Thursday Reads

Laurette's head with a coffee cup,, Henri Matisse

Laurette’s head with a coffee cup, by Henri Matisse

Good Morning!!

I live in a 10th floor apartment that looks out at a busy street. Over the last year, I’ve looked out to see very little traffic, even in the rush hour. Now that Massachusetts has opened up again, the view of the street is nearly back to normal, with cars slowly moving slowly bumper to bumper in the hours when people are commuting to and from work. But is the pandemic really over? How much of a threat is the Delta variant of Covid-19? And what about the new variant, Delta Plus?

Dhruv Khullar at The New Yorker: The Delta Variant Is a Grave Danger to the Unvaccinated.

Lineage B.1.617.2, now known as the Delta variant, was first detected in India, in December, 2020. An evolved version of sars-CoV-2, Delta has at least a dozen mutations, including several on its spike protein that make it vastly more contagious and possibly more lethal and vaccine-resistant than other strains. In India, the Delta variant contributed to the most devastating coronavirus wave the world has seen so far; now, it has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. In the U.S., it accounts for a minority of cases—but it is rapidly outcompeting other variants, and will likely soon become our dominant lineage.

Much of what we know about Delta is preliminary, and based on reports from India and, more recently, the U.K., where it now accounts for more than ninety per cent of new cases. Four-fifths of British adults have received at least one shot of a covid-19 vaccine, and more than half are fully vaccinated—but the variant has spread widely enough among those who remain vulnerable to fuel a quadrupling of cases and a doubling of hospitalizations in the past month. The vast majority of Delta-variant cases seem to have occurred in adults under fifty, whose rates of vaccination remain lower than those of older people. Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K.’s full reopening, originally scheduled for June 21st, would be postponed.

Earlier this year, scientists estimated that lineage B.1.1.7—the Alpha variant, first isolated in England—could be some sixty per cent more transmissible than the original version of sars-CoV-2. Now, experts believe that the Delta variant is sixty per cent more transmissible than Alpha—making it far more contagious than the virus that tore through the world in 2020. It hasn’t yet been conclusively shown that Delta is more lethal, but early evidence from the U.K. suggests that, compared to Alpha, it doubles the risk of a person’s being hospitalized. Even if the variant turns out to be no deadlier within any one person, its greater transmissibility means that it can inflict far more damage across a population, depending on how many people remain unvaccinated when it strikes.

It’s a long article, so check it out if you’re interested. Here’s the conclusion:

In a sense, Delta is the first post-vaccination variant. Pockets of the human race—perhaps five hundred million people out of 7.6 billion—are protected against it, despite its transmissibility; for them, the pandemic’s newest chapter is something of an epilogue, since the main story has, in effect, already concluded. But, for those who remain unvaccinated, by choice or by chance, Delta represents the latest installment in an ongoing series of horrors. It’s a threat more sinister than any other—one that imperils whatever precarious equilibrium has taken root. In a partially vaccinated world, Delta exposes the duality in which we now live and die.

From the BBC article:

India’s health ministry says studies showed that the so-called Delta plus variant – also known as AY.1 – spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralise the virus.

The variant is related to the Delta, an existing variant of concern, which was first identified in India last year and is thought to have driven the deadly second wave of infections this summer in India.\The health ministry says the Delta plus variant, first found in India in April, has been detected in around 40 samples from six districts in three states – Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. At least 16 of these samples were found in Maharashtra, one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic.

Delta plus has also been found in nine other countries – USA, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, Russia and China – compared to the original highly contagious Delta strain, which has now spread to 80 countries.

The Cup of Tea, Mary Cassatt

The Cup of Tea, Mary Cassatt

It’s still not clear how serious the thread of Delta Plus is.

“You need biological and clinical information in order to consider whether it is truly a variant of concern.”

This means India needs more data to determine whether the variant is neutralised by antibodies generated by available vaccines or infection by another variant of the coronavirus.

Also, extensive data is needed about the increase in transmissibility, diagnostic failures – routine tests not picking up the variant – and whether the variant is causing more severe disease.

“You need to study a few hundred patients who are sick with this condition and variant and find out whether they are at greater risk of greater disease than the ancestral variant,” Dr Kang said.

Still, in places in the U.S. where many people are unvaccinated, it seems that these variants are nothing to fool around with. There’s much more information at the BBC link.

This is from Science Magazine: Delta variant triggers dangerous new phase in the pandemic.

When the coronavirus variant now called Delta first appeared in December 2020, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, it did not seem all that remarkable. But when it descended on New Delhi a few months later, its impact was devastating, with almost 30,000 cases reported daily in late April. “Suddenly … it is dominant and completely sweeps away Alpha,” which until then was most prevalent in the city, says Anurag Agrawal, who leads the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.

