Lazy Caturday Reads: The Twitter Meltdown, Polls, and the Midterms

Leonid Kiparisov, ‘On a Good Footing’

Leonid Kiparisov, ‘On a Good Footing’

Happy Caturday!!

At least we can celebrate cats and cat art, even though things in the real world are so f’d up. The top story today should be the upcoming midterm elections, and it is; but not in the way it normally would be. Right now we are dealing with a very strange situation in which a social media meltdown is likely to turn the process we’ve become accustomed to completely upside down. There’s really no way to know how it will all shake out, but it’s not looking good. It’s as if Trump himself took over Twitter in order to stoke chaos in the upcoming elections. In addition to the Twitter madness, the polls, which have been less accurate over the past several years, are seemingly more problematic than ever.

Here’s the latest on the Twitter mess. It’s a deep dive on the layoffs and how they could affect the user experience as well as the ability of experts, journalists, and regular people to follow the election results. Ben Collins, Bandy Zadrozny, and David Ingram at NBC News: Days before the midterms, Twitter lays off employees who fight misinformation.

Mass layoffs at Twitter on Friday battered the teams primarily responsible for keeping the platform free of misinformation, potentially hobbling the company’s capabilities four days before the end of voting in Tuesday’s midterm elections, one current and six former Twitter employees familiar with the cuts told NBC News,five of whom had been recently laid off.

Two former Twitter employees and one current employee warned the layoffs could bring chaos around the elections, as they hit especially hard on teams responsible for the curation of trending topics and for the engineering side of “user health,” which works on content moderation and site integrity. The seven people asked to withhold their names out of worry over professional retribution and because they weren’t authorized to speak for the company.

CEO Elon Musk, who’s facing sizable future debt payments and declining revenue at Twitter, said the cuts were needed to ensure the health of the company’s long-term finances a week after he bought it for $44 billion.

The cuts appeared to affect many people whose jobs were to keep Twitter from becoming overwhelmed by prohibited content, such as hateful conduct and targeted harassment, the seven sources said….

Gita Johar, a Columbia University business professor who has studied misinformation on Twitter, said the job cuts risk turning the site into a “free-for-all with rumors, conspiracy theories and falsehoods taking hold on the platform and in people’s imagination.”

Twitter had not released public figures about which teams had been cut the most, but the layoffs were widespread. In an exchange at an investor conference Friday, Musk appeared to confirm that his team had laid off half the company’s workforce, according to CNBC.

“Elon will own a company without employees,” a source inside Twitter told CNBC.

Françoise Collandre

Painting by Françoise Collandre

Musk and his hand-picked spokespeople claim there won’t be any problems; but if you use Twitter regularly, you know that isn’t true.

Twitter’s curation team, which had a variety of roles across the platform, including coordinating the detection and publishing of moments meant to debunk misinformation, appears to be gone, one source said. The team had recently published an explainer about how it tried to keep information accurate and impartial.

Andrew Haigh, a London-based curation lead, said on Twitter that the team “is no more.” 

“Unfortunately, the platform’s history of transparency and supporting research may be just that: history,” said Kate Starbird, a professor of design and engineering at the University of Washington who studies misinformation.

Starbird said it remained to be seen how potential misinformation around the midterms might be affected.

“We were already expecting a surge in rumors and disinformation around the election, even before Musk taking the reins,” she said.

“But the mass layoffs mean that we’ll get to see what an unmoderated major platform truly looks like in 2022, in an era of algorithmic manipulation and networked toxicity, during a massive online convergence event with huge political stakes.”

Read the rest at NBC News if you’re interested in the effects of misinformation and disinformation.

The Verge: Elon Musk’s Twitter layoffs leave whole teams gutted

Elon Musk has now purged roughly half of Twitter’s 7,500 employee base, leaving whole teams totally or near completely gutted, including those tasked with defending against election misinformation ahead of the US midterms next week, The Verge has learned.

The areas of Twitter impacted the most by Musk’s cuts include its product trust and safety, policy, communications, tweet curation, ethical AI, data science, research, machine learning, social good, accessibility, and even certain core engineering teams, according to tweets by laid-off employees and people familiar with the matter. More company leaders, including Arnaud Weber, VP of consumer product engineering, and Tony Haile, a senior director of product overseeing Twitter’s work with news publishers, have also been laid off following Musk’s firings of Twitter’s senior leadership last week.

Given the sweeping nature of Musk’s layoffs and his mandate to cut costs in areas like cloud hosting, employees who remain at Twitter told The Verge that they expect the company to have a hard time maintaining critical infrastructure in the short term. “Shit is gonna start breaking,” said one current employee who requested anonymity to speak without the company’s permission, while another called management’s layoff process “an absolute shit show.”

The rest of the article discusses Musk’s disgusting treatment of employees and upcoming lawsuits by those who have been purged.

The Washington Post: Twitter layoffs gutted election information teams days before midterms.

Devastating cuts to Twitter’s workforce on Friday, four days before the midterm elections, are fueling anxieties among political campaigns and election offices that have counted on the social network’s staff to help them combat violent threats and viral lies.

Slim woman with a cat, geza farago

Slim woman with a cat, Geza Farago

The mass layoffs Friday gutted teams devoted to combating election misinformation, adding context to misleading tweets and communicating with journalists, public officials and campaign staff.

The layoffs included a number of people who were scheduled to be on call this weekend and early next week to monitor for signs of foreign disinformation, spam and other problematic content around the election, one former employee told The Washington Post. As of Friday morning, employee access to internal tools used for content moderation continued to be restricted, limiting staff’s ability to respond to misinformation.

Twitter had become one of America’s most influential platforms for spreading accurate voting information, and the days before elections have often been critical moments where company and campaign officials kept up a near-constant dialogue about potential risks.

But a representative from one of the national party committees said they are seeing hours-long delays in responses from their contacts at Twitter, raising fears of the toll workplace chaos and sudden terminations is taking on the platform’s ability to quickly react to developments. The representative spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

It’s “only” a social media company, but Twitter has become a vital source of information for people in every walk of life. This is going to be a disaster.

Some researchers tracking online threats said they also feared that the cuts would interrupt lines of communication between the company and police that have been used to identify people threatening voter intimidation or offline violence.

