I’ve been in emotional protection mode for the past few days. Following the Ukraine coverage is so exhausting. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for the people who are living through the nightmare of Putin’s deliberate horrific attacks on civilians in Ukrainian cities.
Here are two stories about the horrors happening in Mariupol. After that I’ll try to focus on more positive news.
The city of Mariupol has been particularly devastated, as shown in this shocking AP article that I forced myself to read yesterday: Why? Why? Why? Ukraine’s Mariupol Descends into Despair.
MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The bodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.
There’s 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound to the head proved too much for his little toddler’s body. There’s 16-year-old Iliya, whose legs were blown up in an explosion during a soccer game at a school field. There’s the girl no older than 6 who wore the pajamas with cartoon unicorns, among the first of Mariupol’s children to die from a Russian shell.
They are stacked together with dozens of others in this mass grave on the outskirts of the city. A man covered in a bright blue tarp, weighed down by stones at the crumbling curb. A woman wrapped in a red and gold bedsheet, her legs neatly bound at the ankles with a scrap of white fabric. Workers toss the bodies in as fast as they can, because the less time they spend in the open, the better their own chances of survival.
“The only thing (I want) is for this to be finished,” raged worker Volodymyr Bykovskyi, pulling crinkling black body bags from a truck. “Damn them all, those people who started this!”
More bodies will come, from streets where they are everywhere and from the hospital basement where adults and children are laid out awaiting someone to pick them up. The youngest still has an umbilical stump attached.
Each airstrike and shell that relentlessly pounds Mariupol — about one a minute at times — drives home the curse of a geography that has put the city squarely in the path of Russia’s domination of Ukraine. This southern seaport of 430,000 has become a symbol of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drive to crush democratic Ukraine — but also of a fierce resistance on the ground.
Yesterday, Russia deliberately bombed a theater where hundreds of civilians, including many women and children, were sheltering. The location was clearly marked as such.
Authorities in the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol are clearing the rubble of a theatre hit by a Russian airstrike to search for people who had been sheltering in the basement.
According to local officials, hundreds of people were hiding beneath the theatre, which was designated as a shelter for displaced civilians, including children and elderly people, when it was struck on Wednesday.
The shelter withstood the strike and some people managed to escape, said the former governor of the Donetsk region, Sergiy Taruta, who did not provide details.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional administration, said on Telegram that the number of casualties was unclear.
A satellite photograph from Monday, released on Wednesday by Maxar Technologies, showed the word “children” in large Russian script painted on the ground outside the red-roofed theatre building.
A photo released by Mariupol’s city council showed a section of the three-storey theatre had collapsed, with rubble burying the entrance to the shelter inside.
Kyrylenko said Russian airstrikes also hit a municipal swimming pool complex in Mariupol, where civilians had been sheltering. “Now there are pregnant women and women with children under the rubble there,” he wrote. The number of casualties was not immediately known.
A witness who posted a video of the aftermath of the attack said the pool had been destroyed and efforts were under way to rescue a pregnant woman trapped in the rubble.
Moscow denies targeting civilians, and Russia’s defence ministry denied bombing the theatre or anywhere else in Mariupol on Wednesday.
The Russians have prevented humanitarian aid from reaching the city and people are running out of food and melting snow for water.
Slightly more upbeat news from Ukraine
Today the Wall Street Journal has a report from a town that successfully fought off the Russian forces: A Ukrainian Town Deals Russia One of the War’s Most Decisive Routs.
VOZNESENSK, Ukraine—A Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder, Voznesensk’s funeral director, Mykhailo Sokurenko, spent this Tuesday driving through fields and forests, picking up dead Russian soldiers and taking them to a freezer railway car piled with Russian bodies—the casualties of one of the most comprehensive routs President Vladimir Putin’s forces have suffered since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
A rapid Russian advance into the strategic southern town of 35,000 people, a gateway to a Ukrainian nuclear power station and pathway to attack Odessa from the back, would have showcased the Russian military’s abilities and severed Ukraine’s key communications lines.
Instead, the two-day battle of Voznesensk, details of which are only now emerging, turned decisively against the Russians. Judging from the destroyed and abandoned armor, Ukrainian forces, which comprised local volunteers and the professional military, eliminated most of a Russian battalion tactical group on March 2 and 3.
The Ukrainian defenders’ performance against a much-better-armed enemy in an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking region was successful in part because of widespread popular support for the Ukrainian cause—one reason the Russian invasion across the country has failed to achieve its principal goals so far. Ukraine on Wednesday said it was launching a counteroffensive on several fronts.
“Everyone is united against the common enemy,” said Voznesensk’s 32-year-old mayor, Yevheni Velichko, a former real-estate developer turned wartime commander, who, like other local officials, moves around with a gun. “We are defending our own land. We are at home.” [….]
