I’ve never been a Joe Biden fan. Early on in the 2020 primaries, I even thought I might refuse to vote for him if he were the Democratic nominee. But as time went on, he grew on me. Now I think he probably is exactly what we needed. He’s a “normal” Democratic politician, he’s extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the ways of the Senate, and he comes across as a decent person. He’s the perfect antidote to Trump’s psychotic behavior, ignorance, and incompetence. And it turns out that most Americans support what Biden is doing as president.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two weeks into a new administration, a majority of Americans say they have at least some confidence in President Joe Biden and his ability to manage the myriad crises facing the nation, including the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, 61% approve of Biden’s handling of his job in his first days in office, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Though the bulk of Biden’s support is from fellow Democrats, about a quarter of Republicans say they approve of his early days in office.
Even at a moment of deep national divisions, those numbers suggest Biden, as with most of his recent predecessors, may enjoy something of a honeymoon period. Nearly all modern presidents have had approval ratings averaging 55% or higher over their first three months in office, according to Gallup polling. There was one exception: Donald Trump, whose approval rating never surpassed 50% in Gallup polls, even at the start of his presidency.
Obviously Biden faces serious challenges, but so far the public as a whole is supportive.
Biden’s standing with the public will quickly face significant tests. He inherited from Trump a pandemic spiraling out of control, a sluggish rollout of crucial vaccines, deep economic uncertainty and the jarring fallout of the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. It’s a historic confluence of crises that historians have compared to what faced Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War or Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression.
Biden’s advisers know that the new president will be quickly judged by Americans on his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 450,000 people in the U.S. He’s urgently pressing Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion relief package that would include funds for vaccine distribution, school reopening and state and local governments buckling under the strain of the pandemic.
“We have to go big, not small,” Biden told House Democrats on Tuesday. He’s signaled that he’s open to trimming his $1.9 trillion proposal but not as far as some Republicans are hoping. A group of GOP senators has put forward their own $618 billion package.
President Biden toldRepublican senators he has “an open door and an open mind” on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan. But he already has the votes, and overwhelming support in the country.
Why it matters: Well, power matters. And Biden holds all of it.
Get used to this. Democrats are gleeful as they watch the media fixate on family feuds inside the GOP, while Biden pushes out executive orders and pushes through this bill on his terms.
- Biden embraces the reality that the two numbers that matter most to his presidency are coronavirus cases falling and economic growth rising.
Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president and longtime Biden confidant, was in the Oval this week for meetings with Republican and Democratic senators, and told me that the president “reaffirmed and deepened his explanation and commitment on the numbers and the substance” of the full package.
- Ricchetti said Biden made it clear that he welcomes “fine-tuning or amendments or recommendations,” but “underscored that he’s committed to his plan and to the elements he outlined” — and to moving quickly.
What we’re watching: Ricchetti said the president wants to have “a bipartisan and unifying dialogue in the country,” including conversations he’s already had with mayors and local elected officials, “so that this isn’t just about a dialogue with senators and members of Congress. It is a dialogue with the country.”
- Ricchetti said Biden treated a GOP counterproposal “with an open mind and with respect. He was also honest … in underscoring why he proposed what he did — that he was committed to every one of the elements in his package.”
The bottom line: Democrats will dismiss any whining about Biden’s stimulus as D.C. noise or Republican hypocrisy. They’ll be right on both fronts.
Meanwhile, Republicans are mired in a conflict over Q Anon Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Gree Kevin McCarthy has to be the most pathetic GOP leader ever–even worse than Paul Ryan or John Boehner. Yesterday, Republicans met to discuss the futures of Greene, a complete crackpot, and Liz Cheney, a relatively normal mainstream Republican who had the guts to vote for Trump’s impeachment. Both women have survived so far.
House Republicans voted by a large margin Wednesday to allow Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney to stay on as the GOP conference chairwoman following an hours-long meeting where members aired their grievances over her vote to impeach former President Trump last month. Just 61 Republicans voted to remove Cheney from her post, while 145 voted for her to stay in a vote by secret ballot.
The vote came after Cheney told her Republican colleagues she would not apologize for her decision, according to a source familiar with the meeting. She later praised the result as a “terrific vote.”
“We’re not going to be in a situation where people can pick off any member of leadership,” she said after the meeting. “It was very resounding acknowledgment that we need to go forward together and then we need to go forward in a way that helps us beat back the really dangerous and negative Democrat policies.”
The extremist wing of the Republican Party has lived to fight another day. But G.O.P. leaders are in knots trying to prove that the party’s factions can all live in harmony.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, refused to strip Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee appointments yesterday, instead issuing a long statement that condemned her history of making extreme and violent statements but also threw a jab back at Democrats, accusing them of a “partisan power grab.”
But at a closed-door meeting yesterday, the party’s House delegation also voted overwhelmingly to keep Representative Liz Cheney — an anti-Trump, establishment figure who has drawn fire from the party’s right wing — in her spot as the No. 3 Republican in the chamber.
