May 11, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


Unreleased White House report shows coronavirus rates spiking in heartland communities (Jonathan Allen, Phil McCausland and Cyrus Farivar, 5/11/20, NBC)

The top 10 areas saw surges of 72.4 percent or greater over a seven-day period compared to the prior week, according to a set of tables produced for the task force by its Data and Analytics unit. They include Nashville, Tennessee; Des Moines, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and -- atop the list with a 650 percent increase -- Central City, Kentucky.

On a separate list of "locations to watch," which didn't meet the precise criteria for the first set: Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Montgomery, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix, Arizona. The rate of new cases in Charlotte and Kansas City represented an increase of more than 200 percent over the prior week, and other tables included in the data show clusters in neighboring counties that don't form a geographic area on their own, like Wisconsin's Kenosha and Racine counties, which neighbor each other between Chicago and Milwaukee.

So far, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. have died because of the coronavirus, and the rate of new cases overall has not yet subsided.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


White House Counsel Knew in January Flynn Probably Violated the Law (MURRAY WAAS, DECEMBER 20, 2017,Foreign Policy)

The White House turned over records this fall to special counsel Robert Mueller revealing that in the very first days of the Trump presidency, Don McGahn researched federal law dealing both with lying to federal investigators and with violations of the Logan Act, a centuries-old federal law that prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, according to three people with direct knowledge of the confidential government documents.

The records reflected concerns that McGahn, the White House counsel, had that Michael Flynn, then the president's national security advisor, had possibly violated either one or both laws at the time, according to two of the sources. The disclosure that these records exist and that they are in the possession of the special counsel could bolster any potential obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump.

The records that McGahn turned over to the special counsel, portions of which were read to this reporter, indicate he researched both statutes and warned Trump about Flynn's possible violations.

McGahn conducted the analysis shortly after learning that Flynn, on Dec. 29, 2016 -- while Barack Obama was still president -- had counseled the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey Kislyak, not to retaliate against U.S. economic sanctions imposed against Russia by the outgoing administration.[...]

Despite McGahn's concerns that Flynn violated one or both of these laws, Trump allowed Flynn to continue in his job and only fired him after the Washington Post reported that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence and other senior administration officials about his contacts with Kislyak. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


It took one question for a reporter to expose Trump's latest baseless Obama conspiracy theory: Monday's news conference ended with Trump melting down in response to questions from female reporters. (Aaron Rupar@atrupar  May 11, 2020, Vox)

"In one of your Mother's Day tweets, you appeared to accuse President Obama of 'the biggest political crime in American history, by far' -- those were your words. What crime exactly are you accusing President Obama of committing, and do you believe the Justice Department should prosecute him?" Rucker asked, during a news conference that was ostensibly about the coronavirus.

Trump had nothing.

"Uh, Obamagate. It's been going on for a long time," he began. "It's been going on from before I even got elected, and it's a disgrace that it happened, and if you look at what's gone on, and if you look at now, all this information that's being released -- and from what I understand, that's only the beginning -- some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again."

Of course, "Obamagate" does not involve a crime, and there's no evidence that Obama or his top officials conspired against Trump -- quite the opposite. So when Rucker pressed the point by asking what exactly the ostensible crime was, Trump resorted to smears.

"You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


One of Lindsey Graham's biggest backers explains why he gave up on the GOP senator (Sky Palma, 5/11/20, Raw Story)

In an op-ed published in the Greenville News this Sunday, a former backer of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) explained why he no longer supports Graham and has instead endorsed his opponent for the U.S. Senate.

"I supported Lindsey Graham until 2017," ex-Michelin North America chairman Richard Wilkerson writes. "I saw him as a moderate Republican who could work across the aisle to get positive change made. But I started having real misgivings about him when he failed to mount any significant defense when Donald Trump attacked his best friend, the late Sen. John McCain."

"What is the character of a man who will not defend his best friend? If he won't defend John McCain, why would I expect him to defend any of us in South Carolina?" Wilkerson asked himself.  The only conclusion he could come to was that Graham was more interested in "currying favor than in honoring the memory of a true American hero whom he had described as his best friend."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Newly Released Transcript Shows Jared Kushner Misled Congress About a Contact Involving Russia: Kushner downplayed ties to a friend acting as a backchannel to Russia in House testimony. (Dan Friedman, 5/11/20, MoJo)

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.
While President Trump uses Attorney General William Barr to try to erase the story of his 2016 campaign's contacts with Russia, information showing that Trump insiders stonewalled or misled investigators probing the Trump-Russia scandal continues to emerge.

