Can’t Take Any More Tuesday Reads

Richard Prince, Nurse of Greenmeadow (2002)

Good Morning!!

I’m going through one of my “I can’t take it anymore” phases. Yesterday I almost succeeded in shutting out the news entirely until last night when I accidentally learned that Trump claims to be taking hydroxycholoquine. He has to be lying, right? But the White House doctor sorta kinda confirmed it.

CNN: Trump says he is taking hydroxychloroquine though health experts question its effectiveness.

President Donald Trump claimed Monday he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug he’s long touted as a potential coronavirus cure even as medical experts and the US Food and Drug Administration question its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects.

Speaking at a meeting of restaurant executives, Trump said he began taking the antimalarial drug after consulting the White House doctor, though stopped short of saying his physician had actually recommended the drug.

“A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it,” Trump said. He later said he’d been taking it every day for a week and a half.
The admission was a dramatic development in Trump’s attempts to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus, which began earlier in the outbreak and has been met with resistance from medical professionals.

Because the drug is prescribed to treat malaria and other conditions, Trump has cast it as safe and suggested coronavirus patients have little to lose by trying it.

The infirmary at Helgelandsmoen, Edvard Munch

But there are concerns about using the drug for coronavirus, which Trump claimed he doesn’t have:

…at least one study has shown the drug does not work against Covid-19 and could cause heart problems.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It follows a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that also showed the drug doesn’t fight the virus.

Even before these reports were published, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health issued warnings about using the drug for coronavirus patients.

Trump said he hadn’t been exposed, and that he started taking the drug because he had heard from frontline responders who sent him letters saying they were taking it preventatively.

There’s no evidence for using it as a preventative, but Trump claims it works because “I get a lot of positive calls about it.” Shouldn’t this be the last straw for the V.P. and the Trump Cabinet? Shouldn’t they be invoking the 25th Amendment today? But of course it won’t happen, and the media will try to normalize his latest insanity.

At The Los Angeles Times, Chris Megerian, Noah Bierman, and Eli Stokols remind us that the hyroxychloroquine controversy is just part of Trump’s attempts to distract us from all the deaths he’s responsible for: Trump lashes out with distractions and disinformation.

President Trump has accelerated his attacks on government watchdogs, judges, reporters and other independent voices as he runs for reelection, escalating his spread of disinformation about perceived enemies and his administration’s record during the COVID-19 crisis.

Trump fired yet another inspector general, raged against a government whistleblower and repeatedly retweeted video of a local TV reporter being harassed in New York — all since Friday. He also amplified a sinister conspiracy theory he dubbed “Obamagate” in which he alleges, but never specifies, crimes by his predecessor.

Angry Nurse, Astrid Haereid

On Monday, Trump abruptly said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine pills daily for “about a week and a half” as a preventative against the novel coronavirus, dramatically intensifying his efforts to promote an unproved anti-malaria drug that he has touted as a potential “game changer” for dealing with the pandemic.

His comments caused alarm because the Food and Drug Administration warned last month that the prescription drug has “not been shown to be safe and effective” at treating or preventing COVID-19, saying it could cause “serious heart rhythm problems.”

It’s crazy making.

Experts struggled to think of a historical parallel where the president has turned the world’s most powerful and influential office into a megaphone for wholesale fabrications and bizarre claims in an effort to confuse voters and salvage his own political future.

“Trump is certainly not the first politician to lie or invent stories,” said Eileen Culloty, who researches disinformation at Dublin City University in Ireland. “But his history of making baseless, conspiratorial claims — whether it’s Obama’s birth certificate, linking Ted Cruz’s family to the Kennedy assassination or now Obamagate — is striking for its scale and frequency.”

Critics said Trump’s messaging was particularly destructive as Americans struggle with the pandemic, which has crippled the economy and killed more than 90,000 in the U.S. as of Monday.

“A pandemic is the perfect laboratory for disinformation because people are scared, they’re anxious — and all of the social science around conspiracy theories shows when people feel anxious and scared, they’re more likely to believe conspiracy theories,” said Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine and former senior State Department official.

“Trump has figured that out. This campaign is headed to a low point that we’ve never experienced before in American history, because he is not at all compelled to align his message with reality,” he added.

Read more at the LA Times.

