Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

We seem to have lost many of our regular commenters. I hope it wasn’t something I said or did. Maybe, like me, you’re just exhausted and burned out by the awful things that are happening in our country. I just want to say that I miss you all and hope to see you again soon.

I can’t stop doing my posts. It has become a habit and a way for me to sort through the daily shocking events in Trump world.  Will we ever recover from his destructive attacks on the Constitution and on democracy itself? I really don’t know.

Today is the day of Trump’s super-spreader rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His deplorable supporters will travel from other states, stand or sit close together, and shout at the top of their lungs; and if they are infected, they’ll spread the virus to other people near them. And then the rallyers will travel back to their homes and spread the virus there. Trump is actively working to kill Americans.

Jonathan Swan at Axios: Trump: Expect “wild evening” in Tulsa, mask optional.

President Trump defended his decision to move ahead with a controversial large-scale Tulsa rally this weekend amid the pandemic, saying in an interview Friday with Axios that “we have to get back to living our lives” and “we’re going to have a wild evening tomorrow night at Oklahoma.”

Pressed on why he wasn’t using his presidential bully pulpitto encourage rally attendees to wear masks, Trump described masks as “a double-edged sword.” When asked if he recommended people wear them, he added: “I recommend people do what they want.”

Why it matters: Ahead of the rally expected to draw tens of thousands of supporters and protesters, the president’s comments underscore his skepticism of the effectiveness of strict enforcement of masks and social distancing to combat the virus that has killed more than 118,000 Americans and devastated the U.S. economy.

And his advice flies in the face of warnings from Trump’s own government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Later in the interview, talking about China’s renewed trouble with coronavirus, Trump said: “It’s hard to stop it. It’s the most contagious virus anyone’s ever seen. I could look at you, and all of a sudden you have the virus. Or vice versa.”

Trump doubled down on his tweeted threat against protesters.

The president stood by his tweet earlier Friday suggesting protesters in Tulsa should prepare to face physical force from Oklahoma law enforcement, saying, “That’s got to be the least controversial of my tweets.”

“Oklahoma’s much tougher on law and order” than some parts of the country, he said, and insisted that protests are packed with anarchists, agitators and looters. “They’re all together.”

He relished the lifting of a health and safety curfew in Tulsa for his supporters and said he has no intention of wearing a mask at the rally and that people should do what they want.

“I don’t feel that I’m in danger,” he said. “I’ve met a lot, a lot of people, and so far here I sit.” (Everyone who meets with Trump, including this reporter, is tested beforehand.)

That’s right. Around 9:30 last night, Barr tried to fire U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York. The New York Times: Barr Tries to Fire U.S. Attorney in Trump-Related Cases, but He Won’t Go.

Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday night abruptly tried to fire the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, who has investigated several of President Trump’s closest associates, but Mr. Berman said he would not leave.

The clash focused new attention on the efforts by Mr. Trump and his closest aides to rid the administration of officials whom the president views as insufficiently loyal. It also touched off a crisis within the Justice Department over one of its most prestigious jobs, at a time when the agency has already been roiled by questions over whether Mr. Barr has undercut its tradition of independence from political interference.

Mr. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, and his team have been at the forefront of corruption inquiries in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. They successfully prosecuted the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who went to prison, and have been investigating Mr. Trump’s current personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position,” Mr. Berman said in a statement, adding that he had learned that he was “stepping down” from a Justice Department news release.

Meanwhile, the virus is continuing to spread, especially in Trump-supporting states. NPR: Coronavirus Spread Hits 1-Day High, World Health Organization Says.

The coronavirus pandemic reached a new one-day high Thursday with 150,000 new confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Almost half of those cases were reported in the Americas, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.

“The world is in a new and dangerous phase,” Tedros said. “Many people are understandably fed up with being at home. Countries are understandably eager to open up their societies and economies, but the virus is still spreading fast. It is still deadly, and most people are still susceptible.”

Tedros urged countries and organizations to continue to focus on the basics of prevention, including proper sanitation and social distancing. He also pointed to an increased concern about the spread of the coronavirus in refugee communities across the world as well as refugees’ precarious economic situations.

Trump just managed to destroy another U.S. institution–Voice of America. The Washington Post: How Trump’s obsessions with media and loyalty coalesced in a battle for Voice of America.

On Monday, President Trump’s long-deferred pick to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media finally started work after a bruising, two-year Senate confirmation battle.

By the end of Wednesday, Michael Pack had achieved a clean sweep of the top offices of every division he oversees — including venerable news outlets like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

The swift purge of former appointees has increased the worry among Democrats and press freedom advocates that the Trump administration is attempting to gain control over an independent but federally funded media organization with among the largest audiences in the world. On its own, the Voice of America delivers television and radio programs to 236.6 million people — and in some countries dominated by state media, it is the only free and unshackled news source.

