Lazy Caturday Reads: Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.

Stressed out cat

Good Afternoon!!

The images in today’s post are from Art Pro Cats at Tumblr.com.

I know I shouldn’t be distracted by Trump’s insistent bragging about his cognitive ability, but I just can’t help it. Humor is one of the only ways I can stay sane these days. In my last post, which I mistakenly titled “Tuesday Reads,” I posted a video of Trump describing how well he did on the “test” (it’s not really a test). I don’t know if you watched it, but it’s truly bizarre how messed up this man is and how hard the Fox News interviewer works to hide his incredulity. Here’s Sarah Cooper’s take on it:

Yes, this is a distraction from Trump’s attempt to install an authoritarian dictatorship in the U.S., and his failure to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic, but I think I’m still “cognitively there” enough to both question his mental health and keep up with his authoritarian activities and his bumbling on the virus response. And shouldn’t journalists also be dealing with all of these issues? Susan Glasser at The New Yorker:

The fact that Trump is so manifestly, obviously unfit for office may be one of the most striking aspects of his Presidency, but it is one of the hardest things for journalists to write about—or would be, except that he himself keeps bringing it up. That Trump even took the cognitive test suggests that he, or his doctor, was concerned about his mental decline, as the neurologist who created it, Dr. Ziad Nasreddine, told the Washington Post this week. It’s hard to imagine a candidate in full command of his faculties who would make a point of publicly inviting comment on his mental capacity to do the job. Trump, meanwhile, is doing so in the midst of a campaign that he is already losing, at a time when polls show that a majority of voters do not think he has the “mental sharpness” to be President, as a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey put it. (It is notable in and of itself that the pollsters are even asking this question, which is hardly a routine query. Can you imagine a survey asking voters this question about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? Or Bill Clinton or Al Gore or the George Bushes?)

Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, is out with a best-selling new book, which claims that, in addition to whatever age-related impairment he may be suffering from, the President has an undiagnosed learning disability that hampers his processing and absorption of information—another elephant in the room that is impossible to ignore when Trump visibly struggles to read written remarks, as he did several times this week. “I don’t think he’s fit for office,” Trump’s former national-security adviser, John Bolton, said while on book tour last month. “I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job.”

Beyond these ever-harder-to-ignore questions about Trump’s basic fitness to handle the complexities of the Presidency, there is an entire public debate over his mental health. A preening narcissist in the best of times, Trump’s lifelong self-absorption, lack of empathy, chronic untruthfulness, and apparent inability to distinguish right from wrong have led hundreds of psychiatrists to break with their profession’s rule against diagnosis without examination and call Trump mentally ill.

More about Trump’s obsession with proving he’s not cognitively impaired from Jonathan Lemire at the Associated Press: Cognitive Test. Trump. Biden. Campaign. Flashpoint.

It doesn’t quite have the ring of “Morning in America” and “I Like Ike.”

But the phrase “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.” is getting an unlikely moment in the spotlight as President Donald Trump has taken a detour into the politics of dementia three months before the election.

Trump, 74, attempted to demonstrate his mental fitness by reciting five words — in order, importantly — over and over in a television interview broadcast Wednesday night. The president said that collection of nouns, or ones like them, was part of a cognitive test he had aced while declaring that his likely Democratic opponent, 77-year-old Joe Biden, could not do the same.

Lemire talked to an expert about the test that Trump supposedly “aced.”:

Painting by David Martiashvili

The MoCa “is a screening test,” Galvin said. “It’s not a diagnostic test. And more importantly, it’s not an IQ test. It doesn’t tell how smart someone is. It’s designed to be a relatively easy test because what you want to do is pick up people who have problems or possible problems.”

The last questions are not the hardest for most people, and they are usually naming the day of the week, date, month, year and where the person being tested is, Galvin said. The test does not get harder as it goes along but measures different parts of cognition, like memory, attention, spatial awareness and language. Additionally, the words the president cited would not be grouped together because they are all in some way related to one another, he said.

And the real concern would be if a subject did not do well on the test.

