Secrets of the Cyber Ninja and Other News

I have been listening to the January 6 hearings, which have concluded for the day. The law enforcement officers giving testimony today have been impressive, and I am thankful they were spared being ridiculed and abused by Jim Jordan. And it’s such a relief for hearings to be informative and dignified and not overrun with yammering idiots. This will all be especially juicy when Trump officials testify.

I think Kevin McCarthy is definitely the big loser today. The hearings went on without his hand-picked members, including the ones Pelosi didn’t bounce. He is trying to stir up a controversy about Nancy Pelosi’s alleged “power grab,” The Right is even trying to blame Pelosi for the Capitol’s security failures. But as the hearings continue, and attention is focused on Trump’s role in the insurrection, the Malignancy of Mar-a-Lago is likely to be displeased no one on the committee is taking his side.

In other news, there have been warnings the bipartisan infrastructure talks are falling apart, after all. And we’d been told it was going so well. But the talks aren’t over yet. Exactly what the sticking points are I’m not sure, but I get the impression it’s mostly about the “pay fors.”

The Arizona-Cyber Ninjas “fraudit” also appears to be falling apart. Today we read that the person appointed to be a liaison between the Arizona Republicans who commissioned the audit and the auditors was locked out of the audit. That’s right; the Republican state government’s own representative, who was supposed to be there to keep tabs on the procedings, is not being allowed into the procedings. And now this guy, Ken Bennett, is saying that he’s not been allowed to see a lot of whatever is going on, even when he’s been there. The “auditors” were told by the Cyber Ninja to not share information with Bennett. Again, this is the Republicans’ guy on the scene.

Bennett is a former Arizona Secretary of State who was chosen to oversee the audit because of his experience with elections. And until this week he has been defending whatever is going on and blaming the media for spreading falsehoods about it. But something must have happened, and now Bennett is locked out and changing his tune.

Now, exactly one week later, Bennett is saying he is “very concerned” there will be inaccuracy in the count and that throughout the audit he has been very confused as to what procedures were being used to validate the numbers. On Monday, the Republic’s Jen Fifield reported that Bennett had been permanently banned from the audit site by Pullen—allegedly at the Arizona Senate’s behest—but that he would somehow be remaining on to manage the audit without having access to the building. (Bennett did not comment to Fifield.)

As Maricopa County’s Republican supervisors realized weeks ago, it’s long past time to shut down this sham, which Bennett is now forbidden from even attending. Perhaps he should take a hint?

My guess is that the Cyber Ninja is just trying to milk this gig for every penny he can get. I hope when this ever ends, Maricopa County will sue to be reimbursed for the $3 million it will cost to replace voting machines.

Here in “covid country,” aka the Fool Me State, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt did indeed file a lawsuit against St. Louis city and county to stop their implementation of new indoor mask mandates. The new mask mandates call for everyone age five and older in St. Louis city and county to wear a mask in indoor public places and on public transportation regardless of vaccination status. And Schmitt steps in to be the voice of the coronavirus.

As mask mandates in St. Louis City and County went into place Monday, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt was quick to file a lawsuit against the elected leaders and health directors of both municipalities, accusing them of ignoring federal guidelines.

“This is completely arbitrary and capricious,” Schmitt said. “By the way, that’s not even what the CDC recommends.”

Right on cue, the CDC announced it is changing its masking recommendations. The CDC now says everyone should wear a mask indoors in public places regardless of vaccination status, especially in hot spots.

The most recent data report an average of 295 cases new per day in St. Louis County, which is a 155 percent increase from the average two weeks ago.

From my favorite source of St. Louis snark, The Riverfront Times:

Schmitt’s Vanity Suit: It’s hard to know who to root for in Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s lawsuit against St. Louis and St. Louis County over a return to mask mandates. Should you side with the health departments hoping to usher people away from shore as a tidal wave approaches, or should you cheer the use of tax dollars spent to both boost Senate-hopeful Schmitt’s name recognition and, at the local level, defend against a frivolous litigation? Hmm. Maybe we should look at it from another angle: Is it better to support city and county officials tasked with cleaning up the failures of state and national Republicans who’ve undone the sacrifices made by responsible people for more than a year, or an AG who has made losing splashy lawsuits his primary job? Honestly, does it even matter? Taxpayers are paying the attorneys on both sides. But no one wants to be a fence-sitter, so maybe it’s best to err on the side of those making hard decisions for the masses and not Schmitt’s nakedly self-serving fight for Fox News air time.

Click on the link and scroll down for some excellent snark on our do-nothing governor.

