Three Things: Loads of Bricks, White Chicks, Made-up Schtick

[NB: I want to make sure you take note of the byline. Thanks. /~Rayne]

Especially after last night this one’s been really bugging me so I’ll lay it out here first.

~ 3 ~

Why was riot gear more important than personal protective gear for the nation’s health care system back in March? This has bothered the hell out of me since I looked at the purchase orders and dates.

31-JAN-2020 — Trump declared a public health emergency under the Public Health Service Act

13-MAR-2020 — Trump issued two national emergency declarations under both the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act (NEA)

17-MAR-2020 — Federal purchase order from Veterans Affairs signed for POLICE PROTECTION EQUIPMENT FOR WASHINGTON D.C. VA POLICE IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 OUTBREAK

18-MAR-2020 — Trump invoked emergency powers via Executive Order under the Defense Production Act

19-MAR-2020 — Trump named the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the lead agency in the COVID-19 emergency response efforts (designation previously held by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS))

19-MAR-2020 — California issued Stay Home order

21-MAR-2020 — Illinois, New Jersey issued Stay Home orders

22-MAR-2020 — New York, Ohio issued Stay Home orders

23-MAR-2020 — CT, LA, MI, OR, WA issued Stay Home orders

23-MAR-2020 — Federal purchase order from Veterans Affairs signed for POLICE GEAR, DISPOSABLE CUFFS, GAS MASKS, BALLISTIC HELMETS, RIOT GLOVES

06-APR-2020 — FEMA seized orders of N95 masks
16-APR-2020 — FEMA seized orders of N95 masks
21-APR-2020 — FEMA seized orders of N95 masks

Why did the federal government seize private orders of N95 masks in April when it could have been ordering them instead of riot gear in March?

The government clearly had COVID-19 in mind because it’s spelled out in the order for POLICE PROTECTION EQUIPMENT entered Tuesday 17-MAR-2020 after the first national emergency declaration — the order uses PRESIDENTIAL ISSUED EMERGENCY DECLARATION, OR A MAJOR DISASTER DECLARATION as its emergency acquisition justification.

But why not order personal protective equipment for health care roles instead?

Why were they planning for riots in March, which is clear from the order for RIOT GLOVES on 23-MAR-2020?

They could predict rioting but not mass deaths from contagion?

Something really smells here.

I’d hate to think the White House used its power to acquire riot gear in order to pull off last night’s double-header campaign stunt-voter suppression gig.

Because that’s what this POS was.

Still can’t wrap my head around the U.S. Park Police and National Guard using tear gas and flash bang grenades on peaceful protesters to clear a path to St. John’s Episcopal Church in D.C. last evening so Trump could have an unauthorized photo-op in front of the church.

I don’t ever want to hear that Christians support Trump because he protects their religious freedoms when he just crapped all over them, especially if it turns out the White House planned for this months ago instead of working constructively to stem COVID-19.

~ 2 ~

The press has been traumatized by police assaults on them as they covered the protests over the last several days. In my opinion this is deliberate; it keeps the media from investigating what were the triggering events moving police toward violence against peaceful if angry protesters, launching property damage which further triggered police abuse. Protesters repeatedly caught on camera white people, some times in clusters, taking active roles in beginning property damage.

There are videos of black protesters trying to stop white people — too often dressed in black, acting in teams — who were the original actors causing property damage.


They ignore the pleas of black people to stop the damage.

There are several videos in which piles of bricks are pointed out by black protesters — bricks where no construction is apparent, left on sidewalks or in the middle of the street. One video shows white persons dressed in black removing barricades around the bricks. An academic noted on Twitter that any images of brick piles documented in Fayetteville, AR were there because brick walkways are constantly under repair. But at least a couple images show bricks piled on ashphalt street surface or concrete sidewalk, with no obvious construction or repair work in progress.

Yet another video circulating shows a black-clad white man handing out what is believed to be cash to black persons and pointing them to construction materials for the purposes of a temporary barricade. Wish the person recording the video had asked questions of their subjects.

There are some other disturbing signs about the content shared about white people allegedly involved in the property damage. This one may be a fake — there’s nothing in local news about this person.


There are claims in the thread about this person I can’t validate because I don’t use Facebook. Something about this is synthetic. Claims made attributing the source of support behind some of these vandals are clearly false and have been debunked.

The police have done themselves no favors, failing to arrest many of these vandals — in some cases simply watching them. Note how black protesters make this white vandal stop and drag them to police who are watching, doing nothing until forced to do so.

Police have also de-legitimized themselves by failing their duty to protect and serve, instead attacking citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

Something isn’t right here, whatsoever. It looks systemic — rather like COINTELPRO and yet potentially manufactured at another remove — and the media needs to stop licking their wounds and get digging.

The press also needs to ask itself why this was not the face of this week’s civil rights protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder-by-cop.

~ 1 ~

Meanwhile, this man on the left:

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) with Confederate flag
continues to work on Trump’s and the GOP’s agenda:

deliberately ignoring this reality.

U.S. COVID-19 DEATH TOLL, JUNE 2, 2020 - 2:00 PM ET VIA WIKIPEDIA
Nearly a thousand more Americans have died since yesterday morning.

~ 0 ~

One last thing: if you have time for a reading assignment, I recommend Anne Applebaum’s essay in The Atlantic, History Will Judge the Complicit. I’m so pissed off at Trump for making me miss John McCain right now.

This is an open thread. Bring it.

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.

Assaults on Free Speech and the Cities We Didn’t See

Last night I thread a series of tweets documenting law enforcement abuses including attacks on journalists in different cities across the country during protests against police brutality.

I collected more than a half dozen reports from Minneapolis alone of attacks on journalists from different news organizations. This number doesn’t represent the entire number of journalists attacked in that one city.

Those attacked included:

Michael Anthony Adams, journalist, VICE
Tom Aviles, photojournalist, CBS affiliate WCCO
Jennifer Brooks, columnist, Star Tribune
Julio-Cesar Chavez, cameraman, Reuters and
Rodney Seward, security advisor, Reuters
Carolyn Cole, photographer, Los Angeles Times
Molly Hennessy-Fiske, journalist Los Angeles Times
John Marschitz, sound engineer, CBS (national)
Unidentified team member with Omar Jimenez, CNN
Unidentified camera person (reported by CNN but doesn’t appear to be on their team)
Nina Svanberg, journalist, Express-Sweden
Linda Tirado, freelance photographer
Ali Velshi, correspondent, MSNBC (and his team including Morgan Chesky and Richard Lui)

It’s not clear from Jennifer Brooks’ tweets from May 28 that her identity was clear to the police vehicle indiscriminately spraying tear gas out of a window toward the crowd.

Linda Tirado lost the sight in her left eye after being hit with a rubber bullet in the face.

I don’t have any tweets from Louisville KY but I’ve read that there was at least one more incident yesterday involving a member of the press. If you have anything about this and other police attacks on media not listed here, please share in comments.

Los Angeles was at least as bad as Minneapolis in terms of attacks on journalists.

These aren’t random accidents. This is a clear pattern of behavior.

Law enforcement across the country is attacking the exercise of the First Amendment.