Russian survivors of the Voznesensk battle left behind nearly 30 of their 43 vehicles—tanks, armored personnel carriers, multiple-rocket launchers, trucks—as well as a downed Mi-24 attack helicopter, according to Ukrainian officials in the city. The helicopter’s remnants and some pieces of burned-out Russian armor were still scattered around Voznesensk on Tuesday.
Russian forces retreated more than 40 miles to the southeast, where other Ukrainian units have continued pounding them. Some dispersed in nearby forests, where local officials said 10 soldiers have been captured.
Here’s a story with a happy ending from The Daily Mail: Incredible moment: boy, 11, who journeyed 600 miles ALONE across Ukraine to Slovakia with just a phone number written on his hand is reunited with his mother.
An 11-year-old boy who braved the 600-mile journey from southeastern Ukraine to the Slovakian border by himself has been reunited with his mother.
Hassan Pisecká crossed the country with only a plastic bag, passport, and telephone number scribbled on his hand, in a story that won the hearts of people from around the world.
His mother Júlia Pisecká, a widow, remained in their hometown of Zaporizhzhia, where Russian troops struck a nuclear power plant in early March, to continue caring for her elderly and immobile mother who was unable to flee.
On reaching the border, Hassan’s ‘smile, fearlessness and determination’ won over officials who helped him cross into Slovakia. They contacted his relatives in the country using the phone number and a note that was tied to his waist.
He was reunited with his mother, grandmother and dog in Slovakia this week as the family wanted ‘to thank everyone from my heart’ for their help getting the family, who fled the war in Syria several years ago, back together.
Júlia said the train ride out of Ukraine ‘was very difficult’ but ‘we had to escape so our family could be back together’ as she admitted ‘we have to start from scratch. We lost everything we’ve had but we’re healthy.’
The New York Times on Russia’s reluctant troops: As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say.
In 36 days of fighting on Iwo Jima during World War II, nearly 7,000 Marines were killed. Now, 20 days after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia invaded Ukraine, his military has already lost more soldiers, according to American intelligence estimates.
The conservative side of the estimate, at more than 7,000 Russian troop deaths, is greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
It is a staggering number amassed in just three weeks of fighting, American officials say, with implications for the combat effectiveness of Russian units, including soldiers in tank formations. Pentagon officials say a 10 percent casualty rate, including dead and wounded, for a single unit renders it unable to carry out combat-related tasks.
With more than 150,000 Russian troops now involved in the war in Ukraine, Russian casualties, when including the estimated 14,000 to 21,000 injured, are near that level. And the Russian military has also lost at least three generals in the fight, according to Ukrainian, NATO and Russian officials.
Pentagon officials say that a high, and rising, number of war dead can destroy the will to continue fighting. The result, they say, has shown up in intelligence reports that senior officials in the Biden administration read every day: One recent report focused on low morale among Russian troops and described soldiers just parking their vehicles and walking off into the woods.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Yesterday, President Biden announced that the U.S. will send more military aid to Ukraine. The New York Times: U.S. Adds ‘Kamikaze Drones’ as More Weapons Flow to Ukraine.
The Biden administration will provide Ukraine with additional high-tech defensive weapons that are easily portable and require little training to use against Russian tanks, armored vehicles and aircraft, according to U.S. and European officials.
In remarks on Wednesday, President Biden announced $800 million in new military aid for Ukraine, including 800 additional Stinger antiaircraft missiles, 9,000 antitank weapons, 100 tactical drones and a range of small arms including machine guns and grenade launchers.
The Ukrainians have already proved their prowess at using British-provided and American-made antitank weaponry against Russia’s much larger military. But in an impassioned speech to Congress on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine asked for additional help as Russian troops pushed to encircle major cities.
U.S. and European officials want to send more equipment that is easy to use by small teams, and that has technology that can overcome Russian defenses or exploit weaknesses — rather than offensive weapons like tanks and warplanes that require significant logistical support….
As part of the package, the Biden administration will provide Switchblade drones, according to people briefed on the plans. Military officials call the weapon, which is carried in a backpack, the “kamikaze drone” because it can be flown directly at a tank or a group of troops, and is destroyed when it hits the target and explodes.
“These were designed for U.S. Special Operations Command and are exactly the type of weapons systems that can have an immediate impact on the battlefield,” said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
Bigger, armed drones, like U.S.-made Predators or Reapers, would be difficult for Ukrainians to fly and would be easily destroyed by Russian fighter planes. But former officials said small, portable kamikaze drones could prove to be a cost-effective way to destroy Russian armored convoys.
Read more at the link.
More stories to check out today
Anne Applebaum at The Atlantic: America Needs a Better Plan to Fight Autocracy.
Gillian Tett at Financial Times: Why I should have listened to Garry Kasparov about Putin.
CNN Business: 4 ways China is quietly making life harder for Russia.
CNN Business: Russia says it made a payment to avoid default.
Thom Hartmann at Raw Story: 40 years of the Reagan revolution’s libertarian experiment have brought us crisis and chaos.
