105,746

Apart from having to hide in the bunker this evening, how convenient for you, Bronx Colors user, that the media has been under fire for two days and unable to hold you accountable.

How convenient for you the media and public have changed the subject to this country’s original sin, racism.

So convenient it’s almost as if the distraction was organized.

So convenient the riot gear purchased by the feds earlier this year may have found a good use, depending on how it was distributed when received.*

What a pity personal protection equipment for the entire American health care system hadn’t been ordered at the same time the riot gear was purchased. We’ll chalk that up to another one of your gross failings.

The dust will eventually settle on the streets, the tear gas will drift away, the arrested will pay bail and head home.

And the subject will return to your gross failings because they continue to mount every day. We’ll grant you that much: your malignant neglect of your role as president to protect and defend the Constitution and the people who live within its reach is greater than that of any American president in history and grows apace.

COVID-19 US death toll, June 1. 2020 800h ET
You owe this many Americans and their surviving family and friends an apology, at a minimum, for having failed so wretchedly handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all of these deaths could have been avoided had you gotten off your ass and done what was needed in January after China and WHO announced the risk of pandemic.

Being a malignant narcissist, though, I’m sure this will only make you feel like a victim.

You’d be better off staying in your bunker, whether below the White House or on one of your goddamned golf courses. It would cost this country fewer lives if you spent the rest of your term at one of your resorts, tooling around in a taxpayer-rented golf cart, chasing a little white ball.

_________

* Links to purchase orders:

Order signed 23-MAR-2020, $25,963.10, for POLICE GEAR,DISPOSABLE CUFFS, GAS MASKS, BALLISTIC HELMETS, RIOT GLOVES

https://beta.sam.gov/awards/89062523%2BAWARD?keywords=%09%2036C26220P0825%20&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1

Order signed 17-MAR-2020, $63,333.96, for POLICE PROTECTION EQUIPMENT FOR WASHINGTON D.C. VA POLICE IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 OUTBREAK.

https://beta.sam.gov/awards/89176706%2BAWARD?keywords=%09%2036C24520P0413%20&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1

NB: 105,773 — U.S. death toll from COVID-19, June 1, 2020 8:00 a.m. ET via Wikipedia’s COVID-19 pandemic data page.

Is The Time Of Keisha Lance Bottoms Now?

It might be. But if not, it is a genuine question for Democrats. Of all the Democrats on a national platform over the last few days, including Joe Biden, who has not been bad at all, Keisha Lance Bottoms stands above all of them. She is making a case, and not for herself, as much as for American humanity and competence.

My preferred candidate for the Democratic nomination, Sherrod Brown, did not even run. Bernie, Liz, Bloomie, Amy, Kamala and Tulsi barely registered. Voters, in many states, voted and the Democratic nominee will be Joe Biden. Again, whatever your preferences, voters voted.

So, the talk is turning to who will be Joe Biden’s running mate as VP? The usual suspects, along with Stacy Abrams, are in the preceding paragraph. But it is a different woman from Georgia, way before Abrams, that ought to be seriously considered.

Keisha Lance Bottoms. The Mayor of Atlanta. Before you go any further, view the video clip attached. Seriously, go watch it. You will be glad you did.

She is really genuine and impressive. Not endorsing her per se, just noting that she deserves into the consideration. A week ago, I thought she was good, but time not currently here yet. Now, not so sure about that. She deserves serious consideration. There is something genuine and real with her. Something refreshingly sober and somber, but quite positive.

Bottoms has an unusually clear air and ability about her. Biden has to pick who he is both comfortable with, but that he is sure has the mettle to take over if needed by any emergency to him. And that can capture the interest of both young and old in the party. This woman, this mother and mayor, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, seems to have that stuff in abundance. She is young, strong, and good on every level. She deserves in the conversation, and near the top to it, for Biden.

If now is not yet the time of Keisha Lance Bottoms, it is coming soon. She has that political star quotient, keep your eye on her.

Trump’s America: Racism, Imperious Police and CNN Under Arrest in Minneapolis

There is a surreal situation going down in Minneapolis. The CNN crew covering it was literally arrested on live air. Not all of them understand you, just the reporter, Oscar Jimenez, that was a minority, the white correspondent a few feet away was, of course, not. The stormtroopers, and, yes that is exactly what they look and are acting like, were totally polite to the white guy.

And then they arrested the CNN camera guy documenting the bizarre arrest of the correspondent. While doing so, the camera was on the ground, still live, documenting it all for posterity. You could then see the camera being dragged off by a state trooper, still on and broadcasting. As I said, surreal.

When last seen the CNN camera was still on and broadcasting from a black space that appears to be the trunk of a police car. I guess the camera, though hostage to thugs, at least is alive and does not have a knee on its neck.

As they say, the situation is developing…..

Wait, there is an update! The camera is now in an elevator, and still live!

Oh, and what could have fomented all this? Yeah, The American President:

Mitch McConnell Just Helped Trump Take Kentucky’s Cops and Teachers Hostage

“I would like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s been a lot written about Mitch McConnell’s motives for refusing to give aid to states and localities whose budgets have been decimated by coronavirus response in the last round of COVID relief.

John Harwood described it as an anti-government effort, generally, though notes it could backfire among white working class voters.

Wealthy Republican donors disdain government as an unwelcome source of taxes and business regulations. They can purchase private alternatives to broad-based public services in realms such as education, health care and transportation.
Republicans in Congress see unionized government workers as hostile soldiers fighting against their reelection. Responsibility for financing the services those workers provide falls to governors and state legislators, not them.

The GOP infused those sentiments into the 2017 tax law that remains Trump’s principal legislative achievement. It limited deductions for state and local levies from federal tax bills — which both punished taxpayers in blue states that provide more services and made it harder for those states to finance those services.

The wild card in this constellation of forces is the party’s increasing dependence on working-class white voters. Republicans have long capitalized on their suspicion that many government programs benefit others, not them. Trump placed appeals to their racial resentments at the center of his 2016 campaign.

Axis of Evil expert David Frum described how, by forcing states into bankruptcy, Republicans hope to exercise power even after Trump has been defeated.

Republican plans for state bankruptcy sedulously protect state taxpayers. The Bush-Gingrich op-ed of 2011 was explicit on this point. A federal law of state bankruptcy “must explicitly forbid any federal judge from mandating a tax hike,” they wrote. You might wonder: Why? If a Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky is willing to squeeze Illinois state pensioners, why would he care about shielding Illinois state taxpayers? The answer is found in the third of the three facts of American fiscal federalism.

United States senators from smaller, poorer red states do not only represent their states. Often, they do not even primarily represent their states. They represent, more often, the richest people in bigger, richer blue States who find it more economical to invest in less expensive small-state races. The biggest contributor to Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign and leadership committee is a PAC headquartered in Englewood, New Jersey. The second is a conduit for funds from real-estate investors. The third is the tobacco company Altria. The fourth is the parcel delivery service UPS. The fifth is the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical corporation. The sixth is the home health-care company, LHC Group. The seventh is the Blackstone hedge fund. And so on and on.

