Thursday, April 30, 2020

Remdesivir, antiviral drug developed at UAB, shows "positive effect" on COVID-19 patients in U.S. trial, with emergency FDA approval expected shortly

UAB Medical Center

An antiviral drug developed at UAB has shown  "positive effect" on recovery in a U.S.-funded clinical trial, and the FDA is expected to approve the drug, remdesivir, as a treatment for COVID-19, according to reports at multiple news outlets yesterday. From a story at CNN:

Researchers released some good news about a possible treatment for coronavirus Wednesday -- evidence that the experimental drug remdesivir might help patients recover more quickly from the infection.

The US Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved any drugs for the treatment of the coronavirus. But it plans to announce an emergency-use authorization for remdesivir, according to The New York Times. The authorization could come as soon as Wednesday, The Times reported, citing a senior administration official.

In a statement to CNN, the FDA said it is in talks with Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir, about making the drug available to patients.

"As part of the FDA's commitment to expediting the development and availability of potential COVID-19 treatments, the agency has been engaged in ... discussions with Gilead Sciences regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate," FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum said in statement.

Dr. Richard Whitley, UAB distinguished professor of pediatrics, is the principal investigator on a $37.5-million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The grant funds UAB's Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), where much of the research on remdesivir has been conducted, involving scientists from multiple institutions.

Reports roughly a week ago about a remdesivir study in China described the results as "inconclusive," with some accounts even describing the trial as a "failure." That study was stopped early because it did not attract enough patients, leading to incomplete results. The NIH study, which generated yesterday's news reports, does not appear to be a "home run" against COVID-19, but its results were encouraging enough to reportedly prompt FDA approval. Reports Stat News;

A government-run study of Gilead’s remdesivir, perhaps the most closely watched experimental drug to treat the novel coronavirus, showed that the medicine is effective against Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

In a statement on Wednesday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is conducting the study, said preliminary data show patients who received remdesivir recovered faster than similar patients who received placebo.

The finding — although difficult to fully characterize without full, detailed data for the study — would represent the first treatment shown to improve outcomes in patients infected with the virus that put the global economy in a standstill and killed at least 218,000 people worldwide.

During an appearance alongside President Trump in the Oval Office, Anthony Fauci, the director of NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health, said the data are a “very important proof of concept” and that there was reason for optimism. He cautioned the data were not a “knockout.” At the same time, the study achieved its primary goal, which was to improve the time to recovery, which was reduced by four days for patients on remdesivir.

The preliminary data showed that the time to recovery was 11 days on remdesivir compared to 15 days for placebo, a 31% decrease. The mortality rate for the remdesivir group was 8%, compared to 11.6% for the placebo group; that mortality difference was not statistically significant.

What could all of this mean to a public desperate for signs of hope against a lethal and highly contagious virus? Reports Stat News:

That is “the first convincing evidence that an antiviral drug can really benefit Covid-19 patients, specifically hospitalized Covid-19 patients,” said Frederick Hayden, a professor emeritus of clinical virology and medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “This will change the standard of care in the United States and other countries for the patients who have been shown to be benefited,” he said, adding that determining the exact group that should receive the drug will require further examination of the data.

Over the past few weeks, there have been conflicting reports about the potential benefit of remdesivir, a drug that was previously tried in Ebola. As previously reported by STAT, an early peek at Gilead’s study in severe Covid-19 patients, based on data from a trial at a Chicago hospital, suggested patients were doing better than expected on remdesivir. Days later, a summary of results from a study in China showed that patients on the drug did not improve more than those in a control group.

Full results from the China study were also released Wednesday.

But the NIAID study, which was not expected to be released so soon, was by far the most important and rigorously designed test of remdesivir in Covid-19. The study compared remdesivir to placebo in 800 patients, with neither patients nor physicians knowing who got the drug instead of a placebo, meaning that unconscious biases will not affect the conclusions.