Have a peaceful Thursday everyone. I’m going to focus on self-care today as much as I can. I won’t be able to tear myself away from the Ukraine news entirely, but I’m going to take breaks.
As usual, there is way too much news this morning. How have we survived nearly four years of this? The U.S. is leading the world in cases and deaths during a historic global pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans. The U.S. economy is a raging dumpster fire that has been a disaster for all but the wealthiest Americans.
The so-called “president” couldn’t care less about the death and destruction that his neglect of his duties has caused. He’s far too busy trying to steal the 2020 election and achieve his goal of becoming a dictator.
More evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia and his idol Vladimir Putin has emerged in recent days, and it really looks as if he has been getting lessons from Putin in how do to the U.S. what Putin did to Russia. Meanwhile Putin appears to have poisoned his primary political opponent. Is he telling Trump how to do that too?
Today is the fourth day of the virtual Democratic National Convention. Last night was pretty dramatic. Kamala Harris accepted the nomination for Vice President. She is first woman of color and the first Asian-American to do so. Before Harris spoke, former President Obama gave a merciless critique of Trump’s failed leadership and issued a dire warning about the future of our democracy. Tonight Joe Biden will accept the nomination for President.
On the breaking news from Russia
The Daily Beast: Putin Critic Alexey Navalny Allegedly Poisoned by Toxin in His Tea.
MOSCOW—Vladimir Putin’s nemesis, corruption fighter Aleksey Navalny, is fighting for his life in a Siberian hospital after allegedly being poisoned at an airport while travelling to Moscow.
Navalny’s closest aide, Kira Yarmysh, said Navalny was poisoned after drinking a cup of tea at Tomsk airport early Thursday morning. He then boarded a flight to the Russian capital but fell violently ill en route. Taken from the aircraft on a stretcher after it was diverted to the city of Omsk, the opposition leader is in intensive care, relying on a respirator to breathe.
A Russian DJ who was on the same flight recorded a video that showed medical help arriving after the plane landed in Omsk. Navalny’s screams could be heard in the background.
Yarmysh said she knew immediately what had happened to her colleague: “A year ago, when Aleksey was in a detention center, he was poisoned. Obviously, now they’ve done the same thing to him again,” she wrote on Twitter.
Navalny’s friend, former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov is convinced this was yet another assassination attempt on an opponent of Putin. “Ever since Boris Nemtsov was murdered by the wall of the Kremlin, all of us knew who was going to be their next target—but Aleksey and I avoided talking about that,” Gudkov told The Daily Beast.
Read more at BBC News: Alexei Navalny: Russian opposition leader ‘poisoned’
On the Democratic National Convention
DECLARING “LET’S fight with conviction, let’s fight with hope, let’s fight with confidence,” Kamala D. Harris made history on Wednesday night in accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president. The California senator’s address was the nation’s first broad introduction to the first Black woman ever on a major party presidential ticket.
The daughter of immigrants, she described her family’s only-in-America story. She also highlighted racial inequities that continue to plague American society, including the disproportionate suffering communities of color have endured during the covid-19 pandemic. But Ms. Harris, who has won several elections in the nation’s most populous state and boasts an impressive record as a prosecutor, state attorney general and U.S. senator, did not serve merely as an avatar of one demographic group or another. The vision she offered was of universal values — and the need to restore them after the presidency of Donald Trump. She lamented that “the constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone.” She offered an alternative in which “we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”
In other elections, such sentiments might feel trite. In this one, they draw a clear distinction with the incumbent president. Former president Barack Obama drove that point home before Ms. Harris spoke. “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” he said. “The consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead; millions of jobs, gone, while those at the top take in more than ever; our worst impulses unleashed; our proud reputation around the world badly diminished.”
Former President Barack Obama delivered his sharpest broadside yet against President Donald Trump, blasting his successor as unserious and self-centered and cautioning that core democratic institutions have been imperiled by the Trump presidency.
“I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies,” Obama said in his remarks at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously. But he never did.”
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama continued. “And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
Obama portrayed the president as a catastrophically ineffective leader who has used the office only to benefit himself and his friends and spoke with an urgency not often seen from a man who has largely declined to weigh in on the Trump outrage du jour. Trump, he said, views the presidency as no more than a “reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
He dismissed Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, asserting that “our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up.”
Also see Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Obama’s Convention Speech Is the First Time I Have Seen Him Scared.
On the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report on Trump and Russia
Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: Russiagate Was Not a Hoax.
Rereading the Mueller report more than a year after its publication is an exercise in disappointment. One gets the feeling that Robert Mueller didn’t press his inquiry to its end. Instead of settling the questions that haunt the 2016 campaign, he left them dangling, publishing a stilted document riddled with insinuation and lacunae. He rushed his work, closing up shop before finishing his assignment.
