Lazy Caturday Reads: “The System Was Blinking Red” and Trump Did Nothing

Reading To Her Cat by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861

Good Morning!!

As of this morning, the U.S. has 19,000 Covid-19 cases and 247 deaths. The NIH director says we could have 70,000 reported cases by the end of next week. Meanwhile, the federal government is basically doing nothing. We have an utterly incompetent failed real estate tycoon and reality TV clown as “president.” We have known for years now that this man is completely unfit to lead. In just three years he has crippled our most important institutions and we are now on our own, hoping that state and local governments can take up the slack.

Trump had plenty of warnings about the nature of the threat that was bearing down on our country. Just as before 9/11, when George W. Bush ignored the August 6, 2001 PDB titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” the “system has been blinking red for months” and Trump sat around watching TV and tweeting insults to his “enemies,” ignoring the threat to our country.

The Washington Post: U.S. intelligence reports from January and February warned about a likely pandemic.

U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.

The intelligence reports didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take, issues outside the purview of the intelligence agencies. But they did track the spread of the virus in China, and later in other countries, and warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak.

By Catriona Millar, Scottish artist

Taken together, the reports and warnings painted an early picture of a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic that could require governments to take swift actions to contain it. But despite that constant flow of reporting, Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans. Lawmakers, too, did not grapple with the virus in earnest until this month, as officials scrambled to keep citizens in their homes and hospitals braced for a surge in patients suffering from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” said a U.S. official who had access to intelligence reporting that was disseminated to members of Congress and their staffs as well as to officials in the Trump administration, and who, along with others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive information.

“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” this official said. “The system was blinking red.”

Of course, as we all know, Trump doesn’t like to read and he doesn’t listen to intelligence briefings. He thinks he’s “a smart guy” and that his gut feelings are more accurate than the actual knowledge and experience of experts. And he’s still doing almost nothing. He just holds a daily press conference instead of his hate rallies and claims he’s doing things that either aren’t happening or can’t happen.

ProPublica: The White House Asked Manufacturers for Help, Then Gave Them No Clear Instructions.

As hospitals across the country face drastic shortages of masks, respirators and other vital equipment, the White House has sent out a plea for donations that’s left many recipients confused and full of questions.

In at least one instance this week, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, blindsided private industry by requesting that construction companies donate face masks to hospitals. The White House then failed to provide guidance when directly asked.

Pence asked builders on Tuesday to donate the N95 masks used at many construction sites to local hospitals and refrain from ordering more. Within minutes, Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the trade group Associated General Contractors of America, contacted the White House for more details, said Brian Turmail, a group spokesman.

By Adrie Martens

After receiving no reply from the White House, Sandherr sent an email to AGC’s local chapters on Tuesday telling them that Pence’s statement had taken the group by surprise.

“As we received no advance notice of this announcement and we have received no additional guidance from the Administration, it is our view that this should be considered as a voluntary gesture and not a mandate,” Sandherr wrote. Turmail said several AGC members have donated equipment to their local hospitals.

On Thursday, Sandherr finally heard back from the Department of Health and Human Services, speaking on behalf of the White House, and his group’s members were asked not to donate equipment to hospitals, as Pence had instructed. Instead, he was told the group should collect an inventory of available equipment from members, including masks, booties and protective suits, and share it with the administration.

So instead of cutting red tape, the administration is adding more red tape while more people get sick and more people die.

We’ve been hearing for awhile now that we could be like Italy. I think it’s likely we’ll soon be worse off than Italy, because we our health care system is already breaking down and it looks like Mitch McConnell is determined not to help the people who need it most.

There was talk of sending checks to most Americans immediately; now it turns out the GOP plan is to use tax rebates, so the poorest people would get little or nothing (for example, people like me who live on Social Security don’t file taxes) and people who pay more taxes would get more. That makes no sense economically when millions of people have been thrown out of work and won’t be able to pay rent or eat, but Republicans apparently just don’t care.

The Week: Senate GOP stimulus plan would exclude up to 64 million tax filers from full rebate, economist says.

Senate Republicans unveiled their proposal for sending out cash to Americans amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, but as is, a large number wouldn’t receive the full amounts.

By Dee Nickerson

Under the economic stimulus plan released Thursday, payments of up to $1,200 would be sent out to individuals and $2,400 to married couples, though the amount phases out for single filers making $75,000 a year and joint filers making $150,000 a year. But The Wall Street Journal notes that “individuals need to have qualifying income of at least $2,500 or income tax liability to get the minimum payment of $600.” This is based on their 2018 tax return.

Looking at IRS data, economist Kyle Pomerleau estimates that about 64 million filers who earn less than $50,000 won’t get the full rebate amount of $1,200 or $2,400, as “for a single filer, income must be at least about $23k to get the full $1,200,” and “for married couple filing jointly, AGI must be about $47k to get the full $2,400,” he writes.

Again, the poorest people don’t even file taxes, so they would be shit out of luck too. Furthermore, the amounts they are talking about wouldn’t even cover a month’s rent in the Boston area or other large cities. Right now I’m very grateful that I live on a fixed income in subsidized housing. But even I have had and will continue to have extra expenses and hardships.

Slate: Republicans Found a Way to Mail Checks and Still Screw People Over.

