Lazy Caturday Reads

Eva Skierska, A Lady and Cocotte

Eva Skierska, A Lady and Cocotte

Good Morning!!

The vaccine rollout in Massachusetts has been awful, and Governor Charlie Baker has been taking a beating over it. Yesterday the legislature held a public hearing on the problems. WBUR: Emotions Ran High During A State Hearing On Mass.’ Vaccine Rollout

For six hours, a joint committee of state representatives and senators grilled Gov. Charlie Baker and members of his administration, listening to them testify on issues related to vaccine distribution and equity.

The technical problems people experienced trying to sign up for vaccine appointments loomed large at the hearing. Last week, state websites crashed under the weight of a million more vaccine seekers hustling to get one of a mere 60,000 slots. This week, people posted screenshots showing wait times in the tens or hundreds of thousands of minutes to social media.

The problems mostly revolved around technology failures and confusion about the software being used to manage vaccines, PrepMod.

The disconnect between the state and the PrepMod system seems to be part of a larger trend of people feeling that the rollout is confusing. Clinicians running vaccine sites have expressed frustration at how the rollout policies seem to keep shifting and changing. During the hearing, state Sen. Cindy Friedman spoke to this feeling.

“[The] twists and turns, the change in plans, the communication that changes depending on who you are talking to. Even I, with all my knowledge, am completely at a loss as to what is going on at times,” she said.

The unpredictable nature of the rollout has people on edge. State Sen. Eric Lesser conveyed some of that frustration to the governor during the hearing.

“Will you say you’re sorry to the millions of people [who could not make an appointment],” Lesser demanded.

“Of course. Absolutely. Definitely. Yes,” Baker responded. A hint of exhaustion crept into his voice.

He may have to do this rodeo again. The committee chair invited Baker for another hearing in a couple weeks’ time.

“Well, this one’s been so much fun, I’ll certainly look forward to coming back,” Baker said.

There’s some good news this morning, so I’ll begin with that. 

Atelier de Jiel, Black Cat and His Flowers

Atelier de Jiel, Black Cat and His Flowers

LOL! The good news for me is that the state is now allowing vaccines for seniors 65 and older and those living in subsidized housing. I had already gotten an appointment for March 4 at my doctor’s office, but yesterday I learned that my town in providing vaccines for my apartment building. They will come to my door, like they did with the flu shots last fall. So I feel fortunate. But my sister who lives in California got her first shot in early February and will be getting the second soon. Still I’m grateful to get it in such a convenient way.

More good news: The House passed the Covid relief bill last night. HuffPost: House Democrats Pass $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill.

After hours of delays, the House passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill early Saturday morning, taking the first step toward delivering another round of stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, increased child tax credits and an influx of cash for state and local governments.

The House passed the bill almost entirely along partisan lines, 219-212, with two Democrats, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jared Golden of Maine, voting no. 

The measure will now go to the Senate, where it’s set to pass by a “reconciliation” process that requires a simple majority. But not before one key provision is stripped.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that a section providing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage could not be done through the reconciliation process, deciding that it did not have enough of an impact on the federal budget to qualify. It left that provision subject to a 60-vote threshold.

Democrats have only 50 seats in the Senate ― with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie in favor of the Democrats ― and the $15 minimum wage was already imperiled because of opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). But even though the Senate parliamentarian had ruled that the minimum wage provisions couldn’t be done through reconciliation, House Democrats still included it.

Monroe Cat, Coco De Paris

Monroe Cat, Coco De Paris

That means the bill will still have to come back to the House for a final vote after the Senate amends the legislation. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) kept the minimum wage hike in after progressives argued they had already compromised on other items they wanted in the COVID-19 relief bill.

Ultimately, the $1.9 trillion package has a number of provisions that progressives love. It would provide a round of $1,400 checks to most Americans. It extends and increases a federal boost to unemployment benefits by $400 a week ― up from $300 ― and provides that extra money until September. It increases the child tax credit to $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17 and raises it to $3,600 for children younger than 6. It also provides $1,400 checks per dependent.

On top of all those policies, there’s money for state and local governments ($350 billion), public schools ($128 billion), higher education ($39 billion), coronavirus testing and contact tracing ($46 billion), rental assistance ($25 billion), restaurants and bars ($25 billion), child care ($15 billion), vaccine distribution ($14 billion), pandemic supplies ($10 billion) and a host of other public health causes. 

Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that the process should take about two weeks.