“I think he’s thinking of it like some sort of IQ test or SAT test, something along those lines. But it’s not anything like that. It’s just basic,” said Dr. Raymond Turner, professor of neurology and director of Georgetown University’s Memory Disorders Program. “It’s kind of a low bar to jump over. It’s not necessarily something to brag about unless you are worried about decline or something.”

I don’t know about you, but I think having a “president” who acts like a confused child is a serious issue and I’m glad journalists are finally writing about it. Anyway, on to other news.

Here’s the latest on the pandemic from Reuters: U.S. records 2,600 new coronavirus cases every hour as total surpasses 4 million.

U.S. coronavirus cases topped 4 million on Thursday, with over 2,600 new cases every hour on average, the highest rate in the world, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections in the United States have rapidly accelerated since the first case was detected on Jan. 21. It took the country 98 days to reach 1 million cases. It took another 43 days to reach 2 million and then 27 days to reach 3 million. It has only taken 16 days to reach 4 million at a rate of 43 new cases a minute….

Of the 20 countries with the biggest outbreak, the United States ranks second for cases per capita, at 120 infections per 10,000 people, only exceeded by Chile.

With over 143,000 deaths, or 4.4 fatalities per 10,000 people, the United States ranks sixth globally for the highest deaths per capita. It is exceeded by the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Chile and France.

Globally, the rate of new infections shows no sign of slowing, with the disease accelerating the fastest in the United States and South America, according to the Reuters tally, based on official reports.

It’s breathtaking, and Trump is responsible for all this sickness and death. It didn’t have to be this way.

Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer on the backs of sick and dying Americans. The New York Times: Corporate Insiders Pocket $1 Billion in Rush for Coronavirus Vaccine.

On June 26, a small South San Francisco company called Vaxart made a surprise announcement: A coronavirus vaccine it was working on had been selected by the U.S. government to be part of Operation Warp Speed, the flagship federal initiative to quickly develop drugs to combat Covid-19.

Vaxart’s shares soared. Company insiders, who weeks earlier had received stock options worth a few million dollars, saw the value of those awards increase sixfold. And a hedge fund that partly controlled the company walked away with more than $200 million in instant profits.

The race is on to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and some companies and investors are betting that the winners stand to earn vast profits from selling hundreds of millions — or even billions — of doses to a desperate public.

“Hello” Acrylic painting on Canvas by Victoria Coleman

Across the pharmaceutical and medical industries, senior executives and board members are capitalizing on that dynamic.

They are making millions of dollars after announcing positive developments, including support from the government, in their efforts to fight Covid-19. After such announcements, insiders from at least 11 companies — most of them smaller firms whose fortunes often hinge on the success or failure of a single drug — have sold shares worth well over $1 billion since March, according to figures compiled for The New York Times by Equilar, a data provider.

In some cases, company insiders are profiting from regularly scheduled compensation or automatic stock trades. But in other situations, senior officials appear to be pouncing on opportunities to cash out while their stock prices are sky high. And some companies have awarded stock options to executives shortly before market-moving announcements about their vaccine progress.

Read more at the NYT link.

The battle between Federal agents and protesters continues in Portland. The New York Times: Federal Agents Push Into Portland Streets, Stretching Limits of Their Authority.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After flooding the streets around the federal courthouse in Portland with tear gas during Friday’s early morning hours, dozens of federal officers in camouflage and tactical gear stood in formation around the front of the building.

Then, as one protester blared a soundtrack of “The Imperial March,” the officers started advancing. Through the acrid haze, they continued to fire flash grenades and welt-inducing marble-size balls filled with caustic chemicals. They moved down Main Street and continued up the hill, where one of the agents announced over a loudspeaker: “This is an unlawful assembly.”

By the time the security forces halted their advance, the federal courthouse they had been sent to protect was out of sight — two blocks behind them.

The aggressive incursion of federal officers into Portland has been stretching the legal limits of federal law enforcement, as agents with batons and riot gear range deep into the streets of a city whose leadership has made it clear they are not welcome.

“I think it’s absolutely improper,” Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, said in an interview on Friday. “It’s absolutely beyond their authority.”

The state lost its bid on Friday for a restraining order against four federal agencies on the grounds that the state attorney general lacked standing, but several other challenges are still making their way through the courts.

