The Costs of Letting Trump Believe His Authoritarian Buddies Instead of His Intelligence Community

WaPo has a story confirming something that has long been implicit (based on Trump’s treatment, for a period, of COVID-19 briefings as classified). The intelligence community was tracking and briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak long before it rose to public attention.

U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.

[snip]

Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” said a U.S. official who had access to intelligence reporting that was disseminated to members of Congress and their staffs as well as to officials in the Trump administration, and who, along with others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive information.

[snip]

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.

The money line repeats one the CIA used to describe how George Bush ignored warnings about 9/11: the system was blinking red.

“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” this official said. “The system was blinking red.”

What’s key though (and, because of editing decisions, doesn’t get a lot of focus in the story) is one reason why Trump didn’t heed the warnings of his briefers: because he believed Xi Jingpeng more than he believed the US intelligence community.

The intelligence reports didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take, issues outside the purview of the intelligence agencies. But they did track the spread of the virus in China, and later in other countries, and warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak.

[snip]

Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response — who was joined by intelligence officials, including from the CIA — told committee members that the virus posed a “serious” threat, one of those officials said.

Kadlec didn’t provide specific recommendations, but he said that to get ahead of the virus and blunt its effects, Americans would need to take actions that could disrupt their daily lives, the official said. “It was very alarming.”

Trump’s insistence on the contrary seemed to rest in his relationship with China’s President Xi Jingping, whom Trump believed was providing him with reliable information about how the virus was spreading in China, despite reports from intelligence agencies that Chinese officials were not being candid about the true scale of the crisis.

We all pay for Robert Kadlec to make sure policymakers get warnings about such things. And yet, Trump refused to believe those warnings because someone he trusted more — Xi — told him differently.

Trump has been permitted to believe his authoritarian buddies over the intelligence community on all manner of things. It derives from two things: first, his own innate fondness for authoritarians. But also, his need to believe Vladimir Putin’s assurances that Russia didn’t help him get elected.

The enabling of Trump’s fondness for dictators will end up being very costly for the United States.

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123 replies
    • Jeff says:

      Thanks Joseph. The interview is a great explanation of where we are at and why.

      [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use a more differentiated username when you comment next as we have several community members named “Jeff.” Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      Thank you, Joseph Andrews! Terrific piece and very positive, IMHO! I’m passing it on to my colleagues and employers.

    • I am sam says:

      This is total OT, but someone should raise it. Why is pressure not being placed on the media to stop helping the clown with his thinly hidden campaign speeches (lies after lies) pretending to be Coronavirus updates, with the “experts” standing and nodding behind him?

      • rbba says:

        Yes, media has everyone’s approval to get up and walk out anytime trump incites. Revealing and determinative words such as “Biden, hoax, Democrat Party”. Media you are not servants and do not need to be servile.

  1. harpie says:

    […] 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. […]

    As someone [sorry, can’t remember…] said on twitter, January 3, 2020 is the day Solemani was assassinated….probably the thing Trump was thinking about.

    • clairence says:

      Some other dates on the timeline. I know it feels like Trump is still TO THIS DAY avoiding responsibility having to deal with this, but twelve days doesn’t seem like that big of a delay. I may be wrong about that.

      1-8 WHO suggests a novel coronavirus
      1-10 first China death
      1-19 human-human transmission confirmed
      1-31 travel from China restricted

      • Rayne says:

        There should be a modifier on January 10 — that’s the first known or identified death in China attributed to this virus. We can’t be certain there weren’t previous deaths which weren’t attributed to COVID-19.

        • P J Evans says:

          There were some prominent people in China who died of pneumonia (so reported) in December. Possibly early cases of the virus – it was noticed outside China around new Year’s..

        • clairence says:

          True. The illness has been traced back to early November I think.
          I guess my only point was that it wasn’t absolutely determined to be transferrable human-to-human until the 19th and the travel ban occurred on the 31st. It hurts that I’m even trying to find something good to say about Trump but I don’t get the ‘waited months’ storyline, even if we start from 12/31, the ban was 1/31.

  2. harpie says:

    And Carrie Cordero reminds us:
    https://twitter.com/carriecordero/status/1241186201190780928
    10:13 PM · Mar 20, 2020

    The decision of the congressional intelligence committees to not hold the annual, unclassified, public worldwide threat briefing featuring the intelligence chiefs – usually in January or February – looks worse and worse.
    Congress could have helped this critical info get air.

    Who MADE that decision and who ENABLED it?

  3. Peterr says:

    To the two items you list at the end, I’d add a third: distrust of career govt employees. Career folks in the US government have an annoying habit of telling the political appointees difficult things. Sober political appointees take that information and try to take it into account in making decisions going forward. Idiots take that information and get angry at the folks who gave it to them.

    For example . . .

    Three weeks after John Bolton became the National Security Advisor, the head of the NSCs “Global Health Security and Biodefense” group abruptly left, and the entire office was abolished. Bolton called it “streamlining” and “reducing duplication,” which is bogus.

    • bt1138 says:

      It’s not just that they are career employees. They are low-paid types.

      Everything for Trump is money and position. He listens to them because they have power. He also instinctively listens to people who have money. That is Trump’s only yardstick. He dismisses people who he believes have a lower standing than him, the circumstances are not a factor. He’s the worst sort of rich person.

      Dictators have power, so he wants to deal with them. Most elected people don’t meet this standard, so he dismisses him like he dismisses the career people. –>For Trump most elected people are like career help and when they try to do the job earnestly it only confirms it for him. He is a sociopath so this is all very natural to him.

