Tuesday Reads: Two Momentous Days

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Good Afternoon!!

Is it really only Tuesday? I’m already exhausted and the week has barely begun. Today is the day that voters in Georgia will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. Trump held a rally in Georgia last night, supposedly to support Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue, the GOP candidates, but he spend most of his time arguing that he actually won the November election and should remain in office for four more years. Tomorrow Trump’s army of seditionists will be trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election–in Congress and in the streets of DC. Trump has been encouraging them to come and cause trouble in the streets and yesterday, he announced plans to address the angry rabble during their “protests.” Here’s the latest:

Georgia Runoff Elections

NBC News: Georgia voters head to the polls in pivotal Senate runoff elections.

Georgia voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in pivotal runoff elections that will determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. ET in the state and they close at 7 p.m. ET. Voters who are in line by 7 p.m. can still cast a ballot, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office. More than 3 million Georgia residents have already cast ballots in the two races during the early voting period that started Dec. 14.

In the races, Democrat Jon Ossoff is running against Republican David Perdue, whose Senate term expired on Sunday with the start of the new Congress, and Democrat Raphael Warnock is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The runoffs come after none of the candidates captured 50 percent of the vote in November’s election.

jd010121daprThe outcome Tuesday will decide whether Republicans will retain control of the Senate or Democrats retake the majority, which would give President-elect Joe Biden a better chance at passing his agenda through Congress. If both Democrats win, the chamber would be split 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaker for Democrats on party-line votes. But the party would still face obstacles given the need for 60 votes to advance major legislation.

From Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball: 

With Election Day voting underway in the crucial Senate runoffs in Georgia, we continue to see both races as Toss-ups. But after an early-voting period where Democrats may have performed better than they did in the lead-up to the November election, Republicans may need to follow suit with an impressive day-of-election performance to defend Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) against challengers Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D), respectively.

Georgians have cast roughly 3 million votes so far in the contest through early in-person and mail-in voting. Even without accounting for any Election Day votes, this is an impressive turnout, about 60% of the roughly 5 million votes cast in Georgia’s high-turnout November election.

The last time Georgia had a Senate runoff, in 2008, only 2.1 million votes were cast compared to 3.9 million votes cast for president in the general election. So a dozen years ago, turnout in the runoff was just a little more than half that of the general election, and then-Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) won the runoff by 15 points after leading in the November vote by just three points.

cjones01022021The turnout in these runoffs as a percentage of the general election vote is going to be markedly higher than in 2008. The key question is how much higher.

The votes cast before Election Day in these Senate runoffs may be more Democratic leaning than those cast before the November general election. Perhaps the most encouraging data point for Democrats is that the Black voter share of the pre-Election Day vote is up a few points from the pre-Election Day Black vote in the general election. Given that Black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, any increase in the Black share of the electorate is very important.

Read more analysis at the link.

A couple more Georgia election stories to check out:

Takeo Spikes at USA Today: Georgia’s rural Black voters were ignored and suppressed. Now they might flip the Senate.

NBC News: In Georgia, Democrats close with populist pitch vowing $2,000 stimulus checks.

Trump’s Final Rally

Politico: Trump uses Georgia rally to pressure GOP on Electoral College challenge.

President Donald Trump came to Georgia on Monday to campaign for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in an attempt to help Republicans retain control of the Senate. But he very quickly revealed another motivation for traveling to this ultra-conservative enclave.

“Hello, Georgia. By the way, there is no way we lost Georgia. There’s no way,” Trump said immediately after taking the stage. “That was a rigged election. But we are still fighting it.” [….]

“People will remember the people who don’t support us,” Trump said of Wednesday’s joint session of Congress, when lawmakers will vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes.

Speaking at a rally here, Trump berated members of his party who have refused to support his attempt to overturn Biden’s win in November, and continued to promote falsehoods that the election was stolen from him — spending relatively little time talking up the incumbent senators whose runoff elections will take place on Tuesday.

He vowed to campaign against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in 2022 because they certified Biden’s win in the state, and he praised Republicans who plan to challenge the Electoral College results in Congress this week.