They aren’t doing this relying on qualified immunity; their attacks on members of the press are violations of the Constitution where the identity of the media is clear, where law enforcement has made zero effort to validate the identity of the media persons they attacked.

Law enforcement are doing this with qualified impunity — assumed but not granted by voters.

Ignoring the rule of law which is the foundation of law enforcement’s existence means law enforcement has de-legitimized itself.

They are criminal gangs when they break the law and fail to protect and serve the public’s interest by attacking media which informs the public.

It’s absolutely essential that elected officials and the public demand accountability from law enforcement for their attacks on media during protests this week, before law enforcement becomes even more unaccountable for a broader range of failures to protect and serve the public

~ ~ ~

While Twitter has been awash with reports of police abusing protesters and the press — which interestingly failed to stop many white instigators engaging in property damage across the country — there were three cities I noted which did not devolve into riots while observing protests of police brutality.

They were Santa Cruz, California and Flint, Michigan.

I’ll let these tweets speak for themselves.

There weren’t reports in my timeline of property damage and rioting in either of these cities last night.

There also weren’t reports in these two cities of white agents provocateur escalating tensions by damaging property as there were in every city where police abused protesters.

It’d be nice to know if there is a more direct link between police brutality during protests and the appearance of white agitators.

This is an open thread.

In Dire Need of Creative Extremists

MLK Memorial on the national Mall
(h/t Mobilus In Mobili CC BY-SA 2.0)

While many would point to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial  in August 1963 as his most powerful, the words from King that most move me come from a letter written four months earlier, as he sat in the Birmingham jail. It was a letter written to local pastors, who expressed support for his cause but concern for the manner in which he came to Birmingham to protest. When looking back at historical letters, there are some that are products of their time that illuminate the events of that day, but which need footnotes and commentary to explain to contemporary readers.

King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is *not* one of those letters. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s all too clear, and speaks all too clearly even now.

In that letter, King identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the hoodwearing Klanners or the politically powerful White Citizens Council folks, but the white moderate. These are folks who

  • are more devoted to order than justice
  • prefer a negative peace – the absence of tension – to a positive peace – the presence of justice
  • constantly say they agree with your goals but not your direct methods for achieving them
  • feel no problem in setting a timetable for someone else’s freedom
  • live by the myth of time, constantly urging patience until things are more convenient

Anyone who has watched the news at any time over the last three years knows that this great stumbling block to freedom and justice, the Moderate, is an all-too-familiar presence, appearing in various guises. For example . . .

  • police officers who, as one African-American after another is beaten, abused, and killed by one of their colleagues, silently watch the attack as it unfolds, who refuse to intervene, who write up reports to cover for this conduct, and who by their silence and their words defend and justify assault and murder done under the color of law;
  • staffers at ICE facilities who, as children are separated from their parents, as people are crammed into unlivable facilities, as basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap are withheld, clock in and clock out without saying a word;
  • personal assistants, co-workers, and superiors who watch as victim after victim were abused by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, and untold others, and who said nothing;
  • Susan Collins, hand-wringer extraordinaire, who expresses her deep concerns about this rightwing nominee or that destructive proposed policy, and nevertheless puts her concerns aside time and time and time again to confirm the nominee or enact the proposal into law;
  • media figures who practice “he said/she said journalism,” who twist themselves into pretzels in order to maintain their “access” to inside sources, and who refuse to call a lie a lie in the name of “balance”;
  • corporate bean counters, who place such things as quarterly profits and shareholder value ahead of worker safety and well-being, ahead of environmental concerns, or ahead of community partnership, saying “we can’t afford to . . .” when what they really mean is “we choose not to spend in order to . . .”;
  • lawyers who provide legal cover to those who abuse, torture, and terrorize, and the second group of lawyers who “let bygones be bygones” in order to not have to deal with the actions of the first group;
  • bishops and religious leaders who privately chastise abusive priests and pastors, but who fail to hold them publicly accountable and seek justice, out of a concern to not cause a scandal that would bring the religious organization into disrepute; and
  • leaders of sports programs who value winning so much that they are willing to look the other way when coaches, trainers, and doctors abuse athletes.

The tools of the Moderate are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to The Team, and the explicit and implicit power of the hierarchy. The Moderate may not be at the top of the pyramid, but as long as the Moderate can kiss up and kick down, they think they will be OK. They’ll keep their powder dry, waiting for a better time to act. But all too often, the Moderate refuses to use what they’ve been saving for that rainy day, even when they are in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.

But there are signs of hope, and we’ve seen some of them as well over the last three years:

  • career government professionals – at the State Department like Marie Yovanovitch, at the Department of Defense like Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the Department of Health and Human Services like Dr. Richard Bright, at the Department of Justice like Brandon Van Graak, and others like them – who refused to worry about personal consequences to themselves and fudge the data, ignore the facts, shade the advice,  or stand silently by while others do so;
  • passers-by to acts of injustice, who not only document what is being done but who take action to hold perpetrators to account (NY dog walkers, represent!);
  • young voices like Greta Thunberg who refuse to go along to get along, who ask the tough questions of those in power, and who question the answers that mock the truth, and old voices like Elizabeth Warren who do the same; and
  • voices of political relative newcomers like Katie Porter, AOC, Stacy Abrams, who do not let their low spot on the political totem pole (or lack of a spot at all) keep them from speaking out for justice.

This past week, longtime AIDS activist Larry Kramer passed away. He founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to care for gays stricken with AIDS, while the government turned its eyes away from the problem. Later on, he founded ACT-UP, when he saw GMHC had become too domesticated and unwilling to rock the boat when the boat desperately needed rocking. He called out the gay community and he called out government officials, even those who were trying to help like Anthony Fauci, for not doing anywhere close to what was needed.

And in many respects, it worked. Maybe not as fast as it should have, or as well as Kramer would have liked, but it made a difference. From Kramer’s NY Times obituary:

The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”

“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.

In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.

Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Which brings me back to King’s letter and the title of this post:

. . . though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We’ve got plenty of extremists like Stephen Miller and the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. We’re in dire need of more creative extremists.

Which leaves me with one question: how will you be a creative extremist today?

Lysol and UV Rays: Running a Pandemic Like a Reality TV Show

After news outlets wrote their both-sides stories about the President’s musings about ingesting Lysol, and after they mapped out the four different excuses Trump offered on Friday — he told you to check with a doctor (Kayleigh McEnany); he was just joking (Trump himself); Trump was just thinking out loud (Dr. Birx); it’s the briefer’s fault (anonymous officials), several outlets set out to figure out how it came to be that the President of the most powerful country in the world went on live TV and suggested it might be a good idea to ingest cleaning supplies.

The NYT discovered that some of Trump’s advisors claim (anonymously in the NYT version, but named as Mark Meadows and Kayleigh McEnany by CNN) to have realized that allowing acting DHS Undersecretary for Science at William Bryan was going to be a mistake even before it happened. But Mike Pence liked the pretty pictures and good news he offered, so it went into the briefing.

Others inside the administration raised questions about why Mr. Bryan, whose background is not in health or science, had been invited to deliver a presentation. Mr. Bryan, whose expertise is in energy infrastructure and security, is serving in an acting capacity as the head of the department’s science and technology directorate.

