Thursday Reads

hammock-1923-henri-lebasque

Henri Lebasque, Hammock, 1923

Good Afternoon!!

More news broke yesterday about Trump’s intense efforts to overturn the results of the election so he could stay in office. It’s becoming clear that his inciting of the January 5 insurrection was just a last ditch effort after repeated coup attempts had failed.

Remember when the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta suddenly resigned early this year around the time when Trump’s phone calls pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find enough votes to change the state’s election results?

Yesterday, at the New York Times, Katie Brenner reported: Former U.S. attorney in Atlanta says Trump wanted to fire him for not backing election fraud claims.

Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, told congressional investigators on Wednesday that his abrupt resignation in January had been prompted by Justice Department officials’ warning that President Donald J. BTrump intended to fire him for refusing to say that widespread voter fraud had been found in Georgia, according to a person familiar with his testimony.

Mr. Pak, who provided more than three hours of closed-door testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, stepped down with no notice on Jan. 4, saying that he had done his best “to be thoughtful and consistent, and to provide justice for my fellow citizens in a fair, effective and efficient manner.”

While he did not discuss Mr. Trump’s role in his decision to resign at the time, he told the Senate panel that the president had been dismayed that Mr. Pak had investigated allegations of voter fraud in Fulton County, Ga., and not found evidence to support them, according to the person familiar with the statements.

Mr. Pak testified that top department officials had made clear that Mr. Trump intended to fire him over his refusal to say that the results in Georgia had been undermined by voter fraud, the person said. Resigning would pre-empt a public dismissal.

Rowntree, Kenneth, 1915-1997; The Balcony

Kenneth Rowntree, The Balcony

He also described work done by state officials and the F.B.I. to vet Mr. Trump’s claims of voter fraud, and said they had not found evidence to support those allegations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is examining Mr. Pak’s departure as part of its broader investigation into the final weeks of the Trump administration and the White House’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department to falsely assert that the election was corrupt. The Justice Department’s inspector general is also looking at Mr. Pak’s resignation.

During a phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia on Jan. 2, two days before Mr. Pak resigned, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Raffensperger to find enough votes to reverse the state’s presidential election results and described fraud allegations that Mr. Raffensperger said were not supported by facts, according to leaked audio of the call.

Mr. Pak had refused to support similar election fraud claims because of the lack of evidence, according to two people familiar with his investigation. “You have your never-Trumper U.S. attorney there,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Raffensperger during their phone call.

This story on then Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen’s Congressional testimony came out this morning at The Washington Post: What Rosen told U.S. senators: Trump applied ‘persistent’ pressure to get Justice to discredit election.

President Donald Trump’s last acting attorney general has told U.S. senators his boss was “persistent” in trying to pressure the Justice Department to discredit the results of the 2020 election.

In closed-door testimony Saturday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeffrey Rosen said he had to “persuade the president not to pursue a different path” at a high-stakes January meeting in which Trump considered ousting Rosen as the nation’s most powerful law enforcement officer.

Late Summer, Hermann Wessel, 1924

Late Summer, Hermann Wessel, 1924

According to a person familiar with the testimony, Rosen’s opening statement also characterized as “inexplicable” the actions of his Justice Department colleague, Jeffrey Clark, who was willing to push Trump’s false claims of election fraud and whom Trump considered installing as acting attorney general to replace Rosen….

On Saturday, Rosen appeared before the Senate committee to deliver his account directly. Donoghue testified as well. During a seven-hour interview, Rosen emphasized how he and other senior leaders resisted Trump’s entreaties.

“The president was persistent with his inquiries, and I would have strongly preferred that he had chosen a different focus in the last month of his presidency,” he said in his opening statement, according to a person familiar with the testimony, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door session. “But as to the actual issues put to the Justice Department, DOJ consistently acted with integrity, and the rule of law held fast.”

Rosen said he thought Trump’s claims about voting irregularities were “misguided, and I disagreed with things that President Trump suggested the Justice Department do with regard to the election. So we did not do them.”

Click the link to read the rest.

Mary Harris at Slate: A Rogue DOJ Lawyer Almost Kept Trump in Office. This is a report of an interview with Mark Joseph Stern, a Slate writer who has been reporting on Trump’s coup attempts. Stern argues that the DOJ’s Jeffrey Clark was supporting the efforts of Trump’s lawyers to get courts to declare various states’ election results invalid.

Mark Joseph Stern: …[Y]ou’ve got Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani claiming there’s mass voter fraud. You’ve got state attorneys general in 18 different states, as well as a lot of conservative intellectuals and Republican politicians, claiming that the election was conducted in an unconstitutional way….

Gari Melchers, The Sun Porch

Gari Melchers, The Sun Porch

So these folks talked about voter fraud, but they focused on this idea that only state legislatures get to decide the rules for a presidential election. And here, you had a lot of other players—governors, state courts, election boards—tweaking these rules in part because legislatures can’t foresee every possible election regulation, and sometimes state courts or secretaries of state or governors will have to step in and clarify things. But also, because of the COVID-19 crisis, you had a lot of states trying new things for the first time. And you also had a lot of states that refused to try new things, whose restrictive voting laws were going to force people to potentially wait in line indoors for a very long time and expose themselves to COVID. But all the modifications certain states made were modest.

