Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump Treated Americans Like “Lab Rats.”

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Good Afternoon!!

As Christmas approaches, we are beginning to see the aftereffects of Thanksgiving travel and get-togethers. Today The New York Times reports: The U.S. has recorded over 250,000 cases in a day for the first time.

As the United States welcomed the news Friday that a second vaccine, by Moderna, had been authorized by the federal government for emergency use, the country confronted another stark reminder of how desperately vaccines are needed: a single-day caseload of over 251,000 new coronavirus cases, a once-unthinkable record.

It’s been only a week since the Food and Drug Administration first approved a Covid-19 vaccine, the one created by Pfizer and BioNTech. As trucks have carried vials across the country and Americans began pulling up their sleeves for inoculations, more ominous numbers have piled up:

  • Monday: 300,000 total dead in the United States.

  • Wednesday: 3,611 deaths in a single day, shattering the previous record of 3,157 on Dec. 9.

  • Thursday: Over 1 million new cases in just five days, pushing the country’s total of confirmed cases past 17 million.

Three months ago, new cases were trending downward and death reports were flat, but those gains have been lost. Now there are nearly six times as many cases being reported each day, and three times as many deaths, according to a New York Times database.

The South is on a particularly worrisome trajectory. GeorgiaArkansas and South Carolina have all set weekly case records. Tennessee is confirming new cases at the highest per capita rate in the country.

As cases continue to spike, officials are warning that hospitals, which now hold a record of nearly 115,000 Covid-19 patients, could soon be overwhelmed. More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, federal data show. A recent New York Times analysis found that 10 percent of Americans — across a large swath of the Midwest, South and Southwest — live in areas where I.C.U.s are either completely full or have less than 5 percent of beds available.

Cat_Versus_Snow_FeaturedBusiness Insider: The Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus deaths is here. It’s ‘horrifically awful,’ a hospital chaplain said.

On Wednesday, the US reported a record of 3,448 deaths. In total, more than 312,000 have died in the country since the beginning of the pandemic (though that’s almost certainly an undercount).

This week alone, two school teachers in Texas who’d been married 30 years died together, holding hands. A convent in Wisconsin lost eight nuns. COVID-19 claimed a Chicago paramedic — the fire department’s third coronavirus death. An elder of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe died of the virus, just a month after his wife.

This unprecedented and tragic surge in fatalities is, in part, a product of pandemic fatigue, cold weather that has led people indoors, and the patchwork nature state policies on masks and closures — many of which are quite lax. But these recent record-breaking days of death, in particular, are the result of infections contracted around Thanksgiving.

Despite CDC warnings to the contrary, an NPR analysis of mobile phone data found that 13% of Americans ventured more than 31 miles from home on Thanksgiving Day. That’s not a huge drop from last year, when it was 17%.

But it’s common knowledge that the most Thanksgiving travel comes in the days before and after the holiday. The Transportation Security Administration screened 9.5 million airline passengers during the 10-day Thanksgiving travel period. That’s less than half of what the TSA reported in 2019, but it still included some of the busiest days since the pandemic began.

Cases generally take about two weeks to appear in official tallies, since the virus incubates in the body for an average of five days, then people usually wait a few days to get tested after symptoms appear. Then there’s the multiday wait for results, and the subsequent process of reporting them to health agencies.

Deaths, in turn, generally follow one to three weeks after a rise in cases.

Like clockwork, that is what we’re seeing now. 

Read much more–with individual stories–at the BI link.

Waffles-1-of-2More on the horrific situation in California at The Guardian: California sees record 379 coronavirus deaths as ICU capacity plummets. State has 1.7m cases, nearly as many as Spain, with ICU capacity in southern California at 0%.

The coronavirus toll in California reached another frightening milestone on Thursday, with health officials announcing a one-day record of 379 deaths and a two-day total of nearly 106,000 newly confirmed cases.

The most populous US state has recorded more than 1,000 deaths in the last five days. Its overall case total now tops 1.7m, a figure nearly equal to Spain’s and only surpassed by eight countries. The state’s overall death toll has reached 21,860.

Many of California’s hospitals are running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, and the situation is complicating care for non-Covid patients. ICU capacity in southern California hit 0% on Thursday.

“It’s pretty much all Covid,” said Arlene Brion, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley regional hospital in Orange county, where she is assigned six or seven patients rather than the usual one to three. “There’s probably two areas that are clean but we’re all thinking eventually it’s all going to be Covid.”

The Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, who is quarantining after his daughter was exposed, gave a stark briefing to city residents, warning that within days LA county may declare a systemwide crisis, with all hospitals out of usual space and staffing. The hospitals are planning by identifying areas such as parking lots and conference rooms that can be used for patient care.

He also reminded residents that the governor earlier announced the state had ordered 5,000 additional body bags and has dozens of refrigerated trucks ready to use as temporary morgues to handle bodies too numerous for existing morgues. “That frightens me, and it should frighten you,” Garcetti said.

funniest-cats-in-the-snow-compilThe Washington Post has a video and photo essay on a struggling California hospital. Is this what other states will face soon? Overwhelmed: Covid patients are treated in parking lots, hallways and lobbies of a California
hospital that, like the nation, is struggling to keep pace with the pandemic.