How Republicans Miscalculated on Vaccines

So here in the Fool Me state, covid cases have reached a six-month high. Four days ago, Gov. Do-Nothing Parson announced a vaccine lottery that will award $10,000 prizes to vaccinated residents.  Yeah, I signed up already. Other than that, I cannot tell that anything is being done at the state level to mitigate the surge. Considering that Missouri has recently been called the “epicenter” of the Delta surge, that lack of response is kind of horrifying. It’s too soon to tell if the lottery will make any difference, although I understand the rate of statewide vaccination has finally reached 40 percent.

This guy speaks for many.

At this point, vaccinated America is about ready to slam unvaccinated America into a box and padlock the lid.

I’m reading that there is a difference between the vaccine hesitant and the vaccine resistant. Many of the hesitant have heard lots of scare stories about the vaccines. Some have had covid and thought they were immune enough. For some, getting the vaccine was inconvenient or required time off work or making transportation arrangements. This group can often be persuaded to get the vaccine once their concerns are addressed.

The resisters are another matter. They are opposed to getting the vaccine for ideological reasons. That’s harder to address. Clearly, this group thinks that not getting vaccinated makes them “smart” or “own the libs.”

Josh Marshall has a thoughtful post up today that doesn’t seem to be behind a subscription firewall. He points out that the enormous majority of the demographic groups who vote are vaccinated now.

Shift our perspective in this way and you see that when you’re talking about the political nation, a big, verging on overwhelming majority are vaccinated. Among people over 65, the group that votes most consistently, 80% are vaccinated. Furthermore there is a lot of evidence that vaccination rates escalate with age. People in their forties are substantially more vaccinated than people in their twenties. So higher rates of vaccination align with propensity to vote.

The retirement living crowd may be conservative, but they grew up getting vaccinated. They remember polio and government vaccination programs. Even the most healthy of them are spending more and more time seeing doctors and getting scary medical procedures now.  A vaccine isn’t that much of a leap for them. And they are likely to have had friends who died of covid. Even in Missouri, about 74 percent of people 65 and over are fully vaccinated.

Josh Marshall concludes,

Most elected Republicans haven’t been explicitly anti-vaccination. Indeed, even before the last couple weeks many have made low volume statements saying they’ve been vaccinated and encouraging others to do so. But they’ve almost all participated in the effort to make vaccine resistance into a kind of freedom movement – banning government or private businesses from using vaccine passports, banning mask mandates, politicizing debates over school reopenings. As a party they’ve leaned into valorizing vaccine resistance and banning any private or governmental efforts to place the burden of the consequences of non-vaccination on those who choose not to be vaccinated.

They thought that would supercharge their already happy prospects for 2022 by riding an anti-vax or anti-vax mandate wave. And now they’re thinking they may have miscalculated.

I like that phrase “leaned into valorizing vaccine resistance.” That’s exactly it. The implicit message coming from Republican leaders in these parts is that if you’re really smart and thinking for yourself, you don’t get vaccinated. That’s what sheep and libtards do. If you do get sick, you’ll be fine, so what’s the deal?

But, yes, I think Republicans miscalculated big time on this one. That’s why some of them, recently, have changed their tunes a bit. But the really stupid ones are not likely to figure this out.

Charlotte Klein writes at Vanity Fair that the Republican reckoning on covid vaccines has finally arrived.

“Even conservative leaders now are having a hard time figuring out how to rein in what had primarily been a propaganda campaign, and they are now realizing their constituencies are particularly vulnerable,” Eric Ward, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the AP. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida whose 2022 reelection campaign merch includes beer koozies that say “Don’t Fauci My Florida,” recently noted that nearly all COVID-19 hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people and affirmed that “these vaccines are saving lives.” There’s been an overall shift in some corners of Fox News—a network that has for months amplified misinformation and politicized the shots.

By now, though, it may be too little, too late. “Once you are opposed, it is very hard to change that position. And that’s what’s happening right now,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz told the AP.

My guess is that even if Trump himself came out and asked his culties to be vaccinated, most of them wouldn’t do it. Not that I expect Trump to do any such thing. See also Jonathan Allen:

Elijah Haahr, a former Missouri House speaker, said there’s an asymmetry to the voting public. For those who have chosen not to get vaccinated, he said, “that will be their No. 1 issue, and they will vote against the party that wants to force them to vaccinate.”

That’s probably true, which is why I expect a lot of the Republicans will continue to treat any government pandemic mitigation as government overreach and a Communist plot. But these same people are assuming that pro-vaccine voters will have moved on to other issues, so that anti-vaxx politicians won’t pay a price. But that seems to be less and less true.