Mary Harris: The neatness of making this argument that somehow the election was unconstitutional is that it potentially allows state legislatures to step in and override the vote, right?

That’s exactly right. That’s the endgame here. It’s not as if these folks were flailing and screaming and accusing the election results of being illegitimate. They had a purpose, which was to throw the procedure of the election into sufficient legal doubt so state legislatures would have an excuse to reconvene, step in, essentially ignore the results of the actual vote, and appoint their states’ electors in the Electoral College to Donald Trump….

It looks like most Justice Department officials balked at this idea, but Jeffrey Bossert Clark was all for it. And what we’ve seen in the release of documents that the House Oversight Committee has provided, and also from other reporting, is that he eagerly wanted to have the Justice Department step in in several different ways, specifically in Georgia, to push the state legislature to call its own special session, overturn the actual results, and declare Trump the real winner.

Winslow Homer, Sunshine and Shadow

Winslow Homer, Sunshine and Shadow

We’ve actually seen the drafts of the letters and lawsuits that Clark was typing up furiously and trying to issue on behalf of the entire Justice Department—and that would have potentially nudged Georgia and its legislature toward overthrowing its own election results….

There are a number of reports from high-level Justice Department officials that are somewhat corroborated by other emails we’ve seen about various meetings that were taking place at this time. They show that at this point, Clark had decided that Rosen didn’t have the backbone to steal the election or to intervene on Trump’s behalf. So Clark apparently held unauthorized conversations behind the backs of his superiors with the president himself, and seems to have floated this idea of using the Justice Department to make these state legislatures reconvene and reassign their electoral votes. Trump seems to have really liked this idea and even said to Rosen, Why am I having to deal with you and these state suits when I could be dealing with Clark, who would do everything I say? All I need to do is fire you and make Clark the new acting attorney general, and then he’ll do whatever I want.

Read the whole thing at Slate.

One more story on this topic from Politico: Emails: Senior DOJ officials wrangled over baseless Trump voter fraud allegations.

During Donald Trump’s final weeks in office, top Justice Department officials wrangled over how the FBI should handle a particularly wacky voter fraud allegation promoted by the then-president and his allies. Unreleased emails obtained by POLITICO show just how tense the episode got.

The dispute pitted a senior career section chief against one of the DOJ’s top officials, with the FBI caught in the crossfire. Trump’s appointees at DOJ ultimately prevailed, and their investigation — a probe into a viral video from Georgia that didn’t actually find any evidence of fraud — ended up playing a role in torpedoing the president’s narrative. While Trump’s opponents fretted that the FBI’s involvementwould undermine public confidence in elections and boost Republican talking points, it had the opposite effect.

Summer Porch at Mr. and Mrs. C.E.S. Woods, 1904, Child Hassam

Summer Porch at Mr. and Mrs. C.E.S. Woods, 1904, Child Hassam

At the time of the email dispute, Trump and his allies were lobbing a host of allegations about voter fraud, claiming wide-reaching and nefarious forces had conspired to steal the election for Biden. One allegation in particular commanded the president’s attention:a video showing election workers counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Trump’s allies claimed it showed the workers secretly pulling ballots out of “suitcases” and using them to commit election fraud.

Officials in the office of Georgia’s secretary of state quickly debunked those claims. But on Dec. 5, Trump alluded to the video at a rally in Georgia, suggesting it proved poll workers were stuffing ballot boxes to help the Democrats.

This led to this dispute between DOJ officials involving the FBI. It’s a convoluted story that I can’s easily summarize, but the story is worth reading.

Unfortunately, the ravages of the Delta variant of the coronavirus are still the top story of the day. Here’s the latest depressing news, links only:

The Daily Beast: No One I Know Is Vaccinated’: Sturgis Rally Bikers Are Coming for America.

Ed Yong at The Atlantic: How the Pandemic Now Ends. Cases of COVID-19 are rising fast. Vaccine uptake has plateaued. The pandemic will be over one day—but the way there is different now.

Rachel Gutman at The Atlantic: Why Is It Taking So Long to Get Vaccines for Kids? A few things still need to happen before the shots can be authorized for Americans younger than 12.

The New York Times: Texas Hospitals Are Already Overloaded. Doctors Are ‘Frightened by What Is Coming.’

Adam Serwer at The Atlantic: Greg Abbott Surrenders to the Coronavirus. The Texas governor’s warped priorities are allowing an extremist minority to worsen the pandemic.

Mississippi Free Press: Mississippi’s Hospital System Could ‘Fail’ In 10 Days, UMMC Warns As Feds Rush In.

Mississippi Free Press: With Mississippi Hospitals Near Calamity, Gov. Reeves Left State For GOP Political Event.

The Daily Beast: Trump Keeps Rejecting Pleas From Allies for Pro-Vax Campaign.

The Washington Post: Republicans risk becoming face of delta surge as key GOP governors oppose anti-covid measures.

That’s it for me today. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads

House by the Railroad, Edward Hopper

House by the Railroad, Edward Hopper.

Good Morning!!

Revelations just keep on coming about Trump’s crazy efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The New York Times and CNN have obtained emails that show how the White House tried to get the Justice Department to investigate insane claims about election conspiracy theories, including a baseless theory about Italian satellites changing votes.