The main goal of the study is the time until patients improve, with different measures of improvement depending on how sick they were to begin with. While the result means that the drug helps patients improve faster, it is not possible to say how dramatic those improvements are.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Trump received dozens of warnings about the novel coronavirus in daily intelligence briefings while he downplayed the threat in public statements

Report: Donald Trump does not read daily intelligence briefings

 Donald Trump's intelligence briefings made repeated references to the threat of the novel coronavirus in January and February, according to a report yesterday at The Washington Post You read that correctly: The warnings were not just about a general viral outbreak, but specifically were about the novel coronavirus, which causes the deadly COVID-19 illness; and the warnings came in months when Trump routinely played down the threat. From the article by reporters Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima:

U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, months during which he continued to play down the threat, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The repeated warnings were conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats.

For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.

But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.

The WaPo account paints a picture of a president who is so disinterested in his job that he blows off the most basic tasks of governing -- and then lies to the public about information he should know:

The advisories being relayed by U.S. spy agencies were part of a broader collection of worrisome signals that came during a period now regarded by many public health officials and other experts as a squandered opportunity to contain the outbreak.

As of Monday, more than 55,000 people in the United States had died of covid-19.

The frequency with which the coronavirus was mentioned in the PDB has not been previously reported, and U.S. officials said it reflected a level of attention comparable to periods when analysts have been tracking active terrorism threats, overseas conflicts or other rapidly developing security issues.

A White House spokesman disputed the characterization that Trump was slow to respond to the virus threat. “President Trump rose to fight this crisis head-on by taking early, aggressive historic action to protect the health, wealth and well-being of the American people,” said spokesman Hogan Gidley. “We will get through this difficult time and defeat this virus because of his decisive leadership.”

The intelligence community's initial response seems to provide cover for a lazy and incompetent president -- one whose actions have led to the loss of tens of thousands of American lives:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is responsible for the PDB. In response to questions about the repeated mentions of coronavirus, a DNI official said, “The detail of this is not true.” The official declined to explain or elaborate.

U.S. officials emphasized that the PDB references to the virus included comprehensive articles on aspects of the global outbreak, but also smaller digest items meant to keep Trump and senior administration officials updated on the course of the contagion. Versions of the PDB are also shared with Cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking U.S. officials.

One official said that by mid- to late January the coronavirus was being mentioned more frequently, either as one of the report’s core articles or in what is known as an “executive update,” and that it was almost certainly called to Trump’s attention orally.

The WaPo account shows Trump has been wildly dishonest with the American people -- about the most severe crisis in several generations:

The administration’s first major step to arrest the spread of the virus came in late January, when Trump restricted travel between the United States and China, where the virus is believed to have originated late last year.

But Trump spent much of February publicly playing down the threat while his administration failed to mobilize for a major outbreak by securing supplies of protective equipment, developing an effective diagnostic test and preparing plans to quarantine large portions of the population.

Trump insisted publicly on Feb. 26 that the number of cases “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” and said the next day that “it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

In reality, the virus was by then moving swiftly through communities across the United States, spreading virtually unchecked in New York City and other population centers until state governors began imposing sweeping lockdowns, requiring social distancing and all but closing huge sectors of the country’s economy.

As late as March 10, Trump said: “Just stay calm. It will go away.” The next day, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

By then, officials said, the warnings in the PDB and other intelligence reports had taken on the aspect of an insistent drumbeat. The first mention of the coronavirus in the PDB came at the beginning of January, focusing on what at that point were troubling signs of a new virus spreading through the Chinese city of Wuhan, and the Chinese government’s apparent efforts to conceal details of the outbreak.

In the ensuing weeks, U.S. intelligence agencies devoted additional resources and departments to tracking the spread of the coronavirus. At the CIA, the effort involved agency centers on China, Europe and Latin America, as well as departments de­voted to transnational health threats, officials said.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Missouri and Mississippi file lawsuits against China for damages related to coronavirus pandemic, but experts say the cases have virtually "zero chance" of success

Missouri AG Eric Schmitt

Missouri's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against China, seeking damages for the coronavirus pandemic that apparently originated in Wuhan. Mississippi followed up last week with a similar complaint in U.S. District court, even though legal experts say both lawsuits have virtually "zero chance" of success.