New Delhi seemed unlikely to suffer a big new outbreak because so many of its residents had already been infected or vaccinated, Agrawal says. But those protections seemed to barely slow Delta, which is more transmissible and may evade immunity, he says: “It went from a 10-foot wall around the city to a 2-foot wall you could just walk over.”

From New Delhi, the variant has quickly spread, and it now looks set to sweep the globe in what could be a devastating new wave. In the United Kingdom, Delta already makes up more than 90% of all infections; it has driven COVID-19 case numbers up again after a dramatic decline and led the government last week to postpone the final stage of its reopening plan. A Delta-driven resurgence in Lisbon prompted the Portuguese government to enact a 3-day travel ban between the city and the rest of the country. The variant may account for 90% of all COVID-19 cases in the European Union by the end of August, Andrea Ammon, the head of the European Centre for Disease

Prevention and Control, warned today. “It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination,” she said. “This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.“

Melinda L. Cootsona, Black Coffee Ode to RD

Melinda L. Cootsona, Black Coffee Ode to RD

Delta also appears also to be causing surges in Russia, Indonesia, and many other countries. In the United States, where its prevalence is now estimated to be at least 14%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Delta a “variant of concern” on 15 June.

Read the rest at the link.

One more lengthy story to check out at CNBC: Covid is already deadlier this year than all of 2020. So why do many in U.S. think the problem’s over?

As the U.S. pushes ahead with its reopening, easing mask mandates and lifting public health restrictions, much of the rest of the world is seeing an alarming surge in the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths.

The stark contrast underscores how unevenly the coronavirus pandemic has spread, now hitting low-income nations harder as they struggle with access to vaccines, the rapid spread of new variants and heavily burdened health-care systems.

It also shows why, even with nations such as the U.S., China and the U.K. recording relatively low Covid infections and fatalities thanks to a mass vaccination drive, the global health crisis is still far from over.

To be sure, more people have died from Covid this year than in all of 2020, according to data compiled by the World Health Organization. The official global death toll stood at 1,813,188 at the end of 2020. More than 2 million people have died as a result of Covid so far this year.

There’s much more at the link. I’m very glad I’m fully vaccinated, but I’m still not going to keep taking precautions.

In other news, we’re learning more about the Trump gang’s efforts to use the justice department to attack their political enemies. 

The Guardian: House investigates possible shadow operation in Trump justice department.

Top Democrats in the House are investigating whether Trump justice department officials ran an unlawful shadow operation to target political enemies of the former president to hunt down leaks of classified information, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The House judiciary committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, is centering his investigation on the apparent violation of internal policies by the justice department, when it issued subpoenas against Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell in 2018.

Simon Quadrat Man Drinking Tea

Simon Quadrat, Man Drinking Tea

The use of subpoenas to secretly seize data from the two Democrats on the House intelligence committee – and fierce critics of Donald Trump – would ordinarily require authorization from the highest levels of the justice department and notably, the attorney general.

But with the former Trump attorneys general Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions denying any knowledge of the subpoenas, Democrats are focused on whether rogue officials abused the vast power of the federal government to target Trump’s perceived political opponents, the source said.

That kind of shadow operation – reminiscent of the shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that led to Trump’s first impeachment – would be significant because it could render the subpoenas unlawful, the source said.

And if the subpoenas were issued without proper authorization from the attorney general level, it could also leave the officials involved in the effort open to prosecution for false operating with the imprimatur of law enforcement.

The sharpening contours of the House judiciary committee’s investigation into the Trump justice department reflects Democrats’ determination to uncover potential politicization at the department.

And from Media Matters: “From POTUS”: Trump wanted Justice Department to investigate a QAnon-linked election conspiracy theory.

The ongoing release of materials on former President Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election has shown the extent to which the White House pushed for the Department of Justice to investigate far-out conspiracy theories linked to the QAnon movement. And the latest example might also show that false stories circulated in far-right media made their way to Trump himself.

The Detroit News reported last week on emails recently released by the House oversight committee showing some of the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. On December 14 — the same day when the members of the Electoral College met across the country to formalize Joe Biden’s victory — White House aide Molly Michael sent an email to acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen with the subject “From POTUS.”

Peasant Girl drinking her coffee, Camille Pissarro

Peasant Girl drinking her coffee, Camille Pissarro

The email contained a PDF file of a report from a right-wing investigator on an election counting error in the small locale of Antrim County, Michigan, and a set of talking points apparently written by the report’s author declaring that “Michigan cannot certify for Biden” due to a “seditious conspiracy to undermine the election process and the will of the American people.”