Katie Benner at The New York Times: Trump Pressed Official to Wield Justice Dept. to Back Election Claims.

An hour before President Donald J. Trump announced in December that William P. Barr would step down as attorney general, the president began pressuring Mr. Barr’s eventual replacement to have the Justice Department take up his false claims of election fraud.

Mr. Trump sent an email via his assistant to Jeffrey A. Rosen, the incoming acting attorney general, that contained documents purporting to show evidence of election fraud in northern Michigan — the same claims that a federal judge had thrown out a week earlier in a lawsuit filed by one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers.

Another email from Mr. Trump to Mr. Rosen followed two weeks later, again via the president’s assistant, that included a draft of a brief that Mr. Trump wanted the Justice Department to file to the Supreme Court. It argued, among other things, that state officials had used the pandemic to weaken election security and pave the way for widespread election fraud.

The draft echoed claims in a lawsuit in Texas by the Trump-allied state attorney general that the justices had thrown out, and a lawyer who had helped on that effort later tried with increasing urgency to track down Mr. Rosen at the Justice Department, saying he had been dispatched by Mr. Trump to speak with him.

The emails, turned over by the Justice Department to investigators on the House Oversight Committee and obtained by The New York Times, show how Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Rosen to put the power of the Justice Department behind lawsuits that had already failed to try to prove his false claims that extensive voter fraud had affected the election results….

The documents dovetail with emails around the same time from Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, asking Mr. Rosen to examine unfounded conspiracy theories about the election, including one that claimed people associated with an Italian defense contractor were able to use satellite technology to tamper with U.S. voting equipment from Europe.

Yellow House in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh

Yellow House in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh

Benner reports much more insanity in this article. Here’s just a bit more:

Much of the correspondence also occurred during a tense week within the Justice Department, when Mr. Rosen and his top deputies realized that one of their peers had plotted with Mr. Trump to first oust Mr. Rosen and then to try to use federal law enforcement to force Georgia to overturn its election results. Mr. Trump nearly replaced Mr. Rosen with that colleague, Jeffrey Clark, then the acting head of the civil division.

Mr. Rosen made clear to his top deputy in one message that he would have nothing to do with the Italy conspiracy theory, arrange a meeting between the F.B.I. and one of the proponents of the conspiracy, Brad Johnson, or speak about it with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.

“I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as an ‘insult,’” Mr. Rosen wrote in the email. “Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses’, and reaffirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this.”

More details from CNN: New emails show how Trump and his allies pressured Justice Department to try to challenge 2020 election results.

The emails also provide new detail into how Mark Meadows, then-White House chief of staff, directed Rosen to have then-Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark — who reportedly urged Trump to make him acting attorney general instead of Rosen — investigate voter fraud issues in Georgia before the US attorney there resigned in January.

Amid the pressure, Rosen said he refused to speak to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani about his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

When Meadows sought to have Rosen arrange an FBI meeting with a Giuliani ally pushing a conspiracy theory that Italy was using military technology and satellites to somehow change votes to Joe Biden, Rosen said he would not help Giuliani.

Weatherside, 1965, by Andrew Wyeth

Weatherside, 1965, by Andrew Wyeth

“I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses,’ and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this,” Rosen wrote to Donoghue.\The new emails provide additional detail to reports earlier this month from CNN, The New York Times and others on Meadows’ emails to Rosen after the election, which revealed how the top White House aide had urged the Justice Department to take action for Trump’s benefit. The emails included a list of complaints about voting procedures in New Mexico, alleged “anomalies” in a Georgia county and the claims about Italian satellites.

The emails also show how Trump directed allies toward Rosen, who had been named acting attorney general following Barr’s December 2020 resignation after Barr had publicly said there had not been widespread fraud in the election.

Kurt Olsen, a private attorney, reached out to John Moran at the Justice Department on December 29 requesting a meeting with Rosen, promising he could meet at the Justice Department with an hour’s notice. He attached a draft complaint modeled after the Texas Supreme Court lawsuit unsuccessfully challenging the election results in four states, and wrote in a follow-up email that Trump directed him to meet with Rosen to discuss the US bringing a similar action.

“The President of the United States has seen this complaint, and he directed me last night to brief AG Rosen in person today to discuss bringing this action,” Olsen wrote. “I have been instructed to report back to the President this afternoon after the meeting.”

The same day, Trump’s White House assistant also forwarded the draft complaint to Rosen and Donoghue to review, saying it had also been shared with Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

By the end of the year, it was clear Rosen and Donoghue had tired of the pressure campaign from the White House.

At least it’s good to know there was pushback from some Trump appointees.

The insanity continues in Arizona and elsewhere. Will Sommer at The Daily Beast: Republicans Now Want to ‘Audit’ Election Results in States That Trump Won.

In the wake of the Arizona audit’s success at grabbing publicity across right-wing media, Republican lawmakers in states that Trump won are demanding Arizona-style audits or other election inspections of their own.

The Republican hunt for voter-fraud evidence even in states that voted for Trump reveals how far inside the party the idea has spread that the election was stolen.