So, why did Missouri's Eric Schmitt and Mississippi's Lynn Fitch pursue litigation that is expected to be dead on arrival? Are the suits acts of political theater, at taxpayers' expense? Are they appeals to the racism that lurks beneath the surface of the states' electorates? Could they be attempts to distract the public from Republican failures that allowed the virus to take hold in the United States?

This much appears certain: The lawsuits were not filed because they are likely to prevail on the merits.  From a report at Sinclair Broadcasting Group:

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit (last) Tuesday on behalf of the citizens of his state, naming the People's Republic of China, the Communist Party of China, the country's national health ministry, the government of Hubei Province and the Wuhan Institute of Virology among the defendants.

"The Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease. They must be held accountable for their actions," Schmitt wrote in a statement.

The state will seek more than $44 billion in damages, Schmitt told KSDK. The figure accounts for personal hardship, including loss of life, health, emotional damage as well as unemployment, economic dislocation and other financial losses.

Specifically, the complaint alleged that in the early weeks of the outbreak, Chinese authorities "deceived the public, suppressed crucial information, arrested whistle blowers, denied human-to-human transmission in the face of mounting evidence, destroyed critical medical research, permitted millions of people to be exposed to the virus, and even hoarded personal protective equipment...thus causing a global pandemic that was unnecessary and preventable."

China denied the allegations as "absurd." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Gen Shuang told reporters that the lawsuit was "malicious and abusive and violates basic legal principles" of sovereign immunity.

Is the Chinese official correct? When you consider longstanding relevant law, the answer is yes. From the Sinclair article:

Under U.S. law and international law, a foreign state "or an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state" cannot be sued in a national court. The U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) states that a U.S. court does not have jurisdiction over the activities of a foreign state, with very few exceptions.

Missouri's case likely will not meet those exceptions, explained Maria Glover, a Georgetown University law professor. "You're looking at a lawsuit that has almost zero chance of surviving the very first jurisdictional hurdle," she said.

Without a way to overcome the sovereign immunity issues, the lawsuits are "largely symbolic," Glover continued.

What about details related to FSIA and sovereign immunity? A lawyer source provides them for Legal Schnauzer:

Since the early days of our republic, the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly declared that a foreign government cannot be sued, or subject to suit, in an American court. See, e.g., Schooner Exchange v. McFaddon, 11 U.S. 116 (1812). According to an ancient principle of international law -- commonly referred to as "sovereign immunity" -- a nation does not have jurisdiction to adjudicate lawsuits filed in its courts against a foreign nation or foreign government.

In 1976, the United States became the first nation in the world to codify the law of foreign sovereign immunity by legislative (congressional) statute. To this end, Congress passed and the U.S. enacted what is called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"). While this congressional law broadly codified the ancient, common-law principles of sovereign immunity, it also included a small number of limited exceptions to this immunity -- most notably an exception which allows for lawsuits against foreign nations when those suits are based on claims arising from a foreign nation's "commercial activity."

Simply put, FSIA is basically a jurisdictional statute. Once a foreign defendant is sued, that defendant must demonstrate that it is a "Foreign State" -- an easy task for any nation, such as China, that has been formally recognized by the U.S. government as a foreign state. Once a foreign defendant demonstrates that it is a "Foreign State," then the plaintiff or party who filed the lawsuit must bear the burden of proving that the suit's claims come within the limited exceptions of the FSIA. In Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428 (1989), the Supreme Court declared that the only way anyone can sue a foreign state in an American court is by way of the FSIA's few, limited exceptions; and those exceptions are to be narrowly construed.

Even in Missouri, knowledgeable sources seem to wonder what Schmitt is trying to pull. From a Kansas Ciy Star article by Bryan Lowry and Caitlyn Rosen:

Missouri Democrats dismissed the suit as a political stunt and waste of taxpayer money. Legal experts gave it little chance of success.

Schmitt’s complaint cites stories from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post about China’s handling of the initial outbreak. He also includes a link to a story from Breitbart, a right-wing news site. . . .

