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Day 1273 – Even More Barr Corruption

Coronavirus continues to explode in the Sun Belt.  Each day brings another record case count.  Thursday’s record 37,077 new cases was the highest of the entire pandemic thus far.  As reported on MSNBC last night, health officials in Arkansas are predicting that their cases won’t peak until the end of September, expecting a current case count at that point of 150,000 active cases.  Not total cases, but active cases.  That’s a huge number.  Other states like Arizona and Texas are already seeing hospitals near capacity.  At the same time, Trump continues to suggest to Fox reporters and others that the culprit is not the spread of a deadly disease but rather the spread of testing.  He keeps claiming that if we do less testing we will find less disease.  It’s an insane, delusional assertion that at first seemed like a ploy Trump was using, but more and more it seems that he might actually believe that if he can’t see something, it doesn’t exist.  Most people grasp object permanence as a toddler, but Trump may have skipped over it.

As Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon wrote in Axios:

The U.S. today is getting closer to the worst-case scenario envisioned in the spring — a nationwide crisis, made worse by a vacuum of political leadership, threatening to overwhelm hospitals and spread out of control.

Trump supporters, bolstered by Fox and other right wing hate media, harbor bizarre and grotesque conspiracy theories that masks kill people, that Covid is caused by 5G cellphones, that Covid death totals are phony, that mask wearing is against Jesus, and so on.  It’s horrifying that we live among so many people for whom science and reason and logic and evidence are an untrustworthy threat to their superstitions and prejudices.  This won’t change until Fox and other outlets are starved of their ad revenue.  But for now, in the catastrophic leadership vacuum created by Trump, mask wearing remains the single best weapon we have to fight the virus.

While Covid rages, Trump’s regime and Republican state attorney generals are actively trying to invalidate the ACA and strip 20 million Americans of health coverage.  They  filed briefs with the Supreme Court yesterday.  Their lawsuit states that because one part of the ACA was ruled invalid (after that part was altered by Republican lawmakers expressly to ruin its legality) then the entire act should be invalidated.  It’s absurd, and should be rejected by the courts, but nothing in the Trump era is predictable.

One thing is certain: Bill Barr is corrupt.  A new blockbuster report in the NY Times last night detailed how Barr tried to meddle in cases involving Trump and his friends that were being investigated by the Southern District of New York.  One of those cases was the hush-money case involving Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.  Why was Michael Cohen the only one charged, when we know that Trump was involved, as well as Trump’s accountant and Donald Jr?  Turns out, Barr spent weeks pushing the SDNY to limit the scope of the prosecution to Cohen.  Barr even tried to get prosecutors to drop or lower charges against Cohen.  This, in itself, was an abuse of power and, in a sane world with a functioning Congress, should have resulted in the impeachment of Barr.  His tenure as Attorney General has been such a stain on the office, such a disgraceful  perversion of justice and subversion of the rule of law, that it’s hard to overstate.  Most of the norms, traditions and ethics of the Department of Justice have been destroyed and wiped away by AG Barr, and though his actions might not rise to the level of criminal conduct, they certainly rise to the level of unethical conduct that betrayed Barr’s oath of office, and they create the strong appearance of a conflict of interest and a biased and uneven application of justice.  This eats at the very core of who we are as a nation.  A fair system of justice is the backbone of a healthy democracy.  Without it, we’re doomed.

Trump supporters have long seen Trump as a competent businessman (even though he bankrupted six casinos and multiple other businesses) rather than a playboy real estate heir, and Trump energetically defends that false myth.  So it’s no surprise that Trump is now angry at ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.  Fiorina, a Republican, ran for president in the primary against Trump and eventually voted for Trump in the general election.  But now Fiorina has joined a growing list of business leaders declaring support for Joe Biden, describing Trump’s behavior as “destructive to the republic.”  Fiorina said:

I am encouraged that Joe Biden is a person of humility and empathy and character. I think he’s demonstrated that through his life. And I think we need humility and empathy everywhere in public life right now. And I think character counts.

The election is only 130 days away.  Keep resisting Trump and do what you can to help register voters and motivate them, especially in swing states, so we can “vote his ass out of office.”

Have a safe, restful and relaxing weekend.

