. Wallace told viewers that members of Mr. Trump’s family removed their masks after entering the debate hall in violation of the rules of the Cleveland Clinic, which had been contracted to oversee the health and safety protocols for the event. “A health person from the Cleveland Clinic came up to the first family when they were seated and offered them masks in case they didn’t have them, and they were waved away,” the anchor recalled.
The Supreme Court’s 2020-21 Term: A Changed Court Threatens Our Health and Our Rights. (People For the American Way, October 2, 2020)
Heather Cox Richardson: The administration’s secrecy and lies take away our ability to make informed decisions about our own lives and about the nation. (Letters From An American, October 2, 2020)
Today’s media was consumed with news of the spread of coronavirus to the president and First Lady, as well as concern over the degree to which it has spread to other people associated with the White House. A number of those who attended the Rose Garden announcement of Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court have tested positive. That number includes the Trumps, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Also infected are Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, and at least three journalists who have attended White House events in the past week. And tonight, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway reported that she, too, has tested positive. As I write this, just before midnight, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien has just announced he, too, has tested positive for the coronavirus. Five minutes after midnight, we learned that 11 staffers from the Cleveland debate also tested positive. We will not learn of infections among the Secret Service.
Aside from the personal implications of the spread of this illness—and let’s remember that there are 46,459 other Americans who have contracted the coronavirus in the last day-- this major news story has huge implications for the upcoming election. It also illustrates how the administration’s secrecy and lies take away our ability to make informed decisions about our own lives, as well as about the nation.
Trump 'in a race' against Covid-19 and experimental treatment makes it 'a fair fight,' Regeneron CEO says. (CNN, October 2, 2020)
But an emergency medicine doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Dr. Jeremy Faust, has been outspoken about giving the President an unapproved treatment. "We don't give this medication out, not because you're not special enough to get it, (but) because we don't yet know," he said. "We do a risk and benefit analysis of everything and if I can't tell my patient what the benefit is, there's no conversation to be had," Faust told CNN.
He said giving the unproven treatment to Trump just doesn't look good. "This is not ready for prime time and, quite frankly, it sends a message that they're scrambling," Faust said. "Other patients may seek the same treatment. I can't look them in the eye and tell them that I know anything about it, in terms of its risks and benefits. That's a pretty bad precedent", Faust said.
Covid-19 Live Updates: Trump’s Virus Symptoms Appear Mild So Far. (New York Times, October 2, 2020)
President Trump is experiencing coldlike symptoms after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to two people familiar with his condition. Vice President Mike Pence and other officials have tested negative.
2 days before Trump and Melania tested positive for COVID-19, the Trump family broke venue rules and went mask-less at the presidential debate. (photos; Business Insider, October 2, 2020)
Trump's children were pictured wearing masks as they approached their seats, but they took them off for the debate itself. A Bloomberg reporter at the debate also said first lady Melania Trump took off her mask after sitting down. She did not wear while approaching the stage at the end of the debate, while Jill Biden did. Trump mocked Biden for wearing a mask during the debate, while Biden quipped that, "He's been totally irresponsible the way he's handled social distancing and discouraging people to wear masks."
[But Melania DID wear her mask in the audience - unlike Trump. Both already KNEW they'd been exposed.]
US futures and global markets rattled after Trump tests positive for coronavirus. (2-min. video; CNN, October 2, 2020)
Global markets and US stock futures were roiled on Friday by news that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for coronavirus.
Dow (INDU)futures were down 445 points, or 1.6%, roughly matching their initial move lower after Trump tweeted his condition. S&P 500 (SPX) futures were down 1.7% and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were down 2.3%. The diagnosis is a destabilizing moment that raises questions about the election campaign and the US administration.
Stocks in Asia Pacific also slid on the news. Japan's Nikkei 225 (N225) finished down 0.7%, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 1.4%. Other markets in the region, including those in Hong Kong, mainland China and South Korea, are closed for public holidays. European stocks were lower in morning trading, with the FTSE 100 (UKX) dropping 1% in London, while France's CAC 40 (CAC40) shed 2% and Germany's DAX (DAX) declined 1.1%.
Oil futures also tumbled. US crude futures fell 4.3% to $37.06 per barrel, while Brent, the world oil benchmark, lost 4.2% to hit $39.20 per barrel. Both had settled lower on Thursday. "The Trump diagnosis is an immediate negative," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at Oanda, adding that safe haven assets will likely strengthen on the news. The Japanese yen has already surged and was last trading at about 105 yen per US dollar, up 0.4%. Gold prices were little changed at $1,913 per ounce.
Election live updates: Campaign upended by Trump’s announcement that he tested positive for the coronavirus. (Washington Post, October 2, 2020)
With barely a month to go to the elections, the presidential campaign has been upended by President Trump’s announcement that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. A fundraiser in Washington and a rally in Florida were scrapped, and Trump plans to remain in self-isolation at the White House.
Vice President Pence and his wife have tested negative, according to a Pence spokesman. Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel disclosed that she had tested positive.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden wished Trump and his wife a “swift recovery” in a morning tweet. He is scheduled to campaign in Michigan on Friday.
Trump's positive Covid-19 test throws country into fresh upheaval. (3-min. video; CNN, October 1, 2020)
A country already unnerved by a devastating health catastrophe and a turbulent political season faced fresh upheaval Friday as Americans awoke to news President Donald Trump had contracted coronavirus. The President made the announcement on Twitter at nearly 1 a.m. ET on Friday and the development -- after months of debilitating losses, set against a badly mismanaged federal response overseen by a commander-in-chief who repeatedly downplayed the crisis -- threw fresh turmoil into the country's leadership at a moment of deep national strain.
In his announcement, Trump insisted: "We will get through this TOGETHER!" His wife, who also tested positive, wrote, "We are feeling good." But the optimistic outlook could hardly veil the pervading sense of destabilization setting in as the country struggles to emerge from a generation-defining crisis just as its politics seem to deteriorate to new lows. Stock market futures tumbled. Inside the White House, aides described a sense of panic as they worked to determine who else in the senior levels of government may have contracted the disease and whether the President -- who falls squarely within the highest risk category for serious complications and who has been guarded about revealing details of his health -- was displaying symptoms.
Donald and Melania Trump both test positive for COVID-19. (Daily Kos, October 1, 2020)
[Karma-19? Or, a way to dodge the next debate, look good, and make money on the predictable stock market's dip? See the Comments thread.]
Trump says he and first lady will self-quarantine after aide Hope Hicks tests positive for Covid-19. (NBC News, October 1, 2020)
Hicks, 31, one of the president's closest advisers, recently traveled with him on Air Force One to the debate in Cleveland.
How three prior pandemics triggered massive societal shifts (The Conversation, October 1, 2020)
Three previous plagues could yield some clues about the way COVID-19 might bend the arc of history. As I teach in my course “Plagues, Pandemics and Politics,” pandemics tend to shape human affairs in three ways. First, they can profoundly alter a society’s fundamental worldview. Second, they can upend core economic structures. And, finally, they can sway power struggles among nations.
2020 National Health Care Fraud Takedown (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, October 1, 2020)
The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, along with our state and federal law enforcement partners, participated in a health care fraud takedown in September 2020. More than 345 defendants in 51 judicial districts were charged with participating in health care fraud schemes involving more than $6 billion in alleged losses to federal health care programs.
Since 2016, HHS-OIG has seen a significant increase in “telefraud”: scams that leverage aggressive marketing and so-called telehealth services. The conspirators include telemedicine company executives, medical practitioners, marketers, and business owners who scammed hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting patients in their homes.
NEW: Trump administration will stop siphoning money from FDNY’s 9/11 treatment program; unclear if $3.7M will be returned. (New York Daily News, October 1, 2020)
The federal agency began docking payments meant to care for ill firefighters and EMTs back in 2016 in a move that was never explained to the FDNY’s World Trade Center Treatment program. In all, FDNY Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Prezant estimates that some $3.7 million that was sent to his program by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health simply vanished in transit.
After years of investigation, he learned the Treasury Department was taking the money, apparently to satisfy a wholly unrelated debt dispute between the city and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The Treasury Department initially said it was bound by law to take the money, but now says there is a fix - if the White House gives its okay.
Prezant told the News that time is growing short, and with COVID-19 battering city budgets, he needs the money now. And if the government admits it can stop seizing the money, it can also give it back. “Anything less is unacceptable,” Prezant said. “We are not a corporation. Our program operates without profit so we have no reserve funding to dip into. All we are asking for is what NIOSH, our federal funding agency, states we deserve based on the work we have done caring for our WTC-exposed patients.”
Long Island’s Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) wrote a letter of his own that he sent Thursday night to CMS Administrator Seema Verma demanding the government pay up. “This is literally a life and death issue for many of my constituents, and other FDNY heroes throughout the New York Metropolitan area, who put their lives on the line at Ground Zero,” King wrote. “They ran into the Twin Towers as they were engulfed in flames and on the days, weeks and months which followed searched for survivors and remains.” He added that hoarding the FDNY’s funding “for these heroes ignores their sacrifice. The anxious messages I receive from these heroes and the constant inquiries from the media and the general public require speedy resolution if we are to sustain any level of confidence with the American people.”
The Deep Anthropocene. (Aeon, October 1, 2020)
A revolution in archaeology has exposed the extraordinary extent of human influence over our planet’s past and its future.
Bringing together the collective knowledge of more than 250 archaeologists, the ArchaeoGLOBE project in which we participated is the first global, crowdsourced database of archaeological expertise on land use over the past 10,000 years. It tells a completely different story of Earth’s transformation than is commonly acknowledged in the natural sciences. ArchaeoGLOBE reveals that human societies transformed most of Earth’s biosphere much earlier and more profoundly than we thought – an insight that has serious implications for how we understand humanity’s relationship to nature and the planet as a whole.
The Arctic hasn’t been this warm for 3 million years – and that foreshadows big changes for the rest of the planet. (2-min. video; The Conversation, September 30, 2020)
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44 million square miles (3.74 million square kilometers) – the second-lowest value in the 42 years since satellites began taking measurements. The ice today covers only 50% of the area it covered 40 years ago in late summer.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has shown, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than at any time in human history. The last time that atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached today’s level – about 412 parts per million – was 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene Epoch.
As geoscientists who study the evolution of Earth’s climate and how it creates conditions for life, we see evolving conditions in the Arctic as an indicator of how climate change could transform the planet. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, they could return the Earth to Pliocene conditions, with higher sea levels, shifted weather patterns and altered conditions in both the natural world and human societies.
Virtually Blind Mole-Rats Use Their Eyes to 'See' Magnetic Fields, Experiment Shows. (Science Alert, September 30, 2020)
We've long known animals like birds can sense magnetic fields, and recently discovered dogs navigate via them too. But the biological mechanisms behind this sense – and how it might function in mole-rats – are still very much a mystery. We didn't even know where in the body these magnetic detectors, whatever they prove to be, are located. A recent theory suggests this sensory ability may somehow occur via magnetotactic bacteria living within these species. But so far clues about mole-rats' magnetoreceptors suggest that their mechanism is magnetite-based.
Michigan’s effort to end gerrymandering revives a practice rooted in ancient Athens. (The Conversation, September 30, 2020)
Michigan has embarked on an experiment in democratic governance using a technique employed in Athens 2,500 years ago but little used since: the selection of government officials by lottery rather than by appointment or election.
Tuesday’s Debate Made Clear the Gravest Threat to the Election: The President Himself. (New York Times, September 30, 2020)
President Trump’s angry insistence in the last minutes of Tuesday’s debate that there was no way the presidential election could be conducted without fraud amounted to an extraordinary declaration by a sitting American president that he would try to throw any outcome into the courts, Congress or the streets if he was not re-elected. His comments came after four years of debate about the possibility of foreign interference in the 2020 election and how to counter such disruptions. But they were a stark reminder that the most direct threat to the electoral process now comes from the president of the United States himself.
Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to say he would abide by the result, and his disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system, went beyond anything President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could have imagined. “We have never heard a president deliberately cast doubt on an election’s integrity this way a month before it happened,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian and the author of “Presidents of War.” “This is the kind of thing we have preached to other countries that they should not do. It reeks of autocracy, not democracy.”
But what worried American intelligence and homeland security officials, who have been assuring the public for months now that an accurate, secure vote could happen, was that Mr. Trump’s rant about a fraudulent vote may have been intended for more than just a domestic audience. They have been worried for some time that his warnings are a signal to outside powers — chiefly the Russians — for their disinformation campaigns, which have seized on his baseless theme that the mail-in ballots are ridden with fraud. But what concerns them the most is that over the next 34 days, the country may begin to see disruptive cyberoperations, especially ransomware, intended to create just enough chaos to prove the president’s point.
Trump and Biden clash in chaotic debate – experts react on the court, race and election integrity. (The Conversation, September 30, 2020)
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took part in a presidential debate Sept. 29 that exemplified the lack of civility in American politics. The president frequently interrupted and spoke over his challenger, Biden told Trump to “shut up,” and few issues were discussed in enough depth to provide much information to undecided voters. We asked three scholars to discuss themes brought up by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, who struggled throughout the debate to keep control.
What Did Trump Mean When He Told Proud Boys to ‘Stand Back and Stand By’? (Rolling Stone, September 29, 2020)
During the debate, President Trump essentially gave a white supremacist group a shout-out.
ICE preparing targeted arrests in ‘sanctuary cities,’ amplifying president’s campaign theme. (Washington Post, September 29, 2020)
Trump has inveighed against sanctuary jurisdictions throughout his presidency, and he has expanded those attacks to include Democratic mayors in cities convulsed by racial justice demonstrations and sporadic rioting after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The immigration operation would sync with two themes of Trump’s reelection campaign: his crackdown on immigration and his push to vilify cities led by Democrats, whom he blames for crime and violence.
Two officials with knowledge of plans for the sanctuary op described it as more of a political messaging campaign than a major ICE operation, noting that the agency already concentrates on immigration violators with criminal records and routinely arrests them without much fanfare.
Pamela Kaiser: A few thoughts on Amy Coney Barrett, our new Supreme Court justice (Medium, September 29, 2020)
She's a done deal. So Democrats should not waste time trying to besmirch her character, focusing on her religion, trying to box her into a corner on how she will vote on hypothetical cases.By all accounts Barrett walks on water. I've had that in a roundabout way from people I know at Notre Dame, including from folks as liberal as me, who actually look forward to seeing her on the court. So Democrats should not take a typical approach with her.
- Stay focused on the election. If the election were tomorrow, Biden wins comfortably, and the Democrats likely take the Senate as well. The latest polls were taken after RBG's death. No gain for Trump. In fact the majority of Americans think the Supreme Court seat should not be filled until after the election. Watching Republicans ram Barrett through helps Democrats. So don't mess with her. Let Republicans do what they're going to do.
- So how should Democrats approach these hearings? I've seen one good suggestion today. Turn all their time over to Kamala Harris.
- Don't show up for the hearings. There is no reason to dignify this raw exercise in political hypocrisy. Don't legitimize the theft of a Supreme Court seat with your presence. This also shows Barrett that the nation knows she is letting herself become a pawn in Trump's game.
- Schedule high interest alternate programming directly opposite the hearings. Hearings with only Republicans extolling Barrett's virtues will get low ratings. It shouldn't be hard to come up with something people would rather watch.
- If Democrats do attend the hearings, they should not focus on Barrett's views on any future cases. She'll just dodge those questions anyway. They're hypothetical. She should dodge them. Don't even mention her religion. Instead Democrats should focus on the past four years of the Trump administration. This has been the most corrupt administration in American history. No need for hypotheticals. The questions are all right there. "Judge Barrett, would you please explain the emoluments clause in the Constitution." [She does.] "Judge Barrett, if a president were to refuse to divest himself of his properties and, in fact, continue to steer millions of dollars of tax payer money to his properties, would this violate the emoluments clause?" Then simply go down the list of specific cases in which Trump and his family of grifters have used the presidency to enrich themselves. Ask her repeatedly if this violates the emoluments clause. Include of course using the American ambassador to Britain to try to get the British Open golf tournament at a Trump property. "Judge Barrett, does this violate the emoluments clause?"
- Then . . .
Validating the physics behind the new MIT-designed fusion experiment (Phys.org, September 29, 2020)
SPARC, a precursor to a practical, emissions-free power plant, has completed its initial research and engineering work. A a series of papers summarizes the progress they have made and outlining the key research questions SPARC will enable. Overall, says Martin Greenwald, deputy director of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center and one of the project's lead scientists, the work is progressing smoothly and on track - with construction due to begin in June 2021.
SPARC is planned to be the first experimental device ever to achieve a "burning plasma"—that is, a self-sustaining fusion reaction in which different isotopes of the element hydrogen fuse together to form helium, without the need for any further input of energy. Studying the behavior of this burning plasma—something never before seen on Earth in a controlled fashion—is seen as crucial information for developing the next step, a working prototype of a practical, power-generating power plant.
Such fusion power plants might significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power-generation sector, one of the major sources of these emissions globally. The MIT and CFS project is one of the largest privately funded research and development projects ever undertaken in the fusion field.
The SPARC project was launched in early 2018, and work on its first stage, the development of the superconducting magnets that would allow smaller fusion systems to be built, has been proceeding apace. The new set of papers represents the first time that the underlying physics basis for the SPARC machine has been outlined in detail in peer-reviewed publications. The seven papers explore the specific areas of the physics that had to be further refined, and that still require ongoing research to pin down the final elements of the machine design and the operating procedures and tests that will be involved as work progresses toward the power plant.
The analysis done so far shows that the planned fusion energy output of the SPARC reactor should be able to meet the design specifications with a comfortable margin to spare. It is designed to achieve a Q factor—a key parameter denoting the efficiency of a fusion plasma—of at least 2, essentially meaning that twice as much fusion energy is produced as the amount of energy pumped in to generate the reaction. That would be the first time a fusion plasma of any kind has produced more energy than it consumed. The calculations at this point show that SPARC could actually achieve a Q ratio of 10 or more, according to the new papers.
How America Lost 200,000 Lives to Covid-19 (New York Times, September 29, 2020)
The U.S. spent 15 years preparing for the coronavirus. Why did we handle it so badly?
Revealed: Trump campaign strategy to deter millions of Black Americans from voting in 2016 (Channel 4 News/UK Investigations Team, September 28, 2020)
Channel 4 News has exclusively obtained a vast cache of data used by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign on almost 200 million American voters. It reveals that 3.5 million Black Americans were categorised by Donald Trump’s campaign as ‘Deterrence’ – voters they wanted to stay home on election day.
Tonight, civil rights campaigners said the evidence amounted to a new form of voter “suppression” and called on Facebook to disclose ads and targeting information that has never been made public.
Trump’s digital campaign, called ‘Project Alamo’ and based in San Antonio, Texas, involved a team from the now defunct British company Cambridge Analytica, working with a team from the Republican National Committee. Two senior members of the Cambridge Analytica team are working on the Trump 2020 campaign.
Cambridge Analytica collapsed after investigations by Channel 4 News, The Observer and the New York Times in 2018.
Facebook is facing calls to ban political advertising, following an international backlash over the use of its platform to spread misinformation, disinformation, and suppression during election campaigns. The Trump campaign spent £44 million on Facebook ads alone during 2016, posting almost six million different versions of highly targeted messages that were pumped directly into the feeds of target voters across America, helped by a Facebook employee embedded within the Trump campaign. But many of the ads were so called ‘dark posts’, which could vanish from recipients’ feeds once a campaign stopped paying for them. It means no complete public record exists of the ads posted on Facebook during the 2016 campaign or the audience lists used to target voters. The platform offered no ‘Ad Library’ at the time. Without Facebook or the campaign itself revealing the information, it means it’s not possible to ascertain exactly how potential voters in the ‘Deterrence’ group may have been targeted on Facebook.
The Trump campaign itself has categorically stated that it did not target African Americans. Brad Parscale, the campaign’s 2016 digital director told PBS Frontline: “I would say I’m nearly 100 percent sure we did not run any campaigns that targeted even African Americans.”
But Channel 4 News has uncovered evidence that the campaign did target Black voters with negative ads designed to crush Hillary Clinton’s turnout. These included videos featuring Hillary Clinton referring to Black youths as “super predators” which aired on television 402 times in October 2016 and received millions of views on Facebook. In one confidential document seen by Channel 4 News, Cambridge Analytica admitted the Trump campaign did target “AA” (African Americans) with what it called the “Predators video” – spending $55,000 USD in the state of Georgia alone.
Election violence in November? Here’s what the research says. (The Conversation, September 28, 2020)
Systematic studies have highlighted three factors relevant to the upcoming election.
First, strong political institutions are especially effective in reducing the risk of violence. Many have voiced concerns that President Trump has weakened American political institutions. But as one of the world’s longest-enduring democracies, the United States and its democratic institutions have proven their capacity to maintain order through crises and abuse of presidential power before.
Second, research, including my own, finds that mass political violence usually happens in countries that have no capacity to prevent it. In Kenya, for example, most violence was perpetrated by unofficial militias affiliated with ethnic or religious groups, such as the Mungiki, which the government was unable – or unwilling – to curb. In the U.S., if any political leader calls for vigilantes to mobilize, both the federal government and states have the capacity to expeditiously eliminate this threat. Militias may be armed, but they are no match for a well-trained National Guard or Army regiment. This should help deter the risk of violence by vigilantes.
Finally, an especially strong predictor of election violence is a history of armed political conflict. After the 2016 elections, America experienced massive protests and some rioting, but little in the way of deadly political violence.
Here are five big things election experts are really worried about. (Washington Post, September 28, 2020)
President Trump has claimed repeatedly without evidence that mail ballots will undermine the integrity of the election. But for election experts, the extremely low chance of any successful mail-ballot fraud is not even close to their top concern.
With just over five weeks to go until the election, experts are far more concerned about hackers from Russia or elsewhere modifying voter rolls, technical snafus that could produce long lines at polling sites, and foreign and domestic disinformation campaigns that shake voters’ confidence in the democratic process.
They’re also extremely worried Trump himself will exploit any Election Day difficulties or slower-than-usual vote counting to prematurely claim victory and undermine faith in the outcome. And, in a chilling sign of how heated the dispute over election measures has become this year, they fear the possibility of violence at polling sites or targeting poll workers.
NEW: Body language expert reveals how Donald Trump really feels about the upcoming presidential debates. (The List, September 28, 2020)
In September 2020 during a rally, President Donald Trump said about Joe Biden, "Don't underestimate him." So what caused Trump's shift in thinking?  "By telling the crowd, 'Don't underestimate him,' President Trump is unknowingly using a psychological technique termed, 'inoculation," Dr. Renée Carr explained to The List. "He is injecting into the minds of his followers the thought that Biden might have a decent debate performance." This supposed inoculation is critical since Trump's spent years building up the "Sleepy Joe" perception of Biden.
Trump also warned of Biden's skill, saying, "He's been doing this for 47 years," which is another inoculation effort, according to Dr. Carr. That's because the comment manages the public's expectations and protects Trump's reputation in case his own performance during the debates is lackluster. But, per Dr. Carr, Trump isn't deploying the technique of inoculation simply to manipulate voters — he's also doing it to protect his ego. "By adding this fact, Trump is setting-up both a soundbite and ego protection on which he can rely on in the future in the event Biden outperforms him during the presidential debate," she explained. "This is a subconscious preparation and defense mechanism to avoid possible embarrassment in the future."
The President’s Taxes: Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance. (As condensed BY New York Times, September 28, 2020)
Even though taxes on wealthy Americans have fallen sharply in recent decades, most still pay a lot to the federal government. A typical billionaire pays tens of millions of dollars in federal income taxes each year.
President Trump, however, is different.
Yesterday, The Times published an investigation of his finances, based on thousands of pages of documents that had not previously been public. They showed that Trump paid no taxes in 11 of the 18 years between 2000 and 2017. In both 2016 and 2017, he paid only $750.
He was able to do so both because many of his businesses report losing large amounts of money — which reduces his taxable income — and because he has engaged in questionable tax practices. Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft and $70,000 in hairstyling for television.
The investigation also found that:
- As president, he has received more money from foreign sources and U.S. interest groups than previously known.
- Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received “consulting fees” that also helped reduce the family’s tax bill.
- Trump is facing a series of large looming bills in the next few years, and it is not obvious how he will cover them.
You can read the full story, by Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, here. I’ve compiled a list of major takeaways here. We’ve also put together a timeline of his finances.
Below is a sample of outside reactions to the story:
Susan Hennessey, Lawfare: “Now we know for sure why Trump was refusing to release his tax returns.”
Lily Batchelder, New York University: “Trump’s tax returns suggest he has only ever been successful as a showman, not at running actual businesses.”
Seth Hanlon, Democratic policy adviser: “In 2017, a single worker without children who made $18,000 would have paid $760 in federal income tax. Donald Trump paid $750.”
Avi Asher-Schapiro, of Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Perhaps the most instructive thing re: Trump taxes is the $75K deduction for haircuts. It really illustrates how easy it is for rich people to manipulate their tax burden, & pay less than us. Trump’s haircuts are a business expense […] but not my entire rent when I work from home.”
Robert George of The New York Daily News noted that Trump telegraphed his tax avoidance during a 2016 presidential debate by saying, “I take advantage of the laws of the nation.” George added: “It’s not like he wasn’t up front about this.”
Some Trump supporters, like Mike Cernovich, emphasized that the documents contained no new revelations about Trump’s ties to Russia.
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight: “No particular instinct for how much the Trump tax news will resonate with rank-and-file voters. May depend on how much the Biden campaign chooses to emphasize it. There is a damaging headline for Trump (that he paid only $750) which is sometimes lacking in these sorts of stories.”
Durbin: Hillary Clinton is 'flat-out wrong' in saying Biden 'should not concede under any circumstances'. (1-min. video; MSN, September 27, 2020)
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) addressed Clinton's remarks from an August interview that Biden "should not concede under any circumstances," citing that the election results are "gonna drag out" because of the influx in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The President’s Taxes: Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance. (New York Times, September 27, 2020)
The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due. Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750. He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made. As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.
The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public.
[Vice President Joe Biden makes HIS data public AND doesn't dodge his taxes.]
Popular deepfake apps are making it easier than ever to make AI-powered manipulated videos — spawning new memes, and an increased potential for abuse. (1- and 16-min. videos; Business Insider, September 26, 2020)
Making deepfake videos — which use AI to convincingly swap one person's face with another's — is easier than ever before.
While deepfakes were once the domain of sophisticated coders, new apps are democratizing the technology and making it accessible to wide swaths of people — and turning a profit while doing so. The trend has spawned new memes on apps like TikTok and YouTube, as well as new concerns about their potential for abuse or misinformation, according to experts.
Deepfake app makers argue that making the technology more widely available could help educate people about how to spot the telltale signs of deepfakes.
YouTubers' channels and videos are being mistakenly deleted for debunking COVID-19 conspiracy theories. (23-min. video; Business Insider, September 26, 2020)
YouTube has cracked down on misinformation during the pandemic, but its automated flagging system has wrongfully removed videos from creators who attempt to debunk that misinformation.
One creator had a video debunking COVID-19 conspiracy theories removed, and his appeal was denied. YouTube told Insider that decision was a mistake. "That's a crazy situation to be in, to be afraid to upload videos getting out the correct information," the creator said.
Another creator had four videos removed because of mistaken enforcement of YouTube’s new COVID-19 misinformation policy.
A YouTube spokesperson said the platform was making more mistakes because of increased reliance on automation.
Inside eBay’s Cockroach Cult: The Ghastly Story of a Stalking Scandal (New York Times, September 26, 2020)
“People are basically good” was eBay’s founding principle. But in the deranged summer of 2019, prosecutors say, a campaign to terrorize a Natick blogger couple crawled out of a dark place in the corporate soul.
Blacklight: A Real-Time Website Privacy Inspector (The Markup, September 25, 2020)
Who is peeking over your shoulder while you work, watch videos, learn, explore, and shop on the internet? Enter the address of any website, and Blacklight will scan it and reveal the specific user-tracking technologies on the site—and who’s getting your data. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Here’s How the Pandemic Finally Ends. (Politico, September 25, 2020)
A vaccine by early 2021, a steady decline in cases by next fall and back to normal in a few years—11 top experts look into the future.
New York Threatens Orthodox Jewish Areas With Lockdown Over Virus. (New York Times, September 25, 2020)
Community leaders said residents have resisted the rules in part because of the influence of President Trump, whose views on masks have been embraced.
American democracy needs Mitt Romney to reconsider. (Washington Post, September 25, 2020)
In announcing on Tuesday he would support voting for a new Supreme Court justice during an election year, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he didn’t want “to look at all the hypotheticals that might occur.” But here’s the hypothetical Romney needs to think about: If the United States slides from democracy to authoritarianism next year, history will record that his vote, along with those of other Republicans, made it possible.
Historians and election experts warn that Trump is behaving like Mussolini and despots that the US usually condemns. (1-min. video; Business Insider, September 25, 2020)
President Donald Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. Back in February, CBS TV reporter Rob Way provided this 1-min. Twitter video clip of Trump ralliers chanting "10 more years!" and Trump proposing 25 for his second term.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday asked historian Michael Beschloss if he could provide another example of a US president suggesting an election "ought to be disregarded."
"You want to go into history to look for something like this? Go into Italian history and look at Mussolini. This is the way dictators come to power," Beschloss said in response, comparing Trump to the fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini. "[Trump is] telling you what he intends to do. And we've got to make very sure that in the next five and half weeks and after, that we do not get into a situation where...Donald Trump announces that he's won and puts us in a situation where our democracy is being stolen minute by minute. This is not a drill," Beschloss added.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University historian who's written extensively on Mussolini, agrees with Beschloss that Trump's behavior mirrors that of the Italian fascist dictator. She noted that Mussolini was not immediately a dictator, but gradually consolidated power. "The clearest parallel is that Mussolini was prime minister of a democratic coalition government from 1922-1925. During that time, he slowly chipped away at democratic institutions, insulting the press, using violence against the left, joking that he would be in office for 20 years, establishing a militia and a legislative body (the Grand Council) loyal to him," Ben-Ghiat told Insider. "[Mussolini] bought off elites with privatizations of major industries and by ending worker and peasant strikes. In 1924, to consolidate power, he had a law passed that drew accusations of fraud but gave him a majority. He had his main opponent, Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti, killed for accusing him of fixing the election and for threatening to reveal his financial corruption — and then he declared dictatorship in 1925 to escape a special investigation," Ben-Ghiat added.
David I. Kertzer, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Pope and Mussolini," told Insider that comparing Trump and Mussolini does "a disservice" to the Italian leader given he "read newspapers every day in four languages, followed policy issues closely, played the violin and loved classical music, and was not particularly interested in lining his own pocket (although there was no lack of corruption in his regime). What the present moment in American politics does make me appreciate more is how Italy, a parliamentary democracy, could so quickly become a dictatorship." Kertzer noted that Mussolini said "people were like sheep" and "craved being followers," adding, "Like Trump, he had very little in the way of strong ideological beliefs himself, and knew the power of emotional rather than rational appeals, and of the power of repeating simple, emotionally powerful yet substantively empty phrases (Make America Great Again)." To Kertzer, the most striking parallel between Trump and Mussolini is that similar to the Italian fascist dictator, the president has enjoyed strong support from religious leaders despite not having "a religious bone in his body". "Mussolini could solidify his dictatorship only by reaching a deal with the pope and gaining the support of the Church hierarchy, in a totally amoral exchange: he would give the Church leaders what they wanted (ending separation of church and state, religious instruction in schools, etc.) and the religious leaders would throw their support behind him," Kertzer said.
Trump has spent the past four years eroding democratic norms and institutions at an astonishing rate. A project that monitors the health of democracy across the world, Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), in its 2020 findings said the US has become more autocratic in the Trump era. V-Dem measures hundreds of different attributes of democracy — including freedom of expression, free and fair elections, and levels of government corruption, among many others — and the project involves over 3,300 scholars and other experts worldwide. "The United States – former vanguard of liberal democracy – has lost its way," V-Dem's 40-page 2020 report said, adding that the US "is the only country in Western Europe and North America suffering from substantial autocratization."
The Trumpification of the Federal Judiciary: Part One (Forensic News, September 25, 2020)
As of September 1, President Trump has successfully appointed 2 Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate judges, and 146 district court judges – a total of 201 judges.
His impact on the appeals circuit is particularly marked, where 32% of active judgeships are filled by Trump nominees. This high percentage resulted in three circuit courts flipping to majority Republican appointees: the Second Circuit, Third Circuit, and Eleventh Circuit. The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits were majority Republican appointees when Trump took office.
Will Amy Coney Barrett Cost Republicans the Senate? (New York Times, September 25, 2020)
Mitch McConnell has a tricky needle to thread.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, delights in confirming Republican-nominated jurists. District courts, appeals courts, most especially the Supreme Court — he wants to fill them all. In fact, with his party’s having largely given up on legislating in recent years, this may be what Mr. McConnell regards as his main duty. It is certainly the part at which he excels.
But for Mr. McConnell to keep this job, his party must keep control of the Senate. And that challenge got considerably more ulcer-inducing with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week.
Nothing reminds voters of the importance of who holds the Senate quite like a nasty court fight. Typically, the issue energizes Republican voters far more than Democrats. But this time, as befitting 2020, the situation is knottier. Democrats are still spitting mad about how Republicans cheated President Barack Obama out of his Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, in 2016 — based on some rubbish about how a vacancy shouldn’t be filled during a presidential election year. And now there are signs that Republicans’ rush to confirm the federal judge Amy Coney Barrett just a few weeks from Election Day could rally Democrats as much as their own team.
Trump expected to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg seat, kicking off Supreme Court fight weeks before election. (Washington Post, September 25, 2020)
Senate Republicans, kicking off a Supreme Court fight, plan to move the nomination quickly and Democrats have little chance to block the nominee, who would cement a conservative majority on the court for years. Barrett is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and a favorite of conservatives.
Which of Trump’s Supreme Court choices might be most reliably conservative? (The Conversation, September 24, 2020)
As President Donald Trump looks to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he and other Republicans want to secure a reliable conservative majority on the nation’s highest court for many years to come.
They have tried to do this in the past, but it hasn’t worked out, because Republicans have repeatedly nominated justices who have drifted to the left after they were confirmed.
My analysis of the judicial records of 26 people currently serving as judges on Trump’s list of proposed nominees suggests that this time will be different.
Fox News won a court case by 'persuasively' arguing that no 'reasonable viewer' takes Tucker Carlson seriously. (Business Insider, September 24, 2020)
A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit against Fox News after lawyers for the network argued that no "reasonable viewer" takes the primetime host Tucker Carlson seriously, a new court filing said. The case was brought by the former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said Carlson defamed her on his show, "Tucker Carlson Tonight," by saying she extorted President Donald Trump "out of approximately $150,000 in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair," the filing said.
Fox News asked the judge to toss out McDougal's case by arguing that "Carlson's statements were not statements of fact and that she failed adequately to allege actual malice."
McDougal said two of Carlson's statements during the episode on December 10, 2018, were defamatory:
- Carlson's claim that McDougal "approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money."
- Carlson's claim that McDougal's actions amounted to "a classic case of extortion."
But Fox News argued that Carlson "cannot be understood to have been stating facts, but instead that he was delivering an opinion using hyperbole for effect," the ruling said. It added that Fox News "submits that the use of that word or an accusation of extortion, absent more, is simply 'loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language' that does not give rise to a defamation claim."
Read Mary Trump’s Lawsuit. (New York Times, September 24, 2020)
The suit, filed on Thursday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, accused President Trump, his sister Maryanne Trump Barry and their brother Robert Trump of fraud and civil conspiracy.
Unlike US, Europe picks top judges with bipartisan approval to create ideologically balanced high courts. (The Conversation, September 23, 2020)
Filling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court immediately sparked a bitter partisan fight.
But choosing judges for the nation’s highest court doesn’t have to be so polarizing. In some European countries, judicial appointments are designed to ensure the court’s ideological balance, and the entire process, from nomination to confirmation, is generally not seen as partisan. By choice and by law, high court justices in those places work together to render consensus-based decisions.
The U.S. Supreme Court itself observed a norm of consensual decision-making for most of its history. Until 1941, the justices typically spoke unanimously. Only about 8% of cases included a dissenting opinion. In the 2019-2020 term, 64% of decisions included dissents.
Lenovo to roll out Ubuntu Linux 20.04 LTS across nearly 30 ThinkPads, ThinkStations. (ZDNet, September 23, 2020)
First, Fedora, and now, Ubuntu Linux. Lenovo is getting serious about the Linux desktop, with support for almost 30 ThinkPads and ThinkStations.
Scientists predict potential spread, habitat of invasive Asian giant hornet. (Phys.org, September 23, 2020)
Researchers at Washington State University have predicted how and where the Asian giant hornet, an invasive newcomer to the Pacific Northwest, popularly dubbed the "murder hornet," could spread and find ideal habitat, both in the United States and globally. The team found that if the world's largest hornet gains a foothold in Washington state, it could spread down much of the west coast of the United States. The Asian giant hornet could also find suitable habitat throughout the eastern seaboard and populous parts of Africa, Australia, Europe, and South America, if humans inadvertently transport it.
Allegations of racism have marked Trump’s presidency and become key issue as election nears. (Washington Post, September 23, 2020)
In unguarded moments with senior aides, President Trump has maintained that Black Americans have mainly themselves to blame in their struggle for equality, hindered more by lack of initiative than societal impediments, according to current and former U.S. officials. After phone calls with Jewish lawmakers, Trump has muttered that Jews “are only in it for themselves” and “stick together” in an ethnic allegiance that exceeds other loyalties, officials said. Trump’s private musings about Hispanics match the vitriol he has displayed in public, and his antipathy to Africa is so ingrained that when first lady Melania Trump planned a 2018 trip to that continent he railed that he “could never understand why she would want to go there.”
When challenged on these views by subordinates, Trump has invariably responded with indignation. “He would say, ‘No one loves Black people more than me,’ ” a former senior White House official said. The protests rang hollow because if the president were truly guided by such sentiments he “wouldn’t need to say it,” the official said. “You let your actions speak.” In Trump’s case, there is now a substantial record of his actions as president that have compounded the perceptions of racism created by his words.
The Election That Could Break America (The Atlantic, September 23, 2020)
If we are lucky, this fraught and dysfunctional election cycle will reach a conventional stopping point in time to meet crucial deadlines in December and January. The contest will be decided with sufficient authority that the losing candidate will be forced to yield. Collectively we will have made our choice—a messy one, no doubt, but clear enough to arm the president-elect with a mandate to govern.
As a nation, we have never failed to clear that bar. But in this election year of plague and recession and catastrophized politics, the mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity.
Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Trump’s behavior and declared intent leave no room to suppose that he will accept the public’s verdict if the vote is going against him. He lies prodigiously—to manipulate events, to secure advantage, to dodge accountability, and to ward off injury to his pride. An election produces the perfect distillate of all those motives.
Pathology may exert the strongest influence on Trump’s choices during the Interregnum. Well-supported arguments, some of them in this magazine, have made the case that Trump fits the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy and narcissism. Either disorder, by its medical definition, would render him all but incapable of accepting defeat.
Conventional commentary has trouble facing this issue squarely. Journalists and opinion makers feel obliged to add disclaimers. Nonetheless, if the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?
‘Chilling’: Hayes unpacks Trump’s vast and ongoing project to steal the election. (9-min. video; MSNBC News, September 23, 2020)
“I know—it sounds like dystopic science fiction,” says Chris Hayes. “We have to be honest about it, the same way we had to be honest about what the virus was going to do to this country back in late February. It is frankly a plan for an authoritarian power grab.
Trump won’t commit to peaceful transfer of power if he loses. (2-min. video; MSNBC News, September 23, 2020)
President Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the 2020 election to Democratic nominee Joe Biden: “Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very – you’ll have a very peaceful – there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”
House Democrats Introduce Bill to Outlaw Presidential Self-Pardons, Criminalize Corrupt Acts of Clemency. (MSN News, September 23, 2020)
House Democrats are pushing a bill which would criminalize corrupt pardons, outlaw presidential self-pardons, and prevent the president or vice president from using public office to run out the clock on the statute of limitations.
The legislation would make it a crime to dangle clemency to corruptly influence a person’s testimony, whether in court or before Congress. The bill also includes a “prohibition on presidential self-pardon”: The President’s grant of a pardon to himself or herself is void and of no effect, and shall not deprive the courts of jurisdiction, or operate to confer on the President any legal immunity from investigation or prosecution.
Despair at CDC after Trump influence: 'I have never seen morale this low.' (The Hill, September 23, 2020)
Eat, Pray, Conspiracy: How the Wellness World Embraced QAnon (Jezebel, September 23, 2020)
Something dangerous, if not exactly new, was spreading in the world of health practitioners: Plandemic, a 26-minute viral video filled with misinformation and conspiracy theories about the spread of covid-19. The slickly produced, sombre-toned “documentary,” is largely a lengthy interview with the discredited scientist and medical conspiracist Dr. Judy Mikovits, who’s portrayed as a stern-faced Cassandra. “[I]f we don’t stop this now, we can not only forget our republic and our freedom, we can forget our humanity because we’ll be killed by this agenda,” Mikovits warns at the beginning. Its wildly outlandish claims, including that masks “activate” the novel coronavirus and that any future covid-19 vaccine will “kill millions”, were eyeopening.
When she questioned the documentary in comments on Facebook, Khouri said that she got “slammed.” “Do your research,” she recalled people telling her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re afraid to see the truth.”
She shared articles from the fact-checking website Snopes.com to push back and was told sneeringly that the site was run by the government and not to be trusted. “That’s when it became very real to me,” she told Jezebel. In a moment, she realized that a disturbingly large number of people in the loosely defined health and wellness community, one whose members have already proven themselves over the years to be remarkably susceptible to unverified and refuted claims on everything from vaccines to toxins to supplements, were quickly being radicalized online.
A message from the candidate's dog (Laura Lombard, September 23, 2020)
Hello Human,
It’s Mushu again, Laura’s canine best friend! I stole Laura’s computer again and only have a few minutes.
Trust on the Economy Bolsters Trump in Oh-So-Close Florida and Arizona. (ABC News/Washington Post poll, September 23, 2020)
Donald Trump’s economic argument pushes back against Joe Biden’spitch that he can better handle the coronavirus pandemic in Florida and Arizona alike, producing closely divided presidential contests in both states in new ABC News/Washington Post polls.
NEW: Racism cost the US economy $16 trillion over the last 2 decades, Citi study finds. (1-min. video; Bloomberg, September 22, 2020)
The lost GDP is a result of Black Americans earning less than white Americans, having less access to home and small business loans, and limited access to higher education. If the US could immediately end "the most severe forms of economic discrimination against African Americans," US GDP would see a $5 trillion boost by 2025.
Citigroup Inc. will spend $1 billion over the next three years on efforts to help close the racial wealth gap as it seeks to become an antiracist institution.
'Zombie' Tropical Storm Paulette returns from the dead because it's 2020. (1-min. video; CNN, September 22, 2020)
As if the weather chaos of a record hurricane season wasn't enough, we now have a new thing to worry about. The National Weather Service went there and brought up a moniker we haven't heard yet in 2020: "zombie tropical storms." The term surfaced in an NWS tweet on Tuesday.
Paulette formed earlier in September as one of the five active tropical cyclones brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. It was only the second time in history that many storms had existed simultaneously.
With the apocalypse that 2020 has been, this year is prime for these zombie storms. "2020 is a good candidate to experience a zombie storm because water temperatures are above average over a bulk of the Atlantic Ocean, and obviously we are seeing a record number of storms -- which ups the chances one could regenerate," Miller said.
If you're wondering why the storm was not renamed Gamma, it's because meteorologists were still able to track the storm's vortex. We've had so many storms this year that we've run out of names and started naming them after the letters in the Greek alphabet.