At the meeting, many House Republicans expressed dismay with Cheney for her vote to impeach Trump and her condemnation of his role in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus accused Cheney of “aiding the enemy” when she joined just nine other Republicans in voting to impeach Trump, according to people familiar with the discussion. But ultimately she held on to her leadership role easily.
McCarthy’s unwillingness to strip Greene of her appointments, as Democrats and many Republicans have called on him to do, indicates that the G.O.P. plans to address the division in its ranks through messaging more than disciplinary action, at least for now.
In his statement, McCarthy used strong and direct language to reject the conspiracy-minded views promulgated by Greene, but he effectively defended her right to have held them.
“Past comments from and endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene on school shootings, political violence, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference,” McCarthy said. “I condemn those comments unequivocally.”
He said that he had met with her privately and explained “that as a member of Congress,” she would be held “to a higher standard than how she presented herself as a private citizen.”
At Axios, Margaret Talev reports: Exclusive poll: Republicans favor Greene over Cheney.
Conspiracist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is far more popular than Rep. Liz Cheney among Americans who align with the Republican Party, according to a new Axios-SurveyMonkey poll.
Why it matters: As the House GOP caucus is being torn over calls to yank Cheney from congressional leadership for backing Donald Trump’s second impeachment, and strip Greene from committee assignments for her baseless conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric, these findings show how strongly Trumpism continues to define most Republicans.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is much more popular with Republicans than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the survey finds.
By the numbers: McCarthy enjoys the highest favorable versus unfavorable ratings (net favorability) of the four among Republicans, at 38%-16% (+22); followed by Greene, at 28%-18% (+10); McConnell, at 31%-46% (-15); and Cheney, at 14%-42% (-28).
- Greene is the least well known of the four, with 51% of Republicans and Republican leaners saying they don’t know enough to say whether their impression is favorable or not. Respondents have the most fully formed views of McConnell.
- Republican respondents are three times as likely to say their views align with Greene than with Cheney, but nearly one-third say they don’t align with either, and half say they don’t know enough to say.
- Republican respondents who voted for Trump in November gave McCarthy a high net favorable rating (+31) and McConnell a high net unfavorable rating (-18).
The intrigue: People who identify with Greene are disproportionately likely to have lost faith in democracy or believe despite evidence that voter fraud is rampant in their state.
How scary is that?
Democrats are moving forward on a plan to take away Greene’s committee assignments. CNN: House to vote on removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from committee assignments.
The House will vote Thursday on a measure to remove Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments, a decisive step that comes in the wake of recently unearthed incendiary and violent past statements from the congresswoman that have triggered widespread backlash from Democrats and divided congressional Republicans.
House Democrats, who control the chamber, set up the vote after first attempting to pressure Republicans to strip the Georgia Republican of committee assignments on their own. House Republicans have not taken that action, however, and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday released a statement calling the push by Democrats to take away the congresswoman’s committee assignments a “partisan power grab.”
The measure the House will take up calls for Greene to be removed from the House Education and Labor Committee and the Budget Committee “in light of conduct she has exhibited.”
The move could set a risky precedent as Democrats target a sitting member of the opposing party in Congress over views expressed prior to her serving as an elected official — one that has the potential to someday be used against the party by Republicans.
Interesting stories to check out today:
The Atlantic: What QAnon Has in Common With the Birchers: Sixty years ago, many GOP leaders resisted extremism. Now they’re not even trying.
Norm Eisen and Katherine Reisner at USA Today: Whatever legal or constitutional test you apply, Trump incited the violent Capitol attack.
It has been quiet around here lately. I know I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, and I’m probably not alone. I’m realizing that Trump culture isn’t going to just magically go away. But I do hope you’ll check in and leave a comment or link when you can. We miss you when we don’t hear from you!
Just 22 more days until Biden’s inauguration, and one more week until Congress counts the electoral votes on January 6. There’s still plenty of time for Trump to throw tantrums and pardon more war criminals, but his time in the White House is almost over. Unfortunately, it looks like January will be nightmarish.
Justin Hendrix at Substack: January will be one of the worst months in American history.
Simply put, the COVID-19 pandemic is raging across the country, and the record number of new cases since Thanksgiving is about to produce tens of thousands of additional hospitalizations, pushing health systems beyond the limit and likely driving daily death counts well beyond where they are today. Consider just a few data points:
- The IHME model now predicts more than 100,000 Americans will die in January alone, taking the total known pandemic death toll over 450,000.
- Hospitalizations, now at record highs, will likely explode. Last night the Covid Tracking Project reported a record number of hospitalized Americans, at 118,720, despite a number of states not reporting new figures due to the holiday. If that number seems enormous, consider that California’s model suggests that the state, which just crested 20,000 current hospitalizations, may itself reach 100,000 in January.