While Mueller received all the hype, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence kept its head down. Yesterday, having avoided cable speculation almost entirely, the SSCI released the fifth and final volume of a report on Russia’s attempt to sway the last election in Donald Trump’s favor. It finally delivered what Mueller either could not or would not: a comprehensive presentation of the evidence in the matter of “collusion.” The report confirms that Russiagate is no hoax. Whether or not the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with the Kremlin, Trump has no grounds for proclaiming vindication, much less that he’s the victim of a witch hunt….
Mueller’s team referred to Manafort’s Kyiv-based aide-de-camp, Konstantin Kilimnik, as an active Russian agent. Manafort had clearly spoken with Kilimnik during the campaign, and had even passed confidential campaign information to him, with the understanding that the documents would ultimately arrive in the hands of oligarchs close to the Kremlin….
The committee…reports that Manafort and Kilimnik talked almost daily during the campaign. They communicated through encrypted technologies set to automatically erase their correspondence; they spoke using code words and shared access to an email account. It’s worth pausing on these facts: The chairman of the Trump campaign was in daily contact with a Russian agent, constantly sharing confidential information with him. That alone makes for one of the worst scandals in American political history.
The significant revelation of the document is that Kilimnik was likely a participant in the Kremlin scheme to hack and leak Clinton campaign emails. Furthermore, Kilimnik kept in close contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a former client of Manafort’s. The report also indicates that Deripaska was connected to his government’s hacking efforts. This fact is especially suggestive: Deripaska had accused Manafort of stealing money from him, and Manafort hoped to repair his relationship with the oligarch. Was Manafort passing information to him, through Kilimnik, for the sake of currying favor with an old patron?
Also see The New York Times Editorial Board: The Trump Campaign Accepted Russian Help to Win in 2016. Case Closed. Too bad the NYT can’t admit how wrong they were in 2016 and issue a long-needed apology to Hillary Clinton and the American people.
On Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election:
Joanne Lipman and Edward B. Foley at The Washington Post: If we don’t dispel the falsehood of an election ‘delay’ now, we risk chaos in November.
President Trump is ramping up his attacks on mail-in voting by insisting election results “must” be known on election night. “No more big election night answers?” he tweeted last month. “Ridiculous! Just a formula for RIGGING an Election . . .”
The news media have pushed back on his baseless claims of fraud. But they agree with him on one point: There is likely to be a “delay” in election results because of a surge in mail-in votes.
But that’s wrong. If results aren’t known on election night, that doesn’t mean there’s a delay. The fact is, there are never official results on election night. There never have been.
Predictions of a delay rest on a misunderstanding of the vote-counting process — a misunderstanding that is both dangerous and hugely consequential. If election-night results are considered the norm, and what happens this year is described as a “delay,” it will be easy to paint the result as problematic — and for Trump to continue to spread suspicions about the entire process.
Concerns about a supposed delay stem from a coronavirus-fueled interest in absentee and mail-in ballots. In a July survey of more than 19,000 Americans, 41 percent of those who plan to vote said they were “very likely” to vote by mail this year, and another 23 percent said they would be “somewhat likely” to do so. That compares with 21 percent who voted by mail in 2016, “which itself was a historic high,” the survey, conducted by a consortium of universities, noted. Counting those ballots could potentially take days or weeks, which means projecting a winner on election night may not be possible.
Yet even if counting takes several weeks, that wouldn’t constitute a delay — because by law, election results aren’t official until more than a month after the election.
I will highlight more important stories in the comment thread.
Take care of yourselves today Sky Dancers! We will survive because we must. Take care of yourselves and those you love today and every day.
After several days of a media diet–reading and playing video games instead of following the news closely–I’m feeling a lot more grounded. The fake “president” is still insane and we are still living through a global pandemic that was made much worse by the actions and non-actions of Trump and his gang of evil thugs, but I feel more able to handle it today. It helps that it’s a long weekend and Trump might go play golf and leave us alone for some stretches of time.
Anyway, I hope all of you are doing well and staying safe in these crazy times. Please stay home as much as you can and take good care of yourselves and your loved ones.
Here’s the latest on the pandemic:
The Washington Post: Study estimates 24 states still have uncontrolled coronavirus spread.
The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.
Researchers at Imperial College London created a model that incorporates cellphone data showing that people sharply reduced their movements after stay-at-home orders were broadly imposed in March. With restrictions now easing and mobility increasing with the approach of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, the researchers developed an estimate of viral spread as of May 17.
It is a snapshot of a transitional moment in the pandemic and captures the patchwork nature across the country of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some states have had little viral spread or “crushed the curve” to a great degree and have some wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus.
The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread.
“There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.
The model shows potentially ominous scenarios if people move around as they did previously and do so without taking precautions. In California and Florida, the death rate could spike to roughly 1,000 a day by July without efforts to mitigate the spread, according to the report.
London (CNN)Europe outright rejected US President Donald Trump’s vision of the world this week. Tensions between these historic democratic allies that have been simmering since Trump came to office three years ago have now come to a boil during the coronavirus pandemic.
