Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

I was hoping we might hear something from the DOJ this morning, but so far they haven’t responded publicly to Trump judge Aileen Cannon’s ridiculous decision yesterday. According to The Guardian,

Lawyers for Donald Trump are conferring with justice department counterparts to come up by Friday with a list of possible candidates to be the “special master” approved by a district court judge over the former president’s hoarding of classified documents.

So far, I haven’t seen that reported anywhere else.

However, Hillary Clinton did make a public statement today in a Twitter thread.

The Daily Beast has a piece on Trump’s judge shopping. It turns out this isn’t the first time he tried to get Judge Cannon on a case: Trump Went Judge Shopping and It Paid Off in Mar-a-Lago Case.

When former President Donald Trump summoned up years of bubbling resentment and sued Hillary Clinton and everyone else involved in Russiagate earlier this year, he naturally filed his lawsuit in South Florida—home to his oceanside estate.

And yet, when his attorneys formally filed the paperwork, they selected a tiny courthouse in the sprawling federal court district’s furthest northeast corner—a satellite location that’s 70 miles from Mar-a-Lago. They ignored the West Palm Beach federal courthouse that’s a 12-minute drive away.

The tactic failed, and Trump instead got a Clinton-era judge whom he promptly tried to disqualify for alleged bias. U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks called him out in a snarky footnote.

“I note that Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the Fort Pierce division of this District, where only one federal judge sits: Judge Aileen Cannon, who Plaintiff appointed in 2020. Despite the odds, this case landed with me instead. And when Plaintiff is a litigant before a judge that he himself appointed, he does not tend to advance these same sorts of bias concerns,” Middlebrooks wrote in April.

This time Trump hit the jackpot.

Months later, Trump is once again suing in the Southern District of Florida, this time seeking to hamper the FBI investigation into the way he kept hundreds of classified records at Mar-a-Lago. Except this time, he got Cannon.

The strategy is already paying off.

On Monday afternoon, Cannon single-handedly hit the brakes on the most politically sensitive and consequential FBI investigation ever undertaken. Convinced by Team Trump’s legal arguments that the routine Justice Department methods for carefully handling seized documents aren’t good enough when investigating this particular former president, she ordered that a “special master” be tasked with playing referee to dictate what happens with classified documents that are evidence of a crime.

“The investigation and treatment of a former president is of unique interest to the general public, and the country is served best by an orderly process that promotes the interest and perception of fairness,” she wrote in her order.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: ‘Deeply Problematic’: Experts Question Judge’s Intervention in Trump Inquiry.

A federal judge’s extraordinary decision on Monday to interject in the criminal investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government documents at his Florida residence showed unusual solicitude to him, legal specialists said….

Siding with Mr. Trump, the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, ordered the appointment of an independent arbiter to review the more than 11,000 government records the F.B.I. seized in its search of Mar-a-Lago last month. She granted the arbiter, known as a special master, broad powers that extended beyond filtering materials that were potentially subject to attorney-client privilege to also include executive privilege.

Judge Cannon, a Trump appointee who sits on the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, also blocked federal prosecutors from further examining the seized materials for the investigation until the special master had completed a review.

In reaching that result, Judge Cannon took several steps that specialists said were vulnerable to being overturned if the government files an appeal, as most agreed was likely. Any appeal would be heard by the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, where Mr. Trump appointed six of its 11 active judges.

Some of the expert reactions:

This was “an unprecedented intervention by a federal district judge into the middle of an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at University of Texas….

Paul Rosenzweig, a former homeland security official in the George W. Bush administration and prosecutor in the independent counsel investigation of Bill Clinton, said it was egregious to block the Justice Department from steps like asking witnesses about government files, many marked as classified, that agents had already reviewed.

“This would seem to me to be a genuinely unprecedented decision by a judge,” Mr. Rosenzweig said. “Enjoining the ongoing criminal investigation is simply untenable.” [….]

“Judge Cannon had a reasonable path she could have taken — to appoint a special master to review documents for attorney-client privilege and allow the criminal investigation to continue otherwise,” said Ryan Goodman, a New York University law professor. “Instead, she chose a radical path.”

A specialist in separation of powers, Peter M. Shane, who is a legal scholar in residence at N.Y.U., said there was no basis for Judge Cannon to expand a special master’s authority to screen materials that were also potentially subject to executive privilege. That tool is normally thought of as protecting internal executive branch deliberations from disclosure to outsiders like Congress.

“The opinion seems oblivious to the nature of executive privilege,” he said.

The Justice Department is itself part of the executive branch, and a court has never held that a former president can invoke the privilege to keep records from his time in office away from the executive branch itself.

Read the whole thing at the NYT.

In other news . . .

From CNN this morning:

From the CNN article:

A Republican county official in Georgia escorted two operatives working with an attorney for former President Donald Trump into the county’s election offices on the same day a voting system there was breached, newly obtained video shows.

The breach is now under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and is of interest to the Fulton County District Attorney, who is conducting a wider criminal probe of interference in the 2020 election.

The video sheds more light on how an effort spearheaded by lawyers and others around Trump to seek evidence of voter fraud was executed on the ground from Georgia to Michigan to Colorado, often with the assistance of sympathetic local officials.

In the surveillance video, which was obtained by CNN, Cathy Latham, a former GOP chairwoman of Coffee County who is under criminal investigation for posing as a fake elector in 2020, escorts a team of pro-Trump operatives to the county’s elections office on January 7, 2021, the same day a voting system there is known to have been breached.

The two men seen in the video with Latham, Scott Hall and Paul Maggio, have acknowledged that they successfully gained access to a voting machine in Coffee County at the behest of Trump lawyer Sidney Powell.

Text messages, emails and witness testimony filed as part of a long-running civil suit into the security of Georgia’s voting systems show Latham communicated directly with the then-Coffee County elections supervisor about getting access to the office, both before and after the breach. One text message, according to the court document, shows Latham coordinating the arrival and whereabouts of a team “led by Paul Maggio” that traveled to Coffee County at the direction of Powell.

Three days after the breach, Latham texted the Coffee County elections supervisor, “Did you all finish with the scanner?” According to court documents, Latham testified she did not know what Hall was doing in Coffee County. But when confronted with her texts about the scanner, she asserted her Fifth Amendment rights.

More from The Washington Post:

The new video adds to the picture of the alleged breach in Coffee County on Jan. 7, 2021, and reveals for the first time the later visits by Logan and Lenberg. It also provides further indications of links between various efforts to overturn the election, including what once appeared to be disparate attempts to access and copy election system data in the wake of Trump’s loss.

Experts have expressed concern that such efforts could expose details of voting systems’ hardware and software that are intended to be tightly controlled, potentially aiding hackers who might seek to alter the results of a future election. Data copied from elections systems in other states has been published online. Georgia state officials and voting-machine makers have downplayed the risk, pointing to safeguards that they say protect the systems from tampering.

The Post reported last month that a data forensics firm hired by the pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell copied software and data from the Dominion Voting Systems machines used by Coffee County. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said it is investigating the matter.

