Thursday, April 30, 2020

Not Trump-Quality Lying

On Friday morning we were informed
Once the controversy arose, the Mayo(nnaise) Clinic deleted its tweet because in the Age of Trump, anybody who is anybody is eager to be intimidated. However, admission or not from the hospital, we know either Karen or Mike is lying because on Tuesday the Vice-President had told reporters

As vice president of the United States, I'm tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus.  And since I don't have the coronavirus, I thought it'd be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say 'thank you.'

Karen and Mike: get your stories straight!

It's a near certainty that either Pence himself was directly told by someone at the hospital or his staff was directly told.

Pence may have thought that if he wore a mask, he would appear to be insufficiently masculine to a President who adores the tough-guy image. Alternatively, the Vice-President may have believed that had he worn a mask, Trump himself would be queried as to why by contrast he does not wear one.  (Recall that in the spring of 2012, Vice-President Biden came out in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Within two weeks, President Biden suddenly had "evolved.")

And so the press can choose between two obvious questions to pose to Pence at the next dog-and-pony show disguised as a task force briefing.  One possibility: "why is your wife implying you weren't aware of the need to wear a mask at the hospital when you've stated that you intentionally did not do so, in order to communicate better with patients?" If Pence says that he wasn't told that he must wear a mask, he should be asked who on his staff was responsible to convey the information, and when that person will be fired.

 Another: "why do you believe that a visit to a hospital in the midst of a pandemic, when Americans are urged both to wear a mask and to practice social distancing, were you unaware that being there without one would be setting a bad example for Americans?"

As usual, there are two keys: the reporter responding to whatever answer the Administration official gives, which often happens; and for the next reporter who is given the microphone to follow-up on that question.

That virtually never occurs and is one reason that although the Emperor- and his sycophants- have no clothes, that simple truth is largely hidden from voters.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Quid Pro Quo

Defense shattered.

After initial evidence that President Trump had conditioned military aid to Ukraine in return for an announcement by the Ukrainian government that it would pursue an investigation into Hunter and Joe Biden, there was widespread denial by the GOP that there was a "quid pro quo."

Before eventually adopting the unconstitutionally indefensible "maybe, but so what" defense, the GOP employed the denial tactic, presumably emboldened by the 66% of Republicans who in early November believed there was no deal sought by President Trump to effect an investigation.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy adamantly maintained there was an arrangement. Then-Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced there was one, then denied there was. Even after Gordon Soundland's testimony that there was a quid pro quo, House Intelligence Committee member Jim Jordan would "glower" at Mother Jones' David Corn and assert "no quid pro quo."  And President Trump continued to insist there was "no quid pro quo" as if his daily infantile, albeit entertaining, ramblings always were peppered with the phrase "quid pro quo."

We can all put to bed that defense now that during Trump's Tuesday news conference concerning small businesses, he stated

With the states we're not looking forward to recovering 25 years of bad management and to give them the money they lost. That's unfair to other states.

Now, if it's Covid-related, I guess we can talk about it. But we want certain things also, including sanctuary city adjustments because we have so many people in sanctuary cities, which I don't think are even popular even by radical leftist folks because what's happening is people are being protected that shouldn't be protected and a lot of bad things are happening with sanctuary cities. But that's just standing up here answering this question. That's one of the things I think about. If we're going to do something for the states, I think they probably want a, uh, something having to do with sanctuary cities, something having to do with other different points that we can discuss a little bit later.

With the next question having pertained to meat processing plants, the first question to President Trump at his next daily press-enabled campaign rally should be "Mr. President, on Tuesday you suggested a quid pro quo for assisting states in which they'd be required to curb what you referred to as 'sanctuary cities.'  What specifically would which states have to do about immigration in order to receive aid from the federal government?"

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

An Informed Slacker

Charlie Pierce links us to Monday's Washington Post article in which we learn that

U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, months during which he continued to play down the threat, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The repeated warnings were conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats.

For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.

But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.

Sorry, Charlie. I'm not buying it and you're being too generous to the President (a criticism he's unfamiliar with). Pierce concludes "'Decisive'? The guy doesn’t even read his homework. It’s government by seventh-grade slacker."

Trump is lazy and indecisive. However, that's not the core of the problem.  Before the latest revelation, Axios had noted ten occasions on which President Trump and/or his administration was warned about the coronavirus. Of these, Trump himself was directly advised on four occasions- January 18, January 29, January 30, and February 23. Additionally, he learned of a warning of 2/25/20 by National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases director Nancy Messonnier, about which Trump complained to HHS Secretary Azar. So call that four-and-a-half personal warnings, aside from the briefings prepared for the President.

