Posted: April 30, 2022 Filed under: just because
By Matt McCarthy
Sigh . . . yesterday on Twitter, Elon Musk was reacting sympathetically to right wing white supremacists and holocaust deniers. Today he’s dispensing medical advice based on things some random people told him. I won’t post the links; you can find his idiotic ramblings easily enough. I sure hope Musk ends up backing out of this deal. He reminds me of Trump, and another Trump is not what the world needs right now, IMHO. Here are a couple of interesting articles on the Musk takeover:
The Wall Street Journal (no paywall): The Shadow Crew Who Encouraged Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover. Behind the scenes, fellow billionaires and internet provocateurs bent Tesla CEO’s ear; Jack Dorsey’s role.
Charlotte Alter at Time: Elon Musk and the Tech Bro Obsession With ‘Free Speech.’
White House Correspondent’s Dinner and Covid-19
Tonight the self-important members of the White House press corps will meet at their traditional dinner after the event was cancelled for two years because of the pandemic. On Tuesday, I wrote about the organizers’ decision not accept an offer of free installation of germicidal UV lighting to protect attendees from airborne transmission of the coronavirus. I really think it’s a mistake for the president and first lady to attend this event.
At Yahoo News, Michael Arceneaux offers other reasons why the Bidens should not be going to the dinner: Attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a bad look for Biden.
Although the Biden administration waited until little more than a week out to confirm attendance – in part due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak stemming from the recent Gridiron dinner — it was confirmed that the president and first lady would attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner….
Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended the WHCA’s annual dinner with the exception of Donald Trump. To him, members of the media are “enemies of the people.” In 2019, the Trump administration banned any of its officials from attending the dinner.
The dinner was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, so this marks the official return of a Washington tradition. I understand Biden’s good intentions, but the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is one of the traditions that I hoped would have died in the plague. Or at the very least, dramatically change while it was away.
Consider all the bad news in the world — some of which the diners are supposed to cover. Well, at least for the night, instead of doing their jobs, they are hobnobbing with celebrities par excellence. Given inflation, an ongoing plague, and the litany of other problems impacting the nation, the “nerd prom” resurgence feels ill-timed. Given the times, a return to spectacle strikes me as a bad idea.
The guest list points to the frivolousness of the event.
Martha Stewart will be in attendance as a guest of The Daily Mail. Michael Keaton will be a guest of ABC News. CBS News is apparently bringing Drew Barrymore and Melinda Gates as their guests to the dinner. Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson will be sitting at the Disney/ABC table.
Quite a few of those White House correspondents are also frivolous lightweights, but that’s just my opinion. But back to the Arceneaux piece. He agrees with me about health concerns.
Oh, and the pandemic isn’t over, no matter what the White House Correspondents Association thinks.
On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris shared her health news after returning from a weeklong trip to California. “Today I tested positive for COVID-19. I have no symptoms, and I will continue to isolate and follow CDC guidelines. I’m grateful to be both vaccinated and boosted,” Harris tweeted….
One other factor that we must consider: The president is 79 years old. With all due respect, at that age, if Biden can’t walk around in a protective bubble, he should at least avoid being in rooms with hundreds of people.
I understand the venue will be testing for attendance, but if it can happen to the vice president, why not the president?
Yet, here everyone is, partying the night away with celebrity guests — as the world falls apart and in the middle of a pandemic. I hope everyone has a good night, but it feels like the wrong time to have this kind of party.
I couldn’t agree more, and I will not be watching tonight.
The New York Times: Cases are rising in nearly every corner of the United States.
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising in a majority of American states, in what appears to be the first widespread increase since the peak of the Omicron surge in January.
Reports of new cases were nearly flat in the United States at the beginning of April, but as the month draws to a close, they are increasing in all but three states, signaling a wave that is increasingly national in scope.
“Most of the cases are relatively mild,” said Dr. Eric S. Toner, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Ted Takes Manhattan, by Matt McCarthy
The recent increase was once concentrated in the Northeast, but the effects of the highly contagious BA.2 subvariant is growing more geographically diverse. In the last two weeks, cases have more than doubled in states from West Virginia to Utah.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise nationwide, after plummeting early this month to their lowest point since March 2020. More than 30 states and territories have seen their hospitalization rates tick up in the past two weeks, and in much of the Northeast, the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus has increased since mid-month by 40 percent or more.
