Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Pluto, a miniature schnauzer from Canada, becomes an Internet sensation by offering sage advice -- and much-needed hilarity -- on handling the coronavirus crisis

Pluto and her mom, Nancy Wight

A miniature schnauzer has become an Internet sensation by offering advice on handling the coronavirus crisis for "two-leggeds" (humans) from the perspective of a "four-legged" (dog).

Pluto, a 13-year-old female schnauzer, lives in Montreal with her mom, wildlife photographer Nancie Wight. Through the miracle of digital technology, Ms. Wight turned Pluto into a talking dog -- complete with adorable face, high-pitched voice, expressive eyes, and home-spun wisdom. They have created such a stir on the Web that NPR has published a feature story about them. (BTW, we think all schnauzers are adorable, hence the blog title Legal Schnauzer, which is in honor of Murphy Abigail Shuler, the wonderful mini who graced our lives for 11 years in Alabama -- see here and here.)

Pluto is "getting the feeling that there's a kind of crisis for the two-leggeds," and she seems to have a heart-felt desire to help, especially since the crisis has upended the two-legged world,  -- affecting their ability to get everything from snacks to toilet paper.

* Are you going stir crazy from being isolated and stuck inside? Well, "just relax, curl up, wander around, and play with a tennis ball," advises Pluto.

* Like many humans, Pluto is confused about the whole toilet paper thing. But she does offer this: "What my mom does for me is she cuts the hair on my bum really, really, really short, and the stuff just comes straight out -- no worries, it's all good."

* Are you out of snacks because the grocery-store shelves have been cleared out? Pluto says you can always go to a nearby school and sniff around to find snacks there. And if you go to the end of your street, you likely will find a curbside drain hole -- and Pluto knows from experience that runaway snacks almost always get stuck there.

Perhaps Pluto's best advice -- and it's the most hilarious -- is to be good to each other and observe social distancing. "You shouldn't sniff other people's legs, and you really shouldn't sniff their crotches until this is all over. That's social responsibility."

Here is part of what NPR had to say about the phenomenon of Pluto:

A "talking" dog, a wiry 13-year-old Schnauzer, has become a pandemic hero since the canine made her first appearance on Facebook last week. She's very funny.

Pluto and her human, Nancie Wight, have been churning out viral videos with advice on hair trims, how to do without toilet paper, how to find snacks and how to stay cheery at home.

The dog looks straight into the camera and her mouth seems to move (with the help of a video program) and a high voice appears to come out of it.

Wight created the Facebook page, PlutoLiving, for her friends, who urged her to offer it to a wider audience. She hit the public button last week.
"I did not expect that by the end of the second day we would have a million views and now it's over 4 million," she says from Montreal. Pluto.living has a growing following on Instagram, too.

We invite you to check out the original Pluto video below:

Monday, March 30, 2020

Here is the scene at the "wet markets" of China, where crowded, unsanitary conditions apparently helped launch the novel coronavirus pandemic that has upended life in the U.S. and led to "social distancing"

A wet market in China

How did the coronavirus pandemic get started? We do not have a definitive answer to that question, but scientists believe it can be traced to the "wet markets" of China. That raises this question: What is a wet market, why are they called that, and how did they prove to be an incubator for the worst public-health crisis of our lifetimes? Specifically, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan might have been the launching point for the novel coronavirus; it was shut down on January 1.

Jason Beaubien, global health and development correspondent for NPR, traveled to China in early January and got a firsthand look at wet markets. His report -- "Why They Are Called 'Wet Markets' and What Health Risks They Might Hold" --could be the definitive account, so far, of the environment that apparently launched a global pandemic.

How did it happen? First, it's important to note differences between "wet markets" and "wildlife markets." Wet markets generally sell fish, poultry, meat -- staples of the Chinese diet. In a "wildlife market," wild animals (bats, snakes, crocodiles, pangolins) are introduced to the environment -- in cramped conditions, in densely populated areas. That appears to be a recipe for zoonotic diseases, which jump from animals to humans. Reports Christopher St. Cavish The Los Angeles Times:

The issue, according to numerous op-ed articles, is when wildlife is introduced into this system. Rightly, critics note that bringing stressed animals of different species, who are all shedding different diseases, into close proximity and without any supervision, is, let’s say, not good for hygiene. At worst, it may provide the breeding ground for COVID-19, SARS and the avian flu.

Chinese culture certainly includes a taste for exotic meat, as St. Cavish reports, but it is not limited to China:
The attention-grabbing koala and wolf cub price list touted in Western media is likely exaggerated, but the general point remains true: China has a taste for exotic meat. In my 15 years in China, I’ve been offered camel hump at a major Chinese chain, muntjac at a secret wild game restaurant in Pudong and legal peacock in Yunnan, have watched a bamboo rat butchered and cooked by a popular online chef and seen a crocodile, mouth tied shut, hidden under a bench at a downtown Shanghai seafood market. Snake is more than a delicacy; by one count, Shanghai has more than 800 shops serving water snakes, king snakes and more.

Yet a taste for the exotic is not the problem. Where I’m from, in South Florida, people now patrol backyards in search of iguanas for the dinner table; restaurants serve BBQ alligator ribs; and it’s possible to order overnight delivery of muskrat, bobcat and rattlesnake on the internet.

Beyond meat that tastes good, at least to someone, an interest in exotic meats is rooted in homology beliefs extending back to “The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classics,” which codified the medicinal philosophy more than 2,000 years ago; the idea that eating exotics confers wealth and status on the buyer; and the belief that certain wild animal parts have therapeutic effects (pangolin meat relieving rheumatism, for example). Weak legal controls push the sale of even the less exotic meats such as venison and pheasant into an unregulated and unsupervised gray area.

A more detailed account of the hygiene problems that can arise from wildlife markets can be found at "Bats Are Not To Blame for Coronavirus. Humans Are," at CNN. So, wildlife markets probably are the real problem, but they still get mixed up with wet markets, likely because both have open-air origins.  NPR's Beaubien describes what he saw in China, in an article posted February 8:

A "wet market" in Wuhan, China, is catching the blame as the probable source of the current coronavirus outbreak that's sweeping the globe.

Patients who came down with disease at the end of December all had connections to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan China. The complex of stalls selling live fish, meat and wild animals is known in the region as a "wet market." Researchers believe the new virus probably mutated from a coronavirus common in animals and jumped over to humans in the Wuhan bazaar.

What is the scene like in a Chinese wet market? Beaubien describes it:

I visited the Tai Po wet market in Hong Kong, and it's quite obvious why the term "wet" is used. Live fish in open tubs splash water all over the floor. The countertops of the stalls are red with blood as fish are gutted and filleted right in front of the customers' eyes. Live turtles and crustaceans climb over each other in boxes. Melting ice adds to the slush on the floor. There's lots of water, blood, fish scales and chicken guts. Things are wet.

At the Tai Po market, a woman who runs a shellfish stall — she only wants to give her name as Mrs. Wong — says people blame wet markets for spreading disease. But she says that's not fair. Like just about everyone else in the market. Wong is wearing a surgical face mask because of the coronavirus outbreak. She's heard about the links between the wet market in Wuhan, China, and the coronavirus but doesn't think something like that would happen in Hong Kong.

"It's much cleaner in the Hong Kong markets. It's so different from what's happening in mainland China," she says. "When I go to mainland China and I'm trying to eat something, I'm concerned about what's in the food."

Wet markets and wildlife markets hardly are found only in China, reports Beaubien:

Meanwhile, this kind of market is not just an Asian phenomenon. There are similar markets all over the world — places where fish, poultry and other animals are slaughtered and butchered right on the premises.

