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.

joe biden = comfort food

Like a lot of folks, I went to bed last night (and woke up this morning) thinking this: Joe Biden? How did we end up with Joe Biden? I mean, almost every Democrat over the age of thirty was running for POTUS, and several of them were really good candidates. And here we are with Joe Biden? Joe Biden?

But I think I understand it now. Joe Biden is comfort food. You know — a dish that holds some nostalgic and maybe cultural significance for you. We’ve all got at least one comfort food. It’s not necessarily good food, not necessarily food that’s good for you, not something you’d likely order at a decent restaurant, and certainly not anything that’s complex. It’s what you want to eat when you’re feeling down, or anxious, or needy, or sentimental.

Joe Biden

My comfort foods are mostly what some folks would call ‘Southern white trash’ food. I love a simple perlow, or something from a box with a Little Debbie label, or a peanut butter and mayo sandwich on white bread. If the weather is chilly, I’ll go with grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato basil soup. Comfort food.

For you maybe it’s poutine, or mashed potatoes and gravy, or chocolate mint ice cream, or pierogi, or a green bean casserole with those french-fried onion things on top, or udon, or chicken and waffles. It doesn’t matter what your comfort foods are; what matter is that they’re safe and put you at ease and don’t require a lot of thought.

Joe Biden

That’s Joe Biden. He’s safe, he can put you at ease, and he doesn’t require much thought. Biden is pretty predictable; we know who is and what he is. Yeah, we’re all a wee bit creeped out by his weird habit of touching folks, but nobody suspects him of paying off hookers and porn stars. He doesn’t require us to think a lot, because we’ve already dealt with him for eight years.

Joe Biden

He’s not somebody you’d order off the menu of a good restaurant. But after three years of eating rancid garbage and flaming hate, it seems a LOT of people just want some mashed potatoes with butter. Or a Hostess Twinkie.

Anyway, that’s my current thinking on the unexpected success of Joe Mac and Cheese Biden.

commonish sense suggestions

I don’t pretend to have an abundance of common sense, but even I can come up with a few common sense suggestions for individual state Democratic Party committees to consider before the 2024 presidential primary seasons. We’re NOT obligated to keep fucking things up in the same way year after year.

First, put an end to caucuses. Yeah, they’re quaint and curious and make for amusing pre-caucus television segments. But they’re awkward and confusing and undemocratic down at the bone. Seriously, just let folks cast their votes, tally up the totals, and be done with it.

Second, put an end to open primaries. The concept of an open primary, in which anybody of any party can vote for the Democratic candidate of their choice sounds like a really cool thing. But it’s not. It’s an open invitation to ratfucking — which, by the way, is exactly what Comrade Trump was blatantly doing last night in South Carolina. He was suggesting/encouraging his supporters to vote in the Democratic primary for the candidate they thought would be easiest to defeat. That corrupts the entire process (which, for Trump and Putin, is the point). Even the suggestion that the results are tainted casts doubt on the process.

What about registered Independents? Let them form a state Independent party, let them vote in an Independent primary, let them vote for anybody of any party — I don’t care. But we should let registered Democrats decide who the Democratic nominee should be.

Actual photograph of the Iowa Caucus in action!

Third, put an end to ‘day of’ re-registration. Again, the concept sounds great; allow non-Democrats to join the Democratic Party on the day of the primary. In theory, it would encourage folks to become spur-of-the-moment Democrats. In practice, it has the same problems as the open primary — the potential for last minute impulsive ratfucking. Only folks who’ve been registered as Democrats for a period of time — say at least two weeks, though preferably at least a month — should be eligible to vote in Democratic primaries. This would only apply to re-registration — switching parties. First time Democratic registrations should still be allowed on the day of the primary.

Fourth, allow ranked choice voting. First choice, second choice, third choice, fourth choice. Give points for each rank. Total up the points, apportion delegates by point total. It’s fair, it’s easy to understand, and it provides evidence of overall popularity.

Finally, put an end to Iowa and NH primacy. I really think there’s value to having a smaller, lower-population state as a testing ground for the nomination. There’s value to having candidates spending a chunk of time traveling around, meeting ordinary folks in small groups, being challenged by average citizens. Small states make that sort of politicking more affordable. Let the first couple of states to hold a primary be chosen on a rotating basis, or draw a name out of a hat, I don’t care how it’s chosen. But keep it a small state, one with a total population of — I don’t know, let’s say between two and five million. A state with some racial diversity would be nice.