“Law enforcement may lose precious minutes in identifying that person who we think is posing an actual threat,” said Katherine Keneally, a senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that studies political extremism and polarization.

Keneally said she’d already seen an uptick in threatening content related to the election. She pointed to one post where a user wrote of the need to “pour in bleach or gasoline” at ballot drop boxes, a target of right-wing conspiracy theories about systematic voter fraud.

President Biden on Friday criticized Twitter’s role in spreading false information.

“Elon Musk goes out and buys an outfit that spews lies all across the world,” he said while attending a political fundraiser in Chicago. “There’s no editors anymore in America.”

The loss of Twitter as we knew it also has consequences for individuals. Here’s an example from a Washington Post writer:

Read the replies on Twitter. The sentiment is widespread.

Here’s another example:

From Vice yesterday, an example of how the lack of moderation is negatively affecting Twitter: Twitter Recommends Ye as Top Follow on ‘The Jews’ as Company Does Mass Layoffs.

“The Jews” is trending on Twitter, and its algorithm has selected Ye as a “Top” person to follow while Elon Musk fires roughly half of the company’s staff, including many of its policy experts and content moderators.

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, recently had his Twitter access limited after saying he would go “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE,” and has been dropped by the vast majority of his business partners after repeatedly making blatantly antisemitic comments over the last few weeks. The freeze on Ye’s account has since been lifted.

“#IStandWithKyrie” is also trending, a reference to Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who recently recommended that people watch an antisemitic documentary and was suspended for five games after declining to apologize and evasively answering a question on whether he holds “anti-semitic beliefs.”

Twitter’s content moderation has always been something of a disaster, and harmful things end up trending all the time. Twitter’s content moderation has always relied more heavily on algorithms than competitors like Facebook do. In any case, Musk has promised to protect the values of “freedom of speech”—with the company now running with thousands fewer employees after mass layoffs. This may well be a window into what that looks like.

Girl with Kitten - Olesya Serzhantova Russian painter

Girl with Kitten – Olesya Serzhantova Russian painter

Twitter is also losing advertisers, which obviously could impact the long-term health of the company. The New York Times: Twitter’s Advertisers Pull Back as Layoffs Sweep Through Company.

The pullback of advertisers from Twitter gathered steam on Friday amid growing fear that misinformation and hate speech would be allowed to proliferate on the platform under Elon Musk’s leadership.

The Volkswagen Group joined several other companies in recommending that its automotive brands, which include Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and Porsche, pause their spending on Twitter out of concerns that their ads could appear alongside problematic content. The Danish brewing company Carlsberg Group also said it had advised its marketing teams to do the same. The outdoor equipment and apparel retailer REI said it would pause posts in addition to advertising spending “given the uncertain future of Twitter’s ability to moderate harmful content and guarantee brand safety for advertisers.” And a spokeswoman for United Airlines, Leslie Scott, confirmed that the carrier had suspended advertising on Twitter earlier this week.

Civil rights groups including GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League held a conference call on Friday urging other companies to abandon Twitter, saying that mass layoffs there were gutting what they described as an already anemic content moderation staff.

Even Mr. Musk acknowledged the advertising slump, tweeting on Friday morning that Twitter “has had a massive drop in revenue,” which he blamed on activist groups pressuring advertisers.

The first chaotic week of Mr. Musk’s ownership of Twitter has given Madison Avenue whiplash, as advertisers struggle to reconcile the billionaire’s promises to make the platform safe for brands with concerns about a surge of extremism and false narratives, including one promoted by Mr. Musk himself.

In his tweet about Twitter’s faltering revenue, Mr. Musk said that “nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists” — a claim that civil rights groups denied.

A minute before he posted his comment, the ad-tracking platform MediaRadar released statistics showing that the number of advertisers on Twitter had dropped from May, soon after Mr. Musk’s bid for the platform was announced, through September, when he was still fighting to get out of the deal he struck to buy Twitter in April.

MediaRadar, which tracks ad campaigns for millions of companies, said data for October, when Mr. Musk took over Twitter, would not be available until later this month.

More details at the link.

Menny Fox, InstagramAnd what about the polls? New York Times polling expert Nate Cohn discusses the situation: Polling Averages Can Be Useful, but What’s Underneath Has Changed. This year, a wave of polls from Republican-leaning firms is driving the averages.

The polls show Republicans gaining heading into the final stretch. They’ve pulled ahead on the generic ballot in the race for the House, and they’ve fought into a closely contested race for Senate control….

On average, Republicans lead by two points on the generic ballot — which asks voters whether they’ll vote for the Democrat or Republican for Congress — and have pulled into very tight Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada, where Democrats were once thought to have the advantage.

This simple poll average is like many others you might have seen over the years. It weights the most recent polls more heavily. It gives more weight to pollsters that belong to a professional polling organization (they tend to be far less biased over the longer term). It doesn’t contain some of the fancier bells and whistles, like an adjustment for whether a poll tends to lean toward Republicans or Democrats.

But in one important respect, this average is very different from polling averages you’ve seen in prior years: The pollsters making up the average are very different.

Many stalwarts of political polling over the last decade — Monmouth University, Quinnipiac University, ABC/Washington Post, CNN/SSRS, Fox News, New York Times/Siena College, Marist College — have conducted far fewer surveys, especially in the battleground states, than they have in recent years. In some cases, these pollsters have conducted no recent polls at all.

And on the flip side, there has been a wave of polls by firms like the Trafalgar Group, Rasmussen Reports, Insider Advantage and others that have tended to produce much more Republican-friendly results than the traditional pollsters. None adhere to industry standards for transparency or data collection. In some states, nearly all of the recent polls were conducted by Republican-leaning firms.

This creates a big challenge for a simple polling average like this one. From state to state, Democrats or Republicans might seem to be doing much better or much worse, simply depending on which kind of pollster has conducted a survey most recently. The race may seem to swing back and forth, from week to week.

This is a subscriber only article, but I sent a gift link to Twitter and I’m posting it here for anyone who wants to read the rest and see charts.

I’m going to end there. As for how things are going in the many important races around the country, I have decided to kind of ignore the news about those. I can’t trust the polls, and I will only end up anxious and depressed if I read too much about what’s happening in the various states. I’m worried, but I figure all I can do is wait and see what happens and then deal with the results.

