Lazy Caturday Reads

Bette Davis

Good Morning!!

I’m not an economist, but I’m going to post some economic news today. Dakinikat is an economist, and maybe she will weigh in on what’s happening.

Talks between Democratic Congressional leaders and Trump administration representatives have broken down.

CNN: Stimulus talks break down on Capitol Hill as negotiators walk away without a deal.

Negotiations over the next stimulus package intended to bolster the economy and help struggling Americans pay their bills have stalled on Capitol Hill with Democrats and Trump administration officials walking away after talks broke down on Friday and devolved into partisan finger-pointing.

At a hastily scheduled news conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club Friday evening, President Donald Trump laid out the executive actions he said he would pursue if Congress does not reach a deal.

No additional discussions are planned after nearly two weeks of daily meetings, and lead White House negotiators Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said they were recommending Trump move ahead with a series of executive orders.

Trump said Friday the actions would include a payroll tax deferment, extending unemployment benefits, extending an eviction moratorium and deferring student loan payments and forgiving their interest.

It’s not at all clear to me that any of this would be legal, especially cutting the payroll tax, which would starve Social Security and Medicare. Trump is obviously dying to do that. Back to the CNN story:

Cher

Trump said “they’re talking about” deferring the payroll tax until the end of the year. “And I can extend it at a certain period … and it will be retroactive until July 1,” he said. “I’m going to enhance unemployment benefits through the end of the year,” he added, without specifying any amount.

But the executive orders are expected to meet fierce resistance from Democrats who plan to challenge them in court. Democrats warn that executive action taken will be insufficient to address the extent of the economic and public health crisis faced by Americans during the pandemic.

CNN: Coronavirus has already dealt a blow to Social Security’s finances. Trump’s payroll tax holiday could make it worse.

This isn’t a far-off problem that retirees’ grandchildren would face. If this economic downturn is as bad as the Great Recession a decade ago, then the Social Security trust funds could run out of money in 2029, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. After that, beneficiaries could see a 31% cut in retirement payments.

The program’s trustees had projected earlier this year that the trust funds would be depleted in 2035, but that did not take the coronavirus pandemic into account.

It would be the first time the estimated insolvency date was within a decade since the crisis of the 1980s, which prompted several changes, including raising the retirement age, said Shai Akabas, the center’s director of economy policy.

“An already urgent situation has become even more pressing,” Akabas said, noting the severe drop in payroll tax revenue. “We expect that that trend is going to continue for many years as it takes the labor market to recover.”

Donna Reed

From Business Insider: Trump implementing a payroll tax cut through executive order would blow a hole in Social Security and Medicare’s finances, economists warn.

“Trump’s scheme would weaken the Social Security and Medicare trust funds by diverting the revenue from the employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and potentially the employer’s share of Medicare taxes, from the programs’ trust funds,” the memo from the Center for American Progress said.

Earlier this year, Congress deferred the employer-portion of the Social Security tax (6.2%) through 2022 under the CARES Act. But they replaced the lost money with an infusion of general Treasury funds.

Trump, the memo said, lacks the authority to appropriate funds, which is Congress’s purview.

Many economists say that implementing a payroll tax cut through an executive order wouldn’t lead to a bump in wages for most workers, since the executive branch can only defer tax payments up to a year and not forgive them. Wiping out the payment requires Congress to act.

Legally, employers remain on the hook for any delayed payment. Firms would likely keep the money since they fear being saddled with a hefty tax bill if Congress didn’t move to forgive it.

Obviously, the fact that this would be illegal won’t stop Trump from trying it.

Paul Krugman weighs in on the economic crisis we face: Coming Next: The Greater Recession. Krugman argues that without a second stimulus package being enacted very soon the economy is going to get much worse.

I’m not sure how many people realize just how much deeper the coronavirus recession of 2020 could have been. Obviously it was terrible: Employment plunged, and real G.D.P. fell by around 10 percent. Almost all of that, however, reflected the direct effects of the pandemic, which forced much of the economy into lockdown.

Ava Gardner, 1946

What didn’t happen was a major second round of job losses driven by plunging consumer demand. Millions of workers lost their regular incomes; without federal aid, they would have been forced to slash spending, causing millions more to lose their jobs. Luckily Congress stepped up to the plate with special aid to the unemployed, which sustained consumer spending and kept the nonquarantined parts of the economy afloat.

Furthermore, evidence from austerity policies a decade ago suggests a substantial “multiplier” effect, as spending cuts lead to falling incomes, leading to further spending cuts.

Put it all together and the expiration of emergency aid could produce a 4 percent to 5 percent fall in G.D.P. But wait, there’s more. States and cities are in dire straits and are already planning harsh spending cuts; but Republicans refuse to provide aid, with Trump insisting, falsely, that local fiscal crises have nothing to do with Covid-19.

Bear in mind that the coronavirus itself — a shock that came out of the blue, though the United States mishandled it terribly — reduced G.D.P. by “only” around 10 percent. What we’re looking at now may be another shock, a sort of economic second wave, almost as severe in monetary terms as the first. And unlike the pandemic, this shock will be entirely self-generated, brought on by the fecklessness of President Trump and — let’s give credit where it’s due — Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

In other news, Chief Justice John Roberts is showing his true colors when it comes to abortion.