Senate Republicans have now released their hotly anticipated proposal to send families direct cash payments, as part of a wider economic aid package aimed at combating the coronavirus crisis. And hoo boy is it disappointing.

Under the plan, the government would provide households an early tax rebate worth up to $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for a married couple, with an extra $500 for each of their children. (So far, so good). The payments will be based on a household’s 2018 tax return, or if it didn’t submit one, their 2019 filing.

Two Cats, by Sandra Bierman

But the checks will shrink for both low and high earners. Americans with little to no tax liability (aka, poor folks) will only receive a minimum payment of $600, unless they earned less than $2,500, in which case they get zilch. Low-wage workers who don’t have a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019—adults generally aren’t required to file one they if earn less than the standard deduction—also won’t qualify for the early rebate. (They could still get it next year if they file taxes for 2020, but by that time it will be a bit late.) Meanwhile, the payments phase down for workers who make more than $75,000 and drop to zero for those making $99,000 and above (double those numbers for joint filers).

Limiting these payments for the upper middle class and up is defensible, even if it irritates commentators who’d prefer a more comprehensive approach that mimics a universal basic income. Penalizing the poor during a pandemic, however, is beyond the pale. We’re in the midst of a planned shutdown of the economy that will disproportionately harm low-wage service workers, yet Republicans are concerned about properly rewarding people for work. It is a crass joke.

It’s worth emphasizing that the GOP’s new plan only calls for a single payment. The M

New York City, Seattle, Boston and parts of California already have such large outbreaks that they will probably see significant growth even after taking extraordinary measures over the past week, the researchers say. New York City’s outbreak, the nation’s largest, grew to more than 4,000 known cases on Friday and is likely to increase many times over even in a favorable scenario.

But cases will continue to mount and millions of people will run out of food. We can only hope that Congress wakes up to reality. Here’s what’s really happening:

The Washington Post: U.S. economy deteriorating faster than anticipated as 80 million Americans are forced to stay at home.

The U.S. economy is deteriorating more quickly than was expected just days ago as extraordinary measures designed to curb the coronavirus keep 84 million Americans penned in their homes and cause the near-total shutdown of most businesses.

Lady Petting a Cat, Paula Zima

In a single 24-hour period, governors of three of the largest states — California, New York and Illinois — ordered residents to stay home except to buy food and medicine, while the governor of Pennsylvania ordered the closure of nonessential businesses. Across the globe, health officials are struggling to cope with the growing number of patients, with the World Health Organization noting that while it required three months to reach 100,000 cases, it took only 12 days to hit another 100,000.

The resulting economic meltdown, which is sending several million workers streaming into the unemployment line, is outpacing the federal government’s efforts to respond. As the Senate on Friday raced to complete work on a financial rescue package, the White House and key lawmakers were dramatically expanding its scope, pushing the legislation far beyond the original $1 trillion price tag.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The Washington Post: Coronavirus-scarred cities need ‘something bigger than the New Deal’ just to cope.

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing every state, city and county to execute a plan of attack for confronting the global pandemic. It’s a process that Sarah Eckhardt, the top official in Texas’s Travis County, likened to “building the plane while in the air.”

But the virus — and the extraordinarily costly response to it — is also putting enormous pressure on all the normal stuff: the criminal justice, sanitation, transit, emergency response and other systems that residents expect from their state and local governments.

Although the nation is just in the first stages of what is likely to be a prolonged struggle to suppress covid-19, the strain on public services is already beginning to show. First responders are stretched thin. Courts are paralyzed. And everywhere, money for basic public services is running out, fast.

“We have to manage beyond the scope of anything one city has prepared for or can handle,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose city is among the worst-hit in America. “We’re spending all our reserves right now, but we won’t make it if the federal government doesn’t step up and step up big.”

Read more at the link.

This post is getting too long, so I’ll have to wrap it up. There are so many other stories I’d like to share with you. It’s overwhelming. Please take care and stay healthy, Sky Dancers. This is an open thread.


Thursday Reads: Trump Tries and Fails to Quell Coronavirus Fears

Co Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, 1919.

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the fake “president” tried to calm fears about the growing threat of a coronavirus pandemic by contradicting experts, hyping the stock market, and repeatedly lying about the administration’s preparedness. As health professionals tried to educate Americans about the possible dangers, Trump contradicted them and claimed he has everything under control, even though he has cut funds for the CDC and fired National Security Council staff who were in charge of global pandemic preparedness.

Trump was reportedly angry about the CDC briefing yesterday.

Here’s what Messonnier said:

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

The Plague of Rome, Jules Elie Delauney, 1869

The agency tweeted Tuesday evening that Americans should think about getting ready.

“Now is the time for US businesses, hospitals, and communities to begin preparing for the possible spread of #COVID19,” it wrote, referring to the name the World Health Organization has given the novel coronavirus. “CDC continues to work with business, education & healthcare sectors, encouraging employers to be prepared.”

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said.

She said CDC officials have been saying for weeks that while they hope the spread won’t be severe in the United States, they are planning as if it could be.

“The data over the last week, and the spread in other countries, has certainly raised our level of concern and raised our level of expectation” of community spread, she said.

The CDC still doesn’t know what that will look like, she added. Community spread could be reasonably mild or very severe.