A federal bankruptcy process for state finances could thus enable wealthy individuals and interest groups in rich states to leverage their clout in the anti-majoritarian federal system to reverse political defeats in the more majoritarian political systems of big, rich states like California, New York, and Illinois.

[snip]

But McConnell seems to be following the rule “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” He’s realistic enough to recognize that the pandemic probably means the end not only of the Trump presidency, but of his own majority leadership. He’s got until January to refashion the federal government in ways that will constrain his successors. That’s what the state-bankruptcy plan is all about.

Andrew Cuomo recognized the same dynamic. Amid a rant noting that, as governor, he serves people of all (or no) party, he described the hypocrisy of bailing out airlines and small businesses but not cops and other first responders.

I understand that, but state and local government funds police and fire and teachers and schools. How do you not fund police and fire and teachers and schools in the midst of this crisis? Yes, airlines are important. Yes, small businesses are important. So police and fire and healthcare workers who are the front line workers, and when you don’t fund the state, then the state can’t fund those services. It makes no sense to me. Also, it makes no sense that the entire nation is dependent on what the governors do to reopen. We’ve established that. It’s up to this governor, it’s up to this governor, it’s up to this governor, but then you’re not going to fund the state government. You think I’m going to do it alone? How do you think this is going to work? And then to suggest we’re concerned about the economy, states should declare bankruptcy. That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back? By states declaring bankruptcy? You want to see that market fall through the cellar?

Let New York state declare bankruptcy. Let Michigan declare bankruptcy. Let Illinois declare bankruptcy. Let’s California declare bankruptcy. You will see a collapse of this national economy. So just dumb. Vicious is saying, when Senator McConnell said, this is a blue state bailout, what he’s saying is if you look at the states that have coronavirus problems, they tend to be democratic states. New York, California, Michigan, Illinois. They are democratic states. So if you fund states that are suffering from the coronavirus, the democratic states, don’t help New York state because it is a democratic state. How ugly a thought. I mean, just think of what he’s saying. People died. 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats. So why should we help them? I mean, for crying out loud, if there was ever a time for you to put aside your pettiness and your partisanship and this political lens that you see the world through Democrat and Republican and we help Republicans, but we don’t have Democrats. That’s not who we are.

It’s just not who we are as a people. I mean, if there’s ever a time for humanity and decency, now is the time. And if there was ever a time to stop your political, obsessive political bias and anger, which is what it’s morphing to, just a political anger, now is the time and you want to politically divide this nation now, with all that’s going on? How irresponsible and how reckless/ I’m the governor of all New Yorkers. Democrat, Republican, independent. I don’t even care what your political party is. I represent you, and we are all there to support each other. This is not the time or the place or the situation to start your divisive politics. It is just not.

Cuomo also noted that McConnell’s own state, Kentucky, is a net aid recipient, not New York.

Let’s talk about fairness, Mitch. NYS puts $116 billion more into the federal pot than we take out. Kentucky TAKES $148 billion more from the federal pot than they put in. But we don’t deserve help now because the 15,000 people who died here were predominately democrats?

David Sirota is the only one I saw who observed that McConnell’s own state of Kentucky would be one of the hardest hit states.

In a half-assed play to avoid looking like he’s deliberately enriching his elite financiers and starving the peasants, McConnell cast himself as a principled opponent of “blue state bailouts” — a seemingly shrewd anti-coastal framing for his own potentially difficult reelection campaign.

In reality, though, McConnell’s opposition to pension aid is even worse than a pathetic Gerald Ford impression. It is him giving the big middle finger to hundreds of thousands of his own constituents whose Republican-leaning state is now facing one of America’s worst pension crises after McConnell’s Wall Street courtiers strip-mined Kentucky’s public retirement system.

That’s right: for all the talk of pension shortfalls in blue states like Illinois and California, the bright red state of Kentucky has one of the most underfunded pension systems in the country. The gap between promised benefits and current resources has been estimated to be between $40 billion and $60 billion. One of the state’s pension funds is less than 15 percent funded.

Those shortfalls are not the product of Kentucky’s public-sector workers being greedy or lavishly remunerated — Kentucky teachers, for example, are paid 23 percent less than other workers with similar educational credentials, and they do not receive Social Security benefits.

No — the shortfalls are the result of 1) state lawmakers repeatedly refusing to make annual contributions to the system, 2) investment losses from the 2007 financial crisis and now the COVID downturn, and 3) especially risky hedge fund investments that generated big fees for politically connected Wall Street firms, but especially big losses for the state’s portfolio. (Executives from some of those specific firms are among McConnell’s biggest collective donors, and those firms could be enriched by other parts of McConnell’s federal stimulus bill.

The pension emergency in Kentucky has become so dire that teachers staged mass protests last year, resulting in national headlines and a PBS Frontline special, and a court case that ultimately overturned the Republican legislature’s proposed pension cuts, which the GOP literally attached to a sewer bill.

There’s another aspect of all this, however: leverage. Mitch McConnell says he won’t dole out aid for states and localities until the Senate comes back into session. That’ll give him the opportunity to resume packing the courts.

In addition (as I predicted), part of this is an effort to retain leverage with which to force states to reopen.

BUT FIRST … SENATE AND HOUSE DEMOCRATS have been pushing hard in negotiations for $150 billion in funds for state and local governments to pair with the hundreds of billions the administration wants in small business lending. But THE WHITE HOUSE and TRUMP ADMINISTRATION have been holding out because, in part, they believe if Congress keeps cutting checks for state and local governments, they will be disincentivized to open up their economies.

Trump tried and tried and tried to say he got to decide how to reopen the economy. And then the first state that tried — his ally Brian Kemp — made him look bad by ignoring the White House’s own guidelines.

To regain any control over this, short of Billy Barr making good on his suggestions that DOJ might start litigation, Trump needs something to withhold to force governors, of both parties, to take actions they otherwise wouldn’t.

Aid to keep states and localities running is one of the few things Trump has. Want to pay your cops? Okay, then, “but I would like you to do us a favor, though.”

And here’s where Mitch’s actions become really perverse. Kentucky’s own governor, Andy Beshear, is one of the red states with a Democratic governor. Under his leadership, Kentucky has a lower level of infections than any neighboring state but West Virginia (which is even more rural). Kentucky is a member of the Midwestern pact that, along with a bunch of Democratic governors that Republicans would like to damage ahead of the elections, also includes Mike DeWine, one of the three most proactive Republican governors. Of those states, Beshear might be most susceptible to pressure from nutjobs.

That is, among the governors that Mitch is helping Trump to blackmail — to withhold aid from until they give Trump a favor — is Mitch’s own state. Like all other governors, Beshear will need to make some devastating budgetary decisions, decisions that will hurt public workers in Kentucky, and those decisions will start immediately, affecting Beshear’s ability to serve the people of Kentucky.

This is an ugly, vicious ploy. But it’s also one that Mitch’s opponent, Amy McGrath, really ought to be able to use against him in November.

Liberate All Trump’s Criminals to Sustain the Lockdown

According to multiple reports yesterday, Michael Cohen will soon be released to serve out the remainder of his prison sentence in home confinement.

The federal Bureau of Prisons has notified Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, that he will be released early from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter and his lawyer.