But researchers of zoonotic diseases — diseases that jump from animals to humans – pinpoint the wet markets in mainland China as particularly problematic for several reasons. First, these markets often have many different kinds of animals – some wild, some domesticated but not necessarily native to that part of Asia. The stress of captivity in these chaotic markets weakens the animals' immune systems and creates an environment where viruses from different species can mingle, swap bits of their genetic code and spread from one species to another, according to biologist Kevin Olival, vice president for research at the EcoHealth Alliance. When that happens, occasionally a new strain of an animal virus gets a foothold in humans and an outbreak like this current coronavirus erupts.

As for the market in Hong Kong, its offerings are tame compared to those found in Mainland China:

The Tai Po market in Hong Kong does have some live animals besides the seafood but the selection is rather boring compared to the exotic assortment of snakes, mammals and birds on offer in some markets in mainland China. They're known to sell animals such as Himalayan palm civets, raccoon dogs, wild boars and cobras.

The only live birds in Tai Po are chickens, which are kept behind the butchered pork section of the market.

Chicken is becoming increasingly popular at the Hong Kong market:

Chan Shu Chung has been selling chicken here for more than 10 years. He says business is really good right now because the price of pork — his main competition — is through the roof. Pork is in short supply due to trade tensions between China and the U.S. and a recent bout of swine flu.

So people are buying more chicken. Customers can select a live bird from Chung's cages. Chung pulls them out by their feet, holds them upside down to show off their plump breasts. If the customer is happy with the bird, Chung puts a plastic tag with a number on the chicken's foot. He gives the customer a matching tag, sort of like a coat check. Fifteen minutes later the shopper can come back and pick up the chicken meat.

Chung says he and his colleagues do their best to keep the area clean. They wash down the stalls regularly and disinfect the countertops to stop germs from spreading.

Chung, however, is one of the few people in the market who is not wearing a face mask. Face masks have become so common in Hong Kong since the coronavirus outbreak started that pharmacies across the city are sold out of them.

Chung says he isn't afraid of this new coronavirus. He always gets his annual flu shot so he believes he's protected against this new disease, even though scientists say the flu shot will not protect people against this new coronavirus.

Chung adds confidently that he's even immune to SARS — for which there also is no commercially available vaccine.

But he does keep his chicken stalls incredibly clean, which public health officials say is one important step in stopping the spread of diseases. So maybe he's on to something.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Music legends John Fogerty, Brian Wilson, and others hook up with Rolling Stone to present "In My Room" series as a form of emotional relief from coronavirus

If you could use something besides news related to the coronavirus -- and who couldn't these days -- how about a musical interlude from an American treasure?

We are talking about John Fogerty, who has been turning out classic tunes since 1967, when he was the creative force -- singer, songwriter, lead guitarist, producer -- for Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty recently hooked up with Rolling Stone (RS) to play three CCR classics -- "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," "Bad Moon Rising, and "Long As I Can See the Light" --  as part of the magazine's "In my Room" series, which is dedicated to helping Americans survive the most dangerous public-health threat of our lifetimes. (See video at the top of this post.)

At age 74, Fogerty sounds just as good as he did when these songs were recorded in 1969-70. "Long As I can See the Light" is the least known of the three songs on the clip, but it features an all-time great vocal performance, on top of a haunting piano progression.

Speaking of American treasures, Brian Wilson is at the heart of the "In My Room" series, and it is named for one of his most beloved Beach Boys tunes. Wilson was featured in the first series clip, and we invite you to savor his performance below.

What about origins of the "In My Room" series. Here are details from RS:

With the coronavirus crisis rapidly unfolding, artists and venues around the globe are coming up with innovative ways to keep the lights on and the music playing — without leaving the house.

Today, with that in mind, Rolling Stone is launching a new IGTV series titled “In My Room.” The first episode kicks off with a very special performance by Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson. Sitting at the piano in his California home, Wilson begins with a short instrumental performance of “In My Room,” the Beach Boys’ early classic from 1963. From there, Wilson goes to a bright, upbeat solo piano version of the group’s 1968 comeback hit, “Do It Again,” followed by a heartfelt take on his 1988 solo single “Love and Mercy.”

“I was sitting in my room and the news came on TV/A lot of people out there hurting and it really scared me,” Wilson sings, California sunshine streaming in through his window. “Love and mercy, that’s what you need tonight/Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.”

We’ll be releasing episodes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3 p.m. ET on Rolling Stone’s Instagram — with legacy artists and newer names; with artists across genres and across the globe. It will be an intimate, unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss.

We’re all experiencing this pandemic in different ways — and we’re all in this together. Artists need our support, and they can also help get us through troubled times. We’re looking forward to giving fans a glimpse into the many ways music can help and heal.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

With Joe Biden stumbling through the coronavirus crisis, some Democrats are starting to look at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a presidential alternative

Andrew Cuomo

 Democrats are openly discussing a possible "Draft Andrew Cuomo for President Movement," according to an article by John Fund at National Review (NR). The report comes in the wake of Cuomo's impressive handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while front-runner Joe Biden has mostly stumbled or seemed irrelevant. From the NR report:

Democrats are publicly talking about “contingency options” for their July convention in Milwaukee in case the coronavirus persists in being a public-health threat. But privately, some are also talking about needing a Plan B if Joe Biden, their nominee apparent, continues to flounder.

Some Democrats are openly talking up New York governor Andrew Cuomo, whose profile has soared during the crisis, as a Biden stand-in. Yesterday, a Draft Cuomo 2020 account on Twitter announced that “Times have changed and we need Gov. Cuomo to be the nominee. Our next POTUS must be one w/an ability to lead thru this crisis.”

Charles Pierce, the politics blogger for Esquire magazine, wrote a piece headlined “With Two Words, Andrew Cuomo Established Himself as the Leader This Country Needs Now.” He enthused that Cuomo’s news conference last Friday “essentially (shutting) down the economy of his state . . . was a master class in leveling with the public.”

Fueled by favorable national publicity that governors rarely get, Cuomo has quickly become the standard-bearer for liberals who don’t want to quickly open up parts the economy at the same time we combat the coronavirus. This Tuesday, the governor tweeted: “We are not willing to sacrifice 1-2% of New Yorkers. That’s not who we are. We will fight to save every life we can. I am not giving up.” Last weekend, Cuomo told reporters he might go into Manhattan himself to yell “You are wrong” at people defying his lockdown.

The interest in Cuomo has grown partly because Biden seemingly has been "missing in action" on the coronavirus front:

Democrats are increasingly worried that Joe Biden will have trouble being relevant and compelling in the long four months between now and when he is nominated in July. Lloyd Constantine, who was a senior policy adviser to New York governor Eliot Spitzer from 2007 to 2008, puts it bluntly: “Biden is a melting ice cube. Those of us who have closely watched as time ravaged the once sharp or even brilliant minds of loved ones and colleagues, recognize what is happening to the good soldier Joe.”

Indeed, Biden seemed to disappear when the virus began dominating the news cycle early in March. Biden’s media presence “abruptly shriveled,” writes Kalev Leetaru, a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. In contrast, daily mentions of Cuomo as of last Sunday “accounted for 1.4 percent of online news coverage compared with 2.9 percent for Trump.”

The Biden campaign has taken dramatic steps to boost the candidate, but they have not had the desired effect so far:

In an attempt to remain relevant, Biden’s campaign team hastily built a TV studio in the basement of his Wilmington, Del., home and began streaming daily appearances by him from it this week. They have not gone well.