Houses at Falaise in the Fog, Claude Monet

Houses at Falaise in the Fog, Claude Monet

Focusing on fraud claims allows Republican officials to raise money and attention from devoted Trump supporters, according to former Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye. It also helps lawmakers align themselves with Trump’s claims of widespread fraud, ingratiating themselves with the energized Trump grassroots as they try to claim more power in the party.“

This is about two things, and these are symbiotic,” Heye said. “The continued fealty for all things Trump, and placating the base or the portion of the base that still can’t accept a clear loss.” [….]

The prospect of audits that could somehow dispute Biden’s electoral college win have become articles of faith for Trump supporters unable to get over the former president’s defeat, as Republican-held legislatures across the country use a sense that the election was stolen to push voting restrictions across the country. Some Republican voters have also become fixated on a “domino theory” about the election, which holds that if Arizona’s audit finds fraud in their election, other states that voted for Biden will fall like dominos.

In other news, today the Biden administration released a “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.” You can read the White House statement at that link.

The New York Times: Biden Administration Forms Blueprint to Combat Domestic Extremism.

The Biden administration is aiming to bolster information sharing with technology companies, potentially expand hiring of intelligence analysts and improve screening of government employees for ties to domestic terrorism as part of a much-anticipated plan expected to be released on Tuesday detailing how the federal government should combat extremism.

President Biden ordered the review of how federal agencies addressed domestic extremism soon after coming into office, part of an effort to more aggressively acknowledge a national security threat that has grown since the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

Changing a Flat, Norman Rockwell

Changing a Flat, Norman Rockwell

The 32-page plan synthesizes steps that have been recommended by national security officials — including bolstering relationships with social media companies and improving information sharing among law enforcement agencies — into one blueprint on how to more effectively identify extremists in the country after years of heightened focus on foreign terrorists.

“We cannot ignore this threat or wish it away,” Mr. Biden wrote in the strategy document. “Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the federal government and beyond.”

The new strategy was widely expected to detail a position on whether the government should establish a domestic terrorism law that prosecutors could use to investigate and charge homegrown extremists instead of relying on assault, murder and hate crime charges. The strategy instead indicates that the administration is focused for now on bolstering methods of combating extremism already used by the government, despite Mr. Biden calling for such a law during the presidential campaign.

The Guardian: White House unveils first national strategy to fight domestic terrorism.

The White House has published its first ever national strategy for countering domestic terrorism five months after a violent mob stormed the US Capitol in Washington.

The framework released on Tuesday by the national security council describes the threat as now more serious than potential attacks from overseas but emphasises the need to protect civil liberties.

Anticipating Republican objections that Joe Biden could use counterterrorism tools to persecute supporters of Donald Trump, the strategy is also careful to state that domestic terrorism must be tackled in an “ideologically neutral” manner.

Houses in Munich, 1908, Wassily Kandinsky

Houses in Munich, 1908, Wassily Kandinsky

It cites examples such as “an anti-authority extremist” ambushing, shooting and killing five police officers in Dallas In 2016; a lone gunman (and leftwing activist) wounding four people at a congressional baseball practice in 2017; and an “unprecedented attack” on Congress on 6 January.

“They come across the political spectrum,” a senior administration said on a media conference call. “We acknowledge the shooting at the congressional baseball, the attack on police officers in Dallas, just as we acknowledge the attack in Charlottesville and the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

“So it’s not motivating politics or ideology that matters for us or, more importantly for the strategy and its implementation. It’s when political grievances become acts of violence and we remain laser focused on that.”

Of course Biden is in Europe right now, and he will meet with Vladimir Putin soon. David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Here’s What Biden’s Team Expects From His Meeting With Putin.

The political world and the media have zeroed in on President Joe Biden’s meeting this week with Vladimir Putin as the most important diplomatic event in which this young administration has participated. But the truth is that the heaviest diplomatic lifting with regard to the US-Russia relationship, and American national security, will have already taken place before the meeting in Geneva begins—or it will come in its wake.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Biden would be arriving at the Geneva meeting “with the wind at his back.” What he meant by that, according to a senior official traveling with the president, is that “in many respects, the most important part of the president’s message to Putin will have been made in the days before the meeting.” The official cited the achievements associated with Biden’s meetings with the U.K. leadership, G7 leaders, his NATO counterparts and top officials from the EU.

House in Provence, 1867, Paul Cezanne

House in Provence, 1867, Paul Cezanne

Trump not only distinguished himself from all previous American presidents by publicly bending the knee before his political sponsor Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, on Twitter and whenever he had the chance, the only coherent part of Trump foreign policy was that he effectively rejected three-quarters of a century of U.S. history by seeking to dismantle the international order America had tried to build since World War II. He attacked our allies. He condemned NATO. He disparaged the EU. And whenever he was given a chance, he rewarded Putin despite his invasion of Ukraine, his murder of his opponents (including on foreign soil), his freelancing in Syria, his efforts to erode the west’s relationship with Turkey and more.

Biden has been one of those who helped build the international system Trump attacked. He has been committed to undoing the damage Trump did. Just in the last week, Biden announced an effort to revitalize the Atlantic Charter, mended ties within the G7, made an unprecedented pledge of 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine as part of the G7’s commitment to provide 1 billion doses to needy nations worldwide, and re-engaged with our allies on terms more consistent with the pro-democracy, anti-autocracy message of our past.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

That’s it for me. What’s on your mind today?


