Lazy Caturday Reads

Cat playing, Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe

Cat playing, by Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe

Good Afternoon!!

With just 53 more days until the inauguration, Trump is dreaming up ways to make things more difficult for Joe Biden and for the American people by undermining U.S. foreign policy, hurting the military, damaging the environment and public health, hurting federal employees, and making sure the coronavirus pandemic kills as many people as possible. He even plans to troll Biden’s inauguration.

It’s not clear what Trump had to do with the murder of an Iranian nuclear scientist, but he isn’t objecting to it. Pompeo was traveling around the Middle East shortly before it happened.

The Guardian: Iran scientist’s assassination appears intended to undermine nuclear deal.

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh may not much have impact on the Iranian nuclear programme he helped build, but it will certainly make it harder to salvage the deal intended to restrict that programme, and that is – so far – the most plausible motive.

Israel is widely agreed to be the most likely perpetrator. Mossad is reported to have been behind a string of assassinations of other Iranian nuclear scientists – reports Israeli officials have occasionally hinted were true.

Photo by  Walker Evans

Photo by Walker Evans

According to former officials, the Obama administration leaned on Israel to discontinue those assassinations in 2013, as it started talks with Tehran that led two years later to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by which Iran accepted constraints on its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

It would be a fair guess that Joe Biden would also oppose such assassinations when he takes office on 20 January and tries to reconstitute the JCPOA – which has been left wounded but just about alive in the wake of Donald Trump’s withdrawal in 2018.

If Mossad was indeed behind the assassination, Israel had a closing window of opportunity in which to carry it out with a green light from an American president, and there seems little doubt that Trump, seeking to play a spoiler role in his last weeks in office, would have given approval, if not active assistance. He is reported to have asked for military options in Iran, in the aftermath of his election defeat.

“I think they would have had to get a green light from Washington. I don’t think they would do it without,” Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at the Century Foundation, said. “In terms of motive, I think it’s just pushing Iran to do something stupid to ensure that the Biden administration’s hands are tied when they come in to pursue negotiations and de-escalation.’

CNN: Iran’s supreme leader vows revenge after top nuclear scientist apparently assassinated.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has vowed revenge and to continue the country’s “scientific” activities after the killing of the country’s chief nuclear scientist, as top Iranian officials pile blame on Israel over the killing.

A-Feline-Family-Agnes-Augusta-Talboys-private-collection

A Feline Family, by Agnes Augusta Talboys

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who became the face of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, was killed in a district east of Tehran on Friday, in what Iranian officials are calling an assassination.

“There are two matters that people in charge should put in their to do list: 1- To follow up the atrocity and retaliate against those who were responsible for it. 2- To follow up Martyr Fakhrizadeh’s scientific and technical activities in all fields in which he was active,” Khamenei wrote Saturday in a tweet from an account often attributed to him, making a veiled reference to the country’s nuclear activities.

He added: “Our distinguished nuclear scientist in the defense of our country, Mr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by the oppressive enemies. This rare scientific mind lost his life for his everlasting great scientific work. He lost his life for God and the supreme leader. God shall reward him greatly.”

Trump is rushing to damage environmental protections and public health before he leaves office, and EPA employees are fighting back. The New York Times: E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance.

President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.

Jane Brown, Cat in a restaurant window, Penzance, circa 1060

Photo by Jane Brown, Cat in a restaurant window, Penzance, circa 1060

Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.

“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”

With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.

The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.

Trump is threatening to veto a defense bill because it includes instructions to remove Confederate names from military bases. NBC News:

President Donald Trump is threatening to veto legislation to fund the military as one of his final acts in office unless a widely supported, bipartisan provision to rename military bases honoring Confederate military leaders is removed, according to White House, defense and congressional sources.

Dream of a Cat, by Norbertine Breslern-Roth

Since the Nov. 3 election, Trump has privately told Republican lawmakers that he won’t back down from his position during the campaign that he would veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act if it includes an amendment to rename the bases….

Trump’s stance has put in doubt legislation that had been agreed to by Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate. It has sent members of Trump’s party scrambling to find a path for the defense bill, which outlines military policy and funding, and put them on a collision course with Democrats.

Trump is working to destroy protections for civil service employees. The Washington Post: Trump moves to strip job protections from White House budget analysts as he races to transform civil service.

The outgoing Trump administration is racing to enact the biggest change to the federal civil service in generations, reclassifying career employees at key agencies to strip their job protections and leave them open to being fired before Joe Biden takes office.

The move to pull off an executive order the president issued less than two weeks before Election Day — affecting tens of thousands of people in policy roles — is accelerating at the agency closest to the White House, the Office of Management and Budget.

The budget office sent a list this week of roles identified by its politically appointed leaders to the federal personnel agency for final sign-off. The list comprises 88 percent of its workforce — 425 analysts and other experts who would shift into a new job classification called Schedule F.

The employees would then be vulnerable to dismissal before Trump leaves office if they are considered poor performers or have resisted executing the president’s priorities, effectively turning them into political appointees that come and go with each administration.

1_jamiecampbell_Saddest-Kitten-2012

Photo by Jamie Campbell: Saddest Kitten

Trump’s Treasury secretary is working to make it harder for Biden to help Americans impacted by the pandemic. Fox Business: Mnuchin plans to move $455B in coronavirus relief out of Biden’s reach.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to move $455 billion in unspent coronavirus stimulus money into a fund that the incoming Biden administration cannot deploy without congressional approval, Bloomberg reported.

The CARES Act funding will be placed in the agency’s General Fund, a Treasury Department spokesperson told Bloomberg. If Mnuchin’s successor — Biden is widely expected to pick former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to fill the role — wants to access that money, she will need to receive Congress’ blessing….

Last week, Mnuchin said he would not extend several emergency loan programs set up with the Federal Reserve, prompting a rare criticism from the U.S. central bank. While the lending facilities have been little used so far, they were viewed as a vital backstop for the pandemic-ravaged economy.

The money is part of the $500 billion Treasury Department fund created at the end of March by the CARES Act. The Treasury Fund set aside $46 billion for loans and loan guarantees to the airline industry, and the remainder was designated to support Fed lending programs to businesses, states and municipalities.