Mr. Bryan served 17 years in the Army, followed by yearslong stints as a civil servant at the Defense and Energy Departments. The latter role led to a whistle-blower complaint accusing him, in part, of manipulating government policy to further his personal financial interests, and then lying to Congress about those interests.

The United States Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints, asked the Energy Department last year to investigate the accusations against Mr. Bryan. In January, the Senate returned his nomination to the White House.

Mr. Bryan was invited by the vice president’s office to coronavirus task force meetings on Wednesday and Thursday to talk about a study that his department had done relating to heat and the conditions in which the coronavirus can thrive or be dampened. On Thursday, Mr. Bryan presented a graphic to the room, according to four people briefed on the events.

Mr. Pence’s advisers wanted Mr. Bryan to brief the news media on his findings, but several West Wing staff members objected, partly because they were concerned the information had not been verified.

Before Mr. Bryan took the lectern in the White House Briefing Room, Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force, made a few revisions to his presentation, officials said.

As he listened to Mr. Bryan, the president became increasingly excited, and also felt the need to demonstrate his own understanding of science, according to three of the advisers. So Mr. Trump went ahead with his theories about the chemicals.

CNN described how Trump didn’t attend either of the task force meetings where Bryan presented his findings, but nevertheless ad-libbed a response after Bryan delivered his presentation.

President Donald Trump was absent from the Situation Room on Wednesday when William Bryan, the acting head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, presented the findings of a new study to the White House coronavirus task force.

[snip]

When Bryan arrived Thursday with a camera-ready presentation, Trump again wasn’t at the 3 p.m. ET coronavirus task force meeting, the sources said. But in the minutes before Trump’s planned early evening news conference, Bryan quickly explained his findings to the President in the Oval Office.

Moments later, Bryan was standing at the White House podium explaining how sunlight, ultraviolet rays and disinfectants — such as bleach and alcohol — could shorten the half-life of coronavirus.

But when Bryan’s explanation ended, things went sideways. As his health advisers looked on expressionless, the President started lobbing questions about whether light or disinfectants could be used inside the human body to cure coronavirus.

Trump and the White House spent the next 24 hours trying to rationalize the comments while health departments reminded Americans that ingesting bleach is lethal.

The really important detail from the CNN article, however, is that Trump doesn’t actually attend many of the Task Force meetings, which are held in the Situation Room. He attends maybe one a week, and doesn’t always warn members he’s going to drop in.

While he almost always attends the daily press briefings, Trump rarely attends the coronavirus task force meetings that precede them. The task force doesn’t seem to mind.

According to one person close to the task force, the meetings become more prolonged if Trump attends and often go off script. When Pence is at the helm, aides say, they usually tick through the agenda rapidly. Trump comes to roughly one briefing a week. At times, 10 days or more have passed without him attending.

[snip]

Trump often turns up when he’s not expected. His presence often throws the meeting well off its assigned agenda and frequently centers on how his performance is being viewed in the media or in polling.

That means Trump has been spending upwards of 10 hours a week emceeing briefings, without doing any of the homework to learn about the pandemic.

All the attempts to understand what happened have reminded me of the New Yorker article that described how Mark Barnett made a “skeezy hustler” like Donald Trump into a titan by repackaging the unprepared, impulsive things Trump said after the fact.

He wouldn’t read a script—he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong. But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television. He barked at one contestant, “Sam, you’re sort of a disaster. Don’t take offense, but everyone hates you.”

[snip]

“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.

As with the Apprentice, Thursday’s fiasco ended with reaction shot, this time of Dr. Birx realizing in real time what Trump had done.

Burnett has often boasted that, for each televised hour of “The Apprentice,” his crews shot as many as three hundred hours of footage. The real alchemy of reality television is the editing—sifting through a compost heap of clips and piecing together an absorbing story. Jonathon Braun, an editor who started working with Burnett on “Survivor” and then worked on the first six seasons of “The Apprentice,” told me, “You don’t make anything up. But you accentuate things that you see as themes.” He readily conceded how distorting this process can be. Much of reality TV consists of reaction shots: one participant says something outrageous, and the camera cuts away to another participant rolling her eyes. Often, Braun said, editors lift an eye roll from an entirely different part of the conversation.

Of course, this time it’s real. And no one gets to go back and edit Trump’s dangerous comments to make them look like leadership after the fact. By then, people were already drinking Lysol.

On Thursday, after Trump made his comments and had Dr. Birx comment on it, Philip Rucker asked him why he was spreading rumors. For me, it was the most remarkable part of an unbelievable briefing. Trump responded, first, by stating, “I’m the President and you’re fake news,” the kind of comment that might be a ratings hit if it wasn’t getting people killed.

THE PRESIDENT: Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?

DR. BIRX: Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever —

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.

DR. BIRX: — is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But not as — I’ve not seen heat or (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a great thing to look at. I mean, you know. Okay?

Q But respectfully, sir, you’re the President. And people tuning into these briefings, they want to get information and guidance and want to know what to do.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey — hey, Phil.

Q They’re not looking for a rumor.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Phil. I’m the President and you’re fake news. And you know what I’ll say to you? I’ll say it very nicely. I know you well.

Q Why do you say that?

THE PRESIDENT: I know you well.

Because I know the guy; I see what he writes. He’s a total faker.

Q He’s a good reporter.

THE PRESIDENT: So, are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? It’s just a suggestion from a brilliant lab by a very, very smart, perhaps brilliant, man. He’s talking about sun. He’s talking about heat. And you see the numbers. So that’s it; that’s all I have. I’m just here to present talent.

Trump ended, however, the most powerful man in the world rendered helpless by an actual crisis with actual consequences, by claiming, “I’m just here to present talent.”

Update: WaPo catalogued what has been going on in Trump’s COVID rallies, both since March 16 and since April 6. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste of what they found.

The president has spoken for more than 28 hours in the 35 briefings held since March 16, eating up 60 percent of the time that officials spoke, according to a Washington Post analysis of annotated transcripts from Factba.se, a data analytics company.

Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims. He spent twice as much time promoting an unproven antimalarial drug that was the object of a Food and Drug Administration warning Friday. Trump also said something false or misleading in nearly a quarter of his prepared comments or answers to questions, the analysis shows.

If my math is correct, there have been almost 47 hours of briefings since March 16, and they’ve been an average of an hour and twenty minutes (the average for the later range is shorter, no doubt skewed by the 22 minute briefing Friday). So for the briefings Trump attends, he can spend over 9 hours a week mouthing off about stuff he knows nothing about.

 

Trump’s Medical Quackery Exposes the Press’ Both-Sides Quackery

Last night, an increasingly desperate President went on live TV and advised that people might try ingesting disinfectant to cure COVID-19.