Details of the Coffee County incident have come to light largely because of a flurry of subpoenas and depositions by plaintiffs in a long-running federal lawsuit against Georgia authorities over the security of the state’s elections. Emails and other records they obtained from the data forensics firm, Atlanta-based Sullivan Strickler, showed that the Coffee episode was part of a coordinated multistate effort to access voting equipment in a hunt for evidence that the election was rigged….

The security footage shows only the exterior of the office’s entrance area, and it is not clear what the consultants Logan and Lenberg did inside….

David Cross, a lawyer who represents some of the plaintiffs in the civil case, said the additional visits raise questions about why the two men returned. “The biggest concern that we have is future elections,” said Cross, whose clients are pressing Georgia authorities to replace the state’s ballot-marking machines with hand-marked paper ballots.

Logan and Lenberg have played roles inthe multistate pursuit of voting machines by Trump supporters. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) has asked for a special prosecutor to decide whether to pursue charges against them and others for allegedly conspiring to unlawfully access elections equipment in three counties there last year. Logan and Lenberg also provided affidavits as expert witnesses in a post-election lawsuit in Antrim County, Mich., after a judge granted SullivanStrickler access to Dominion Voting Systems machines there.

Another election interference story from David Folkenflick at NPR:

NPR: Fox producer’s warning against Jeanine Pirro surfaces in Dominion defamation suit.

The November 2020 email from an anguished Fox News news producer to colleagues sent up a flare amid a fusillade of false claims.

The producer warned: Fox cannot let host Jeanine Pirro back on the air. She is pulling conspiracy theories from dark corners of the Web to justify then-President Donald Trump’s lies that the election had been stolen from him. The existence of the email, confirmed by two people with direct knowledge of it, is first publicly disclosed by NPR in this story. Fox News declined comment.

Pirro was far from alone in broadcasting such false claims. In the weeks that followed Election Day 2020, other prominent Fox stars, commentators and their guests heavily promoted them.

A repeat target was Dominion Voting Systems, the election machine and technology company. Trump and his allies alleged on Fox that Dominion was engaged in a conscious effort to throw the 2020 race to Joe Biden. They implied and falsely asserted on Fox programs that Dominion’s machines and software either discarded Trump’s votes or transferred them to Biden. Dominion argues their false claims were frequently egged on by Fox’s own stars.

The producer’s email is among the voluminous correspondence acquired by Dominion’s attorneys as part of its discovery of evidence in a $1.6 billion defamation suit it filed against Fox News and its parent company. Dominion alleges it has been “irreparably harmed” by the lies, conspiracy theories and wild claims of election fraud that aired on Fox.

Pirro’s role remains under sharp scrutiny. She attended Trump’s belligerent address from the White House late on election night 2020 and advanced his arguments on the air.

Read more at NPR.

That’s it for me. I hope we’ll learn more about the DOJ’s response to Judge “Loose Cannon’s” decision during the course of the day. What other stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads

Garden Cats, Hilary Pecis, 1979

Garden Cats, Hilary Pecis, 1979

Good Afternoon!!

I’m really late getting started today, because I had a chance to get a second Moderna booster shot and I took it. My town held a booster clinic in my apartment building late this morning. My arm is sore and I expect I’ll have some symptoms for a few days like I did with the last shot. I hope it won’t be too bad.

Anyway, there’s lots happening today. Of course there’s quite bit of discussion of the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, and I’m going to focus on that. The massacre has also put a spotlight on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson’s hate filled rants and drawn attention to NY Rep. Elise Stefanik promotion of the so-called “great replacement theory.” Another Trumpist politician in Arizona is also being investigated for her claims about the Buffalo mass shooting.

The Washington Post: Buffalo shooting suspect wrote of plans 5 months ago, messages show.

Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old accused of killing 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo on Saturday, wrote in increasing detail of his plans to murder dozens of Black people in statements posted online over the past five months, according to a compilation of messages by a writer who identified himself as Gendron.

A review of more than 600 pages of messages by The Washington Post found that Gendron resolved in December to kill those he slurred as “replacers,” and decided in February to target Buffalo’s Tops grocery store based on its local African American population. In March, he performed a reconnaissance-style trip to monitor the store’s security and map out its aisles, the messages show. When a store guard confronted him about why he had repeatedly entered that day, Gendron made excuses and fled in what he described as “a close call,” the messages state.

Having identified the supermarket as “attack area 1,” Gendron detailed two additional Buffalo locations as areas at which to “shoot all blacks,” according to the messages, which showed that he had charted routes to each location, worked out the times needed for each shootout and assessed that more than three dozen people in all could be fatally shot.

Wind from the sea, Edward Gordon

Wind from the sea, Edward Gordon

Police confirmed on Monday that they suspected Gendron had intended to attack multiple locations. Also on Monday, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said in a call with various law enforcement officials and community leaders: “I want to be clear, for my part, from everything we know, this was a targeted attack, a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.”

Gendron, from Conklin, N.Y., has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in relation to the attack on Saturday. Three other people were also injured before Gendron was arrested at the grocery store. The shootings were streamed live online. In a separate 180-page document published two days before Saturday’s shooting, Gendron cited a racist theory that non-Whites were brought to the United States to replace White people for political purposes.

The 672-page compilation of messages reviewed by The Post was published during the weeks before the attack in Buffalo. The messages featured a screen name that Gendron used on other platforms, contained images of Gendron’s face in selfies and referenced events in his personal life, such as a speeding ticket, which The Post verified.

You can read much more about Gendron and his plans at the WaPo link.

NBC News: New York’s red flag law should have helped thwart the Buffalo mass shooting. What went wrong?

Less than a year after a white teenager in upstate New York was investigated for making a threatening statement at school, he legally purchased a firearm, which he is accused of using to gun down 10 Black people in a racist rampage, authorities said.

The massacre at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo on Saturday should have been thwarted by New York’s red flag law, which aims to stop people from buying or possessing firearms when they show they’re threats to themselves or others, gun policy experts said.

“It was designed exactly for this circumstance,” said David Pucino, the deputy chief counsel at Giffords Law Center, a gun-safety group.

Instead, after Payton Gendron appeared on the radar of New York State Police in June over a chilling comment about a murder-suicide he made in the classroom while he was still a minor, he was evaluated and cleared, paving the way for him to legally buy the semi-automatic rifle he is accused of using in the shooting 11 months later, law enforcement officials and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

No official involved in the investigation in June initiated a court process that could have helped prevent Gendron from buying the rifle, a New York State Police spokesperson said Monday.

Now, state legislators are looking into whether those involved followed the proper protocol. “I’ve asked for the investigation of exactly what transpired there,” Hochul told Buffalo’s WKSE radio on Monday.

Hochul said a teacher had asked Gendron about his plans just before the start of summer vacation last year. He responded, “I want to murder and commit suicide,” Hochul said.

the-summer-poppy-field Claude Monet

The Summer Poppy Field, Claude Monet

NBC News: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson under fresh scrutiny after Buffalo mass shooting.