More good news but bad news for Trump. Prosecutors in New York have his tax returns in hand. Eric Lutz at Vanity Fair: Sad: Prosecutors Have Trump’s Tax Returns and There’s Nothing He Can Do About It.

Donald Trump has fought tooth and nail to keep anyone from seeing his tax returns, and likely for good reason: even glimpses of them seemed to show a bumbling businessman who employed shady, and sometimes outright fraudulent, tactics to stay afloat. Were his taxes to wind up in the hands of, say, a Manhattan prosecutor, it could mean some serious trouble for him—particularly if he didn’t have the office of the presidency to protect him from legal liability.

Catriona Millar

By Catriona Millar

Unfortunately for the ex-president, that’s precisely what’s happened: on Thursday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance officially obtained Trump’s personal and corporate tax records and is likely poring over them this very instant as part of his sweeping probe into Trump’s financial affairs. Vance spokesman Danny Frost confirmed that the DA’s office had finally gained possession of the returns, which have long proven elusive for prosecutors and lawmakers alike. 

The public probably won’t get a look at them for a while, if ever. But with Vance and his team now scouring the records, Trump’s legal vulnerability may have increased dramatically, as reflected by the desperate and aggrieved statement the former president released earlier this week after the Supreme Court rejected his last-ditch effort to keep the documents hidden. “All they focus on is the persecution of President Donald J. Trump,” he said in the statement, referring to himself in the third person. “I will fight on, just as I have, for the last five years…despite all of the election crimes that were committed against me.”

Does that man ever get off the pity pot? He’s fortunate not to be charged with negligent homicide of more that half-a-million people.

The latest on the FBI’s Capitol riot investigation from The New York Times: F.B.I. Said to Have Singled Out Potential Assailant in Capitol Officer’s Death.

The F.B.I. has pinpointed an assailant in its investigation into the death of Brian D. Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was injured while fending off the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol last month and later died, according to two law enforcement officials briefed on the inquiry.

The F.B.I. opened a homicide investigation into Officer Sicknick’s death soon after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Investigators initially struggled to determine what had happened as he fought assailants. They soon began to suspect his death was related to an irritant, like mace or bear spray, that he had inhaled during the riot. Both officers and rioters were armed with such irritants during the attack.

Adrie Martens

By Adrie Martens

In a significant breakthrough in the case, investigators have now pinpointed a person seen on video of the riot who attacked several officers with bear spray, including Officer Sicknick, according to the officials. And video evidence shows that the assailant discussed attacking officers with the bear spray beforehand, one of the officials said.

While investigators narrowed potential suspects seen in video footage to a single person this week, they have yet to identify the assailant by name….

Given the evidence available to investigators, prosecutors could be more likely to bring charges of assaulting an officer, rather than murder, in the case. But the death of Officer Sicknick, a 42-year-old Air National Guard veteran who served in Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan, could increase the penalties that prosecutors could seek if they took such a case to court.

More from The Washington Post: FBI focuses on video of Capitol Police officer being sprayed with chemicals before he died in pro-Trump riot.

Investigators have uncovered video appearing to show someone spraying a chemical irritant at Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick and other law enforcement personnel fending off rioters in last month’s attack, though they have yet to identify the person or tie the activity directly to Sicknick’s death, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sicknick’s death has vexed investigators exploring the Jan. 6 riot, as they have struggled to figure out how precisely he died and whether someone could be held criminally accountable in connection with the death.

Investigators determined Sicknick did not die of blunt force trauma, people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. U.S. Capitol Police in a statement Jan. 8 said that Sicknick died “due to injuries sustained while on duty.” No autopsy or toxicology report has been made public, unusual seven weeks after a death.

Warren Kimble

By Warren Kimble

Capitol Police said in a statement Friday the medical examiner’s report was not yet complete, adding, “We are awaiting toxicology results and continue to work with other government agencies regarding the death investigation.”

The video could offer prosecutors a path to charging someone in connection with Sicknick’s death — though they still have to identify the assailant and would then have to establish that the spraying proved fatal. Prosecutors, instead, might consider bringing assault charges.

The FBI captured screenshots of people visible in the video, one person familiar with the matter said, and in the past month released the images publicly, hoping to identify them. The bureau did not mention Sicknick or depict the chemical spraying when distributing the images.

Yesterday, the government released the intelligence report on the investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. David Sanger at The New York Times: Biden Won’t Penalize Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi’s Killing, Fearing Relations Breach.

President Biden has decided that the diplomatic cost of directly penalizing Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is too high, according to senior administration officials, despite a detailed American intelligence finding that he directly approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident and Washington Post columnist who was drugged and dismembered in October 2018.

