Lazy Caturday Reads

Goddess, Hunter, Consort, Thief, by Peter Paul Rubens, 16th Century

Goddess, Hunter, Consort, Thief, by Peter Paul Rubens, 16th Century

Happy Caturday!!

The Supreme Court is in the news and not in a good way. You know about John Roberts’ failed “investigation” into the leak of the draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but did you know about the secret documentary on Brett Kavanaugh? Here’s the latest:

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Supreme Court’s Inquiry Into Leak Included Interviews With Justices.

The Supreme Court’s internal investigation into who leaked a draft of the opinion last year overturning the landmark decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion included talking to all nine justices, the marshal of the court said on Friday.

But the justices — unlike dozens of law clerks and permanent employees of the court — were not made to sign sworn affidavits attesting that they had not been involved in the leak of the draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade and that they knew nothing about it.

The clarification by the marshal, Gail A. Curley, who oversaw the inquiry, followed widespread speculation over its scope and limitations. In a 20-page report on Thursday, Ms. Curley disclosed that the investigation had not turned up the source of the leak while leaving ambiguous whether it had extended to interviewing the justices themselves.

“During the course of the investigation, I spoke with each of the justices, several on multiple occasions,” Ms. Curley said on Friday. “The justices actively cooperated in this iterative process, asking questions and answering mine.”

She added: “I followed up on all credible leads, none of which implicated the justices or their spouses. On this basis, I did not believe that it was necessary to ask the justices to sign sworn affidavits.”

Ms. Curley did not indicate whether she searched the justices’ court-issued electronic devices and asked them to turn over personal devices and cellphone records, as she did with other personnel. She also did not address whether she had interviewed any of the justices’ spouses, another question that arose after her report was made public.

It wasn’t much of an investigation if even Gini Thomas was not questioned, and the most likely suspects–the right wing justices– weren’t required to sign affidavits. But no one really expected Roberts to do a serious investigation when he won’t even deal with the justices’ political activities and conflicts of interest. What a weakling he is.

On to the Kavanagh documentary. 

The Guardian: ‘I hope this triggers outrage’: surprise Brett Kavanaugh documentary premieres at Sundance.

A secretly made documentary expanding on allegations of sexual assault against supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh has premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival.

four-year-old girl with cat, by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1647

Four year old girl with cat, by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1647

Justice, a last-minute addition to the schedule, aims to shine a light not only on the women who have accused Kavanaugh, a Donald Trump nominee, but also the failed FBI investigation into the allegations.

“I do hope this triggers outrage,” said producer Amy Herdy in a Q&A after the premiere in Park City, Utah. “I do hope that this triggers action, I do hope that this triggers additional investigation with real subpoena powers.”

The film provides a timeline of the allegations, initially that Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault when she was 15 and he 17. She alleged that he held her down on a bed and groped her, and tried to rip her clothes off before she got away. Kavanaugh was also accused of sexual misconduct by Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that he exposed himself and thrust his penis at her face without her consent at a college party.

About the film:

The first scene features Ford, half off-camera, interviewed by the film’s director Doug Liman, whose credits include Mr and Mrs Smith and The Bourne Identity. Justice features a number of interviews with journalists, lawyers, psychologists and those who knew Ford and Ramirez.

“This was the kind of movie where people are terrified,” Liman said. “The people that chose to participate in the movie are heroes.”

In the film, Ramirez, who previously told her story to Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, also shares her story on-camera. Ramirez is referred to as someone “they worked hard for people not to know”, her story never given the space it deserved until long after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court in October 2018….

The film then details how the circles around Ramirez and Kavanaugh responded, showing text messages of a discussion when Ramirez’s allegations were about to go public, of a mutual friend being asked by Kavanaugh to go on record to defend him. Another friend refers to it as “a cover-up”.

The New Yorker included a statement from a group of students at the time in support of Kavanaugh. A year later, the film shows that two of them emailed the New Yorker to remove their names from the statement.

Ramirez’s lawyers claim they contacted Republican senator Jeff Flake, who was involved in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, to explain what happened to her. The next day Flake called to delay the confirmation and insist on a week-long FBI investigation.

But the film details how the FBI failed to call on the many witnesses recommended by Ramirez’s lawyers. Footage is shown of the film-makers meeting with a confidential source who plays tape of Kavanaugh’s classmate Max Stier, now a prominent figure in Washington running a non-profit, who allegedly witnessed Kavanaugh involved in a similar act of alleged drunken exposure with a female student at a dorm party at Yale. The woman has chosen to remain anonymous and this is the first time this recording has been heard.

Read more details at the link. You can also check out this piece at The Hollywood Reporter: How Doug Liman Directed a Brett Kavanaugh FBI Investigation Doc in Secret.

Some January 6 investigation news:

Politico: The House’s legal lieutenant in its Trump wars speaks out — about Jan. 6 and more.

While Congress’ biggest Donald Trump antagonists are household names to political junkies — think Liz Cheney, Adam Schiff, Jamie Raskin — there’s a lesser-known Trump adversary who may have been more effective than the others: Doug Letter.

Hans_Asper_Portrait of Cleophea Krieg von Bellikon, 1499-1671

Portrait of Cleopea Krieg von Bellikon, 1499-1671, by Hans Asper

The former House general counsel was involved in every political brawl between House Democrats and Trump that has defined Washington politics for the past four years. Letter helped guide the work of the Jan. 6 select committee, played a critical role in both Trump impeachments and strategized the certification of Joe Biden’s win — before violent rioters upended those plans on Jan. 6, 2021….

In a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO, the House’s former top attorney described his tenure battling a former president who tested the limits of executive power at every turn, resisting efforts at accountability in ways that previous chief executives had not. But he has faith that his work helped to stem future presidential attempts to push constitutional boundaries, lending more power to lawmakers.

“I just feel like the Biden administration and future administrations are not going to act like the Trump administration,” Letter said. “They’re not going to show such ignorance of our system and think that the executive branch can ignore the legislative branch. That’s not the way it works.”

Doug Letter on January 6:

Letter was returning to the House floor from some basement vending machines when he ran into Speaker Nancy Pelosi being whisked from the Capitol under heavy guard. Don’t go back up there, one official told him. An angry mob had breached the building.

But Letter, in a panic, said he had to retrieve several giant binders that were full of sensitive strategy and scripts for the day’s proceedings. He opted to forgo evacuating with Pelosi and instead raced back to the chamber.

“I was the last person in before they locked the doors,” Letter recalled.

The attack on the Capitol led to the Jan. 6 select committee, where the House’s then-top attorney charted a legal strategy that Letter now describes as one of the hallmarks of his tenure.

Through his work on that panel, Letter secured at least two streams of information that became a core element of the committee’s voluminous findings: Trump’s confidential White House records and the Chapman University emails of attorney John Eastman, an architect of the then-president’s bid to subvert the 2020 election.

Letter also won court fights to obtain telephone records from Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward, who took part in Trump world’s plan to send false electors to Congress. And he helped direct the House’s strategy to hold certain Trump advisers in contempt of Congress, which resulted in prosecutions of Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon.