But Kennedy said Democrats will still be fired up, because skepticism about vaccines is part of what her party’s voters see as a pattern of harmful disinformation and misinformation coming from GOP officials and their allies in conservative media.

“Our people are tying it to all of these other things,” Kennedy said. “As happy as people are that we got Trump out of office, the threat is so real and still in people’s face.”

For all voters, the urgency may have everything to do with where the fight against Covid-19 stands in the fall of 2022.

“It depends on the progress of the pandemic between now and the midterm,” said Michael Steel, a GOP strategist.

I bet Republicans are really, really hoping the pandemic just disappears. Like Trump promised it would.

Scorn and Consequences: What Refusers Deserve

Following up from the last post — I’ll tell you what else that ticks me off. I am tired of the assumption that civil dialogue and “coming together” generally is entirely the responsibility of lefties. We have to be the adults in the room while the Right acts like spoiled brats. We’re perpetually supposed to play Wendy to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

For a jaw-dropping example, see Gary Abernathy at WaPo, Stop insulting Trump voters and their concerns. Talk to them. Avernathy wants us to know that Trump supporters truly believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and are insulted when their belief is called a “big lie.” And he thinks it was wrong to call out Trump when he, um, misspoke.

In 2016, the New York Times decided to start applying the word “lie” to many of Trump’s claims. “We owed it to our readers,” executive editor Dean Baquet said at the time. Others followed suit. But using words such as “lie” and “falsely claimed” in news stories arrogantly supposes an absolute knowledge of truth and makes it appear the news outlet has chosen sides.

No, Gary Abernathy, sometimes lies are clearly lies, and the facts are easily checked. “I have never seen a president in American history who has lied so continuously and so outrageously as Donald Trump, period,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss said in an interview. Click here for a rundown of Trump’s biggest and most consequential lies. The damage caused by those lies, especially in the areas of elections and public health, are ongoing and staggering.

And I will die happy if I ever see an editorial addressed at Righties telling them they need to listen to and speak more civilly to the Left. No; this is advice given only to Lefties about the Right. Only we are ever called upon to be the responsible adults in this country.

Greg Sargent:

To hear some pundits and Republicans tell it, millions of people across the country who voted for Donald Trump are suffering from an affliction that you might call “Snowflake Syndrome.”

On numerous fronts in our politics — from voting rights to covid-19 to the legacy of Jan. 6 — we’re being told these voters are afflicted with a deeply fragile belief system that must be carefully ministered to and humored to an extraordinary degree.

We must pass voting restrictions everywhere to assuage these voters’ “belief” that the 2020 election was highly dubious or fraudulent. We must not argue too aggressively for coronavirus vaccines, lest they feel shamed and retreat into their anti-vax epistemological shells.

And we must allow Republicans to appoint some of the most deranged promoters of the stolen election myth to a committee examining the insurrection so they’ll feel like its findings are credible.

No; we need them to grow the bleep up.

So the snowflakes are traumatized about having to wear some cloth on their faces during a bleeping deadly public health emergency. They don’t want to get vaccines because it upsets them that Dr. Anthony Fauci tells them to get vaccines. Or that President Biden said something about people going door to door about the vaccines. Or that they might have to face consequences like being refused admission to theaters, never mind death, if they fail to get vaccinated. They’re spoiled little children screaming that they don’t wanna be told what to do. But they also insist on being protected from the consequences of their own irresponsibility.

The sections of the country with low vaccination rates, mostly but not exclusively the very red South, are now holding us all hostage.

A recent study by researchers at Georgetown University, led by Shweta Bansal, an associate professor and an infectious-disease expert, identified locations where vaccination rates are lower than the national average, and crucially, that are also surrounded by other areas with low vaccination rates. They homed in on five specific regions, which they say are the most vulnerable to future outbreaks; four are in the Southeast, and one lies just adjacent. …

… The outbreak that America is now seeing is exactly what Bansal and her team would expect based on their research. As Bansal puts it, “Unvaccinated individuals are efficient fuel like dry wood for the fire of future outbreaks. Vaccinated individuals are like soaked wood—while it can’t easily catch fire, if it’s surrounded by dry wood, the chances are much higher.” In other words, low vaccination rates in the South make this moment less safe for everyone there, and over time could jeopardize the country’s hope of ever getting the novel coronavirus more under control.

And, of course, if next winter is as bad or worse as last winter, these juveniles will blame Dr. Fauci and President Biden. It’s never their faults.

As David Frum put it so well, Vaccinated America Has Had Enough.