Trump claimed six weeks ago that he always knew how serious SARS-CoV-2 was. The harder truth is that he knew the coronavirus would cause tens of thousands of deaths- and was perfectly o.k.with it.

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Monday, April 27, 2020

A Good Show Or Two

This is good policy, from President Trump's perspective. It will mean more death, primarily among people whose health is already compromised and thus don't project the strength Trump adores. However, it's also good politics that the President will be speaking at the West Point graduation ceremony.  Business Insider notes that Trump's recent announcement

stunned officials at the school and raised serious concerns about the safety of the 1,000 cadets who are being recalled as a result, The New York Times reported on Friday. 

Universities across the US, including West Point, have sent students home due to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

The graduation ceremony had initially been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Trump's April 17 announcement reportedly kicked planning for the event into gear.

"I'm doing it at West Point, which I look forward to," Trump said at the daily White House press briefing a little over a week ago. "I did it last year at Air Force, I did it at Annapolis, I did it at the Coast Guard Academy, and I'm doing it at West Point.  And I assume they're — they've got it, and I understand they'll have distancing. They'll have some big distance, and so it'll be very different than it ever looked."

This is smart politics because the optics are great. Also smart politics, and great public relations is the event in which

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels will salute front-line healthcare and emergency response workers Tuesday afternoon when they fly down the Delaware River between Camden and Philadelphia.

The two precision flying demonstration teams have announced the flight, which will begin in New York City and fly over Newark and Trenton before heading to South Jersey along the river and then over Philadelphia.

“We are truly excited to take to the skies with our Navy counterparts for a nation-wide tribute to the men and women keeping our communities safe,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbird 1 and mission commander for the flyover.

“We hope to give Americans a touching display of American resolve that honors those serving on the front line of our fight with COVID-19.

A formation of six F-16C/D Fighting Falcons and six F/A-18C/D Hornets will conduct these flyovers as a collaborative salute to healthcare workers, first responders, military, and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement said.

Not one pair of gloves, face mask, or ventilator will be manufactured or delivered as a result of either performance, nor will either deter the President from continuing to pit one state against another. Nor do we learn in news reports of the cost of either performance. But that's par for the course because when it comes to the military, no expense is too large ever to be questioned. And when it comes to a pandemic, bread and circuses always comes in handy.

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

China Will Call Its Loan

On April 24, we were informed that Donald Trump owns 30% of the more than $1 billion, 43-story skyscraper at 1290 Avenue of the Americas in New York City, NY. In 2012 Trump's real estate partner refinanced the property, taking on a $211 million debt from the state-owned Bank of China, which matures in 2022.

After this information came to light, the Bank of China stated that it had sold its debt on the building shortly after the loan was made. That's reassuring because neither the Chinese government (nor any entity thereof) ever would lie about anything- not in denying this coronavirus entailed human-to-human transmission; not the concentration camps, dubbed vocational training centers, it has sent its Uighur citizens to; and not about the leverage it holds against the President of the United States of America. 

Whatever the veracity of the bank's claim

Chinese state-owned companies are constructing two luxury Trump developments in United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. The president and his daughter Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser, have been awarded trademarks by China’s government. And his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has courted Chinese investors in at least one other real estate deal.

“We actually explored all these foreign enterprises and how once he became president he’d be seen differently by foreign leaders who would have leverage over this president because he had investments in their countries and/or financial dealings with business enterprises and financial institutions and investors in their countries,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight Committee. “He is highly conflicted with respect to China."

We should have taken Trump at his word when as a candidate for the presidency

he frequently derided “the corrupt political establishment,” saying that Wall Street titans were “getting away with murder” by paying no taxes. In a furious campaign ad, images of the New York Stock Exchange and the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs flashed onscreen as he promised an end to the Γ©lites who had “bled our country dry.” In interviews, he denounced his opponents for begging wealthy donors for campaign contributions, arguing that, if “somebody gives them money,” then “just psychologically, when they go to that person they’re going to do it—they owe him.”

He owes them. He knows it. And if he is re-elected (if not before), the bill will become due and as always, Donald Trump, faced with a choice between the interests of his country and his own, will do as he always has done.

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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Back Doing Stand-Up

Al Capone wants his vault back:
Someone forgot to tell Bill Bryan, who claims to "lead the science and technology directorate at the US Department of Homeland Security."  He was asked "The president mentioned the idea of a cleaner, bleach and isopropyl alcohol emerging. There’s no scenario where that could be injected into a person, is there?' He responded "No, I’m here to talk about the finds that we had in the study. We don’t do that within that lab at our labs."

