March 8, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Trump administration budget cuts could become a major problem as coronavirus spreads (CHRIS MORRIS, February 26, 2020, Fortune)

The cuts started in 2018, as the White House focused on eliminating funding to Obama-era disease security programs. In March of that year, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, whose job it was to lead the U.S. response in the event of a pandemic, abruptly left the administration and his global health security team was disbanded.

That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was forced to slash its efforts to prevent global disease outbreak by 80% as its funding for the program began to run out. The agency, at the time, opted to focus on 10 priority countries and scale back in others, including China.

Also cut was the Complex Crises Fund, a $30 million emergency response pool that was at the secretary of state's disposal to deploy disease experts and others in the event of a crisis. (The fund was created by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Mitch McConnell's Senate majority is in danger: With Biden poised to be atop the ticket, Democratic candidates are leading in the most consequential Senate races. (Josh Kraushaar,  March 8, 2020, National Journal)

Joe Biden's remarkable change of fortune in the presidential race is coinciding with Senate Democrats' growing optimism that they can win control of the upper chamber in this year's elections. Those hopes had dimmed when Bernie Sanders emerged as a leading contender to become the party's presidential nominee. With the current likelihood of a mainstream candidate leading the ticket, however, Democrats are growing bullish on their chances to win races in GOP-leaning states like Arizona and North Carolina.

It's hard to overstate the difference a week makes. While much of the coverage of Sanders's downballot impact focused on Democrats' House majority being threatened, he was making it even harder for Senate Democrats to compete in swing states. Nearly every vulnerable House Democrat had built up an independent brand and raised huge sums of money to insulate them from a worsening political environment. But in the Senate, Democrats are running a roster of fresh-faced recruits, many without much of a political record to lean on. Several leading candidates who didn't proclaim their opposition to Sanders found themselves on the receiving end of effective Republican attack ads.

Now the tables are turned. President Trump is looking like more of a liability for swing-state Republican senators than Biden is for Democratic challengers. In the three most critical Senate battlegrounds--Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina--Trump trails Biden, according to new public polling. Those same public surveys show Democratic Senate challengers leading the Republican incumbents.

It's why the Right is suddenly so hysterical about Uncle Joe.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Official: White House didn't want to tell seniors not to fly (MIKE STOBBE, 3/08/20, AP)

The White House overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the new coronavirus, a federal official told The Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention submitted the plan as a way of trying to control the virus, but White House officials ordered the air travel recommendation be removed, said the official who had direct knowledge of the plan. Trump administration officials have since suggested certain people should consider not traveling, but have stopped short of the stronger guidance sought by the CDC.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Pro-Trump Climate Denial Group Lays Off Staff Amid Financial Woes, Ex-Employees Say (Alexander C. Kaufman, 3/08/20, HuffPo)

An influential climate-denial think tank bankrolled by President Donald Trump's far-right billionaire donors has laid off nearly a dozen staffers amid financial troubles, according to three former employees.

The Illinois-based Heartland Institute ― which captured headlines last month for promoting a German teenager with ties to neo-Nazis as the climate denier's alternative to acclaimed youth activist Greta Thunberg ― pink-slipped at least 10 staffers Friday, shedding what one former employee described as "more than half" the organization's staff.

"Heartland is broke," Nikki Comerford, the nonprofit's events coordinator on staff for nearly 21 years, told a former colleague in a text message, a screenshot of which HuffPost reviewed.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


The Narrative of Discrimination against Conservatives in Higher Ed is Overblown (Anthony DiMauro, March 06, 2020, Real Clear Education)

The Democrat to Republican disparity can be accounted for without the resorting to conspiracies. In a 2010 paper published by John Hopkins University, graduate students Ethan Fosse, Neil Gross and Catherine Cheng (who are all now professors in the social sciences) conducted a field experiment that included so-called "secret shopper" methods that sought to find political bias against conservatives within the American professoriate. Not only did they discover no bias that impacts professorial hires, they also found that much of the disparity can indeed be explained by lifestyle choices and disposition.

In step with their findings, a 2007 study conducted by social scientists Matthew and April Woessner discovered that conservative and right-leaning students are significantly more likely to major in professional fields (such as business and M.B.A. tracks) and away from the academic path. Indeed, the Woessners found that "only 9 percent of the far left and 18 percent of liberals major in professional fields, as compared to 33 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of the far right." 

