Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Fiona-Hill-Jonathan-Xu-22-Merionite-News

Fiona Hill

A new book about the Trump Administration was released today, and this one is likely to be much more serious than the many gossipy Trump books that have preceded it. This one is a memoir by Fiona Hill, who served in Trump’s White House as a Russia expert and then testified in the impeachment hearings.

Here’s the New York Times review by Jennifer Szalai: In a Memoir, the Impeachment Witness Fiona Hill Recounts Her Journey From ‘Blighted World’ to White House.

The arresting title of Fiona Hill’s new book, “There Is Nothing for You Here,” is what her father told her when she was growing up in Bishop Auckland, a decaying coal-mining town in North East England. He loved her, and so he insisted that she had to leave.

Hill took his advice to heart — studying Russian and history at St. Andrews in Scotland, sojourning in Moscow, getting a Ph.D. at Harvard and eventually serving in the administrations of three American presidents, most recently as President Trump’s top adviser on Russia and Europe. “I take great pride in the fact that I’m a nonpartisan foreign policy expert,” she said before the House in November 2019, when she delivered her plain-spoken testimony at the hearings for the (first) impeachment of President Trump. But for her, “nonpartisan” doesn’t mean she’s in thrall to bloodless, anodyne ideas totally disconnected from her personal experience. She wrote this book because she was “acutely aware,” she says, “of how my own early life laid the path for everything I did subsequently.”

Sure enough, “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century” weaves together these two selves, slipping back and forth between the unsentimental memoir reflected in its melancholy title and the wonkish guide promised in its inspirational subtitle. The combination, however unlikely, mostly works — though by the end, the litany of policy prescriptions comes to sound a bit too much like a paper issued by the Brookings Institution, where Hill is currently a fellow. When recounting her life, Hill is a lucid writer, delivering her reminiscences in a vivid and wry style. As much as I wanted more of Hill the memoirist and less of Hill the expert, I began to sense that giving voice to both was the only way she could feel comfortable writing a book about herself.

Looked at from afar, Hill’s story seems like a triumphant tale of striving and accomplishment. Born in 1965, she grew up in a “blighted world.” Her father followed the men in his family into the mines when he was 14; as the industry started to collapse in the 1960s, he found a job as a hospital porter. Hill’s mother worked as a midwife. As late as the 1970s, Hill’s grandparents lived in a subsidized rowhouse without “mod cons,” or modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing. Her grandfather had been pierced by the “windy pick” — the pneumatic drill — and had to wear a brace around his pelvis “to keep his battered insides in” for the rest of his life.

House Intelligence Committee Continues Open Impeachment Hearings

Fiona Hill is worn in at the House Intelligence Committee Open Impeachment Hearings.

Read more about Hill’s early life at the link. Here’s a bit about her experiences in the Trump White House.

Instead of making the usual insider-memoir move of fixating on all the brazenly outrageous behavior — the bizarre comments, the outlandish tweets — Hill notices his insecurities, the soft spots that, she says, made him “exquisitely vulnerable” to manipulation. Yes, she writes, the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election — but unlike the #Resistance crowd, which insists that such meddling was decisive, Hill is more circumspect, pointing out that Vladimir Putin wasn’t the force that tore the country apart; he was simply exploiting fissures that were already there.

Just as concerning to her was the way that people around Trump would wreak havoc on one another by playing to his “fragile ego” — spreading rumors that their rivals in the administration had said something negative about Trump was often enough to land those rivals on what the president called his “nasty list.” Hill says that watching Trump fulminate made her feel like Alice in Wonderland watching the Queen of Hearts, with her constant shouts of “Off with their heads!” In Hill’s telling, Trump’s norm-breaking was so flagrant and incessant that she compares him, in her matter-of-fact way, to a flasher. “Trump revealed himself,” she writes, “and people just got used to it.”

But neither Trump nor Putin — who was the subject of one of Hill’s previous books — is what she really wants to talk about. What she sees happening in the United States worries her. Economic collapse, structural racism, unrelieved suffering: Even without Trump, she says, none of the country’s enormous problems will go away without enormous efforts to address them. Hill the expert points to heartening examples of benevolent capitalism at work. But Hill the memoirist knows in her bones that the neoliberal approach, left to its own devices, simply won’t do.

I cannot wait to read this book. More articles about it to check out:

Yahoo News: Trump’s fixation was on Putin himself rather than Russia, says fmr. WH adviser.

Raw Story: Trump’s former Russia expert has a message for voters if he runs in 2024

Yahoo News: Fiona Hill says Trump was a national security risk because he was ‘so vulnerable to manipulation based on the fragility of his ego’

Financial Times: There Is Nothing for You Here by Fiona Hill — memoir from Trump White House.

Finally, Newsweek has an excerpt from the book: Donald Trump Called Fiona Hill ‘Darling,’ Thought She Was a Press Secretary.

Mitch-McConnell-Debt-CeilingIn other news, we’re still facing the possible default of the United States leading to a global financial crisis. Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times: As the U.S. Hurtles Toward a Debt Crisis, What Does McConnell Want?

In March 2006, as the government veered dangerously close to a default, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the No. 2 Republican, let the Bush White House know he was two votes short of what he needed to raise the legal limit on federal borrowing.

Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, began working the phones. He soon found two Democrats willing to break ranks and vote to put the legislation over the top. But Mr. McConnell was holding out for something else entirely, hoping to extract concessions from President George W. Bush as the price for uniting Republicans around lifting the limit.

“I don’t need your damned votes,” he snapped at Mr. Card. He lifted the debt ceiling with Republicans only.

Mr. Card never learned what the Senate leader wanted, but he tells the story for a reason: Mr. McConnell has long used the periodic need to raise the government’s borrowing limit as a moment of leverage to secure a policy win, as have leaders of both parties.

But two weeks before a potentially catastrophic default, Mr. McConnell has yet to reveal what he wants, telling President Biden in a letter on Monday, “We have no list of demands.”

Instead, he appears to want to sow political chaos for Democrats while insulating himself and other Republicans from an issue that has the potential to divide them.

Mr. McConnell has said the government must not be allowed to stop paying its debts; he has also said he will not let any Republicans vote to raise the limit, while moving repeatedly to block Democrats from doing so themselves. Instead, he has prescribed a path forward for Democrats: Use a complicated budget process known as reconciliation to maneuver around a Republican filibuster that he refuses to lift.

Asked what he wanted, that was his answer: “As I have said for two months, I want them do it through reconciliation.”

So what’s the problem then? Why don’t the Democrats just do it through reconciliation? Of course that is another problem, because Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema are standing in the way of the reconciliation bill. And what the hell do they want? A couple of reads on those two:

joe-manchin-arrives-capitolCNN: Manchin breaks with party leaders over strategy on debt ceiling and Biden’s economic package.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday pushed back on several politically sensitive positions his party leaders are taking at a crucial time for President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

The West Virginia Democrat, who holds a pivotal vote in the 50-50 Senate, indicated to CNN that he disagrees with the strategy top Democrats are pursuing in the standoff with Republicans over raising the national debt limit. Manchin said that Democrats “shouldn’t rule out anything,” including a budget process that Democratic leaders have made clear they will not employ.

Speaking to reporters, Manchin also would not commit to the new timeline set by party leaders to find a deal on the social safety net expansion by October 31. And he sounded resistant to calls from progressives and other top Democrats to raise his $1.5 trillion price tag for the package, which many in his party view as too low to achieve key policy objectives.

On Tuesday, however, Manchin did not rule out a $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion price tag for the social safety net package, a range Biden has floated privately. “I’m not ruling anything out,” Manchin said when asked by CNN if he would rule out that number.

In a stark warning sign to progressives, Manchin also indicated the package must include a prohibition against using federal funds for most abortions. “The Hyde Amendment is a red line,” he said. Manchin’s stance puts him at odds with progressives, with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal saying Sunday she would not support a package that included the Hyde Amendment.

Read more at the link.

LLREOPMIHVF7XFYWQ5C5K2JOJIMichelle Goldberg at The New York Times: What’s Wrong With Kyrsten Sinema?

In 2003, Joe Lieberman, at the time one of the worst Democratic senators, traveled to Arizona to campaign for his party’s presidential nomination and was regularly greeted by antiwar demonstrators. “He’s a shame to Democrats,” said the organizer of a protest outside a Tucson hotel, a left-wing social worker named Kyrsten Sinema. “I don’t even know why he’s running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him — what kind of strategy is that?”

It was a good question, and one that many people would like to ask Sinema herself these days. People sometimes describe the Arizona senator as a centrist, but that seems the wrong term for someone who’s been working to derail some of the most broadly popular parts of Joe Biden’s agenda, corporate tax increases and reforms to lower prescription drug prices. Instead, she’s just acting as an obstructionist, seeming to bask in the approbation of Republicans who will probably never vote for her.

A “Saturday Night Live” skit this weekend captured her absurdist approach to negotiating the reconciliation bill that contains almost the entirety of Biden’s agenda. “What do I want from this bill?” asked the actress playing Sinema. “I’ll never tell.” It sometimes seems as if what Sinema wants is for people to sit around wondering what Sinema wants.

When Sinema ran for Senate, the former left-wing firebrand reportedly told her advisers that she hoped to be the next John McCain, an independent force willing to buck her own party. Voting against a $15 minimum wage this year, she gave a thumbs down — accompanied by an obnoxious little curtsy — that seemed meant to recall the gesture McCain made when he voted against repealing key measures of the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

But people admired McCain because they felt he embodied a consistent set of values, a straight-talking Captain America kind of patriotism. Despite his iconoclastic image, he was mostly a deeply conservative Republican; as CNN’s Harry Enten points out, on votes where the parties were split, he sided with his party about 90 percent of the time.

Sinema, by contrast, breaks with her fellow Democrats much more often. There hasn’t been a year since she entered Congress, Enten wrote, when she’s voted with her party more than 75 percent of the time. But what really makes her different from McCain is that nobody seems to know what she stands for.

Click the link to read more.

There’s lots more news out there. I’ll post more links in the comments. As always, this is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Artist Suzanne Valadon and her cat

The paintings in today’s post are by Suzanne Valadon. Here’s some background about this fascinating artist from The Great Cat.org:

Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), was an illegitimate child of a French laundress and lived a rather rough life in her youth. She performed in a circus on the trapeze until she had a bad fall when she was 16.