The suit . . . names as defendants the Chinese Communist Party, the city of Wuhan, where the virus first spread, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab in China at the center of conspiracy theories related to the virus’ initial outbreak.

The action cites 2018 State Department cables that expressed safety concerns about the lab’s research related to coronaviruses. The lab has pushed back strongly on claims that it had any involvement with the spread of the virus.

But the case faces significant legal hurdles, experts said Tuesday.

“There are a number of longstanding principles against U.S. states conducting their own foreign policy,” said Sam Halabi, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law who specializes in global health law.

Halabi said there are legitimate concerns about how China reacted to the virus that should be investigated. But he cast doubt that the suit would advance or that China would even send representatives to the court to contest the case.

“I don’t know that a district court in the eastern part of Missouri is the right place to do that fact-finding,” he said.

One major obstacle will be sovereign immunity, the legal principle that protects foreign governments from lawsuits with some exceptions.

The attorney general’s complaint cites two exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which he argues should allow the case to proceed. They relate to commercial activity in the U.S. and “for personal injury or death, or damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the tortious act or omission of that foreign state.”

Patrick McInerney, a former federal prosecutor who works in private practice in Kansas City, said the argument is unlikely to find traction.

“The list of challenges to this complaint is long. It’s a tough call to say spreading this virus was commercial activity. At the end of the day, I think this is much more of a stunt than an effort to get compensation for people in Missouri who have been impacted by coronavirus,” McInerney said.

“There’s a reason that citizens and governments aren’t allowed to sue other countries. It would choke the judicial system,” McInerney said. “This is a big square peg in a place where there may not be hole at all.”

A Missouri Republican is trying to boost Schmitt's cause in Congress:

Schmitt does have a prominent Republican ally. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who preceded Schmitt as attorney general, has drafted legislation that would strip China of sovereign immunity to enable states and private citizens to take legal action.

“This is an important step to hold China accountable. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to allow states and private citizens to sue the Chinese Communist Party responsible for this pandemic. More states should follow Attorney General Schmitt’s lead,” Hawley said in a statement. “The CCP took deliberate steps to coverup this virus and their actions are indefensible. They don’t deserve sovereign immunity.”

Elad Gross, a St. Louis attorney running for attorney general as a Democrat, said on Twitter without Hawley’s proposed change to the law, Schmitt’s lawsuit has little chance of succeeding.

“I wonder why our Attorney General spent taxpayer resources - probably a lot because of how complicated this case is - on suing China before working on the many issues we need to work on at home, like price gouging, scams, workplace protections, and protecting the vote,” Gross said.

State Rep. Kip Kendrick, a Columbia Democrat, said also dismissed the lawsuit as a political move.

“I think it’s pretty clear to people that Missouri won’t have standing to sue China. And as we’re in the midst of cutting hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget, I guess my request to the attorney general would be that he doesn’t waste a lot of taxpayer dollars in this pursuit,” Kendrick said.

State Rep. Judy Morgan, a Kansas City Democrat, called the suit a waste of time and resources that would do little to mitigate the virus in Missouri.

“I certainly think there’s been some lack of transparency on China’s part from the beginning, but I think you could say the same thing about our country because the president initially called COVID-19 a hoax,” Morgan said.

State Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Charles County Republican, said even if the case faces uphill battle legally it sends the message that Missourians want to hold China accountable.

“I would just say that just because something is popular politically doesn’t make it wrong,” Onder said. “And in this case, I think Attorney General Schmitt is on target.”

As for the notion the lawsuits are designed to distract attention from Republican failures on the coronavirus outbreak, let's consider these words from an analysis at

Attorney General Schmitt’s, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s, and President Donald Trump’s responses to the pandemic simply add injury to insult and do little to comfort and reassure working-class people who need real leadership—not blustering.

There are a number of interconnected themes in Schmitt and his cohorts’ suit worthy of deeper analysis.

First, the inaction of the president and the Republican Party—including Parson and Schmitt—are to blame for the mounting death toll, infections, and corresponding economic hardship being faced by tens of millions of Americans, not China.