Two minutes after that email was sent to Rosen, another unnamed person in the attorney general’s office forwarded the documents to the U.S. attorneys in Michigan, asking them to “see attachments per Rich Donoghue,” Trump’s newly appointed deputy attorney general….

According to The New York Times, the private group that conducted this report, Allied Security Operations Group, is a sponsor and financial backer of the website Everylegalvote.com, which had also “posted content from a source with links to” the QAnon conspiracy theory. The author of the report was also a former Republican candidate for Congress from Texas, having lost in a primary in 2016.

Meanwhile, a new poll by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group shows how deluded Republicans are about the 2020 election: Theft Perception. Examining the Views of Americans Who Believe the 2020 Election was Stolen.

Key Findings

  • Republicans widely support Donald Trump and believe his claims about a stolen election. While Republicans support all elements of the ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative in high numbers, the overall electorate largely rejects these claims and propositions.
  • Among Republicans, 85 percent believe it was appropriate for Trump to file lawsuits challenging election results in several states, and the same proportion believe that vote-by-mail increases vote fraud; 46 percent of Republicans believe it was appropriate for legislators in states won by Joe Biden to try to assign their state’s electoral votes to Trump.
  • Republicans most committed to both Trump and the narrative of election fraud share a few other views in common: extreme antipathy toward Democrats and immigrants, belief that racism is not a problem, support for nationalism, belief in traditional family values and gender roles, and preference for a very limited role for government in the economy.
  • While a voter’s willingness to reject an election without evidence of fraud might suggest an embrace of authoritarianism, a key measure of authoritarian leanings — support for a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections” — is only weakly correlated to support for Trump and for the stolen election narrative.

More stories to check out today:

The Washington Post: In sentencing regretful Capitol protester, federal judge rebukes Republicans.

CNN: New videos show Capitol rioters attacking police line from officers’ point of view.

The Washington Post: Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from covid-19.

The Washington Post: Tension grips Michigan as Trump’s election attacks continue to reverberate.

NBC News: Michigan Republicans eviscerate Trump voter fraud claims in scathing report.

Raw Story: Florida students required to register political views with the state to promote ‘intellectual diversity’

Task and Purpose: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is tired of ignorant bullsh*t from people who don’t like to read.

That’s all I have for you today. Have a terrific Thursday everyone!


Thursday Reads: Are We Headed for a Fourth Wave?

Ole Ring, Danish painter, 1902-1972, natural landscape,

Ole Ring, Danish painter, 1902-1972, natural landscape,

Good Morning!!

I’m going to focus on Covid-19 news today, because–despite the fact that 110 million Americans have been vaccinated–it looks like we are headed into a dangerous surge of new cases. Here’s the latest:

CNN: Fauci says new Covid-19 cases are at a disturbing level as the US is primed for a surge.

The number of new Covid-19 cases has plateaued at a “disturbingly high level,” and the US is at risk from a new surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Wednesday.

While lower than the peak earlier this year, there were still more than 61,000 new cases reported on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the lack of continued significant decreases in infections is a concern, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, particularly given the spread of variants.

“It’s almost a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase,” Fauci said, noting Europe is experiencing a spike much like the one experts worry about for the US.

The US is vaccinating people quickly, with just over 33% of the population — more than 109 million people — having received at least one dose of the vaccine and all 50 states committed to opening vaccinations to all adults by April 19.

Those vaccines may be behind the decrease in Covid-19 fatalities, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.

This is also concerning: Walensky says that the British variant of the virus is now causing most U.S. cases.

The New York Times: More Contagious Virus Variant Is Now Dominant in U.S., C.D.C. Chief Says.

A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. The worrisome development comes as officials and scientists warn of a possible fourth surge of infections.

Suzanne Valadon, Sous-Bois, 1914

Suzanne Valadon, Sous Bois, 1914

Federal health officials said in January that the B.1.1.7 variant, which began surging in Britain in December and has since slammed Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infections in the United States, leading to a huge increase in cases and deaths.

At that point, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at an all-time high. From that peak, the numbers all declined until late February, according to a New York Times database. After several weeks at a plateau, new cases and hospitalizations are increasing again. The average number of new cases in the country has reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, concentrated mostly in metro areas in Michigan as well as in the New York City region. That is an increase of 19 percent compared with the figure two weeks ago.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, who warned last week that she felt a recurring sense of “impending doom,” said on Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions — which include states, some major cities and territories — are now reporting cases of these so-called “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7.

More on the British variant:

B.1.1.7, the first variant to come to widespread attention, is about 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates. The C.D.C. has also been tracking the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, first found in South Africa, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.

The percentage of cases caused by variants is clearly increasing. Helix, a lab testing company, has tracked the relentless increase of B.1.1.7 since the beginning of the year. As of April 3, it estimated that the variant made up 58.9 percent of all new tests.