I’ll end with this sobering piece from opinion columnist Roger Cohen at The New York Times: American Catastrophe Through German Eyes.

PARIS — No people has found the American lurch toward authoritarianism under President Trump more alarming than the Germans. For postwar Germany, the United States was savior, protector and liberal democratic model. Now, Germans, in shock, speak of the “American catastrophe.”

A recent cover of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel portrays Trump in the Oval Office holding a lighted match, with a country ablaze visible through his window. The headline: “Der Feuerteufel,” or, literally, “the Fire Devil.”

Germans have a particular relationship to fire. The Reichstag fire of 1933 enabled Hitler and the Nazis to scrap the fragile Weimar democracy that had brought them to power. Hitler’s murderous fantasies could now become reality. War, Auschwitz and the German catastrophe followed….

Michael Steinberg, a professor of history at Brown University and the former president of the American Academy in Berlin, wrote to me this week:

“The American catastrophe seems to get worse every day, but the events in Portland have particularly alarmed me as a kind of strategic experiment for fascism. The playbook from the German fall of democracy in 1933 seems well in place, including rogue military factions, the destabilization of cities, etc.”

Steinberg continued, “The basic comparison involves racism as a political strategy: a racist imaginary of a pure homeland, with cities demonized as places of decadence.”

Trump provokes outrage in a cascade designed to blunt alarm. He deadens reactions through volume and repetition. But something about the recent use of unmarked cars and camouflage-clad federal agents without clear identifying insignia detaining protesters shattered any inclination to shrug.

From the deployment of those federal units in Portland, Oregon’s largest city, where protesters have been demanding racial justice and police accountability, it’s not a huge leap to the use of paramilitaries (like the German Freikorps in the 1920s) to buttress a “Law and Order” campaign. The Freikorps battled communists. Today, Trump claims to battle “anarchists,” “terrorists” and violent leftists. It’s the leitmotif of his quest for a second term.

Take care of yourselves Sky Dancers, and enjoy the weekend as best you can.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

NOTE: Today’s illustrations are from the Baroque Bohemian Cats Tarot Deck.

Have you heard the news?

Trump “aced” a cognitive “test” that is typically given to people who may have dementia or other cognitive deficits. He is very proud of his performance and claims the doctors couldn’t believe how well he did.

Maggie Haberman at The New York Times: Trump Says He ‘Aced’ Cognitive Test, but White House Won’t Release Details.

President Trump on Thursday volunteered to Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, that he “very recently” took a test at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center measuring his mental acuity and “aced” it, but the White House would not say when he took it or why.

Mr. Trump boasted that his success on the test surprised his doctors as he continued his attempt to make a campaign issue of whether his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was mentally fit.

“I actually took one when I — very recently, when I — when I was — the radical left were saying, is he all there? Is he all there? And I proved I was all there, because I got — I aced it. I aced the test,” Mr. Trump, 74, said in his interview with Mr. Hannity.

He went on to say that Mr. Biden should also take the test.

“And he should take the same exact test, a very standard test. I took it at Walter Reed Medical Center in front of doctors,” Mr. Trump said. “And they were very surprised. They said, that’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anybody do what you just did. But he should take that same test.”

Mr. Trump described taking the test after Mr. Hannity mentioned that Mr. Biden had said he had taken several cognitive tests. The president insisted that Mr. Biden must have meant tests he took for the coronavirus and that his rival “couldn’t pass” a cognitive test.

What kind of “test” did Trump take? Mediaite: What’s on the Cognitive Test That Trump Brags He ‘Aced?’ Drawing a Cube, Correctly Identifying a Camel, and More!

[T]he Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA), the test that Trump first took as president in 2018 according to then-White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson.

At a now-infamous press conference, Dr. Jackson told reporters that Trump had scored a “30 over 30” on the MOCA, and that the test was not “clinically indicated,” but Trump insisted on taking it.