“We had a whole enormous number of people that, as we now know, were putting together this massive, not just a conspiracy, but a whole bunch of conspiracies, to attack our democracy,” Letter said.

Read the rest at Politico.

Joseph Goodhue Chandler, American folk art

Joseph Goodhue Chandler, American folk art

As you know, I went to a meeting in my over-60 apartment building awhile back. Most of the people there weren’t wearing masks. I came down with something a few days later, and it dragged on for weeks. I thought others here in the building were being careful too, but I was wrong. We haven’t talked much about Covid-19 on the blog lately, but yesterday I read this article that really angered me, and I want to share it with you. 

Slate: Billionaires at Davos Don’t Think COVID Is a Cold.

In photos of 2023’s World Economic Forum—or Davos as it is commonly called, after the Swiss resort town where it annually occurs—you might not notice the HEPA filters. They’re in the background, unobtrusive and unremarked upon, quietly cleansing the air of viruses and bacteria. You wouldn’t know—not unless you asked—that every attendee was PCR tested before entering the forum, or that in the case of a positive test, access was automatically, electronically, revoked. The folks on stage aren’t sporting masks (mostly), so unless you looked at the official Davos Health & Safety protocol, you wouldn’t be aware that their on-site drivers are required to wear them. You also might be surprised to learn that if, at any point, you start to feel ill at Davos, you can go collect a free rapid test, or even call their dedicated COVID hotline.

It’s hard to square this information with the public narrative about COVID, isn’t it? President Joe Biden has called the pandemic “over.” The New York Timesrecently claimed that “the risk of Covid is similar to that of the flu” in an article about “hold outs” that are annoyingly refusing to accept continual reinfection as their “new normal.” Yet, this week the richest people in the world are taking common sense, easy—but strict—precautions to ensure they don’t catch COVID-19 at Davos.

In addition to high-quality ventilation, masks, hotlines and PCR testing, some have noted the signature blue glow of Far-UVC lighting, demonstrated to kill pathogens in the air, although this is unconfirmed. We can be certain, however, that the testing, high-quality ventilation, and filtration protocol is effective at preventing the kind of super-spreader events most of us are now accustomed to attending.

t seems unlikely to me that a New York Times reporter will follow the super-rich around like David Attenborough on safari, the way one of their employees did when they profiled middle-class maskers last month. I doubt they will write “family members and friends can get a little exasperated by the hyper-concern” about the assembled prime ministers, presidents, and CEOs in Switzerland. After all, these are important people. The kind of people who merit high-quality ventilation. The kind of people who deserve accurate tests.

Why is the media so hellbent on portraying simple, scientifically proven measures like masking—in environments absent of high-quality ventilation, full of people who do not have easy and consistent access to tests—as ridiculous and unnecessary as hundreds of people continue to die daily here in the U.S.?

Why is the public accepting a “new normal” where we are expected to get infected over and over and over again, at work events with zero precautions, on airplanes with no masks, and at social dinners trying to approximate our 2019 normal?

Very good questions. I guess the rich are entitled to protection, but the rest of us can just get sick and die for all they care. I hope you’ll go read the whole article at Slate.

Finally, a couple of articles about the upcoming fight over the debt limit:

CNN: Yellen warns of ‘global financial crisis’ if US debt limit agreement isn’t reached.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday warned of the widespread global effects that could be felt if the federal government exhausts extraordinary measures and fails to raise the debt ceiling, telling CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the ways everyday Americans could face stark consequences.

Yellen’s warning comes after the United States on Thursday hit its $31.4 trillion debt limit set by Congress, forcing the Treasury Department to start taking extraordinary measures to keep the government paying its bills.

Still Life with Fighting Cats, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Flemish painter

Still Life with Fighting Cats, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Flemish painter

While those newly deployed extraordinary measures are largely behind-the-scenes accounting maneuvers, Yellen told Amanpour that “the actual date at which we would no longer be able to use these measures is quite uncertain, but it could conceivably come as early as early June.”

Speaking exclusively to CNN from Senegal, Yellen said that after the measures are exhausted, the US could experience at a minimum downgrading of its debt as a result of Congress failing to raise the debt ceiling. The effects of the federal government failing to make payments, she argued, could be as broad as a “global financial crisis.”

“If that happened, our borrowing costs would increase and every American would see that their borrowing costs would increase as well,” Yellen said. “On top of that, a failure to make payments that are due, whether it’s the bondholders or to Social Security recipients or to our military, would undoubtedly cause a recession in the US economy and could cause a global financial crisis.”

“It would certainly undermine the role of the dollar as a reserve currency that is used in transactions all over the world. And Americans – many people would lose their jobs and certainly their borrowing costs would rise,” she continued.

Read more at CNN.

The Washington Post: Biden aides want to force GOP to abandon debt limit threats.

Shortly after last year’s midterm elections, a senior congressional Democrat called White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and asked how the administration planned to prevent the new Republican House majority from using the debt ceiling — and the threat of a default that could wreck the economy — to force spending cuts.

Klain said the White House’s plan was straightforward, according to the lawmaker: Refuse to entertain any concessions, and launch a barrage of attacks highlighting the GOP position that would force Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to fold.

“This debate is simple: We want to do the responsible thing, and they want to take the entire American economy hostage to cut Social Security and Medicare,” said the member of Congress, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. Klain told the lawmaker that the fight could result in substantial political benefits for the Democratic Party. “The point he was making was clear: You can’t negotiate with people who take hostages.”

Felis Syriacus Ulisse Aldrovani (1522-1605), by Vintage Lavoie

Felis Syriacus Ulisse Aldrovani (1522-1605), by Vintage Lavoie

But the question remains what the administration will do if Republicans won’t raise the debt limit without negotiations.

House Republicans have increasingly signaled that they will force a showdown with the administration over the nation’s debt ceiling, which sets a statutory limit on how much the federal government can borrow….

Many GOP lawmakers have said that they will not approve a debt ceiling increase without cuts to spending programs that the Biden administration has vowed to protect, creating an impasse with no clear resolution.

…[A]dministration officials [have] conclude[d], at least for now, that the only viable path is to press Republicans to abandon their demands to extract policy concessions over the debt limit — a position they have publicly reaffirmed in recent weeks. The Biden administration is focused on pressing the GOP to unveil a debt limit plan that includes spending cuts, with the hope that such a proposal will prove so divisive among Republicans that they are forced to abandon brinkmanship. This strategy stems in part from the belief among White House officials that it would be enormously risky either to negotiate policy with the GOP on the debt limit or try to solve it via executive order — and they appear willing to put that premise to the test.

How about having Biden and surrogates travel around the country educating voters about the consequences of either letting Republican crash the economy or letting them destroy Social Security and Medicare? Just a thought.

What are your thoughts about all this? What other stories do you recommend?


Finally Friday Reads: Professional Cult Member and wife of Supreme Sex Pest Speaks to the J6 Committee

Good Morning Sky Dancers! 

Must be nice to be rich and powerful enough to live in your own private reality and be allowed on public streets. Ginnie Thomas stuck to her QAnon vision of life while testifying to the January 6 Committee yesterday. We don’t have much information on it, but it sounds delusional.  This is from the New York Times: “Ginni Thomas Denies Discussing Election Subversion Efforts With Her Husband. In a closed-door interview with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, Ms. Thomas reiterated her false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald J. Trump.”  I’m just wondering how many committee members were snickering during these statements. The analysis is by Luke Broadwater and Stephanie Lai.