Covid-19 has shocked the world by the speed of its spread, but it is also accelerating another global change in the balance of power — and not in America’s favor.
The extent of the divide became clear on Tuesday during a vote at the World Health Organization annual assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, backing Europe’s conciliatory approach to China relating to an investigation into the outbreak. Power had visibly ebbed away from the United States as its demand for a tougher approach was dismissed, a move that should sound alarm bells in Washington.
Five months into 2020 and it already feels like a new era: now there is only BC and AC — before and after coronavirus. Suddenly the dynamics of almost every single geopolitical dispute are being exacerbated by the pandemic, sharpened by the complexity and urgency of the situation.
Chief among these is the perennial, three-way battle for dominance between the US, Europe and China. Despite Trump’s early hailing of Xi Jinping’s handling of the pandemic, he has since blamed the Chinese President for covering up the early stages of China’s outbreak. Beijing has consistently denied such accusations, and criticized the US approach to the pandemic.
Trump has tried to blame China and WHO for his own disastrous response to the pandemic, but Europe is sticking with China and WHO.
Despite deep concerns about China’s handling of the pandemic, European leaders backed the WHO resolution calling for “a stepwise process of impartial independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate to review experience gained and lessons learned” from the global response to Covid-19.
The language is convoluted and hardly inspires confidence China will atone appropriately for its early failures, but it is a measure of the gulf opening up between Trump and his European allies that such a compromise could even be countenanced….
Europe’s decision to reject Trump’s confrontation with China and the WHO will affect both parties vying to win this year’s US election. Regardless of who wins that race, Trump and his handling of Covid-19 are weakening America’s global leverage.
At The Atlantic, Charles C. Mann on “What history can tell us about the long-term effects of the coronavirus”: Pandemics Leave Us Forever Altered. I hope you’ll read the whole thing; here’s just a brief excerpt:
Americans may have forgotten the 1918 pandemic, but it did not forget them. Garthwaite matched NHIS respondents’ health conditions to the dates when their mothers were probably exposed to the flu. Mothers who got sick in the first months of pregnancy, he discovered, had babies who, 60 or 70 years later, were unusually likely to have diabetes; mothers afflicted at the end of pregnancy tended to bear children prone to kidney disease. The middle months were associated with heart disease.
Other studies showed different consequences. Children born during the pandemic grew into shorter, poorer, less educated adults with higher rates of physical disability than one would expect. Chances are that none of Garthwaite’s flu babies ever knew about the shadow the pandemic cast over their lives. But they were living testaments to a brutal truth: Pandemics—even forgotten ones—have long-term, powerful aftereffects.
The distinguished historians can be forgiven for passing over this truth. Most modern people assume that our species controls its own destiny. We’re in charge! we think. After all, isn’t this the Anthropocene? Being modern people, historians have had trouble, as a profession, truly accepting that brainless packets of RNA and DNA can capsize the human enterprise in a few weeks or months.
The convulsive social changes of the 1920s—the frenzy of financial speculation, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion of Dionysian popular culture (jazz, flappers, speakeasies)—were easily attributed to the war, an initiative directed and conducted by humans, rather than to the blind actions of microorganisms. But the microorganisms likely killed more people than the war did. And their effects weren’t confined to European battlefields, but spread across the globe, emptying city streets and filling cemeteries on six continents.
Unlike the war, the flu was incomprehensible—the influenza virus wasn’t even identified until 1931. It inspired fear of immigrants and foreigners, and anger toward the politicians who played down the virus. Like the war, influenza (and tuberculosis, which subsequently hit many flu sufferers) killed more men than women, skewing sex ratios for years afterward. Can one be sure that the ensuing, abrupt changes in gender roles had nothing to do with the virus?
We will probably never disentangle the war and the flu. But one way to summarize the impact of the pandemic is to say that its magnitude was in the same neighborhood as that of the “war to end all wars.”
What societal and health changes will follow the coronavirus pandemic? Read Mann’s speculations at The Atlantic.
Some presidential election news:
The Guardian: Barack Obama poised to add his star appeal to Joe Biden’s campaign.
Former president Barack Obama has dipped his toes into the 2020 presidential campaign recently and is positioned to do more in the coming months as Joe Biden’s effort to defeat Donald Trump gathers steam.
Interviews with about a dozen Democratic strategists, party officials and people close to Obama want the popular former president utilizing his powerful online presence and focusing on rallying key Democrat constituencies that are critical to a Biden victory.
Obama is regarded as one of the most popular politicians in American politics and a huge asset within the Democratic party. He left the White House with a near-60% approval rating. His endorsement for any candidate is the political campaign equivalent of an oilman and hitting a gusher.
Obama would be most effective, interviewees said, in highlighting his former vice-president’s résumé, rallying key Democratic voting groups like African American women, and pushing voters to register.