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern at Slate Magazine: John Roberts’ Stealth Attack on Abortion Rights Just Paid Off.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in June Medical v. Russo was hailed by many liberal court watchers as a win for reproductive rights, as the court declined to overturn Roe v. Wade and formally eliminate the right to an abortion. On Friday, however, a federal appeals court ruled that June Medical significantly narrowed the constitutional right to abortion access. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel swept away an injunction that had blocked Arkansas from enforcing a slew of abortion restrictions, including a requirement that patients pregnant as a result of rape notify their rapists before terminating their pregnancy. The appellate court’s decision confirms that Chief Justice John Roberts’ controlling opinion in June Medical will serve as a tool to eviscerate abortion rights. Those who briefly heralded him as a champion of reproductive freedom were too caught up in the halftime show to see the game.

Olivia de Havilland

Friday’s ruling in Hopkins v. Jegley greenlights four Arkansas regulations passed in 2017. The first of these laws requires clinics to report the names of abortion patients under 18 to local law enforcement. These clinics must then preserve the fetal tissue and treat it like criminal evidence. The second law forces abortion providers to spend “reasonable time and effort” acquiring a patient’s medical records for her “entire pregnancy history” before performing the abortion. The third law grants equal rights over fetal remains to both partners, with no exception in cases of rape. A patient must notify her partner before the abortion and ask which method of disposal he prefers. If both partners are minors, the patient’s parents get to decide how fetal remains are disposed of. If the patient is a minor but her partner is an adult, then he—not the patient—makes the choice. These rules effectively prohibit medication abortion, which occurs at home, where the provider cannot control the disposal of fetal remains. The fourth and final law bans the safest and most common procedure for second-trimester abortions.

Abortion rights advocates challenged this legislation, arguing that they impose an unconstitutional burden on abortion access. A federal district court agreed in 2017, and blocked the new regulations. In Friday’s decision, three Republican-appointed judges on the 8th Circuit cleared away that injunction. The lower court had analyzed the laws under Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the 2016 Supreme Court decision that required courts to weigh the medical benefits of an abortion restriction against its burdens. But the Supreme Court’s decision last month in June Medical, the 8th Circuit wrote, overturned that standard.

One more story, just for laughs: Jerry Falwell Jr. was forced out of his job as president of Liberty University because of that photo he posted of himself with his pants unzipped and his arm around a woman with her pants also unzipped. Politico: Falwell placed on ‘indefinite leave’ from Liberty University.

Jerry Falwell Jr., one of President Donald Trump’s leading evangelical supporters, has agreed to take “an indefinite leave of absence” from his role as president of Liberty University after the release of a viral photo that showed him vacationing on a yacht with his pants unzipped, holding a drink, and with his arm around a woman.

Lauren Bacall

“The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell, Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately,” the university said in a statement on Friday.

The decision came a day after a top House Republican called on Falwell to resign as president of the large Christian school. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference and a former pastor, said that Falwell’s “ongoing behavior is appalling.”

Falwell earlier in the week was widely condemned, including by some conservatives, for posting and then deleting the yacht vacation photo. Liberty University has a strict code of conduct for students that, among other things, prohibits students from having sexual relations outside of a “biblically-ordained” marriage and consuming media with lewd lyrics, sexual content and nudity.

At Slate, Ruth Graham explains Why That Falwell Jr. Yacht Photo Was the Final Straw.

Students on Liberty’s campus are forbidden from drinking alcohol, and are instructed to dress modestly. A poster on Reddit compiled Falwell Jr.’s potential violations in the yacht photograph and an accompanying video, and calculated that a student captured in the same scene could have accrued more than $9,000 in school fines and 900 hours of required service, and possible expulsion.

Faculty and alumni who have been critical of the school’s direction under Falwell Jr. were both shocked and gratified by the news of his leave of absence. “For at least a decade, Liberty’s faculty have labored under Falwell’s increasingly autocratic leadership and been shamed by his public behavior besides,” said Marybeth Davis Baggett, who taught English at Liberty for 17 years and resigned this spring after publishing an op-ed calling for Falwell Jr.’s removal based on his handling of the coronavirus crisis. “One man cannot act this way without many enablers, and any meaningful reform of the school will require a thorough and brutally honest inquiry into the LU culture.”

Jane Fonda, photo by Genevieve Naylor, 1962

Falwell Jr., a businessman with a law degree and no pastoral experience, took over the college when his father died in 2007. He has built the school into a sports powerhouse with a campus filled with luxury amenities, and conservative activists and politicians regularly speak there. The school now boasts more than 15,000 residential students, and more than 100,000 students online.

But Liberty has also been under almost constant national scrutiny since Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump in early 2016, months earlier than other white evangelical leaders embraced the crude casino magnate’s candidacy. Falwell Jr. began 2020 by calling for parts of Virginia to secede from the state and join West Virginia. As the coronavirus crisis encroached, Falwell Jr. initially dismissed it as “hype,” and called a Liberty parent who questioned him on Twitter a “dummy.” He was then criticized for welcoming back any students who wanted to return to campus after spring break. (Fewer than 2,000 of 15,000 residential students ultimately returned, and Liberty has avoided any outbreaks.) In May, Falwell Jr. tweeted a racist image in an attempt to needle Virginia governor Ralph Northam. He eventually deleted the tweet and apologized, but multiple Black employees publicly quit their jobs soon afterward; several high-profile Black athletes also departed. None of these media dust-ups seemed to dent Falwell Jr.’s favorability in the eyes of his hand-picked board of trustees.

There’s much more at the link if you’re interested.

