New Villains

The Justice Department’s new position isn’t that Mr. Flynn didn’t lie — that couldn’t be its position, because he did lie, and he admitted in federal court that he lied. Instead, the new filing argues that it was wrong for the F.B.I. to interview him in the first place. Look carefully at who the villain becomes in that narrative: not Mr. Flynn for lying, but the F.B.I. for asking the questions to which he lied in response.

– Neal K. Katyal and Joshua A. Geltzer
The Appalling Damage of Dropping the Michael Flynn Case

This week’s featured posts are “What’s Up With the Stock Market?” and “This Week in Corruption“.

This week everybody was talking about the virus

As I said last week, the curve seems to have flattened, but isn’t going down. Nationally, we now have about 81K deaths, up 13K from the 68K we had last Monday, and another 13K from the 55K the week before that. The numbers jump up and down a lot from one day to the next, but they average out to a little less than 2,000 deaths a day.

The worrisome thing is that the flatness seems to be hiding two different trends going in opposite directions. Deaths in the New York City area are headed down, while deaths in the rest of the country are headed up. Given the way exponential growth works, I would expect the rising trend to eventually overwhelm the falling trend. It would not surprise me if deaths overall started trending back up in the coming week.

The CDC prepared guidelines for businesses planning to reopen safely, but the White House shelved them.

The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.

And that seems to have been their mistake: The official Trump spin is that reopening is NOT a “difficult decision”. You just do it. If the CDC guidelines made reopening seem like a process that requires forethought and accommodation, it couldn’t go out. And if any node in the decision tree said “stay closed”, that’s anathema.

Trump began by insisting the coronavirus wasn’t serious and wouldn’t be a problem in the US. Then he had to acknowledge that people were dying, but kept moving the goalposts so that any death total could be claimed as a success.

Apparently that’s not working either, so the new strategy is to insist that the death totals are wrong. By November, he will be telling people that their loved ones are not dead, and dismissing those who insist otherwise as “Trump haters” who are only mourning to make him look bad.

The virus is penetrating the White House inner circle. In the last few days, it has shown up in a presidential valet, the VP’s press secretary, and Ivanka’s personal assistant. Pence press secretary Katie Miller also happens to be the wife of the white nationalist White House adviser Stephen Miller (who was once described by an “outside White House adviser” as “Waffen-SS“.) Eleven Secret Service agents are infected.

The White House response to this problem is that Trump, Pence, and the people who come into regular contact with them are tested every day. Apparently, that’s what it takes to make an crowded office building safe. Don’t you wish you worked with someone important, so that your building could be made safe too? Vox considers the “Trump double standard” on testing.

“The notion that everyone needs to be tested is simply nonsensical,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during Wednesday’s press briefing, in response to a question from NBC’s Peter Alexander about why all Americans can’t get tested like the president before they go back to work.

Before you go back to work, read this article about what we know about the risks and how to avoid them.

Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf makes an anti-lockdown argument that is still wrong, but at least makes its assumptions transparent.

If we knew that a broadly effective COVID-19 treatment was imminent, or that a working vaccine was months away, minimizing infections through social distancing until that moment would be the right course. At the other extreme, if we will never have an effective treatment or vaccine and most everyone will get infected eventually, then the costs of social distancing are untenable.

The we-will-all-get-it-eventually assumption, if you make a conservative .5% estimate of the fatality rate, implies that at least 1.6 million Americans will die. But, you know, if millions of deaths are inevitable, we might as well get them over with.

Here’s what’s wrong with that: Other countries look to be avoiding that scenario. New Zealand, for example, seems to have a shot at eliminating the virus. Iceland has also seen a drastic plunge in new cases. In both countries, they’re doing the work our government has avoided: huge amounts of testing and contact tracing. It’s not rocket science, it’s just hard.

It would also cost a lot. But imagine if we took a JFK-esque “pay any price, bear any burden” approach to this crisis, rather than just accept more than million deaths.

In contrast, Jay Rosen sums up where we’re headed now:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible … [T]he plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign.

Talking about Katie Miller, Trump questioned the test result:

This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily right. The tests are perfect, but something can happen between the test, where it’s good, and then something happens and all of  a sudden. She was tested very recently and tested negative. And then today, I guess, for some reason she tested positive.

His first response to bad news is always denial. The idea that this is how infectious diseases work — one day you don’t have it and the next day you do — doesn’t seem to register with him.

Huffington Post reports that Friday 20 Republican congresspeople met with Trump at the White House. No one wore masks (but the media) and social distance was not observed. CNN has a similar story about Trump meeting with military leaders.

Trump demonstrating how much smaller than Abraham Lincoln he is.