      –>Bolton on the other hand is an entirely different case.

    • Katherine M Williams says:

      The cruel dictators probably remind Trump of his awful father. Assuming he admired & respected his Dad, he admires them.

      ‘Government workers’ likely people remind him of how the gov’t was “out to get” his father and himself for their law-breaking ways.

      It’s what one would expect to happen when a lifelong (petty) criminal with Mob associations is made president.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Trump is terrified of being inadequate. It’s as if he were raised, in a Freudian nightmare written by Henry James, by a child-hating nanny wielding a pair of scissors. “Come here, my pretty…”

        That fear of inadequacy includes his fear of not knowing something. Instead of motivating him to seek out information, it motivates him to avoid it, and to bluster and attack. You can see that behavior in every press conference.

        • Molly Pitcher says:

          Totally agree. That was very evident in yesterday’s presser and his growing rage at the press who were asking questions that he had no answers for.

        • Raven Eye says:

          It doesn’t take much imagination to see, in almost every thing he says, a pleading by Trump for the acceptance of his father. And the child-like announcements when he discovers things like “social distancing” — new to him, so it must be new to everyone — could be coming straight from the mouth of a four year old (which, in the South, would get a repeated “Bless your heart”, because as soon as he discovers something, he manages to break it).

          And my guess is that his father was never fully satisfied with Donny’s efforts in business. You wonder what was said behind closed doors when Fred had to buy all those casino chips to bail Donny out.

    • Njrun says:

      Trump operates as a criminal, so he can’t have around him honest people that aren’t in on the con. He fires everyone with integrity or anybody who might one day testify against him. That doesn’t leave much but a small group of lackeys.

    • Theodora says:

      John Bolton was also an influential member of the Bush administration which refused to believe multiple dire warnings that Bin Laden was going to attack us. Just like with this administration it wasn’t just one person who refused to listen to their own experts. The arrogance of top level Republicans who really believe that they are smarter than experts is destroying our country.

      • Rayne says:

        In Bolton’s case it may have served his interests to ignore the threat Bin Laden posed.

        We should be asking ourselves if a pandemic originating in China or any other country might also have served Bolton’s purposes had he remained National Security Adviser.

  4. BobCon says:

    I’m curious in what ways the belief network is a bigger phenomenon than Xi. When you look at a bunch of other authoritarians and extreme right figures favored by the GOP — Bolsonaro, Johnson, Modi, Putin, Duterte, Morrison — you see a similar pattern of denial and delay.

    It’s not the inherently obvious path for these people — Orban seems to have been moving a good bit faster, and as one would expect, has been using it as a cudgel against immigrants and foreigners.

    Some of this may be a Murdoch effect, which would account for Trump, Johnson and Morrison, but not others like Modi. Xi has had a lot of success cultivating a lot of authoritarians like Bolsonaro, but Trump’s quick pivot to racist anti-Chinese rhetoric suggests Xi’s sympathies among US reactionaries are weak.

    The reaction of Trump alone is not hard to understand. But the mechanisms for the larger right wing breakdown are murkier for me.

    • bt1138 says:

      I’m not sure if it’s really true that these various authoritarians can be seen as a block or movement to be studied logically. Each is very different in origins and motivations.

      Just because they use the same toolkits and seem to enjoy each other’s successes does not mean they form some sort of movement. Leaders like this are uniquely self-centered and would burn any one of the others in a heartbeat, they are not ‘working together’ in any sense other than out of convenience.

      Any one of them would do what Hitler did to Stalin and not think twice about it. Trump is the perfect example of this, he considers nothing beyond his own power. It’s the nature of the beast.

      • BobCon says:

        I don’t think they operate as a Soviet-style bloc, which is why I mentioned Orban, but I do think there are communication channels they listen to.

        I think part of what was going on was signal (or lack thereof) from regular US channels. I am sure that a fair amount of the bureaucracies in some countries is highly tuned to what similar people in the US are saying, and if Pompeo and Esper were putting the kibosh on mentions of coronavirus, then the alarm wasn’t getting through elsewhere.

        I’m sure, though, that there are also a lot of channels out there for actively spreading misinformation than I know about. Somebody was building ties between Trumpistas and Bolsonaro people at CPAC, but I’d be curious whether there was also a common message on coronavirus being developed, or what we were seeing was more like the kind of enabling that McConnell does.

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      A couple of weeks back, I posted something here at EW but can’t find the exact article. The below is somewhat similar in that it reveals just how far flung the Trump Org’s business dealings are. Apparently, his biggest dealings are in India–hence the trip there plus the looking away from Modi’s persecution of non-Hindu minorities.

      And ignored in the daily Trump chaos-manufacturing was the fact that he was hosting Bolsanaro and his aides at Mar-A-Laundro when the COVID-19 Pandemic blew out into the open.

      TransnationalCrimeSyndicatesRUs!

      https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/06/trump-foreign-business-interests/

  5. Ruthie says:

    I think Trump knows full well that Russia helped him win the election. What he’s trying to maintain is more like plausible deniability with his base.

    As to his motivation for hushing up the dangers of COVID-19, it may have nothing to do with President Xi. How much did he really understand that denial couldn’t work against the spread of a virus? Being an ignorant imbecile, his attempts to deal with it were little more than spin for weeks. Having no empathy, he doesn’t seem to care about how many people die, but bad news would hurt the stock market and thereby his reelection campaign – not to mention his personal wealth and that of his donors. It’s only been a week or so since he stopped talking almost exclusively about the stock market and the economic impact.