And of course there’s the raging pandemic that Trump has not only ignored but enabled with his rallies and his mocking of public restr

CNN: US is ’rounding the corner into a calamity,’ expert says, with Covid-19 deaths projected to double soon.

As Thanksgiving week draws to an end, more experts are warning the Covid-19 pandemic will likely get much worse in the coming weeks before a possible vaccine begins to offer some relief.

Agnes Miller Parker, Siamise cat, 1950

Agnes Miller Parker, Siamise cat, 1950

More than 205,000 new cases were reported Friday — which likely consists of both Thursday and Friday reports in some cases, as at least 20 states did not report Covid-19 numbers on Thanksgiving.

The US has now reported more than 100,000 infections every day for 25 consecutive days, with a daily average of more than 166,000 across the last week — almost 2.5 times higher than the summer’s peak counts in July.

The number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals is just off record levels: more than 89,800 on Friday, only a few hundred lower than the peak set a day earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project….

Based on the current Covid-19 numbers in the US, the country is far from rounding the corner, she said.

“If anything, we are rounding the corner into a calamity,” Wen said. “We’re soon going to exceed well more than 2,000 deaths, maybe 3,000, 4,000 deaths every single day here in the US.”

That projection has been echoed by other experts including Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, who predicted Wednesday the country’s daily death toll would likely double in 10 days, and soon see “close to 4,000 deaths a day.”

Finally, Trump wants to cause problems for Biden’s inauguration and first term. I doubt if it will work, but it will be a national embarrassment. The Daily Beast: Trump’s Already Gaming Out a 2024 Run—Including an Event During Biden’s Inauguration.

In the twilight of his presidency, Donald Trump is discussing different ways to disrupt the impending Joe Biden era, chief among them by announcing another run against him.

According to three people familiar with the conversations, the president, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the 2020 election as he clearly did, has not just talked to close advisers and confidants about a potential 2024 run to reclaim the White House but about the specifics of a campaign launch. The conversations have explored, among other things, how Trump could best time his announcement so as to keep the Republican Party behind him for the next four years. Two of these knowledgeable sources said the president has, in the past two weeks, even floated the idea of doing a 2024-related event during Biden’s inauguration week, possibly on Inauguration Day, if his legal effort to steal the 2020 election ultimately fails.

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, the president has privately bragged that he’d still remain in the spotlight, even if Biden is in the Oval Office, in part because the news media will keep regularly covering him since—as Trump has assessed—he gets the news outlets ratings and those same outlets find Biden “boring.”

That’s it for me today. I hope you all are having a relaxing holiday weekend!


Tuesday Reads

sb111720dapr

Good Morning!!

We have to survive 57 more days of Trump insanity–along with the out-of-control coronavirus pandemic–between now and January 20, 2021. At least Trump finally agreed to let the official presidential transition begin–but he’s still refusing to give Joe Biden access to the government’s vaccine plans.

The New York Times: Trump Administration Approves Start of Formal Transition to Biden.

President Trump’s government on Monday authorized President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to begin a formal transition process after Michigan certified Mr. Biden as its winner, a strong sign that the president’s last-ditch bid to overturn the results of the election was coming to an end.

Mr. Trump did not concede, and vowed to persist with efforts to change the vote, which have so far proved fruitless. But the president said on Twitter on Monday night that he accepted the decision by Emily W. Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, to allow a transition to proceed.

In his tweet, Mr. Trump said that he had told his officials to begin “initial protocols” involving the handoff to Mr. Biden “in the best interest of our country,” even though he had spent weeks trying to subvert a free and fair election with false claims of fraud. Hours later, he tried to play down the significance of Ms. Murphy’s action, tweeting that it was simply “preliminarily work with the Dems” that would not stop efforts to change the election results.

Still, Ms. Murphy’s designation of Mr. Biden as the apparent victor provides the incoming administration with federal funds and resources and clears the way for the president-elect’s advisers to coordinate with Trump administration officials.

cbr111320daprTrump had to be talked into allowing the transition to begin.

Mr. Trump had been resisting any move toward a transition. But in conversations in recent days that intensified Monday morning, top aides — including Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel; and Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer — told the president the transition needed to begin. He did not need to say the word “concede,” they told him, according to multiple people briefed on the discussions….

Some of the advisers drafted a statement for the president to issue. In the end, Mr. Trump did not put one out, but aides said the tone was similar to his tweets in the evening, in which he appeared to take credit for Ms. Murphy’s decision to allow the transition to begin.

“Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail!” he wrote. “Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

This morning, NBC News published an op-ed by Sen. Chris Murphy: As Trump’s GSA begins election transition, Biden needs access to Covid-19 vaccine plans.

At the very moment President-elect Joe Biden will take the reins of government, the federal government will be in the early stages of implementing the most complicated, most expensive and most important mass vaccination program in our nation’s history. On Monday, General Services Administration signaled that it is ready to begin the formal transition process. There is not a moment to lose….

cbr111220dapr…vaccines don’t protect people; vaccinations do. And the effort to make sure that every person in America, as soon as possible, gets vaccinated, is a logistical project on par with than anything the American health care system has ever accomplished. Trump’s teams at Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have begun to develop and implement this system, but it will be barely up and running by Jan. 20. That means that there must be an errorless transition of responsibility from Trump’s team to Biden’s team. And yet for weeks, Trump’s team refused to allow Biden’s transition team access to the plan. Hopefully, the GSA’s announcement means this will change. But we cannot just assume it will happen.

As leaders of Operation Warp Speed, the coalition of federal agencies overseeing the plan for vaccine distribution, told the Senate last week, Trump had been blocking them from communicating at all with the Biden-Harris transition team. Why? Because of Trump’s petulant crusade against reality. Indeed, Trump is still refusing to accept the election results, hoping that desperate lawsuits and the bullying of local elections officials will somehow allow him to remain in office despite the fact that he lost the election convincingly.

Murphy believes the Trump plans are inadequate and Biden will need to make changes. Read Murphy’s detailed recommendations at NBC News.