“USAGM’s role as an unbiased news organization is in jeopardy,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday in a statement. Pack, he added, “needs to understand that USAGM is not the Ministry of Information.”

Yet the machinations of recent weeks also epitomize Trump’s knack for turning a relatively obscure issue or backwater agency into fodder for a culture war — with little more than a tweet.

The president first nominated Pack, who is in his mid-60s, for the USAGM job in 2018. Pack is revered in Republican circles as something of a unicorn — a documentary filmmaker with solid conservative credentials (he served as president of the Claremont Institute, a prominent think tank) who could also make PBS-quality work. His projects have included “God and the Inner City,” about three faith-based organizations; a film on the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress; and an appreciative documentary about the life of Clarence Thomas, featuring extensive interviews with the Supreme Court justice.

More of the redacted sections of the Mueller report have become available. Two takeaways:

Buzzfeed News: Roger Stone Told Trump In Advance WikiLeaks Would Release Documents Harmful To Clinton Campaign, Aides Claimed.

Donald Trump was told in advance that Wikileaks would be releasing documents embarrassing to the Clinton campaign and subsequently informed advisors that he expected more releases would be coming, according to newly unredacted portions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

In July 2016, political consultant Roger Stone told Trump as well as several campaign advisors that he had spoken with Julian Assange and that WikiLeaks would be publishing the documents in a matter of days. Stone told the then-candidate via speakerphone that he “did not know what the content of the materials was,” according to the newly unveiled portions of the report, and Trump responded “oh good, alright” upon hearing the news. WikiLeaks published a trove of some 20,000 emails Russians hacked from the Democratic National Committee on July 22 of that year.

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told federal investigators that he overheard the phone call between Stone and Trump. Agents were also told by former campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates that Stone had spoken several times in early June of something “big” coming from WikiLeaks. Assange first mentioned having emails related to Clinton on June 12.

The new revelations are the strongest indication to date that Trump and his closest advisors were aware of outside efforts to hurt Clinton’s electoral chances, and that Stone played a direct role in communicating that situation to the Trump campaign. Trump has publicly denied being aware of any information being relayed between WikiLeaks and his advisors.

CNN: Mueller raised possibility Trump lied to him, newly unsealed report reveals.

Special counsel Robert Mueller examined whether President Donald Trump lied to him in written answers during the Russia investigation, a possibility House Democrats have said they continue to look into even after Trump’s impeachment….

A key part of the re-released report Friday highlights how Trump didn’t disclose to Mueller the extent of his conversations with Stone.
Trump was careful to work with his lawyers on any responses he gave to the special counsel. The President ultimately responded under oath in writing to Mueller’s questions, though Mueller conceded in his final report some of the answers were insufficient.
Trump answered that he hadn’t remembered discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. But Mueller found that Trump had had conversations with Stone and others about WikiLeaks, the newly unsealed report says.

Much more on the newly released information from the report at CNN.

Those are the stories that caught my eye this morning. What are you reading and thinking about?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump Administration Gaslights As Coronavirus Spreads

(Original Caption) 3/23/1959- Worcester Park, Surrey, England: Hep cat. A real live kitten on the keys, this music-loving feline lends vocal accompaniment to his mistress in Worcester Park, England. As Marion Holland 15, plays the piano “Money” the cat joins in the singing. Some people might consider it mere “cat-erwauling,” not Marion thinks it’s really the cat’s meow.

Good Morning!!

After Trump’s disgraceful performance at the CDC yesterday, along with the pathetic sicophancy of the CDC director Robert Redfield, I’m beginning to get really frightened about growing spread coronavirus here in the U.S. Please watch this video of Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Now take a look at how the Trump administration is responding to the crisis. First, the CDC Director sucking up to the idiot in chief.

I know it’s hard to watch Trump, but please do watch these clips. He is getting more dangerous.

He is treating an epidemic like he did the Russia investigation–lying and covering up. He couldn’t care less how many people get sick and die; he just wants to keep the numbers down so he doesn’t look bad. He doesn’t seem to understand that this won’t work with a public health crisis.

This is quite literally insane, and yet the people around Trump are afraid to correct him or ask him to step back and let the experts handle the situation.

Retired General Barry McCaffrey doesn’t mince words.

Phillip Bump at The Washington Post: Which is Trump more worried about: Coronavirus numbers or coronavirus patients?

A comment President Trump made during his visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought into focus a unifying theory of his administration’s fumbling response to the growing spread of the coronavirus.