Someone forgot to tell Dr. Deborah Birx, also.  President Trump had stated

…rumor that you know, a very nice rumor that you go outside in the sun or you have heat and it does have an effect on other viruses. But now we get it from one of the great laboratories of the world, I have to say. Covers a lot more territory than just this. This is probably an easy thing, relatively speaking, for you. I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure. You know? If you could? And maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Again, I say maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. But I’m a person that has a good… You know what. Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?.

.I think that’s a great thing to look at. Okay?

She replied "Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But, I’ve not seen heat or light as a-"

Someone forgot to tell White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnanay who, after Trump was criticized for his remarks, stated "Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines."

Given that he suggested Dr. Birx look into the issue, Trump himself did not realize he was being sarcastic. Further, he didn't smile while being "sarcastic," a rookie mistake, and an unforgivable one, especially for an accomplished unreality television actor. 

But hold on. Rivera complained also "And if anyone really would heed that bleach-drinking advice, odds are they have other issues."

There is at least one man who believes that the President's supporters would take his advice on anything: 

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Shirking Responsibility

Some people are letting a famous doctor off the hook from Thursday's task force briefing:

And worse:

President Trump can be seen stating (at 50:05 of the video below)

I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure. You know? If you could? And maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Again, I say maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. But I’m a person that has a good… You know what. Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?

Notwithstanding the impression of Bitecofer and others impressed by Dr. Birx, the latter's facial response occurred as the President was talking, hence not part of what was seen on television.  On C-Span 2 and CBS, Dr. Birx can be seen responding; on NBC, the camera was focused on Trump. Birx responded to the President, haltingly, "That is a treatment. I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But, I’ve not seen heat or light as a-" Trump cut her off to state "I think that's a great thing to look at. Okay?"

The fever thing obscures the correct answer, which is "no." Much better yet, Dr. Birx could have stood up and walked toward the podium.  The Secret Service would not have stood between her and the President. Mike Pence would not have slid over and tackled her. Donald Trump would not have waved her off with an accusation of "fake news."

Once at the podium, she would not have been off to the side, relatively meekly, where she gave a mixed message . She has "not seen heat or light..." but fever "helps your body to respond." Birx would have commanded the bully pulpit and could have clarified that once there is viable treatment, medical experts will clearly inform the public. And in the meantime, don't do anything foolish.

Instead, today  a spokesperson for the UK-based owner of Lysol had no choice but to issue a statement in part warning "we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route)," The company claimed "responsibility in providing consumers with access to accurate, up-to-date information as advised by leading public health experts."

We would have been even better served had a leading health advisor, with an opportunity to demonstrate that American lives are more important to her than holding on to her position, had herself provided that accurate, up-to-date information, at that moment, when it was most needed.

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Family Ties

The Lincoln Project is a political action committee formed in late 2019 by prominent Never Trump Republicans George Conway, Reed Galen, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson. It has been dedicated to defeating Donald Trump's re-election bid and has released a few videos in the last few months.

Now that Joe Biden is the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, the group has penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in which it argues

Unlike Trump, Biden is not an international embarrassment, nor does he demonstrate malignant narcissism. A President Biden will steady the ship of state and begin binding up the wounds of a fractured country. We have faith that Biden will surround himself by advisers of competence, expertise and wisdom, not an endless parade of disposable lackeys.

That's entirely accurate other than the "binding up the wounds of a fractured country" bit.  If Trump is defeated, the burn it down ethos will prevail in a Republican Party which is in no mood now, and would be in no mood then, to give a Democratic President any help in creating "a truly united America."

As long as there is a GOP bearing any resemblance to the one of at least the past dozen years, there will not be the "epiphany" Joe Biden dreams of. The members of the Lincoln Project continue to belong to that same party whose divide and conquer strategy has been directed not only to the opposing party but to Americans unfortunate not to belong to Society of Super Rich Individuals.

But it is an advantage that they remain part of the Republican Party. While the chance they will convince voters that "the nation cannot afford another four years of chaos, duplicity and Trump’s reality distortion" is limited, it is greater than it would be if they had switched parties.

Moreover, because The Lincoln Project is not part of the Biden campaign, it can produce videos which might be risky emanating from the candidate's own people. And it now has done so with the following:

Traditionally, criticizing a member of a rival candidate's family has been dangerous. But Donald Trump has erased this norm and he has so many others. There is a reason Republicans have tried to turn Hunter Biden into a scandal, to blow out of proportion his questionable behavior in joining the Board of Directors of Burisma Holdings.

Moreover, Mainland China's culpability in SARS-CoV-2 cannot be wished away or ignored.  Trump supporters already have been playing the China card, and they're going to play it for all its worth.