Additionally, their study reports that students who major in the humanities or other related non-professional fields are typically more liberal and are more likely to consider a PhD program than their conservative peers.

The disparity in higher education between left-leaning and right-leaning professors is not a simple result of discriminatory actions by universities. Personal lifestyle choices and psychological dispositions can account for a significant part of the disparity. Amid all the outrage and hyperbolic narratives of discrimination against conservatives in higher ed, we would do well to keep that in mind.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Coronavirus is exposing Trump's unsuitability to handle a crisis (Philip Klein,  March 08, 2020, washington Examiner)

If anybody was hoping that Trump had the ability to rise to the moment, his comments upon touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should disabuse them of that notion.

Trump, speaking from the facility with a red "Keep America Great" campaign hat, found time to praise the ratings of his townhall interview on Fox News. He declared, "I don't watch CNN because CNN is fake news." He attacked Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is dealing with the most deadly coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., as a "snake."

Dipping into the greatest hits from his impeachment defense, Trump said of the CDC tests that have run into significant problems, "the tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect, right? This was not as perfect as that, but pretty good."

When it came to the matter of testing, Trump also lied, and revealed staggering ignorance. In the face of questions about the disastrously slow rollout of testing in the U.S., Trump insisted, "Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That's what the bottom line is."

That is not remotely true. There have been many stories of people's futile efforts to try and get tested. Last Thursday, for instance, a registered nurse exhibiting symptoms in quarantine after having cared for a coronavirus patient, wrote of her difficulty obtaining a test even after it was okayed by a local health official.

Here in Washington, DC, where the first case was announced Saturday, health officials said they had the capacity to test 50 people a day. There is currently restrictive criteria for who can get tested.

South Korea, in contrast, has set up drive through centers, where individuals can get a sample taken in a few minutes without getting out of their cars, and get results back within a few days. This is exactly the sort of outside the box innovative solution that one would think a guy who ran as a practical businessman type would want to encourage or at least look into. Instead, Trump said "they're not testing. They're sampling people in other countries."

When a reporter interjected that those samples are then being tested, Trump said, "No, no -- excuse me, there's a difference. I heard what he said. They're sampling people. It's a drive-by. They give samples. Now, can we do that? Yeah, we can do that, but that's not effective like what we're doing."

The lack of adequate testing may be keeping the numbers of identified cases artificially low in the U.S., but they are also preventing public health officials from being able to identify areas of outbreak early enough to take steps to mitigate the spread. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Maryland governor criticizes Trump's statements on coronavirus (VICTORIA GUIDA, 03/08/2020, Politico)

The Republican governor said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that it was a smart move to put Pence, a former governor of Indiana, in charge of the coronavirus response.

"He's a former governor," Hogan said. "He knows the governors are on the front lines. And he is doing, I think, a good job of coordinating everybody and communicating with us."

"Has the president been perfect in his communication? I would say he hasn't communicated the way I would, and the way I might like him to," he added. "But I think the rest of the team has been doing a pretty good job."

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Russian Media Freak Over Joe Biden's Election Resurrection (Julia Davis, Mar. 08, 2020, Daily Beast)

Reporting on the U.S. elections for Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24, Alyona Pivkina made a gesture of surprise and said: "Suddenly, Biden surged ahead." The revelation was followed by an awkward moment of silence between Pivkina and the seemingly stunned host of the news broadcast.

The pro-Kremlin newspaper Vzglyad complained that Biden "rose from the ashes like a phoenix," prevailing "in spite of the corruption scandals" that have long been alleged and cultivated by the Russians--and the Republicans--concerning his son, Hunter, and his own activities in Ukraine.

With notable irritation, Vzglyad griped about Joe Biden's state primary victories in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama, claiming that the pro-Biden votes in rural states were secured by "rednecks, who shoot skunks for fun, bowl, beat their wives and associate the word 'socialist' with the communist threat." The newspaper bitterly surmised that through Biden's anticipated nomination, the U.S. elites won yet another Cold War against socialism.