The Nurse, Jose Perez

Richard Stengel, quoted in the LA Times piece, writes at Vanity Fair about what Trump’s incompetence has done to our country’s reputation: The Bungling Superpower: COVID-19 Has Recast America as a Global Chump.

When I was under secretary of state for public diplomacy during the Barack Obama administration—the job that is essentially the chief marketing officer for the American brand around the world—I found that the most common request I got from international diplomats and leaders was, could I help them get in touch with the Silicon Valley tech companies? Would I introduce them to someone at Google, Apple, and Facebook? Our brand differentiator was no longer drones, Tomahawks, and foreign assistance—though all of them still mattered—it was search, likes, and Twitter. No, we weren’t as generous and deep-pocketed as we once had been, nor could we build bridges and highways like China was doing, but we were seen as the land of the future, and people wanted to know how we did it. It was a welcome change.

But the election of Donald Trump and our inept response to the coronavirus has reversed much of that. Even when we were the arrogant and galumphing superpower—a continuation of the Ugly American stereotype from the 1950s—we were always seen as competent. Yes, we were headstrong and naive, but we got things done. Now, thanks to the combination of Trump’s much-mocked America First doctrine and his administration’s chaotic and chuckleheaded response to the coronavirus, the Trump administration has recast our brand in a new way: the bungling superpower. The country that created the iPhone could not figure out how to manufacture enough cotton swabs. While Germany is led by a woman with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, the U.S. president was suggesting that people inject disinfectant to cure the virus.

Nursing, by Jeff Conway

Last week, in a rare move in its nearly 200-year history, the distinguished British medical journal The Lancet published an editorial saying that the U.S. had fallen from what it once was, the gold standard in disease detection and control, and must not reelect a president who prized partisanship above science. A poll in France earlier this month found that Angela Merkel, and not the American president, was overwhelmingly regarded as the leader of the free world. Only 2% of those polled said Trump was heading in the right direction. A Bosnian TV journalist proclaimed that the White House was dysfunctional and America was beginning to resemble the Balkans. The Balkans.

Many people have cited the line from the Irish Times that “the world has loved, hated, and envied the U.S. Now, for the first time, we pity it.” That’s not quite right. The emotion is not pity, but schadenfreude: people around the world are taking a secret pleasure in the U.S.’s ineptitude. They feel the U.S is getting payback for its self-righteousness, boasting, and incessant lecturing. It’s karmic retribution, not pity.

But there’s a greater and more existential threat to American influence than the scorn people around the world have for Trumpism: it is the increasing non-essentialness of America among nations and the discrediting of the American model of governance and capitalism.

Bloomberg reports on a study that shows that Covid Patients Testing Positive After Recovery Aren’t Infectious.

Researchers are finding evidence that patients who test positive for the coronavirus after recovering aren’t capable of transmitting the infection, and could have the antibodies that prevent them from falling sick again.

Gregg Chadwick, Nurses and therapy dog

Scientists from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied 285 Covid-19 survivors who had tested positive for the coronavirus after their illness had apparently resolved, as indicated by a previous negative test result. The so-called re-positive patients weren’t found to have spread any lingering infection, and virus samples collected from them couldn’t be grown in culture, indicating the patients were shedding non-infectious or dead virus particles.

The findings, reported late Monday, are a positive sign for regions looking to open up as more patients recover from the pandemic that has sickened at least 4.8 million people. The emerging evidence from South Korea suggests those who have recovered from Covid-19 present no risk of spreading the coronavirus when physical distancing measures are relaxed.

The results mean health authorities in South Korea will no longer consider people infectious after recovering from the illness. Research last month showed that so-called PCR tests for the coronavirus’s nucleic acid can’t distinguish between dead and viable virus particles, potentially giving the wrong impression that someone who tests positive for the virus remains infectious.

The research may also aid in the debate over antibody tests, which look for markers in the blood that indicate exposure to the novel coronavirus. Experts believe antibodies probably convey some level of protection against the virus, but they don’t have any solid proof yet. Nor do they know how long any immunity may last.

Read more at the link.

I’ll end with a non-Trump story from The Guardian: Exclusive: Police tried to tase Ahmaud Arbery in 2017 incident, video shows.

Police attempted to use a Taser on Ahmaud Arbery, the slain Georgia jogger, after questioning why he was sitting alone in his car in a park one morning in November 2017, according to records and a police video obtained by the Guardian.

