Tuesday Reads

House by the Railroad, Edward Hopper

House by the Railroad, Edward Hopper.

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow House in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh

Yellow House in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weatherside, 1965, by Andrew Wyeth

Weatherside, 1965, by Andrew Wyeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houses at Falaise in the Fog, Claude Monet

Houses at Falaise in the Fog, Claude Monet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing a Flat, Norman Rockwell

Changing a Flat, Norman Rockwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houses in Munich, 1908, Wassily Kandinsky

Houses in Munich, 1908, Wassily Kandinsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

House in Provence, 1867, Paul Cezanne

House in Provence, 1867, Paul Cezanne

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

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

Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

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


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

capitol-insurrection-tear-gas-crowd-gty-imgA bipartisan Senate report on the January 6 insurrection came out last night, and it’s highly critical of the Capitol Police, but it doesn’t address Trump’s role in encouraging the riot. 

A new Senate report reveals previously unknown details about the stunning security breakdowns ahead of the January 6 US Capitol attack, including a finding that the US Capitol Police’s main intelligence unit “was aware of the potential for violence” beforehand.

The report adds an authoritative emphasis to previous evidence that there were massive intelligence failures, critical miscommunications, and unheeded warnings that ultimately led to the chaotic response that day.

Among the failures was an inability by intelligence officials to tie together a swirl of troubling internet chatter leading up to the riot and a reliance on using past, non-violent Trump rallies in security planning.

There are also several glaring omissions in the report including any examination of Donald Trump’s role in the riots, raising questions about whether lawmakers, in their quest for bipartisanship, exposed the limits of a Congress divided and unable to agree on certain truths, particularly those related to the former President’s actions.

Sources tell CNN that in order for this report, which was compiled by the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees, to have support from both parties, the language had to be carefully crafted, and that included excluding the word “insurrection,” which notably does not appear outside of witness quotes and footnotes.

Clearly we need an independent commission to investigate the origins of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. Nevertheless the Senate report does reveal new information.

The Washington Post: Capitol Police had intelligence indicating an armed invasion weeks before Jan. 6 riot, Senate probe finds.

The U.S. Capitol Police had specific intelligence that supporters of President Donald Trump planned to mount an armed invasion of the Capitol at least two weeks before the Jan. 6 riot, according to new findings in a bipartisan Senate investigation, but a series of omissions and miscommunications kept that information from reaching front-line officers targeted by the violence.

11696121ha.originalA joint report, from the Senate Rules and Administration and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, outlines the most detailed public timeline to date of the communications and intelligence failures that led the Capitol Police and partner agencies to prepare for the “Stop the Steal” protest as though it were a routine Trump rally, instead of the organized assault that was planned in the open online.

Released Tuesday, the report shows how an intelligence arm of the Capitol Police disseminated security assessments labeling the threat of violence “remote” to “improbable,” even as authorities collected evidence showing that pro-Trump activists intended to bring weapons to the demonstration and “storm the Capitol.”

“There were significant, widespread and unacceptable breakdowns in the intelligence gathering. . . . The failure to adequately assess the threat of violence on that day contributed significantly to the breach of the Capitol,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the homeland security panel, told reporters. “The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight.”

Recommendations for the future?

The report’s recommendations, which call for better planning, training and intelligence gathering, largely mirror those of other investigators who have examined the topic, and its contents steer clear of offering any assessment or conclusion about Trump’s responsibility for the riot.

Still, the report provides a vivid picture of how poor communication and unheeded warnings left officers underequipped to face violent threats about which they had not been made aware, leaving the Capitol vulnerable to an attack that otherwise might have been preventable.

According to the report, Capitol Police intelligence officers knew as early as Dec. 21 that protesters planned to “bring guns” and other weapons to the Jan. 6 demonstration and turn them on any law enforcement officers who blocked their entry into the Capitol. They knew that would-be rioters were sharing maps of the Capitol campus online and discussing the building’s best entry points — and how to seal them off to trap lawmakers inside. But that information was shared only with command officers.

A separate security assessment dated Dec. 23 made no mention of those findings. Neither did a follow-up Dec. 30.

Read more at the WaPo.

file-20210107-16-1t7kdysThe New York Times: ‘Does Anybody Have a Plan?’ Senate Report Details Jan. 6 Security Failures.

Top federal intelligence agencies failed to adequately warn law enforcement officials before the Jan. 6 riot that pro-Trump extremists were threatening violence, including plans to “storm the Capitol,” infiltrate its tunnel system and “bring guns,” according to a new report by two Senate committees that outlines large-scale failures that contributed to the deadly assault.

An F.B.I. memo on Jan. 5 warning of people traveling to Washington for “war” at the Capitol never made its way to top law enforcement officials. The Capitol Police failed to widely circulate information from its intelligence unit that supporters of President Donald J. Trump were posting online about pressuring lawmakers to overturn his election loss.

“If they don’t show up, we enter the Capitol as the Third Continental Congress and certify the Trump Electors,” one post said.

“Bring guns. It’s now or never,” said another.

The first congressional report on the Capitol riot is the most comprehensive and detailed account to date of the dozens of intelligence failures, miscommunications and security lapses that led to what the bipartisan team of senators that assembled it concluded was an “unprecedented attack” on American democracy and the most significant assault on the Capitol in more than 200 years….

The 127-page joint report, a product of more than three months of hearings and interviews and reviews of thousands of pages of documents, presents a damning portrait of the preparations and response at multiple levels. Law enforcement officials did not take seriously threats of violence, it found, and a dysfunctional police force at the Capitol lacked the capacity to respond effectively when those threats materialized.