    • Tom says:

      I think there’s an element of Scarlett O’Hara in Trump’s avoidance of tough decisions and the hard work of planning and implementation: “I can’t think about that now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

      • Peterr says:

        Agreed.

        There’s also Scarlett’s belief that bad things will never happen to her, and her staff (ie, slaves) will deal with everything so she doesn’t have to.

        • Tom says:

          And I recall reading a psychology book once that described Scarlett, along with Long John Silver, as an example of a fictional character with the profile of a sociopath.

      • Katherine M Williams says:

        She was greatly enabled by the saintly Melanie, and Rhett. With them gone, she would have had a big problem. Take away with corporate media and Moscow Mitch and trump would collapse pretty quickly.

      • Ruthie says:

        Trump is a one dimensional thinker focused on one specific issue, I think it’s safe to say. His top priority is always saving his own ass.

        His denial, IMO, is better seen as a conscious strategy rather than a reaction to stress, as I read your comment to imply. He was using denial as a tool, knowingly, as he has throughout his presidency, even though anyone with an ounce of brains could have predicted it would fail against the spread of a virus.

        I don’t believe he has the emotional depth/empathy to respond as you suggest. His handling of this crisis reeks of the incompetence resulting from his intellectual insecurity combined with sociopathy.

  6. Fran of the North says:

    It’s herd mentality. You think like those you hang around with, and when you hang around with dictators and authoritarians, all sorts of abnormal behaviors are normalized. So you obfuscate, misdirect and outright lie to direct the narrative. Because that’s what your ‘friends’ do.

    The problem gets exacerbated when you don’t trust, or more likely fear the very agencies who more than likely have seen every bit of your dirty laundry. So you turn a blind eye, downplay the reports, ignore the briefings.

    Trump’s problems are that he’s so ham-handed and that his brain turns off when his mouth opens, that he’s spilled the beans. The repubs have been playing this game for a long while, and were willing to look the other way when Trump tipped his hand, and scurry to cover for him.

    Unfortunately, in this matter, the covering is going to be MUCH harder.

  7. AndTheSlithyToves says:

    United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence:
    Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), Chair
    Devin Nunes (R-CA-22), Ranking Member
    United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:
    Richard Burr (R-NC), Chair
    Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chair
    Leadership in the United States House of Representatives:
    Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12), Speaker of the House
    Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23), Minority Leader
    Leadership in the United States Senate:
    Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Majority Leader
    Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Minority Leader
    Not to be naive, but weren’t the Dems getting this same briefing on the COVID-19 as their colleague, Richard Burr?

    • Geoff says:

      Gang of Eight, colossal failure, but in varying ways.

      We know Nunes, for example, was actively telling people to go out and engage people and businesses at a point where we already knew this was a crisis. Burr we know was telling the American people nothing, or backing up the lies of the administration, and otherwise just looking out for his own interests selling stocks.

      Schiff, Schumer, Pelosi, and Warner appear to have been a deer in the headlight moments perhaps. Were they muzzled? Because the result of this brief was people either said nothing, or said the wrong thing, or did the wrong thing.

      Id have to go back through articles from January through early February period to find out what McCarthy and Mitch were saying.

      It’s not a good look all around, but a much worse look for Nunes and Burr. Much much worse.

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        I believe that those briefings are classified. They are not allowed to reveal the information.

        • vvv says:

          And while Burr apparently did reveal some of this information to 3rd parties, he and the billionaress (nicest I can be) also presumably disclosed to family and stockbrokers and *acted for personal benefit on that info*.

    • Leu2500 says:

      We know that the Admin was leaving the Dems out of things. For ex, the Gang of 8 was NOT briefed before the Solemeini assassination. At least some of the Republican members, yes. But any dem, no.

      • AndTheSlithyToves says:

        Good point, Leu2500! And while the Executive can get away with hiding covert actions (see below), If Burr and the Repubs were the only ones briefed, I’ll be interested to see the machinations the Exec went through to justify withholding crucial COVID-19 information from the full Gang of Eight Intelligence folks.
        This raises the further question that Burr WAS briefed about the COVID-19 severity, and then passed it on to his political donors/benefactors. Who/what was the briefer?

        –Under normal conditions, the President of the United States is required by Title 50 U.S.C. § 3091(a)(1) to “ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity as required by [the] title.” However, under “extraordinary circumstances”, when the President thinks “it is essential to limit access” to information about a covert action, 50 U.S.C. § 093(c)(2) allows the President to limit reporting to the Gang of Eight.–

        • P J Evans says:

          It’s probably safe to say that Trmp doesn’t know about that law – but his ‘advisers’ may. I think, though, that they’re just playing by their usual partisan rules.

          • RobertJ says:

            There is plenty of evidence that they have figured out how to use classification as a way of hiding things that are potentially embarrassing or that they don’t want to deal with.

    • harpie says:

      In the section that Marcy quotes above,:

      Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response — who was joined by intelligence officials, including from the CIA — told committee members that the virus posed a “serious” threat, one of those officials said.>blockquote>

      “commitee members” refers to Senate Intelligence Committee. The following from the article is immediately before that quote]:

      But earlier that month [Feb], a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services delivered a starkly different message to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a classified briefing that four U.S. officials said covered the coronavirus and its global health implications.

    • harpie says:

      In the section that Marcy quotes above,:

      Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response — who was joined by intelligence officials, including from the CIA — told committee members that the virus posed a “serious” threat, one of those officials said.

      …“committee members” refers to “Senate Intelligence Committee”.
      The following from the article is immediately before that quote:

      But earlier that month [Feb], a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services delivered a starkly different message to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a classified briefing that four U.S. officials said covered the coronavirus and its global health implications.