So everything is still FUBAR, but as Dakinikat wrote yesterday, we can still be kind to ourselves and support each other through these terrifying times. As I learned in my recovery from alcoholism, it always helps to live one day at a time. We’re still here, and there’s still a chance we can rid ourselves of Trump and somehow hold onto and rebuild our democracy.


Friday Reads: Even First Ladies Get the Blues

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I continue to wake and wonder what fresh hell awaits us today.  There’s a lot of it but I’m finding some comfort in Michelle Obama’s openness about her mild depression in her new podcasts. I would really like to return to the day and age where there was less yelling and incoherent sentences and a lot more humanly shared experience. Empathetic people get the blues while witnessing human suffering. This is from E. 

The former first lady spurred concern from supporters this week after mentioning in a new episode of her eponymous podcast that she is “dealing with some form of low-grade depression” as a result of these historic times.

However, a day later, she addressed the worry about her head on with a message directly to fans via social media. “I just wanted to check in with you all because a lot of you have been checking in on me after hearing this week’s podcast. First things first—I’m doing just fine,” she assured on Instagram. “There’s no reason to worry about me.”

As Obama elaborated, her concern is with frontline workers, Black Lives Matter activists and families making decisions about school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Like I said in that conversation with @Michele__Norris, I’m thinking about the folks out there risking themselves for the rest of us—the doctors and nurses and essential workers of all kinds,” she explained. “I’m thinking about the teachers and students and parents who are just trying to figure out school for the fall. I’m thinking about the people out there protesting and organizing for a little more justice in our country.”

Obama also took a moment to comfort anyone who is struggling with how things are presently—because times are indeed hard.

“The idea that what this country is going through shouldn’t have any effect on us—that we all should just feel OK all the time—that just doesn’t feel real to me,” she wrote. “So I hope you all are allowing yourselves to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.”

“I hope you’re listening to yourselves and taking a moment to reflect on everything that’s coming at us,” Obama encouraged, “and what you might be able to do about it.”

As the public figure concluded, Obama left readers with one last suggestion. “And to all of you who’ve reached out—thank you,” she said. “I hope you’re also reaching out to all those you’re closest with, not just with a text, but maybe with a call or a video chat. Don’t be afraid to offer them a shoulder to lean on, or to ask for one yourself. Love you all.”

These are the words in her podcast that drew strong empathy from me.

“These are not…fulfilling times spiritually, so I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression,” she shared, “not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting. So, I’ve had to kind of give myself that—those days, those moments.”

I keep saying it but these are wretched times. Nothing feels normal about any of this.   Susan Glasser–writing for the New Yorker–describes this President’s lack of vision and priorities.  Clearly, he’s interested in only ego stroking attention and grifting.  Actually doing his job or thinking about it isn’t particularly interesting to him. His short attention span and inability to think outside of his visceral needs shows how uniquely unsuitable he is for his job.

It was not supposed to be a trick question, or even all that tricky. For any other candidate, it would have been the softest of softballs, the slowest of pitches. But when the Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt asked Donald Trump the other morning, “Mr. President, what is your second-term agenda? What are your top priorities?,” his inability to answer was one of the most revealing moments of his reëlection campaign so far. “I want to take where we left,” Trump said. “We were better than we were ever,” he added, wistfully conjuring the booming pre-pandemic America of his fantasies, where everybody had a job and the stock market was great. Facing uncontrolled death from the coronavirus and an economy that is cratering because of it, Trump is desperate for a do-over. Other than that, he had pretty much nothing to say about why he should be elected to a second term, although he took more than three hundred words to say it. The bottom line seemed to be that Trump is promising four more years of “jobs” and of stopping U.S. allies, especially Germany, from “ripping us off.” And that’s it.

This painful exchange, which even the Fox hosts eventually cut off, after a few cringe-inducing minutes, was little noted among the many whoppers, distortions, and outrages offered up by Trump this week. It wasn’t even the big news out of that particular Fox interview, the coverage of which rightfully focussed on the President’s absurd claims that the coronavirus is just “going away” and that schools should reopen because children are “almost immune” to covid-19. Throughout the week, Trump’s near-delusional state about the pandemic has been on awkward display, most notably in his instant classic of an interview with the Axios journalist Jonathan Swan, whose simple but skeptical queries about the virus revealed a President unable to comprehend basic facts about the public-health crisis or devise a national plan for combatting it. “It is what it is,” Trump told Swan, when asked about the large, and growing, American death toll—a line that may well go down as one of his most chillingly callous.

But Trump’s struggle to answer such an important and straightforward question about what he would do in a second term should not be overlooked, because it goes to the heart of why his campaign— and the country that he nominally governs—is in such trouble. As an incumbent, Trump is certainly in a bind: he can hardly campaign on his record, when the United States is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and close to a hundred and sixty thousand Americans are dead of the coronavirus. There’s only so much blame that Trump can deflect; this is a catastrophe that happened on his watch, and—no matter how many times he calls it the “China virus” or warns Americans that Joe Biden will turn the country into a godless hellscape—he knows it.

Trump’s vapid answer is more than a reflection of a political-messaging dilemma—it’s a sign of decline, both in terms of the President’s ability to respond cogently to a simple query and as a warning for American democracy, given that such a large segment of the electorate apparently finds it acceptable to support a leader whose only campaign selling point is himself. Is Trump’s inability to come up with something to say about the next four years a reflection of the fact that even he thinks he is going to lose? Perhaps, but it’s also a measure of how far Trump has descended into full “l’état, c’est moi”-ism. Running for reëlection without offering even a hint of a program is a sure indicator of at least aspirational authoritarianism.