Cohen is serving a three-year sentence at the federal prison camp in Otisville, NY, where 14 inmates and seven staff members at the complex have tested positive for the virus.

Cohen was scheduled for release in November 2021, but he will be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence from home confinement, the people said. He will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine at the prison camp before he is released.

Cohen was notified on Thursday of his pending release, and his lawyer, Roger Adler, confirmed it to CNN.

As Josh Gerstein has described, sometimes these promises don’t work out.

The spouse of an inmate at one of the hardest-hit federal prisons, in Elkton, Ohio, described a puzzling transfer of prisoners into pre-release quarantine and then out again.

Tammy Hartman said her husband Pete, who’s due out of prison in August of next year, was one of 56 inmates whose names were called on Saturday to report for quarantine so they could be sent on home confinement.

“They were all told: you’re going home,” she said. But on Wednesday, 54 of the men were sent back to their cells. “They told them, sorry, you’re not going anywhere, because they’d approved only two of them to leave.”

“I actually thought he was coming home,” Hartman said of her 59-year-old husband who — like other prisoners mentioned in this story — is serving time on drug charges. “I canceled all his subscriptions to magazines because I thought he’d be home in 14 days… I’m trying to hold it together.”

Which is, I guess, why Cohen’s lawyers promptly made this public — to make it harder for BOP to renege.

Otisville prison is one of the federal prisons with a growing cluster — currently, officially, with 14 prisoners and 7 guards testing positive. So it is an appropriate places for BOP to attempt to move older, non-violent prisoners. That said, Cohen is not actually that old (just 53) and as far as is public, his health is fine.

A far better case might be made that Paul Manafort should be sent to home confinement. He’s 71 and wasn’t all that healthy when he first went to jail almost two years ago, and he has continued to have health problems since then. His attorney, Kevin Downing, cited those health problems in a letter to BOP asking for his release. Curiously, Downing appears to be thinking exclusively in terms of internal appeals, rather than appealing to a judge, which suggests he thinks his client stands a better chance if someone working for Bill Barr makes the decision (which certainly worked to keep him out of Rikers when he was arraigned in New York). Perhaps that’s because the prison he’s in, Loretto, has had no reported cases yet. Manafort has been quarantining since the end of March, so can be sent home if there are cases there.

Paul Manafort is a shithole who sold out the candidate he worked for and his own country. He got fabulously wealthy fronting for dictators and other sleazebags, and stiffed the American taxpayers on the blood money he got in exchange.

But BOP should seriously consider moving him to home confinement for as long as the COVID outbreak lasts. Manafort was not nor should he have been sentenced to a death for his crimes. And if you can’t support that move for his miserable humanity, then do it for others he might infect, like the far poorer guards who tend to him.

Cohen and Manafort are not the only Trump criminals who may dodge full prison terms because of this virus. As bmaz noted, yesterday Amy Berman Jackson rejected Roger Stone’s bid for a new trial. While BOP doesn’t assign spots to people all that quickly in any case, for new non-violent prisoners, BOP is not rushing people into incarceration. And Stone, at 67, is also old enough to be considered a higher risk.

So rather than starting rebellions against stay-at-home orders in Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia, Trump should encourage Bill Barr to liberate his criminal co-conspirators, along with the similarly situated men of color incarcerated with them.

But the only reason to remove Paul Manafort from an environment where he’d be more likely to contract the virus is if there’s a shut-down. So if Trump wants his criminals liberated — or wants Stone to remain out of prison long enough for the post-election pardon — then he should be rooting for a continued shut-down.

The Locked Down, Locked Up, Quarantine Gotta Get Down To It Emptywheel Live Music Trash Talk

Okay, I meant to do this last weekend, but a severe dental emergency intervened. Turns out even dentists, whether local or international (I have both), are constrained too. But they are medical professionals like so many these days, and keep them in mind. Without the office that took care of me here, I would be an insanely hurting cowboy about now. Instead, I am starting to be and feel fairly good, after a lot of painkillers in the interim, and, man, am I thankful. Real pros.

So, back to the stated purpose: Live Music Discussion. Live music is the real test. A lot of people with studio musicians, tone benders and professional mixing can make a decent sounding studio album. But it it real, or is it Memorex (old commercial reference)? Some bands just cannot do it live (early Steely Dan and early Tom Petty are two examples I remember well).

Some bands, you think “there is no way in hell they can pull that off live”, (I’d also put early thoughts on Pink Floyd and Bowie before I saw them in this category) and then you see them live and are totally “holy fucking shit, they not only could do it live, but were even better, WOW”! Floyd and Bowie were absolutely, and stunningly so, in the latter category. Holy shit were they fantastic live.

But this is an individual thing, we all have different thoughts and experiences. So let’s let the hair down and rock. This will be a comments fueled discussion, and I hope a few outside people lob in. For now, with great assistance from our longtime friend and colleague blogger from FDL, Richard Taylor, aka Dakine, here is a list of some of the best live albums ever.

This is NOT an end all list, but it is a very good one. And it is in no particular order whatsoever, ranking will be what you are all going to do. One to start discussion, not to end it. It is up to you folks to expand, and I know you will. Also to you to point out what tracks you especially like, and why off any album. Off we go….

Otis Redding “Live in Europe”
Allman Brothers “Fillmore Tapes” (includes live cuts from “Eat a Peach”)
Leon Russell “Leon Live”
Little Feat “Waiting for Columbus”
J Geils Band “Full House”
Rolling Stones “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out”
Deep Purple Made In Japan
Blue Oyster Cult On Your Feet Or On Your Knees
Cheap Trick Live at Buddokan
The Angels Live at Melbourne
The Who Live At Leeds
The Doors Absolutely Live
The Dead Live 1972 and Steal Your Face (1974)
AC/DC Live At Donnington
Jefferson Airplane Bless Its Pointed Little Head
Kinks One For The Road
Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii
Lou Reed Rock And Roll Animal
Mott The Hoople Live
Bob Marley “Live”
Bob Seger “Live Bullet”
James Brown “Live at the Apollo”
Temptations “Live at the Roostertail”
Willie Nelson “Willie & Family Live”
Bob Dylan & The Band “Before the Flood”
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen “Live from the Armadillo World Headquarters” Jimmy Buffett “Feeding Frenzy”
Climax Blues Band “FM Live”
Neil Young & Crazy Horse “Live Rust”
Black Oak Arkansas “Raunch N Roll”
Leon Redbone “Live!”
Guy Clark “Keepers”
John Prine “John Prine Live”
John Fogerty “Premonition”
George Thorogood & The Delaware Destroyers “Thorogood Live”
Crosby Stills Nash & Young “4 Way Street”
Derek & the Dominos “In Concert”
Eric Clapton “Rainbow Concert”
Steppenwolf “Steppenwolf Live”
Frampton Comes Alive ‘Captive’ Audiences
BB King “Live at the Cook County Jail” Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison Live”
Woodstock
Mar y Sol
No Nukes
Concert for Bangladesh (Mand, so many artists on that)
Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Columbia Records Stax/Volt Revue “Live in London”

Partial Live Albums
ZZ Top “Fandango”
Allman Brothers “Eat a Peach”
Marshall Tucker Band “Where We All Belong”
Charlie Daniels Band “Fire On the Mountain”

Alright, there are so many others beyond worthy, that is simply the list Richard and I came up with to start the discussion. You all take it from here.