Trump may have been talked into allowing the formal transition to begin, but he’s still obsessed with proving the election was fraudulent. Now that his many lawsuits have been thrown out of court for lack of evidence, he is becoming concerned that his crazy legal team is making him look bad. As if he hadn’t already done that to himself.

NBC News: Behind the scenes, Trump frustrated with his legal team’s maneuvers.

While President Donald Trump has publicly praised his legal team’s efforts, he has privately expressed frustration with the slapdash nature of his election defense fight, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

20201121edhan-aThe president has been complaining to aides and allies about his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and recently-removed lawyer Sidney Powell’s over-the-top performances at a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters last week, these people said. Both Giuliani and Powell have continued to make conspiratorial and baseless claims about widespread voter fraud, for which they have provided no evidence.

The president is concerned his team is comprised of “fools that are making him look bad,” said one source familiar with the thinking. Asked why he would not fire them, this person replied, in essence, who knows?

The president grew less impressed with Powell over the weekend, as she continued to make outlandish comments, including falsely accusing Georgia’s Republican governor and its secretary of state of being part of a scheme to alter votes.

That ultimately led to the terse statement the Trump campaign put out Sunday night on behalf of Giuliani and senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis: “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump legal team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity,” it read.

Trump was also not pleased with the optics of the brown substance, presumed to be hair dye or a makeup product, dripping down Giuliani’s face during the nearly two-hour news conference Thursday, according to one of the sources familiar with the president’s reaction.

Even Rush Limbaugh is complaining about the “legal team.” Earth to Trump: you chose these morons. Only the best people, right?

Elie Honig at CNN: Trump’s bizarro-world ‘elite strike force’ legal challenge is about to implode.

20201120edhoc-aJust moments after a federal judge issued a blistering rebuke of their evidence-free, legally-confused effort to contest President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, President Donald Trump’s legal team flailed to spin the crushing loss as some sort of bizarro-world victory. Trump campaign attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis claimed in a statement that the dismissal “turns out to help us in our strategy to get expeditiously to the US Supreme Court.”

But if the Trump campaign’s legal team is counting on the Supreme Court to save them, they’re delusional. In this case, and in the larger effort to contest the outcome of the 2020 election, Trump’s team is just about out of runway.

In a news conference laden with false statements and incomprehensible legal claims, Ellis labeled Trump’s legal team an “elite strike force.” But their utter failure to uncover evidence of widespread voter fraud, or to articulate a coherent legal theory, suggests otherwise. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a staunch Trump political ally — more aptly called Trump’s legal team a “national embarrassment.” The Trump team later distanced itself from Sidney Powell, an attorney on Trump’s legal team, after she spread conspiracy theories about the election.

Indeed, Saturday’s ruling by federal judge Matthew Brann — an appointee of President Barack Obama who previously held various positions in Pennsylvania’s Republican party — is one of the harshest rebukes I’ve ever seen from any judge. Brann heaped scorn on the Trump campaign’s “strained legal arguments” which, he noted, are “without merit … and unsupported by evidence.” He ridiculed one of the Trump team’s primary constitutional claims as a “Frankenstein monster.” And Brann noted that the Trump campaign position, if adopted, would “disenfranchise almost seven million voters.”

There’s much more at the CNN link. I seriously doubt that even the most extreme SCOTUS justices are going to want to touch the Trump cases with a ten-foot pole.

And then there’s Trump’s crazy pal Roger Stone. The Daily Beast: Roger Stone-Tied Group Threatens GOP: If Trump Goes Down, So Does Your Senate Majority.

sbr112020daprConservative operatives and a super PAC with ties to infamous GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone are calling for Trump supporters to punish Republicans by sitting out Georgia’s crucial Senate runoffs or writing in Trump’s name instead. And though their efforts remains on the party’s fringes, the trajectory of the movement has Republicans fearful that it could cost the GOP control of the Senate.

The most aggressive call to boycott or cast protest ballots in the two runoff races has, so far, come from a dormant pro-Trump super PAC with ties to Stone, which unveiled a new initiative to retaliate against the Republican Party’s supposed turncoats by handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

The group, dubbed the Committee for American Sovereignty, unveiled a new website encouraging Georgia Republicans to write in Trump’s name in both of the upcoming Senate runoff elections, which could determine the party that controls the upper chamber during President-elect Joe Biden’s first two years in office. The PAC argued that doing so will show support for the president in addition to forcing Republicans to address the wild election-fraud conspiracy theories floated by Trump supporters and members of his own legal team.

“If we can do this, we have a real chance at getting these RINO senators to act on the illegitimate and corrupt election presided over by a Democrat party that is invested in the Communist takeover of Our Great Nation,” the group wrote on its new website, writeintrumpforgeorgiasenate.com. “We will not stop fighting for you, the American Patriot, against the evils of Socialism and inferior Religions.”

The effort is representative of a broader push among some of President Trump’s most devoted supporters to withhold support for the two Georgia Republican senators facing competitive runoff challenges, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, in the hope of leveraging the party’s fear of losing the U.S. Senate to get more establishment backing for their drive to change the result of the election. The goal, those operatives say, is to expose a supposed vast election fraud conspiracy abetted by high-level Republicans in Georgia’s state government, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Can we survive 57 more days of this insanity? I guess if we got through four years of it, we can hang on a bit longer–but it won’t be easy.

Take care, Sky Dancers! Enjoy your Tuesday in whatever way works best for you. I plan to read a novel and take a nap this afternoon. Please check in with us in the comments if you have the time and inclination. 


Lazy Caturday Reads

cat-and-butterfly-v-diane-hoeptner

Cat and Butterfly by Diane Hoeptner

Good Morning!!

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening by the day, and the Trump administration refuses to do anything about it. Yesterday, the defeated “president” emerged from his hidey hole for an appearance in the former Rose Garden. He proceeded to falsely claim credit for the Pfizer vaccine and pretend that the election is still undecided.