Mike Bloomberg raises $16 million to allow former felons to vote in Florida. (Washington Post, September 22, 2020)
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his team have raised more than $16 million to pay the court fines and fees of nearly 32,000 Black and Hispanic Florida voters with felony convictions, an effort aimed at boosting turnout for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The money will go to fund a program organized by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to pay the fines, fees and restitution costs for former prisoners who are already registered to vote in Florida but barred by law from participating in the election because of those outstanding debts.
Florida voters passed a statewide constitutional amendment in 2018 that gave former felons, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, the opportunity to vote in upcoming elections.
The Republican-controlled legislature subsequently passed, and the Republican governor signed, a law that conditioned their return to the voting rolls on the payment of all fees, fines and restitution that were part of their sentence. Subsequent court challenges upheld the power of the legislature to condition voting rights on the payment of debts by former felons. Judge Barbara Lagoa, who is under consideration by President Trump as a possible replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, cast a concurring opinion on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the state law requiring payment of debts.
The Republican effort is expected to limit the political benefit to Democrats of the constitutional change, which passed by ballot initiative with 65 percent support. A study by the University of Florida found that nearly 775,000 former felons still owed money related to their convictions and would be barred from the voting booth by the law. The vast majority are too poor to pay their outstanding debts (which average $1,000), according to evidence presented in court documents challenging the law.
Billionaire Barry Diller calls stock market ‘great speculation,’ urges everyone to save cash. (2-min. video; CNBC, September 22, 2020)
Diller is far from the first to express skepticism about the stock market’s pandemic recovery, which saw the S&P 500 rise more than 60% from its intraday low of 2,191 on March 23 to its record high of 3,588 on Sept. 2. Stocks have given back some of those gains since, with the S&P 500 entering Tuesday’s session off about 8% from its intraday peak earlier in the month.
Diller cited the upcoming presidential election between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as a significant cause of uncertainty for investors. “As far as business is concerned, I don’t think long term there’s going to be any particular difference” between Trump and Biden, said Diller. “I think there will be differences personally. I think people are going to pay higher taxes, particularly the wealthy. I think there are going to be things that are going to be done, really done, to deal with inequality.”
Diller also criticized the negotiations surrounding Oracle and Walmart’s investment in social media app TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance and faced a potential U.S. ban from Trump. “The whole thing is a crock,” Diller said Tuesday.
Romney makes up new 'precedent' to say he'll vote on a Trump Supreme Court nominee. (Daily Kos, September 22, 2020)
How Trump’s Shot at WeChat Could Hit Americans Instead (Politico, September 22, 2020)
The president frames his ban on the app as a national-security issue. Maybe. But it not only bans WeChat from America; it also effectively bans Americans from WeChat. In the process, it begins to revoke the digital passport that the internet has implicitly conferred on U.S. citizens for decades—effacing the freedom baked into the moral and technical architecture of their country’s grandest modern invention.
Paul Krugman: Trump tries to cancel New York. (New York Times, September 22, 2020)
Left-leaning cancel culture doesn’t pose any real threat to free discourse, because in 21st-century America we barely have anything resembling a radical left, and whatever left-wing radicalism exists has very little political power. The radical right, by contrast, has a lot of power, and seems increasingly eager to use that power to punish anyone expressing views it doesn’t like, even — or maybe especially — when those views simply involve telling the truth.
So we have Donald Trump demanding “patriotic education” and denouncing The Times’s 1619 Project, because it’s politically incorrect to admit the role slavery played in our nation’s history. You have the Justice Department announcing an investigation of racism at Princeton that is obviously intended to punish the school for admitting the obvious point that there was racism in its past.
Acknowledging racism isn’t the only issue that stirs up right-wing cancel culture. As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, there has been sustained persecution of scientists who acknowledge the reality of climate change. The strange goings-on at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — first acknowledging what everyone else has known for months, that airborne droplets can transmit the coronavirus, then retracting that acknowledgment — strongly suggest that political appointees are trying to cancel epidemiology that conflicts with Trumpist opposition to face masks.
But persecuting scholars and scientists who report inconvenient facts is small stuff. Now the right is going after whole cities. On Monday William Barr’s Justice Department designated three cities — Portland, Seattle and, yes, New York — “anarchist jurisdictions,” places that “have permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist.” Walk around New York, where millions of people are living normal lives in relative safety, and “anarchy” is hardly the word that comes to mind. No, there aren’t mobs of looters roaming the streets, and despite an uptick in murders (offset by a decline in rape) crime remains very low by historical standards.
But the anarchist designation isn’t an empty gesture; it comes with the threat of a cutoff of federal funds. So what is this nonsense about? The answer, basically, is that Trump and Barr are trying to punish cities that let people express opinions they don’t like, that allow mostly peaceful demonstrations against racism to proceed rather than finding excuses to beat people up. This is, in other words, right-wing cancel culture on a grand scale.
Canadian woman charged with sending deadly poison ricin to Trump called him ‘Ugly Tyrant Clown’ in letter. (CNBC, September 22, 2020)
U.S. COVID Deaths Are Set To Blow Past Trump’s Own Targets. (Huffington Post, September 22, 2020)
The president’s team predicted the virus would cause up to 240,000 deaths and began unwinding protections. One model they relied on now projects nearly 400,000 by Jan. 1, 2021.
‘It affects virtually nobody’: Trump downplays virus threat to young people. (Politico, September 22, 2020)
The president previously told The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward in March that Covid-19 affects “plenty of young people.”
President Donald Trump claimed Monday at an Ohio campaign rally that the coronavirus poses little threat to young people and “affects virtually nobody,” as the number of Americans to have died from Covid-19 climbed toward 200,000 in the United States. “It affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects,” Trump told supporters at an airport outside Toledo. “That’s it. You know, in some states, thousands of people, nobody young. Below the age of 18, like, nobody,” he continued. “They have a strong immune system, who knows. You look — take your hat off to the young, because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing.”
“By the way, open your schools, everybody,” Trump added. “Open your schools.”
Americans ages 0-17 make up roughly 8.4 percent of positive Covid-19 cases in the U.S., and roughly 107 Americans ages 0-18 have died from the disease, according to CDC data. But there are likely much more asymptomatic infections among young people than have been detected, and the rate at which children are becoming infected is increasing — probably because of their return to school and other normal activities. A recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that more than 513,000 children in the U.S. have caught the coronvairus since the pandemic began, including 70,630 from Aug. 20-Sept. 3.
Vikings in America: Centuries before Columbus, Vikings came to the Western hemisphere. How far into the Americas did they travel? (Aeon, September 22, 2020)
The most credible claim – that the Vikings reached North America around the year 1000 – deserves more attention. It arose in the 19th century, following the publication of C.C. Rafn’s Antiquitates Americanae (1837), which proposed that the place the Icelandic sagas called Vinland (meaning ‘vine land’) was located somewhere near Cape Cod in Massachusetts, or the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. (The Vinland Sagas refers to two different orally transmitted sagas about these early voyages: Erik the Red’s saga was written down shortly after 1264, and the Greenlanders’ saga was copied into a collection of different materials in 1387.)
According to these two sagas, the Vikings encountered a group of indigenous Amerindians, whom they called Skraelings, or ‘wretched ones’. The Norse traded red woollen textiles for animal pelts. That exchange marked a turning point in world history: it is the earliest documented encounter between the peoples living on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
A million students and counting have learned Linux. (ZDNet, September 22, 2020)
The Linux Foundation's Free Introduction to Linux class has just passed the million enrollment mark.
Astronomers discover an Earth-sized 'pi planet' with a 3.14-day orbit. (Science Daily, September 21, 2020)
The rocky world, with its baking-hot surface, is likely not habitable.
29 Psychological Tricks To Make You Buy More (Visual Capitalist, September 21, 2020)
Consumers aren’t necessarily to blame for impulse buys. After all, we’re constantly bombarded with advertisements and marketing tactics specifically tailored to try and get us to spend more money. This graphic by TitleMax explains 29 different psychological tactics that marketers use to get consumers to buy more.
Robert Reich: When I say the system is rigged, this is what I mean. (original on Twitter; September 21, 2020)
A 6th GOP justice, nominated by an impeached president who lost the popular vote by 3M, confirmed by GOP senators representing 15M fewer Americans than their Democratic colleagues, after Obama's pick couldn't even get a vote.
When I say the system is rigged, this is what I mean.
GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Georgia) releases the weirdest ad of the election cycle ... or maybe ever. (1-min. video; Daily Kos, September 21, 2020)
Attila The Hun? [Plus, another similar video - plus interesting coverage of Attila's genealogy - in the Comments thread. And lots more elsewhere.]
Anti-mask, pro-Trump lawmaker dies of COVID-19 after mocking the pandemic on social media. (Daily Kos, September 21, 2020)
More than a dozen posts can be traced back to his social media in which he spread misinformation about the virus, including a video from a Texas doctor who created outrageous theories about the virus and its connection to demons. In another notable post, he wrote, "the CDC and the WHO are pure lying (expletive)" and that those public health bodies are "not telling you the truth."
Why our minds can't make sense of COVID-19's enormous death toll (National Geographic, September 21, 2020)
As we reach grim milestones—200,000 dead in the U.S. and one million globally—our new challenge is overcoming the natural tendency to go numb.
CDC reverses itself and says guidelines it posted on coronavirus airborne transmission were wrong. (5-min. video; Washington Post, September 21, 2020)
Despite expert recommendations, CDC removes statement, claiming website error. The agency had posted information Friday stating the virus can transmit over a distance beyond six feet, suggesting that indoor ventilation is key to protecting against a virus that has now killed nearly 200,000 Americans. Where the agency previously warned that the virus mostly spreads through large drops encountered at close range, on Friday, it had said “small particles, such as those in aerosols,” were a common vector.
The edited Web page has removed all references to airborne spread, except for a disclaimer that recommendations based on this mode of transmission are under review.
For months, scientists and public health experts have warned of mounting evidence that the coronavirus is airborne, transmitted through tiny droplets called aerosols that linger in the air much longer than the larger globs that come from coughing or sneezing.
The Inside Story of the Mueller Probe’s Mistakes (The Atlantic, September 21, 2020)
Andrew Weissmann was one of Robert Mueller’s top deputies in the special counsel’s investigation of the 2016 election, and he’s about to publish the first insider account, called Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation. The title comes from an adapted quote by the philosopher John Locke that’s inscribed on the façade of the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C.: “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins.”
Weissmann offers a damning indictment of a “lawless” president and his knowing accomplices—Attorney General William Barr (portrayed as a cynical liar), congressional Republicans, criminal flunkies, Fox News. Donald Trump, he writes, is “like an animal, clawing at the world with no concept of right and wrong.” But in telling the story of the investigation and its fallout, Weissmann reserves his most painful words for the Special Counsel’s Office itself. Where Law Ends portrays a group of talented, dedicated professionals beset with internal divisions and led by a man whose code of integrity allowed their target to defy them and escape accountability.
Here’s why top economists are not worried about the national debt, now worth over $26 trillion. (10-min. video; CNBC, September 21, 2020)
Surrendered court seats (New York Times, September 21, 2020)
Today’s newsletter is a special edition, focused on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court and what happens now.
In the final decades of the 20th century, liberals and conservatives each had their own problem that kept their preferred judges from dominating the Supreme Court.
For conservatives, it was the unreliability of the justices appointed by Republican presidents. Some turned into relative moderates (Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy), while others drifted further left (David Souter, John Paul Stevens and Harry Blackmun).
For liberals, the problem was the mishandling of Supreme Court transitions, through the occasional surrendering of a seat so that a Republican president could fill it.
If you want to understand why conservatives have come to dominate the court in the early 21st century, it’s worth keeping in mind this history. In the simplest terms, conservatives have largely solved their 20th-century problem: Republican presidents now nominate only deeply conservative justices. Liberals, on the other hand, have not solved their problem. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — like Marshall, a civil rights giant, who demanded that the United States live up to its ideals — has created the fourth time in the last six decades that liberals may turn over a seat to conservatives.
The flipping of seats from one ideology to another has been crucial. The effect of each instance can last for decades, well beyond any individual justice’s tenure, because each one can try to time his or her retirement to line up with the tenure of an ideologically similar president.
[Also see: What Happened With Merrick Garland In 2016 And Why It Matters Now (NPR, June 29, 2018). Because it matters now.]
5 Ways Democrats Can Stop GOP From Filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg Seat (17-min. video; The Young Turks, September 20, 2020)
Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death has led to a nearly unprecedented level of hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing and anguished clothes-rending on the left as the nation faces the prospect of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump racing through the confirmation process to seat another hard-right conservative justice, likely giving the Supreme Court a reactionary bent for a generation or more.
But don’t expect any of that mopey defeatism from Cenk Uygur. In this YouTube Live clip from the weekend, Cenk says he’s fully girded for a fight, and he knows the tools the Democrats can use to wage that fight - and win. Cenk lays out a five-point strategy, with each point more audacious and unprecedented than the last. First, he says, Democrats need to bring the Senate to a virtual standstill by demanding universal consent on every vote from now on. That will slow things down considerably. Second, he says, hold the debt ceiling and the budget reconciliation votes hostage. Republicans adopt these measures with some frequency, but Democrats are typically too cowardly to take such audacious steps. But now is not the time for the faint of heart, not with so much on the line, he says.
To find out Cenk’s three other proposals, which will induce outrage from Republicans and terrify some Democrats, watch the full clip here (one of the ideas involves leveraging Republicans’ hatred for Hillary Clinton against them!).
Pelosi says Democrats will 'use every arrow in our quiver' to block Trump's Supreme Court nominee. (9-min. video; ABC News, September 20, 2020)
Pelosi does not rule out impeachment to block Trump nominee to Supreme Court.
NEW: The Supply of Disinformation Will Soon Be Infinite. (The Atlantic, September 20, 2020)
Disinformation campaigns used to require a lot of human effort, but artificial intelligence will take them to a whole new level.
It's propaganda, not hypocrisy: Republicans use lying as primary governing technique. (Daily Kos, September 20, 2020)
Advances In ICU Care Are Saving More Patients Who Have COVID-19. (NPR, September 20, 2020)
The trend in improving survival has been documented in intensive care units around the world. Even so, people treated in the ICU for COVID-19 are at higher risk of death than is the case for other viral lung diseases. Across the United States, hundreds of people still die daily from COVID-19.
Best Biden Tweet Ever!! (1-min video; Daily Kos, September 19, 2020)
Carpenters wow public with medieval techniques at Notre Dame. (AP News, September 19, 2020)
With precision and boundless energy, a team of carpenters used medieval techniques to raise up — by hand — a three-ton oak truss Saturday in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, a replica of the wooden structures that were consumed in the landmark’s devastating April 2019 fire that also toppled its spire. The demonstration to mark European Heritage Days gave the hundreds of people a first-hand look at the rustic methods used 800 years ago to build the triangular frames in the nave of Notre Dame de Paris.
A package addressed to Trump containing the deadly poison ricin was intercepted. (CNBC, September 19, 2020)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg's impact on generations of women: 'She changed the way the law sees gender.' (5-min. video; ABC News, September 19, 2020)
From early on in her studies and career, Ginsburg was a trailblazer.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion Of Gender Equality, Dies At 87. (photos, and 2-min. video; NPR, September 18, 2020)
"Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice."
Just days before her death, as her strength waned, Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."
Statement by Vice President Joe Biden on the Passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Biden-Harris, September 18, 2020)
Tonight our nation mourns an American hero, a giant of legal doctrine, and a relentless voice in the pursuit of that highest American ideal: Equal Justice Under Law.
Tonight, and in the coming days, we should be focused on the loss of Justice Ginsburg and her enduring legacy. But just so there is no doubt, let me be clear: The voters should pick a President, and that President should select a successor to Justice Ginsburg. This was the position that the Republican Senate took in 2016, when there were nearly nine months before the election. That is the position the United States Senate must take now, when the election is less than two months away. We are talking about the Constitution and the Supreme Court. That institution should not be subject to politics.
A patient has died after ransomware hackers hit a German hospital. (MIT Technology Review, September 18, 2020)
This is the first ever case of a fatality being linked to a cyberattack.
Why misinformation about COVID-19’s origins keeps going viral. (National Geographic, September 18, 2020)
Another piece of coronavirus misinformation is making the rounds. Here’s how to sift through the muck.
Twenty years ago, data scientist Sinan Aral began to see the formation of a trend that now defines our social media era: how quickly untrue information spreads. He watched as false news ignited online discourse like a small spark that kindles into a massive blaze. Now the director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, Aral believes that a concept he calls the novelty hypothesis demonstrates this almost unstoppable viral contagion of false news.
Enter the Yan report. On September 14, an article was posted to Zenodo, an open-access site for sharing research papers, which claimed that genetic evidence showed that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was made in a lab, rather than emerging through natural spillover from animals. The 26-page paper, led by Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan, a postdoctoral researcher who left Hong Kong University, has not undergone peer review and asserts that this evidence of genetic engineering has been “censored” in the scientific journals. (National Geographic contacted Yan and the report’s three other authors for comment but received no reply.)
A Twitter firestorm promptly erupted. Prominent virologists, such as Kristian Andersen from Scripps Research and Carl Bergstrom from University of Washington, took to the internet and called out the paper for being unscientific. Chief among their complaints was that the report ignored the vast body of published literature regarding what is known about how coronaviruses circulate in wild animal populations and the tendency to spill over into humans, including recent publications about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The experts also pointed out that the report whipped up wild conspiracy theories and wrongly accused academic journals of plotting with conspirators by censoring important evidence. The Yan report claims that RaTG13 was also engineered in a lab. But that flies in the face of the overwhelming body of genetic evidence published about SARS-CoV-2 and its progenitors.
What’s more, the report was funded by the Rule of Law Society, a nonprofit organization founded by former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, who has since been arrested for fraud. That’s yet another reason many virologists are questioning the veracity of its claims. “It’s encroaching on pseudoscience, really,” says Robertson. “This paper just cherry-picked a couple of examples, excluded evidence, and came up with a ridiculous scenario.”
A hallmark of the pandemic has been a rapid influx of research and free sharing of information to increase the pace of discovery. This practice of posting “preprints”—reports that haven’t been reviewed by academic peers—has its advantages. “For the scientific community [it] has been very useful,” says Robertson, since more researchers can quickly analyze the available data. But preprints have a dark side too. Misinformation has been another hallmark of the pandemic, and preprints have played a role in fueling news coverage of unproven claims, including the virus mutating into a more deadly form, coming from snakes, or being less deadly than it truly is.
Back in 2018, Aral and his team at the MIT Media Lab put their novelty hypothesis to the test by analyzing 11 years of data from Twitter, or about 4.5 million tweets. Their calculations showed a surprising correlation: “What we found was that false news traveled farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in every category of information that we studied, sometimes by an order of magnitude,” Aral explains.
More is at play than just novelty, as Aral discusses in his new book The Hype Machine. The way people react to emotional stories on social media is intense and predictable. Vitriol fills the replies, and false news then becomes 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the truth.
A complicated combination of psychological factors is at work whenever a reader decides to share news, and otherwise smart people can become part of the cycle of disinformation. One factor is knowledge neglect: “when people fail to retrieve and apply previously stored knowledge appropriately into a current situation,” according to Lisa Fazio, an assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University. The human brain seeks out easy options. Readers cut corners, often sharing stories with grabby headlines before looking deeper into the story itself.
Even when social media users do read what they share, their rational mind finds other ways to slack off. For instance, humans are prone to confirmation bias, a way of interpreting new information as a validation of one’s preconceived notions. Motivated reasoning switches on too, and the brain tries to force these new conceptual puzzle pieces together, making connections even when they don’t fit.
The most potent factor that warps critical thinking is the illusory truth effect, which Fazio defines with this scenario: “If you hear something twice, you're more likely to think that it's true than if you've only heard it once.” So prevalence turbocharges false news, and echo chambers then turn into self-perpetuating whirlwinds of misbelief.
If the news involves politics, it gets yet another virality boost. “Political news travels faster than the rest of false news,” says Aral. “We can speculate that it’s such a lightning rod because it’s so emotionally charged.” And to Aral, the Yan report has every attribute of a false news story that was primed to go viral.
Economists have finally measured the connection between unemployment and sleep loss. (Quartz, September 18, 2020)
The relationship between job loss and health is well understood. Researchers have documented increased obesity, heart disease and hypertension, and mental illness associated with joblessness, particularly long-term unemployment. Less studied, however, is the relationship between unemployment and sleep.
A new paper documents the impact of joblessness on sleep. Perhaps predictably, the unemployed sleep less than the overall population, likely a result of anxiety and worry. About 13% of the newly unemployed, for example, report getting four hours of sleep or less a night.
Federal judge temporarily blocks mail slowdown within the U.S. Postal Service. (5-min. video; The Young Turks, September 18, 2020)
A federal judge in Washington state on Thursday granted a request from 14 states to temporarily block operational changes within the U.S. Postal Service that have been blamed for a slowdown in mail delivery, saying President Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are “involved in a politically motivated attack” on the agency that could disrupt the 2020 election.
Stanley A. Bastian, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, said policies put in place under DeJoy “likely will slow down delivery of ballots” this fall, creating a “substantial possibility that many voters will be disenfranchised and the states may not be able to effectively, timely, accurately determine election outcomes. The states have demonstrated that the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service,” Bastian said in brief remarks after a 2½-hour hearing in Yakima. “They have also demonstrated that this attack on the Postal Service is likely to irreparably harm the states’ ability to administer the 2020 general election.”
Thousands of dying birds out West could reveal an even bigger environmental tragedy. (Popular Science, September 18, 2020)
Wildfires, pollution, erratic weather—which problem is to blame?
NEW: A New Open-Source Tool for Tracking Disinformation (Mozilla, September 18, 2020)
The Social Media Analysis Toolkit (SMAT) provides a free, open, and intuitive way to scrutinize what’s trending on internet platforms.
Three Interactive Tools for Understanding Police Surveillance (Electronic Freedom Foundation, September 17, 2020)
As law enforcement and government surveillance technology becomes more and more advanced, it has also become harder for everyday people to avoid. Law enforcement agencies all over the United States are using body-worn cameras, automated license plate readers, drones, and much more—all of which threat people's right to privacy. EFF has three interactive tools that help you learn about the new technologies being deployed around the United States and how they impact you: the Atlas of Surveillance, Spot the Surveillance, and Who Has Your Face?
Trump’s rollbacks could add half an EU’s worth of climate pollution by 2035. (MIT Technology Review, September 17, 2020)
Unraveling rules covering vehicle emissions, methane, and other greenhouse gases could add up to nearly 2 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide.
Former Pence aide says she will vote for Biden because of Trump’s ‘flat-out disregard for human life’ during pandemic. (2-min. video; Washington Post, September 17, 2020)
Olivia Troye, who worked as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence for two years, said that the administration’s response cost lives and that she will vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden this fall because of her experience in the Trump White House. “The president’s rhetoric and his own attacks against people in his administration trying to do the work, as well as the promulgation of false narratives and incorrect information of the virus have made this ongoing response a failure,” she said in an interview.
Troye is the first Trump administration official who worked extensively on the coronavirus response to forcefully speak out against Trump and his handling of the pandemic. She joins a growing number of former officials, including former national security adviser John Bolton and former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who have detailed their worries about what happened during their time in the administration while declaring that Trump is unfit to be president. The amount of criticism Trump has faced from former aides is unprecedented in the modern presidency, and it could pose a political risk to his reelection campaign as some of the aides who have spoken out are pressuring other former colleagues to join them.
Troye added, “He made a statement once that was very striking, and I never forgot it because it pretty much defined who he was. When we were in a task force meeting, the president said, ‘Maybe this COVID thing is a good thing. I don’t like shaking hands with people. I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people.’ Those disgusting people are the same people that he claims to care about. These are the people still going to his rallies today who have complete faith in who he is.”
NEW: U.S. Sen. Tom Udall: End Citizens United with US Constitution. (Santa Fe NM Reporter, September 17, 2020)
Ten years ago, the Supreme Court struck a heavy blow to our democracy in Citizens United v. FEC, holding that unlimited money in politics is equivalent to free speech and that corporations have the same rights as people. The decision opened the floodgates for even more, often secret, special interest money to influence our elections – letting the ultra-wealthy have the most say in our democracy. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearly $10 billion has already been spent on the 2020 presidential election alone, much of it from secret money. Our current politics are dominated by the wealthy and powerful – because they write the checks that fund campaigns – at the expense of millions of American voters.
That's why I, along with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), introduced the Democracy For All amendment to overturn Citizens United and create a 28th Amendment. The 28th Amendment would remedy this by making it clear that corporations are not people – and that spending money is not the same as free speech. It would restore a democratic system where responsible limits on campaign spending are allowed—and no longer outlawed by Citizens United.
The guardrails of our democracy have always rested on the foundation of free and fair elections. We do not need to look far to find evidence that our political guardrails have broken under the weight of secret money in our elections. Since the Citizens United decision, just 10 individuals have injected more than $1.2 billion into our elections. We can't achieve the most common sense, bipartisan priorities in Washington—like acting on climate change, ending gun violence, and increasing access to affordable health care—because politicians are beholden to the short-term interests of the wealthy few instead of the long-term needs of all Americans. That's why our very first priority must be amending the Constitution to end the reign of big money in our politics, and to restore the power to the people. And we must demand that elected officials are accountable to the people they represent – not to the special interests.
So make sure to vote in your local, state, and federal elections. Add your voice to the nationwide effort writing letters like this one to your local paper. And call your representatives often, and remind them of the promises they made to you and your neighbors. Tell your representatives to pass the 28th Amendment. Our country's Constitution is a living document with a built-in mechanism for change. It is also bound to the promise that we, the people are entrusted with creating a more perfect union. We are more than ready to ratify Democracy For All, and we must use our voices to demand our government back.
Want to think for yourself? Start with an agonising state of doubt, says Kierkegaard. (7-min. video; Aeon, September 17, 2020)
'No new worlds': New artwork highlights darker side of Mayflower's impact on Native Americans. (5-min. and 3-min videos; NBC News, September 16, 2020)
Today is the 400th anniversary of the day the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth harbor, on England’s southwestern coast, to establish a new life for its passengers in America.
The anniversary comes as the United States and many other countries face a reckoning on racism, and some are highlighting the famous ship’s passengers’ enormous, and for many catastrophic, impact on the world they claimed. They challenge the long-standing mythology around the Mayflower’s search for a “New World” by emphasizing that people already lived in North America for millennia. 400 years later, most of us are denying that history.
“We think there's an opportunity here to really sort of set the record straight,” said Steven Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts.
[You think YOU get junk mail? Imagine a boatload of armed strangers giving THIS crazy ultimatum to you! "See? Everything here belongs to us - or else! And what's more, you're Indians!"]
The Southwest Is Facing an ‘Unprecedented’ Migratory Bird Die-Off. (1-min. video; Audubon, September 16, 2020)
Scientists and birders have found large numbers of migratory species disoriented and dead in recent weeks. Here’s what we know so far.
The head of the United Nations calls the virus the world’s top security threat. (1-min. video; New York Times, September 16, 2020)
The coronavirus is out of control and is the “No. 1 global security threat in our world today,” the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said Wednesday at a news conference outlining his messages for this year’s General Assembly session. The session, which began this week,  will largely be held via virtual meetings because of the pandemic. Mr. Guterres called for greater cooperation to develop and distribute an affordable vaccine and criticized what he called “deadly misinformation” that could dissuade people from getting vaccinated.
Coronavirus: WHO warns of ‘alarming’ spread across Europe. (Irish Times, September 16, 2020)
Weekly reported cases across Europe are now higher than during the pandemic’s peak.
Political Divides, Conspiracy Theories and Divergent News Sources Heading Into 2020 Election. (Journalism, September 16, 2020)
As the nation heads toward Election Day in the midst of a persistent pandemic and simmering social unrest, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans’ deep partisan divide, dueling information ecosystems, and divergent responses to conspiracy theories and misinformation are all fueling uncertainty and conflict surrounding the presidential election. While Americans across the political spectrum have been getting information about key election-related story lines, their knowledge and opinions about these issues – as well as the candidates themselves – differ strikingly based on their party affiliation and key news sources.
43% of Republicans identify fraud as a major problem with voting by mail versus 11% of Democrats.
During this campaign, public attention to the once-obscure QAnon – a collection of connected conspiracy theories that has been declared a domestic terror threat by the FBI – has grown, with a few “Q” proponents running for Congress and Trump expressing support for at least one of them. The percentage of Americans who say they have heard “a lot” or “a little” about QAnon has roughly doubled from 23% in March to 47% in the new survey. Democrats are somewhat more likely to have heard at least a little about these theories than Republicans (55% versus 39%, respectively). About four-in-ten Republicans who have heard of the QAnon conspiracy theories say QAnon is a good thing for the country. In this environment, the QAnon conspiracy theories have become another area of partisan divide.
Trump contradicts the C.D.C. chief’s testimony on masks and vaccines. (1-min. video; New York Times, September 16, 2020)
President Trump rebuked the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday, saying that Dr. Robert R. Redfield offered “incorrect information” when he told a Senate panel earlier in the day that a coronavirus vaccine was unlikely to be widely available before the middle of next year.
Caputo will take a leave of absence from health department. (New York Times, September 16, 2020)
Michael R. Caputo, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday. Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department.
The announcement came after a bizarre and inflammatory outburst on Facebook on Sept. 13 and disclosures that he and his team had tried to water down official reports of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about the pandemic. Mr. Caputo, a longtime Trump loyalist and the health department’s assistant secretary of public affairs, had apologized for his Facebook presentation to his staff and to Alex M. Azar II,  the department’s leader, after his comments became public.
Since he was installed at the department in April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a media-savvy former Trump campaign aide, has aggressively worked to develop a media strategy for dealing with the pandemic. But critics, including some in the administration, complained that he was promoting the president’s political interests over public health.
His Facebook talk, which was shared with The New York Times, was filled with ominous predictions of left-wing “hit squads” plotting armed insurrection after the election and attacks on C.D.C. scientists, who he said had formed a “resistance unit” determined to undercut Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election. He accused the scientists of “rotten science” and said they “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants” except to plot against the president at coffee shops.
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., told a Senate panel Wednesday morning that he was “deeply saddened” by Mr. Caputo’s comments and said his remarks about government scientists committing “sedition” were “false accusations” offensive to career officials at his agency.
Heather Cox Richardson: 1st Anniversary of Letters from an American (Letters from an American, September 15, 2020)
[With a one-year summary of White House evil-doings.]
A handful of executives control the "attention economy". Time for attentive resistance. (4-min. video; Aeon, September 15, 2020)
"When information becomes abundant, attention becomes a scarce resource." - Herbert Simon, 1970
In this brief animation featuring audio from a 2017 lecture at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) in London, James Williams, a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and a former Google employee, makes the case that the consolidation of the "attention economy" to just a handful of companies is an unprecedented and deeply fraught human experiment – and one that demands active, attentive resistance. "This could be the defining political and moral challenge of our time."
Here’s What Happens Every Minute on the Internet in 2020. (Visual Capitalist, September 15, 2020)
Tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google have had impressive staying power, evolving to become some of the biggest companies in the world. In the process, they’ve caught up to longer-standing titans like Apple and Microsoft at the top of the food chain.
Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden. (Scientific American, September 15, 2020)
Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.
The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges.
That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.
Paul Krugman: Science has a well-known anti-Trump bias. (1-min. video; New York Times, September 15, 2020)
President Trump: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch."
California Natural Resources Secretary, Wade Crowfoot: "I wish science agreed with you."
President Trump: "I don't think science knows, actually."
Politics can and will intrude into any area of scholarly research where some people have strong motivations for getting the story wrong. This has obviously been the case for climate research, where an overwhelming scientific consensus has had to struggle against a whole industry of climate denial, which is almost entirely supported by fossil-fuel interests and has effectively taken over the Republican Party.
There’s no such thing as a safe subject when you’re dealing with people who have a totalitarian mind-set — and that is, in fact, what we’re dealing with. I suspect that in the early days of the Soviet Union plant geneticists imagined that they were working in a low-risk field; I mean, who would politicize that? In the end, however, thousands of them were sent to labor camps or executed for questioning the theories of Trofim Lysenko, a quack who somehow became one of Stalin’s favorites.
We’re now struggling over where there’s even such a thing as objective truth. And staying out of politics is no longer an option for anyone.
As Trump Again Rejects Science, Biden Calls Him A ‘Climate Arsonist.’ (2-min.video: New York Times, September 15, 2020)
With wildfires raging across the West, climate change took center stage in the race for the White House on Monday as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called President Trump a “climate arsonist” while the president said that “I don’t think science knows” what is actually happening. A day of dueling appearances laid out the stark differences between the two candidates, an incumbent president who has long scorned climate change as a hoax and rolled back environmental regulations and a challenger who has called for an aggressive campaign to curb the greenhouse gases blamed for increasingly extreme weather.
Mr. Trump flew to California after weeks of public silence about the flames that have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, wiped out communities and forests, burned millions of acres, shrouded the region in smoke and left at least 27 people dead. But even when confronted by California’s governor and other state officials, the president insisted on attributing the crisis solely to poor forest management, not climate change.
Mr. Biden, for his part, assailed Mr. Trump’s record on the climate, asserting that the president’s inaction and denial had fed destruction, citing not just the current emergency on the West Coast but flooding in the Midwest and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. In an outdoor speech at a museum in Wilmington, Del., the Democratic presidential nominee sought to paint a second Trump term as a danger to the nation’s suburbs, flipping an attack on him by the president. “If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?” Mr. Biden asked. “How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms? If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?”
Wildfires Live Updates: Smoke Crosses U.S. as Blazes Rage in West. (New York Times, September 15, 2020)
The wildfires raging on the West Coast are an all but inescapable crisis around the country, with at least 27 people dead in three states, and smoke haze reaching as far as New York City and Boston.
‘It burns your chest’: Oregon residents struggle to live with relentless smoke. (photos and 1-min. video; Washington Post, September 14, 2020)
A week after wildfires began ravaging the state and displacing thousands of people, the air quality in many parts of Oregon ranks among the world’s worst, as bad as the pollution “airpocalypse” in Beijing in 2013. As white, thick clouds hover over buildings and highways, a miserable reality is setting in for Oregonians: They can flee from the fires, but they can’t escape the smoke. Nauseating and suffocating, it lingers — in clothes, on hair, in bedsheets. No shower seems capable of getting rid of it, no air freshener can mask the scent. It seeps inside, even with windows and doors closed. Crack a car door open and it finds its way in. Turn on the air conditioning and the vents spit out even more. Put on your mask and it smothers you in the smell of ash. “It’s like sticking yourself in a little room with 12 people all around you, smoking cigarettes." It’s a terrifying reminder that somewhere, nearby, a fire is still burning. “It makes me feel like it’s not over, like it’s still coming.”
[It IS still coming. This is the Global Warming that Trump wants us to ignore.]
Heather Cox Richardson: Today’s big story is the growing threat of violence on the part of Trump loyalists in the administration, including the president himself. (Letters From An American, September 14, 2020)
The escalating language of violence indicates that the Trump team thinks it is going to lose the election. Others appear to think that, too: Georgia Senator David Perdue has recently begun to distance himself from the president in his own reelection campaign.
This rhetorical pattern echoes the strategy of southern Democratic leaders in 1860, when they knew they did not have the numbers to win the upcoming election fairly. They kept opponents from the polls, jiggered the mechanics of state elections, and warned white voters that, if Abraham Lincoln were elected, he and his dangerous radicals would destroy America. As their calls for violence escalated, they promised supporters that if it came to a fight, weak and frightened northerners would run away. Even so, when Lincoln won the 1860 election, most southern whites were content to see what he did before they picked up their guns. But southern leaders were unwilling to live in a country they did not control, and declared they were going to create their own country, based in human slavery, even before Lincoln took office. In the ensuing war, ordinary Confederate soldiers learned the hard way both that northerners would not run away, and that their leaders cared about protecting the economy, not them.
It sounds poignantly familiar. But it is unlikely to come to armed conflict this time around.
Paul Krugman: The G.O.P. Plot to Sabotage 2021 (New York Times, September 14, 2020)
Republicans — not just Donald Trump, but his whole party — are acting as if there’s no tomorrow. Or, more precisely, they’re acting as if there’s no next year.
And this means that if Biden does win, he will have to govern in the face of what amounts to nonstop policy sabotage from his political opponents.
[Putin's Puppet keeps performing predictably - for Russia.]
U.S. Officials Buried Intel, Could Face War Crimes Charges Over Obama-Trump Support for Yemen War. (Law & Crime, September 14, 2020)
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has waged an unrelenting and brutal war against the civilian population of Yemen since the spring of 2015 with full-throated diplomatic and material support from the United States. Spanning the administrations of both Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, the U.S. role in that war is increasingly fraught with legal liability due to American knowledge of the extreme casualties that have resulted from airstrikes.
“The United Nations estimates that from March 2015 to November 2018 there were 17,640 combat-related civilian casualties in Yemen, including 10,852 caused by Coalition airstrikes,” a recent report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of State notes. “High-profile incidents include a March 2016 strike on a market that killed 97 civilians, an October 2016 attack on a funeral hall that killed 140, and an August 2018 strike on a school bus that killed 51, including 40 children.”
That same report implicated “U.S. defense firms” as the likely source of the weapons used “in each of these airstrikes” and noted that such arms sales would have legally been subject to an “arms transfer review process” that was effectively short-circuited by an executive branch emergency certification in May of last year.
Under the various laws of war, all nation states–including the United States–are prohibited from approving arms transfers in cases where the arms dealing party has knowledge that the transferred arms will be used to commit attacks directed against civilians.
NEW: Possible marker of life spotted on Venus. (Science Daily, September 14, 2020)
Astronomers have discovered a rare molecule -- phosphine -- in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is only made industrially or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments. Astronomers have speculated for decades that high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes -- floating free of the scorching surface but needing to tolerate very high acidity. The detection of phosphine could point to such extra-terrestrial 'aerial' life.
COVID-19: A golden opportunity for the E-bike (Univ. of Gronigen NL, September 14, 2020)
In the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ Creatures of habit (such as humans) are more inclined to change their ways when the world is in turmoil. The inconvenience caused by the coronavirus pandemic could be the perfect incentive to switch to an e-bike.
Electric bikes offer huge opportunities, particularly in terms of commuter travel. ‘The nature of these benefits obviously depends on the alternatives. If an employee leaves their car at home, there are benefits to the environment, there is less traffic on the road and the employee will soon notice the health benefits. If someone becomes less reliant on public transport, they will also see health benefits, and there will be more room on the buses and trains.
It’s a pity if someone swaps a regular bike for an electric bike. Regular bikes are healthier and more sustainable. This said, e-bikes are definitely a good thing. They can persuade people who would otherwise never cycle to try getting on a bike. Recent studies revealed that in the Netherlands, people with an e-bike go for longer bike rides than people with a regular bike. In other countries, people with e-bikes go on more bike rides than people with regular bikes. These are the potential positive effects. But the basic principle is: Just get on your bike!
Asian Americans’ political preferences have flipped from red to blue. (The Conversation, September 14, 2020)
Asian Americans used to be a reliable Republican voting bloc. But long before Kamala Harris, who is Indian American and Black, became Joe Biden’s running mate, they shifted to support the Democratic Party. This is true across ages, genders and ethnic origins of Asian Americans – including Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Hmong.
Mormons rejected Trump as blasphemous. Now he likely can’t win without them. (Politico, September 13, 2020)
Latter-day Saints had been among the most reliably Republican voting blocs — until Trump took over the party.
OUCH! Chuck Todd destroys Trump with his own words & that of his experts. And no whataboutism? (5-min. video; Daily Kos, September 13, 2020)
This piece is one of the best takedowns of the president that Chuck Todd and his producers have done to date. For once, they did not try to create a rationale or a whataboutism. Todd queued up the piece reminding Americans that the Atlantic reported that Trump called soldiers losers and suckers. He then pointed out that Bob Woodward's new book Rage and the released tape proved that the president knew all along with the danger, the deadliness, and infectiousness of COVID-19.
Trump, with his wording, admonished the president for lying to Americans as he spoke in public. He also made it clear that Republicans were complicit in the deceit.
Todd had a memorable phrase to debunk the president's excuse that he lied to Americans to prevent panic, given that you do not yell fire in a crowded theater. "Some Conservatives, but not many elected ones, defended the president for remaining calm saying you don't yell fire in a crowded movie theater," Todd said. "It's true. But you do if the theater is actually on fire."
Chuck Todd continued the piece by allowing the president's secret vs. public words to become his judge, jury, and, hopefully, executioner. When one watches it side by side, it is devastating. Even a cult member could see the deception.
Subsequently, Todd had Dr. Anthony Fauci on who, unlike other times, was more forceful in his challenge of the president's words. The president is an evil human being. What he has done is tantamount to voluntary manslaughter.
NEW: The Case for Dumping the Electoral College. (New Yorker, September 13, 2020)
Trump’s Presidency, and the risk that it will recur despite his persistent unpopularity, reflects a deeper malignancy in our Constitution that must be addressed.
This Carnivorous Plant Invaded New York. That May Be Its Only Hope. (New York Times, September 13, 2020)
The waterwheel (Aldrovanda vesiculosa) lives a double life: facing extinction in its native habitat even as it creeps into places where it doesn’t belong.
The WEIRDest People In The World; How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous, by Joseph Henrich (New York Times Book Review, September 12, 2020)
According to copies of copies of fragments of ancient texts, Pythagoras in about 500 B.C. exhorted his followers: Don’t eat beans! Why he issued this prohibition is anybody’s guess (Aristotle thought he knew), but it doesn’t much matter because the idea never caught on.
According to Joseph Henrich, some unknown early church fathers about a thousand years later promulgated the edict: Don’t marry your cousin! Why they did this is also unclear, but if Henrich is right — and he develops a fascinating case brimming with evidence — this prohibition changed the face of the world, by eventually creating societies and people that were WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic.
In the argument put forward in this engagingly written, excellently organized and meticulously argued book, this simple rule triggered a cascade of changes, creating states to replace tribes, science to replace lore and law to replace custom. If you are reading this you are very probably WEIRD, and so are almost all of your friends and associates, but we are outliers on many psychological measures.
The world today has billions of inhabitants who have minds strikingly different from ours. Roughly, we weirdos are individualistic, think analytically, believe in free will, take personal responsibility, feel guilt when we misbehave and think nepotism is to be vigorously discouraged, if not outlawed. Right? They (the non-WEIRD majority) identify more strongly with family, tribe, clan and ethnic group, think more “holistically,” take responsibility for what their group does (and publicly punish those who besmirch the group’s honor), feel shame — not guilt — when they misbehave and think nepotism is a natural duty.
These differences, and more, are manifest in surveys of attitudes and many other data sources, and more impressively in hundreds of psychological experiments, but the line between WEIRD and not WEIRD, like all lines in evolution, is not bright. There are all manner of hybrids, intermediates and unclassifiable variations, but there are also forces that have tended to sort today’s people into these two kinds, genetically indistinguishable but profoundly different psychologically.
One of the first lessons that must be learned from this important book is that the WEIRD mind is real; all future investigation of “human nature” must be complicated by casting a wider net for subjects, and we must stop assuming that our ways are “universal.” Offhand, I cannot think of many researchers who haven’t tacitly adopted some dubious universalist assumptions. I certainly have. We will all have to change our perspective.
To point to just one striking example: Normal, meaning non-WEIRD, people use left and right hemispheres of their brains about equally for facial recognition, but we WEIRD people have co-opted left-hemisphere regions for language tasks, and are significantly worse at recognizing faces than the normal population. Until recently few researchers imagined that growing up in a particular culture could have such an effect on functional neuroanatomy.