- The vaccination rollout is not going to plan. While it may improve in the coming days, official promises that 20 million Americans would receive the vaccine by the end of the year have fallen far short of the goal. As of December 26th, the CDC tracks less than 2 million first doses administered.
Imagine- nearly double the American death toll of the Vietnam War- across its nine years- in a single month. A quarter the number of all American losses in the roughly four years it fought in World War II- in a single month. In the face of this mounting disaster, the President is golfing in Florida. The Vice President and Head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force is vacationing in Vail, Colorado. The nation is effectively without leadership as we approach an event horizon of a black hole of death and anguish more acute than anything we’ve seen for generations.
Click the link to read the whole thing.
December was already bad enough. Eyewitness News Los Angeles: December deadliest month in US since COVID-19 pandemic began; January projections ‘nightmarish,’ expert says.
December has been the nation’s deadliest month since the COVID-19 pandemic’s start — with more than 63,000 Americans lost to the virus in the past 26 days.
In comparison, the entire month of November saw about 36,964 deaths, CNN reported.
The grim death toll comes on the heels of several brutal months for the US, with COVID-19 ravaging communities from coast to coast, crippling hospital systems and prompting new widespread restrictions.
The authorization of two COVID-19 vaccines earlier in December offered some hope of a light at the end of the tunnel. But experts continue to warn that while the end is in sight, the pandemic is not over and another surge stemming from the Christmas holiday could be on its way.
“We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Years — surge,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning, pointing to holiday travel and private gatherings taking place despite the advice of health experts.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert described the potential rise in cases as a “surge upon a surge,” telling CNN’s Dana Bash, “If you look at the slope, the incline of cases that we’ve experienced as we’ve gone into the late fall and soon to be early winter, it is really quite troubling.”
Despite the rollout of two new vaccines, the pandemic is accelerating and the United States should brace itself for “one of the worst months in this nation’s history in January,” one of President-elect Joe Biden’s top Covid-19 advisers warned Monday.
“There is no doubt about that,” the expert, Dr. Celine Gounder, said on CNBC. “That cake is in the oven already, with the travel that has happened over the holidays.”
That dire warning came as the number of Covid-19 infections rose past 19.2 million after Christmas and the number of deaths from coronavirus neared 334,000, the latest NBC News data showed.
Gounder, a member of the Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, described a nightmarish scenario in which local health officials are forced to erect field hospitals because hallways and even some parking lots are already packed with sick patients.
And an even bigger crisis, Gounder said, will be finding enough doctors and nurses to treat everybody.
“You can’t stand up new doctors and nurses the way you can field hospitals,” Gounder said. “You can’t just create them out of thin air.”
Yesterday the House voted to increase the stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000, as Trump demanded. The Washington Post reports: House votes to boost stimulus checks to $2,000 with bipartisan support.
Yesterday the news broke that Tom Seaver had died, but for some reason the cause of his death wasn’t immediately emphasized. He died because he had Covid-19. He also had dementia, but the coronavirus is what killed him. Today that fact is appearing in headlines.
He died peacefully in his sleep Monday, the organization said.
“We are heartbroken to share that our beloved husband and father has passed away,” said a family statement from Seaver’s wife, Nancy, and daughters, Sarah and Anne. “We send our love out to his fans, as we mourn his loss with you.”
Seaver played 12 seasons with the Mets, winning the National League Cy Young Award, honoring the league’s best pitcher, three times.
Why am I calling attention to this? Because the latest conspiracy that Trump has begun pushing is that somehow people who died of Covid-19 who also had other medical conditions shouldn’t be counted in the coronvirus death totals.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been deluged with a flood of media requests about a conspiracy theory promulgated by QAnon—an increasingly violent far-right group praised by President Donald Trump that is widely known for spreading disinformation.
As the agency attempted to manage the fallout of a controversial Health and Human Services announcement that it had revised testing guidelines to exclude individuals who do not exhibit symptoms, officials were sidetracked by a barrage of inquiries about whether the CDC had lied about the number of Americans who died as a result of the coronavirus. Over the weekend QAnon, a movement whose believers often push out falsities on a myriad of subjects, promoted a bogus theory that only 6 percent of people listed as having died from the coronavirus had “actually died” from COVID-19.
Officials at the CDC said they spent the last several days fielding questions or requests for comment from dozens of local and national outlets asking to clarify whether the agency had falsified its data. The wave of emails and calls about the conspiracy theory caught officials off-guard….
The CDC effort to combat accusations from QAnon, a relatively new, increasingly unhinged movement that’s making inroads into online health communities, shows the power that conspiracy theorists can have during the pandemic—especially when boosted by the president. It also shows just how permeable the barrier between conspiracy cranks and established media outlets can be.
“In all my time working in the government I’ve never had to deal with something this crazy. The level of disinformation spread by this group has grown in recent months and now we’re having to actively debunk it through the press.”