In fact, they are actually making things worse by emboldening the most reactionary, racist, and militarist elements in our society—as demonstrated by the recent wave of astroturfed rallies and protests in numerous state capitals across the country—thereby placing additional strain on an already overwhelmed health care system.

Second, their blustering is designed to stifle science-based, centrally coordinated plans supported by the medical community. They aim to further erode civil discourse and trust in informed decisions. Not only has the president contradicted his own statements in regard to China’s response to the pandemic, but he has also encouraged Republican underlings to do the same, thereby fomenting confusion and misinformation—exactly the thing Schmitt has accused the Chinese government of.

Third, this blustering follows in the wake of a spike in anti-Asian sentiment, racism, and physical assault. The anti-Chinese rhetoric serves to reinforce and bolster racist hate and fear. More than 1,100 physical and verbal attacks in 46 states against Asian Americans have been documented since late March. This blood and trauma are on the hands of Schmitt, Parson, and Trump—not just the racist hate groups they embolden.

Likening COVID-19 to the “China virus” or the “commie virus” plays to the Republican Party’s far-right base. Their priority is not stemming the pandemic tide or mitigating the economic hardship. Their priority is to lay the groundwork for a mobilized and energized far-right electorate this November.

Schmitt, Parson, and Trump are quite literally playing politics with people’s lives.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Lawyers are seeing divorce queries pile up as coronavirus-induced lockdowns cause some couples to realize their marriages are on hopelessly rocky shores

(New York Post)

If fear of death was not depressing enough during the coronavirus outbreak, a surging number of couples are finding that their marriages might be crumbling.

That cheery news comes from a New York Post article titled "Coronavirus is making couples sick — of each other: Lawyers see divorces surge," by reporters Priscilla DeGregory and Laura Italiano:

Cooped-up New Yorkers are flooding lawyer phone lines with divorce inquiries — with an avalanche of filings expected once the courts re-open.

“People are realizing that they can’t stand each other,” said Manhattan lawyer Suzanne Kimberly Bracker, who like many in her field has already seen a coronavirus divorce uptick.

“In the middle of the night I got a call from a client who now realizes she has nothing in common with her husband but the children — and how he knows nothing about the children,” Bracker said of a marketing executive she reps.

“And she’ll be damned if she spends the rest of her life with him.”

Being forced into a state of lockdown is causing some marriages, perhaps already fragile, to crack:

Already-balky spouses are cracking under the strain of quarantine, lawyers say — including one Manhattan hedge fund manager who suddenly finds himself imprisoned in his Hamptons mansion with the wife, the kids, and a failing marriage.

“He’s called me up again and said, ‘Are we able to start the process yet?” matrimonial lawyer Paul Talbert says of the morose moneyman.

“He tells me, ‘The wife doesn’t understand now that I’m home 24/7, why can’t I carve out more time for the family,’” Talbert said.

“I’ve had to tell him we can’t file a divorce right now.”

Another call came in from a fashion company owner who’s been unhappy with her marriage for a long time, but who “has been hesitant to pull the trigger,” Talbert said.

Now that her family is trapped together in their New England second home, “she is itching to get a divorce.”

Money problems are also straining marriages.

“One of the main stresses that cause divorces — more than infidelity — is monetary stresses,’ said Manhattan divorce lawyer Steven J. Mandel.

“Along with people being confined in one place, people have lost 30 percent of their net worth, or people have lost their jobs,’ said Mandel.

“So that is putting people into a pressure cooker.”

Public-health experts already are bracing for clusters of mental-health problems once the virus outbreak abates. Many of those issues might play out in divorce courts:

The crisis is throwing couples’ existing differences of opinion into high relief.

Mendel got a call Friday from a wife who has suddenly discovered that her husband, from whom she is separated, is basically a coronavirus truther. Trouble is, they have kids in common.

“The father does not believe this COVID-19 situation is as serious as the media is making it out to be,” Mendel said.

“So when the child is with him, he’s not using any of the precautions… But there are no court orders [right now], so it’s the Wild West.”

Meanwhile, the looming shadow of mortality — the threat of sudden sickness and death that’s filling the news for the past month — is also prompting spouses to re-evaluate how they want to spend the rest of their lives.