Day 1272 – The Wrong Kind Of Record

America reached yet another grim milestone yesterday as the daily coronavirus count of new cases hit a national record high.  Officials across the nation recorded 36,880 new cases, topping the prior record from April.  The virus has been resurging in over a dozen states with Texas, Florida and Arizona hitting new records daily.  The numbers have been so bad in Florida that the grotesquely arrogant yet incompetent governor, DeSantis, is finally admitting that the rise in cases may be due to more than just increased testing–what many observers have been screaming at him for weeks.

A distressing dimension to the resurgence has been the number of cases involving younger people.  As testing becomes more widespread, we can see that many more young people are or were infected than previously thought.  In fact the median age of infection in the USA is 48.  People over 70 are the most likely to die, but people under 50 are no less likely to become infected than older citizens, they are just less likely to require immediate hospitalization.  But doctors are noticing many more young people with chronic, long-term complications from Covid, which has dire implications for public health in the years ahead.

The latest surge in cases puts more pressure on governors of stricken states to increase lockdown measures, and motivates governors in other states to be wary.  Governor Cuomo announced that the Tri-State coalition of NY-NJ-CT would try to restrict travelers from a short list of hot-spot states, requiring anybody from those states to quarantine for 14 days if traveling into the Tri-State region.  The surge has also spooked the stock market, which fell 700 points yesterday and was down further last night in overseas trading.  If the economy remains shut down in certain population centers like Miami, Houston and/or Phoenix it will hamper any economic recovery, especially since our federal government is completely absent from the arena.  Trump has quit the field and left the battle to the states in what may be the most disastrous abdication of responsibility in presidential history.

Another presidential disaster is unfolding in the Department of Justice.  Former Federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky testified to the House yesterday and reiterated that he and his team prosecuting Trump-crony Roger Stone were pressured to reduce Stone’s sentence not for any legitimate legal reason but because Stone was a friend of Trump and the top dogs at the DOJ didn’t want to make Trump angry.  Zelinsky named the superiors involved, providing the House Judiciary Committee with a road-map of people to call in or subpoena to dig further into what seems to be an abuse of power, likely by AG Barr himself.  Judiciary Chair Nadler tweeted this after the hearing:

Mr. Barr’s work at the Department of Justice has nothing to do with correcting injustice. He is the President’s fixer. He has shown us that there is one set of rules for the President’s friends, and another set of rules for the rest of us.

Walter Shaub, lawyer and former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted this when the Zelinsky story broke:

…it’s crucial that the House impeach Bill Barr. It doesn’t matter if the Senate will convict. What matters is that the House forcefully declare that turning criminal prosecution into a political weapon or shield is a breach of norms that the republic will not tolerate.

It’s worth noting that yesterday’s hearing included an episode where a witness was reading a damning statement about Bill Barr but was interrupted by Republican Rep Louie Gohmert repeatedly banging his desk.  Chastised by the Chair, Gohmert tried to claim that there were no rule prohibiting him from making noise, so the Chair finally had to ask the Sargent at Arms to remove Gohmert.  The incident was another low point of ridiculous, childish behavior from a Republican in a hearing led by Democrats.  Republicans can no longer participate in House hearings without throwing tantrums and pretending that whatever is going on that day is “the worst thing our Congress has ever endured and all because of the mean, horrible Democrats!!!”  Under Trump they’ve all become a bunch of third-grade whiners.

Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”

Day 1271 – Barr’s Corruption Deepens

Yesterday was primary day in New York.  The stakes weren’t very high for Democrats, as Joe Biden was already the party’s presumptive nominee and we won the NY primary handily.  But Republicans in NY-19 had to choose between Ola Hawatmeh and Kyle Van De Water to face incumbent Antonio Delgado his November.  So far the race is too close to call but Hawatmeh leads with 5,502 votes to Van De Water’s 5,037 with absentee ballots yet to be counted.  As you can see, the turnout in this Trump +7 district was tiny, in part due to the pandemic, but also likely due to a lack of enthusiasm among Republicans.  Keep in mind that Hawatmeh has $226K on hand, Van De Water has a measly $2K on hand, and Delgado sits on a war chest of $2.7M.  Whoever challenges Delgado is going to be fighting an uphill battle for attention.