But there’s no getting around the truth that some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully. Yes, they have been deceived and manipulated by garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians. But these are the same people who keep talking about “personal responsibility.” In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

If they aren’t getting vaccinated, we are told, it’s because lefties are mean to them and call them names, and we are supposed to be nice and not shame them and use gentle persuasion and then maybe by 2028 or so they will be more inclined to consent to getting vaccinated. If any of us survive.

But then this happened:

A breast cancer patient says she was sprayed with bear mace, physically assaulted, and verbally abused outside a cancer treatment center in West Hollywood, Los Angeles by far-right activists who were angry over the clinic’s mandatory mask policy.

It’s a bleeping cancer treatment center, you idiots. The patients are on chemo. They are immunocompromised. Yes, there are videos.

Digby:

I don’t care how deluded/stupid/brainwashed they have been by propaganda, this is just disgusting. They are adults. They have agency. And as far as I’m concerned they deserve nothing but scorn.

See also ‘Patience has worn thin’: Frustration mounts over vaccine holdouts.

Years ago I tried many times to communicate civilly to righties, and nearly always my efforts were thrown back in my face. Most of them cannot be communicated with, adult to adult. There is no point trying, and I rarely do any more. But given that so many of the holdouts are being protected from consequences by their state governments, I don’t know what to do. If you still believe there can be respectful and useful dialogue with obstinate, hostile, and potentially dangerous children in adult bodies, you are welcome to try, but I do not believe it.  What will we do with the unvaccinated? What will we do with Trump cultists who believe the Big Lie? What will we do with people who can’t be responsible citizens? There are too many of them to ignore.

Update: It never stops. Covid cases are rising again in St. Louis, so yesterday St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, both Democrats, announced that a new indoor mask mandate would go into effect on Monday. No closings or other restrictions, yet, just masks.

Then Eric “Mr. Accordion” Schmitt, the state attorney general and Republican Senate candidate, tweeted,

Schmitt is competing with Mark McCloskey and Eric Greitens for Donald Trump’s endorsement, so to impress Trump he has to step up and be as big an asshole as possible. County Executive Page responded, “Does Mr. Schmitt prioritize the health and safety of those he is supposed to serve or making bombastic remarks to try to elevate his run for higher office?”

Yep. That’s what he does.

Irresponsible States Are Threatening All of Us

Yesterday it was announced that 40 percent of new coronavirus cases were coming from just three states: Texas, Florida, and Missouri. Woo-HOO. Considering that Florida and Texas have much bigger populations than Missouri, this makes Missouri’s inclusion on the list of infamy all the more impressive.

If you look at new cases per 100,000 population over the past seven days, the picture is a little more complex. Josh Marshall writes that “Through this prism the crisis is overwhelmingly concentrated in three contiguous states along the Mississippi River: Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. Plus Florida.” Those four states are in a category of their own, he writes. Low vaccination rates are a big factor in these spikes but not the only factor.

The case rates track broadly with levels of vaccination. The Deep South has some of the lowest rates of vaccination and they’re getting hit the hardest. Meanwhile rates in the Northeast are about 1/10th what they are in Florida and those three Mississippi River states. But this shouldn’t prompt either a sense of superiority or relative safety. California is only a bit behind New York on vaccinations but their case rates are much higher. Florida’s rate of vaccination isn’t as low as you might think, certainly not so low as to explain the high case load on its own. Clearly there’s an interplay of vaccination density, mitigation and regionality.

https://fortune.com/2021/07/21/delta-variant-covid-cases-states-where-its-most-prevalent/

I can’t speak to the situation in Florida or elsewhere, but I have no doubt that a combination of low vaccination rates and the complete abandonment of any other mitigation factors — masks, social distancing — are the sources of the problem in Missouri.

Here in St. Francois County, as soon as it was announced by the CDC that people who’d been vaccinated could stop wearing masks, every mask disappeared from public view in spite of the vaccination rate being only around 30 percent. Maybe only us vaccinated people were wearing masks before the announcement. There was never any statewide mask mandate, and Gov. Mike Parson has written orders limiting the ability of county health departments to independently enact any sort of emergency pandemic restrictions.

And as I wrote a few days ago, I strongly suspect the Missouri spike was being generated in the popular vacation spots Branson and Lake of the Ozarks, where people get together and party like it’s 2019. But Delta is spreading far beyond those spots now.

(Lake of the Ozarks is a man-made late created as part of a hydroelectric project, completed in 1931, which has its own weird history.)

