trump, burr, and the missing worldwide threat assessment

Here’s a curious thing. Last month Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Tar Heel Circle (which is more formally known as The North Carolina State Society of Washington DC). That’s not the curious thing; members of Congress routinely meet with ‘important’ people from their home state — business owners, social leaders, local politicians.

This smarmy fucker knew.

The curious thing is what Burr told those ‘important’ people. He warned them about a virus coming to the U.S. He told them it was “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history. It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” You know, the pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide. He talked about travel restrictions and schools closing. He talked about how the military might need to be mobilized.

Here’s another curious thing. At the same time Burr was giving his speech, Comrade Trump was assuring the public that “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” He acknowledged a small number of US citizens had become ill, but “they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.” We know, of course, that wasn’t true.

Had we been told the truth, the butcher’s bill wouldn’t be so high.

Here’s yet another curious thing. Every year in January or February, the US intelligence community provides the House and Senate intelligence committees with a briefing on global threats. That briefing is usually accompanied by a public hearing and the publication of an unclassified report called the Worldwide Threat Assessment. This year, the public hearing for the 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment was canceled. It hasn’t been rescheduled. The report, which is usually unclassified, was suddenly classified.

One more curious thing: Senator Richard Burr, who issued that dire warning to the ‘important’ people of the Tar Heel Circle, is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee that first learns the details of the Worldwide Threat Assessment.

More curious things. In 2017, the Worldwide Threat Assessment said this about the threat to public health:

“A novel or reemerging microbe that is easily transmissible between humans and is highly pathogenic remains a major threat because such an organism has the potential to spread rapidly and kill millions.”

The 2018 WTA:

“A novel strain of a virulent microbe that is easily transmissible between humans continues to be a major threat, with pathogens such as H5N1 and H7N9 influenza and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus having pandemic potential if they were to acquire efficient human-to-human transmissibility… a severe global influenza pandemic could cost the equivalent of 4.8 percent of global GDP—more than $3 trillion—and cause more than 100 million deaths.”

The 2019 WTA:

“We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or largescale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”

We can, I think, safely assume the now-classified 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment repeated what the last three WTAs said. We can, I think, assume that what Senator Burr reported to the ‘important’ people of North Carolina came directly from the 2020 WTA. We don’t have to assume that information was kept from the general public for at least six weeks; we know that’s true. Six weeks during which the US government failed to respond to a health threat they knew was coming. Six weeks in which the Trump administration could have prevented needless sickness and death.

We can’t blame every Covid-19 death on folks like Trump and Burr. But we can hold them responsible for a lot of them.

They knew. They knew it was coming. These fuckers deliberately downplayed the threat to the public while warning the ‘important’ people.

We need to see the 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment report. We need to know what they knew. We need to hold all of these fuckers accountable. We need to toss them out of office. We need to publicly name them and shame them. We need to hang the scope of this pandemic around their necks and make them wear their shame every day for the rest of their miserable lives.

headline writers and pundits

Why Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Flopped. That’s an actual headline of an article on Slate. Trump’s War Against ‘the Deep State’ Enters a New Stage. That’s a New York Times headline. And this from Politico: How Bernie’s triumph in New Hampshire exposed his vulnerabilities.

Headline writers and pundits — they’re a major part of the problem. You write a headline stating Kamala Harris is having difficulty raising funds, and readers become hesitant to donate to her. You write a headline saying Cory Booker isn’t connecting with ordinary Americans, and folks who consider themselves ordinary Americans begin to wonder why Booker isn’t connecting with them. You write a headline saying Warren’s campaign has flopped, and some Warren supporters start looking for another candidate. You write a headline referring to ‘the Deep State’ and that legitimizes a conspiracy theory based on Russian disinformation.

Much of the time, people don’t read beyond the headline. Any nuanced discussion or argument gets lost. Cut and paste those headlines into posts on Facebook and Twitter, and the effect is amplified. Promising candidates get prematurely axed, campaigns stumble and fail.

“Maybe change ‘Warren On to Nevada’ to ‘Warren Flopped’.”

Why? Because pundits and headline writers operate on the premise that there MUST be drama in a presidential contest. There MUST be tension and excitement. Anybody in the lead cannot be allowed to gain too much of a lead, because it drains the drama from the contest. There must be turmoil and spectacle, there must be tragedy and sensation. There must be a plucky underdog. There must be an obvious protagonist beset by unexpected problems. There must be a villain. There must be at least one character who experiences a sudden change of fortune. The presidential campaign must follow the Aristotelian notion that the end of the narrative should be both surprising but inevitable.