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson is facing intense scrutiny from extremism experts, media watchdogs and progressive activists who say there is a link between the top-rated host’s “great replacement” rhetoric and the apparent mindset of the suspect in the weekend’s deadly rampage in Buffalo, New York.

The white suspect accused of killing 10 people and wounding three others Saturday at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood apparently wrote a “manifesto” espousing the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory — elements of which Carlson has pushed on his weeknight show.

The theory baselessly holds that a cabal of Jewish people and Democratic elites are plotting to “replace” white Americans with people of color through immigration policies, higher birth rates and other social transformations. The idea circulated on the far-right fringes before moving to the mainstream of conservative media.

“Tucker Carlson has made comments that directly reference this conspiracy theory on his show,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks white supremacy, hate groups and extremism.

“The rhetoric that he espouses finds its origins in white supremacist literature,” Hayden went on to say, citing examples of websites and other publications popular with white supremacists. He added that Carlson “stops short of naming” Jewish people as the orchestrators of the “replacement,” instead using more general terms such as “the elite.”

Annie Karni at The New York Times: Racist Attack Spotlights Stefanik’s Echo of Replacement Theory.

Over the past week, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking House Republican, has blasted President Biden for providing infant formula to undocumented immigrants while “American mothers” suffer amid a nationwide formula shortage.

Wheat field with a reaper, Vincent Van Gogh

Wheat field with a reaper, Vincent Van Gogh

She has attacked Democrats and “pedo grifters,” borrowing language from the baseless pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory that claims there is a Satan-worshipping cabal of liberal pedophiles, which has evolved into a movement on the right.

And after the deadly mass shooting in Buffalo, where a heavily armed white man is accused of killing 10 Black people at a supermarket in a racist rampage, Ms. Stefanik is under scrutiny for campaign advertisements she has circulated that play on themes of the white supremacist “great replacement” theory. That belief, espoused by the Buffalo gunman, holds that the elite class, sometimes manipulated by Jews, wants to “replace” and disempower white Americans.

Last year, in an ad on Facebook, Ms. Stefanik accused “radical Democrats” of planning what she described as a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION.”

“Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington,” the ad said.

Stefanik originally ran as a “moderate,” but that was before she decided to suck up to Trump to advance her career.

ArizonaCentral.com: Arizona Senate to investigate Wendy Rogers over social media post on Buffalo shooting.

The Arizona Senate will investigate a social media post from state Sen. Wendy Rogers that suggested the shooter in a mass killing in Buffalo, New York, last weekend was a federal agent and part of a federal conspiracy.

The Senate voted 24-3, with three members not voting, to move forward with an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. The committee will now examine Rogers’ remarks “relating to the Buffalo shooting as inappropriate of an elected official with this body.”

An effort to expel Rogers, pushed by Democrats, failed on a 11-15 vote just after 4 p.m.

Sea Watchers, 1952 (oil on canvas)

Sea Watchers, Edward Hopper, 1952

Rogers, a Trump-endorsed, first-term politician who belongs to the Oath Keepers and has espoused conspiracy theories, was censured by her Senate peers on March 1 after she promoted hanging political enemies during an appearance at an event hosted by Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and threatened to destroy fellow Republicans’ careers.

Rogers also drew condemnation at the time for antisemitic statements and behavior, including a promotional photo of her next to do a dead rhino marked with a Star of David.

On Saturday, following the shooting deaths of 10 people at a Buffalo store, Rogers posted on the social media site Telegram, “Fed boy summer has started in Buffalo.”

Numerous political observers and journalists said that Rogers statement meant that she was calling the shooting was a “false flag” operation by federal authorities. The statement drew nearly 200 comments that were subsequently blocked from view by Telegram.

Two more articles discuss the GOP’s responsibility for racist violence:

David Leonhardt: The Right’s Violence Problem. The Buffalo killings are part of a pattern: Most extremist violence in the U.S. comes from the political right.

Over the past decade, the Anti-Defamation League has counted about 450 U.S. murders committed by political extremists.

Of these 450 killings, right-wing extremists committed about 75 percent. Islamic extremists were responsible for about 20 percent, and left-wing extremists were responsible for 4 percent.

Nearly half of the murders were specifically tied to white supremacists:

17-THE-MORNING-CHART-jumbo-v2

As this data shows, the American political right has a violence problem that has no equivalent on the left. And the 10 victims in Buffalo this past weekend are now part of this toll. “Right-wing extremist violence is our biggest threat,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, has written. “The numbers don’t lie.”

The pattern extends to violence less severe than murder, like the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. It also extends to the language from some Republican politicians — including Donald Trump — and conservative media figures that treats violence as a legitimate form of political expression. A much larger number of Republican officials do not use this language but also do not denounce it or punish politicians who do use it; Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, is a leading example.

Talia Lavin at Rolling Stone: The Buffalo Shooter Isn’t a ‘Lone Wolf.’ He’s a Mainstream Republican.

There’s no such thing as a lone wolf — an appellation often given, in error, to terrorists who act alone, particularly those of the white supremacist variety. There are only those people who, fed a steady diet of violent propaganda and stochastic terror, take annihilatory rhetoric to its logical conclusion.

Such was the case on Saturday, when a teenaged white supremacist named Payton Gendron opened fire in a supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people, while livestreaming the carnage on the live-video site Twitch. Prior to the shooting, he had posted a 180-page manifesto in which he laid out his rationale clearly: He was an adherent of what is called Great Replacement Theory, the idea that white people, in the United States and white-majority countries around the world, are being systematically, deliberately outbred and “replaced” by immigrants and ethnic minorities, in a deliberate attempt to rid the world of whiteness. It’s a conspiracy theory that has inspired terror attacks in New Zealand and Pittsburgh, San Diego, and El Paso – an ideology that marries demographic panic with the idea of a cunning, nefarious plot. Reading through the document, what struck me hardest, however, was how very close the killer’s ideas were to the American mainstream – the white-hot core of American politics.

klimt_appletree-1

Apple tree, Gustav Klimt

Five years ago, when white supremacists walked down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us!” and carrying tiki torches, few people understood their intent – the fact that they were referring to replacement theory. The idea seemed outlandish, even incomprehensible; at the time, it was a fairly obscure rallying cry, based around a 2012 book by French novelist Renaud Camus fearmongering about a nonwhite-majority Europe, absorbed into the fetid stew of white-supremacist cant, where it acquired a vicious antisemitism. For many white supremacists, it is Jews who are orchestrating the “reverse colonization,” as Camus put it, of white countries, in order to more easily manipulate a nonwhite and therefore more malleable general populace. In Gendron’s manifesto, after explaining in detail why he picked the particular supermarket he did — it was in a majority-Black neighborhood with a majority-Black clientele — he felt the need to explain why he did not choose to attack Jews. “[Jews] can be dealt with in time, but the high fertility replacers will destroy us now, it is a matter of survival we destroy them first,” he wrote, before listing his weaponry in detail with price points included — a manual for future murders. While Gendron’s choice to engage in mass slaughter puts him on the radical fringe of those who enforce their beliefs with bullets, and his overt antisemitism differs slightly from vaguer blame of “elites,” “Democrats” and “globalists,” his fixation on white birthrates and demographic change are neither fringe nor particularly unusual. The gnawing fear of a minority-white America has utterly consumed conservative politics for the past half-decade, creating a Republican party whose dual obsessions with nativism and white fertility have engendered a suite of policies engineered to change the nature of the body politic. What unites murderers like Gendron, and the long list of white supremacist attackers he cited with admiration, with the mainstream of the Republican party is the dream of a white nation.