“It’s not over yet,” Dr. Toner said in an interview on Friday. “It may be a mistake to relax all of our protective measures too quickly.”
The Biden administration is currently considering the possibility of forgiving some student loans. Here’s the latest:
The Washington Post: White House officials weigh income limits for student loan forgiveness.
The White House is considering income caps for eligibility for student loan relief that would exclude higher-earning Americans, as President Biden nears a decision on the matter, according to three people aware of administration discussions.
The administration is considering various ways to forgive some student loan debt through executive action. In recent weeks, senior Biden aides have examined limiting the relief to people who earned less than either $125,000 or $150,000 as individual filers the previous year, the people said. That plan would set the threshold at around $250,000 or $300,000 for couples who file their taxes jointly, the people said. No final decisions have been made, and the people familiar with the matter stressed that planning was fluid and subject to change.
The White House is also weighing exactly how much student debt to eliminate for each borrower. Biden indicated to reporters this week that the amount would be lower than $50,000 per person. Administration officials have also signaled that the White House will cut at least $10,000 per qualifying borrower, the people said, embracing a position Biden himself appeared to support in a private meeting with the congressional Hispanic Caucus. The administration has also discussed limiting forgiveness to undergraduate loans, excluding those who had taken out loans for professional degrees in fields such as law and medicine, the people said.
“There’s different proposals floating around the administration about how to structure this,” said one person involved in the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. “Over the course of the past week especially, administration and congressional staff have focused the conversation on debt cancellation on how to best meet the president’s desire to ensure the most economically vulnerable people with student debt benefit from any action.”
Forgiveness of $10,000 wouldn’t even put a tiny dent in what I owe in student loans, but I’m on an income based payment plan, and my income is too low for me to have to pay anything. After 25 years, if I live that long, the debt will be forgiven. In the meantime the government is spending lots of money to get me to file paperwork every year to prove I can’t pay anything. But for anyone who can benefit from a $10,000 reduction, I wish you well. Meanwhile, the government has no problem subsidizing billionaires like Elon Musk who pay no taxes.
For more on this issue, here’s a long think piece on student loan debt by Jerusalem Demsas at The Atlantic: Who Really Benefits From Student-Loan Forgiveness?
Trump Crime Family News
The Washington Post: Trump grand jury ending in N.Y. with no charges against ex-president.
A six-month grand jury that was convened late last year to hear evidence against Donald Trump was set to expire this week, closing a chapter in a lengthy criminal investigation that appears to be fizzling out without charges against the former president, people familiar with matter said.
San Francisco (Matt McCarthy)
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), who took office in January, inherited a probe launched by his predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who was convinced that there was a case against Trump for crimes related to manipulating the value of property assets to secure tax advantages or better loan rates.
The grand jury was convened in November with a mandate to hear evidence against the former president. But the decision on whether to finish the presentation and ask the panel to vote on charges would ultimately fall on Bragg, who decided to pause the process, according to people with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not been declared publicly.
A key problem, some of those people said, was Bragg’s concern over whether former Trump fixer Michael Cohen should be used as a witness.
Bragg has said he will announce when the investigation is over, noting that even after the special grand jury disbanded, other grand juries hearing a broad range of criminal cases in New York would be available to take action in this one if needed.
Still, the expiration of the grand jury — and the departure in February of two senior prosecutors who said Bragg was stalling the inquiry — makes any potential indictment of Trump seem unlikely, legal observershave said. By the time Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne quit, the grand jury had been inactive for weeks, with jurors being told to stay home, a person with knowledge of the issue previously said.
Lawyers in the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who is a partner in the probe, are skeptical that any criminal case will be brought, people familiar with the situation said. They also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokeswoman for James said the investigation continues.
Once again, Trump escapes accountability for his criminal behavior. Meanwhile, another grand jury begins deliberations in Georgia. CBS News: Special grand jury considering Trump election interference in Georgia convenes Monday.
Fulton County prosecutors will begin selecting participants Monday for a special grand jury to consider whether former president Donald Trump should be charged for his attempts to pressure Georgia officials to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost.
By Matt McCarthy
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis asked a panel of judges in January for the special grand jury because of “information indicating a reasonable probability” that the election “was subject to possible criminal disruptions.”