The public suffers because headline writers and pundits need a narrative. And they need a narrative because a good narrative draws readers and viewers, and readers and viewers generate revenue through advertising. The result is that the public suffers so the mass media can sell shit.

I want to kick all the headline writers and pundits squarely in the balls.

lies, head fakes, stunts, naked self-interest & the stink of corruption

A few months ago I referred to the Republican Party as ‘the trash party‘. I called them that because they’ve basically abandoned everything that made them a legitimate political party. A coherent ideology, a consistent approach to governance, a concern for the common good, applied principles — that’s all gone. The GOP is now a party of lies, head fakes, stunts, and naked self-interest.

And everybody seems to know it and accept it. It’s a given, though most folks refrain from actually saying it out loud. This is how far the ‘Grand Old Party’ has fallen: Republicans in the Senate who are considering — just considering, mind you — the idea of asking for new witnesses — witnesses with direct information about the alleged crimes of the President of the United States, witnesses who are willing and eager to testify — in the ongoing impeachment trial are being described as ‘brave’.

Think about that. Brave? These are elected representatives getting paid a very healthy salary by taxpayers; their only job is to serve the public who elected them. They swore an oath to do that, to defend the Constitution. They’ve sworn a second oath to act as impartial triers of fact in the impeachment of the president. This is one of the critical, fundamental tasks they agreed to accept when they’re sworn in. But Republicans have lost their way so badly that it’s considered courageous for some of them to consider meeting the most basic, minimal expectation of their job.

And let’s face it, very few of us expect those few ‘brave’ Republicans to actually follow through. We expect almost nothing from them anymore — nothing except lies and head fakes and stunts and naked self-interest. They’re hollow, an empty shell of what once was a political party. All the principled Republicans have either left the party or abandoned public office, leaving nothing behind but the trash and the stink of corruption.

this is what scares me

I’m not particularly concerned that Trump will skate on this impeachment trial. I think we all expect he will. Senate Republicans, after all, are all gutless Quislings completely devoid of honor or integrity. So yeah, Trump will almost certainly walk. I don’t like it, but I expect it — and there it is.

What scares me is this: what comes next? If Comrade Trump gets away with this — if he’s acquitted in the Senate despite all the evidence against him — what will stop him from doing it again? What’s will prevent him from allowing — or flat out encouraging — a hostile nation to attack his Democratic opponent? And what could we do about it?

He’s capable of doing that. You know he is.

What’s going to stop him from doing something even worse? What if, say, he declares a national emergency — what if he announces there’s been a threat to certain polling districts and ‘for the safety of the citizens’ orders those polling places closed? What if he says the voters should go to different polling sites, sorry for the inconvenience? What could we do about it? 

Do you think Trump isn’t capable of doing that?

What if the 2020 election goes against him? What if he loses and claims the election was rigged/hacked/manipulated/fraudulent? What if he refuses to honor the result? What if he just refuses to relinquish power? What if he tells his followers to resist his removal from office? What if he tries to declare martial law? What then?

Do you think that’s impossible? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it. It sounds ridiculous. Because it IS crazy and ridiculous — or it would be if anybody else were president. But do you really think Trump wouldn’t try to pull something like that if he thought he might get away with it? What would stop him? Patriotism? Decency? Respect for the Constitution?

That’s what scares me. Not one more year of Trump, as horrible as that would be. What scares me is this: IF Trump gets away with it this time — and right now that seems a foregone conclusion — what’s going to stop him from thinking he can get away with it again? The answer scares me.

Nothing.

you don’t have to roll the dice if you’ve already won the game

Credit where it’s due, and all that. You have to hand it to Vlad Putin. That guy — he put together a few fairly small teams of operatives, handed them a relatively small budget, and told them to go forth and fuck up the 2016 presidential election.

And they did.

Hell, they probably had a good time doing it. After all, it turned out to be fairly easy. It was basically a two-pronged approach. Prong One: create public doubt in the integrity of the election process itself. That would handicap the administration of the eventual winner regardless of who it was. Prong Two: exacerbate the already existing divisions within US culture. Just encourage everybody to hate everybody else just a little more. That would make the nation much more difficult to govern.

That’s it. That’s all they had to do. Easy peasy lemon breezy.