The decision by Mr. Biden, who during the 2020 campaign called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state with “no redeeming social value,” came after weeks of debate in which his newly formed national security team advised him that there was no way to formally bar the heir to the Saudi crown from entering the United States, or to weigh criminal charges against him, without breaching the relationship with one of America’s key Arab allies.

Officials said a consensus developed inside the White House that the cost of that breach, in Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and in confronting Iran, was simply too high.

For Mr. Biden, the decision was a telling indication of how his more cautious instincts kicked in, as the responsibilities of managing a difficult ally led him to find ways other than going directly after Prince Mohammed to make Saudi Arabia pay a price….

Albena Vatcheva, Dreaming

Albena Vatcheva, Dreaming

Many organizations were pressing Mr. Biden to, at a minimum, impose the same travel sanctions against the crown prince as the Trump administration imposed on others involved in the plot.

Mr. Biden’s aides said that as a practical matter, Prince Mohammed would not be invited to the United States anytime soon, and they denied that they were giving Saudi Arabia a pass, describing series of new actions on lower-level officials intended to penalize elite elements of the Saudi military and impose new deterrents to human rights abuses.

Those actions, approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, include a travel ban on Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, who was deeply involved in the Khashoggi operation, and on the Rapid Intervention Force, a unit of the Saudi Royal Guard that protects Prince Mohammed — and is under his direct control.

Biden is getting a lot of pushback on the decision to let MBS skate. Examples:

Nicholas Kristof: President Biden Lets a Saudi Murderer Walk.

Graeme Wood at The Atlantic: Murderers Should Be Called Murderers. Frequently and to their faces.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Mohammed bin Salman is guilty of murder. Biden should not give him a pass.

At least it’s not all bad news today. What stories have you been following?

17 Comments on “Lazy Caturday Reads”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Wonderful cat paintings today!

    • bostonboomer says:


      • NW Luna says:

        I like them too, especially the first two. And the cat with the two sisters(?) in the Marten painting looks so proprietor-y of its humans. You can just imagine the front paws kneading away.

  2. bostonboomer says:
    • NW Luna says:

      I’m very disappointed in Biden. Sends the message that torture and murder is tolerated as long as it’s by a country that’s a “key Arab ally.”

  3. bostonboomer says:

    • Enheduanna says:

      If you follow that and look at the thread there is a picture of her Gavin Newsom/pre plastic surgery era when she was actually quite beautiful. Not sure if her soul ever was.

  4. dakinikat says:

  5. It would seem the Trumps have lost interest in their bricks and mortar business and are going all in on building their fortunes on the backs of the gullible rubes. Just how many PACs have they set up in the last 3 of months?

  6. NW Luna says:

    Good article here on the yet unanswered question if vaccinated people can transmit the covid-19 virus.

    Can you spread the coronavirus after vaccination?

    The vaccines were never expected to block infection by the virus altogether, explains Stephen Thomas, the chief of the infectious-disease division at SUNY Upstate and the coordinating principal investigator for the Phase 3 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine clinical trial. “I don’t really think that’s feasible or plausible,” he told me. Most vaccines work by training the body to prevent a virus from replicating to such a degree that a person gets sick. They don’t typically prevent a person from getting infected; they simply make that infection less consequential, and enable the body to clear it more quickly.

    If a vaccine could reliably prevent future infections from ever taking hold, it would provide what’s known as “sterilizing immunity,” Syra Madad, an epidemiologist at NYC Health + Hospitals, told me. This is an uncommon occurrence. The measles vaccine is often cited as an exception, but she says that there is no reason to expect the COVID-19 vaccines to fall into this rare category.

    Indeed, there is no obvious mechanism by which they could. “To generate sterilizing immunity in a mucosal space using a vaccine that’s injected into your muscle is extremely difficult,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University, told me. She said that early evidence in rhesus macaques has suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine could provide sterilizing protection, but only when administered as a nasal spray. Other researchers have begun to work on nasally delivered vaccines that could theoretically serve to coat our mucous membranes with antiviral armor, though there is no certainty that this approach would be effective at preventing severe disease.

    So it’s safe to assume that the current batch of COVID-19 vaccines won’t stop viral transmission outright. But it’s also safe to assume that they will reduce that transmission to some extent, because they impede viral replication. “It is highly plausible that a vaccine that prevents disease by lowering the amount of virus in a person could also lower that person’s ability to infect others through the same mechanism,” Thomas said. The tricky part is determining the degree to which this happens.