Please post your thoughts and share links on any topic in the comment thread, and I wish you a nice, peaceful weekend.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Pierre Bonnard and his cat

Artist Pierre Bonnard and his cat

Happy Caturday!!

Today’s top story is the Democrats’ historic climate/health-care/tax bill.

The bill can be passed through reconciliation, after the Senate parliamentarian approved most of the bill’s provisions. One portion of the Medicare drug portion of the bill was disallowed.

The Guardian: Senate Democrats given green light to vote on $430bn climate and tax bill.

US Senate Democrats on Saturday were set to push ahead on a bill that would address key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda, tackling climate change, lowering the cost of energy and senior citizens’ drugs and forcing the wealthy to pay more taxes.

A Senate rulemaker determined that the lion’s share of the $430bn bill could be passed with only a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation and enabling Democrats to pass it over Republican objections, majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement….

“Democrats have received extremely good news,” Schumer said in the statement. “Medicare will finally be allowed to negotiate drug prices … This is a major victory for the American people.“ [….]

There are three main parts to the bill: a 15% minimum tax on corporations, tougher IRS enforcement and a new excise tax on stock buybacks. The legislation has $430 billion in new spending along with raising more than $740 billion in new revenues.

Beside billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and foster clean energy, the bill would set $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds. The latter is a move that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona….

One provision cut from the bill would have forced drug companies to refund money to both government and private health plans if drug prices rise more quickly than inflation. The Senate arbiter, known as the parliamentarian, ruled that measure could not apply to private industry.

Frida Kahlo's cat feeling shunned as she cuddles a monkey

Frida Kahlo’s cat feeling shunned as she cuddles a monkey

Before they can vote on the bill, Democrats will have to endure a “vote-a-rama,” in which Republicans will try to weaken the bill with votes on proposed amendments. They may also face a fight with good old Bernie Sanders.

USA Today: Senate preps for grueling weekend ‘vote-a-rama’ as Democrats push sweeping climate, health care bill.

In a vote-a-rama, senators can offer up an unlimited amount of amendments to a bill but the process is expedited.

There is only one minute allocated for debate, equally divided between both sides. Then, senators are given 10 minutes to vote. This process repeats for every single amendment.

In a vote-a-rama, senators can offer up an unlimited amount of amendments to a bill but the process is expedited.

There is only one minute allocated for debate, equally divided between both sides. Then, senators are given 10 minutes to vote. This process repeats for every single amendment.

The last time the Senate held a vote-a-rama was when it adopted a budget resolution for fiscal year 2022 last August. Senators offered up 43 amendments for a vote, leading to a session that lasted around 14 hours.  

What’s the point of this nonsense?

Most amendments are expected to come from Republicans, who are furious over the deal which was negotiated without their input.

Republican-proposed amendments are expected to fail. But the vote-a-rama will allow Republicans to make Democrats vote on tough issues that could be used for ads on the campaign trail this fall.

The deal also incited the anger of some on the left, who have criticized the bill’s investment in new fossil fuel development – likely due to the importance natural gas and coal are to the economy of Manchin’s home state.

Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate floor Wednesday,urged lawmakers “to do everything possible to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry,” and promised to offer an amendment nixing fossil fuel investments in the bill.

Sanders’ amendment is expected to fail as the bill is contingent on Manchin’s support.

Senate rules are truly insane.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with her kitten in 1944

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with her kitten in 1944

John Nichols at The Nation: Schumer’s Inflation Reduction Act Includes a Smart Tax on Corporations.

The Inflation Reduction Act that is poised for votes in the US Senate is far from perfect. A scaled-down version of the ambitious plans that President Joe Biden and Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders framed last summer as the “Build Back Better” agenda, it’s the latest step in the series of compromises that’s been referred to as “Build Back Smaller.”

Yet the $740 billion budget reconciliation package  worked out by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has ambitions that ought not be underestimated—especially as it arrives at a point when many Democrats had given up hope on getting another omnibus bill enacted before the November midterm elections. As it stands now, according to Politico, the measure “would spend $369 billion on energy and climate change, extend Obamacare subsidies through 2024, direct Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs and send an estimated $300 billion to deficit reduction. It would be funded, in part, by a 15 percent corporate minimum tax on big companies and increased IRS enforcement.”

And it looks as if it will include a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks, which is actually a very big deal. The tax, which would raise $73 billion for climate and health care initiatives, cracks down on some of the ugliest abuses by multinational corporations.

Read all the details at The Nation.

Also in the news: the fight for women’s personhood as Republicans try to turn women into broodmares.

The Washington Post: Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, the first state to do so post-Roe.

Indiana became the first state in the country after the fall of Roe v. Wade to pass sweeping limits on abortion access, after Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed into law Friday a bill that constitutes a near-total ban 0n the procedure.

The Republican-dominated state Senate approved the legislation 28-19 on Friday in a vote that came just hours after it passed Indiana’s lower chamber. The bill, which will go into effect Sept. 15, allows abortion only in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal abnormality or when the procedure is necessary to prevent severe health risks or death.

Paul Klee with cat Bimbo

Paul Klee with his cat Bimbo

Supporters of abortion rights crowded into the corridors of the Indiana Statehouse throughout the day as lawmakers cast their votes, some holding signs that read “You can only ban safe abortions” and “Abortion is health care.” Moments after the vote, some protesters hugged and others stood stunned before the crowd broke out into chants of “We will not stop.”c

In a statement released after signing the bill, Holcomb said he had “stated clearly” following the overturn of Roe that he would be willing to support antiabortion legislation. He also highlighted the “carefully negotiated” exceptions in the law, which he said address “some of the unthinkable circumstances a woman or unborn child might face.”

Note he said “some of.” There are bound to be many “unthinkable circumstances” that Indiana state legislators are ignorant about.

The vote followed days of testimony from citizens and a debate that grew heated at times. “Sir, I am not a murderer,” state Rep. Renee Pack (D) said in the chamber after state Rep. John Jacob (R), a staunch abortion opponent who wanted exceptions for rape removed, described the procedure as murder.

Abortion rights organizations quickly rebuked Friday’s decision. Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the vote “was cruel and will prove devastating for pregnant people and their families in Indiana and across the whole region.” “Hoosiers didn’t want this,” Johnson said.