For one middle-aged Manhattan wife, the coronavirus crisis was the perfect time to do something about her “hollow” marriage, said celebrity divorce lawyer William Beslow.

“She telephoned me today and she said she had experienced an empty feeling in her soul for some time,” said Beslow, whose clients have included Demi Moore, the Duchess of York and supermodel Adriana Lima.

“She realized now that she didn’t want to ever look back on her life and say to herself, ‘You were never fulfilled.’ People look at life a little differently now — I mean people are dying,” he said.

“And I think most individuals, particularly in New York, where there are so many cases, it’s forcing people to look within themselves and say, ‘Why am I staying in this relationship that I believe is not working?’”

There’s an added financial incentive to filing as quickly as the coronavirus clouds lift, and the courts reopen, notes Beslow.

On the day a divorce is filed, the value of some of a spouse’s most valuable assets — including their business and any self-managed stock portfolios — is basically set in stone.

So it will make far better sense, financially, for many spouses to file for divorce before those stocks and businesses start to rebound post-coronavirus, Beslow said.

“That is clearly on some peoples’ minds.”

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Trump's claims that Russia investigation was a hoax might not fly so well now that bipartisan Senate committee has found the probe was legitimate

Mark Warner and Richard Burr of Senate Intelligence Committee

Since impeachment proceedings failed to remove him from office, Donald Trump has grown cocky enough to refer to Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as a "hoax." It's likely quite a few of Trump's supporters even buy that line of garbage. But it might be a harder sell now that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has released  a bipartisan report that agrees with U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did, in fact, interfere with the 2016 election -- and did so with the purpose of helping Trump get elected. From a report at USA Today:

The Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed its finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, backing the conclusions of intelligence agencies and undermining President Donald Trump's often-repeated claim that the investigation into his campaign was a politically motivated hoax.

The Republican-led committee on Tuesday released a heavily redacted report saying the intelligence community presented a "coherent and well-constructed" basis for Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

The intelligence community "makes a clear argument that the manner and aggressiveness of the Russian interference was historically unprecedented," according to the 158-page report, one of four the committee has released on the Russia investigation.

The bipartisan report also said that analysts who prepared the intelligence community's assessment of Russian interference "were under no politically-motivated pressure to reach specific conclusions."

Trump has long-sought to undermine the intelligence community's assessment of Russia's interference campaign and has moved to shake-up U.S. leadership at the agencies.

The Senate panel found election interference from foreign adversaries likely will be an ongoing concern:

In the Senate review, Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the intelligence assessment represented "strong trade-craft, sound analytical reasoning."

“The committee found no reason to dispute the Intelligence Community’s conclusions," Burr said in a statement.

Burr said Russian interference "should be considered the new normal" as agents of the Kremlin have spawned imitators who are increasingly seeking to "sow societal chaos and discord."

"With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors," the chairman said.

The Senate panel traced the Russia scheme straight to Vladimir Putin's doorstep:

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the committee's vice chairman, said there was no disputing the conclusion that the Russians worked to "hurt Secretary Clinton and help the candidacy of Donald Trump," referring to the 2016 campaign and Democratic nomineee Hillary Clinton.

"There is certainly no reason to doubt that the Russians’ success in 2016 is leading them to try again in 2020, and we must not be caught unprepared," Warner said.

The Senate report also concluded that the Kremlin campaign was directed from the highest levels of the Russian government.

"The committee found that specific intelligence as well as open source assessments support...that President Putin approved and directed aspects of this influence campaign," the report stated, adding that Moscow sought "to denigrate then-candidate Clinton."

What are the implications of the Senate panel's findings? This is from Politico:

Beyond its possible political impact, the report represents a confidence-booster to the country’s intelligence community at a time of great uncertainty.

Trump has openly criticized the intelligence community’s work, both as a presidential candidate and as commander in chief. His fury has only intensified since its inspector general alerted Congress last year of a whistle-blower complaint regarding the president’s posture toward Ukraine, a process that resulted in his impeachment.