Here is my putative Top Five:

1) Stones, Get Yer Ya Yas Out. It is insanely good
2) J. Geils Band Full House. Argument could be made it is Number 1.
3) Floyd Live At Pompeii. It was the old and trippier Floyd, but Jesus is it good.
4) James Brown At The Apollo. Just wow, The Godfather at his peak.
5) Tie between Who Live At Leeds and Airplane Bless Its Pointed Little Head. Both unbelievably great. Might even give the Airplane a nudge here Pointed Head is killer.

Yes, this is about live rock and roll. As the old Cerwin Vega slogan used to importune, “Made Loud To Be Played Loud”. If there are no sports, this series will continue, because everybody needs a release. Studio albums, classical, country, maybe even opera (if Ed Walker will lead) are on the table for later. But, this weekend, we have both types, rock AND roll. Get down to it, and let’s have a great and ongoing holiday weekend discussion. Post yer You Tube links. If it starts screwing with our margins and/or security (hey, it might, we shall see) then we will deal with that. In the meantime, let’s have some fun.

Like All Else, Trump’s Inspector General Turnover Is about Pandemic

Update: I’m republishing this and bumping it, because Trump just replaced Glenn Fine as Acting Inspector General — whom Michael Horowitz had named to head the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee — with the IG for EPA. This makes him ineligible to head PRAC. Fine will remain Principle Deputy IG. 

Late last night, President Trump fired the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General who alerted Congress of the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment. Trump effectively put Atkinson on administrative leave for 30 days in a move that skirts the legal requirement that an inspector general be fired for cause and Congress be notified of it.

Trump has been accused of firing Atkinson late at night on a Friday under cover of the pandemic to retaliate for the role Atkinson had — which consisted of nothing more than doing his job as carefully laid out by law — in Trump’s impeachment. It no doubt is.

But it’s also likely about the pandemic and Trump’s proactive attempts to avoid any accountability for his failures in both the pandemic response and the reconstruction from it.

There were a lot of pandemic warnings Trump ignored that he wants to avoid becoming public

I say that, first of all, because of the likelihood that Trump will need to cover up what intelligence he received, alerting him to the severity of the coming pandemic. Trump’s administration was warned by the intelligence community no later than January 3, and a month later, that’s what a majority of Trump’s intelligence briefings consisted of. But Trump didn’t want to talk about it, in part because he didn’t believe the intelligence he was getting.

At a White House briefing Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said officials had been alerted to the initial reports of the virus by discussions that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had with Chinese colleagues on Jan. 3.

The warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies increased in volume toward the end of January and into early February, said officials familiar with the reports. By then, a majority of the intelligence reporting included in daily briefing papers and digests from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA was about covid-19, said officials who have read the reports.

[snip]

Inside the White House, Trump’s advisers struggled to get him to take the virus seriously, according to multiple officials with knowledge of meetings among those advisers and with the president.

Azar couldn’t get through to Trump to speak with him about the virus until Jan. 18, according to two senior administration officials. When he reached Trump by phone, the president interjected to ask about vaping and when flavored vaping products would be back on the market, the senior administration officials said.

On Jan. 27, White House aides huddled with then-acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in his office, trying to get senior officials to pay more attention to the virus, according to people briefed on the meeting. Joe Grogan, the head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, argued that the administration needed to take the virus seriously or it could cost the president his reelection, and that dealing with the virus was likely to dominate life in the United States for many months.

Mulvaney then began convening more regular meetings. In early briefings, however, officials said Trump was dismissive because he did not believe that the virus had spread widely throughout the United States.

In that same period, Trump was demanding Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar treat coronavirus briefings as classified.

The officials said that dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), a key player in the fight against the coronavirus.

Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls, the sources said.

“We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,” one official said. “These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.”

The sources said the National Security Council (NSC), which advises the president on security issues, ordered the classification.”This came directly from the White House,” one official said.

Now, it could be that this information was legitimately classified. But if so, it means Trump had even more — and higher quality — warning of the impending pandemic than we know. If not, then it was an abuse of the classification process in an attempt to avoid having to deal with it. Either one of those possibilities further condemns Trump’s response.

Also in this same period, then Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was asking not to hold a public Worldwide Threats hearing because doing so would amount to publicly reporting on facts that the President was in denial about.

The U.S. intelligence community is trying to persuade House and Senate lawmakers to drop the public portion of an annual briefing on the globe’s greatest security threats — a move compelled by last year’s session that provoked an angry outburst from President Donald Trump, multiple sources told POLITICO.

Officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on behalf of the larger clandestine community, don’t want agency chiefs to be seen on-camera as disagreeing with the president on big issues such as Iran, Russia or North Korea, according to three people familiar with preliminary negotiations over what’s known as the Worldwide Threats hearing.

The request, which is unlikely to be approved, has been made through initial, informal conversations at the staff level between Capitol Hill and the clandestine community, the people said.

Not only did that hearing never happened, but neither has a report been released.

Among the things then Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned of in last year’s hearing was the threat of a pandemic.

We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support. Although the international community has made tenuous improvements to global health security, these gains may be inadequate to address the challenge of what we anticipate will be more frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases because of rapid unplanned urbanization, prolonged humanitarian crises, human incursion into previously unsettled land, expansion of international travel and trade, and regional climate change.

So to some degree, Trump has to make sure there’s no accountability in the intelligence community because if there is, his failure to prepare for the pandemic will become all the more obvious.

Richard Burr is incapable of defending the Intelligence Community right now

But it’s also the case that the pandemic — and the treatment of early warnings about it — may have created an opportunity to retaliate against Atkinson when he might not have otherwise been able to. Even beyond offering cover under the distraction of thousands of preventable deaths, the pandemic, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr’s success at profiting off it, means that the only Republican who might have pushed back against this action is stymied.

On Sunday, multiple outlets reported that DOJ is investigating a series of stock trades before most people understood how bad the pandemic would be. Burr is represented by former Criminal Division head Alice Fisher — certainly the kind of lawyer whose connections and past white collar work would come in handy for someone trying to get away with corruption.

The Justice Department has started to probe a series of stock transactions made by lawmakers ahead of the sharp market downturn stemming from the spread of coronavirus, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The inquiry, which is still in its early stages and being done in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has so far included outreach from the FBI to at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr, seeking information about the trades, according to one of the sources.

[snip]

Burr, the North Carolina Republican who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has previously said that he relied only on public news reports as he decided to sell between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13. Earlier this month, he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the trades given “the assumption many could make in hindsight,” he said at the time.

There’s no indication that any of the sales, including Burr’s, broke any laws or ran afoul of Senate rules. But the sales have come under fire after senators received closed-door briefings about the virus over the past several weeks — before the market began trending downward. It is routine for the FBI and SEC to review stock trades when there is public question about their propriety.

In a statement Sunday to CNN, Alice Fisher, a lawyer for Burr, said that the senator “welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate.”