In a statement, antiabortion group Indiana Right to Life opposed the exceptions and said the new law did not go far enough in cutting abortion access.

Dana Goldstein at The New York Times writes about what some anti-abortion fanatics are offering as a cruel “solution” to unwanted pregnancies: Drop Box for Babies: Conservatives Promote a Way to Give Up Newborns Anonymously.

The Safe Haven Baby Box at a firehouse in Carmel, Ind., looked like a library book drop. It had been available for three years for anyone who wanted to surrender a baby anonymously.

Ai Weiwei with Lai Lai — one of his 40 cats

Ai Weiwei with Lai Lai — one of his 40 cats

No one had ever used it, though, until early April. When its alarm went off, Victor Andres, a firefighter, opened the box and found, to his disbelief, a newborn boy wrapped in towels.

The discovery made the local TV news, which praised the courage of the mother, calling it “a time for celebration.” Later that month, Mr. Andres pulled another newborn, a girl, from the box. In May, a third baby appeared. By summer, three more infants were left at baby box locations throughout the state.

The baby boxes are part of the safe haven movement, which has long been closely tied to anti-abortion activism. Safe havens offer desperate mothers a way to surrender their newborns anonymously for adoption, and, advocates say, avoid hurting, abandoning or even killing them. The havens can be boxes, which allow parents to avoid speaking to anyone or even being seen when surrendering their babies. More traditionally, the havens are locations such as hospitals and fire stations, where staff members are trained to accept a face-to-face handoff from a parent in crisis.

So a child will never know who her parents are unless they can find a way to locate them through on-line DNA matching.

But for many experts in adoption and women’s health, safe havens are hardly a panacea.

To them, a safe haven surrender is a sign that a woman fell through the cracks of existing systems. They may have concealed their pregnancies and given birth without prenatal care, or they may suffer from domestic violence, drug addiction, homelessness or mental illness.

The adoptions themselves could also be problematic, with women potentially unaware that they are terminating parental rights, and children left with little information about their origins.

Read more at the NYT.

From the great Jane Mayer at The New Yorker: State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy.

As the Supreme Court anticipated when it overturned Roe v. Wade, the battle over abortion rights is now being waged state by state. Nowhere is the fight more intense than in Ohio, which has long been considered a national bellwether. The state helped secure the Presidential victories of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then went for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Its residents tend to be politically moderate, and polls consistently show that a majority of Ohio voters support legal access to abortion, particularly for victims of rape and incest. Yet, as the recent ordeal of a pregnant ten-year-old rape victim has illustrated, Ohio’s state legislature has become radically out of synch with its constituents. In June, the state’s General Assembly instituted an abortion ban so extreme that the girl was forced to travel to Indiana to terminate her pregnancy. In early July, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana obstetrician who treated the child, told me that she had a message for Ohio’s legislature: “This is your fault!”

Gustav Klimt with his cat Katz

Gustav Klimt with his cat Katz

Longtime Ohio politicians have been shocked by the state’s transformation into a center of extremist legislation, not just on abortion but on such divisive issues as guns and transgender rights. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who served as governor between 2007 and 2011, told me, “The legislature is as barbaric, primitive, and Neanderthal as any in the country. It’s really troubling.” When he was governor, he recalled, the two parties worked reasonably well together, but politics in Ohio “has changed.” The story is similar in several other states with reputations for being moderate, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania: their legislatures have also begun proposing laws so far to the right that they could never be passed in the U.S. Congress.

Ohio’s law prohibits abortion after six weeks—or even earlier, if doctors can detect fetal cardiac activity—unless the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury. Dr. Bernard noted that the bill’s opponents had warned about the proposed restrictions’ potential effect on underage rape victims. “It was literally a hypothetical that was discussed,” she told me. Indeed, at a hearing on April 27th, a Democrat in the Ohio House, Richard Brown, declared that if a thirteen-year-old girl “was raped by a serial rapist . . . this bill would require this thirteen-year-old to carry this felon’s fetus.”

It’s a long read, so please check it out at The New Yorker if you’re interested.

Alex Jones is screwed and I couldn’t be happier.

The Washington Post: Alex Jones ordered to pay $45.2 million more in punitive damages to Sandy Hook parents.

A Texas jury has determined Infowars host Alex Jones must pay the parents of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim $45.2 million in punitive damages. The Friday decision comes a day after the same jury awarded the plaintiffs $4.1 million in compensatory damages, culminating the final phase of a defamation case first brought in 2018 over Jones’s repeated false claims that the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history was a hoax.

Jones was not in court as the jury read the unanimous verdict.

The damages phase of the trial that ended Friday marks the first time Jones, an influential purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, has faced financial repercussions in court for the outlandish lies he told via his Infowars broadcast about the shooting. Since the early days that followed the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children, Jones said on his program that “no one died” at Sandy Hook and that the attack was a ruse “staged” by gun-control advocates to manufacture anti-gun sentiment.

In the case brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, the damages hint at what Jones could face in the months ahead in his additional Sandy Hook defamation cases in Texas and Connecticut.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Suzanne Valadon with her cat

Suzanne Valadon with her cat

Shannon Bond at NPR: How Alex Jones helped mainstream conspiracy theories become part of American life.

Name a traumatic news event in recent decades, and it’s almost certain Alex Jones has claimed it didn’t happen — or not the way you think it did.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013? Staged by the FBI.

The shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011? A government mind control operation.

The September 11th terrorist attacks? An inside job.

All lies.

The conspiracy theorist and radio host was confronted with his track record of fabulism this week in an Austin, Texas, courtroom. He was on trial to determine how much he should pay for defaming the parents of a first grader killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, after years of falsely claiming that no children died and the families were “crisis actors” in a “giant hoax” designed to take away guns….

Jones got his start in public access broadcasting in Austin, Texas, in the 1990s. From his early days on air, he spouted conspiracy theories about the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

When his wild claims got him fired from a local radio station, he founded Infowars in 1999 and started broadcasting over the internet and in radio syndication.

After the September 11th attacks, Jones surged to fame as a “truther,” claiming the Bush administration was behind the tragedy.

As his audience grew, Jones popularized a vocabulary for pernicious doubt: not just that officials and media are hiding the truth, but that tragic events are being engineered for nefarious purposes.