There. Five common sense suggestions to take some of the batshit craziness out of the nomination process. Is that too much to ask?

a bold but stupid prediction

So far, only about 4% of the delegates that will eventually determine the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of These United States have been decided. It’s not nothing, but it’s not much more than nothing. If there was a pie and somebody gave you 4% of that pie, you’d be saying, “Dude, look at all that pie that you left in the pie tin, what the fuck, dude?”

Most of the Democratic candidates didn’t even get a sliver of that 4%. The original cast of thousands has basically been reduced to three viable candidates. That’s it…just three. Or five. Maybe seven. Eight viable candidates on the outside. But on the basis of that 4% the political punditry, who have earned a reputation of being wildly wrong on a broad range of topics, have made a bold but stupid prediction: Bernie Sanders will be the nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2020 election.

I’m inclined to think their bold but stupid prediction is…well, not that bold, but also not that stupid. They may even be right. But I don’t think so. Not entirely right. Sorta kinda right. I DO think that Bernie will probably arrive at the convention with the most pledged delegates, because there’s a certain tidal momentum that comes with the ‘frontrunner’ title.

Does not have a dog. These things have to be considered.

But I’m not here to snark on the bold but stupid predictions of political pundits. I’m here to make a bold but stupid prediction of my own. Here it is:

Bernie Sanders will have the most pledged delegates, but he won’t have a majority; he won’t have enough to win on the first ballot. That will lead to a brokered convention, which will result in Elizabeth Warren getting the nomination.

I suppose that’s really three bold but stupid predictions. Prediction One: Bernie will have the most pledged delegates. I’m basing that on the same thing everybody else is basing it on — his early lead combined with the devotion of his followers.

Prediction Two: It won’t be enough for Bernie to win on the first ballot. I say that because there are other candidates who will NOT drop out and who WILL continue to rack up pledged delegates. Not enough to win, but enough to prevent anybody from earning a majority. I’m not saying they’re staying in the race to deny Bernie the nomination; I suspect they sincerely believe they’re a better choice. Not that it matters; the result is the same.

Prediction Three: In a brokered convention, Elizabeth Warren will get the nomination. I don’t say that because I support Warren (SPOILER: I do support her). I say it because it seems a probably outcome. Why Warren rather than another candidate? Three reasons.

First Reason: I believe the Democratic Party can finally see that a progressive agenda is popular with voters. The differences between Warren’s policy positions and Bernie’s are relatively small. They’re both progressives, but with different ideas and plans on how to get their policies enacted. Warren’s plans are detailed and comprehensive.

Second Reason: Warren has more allies in the Democratic Party than Bernie does. Bernie is a Democrat of Convenience. That’s not an insult. He acknowledges that he needs the framework of the Democratic Party in order to be a viable candidate. But he’s spent most of his political career in open conflict with the party and the Democratic National Committee. That’s a good thing in terms of moving the Democratic toward a more progressive position, but it’s a bad thing for Bernie as a candidate.

Third Reason: If there’s no first ballot winner, we have a brokered convention. That means the dreaded superdelegates would be able to vote on the second ballot. And let’s face it, the superdelegates…wait. It occurs to me that some folks may not know what supeerdelegats are or how they work. So, a quick and dirty tangent.

Superdelegate is the ridiculous name for folks who have a vested interest in the Democratic party. We’re talking about four groups of folks: 1) elected officials of the Democratic National Committee, 2) Democratic governors, 3) Democratic members of Congress, and 4) “distinguished party leaders” like former presidents or former speakers of the House. They make up just under 15% of the delegates. They’re unpledged delegates, which means they’re free to vote for whoever the fuck they want to. As the rules stand now (and those rules, by the way, were written in large part by Bernie and his people), they’re NOT allowed to vote in the first ballot. In other words, they have to sit on their thumbs unless there’s a brokered convention. They’re basically the brokers in the title.

So, back to the third reason. Why would the superdelegates NOT support Bernie? See Reason Two. Bernie just ain’t popular with the Democratic establishment.

Totally has a dog. This cannot be discounted.

Fourth Reason: I know I said ‘three reasons’ but I changed my mind. The fourth reason Elizabeth Warren would probably be the nominee in a brokered convention is that she’s a woman. That’s not, in itself, a reason to support her. But for fuck’s sake, it’s way past time for a woman to get elected. And I think, in a brokered convention, if the nomination went to a white male moderate after being denied to Bernie, a LOT of people would be disappointed and pissed off. If it went to a progressive woman — and this isn’t fair and I hate saying it — there would be fewer complaints. Because NOBODY would want to say out loud that a woman shouldn’t be the nominee. People might THINK that (okay, some men would absolutely think that), but I can’t imagine anybody (aside from a few crazed Berniecrats) who’d make that argument.