Edwin Harleston, The Nurse

The video, obtained through a public records request, comes to light as law enforcement in the area faces scrutiny after Arbery was shot dead by two white men while jogging in February. Police did not arrest Gregory and Travis McMichael, who chased down and killed the unarmed Arbery, and a prosecutor assigned to the case wrote a lengthy memo explaining why the killing was legally justified….

In the video an officer patrolling the area suspected Arbery of using marijuana, saying he was in a park known for drug activity.

Arbery, dressed in a green hat, winter coat and athletic pants, said he didn’t have drugs and refused to let the officer search his car. He told the officer he was relaxing by rapping in his car over instrumental beats and had the day off from work at Blue Beacon Truck Wash.

The incident, previously described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, escalated when Arbery began to question why the officer, Michael Kanago, was hassling him. Kanago claimed he began to feel threatened by Arbery, later writing in his report that “veins were popping from [Arbery’s] chest, which made me feel that he was becoming enraged and may turn physically violent towards me”. Kanago requested help from a second officer.

“You’re bothering me for nothing,” Arbery said to Kanago, according to body camera footage. After Kanago told him he was looking for criminal activity, Arbery said “criminal activity? I’m in a fucking park. I work.”

How dare a young black man sass a George police officer. Well, they finally got him killed, didn’t they? Racist monsters.

That’s all I have for you today. What’s on your mind? What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Follow the Money

Marguerite Thompson Zoorach, 1887-1968, The Picnic, 1920s

Good Morning!!

Just as I suspected, Trump has financial motives for pushing an unproven drug with dangerous side effects during a global pandemic.

The New York Times reported yesterday:

If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine….

Some associates of Mr. Trump’s have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the investment company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump. A spokesman for Mr. Fisher declined to comment.

Claude Monet. Luncheon on the Grass

Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. Mr. Ross said in a statement Monday that he “was not aware that Invesco has any investments in companies producing” the drug, “nor do I have any involvement in the decision to explore this as a treatment.”

As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.

Ashleigh Koss, a Sanofi spokeswoman, said the company no longer sells or distributes Plaquenil in the United States, although it does sell it internationally.

And of course Jared is involved. I wonder if he stands to gain financial from this drug pushing?

Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Mr. Trump at least twice since he became president, according to a person who saw them.

Mr. Patel, whose company is based in Bridgewater, N.J., did not respond to a request for comment. Amneal announced last month that it would increase production of the drug and donate millions of pills to New York and other states. Other generic drugmakers are ramping up production, including Mylan and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

Roberto Mignone, a Teva board member, reached out to the team of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, through Nitin Saigal, who used to work for Mr. Mignone and is a friend of Mr. Kushner’s, according to people informed about the discussions.

Luncheon on the Grass, Pablo Picasso

Mr. Kushner’s team referred him to the White House task force and Mr. Mignone asked for help getting India to ease export restrictions, which have since been relaxed, allowing Teva to bring more pills into the United States. Mr. Mignone, who is also a vice chairman of NYU Langone Health, which is running a clinical study of hydroxychloroquine, confirmed on Monday that he has spoken with the administration about getting more medicine into the country.

Yesterday we also learned that Peter Navarro, Trump’s wacky trade adviser was warning about a pandemic back in January. Axios: Navarro memos warning of mass coronavirus death circulated in January.

In late January, President Trump’s economic adviser Peter Navarro warned his White House colleagues the novel coronavirus could take more than half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, according to memos obtained by Axios.
The state of play: By late February, Navarro was even more alarmed, and he warned his colleagues, in another memo, that up to two million Americans could die of the virus.

Navarro’s grim estimates are set out in two memos — one dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the National Security Council, the other dated Feb. 23 and addressed to the president. The NSC circulated both memos around the White House and multiple agencies.

In the first memo, which the New York Times was first to report on, Navarro makes his case for “an immediate travel ban on China.”

The second lays the groundwork for supplemental requests from Congress, with the warning: “This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill.”

Why it matters: The president quickly restricted travel from China, moved to delay re-entry of American travelers who could be infected, and dispatched his team to work with Congress on stimulus funds.

But Trump was far slower to publicly acknowledge the sort of scenarios Navarro had put in writing.

A couple of interesting psychological analyses of Trump catastrophic performance:

At the New York Times, Jennifer Senior writes: This Is What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis.