“He’s at least a catalyst of those prevailing narratives that follow almost every newsworthy tragedy, whether it’s a mass shooting or otherwise,” said Sara Aniano, a disinformation researcher at the Anti-Defamation League.

Read more or listen at NPR.

That’s it for me today. I hope you’re all having a great weekend!


Tuesday Reads: GOP Surrenders to the Crazies

Nonchaloir (Repose), by John Singer Sargent

Nonchaloir (Repose), by John Singer Sargent

Good Morning!!

Yesterday Dakinikat posted this article by Peter Wehner in The Atlantic on the growing radicalization of the GOP. Wehner cites reporting by Sarah Longwell of The Bulwark that shows more formerly “normal” Republicans fleeing Fox News and tuning in to conspiracy-oriented outlets like Newsmax and OneAmerica network.

A second finding, according to Longwell, is that for the first time, she’s hearing people say they pretty regularly tune in to Newsmax or One America News Network, two conspiracy-theory-minded MAGA television news outlets. She’s heard from some people in her focus groups that “Fox has gone too far left.” Overall, what she sees isn’t Trump supporters fleeing Fox in huge numbers so much as experiencing some cooling of their enthusiasm and a willingness to look to other sources of information. (Tucker Carlson, the most malicious and influential figure at Fox News, does have a certain rock-star status in MAGA world.)

It appears that Fox is responding by airing even more insane conspiracy theories. For example, last night Tucker Carlson took his anti-mask crusade to a new level. You have to see this to believe it.

The Daily Beast: Tucker Carlson Tells Fox Viewers to Call the Cops if They See Kids Wearing Masks Outdoors.

Raging against face masks on Monday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his viewers they should openly harass anyone they see wearing masks outside and go so far as to call the police or social services on the parents of any children with masks on.

Carlson, who was a proponent of mask-wearing to help stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic as recently as last March, has since become a fierce critic of face masks and other COVID-19 restrictions, guidelines, and mitigation efforts

“Masks have always been incompatible with a free society,” he fumed. “We used to know that. Masks strip people of their identity as individuals, transform people from citizens into drones. They isolate us and alienate us to shut us off from one another, they prevent intimacy and human contact. If I can’t see your face, I can’t know you.”

Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent

Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent

Stating that a large portion of liberals suffer from an “actual mental health condition” because a recent Pew survey shows they are critical of others who don’t mask up near them, Carlson called on his audience to instead openly mock mask-wearers in public.

“The rest of us should be snorting at them first. They’re the aggressors. It’s our job to brush them back and restore the society we were born in,” he said. “So the next time you see someone in a mask on the sidewalk or on the bike path, do not hesitate. Ask politely but firmly, ‘Would you please take off your mask? Science shows there is no reason for you to be wearing it. Your mask is making me uncomfortable.’” [….]

Carlson then took it several steps further by urging his viewers to take far more drastic measures if they see children wearing masks.

“As for forcing children to wear masks outside, that should be illegal,” the Fox News star huffed. “Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart. Call the police immediately. Contact Child Protective Services. Keep calling until someone arrives. What you’re looking at is abuse, it’s child abuse, and you are morally obligated to attempt to prevent it.”

This is going to get people killed–either by the virus or by more violent interactions in between Trump crazies in businesses that require masks or just ordinary mask-wearing people going about their business.

Here are some are other MAGA conspiracy theories that have gone viral lately. 

Yahoo News: How a false claim about beef and Biden’s climate plan spread.

On Sunday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted out a Fox News graphic about President Biden proposing a reduction in red meat consumption. “Not gonna happen in Texas!” proclaimed the Republican, who serves nearly 30 million constituents.

Abbott was retweeted by fellow Republican Gov. Brad Little, who said, “Idahoans also have beef with this agenda and for dinner!” The two governors followed in a line of conservative politicians, pundits and news outlets who spent days proudly stating their opposition to a provision of Biden’s climate plan that doesn’t exist.

The false narrative stems from coverage of Biden announcing his new climate goals last week in honor of Earth Day, including cutting U.S. carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 over 2005 levels. The plan drew immediate Republican condemnation, but the beef-specific narrative stems from a Thursday article in the Daily Mail, a conservative British tabloid. The lengthy headline reads, “How Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH, cost $3.5K a year per person in taxes, force you to spend $55K on an electric car and ‘crush’ American jobs.”

The piece cites a University of Michigan study that analyzes what different changes in the U.S. diet could mean for greenhouse gas emissions. This was translated into the Fox News graphic shared by Abbott and others, which stated that the Biden proposal would cut 90 percent of red meat from Americans’ diet, allowing them a maximum of 4 pounds per year and one burger a month.

A primary issue in using the paper to condemn the Biden climate plan is that it was published in January 2020, when Biden was involved in a tight Democratic primary and a year away from being sworn in as president. His climate plan does not have any provisions regulating citizens’ ability to consume meat.

Gregory A. Keoleian and Martin Heller, two of the study’s authors, told Yahoo News that “to our knowledge, there is no connection between our study and Joe Biden’s Climate plan.”

Smoke of Ambergris, 1880

Smoke of Ambergris, 1880, by John Singer Sargent

The Washington Post: No, officials are not handing out Harris’s picture book to migrant kids.

“After learning officials are handing out Kamala Harris’ book to migrants in facilities at the border, it’s worth asking… Was Harris paid for these books? Is she profiting from Biden’s border crisis?”

— Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, in a tweet, April 26, 2021\“The Biden administration’s weakness caused a surge of illegal immigration. Now they’re forcing taxpayers to buy Kamala Harris’s book to give to those illegal immigrants?”\— Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), in a tweet linking to a report in the New York Post, April 25, 2021

“Harris’s children’s book Superheroes Are Everywhere is included in welcome packs for migrant children arriving at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, a recently converted influx facility, along with basic hygiene supplies and clothing, photographs show.”

— Reporting on Fox News, April 24, 2021

“Unaccompanied migrant kids brought from the U.S.-Mexico border to a new shelter in Long Beach, Calif., will be given a copy of her 2019 children’s book, ‘Superheroes are Everywhere,’ in their welcome kits.”

— Reporting in the New York Post, April 23, 2021

It’s like a bad game of telephone.