“The law is clear that any American — including a Senator — may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did. When this issue arose, Senator Burr immediately asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a complete review, and he will cooperate with that review as well as any other appropriate inquiry,” said Fisher, who led the Justice Department’s criminal division under former President George W. Bush.

In spite of Fisher’s bravado, Burr is by far the most legally vulnerable of the senators who dumped a lot of stock in the period. That’s partly because he had access to two streams of non-public reporting on the crisis, the most classified on SSCI (which Senator Feinstein also would have had), but also on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee. And unlike the other senators, Burr admitted that he made these trades himself.

Again, in spite of Fisher’s claims, Burr will be forced to affirmatively show that he didn’t rely on this non-public information when dumping an inordinate amount of stock.

All of which is to say that Burr may be hoping that Fisher can talk him out of any legal exposure, which will require placating the thoroughly corrupt Bill Barr.

I had already thought that Trump might use this leverage to influence the findings or timing of the remaining parts of SSCI’s Russian investigation. That’s all the more true of Atkinson’s firing. Thus far, Burr has remained silent on what is obviously a legally inappropriate firing.

Even as he fired Atkinson, Trump undermined any oversight of his pandemic recovery efforts

A week before firing Atkinson, Trump made it clear he had no intention of being bound by Inspectors General in his signing statement for the “CARES Act” recovery bill. In addition to stating that Steve Mnuchin could reallocate spending without prior notice to Congress (as required by the bill and the Constitution), Trump also undercut both oversight mechanisms in the law. He did so by suggesting that the Chairperson of Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (who is DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz) should not be required to consult with Congress about who he should make Director and Deputy Director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

Section 15010(c)(3)(B) of Division B of the Act purports to require the Chairperson of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to consult with members of the Congress regarding the selection of the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director for the newly formed Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The Committee is an executive branch entity charged with conducting and coordinating oversight of the Federal Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. I anticipate that the Chairperson will be able to consult with members of the Congress with respect to these hiring decisions and will welcome their input. But a requirement to consult with the Congress regarding executive decision-making, including with respect to the President’s Article II authority to oversee executive branch operations, violates the separation of powers by intruding upon the President’s power and duty to supervise the staffing of the executive branch under Article II, section 1 (vesting the President with the “executive Power”) and Article II, section 3 (instructing the President to “take Care” that the laws are faithfully executed). Accordingly, my Administration will treat this provision as hortatory but not mandatory.

On Monday, Horowitz named DOD Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine Director of PRAC.

In appointing Mr. Fine to Chair the PRAC, Mr. Horowitz stated, “Mr. Fine is uniquely qualified to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, given his more than 15 years of experience as an Inspector General overseeing large organizations — 11 years as the Department of Justice Inspector General and the last 4 years performing the duties of the Department of Defense Inspector General. The Inspector General Community recognizes the need for transparency surrounding, and strong and effective independent oversight of, the federal government’s spending in response to this public health crisis. Through our individual offices, as well as through CIGIE and the Committee led by Mr. Fine, the Inspectors General will carry out this critical mission on behalf of American taxpayers, families, businesses, patients, and health care providers.”

Last night, however, after years of leaving DOD’s IG position vacant, Trump nominated someone who has never managed the an office like DOD’s Inspector General, which oversees a budget larger than that of many nation-states, and who is currently at the hyper-politicized Customs and Border Patrol.

Jason Abend of Virginia, to be Inspector General, Department of Defense.

Mr. Abend currently serves as Senior Policy Advisor, United States Customs and Border Protection.

Prior to his current role, Mr. Abend served in the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of Inspector General as a Special Agent. Before that, he served as a Special Agent in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General, where he led a team investigating complex Federal Housing Administration mortgage and reverse mortgage fraud, civil fraud, public housing assistance fraud, and internal agency personnel cases.

Mr. Abend was also the Founder and CEO of the Public Safety Media Group, LLC, a professional services firm that provided strategic and operational human resources consulting, training, and advertising to Federal, State, and local public safety agencies, the United States Military, and Intelligence agencies.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Abend worked as a Special Agent at the United States Secret Service and as an Intelligence Research Specialist at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Abend received his bachelor’s degree from American University and has received master’s degrees from both American University and George Washington University.

Abend seems totally unqualified for the DOD job alone, but if he is confirmed, he would also make Fine ineligible to head PRAC.

Horowitz issued a statement on Atkinson’s firing today that emphasized that Atkinson had acted appropriately with the Ukraine investigation, as well as his intent to conduct rigorous oversight, including — perhaps especially — PRAC.

Inspector General Atkinson is known throughout the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight. That includes his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then Acting Director of National Intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done “by the book” and consistent with the law. The Inspector General Community will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee. This includes CIGIE’s Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and its efforts on behalf of American taxpayers, families, businesses, patients, and health care providers to ensure that over $2 trillion dollars in emergency federal spending is being used consistently with the law’s mandate.

Also in last week’s signing statement, Trump said he would not permit an Inspector General appointed to oversee the financial side of the recovery to report to Congress when Treasury refuses to share information.

Section 4018 of Division A of the Act establishes a new Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) within the Department of the Treasury to manage audits and investigations of loans and investments made by the Secretary of the Treasury under the Act. Section 4018(e)(4)(B) of the Act authorizes the SIGPR to request information from other government agencies and requires the SIGPR to report to the Congress “without delay” any refusal of such a request that “in the judgment of the Special Inspector General” is unreasonable. I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause, Article II, section 3.

That may not matter now, because Trump just nominated one of the lawyers who just helped him navigate impeachment for that SIGPR role.

Brian D. Miller of Virginia, to be Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, Department of the Treasury.

Mr. Miller currently serves as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Associate Counsel in the Office of White House Counsel. Prior to his current role, Mr. Miller served as an independent corporate monitor and an expert witness. He also practiced law in the areas of ethics and compliance, government contracts, internal investigations, white collar, and suspension and debarment. Mr. Miller has successfully represented clients in government investigations and audits, suspension and debarment proceedings, False Claims Act, and criminal cases.

Mr. Miller served as the Senate-confirmed Inspector General for the General Services Administration for nearly a decade, where he led more than 300 auditors, special agents, attorneys, and support staff in conducting nationwide audits and investigations. As Inspector General, Mr. Miller reported on fraud, waste, and abuse, most notably with respect to excesses at a GSA conference in Las Vegas.

Mr. Miller also served in high-level positions within the Department of Justice, including as Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General and as Special Counsel on Healthcare Fraud. He also served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, where he handled civil fraud, False Claims Act, criminal, and appellate cases.

Mr. Miller received his bachelor’s degree from Temple University, his juris doctorate from the University of Texas, and his Master of Arts from Westminster Theological Seminary.

To be fair, unlike Abend, Miller is absolutely qualified for the SIGPR position (which means he’ll be harder to block in the Senate). But by picking someone who has already demonstrated his willingness to put loyalty ahead of the Constitution, Trump has provided Mnuchin one more assurance that he can loot the bailout with almost no oversight.

Research Misinfo/Disinfo: It’s a Scam

[Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

When certain folks all push the same angle — Trump, Giuliani, Solomon, et al — one may think immediately it’s a scam.

Like the Ukraine quid pro quo scam on which the very same players worked together, singing from the same hymnal.