Off with her head! How long before Trump starts purging the CDC of people who know anything about viruses and pandemics and replacing them with Trump loyalists who will pretend nothing is happening?

Stephen Collins analyzes Trump’s press conference at CNN: Trump takes a victory lap early on in the coronavirus fight.

The President spoke at a news conference on Wednesday about the worldwide health emergency that has seen the virus sweep into South Korea, Italy and every continent but Antarctica, sounding as if the danger had already passed rather than was yet to arrive.

“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said, as he unveiled his big announcement: Vice President Mike Pence will head the government effort.

Manuscript illustration depicting the Justinian Plague, from the Omne Bonum by James le Palmer, 14th century

The President’s optimistic performance came hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a patient in California who has the novel coronavirus might be the first person to be infected who did not travel to an afflicted region and was not exposed to another known carrier. The case raises the ominous possibility that the virus is already moving through the community….

His upbeat, election-year tone contrasted sharply with predictions from his government experts, who are warning of possible severe disruption to American life if the outbreak swells into a pandemic.

Here’s what two experts had to say when they were allowed to speak for a couple of minutes each:

“Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working and is responsible for the low levels of cases that we have so far. However, we do expect more cases, and this is a good time to prepare,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered the sobering news that even with an unusually accelerated process of development and testing, it could be a year to a year-and-a-half before a vaccine becomes available. His assessment contrasts with Trump’s hints that inoculations are just around the corner.

Without warning HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Trump put Mike Pence in charge of dealing with a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.–the same Mike Pence who enabled an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was Governor by refusing to allow clean needle exchanges for opiate users. The Washington Post reports:

“We’ve had tremendous success, tremendous success beyond what many people would’ve thought,” the president said during a White House news conference that followed days of mixed messages, tumbling stocks and rising death tolls abroad driven by the coronavirus. “We’re very, very ready for this.”

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c.1562

The president declared that the risk to America was “very low” and predicted a swift end to the outbreak….

“We could be just one or two people over the next short period of time,” Trump said of the virus’s impact in the United States.

Minutes later, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat warned Americans to prepare for the number of cases to grow.

“We can expect to see more cases in the United States,” Azar said.

“We do expect more cases,” Schuchat said.

The case confirmed Wednesday in California brought the total in the United States to 60.

During the press conference, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta tried to ask Trump a question and Trump repeatedly interrupted and corrected him.

Trump’s main concern is calming the markets, because if the economy tanks he probably won’t be reelected. But what he’s doing is likely to make things worse. NPR this morning: Stocks Tumble Into Correction Territory On Coronavirus Fears.

Stocks continued their downward slide on Thursday, with major indexes falling into correction territory. Investors are worried about the economic toll of a widening coronavirus epidemic.

Pavel Fedotov, 1846-1860 Cholera pandemic

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled more than 500 points in the opening minutes of trading. The blue chip index is down more than 10% from its recent peak on Feb. 12. The broader S&P 500 index has also lost more than 10% of its value in just over a week.

President Trump tried to project a note of calm in a news conference Wednesday evening, stressing that the United States is well prepared for any health crisis and predicting the stock market will recover, thanks in part to robust consumer spending. But investors were not immediately reassured….

A poll by Morning Consult this week found that 69% of U.S. adults are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the domestic economic impact of the epidemic, a 14 point increase from a few weeks ago.

Trump won’t be happy to see this headline at Bloomberg: Yellen Says Coronavirus Could Throw U.S. Economy Into Recession.

“We could see a significant impact on Europe, which has been weak to start with, and it’s just conceivable that it could throw the United States into a recession,” Yellen said Wednesday at an event in Michigan. “If it doesn’t hit in a substantial way in the United States, that’s less likely. We had a pretty solid outlook before this happened — and there is some risk, but basically I think the U.S. outlook looks pretty good.”

The global economy was weak but starting to recover before the virus hit, Yellen said. The shutdown of factories due to the outbreak in China will impact supply chains and cause a drop in consumer spending as people have been quarantined or cease traveling.

A representation by Robert Seymour of the cholera epidemic of the 19th century depicts the spread of the disease in the form of poisonous air.

Yellen, who spoke about the economy at an event held by the Brookings Institution in Clinton Township, Michigan, also commented on the decline in the 10-year Treasury yield this week to historic lows. Yields have plunged as fears about the spreading coronavirus have rocked global financial markets.

The newly diagnosed Coronaviris patient in California was in the hospital for several days before the CDC agreed to allow a test for the virus. The New York Times:

A California coronavirus patient had to wait days to be tested because of restrictive federal criteria, despite doctors’ requests. The patient, who has tested positive, may be the first person to be infected through community spread in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

C.D.C. officials said it was possible the patient was exposed to a returning traveler who was infected. At the moment, however, the new case appears to be one in which the source of infection is unknown, suggesting that the virus may be transmitted within the community.

Doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center considered the novel pathogen a possible diagnosis when the patient was first admitted last week.

But the federal agency that conducts the testing did not administer the test until days later because the case did not fit the agency’s narrow testing criteria, university officials said in a letter to the campus community late Wednesday.

The C.D.C. has restricted testing to patients who either traveled to China recently or who know they had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus….

The C.D.C. could not be immediately reached for comment.
The patient was transferred to the medical center from another hospital in Northern California with a suspected viral infection, and was already on a ventilator upon arrival, according to the university’s letter.

“Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be Covid-19,” the letter said. The medical center requested testing from the C.D.C. “Since the patient did not fit the existing C.D.C. criteria for Covid-19, a test was not immediately administered. U.C. Davis Health does not control the testing process.”

So it looks like we have the first coronavirus case that may have been passed from person to person in the U.S., and we have a president and an administration in denial and woefully unprepared to deal with a health crisis.

I’ll add more stories in the comment thread. As always, this is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: Hopeful Views and Crazy News

Illustration by Aïda Amer, Axios

Good Morning!!

Last night Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Rachel Bitecofer about her accurate prediction of 2018 election results and her current prediction for the 2020 presidential race.

Rachel Bitecofer is assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, where she teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, and political analysis and conducts survey research on public policy issues and election campaigns. Her work and analysis has been featured in many media outlets such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostUSA TodayNPR, and she is a contracted commentator on CBC Radio. Her book, The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election (Palgrave McMillan) is available via Amazon. Her unique election forecasting model accurately predicted Democrats gaining 42 seats 5 months before the 2018 midterms.

Bitecofer has describes her model for the 2018 and 2020 elections at The Judy Ford Center for Public Policy: With 16 Months to go, Negative Partisanship Predicts the 2020 Presidential Election.

In July of 2018, my innovative forecasting model raised eyebrows by predicting some four months before the midterm election that Democrats would pick up 42 seats in the House of Representatives. In hindsight, that may not seem such a bold prediction, but when my forecast was released, election Twitter was still having a robust debate as to whether the Blue Wave would be large enough for Democrats to pick up the 23 seats they needed to take control of the House of Representatives and return the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.

Based on its 2018 performance, my model, and the theory that structures it, seem well poised to tackle the 2020 presidential election – 16 months out. I’ll serve up that result below, but first let’s set the table by reviewing my model’s 2018 forecasting success.

Rachel Bitecofer

Not only did I predict that they would gain nearly double the seats they needed, but I also identified a specific list of Republican seats Democrats would flip, including some, such as Virginia CD7, that were listed as “Lean Republican” by the majority of race raters at the time. At a time when other analysts coded even the most competitive House races for Democrats as Lean or Tilt Democrat, I identified 13 Republican-held districts as “Will Flips,” 12 as “Likely to Flip,” and 6 as “Lean Democrat.” I also identified a large list of “Toss Ups,” from which I would later identify the remaining “flippers.” In addition, I identified some “long-shot toss-up” districts that could be viable flips under some turnout scenarios. Of the original 25 districts I identified as definitely or highly likely to flip, all but one, Colorado CD3, did so, possibly because the party failed to invest in their nominee there.

What does the model say about 2020?

Barring a shock to the system, Democrats recapture the presidency. The leaking of the Trump campaign’s internal polling has somewhat softened the blow of this forecast, as that polling reaffirms what my model already knew: Trump’s 2016 path to the White House, which was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker, is probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate. And that is really bad news for Donald Trump because the Blue Wall of the Midwest was then, and is now, the ONLY viable path for Trump to win the White House.

Why is Trump in so much trouble in the Midwest? First, and probably most important, is the profound misunderstanding by, well, almost everyone, as to how he won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the first place. Ask anyone, and they will describe Trump’s 2016 Midwestern triumph as a product of white, working class voters swinging away from the Democrats based on the appeal of Trump’s economic populist messaging. Some will point to survey data of disaffected Obama-to-Trump voters and even Sanders-to-Trump voters as evidence that this populist appeal was the decisive factor. And this is sort of true. In Ohio, Trump managed the rare feat of cracking 50%. Elsewhere, that explanation runs into empirical problems when one digs into the data. Start with the numerical fact that Trump “won” Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan with 47.22%, 48.18%, and 47.5% of the vote, respectively, after five times the normal number in those states cast their ballots for an option other than Trump or Clinton. This, combined with the depressed turnout of African Americans (targeted with suppression materials by the Russians) and left-leaning Independents turned off by Clinton (targeted with defection materials by the Russians) allowed Trump to pull off an improbable victory, one that will be hard to replicate in today’s less nitpicky atmosphere. Yet, the media (and the voting public) has turned Trump’s 2016 win into a mythic legend of invincibility. The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020, who are convinced he’s the Terminator and can’t be stopped. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything.

Last night Bitecofer predicted that the Democratic candidate will win 270 electoral votes. There’s much more interesting analysis at the link above. Read a slightly less technical analysis of Bitecofer’s model by Paul Rosenberg at Salon: Does anyone understand the 2020 race? This scholar nailed the blue wave — here’s her forecast.

Meanwhile, at the moment we are at the mercy of the insane occupant of the White House. Eugene Robinson: Trump is melting down. Again.

Fears of a global recession, greatly exacerbated by Trump’s erratic and self-destructive trade policies, have sent financial markets tumbling. A sharp downturn would close off one of the principal lines of attack the president was hoping to use against his Democratic opponent. He tried it out at a rally in New Hampshire last week: “You have no choice but to vote for me,” he told the crowd, “because your 401(k)’s down the tubes, everything’s gonna be down the tubes” if he loses. “So whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me.”

Fact check: No.