The “six percent” claim was embraced by conservatives, who have been eager for ways to downplay the virus’ American death toll and have claimed for months that the CDC and hospitals were overcounting COVID-19 deaths. To QAnon supporters, the claim purports to show that COVID-19 has killed only 9,000 people, with the vast majority of the roughly 183,000 COVID-19 casualties actually killed by another ailment.
The simple truth is that Tom Seaver wouldn’t have died if he hadn’t contracted the virus and neither would thousands of other Americans who also may have had high blood pressure, asthma, obesity, or some other secondary condition.
Another crazy conspiracy that Trump has been pushing for a long time is the notion that mail-in ballots cannot be trusted. Yesterday, Trump actually recommended that voters in North Carolina should try to vote twice. NBC News: Trump encourages North Carolina residents to vote twice to test mail-in system.
President Donald Trump suggested that people in North Carolina should vote twice in the November election, once by mail and once in person, escalating his attempts to cast confusion and doubt on the validity of the results.
“So let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote,” Trump said when asked whether he has confidence in the mail-in system in North Carolina, a battleground state.
“If it’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote. So that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do,” he said.
It is illegal to vote more than once in an election.
But Bill Barr, who is supposedly the Attorney General of the United States isn’t sure that voting twice is illegal. Newsweek: Bill Barr Mocked After ‘Playing Dumb’ Over Legality of Voting Twice.
Appearing on CNN on Wednesday, Barr said the president was trying to make the point that election monitoring was not good enough to prevent people from voting at polling stations if they already cast their ballots by mail.
But when he was pressed on the fact that such an action would be illegal, he said he was unaware of what state laws said about the legality of voting twice.
“I don’t know what the law in the particular state says, and when that vote becomes final,” Barr told CNN.
The network host Wolf Blitzer then asked: “Is there any state in which you can vote twice?”
“Maybe you can change your vote up to a particular time, I don’t know what the law is,” the attorney general replied.
Barr might as well come out and say that he’s the chairman of Trump’s reelection campaign. In the CNN interview, he also claimed that “voting by mail is ‘playing with fire'”
“This is playing with fire. We’re a very closely divided country here,” Barr said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” of changes this year where states are allowing more voting by mail because of the pandemic.
“People trying to change the rules to this, to this methodology — which, as a matter of logic, is very open to fraud and coercion — is reckless and dangerous and people are playing with fire,” Barr added.
Barr provided no evidence for his claims.
These comments contradict the views of bipartisan election officials and a wide array of voting experts who say voting-by-mail is a safe option with protections in place to prevent systematic fraud. There is no widespread fraud in US elections, even in states with a history of heavy mail-in voting, running directly counter to Barr’s assertions.
Barr’s comments seem to play into Trump’s attempts to stoke fear and add chaos to the coming election. Several states have expanded their mail-in voting options this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Trump campaign and Republican Party are fighting more widespread options for voters.
And then there’s Trump bizarre story about thugs, looters, and anarchists on planes flying around to cause “big trouble.” Salon: Thugs on a plane? Trump’s bizarre yarn echoes viral Facebook rumor — and Rudy Giuliani’s rants.
President Trump pushed a baseless and bizarre conspiracy theory on Monday that a plane “almost completely loaded with thugs” was sent to disrupt the Republican National Convention, a claim that appears almost identical to a rumor that traveled across Facebook three months ago.
Trump made the claim in an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, alleging without evidence that “we had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that.”
While the president would not divulge more details, he assured Ingraham that the incident is “under investigation right now.”
There is no evidence of such a flight. When Ingraham asked Trump to say more, the president replied, “I’ll tell you sometime.” The unidentified black-clad “thugs,” the president said, were headed to Washington D.C., to disrupt the RNC….
NBC News’ Ben Collins later reported that the rumor lines up with a viral Facebook post from June 1, which falsely claimed to have observed a similar sinister contingent on board a flight from Seattle to Boise, Idaho: “At least a dozen males got off the plane in Boise from Seattle, dressed head to toe in black.”
Seriously, Trump is beginning to sound truly delusional. I’m not sure he’s in touch with reality much of the time. The White House doctor might need to prescribe and antipsychotic drug.
From Justin Baragona at The Daily Beast: Devin Nunes May Be Trump’s ‘Person’ Who Witnessed the Antifa Plane ‘Firsthand.’
President Donald Trump’s latest outlandish conspiracy about a “person” he refuses to name having “firsthand” witnessed a commercial flight full of “thugs” and “looters” clad in “black uniforms with gear” may seem ripped directly from an unhinged relative’s Facebook page. But before this bizarre theory was being pushed by the president, another GOP lawmaker was spouting a nearly identical story….
“So, these people that descended on Washington, D.C., most of them were not local,” Nunes declared. “In fact, I flew in with a bunch of them where I got on a plane in Salt Lake City where I had to commute through and I saw maybe two dozen BLM people.”