APPLE VALLEY, Calif. — The hospital spreads over a block along Happy Trails Highway, which splits this high-desert town in half as it runs low and wide down a gentle hill.

All around St. Mary Medical Center is a new silence.

Fat Jack’s Bar & Grill is shuttered, never to reopen. The Chamber of Commerce, featuring a rearing, life-size model of the mid-century movie-star horse Trigger, is empty.

“Intermission,” reads the marquee of the High Desert Center for the Arts, which sits at the edge of this longtime home of antique Hollywood royalty, the singing cowboy Roy Rogers and his co-star wife, Dale Evans.

The hospital, though, is alive with the dying.

Head over to the WaPo to experience it.

I wonder how many people boarded planes to visit relatives last month? How many of those people were carrying the virus? Check out this story at The New York Times: United Helps to Contact Passengers After Possible Covid-19-Related Death on Flight.

United Airlines said on Friday that it was working with health officials to contact passengers who might have been exposed to the coronavirus by a male passenger who died after a medical emergency on a recent flight.

The four flight attendants who responded to the emergency on board the flight, United 591, also went into quarantine for 14 days after the plane landed at its destination in Los Angeles, the flight attendants’ union said.

The flight, which took off from Orlando, Fla., and was diverted to New Orleans, prompted widespread alarm on social media after reports indicated that the man’s wife had told emergency medical workers that he had tested positive for the virus.

Snow-cat-logo-72United Airlines said on Friday that the man’s wife was overheard telling an emergency medical worker that her husband had symptoms of Covid-19, including loss of taste and smell.

But United officials said medical professionals did not confirm at the time that the man had tested positive for the virus, and they are still not sure if he was infected. When the flight was diverted to New Orleans, the airline said, it was told that the passenger had experienced cardiac arrest.

Nevertheless, United Airlines said it had been contacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the C.D.C. believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection,” the airline said.

But the U.S. Government is coming to the rescue with vaccines, right? Wrong.

The Daily Beast: Pence Said Pfizer Vaccine Distribution Was Going ‘Strong.’ States Are Calling Bullshit.

As Vice President Mike Pence sat for his COVID-19 vaccine shot on Friday morning, governors’ offices across the country were fuming, confused as to why their states were set to receive significantly fewer Pfizer doses than originally expected.

For months, states worked with the federal government to iron out plans for how many doses they’d receive, where and when they’d be distributed, and who would get the shots first. Senior officials with Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to fast-track a vaccine, touted the administration’s planning as a success, saying that the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) had worked with states to make the distribution go smoothly.

But within days of declaring an unambiguous triumph, things have gone seriously awry.

As vaccines have made their way from warehouses to hospitals across the country, state officials from Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia, and Washington State, among others, have been notified that they will receive thousands fewer doses than expected. Officials with two states told The Daily Beast that they would receive 30 percent less vaccine than planned. And when officials approached the federal government for answers, they said they were greeted with more confusion.

The search for answers extended up the ranks of the Trump COVID task force as well, where top members copped to being unaware as to why there were discrepancies between the numbers originally communicated to states and the number of doses shipped. As of Friday, the task force has not convened to discuss the issue, according to people familiar with the matter, even as a second vaccine from Moderna received its own emergency-use authorization.

Click the link to read the rest.

USA Today says they know what the problem is: States were left scrambling after finding out they’d get 20-40% less vaccine than promised. We now know why.

States were given estimates that turned out to be based on vaccine doses produced, not those that had completed quality control and were releasable.Only on Wednesday and later were states informed of the actual numbers.

544400253“The ripple effect is huge,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “The planning piece is critical. We cannot roll this vaccine out on the fly.”

After three days of confusion, the source of the problem was finally clarified Friday night by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state. He tweeted he’d had a “very productive” conversation with Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s COVID-19 treatment and vaccine program. 

“That discrepancy was the source of the change in allocations,” Inslee tweeted. “It appears this is not indicative of long-term challenges with vaccine production.”

The sudden shift represents a huge headache for states as they scramble to adjust their vaccination programs. 

A letter sent to governors Friday night from Heath and Human Services explained the discrepancy as confusion. 

“We want to provide further perspective on the planning numbers generated in mid-November that are being compared with official weekly allocations. Official allocation numbers are only made available the week prior to distribution as they are based on the number of vaccine doses that have met FDA certification standards and have been released to the U.S. government,” it said.

“We hoped it was clear that those figures and the underlying projections from the companies were for planning purposes and could be refined, and that if the number of releasable doses from a manufacturer changed, the allocations to jurisdictions would change, too,” the letter went on to say. 

That was in fact not clear to states. Governors nationwide have been asking for details and explanations since Wednesday.

Whatever. The truth is we don’t have a president right now, and even when the Trump people were paying attention, they didn’t really know what they were doing. Guess who was allowed to tell the CDC what to do during the pandemic?

25182051-1163682767099043-8615531411976155426-oBess Levin at Vanity Fair: Ivanka Trump, Famed Public Health Expert, Screened CDC Guidance to Make Sure It Was Nice to Her Dad.