Willis has said in interviews that the investigation includes a January 2, 2021 phone call in which Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.” Trump lost the state to Joe Biden by that margin — an outcome that was affirmed by several recounts.
Special grand juries are unusual. They focus on just one investigation, and can be impaneled for far longer than typical grand juries, which often consider charging recommendations for a variety of investigations….
Willis wrote in the request that “a significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate with the investigation absent a subpoena requiring their testimony.”
Willis said in an April 19 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she will wait until after the state’s May 24 primaries to issue subpoenas to public officials — meaning the special grand jury may not hear witnesses until June.
January 6 Investigation News
Kyle Cheney at Politico: Eastman to produce 10,000 pages of Trump-related emails as broader legal fight looms.
Attorney John Eastman, a key architect of former President Donald Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 election, is preparing to provide another 10,000 pages of records to the Jan. 6 select committee, his attorney revealed late Friday.
It’s the latest breakthrough for congressional investigators in their ongoing fight to obtain details of Trump’s last-ditch plans to overturn his election loss.
Eastman had claimed attorney-client privilege over 37,000 pages of post-election emails related to his work for Trump. But under pressure from U.S. District Court Judge David Carter — who ruled in March that Eastman and Trump likely entered into a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election — Eastman withdrew privilege claims for nearly a third of that total.
In Friday’s court filing, Eastman’s lawyers indicated that the select committee now wants more time to consider how to handle the remaining 27,000 pages of records that remain in dispute. Carter has asked Eastman to produce a log of all the emails that remain contested, but Eastman is now asking Carter for a brief reprieve while the select committee reviews the new documents and determines how to proceed.
The committee’s legal fight to obtain Eastman’s records — all originally housed by his former employer, Chapman University — has been a top priority for the panel, which is fending off dozens of lawsuits from witnesses to Trump’s conduct in the aftermath of the election.
The panel has used the Eastman lawsuit, as well as litigation against former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, to reveal broad swaths of the evidence it has obtained showing Trump ignored overwhelming legal advice that he had been defeated. Their evidence also shows that Trump sat by on Jan. 6, 2021 as a mob of his supporters ransacked the Capitol, waiting hours and continuing to press allies to block now-President Joe Biden’s victory even as he watched the violence unfold on TV.
By Matt McCarthy
Also by Kyle Cheney at Politico: Second Oath Keeper pleads to seditious conspiracy.
A second member of the Oath Keepers facing a seditious conspiracy charge for his role in the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol pleaded guilty Friday and is preparing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Brian Ulrich, one of 11 Oath Keepers facing the gravest charges to emerge from the Jan. 6 attack, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of Congress’ electoral vote-counting session. He follows Joshua James, an Oath Keeper who provided personal security to Roger Stone, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy last month.
Cooperation from Ulrich of Georgia and James of Alabama — in addition to others who have previously reached cooperation deals with the government — could arm prosecutors with substantial evidence as they work to secure the convictions of the remaining defendants, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes III.
The indictment against the broader group suggests Ulrich discussed bringing firearms and ammunition to store at a hotel in Arlington, Va., where the group amassed a cache of weapons they called a “quick-reaction force” or QRF.
Ulrich was among a group of Oath Keepers who used golf carts to travel from a hotel to the Capitol, “at times swerving around law enforcement vehicles” while another defendant, Roberto Minuta, livestreamed, prosecutors say.
A bit more from The Daily Beast: Rioter Turns on Oath Keepers Boss at Tearful Plea Hearing.
A member of the Oath Keepers accused of sedition in the Jan. 6 riots pleaded guilty on Friday, agreeing to cooperate with the feds in their investigation. Brian Ulrich, 44, was reportedly tearful as he pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, which could land him in prison for up to seven years. As part of the agreement, Ulrich said he would sit down with federal investigators and specifically fingered Oath Keepers boss Stewart Rhodes as having a role in the conspiracy to stop President Joe Biden’s certification. According to court documents, Ulrich messaged Oath Keeper leadership ahead of the riots: “Someone can tell me if I’m crazy but I’m planning on having a backpack for regular use and then a separate backpack with my ammo load out with some basics that I can [just] switch to is [sic] shit truly the fan blades. I will be the guy running around with the budget AR.”
Read more at WSAV.com: Guyton man pleads guilty to Jan. 6 charges, by Molly Curley.