The scam is more obvious because two of the people involved are promoting a pharmaceutical and they’re not medical doctors — they may be practicing medicine without a license by encouraging the use of a medication which isn’t approved for the use they advocate.

The drug is hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug which has also been approved for a small number of autoimmune disorders like lupus.

Something is clearly not right when so many of the same players are pushing a drug using the power of the presidency to do so.

~ ~ ~

Interregnum: I’ve had to put this post up now, out of order. I had originally intended to write two posts about misinfo/disinfo about research related to COVID-19 and the underlying virus, but push has come to shove with Trump pushing hydroxychloroquine again today, admitting the U.S. has not purchased ventilators or personal protection equipment on a timely basis but instead bought and stockpiled 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine.


Something is really wrong and it must be addressed immediately, before more people get hurt.

My post about the problematic background of research behind hydroxychloroquine will have to come next. Right now we need to talk about the scam in progress.

~ ~ ~

It took me a while to figure out what the angle might be on a drug which is old and cheap but I think this is the way this works.

Of course you all know Trump wants and NEEDS to stay in office or he’s up the creek without a paddle. This scam isn’t about making money but instead about serving his need not to be investigated and prosecuted for all manner of tax, bank, wire fraud and more beginning ten months from now.

So…Team Trump picks a drug which when administered in safe dose, doesn’t do much constructively for anybody except people they don’t give a shit about like patients with lupus and autoimmune disorders.

Weak sauce studies on hydroxychloroquine to date suggest it’s a 50/50 crap shoot that the critically-ill patients qualifying for compassionate use and receiving this drug will recover. Somebody external to the White House, possibly external to the U.S., maybe even the drug company/ies which makes this, may have made have chosen this drug because they did this math. They have just enough iffy research by iffy researchers to encourage its use.

They end up with just enough people who’ll recover and claim it’s a miracle drug that saved their lives, and the other half are dead or disabled so they won’t appear on camera to say otherwise. Handpicked survivors become testimonials to Trump’s ‘Wile E. Coyote super genius‘ and his prospective worth as our two-term conman-in-chief.

Even Dr. Fauci has said there’s no proof this drug cocktail works; he’s been clearly frustrated with Trump’s handling of COVID-19.

Trump cut off attempts to ask Dr. Fauci more questions about this drug today.

But Team Trump counters Fauci’s doubts by launching a character assassination attack in social media, calling Fauci part of the “deep state” out to get Trump.

At the same time there’s a continuous social media swarm pushing the drug.

Team Trump haven’t fired Fauci because they still need him to save Trump from making bigger mistakes and Fauci has much higher credibility ratings than any of the rest of Team Trump appearing before cameras.

But Trump’s current pandemic response failures are already projected to cost at least 100-240,000 American lives which Team Trump are now calling a goal, or success.

That’s part of the scam, too, the framing of what success will look like, long after Trump blew by the true benchmark of zero American deaths.

All this to boost his approval rating so he can use it for his re-election campaign. That’s the scam.

Just like the quid pro quo for which Trump was impeached — manipulate the situation so that false information boosts Trump’s approval with voters, abusing his power for his own personal gain.

~ ~ ~

What gave me pause wasn’t just the crappy research. Or the problematic French research with which this all began.

It was the fact that Rudy Giuliani, John Solomon, Charlie Kirk and a bunch of other right-wing support players were also doing their bit repeatedly to push this drug cocktail as well as a Russian doctor.

This is the Ukraine scam all over again, only this time the players are going to push a crappy drug and assassinate Dr. Fauci’s character, instead of pushing a false meme about Hunter Biden and assassinating Marie Yovanovitch’s character while she was ambassador to Ukraine.

Dr. Fauci has received death threats now because of this nonsense and his security detail has been increased because of it.

Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has also been criticized by right-wingers about hydroxychloroquine. The state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs throttled off-label prescriptions of the antimalarial drug because doctors and pharmacists were abusing their licenses by writing scripts for themselves and their families, hoarding the drug while depleting inventories.

But Dr. Fauci and Gov. Whitmer aren’t the only ones affected by this. There are so many stories about lupus and other autoimmune disorder patients who haven’t been able to fill their prescriptions because of a run on hydroxychloroquine because of Team Trump’s unlicensed practice of medicine at the podium — or unregistered lobbying for pharmaceutical company or companies.

Not to mention the strong possibility that although the Food and Drug Administration caved under pressure from Team Trump and now allows “compassionate use” of the drug for COVID-19, the drug could easily kill patients who are already under stress from SARS-CoV-2’s attack on their systems.

Hydroxychloroquine requires additional caution when used on females, geriatric patients, patients with diabetes — this describes a considerable number of COVID-19 patients in critical care! — thyroid disease, malnutrition, liver impairment, or those who drink alcohol to excess — for starters. The drug must be used with caution in persons with cardiac arrhythmias, congenital long QT syndrome, heart failure, bradycardia, myocardial infarction, hypertension, coronary artery disease, hypomagnesemia, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia, or in patients receiving medications known to prolong the QT interval or cause electrolyte imbalances.

This is only part a portion of the contraindications and precautions for hydroxychloroquine.

It may also cause permanent eye damage.

Imagine monitoring the patients receiving hydroxychloroquine even more closely when hospitals are overwhelmed and understaffed.

None of the research so far has been performed in vivo in a large, randomized trial. We really do not know what it will do except for what it has done for malaria patients and for autoimmune disorders — hardly the same things as patients in extremis from COVID-19.

Trump’s pushing drugs from the presidential podium must stop because Americans are being hurt for the sake of whatever scam Team Trump is pulling off this time.

We can see part of the potential reasoning Team Trump has used, but who else is benefiting from this? How do pharmaceutical companies fit into this, particularly Novartis which may be the sole source for the stockpile of hydroxychloroquine the federal government acquired. We don’t know the total amount the U.S. holds, how much might have been donated, and how much has been bought.

We don’t know whether this was part of conversations which may have happened at Davos around January 22, when pharmaceutical companies like Novartis were present and when business leaders were already concerned about COVID-19 outbreak in China.

We just don’t have all the facts yet to know every angle of this particular artless deal.

~ ~ ~

Part 3 will address the research behind hydroxychloroquine in relation to COVID-19.

Democrats’ 2020 Primaries: Super Tuesday Results [UPDATE-4]

This post is dedicated to the Democratic Party’s Super Tuesday results. Not much sense bothering with the Republican Party’s results since GOP canceled a number of primaries.

Post will be updated as results come in.

Results about 9:40 p.m. ET:

State

Percent Reported

Results

Delegates

Alabama 16% reporting Joe Biden won 52 delegates available
American Samoa TBD Michael Bloomberg won
Arkansas 13% reporting Joe Biden leads 31 delegates available
California Results expected around 11:00 PM EST
Colorado 25% reporting Bernie Sanders won 66 delegates available
Maine 32% reporting 24 delegates available
Massachusetts 29% reporting 91 delegates available
Minnesota 20% reporting Joe Biden leads 75 delegates available
North Carolina 55% reporting Joe Biden won 110 delegates available
Oklahoma 83% reporting Joe Biden won 37 delegates available
Tennessee 69% reporting Joe Biden won 64 delegates available
Texas 7% reporting Bernie Sanders leads 228 delegates available
Utah Results expected around 10:05 PM EST
Vermont 69% reporting Bernie Sanders won 16 delegates available
Virginia 100% reporting Joe Biden won 99 delegates available

Rather expensive hobby for Bloomberg, to have spent nearly half a billion to win only American Samoa. I still need to find the delegate count for the territory. At least Tulsi Gabbard didn’t win Samoa.