In an interview with The New York Times about how the administration manipulated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two former Trump political appointees say what they saw during their time at the Atlanta agency shocked them, the newspaper writes: “Washington’s dismissal of science, the White House’s slow suffocation of the agency’s voice, the meddling in its messages and the siphoning of its budget.” According to Kyle McGowan, a former chief of staff at the CDC, and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, the White House insisted on reviewing, and often editing, the agency’s COVID-19 guidance documents, “the most prominent public expression of its latest research and scientific consensus on the spread of the virus.” The guidance was not just vetted by the administration’s coronavirus task force but “an endless loop of political appointees across Washington.” The White House, McGowan says, was obsessed with the economic implications of the public health crisis. For example, the White House’s budget director took issue with the agency’s specific spacing guidelines for restaurants. “It is not the CDC’s role to determine the economic viability of a guidance document,” McGowan told the Times. That battle ultimately led to the agency simply offering a vague recommendation of “social distancing,” which could, really, mean anything, instead of strongly suggesting restaurants ensure six feet between patrons.

And then there were the times the CDC’s scientists were screened by a former purveyor of shoes and purses, Ivanka Trump, in addition to the White House’s undersecretary for lies, Kellyanne Conway:

“Often, Mr. McGowan and Ms. Campbell mediated between [CDC director] Dr. [Robert] Redfield and agency scientists when the White House’s guidance requests and dictates would arrive: edits from [White House budget director Russell] Vought and Kellyanne Conway, the former White House adviser, on choirs and communion in faith communities, or suggestions from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and aide, on schools. “Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won,” Mr. McGowan said.”

Part of Campbell’s job was to help get approval for the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report—a closely watched and previously apolitical guide on infectious diseases. However, political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly requested that the CDC “revise, delay, and even scuttle drafts” they thought might be viewed as somehow critical of Donald Trump. “It wasn’t until something was in the MMWR that was in contradiction to what message the White House and HHS were trying to put forward that they became scrutinized,” Campbell said.

One more from The Daily Beast: History Will Agree That Trump Used Americans as Lab Rats.

Wednesday was a bad day in the fight against COVID-19. The government announced a record number of deaths, more than 3,600. Meanwhile, a House committee released internal Trump administration messages, which demonstrated that Americans were unknowing lab rats in the president’s grail-quest for herd immunity.

cat-snow-9In a July 4, 2020 email, Paul Alexander, a political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, spelled it all out. In his words, infants, young adults, and middle-aged folks with no conditions had “zero risk,” and were there to take the hit as America marched off a cliff. “We want them infected,” declared Alexander.

Unfortunately, the administration never asked their permission to become human guinea pigs. Indeed, as fate would have it, younger Americans are now dying at historic rates, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. As for herd immunity, it’s a lot like waiting for Godot.

But then again, Alexander is the same fellow who also tried to muzzle Anthony Fauci and criticized the CDC as alarmist. In fact, he even commented that the agency’s COVID warning to pregnant women read as if it were designed to frighten as opposed to inform. As Alexander saw things, the agency was portraying the president and his administration as if they “can’t fix this” and that things are “getting worse.”

For the record, Alexander got it wrong on both counts. Donald J. Trump and his minions failed to fix things, and the situation has gone from bad to horrific. The CDC’s worries were borne out.

Early administration projections of no more than 70,000 dead now read like fantasies or wishful thinking. Come Joe Biden’s inauguration—a month away, as we’re losing around 3,000 Americans every day—the death toll may even surpass 400,000.

I’ve seen projections of 500,000 deaths by spring. And I doubt that will be the end of it, despite the vaccines.

I know this is a long and depressing post, but it’s important to understand how bad things are and how much worse they may get over the upcoming long winter. Take care, Sky Dancers. Please stay home as much as possible and wear your masks when you have to go out. 


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump Calls Coronavirus a “Hoax”

Aleksey Venetsianov, In the ploughed field. Spring. Cats at work

Good Morning!!

Today’s images are from an old favorite, Svetlana Petrova, the Russian artist who incorporates her ginger cat Zarathustra into iconic paintings.

Today’s news is less charming. As the world faces the possibility of a global pandemic, Trump has decided on a coronvirus strategy–calling it a “hoax.”

Politico: Trump rallies his base to treat coronavirus as a ‘hoax.’

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — President Donald Trump on Friday night tried to cast the global outbreak of the coronavirus as a liberal conspiracy intended to undermine his first term, lumping it alongside impeachment and the Mueller investigation.

He blamed the press for acting hysterically about the virus, which has now spread to China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy and the U.S, and he downplayed its dangers, saying against expert opinion it was on par with the flu.

The cards players, Paul Cezanne

“The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. They’re politicizing it,” he said. “They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes. One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That did not work out too well. They could not do it. They tried the impeachment hoax.”

Then Trump called the coronavirus “their new hoax.”

He also tried to link the virus to immigration. The Guardian:

Donald Trump attempted to link the coronavirus outbreak to Democratic immigration policies, labeling Democratic attacks on his handling of the crisis a “new hoax” in a rambling speech in South Carolina, the night before the state’s crucial Democratic primary….

“Whether it’s the virus that we’re talking about, or the many other public health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”

Trump cited no evidence to link the virus with migration at the southern border, where he has focused much of his anti-immigration policy. The first case of coronavirus in the US with no known origin was diagnosed in northern California on Wednesday night, hundreds of miles from the border. Additional such cases in California and Oregon were confirmed on Friday.