What are your thoughts? What other stories are you following today?


Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

two-acrobats-with-a-dog-by-pablo-picasso-1905-m-g-whittingham

Two Acrobats with a Dog, by Pablo Picasso, 1905

In my Tuesday post, I wrote about the right wing media attacks on Hillary Clinton after Bill Barr’s handpicked special counsel (aka attack dog) John Durham made public a court filing that implied that the Clinton campaign had somehow spied on Donald Trump in 2016. I posted a NYT piece by Charlie Savage that explained why the charges were nonsensical.

This insanity has continued all this week, and yesterday even Durham pointed out that the wingers were wrong. Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Durham Distances Himself From Furor in Right-Wing Media Over Filing.

John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel scrutinizing the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, distanced himself on Thursday from false reports by right-wing news outlets that a motion he recently filed said Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid to spy on Trump White House servers.

Citing a barrage of such reports on Fox News and elsewhere based on the prosecutor’s Feb. 11 filing, defense lawyers for a Democratic-linked cybersecurity lawyer, Michael Sussmann, have accused the special counsel of including unnecessary and misleading information in filings “plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage and taint the jury pool.”

In a filing on Thursday, Mr. Durham defended himself, saying those accusations about his intentions were “simply not true.” He said he had “valid and straightforward reasons” for including the information in the Feb. 11 filing that set off the firestorm, while disavowing responsibility for how certain news outlets had interpreted and portrayed it.

“If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the government’s motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the government’s inclusion of this information,” he wrote.

But even as he did not acknowledge any problem with how he couched his filing last week, Mr. Durham said he would make future filings under seal if they contained “information that legitimately gives rise to privacy issues or other concerns that might overcome the presumption of public access to judicial documents.”

Former President Donald J. Trump has seized on the inaccurate reporting to declare that there is now “indisputable evidence” of a Clinton campaign conspiracy against him — and to suggest that there ought to be executions. Mr. Trump, Fox News hosts and others have also criticized mainstream journalists for not covering the purported revelation.

Yesterday, Clinton herself spoke out in an aside in a speech at the New York Democratic Convention.

That was a clear warning that the nonsense is approaching libel territory. Ted Johnson at Deadline: Hillary Clinton On Fox News’ Amplification Of “Spying” Claims: “They’re Getting Awfully Close To Actual Malice In Their Attacks.”

Hillary Clinton went on offense against a fusillade of attacks from Donald Trump and his defenders among rightward talk hosts and media outlets, as she took aim specifically at Fox News.

“Fox leads the charge in their accusations against me, counting on their audience to fall for it again,” Clinton said in a speech before New York state Democrats. “And as an aside, they are getting awfully close to actual malice in their attacks.”

Last week, John Durham, the special counsel who has been investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, raised some new allegations in a court filing. Conservative talk hosts seized on it as a bombshell that showed that Clinton’s campaign spied on Trump. The New York Post had a cover on Tuesday with the headline “Hillary the Spy,” and a Fox News chyron read “Hillary Is The Real Insurrection” during Jesse Watters’ show.

Edvard Munch, In the Kennel

In the Kennel, by Edvard Munch

In fact, according to multiple fact checking stories from outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, Durham’s allegations, which involve an internet security expert working for the U.S. government and a law firm that did work for Clinton’s campaign, were old news, not as significant as they seem, or potentially misleading. Yet media on the right ran with it, characterizing it as a Watergate-level scandal, or even greater.

A FoxNews.com story claimed that Durham alleged that lawyers from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 had paid to “infiltrate” servers belonging to Trump Tower and later the White House, in order to establish an ‘inference’ and ‘narrative’ to bring to federal government agencies linking Donald Trump to Russia. The word “infiltrate,” however, comes not from Durham’s filing but from commentary from an ally to Trump, Kash Patel.

Read more on the Hillary hate story:

Gregory Krieg at CNN: Hillary Clinton sidesteps Cuomo, hits out at Fox News and GOP lies in New York speech.

Oliver Darcy at CNN: Sean Hannity dares Hillary Clinton to sue as she warns network’s dishonest coverage gets ‘close to actual malice.’

Factchecker Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post: How the right embraced the false claim that Hillary Clinton ‘spied’ on President Donald Trump.

Erick Boelert writes that John Durham is “Ken Starr II”: The media and Durham’s corrupt “spying” investigation.

In other news, the situation in Ukraine is getting more and more dangerous. Here are the latest stories this morning:

Interesting analysis of Putin from Anton Troianovski at The New York Times: Vladimir Putin: Crafty Strategist or Aggrieved and Reckless Leader?

MOSCOW — At this moment of crescendo for the Ukraine crisis, it all comes down to what kind of leader President Vladimir V. Putin is.

In Moscow, many analysts remain convinced that the Russian president is essentially rational, and that the risks of invading Ukraine would be so great that his huge troop buildup makes sense only as a very convincing bluff. But some also leave the door open to the idea that he has fundamentally changed amid the pandemic, a shift that may have left him more paranoid, more aggrieved and more reckless.

Interior with dog, 1934, Henri MatisseThe 20-foot-long table that Mr. Putin has used to socially distance himself this month from European leaders flying in for crisis talks symbolizes, to some longtime observers, his detachment from the rest of the world. For almost two years, Mr. Putin has ensconced himself in a virus-free cocoon unlike that of any Western leader, with state television showing him holding most key meetings by teleconference alone in a room and keeping even his own ministers at a distance on the rare occasions that he summons them in person.

Speculation over a leader’s mental state is always fraught, but as Mr. Putin’s momentous decision approaches, Moscow commentators puzzling over what he might do next in Ukraine are finding some degree of armchair psychology hard to avoid.

“There’s this impression of irritation, of a lack of interest, of an unwillingness to delve into anything new,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and former member of Mr. Putin’s human rights council, said of the president’s recent public appearances. “The public is being shown that he has been in practical isolation, with ever fewer breaks, since the spring of 2020.”

Could Putin be nearly as crazy as Trump?

A large-scale invasion of Ukraine, many analysts point out, would be an enormous escalation compared with any of the actions that Mr. Putin has taken before. In 2014, the Kremlin’s subterfuge allowed Russian forces stripped of identifying markings to capture Crimea without firing a single shot. The proxy war that Mr. Putin fomented in Ukraine’s east allowed him to deny being a party to the conflict.

“Starting a full-scale war is completely not in Putin’s interest,” said Anastasia Likhacheva, the dean of world economy and international affairs at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “It is very difficult for me to find any rational explanation for a desire to carry out such a campaign.”