The centerpiece of Henrich’s theory is the role played by what he calls the Roman Catholic Church’s Marriage and Family Program, featuring prohibitions of polygamy, divorce, marriage to first cousins, and even to such distant blood relatives as sixth cousins, while discouraging adoption and arranged marriages and the strict norms of inheritance that prevailed in extended families, clans and tribes. “The accidental genius of Western Christianity was in ‘figuring out’ how to dismantle kin-based institutions while at the same time catalyzing its own spread.”
NEW: Transgender anarchist wins GOP nomination for sheriff in Cheshire County. (New Hampshire Union-Leader, September 12, 2020)
Comment: "THESE people are deciding who gets to rule you. Politicians know this; that's why they work so hard to appeal to the oblivious."
With controversial tweet, President Trump inadvertently advertises new online tool to track North Carolina absentee ballots. (4-min. and 1-min. videos; ABC-TV/Raleigh NC, September 12, 2020)
You can track your package and you can even track your pizza. Why not your absentee ballot?
Thanks to BallotTrax, that's now available in the pivotal swing state of North Carolina, where officials continue to process a record number of voter registrations (7.1 million and counting) and requests for absentee ballots (nearly 760,000 and counting). "We hope that this tracking system will alleviate concerns," Karen Brinson Bell, Executive Director of the North Carolina Board of Elections, told ABC11. "It's going to allow the voter to receive an email, a text message, or a phone alert so that they know where their ballot is - not only as it goes out to them but also in the return to the county board of elections."
Though North Carolina's BallotTrax debuted Friday, it got an inadvertent boost by a controversial tweet from President Trump where he again encouraged voters to potentially vote via absentee AND vote in person. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein fired back within the hour encouraging voters to send in ballots early and to track it online, saying it's a felony to vote twice. "I saw it and I read it and I was disheartened," Stein lamented to ABC11. "It's chock full of wrong and damaging information. There are definitely people in prison for voting twice in the country," he asserted. "What you want to avoid as a voter is getting anywhere near breaking the law. And you don't need to. If you are so desperate to go in person to an early voting site or your precinct to see that your vote was counted, just vote in person. Don't even send in the mail ballot. Just go in person, which is a completely obviously legitimate way to cast your ballot."
NEW: A Secret Recording Reveals Oil Executives’ Private Views on Climate Change. (New York Times, September 12, 2020)
At a meeting last year, industry leaders contradicted their public claims that emissions of climate-warming methane are under control.
The pushback against more stringent methane rules has been led by smaller, independent producers who argued the rules were unfairly burdensome for smaller drillers, because they could not afford to invest in costly leak-detection and capture technology. Oil giants like BP, on the other hand, urged the federal government to keep methane regulations in place, saying it was “the right thing to do.”
But ceding to the smaller operators’ demands, the Trump administration has proposed to eliminate federal methane rules in a move that would also reopen the question of whether the E.P.A. has the legal authority to regulate methane as a pollutant. The weakening of the methane standard is the latest in a long list of environmental-policy rollbacks under President Trump, who has vowed to loosen regulations on industry.
Carbon dioxide — the effluent of wealth (VTDigger, September 11, 2020)
When we apply the optics of pre-Civil War slavery to the climate crisis facing humanity today, we find essentially the same forces at work and the same inequality.  The politics that robbed so many of life and liberty for 400+ years also now threatens the life and liberty of present and future generations through the destruction of the natural world – all for the benefit of a very small percentage of the world’s population. It is no coincidence that at the very heart of the problem is another abundant, cheap and socially malignant use of energy that allows a few to live extraordinary well at the expense of many.
How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled (NPR, September 11, 2020)
When Leebrick tried to tell people the truth about burying all the other plastic, she says people didn't want to hear it. "I remember the first meeting where I actually told a city council that it was costing more to recycle than it was to dispose of the same material as garbage," she says, "and it was like heresy had been spoken in the room: You're lying. This is gold. We take the time to clean it, take the labels off, separate it and put it here. It's gold. This is valuable."
But it's not valuable, and it never has been. And what's more, the makers of plastic — the nation's largest oil and gas companies — have known this all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.
Trump and his dunce of a son have a new Biden conspiracy theory — he's on DRUGS! (2 video clips; Daily Kos, September 11, 2020)
"I think there's probably, possibly drugs involved. That's what I hear." -- during interview with Judge Jeanine, Trump casually accuses Joe Biden of using performance enhancing drugs.
Donald Trump Jr.: “You think this guy’s gonna be there at 3 o’clock in the morning and you gotta … will he be with it? Are they giving him something so he can appear even a little bit lucid or coherent at times, for the few seconds that they put him on air, and the rest is a disaster? Is he physically not capable of being out more than once a week?”
DK: Idiot son of guy who can’t walk down a ramp or competently drink a glass of water says what? Oh, and this isn’t the first time Trump Sr. has insinuated that Biden is on drugs. So this is what they’re doing now. This is a desperate, desperate Hail Mary.
Trump, struggling to define Biden, steps up Harris attacks. (Associated Press, September 11, 2020)
Donald Trump barely mentioned Tim Kaine when he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2016. But four years later, the president has plenty to say about Kamala Harris. Trump said this week that “nobody likes” Harris, feeding into a standard of likability that is applied to women in leadership far more often than men. He told voters in North Carolina it would be “an insult to our country” if Harris became the first female president. And Trump and his allies repeatedly mispronounce Harris’ first name, a pattern her supporters say amounts to a deliberate effort to portray the daughter of immigrants as someone who does not belong at the top ranks of politics.
Trump is focusing on Harris as he has sometimes struggled to land on a consistent, coherent attack against Biden, who has built a reputation as a bipartisan deal maker rather than a progressive ideologue. And the racism and sexism underlying Trump’s critique of the first Black woman and person of Asian descent on a major party ticket are part of an aggressive strategy to appeal to white suburban voters.
The strategy could be risky for Trump. Black voters already overwhelmingly support Biden and sustained criticism of Harris could fuel their enthusiasm to show up in November, potentially swaying the election in states such as North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It’s also unusual for an incumbent president to attack their opponent’s running mate. Doing so would typically be seen as punching down. More fundamentally, the effort to characterize Harris as a radical liberal doesn’t fit her record.
Lacking any clear message, Trump has reverted to his usual playbook, resorting to sexist and racist attacks. “You know who’s further left than Crazy Bernie? Kamala. Kamala. Kamala,” Trump said, mispronouncing and stretching out each syllable of her name each time he said it in North Carolina. The repeated mispronunciation of Harris’ first name, which several Trump allies have mimicked, seemed deliberately racist and akin to the president’s former habit of referring to his predecessor as “Barack Hussein Obama” and recalling Trump’s false claim that Obama was ineligible to serve office.
Trump has long relied on similar smears against female foes, particularly women of color, demeaning them, questioning their patriotism or calling them “nasty” or “angry.”
[The Ugliest American: Tyrannisaurus asinus - oversized, asinine tyrant, AND it shortens to "T-rump"! Coincidence, you say?? I think not!]
Trump rally in the key state of Michigan wasn't accompanied by the best local headlines. (Daily Kos, September 11, 2020)
- Detroit Free Press: "Trump makes wild claims about revitalizing auto industry at Michigan rally."
- Detroit news station WJRT: "President Trump rejects Michigan’s request for full coronavirus National Guard funding."
- The Trump supporters at the rally were giving CNN’s Jim Acosta explanations about why they weren't wearing masks like, “Because it’s no Covid. It’s a fake pandemic. Created to destroy the United States of America” and “The good Lord takes care of me. If I die, I die! We got to get this country moving. If we can’t, what are you going to do?  Wear masks and stay inside for another year? Huh? Where will that get us?”
While the rallygoers can’t be reached with facts, there are a lot of other people in Michigan who are going to see the local coverage and hear that Trump doesn’t know what’s going on in their state, but is bragging about his imaginary version of it.
NEW: Joe Biden tweets ad responding to Trump interviews with Woodward. (1-min. ad video; Washington Post, September 10, 2020)
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released an ad on Sept. 8, in a tweet saying, "How many more people have to suffer because of President Trump's lies?"
Dick Polman: Trump Knew. End of Story. (Cagle, September 10, 2020)
In American law, criminal negligence is conduct in which a person ignores a known or obvious risk, or disregards the lives and safety of others.
We now have the perfect defendant. It turns out – not that we’re surprised – that the failed casino owner knew all along that he was gambling recklessly with the lives and safety of the citizens he’d sworn to protect. As you undoubtedly know by now, Bob Woodward got it all on tape.
Angry Americans: How political rage helps campaigns but hurts democracy (The Conversation, September 10, 2020)
As the 2020 presidential election draws near, one thing is clear: America is an angry nation. From protests over persistent racial injustice to white nationalist-linked counterprotests, anger is on display across the country. The national ire relates to inequality, the government’s coronavirus response, economic concerns, race and policing. It’s also due, in large part, to deliberate and strategic choices made by American politicians to stoke voter anger for their own electoral advantage.
Donald Trump’s attempts to enrage his base are so plentiful that progressive magazine The Nation called him a “merchant of anger.” Meanwhile, his opponent, Joe Biden, elicits anger toward the president, calling Trump a “toxic presence” who has “cloaked America in darkness.”
Animal populations worldwide have declined nearly 70% in just 50 years, new report says. (with 63 photos; CBS News, September 10, 2020)
humans are destroying the natural environment at an unprecedented and alarming rate. According to a new report out Tuesday, animal populations have declined by such a staggering amount, that only an overhaul of the world's economic systems could possibly reverse the damage.
Nearly 21,000 monitored populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians, encompassing almost 4,400 species around the world, have declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to the World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report 2020. Species in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as global freshwater habitats, were disproportionately impacted, declining, on average, 94% and 84%, respectively.
No more temperature checks? CDC changing COVID-19 screenings for international air passengers. (USA Today, September 10, 2020)
The U.S. government is halting its enhanced entry screening for certain international passengers at airports starting Sept. 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's replacing the current system of temperature checks and screening for COVID-19 symptoms at 15 centralized airports with one it says is a more effective strategy that "focuses on the continuum, of travel and the individual passenger, including pre-departure and post-arrival education, efforts to develop a potential testing framework with international partners, and illness response."
The government will shift public health efforts on the individual passenger. Such measures include:
- pre-departure, in-flight and post-arrival health education;
- voluntary electronic contact information collection, as proposed by some airlines;
- possible testing to reduce travel-related transmission risk;
- post-arrival recommendations for self-monitoring, including staying home for 14 days if arriving from a high-risk destination.
Symptom-based screening has limited effectiveness, according to the CDC, as people who have COVID-19 may not show symptoms or fever when screened or have only mild symptoms. Asymptomatic transmission is possible.
The move comes as the U.S. has entered "the current phase of the pandemic," and the government believes this "more effectively protects the health of the American public," according to a statement on the CDC's website.
Until travel bans went into effect last spring, passengers coming from or who had recently been to China (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau), Iran, the Schengen region of Europe, the United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe), Ireland and Brazil were subject to enhanced screening when entering the U.S. and had to fly into one of 15 designated airports.
White House orders end to COVID-19 airport screenings for international travelers. (Yahoo News, September 9, 2020)
The U.S. government on Monday will stop conducting enhanced screening of passengers on inbound international flights for COVID-19. The screening operations have been held at select airports since January, when the first cases of the disease began to emerge from Wuhan, China. Since March, incoming international flights from select high-risk countries, including much of Europe, China and Iran, among other regions, have been funneled through 15 designated airports in the United States.
One aspect of the screening is that travelers provide contact information, which can be used to perform contact tracing for infections. Without that information, it likely won’t be possible to contact passengers on a flight who may have potentially been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19.
The orders to cease pre-screening operations came from the White House, with strict orders to keep the information secret until a public announcement is made. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the various agencies — and contractors — involved in the airport screening operations are working frantically to prepare for Monday’s shutdown.
How the Coronavirus Attacks the Brain (New York Times, September 9, 2020)
The coronavirus targets the lungs foremost, but also the kidneys, liver and blood vessels. Still, about half of patients report neurological symptoms, including headaches, confusion and delirium, suggesting the virus may also attack the brain.
A new study offers the first clear evidence that, in some people, the coronavirus invades brain cells, hijacking them to make copies of itself. The virus also seems to suck up all of the oxygen nearby, starving neighboring cells to death.
Mr. Trump Knew It Was Deadly and Airborne. He lied about the coronavirus anyway. (New York Times, September 9, 2020)
Much of the responsibility for the fatal mishandling of the pandemic lies with the president. But with every public lie out of Mr. Trump’s mouth, or on his Twitter feed, how many members of his administration who knew better stayed silent?
The president has repeatedly tried to muzzle and sideline scientists and health officials who disagree with his sunny assessments, often replacing them with less qualified people willing to sing his praises.
So it was that the president’s coronavirus task force revised guidelines on testing for asymptomatic people, while the task force’s leading infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, was having surgery. So it is that, in the pandemic’s seventh month, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious disease outbreaks, is arguing that it’s not the government’s job to stamp out the coronavirus, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remain silent.
Mr. Trump’s lack of leadership almost certainly made the nation’s suffering greater, its death toll higher and its economic costs more severe in the long term. When the president dithered on testing and contact tracing, when he failed to make or execute a clear and effective plan for securing personal protective equipment, when he repeatedly belittled and dismissed mask mandates and other social distancing edicts, Mr. Trump knew the virus was deadly and airborne. He knew that millions of people could get sick, and many would die.
Furthermore, Mr. Woodward’s tapes make clear that members of the Trump administration failed to act — even behind the scenes — based on what they knew at the time. On Feb. 7, during a taped interview with Bob Woodward, President Trump acknowledged that the coronavirus could be transmitted through the air, that it was very dangerous and that it would be difficult to contain. “This is deadly stuff,” he told the investigative journalist. “You just breathe the air, and that’s how it’s passed,” the president warned.
Despite his apparent understanding of the severity of the disease and its method of transmission, over the next month, in five cities around the country, Mr. Trump held large indoor rallies, which were attended by thousands of his supporters. Mr. Trump spent weeks insisting in public that the coronavirus was no worse than a seasonal flu. It would “disappear” when the seasons changed, he promised in late February. “We’re doing a great job,” he said in early March.
Why lie to the American people? Why — as the administration accuses the Chinese government of doing — lie to the world about the severity of what was declared a pandemic only days later? “I wanted to always play it down,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” Mr. Trump and a great many of his supporters and political allies did play down the severity of the coronavirus and did criticize the public health measures deployed to prevent its spread. As a result, the coronavirus spread faster and sickened or killed more people in the United States than in any of its peer nations. If the United States had the same coronavirus fatality rate as Canada, more than 100,000 Americans could still be alive today.
Nearly 200,000 people in the United States have already died, and hundreds of thousands more have suffered grave illness — often followed by a slow, hard recovery and, in some cases, permanent disability. Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs, and millions are on the cusp of losing their homes. School systems and elder care networks are struggling to function. The economy is in tatters.
Imagine what this picture could look like today had the president been honest with the American public on Feb. 7, calmly taken charge of the nation’s response to the pandemic, and done his best to protect them.
Woodward has Trump on tape admitting he deliberately underplayed the threat of COVID-19. (2-min. incriminating tape; Daily Kos, September 9, 2020)
At this point, there are so many books exposing the absolute mendacity of Donald Trump that it’s hard to believe that another one will make the slightest difference. But in terms of the just godawfulness of the revelations, it’s hard to think that anything so far has topped the excerpts now appearing from Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, Rage.
Topping the charts of information that easily trigger the emotion expressed by the title, Woodward recounts that, as early as the first week of February, Trump was completely aware of the danger represented by the coronavirus pandemic. Trump knew that the disease was dangerous, contagious, and many times more deadly than even the worst seasonal flu. And then Trump deliberately hid that information from the public, downplayed the threat, and created the disaster in the United States, entirely because he thought it would give him a political edge. It’s a reinforcement of something we already knew: The worst-in-the-world performance in the United States is no accident; it’s the result of a deliberate attempt at genocide.
As CNN reports, Woodward’s book has Trump saying "This is deadly stuff," on Feb. 7. But there was still a solid month of golfing and Trump rallies ahead before Trump would even begin to pretend that COVID-19 was something that demanded his attention. Trump has underplayed the disease at every turn, constantly insisting that it would “be down to zero” cases or go away “like magic.”
But in a discussion with Woodward on March 19, Trump made it clear that he knew he was lying to the public, and intended to keep right on lying. "I wanted to always play it down," said Trump. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic." In a call on that date, Trump showed that he knew the truth—even though he has continued to lie. And Woodward has these conversations recorded.
“Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday some … some startling facts came out. It’s not just old … older. It’s young people, plenty of young people. That’s Donald Trump, on March 19. And still, here’s Donald Trump on Aug. 11. “If you look at children, they’re able to throw it off very easily. … for whatever reason, the China virus, children handle it very well.”
Trump knew that the virus was far deadlier than the flu when he was telling people it was less deadly than the flu. Trump knew that the virus affected people regardless of age, months before he insisted that it was safe for children to go back to school. Months before he insisted that college athletes should be playing.
Again, this is Donald Trump openly admitting that he knew the real threat posed by COVID-19 and deliberately played it down. His March 19 conversation with Woodward came one week after Trump held a news conference with CEOs of big box stores across the country and declared that there would be a national testing and case tracing strategy. But Trump then decided to kill that plan, because, as a White House source said: “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”
The COVID-19 disaster in the United States—a disaster that will top 200,000 dead this week—was not an accident. It didn’t come from a failure to grasp the seriousness of the issue, the deadliness of the virus, or the urgent need for coordinated federal action. Everything that has happened, from the deaths to the economic disaster, has been the direct result of strategic decisions by the man who bankrupted a whole series of casinos.
Trump did this on purpose. It’s not an accident. It’s murder.
D.H.S. Downplayed Threats From Russia and White Supremacists, Whistle-Blower Says. (New York Times, September 9, 2020)
Brian Murphy, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division, accused senior leaders of warping the agency around President Trump’s political interests. Among the accusations by Brian Murphy: Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the department, told him not to disseminate a report on a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate Joe Biden because it “made the president look bad.”
A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department denied the accusations.
‘We’re No. 28! And Dropping!’ (New York Times, September 9, 2020)
A measure of social progress finds that the quality of life has dropped in America over the last decade, even as it has risen almost everywhere else. The United States ranks No. 1 in the world in quality of universities, but No. 91 in access to quality basic education. The U.S. leads the world in medical technology, yet we are No. 97 in access to quality health care. We are no longer the country we like to think we are.
Historic Fires Devastate the U.S. Pacific Coast. (NASA Earth Observatory, September 9, 2020)
Climate and fire scientists have long anticipated that fires in the U.S. West would grow larger, more intense, and more dangerous. But even the most experienced among them have been at a loss for words in describing the scope and intensity of the fires burning in West Coast states in September 2020.
Lightning initially triggered many of the fires, but it was unusual and extreme meteorological conditions that turned some of them into the worst conflagrations in the region in decades. Record-breaking air temperatures, periods of unusually dry air, and blasts of fierce winds—on top of serious drought in some areas—led fires to ravage forests and loft vast plumes of smoke to rarely seen heights.
Bay Area sky turns bright orange, some areas see 'snowing' ash. (19 photos; SFGate, September 9, 2020)
Winds are pushing smoke from the north, where multiple wildfires are raging, to the south and into the Bay Area.
"I don’t remember orange skies growing up in in the Bay Area, California," shared one Twitter user. "Now we have days of not being able to walk outside."
McConnell bill leaves out $1,200 stimulus payments to people, but gives coal industry $161 million. (Daily Kos, September 9, 2020)
It's been 117 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which Sen. Mitch McConnell has refused to take up, and it's 21 days until the government runs out of funding with the end of the fiscal year. The programs included in the March CARES Act are gone, and even before they expired "we find millions of people with very serious problems with their finances," says Robert J. Blendon, a poll co-director and executive director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard Chan School, told NPR. "And it's going to get worse because there is nothing for the people we surveyed who earn under $100,000 a year to fall back on."
Because McConnell refuses to act in good faith on behalf of the American people. He's teeing up a vote Thursday on a bill that is clearly just a political ploy, written with his big corporate donors in mind, leaving the people behind.
Anthony Scaramucci demands to know what happened to $200 million the Republican Party funneled to Trump. (Raw Story, September 8, 2020)
Former White House aide and campaign adviser to President Donald Trump seemed to indicate that there was some kind of questionable misuse of funds at the Republican Party. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on Tuesday asked Scaramucci about Trump’s campaign funds running dry after spending nearly $1 billion to still be losing up against former Vice President Joe Biden. “He’s supposedly thinking about putting his own money in,” said Todd. “A lot of skepticism by many of us that he’d actually write his own check. You know this as a donor. How much harder is it for you to write a check to somebody’s campaign committee if you know they’re as wealthy as you are?”
Trump is relying on funders for his legal fund, a super PAC and his campaign, despite claiming to be a billionaire.
But Scaramucci indicated that there was something more important being ignored. “I think the real question, though, is, what happened to the $200 million-plus that went into the LLC?” he asked. “I’m asking Ronna Romney McDaniel where is the money? It’s sort of a joke at this point. We know they’re grifting off the campaign. The president will never write a personal check into that campaign, and we know that they spend gajillions of dollars in his hotels to fortify him."
NEW: The Electoral College Will Destroy America. (New York Times, September 8, 2020)
And no, New York and California would not dominate a popular vote.
Scottish distillery debuts 'climate positive' vodka. (BusinessGreen, September 8, 2020)
A Scottish distillery has designed a pea-based "climate positive" vodka that it claims creates a carbon saving of 1.53kg CO2e per 700ml bottle - a reduction in emissions that more than offsets the CO2 generated by the vodka's creation. This climate alchemy is achieved thanks to the power of the humble pea, Arbikie Distillery claims, the use of which has two ecological benefits over the cereal crops that are usually used to produce vodka.
Firstly, peas - like other legumes - produce much of their own nitrogen thanks to a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that fix nitrogen from the air for the plant. As a result, they do not need the synthetic fertiliser typically used to grow cereal crops such as corn, wheat or rye.
Secondly, peas contain significantly more protein than cereal crops, which leads to the creation of by-products, known as pot ale, that can be re-used - leading to further emissions reductions. "The use of peas versus cereals increases the protein content of the pot ale making it even more suitable as an animal feed," the company explained. "Ultimately it could help Europe become more protein self-sufficient and address food security challenges."
The new method extends Arbikie's range of climate positive spirits, branded Nàdar, after the firm launched a pea-based gin in February.
Nine drugmakers pledge to thoroughly vet any coronavirus vaccine. (New York Times, September 8, 2020)
President Trump has repeatedly claimed that a vaccine could be available before Election Day, Nov. 3, heightening fears that his administration is politicizing the race by scientists to develop a vaccine and potentially undermining public trust in any vaccine approved.
Late last week, Moncef Slaoui, the top scientist on Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to quickly bring a vaccine to market, warned in an interview with National Public Radio that the chance of successful vaccine results by October was “very, very low.”
Nine drug companies issued a joint pledge on Tuesday that they would “stand with science” and not put forward a vaccine until it had been thoroughly vetted for safety and efficacy. The companies did not rule out seeking an emergency authorization of their vaccines, but promised that any potential coronavirus vaccine would be decided based on “large, high quality clinical trials” and that the companies would follow guidance from regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration. “We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which Covid-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved,” the companies said.
[Although the joint pledge did not directly mention president Trump...]
China’s leader declares success in suppressing the country’s outbreak. (New York Times, September 8, 2020)
Mr. Xi’s triumphant account would probably have drawn much wider skepticism in China earlier this year, when many people were angered by officials who understated the spread of infections in Wuhan, where the epidemic began. But the public mood shifted as China emerged from the crisis far more smoothly than the United States and other advanced economies did.
Near the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the thousands in the hall observed a moment of silence to mourn the thousands who died in China from the virus, including many medical workers. But online, Chinese people lamented the lack of mention of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was chastised by the police for alerting his colleagues to the then little-understood virus, and later died from Covid-19.
Chen Deming, a former commerce minister who is still active on trade issues, was maskless when he addressed an economic policy conference on Tuesday in Beijing. He drew laughter and applause when he said, “The host doesn’t have to wear a mask because I’ve already had the Phase 3 trial vaccine shot.” Mr. Chen, a Communist Party elder statesman who turns 71 this year, added that he had developed antibodies to protect against the coronavirus. In a short interview after his speech, Mr. Chen said that he had received the Sinopharm vaccine, one of several now in Phase 3 trials in China. A third of the Commerce Ministry’s staff has joined him in applying for the trial and receiving the vaccine, he added.
China’s vaccine makers have been turning to Chinese citizens who travel overseas, and to countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, in their search for people with whom to test whether their products work.
The progressive coalition Fight Back Table has been meeting to game out what happens if Joe Biden doesn’t win by a landslide. It’s not pretty. (Daily Beast, September 7, 2020)
This was the first time they were bringing the matter to the 50-plus organizations that make up the coalition. To formalize the effort, they gave it a name: the “Democracy Defense Nerve Center.” Over the course of two hours, participants broached the question of what the progressive political ecosystem can functionally do in a series of election scenarios. They began charting out what it would take to stand up a multi-state communications arm to fight disinformation, a training program for nonviolent civil disobedience, and the underpinnings of what one official described as “mass public unrest.” And they pored over a report from the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan group formed in 2019, that analyzed various election-season scenarios and made clear the type of corruption and chaos that potentially was ahead. “The potential for violent conflict is high,” the report noted.
“It is very obvious that Trump is laying the groundwork for claiming victory no matter what,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, and a participant in the FBT call. “Progressive groups at the end of the day believe in our democracy and, while it is not perfect, believe in building upon it and strengthening it. And we will fight to protect it from what we truly see as a president who has gone off the rails and taking this country down an authoritarian fascist path.”
How Trump’s Billion-Dollar Campaign Lost Its Cash Advantage. (New York Times, September 7, 2020)
Five months ago, President Trump’s re-election campaign had a huge financial edge over Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s. The Times conducted an extensive review of how the Trump team spent lavishly to show how that advantage evaporated.
A Belgian company says its the first ever to 3D-print a 2-story house in one piece in a breakthrough for sustainable design. (Business Insider, September 6, 2020)
The house in Westerlo, Belgium, is a demo for this style of 3D printing, showing off different styles. It's also a way to measure how the home, which was built using greener practices than typical constructions, holds up over time. Kamp C's 3D printed house is part of the European C3PO project, supported by the European Regional Development Fund. The project brings together scientists and business people to advance 3D printing in Flanders.
NEW: California Heatwave Fits a Trend. (NASA Earth Observatory, September 6, 2020)
In early September 2020, an intense heatwave broke temperature records in several locations in Southern California. The dry, hot conditions helped fuel new and existing fires, which have consumed tens of thousands of acres of land. According to recently published research, these extremes fit a long-term trend toward longer and more intense heatwaves in Southern California.
Mojave Desert fire in August destroyed the heart of one of the world’s largest Joshua tree forests. (Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2020)
Most of the charred trees are still standing. In the evening light, their leaves, bleached with scorch, take on an eerie beauty. But they are doomed, and the 43,273 acres of the Dome fire are forever transformed. “That stand with that many big trees was developing for thousands of years,” said Todd Esque, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist who has studied the forest. “We won’t replace that.”
Or possibly, it can be restored...
Trump Ended 2018 France Trip Having Art Loaded on Air Force One. (Bloomberg, September 6, 2020)
Trump fancied several of the pieces in the U.S. ambassador’s historic residence in Paris, where he was staying, and on a whim had them removed and loaded onto Air Force One, according to people familiar with the matter. The works -- a portrait, a bust, and a set of silver figurines -- were brought back to the White House.
The decision to cancel Trump’s visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery outside Paris is under new scrutiny after the Atlantic magazine on Thursday published a bombshell report that Trump belittled the American servicemen buried there, part of a broader history of disparaging certain people who’ve served in the military. Trump has vehemently denied making the comments about “suckers” and “losers” in the armed forces.
Never previously reported is Trump’s spur-of-the-moment art caper before leaving the ambassador’s residence.
COVID-19: New Pilot Study Shows Vitamin D Treatment Cut ICU Admissions from 50% to 2%. (28-min. video; Daily Kos, September 6, 2020)
The only difference in treatment between the groups was that one received a drug called calcifediol. This is a commonly used drug taken to treat severe Vitamin D deficiency. While the body takes around 7 days to “process” vitamin D from food or tablets into the active form, this is an intermediate produced by the liver then further processed by the kidneys.
Calcifediol seems to be able to reduce severity of the disease, but larger trials with groups properly matched will be required to show a definitive answer.
Coronavirus rising in 22 U.S. states. (Reuters, September 6, 2020)
As little as three weeks ago, cases were increasing in only three states, Hawaii, Illinois and South Dakota, according to an analysis comparing cases for the two-week period of Aug. 8-22 with the past two weeks. Most of the 22 states where cases are now rising are in the less-populated parts of the Midwest and South.
While cases nationally have dropped from a peak in July, the United States is going into the Labor Day holiday weekend with an average of 44,000 new cases a day — double the number ahead of the May 23-25 Memorial Day weekend. Many health experts partly blame the July spike on social gatherings held around Memorial Day.
At the same time, the United States continues to average about 1,000 new deaths from COVID-19 each day, with the total number of lives lost approaching 190,000 — the highest death toll in the world.
Also contributing to the spike in U.S. cases is the re-opening of schools and colleges in many areas and the large gatherings taking place despite the warnings of health experts, ranging from protests against racial injustice to rallies in support of President Donald Trump. 
Experts project autumn surge in coronavirus cases, with a peak after Election Day. (Washington Post, September 5, 2020)
Infectious-disease experts are warning of a potential cold-weather surge of coronavirus cases — a long-feared “second wave” of infections and deaths, possibly at a catastrophic scale. It could begin well before Election Day, Nov. 3, although researchers assume the crest would come weeks later, closer to when fall gives way to winter. An autumn surge in covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, would not be an October surprise: It has been hypothesized since early in the pandemic because of the patterns of other respiratory viruses.
By year’s end, 410,000 people in the United States will have died under the model’s most-likely scenario. That’s more than double current fatalities. The model also produced best-case and worst-case scenarios — ranging from 288,000 to 620,000 deaths by Jan. 1 — depending on the degree to which people wear masks, adhere to social distancing and take other precautions.
“I expect fall waves starting in mid-October and getting worse as fall heads into winter, and reaching a crescendo certainly after the election. Some places will peak around Thanksgiving, some places will peak around Christmas, some places not until January and February,” Noymer said. If that’s correct, the worst impacts will occur after the campaigning is over and the ballots have been cast. The exact timing is unlikely to be a political factor, contended David Rubin, the director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who said that most people have already made judgments about the candidates’ handling of the pandemic.
Rubin raised another possible consequence of increased viral transmission in advance of the election: Candidates could become sick. “The candidates are campaigning. They’re mixing with people,” Rubin said. “I would not be surprised to see a couple people get sick, and whether that goes all the way to the presidential candidates could be a game changer. This virus has got pretty close to the president a couple of times.”
“People’s behavior is a dramatic determinant here,” said Christopher Murray, the director of IHME. “Look at what happened in Florida [after the spike in cases]. People got scared. They started wearing masks, they stopped going to bars.” But the converse is also true: If people stop being vigilant, the virus bounces back.
Democrat Biden adds former rival Buttigieg, ex-Obama officials to transition team. (Reuters, September 5, 2020)
Biden added four new co-chairs to the team led by his longtime ally Ted Kaufman: New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, former Obama economic adviser Jeffrey Zients, Louisiana Representative Cedric Richmond and his campaign adviser Anita Dunn. He also named Buttigieg, a military veteran and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to the advisory board, together with former deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and Susan Rice, national security adviser to Obama who was on the shortlist to be Biden’s running mate.
“We are preparing for this transition amid the backdrop of a global health crisis and struggling economy,” Kaufman said. “This is a transition like no other, and the team being assembled will help Joe Biden meet the urgent challenges facing our country on day one.”
Kaufman said the expertise of advisory board members will help Biden respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which continues to ravage the United States, and the economic recession. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who has been advising Biden on the pandemic response, has also joined the transition team.
Zients was tasked with taking over after the botched rollout of the Obamacare enrollment website in 2013. Lujan Grisham has a background in health and aging and has led her state’s coronavirus response.
Other new transition team members include Teresa Romero,president of the United Farm Workers, Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers and Tony Allen, president of the historically black Delaware State University.
GOP lawmaker defends Fox reporter after Trump calls for her firing. (1-min. video; The Hill, September 5, 2020)
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) on Saturday defended Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin after President Trump targeted the journalist on Twitter and called for her to be fired. Trump went after Griffin, a national security correspondent, after she reported that former officials had backed up some details in an explosive report about Trump published this week by The Atlantic. “She’s one of my favorite reporters. Fair and unafraid,” Kinzinger wrote in response to Trump calling for Griffin to be fired.
Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, initially called The Atlantic’s report “deeply concerning” and said in a statement that it left him “speechless.” “This is either the most heinous hit job on a president or the most heinous comments made by a president,” he said.
Trump is losing, broke, and under intense fire. So what do you think he did today? (Daily Kos, September 5, 2020)
Donald Trump’s campaign is broke, being forced to go off the air in key battlegrounds, including the entire state of must-win Arizona. Donald Trump is losing, with even Fox News polling showing him lagging in key must-win states, including the aforementioned Arizona (which Joe Biden lads 49-40). Donald Trump’s callous disdain for our service members and veterans, particularly does who are wounded or killed in action, is out in full force, even confirmed by Fox freakin’ News.
Trump’s actions make a lot more sense if you view them through this lens:
Trump isn’t trying to be reelected.
Trump is trying to stay in power.
Why do the things that would give him a fighting chance at the ballot box, when he’s more interested in cheating—inviting more Russian meddling, making it harder for people to vote, and sending every possible signal that he has no interest in leaving office even if he loses the election?
Trump lashes out at 'slimeball reporter' amid furor over alleged war dead remarks. (1-min. video; The Hill, September 5, 2020)
President Trump on Saturday lashed out at the journalist behind this week's explosive report that claimed he had disparaged slain American soldiers buried in France, calling the reporter a "slimeball." Trump separately went after a Fox News reporter on Saturday morning, calling for her to be fired after she reported that former officials had confirmed key details of The Atlantic's story to her. “This reminds me of the Dirty Dossier, which was pushed hard by John McCain, & then with a thud turned out to be a total fraud. So many other scams also. The Radical Far Left is VICIOUS, they will do or say anything to win. But they won’t, we will WIN, & have four great years!” Trump added.
[To liar Trump, all these heroic reporters and Peter Strzok and most everyone else but himself and right-wing fanatics, are slimeballs.]
Peter Strzok would like to clear a few things up. (Politico, September 5, 2020)
The former FBI agent at the center of the Russia probe is finally having his say.
The investigation began as a pure counterintelligence inquiry — an attempt to understand who, if anyone, on Trump’s campaign team had been offered help by Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton. The probe kicked off with a tip from an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, who told the FBI that he had heard from a Trump campaign staffer about a Russian overture to the campaign after the leak of hacked Democratic National Committee emails.
The FBI’s probe soon zeroed in on four possibilities of who might have received that offer, according to Strzok: Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, and soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn. It turned out to have been Papadopoulos. But by the time they figured that out, Trump had been elected president—and Strzok’s team had uncovered so many suspicious contacts and communications between the campaign and Russians that they began debating whether to open a case on Trump himself.
“I hadn’t wanted to investigate the president of the United States,” Strzok recalls in the book, titled “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump.” But that conviction, he writes, had been “eroded” by Trump’s behavior toward the Russians and, once in office, his ongoing attacks on the FBI’s investigation. Four months into Trump’s presidency, according to Strzok, the discussion at the bureau had shifted from whether a case on Trump should be opened at all to whether there were any compelling arguments against it.
In Strzok’s telling, by May 16, 2017, there weren’t.
So Strzok’s team, with permission from then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, opened a counterintelligence case on the president that proved far more complicated than many at the FBI had anticipated.
At the time the FBI opened the case, Trump’s financial disclosure forms detailed his ownership of more than 500 limited liability companies (LLCs), Strzok pointed out. Investigators would need to root through those records to identify areas where Russia might have financial leverage over him, not only now but 30 and 40 years ago. “That's a massive, massive undertaking,” Strzok said. And despite his belief that tracing money was the most critical investigative trail the probe could follow — “even more than proving contacts with Russia,” he writes — Strzok is fairly confident that that thread was never tugged at, let alone unraveled, after Trump accused him of treason and he was removed from the investigation in August 2017.
Strzok isn’t ruling out a return to government service. “I have a lot of energy and expertise left, and a lot of desire to help and continue to protect America and a desire to do that in a meaningful way,” he said, when asked whether he’d join a Joe Biden administration. “There are a lot of ways to do that, whether that’s in the government or outside of it. Let’s get to November and start rebuilding the country, and then I’ll start figuring out what those next steps are.”
‘Who’s Putting These Ideas in His Head?’ The former FBI agent Peter Strzok worries that Americans will never learn the full story about Trump’s relationship with Russia. (The Atlantic, September 4, 2020)
Strzok does not believe that Trump’s true relationship with Russia was ever revealed, and he now worries that it won’t ever be. It’s not clear that anyone ever followed up on the leads he had, or completed the counterintelligence investigation he began. He doesn’t say this himself, but after speaking with him I began to wonder if this is the real reason the Department of Justice broke with precedent in his case by not just firing a well-respected FBI agent but publicly discrediting him too: Strzok was getting too close to the truth.
This is the first interview he has given since he left the FBI. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Why Trump Supporters Can’t Admit Who He Really Is (The Atlantic, September 4, 2020)
Nothing bonds a group more tightly than a common enemy that is perceived as a mortal threat.
In the minds of Trump’s supporters lingers the belief that a Biden presidency would usher in a reign of terror. Many of them simply have to believe that. Justifying their fealty to a man who is so obviously a moral wreck requires them to turn Joe Biden and the Democratic Party into an existential threat. The narrative is set; the actual identity of the nominee is almost incidental.
A powerful tribal identity bonds the president to his supporters. As Amy Chua, the author of Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, has argued, the tribal instinct is not just to belong, but also to exclude and to attack. “When groups feel threatened,” Chua writes, “they retreat into tribalism. They close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them.”
That works both ways. Fear strengthens tribalistic instincts, and tribalistic instincts amplify fear. Nothing bonds a group more tightly than a common enemy that is perceived as a mortal threat. In the presence of such an enemy, members of tribal groups look outward rather than inward, at others and never at themselves or their own kind.
The danger of this mindset—in which the means, however unethical, justify the ends of survival—is obvious. And so in this case, Trump supporters will tolerate everything he does, from making hush-money payments to porn stars and engaging in sexually predatory behavior, to inviting America’s adversaries to intervene in our elections, to pressuring American allies to dig up dirt on the president’s opponent, to cozying up to some of the worst dictators in the world, to peddling crazed conspiracy theories, to mishandling a pandemic at the cost of untold lives, to countless other ethical and governing transgressions. Trump is given carte blanche by his supporters because they perceive him as their protector, transforming his ruthlessness from a vice into a virtue.
5 boats sank during 'Trump Boat Parade' on Lake Travis, TCSO says. (multiple videos; KVUE-TV September 4, 2020)
Reports of sinking boats on Lake Travis began coming in on the Citizen app at around 1:20 p.m. Saturday. The Travis County Sheriff's Office (TCSO) confirmed boats in distress throughout the parade route. Three of those boats were towed out and two remain submerged.
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (People For the American Way, updated September 4, 2020)
Despite Donald Trump’s many coronavirus-related failures last week, it was his self-congratulatory, lie-infused performance at the Republican National Convention (RNC) that clearly rose above all the rest.
NEW: Faulty Facial Recognition Led to His Arrest—Now He’s Suing. (Vice, September 4, 2020)
Michael Oliver is the second Black man found to be wrongfully arrested by Detroit police because of the technology—and his lawyers suspect there are many more.
NEW: Technology Can’t Predict Crime, It Can Only Weaponize Proximity to Policing. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, September 3, 2020)
The more police departments rely on technology to dictate where to focus efforts and who to be suspicious of, the more harm those departments will cause to vulnerable communities. That’s why police departments should be banned from using supposedly data-informed algorithms to inform which communities, and even which people, should receive the lion’s share of policing and criminalization.
Trump tells voters to vote twice. That's illegal. (12-min. video; The Young Turks, September 3, 2020)
Donald Trump claims to be the “law and order” president, but he may be a little mixed up about what that means, seeing as how he recently ordered his supporters to break the law. Specifically, he told voters in North Carolina that they should vote absentee and then go into their polling stations on Election Day and try to vote again - just as a means to make sure their votes get counted (wink, wink).
One slight problem, as Ana and Cenk point out in this clip, is that voting twice is a felony. As is encouraging others to vote twice. Not to mention that multitudes of absentee voters arriving in person to the polls on Election Day during a pandemic is a recipe for disaster. But chaos is actually Trump’s objective, Cenk says, because since more Republicans than Democrats will likely vote in person on Election Day, Trump is hoping to pull ahead in initial returns and declare victory before most of the overwhelmingly Democratic mail-in ballots are counted.
And in case anyone suspects this is just Trump going off half-cocked as usual, no, the whole administration is on board. We know that because Wolf Blitzer asked Attorney General Bill Barr about whether double voting would constitute a felony, and the stalwart AG, the head law enforcement officer in the nation, bravely responded that he didn’t know. Welcome to democracy, 2020-style, America.
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump’s contempt for the military (Letters From An American, September 4, 2020)
Most of the oxygen in the world of American news media today has been taken up by last night’s story about Trump’s contempt for the military, which said, among other things, that Trump called soldiers “suckers” and dead service members “losers.” Today, the story was confirmed and expanded by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the Fox News Channel, among other outlets.
As more and more voices spoke out against Trump’s sentiments, the White House madly pushed back. “It was a totally fake story, and that was confirmed by many people who were actually there,” Trump told reporters. “I’ve done more for the military than almost anybody else.” Even First Lady Melania Trump got into the fray, tweeting: “[The Atlantic] story is not true. It has become a very dangerous time when anonymous sources are believed above all else, & no one knows their motivation. This is not journalism - It is activism. And it is a disservice to the people of our great nation.”
But one media outlet after another confirmed the story. When even the Fox News Channel vouched for it, Trump tweeted that the FNC reporter who covered the story ought to be fired.
The silence from his former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who declined to contradict the allegations, could not be missed, since one of the most damning stories in the article involved him. In a press conference this evening, Trump seemed rather to confirm the story than prove it wrong when he attacked Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps General who was Trump’s longest-serving chief of staff.
The situation permitted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to stand forth as the defender of soldiers and the military. Biden’s late son, Beau, served in Iraq. “When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the attorney general and went to Iraq for a year, won the bronze star and other commendations, he wasn’t a sucker,” Biden said. “The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not ‘losers.’ If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every gold star mother and father and every blue star family that he has denigrated and insulted,” he said. “Who the heck does he think he is?”
In a weird echo of the way Republicans used to describe communist leaders, this White House seems to see Americans not as individuals but as faceless statistics. Administration leaders shrug at the deaths of more than 185,000 Americans and urge the country simply to absorb more Covid-19 deaths for the good of the economy. “It is what it is,” Trump said of the pandemic losses earlier this week. That each death is the loss of a daughter, a mother, a father, a son, seems lost in the administration’s tendency to talk about them as percentages.
The story of Trump’s disdain for those who serve the nation and sometimes sacrifice their lives for it suggests that he sees even the soldiers, whom we traditionally celebrate, as “suckers” who are stupid to go into the military. He seems to see them, too, as an expendable mass. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (D), a combat veteran, told CNN that Trump “likes to use the military for his own personal ego as if we were some sort of toy soldiers you could pull out and line up on your desk to play with.”