    • harpie says:

      This Administration has consistently kept relevant/vital information AWAY from those who “Need to Know”.
      From February 7, 2020:

      https://twitter.com/Olivia_Gazis/status/1225902188221825025
      5:00 PM · Feb 7, 2020

      New – Leaders of the intelligence community will not appear before the House Intel Committee next week for a public hearing on the top threats facing the country, despite a formal request from Chairman Schiff for them to commit to a public and closed-door session on February 12.

      “We are still having productive discussions with the committees on the timing of the Worldwide Threat Assessment hearings,” a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said Friday.

      A committee official confirmed no public hearing would be held next week and that discussions were ongoing. “We…look forward to their agreeing to attend the one public oversight hearing with all major IC agencies the Committee holds each year,” the official said.

      Senate aides familiar with that panel’s discussions likewise said no hearing date had been set.

      • harpie says:

        J Geltzer, responding to the above announcement:

        https://twitter.com/jgeltzer/status/1226136761283334145
        8:32 AM · Feb 8, 2020

        Echoing @vermontgmg the apparent cancellation of the public Worldwide Threats hearing is a big deal & a concerning development. In a typical year, it’s pretty important. This year, it’s absolutely essential, as @rgoodlaw & I explained on @just_security. [link]

        …links to:
        Three Things to Look For in the 2020 “Worldwide Threat Assessment” from the U.S. Intelligence Community
        https://justsecurity.org/68075/three-things-to-look-for-in-the-2020-worldwide-threat-assessment-from-the-u-s-intelligence-community/
        January 15, 2020

        […] In 2019, this annual tradition received more attention than usual, as the intelligence community leaders provided candid assessments of Iran, North Korea, and ISIS that departed from the characterizations of those threats by the President to support his preferred policies. […]

        Also, 2/7/20 was Alexander VINDMAN’s last day on the NSC/at the WH.

        • ducktree says:

          This is looking uglier and uglier . . . LIHOP on viral steroids.

          [I’ll just park my tinfoil beanie over in the corner during my timeout.]

  8. Leu2500 says:

    This reads like The Family Circus.

    “Trump has been allowed to believe.”

    “”Who allowed him?” “I dunno”

    But it isn’t some “unknown” who allowed this.

    It boils down to (1) the states that voted for him. They don’t have any say in this again until 3 Nov.

    And (2) the Republicans in the Senate who wouldn’t vote to allow witnesses in the trial, much less vote to convict him. Said trial started 15 Jan, when the Articles of Impeachment were delivered, & ended on 5 Feb when he was acquitted.

    Golly, look at that. The Senate trial took place right smack dab in the middle of when the IC was warning about the Corona virus.

    One would think that maybe the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee might have heard something about this. We know that by 13 Feb, the chair, Sen. Burr, was concerned/opportunistic enough to start selling stocks.

    So Burr, Risch, Rubio, Collins, Blunt, Collins, Cornyn & Sasse, we’re looking at you. Also McConnell, since he’s part of the Gang of 8.

    • vvv says:

      The right wing media is actually blaming impeachment as a distraction re the C-19 crisis:
      ht tps://www.mediamatters.org/coronavirus-covid-19/right-wing-media-blame-democrats-focusing-partisan-impeachment-while

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump’s presser. He’s taking credit for “bringing us all together.” So, he starts out with a lie. Quelle surprise.

    State of emergency for NY state.

    Fauci looks like he’s trying to stay awake as Trump drones on, the orange tint rising beneanth his beautifully coiffed head of one hair.

    News organizations have not taken to heart Jay Rosen’s urging them not to broadcast these things live, but only after they’ve digested the information and can sandwich the frequent lies by the truth.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump drones on about what His Majesty has done. He’s been busy on the phone, he signed something, “he” moved tax day back three months. Foreclosures have been suspended, but for so small a group of homeowners that the announcement becomes fraudulent.

    Something, something for student borrowers. Something, something – a clear call to action. He has amazing new authority, but hasn’t said whether he’s used it, other than to encourage the private sector to save us. A few distillers will turn grain alcohol into hand sanitizer. Not sure whether that’s blended or single batch.

    Hanes will refashion some of its underwear into surgical masks. I prefer the boxer briefs. Meanwhile, Fauci and others doing the real work wait, and wait, and wait.

    • ducktree says:

      . . . go with the satin boxers, as I find that the polyblend is a little scratchy on my lips.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    No one on the dais has heard about safe social distancing. Donald still hovers like the Wicked Witch of the West over her flying minions.

    The Guardian calls Mike Pence “strangely competent.” Translated into American, that means less incompetent than Donald Trump. Mikey: “We’ve almost been overwhelmed….” No wonder the Guardian likes him: he’s adopted English understatement.

    The vaunted private sector will make “millions” of masks for the American people. Nothing about which companies or how many weeks. So, horse puckey. Mikey takes credit for state action: state-run drive-throughs are expanding rapidly. I’m more concerned about how the CDC is tracking in real time who is using what tests, where, and what the results are. Doesn’t seem to be happening.

    • P J Evans says:

      Mikey hasn’t done ANYTHING to help. He’s just prettier and better at speaking than Trmp.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Like the evening news, which endlessly touts their top story but doesn’t deliver it until the end of the show, Mikey tells us “on Monday” we’ll hear great stories about great things, including how the private sector will be making “hundreds of millios” of N95 masks. Mikey will be tested “later this afternoon.” Naturally so will Mother.

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The graph of testing in the US indicates only a handfull of tests until the last week.