The comment has elicited justifiable uproar. It renewed questions about how long Trump’s medical experts, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, can remain on stage while he touts junk cures (this video capturing Birx’s response is painful). It sparked a fascinating thread from former Special Envoy on ISIS, Brett McGurk, explaining how Trump’s instability makes it impossible to credibly advise him:

  1. You can’t stay above crazy: On any issue, the crazy will catch up to you
  2. There’s no policy: You’re always a Tweet away from all going sideways
  3. You can’t speak credibly: Since there’s no policy, nobody speaks credibly for our country
  4. Diplomacy is impossible: Foreign parties know that only Trump counts and he changes on a whim
  5. You may need to resign: In any senior role, your integrity will be tested

It generated a lot of attention on Trump’s outrageous comments and as a result shifted attention away from the fact that we’ve probably surpassed 50,000 deaths (though not in official counts, yet) and that Trump explicitly disagreed —  “I don’t agree with him” — with Fauci’s earlier comments that we’re not where we need to be on testing.

But it also elicited both sides reporting.

WaPo did a piece that called Trump’s suggestions as “medical musings,” put his suggestions high up in the story labeled as “bizarre,” like a nifty circus act, then called ingesting Lysol as only “potentially” dangerous.

It went on to air the FDA Commissioner, Stephen Hahn’s sycophantic excuse for Trump’s comments — just a conversation between an idiotic patient and his doctor, not the most powerful leader of the world seeding hoaxes on live TV — without noting that by apologizing for his boss, Hahn himself was refusing to do his job to keep us safe.

The WaPo treated this as a both sides thing, Lysol’s manufacturer and Sanjay Gupta arguing the partisan side of “science” against Trump and Hahn arguing the partisan side of, “miracle cures.”

WaPo isn’t the only one, though. NYT (by-lined by one of the journalists responsible for Mobile Bioweapons Labs in Iraq), too, treated the disinfectant and related UV ray questions as a matter pitting experts against the President.

President Trump has long pinned his hopes on the powers of sunlight to defeat the Covid-19 virus. On Thursday, he returned to that theme at the daily White House coronavirus briefing, bringing in a top administration scientist to back up his assertions and eagerly theorizing — dangerously, in the view of some experts — about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.

[snip]

Experts have long warned that ultraviolet lamps can harm humans if used improperly — when the exposure is outside the body, much less inside. But bottles of bleach and other disinfectants carry sharp warnings of ingestion dangers. The disinfectants can kill not only microbes but humans.

NBC, too, pitched this as a dispute between Lysol and their own health expert, Vin Gupta, versus Trump.

There’s no dispute here!!!!

We don’t actually need to call Lysol (which is undoubtedly panicked that liability claims will undermine an otherwise welcome spike in sales) or consult experts about whether drinking disinfectant will hurt us. It’s something we learned as small children. The fact that outlets are treating this as a both sides issue is all the more troubling given that Trump’s statement clearly misrepresented what Acting DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology William Bryan said in the briefing, which addressed how to kill the virus outside of the human body, not inside it. That is, outlets could cover the statements by describing them as a matter of Trump totally misunderstanding what he just heard — which is, itself, newsworthy — rather than presenting the efficacy of drinking poison as a matter open to debate.

What yesterday’s comments did — on top of indicate just how unhinged the President is getting as he realizes you can’t cheat your way out of a pandemic — is illustrate once and for all that, five years into covering Donald Trump as a national politician, some journalists still haven’t learned how to avoid being complicit in Trump’s dis- and misinformation. It may well show that not just Hannity, but even some in the so-called objective press, will own some responsibility for the idiotic choices that Americans make after listening to Trump. It certainly shows that it is high time for the press to treat the President’s ramblings as a problem unto themselves, not as anything conveying actual information.

VOA Africa correspondent Jason Patinkin made this point presciently in a long thread the other day by comparing how Ebola got covered — by journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo and internationally — with how COVID-19 is getting covered now. He asked,

Anyways, did media (DRC and intl) covering outbreak coddle conspiracy theorists with both sides-ism, and give nonstop coverage to people encouraging such theories? Did they breathlessly report unproven cures and vaccines? Did they gently describe armed groups as “protesters”?

He noted that presenting “verified, critical information” means that, yes, journalists will and should default to taking the side of public health.

Journalists in DRC’s ebola outbreak in some ways “chose” a side: the side of public health. It seems to me that many US journalists, so obsessed with false ideas of neutrality, have not chosen the side of public health. This is wrong.

It has always been wrong to treat Trump’s disinformation as one side of a dispute up for debate. It was wrong on Russia, it was wrong on Ukraine, it was wrong on climate, it was wrong on North Korea.

But doing so now may make journalists complicit in getting people killed.

Update: This NBC report explains why Trump was pushing these particularly miracle cures.

Update: NYT has slightly updated its story (though not entirely eliminating the both-sidesing), and deleted their especially bad both-sides tweet on it. Trump, meanwhile, claims that he was being sarcastic, a claim that conflicts with what his spox said earlier today, a claim that even Fox’s Bret Baier has debunked.

On Trump’s COVID Rallies: Lying and Bullying Are Different Things

Ben Smith wrote a column about how the press should deal with Trump’s daily COVID pressers rallies that has pissed a lot of journalists off. In it, he suggests even having the debate that he’s actually engaging in is tiresome.

I don’t intend to reopen the tiresome debate over whether news organizations should broadcast Mr. Trump’s remarks. The only people really debating this are the outlets for whom it doesn’t really matter, unless you’re big on symbolism. How many listeners to Seattle’s NPR affiliate are proud red hat wearers? And who thinks that the outlets for whom it would matter — Fox News, most of all — are even considering it? The whole debate seemed rooted in the idea that if only your favored news outlet didn’t live stream the president, he would just go away.

But that’s not the biggest problem with Smith’s column.

The very first line of the column suggests — in mocking tone — that the story of Trump’s COVID rallies is his bullying.

Did you hear? The president said some things today. Mean things! About someone I know … I can’t quite remember the details, or whether it was today or yesterday, or what day of the week it is, anyway.

In claiming the COVID rallies are about Trump’s bullying, Smith focuses on the warm mutual dysfunction of Maggie Haberman’s relationship with the President. He doesn’t talk about the way that the President uses the COVID rallies to denigrate beautiful smart women who are in the room with him, questioning him, which in my opinion is a story unto itself if you want to talk whether symbolism is worth airing or not.

And that’s one of the reasons why — contrary to Smith’s claim — it’s not clear the rallies really are, “The most effective form of direct presidential communication since Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats,” because they continue to alienate people like the suburban women whose support Trump would need to win reelection. If it were just about Trump’s bullying, Smith’s argument would still be suspect regarding Trump’s efficacy.

But the debate about the COVID rallies is not just about Trump’s bullying.

On the contrary, it’s about his lies. In his column, Smith suggests that Trump’s COVID rallies only “occasionally” derail the public health response.

[T]hey should cover them as what they are, a political campaign, not as a central part of the public health response except to the degree that it occasionally derails that response.

Trump has encouraged people to take untested medicine, he has refused to model the rules on social distancing his own CDC recommends, to say nothing of wearing a mask in public. He has at times interrupted his medical experts and ad-libbed responses to serious questions with no basis in fact, much less science. He has suggested, over and over and over, that tests are not a crucial part of this response when every single expert says they are. He has used the briefings to celebrate corporations — like Tyson Foods — that haven’t provided their employees adequate protection. He has accused medical professionals of stealing supplies.

Trump’s derailments of the public health response are in no way an “occasional” thing. They happen daily.