Maeve Reston at CNN thinks Trump is beginning to accept reality: Trump wavers between reality and election fiction with eye on his legacy during Rose Garden vaccine address.

President Donald Trump had an eye on his legacy as he strode to the microphone in the White House Rose Garden Friday and touted the administration’s “unequaled and unrivaled” efforts to help produce a coronavirus vaccine through Operation Warp Speed. Then, for a brief moment, he seemed close to acknowledging the reality that his presidency is almost over.

“I will not — this administration will not be doing a lockdown,” Trump said, speaking for the first time in a week as coronavirus cases in the US shatter records and hospitalizations are surging. “Hopefully whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be — I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown.”

It was a fleeting shift in tone suggesting that the reality of President-elect Joe Biden’s substantial win is seeping into Trump’s psyche even as he and his advisers publicly deny it.

Midori Yamada

By Midori Yamada

The Democrat now has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 as a result of wins in two longtime Republican states, Arizona and Georgia, CNN projects — far above the 270 threshold that Biden needed to clinch the presidency. But the indisputable math has not prevented the President from continuing to try to whip up outrage among his supporters on Twitter with unfounded accusations that the election has been stolen from him.

Friday’s speech in the Rose Garden was a portrait of a President clinging to power as his legal challenges to the election results crumble around him, mindful that he ought to show Americans what he’s been doing with the power of government as he spends his days tweeting conspiracy theories about lost or deleted votes in the midst of a pandemic that is coursing through the United States.

Except he isn’t really doing anything about the most pressing problem facing the country–the pandemic. Philip Bump at The Washington Post: Trump also refuses to admit he lost the fight against the coronavirus.

“Case levels are high, but a lot of the case levels are high because of the fact that we have the best testing program anywhere in the world,” he said. “We’ve developed the most and the best tests, and we test far more than any other country. So it shows obviously more cases.”

This is false for a variety of reasons. The most obvious misstatement is that the current surge in new cases, leading to 1 in every 350 Americans contracting the virus in the past week, is solely a function of more testing. In reality, the number of new cases during this surge (which began around Sept. 12) has easily outpaced the increase in the number of tests being conducted. The rate at which tests are coming back positive is more than 9 percent at the moment, twice what it was a month ago.

It’s also important to remember that the United States has conducted so many tests because we’ve had to. Countries like South Korea effectively contained the virus and therefore didn’t have to keep testing hundreds of thousands of people a week. It’s our failure to contain the virus that necessitates a broad deployment of testing….

Jane Lewis Menagerie

Menagerie, by Jane Lewis

“The federal government has 22,000 beds immediately available for states and jurisdictions that need additional capacity,” Trump said Friday. “But we think that it’s going to start going down possibly very quickly. We’ll see what happens. But with the vaccine, you’ll see numbers going down within a matter of months. And it’ll go down very rapidly.”

There’s no indication that the need for hospital capacity is going to go down quickly. It’s also not clear where that federal capacity is or how states can access it. It may be the case that the vaccine will drive down new infections and hospitalizations, but even limited distribution of the vaccine is weeks away. For most Americans, it’s months away, and cases are surging now.

Read more at the WaPo.

As I wrote in a comment yesterday, I think Trump should be prosecuted for negligent homicide. At Alternet, via Raw Story, Cory Fenwick writes: The Trump plan for mass death is unfolding before our eyes.

On Friday, the COVID Tracking Project reported that the number of positive coronavirus infections in the last day had reached 170,000, the highest record ever and a number that was, just a few months ago, hard to imagine. It’s now our daily reality, and it’s likely to only get worse.

Other figures are just as frightening. Hospitalizations — one of the clearest signs of the seriousness of the out break —have reached a new high at 69,000, according to the project. Deaths are at a disturbing 1,300, though that rate is almost certain to spike in recent weeks following the more recent spike in cases. And as the newest and largest wave yet engulfs the country, reports have begun to appear of hospitals being overwhelmed with patients, which is almost certainly a precursor to a spike in the case fatality rate.

By Jane Hoptner

by Jane Hoptner

It’s our horrifying new status quo, and one that experts and observers have been warning would unfold this fall for months. But the ming-boggling truth is that for the Trump administration, everything is pretty much going as planned.

Ever since the first wave in the spring, President Donald Trump has seemed increasingly drawn to the so-called (and, indeed, misleadingly named) “herd immunity” approach to the pandemic. On this approach, you reject government restrictions meant to stop people from getting the virus. What advocates of this strategy believe is that it’s best that more people get the virus, because eventually, enough people will have had it, they’ll immune, and life will return to normal.

Click the link to read the rest.

This piece by Ed Yong at The Atlantic is a must read: ‘No One Is Listening to Us.’ More people than ever are hospitalized with COVID-19. Health-care workers can’t go on like this.

In the months since March, many Americans have habituated to the horrors of the pandemic. They process the election’s ramifications. They plan for the holidays. But health-care workers do not have the luxury of looking away: They’re facing a third pandemic surge that is bigger and broader than the previous two. In the U.S., states now report more people in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other point this year—and 40 percent more than just two weeks ago.

Emergency rooms are starting to fill again with COVID-19 patients. Utah, where Nathan Hatton is a pulmonary specialist at the University of Utah Hospital, is currently reporting 2,500 confirmed cases a day, roughly four times its summer peak. Hatton says that his intensive-care unit is housing twice as many patients as it normally does. His shifts usually last 12 to 24 hours, but can stretch to 36. “There are times I’ll come in in the morning, see patients, work that night, work all the next day, and then go home,” he told me. I asked him how many such shifts he has had to do. “Too many,” he said.

Grey-Kitty-CM-Cooper

Grey Kitty, by C.M. Cooper

Hospitals have put their pandemic plans into action, adding more beds and creating makeshift COVID-19 wards. But in the hardest-hit areas, there are simply not enough doctors, nurses, and other specialists to staff those beds. Some health-care workers told me that COVID-19 patients are the sickest people they’ve ever cared for: They require twice as much attention as a typical intensive-care-unit patient, for three times the normal length of stay. “It was doable over the summer, but now it’s just too much,” says Whitney Neville, a nurse based in Iowa. “Last Monday we had 25 patients waiting in the emergency department. They had been admitted but there was no one to take care of them.” I asked her how much slack the system has left. “There is none,” she said.