A devastating ad from Bill Owens, whose son, Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens, died in Yemen, echoed Duckworth. Owens explains that Trump sent his son and his comrades to Yemen five days into his presidency, ordering them in not from the Situation Room surrounded by intelligence experts but “sitting across a dinner table from Steve Bannon.” “There was no vital interest at play,” Owens says. “Just Donald Trump playing big-man-going-to-war. And when it went horribly wrong… Donald Trump demeaned my son’s sacrifice to play to the crowd.”
The Democrats are taking over the mantle of patriotism. This shift showed in the poll earlier this week that showed enlisted military personnel prefer Biden to Trump. That shift worried Trump enough that he decided to get rid of the government-funded but independent Stars and Stripes newspaper that has served the troops since 1861. Pushback today was so great that he announced on Twitter he had reversed the decision, a welcome development marred slightly by the fact he called the famous newspaper a magazine.
The Democrats’ vision of military service is much more like that of the older army, the army of World War Two, than the one Republicans have championed since the 1980s. As Trump has revealed that his praise for heroic individuals is cover for the idea that most soldiers are an expendable mass of “suckers,” Democrats are standing up to define service as teamwork and loyalty, the belief that all soldiers matter, and the conviction that the military functions best when each soldier puts the group above self.
It is a revealing shift.
Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’. (The Atlantic, September 3, 2020)
The president has repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of service members, and asked that wounded veterans be kept out of military parades.
When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true. Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
Belleau Wood is a consequential battle in American history, and the ground on which it was fought is venerated by the Marine Corps. America and its allies stopped the German advance toward Paris there in the spring of 1918. But Trump, on that same trip, asked aides, “Who were the good guys in this war?” He also said that he didn’t understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies.
Trump’s understanding of concepts such as patriotism, service, and sacrifice has interested me since he expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
There was no precedent in American politics for the expression of this sort of contempt, but the performatively patriotic Trump did no damage to his candidacy by attacking McCain in this manner. Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
Trump remained fixated on McCain, one of the few prominent Republicans to continue criticizing him after he won the nomination. When McCain died, in August 2018, Trump told his senior staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” the president told aides. Trump was not invited to McCain’s funeral. (These sources, and others quoted in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity. The White House did not return earlier calls for comment, but Alyssa Farah, a White House spokesperson, emailed me this statement shortly after this story was posted: “This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.”)
What’s the worst that could happen? (Washington Post, September 3, 2020)
The election will likely spark violence — and a constitutional crisis.
Biden Takes The Air Out Of Trump’s Legal Victory With One Stinging Question. (Huffington Post, September 3, 2020)
The president won a court ruling that allows him to continue to withhold his tax returns, at least for now. Biden wrote to Trump ― who has repeatedly promised to release his returns ― "I’ve released 21 years of my tax returns. What are you hiding, @realDonaldTrump?"
Coronavirus in South Africa: Scientists explore surprise theory for low death rate. (5-min. video; The Atlantic, September 3, 2020)
"Population density is such a key factor. If you don't have the ability to social distance, the virus spreads," said Professor Salim Karim, the head of South Africa's ministerial advisory team on Covid-19.
And yet, today South Africa is emerging from its first wave of infections with a Covid-19 death rate roughly seven times lower than Britain's.
Scientists acknowledge that reliable data is not always easy to come by and all these figures are likely to change. But even if deaths have been under-reported here - perhaps by a factor of two - South Africa has still performed impressively well, as have many other parts of the continent, where many hospital beds remain empty, and where infection graphs have almost entirely avoided the pronounced peaks and sharp angles seen in so many other parts of the world.
Some experts are now posing the question, what if those same crowded conditions also offer a possible solution to the mystery that has been unresolved for months? What if those conditions - they are asking - could prove to give people in South Africa, and in similar settings globally, some extra protection against Covid-19?
Outside investigator to probe how 46 inmates and 18 staff members at Maine jail got coronavirus; outbreak linked to Aug. 7 wedding in Millinocket. (Boston Globe, September 3, 2020)
As of Tuesday, 134 cases had been linked to the wedding. One woman whose infection was tied to the nuptials but who did not attend the event, 83-year-old Theresa Dentremont, has died. The cases linked to the wedding include a number of people who have fallen ill at the York County Jail in Alfred, Maine, and the Maplecrest Rehabilitation & Living Center in Madison, Maine.
The man who officiated the Aug. 7 wedding, Pastor Todd Bell of Cavalry Baptist Church in Sanford, Maine, gave a defiant sermon Aug. 30, just one day after the Maine CDC announced it was investigating a coronavirus cluster among those affiliated with the church. “I’ll tell you what the world wants all the churches to do,” Bell said during one of two Sunday services, which the church posted on YouTube. “They want us to shut down, go home, and let people get used to that just long enough until we can finally stop the advancing of the Gospel.”
Rachel Maddow unleashes on Maine pastor spreading COVID-19 because he doesn’t believe in it. (10-min. video; Raw Story, September 2, 2020)
The beautiful mountainous town of Millinocket, Maine, is now ground zero after two counties in Maine had only 150 cases of COVID-19 over six months. Currently, 143 new COVID-19 cases are traced back to a wedding with 62 people in attendance. It’s the largest outbreak in the entire state.
“All derived from this one congregated event where people got together and did not wear masks,” Maddow said. “It turns into a super-spreading event that created the biggest outbreak in Maine, and everybody learned about this, and public health authority tracking all this down. This pastor officiated the service where all these outbreaks came from, and infections came from, and all these institutions happen to be shut down, and one person is dead already. This pastor learned this weekend that his home church where he came home too is being investigated for an outbreak because they’ve got multiple cases there, too.”
On Saturday, Pastor Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford, Maine learned about the outbreak in the town. On Sunday, he held multiple in-person church services because he doesn’t believe the coronavirus is real.
Unarmed Black dad and 10-year-old son returning U-Haul truck are shot at by white couple. (Daily Kos, September 2, 2020)
Charles McMillon Jr., his 10-year-old son, and Kendrick Clemons had just dropped off a U-Haul van at Fountain Plaza parking lot, in Tallahassee, Florida, when suddenly bullets began whizzing around them. McMillon and the two others were reportedly sitting in the truck, typing in mileage onto the app, the way rentals like this work, when Wallace Fountain and his wife, Beverly Fountain, began shooting at them. Luckily, McMillon quickly drove off before anyone got hurt.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the Fountains are the owners of the strip mall and had decided to set up a vigilante sting, hiding inside of another U-Haul vehicle. The couple told authorities that they did this in order to stop people from siphoning off and stealing gas. Of course, McMillion, his son, and his friend weren’t doing anything illegal.
The Fountains are facing charges of aggravated assault. It seems that a Tallahassee police officer was parked in the same strip mall when he heard the shots and was able to verify that nothing out of the ordinary was happening between McMillon, his child, and their family friend.
McMillon and Clemons are now suing both U-Haul and the Fountains over the ordeal, saying they hoped to bring more light to how Black citizens are living. Clemons told reporters that “We’re hopeful now more than ever that this country finally sees that Black lives do matter. This isn’t just a movement. This is a way of life for millions of minorities, a way of life in which we are targeted by police, the justice system and civilians all because we ‘fit the description.’"
As Clemons has also pointed out, the Fountains, while having to surrender their firearms, are out on bail, something that exposes the two Americas people live in. “If we’re the ones shooting at them, we would still be in jail right now, probably with no bond, probably with intent to kill. But they got to walk free."
Steroids Can Be Lifesaving for Covid-19 Patients, Scientists Report. (2-min. video; New York Times, September 2, 2020)
International clinical trials published on Wednesday confirm the hope that cheap, widely available steroid drugs can help seriously ill patients survive Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Based on the new evidence, the World Health Organization issued new treatment guidance, strongly recommending steroids to treat severely and critically ill patients, but not to those with mild disease. Corticosteroids should now be the first-line treatment for critically ill patients, the authors said. The only other drug shown to be effective in seriously ill patients, and only modestly at that, is remdesivir.
Steroids like dexamethasone, hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone are often used by doctors to tamp down the body’s immune system, alleviating inflammation, swelling and pain. Many Covid-19 patients die not of the virus, but of the body’s overreaction to the infection.
Steroids can have harmful side effects, especially in elderly patients, who make up the majority of very ill coronavirus patients. The drugs may leave patients vulnerable to other infections, may raise blood glucose levels, and may cause confusion and delirium. But over all, the scientists said, the new studies appeared to confirm the promise of this class of drugs for patients severely ill with Covid-19.
In new guidance, the W.H.O. warned against indiscriminate use of steroids, emphasizing that patients who are not severely ill are unlikely to benefit and may suffer side effects. Unwarranted use could deplete global supplies, depriving patients who genuinely need the medications.
These Black Holes Shouldn’t Exist, but There They Are. (1-min. video; New York Times, September 2, 2020)
On the far side of the universe, a collision of dark giants sheds light on an invisible process of cosmic growth.
Astronomers reported on Wednesday that they had detected the loudest, most massive and most violent collision yet between a pair of black holes. Two Goliaths of darkness crashed into each other seven billion years ago, vibrating space-time and producing a loud, sharp chirp — almost a bang, one astronomer said — lasting just a tenth of a second in the antennas of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the Virgo interferometer observatory.
That short signal from a galaxy far, far away has left astrophysicists with new questions about how black holes form and grow.
The World Population in 2100, by Country (Visual Capitalist, September 2, 2020)
Will the global population surpass 10 billion by the end of the century? All signs have pointed to yes, until now. Steadily rising estimates from the United Nations have typically been the status quo. However, recent research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (HME) suggests that the global population may actually start shrinking well before 2100.
Cities across US endured hottest meteorological summer on record. (AccuWeather, September 2, 2020)
Among the places to shatter records for their warmest meteorological summer on record were big cities such as New York City, Chicago and Phoenix.
Natick Mall struggles to recover from coronavirus pandemic. (2-min. video; WCVB5, September 2, 2020)
Almost 20 of its 214 stores are closed.
We Need Ranked-Choice Voting — And This November We Can Make It Happen. (WGBH, September 2, 2020)
As of Wednesday morning, it was still unclear who had won the Democratic primary in the Fourth Congressional District of Massachusetts. In a field of nine candidates, including two who had dropped out before the primary, Jesse Mermell was running ahead of Jake Auchincloss by the razor-thin margin of 22.4% to 22.3%. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that whoever is nominated in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy will have received far fewer than a majority of the votes.
That also happened two years ago in the Third Congressional District, when Lori Trahan edged out Dan Koh in a 10-candidate Democratic primary. Trahan received 21.7% to Koh’s 21.5%, which was enough to propel her to victory that November against token Republican and independent opposition. This time around, Trahan, now the incumbent congresswoman, ran unopposed in the primary.
This is no way to run a democracy. Elections that produce winners lacking majority support fail to reflect the will of the voters. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
One solution would be to have a runoff election between the top two finishers. That’s the way they do it in some states, and it would be preferable to what we have currently in Massachusetts. But that’s expensive and time-consuming. Even then, it looks like Mermell and Auchincloss together will receive less than 50%, as was the case with Trahan and Koh in 2018 — which means that a majority of Democratic voters wanted someone else.
That’s why ranked-choice voting — also known as the instant runoff — is a better solution. And it’s on the ballot this fall. If Question 2 is approved, the system would go into effect in 2022, covering most state and federal offices but exempting presidential and local elections.
Here’s how ranked-choice voting works. Let’s say five candidates are running. You can vote for one, just as you do now. Or you can designate a second choice and, if you like, keep right on going from one to five in order of preference. It’s entirely up to you. If no one wins a majority, the fifth-place finisher would be eliminated, and the second choices of voters who supported that candidate would be awarded among the remaining candidates. The instant runoff continues until someone emerges with a majority. Third-place (or lower) votes would be counted if more rounds are needed to produce a majority winner. (For more information about ranked-choice voting, visit Yes on 2.)
This accomplishes two things. First, it eliminates the possibility that a minority winner might be someone who is loathed by voters who backed other candidates. Instead, the winner will be someone who had broad enough support to have been the second or third choice of many voters. Second, it eliminates gamesmanship at the polls. No longer would voters have an incentive to pick someone who isn’t their top choice in order to block someone else. Instead, they could rank their favorite first and their backup second.
The bane of this sort of strategic voting — or, rather, non-strategic voting — is why Maine adopted ranked choice in 2018. The bombastic Republican Paul LePage was elected governor in 2010 and 2014, each time with less than a majority, because a strong independent candidate split the anti-LePage vote with the Democratic nominee. Given what a polarizing figure LePage was, it seems likely that most independent voters would have picked the Democrat as their second choice (and vice versa), thus reflecting the will of the majority that someone other than LePage serve as governor.
I’ve been a fan of ranked-choice voting since 2000, when Ralph Nader’s independent candidacy may very well have cost Al Gore the election and handed the presidency to George W. Bush. As I wrote for The Boston Phoenix at the time, if you make the reasonable assumption that most Nader voters would have ranked Gore second, Gore would have taken Florida and thus the White House.
The question now is whether Question 2 will pass muster with voters in Massachusetts. It’s got a lot of support. According to State House News Service, all but one Democratic candidate in the Fourth Congressional District, including Mermell and Auchincloss, said they supported ranked choice. Moreover, a recent poll by WBUR and the MassINC Polling Group showed that respondents were evenly split on the measure — but that among those who said they understood ranked choice “very well,” 52% were in favor and 37% were against. With two months to go before the November election, proponents have a chance to win over skeptics.
Researchers take important step towards new generation of batteries. (University of Delft, September 1, 2020)
Delft University of Technology researchers, in collaboration with researchers from Tsinghua University, have taken an important step toward a new type of Li-ion battery, which are used in smartphones, laptops, and electric cars, among other things. For the first time, they succeeded in making an electrolyte that goes well with an anode made of lithium metal. Lithium metal is the holy grail for anodes. In theory, a two to three times higher energy density can be achieved with this material compared to current batteries.
The Unlikely Kennedy Who Ended the Kennedy Dynasty. (Politico, September 1, 2020)
In losing his Senate race to incumbent Ed Markey, Joe Kennedy III has freed his family from a political burden it has struggled to escape.
Visualizing the State of Democracy, by Country (Visual Capitalist, September 1, 2020)
Democracy is on retreat globally. Almost one-half (48.4%) of the world's population live in a democracy of some sort, although only 5.7% reside in a "full democracy". More than one-third of the world's population lives under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China. Norway topped the Democracy Index global ranking in 2019 and North Korea remained at the bottom.
Trump Creates His Own ‘Deep State’. (New York Times, September 1, 2020)
The director of national intelligence is ending oral briefings with Congress — a significant step toward eroding oversight and expanding executive overreach.
Trump To Arrest Political Opponents. (The Young Turks, September 1, 2020)
Chad Wolf says Trump is making plans to start arresting leaders of Black Lives Matter.
Portland killing renews focus on tactics of far-right group Patriot Prayer. (Washington Post, September 1, 2020)
In the four years that have followed, experts on right-wing extremism say Joey Gibson has become the leader of one of the nation’s most divisive and dangerous domestic political organizations, and an example of the radicalization of American politics in the Trump era. The group has been involved in a string of violent clashes in cities throughout the West Coast, and scrutiny of Patriot Prayer has intensified since a follower of the group was fatally shot Saturday night in Portland. Gibson and Aaron Danielson, who was killed, had participated in a caravan of flag-waving Trump supporters that descended on the city and sparked confrontations with Black Lives Matter counterprotesters.
Heather Cox Richardson: The president went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, today, against the wishes of both the governor and the Kenosha mayor, to try to change the narrative from the almost 185,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus and more than 6 million infected. (Letters From An American, September 1, 2020)
I want to pause here for a second. I try to write these Letters as if they are sort of a flowing report on the news. But I just can’t flow over this number once again. We have lost almost 185,000 people to Covid-19. That number is a 9-11 attack every day for two months. It is flying a full 737 airplane into a mountain every single day for more than two years. I cannot fathom why combatting this disease is not an all-hands-on-deck national emergency.
Anyway, Trump was in Kenosha to change the subject from coronavirus and the stumbling economy to the idea that somehow the unrest in cities is the fault of Democrats, and to hammer home his message that he will be the candidate of “law and order.”
The idea that the unrest in cities is the fault of Democrats is a hard sell, because of course Trump, not Joe Biden, is currently president, and it is terribly hard to show images of today’s America and warn that what someone is seeing is what will happen in the future if a different president takes office.
une that suggested “Antifa” was coming to rural towns.
Even more headline-grabbing today, though, was the story from a new book written by New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt saying that Vice President Mike Pence had been asked to stand by, possibly to assume presidential powers, when Trump was rushed to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last November. That story broke last night and it was not, it seemed to me, well enough sourced to mention it in these letters. And there it might have stood, except for the fact that Trump could not seem to help himself from tweeting about it repeatedly today, giving it far more credence than it would otherwise have had.
The initial story did not suggest a diagnosis for the president in that hasty visit, but Trump provided one himself: “It never ends! Now they are trying to say that your favorite President, me, went to Walter Reed Medical Center, having suffered a series of mini-strokes. Never happened to THIS candidate - FAKE NEWS. Perhaps they are referring to another candidate from another Party!”
Suddenly, mini-strokes, which in my layman’s understanding are brief interruptions of blood to the brain or spinal cord, were on the table. Midday, Trump tried to suggest that stories that he was trying to hide a mini-stroke were either fake or really about Biden. Then, tonight at 10:27, he tweeted: “Mike Pence was never put on standby, & there were no mini-strokes. This is just more Fake News by [CNN], a phony story. The reason for the visit to Walter Reed, together with the full press pool, was to complete my yearly physical. Short visit, then returned (with press) to W.H...”
[Find "Yes, It’s OK to Speculate on the President’s Health", below (November 2019).]
Kenosha business owner declines President Trump photo-op, Trump "replaces" him. (7-min. video; Kenosha TMJ4, September 1, 2020)
A Kenosha business owner is accusing President Donald Trump of using his destroyed store for political gain.
Tom Gram’s century-old camera shop burned to the ground a week ago during the unrest in Uptown Kenosha. Gram said he declined President Trump’s request to be a part of his tour of damage Tuesday in Kenosha. Instead, a former owner of the shop was invited and he praised the president’s efforts.
Gram has owned Rode’s Camera Shop since he bought the business from the Rode family eight years ago.
Gram said he got a call Monday from the White House asking if he’d join the president on a tour that would showcase his leveled business, but Gram immediately refused. “I think everything he does turns into a circus and I just didn’t want to be involved in it,” Gram said.
To Gram’s surprise, he watched on TV as the president showed up with the store’s former owner and President Trump made it seem like the store was still his. “John Rode III, owner of Rode’s Camera Shop,” President Trump said as he introduced Rode during a round table conversation on Tuesday.
Gram said President Trump’s references to John Rode III as the owner of Rode’s Camera Shop and it being “his store” were deceptive. Gram says he is disappointed Rode III’s comments Tuesday were construed to reflect the views of current ownership. “I think [Trump] needs to bring this country together rather than divide it,” Gram said. “I think there’s a lot of good people in this community, and to say that only law enforcement is correct is not the message we need to hear right now.
Organizer of Trump boat parades to be charged with a felony. Daily Kos, September 1, 2020)
One of the standout aspects of Steve Bannon’s We Build the Wall/GoFundMe money-laundering indictment is that one of the other men indicted, Brian Kolfage, is a Trump boating enthusiast who seems to have used almost $1 million of the ill-gotten Wall funds to buy a boat for himself. The boat was seen participating in one of the not-actually-popular but headline-grabbing Trump boat parades.
These parades were organized by Florida man Carlos Gavidia. Guess what? Gavidia is expected to be charged with a felony for sending a threatening text to a neighbor.
‘Thugs’ on a plane: Trying to paint Biden as extreme, Trump ramps up promotion of conspiracy theories. (Washington Post, September 1, 2020)
The president told reporters that a well-known figure, who was also aboard, had informed him. “The entire plane was filled up with the looters, the anarchists, the rioters, people that obviously were looking for trouble.”
Lacking details, the fantastical tale took on the wild, conspiratorial tone of a subversive Reddit subchannel or a foreign government’s disinformation campaign. That it was coming from Trump on a popular cable news show highlighted how his long-standing willingness to promote and disseminate conspiracy theories has become, in his view, central to a reelection effort that has foundered during the coronavirus pandemic.
In recent months, Trump has touted the effects of sunlight, bleach and hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, as potentially beneficial to protect against the coronavirus — despite warnings from medical authorities that such practices are ineffective or even dangerous. He has promoted a false conspiracy called “Obamagate,” which holds that Biden and other Obama administration figures tried to “spy” on his 2016 campaign. He has also publicly embraced the QAnon movement — which posits that Trump is defending the country against a satanic cult of pedophiles — and he refused to repudiate a discredited theory that Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), whose parents immigrated to the United States, is ineligible to serve as vice president. And he has invited questions from reporters for One America News, Gateway Pundit and the Epoch Times, fringe, pro-Trump outlets that traffic in falsehoods, conspiracy theories and hoaxes.
“The thing that concerns me is that people are looking to blame someone in all these crises, and so what Trump is able to do is to give them a target to shift blame onto something else. These are very convenient conspiracy theories for him to play off of,” said Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco under President Bill Clinton who now serves as president of the Coalition for a Safer Web.
Trump blames ‘far-left politicians’ for violence in wake of police shooting on visit to Wisconsin. (Washington Post, September 1, 2020)
President Trump on Tuesday inserted himself into a city already roiled by the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, using a trip to Kenosha, Wis., to highlight his hard-edge law-and-order message and press what he and his campaign advisers view as a political advantage against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Unwelcome by local officials — including the city’s Democratic mayor and the state’s Democratic governor — but hailed by others, Trump and an entourage that included Attorney General William P. Barr descended on the city south of Milwaukee for a campaign-style journey that included a visit to businesses and properties destroyed in rioting and to meet with law enforcement officials.
At an event focused on community safety near the end of his visit, Trump said Kenosha had “been ravaged by anti-police and anti-American riots” and vowed to stand firmly with law enforcement. “To stop the political violence, we must also confront the radical ideology that includes this violence,” Trump said. “Reckless, far-left politicians continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist.”
Trump — who said beforehand that the trip might “increase enthusiasm” rather than tensions — did not meet with the family of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot in the back seven times by a White police officer in Kenosha on Aug. 23. Asked whether he had anything he would like to say to Trump, Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, referred to the president as “the orange man” and said he wished that Black people had the same ability to travel the country as they please as Trump does. “All I ask is that he keep his disrespect, his foul language far away from our family,” Justin Blake said at a block party Tuesday organized by the Blake family and activists. “We need a president that’s going to unite and take us in a different direction. We want the same right he’s got, and we want to be able to get our children home safely. They should be able to go anywhere they want in this nation and get home safely, and not get shot seven times.”
Trump and his team calculate that amid the racial justice protests cleaving the nation after the death of George Floyd — an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police in late May — he can leverage the unrest, spinning the chaos into a political advantage over Biden and casting himself as the stronger leader to quell the tensions.
Biden, who did not directly address Trump’s visit to Kenosha, said in an interview with WTVD-TV in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., that he condemned protest violence and accused Trump of trying to shirk responsibility. “Everyone talks about this as if I’m already president,” Biden said. “The fact is, this is Donald Trump’s America. Donald Trump has done nothing more than pour gasoline on the fire. I have condemned the violence from the very beginning.”
Barr's order blocking FBI surveillance of political candidates has huge loophole: himself. (Daily Kos, September 1, 2020)
Yesterday, we learned that Trump attorney general William Barr has pushed out another high-level oversight official within the Department of Justice, one who was dedicated to ensuring federal counterintelligence and national security probes remain within the bounds of the law—a strange move, on the eve of a presidential election. The position will now be filled with a political hire chosen by Barr.
Today, Barr released a memo restricting federal surveillance of political candidates and anyone on their campaigns, including "informal" advisers. Specifically, Barr ordered that all electronic surveillance related to possible foreign intelligence links to a campaign member be approved by himself, personally—and that investigators must "consider" warning the target that a foreign government may be targeting them.
It's clearly intended as a response to federal investigators surveilling Trump ex-campaign aide Carter Page during the last election. In practice, this means that Bill Barr, and Bill Barr alone, will be deciding which investigations of foreign election interference and possible criminal acts by campaigns can go forward, and which will be shut down. After Barr jetted off to Europe in his own personal, hands-on attempt to discredit this nation's investigation of Russian election interference on behalf of Trump, there's little doubt as to just how Barr's new "policy" is going to go manifest itself in the closing weeks of the election.
Trump has slipped among key groups that backed him in 2016. (Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2020)
President Trump’s support has eroded among key groups of voters who backed him in 2016 — a major reason why he continues to trail former Vice President Joe Biden and a prime motivator for the president’s reelection strategy of emphasizing violent disorder in the nation’s cities. Trump’s decline among parts of his 2016 base is a chief finding so far from the USC Dornsife Daybreak Poll, which tracked voter preferences daily four years ago and is doing so again this year. Overall, Trump has lost support from about 9% of voters who backed him in 2016, the poll finds.
The poll shows no major shift in the race during the last two weeks, belying much speculation that the back-to-back national political conventions and violence in Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis., might have changed what has been an unusually stable contest.
During the Democratic convention, Biden gained 2 percentage points and Trump lost 2 points; Trump then regained some of that ground during his convention, a week-by-week comparison of the poll’s tracking shows. The net result is a Biden lead of 11 points, 52% to 41%, in the poll’s latest results as of Monday, after the Republican convention. A rolling average of results over the last week has been virtually the same, 53% to 41%.
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump at the RNC During COVID-19 (People For the American Way, updated September 1, 2020)
The troops want a new commander in chief. (Washington Post, September 1, 2020)
There are plenty of reasons that military and ex-military might dislike Trump, who infamously got five deferments to get out of serving in Vietnam. Trump failed to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin on bounties put on the heads of U.S. troops. He has smeared the intelligence community, betrayed national security by extorting Ukraine, used the military as props for border security, attacked our NATO alliance, groveled before Putin, abandoned the Kurds when bugging out of Syria, pulled troops out of Germany and attacked voting by mail — a principal way in which troops overseas vote. He commuted the sentences of convicted war criminals, an insult to every military man or woman who upholds his or her oath. He smeared and removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his White House post after he testified truthfully about Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president. He skipped a commemoration ceremony for those killed in World War I because it was raining. He used the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, to try to legitimize his gassing of peaceful protesters. He insulted the late John McCain and all POWs because he said he doesn’t like people who get captured.
Kyle Rittenhouse has a Team Trump lawyer with a plan to distract from the people Rittenhouse killed. (Daily Kos, September 1, 2020)
Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people. He killed two of them. He did this while hanging with a militia group that included at least one person who has promoted white supremacist propaganda. Trying to turn his crimes into a question of whether a 17-year-old can carry an AR-15-style rifle is outrageous—and totally par for the course of the far right.
TerraPower, Bill Gates’ Nuclear Startup, Unveils Mini-Reactor Design Including Molten Salt Energy Storage. Also, NuScale announces smaller reactor. (Forbes, August 31, 2020)
Nuclear power is the Immovable Object of generation sources. It can take days just to bring a nuclear plant completely online, rendering it useless as a tool to manage the fluctuations in the supply and demand on a modern energy grid. 
Now a firm launched by Bill Gates in 2006, TerraPower, in partnership with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, believes it has found a way to make the infamously unwieldy energy source a great deal nimbler — and for an affordable price.
Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Power announced that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had completed the final phase of a major safety review of NuScale’s new small modular reactor design. It was the first small modular reactor design ever to receive design approval from the NRC.
Edwin Lyman, the director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, suggested on Twitter that the nuclear designs used by TerraPower and GE Hitachi had fallen short of a major innovation. “Oh brother. The last thing the world needs is a fleet of sodium-cooled fast reactors,” he wrote. 
Still, climate scientists view nuclear energy as a crucial source of zero-carbon energy if the world stands a chance at limiting global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Jacob Blake's father calls out Trump's lie: 'We don't HAVE a family pastor.' (2-min. video; Daily Kos, August 31, 2020)
Shortened census count will hurt communities of color. (The Conversation, August 31, 2020)
In August, the Trump administration announced the plan to end the 2020 Census count a month early, on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31. With about a month left before that new end date, fewer than two-thirds of U.S. households have been counted so far.
NEW: The late Herman Cain tweets that COVID-19 'not as deadly as the fake news claims". (Daily Kos, August 31, 2020)
Yes, that’s the same Herman Cain who literally died of COVID-19. In a now-deleted tweet, Herman Cain (or, rather, Herman Cain’s Twitter account) claimed that the fake news media has been overhyping the coronavirus. Because this is 2020, and absolutely nothing is too horrifying or stupid for 2020.
As we all know, Donald Trump essentially (er, allegedly) killed Herman Cain with his June Tulsa super-spreader rally. Cain was infamously pictured eschewing social distancing and mask-wearing.
‘I want the people of God to enjoy liberty’: Pastor at Maine super-spreader wedding gives defiant indoor sermon. (Boston Globe, August 31, 2020)
Pastor Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford, Maine.
Former Melania Trump friend says she is working with multiple prosecutors on inauguration financing. (The Hill, August 31, 2020)
Winston Wolkoff said she considered Trump a close friend for more than a decade. She served as a leading organizer for the president's 2017 inauguration and later as an adviser to the first lady. Winston Wolkoff has previously said she was “thrown under the bus” by the Trump administration after the inaugural committee’s spending came under scrutiny in 2018. In her forthcoming book, she says was made into “the cover girl for the inauguration shenanigans”.
Appeals court denies Michael Flynn and Justice Department's effort to end his case. (2-min. video; CNN, August 31, 2020)
Monday's decision adds what may be the most consequential round yet to what's become an unusual and deeply political court case in an election year, and one of the most symbolic prosecutions of a Trump adviser during this presidency. Previously, a group of three judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals court sided 2-1 with Flynn in ordering the lower court to toss his case. Monday's 8-2 decision by the full court reached the opposite conclusion.
In recent months, Flynn's case has become a conduit for President Donald Trump and his supporters' criticism of the Russia investigation. Separately, the case has led many in the legal industry to publicly oppose Barr's leniency toward friends of the President, saying his decision in the Flynn case twisted the law to help Trump politically. The fate of Flynn's case is widely considered to be a type of Rosetta Stone for how the public may view the Mueller investigation -- with Flynn's exoneration undermining findings of misconduct by the President, or Flynn's sentencing keeping pressure on the President.
New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy, worrying public health officials. (Washington Post, August 31, 2020)
One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial “herd immunity” strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations.
The approach’s chief proponent is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who joined the White House in August as a pandemic adviser. He has advocated that the United States adopt the model Sweden has used to respond to the virus outbreak, according to these officials, which relies on lifting restrictions so healthy people can build immunity to the disease rather than limiting social and business interactions to prevent the virus from spreading.
Sweden’s handling of the pandemic has been heavily criticized by public health officials and infectious-disease experts as reckless — the country’s infection and death rates are among the world’s highest. It also hasn’t escaped the deep economic problems resulting from the pandemic. But Sweden’s approach has gained support among some conservatives who argue that social distancing restrictions are crushing the economy and infringing on people’s liberties.
Could religious exemptions trump a COVID-19 vaccine mandate? Well, that depends. (The Conversation, August 31, 2020)
The longer COVID-19 rages on, the more the United States appears to be hanging its hopes on the development and rapid, mass distribution of a vaccine.
Getting a safe and effective vaccine out to the public could be a game changer, health experts believe. But stopping the virus’s spread will only happen if enough people choose – or are required – to get vaccinated. And while some people may see it as their “patriotic duty” to get vaccinated, others won’t.
Opponents may challenge vaccination requirements based on claims of religious liberty or under specific laws that would allow for a religious exemption from any COVID-19 vaccine mandates. In some states including Indiana and Massachusetts, there are laws allowing parents to cite religious reasons to opt out of childhood immunization requirements.
The Supreme Court stated in 1941, “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community … to communicable disease.” Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking for the court nearly 50 years later, came to a similar conclusion that laws advancing civic obligations such as compulsory vaccination may override claims of religious freedom.
NEW: Guess what Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Nevada have in common? (August 31, 2020)
Six Common Ways People Justify Unethical Behavior (Psychology Today, August 31, 2020)
Why we may feel good about ourselves even when we do wrong.
Heather Cox Richardson: President Seeming To Slide Off Rails. (Letters From An American, October 31, 2020)
A bird's eye view of the country today sees a president seeming to slide off the rails. Trump is exaggerating the violence in cities to the point of caricature, while his supporters outright lie to try to advance his candidacy. On Thursday, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway tipped the president’s hand on “Fox and Friends” when she said that “the more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for” a candidate running on “law and order.”
In the wake of the Republican National Convention, which failed to boost his candidacy, Trump has been tweeting at an intense pace. Between 5:49 am and 8:04 am on Sunday, he tweeted or retweeted 89 messages, many of them inflaming the conflicts between protesters and his supporters. He retweeted a post from One America News claiming that “According to the mainstream media, the riots & extreme violence are completely unorganized. However, it appears this coup attempt is led by a well funded network of anarchists trying to take down the President.”
Yesterday, the president called the participants in the Portland “Trump cruise rally” “GREAT PATRIOTS!” and today called them “peaceful,” despite the fact they were shooting paintballs and pepper spray and driving vehicles into crowds. Today the president condemned what he called “the radical left,” but refused to condemn Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse, the seventeen-year-old who allegedly shot and killed two people and wounded a third with a friend’s AR-15 rifle (meaning Rittenhouse had it illegally) in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week. Trump suggested Rittenhouse, who has been charged with homicide, was “very violently attacked” by demonstrators (the video does not indicate this). Trump supporters, including Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson, have also defended Rittenhouse.
This afternoon, Trump claimed that Portland, Oregon “is ablaze.” Josh Campbell, a CNN law enforcement correspondent on the ground in Portland and a former FBI supervisory special agent, called this a lie. Campbell told CNN: "Portland is not a city under siege. Today, I went to a Starbucks downtown, ate lunch at one of the city's famous downtown food trucks, and bought a new pair of shoes at the mall. As I write this, I'm looking out of my hotel room at a bike tour riding by outside on the downtown street…. To be sure, there have been protests -- peaceful during the daytime, and some turning violent at night -- for over 90 days, but the rioting has largely been confined to one city block downtown near the federal courthouse."
Portland firefighter Lt. Rich Chatman agreed: “WE ARE NOT ABLAZE IN PORTLAND,” he texted to CNN reporter Daniel Dale. “There is a very isolated pocket of demonstrations that have involved fire… none of which have been substantial enough to need more than 1 fire engine.”
Trump’s vision of the world is getting more and more conspiratorial.
I Was a U.S. Diplomat. Customs and Border Protection Only Cared That I Was Black. (Politico, August 30, 2020)
Most of my colleagues crossed the U.S. border with barely a glance. Why was I usually detained and harassed?
California lawmakers vote to phase out toxic firefighting foam. (Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2020)
California lawmakers voted Sunday to phase out the sale and use of firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer and have contaminated drinking water throughout the state. The measure, put forward by state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), requires municipal fire departments, chemical plants and oil refineries to gradually stop using the foam, replacing it with alternatives that don’t contain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of chemicals commonly known as PFAS.
Scientists have called PFAS “forever chemicals” because they persist indefinitely and accumulate in the human body. Exposure to them has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as high levels of cholesterol, thyroid disease and other serious health problems.
Donald Trump v. The United States review: how democracy came under assault (The Guardian, August 30, 2020)
Michael Schmidt of the New York Times has written a masterful and alarming account of ‘the struggle to stop a president’. (The book's release date is Sept. 1st.)
Schmidt argues persuasively that the Trump presidency has highlighted the fragility of American democracy, and that the current president views the rule of law as something for others. More precisely, Trump believes prison is meant for his political adversaries but not so much for his convicted cronies and for himself, never. Schmidt documents how Trump sought to prosecute Clinton and Comey: literally and seriously.
A central premise of Donald Trump v. The United States is that those who have sought to thwart the president have failed. Comey is no longer FBI director, Gen. John Kelly is no longer White House chief of staff. Donald McGahn, Trump’s first White House counsel, is back in private practice.
Trump usually gets what he wants. Jared Kushner, for example, holds a “top secret” security clearance despite persistent objections from senior White House staff and the intelligence community. After all others refused, Trump personally granted his son-in-law his clearance. Hindering Trump is one thing, stopping him something else.
The Guardian adds:
Democracy is in peril ahead of this year’s US election. Donald Trump is busy running the largest misinformation campaign in history as he questions the legitimacy of voting by mail, a method that will be crucial to Americans casting their vote in a pandemic. Meanwhile, the president has also appointed a new head of the US Postal Service who has stripped it of resources, undermining its ability to fulfill a crucial role in processing votes.
This is one of a number of attempts to suppress the votes of Americans – something that has been a stain on US democracy for decades. The Voting Rights Act was passed 55 years ago to undo a web of restrictions designed to block Black Americans from the ballot box. Now, seven years after that law was gutted by the supreme court, the president is actively threatening a free and fair election.
Justice Dept. Never Fully Examined Trump’s Ties to Russia, Ex-Officials Say. (New York Times, August 30, 2020)
The former deputy attorney general maneuvered to keep investigators from completing an inquiry into whether the president’s personal and financial links to Russia posed a national security threat. Mr. Rosenstein never told Mr. McCabe about his decision, leaving the F.B.I. with the impression that the special counsel would take on the investigation into the president as part of his broader duties.
The Justice Department secretly took steps in 2017 to narrow the investigation into Russian election interference and any links to the Trump campaign, according to former law enforcement officials, keeping investigators from completing an examination of President Trump’s decades-long personal and business ties to Russia.
The special counsel who finished the investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, secured three dozen indictments and convictions of some top Trump advisers, and he produced a report that outlined Russia’s wide-ranging operations to help get Mr. Trump elected and the president’s efforts to impede the inquiry.
But law enforcement officials never fully investigated Mr. Trump’s own relationship with Russia, even though some career F.B.I. counterintelligence investigators thought his ties posed such a national security threat that they took the extraordinary step of opening an inquiry into them. Within days, the former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein curtailed the investigation without telling the bureau, all but ensuring it would go nowhere.
Questions about the president’s ties to Russia dated to his presidential campaign. Mr. Trump has sought to build a Trump Tower in Moscow for at least two decades, including during the campaign. His son Eric once said the Trump Organization relied on Russia for “all the funding we need” to purchase several golf courses in the United States. And the Senate report this month revealed the allegations of Mr. Trump’s potentially compromising encounters with women in Moscow in 1996 and 2013. The F.B.I.’s mounting concerns about Mr. Trump reached a crescendo in the days after he fired Mr. Comey. Officials questioned whether Russia had leverage over the president and had dismissed the F.B.I. director to thwart any investigation that might reveal more.
Mr. McCabe said in an interview that had he known Mr. Mueller would not continue the inquiry, he would have had the F.B.I. perform it. “We opened this case in May 2017 because we had information that indicated a national security threat might exist, specifically a counterintelligence threat involving the president and Russia,” Mr. McCabe said. “I expected that issue and issues related to it would be fully examined by the special counsel team. If a decision was made not to investigate those issues, I am surprised and disappointed. I was not aware of that.”
Now, as Mr. Trump seeks re-election, major questions about his approach to Russia remain unanswered. He has repeatedly shown an openness to Russia, an adversary that attacked American democracy in 2016, and he has refused to criticize or challenge the Kremlin’s increasing aggressions toward the West. The president has also rejected the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in 2016 to bolster his candidacy and the spy agencies’ assessment that Russia is trying to sabotage this year’s election again on his behalf.
Rep. Steve Scalise, House Republican Whip, tweets faked video. Spokesman claims it is 'common practice' when called out. (Daily Kos, August 30, 2020)
The doctored tape was first pointed out by reporter David Weigel, who showed that Scalise's video manipulated an interview with activist Ady Barkan. Barkan speaks with the assistance of a computer-generated voice; Scalise's version flagrantly adds words, using the same generated voice, to Barkan's question. The fake audio was soon afterwards called out both by those responsible for the original video and by Barkan himself. “You owe the entire disability community an apology,” tweeted Barkan.
Despite receiving a "Manipulated media" tag from Twitter for the fraud, Scalise's team is standing by their manipulation, claiming they "condensed" Barkan's question "to the essence of what he was asking, as is common practice." They have left the dishonest video online.
Obviously, generating fake audio to alter what a speaker factually said is not a "common practice," in this country. It may be in some others.
One Person Dead in Portland After Clashes Between Trump Supporters and Protesters. (New York Times, August 30, 2020)
A man affiliated with a right-wing group was shot and killed Saturday night. A caravan of supporters of President Trump had driven into downtown Portland.
NEW: Effect of Calcifediol Treatment and best Available Therapy versus best Available Therapy on Intensive Care Unit Admission and Mortality Among Patients Hospitalized for COVID-19: A Pilot Randomized Clinical study (The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, August 29, 2020)
The vitamin D endocrine system may have a variety of actions on cells and tissues involved in COVID-19 progression. Administration of calcifediol or 25-hydroxyvitamin D to hospitalized COVID-19 patients significantly reduced their need for Intensive Care United admission (2% vs. 50%).
Calcifediol seems to be able to reduce severity of the disease, but larger trials with groups properly matched will be required to show a definitive answer.
How the University of Arizona used No. 2 to solve its No. 1 problem: The coronavirus (NBC News, August 29, 2020)
The university made a bold claim this week: It stopped a coronavirus outbreak before it started.
We Don’t Know How to Warn You Any Harder. America is Dying. (Eudaimonia & Co, August 29, 2020)
We Survivors of Authoritarianism Have a Message America Needs to Hear: This is Exactly How it Happens, and It’s Happening Here.
Trevor Noah: What the hell happened at the RNC? (30-min. video; The Daily Social Distancing Show, August 29, 2020)
From Mike Pence’s impressive amount of bulls**t to Trump’s boring low-energy Jeb Bush-ass speech, here’s everything you need to know.
Trump moves to shut Congress out of intelligence on Russian election interference. (Daily Kos, August 29, 2020)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff responded following the ODNI's announcement: "This is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy. This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian. And the American people have both the right and the need to know that another nation, Russia, is trying to help decide who their president should be." In-person briefing are critical to lawmakers' ability to ask questions, investigate, challenge assumptions, and be fully apprised of what's happening.
MSNBC Host calls out the president as the actual perpetrator of violence. (2-min. video; Daily Kos, August 29, 2020)
Host Nicolle Wallace did not pull any punches as she made a reality Trump does not want to accept very clear. The violence in America is on his watch.
NEW: The right to vote is not in the Constitution. (The Conversation, August 28, 2020)
The Bill of Rights recognizes the core rights of citizens in a democracy, including freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. It then recognizes several insurance policies against an abusive government that would attempt to limit these liberties: weapons; the privacy of houses and personal information; protections against false criminal prosecution or repressive civil trials; and limits on excessive punishments by the government.
But the framers of the Constitution never mentioned a right to vote. They didn’t forget – they intentionally left it out. To put it most simply, the founders didn’t trust ordinary citizens to endorse the rights of others.
God Is Dead. So Is the Office. These People Want to Save Both. (New York Times, August 28, 2020)
Divinity consultants are designing sacred rituals for corporations and their spiritually depleted employees.
Energy firm says its nuclear-waste fueled diamond batteries could last thousands of years. (7-min. video; TechXplore, August 28, 2020)
"Think of it in an iPhone," NDB's chief strategy officer Neel Naicker says. "With the same size battery, it would charge your battery from zero to full, five times an hour. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you wouldn't have to charge your battery at all for the day. Now imagine for the week, for the month… How about for decades? That's what we're able to do with this technology."
The basic principle behind the concept is not actually new. As NDB's chief operating officer Mohammed Irfan explained: "Using radioisotopes as a source for energy is not new. We have nuclear medicine, where patients are treated with controlled equipment, which has always given effective results. Similarly, we have had nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. Of course, that's a completely different process, but it's been able to successfully and safely deliver power and energy without safety issues."