About the new cases, The New York Times reports: New Unexplained Cases Reported in Oregon and California.

Two new and unexplained cases of coronavirus emerged in Northern California and in Oregon on Friday, and health officials in both states quickly moved to contact people who might have been exposed. Experts warned that the cases could indicate signs of spread within the United States.

The Furry Night, Vincent Van Gogh

Oregon health officials said they had identified a school employee in the Portland area who appears to have contracted the coronavirus more than a week ago. The patient, who had not recently traveled to China, has had symptoms since Feb. 19 and may have exposed students and staff at a school in Clackamas County, officials said.

Oregon’s announcement followed one earlier Friday in Santa Clara County, Calif., where officials said a patient with no known risk factors had tested positive for the virus.

The findings hint that the coronavirus may already be circulating locally in the United States, passing from person to person.

According to OregonLive, the elementary school where an employee tested positive for the disease has been closed temporarily while the health authorities investigate.

More details from The Washington Post: Coronavirus is spreading through three more communities on the West Coast.

California reported its second case of community transmission of the coronavirus Friday, and Oregon and Washington announced others just hours later, providing fresh evidence that the deadly virus is circulating in the United States.

Authorities in Santa Clara County, Calif., said a 65-year-old woman had come down with the covid-19 disease without traveling to any countries hit hard by the outbreak or coming in contact with anyone known to have the infection.

In Oregon, officials said a person from Washington County, in the northwest part of the state, had tested positive under similar circumstances. The positive test was conducted by the state’s laboratory and is considered “presumptive” until it is confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Love is Gold, Gustav Klimt

The unnamed Oregon individual spent time in an elementary school outside Portland and may have exposed students and staff there, state health authorities said. The school was ordered closed through Wednesday for cleaning, a local television station reported.

In Washington, state health officials said a high school student in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, received a “presumptive” positive test in another case of unknown origin.

The Jackson High School student was not in school most of this week, but was on campus briefly Friday morning, according to a statement from Everett Public Schools. Students who were in contact with the patient will remain home for 14 days while health authorities monitor their symptoms, and the school will close for three days, the school district said.

The developments mean the virus is spreading in at least four separate communities — two of them about 90 miles apart in California, and two others farther up the West Coast.

This is just the beginning folks. And the Trump administration enabled the spread of the virus with its ho hum response to a health crisis. Michael Daly at The Daily Beast: Trump Didn’t Just Botch the Coronavirus Response. He Enabled Its Spread.

Even as China was announcing that its deaths from the novel coronavirus had surpassed its toll from SARS, President Donald Trump released a proposed budget for 2021 that slashed funding for our chief defender against epidemics by 18 percent.

Within the overall proposed cuts detailed on Feb. 10 for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was a reduction in spending to guard against “emerging and zoonotic diseases” from $635,772,000 to $550,464,000.

‘Three Graces’ by Peter Paul Rubens

Zoonotic diseases are those that have crossed from animals to humans, as the novel coronavirus is believed to have done….

We might have had earlier warning of the outbreak, but previous budget cuts caused the CDC to end its global security program in China in 2017.

In another failure of foresight two years ago, the White House eliminated the National Security Council’s position for combating global health crises. The NSC’s Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biothreats post was held by the highly regarded Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer—whose sudden departure in May of 2018 happened to coincide with a new Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Also check out this piece at ProPublica: Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus.

As the highly infectious coronavirus jumped from China to country after country in January and February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lost valuable weeks that could have been used to track its possible spread in the United States because it insisted upon devising its own test.

The federal agency shunned the World Health Organization test guidelines used by other countries and set out to create a more complicated test of its own that could identify a range of similar viruses. But when it was sent to labs across the country in the first week of February, it didn’t work as expected. The CDC test correctly identified COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. But in all but a handful of state labs, it falsely flagged the presence of the other viruses in harmless samples.

As a result, until Wednesday the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration only allowed those state labs to use the test — a decision with potentially significant consequences. The lack of a reliable test prevented local officials from taking a crucial first step in coping with a possible outbreak — “surveillance testing” of hundreds of people in possible hotspots. Epidemiologists in other countries have used this sort of testing to track the spread of the disease before large numbers of people turn up at hospitals.

Read the rest at ProPublica.

Lady with an Ermine’ by Leonardo da Vinci

That’s not all, of course. The Trump administration decided–against the advice of the CDC–to bring back Americans who had been exposed to the virus cruise ship in Japan and then they sent HHS workers with no protective clothing and no training to receive these people at U.S. air bases in California. Some of those workers then went out into the community, to hotels, and even commercial flights.

From today’s Washington Post: DHS employee told to report to work in Newark after China travel, in violation of coronavirus quarantine, complaints say.

A Department of Homeland Security employee who returned from travel to China was told by her supervisor to report to her workplace in early February in apparent violation of a mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine period, according to complaints filed Friday by the union that represents the woman’s co-workers.

The DHS employee, who was not identified, works for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Newark, according to the complaint. After arriving from China, she called a supervisor to ask if she should remain at home under quarantine, but she was told to report to work Feb. 10, according to Ward Morrow, an attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents USCIS employees.

Can you tell I’m obsessed with the coronavirus story? There’s also a primary today in South Carolina. I’ll be keeping an eye on that too.