Playing defense will not work for Democrats, whether in the matter of corrupt family activities- infinitely greater with the Trumps than with the Bidens- nor with China. Supporters of the Biden candidacy cannot be squeamish about attacking Donald Trump on both scores and "Making China Great Again" is a great first step.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

That "Terrible Plague" May Be Donald Trump

On Monday during the legendary 700 Club, a co-host raised a question from a listener who asked

Pat, last week you were talking about COVID-19. You quoted Chronicles 7:14. How can God heal our land and forgive the sins when abortion and same-sex marriage are laws and many people are anti-Israel. Doesn't this prevent his healing and forgiveness?"

Co-host Pat Robertson responded

You know, I think you put your finger on something very important. You know the Bible says -- they turn from their wicked ways. They didn't get forgiven. They will turn from their wicked ways. And part of what we've done is turn. We are not turning when we have done terrible things. We have broken the covenant that God made with the mankind. We have violated his covenant. We have taken the life of the innocent, slaughtered them by the tens of millions. Children made in the image of God. And we have abused the poor. I mean, we've allowed this terrible plague to spread throughout our society. And it's a small wonder God would hold us guilty. But the answer is, you know, you confess your sins and forsake them. Then he heals the land. It's not before. You are right.

Even from a Christian perspective, this is demonstrably false or at best, starkly disingenuous.  As the video below explains, the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant described in Jeremiah 31:33 by the Old Testament prophet as

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The New Covenant has nothing to do with abortion which, according to Robertson, has "taken the life of the innocent, slaughtered them by the tens of millions." There is nothing anywhere in this entire chapter of Jeremiah, all 38 verses of it, about about abortion. Moreover, if God brought SARS-CoV-2 upon mankind or permitted its introduction in order to punish mankind for condoning reproductive freedom, the Lord has displayed very curious timing.

The Centers for Disease Control reported that the induced "abortions ratio per 1,000 live births" was at its highest in 1984, at 364. By 1996, it had dropped to 354, rose to 356 in 1987, and has fairly steadily declined since then.

It was 186 in 2016 and the Guttmacher Institute, with statistics through 2017, determined

The number of abortions fell by 196,000—a 19% decline from 1,058,000 abortions in 2011 to 862,000 abortions in 2017.

The abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44) fell by 20%, from 16.9 in 2011 to 13.5 in 2017.

The abortion ratio (the number of abortions per 100 pregnancies ending in either abortion or live birth) fell 13%, from 21.2 in 2011 to 18.4 in 2017.

Worldwide, abortion has become considerably less common in developed nations while the trend in developing countries is mixed  Thus, the procedure has not suddenly burst upon the USA or upon the world. But what has defined the world in the past few years has been the triumph of despots (erroneously referred to as "populists"), including (but not limited to) Viktor Orban, Jair Balsonaro, and  Donald J. Trump.

Clearly, if God has inflicted the world with SARS-CoV-2, it is not because fetuses have "slaughtered.... by the tens of millions." Nearly as obviously, if God has taken this action, it is because of the likes of Donald Trump.

Of course, it is more likely that this plague emerged because of the complete disregard of health and human safety characterizing Communist China's evil regime, in itself headed by a dictatorwith lifetime tenure. The notion that God has wreaked terrible vengeance upon the world, or specifically upon the USA, because of abortion is belied by facts. Alas, facts are unlikely to change the opinion of  Pat Robertson or anyone who sees in a pandemic an opportunity to push his forced-birth ideology.

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Rationalization Of Death

This can be complicated.. Erick Erickson, blogger, columnist, Red State founder, and former (Macon, Georgia) city councilman also is an evangelical/believing/ reformed Christian Protestant who at the outset of Holy Week this month wrote

In the Book of Amos, God declared that “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me.” Amos 4:10 (ESV). That God is the same God who, through his providence, sent the second person of the trinity to his death in Jerusalem this week 1,987 years ago.

Some will say that makes God malevolent. But those who live by faith must trust that God is on his throne. He has plan for you, for me, and for human history. We may not know what role this pandemic plays in that plan. We may not know what role we play in that plan. But we can be assured all of this will glorify him and will work for the good of those called according to his purposes. 

It was not only the people of Israel who would suffer the mighty hand of divine justice. In Isaiah 37:36 we read of the once-occupants of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea "And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies." That was not a pretty picture.

Erickson concluded that God "sits on his throne in control of all things. So do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid. God's got this and he's got you, too." Nonetheless, he recognizes that things can sometimes go awry- or seem to:

When Erickson went there again later that day

That couldn't last. And it didn't, because

One of the possible explanations for this apparent flip-flop is that awkward ideological flexibility is in character.  Erickson was for candidate Trump, then anti-candidate Trump, and then reversed himself again to support the President.