That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates over all, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing and other measures.

Doctors and hospitals are seeing more infections in young people. 

CNN: Youth sports and other extracurriculars are spreading Covid-19, health officials say.

After-school activities are creating clusters where coronavirus can spread among children, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Peder Mørk Mønsted, Danish, View of Fredensborg, 1893

Peder Mørk Mønsted, Danish, View of Fredensborg, 1893

“We know that these increases are due, in part, to more highly transmissible variants, which we are very closely monitoring,” Walensky said Monday at the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.

The virus was linked to high school wrestling tournaments in Florida last December where 38 people tested positive, according to a CDC report published in January.

In Minnesota, the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 spread through Carver County with at least 68 cases linked to youth sport activities including hockey, wrestling and basketball, according to the Minnesota Department of Health….

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned about the spread of Covid-19 among children who participate in youth sports.

“We’re finding out that it’s the team sports where kids are getting together, obviously many without masks, that are driving it, rather than in the classroom spread,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” “When you go back and take a look and try and track where these clusters of cases are coming from in the school, it’s just that.

The New York Times: Is the U.S. heading for a new wave? The Upper Midwest may offer a hint.

As states lift restrictions and coronavirus variants spread, scientists and federal health officials have warned that a fourth surge of cases could arise in the United States even as the nation’s vaccination campaign gathers speed. The seeds of such a surge may now be sprouting in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast.

Michigan is in tough shape. New cases and hospitalizations there have more than doubled in the last two weeks, and the six metro areas in the United States with the greatest number of new cases relative to their population are all in Michigan.

Several other states in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota and Illinois, have also reported significant increases in new cases and hospitalizations. And in the Northeast, New York and New Jersey have continued to see elevated case counts.

Illinois is seeing a spike in cases as well. The daily average for new cases there has jumped about 56 percent in the past two weeks, to about 2,832 a day. Hospitalizations have risen about 28 percent from two weeks ago. Wisconsin and North Dakota have also seen their average case counts jump 50 percent or more in the last two weeks.

Stat reports that Biden has so far declined to increase the number of vaccine doses available to Michigan, despite the precipitous rise in cases: Biden officials rebuff appeals to surge Covid-19 vaccine to Michigan amid growing crisis.

Amid Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation coronavirus surge, scientists and public health officials are urging the Biden administration to flood the state with additional vaccine doses.

Henri Lebasque, Summer Woman

Henri Lebasque, Summer Woman

So far, though, their plea has fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the federal government is sticking to a vaccine-allocation strategy that largely awards doses to states and territories based on their population. As a result, most jurisdictions are still receiving similar per-capita vaccine supplies, regardless of how many people there are getting sick — or how many excess vaccine doses they have. 

Experts have cast a surge in Michigan’s vaccine supply as a critical tool in combating the state’s most recent Covid-19 crisis. The state is currently recording nearly 7,000 new cases per day, just shy of its all-time peak in December. Hospitalizations and deaths, which tend to lag a few weeks behind increasing case counts, are also on the rise. 

“I would be surging a lot of vaccines to Michigan right now,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “To me, this is a no-brainer policy, and I would be curious to hear why the Biden team hasn’t done this.” 

During a media briefing on Wednesday, White House officials acknowledged that Michigan’s situation is dire. They gave no indication, though, that they would send additional vaccines there to help quell the surge, when STAT asked. They argued that it is too early in the national vaccine campaign to begin targeting supply based on case rates. 

Read more at Stat.

From An Diamond and Fenit Nirappil at The Washington Post: ‘A moment of peril’: Biden sees infections climb on his watch.

More than 100 million Americans have gotten at least one shot of vaccine and more than 200 million doses have been sent to states, a dramatic acceleration of the bumpy vaccine operation it inherited. Virus-related cases and deaths, which peaked in January, have fallen by about two-thirds since President Biden’s inauguration.

Gustave Léonard de Jonghe

Gustave Léonard de Jonghe

But the Biden White House is seeing new infections climb on its own watch — a potential crisis that could erase many of the hard-won gains of the president’s first 75 days, should the numbers keep rising. After railing for a year about the last administration’s response and vowing a more muscular strategy, Biden is encountering the limits of his own authority. The president can help secure and distribute supplies and medicines, issue guidance and urge caution — but like President Donald Trump before him, he has few tools when governors decide to lift coronavirus protections at the wrong moment, manufacturers botch vaccine production, or Americans refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated.

“We need you to spread the word,” Biden told faith leaders last week, saying he was worried about Americans becoming “cavalier” about the virus. “They’re going to listen to your words more than they are me as president of the United States.”