Nunes continued: “The irony is they were all white people, they weren’t even Black, but somebody was paying for those people to go there—they were coordinated, paying for that, and then what they did was they were not protesting. This is not protesting when you block the exits of the White House.”
Neither Nunes’ office nor the White House returned a request for comment. But the congressman’s interview with Breitbart represents a type of missing puzzle piece to the mystery of just where Trump got the idea of an antifa plane packed with geared-up looters.
Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke hilariously satirizes the “thugs on a plane” narrative: Column: Trump’s ‘Air Antifa’ plane story is true (maybe). I know because I was there (maybe). A brief excerpt:
Which plane traveling to Washington, D.C., was this, and who were these black-clad thugs and who relayed this information?
Trump wouldn’t say. But I will: It was me. I was on that black-clad thug plane. I am President Trump’s source for this harrowing tale of rioters flying commercial….
I’ll explain the whole thing. And like the president, I’ll do it in a way that lacks specific details, sounds wildly unhinged and makes you wonder if you should start slowly walking away, careful not to make any sudden movements.
It was August-whatever, and I was catching the Air Leftist “looters & anarchists” flight out of O’Hare at a time I will not reveal. I try to avoid that airline — they try to turn you socialist by evenly redistributing peanuts among the passengers — but it was the cheapest fare I could find.
Just before I got on board, someone in a dark shadow of the terminal started talking to me about the coronavirus and how Trump had mishandled the pandemic and made America a global laughingstock. I shouted, “LAW AND ORDER!” at the guy, and that made him go away.
Next we boarded the plane in order from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
I sat down and took out some meat I had killed with my gun earlier in the day, and that’s when I noticed it: black-clad thugs, everywhere. I felt very uncomfortable, particularly when two of them sat down in my row.
I asked the first one what he does, and he said: “I’m a looter. I just bought this $300 plane ticket so I could travel to wherever and steal $100 worth of clothes, which is something that definitely happens because it makes sense.”
The other guy nodded and said, “I’m an anarchist. And I’m hoping to destroy America while also collecting valuable mileage points for future travel.”
I kept silent for a moment, afraid they would beat me up or destroy my suburb. Then I asked: “So what are you all looking for?”
They both said: “Trouble.”
Read the whole thing at the link.
I also recommend reading two general articles on Trumpist conspiracy theories:
Daniel Dale at CNN: Fact check: A guide to 9 conspiracy theories Trump is currently pushing.
Just two more months until the election. I only hope we can rid ourselves of the lunatic in the White House, but will sanity be restored to the country as a whole if he loses? We can only hope.
Take care Sky Dancers! Stay safe and sane and check in if you can.
It’s another terrifying Tuesday in the American apocalypse. During his insane inauguration speech, Trump said he was going to end American carnage. Instead he has brought us to our knees as a country as we endure a pandemic and economic hardship with almost no help from the federal government. Trump has hollowed out or destroyed nearly every important American institution–the State Department, the Justice Department, the CDC, the Supreme Court, the federal court system, the Defense Department leadership, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. And now he’s working on taking control of the intelligence community.
This morning Trump’s insane appointee as Director of National Intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas is testifying in his Senate confirmation hearing.
President Donald Trump’s pick to be director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe, pledged to deliver unbiased intelligence to the President and Congress amid questions about the Texas Republican’s loyalty to a President deeply skeptical of the intelligence community.
Ratcliffe is appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee after he was selected by the President a second time to be the nation’s spy chief. Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration when he was first tapped for the role last summer amid concerns from even some Republicans about exaggerations to his national security resume, but Trump picked him again in February for the role.
“Let me be very clear. Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence I will provide, if confirmed, will not be impacted or altered as a result of outside influence. Above all, my fidelity and loyalty will always be with the Constitution and the rule of law, and my actions as DNI will reflect that commitment,” Ratcliffe said in his opening statement.
Ratcliffe appears to have the support he needs from Republicans who were skeptical the first time he was picked, but Democrats are sure to press him on his ability to be independent from Trump when the President has expressed an open distrust of the intelligence community and refused to agree with the assessment on Russian election interference.
The hearing comes amid questions about Trump’s claims of intelligence on the origins of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, and the removal of top intelligence officials earlier this year, including former intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson and then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire….
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s top Democrat, said he has concerns about what he described as Ratcliffe’s “inexperience, partisanship, and past statements that seemed to embellish” his record.
In case you haven’t noticed, Ratcliffe is quite simply nuts. The Daily Beast: Trump’s Pick for Intelligence Chief Follows a Slew of QAnon Accounts.
Ratcliffe’s official, verified campaign Twitter account follows several accounts on the political fringe, including a 9/11 truther account with just one follower besides himself and four promoting the outlandish QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that the world is run by a cabal of Democratic pedophile-cannibals—and has been ruled a potential source of domestic terrorism by the FBI.