The coronavirus continued to set records yesterday in several states.  Outbreaks in Florida, Arizona, Texas and Utah are straining hospitals and ICU beds while numbers continue to climb in California and Oregon.  Paul Krugman of the New York Times posted a graphic on Twitter last night with the caption, “America’s disastrous pandemic response, in one picture”

For the first time in weeks, the presidential advisory board spoke to the public, though the venue was a Congressional hearing.  Doctor Fauci noted with concern that several states were seeing “community spread” of the virus not unlike the situation we faced in New York City, and urged people not to gather in groups, especially indoors, and especially in situations that lent themselves to talking loudly, laughing or screaming–such as the political rallies that Trump has been having.  He pleaded with viewers to wear masks whenever in public.  As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night on MSNBC, the only two indoor mass-gatherings to occur in any advanced nation in the past four months have happened here in the United States, both orchestrated by the same person, Donald Trump.  No wonder the EU is considering banning Americans from European travel for the foreseeable future!

Big news also broke yesterday on another Congressional front.  A former career lawyer for the justice department is scheduled to testify before Congress today at noon on undue influence he experienced while prosecuting the Roger Stone case.  His name is Aaron Zelinsky and here is an excerpt from his opening statement:

What I saw was the Department of Justice exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct Senetencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject — and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction.  Such pressure resulted in the virtually unprecedented decision to to override the original sentencing recommendation in his case and to file a new sentencing memorandum that included statements and assertions at odds with the record and contrary to Department of Justice policy.  What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President.  I was told that the Acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Timothy Shea, was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break, and that the US Attorney’s sentencing instructions to us were based on political considerations.  I was also told that the acting US attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was “afraid of the President.”

Here’s a link to the complete statement:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/read-aaron-zelinsky-s-opening-statement-to-the-house-judiciary-committee/c8d10cfa-3de6-4dc5-93a1-0254593a11b6/

Zelinsky’s troubling disclosure paints of picture of Barr’s DOJ as an engine of favoritism and corruption, and is yet another very good reason that our leaders should investigate Barr and consider impeaching him for abusing his power.  Today’s hearing could be a real game changer.

Keep resisting and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”

 

Day 1270 – The Virus Is Endemic

More bad news on the spread of the coronavirus.  The pandemic is surging once again in the United States, with the seven-day rolling case average once again rising toward its all time highs.  At least a dozen states continue to see record-high new cases and while the United States has 4% of the worlds population, we have over 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases.  Days ago VP Mike Pence was assuring Republicans that the virus was on the wane but recent numbers are proving him tragically wrong.

Many of the spiking states have recently relaxed their quarantines–if they ever had a quarantine to begin with–and increased testing does not account for their increase in cases.  It’s full blown community spread.  Here’s the latest graph from the Covid Tracking Project showing how poorly the USA has done compared with many other countries.

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The graph also shows that our “first wave” never really went away, it only plateaued before starting skyward again.  The main thing that separates us from other advanced countries is the utter incompetence of our federal response.  We really didn’t have one. For two months Trump dismissed the virus, then made a lot of noisy promises, none of which came through, and then in frustration, he punted to the states and gave up.  As a virologist said on cable news last night, coronavirus in the United States remains a raging fire. It has become endemic.

A different category of hot-spot is happening due to climate change.  In addition to the horrifying temperatures being experienced in the Siberian Arctic, the East Coast has been locked in a historic heat wave for the past week, producing higher than average temperatures both day and night.  It was reported yesterday that Lake Champlain recorded its highest lake-water temperature ever for the month of June, 77 degrees, which is only 1 degree away from the all-time lake-water temperature ever recorded.  Normally Lake Champlain doesn’t reach peak temperature until late July or August, so to reach 77 degrees in the third week of June is historic and troubling.

It’s impossible to over-stress the importance of voting out Trump and the Foxpublicans this November.  We’ve already lost four valuable years in the fight against global warming and we can’t afford another minute.  Our oceans are warming rapidly, our domestic oil fields are leaking a massive amount of methane, the methane trapped in permafrost is being released at rates far higher than scientists thought possible only a few years ago, the biomass of insects in Europe (and likely everywhere else) has gone down 80% in the past 25-30 years, we are seeing 500-year fires regularly in California, Australia, the Amazon–I could go on.  This is truly a climate emergency.