He was asked if passengers on a cruise ship anchored near San Francisco, some of whom have been exposed to the virus, should be brought ashore.

A cat sitting in a field in September 1918

“From my standpoint, I want to rely on people. I have great experts, including our vice president who is working 24 hours a day on this stuff. They would like to have the people come off,” he said, wearing a baseball cap promoting his reelection campaign. “I’d rather have the people stay, but I’d go with them. I told them to make the final decision.”

“I would rather because I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump continued. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, okay? It wasn’t their fault either and they’re mostly Americans. So, I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”

Trump can live with patients with coronavirus staying on a cruise ship with uninfected passengers. Whether those patients or future patients can live with that decision is entirely the point.

David Nakamura at The Washington Post: ‘Maybe I have a natural ability’: Trump plays medical expert on coronavirus by second-guessing the professionals.

President Trump likes to say that he fell into politics almost by accident, and on Friday, as he sought to calm a nation gripped with fears over coronavirus, he suggested he would have thrived in another profession — medical expert.

“I like this stuff. I really get it,” Trump boasted to reporters during a tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where he met with actual doctors and scientists who are feverishly scrambling to contain and combat the deadly illness. Citing a “great, super-genius uncle” who taught at MIT, Trump professed that it must run in the family genes.

This cat’s name was Whisky, and he was the “pet and mascot of HMS Duke of York,” a Royal Navy vessel from the late 1930s.

“People are really surprised I understand this stuff,” he said. “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability.” [….]

Sporting his trademark red 2020 campaign hat with the slogan “Keep America Great,” the president repeatedly second-guessed and waved off the actual medical professionals standing next to him. He attacked his Democratic rivals — including calling Washington Gov. Jay Inslee a “snake” for criticizing his response — and chided a CNN reporter for smiling and called her network “fake news.”

And he described coronavirus testing kits — which his administration has been criticized for being slow to distribute — as “beautiful” and said they were as “perfect” as his Ukraine phone call last summer that led him to be impeached.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Trump appears very worried about the U.S. economy, but he thinks he knows better than the experts about that too. John Harwood at CNN: Trump waves off economists’ prescriptions for preventing US coronavirus slowdown.

President Donald Trump sent a message Friday to anyone expecting major economic aid to head off a coronavirus recession: Don’t hold your breath.

From the book Sam by Edward Quigley (photographs) and John Crawford (text) • 1937

With financial markets reeling, some economists back direct bailouts for affected workers and businesses to prevent a contraction of the already-slowing American economy. But as he signed the $8.3-billion emergency coronavirus spending bill passed by Congress — more than triple the amount the White House had requested — Trump waved off the idea of a new fiscal stimulus to protect America’s record-breaking economic expansion, again calling on the Federal Reserve to use its monetary policy tools.

“The Fed should cut and the Fed should stimulate,” Trump told me before leaving the White House to tour tornado damage in Tennessee. And he evinced little concern about the chance of recession anytime soon, declaring, “I think we’re in great shape.”

The President’s characteristically upbeat assessment does not match the darkening mood among business analysts as the coronavirus crisis deepens in the US and around the world. Mark Zandi, an economist with Moody’s Analytics, now pegs the odds of recession this year at 50%.

Economic stimulus is going to be needed, but Trump thinks he knows better.

Offsetting the coronavirus threat would require a package in the range of $100 billion, Swonk says — comparable to what President George W. Bush and Congress enacted to combat the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Jason Furman, President Barack Obama’s former top economic adviser, has called for a $350 billion stimulus that would send $1,000 to every taxpaying US resident and $500 to each of their children.

The feline mascot of the Australian light cruiser HMAS Encounter peering from the muzzle of a six-inch gun, sometime during World War I

Yet comments by Trump and his top economic aide made clear the White House does not currently back anything close to that scale.

“We’re not looking at these massive, federal, throw-money-at-people plans,” National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow told reporters. “We are looking at timely and targeted (efforts) where we can do the most good.”

With airlines already suffering from canceled flights, Kudlow cited “micro forms of assistance” that could help sectors including transportation, manufacturing, farming and small businesses. He offered no details.

What we need most of all is widespread testing, but the Trump administration doesn’t seem interested in letting that happen. It looks like they are just going to try to keep gaslighting us.

The New York Times: With Test Kits in Short Supply, Health Officials Sound Alarms.

President Trump claimed again on Friday that anyone who needed a coronavirus test “gets a test.” But from Washington State to Florida to New York, doctors and patients are clamoring for tests that they say are in woefully short supply, and their frustration is mounting alongside the growing number of cases around the country.