The situation is unique. There hasn’t been a popular former two-term president eager to hit the trail for his former running mate for years. On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic limits in-person campaigning and rallies. Still, the strategists interviewed say Obama is valuable and should be used everywhere.
“You rarely have a former president that is more popular than the now-sort-of-nominee,” Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher said. “Barack Obama is the most popular political figure in America right now.”
Read the rest at The Guardian.
Trump may be losing some evangelicals. Politico: Behind Trump’s demand to reopen churches: Slipping poll numbers and alarm inside his campaign.
A sudden shift in support for Donald Trump among religious conservatives is triggering alarm bells inside his reelection campaign, where top aides have long banked on expanding the president’s evangelical base as a key part of their strategy for victory this November.
The anxiety over Trump’s standing with the Christian right surfaced after a pair of surveys by reputable outfits earlier this month found waning confidence in the administration’s coronavirus response among key religious groups, with a staggering decline in the president’s favorability among white evangelicals and white Catholics. Both are crucial constituencies that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 and could sink his reelection prospects if their turnout shrinks this fall.
The polls paint a bleak picture for Trump, who has counted on broadening his religious support by at least a few percentage points to compensate for weakened appeal with women and suburban populations. One GOP official said the dip in the president’s evangelical support also appeared in internal party polling, but disputed the notion that it had caused panic. Another person close to the campaign described an April survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, which showed a double-digit decline in Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals (-11), white Catholics (-12) and white mainline protestants (-18) from the previous month, as “pretty concerning.”
To safeguard his relationship with religious conservatives, Trump on Friday demanded that America‘s governors permit houses of worship to immediately reopen, and threatened to “override“ state leaders who decline to obey his directive. The announcement — which came days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention omitted religious institutions in new guidance about industry reopenings — featured clear appeals to white evangelicals, many of whom have long supported Trump’s socially conservative agenda.
Read more at the link.
According to The Daily Beast, Trump wants an in-person convention despite the pandemic, and his advisers are afraid to tell him it might not happen: Trump Plows Ahead With His Convention Planning, Virus Be Damned.
President Donald Trump has been adamant that the 2020 Republican National Convention—or some version of it—go on. For months, he’s demanded that back-up options for less crowded gatherings be fully explored by his staff, if a full-blown convention isn’t ultimately possible or safe, according to three people familiar with his private insistence. But he has scoffed at the notion of a virtual convention in recent weeks, saying that it sounds like “something Joe Biden would do from his basement,” said a source who heard Trump mock the idea.
Trump’s desire to have some sort of coronation moment fits his love of pageantry and spectacle. But various staffers working on plotting the Republican gathering aren’t quite so optimistic that it’s doable, knowing that they are entirely at the mercy of the virus and that the convention may end up even sparser than some expect.
“I don’t want to be the one to tell the president,” the White House official said, envisioning a scenario in which a disappointed, possibly angry Trump is informed he would have to be livestreamed into his own convention.
More stories to check out, links only:
The New York Times: Trump’s Press Secretary Displays One of His Checks in a Little Too Much Detail.
The Washington Post: Trump administration discussed conducting first U.S. nuclear test in decades.
New York Magazine: That Office AC System Is Great — at Recirculating Viruses.
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today?
Before I get started on the political news, I want to note the passing of one of the great pioneers of rock and roll. Rolling Stone: Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87.
Little Richard, a founding father of rock and roll whose fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form, died Saturday. He was 87. The musician’s son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the pioneer’s death to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was unknown.
Starting with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard cut a series of unstoppable hits – “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958 – driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”
Although he never hit the top 10 again after 1958, Little Richard’s influence was massive. The Beatles recorded several of his songs, including “Long Tall Sally,” and Paul McCartney’s singing on those tracks – and the Beatles’ own “I’m Down” – paid tribute to Little Richard’s shredded-throat style. His songs became part of the rock and roll canon, covered over the decades by everyone from the Everly Brothers, the Kinks, and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Elvis Costello and the Scorpions.
Little Richard’s stage persona – his pompadours, androgynous makeup and glass-bead shirts – also set the standard for rock and roll showmanship; Prince, to cite one obvious example, owed a sizable debt to the musician. “Prince is the Little Richard of his generation,” Richard told Joan Rivers in 1989 before looking at the camera and addressing Prince. “I was wearing purple before you was wearing it!”
Read about Little Richard’s (born Richard Wayne Penniman) life and career at the Rolling Stone link.
Now to other news of the day.
As Trump and his personal attorney general Bill Barr take steps to erase the rule of law and establish a fascist dictatorship in the U.S., is President Obama finally getting ready to speak out publicly? Michael Isakoff at Yahoo News: Exclusive: Obama says in private call that ‘rule of law is at risk’ in Michael Flynn case.
Former President Barack Obama, talking privately to ex-members of his administration, said Friday that the “rule of law is at risk” in the wake of what he called an unprecedented move by the Justice Department to drop charges against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In the same chat, a tape of which was obtained by Yahoo News, Obama also lashed out at the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as “an absolute chaotic disaster.”