What stories are you following today? This is a wide open thread.


Monday Reads

Morning_News,_by_Ellen_Day_Hale

Good Morning!!

Don’t blame Dakinikat for the lateness of this post. I volunteered to fill in for her today and then I ended up oversleeping.

I stayed up too late watching the New England Patriots come from behind to beat the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football. I had pretty much given up on the Pats at halftime when they were down 24-0. But once again Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rallied his team and once again showed Peyton Manning who’s boss. 

Cindy Boren sums up what happened at The Washington Post:

For most of the country, Sunday night was cold. It’s the gateway to a big holiday week and, with the Denver Broncos blowing out the hapless New England Patriots on Sunday night, why not just turn in early?

Suckers.

Here’s the abbreviated version of what happened while you were sleeping: Trailing 24-0 at halftime, Tom Brady and the Patriots scored 31 points in the second half, the Broncos scored to tie it and, with Bill Belichick making another of his unusual coaching decisions, the Patriots won 34-31 on a field goal that came off a turnover on a muffed punt with time running out in overtime. But it was a decision by Belichick that set up the Patriots. After winning the OT coin toss, he chose to take the wind — a stiff, brutally cutting wind — in a move that even his captains questioned.

There was a fierce wind blowing in the Boston area all day yesterday. It was coach Bill Belichick’s decision to give the ball to the Broncos, forcing Manning to either throw into the wind or and the ball off. It worked, and the Pats ended up winning on a field goal. It was incredible–only the fifth time in history a team has come back from 24 down at the half to win a game.

So, that’s my excuse for being late with the morning post. I know you’re probably not impressed . . .

Of course the weather here in New England is just a minor annoyance compared to much of the rest of the country. CNN reports: Nasty weather wallops much of U.S. just before Thanksgiving.

The wicked wintry weather that pummeled the West Coast is now barreling across the country, threatening to wreck millions of holiday travel plans just before Thanksgiving.

The storm has already contributed to at least 10 traffic fatalities.

Nearly 400 flights have been canceled in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — not exactly a bastion for snowstorms. Sleet and freezing rain will keep blanketing parts of the Southern Plains and Southern Rockies on Monday.

New Mexico may be hit with 8 inches of snow!

And it’s headed our way next:

And after the storm deluges parts of the South with rain Monday evening, it’ll start zeroing in on the Northeast, the National Weather Service said. And that could spell more travel nightmares….

An Arctic air mass will probably keep temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below normal along the East Coast through Thursday. But even if the system fails to deliver heavy snow, fierce winds could still hamper air travel, forecasters said….

Heavy rain is expected to fall from Texas to Georgia on Monday and over the Carolinas on Monday night, with some sleet and snow mixed in for northern parts of that swath. The heaviest rain is expected across parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

So be careful out there–especially you Sky Dancers in the southern half of the country.

In political news, the big story is the deal that the Obama administration has struck with Iran. Israel doesn’t like it one bit, and that means there will be objections in Congress. From Bloomberg via the SF Chronicle:

Israel’s rejection of the accord reached in Geneva by Iran and six leading nations over the weekend was swift. The agreement is a “historic mistake” that leaves the world “a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon,” Netanyahu said.

The first accord since the Iranian nuclear program came under international scrutiny in 2003 eases sanctions on Iran in return for concessions on its atomic work. Its six-month timetable is meant to give negotiators time to seek a comprehensive deal to halt Iranian nuclear work that they, like Israel, think is a cover to build weapons.

Israel will now focus on influencing the final deal as much as they possibly can.

“What Israel can do during this period is push the international community toward making the final deal as tough as it can, though it should do so far more quietly than it has in the past,” said Eilam, a retired brigadier-general.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News in Geneva that the agreement doesn’t take the threat of force off the table and rejected Israel’s position, articulated yesterday by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, that the U.S. capitulated to Iranian deceit.

The agreement is “not based on trust. It’s based on verification,” with mechanisms in place to confirm whether Iran is in compliance, he said.

Kerry actually used many Congresspeople’s opposition to loosening sanctions on Iran to push the Iranians to make a deal. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

When Secretary of State John Kerry joined the nuclear negotiations at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva last Saturday, he employed the oldest negotiating trick in the book, evoking Congress as the bad cop to the Obama administration’s good cop. Kerry told Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that if they failed to reach an agreement that day, the Obama administration would be unable to prevent Congress from passing additional sanctions against Iran. Less than 24 hours later, Kerry and Zarif walked into the hotel lobby to announce that they had struck a deal to temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program.

In the face of criticism from members of Congress and the U.S.’s allies in the Middle East, Administration officials have insisted that the Geneva agreement is just the first step toward a more far-reaching disarmament deal. But such a deal will require that the Obama administration promise not just to forestall the imposition of new sanctions, but to dramatically reduce the sanctions already in place. And that depends on the cooperation of a Congress that has been singularly uninterested in assuming the role of good cop in the showdown with Iran.