Even if Mr. Putin were able to take control of Ukraine, she noted, such a war would accomplish the opposite of what the president says he wants: rolling back the NATO presence in Eastern Europe. In the case of a war, the NATO allies would be “more unified than ever,” Ms. Likhacheva said, and they would be likely to deploy powerful new weaponry along Russia’s western frontiers.

CNBC: Russia now has over 150,000 troops near Ukraine, U.S. official says, amid reports of more attacks.

The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media on Friday exchanged fresh accusations of cease-fire violations near the country’s eastern border.

Andre Utter and his dog, by Suzanne Valadon, 1932

Andre Utter and his dog, by Suzanne Valadon, 1932

In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation said 45 cease-fire violations had been recorded in eastern Ukraine on Friday as of 2 p.m. local time. The JFO alleged that 34 of those violations included the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements, which Russia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists signed in 2014 and 2015 to prevent a war in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian state-controlled media agency RIA claimed on Friday that Ukrainian government forces had launched three shelling strikes against Russian-backed separatists.

CNBC was unable to verify either report.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday said its mission in Ukraine had reported almost 600 cease-fire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, substantially higher than the 153 violations reported during the previous period.

There’s much more at the link.

CBS News: Shelling intensifies in eastern Ukraine amid concern Russia’s creating a pretext for an invasion.

Kyiv — Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists they’re fighting in the country’s east reported a second day of increased shelling on Friday, as the leaders of the rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics accused the Ukrainian government of planning an imminent attack. The rebel administrations in the two breakaway regions announced plans to evacuate thousands of civilians into neighboring Russia.

Western leaders say an escalation in the fighting in Ukraine‘s Donbas region — which has simmered for almost eight years — could be part of Russian efforts to create a “false-flag” pretext to invade.

“Ukraine is not your enemy, but those who want to defend you against Ukraine are. Do not heed rumours about some offensive operation,” Ukraine’s defense minister said in a speech Friday. “We have no intentions to conduct any force actions towards the ORDLO (Donbas) or the Crimea. At all. We will move by the political and diplomatic way. Because there are our citizens and we will not put them in danger.”  

The Ukrainian government’s reassurance didn’t appear to be calming nerves in the rebel-held region, however, with social media photos purporting to show people lining up to take money out of banks.

Read more at CBS News.

Two Dogs, Malmo Konsthall, Sweden, 1911

Two Dogs, Malmo Konsthall, Sweden, 1911

Reuters: Rebels announce evacuation from east Ukraine.

MOSCOW/KYIV, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said on Friday they planned to evacuate their breakaway region’s residents to Russia, a shock turn in a conflict the West believes Moscow plans to use to justify an all-out invasion of its neighbour.

Announcing the move on social media, Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said Russia had agreed to provide accommodation for those who leave. Women, children and the elderly should be evacuated first. The other self-proclaimed region, Luhansk, made a similar announcement.

Millions of civilians are believed to live in the two rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine; most are Russian speakers and many have already been granted Russian citizenship.

The eastern Ukraine conflict zone saw the most intense artillery bombardment for years on Friday, with the Kyiv government and the separatists trading blame. Western countries have said they think the shelling, which began on Thursday and intensified in its second day, is part of a pretext to invade.

Washington said Russia – which says it started drawing down troops near Ukraine this week – had instead done the opposite: ramping up the force menacing its neighbour to between 169,000 and 190,000 troops, from 100,000 at the end of January.

“This is the most significant military mobilisation in Europe since the Second World War,” U.S. ambassador Michael Carpenter told a meeting at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

One more from Foreign Policy: Russia Planning Post-Invasion Arrest and Assassination Campaign in Ukraine, U.S. Officials Say.

The United States has obtained intelligence that Russia may target prominent political opponents, anti-corruption activists, and Belarusian and Russian dissidents living in exile should it move forward with plans to invade Ukraine, as U.S. President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that the threat of a renewed Russian invasion of the country remains “very high” and could take place within the next several days. 

Four people familiar with U.S. intelligence said that Russia has drafted lists of Ukrainian political figures and other prominent individuals to be targeted for either arrest or assassination in the event of a Russian assault on Ukraine.

Cape Cod Evening, Edward Hopper

Cape Cod Evening, Edward Hopper

A fifth person, a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the United States has been downgrading its intelligence classification regarding threats to specific groups within Ukraine to share this information with Ukrainian government officials and other partners in the region positioned to help….

“As we’ve seen in the past, we expect Russia will try to force cooperation through intimidation and repression,” said a U.S. official who spoke on background on condition of anonymity. 

“These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons,” the official said. 

The Biden administration has also been startled by how formalized the lists are, which appear to target anyone who could challenge the Russian agenda. Five Eyes intelligence partners have also tracked Russian intelligence agencies, such as the FSB and GRU, building up target and kill lists. One congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the moves were typical of Russian doctrine, using armed forces to seize military objectives, while special operators shape the conflict and intelligence operators come into the country to get rid of opposition elements. 

I expect there will be more developments in the Ukraine story today and over the weekend. 

What are your thoughts? What other stories are you following?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Black cat sleeping by Harry Boardman

Black cat sleeping by Harry Boardman

The news today is mostly focused on the situation in Ukraine. Here are the latest developments:

The Washington Post: U.S. orders most embassy staffers in Kyiv to leave Ukraine amid fears Russia will invade soon.

KYIV, Ukraine —The U.S. State Department began evacuating staffers from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv Saturday, amid mounting warnings that Moscow could imminently launch an invasion of Ukraine, according to a security update emailed to U.S. citizens in the country.

“U. S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine, and those in Ukraine should depart immediately using commercial or other privately available transportation options,” the advisory said.

Russia has pushed back fiercely against the stark warnings by the Biden administration that Moscow is on the verge of attack, accusing the West of hysteria and spreading disinformation even as Russian forces continue to hold major exercises near Kyiv’s borders.

However,Russia confirmed media reports Saturday that it was pulling its own diplomatic staff from Ukraine, citing “possible provocations by the Kyiv regime and third countries.” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova said the move was in response to the growing list of other governments deciding to draw down their diplomatic corps and urging their citizens to leave.

“We conclude that our American and British colleagues apparently know about some military actions being prepared in Ukraine,” she said, according to a statement by the ministry.

Russia is apparently trying to put the blame on the U.S. for any escalation of the situation.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan cautioned Friday that there is a “very distinct possibility” that Russia will invade Ukraine in a “reasonably swift time frame” and urged all U.S. citizens there to leave immediately. Sullivan could not confirm that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a final decision to attack, but he said that military action could begin “any day.”

Diplomats raced to steer the situation back from the brink Saturday, but with little sign of progress. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, warned Russia that invading Ukraine “would result in a resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response,” according to the State Department.

Lavrov, for his part, accused Washington of engaging in a propaganda campaign against Russia, pursuing “provocative goals” and pushing its allies in Kyiv to resolve its crisis in the contested Donbass territory with force, according to Russia’s foreign ministry.