“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed — about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association.
“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”
The Flynn case was invoked by Obama as a principal reason that his former administration officials needed to make sure former Vice President Joe Biden wins the November election against President Trump. “So I am hoping that all of you feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said. “Whenever I campaign, I’ve always said, ‘Ah, this is the most important election.’ Especially obviously when I was on the ballot, that always feels like it’s the most important election. This one — I’m not on the ballot — but I am pretty darn invested. We got to make this happen.”
Obama misstated the charge to which Flynn had previously pleaded guilty. He was charged with false statements to the FBI, not perjury.
Click the Yahoo link to read the rest.
And from Caleb Ecarma at Vanity Fair: As the DOJ Drops Flynn’s Case, Trumpworld’s Next Target is Obama Alums.
Conservative media figures who spent months insisting on Michael Flynn’s innocence, after he twice pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, are taking a gleeful victory lap in response to the Justice Department moving to drop its criminal case against the retired lieutenant general and former Trump national security adviser. But the reversal is not enough to placate the right-wing media rabble, as they are now calling for Attorney General William Barr to prosecute members of the Barack Obama administration and its judicial allies for their roles in the case….
Shortly after the news broke on Thursday, right-wing radio host Mark Levin appeared on Fox News to boast, and to accuse Obama of conducting a vast shadow operation against the Trump administration. “You know what this is? This is Barack Obama’s blue dress. That’s what that is without the DNA on it,” he told Sean Hannity, referencing Monica Lewinsky’s infamous garment. “[The Flynn case documents] tells us that Obama knew…. Obama was working with the FBI and the intelligence agencies.” Levin also tweeted that “the perps responsible for trying to destroy” Flynn should be prosecuted, a talking point Hannity is now pushing too. “All this does is exonerate General Flynn,” the Fox News host declared on his Thursday radio program. “Now, it’s time to investigate Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Department of Justice…and what they did here is they targeted an innocent man, and they—this is prosecutorial abuse.” Hannity’s colleague Tucker Carlson called Flynn’s case “demonstrably and provably unfair” and accused federal prosecutors of wanting “Flynn crushed purely because he happened to be away from the power they seek, and that’s why they’re still trying to put Roger Stone behind bars…. But the question is: How many other inconvenient Americans would they bankrupt and imprison if they could?”
A Daily Beast report found that numerous Trump administration and campaign officials are hoping to see Flynn resume work for the president in an official capacity. “Years ago when Nelson Mandela came to America after years of political persecution he was treated like a rock star by Americans,” Trump pollster John McLaughlin said Thursday while discussing the possibility of a Flynn–Trump reunion with the Daily Beast. “Now after over three years of political persecution General Flynn is our rock star. A big difference is that he was persecuted in America.” [….]
On Thursday, Trump described Flynn as “an innocent man” and “an even greater warrior,” before appearing on Fox & Friends the following morning to praise his attorney general’s efforts. “Bill Barr is a man of unbelievable credibility and courage, and he’s going to go down in the history books,” he told Fox News, adding that Fox hosts Hannity, Carlson, and Laura Ingraham “should get the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes” for leading the Flynn-innocence media campaign.
Wow. That is through the looking glass stuff. But the way things are going, it could happen. But through the looking glass is where Trump lives. Even with cases popping up in the White House, he still thinks the coronavirus will magically disappear.
President Trump on Friday broke with health experts, telling reporters that the coronavirus will “go away without a vaccine.”
“This is going to go away without a vaccine, it’s gonna go away, and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time,” Trump said at the White House. “You may have some flare-ups, and I guess I would expect that.”
Just days ago the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, a project to accelerate the production of a vaccine for the coronavirus, which as of Friday had infected at least 1.2 million Americans and killed more than 76,000 here….
Asked what led him to believe that the virus would disappear without a vaccine, Trump claimed he had received that information from medical professionals.
“I just rely on what doctors say. They say it’s going to go. That doesn’t mean this year. It doesn’t mean, frankly, it’s going to be gone before the fall or after the fall, but eventually it’s going to go away. The question is whether we will need a vaccine. At some point it will probably go away by itself.”
Who are these mysterious “medical professionals?”
Trump doesn’t think testing for the virus is important either–unless you are Trump, Pence and people working around them. The Washington Post: Trump plays down coronavirus testing as U.S. falls far short of level scientists say is needed.
The president has played down the need for testing as he overrides public health recommendations that would prolong the closures of schools, businesses and much of daily life. Although he is now tested every day with a rapid-result machine, Trump has questioned the value of extensive testing as the gap between available capacity and the amount that would be required to meet public health benchmarks has become clearer.
Trump’s comments came as a second employee in the White House complex tested positive for the coronavirus, a development that prompted increased testing for staff and other precautions not generally available to most Americans.
“This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great,” Trump said at the White House, as he confirmed a positive test result “out of the blue” for a top staffer, Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller.