    Priorities for testing. Still focusing on symptomatic patients already in care, the elderly, medical and support staff. Trump is bored, Fauci seems quietly exasperated, Ben Carson is blank.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Fauci finally up. Mitigation. and delaying the peak. Testing. Finally expanding it. Repeats priorities, which means the supply is still heavily constrained, as are supplies of PPE. We need to conserve both for those already obviously ill. Put off elective medical and surgical procedures, especailly since they consume ventilators.

    Trump seems to be on a slow boil.

      • vvv says:

        Sincerely, thank you! That is truly exemplary community spirit and contribution, and proper acknowledgment of the experts.

        • P J Evans says:

          It’s same-day surgery – local anesthetic, or it was going in. But that’s supplies and staff that they need elsewhere.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I do agree that it frees up people and material for more dire needs, and reduces the risk of transmission for everyone.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    FEMA now up. We’re in charge. I’ll just check with Scully and Mulder on that.

    Route supplies through normal FEMA procedures for natural disasters. But buy it on the open market if you can. Requests will be processed in the normal manner, because this is a “whole of government response.” OK then.

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Ben Carson wakes up to mumble thanks about the American dream of having a home.

    Foreclosures and evictions suspended, for sixty days, but scope is fuzzy when that should be the clearest and most explicit point he makes. “It’s really about helping our people.”

    Carson is the weakest speaker so far. He is also the first speaker that Trump steps away from. Instead of twelve to eighteen inches from the podium, he’s about four feet away.

  17. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump takes questions. We’re gonna have a tremendous bounce back. He’s working with Republicans and Democrats, never had a package like this.

    Federal purchasing power. Not yet compelled any company. Trump: We don’t need to, companies stepped up and are volunteering….We want purchasers in the open market because pricing. We’re “helping” states. Made tremendous progress. What would he do were he not selling condos?

    He won’t say who he has spoken with – avoiding whether he’s talked with Pelosi, which means he hasn’t. Republicans will come up with a great plan. The problem is, you kinow, the medical problem. Trump continues to avoid saying Covid-19 or coronavirus.

    • Tom says:

      I notice Trump repeatedly refers to Dr. Fauci as “Tony”, as if to minimize his role, importance, and expertise. Just heard one “Dr. Fauci” and Dr. Fauci just seemed to wipe his nose on his shirt cuff.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yep. Trump constantly infantilizes others, especially experts and professionals, by using nicknames, etc. He claims it is informal and makes them buddy-buddies. It doesn’t. He’s degrading them. He’s the perennial legacy frat boy, who doesn’t know the real names of his of his brothers, and could not care less.

        • RobertJ says:

          He is one of those people who is fundamentally incapable of admitting that other people are smarter or know more than he does.

  18. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Supply of “so-called” N95 masks has vastly increased, says Mikey, on the president’s order. Says nothing about numbers or distribution. Trumps steps in to babble more. Fauci tries to reinterpret, stout fellow.

  19. Molly Pitcher says:

    Watching today’s presser, Anthony Fauci just wiped his nose on his suit jacket sleeve. please don’t let him be ill.

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      FYI: The pollen in DC-NoVa-MD is its own epidemic. My nose has been running and my eyes itching for weeks already–a twice-yearly ritual since I’ve lived in DC. Every time I go outdoors, I have a few change-of-environment sneezes thanks to the pollen. Everything parked on the street is covered with a layer of yellow-green pollen. So I’m not surprised Dr. Fauci has a runny nose.

  20. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Note to Pence and Fauci: If you have to reinterpret what the president is saying, to explain or claim that he is trying to give people hope, then maybe that’s not what he’s doing, and maybe it’s not working.

    Regarding Trump’s complaint that “it’s a waste” to have people throw away masks, he should stop giving advice. Period.

    Trump’s complaint is a whiny excuse to distract from his failure to do his job. He does not understand the nature of the single-use, throwaway culture that has come to dominate health services since the 1990s, before which more physically robust (but expensive) products were sterilized and re-used. His weak command of the language makes him a poor choice to explain anything, let alone the proper sterilization and re-use of what are meant to be disposable products.

    • Jenny says:

      Earlofhuntingdon, excellent last line.

      With Trump it is always a constant “clean up on aisle 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 …”

    • Just Bill says:

      earlofhuntingdon

      Thanks for your excellent analysis of the White House daily clown update rally. Your comments lay bare just how totally incompetent Trump and team are.

      Sadly Dr Fauci is outnumbered by the incompetents and even as he strives to keep it real for Americans, he is at some risk of being destroyed by his too close association with the grifters.

    • Ken Muldrew says:

      There was that pandemic preparedness office in the National Security Council. It’s not like everyone was ignoring Bill Gates.

      • BobCon says:

        That’s a big part of the problem. Gates has been astoundingly blind to the reality that the GOP is at war with his agenda, and has refused to use his position to address it.

        While I certainly wish he put his money where his mouth was and funded opponents to anti-science and anti-development Republicans, both in primaries and general elections, there is another thing he could do, but won’t.

        There is a crying need to counter the influence of right wing propaganda which attacks the scientific and academic community, to the point where their PR has saturated public discourse as a matter of course. Gates shies away from these fights, as if publishing a PDF on the Gates Foundation website or putting out a TED talk will push back against right wing efforts to win the public opinion battle on public health issues.

        He has the resources to flood the marketplace of ideas with honest, truthful and effective assessments, but he refuses to do anything more than take an ivory tower approach. He’s kidding himself with his view of the world.

        • Rayne says:

          “Gates has been astoundingly blind to the reality that the GOP is at war with his agenda, and has refused to use his position to address it.”