In his first outing on Monday, Biden looked as he were lost somewhere on the set of Wayne’s World, the 1990s comedy movie that pretended it was a public-access cable show broadcast from a basement.

Biden stumbled, slurred his words, misnamed one of the nation’s governors, lost his train of thought, and had to desperately signal to staff for help while he was on camera.

A Tuesday appearance went no better, even though it was with a friendly liberal group of interviewers from ABC’s The View. “We have to take care of the cure. That will make the problem worse no matter what — no matter what,” Biden asserted to universal head scratching. He attempted to pick up on Cuomo’s assertion that lives must be the absolute priority in the crisis — but with limited success: “I don‘t agree with the notion that somehow it’s okay to let the — let people die and I’m not sure that would happen.

Biden's performance has left progressive commentators cold:

Liberal pundits aren’t even trying to defend Biden’s recent media performances. Alex Wagner, a former MSNBC anchor and current co-host of Showtime’s political-magazine show The Circus, wrote a piece this week for The Atlantic magazine called: “Stay Alive, Joe Biden: Democrats need little from the front-runner beyond his corporeal presence.” She discussed Biden’s current status as if he barely existed: “Biden was never really convincing anyone on the stump — his political power at this point is an idea, held collectively, about how to defeat Trump.”

Fund is quick to point out that a "Draft Cuomo Movement" would face significant procedural hurdles:

Of course, the mathematics of how Governor Cuomo could be drafted to become the Democratic nominee are daunting. He has zero delegates and no campaign and can’t be seen as being distracted by politics during a crisis. But Emily Zanotti of The Daily Wire says that if states continue to postpone or cancel upcoming primaries, a window of opportunity could be there: “Cuomo may be able to fill a hole for needy Democrats who are concerned that neither of the two frontrunners, [Bernie] Sanders and Biden, are within striking distance of winning a majority of delegates and the Democratic nomination outright.”

And strange things happen in politics. In 1940, businessman Wendell Willkie didn’t enter a single primary, his supporters pinning their hopes on a receptive audience of delegates at the Republican convention. Skeptic Alice Roosevelt Longworth sneered that his support came “from the grass roots of 10,000 country clubs.”

Then the Nazi blitzkrieg struck. Adolf Hitler overran the Low Countries and France in May and June of 1940. The French signed an armistice on June 22, the day Willkie arrived in Philadelphia for the Republican convention. The international crisis and how the party should respond to it dominated delegate deliberations. After a series of carefully orchestrated “spontaneous” demonstrations of delegate support, Willkie was nominated on the sixth ballot. His campaign stumbled in the fall and he lost 55 percent to 45 percent to incumbent Franklin Roosevelt. But he achieved something no one had thought possible by even getting nominated.
Of course, much has changed since 1940, and conventions are no longer such free-wheeling affairs as they were then. But Democrats know that politics has again become fluid and surprising in recent years — witness the strength of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in their respective parties.

Joe Biden began his presidential campaign as the front-runner last year. Then he was almost eclipsed by crushing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, only to be rescued by a landslide victory in South Carolina. He of all people knows that if we look at how the nomination battle has gone so far, nothing is really over until it’s over

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

At the urging of Jared Kushner, and with his company taking a financial hit, Donald Trump considers a pivot from social distancing embraced by health experts

Trump National Golf Club, Bedmister, NJ

Donald Trump is planning to reopen  the U.S. economy in the face of a coronavirus outbreak, but that idea apparently is not based on sound science, or any science at all. It seems to be coming at the urging of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to a report at Vanity Fair (VF). It also might be driven by the red ink Trump's company is bleeding, reports The Washington Post.

Is the Trump administration reaching a new level of dysfunction in the midst of a public-health crisis? Gabriel Sherman's reporting at VF suggests the answer is yes:

As the death toll from the coronavirus accelerates across the country—by Monday there have been more than 400 domestic fatalities—Donald Trump is grasping for a strategy before the crisis destroys his presidency. He has tried playing Roosevelt by claiming the mantle of “wartime president” while also playing to his nativist base by labeling COVID-19 “the China virus.” Now, Trump appears ready to disregard the advice of his medical advisers like Dr. Anthony Fauci by reopening the economy far sooner than Fauci has said is safe.:
According to sources, Trump is increasingly frustrated with Fauci and governors who advocated for shutting down large swathes of the economy to stop COVID-19’s out-of-control spread. According to four Republicans briefed on internal West Wing conversations, Trump is fuming privately that Fauci advised him that the only way to blunt the pandemic was to bring the economy to a halt. “Trump is furious,” a former West Wing official said. “He’s been calling business leaders asking if he should just reopen the economy,” a Republican briefed on the conversations told me. “He’s hearing that you have to get the economy going,” another former West Wing official said.:
So far, Trump has refrained from publicly lashing out at Fauci and New York governor Andrew Cuomo, whose lucid and empathetic press conferences are in contrast to Trump’s shambolic media theater. But late Sunday night, as Dallas became the latest city to compel its citizens to stay home, Trump tweeted: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”:
The pivot away from the strict social-distancing strategy is gaining traction in the business community. On Sunday, former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein—who endorsed Hillary Clinton—tweeted: “[C]rushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue-and beyond. Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work.” Tom Bossert, Trump's former Homeland Security adviser, told me the pivot is reflective of Americans' skepticism of government. "This has to do with peoples' relationship to government authority prior to this event."

It also has to do with Jared Kushner, on a matter of science, and that should terrify all Americans:

Trump’s view that he can ignore Fauci’s opinion may be influenced by advice he’s getting from Jared Kushner, whose outside-the-box efforts have often rankled those in charge of managing the crisis. According to two sources, Kushner has told Trump about experimental treatments he’s heard about from executives in Silicon Valley. “Jared is bringing conspiracy theories to Trump about potential treatments,” a Republican briefed on the conversations told me. Another former West Wing official told me: “Trump is like an 11-year-old boy waiting for the fairy godmother to bring him a magic pill.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

Throughout the crisis, Kushner has counseled Trump that the crisis isn’t as bad as the media is portraying. Two sources said Vice President Mike Pence has complained to Trump about Kushner’s meddling in the work of the coronavirus task force. (Another former West Wing official disputed this, saying Pence wouldn’t openly challenge the Trump family. “Pence is politically smart,” the former official said.)

As for Trump's 's business interests, they are taking a hit, reports WaPo:

President Trump’s private business has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels because of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially depriving Trump’s company of millions of dollars in revenue.

Those closures come as Trump is considering easing restrictions on movement sooner than federal public health experts recommend, in the name of reducing the virus’s economic damage. . . .

In his unprecedented dual role as president and owner of a sprawling business, Trump is facing dual crises caused by the coronavirus. As he is trying to manage the pandemic from the White House, limiting its casualties as well as the economic fallout, his company is also navigating a major threat to the hospitality industry.

That threatens to pull Trump in opposite directions, because the strategies that many scientists believe will help lessen the public emergency — like strict, long-lasting restrictions on movement — could deepen the short-term problems of Trump’s private business, by keeping doors shut and customers away. . . .