So IF there’s a brokered convention, I predict the nomination will got to Elizabeth Warren. And I think she’d win the presidency.

That said, I hope we DON’T have a brokered convention. I hope, if Bernie Sanders continues to do well, that he does well enough to have a majority of pledged delegates and win on the first ballot. A brokered convention might put my preferred candidate at the head of the ticket, but it’s more important that we have a unified Democratic Party.

Okay, there it is. My bold but stupid prediction. You’ve probably got one of your own. Maybe more than one. Bold but stupid predictions usually come wrapped in packages of three or more.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You cannot discount the critical importance of a dog.

vote blue no matter…what?

A couple of things bother me. Well, a million things bother me, but right now I’m going to focus on just a couple that have to do with the Democratic primary. First thing that bothers me is…hold on, let me turn it over to Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post. He wrote: “For Democrats, electability is the whole ballgame.”

Robinson is usually reliable. And he’s right about this. Sorta kinda right. Not entirely right, mind you. But more right than wrong. But he’s not right right now.

It’s February, for fuck’s sake. We’ve only had two contests — the Iowa clusterfuck and the slightly less absurd primary in New Hampshire (which, c’mon, is basically Iowa but with mountains instead of cornfields). So in effect, we’ve really had one stretched-out contest in which predominantly rural white people had their say.

It’s WAY too soon to be focused on ‘electability’. Whatever that is. At this point in the election season, folks should stop listening to pundits talk about the most ‘electable’ candidate and start listening to the candidates themselves. Right now, folks should vote for the candidate they think will give them the government they want.

Do that, and guess what. The person who gets the most votes in all the various primaries and caucuses will become…that’s right…electable. It’s like magic.

The problem with trying to figure out who is most ‘electable’ is that it’s fear-based. It’s not about finding the candidate we want the most, or the candidate who inspires us to become the sort of nation we want to be. It’s about finding the candidate who is safest. The most popular of the least offensive candidates. The most ‘electable’ candidate is basically the candidate who’ll appeal to a broad spectrum of…well, white folks.

And that brings me to the other thing that bothers me. Vote blue no matter who. Let me first say this — I believe in that idea. I will absolutely vote for the Democratic candidate even if that person is my least favorite. And then let me say this — vote blue no matter who carries the stink of racism.

Here’s the thing: white voters can afford to be picky. We can say stuff like, “I won’t vote for the lesser of two evils” because we’re largely immune from most of the evils. Not entirely immune, of course, but no matter who gets elected, it’s exceedingly improbable there’ll be an increase in random violence against white folks. There won’t be a rash of white folks being harassed by police, or denied medical care, or blocked from voting, or followed by security at the mall, or being accosted by random citizens and asked to prove we have the right to barbecue in the park or eat a sandwich in the subway or enter an apartment building or hang out on the sidewalk. White folks can be genuinely angry and alarmed at the degradation of democracy under Comrade Trump, but we don’t have to fret as much about our kids being shot by police officers during a routine traffic stop.

Black folks understand that the lesser of two evils is the LESSER EVIL, and Jesus suffering fuck do we really need to do the math here? When we say ‘Vote blue no matter who’ we’re basically saying it to white folks who can afford NOT to vote blue. We’re not saying it to black folks because we take it for granted that black folks will vote Democratic (or not vote at all). What’s really sad is we actually CAN take it for granted, because the quality of their lives is more directly and dramatically affected by the results of an election. 

At this point in the process, focusing on the most ‘electable’ candidate and telling folks to vote blue no matter who is a recipe for picking the least offensive white guy. The process has weeded out all the candidates of color because it was decided (through polling and fund-raising) that they weren’t ‘electable’. Now we’re weeding out the women. Amy Klobuchar is as moderate as Buttigieg and Biden, has a better record of accomplishments, has more experience than Pete and is younger than Joe — but she’s not ‘electable’. Elizabeth Warren is as progressive as Bernie, has a better record of accomplishments, has a broader life experience, and a massive list of detailed plans of action, but she’s not ‘electable’.

Stop that ‘electability’ shit. Just stop it. When we get to the general election we can shout “Vote blue no matter who” but at this point in the process just vote your passion. Don’t be a coward. Vote with your heart.

Editorial Note: Personally, I’d ask you to vote for a woman. It’s way past time we had a woman president. I’d ask you to vote for the most progressive woman. I’d ask you to vote for Elizabeth Warren. But when it’s your turn to vote in your state primary or caucus, don’t listen to anybody or anything but your heart.

escapes?