Last week, the House Intelligence Committee released a transcript of a once behind-closed-doors interview with Jared Kushner in which Trump's son-in-law evaded a question about his relationship with Rick Gerson, a New York hedge-fund manager and a longtime friend of Kushner. In a curious move, Kushner downplayed his link to Gerson, who in late 2016 and early 2017, due to his connection to Kushner, was mixed up in secretive contacts between the incoming Trump administration, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia--a weird series of actions that were investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Hydroxychloroquine shows no benefit against coronavirus in New York study (SARAH OWERMOHLE, 05/11/2020, Politico)

A decades-old malaria medicine touted by the president as a coronavirus treatment showed no benefit for thousands of patients hospitalized in New York. [...]

Previous trials had suggested the drug can cause serious heart problems, especially when paired with azithromycin, and the latest study backed up those findings. Researchers said that patients receiving both drugs together were more likely to experience cardiac arrest than those who received one or neither of the therapies.

The FDA authorized emergency use of the drug against the coronavirus in March, despite sparse evidence that it could work.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


As Trump urges reopening, White House battles own virus outbreak (JEROME CARTILLIER, 5/11/20, AFP) 

White House to require West Wing staff to wear face masks (Ursula Perano, 5/11/20)

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Majority of Republicans oppose protests against stay-home orders (Josh Israel, May 11, 2020, American Independent)

By a majority of 55% to 31%, most Americans disapprove of protests around the country demanding an end to social distancing rules. Republicans oppose them 51% to 32%.

The findings were part of an AP-NORC poll released Monday. Among Democrats, 67% oppose the protests and 25% support them.

The same survey found that 71% of Americans support requiring people to stay at home in most cases to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic -- with 57% support among Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General: 'Never Seen Anything Like' Ex-DOJ Lawyers' Public Backlash Against Barr (Jerry Lambe, May 11th, 2020. Law & Crime)

A former acting U.S. Solicitor General said the backlash against Attorney General William Barr over the Justice Department's decision to drop the criminal case against Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was unlike anything he had ever encountered.

Neal Katyal on Monday pointed to three op-eds penned by former high-ranking DOJ officials, all of which condemned the department's decision in no uncertain terms.

"The combo of these 3 pieces about DOJ dropping the Flynn charges is astounding," the Supreme Court litigator wrote, adding, "I've never seen anything like it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


Roger Stone prosecutor unloads on Bill Barr accusing AG of doing favors for Donald Trump's friends and attacking career officials knowing they cannot respond (NIKKI SCHWAB, 5/11/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

A former federal prosecutor who worked on Roger Stone's case unloaded on Attorney General Bill Barr for doing favors for Donald Trump's friends in light of the Department of Justice dropping its case against Michael Flynn. 

The prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post Monday that accused Barr's DOJ of 'put[ting] political patronage ahead of its commitment to the rule of law.' 

'I feel compelled to write because I believe the the department's handling of these matters is profoundly misguided, because my colleagues who still serve the department are duty-bound to remain silent and because I am convinced that the department's conduct in the Stone and Flynn cases will do lasting damage to the institution,' Kravis wrote.  

Kravis said that he resigned from the Department of Justice after a decade-long stint over the Stone case. 

'At the time, I thought that the handling of the Stone case, with senior officials intervening to recommend a lower sentence for a longtime ally of President Trump, was a disastrous mistake that the department would not make again,' Kravis wrote. 

'I was wrong,' he added.  

Kravis then detailed his own experience with the Stone case, reminding readers that four prosecutors on the case recommended the former Trump political adviser receive seven to nine years in prison for obstruction of Congress, false statements and witness tampering. 

But the president tweeted, the next morning, that the sentencing recommendation was a 'miscarriage of justice.' 

The Justice Department then revoked the original sentencing recommendation and swapped it out for one giving Stone a lighter sentence. 

'All four career prosecutors who had tried Stone withdrew from the case. I resigned because I was not willing to serve a department that would so easily abdicate its responsibility to dispence impartial justice,' Kravis said. 