Trump is flailing. He berates his handpicked chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, for not cutting interest rates fast enough to goose the economy. He practically begs Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting to work out a trade deal — any trade deal, apparently — and is met with silence. He threatens more tariffs but then backs down, at least for now. According to published reports, he sees himself as the victim of a conspiracy to exaggerate the growing economic anxiety in order to hurt his chances of winning a second term.

He entertains grandiose, almost Napoleonic fantasies — purchasing Greenland from Denmark in what he calls “a large real estate deal,” perhaps, or imposing a naval blockade to force regime change in Venezuela. He apparently spent much of this past weekend fuming about not getting credit for how his New Hampshire rally broke an attendance record for the arena that had been set by Elton John.

And Trump can’t seem to stop railing against a recent Fox News pollthat showed him losing to four of the leading Democratic contenders. The president seems to consider Fox News his administration’s Ministry of Propaganda — indeed, that is the role the network’s morning-show hosts and prime-time anchors loyally play — but the polling unit is a professional operation. “There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it,” Trump told reporters Sunday . He added a threat, saying that Fox “is making a big mistake” because he is “the one that calls the shots” on next year’s general election debates — the implication being that Fox News might not get to broadcast one of them if it doesn’t toe the party line.

The only thing Robinson leaves out is that Trump’s health is going downhill; his dementia symptoms are getting worse by the day.

Trump’s biggest supporters are nuts too, but they are also very influential on social media. Check out this story at NBC News: Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times.

By the numbers, there is no bigger advocate of President Donald Trump on Facebook than The Epoch Times.

The small New York-based nonprofit news outlet has spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months, according to data from Facebook’s advertising archive — more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself, and more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent on their own campaigns.

Those video ads — in which unidentified spokespeople thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the “Deep State,” and criticize “fake news” media — strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem. The Epoch Times looks like many of the conservative outlets that have gained followings in recent years.

But it isn’t.

Behind the scenes, the media outlet’s ownership and operation is closely tied to Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual community with the stated goal of taking down China’s government.

It’s that motivation that helped drive the organization toward Trump, according to interviews with former Epoch Times staffers, a move that has been both lucrative and beneficial for its message.

Former practitioners of Falun Gong told NBC News that believers think the world is headed toward a judgment day, where those labeled “communists” will be sent to a kind of hell, and those sympathetic to the spiritual community will be spared. Trump is viewed as a key ally in the anti-communist fight, former Epoch Times employees said.

Click the link the read the rest. We are truly living in the Twilight Zone.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll add some non-crazy links in the comment thread. What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

This morning’s big news is that Iran shot down a U.S. drone. From The Guardian:

A full-scale model of The RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned plane

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday that they had used a surface to air missile to shoot down what they called a US “spy” drone they claimed was flying in the country’s airspace.

US Central Command confirmed that one of its unmanned aircraft had been taken down, but said it was in international airspace. A CentCom spokesman, Capt Bill Urban said it was a US navy Global Hawk surveillance drone, which had been downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile over the Strait of Hormuz at 11.35pm GMT.

“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false. This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace,” Urban said.

The US military accused Iran last week of firing a missile at another drone that responded to the oil tanker attacks near the Gulf of Oman.

Tensions in the Gulf have been heightened since 13 June, when the US accused Iran of attacking two tankers in the the Gulf of Oman with mines. The US military released footage it said showed the Iranian military removing an unexploded mine from the side of one of the tankers. There have also allegedly been Iranian-inspired attacks on US oil and military assets in Iraq, and increasingly sophisticated weaponry being fired into Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels.

The Iranian state news agency said the downed drone was an RQ-4 Global Hawk. “It was shot down when it entered Iran’s airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in the south,” the Revolutionary Guards’ website added.

Now here’s a delicious story about how karma caught up with fake christian Jerry Falwell Jr.

Miami Herald: How cut-rate SoBe hostel launched Jerry Falwell Jr. ‘pool boy’ saga, naked picture hunt.

Giancarlo Granda and Jerry Falwell Jr. at Cheeca Lodge

The photograph shows Giancarlo Granda, a handsome, 20-something pool attendant whom Jerry and his wife, Rebecca, 52, befriended at the Fontainebleau hotel in 2012, and within months, would set up as part-owner and manager of a $4.7 million South Beach hostel.

It was an unusual partnership: The president of the largest Christian university in the world, a school that prohibits gay sex, agreeing to operate a Miami Beach hostel, regarded as gay friendly, in conjunction with a “pool boy” with virtually no hotel management experience after they met at the storied Fontainebleau, a favored South Florida vacation ground for the Falwells. Yet there they were, not only business partners but mingling socially at Cheeca, an idyllic, exclusive resort in the Keys.

The relationship between the Falwells and Granda forms the backdrop of an improbable Miami story that is causing political ripples beyond South Florida. It involves a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, the “pool boy” as he is described in the lawsuit, the comedian Tom Arnold, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s now imprisoned political fixer, naked photographs — and a Miami father and son who say they were defrauded in a real estate deal then forced to change their names due to “threats.”

The gist of the story is that photos of Falwell’s wife in “various stages of undress” have turned up in the court case. The Herald has seen three of them. These are the photos that Michael Cohen supposedly helped Falwell cover up.