Biden also has no more sway than Trump over a mutating virus that scientists have only begun to understand. The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day national average of coronavirus cases is more than 65,000 new cases per day, an 19 percent uptick since the middle of last month, even as many states drop public health restrictions and new variants spread. More than 146,000 new cases were reported on Thursday and Friday, the highest two-day count in several weeks, according to state data tracked by The Post.

David Axe at The Daily Beast: There’s One Truly Alarming Reason to Worry About the Latest COVID Surge—Even With Vaccines.

…the [current] surge—driven by the spread of dangerous new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a reckless rush by governors and mayors to end a year of mask mandates and social distancing rules—isn’t just an immediate threat to unvaccinated people.

It also represents a long-term danger to the whole country. More cases mean more opportunities for the novel coronavirus to mutate. And the more the pathogen mutates, the greater the chance it will evolve into an even deadlier variant—“lineage” is the scientific term—than even the ones we’re dealing with now.

It’s even possible that, given time and a certain critical mass of cases, SARS-CoV-2 could mutate into a lineage that can overpower our vaccines.

Nicolaas van der Waay

Nicolaas van der Waay

That’s the worst-case scenario—and potentially the biggest cause for concern as the spring surge spreads across the United States. “The greater the spread of the virus populations to new individuals, because of relaxation of social measures, the more the chances of new mutations,” Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research at the University of South Florida, told The Daily Beast.

If all this sounds like conjecture—it’s not. The steady mutation of the novel coronavirus over the 16 months since it first took root in China is a big reason America’s experiencing another surge.

Any given patient’s load of the virus mutates every two weeks, on average. Niema Moshiri, a geneticist at the University of California-San Diego, compared each case to a slot machine that an infection pulls twice a month. Jackpot is a new and deadlier lineage.

Now imagine tens of millions of Americans with active COVID infections, with each case pulling that handle every 14 days. The more gamblers, and the more time they have to gamble, the better chances of a big win for SARS-CoV-2. Our goal, Moshiri said, should be “to lessen the number of parallel slot machines we give to the virus.”

A few more related stories to check out:

USA Today: Colorado vaccination site shuts down after 11 ‘adverse reactions’ to Johnson & Johnson jabs: Latest COVID-19 updates.

The New York Times: Top Official Warned That Covid Vaccine Plant Had to Be ‘Monitored Closely.’  “An Operation Warp Speed report last June flagged staffing and quality control concerns at Emergent BioSolutions’ factory in Baltimore. The troubled plant recently had to throw out up to 15 million doses.”

David Corn at Mother Jones: Will the Public Ever Get a Full Accounting of Trump’s Disastrous COVID Response?

What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.


Lazy Saturday Reads

Cuban-Americans celebrate upon hearing about the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Fla., on Saturday. AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Cuban-Americans celebrate upon hearing about the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Fla., on Saturday.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Good Morning!!

The big news this morning is the death of Fidel Castro. From the AP via the NYT: Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Who Defied US for 50 Years, Dies at 90.

Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90.

With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that his older brother died at 10:29 p.m. Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Toward victory, always!”

Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died 10 years after ill health forced him to hand power over to Raul.

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Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.

His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008, provisionally at first and then permanently. His defiant image lingered long after he gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped.

“Socialism or death” remained Castro’s rallying cry even as Western-style democracy swept the globe and other communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism, leaving this island of 11 million people an economically crippled Marxist curiosity.

The Times also has a lengthy obituary: Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90.

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90….

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

ct-fidel-castro-through-the-years-20161126

Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.

He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

Much more at the link.

Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of a shocking revolution here at home. Our government has been essentially taken over by a hostile foreign state, and it appears that no one in power is doing anything about it. It looks like we are going to be ruled by billionaires–are we really going to allow our country to become a Russian oligarchy?

The Washington Post: Americans keep looking away from the election’s most alarming story, by Eric Chenowith.

In assessing Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Americans continue to look away from this election’s most alarming story: the successful effort by a hostile foreign power to manipulate public opinion before the vote.

U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government actively interfered in our elections. Russian state propaganda gave little doubt that this was done to support President-elect Trump, who repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin and excused the Russian president’s foreign aggression and domestic repression. Most significantly, U.S. intelligence agencies have affirmed that the Russian government directedthe illegal hacking of private email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and prominent individuals. The emails were then released by WikiLeaks, which has benefited financially from a Russian state propaganda arm, used Russian operatives for security and made clear an intent to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