Which is why it’s all the more irresponsible — in providing decent advice to go show the human cost of this tragedy (which would entail dedicating the time spent showing Trump’s briefing to showing those human interest stories) — that Smith dismisses the import of fact-checking, of the kind that CNN’s Daniel Dale and Vox’s Aaron Rupar do in real time.

But if the cable networks want an alternative to the briefings, they can get out of the studio and back to what first made TV news so powerful — not fact-checking, but emotionally powerful imagery of human suffering.

During Katrina, for instance, “the power of CNN was having an army of cameras and correspondents all over the Gulf, showing the brutal human and economic toll split-screened against the anemic assurances of the Bush administration,” Mr. Hamby, a former CNN staff member, recalled. “It was crippling.”

Virtually every media outlet has published at least one story emphasizing the main lesson from the 1918 flu: that leaders need to tell the truth, most importantly to convince people to comply with public health guidelines over time. Here’s the version of that argument Smith’s NYT published, written by John Barry, who wrote The Great Influenza.

That brings us back to the most important lesson of 1918, one that all the working groups on pandemic planning agreed upon: Tell the truth. That instruction is built into the federal pandemic preparedness plans and the plan for every state and territory.

In 1918, pressured to maintain wartime morale, neither national nor local government officials told the truth. The disease was called “Spanish flu,” and one national public-health leader said, “This is ordinary influenza by another name.” Most local health commissioners followed that lead. Newspapers echoed them. After Philadelphia began digging mass graves; closed schools, saloons and theaters; and banned public gatherings, one newspaper even wrote: “This is not a public health measure. There is no cause for alarm.”

Trust in authority disintegrated, and at its core, society is based on trust. Not knowing whom or what to believe, people also lost trust in one another. They became alienated, isolated. Intimacy was destroyed. “You had no school life, you had no church life, you had nothing,” a survivor recalled. “People were afraid to kiss one another, people were afraid to eat with one another.” Some people actually starved to death because no one would deliver food to them.

Society began fraying — so much that the scientist who was in charge of the armed forces’ division of communicable disease worried that if the pandemic continued its accelerating for a few more weeks, “civilization could easily disappear from the face of the earth.”

The few places where leadership told the truth had a different experience. In San Francisco, the mayor and business, labor and medical leaders jointly signed a full-page ad that read in huge all-caps type, “Wear a Mask and Save Your Life.” They didn’t know that masks offered little protection, but they did know they trusted the public. The community feared but came together. When schools closed, teachers volunteered as ambulance drivers, telephone operators, food deliverers.

Compliance today has been made vastly more difficult by the White House, echoed by right-wing media, minimizing the seriousness of this threat. That seemed to change on Monday. But will President Trump stick to his blunt message of Monday? Will his supporters and Rush Limbaugh’s listeners self-quarantine if called upon? Or will they reject it as media hype and go out and infect the community?

This is not a hoax.

Telling the truth is a life or death issue during a pandemic. An early study even suggests that Hannity — one of the most important players in Trump’s echo chamber — encouraged his watchers to sustain behaviors that could get them killed.

And in recent days, Trump has repeatedly undermined the advice of his experts, lying about the social distancing of rent-a-mobs challenging shut-downs, and magnifying those who say this virus is, indeed, a hoax.

You cannot separate Trump’s COVID rallies from the public health story. Because his rallies — especially the lies he tells — are a menace to public health.

Update: Here’s Charles Blow’s op-ed arguing the same point.

The Glenn Greenwald versus the Julian Assange Charges, Compared

Yesterday, Brazil charged Glenn Greenwald as part of the criminal sim swapping group that also leaked The Intercept details of corruption in Sérgio Moro’s efforts to put Lula in prison.

In a criminal complaint made public on Tuesday, prosecutors in the capital, Brasília, accused Mr. Greenwald of being part of a “criminal organization” that hacked into the cellphones of several prosecutors and other public officials last year.

Here’s the indictment.

The indictment comes after a ruling, in December, that Glenn (whom Bolsonaro was already targeting in a financial investigation) could not be investigated.

Those reports led a Supreme Court justice, Gilmar Mendes, to issue an extraordinary order barring the federal police from investigating Mr. Greenwald’s role in the dissemination of the hacked messages.

Prosecutors on Tuesday said they abided by that order until they found audio messages which, they argued, implicated Mr. Greenwald in criminal activity.

Prosecutors have claimed that they were abiding by that order, which relied on a Brazilian law (which sounds like it’s akin to the Bartnicki decision in the US) that says journalists cannot be prosecuted for publishing stolen information. But they found recordings that — they claim — show Glenn was interacting with the hackers while they were engaged in their other crimes, and advised them to delete logs, which (the indictment argues) helped them evade prosecution.

Citing intercepted messages between Mr. Greenwald and the hackers, prosecutors say the journalist played a “clear role in facilitating the commission of a crime.”

For instance, prosecutors contend that Mr. Greenwald encouraged the hackers to delete archives that had already been shared with The Intercept Brasil, in order to cover their tracks.

Prosecutors also say that Mr. Greenwald was communicating with the hackers while they were actively monitoring private chats on Telegram, a messaging app. The complaint charged six other individuals, including four who were detained last year in connection with the cellphone hacking.

The indictment includes long excerpts of the discussion, which (if my combination of shitty Portuguese assisted by Google Translate is correct) they claim shows that, amid news that Moro had been hacked, the source of the Intercept’s files came to Glenn and admitted there were currently monitoring Telegraph channels in the period before the Intercept was going to publish and had a discussion about whether they had to keep the stuff leaked to the Intercept pertaining to corruption. Glenn was quite careful to note he wasn’t offering advice about what the hackers should do, but said they would keep their one copy in a safe place and so the hackers could do whatever they wanted with the stuff they had. Even in spite of Glenn’s clear statement that The Intercept had obtained the files long before the ongoing hacking, the Brazilian prosecutors claim this shows Glenn knew of ongoing hacking and then discussed deleting logs of the prior hacking, making him a co-conspirator.

Apparently, however, this same evidence had already been reviewed before the December ruling, meaning the government is reversing itself to be able to include Glenn in the charges. The government must first get the approval of the judge that issued the initial ruling to prosecute Glenn.

Let me start by saying that this is both an attack on the press and a fairly clear attempt at retaliation against a Jair Bolsonaro critic, part of a sustained attack on Glenn and his spouse, David Miranda. The press in the US has pretty loudly come out in support of Glenn, and no matter what you think of Glenn or his Russia denialism, Glenn deserves support on this issue.

The charges have led a lot of people to say that the charges are just like what is happening with Julian Assange. They are similar. But I think they are distinct, and it’s worth understanding the similarities and distinctions.

Before I do that, since I’ve been accused — because I report on what the prosecution of Joshua Schulte says — of being insufficiently critical of the existing charges against Assange, here’s a post where I talked about the danger of the first charge against Assange (conspiracy to hack information) and here’s one where I lay out how a number of the Assange charges are for publishing information. I don’t support the current charges against Assange, though I think some of Assange’s more recent actions pose closer calls.