Kravis accused the department of engaging in an 'equally appalling chapter' with its back-pedaling on Flynn, the president's original national security adviser. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Being Donald Trump: Inside the World Where Conspiracies Are Reality: What reality looks like from inside Trump World. (TIM MILLER  OCTOBER 4, 2019, The Bulwark)

Instead, consider the possibility that the U.S. intelligence community--desperate to prevent Trump from ascending to the presidency--worked with the Clinton campaign, Democratic National Committee insiders, intelligence agents in multiple foreign countries, and Ukrainian oligarchs in order to fabricate evidence of Russian interference and cover-up what was an inside job all along. And that they used former British spy (and dossier author) Christopher Steele as their vehicle.

That's what the president and his team seem to believe.

Their theory is . . . complicated. It took several days for me to unpack it and even still there are a few remaining holes that need filling. So for anyone having trouble grasping its full majesty, I'll take each claim separately, so you can see how the structure of this belief was assembled piece by piece and what is left to be uncovered.

At the center of the case is the U.S. intelligence community. We already know through private communications that FBI employees Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, and Lisa Page wanted to "protect the country on many levels" from the possibility of a President Trump. They even texted on government phones about a "secret society" they had created. Also, since the election the heads of the FBI and CIA--James Comey and John O Brennan--have become #Resistance warriors. So Trump World assumes that they must have shared the views of the "secret society." It is the belief of Trump World that these individuals and/or their associates masterminded the entire plot--with Brennan as the ringleader.

Trump World believes that this conspiracy's first step was to fabricate a basis for an investigation into Trump some time during the Spring of 2016, just as he was sealing the GOP nomination. It was then that the intelligence chiefs worked with their partners in the Clinton campaign to hire Steele, who would serve either as their ally in fabrication or an unwitting dupe to be used as part of their efforts to launch the investigation.

Next they brought friends from the international intelligence community into the conspiracy. Using a shadowy Italian agent named Joseph Mifsud--who has Russian ties, making him an excellent head fake--and Australian ambassador Alexander Downer, they entrapped low-level Trump staffer George Papadopoulos in a brilliant scheme where Mifsud offered phony Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. He did this knowing that Papadopoulos would brag about this highly secretive and illegal offer in a meeting with Downer a month later. Downer then relayed the "intelligence" (wink wink) back to the Americans who had positioned it there in the first place.

Like a skilled LAPD officer/Fox News analyst, the intel agencies had successfully planted the evidence they needed to begin the greatest witch hunt ever conducted outside of Salem. But, despite having this information in May, the investigation of Donald Trump couldn't start until something happened to precipitate it. So the intelligence community sat on their evidence for two months, patiently waiting for the moment to strike.

That opportunity came in July, when Wikileaks began releasing highly damaging information about Hillary Clinton--the candidate the intelligence community was ostensibly trying to help.

Wait, what?

This is one piece of the theory I haven't been able to puzzle out. When the intelligence community was planning this brilliant trap to frame Trump, how did they know that the Wikileaks emails would be coming a few months later and could be used as a pretext to spring the trap?

I suppose it's possible that they had a counter-intel informant in Russia. But that doesn't make much sense, because Trump World keeps saying that Russia wasn't involved in any of this. Plus--as we'll see shortly--having a source in Russia would have negated the need for the Crowdstrike cover-up.

Trump World has its own theory...


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


DOJ Alumni Statement on Flynn Case (May 11, 2020)

Make no mistake: The Department's action is extraordinarily rare, if not unprecedented. If any of us, or anyone reading this statement who is not a friend of the President, were to lie to federal investigators in the course of a properly predicated counterintelligence investigation, and admit we did so under oath, we would be prosecuted for it.

We thus unequivocally support the decision of the career prosecutor who withdrew from the Flynn case, just as we supported the prosecutors who withdrew from the Stone case. They are upholding the oath that we all took, and we call on their colleagues to continue to follow their example. President Trump accused the career investigators and prosecutors involved in the Flynn case of "treason" and threatened that they should pay "a big price." It is incumbent upon the other branches of government to protect from retaliation these public servants and any others who are targeted for seeking to uphold their oaths of office and pursue justice.

It is now up to the district court to consider the government's motion to dismiss the Flynn indictment. We urge Judge Sullivan to closely examine the Department's stated rationale for dismissing the charges -- including holding an evidentiary hearing with witnesses -- and to deny the motion and proceed with sentencing if appropriate. While it is rare for a court to deny the Department's request to dismiss an indictment, if ever there were a case where the public interest counseled the court to take a long, hard look at the government's explanation and the evidence, it is this one. Attorney General Barr's repeated actions to use the Department as a tool to further President Trump's personal and political interests have undermined any claim to the deference that courts usually apply to the Department's decisions about whether or not to prosecute a case.