The White House has some discretion to rescind the Iran sanctions without Congress’s approval. The method for removing any given set of sanctions depends on how those sanctions were passed in the first place. If they’re the product of an executive order, as many of the existing sanctions against Iran are, removing them requires only that the White House decide to stop enforcing them. That’s exactly how Obama will be making good on its promise to Iran, as part of last week’s interim agreement, to restore access to $7 billion held in foreign bank accounts….Removing sanctions that have been passed into law by Congress, however, is a much more difficult challenge. Despite the partisan gridlock in gridlock in Washington over the last several years, bipartisan majorities have managed to cooperate on three separate rounds of sanctions since 2010, including measures targeting Iran’s central bank, which Iran will undoubtedly want rescinded. Removing those laws from the books will force the White House to go through Congress all over again. That will require overcoming the partisanship and procedural hurdles that have consumed Congress in recent years.

I have to say, Obama is once again showing he has guts. If only he would use some of that to stand firm on domestic policies. The BBC reports that the Obama administration has been working toward this agreement for months through secret negotiations that SOS John Kerry was involved in while he was still chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I’m really curious to know what role Hillary Clinton played in these negotiations and whether she supports the deal, but I can’t find any information about that so far. Meanwhile, here’s a positive review from Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for strategic studies (IISS): The surprisingly good Geneva deal.

The deal reached in the early hours of the morning in Geneva on 24 November was better than I had expected, and better than would have been the case without France’s last-day intervention at the previous round two weeks earlier. I spent much of Sunday making the rounds of TV studios and fielding print-media interviews, explaining why opponents in Israel, the Gulf and US Congress should overcome their scepticism. The more I studied the deal, the more apparent it became to me that those who knock it probably did not want any agreement at all – at least not any deal that was within the realm of possibility.

The Geneva agreement is a good deal because Iran’s capabilities in every part of the nuclear programme of concern are capped, with strong verification measures. The terms require that for the next six months, no more centrifuges can be added, none of the advanced models that were previously installed can be turned on, the stockpiles of enriched uranium cannot increase, and work cannot progress on the research reactor at Arak, which is of concern because of the weapons-grade plutonium that would be produced there. Going well beyond normal verification rules, inspectors will be able to visit the key facilities on a daily basis and even have access to centrifuge production and assembly sites.

Moreover, the most worrisome part of the programme is being rolled back. Iran is suspending 20% enrichment, which is on the cusp of being weapons-usable, and neutralising the existing stockpile of 20% product, half through conversion to oxide form and half through blending down. Although the P5+1 had earlier asked for the stockpile to be exported, these measures will virtually accomplish the same purpose by eliminating the stockpile. Reversing these measures would take time.

Time is the essential variable of this deal. The net effect of the limits Iran has accepted is to double the time it would take for it to make a dash to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Without a deal, the break-out time might instead soon be halved.

Read the rest at the link.

Paul Krugman has a column up about some positives on the rollout of Obamacare and California as a “test case” for the program.

Now, California isn’t the only place where Obamacare is looking pretty good. A number of states that are running their own online health exchanges instead of relying on HealthCare.gov are doing well. Kentucky’s Kynect is a huge success; so is Access Health CT in Connecticut. New York is doing O.K. And we shouldn’t forget that Massachusetts has had an Obamacare-like program since 2006, put into effect by a guy named Mitt Romney.

California is, however, an especially useful test case. First of all, it’s huge: if a system can work for 38 million people, it can work for America as a whole. Also, it’s hard to argue that California has had any special advantages other than that of having a government that actually wants to help the uninsured. When Massachusetts put Romneycare into effect, it already had a relatively low number of uninsured residents. California, however, came into health reform with 22 percent of its nonelderly population uninsured, compared with a national average of 18 percent.

Finally, the California authorities have been especially forthcoming with data tracking the progress of enrollment. And the numbers are increasingly encouraging.

Krugman says that about 10,000 people are signing up per day, and the enrollment numbers show a balance between younger, healthier enrollees and those who are older and more likely to need health care.

So . . . it’s a somewhat slow news day as we head into the holiday season, but the Iran deal will give us something to talk about while the folks in Washington take their extra long vacations. I don’t even want to think about what will happen when they get back and start clashing over the debt ceiling again.

What interesting stories are you finding out there today? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a good day despite the weather!


Wednesday Reads: Sinkholes and Chris Christie

Good $(KGrHqEOKnIE44R2dbwLBOWl4kko9w~~_35Morning

It was a busy day for me yesterday, and as usual, I am late to catch up…because of this I am writing the post this morning in a fog. So if any of the links below are repeats, I am sorry.

Yesterday Boston Boomer wrote about the court battle as BP Goes on Trial over 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Well, there were also some new developments in that other environmental disaster in Louisiana known as the Assumption Parish Sinkhole. Increased seismic activity halts work at giant Louisiana sinkhole

Officials say they have put a hold on all work directly connected to the giant Louisiana sinkhole in Assumption Parish due to increased seismic activity.

The seismic monitoring in the past 24 hours turned up what appears to be an increase in the underground movement of fluids in the area of the failed Oxy 3 cavern.

Just like in the past, officials say the underground movement is also likely connected to trees falling into the sinkhole and an increase in hydrocarbon odors.

Analysts say even though there appears to be no additional significant threat to the general area, until the underground activity slows down again, operations directly on the sinkhole have been suspended.

The main sinkhole has reached more than 800 feet in diameter and the western wall continues to collapse.

Two weeks ago, officials reported about 5,000 square feet fell in on the southwest side of the sinkhole, officials call this sloughing.