So far, the Trump Organization has closed hotels in Las Vegas; Doral, Fla.; Ireland; and Turnberry, Scotland — as well as the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida and a golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Many of the clubs closed because they had to, under local orders. Others closed on their own, following strong guidance or recommendations from local officials.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Donald Trump's decision to eliminate position for U.S. public-health expert in Beijing might be his worst hatchet job yet, one that could prove to be catastrophic

A wet market in China

Just when you think the Trump administration cannot botch the U.S. coronavirus response any more than it already has, along comes this news:In summer 2019, several months before the coronavirus pandemic began, the White House eliminated a key American public-health position in Beijing intended to help detect disease outbreaks in China.Could this be the worst reported screw-up so far? Our guess is that the answer is yes. From a report at Reuters, where Marisa Taylor broke the story:

The American disease expert, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, left her post in July, according to four sources with knowledge of the issue. The first cases of the new coronavirus may have emerged as early as November, and as cases exploded, the Trump administration in February chastised China for censoring information about the outbreak and keeping U.S. experts from entering the country to help.

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” said Bao-Ping Zhu, a Chinese American who served in that role, which was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011. “If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster.”

Zhu and the other sources said the American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases.

How important was the position and the woman who held it? Taylor writes:

As an American CDC employee, they said, Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the United States and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier.

No other foreign disease experts were embedded to lead the program after Quick left in July, according to the sources. Zhu said an embedded expert can often get word of outbreaks early, after forming close relationships with Chinese counterparts.

Zhu and the other sources said Quick could have provided real-time information to U.S. and other officials around the world during the first weeks of the outbreak, when they said the Chinese government tamped down on the release of information and provided erroneous assessments.

What prompted Quick's exit. It grew out of Trump's determination to engage in a battle of tariffs with China:

Quick left amid a bitter U.S. trade dispute with China when she learned her federally funded post, officially known as resident adviser to the U.S. Field Epidemiology Training Program in China, would be discontinued as of September, the sources said. The U.S. CDC said it first learned of a “cluster of 27 cases of pneumonia” of unexplained origin in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31.

Since then, the outbreak of the disease known as COVID-19 has spread rapidly worldwide, killing more than 13,600 people, infecting more than 317,000. The epidemic has overwhelmed healthcare systems in some countries, including Italy, and threatens to do so in the United States and elsewhere.

During a press briefing on Sunday shortly after this story was first published, President Donald Trump dismissed the Reuters report as similar to other stories regarding the CDC that he described as “100 percent wrong,” without addressing whether the role had been eliminated.

How does the American public-health presence stand now in China?

The U.S. CDC team in Beijing now includes three American citizens in permanent roles, an additional American who is temporary and around 10 Chinese nationals, the agency said. Of the Americans, one is an influenza expert with expertise in respiratory disease. COVID-19 is not influenza, though it can cause severe respiratory illness.

The CDC team, aside from Quick, was housed at U.S. Embassy facilities. No American CDC staffer besides Quick was embedded with China’s disease control agency, the sources said.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Journalism watchdog group designates my "arrest for blogging" in Alabama as a "censorship violation," proving Rob Riley is a liar and Claud Neilson is a fraud

My mugshot from the Shelby County Jail in Alabama.

We recently discovered that my 2013 "arrest for blogging" in Shelby County, Alabama, has been designated a "censorship violation" by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). That teaches us at least three important characteristics about the defamation case -- a 100 percent civil matter -- brought by Republican thug Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke, that caused me to spend five months in the Shelby County Jail and become the only U.S. journalist to be imprisoned in the past 14 years.

Our research indicates I am the only American reporter to be incarcerated totally outside the law -- it is legal for a court to jail a journalist for failing to turn over evidence related to a possible criminal case, but mine had nothing to do with a criminal matter -- and perhaps the only one ever to be imprisoned because of a preliminary injunction/temporary restraining order, both of which have been found to be unlawful "prior restraints" under more than 200 years of First Amendment law.

The CPJ's censorship designation also shines unflattering light on some of the bad actors who made my arrest happen, bringing a touch of Russia to the United States, well before Donald Trump aligned us with a country that is controlled by, and associated with, organized crime:

(1) Specially appointed (and retired) Circuit Judge Claud Neilson is a con man, who unlawfully acted as a one-man censor, which is plainly outside U.S. law and makes all of his rulings void as products of fraud on the court;

(2) There was no jury because Riley and Duke never asked for one. Instead, they wanted Neilson, probably under instructions from the Riley camp or its associates, to designate my reporting as defamatory without the slightest bit of discovery or deliberation by jurors. The only evidence was an affidavit from Liberty Duke, essentially claiming she had never engaged in a romantic relationship with Rob Riley; curiously, Riley never filed any document, or made any statement under oath, denying the relationship with Duke. Because I was not allowed to challenge Duke's affidavit via discovery, and no jury was involved, my reporting never has been found to be defamatory, as a matter of law. And yet, I lost five months of my freedom because of journalism that never has been found to be anything other than accurate.

(3) Rob Riley is a liar, which should not be stunning news to anyone who has followed Alabama politics over the past 20 years or so. In an interview with CPJ while I was in jail, Riley declared that the law supported his efforts. He, of course, cited no law to support that claim, and he clearly did not con the folks at CPJ; otherwise, they would not have declared the case a matter of censorship.

Let's take a closer look at these three issues, working from the bottom up:

(3) This is from a November 2013 interview of Rob Riley by CPJ reporter Sara Rafsky, titled "Censorship in Alabama's Shelby County":

Riley said in a telephone interview he has a right to seek injunctive relief in a defamation case and there is legal precedent for doing so. He said someone who decides "to make up a lie, destroy someone's reputation, that's not journalism."

Riley told CPJ: "Shuler has a history of making up things and writing things that are outlandish lies...I am going to pursue every avenue possible to me in the courts to defend my name, my family and my business...He has no proof this is true. He has just decided to be a cyber-bully and make stuff up and I've had enough."

Did Rafsky or her ogranization believe Rob Riley? Well, just look at the headline; it essentially identifies Riley as an accomplice to censorship, meaning the law provides no support for his actions. Also, consider these words from later in Rafsky's article, referencing the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP):

Leading press freedom and civil rights groups say the ruling contradicts decades of First Amendment jurisprudence and does so in complete secrecy. As the RCFP said: "Neither a default judgment nor a full adjudication on the merits of the defamation claims appears to have occurred...Courts have determined that bans on speech prior to such determinations are prior restraints. The Supreme Court has found prior restraints to be presumptively unconstitutional and has never upheld one." The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus curiae brief in the case on November 1, expressed exasperation in its motion for leave to file. "Indeed, because the entire record is sealed, the ACLU is forced to rely on Internet postings of documents for information regarding the Court's proceedings. There is simply no legal justification for the filing of every document under seal," the ACLU said, noting the irony that its brief is most likely to now also fall under seal (the document was posted online by Legal Schnauzer).

Both the RCFP, in a letter it filed in the case, and the ACLU mention New York Times Co. v. United States, the landmark 1971 Supreme Court decision which allowed publication of the Pentagon Papers and appeared to settle the issue of prior restraint definitively in the United States. The ruling conceded wiggle room only for the most exceptional situations, such as publishing troop movements in wartime or preventing imminent "nuclear holocaust."

(2) Why is a judge forbidden to act as a one-man censor, as Neilson did in my case? Consider these words from Bernard v. Gulf Oil Co., 619 F. 2d 459 (5th Cir., 1980, citations omitted):

Prior restraint has traditionally been defined as a "predetermined judicial prohibition restraining specified expression . . .." Litwack, The Doctrine of Prior Restraint, 12 Harv.C.R.-C.L.Rev. 519, 520 (1977). This expansive definition has not often been further elaborated. There are, however, four separate but related features that may serve to distinguish prior restraints from limitations on free speech imposed by subsequent restraints.

