Thursday Reads

wu201110

Good Morning!!

Prospects are not looking good for Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do serious damage to the government in his remaining lame duck weeks. The biggest problem for the transition to a real president is that Trump’s staff and most GOP elected officials are living in fear of Trump’s tantrums.

The Daily Beast: Trump’s National Security Adviser Tells Staff: Don’t Even Mention Biden’s Name.

President Donald Trump continues to refuse to cede the election. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, is enabling the mayhem, four senior officials told The Daily Beast.

O’Brien—once viewed as a potential check on Trump’s erratic national security demands—endorsed the installation of a pair of Trumpists at the Pentagon’s highest levels, while a defense secretary O’Brien has long opposed was fired by tweet.

One official claimed that O’Brien has been supportive of a peaceful transfer of power, joking in a Monday event about Trump’s loss and directing his staff to begin drafting transition materials. But three other officials told The Daily Beast that O’Brien has emerged as one of Trump’s biggest enablers at a decisive moment, supporting the president’s bid to retain power even though it is being waged through a nationwide disinformation campaign….

20201110edshe-bThis week, officials say, O’Brien supported the removal of several top officials at the Pentagon and favored Christopher Miller, a former NSC official who moved to the National Counterterrorism Center, to replace Esper as secretary of defense. He also approved of the installation of Kash Patel as Miller’s chief of staff, officials said. Patel worked previously under O’Brien at the National Security Council. One senior official described Miller and Patel as “O’Brien’s boys.” Patel is also said to be close with another former NSC colleague, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who is now the Pentagon’s senior intelligence official.

A bit more:

Other officials familiar with the matter noted that O’Brien has also pushed national security officials to publicly embrace the absurd Trump message that the election has not been certified and that there are still legal battles playing out across the country that could turn in the president’s favor.

“If you even mention Biden’s name… that’s a no-go, you’d be fired,” one national security official said. “Everyone is scared of even talking about the chance of working with the [Biden] transition.”

Asked if officials in the White House feel comfortable saying Biden’s name in the West Wing, one senior White House official said, half-jokingly, “Sure, you can say his name. If you’re talking about who lost the election to the president.”

Behind closed doors, one official claimed, O’Brien has been much more forthcoming about Trump’s loss and the need to prepare for a transition. The problem, the other officials said, is that O’Brien hasn’t made that known to the commander in chief.

There’s much more interesting gossip at the Daily Beast link.

wu201109On the other hand, some right wingers are speaking up, including John Yoo, Mike DeWine, and John Bolton.

The law firms representing Trump are also getting antsy. The New York Times: Growing Discomfort at Law Firms Representing Trump in Election Lawsuits.

Jones Day is the most prominent firm representing President Trump and the Republican Party as they prepare to wage a legal war challenging the results of the election. The work is intensifying concerns inside the firm about the propriety and wisdom of working for Mr. Trump, according to lawyers at the firm.

Doing business with Mr. Trump — with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, meritless lawsuits and refusal to pay what he owes — has long induced heartburn among lawyers, contractors, suppliers and lenders. But the concerns are taking on new urgency as the president seeks to raise doubts about the election results.

Some senior lawyers at Jones Day, one of the country’s largest law firms, are worried that it is advancing arguments that lack evidence and may be helping Mr. Trump and his allies undermine the integrity of American elections, according to interviews with nine partners and associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.

At another large firm, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, based in Columbus, Ohio, lawyers have held internal meetings to voice similar concerns about their firm’s election-related work for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party, according to people at the firm. At least one lawyer quit in protest.

Read more at the NYT.

245440_rgb_768Yesterday another large law firm withdrew from a case in Arizona. Westlaw Today: Snell & Wilmer withdraws from election lawsuit as Trump contests Arizona results.

(Reuters) – The largest law firm representing the Trump campaign or its allies in post-election litigation challenging votes in key states has withdrawn from an election lawsuit in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Associate Presiding Civil Judge Daniel Kiley on Tuesday granted Snell & Wilmer’s request to withdraw as counsel of record for the Republican National Committee. The RNC had teamed-up with the Trump campaign and the Arizona Republican Party in the case, which alleges that Maricopa County incorrectly rejected some votes cast on Election Day.

Snell & Wilmer partners Brett Johnson and Eric Spencer first moved to withdraw on Sunday, a day after the case was filed. Johnson and Spencer did not respond to requests for comment. Snell & Wilmer chairman Matthew Feeney said the firm doesn’t comment on its client work.