NOTE: The artwork in today’s post is by Matt McCarthy, who uses Photoshop to create surrealistic cat art. You can find more of his work on Instagram, where he posts as Mr. Matt McCarthy.
Posted: April 29, 2022 Filed under: just because | Tags: Greene, House January 6 Committee, Jamie Raskin, The Insane Mrs
Emil Nolde’s Peonies and Irises (1936)
Good Day Sky Dancers!
The tone of speeches in the House of Representatives–pretty much from its inception–has always had outliers that prefer to rage against the other side rather than behave in a strict parliamentarian manner. The brilliant prosecutor and representative Jamie Raskin was called-out for using unparliamentary language against, of all people, Majorie Taylor Greene. The pearl-clutching is pretty amazing given the antics of Ms. Green have been so shameful she no longer holds any seats on any committee. But, sure, let’s call out Mr. Raskin for speaking the truth to crazy.
The controversial words were calling her “cheerleader for the insurrection.” That sounds like a pretty accurate description to me. Frankly, I wish more congress critters would stand up to these people on the floor and elsewhere. They deserve to be maligned for their actions and words. But then, watch Raskin’s speech to see what you think before I start going to the Beltway pundits and pearl-clutchers. Also, ask yourself wtf is that woman wearing on the floor of the House of the People? Is that outfit professional or do they have Pajama Thursdays now? The speeches were about setting up rules of the debate on a program of lend/lease for Ukraine similar to the one used for the United Kingdom of Great Britain prior to U.S. entry into World War 2. It wasn’t a PJ party.
Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau The Garden II (1910)
So, I don’t see what all the fuss is about do you? However, some old white Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania complained. This is from The Hill which notes Raskin’s apology.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on Thursday withdrew words he made on the floor after he called Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) a “cheerleader for the insurrection,” admitting that he had used “unparliamentary language” on the House floor.
Raskin, the lead manager during former President Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2021, did so after Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) asked for Raskin’s words to be taken down, a request that is made if lawmakers use offensive language or make remarks that could be considered unparliamentary.
The dispute took place during a debate on the rule for the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, legislation that would essentially speed up the delivery of military aid to Ukraine as it fights off an invasion by Russia.
Raskin criticized Greene immediately after her own two-minute speech on the bill. Greene had not mentioned Ukraine in her own remarks, but had focused on what she said was an “invasion” at the southern border. Greene has been critical of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
“Gentlelady talked about a massive invasion. We had a massive invasion of our own chamber. And she continued to be a cheerleader for the insurrection, and deny what happened here,” an animated Raskin said.
Reschenthaler at that point asked for Raskin’s words to be taken down.
There was then a pause of about 15 minutes in proceedings before Raskin asked for unanimous consent to withdraw his words, which was agreed to without objection. He admitted to using “unparliamentary language.”
Die Blumenterrasse im Wannsee-Garten nach Süden – Max Liebermann, 1921
Check him out on Twitter. He appears to be another big fat liar for the right.
The real news that concerns Congressman Raskin is his role on the January 6 committee and what we know about the upcoming Public Hearings. This is the best news I’ve heard in some time. This is breaking news from NBC: “Jan. 6 committee to hold series of hearings starting in June The hearings will start June 9, with some taking place in prime time and others during the day.”
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will hold a series of hearings on the probe in June, Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said.
There will be as many as eight hearings, the first on June 9, with some scheduled for prime time and others during the day, he said.
Thompson told reporters as he left the Capitol on Thursday that the public will hear from outside witnesses, people “we’ve not heard from before,” adding that “their testimony will be on point as to why this investigation was so important.”
“We’ll tell the story about what happened,” he said. “We will use a combination of witnesses, exhibits, things that we have through the tens of thousands of exhibits we’ve interviewed and looked at, as well as the, you know, hundreds of witnesses we’ve deposed or just talked to in general.”
Joaquín Sorolla’s Louis Comfort Tiffany (1911)
Jamie Raskin gave us a bit of hope with his press interview yesterday. Here’s a bit of what he said via MSNBC and Steve Benen: ‘Raskin: Jan. 6 probe to expose previously unreported crimes. Jamie Raskin said we’ll soon learn about crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack “that have not yet been alleged.”‘
There’s been ample speculation of late about whether the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack will make criminal referrals to the Justice Department, most notably against Donald Trump. In fact, The New York Times reported this past weekend that the question of whether the former president crossed legal lines has effectively already been answered.