In a statement she read at the beginning of her testimony, Ms. Thomas denied having discussed her postelection activities with her husband.

In her statement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Ms. Thomas called it “an ironclad rule” that she and Justice Thomas never speak about cases pending before the Supreme Court. “It is laughable for anyone who knows my husband to think I could influence his jurisprudence — the man is independent and stubborn, with strong character traits of independence and integrity,” she added.

The interview ended months of negotiations between the committee and Ms. Thomas over her testimony. The committee’s investigators had grown particularly interested in her communications with John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who was in close contact with Mr. Trump and wrote a memo that Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans have likened to a blueprint for a coup.

“At this point, we’re glad she came,” Mr. Thompson said.

After Ms. Thomas’s appearance on Thursday, her lawyer Mark Paoletta said she had been “happy to cooperate with the committee to clear up the misconceptions about her activities surrounding the 2020 elections.”

“She answered all the committee’s questions,” Mr. Paoletta said in a statement. “As she has said from the outset, Mrs. Thomas had significant concerns about fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election. And, as she told the committee, her minimal and mainstream activity focused on ensuring that reports of fraud and irregularities were investigated. Beyond that, she played no role in any events after the 2020 election results. As she wrote in a text to Mark Meadows at the time, she also condemned the violence on Jan. 6, as she abhors violence on any side of the aisle.”

I still can’t forget how unhinged those texts were to Mark Meadows, who is likely in more trouble than anyone else.  Still, I can’t believe she didn’t discuss this with her husband. I also think more will come from Thomas’ role in the fake electors’ scheme.

The GOP is pouring lots of money into primaries where gerrymandering and the pattern of the out-party in midterms should be helping.  But is it?  Nate Cohn of the New York Times argues that structurally, the Republicans have the momentum. But can this hold given the number of extremists on the ballots and the ongoing legal troubles of its defacto lead, Orange Caligula? Cohn offers this analysis: “Gerrymandering Isn’t Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect. Yes, the G.O.P. has a structural edge in the House, but it isn’t anything near insurmountable for Democrats.”

Now, Mr. Biden won the national vote by 4.5 percentage points, so even a map that’s biased toward Republicans might still have more Biden districts than Trump districts. But the simple fact that Mr. Biden won the most districts is a clear enough indication that the Republican advantage in the House isn’t totally insurmountable.

To account for Mr. Biden’s victory in 2020, a somewhat better — though more complex — measure is needed: a comparison between how districts voted and how the nation as a whole voted. If Mr. Biden won a district by more than he did nationally, it might be said to be a district where Democrats have the advantage if the national vote is tied. On a perfectly fair map, half the districts would lean toward Democrats with respect to the nation, while half would vote for Mr. Trump or vote for Mr. Biden by less than 4.5 points. And on this perfectly fair map, the district right in the middle — the median district — would have voted for Mr. Biden by 4.5 points, just like the nation.

Theo Van Rysselberghe, Bathers On The Rocks, 1920

Phillip Bump has one explanation: “A new reminder that candidate quality matters.”  This opinion is in the Washington Post. The Trumpiest candidates are winning many Republican Primaries and are a way to the right and as delusional as Ginnie Thomas.

What’s apparent at this point, just over a month before voting ends in the 2022 midterm elections, is that nearly any national outcome is possible. FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of the state of play figures there’s about a 3 in 10 chance that Republicans win the House and Senate, about a 3 in 10 chance that the Democrats win both, and about a 4 in 10 chance that the parties split the two (Democrats, Senate; Republicans, House).

For all of the elevation of the importance of these elections, the field appears to remain fairly even. Or, perhaps, it’s because of the elevation of importance that it does. There are two reasons that a tug-of-war rope remains over the center point: No one is pulling at all, or both sides are pulling very hard.

This big-picture perspective, though, blurs the fact that overall patterns are dependent on individual races. And a spate of new polls conducted for Fox News by its bipartisan polling team shows, in essence, the importance of picking viable candidates in the first place.

The new polls evaluate the state of play in four states that are electing both governors and senators this year: ArizonaGeorgiaPennsylvania and Wisconsin. The widest overall margin is in the Pennsylvania governor’s race, where Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) leads state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) by 11 points. The closest race is in Wisconsin, where Gov. Tony Evers (D) earns the same level of support as his challenger, businessman Tim Michels (R). Generally, the picture is consistent: These races are too close to be able to identify a clear leader.

‘The Fragrance of a Bath’ (1930) by Itō Shinsui.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a bump in GOP Fundraising, from GOP  Billionaires.  This is from CNBC: “GOP billionaire donors direct cash to Senate leaders as Trump candidates lag Dems in fundraising.”

Republican megadonors want the GOP to take back the Senate, but they don’t have confidence that some of former President Donald Trump’s top picks can catapult their party to a victory in November.

Billionaire financiers Paul Singer, Dan Loeb and Larry Ellison have so far avoided donating directly to some or all of Trump’s staunchest allies running for Senate in the midterms: J.D. Vance in Ohio, Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Adam Laxalt in Nevada and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, according to Federal Election Commission records and people familiar with the billionaires’ donations.

All of those candidates have been endorsed by Trump. And many of them have previously sided with the former president on the false claims that the 2020 presidential election had widespread voter fraud — an accusation that’s been debunked by Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr, federal courts and several other top Republicans who served in Trump’s administration.

One GOP fundraiser said, “They would be lighting their money on fire if they got totally swayed by these candidates.” That strategist is advising clients to, instead, give to the super PAC closely aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — the Senate Leadership Fund — because “they have the best polls and they won’t sink money into races they know they can’t win.” The super PAC is run by Steven Law, McConnell’s former chief of staff.

Ad tracker AdImpact last week said that the Senate Leadership Fund has canceled the rest of its TV bookings in Arizona, a state where the campaign poll tracking website FiveThirtyEight shows Masters trailing Kelly by more than seven percentage points.

We have to take care of this campaign finance issue to maintain democracy. It is just one of the Republican’s fuckery with democracy.   Citizens United may prove one of the biggest hurdles to full inclusion in our democracy plus all the voting rights shenanigans by the Courts has been even worse. We have Justice Roberts to thank for a lot of that.

And, of course, while the rest of us are losing access to voting and bodily autonomy, let’s pity the poor little boys. If you want one of David Brooks’ most whiny pieces yet, try this one: “The Crisis of Men and Boys” at the New York Times, of course.

Richard V. Reeves’s new book, “Of Boys and Men,” is a landmark, one of the most important books of the year, not only because it is a comprehensive look at the male crisis, but also because it searches for the roots of that crisis and offers solutions.

I learned a lot I didn’t know. First, boys are much more hindered by challenging environments than girls. Girls in poor neighborhoods and unstable families may be able to climb their way out. Boys are less likely to do so. In Canada, boys born into the poorest households are twice as likely to remain poor as their female counterparts. In American schools, boys’ academic performance is more influenced by family background than girls’ performance. Boys raised by single parents have lower rates of college enrollment than girls raised by single parents.