Some NDB claims have ben greeted with cautious skepticism in tech circles.
Welcome to Solar Cycle 25! The coronal mass ejection watch is on... (Daily Kos, August 28, 2020)
In the decades leading up to 2020, we were warned repeatedly about a global pandemic, a once-in-a-century occurrence, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since 1918-1919.  The Obama administration understood that it was only a matter of time and had the presence of mind to try and prepare us, but the current occupant ignored and dismantled that preparation, leaving us vulnerable, and so here we are, beyond 180,000 deaths in the U.S.
Another catastrophe is in the making, and once again it really is only a matter of time.  We WILL at some point be hit with a once-in-a-century geomagnetic storm caused by the Sun, as we were in 1859 and 1921 (and very nearly were in 2012).  Only this time, because of our absolute dependence on an aging electrical grid, the cost will be in the trillions of dollars.  Many millions of people in densely populated areas like Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston could be without power for up to 2 years.  It’ll make coronavirus look like a walk in the park.
They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen? (ProPublica, August 28, 2020)
This is a story about frustration, about watching the West burn when you fully understand why it’s burning — and understand why it did not need to be this bad.
Remember the ‘Travel Bubble’? Here’s How It Burst. (New York Times, August 28, 2020)
To keep tourism afloat during the pandemic, some countries formed travel alliances with their neighbors. At summer’s end, the experiment has had mixed results.
The risk is high both for travelers and the countries they are visiting, said Dr. Brad Connor, the New York City site director for the GeoSentinel emerging infectious disease surveillance network of the C.D.C. and a longtime travel medicine and infectious disease specialist.
Where states reopened and cases spiked after the U.S. shutdown (Washington Post, August 28, 2020)
Hundreds of millions of people started moving around again. Now, the latest surge is here, with new restrictions.
Republicans see immediate post-convention bounce...in COVID cases: Attendees start testing positive. (Daily Kos, August 28, 2020)
The Charlotte Observer reports two convention attendees and two of their support staff have already tested positive for COVID-19. The RNC officials tested positive after attending the convention meetings, which took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. While the RNC told attendees masks were required, as well as maintaining 6 feet of distance from one another, many took those guidelines as mere suggestions and judging by the photos from the event, far too many opted out.
Whatever happened at the Charlotte portion of the convention is likely going to pale in comparison to what will happen to the attendees in Washington, D.C., where very few masks were seen in the audience on the White House lawn. Chairs were placed side-by-side, ignoring all medical advice. Unlike the attendees at the RNC meeting in Charlotte, the audience for the White House attendees were not required to get a COVID-19 test. Just look at this photo of the audience and play count the masks. How many can you spot?
Like convention keynote speakers, 50% of whom had the last name Trump, attendees largely pretended the COVID-19 pandemic is a thing of the past. There wasn’t one single mention of the COVID-19 death toll in the United States. You’d think the so-called “pro-life” party might’ve mentioned or had a moment of silence for the 185,000+ Americans who have already died from this virus, but no.
You’d also think the death of Herman Cain, who contracted COVID-19 after attending a largely mask-free Trump rally in Tulsa, might’ve served as a warning for this audience, but it seems clear some people insist on learning the hard way. Let’s just hope for their sake, they weren’t dead wrong.
Trump rallygoers boo when asked to put on masks. (5-min. video; CNN, August 28, 2020)
Before President Trump's speech in New Hampshire, the crowd booed an announcement at the event asking the attendees to wear masks.
The Three Faces of Donald Trump (Politico, August 28, 2020)
Tyrant, buffoon or a real voice for forgotten Americans? Five years after his escalator ride—and after two 2020 conventions—there’s still no consensus. That’s a problem for the party trying to take him down.
NEW: 8 juicy details from the new Melania Trump tell-all book. (Politico, August 28, 2020)
For his inauguration, the president wanted a North Korean-style military parade, right down to the “goose-stepping troops and armored tanks.”
Michael McFaul: For those of us who study autocracies, including elections in autocracies, there were a lot of familiar messages, symbols, and methods on display this week at the Republican National Convention. (Thread Reader, August 28, 2020)
Republican National Convention 2020: Day 4 (CNN, August 28, 2020)
RNC's final night: President Donald Trump delivered his nomination acceptance speech during the fourth night of the Republican National Convention. He spoke from the White House South Lawn, where few in the audience were wearing masks and were not socially distanced.
Day That Was: The Final Night Of The RNC Kept Fact-Checkers Busy. (7-min. video; MSNBC, August 28, 2020)
Trump touts coronavirus response. Mischaracterizations. Untruths. Lies. Whatever words may be used to describe some of the statements made during the Republican National Convention’s last night, there was a lot of material to set straight. Here’s some facts and context you’ll need to make sense of it all.
DC-based doctor: Trump hosting 1,000 people at White House for RNC is "maddening". (CNN, August 27, 2020)
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at The George Washington University Hospital, says it's "maddening" that President Trump and the Republican National Committee are hosting between 1,000 to 1,500 people at the White House tonight for their convention. Reiner told CNN's Erin Burnett that the President is breaking DC coronavirus gathering restrictions which states that mass gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.
Room rentals, resort fees and furniture removal: How Trump’s company charged the U.S. government more than $900,000. (Washington Post, August 27, 2020)
For Trump’s club, it appeared, saying no to the Secret Service had made it a better customer. The agency was paying for rooms on nights when Trump wasn’t even visiting — to be ready just in case Trump decided to go, one former Trump administration official said.
Trump has now visited his own properties 270 times as president — with another visit planned for Thursday, when he is scheduled to meet GOP donors at his Washington hotel.
Now, new federal spending documents obtained by The Post via a public-records lawsuit give more detail about how the Trump Organization charged the Secret Service — a kind of captive customer, required to follow Trump everywhere. In addition to the rentals at Mar-a-Lago, the documents show that the Trump Organization charged daily “resort fees” to Secret Service agents guarding Vice President Pence in Las Vegas and in another instance asked agents to pay a $1,300 “furniture removal charge” during a presidential visit to a Trump resort in Scotland.
Fighting off a disease takes more than vaccines, and we've lost a critical battle over the last week. (Daily Kos, August 27, 2020)
The release of any COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the year is going to be problematic because it will be met with resistance from both sides. There will be the traditional anti-vax forces, now intimately linked to the “QAnon” supporters of Trump, whose suspicions include not just all things deep state but the idea that an unlikely alliance of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is out to inject them with a “chip” that will allow them to be tracked in everything they do. It’s a thinly veiled version of the “Number of the Beast” claims from evangelical End Times speculations, but that hasn’t stopped banners displaying exactly this claim from appearing at Trump rallies.
On the other side, progressives, and a large amount of the public no matter what their political orientation, will be suspicious of any COVID-19 vaccine appearing so quickly under Trump’s auspices. And rightly so. There are a number of vaccines that may have first results of phase 3 trials sometime in September, but those are very limited, initial outcomes. It would be the height of foolishness and an extraordinary risk to rush into production based on those results. A properly tested and produced vaccine can be expected no sooner than the end of the year.
No matter when it appears, many people are going to look at that vaccine with a good deal of skepticism. There is even an unsettling possibility that a large percentage of the population will never be accepting of a COVID-19 vaccine. The results of that could be devastating. It could mean that even if the population achieves the vaunted level of “herd immunity” where the disease isn’t circulating in large numbers, a reservoir of COVID-19 could remain present many communities, ready to reappear and sweep through the nation, bringing the calamities of 2020 back again. And again.
Covid-19 Live Updates: C.D.C. Director Walks Back New Testing Guidelines After Outcry; Website Remains Unchanged. (New York Times, August 27, 2020)
Dr. Robert R. Redfield now says that “testing may be considered” for anyone exposed to the coronavirus. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has scaled back the agency’s recommendation advising some people not to get tested after exposure to the novel coronavirus, now saying “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients.”
The statement by Dr. Robert R. Redfield was issued to some news outlets late Wednesday, and more broadly Thursday morning, after a storm of criticism over the new C.D.C. guidelines — involving potentially asymptomatic people — which were the product of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and not C.D.C.’s own scientists. Dr. Redfield made the statement in an effort to clarify the new policy, an official said.
However, the guidelines issued earlier this week remained on the C.D.C.’s website as of Thursday morning, and it appears unlikely that the agency will change them.
NEW: Umair Haque: The Walking Apes Who Destroyed the World; Pain, Violence, and the Future of Human Civilization (Eudaimonia & Co, August 27, 2020)
How did we human beings try to defend ourselves against the overwhelming pain of existing at all? First we invented religion. A magic perfect being in the sky in the sky made us. And we’ll live with him forevermore once we die. If you’re religious, I don’t mean to be mean. But I do mean to point out that religion is in some sense a defense against existential pain.
Then, once God died, as Nietzsche said — meaning once we no longer could so easily believe in that idea — we invented consumerism. Buy stuff! To have status! And feel more powerful than the next walking ape. And escape from the terrible, terrible pain of just existing, for one more moment. Marx, of course, famously described religion as an opiate — and capitalism as a religion. He was right in one crucial sense. They are both there to dull the pain of existence.
And that would be fine, if they worked. But they don’t.
NEW: The Pope, the Jews, and the Secrets in the Archives. (The Atlantic, August 27, 2020)
Documents reveal the private discussions behind both Pope Pius XII’s silence about the Nazi deportation of Rome’s Jews in 1943 and the Vatican’s postwar support for the kidnapping of two Jewish boys whose parents had perished in the Holocaust.
Alan Alda Wants Us to Communicate. (AARP Magazine, May 27, 2020)
Our favorite TV doctor prescribes laughter and science as a start.
‘The Daily Show’ Trolls Trump With Fake Legal Ad In Major Newspapers. (Huffington Post, August 27, 2020)
Trevor Noah offered the “soon-to-be ex-president” his faux legal services in a full-page ad in The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
Trevor Noah: 'Enough with this militia bullshit,' they're 'dudes threatening people with guns.' (10--min. video; Daily Kos, August 27, 2020)
NEW: Biden Is Getting Ready to Bury Neoliberalism. (Foreign Policy, August 27, 2020)
The potential next Democratic administration is preparing to upend decades of dogma on globalization.
This spring, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden agreed with his former primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders to form joint task forces on health care, criminal justice, climate change, the economy, education, and immigration. It is clear from the reports of those bodies, issued earlier this summer, that under a President Biden U.S. domestic policy would shift well to the left of where it would have been under a President Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But none of those committees covered foreign policy as traditionally defined. The ideological flames fanned by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and then brought to a white heat by the Black Lives Matter movement, have barely touched foreign affairs, which is often isolated from domestic politics. A Biden promise to return to the status quo ante would be a brain-dead response to a transformed world, but it would not be politically costly.
Yet the assumption that under a President Biden domestic policy would move left, but foreign policy would not, presupposes a distinction between the two that is itself an artifact of an earlier era. Some elements of a Biden foreign policy would almost certainly move left as a dependent variable of domestic policy. Biden uses the expression “a foreign policy for the middle class” to express the idea that trade and international economic policy must be guided by the benefits they will bring to average Americans—rather than to American multinationals corporations.
Joe Biden says Trump keeps pouring 'gasoline on the fire' of violence. (3-min. video; MSNBC, August 27, 2020)
Candidate Joe Biden takes aim at President Trump for not condemning police brutality and violence in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting.
Tucker Carlson suggests teen charged in Kenosha protester killings had to ‘maintain order when no one else would’. (Washington Post, August 27, 2020)
Fox News host Tucker Carlson defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wis.
[Fox News still wants to encourage more of that? Why am I not surprised?]
Mike Pence’s Big Lie About Trump and the Coronavirus at the Republican National Convention (New Yorker, August 27, 2020)
With the national death toll approaching a hundred and eighty thousand, it seems unlikely that Pence’s speech will have much impact on public opinion. Americans can see reality with their own eyes. One poll published earlier this week showed that Trump’s approval rating for his handling of the pandemic has dropped to thirty-one per cent. Still, Wednesday’s address will go down in history as a memorable example of how establishment Republicans like Pence have utterly capitulated to Trump, debasing themselves and their party in the process, and, ultimately, betraying the country, which, in its hour of crisis, deserved honesty rather than pro-Trump spin. Sadly, Pence’s performance was predictable.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Pence’s bowing and scraping to Trump is that he seems to revel in it. In an interview with the Times, his chief of staff, Marc Short, said Pence has studied previous Vice-Presidencies, and he “exemplifies servant leadership.” Even in these twisted days, when Trump’s takeover of the G.O.P. seems virtually complete, it isn’t every elected Republican who would like to go in the history books as the forty-fifth President’s most loyal and obsequious servant. As he demonstrated on Wednesday night, when he once again acted as Trump’s lickspittle, Pence seems to fill the role naturally.
NEW: Falsehoods and Failures: Republicans at the Convention During COVID-19 (People For the American Way, updated August 27, 2020)
Fact-checking the third night of the 2020 Republican National Convention (4-min. video: Washington Post, August 27, 2020)
The third night of the Republican National Convention yet again offered a cascade of false claims, especially in Vice President Pence’s speech. Here are 20 claims that caught our attention.
Blackout: Trump totally outgunned by Biden TV blitz just before early voting starts. (Daily Kos, August 26, 2020)
According to Politico, the giant cash advantage Donald Trump once had over Joe Biden has dwindled to a mere $20 million, while ABC News puts the Biden deficit at just $6 million now. Whatever it is, it ain’t much in terms of overall spending. The New York Times adds that as of Tuesday, the Trump campaign pulled all TV advertising for a two-week period until September 8. That's the second time in 30 days Team Trump has halted advertising, only now we're just weeks away from the start of early voting in critical battleground states like Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. The last time the Trump campaign pulled the plug on ads, it was supposedly turning its emphasis toward early voting states. Oops.
But even before the campaign pulled all its ads, it was already entirely dark this month in Michigan and Pennsylvania while being outspent 8-to-1 in Wisconsin, according to Politico. Biden also spent three times as much in North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona. And Trump left Ohio and Nevada completely uncontested.
Also, here's a bit of sweet news—at least some of the squeeze has been fueled by the implosion of the National Rifle Association, which hasn’t booked but several million dollars this cycle after lavishing $30 million on Trump in 2016.
Perhaps some past-Labor Day blitz is coming from Team Trump, or maybe the Trump campaign has just completely mismanaged its money with Trump's Charlotte Jacksonville DC-based convention.
Whatever the case, leaving the TV airwaves completely uncontested twice in the month before early voting starts in make-or-break states is pretty inexplicable. It doesn't matter how much digital advertising a campaign does, most older folks still watch TV and that's a key demographic for Team Trump.
[Take the money and run? Trump&Friends has now scammed $Billions out of America and the GOP, as he previously fed upon businesses and left bankrupt hulks in his wake.]
Trump Approval DROPS After 2 Days of the Republican Nationalist Convention. (Daily Kos, August 26, 2020)
What Donald Trump promised would be an optimistic and hopeful celebration of Republican leadership has predictably turned into a dystopian nightmare exalting an aspiring totalitarian dictator. The dark and hostile themes articulated by one speaker after another were unflinchingly foreboding and resolutely reverential of Trump and only Trump.
This steadfast devotion to the Cult of Trump was intended to jump start his floundering reelection campaign. Joe Biden has been consistently beating Trump in both national and swing state polling for months. So the nasty tone set by Trump and his convention plotters was chosen in an attempt to boost his approval and to smear Biden in such a way as to bring him down to Trump's level. They sent out their heavy artillery including four members of the Trump family (Eric, Don Jr, Tiffany, and Melania). They were fortified by notorious Trump-fluffers like Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Jim Jordan, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and the screeching stylings of former Fox News host, Kimberly Guilfoyle.
However, early indicators show that this strategy is working about as well as everything else Trump has tried to do in his presidency (i.e. utter failure). One week ago Trump proudly tweeted that he had reached a peak approval rating of 51% as surveyed by the disreputable right-wing pollster, Rasmussen Reports. Rasmussen is without a doubt Trump's favorite pollster and the only one who has ever shown Trump with a majority approval rating.
Now, after two days of RNC ranting, and worshipful characterizations of Trump as Messiah, Rasmussen has him at 47% approve, 51% disapprove. That's a four point drop (and an eight point negative swing) that occurred in just the two days since the convention began. Additionally, Rasmussen has Trump with a 36% strongly approve rating, and 44% strongly disapprove.
To repeat, Rasmussen is the most Trump-friendly pollster on the planet. For comparison, other recent polls show Trump with considerably worse numbers. RealClearPolitics' average "poll of polls" has Trump in the red 10.6%. And his performance in the crucial swing states is particularly dismal. Biden is leading in six of the seven states considered as battlegrounds (Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio, and North Carolina). North Carolina is the only state where Biden is not ahead, but he is either tied or close. Biden is also challenging Trump in traditionally red states like Texas and Arizona.
We Now Know That White Supremacy Groups Are Responsible For Much Of The Violence Blamed On BLM. (Daily Kos, August 26, 2020)
The Kenosha Shooting Suspect Was In The Front Row Of A Trump Rally In January. (BuzzFeed News, August 26, 2020)
Kyle Howard Rittenhouse’s social media presence is filled with him posing with weapons, posting “Blue Lives Matter,” and supporting Trump for president. Footage from the Des Moines, Iowa, rally on Jan. 30 shows Rittenhouse feet away from the president, in the front row, to the left of the podium. He posted a TikTok video from the event.
Seven months later, Rittenhouse went with his rifle to the third night of Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha after police shot Blake, a Black man who is now paralyzed as a result, according to his family. Rittenhouse attended as an armed vigilante, supposedly assisting police and protecting property in an unofficial capacity. Instead, he allegedly prowled the protest with a gun. Videos captured him fraternizing with law enforcement and attempting to get their attention.
By the end of the evening, he was considered a fugitive on the run. He was arrested Wednesday morning in Antioch, Illinois, and is expected to be extradited to Wisconsin to face charges of first-degree intentional homicide.
A Trump campaign spokesperson said, "This individual had nothing to do with our campaign."
[Another purposeful lie! He was a totally-predictable product of your campaign of hate, fear and self-entitlement!]
Facebook chose not to act on militia complaints before Kenosha shooting. (Verge, August 26, 2020)
In the wake of an apparent double murder Tuesday night in Kenosha, Facebook has faced a wave of scrutiny over posts by a self-proclaimed militia group called Kenosha Guard, which issued a “call to arms” to in advance of the protest. Facebook took down Kenosha Guard’s Facebook page Wednesday morning, identifying the posts as violating community standards.
But while the accounts were ultimately removed, new evidence suggests the platform had ample warning about the account before the shooting brought the group to prominence. At least two separate Facebook users reported the account for inciting violence prior to the shooting. In each case, the group and its counter-protest event were examined by Facebook moderators and found not to be in violation of the platform’s policies.
17-year-old charged with homicide after shooting during Kenosha protests. (2-min. video; Washington Post, August 26, 2020)
Police in Antioch, Ill., about 20 miles west of Kenosha, said they had arrested 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse and described him as a suspect in the incident. They said Rittenhouse, an Antioch resident, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Wisconsin, but they did not specify whether he was being charged in one fatal shooting or both. A police complaint filed in Lake County, Ill., by the Antioch police described him as a fugitive, saying that Rittenhouse had been charged with homicide in Wisconsin and fled “with the intent to avoid prosecution for that offense.” According to minutes from a hearing on Wednesday, he was held without bond, and a hearing Friday will deal with his potential extradition to Wisconsin.
Lies, Lies and More Lies (People for the American Way, August 26, 2020)
As we head into Night 3 of Trump's Republican National Convention, we had to make sure you saw our Night 1 and Night 2 recaps of the GOP's festival of lies and bigotry.
The Lie at the Heart of Melania’s Speech (The Atlantic, August 26, 2020)
The first lady lamented the divides that her husband foments and exploits, and that she herself has done little to overcome.
A bunch of false claims on RNC night 2, fact checker says. (5-min. video; CNN, August 26, 2020)
The Platform the GOP Is Too Scared to Publish (The Atlantic, August 26, 2020)
Republicans have decided not to publish a party platform for 2020. This omission has led some to conclude that the GOP lacks ideas, that it stands for nothing, that it has shriveled to little more than a Trump cult.
This conclusion is wrong. The Republican Party of 2020 has lots of ideas. I’m about to list 13 ideas that command almost universal assent within the Trump administration, within the Republican caucuses of the U.S. House and Senate, among governors and state legislators, on Fox News, and among rank-and-file Republicans. Once you read the list, I think you’ll agree that these are authentic ideas with meaningful policy consequences, and that they are broadly shared. The question is not why Republicans lack a coherent platform; it’s why they’re so reluctant to publish the one on which they’re running.
Emily Dickinson is the unlikely hero of our time. (The Conversation, August 26, 2020)
Since her death in 1886, Emily Dickinson has haunted us in many forms. She has been the precocious “little dead girl” admired by distinguished men; the white-clad, solitary spinster languishing alone in her bedroom; and, in more recent interpretations, the rebellious teenager bent on smashing structures of power with her torrential genius.
As the world continues to endure the ravages of COVID-19, another ghost of Dickinson steps into view. This one, about 40 years old, seems by turns vulnerable and formidable, reclusive and forward. She carries the dead weight of crises beyond her control, but remains unbowed by it.
Dr. ‘Coronavirus Hunter’ Ralph Baric: Preparing Us for a Pandemic? Or Putting Us in Peril of One? (Organic Consumers Assn., August 26, 2020)
Ostensibly, the research Baric and Zhengli conduct is intended to help scientists get ahead of any coronavirus that might have the potential to emerge as a human pathogen. However, there is little evidence that this research has prepared us to meet the challenges of the current COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, there are suspicions that the research may have caused the virus.
Genetic data show how a single superspreading event sent coronavirus across Massachusetts — and the nation. (4-min. video; Washington Post, August 25, 2020)
The emerging field of genomic sequencing provides critical information into how the virus spreads.
Even though most tests work by detecting viral RNA in swabs from patients’ airways, those samples are rarely studied further once doctors get a diagnosis. Of the 5.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, scientists have sequenced the genomes for about 19,008, according to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID), the widely used international genome database. That’s roughly 0.33 percent of the nation’s epidemic.
“If you’re spending whatever money large organizations seem to be putting into large-scale testing, throwing away that very same extracted [RNA] that could tell you about how cases are connected within your organization or within communities is just throwing away the crown jewels of what you really want to know.”
Suppose four students at an elementary school became sick. If genetic analysis showed they shared a common strain, the virus was most likely transmitted at school, suggesting the facility should close or at least conduct a thorough review of infection-control procedures. But if the infections were genetically unrelated, it’s likely they independently contracted the illness elsewhere, in which case the students should stay home but the school could remain open. It’s not testing that can answer that question. It’s having genomic data to tell you whether they appear to be connected.
But individual scientists and the National Academies alike say that the United States currently lacks the resources to carry out surveillance in a comprehensive way. Other countries have devoted millions of dollars to sequencing a representative sample of cases, producing a comprehensive picture of their national outbreaks. In the United States, meanwhile, genetic investigations have been led largely by individual institutions or small regional coalitions like the one in Boston. The resulting genetic portrait is patchy.
A Massive Earthquake Is Coming to Cascadia—And It Can’t Be Stopped. (Atlas Obscura, August 25, 2020)
But it can be anticipated and mitigated. Meet four guardians of the Pacific Northwest.
Trump Courts Minorities With Convention Stunts Despite Long History Of Stoking Racism. (Huffington Post, August 25, 2020)
His policies harm people of color, but he used their stories as political props at this week’s Republican National Convention.
President Donald Trump’s surprise pardon of a Black man and his staging of a naturalization ceremony as the Republican National Convention kicked off its second night on Tuesday was aimed at bolstering his image as someone who isn’t hostile to people of color.
But the narrative spun at the GOP convention this week of an inclusive president ― beginning with testimonials from prominent African American politicians and athletes who spoke Monday ― is sharply contradicted by Trump’s long history of stoking racism and his attempts to scare white people about Black “mobs” and crime.
The man pardoned Tuesday, Jon Ponder, was convicted of robbing a bank in Nevada and now runs a nonprofit helping released prisoners reenter society. His story is a compelling one, and there’s nothing necessarily controversial about his receiving a pardon. But Trump’s decision to use the powers of his office at a political event for expressly political purposes was a first in convention history, eliciting accusations of ethical violations and abuse of power. “This is way beyond ‘norm-breaking,’” Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a progressive advocacy group, said in a statement. “Trump is hijacking the government that belongs to ‘We the People’ to further his own personal ends. He is sabotaging and threatening the very existence of our constitutional democracy. For Trump fans who might brush this off, just imagine your reaction if Obama had done something comparable.”
Joe Biden has three words for all of us aghast at the Trump sh*tshow. (Daily Kos, August 25, 2020)
It’s difficult to settle on which is worse: the fact that one of the two major political parties in this country has willfully abandoned its powers of critical thought, or the fact that so many millions of Americans have chosen to follow that party as it leaps off the cliff, into an abyss of ignorance.
Watching a convention made of up venal sycophants and self-interested grifters like those put on display Monday (and now Tuesday) night is to painfully bear witness to just how degraded we have allowed this nation to become, in such a short period of time.
Witnessing our fellow Americans succumb to the cult of personality that Donald Trump has spun around himself, as he has scurried about, collecting in his web some of the worst human specimens this country has produced — people with no sense of moral obligation towards the nation, people who countenance the betrayal of the country’s founding principles, people willing and almost desperately eager to believe any lie, no matter how outrageous or self-destructive -- is a dispiriting experience, to say the least.
So as Trump’s sh*tshow of indecency continues tonight, just remember that we all have work to do. Donate, call, write, contribute your time and energy towards getting out the vote (voting starts in just a few weeks, you know). Don’t be distracted by this garbage convention or its garbage people. It’s intended to demoralize us, but if anything it really should strengthen our resolve to kick these people out of office for good.
As Vice President Biden says, “Just stay focused.”
'Parade of dishonesty:' GOP convention night 1 fact check (11-min. video; CNN, August 25, 2020)
BLM protester shot in face by Pennsylvania man during march from Milwaukee to D.C. (Daily Kos, August 25, 2020)
On the same night Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee featured Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who gained viral fame for pointing guns and threatening peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters as they walked past the couple’s St. Louis home, another man was drawing his gun on Black Lives Matter protesters walking from Milwaukee to Washington, D.C. to draw attention to racial injustice. Unlike the McCloskeys, this Pennsylvania man fired his rifle.
On Tuesday afternoon Pennsylvania State Police and Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childer-Potts held a press conference saying they were investigating and “gunfire was exchanged.” They said a call came in to police that a group was in the parking lot of a business and refused to leave, leading to the shooting. If you watch the live video, no confrontation or argument was heard until shots suddenly rang out.
Furthermore, after being questioned by members of the media, neither the police nor the prosecutor would confirm whether protesters shot back, something that seemed to be insinuated in the previous statement. They merely said both guns had been recovered and the investigation was ongoing. A reporter specifically questioned their caginess on who exactly was shooting and whether it is possible both guns came from the two men seen in the video. Childer-Potts said: “At this point, answering that question would be purely speculation. I am not willing to make a determination at this point based upon the information that we are certain of. And it would be inappropriate to make a determination or a prosecutorial decision with the information we have at this point.”
Both of the men were released and no charges have been filed.
Milwaukee activists marching to D.C. endure slurs, arrests, gunfire but remain undeterred. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 25, 2020)
The group began the 750-plus mile trek from Caledonia on Aug. 4 in the hope of arriving in the nation's capital by Friday — the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Both Lowe and fellow march leader Frank "Nitty" Sensabaugh have been invited to speak at the Rev. Al Sharpton's "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march Friday at the Lincoln Memorial.
The marchers have been slowed by encounters with police and residents. Lowe and Sensabaugh were arrested in Indiana two weeks ago after police said the group was blocking traffic, and Monday night a man in rural Pennsylvania apparently shot one of the marchers. The man who was shot is a Milwaukee resident and goes by the name Cino, Lowe said. He was sprayed with bird shot and was struck in his face and side.
As some members of the group climbed the hill to see how steep it was, the son emerged from a home at the top of the hill and began shooting. The man was about half a block away when he started firing his shotgun indiscriminately and yelling to "get the (expletive) out of here," Lowe said. The man also called the group the n-word, according to Lowe. "They came out blazing," Lowe said. Cino was struck. Then the man, bearing his weapon, blocked the driver's side door of a vehicle driven by a Milwaukee minister traveling with the group. Lowe said he approached the man to try to de-escalate the situation. Lowe told the man, "he's a minister, you going to shoot a minister?" before the man backed off.
State police said "gunfire was exchanged" around 11:35 p.m. Monday, before police arrived. But in an afternoon news conference, Clark and Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts would not clarify who fired shots first, or if anyone from the group of marchers fired a gun at all. Reporters at the news conference pressed Clark and Childers-Potts on the term "exchange" of gunfire because it suggests someone from the group fired as well. They refused to provide any clarifying information. Shotgun shells, a semi-automatic pistol and 9mm casings were recovered from the scene, police said. This indicates that at least two guns were involved. Clark and Childers-Potts would not say who owned the pistol.
The two Pennsylvania men were being questioned by state police investigators Tuesday morning. No one was in custody as of Tuesday afternoon and no charges had been filed.
Were these the three hours that upset Trump’s campaign? (BBC News, August 25, 2020)
There have probably been worse days - having to fire his first national security adviser, discovering that his then attorney general had recused himself from the Russia investigation, finding out that a whistleblower had complained about his call to the president of Ukraine, that set in train the impeachment proceedings. And then there was the badge of dishonour of becoming only the third US president to be impeached. The disclosure that he’d paid off a porn star $130,000 (£100,000) before the election was embarrassing and difficult personally.
But the better days of the Trump presidency were to be the building blocks of his re-election campaign, and what his advisers had started to believe would set him on a glide path to victory. And in a word, this all came down to one thing - the economy. The best days were when the president would sign a new executive order that would strip away this or that piece of Obama-era regulatory red tape that inhibited business from developing and growing.
Trump would look at the dizzying rise of the Dow and the Nasdaq, and tweet approvingly. Perhaps the best day of all came with the legislative victory to reform and simplify America’s arcane tax code. It was a big win. As 2019 became 2020, everything seemed to be set fair on the economic front. Nothing on the dashboard was flashing red, and the engine was purring - unemployment was at a record low, growth was ticking upwards, inflation was not a problem, consumer confidence was on the rise. When the Senate voted not to convict him early in 2020, after he’d been impeached by the lower house, the last remaining obstacle to an improbable second term seemed to have been removed.
That all changed when the coronavirus outbreak took hold and the heartbreaking decision had to be taken by Donald Trump to shutter the economy. Every day of the shutdown, the president was looking at ways to reopen, and to reinstate the election strategy built around the economic success story he wanted to impress upon the American people.
That is what made Tulsa such a consequential day. Because this would be the day when the president would pivot away from the virus and go back to the strong economy election playbook. He was excited about it. His wealthy business friends had been urging him to embrace this moment.
But this day would show the limits of Donald Trump’s power in the face of an enemy, the likes of which he had never encountered before. It was a day which changed the direction of his presidency.
RNC Speaker Cancelled After Boosting QAnon Conspiracy Theory About Jewish Plot to Enslave the World. (Daily Beast, August 25, 2020)
“Do yourself a favor and read this thread,” Mary Ann Mendoza, who is a member of the Trump campaign’s advisory board, tweeted to her more than 40,000 followers Tuesday morning. Mendoza, an “angel mom,” was scheduled to speak Tuesday about her son’s 2014 death at the hands of a drunk driver who was in the country illegally. But a Republican source familiar with the programming said the speech had been cancelled amid uproar over her tweet.
Hours earlier, Mendoza had linked to a lengthy thread from a QAnon conspiracy theorist that laid out a fevered, anti-Semitic view of the world. In its telling, the Rothschilds—a famous Jewish banking family from Germany—created a plot to terrorize non-Jewish “goyim,” with purported details of their scheme that included plans to “make the goyim destroy each other” and “rob the goyim of their landed properties.” Drawing on more than a century’s worth of anti-Semitic hoaxes and smears, the thread claimed that malevolent Jewish forces in the banking industry are out to enslave non-Jews and promote world wars. Riddled with QAnon references, the thread from Twitter user @WarNuse claimed that the Titanic had been sunk to protect the Federal Reserve, and that every president between John F. Kennedy and Donald Trump was a “slave president” in the thrall of a global cabal. The thread also promoted “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic hoax popular in Nazi Germany, and claimed that its allegations about a Jewish plot to control the world are real.
Though her speech was cancelled, the Mendoza episode is just the latest example of a convention speaker with a checkered background. As the Republican festivities enter their second night, several scheduled speakers have already been exposed for holding bizarre beliefs. Public school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, who spoke at the convention on Monday, has claimed that public schools use their curricula to “groom” children for sexual predators like Jeffrey Epstein. On Tuesday, Vice reported that anti-abortion activist and convention speaker Abby Johnson praised the idea of police racially profiling her biracial son as “smart.”
On eve of suffrage centennial milestone, RNC to feature speaker supporting policies barring women from voting. (The 19th, August 25, 2020)
Anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson has advocated for a head-of-household voting system that has historically barred women and people of color from casting ballots.
Fascism: Republicans declare their only policy stance to be 'strong support' for Donald Trump. (Daily Kos, August 25, 2020)
It is literally impossible for the party to write down, on paper, a list of policy stances it intends to take when each and every stance might be summarily erased by the buffoonish Donald Trump declaring on camera that actually he strongly believes the opposite thing—upon which declaration Republican lawmakers will immediately fall in line to declare that they, too, support the new thing and not the old thing. It would be a recipe for future humiliation, nothing more.
It only stands to reason, then, that the party would choose to abandon policy stances to instead declare that they are now officially for whatever Donald Trump says on any given day.
The newest statement of apathetic party fascism (which is peppered throughout with complaints about the media being mean and dishonest, because of course it is) claims that while a "small contingent" of pandemic-braving delegates cannot properly convey the "breadth of perspectives" within the Republican Party, it has zero qualms about having a small contingent of delegates declare what the party is for: "WHEREAS, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump," declares the party, "RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda." And that's it. That's the only policy stance. From now on, it is resolved that whatever the rapist, international extortionist, and tax cheat determines to be his next and newest policy decision, we unanimously agree that we think that too. And if it involves a pool boy, we're going to support that too.
The fealty isn't funny, though, because it is a genuine threat. The fealty has included the United States Senate blocking investigations into some criminal acts and abetting others. It includes the Department of Justice doing the same, and making no particular effort to hide that it is doing so. It includes having trade wars on a whim, insulting allies for a momentary thrill, and systemically undermining the free press day in and day out in an effort to damage the ability of the public to even differentiate between fact and convenient fiction. The fealty has, now, a running death count.
To be sure, they are all incompetent. To be sure, they have purged the party of anyone who does not consider lead paint a condiment. The extent to which the convention is a haphazard wreck is already evident from Trump's first-day takeover and ramblefest, premised on no greater strategy than that he felt like it. But the internal destruction of the party of greed and racism isn't even something that its enemies can celebrate, because they managed to glide effortlessly into fascism, the only agenda that would be worse.
Republican convention draws 15.9 million TV viewers, down 28% from 2016. (Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2020)
The audience figure from Nielsen was also below the opening night of last week’s Democratic National Convention which averaged 18.7 million viewers over the three major English language broadcast networks and three leading cable news channels. The audience for the Democrats on the first night of their convention was also down about 28% from 2016.
With additional channels added, the final total was 19.7 million for the Democrats on Aug. 17. A total for coverage of the Republicans’ proceedings on Monday will be issued later today.
Paul Krugman: Republicans, businesspeople, and other bad economists (New York Times, August 25, 2020)
The U.S. economy just experienced the worst slump in its history. It has partially bounced back, but employment and output are still far lower than they were at the beginning of the year. Furthermore, early data suggest that the partial recovery has slowed if not stalled, and there will be widespread distress soon as expanded unemployment benefits run out.
Yet Donald Trump still, according to most surveys, has a net positive rating on the economy. How is that possible?
We'll be stuck in this economic slump for years, economists say. (CNN, August 24, 2020)
About half of the National Association of Business Economics members expect US gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the economy — won't return to its pre-pandemic level until 2022. A majority of those experts also say the US job market will be back to its February level in 2022 at the earliest.
Nearly 80% say there is a one-in-four chance of a double-dip recession -- an economic downturn that begins to recover and worsens again before fully recovering.
NEW: Robert Reich on how billionaires are profiteering off the pandemic (Salon, August 24, 2020)
In the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, billionaires are doing better than ever.
NEW: Climate Is Taking On a Growing Role for Voters, Research Suggests. (New York Times, August 24, 2020)
Concern about global warming is steady despite other crises, a survey found, and the number of voters who are deeply engaged on the issue is rising sharply.
Biden unveils endorsements from a long list of Republicans as Republican convention kicks off. (Daily Kos, August 24, 2020)
Michael Cohen stars in new anti-Trump attack ad — to run during RNC Convention. (2-min. video; Raw Story, August 24, 2020)
With His Tell-All On Deck, Michael Cohen Is Plotting Anti-Trump Ads for Democrats. (Vanity Fair, August 24, 2020)
After throwing his own manuscript into the Passover flames at Otisville to prevent leaks, the president’s ex-lawyer is dropping hints about his tell-all, partnering with a Democratic PAC during the RNC, and gearing up for a potential legal slugfest with Eric and Don Jr.
Bernie Sanders: Trump Claims He Will Only Lose If Election Is 'Rigged'. (4-min. video; YouTube, August 24, 2020)
This is not just an election on the issues. This is an election on the future of American democracy.
Business partner of Falwells says affair with evangelical power couple spanned seven years. (Reuters, August 24, 2020)
Russian Media Turns to QAnon Conspiracies to Help Re-Elect Trump. (Daily Beast, August 24, 2020)
Russia is using the unhinged QAnon playbook to boost the president who they believe will pay them back if he’s re-elected.
As the presidential election in the United States draws closer, Putin’s Russia is paying close attention. Pro-Kremlin talking heads on Russian state television are discussing events in America with an air of both profound interest and deep understanding, treating electoral turmoil abroad as a real-life game of The Sims. In Moscow, President Trump’s potential re-election is still considered the sole beneficial outcome, and the expectations are high.
Having experienced a windfall of geopolitical freebies from the Trump administration, analysts and military experts on Russian state television anticipate that if he is re-elected, Trump will finally pay out like a slot machine. They foresee the removal of sanctions; the restoration of shuttered Russian consulates in the U.S.; and even the recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “[Trump] won’t be tied down by Russiagate in his second term, he will no longer be shackled,” said political scientist Vladimir Kornilov, appearing on Russian state TV show 60 Minutes. “So we’re electing Trump again,” surmised the host of the program, Evgeny Popov.
In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, what should you say to someone who refuses to wear a mask? A philosopher weighs in. (The Conversation, August 24, 2020)
Because a significant majority of Americans do wear masks, and because of its importance in protecting public health, mask-wearing has become a social standard connected to shame. In response, epidemiologist Julia Marcus has recently cautioned that it is not effective to shame people who do not wear masks. Instead, she proposed approaching anti-maskers with empathy.
To see the ethical importance of Marcus’ suggestion, consider another finding from a Gallup poll: While most groups do report always or often wearing masks in public, that is not true for Republicans. Over 50% of Republicans say they never, rarely, or only sometimes do. Similarly, other studies have found sharp regional differences in mask-wearing. A Republican whose social group sees wearing a mask as shameful faces a dilemma of dignity. For example, a sheriff in Washington state told a cheering crowd that he would not enforce the state’s mask mandate. His advice was: “Don’t be a sheep.” Similarly, psychologist Peter Glick has suggested that wearing a mask is seen by some groups as “unmanly” because it appears to them as a weakness.
People in such communities are subject to anti-mask standards, even as their larger society’s standards require masks. Their dignity is therefore in a precarious position. Ethically speaking, then, any respectful engagement with them calls for a recognition of that fact, not a blunt attempt at persuasion.
Appreciating this ethical challenge could also help those who are seeking to persuade anti-maskers. They might need to offer anti-maskers some way of maintaining their dignity in their anti-mask social groups while wearing a mask in other settings. For example, they might find examples of conservatives, including President Trump, who wear a mask in some contexts but not others. After all, even small efforts in mask-wearing can save lives.
First Documented Coronavirus Reinfection Reported in Hong Kong. (New York Times, August 24, 2020)
The patient did mount an immune response to the new infection, however, and did not experience symptoms.
NEW: Exclusive: Fauci says rushing out a vaccine could jeopardize testing of others. (Reuters, August 24, 2020)
The top U.S. infectious diseases expert is warning that distributing a COVID-19 vaccine under special emergency use guidelines before it has been proved safe and effective in large trials is a bad idea that could have a chilling effect on the testing of other vaccines.
What's it Like to be in Immigration Lockup During a Pandemic? (ACLU, August 24, 2020)
In the 1980s, fewer than 2,000 people were locked up in an immigration detention facility on an average day in America. Since then, that number has skyrocketed, quadrupling from 7,475 to 32,985 people detained by ICE per day between 1995 and 2016. Under the administration of President Donald Trump, the numbers have shot up even higher — at one point last year, a staggering 56,000 people were behind bars each night in an ICE detention facility. When asylum-seekers and other migrants in Customs and Border Protection facilities are included, the total figure rises to nearly 80,000 people detained by the U.S. government per day.
This explosive growth of the U.S. immigration detention system tracks the rise of mass incarceration in America, prompted by punitive legislation passed by Congress in the mid-1990s around the same time as the infamous “crime bill,” and later through a massive post-9/11 expansion. Since then, the number of detained immigrants in the U.S. has grown nearly every year under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Now, it’s a sprawling prison system, with 40 new immigration detention centers opening their doors just since the beginning of the Trump presidency alone.
For immigrants caught in this system, life is often a nightmare of rampant medical neglect, overuse of solitary confinement, sexual abuse, excessive use of force, arbitrary transfers to other facilities across the country, unreasonably high bond costs, and long periods spent away from family members and loved ones.
The COVID-19 crisis pulled the curtain back once again on the abuse and neglect that is deeply embedded in these detention facilities. While the rest of the country hunkered down in their homes, immigrants in detention have been forced to confront the pandemic in cramped conditions without adequate cleaning protocols or in some cases even basic sanitation supplies like soap. Guards have violently retaliated against immigrants protesting those conditions, and ICE has resisted efforts to secure their release for public health reasons.
Protesters accuse Tampa officers of harassment, renew call for police chief to be fired. (Tampa Bay Times, August 24, 2020)
The group accused officers of harassing them while also failing to act when they were attacked. They also reiterated their demands to oust Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan.
Judge strikes down Florida's schools reopening order as unconstitutional. (Tallahassee FL Democrat, August 24, 2020)
Circuit Judge Charles Dodson granted a request for a court order to bar enforcement of the directive from Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. Dodson wrote that schools should “reopen when the local decision-makers determine” it's safe to do so after the advice of medical experts. And that should happen without the threat of a financial penalty from the state affecting the decision.
FEA President Federick Ingram said that was all the teachers had asked for: To let the decision be made by local elected officials and health experts. “The Court simply stated the obvious: Schools should reopen when the local decision makers determine upon the advice of local health experts that it is safe to do,” Ingram said.
Major Trump federal voting Pennsylvania lawsuit effectively shut down. (CNN, August 23, 2020)
It's a setback for Republicans where there are several ongoing cases that could determine how the battleground state's voters cast ballots this election. Ranjan was appointed by Trump, and the federal courts in some instances can be considered friendlier to conservative interests. "After carefully considering the arguments raised by the parties, the Court finds that the appropriate course is abstention, at least for the time being. In other words, the Court will apply the brakes to this lawsuit, and allow the Pennsylvania state courts to weigh in and interpret the state statutes that undergird Plaintiffs' federal- constitutional claims," Ranjan wrote Sunday. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states where Trump has sued to make mail-in voting tougher, making this case a closely watched one.