Renewing old charges

In both cases, the government took evidence that had already been assessed — in Assange’s case, chat logs from 2010 that the Obama Administration had deemed were not distinguishable from stuff the NYT does, and in Glenn’s case, the recordings that police had already reviewed before the ruling that Glenn should not be investigated — and found reason to charge that hadn’t existed before. In Glenn’s case, that decision was made just weeks later, under the same Administration. In Assange’s case, that decision came by another Administration (one installed in part with WikiLeaks’ assistance), but also came after WikiLeaks engaged in several more leaks that had pissed off the US.

The US government has (Trump flunky efforts to pardon Assange notwithstanding) always hated Assange, but it’s unlikely he would have been charged without 1) the Vault 7 leak burned the CIA’s hacking ability to the ground and 2) an authoritarian Trump administration with a gripe against journalism generally. That said, it’s still not clear why, if DOJ wanted to go after Assange, they didn’t do it exclusively on actions (like extortion using CIA files) that were more distinguishable from journalism, unless the government plans to add such charges to show a pattern over time, one that culminated in the Vault 7 leaks.

Whereas with Glenn, this feels immediately personalized, an effort to keep looking at a leak that exposed Bolsonaro’s hypocrisy until charges could be invented.

The similar conspiracy charge

Where the two cases are most similar is the common charge: a conspiracy involving computer hacking. But even there, there are important differences.

Brazil is arguing (again, relying on my shitty Portuguese) that Glenn is part of the conspiracy his sources are being prosecuted for because in a conversation where he acknowledged that they were still engaged in criminal hacking, he talked about deleting logs. That is, they’re not arguing that he tried to take part in the hacking. They’re arguing that he helped the ongoing hacking by helping the hackers evade discovery.

This is something that the government has shown WikiLeaks to do, for example showing Assange discussing with Chelsea Manning about operational security. The government cites OpSec assistance in the directly comparable “Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion” charged against Assange (count 18):

  1. It was part of the conspiracy that ASSANGE and Manning used the “Jabber” online chat service to collaborate on the acquisition and dissemination of the classified records, and to enter into the agreement to crack the password hash stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network.
  2. It was part of the conspiracy that ASSANGE and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure of classified records to WikiLeaks, including by removing usernames from the disclosed information and deleting chat logs between ASSANGE and Manning.

But those are described in the “manner and means” section of the conspiracy charge. The overt acts part, however, describes things more commonly described as hacking: Manning’s use of a Linux operating system to obtain Admin privileges, her sharing of a password hash, and Assange’s unsuccessful effort to crack it. That is, Assange is charged with taking an overt act that amounts to hacking, whereas Glenn is charged with advising a source to delete logs (notwithstanding the way Glenn, in very lawyerly fashion, made it clear that he wasn’t offering advice). The inclusion of OpSec in the manners and means is absolutely dangerous in the Assange indictment. But the government alleged something more to include him in a CFAA conspiracy, something not present in the charge against Glenn.

Assange is also charged with another conspiracy charge that reflects ongoing discussions to obtain more information. That’s distinguishable from Glenn’s charge in that Assange was talking about getting more information, whereas all Glenn is alleged to have done is have a discussion at a time he knew his source was committing other ongoing hacking unrelated to and long after obtaining the files he published. But the two conspiracies are similar insofar as the government in question holds a publisher/journalist accountable for continued communication with a source who is engaged in ongoing lawbreaking, but in Assange’s case that crime pertains to obtaining information for Assange, whereas with Glenn it involves an entirely different crime.

More — and in some way, more dangerous — charges against Assange

There’s no parallel between the charge against Glenn and the other charges against Assange, which are some of the most dangerous. As I’ve laid out, there are three theories of prosecution used against Assange:

  • The attempt to hack to obtain additional classified information (described above, along with a charge tied to the things they were trying to obtain by cracking that password)
  • A solicitation of specific files, some of which Manning sought out and provided
  • The publication of three sets of informants names

The last of these is absolutely a charge for publishing information; that’s specifically what (with its contorted thinking) the charge against Glenn tries not to do.

The solicitation request is something both Brazil and the US attempt to insinuate about the Intercept for its advocacy of SecureDrop (which is now used by a slew of outlets). It’s also something that could easily be used to criminalize normal journalism.

The Brazilian charge against Glenn at least attempts to avoid criminalizing any of these things.

Espionage

Of course, that’s a big difference right away. Glenn is not accused of publishing anything classified. Assange is.

And Assange is charged in such a way that gives him liability for releasing classified information under the Espionage Act.

And that’s an added danger of the Assange charges. Thus far, Assange has been charged for leaks that Chelsea Manning has never backed off having a whistleblower interest in leaking (the broad use of State cables she leaked would support that, but that’s less true of the Afghan and Iraqi war logs). As such, Assange is being charged for something that could implicate any journalist publishing classified information.

That said, that could change. That’s why some of the arguments the government is making in the Schulte case are so noteworthy. They are preparing to rely on precedents used for organized crime to argue that, in part because he leaked to WikiLeaks, Schulte intended to harm the US. To the extent that they substantiate that motive, it would put Schulte solidly in the position that the Espionage was designed for. But the government seems to be preparing to apply that argument to WikiLeaks more broadly.

Extradition and international legal process

Finally, though some folks appear to be forgetting this in demanding that the US get involved in Glenn’s case, Glenn was charged as a resident of Brazil for actions taken in Brazil. Assange was charged as an Australian citizen for actions taken in the UK affecting the US government, which has asked the Brits to extradite him for charges (Espionage) that fit under the kind of political crime that often will not merit extradition. Of course, Assange is fighting against Five Eyes governments that, post Vault 7 leak, are likely far less interested in such legal distinctions. Indeed, I suspect that’s one of the reasons the US charged Assange for leaking informant identities; some of those informants were British sources as much as American ones.

Still, the extradition gives Assange a preliminary opportunity to fight these charges, not just because it is a political crime and his health is at risk, but also based on claims (the validity of which I’ve been meaning to unpack) that he was spied on in the Embassy in ways that violate EU if not UK law.

Glenn, however, is facing charges in the increasingly authoritarian country he lives in with his spouse and children. So even though, as I understand it, the high court will have to approve his charges before he is actually prosecuted, Glenn still faces political retaliation within his resident country.

Update: Here’s a Mathew Ingram piece doing similar, though less granular, analysis.

How Putin Got in Trump’s (and So, All of Our) Head

As of 8AM on December 22, this tweet has over 50,000 likes and almost 11,000 RTs.

The AP story he RTed selectively reported Vladimir Putin’s taunt in response to a Dmitry Simes’ question at his yearly epic press conference (posed well into the process, even after a possibly more interesting exchange about doping and the Olympics).

In context, Putin’s response is not that inflammatory. It uses domestic US politics as a way to pressure Trump to sign START-3. (I’ve italicized the Putin language that AP took out of context and provided their own translation of; also note: Simes was himself a subject of the Mueller investigation for the early advice he gave Jared Kushner on how to manage this relationship and is close to a number of key members of Congress.)

D. Simes:  Channel One, The Big Game.

D. Peskov : Please give a microphone.

D. Simes:  Mr. President, two days ago the US Congress passed bills on sanctions against Russia. Moreover, by such a majority that it would be very difficult for President Trump to maintain his veto.

And, as you probably know, the House of Representatives passed an impeachment act yesterday. This is the context in which he has to make decisions on foreign policy as a whole and more specifically, of course, in relation to Russia.