That would, admittedly, be consistent with the Law of Parsimony. However, that may not have been the motive.

The first two tweets are merely observational and/or informative. It is nearly inarguable that a coronavirus is not similar to a car wreck and therefore if the nation had not taken it seriously, the number of dead probably would have reached the six figures already. Erickson then gave his opinion, that the best course is now to open the country for business.

This may not be as much a contradiction as it seems. Erickson believes that relaxing restrictions nationwide will likely lead to significantly more deaths but is advisable nonetheless. It is advisable because the Almighty "sits on his throne in control of all things. So do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid. God’s got this and he’s got you too."

Nonetheless, "control" is not meant in the generic sense as "the power to influence or direct people's behavior or the course of events." It is interpreted  as God determining the course of all events, however clearly that denies God's autonomy. Therefore, if hundreds of thousands, rather than tens of thousands, are killed by SARS-CoV-2, that is as God planned it. That does not, and should not, conflict with praying to God to intervene mercifully with health professionals and others who can reduce the death and destruction from a plague and its impact on everyone whose life it affects.

Even if Erick Erickson does not hold to this view- and there is a good chance he does- it is highly likely that in an Administration which includes the likes of Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo, this perspective is not unknown. So among the many questions asked of President Donald Trump, who touts the support of the vast majority of white evangelicals, should be one probing whether he believes that tens of thousands of American deaths may be God's will. However Trump responds probably would be revealing of at least something.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Giving it Up

On Tuesday, Chris Hayes interviewed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and asked (at 4:05 of the video below)

Two more topics I just want to get to and I – and then I will let you go. But first on oversight, because it obviously is extremely important. $2.2 trillion pushed out the door, $500 billion Steve Mnuchin has tremendous discretion. The president immediately signing the legislation with a signing statement essentially X-ing out many of the oversight provisions you put in.

There`s one person appointed to that sort of oversight panel right now who was just profiled and doesn`t verified Twitter account. Do you and Congresshave the capacity to actually make sure this is not incompetently orcorruptly distributed?

The one word Speaker Pelosi does not use in her response is the one most relevant: "no." She maintains there will be a select committee and that it will have subpoena power. Until and unless it happens, that is in doubt. However, not within doubt is the likelihood that subpoenas will be ignored The Trump Administration has demonstrated how it is done, and the lack of repercussions. Most notably, Robert Mueller considered subpoenaing the President, decided Trump would fight it, and dropped the idea. 

Pelosi responded to Hayes

Well, we have to. In addition to the panel that you reference, and that would be in place, I have named a select committee on the corona –the challenge of the coronavirus. And my colleague, the Democratic whip Mr.Cochran (sic) is the chair of that. That is predicated on a committee called the Truman Committee that the then-Senator Truman instituted during World War II, at the start – at the very beginning of World War II.

He said at the time 116 investigative committees performed to investigate the defense spending on World War I. So he said, how much better it would be in World War II to have an investigative committee at the time.....

And so it would be to fight waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging, profiteering, and the rest. And that is what this committee is modeled off of that, and it will have investigative authority, subpoena power. And that

– I don`t know why Republicans take offense at it. Why wouldn`t they want to fight waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging, and profiteering off of the taxpayer dollar which is destined to fight the coronavirus as it attacks the lives, the livelihood of the American people?

But maybe the problem is not the old bromide "waste, fraud, and abuse."  In some cases, it may be simple greed, which was legal even before the Age of Trump, in which selfishness is condoned, approved, and respected. Greed was described on Wednesday when American Prospect editor David Dayen explained

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was told directly in a phone call on April 1 that the $1,200 CARES Act payments to individuals were not protected from private debt collection. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, informed Mnuchin that the payments could be garnished by private debt collectors, or used by banks to offset existing debts that an individual had with their financial institution.

The payments are going out this week, two weeks after Mnuchin was first informed about the issue. And under the CARES Act, the Treasury Department has the ability to write rules protecting that payment from being taken by financial actors. But Treasury has done nothing of the sort. On Tuesday the Prospect reported that a top Treasury official, on a webinar with bank compliance officers, gave them an effective green light to use the CARES Act payments to offset debts, saying twice that “There’s nothing in the law that precludes that action.” The official also addressed garnishment by private debt collectors, which can commandeer payments if they have a judicial order, saying, “We do understand that concerns have been raised about this legal requirement, but it is a legal requirement at this time,” failing to add that Treasury can suspend that legal requirement through regulatory action.