Jerry Fallwell Jr. and his wife Becki

The timing of Cohen’s alleged photo-recovery mission roughly preceded Falwell’s pivotal evangelical endorsement of Trump in the 2016 Republican primary, which Cohen says he helped engineer. Ted Cruz, who became the last candidate standing in the fight to deprive Trump of the Republican nomination, wanted to land that endorsement for himself. That he didn’t get it remains a sore point with some of his backers and a source of curiosity, including speculation that the “pool boy” saga and the presidential endorsement could be somehow related.

“You have the chancellor of the largest Christian university in the world in South Beach, which is not exactly a hot spot for evangelicals to take a vacation, [who buys] a piece of property for someone with no business experience. There is something odd there,’’ said Rick Tyler, former spokesman for Cruz.

Tyler said that Falwell assured him that he had no intention of endorsing anyone in the primary in part because his board at Liberty University wouldn’t permit it. So Tyler and others on the Cruz campaign were caught off guard when Falwell suddenly endorsed Trump in January 2016 — a week before the crucial Iowa caucuses and at a time when Cruz and Trump were mounting a fight for key endorsements from powerful leaders on the religious right.

“Clearly, something changed that led him to endorse Trump, and I would like to know what that was,’’ said Tyler, who is now an MSNBC commentator.

Read the rest at the link above.

Joe Biden continues to get shoot himself in the foot with his 1970’s attitudes.

The Washington Post: Biden faces backlash over comments about the ‘civility’ of his past work with racist senators.

Racist Senator James Eastland

Joe Biden faced a growing backlash Wednesday from prominent Democrats — and a bit of second-guessing within his own campaign — over comments in which he proudly described his history of working hand-in-hand in the Senate with avowed racists.

Biden’s remarks, which came at a fundraiser Tuesday night in which he said one segregationist senator “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’ ” seemed intended to highlight a central argument of his presidential candidacy: that he knows how to bring unity to a polarized nation.

Interestingly, segregationists Biden talked about working with–James O. Eastland and Herman Talmage– were Democrats, so he wasn’t even working “across the aisle.” Even Biden’s advisers were disturbed by his remarks.

As seemingly random as it was for Biden to reference Sen. James O. Eastland, a long-ago deceased segregationist senator from his own party, some in Biden’s campaign had heard him discuss this relationship before — and warned him against mentioning it in public. Eastland, who represented Mississippi in the Senate from the early 1940s to 1978, often said that African Americans were “an inferior race.”

Aides said they had urged Biden to find a less toxic example.

Apparently, another way that Biden resembles Trump (besides being an old white man who excuses racism) is that he doesn’t listen to his advisers.

From The New York Times:

Senator Kamala Harris of California said the former vice president “doesn’t understand the history of our country and the dark history of our country,” and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said Mr. Biden should immediately apologize for using segregationists to make a point about civility in the Senate.

Senator Kamala Harris of California said the former vice president “doesn’t understand the history of our country and the dark history of our country,” and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said Mr. Biden should immediately apologize for using segregationists to make a point about civility in the Senate….

Yet for much of the day, Mr. Biden and his campaign appeared publicly unbowed and intent on defending, or at least explaining, his worldview of politics, which is rooted in his early days in the Senate when, he said, legislators who disagreed still worked together….

“Apologize for what?” he said Wednesday evening before appearing at a fund-raiser in Maryland, adding that he “could not have disagreed with Jim Eastland more.”

Asked by reporters about Mr. Booker’s demand that he apologize for his remarks, Mr. Biden said: “Cory should apologize. He knows better. There’s not a racist bone in my body. I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career, period, period, period.”

Calling an African American Senator and presidential candidate “Cory” is not a good look either.  If Biden keeps this up, he’s going to crash and burn just like he did in 2008 and 1988.

More karma: another white male candidate faces a reckoning on race.

Wesley Lowery at The Washington Post: Back home in South Bend, Buttigieg faces ‘his nightmare.’

Lowery writes that Pete Buttigieg was “the surprise success of the 2020 presidential campaign” until he got bad news from South Bend, IN, where he is mayor.

A white police officer had shot and killed a black man early Sunday. Buttigieg canceled several days of campaign events — including an LGBTQ gala in New York — and rushed back to Indiana to “be with the South Bend community,” in the words of a campaign spokesman.

Pete Buddigieg faces his worst nightmare

Instead of showcasing But­tigieg’s ability to lead through a crisis, however, the shooting is exposing what has long been considered an Achilles’ heel of his candidacy: his frosty relationship with South Bend’s black residents. Since arriving on Sunday, Buttigieg has alienated the family of the dead man, Eric Logan, 54, skipped a vigil at the scene of the shooting, and sought advice from outsiders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York.

On Wednesday, Buttigieg finally made his first extended public remarks about the shooting, appearing at South Bend police headquarters to lecture the city’s new cadet class about the importance of turning on their body cameras when they interact with members of the public. During Sunday’s shooting, the officer’s camera had been turned off.

“This is his nightmare,” said Jorden Gieger, a community organizer who is close to Logan’s family. “You have to imagine the first thing he said to the police chief was, ‘You all had one job: Don’t shoot a black guy while I’m running for president.’ ”

Head over to the WaPo to read the rest.