After that, she decided to become an artist’s model, a safer profession. Artists such as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir used her in some of their works. Renoir even painted her in The Bathers. Valadon began to study the methods and works of the artists she posed for, and started to paint on her own.

Encouraged by Toulouse-Lautrec, she continued and even caught the eye of Edward Degas, who was so taken by her work that he purchased several of her first paintings in 1893. A true Bohemian, in 1883 at age 18, she gave birth to an illegitimate son, Maurice Utrillo, who became a well known artist as well.

Read more about her life at the pdf link above. You may have to go to the Table of Contents and click on her name.

Now on to today’s news.

It’s been another her horror-filled week, as Dakinikat described in her post yesterday. I avoided TV for most of the week, but it’s impossible to completely escape the Trump chaos. I’ve been doing my best though, mainly by reading lotsYo of books. Anyway, let’s see what’s happening this morning.

Trump has asked for help winning the 2020 election from Ukraine, China, and I assume Russia, since he seems to talk on the phone to Putin constantly.

So how many countries has Trump actually asked for election help? Add Brazil to the list.

The New York Times: Lawmakers ‘Alarmed’ by Reports U.S. Envoy Told Brazil It Could Help Re-elect Trump.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Friday they were “extremely alarmed” by assertions that the American ambassador in Brazil had signaled to Brazilian officials they could help get President Trump re-elected by changing their trade policies.

In a letter sent Friday afternoon, Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel demanded that the ambassador, Todd Chapman, produce “any and all documents referring or related to any discussions” he has held with Brazilian officials in recent weeks about their nation’s tariffs on ethanol, an important agricultural export for Iowa, a potential swing state in the American presidential election.

The committee’s letter was sent in response to reports in the Brazilian news media this week saying that Mr. Chapman, a career diplomat, made it clear to Brazilian officials they could bolster Mr. Trump’s electoral chances in Iowa if Brazil lifted its ethanol tariffs.

Eliminating tariffs would give the Trump administration a welcome trade victory to present to struggling ethanol producers in Iowa, where the president is in a close race with his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The House committee said it was opening an inquiry into the matter.

The State Department denied the reports, but . . .

The O Globo newspaper published a story on Thursday saying Mr. Chapman had underscored “the importance to the Brazilian government of keeping Donald Trump” in office. Mr. Bolsonaro, a far-right leader, has made closer alignment with the Trump administration his top foreign policy priority.

A competing newspaper, Estadão, published an article Friday saying its reporters independently confirmed that the ambassador framed his argument against tariffs in partisan terms. The article said the Brazilian officials who met with Mr. Chapman rejected the appeal, declining to be drawn into the American presidential battle.

Neither article named its sources. But Alceu Moreira, a Brazilian congressman who heads the agricultural caucus, told The New York Times in an interview that Mr. Chapman had made repeated references to the electoral calendar during a recent meeting the two had about ethanol.

I guess we can assume Trump has asked for help from just about every country headed by a dictator.

Now Trump has helped Putin by ordering the withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Germany.

CNN: US to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany in move that will cost billions and take years.

The US is moving forward with President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, a decision that has attracted bipartisan congressional opposition and roiled key allies who see the move as a blow to NATO.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper acknowledged the plan will cost billions to execute when he formally announced the decision on Wednesday from the Pentagon. US defense officials said it will take years to relocate the troops.

The plan to pull US troops from the long-time NATO ally has been met with broad bipartisan opposition amid concerns that it will weaken the US military’s position vis a vis Russia, however the Trump Administration has decided to proceed with the move.

Trump defended the decision Wednesday, saying the troop drawdown was taking place because Berlin was not spending the NATO target of 2% of its GDP on defense and because Germany was taking “advantage” of the US….

Defense officials, however, said Wednesday that the decision on where to house the US troops leaving Germany was not influenced by whether the new host country was meeting the 2% target.

Well, I’m sure Putin is thrilled. Will Trump pull us out of NATO next?

At The Daily Beast, Julia Davis reports on Russia’s reaction to Trump’s willful destruction of our country: ‘America’s Dying’: Russian Media Is Giddy at Chaos in the USA.

This week, U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated his intent to move forward with reducing the U.S. military presence in Germany, without any consultations with Berlin. And even as members of the U.S. Congress and America’s allies abroad expressed concerns about the drawdown, the Trump administration’s decision brought joy to the Kremlin and Russian media.

Back in June, 22 Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee urged Trump not to go ahead with the move, stating in a letter: “We believe that such steps would significantly damage U.S. national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment … In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.” [….]

Meanwhile, when the intent to reduce the U.S. contingent in Germany was first announced, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the Kremlin “would welcome any steps by Washington to scale down its military presence in Europe,” brazenly telling the United States to take home not only its troops, but also its tactical nuclear weapons.

The Kremlin-controlled Russian state media also sensed a precious propaganda opportunity. Sergey Brilyov, anchor of the news show Saturday Vesti on Russian state media channel Rossiya-1, pondered whether the controversial move by the Trump administration could be considered the proof that Russia no longer poses a military threat to Europe.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov used the same rationale today, when he claimed that Russia doesn’t present any threat to European countries and “the fewer U.S. soldiers are on the European continent, the calmer it is in Europe.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Don’t miss this must read piece at Vanity Fair about Trump and Kushner’s decision to scrap efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic because it was only affecting blue states: How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air.”