1. Origin. A prior restraint is generally judicial rather than legislative in origin, although an enabling statute may authorize the judicial suppression of publication. Near v. Minnesota, supra. The essence of prior restraint is that it places specific communications under the personal censorship of the judge. Kalven, Foreword: Even When a Nation is at War, 85 Harv.L.Rev. 3, 33 (1971).

Neilson had every reason to know he could not act as a one-man censor, but he did it anyway. This again points to fraud on the court, perpetrated by Neilson and likely others, which would make all of his rulings void and subject to being vacated.

(1) Press groups have blasted Neilson for his handling of Riley, et al v. Roger Shuler, et al, and perhaps none did a more thorough job than the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression, which is based at the University of Virginia. The center issues "Jefferson Muzzles Awards" each year to those who committed one of the year's "more egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression." Neilson was an "honoree" for 2014-15, and it even drew coverage from al.com. Here is the Jefferson Center's basic citation for Neilson's "award":

Alabama Circuit Court Judge Claud D. Neilson for ignoring a basic tenant of defamation law that “equity will not enjoin a libel” and holding blogger Roger Shuler in contempt of court until he removed allegedly defamatory statements from his website. Shuler spent five months in jail before finally agreeing to remove the statements because he felt he could not endure jail any longer.

The center then takes a deep dive into issues of the case:

Alabama resident Roger Shuler is a former newspaper reporter who since 2007 has maintained the blog Legal Schnauzer. The blog aims to “scale all obstacles in pursuit of truth and justice” and since its founding Shuler has used it to allege a wide variety of illegal or unethical activities by Alabama’s public officials and political figures.

In late 2013, Shuler posted claims that Rob Riley, son of a former Alabama Governor and active member of the Republican Party, was engaged in an extra-marital affair. Riley strongly denied the allegation and went to court seeking an injunction prohibiting Shuler from writing anything further about the alleged affair and asking that all posts about Riley be removed from the blog. At a hearing in which Shuler was not present, acting Circuit Judge Claud Neilson issued the requested injunction, effectively placing a prior restraint on Shuler’s speech. Shuler did not comply with the injunction, however, and not only refused to remove his earlier posts on Riley but also soon wrote a new one. Shuler’s non-compliance landed him in jail for contempt of court. He remained in jail for 5 months until he could not bear incarceration any longer. In March 2014, Shuler had his wife remove the allegedly defamatory posts about Riley and he was released from jail.

While in many circumstances it is not unusual to find someone in contempt of court for refusing to obey a court order, it is virtually unheard of in the context of allegedly defamatory speech. Were it otherwise, individuals could effectively silence critics by merely alleging their speech to be defamatory without actually having to prove it. To avoid this, the established remedy for reputation harming falsehoods is post-publication relief, not pre-publication censorship. Yet Judge Neilson issued an injunction without any finding that Shuler’s posts about Riley were defamatory. By issuing a prior restraint on Shuler’s speech, Judge Neilson employed a legal mechanism that the U.S. Supreme Court has described as “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” Moreover, Judge Neilson’s unconstitutional injunction deprived a U.S. citizen of his liberty for 5 months. In hopes that it will inspire him to learn what any law student in a basic First Amendment course already knows, Alabama Judge Claud Neilson is awarded a 2015 Jefferson Muzzle.

When a law enforcement officer went to Shuler’s house to arrest him for contempt of court, an altercation occurred resulting in a resisting arrest charge against Shuler. That matter involves legal issues that are not relevant for the purposes of this Muzzle.

Many other questions arise from the trampling of the First Amendment found in Riley v. Shuler. Here are a few:

* Why did Rob Riley produce no affidavit, or any form of sworn statement, denying an affair with Liberty Duke? Why did only Duke produce such a document?

* Why did Birmingham attorney David Gespass, during two visits with me in jail, offer no path to justice? His strategy essentially was to get the whole thing over as quickly as possible, apparently to the benefit of Rob Riley, with no benefit to me. Here are words from a Gesspass letter:

"I do not think the petitioners are expecting money damages, as the complaint alleges you have no resources, but they are asking for costs and attorney fees for the injunctive relief and that can end up being tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, there is something to be said for having this case resolved as quickly as possible at the trial level and appealing the constitutional issues."

Then, we have this, from the same letter:

"Another consideration is how much discovery do you want to engage in. If discovery is conducted, they will want you to identify your source, which I would assume you would not be willing to do unless they were willing to come forward on their own. Obviously, if you do not reveal them, that will weaken your ability to defend the case, and that, too, argues in favor of getting it done quickly, and making constitutional arguments, rather than defending on the grounds that the statements were all true."

Notice the references in both statements to getting he case resolved quickly, with no mention of damages for the harm done to Carol and me. Also notice that Gespass seems to be unaware that the burden of proof is on Riley and Duke. It was their duty to prove my reporting was false, and if they fail at that, I wouldn't have to prove it is true. Gespass refers only to discovery directed at me, without mentioning the discovery (emails, text messages, letters, photographs) we could direct at Riley and Duke.

What kind of attorney is David Gespass? A piss-poor one, who in this case, apparently was trying to protect Rob Riley.

* How did Christina Crow, a small-town attorney (Union Springs) from a small-time firm who served as Liberty Duke's lawyer, wind up as the current president of the Alabama State Bar?

Sources have been providing information that shines light on all of those questions and reveals the real motivations behind a bogus defamation lawsuit that caused me to land in jail for five months.

We invite you to stay tuned

(To be continued)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Four U.S. senators dumped stocks before coronavirus-induced market crash, apparently putting their private financial interests over concerns about public health

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)

 What kind of leadership is the U.S. Senate providing in a time of crisis? With coronavirus deaths mounting from coast to coast, four senators -- three of them Republicans -- reportedly unloaded stocks ahead of a pandemic-induced market crash.

One of the senators, Richard Burr (R-NC), was caught on audio telling constituents the outbreak was going to reach crisis proportions in the U.S. -- all while party leaders, including so-called president Donald Trump, were downplaying it as a "hoax."

Were these senators putting profit over public health? Did they commit insider-trading crimes? Could they wind up with significant prison sentences? This story is evolving, and more high-level officials almost certainly will be unmasked. But for now, the answer to all three questions above appears to be yes. From a Bloomberg Business report titled "U.S. Senators Sold Stock After Coronavirus Briefings in January":

Four U.S. senators sold stock after receiving sensitive briefings in late January about the emerging threat of the coronavirus, sparking concerns that they put safeguarding their private finances before their duty to protect public health.

Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Kelly Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia, both completed their sales at a time when the Trump administration and GOP leaders were downplaying the potential damage the virus might cause in the U.S. and before drastic stock-market plunges set off by the pandemic.

Burr is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which receives frequent briefings about threats facing the country, and has experience responding to public-health crises. Loeffler – who was appointed to her seat in December after Senator Johnny Isakson announced that he was resigning because of health problems – is married to the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Jeffrey Sprecher.

Two other members of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, and Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, also sold stock after the briefings, according to financial records.

Bloomberg provides details about transaction for all four senators:

Loeffler did not make any sales from Jan. 6 until Jan. 24 -- the day the health committee she sits on held a briefing that included presentations from top level U.S. public-health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. Senate Impeachment Trial Of President Trump.

She and her husband began selling 27 stocks on Jan. 24, according to her financial disclosure form, including investments in Auto Zone and Ross Stores, worth millions of dollars. Loeffler’s stock sales were first reported by the Daily Beast.

Loeffler responded on Twitter by calling criticism of her stock sales “a ridiculous and baseless attack.” The tweet said “I do not make investment decisions for my portfolio. Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.”