Second, policies and programs designed to promote social mobility often work for women, but not men. Reeves, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, visited Kalamazoo, Mich., where, thanks to a donor, high school graduates get to go to many colleges in the state free. The program increased the number of women getting college degrees by 45 percent. The men’s graduation rates remained flat. Reeves lists a whole series of programs, from early childhood education to college support efforts, that produced impressive gains for women, but did not boost men.

Reeves has a series of policy proposals to address the crisis, the most controversial of which is redshirting boys — have them begin their schooling a year later than girls, because on average the prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum, which are involved in self-regulation, mature much earlier in girls than in boys.

There are many reasons men are struggling — for example, the decline in manufacturing jobs that put a high value on physical strength, and the rise of service sector jobs. But I was struck by the theme of demoralization that wafts through the book. Reeves talked to men in Kalamazoo about why women were leaping ahead. The men said that women are just more motivated, work harder, plan ahead better. Yet this is not a matter of individual responsibility. There is something in modern culture that is producing an aspiration gap.

Bathers, 1918 Pablo Picasso

I really didn’t want to include this but I think it’s important to understand just how entitled men are in this country. My experience in school was that the boys didn’t have to do much of anything but just show up. Maybe someone needs to tell them that participation trophies don’t count when you’ve got a lot of women and minorities motivated to succeed without them.

I thought I’d end with this Ed Yong article at The Atlantic about the legacy of the Covid -19 Pandemic. “All of this will happen again.”

American leaders and pundits have been trying to call an end to the pandemic since its beginning, only to be faced with new surges or variants. This mindset not only compromises the nation’s ability to manage COVID, but also leaves it vulnerable to other outbreaks. Future pandemics aren’t hypothetical; they’re inevitable and imminent. New infectious diseases have regularly emerged throughout recent decades, and climate change is quickening the pace of such events. As rising temperatures force animals to relocate, species that have never coexisted will meet, allowing the viruses within them to find new hosts—humans included. Dealing with all of this again is a matter of when, not if.

In 2018, I wrote an article in The Atlantic warning that the U.S. was not prepared for a pandemic. That diagnosis remains unchanged; if anything, I was too optimistic. America was ranked as the world’s most prepared country in 2019—and, bafflingly, again in 2021—but accounts for 16 percent of global COVID deaths despite having just 4 percent of the global population. It spends more on medical care than any other wealthy country, but its hospitals were nonetheless overwhelmed. It helped create vaccines in record time, but is 67th in the world in full vaccinations. (This trend cannot solely be attributed to political division; even the most heavily vaccinated blue state—Rhode Island—still lags behind 21 nations.) America experienced the largest life-expectancy decline of any wealthy country in 2020 and, unlike its peers, continued declining in 2021. If it had fared as well as just the average peer nation, 1.1 million people who died last year—a third of all American deaths—would still be alive.

America’s superlatively poor performance cannot solely be blamed on either the Trump or Biden administrations, although both have made egregious errors. Rather, the new coronavirus exploited the country’s many failing systems: its overstuffed prisons and understaffed nursing homes; its chronically underfunded public-health system; its reliance on convoluted supply chains and a just-in-time economy; its for-profit health-care system, whose workers were already burned out; its decades-long project of unweaving social safety nets; and its legacy of racism and segregation that had already left Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color disproportionately burdened with health problems. Even in the pre-COVID years, the U.S. was still losing about 626,000 people more than expected for a nation of its size and resources. COVID simply toppled an edifice whose foundations were already rotten.

This, along with the Hurricane Ian experience reminded me that we’re not particularly forward-looking people anymore. I was happy to see Space Dart take out an astroid’s moon.  However, it seems to me that were more likely to be taken down by our own hubris.  Why do folks ignore climate change and still fall for developers’ promises of paradise on the beaches of Florida?  We should be looking for the next big virus while learning lessons to plan for the next.  We hurl from one emergency to the next without thinking about what in our system fails us?  Even Democracy is failing us in significant ways.  I no longer look to the Supreme Court to save us from ourselves.  They now represent the worst of our political system.

Getting Donald Trump off the Public stage is vital but the preparations for the next big trouble start with revitalizing our democratic institutions and shoring them up.  Also, getting the damn money out of politics would help too. Anyway, sorry to be Debbie Downer today.  Maybe I’m just more somber today because the heat of summer has broken. Also, I had my first training class in community organizing yesterday. I’m sitting here relationship mapping who I’m going to nag into to voting.  So, I started with my beloved community here.  Drag your ass and everyone you know to the polls!  I got granddaughters now!

This election is important. Please, get everyone you know to vote blue. A lot is at stake.

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?

 


Thursday Reads: Jan. 6 Committee Hearing Tonight

Good Morning!!

Tonight is the final January 6 Committee hearing, at least for this month. It should be a blockbuster. There are plenty of predictions about what will happen tonight. There is also more news about the Secret Service deleting text messages from January 5 and 6. I’ll get to those stories in a minute, but first some breaking news.

Despite his advanced age, Biden appears to be healthy and fit. Here’s hoping his symptoms stay mild.

Tonight’s January 6 Committee Hearing

Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: January 6 panel to show Trump violated law by refusing to stop Capitol attack.

The January 6 House select committee is expected to make the case at its hearing on Thursday that Donald Trump potentially violated the law when he refused entreaties to take action to stop the 2021 attack on the US Capitol by a mass of his supporters, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The panel will demonstrate that the former Republican president was “derelict in his duty” to protect the US Congress and might have also broken the federal law that prohibits obstructing an official proceeding before Congress, which had gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

Matthew Pottinger

Matthew Pottinger

Trump could have called on national guard troops to restore order when he saw on TV the melee unfolding at the Capitol, the panel is expected to argue, or he could have called off the rioters via a live broadcast from the White House press briefing room, but he did not. Or he could have sent a tweet trying to stop the violence far earlier than he actually did, during the 187-minute duration of the Capitol attack.

The former president instead only reluctantly posted a tweet in the afternoon of January 6, hours after his top advisors at the White House and Republicans allies in Congress repeatedly implored him to intervene, the select committee will show….

The sources described what the select committee sees as potential legal culpability for the former president, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the prime time hearing.

Two insider witnesses, “former deputy national security advisor Matthew Pottinger and former Trump press aide Sarah Matthews,” will testify in the hearing.

The two witnesses with inside knowledge of how the West Wing operated on January 6 are expected to narrate how that day unfolded, starting with how desperately Trump did not want to return to the White House after delivering his speech at the rally at the nearby Ellipse, where he had urged supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat….

Sarah MatthewsThe Guardian has learned, according to a person directly familiar with the matter, that in a previously unreported incident, the fracas [described in testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson” about going to the Capitol, after Trump told his supporters at the rally to go to Congress and “I’ll be there with you”, continued when he arrived back at the White House, and the argument spilled into the West Wing driveway.

Pottinger and Matthews are expected to testify about what happened when Trump was back at the White House, including details on Trump in his dining room off the Oval Office, where he watched the Capitol attack erupt on TV, transfixed by the images as rioters overran police and rampaged through the halls of Congress, the sources said.

