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.

life just be that way, i guess

Every so often, on a regular goddamn basis, I am reminded that The Wire wasn’t just the best cop show ever made, but a modern oracle for understanding These United States. The opening scene of the very first episode is the most concise, most hard-boiled, most accurate summation of how the world works in this nation.

Here is a True Thing, a thing The Wire gets right: Snot Boogie is always going to steal the money. Always, every time. But here is another True Thing, something that reminds you that The Wire is fiction: in real life, Snot Boogie often gets away with the money. Not every time, but often enough that snatching the pot and running is considered a business practice.

Maybe you should watch this before we go any further. Little over two-and-a-half minutes. It’s all there.

Delaware North. A privately owned global food service and hospitality company, owned by the Jacobs family, named for the location of its headquarters building on the corner of Delaware Avenue and North Street in Buffalo. Over fifty thousand employees, annual revenues of over three billion dollars. Three billion dollars. That’s serious coin.

In 1993, Delaware North won the contract to provide concession services for Yosemite National Park. We’re talking food, beverage, souvenirs — a sweet deal. But they lost that sweet deal to another company in 2015. That’s how the game of craps works, right? You make your point, you keep the dice; you don’t, the dice get passed to the next player. Delaware North is out, Aramark has the dice.

Well, that’s how it works in a fair game, even in a Baltimore back alley. Now imagine if Delaware North passed the dice, but said that in order to keep playing you had to pay them if you used the words ‘dice’ or ‘craps’ or ‘roll’ or any numeral from two to twelve. If somebody pulled that shit in Baltimore, his ass would get whupped.

But that’s basically what Delaware North did with Yosemite National Park. During the twenty-two years they had the concession contract, they began to trademark the names and images of the iconic landmarks inside Yosemite. They trademarked the name of ‘Curry Village’ and ‘Ahwahnee Hotel’ and even ‘Yosemite National Park.’ Hell, they trademarked the likeness of Half Dome. These greedy motherfuckers trademarked the phrase ‘Go climb a rock.’

Sorry, dude, can’t say that no more.

And when they lost the contract, Delaware North sued the National Park Service for trademark infringement, demanding US$50 million in compensation. That suit is still unresolved, but in the meantime the park decided to rename the hotel, the village, and some other sites. You can’t stay in the Ahwahnee Hotel anymore. Now you have to stay in the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. I mean, it’s just a name…but damn.

But wait…it gets worse. Of course it does. Everything gets worse in the Comrade Trump administration. About a year ago, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke created (and I am NOT making this up) the ‘Made in America’ Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee “to tackle some of our biggest public lands infrastructure and access challenges.” That’s ZinkeSpeak for ‘How to make rich motherfuckers even richer by letting them fuck with public lands.’

“Life just be that way, I guess.”

Guess who’s on that advisory committee? If you guessed Jerry Jacobs, the billionaire CEO of Delaware North, you’d be right. Only in the Trump administration would you find a greedhead like Jacobs, who is suing an agency of the Department of the Interior, formally named an advisor to that department.

Why is Jacobs on the committee? According to Zinke, he offers “unique insight that is often lost in the federal government.” That’s ZinkeSpeak for “Life just be that way, I guess.” Jerry Jacobs is what you get if you let Snot Boogie keep stealing the pot. So why do we even let him in the game?

“Got to. This America, man.”

the infuriating john mccain

They’re calling John McCain the ‘last Republican’ and I suppose there’s some truth in that. I think it would be more accurate to say he was the pivot point between old school principled conservative Republicans and the new brand of batshit crazy racist grifters that dominate the modern Republican Party.

I mean, yes, he defended Barack Obama as a decent man…but he also picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. And yes, he made a highly theatrical vote that saved what remained of the Affordable Care Act…but let’s not forget that he repeatedly voted to involve the US in a variety of armed conflicts. And yes, he spoke out against the US policy of torture during the Bush II administration…but he also went all wobbly during the 1999 presidential campaign on the issue of the Confederate flag because it was politically expedient.

That seems to have been the problem with John McCain. His first impulse was to stand up for what he believed. But in politics, people are often given the opportunity to have second and third and fourth impulses…and when McCain had time to think about the implications of the politics of a situation, he all too often caved in and did what he thought was the best political move.