Burr sold 33 stocks on Feb. 13, according to his financial disclosure form, with a total value between $628,000 and $1.7 million. His stock sales were first reported by ProPublica. Three of the assets he sold were in hotel companies, which have seen their value plummet as the coronavirus threat has drastically curtailed travel.

His office said that his sales were unrelated to any information he received by virtue of his position as intelligence committee chairman. . . .

Feinstein made transactions on Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, selling between $1.5 million and $6 million worth of shares in Allogene Therapeutics, a biotech company. Inhofe sold $400,000 worth of stock on Jan. 27, including PayPal and the real estate company Brookfield Asset Management.

From USA Today, regarding Feinstein:

Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer told Fox News Feinstein's assets are in a blind trust and, "She has no involvement in her husband’s financial decisions.”

All four senators appear to be acting with greed and self interest. But the biggest scoundrel, so far, might be Burr. A number of public figures, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) have called for his resignation. From a report at NPR:

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned a small group of well-connected constituents three weeks ago to prepare for dire economic and societal effects of the coronavirus, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR.

The remarks from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr were more stark than any he had delivered in more public forums.

On Feb. 27, when the United States had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, President Trump was tamping down fears and suggesting that the virus could be seasonal.

"It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle. It will disappear," the president said then, before adding, "it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens."

On that same day, Burr attended a luncheon held at a social club called the Capitol Hill Club. And he delivered a much more alarming message.

"There's one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history," he said, according to a secret recording of the remarks obtained by NPR. "It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic."

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Obama administration officials tried to warn incoming Trump team about a possible deadly pandemic, but the insights seemed to fall mostly on hardened skulls

Susan Rice, former Obama national security adviser

After the 2016 presidential election, members of the outgoing Obama administration met with incoming Trump officials to brief them about the possibility of a deadly pandemic occurring on their watch. Reaction from the Trump side ranged from indifference to sleepiness, according to a report this week at Politico. Now, we have the coronavirus in all 50 states, and one model has it potentially killing up to 2.2 million Americans.

The response from the Trump White House has been so inept it's as if the administration had no warning such an event could take place. But it did, and Politico has obtained documents and conducted more than a dozen interviews to prove it.

If this sounds familiar, it's probably because members of the outgoing Bill Clinton administration met with George W. Bush officials following the 2000 election and warned about the threat of a terrorist group called Al Qaeda. According to multiple published reports, Team Bush more or less ignored the warnings, and we wound with 9/11 and roughly 3,000 American deaths.

Perhaps the two most devastating U.S. catastrophes of the modern era have happened on Republican watches, after specific warnings from Democratic predecessors. Such governmental incompetence makes you wonder why any Americans -- especially "white, Christian conservatives" -- vote for the GOP. Do they have a death wish -- at least for other people? Here is how Politico describes the effort to educate Team Trump about the kind of public-health crisis we now face:

Seven days before Donald Trump took office, his aides faced a major test: the rapid, global spread of a dangerous virus in cities like London and Seoul, one serious enough that some countries were imposing travel bans.

In a sober briefing, Trump’s incoming team learned that the disease was an emerging pandemic — a strain of novel influenza known as H9N2 — and that health systems were crashing in Asia, overwhelmed by the demand.

“Health officials warn that this could become the worst influenza pandemic since 1918,” Trump’s aides were told. Soon, they heard cases were popping up in California and Texas.

The briefing was intended to hammer home a new, terrifying reality facing the Trump administration, and the incoming president’s responsibility to protect Americans amid a crisis. But unlike the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, this 2017 crisis didn’t really happen — it was among a handful of scenarios presented to Trump’s top aides as part of a legally required transition exercise with members of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama.

And in the words of several attendees, the atmosphere was “weird” at best, chilly at worst.

How bad was it? Politico has the details:

POLITICO obtained documents from the meeting and spoke with more than a dozen attendees to help provide the most detailed reconstruction of the closed-door session yet. It was perhaps the most concrete and visible transition exercise that dealt with the possibility of pandemics, and top officials from both sides — whether they wanted to be there or not — were forced to confront a whole-of-government response to a crisis. The Trump team was told it could face specific challenges, such as shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs and other medical essentials, and that having a coordinated, unified national response was “paramount” — warnings that seem eerily prescient given the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

But roughly two-thirds of the Trump representatives in that room are no longer serving in the administration. That extraordinary turnover in the months and years that followed is likely one reason his administration has struggled to handle the very real pandemic it faces now, former Obama administration officials said.

“The advantage we had under Obama was that during the first four years we had the same White House staff, the same Cabinet,” said former deputy labor secretary Chris Lu, who attended the gathering. “Just having the continuity makes all the difference in the world.”

Sean Spicer, Trump’s first White House press secretary, was among those who participated in the meeting. He said he understood the reasons such exercises could be useful, but described the encounter as a massive transfer of information that ultimately felt very theoretical. In real life, things are never as simple as what’s presented in a table-top exercise, he said.

“There’s no briefing that can prepare you for a worldwide pandemic,” added Spicer, who left the administration in mid-2017.

How could one describe the atmosphere at the meeting, given the serious subject matter? It appears one side got it, and the other side did not:

The outgoing Obama aides and incoming Trump aides gathered for roughly three hours on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

At least 30 representatives of Trump’s team — many of them soon-to-be Cabinet members — were present, each sitting next to their closest Obama administration counterpart. Incoming Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appeared to keep dozing off. Incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry was getting along famously with Ernest Moniz, the man he was replacing, several fellow participants said.

But it was clear some on the Trump team had barely, if ever, spoken with the people they were replacing. News had broken that same day about national security adviser Michael Flynn’s unusual contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, so his presence in the meeting added to the surrealness. Some members of both groups kept going in and out of the room, but most paid quiet attention to the presentations, which were led by top Obama aides.

Former Obama officials have expressed outrage at Team Trump's handling of the coronavirus outbreak --on multiple levels:

Obama aides, in op-eds and essays ripping the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, have pointed to the Jan. 13, 2017, session as a key example of their effort to press the importance of pandemic preparedness to their successors.

In a Friday op-ed, Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, blasted Trump for comments such as “you can never really think” that a pandemic like the coronavirus “is going to happen.” She mentioned the 2017 session as one of many instances of the Obama administration’s efforts to help its successor be ready for such a challenge. She also slammed the Trump team for dismantling the National Security Council section that would play a lead role in organizing the U.S. response to a global pandemic.

“Rather than heed the warnings, embrace the planning and preserve the structures and budgets that had been bequeathed to him, the president ignored the risk of a pandemic,” Rice wrote. (Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, who oversaw the dissolution of the NSC’s global health security and biodefense section, has defended it as necessary streamlining, countering that global health “remained a top NSC priority.” Trump, when recently asked about the reshuffling, called the question “nasty” and said, “I don’t know anything about it.”)

Trump himself contributed greatly to the chaos that would later put his administration in a bind:

The Trump campaign, like the rest of America, was shocked to win the November 2016 election. Soon afterward, Trump cast aside his team’s transition prep work that had happened already and started over; some of his aides described tossing carefully collected binders full of possible personnel picks into trash bins. It was days, sometimes weeks, before his nominees and their aides showed up to meet the people they were replacing — if they did so at all — or to engage in transition meetings. Obama aides said they left detailed memos for their successors, but that quite often it appeared those memos were never read. Many on the Obama side were genuinely surprised that so many actually showed up for the Jan. 13, 2017, exercise, and there were expectations that some would skip it. On the Obama side, several agencies were represented by their second-in-command at the meeting for reasons including a belief that Trump’s principals wouldn’t show. . . .