The New York Post reported that a children’s picture book written by Vice President Harris was being handed out in “welcome kits” to young migrants at a shelter in Long Beach, Calif.

Fox News, which is owned by the same family as the New York Post, then amplified the story with its own version of the article.\Cotton and McDaniel ran with these reports and posted critical tweets. But they should have dug deeper.

Long Beach city officials told The Washington Post that Harris’s book is not being handed out in welcome kits. A single copy of the book was donated during a citywide donation drive, officials said.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Raining-cats-and-dogs

Good Morning!!

It’s raining cats and dogs outside my windows this morning, so I decided to illustrate this post with cats in and out of the rain. 

In just four days, Trump will be out of the White House and headed to Florida; and, according to the Wall Street Journal (via Raw Story), even the people working in the White House can’t wait until he’s gone.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the last days of Donald Trump’s tenure as president have found him still looking for any chance of remaining in office as demoralized staffers look forward to Inauguration Day bringing the era to a close.

The Journal notes that the president has asked for information on the Republicans in the House who voted for his impeachment last week and whether they are susceptible to being primaried in 2022 while still fuming about his election loss.

d62d3ff684ba7a48945811f5a8b94d56As regarding the ongoing articles of impeachment passed by the House, Trump is still searching for attorneys to defend him if it comes to a trial after White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and attorneys who represented him during his last impeachment have let it be known they won’t take part….

According to one aide close to the president, they just want it to be over.

“It’s complete shellshock,” they explained. “People are praying for the inauguration to come and to get Trump the hell out of there.”

So much winning.

Trump’s future business prospects aren’t looking so good either. Bloomberg: Trump’s Shambolic Empire Faces Long Odds for One More Comeback.

On the day Donald Trump was getting impeached in Washington, the lobby of his New York tower at 40 Wall St. was almost silent. Few footsteps smudged the shiny marble.

But up the dark and golden elevators, trouble was stirring in one of the billionaire’s most valuable properties. Inside one law office, two partners had clashed over whether to keep paying rent to a landlord who encouraged the Capitol’s deadly riot. On the 24th floor, a nonprofit that fights tuberculosis was exploring options for leaving. On the seventh, the Girl Scouts were figuring out how to break their lease.

And in the basement, vintage bank-vault doors that weigh more than 10 tons stood wide open. There, in a club room that Trump renovated, the news was playing on a jumbo television to an audience of empty armchairs just as Congress voted against him….

thumb-1920-709311The Trump Organization, run by sons Eric and Don Jr., was struggling with the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic even before their father incited a raid on Congress. Efforts to sell his Washington hotel were shelved, his office buildings were losing value amid a glut of space in Manhattan, and his golf courses were facing the reality that younger generations aren’t so interested.

Trump entered office worth $3 billion. Despite soaring stock prices and his own tax cuts, he will leave about $500 million poorer, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

His buildings are saddled with more than $1 billion in debt, most of it coming due in the next three years and more than a third of it personally guaranteed. Refinancing would mean finding lenders and corporations willing to work with history’s only twice-impeached ex-president.

Prosecutors in New York are salivating over the chances to prosecute the disgraced “president.” AP: NY prosecutors interview Michael Cohen about Trump finances.

New York prosecutors conducted an hourslong interview Thursday of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, asking a range of questions about Trump’s business dealings, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

The interview focused in part on Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, his biggest and longest standing creditor, according to the three people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The interview, at least the second of Cohen by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, comes amid a long-running grand jury investigation into Trump’s business dealings. District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has been waging a protracted legal battle to get access to the president’s tax records.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on Trump’s request for a stay and a further appeal after he leaves office Jan. 20.

Top-10-Images-of-Cats-Avoiding-The-Rain-1-510x384-1The New York investigation is one of several legal entanglements that are likely to intensify as Trump loses power — and any immunity from prosecution he might have as a sitting president — as he departs the White House….

The Republican president also faces a civil investigation, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, into whether Trump’s company lied about the value of its assets to get loans or tax benefits. Cohen also is cooperating with that inquiry.

He previously told Congress that Trump often inflated the value of his assets when dealing with lenders or potential business partners, but deflated them when it benefited him for tax purposes.

Even in Scotland, people are looking for ways to investigate Trump. Read about it at The Scotsman: Leading QC says Scottish ministers can seek ‘McMafia’ order into Donald Trump’s finances.

Meanwhile, every day we learn more about the violent insurrection that Trump incited last week. One of the  most disturbing facts is how many law enforcement and active and former military people were involved. These are brief excerpts; I recommend following the links to read the full articles.

The Washington Post: Conspiracy theories and a call for patriots entice veterans at the Capitol.

A Washington Post analysis of individuals who breached the Capitol or were in the vicinity of the riots identified 21 people with some prior military service background. Of the 72 arrested or charged by state and federal authorities through Thursday morning, 11 have military backgrounds.

The military personnel and veterans involved in the demonstrations and riot at the Capitol range in age from 33 to 62. A handful of the veterans served in combat or with front-line infantry units in the Army and Marine Corps and spoke regularly of a coming revolution or the need for violent action to purge their country of unspecified enemies. Other veterans at the Capitol on Jan. 6 served for only short stints in the military or were focused more on clerical tasks than preparing for combat. Like many at the riots, they were swept up in conspiracy theories that have taken hold among some of Trump’s most fervent supporters and felt called to action by the president’s repeated insistence without evidence that the election had been stolen.

unnamedThe Pentagon hasn’t said how many active-duty troops or reservists are under investigation for any role in the protest or the riots, but homegrown militants and white supremacist groups have long targeted veterans for recruitment.

And some analysts who track extremist groups warn that the military has been slow to recognize the problem.

“They are behind in having the capacity to investigate these issues,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “They don’t have the proper tools to identify symbols and tattoos and that kind of thing, so it has allowed it to fester for a really long time.”

The Los Angeles Times: Why veterans of the military and law enforcement joined the Capitol insurrection.

An Air Force veteran from Southern California and ardent conspiracy theorist bent on war against the government. An Army psychological operations officer at Ft. Bragg, N.C. A decorated, retired Air Force officer of 18 years from Texas who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 attracted a variety of far-right extremists who shared a devotion to President Trump and his insistence on a false belief that the November election had been stolen from him through fraud.