Two other large law firms that have represented the Trump campaign in election litigation, Jones Day and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, have faced an onslaught of online criticism this week from critics who say the cases erode confidence in the democratic process, sparked by a Monday New York Times story focused on the firms’ roles.

This story at The Washington Post by Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Ashley Parker suggests that Trump may be beginning to accept reality: Trump insists he’ll win, but aides say he has no real plan to overturn results and talks of 2024 run.

lk110520daprTrump aides, advisers and allies said there is no grand strategy to reverse the election results, which show President-elect Joe Biden with a majority of electoral college votes, as well as a 5 million-vote lead in the national popular vote.

Asked about Trump’s ultimate plan, one senior administration official chuckled and said, “You’re giving everybody way too much credit right now.”

Republican officials have scrambled nationwide to produce evidence of widespread voter fraud that could bolster the Trump campaign’s legal challenges, but no such evidence has surfaced. And Biden’s lead in several states targeted by the Trump campaign has expanded as late-counted votes are reported. In all-important Pennsylvania, the Democrat now leads by more than 50,000 votes….

Trump has been spending his days largely on the phone, calling advisers, allies and friends. The president has been “trying to find people who will give him good news,” one adviser said.

Still, Trump has indicated in some of these conversations that he understands Biden will take over the presidency on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. Rather than talking about a second term, Trump has been matter-of-factly discussing a possible 2024 campaign — an indication that he knows his time as president is coming to an end, at least for now.

“I’m just going to run in 2024. I’m just going to run again,” Trump has been saying, according to a senior administration official who has spoken with him this week.

In 2024, Trump will be 79 years old and his dementia will have gotten much worse. But he’ll likely try to continue making our lives a living hell after he leaves the White House. 

jd111120daprAccording to Mike Allen at Axios, Trump plans to form his own media company: Scoop: Trump eyes digital media empire to take on Fox News.

President Trump has told friends he wants to start a digital media company to clobber Fox News and undermine the conservative-friendly network, sources tell Axios.

The state of play: Some Trump advisers think Fox News made a mistake with an early call (seconded by AP) of President-elect Biden’s win in Arizona. That enraged Trump, and gave him something tangible to use in his attacks on the network.

  • “He plans to wreck Fox. No doubt about it,” said a source with detailed knowledge of Trump’s intentions…..

Here’s Trump’s plan, according to the source:

  • There’s been lots of speculation about Trump starting a cable channel. But getting carried on cable systems would be expensive and time-consuming.

  • Instead, Trump is considering a digital media channel that would stream online, which would be cheaper and quicker to start.

  • Trump’s digital offering would likely charge a monthly fee to MAGA fans. Many are Fox News viewers, and he’d aim to replace the network — and the $5.99-a-month Fox Nation streaming service, which has an 85% conversion rate from free trials to paid subscribers — as their top destination.

I’ll believe that when I see it. Everyone needs to remember that Trump is a terrible businessman. Besides, he will have to deal with his massive debts and likely criminal charges in New York.

245231_rgb_768In the meantime, Trump has decapitated the top leadership of the Department of Defense and he may soon finish his takeover of the U.S. intelligence infrastructure.

The New York Times: Trump Stacks the Pentagon and Intel Agencies With Loyalists. To What End?

President Trump’s abrupt installation of a group of hard-line loyalists into senior jobs at the Pentagon has elevated officials who have pushed for more aggressive actions against Iran and for an imminent withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan over the objections of the military.

Mr. Trump made the appointments of four top Pentagon officials, including a new acting defense secretary, this week, leaving civilian and military officials to interpret whether this indicated a change in approach in the final two months of his presidency.

At the same time, Mr. Trump named Michael Ellis as a general counsel at the National Security Agency over the objections of the director, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone.

There is no evidence so far that these new appointees harbor a secret agenda on Iran or have taken up their posts with an action plan in hand. But their sudden appearance has been a purge of the Pentagon’s top civilian hierarchy without recent precedent.

Administration officials said the appointments were partly about Afghanistan, where the president has been frustrated by what he sees as a military moving too slowly to fulfill his promise that all American troops will be home by Christmas. The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel and fierce proponent of ending American involvement in Afghanistan, would serve as a senior adviser.

Read the rest at the NYT.

I’ll end there, and add a few more links in the comment thread. I hope everyone is doing OK. Please check in with us today if you have the time and inclination–we love to hear from you!


Lazy Caturday Reads: “The System Was Blinking Red” and Trump Did Nothing

Reading To Her Cat by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861

Good Morning!!