Multiple current and former Trump officials reached by POLITICO said they did not recall much about the briefing. But some Obama aides who attended said they were left with the impression that many of the Trump aides showed up to simply check off a box more than to learn. The impression was boosted in part because the transition overall was going so poorly. Several Trump nominees had barely even spoken to their Obama counterparts. . . .

“The problem is that they came in very arrogant and convinced that they knew more than the outgoing administration — full swagger,” one former Obama administration official who attended said.

“There were people who were there who said, ‘This is really stupid and why do we need to be here,’” added another senior Obama administration official who attended, alleging that Ross and incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were especially dismissive in conversations on the sidelines of the session. “But some Trump people, like Tom Bossert, were trying to take it seriously. . . . ”
Asked whether information about the pandemic exercise reached the president-elect, a former senior Trump administration official who attended the meeting couldn’t say for sure but noted that it wasn’t “the kind of thing that really interested the president very much.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus presents the threat of a "public pain" unlike anything experienced in modern U.S. history, and it likely will be around until late summer at least

Coronavirus has left San Francisco streets mostly barren

 Major League Baseball has suspended the start of its regular season for at least two weeks. Missouri courts on Monday (3/15) announced in-person proceedings, with a few exceptions, will be postponed until April 3. These decisions indicate, at least at the time they were made, that leaders in certain fields were clueless about how serious the coronavirus outbreak in the United States could prove to be.

That, however, seems to be changing -- with a sobering sense of reality setting in over the past couple of days. Even Donald Trump now acknowledges the outbreak could linger into mid or late summer -- and given Trump's demonstrated ignorance on the subject -- calling it a "hoax" just 19 days ago -- the virus could still be wreaking havoc well into the fall, or longer.

Why the change in tone? For one, a report from British epidemiologists on Monday says the virus, if not effectively mitigated, could lead to 2.2 million American deaths. From an article at The Intercept:

Without mitigation, the new coronavirus pandemic could kill as many as 2.2 million people in the U.S., according to a report from the Imperial College of London COVID-19 Response Team. Even taking critical steps such as social distancing of the entire population, isolation of the sick in their homes, and quarantining family members of the sick, the epidemic will likely soon overwhelm the critical care capacity of American hospitals, according to the report. The British researchers told The New York Times that they shared their findings with the White House task force on the virus “about a week ago.”

A disproportionate number of those who get sick and die will almost certainly be poor. In addition to a lack of paid sick time and medical care, low-income Americans often have another risk factor that could make the virus more deadly: long-term exposure to air pollution.
Even if that worst-case scenario never plays out, COVID-19 poses a threat unlike any most of us have seen in our lifetimes, according to a report at Axios. Reporter Bryan Walsh calls it "a new kind of crisis":

The coronavirus pandemic is a disaster with no modern parallels, with no escape and no safe harbor. This may be the most sustained period of widespread public pain since World War II.

The big picture: Even the worst catastrophes we've experienced — from natural disasters to terrorist attacks — have happened in one place, at one time. But global reach of the coronavirus, and the societal and economic shutdowns it’s triggering, will touch everyone, everywhere, for a long time.

The coronavirus is already forcing major changes to our daily lives, and that will continue.

* You could hear new urgency yesterday from President Trump, as he ditched the hopeful talk about a quick resolution and warned that the virus is truly serious.

* The crisis was once expected to last weeks or two months. Now even Trump fears a long, sad summer: "[T]hey think August. Could be July. Could be longer than that."

* Six counties in the Bay Area have issued “shelter in place” warnings, the strongest U.S. clampdown yet as a host of cities and states force bars, gyms and other public places to close.

* Without school, travel, public gatherings or even the chance to eat dinner at a restaurant, we’re already seeing the rhythms of daily life upended.

Even 9/11 seems to pale when viewed alongside what the coronavirus could bring:

As America came to grips with the extent of these social distancing measures, it’s natural to reach for historical comparisons. And those examples can offer the comfort that the U.S. has made it through dark times before. But we will be facing a new and different set of challenges this time.

* We’re used to seeing terrible events befall a city, or a region — not the whole country all at once, let alone the whole world.

* When that happens, we usually send supplies, material support and aid to the affected area — but there will be few such resources to spare during this outbreak.

* Unlike a terrorist attack, this won’t strike in just one place. Unlike a hurricane, there’s no high ground to evacuate to.

World War II might be the closest parallel, Walsh writes, and that thought should be staggering to many postmodern Americans:

It may be more instructive to go all the way back to World War II, which saw the strict rationing of consumer goods, full-scale mobilization of civilian industry, even "dim-outs" of New York's skyline.

* The American public, of course, rose to the occasion during World War II. The question is whether we can do the same during now, at a time when the muscle memory of sacrifice has atrophied. . . .

What’s next: A recession is likely — some say it has already started — and because a severe outbreak could force people to stay away from shops, gyms, restaurants, bars and travel for a long time, the economic hit could be enormous — affecting every sector of the economy for a long time.
* The rapidly spreading virus will strain America’s health care system. Even a moderate outbreak could easily require most hospital beds and more ventilators than the country has available — and, again, there’s no good way to borrow excess supply from another country, because they’re all going through the same trauma, or will soon enough.

The bottom line: There is no escaping the public pain to come. We're just beginning an endurance test that has no clear end.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Retired Hawaii judge James Dannenberg resigns from U.S. Supreme Court Bar, blasting John Roberts and Co. as a political extension of the Republican Party

John Roberts

 Chief Justice John Roberts and his colleagues on the U.S. Supreme Court amount to little more than the Trump administration's "errand boy," according to a scathing letter from a retired state judge in Hawaii. James Dannenberg wrote the letter to announce his resignation from the Supreme Court Bar, of which he had been a member for 50 years, but Dannenberg made it clear he is disgusted with actions of the Roberts court.

It's rare to hear a lawyer publicly criticize another lawyer, especially when one of them is head of the nation's highest court. But Dannenberg apparently considers Roberts and Co. to be little more than a political arm of the White House, according to a report from Staci Zaretsky at Above the Law:

Last week, while the world at large was growing rightfully concerned about the burgeoning threat of the coronavirus, one judge found himself even more concerned about the state of the nation’s highest court.

Meet James Dannenberg. He’s a retired Hawaii judge who served for 27 years on the state’s 1st Circuit District Court. Prior to sitting on the bench, Dannenberg worked as the state’s deputy attorney general, teaching federal jurisdiction as an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law, for more than a decade. The retired judge had also been a member of the prestigious Supreme Court Bar for almost 50 years — until he quit.

On Wednesday, he submitted a resignation letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, going so far as to refer to the Roberts Court as the Trump administration’s “errand boy.”

Zaretsky then provides an excerpt from Dannenberg's letter, which can be read in full at this link:

The Court, under your leadership and with your votes, has wantonly flouted established precedent. Your “conservative” majority has cynically undermined basic freedoms by hypocritically weaponizing others. The ideas of free speech and religious liberty have been transmogrified to allow officially sanctioned bigotry and discrimination, as well as to elevate the grossest forms of political bribery beyond the ability of the federal government or states to rationally regulate it. More than a score of decisions during your tenure have overturned established precedents—some more than forty years old– and you voted with the majority in most. There is nothing “conservative” about this trend. This is radical “legal activism” at its worst.

Without trying to write a law review article, I believe that the Court majority, under your leadership, has become little more than a result-oriented extension of the right wing of the Republican Party, as vetted by the Federalist Society.