The select committee will show through videotaped testimony from the Trump White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and other aides, that the former president ignored repeated entreaties from advisers to help stop the Capitol attack, the sources said.

Rolling Stone: Exclusive: Jan. 6 Committee Plans to Humiliate MAGA Lawmakers Who Cowered During Capitol Attack.

The Jan. 6 committee plans to use its Thursday-night hearing to call out insurrection-friendly lawmakers who cowered during the Capitol attack but have since downplayed the insurrection’s severity, according to two sources familiar with the committee’s planning.

“They have plans to paint a really striking picture of how some of Trump’s greatest enablers of his coup plot were — no matter what they’re saying today — quaking in their boots and doing everything shy of crying out for their moms,” one source tells Rolling Stone. “If any of [these lawmakers] were capable of shame, they would be humiliated.” [….]

The committee has at times switched plans at the last minute, and it remains unclear which specific lawmakers the committee could call out. But at least some Republicans have already had their attempts to downplay or justify the attempted coup undone by footage from the day of the attack. When Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) claimed the insurrection “a normal tourist visit,” social media users quickly located photos of the Georgia Republican gasping in terror and hiding behind an armed Capitol police officer pointing a handgun at a barricaded entrance to the Senate floor.

In the 18 months since the insurrection, Republican lawmakers have tried to whitewash it through a series of contradictory talking points. Republicans have alternately downplayed the attack by calling it “a peaceful protest,” claimed it was violent but that the violence was carried out solely by nonexistent “antifa” or federal informants at the Capitol, or that Democrats were to blame for failing to adequately defend the Capitol against the protesters they variously claim weren’t violent or a threat.

Republicans like Reps. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar have gone so far as to cast alleged rioters held in pretrial detention as unjustly accused political prisoners.

Read more at Rolling Stone.

The Washington Post: Even a day after Jan. 6, Trump balked at condemning the violence.

One day after the last rioter had left the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, President Donald Trump’s advisers urged him to give an address to the nation to condemn the violence, demand accountability for those who had stormed the halls of Congress and declare the 2020 election to be decided.

He struggled to do it. Over the course of an hour of trying to tape the message, Trump resisted holding the rioters to account, trying to call them patriots, and refused to say the election was over, according to individuals familiar with the work of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

The public could get its first glimpse of outtakes from that recording Thursday night, when the committee plans to offer a bold conclusion in its eighth hearing: Not only did Trump do nothing despite repeated entreaties by senior aides to help end the violence, but he sat back and enjoyed watching it. He reluctantly condemned it — in a three-minute speech the evening of Jan. 7 — only after the efforts to overturn the 2020 election had failed and after aides told him that members of his own Cabinet were discussing invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

“This is what he wanted to happen,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who is scheduled to lead the questioning Thursday along with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), said in an interview this week. “You might have earlier on said, ‘Was he incompetent? Was he someone who freezes in a moment when they can’t react to something? Or was it exactly what he wanted to have happened?’ And after all of this, I’m convinced that this is exactly what he wanted to have happen.”

 

CNN: Trump had ‘extreme difficulty’ with his speech on the day after January 6.

The House committee investigating the insurrection plans to show footage at Thursday’s hearing of then-President Donald Trump having difficulty working through efforts to tape a message to his supporters on January 7, 2021, the day after the Capitol riot, sources familiar with the committee’s plans tell CNN….

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who is a member of the committee, confirmed Wednesday night to CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the panel has the outtakes and plans to share some of them during the hearing.

“The President displayed extreme difficulty in completing his remarks,” Raskin said on “Anderson Cooper 360.”

“It’s extremely revealing how exactly he went about making those statements, and we’re going to let everybody see parts of that,” he added.

Rep. Adam Schiff, another committee member, told CNN’s Don Lemon later Wednesday that the outtakes “will be significant in terms of what the President was willing to say and what he wasn’t willing to say.”

The California Democrat said the outtakes will show “all of those who are urging him to say something to do something to stop the violence. You’ll hear the terrible lack of a response from the President, and you’ll hear more about how he was ultimately prevailed upon to say something and what he was willing to say and what he wasn’t.”

The video tape outtakes will be one part of a larger presentation during which the committee plans to detail Trump’s lack of attention to the ongoing riot. The committee has said it will focus on the 187 minutes that Trump sat back, refusing to act, as the Capitol was under siege. Some committee members have described this as Trump’s “dereliction of duty.”

The Secret Service and the Missing Text Messages

This shocking story broke last night. Carol Leonig and Maria Sacchetti at The Washington Post: Secret Service watchdog knew in February that texts had been purged.

A watchdog agency learned in February that the Secret Service had purged nearly all cellphone texts from around the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, but chose not to alert Congress, according to three people briefed on the internal discussions.

Joseph Cuffari, Homeland Security Inspector General

Joseph Cuffari, Homeland Security Inspector General

That watchdog agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, also prepared in October 2021 to issue a public alert that the Secret Service and other department divisions were stonewalling it on requests for records and texts surrounding the attack on the Capitol, but did not do so, the people briefed on the matter said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal investigations.

The previously unreported revelation about the inspector general’s months-long delay in flagging the now-vanished Secret Service textscame from two whistleblowers who have worked with Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari, the people knowledgeable about the internal discussions said.

In recent days, one former employee approached the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), an independent government-accountability group, and described the decision from Cuffari’s office not to promptly disclose that Secret Service records had been wiped from agency phones starting in January 2021. The group relayed the information to congressional staff, who independently corroborated the account with a second whistleblower.

The congressional staff and two whistleblowers shared a concern that Cuffari’s office not alertingcongressional investigators to the missing records reduced the chances of recovering critical pieces of evidence related to the Jan. 6 attack.

The purged texts of Secret Service agents — some of whomplanned President Donald Trump’s movements on Jan. 6 and shadowed Trump as he sought to overturn the election results — could shed light on what Trump was planning and saying.

This story broke this morning on CNN.

(CNN)The Department of Homeland Security inspector general has directed the Secret Service to stop its internal investigations into what happened to text messages related to January 6 that may have been deleted, according to a letter reviewed by CNN.

The inspector general wrote that the Secret Service should stop investigating the matter because it could interfere with the inspector general’s own investigation into what happened to the agency’s text messages.

The letter adds to the growing tension between the Secret Service and the DHS inspector general over the potentially missing text messages, which are being sought by the House select committee as part of its investigation into former President Donald Trump’s actions and movements on January 6, 2021.

“To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the USSS must not engage in any further investigative activities regarding the collection and preservation of the evidence referenced above,” DHS deputy inspector general Gladys Ayala wrote in a letter to Secret Service Director James Murray on Wednesday evening. “This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The inspector general wrote that the Secret Service should explain what interviews had already been conducted related to the text messages, along with the “scope off the questioning, and what, if any, warnings were given to the witness(es).” The inspector general told the Secret Service to respond by Monday.

Today should be interesting for politics junkies. All of the big news organizations are jockeying for scoops about tonight’s hearing. I’m really looking forward to it. 

Have a great Thursday, Sky Dancers!