Of note: Donna Brazile’s appearance on Fox News today. I’ve enjoyed watching the video at this link several times.

UPDATE-1 — 10:30 P.M. ET —

Results about 10:20 p.m. ET:

State

Percent Reported

Results

Delegates

Alabama 39% reporting Joe Biden won 52 delegates available
American Samoa Caucus held (not a primary). Michael Bloomberg won 4 delegates to Bloomberg

1 delegate to Gabbard,

1 delegate TBD

Arkansas 37% reporting Joe Biden won 31 delegates available
California Results expected around 11:00 PM EST
Colorado 36% reporting Bernie Sanders won 66 delegates available
Maine 50% reporting 24 delegates available
Massachusetts 46% reporting 91 delegates available
Minnesota 40% reporting Joe Biden won 75 delegates available
North Carolina 59% reporting Joe Biden won 110 delegates available
Oklahoma 93% reporting Joe Biden won 37 delegates available
Tennessee 82% reporting Joe Biden won 64 delegates available
Texas 17% reporting Bernie Sanders leads 228 delegates available
Utah 33% reporting
Vermont 88% reporting Bernie Sanders won 16 delegates available
Virginia 100% reporting Joe Biden won 99 delegates available

Wondering how much last night’s tornado affected turn out in Nashville, Tennessee.

Texas has considerable problems with voting which look like typical voter suppression techniques.

UPDATE-2 — 11:10 P.M. ET —

Results approx. 11:00 p.m. ET:

State

Percent Reported

Results

Delegates

Alabama 68% reporting Joe Biden won 52 delegates available
American Samoa Caucus held (not a primary). Michael Bloomberg won 4 delegates to Bloomberg

1 delegate to Gabbard,

1 delegate TBD

Arkansas 71% reporting Joe Biden won 31 delegates available
California Results expected around 11:00 PM EST
Colorado 46% reporting Bernie Sanders won 66 delegates available
Maine 58% reporting 24 delegates available
Massachusetts 65% reporting Joe Biden won 91 delegates available
Minnesota 68% reporting Joe Biden won 75 delegates available
North Carolina 84% reporting Joe Biden won 110 delegates available
Oklahoma 100% reporting Joe Biden won 37 delegates available
Tennessee 88% reporting Joe Biden won 64 delegates available
Texas 17% reporting Bernie Sanders leads 228 delegates available
Utah 49% reporting  Bernie Sanders won 29 delegates available
Vermont 94% reporting Bernie Sanders won 16 delegates available
Virginia 100% reporting Joe Biden won 99 delegates available

These conditions are absolutely unacceptable in a modern democracy — do open the image link. This is at Texas Southern University.

The Democratic Party candidates and presumptive nominee MUST make this an issue in the media and embarrass the fuck out of Texas’ GOP-led government, but do so in a way to encourage November voter turn out.

UPDATE-3 — 12:10 A.M. ET —

Results approx. 12:00 a.m.:

State

Percent Reported

Results

Delegates

Alabama 87% reporting Joe Biden won 52 delegates available
American Samoa Caucus held (not a primary). Michael Bloomberg won 4 delegates to Bloomberg

1 delegate to Gabbard,

1 delegate TBD

Arkansas 86% reporting Joe Biden won 31 delegates available
California 9% reporting Bernie Sanders won 415 delegates available
Colorado 58% reporting Bernie Sanders won 66 delegates available
Maine 66% reporting 24 delegates available
Massachusetts 80% reporting Joe Biden won 91 delegates available
Minnesota 90% reporting Joe Biden won 75 delegates available
North Carolina 99% reporting Joe Biden won 110 delegates available
Oklahoma 100% reporting Joe Biden won 37 delegates available
Tennessee 98% reporting Joe Biden won 64 delegates available
Texas 52% reporting Bernie Sanders leads 228 delegates available
Utah 67% reporting Bernie Sanders won 29 delegates available
Vermont 98% reporting Bernie Sanders won 16 delegates available
Virginia 100% reporting Joe Biden won 99 delegates available

Report in Los Angeles Times discusses introduction of a new voting system and resulting delays. Sorry I can’t tell you more, LAT site won’t open for me at the moment. Check in with LAT’s Matt Pearce instead:

LAT called the state for Sanders though vote tallies will be a looong time trickling in with some people still voting in Los Angeles area. Silicon Valley went for Sanders, wine country on the north side of the bay went to Bloomberg. Wondering if Livermore National Labs’ ecosystem went to Biden?

Adder: LAT didn’t do voters any favors. AP definitely didn’t do any favors, and we need to address the AP in particular since they are funded by newspapers and TV stations across the country. Who’s pushing AP to be first to detriment of democratic process?

UPDATE-4 — 12:45 A.M. ET —

Last update for me, I need to hit the hay. Maine’s at 72% and will likely be a while yet. California is now at 12% reporting.

My two cents: A substantive number of Super Tuesday’s Democratic voters went with the “safe” candidate, the one who they believe will restore a sense of normalcy and stability to the White House.

They want to reprise the comfort of the Barack and Joe Show, even if Barack won’t be on stage for this spin-off, even if Joe is nowhere near as on top of his game as he was in 2008.

What’s telling is this bit about Minnesota:

I don’t think Klobuchar’s endorsement alone could overcome a deficit of campaign apparatus. Minnesota’s change to a primary from caucus since 2016 also doesn’t explain this.

The Kinds and Significance of Russian Interference — 2016 and 2020

Trump’s meltdown last week — in which he purged top staffers at the Director of National Intelligence after a briefing on Russian interference in the 2020 election, followed by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien making shit up on Meet the Press — has created a firestorm about Russian interference in the 2020 election. That firestorm, however, has spun free of what ways Russia interfered in 2016 and what effect it had.

Five ways Russia interfered in 2016

First, remember that there were at least five ways Russia interfered in 2016:

  • Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt
  • Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary
  • Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation
  • Tampering with the voting infrastructure
  • Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt

The most obvious way Russia interfered in 2016 was by hacking the DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta (it also hacked some Republicans it did not like). It released both the DNC and Podesta data in such a way as to exaggerate any derogatory information in the releases, successfully distracting the press for much of the campaign and focusing attention on Hillary rather than Trump. It released DCCC information that was of some use for Republican candidates.

Roger Stone took steps — not all of which are public yet — to optimize this effort. In the wake of Stone’s efforts, he moved to pay off one participant in this effort by trying to get a pardon for Julian Assange.

Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary

In addition to creating a messaging problem, the hack-and-leak campaign created ongoing security challenges for Hillary. Someone who played a key role in InfoSec on the campaign has described the Russian effort as a series of waves of attacks. The GRU indictment describes one of those waves — the efforts to hack Hillary’s personal server — which came in seeming response to Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. An attack that is often forgotten, and from a data perspective was likely one of the most dangerous, involved a month-long effort to obtain Hillary’s analytics from the campaign’s AWS server.