It was made even easier because they had a ready-made candidate. Seriously, if you sat down at a table to design a presidential candidate who to be a Russian intelligence asset, you’d want somebody who was:

  • already corrupt as fuck
  • massively ignorant about everything a president should understand
  • narcissistic to a degree that it met the standard for a personality disorder
  • completely devoid of personal loyalty or patriotism
  • insecure enough to be easily manipulated through flattery
  • resentful, impetuous, malicious, vengeful, petty, unwilling to learn, and lazy.

Why is Vlad smiling? I think we know.

So, clearly, Donald Trump. Right? I don’t think Putin believed Trump had any real chance of winning. Trump didn’t need to win in order for Putin’s plan to succeed. All Putin wanted/needed to do was to foment social discord and bugger up the election system.

The easiest, least expensive, and most effective way to do those two things? Poison social media, The Russians flooded social media with lies, half-truths, rumors, and conspiracy theories. Some of the lies were so outrageous and ridiculous that only lunatics would believe them (a pedophile ring run by lesbian Hillary Clinton out of a tunnel beneath a pizza parlor — who the hell is going to believe something like…ah, right, never mind). But it didn’t matter than some of the lies were so ridiculous. You tell an outrageous lie in order to make less outrageous lies seem more probable. Folks who hear and dismiss the Pizzagate lie would be more open to believing the Benghazi lies. Or the Hillary-has-brain-damage-from-a-fall lie.

And once those lies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories were out there in the social media sphere, the Russians could count on the Trump campaign to echo them, spreading them even more widely and making them seem a tad more legit.

I don’t know if the Russians expected the entire Republican Party to help out, but they did. And they did it with enthusiasm. They spread the lies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories with all the passion of spawning salmon. Not because they believed them, of course, but because it was to their advantage politically. I’d like to think the Russians were surprised to see Republicans so keen to undermine the electoral process, but I’m naive like that. I mean, surely the Russians wouldn’t have expected that, when their rat-fucking became obvious, the Republicans would not only refuse to acknowledge it, but would go so far as to threaten President Obama that if he made a public statement about it, they’d respond by calling it a partisan attack. Surely the Russians wouldn’t have expected Republicans to be that awful. Would they?

Yeah, okay, maybe.

Guy shouldn’t be smiling at all.

And finally, the Russians spread as much internal division as they could, pitting Hillary’s people against Bernie’s people, against Jill’s people, even against Gary Johnson’s people for fuck’s sake (although I suspect Gary Johnson’s ‘people’ were just folks who said I don’t know who he is, but he’s not a socialist or a woman, so I’ll vote for him).

Anyway, it all worked. Trump was elected by fewer than eighty thousand votes cast in three states. Since then, almost every international action he’s taken as president has benefited Russia. He’s weakened NATO, he’s insulted and alienated our traditional allies, he’s cozied up to tyrants and excused their behavior, he’s refused to accept the advice or listen to the suggestions of acknowledged experts in foreign relations, he’s pulled out of established treaties, he’s abandoned the Kurds who did most of the killing and dying in the fight against ISIS, and he’s completely corrupted the reputation of the United States. Right now, no other nation in the world has any reason to trust the word of the U.S. government.

Guy’s got good reasons to be smiling.

Again, credit where it’s due. Vlad Putin dropped a few rubles on a lottery ticket and he won. And guess what. He’s picked the same lottery numbers for the next election. And hey, with the help of Comrade Trump and the Republican Party, he’s already won. Even if Trump loses the 2020 election, even if he’s impeached and removed from office, even if everybody in the Trump administration ends up in prison, Putin has already won. Because any Democrat who wins the election will have to spend a massive amount of time and effort and money to clean up after the motherfucker.

And that serves Russian interests, Vlad fuckin’ Putin. Comrade Donald fuckin’ Trump. Jesus suffering fuck, they really did it, didn’t they.

it’s worse than that

The Republicans are lying. But it’s not just lying; it’s worse than that. The Republicans are also spreading disinformation. Disinformation is deliberate misinformation intended to distract and deceive. Disinformation is worse than a lie because it’s meant to cast the concept of truth itself into doubt.

Here’s a lie: Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 presidential election with the intent to help Trump. It’s demonstrably not true. Ukraine was responsible for the meddling in the 2016 election — that’s a lie, but it’s worse than that. It’s disinformation. It’s designed to deliberately mislead people, to plant misinformation into the discussion. Disinformation forces truth-tellers to dispute both the lie and the false information as well.