On Twitter, Aaron Rupar reported that the audience seemed bored when Trump briefly tried to talk about today’s Senate runoff elections. 

Tomorrow’s Trump Fan “Protests”

Politico: MAGA marchers plot final D.C. stand on Jan. 6.

Timed to the day when Congress will formally certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win, the MAGA crowd is trying to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers to refuse to seat Biden over fabricated voter-fraud claims. It’s a doomed plan, given the makeup of Congress, the absent evidence behind the rigged election allegations and the fact that every important state has already certified Biden’s win. Yet that hasn’t stopped a swell of Trump supporters from making plans — and the president from teasing his own appearance.

According to disinformation and extremist researchers, the Jan. 6 gathering will look similar to November’s Million MAGA March — a mashup of garden-variety Trump supporters and more extreme members of the far right, with no apparent central organizing apparatus. Stop the Steal, a group affiliated with pro-Trump super PACs and allies of Trump adviser Roger Stone, has filed for permits and plans to protest outside the Capitol, but other groups have also claimed to be the true official planners.

Click the link for more details.

ABC News: As he seeks to prevent certification of election, Trump plans to attend DC rally.

Over the weekend the president tweeted, “I will be there. Historic day!” replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers.

Yesterday, the Proud Boys leader was arrested and also sued. Read the details at The Washington Post: Proud Boys leader arrested in the burning of church’s Black Lives Matter banner, D.C. police say.

DC is preparing for possible violence from the Trump cultists.

NBC News: D.C. mayor calls on National Guard as pro-Trump protests set for capital.

The Washington Post: D.C. houses of worship beef up security as Trump defenders descend on the nation’s capital.

On Trump and the GOP Congressional Sedition Caucus

John Cassidy at The New Yorker: Trump’s Authoritarian Moment Is Here.

If there were any doubt remaining that Donald Trump still represents a dire threat to American democracy, the events of this weekend dispelled it. As a new Congress gathers to confirm that the voters chose Joe Biden to be the next President, a proceeding that should be a mere formality, Trump is desperately trying to overturn the result and stay in office. Even more disturbing, large numbers of elected Republicans are joining in this unprecedented effort to reject the popular will. If the Republic gets through the next two weeks without a catastrophe, we must surely take steps to protect ourselves against the next would-be authoritarian, which could well be Trump himself in 2024.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported the contents of a lengthy phone call that took place on Saturday between Trump and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state. Raffensperger is one of the honorable Republicans at the state and local level who have stood up against the President’s efforts to bully them into calling the election for the loser: him. The conversation was a long one—it lasted almost an hour—but the transcript shows that this wasn’t the Trump of the campaign trail or the White House press room, endlessly going off on tangents. Throughout the conversation, he remained focussed on his counterfactual narrative—that he carried Georgia easily—and a specific set of demands for Raffensperger.

247110_rgb_768“So look, all I want to do is this,” the President said at one point. “I just want to find eleven thousand seven hundred and eighty votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.” At numerous points, Trump repeated incendiary allegations about voter fraud in Georgia that some of his supporters have been putting forward. Among other things, he claimed that five thousand dead people voted, three hundred thousand fake ballots were submitted, and that Fulton County, an area the former Vice-President won big, shredded three thousand pounds of ballots and covertly removed voting machines. Raffensperger and his general counsel, who was also on the call, calmly pointed out that his office had investigated all of these claims and found them to be false. (Georgia’s state supreme court and a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush rejected the Trump campaign’s claims as well.) Trump wasn’t to be put off. “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need eleven thousand votes,” he repeated. “Fellas, I need eleven thousand votes. Give me a break.”

Since the election, some commentators have downplayed Trump’s refusal to accept the result, saying that he was merely exercising the inviolate American right to sue. But this wasn’t Rudy Giuliani standing outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping, in a Philadelphia strip mall. It was the President of the United States speaking from the Oval Office and leaning on a local election official, with the backing of his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who was also on the call, and a number of other Trump lawyers, including Cleta Mitchell, a partner at the corporate law firm Foley & Lardner. “The entire call is astonishing,” Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general at the Justice Department, commented on Twitter, after the Post report was published. “The bullying, the threats, the insults, the credulous embrace of discredited conspiracy theories. Like a crime boss, Trump occasionally says that all he wants is the truth. But he doesn’t—he wants the win.”