Still, watching polls and interviews with former Hair Furor devotees does give me hope that we my eventually be rid of him.  This is from Prevail: “The Great Escape: Donald John Trump’s Exit Strategy. Where does the President go from here?” It’s written by Greg Olear.

 

A thousand Americans are dying of the novel coronavirus every day. Volume Five of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report is due for release any day now. Senators, Congressmen, and emeritus members of the intelligence community have stopped pulling punches and are sounding the alarms. Cy Vance announced that his investigation is wider than originally thought, and likely includes tax fraud; the New York Times reported that Deutsche Bank has already turned over Trump’s financial documents to prosecutors. The vaunted economy is falling along with the president’s poll numbers. And the presumptive guy in charge gave the most unflattering interview of all time ever, unequivocally exposing himself as a complete and total moron:

 

Even the Trump people know they can’t win the election without banana-republic-level fuckery, as the indefatigable historian Heather Cox Richardson writes:

No one is pretending that Trump is going to win the popular vote. He’s not even trying to. He’s doubling down on the culture wars that excite his base in the hopes of getting them to turn out in strong numbers, most recently by sending federal law enforcement officers into cities led by Democrats in order to create images of what looks like rioting, to enable him to set himself up as defending “law and order.”

At the same time, he and his supporters in the Republican Party are working to guarantee an undercount of votes for his opponent by attacking mail-in voting, shutting down polling places, kicking people off voter rolls, undercutting the United States Postal Service, and even, perhaps, by permitting a wave of evictions that will make it significantly harder for displaced people to vote.

It is notable that, as a country, we are not talking about policies or winning majorities. We are talking about how Trump can win by gaming the Electoral College, or by cheating.

Even so, enthusiasm for cheating to keep a low-IQ mobster in office seems to be on the wane, even among Republicans, who must be sick of the guy. There have been many cracks in the facade these last few weeks. Sure, Bill Barr is boss at torpedoing investigations, but he can only do so much—and as Lincoln’s Bible pointed out during his embarrassing House hearing, the AG is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is:

(Sidenote: Being not nearly as smart as one thinks one is is the prevailing character trait of everyone involved with this White House. Other than, you know, pure uncut greed).

So, like, now what? Where does Trump go from here?

We’ll know more by the end of the month. The Republican National Convention is scheduled for August 24-27. Whether it’s in Charlotte, Jacksonville, the South Lawn of the White House (illegally, but whatevs), or the back nine of Bedminster, that’s the moment when Republicans will certify the Trump/Pence ticket—or not certify it.

The Republican National Committee, chaired by the ever-mendacious Ronna Romney McDaniel, decided to eschew a proper primary process, likely fearing that some dark horse candidate, perhaps Ronna’s own Uncle Mitt, would prevail. Last week came the curious report that the convention would be closed to the press. While that original announcement has been walked back, it brought up the obvious question: Why would the RNC opt to go dark at the precise moment when it should want every TV channel in the country broadcasting its propaganda program?

This question is answered by the Corona Virus epidemic Trump enabled and created through out the country. Go read the entire biting essay. Oh, and my answer to his question is this:  Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not Collect $200.

Emily Stewart of Vox tries to understand antimaskers by letting them explain themselves. Yes, it’s that basket of deplorables again.

In recent weeks, I spoke with nearly a dozen people who consider themselves anti-mask to find out just that. What I discovered is that there is certainly a broad spectrum of reasons — some find wearing a mask annoying or just aren’t convinced they work, and others have gone down a rabbit hole of conspiracies that often involve vaccines, Big Pharma, YouTube, and Bill Gates. One man told me he wears a mask when he goes to the store to be polite. A woman got kicked out of a Menards store for refusing to wear a mask amid what she calls the “Covid scam garbage.”

But there are also many commonalities. Most people I talked to noted government officials’ confusing messaging on masks in the pandemic’s early days. They insist that they’re not conspiracy theorists and that they don’t believe the coronavirus is a hoax, but many also expressed doubts about the growing body of scientific knowledge around the virus, opting for cherry-picked and unverified sources of information found on social media rather than traditional news sources. They often said they weren’t political but acknowledged they leaned right.

Most claimed not to know anyone who had contracted Covid-19 or died of it, and when I told them I did, the responses were the same: How old were they? Did they have preexisting conditions? They know their position is unpopular, and most spoke on condition of anonymity and will be referred to only by their first names. Amy told me people are “not very nice about this.”

The mask debate is complex. As much as it’s about science, health, and risk, it’s also about empathy. If someone doesn’t personally know anyone who died from Covid-19, does it mean those lives don’t matter? Are older and immunocompromised people disposable? Does one person’s right to ignore public health advice really trump someone else’s right to live?

“Death is happening in these wards where even family members can’t visit their loved ones when they’re sick with Covid, so the death and the severity of this disease are really invisible to the public,” said Kumi Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota who studies infectious diseases.

It leads some people to brush the issue aside.

So, again, I empathize with Michelle Obama and know exactly where she’s at since I’ve struggled with this ever since Trump took office and fucked the country over royally.

Today’s art is from Picasso’s blue period.  That would be 1901-1904.

And here’s some Blues.

Be Kind and gentle yourselves and others.  Try to relax and stay in the moment and do what you love to do.  Check in we love you and worry about you.

 

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 

 


Thursday Reads: Trump and Deutsche Bank; Schools Reopening

Good Morning!!