A story from Courthouse News that adds evidence for the meme that in the Trump administration, the cruelty is the point: Feds Tell 9th Circuit: Detained Kids ‘Safe and Sanitary’ Without Soap.

The Trump administration argued in front of a Ninth Circuit panel Tuesday that the government is not required to give soap or toothbrushes to children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border and can have them sleep on concrete floors in frigid, overcrowded cells, despite a settlement agreement that requires detainees be kept in “safe and sanitary” facilities.

Trump concentration camp for immigrant children

All three judges appeared incredulous during the hearing in San Francisco, in which the Trump administration challenged previous legal findings that it is violating a landmark class action settlement by mistreating undocumented immigrant children at U.S. detention facilities.

“You’re really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn’t a question of safe and sanitary conditions?’” U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon asked the Justice Department’s Sarah Fabian Tuesday.

U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher also questioned the government’s interpretation of the settlement agreement.

“Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?” Fletcher asked Fabian. “I find that inconceivable that the government would say that that is safe and sanitary.”

The settlement at issue came out of Jenny Lisette Flores v. Edwin Meese, filed in 1985 on behalf of a class of unaccompanied minors fleeing torture and abuse in Central America.

Read more at the link.

I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Pablo Picasso, Reading, 1921

Good Afternoon!!

We’ve come to the end of another week in Trump world. Trump has gone to Camp David, bringing along Ivanka and Jared, Don Jr., and even Tiffany, but not his wife Melania and their son Barron.

Where are Melania and Barron? The Trump people claim Melania is in the White House and she just didn’t want to go to Camp David. But why didn’t Barron go? Eventually they are going to have to give an explanation of these disappearances to the American public. The media should be asking more questions about where  Melania and Barron are.

Yesterday, I was reminded of how the media has been complicit in covering up presidential bad behavior in the past when I read this review of Seymour Hersh’s new book by Josephine Livingstone at The New Republic. Livingstone calls attention to the fact that the media world Hersh describes is almost entirely male and notes that Hersh knew of a violent episode in which Richard Nixon apparently badly beat his wife Pat.

Almost every person in Hersh’s memoir is a man—a sign of the time and the industry. But there’s an interesting moment that Hersh did not have to include. In 1974, he writes, Hersh heard that Nixon’s wife Pat was in hospital after being punched by her husband. It was not an isolated occasion. He did not report on the story, he told Nieman Foundation fellows in 1998, because it represented “a merging of private life and public life.” Nixon didn’t make policy decisions because of his bad marriage, went the argument. Hersh was “taken aback” by the response from women fellows, who pointed out that he had heard of a crime and not reported it. “All I could say,” Hersh writes, “is that at the time I did not—in my ignorance—view the incident as a crime.”

I don’t think reporters today would cover up something like that, but I’m pretty sure Trump staff would do it. We already know that John Kelly and others blew off the fact that Rob Porter couldn’t get a security clearance because he had a history of violence against two former wives. Trump has even talked about bringing Porter back in another position. How do we know that Trump himself didn’t put Melania in the hospital. We know that he was violent in his marriage to Ivanna.

La Liseuse, by Auguste Renoir

So the summit with North Korea is back on for June 12, and yesterday Trump met with Kim Jong-un’s second in command Kim Jong-chol, formerly head of the North Korean version of the CIA. Trump even invited this guy into the Oval Office for a long meeting. Last night Rachel Maddow gave a long monologue about the former spy chief’s history. If you missed it, I hope you’ll go watch it. Here’s a bit of background from The Guardian: Kim Yong-chol: the ultimate North Korean regime insider.

Kim has been a border guard in the Korean demilitarised zone, a liaison officer with the United Nations, and a member of the team who held breakthrough negotiations with the South Koreans in the early 1990s. Over the past decade he was promoted to four-star general, and made head of the main North Korean intelligence service, known as the reconnaissance general bureau (RGB).

He has served three generations of the Kim dynasty and in recent months emerged one of the most powerful figures in Kim Jong-un’s regime, second only to the leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong. He is vice-chair of the ruling Workers party and head of the section charged with dealing with the South. He was part of the North Korean delegation for the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, and he was at the leader’s side for meetings with the South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Pompeo.

“He wears several hats,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior research fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum thinktank. “He is extremely well versed in denuclearisation matters, and seems to have secured himself a spot in Kim Jong-un’s inner circle.”

To travel to the US, Kim had to be given a waiver from sanctions. He was head of the RGB from 2009 to 2016 during the time the spy agency is believed responsible for the 2010 torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, in which 46 sailors were killed; and the 2014 hacking attack against Sony.

And Kim was in the Oval Office with President loose-lips and his insecure cell phone.

According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration is going to have U.S. taxpayers pick up the tab for the North Korean delegation’s stay in Singapore: The U.S. is trying to find a discreet way to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel during the summit.

by Eva Genoveva

 At an island resort off the coast of Singapore, U.S. event planners are working day and night with their North Korean counterparts to set up a summit designed to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

But a particularly awkward logistical issue remains unresolved, according to two people familiar with the talks. Who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel stay?

The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night….

When it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred five-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs, the two people said, but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting. As a result, U.S. planners are considering asking the host country of Singapore to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.

So not only is Trump likely to give away the store to Kim Jong-un, we are going to pay for travel expenses for the dictator and his retinue.