Much like the Russians, Senate Republicans were caught off guard and visibly disappointed by Biden's resurgence as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

All that money and effort invested in getting a president who promises sanctions relief down the drain.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Judaism was the loser in these elections: Religious voices in the political discourse backed corruption and division as if the Torah has nothing to say about any of this (Alon Goshen-Gottstein, MAR 7, 2020,  The Times of Israel)

At the heart of it all is the issue of the moral fabric and standing of the State of Israel. Prayer for leaders and judges is an important part of our daily prayer. Recited thrice daily, we pray during the Amida prayer for the establishment of judges and for proper leadership. Where are the concerns for proper moral leadership in the present political reality? How much are these seen as religious concerns proper?

The sad news - religious voices, as represented by political parties, do not even consider this an issue. With the exception of rare lone voices all religious parties, and their respective rabbinic leadership, have rallied behind Netanyahu. Graft, corruption, dissention, spreading hatred, engaging in lies, dirty campaigning - none of this ever comes under religious scrutiny. It is as if Torah voices have nothing to say about any of this.

The reason for this is that "the right" is perceived as more supportive of the flourishing of religious life. The culture of state-sponsored Yeshivot and the possibility for advancing religious legislation have created a "natural partnership" between the religious, Zionist and charedi, and the nationalist right wing parties. This process is detrimental to Judaism. It ends up redefining it, in line with nationalist concerns and at the expense of fundamental moral concerns. If "morality precedes Torah"(derech eretz kadma letorah) were the guideline, and if the kabbalistic teaching of midot (moral attributes) preceding mitzvot (ritual performance) were adopted, things would have been different. The cost of the "natural" partnership is the emergence of a Judaism that prioritizes ritual over morality. This undermines spiritual wellbeing of the State and of Judaism itself.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


It's the decency, stupid: The secret to Joe Biden's resiliency (MATTHEW DALLEK, 3/07/20, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

The common explanations -- Clyburn's endorsement was the game-changer ("you brought me back," Biden told him), the center-left coalescing behind his candidacy and African-Americans recognizing his close ties to Barack Obama -- all tell a big part of the story.

Equally important, yet sometimes overlooked in the punditry's relentless nose-against-the-window focus on the news of the hour, is that in an era of nearly relentless nastiness, Biden exudes decency. And his biography makes him an almost uniquely sympathetic figure on the national stage. That enduring reality -- the fact that so many voters who almost reflexively dislike all politicians have a reserve of affinity for Joe -- must be central to almost any understanding of his remarkable Lazarus-like resurrection.

It is hard to think of another major political figure who lost both his first wife Neilia and two children 43 years apart: Neilia and baby daughter Naomi to a traffic accident in 1972, his adult son Beau to glioblastoma, a brain cancer, in 2015. His pain has enabled him to connect with people at a gut level, giving him the type of empathy that political leaders rarely manage to tap with so much poignancy.

And Biden's life's work -- his calling to politics and public service -- is something that he seems to need and feed off. Politics has given him an outlet and perhaps a hunger for personal connection where he has been able to channel his grief.

George W. Bush's campaign manager Ken Mehlman once observed that presidential campaigns "are about attributes, not issues."

Biden's political resurgence has to do as much with his solace, compassion and pain as with his endorsements, experience and good political fortune. His traits also match up well with Trump, who, as president, has shown virtually no humanity. And they match up well with Bernie Sanders, whose bombastic thesis that Biden personifies a rigged system is belied by Biden's life of service, tragedy and compassion.

It helps that he's running against the Left/Right, where indecency to opponents is the explicit appeal. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Trump & Sanders drove me to become a Democrat. Other disgusted Republicans should join me. (Gabriel Schoenfeld, 3/08/20, USA Today)

I became a Republican with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. This was the party of the Constitution, of limited government and a forward-leaning American posture around the world. It was Reagan who helped topple Communism in the Soviet Union and shepherded countries like South Korea and Taiwan into the democratic fold. It was Reagan who enshrined an intelligent brand of originalism by appointing the great constitutionalist Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court.

But on the day Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, I was out the door. As a lifelong New Yorker until quite recently, I know that three-card monte is a scam. I would never lend an iota of support to Trump and his shills. I immediately registered as an independent and devoted my efforts as a writer to exposing Trump's flimflammery.

The party that I once regarded as a pillar of our constitutional order is now eating away at that order like termites, indulging every one of Trump's transgressions against longstanding constitutional norms and against decency itself. The party that once stood against dictators is now led by a man who admires Russia's Vladimir Putin and says he fell in love with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. As much as I loathed the Democrats, I loathe these craven Republican cowards even more.