“On a call with Secretary Mnuchin on April 1, Senator Brown raised the garnishment issue to Secretary Mnuchin, who at the time was not aware of the issue,” according to a statement from Senator Brown’s office. Mnuchin negotiated the CARES Act directly, and it passed a week before Brown confronted him over the garnishment issue. So Mnuchin claimed in this phone call that, a week after crafting the legislation, he was unaware of how CARES Act payments, intended to provide food, medicine, and basic necessities to millions of Americans in an emergency, could instead pass into the hands of creditors.

Senator Brown’s office added: “Treasury has the power to fix this and they should.”

It should but it's not a foregone conclusion that it will. Dayen adds

After the April 1 phone call, Brown on two occasions urged Mnuchin to write regulations to flag the CARES Act payments and prevent financial actors from taking them. On April 3, he joined Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a letter. Then on April 9, he wrote a bipartisan letter with Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO).

In the parlance of Washington, if a member of Congress writes a letter to an executive branch official, it often means that they are trying to get public attention to an issue they have already raised privately. That appears to be the case here. We do not know what Mnuchin said in response to Senator Brown on that phone call, but his actions indicate that he did nothing. And the rapid deployment of a letter suggests that Mnuchin ignored Brown’s request in that moment, and Brown decided to go public to pressure the Treasury Department to act.

This is the guy, the Foreclosure King, to whom Mitch McConnell's Senate- and Nancy Pelosi's House of Representatives- gave up to $4 trillion (with leveraging) to distribute with wide discretion.

Speaker Pelosi didn't have to do this. Back on March 19, when Democrats and most of the media were disregarding the "act in haste, repent at leisure" maxim, Michael Grunwald already recognized that

The lesson of the last congressional response to an economic emergency, President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill, is that when a president desperately needs legislation to address a crisis, anyone with the power to stop him can decide what’s in it....

Right now, after initially downplaying the threat of coronavirus, then bungling the response to the pandemic, then watching the swift demise of the bull market he had hailed as proof of his leadership, Trump absolutely needs congressional action to limit the public health disaster and mitigate the economic damage on his watch...

House Democrats can pass whatever bill they want, and if Republicans aren’t willing to go along with it, another lesson of American crisis politics is that it’s Trump who will suffer the consequences.

By giving Trump the emergency measures that he needs most without insisting on the worker protections that Democrats wanted most, Pelosi has sacrificed some of that leverage. She has also helped the president look like a bipartisan consensus-builder, while essentially confirming the GOP talking point that Democrats have a responsibility to meet Trump’s demands in order to avoid a partisan stalemate. In 2009, Republicans simply ignored all the pundits warning that they would pay a huge political price for refusing to help the first black president fix an economic mess he had inherited—and the pundits turned out to be wrong.

Thus far, Nancy Pelosi has been rolled. The only question is whether she was fooled or intimidated, or instead got the result she wanted.

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Inspiring Rhetoric Signifying Nothing

Former president Barack H. Obama formally endorsed Joe Biden for President on Tuesday.  It's easy to get caught up in the hopeful, sometimes soaring rhetoric upon hearing a speech from Barack Obama, who after all is "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. " However, two things stand out in the transcript.

There are approximately 20 paragraphs, the exact number depending upon how the particular transcript is prepared. In none of those paragraphs will you see or hear the word "Trump." That stands in sharp contrast to the endorsement by Bernie Sanders, who vowed "We've got to make [Donald] Trump a one-term president and we need you in the White House so I will do all that I can to see that that happens."

Sanders also described Trump as "the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country." But the always conflict-averse Barack Obama couldn't manage the word "Trump."

Obama did praise his own stewardship of the country which, given that Biden served under him, only made sense.  He also referred to "the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency," which should- but won't- raise the question: why doe he think it wasn't credible? The ex-president added

but if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different; there’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future. Bernie understands that, and Joe understands that.

It is one of the reasons that Joe already has what is the most progressive platform of any major-party nominee in history. Because even before the pandemic turned the world upside down, it was already clear that we needed real structural change. The vast inequalities created by the new economy are easier to see now, but they existed long before this pandemic hit. Health professionals, teachers, delivery drivers, grocery clerks, cleaners, the people who truly make our economy run — they have always been essential, and for years too many of the people who do the essential work of this country have been underpaid, financially stressed and given too little support, and that applies to the next generation of Americans, young people graduating into unprecedented unemployment. They are going to need economic policies that give them faith in the future and give them relief from crushing student loan debt.

The vast inequalities created by the new economy are easier to see now, but they existed long before this pandemic hit. That is not a criticism of President Trump, but of the presidents- and especially of the president- who preceded him.

The "people who truly make our economy run," Obama concedes, "have always been essential," yet "have been underpaid, financially stressed and given too little support."

If one doesn't stop to think, one might not ask "who was the President and chief executive officer of the USA then?" It was, if memory serves, Barack Obama.