There are many more details on the report at the NYT link.

NBC News: Capitol Police didn’t act on warnings Trump backers would breach Capitol, target Democrats, report say.

U.S. Capitol Police leaders learned that Trump supporters were discussing ways to infiltrate tunnels around the complex and target Democratic members of Congress on Jan. 6 but failed to act on the threats, according to a new Senate report summing up what it says were profound intelligence and security failures that contributed to one of the worst incidents of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

Rioters clash with police trying to enter Capitol building

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The report also says that officers complained about a lack of leadership within the department as they tried to repel the attack — and that top leaders were virtually silent as they begged for help.

Through tips from the public and other sources, Capitol Police “knew about social media posts calling for violence at the Capitol on January 6, including a plot to breach the Capitol, the online sharing of maps of the Capitol Complex’s tunnel systems, and other specific threats of violence,” the report said, but the police force’s intelligence division “did not convey the full scope of known information to USCP leadership, rank-and-file officers, or law enforcement partners.”

The Capitol Police’s possession of the specific intelligence had been previously flagged by the department’s inspector general in a report that has not made public, NBC News and other news organizations have reported. But the Senate document sheds new light on it. The failure to distribute the information widely, the report says, left rank-and-file Capitol Police officers unprepared to defend themselves from the armed mob.

“The objects thrown at us varied in size, shape and consistency,” an officer said. “Some were frozen cans and bottles, rebar from the construction, bricks, liquids, pepper spray, bear spray, sticks of various widths, pipes, bats.”

Another officer told Senate investigators: “We were ill prepared. We were NOT informed with intelligence. We were betrayed.”

In other news, CNN obtained a recording of a 2019 phone call between Rudy Giuliani and a Ukrainian official: Exclusive: New audio of 2019 phone call reveals how Giuliani pressured Ukraine to investigate baseless Biden conspiracies.

Never-before-heard audio, obtained exclusively by CNN, shows how former President Donald Trump’s longtime adviser Rudy Giuliani relentlessly pressured and coaxed the Ukrainian government in 2019 to investigate baseless conspiracies about then-candidate Joe Biden.

The audio is of a July 2019 phone call between Giuliani, US diplomat Kurt Volker, and Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call was a precursor to Trump’s infamous call with Zelensky, and both conversations later became a central part of Trump’s first impeachment, where he was accused of soliciting Ukrainian help for his campaign.

US-IRAN-DEMONSTRATION

During the roughly 40-minute call, Giuliani repeatedly told Yermak that Zelensky should publicly announce investigations into possible corruption by Biden in Ukraine, and into claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to hurt Trump. (These separate claims are both untrue.)

“All we need from the President [Zelensky] is to say, I’m gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence, that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out,” Giuliani said, according to the audio. “… Somebody in Ukraine’s gotta take that seriously.”

The new audio demonstrates how Giuliani aggressively cajoled the Ukrainians to do Trump’s bidding. And it undermines Trump’s oft-repeated assertion that “there was no quid pro quo” where Zelensky could secure US government support if he did political favors for Trump.

The call was one of the opening salvos in the years-long quest by Trump and his allies to damage Biden and subvert the 2020 election process — by soliciting foreign meddling, lying about voter fraud, attempting to overturn the results, and inciting the deadly January 6 assault on the Capitol.

I hadn’t heard of this crazy conspiracy theory until yesterday. Vanity Fair: Trump’s Deranged Theory That Democrats Would Replace Biden Might Have Helped Him Lose 2020

In early 2020, a frustrated and furious Donald Trump described Joe Biden as “a mental retard” while struggling to cope with his own placement in early polls, according to a passage from “Frankly, We Did Win This Election”: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost, a forthcoming book by senior Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender. The author notes that Trump vented his anger at the time by interrupting “a policy meeting in the Oval Office to ask, ‘How am I losing in the polls to a mental retard?’” 

In another moment Bender writes that Trump held back on focusing his firepower on Biden during the primary stage of the election because he was convinced that the Democratic Party was scheming to switch out now president Biden for a different candidate—such as Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama—over the summer. The source of this conspiracy theory, per Bender, was Dick Morris, a former Clinton White House adviser who was “quietly advising Trump” last year. “Dick Morris told Trump that Biden was too old and too prone to gaffes to be the nominee,” Bender writes, while others in Trumpworld felt Biden would exit the race and be replaced by someone else if Trump began bashing him too hard. “Others said Fox News anchor Sean Hannity expressed concern that Biden would collapse under a sustained attack from Trump.”

trump-dollarAccording to Bender, Trump also felt that his attack strategy had backfired during the first stage of the Democratic primary. “The president, meanwhile, had often complained that his early attack on [Elizabeth] Warren had damaged her presidential bid, which he regretted because he viewed her as an easier opponent than Biden,” Bender writes. “Now he worried that a heavy blitz of attack ads would hasten the secret plot being hatched by Democrats, and his mind raced with who they might select in Biden’s place.” During a meeting held the month after the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S., Trump expressed his Biden replacement theory to advisers, saying that Democratic leadership would “realize [Biden is] old, and they’re going to give it to somebody else. They’re going to give it to Hillary, or they’re going to give it to Michelle Obama.” 