A few choice excerpts:

Six months into the pandemic, the United States continues to suffer the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the developed world. Considerable blame belongs to a federal response that offloaded responsibility for the crucial task of testing to the states. The irony is that, after assembling the team that came up with an aggressive and ambitious national testing plan, Kushner then appears to have decided, for reasons that remain murky, to scrap its proposal. Today, as governors and mayors scramble to stamp out epidemics plaguing their populations, philanthropists at the Rockefeller Foundation are working to fill the void and organize enough testing to bring the nationwide epidemic under control.

Inside the White House, over much of March and early April, Kushner’s handpicked group of young business associates, which included a former college roommate, teamed up with several top experts from the diagnostic-testing industry. Together, they hammered out the outline of a national testing strategy. The group—working night and day, using the encrypted platform WhatsApp—emerged with a detailed plan obtained by Vanity Fair.

Rather than have states fight each other for scarce diagnostic tests and limited lab capacity, the plan would have set up a system of national oversight and coordination to surge supplies, allocate test kits, lift regulatory and contractual roadblocks, and establish a widespread virus surveillance system by the fall, to help pinpoint subsequent outbreaks.

But it never happened. Why?

By early April, some who worked on the plan were given the strong impression that it would soon be shared with President Trump and announced by the White House. The plan, though imperfect, was a starting point. Simply working together as a nation on it “would have put us in a fundamentally different place,” said the participant.

But the effort ran headlong into shifting sentiment at the White House. Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures. Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity. Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, was reportedly sharing models with senior staff that optimistically—and erroneously, it would turn out—predicted the virus would soon fade away.

Against that background, the prospect of launching a large-scale national plan was losing favor, said one public health expert in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force.

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.

[Emphasis added.] This is a mind-blowing article. Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

More stories to check out today:

The New York Times: Trump Halts TV Advertising as He Struggles in Polls Against Biden.

Yahoo News: New Yahoo News/YouGov poll: Most Trump voters say they will not accept the 2020 results if Biden wins because of mail-in ballots.

John Avlon at CNN: Trump’s election tweet shows a frightened narcissist afraid of losing.

Politico: Barr Makes It Official—He’s Trump’s New “Fixer”

The Guardian: Portland sees peaceful night of protests following withdrawal of federal agents.

The Washington Post: DHS analyzed protester communications, raising questions about previous statements by senior department official.

Yahoo News: Exclusive: CDC projects U.S. coronavirus death toll could top 180,000 by Aug. 22.

Politico: Pelosi upbraids counterintel chief in private briefing over Russian meddling.

The New York Times: Lobbying Intensifies Among V.P. Candidates as Biden’s Search Nears an End.

Business Insider: Joe Biden’s vice presidential contender Rep. Karen Bass praised Scientology at a 2010 ceremony.

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Why would Biden pick a human lightning rod as VP?

That’s it for me. Have a terrific weekend everyone!

 


Thursday Reads: Grim Reaper Trump

Good Morning!!

The Grim Reaper

Mary Trump’s book was released on Tuesday, and the court affirmed her right to freedom of speech, so she is now speaking out about her the horrific family that produced Donald Trump. She’ll be interviewed tonight by Rachel Maddow–that should be interesting. She gave an interview to The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker yesterday: Mary Trump says the U.S. has devolved into a version of her ‘incredibly dysfunctional family.

Mary L. Trump, President’s Trump’s niece, said that watching the country’s leadership devolve into “a macro version of my incredibly dysfunctional family” was one of the factors that compelled her to write her book, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”

In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Post, Mary Trump said she blames “almost 100 percent” her grandfather, Fred Trump — the family patriarch whom she describes as a “sociopath” in her 214-page memoir of sorts — for creating the conditions that led to Trump’s rise and, ultimately, what she views as his dangerous presidency.

Much like in her extended family, Mary Trump said, a similar dynamic is now playing out on the national stage, with Trump simultaneously possessing “an unerring instinct for finding people who are weaker than he is,” while also being “eminently usable by people who are stronger and savvier than he is” and eager to exploit him.

Cemetery Gates, Marc Chagall

Assessing the current moment, in which Trump has amplified racism and stoked the flames of white grievance and resentment, Mary Trump said that the president is “clearly racist,” but that his behavior stems from a combination of upbringing and political cynicism.

“It comes easily to him and he thinks it’s going to score him points with the only people who are continuing to support him,” she said.

Mary Trump said that growing up in her family, her experience was one of “a knee-jerk anti-Semitism, a knee-jerk racism.”

“Growing up, it was sort of normal to hear them use the n-word or use anti-Semitic expressions,” she said.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

It seems that the majority of Americans are finally waking up to the truth about Trump. After what happened in 2016, I won’t feel confident until after the election, but things are looking very bad for a second Trump term. Here’s the latest:

NBC News: Biden opens up 11-point national lead over Trump in NBC News/WSJ poll.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a double-digit lead nationally over President Donald Trump, with 7 in 10 voters saying the country is on the wrong track and majorities disapproving of the president’s handling of the coronavirus and race relations.