I didn’t always like John McCain. I didn’t always agree with him. And I didn’t always respect him — because some of the shit he pulled wasn’t deserving of respect. For example, I respected the John McCain that stood up for Obama. The John McCain who made Sarah Palin political viable–fuck that McCain in the neck.

But what made John McCain the ‘last Republican’ was that he was always capable of earning the respect of liberals like me, even when we thought he was wrong. He always held out the possibility and the hope that at the last moment he’d step up and act honorably. And he did exactly that often enough to be infuriating.

For me, the defining moment of McCain’s career was the Affordable Care Act vote. It wasn’t his actual vote that, to me, defined that moment. I mean, I’m glad he voted to save the ACA, but it was the way he did it that was classic McCain. He was the last person to vote, and he did it as theatrically as possible. He held his arm out straight for a long moment (and folks, that wasn’t easy for him — as a result of his torture in Vietnam, McCain’s shoulders were so fucked up that he couldn’t raise his arm high enough to comb his own hair), then gave a quick thumbs down. But even that wasn’t the actual defining moment. Immediately after giving the thumbs down, he turned and looked directly at Mitch McConnell — then turned and walked away.

I could respect that John McCain. I’m sorry that John McCain is dead. We need that John McCain.

devin nunes serves at the pleasure of the president

Devin Nunes: Hi, I’m Devin Nunes, a very serious and totally scrupulous Republican Congressman from California and the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and boy do I have a four-page classified memo for you.

The American Public: Oh? What’s it about?

DN: I can’t tell you. It’s classified. All I can say is that it refers to a massive conspiracy by high-ranking members of the FBI colluding with Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration to create a false narrative accusing Donald Trump of working with the Russians to get him elected. Also? An equally false narrative that Trump is impulsive. And ignorant. And a racist. And stupid. Plus some other stuff. Like, you know, sex stuff.

TAP: Wow. That’s awful. Why would FBI agents do that?

DN: To prevent Trump from being elected. Which he did anyway. You should really see what’s in the classified memo. It’s horrible what they’re doing to the president.

TAP: Show it to us.

DN: I can’t. It’s classified!

TAP: If it’s classified, I guess it must be serious.

DN: It is! It’s SO serious. Everybody who’s seen the classified memo says it’s the biggest scandal since Watergate. Bigger even! It’s, like, the best scandal ever. The worst, I mean. Everybody says so. It’s all in the memo that you can’t see.

Steve King: Hi, I’m Steve King, also a totally scrupulous Republican, but I’m from Iowa which is like three or four times more scrupulous than California. I’ve seen the classified four-page memo and it shows our very democracy is under attack by a secret society of Trump-hating FBI agents who hate Trump and are secretive about it. Except when they talk about it to each other. Which they mostly do in secret. Also, I’m not a racist. People say I’m a racist because I make racist remarks, but that doesn’t make me a racist. It makes me seem authentic, which is something my base likes. Also too, that memo is shocking.

TAP: Maybe you should give it to the Director of the FBI, so he can investigate his agents.

DN: Can’t! The FBI are the bad guys. We can’t trust them.

TAP: Maybe you should give it to the Department of Justice.

DN: Can’t! They might try to cover it up so the public never gets to see it.

TAP: What about the New York Times or the Washington Post? Could you give it to them? Let them publish it?

DN: Give a classified memo to the liberal media? That would be wrong. But if the American People were to see it, there’d be hell to pay in the traitorous anti-Trump FBI cabal conspiracy. It’s SO BAD!

TAP: What do the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee say about the memo?

DN: Nothing! They’ve been completely and totally and suspiciously silent about it.

TAP: Have they seen it?

DN: Are you crazy? Let Democrats see a classified memo? They’d leak it.

TAP: Okay, then maybe this memo should be declassified. Who can declassify it?

DN: You mean besides me? And besides every Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee who’s seen it? And besides every Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who’s seen it?

TAP: Yes, besides you and all those other people, who can declassify it?

DN: President Trump.

TAP: Then why don’t you or your colleagues or the president declassify the memo, so it can be released to the American People?