One person in Trump’s circle did work to put a stop to this absurd belief, which Trump apparently clung to so deeply that he “had cited it as a reason to hold off on heavy spending against Biden earlier in the month.” Bender writes that Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio “devoted nearly an entire page of [a campaign memo] to debunking a conspiracy theory that had bubbled up inside Trump World, including with the president, that Democrats were going to steal Biden’s nomination at the convention.” In the memo, Fabrizio reportedly wrote, “I know there is some concern (which I strenuously disagree with) that if we go after Biden too soon, we can collapse him, and the Dems will replace him at their convention. I know POTUS tends to share this opinion.” Bender adds: “The pollster aimed to debunk the theory by outlining the remaining Democratic primaries, in which Biden had no significant challenger, and the delegate math to secure the nomination. Biden would have enough delegates to secure the nomination in just three weeks, Fabrizio explained, and it would be mathematically impossible to steal it in four weeks.”

How on earth could this wacko actually have been POTUS? 

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


Lazy Caturday Reads

Gwen John (British painter, 1876-1939) Interior with Woman Sewing at Window and Cat

Gwen John (British painter, 1876-1939) Interior with Woman Sewing at Window and Cat

Good Afternoon!!

It’s the weekend, and we should be having fun even though we’re in the midst of a global pandemic with wars raging around the world and our democracy still in danger because one of our political parties has turned into a suicidal cult obsessed with conspiracy theories, led by a pathetic huckster who is rapidly sinking into dementia. So before I start on the news of the day, here’s a fun read at The New Yorker:

The article is long and involved, so there’s no way to summarize it with excerpts, but here’s just a taste:

The government may not have been in regular touch with exotic civilizations, but it had been keeping something from its citizens. By 2017, [Leslie] Kean was the author of a best-selling U.F.O. book and was known for what she has termed, borrowing from the political scientist Alexander Wendt, a “militantly agnostic” approach to the phenomenon. On December 16th of that year, in a front-page story in the Times, Kean, together with two Times journalists, revealed that the Pentagon had been running a surreptitious U.F.O. program for ten years. The article included two videos, recorded by the Navy, of what were being described in official channels as “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or U.A.P. In blogs and on podcasts, ufologists began referring to “December, 2017” as shorthand for the moment the taboo began to lift. Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host, has often mentioned the article, praising Kean’s work as having precipitated a cultural shift. “It’s a dangerous subject for someone, because you’re open to ridicule,” he said, in an episode this spring. But now “you could say, ‘Listen, this is not something to be mocked anymore—there’s something to this.’ ”

Since then, high-level officials have publicly conceded their bewilderment about U.A.P. without shame or apology. Last July, Senator Marco Rubio, the former acting chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on CBS News about mysterious flying objects in restricted airspace. “We don’t know what it is,” he said, “and it isn’t ours.” In December, in a video interview with the economist Tyler Cowen, the former C.I.A. director John Brennan admitted, somewhat tortuously, that he didn’t quite know what to think: “Some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life.”

Mann mit Katze. Christoph Paudiss 1618 Private Collection

Mann mit Katze. Christoph Paudiss 1618 Private Collection

Last summer, David Norquist, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, announced the formal existence of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. The 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, signed this past December, stipulated that the government had a hundred and eighty days to gather and analyze data from disparate agencies. Its report is expected in June….

Leslie Kean is a self-possessed woman with a sensible demeanor and a nimbus of curly graying hair. She lives alone in a light-filled corner apartment near the northern extreme of Manhattan, where, on the wall behind her desk, there is a framed black-and-white image that looks like a sonogram of a Frisbee. The photograph was given to her, along with chain-of-custody documentation, by contacts in the Costa Rican government; in her estimation, it is the finest image of a U.F.O. ever made public. The first time I visited, she wore a black blazer over a T-shirt advertising “The Phenomenon,” a documentary from 2020 with strikingly high production values in a genre known for grainy footage of dubious provenance. Kean is

stubborn but unassuming, and she tends to speak of the impact of “the Times story,” and the new cycle of U.F.O. attention it has inaugurated, as if she had not been its principal instigator. She told me, “When the New York Times story came out, there was this sense of ‘This is what the U.F.O. people have wanted forever.’ ”

Kean is always assiduously polite toward the “U.F.O. people,” although she stands apart from the ufological mainstream.

As for today’s news, I think the biggest story in the world right now is the Covid situation in India. Here’s the latest:

CNBC: India’s daily Covid-19 cases pass 400,000 for first time as second wave worsens.

India posted a record daily rise of 401,993 new coronavirus cases on Saturday as the country opened up its massive vaccination drive to all adults, although several states warned of acute shortages.

It was the first time India’s daily case count had topped 400,000 after 10 consecutive days over 300,000. Deaths from Covid-19 jumped by 3,523 over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll in India to 211,853, according to official data.

The world’s biggest producer of Covid-19 vaccines has a limited number of shots available, worsening a grim second wave of infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and morgues while families scramble for scarce medicines and oxygen.

Hundreds of people were seen queuing to be vaccinated across Ahmedabad, the main commercial city in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, on Saturday.

CNN live updates: The latest on Covid-19 and India’s worsening crisis.

Blaze at an Indian hospital Covid-19 ward kills 18

Eighteen people are dead after a fire broke out at a Covid-19 hospital ward in India’s Gujarat state in the early hours of Saturday.

Lancaster, Lilian, c.1887-1973; The Boy and the Cat

Lillian Lancaster c. 1887-1973, The Boy and the Cat; Grundy Art Gallery

The fire broke out in the intensive care unit of the Welfare Hospital in the western state’s Bharuch district, according to Dr. MD Modiya, a senior district official.