The entire state of Iowa is now out of staffed beds, Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Iowa, told me. Worse is coming. Iowa is accumulating more than 3,600 confirmed cases every day; relative to its population, that’s more than twice the rate Arizona experienced during its summer peak, “when their system was near collapse,” Perencevich said. With only lax policies in place, those cases will continue to rise. Hospitalizations lag behind cases by about two weeks; by Thanksgiving, today’s soaring cases will be overwhelming hospitals that already cannot cope. “The wave hasn’t even crashed down on us yet,” Perencevich said. “It keeps rising and rising, and we’re all running on fear. The health-care system in Iowa is going to collapse, no question.”

There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

It’s so sad to see North Dakota, my birthplace and the state where my parents were born and raised, experiencing such a terrible health emergency. USA Today: The Dakotas are ‘as bad as it gets anywhere in the world’ for COVID-19.

South Dakota welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to a massive motorcycle rally this summer, declined to cancel the state fair and still doesn’t require masks. Now its hospitals are filling up and the state’s current COVID-19 death rate is among the worst in the world.

2-Feridun-Oral-White-Persian-Cat

White Persian Cat, by Feridun Oral

The situation is similarly dire in North Dakota, with the state’s governor recently moving to allow health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 to continue working if they don’t show symptoms. It’s a controversial policy recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a crisis situation where hospitals are short-staffed.

And now — after months of resisting a statewide mask mandate — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum changed course late Friday, ordering masks to be worn statewide and imposing several business restrictions.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Burgum said in a video message posted at 10 p.m. Friday. Doctors and nurses “need our help, and they need it now,” he said.

Both North and South Dakota now face a predictably tragic reality that health experts tell USA TODAY could have been largely prevented with earlier public health actions.

Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota is still resisting. Sioux Falls Argus Leader: If Joe Biden enacts mask mandates, lockdowns, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem won’t enforce them.

The office of Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement to the Argus Leader Friday that the first-term governor, who’s risen to stardom in the Republican party for her hands-off approach to managing the pandemic, has no intention of using state resources to enforce any federal COVID-19 orders.

“It’s a good day for freedom. Joe Biden realizes that the president doesn’t have the authority to institute a mask mandate,” said Ian Fury, communications specialist for Noem. “For that matter, neither does Governor Noem, which is why she has provided her citizens with the full scope of the science and trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones.”

Famous last words?

Amaryllis and Cats, Elizabeth Blackadder

Amaryllis and Cats, by Elizabeth Blackadder

More stories to check out today:

The New York Times: It’s Traumatizing: Coronavirus Deaths are Climbing Again.

Katlyn Polantz at CNN: Trump had a very bad Friday in court with his election cases. They’re headed for more action next week.

Politico: ‘Purely outlandish stuff’: Trump’s legal machine grinds to a halt.

CNN: Federal election official blasts Trump’s false election claims as ‘laughable,’ ‘baffling’ and ‘insulting’

The Washington Post: Federal prosecutors assigned to monitor election malfeasance tell Barr they see no evidence of substantial irregularities.

NBC News: QAnon’s Dominion voter fraud conspiracy theory reaches the president.

The Daily Beast: How Trump’s Voter Fraud War Room Became a Fart-Infused ‘Room From Hell’

Reuters: President-elect Biden, denied classified intel briefings, to bring in national security experts.

Susan Rice at The New York Times: Here’s How Trump’s Stalling Risks Our National Security.

The Washington Post: Defense secretary sent classified memo to White House about Afghanistan before Trump fired him.

The New York Times: Christopher Krebs Hasn’t Been Fired, Yet.

Have a nice weekend, Sky Dancers!

 


Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

244896_rgb_768Dakinikat survived Hurricane Zeta and got her power back this morning. I heard the storm also hit Georgia pretty hard; its now headed for North Carolina. I hope you’re safe if you’re in Zeta’s path.

In just five days, voting in the long 2020 election will draw to a close. Joe Biden looks likely to win; but we still have to navigate voter suppression (AKA cheating) by the Trump campaign and the GOP, aided by the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the possibility that Trump will try to use the Court to overturn the election results if he loses. Nothing less than the health and safety of the American people will depend on the outcome.

Ed Yong at The Atlantic: America Is About to Choose How Bad the Pandemic Will Get.

In the 2020 election, on top of every routine test of character and capability, the candidates must answer the challenge the coronavirus has brought to this country. Trump’s response has been so lax as to effectively cede the country to a virus whose spread is controllable. He has, by his own admission, repeatedly downplayed the threat after he became aware of how dangerous the new coronavirus could be. He caught the virus himself and seems to have learned nothing from the encounter….

As November nears, the coronavirus is surging again, with cases rising to record-breaking heights for the third time. To control the pandemic, changes are necessary, but Trump has proved that he does not learn from his mistakes—perhaps the most costly of his failings. If he is reelected, he will continue on the same path, and so will the coronavirus. More Americans will be sickened, disabled, and killed. Donald Trump is unchanging; the election offers an opportunity for the country to change instead.

Nick Anderson cartoonThe near-term future is already set. Trump has repeated the lie that numbers are spiking because the U.S. tests extensively; in fact, the climbing cases have far outpaced the rise in testing, and are due instead to the rapidly spreading virus. Thanksgiving and Christmas are approaching. Several generations of family members will gather in indoor spaces for prolonged periods of close proximity and spirited conversation—the very conditions in which the coronavirus most readily spreads….

As I wrote last month, there is a real risk that Americans will become habituated to this horror, and that COVID-19 will become another unacceptable thing that the U.S. learns to accept. That is all but inevitable if Trump wins a second term. His administration has given no indication that it will dramatically change its strategy. If anything, it has doubled down. It is allowing the virus to freely spread among younger people in the hopes of reaching herd immunity—an unfeasible strategy that has been widely panned by the scientific community. Such a strategy could leave millions dead, and many others with chronic illness.