It doesn’t help that our utterly ineffectual governor has responded to this mess by blaming George Soros and the news media. (The link goes to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial that I cannot access online, but maybe you’ll have better luck. I’m reading the print version.) These news agencies engage in “propaganda,” he said, pretty much ignoring that none have reported data that wasn’t generated by state agencies. The Soros claim was aimed at a news organization called The Missouri Independent, which has no connection to George Soros except in the minds of Missouri fever swamp creatures.

A few days ago the hospitals in Springfield begged the state to open off-site hospital space to take the overflow of cases. Gov. Parson responded, eventually, that the state would “probably” do it. But no action has been taken, as far as I can tell. I swear, the state would be better off if we’d elected a can of soup.

Speaking of the Missouri Independent, here is an interesting article on it today:

Amid the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Missouri, a recent Facebook conversation between two Republican state lawmakers is telling.

Around Independence Day, State Rep. Bill Kidd, from the Kansas City suburbs, revealed that he has been infected by the coronavirus.

“And no, we didn’t get the vaccine,” he wrote in a post that has since been deleted. “We’re Republicans ?”

State Rep. Brian Seitz, a Republican from Taney County, home to the tourist destination of Branson, commented on the post by falsely claiming that the virus had been developed by top government scientist Anthony Fauci and billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They “knew what was coming,” Seitz wrote.

“The jury is still out on the ‘vaccine’ (who knows what’s in that),” he wrote.

Not getting a vaccine is proof of partisan loyalty. There’s no hope.

And from here let’s go to David Frum, former Republican, who is pretty much disgusted with all this.

Reading about the fates of people who refused the vaccine is sorrowful. But as summer camp and travel plans are disrupted—as local authorities reimpose mask mandates that could have been laid aside forever—many in the vaccinated majority must be thinking: Yes, I’m very sorry that so many of the unvaccinated are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions. I’m also very sorry that the responsible rest of us are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions.

As cases uptick again, as people who have done the right thing face the consequences of other people doing the wrong thing, the question occurs: Does Biden’s America have a breaking point? Biden’s America produces 70 percent of the country’s wealth—and then sees that wealth transferred to support Trump’s America. Which is fine; that’s what citizens of one nation do for one another. Something else they do for one another: take rational health-care precautions during a pandemic. That reciprocal part of the bargain is not being upheld…

… Can governments lawfully require more public-health cooperation from their populations? They regularly do, for other causes. More than a dozen conservative states have legislated drug testing for people who seek cash welfare. It is bizarre that Florida and other states would put such an onus on the poorest people in society—while allowing other people to impose a much more intimate and immediate harm on everybody else. …

… But there’s no getting around the truth that some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully. Yes, they have been deceived and manipulated by garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians. But these are the same people who keep talking about “personal responsibility.” In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

I’ve been fed up for a long time. In my ideal universe there would be a new version of Reconstruction, in which the states with low vaccination and mitigation rates and which are trying to limit voting access revert to the status of territories. Then they can only be readmitted to the Union when they get their act together and commit to behaving responsibily. Well, I can dream.

In other news: Yesterday the Missouri Supreme Court decided the state government could not ignore the referendum passed by a majority of voters in 2020 to expand Medicaid per the Affordable Care Act. I’m surprised, considering this is the same court that decided innocence is no good reason to let someone out of jail. I’m betting the state government will still try to screw the voters, but we’ll see.

Pelosi Is Not Buying McCarthy’s, Um, Effluvia

“The notion that Democratic leaders must work with Republican leaders in order to have political legitimacy is well and truly dead,” writes Nicole Hemmer at CNN. Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University. I hope she’s right. Republicans disagree, I’m sure. A lot of media disagrees. But I think most Democrats have had enough.

So yesterday Nancy Pelosi decined to seat Jim Jordan and Jim Banks on the select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Then Kevin McCarthy had a fit and withdrew all the Republicans he had put forward for the commttee. And now editorial pages everywhere are filling up with expressions of either deep concern about Nancy’s “blunder” or gratitude that Jordan won’t be allowed to turn the hearings into a clown show.

Hemmer continues, “At a deeper level, Pelosi’s actions here also constitute a crucial development: the rejection of bipartisanship as a positive force in US politics.” Again, this announcement may be premature, but at least Pelosi’s actions constitute the point at which Democrats have stopped taking the “bipartisanship” bait. It’s a step.

Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman:

We should be thankful that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) just pulled Republicans out of any involvement in the select committee to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection. In so doing, he ensured that the committee’s investigation will both have more integrity and be more likely to undertake a valuable accounting.