Picnic (1989), Fernando Botero

Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.

Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.

But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest.

Alternet: Leading psychologists explain how Trump’s self-delusions and narcissism make him uniquely effective at predatory deception.

In practicing the art of lying while retaining a hold on the allegiance of his base, Trump utilizes a propaganda principle—the Big Lie—best explained by Hitler.  Now, please note that we are not equating Trump and Hitler; they are very different people.  However, like Hitler, Trump is involved in the business of selling himself as an angry, righteous savior to the masses, resulting in a growing number of cultic devotees.  So, it may behoove us to consider Hitler’s explanation of why the Big Lie is more successful than mere untruths. Here’s his explanation of the principle in Mein Kampf:

Francisco de Goya’s Picnic En La Ribera Del Manzanares (Picnic on the Banks of the Manzanares), 1776

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

Consider just two of many possible examples of the Big Lie:  Trump’s bizarre claim that the military was out of ammunition when he took office and his equally bizarre claim that the father of Ted Cruz was involved with the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, adding, “It’s horrible.”  It is the outrageousness of the Big Lie that a listener normally expects would create self-conscious awkwardness in the liar.  In turn, this results in a need for a great liar to hide any nervousness that might give away the fact that he is attempting to deceive his audience.  In poker, the failure to hide completely the lie inherent in a bluff is called a “tell,” the subtle behavior unwittingly exhibited when bluffing.

Click the link to read the rest. It’s a really interesting piece.

Republicans in Wisconsin have been working overtime to undermine democracy, and yesterday the Supreme Court gave them a big assist.

Slate: By a 5–4 Vote, SCOTUS L.ets Wisconsin Throw Out Tens of Thousands of Ballots.

On Monday, by a 5–4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court approved one of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern history. The court will nullify the votes of citizens who mailed in their ballots late—not because they forgot, but because they did not receive ballots until after Election Day due to the coronavirus pandemic. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent, the court’s order “will result in massive disenfranchisement.” The conservative majority claimed that its decision would help protect “the integrity of the election process.” In reality, it calls into question the legitimacy of the election itself.

Still Life with Peonies and Seven Lovely Ladies by David Elsea – 2018

Wisconsin has long been scheduled to hold an election on April 7. There are more than 3,800 seats on the ballot, and a crucial state Supreme Court race. But the state’s ability to conduct in-person voting is imperiled by COVID-19. Thousands of poll workers have dropped out for fear of contracting the virus, forcing cities to shutter dozens of polling places. Milwaukee, for example, consolidated its polling locations from 182 to five, while Green Bay consolidated its polling locations from 31 to two. Gov. Tony Evers asked the Republican-controlled legislature to postpone the election, but it refused. So he tried to delay it himself in an executive order on Monday. But the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court reinstated the election, thereby forcing voters to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.

Because voters are rightfully afraid of COVID-19, Wisconsin has been caught off guard by a surge in requests for absentee ballots. Election officials simply do not have time, resources, or staff to process all those requests. As a result, a large number of voters—at least tens of thousands—won’t get their ballot until after Election Day. And Wisconsin law disqualifies ballots received after that date. In response, last Thursday, a federal district court ordered the state to extend the absentee ballot deadline. It directed officials to count votes mailed after Election Day so long as they were returned by April 13. A conservative appeals court upheld his decision.

Now the Supreme Court has reversed that order. It allowed Wisconsin to throw out ballots postmarked and received after Election Day, even if voters were entirely blameless for the delay. (Thankfully, ballots postmarked by Election Day but received by April 13 still count, because the legislature didn’t challenge that extension.) In an unsigned opinion, the majority cited the Purcell principle, which cautions courts against altering voting laws shortly before an election. It criticized the district court for “fundamentally alter[ing] the nature of the election by permitting voting for six additional days after the election.” And it insisted that the plaintiffs did not actually request that relief—which, as Ginsburg notes in her dissent, is simply false.

Read more:

Vox: The Supreme Court’s disturbing order to effectively disenfranchise thousands of Wisconsin voters.

PoliticusUSA: Brett Kavanaugh Leads Conservative SCOTUS Majority In Blocking Extended Voting In Wisconsin.

According to the Roberts court, voters should have to choose between voting and possibly dying and protecting their health. And of course the Republican primary is meaningless, so only Democrats have to worry about that.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?