George F. Will at The Washington Post: Hawley, Cruz and their Senate cohort are the Constitution’s most dangerous domestic enemies.

On a conference call last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus that, in his 36 Senate years, he has twice cast votes to take the nation to war and once to remove a president, but that the vote he will cast this Wednesday to certify Joe Biden’s electoral college victory will be the most important of his career. McConnell (R-Ky.) understands the recklessness of congressional Republicans who are fueling the doubts of a large majority of Republicans about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

20210101edbbc-aThe day before McConnell’s somber statement, Missouri’s freshman Republican senator, Josh Hawley, announced that on Wednesday, 14 days before Biden will be inaugurated, he will challenge the validity of Biden’s election. Hawley’s conscience regarding electoral proprieties compels him to stroke this erogenous zone of the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominating electorate.

Hawley’s stance quickly elicited panicky emulation from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, another 2024 aspirant. Cruz led 10 other senators and senators-elect in a statement that presents their pandering to what terrifies them (their Trumpkin voters) as a judicious determination to assess the “unprecedented allegations” of voting improprieties, “allegations” exceeding “any in our lifetimes.”

So, allegations in sufficient quantity, although of uniformly risible quality, validate senatorial grandstanding that is designed to deepen today’s widespread delusions and resentments. While Hawley et al. were presenting their last-ditch devotion to President Trump as devotion to electoral integrity, Trump was heard on tape browbeating noncompliant Georgia election officials to “find” thousands of votes for him. Awkward.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The New York Times: Pence’s Choice: Side With the Constitution or His Boss.

Speaking to supporters of President Trump on Monday at the Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga., Vice President Mike Pence implored the crowd to vote in the two runoff elections Tuesday that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

“I am here for one reason and one reason only, and that is that Georgia and America need David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler back in the Republican majority,” Mr. Pence said.

But the crowd had a message for him, too.

“We need you do the right thing Jan. 6!” one supporter cried out. “Stop the steal!” shouted others. The crowd applauded.

Cartoonist Gary Varvel: Mike Pence's main job

If Mr. Pence has tried to skirt Mr. Trump’s efforts to cling to power, his reception in Georgia on Monday served as the latest reminder of the delicate role he will play on Wednesday, when Congress conducts what is typically a ceremonial duty of opening and counting certificates of electoral votes.

As president of the Senate, Mr. Pence is expected to preside over the pro forma certification of the Electoral College vote count in front of a joint session of Congress. It is a constitutionally prescribed, televised moment in which Mr. Pence will name the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

What Pence said in Georgia:

“I know we all have got our doubts about the last election,” Mr. Pence said Monday in Georgia, attempting to assuage Trump supporters. “I want to assure you that I share the concerns of millions of Americans about voting irregularities. I promise you, come this Wednesday, we will have our day in Congress.”

It was not clear, perhaps by design, what he meant. Mr. Pence does not have unilateral power to affect the outcome of Wednesday’s proceedings. But he has carefully tried to look like he is loyally following the president’s lead even as he goes through a process that is expected to end with him reading out a declaration that Mr. Biden is the winner.

We’ll find out tomorrow.

So that’s what’s happening over the next two days. It should be interesting. Take care of yourselves and take breaks from the news as needed!


Lazy Caturday Reads

Portrait of the Cat Armellino With a Sonnet by Bertazzi , Giovanni Reder, 1750

Portrait of the Cat Armellino With a Sonnet by Bertazzi , Giovanni Reder, 1750

Good Morning!!

As we get closer to Joe Biden’s inauguration, Trump is acting crazier than ever. I have to wonder if he can avoid a complete psychotic breakdown before he’s finally forced to leave the people’s house. With each passing day, he becomes more of an embarrassment to the country. Here’s the latest, along with some 18th Century cats in art:

The Daily Beast: Trump Plans to Fight the Election Even After ‘Stop the Steal’ Rally Ends.