It’s quite clear now that Trump has decided to let the virus run rampant, believing falsely that this will lead to “herd immunity.”

The Daily Beast: Trump’s COVID Advisers: He’s Now Pushing Herd Immunity.

Despite publicly downplaying it, President Donald Trump and his team of White House advisers have embraced the controversial belief that herd immunity will help control the COVID-19 outbreak, according to three senior health officials working with the White House coronavirus task force. More worrisome for those officials: they have begun taking steps to turn the concept into policy.

lk102820daprOfficials say that White House adviser Scott Atlas first started pushing herd immunity this past summer despite significant pushback from scientists, doctors and infectious disease experts that the concept was dangerous and would result in far more Americans getting sick and dying. Since then, various White House advisers have tried to play down the idea that the administration has implemented a strategy for COVID-19 based on herd immunity, which holds that if enough people contract a disease and become immune from it, then future spread among the broader population will be reduced.

Trump and Atlas publicly claim that they aren’t pushing this disastrous strategy, but it’s pretty clear that’s what’s happening. Experts say the policy could lead to between 2 and 5 million deaths in the U.S. In addition, many people who survive the Covid-19 develop long-term health problems.

Though Atlas insists he has not pushed “herd immunity,” another official said Atlas actually began advocating for the concept—and the president became receptive to it—at the same time as task force officials were being sidelined from conversations about how the administration planned to handle what many predicted would be a difficult fall season. Since then, officials said, the White House has been largely focused on getting a vaccine out to the American people and has left the fight against the community spread to one task force official: Dr. Deborah Birx. Birx, the White House task force coordinator, has been on the road for months trying to convince Americans to wear masks and social distance.In her absence, and with the task force meeting less regularly, Atlas has thrived as a presidential confidant.

244866_rgb_768“This is all Atlas,” said one of the officials who spoke with The Daily Beast. “I find it disturbing… bordering on ludicrous. Everything that comes out of Atlas’ mouth is geared towards letting it rip and then just worry about protecting the vulnerable. Everything he says points to the fact that he believes herd immunity is a good option. Yet he denies he’s pushing herd immunity as a strategy saying ‘No that’s not what I’m doing.’ But he is.”

The New York Times: Trump’s Closing Argument on Virus Clashes With Science, and Voters’ Lives.

As an immense new surge in coronavirus cases sweeps the country, President Trump is closing his re-election campaign by pleading with voters to ignore the evidence of a calamity unfolding before their eyes and trust his word that the disease is already disappearing as a threat to their personal health and economic well being.

The president has continued to declare before large and largely maskless crowds that the virus is vanishing, even as case counts soar, fatalities climb, the stock market dips and a fresh outbreak grips the staff of Vice President Mike Pence. Hopping from one state to the next, he has made a personal mantra out of declaring that the country is “rounding the corner.”

Mr. Trump has attacked Democratic governors and other local officials for keeping public-health restrictions in place, denouncing them as needless restraints on the economy. And venting self-pity, the president has been describing the pandemic as a political hindrance inflicted on him by a familiar adversary.

“With the fake news, everything is Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” Mr. Trump complained at a rally in Omaha on Tuesday, chiding the news media and pointing to his own recovery from the illness to downplay its gravity: “I had it. Here I am, right?” [….]

cb102720daprAs a political matter, the president’s approach amounts to an Obi Wan-like attempt to wave his hand before the electorate and tell voters that they are not experiencing a pandemic that is tearing through their neighborhoods and filling hospitals. His determination to brush aside the ongoing crisis as a campaign issue has become the defining choice of his bid for a second term and the core of his message throughout the campaign’s endgame.

This kind of insanity only works with Trump’s brainwashed cult followers. It really does look like Biden will win by a lot, although I won’t be able to let myself believe it until the votes are counted.

Vox: Exclusive: Biden leads Trump by 12 points in a national UT Dallas poll.

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by more than 10 points in a national poll by researchers at the University of Texas Dallas. Fielded a few weeks prior to Election Day, the poll is among recent ones finding Biden with a steady lead.

The results, which are part of UT Dallas’s Cometrends survey, found Biden with 56 percent support and Trump with 44 percent support.

The poll — which included 2,500 respondents — is one of several recent surveys showing Biden ahead of Trump at the national level. It was fielded online between October 13 and October 26, with many of the responses coming in by October 17. The survey has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, and its results included a broad sample of respondents that have not been weighted for likely voters.

Overall, the survey finds broader support for Biden from some demographic groups than former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton received in 2016 exit polls. Among both men and white respondents overall, in particular, Biden’s backing in the UT Dallas survey is stronger. Fifty-four percent of men in the poll say they back Biden, compared to 41 percent who said they supported Clinton in a 2016 exit poll. Similarly, 44 percent of white respondents say they back Biden, compared to 37 percent who said they supported Clinton.

Read the rest at Vox.

244698_rgb_768Toluse Olorunnipa at The Washington Post: As Election Day nears, Trump ponders becoming one thing he so despises: A loser.

Trailing in the polls and with little time left to change the trajectory or closing themes of the presidential race, President Trump has spent the final days of the campaign complaining that the coronavirus crisis is getting too much coverage — and openly musing about losing.

Trump has publicly lamented about what a loss would mean, spoken longingly of riding off into the sunset and made unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud could cost him the election. He has sarcastically threatened to fire state officials if he doesn’t win and excoriated his rival Joe Biden as someone it would be particularly embarrassing to lose to.

“If I lose, I will have lost to the worst candidate, the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics,” Trump said at an Oct. 17 campaign rally in Janesville, Wis. “If I lose, what do I do? I’d rather run against somebody who’s extraordinarily talented, at least, this way I can go and lead my life.”

The president, who said at the same rally that “we’re not going to lose, we’re going to win,” has certainly not abandoned his showman’s approach to the campaign trail. But his unscripted remarks bemoaning a potential loss — and preemptively explaining why he might suffer one — offer a window into his mind-set as he barnstorms the country in an attempt to keep himself from becoming the one thing he so derisively despises: a loser.