Wednesday Reads: We can do it!

https://twitter.com/reverendwarnock/status/1346690996839464961?s=21

Meanwhile:

I don’t know what today holds:

Please take care and avoid the tRump assholes in the streets…

This is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

My state remains number three in coronavirus cases behind New York and New Jersey, despite the act that Gov. Charlie Baker has acted responsibly and Massachusetts citizens are overwhelmingly supportive of the state’s social distancing and other mitigation efforts.

The Washington Post: In educated and affluent Massachusetts, coronavirus cases surged. The decline has yet to come.

Massachusetts has one of the most educated and affluent populations in the country. It’s home to some of the nation’s most preeminent medical centers. And it has political leaders who have worked cooperatively, across party lines, in the face of a crisis.

Massachusetts also has the third-highest number of confirmed state coronavirus cases, along with the fourth-highest death toll. And despite predictions that numbers would be falling by now after a month and a half of people staying at home, new case counts have instead remained stubbornly high.

The state’s struggle to combat the coronavirus reflects just what a tenacious adversary it really is. Even for a place that has a lot going for it, the toll has been severe — and it is growing by the day.

As of Friday, Massachusetts had more than 64,000 cases — behind only New York and New Jersey, its larger northeastern neighbors. New cases totaled 2,106, continuing a dismal streak lasting more than two weeks of at least 1,500 additional cases per day. Deaths hit 3,716, behind only New York, New Jersey and Michigan….

The persistence with which people keep getting sick in Massachusetts has been matched in other hard-hit states. Rather than a precipitous decline, the number of new cases in places such as Illinois, California and the D.C. metro area has instead been leveling off slowly.

Experts say that is to be expected, even if it means a long road ahead.

“If social distancing is done well — and Massachusetts has done it pretty well — the effect is going to be to flatten the curve and spread it out over more time,” said David Hamer, professor of global health at Boston University and an infectious-disease physician at Boston Medical Center. “Instead of a peak, it’s a prolonged plateau. It’s going to be a gradual decline.”

Massachusetts is also working to incorporate cases and deaths that may have been left out of official counts. That will make our numbers look worse. Boston Magazine: Brace for Bigger Numbers of Official Massachusetts COVID-19 Cases.

The warnings have come again and again over the past several weeks: The official count of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is not what it seems. Month-to-month death totals show spikes that far outpace existing data on virus-caused fatalities. Antibody tests suggest neighborhood infection rates as high as one-in-three, far outpacing the number officially confirmed by nasal swabs. People wary of leaving home to seek treatment for any illnesses—pandemic-related or not—may choose to ride out their symptoms at home and may never get official confirmation of what ails them. Without a massive effort to swab every single person in Massachusetts all at once, which would be impossible, it seems the best we can do is make an informed guess about how many people have been touched by this thing, and what we should do in response.

So a new effort to make that guess more accurate may produce some shocking figures, but they shouldn’t come as a surprise. State public health officials now say they are working to count even unconfirmed COVID-19 cases in pandemic-tracking data, and expect to see the official numbers jump upward as a result. The new approach will see those with milder symptoms, or those who have not been tested and do not meet more stringent criteria for classifying illnesses as COVID, added to the tally in hopes of better tracking and responding to the spread of the disease.

In aggregate, more accurate data can give us a look at how the pandemic is trending overall. But the specifics of the results from the tests themselves, it seems, don’t tell us very much. There just aren’t enough tests to tell us conclusively who has had the virus and when, and how they got it, and where.

Read more at the link.

When will the state reopen? The Boston Globe: Expect a painfully slow reopening process, Mass. business leaders say.

Safely resuscitating an economy laid low by the coronavirus likely will be painfully slow and require a gradual return to the workplace supported by mandatory face masks, social distancing, and an expansion of state testing that could cost $720 million a year.

That is the sobering assessment of a high-powered Massachusetts business group — backed by research from top medical academics and professionals — that has the ear of the advisers who Governor Charlie Baker will rely on as he weighs how and when to begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

Stephen Pagliuca, the private equity investor and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, has been circulating a 70-page report that details the necessary conditions for reopening and recommends that companies bring back workers in phases, based on age and industry, with white-collar employees who can work remotely the last to come back.

“It’s going to be a while before we get back to normal,” Pagliuca, cochairman of Bain Capital, said during an online presentation to business leaders Friday. The report was put together by the Massachusetts High Technology Council and incorporates research from Bain Capital, McKinsey & Co., and a long list of academics including Brandeis professor Michael Rosbash, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2017.

So that’s the situation where I am. I’d love to hear what’s going on in other Sky Dancers’ states.

Meanwhile, states like Georgia and Texas are risking reopening businesses even as cases and deaths rise.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday: Georgia’s COVID-19 death toll increases to 1,165; cases nearly reach 27.5K.

UPDATE [6:30 p.m.]: Since 11:30 a.m., state officials have increased Georgia’s coronavirus death toll by 18, meaning 1,165 Georgians have died due to the outbreak.

In the past 24 hours, the Georgia Department of Public Health has recorded 33 COVID-19 deaths.

In addition, the DPH confirmed 358 cases of COVID-19 since 11:30 a.m., bringing the state’s total to 27,492. Of those, more than 5,300 patients have been hospitalized at some point in Georgia, which is about 19.3% of all cases. At least 1,229 patients have been admitted into a hospital’s intensive care unit due to the virus.