Which goes to a larger truth about this moment: Efforts at a real examination of arguably the worst outbreak of political violence in modern times — and efforts to protect our democracy more broadly — will not be bipartisan. These things will be done by Democrats alone.

Of course, there is one Republican on the committee, Liz Cheney. Pelosi is considering adding  Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Kinzinger was one of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. There is also talk she might add former Virginia GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman, a retired intelligence officer,  in an advisory capacity. Riggleman is known to be, um, critical of the current Republican party.

So there will be some token bipartisanship, but we will be spared Jordan and his antics. And Kevin McCarthy can’t do anything about it.

The Best Foreign Policy Money Could Buy

Turns out Trump’s foreign policy was for sale to the highest bidder. And it wasn’t just the Trumps cashing in.

See also Juan Cole and Heather Cox Richardson. Juan Cole wrote,

Donald Trump as president dumped the Paris Climate Accord, withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, endorsed the 2017 blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and pushed for declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood had been part of the 2011 uprisings against Arab dictators, leading Arab monarchies to see them as subversives and dangerous to the status quo.

All of these steps were on a wish list of the United Arab Emirates, the fabulously wealthy Gulf oil state, with its capital at Abu Dhabi.

And Heather Cox Richardson wrote,

According to today’s charges, once Trump was in office, Barrack continued to lobby for the UAE until April 2018. He allegedly worked with allies in the UAE to draft passages of Trump’s speeches, hone press materials, and prepare talking points to promote UAE interests. Without ever registering as a foreign agent, he worked to change U.S. foreign policy and appoint administration officials to meet a “wish list” produced by UAE officials.

Barrack helped to tie the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, turning the US away from Qatar, an ally that hosts US air bases (although they are now being closed as bases and in the process of becoming housing for our Afghan allies before their US visas come through). From the beginning, the administration worked closely with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who controls $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds and essentially rules the UAE, and with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Prince Mohammed championed.

In May 2017, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Saudi and UAE leaders, met without the knowledge of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk about blockading Qatar. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a blockade on June 5, 2017, Trump cheered them on, although the State Department took a neutral stand and the Pentagon thanked Qatar for hosting US troops.

Trump’s first foreign visit as president was to Saudi Arabia, remember, which gave us the famous glowing orb moment:

Tom Barrack  also was instrumental in bringing Paul Manafort and Rick Gates into the Trump campaign, which introduced the Russian connection as well. See also What Really Happened to the Inaguration Money? and The Trump Inauguration: Grifters Gonna Grift.

There are allegations floating around that Barrack took in about  $1.5 billion from the UAE and the Saudis. When Trump finds out someone other than him was making money on his admnistration, he’ll blow a fuse.

What Will We Do About the Unvaccinated?

The growing Delta variant hotspots in red states like Missouri are worrisome. And the question is, what can be done? I don’t know. I’m not sure anything can be done.

Some guy named Brian Broome writes of vaccine avoiders,

Their “caution” feels almost neurotic, based on little more than the thrill of contrarianism. The “I’m so unique and different” of it all. They seem to want, more than anything else, to show that they’re smarter than the average bear. Like the pompous hipster who says, “You wouldn’t even know the bands I listen to.”

Also,

There are those who refuse the vaccine simply because they do not like the current administration. This, I believe, to be little more than pouting, a child holding his breath in the grocery store as a protest for not getting a cookie before checkout.

Yeah, pretty much. See also Greg Sargent, today:

It was only a matter of time until Donald Trump converted the debate over covid-19 vaccines into an occasion for his supporters to show their loyalty to him — and even worse, to the “big lie” that his 2020 loss was illegitimate.

“People are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don’t trust his Administration,” the former president said in a statement Sunday, referring to President Biden. “They don’t trust the Election results, and they certainly don’t trust the Fake News.”

There you have it: Trump is telling his supporters that they are correct not to trust the federal government on vaccines, because this sentiment should flow naturally from their suspicion that the election was stolen from him. Expressing the former has been magically transformed into a way to show fealty to the latter.

Could loyalty to Trump override concern for oneself and one’s family? Sure it could. And it is. I have no doubt.

Also, the avoiders are really big on describing vaccination as a personal decision that isn’t anybody else’s business. Except that their personal decisions in aggregate are keeping the pandemic going. They refuse to consider that their decisions impact other people, and if the pandemic keeps going, they probably think that’s Dr. Fauci’s fault. See, for example, the argument that broke out on Fox News over masks —

Brian Kilmeade thinks people are “choosing” to die? He also insists that “it’s not their [the government’s] job to protect anybody,” which was news to me. Seat belts? Drug safety regulations? Air traffic controllers? Whatever. Kilmeade also doesn’t want to be judged for his decisions, and he doesn’t want anyone else to interfere with how he wants to live his life by making him comply with covid recommendations. Which is kind of rich, since keeping the pandemic going is interfering with all of our lives.