That last line, about the Federalist Society, is a dagger -- with a serious purpose. Trump has been packing federal courts with Federalist Society hacks, and that story has a strong Alabama flavor. Birmingham-based Judge Bill Pryor, of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, has been known as the "Johnny Appleseed of the Federalist Society" for his zealous efforts to help the organization grow, especially in the Deep South. That's the same Bill Pryor who is infamous for his 1990s foray into gay pornography at the Web site badpuppy.com. From a summary of a recent New York Times article about Trump's court-packing efforts, with assistance from Mitch McConnell:

President Trump has tilted the appellate courts rightward with conservative judges who are young, white, male and uncompromising, our analysis shows.

Working with his Republican allies in the Senate, he installed 51 judges in just three years — appointing more than a quarter of the appellate bench at a record pace. At least seven had previous jobs with Mr. Trump’s campaign or his administration, and all but eight had ties to the Federalist Society, a legal group with views once considered on “the fringe.”

Dannenberg does not ease up with the Federalist Society, taking shots at other sacred holdings of modern conservative "legal thought":

Yes, politics has always been a factor in the Court’s history, but not to today’s extent. Even routine rules of statutory construction get subverted or ignored to achieve transparently political goals. The rationales of “textualism” and “originalism” are mere fig leaves masking right wing political goals; sheer casuistry.

What about other "inconvenient truths" in Dannenberg's letter. Consider his introductory paragraphs:

Dear Chief Justice Roberts:

I hereby resign my membership in the Supreme Court Bar.

This was not an easy decision. I have been a member of the Supreme Court Bar since 1972, far longer than you have, and appeared before the Court, both in person and on briefs, on several occasions as Deputy and First Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii before being appointed as a Hawaii District Court judge in 1986. I have a high regard for the work of the Federal Judiciary and taught the Federal Courts course at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. This due regard spanned the tenures of Chief Justices Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist before your appointment and confirmation in 2005. I have not always agreed with the Court’s decisions, but until recently I have generally seen them as products of mainstream legal reasoning, whether liberal or conservative. The legal conservatism I have respected– that of, for example, Justice Lewis Powell, Alexander Bickel or Paul Bator– at a minimum enshrined the idea of stare decisis and eschewed the idea of radical change in legal doctrine for political ends.

I can no longer say that with any confidence. You are doing far more— and far worse– than “calling balls and strikes.” You are allowing the Court to become an “errand boy” for an administration that has little respect for the rule of law.

Finally, let's consider these parting shots from the Dannenberg letter, which seem directed at Roberts' vaunted backside:

Your public pronouncements suggest that you seem concerned about the legitimacy of the Court in today’s polarized environment. We all should be. Yet your actions, despite a few bromides about objectivity, say otherwise.

It is clear to me that your Court is willfully hurtling back to the cruel days of Lochner and even Plessy. The only constitutional freedoms ultimately recognized may soon be limited to those useful to wealthy, Republican, White, straight, Christian, and armed males— and the corporations they control. This is wrong. Period. This is not America.

I predict that your legacy will ultimately be as diminished as that of Chief Justice Melville Fuller, who presided over both Plessy and Lochner. It still could become that of his revered fellow Justice John Harlan the elder, an honest conservative, but I doubt that it will. Feel free to prove me wrong.

The Supreme Court of the United States is respected when it wields authority and not mere power. As has often been said, you are infallible because you are final, but not the other way around.

I no longer have respect for you or your majority, and I have little hope for change. I can’t vote you out of office because you have life tenure, but I can withdraw whatever insignificant support my Bar membership might seem to provide.

Please remove my name from the rolls.

With deepest regret,

James Dannenberg

Monday, March 16, 2020

How many Americans will have to die because the Trump administration chose to delay and privatize coronavirus testing, putting profit over public health?

Untold numbers of Americans could die in the coming weeks and months because of the Trump administration's desire to privatize coronavirus testing, according to a report from Thom Hartmann at BuzzFlash News.

Perhaps the No. 1 question currently about the pandemic: Why is the United States lagging so far behind other industrialized nations in coronavirus testing, playing a key role in allowing the virus to take hold in 49 states and undermining any possibilities for containment? The answer, according to BuzzFlash, rests with the White House -- and Trump last Friday said private companies, such as Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, will play leading roles in testing going forward. That, of course, will come after the virus already has reached crisis proportions. From the BuzzFlash report:

After it was widely reported that Tom Hanks and his wife were able to simply walk into a clinic in Australia with the symptoms of a common cold and instantly get a coronavirus test – which was positive – Americans are beginning to ask out loud, “Why can’t we get tested?“ According to President Obama‘s Ebola Czar (on Rachel Maddow‘s show), Ron Klain, Trump “privatized“ the testing here in the United States. Instead of taking the World Health Organization (WHO) test kits which are cheap and widely available all over the planet, and having them distributed across the country back in December, or January, or February when we knew this disease was spreading in the United States, Klain said that Trump has outsourced the testing to two big American companies, Quest and Labcorp. Trump’s head of HHS, Alex Azar, is the guy who doubled the price of insulin when he was CEO of Eli Lily company. Do he and Trump owns stock in these testing companies? Why are we refusing to accept the WHO test that the entire rest of the world is using? What the hell is going on here?

The private companies face tall orders because of the late start forced on them by the Trump administration, according to a report at Reuters:

The entry of commercial lab companies Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings and Quest Diagnostics Inc to help identify cases of the new coronavirus does not seem to be easing the burden of testing in the United States.

Boosting testing capacity is crucial to assessing the scope of the U.S. outbreak and identifying where it is spreading most rapidly. There are currently more than 1,300 documented cases of coronavirus in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, but experts say the actual number may be much higher because of the scarcity of diagnostic tests. There have been at least 38 documented deaths so far.

Last Friday (3/6), President Donald Trump said that “anyone who wants a test, gets a test.” Nearly a week later, the ramp up appears much slower due to regulatory hurdles, as well as logistical and technical challenges, according to healthcare providers, public health officials and test makers.

LabCorp and Quest said they now have the capacity to conduct thousands of tests per day and that they have already begun testing individuals for the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19. But patients, doctors and government officials say there is still a shortage.

In a scathing report at The Atlantic, conservative writer David Frum says blame for severity of the outbreaks rests squarely with the White House:

At every turn, President Trump’s policy regarding coronavirus has unfolded as if guided by one rule: How can I make this crisis worse?

Presidents are not all-powerful, especially not in the case of pandemic disease. There are limits to what they can do, for good or ill. But within those limits, at every juncture, Trump’s actions have ensured the worst possible outcomes. The worst outcome for public health. The worst outcome for the American economy. The worst outcome for American global leadership. . . .

The financial markets have plunged into a 2008-style crash, auguring a recession, perhaps a severe one. The Trump administration has had almost two months to think about this crisis. It has trial-ballooned some ideas. But, of course, fiscal policy would require assent from the House of Representatives. Trump is still pouting at Speaker Nancy Pelosi. So—aside from some preposterously unconvincing happy talk about the economy—again: nothing.

With that, Frum was just getting warmed up. He then really lit into the Trump administration:

More people will get sick because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. More people will suffer the financial hardship of sickness because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. The medical crisis will arrive faster and last longer than if somebody else were in charge. So, too, the economic crisis. More people will lose their jobs than if somebody else were in charge. More businesses will be pushed into bankruptcy than if somebody else were in charge. More savers will lose more savings than if somebody else were in charge. The damage to America’s global leadership will be greater than if somebody else were in charge.

But hey, at least Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp will get to pad their bottom lines.