The conspiracy theorists followed by Ratcliffe, whose nomination for director of national intelligence goes before the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday morning, cover a bizarre range of beliefs. They posit that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to help Trump to take down the Deep State. Others claim a Democratic sex dungeon exists in in a Washington pizzeria. But Ratcliffe and the QAnon promoters he follows have one thing in common: utter loyalty to Trump.
Even before Ratcliffe’s QAnon interest was known, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a committee member, told The Daily Beast, “Congressman Ratcliffe is a partisan politician who has spent the last two years promoting conspiracy theories in defense of Donald Trump.” [….]
Veteran intelligence officials expressed alarm that the Senate may soon confirm a Trump loyalist atop the U.S.’s 16 intelligence agencies. “Ratcliffe would be the least qualified person to run the intelligence community, ever, and that includes Ric Grenell,” said former CIA and National Counterterrorism Center analyst Aki Peritz, referring to the acting director of national intelligence. “The hardest job for any intelligence officer is to speak truth to power. Based on Ratcliffe’s past performance, it’s doubtful he can resist the urge to politicize intelligence on behalf of Donald Trump.”
Read more at the Daily Beast link.
Meanwhile, as Trump pushes states to reopen their economies, predictions for the future course of the pandemic are alarming. Yesterday Dakinikat posted about a draft study that predicts we will see 200,000 Covid0-19 cases per day by June 1. That link goes to another story at The Washington Post.
Stephen Collinson at CNN: The price of reopening the economy: tens of thousands of American lives.
(CNN)President Donald Trump now knows the price of the haunting bargain required to reopen the country — tens of thousands more lives in a pandemic that is getting worse not better.
It’s one he now appears ready to pay, if not explain to the American people, at a moment of national trial that his administration has constantly underplayed.
Depressing new death toll projections and infection data on Monday dashed the optimism stirred by more than half the country taking various steps to reopen an economy that is vital to Trump’s reelection hopes and has shed more than 30 million jobs. Stay-at-home orders slowed the virus and flattened the curve in hotspots like New York and California, but they have so far failed to halt its broader advance, leaving the nation stuck on a grim plateau of about 30,000 new cases a day for nearly a month.
Despite those projections, two administration officials told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins the latest numbers are not currently expected to affect the White House’s plans for reopening the country.
New evidence of the likely terrible future toll of Covid-19 came on a day when Trump stayed out of sight — his wild briefings that hurt his political prospects now paused — meaning he could not be questioned on his enthusiasm for state openings in the light of new evidence.
But in an interview published in Tuesday’s edition of the New York Post, Trump said Americans were ready come out of isolation and get back to normal life.
“I think they’re starting to feel good now. The country’s opening again. We saved millions of lives, I think,” Trump said. “You have to be careful, but you have to get back to work,” he said. “People want the country open… I guess we have 38 states that are either opening or are very close.”
Opinion polls don’t support Trump’s claims however. Read more at CNN.
According to Calvin Woodward at the AP, Virus-afflicted 2020 looks like 1918 despite science’s march.
Despite a century’s progress in science, 2020 is looking a lot like 1918.
In the years between two lethal pandemics, one the misnamed Spanish flu, the other COVID-19, the world learned about viruses, cured various diseases, made effective vaccines, developed instant communications and created elaborate public-health networks.
As in 1918, people are again hearing hollow assurances at odds with the reality of hospitals and morgues filling up and bank accounts draining. The ancient common sense of quarantining is back. So is quackery: Rub raw onions on your chest, they said in 1918. How about disinfectant in your veins now? mused President Donald Trump, drawing gasps instead of laughs over what he weakly tried to pass off as a joke.
In 1918, no one had a vaccine, treatment or cure for the great flu pandemic as it ravaged the world and killed more than 50 million people. No one has any of that for the coronavirus, either.
Modern science quickly identified today’s new coronavirus, mapped its genetic code and developed a diagnostic test, tapping knowledge no one had in 1918. That has given people more of a fighting chance to stay out of harm’s way, at least in countries that deployed tests quickly, which the U.S. didn’t.
But the ways to avoid getting sick and what to do when sick are little changed. The failure of U.S. presidents to take the threat seriously from the start also joins past to present
The New York Times offers another historical comparison: A study by the Fed suggests sickness helped drive extremism in the 20th century.
A jump in flu deaths early in the 20th century may have helped to drive the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, Federal Reserve Bank of New York research showed, in a stark warning that pandemics can drive societal change.
“Influenza deaths of 1918 are correlated with an increase in the share of votes won by right-wing extremists,” Fed economist Kristian Blickle wrote. The finding holds even counting for a city’s ethnic and religious makeup, regional unemployment, past right-wing voting, and other local characteristics.
He points out that local public spending dropped in the wake of the deadly flu, especially on services that benefitted young people, like school. That spending decline itself does not seem to drive the right-wing political extremism that followed, the paper found.