The Texas Brine people say this is part of the stabilization process. I don’t know about the technical aspects of the whole thing…but as the BP trial gets underway, Assumption Parish residents turn to lawmakers, seeking buyouts of property near sinkhole

Frustrated Assumption Parish residents displaced by a massive sinkhole that has swallowed 9 acres of land near their homes asked lawmakers Tuesday to assist them in getting buyouts of their property.

People who packed a hearing of the Senate and House natural resources and environment committees described 200 days of disruption and uncertainty since an August evacuation order of 150 homes.

They talked of children moved from schools and scared of their own houses, retirement dreams upended and families struggling to pay two mortgages while they decide what to do with their future and with their now nearly-worthless property.

“This has taken too damn long and people need to be bought out. They can’t go back,” said Henry Dupre, an Assumption Parish police juror.

Dakinikat has written repeatedly about Jindal’s record in recent weeks, this op/ed from The Advocate focuses on his response to the big ass hole in Jindal’s backyard…Inside Report: Sinkhole critics: O, Governor, where art thou?

For months now, a vocal group of activists and residents has found fault with Gov. Bobby Jindal over his absence from the scene of the Bayou Corne sinkhole.

Why, they ask, has he not made the commonly seen leadership visit to a disaster area that, while brief, boosts morale and provides hope?

Sinkhole activist John Achee Jr., a regular critic of Jindal and state government’s handling of the sinkhole and salt dome regulation, leveled this complaint again during a Feb. 19 joint hearing of the House and Senate committees on Natural Resources.

He called Jindal’s absence “disheartening” and “very concerning.”

“This to me is unacceptable and cannot or should not be tolerated,” said Achee, a polarizing figure himself over his criticisms of Jindal and state and parish government.

In response, Jindal’s press office provided its answer, quoting the governor as saying he receives regular updates and that state agencies have put out abundant resources in response to the sinkhole under his orders.

No matter how many times your subordinates send them, though, news releases will never be the same as a handshake, a pat on the back and encouraging words directly from the governor.

This perceived inattention has given Jindal’s critics a useful symbol for the way, they say, state government has inadequately responded to the Assumption Parish disaster and regulated salt dome operators.

The absence has also fit neatly into the narrative of an insulated governor with eyes on Washington 2016 and not Louisiana 2013.

But these complaints, it seems, could be neutralized for most with one helicopter ride to the command post in Bayou Corne.

So why not?

Jindal’s press office did not respond to requests for comment.

It seems to me Jindal’s non-existent response should be no surprise to anyone who reads our blog regularly, but I don’t think a helicopter fly over is going to help things. That Op/Ed is written by David Mitchell, maybe Kat can fill us in on what she thinks about this other mark against her governor. When I see the horror stories out of Louisiana, it makes me feel my hell pit of Banjoland is a cakewalk.

Since we started this post on one GOP Gov with eyes on the White House, let us look at another governor who fancies himself as a possible candidate in 2016.   Chris Christie Medicaid Plan To Offer Coverage To Poor New Jersey Residents

Christie, a potential 2016 presidential contender who is up for reelection this year, defied conservative opponents of Obamacare by embracing one of its key components when he announced his plan to the Democratic-controlled state legislature in Trenton. So far, more than a dozen Republican governors, including Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Perry of Texas, have declared their opposition to the Medicaid expansion.

“After considerable discussion and research, I have decided to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. While we already have one of the most expansive and generous Medicaid programs in the nation, including the second highest eligibility rate for children, we have an opportunity to ensure that an even greater number of New Jerseyans who are at or near the poverty line will have access to critical health services beginning in January of 2014,” Christie said.

Expanding Medicaid in New Jersey would provide new health care coverage to an estimated 291,000 people through 2022, according to an analysis released by the Urban Institute and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in November. New Jersey would spend an additional $1.5 billion and receive $15.4 billion from the federal government to finance the expansion during that time period, the report predicted.

Even the folks at Hot Air are complaining about the big man from the Garden State. You can Google this next link, I just don’t have the energy to deal with trolls today.  CPAC source: Christie wasn’t invited this year because he has a “limited future” in the GOP; Update: Sandy relief and Medicaid? « Hot Air

Hard to argue with that assessment today of all days, but … Mitt Romney’s also been invited this year. The future doesn’t get any more limited than that.

Also, since when is one’s prospects in the GOP a litmus test for whether you’re CPAC-worthy or not? Every time someone objects to GOPround’s exclusion, the rejoinder inevitably comes that it’s the “Conservative Political Action Conference,” not the “Republican Political Action Conference.” Okay, in that case, who cares about Christie’s future in the GOP? Either his ideas are conservative enough or they aren’t.

Verdict: They aren’t.

I think all those CPAC members are still pissed with Christie’s little sitcom, or after-school special, Barack and the Fat Man.

Guess Fox News hasn’t gotten the memo: Same Day Christie Embraces Obamacare, Fox’s Eric Bolling Tells Conservatives He’s Their 2016 Savior

Bolling advised his fellow Republicans that they must embrace Christie as the future leader of their party.

The Five hosts noted that Bill O’Reilly told Fox’s audience on Monday that the GOP needs a leader who can articulate a conservative message and “fight back” against the press in order to move the country to the right.