Many of Donald Trump’s most dogmatic supporters see a mass protest in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6—just two weeks shy of Inauguration Day 2021—as their last chance to disrupt President-elect Joe Biden’s win. But for the president himself, it’s just another day to complain.

Two people familiar with the matter say that in recent days, Trump has told advisers and close associates that he wants to keep fighting in court past Jan. 6 if members of Congress, as expected, end up certifying the electoral college results.

“The way he sees it is: Why should I ever let this go?… How would that benefit me?” said one of the sources, who’s spoken to Trump at length about the post-election activities to nullify his Democratic opponent’s decisive victory.

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Girl Holding a Cat by Philippe Mercier, c.1750 (c) National Galleries of Scotland

The president’s exact plans for the Jan. 6 events remain unclear, and it has been common for him to lend his support to these rallies or protests via enthusiastic-sounding tweets, only to then stop short of doing much else. Since last week, Trump has asked certain aides and allies what they think would be good ideas for him to mark the occasion, such as a speech, a flyover, or a recorded video, the sources said….

On the day itself, protesters plan to meet in the northeast corner of the Capitol complex, where they’ll hear from a list of speakers that includes Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Trump adviser Roger Stone, and Rep-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has supported the QAnon conspiracy theory. Trump has promoted the protest on Twitter, urging his supporters to attend.

“Be there, will be wild!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 19.

CNN: Trump attacks No. 2 Senate Republican as the President turns on allies in his final days in office.

President Donald Trump is spending his final days in office attacking leadership within his own party, this time the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, offering a possible preview of his broader post-presidential strategy to use his influence in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.

Trump, back at the White House after his Mar-a-Lago holiday with no public events on his schedule, attacked Sen. John Thune, a South Dakotan who is the No. 2 Senate Republican, in an afternoon tweet on New Year’s Day.

“I hope to see the great Governor of South Dakota @KristiNoem, run against RINO @SenJohnThune, in the upcoming 2022 Primary. She would do a fantastic job in the U.S. Senate, but if not Kristi, others are already lining up. South Dakota wants strong leadership, NOW!” he wrote in a tweet.

Trump has railed against Republican leadership broadly multiple times this week, but this time is naming names. Thune, the Senate majority whip, had been one of the top Republicans to speak in favor of accepting the Electoral College results and President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, drawing Trump’s ire.

“Once somebody gets 270, I understand they’re ruling right now, but I think that’s the process we have, yes. … In the end at some point you have to face the music. And I think once the Electoral College settles the issue today, it’s time for everybody to move on,” Thune said ahead of the formal electoral college voting process last month.

Trump’s tweet comes just 19 days before he leaves the White House and days before a joint session of Congress is set to formally certify the Electoral College results, with some Trump allies planning to join his baseless efforts to overturn the results of the election.

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Little Girl Nursing a Kitten by James Northcote, 1795 (c) Paintings Collection

Trump’s childish tantrums threaten to disrupt GOP hopes of holding onto the Senate majority by winning two runoff elections in Georgia. Politico: Trump’s attacks on Senate Republicans complicate his Georgia message.

Trump’s last-minute moves to close out his presidency — from his demand for increased stimulus payments to his unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 election — have put Republicans in a bind ahead of the state’s runoffs next week that will determine which party controls the Senate. And the president’s messaging is ironically aligned with that of Democrats, who see a renewed opening on their broader push for more coronavirus relief aid after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Though he is actively campaigning for the state’s two incumbent GOP senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, holding a Monday night rally to drive turnout to help save the Republican majority, Trump is continuing to run roughshod all over the party’s message for Tuesday’s must-win runoffs and, some Republicans worry, giving Democrats a perfect opening.

On Friday, Trump called the Republican-controlled Senate “pathetic” for failing to deliver on the $2,000 stimulus checks and other demands he wanted to pair with it after the Senate voted to override his veto of the $741 billion defense policy bill.

“Now they want to give people ravaged by the China Virus $600, rather than the $2000 which they so desperately need,” Trump tweeted, referring to Senate Republicans. ”Not fair, or smart!”

Indeed, Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have been jumping all over the president’s demand to boost the pandemic relief payments by $1,400. It’s a major closing argument for them — especially on the heels of Senate Republicans blocking a stand-alone bill to increase the value of the checks.