More than 500,000 mail ballots were rejected in the primaries. That could make the difference in battleground states this fall. (Washington Post, August 23, 2020)
Will Bunch: QAnon giving America a scary look at what a ‘Biden resistance’ would look like in 2021. (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 23, 2020)
What TV viewers and local news readers didn’t learn is that the “Freedom for the Children” rallies were tightly interwoven with the bat-guano crazy conspiracy theory called QAnon, which posits (among other things) that top Democrats and government officials are part of a massive child sex ring that Trump is on a divine mission to destroy.
Chuck Todd exposes Trump lie about saving the country and shows him unhinged. (See the first 6 minutes of this video; NBC, August 23, 2020)
‘It’s a hate group’: Chris Wallace sends Trump aide Mark Meadows into hysterics with QAnon question. (Raw Story, August 23, 2020)
Hurricane warnings issued as Gulf Coast prepares for back-to-back strikes from Marco and Laura. (3 videos, maps and more; Washington Post, August 23, 2020)
Louisiana could see an unprecedented two storm landfalls in three days: Marco striking Monday and the more formidable Laura late Wednesday.
Five named tropical systems have made landfall along U.S. shores in 2020. If Laura and Marco follow suit, as forecast, 2020 will break the record for the most continental U.S. landfalls in a single year. If Laura and Marco churn through the Gulf of Mexico simultaneously, it will mark just the third time on record that two storms coexisted there. The other two times were in September 1933 and June 1959, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. If both storms manage to become hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time, it would be a first.
Where are California wildfires burning? 1 million acres burn in week; Trump OKs federal aid. (San Francisco Bee, updated August 23, 2020)
Northern California’s week of wildfire has been an “unparalleled catastrophe,” but the worst could arrive from the skies Sunday.
Firefighters and aircraft from 10 states began arriving in California to help weary crews battling some of the largest blazes in state history as weekend weather threatened to renew the advance of flames that have killed six people and incinerated hundreds of homes. One million acres (about 1,560 square miles) up and down the state have been burned in a week, destroying dozens of structures and pumping out unhealthy smoke and ash across Northern and Central California, including the capital region.
The two largest blazes, the LNU Lightning Complex in the North Bay and the SCU Lightning Complex east of San Jose, each surpassed 290,000 acres by Saturday morning. LNU became the second-largest in state history by Friday night, and SCU is now the third-largest fire in state history. Most of the largest fires by size in modern California have occurred in the past three years.
Despite recent sniping, President Donald Trump has been sending federal money to help the efforts, Newsom said. He added the two leaders have a good working relationship: “There’s not a phone call that I have made to the president where he hasn’t quickly responded. He may make statements publicly, but the working relationship privately is an effective one.” On Saturday, Trump declared the fires a major disaster, freeing up federal aid for Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties.
Trump issues disaster declaration for California as wildfires rage. (The Hill, August 22, 2020)
Al Sharpton's Memo to Trump: 'You Made A Low-Effort, Empty Gesture In A Shallow Attempt To Pander To Women.' (4-min. video; MSNBC, August 22, 2020)
Rev. Al Sharpton reacts to the posthumous pardon of suffragist Susan B. Anthony. The president has pardoned the suffragist in hopes to salvage support among female voters.
Actor Sean Penn calls White House coronavirus testing czar a 'flat-out liar and incompetent pawn'. (The Hill, August 22, 2020)
Penn is the founder of the organization Community Organized Relief Effort, or CORE, which has partnered with community groups and local governments to administer over a million COVID-19 tests, according to its website. “I don't have faith in giving advice to the White House testing czar or to the President of the United States. The former is a flat-out liar and an incompetent pawn. I'm telling you this not as a Democrat or a lefty. I'm telling you this as somebody who sees it every day," Penn continued.
NEW: Senate Russia report proves Trump collusion was very real. But do voters care? (NBC News, August 22, 2020)
Trump and Biden's contrasting positions on Russian interference in American elections are clear. Whether voters care about these differences, however, is not as obvious.
Trump's sister says president 'has no principles', lies in secretly recorded audio. (The Hill, August 22, 2020)
Full of rage and spite, Trump ordered FEMA to withhold funds from California wildfire victims. (w/links to video and more; Daily Kos, August 22, 2020)
Climate change denier Donald Trump has been credibly accused by Miles Taylor, his former DHS Chief of Staff, of ordering FEMA to withhold funds for California climate change victims during the aftermath of deadly wildfires in 2018.
The personification of cruelty, Trump reiterated the same threat to the state of forty million people once again on Thursday as wildfires raged in the Bay area. He referenced his same ding dong logic he had used in 2018 that California has “many years of leaves and broken trees.” Has anyone reminded him about the ecology, hydrology, carbon sink, and critical food chain of our pine forests?
Clearly, Trump is unable to recognize the horrifying consequences of humanity’s failure to rein in greenhouse gas emissions that heat the earth. The problem is much deeper than ignorance. He has a habit of punishing blue America when they suffer natural disasters (exhibit A: Puerto Rico) and he is a despicable and vile climate science denier. And, because of his incompetence, people in evacuation centers are now vulnerable to exposure to the coronavirus.
Could Kamala Harris transform law enforcement as the vice president? (The Hill, August 22, 2020)
Asked if he could foresee his administration prosecuting Trump, Biden correctly said, “The Justice Department is not the president’s private law firm. The attorney general is not the president’s private lawyer. I will not interfere with the Justice Department’s judgment.” That is the correct answer and, to his credit, Biden has tended to emphasize legal process over politics.
The concern, however, is whether his administration’s Justice Department would be shaped by Harris or led by Yates.
3 reasons small businesses choose open source tools for remote employees. (Open Source/Red Hat, August 22, 2020)
There are plenty of open source operations tools available if you lack the budget for premium software; here's how to evaluate your options.
The S&P 500′s return to a record doesn’t tell the full story with 60% of stocks still with losses. (CNBC, August 22, 2020)
We Have Crossed the Line Debt Hawks Warned Us About for Decades. (New York Times, August 21, 2020)
Economists and deficit hawks have warned for decades that the United States was borrowing too much money. The federal debt was ballooning so fast, they said, that economic ruin was inevitable: Interest rates would skyrocket, taxes would rise and inflation would probably run wild. The death spiral could be triggered once the debt surpassed the size of the U.S. economy — a turning point that arrived sometime before the end of June. The coronavirus pandemic, and the economic collapse that followed, unleashed a historic run of government borrowing: trillions of dollars for stimulus payments, unemployment insurance expansions, and loans to prop up small businesses and to keep big companies afloat.
At the end of last year, the United States was about $17 trillion in debt — roughly 80 percent of the gross domestic product. In January, government analysts predicted that debt would approach 100 percent of the G.D.P. around 2030. But by the end of June, the debt stood at $20.53 trillion, or roughly 106 percent of G.D.P., which shrank amid widespread stay-at-home orders. (These numbers don’t count trillions more the government owes itself in bonds held by the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.) That more than 25 percentage-point surge would represent the largest annual leap in American indebtedness since Alexander Hamilton founded the nation’s credit in the 1790s, outpacing even the debt growth at the peak of World War II, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office.
But the economy hasn’t drowned in the flood of red ink — and there’s a growing sense that the country could take on even more without any serious consequences.
“At this stage, I think, nobody is very worried about debt,” said Olivier Blanchard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. “It’s clear that we can probably go where we are going, which is debt ratios above 100 percent in many countries. And that’s not the end of the world.” That nonchalant attitude toward what were once thought to be major breaking points reflects an evolution in the way investors, economists and central bankers think about government debt.
Here’s who is paying the nearly $300 billion for your stimulus checks. (4-min. video; CNBC, August 21, 2020)
[Or, why money no longer buys what it used to buy.]
Why Does California Have So Many Wildfires? (New York Times, August 21, 2020)
There are four key ingredients to the disastrous wildfire seasons in the West, and climate change figures prominently. The effects of the greenhouse gases humans produce underlie everything that occurs in the atmosphere, and the tendency of climate change to make dry places more dry over time is a warning to the West of a fiery future.
Why Apple's antitrust fight could spell the end of iOS as we know it (ZDNet, August 21, 2020)
While both Apple and Google are in US and EU crosshairs, Apple is in a far more precarious position. Are iOS users ready for the pros and cons of opening Pandora's app box?
NEW: How Alexei Navalny revolutionized opposition politics in Russia, before his apparent poisoning (50-min. video w/English subtitles; The Conversation, August 21, 2020)
Former Green Beret charged with spying for Russia. (Washington Post, August 21, 2020)
After leaving the Army, Peter Debbins moved to Washington and worked at Fort Meade as a Russian analyst, he said in a 2018 alumni profile for the Institute of World Politics, where he was an instructor.
[NOT mentioned, but of interest: Erik Prince & Postmaster General Louis Dejoy's wife are trustees at the Institute of World Politics. Erik Prince knew Peter Debbins; they attended a dinner together in New York as guests of Foster Friess. Sebastian Gorka, is also an instructor at the Institute of World Politics.]
Fertility app’s data sharing with Chinese companies raises privacy concerns, researchers say. (Washington Post, August 21, 2020)
The popular app, which consistently ranks among the top search results for fertility apps in both the Apple App and Google Play stores, asks users to upload details about their sexual health to receive personalized, remote analysis to help predict how to get pregnant.
But its app for Android was also collecting a broad swath of data about its users and sharing it without their permission with three Chinese companies focused on advertising.
They Knew who Trump Really Was All Along. Conservatives in their own words. (2-min. video; Act.TV, August 21, 2020)
All these conservatives knew who Trump really was all along: Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pompeo, Glenn Beck, Rick Perry, Susan Collins.
They called him these things: liar, narcissist, race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot, mean-spiritedness, con artist, orange-faced windbag, kook, unfit for office, and MORE.
Joe’s Fearsome Weapon Against Trump: Simple Decency (New York Times, August 21, 2020)
Through all of his travails and disappointments — as he went from being a cocky 29-year-old senator-elect to a chastened 72-year-old vice president pushed aside for Hillary Clinton — Joe Biden never lost his passion for the American ideal that anything is possible if you work hard enough and dream big enough. And that is how he cast his vision for America — in mythic terms of light and darkness, empathy and cruelty, decency and despicability. Never naming Donald Trump in his speech, Biden vowed to be “an ally of the light, not of the darkness,” and to help us “overcome this season of darkness in America.”
Fact-check: DeJoy said USPS isn't changing policies for election mail. Internal documents show they were going to. (CNN, August 21, 2020)
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy claimed Friday that USPS hasn't changed election mail policies ahead of the 2020 election, but documents obtained by CNN show that USPS planned to implement a drastic policy change for election mail after DeJoy took over, though that change has since been reversed.
Documents obtained by CNN, dated mid-August show that USPS was planning to treat election mail differently this year. In years past, as a courtesy, USPS often treated election mail as first-class mail, regardless of the postage put on it. First-class mail gets moved significantly faster than regular mail -- if ballots don't get that priority this year, it could result in late ballots and possible disenfranchisement for many voters. This year the USPS had planned on treating election mail as first-class only if it's marked first class, according to the documents, which were given to CNN by Don Cheney with the American Postal Workers Union Puget Sound Area Local 298. Election mail that was sent as "marketing mail" would not be delivered as quickly as first-class mail, a policy the document noted was "new."
Steve Bannon's indictment and arrest should worry Trump and his associates. (4-min. video: NBC News, August 21, 2020)
For someone who campaigned on a promise to "drain the swamp," Trump has shown uncommonly poor judgment in choosing associates. The arrest of Steve Bannon on fraud charges should alarm a number of people close to Donald Trump, including the president himself.
Bannon was arrested Thursday on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering along with three other men in what authorities said was a scheme to defraud donors funding Trump's proposed wall on the border with Mexico. Each of the two counts in the indictment carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. While sentencing guidelines would likely yield a lower sentence than that, a conviction based on the total amount of $25 million alleged to have been raised by the conspiracy could realistically lead prosecutors to ask for 11 to 14 years.
Most defense lawyers confronting such a serious situation will ask their clients whether they have any information they can trade in exchange for leniency. Defendants who can provide concrete assistance in the investigations of others can reduce their sentences substantially, although a defendant generally must also admit to his own crimes and plead guilty.
Bannon can control how history remembers him with the choices he makes now.
Steve Bannon Arrested on 150-Foot Yacht Owned by Chinese Billionaire Guo Wengui. (Heavy, August 20, 2020)
Stephen K. Bannon was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering on August 20, 2020. The former top advisor to President Donald Trump was on a 150-foot yacht (photos included) owned by Chinese Billionaire Guo Wengui when he was taken into custody by postal inspectors.
In addition to working closely with Trump’s former advisor, Wengui, who goes by the American name of Miles Kwok, is connected to the current administration through his membership at the president’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida, according to the Miami Herald. Wengui reportedly avoided being deported back to China after the Trump administration learned he was a Mar-a-Lago member.
Steve Bannon Is Charged With Fraud in We Build the Wall Campaign. (New York Times, August 20, 2020)
Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser and an architect of his 2016 general election campaign, was charged on Thursday with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort called We Build the Wall, which was intended to bolster the president’s signature initiative along the Mexican border. Mr. Bannon, working with a wounded Air Force veteran and a Florida venture capitalist, conspired to cheat hundreds of thousands of donors by falsely promising that their money had been set aside for new sections of wall, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Manhattan. The fund-raising effort collected more than $25 million, and prosecutors said Mr. Bannon used nearly $1-million of it for personal expenses.
Despite the populist aura he tries to project, Mr. Bannon is known to enjoy the high life, and he was arrested at 7:15 a.m. on a $35-million, 150-foot yacht belonging to one of his business associates, the fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, law enforcement officials said.
With the indictment, Mr. Bannon became the seventh Trump associate to have been charged with federal crimes, a list that includes Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager; Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser; and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s onetime lawyer and fixer.
At a brief arraignment on Thursday, Mr. Bannon, sunburned and his hair unbrushed, pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The government agreed to release him from custody on a $5-million bond.
Shortly after the charges were announced, Mr. Trump had sought to distance himself from Mr. Bannon and the fund-raising initiative, though the president also expressed sympathy for his former adviser. “I feel very badly,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “I haven’t been dealing with him for a very long period of time.” The president said he knew nothing about the multimillion-dollar We Build the Wall campaign but quickly contradicted himself. “I don’t like that project,” Mr. Trump said. “I thought it was being done for showboating reasons.” He called paying for the border wall privately “inappropriate.”
One of Mr. Trump’s sons, Donald Jr., publicly promoted the We Build the Wall effort at an event in 2019, calling it “private enterprise at its finest.”
Trump loses court ruling to squash subpoena for tax records. (ABC News, August 20, 2020)
The Manhattan DA's Office is seeking Trumps personal and business returns.
Trump administration bars FDA from regulating some laboratory tests, including for coronavirus. (Washington Post, August 20, 2020)
Some public health experts worry defective tests could end up on the market, but others cheer the change, saying it is long overdue.
NEW: Disinformation campaign stokes fears about mail voting, using LeBron James image and boosted by Trump-aligned group. (Washington Post, August 20, 2020)
FreedomWorks, the tax-exempt nonprofit that helped launch tea-party protests a decade ago and is now aligned with causes central to President Trump’s reelection, has extensively promoted the website behind the operation, and is the sole organization to do so, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analysis tool.
The website, called Protect My Vote, warns baselessly that mail balloting results in “lost votes and lost rights.” An associated page on Facebook has purchased more than 150 ads, which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times this month. They appear designed to tap existing anxiety about the integrity of the voting system to convince voters in swing states where minority turnout could be decisive that mail balloting is not reliable amid an uncontained pandemic leading many Americans to consider alternative ways to be heard on Election Day.
Trump says he will send law enforcement, US attorneys to polls in November to prevent fraud. (2-min. video; The Hill, August 20, 2020)
When asked by Fox News host Sean Hannity late Thursday night if the president was going to "have an ability" to monitor and avoid fraud during the upcoming November elections, Trump said, “We’re going to have everything. We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement. And we’re going to have hopefully U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody and attorney generals,” the president continued. “They may send them to all Democrat areas, not to the Republican areas as an example,” he added. “Could be the other way too, but I doubt it.”
The president once again criticized the practice of mail-in voting, alleging that “anybody can sign” the universal mail-in ballots, specifically naming the system in Nevada. “Nobody’s ever heard of anything like this,” he said.
In addition, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany would not say on Wednesday whether the president would accept the election results if he wasn’t declared the winner. Trump also told “Fox News Sunday” last month that he would wait to see the results before determining if he would accept them.  Trump told supporters this week “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
Paul Krugman: Stocks Are Soaring. So Is Misery. (New York Times, August 20, 2020)
Optimism about Apple’s future profits won’t pay this month’s rent.
NEW: A Russian dissident is fighting for his life. Where is the U.S.? (Washington Post, August 20, 2020)
Alexei Navalny holds the audacious belief that Russians should be able to choose their leaders in free, fair and competitive elections. That’s why he tried to run for president in 2018, but was denied a place on the ballot.
He believes that government officials should not use their power for personal enrichment. That’s why he operates one of the most important investigative media outlets in Russia.
He champions the idea that Russians should not be arrested unjustly. That’s why he organizes protests and gets arrested himself.
Navalny threatens autocracy in Russia. That’s why, in a most cruel and sinister act, the authorities sentenced his brother to three years in jail.
And that may be why Navalny has now, it would seem, been attacked again — apparently poisoned. He is lying unconscious, connected to a ventilator in an intensive care unit in a Siberian hospital.
President Trump has enthusiastically embraced Putin and excused his villainous ways. To the best of my knowledge, Trump has never praised, let alone met with, activists or opposition leaders in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. On hearing of Navalny’s hospitalization, all Trump could muster Thursday was “We haven’t seen it yet, we’re looking at it, and Mike [Pompeo]’s going to be reporting to me soon.” Not a word of concern, let alone outrage. In the clear divide between good and evil in Russia, Trump is on the wrong side.
American indifference to evil has consequences. It emboldens the villains and weakens the heroes. Sometimes presidents must say and do things — for example, to impose sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko for stealing an election in Belarus, to criticize Putin for aiding the Taliban, to signal solidarity with Navalny and offer assistance as European leaders have — not because these actions might be effective, but because they are right. In a world divided by good and evil, it’s time for America to get back on the right side.
A teenage Sesame Place worker told guests to wear a mask. One of them shattered his jaw instead, police say. (Washington Post, August 20, 2020)
On Wednesday, the U.S. Marshals Service and New York Police Department arrested the man suspected in the Aug. 9 assault at his home in the Bronx. Troy McCoy, 39, faces aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and other charges in the attack. His roommate, Shakerra Bonds, 31, has also been charged with simple assault and criminal conspiracy and has arranged to turn herself in.
The teenage employee, who hasn’t been named, had a tooth removed and needed double jaw surgery after the assault.
Workers around the U.S. have dealt with a spate of violent attacks as they try to enforce mandatory mask rules, from Trader Joe’s employees beaten by irate customers in New York to a Family Dollar security guard fatally shot in Michigan to a cigar store clerk in Pennsylvania fired at by a man who later blasted at police with an AK-47.
How to Move from Windows to Linux (Make Tech Easier, August 20, 2020)
After years of using Windows, you’re finally fed up with it and have decided to give Linux a try. Linux, though, is available through many different distributions. Which one should you choose? And will you be able to do everything in Linux that you did in Windows? Read on to find out how you can smoothly move from Windows to Linux!
Note: If you are still on the fence, not sure if you should switch to Linux from Windows, check out the commonly-asked questions and see if they answer your doubts.
California wildfires more than double in size and force, and degrade air quality; tens of thousands evacuate. (4-min. video; Washington Post, August 20, 2020)
Evacuations surged Thursday as authorities worried that high heat and gusty winds could cause the fires to spread rapidly. By midday, several of the major fires had more than doubled in size, in some cases jumping across major highways, as crews struggled to contain the blazes.
Many of the fires began days ago, as a heat wave and an unusual series of storms produced more than 20,000 lightning strikes. The resulting fires — and “complexes” of many small fires — have merged into major conflagrations in many parts of the state.
Officials have urged everyone in California to prepare a bag filled with a change of clothes and necessities, and to be ready to evacuate their homes on a moment’s notice.
This is just the beginning of the state’s wildfire season, something that has been a constant threat during the past four years of record-setting blazes, both for their breadth and their lethality. Despite the familiarity, the current fires and their speed and thick smoke have presented a new terror amid a global pandemic — poor air quality, concerns about evacuating masses of people to crowded shelters, and concerns that some might not heed the warnings. And the fires, spread across hundreds of miles, have presented an overwhelming challenge to the crews trying to battle them as California has issued a nationwide call for help.
The California Wildfires In Pictures (New York Times, August 19, 2020)
Wildfires burning throughout Northern California showed no signs of abating on Friday, as they spread to more than 771,000 acres. Five deaths have been linked to the fires, which have forced more than 60,000 people out of their homes, filled the skies with thick smoke and consumed hundreds of homes. As flames raced toward homes this week, smoke worsened an already oppressive heat wave and lightning strikes sparked new fires. The electrical grid struggled to keep up with demand, and the coronavirus threatened illness in evacuation shelters.
Facebook removes hundreds of QAnon groups, limits thousands more. (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 19, 2020)
Facebook Inc. has removed or restricted hundreds of Pages, accounts and Groups from its main social network and Instagram that are linked to the far-right conspiracy group QAnon, saying the accounts violate a newly expanded version of its policy regarding "dangerous individuals and organizations."
As part of the update, the company said it will forbid groups that have "demonstrated significant risks to public safety" from using Facebook's products to discuss violence. The company removed more than 790 Groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon from Facebook as a result. The company also added restrictions to over 1,950 QAnon Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and more than 10,000 accounts on Instagram, its photo-sharing app, which block them from running ads or appearing in search results.
Facebook didn't ban QAnon entirely. The group spreads misinformation related to what participants call a "deep state" conspiracy against U.S. President Donald Trump, claiming he is fighting a cabal of government insiders and Hollywood elites involved in child sex trafficking. QAnon pushes its message across social media sites, including Twitter Inc. and Google's YouTube.
Twitter banned thousands of QAnon accounts in July. Facebook took its first action against QAnon-associated Groups in May, but the beliefs have only proliferated on the social network since then. NBC News reported this month that an internal investigation at Facebook found thousands of Groups and Pages with millions of members and followers associated with QAnon.
Obama slams 'failure' of Trump presidency during DNC speech. (19-min. video; ABC News, August 19, 2020)
"Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job, because he can't," Obama said.
NEW: The Golden Age of computer user groups (Ars Technica, August 19, 2020)
Long before subreddits, computer enthusiasts used to get together—in-person!
How Corporate America Is Becoming A Powerful Ally For Clean Energy (Huffington Post, August 19, 2020)
Why companies are fighting for stricter energy laws.
Postmaster DeJoy’s First Company Was Plagued By Claims of Racism, Harassment, and Abuse. (Vice, August 19, 2020)
Louis DeJoy spent 30 years as the CEO of New Breed, where, he says, he built the business skills needed to save the post office. Employment lawsuits show the company was repeatedly accused of racist and sexist harassment and wage theft.
‘Biggest Snowflake of Them All’: CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon Brutally Mock Trump After Sharing Laundry List of Companies He Canceled. (4-min. video; Mediaite, August 19, 2020)
Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19. (The Atlantic, August 19, 2020)
Without understanding the lingering illness that some patients experience, we can’t understand the pandemic.
How can the Republican convention handle the pandemic? (Washington Post, August 19, 2020)
Attorney General William Barr announces nearly 1,500 arrests so far under U.S. 'Operation Legend'. (ABC News, August 19, 2020)
Of which, 217 are facing federal charges. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also says it has seized nearly 400 firearms since the start of the operation.
Local leaders have in several instances been initially resistant to the administration's announcements that it would be deploying federal investigators to cities seeing surges in violent crime, citing scenes from Seattle and Portland of troops in fatigues and Trump's election-year threats to crack down on cities run by Democrats. Barr has noted that Operation Legend, however, is separate from those deployments in response to unrest and that the dozens of investigators being dispatched to the cities are instead more focused on assisting federal and state authorities with probing violent crimes.
Massive LNU Lightning Complex fire drives Vacaville residents from destroyed homes. (San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2020)
California fires live updates: Rampaging fires force closure of more than 20 parks across Bay Area. (San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2020)
California has seen 10,849 lightning strikes in just 72 hours and firefighters were battling 367 known fires on Wednesday, 23 of them major “complex” fires that are collections of blazes.
Death Valley Might Have Just Broken A Temperature Record. (BuzzFeed News, August 18, 2020)
"Assuming yesterday's record is validated," a climate scientist at UCLA said, "that is probably the highest reliably recorded temperature in world history."
TYC 8998-760-1: First-ever Image of Multiple Planets around a Sun-Like Star (NASA/ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, August 18, 2020)
Do other stars have planets like our Sun? Previous evidence shows that they do, coming mostly from slight shifts in the star's light created by the orbiting planets. Recently, however, and for the first time, a pair of planets has been directly imaged around a Sun-like star.
America Has Two Feet. It’s About to Lose One of Them. (New York Times, August 18, 2020)
For decades, U.S. metrologists have juggled two conflicting measurements for the foot. Henceforth, only one shall rule.
[And then, join the world by switching to metric? Don't hold your breath.]
Protect Clean Air & Auto Jobs. (Sierra Club, August 18, 2020)
A decade ago, automakers officially pledged their support for strong fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards. They need to stand by their word. Trump made it clear where he stands, defending an indefensible and dangerous rollback.
Clean car standards enjoy bipartisan support from a majority of Americans who want cleaner air and vehicles that go further on a tank of gas or require no gas at all. It's time for GM, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and other automakers to walk the walk towards a clean vehicle future.
QAnon Is Too Big — And Dangerous — To Ignore. (26-min. podcast; BuzzFeed News, August 18, 2020)
"Facebook, I believe and other people who follow it, really attribute it with supercharging the conspiracy theory and making it accessible to a larger audience. And that is through, mostly, Facebook Groups.”
Five takeaways from final Senate Intel Russia report (The Hill, August 18, 2020)
The Postmaster General Will Suspend His USPS Changes That Were Blamed For Mail Delays. (BuzzFeed News, August 18, 2020)
Louis DeJoy said retail hours at post offices won't change and that mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are.
Earlier this summer, DeJoy announced some cost-cutting changes to the agency's operations. This included changing retail hours of post offices, cutting overtime for postal workers, removing collection boxes, closing facilities, and slowing the delivery of some mail.
In his statement, DeJoy said he assures the American public that retail hours at post offices won't change, and that mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are. No mail processing facilities will be closed, he said. The statement does not clarify whether mailboxes and other equipment that have been removed will be replaced.
NEW: Paul Krugman: Giving America the business (New York Times, August 18, 2020)
My column today was mainly about the reasons the Postal Service shouldn’t be run like a business. Its purpose is to help bind the nation and foster citizen inclusion, not maximize profits. The thing is, the Post Office isn’t the only institution — the only piece of the economy — for which that can be said.
Over the past 40 years, ever since Ronald Reagan, much of our political spectrum has fetishized the virtues of the private sector while trashing the public sector. And hey, there are a lot of good things to be said about free-market competition. I wouldn’t want government officials running supermarkets or bookstores; there have been generations of experience with government-run manufacturing, and it has rarely gone well.
But there are also areas where profit-maximization, especially if left unregulated, works badly and either public ownership or at least strong public regulation can work well. (Bad management can ruin a public system — but it can ruin a private corporation too.) In fact, the past few decades are full of examples where privatizing and/or deregulating parts of the economy have inflicted a lot of harm.
The U.S. only pretends to have free markets. Businessmen who became president have a terrible track record, even when they were good at business. Trump is in a league of his own.
NEW: National Civil Rights and Good Government Organizations Sue Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Other Officials for Actions Intended to Disrupt 2020 Election Cycle. (Common Cause, August 18, 2020)
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and its pro bono counsel, Arnold & Porter LLP, filed suit this evening in federal court for the District of Maryland on behalf of the National Urban League, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters U.S. against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the United States Postal Service, challenging actions intended to disrupt the 2020 election by making it more difficult for mail ballots to be delivered on time.
“Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has wreaked havoc across the country with reckless policies intended to disrupt the timely delivery of mail just weeks in advance of a general election,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Without question, DeJoy is weaponizing the United States Postal Service (USPS) to disenfranchise Americans who choose to vote by mail amid an unprecedented pandemic gripping the nation. We are filing this lawsuit to stop actions that were adopted unlawfully and that were intended to cause delays intended to disrupt the November election. DeJoy’s statement vowing to suspend changes rings hollow in the absence of remedial action taken to address the damage that his actions have caused.”
Stephen Colbert's LIVE Monologue Following Day 1 Of The Democratic National Convention (The Late Show, August 18, 2020)
Stephen Colbert comes to you LIVE from A Late Show's election HQ in Midtown Manhattan to break down the events of the DNC's first night. From the night's host Eva Longoria, to appearances by members of the GOP, to headline speeches by Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama, the first night of the DNC stuck closely to a theme: heavy criticism of President Trump's record.
Fox News Now Gets the CNN Treatment: Trump Declares His Favorite Network Has Become ‘Fake News Too’. (Mediaite, August 17, 2020)
Joe Biden has an enthusiasm problem with Hispanic voters. It’s even worse for Trump. (Washington Post, August 17, 2020)
In the 2020 Democratic primary, former vice president Joe Biden built his victory on votes from white moderates, African Americans and pragmatic Democrats. But Latino voters — particularly in California, Texas and Nevada — broke in the main for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
This appears to be a problem for the presumptive Democratic nominee. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton won somewhere between 66 percent and 79 percent of the Latino vote, depending on the estimate, but Biden has been slightly underperforming Clinton, earning 62 percent of the Hispanic vote in the Economist/YouGov poll, 45 percent per Quinnipiac, 59 percent of the Latino vote in the NPR/Marist survey, and 64 percent of the Hispanic or Latino vote in the New York Times Upshot poll.
Team Trump might be tempted to see this softness as an opportunity. But Trump has his own problems with this demographic: he seems to be stuck under a persistent 25 to 30 percent ceiling with the Hispanic and Latino vote.
The Bernie Sanders Moment (4-min. video; Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2020)
The ideas that once were deemed radical are now Joe Biden’s platform.
Meadows denies reports that postal sorting machines were decommissioned. (6-min. video; The Hill, August 16, 2020)
Sort of.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Sunday denied reports that several U.S. Postal Service (USPS) letter-sorting machines were decommissioned after orders from the postmaster general. Meadows told CNN’s “State of the Union” that reports about hundreds of postal service sorting machines being taken out of service are a “political narrative” and “not based on fact.”
NBC News reported on Friday that a 10-page internal document showed that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is decommissioning 671 of USPS’s letter-sorting machines across the U.S.
There's no sorting machines that are going offline between now and the election,” Meadows said. “That’s something that my Democrat friends are trying to do to stoke fear out there. That’s not happening.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper pushed back on the chief of staff, saying, “Are you saying that sorting machines have not been taken offline and removed?
I’m saying that sorting machines between now and the election will not be taken offline,” Meadows replied, prompting Tapper to ask about the “ones that have been taken offline in the last couple of months. Why were these sorting machines taken offline?” Tapper asked.
Meadows answered, “Get your producer to share where exactly those sorting machines were taken offline. Let them whisper in your ear because what I’m telling you is you’re picking up on a narrative that’s not based on facts.”
[Here is the transcript of their conversation.]
[That 10-page document listing locations of the 671 letter-sorting machines can be seen as a .pdf file, here.]
Facebook algorithm found to 'actively promote' Holocaust denial. (The Guardian, August 16, 2020)
Similar content is also readily accessible across Twitter, YouTube and Reddit, says UK-based counter-extremist group
Rep. Kinzinger: ‘It’s time’ for leaders to disavow QAnon. (5-min. video; Politico, August 16, 2020)
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) on Sunday emphasized the importance of President Donald Trump and other leaders calling out QAnon — a set of far-right conspiracy theories that allege the existence of a “deep state” against Trump. The representative, who posted a video on YouTube explaining QAnon on Sunday morning, said it’s time for other lawmakers to denounce the theories definitively and emphatically.
In a briefing last week, Trump sidestepped a question about Greene’s support for QAnon. Kinzinger said it’s time for the president and leading lawmakers to disavow it. “The president hasn’t fully denounced it or denounced it at all,” he said. “Now it's time for leaders to come out and denounce it.”
Trump’s Policies Are a Boon to the Super Rich. So Where Are All the Seven-Figure Checks? (New York Times, August 16, 2020)
Mr. Mellon’s millions would be a big deal in any cycle, but the gift was especially welcome for this incumbent this year. The fact that an outsider like Mr. Mellon has emerged as one of the few supporters willing to be so generous illustrates a surprising problem for the president: his struggle to attract and retain a reliable stable of millionaires and billionaires willing to write seven-figure checks, despite his takeover of the Republican Party and a policy agenda that largely serves the interests of America’s ultrawealthy. Only a small fraction of the president’s top donors from 2016 have given as much to his re-election effort.
Trump to withdraw Pendley’s nomination as public lands chief. (Associated Press, August 16, 2020)
President Donald Trump intends to withdraw the nomination of William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management, a senior administration official said Saturday — much to the relief of environmentalists who insisted the longtime advocate of selling federal lands should not be overseeing them.
Pendley, a former oil industry and property rights attorney from Wyoming, has been leading the agency for more than a year under a series of temporary orders from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Democrats alleged the temporary orders were an attempt to skirt the nomination process, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and conservation groups have filed lawsuits to have Pendley removed from office.
In his position at the agency, Pendley has overseen the relocation of most of the bureau’s jobs from Washington to various locations in the West, including its new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado — a move conservationists consider an effort to weaken the agency.
Pendley, who in a 2017 essay argued that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” spent three decades as president of the nonprofit Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has worked on behalf of ranchers, oil and gas drillers, miners and others seeking to use public lands for commercial gain.
“William Perry Pendley has been unfit to lead the Bureau of Land Management every day since he was appointed acting director in 2019,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in an emailed statement. “The fact that he was nominated this June and not withdrawn until millions of Americans and elected officials spoke out illustrates the wrongheaded priorities of this administration.”
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, called for the Trump administration to remove Pendley from his position. “Withdrawing William Perry Pendley’s nomination confirms he couldn’t even survive a confirmation process run by the president’s allies in the Senate. Keeping him on the job anyway shows the depth of disdain Secretary Bernhardt and President Trump have for the Constitution,” Rakola said. “The Bureau of Land Management director is a Senate-confirmed position for a reason. Whoever is in charge of one-tenth of all lands in America must be approved by the Senate, and these bald-faced attempts to evade the Senate’s advice-and-consent duties cannot stand.”
Robert Trump, the president’s younger brother, dead at 71. (Associated Press, August 16, 2020)
President Donald Trump’s younger brother, Robert Trump, a businessman known for an even keel that seemed almost incompatible with the family name, died Saturday night after being hospitalized in New York, the president said in a statement. He was 71. Officials did not immediately release a cause of death.
A Boston University graduate, Robert Trump later managed the Brooklyn portion of father Fred Trump’s real estate empire, which was eventually sold.
“When he worked in the Trump Organization, he was known as the nice Trump,” Gwenda Blair, a Trump family biographer, told The Associated Press. “Robert was the one people would try to get to intervene if there was a problem.”
In the 1980s, Donald Trump tapped Robert Trump to oversee an Atlantic City casino project, calling him the perfect fit for the job. When it cannibalized his other casinos, though, “he pointed the finger of blame at Robert,” said Blair, author of The Trumps: Three Generations that Built an Empire. “When the slot machines jammed the opening weekend at the Taj Mahal, he very specifically and furiously denounced Robert, and Robert walked out and never worked for his brother again,” Blair said.
Dems Urged to Say, 'Yes, Snowden Should Be Pardoned' After Trump Floats Possibility. (Common Cause, August 16, 2020)
The comment from the president prompted fresh praise for the former intelligence contractor who "blew the whistle on illegal government activity kept secret for years."
The Ultimate Recovery: Cycles of pain anchor Biden’s moment. (Associated Press, August 16, 2020)
Biden’s moment accepting the Democratic nomination will be nothing like he imagined when his campaign began. There won’t be thousands of supporters in an arena cheering while he holds Kamala Harris’ hand aloft. With the pandemic’s U.S. death toll nearing 170,000, the event is expected to be a far more somber and smaller affair. Still, that moment will mark a peak — for now — of a career politician who will try to make the case that the times are so different, and Trump is so disruptive and divisive, that voters will see the president’s rival as a calming alternative.
'Nonstop continuous lightning' hits Bay Area, more storms in forecast. (SFGate, August 16, 2020)
The combination of lightning and high winds brought a high risk for wildfires and Peterson said several fire starts have already been reported this morning.
"This is the worst thing we want to see in terms of fire weather," said Peterson. "The entire region is being inundated by lightning strikes. We’re probably getting widespread reports of fire strikes. The problem is the vegetation is really dry and we still have really dry air near the surface. Any lightning strikes that hit the ground are likely to start a fire." He added that the thunderstorms and the heat are two separate air masses, with the storm moving across the region at about 10,000 feet while the hot air is only a few hundred feet above the Earth's surface.
Lights Dim and Worries Mount as a Heat Wave Roasts California. (New York Times, August 15, 2020)
A heat wave rolling through the Southwest has forced intermittent power shut-offs in California, a state already struggling with wildfires and a recent surge in coronavirus cases, raising fears that the rising temperatures could turn deadly.
Californians used so much electricity to try and stay cool Friday night that the agency that oversees much of the state’s power grid declared an emergency and, for the first time in 19 years, shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers for several hours to avoid a damaging overload.
There is little relief in sight. High temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit are expected in Los Angeles every day through Friday. In parts of California and Arizona, thermometers are cracking 110. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for much of the West Coast, including parts of Oregon and Washington State and extending inland to Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
Today is National Honey Bee Day: Everything you need to attract pollinators into your garden (Independent/UK, August 15, 2020)
Although the honey bee isn't on the endangered list, numbers are dramatically dwindling in the UK [and USA and elsewhere], which poses a considerable threat to our eco-system. Bees pollinate around one-third of crops and 90 per cent of wild plants, which in turn provides food for livestock. The dwindling number of these pollinators in circulation provides serious ecological implications for biodiversity, the food chain, and ultimately, our ability to access food.
This decline of honeybees can be attributed to habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and colony collapse disorder (CCD).
But, there are a number of ways in which you can help bees thrive, from the comfort of your home or in your community. Due to the rich diversity of plants growing in our gardens and local parks, we are critical to supporting pollinators. As well as allowing weeds to flower, we've rounded up everything you need to create a bee-friendly garden – from wildflowers to providing them with a safe place to drink water.
[Today, the Sierra Club is offering a free "Save the Bees" sticker.]
Every Presidential Candidate’s Running Mate Since WWII (Visual Capitalist, August 15, 2020)
Fox News politics editor: Trump has ‘started to sound desperate’ as election nears (Raw Story, August 15, 2020)
“We’re back in that same tall grass again this week as Trump toys publicly with a threat to sabotage mail-in voting unless House Democrats agree to his demands on a coronavirus stimulus. As Trump said today, unless Nancy Pelosi agrees to cut out spending that would benefit big cities, he will refuse any measure to provide the Postal Service the money it needs for the election,” he wrote. ”As with his Ukrainian power play, Trump seems not to understand how this position might look to voters coming from the president who directs through his appointees the Postal Service: Give him what he wants, or he will precipitate election disaster that he believes would be in his benefit.”
Noting that Attorney William Barr appears to be doing the president’s bidding by going after government officials who investigated his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia, the Fox News editor added that is just one more ploy the frantic Trump is attempting — and the optics don’t look good.
Harvard Law Prof: USPS Failures Expose Constitutional Violations in Vote-By-Mail Laws of Several States. (Law&Crime, August 15, 2020)
At the state level, service delays have already resulted in thousands of primary ballots received after election day being invalidated. In Michigan, a swing state Donald Trump won by less than 11,000 votes in 2016, appellate court last month ruled that the state is not required to count absentee ballots received after polls close on election day. However, Harvard law professor and constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe on Saturday said that voters being disenfranchised by variations in mail delivery schedules violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Citing to the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court case O’Brien v Skinner, Tribe said that the Equal Protection Clause “invalidates state rules that make arbitrary distinctions between voters who can get their absentee ballots counted and those who can’t.” Thus, if two people in a state mail their ballots on the same day, one of those votes cannot be counted while the other is invalidated because they were delivered at different times.
According to Tribe, who represented Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election recount, the Constitution requires that states enact postmark rules – meaning all mail-in ballots must be dated and cannot be invalidated if sent before the election deadline. This means a state that doesn’t adopt a postmark rule violates the 14th Amendment rights of voters who aren’t assured they’ll receive their absentee ballots in time to have them counted by November 3,” he wrote. “Voters in those 34 states should ask the ACLU to help them get injunctions to prevent that predictable violation of their rights, putting pressure on such states to adopt a postmark rule or otherwise cure the violation.”
U.S. Postal Service warns numerous states that mail-in ballots may be delivered too late. (3-min. video; NBC News, August 14, 2020)
The implication is serious, as the ballots of tens of millions of American voters eligible to vote by mail could be discarded because of delays in mail delivery.
Elizabeth Warren Letter Prompts Inspector General Probe into Trump Admin’s Postmaster General. (Law&Crime, August 14, 2020)
Last week, Warren and a small group of her colleagues from both chambers of Congress requested a review into DeJoy by sending a letter to USPS Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb. That letter flagged concerns over “modifications” recently made to USPS “staffing and policies,” as well as whether DeJoy himself has “met all ethics requirements.” DeJoy is a Trump mega donor with millions of dollars invested in USPS contractors and competitors; he was confirmed by the Postal Service’s board of governors in May. DeJoy’s new policies have resulted in “slower and less reliable mail delivery,” the lawmakers said–claiming that continuing down that road is a clear-and-present danger to “the well-being of millions of Americans that rely on the Postal Service for delivery of Social Security checks, prescriptions, and everyday mail of all kinds.”
“We have learned that the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General is investigating all aspects of our request,” Warren spokesperson Saloni Sharma told CNN. But the precise contours of that investigation remain unclear.
Democrats are worried that DeJoy’s changes are geared toward an intentional slowdown and sabotage of the agency’s ability to deliver mail–postal ballots in particular. “Given the ongoing concerns about the adverse impacts of Trump Administration policies on the quality and efficiency of the Postal Service, we ask that you conduct an audit of all operational changes put in place by Mr. DeJoy and other Trump Administration officials in 2020,” the letter reads. Those concerns are widely-shared by many Americans–including USPS employees and union leaders.
On Thursday, Vice News reported that at least 19 mail sorting machines across the country have been decommissioned–or scheduled for decommissioning–in recent weeks. That news quickly stoked fears that President Donald Trump and his allies were intentionally sabotaging mail operations in order to diminish the USPS’s ability to sort and deliver mail-in ballots in time for the 2020 general election.
Law&Crime took stock of the legal reaction to that report. “This reeks of mail and election fraud–the scheme to defraud using the removal of mail sorting machines without reason as a means to inhibit mail in voting,” federal criminal defense attorney Tor Ekeland said in an email. “These are felonies and should be investigated and prosecuted appropriately.”