Last night The New York Times revealed that Deutsche Bank has been cooperating in the New York Attorney General’s investigation of the Trump Organization for quite some time:

Trump’s Bank Was Subpoenaed by N.Y. Prosecutors in Criminal Inquiry.

The New York prosecutors who are seeking President Trump’s tax records have also subpoenaed his longtime lender, a sign that their criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s business practices is more wide-ranging than previously known.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office issued the subpoena last year to Deutsche Bank, which has been Mr. Trump’s primary lender since the late 1990s, seeking financial records that he and his company provided to the bank, according to four people familiar with the inquiry.

The criminal investigation initially appeared to be focused on hush-money payments made in 2016 to two women who have said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

But in a court filing this week, prosecutors with the district attorney’s office cited “public reports of possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization” and suggested that they were also investigating possible crimes involving bank and insurance fraud.

Trump, Deutsche Bank has been a frequent target of regulators and lawmakers digging into the president’s opaque finances. But the subpoena from the office of the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., appears to be the first instance of a criminal inquiry involving Mr. Trump and his dealings with the German bank, which lent him and his company more than $2 billion over the past two decades.

Deutsche Bank complied with the subpoena. Over a period of months last year, it provided Mr. Vance’s office with detailed records, including financial statements and other materials that Mr. Trump had provided to the bank as he sought loans, according to two of the people familiar with the inquiry….

The subpoena to Deutsche Bank sought documents on various topics related to Mr. Trump and his company, including any materials that might point to possible fraud, according to two people briefed on the subpoena’s contents.

That must have been quite a shock to Trump.

As The Daily Beast explains, Trump himself triggered the public announcements by Vance by mischaracterizing the investigation in legal filings: The Footnote That Could Lock Trump Up in 2021.

Things had already been going badly for Trump in this legal fight but he bought time as the case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected his argument, reasoning that “the public has the right to every man’s evidence.” The high court then returned the matter to a district court, while affording Trump with little remaining basis to object, in the absence of any reason to conclude that the subpoena will interfere with his official duties.

It is well established that grand juries have wide latitude to conduct investigations. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put it, a grand jury “can investigate merely on suspicion that the law is being violated, or even just because it wants assurance that it is not.” Therefore, if Trump had been astute, he would have accepted the high court’s decision and given up on his effort to block Vance’s subpoena. But Trump chose to overplay his hand. Last month, the president’s lawyers declared that the nature and scope of Vance’s investigation is limited to an inquiry into Trump’s illicit efforts to funnel hush money payments to former sexual partners during the months leading up to the 2016 election through his fixer, Michael Cohen, and contended that the purported narrowness of the inquiry meant that Vance had no right to make a broad demand for Trump’s financial records.

Yet Trump had no basis to make declarations about the scope of the DA’s investigation; indeed, the only detailed explanation Vance has offered to date is contained in a (properly) secretly filed portion of a declaration by one of his prosecutors that has been reviewed only by the court. Furthermore, by making uninformed assertions about the scope of the investigation, Trump was all but daring Vance to comment about the nature of an ongoing investigation in the run up to an election….

After noting that the DA has no obligation to disclose the nature or scope of an ongoing criminal investigation in response to a challenge to a subpoena—let alone improperly disclose grand jury evidence – Vance’s office stated that Trump’s claims about the supposedly limited scope of the investigation “is fatally undermined by undisputed information in the public record.” The DA’s brief then went on to quote the judge himself, who months ago—after reading Vance’s secret account of the matters under review—observed that it is related to “alleged insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers.”

Ooopsie! Read more details at the link above.

Meanwhile, Trump is still pushing for schools to fully open around the country. It’s not going well in the places that have followed his advice.

The Washington Post: A Mississippi town welcomed students back to school last week. Now 116 are home in quarantine.

Last week, schools in Corinth, Miss., welcomed back hundreds of students. By Friday, one high schooler tested positive for the novel coronavirus. By early this week, the count rose to six students and one staff member infected. Now, 116 students have been sent home to quarantine, CNN reported Wednesday.

Despite the quick fallout, the district’s superintendent said he has no plans to change course.

“Just because you begin to have positive cases, that is not a reason for closing school,” Superintendent Lee Childress said in a Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday on the school district’s Facebook page.

As districts around the country debate the merits of in-person classes versus remote learning amid an escalating novel coronavirus pandemic, the Corinth School District’s early experience shows how quickly positive tests can lead to larger quarantines.

ABC News: Students at school touted by Pence for reopening must quarantine due to COVID-19.

Fourth graders at a school in North Carolina have been asked to quarantine for 14 days after a student there tested positive for COVID-19.

The school, a Thales Academy in Wake Forest, said it was notified on Monday that the student became infected after having contact with an infected family member.

The student was asymptomatic and was last at school on Friday. Teachers who were exposed also will be quarantined.

Thales Academy, a network of private non-sectarian community schools with eight locations in North Carolina, made the news last week after Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited a classroom and applauded the school for reopening.

Pence and DeVos visited a campus in Apex, not Wake Forest.

NBC News: Georgia second grader tests positive for coronavirus after first day of school, forcing class to quarantine.

Two suburban Atlanta school districts that began in-person classes Monday with mask-optional policies face more questions about COVID-19 safety protocols after on-campus pictures showed students packed shoulder-to-shoulder. The day after school resumed, one school announced a second grader tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the child’s teacher and classmates to be sent home to quarantine for two weeks, CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reports.

In Cherokee County, dozens of seniors gathered at two of the district’s six high schools to take traditional first-day-of-school senior photos, with students squeezing together in black outfits. No one in pictures at Sequoyah High School in Hickory Flat or Etowah High School in Woodstock wore a mask.