More than 168,000 tests have been conducted in Georgia, and about 16.3% of those have returned positive results.

ABC News: COVID-19 cases on rise in state that starts 1st phase of reopening.

Texas reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths, just a day before Governor Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired and the state began reopening.

On Thursday, the Lone Star State death toll reached 50, bringing the total number of coronavirus fatalities in the state to 782. Positive cases increased by 1,033, the biggest one-day jump in three weeks.

These numbers precede phase one of the governor’s reopening plan, taking effect May 1. Under the new guidelines, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls may reopen, but must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Museums and libraries are permitted to open under the same guidelines, while churches and places of worship remain open.

“As we open Texas, we are each called upon to be Texans; to act responsibly as we reengage in the economy, to continue following all health precautions and sanitizing guidelines, and to care for our vulnerable neighbors. Lives depend on our actions. I know you will respond as Texans,” Gov. Greg Abbott stated in his report to open the state.

The Texas Democratic Party has criticized the Republican governor, posting on twitter, “Governor Abbott’s slow reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent rush to reopen the state is shameful.

Though the state has eased restrictions, many cities are keeping their own safeguards in place.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is working overtime to cover up their mistakes in dealing with the pandemic.

The Washington Post: White House blocks Fauci from testifying before House panel next week.

The White House is blocking Anthony S. Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee investigating the coronavirus outbreak and response, arguing that it would be “counterproductive” for him to appear next week while in the midst of participating in the government’s response to the pandemic.

The White House issued a statement about Fauci’s testimony shortly after The Washington Post published a story Friday afternoon quoting a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, who said the White House was refusing to allow Fauci to appear at a subcommittee hearing next week.

In fact, Fauci is expected to appear at a Senate hearing related to testing the following week, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

The Republican Senate, that is.

A Cat Accepts a Lick from a Cow at a Dairy Farm in Massachusetts, photo by Ira Block

Los Angeles Times: Trump administration blocks public disclosure on coronavirus supplies.

The Trump administration is refusing to disclose how it is distributing medical supplies for the coronavirus response that were brought to the U.S. at taxpayer expense through a White House initiative known as Project Air Bridge.

The administration instead has allowed six multibillion-dollar medical supply companies that are receiving government aid to import the supplies to block public release of the data, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counterproductive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.

“At this time, FEMA does not have the authority to release this information,” a spokesperson for the agency said in response to questions from The Times.

A spokesperson for McKesson Corp., one of the companies, denied making any demand that information be kept secret. “Consistent with McKesson’s commitment to fighting this pandemic, McKesson is cooperating with FEMA to facilitate the release of state-by-state data as appropriate,” the spokesperson said.

Nevertheless, the lack of disclosure effectively hinders any public accounting of which states are receiving the most assistance and what formulas are being used to distribute the equipment, despite a public investment of tens of millions of dollars in the airlift operation.

The lack of transparency about distributions comes on top of the administration’s refusal to provide information about the financial terms the White House struck with the medical distribution companies, which together reported more than $2 billion in profits last year.

The New York Times: Trump Moves to Replace Watchdog Who Identified Critical Medical Shortages.

President Trump moved on Friday night to replace a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services who angered him with a report last month highlighting supply shortages and testing delays at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House waited until after business hours to announce the nomination of a new inspector general for the department who, if confirmed, would take over for Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who was publicly assailed by the president at a news briefing three weeks ago.

The nomination was the latest effort by Mr. Trump against watchdog offices around his administration that have defied him. In recent weeks, he fired an inspector general involved in the inquiry that led to the president’s impeachment, nominated a White House aide to another key inspector general post overseeing virus relief spending and moved to block still another inspector general from taking over as chairman of a pandemic spending oversight panel.

Mr. Trump has sought to assert more authority over his administration and clear out officials deemed insufficiently loyal in the three months since his Senate impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress ended in acquittal largely along party lines. While inspectors general are appointed by the president, they are meant to be semiautonomous watchdogs ferreting out waste, fraud and corruption in executive agencies….

[Ms. Grimm’s] report, released last month and based on extensive interviews with hospitals around the country, identified critical shortages of supplies, revealing that hundreds of medical centers were struggling to obtain test kits, protective gear for staff members and ventilators. Mr. Trump was embarrassed by the report at a time he was already under fire for playing down the threat of the virus and not acting quickly enough to ramp up testing and provide equipment to doctors and nurses.

That’s all I have for you today. I’m getting ready for a visit from my brother and at least one of my nephews. They can’t some inside, but we can take a walk and sit on a bench outside on this lovely spring day.

Have a nice weekend, Sky Dancers!


Thursday Reads: Staying Inside and Peeking Into Other People’s Homes

Wassily Kandinsky, My Dining Room

Good Morning!!

Have you found yourself trying to read the titles of books behind all those experts appearing on TV from their homes these days? I certainly have, and I’m not alone. Some people also like to examine famous people’s knick knacks and decorating choices while watching TV. I found several interesting articles about these voyeuristic pastimes.

The New York Times: What Do Famous People’s Bookshelves Reveal?