Thursday Reads

Rainy Day Boston, Frederick Childe Hassam

Rainy Day Boston, Frederick Childe Hassam

Good Morning!!

Here’s what I see as the major topics in the news today: world events stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine; the ongoing Trumpist attack on U.S. democracy; and the new wave of Covid-19 cases.

Outgrowths of Ukraine War

Fascism and totalitarianism expert Timothy Snyder at The New York Times: We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist.

Fascism was never defeated as an idea.

As a cult of irrationality and violence, it could not be vanquished as an argument: So long as Nazi Germany seemed strong, Europeans and others were tempted. It was only on the battlefields of World War II that fascism was defeated. Now it’s back — and this time, the country fighting a fascist war of destruction is Russia. Should Russia win, fascists around the world will be comforted.

We err in limiting our fears of fascism to a certain image of Hitler and the Holocaust. Fascism was Italian in origin, popular in Romania — where fascists were Orthodox Christians who dreamed of cleansing violence — and had adherents throughout Europe (and America). In all its varieties, it was about the triumph of will over reason.

Because of that, it’s impossible to define satisfactorily. People disagree, often vehemently, over what constitutes fascism. But today’s Russia meets most of the criteria that scholars tend to apply. It has a cult around a single leader, Vladimir Putin. It has a cult of the dead, organized around World War II. It has a myth of a past golden age of imperial greatness, to be restored by a war of healing violence — the murderous war on Ukraine.

You’ll need to read the whole essay to get the full impact of Snyder’s argument, but here’s a bit more:

We understand more about fascism than we did in the 1930s. We now know where it led. We should recognize fascism, because then we know what we are dealing with. But to recognize it is not to undo it. Fascism is not a debating position, but a cult of will that emanates fiction. It is about the mystique of a man who heals the world with violence, and it will be sustained by propaganda right to the end. It can be undone only by demonstrations of the leader’s weakness. The fascist leader has to be defeated, which means that those who oppose fascism have to do what is necessary to defeat him. Only then do the myths come crashing down.

Paris Street in the rain, by Gustave Caillebotte

Paris Street in the rain, by Gustave Caillebotte

As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won’t be just the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere. Even before the war, Russia’s friends — Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson — were the enemies of democracy. Fascist battlefield victories would confirm that might makes right, that reason is for the losers, that democracies must fail.

Had Ukraine not resisted, this would have been a dark spring for democrats around the world. If Ukraine does not win, we can expect decades of darkness.

The Economist: The coming food catastrophe. War is tipping a fragile world towards mass hunger. Fixing that is everyone’s business.

By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin will destroy the lives of people far from the battlefield—and on a scale even he may regret. The war is battering a global food system weakened by covid-19climate change and an energy shock. Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds have mostly stopped and Russia’s are threatened. Together, the two countries supply 12% of traded calories. Wheat prices, up 53% since the start of the year, jumped a further 6% on May 16th, after India said it would suspend exports because of an alarming heatwave.

The widely accepted idea of a cost-of-living crisis does not begin to capture the gravity of what may lie ahead. António Guterres, the un secretary general, warned on May 18th that the coming months threaten “the spectre of a global food shortage” that could last for years. The high cost of staple foods has already raised the number of people who cannot be sure of getting enough to eat by 440m, to 1.6bn. Nearly 250m are on the brink of famine. If, as is likely, the war drags on and supplies from Russia and Ukraine are limited, hundreds of millions more people could fall into poverty. Political unrest will spread, children will be stunted and people will starve.

Mr Putin must not use food as a weapon. Shortages are not the inevitable outcome of war. World leaders should see hunger as a global problem urgently requiring a global solution.

landscape-with-rain-wassily-kandinsky

Landscape with rain, Wassily Kandinsky

Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of globally traded wheat, 29% of the barley, 15% of the maize and 75% of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.

Even before the invasion the World Food Programme had warned that 2022 would be a terrible year. China, the largest wheat producer, has said that, after rains delayed planting last year, this crop may be its worst-ever. Now, in addition to the extreme temperatures in India, the world’s second-largest producer, a lack of rain threatens to sap yields in other breadbaskets, from America’s wheat belt to the Beauce region of France. The Horn of Africa is being ravaged by its worst drought in four decades. Welcome to the era of climate change.

The Trumpist Attack on U.S. Democracy

This is from The Washington Post news analysis by Leigh Ann Caldwell, Theodoric Meyer: Trump uses Pa. primary to continue effort to undermine electoral system.

Donald Trump‘s continued effort to discredit or manipulate the electoral process is playing out in two distinct but related ways in the wake of Tuesday’s primary contests in Pennsylvania.

First, he is casting doubt on the result of the Senate GOP primary by once again making baseless claims that mail-in ballots are causing problems and suggesting his preferred candidate, Mehmet Oz, should just declare victory.

“It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they ‘just happened to find,’” Trump said, providing no evidence, on his social media platform Truth Social, our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports.

Second, the nominee he backed for governor, Doug Mastriano, won the primary and if he wins the election in November, Mastriano would have considerable influence over how the state’s presidential election results are handled in 2024 when Trump may be on the ballot as our colleague’s Rosalind S. HeldermanIsaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey explain.

Mastriano has been one of the staunchest backers of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and the steps he wanted officials to take to deny Joe Biden victory.

Rain swept street, by Mike Barr

Rain swept street, by Mike Barr

“As governor, Mastriano would have the opportunity not just to speak, but to act,” Roz, Isaac and Josh write. A possibility that is “worrying experts already fearful of a democratic breakdown around the 2024 presidential contest.”

“Those concerns are made especially acute in Pennsylvania by the fact that the governor has the unusual authority to directly appoint the secretary of state, who serves as chief elections officer and must sign off on results. If he or she refuses, chaos could follow.”

Read more at the WaPo link.

Reid Epstein at The New York Times: Midterm Stakes Grow Clearer: Election Deniers Will Be on Many Ballots.

Republican voters in this week’s primary races demonstrated a willingness to nominate candidates who parrot Donald J. Trump’s election lies and who appear intent on exerting extraordinary political control over voting systems. The results make clear that the November midterms may well affect the fate of free and fair elections in the country.

In Pennsylvania, Republican voters united behind a nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, who helped lead the brazen effort to overturn the state’s 2020 election and chartered buses to the rally before the Capitol riot, and who has since promoted a constitutionally impossible effort to decertify President Biden’s victory in his state.

In North Carolina, voters chose a G.O.P. Senate nominee, Representative Ted Budd, who voted in Congress against certifying the 2020 results and who continues to refuse to say that Mr. Biden was legitimately elected.

And in Idaho, which Mr. Trump won overwhelmingly in 2020, 57 percent of voters backed two Republican candidates for secretary of state who pushed election falsehoods, though they lost a three-way race to a rival who accepts Mr. Biden as president.

The strong showings on Tuesday by election deniers, who have counterparts running competitively in primaries across the country over the coming months, were an early signal of the threat posed by the Trump-inspired movement.

This story about what’s happening in Idaho was published before yesterday’s primaries, but it’s still an important read. Christopher Mathias at HuffPo: Living With The Far-Right Insurgency In Idaho.