Norbertine Bressslern-Rother, Two Cats, linocut print, 1920s

Norbertine Bressslern-Rother, Two Cats, linocut print, 1920s

President Biden will speak with Vladimir Putin today. AP: Putin, Biden plan high-stakes phone call in Ukraine crisis.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden are to hold a high-stakes telephone call on Saturday as tensions over a possibly imminent invasion of Ukraine escalated sharply and the U.S. announced plans to evacuate its embassy in the Ukrainian capital.

Before talking to Biden, Putin is to have a call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with him in Moscow earlier in the week to try to resolve the crisis.

Russia has massed well over 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border and has sent troops to exercises in neighboring Belarus, but insistently denies that it intends to launch an offensive against Ukraine….

Biden has said the U.S. military will not enter a war in Ukraine, but he has promised severe economic sanctions against Moscow, in concert with international allies.

The timing of any possible Russian military action remains a key question.

The U.S. picked up intelligence that Russia is looking at Wednesday as a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and did so only on condition of anonymity, would not say how definitive the intelligence was. The White House publicly underscored that the U.S. does not know with certainty whether Putin is committed to invasion.

However, U.S. officials said anew that Russia’s buildup of offensive air, land and sea firepower near Ukraine has reached the point where it could invade on short notice.

More from The Washington Post on Russian plans to blame Ukraine and U.S. if Putin decides to send in troops: New intelligence suggests Russia plans a ‘false flag’ operation to trigger an invasion of Ukraine.

The United States has obtained new intelligence that suggests Russia is planning to stage an attack that it would falsely blame on Ukraine to justify invading the country, possibly as early as next week, according to multiple U.S. and European officials who have reviewed the intelligence or been briefed on it.

Cat with butterfly, woodcut by Joyce Gibson

Cat with butterfly, woodcut by Joyce Gibson

The intelligence about a “false flag” operation was discussed in a quickly convened meeting in the White House Situation Room on Thursday evening and helped prompt renewed calls from the Biden administration for all Americans to leave Ukraine immediately, according to officials familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

The precise timing and nature of the Russian operation was unclear. The United States had already accused Russia of planning to film a fake attack against Russian territory or Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine. The new intelligence is distinct from that alleged operation, the officials said.

Officials in multiple capitals concurred that the intelligence appeared to show that Russia is in the final stages of preparing to mount an invasion, which analysts have said could leave up to 50,000 civilians dead or wounded and lead to the fall of the government in Kyiv within a few days.

“Moscow is actively trying to create a casus belli,” or a justification for war, a Western official said.

A couple more interesting Ukraine links to check out:

The Washington Post: The TikTok buildup: Videos reveal Russian forces closing in on Ukraine.

Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul at Foreign Affairs: How to Make a Deal With Putin. Only a Comprehensive Pact Can Avoid War.

Another big story in the news is the Truck convoy in Ottowa. The New York Times is posting live updates on the story. Here’s the latest: Police confront protesters, and some begin to leave Ontario bridge.

Canadian police moved in Saturday morning to clear protesters at a vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario, connecting Canada and the United States.

The Windsor Police wrote on Twitter Saturday morning that “The Windsor Police & its policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge.” It added: “We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully & peacefully.”

Police officers wearing heavy jackets but not wielding shields or other riot gear, were standing in a line on Saturday morning, and were cautiously and progressively edging closer to the protesters. Vehicles began to leave the site just before 10 a.m., their horns blaring as they departed.

Natalia Leonova - Breakfast in Bed. 2017. Pastel on paper

Natalia Leonova – Breakfast in Bed. 2017. Pastel on paper

At the intersection closest to the bridge, some protesters remained in the street, facing off with police officers.

Some of the protesters were yelling at police, while others chanted “freedom, freedom!” and sang “O Canada,” the national anthem. A group of protesters dismantled a tent where they had kept food and supplies, then swept the area around it.

Automakers have been particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which normally carries $300 million worth of goods a day, about a third of which are related to the auto industry. The blockades have left carmakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to shut down some plants from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.

A court order calling for protesters to disband or face stiff fines or prison went into effect on Friday at 7 p.m., and the numbers of protesters has since thinned. But on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters, some dressed in fluorescent construction garb, had still refused to leave, and were milling around at an intersection before the bridge, drinking coffee and holding up Canadian flags. Other protesters remained in their pickup trucks, their engines idling, to stay warm.

Read more and check for future updates at the link.

Ben Collins, who covers right wing extremism at NBC News has a piece on the trucker protests: As U.S. ‘trucker convoy’ picks up momentum, foreign meddling adds to fray.

There is growing momentum in the U.S. anti-vaccination community to conduct rallies similar to Canada’s “Freedom Convoy” that has paralyzed Ottawa, Ontario, and the effort is receiving a boost from a familiar source: overseas content mills.

Some Facebook groups that have promoted American “trucker convoys” similar to demonstrations that have clogged roads in Ottawa are being run by fake accounts tied to content mills in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania and several other countries, Facebook officials told NBC News on Friday.

The groups have popped up as extremism researchers have begun to warn that many anti-vaccine and conspiracy-driven communities in the U.S. are quickly pivoting to embrace and promote the idea of disruptive convoys.

Researchers at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy first noted that large pro-Trump groups had been changing their names to go with convoy-related themes earlier this week. Grid News reported on Friday that one major trucker convoy Facebook group was being run by a Bangladesh content farm.

Tomoo Inagaki, Chatting Cats

Tomoo Inagaki, Chatting Cats

Many of the groups have changed names multiple times, going from those that tap hot-button political issues such as support for former President Donald Trump or opposition to vaccine mandates, to names with keywords like “trucker,” “freedom” and “convoy.”  Facebook allows groups on its platforms to change names but tracks the changes in each page’s “about” section.

The motivations of the people behind the content mills are not clear, but Joan Donovan, director of the Shorenstein Center, said the pattern fits existing efforts to make money off U.S. political divisions.

“In some ways, it’s normal political activity,” Donovan said. “In other ways, we have to look at how some of the engagement online is fake but can be a way to mobilize more people.”

“When we see really effective disinformation campaigns, it’s when the financial and political motives align,” she added.

Of course Fox News is cheering for the “protesters” causing chaos up north. Matthew Gertz at Media Matters: Fox News goes all-in promoting anti-vaccine-mandate Canadian truckers.

Fox News’ effort to discourage its viewers from vaccinating themselves against COVID-19 has gone international. The network’s stars have in recent weeks fixated on our neighbor to the north, regaling their audiences with fawning coverage of Canadian truckers protesting their country’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements – and encouraging the development of similar activism in the U.S.

Since January 29, a group of truckers and their allies has effectively crippled downtown Ottawa by using vehicles to block traffic, leading the city’s mayor to declare a state of emergency. Similar protests have occurred in cities across the country, and on Monday truckers blocked a major international crossing. This so-called “Freedom Convoy” originally assembled to oppose a newly implemented rule requiring them to either be vaccinated or quarantine after returning from trips across the U.S. border, but organizers now say they will continue their demonstrations until the national and provincial governments “end all mandates.”

The demonstrators are not representative of Canadian truckers or the populace at large. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the industry, has disavowed them, arguing that “a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry” and pointing out that nearly 90% of the nation’s truckers are vaccinated. Their actions are also unpopular with their fellow Canadians – a recent poll found nearly two-thirds of respondents there oppose the Ottawa protest.