In this situation, what, do you think, do you and Russia have the opportunity to try to maintain or strengthen dialogue with the United States until the end of Trump’s presidency? What can you do for strategic stability, and more specifically, for the extension of the strategic offensive arms treaty START-3?

Vladimir Putin:  Regarding the extension of our dialogue until the end of Trump’s presidency, it’s as if you are already raising the question that it is ending. I’m just not sure about that. You also need to go through the Senate, where the Republicans, as far as I know, have the majority, and they are unlikely to want to remove the representative of their party from power for some, in my opinion, absolutely far-fetched reasons.

It’s just a continuation of the internal political struggle, and one party that lost the election, the Democratic Party, it is achieving results by other means, by other means, charging Trump with conspiracy with Russia, then it turns out that there was no conspiracy, this cannot lie in the basis of impeachment. Now they have come up with some kind of pressure on Ukraine. I don’t know what it is … But it’s more visible to your congressmen.

As for those decisions that are made in [respect] of Russia. They are accepted by people who practically do not bear responsibility for these decisions. These are not executive authorities, but representative ones, they must pass laws. They make such decisions regarding Russia.

Of course, this will affect the level of our interstate relations. We know the general approach, which is that the United States will work with us where it is interesting and profitable, and at the same time will restrain Russia with the help of solutions of this kind. Knowing this, we, too, will act in a mirror image, and that’s it. There is nothing good about it. These are absolutely unfriendly acts against Russia.

They want to help Ukraine maintain transit. I just told a colleague from Ukraine: we ourselves want to preserve transit, we are interested in this anyway and will do it. If you wanted to help, it would be better if they gave money. Why don’t they give money to Ukraine? Would give them the opportunity to subsidize.

Look, because they almost do not give money, they give only guarantees for possible loans, but this is not real money – there is no real support. And the IMF, at the same time as the United States, is demanding that all privileges for energy resources, including gas, be canceled. And now the population will again have a leap.

Other Westerners, the EU, are demanding that the round timber be exported and allowed to be exported to Europe. There will soon be nothing left of the Carpathians – bare rocks will be there if they take out the round timber. It seems like they support the current Ukrainian regime and leadership, but at the same time, in my opinion, they are doing some serious blows.

Now they demand that land be sold. For Ukrainians, the land has sacred significance, and I can understand it: these are the “golden” lands. Of course, the opposition immediately took advantage of this, now it begins to inflict domestic political blows on Zelensky.

They accuse us of something in relation to Ukraine, they allegedly want to help, but they really want to do something so that Ukraine replenishes its budget at the Russian expense. Give money yourself, help, give good loans at preferential rates for a long period. There is nothing.

Nevertheless, we are interested in developing and maintaining relations with the United States, and we will do this regardless of who is in the White House or who controls both houses of the US Congress.

Are there any prospects here? I think there is. You yourself mentioned one of the foundations on the basis of which we must build our relations – these are global security issues, including START-3. We have given our proposals, I have already said, and I want to repeat once again: until the end of the year we are ready to simply extend, just to take and extend the current START-3 agreement.

If tomorrow they send us by mail, or we are ready to sign and send to Washington, let the relevant leaders, including the President, put their signature there, if they are ready. But so far there is no answer to all our proposals. And if there is no START-3, then there will be nothing at all in the world that holds back the arms race. And this, in my opinion, is bad.

Along the way, though, Putin’s correct observation that Republicans will be loathe to replace their own president led AP to foreground his claimed opinion that the impeachment was like the Mueller investigation and the allegations are far-fetched.

In a world of rigorous journalism, such a report would note that the Ukraine allegations are in some ways the continuation of Trump’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation and incorporate a hoax that Trump believes partly because Putin has convinced him to (claim to) believe.

But the AP didn’t include that. It instead included Putin’s comment with the spin he might prefer, and slapped it into a tweet that emphasized Putin’s predictive powers. And somehow that tweet attracted Trump’s attention (how it did so — after all, the AP is not Trump’s regular media diet — is one of the more interesting questions about this). And Trump tweeted it out, “A total Witch Hunt!,” like he would other tweets parroting precisely what he wants to hear.

Given Trump’s kneejerk narcissism, that he retweeted this Putin comment is not much different than him retweeting Rand Paul or Jim Jordan or Mark Meadows saying something similar. Putin is just one other person Trump has chosen to include in his echo chamber,  and he’s there for the same reason: because he says to Trump what Trump wants to hear.

Of course it is different, not just because Putin has a role in Trump’s crimes, which has made this tweet go viral in part due to outrage retweeting. A slew of stupid news coverage has followed.

But the tweet is also different because by elevating the tweet, Trump will allow Putin to claim to be correct when the Senate fails to remove Trump, not just on his analysis that Republicans won’t want to remove their own President, but also that the allegations are far-fetched, something many but not all Republicans are willing to perform belief of, but which few people who’ve read the facts actually do believe.

Along the way, Putin will co-opt those Republicans (like John Kennedy) willing to spew hoaxes about Ukraine out of partisan loyalty. Loyalty to Trump will appear to be validation of Putin, even on a question premised on the overwhelming bipartisan support for sanctions on Russia. And that, in turn, will be deemed, by Trump opponents, to demonstrate irrationality of his supporters.

It’s all very predictable and — pro Trump, anti Trump, and lazy journalist — we’re all playing our designated parts like trained monkeys. All of this reactive expression only serves to heighten partisanship on terms with real consequences for foreign policy. It doesn’t take genius by Putin to do this either (though he’s very very good at playing Trump and the western press). It just takes our own reactiveness triggered by social media.

In Epstein’s Wake: MIT Media Lab, Dirty Money, and Swartz [UPDATE]

[NB: This is definitely not by Marcy; contains some speculative content. Update at bottom. /~Rayne]

MIT Media Lab is in upheaval after the disclosure that its organization accepted financial support from now-deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Ethan Zuckerman announced Tuesday he was moving his work out of the MIT Media Lab by the end of May 2020. He’s been a highly-respected director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, a subset of the Media Lab. Zuckerman explained his decision in a post on Medium:

… My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view. It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship. …

His moral and ethical clarity deserves applause; Zuckerman stands out against the highly compromised tech sector, in both academia and the private sector.

While his announcement was as upbeat as it could possibly be considering the circumstances, a faint sense of betrayal leaks through. It must have been painful to learn one’s boss has undermined their work so badly they have no choice but to leave, even if one enjoys their workplace and their boss.

Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, offered his apology for his having accepted funding from Epstein through organizations Epstein controlled.

The explanation in Ito’s statement and his apology sound banal and will likely be accepted by the wider technology community given how little reaction there’s been from Silicon Valley.

One glaring problem: Ito is an lawyer, a visiting professor at Harvard. There’s little defense he can offer for taking  dirty money from a convicted human trafficker. It matters not if the money was ‘laundered’ through funds if they were under Epstein’s control. The money mattered more than the appearance, more than Media Lab’s ethics.

Ito still has considerable explaining to do. It won’t be enough fast enough to stem the tide, though.