On the other hand, “the correlation between influenza mortality and the vote share won by right-wing extremists is stronger in regions that had historically blamed minorities, particularly Jews, for medieval plagues,” Mr. Blickle wrote. He adds that “the disease may have fostered a hatred of ‘others’, as it was perceived to come from abroad.”
Scientists are learning more about the virus and its effects on the human body. Here are three interesting (and scary) science-based articles to check out.
Raw Story reports on a study that supports something I have suspected–your genes may determine how the virus affects you and how sick you get.
When some people become infected with the coronavirus, they only develop mild or undetectable cases of COVID-19. Others suffer severe symptoms, fighting to breathe on a ventilator for weeks, if they survive at all.
Despite a concerted global scientific effort, doctors still lack a clear picture of why this is.
Could genetic differences explain the differences we see in symptoms and severity of COVID-19?
Based on our study, we think variation in HLA genes is part of the explanation for the huge differences in infection severity in many COVID-19 patients. These differences in the HLA genes are probably not the only genetic factor that affects severity of COVID-19, but they may be a significant piece of the puzzle. It is important to further study how HLA types can clinically affect COVID-19 severity and to test these predictions using real cases. Understanding how variation in HLA types may affect the clinical course of COVID-19 could help identify individuals at higher risk from the disease.
The New York Times: 15 Children Are Hospitalized With Mysterious Illness Possibly Tied to Covid-19.
Fifteen children, many of whom had the coronavirus, have recently been hospitalized in New York City with a mysterious syndrome that doctors do not yet fully understand but that has also been reported in several European countries, health officials announced on Monday night.
Many of the children, ages 2 to 15, have shown symptoms associated with toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, a rare illness in children that involves inflammation of the blood vessels, including coronary arteries, the city’s health department said.
None of the New York City patients with the syndrome have died, according to a bulletin from the health department, which describes the illness as a “multisystem inflammatory syndrome potentially associated with Covid-19.” [….]
The syndrome has received growing attention in recent weeks as cases began appearing in European countries hit hard by the coronavirus.
“There are some recent rare descriptions of children in some European countries that have had this inflammatory syndrome, which is similar to the Kawasaki syndrome, but it seems to be very rare,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, a World Health Organization scientist, said at a news briefing last week.
The Los Angeles Times: Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious.
Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The new strain appeared in February in Europe, migrated quickly to the East Coast of the United States and has been the dominant strain across the world since mid-March, the scientists wrote.
In addition to spreading faster, it may make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned.
The 33-page report was posted Thursday on BioRxiv, a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer reviewed, an effort to speed up collaborations with scientists working on COVID-19 vaccines or treatments. That research has been largely based on the genetic sequence of earlier strains and might not be effective against the new one.
That’s it for me. What stories are you following today?
Last night Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Rachel Bitecofer about her accurate prediction of 2018 election results and her current prediction for the 2020 presidential race.
Rachel Bitecofer is assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, where she teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, and political analysis and conducts survey research on public policy issues and election campaigns. Her work and analysis has been featured in many media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, NPR, and she is a contracted commentator on CBC Radio. Her book, The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election (Palgrave McMillan) is available via Amazon. Her unique election forecasting model accurately predicted Democrats gaining 42 seats 5 months before the 2018 midterms.
Bitecofer has describes her model for the 2018 and 2020 elections at The Judy Ford Center for Public Policy: With 16 Months to go, Negative Partisanship Predicts the 2020 Presidential Election.
In July of 2018, my innovative forecasting model raised eyebrows by predicting some four months before the midterm election that Democrats would pick up 42 seats in the House of Representatives. In hindsight, that may not seem such a bold prediction, but when my forecast was released, election Twitter was still having a robust debate as to whether the Blue Wave would be large enough for Democrats to pick up the 23 seats they needed to take control of the House of Representatives and return the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.
Based on its 2018 performance, my model, and the theory that structures it, seem well poised to tackle the 2020 presidential election – 16 months out. I’ll serve up that result below, but first let’s set the table by reviewing my model’s 2018 forecasting success.
Not only did I predict that they would gain nearly double the seats they needed, but I also identified a specific list of Republican seats Democrats would flip, including some, such as Virginia CD7, that were listed as “Lean Republican” by the majority of race raters at the time. At a time when other analysts coded even the most competitive House races for Democrats as Lean or Tilt Democrat, I identified 13 Republican-held districts as “Will Flips,” 12 as “Likely to Flip,” and 6 as “Lean Democrat.” I also identified a large list of “Toss Ups,” from which I would later identify the remaining “flippers.” In addition, I identified some “long-shot toss-up” districts that could be viable flips under some turnout scenarios. Of the original 25 districts I identified as definitely or highly likely to flip, all but one, Colorado CD3, did so, possibly because the party failed to invest in their nominee there.
What does the model say about 2020?
Barring a shock to the system, Democrats recapture the presidency. The leaking of the Trump campaign’s internal polling has somewhat softened the blow of this forecast, as that polling reaffirms what my model already knew: Trump’s 2016 path to the White House, which was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker, is probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate. And that is really bad news for Donald Trump because the Blue Wall of the Midwest was then, and is now, the ONLY viable path for Trump to win the White House.