According to Modiya, 16 of the dead were patients. Two were staff members.

Nearly 60 patients were in the hospital at the time of the fire, which broke out around 1 a.m. local time, he said. The remaining patients have been moved to nearby hospitals.

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined but initial investigations suggest a short circuit, according to Dr Modiya.

In a tweet on Saturday, Gujarat’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, said two senior officers from the Indian Administrative Service have been dispatched to Bharuch to investigate the fire. The state government will open a judicial inquiry into the fire, he added.

In an earlier post, Rupani offered his condolences to the patients and staff at Welfare Hospital and offered $5,398 in compensation to the families of each of the victims.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeted his condolences.

“Pained by the loss of lives due to a fire at a hospital in Bharuch,” he said. “Condolences to the bereaved families.”

Vaccine shortage halts rollout across two more Indian states

India’s southern states Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have become the latest to postpone Saturday’s planned national Covid-19 vaccination rollout, citing shortages of shots.

As of Saturday, everyone over the age of 18 is eligible for vaccination in India.

On Friday, Telangana’s Director of Public Health, Dr. G. Srinavasa Rao, tweeted that the state wouldn’t be vaccinating people over the weekend as it hadn’t received doses.

In neighboring Andhra Pradesh, officials have acknowledged that it was not “practically possible” to start vaccinating those over the age 18 due to limited stocks.

“If we need to fulfil the commitment to the former age group batch, it is definitely going to take all of May,” Anil Kumar Singhal, Andhra Pradesh’s Principal Health Secretary, told reporters on Friday.

At least seven states and territories are facing shortages that are impacting the planned vaccine rollout.

Julian Alden Weir - Little Lizie Lynch (1910)

Julian Alden Weir – Little Lizzie Lynch (1910)

CBS News: U.S. aid arrives in COVID-battered India as vaccination centers run out of shots and thousands gasp for air.

New Delhi — The first shipment of emergency medical aid supplies from the United States arrived in India on Friday as the country continued battling an explosion of coronavirus cases that has strained its health care system to breaking point. A U.S. military transport plane carrying more than 400 oxygen cylinders, nearly one million rapid coronavirus test kits and other supplies landed in Delhi on Friday morning.

But as mass vaccination centers were forced to close without any doses to stick in arms, and people continued to die without oxygen at jam-packed hospitals, the aid from the U.S. and other countries that’s started to pour in is like a Band-Aid for a severed leg….

“The United States stands with India as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic together,” said the U.S. Embassy in India in a tweet.

India’s External Affairs Ministry thanked the U.S. for the contributions, which were the first step toward fulfilling President Joe Biden’s pledge earlier this week to support India in its “time of need… Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic.”

Business Insider via Yahoo News: People in India are being cremated in parking lots, with so much demand that families have to take tickets and wait.

Victims of India’s devastating COVID-19 surge are being cremated in parking lots, with one crematorium so overwhelmed that it has launched a ticketing system.

In the past two weeks, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases in India has repeatedly broken global records, with the country recording thousands of new deaths every day.

The staff at the Seemapuri crematorium in New Delhi recently erected several extra burning platforms in the parking lot to keep up with the staggering demand, CNN reported.

Cremation is the standard death rite in Hinduism, India’s dominant religion, and crematoriums are under intense pressure.

“Before the pandemic, we used to cremate eight to 10 people” a day, Jitender Singh Shunty, the head of the Seemapuri crematorium, told CNN. “Now, we are cremating 100 to 120 a day.”

Man with Cat, Candace Hunt

Man with Cat, Candace Hunt

Madhukar Pai and Manu Prakash at The Washington Post: Opinion: India’s covid-19 crisis is a dire warning for all countries.

The covid-19 crisis in India is a massive setback for the entire world. The scale of the nation’s surge is a warning not only for its neighboring countries, which are also experiencing sharp increases in cases, but also for countries around the globe. If we do not heed this warning and work on vaccine equity, we risk a forever pandemic with long-term cycles of lockdowns, economic damage and constant fear.

India is reporting more than 380,000 cases and 3,500 deaths daily. Both are underestimates. The Indian health-care system is completely overwhelmed. It is impossible to find hospital beds. Supplies such as oxygen are incredibly scarce, and there is a huge backlog with diagnostic testing. Many people with sick family members and friends in India — including us — are checking in on them. This time around, younger people are sick and, as is always the case, the poor are hit the hardest.

India has 95,000 intensive care beds and 48,000 ventilators. By mid-May, it is projected that the country will need 340,000 beds and more than 700,000 ventilators. Rural India has few of these and is already hit hard. India needs the global community’s support to survive this crisis.

The devastating second wave in India is the result of a perfect storm: a failure to plan for a second wave; premature relaxation of public health measures; large gatherings; insufficient vaccination coverage; and newer variants such as B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 that are highly transmissible and potentially more severe.\India has 95,000 intensive care beds and 48,000 ventilators. By mid-May, it is projected that the country will need 340,000 beds and more than 700,000 ventilators. Rural India has few of these and is already hit hard. India needs the global community’s support to survive this crisis.\Even as India struggles to get the second wave under control, cases are surging among India’s neighbors, including Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. While the exact variant driving the new surges among India’s neighbors is unclear, the B.1.617 variant has already spread to more than 18 countries….