          That’s because he could buy it, thereby supporting it. Microsoft frequently purchased the services of the public relations and lobbying professionals the right-wing used. It’s why Microsoft remained ubiquitous across federal agencies even when it wasn’t in the country’s best interest to be so locked into a single supplier.

          Gates helped create the substrate beneath this mess and now he can’t undo it.

          • BobCon says:

            He definitely has a classic libertarian view of Koch, Thiel, etc. that the government is only bad when it’s not using its power to their advantage.

            He may also have a permanent scar about the government from the big antitrust move resulting from his move to take over the web browser market with Internet Explorer.

            The stupid thing is that Microsoft would have been vastly better off if it had ditched the approach of trying to use its near monopoly power to take over large chunks of the internet, and had instead tried to compete on an app by app basis.

            He never really recognized that Microsoft was bad in many ways at tech development, and stuck with failure weasels like Nathan Myhrvold who fittingly ended up as a patent troll.

  21. Ed Walker says:

    1. This by Adam Serwer for the Atlantic seems right to me: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/donald-trump-menace-public-health/608449/
    2. I watched the presser where Gov. Pritzger and Mayor Lightfoot announced the Northern Illinois shutdown. They and their team made the Trump crowd look like the peabrains they are. They were sober and professional, and calming. They explained their reasoning. They brought on two of the experts who advised them to explain their advice. One was the head of epidemiology at the U Chi hospitals, and the other I don’t know. They brought out the head of the Municipal League, which represents all the affected municipalities, who stated they had been in the discussions and they agree. There were men and women, people of color, and one spoke to the audience in Spanish.

    It made me feel like grown-ups were in charge at least in my corner of the world.

    • BobCon says:

      Serwer’s writing works not because of any magic, but simply because he starts with the obvious facts and then follows them to their logical conclusion, while the political commentary world around him almost always starts with the desired conclusion and simply plugs in whatever they can find to support the conclusion. Or as often as not, simply assert the conclusion over and over again.

      I would love to see Adam Serwer given the reins at the editorial page of the New York Times or Washington Post just to watch the heads exploding when some columnists get critical edits for the first time ever in their lives.

      And by critical I don’t even mean disagreement on substance, simply disagreement on the basic chain from premise and evidence to conclusion.

  22. drouse says:

    I don’t know if it was just me missing it in the deluge of information, but this little bit about how “slippery”(fast mutating) this virus is. This is from Digby’s blog and she didn’t supply a link back to the original.

    Some informational PSAs
    Published by digby on March 21, 2020
    Republican congressman Matt Gaetz being hilarious two weeks ago

    Everyone knows that we’re facing a real crisis from the coronavirus. But do you know how we got here and what we need to do next? Ron Klain, former White House Ebola Response Coordinator, breaks it down for us: pic.twitter.com/XRkIw2EzM4
    — Joe Biden (Text Join to 30330) (@JoeBiden) March 21, 2020

    And here’s something passed along to me from a respected professional acquaintance that seems useful as well:

    This is from an immunologist at Johns Hopkins University:

    Feeling confused as to why Coronavirus is a bigger deal than Seasonal flu? Here it is in a nutshell. I hope this helps. Feel free to share this to others who don’t understand…

    It has to do with RNA sequencing…. ie. genetics.

    Seasonal flu is an “all human virus”. The DNA/RNA chains that make up the virus are recognized by the human immune system. This means that your body has some immunity to it before it comes around each year… you get immunity two ways…through exposure to a virus, or by getting a flu shot.

    Novel viruses, come from animals…the WHO tracks novel viruses in animals, (sometimes for years watching for mutations). Usually these viruses only transfer from animal to animal (pigs in the case of H1N1), (birds in the case of the Spanish flu). But once, one of these animal viruses mutates, and starts to transfer from animals to humans, then it’s a problem, Why? Because we have no natural or acquired immunity…the RNA sequencing of the genes inside the virus isn’t human, and the human immune system doesn’t recognize it so, we can’t fight it off.

    Now…sometimes, the mutation only allows transfer from animal to human. For years it’s only transmission is from an infected animal to a human before it finally mutates so that it can now transfer from human to human…once that happens, we have a new *contagion phase*…and depending on the fashion of this new mutation, that will decide how contagious, or deadly it’s gonna be.

    H1N1 was deadly…but it did not mutate in a way that was as deadly as the Spanish flu. It’s RNA was slower to mutate and it attacked its host differently, too.

    *Fast forward*.

    Now, here comes this Coronavirus…it existed in animals only, for nobody knows how long. But one day, at an animal market, in Wuhan China, in December 2019, it mutated and made the jump from animal to people. At first, only animals could give it to a person…But here is the scary part…in just *TWO WEEKS* it mutated again and gained the ability to jump from human to human. Scientists call this quick ability, *“slippery”*

    This Coronavirus, not being in any form a “human” virus (whereas we would all have some natural or acquired immunity), took off like a rocket. This was because, Humans have no known immunity…doctors have no known medicines for it.

    It just so happens that this particular mutated animal virus, changed itself in such a way that it causes great damage to human lungs.

    That’s why Coronavirus is different from seasonal flu, or H1N1 or any other type of influenza…this one is “slippery”. It’s a lung eater. It’s already mutated AGAIN, so that we now have *two strains* to deal with, *strain S* and *strain L*, which make it twice as hard to develop a vaccine for. *We really have no tools in our shed, with this*.

    I wonder if this means that you can get one strain, recover and then get the other strain. Not to mention further mutations.