For some unknown reason, reports The New York Times: Trump Calls Georgia Senate Races ‘Illegal and Invalid’

ATLANTA — President Trump took to Twitter Friday evening to make the unfounded assertion that Georgia’s two Senate races are “illegal and invalid,” an argument that could complicate his efforts to convince his supporters to turn out for Republican candidates in the two runoff races that will determine which party controls the Senate.

The president is set to hold a rally in Dalton, Ga., on Monday, the day before Election Day, and Georgia Republicans are hoping he will focus his comments on how crucial it is for Republicans to vote in large numbers for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the state’s two incumbent Republican senators.

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Portrait of Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange and kitty.

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Portrait of Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange and kitty.

But Mr. Trump has continued to make the false claim that Georgia’s election system was rigged against him in the Nov. 3 general election. Some Republican leaders are afraid that his supporters will take the president’s argument seriously, and decide that voting in a “corrupt” system is not worth their time, a development that could hand the election to the Democrats.

Some strategists and political science experts in the state have said Mr. Trump’s assault on Georgia’s voting system may be at least partly responsible for the relatively light Republican turnout in the conservative strongholds of northwest Georgia, where Dalton is, in the early voting period that ended Thursday.

Mr. Trump made his assertion about the Senate races in a Twitter thread in which he also made the baseless claim that “massive corruption” took place in the general election, “which gives us far more votes than is necessary to win all of the Swing States.”

The president made a specific reference to a Georgia consent decree that he said was unconstitutional. The problems with this document, he argued further, render the two Senate races and the results of his own electoral loss invalid.

Mr. Trump was almost certainly referring to a March consent decree hammered out between the Democratic Party and Republican state officials that helped establish standards for judging the validity of signatures on absentee ballots in the state.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to ignore the racing coronavirus pandemic.

CNN: US surpasses 20 million Covid-19 cases while experts foresee tough times in January.

The US surpassed 20 million total recorded Covid-19 cases on Friday, hours after the country ushered in 2021 and left behind its deadliest month of the pandemic.

The nation also has set a Covid-19 hospitalization record for four straight days. The high counts are a grim reminder that even with 2020 behind us, the pandemic continues to ravage parts of the country. And some leaders warn the worst is still ahead.

“We are still going to have our toughest and darkest days,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told CNN on Thursday.

More than 125,000 coronavirus patients were in US hospitals Friday, Covid Tracking Project data shows. 

(c) National Trust, Fenton House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

‘Psyche’, a White Persian Cat by Francis Sartorius I, 1787 (c) National Trust, Fenton House

Don’t miss this devastating piece on Trump’s epic failure at The New York Times: Trump’s Focus as the Pandemic Raged: What Would It Mean for Him?

It was a warm summer Wednesday, Election Day was looming and President Trump was even angrier than usual at the relentless focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

“You’re killing me! This whole thing is! We’ve got all the damn cases,” Mr. Trump yelled at Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, during a gathering of top aides in the Oval Office on Aug. 19. “I want to do what Mexico does. They don’t give you a test till you get to the emergency room and you’re vomiting.”

Mexico’s record in fighting the virus was hardly one for the United States to emulate. But the president had long seen testing not as a vital way to track and contain the pandemic but as a mechanism for making him look bad by driving up the number of known cases.

And on that day he was especially furious after being informed by Dr. Francis S. Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, that it would be days before the government could give emergency approval to the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment, something Mr. Trump was eager to promote as a personal victory going into the Republican National Convention the following week.

“They’re Democrats! They’re against me!” he said, convinced that the government’s top doctors and scientists were conspiring to undermine him. “They want to wait!”

Throughout late summer and fall, in the heat of a re-election campaign that he would go on to lose, and in the face of mounting evidence of a surge in infections and deaths far worse than in the spring, Mr. Trump’s management of the crisis — unsteady, unscientific and colored by politics all year — was in effect reduced to a single question: What would it mean for him?

The result, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former administration officials and others in contact with the White House, was a lose-lose situation. Mr. Trump not only ended up soundly defeated by Joseph R. Biden Jr., but missed his chance to show that he could rise to the moment in the final chapter of his presidency and meet the defining challenge of his tenure.