The evidence suggests the former president obstructed a congressional proceeding and conspired to defraud the American people, which could serve as the basis for a criminal referral to federal prosecutors. The report came two weeks after a federal judge released a ruling in a civil case that concluded Trump “likely attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress” on Jan. 6, which would be a crime.
Judge David Carter added, “The illegality of the plan was obvious…. Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
But as striking as these revelations are, there’s no reason to assume that we know the full scope of the possible criminal misconduct. Rep. Jamie Raskin spoke yesterday to The Washington Post and suggested new revelations are on the way.
“We have not been shy about criminal evidence we encounter, and our report will be profuse in setting forth crimes that have not yet been alleged. But, having said that, we are not a prosecutorial entity. Our job is to make a report to Congress and the American people about what happened on Jan. 6 and what needs to be done to prevent coups and insurrections going forward.”
When the Post asked whether there will be consequences for those behind the insurrectionist violence, the Maryland Democrat added, “As in most mob-style investigations, the Department of Justice seems to be working its way up from the bottom to the top. They have charged a lot of people with violent assault, destruction of federal property, interference with a federal proceeding and now, increasingly, seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to overthrow the government.”
I will never forget this nor should any other present or future citizen of the U.S.
Well, that’s interesting too. And, I imagine he has some dirt on MTG which is sure to raise eyebrows and justify his words on the floor. There are a few interesting ‘guests’ that will be questioned next month by the Committee.
This is from CNN Politics.
Rudy Giuliani is expected to appear next month before the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The expected appearance comes after months of negotiations between lawmakers and the former mayor of New York, who served as former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney for much of his presidency.
Giuliani, a central figure in Trump’s failed bid to overturn the 2020 election, was subpoenaed by the committee in January and has been engaging with lawmakers, through his lawyer, about the scope of the subpoena and whether he may be able to comply with some requests.
In its subpoena, the committee alleges Giuliani “actively promoted claims of election fraud on behalf of the former President and sought to convince state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results.” The subpoena also states Giuliani was in contact with Trump and members of Congress “regarding strategies for delaying or overturning the results of the 2020 election.”
CNN has previously reported that Giuliani oversaw efforts in December 2020 to put forward illegitimate electors from seven states that Trump lost, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the scheme.
CNN also has previously reported that Giuliani may be willing to testify about claims of election fraud but that he did not intend to waive executive or attorney-client privilege.
It is unclear whether the committee has agreed to honor Giuliani’s concerns about privilege, but he can invoke privilege protections in response to individual questions if he so chooses.
As with other witnesses under subpoena, the committee has previously said it expected Giuliani to “cooperate fully.” The committee declined to comment Wednesday on Giuliani’s expected appearance.
So, that’s it from me today! It’s Friday so there’s got to be more things coming! BTW, all the artists’ gardens paintings in today’s post were suggested in this article from The Guardian written by Sarah Crompton in 2016. “Flower power: the gardens that caused modern art to bloom.” There are stories about each of these artists.
Posted: April 28, 2022 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Anthony Fauci, climate change and viruses, coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, fasciism, nuclear weapons, Ron DeSantis, Victor Orban, Vladimir Putin, White House Correspondents' Dinner
Boulders with Meconopsos and Rhododendrons, Amanda Richardson
For years now, it’s been difficult for me to shake the feeling that I’m living in a dystopian novel. We lived through 4 years under an insane “president” who tried to destroy the post-WWII alliances that have prevented another world war. He also ignored and exacerbated a global pandemic that has now killed close to a million Americans.
I had hoped that when Trump was defeated, he would go away and leave us alone; but instead he is still spreading his poisonous lies– and the Republican Party is still kowtowing to him. Even worse, powerful Republicans like Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are building on Trump’s legacy by enabling fascist policies in their states.
Unfortunately, despite popular opinion, the pandemic is not over, we’re not dealing effectively with climate change, and we are once more living under a threat of nuclear destruction.
The Washington Post: U.S. no longer in ‘full-blown’ pandemic phase, Fauci says.
The United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” that has led to nearly 1 million deaths from covid-19 and more than two years of suffering and hardship, Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.
“We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told The Washington Post.