In 2018, I moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., and in January I changed my voter registration from independent to Democratic. Living in an overwhelmingly blue city, my vote has more meaning in a Democratic primary. I am passionately committed to bringing down Trump and I will support any Democrat who can achieve that result. 

Some self-reflection about how loathing Democrats helped create the miasma out of which the Right arose would be welcome here.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Donald Trump has become the leader of the dumbest suicide cult ever (Joshua Holland, 3/07/20, Raw Story)

"Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to say the coronavirus poses an imminent threat to the United States," according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to "say they are taking steps to be prepared, including washing their hands more often or limiting their travel plans."

Americans, who often consume news based on their political preferences, have received two different views of the virus's potential impact.

Trump has accused the media and his political adversaries of trying to derail his re-election campaign by amping up alarm over the dangers posed by the virus. He has largely sought to cast it as a comparatively minor threat, comparing its risk to the less deadly seasonal flu.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners last week that, "The coronavirus is the common cold" and was merely being "weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump." [...]

In related news, The New York Times reported that "Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has urged American military commanders overseas not to make any decisions related to the coronavirus that might surprise the White House or run afoul of President Trump's messaging on the growing health challenge.... Mr. Esper's directive, delivered last week during a video teleconference call with combatant commanders around the world, is the latest iteration of Mr. Trump's efforts to manage public fears over the disease, even as it continues to spread around the world."

In. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry, one of the main villains is Donald's soulmate, Woodrow Wilson and the totalitarian means he used to pursue WWI.  His censorship and disinformation helped prevent effective response to the flu.  Indeed, one of the reasons it was historically known as the Spanish flu was because Spain reported on the outbreak honestly while Wilson would not allow the same here.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Kamala Harris endorses Biden (RISHIKA DUGYALA, 03/08/2020, Politico)

In a video she shared on Twitter, the California senator -- once the lone black woman in a formerly diverse and large 2020 Democratic field -- said she would do everything in her power to help elect Biden.

Having just arrived in Alabama to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Harris said she was thinking about the generations of people who fought and died for civil rights and "help our nation achieve its ideals."

"We still have yet to achieve those ideals but one of the greatest things about us is that we are willing to fight to get there," she said. "So I just wanted you guys to know ... I have decided that I am with great enthusiasm going to endorse Joe Biden."

She called him a great leader, someone she's known for a long time and a public servant she really believes can unify the people. On Sunday, she joined the coalescing of moderates -- including ex-2020 rivals Pete Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke and Amy Klobuchar -- behind the former vice president.

"There is so much at stake in this election guys, so join me in supporting Joe. Let's get this done," she said, before announcing she would be appearing at Biden's Detroit rally on Monday night.

There is divine justice in the fact that Donald will be driven from office by the groups he hates: women, blacks, Jews, Muslims, Asians and Latinos.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


A Puritan minister incited fury by pushing inoculation against a smallpox epidemic (Jess McHugh, March 8, 2020, Washington Post)

In the 18th century, however, Boston's colonists met Mather's inoculation proposal with a terror that bordered on hysteria. They didn't understand how inoculation worked, and the notion of choosing to infect yourself with a deadly disease struck them -- perhaps understandably -- as outrageous. Fear of science, suspicion of the ruling elite, and a belief that medicine might meddle with God's will -- these ideas guided the angry mobs in Boston in 1721 and linger today in some form in anti-vaccine movements.

The 1721 smallpox epidemic in Boston began with a single sailor exhibiting signs of the disease, and within a few months, nearly half of the city's 11,000 residents fell ill. Hundreds of deaths followed. The tolling of Boston's 10 church bells was so constant that the town selectman was forced to limit a single bell toll per death. Panic gripped the city where everyone lived in fear of seeing the telltale rash appear on their skin.

Mather, then 58 and one of Boston's best-known men, had learned of a smallpox inoculation process through his slave, Onesimus. The minister was so convinced by Onesimus's description of the inoculation he had undergone in Africa -- scraping a piece of smallpox pus and inserting it under the skin of a healthy person -- that he convinced local physician Zabdiel Boylston to inoculate two more slaves and Boylston's own son. After the process worked, Mather became a public crusader for the cause of inoculation, igniting a fierce debate over inoculation, public health and the role of local leadership in epidemics. The fact that Onesimus came from Africa only stoked racist fears about exotic sorcery.