Those are the major findings of a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that comes 3½ months before the presidential election, amid a pandemic that has killed about 140,000 people in the U.S. and during protests and debates over race across the country.

Colonial Graveyard at Lexington, MA, Frederick Childe Hassam

The poll shows Biden ahead of Trump by 11 points among registered voters, 51 percent to 40 percent, which is well outside the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Biden’s lead in last month’s poll was 7 points, 49 percent to 42 percent.

In addition, the poll shows Democrats enjoying an intensity advantage heading into November, and it has Trump’s job rating declining to 42 percent — its lowest level in two years.

“The atmosphere and the attitudes toward Donald Trump are the most challenging an incumbent president has faced since Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Lyndon Johnson in 1968,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, whose firm conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

Nate Cohn at The New York Times: Even if the Polls Are Really Off, Trump Is Still in Trouble.

With Joe Biden claiming almost a double-digit lead in national polls, one question still seems to loom over the race: Can we trust the polls after 2016?

It’s a good question. But for now, it’s not as important as you might guess. If the election were held today, Mr. Biden would win the presidency, even if the polls were exactly as wrong as they were four years ago.

Edouard Manet, The Funeral

The reason is simple: His lead is far wider than Hillary Clinton’s was in the final polls, and large enough to withstand another 2016 polling meltdown.

This is not to say that President Trump can’t win. There are still nearly four months to go until the election — more than enough time for the race and the polls to change. The race changed on several occasions over the final months in 2016. And this race has already changed significantly in the last four months. According to FiveThirtyEight, three months ago Mr. Biden held a lead of only about four points.

Read more at the NYT link.

Yesterday, Trump demoted campaign manager Brad Parscale and replaced him with Bill Stepian, the guy who helped Chris Christie with Bridgegate. The Daily Beast: Trump Campaign Chief Was Edged Out ‘Weeks Ago.’ Now He’s Officially Demoted.

President Donald Trump has removed Brad Parscale as his campaign manager, installing instead Bill Stepien, his former second-in-command, in the role. Parscale had held the position since February 2018.

Parscale will remain a part of the campaign as a senior adviser overseeing digital operations, per a Facebook post from the commander-in-chief….

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, delivered the news, according to ABC.

Graveyard, Ernest Lawson

The move was the culmination of multiple elevations and additions to Team Trump earlier this year that amounted to alleviating Parscale of certain key responsibilities, even if he remained at the time as a campaign manager in title. For instance, Stepien and Jason Miller, another top Trump 2020 official who previously worked as a senior aide on the 2016 team and Trump presidential transition, had for weeks largely taken the helm on strategy, with Parscale generally focusing on duties that the president tweeted on Wednesday evening would remain in his portfolio after the demotion, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

In substance and assignments, “this ‘shakeup’ happened weeks ago,” one of these individuals said. “Difference [tonight] is that it’s now official in everyone’s titles.”

Of course Jared is really the one in charge of the campaign.

Trump’s planned convention in Florida keeps shrinking. Axios: RNC to restrict attendance at Florida convention amid coronavirus surge.

The Republican National Committee will move to significantly limit attendance at its nominating convention events in Jacksonville, Fla., next month, party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote in a Thursday letter to members, Politico reports.

What’s happening: Only delegates will be able to attend the convention on the first three nights. On the fourth night, when President Trump will give his acceptance speech — which may take place outdoors — delegates will be able to bring a guest, while alternate delegates will also be permitted to attend.

— “Adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines,” McDaniel wrote. “I want to make clear that we still intend to host a fantastic convention celebration in Jacksonville.”

— Florida’s coronavirus outbreak has continued to worsen in recent weeks. The state reported 15,299 new coronavirus cases on Sunday — a single-day record for any state</blockquote

By Diana Salina-Sandoval

The coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, while Trump refuses to do anything to help states where the virus is raging out of control. The latest alarming coronavirus stories:

NBC News: Russia is attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research, U.S., U.K. and Canada claim.

Hackers from Russia’s intelligence services have attempted to steal information related to COVID-19 vaccine development from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, British officials said Thursday.

A group called “APT29, also known as “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear” has been using malware to target various groups across the three countries, the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre said in a statement.

It said the United States’ National Security Agency agrees with the assessment.

This is a breaking news report. Please check back for updates.

The Atlantic: A Second Coronavirus Death Surge Is Coming. There was always a logical explanation for why cases rose through the end of June while deaths did not.

There is no mystery in the number of Americans dying from COVID-19.

Despite political leaders trivializing the pandemic, deaths are rising again: The seven-day average for deaths per day has now jumped by more than 200 since July 6, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. By our count, states reported 855 deaths today, in line with the recent elevated numbers in mid-July.

By William Bell Scott

The deaths are not happening in unpredictable places. Rather, people are dying at higher rates where there are lots of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations: in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California, as well as a host of smaller southern states that all rushed to open up.

The deaths are also not happening in an unpredictable amount of time after the new outbreaks emerged. Simply look at the curves yourself. Cases began to rise on June 16; a week later, hospitalizations began to rise. Two weeks after that—21 days after cases rose—states began to report more deaths. That’s the exact number of days that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated from the onset of symptoms to the reporting of a death.