Fauci’s comments came a day after he told PBS’s “NewsHour” that he believed the country is “out of the pandemic phase,” and he expanded on, and clarified, that view Wednesday, making clear that the pandemic is not over and the United States could still see new waves of infections as the virus continues to mutate and spin off highly transmissible variants. But Fauci and other infectious-disease experts are hoping that the population has built up enough immunity from previous infections and vaccinations to avoid another devastating surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic,” Fauci said.
Huh? We’re out of the “pandemic phase,” but the pandemic is not over?
Camille Monet and child in the artist’s garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet
His comments follow a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that roughly 3 in 5 people in the United States have already been infected by the coronavirus. About 1 in 4 people had a first-time infection during the winter wave caused by the omicron variant.
These startling numbers suggest the country has a much higher level of collective immunity than it did before omicron. What is far less clear is how long that immunity will persist, and to what extent it could be evaded by new coronavirus variants.
The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 is the latest version to seize the attention of public health experts. It is rapidly gaining traction, and CDC estimated Tuesday that it accounted for about 30 percent of new infections. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said preliminary estimates suggest it is about 25 percent more transmissible than the omicron subvariant BA.2, itself more transmissible than the original omicron strain.
There’s also the problem that we are not testing as much these days; and many people are self-testing at home, so the results are not being reported. Meanwhile, Fauci is concerned enough that he is not going to attend the next possible DC super spreader event:
Fauci, meanwhile, has decided against going to the swank White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, which Biden reportedly plans to attend. Fauci this month attended the Gridiron dinner, at which scores of people became infected. On Wednesday, he declined to discuss his reasoning for skipping what’s often referred to as the “nerd prom,” saying simply, “It’s just my personal choice.
The WH correspondents organization has made a disturbing decision about their event. The Washington Post: A fight over coronavirus safety at journalists’ gala event.
More than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians, including President Biden, are set to descend on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend in what is shaping up to be a major test of whether large gatherings can be safely held at this stage of the pandemic.
Organizers say they are committed to holding an event that significantly reduces the risk of coronavirus infections, pointing to vaccine and testing requirements that were strengthened after a dinner hosted by Washington’s Gridiron Club this month was linked to at least 85 infections that sickened Cabinet members, reporters and other guests.
The Way Home, Peder Monsted, Danish painter
Yet some White House officials and experts worry that those measures are insufficient and that this weekend’s events may become another high-profile superspreader event, said three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. Behind the scenes, one prominent coronavirus expert is scrapping with party organizers hesitant to install devices that disinfect the air using ultraviolet light because of concerns the devices might interfere with the program.
Don Milton, a University of Maryland environmental scientist who has advised the White House and others on airborne transmission, said his offer to have a company install the devicesat no charge was rebuffed by both the correspondents’ association and the Washington Hilton, which is hosting the event. “I enlisted a team of scientists and germicidal UV lighting companies to provide, as a demonstration project at no cost, a temporary installation to help protect the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Milton said. “Unfortunately, it has not worked out.”
In an interview, Steve Portnoy, a CBS News reporter who serves as the WHCA’s president,said the association had put safety protocols in place and Milton’s offer came too late.
“We’re interested in learning more about this technology,” Portnoy said. “We just aren’t in a position, with less than a week to go, to more fully understand the benefits or potential risks of what appears to be an experimental technology.”
What about the “potential risks” of the president getting Covid?
The New York Times: Climate Change Will Accelerate Viral Spillovers, Study Finds.
Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.
Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.
“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.
To understand what that sharing will look like, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues built a computer model of potential spillovers in a warming world. The researchers started by projecting how thousands of mammals might shift their ranges as the climate changes between now and 2070.
As temperatures increase, many species are expected to spread away from the blazing Equator to find more comfortable habitats. Others may move up the sides of hills and mountains to find cooler altitudes. When different species come into contact for the first time, the viruses may be able to infect new hosts.
Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947
To understand the odds of a successful new infection, the researchers began by building a database of viruses and their mammalian hosts. Some viruses have been found in more than one species of mammal, which means that they must have jumped the species barrier at some point in the past.
Using a computational technique called machine learning, the researchers developed a model that could predict whether two host species share a virus.