Read the whole thing at the NYT link.

The cat's lunch, Marguerite Gerard

The cat’s lunch, Marguerite Gerard

More stories to check out today:

Axios: Trump, the GOP arsonist.

The Washington Post: Judge dismisses Gohmert lawsuit seeking to stymie Biden electoral college count.

The New York Times: As Understanding of Russian Hacking Grows, So Does Alarm.

The New York Times: In Abrupt Reversal of Iran Strategy, Pentagon Orders Aircraft Carrier Home.

Times of Israel: Iran says killers of top general Soleimani, including Trump, ‘not safe on Earth’

ABC7 Los Angeles: Nancy Pelosi’s home vandalized with graffiti, fake blood on New Year’s Day.

The Los Angeles Times: Coughing, sneezing, vomiting: Visibly ill people aren’t being kept off planes.

Jay Rosen at PressThink: The Christmas Eve Confessions of Chuck Todd.

Lois Beckett at The Guardian: Facts won’t fix this: experts on how to fight America’s disinformation crisis.


Thursday Reads

Boston Comment, Park St. side, 1920

Boston Common, Park St. side, 1920

Good Morning!!

We’re in the midst of a big snowstorm here. My town has already gotten about 9 inches with more to come. The snow is coming down at a rate of 2-4 inches per hour. I don’t think I’ll be getting out anytime soon. Luckily I got a haircut and picked up groceries yesterday.

It looks like Mitch McConnell is finally going to allow the Senate to pass a paltry stimulus package. It includes $600.00 checks and $300.00 supplementary unemployment payments. Some Republicans are trying to make sure that people on unemployment don’t get the stingy checks. I don’t think this is going to be much help to millions of people who are about to be evicted from their homes and who can’t feed their families.

The New York Times: Staring Down Deadline, Congress Nears $900 Billion Stimulus Deal.

After months of stalemate, congressional leaders were on the verge on Wednesday of cementing a roughly $900 billion stimulus deal to deliver emergency aid to individuals and companies devastated by the toll of the worsening pandemic, racing to finish the details and stave off a government shutdown on Friday.

The measure, which has been under discussion for months as the coronavirus has ravaged the economy, is expected to provide a new round of direct payments to millions of Americans as well as additional unemployment benefits, food assistance and rental aid. It would prop up sputtering businesses with federally backed loans and provide funding for schools, hospitals and the distribution of a just-approved vaccine.

It looks like the package won’t include help for struggling state governments.

But even as lawmakers moved toward striking an elusive deal, the package pointed to troubles on the horizon for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who had pressed for at least some compromise on emergency pandemic aid before year’s end. To break the logjam, Democrats appeared to have dropped their demand for a dedicated funding stream for states and cities that are facing fiscal ruin, guaranteeing that Mr. Biden will have to act early in his tenure to try to bolster them and take additional action to prop up the economy.

“The stimulus package is encouraging,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday at an event in Wilmington, Del. “But it’s a down payment — an important down payment on what’s going to have to be done beginning the end of January into February. But it’s very important to get done.”

Gloucester Roofs, Edward Hopper, 1928

Gloucester Roofs, Edward Hopper, 1928

The only reason McConnell is allowing this much help for desperate Americans is that he’s afraid of losing control of the Senate.

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Mitch McConnell gives away the game: ‘Kelly and David are getting hammered’

Pressure works. That’s what we’re learning from the news that congressional negotiators are moving toward a deal on an economic rescue package that includes stimulus checks for individuals.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has now suggested on a private conference call with GOP senators that a key reason for this movement is that the two Georgia Republican senators, both of whom face runoffs in January, are “getting hammered” over Congress’ failure to pass a new rescue bill.

But this news doesn’t just tell us that Republicans are feeling heat from this failure. The likelihood that this played a key role in moving Republicans also underscores how unlikely they are to help the economy and the country next year, if they do retain control of the Senate.