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From the Russian perspective, the success of this operation can hardly be overstated. News stories on the DNC emails released in July served to disrupt the Democratic National Convention, instigate political infighting and suggest for some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — without any real proof — that the Democratic primary had been “rigged” against their candidate. On Oct. 7, WikiLeaks began near dailydumps from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, generating a month of largely negative reporting on Clinton, her campaign staff, her husband and their foundation. With some exceptions, there was little news in the email beyond political gossip and things the media had covered before, now revisited from a seemingly “hidden” viewpoint.
Russian (and former communist) propaganda has traditionally worked exactly this way: The more you “report” something negatively, the more the negative is true. Trump and supportive media outlets adopted the technique and reveled in information gained from the illegal Russian hacking (as well as many “fake news” stories that evidencesuggestswere generated by Russian intelligence operations) to make exaggerated claims (“Hillary wants to open borders to 600 million people!”) or to accuse Clinton of illegality, corruption and, ironically, treasonous behavior.
Does anyone in the Obama administration have serious concerns about this? And what about possible connections between Russia and factions in FBI? I can only hope that efforts to deal with the situation are going on behind the scenes, but it sure doesn’t seem that way. Instead, it looks like the Obama administration is focused on making things easier for Trump and his Russian oligarch pals.

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NYT: U.S. Officials Defend Integrity of Vote, Despite Hacking Fears.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said on Friday that despite Russian attempts to undermine the presidential election, it has concluded that the results “accurately reflect the will of the American people.”

The statement came as liberal opponents of Donald J. Trump, some citing fears of vote hacking, are seeking recounts in three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — where his margin of victory was extremely thin.

A drive by Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, for recounts in those states had brought in more than $5 million by midday on Friday, her campaign said, and had increased its goal to $7 million. She filed for a recount in Wisconsin on Friday, about an hour before the deadline.

In its statement, the administration said, “The Kremlin probably expected that publicity surrounding the disclosures that followed the Russian government-directed compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations, would raise questions about the integrity of the election process that could have undermined the legitimacy of the president-elect.”

That was a reference to the breach of the Democratic National Committee’s email system, and the leak of emails from figures like John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

“Nevertheless, we stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people,” it added.

I don’t get it. So President Obama really isn’t that interested in fighting for his legacy anymore? And there’s this from The Hill: Obama urged Clinton to concede on election night.

obama-on-the-phone

President Barack Obama called Hillary Clinton to persuade her to concede the White House on election night, according to a forthcoming book on Clinton’s defeat.

Authors Amie Parnes, The Hill’s senior White House correspondent, and Jonathan Allen cite three Clintonworld sources familiar with the election-night request in the unreleased book from Crown Publishing.

“You need to concede,” Obama told his former secretary of State as she, her family, and her top aides continued to watch results trickle in from the key Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The latter state, called after 1:30 a.m. by The Associated Press, was the clear tipping point for the White House race, ensuring Trump would crest over the 270 electoral-vote threshold needed to win.

Clinton ultimately heeded Obama’s advice and called Trump to acknowledge her defeat in the early morning hours Wednesday….

Obama’s call left a sour taste in the mouths of some Clinton allies who believe she should have waited longer, and there’s now a fight playing out between the Obama and Clinton camps over whether to support an effort to force the Rust Belt states to recount their votes.

Meanwhile, efforts to get recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are moving forward. The Wisconsin Election Commission: Wisconsin Elections Commission Receives Two Presidential Election Recount Petitions.

MADISON, WI – The Wisconsin Elections Commission today received two recount petitions from the Jill Stein for President Campaign and from Rocky Roque De La Fuente, Administrator Michael Haas announced.

“The Commission is preparing to move forward with a statewide recount of votes for President of the United States, as requested by these candidates,” Haas said.

“We have assembled an internal team to direct the recount, we have been in close consultation with our county clerk partners, and have arranged for legal representation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice,” Haas said. “We plan to hold a teleconference meeting for county clerks next week and anticipate the recount will begin late in the week after the Stein campaign has paid the recount fee, which we are still calculating.”

The last statewide recount was of the Supreme Court election in 2011.  At that time, the Associated Press surveyed county clerks and reported that costs to the counties exceeded $520,000, though several counties did not respond to the AP’s survey.  That election had 1.5 million votes, and Haas said the Commission expects the costs to be higher for an election with 2.975 million votes.  “The Commission is in the process of obtaining cost estimates from county clerks so that we can calculate the fee which the campaigns will need to pay before the recount can start,” Haas said. The Commission will need to determine how the recount costs will be assessed to the campaigns.

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The state is working under a federal deadline of December 13 to complete the recount. As a result, county boards of canvassers may need to work evenings and weekends to meet the deadlines. “The recount process is very detail-oriented, and this deadline will certainly challenge some counties to finish on time,” Haas said.