During a Friday morning interview on Fox News, Trump ticked approvingly through the current testing figures but did not say what level he thinks is optimal or safe to use as a national benchmark for economic reopening.
Asked about the positive test result for one of his Navy valets, the president said that he himself remains negative but that the valet’s experience is instructive.
“And this is why testing isn’t necessary. We have the best testing in the world, but testing’s not necessarily the answer because they were testing them,” Trump said of the staff members.
WTF?! He found out these people had contracted the virus because they were being tested! What a fucking moron!
I’ll end with this. The AP has learned definitively that the President and his buddies were behind the shelving of the CDC reopening report: AP Exclusive: Docs show top WH officials buried CDC report.
The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.
The files also show that after the AP reported Thursday that the guidance document had been buried, the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval.
The trove of emails show the nation’s top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.
The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.
This new CDC guidance — a mix of advice already released along with newer information — had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of its leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the administration shelved it on April 30.
Read the rest at the AP link.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
There are several articles at major news sources today claiming to describe the process by which Trump decided to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Trump doesn’t make decisions in the orderly manner in which aides and gullible reporters like to describe. I think this Twitter thread by The Hoarse Whisperer makes more sense.
This article at The Daily Beast supports Hoarse’s argument: Trump Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon.’
In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.
According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.
“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.
Meanwhile, he told Congress nothing. This thread that JJ pointed me too is also very helpful. I won’t post the whole thing because it’s long; but I highly recommend reading the whole thing on Twitter.
Read the rest on Twitter.
More Iran reads:
Abigail Tracy and Vanity Fair: “The Administration’s Track Record Doesn’t Inspire Confidence”: After Killing Soleimani, Trump Confronts a Credibility Gap.
The Washington defense and diplomatic communities are not exactly mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian commander who was killed by a U.S. airstrike on Thursday night. “Soleimani was a murderer and the major source of violence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon for three decades,” said, former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, echoing a near-unanimous position. “He was an enemy of the U.S., responsible for hundreds of American deaths.”
But many in Washington believe that the killing of this dangerous man made the world a much more dangerous place, and now, in a moment of ominous quiet, a new landscape is being mapped. Among diplomats I spoke with familiar with the region, there was little doubt that Iran would respond forcefully to Soleimani’s killing. “A real retaliation is going to come months from now,” a former ambassador to a country in the region said. And Iranian leadership left little doubt that this would be the case. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, called for three days of national mourning and vowed revenge. “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” he said in a statement. Thus far, clarity is lacking as to how the decision to kill Soleimani was made, and the diplomatic corp, deeply skeptical of Trump to begin with, tends to see it as an impulsive act. “It was of course a serious escalation,” said a former diplomat who worked on Middle East issues, “and seemingly devoid of strategic rationale.”
Does Trump know what’s next? Of course not.
There is also an acute fear within the diplomatic community that the Trump administration has failed to plot its next moves on the chessboard. “The emphasis now should be on de-escalation. But we [have] every reason to assume that Trump has not thought through the full implications of this event and the repercussions it will unleash. In other words, there likely is no strategy in place to de-escalate,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and Iran expert, told me. “When Trump violated the Iran nuclear deal, official communications with Tehran were severed. There is no deconfliction channel. With a hollowed-out State Department, we do not have the capacity to carry out the intense diplomacy required to manage a spiraling crisis.”
Read more expert opinions at the Vanity Fair link.
Wesley Clark at The Washington Post: Killing a top Iranian military leader was a whack-for-tat move.
No doubt the attack was intended to be preemptive as well as punitive. Soleimani and his team were certainly planning responses to U.S. actions. But here the question is whether this strike prevented further Iranian strikes or simply made escalation inevitable. Regardless of Soleimani’s charisma or strategic genius, it’s unlikely that the loss of a leader will so cripple Iran’s capacity to strike back that the escalatory cycle will be broken.
More at the WaPo link.
David Corn and Matt Cohen at Mother Jones: With a War Against Iran Brewing, Don’t Listen to the Hawks Who Lied Us Into Iraq.
Shortly after the news broke that a US airstrike in Baghdad ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Ari Fleischer went on Fox News and proclaimed, “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani.”
Here we go again.
Fleischer was press secretary for President George W. Bush when the Bush-Cheney administration deployed a long stretch of false statements and lies—Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda! Saddam had WMDs! Saddam intended to use WMDs against the United States! Saddam’s defeat would lead to peace and democracy in Iraq and throughout the region!—to grease the way to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In that position, Fleischer was a key spokesperson for the war. Prior to the invasion, he promised the war would lead to a bright future: “Once the Iraqi people see that Saddam and those around him will be removed from power, they’ll welcome freedom, they’ll be a liberated people.” Instead, Iraq and the region were wracked with destabilization and death that continues to this day. About 200,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in the chaos and violence the Bush-Cheney invasion unleashed, and 4,500 US soldiers were killed in their war.