CNN’s Manu Raju reports that on the call with GOP Senators on Wednesday, the Senate Majority Leader said that the lack of stimulus payments has become a big issue in the runoffs…

Well, as a matter of fact, “Kelly and David” have indeed been getting hammered on this issue. Their Democratic opponents, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, have run numerous ads — see herehere and here — hitting Republicans over the failure to pass more economic assistance.

It’s plainly obvious that this pressure is a key reason that Senate Republicans are now moving towards supporting the economic relief package (which is already far less than the country needs). Indeed, as late as this month, McConnell was still insisting on an even stingier package, one that didn’t include the supplemental unemployment assistance.

If Democrats don’t win those two seats in Georgia, it’s pretty clear that Moscow Mitch won’t allow any more help for struggling Americans. 

The basic question before us right now, as we look ahead to runoffs that will settle who controls the Senate next year, is this: What would continued Republican control mean, and what would it mean if Democrats took control instead?

We have long known the answer: Continued Republican control means almost no chance at anything close to what we’ll need in new stimulus spending and economic assistance next year, when the economic damage and resulting misery could, if anything, spiral into something much worse.

In Central Park, New York, ca. 1900, by Byron, Detroit Publishing Co., via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In Central Park, New York, ca. 1900, by Byron, Detroit Publishing Co., via Library of Congress.

Meanwhile, Russia has successfully hacked most of the U.S. Government and hundreds of American businesses. 

Trump’s former Homeland Security chief Thomas Bossert has a frightening op-ed about it in today’s New York Times: I Was the Homeland Security Adviser to Trump. We’re Being Hacked.

At the worst possible time, when the United States is at its most vulnerable — during a presidential transition and a devastating public health crisis — the networks of the federal government and much of corporate America are compromised by a foreign nation. We need to understand the scale and significance of what is happening.

Last week, the cybersecurity firm FireEye said it had been hacked and that its clients, which include the United States government, had been placed at risk. This week, we learned that SolarWinds, a publicly traded company that provides software to tens of thousands of government and corporate customers, was also hacked.

The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates of that software were made available to its customers. Unsuspecting customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software, which included a hidden back door that gave hackers access to the victim’s network.

This is what is called a supply-chain attack, meaning the pathway into the target networks relies on access to a supplier. Supply-chain attacks require significant resources and sometimes years to execute. They are almost always the product of a nation-state. Evidence in the SolarWinds attack points to the Russian intelligence agency known as the S.V.R., whose tradecraft is among the most advanced in the world.

According to SolarWinds S.E.C. filings, the malware was on the software from March to June. The number of organizations that downloaded the corrupted update could be as many as 18,000, which includes most federal government unclassified networks and more than 425 Fortune 500 companies.

Trump has given a huge gift to Putin and left a ghastly mess for Biden to clean up.

The magnitude of this ongoing attack is hard to overstate.

The Russians have had access to a considerable number of important and sensitive networks for six to nine months. The Russian S.V.R. will surely have used its access to further exploit and gain administrative control over the networks it considered priority targets. For those targets, the hackers will have long ago moved past their entry point, covered their tracks and gained what experts call “persistent access,” meaning the ability to infiltrate and control networks in a way that is hard to detect or remove.

Turner, Martin William, 1940-2006; Houses and Roofs in the Snow

Turner, Martin William; Houses and Roofs in the Snow; King’s College London.

While the Russians did not have the time to gain complete control over every network they hacked, they most certainly did gain it over hundreds of them. It will take years to know for certain which networks the Russians control and which ones they just occupy.

The logical conclusion is that we must act as if the Russian government has control of all the networks it has penetrated. But it is unclear what the Russians intend to do next. The access the Russians now enjoy could be used for far more than simply spying.

The actual and perceived control of so many important networks could easily be used to undermine public and consumer trust in data, written communications and services. In the networks that the Russians control, they have the power to destroy or alter data, and impersonate legitimate people. Domestic and geopolitical tensions could escalate quite easily if they use their access for malign influence and misinformation — both hallmarks of Russian behavior.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Natasha Bertrand and Andrew Disiderio at Politico: How suspected Russian hackers outed their massive cyberattack.

Foreign hackers who pulled off a stealthy breach of at least a dozen federal agencies got caught after successfully logging in to a top cybersecurity firm’s network, tipping the company off to a broader hacking campaign targeting the U.S. government, according to officials from the firm and congressional aides briefed on the issue.