IDAHO — White nationalist Vincent James Foxx had a new video for his nearly 70,000 subscribers on BitChute, one of the few tech platforms that hasn’t banned him. On Feb. 16, he appeared wearing a baseball hat emblazoned with the state’s outline tilted on its side so that it resembled a pistol.

“We are going to take over this state,” Foxx declared. “We have a great large group of people, and that group is growing. A true, actual right-wing takeover is happening right now in the state of Idaho. And there’s nothing that these people can do about it. So if you’re a legislator here, either get in line, or get out of the way.”

Foxx, 36, isn’t from Idaho. He only recently moved from California to Post Falls. But in the video, he showed off photos of himself posing with a string of prominent Republican politicians in the state as he explained who he’s supporting in the upcoming primaries, slated for May 17.

gregory thielker Rainy day in Washington DC

Gregory Thielker,, Rainy Day in Washington, DC

He was especially excited about a selfie he’d taken a week prior: It showed him and fellow white nationalist Dave Reilly, a recent Pennsylvania transplant also living in Post Falls, standing alongside Idaho’s lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin. All three were smiling.

“We’re supporting her,” Foxx said, bragging of his movement’s “deep connections” to McGeachin, whom former President Donald Trump endorsed in the GOP primary race for governor. Foxx then explained how his particular brand of Christian white nationalism is poised to conquer Idaho, then the country.

“The solution is local politics: Amassing power in these pockets of the country until it’s time to unify,” he said. “I’ve only been here for a couple of months and I’m tapped in the way that I am. You can do it too.”

Fascists like Foxx are famous fabulists, experts at exaggerating their influence and success. But Foxx wasn’t just talking shit.

He is one of many far-right activists who have flocked to Idaho in recent years, where a large and growing radical MAGA faction in the state’s Republican Party has openly allied itself with extremists to a shocking extent, even for the Trump era. This faction is accruing more and more power in Boise, the state capital: Imagine a statehouse full of Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Steve Kings. At the local level, they have seized seats on school boards and county commissions at a fast clip.

Please read the rest. This could easily happening in other small states.

New Covid Wave

The Washington Post: Top Biden health officials sound warning on rising covid infections.

Top Biden administration officials warned Wednesday that one-third of Americans live in communities experiencing rising levels of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and urged them to resume taking personal protection measures, including wearing masks.

The increase in new infections — nearing 100,000 a day — comes as the nation heads into Memorial Day weekend with its large gatherings and travel. That case count is almost certainly an undercount, officials said, given the widespread use of at-home tests for which results are often not reported to health officials.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strongly encouraged those living in communities designated yellow or orange, indicating they have large numbers of new infections and hospitalizations, to consider wearing masks in indoor public spaces and taking other steps to protect themselves.

“As we’re currently seeing a steady rise of cases in parts of the country, we encourage everyone to use the menu of tools we have today to prevent further infection and severe disease, including wearing a mask, getting tested, accessing treatments early if infected and getting vaccinated or boosted,”she said.

Wednesday’s warnings from Walensky and two other officials — Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus coordinator, and Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser — came on the same day the United States surpassed the grim milestone of 1 million covid-19 deaths, a toll that even the starkest predictions at the start of the pandemic in 2020 did not anticipate.

In the Rain, ,Franz Marc

In the Rain, Franz Marc

Also from The Washington Post: How big is the latest U.S. coronavirus wave? No one really knows.

Experts say Americans can assume that infections in their communities are five to 10 times the official counts.

“Any sort of look at the metrics on either a local, state or national level is a severe undercount,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist at the Pandemic Prevention Institute, housed at theRockefeller Foundation. “Everyone knows someone getting covid now.”

Hospitalizations nationally have increased 57 percent since bottoming out six weeks ago. But the roughly 23,000 covid patients in hospitals over the last week still represent nearly the lowest hospitalization levels of the entire pandemic.The recentincrease is led by the Northeast, where hospitalization rates are almost twice as high as in any other region.

Reported cases of covid have also tripled in the Northeast in just over a month, driving much of the growth nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The country has averaged about 100,000 new cases each day over the past week —more than three times as high as at the lowest point in March.

The latest uptick in infections is testing a new CDC alert system adopted by many local and state governments that categorizes community levels of covid-19 as “low” even with the number of new cases rising to a level once considered high.

More than two-thirds of Americans live in low-risk areas under these metrics. But 43 percent of residents in the Northeastlive in areas considered high-risk, compared with 9percent in the Midwest and less than 1 percent each in the South and West.

I recommend clicking the link and reading the entire article.

morning-on-the-seine-in-the-rain-1898, Claude Monet

Morning on the Seine in the rain, Claude Monet

CNBC: U.S. faces unnecessary Covid deaths if Congress fails to pass funding bill, top health official warns.

Top U.S. health officials on Wednesday reiterated their calls for Congress to pass funding for the nation’s fight against Covid-19, warning that failure to act now would result in an unnecessary loss of life in the fall and winter.

Their warning comes as new infections and hospitalizations are on the rise as the more transmissible omicron subvariants sweep the U.S.

The nation is reporting more than 94,000 new infections daily on average as of Monday, a 25% increase over the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, hospitalizations have increased 18% over the past week with about 3,000 people admitted with Covid every day on average, according to CDC data.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House Covid response coordinator, said the fact that many people are now taking at-home tests, results of which are not captured in the data, has to be taken into consideration.

“We know that the number of infections is actually substantially higher than that, hard to know exactly how many, but we know that a lot of people are getting diagnosed using home tests,” Jha said during a White House update on the pandemic Wednesday. “We’re clearly undercounting cases. There’s a lot of infections across America.”

Those are today’s top stories as I see it. What do you think? What stories are you following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Easter Weekend Edition

53ae46d9428b919e891c8c0c0d65d246Good Morning!!

Easter, like other religious holidays, reflects symbolism from pagan feast days–part of the Church’s efforts to convert people from their ancient beliefs to Christianity. A few days ago, I read an interesting piece by anthropologist and folklore expert Tok Thompson, reprinted in Smithsonian Magazine: The Ancient Origins of the Easter Bunny. A scholar traces the folk figure’s history from the Neolithic era to today.

Easter is a celebration of spring and new life. Eggs and flowers are rather obvious symbols of female fertility, but in European traditions, the bunny, with its amazing reproductive potential, is not far behind.

In European traditions, the Easter bunny is known as the Easter hare. The symbolism of the hare has had many tantalizing ritual and religious roles down through the years.

Hares were given ritual burials alongside humans during the Neolithic age in Europe. Archaeologists have interpreted this as a religious ritual, with hares representing rebirth.

Over a thousand years later, during the Iron Age, ritual burials for hares were common, and in 51 B.C.E., Julius Caesar mentioned that in Britain, hares were not eaten due to their religious significance.

Caesar would likely have known that in the classical Greek tradition, hares were sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Meanwhile, Aphrodite’s son Eros was often depicted carrying a hare as a symbol of unquenchable desire.

From the Greek world through the Renaissance, hares often appear as symbols of sexuality in literature and art. For example, the Virgin Mary is often shown with a white hare or rabbit, symbolizing that she overcame sexual temptation.

b0j5f-easter3But it is in the folk traditions of England and Germany that the figure of the hare is specifically connected to Easter. Accounts from the 1600s in Germany describe children hunting for Easter eggs hidden by the Easter hare, much as in the United States today.