In California, where thousands are being monitored for the virus, only 516 tests had been conducted by the state as of Thursday. Washington health officials have more cases than they can currently process. And in New York, where cases have quadrupled this week, a New York City official pleaded for more test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Woman holding young cat, likely 1920s

“The slow federal action on this matter has impeded our ability to beat back this epidemic,” the official said in a letter Friday.

More than 300 cases have been confirmed, at least 17 have died, and thousands are in self-quarantine. Public health officials are warning that no one knows how deeply the virus will spread, in part because the federal government’s flawed rollout of tests three weeks ago has snowballed into an embarrassing fiasco of national proportions.

The latest two deaths were announced late Friday night in Florida, marking the first time fatal cases were not on the West Coast.

In the last week, Mr. Trump and his top officials repeatedly promised that 1 million to 1.5 million tests would be sent around the country, even though labs — government and private ones alike — have struggled to get the tests running amid a growing number of infections and rising demand for tests. Despite an order Wednesday by the C.D.C. to greatly expand criteria for who can be tested, many hospitals and state health authorities continued to limit tests to those at the highest risk for infection, adding to the confusion and frustration, especially in hot spots like California and Washington.

Politico: How testing failures allowed coronavirus to sweep the U.S.

On Saturday Jan. 11 — a month and a half before the first Covid-19 case not linked to travel was diagnosed in the United States — Chinese scientists posted the genome of the mysterious new virus, and within a week virologists in Berlin had produced the first diagnostic test for the disease.

Hulda Lundager, daughter of photographer Jens Hansen Lundager

Soon after, researchers in other nations rolled out their own tests, too, sometimes with different genetic targets. By the end of February, the World Health Organization had shipped tests to nearly 60 countries.

The United States was not among them.

Why the United States declined to use the WHO test, even temporarily as a bridge until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could produce its own test, remains a perplexing question and the key to the Trump administration’s failure to provide enough tests to identify the coronavirus infections before they could be passed on, according to POLITICO interviews with dozens of viral-disease experts, former officials and some officials within the administration’s health agencies.

The slowness of the testing regimen — which, administration officials acknowledged this week, is still not producing enough tests to meet the national demand — was the first, and most sweeping, of many failures. So far there have been confirmed cases in at least 23 states, and at least 15 deaths, while the stock market plunged and an otherwise healthy economy braced for a major disruption.

But neither the CDC nor the coronavirus task force chaired by Vice President Mike Pence would say who made the decision to forgo the WHO test and instead begin a protracted process of producing an American test, one that got delayed by manufacturing problems, possible lab contamination and logistical delays.

A cat perched on a radio, photo by Sam Hood

I’ll end with this long piece at the Financial Times on the efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine: Coronavirus and the $2bn race to find a vaccine.

Juan Andres woke up three times during the night after putting his precious vials of vaccine on the back of a delivery lorry. In late February, Moderna, a biotech group based outside Boston, smashed the record for the fastest time between identifying a virus — in this case Covid-19 coronavirus — and creating a vaccine ready to test in humans: just 42 days.

In the lab, the team had been excited but in the early hours Mr Andres, a 30-year pharma veteran in charge of manufacturing, was nervously checking his phone to track the lorry carrying the potential vaccine to a discreet location. There the US National Institutes of Health would start the trial to test whether it works.

“The pride comes from this [being] a race,” he says. “Doing this as fast as possible is something that is a duty.” Once they were sure the vaccine had arrived safely, the team celebrated with ice cream. At least 100 Moderna staff worked on the project but Mr Andres says everyone is excited to be involved, even people’s families. “I can’t remember the last time my 15-year-old thought I did something cool,” he laughs.

Moderna is one of more than 20 companies and public sector organisations worldwide racing to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, which in little more than two months has exploded from a few people suffering from respiratory disease in the Chinese city of Wuhan to a near-pandemic with 95,000 cases and 3,300 deaths worldwide so far….

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations [see the first video in this post] — a partnership of governments, industry and charities, created three years ago to fight emerging diseases that threaten global health — is already sponsoring four Covid-19 vaccine projects, including Moderna’s. It is also on the point of signing contracts for four more, says Richard Hatchett, CEPI chief executive. He estimates that developing Covid-19 vaccines at the speed required will cost about $2bn over the next 12-18 months.

Moderna is off to the fastest start, Dr Hatchett believes, but several others are close behind. “We received 48 applications from all over the world following our call for proposals in February,” he adds. “There is a real sense of urgency . . . because the threat we are facing is unprecedented in the last 100 years in terms of its speed and potential severity,” he says, referring to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

That’s it for me. Sorry I’m so obsessed with coronavirus. Feel free to discuss any other topic in the comments! This is an open thread.