We really could be sailing through this summer with covid mostly behind us, were it not for them. Now we’re going to be very lucky if more, and worse, variants don’t develop. I sincerely wonder if the only thing that would motivate these people to get vaccinated is to step up and say that vaccines are being reserved for reigstered Democrats and no one else can have them. Reverse psychology. It sometimes works on children to get them to eat vegetables (“Oh, that? I made the vegetables jusr for the grown ups. I didn’t think you’d want any.”).

See also Sam Baker, “A Pandemic of the Unvaccinated,” at Axios and Jennifer Rubin, “We’re becoming two Americas: One healthy, one deliberately at risk” at WaPo.

If there were consquences (other than death) for not getting vaccinated, such as not being allowed into stadiums or theaters, maybe people would get vaccinated. But right-wing governors have worked overtime making sure people don’t have to face those consequences. Here’s a glimmer of good news — a court has sided with Norweigian Cruise Lines against Gov. DeSantis and will allow Norweigian to restrict cruises only to vaccinated people.

In other news, Mike Pence’s presidential aspirations are flatlining, which is no surprise whatsoever.

The Muddy Picture of the 2022 Midterms

We all know about the built-in advantages Republicans will enjoy in next year’s midterms. It’s nearly always the case that the party not in the White House cleans up in the midterms. And thanks to Manchin and Sinema we’re not going to get election reform, so congressional GOP candidates can rely on gerrymandering and voter suppression to ensure victory. Those factors will be really hard to overcome. Is there any way Democrats can hang on to the Senate and House?

In the Senate, Republicans will be defending 20 seats and Democrats 14. Five of those Republican seats are “open”; the Republicans holding those seats now are not running again. As of now, all of the Democratic incumbents are running again. So there is opportunity there. Current forecasts give Democrats some hope of hanging on. But the House is expected to flip. It may not, of course, but the odds that it won’t are considerably long. The advantage of Republican gerrymandering is just too strong.

It’s also the case that, however, we’re heading into unknown territory here. And that’s because the Republican Party is so tied to Trump. Barring some unforeseen disaster in the Biden Administration, I have a hard time imagining that the educated urbanites and suburbanites who voted for Democrats in 2018 and 2020 will find a bunch of Trumpy, hard-right Republican candidates all that palatable. And that might help Democrats keep the Senate.

As for the House, Kevin McCarthy seems determined to make the Republican House races as Trumpy as possible. McCarthy has met with Trump several times to discuss the midterms for the House. Seriously. Greg Sargent wrote last week that McCarthy is trying to portray the Trump administration as a lost golden age, and if only Democrats hadn’t taken over, everything would be great again now. The story is that Trump left Biden a country in great shape, and Biden has already screwed it all up. Sargent:

But telling the GOP base an absurd, lurid, emotionally charged fiction is central to GOP midterm hopes: The Trump era represented an idyllic age that has been torn asunder from Republican voters, who in their fury, deprivation and victimization should storm out in 2022 to avenge it all.

The success of this strategy will depend a lot on what happens between now and November 2022. Certainly the American voting public has a long history of gullibility regarding politicians selling snake oil. But sometimes they do recognize the snake oil for what it is, if the sales pitch isn’t matching their personal experience. (Example: Remember George Bush’s campaign to privatize Social Security?)

Right now, economic forecasts for the U.S. economy — the ones not generated by right-wing think tanks or Fox Business News, anyway — are really, really good. The IMF is projecting that the U.S. economy will grow by 7 percent in 2021. Especially if the infrastructure bills pass this year, 2022 ought to be a good year for most Americans, and a better year for working class Americans than they’ve had in a long time. And by then the supply and staffing issues driving shortages and price hikes will have worked out. And in that case, the story that Biden screwed up the great economy Trump built may be hard to sell outside the Trump Cult.

It’s also the case that people outside the Trump Cult were not happy with the January 6 insurrection. There’s a member’s-only analysis at Talking Points Memo that I recommend, if you’re a member. In summary, Republican House candidates will depend on staying in Trump’s good graces to get past the primaries. This makes the House select committee to investigate the insurrection a real hot potato for McCarthy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced this week that the Jan. 6 select committee would hold its first hearing on July 27, kicking off its review of the insurrection with “firsthand” testimony from Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police officers. That means McCarthy has a pseudo deadline for appointing members to the committee (which Pelosi can veto), but he hasn’t made any movement on that front and has not even confirmed that he will pick people to begin with (Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is the only Republican Pelosi’s appointed to the committee.)