In Paulding County, student pictures taken Monday and Tuesday show crowded hallways at North Paulding High School in Dallas. Fewer than half of the students shown are wearing masks.

More on this school from Buzzfeed News: The Truth Behind A Viral Picture Of A Reopening School Is Worse Than It Looked.

Behind a viral photo of a crowded hallway at a high school in Georgia, a potentially dire situation is brewing. Students, teachers, and parents fear the Paulding County school’s rushed reopening plans may be spiraling out of control just two days after students — who said they were told they could face expulsion for remaining home — returned to class despite reports of positive coronavirus cases among students and staff.

North Paulding High School, about an hour outside Atlanta, reopened Monday despite an outbreak among members of its high school football team, many of whom, a Facebook video shows, worked out together in a crowded indoor gym last week as part of a weightlifting fundraiser.

Within days of that workout, several North Paulding players had tested positive for the coronavirus. The school’s parents were notified just hours before the first day of class.

And multiple teachers at North Paulding say there are positive tests among school staff, including a staff member who came into contact with most teachers at the school while exhibiting symptoms last week. Teachers and staff said the school won’t confirm coronavirus infections among district employees, citing privacy reasons.

“That was exactly one week ago, so we are all waiting to see who gets sick next week,” a North Paulding teacher told BuzzFeed News of her exposure to the virus.

Despite recommendations from CDC health officials, the district has called mask-wearing a “personal choice” and said that social distancing “will not be possible to enforce” in “most cases.”

Read more at the link.

The Nashville Tennessean: These Tennessee school districts are already reporting COVID-19 cases after reopening.

Just two weeks after the first school districts in Tennessee reopened to students amid the coronavirus pandemic, some are already closing their doors.

Nearly 50 school districts have started the school year as of Wednesday — the majority of them in-person — and at least 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases connected to schools have already been reported.

Two school districts, Coffee County Schools and Blount County Schools, have already closed schools or altered their schedules as a result of exposures to the virus.

Click the link for details.

Business Insider: An emergency medicine physician projects that if schools open in the fall, they’ll close by the end of October with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Citing the “confluence” of the flu season and increased exposure, one doctor with experience in advising city officials on public health said schools can either taking strict health safety precautions or expect to shut the school down again by the end of October if they reopen.

Matt Lambert, an emergency medicine physician and the former chief medical information officer for New York City Health and Hospitals, the nation’s largest public health system, told Business Insider that he is “all for very thoughtful attempts at reopening schools.” [….]

“For local schools, if they want to try and open up using some really practical techniques around mask-wearing and distancing and maybe even rotations of when students come, I think that is something worthwhile to try,” Lambert said, adding, “But the virus is more prevalent now than it has been at any other time.”

“If we move to open up schools, even with the best models we can think of, passing the virus is going to be inevitable,” he continued. “Kids can contract the virus; kids can transmit the virus. There might be some varying levels of what it’s like in kids compared to adults, but it is clear that they can do that.”

Lambert said, given the transmission of the virus, it would be “inevitable” for an infected student to pass on the coronavirus “to either a chronically ill teacher or an elderly loved one at home who may have a bad outcome from this.”

Naturally, teachers are scared. NPR: Most Teachers Concerned About In-Person School; 2 In 3 Want To Start The Year Online.

As the school year starts in many districts across the country, a new national poll of teachers from NPR/Ipsos finds overwhelming trepidation about returning to the physical classroom.

Eighty-two percent of K-12 teachers say they are concerned about returning to in-person teaching this fall, and two-thirds prefer to teach primarily remotely. On the latter point, teachers are aligned with parents and the general public: Another recent NPR/Ipsos poll found two-thirds of respondents thought schools in their area should be primarily remote, including 62% of parents of children under 18.

The teacher poll was conducted July 21-24 and included 505 respondents. Half teach at low-income schools.

When it comes to going back to the classroom, 77% of teachers are worried about risking their own health.

Read the rest at NPR.

There’s much more happening in the news. I’ll add more in the comments and I hope you will too.


Wednesday Reads: Explosion

For the latest updates on Beirut:

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This is the most terrifyingly aggressive explosion I’ve seen in a built area. Thoughts are with Lebanon 🇱🇧 #Repost @karmagawa with @get_repost ・・・ BREAKING NEWS: There was just a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon just now, no word yet on cause or casualties, please share with your followers and tag people who need to see this, let’s all pray together for everyone in the area affected #beirut #lebanon #prayforlebanon #karmagawa

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Pulitzer Prize winning photographer @lorenzotug is on the ground for The Post in Beirut, Lebanon and took these photographs following massive explosions that shook the city on Tuesday, injuring and killing hundreds of people. The cause of the early-evening blasts was not immediately clear, but senior officials said it appeared that flammable materials stored in a warehouse had caught fire. One thing that was clear is that crisis-stricken Lebanon, in the throes of a major economic collapse and battling rising numbers of coronavirus infections, is in little position to cope with another disaster, especially on this scale. At least two hospitals were badly damaged in the explosions, and TV footage showed staff evacuating patients to alternative hospitals that were themselves swamped — in the dark, because the city had no electricity. Read our coverage by clicking the link in our bio.