But on the other side of the border, Fox hosts are extremely excited about the protests, even as they quietly labor under the network’s own stringent vaccine requirements. The network devoted 10 hours and 8 minutes to the story from the first mention of the convoy we found on January 18 through February 10. Prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are among the convoy’s biggest fans at the network, giving it 1 hour and 13 minutes and 1 hour and 5 minutes, respectively.

I’ll end with this story at CNN that provides details on the ongoing efforts of the National Archives to retrieve government documents that Trump took with him when he left the White House:  Archives threatened to go to Congress and Justice Department to get Trump to turn over records.

Worried that a trove of White House records that had been brought to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate contained classified material, a top official in the former President’s orbit warned his aides last fall: Do not touch those boxes.

Spotted Cat, woodcut by Seiho Takeuchi

Spotted Cat, woodcut by Seiho Takeuchi

The senior official in Trump’s inner circle did not want to risk exposing sensitive materials to aides who may have lacked the appropriate security clearances, according to a person familiar with the matter. The boxes, which were being stored at the time in Trump’s personal suite at his Florida club, had landed on the National Archives and Records Administration’s radar after officials there noticed that several items were missing from their catalog of Trump White House records.

In May 2021, the realization that important items from Trump’s time in office — including some of his correspondence with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and infamous Sharpie-altered map of Hurricane Dorian — were not transferred to the Archives at the end of his presidency prompted NARA officials to contact Trump’s team.

Longtime Archives lawyer Gary Stern first reached out to a person from the White House counsel’s office who had been designated as the President Records Act point of contact about the record-keeping issue, hoping to locate the missing items and initiate their swift transfer back to NARA, said multiple sources familiar with the matter. The person had served as one of Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys months earlier and, as deputy counsel, was among the White House officials typically involved in ensuring records were properly preserved during the transfer of power and Trump’s departure from office.

Trump claimed that he returned the materials “easily and without conflict and on a very friendly basis,” but of course that was a lie. The Archives have been battling with Trump over the documents since last spring and he likely still has more materials that he hasn’t turned over.

One source familiar with the situation says the document turnover has “not been fully resolved” and says Trump is still in possession of documents the Archives wants. The Archives hinted at this in a statement earlier this week.

“Former President Trump’s representatives have informed NARA that they are continuing to search for additional Presidential records that belong to the National Archives,” the Archives said in a statement.

Mother cat wiht her two kittens,, Lucy Dawson print, 1946

Mother cat sleeping with her two kittens, Lucy Dawson drawing, 1946

In a series of interviews with CNN, a half-dozen people familiar with the matter described a tense situation that took nearly eight months to resolve — beginning with NARA’s outreach in May and ending with its retrieval of the boxes from Mar-a-Lago last month.

In the end, it may have been a threat that ended the impasse. At one point, the Archives notified a member of Trump’s team that it planned to alert Congress and the Department of Justice of the matter if it wasn’t quickly resolved, according to a person familiar with the warning. According to a person familiar with the matter, the Archives have since asked the Justice Department to investigate. It is unclear whether the Justice Department has started an investigation.

The House Oversight Committee chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, has also vowed to initiate a probe of the records’ removal from Trump’s Palm Beach resort, which she called “deeply troubling” in a statement on Monday.

What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Coronavirus News

Frida in Flames, 1953-54

Frida in Flames, 1953-54

Good Afternoon!!

The illustrations in this post are by paintings by Frida Kahlo

I hate to focus another post on Covid-19, but honestly I think it’s the biggest story today. Cases are rising again, even in highly vaccinated states like Massachusetts. 

WCVB ABC 5: Massachusetts seeing COVID-19 surge; 717 new cases reported since Friday.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States, Massachusetts is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows an additional 717 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported Monday. The data includes new positive coronavirus cases reported since Friday.

The data shows the biggest percentage increase in cases was on Cape Cod, where 59 new cases were reported, or a 0.4% increase since Friday.

Middlesex County reported 147 new cases since Friday. Suffolk County reported 114 new cases, Worcester County reported 73 new cases and Norfolk County reported 59 new cases.

The COVID-19 positivity rate has also increase, from a seven-day weighted average low of 0.31% in mid-June to its current mark of 1.16%.

According to Monday’s report from the DPH, 106 patients with confirmed coronavirus cases were hospitalized in Massachusetts, of which 31 were reported to be in an intensive care unit.

The seven-day average of hospitalizations has increased every day since July 9, increasing from a low of 85 to its current number of 106.

Still Life with Roses

Still Life with Roses, 1925

Some of these cases and deaths are breakthrough cases. Boston NBC 10: Breakthrough COVID Cases in Massachusetts, Explained.

At least 79 people have died and more than over 300 have been hospitalized in Massachusetts due to COVID-19 breakthrough cases after they were fully vaccinated, state health officials say….

A vaccine breakthrough case occurs when a person tests positive for COVID-19 after they’ve been fully vaccinated against the disease.

A person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine….

Seventy-nine vaccinated residents in Massachusetts died from COVID-19, either without being hospitalized or following a hospital stay, DPH said. That death toll reflects 1.78% of the 4,450 confirmed breakthrough cases and 0.0019% of the 4,195,844 people fully vaccinated as of July 10.

“All available data continue to support that all 3 vaccines used in the US are highly protective against severe disease and death from all known variants of COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated,” the DPH said in a statement to The Boston Globe.

Stephen Collinson at CNN on the state of the pandemic in the U.S. as a whole: A day of reckoning shows America’s pandemic battle is sliding backward.

If Joe Biden’s July Fourth fireworks marked a moment to declare the darkest days of the pandemic over, Monday was the day when reality dawned that the nation’s fight against Covid-19 is quickly sliding back in the wrong direction.

A hybrid version of American life that will pass for normality for the foreseeable future is coming into view, in which most of the vaccinated live and many of those who refuse their shots get sick or die.

In a moment of stark symbolism, new schools guidance released Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing dashed hopes that kids robbed of a chunk of their childhoods by Covid-19 could go back to carefree schooldays this fall. The prospect of millions of youngsters over 2-years-old in face coverings in class epitomized how the nation is still under siege from the virus. It’s also likely to unleash yet another political culture war in some GOP states that abhor masking and have banned schools from seeking to protect the vulnerable that way.

thinking-about-death-1943.jpg!Large

Thinking about Death, 1943

In another shock to the national psyche on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 700 points in its biggest drop of the year as alarm over virulent Delta variant infections hammered travel, leisure and energy stocks that had been juiced by the idea of a summer of freedom.

And at the same time, eyes were drawn toward Tokyo, where more worries loom. So often, the Olympics forge cathartic national unity thanks to athletes inspired to go faster, higher, stronger. Such a moment has rarely been so needed. But these Games are unlikely to offer that feeling of escape, as they often do — a sheen of reflected glory for the White House….

All these developments, in many cases, represented a realization that hopes that the virus would be in the rearview mirror this summer were unfounded and that some kind of new national effort is warranted.