And now he’s saying that the virus will “go away without a vaccine“.

and birth control

The Supreme Court is considering another case where a religious organization objects to ObamaCare’s birth-control mandate.

I know it sounds bad to be sued by the Little Sisters of the Poor, but in this case the Sisters are just wrong. Worse than that, they’re being jerks about it.

For [religious] nonprofits, the Obama administration enacted rules providing a work-around to accommodate employers’ religious objections. The workaround was that an employer was to notify the government, or the insurance company, or the plan administrator, that, for religious reasons, it would not be providing birth-control coverage to its employees. Then, the insurance company could provide free birth-control options to individual employees separately from the employer’s plan.

But some religiously affiliated groups still objected, saying the work-around was not good enough, and sued. They contended that signing an opt-out form amounted to authorizing the use of their plan for birth control.

In other words, they’re being passive aggressive about this; any concession at all is too much for them, so the world just has to work around that.

There is a very simple principle that would avoid all these cases (including the horribly-decided Hobby Lobby case): What employees do with their health insurance is not the employer’s business. The Little Sisters are not providing their employees with birth control, they’re providing health insurance. If employees choose to use that health insurance to get birth control, that’s not the Sisters’ business — just like it’s not their business if employees use their paychecks to buy birth control.

but I wrote about corruption and the stock market

Check out the two featured posts. “What’s Up With the Stock Market?” tries to explain how the stock market can diverge so extremely from the economy. “This Week in Corruption” discusses the Michael Flynn fix, Dr. Rick Bright’s whistleblower complaint, and the upcoming Supreme Court case testing Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity”.

and you also might be interested in …

Six Harbors Brewing Company on Long Island has adjusted to the lockdown by delivering beer to customers’ doors, using two beer hounds to do it. Golden retrievers Barley and Buddy do not actually carry the beer themselves — the cans around their necks are empty. But deliveries are up since the dogs have been coming along.

Vox’ Laura McGann relates her history of investigating Tara Reade’s accusations against Joe Biden. When she talked to Reade in April 2019 about her original charge (“This is not a story about sexual misconduct; it is a story about abuse of power. It is a story about when a member of Congress allows staff to threaten or belittle or bully on their behalf unchecked to maintain power rather than modify the behavior.”), “I wanted to break this story. Badly.” But McGann couldn’t assemble the kind of corroboration she felt the story needed (“Reporters who’ve succeeded in forcing powerful men to be held to account relied on an incredible amount of reporting to do it.”) in time to beat other reporters Reade was talking to.

In March 2020, Reade upped the stakes, charging sexual assault including digital penetration. And McGann was back on the story. People who knew Reade at the time (1993) said she had told them about the assault at the time. They were, however, the same people who had corroborated her no-sexual-assault claim a year before. And she referenced an official complaint no one can find.

If Reade had told a consistent story and shared all of her corroborating sources with reporters, if those sources had told a consistent story, if the Union piece had shaken loose other cases like hers, or if there were “smoking gun” evidence in Biden’s papers, her account might have been reported on differently in mainstream media a year ago. It is not fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation, but it’s what reporters have found is necessary for their stories to hold up to public scrutiny and successfully hold powerful men accountable. So we are here.

… All of this leaves me where no reporter wants to be: mired in the miasma of uncertainty. I wanted to believe Reade when she first came to me, and I worked hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe her, too. I couldn’t find it. None of that means Reade is lying, but it leaves us in the limbo of Me Too: a story that may be true but that we can’t prove.

Sabrina Orah Mark studies and writes about fairy tales. But this lovely piece of writing pulls a fairy tale theme into our current quarantine experience. Too often, we identify with fairy tale princesses and heroes, who can live happily ever after if only they can do three impossible tasks. So we look around for our own impossible tasks, hoping that we will deserve happiness if we accomplish them.

Back on April 21, somebody posted a link on Facebook to a story about plans for the Republican Convention. And I made this comment:

I have a fantasy that some prankster hijacks the convention soundtrack, and Trump takes the stage to the strains of “Live and Let Die”.

Well, Trump was touring a mask-making factory in Arizona Tuesday, and guess what happened?

RIP, LIttle Richard.

Baseball comes back to South Korea, but without fans. The stands of Happy Dream Ballpark in Incheon contain placards of fans rather than actual people. The games are televised, and some show up in the middle of the night on ESPN.

and let’s close with something musical

The Phoenix Chamber Choir stays home, but comes together to do a quarantine version of Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time”.

Also worth your time: On April 16 Cyril Ryan posted her brother Dermot’s quarantine version of the Irish folk ballad Lanigan’s Ball.

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  • Anonymous  On May 16, 2020 at 12:13 am

    Clearly the coronavirus is just a Trump hater trying to make him look bad.

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