Finally, in our previous statement, we called on Attorney General Barr to resign, although we recognized then that there was little chance that he would do so. We continue to believe that it would be best for the integrity of the Justice Department and for our democracy for Attorney General Barr to step aside. In the meantime, we call on Congress to hold the Attorney General accountable. In the midst of the greatest public health crisis our nation has faced in over a century, we would all prefer it if Congress could focus on the health and prosperity of Americans, not threats to the health of our democracy. Yet Attorney General Barr has left Congress with no choice. Attorney General Barr was previously set to give testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31, but the hearing was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge the Committee to reschedule Attorney General Barr's testimony as soon as safely possible and demand that he answer for his abuses of power. We also call upon Congress to formally censure Attorney General Barr for his repeated assaults on the rule of law in doing the President's personal bidding rather than acting in the public interest. Our democracy depends on a Department of Justice that acts as an independent arbiter of equal justice, not as an arm of the president's political apparatus.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Whistleblower: Trump officials ignored company's offer to make 7 million masks a month (JULIA CONLEY, MAY 11, 2020, Salon)

The head of the Fort Worth-based company, Michael Bowen, wrote to HHS on Jan. 23, two days after the U.S. confirmed its first case of COVID-19. 

Bowen offered to use four dormant production lines to produce as many as seven million N95 masks per month, but was told by Laura Wolf, director of the Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection at HHS, "I don't believe we as a government are anywhere near answering those questions for you yet."

"We are the last major domestic mask company," replied Bowen, who at the time was fulfilling orders for masks from all over the world. "My phones are ringing now, so I don't 'need' government business. I'm just letting you know that I can help you preserve our infrastructure if things ever get really bad."

In Bright's whistleblower complaint, he described how he tried to direct Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec's attention to Bowen's offer in late January. Bowen wrote to Bright in late January following his communications with Wolf that "U.S. mask supply is at imminent risk," adding a blunt warning, "Rick, I think we're in deep shit."

Bright demanded to know from Kadlec why Bowen's offer had fallen "on deaf ears."

"We have been watching and receiving warnings on this for over a week," the scientist wrote. 

The agency's refusal to take Bowen up on his offer early on helped lead to a crisis weeks later, as health care workers across the country reported severe shortages of N95 masks as well as other personal protective equipment needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in health care settings. As the Trump administration denied several times that it was responsible for making sure states had the supplies they needed, states were forced into bidding wars with one another over equipment orders that they placed directly with manufacturers. 

There was no grift for Donald to skim off.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


COVID-19 Conspiracists and Their Discontents (Michael Shermer, 5/11/20, Quillette)

Perhaps the most Jason Bourne-ish conspiracy theory is that COVID-19 did not really involve any kind of wet market in Wuhan, but is actually a "bioweapon." The germ of truth here is that many nations really have been researching bioweapons for generations, including research on such scourges as Ebola, Smallpox, and Anthrax. In 2001, a handful of Americans were killed by Anthrax delivered through the mail. And in 1979, anthrax spores were accidentally leaked from a Soviet military research lab near the Russian city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), leading to an estimated 100 deaths (although precise details were subject to the usual Soviet obfuscation, including the claim the deaths were caused by tainted meat). China's autocratic form of government, press censorship, occasionally aggressive foreign policy, and repression of whistleblowers all make the idea that the virus was created by artificial means--instead of ordinary natural selection among animal-borne pathogens--seem like it could be credible, even if there is no real evidence for it.

In fact, the evidence points in the opposite direction. According to a genetic analysis of the virus published on March 17th in the journal NatureMedicine, "if genetic manipulation had been performed, one of the several reverse-genetic systems available for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used. However, the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone." The scientists noted the similarity of SARS-CoV-2 to bat SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses, concluding "it is likely that bats serve as reservoir hosts for its progenitor," with the transmission to humans most likely occurring in late November to early December 2019. The fact that bats are mammals living in massive colonies numbering in the millions, and are regularly infected with virus-based respiratory diseases, makes the link to humans all the more credible.

These are just a few of the many conspiracy theories ricocheting around the Internet. A full catalog would be almost impossible to create, and would quickly become obsolete as old conspiracy-theory strains mutated into new species (much as with actual pathogens). This conspiracism will likely continue so long as people experience COVID-19-related fear and anxiety--emotions that always have been linked to conspiracist movements throughout history.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Korea's new outbreak should be a warning (Sam Baker, 5/11/20, Axios)

South Korea -- a model for how to handle the coronavirus well -- has had to re-tighten some of its commercial restrictions as on Sunday it reported the biggest-single day increase in cases it has seen in over a month with 34 new cases.