Written accounts from England around the same time also mention the Easter hare, particularly in terms of traditional Easter hare hunts and the eating of hare meat at Easter. One tradition, known as the “Hare Pie Scramble,” was held at Hallaton, a village in Leicestershire, England. It involved eating a pie made with hare meat and people “scrambling” for a slice. In 1790, the local parson tried to stop the custom due to its pagan associations, but he was unsuccessful, and the custom continues in that village until this day.

As for the pagan origins of Easter and the Easter bunny,

In 1835, the folklorist Jacob Grimm, one of the famous team of the fairy tale Brothers Grimm, argued that the Easter hare was connected to a goddess he imagined would have been called “Ostara” in ancient German. He derived this name from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, who Bede, an early medieval monk considered to be the father of English history, mentioned in 731 C.E.

Here in the U.S., there has long been a tradition of an Easter egg roll at the White House. The event will take place this year on Monday, April 18 after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. CNN: Biden White House hatches plans for return of the Egg Roll.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are taking their first crack at the time-honored Easter tradition on Monday, which will mark the 142nd White House Easter Egg Roll following a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme of the event, the first lady’s office says, is “EGGucation,” with the South Lawn being “transformed into a school community” for 30,000 visitors to enjoy, including military families from the USS Delaware.

c2d445c9da7f2aad39372d58cad7c473The American Egg Board is donating 90,000 eggs to the event as part of its longtime partnership with the White House, egg board president and CEO Emily Metz told CNN. That includes approximately 50,000 hard-boiled eggs that will be used for the egg roll races with wooden spoons, the egg hunt, and for dyeing and decorating. Those eggs were hard-boiled, dyed and transported from North Carolina to Washington on a refrigerated truck by Braswell Family Farms’ John Watson, where they will be stored over the weekend ahead of Monday’s festivities.

Forty thousand additional eggs have been donated to be used for food items for guests, Metz said….

The American Egg Board will also present its annual commemorative egg to the first lady, part of a 45-year tradition beginning with the Carter administration. Artist Russ Hagen, a member of the International Egg Art Guild, was selected to paint the 2021 and 2022 commemorative eggs, a months-long undertaking that included a design to match the “EGGucation” theme created by Mary O’Reilly and the inside of a real chicken egg being blown out through a special process, leaving the shell intact, before the decoration could begin.

This year, all 45 eggs that have been presented to first ladies over the years are being displayed together for the first time in a special “Colonnade of Eggs” in the East Wing of the White House for visitors to view on tours.

As I wrote above, the WH Easter egg roll has a long history. From The White House Historical Association: Origins of the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Since 1878, American presidents and their families have celebrated Easter Monday by hosting an ‘egg roll’ party. Held on the South Lawn, it is one of the oldest annual events in White House history. Some historians note that First Lady Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll, while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties at the White House dating back to President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. Beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol. Children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.

However, by 1876, a concern for the landscape led Congress to pass legislation to restrict the public use of the Capitol grounds, effectively prohibiting any future egg rolling. The new edict went unchallenged in 1877, as rain cancelled all the day’s activities, but in 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes decided to open the South Lawn to egg rollers, as it had previously been reserved for the First Family’s private Easter activities. Thus, a new tradition was born. In 1974, the Nixons hosted egg roll races, an event which has become an Easter Monday favorite.

This morning, historian Michael Bechloss posted a photo of the 1926 egg roll.

I suppose I have to include some news in this post, although I’d rather just think about cats and bunnies and Spring flowers.

The only real good news I’m seeing is that the Boston Marathon will once again be held on Monday. CNN: Runners ‘pumped’ as Boston Marathon returns to April.

The Boston Marathon returns to its traditional April date for the first time in three years on Monday with the fastest field in the race’s history, boasting a star-studded slate of previous champions and Olympic medalists.

Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir leads the women’s field hot off her Tokyo Olympic gold medal and New York City Marathon victory last year, while local hero Molly Seidel is looking to build off her bronze medal at that Olympics and triumph in her first Boston Marathon.

In the men’s division, Kenya’s Benson Kipruto is looking to repeat just six months after he won at last year’s delayed race, but will face tough competition from last year’s New York winner, compatriot Albert Korir, and 2021 London winner Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia.

“It’s exciting. It’s always cool to feel like you’re coming to your hometown race. I’m really pumped to actually go at it on this course rather than just training on it,” Seidel, an American and a former Boston resident, told Reuters on Friday.

But will the Marathon be a superspreader event? Covid-19 cases are rising rapidly in the Northeast. We’ve had well over 2,000 new cases on each of the past few days here in Massachusetts. New York is seeing more than 5,000 per day. Those are undercounts, of course, because so many people are using home tests now, but wastewater testing reveals high levels of virus in Northeastern states.

dnknw-easter1The New York Times: The Omicron BA.2 subvariant has stalled pandemic progress in the U.S.

About 30,000 marathoners from 122 countries and all 50 U.S. states will hit the streets on Monday in and around Boston, where the city’s Public Health Commission reports that the Covid positivity rate has risen to 6.6 percent, passing its “threshold of concern” of 5 percent.

The agency urged residents to mask, to test before joining indoor gatherings, to gather outdoors if possible, and to get booster shots to protect themselves and others in the coming days as Easter, Passover, Ramadan and public school vacations converge. The city’s positivity rate has risen by 4 percentage points since early March, it noted.

This month the Omicron BA.2 subvariant has flattened the steep downward glide in official case counts that Boston and the rest of the country had been on after the BA.1 surge in the winter. The turn is not unexpected, but it comes as in-person gatherings have resumed, vaccinations have flatlined, officially reported tests are falling and politicians and many Americans want an end to most restrictions.

And while hospitalizations and deaths remain on the decline nationally, concerns are rising for unvaccinated and unboosted people, who remain more vulnerable to serious illness and death.

More Covid stories to check out:

Yahoo News: It’s not over: COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in US.

The Washington Post: New, highly transmissible forms of omicron may pose latest covid threat.

FiveThirtyEight: Do Americans Care About The Latest COVID-19 Wave In The Northeast?

s-l300I’m going to post more stories as links only because I just don’t want to think about bad news today. Here’s what’s happening:

The Washington Post: Ukrainian governor says Mariupol ‘has been wiped off the face of the earth.’

Radio Free Europe: Russian Soldier And Wife Discussing Rape Of Ukrainian Women Identified By RFE/RL.

The New York Times: How Russian Media Uses Fox News to Make Its Case.

Michael Kruse at Politico: The One Way History Shows Trump’s Personality Cult Will End.

Aaron Rupar: Ron DeSantis loves using very young kids as political props.

CNN: Rotting fruit, spoiled vegetables: How Texas just made the supply chain even worse.

The New York Times: As G.O.P. Candidates Face Accusations, Rivals Tread Carefully.

Raw Story: ‘Rot wasn’t just Donald Trump’: Neal Katyal says Jan 6. Committee has proof implicating GOP leaders.

That’s it for me today. I hope you all have a nice Easter weekend.