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And, by the way…

Dealing with tRump:

Other bits of news:

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A lot of schools reopened this week and go figure but the pictures seem to show few wearing masks or social distancing. Now it’s just a matter of time until a spike in cases. • #keepschoolssafe #keepschoolsclosed #distancelearning #onlinelearning #virtuallearning #coronavirus #covid19 #publicschool #teachers #teachersofinstagram #guineapigs #wordproblems #lessonplan #school #freelanceartist #digitalart

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On Wednesday, teachers in Georgia’s largest school district returned to elementary, middle and high school campuses to start in-person planning for the fall semester. By the next day, 260 district employees had been barred from entering their schools, either because they tested positive for the coronavirus or had been directly exposed to someone who had. The outbreak has complicated the return to school in Gwinnett County, which this week had the highest number of new coronavirus cases in the state. Across the nation, school districts have been struggling to find the safest, most effective way to return to class this fall. But spiking coronavirus case rates, particularly in the Midwest and South, where outbreaks have been growing rapidly in recent weeks, have complicated the reopening process. States and individual districts have adopted a patchwork of policies governing how schools should shut down when outbreaks spread through classrooms. Georgia has left control over closures up to school districts. Read more by clicking the link in our bio.

A post shared by The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) on

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Playtime for clouded leopard cubs Jilian and Paitoon! Toys that dangle, swing and roll are all the rage with these cool cats, which are well-adapted to arboreal life in the forests of Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and China. This entertaining enrichment serves to sharpen the cubs’ hunting skills, motivate them to explore their habitat, encourage problem solving and offer them choices in how to spend their time. . . . These items are built to be hearty, but over time they wear down after so many teeth and claw marks. You can help replenish some of the cubs’ worn-but-well-loved toys by making a donation to the Enrichment Trunk: https://s.si.edu/3kbeStB. (Link in bio.) On behalf of the cubs, thank you for your generosity! . . . #InternationalCloudedLeopardDay

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Here is something to check out, on the political cartoon front:

Follow that thread.

A few thoughts on the Swan interview:

This thread is spot on…

Be sure to read that thread in full.

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Six years ago today we had a twinkle in our eyes that, well watered with gin and due fucking care and attention, became the Profanity Embroidery Group! Been a bit of a shitty year for a pub-meeting responsible-drinking (ahem) over-huggy very sweary embroidery group – but we are slowly finding our fucking feet again. All being well, might be worth tuning in to You & Yours on Radio 4 tomorrow (Thursday 6th Aug). Might not of course, but that’s up to you – and whatever other shit the world throws up that would be more important than talking sweary sewing HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!!!!! and here for good measure, is the @rinadraws cartoon which began it all. Fuck the World. . . #pegwhitstable #itsprofanedontcomplain #profanityembroiderygroup #profanityembroidery #sewing #welovefuckingswearing #whitstable #embroiderytherapy #embroideryart #artist #textile #textileart #textileartist #textiletherapy #fuckit #fuckyou #fucktheworld #pissed #gin #mrswinchester #embrioderyandshit

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tRump is a disgusting piece of shit.

This is an open thread.

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If 2020 was an Avocado…

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Tuesday Reads: Old Man Trump’s Crazy Axios Interview

Good Morning!!

This morning I forced myself to watch and listen to Trump’s full interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios. It wasn’t easy. Of course it was characterized by Trump’s lying, obfuscating, and excuse-making, but oddly my biggest takeaway was that Trump truly sounds like a feeble old man now. His voice seems very different from the way he sounded during the 2016 campaign–it sounds weak and reedy. I think the difference after four years is really striking. Here’s the interview:

 

I found this 2013 article at NBC News about what happens to our voices as we age: The wavery, shaky ‘old person’s voice,’ explained.

“Voice can depend on general health. In general, we start seeing aging problems at age 65,” says Claudio Milstein, associate professor of surgery at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. “The typical change as we get older, is that we get thin, breathy voices … [and] those are the characteristics that make it sound like a person has an old voice.”

Evidence confirms that voices do change with age. The vocal chords should vibrate between 90 and 230 times per minute, with young people experiencing the most movement and older people experiencing the least, explains Amee Shah, associate professor and director of the Research Laboratory in Speech Acoustics and Perception at Cleveland State University.

“In my lab we look at acoustic data because perception can be misleading and the hard numbers confirm it. It is true that as we age our voices change,” says Shah.

When we age our vocal chords weaken and become drier. Our respiratory systems and torsos change, too, with our lungs and chest cavities becoming more rigid, while our spines curve, causing us to stoop over (for some a little, others a lot). Weakened and dry vocal chords become stringy, which prevent normal vibration, causing higher pitched voices that sound thin. And the transformations in the respiratory system and chest mean we have less power behind our voices. Even the joints in our vocal chords can become arthritic, contributing to problems.

“The vocal folds are made up of muscle and collagen among other things. Just like other muscles thin out or atrophy, the vocal folds do as well,” says Gina Vess, a speech pathologist and director of the Clinical Voice Programs at Duke University Medical Center.

As for the content of the interview, I thought it was interesting that Swan began with a question about Trump’s commitment to Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. Like his wealth, this was something that Trump got from his father, according to his niece Mary Trump.

From NPR on July 25: 2020 Crises Confront Trump With An Outage In The Power Of Positive Thinking.

“Affirm it, believe it, visualize it, and it will actualize itself.” Such mantras have characterized much of the Trump story from his childhood when he first absorbed it from the man who first spoke it, Norman Vincent Peale.

Peale was a minister and author much admired by Trump’s father. His most famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking, sold millions of copies in multiple languages and helped spawn a self-help movement and industry that has flourished ever since.