Let me say it again. Republicans are lying, but worse than that they’re spreading disinformation. But it’s even worse than that, the disinformation is part of a Russian intelligence campaign. It’s designed both to aid Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and to sow dissent and discord in the domestic politics of the U.S.

The Russians are really very good at this. They didn’t invent disinformation, but they were the first nation to develop it as an cohesive intelligence strategy. Even the term ‘disinformation’ itself was created as disinformation. In the 1920s, a Russian black propaganda program began using the term dezinformatsiya, suggesting it was translated from a French word (désinformation), which didn’t exist. That allowed them to claim the concept had a Western origin. With the creation of mass media and the internet, disinformation in the post-Soviet era has become a critical facet of both the Russian military intelligence and the SVR — the Russian Federation’s foreign intelligence service.

And, again, Republicans are disseminating a disinformation campaign designed by an intelligence agency hostile to United States’ interests. It’s worse than that. At this point, they’re doing it knowingly. Fiona Hill told them under oath that the idea that Ukraine was behind the 2016 election ratfucking was “a fictional narrative” created by Russian intelligence. But even if they dismissed her sworn testimony, Congress was briefed by U.S. intelligence agencies that “Russia had engaged in a years-long campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election.”

Treason for the tackiest of motives — partisan politics.

They know. They know it’s a lie, but they still tell it. They know it’s disinformation, but they still spread it. They know it’s a critical element of a Russian intelligence operation, but they continue to repeat it. They fucking know, and they don’t care. They are, in effect, providing aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States. That’s treason.

It’s worse than that. It’s not treason for ideological reasons, or treason for money, or treason as an act of dissent, or even treason for personal power. It’s worse than that; it’s treason for the tackiest of motives — partisan politics.

senate might do the right thing maybe

An interesting thing happened in the Senate recently. Senator Lindsay Graham, who has the moral courage of a blancmange, said he would ask the Senate for a resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry. That wasn’t the interesting thing, of course. Since the death of his friend John McCain, Graham has morphed into Comrade Trump’s attack poodle — alternately snarling at Trump’s critics and wagging his tail in the hope that Trump will give him a treat.

The interesting thing is what happened after Graham made that announcement. He didn’t get universal Republican support. Let me just say that one more time; Graham DID NOT get total support from Senate Republicans for a resolution condemning the impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives. A month ago, that wouldn’t have happened.

So Graham sort of tempered the resolution. Instead of a savage condemnation of the impeachment itself, Graham presented a request for a more transparent process. And even that watered down version failed to get total support from his Republican colleagues. Only 44 of them signed on.

Lindsey Graham, Republican Attack Poodle, South Carolina.

Granted, that means only nine Republicans refused to go along with the weakened version of Graham’s resolution — but hey, that’s how erosion works. And remember, he offered this resolution AFTER Trump called on Republicans to get tougher against the impeachment process, and AFTER the Republicans in the House staged their Charge of the Lightweight Brigade into the SCIF for pizza. Despite those stunts, nine Senate Republicans still couldn’t bring themselves to support a weak resolution against the impeachment process.

And remember this: we haven’t yet had any public testimony from the most damaging witnesses against Trump.

At this point, it’s almost a certainty that the House will vote to ITMFA. We’ve always assumed Senate Republicans would refuse to vote to convict if Comrade Trump was impeached. That’s still the safe bet. But Graham’s resolution shows some weakening in his support. The thing is, we can be fairly confident that few, if any, of them support Trump because they like him. Or trust him. Or believe in his ability to lead the nation. They support him out of fear and their own self-interest. They know Trump is bleeding support from every sector except evangelical Christians. They also know the only way Trump can win re-election is through a combination of foreign interference, voter suppression, and gerrymandered precincts. They’ve got to be asking themselves if that’ll be enough to save them. Or if they’d be better off to drown him before the election drags them down with him.

Nobody really likes or trusts this loudmouth asshole.

So it’s possible…it’s actually within the realm of possibility…that a combination of public testimony, a corresponding shift in public sentiment, Trump’s own continued erratic and destructive behavior, along with a politician’s cockroach-like sense of self-preservation MIGHT be sufficient to sway enough of those hateful Nazgûl motherfuckers to vote to convict him and remove him from office.

It would be a LOT better if we could count on Senate Republicans to simply do what’s best for the country, but c’mon…that ain’t gonna happen. But maybe we can hope they’ll manage to do the right thing even if it’s for the wrong reasons.