    [Edited to remove content not related to mutation. Please avoid reposting whole blogposts from other sites as this may be a copyright violation. Summarize and/or snip excerpts. /~Rayne]

    • drouse says:

      That’s a lot more quote than I really intended. Edit could be a little more consistent and appreciated in this case. .

      • P J Evans says:

        if you have Notepad or something similar, paste it there, edit it, then copy and paste the edited version into the comment box.

        • Savage Librarian says:

          Yeah, great tip. It took me awhile to figure this out. But once I did, it really made things a lot easier. And, then, after you paste it in the comment box you have plenty of time to make minor edits.

    • stethant says:

      The theory of animal viruses requiring a mutation, or a series of mutations, to enter human populations is the classic theory of how these cross-species transmissions happen but it may, in fact, be wrong.

      An alternative explanation, posited by Ralph Baric at UNC Chapel Hill, is that there is a diversity of viruses that pre-exist naturally in animal reservoirs, in this case bats, that can infect bats or humans from the get-go. It only requires contact of humans with the bat reservoir, say in the caves of Hubei Province, to light the match. No mutations required.

      Based on the sequencing of SARS CoV-2, and the fact that it is quite dissimilar from known coronavirus – not one or two or three mutations but 25% different across the genome – I think the Baric idea is a more likely explanation for the COVID-19 pandemic.

      • P J Evans says:

        The most likely explanation is bat feces via some other animal(s) to humans. (Doesn’t require contact directly with bats.) One of the animals suggested is the pangolin, which forages in the forests around the caves, and is captured (illegally – it’s protected) and sold for food.

      • Geoguy says:

        The following article in Canada’s National Post newspaper suggests that “bats host a much higher number of zoonotic viruses than other mammals, many of which have caused human disease and outbreaks” that can jump directly to people. Some people living near the bat caves have “developed antibodies to the viruses – proving that the strains can and have infected humans in the past.” Some of these viruses are very similar to the novel conora virus. The article also briefly describes that the cave in question was discovered 15 years ago but there wasn’t funding for more research. The article is “Cave full of bats in China identified as source of virus almost identical to the one killing hundreds today” in the NATIONAL POST dated Feb. 6 and updated Feb. 7, 2020. Disclosure about the NATIONAL POST, it’s owned by PostMedia and Chatham Asset Management holds a large equity stake. Chatham also is a majority owner of American Media (National Enquirer.)

    • BobCon says:

      I cannot believe Haberman and her editors thought it made sense to “analyze” Trump’s reaction to disasters without mentioning Puerto Rico.

      He’s treating the pandemic like a public relations exercise because the NY Times political desk thinks about the thousands of dead and uncounted suffering after Hurricane Maria as nothing, instead of an omen of what was to come.

  23. Lawrence Kart says:

    I’m reminded, thinking of the Trump administration, of a passage from a May 25, 1973 letter from Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Nathan Glazer, which (sorry) favorably invokes Norman Podhoretz: “I was musing to Norman that [My Lai] was a bad break coming just as it did when [Nixon] seemed to be having some success with his peace moves. ‘ Bad break my ass,’ said Norman. ‘ You think that it is a bad break that this one story broke when it did. Good God — there are fifty men — five thousand and fifty men — out there digging for stories such as My Lai, and everyone of them is five times smarter than anyone who would even consider working as a flak for the Nixon administration.’ I agreed. I kept trying to tell people in the administration that a fundamental fact of their dialectical and rhetorical position was that they were permanently outclassed….”

    • BobCon says:

      The qualification I’d make is that the reporters digging into My Lai were not on the politics beat. Back when Moynihan wrote that letter in the spring of 1973, the politics beat reporters were basically as useless as they are today, missing all of the key points of the biggest story of the decade — Woodward and Bernstein were notably Post Metro Section reporters, not political reporters.

      Trump is counting on being safe as long as this is seen as a political story, focusing on the usual chess moves that DC reporters prefer, and keeping the legions of more credible and aware reporters out of the way. I suspect the magnitude of the problem will change the equation, just as it eventually did in Vietnam, but I am still skeptical that the majority of politics beat reporters will have any clue, and I would not be surprised if they continue to work their malign influence.

  24. Lawrence Kart says:

    BobCon — I see your point, but my focus was on “everyone of them (e.g. the many reporters who would have broken a story like My Lai0 is five times smarter than anyone who would even consider working as a flak for the Nixon [read Trump] administration’… and ‘they [key members of the Nixon (read Trump) administration] were permanently outclassed….”

    Moynihan continues in that vein: “To think that Haldeman and Ehrlichman et al. could pull off [Watergate or the Ellsberg psychiatrist break in ]. Or, if they did, to think that they would know how to use the information! But Ehrlichman [pick your favorite Trump underling] was not intelligent enough to do this….”

    • Ken Muldrew says:

      As we have seen to our horror, the immense power of the US presidency can offset almost any disadvantage due to a lack of intelligence. Giving that power to venal idiots is nigh on societal suicide.

  25. BobCon says:

    The ongoing complaint I have with a lot of the big media is not so much the lack of talent they have. I agree that when it is brought in full force, hacks in the Nixon and Trump administrations don’t have the numbers or talent to match.

    But the leadership of the media are almost pathologically incapable of placing the right reporters, editors and producers on the case, until it is too late. With Vietnam the tide of coverage didn’t really turn until 1968 after the Tet offensive, when all evidence was clear by 1966 that South Vietnam simply did not have the leadership to hold off the North and the Viet Cong.