Many people who don’t want COVID-19 to be the terrible crisis that it is have clung to the idea that more cases won’t mean more deaths. Some Americans have been perplexed by a downward trend of national deaths, even as cases exploded in the Sun Belt region. But given the policy choices that state and federal officials have made, the virus has done exactly what public-health experts expected. When states reopened in late April and May with plenty of infected people within their borders, cases began to grow. COVID-19 is highly transmissible, makes a large subset of people who catch it seriously ill, and kills many more people than the flu or any other infectious disease circulating in the country.

CNN: As Trump refuses to lead, America tries to save itself.

President Donald Trump isn’t leading America much as its pandemic worsens. But that’s not stopping Walmart — along with Kroger, Kohl’s, and city and state leaders and officials — from making the tough decisions that the President has shirked.

The Graveyard, by Uko Post

Given Trump’s approach, if the country is to exit the building disaster without many more thousands dead, it will fall to governors, mayors, college presidents and school principals, teachers and grocery store managers to execute plans balancing public health with the need for life to go on.

There were growing indications Wednesday that such centers of authority across the country are no longer waiting for cues from an indifferent President whose aggressive opening strategy has been discredited by a tsunami of infections and whose poll numbers are crashing as a result.

More school districts — in Houston and San Francisco, for example — are defying the President’s demand for all kids to go back to class in the fall.

Head over to CNN to read more examples of state and local leaders acting on their own.

It’s just another sad and frustrating day in an American held hostage by Trump’s dysfunctional “presidency.” Hang in there, Sky Dancers! We will survive this somehow.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

If feels as if the long weekend has already begun. The Fourth of July is traditionally a time when the Boston area empties out as people head to the Cape or New Hampshire. I just hope that people will be careful about crowding the beaches. Fortunately, bars won’t be opened here until phase 4, so that is one advantage we have. Yesterday, Gov. Charlie Baker warned Massachusetts residents: ‘No Victory Laps From COVID-19′: Gov. Baker Urges Social Distancing Over July 4 Weekend. NBC10:

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday urged residents to practice social distancing over the Fourth of July weekend, saying people should continue to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously to prevent a resurgence of cases.

“We have a big weekend coming up, it’s the Fourth of July, and I really hope people continue to take things seriously,” Baker said during a press conference at the Greater Boston YMCA.

“There are no victory laps from COVID… It’s not going to take the summer off,” he said, urging people to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing and hygiene….

The governor said key metrics in the state’s efforts to contain the virus were continuing to trend downward. The state on Tuesday reported no new coronavirus deaths, the first time that’s happened in months.

“The continued fight against the virus depends almost completely and exclusively on all of us maintaining our vigilance and continuing to do the things that have made such a big difference in Massachusetts.”

Yesterday, the U.S. exceeded 50,000 new cases of Covid-19 for the first time. The Washington Post:

The United States reported 52,789 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the largest single-day total since the start of the pandemic. President Trump speculated in a Fox Business interview that the virus was “going to sort of just disappear” at some point.

Experts say that is unlikely, unless an overwhelming majority of people are infected and develop immunity, which could lead to millions of deaths, or through the successful development and deployment of a vaccine. There is a chance the coronavirus will never go away, some experts have warned.

Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, attributed rising case numbers in the United States at least partially to the fact lockdown measures were more lenient than those in some European countries that have since managed to turn the tide on the virus.

More than 800,000 new coronavirus cases were detected in the United States in June. At least 125,602 deaths have been reported since the start of the pandemic.

CNBC reports on an alarming study of coronavirus deaths from Yale researchers: Official U.S. coronavirus death toll is ‘a substantial undercount’ of actual tally, Yale study finds.

The number of confirmed U.S. deaths due to the coronavirus is substantially lower than the true tally, according to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Using National Center for Health Statistics data, researchers at Yale University compared the number of excess U.S. deaths from any causes with the reported number of weekly U.S. Covid-19 deaths from March 1 through May 30. The numbers were then compared with deaths from the same period in previous years.

Researchers found that the excess number of deaths over normal levels also exceeded those attributed to Covid-19, leading them to conclude that many of those fatalities were likely caused by the coronavirus but not confirmed. State reporting discrepancies and a sharp increase in U.S. deaths amid a pandemic suggest the number of Covid-19 fatalities is undercounted, they said.

“Our analyses suggest that the official tally of deaths due to Covid-19 represent a substantial undercount of the true burden,” Dan Weinberger, an epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health and a lead author of the study, told CNBC. Weinberger said other factors could contribute to the increase in deaths, such as people avoiding emergency treatment for things like heart attacks. However, he doesn’t think that is the main driver….

The 781,000 total deaths in the United States in the three months through May 30 were about 122,300, or nearly 19% higher, than what would normally be expected, according to the researchers. Of the 122,300 excess deaths, 95,235 were attributed to Covid-19, they said. Most of the rest of the excess deaths, researchers said, were likely related to or directly caused by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Trump claimed yesterday that the virus will magically disappear. CNN: Trump’s aides debate a new virus approach as President claims it will ‘disappear.’