Han van Meegeren - His son Jacques with cat 1916India has 95,000 intensive care beds and 48,000 ventilators. By mid-May, it is projected that the country will need 340,000 beds and more than 700,000 ventilators. Rural India has few of these and is already hit hard. India needs the global community’s support to survive this crisis.

Even as India struggles to get the second wave under control, cases are surging among India’s neighbors, including Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. While the exact variant driving the new surges among India’s neighbors is unclear, the B.1.617 variant has already spread to more than 18 countries.

Other countries in South Asia have far less resources and medical infrastructure compared with India. Nepal, for example, has 1,486 ICU beds and 634 ventilators , and Nepal’s health ministry is anticipating a need to treat 15,000 ICU patients by July. Bangladesh, home to 163 million people, has only 1,134 covid-19 ICU beds. Pakistan, the fifth-largest country in the world, has fewer than 4,000 ventilators. India’s neighbors can ill afford the kind of devastation India is experiencing.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

I’m running out of space, but I’ll end with some links to the latest on the huge–but fun for us–Rudy Giuliani story:

CNN: Trump allies worry Giuliani raid sent ‘strong message’ to ex-President’s inner circle.

Forensic News: Giuliani Probe Expands, Ukrainian Ally Under Criminal Investigation.

The Washington Post: Giuliani’s claims about Hunter Biden and the FBI get more confusing.

Vanity Fair: Michael Cohen: Rudy Giuliani Will “Absolutely” Rat Out Ivanka, Don Jr., and Trump to Save Himself.

Molly Jong-Fast at The Daily Beast: The Giulianis’ Two-Man Clown Car Is Crashing and Burning.

NBC New York.com: Giuliani Search Warrant Resolved Justice Department Dispute.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!!


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

U.S. President Joe Biden's first address to a joint session of Congress

Michael Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

Last night President Biden gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress. For the first time, two women sat behind the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. A couple of reactions to the speech:

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: In his first speech to Congress, Biden rejects autocracy — including from Trump.

There were two moments during President Biden’s address to the nation on Wednesday in which he obviously, if only indirectly, referred to the man who preceded him in his position.

The first came near the beginning.

“America is rising anew,” Biden said, “choosing hope over fear, truth over lies, and light over darkness.”

Only the second of those three pairings is immediately and obviously about Donald Trump; the former president’s indifference to accuracy is unparalleled. But by stringing the three together, Biden was similarly positioning Trump as the target of the other pejoratives. America under Trump, he’s saying, was a place of fear, dishonesty and darkness. That tracks with Biden’s past rhetoric and, frankly, Trump’s own: Biden warned the country last autumn that a dark winter was coming because of the pandemic (and Trump’s leadership failures), and Trump himself made fear a central part of his reelection bid.\But now, Biden argued on Wednesday night, all of that was swept aside.

“After 100 days of rescue and renewal, America is ready for takeoff, in my view,” he said. “We’re working again, dreaming again, discovering again and leading the world again. We have shown each other and the world that there’s no quit in America.”

From there, Biden turned his attention to an exhaustive list of policy priorities, one that, in its own way, differentiated his speech from any of Trump’s. Not only were his proposals robust and detailed in a way that was never Trump’s style, they were also progressive in a way that no Republican’s would be. It was an obvious difference and, of course, the most important one in terms of governance.

But it was also a reminder that Biden always ran on being a president who just sort of quietly went about presidenting, a promise that he has fulfilled in spades.

A CNN poll found that public reaction to the speech was positive: CNN Poll: 7 in 10 who watched say Biden’s speech left them feeling optimistic.

About half of Americans who watched President Joe Biden’s address to Congress had a very positive reaction to the speech, and 71% said they walked away feeling more optimistic about the country’s direction, according to a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.

E0Gxo1TVEAQFpzCBy a wide margin, speech-watchers said that Biden’s policy proposals would move the country in the right direction (73%) rather than the wrong direction (27%). In a survey conducted before the speech, the same people were a bit less bullish that Biden would lead in the right direction (67% right direction, 33% wrong direction), and that movement came from the independents and Republicans who watched the speech. Among Republicans, the share saying Biden’s policies would move the country in the right direction grew from 13% pre-speech to 27% post-speech, while among independents, that percentage rose from 61% to 73%.

That perception carries through to the major issues covered in the speech. More than 8 in 10 said Biden’s proposals on the coronavirus pandemic would move in the right direction (86%), and 74% said the same about racial injustice. Around 7 in 10 said the President’s policies on the economy (72%), gun laws (70%) and taxes (70%) were steps in the right direction. Slightly fewer said the same about immigration (65%).

And Biden’s focus on those issues appeared to hit the right mark for speech-watchers. Overall, 68% said Biden has had the right priorities so far as president, while 32% said he has not paid enough attention to the most important problems.

The other big news yesterday was that Rudy Giuliani’s home and office were searched by Federal agents. Some reactions:

From The Week, via Yahoo News: Federal investigators search Giuliani’s home and office, and experts say it means he’s in real trouble.

Federal investigators searched Rudy Giuliani’s home and office in Manhattan on Wednesday, executing search warrants as part of an investigation into his business dealings in Ukraine, reports The New York Times.

The former New York City mayor and personal lawyer to former President Donald Trump is being investigated over possible illegal lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian officials and his efforts to dig up dirt on Trump’s political rivals. “Executing a search warrant is an extraordinary move for prosecutors to take against a lawyer, let alone a lawyer for a former president,” writes the Times. “While the warrants are not an explicit accusation of wrongdoing against Mr. Giuliani, it shows that the investigation has entered an aggressive new phase.”

e9oxrHhCExperts agreed the search represented very serious stakes for Giuliani. Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman wrote that “this means that a magistrate judge has found probable cause to believe that [Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine] were criminal.” As the Times writes, “to obtain a search warrant, investigators need to persuade a judge they have sufficient reason to believe that a crime was committed and that the search would turn up evidence of the crime.”