DN: We totally want the memo to be released. Totally. And so do our supporters.

Russian Social Media Bot: #releasethememo #releasethememo #releasethememo

DN: See? Popular support to release the memo. Fox News is all over this too, demanding the memo be released. It really needs to be released if we want to save the presid…our democracy.

TAP: But you won’t release it because…?

DN: We can’t! It’s classified!

TAP: (long silent pause)

Russian Social Media Bot: #releasethememo #releasethememo #releasethememo

DN: Release the memo!

TAP: (long silent pause)

DN: Benghazi!

TAP: You’d totally suck Donald Trump’s dick if he asked you to, wouldn’t you.

DN: I serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

dude, c’mon. alabama (part 3)

— I don’t understand what’s going on in Alabama.

— That’s okay. The people of Alabama don’t always understand what’s going on in Alabama.

— I mean, Roy Moore lost? Actually lost? A Republican lost to a Democrat? To a pro-life Democrat? In Alabama?

— These are the days of miracles and wonder, as the poet Simon said. And dude? This is like our third or fourth conversation about Roy Moore. And, it’s to be hoped, the last.

— Dude, c’mon. Alabama.

— Fair point.

Roy Moore watching election results (SPOILER — he lost.)

— I mean, sure, Moore lost…but he hasn’t made a concession speech yet. He’s talking about fighting it.

— As far as that goes, Moore hasn’t conceded that the South lost in the Civil War. Hell, he didn’t concede to the fact that he was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court. Twice. Concession is not his strong point.

— Being an unrepentant racist, misogynistic fuckwit, that’s his strong point. And a pedophile.

— Well, not technically a pedophile. But yeah.

— But at least the people of Alabama have rejected him. Maybe now he’ll just disappear.

— Not all the people rejected him.

— Most of them.

— Actually most of the white folks who voted cast their votes for Moore.

— You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking. You’ve got to be totally fucking joking. Please say you’re joking. You’re not joking, are you.

— Nope. More than seventy percent of white men voted for Moore. More than sixty percent of white women voted for him.

— Jeebus fuck me with a chainsaw.

Roy Moore deeply regrets his decision not to hire more than one Jewish lawyer.

— Black folks, that’s who kicked Roy Moore’s ass. Black women in particular. The NAACP and the volunteers that got folks out to vote, that’s who kicked Roy Moore’s ass. Old school grassroots campaigning, that’s what kicked Roy Moore pale ass.

— I got to say, today I love me some Alabama. I’m starting to remember how to breathe again. I’m convinced that today will be all bluebirds and rainbows.

— You want to see this happen in other states, you might want to consider breathing a bit coin in the direction of the NAACP. What happened yesterday was great, but it’s still a long way to go.

— Okay, okay, but we can celebrate today, right? I mean, this is huge, right? We can take a day to relax and spread joy and all that, can’t we?

— Yes, but…

— But nothing. Dude, c’mon. Alabama!

— Alabama, yes sir. Alafuckingbama. Bring on the bluebirds.

dude, c’mon. alabama (part 2)

— I don’t understand what’s going on in Alabama.

— That’s okay. The people of Alabama don’t always understand what’s going on in Alabama.

— I mean this whole Roy Moore thing. What’s up with that?

— Wait. Didn’t we already have this conversation? Like a couple of years ago?

— Yeah, we’ve had this conversation twice. But then it was about Judge Roy Moore and same-sex marriage. Now it’s about Roy Moore and dating high school girls. That’s crazy, isn’t it?

— Dude, c’mon. Alabama.

— But high school girls?

— And junior high school girls. The first accusation was made by a woman who said your boy Roy hit on her when she was fourteen. You know what that means?

— That Roy Moore is a pervert?

— No. Well, yeah. But it also means your boy Roy was thirty-something years old and hitting on a girl who was in the eighth grade.

— Jeebus on toast.

— I know. In the eighth grade. Sitting on a bench in the Etowah County courthouse.

— What was an eighth grader doing in the courthouse?

— Her parents were getting a divorce. They were there for a child custody hearing.

— So not just an eighth grader, but an eighth grader who was emotionally vulnerable?