Trump has told rallygoers he had the presidential race won until the pandemic hit, and he has accused media outlets of focusing on the ongoing health crisis to hurt him politically.

Read more at the WaPo.

Trump has also suggested at his rallies that he might have to leave the country if he loses. This is pretty wild but, at this point, anything is possible:


Lazy Caturday Reads: Winter Is Coming

Good Afternoon!!

Scholastica-Full-Moon-spooky-forest-with-black-cats-woodcut-1931-M.-C.-Escher-2

M.C. Escher woodcut, 1931

The coronavirus pandemic is getting worse as colder weather and the holidays approach. Here in Massachusetts, we are seeing more new cases every day, after months of holding steady against the virus. In many states, cases and deaths are rising at an even more alarming pace.

Meanwhile, Trump happily makes things even worse with  his daily superspreader rallies. If we can’t get rid of this horrible man, he is going to kill millions of Americans and reduce our country to rubble.

I just finished reading a fascinating book about Trump’s rallies, Liar’s Circus: A Strange and Terrifying Journey Into the Upside-Down World of Trump’s MAGA Rallies, by Carl Hoffman. It’s sort of a sociological/anthropological investigation into the phenomenon. I want to quote a paragraph from the last chapter:

…what was occurring at Trump’s rallies showed Trump’s narcissism and his urgent need to rule, which ultimately differed little from any other autocrat who’d risen to power. He had to win, had to have complete loyalty. He had no choice but to kill everyone else and survive over a battlefield of the dead and all of those sycophants on the stage [Republican political leaders] were letting him. They had submitted and kept on submitting, and if nothing got in his way, he would keep winning, winning, winning, until the whole system, the whole structure of American law and culture and politics was his to wield, his to control. It couldn’t be any other way. There was no other option. Trump didn’t believe in moral goodness or a higher God or the Constitution or democracy. If he wasn’t kept in check, Trump would destroy American because he couldn’t stop himself.

Hoffman argues that the rise of Trump is proof once and for all that “American exceptionalism” is a myth. We are just as vulnerable to authoritarian takeover as any other country. We have just 10 days left to stop Trump. But even if he loses the election, he will still have until January 20 to damage our government and aid and abet the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans from a virus that he chose not to deal with. I don’t know what is going to happen; I only hope we can begin stop him with our votes on November 3.

The Latest on the Pandemic:

The Washington Post: America hits highest daily number of coronavirus cases since pandemic began.

America on Friday hit its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, recording at least 82,600 new infections and surpassing the previous record set during the summertime surge of cases across the Sun Belt.

Katzen-Jankel-Adler-1927

Katzen, by Jankel Adler, 1937

The rising numbers put the nation on the precipice of what could be its worst stretch to date in the pandemic with some hospitals in the West and Midwest already overwhelmed and death counts beginning to rise.

The current surge is considerably more widespread than the waves from last summer and spring. The unprecedented geographic spread of the current surge makes it more dangerous, with experts warning it could lead to dire shortages of medical staff and supplies. Already, hospitals are reporting shortfalls of basic drugs needed to treat covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

And it’s not simply a matter of increased testing identifying more cases. Covid-19 hospitalizations increased in 38 states over the past week. The number of deaths nationally has crested above 1,000 in recent days.

The last time the country hit a new daily record for coronavirus cases — 76,533 on July 17 — just four states accounted for more than 40,000 of those cases: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, according to a Washington Post analysis.

On Friday, 11 states accounted for that same lion’s share of cases. And in the past two weeks, 24 states have broken their records for single-day highs of cases.

More than 170 counties across 36 states were designated rapidly rising hotspots, according to an internal federal report produced Thursday for officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and obtained by The Post.

The New York Times: Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.

Jankel Adler, woman and two cats

Jankel Adler, woman and two cats

At least 925 new coronavirus deaths and 85,085 new cases were reported in the United States on Oct. 23. Over the past week, there have been an average of 64,257 cases per day, an increase of 34 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

As of Saturday morning, more than 8,540,300 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 223,900 have died, according to a New York Times database.

Case numbers in the United States are rising rapidly as states in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains struggle to control major outbreaks, and as new hotspots emerge elsewhere in the country.

The national trajectory is only worsening. Wisconsin has opened a field hospital. North Dakota, which not long ago had relatively few cases, now has the most per capita in the country. And across the rural West, states like Alaska, Wyoming and Montana that had long escaped the worst of the pandemic have seen case numbers soar to alarming new records.

Deaths, though still well below their peak spring levels, averaged around 700 per day by mid October, far more than were reported in early July.

There’s lots of good information and maps at the NYT link.

Reuters: U.S. faces half a million COVID-19 deaths by end-February, study finds.

 More than a half million people in the United States could die from COVID-19 by the end of February, but around 130,000 of those lives could be saved if everybody were to wear masks, according to estimates from a modelling study on Friday.

The estimates by researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed that with few effective COVID-19 treatment options and no vaccines yet available, the United States faces “a continued COVID-19 public health challenge through the winter.”

“We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge,” said IHME Director Chris Murray, who co-led the research.

He said the projections, as well as currently rising infection rates and deaths, showed there is no basis to “the idea that the pandemic is going away,” adding: “We do not believe that is true.”

Odysseus-and-Calypso-Max-Beckmann-1943

Odysseus and Calypso, Max-Beckmann, 1943

USA Today: Trump’s campaign made stops nationwide. Coronavirus cases surged in his wake in at least five places.

The president has participated in nearly three dozen rallies since mid-August, all but two at airport hangars. A USA TODAY analysis shows COVID-19 cases grew at a faster rate than before after at least five of those rallies in the following counties: Blue Earth, Minnesota; Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Marathon, Wisconsin; Dauphin, Pennsylvania; and Beltrami, Minnesota.

Together, those counties saw 1,500 more new cases in the two weeks following Trump’s rallies than the two weeks before – 9,647 cases, up from 8,069. 