Federal prosecutor and legal analyst Shanlon Wu called the search an “extraordinary step,” and wrote that “no amount of hot air and ranting is going to help Rudy Giuliani now.”

Litman continued: “I don’t know offhand the percentage of people whose [apartments] are searched by warrant who are then indicted … but it’s high, and given Giuliani’s profile, it has to be higher [because] they would be more careful and get lots of approvals.”

The search warrant was reportedly a long time coming, and politics may have slowed it down. The process was delayed for the presidential election so as not to sway voters, and Trump appointees at the DOJ reportedly managed to temporarily block the warrant while Trump was still in office.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara agrees. Benjamin Hart at New York Magazine: Preet Bharara Thinks Rudy Giuliani Is in ‘Deep Trouble.’

I spoke with Preet Bharara, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the district from 2009 to 2017 — and whose podcast, Stay Tuned, was recently acquired by Vox Media — about Giuliani’s predicament and where the investigation might go next.

28d18330dd2ee5d27239b46eb62eb5ebc5633101How significant is this move by the Feds from your perspective? How much legal danger does Giuliani face here?
I think it’s extremely significant. I’m not one to say that when routine subpoenas are issued or interviews are conducted, but here you have a very prominent person — not just the former lawyer to the president of the United States but also the former U.S. Attorney of the office that’s involved in the investigation. The fact that you execute a warrant on someone’s residence does not necessarily mean there will be a charge, but given the circumstances, given the identity of Mr. Giuliani, given what you have to show to get a judge to authorize the warrant and the search — that’s a sign that he’s in deep trouble. We saw this play out with respect to Michael Cohen and to Paul Manafort. Very prominent targets, very sensitive cases. Both of those men were charged.

The two people you just cited also both went to prison. Is that where this could be going?

I used to head that office, and there are search warrants that get executed on people’s premises and their offices, and no charges follow. That happens, and Giuliani is presumed to be innocent. But what’s likely is that there has already been substantial investigation. The reporting was that they tried to execute these searches when Trump was in office, and they were stymied by higher-ups in the Justice Department. Bear in mind, they’re probably far along, given what showing they have to make of probable cause to do these searches in the first place. They likely already have a lot of Rudy Giuliani’s communications. You don’t need to have his devices in your possession to have email records; those are obtained from third parties, and they probably have all of that. It’s anyone’s guess what the charges will be and when they will come. But in my experience, when you do something like this, that you know will have a reputational effect on the subject, you’re usually thinking there’s a good likelihood of a charge.

It hasn’t been as widely reported, but it’s also significant that the Feds searched the home of another Trump-associated attorney, Victoria Toensing. Nicholas Reimann at Forbes: Feds Search Giuliani’s, Toensing’s Properties As Part Of Ukraine Investigation.

Federal investigators searched Rudy Giuliani’s Manhattan apartment on Wednesday and later searched the home of attorney Victoria Toensing as part of a probe into whether Giuliani acted on behalf of Ukrainian oligarchs to illegally lobby the Trump Administration, according to multiple reports, with investigators said to have seized electronic devices.

A bit more from The New York Times

26dc-Digenova-superJumbo-v2F.B.I. agents also executed a search warrant on Wednesday morning at the Washington-area home of Victoria Toensing, a lawyer close to Mr. Giuliani who had dealings with several Ukrainians involved in the hunt for information on the Bidens, according to people with knowledge of that warrant. The warrant was for her cellphone.

Ms. Toensing, a former Justice Department official, has also represented Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch under indictment in the United States whose help Mr. Giuliani sought.

More stories to check out:

Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: Biden’s Speech Offers an Alternate Reality for Democrats to Love, After Four Years of Trumpian Fantasy.

Wall Street Journal: Stocks Are Off to Best Start to a Presidential Term Since Great Depression.

Newsweek: Rudy Giuliani Voicemail Hints at Cause of Federal Search Warrant.

The Los Angeles Times: FBI director says Capitol riot was ‘domestic terrorism.’

The Washington Post: Trump supporter found guilty of threatening to kill members of Congress after Jan. 6 insurrection.

Politico: Trump’s Battle to Win the First 100 Days.

CNN: US investigating possible mysterious directed energy attack near White House.

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Feds plan to indict Chauvin, other three ex-officers on civil rights charges.

CBS News: In India, a scramble for scarce vaccines as COVID deaths top 200,000.

CNN: India’s Covid-19 crisis is a problem for the world.

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


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

120120holidaytreerAs Trump continues his coup attempt and Mitch McConnell continues to block relief for struggling Americans, Covid-19 is ravaging our country. 

The New York Times: The U.S. has recorded its most Covid-19 deaths in a week.

With a seven-day average of 2,249 deaths, the country broke the previous mark of 2,232 set on April 17 in the early weeks of the pandemic. Seven-day averages can provide a more accurate picture of the virus’s progression than daily death counts, which can fluctuate and disguise the broader trend line.

The United States is approaching 300,000 total deaths, with nearly 283,000 recorded, according to a New York Times database. The nation is averaging nearly 200,000 cases per day, an increase of 15 percent from the average two weeks earlier, and has recorded over than 15 million total cases.