McCarthy could appoint GOP members who will be vocal in their defense of Trump, or who will also take the work seriously to appease those suburban Republican voters disenchanted with the former president and/or disturbed by the insurrection. It’s a tough needle to thread leading up to the midterms — which is why Republicans were against the commission in the first place; they were worried about the negative impact a review of a Trumpian coup might have on midterm messaging.

It’s expected that McCarthy will be advised by Trump on whom to choose. But the January 6 investigations, plus Trump’s ongoing legal jeopardies, could have a big impact on the political landscape in the next few months.

Another wild card is covid recovery. Things could get better, or they could get worse. If they get worse, will voters in general blame Joe Biden? Or will they blame the red state deadheads who refused to get vaccinated?

We Are Tottering on the Edge of Disaster

Do you ever have a feeling that civilization is hanging by a thread? For example, we’ve got deadly weather patterns around the world screaming “climate change.” Recent heat destroyed millions of ocean creatures, and somehow this didn’t make headlines.

Here in the U.S. it’s unlikely voting rights bills will pass. Yesterday the brave Texas Democrats in Exile met with Joe Manchin to impress on him the critical need for voting protections. Today, Manchin is spitting in their faces by traveling to Texas for a fundraiser hosted by GOP donors. As much as some people in media continue to hold out the hope that Manchin (and Sinema) will budge on the filibuster, we know that Manchin is under orders from his billionaire donors (capital management, equity firms, hedge funds) to leave the filibuster alone.

Meanwhile, the Dealth Cult Republicans continue to stampede the faithful over the coronavirus cliff. Tennessee joined in the great red state race to the bottom by ending programs that encouraged and provided vaccines — all vaccines — to adolescents. Republicans in Congress hope to enable the spread of the Delta variant nationwide by banning “tyrranical” federal mask mandates on interstate transportation.

Is there anything to be hopeful about? At the moment, the reconciliation infrastructure bill looks good. There’s a $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan in Congress that has broad support in the party. From what I can see the progressives will support it, and so far the blue dogs haven’t said they’d oppose it. And Paul Krugman is happy.

The way it was: Some years ago I attended a meeting in which President Barack Obama asked a group of economists for unconventional policy ideas. I distinctly remember him saying: “Don’t tell me that I should spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure. I know that, but I can’t do it.”

The way it is: Top Democrats have agreed on a proposal to spend $3.5 trillion on public investment of various kinds, to be passed via reconciliation on top of a $600 billion bipartisan plan for physical infrastructure spending.

Give a lot of the credit to Bernie Sanders, who was proposing much more spending but compromised “down” to $3.5 trillion. This is how negotiating works, people.

It’s too soon to say the reconciliation bill is a sure thing, but at the moment it’s about the only good news we’ve got.

The Die-off Begins

Yeah, this is grand.

Missouri is the most concerning state in the country as the Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Thursday.

“When I look at the map, Missouri actually jumps out as the place that I’m most worried about because there’s a lot of cases now happening very rapidly,” Dr. Francis Collins told McClatchy’s bureau in the District of Columbia.

Next month I’m planning to fly to NYC to see my grandbabies, and now I’m afraid they’re going to quarantine the bleeping state. See also a segment from last night’s Maddow.

The news stories keep talking about Springfield, but that’s because the cases are being taken to hospitals in Springfield. Springfield is smack in between two tourist destination areas, the Lake of the Ozarks to the north and Branson to the south. These are both popular vacation spots for people in Missouri and nearby states Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

In May 2020, Lake of the Ozarks made international news because of a packed pool party. I complained about the place last September because of a massive multi-state motorcycle rally. If any businesses in either place closed for the pandemic it was only briefly. I believe both tourist areas were open last summer and have remained open since. Branson was advertising its Christmas entertainment last December, so I know it was open all winter. LotO and Branson are perfect for infecting lots of people and spreading it around the multi-state area.

If there are any saving graces operating here is that the weather has been conducive to outdoor activity. So far this summer hasn’t been quite as britally hot as summer usually is in these parts.

But the attention is on Springfield. The delta variant is ravaging this Missouri city. Many residents are still wary of vaccines. One sad young woman who survived covid is certain she gave it to her mother, who died. Yes, she’s very sad. People still aren’t getting vaccinated. They still think vaccines are a liberal plot, and the young folks believe they are immune.