Trump, who has railed against voting by mail, requests his mail-in ballot. (New York Times, August 14, 2020)
How and where a president votes is typically a footnoted formality. But Mr. Trump has broadly questioned the legitimacy of voting by mail, without evidence of significant voter fraud, and made statements suggesting that he views expansion of mail voting as a threat to the Republican Party. He has sought to deny the option to millions of Americans in states like Nevada, through litigation, while attempting to block additional funding for the Postal Service that he says would be needed to handle a crush of mail-in ballots prompted by the pandemic. Those moves have raised concerns among Democrats and voting rights groups that he is seeking to undermine the mail-balloting system and lay the groundwork for casting doubt on the November election should he lose.
Mr. Trump has supported mail-in voting in some states where he says it is secure, including Florida, which he suggested last week could handle mail voting successfully because it had “a great Republican governor” in Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally.
Mr. Trump suggested Thursday that he was using the funding as a negotiating chip with congressional Democrats on a larger stimulus package. “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” he said. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
Record Arctic blazes may herald new ‘fire regime’ decades sooner than anticipated. (Washington Post, August 14, 2020)
Other signs of rapid Arctic warming are evident, including the partial loss of a symbolic Canadian ice shelf.
McCarty has searched through the scientific literature from Arctic nations as part of a report she is co-authoring for the Arctic Council. “This is the type of fire event that would be described by these worst-case modeling scenarios that were supposed to occur mid-century,” she said, adding that we may be 30 years early in seeing such fire impacts, which would require a reevaluation of how the Arctic is responding to global warming.
NEW: These armored sea bugs from a half-billion years ago had 'disco ball' eyes filled with tiny lenses. (Live Science, August 14, 2020)
Microscopy revealed the stunning compound structure in trilobite eyes.
Why Do Doctors Dislike Electronic Health Records? (Bob Rankin, August 14, 2020)
NEW: Conference-ing in a Virtual World (PLOS, August 13, 2020)
AIDS 2020: Virtual, the 23rd International AIDS Conference hosted by the International AIDS Society, may portend the future of international conferences regardless of when the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control.
The virtual conference provided many advantages. The conference registration fees were greatly reduced. Travel, lodging, and poster-printing costs were eliminated. Travel hassles and jetlag did not decrease attendees’ ability to focus. Although the International AIDS Conference has always provided a platform for people living with HIV, community organizers, providers, and researchers to contribute, this conference seemed particularly suited to weaving different perspectives together.
Machines can spot mental health issues—if you hand over your personal data. (MIT Technology Review, August 13, 2020)
Digital diagnosis could transform psychiatry by mining your most intimate data for clues. But is the privacy cost worth it?
Watchdog Group Sues Trump Admin to Find Out How USPS Plans to Handle Mail-In Ballots. (Law&Crime, August 13, 2020)
The complaint stems from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by Protect Democracy, an executive branch watchdog group, following the USPS’s failure to provide a response by a legally mandated deadline.
Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — a Trump mega-donor with millions of dollars invested in USPS contractors and competitors who was confirmed by the Postal Service’s board of governors in May — the USPS has undergone a slew of worrying transformations including the mass reorganization of top executives and cost-cutting measures. The moves have come amid a ten-fold increase in mail-in voting due to the resurgent pandemic and President Donald Trump’s attempts to prevent expanded access to mail-in ballots.
According to John Paredes, an attorney for Protect Democracy, the group seeks to ensure that the administration is not attempting to purposefully hinder the postal service’s functionality ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
The Post Office Is Deactivating Mail Sorting Machines Ahead of the Election. (Vice, August 13, 2020)
While the consequences of this new policy are mostly unclear for now, it neatly fits with the sudden, opaque, and drastic changes made by DeJoy, a longtime Republican fundraiser and Trump donor, in the less than two months he’s been postmaster general. Like his other changes, including the curtailing of overtime resulting in the widespread mail delays and sudden reorganization of the entire USPS, it is possible to see some semblance of corporate logic while second-guessing the decision to make drastic changes on the eve of the presidential election in which the USPS will play a critical role.
The Green New Dealbreaker (3-min. video; (Ed Markey, August 13, 2020)
[U.S. Congressman Ed Markey (MA) is our congressman, and we're glad he is! Ed is running again, and his new campaign ad is a lulu!
We've been thinking that a proper campaign slogan for this year would be, "Take it back!" In this ad, he says it and we think he means it!
Here's hoping you have strong Congressmen for equity and justice in your States, too.]
Israel and United Arab Emirates Strike Major Diplomatic Agreement. (New York Times, August 13, 2020)
President Trump announced that Israel and the United Arab Emirates would establish “full normalization of relations” and that in exchange Israel would forgo for now “declaring sovereignty” over occupied West Bank territory.
But the agreement generated an immediate backlash in the region from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. At least some Israeli settlers and their political allies were disappointed that Mr. Netanyahu would give up his plan to claim sovereignty over West Bank territory, while Palestinians felt abandoned by an Arab nation leaving them to remain locked in an untenable status quo even without the threat of annexation.
The delicacy of the accord was on display after the announcement as the Emiratis maintained that it was contingent on Israel living up to its pledge to forgo annexation even as Mr. Netanyahu emphasized that it was only a temporary pause in deference to Mr. Trump. But both sides were playing to domestic constituencies to minimize concessions and officials expressed optimism that the deal would hold.
The rapprochement underscored the shifting political dynamics of a region where Sunni Arab states increasingly see Iran as a greater enemy than Israel and are less willing to condition relations on a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, has invested in clandestine relations with the Gulf States for years, and its director, Yossi Cohen, has met frequently with counterparts in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt, according to three intelligence officials.
Mr. Kushner said a preliminary agreement was reached a week ago and final details completed on Wednesday for what was called “the Abraham accord,” after the figure common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the agreement was “a win-win-win-lose” in that it provided diplomatic victories for the Emirates, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump. “The big losers are the Palestinians who have watched the Arab world move closer to Israel seemingly rewarding Netanyahu for ignoring the Palestinians and undermining Palestinians interests,” he said.
Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, argued that the deal was actually overhyped by all sides. “UAE was already normalizing relations & the annexation plan was already postponed,” he wrote on Twitter. “No one is a winner in this despite the hoopla that we will hear about for some time. UAE broke the Arab peace plan without getting anything of worth.”
In Israel, the development came at a perilous moment for Mr. Netanyahu, who is leading a fragile, fractious coalition government and faces trial on corruption charges. His annexation promise, made repeatedly throughout three recent elections, had left him in a box after Mr. Kushner opposed his moving forward without working through Mr. Trump’s official peace plan. But shortly after the agreement on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu and his domestic rivals announced that they had made progress in coalition talks.
Some on the Israeli right expressed anger at Mr. Netanyahu for breaking his annexation promise. In a televised news conference, he said annexation had been only “temporarily” postponed. “Just as I brought peace with an Arab country,” Mr. Netanyahu declared, “I will bring sovereignty.”
Martin S. Indyk, who served as special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under President Barack Obama, said the deal gave both Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu a way to escape a political box of their own making with the president’s stalled peace plan and the prime minister’s politically problematic annexation drive. “It gets Trump out of the corner he was in having agreed to legitimizing the settlements and then discovering that the Arab world had a problem with that,” he said. “Now he’s got something he can claim credit for.”
And he was quick to do so. Mr. Trump surrounded himself in the Oval Office by a large delegation of aides and officials who heaped effusive praise on him, and he jokingly said the so-called Abraham Accord should be called the “Donald J. Trump Accord.” At a later briefing, Robert C. O’Brien, the White House national security adviser, even proclaimed that the president should win the Nobel Peace Prize.
As he has repeatedly in recent days, Mr. Trump predicted that he would next strike a quick agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear agreement if he were re-elected, although there was no sign that such a reconciliation was really imminent. “If I win the election,” he said, “I will have a deal with Iran within 30 days.”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the putative Democratic presidential nominee, congratulated both Israel and the Emirates in a statement that made no mention of Mr. Trump. He instead pointed back to his own work in the region as vice president while reminding the players of his opposition to annexation if he wins in November.
Trump: GOP senators who don't embrace him will 'lose their elections'. (The Hill, August 13, 2020)
President Trump on Thursday warned that GOP Senate candidates who don't fully embrace him will lose their elections, a warning shot to some moderates who have kept their distance from the president. Trump called into Maria Bartiromo's show on Fox Business Network, where he predicted Republicans would take back control of the House despite little polling to support that argument. But he acknowledged it may be more difficult for the GOP to maintain its slim majority in the Senate. "We’re fighting very hard in the Senate. I’ll be honest, the Senate is tough," Trump said. "We have a couple of people that aren’t as supportive of Trump as they should be, and those people are going to lose their elections."
The Washington Post first reported that Ernst and Sen. David Perdue's (R-Ga.) first batch of campaign ads featured no mention of the Trump, whose approval rating as president has rarely risen about the low 40 percent range and whose handling of the coronavirus pandemic has gotten even lower marks.
The president's comments today echoed his attacks on House candidates who lost their seats in the 2018 midterms, costing the GOP its majority. During a press conference the day after the vote, Trump called out defeated lawmakers by name and accused them of failing to campaign with him.
Warming Greenland ice sheet passes point of no return. (Ohio State News, August 13, 2020)
Even if the climate cools, study finds, glaciers will continue to shrink.
Trump rolls back methane climate standards for oil and gas industry. (The Guardian, August 13, 2020)
The Trump administration is revoking rules that require oil and gas drillers to detect and fix leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas that heats the planet far faster than carbon dioxide. Methane has a much more potent short-term warming effect than CO2 and addressing it is critical to slowing global heating as the world is already on track to become more than 3C hotter than before industrialization.
The Trump-appointed Environmental Protection Agency administrator, coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, will announce the rollback from Pennsylvania, which has major oil and gas operations and is also a politically important swing state. The rule change is part of what Trump calls his “energy dominance” agenda.
The Trump administration’s changes apply to new wells and those drilled since 2016, when President Barack Obama enacted the regulation in an effort to help stall climate change during a boom in fracking – a method of extracting fossil gas by injecting water and chemicals underground. The regulations required companies to regularly check for methane leaks from valves, pipelines and tanks.
Large oil companies have argued for keeping the rules, saying they are needed so the industry can limit its climate footprint as it markets gas as a smart alternative to coal – which emits far more carbon dioxide. Roughly a quarter of global warming the planet has experienced in recent decades has been due to methane, said Robert Howarth, a researcher who studies methane at Cornell University. The oil and gas industry is the biggest source of the pollutant.
Progressive states and environmental groups will sue over the decision. Caitlin Miller, a lawyer with Earthjustice – one of the groups that plans to sue – said the rollback will also prevent broader action on methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations. “By removing these pollution regulations, the Trump administration is just completely undermining EPA’s duties to protect public health and welfare – particularly for black and brown communities that bear the disproportionate burden of air pollution,” Miller said. “Now is not the time to be rolling back these regulations when these communities in particular are embattled by the two major health crises at the moment, both coronavirus and climate change.”
Trump calls off COVID-19 relief negotiations with Democrats. (Daily Kos, August 13, 2020)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer Wednesday to suggest restarting talks. But, Pelosi said in a statement, "he made clear […] the White House is not budging from their position concerning the size and scope of a legislative package." Immediately after that, the squatter in the Oval Office kneecapped Mnuchin anyway, announcing that a deal is "not going to happen."
Congress is going to come back after the Labor Day recess on Sept. 8. They will then have three weeks, or about 15 working days, to meet the next big deadline—the end of the fiscal year and government funding on Oct. 1. Whee. At this point, McConnell seems to be counting on using that looming disaster to try to force the Democrats' hand on coronavirus relief.
While 1,000 people a day are dying from coronavirus. While 30 to 40 million people are facing eviction. While as many as 17 million children aren't getting enough to eat.
NEW: In Tell-All Foreword, Cohen Promises Sordid Tales Trump ‘Does Not Want You to Read’. (New York Times, August 13, 2020)
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s onetime lawyer and fixer, released the foreword of his upcoming jailhouse tell-all on Thursday, posting to his website an introduction in which he promised stories involving the president and everything from “golden showers in a sex club in Vegas, to tax fraud, to deals with corrupt officials from the former Soviet Union.”
In the foreword to his memoir, “Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump,” Mr. Cohen claims that he had unique access to Mr. Trump, a man with “no true friends,” who trusted Mr. Cohen so much that his cellphone contacts were synced with his own. “I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man,” Mr. Cohen writes, claiming he has gained from those experiences a singular understanding of the president.
Does Trump realize what he just admitted? (10-min. video; The Young Turks, August 13, 2020)
It’s amazing, Cenk says, that Trump and his cronies don’t even pay lip service to believing in democracy any more, and they are now openly making an anti-democratic power grab to circumvent a free and fair election. “You're at least supposed to pretend that you agree about the core founding principle of the country, but they actively dislike democracy,” he says. “And there's very good reason why, even though the mainstream media will never give you this analysis. Right now the Republican party is nearly at an end demographically. They have almost no chance of winning national elections. The Trump election was a minor miracle.
Trump admits he is blocking Post Office funding (and thus pandemic relief) to sabotage mail-in voting. (Vox, August 13, 2020)
At a Wednesday press briefing, President Donald Trump laid out some of his objections to a Democratic proposal to provide additional aid to individuals and states who are struggling financially during the pandemic. He specifically named two provisions that he finds unacceptable: $3.5 billion in funding for elections that could be used to fund mail-in voting, and $25 billion in funding for the post office.
Appearing on Fox Business Thursday morning, Trump elaborated on his objection to these two line items: He doesn’t want universal mail-in voting to be possible. Democrats, he claimed, “need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots” — something that Trump apparently views as a bad thing.
The True Coronavirus Toll in the U.S. Has Already Surpassed 200,000. (New York Times, August 13, 2020)
Across the United States, at least 200,000 more people have died than usual since March, according to a New York Times analysis of estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is about 60,000 higher than the number of deaths that have been directly linked to the coronavirus.
As the pandemic has moved south and west from its epicenter in New York City, so have the unusual patterns in deaths from all causes. That suggests that the official death counts may be substantially underestimating the overall effects of the virus, as people die from the virus as well as by other causes linked to the pandemic.
When the coronavirus took hold in the United States in March, the bulk of deaths above normal levels, or “excess deaths,” were in the Northeast, as New York and New Jersey saw huge surges. The Northeast still makes up nearly half of all excess deaths in the country, though numbers in the region have drastically declined since the peak in April.
But as the number of hot spots expanded, so has the number of excess deaths across other parts of the country. Many of the recent coronavirus cases and deaths in the South and the West may have been driven largely by reopenings and relaxed social distancing restrictions.
Major Antibody Study Finds 3.4 Million in England Had Covid-19. (Bloomberg, August 13, 2020)
London had 13% infection rate, compared to 6% for England.
Nearly one in three virus patients -- 32% -- had no symptoms.
Lake Fire Spawns Firenado in California. ([Fire Tornado videos; Heavy, August 12, 2020)
The Lake Fire in California spawned a fire tornado on August 12 while the blaze grew to more than 10,000 acres in size. “Fire tornado. Insane winds just picked up. Mass evacuations everyone is getting out of here.”
Baghdad’s record heat offers glimpse of world’s climate change future. (Washington Post, August 12, 2020)
Door handles blistering to the touch. Leaves yellowed and brittle. And a yawning divide between AC haves and have-nots.
After a Rigged Election, Belarus Crushes Protests Amid an Information Blackout. (New Yorker, August 12, 2020)
The streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities have been battlegrounds since Sunday evening, when authorities announced that eighty per cent of voters had chosen to reëlect Alexander Lukashenka, who has been President for twenty-six years. His electoral opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled the country. At least three thousand people have been arrested, one protester has died, and an unknown number have been injured.
A lot is unknown, because authorities have tried to impose a blockade on information. On Sunday morning, as Belarusians started going to the polls, independent news sites vanished. Franak Viačorka, a thirty-two-year-old freelance journalist in Minsk, told me over the phone that a recently enacted law compels all Belarusian sites to be hosted on servers located in Belarus, which enables the government to disappear a site from the Web. Next, Viačorka said, foreign media outlets such as the Belarusian-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty became inaccessible in Belarus. Finally, Belarus lost access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and messenger services such as Viber and WhatsApp. “It was this terrible feeling of a city that had died,” Viačorka said. “Nothing was ringing, nothing was beeping, there were no responses or notifications.” Tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, including many journalists, were out in the streets and public squares of Minsk and other Belarusian cities, but they could not transmit information.
Since Lukashenka first became President in 1994, he has presided over five so-called elections. None of them have been considered free and fair by international observers, and each has been accompanied by protests and mass arrests.
[This story gets worse. Could it happen here?]
A Princess Is Making Google Forget Her Drunken Rant About Killing Muslims. (Vice, August 12, 2020)
The removal of nearly 200 links from Google search in Germany about a princess’ drunken rampage in Scotland raises questions about who has the 'right to be forgotten.'
Britain’s lockdown recession is the deepest in Europe and North America. (New York Times, August 12, 2020)
Biden Favored to Win: Fivethirtyeight Releases the Model. (Daily Kos, August 12, 2020)
Say what you will about fiverthirtyeight.com, and Nate Silver himself, but my memory of 2016 is that his model was the only one that took Trump’s chances seriously.  In fact, he was mercilessly attacked by other modelers like Huffpost , who at the time was doing their own modeling and gave Clinton something like 98%-99% chance of winning- and later had to apologize to Nate. I wish he had been wrong, but his common refrain was that Clinton had an edge but we were just one regular presidential year polling error (4% points) away from Trump winning the Electoral College while Clinton would win the popular vote. And, that Trump had some structural advantages in the Electoral College that Clinton had to overcome. My point is he knows this stuff; it’s not a fly-by-night operation.
Right-Wing Media Is Already Hurling Racist, Misogynist Fire At Kamala Harris. (Huffington Post, August 12, 2020)
From abhorrent claims that she isn’t really Black to reliving the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, conservative outlets pounced on Joe Biden’s running-mate pick.
The Cybersecurity 202: Kamala Harris brings record of fighting for election security to the Democratic ticket. (Washington Post, August 12, 2020)
Joe Biden picked a fierce proponent of election security to be his running mate as he heads into what will surely be the most scrutinized election in U.S. history from a security perspective. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) made election security a key issue in her own short-lived presidential campaign, turning anti-hacking protections such as paper ballots into frequent applause line during speeches. “The best and smartest way to conduct voting [is] paper ballots. Because Russia can’t hack a piece of paper,” she said multiple times on the campaign trail.
An Android operating system that prioritizes mobile data privacy (Open Source, August 12, 2020)
Android and iOS devices are notorious for uploading your personal data to their cloud services without your permission. Android sends 12MB of personal data per day to Google servers, and iOS sends 6MB per day to Google servers. Personal data is harvested from billions of users around the world and is used to market services back to them.
If you are concerned about your mobile data privacy, you have another option to consider for your next smartphone: the /e/ operating system, a free and open source, Android-based operating system. The motivation to create /e/ was "very simple: a few years ago, I realized that I had no other real choice than Android and iOS on smartphones," its author says. He believes users need a privacy-oriented alternative that better reflects their values and offers a more ethical arrangement. "/e/ OS is truly de-Googled Android with all the associated online services of an email address, cloud, metasearch engine, and more."
NEW: AIoT: When Artificial Intelligence Meets the Internet of Things (Visual Capitalist, August 12, 2020)
From its most basic applications of tracking our fitness levels, to its wide-reaching potential across industries and urban planning, the growing partnership between AI and the IoT means that a smarter future could occur sooner than we think. By 2025, there’s projected to be 42 billion IoT-connected devices globally. It’s only natural that as these device numbers grow, the swaths of data will too. That’s where AI steps in—lending its learning capabilities to the connectivity of the IoT.
[How will that affect our privacy and security?]
Biden-Harris: Together we will beat Donald Trump. (JoeBiden.com, August 11, 2020)
Kamala Harris Is Joe Biden's Pick For Vice President. (BuzzFeed News, August 11, 2020)
The California senator, who ran for president herself last year, will be the first Black woman on a major party presidential ticket.
Paul Krugman: We are entering well-charted territory. (New York Times, August 11, 2020)
Right now, at least as far as economics goes, we are in fact entering very well-charted territory. What seems all too likely to happen to the U.S. economy over the next few months is all too familiar to those of us who studied the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. We actually have a very good road map telling us which policies are likely to be helpful and which will do great damage.
Unfortunately, both Senate Republicans and the Trump White House seem determined to ignore that map.
The Cybersecurity 202: Zoom sued by Consumer Watchdog for misrepresenting its encryption protections. (Washington Post, August 11, 2020)
A consumer advocacy group is suing Zoom and seeking millions of dollars in damages, accusing the company of misleading its users about the strength of its encryption protections.
The nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog is also accusing the videoconferencing company of deceiving users about the extent of its links with China and the fact that some calls between people in North America were routed through servers in China. That raises the danger Beijing could steal or demand access to the contents of those calls, according to a copy of the lawsuit, which was shared exclusively with The Cybersecurity 202.
Those phony claims “lull[ed] consumers and businesses into a false sense of security” and helped Zoom to soar in popularity during the early months of the pandemic, according the lawsuit, which was filed late yesterday in Washington D.C. Superior Court.
'As the tundra burns, we cannot afford climate silence': a letter from the Arctic, by Victoria Herrmann. (The Guardian, August 11, 2020)
I study the Arctic. The Arctic’s skies are blackened with wildfire smoke and we are not even halfway through summer. The Trump administration has reversed 100 environmental rules and stands on the precipice of pulling the US out of the Paris agreement in November 2020. The decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord is reprehensible – but we can’t give up hope.
Climate change cannot be stopped. The Arctic’s ice will melt and large swaths of frozen ground will thaw. Climate change is already causing devastating loss of life, destroying irreplaceable cultural heritage and inundating the places we hold dear. With every degree we allow our world to warm, the more we lose. But by demanding climate action from our governments, and demanding climate action from ourselves, we can work today to avert the worst damage and adapt to the impacts we can no longer avoid.
Former FBI Agent Explains How to Read Facial Expressions. (12-min. video; Wired, August 11, 2020)
Former FBI agent and body language expert Joe Navarro is back, this time to breaks down the non-verbal ways we communicate using facial expressions. What does it mean when we scrunch up our noses or show tension in the glabella? Joe also goes deep into chirality, and equates this concept with some of the most quizzical of human expressions.
A Honeybee’s Tongue Is More Swiss Army Knife Than Ladle. (with bee videos and links; New York Times, August 11, 2020)
Once again, insects prove to be more complicated than scientists thought they were.
Boeing 747s still get critical updates via floppy disks. (The Verge, August 11, 2020)
A rare look inside a 20-year-old airliner.
Despite modern technology being available, it hasn’t stopped floppy disks from persisting in other industries, either. The US Defense Department only ended the use of 8-inch floppy disks for coordinating the country’s nuclear forces in October, and the International Space Station is full of floppy disks.
America’s uniquely bad Covid-19 epidemic, explained in 18 maps and charts (Vox, August 11, 2020)
It’s now clear the United States has failed to contain its Covid-19 epidemic, with case counts far ahead of other developed nations and more than 1,000 deaths reported a day for over two weeks and counting. Asked if America’s coronavirus outbreak is the worst in the world, White House adviser and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci admitted it was on August 5: “Yeah, it is. Quantitatively, if you look at it, it is. I mean, the numbers don’t lie.”
It didn’t have to be this way. In March and April, other developed countries had significant Covid-19 outbreaks, but they did a much better job than the US in containing the coronavirus and keeping it down after the virus arrived. So while some other developed nations have experienced upticks, they all pale in comparison to the massive surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that the US has seen since May and June.
Here’s what you need to know.
Facebook admits it's awash in COVID-19 misinformation. (Mashable, August 11, 2020)
For starters, the company confirmed it removed more than 7 million "pieces of harmful COVID-19 misinformation" from both Facebook and Instagram in the months spanning April to June. Examples of which include posts pushing "exaggerated cures" and "fake preventative measures." That might include, although Facebook didn't specify, incorrect and possibly dangerous claims that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID-19. Or, perhaps, suggestions to inject oneself with bleach? Oh yeah, and then there's the false claim — made by Donald Trump — that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19.
Facebook didn't stop there. The company put "warning labels" on 98 million "pieces of COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook" in the same three months.
There are, of course, other forms of misinformation on Facebook and Instagram as well. For example, in the U.S. alone, from March to July Facebook removed 110,000 pieces of content "that could mislead people about voting or try to intimidate them so they don’t vote."
Trump inadvertently admits he's just playing politics with your health care. (Daily Kos, August 11, 2020)
Don't worry, guys, about the fact that there are now at least 5 million more people with a preexisting health condition than there were before coronavirus, nearly 100,000 of them children who will carry that with them for the rest of their lives. The meathead currently occupying the Oval Office is insisting, again, that he has a plan for that. He might do an executive order, see, that will promise people with preexisting conditions will be covered.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act already does that.
11 Supposedly Fun Things We’ll Never Do the Same Way Again (New York Times, August 11, 2020)
The pandemic could change unexpected parts of our lives for years to come, experts say.
NEW: What’s behind unordered Amazon packages showing up on porches? (2-min. video; KSAT TV, August 10, 2020)
BBB says it's a scheme designed to boost sellers' ratings.
Study finds Americans prize party loyalty over democratic principles. (Phys.org, August 10, 2020)
It is conventional wisdom that Americans cherish democracy—but a new study by Yale political scientists reports that only a small fraction of U.S. voters are willing to sacrifice their partisan and policy interests to defend democratic principles. The study, published in the American Political Science Review, found that only 3.5% of U.S. voters would cast ballots against their preferred candidates as punishment for undemocratic behavior, such as supporting gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, or press restrictions.
"Our findings show that U.S. voters, regardless of their party affiliation, are willing to forgive undemocratic behavior to achieve their partisan ends and policy goals. Conventional measures don't capture people's willingness to act on their commitment to democratic values when doing so is politically costly. If, as we found, only a small percentage of voters are willing to punish undemocratic behavior by their favored candidates in one of the world's oldest democracies, then we shouldn't be surprised by voters' failure to stop aspiring autocrats in younger democracies like Turkey, Hungary, or Venezuela."
Trump did it again, this time with his selection for ambassador to Germany. You will not believe it. (Daily Kos, August 10, 2020)
His selection for ambassador? Douglas Macgregor is being attacked  by Jewish advocacy groups. Why? Comments about Germany, the Holocaust, and Jewish groups.
Macgregor, among other comments, criticized Germany for giving "millions of unwanted Muslim invaders" welfare benefits rather than providing more funding for its armed services, and downplayed the country's Nazi history. He described the German cultural concept of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which seeks to "cope with the past" and confront the atrocities the country committed in World War II, as a "sick mentality."
Lebanon’s Government Resigns Amid Widespread Anger Over Blast. (New York Times, August 10, 2020)
Lebanon’s Prime Minister and Cabinet resigned on Monday, opening up new political uncertainty as the country struggles with a crippling economic crisis and reels from an enormous explosion last week that ravaged swaths of the capital. The resignation of the government reflected how deeply last week’s explosion — which killed more than 150 people, wounded 6,000 and left hundreds of thousands homeless — has rattled the small Mediterranean nation. Lebanon was already struggling with deep economic and political crises before the blast caused billions of dollars in damage to Beirut.
“We are taking a step back to stand with the people, to wage the battle for change with them,” said Prime Minister Hassan Diab, in a televised address. He blamed his political foes, without naming them, for thwarting his efforts to fix Lebanon’s problems. In recent days, Beirut has been rocked by protests that have turned areas of downtown into battle zones between demonstrators and the security forces. Even before the announcement by Mr. Diab, who has been in office since January, new clashes had erupted as protesters sought to storm the Parliament.
The protesters said Mr. Diab’s resignation fell far short of their demands for the ouster of the country’s political elite, many of whom gained prominence during Lebanon’s brutal 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990. “The government resignation is not enough,” said one protester, whose head was wrapped in gauze and bleeding from the clashes. “We have to bring down the president and the speaker of Parliament. It’s a matter of days, and we’ll do it.”
Beirut has been shaken by other violent protests over the worsening economic crisis and what many consider decades of corruption and mismanagement. The local currency has lost much of its value, and unemployment and inflation rates have soared. Those problems will hamper Lebanon’s ability to recover from the blast, and now it is unclear who will take charge of that process, which includes negotiating aid packages with potential donors and putting in place long-delayed reforms.
In his address, Mr. Diab cast himself on the side of the protesters and blamed chronic corruption for the country’s problems. “I discovered that the system of corruption was bigger than the state and that the state is bound by this system, and that it is not possible to confront it or get rid of it,” he said. Mr. Diab said he and his cabinet ministers found their efforts at an overhaul blocked at every turn by entrenched power brokers in the country’s government. “They are the true tragedy of the Lebanese people,” Mr. Diab said. “We are going to step back to stand with the people, to wage the battle for change with them.”
Mr. Diab, an engineering professor and former minister of education, came to office with the backing of Hezbollah, the powerful militant group and political party, and its political allies after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, resigned in October. Mr. Diab was widely seen as an inexperienced but ambitious outsider. Many of Lebanon’s problems were deeply entrenched before he took office, and he found few ways to slow the country’s decline.
What if Everyone Had Voted by Mail in 2016? (Interactive; New York Times, August 10, 2020)
If the 2016 election between President Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had been run using universal vote-by-mail, Trump would have still won the presidency, according to the analysis.
Biden's viral bike ride video takes everyone back to Trump's feeble descent down a ramp. (1-min. video; Daily Kos, August 10, 2020)
“Mr. Vice President, have you picked a running mate yet?” Fox's Peter Doocy shouted at Biden, who was riding through the streets of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
"Yeah, I have," said a mask-clad Biden, to which Doocy quickly responded: “You have? Who is it?”
"You!" Biden answered, joking with Doocy.
The Fox video was an instant hit among journalists and political pundits on Twitter, who marveled at Biden's athletic cameo on Fox's airwaves. 
"The real news in this video is that @JoeBiden is riding a bicycle. Can you picture @realDonaldTrump riding a bicycle?" quipped filmmaker Andy Ostroy.
No, we can't. And clearly no one else could either.
"Biden can ride a bike and make a joke, all while wearing a mask," noted Matthew Hall, editorial and opinion director at the San Diego Union-Tribune.
There were plenty more where that came from—a legit viral moment courtesy of Fox News, where primetime hosts have been laboring for months to paint a picture of Biden as a demented recluse locked away in his basement.
But while everyone was remarking on Biden's athleticism and jocularity, let's remember the simple things too: He was actually able to speak. That alone sets him apart from the current occupant of the Oval Office, who just this past week gave a shout to "Yo-Semite" national park and renamed the country popularly known as Thailand, "Thighland."
Imagine having a president who can speak the English language.
NEW: Teenage Sesame Place employee punched over mask-wearing requirement. (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 10, 2020)
A 17-year-old employee at Sesame Place in Bucks County was punched in the face and required surgery for his injury after a dispute with a park visitor over wearing a mask. Shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday, the employee was working at Captain Cookie’s High C’s Adventure ride when he was attacked by a male patron who was accompanied by a female. The employee had encountered the pair earlier and had reminded them that they were required to wear masks while in the park. When the male suspect saw the employee again at the ride, he punched him. The pair were chased by park security but were able to flee in a vehicle registered in New York. Middletown police were working with authorities in New York to identify the suspects, who were described as between ages 20 and 30.
The employee was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Middletown on Sunday and underwent surgery on Monday for his jaw injury. He also suffered a damaged tooth.
Chicago Police Arrest More Than 100 People After Looting Batters Downtown. (New York Times, August 10, 2020)
The city briefly raised most of the bridges to the main shopping and business district. Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned the crowd’s actions as “abject criminal behavior.” But with a debate still fresh over federal agents sent to Portland, Ore., Ms. Lightfoot made it clear that she did not want military troops brought in.
Viral Video Seemed To Show BLM Storming A Church. The Real Story Is Much Darker. (BuzzFeed, August 9, 2020)
“What people need to know is we’re not protesting churches. We’re protesting this church.”
Suspension dropped for teen who took photo of crowd at Georgia high school. (2-min. video; CNN, August 8, 2020)
The mother of a student who was suspended after posting a photo on Twitter that showed her high school's crowded hallways this week tells CNN that her daughter's suspension has been reversed. The School Superintendent explained, "Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them."
[Who will suspend HIM?]
Forty percent of people with coronavirus infections have no symptoms. Might they be the key to ending the pandemic? (2 4-min. videos; Washington Post, August 8, 2020)
New research suggests that some of us may be partially protected due to past encounters with common cold coronaviruses.
These are the problems with Covid-19 testing accuracy. (3-min. video; CNN, August 8, 2020)
CNN's Randi Kaye reports on the problems with the rapid coronavirus testing and what contributes to the inaccurate results.
'Stunning': Dr. Gupta reacts to video at Trump's club. (2-min. video; CNN, August 8, 2020)
A crowd of people at President Trump's country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, gathered to hear his speech. Many people in the audience were not wearing masks despite masks being required in the state of New Jersey.
Unwanted Truths: Inside Trump’s Battles With U.S. Intelligence Agencies. (New York Times, August 8, 2020)
Last year, intelligence officials gathered to write a classified report on Russia’s interest in the 2020 election. An investigation from the magazine uncovered what happened next.
The document discussed Russia’s ongoing efforts to influence U.S. elections: the 2020 presidential contest and 2024’s as well. The N.I.E. began by enumerating the authors’ “key judgments.” Key Judgment 2 was that in the 2020 election, Russia favored the current president: Donald Trump.
The intelligence provided to the N.I.E.’s authors indicated that in the lead-up to 2020, Russia worked in support of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as well. But this reflected not a genuine preference for Sanders but rather an effort “to weaken that party and ultimately help the current U.S. president.” To allay any speculation that Putin’s interest in Trump had cooled, Key Judgment 2 was substantiated by current information from a highly sensitive foreign source described by someone who read the N.I.E. as “100 percent reliable.”
On its face, Key Judgment 2 was not a contentious assertion. In 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the umbrella entity supervising the 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies, released a report drawing on intelligence from the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency that found Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election and aspired to help Trump. At a news conference with Trump in Helsinki in July 2018, President Vladimir Putin of Russia denied interfering in the election. But when asked by a reporter if he had wanted Trump to win, he replied bluntly: “Yes, I did.”
Yet Trump never accepted this and often actively disputed it, judging officials who expressed such a view to be disloyal. As a former senior adviser to Trump, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me, “You couldn’t have any conversation about Russia and the election without the president assuming you were calling his election into question. Everyone in the White House knew that, and so you just didn’t talk about that with him.”
New postmaster general overhauls USPS leadership amid probe into mail delays. (The Hill, August 7, 2020)
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced an overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on Friday, removing the top two officials in charge of day-to-day operations as Democrats in Washington call for an investigation into changes that have slowed mail delivery. According to a new organizational chart released by USPS, 23 postal executives were reassigned or displaced and five staffers joined the agency’s leadership from other positions.
“This organizational change will capture operating efficiencies by providing clarity and economies of scale that will allow us to reduce our cost base and capture new revenue,” said DeJoy. “It is crucial that we do what is within our control to help us successfully complete our mission to serve the American people and, through the universal service obligation, bind our nation together by maintaining and operating our unique, vital and resilient infrastructure.” DeJoy announced there would be a hiring freeze and a request for voluntary early retirements. The USPS will also configure itself into three “operating units” of retail and delivery, logistics and processing, and commerce and business solutions and will cut back from seven regions to four.
The reshuffling comes as Democrats clamor for an investigation into USPS amid concerns over the agency’s ability to handle what is expected to be a flood of mail-in ballots this year. Lawmakers have warned that changes DeJoy has made, including reducing overtime and adjusting delivery policies, may leave the agency even more unprepared.
The reshuffling comes as Democrats clamor for an investigation into USPS amid concerns over the agency’s ability to handle what is expected to be a flood of mail-in ballots this year. Lawmakers have warned that changes DeJoy has made, including reducing overtime and adjusting delivery policies, may leave the agency even more unprepared. “We believe these changes, made during the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, now threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans. While it is true that the Postal Service has and continues to face financial challenges, enacting these policies as cost-cutting or efficiency measures as the COVID-19 public health emergency continues is counterproductive and unacceptable,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a letter to DeJoy on Thursday.
‘If We Get It, We Chose to Be Here’: Despite Virus, Thousands Converge on Sturgis for Huge Motorcycle Rally. (New York Times, August 7, 2020)
Tens of thousands of motorcyclists roared into the western South Dakota community of Sturgis on Friday, lining Main Street from end to end, for the start of an annual rally that kicked off despite objections from residents and with little regard for a public health emergency ravaging the world.
It could have been any other past summer rally in Sturgis, with herds of R.V.s, bikers and classic cars converging for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a 10-day affair that was expected to attract roughly 250,000 enthusiasts this year — about half the number who attended last year but a figure that puts it on track to be among the country’s largest public gatherings since the first coronavirus cases emerged in the spring. Save for a few hard-to-spot hand-sanitizer stations, it could have been any other major festival in pre-pandemic times. “Screw Covid I went to Sturgis,” read a black T-shirt amid a sea of Harley Davidson and Trump 2020 outfits sported by the throng of people walking along Main Street. Their gear did not include face masks, and social distancing guidelines were completely ignored.
South Dakota is among several states that did not put in place a lockdown, and state officials have not required residents to wear masks, giving attendees who rode in from outside the state fewer restrictions than they may have had back home.
Attendance on Friday was on par with previous years, said Dan Ainslie, City Manager for Sturgis. “It’s kind of like a typical rally,” Mr. Ainslie said of the number of people coming into town, “and the crowds are still building.”
While the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines do not suggest a specific limit for the number of attendees at gatherings or community events, they encourage organizers to maintain a capacity conducive to reducing the spread of the virus. The agency encourages people to socially distance at six feet apart and wear masks. “Attendees will be asked to be respectful of the community concerns by practicing social distancing and taking personal responsibility for their health by following C.D.C. guidelines,” the news release said.
But on Friday, throngs of ralliers parked their bikes and walked shoulder to shoulder along the downtown streets, nary a mask in sight. Police officers stationed at the intersections also were not wearing masks.
Bruce Labsa, 66, drove from North Carolina last week to be among the first in town. This was the first year he would be able to attend the rally since retiring, and he did not want to miss it. On Friday, he was not wearing a mask, and he said he had no concerns about catching the coronavirus. “I don’t know anyone who’s had it,” Mr. Labsa said.
ICE rejected COVID-19 testing for all detainees at facility because it would be too much trouble. (Daily Kos, August 7, 2020)
There’s really no bottom when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison profiteers join forces—just consider the latest example. Internal emails obtained through an ongoing lawsuit show the mass detention agency and private prison operator GEO Group rejected a plan to test all detained people at one California facility for COVID-19 “because they would be unable to adequately isolate those who tested positive,” a coalition of groups said in a statement.
Covid 19 coronavirus: US Government issues New Zealand travel warning due to its '23 active cases'. (New Zealand Herald, August 7, 2020)
Despite the US recording more than 2 million cases and 160,000 deaths, the US Government has warned its citizens to be very cautious about traveling to New Zealand because of our "23 active cases" of Covid-19. "As of August 7, 2020, New Zealand has had 1,569 confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 within its borders. Currently, there are 23 active cases in New Zealand," the post states.
The website, however, doesn't explain all 23 active cases are in managed isolation. However, New Zealanders need not worry about Americans entering the country given only New Zealand citizens or residents with valid travel conditions can currently enter.
NEW: "The University of Costumed Heroes" (3-min. video from Free Software Foundation, August 7, 2020)
This video highlights the importance of resisting the use of Zoom and other proprietary videoconferencing programs for remote education. We must reverse the trend of forsaking young people's freedom, which has been accelerating as corporations try to capitalize on the need to establish new remote education practices. Free software not only protects the freedoms of your child or grandchild by allowing people to study the source code for any malicious functionalities, it also communicates important values like autonomy, sharing, social responsibility, and collaboration.
NEW: Sensitive to claims of bias, Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for conservative pages. (NBC News, August 7, 2020)
According to internal discussions, Facebook removed "strikes" so that conservative pages were not penalized for violations of misinformation policies.
NEW: Is the US about to split the internet? (BBC News, August 7, 2020)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he wants a "clean" internet. What he means by that is he wants to remove Chinese influence, and Chinese companies, from the internet in the US. But critics believe this will bolster a worrying movement towards the breaking up of the global internet.
The so called "splinternet" is generally used when talking about China, and more recently Russia. The idea is that there's nothing inherent or pre-ordained about the internet being global. For governments that want to control what people see on the internet, it makes sense to take ownership of it. The Great Firewall of China is the best example of a nation putting up the internet equivalent of a wall around itself. You won't find a Google search engine or Facebook in China.
What people didn't expect was that the US might follow China's lead. "It's shocking," says Alan Woodward, a security expert based at the University of Surrey. "This is the Balkanisation of the internet happening in front of our eyes. The US government has for a long time criticised other countries for controlling access to the internet… and now we see the Americans doing the same thing."
Canada’s last fully intact Arctic ice shelf collapses. (Arctic Today, August 7, 2020)
The Milne Ice Shelf lost some 40 percent of its area — and the last known epishelf lake in the northern hemisphere — over two days, late last month. The Milne Ice Shelf is at the fringe of Ellesmere Island, in Nunavut.
“Above normal air temperatures, offshore winds and open water in front of the ice shelf are all part of the recipe for ice shelf break up,” the Canadian Ice Service said on Twitter when it announced the loss on Sunday.
The shelf’s area shrank by about 80 square kilometers. By comparison, the island of Manhattan in New York covers roughly 60 square kilometers.
The Arctic has been warming at twice the global rate for the last 30 years, due to a process known as Arctic amplification. But this year, temperatures in the polar region have been intense. The polar sea ice hit its lowest extent for July in 40 years. Record heat and wildfires have scorched Siberia. Summer in the Canadian Arctic this year in particular has been 5 degrees Celsius above the 30-year average. That has threatened smaller ice caps, which can melt quickly because they do not have the bulk that larger glaciers have to stay cold. As a glacier disappears, more bedrock is exposed, which then heats up and accelerates the melting process.
A 2017 study predicted the ice caps were likely to disappear within five years. The ice caps were believed to have formed several centuries ago.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says chance of coronavirus vaccine being highly effective is ‘not great’. (CNBC, August 7, 2020)
Scientists are hoping for a coronavirus vaccine that is at least 75% effective, but 50% or 60% effective would be acceptable, too, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Q&A with the Brown University School of Public Health. “The chances of it being 98% effective is not great, which means you must never abandon the public health approach. You’ve got to think of the vaccine as a tool to be able to get the pandemic to no longer be a pandemic, but to be something that’s well controlled.”
U.S. intelligence report on Trump-Biden election meddling reveals who Russia, China and Iran want to win. (CNBC, August 7, 2020)
Russia is trying to “undermine” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s candidacy, a leading U.S. intelligence official said Friday.
But China and Iran want President Donald Trump to lose the election, said William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.
Evanina warned that “foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures” to affect the presidential election.
Trump long has relied on nondisclosure deals to prevent criticism. That strategy may be unraveling. (Washington Post, August 7, 2020)
For decades, Donald Trump has relied on broadly worded nondisclosure agreements as a powerful weapon against anyone who would say something critical of him. Among those who have signed agreements are a porn star, two ex-wives, contestants on “The Apprentice,” campaign workers and business associates.
But this key element of Trump’s corporate and political strategy has shown signs of unraveling, even as his campaign spends heavily to enforce such agreements. He and his allies recently have lost initial rounds in legal battles to stop damaging books by former top White House officials and his niece Mary L. Trump.
Now, in one of the most sweeping efforts by a former associate to undo nondisclosure agreements, the Trump campaign’s former Hispanic outreach director last week filed her latest effort in a class-action suit to void all such campaign contracts. She says they are so broad that they deny individuals their First Amendment right to say anything critical of the president — even as he routinely takes to Twitter to mock and deride his critics.