Remarkably- or "incredibly," as he would have put it-  the President whose eight years were characterized by tinkering around the edges added "So we need to do more than just tinker around the edges with tax credits or underfunded programs."

The number of people who gained health insurance increased with the Affordable Care Act. However, at the end of Obama's second term, 26.7million Americans were uninsured, which exceeded the increase in coverage brought about since passage of the ACA. Four years out of office, Obama now believes a president should "provide everyone with a public option." Too little, too late.

But Barack Obama has his excuse for arguing that Joe Biden ought to be the progressive president that he himself chose not to be. It has nothing to do with Obama himself; rather that the world has changed. He maintained

You know, I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency, but if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different; there’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future. Bernie understands that, and Joe understands that.

The world has indeed changed. Republicans resisted progress during the Obama years; they are worse today. They are more negative and partisan now in part because President Obama showed Republicans that they could push back on a Democratic president, get away with it, and even prosper.

If that weren't enough to rouse Barack Obama, the last Democratic president and most popular Democratic pol alive, from his slumber, the constant attacks upon his record by President Trump should be sufficient.  Most recently

For decades the @CDCgov looked at, and studied,  its testing system, but did nothing about it. It would always be inadequate and slow for a large scale pandemic, but a pandemic would never happen, they hoped. President Obama made changes that only complicated things further.....

Among the constants of this Administration are these: (1) Donald Trump will continually, falsely, blame President Obama; and (2) worried that Republicans will fight back and sully his legacy, Barack Obama will go to great lengths, to the detriment of his party, to avoid controversy.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

And In A Shocking Upset, China

To be clear, President Trump may not have lied.

He (maybe) didn't lie because he stated this- in the present tense not the past tense- on January 24, 2020.  That was four days after the Butchers of Beijing decided that mass murder is bad public relations. We learn 

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations.

President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data.

That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus.

But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time — the beginning of the outbreak. China’s attempt to walk a line between alerting the public and avoiding panic set the stage for a pandemic that has infected almost 2 million people and taken more than 126,000 lives.

“This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”

Call it the Wuhan Virus. Call it the Chinese Coronavirus. Or most accurately and least provocatively, call it SARS-CoV-2. The plain fact is that the one regime most responsible for propagating the present coronavirus is in Beijing. That should not be surprising, to Donald Trump or the rest of us.

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Raison D'etre Of Campaign Vanishes

The early returns are in. It's too early to call but it appears that some of us were conned. The revelation has been more positive for myself than for Bernard Sanders' most determined and influential supporters, such as Krystal Ball.
Make no mistake- Sanders was right to tell presumptive nominee Joe Biden "We've got to make Trump a one-term president, and we need you in the White House," especially impressive because the Vermonter used the word "Trump," which Barack Obama is still unable to utter. But the campaign's message is misunderstood or unacknowledged by Jeremy Scahill:

This is misleading while Ball's cynicism about Senator Sanders is understandable.  Most Bernistas believed he was doing something more- and something different- than running for the presidency. He was leading a movement. "Not me. Us." still leads off candidate Sanders' website and the button with the same inscription remains available there. (Note: as this post was written, the merchandise store came under reconstruction.) If Scahill is right about what Sanders has "always been and what he isn't," the Senator delivered a real con job.

The gears of governing were at stake in the primary process, an understanding belied by the (unfortunately) effective, yet at best empty, "not me. us." slogan. It was a slogan reinforcing the Senator's message "I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us." His not-so-merry band of revolutionaries was out to overturn the old order and they legitimately believed they had someone  leading the charge against the enemy.

Now that Sanders has endorsed Biden's candidacy unequivocally, it appears their leader was not as dedicated to that goal as were they, including Krystal Ball. Although it's still fairly clear that he would not have been as effective a president as the progressive alternative, he probably is a little more a conventional politician and Democrat than some of us (although not all) had thought.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Clear Warning

The Washington Post's Ashley Parker notes that in the coronavirus task force briefing Monday, President Donald

Trump played a propaganda-style video that he said had been pulled together by White House aides earlier in the day. In a short hagiography more in line with a political event than a presidential news conference, clips critical of the media were interspersed with footage of loyalists praising the president....

He also criticized “sleepy Joe Biden,” the presumptive Democratic nominee, because Biden, he said, had previously criticized him, and jousted with the “fake news.”

Shortly after Trump played the video, CBS’s Paula Reid pressed him on how his administration had not used the month of February to ready itself for the coming virus, after sharply limiting travel from China.

“You didn’t use it to prepare hospitals, you didn’t use it to ramp up testing,” Reid said, before Trump cut her off, calling her “disgraceful.”