We often talk about how Trump is turning the U.S. into a third world country, and now the U.N. has released a report about what’s happening here. The Guardian: Trump’s ‘cruel’ measures pushing US inequality to dangerous level, UN warns.

Donald Trump is deliberately forcing millions of Americans into financial ruin, cruelly depriving them of food and other basic protections while lavishing vast riches on the super-wealthy, the United Nations monitor on poverty has warned.

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur who acts as a watchdog on extreme poverty around the world, has issued a withering critique of the state of America today. Trump is steering the country towards a “dramatic change of direction” that is rewarding the rich and punishing the poor by blocking access even to the most meager necessities.

Woman reading in red armchair, Auguste Macke

“This is a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty,” Alston told the Guardian.

Millions of Americans already struggling to make ends meet faced “ruination”, he warned. “If food stamps and access to Medicaid are removed, and housing subsidies cut, then the effect on people living on the margins will be drastic.”

Asked to define “ruination”, Alston said: “Severe deprivation of food and almost no access to healthcare.”

Alston sounds the alarm in the final report of his investigation into extreme poverty in the US that is published on Friday and will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva at the end of June. His findings are based on a tour he carried out in December through some of America’s most destitute communities, from Skid Row in Los Angeles, through poor African American areas in Alabama, and the stricken coal country of West Virginia, to hurricane-racked Puerto Rico.

And this isn’t even taking into consideration the results for many industries and states if Trump is able to carry through with his planned tariffs.

CNN: Trump’s tariff fight could hurt the red states that support him.

In the wake of new tariffs, car plants from Michigan to South Carolina and Alabama could pay more for the steel they use to make engines and auto parts. Whiskey from Kentucky and motorcycles made in Wisconsin, meanwhile, will shortly be subject to retaliatory tariffs from Europe.

Jacquelyn Bischak, The Window Seat

The Trump administration on Thursday announced that it would impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. All three have pledged to swiftly fight back with tariffs of their own.

The President wants to impose the 25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminum in order to protect jobs in those industries. But the taxes will raise prices for downstream companies that use those materials in their products. Retaliatory tariffs from US trading partners, meanwhile, are devised to inflict maximum pain on Trump-supporting areas to encourage the President to back down….

“These tariffs will raise prices and destroy manufacturing jobs, especially auto jobs, which are one-third of all Tennessee manufacturing jobs,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said Thursday. He called the new tariffs a “big mistake.”

Read the rest at CNN.

The New York Times: This Factory Was Ready to Expand. Then Came the Trump Trade Wars.

Andy Marsh’s New York factory is trapped in the Trump trade wars.

As Mr. Trump threatens tariffs on America’s economic allies and its adversaries, many of the domestic businesses that the president says his policies are meant to protect are finding themselves victims of his aggressive approach.

Prices are rising for imported goods, other nations are erecting retaliatory trade barriers, and companies like Plug Power, the manufacturing business that Mr. Marsh runs outside Albany, are facing crippling uncertainty from Mr. Trump’s fickle approach.

Girl Reading – Henri Lebasque

It is not the first time Mr. Marsh has felt firsthand the impact of decisions made hundreds of miles away in Washington.

In February, Congress and Mr. Trump gave Plug Power an injection of optimism, by extending a tax credit that was crucial to the manufacturer’s American expansion plans. The credit allowed Plug Power to reduce the price of its fuel cells for trucks and forklifts, and to forge ahead with new hiring.

By May, Mr. Marsh had slowed his efforts to fill more than 10 open positions in Plug Power’s factory as he began worrying that the tariffs on steel and some Chinese products crucial to its business would raise the costs of the components it imports to build fuel cells. So executives had raised the price on their fuel cells, and sales were slowing as a result.

United States Customs and Border Protection had also begun delaying some of those imported components for several days after they arrived from overseas, slowing their trip to Plug Power’s factory floor, Mr. Marsh said. The reason for the delay was unclear, but Mr. Marsh suspected that it could be related to the recent trade upheaval.

There’s much more at the NYT link.

I’ll end with this article from Vox on white people who get upset about black people doing ordinary stuff: I used to be a 911 dispatcher. I had to respond to racist calls every day.

It was the end of an 18-hour shift. My butt hurt from sitting in one place with only a couple of five-minute bathroom breaks. My brain hurt from staying awake that long, and my stomach ached from all the coffee I’d drunk to keep myself alert.

A Woman Reading, by Charles Louis Lucien Muller

But the phones rarely stopped.

“911, what’s the address of your emergency?” I said into the headset.

The man gave me his address and then said, “There’s a woman pushing a shopping cart in front of my house.”

This one stumped me. I worked in a large metropolitan area. Yes, the city where I worked was affluent, and most people used their cars to get groceries. But surely he’d seen a person using a personal grocery cart before.

“I’m sorry, I’m not getting it. What’s the problem?” I waited for more clarification as I racked my brain for the correct penal code under which this infraction might fall.

“You need to get out here now.”

“Um.” A dispatcher has to be cautious about how she phrases things. Of all the jobs in emergency services — firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors — dispatchers are the only ones who are recorded during every single thing they do. Everything they say — and their whole job is speaking — is part of public record. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re reporting.”

“She’s black.”

Please go read the rest.

So . . . what stories are you following today?