As of this morning, the U.S. has 19,000 Covid-19 cases and 247 deaths. The NIH director says we could have 70,000 reported cases by the end of next week. Meanwhile, the federal government is basically doing nothing. We have an utterly incompetent failed real estate tycoon and reality TV clown as “president.” We have known for years now that this man is completely unfit to lead. In just three years he has crippled our most important institutions and we are now on our own, hoping that state and local governments can take up the slack.

Trump had plenty of warnings about the nature of the threat that was bearing down on our country. Just as before 9/11, when George W. Bush ignored the August 6, 2001 PDB titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” the “system has been blinking red for months” and Trump sat around watching TV and tweeting insults to his “enemies,” ignoring the threat to our country.

The Washington Post: U.S. intelligence reports from January and February warned about a likely pandemic.

U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.

The intelligence reports didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take, issues outside the purview of the intelligence agencies. But they did track the spread of the virus in China, and later in other countries, and warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak.

By Catriona Millar, Scottish artist

Taken together, the reports and warnings painted an early picture of a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic that could require governments to take swift actions to contain it. But despite that constant flow of reporting, Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans. Lawmakers, too, did not grapple with the virus in earnest until this month, as officials scrambled to keep citizens in their homes and hospitals braced for a surge in patients suffering from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” said a U.S. official who had access to intelligence reporting that was disseminated to members of Congress and their staffs as well as to officials in the Trump administration, and who, along with others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive information.

“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” this official said. “The system was blinking red.”

Of course, as we all know, Trump doesn’t like to read and he doesn’t listen to intelligence briefings. He thinks he’s “a smart guy” and that his gut feelings are more accurate than the actual knowledge and experience of experts. And he’s still doing almost nothing. He just holds a daily press conference instead of his hate rallies and claims he’s doing things that either aren’t happening or can’t happen.

ProPublica: The White House Asked Manufacturers for Help, Then Gave Them No Clear Instructions.

As hospitals across the country face drastic shortages of masks, respirators and other vital equipment, the White House has sent out a plea for donations that’s left many recipients confused and full of questions.

In at least one instance this week, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, blindsided private industry by requesting that construction companies donate face masks to hospitals. The White House then failed to provide guidance when directly asked.

Pence asked builders on Tuesday to donate the N95 masks used at many construction sites to local hospitals and refrain from ordering more. Within minutes, Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the trade group Associated General Contractors of America, contacted the White House for more details, said Brian Turmail, a group spokesman.

By Adrie Martens

After receiving no reply from the White House, Sandherr sent an email to AGC’s local chapters on Tuesday telling them that Pence’s statement had taken the group by surprise.

“As we received no advance notice of this announcement and we have received no additional guidance from the Administration, it is our view that this should be considered as a voluntary gesture and not a mandate,” Sandherr wrote. Turmail said several AGC members have donated equipment to their local hospitals.

On Thursday, Sandherr finally heard back from the Department of Health and Human Services, speaking on behalf of the White House, and his group’s members were asked not to donate equipment to hospitals, as Pence had instructed. Instead, he was told the group should collect an inventory of available equipment from members, including masks, booties and protective suits, and share it with the administration.

So instead of cutting red tape, the administration is adding more red tape while more people get sick and more people die.

We’ve been hearing for awhile now that we could be like Italy. I think it’s likely we’ll soon be worse off than Italy, because we our health care system is already breaking down and it looks like Mitch McConnell is determined not to help the people who need it most.

There was talk of sending checks to most Americans immediately; now it turns out the GOP plan is to use tax rebates, so the poorest people would get little or nothing (for example, people like me who live on Social Security don’t file taxes) and people who pay more taxes would get more. That makes no sense economically when millions of people have been thrown out of work and won’t be able to pay rent or eat, but Republicans apparently just don’t care.

The Week: Senate GOP stimulus plan would exclude up to 64 million tax filers from full rebate, economist says.

Senate Republicans unveiled their proposal for sending out cash to Americans amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, but as is, a large number wouldn’t receive the full amounts.

By Dee Nickerson

Under the economic stimulus plan released Thursday, payments of up to $1,200 would be sent out to individuals and $2,400 to married couples, though the amount phases out for single filers making $75,000 a year and joint filers making $150,000 a year. But The Wall Street Journal notes that “individuals need to have qualifying income of at least $2,500 or income tax liability to get the minimum payment of $600.” This is based on their 2018 tax return.