A divide has emerged inside President Donald Trump’s inner circle over whether he should turn his attention back to the coronavirus pandemic or continue to focus on reopening the economy, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

As cases surge in dozens of states, Trump has remained mostly silent on the matter, focusing instead on protecting statues and stoking racial and cultural divisions. While others in his administration — including Vice President Mike Pence — make appeals for Americans to continue socially distancing and wear masks, Trump again suggested Wednesday the virus would “disappear.”
That has led to concerns, even among some of his own aides, that Trump appears disengaged from a deadly crisis that continues to grip the nation.

Gee, no kidding.

Several of Trump’s top aides, including chief of staff Mark Meadows and son-in-law Jared Kushner, have begun to worry about the President’s chances to win reelection, advisers familiar with the matter said — fears borne out by a steady stream of public polls showing Trump trailing his election rival, Joe Biden, by double digits. Both Meadows and Kushner have urged a focus on the economy over the public health emergency.

Some of Trump’s political advisers believe he has suffered grave political damage due to the pandemic, which has caused widespread economic hurt and death. Even as Trump and others in the White House project optimism that the economy will surge closer to the election, Trump’s handling of the pandemic has drawn rebukes — particularly as cases begin to spike.

“There is a fair amount of concern,” one adviser said, describing the President as “frustrated” by recent polling indicating Biden could win the November election by a wide margin.

Trump couldn’t possibly care less about the pandemic, about Russia paying to kill American troops or about actually doing the job of POTUS. All he seems to care about is being cheered at rallies, protecting statues of racists, and playing golf. Windsor Mann at The Bulwark: Donald Trump Is All Done Caring. An excerpt:

Trump is not interested in the actual job of the presidency. He’s interested in the attention the presidency affords him.

After his election, he discovered that running for president was easier and more fun than being president. Which is why he continued to hold campaign rallies even after he was elected. He wasn’t campaigning for anything. He just liked hearing crowds screaming his name. Unlike most politicians, who campaign in order to govern, Trump campaigns as a way to avoid governing.

By the same token, his politics are an extension of his ego—which is why, at his rallies, he tells the crowds how big his crowds are and not what his policies are. Trump says he’ll hold rallies after he wins the 2020 election, too—even though he will be ineligible to run for the presidency again.

Instead of holding rallies for the purpose of getting elected, Trump wants to get elected so he can keep having rallies….

Twitter performs for Trump the same function as his rallies. Because he’s the president, he can tweet something mean, false, and/or nonsensical and, instead of cheers, get instantaneous likes and retweets—validation in milliseconds. After tweeting “CHINA!” in May, he got 236,000 retweets and 797,000 likes. Tweeting while you watch Fox & Friends, it turns out, is even more gratifying than shouting at the TV. When you tweet, the whole world listens to you, and some people even applaud….

The problem for Trump is that his presidency has no point. It is as devoid of purpose as his days are of work. He doesn’t want to make America great. He wants America to make him feel great.

Still, the bad news keeps coming for Trump. Every time he claims that the Russian bounty story is a “hoax,” someone in the intel community leaks more details. Now we have the name of a guy who received payments. The latest from The New York Times: Afghan Contractor Handed Out Russian Cash to Kill Americans, Officials Say.

KABUL, Afghanistan — He was a lowly drug smuggler, neighbors and relatives say, then ventured into contracting, seeking a slice of the billions of dollars the U.S.-led coalition was funneling into construction projects in Afghanistan.

But he really began to show off his wealth in recent years, after establishing a base in Russia, though how he earned those riches remained mysterious. On his regular trips home to northern Afghanistan, he drove the latest model cars, protected by bodyguards, and his house was recently upgraded to a four-story villa.

Now Rahmatullah Azizi stands as a central piece of a puzzle rocking Washington, named in American intelligence reports and confirmed by Afghan officials as a key middleman who for years handed out money from a Russian military intelligence unit to reward Taliban-linked fighters for targeting American troops in Afghanistan, according to American and Afghan officials.

As security agencies connected the dots of the bounty scheme and narrowed in on him, they carried out sweeping raids to arrest dozens of his relatives and associates about six months ago, but discovered that Mr. Azizi had sneaked out of Afghanistan and was likely back in Russia. What they did find in one of his homes, in Kabul, was about half a million dollars in cash.

Click the link to read the rest.

More bad news for Trump:

NBC New York: Jeffrey Epstein Confidante Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested, Sources Say.

The Washington Post: New York court sides with publisher of explosive book by President Trump’s niece.

The New York Times: Biden Outraises Trump for Second Straight Month, With $141 Million June Haul.

Stanley Greenberg at The Atlantic: Believe the Polls This Time. These aren’t Hillary Clinton’s numbers. Biden has a wide lead because the landscape has changed.

I hope all you Sky Dancers have a great Independence Day weekend. Please stay safe!


Lazy Caturday Reads: News Potpourri

Jones, Leslie, 1886-1967 (photographer) Date created 1938, Boston Public Library

Good Morning!!

I could hardly bring myself to read news this morning, but I forced myself to see what stories are out there. My offerings:

The biggest one is about Trump ignoring reports of Russians trying to kill American troops in Afghanistan.

The New York Times: Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says.

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

An operation to incentivize the killing of American and other NATO troops would be a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban, and it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops.

Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.

Read more about this at The Washington Post: Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds.