Many rioters also had something else in common as they sought to upend the government in an insurrection that bristled with Confederate flags, racist symbols and conspiracy theories: They were ex-members of the military and police or actively employed by the armed services and law enforcement.

“It’s an incredibly disturbing trend,” retired U.S. Army Col. Jeffrey D. McCausland, a professor of national security at Dickinson College and former dean at the U.S. Army War College, said in an interview. “These are people who are supposed to uphold the Constitution and the law, yet they were doing the exact opposite.”

Top-10-Images-of-Cats-Avoiding-The-Rain-9-510x395-1Gizmodo: Leaked Parler Data Points to Users at Police Stations, U.S. Military Bases.

Location data gleaned from thousands of videos posted on the social network Parler and extracted in the days before Amazon restricted access to app this week, reveal its users included police officers around the U.S. and service members stationed on bases at home and abroad.

The presence on Parler of active military and police raises concerns, experts said, about their potential exposure to far-right conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies enabled by the platform’s practically nonexistent moderation and its stated openness to hate speech. Military officials have long considered infiltration and recruitment by white supremacist groups a threat. Groups that endorsed a wide range of racist beliefs appear to have been operating openly on Parler, the experts said, with the de facto permission of its owners. The FBI has likewise raised concerns over law enforcement agents adopting radical views and being recruited—viewing their access to secured buildings, elected officials, and other VIPs as a singular threat.

Slate: Sheriffs Helped Lead This Insurrection.

On Jan. 6, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb made a promise. Delivering a speech in Phoenix during the ongoing mob attack on the nation’s Capitol, Lamb accused former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of unnamed crimes and repeated President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud. “Now I’m limited to what I can do as the sheriff, but if you live in Pinal County, I assure you I can fight for your freedom,” he said before exhorting his followers to “be vigilant” and to “fight for the Constitution, freedom, and the American way of life.” (The video has since been deleted from social media.)

In the past week, it’s become clear that many members of law enforcement from across the country participated in the siege on the Capitol. That includes former and current sheriffs and their deputies. Ex–Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway was at the Trump rally but says he didn’t march to the Capitol. He described the crowd as “a cross between tailgating at a football game and a NASCAR race—families, dogs, children. Everyone being nice. I mean, it was like a family reunion without some of the hatefulness you can find at family reunions. It was a very good crowd.”

Top-10-Images-of-Cats-Avoiding-The-Rain-10-510x334-1At least one current sheriff admits he was at the riot: Sheriff Chris West of Canadian County, Oklahoma, says he marched toward the Capitol building but did not enter. But long before Jan. 6, sheriffs have been helping to lay the groundwork for violence by the far-right movement. As political leaders in their communities, they have been sowing dissent at home, encouraging their own armed militias to prepare themselves to take back the government just as Lamb suggested.

Ninety percent of American sheriffs are white men, and in recent years they’ve become strongly affiliated with white supremacist groups. Across the country, sheriffs have declared that they will not enforce laws they deem “unconstitutional,” like COVID-19 public health orders or gun laws limiting weapons possession and permits. Their influence has only grown since the pandemic began, as mask wearing became affiliated with progressive liberals and a bare face was a sign of Trump support.

A few more reads about the Capitol attack:

David Graham at The Atlantic: We’re Just Finding Out How Bad the Riot Really Was.

The New York Times: Capitol Attack Could Fuel Extremist Recruitment For Years, Experts Warn.

Politico: Top FEMA official attended Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rally.

NBC News: Online far-right movements fracture in wake of Capitol riot.

That’s all I have for you today. Have a nice long weekend, and please stop by and leave a comment if you have the time and inclination.


Tuesday Reads: Another Crazy Day In Trump World

Good Morning!!

This morning Trump appeared on Fox and Friends and rambled on for 47 minutes. At the end of the interview, Steve Doocy expressed some surprising hostility toward the fake “president.”

Wow! Doocy’s getting a little fed up with Trump’s word salad, I guess. He even offered equal time to Joe Biden.

In another headline-grabbing moment, Trump told his Fox and Friends pals that he wanted to assassinate Syria’s Bashar al-Assad awhile back.

The Washington Post: Trump confirms he wanted to assassinate Assad. In 2018, he denied it was even considered.

In the Fox interview, Trump criticized former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who has in recent months warned the country strongly against reelecting Trump. But in the course of making that case, Trump offered an odd claim: He said Mattis had effectively stood in the way of his efforts to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I would’ve rather taken him out,” Trump said. “I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general.”

When asked whether he regretted not taking Assad out, Trump added: “No, I don’t regret that. … I had a shot to take him out if I wanted. Mattis was against it.”

The first problem with this argument is that Trump is disparaging Mattis for opposing something that Trump doesn’t even say he regrets. The second is that the commander in chief makes these decisions, full stop. If Trump wanted to do it, Mattis couldn’t block him.

That’s not what Trump said in 2018.

In 2018, Woodward published “Fear.” In the book, he reported that Trump had considered assassinating Assad. Trump, on Sept. 5, 2018, flatly denied it.

“I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States. Never even discussed,” Trump said, adding: “No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated.”

He even held it up as evidence that the book shouldn’t have been published.

Breaking news: Trump is a pathological liar.

Lets see . . . what else is happening in the United States of crazy?

As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, Trump seems determined to continue holding super-spreader rallies that threaten the lives of his own supporters and staff. The Washington Post suggests that Trump is using these events to “rebuke” Democratic governors and mayors who have established restrictions on public behavior in order to protect their citizens.

President Trump’s first indoor rally in months was staged as a rebuke to Democrats he accuses of using coronavirus restrictions against him, but the campaign event in Nevada also prompted sharp denunciations from critics on Monday as a symbol of the president’s failure to effectively confront the deadly covid-19 crisis.

The Sunday night gathering came as the pandemic has caused at least 190,000 deaths in the United States, with the number expected to pass 200,000 sometime before Trump holds his next official campaign events on Friday. The Nov. 3 election had already become a referendum on the president’s often dismissive approach to the pandemic before revelations last week that he had told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward he knew the severity of the virus but preferred to play it down in public….

On Monday, Trump held another indoor campaign event at a luxury hotel in Phoenix that was billed as a roundtable with Latino supporters. The White House pool reporter traveling with Trump described the scene as looking much like a rally, with more than 100 people crowded closely together inside a ballroom. Television footage showed mask-free supporters waving campaign signs.