Looking at IRS data, economist Kyle Pomerleau estimates that about 64 million filers who earn less than $50,000 won’t get the full rebate amount of $1,200 or $2,400, as “for a single filer, income must be at least about $23k to get the full $1,200,” and “for married couple filing jointly, AGI must be about $47k to get the full $2,400,” he writes.

Again, the poorest people don’t even file taxes, so they would be shit out of luck too. Furthermore, the amounts they are talking about wouldn’t even cover a month’s rent in the Boston area or other large cities. Right now I’m very grateful that I live on a fixed income in subsidized housing. But even I have had and will continue to have extra expenses and hardships.

Slate: Republicans Found a Way to Mail Checks and Still Screw People Over.

Senate Republicans have now released their hotly anticipated proposal to send families direct cash payments, as part of a wider economic aid package aimed at combating the coronavirus crisis. And hoo boy is it disappointing.

Under the plan, the government would provide households an early tax rebate worth up to $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for a married couple, with an extra $500 for each of their children. (So far, so good). The payments will be based on a household’s 2018 tax return, or if it didn’t submit one, their 2019 filing.

Two Cats, by Sandra Bierman

But the checks will shrink for both low and high earners. Americans with little to no tax liability (aka, poor folks) will only receive a minimum payment of $600, unless they earned less than $2,500, in which case they get zilch. Low-wage workers who don’t have a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019—adults generally aren’t required to file one they if earn less than the standard deduction—also won’t qualify for the early rebate. (They could still get it next year if they file taxes for 2020, but by that time it will be a bit late.) Meanwhile, the payments phase down for workers who make more than $75,000 and drop to zero for those making $99,000 and above (double those numbers for joint filers).

Limiting these payments for the upper middle class and up is defensible, even if it irritates commentators who’d prefer a more comprehensive approach that mimics a universal basic income. Penalizing the poor during a pandemic, however, is beyond the pale. We’re in the midst of a planned shutdown of the economy that will disproportionately harm low-wage service workers, yet Republicans are concerned about properly rewarding people for work. It is a crass joke.

It’s worth emphasizing that the GOP’s new plan only calls for a single payment. The M

New York City, Seattle, Boston and parts of California already have such large outbreaks that they will probably see significant growth even after taking extraordinary measures over the past week, the researchers say. New York City’s outbreak, the nation’s largest, grew to more than 4,000 known cases on Friday and is likely to increase many times over even in a favorable scenario.

But cases will continue to mount and millions of people will run out of food. We can only hope that Congress wakes up to reality. Here’s what’s really happening:

The Washington Post: U.S. economy deteriorating faster than anticipated as 80 million Americans are forced to stay at home.

The U.S. economy is deteriorating more quickly than was expected just days ago as extraordinary measures designed to curb the coronavirus keep 84 million Americans penned in their homes and cause the near-total shutdown of most businesses.

Lady Petting a Cat, Paula Zima

In a single 24-hour period, governors of three of the largest states — California, New York and Illinois — ordered residents to stay home except to buy food and medicine, while the governor of Pennsylvania ordered the closure of nonessential businesses. Across the globe, health officials are struggling to cope with the growing number of patients, with the World Health Organization noting that while it required three months to reach 100,000 cases, it took only 12 days to hit another 100,000.

The resulting economic meltdown, which is sending several million workers streaming into the unemployment line, is outpacing the federal government’s efforts to respond. As the Senate on Friday raced to complete work on a financial rescue package, the White House and key lawmakers were dramatically expanding its scope, pushing the legislation far beyond the original $1 trillion price tag.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The Washington Post: Coronavirus-scarred cities need ‘something bigger than the New Deal’ just to cope.

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing every state, city and county to execute a plan of attack for confronting the global pandemic. It’s a process that Sarah Eckhardt, the top official in Texas’s Travis County, likened to “building the plane while in the air.”

But the virus — and the extraordinarily costly response to it — is also putting enormous pressure on all the normal stuff: the criminal justice, sanitation, transit, emergency response and other systems that residents expect from their state and local governments.

Although the nation is just in the first stages of what is likely to be a prolonged struggle to suppress covid-19, the strain on public services is already beginning to show. First responders are stretched thin. Courts are paralyzed. And everywhere, money for basic public services is running out, fast.

“We have to manage beyond the scope of anything one city has prepared for or can handle,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose city is among the worst-hit in America. “We’re spending all our reserves right now, but we won’t make it if the federal government doesn’t step up and step up big.”

Read more at the link.

This post is getting too long, so I’ll have to wrap it up. There are so many other stories I’d like to share with you. It’s overwhelming. Please take care and stay healthy, Sky Dancers. This is an open thread.