Much has changed since the previous peak in April. The coronavirus is no longer concentrated in big urban areas like New York City and now envelops much of the country, including rural areas that had avoided it for several months.

Many of the hardest-hit counties on a per person basis are now in the Midwest. North Dakota, where one in every 10 residents has contracted the virus, has the highest total reported cases by population, followed closely by South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

The latest wave to hit the United States has hospitalized record numbers. Each day since Dec. 2, more than 100,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals. That far surpasses the number of people hospitalized during the peaks spring and summer, which at their worst had nearly 60,000 Americans in the hospital daily.

The new peak also comes as the nation prepares for holiday celebrations, and as colder temperatures may push people to congregate indoors. Infectious-disease experts have warned that trends in the United States, which reported a record 2,885 deaths on Wednesday, could continue to worsen over the next several weeks.

cb120520daprWe are getting closer to a vaccine, and the FDA has found that the Pfizer vaccine “worked well” after the first dose “regardless of a volunteer’s race, weight or age.” But yesterday The New York Times revealed that there most likely won’t have enough to go around: Trump administration officials passed when Pfizer offered months ago to sell the U.S. more vaccine doses.

Before Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was proved highly successful in clinical trials last month, the company offered the Trump administration the chance to lock in supplies beyond the 100 million doses the pharmaceutical maker agreed to sell the government as part of a $1.95 billion deal months ago.

But the administration, according to people familiar with the talks, never made the deal, a choice that now raises questions about whether the United States allowed other countries to take its place in line.

As the administration scrambles to try to purchase more doses of the vaccine, President Trump plans on Tuesday to issue an executive order that proclaims that other nations will not get the U.S. supplies of its vaccine until Americans have been inoculated.

But the order appears to have no real teeth and does not expand the U.S. supply of doses, according to a description of the order on Monday by senior administration officials.

Read more details at the link.

On Trump’s executive order, Politico reports: ‘I literally don’t know’: Operation Warp Speed scientist can’t explain Trump’s vaccine order.

The chief scientist of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed was unable to explain President Donald Trump’s latest executive order Tuesday, which aims to prioritize shipment of the coronavirus vaccine to Americans over other countries.

Moncef Slaoui, who Trump tapped in May to head up the administration’s efforts to hasten vaccine development, appeared puzzled when asked to clarify the president’s order during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

lk112920dapr“Frankly, I don’t know, and frankly, I’m staying out of this. I can’t comment,” Slaoui said. “I literally don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” asked anchor George Stephanopoulos.

“Yes,” Slaoui said.

“But you’re the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed,” Stephanopoulos pressed.

“Our work is, you know, rolling,” Slaoui replied. “We have plans. We feel that we can deliver the vaccines as needed. So I don’t know exactly what this order is about.”

Indeed, it remains unclear how Trump’s executive order would be enforced, as drugmakers are already making agreements to deliver supplies for other countries.

Slaoui was similarly dismissive when asked about the executive order in another interview Tuesday, telling Fox News that “what the White House is doing is what the White House is doing.”

The incompetence would be funny if it weren’t going to kill people.

The Washington Post: Pfizer tells U.S. officials it cannot supply substantial additional vaccine until late June or July.

Pfizer has told the Trump administration it cannot provide substantial additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine until late June or July because other countries have rushed to buy up most of its supply, according to multiple individuals familiar with the situation.

That means the U.S. government may not be able to ramp up as rapidly as it had expected from the 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that it purchased earlier this year, raising questions about whether it can keep to its aggressive schedule to vaccinate most Americans by late spring or early summer.\Trump administration officials denied there would be availability issues in the second quarter, citing other vaccines in the pipeline — most immediately, Moderna’s, also expected to be approved in coming weeks. Both vaccines are two-dose regimens, so the 100 million doses purchased of each would cover 50 million people each.

“I’m not concerned about our ability to buy vaccines to offer to all of the American public,” Gen. Paul Ostrowski, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, the government’s initiative to expedite vaccine development, said in an interview Monday. “It’s clear that Pfizer made plans with other countries. Many have been announced. We understand those pieces.”

But several officials knowledgeable about the contracts said that supplies from other companies may be insufficient to fill the gap.

20201126edhoc-aLet’s hope the Biden administration will be able to deal with the mess that Trump is leaving them. 

Trump and his buddies continue to flaunt warnings about wearing masks and social distancing to prevent spreading the virus. Of course these people will get the best treatments, while others whom they expose may not. The Daily Beast: Rudy Giuliani’s COVID Case Shows There’s No Vaccine to Treat the Disease the GOP Has Become.

Trump’s lawyer needs a doctor. If you saw him gallivanting across the country for the past month trying to overturn the election, it should come as no surprise to you that Rudy Giuliani, once revered as “America’s Mayor,” was hospitalized for COVID-19 this week.

Giuliani, a potential one-man superspreader whose recent visit forced the entire Arizona legislature to close up shop, is being treated at Georgetown University Medical Center. For the rich and powerful, there’s always room at the inn. Or hospital. And while we all hope for his speedy recovery, this is the latest sign that a pattern of privilege has emerged. It goes like this: Having tempted fate by refusing to social distance or wear masks, Trump and his team contract the virus. Next, they receive world-class medical treatment. Last, they quickly recover.

It’s not a victimless advantage. Their miraculous recovery reinforces the resentment of every hoohaw who won’t wear a mask and throws a fit at a bar in Staten Island because last call comes early at 10 p.m. The problem with these quick recoveries is that they demonstrate (to people who are the most susceptible to this message) that COVID-19 isn’t really a big deal.