Bibliophiles do not approach bookshelves lightly. A stranger’s collection is to us a window to their soul. We peruse with judgment, sometimes admiration and occasionally repulsion (Ayn Rand?!). With celebrities now frequently speaking on television in front of their home libraries, a voyeuristic pleasure presents itself: Are they actually really like us?

The Times discovered that actress Cate Blanchett owns all 20 volumes of The Oxford English Dictionary; and Prince Charles owns a copy of Shattered, by Dick Francis, the famous mystery writer whose books feature horse racing as well as a biography of the painter Basil Taylor, who mostly painted horses. Read more examples and see photos at the link above.

Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room in the Country, 1913

Vogue: If You Can’t Stop Staring at TV Anchors’ Home Backgrounds, You’re Not Alone.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past month contemplating the home-design choices of network anchors, cable-show hosts, and the ubiquitous talking heads who join them on a fairly regular basis. As more interviews are held remotely and as the anchors themselves have moved into makeshift home studios, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the backdrops each of these has chosen as they pronounce judgments on the waning days of the Democratic presidential primaries or the latest bizarre statements made by President Trump at his daily coronavirus briefings.

They range from the relaxed manner of John Heilemann, in a blazer and checked shirt sitting in front of his open-plan kitchen, to the full-suit-and-tie (well, at least from the waist up) look of Jon Meacham, backed by wall-to-wall bookshelves that fill the entire frame behind him. (And no, those books are not arranged by color.)

Ah, yes, bookshelves. Rows of carefully arranged books seem to be the go-to choice of most of the reporters and commentators who provide the bulk of the cable-news programming. Thus my curiosity about their reading habits. Peter Baker, a White House correspondent for the New York Times and a frequent guest on MSNBC, sits in front of a tall, narrow bookshelf containing an array of political tomes and presidential biographies, including what looked like one of his own, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. David Gura, another MSNBC correspondent, has a more haphazardly arranged bookshelf as his backdrop, with an eclectic reading taste that ranges from the *New Yorker *’s Jane Mayer (Dark Money) to novelist Colson Whitehead (The Nickel Boys). And Josh Barro, a business columnist for New York magazine, has been doing his frequent TV appearances lately framed by a row of travel books and a vintage poster from United Airlines (wishful thinking?).

Read the rest at Vogue.

Henri Matisse, The Piano Lesson

Town and Country: Billionaires on Video Chat Are Giving Us a Rare Peek Inside Their Homes. This article introduces a new Twitter feed: Room Rater. Check it out!

Two weeks ago Claude Taylor and Jessie Bahrey launched a Twitter account called Room Rater (@RateMySkypeRoom). In it, the boyfriend-girlfriend team comment on and score the background decor of broadcasters, pundits, and celebrities forced to do interviews from home during coronavirus physical-isolation orders.

In brief, pointed tweets, they weigh-in on art selection, bookshelves (content and arrangement), lamp placement, color palettes… you name it. Although neither has a background in interior design, their comments address some newly universal aesthetic questions: Will having a bookcase in the background make me look smarter? Is my wallpaper dorky? Am I force for good in the world during uncertain times?

Room Rater quickly accrued 100,000 followers and Taylor has appeared on Inside Edition and been interviewed by numerous websites. Subjects of their tweets have begun to tweet back, begging for higher scores.

Peter Baker of the New York Times added artwork to his walls after Room Rater pointed out an empty wall hook. They are still getting angry DMs about a 9/10 they gave Michelle Obama four days ago. “Come on. That’s a great score. We all need room to grow,” says Taylor.

Room Rater focuses mostly on TV pundits and politicians, but we asked them to take a look at a seemingly under-analyzed segment of home backgrounds—those of billionaires.

Check out the video backgrounds of Barry Diller, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Mike Bloomberg at the T and C link.

Grant Wood, The Sunshine on the corner

Financial Times: When bookshelves are more informative than the books.

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https://www.ft.com/content/57284374-83b3-11ea-b6e9-a94cffd1d9bf

Our bookshelves have suddenly come under intense and unexpected scrutiny. The ad hoc backgrounds to our home office Skype and Zoom calls, the random arrangements of books accumulated and the knick-knacks in front of them have become public property. TV news is populated by hairy-nostrilled talking heads mediated sketchily across our screens. You just can’t help peering at those backgrounds. What do they say about their owners? The academics and scientists come out best. Shelves fully stacked have spiral-bound reports and papers stuffed sideways into every spare inch of space. There is no curation here, just accumulated knowledge, constantly updated, overwhelming the shelf space. These are texts as tools, not interior decoration. Historian Simon Schama caused a little flutter of recognition when he appeared against a backdrop of steeply stacked books and jumbled shelves. Even the comfy-looking armchair was requisitioned as storage….

And then there are the shelves themselves. The political class tend to have built-ins, the marker of a proper home office (rather than the Ikea Billy bookcase that does the job for so many). They range from the minimal modern (UK chancellor Rishi Sunak) to faux-Victorian dark wood (former US presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who also mostly displays political biographies). The zenith of shelving must be the Dieter Rams-designed white modular Vitsoe wall units. They pop up only rarely, but I noticed one behind Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers.

On to more serious stuff. The U.S. appears to be poised to kill record numbers of people by opening up states’ economies prematurely, while European countries take it slower.