The test is used to screen for mild cognitive issues, and consists of 8 sections with a total of 12 tasks, successful completion of which are awarded points. Those tasks are:

— Connecting lettered and numbered dots in order– Drawing a cube

— Drawing a clock (These tasks are worth up to five points)

— Correctly identifying pictures of a lion, a rhinoceros, and a camel (up to 3 points)

— Recalling a list of five words (no points)

— Reading a list of numbers (2 points)

— Reading a list of letters (1 point)

— Counting backwards from 100 by sevens (3 points)

— Repeating the phrases “I only know that John is the one to help today” and “The cat always
hid under the couch when dogs were in the room. (2 points)

— Explaining the similarities between objects like “train – bicycle” and “watch – ruler”
(2 points)

— Recalling the five words from earlier in the test, in any order (5 points)

— Knowing where you are, and what the date, time, and day of the week are. (6 points!)

According to Dr. Jackson, Trump is the first president to take the MOCA test, which means there’s no way of knowing whether President Barack Obama could play connect-the-dots or recognize a camel. But according to Trump, he’s done it at least twice now.

Sample page:

One more bit of humiliating news for Trump from NBC News:

Concern over turnout was factor in postponing Trump rally, GOP advisers say.

Well before the call was made to postpone President Donald Trump’s Saturday re-election rally in New Hampshire, the warning lights were flashing red.

There were no signs of the typical throngs of supporters camped out days in advance for a good spot; the Republican governor said he would skip it, advising anyone at high risk to stay home over coronavirus concerns; fears of a repeat of Tulsa’s disappointing turnout weighed heavily; and then came the stormy weather reports, which could have further stifled attendance.

By the time the campaign announced that the Portsmouth event was off, citing “safety concerns” over a tropical storm barreling toward the Northeast on Friday afternoon, people close to the campaign said fears over low turnout also motivated the decision to scrap the event.

The coastal town is not currently expected to be hit directly by the storm, but the decision to reschedule over bad weather is a “convenient excuse” for the Trump 2020 team, one outside adviser told NBC News.

Unfortunately there actually is some serious news and comment to check out today.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence is an unforgivable betrayal of his office.

THERE ARE no doubt thousands of people in federal prison who deserved a presidential commutation more than Roger Stone. But after President Trump’s intervention on Friday, Mr. Stone will serve none of his prison sentence. The president may have had the power to help his longtime friend. But that does not make it any less a perversion of justice — indeed, it is one of the most nauseating instances of corrupt government favoritism the United States has ever seen.

There is no doubt about Mr. Stone’s guilt. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he tried to play intermediary between WikiLeaks, which had become a front for the Kremlin, and the Trump campaign, which reaped the benefits of WikiLeaks’s publication of stolen Democratic emails. A jury concluded that Mr. Stone obstructed Congress, lied to investigators and tampered with a witness in the investigations that followed the 2016 race — “covering up for the president,” as the judge in his case noted.

Though Attorney General William P. Barr moved to reduce Mr. Stone’s sentencing recommendation after conviction, even he called the case against Mr. Stone a “righteous” prosecution. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison and was due to surrender on Tuesday — thus prompting Mr. Trump’s Friday night action.

As Mr. Trump discussed granting clemency to his criminal friend, Mr. Barr publicly defended the sentence, perhaps to prevent a mutiny among Justice Department staff who signed up because they believe in the rule of law, not the arbitrary rule of an unusually petty man in the White House.

Now, the department’s career investigators and prosecutors must absorb yet another insult to their profession from political leaders who abuse their trust. We can only sympathize with their impossible position.

The Washington Post: Coronavirus update: U.S. death toll rises as new infections reach record levels.

The daily coronavirus death toll in the United States increased this week after months of decline, as new infections soared to record levels and hospitals in the South and West faced a crush of patients.

More than 4,200 deaths were reported nationally in the past seven days, and experts warn that the trend could continue to get worse. Texas, Arizona and South Carolina have all seen their death toll rise by more than 100 percent in the past four weeks. Four more states — Mississippi, Tennessee, California and Louisiana — have seen at least a 20 percent jump in that time span.

Here are some significant developments:

The United States reported its largest single-day caseload increase — more than 67,000 new infections — on Friday.

More than 131,000 people have died of coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic began, and at more than 3.1 million confirmed cases have been reported.