Trump said yesterday that Giuliani is doing well and doesn’t have a fever. Then why is he in the hospital? I’m 73. Would I be hospitalizes with mild symptoms and no fever?

Meanwhile, there’s still no stimulus coming from Congress; and the one they are working on doesn’t include checks to help us regular folks, but it does include liability protections for corporations that force people to work in unsafe conditions. John Nichols at The Nation:

What the United States desperately needs is a multitrillion-dollar stimulus package to provide the resources to fight the current coronavirus surge, to provide for the unemployed and underemployed, to keep small businesses and small farms afloat, to fund state and local governments and schools, and to organize and implement the distribution of the vaccines that are vital to ending the current crisis.

What the United States does not need is a massive corporate bailout that allows the wealthiest and most powerful businesses in this country to avoid liability for actions they take that sicken and kill Americans.

20201203edshe-bUnfortunately, that is what Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and his minions have been battling to include in a new Covid-19 “relief” package. And key Democrats could end up going along with the grim reaper’s ghoulish scheme as he again uses federal legislation to insulate irresponsible CEOs from accountability—and, conveniently, to reward the business interests that fund Republican campaigns.

Exploiting the sense of urgency over the peaking pandemic and the prospect of what President-elect Joe Biden refers to as a “long dark winter” for working families, McConnell and his colleagues have for months held relief proposals hostage over the issue of a so-called “liability shield.” Such a shield—even if it is limited, even if it is only temporary—would give corporations immunity from lawsuits related to Covid-19.

Considering the stark evidence of irresponsibility on the part of US corporations since the pandemic hit, the proposal is absurd. Yet the “COVID Emergency Relief Framework” scheme that was initially proposed by corporate-aligned centrists in Congress but has now attracted backing from leading congressional Republicans and Democrats proposes just such a liability shield. The one-page outline of the plan released last week includes among its proposals: “Provide short term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits with the purpose of giving states time to develop their own response.”

Click the link to read the rest.

Today could be the last day for Trump’s stupid coup attempt. Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: Trump’s Desperate Effort To Overturn The Election Is Running Out Of Time.

Tuesday marks the “safe harbor” deadline — the date when states must certify results if they want protection under federal election law against Congress stepping in to decide which candidate gets their electoral votes. The fact that lawsuits are pending won’t prevent states from getting the benefits of certifying results by that date, according to election law experts. Judges are already wary of injecting legal uncertainty into the election and causing chaos and will be even more reluctant to do so after the deadline passes.

lk120420dapr“The doors close significantly after the safe harbor deadline passes,” said Rebecca Green, codirector of the Election Law Program at William & Mary Law School. “It’s going to be a heavy lift to convince a judge to defy federal deadlines. I think it would only happen or be successful if some kind of wild evidence of just unbelievable scale were unearthed that was credible.”

Trump’s campaign has conceded that the Dec. 8 deadline is key to the fate of its legal challenges. It has pushed courts to rush to consider cases by then. In the campaign’s failed constitutional challenge to Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, Trump’s lawyers argued on Nov. 22 that it was “critically important” for a federal appeals court to hear the case before the deadline, which at that point was 16 days away. The court agreed to expedite the case and ruled against Trump in a 3–0 decision just five days later.

Read more at Buzzfeed.

Coming soon: the Trump pardon spree. Once again, this would be hilarious if it weren’t so dangerous. Axios: Trump plots mass pardons, even to people not asking.

President Trump isn’t just accepting pardon requests but blindly discussing them “like Christmas gifts” to people who haven’t even asked, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations told Axios.

Behind the scenes: Trump recently told one adviser he was going to pardon “every person who ever talked to me,” suggesting an even larger pardon blitz to come. As with most Trump conversations, the adviser wasn’t sure how seriously to take the president — although Trump gave no indication he was joking.

The big picture: The president relishes his unilateral authority to issue get-out-of-jail-free cards. Lately, though, he’s been soliciting recipients, asking friends and advisers who they think he should pardon.

Trump has also interrupted conversations to spontaneously suggest that he add the person he’s speaking with to his pardon list, these sources said.

Finally, at The Washington Post, Michael Luttig, a former judge writes: No, President Trump can’t pardon himself.

246223_rgb_768The pardon clause’s language is broad indeed, unambiguously allowing the president to pardon seemingly any other person convicted for any federal criminal offense. But its language does not unambiguously include the president himself. Had the Framers intended to give the president such broad power, we would expect them to have clearly said so. After all, the new nation was in the process of rejecting a monarchical government in favor of a democratic republic.

Instead, the words they chose to confer the pardon power on the president contemplate his granting of reprieves and pardons only to persons other than himself. The word “grant” connotes a gift, bestowal, conferral or transfer by one person to another — not to himself. That would have been the understanding of this word at the time of the Constitution’s drafting, and it is how the term “grant” was understood and is used elsewhere in the Constitution.

At the same time, the “take care” argument against the power to self-pardon merely assumes the very conclusion it reaches: that the pardon clause does not empower the president to pardon himself, and therefore that his self-pardon would be irreconcilable with his responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. This begs the question just as much as the textual argument made for self-pardons. If the Constitution allows a president to pardon himself, there could be no argument that in pardoning himself the president was not faithfully executing the laws.

Read the full argument at the WaPo.

Hang in there Sky Dancers! We just have to survive 43 more days of this insanity until the Inauguration.