Why is Trump in so much trouble in the Midwest? First, and probably most important, is the profound misunderstanding by, well, almost everyone, as to how he won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the first place. Ask anyone, and they will describe Trump’s 2016 Midwestern triumph as a product of white, working class voters swinging away from the Democrats based on the appeal of Trump’s economic populist messaging. Some will point to survey data of disaffected Obama-to-Trump voters and even Sanders-to-Trump voters as evidence that this populist appeal was the decisive factor. And this is sort of true. In Ohio, Trump managed the rare feat of cracking 50%. Elsewhere, that explanation runs into empirical problems when one digs into the data. Start with the numerical fact that Trump “won” Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan with 47.22%, 48.18%, and 47.5% of the vote, respectively, after five times the normal number in those states cast their ballots for an option other than Trump or Clinton. This, combined with the depressed turnout of African Americans (targeted with suppression materials by the Russians) and left-leaning Independents turned off by Clinton (targeted with defection materials by the Russians) allowed Trump to pull off an improbable victory, one that will be hard to replicate in today’s less nitpicky atmosphere. Yet, the media (and the voting public) has turned Trump’s 2016 win into a mythic legend of invincibility. The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020, who are convinced he’s the Terminator and can’t be stopped. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything.
Last night Bitecofer predicted that the Democratic candidate will win 270 electoral votes. There’s much more interesting analysis at the link above. Read a slightly less technical analysis of Bitecofer’s model by Paul Rosenberg at Salon: Does anyone understand the 2020 race? This scholar nailed the blue wave — here’s her forecast.
Meanwhile, at the moment we are at the mercy of the insane occupant of the White House. Eugene Robinson: Trump is melting down. Again.
Fears of a global recession, greatly exacerbated by Trump’s erratic and self-destructive trade policies, have sent financial markets tumbling. A sharp downturn would close off one of the principal lines of attack the president was hoping to use against his Democratic opponent. He tried it out at a rally in New Hampshire last week: “You have no choice but to vote for me,” he told the crowd, “because your 401(k)’s down the tubes, everything’s gonna be down the tubes” if he loses. “So whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me.”
Fact check: No.
Trump is flailing. He berates his handpicked chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, for not cutting interest rates fast enough to goose the economy. He practically begs Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting to work out a trade deal — any trade deal, apparently — and is met with silence. He threatens more tariffs but then backs down, at least for now. According to published reports, he sees himself as the victim of a conspiracy to exaggerate the growing economic anxiety in order to hurt his chances of winning a second term.
He entertains grandiose, almost Napoleonic fantasies — purchasing Greenland from Denmark in what he calls “a large real estate deal,” perhaps, or imposing a naval blockade to force regime change in Venezuela. He apparently spent much of this past weekend fuming about not getting credit for how his New Hampshire rally broke an attendance record for the arena that had been set by Elton John.
And Trump can’t seem to stop railing against a recent Fox News pollthat showed him losing to four of the leading Democratic contenders. The president seems to consider Fox News his administration’s Ministry of Propaganda — indeed, that is the role the network’s morning-show hosts and prime-time anchors loyally play — but the polling unit is a professional operation. “There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it,” Trump told reporters Sunday . He added a threat, saying that Fox “is making a big mistake” because he is “the one that calls the shots” on next year’s general election debates — the implication being that Fox News might not get to broadcast one of them if it doesn’t toe the party line.
The only thing Robinson leaves out is that Trump’s health is going downhill; his dementia symptoms are getting worse by the day.
Trump’s biggest supporters are nuts too, but they are also very influential on social media. Check out this story at NBC News: Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times.
By the numbers, there is no bigger advocate of President Donald Trump on Facebook than The Epoch Times.
The small New York-based nonprofit news outlet has spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months, according to data from Facebook’s advertising archive — more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself, and more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent on their own campaigns.
Those video ads — in which unidentified spokespeople thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the “Deep State,” and criticize “fake news” media — strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem. The Epoch Times looks like many of the conservative outlets that have gained followings in recent years.
But it isn’t.
Behind the scenes, the media outlet’s ownership and operation is closely tied to Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual community with the stated goal of taking down China’s government.
It’s that motivation that helped drive the organization toward Trump, according to interviews with former Epoch Times staffers, a move that has been both lucrative and beneficial for its message.
Former practitioners of Falun Gong told NBC News that believers think the world is headed toward a judgment day, where those labeled “communists” will be sent to a kind of hell, and those sympathetic to the spiritual community will be spared. Trump is viewed as a key ally in the anti-communist fight, former Epoch Times employees said.
Click the link the read the rest. We are truly living in the Twilight Zone.
That’s all I have for now. I’ll add some non-crazy links in the comment thread. What stories are you following?