Andrea Tantaros warned that the GOP has a big challenge in the effort to “fight back dependency.” She said that the future political battles Republicans will have to wage will become harder as the populace becomes more comfortable with government-backed programs that ensure financial security.

“I hate all this,” Bolling said of infighting within the GOP about the future direction of the party. “They need to get together and form one party that has a big tent for everyone; whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, male, female.”

“Bill O’Reilly’s right,” added Bolling . “You need someone who’s charismatic. He’s got to be a leader. And, this one: the way O’Reilly puts it, ‘fight back the media jackals.’ That’s Christie.”

Bolling continued to make the case for Christie as the natural leader of the Republican Party moving into the next election cycle. However, he anticipated that the party’s conservative wing will have problems embracing Christie due to the unorthodox positions on issues like global warming and gun control.

I could make a comment about how anyone would have problems “embracing” Chris Christie, but since my ass is just slightly smaller than his, I won’t.

Okay, because I’m writing this post on the quick, here are a few other stories in link dump fashion. Let’s stick with US news, shall we?

From Colorado….Threats to Dem Rep: ‘I Hope Someone Giffords Your Ass With A Gun’

Franklin Sain, a 42-year-old Colorado Springs man, was arrested last Friday for threatening Colorado lawmaker Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) over gun control legislation that she is currently sponsoring and that recently passed in the state House.

Franklin Sain is accused of threatening Fields and her daughter using racial and sexual slurs.

Fields told KOA Radio that she does not know Sain, and said “All I know is the kinds of things that he said were very inappropriate, and they’re alarming, and they were very intimidating.”

[…]

There are many misspelled words and incorrect grammar usage in the messages, and they appear as written in the affidavit, along with censoring of offensive words.

According to an affidavit, one of the letters alleged to have been written by the Colorado Springs man reads, “Rhonda Fields, mother of [Field’s daughter]. Death to both.” The letter goes on to say “There will be blood! I’m coming for you, N—– B—-.”

In one of the emails, Sain allegedly wrote, “hopefully somebody Gifords [sic] your asses with a gun.”

The following is one of seven emails police say Sain sent to Fields:

“THANKS N—– C—! You really think passing nay more laws will stop gun violence? You and that other N—– OBAMA are living in fantasy land. Chicago and DC have the most strict gun laws in the nation and more people die from gun violence than anywhere. You f—ing c—s are pathetic excuse for civil servants. Hell, n—–s love shooting themselves with GATS, isn’t that what your people call it. What you have done here is creater [sic] criminals out of law abiding citizens, and put yourself out of a job. You politicians have no idea what you are even doing anyway, do you know how long it takes some to change a magazine, less than a second, so what if some with experience decides to flip out and bring their gun in with 5 or so 10 round magazines, they can do the same amount of damage. Limiting magazine sizes is stupididty, [sic] and will not work…”

Then the most unhinged of Sain’s messages also refers to Field’s daughter:

Rhonda Fields, N—– C—, Mother of —–, Death to Both, All N—– Back to Africa, F— you, F— Your Laws, I Keep my 30 Round Magazines, There Will Be Blood!, I’m Coming For You, N—– B—-

Sain told police that he didn’t mean to threaten Fields, and regrets the language he used. He has no prior record, and is the chief operating officer at SofTec Solutions in Englewood, Colorado, where he does consulting work for the government and private organizations

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and two other Democratic Reps also received similar threatening messages.

WTF? That is all I can say.

Latest news out of South Carolina: One student dead after South Carolina university shooting

A 19-year-old student died following a shooting on Tuesday at a residence hall of a South Carolina university near the resort area of Myrtle Beach, and authorities were searching for a gunman, university officials said.

Meanwhile in Connecticut: 2 Missing Children, Grandmother Found Dead in Conn.

And over in Illinois, Robin Kelly wins Illinois Democratic primary on gun control.

The headlines for California: Slayings of 2 officers in Santa Cruz mark ‘darkest day,’ chief says

This last link is written with Georgia in mind, but it deals with immigration news hitting most states: Feds free illegal immigrants in Georgia, other states

Y’all have a great day, and let us know what you are reading and blogging and thinking about today.


One people, one planet, one pollution

I was hiking yesterday (23rd) and looked out to sea. This is what I saw.

An orange-brown band of dust? smog? all of the above? stretching over the whole horizon. There’s a larger composite picture here that shows more of the extent. (In the foreground, you can make out the Navy Seabees target practice range. That’s Anacapa Island shrouded in the distance.)

I’ve lived here for years and never seen anything like it. Ordinary Los Angeles pollution looks like this:

It’s more purple-colored, much fainter, and bigger toward LA, petering out toward the ocean. (The picture is from an old post where I was puzzling about wind direction.)

When I mentioned it at home, I found out that Beijing had an Airpocalypse around January 12th and the next few days, an immense pollution event that drowned the city in choking dusty smog.


View of Beijing smog. From aworldchaos.wordpress.com.

NASA regularly tracks Chinese pollution across the Pacific, but it wasn’t usually still as thick as soup by the time it got here.

Well, it is now. I’m fairly sure that’s what I was seeing. Dirt pushed across the whole Pacific ahead of a huge storm system that also brought us rain later on. One to two weeks is how long it takes to get here from China.

This is not good.

Crossposted from Acid Test