Although there’s no way to determine definitively if cases originated at Trump’s rallies, public health experts say the gatherings fly in the face of all recommendations to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

USA TODAY reviewed coronavirus case counts in the counties where Trump attended rallies starting from mid-August through mid-October. The news organization examined the rate of increase in virus cases for the two weeks before and after campaign events. For rallies occurring within the past two weeks, not enough time has passed to draw conclusions.

Public health officials additionally have linked 16 cases, including two hospitalizations, with the rally in Beltrami County, Minnesota, and one case with the rally in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Outside of the counties identified by USA TODAY with a greater case increase after rallies, officials identified four cases linked to Trump rallies. 

Presidential Campaign Reads:

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The electoral map is very weird right now.

Max Beckmann, Self portrait with cat and lamp

Max Beckmann, Self portrait with cat and lamp

You will be unsurprised to learn that, according to a poll released on Friday by the New York Times and Siena College, President Trump leads former vice president Joe Biden in Montana. Montana is almost definitionally red, part of the phalanx of Republican states that’s draped over the western Plains and Rocky Mountains.

You might be surprised, though, to learn the margin of Trump’s lead. It’s only seven points, which, if that margin were to hold until Election Day, would represent a 13-point swing away from Trump relative to his 2016 support.

More remarkably, that’s as narrow a race as the pollsters measured in both Michigan and Wisconsin, states Trump won by tiny margins four years ago. In Michigan, the Times-Siena poll had Biden up eight points; in Wisconsin, he was up 10….

The state that’s closest at the moment is — Texas. If Joe Biden wins Texas, it’s over.

But it doesn’t get less weird. Georgia, Iowa and Ohio — which Trump won in 2016 by five, nine and eight points, respectively — are the next three closest states. What’s more, Biden leads in the first two.

Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

Politico: Paranoia and finger-pointing in Trumpworld as election approaches.

President Donald Trump’s top advisers have plunged into a bitter round of finger-pointing and blame-shifting ahead of an increasingly likely defeat.

Cats on the Veranda, Pierre Bonnard

Cats on the Veranda, Pierre Bonnard

Accusations are flying in all directions and about all manner of topics — from allegedly questionable spending decisions by former campaign manager Brad Parscale, to how White House chief of staff Mark Meadows handled Trump’s hospitalization for Covid-19, to skepticism that TV ads have broken through. Interviews with nearly a dozen Trump aides, campaign advisers and Republican officials also surfaced accusations that the president didn’t take fundraising seriously enough and that the campaign undermined its effort to win over seniors by casting Democrat Joe Biden as senile.

Finger-pointing is a common feature of campaigns that think they’re losing, but it’s happening at an uncommon level in this campaign. Shifting responsibility has been a staple of the Trump presidency — and his lieutenants are now following suit.

Tim Alberta at Politico Magazine: The Unspectacular Excellence of Joe Biden’s Slow and Steady Campaign.

The reasons I expected Biden to get mauled by the likes of Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are exactly the reasons he outlasted them all.

The reasons I wondered how he would fare against Donald Trump are exactly the reasons he outperformed the president in each of their two debates.

Biden is slow. He is steady. He is unspectacular. In other words, he is what much of the electorate seems to want.

The-Poet-or-Half-Past-Three-748x1024

The Poet or Half Past Three, Marc Chagall

On Thursday night, two years after he stepped to that lectern in Lansing, Biden climbed down tiredly from the stage in Nashville. Over the previous 90 minutes, he had put the finishing touches on a campaign that was crafted in defiance of every expectation placed upon him and his party since Trump took office. I would call Biden’s performance in the final debate an exclamation mark—except there is nothing exclamatory about his candidacy. He has run, objectively speaking, one of the most monotonous and predictable and uneventful campaigns for president in recent memory. And it has been nothing short of superb. Now, with Biden on the brink of a historic victory, it’s worth understanding what has been right about his campaign—not simply what has been wrong with Trump’s.

The Democratic nominee was at it again Thursday night, plodding along at a comfortable pace, reciting methodically rehearsed responses, never losing his composure or abandoning his message. It was telling that the lone error Biden supposedly committed—pledging to transition the country away from reliance on oil—is something he has discussed regularly over the past 18 months.

Read the rest at Politico.

Sarah Jones at New York Magazine: Focus Group Slams Trump for No Empathy in Final Presidential Debate.

Analysts and pundits are praising President Trump for turning in a more “restrained” performance at this year’s final presidential debate. Though it’s true the president presented a calmer façade, at least in comparison to his last, fractious appearance next to Joe Biden, that’s likely the result of the threat of a muted mic and skillful moderation from NBC’s Kristen Welker. The president may have shouted less, but when he spoke, he was exactly the same person he’s always been: self-focused and callous, obsessed with conspiracy theories and prone to lie. Do voters really want four more years of Trump’s act? We won’t know for a little while longer, but public opinion doesn’t favor him.

Three-Cats-with-Bowls-of-Milk-Gertrude-Abercrombie

Three Cats with Bowls of Milk, Gertrude Abercrombie

A focus group convened by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg showed a decisive edge for Biden in the debate, who was rewarded for his empathy compared to Trump. Greenberg surveyed 150 voters from diverse backgrounds for live dial tests commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers. As usual, Greenberg and his team measured the attitudes of a diverse focus group before, during, and after the debate. “Looking at the pre- and post-results, I think that was actually a disastrous debate for Trump,” he told Intelligencer on Wednesday morning. Over 60 percent of his focus group gave Biden an A or B rating; Trump languished far behind, with the percentage of voters giving him the same A or B rating staying firmly in the 30s. Biden also increased his favorability rating twice as much as Trump did, Greenberg added.

Biden performed particularly well on measures testing his appeal to the middle class. “We have an eight point increase on improving things for the middle class,” Greenberg said, a result that builds on Biden’s previous strong postdebate performance on the same question. On the subject of health care, Biden gained five points on Trump, evidence that the president’s doom-mongering over “socialized medicine” didn’t persuade anyone who wasn’t already a Trump loyalist. To Greenberg, Biden’s strength on health care shows that “people are actually looking for change, help.”

Have a great weekend, and I hope you’ll check in with us if you have the time an inclination.