The suspicious log-in prompted the firm, FireEye, to begin investigating what it ultimately determined to be a highly damaging vulnerability in software used across the government and by many Fortune 500 companies.

It’s not clear how long it took FireEye to notice that it had been hacked, in a scheme that U.S. officials have linked to Russian intelligence. But the vulnerability, found in IT management software developed by a company called SolarWinds, had given the hackers months of access to internal email accounts in at least a dozen U.S. federal agencies, including the Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce departments.

Two congressional staffers briefed on the intrusion said FireEye representatives, who met with multiple lawmakers and their staffers this week to discuss the hack, disclosed a potentially embarrassing detail: that the hackers had exploited a security feature called two-factor authentication to gain access to FireEye’s network by duping an employee into revealing his or her credentials.\In a 2016 blog post, FireEye laid out how such an attack might be carried out, noting that while “two-factor authentication is a best practice for securing remote access, it is also a Holy Grail for a motivated red team” — a reference to security professionals hired to find clients’ weak points — who can “use the most straightforward method to acquire the credentials we need: ask the victim to enter them for us. The perfect trap happens to be the simplest to set.”

FireEye is denying this explanation. Read all about it at Politico.

Circa 1910s. Horse-drawn sleigh for hauling goods, market district. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Boston Circa 1910s. Horse-drawn sleigh for hauling goods, market district. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

David Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, and Julian Barnes at The New York Times: Billions Spent on U.S. Defenses Failed to Detect Giant Russian Hack.

Over the past few years, the United States government has spent tens of billions of dollars on cyberoffensive abilities, building a giant war room at Fort Meade, Md., for United States Cyber Command, while installing defensive sensors all around the country — a system named Einstein to give it an air of genius — to deter the nation’s enemies from picking its networks clean, again.

It now is clear that the broad Russian espionage attack on the United States government and private companies, underway since spring and detected by the private sector only a few weeks ago, ranks among the greatest intelligence failures of modern times.

Einstein missed it — because the Russian hackers brilliantly designed their attack to avoid setting it off. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security were looking elsewhere, understandably focused on protecting the 2020 election.

The new American strategy of “defend forward” — essentially, putting American “beacons” into the networks of its adversaries that would warn of oncoming attacks and provide a platform for counterstrikes — provided little to no deterrence for the Russians, who have upped their game significantly since the 1990s, when they launched an attack on the Defense Department called Moonlight Maze.

Something else has not changed, either: an allergy inside the United States government to coming clean on what happened.

Click the NYT link to read the rest.

In coronavirus news, recent research reveals that young people are not immune to serious consequences from the virus. 

The New York Times: People Thought Covid-19 Was Relatively Harmless for Younger Adults. They Were Wrong.

Young adults are dying at historic rates. In research published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we found that among U.S. adults ages 25 to 44, from March through the end of July, there were almost 12,000 more deaths than were expected based on historical norms.

Big snow, 42nd St. NYC, 1956

Big snow, 42nd St. NYC, 1956

In fact, July appears to have been the deadliest month among this age group in modern American history. Over the past 20 years, an average of 11,000 young American adults died each July. This year that number swelled to over 16,000.

The trends continued this fall. Based on prior trends, around 154,000 in this demographic had been projected to die in 2020. We surpassed that total in mid-November. Even if death rates suddenly return to normal in December — and we know they have not — we would anticipate well over 170,000 deaths among U.S. adults in this demographic by the end of 2020.

While detailed data are not yet available for all areas, we know Covid-19 is the driving force behind these excess deaths. Consider New York State. In April and May, Covid-19 killed 1,081 adults ages 20 to 49, according to statistics we gathered from the New York State Health Department. Remarkably, this figure towers over the state’s usual leading cause of death in that age group — unintentional accidents including drug overdoses and road accidents — which combined to cause 495 deaths in this demographic during April and May of 2018, the most recent year for which data are available to the public.

Read the details at the link.

That’s it for me today. I hope you’re all doing well. Only 34 more days until we kick Trump out of the White House.