The more that two species overlap geographically, the researchers found, the more likely they were to share a virus. That’s because the hosts were more likely to encounter each other, giving their viruses more opportunities to move between them.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Zach Beauchamp at Vox: Ron DeSantis is Viktor Orbán’s true American disciple.
In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ rights, including a provision prohibiting instruction on LGBTQ topics in sex education classes.
About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” up through third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely connected.
“About the Don’t Say Gay law, it was in fact modeled in part on what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative magazine, said during a panel interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter who … said he talked to the press secretary of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and she said, ‘Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.’” [….]
It’s easy to see the connections between the bills — in both provisions and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children; Pushaw described Florida’s law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding that “if you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer” — meaning a person preparing children to become targets of sexual abuse, a slur targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters that’s becoming increasingly common on the right.
Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin
This is not a one-off example. DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.
Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power….
DeSantis’s agenda in Florida is evidence that the Republican shift in this direction is continuing, maybe even accelerating. He has shown little interest in moderation or consensus-building instead centering his governing philosophy on using policy to own the libs. While Trump may have been an ideological catalyst for the GOP’s authoritarian lurch, DeSantis is showing how it could actually be implemented in practice. The consequences for democracy in Florida, and America in general, could be dire.
There’s much more at the Vox link.
Financial Times: The return of the 20th century’s nuclear shadow.
Vladimir Putin’s willingness to threaten nuclear weapons is in one respect a good sign: it means Russia is probably losing in Ukraine. It is also a potentially catastrophic one. If Putin’s aim is to scare the west, he is failing. Nato keeps stepping up its supplies to Ukraine. The question is what he would do if he thought Russian defeat was inescapable. Putin keeps implying he knows exactly what steps he would take. Is he bluffing? It is plausible even he does not know the answer.
Either way, the genie is out of the bottle. Putin has broken a post-Cuba taboo on threatening to go nuclear. That, in itself, puts us in new territory. Without most people being aware of it, the world is entering its most dangerous period since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The majority under the age of 50 have grown up thinking the nuclear spectre is a relic of the last century. In the past few weeks, the prospect of a nuclear exchange has become the most live threat to this century’s peace.
In terms of public awareness, the debate about Putin’s language is a good example of “those who don’t know talk, and those who know don’t talk”. It is easy to think of Putin as a poker addict trying to bluster his way out of a bad bet. Eventually he must fold. US civilian and military officials suffer from no such complacency. Many have taken part in war game exercises where the use of low-yielding tactical nuclear weapons as often as not escalates to strategic nuclear exchange — doomsday, in plain English.
Windmills in the Ukrainian Steppe at Sunset, 1862, Ivan Aivazovsky
If there were a 5 per cent chance of Putin detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon, the world would be at more risk than at any point in most people’s lifetimes. In the past few days, Moscow’s signalling has arguably raised the chances to one in 10. Putin described last week’s test of the Sarmat hypersonic intercontinental ballistic missile as giving the west “food for thought”, which would not sound out of place from Blofeld, the 20th-century Bond villain. On Wednesday, Putin said: “We have all the instruments for this [responding to an existential threat to Russia] — ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to.”
The natural response is that Joe Biden and his European counterparts have made it plain Nato will not fight in Ukraine. The west, in other words, poses no “existential threat” to Russia — its threshold for use of nuclear weapons. But that is only how the west sees it. Putin’s threats, and those of his officials, have been made in the context of claiming Russia is already at war with Nato. Russians are being told every day that they are in a fight for national survival against western-backed Nazis. This level of rhetoric exceeds anything from the cold war.
One more from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Putin Must Be Stopped Once and for All.
Defending Ukraine is not enough. Defeating Russia on the battlefield is not enough. We must ensure—using every means at our disposal—that Vladimir Putin may never again commit the kinds of atrocities that have marked his two decades in power.
Fortunately, this week, it was made absolutely clear that the Biden administration recognizes that necessity and has made it a strategic centerpiece of their foreign and national security policy efforts.
On Monday, after visiting Ukraine with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
Although one senior U.S. official admitted to me (somewhat uneasily) that “Austin said the quiet part out loud,” it soon became clear that the U.S. was publicly willing to own the new goal of turning Russia’s unprovoked, brutal escalation of its ongoing eight-year war in Ukraine into a lasting and meaningful defeat for the Kremlin.
On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”
That’s all I have for you today. I hope the paintings help just a little bit.