Reid forged ahead. “What did you do with the time that you bought, the month of February?” she asked, as Trump talked over her. “That video has a gap — the entire month of February. . . . What did your administration do in February with the time that your travel ban bought you?”

And as usual, as Parker noted, Trump's performance "was a paean to the president and his ego, orchestrated by Trump himself."

Trump's entire presidency has been a paean to himself, and the briefings are primarily an opportunity for him to praise and glorify himself- he is the Chosen One, after all. They are saturated with ridicule and insults, condemnation and belligerence directed toward reporters, political opponents, and even public officials who are not opponents. Falsehoods outnumber accurate statements.

That alone should convince the networks to drop telecast of political events vaguely disguised as news conferences.  They should not run these shows with a chryon of instant fact-checks, as I once suggested. Nor should the networks cut in and out of these rallies in a vain attempt to catch the President saying something worthwhile and avoid the dishonest, even dangerous, remarks.

If the proper course of action wasn't obvious before Monday's event, it is now. Parker writes

At another moment, seemingly eager to assert his dominance over the nation’s governors, Trump declared incorrectly, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.”

Later, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins followed up: “You said when someone is president of the United States, their authority is total. That is not true. Who told you that?”

The president declined to answer, saying, “The governors need us” before abruptly silencing Collins with a sharp, “Enough.”

It wasn't a slip of the tongue. He stated also

The President of the United States has the authority to do what the President has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The President of the United States calls the shots.

At another point Trump asserted "the federal government has absolute power. It has the power. As to whether or not I'll use that power, we'll see."

President Trump has hinted at this before but never been quite as explicit. It was understandable if there were a misunderstanding. The President previously had not quite as clearly stated that he believes all power resides in the federal government and that all power in the federal government resides in him. All of it.

As the Donald Trump claims this total and absolute authority- this "powerful" authority, as he would put it- he gains strength, enriching his ego and delighting and reinforcing his base. An isolated reporter challenges the President, as did Collins, but the President has the literal bully pulpit, gets in the last word, and moves on to the next reporter, who changes the subject.

This cannot continue. This cannot continue as the President steamrolls his way over media organizations, the United States Senate and the Federalist Society courts, on to a possible victory in November. If these campaign events, staged at taxpayers' expense, still are aired and Donald Trump is victorious, the media (infatuated with emails four years ago) will be complicit in the consolidation of power which follows. And it will be complicit not only in re-election of a president, but of the authoritarian who laid out his intentions clearly on Monday, April 13, 2020.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

Could Have And Would Have

On Sunday's "State of the Union," Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN host Jake Tapper

It's -- it's very difficult to go back and say that. I mean, obviously, you could logically say, that if you had a process that was ongoing, and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.

But what goes into those kinds of decisions is -- is complicated. But you're right. I mean, obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different.

But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.

A political scientist weighs in with an insightful response:
The New York Times reported Saturday that intelligence sources in early January informed the National Security Council that the virus would spread to the USA. On January 28 the President received from trade advisor Peter Navarro a memorandum noting, the Times reported, "the potential risks of a coronavirus pandemic."  Health and Human Services secretary Azar warned Trump on January 30 about the possibility of a pandemic. (Axios calculates a minimum of ten times that either the President or his Administration was warned.) Moreover

By the third week in February, the administration’s top public health experts concluded they should recommend to Mr. Trump a new approach that would include warning the American people of the risks and urging steps like social distancing and staying home from work. But the White House focused instead on messaging and crucial additional weeks went by before their views were reluctantly accepted by the president — time when the virus spread largely unimpeded.

In his behalf, President Trump does brag about having ordered on January 29 the cessation of flights from mainland China by American airlines. However, Chinese airlines continued their flights to the USA and in the following two months, approximately 40,000 people- roughly 60% not American citizens- have nonetheless arrived. Give that man a cookie.

Vox explains that several governors have stated that orders for personal protective equipment have been canceled "because the federal government outbid them. This has led to some finding creative ways to disguise their orders to mask them from the Trump administration."   There is one obvious reason the Trump Administration has taken this approach.

Two months in, tens of thousands of Americans dead, hundreds of thousands more infected and, as The Washington Post observed, "the Trump administration still has no clear plan for ending the coronavirus crisis." It's not for lack of knowledge or creativity, though. We learn

Trump shows up to task force meetings infrequently, but when he does, he is a lively presence who often makes the gatherings more lighthearted, aides said. In one meeting, Trump suggested that he present the good news and Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, give the bad news — a good-cop-bad-cop addition to the evening briefing.

No time for a plan, but time for a good show. If the federal government had "started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives," Dr. Fauci concedes. However, neither he nor we accounted for having a President who would consider that a bug and not a benefit.

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The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...