A recount is different than an audit and is more rigorous, Haas explained.  More than 100 reporting units across the state were randomly selected for a separate audit of their voting equipment as required by state law, and that process has already begun.  Electronic voting equipment audits determine whether all properly-marked ballots are accurately tabulated by the equipment.  In a recount, all ballots (including those that were originally hand counted) are examined to determine voter intent before being retabulated. In addition, the county boards of canvassers will examine other documents, including poll lists, written absentee applications, rejected absentee ballots, and provisional ballots before counting the votes.

Haas noted that the Commission’s role is to order the recount, to provide legal guidance to the counties during the recount, and to certify the results.  If the candidates disagree with the results of the recount, the law gives them the right to appeal in circuit court within five business days after the recount is completed.  The circuit court is where issues are resolved that may be discovered during the recount but are not resolved to the satisfaction of the candidates.

The Detroit News: Mich. readies for presidential recount as cutoff looms.

Lansing — Elections officials are preparing for a possible presidential election recount in Michigan that could begin as soon as next week, state Director of Elections Chris Thomas said Friday.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has indicated she plans to jumpstart a recount in the Great Lakes state over fears that Michigan’s election results could have been manipulated by hackers. Republican President-elect Donald won the state by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to unofficial updated resultsposted Wednesday.

By Friday afternoon, Stein had raised more than $5 million of her $7 million goal to cover the cost of a recount in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan “to ensure the integrity of our elections” because “there is a significant need to verify machine-counted vote totals,” according to her campaign website. Stein finished nearly 2.3 million votes behind Trump in Michigan and received 1.1 percent of the vote.

Michigan’s deadline for initiating a recount is Wednesday. “We have not heard from anybody,” Thomas said about a Stein recount request. “We’re just trying to be proactive, make sure we have plans.”

Thomas said officials “could probably begin by the end of the week,” although it will be “a huge undertaking in a very short period of time” if it happens.

That’s all I have for you today. I admit that I’ve been sinking into depression and despair over the past few days. I don’t know how to deal with this nightmare. I’m not giving up; I’m just in a state of extreme confusion and not sure how to come out of it yet.

Take care Sky Dancers! I love you all.


Whatever You Do, Don’t Leave the House Carrying a Pressure Cooker!

Talal al Rouki with the pressure cooker of doom!

Talal al Rouki with the pressure cooker of doom!

If you do leave your house with a pressure cooker, you could be surrounded by FBI agents in an instant!

First let me clarify that this is not satire. This isn’t from The Onion, it’s from The Detroit News:

Federal agents arrested a suspicious traveler with an altered Saudi Arabian passport at Detroit Metro Airport over the weekend after discovering a pressure cooker in his luggage.

According to a criminal complaint filed today in U.S. District Court, the passenger, Hussain Al Khawahir arrived at Detroit Metro on Friday from Saudi Arabia via Amersterdam. He had a visa and a Saudi Arabian passport, and told officers in the baggage control area that he would be visiting his nephew at the University of Toledo, the complaint said.

In the baggage area, two customs officers interviewed the passenger and noticed a page had been removed form the man’s passport, the complaint said. The man said that he did not know how the page was removed form the passport, and stated that the passport was locked in a box that only he, his wife and three minor children have access to in his home, the complaint said. His hometown was not listed in court documents.

While at the airport, customs and border officials also examined his luggage and found a pressure cooker inside. When questioned about it, the man initially said that he brought the pressure cooker for his nephew because pressure cookers are not sold in Saudi Arabia, the complaint said. The man then changed his story and admitted his nephew had purchased a pressure cooker in America before, but it “was cheap” and broke after the first use.

So basically, he was arrested for lying about why he had a pressure cooker in his luggage. He couldn’t possibly have been so flustered by what happened that he couldn’t think of what to say, right? Obviously, he must be a dangerous “terrorist” carrying one pressure cooker into the country to make a bomb. Because no one sells pressure cookers in the U.S., right? So is he part of a terrorist “cell” that brings pressure cookers into the country one at a time for some future plot?

At least they read the guy his rights, according to the article.

Of course the hysteria stems from the Boston Marathon bombings in April in which pressure cooker bombs were used.

pressure-cooker

Here’s a little more information:

Hussain Al Kwawahir appeared for a brief hearing at 1 p.m. in federal court on charges he allegedly used an altered passport and lied to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent about the pressure cooker.

It was unclear Monday whether his arrest is terrorism related or a misunderstanding. But the prosecutor handling the case is Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel, who prosecuted the terror case against underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

No one has told his court-appointed lawyer anything either.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade declined comment on the particulars of the case or whether there are any links to terrorism.

“We never want to jump to conclusions and read more into a situation than is there, but we want to make sure all cases are fully investigated to protect the public,” McQuade said.

Don’t these people have anything better to do? We have children shooting each other with guns all over the country, but they’re worried about cooking equipment. What if I order a pressure cooker on Amazon? Will the FBI come to my house and question me? Don’t worry, I’m not taking that chance.