— Yup. Also? Your boy Roy was an assistant district attorney at the time.

— Sweet Jeebus tuna salad.

— Funny you should say that. One of Moore’s toadies defends him by saying Joseph was older than Mary so it’s really sorta kinda Christian for Moore to be hitting on girls in the eighth grade.

— Seriously? Who’d buy into an argument like that? Who’d even make an argument like that?

— Dude, c’mon. Alabama.

— Yeah, but it sounds like Moore is maybe a pedophile or something.

— Not technically a pedophile. Pedophiles are attracted to pre-pubescent kids. Moore held off until they reached puberty.

— So there’s that. It’s a great campaign slogan. Roy Moore: Not Technically a Pedophile. His opponent must really suck, if the polls are that close. He’s got to be like a devil worshiper or something. A communist, maybe.

Technically not a pedophile.

— His opponent is Doug Jones. He’s the guy who indicted Eric Rudolph, who planted bombs at a women’s health care center and the Centennial Olympic Park. Jones also prosecuted the KKK guys who bombed a Baptist church, which killed four little African-American girls.

— So, a Democrat.

— Bingo.

— No wonder he’s losing.

— Losing to a guy who got himself kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court twice. Twice.

— That’s not easy to do.

— It’s not easy to get kicked off once, let alone twice. I have to give your boy Roy credit for persistence. Too bad he’s persistently horrible.

— So what’ll happen if Moore actually gets elected?

— The Republicans will probably open an ethics investigation of Al Franken, then try to force him to resign.

— Too late. Al Franken resigned today.

— You’re joking.

— Nope.

— Fuck me with a chainsaw.

— Maybe something good will come of Franken’s resignation.

— You think?

— Maybe voters will see him resign and think ‘That’s how an ethical political party behaves.’ And then maybe they’ll do the right thing in the Alabama election next week.

— Maybe.

— You sound skeptical.

— Dude, c’mon. Alabama.

semi-loyal opposition

I’m seeing a LOT of folks heaping scorn and contempt on Senator Jeff Flake today (and, to a lesser extent, Sen. Bob Corker). As you almost certainly know, both of those traditional Republican conservatives made a show yesterday of publicly spanking Comrade Trump. The scorn hasn’t been for the spanking — most folks appreciated that. The scorn seems to be because Flake and Corker then voted to repeal a rule repealed a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that made it easier for people to sue banks and credit card companies.

That, of course, is a despicable vote. But I don’t understand why anybody was surprised by their votes. Did people think that by condemning Trump, Flake and Corker would suddenly become progressive Democrats? Did they think Flake and Corker had some sort of ‘Come to Jeebus’ moment? That they would see the light and abandon all their previously held political positions?

Sen. Bob Corker

No, those guys are still the same conservative asshats they’ve always been. They both still support a LOT of what Trump supports. The only difference is…well, there are two differences. First, they realize that conservative Republicans are going the way of moderate Republicans. There is no longer a place left for principled conservatives in the GOP. There are only varied grades of extremists, identified by how much they love babby Jeebus or by how much they hate liberals. Oh, there’s still a place for traditional unprincipled conservatives; they can be measured by how much corporate dick they’re willing to suck.

Here’s the second difference. Principled conservative Republicans like Flake and Corker (and yes, I think they really are principled; their principles are radically different from mine — and I think their principles are wrongheaded — but they still have principles) can see that Trumpism is not only destroying their political party, but also a clear threat to what we laughably call representative democracy.

Sen. Jeff Flake

Trump, unlike every previous president, doesn’t seem to believe in the concept of a loyal opposition. He only believes there is loyalty and there is opposition — and even his notion of ‘loyalty’ is grounded in a businessman’s perspective, in which loyalty is only operative when it benefits him.

The fact that both Flake and Corker have announced they’re not running for re-election doesn’t make their comments about Comrade Trump any less legitimate. Waiting until you’re quitting to voice your objections to the president may be an act of political cowardice, but it’s also a clear demonstration of just how far into the much the entire GOP has fallen. These two guys lack the fortitude to stay in their party and fight for it, but they’re probably the bravest the modern Republican party has to offer today. That’s pretty fucking sad.