Why it matters: The U.S., by contrast, is seeing roughly 25,000 new cases per day -- a discrepancy that far outstrips the differences in population between the two countries.

What happened in South Korea is pretty much what you'd expect: An infected person went to several clubs in one night. He is believed to have infected 43 fellow clubgoers, who in turn infected another 11 people, per NPR.

We will almost certainly see much bigger subsequent waves of infection here in the U.S., where the focus is on reopening -- even in nursing homes. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Florida slowed coronavirus: Everyone stayed home before they were told to (Adam Playford, Kathleen McGrory, Steve Contorno, Caitlin Johnston and Zachary T. Sampson, 5/10/20, Tampa Bay Times)

Tampa Bay Times reporters reviewed the methodology behind several prominent models and studied data tracing the virus' spread into every corner of the state.

Then the Times analyzed cell phone tracking data collected by three companies that paints a vivid picture of how Floridians reacted during the outbreak's early days. Fifteen experts reviewed the work and shared their observations.

The analysis indicates that while Florida's politicians debated beach closings and stay-at-home orders, residents took matters into their own hands.

By the time each county shut down, there had been large reductions in activity, the cell phone data shows. People in the worst-hit counties were overwhelmingly staying home weeks before DeSantis' order went out -- and even before the much-earlier orders issued by local governments.

At the time Floridians stopped venturing out, the virus most likely had spread to fewer individuals compared to the places that became national hotspots, according to epidemiologists who reviewed the Times' analysis. But in the late days of March, this was masked by a severe lack of testing across the country, which made it impossible to tell.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Switching to renewables could cut industry energy costs by almost a quarter (Michael Mazengarb, 8 May 2020, Renew Economy)

Australia's major industrial energy users could cut their energy costs by almost a quarter by switching to renewable supplies and could be key to an Australian manufacturing revival, a new research report has shown.

The total savings that could be achieved by a wide-scale shift to supplies of wind and solar would amount to as much as $1.6 billion per year, representing a 23 per cent cut to energy expenses, the report by the Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work finds.

According to the research, these savings grow over time, and by 2050, a shift to powering manufacturing with 100 per cent renewable could cut energy costs by as much as 33 per cent, saving large-users an estimated $2.2 billion annually by 2050.

It's simple economics, not ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Right-wing smear artist Jacob Wohl has a long, dubious history. Will he finally go to prison? (ROGER SOLLENBERGER, MAY 11, 2020, Salon)

Last month, right-wing provocateurs Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman called another in a series of hapless press conferences designed to impugn their political enemies. This time they claimed to bring forward a woman to accuse Dr. Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, of sexually assaulting her at a Four Seasons hotel in 2014.

The woman later contacted a journalist at Reason to 'fess up: She said she was Wohl's ex-girlfriend and the duo had paid her thousands of dollars to make the false accusation under a fake name. What's more, she had the tapes to prove it. 

"The reality is that I've known Jacob since 2018 and that he charmed me into taking money to do this," she wrote, pointing to a photo of her sitting on Wohl's lap, which he had posted to Instagram months prior.

The smears -- which have also targeted Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, attorney Michael Avenatti and former special counsel Robert Mueller -- have successfully raised Wohl's national profile. They have also raised significant questions about his possible liability for slander, libel, bribery, extortion and fraud.

Wohl, who lives in Corona, California, was recently arraigned along with a former business partner for selling unregistered securities. (The Daily Beast first reported those charges in September of 2019.) This February, Wohl and his former partner pleaded not guilty to two counts of securities fraud before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Gail O'Rane. Their April 21 felony settlement hearing was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Such industrialized disinformation is the Right's main business nowadays.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Saudi triples VAT, suspends handouts in virus-led austerity drive (ANUJ CHOPRA, 5/11/20, AFP)

Saudi Arabia unveiled plans Monday to triple its Value Added Tax (VAT) and halt monthly handouts to citizens as part of a series of austerity measures amid record low oil prices and a coronavirus-led economic slump.

The measures, which state media said would boost state coffers by 100 billion riyals ($26.6 billion), come as the government steps up emergency plans to slash spending to deal with the twin economic blow.

There is no representation without taxation.