Interior with a young woman cooking, Knud Erik Larsen

William Bredderman and Olivia Messer at The Daily Beast: Europe Watches With Horror as the U.S. Rushes to Reopen.

ROME—Some of the hardest-hit countries in Europe will start opening up their economies in the coming days after several long months of very tight pandemic lockdowns. But they are doing it in conjunction with scientific guidance that marries widespread testing and aggressive contract tracing—and no crowded beaches. And, under the understanding that if anything goes wrong, everybody goes back inside.

The Trump administration appears to be doing the exact opposite, pushing to kickstart stagnant economies before the pandemic has even reached its peak in some states, going for a “rip off the Band-Aid very quickly” approach, while here in Europe, countries are lifting it corner by corner, slowly, to make sure everything is fully healed.

The authors describe cautious reopening steps planned by Italy, France, and Spain. In contrast, in the U.S. some states are opening up willy-nilly.

In the United States, bowling alleys and pizza joints are full in a number of states, with people rubbing shoulders as if the global pandemic is a movie or someone else’s nightmare. The only European nation that even compares to the U.S. is Sweden, which didn’t officially lock down—though the Swedes mostly self distanced on their own accord— and which is now grappling with a higher infection rate than any of the other Nordic countries, according to statistics gathered by Worldometer.

European news outlets have featured mocking photos this week of people eating barbecue in Georgia and running along crowded beaches in Florida, but there are plenty of wistful Europeans here complaining that their countries are moving too slowly in returning to normal. The most vocal tend to be those who have been working from home just fine, but who desperately need their roots touched up and are sick of cooking….

Yet in Europe, life seems to mean more than the bottom line and even those in the tourism industry are worried about opening too soon, and what liabilities will come with mass tourism and international travel if it kicks off another wave and a return to the darkest circles of hell.

Ah yes, here in the U.S. it’s all about the bottom line, especially in the red states. Case in point: Georgia.

Interior by Katherine Nolin

The Atlantic: Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice. The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy. As we’ve all heard, Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp ordered businesses in his state to open up this week.

Kemp’s order shocked people across the country. For weeks, Americans have watched the coronavirus sweep from city to city, overwhelming hospitals, traumatizing health-care workers, and leaving tens of thousands of bodies in makeshift morgues. Georgia has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and the state’s testing efforts have provided an incomplete look at how far the virus continues to spread. That testing capacity—which public-health leaders consider necessary for safely ending lockdowns—has lagged behind the nation’s for much of the past two months. Kemp’s move to reopen was condemned by scientists, high-ranking Republicans from his own state, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; it even drew a public rebuke from President Donald Trump, who had reportedly approved the measures before distancing himself from the governor amid the backlash.

By acting with particular haste in what he calls a crucial move to restore economic stability, Kemp has positioned Georgia at the center of a national fight over whether to stay the course with social distancing or try to return to some semblance of normalcy. But it’s easy to misunderstand which Americans stand on each side. Many Georgians have no delusions about the risks of reopening, even if they need to return to work for financial reasons. Among the dozen local leaders, business owners, and workers I spoke with for this article, all said they know some people who disagreed with the lockdown but were complying nonetheless. No one reported serious acrimony in their communities.

Instead, their stories depict a struggle between a state government and ordinary people. Georgia’s brash reopening puts much of the state’s working class in an impossible bind: risk death at work, or risk ruining yourself financially at home. In the grips of a pandemic, the approach is a morbid experiment in just how far states can push their people. Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Interior with black dog, William Robinson

At Slate, Jordan Weissmann writes that red states aren’t immune from being overwhelmed by the pandemic: Republicans Are Absolutely Deluded if They Think Only Blue States Need a Bailout.

With the coronavirus crisis threatening to choke state budgets and force massive, economically damaging spending cuts, Republicans have responded in their time-honored fashion, by telling New York and the rest of blue America to politely drop dead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the tone last week when he said that any aid to state governments would amount to a “blue state bailout.” He suggested that instead of handing governors money, which would supposedly allow them to paper over years of financial mismanagement, Congress should just let states declare bankruptcy. On Tuesday, meanwhile, Donald Trump signaled that he might be willing to discuss aid with Democrats in Congress, but only if states bend the knee on immigration policy….

What’s a bit odd about all of this is that GOP leaders are acting as if they have an upper hand on this issue, because only Democratic strongholds like New York and Illinois are in trouble. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Red states are also fiscally screwed thanks to the coronavirus, and in many cases may be in worse shape than supposedly irresponsible blue states.

It’s unclear why, exactly, some Republicans appear convinced that only political entities that happen to be run by Democrats are about to experience a financial rout. Perhaps it’s because the biggest coronavirus hot spots have tended to be in places like New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. But economic activity has frozen all over the country as governors try to slow the pandemic, and even if Georgia or Texas attempt to “reopen” a bit early, that won’t save them from the shockwaves of a deep national recession. Some Republicans, like McConnell, have seemingly suggested that states like Illinois are in financial trouble now because of their long-standing public pension problems. Insofar as that makes any sense, it’s because some states with pension issues (Illinois, Pennsylvania) haven’t been able to build large rainy day funds or other reserves that would help tide them through this crisis. But that list of offenders also includes McConnell’s own home state of Kentucky, which has one of the worst-managed pensions in the country.
Follow the link the read the rest.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?