“If we don’t get a significant proportion of these recalcitrant people vaccinated, you’re going to be seeing a smoldering of this outbreak in our country for a considerable period of time,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday.

In fact, the Olympic games could still be cancelled. CNBC: Tokyo 2020 chief Muto doesn’t rule out 11th-hour cancellation of Olympic Games.

The chief of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee on Tuesday did not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the Olympics, as more athletes tested positive for COVID-19 and major sponsors ditched plans to attend Friday’s opening ceremony.

Asked at a news conference if the global sporting showpiece might still be cancelled, Toshiro Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and liaise with other organizers if necessary.

“We can’t predict what   will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” said Muto.

“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”

tunas-still-life-with-prickly-pear-fruit-1938.jpg!Large

Tunas. Still Life with Prickly Pear, 1938

Two new polls reveal discouraging news about the people who are refusing to be vaccinated. 

Yahoo News: Unvaccinated Americans say COVID vaccines are riskier than the virus, even as Delta surges among them.

When asked which poses a greater risk to their health, more unvaccinated Americans say the COVID-19 vaccines than say the virus itself, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — a view that contradicts all available science and data and underscores the challenges that the United States will continue to face as it struggles to stop a growing “pandemic of the unvaccinated” driven by the hyper-contagious Delta variant.

The survey of 1,715 U.S. adults, which was conducted from July 13 to 15, found that just 29 percent of unvaccinated Americans believe the virus poses a greater risk to their health than the vaccines — significantly less than the number who believe the vaccines represent the greater health risk (37 percent) or say they’re not sure (34 percent).

Over the last 18 months, COVID-19 has killed more than 4.1 million people worldwide, including more than 600,000 in the U.S. At the same time, more than 2 billion people worldwide — and more than 186 million Americans — have been at least partially vaccinated against the virus, and scientists who study data on their reported side effects continue to find that the vaccines are extraordinarily safe.

Yet 93 percent of unvaccinated U.S. adults — the equivalent of 76 million people — say they will either “never” get vaccinated (51 percent); that they will keep waiting “to see what happens to others before deciding” (20 percent); or that they’re not sure (22 percent).

Read more details at the link.

Axios: Axios-Ipsos poll: Convincing the unvaccinated.

Most Americans who still aren’t vaccinated say nothing — not their own doctor administering it, a favorite celebrity’s endorsement or even paid time off — is likely to make them get the shot, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: The findings are more sobering evidence of just how tough it may be to reach herd immunity in the U.S. But they also offer a roadmap for trying — the public health equivalent of, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

What they’re saying: “There’s a part of that population that are nudge-able and another part that are unbudge-able,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs.

  • “From a public health standpoint they’ve got to figure out how you nudge the nudge-able.”

Details: 30% of U.S. adults in our national survey said they haven’t yet gotten the COVID-19 vaccine — half of them a hard no, saying they’re “not at all likely” to take it. We asked the unvaccinated about how likely they’d be to take it in a number of scenarios:

  • The best prospect was a scenario in which they could get the vaccine at their regular doctor’s office. But even then, 55% said they’d remain not at all likely and only 7% said they’d be “very likely” to do it. That leaves a combined 35% who are either somewhat likely or not very likely but haven’t ruled it out.
  • The Biden administration’s Olivia Rodrigo play won’t reach a lot of the holdouts, according to these results: 70% said the endorsement of a celebrity or public figure they like is “not at all likely” to get them to take a shot, and just 4% said they’d be “very likely” to do it. But another combined 24% could be somewhat in play.
  • What if your boss gave you paid time off to get the shot? 63% said they’d still be not at all likely to do it, while 5% said they’d be very likely. Another 30% combined are potentially but not eagerly gettable.
  • Similar majorities said they’d be unmoved by community volunteers coming to the door to discuss the vaccine, the option to get a shot at work or a mobile clinic, or being lobbied by friends or family members.

Again, go deeper at the Axios link.

At CNN Oliver Darcy reports on the horrifying vaccine hypocrisy at Fox News: Fox has quietly implemented its own version of a vaccine passport while its top personalities attack them.

Tucker Carlson has called the idea of vaccine passports the medical equivalent of “Jim Crow” laws. And other Fox News personalities have spent months both trafficking in anti-vaccine rhetoric and assailing the concept of showing proof of vaccination status.

But Fox Corporation, the right-wing talk channel’s parent company, has quietly implemented the concept of a vaccine passport as workers slowly return back to the company’s offices.

Fox employees, including those who work at Fox News, received an email, obtained by CNN Business, from the company’s Human Resources department in early June that said Fox had “developed a secure, voluntary way for employees to self-attest their vaccination status.”

fx1The system allows for employees to self-report to Fox the dates their shots were administered and which vaccines were used.

The company has encouraged employees to report their status, telling them that “providing this information to FOX will assist the company with space planning and contact tracing.”

Employees who report their status are allowed to bypass the otherwise required daily health screening, according to a follow-up email those who reported their vaccination status received.

“Thank you for providing FOX with your vaccination information,” the email said. “You no longer are required to complete your daily health screening through WorkCare/WorkMatters.”

The concept, which was first reported Monday by Ryan Grim on The Hill’s morning streaming show, is known internally as “FOX Clear Pass.”

While the “Fox Clear Pass” is voluntary for employees, and other companies have similar tools, it is still remarkable, given how vocal Fox’s top talent has been in criticizing the concept of vaccine passports.

There was a bit of good news yesterday in Indiana. The New York Times: A Federal Judge Upholds Indiana University’s Vaccine Requirement for Students.

In what appeared to be the first ruling upholding a coronavirus vaccine mandate by a university, a federal judge affirmed on Monday that Indiana University could require that its students be vaccinated against the virus.

A lawyer for eight student plaintiffs had argued that requiring the vaccine violated their right to bodily integrity and autonomy, and that the coronavirus vaccines have only emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, and should not be considered as part of the normal range of vaccinations schools require. He vowed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary….

He said that the appeal would be paid for by America’s Frontline Doctors, a conservative organization that has been pursuing an anti-vaccine agenda. Mr. Bopp, of Terre Haute, Ind., is known for his legal advocacy promoting conservative causes.

Mr. Bopp filed the lawsuit in June, after Indiana University announced the previous month that faculty, staff and students would be required to get coronavirus vaccinations before coming to school this fall.

viva-la-vida-watermelons 1954

Viva la Vida, 1954

The university, whose main campus is in Bloomington, Ind., said that students who did not comply would have their class registrations canceled and would be barred from campus activities.

The requirement permitted exemptions only for religious objections, documented allergies to the vaccine, medical deferrals and virtual class attendance.

On Monday, Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana said that while he recognized the students’ interest in refusing unwarranted medical treatment, such a right must be weighed against the state’s greater interest.

“The Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff,” his ruling said, also noting that the university had made exceptions for students who object.

Judge Leichty was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump.

Sorry for the boring post, but unless we get a grip on this pandemic, any chance of a return to “normal” life is going to disappear. 

As always, this is an open thread.