The Trumps attended Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and Peale officiated at the first of Donald Trump’s three marriage ceremonies.

Emulating Peale’s ferocious focus on attitude probably helped Trump plow ahead when his presidential prospects seemed hopeless just weeks before Election Day in 2016. The candidate appeared behind in polls and a now-infamous audio recording revealed his toxic comments about women.

But “there are no hopeless situations,” Peale had counseled, “only people who take hopeless attitudes.”

Obstacles, Peale taught, should never be a deterrent: “You will find they haven’t half the strength you think they have.”

Until this year, it is possible Trump took this literally. Arguably, he was getting away with it far more often than not.

He seemed to have been experimenting with this parallel universe approach all his life.

Trump is trying to apply the “power of positive thinking to the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s obviously not working for him, because a virus can’t be hoodwinked like people can.

So what happens when positive thinking fails? What happens when the power goes out? In common experience, when the power goes out, it gets darker.

Trump’s critics and opponents say that is exactly what we are seeing in America today.

Unable to conquer the combination of pandemic effects and civil unrest by the force of his will and a Twitter blizzard of “alternative facts,” Trump is now turning to a set of alternative powers.

Now Trump has turned to outright fascist tactics–sending federal agents into U.S. cities to put down protests against police brutality, trying to delegitimize the upcoming presidential election, working to suppress votes by destroying the Post Office and sabotaging the U.S. Census.

USA Today: ‘It is what it is,’ Trump says of rising coronavirus deaths as he insists outbreak is ‘under control.’

Axios National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan began the interview by asking Trump if his sometimes “wishful thinking” and “salesmanship” was suitable in a crisis that has killed more than 155,000 people in the U.S.

Tom Toles Editorial Cartoon

“I think you have to have a positive outlook, otherwise you would have nothing,” Trump said. As he frequently has done in defending his record on the pandemic, the president pointed to the travel restrictions he imposed on China and Europe, arguing hundreds of thousands – a number he later put in the “millions” – more would have died without those actions. He added that even one death was too many.

“Those people that really understand it, that really understand it, they said it’s incredible the job that we’ve done,” Trump said.

“Who says that?” Swan asked, but Trump continued to talk about the China travel ban. Swan pointed out that the virus was already in the U.S. by the time Trump issued the ban.

Swan pressed Trump on whether his positive spin on outbreak – telling people the outbreak is under control and not to worry about wearing masks – could be putting people in danger by “giving them a false sense of security.” [….]

Trump responded to that criticism by saying he thinks the outbreak is “under control.” Swan asked how he could say that as the average number of daily deaths had climbed back up to over 1,000.

“They are dying, that’s true. And it is what it is,” Trump said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control, as much as you can control it.”

More Takeaways from the Axios interview:

Jonathan Ross at The Daily Beast: Trump Reveals Self-Delusion Over COVID Statistics in Mind-Blowing Argument With Reporter.

It’s sometimes hard to determine whether President Trump is being willfully misleading or if he truly believes what he’s saying. But an astonishing interview clip from Axios appears to show that Trump has genuinely managed to convince himself that his response to the coronavirus pandemic has been effective—because he only considers partial and deceptively flattering statistics to be true. Brandishing childishly simplistic, brightly colored COVID-19 graphs presumably provided to him by aides trying to keep him happy, Trump proudly tells Axios’ Jonathan Swan that the U.S. is “lower than the world,” without elaborating. When Swan looks at the chart, it becomes clear Trump is only considering death as a proportion of coronavirus cases—not as a proportion of population, which shows the U.S. is faring very badly. Trump snaps back: “You can’t do that.” Holding out his charts, he goes on: “You have to go by where… look, here is the United States… You have to go by the cases.” Asked why South Korea has lower deaths by population, Trump hints that he believes the country is faking its stats, without providing any evidence to support himself.

Axios: Trump stokes fears of election-night mail voting fraud.

President Trump raised new alarms about the alleged danger of election fraud in an interview with “Axios on HBO,” warning that “lots of things can happen” with voting by mail if the presidential race isn’t decided on election night.

Why it matters: Trump’s comments — which contradict the lengthy history and widespread use of mail-in voting — could be a preview of the claims he’ll make on election night to undermine trust in the results if he appears to be losing.

  • Election experts say there’s a good chance that the presidential race won’t be decided on election night, and could drag on for days, because so many people will vote by mail to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
  • One expert’s scenario suggests that the early returns could favor Trump because most Republicans will vote in person, but that the later returns will swing toward Joe Biden because many Democrats will vote by mail.

Axios: Trump declines to praise John Lewis, citing inauguration snub.

President Trump dismissed the legacy of the late Rep. John Lewis in an interview with “Axios on HBO,” saying only that Lewis made a “big mistake” by not coming to his inauguration.

The big picture: Trump’s comments were a glaring contrast with the praise Republicans and Democrats showered upon Lewis this week, and a default to personal grudges during a week of mourning for a civil rights hero….

When asked if he found Lewis’ life impressive, Trump responded, “He didn’t come to my inauguration. He didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches. And that’s OK. That’s his right. And, again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have.” [….]

Trump also declined to say whether he found Lewis personally impressive: “I can’t say one way or the other. I find a lot of people impressive. I find many people not impressive.”

There’s much more to the interview, which was a disaster for Trump. I have to say that Swan did an excellent job. If you can stand to, I hope you’ll watch the whole thing. It’s around 30 minutes long. I’d really like to know what you think about Trump’s old-man voice too.

Have a great day everyone! I’ll post some news links in the comment thread below.