I wonder if GOP senators are going to do anything about this, or will they think it’s just fine for Trump to keep being pals with Putin no matter what he does?

The New York Times has another big story on how the coronavirus pandemic sneaked up on us: How the World Missed Covid-19’s Silent Spread.

Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Girl with her kitten, mid-1800s

Scientists at the time believed that only people with symptoms could spread the coronavirus. They assumed it acted like its genetic cousin, SARS.

“People who know much more about coronaviruses than I do were absolutely sure,” recalled Dr. Rothe, an infectious disease specialist at Munich University Hospital.

But if the experts were wrong, if the virus could spread from seemingly healthy carriers or people who had not yet developed symptoms, the ramifications were potentially catastrophic. Public-awareness campaigns, airport screening and stay-home-if-you’re sick policies might not stop it. More aggressive measures might be required — ordering healthy people to wear masks, for instance, or restricting international travel.

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars. A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading.

Read the rest at the NYT.

More interesting Covid-19 articles:

The New York Times: New Numbers Showing Coronavirus Spread Intrude on a White House in Denial.

Bloomberg Opinion: A Horrifying U.S. Covid Curve Has a Simple Explanation.

Bloomberg Law: Virus Fatality Picture Is Obscured by Ultimate Lagging Indicator.

The Daily Beast: Here’s What It Looks Like When People Don’t Wear Masks.

CNBC: This chart shows the link between restaurant spending and new cases of coronavirus.

CNN Politics: Measures to protect Trump from coronavirus scale up even as he seeks to move on.

AP: Reporter at Trump’s Tulsa rally tests positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, as the virus rages through the South and West, Trump is trying to finally kill Obamacare. The Washington Post: Trump administration’s move to end Obamacare amid pandemic reignites political fight.

The Trump administration touched off another politically charged battle over the future of Obamacare with its latest maneuver to dismantle the law amid a pandemic — a move that Democrats immediately weaponized for competitive campaigns this fall and few Republicans defended.

The 82-page brief filed late Thursday to the Supreme Court in a high-profile case brought by GOP state attorneys general undercuts President Trump’s repeated pledges to ensure coverage for people with preexisting conditions as his administration and the broader Republican Party seek to wipe away that protection.

Trump vowed as recently as last weekend, at a campaign rally in Tulsa, that he would “always protect patients with preexisting conditions, always, always.” But his own administration’s position in court is that the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, and therefore so is the entire law — even its most popular provisions, such as coverage for those with preexisting conditions….

Republican officials and strategists working on competitive campaigns were privately aghast Friday at the administration’s decision to reignite the issue, particularly as health care is at the forefront of voters’ minds because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The ties between the pandemic and access to Obamacare were underscored this week with a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which found that 487,000 Americans used a special enrollment period for the health care law after losing their own coverage, probably due to job losses.

Trump wants to throw protesters in jail if they try to take down Confederate monuments. Politico: Trump issues executive order warning cities, protesters over destruction of monuments.

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the Justice Department to prioritize prosecution of protesters who damage federal monuments and limit federal funding for local governments that are perceived to not be adequately protecting those monuments.

The executive order also emphasized strict sentencing, with a maximum of 10 years in prison, for those found guilty of such acts, a key plank of Trump’s law and order strategy the president has repeatedly tweeted and talked about in recent weeks.

Trump’s order comes as protests across the country against systemic racism and police brutality have resulted in the toppling of monuments to Confederate leaders, slave owners and European colonists.

The order characterizes protesters as actively seeking to undermine the integrity of the United States government — referring to them as “Anarchists and left-wing extremists” — and comes a day after Trump labeled demonstrators as “terrorists” who will face “retribution.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said yesterday that Roger Stone won’t get a 2-month delay before heading to jail. The Washington Post: Roger Stone ordered to report to prison July 14, as judge denies request for two-month delay.

A federal judge has ordered Roger Stone to report to prison July 14, granting him a two-week delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, but not the two months that President Trump’s confidant had requested with prosecutors’ assent.

Stone, 67, had been due to surrender June 30 to a federal prison in Jesup, Ga., while he appeals his November conviction on charges of lying and witness tampering in a congressional investigation.

In an order and sealed opinion late Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted a two-week delay. Prosecutors had not opposed Stone’s request for a delay until Sept. 3, saying the Justice Department’s policy during the pandemic has been to grant up to a 60-day extension upon defendants’ request “without respect to age, health, or other COVID-19 risk factors.”

More stories to check out, links only:

The Washington Post: Barr forms task force to counter ‘anti-government extremists’

CNN: In Texas, questions grow about a lesser-known US Attorney ousted by Attorney General Barr.

Vox: “It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible.

Above the Law: Bill Barr Has Thoughts On ‘Blacks’

The New York Times: U.S. Must Release Children From Family Detention Centers, Judge Rules.

Los Angeles Times: Working-class white women are turning on Trump.

The New York Times: How Trump and the Black Lives Matter Movement Changed White Voters’ Minds.

Harry Enten at CNN: Candidates who recover from Trump-like deficits are rarely incumbents.

NBC News: Facebook just lost one of the biggest advertisers in the world for the rest of 2020.

Take care of yourselves and have a nice weekend everyone!