In a motion for summary judgment in the case, the former campaign worker, Jessica Denson, said the campaign sought a $1.5 million claim against her for violating an NDA. She said that came after she filed a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination by campaign officials. (That separate case is ongoing.) “These NDAs are representative of the levers of fear that this campaign and administration wield over people,” Denson told The Washington Post. “And if this lever of these NDAs is lifted, it is significant not only for the direct effect it has on people who have signed it, but for a general environment of people who are afraid to speak out.”
Billionaires, country clubs and celebrities like Kanye West received loans from PPP program. (1-min. video; CNBC, August 7, 2020)
Billionaires, country clubs and celebrities were among those businesses that applied for and received small business loans of $150,000 or greater. Here’s a look at some of the notable names.
Sen. Sanders proposes one-time tax that would cost Bezos $42.8 billion, Musk $27.5 billion. (2-min. video; CNBC, August 6, 2020)
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on Thursday introduced the “Make Billionaires Pay Act,” which would tax tech’s top leaders tens of billions of dollars in wealth made during the pandemic.  The “Make Billionaires Pay Act” would impose a one-time 60% tax on wealth gains made by billionaires between March 18, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021. The funds would be used to pay for out-of-pocket health-care expenses for all Americans for a year.
NEW: Facebook Fired An Employee Who Collected Evidence Of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment. (BuzzFeed News, August 6, 2020)
Facebook employees collected evidence showing the company is giving right-wing pages preferential treatment when it comes to misinformation. And they’re worried about how the company will handle the president’s falsehoods in an election year.
“I do think we’re headed for a problematic scenario where Facebook is going to be used to aggressively undermine the legitimacy of the US elections, in a way that has never been possible in history,” one Facebook employee wrote in a group on Workplace, the company’s internal communication platform, earlier this week.
For the past week, this scenario has been a topic of heated discussion inside Facebook and was a top question for its leader. Some 2,900 employees asked Zuckerberg to address it publicly during a company-wide meeting on Thursday, which he partly did, calling it "an unprecedented position." Zuckerberg’s remarks came amid growing internal concerns about the company's competence in handling misinformation, and the precautions it is taking to ensure its platform isn’t used to disrupt or mislead ahead of the US presidential election.
The last of the Zoroastrians (The Guardian, August 6, 2020)
A funeral, a family, and a journey into a disappearing religion.
Two cats test positive for coronavirus in Texas. (The Hill, August 6, 2020)
Texas A&M University researchers said both cats were asymptomatic and lived with people who have also tested positive, according to a statement from the university. The results suggest transmission is possible for pets in “high-risk” environments, researchers said.
The statement comes the same week Louisiana officials confirmed a dog has tested positive for the virus. The Bronx Zoo reported in May that several tigers and lions had contracted the virus after contact with an asymptomatic person who had the disease. The first dog in the U.S. to test positive for the virus died in July.
Kansas House speaker was hospitalized for COVID-19. Governor criticizes what he did next. (Wichita KS Eagle, August 6, 2020)
Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman disclosed Thursday he had been hospitalized for the coronavirus, prompting Gov. Laura Kelly to criticize his decision to attend a July meeting where Kelly and other officials were present without revealing his diagnosis. Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, is the highest-ranking Kansas official known to have caught the virus. He worked with other lawmakers to craft a compromise with the Democratic governor in June that limited her power over the summer to close businesses and limit mass gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.
“Speaker Ryckman’s decision to attend the State Finance Council meeting after being released from the hospital, while concealing his diagnosis from those of us in the room and taking his mask off, was reckless and dangerous,” Gov. Kelly said in a statement. “As elected officials, we have a unique responsibility to set the right example for the people of Kansas, and to follow the commonsense guidance from medical experts. While I’m dismayed by his actions, I wish Speaker Ryckman good health and I’m glad he’s on the road to recovery.”
Biden Says He Wouldn't Stand In The Way Of A Trump Prosecution. (3-min. video; NPR, August 6, 2020)
Joe Biden says that he believes prosecuting a former president would be a "very unusual thing and probably not very ... good for democracy," but he would not stand in the way of a future Justice Department pursuing criminal charges against President Trump after he leaves office. "Look, the Justice Department is not the president's private law firm. The attorney general is not the president's private lawyer. I will not interfere with the Justice Department's judgment of whether or not they think they should pursue the prosecution of anyone that they think has violated the law," Biden told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro. Biden made clear that any future prosecution against Trump would not be directed by him if he's elected president. "In terms of saying, 'I think the president violated the law. I think the president did this, therefore, go on and prosecute him' — I will not do that," he said. "If [a case] prove[s] to be a criminal offense, then in fact, that would be up to the attorney general to decide whether he or she wanted to proceed with it. I am not going to make that individual judgment," Biden added.
Trump has been connected with alleged illegal activity by his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and investigators working for former special counsel Robert Mueller. What isn't clear is whether federal authorities are investigating the president or whether prosecutors might take action against Trump if he no longer enjoyed the privileges that protect him from being indicted as a sitting president.
NEW: Lest We Forget the Horrors: A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions, and Crimes. (McSweeney's, August 6, 2020)
The Complete Listing (So Far): Atrocities 1-842 - to be read before the 2020 Presidential Election.
Trump claims Biden is 'against God' and will 'hurt the Bible'. (2-min. video; The Hill, August 6, 2020)
President Trump on Thursday claimed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, is "against God" as he levied a stream of attacks on his likely opponent in the November election. "Take away your guns, take away your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything," Trump said, standing behind a podium with the presidential seal. "Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God. He’s against guns. He’s against energy."
Biden was among those who chastised Trump for clearing out peaceful protesters near the White House in early June before the president walked across the street to pose for a photo outside the damaged St. John's Episcopal Church. Trump did not speak outside the church, instead holding a Bible in the air while surrounded by administration officials.
"Joe Biden's faith is at the core of who he is; he's lived it with dignity his entire life, and it's been a source of strength and comfort in times of extreme hardship," Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement. "Donald Trump is the only president in our history to have tear-gassed peaceful Americans and thrown a priest out of her church just so he could profane it - and a Bible - for his own cynical optics as he sought to tear our nation apart at a moment of crisis and pain," Bates added. "And this comes just one day after Trump's campaign abused a photo of Joe Biden praying in church to demean him, in one of the starkest expressions of weakness throughout this whole campaign."
Commission on Presidential Debates rejects Trump campaign call for earlier debate. (1-min. video; The Hill, August 6, 2020)
The Commission on Presidential Debates is rejecting the Trump campaign’s request to modify the presidential debate schedule so the first debate occurs before states begin early voting.
The commission rebuffed the campaign’s argument that the current debate schedule would deprive voters of seeing the candidates debate one another before the first ballots are cast. “You state that such a debate is necessary because some states begin sending out mail-in ballots before the first scheduled debate. There is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates,” wrote co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf, Dorothy Ridings and Kenneth Wollack in the letter to Giuliani Thursday. “In 2016, when the debate schedule was similar, only .0069% of the electorate had voted at the time of the first debate. While more people will likely vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been and will be highly publicized. Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity,” the letter continued.
The commission also rejected the campaign's list of reporters to moderate the debates.
Facebook removes troll farm posing as African-American support for Donald Trump. (NBC News, August 6, 2020)
Facebook removed hundreds of accounts on Thursday from a foreign troll farm posing as African-Americans in support of Donald Trump and QAnon supporters. It also removed hundreds of fake accounts linked to conservative media outlet The Epoch Times that pushed pro-Trump conspiracy theories about coronavirus and protests in the U.S. The foreign pro-Trump troll farm was based in Romania and pushed content on Instagram under names like “BlackPeopleVoteForTrump” and on Facebook under “We Love Our President.”
Facebook took down the accounts as part of its enforcement against coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is the use of fake accounts to inflate the reach of content or products on social media. Troll farms — groups of people that work together to manipulate internet discourse with fake accounts — are often outsourced and purchased by foreign governments or businesses to push specific political talking points.
Americans are struggling more than people in other wealthy nations during the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill, August 6, 2020)
The United States is No. 1 in the world for coronavirus cases, but — or perhaps as a result — falls below a number of other wealthy nations in a new analysis of mental health and economic consequences. Research by the Commonwealth Fund compared responses from adults in the United States to those from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. One-third of U.S. adults reported stress, anxiety and great sadness that was difficult to cope with by themselves, compared to about a quarter or less in other countries.
The mental toll of the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbated by harsh economic realities for many Americans. More than 30 percent of U.S. respondents said they have struggled economically and were unable to pay for basic necessities, used up all their savings, or borrowed money, according to the survey. In Canada, 24 percent said the same, followed by 21 percent in Australia, but on the other end, only 6 to 7 percent of respondents reported the same in Germany and the Netherlands.
Despite their trademark patriotism, Americans aren’t too happy about how their country has handled the coronavirus pandemic either. Only 33 percent of U.S. adults said President Trump has done either a “good” or “very good” job in his handling the coronavirus pandemic, compared to between 49 percent and 95 percent of respondents in other countries who approved of how their president or prime minister has dealt with the crisis. But the one common feeling across countries was an appreciation for health care workers’ response to the pandemic, with 78 percent to 96 percent of all countries saying that hospitals, nurses and doctors had done a good or very good job.
“As our country struggles with the surging number of cases and the economic havoc that the pandemic is wreaking, people in other countries are living a different, better, reality. Americans should realize that our country can do better, too. We can start by ensuring everyone can get and afford the health care they need, and by implementing public health measures, like mask-wearing, social distancing, and robust testing and tracing that can help us stop COVID-19 as so many others have effectively accomplished,” said David Blumenthal, President of the Commonwealth Fund.
Coronavirus: Fujitsu announces permanent work-from-home plan. (BBC News, August 6, 2020)
Technology firm Fujitsu has said it will halve its office space in Japan as it adapts to the "new normal" of the coronavirus pandemic. It says the "Work Life Shift" programme will offer unprecedented flexibility to its 80,000 workers in the country. Staff will be able to work flexible hours, and working from home will be standard wherever possible.
This is what coronavirus will do to our offices and homes. (BBC Visual and Data Journalism Team, August 6, 2020)
One day, the virus will subside. It could be eradicated. But even then, life will not simply return to the way it was before Covid-19. Spurred on by the coronavirus crisis, architects have been rethinking the buildings we inhabit. Scroll down to find out how the future might look.
Coronavirus: Los Angeles to shut off water and power to party houses. (BBC News, August 6, 2020)
The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has said the city will be authorised to shut off water and power to properties where large parties and gatherings are held despite restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus. He said house parties had become "nightclubs in the hills" and that the focus would be on gatherings "posing significant public dangers". The rule comes into force on Friday.
California is the worst-affected US state with over 532,000 Covid-19 cases. State authorities have also reported 9,872 deaths resulting from coronavirus. Los Angeles county continues to report the highest number of infections in the state - 197,912 as of Wednesday.
How a ship abandoned by its owner brought deadly cargo to Beirut. (Irish Times, August 6, 2020)
The countdown to catastrophe in Beirut started six years ago when a troubled, Russian-leased cargo ship made an unscheduled stop at the city’s port. The ship was trailed by debts, crewed by disgruntled sailors and dogged by a small hole in its hull that meant water had to be constantly pumped out. And it carried a volatile cargo: more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a combustible material used to make fertilisers – and bombs – that was destined for Mozambique.
The ship, the Rhosus, never made it. Embroiled in a financial and diplomatic dispute, it was abandoned by the Russian businessman who had leased it. And the ammonium nitrate was transferred to a dockside warehouse in Beirut, where it would languish for years, until Tuesday, when Lebanese officials said it exploded, sending a shock wave that killed more than 130 people and wounded another 5,000.
The Rhosus, which flies the flag of Moldova, arrived in Beirut in November 2013, two months after it left the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia. The ship was leased by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman living in Cyprus. Prokoshev, the captain, joined the ship in Turkey after a mutiny over unpaid wages by a previous crew.
In Lebanon, public rage focused on the negligence of the authorities, who were aware of the danger posed by the storage of 2,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse on the Beirut docks yet failed to act.
Senior customs officials wrote to the Lebanese courts at least six times from 2014 to 2017, seeking guidance on how to dispose of the ammonium nitrate, according to public records posted to social media by a Lebanese lawmaker, Salim Aoun. “In view of the serious danger posed by keeping this shipment in the warehouses in an inappropriate climate,” Shafik Marei, the director of Lebanese customs, wrote in May 2016, “we repeat our request to demand the maritime agency to re-export the materials immediately.” The customs officials proposed a number of solutions, including donating the ammonium nitrate to the Lebanese army or selling it to the privately owned Lebanese Explosives Co. Marei sent a second, similar letter a year later.
The judiciary failed to respond to any of his pleas, the records suggested. Lebanese judicial officials could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Satellite Images Show Aftermath Of Beirut Blast. (NPR, August 5, 2020)
Several warehouses appear to be flattened and a cruise ship called the Orient Queen can be seen listing to one side. Heavy damage extends for over half a mile into the city. The blast killed at least 100 people and injured thousands more.
Reports suggest that the incident was triggered yesterday when a fire in one section of the port reached an enormous cache of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that had been offloaded months earlier. The explosion was so large that the U.S. Geological Survey registered it as a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.
NEW: An Actually Useful Guide to Not Being On Your Phone All the Time. (Vice, August 5, 2020)
If you’re struggling to detach yourself from your various devices during this pandemic—or, if you can't do that out of necessity, but would like strategies for constantly looking at a screen without wanting to crack it into pieces—here are some tips.
NEW: Your Old Radiator Is a Pandemic-Fighting Weapon. (Bloomberg, August 5, 2020)
Turn-of-the-century faith in ventilation to combat disease pushed engineers to design steam heating systems that still overheat apartments today.
NEW: Umair Haque: If You’re Depressed by the End of the World, Read This,The Message of the Garbage Fire that is 2020 (Eudaimonia & Co, August 5, 2020)
So how did we keep existential despair at bay, in human history? Well, first we invented gods and devils and heavens and hells. I don’t want to offend those of you who are religious — and I’m not an atheist. I believe there is a kind of oneness that unites all beings. Even so, I can’t quite believe there’s some kind of kindly grandpa in the sky who’s watching over us. Religion — at least unbending, organized religion, “follow these rules, or else you’re damned!!” — was history’s first defense mechanism against existential despair.
Believe in an eternal afterlife free of pain — you don’t have to worry so much about the nightmare of the human condition. I say “so much” because no amount of religion offers perfect protection from Lacan’s Real or Sartre’s No Escape. Faith, even if you have it, is tested still in all kinds of ways.
NEW: You want people to do the right thing? Save them the guilt trip. (Aeon, August 5, 2020)
Feeling good about our actions and what they reflect about who we are can elicit positive emotions. These feelings can then provide us with the energy and mental resources to engage in difficult problems, or to ‘give to others’.
Dr. Fauci: My family gets death threats. (2-min.video; CNN, August 5, 2020)
Dr. Anthony Fauci tells CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he has had to get security protection after his family received threats and harassment.
NEW: Casimir force used to control and manipulate objects. (Phys.org, August 4, 2020)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal Tweets an Ominous Message - Time for a Leak. (Daily Kos, August 4, 2020)
"In advance of the classified briefing I’ll hear later today, I reviewed classified documents this morning. They are chilling. Declassify this information. Americans deserve & need to know about ongoing foreign interference (even sabotage) in our election system."
[See Pelosi et al, below on July 24, 2020.]
Federal judge basically begs the Supreme Court to overturn qualified immunity. (Daily Kos, August 4, 2020)
The Supreme Court has drawn the doctrine of qualified immunity so broadly that police officers can almost never be held accountable in civil court for their abuses on the job. Since what the Supreme Court says, goes, lower-court judges are forced to let violent or racist or violent and racist police off the hook time after time. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves is apparently sick of that, and made it very clear in a new 72-page decision—even as he granted qualified immunity to an officer who violated the Constitution.
Outrage pours out of every line from the judge forced to make an unjust decision. “Let us not be fooled by legal jargon,” Reeves wrote. “Immunity is not exoneration. And the harm in this case to one man sheds light on the harm done to the nation by this manufactured doctrine.”
Judge Reeves goes deep on the sordid history of qualified immunity, before taking the traffic stop at issue before him step by step and concluding both that it involved “an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment” involving involuntary, coerced consent—and that McClendon is protected by qualified immunity until the Supreme Court overturns it. His decision is a sustained plea to the court to do exactly that, concluding “I do not envy the task before the Supreme Court. Overturning qualified immunity will undoubtedly impact our society. Yet, the status quo is extraordinary and unsustainable. Just as the Supreme Court swept away the mistaken doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ so too it should eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity.”
A majority of voters want to end qualified immunity. Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Justin Amash have sponsored legislation to end it. But for now—until either Congress or the Supreme Court acts—it gives police the right to commit gross abuses against civilians, abuses that in many cases are obviously and outrageously racist. It must go.
NEW: Voters Rarely Switch Parties, but Recent Shifts Further Educational, Racial Divergence. (Pew Research, August 4, 2020)
Neither party nets an overall advantage from the 9% of voters who have switched since 2018.
Satisfaction with state of the US at 9-year low. (The Hill, August 4, 2020)
National satisfaction amid the COVID-19 pandemic has dipped considerably since the virus arrived stateside. New data from Gallup reveals that just 13 percent of U.S. adults are satisfied with the current state of the nation.
Previously, national satisfaction registered a higher 20 percent in early June, falling seven percentage points. The metric has consistently fallen from its 15-year high, which was 45 percent in February.
Satisfaction has not been this low since November 2011, when it was about 12 percent. Contextually, 2011 was the year U.S. credit dropped as the country worked to manage its debt accumulation. The satisfaction rating also stands 6 percentage points above the lowest national satisfaction rate ever recorded by Gallup, 7 percent in October of 2008, amid The Great Recession.
“Americans have rarely been less satisfied with the state of the nation than they are now,” the report authors write.
On a deeper demographic level, data suggests that the drop in national positivity primarily occurred among Republicans. Gallup notes that among respondents who identified as Republican, satisfaction looms around the 20 percent mark, roughly half of last month’s reading of 39 percent satisfaction. 
Interestingly, despite broad dissatisfaction among Republicans, party support of President Trump is still remarkably high, with Gallup noting a 91 percent approval rating, although this sentiment is not shared by Democrats or Independents, who reported a 4 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
This balances out to an overall national approval rating of 41 percent for President Trump.
Researchers propose that given the party’s general approval of Trump, dissatisfaction may stem more from the regional outbreaks of the coronavirus, the subsequent economic contraction and discussion of systemic racism that has entered the national spotlight following the police killing of George Floyd. 
Remarks at Media Availability with Leader Schumer Following Meeting with Trump Administration on Coronavirus Relief Legislation (Nancy Pelosi, August 4, 2020)
Leader Schumer: We spent an hour and a half.  We really went down issue by issue by issue, slogging through.  They made some concessions, which we appreciated.  We made some concessions, which they appreciated.  We are still far away on a lot of the important issues, but we’re continuing to go at it.
In my view, the fundamental disagreement is the scope and depth of the problem and its solution.  This is the greatest crisis America has faced in 75 years economically, in a hundred years health-wise.  We believe it needs a big, bold solution.
They are still wrapped in this idea that the government shouldn’t do much and leave it to the private sector.  And it just doesn’t work.  They’re also not unified.  They admit that there are a large number of the Republicans in the Senate will not vote for anything.  And we don’t exactly know where Donald Trump is.  He says a different thing every day.
But we’re still slogging through step by step by step, and we’re making progress.  It’s not easy, but we’re going to keep at it until we get the kind of bill the American people demand and need, which is a bold, strong bill.
Speaker Pelosi: To that end, a bold, strong bill, we agree that we want to have an agreement, and in that case, we then say that’s our goal, let’s engineer back from there as to what we have to do to get that done.
Now, Leader Schumer and I are legislators, with long experience in writing legislation.  We know that the devil is in the details.  So are the angels.  And it’s very important that we have a complete understanding of each other of what we are agreeing to.  It’s not a conversation, it’s a legislative interaction.
So, this takes time, and it takes specificity.  And you call each other back, ‘Well, you bring more of your information tomorrow.  We’ll bring more of ours,’ so that we have the clearest understanding of what is going to be in the bill and what the consequences are – what are the ramifications of that.
This is a different legislative negotiation than any we’ve been engaged in because there’s a fuse out there of people being infected and dying because we have not had an effective strategic plan.  The Administration has resisted that.  We’re insisting on that, in terms of a strategic plan for testing, tracing, treatment, isolation, masks, sanitation, all that it takes to hold this in check until, God-willing and science-providing, we have a vaccine soon.
So, this is – it’s hard.  In some cases we’re inching along, in others, we’re making more progress, but it takes time and we’ll take more time tomorrow.
Confused Trump can't understand how many Americans are dying of coronavirus in shocking interview. (Daily Kos, August 4, 2020)
Several of the moments in Donald Trump’s interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios have gone viral for good reason, but the extended clip where the two men argue about how well the U.S. is doing when it comes to coronavirus cases is especially jaw-dropping—and informative. As Swan presses Trump on the terrible outcomes in the U.S., we get to to see how Trump’s mind works, beat by beat. It is, of course, terrifying.
NEW: Jennifer Cohn: Tips to Mitigate Threats to Our Votes and Voter Registrations Before November (Medium, August 3, 2020)
3. If you vote in person, request to vote with a ball point pen, ie, a #HandMarkedPaperBallot (HMPB) rather than a touchscreen, as most experts agree that HMPBs are more reliable and secure. Moreover, many new touchscreen systems (ballot marking devices) put voters’ selections into barcodes, which humans can’t read, although there typically is small human readable text beneath the barcode that can be used in a manual audit or recount if state law allows. (Voters w/ disabilities who are unable to hand mark are an exception to this “avoid touchscreens” advice and should have access to well maintained ballot marking devices.)
Census Cuts All Counting Efforts Short By A Month. (NPR, August 3, 2020)
These last-minute changes to the constitutionally-mandated count of every person living in the U.S. threaten the accuracy of population numbers used to determine the distribution of political representation and federal funding for the next decade. With roughly 4 out of 10 households nationwide yet to be counted, and already delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the bureau now has less than two months left to try to reach people of color, immigrants, renters, rural residents and other members of historically undercounted groups who are not likely to fill out a census form on their own.
Democrats in Congress and many census advocates have become increasingly concerned that the White House is pressuring the bureau to stop counting soon in order to benefit Republicans when House seats are reapportioned and voting districts are redrawn.
Tucker: ‘Probably Illegal’ for Biden to Only Consider a Black Woman VP. (Daily Beast, August 3, 2020)
Carlson, who is currently facing the ire of his own colleagues over his racist rhetoric, devoted his opening monologue to calling Black female veep candidates unqualified.
NASA astronauts aim for Florida coast to end SpaceX flight. (1-min. video; Associated Press, August 2, 2020)
The first astronauts launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company departed the International Space Station on Saturday night for the final and most important part of their test flight: returning to Earth with a rare splashdown. NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken bid farewell to the three men left behind as their SpaceX Dragon capsule undocked and headed toward a Sunday afternoon descent by parachute into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite Tropical Storm Isaias’ surge toward Florida’s Atlantic shore, NASA said the weather looked favorable off the coast of Pensacola on the extreme opposite side of the state.
It will be the first splashdown for astronauts in 45 years. The last time was following the joint U.S.-Soviet mission in 1975 known as Apollo-Soyuz.
Trump's Germany troops pullout may be his last gift to Putin before the election. (CNN, August 2, 2020)
Since he came to office, US President Donald Trump has obsessively picked at the ties that bind America to its allies.
This week in one apparently wanton yank, he ripped one of those cords by announcing a plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany. This thin green thread of forces, woven through Germany's historic towns, rolling fields and dense forests, has for three generations helped ensure peace in Europe, embodying an unbreakable commitment between the former foes.
The relationship now though, particularly if Trump is reelected later this year, is in freefall, destination unknown.
His decision, if his tweets have been correctly divined, seems to be to punish Germany. His undiplomatic data grenades were tossed out in a few moments in the middle of the night, but it could take years to undo the damage German officials fear it will inflict on the military alliance.
Trump is the gift that keeps on giving for the Kremlin: his unpredictability, while often a pain, for them is continual grist for their propaganda mill.
It has taken America's 45th president almost four self-serving and destructive years to reach this point, but in pulling the trigger on withdrawing troops from Germany, one-third of the total stationed in the country, he has signaled an end to what Franklin D. Roosevelt, America's 32nd president, conceived as a post-World War II order based on common interest and collective aspirations. Roosevelt and other leaders of his generation witnessed the worst of times as the great powers collided, propelled by a few evil self-possessed men; assuming Trump is not completely ignorant, he has chosen to ignore this obvious fact.
Perhaps a new American president will be elected this November with enough time and persuasive powers to repair the rift Trump has caused with his country's allies. It won't be easy, as Trump's trust deficit is compounded by all those who stood by his side.
GOP: Renomination of Trump to be held in private! (Associated Press, August 2, 2020)
The vote to renominate President Donald Trump is set to be conducted in private later this month, without members of the press present, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention said, citing the coronavirus.
[And if you believe THAT...]
While Trump called off the public components of the convention in Florida last month, citing spiking cases of the virus across the country, 336 delegates are scheduled to gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Aug. 24 to formally vote to make Trump the GOP standard-bearer once more.
Nominating conventions are traditionally meant to be media bonanzas, as political parties seek to leverage the attention the events draw to spread their message to as many voters as possible. If the GOP decision stands, it will be the first party nominating convention in modern history to be closed to reporters.
Trump: "Joe Biden's A Secret Radical Leftist." (16-min. video; The Young Turks, August 1, 2020)
NEW: How the Trump campaign came to court QAnon, the online conspiracy movement identified by the FBI as a violent threat. (5-min. video; The Washington Post, August 1, 2020)
The Trump campaign’s director of press communications, for example, went on a QAnon program and urged listeners to “sign up and attend a Trump Victory Leadership Initiative training.” QAnon iconography has appeared in official campaign advertisements targeting battleground states. And the White House’s director of social media and deputy chief of staff for communications, Dan Scavino, has gone from endorsing praise from QAnon accounts to posting their memes himself.
The president has repeatedly elevated its digital foot soldiers, sharing their tweets more than a dozen times on the Fourth of July alone. His middle son, Eric, who is 36 and a campaign surrogate, recently posted, and then deleted, an image drumming up support for his father’s Tulsa rally that included a giant “Q” and the text, “Where we go one, we go all.”
The apparent convergence of Trump’s inner circle with an ever-widening cohort of QAnon believers is alarming to scholars of extremism and digital communications, some of whom characterize the theory’s adherents as a cult. What most troubles analysts, however, is not that McEnany and others responsible for carrying out Trump’s agenda are amplifying QAnon, which has permeated right-wing politics and inspired a cadre of congressional candidates who could soon bring the philosophy to Capitol Hill. Even more worrisome, these observers say, is that the president’s messaging is increasingly indistinguishable from some key elements of the conspiracy theory.
Just in time for school, 2 new studies conclude small kids carry and transmit COVID-19 just fine. (Daily Kos, August 1, 2020)
Donald Trump and his billionaire heiress and non-educator Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue their relentless push for school reopenings, even threatening to cut off federal funds to those schools that hesitate to throw open their doors, exposing millions of public school children, parents and teachers to the potentially lethal effects of COVID-19. One of their loudest talking points has been the supposedly low rate of transmission of the virus by children.
New research indicates that, although they don’t suffer the same degree of ill effects as adults, children aged 5-17 are actually bastions of COVID-19 contagion to other children, as well as adults such as parents, grandparents, and teachers.
‘Assume the monster is everywhere’: Health experts urge dramatic reset to halt virus. (Washington Post, August 1, 2020)
The coronavirus is spreading at dangerous levels across much of the United States, and public health experts are demanding a dramatic reset in the national response, one that recognizes that the crisis is intensifying and that current piecemeal strategies aren’t working.
This is a new phase of the pandemic, one no longer built around local or regional clusters and hot spots. It comes at an unnerving moment in which the economy suffered its worst collapse since the Great Depression, schools are rapidly canceling plans for in-person instruction and Congress has failed to pass a new emergency relief package. President Trump continues to promote fringe science, the daily death toll keeps climbing and the human cost of the virus in America has just passed 150,000 lives.
Lawmaker With COVID: My Health Choices Are Up To Me. Critics: That’s What Women Assert. (Huffington Post, August 1, 2020)
Rep. Louie Gohmert, who believes women should be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, is suddenly all about (his) freedom of choice.
With law enforcement out of sight, Portland sees second peaceful night of protest. (Washington Post, August 1, 2020)
Unlike Thursday evening, when there was an air of celebration, the tone of the protest on Friday evening seemed more somber and, at times, conflicted.
Without the federal officers sent by the Trump administration to rally against — not to mention the threat of tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests they brought with them — the protesters tackled more complicated questions among themselves. Some favored a confrontation, setting off firecrackers or throwing projectiles at the still-fenced-off courthouse. Others argued that a more measured approach was needed. When a group of black-clad protesters set an American flag on fire, a group of mothers quickly moved to extinguish it and sparked a shouting match. “You’re on the same side!” one protester on the sidelines yelled, trying to de-escalate the situation as a small group nearby sang: “There’s no such thing as a bad protester.”
DHS official to be reassigned after intelligence collection on journalists. (CNN, August 1, 2020)
The Department of Homeland Security official who oversaw the intelligence division at the department is being reassigned after it was revealed his office had gathered intelligence reports on two US journalists, according to a source familiar with the matter. Brian Murphy, who served as the acting under secretary for the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, was summoned to acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf's office Friday night. Murphy is a career official who filled the position after the Senate-confirmed Under Secretary David Glawe left DHS earlier this year.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that DHS had sent Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies summarizing tweets sent by two journalists -- New York Times reporter Mike Baker and Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the blog Lawfare -- who had published leaked unclassified government documents while covering the unrest in Portland, Oregon.
The collection and dissemination of information on journalists was carried out by lower level officials acting on broad guidance, the source told CNN, adding that Murphy was not fully aware until after the fact.
Wolf, who has led the department in an acting capacity since last November, sought to distance himself from the incident. "In no way does the Acting Secretary condone this practice, and he has immediately ordered an inquiry into the matter," the DHS spokesperson said in a statement earlier this week.
NEW: Linux Foundation's free online intro to Linux class opens its doors. (ZDNet, August 1, 2020)
Want to learn your way around Linux? Your free Linux introduction class opportunity starts on August 1st.
NEW: Who Lost Lucent?: The Decline of America’s Telecom Equipment Industry (American Affairs Journal, August 1, 2020)
As America transitions to 5G wireless networks, the U.S. intelligence community sees the Chinese telecom giant Huawei as a systemic security risk. In response, President Trump has banned the use of Chinese 5G equipment in U.S. networks. But despite these measures, there is still deep concern that eventually Huawei will dominate global markets, displacing the other major 5G providers, Europe’s Ericsson and Nokia. To address this challenge, a number of proposals have been floated, including that the U.S. government buy shares in Ericsson or Nokia or provide incentives for U.S. companies to produce 5G gear.
Few, however, are asking why there is no American telecom equipment company. After all, in the 1970s the two largest telecom equipment manufacturers were U.S. companies: Western Electric and ITT. Even in the late 1990s, the two largest were still based in North America: Lucent and Nortel (headquartered in Canada but employing tens of thousands of workers in the United States). In 1999, Lucent was almost three times larger than its next two rivals and was the sixth largest company in America in terms of capitalization. Nortel ac­counted for over one-third of the capitalization of the Toronto Stock Exchange. By 2008, however, Nortel was bankrupt, and Lucent was a sliver of its former self, having been sold off to Alcatel, a French company, which was later bought by Finland’s Nokia.
What happened? How did America go from the world’s leader to not even an also-ran in the span of just two decades? Equally troub­ling, why did no one sound the alarm bell when there was still time for action?
NEW: Animated Trump Battles Ghost of Reagan in New Rap Cartoon. (7-min. video; Hollywood Reporter, July 31, 2020)
As part of a new political initiative by Meme2020 — a collective of social media content creators founded by Jerry Media CEO Mick Purzycki — the group has released an animated short film today in which President Donald Trump engages in a rap battle with the ghost of Ronald Reagan. The seven-minute piece, funded by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, is the first of a half dozen rap cartoons — all poking fun at Trump — that will be rolled out over the course of the next few weeks, says Beau Lewis, the founder and CEO of Rhyme Combinator, which conceived and produced Reagan vs. Trump Debate. The videos are part of a larger Meme2020 campaign that began rolling out social media content this week with a focus on promoting vote-by-mail registration. (Trump has repeatedly criticized widespread voting by mail and made unfounded claims that it leads to voter fraud.
Pitched it seems mostly to Republican audiences (and some independents), the first video delves into questions of political legacy and loyalty within the party, as debated by caricature versions of the current and former presidents, with animated cameos by Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, Lindsay Graham, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pence.
Citing Election Delay Tweet, Influential Trump Ally Now Demands His Re-Impeachment. (NPR, July 31, 2020)
After voting for President Trump in 2016 and staunchly defending him in conservative publications, a Federalist Society leader appears to be having some very public buyer's remorse. Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the powerful conservative legal organization, is now calling on the House of Representatives to do again what it has already done once this year: impeach Trump. In a scathing opinion piece in The New York Times published online Thursday, the Northwestern University law professor points to what ignited his newfound ire with the president: a tweet Trump sent out shortly after news broke Thursday morning that the U.S. economy had suffered its biggest recorded contraction ever last quarter.
Calabresi declared himself "appalled" by the tweet, which he characterized as "seeking to postpone the November election." "Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats' assertion that President Trump is a fascist," the conservative legal scholar wrote. "But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president's immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate."
It was a remarkable turnaround for a man who as recently as November had accused House Democrats of conducting an "unconstitutional" and "Kafkaesque 'trial' " in their Trump impeachment proceedings.
Calabresi also had some stern advice for Republican lawmakers, many of whom have routinely approved conservative judicial nominees endorsed and promoted by the Federalist Society. "President Trump needs to be told by every Republican in Congress that he cannot postpone the federal election. Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional and without precedent in American history," Calabresi warned. "Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again."
Calabresi's public distancing from the 45th president was applauded by other conservatives critical of Trump. "Steve Calabresi, welcome to the Resistance," tweeted Washington attorney George Conway, the famously Trump-bashing husband of senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Trump holds mini-rally at Florida airport. (1-min. video; The Hill, July 31, 2020)
The president landed in Tampa, where he is participating in a fundraiser, and was greeted by dozens of supporters who had gathered along barricades. Few were seen wearing masks.
The president, who was flanked by local law enforcement officials, painted a dystopian picture of the country should presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win election in November. "If Joe Biden is elected president, the chaos and bloodshed will spread to every community in our land. You’ll have a Portland everywhere," he said, referencing clashes between protesters and federal agents deployed to Oregon. "There will be no safety, no security, no peace, no justice, no one to protect you and no one to defend the American way of life. People like the ones standing behind me will not be considered primetime. With me, they're considered primetime."
The president made only a fleeting mention of the coronavirus pandemic during his 30-minute remarks, even though Florida is the new epicenter of the outbreak in the United States. Florida has reported more than 470,000 cases, the second-most of any state, according to data compiled by The New York Times. Roughly 70,000 of those cases have been reported in the last seven days, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a staunch Trump ally, has been forced to roll back some business reopenings to try and contain the virus. Trump spoke about the border and boasted of investments in the military. But most of his focus was on his support for law enforcement, attempting to paint Biden as a candidate who will cave to the left wing of his party and oversee chaos in the streets.
The persistent pandemic has forced Trump to forgo his standard rallies in large arenas with thousands of people packed together. He held a rally last month in Tulsa, Okla., but attendance was underwhelming and local officials cited the event as a cause for a subsequent increase in virus cases. A scheduled rally in New Hampshire earlier this month was scrapped, with campaign officials citing a poor weather forecast. But sources close to the campaign acknowledged that turnout was expected to fall short of expectations, much like in Oklahoma.
Biden issued a statement earlier Friday condemning Trump's handling of the pandemic and criticizing his agenda while he's in the Sunshine State. "While Floridians, including our frontline health care workers, continue to struggle every day with the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their lives, Donald Trump comes to Florida with no apparent intention of addressing these issues and instead is there to raise money for his campaign with his Mar-a-Lago crowd," Biden said. "Throughout this pandemic, Donald Trump has ignored the problem, blamed others, tried to shield the magnitude of the pandemic, rewarded his friends while American families are struggling, and actively tried to divide our country," he added. "This isn’t the behavior of a leader."
DHS compiled ‘intelligence reports’ on journalists who published leaked documents. (Washington Post, July 30, 2020)
The Department of Homeland Security has compiled “intelligence reports” about the work of American journalists covering protests in Portland, Ore., in what current and former officials called an alarming use of a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors.
Over the past week, the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets written by two journalists — a reporter for the New York Times and the editor in chief of the blog Lawfare — and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland. The intelligence reports, obtained by The Washington Post, include written descriptions and images of the tweets and the number of times they had been liked or retweeted by others.
NASA, ULA Launch Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission to Red Planet. (NASA, July 30, 2020)
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is on its way to the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples to send back to Earth. Humanity's most sophisticated rover launched with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at 7:50 a.m. EDT (4:50 a.m. PDT) Thursday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The ULA Atlas V's Centaur upper stage initially placed the Mars 2020 spacecraft into a parking orbit around Earth. The engine fired for a second time and the spacecraft separated from the Centaur as expected. Navigation data indicate the spacecraft is perfectly on course to Mars.
The Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission is to seek out signs of past microscopic life on Mars, explore the diverse geology of its landing site, Jezero Crater, and demonstrate key technologies that will help us prepare for future robotic and human exploration.
"Jezero Crater is the perfect place to search for signs of ancient life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Perseverance is going to make discoveries that cause us to rethink our questions about what Mars was like and how we understand it today. As our instruments investigate rocks along an ancient lake bottom and select samples to return to Earth, we may very well be reaching back in time to get the information scientists need to say that life has existed elsewhere in the universe."
"There is still a lot of road between us and Mars," said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager at JPL. "About 290 million miles of them. But if there was ever a team that could make it happen, it is this one. We are going to Jezero Crater. We will see you there Feb. 18, 2021."
[With many interesting Perseverance links, here.]
NEW: As it happened: Nasa rover launches on Mars life mission. (various videos and links; BBC, July 30, 2020)
Nasa's Perseverance heads for Mars.
We Need to Talk About Ventilation. (The Atlantic, July 30, 2020)
How is it that six months into a respiratory pandemic, we are still doing so little to mitigate airborne transmission?
Trump Might Try to Postpone the Election. That’s Unconstitutional. He should be removed unless he relents. (New York Times, July 30, 2020)
Stephen Calabresi, past Trump advisor, co-founder of the Federalist Society, and a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law.:
"I have voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, including voting for Donald Trump in 2016. I wrote op-eds and a law review article protesting what I believe was an unconstitutional investigation by Robert Mueller. I also wrote an op-ed opposing President Trump’s impeachment.
"But I am frankly appalled by the president’s recent tweet seeking to postpone the November election. Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate."
How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air” (Vanity Fair, July 30, 2020)
Experts are now warning that the U.S. testing system is on the brink of collapse. “We are at a very bad moment here,” said Margaret Bourdeaux. “We are about to lose visibility on this monster and it’s going to rampage through our whole country. This is a massive emergency.”
First, "the White House" (NOT an authorized government purchaser) apparently ordered $52M of test kits from a United Arab Emirates company; they proved to be contaminated, and have not yet been paid for.
This spring, a team working under the president's son-in-law produced a plan for an aggressive, coordinated national COVID-19 response that could have brought the pandemic under control. So why did the White House spike it in favor of a shambolic 50-state response?
A new Rockefeller Foudation plan sought to do exactly what the federal government had chosen not to: create a national infrastructure in a record-short period of time. “Raj doesn’t do non-huge things,” said Andrew Sweet, the Rockefeller Foundation’s managing director for COVID-19 response and recovery. In a discussion with coalition members, Dr. Anthony Fauci called the Rockefeller plan “music to my ears.”
Reaching out to state and local governments, the foundation and its advisers soon became flooded with calls for help from school districts, hospital systems, and workplaces, all desperate for guidance. In regular video calls, a core advisory team that includes Shah, former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan, former National Cancer Institute director Rick Klausner, and Section 32’s Mike Pellini worked through how best to support members of its growing coalition.
Schools “keep hitting refresh on the CDC website and nothing’s changed in the last two months,” Shah told his colleagues in a video meeting in June. In the absence of trustworthy federal guidance, the Rockefeller team hashed out an array of issues: How should schools handle symptomatic and asymptomatic students? What about legal liability? What about public schools that were too poor to even afford a nurse?
(Last week, the CDC issued new guidelines that enthusiastically endorsed reopening schools and downplayed the risks, after coming under heavy pressure from President Trump to revise guidelines that he said were “very tough and expensive.”)
It may seem impossible for anyone but the federal government to scale up diagnostic testing one hundred-fold through a painstaking and piecemeal approach. But in private conversations, dispirited members of the White House task force urged members of the Rockefeller coalition to persist in their efforts. “Despite what we might be hearing, there is nothing being done in the administration on testing,” one of them was told on a phone call.
Despite the Rockefeller Foundation’s round-the-clock work to guide the U.S. to a nationwide testing system essential to reopening, the foundation has not yet been able to bend the most important curve of all: the Trump administration’s determined disinterest in big federal action. Shah delivered a stark warning: “We fear the fall will be worse than the spring.” He added, putting it bluntly: “America is not near the top of countries who have handled COVID-19 effectively.”
Just three days later, news reports revealed that the Trump administration was trying to block any new funding for testing and contact tracing in the new coronavirus relief package being hammered out in Congress. As one member of the Rockefeller coalition said of the administration’s response, “We’re dealing with a schizophrenic organization. Who the hell knows what’s going on? It’s just insanity.”
On Friday, July 31, the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, which is investigating the federal response, will hold a hearing to examine the “urgent need” for a comprehensive national plan, at which Dr. Fauci, CDC director Robert Redfield, and Admiral Brett Giroir will testify. Among other things, the subcommittee is probing whether the Trump administration sought to suppress testing, in part due to Trump’s claim at his Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally in June that he ordered staff to “slow the testing down.”
The gamble that son-in-law real estate developers, or Morgan Stanley bankers liaising with billionaires, could effectively stand in for a well-coordinated federal response has proven to be dead wrong. Even the smallest of Jared Kushner’s solutions to the pandemic have entangled government agencies in confusion and raised concerns about illegality.
Irregularities in COVID Reporting Contract Award Process Raise New Questions. (NPR, July 29, 2020)
Among the findings of the NPR investigation:
- The Department of Health and Human Services initially characterized the contract with TeleTracking as a no-bid contract. When asked about that, HHS said there was a "coding error" and that the contract was actually competitively bid.
- The process by which HHS awarded the contract is normally used for innovative scientific research, not the building of government databases.
- HHS had directly phoned the company about the contract, according to a company spokesperson. 
- TeleTracking CEO Michael Zamagias had links to the New York real estate world — and in particular, a firm that financed billions of dollars in projects with the Trump Organization.
'I failed my fellow Americans.': the white women defecting from Trump (The Guardian, July 29, 2020)
After four years of tumult, there are signs Trump hasn’t been able to hang on to college-educated white women in crucial swing states.
Apparently, Trump wants to lose by even more. (Daily Kos, July 28, 2020)
Conservatives are livid at the “betrayals” they see in Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch after a term that delivered brutal conservative defeats on topics like LGBTQ rights, immigration, and abortion rights. Therefore, they aren’t just cheering Trump’s promises to release a “list” of future judicial candidates: They are demanding it be whittled down through a purity filter.
There are lot