We also face a law-and-order emergency.  AG Bill Barr has corrupted the Department of Justice and hollowed out the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in DC.  Now he’s trying to corrupt the US Attorney’s office in Manhattan, having fired US Attorney Geoffrey Berman over the weekend.  But Congress is trying to fight back.  Rep Nadler has scheduled Berman to testify in a hearing tomorrow, and Nadler’s Judiciary Committee is reportedly about to subpoena AG Barr to testify, withholding the DOJ budget in order to compel Barr to show up.  Stay tuned.

Today the mid-hudson region including Dutchess County will begin “Phase 3 reopening” according to Governor Cuomo’s reopening plan. Phase 3 includes restaurants, food services and bars with indoor dining, as well as non-hair related personal care.  Check out this link for more info:

https://forward.ny.gov/

Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”

Day 1269 – The Pettysburg Address

Weekend takeaways:

Trump’s rally in Tulsa was a disaster.  The arena was only 1/3 full.  Trump & his team lied and blamed the bad turnout on violent protesters blocking the entrances, and the lie was easily debunked by pictures of a small number of peaceful protesters kept far from the arena.  Perhaps more embarrassing, Trump & team boasted about issuing a million tickets to the event and even had a huge outdoor overflow area to accommodate a huge turnout, only to discover that hundreds of thousands of young people around the world reserved tickets with no intention of attending.  The youth were motivated, in part, by a video on social media that urged them to punk Trump’s rally, which seemed to work.  Beyond the dismal crowd, Trump’s “performance” was pathetic.  His energy was low and he spent almost the entire evening airing grievances in a whining tone that often bordered on a wail.  Some were calling the rally “the emptysburg address” but I think “the pettysburg address” captures Trump’s message.  He said nothing about George Floyd, and little about the coronavirus, avoiding mention of the 120,000 dead and their grieving families.  He even suggested that states should test less to keep the numbers down so he can look better.  Trump and his team couldn’t have engineered a worse start to their campaign if they had tried.

The coronavirus continues to hammer more than a dozen states, and twelve of them have recorded record high case numbers since Friday.  Florida continues set daily records and the governor is finally admitting that increased testing doesn’t account for the spike.  Duh.  Some virologists are saying that Covid can no longer contained and has become endemic, especially in the face of an uneven and splintered fifty-state response that has no federal leadership nor coordination.  The virus will continue to circulate widely and infect Americans until we develop a treatment or vaccine, not letting up into the foreseeable future.

The World Bank issued a forecast over the weekend predicting that the global recession from the pandemic will be twice as bad as the 2009 financial crisis and the worst since WWII.  They expect “the largest fraction of economies experiencing declines in per capita output since 1870.”  The stock market obviously doesn’t believe that blue-chip equities will be that badly affected, but demand for stocks won’t last forever if consumer demand for products remains historically low.

Perhaps the most horrifying news from the weekend concerned the weather in Siberia.  A Siberian town just inside the Arctic Circle experienced a high temperature of 100-degrees F, shattering the previous high in an area where the average June HIGH temperature is 68 F.  The day before, the reading was 95 F so this was not an anomaly but part of a large and unprecedented weather system.  Scientists studying global warming predicted a change like this to occur around the year 2100, so this development is happening 80 years earlier than predicted, and scientists are not sure what to make of it, other than it is very bad.  Scientist Bill McKibben said that, “Arctic systems are so crucial–as they shift, the feedback loops are potentially enormous.”  And he went on to say, “this scares me.”

It seems like there’s a new corruption scandal every day under the Trump regime.  In the latest, AG Bill Barr announced on Friday night that the US Attorney overseeing the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, was stepping down.  Later that night, Berman said that, in fact, he had no intention of stepping down, and that Barr could not fire him, only the president could.  So later, Barr said that Berman was being fired by Trump. But later, Trump as asked about the firing by a reporter and Trump replied, “I’m not involved.”  So clearly, Barr lied and then in the end Trump lied.  The bad news is, Berman is out.  The good news is, his deputy is in charge at least until a new head can be confirmed by the Senate, which could take a while. The firing was likely an effort to obstruct justice in the cases SDNY was pursuing against Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others connected to Trump or friends of Trump.  Barr’s actions have again sparked outrage among former DOJ officials and Democratic lawmakers, with new calls for his resignation or impeachment coming from a wide swath of experts.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.  Will the House subpoena Barr?

Happy Monday.  Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”