I’m old enough to remember when you could trust The New York Times. And, to be fair, you can still trust most of their reportage; they have some exceptional reporters. But the opinion page of NYT has become pretty sketchy — not because I sometimes disagree with their op-eds, but because the editorial leadership apparently decided they need to give a voice to conspiracy theorists and conservative propagandists. And the headline writers for NYT are…well, they’re rubbish.

Here, look at this headline from this morning’s NYT:

Andrew McCabe Escapes Charges While Barr Tightens Control on Flynn Case.

Escapes. Andrew McCabe escapes charges. That makes it sound like the charges were justified, but McCabe somehow managed to dodge or sidestep them. In fact, the accusations against him were total bullshit. They grew out of Comrade Trump’s hatred of FBI Director James Comey, who was seen as insufficiently loyal. Trump had Attorney General Jeff Sessions fire Comey; he saw McCabe as a Comey loyalist and was angry with Sessions for not firing McCabe as well.

McCabe became a target of Trump’s rage-tweeting. He focused his rage on two things. First, McCabe had overseen the FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation, which found no criminal activity. That pissed off Trump. Second, McCabe’s wife had run an unsuccessful campaign to become a Democratic state legislator in Virginia. She got a campaign contribution from a political action committee run by the Virginia Democratic Party and Terry McAuliffe, who was the governor of Virginia. McAuliffe was a friend and supporter of Hillary Clinton.

In TrumpWorld it’s inconceivable that McCabe could possibly conduct an unbiased investigation of the Clinton Foundation when his wife was a Democrat who was given a contribution by a PAC associated with somebody who was a friend of Hillary Clinton. In TrumpWorld, everybody is assumed to have corrupt motivations. Probably because everybody in TrumpWorld actually HAS corrupt motivations.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story suggesting it was possible McCabe had slowed the FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation. McCabe authorized the FBI press office to speak to the WSJ reporter to correct the story. McCabe had in fact worked to protect that investigation. Trump and his cadre of loons referred to McCabe having the press office speak to a reporter as a ‘leak’. 

It’s not clear if the WSJ report by itself sparked an FBI Inspector General investigation into McCabe’s role in the Clinton investigation or if there was some political pressure involved. In any event, the Office of Inspector General started an investigation. The OIG found that McCabe, as Deputy Director of the FBI, had the authority to have the press office speak to that reporter. The question became whether he had them speak to the reporter in the interest of the FBI or in his own personal interest. Did McCabe authorize the ‘leak’ in order to make the FBI look good or to make himself look good.

Seriously, that’s it. The OIG found that McCabe had violated FBI policy in that the press release seemed more in McCabe’s interest than in the public interest. They also found McCabe “lacked candor” when interviewed by OIG investigators. And that’s why he was fired in March of 2018 — 26 hours before his scheduled retirement, denying him full retirement benefits. A classic TrumpWorld act of vengeance.

After he was fired, Trump’s Department of Justice continued to investigate McCabe for a year and a half, trying to find something to charge him with. They took their ‘case’ to the grand jury in September of 2019. It’s been said that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor has even a shred of a case. The McCabe grand jury refused to indict him. Normally, when a grand jury refuses to indict, a criminal investigation is ended.

Not for McCabe. The DOJ kept the case alive until yesterday when, as the New York Times reported, he ‘escaped’ charges. This is a guy who devoted his life to the FBI. He served on the FBI SWAT team, he was part of the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force (which was not a walk in the garden), he served in the Counterintelligence Unit, he helped revise the rules for high value detainee interrogations (the FBI refused to engage in waterboarding), he was part of the Boston Marathon bomb investigation, he took part in the investigation and arrest of the guys behind the Benghazi attacks. The FBI can be pretty fucked up, but this guy repeatedly put himself on the line — which is something nobody named Trump has ever done.

And the New York Times says he ‘escaped’ charges.

Andrew McCabe — even his glasses look like they’re FBI issue.

It’s bullshit like this by NYT and other news sources that boost Trump’s insane ‘Deep State’ conspiracy theories. It’s bad enough to have a criminal enterprise operating out of the White House, it’s bad enough to have a POTUS who is a narcissistic vengeance demon enabled and encouraged by sycophants in Congress, it’s bad enough to have a Department of Justice that acts as an arm of TrumpWorld rather than in the public interest. It’s bad enough to have all that without NYT adding an aura of legitimacy to this bullshit.

I remember when you could trust the New York Times. I suppose you still can, if you ignore the headlines and much of the opinion page. But is it worth the effort? And why would you bother?

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.