Republican governors who have opposed or even blocked orders mandating mask-wearing are watching from the sidelines as local officials impose strict measures to contain the spread.

More details at the link.

In Texas, Gov. Abbot is finally coming around to taking the virus seriously, not that it’s too late. The Texas Tribune: Gov. Greg Abbott warns if spread of COVID-19 doesn’t slow, “the next step would have to be a lockdown”

With Texas continuing to break records for new coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations this week, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated Friday afternoon that things will continue to get worse. And if people keep flouting his new statewide mask mandate, he said, the next step could be another economic lockdown.

“Things will get worse, and let me explain why,” he told KLBK TV in Lubbock. “The deaths that we’re seeing announced today and yesterday — which are now over 100 — those are people who likely contracted COVID-19 in late May.

“The worst is yet to come as we work our way through that massive increase in people testing positive.”

Texans will also likely see an increase in cases next week, Abbott said, and people abiding by his face mask requirement might be the only thing standing between businesses remaining open and another shutdown.

“The public needs to understand this was a very tough decision for me to make,” Abbott told KLBK of his face mask mandate. “I made clear that I made this tough decision for one reason: It was our last best effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. If we do not slow the spread of COVID-19 … the next step would have to be a lockdown.”

Trump won’t like what Angela Merkel had to say about the pandemic. CNN: ‘You cannot fight the pandemic with lies’ — Angela Merkel knows how to insert a dagger.

Angela Merkel may not scream down the phone at President Donald Trump — but she knows how to insert a dagger.

Trump, as well as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, must have felt his ears burning when the German Chancellor demolished their approaches to the coronavirus in a speech Thursday. “As we are experiencing firsthand, you cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation any more than you can fight it with hate or incitement to hatred,” Merkel said. “The limits of populism and denial of basic truths are being laid bare.”

Merkel and Trump were destined to clash. A former scientist, she is cool, cautious, self-contained, fact-oriented and quiet despite her toughness. Trump is … none of those things. Late in 2016, the outgoing US President, who Merkel sometimes referred to as “Liebe (dear) Barack,” flew to Berlin on a mission — to convince her to run for another term. Once Trump was in the Oval Office, Obama reasoned, Merkel would need to lead the liberal international order.

One more from investigative journalist and novelist Jonathan Greenberg at The Washington Post: Twelve signs Trump would try to run a fascist dictatorship in a second term.

I first reported on Trump in 1982, when he conned me into putting him on the Forbes 400 rich list. That Trump was just a younger version of this Trump, and now I worry that what happened in June was a mere prelude; he’s certainly capable of a far worse Reichstag-fire-like event that would allow him to steal the 2020 election. And if he does win a second term, legitimately or not, his words and actions of the past four years provide 12 indicators that he would seek to replace our democracy with a fascist dictatorship.

Here are the twelve signs–head over to the WaPo to read more details.

1. Trump uses military power and federal law enforcement to suppress peaceful political protest.

2. Trump persistently lies about voter fraud, setting the stage for him to use emergency powers to seize control of the election or challenge the results if he loses.

3. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he might remain in office after a second term and has offered reason to doubt he’d leave peacefully after this first term.

4. Trump appears to believe he has the power to outlaw speech critical of him, and he calls the free press “the enemy of the people.”

5. With Fox News promoting Trump’s lies as truth, the president controls one of the most powerful propaganda machines ever created.

6. Trump believes that he has the power to do what he wants, regardless of Congress or the courts.

7. Trump acts as if he owns our government and can fire any official who defends the law.

8. Trump uses federal prosecutorial powers to investigate his opponents and anyone who dares scrutinize him or his allies for the many crimes they may have committed.

9. Trump viciously attacks his critics and has publicly implied that the Ukraine whistleblower should be hanged for treason.

10. Trump has messianic delusions that are supported with religious fervor by millions of his supporters.

11. Trump subscribes to a doctrine of genetic superiority and incites racial hatred to scapegoat immigrants and gain power.

12. Trump finds common ground with the world’s most ruthless dictators while denigrating America’s democratic allies.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! What stories have you been following?