    Outside of the Washington Post and to a lesser extent CBS, they refused to commit serious resources and smart reporters to Watergate until well into 1973. The NY Times DC and campaign desks, along with CNN, the AP and the broadcast networks still refuse to treat Trump honestly, shunting smart, critical reporting off to the side.

    We are faced with the worst disaster of many generations, and the media leadership still cannot treat the politics as anything more serious than George HW Bush taking a boat tour of Boston Harbor.They have the talent, but they give us Chris Cillizza.

  26. orionATL says:

    the ultimate responsibility lies on our shoulders as citizens and voters:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/21/this-wouldnt-have-happened-if-hillary-clinton-had-won/

    an uncontrollably self-serving president and an uncontrollably self-serving corporation-based “sensible” media require our continuous scepticism and scrutiny. that happens here in the posts and comments at the emptywheel website. it did not and does not occur with sufficient frequency and force to protect us in the current crisis of a viral epidemic.

  27. A. No says:

    Your criticism of Trump in this case — that he did not believe the intelligence agencies — would be valid if the intelligence agencies produced a continuous stream of truth, without false positives or false negatives. But we all know this is not the case, including most famously, the absurd Iraq war intelligence but plenty of other examples just not so famous. The intelligence agencies are highly political and biased towards false positives – each unit happy to call out that their own sky is falling so that they receive more funding and staff. Plus we don’t know what was said or recommended in the PDB. “Chinese officials appear to be under-reporting coronavirus cases” wouldn’t surprise anyone and isn’t an action item. Yes, Trump is incompetent but he is not responsible for our woeful lack of pandemic preparedness. IMO, the finger of blame falls much more on the CDC. They’re the ones who didn’t make a working test, blocked others from making a working test, and deliberately crafted a policy designed to stop people from being tested. Everything they did was the opposite of what was learned about SARS in 2002-2003, and the opposite of what worked in 2020 for Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Pandemics are supposed to be their expertise and it’s difficult to find a single thing they did correctly in 2020 to fight covid19.

    • Rayne says:

      With all due respect, bullshit.

      If the threat was visible to the public on December 31, it was more than visible to the White House *even if they didn’t trust the intelligence community*.

      In Trump’s shoes, seeing this article AND having classified intelligence briefings repeating this information, I would have contacted virologists, epidemiologists, persons with familiarity with SARS to ask about the risk.

      But we’re stuck with the tangerine hellbeast who was more worried about his re-election prospects and making his sponsors happy than he was about fulfilling his oath of office.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Apples and oranges comparison. This epidemic produced facts, sometimes cloaked in a protective layer of bureaucratic lies, but facts, which could be investigated and verified. They were confirmed by other intelligence agencies and, eventually, press reports on the ground.

      You cite the Iraq war intelligence flaws. Most of these came from the White House and its implants at DoD and in the intel community. They were querried at the time, but doubts were overridden by political appointees.

      BushCheney wanted their war and lied to get it. No government wanted this pandemic, although the one in the US is both incompetent as hell and bent on using it in the way every neoliberal ideologue would use a good crisis: to make its wish list come true, never mind the “collateral” damage.

  28. Tom says:

    Kind of sobering to hear Dr. Sandy Buchman, President of the Canadian Medical Association, say on CBC radio this morning that if you’ve lived your life and are over 65 with a history of, say, hypertension (that describes me), and become seriously ill with COVID-19, then you’ll probably be referred to palliative care so that the highly precious ventilator can be reserved for the 35-year-old father of three children. Dr. Buchman also said there will be an increase in the need for palliative care services.

    • Rayne says:

      This kind of triage has been happening in northern Italy for more than two weeks. It’s been happening quietly in Washington state for at least a week.

      It’s going to happen within the week in New York city. And as this crisis gets worse and supplies don’t meet demand, the age will drop to 60, then 55.

      Your situation is shared by +20% of the public. Stay home, inside. Keep taking your meds. And call your representative and senator to make sure they are doing everything they can to support those who can’t stay inside, must work, and our first responders and health care workers.

      • Tom says:

        Thanks, Rayne. I think I’m reasonably healthy and am reasonably confident of riding this out okay. My three adult children regularly send me encouraging text messages, such as: “Still alive, Dad?” The folks I’m really worried about are the two little girls and their families, one in Senegal and the other in Cambodia, who I support through Plan International Canada. It’s not just the two girls I’m worried about, but the mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and other extended family members who support them and are more vulnerable to the virus.

  29. rattlemullet says:

    “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………..The intelligence reports didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take, issues outside the purview of the intelligence agencies.”

    I texted my nephew who is a doctor, surgeon, now with Medtronics, on Jan 21 advising him that I read the first case of, at that time I only knew of at as the “wuhan coronavirus” had land in his home state of Washington. I copied two sentences from above. By late January earlier February COVID 19 was ashore. why the disconnect on timing from the reporter or just from the cut and past from the story? Sorry I could not click the article I have used up my freebies.

    Thank you and your community for this blog.

    • Blueride27 says:

      If Trump was the CEO of a large company. Could he be charged with negligence for ignoring all the advice of experts. That directly resulted in employee deaths?

      • harpie says:

        LOL! About 20 minutes after I posted this comment here, I realized I should have put it on the other post!
        So whatever we have, it must be contagious! :-)

        • Rayne says:

          Stop. No. That’s bullshit, total complete bullshit. This was visible to our intelligence people and Trump chose NOT to listen to them.

          He also chose NOT to listen to WHO after Xi/China began sharing information with them.

  30. Mooser says:

    So after initiating a trade war with China, Trump decides Xi is the go-to guy on what’s best for the US?
    It never occurred to Trump that, oh forget it.

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