Whatever happened with this data, the persistence of these attacks created additional problems for Hillary, as her staff had to spend time playing whack-a-mole with Russian hackers rather than optimizing their campaign efforts.

Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation

Putin’s “chef,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin, also had staffers from his troll factory in St. Petersburg shift an ongoing campaign that attempted to sow division in the US to adopt a specific campaign focus, pushing Trump and attacking Hillary. Importantly, Prigozhin’s US-based troll effort was part of a larger multinational effort. And it was in no way the only disinformation and trolling entity involved in the election. Both parties did some of this, other countries did some, and mercenaries trying to exploit social media algorithms for profit did some as well.

Tampering with the voting infrastructure

Russia also tampered with US voting infrastructure. In 2016, this consisted of probing most states and accessing voter rolls in at least two, though there’s no evidence that Russian hackers made any changes. In addition, Russian hackers targeted a vendor that provided polling books, with uncertain results. The most substantive evidence of possible success affecting the vote in 2016 involved failures of polling books in Durham County, NC, which created a real slowdown in voting in one of the state’s most Democratic areas.

In recent days, there have been reports of a ransomware attack hitting Palm Beach County in September 2016, but it is unclear whether this was part of the Russian effort.

Because there’s no certainty whether the Russian hack of VR Systems was behind the Durham County problems, there’s no proof that any of these efforts affected the outcome. But they point to the easiest way to use hacking to do so: by making it harder for voters in particular areas to vote and harder for specific localities to count the vote.

Some of what Russia did in 2016 — such as probes of a particularly conservative county in FL — may have been part of Russia’s effort to discredit the outcome. They didn’t fully deploy this effort because Trump won.

Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Finally, Russia accompanied its other efforts with various kinds of influence peddling targeting Trump’s aides. It was not the only country that did so: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, and Israel were some of the others. Foreign countries were similarly trying to target Hillary’s campaign — and the UAE effort, at least, targeted both campaigns at once, through George Nader.

Importantly, however, these efforts intersected with Russia’s other efforts to interfere in the election in ways that tied specific policy outcomes to Russia’s interference:

  • An unrealistically lucrative Trump Tower deal involved a former GRU officer and sanctioned banks
  • At a meeting convened to offer Trump dirt about Hillary, Don Jr agreed in principle to revisit ending Magnitsky sanctions if Trump won
  • George Papadopoulos pitched ending sanctions to Joseph Mifsud, who had alerted him that Russia had emails they intended to drop to help Trump
  • Paul Manafort had a meeting that tied winning the Rust Belt, carving up Ukraine, and getting paid personally together; the meeting took place against the background of sharing internal polling data throughout the campaign

As I’ll note in a follow-up, information coming out in FOIAed 302s makes it clear that Mike Flynn’s effort to undercut Obama’s December 2016 sanctions was more systematic than the Mueller Report concludes. So not only did Russia make it clear it wanted sanctions relief, Trump moved to give it to them even before he got elected (and his Administration found a way to exempt Oleg Deripaska from some of these sanctions).

Manafort continued to pursue efforts to carve up Ukraine until he went to jail. In addition, Trump continues to take actions that undercut Ukraine’s efforts to fight Russia and corruption. Neither of these have been tied to a specific quid pro quo (though the investigation into Manafort’s actions, especially, remained inconclusive at the time of the Mueller Report).

So while none of these was charged as a quid pro quo or a conspiracy (and the reasons why they weren’t vary; Manafort lied about what he was doing, and why, whereas Mueller couldn’t prove Don Jr had the mens rea of entering into a quid pro quo), Russia tied certain policy outcomes to its interference.

Trump’s narcissism and legal exposure exacerbated the effects

The Russian attack was more effective than it otherwise would have been for two reasons. First, because he’s a narcissist and because Russia built in plausible deniability, Trump refused to admit that Russia did try to help him. Indeed, he clings more and more to Russian disinformation about what happened, leading the IC to refuse to brief him on the threat, leading to last week’s meltdown.

In addition, rather than let FBI investigate the people who had entered into discussions of a quid pro quo, Trump obstructed the investigation. Trump has spent years now attacking the rule of law and institutions of government rather than admit what DOJ IG found — there was reason to open the investigation, or admit what DOJ found — there was reason to prosecute six of his aides for lying about what happened.

The Russian effort was just one of the reasons Hillary lost

It’s also important to remember that Russia’s interference was just one of the many things that contributed to Hillary’s loss.

Other aspects were probably more important. For example, Republican voter suppression, particularly in Wisconsin and North Carolina, was far more important than any effect the VR Systems hack may have had in Durham County. Jim Comey’s public statements about the email investigation had at least as much effect as the Russian hack-and-leak campaign did on press focus. Hillary made some boneheaded choices — like barely campaigning in WI and MI; while I had worried that she made those choices because Russia tampered with her analytics (with the AWS hack), that doesn’t seem to have happened. Disinformation sent by the Trump campaign and associates was more significant than Russian disinformation. It didn’t help that the Obama Administration announced a sharp spike in ObamaCare prices right before the election.

The response matters

As noted, Trump’s narcissism dramatically increased the effect of the Russian efforts in 2016, because he has always refused to admit it happened.

Compare that to Bernie’s response to learning that Russia was trying to help his campaign, which accepted that it is happening and rejected the help.

“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”

This was not perfect — Bernie could have revealed this briefing himself weeks ago, Bernie blamed the WaPo for reporting it when it seems like the story was seeded by O’Brien. But it was very good, in that it highlighted the point of Russian interference — sowing divisions — and it reaffirmed the import of Americans selecting who wins. Plus, contrary to Trump, there’s no reason to believe Bernie would pursue policies that specifically advantaged Russia.

Other factors remain more important than Russian interference

There’s very serious reason to be concerned that Russia will hack the outcome of 2020. After all, it would need only to affect the outcome in a small number of precincts to tip the result, and the prospect of power outages or ransomware doing so in urgent fashion have grown since 2016.

That said, as with 2016, there are far more urgent concerns, and those concerns are entirely American.

Republicans continue to seek out new ways to suppress the vote, including by throwing large swaths of voters off the rolls without adequate vetting. There are real concerns about voting machines, particularly in Georgia (and there are credible concerns about the reliability of GA’s tally in past elections). Republicans have continued to make polling locations less accessible in Democratic precincts than in Republican ones.

Facebook refuses to police the accuracy of political ads, and Trump has flooded Facebook with disinformation.

And Bloomberg’s efforts this year — which include a good deal of trolling and disinformation — are unprecedented in recent memory. His ad spending has undercut the ability to weigh candidates. And his personnel spending is increasing the costs for other candidates.

Russian efforts to sway the vote are real. Denying them — as some of Bernie’s supporters are doing in ways that hurt the candidate — does not help. But, assuming DHS continues to work with localities to ensure the integrity of voting infrastructure, neither does overplaying them. Between now and November there’s far more reason to be concerned about American-funded disinformation and American money distorting our democratic process.

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