“I know this was supposed to be, you know the fake news, they said that this is supposed to be a roundtable, but it looks like a rally,” Trump said. “But it is a rally because we love each other.” He then added that “it is a roundtable.”

AP: Trump defies virus rules as ‘peaceful protest’ rallies grow.

President Donald Trump is running as the “law and order” candidate. But that hasn’t stopped him and his campaign from openly defying state emergency orders and flouting his own administration’s coronavirus guidelines as he holds ever-growing rallies in battleground states.

Democratic governors and local leaders have urged the president to reconsider the events, warning that he’s putting lives at risk. But they have largely not tried to block the gatherings of thousands of people, which Trump and his team deem “peaceful protests” protected by the First Amendment.

“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said in a statement….

Trump’s campaign insisted that it takes appropriate health precautions, including handing out masks and hand sanitizer and checking the temperatures of rallygoers.

But images of thousands of maskless supporters standing shoulder to shoulder remain jarring in a country where sports are still played in empty arenas and concerts have been largely banned. That’s especially true for those who have lost loved ones or spent months isolating at home and worry that rallies will further spread infection, undermining hard-fought progress. An indoor rally that Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June was blamed for a surge of virus infections there.

In an interview yesterday, Trump demonstrated that he couldn’t care less about threatening the health of his supporters, as long as he himself is protected. The New York Times: Trump Defends Indoor Rally, but Aides Express Concern.

President Trump and his campaign are defending his right to rally indoors, despite the private unease of aides who called it a game of political Russian roulette and growing concern that such gatherings could prolong the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m on a stage, and it’s very far away,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday, after thousands of his supporters gathered on Sunday night inside a manufacturing plant in a Las Vegas suburb, flouting a state directive limiting indoor gatherings to fewer than 50 people.

The president did not address health concerns about the rally attendees, a vast majority of whom did not wear masks or practice any social distancing. When it came to his own safety, he said, “I’m not at all concerned.”

He is simply incapable of caring about anyone but himself.

Yesterday afternoon, Trump met with California officials and told them they are clueless about how to deal with wildfires. Forbes: ‘I Don’t Think Science Knows, Actually’: Trump Dismisses Climate Science In California Wildfire Discussion.

After multiple California officials confronted President Donald Trump Monday about ignoring climate change’s role in the raging west coast wildfires, the president dismissed their concerns and raised skepticism about the “science” that has concluded the Earth is warming.

“It’ll start getting cooler,” Trump said in response to California Natural Resource Secretary Wade Crawfoot, who pressed the president to acknowledge the fact untamed vegetation is not solely responsible for the wildfires in the Golden State.

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crawfoot replied back, to which the president replied, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Trump’s solution to the wildfire problem:

In other insane news, Trump loyalist Michael Caputo, who “interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19” made wild claims about a conspiracy involving the CDC and “left-wing hit squads.” The New York Times: Trump Health Aide Pushes Bizarre Conspiracies and Warns of Armed Revolt.

The top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus made outlandish and false accusations on Sunday that career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump, even if that opposition bolsters the Covid-19 death toll.

Mr. Caputo, who has faced intense criticism for leading efforts to warp C.D.C. weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative, suggested that he personally could be in danger from opponents of the administration. “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get,” he urged his followers.

He went further, saying his physical health was in question, and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Mr. Caputo said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He also said the mounting number of Covid-19 deaths was taking a toll on him, telling his viewers, “You are not waking up every morning and talking about dead Americans.” [….]

To a certain extent, Mr. Caputo’s comments in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page were simply an amplified version of remarks that the president himself has made. Both men have singled out government scientists and health officials as disloyal, suggested that the election will not be fairly decided, and insinuated that left-wing groups are secretly plotting to incite violence across the United States.

Read more at the NYT link.

Also at The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie argues that there’s a serious side to these conspiracy theories, even though they make no sense to normal people: Trump’s Perverse Campaign Strategy: If the president’s allies are talking about the moment “shooting will begin” and “martial law,” it’s not by accident.

On Sunday, Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, warned of left-wing insurrectionists and “sedition” within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a video he hosted live on his Facebook page. After predicting victory for President Trump in the upcoming election, Caputo warned that Joe Biden wouldn’t concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” [….]

…Trump isn’t actually running for re-election — or at least, not running in the traditional manner. He has a campaign, yes, but it is not a campaign to win votes or persuade the public outside of a few, select slivers of the electorate. Instead, it’s a campaign to hold on to power by any means necessary, using every tool available to him as president of the United States. Caputo, in that sense, is only taking cues from his boss.

Of course, Trump would like to obtain a proper victory. But it’s clear he’s not counting on it. That is why the most visible aspect of Trump’s campaign for continued power is his attack on the election itself. If he doesn’t win, he says again and again, then the outcome isn’t legitimate….

Along with this warning comes Trump’s call for supporters to act as “poll watchers” to prevent imaginary fraud at voting locations….

There’s also the president’s rhetoric toward his political opponents. Asked on Fox News about “riots” if he wins re-election, Trump said he would “put them down very quickly,” before adding:

Look, it’s called insurrection. We just send in and we do it, very easy. I mean, it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it, but if we had to we’d do that and put it down within minutes.

Trump also indicated that he supports extrajudicial killings.

Later in the interview, Trump commented on the Sept. 3 killing of Michael Forest Reinoehl by U.S. marshals. Reinoehl was suspected of shooting a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer during a protest in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 29. Trump, who swore to uphold the Constitution when he was inaugurated, claimed to have essentially called for an extrajudicial killing:

Now we sent in the U.S. marshals for the killer, the man that killed the young man in the street. Two and a half days went by, and I put out “when are you going to go get him.” And the U.S. marshals went in to get him. There was a shootout. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. marshalls killed him. And I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.

Instead of making a conventional appeal to voters to give him another term in office, Trump is issuing a threat, of sorts: I cannot lose. If I do lose, the election was stolen. Anyone protesting my effort to hold onto power is an insurrectionist. And sometimes, “there has to be retribution.”

I guess that’s enough crazy for today. Take care of yourselves folks and check in if you can to let us know what’s happening where you are. We’ll be thinking of those of you who are in the paths of wildfires and hurricanes.