J. Nathan Mathias, visiting scholar working on the CivilServant project at the Lab, has also announced he is leaving:

As part of our work, CivilServant does research on protecting women and other vulnerable people online from abuse and harassment. I cannot with integrity do that from a place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein. It’s that simple.

Epstein’s money didn’t directly fund CivilServant yet any of his dirty money funded the Media Lab it supported the infrastructure for CivilServant.

There will be more departures. Worse, there will be people who can’t leave, trapped by circumstance. Epstein’s poisonous reach continues beyond the grave.

~ ~ ~

When I read that Zuckerman was leaving MIT Media Lab, it occurred to me there was a possible intersection between MIT, law enforcement, and another activist who lived their values defending the public’s interest.

Aaron Swartz.

The government was ridiculously ham fisted in its prosecution of Swartz for downloading material from MIT for the purpose of liberating taxpayer-funded information. The excessive prosecution is believed to have pushed Swartz to commit suicide.

What could possibly have driven the federal government to react so intensely to Swartz’s efforts? One might even say the prosecution was in diametric intensity to the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein a few years earlier.

Why was Swartz hammered by the feds for attempting to release publicly-funded material while Epstein got a slap on the hands — besides the obvious fact women and girls are not valued in this society as much as information is?

At the time I wondered whether it was research materials that might pose a threat to the existing stranglehold of fossil fuel industries. There was certainly enough money in that.

But in retrospect, seeing how Epstein made a concerted effort to inveigle himself into science and technology by way of investment, noting that researchers were among the compromised serviced by Epstein’s underage sex slaves, was it really research that Epstein tried to access?

What might be the overlap between Epstein’s outreach and the DOJ with regard to MIT and to Swartz’s activism?

Is it possible that something else besides scientific research might have interested both Epstein and the federal government, incurring the wrath of the latter?

I can’t help but wonder if Swartz’s work to liberate federal court archive Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) documents might have been that something else.

In 2008, Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.org worked with Swartz, receiving what PACER documents had been downloaded from behind PACER’s pricey paywall.

Upon reading the downloaded content they found court documents rife with privacy violations, including

“names of minor children, names of informants, medical records, mental health records, financial records, tens of thousands of social security numbers.”

Malamud said they contacted

“Chief Judges of 31 District Courts … They redacted those documents and they yelled at the lawyers that filed them … The Judicial Conference changed their privacy rules. … [To] the bureaucrats who ran the Administrative Office of the United States Courts … we were thieves that took $1.6 million of their property. So they called the FBI … [The FBI] found nothing wrong …”

Was the harassment-by-excessive-prosecution intended to stop Swartz and Malamud from exposing any more confidential information exposed in federal prosecutions, shielded from the public by nothing more than a cost-prohibitive per page charge of eight cents?

Would politically-toxic sweetheart deals like the DOJ offered Epstein have been among those with privacy violations and poorly-/non-redacted confidential information?

Or given Epstein’s long relationship with senior members of MIT Media Lab, was Swartz cutting into someone’s turf by liberating data which might otherwise be salable — legally or illegally — if closely held?

~ ~ ~

Putting aside speculation, several things need to be dealt with immediately to remedy the mess post-Epstein.

First, all entities receiving public funding which also received contributions from Epstein-controlled funds must make full disclosure — ditto nonprofits which operate as 501(c)3 entities paying no taxes, like Epstein’s shady Gratitude America, Ltd. Who in each organization was approached, when, how did Epstein communicate his interest in funding their work, how were contributions made, and did any persons affiliated with the entities travel with, to/from an Epstein-controlled venue or Epstein-funded event? Everything these entities do is suspect until they are fully transparent.

It would be in the best interest of affected entities to make disclosures immediately; the court-ordered release of sealed documents from Virginia Giuffre’s defamation lawsuit against Epstein’s alleged procurer Ghislaine Maxwell is not yet complete. Only a portion has been published; failing to make disclosures ahead of the release has not helped Media Lab’s credibility. Nor has this:

MIT declined to comment on the money it received. “While donors, including foundations, may confirm their contributions to the Institute, MIT does not typically comment on the details of gifts or gift agreements,” MIT spokesperson Kimberly Allen told BuzzFeed News by email.

Second, in the case of MIT Media Labs in particular, a  complete narrative history and timeline of the Lab’s origin, work, and funding since it was launched is necessary. There isn’t one that I can find right now — not at the organization’s website, not even on Wikipedia. This lack of transparency is wretched hypocrisy considering the grief members of the Lab expressed upon Swartz’s death. Media Lab’s site Search feature offering content by range or years is inadequate and must be supplemented.

It’s not clear based on publicly available information what Marvin Minsky‘s exact role was and when with the Lab though he is referred to as a founder. Minsky, who died in 2016, is among those Virginia Giuffre has accused of sexual abuse. What effect including financial contributions did Epstein have on MIT Media Lab through his relationship with Minsky?

As Evgeny Morozov found when combing through papers, Epstein’s money could have been present as early as the Lab’s inception. Why can’t the public see this history readily, let alone the researchers, staff, students working in the Media Lab?

Even the work MIT Media Lab encompasses is not shared openly with the public. Mathias’ project CivilServant isn’t listed under Research — it can only be found through the Lab’s Search feature. How can the public learn what may have been shaped by Epstein’s funding if they can’t even see what the Lab is working on?

Third, Swartz’s work toward an Open Access Movement outlined in his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto remains undone.

The effect of closed/limited access to publicly-funded information may be killing us and our planet. This can’t be stressed enough, based on one example from Malamud’s recollection:

… The last time Aaron had downloaded large numbers of journal articles was in 2008, when he downloaded 441,170 law review articles from Westlaw, a legal search service. He was trying to expose the practice of corporations such as Exxon funding a practice known as “for-litigation research,” which consisted of lucrative stipends given to law professors who in turn produced articles penned specifically so they could be cited in ongoing litigation. In the case of Exxon, they were trying to reduce their $5 billion in punitive damages from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Aaron didn’t release any of the articles he downloaded, but the research he did was published in 2010 in a seminal article in the Stanford Law Review that exposed these ethically questionable practices in the legal academy. …

If Exxon did this for the Valdez Oil Spill, have they also done this with regard to climate change-related documents since the late 1980s?

Why isn’t this kind of work protecting the public’s interest against the malign use of corruptly-controlled data one of the Lab’s research programs?

Open access, too, must apply to MIT Media Labs. It must be as transparent as Swartz would have wished it to be.

You have to wonder how different the course of technology would have been as well as history had open access been baked into publicly-funded research at MIT Media Lab from the beginning.

UPDATE — 9:00 AM EDT 23-AUG-2019 —

Keep an eye on Evgeny Morozov’s Twitter feed as he’s been sharing more material on MIT Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein.

Like this thread in progress by Media Lab fellow Sarah Szalavitz, who had warned against taking Epstein’s money. Alan Dershowitz pops up in that thread.

Note also community member foggycoast’s comment in which they share quite a few resources to help flesh out MIT Media Lab’s early years as well as Aaron Swartz’s papers.

I’d like to hear from more women who worked at Media Lab because I’m sure they won’t be as blind to predatory behavior as men have been. But then this asks people with less social capital, including some potential victims, to do the work of exposing this hidden form of corruption.

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