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This story follows on a previous one–also in Michigan–in which a Saudi student cooked rice in his pressure cooker and was carrying it over to his next door neighbor’s house when other neighbors freaked out and called the FBI. From The Daily Mail: FBI surrounds house of Saudi student after sightings of him with pressure cooker pot – only to discover he was cooking RICE.

A Saudi student living in Michigan was questioned in his home by FBI agents after neighbours saw him carrying a pressure cooker and called the police.

Talal al Rouki had been cooking a traditional Saudi Arabian rice dish called kabsah and was carrying it to a friend’s house.

According to reports in a Saudi newspaper on Friday, the FBI are increasingly vigilant about ‘pressure cooker’ home-made bombs after the Boston bombers used one to make an explosive….

The young student showed them his pressure cooker and explained to them he used to make a rice dish.

An FBI agent said: ‘You need to be more careful moving around with such things, Sir’

So watch out! If you’re going to take a meal to a sick friend or an elderly neighbor, for heaven’s sake use a transparent glass casserole dish so the “authorities” can see what you’re carrying. Especially if you happen to be a brown person or have a foreign accent, of course.

I guess we can expect a long string of pressure cooker arrests, while Congress refuses to vote for background checks on gun sales and Americans continue to kill and maim each other with firearms on a daily basis.

I only wish this were a joke.


GOP Electoral Vote-Rigging Scheme Is Losing Steam

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Good News

It looks like the Republican plans to change the way electoral votes are assigned in swing states may be dead in the water. This afternoon, a Virginia Senate committee voted to kill the state’s proposed bill and Republicans in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin are expressing serious doubts about similar bills in their states.

In Virginia:

The measure appeared headed for defeat after Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) came out against it Friday, as did two GOP senators who sit on the committee that would decide the bill’s fate.

Earlier Tuesday, McDonnell said during a televised interview that he was “afraid people will ignore Virginia” if the commonwealth switched to an electoral college system that picked winners by congressional district.

The governor told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that the winner-take-all system most states use is the way to go, and that splitting up electoral votes by congressional districts is a “bad idea.”

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder isn’t bullish on the proposed changes.

In another blow to the push to replace the winner-take-all method for awarding electoral votes, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said he is “very skeptical” of a Republican proposal in his state to adopt the congressional district system for allocating the votes.

“You don’t want to change the playing field so it’s an unfair advantage to someone, and in a lot of ways we want to make sure we’re reflecting the vote of the people, and this could challenge that,” Snyder, a Republican, said today on Bloomberg Television’s “Bottom Line.”

“I don’t think this is the appropriate time to really look at it,” he said.

And the Michigan Senate majority leader has indicated the measure probably won’t be put up for a vote. Michigan Live reports:

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville is wary of a proposal to split up Michigan’s Electoral College votes by district, suggesting that such a move could diminish the state’s importance in presidential elections.

“I don’t know that it’s broken, so I don’t know if I want to fix it,” Richardville said Tuesday, becoming the first high-ranking Michigan Republican to question a bill that state Rep. Pete Lund is poised to reintroduce in the House.

“We’ll take a look at it,” Richardville said. “I’ve heard these things before, all or nothing versus splitting it up. I want to make sure that Michigan’s voice is a loud and clear voice, so I’d be a little concerned if we ended up splitting the difference.”

Other Michigan elected officials noted that presidential candidates would be less likely to campaign in the state if they knew they could win only a small number of votes in favorable districts.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker says the plan is “risky.”

Walker said Tuesday it’s an interesting idea, but not one he spends time thinking about. He says because Wisconsin is a battleground state, presidential and vice presidential candidates have an incentive to make repeated campaign stops here. He says he’s wary that changing the system could dissuade candidates from visiting.

Finally, in Ohio, several GOP leaders, including Secretary of State Jon Husted, oppose the plan.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Count Ohio’s Republican leaders out of a GOP-backed effort to end the Electoral College’s winner-take-all format in the Buckeye State and other presidential battlegrounds.
Spokesmen for Gov. John Kasich, State Senate President Keith Faber and House Speaker William G. Batchelder told The Plain Dealer this week that they are not pursuing plans to award electoral votes proportionally by congressional district.

Batchelder went a step further, saying through his communications director that he “is not supportive of such a move.” And Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s chief elections administrator, emphasized that he does not favor the plan either, despite Democratic suspicions based on reported comments that he said were taken out of context.

“Nobody in Ohio is advocating this,” Husted said in a telephone interview.

That just leaves Pennsylvania and perhaps Florida. Would those states want to discourage candidates from coming in to campaign?

It certainly looks as if the GOP electoral vote-rigging scheme is a loser.