The president is still rejecting intelligence officials' more recent warnings — delivered to lawmakers last month — that Russia is interfering in this year's election and that Moscow has a preference for Trump. . . .

The latest report from the Senate panel is an open rebuke to the House GOP’s report issued in early 2018, which faulted the intelligence community's assertion that Putin had developed a preference for a Trump victory in 2016. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said at the time that this conclusion was the result of “significant intelligence tradecraft failings that undermine confidence in the [assessment’s] judgments regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategic objectives for disrupting the U.S. election.”

But Burr immediately spiked this conclusion, broadly hailing the intelligence community's tradecraft. The new report, too, dismisses the suggestion that the Putin findings were flawed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed at UAB under direction of Dr. Rich Whitley, shows early, anecdotal promise as a treatment for COVID-19 patients

UAB Medical Center

An antiviral drug that began development at UAB in 2014 is showing promise as a treatment for COVID-19 patients, according to multiple news reports last week. The positive results for the drug remdesivir, so far, are based on anecdotal evidence, but the drug maker, California-based Gilead Sciences, is expected to produce detailed data by the end of April. Could Alabama scientists play a prominent role in resolving one of the most severe public-health threats of the modern era? Early results from clinical trials indicate the answer is yes.

Dr. Richard Whitley, UAB distinguished professor of pediatrics, is the principal investigator on a $37.5-million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The grant funds UAB's Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), where much of the research on remdesivir has been conducted, involving scientists from multiple institutions.

The first report that remdesivir was showing promise in at least one clinical trial against COVID-19 came from a report dated 4/16/20 at

A Chicago hospital treating severe COVID-19 patients with Gilead Sciences’ antiviral medicine remdesivir in a closely watched clinical trial is seeing rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms, with nearly all patients discharged in less than a week, STAT has learned.

Remdesivir was one of the first medicines identified as having the potential to impact SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in lab tests. The entire world has been waiting for results from Gilead’s clinical trials, and positive results would likely lead to fast approvals by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies. If safe and effective, it could become the first approved treatment against the disease.

The University of Chicago Medicine recruited 125 people with Covid-19 into Gilead’s two Phase 3 clinical trials. Of those people, 113 had severe disease. All the patients have been treated with daily infusions of remdesivir.

“The best news is that most of our patients have already been discharged, which is great. We’ve only had two patients perish,” said Kathleen Mullane, the University of Chicago infectious disease specialist overseeing the remdesivir studies for the hospital.

Her comments were made this week during a video discussion about the trial results with other University of Chicago faculty members. The discussion was recorded and STAT obtained a copy of the video.

CNN followed with a report the same day, largely playing down the early results on remdesevir:

The University of Chicago said Mullane's comments constituted partial information.

"Partial data from an ongoing clinical trial is by definition incomplete and should never be used to draw conclusions about the safety or efficacy of a potential treatment that is under investigation," it said in a statement.

"In this case, information from an internal forum for research colleagues concerning work in progress was released without authorization. Drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scientifically unsound."

There is no approved therapy for the Covid-19, which can cause severe pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome in some patients. But the National Institutes of Health is organizing trials of several drugs and other treatments, among them remdesivir.

Remdesivir originally was developed as a possible tretment for SARS, MERS, and Ebola -- all diseases caused by coronaviruses. Reports CNN:

The drug, made by Gilead Sciences, was tested against Ebola with little success, but multiple studies in animals showed the drug could both prevent and treat coronaviruses related to COVID-19, including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

Back in February, the World Health Organization said remdesivir showed potential against COVID-19. . . .

Trials of the drug are ongoing at dozens of other clinical centers, as well. Gilead is sponsoring tests of the drug in 2,400 patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms in 152 trial sites around the world. It's also testing the drug in 1,600 patients with moderate symptoms at 169 hospitals and clinics around the world.

Gilead said it expected results from the trial by the end of the month.

How is remdesivir expected to work against COVID-19. An article from explains:

Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral that was first cooked up over a decade ago. In lab experiments, it’s shown potential against an array of viruses, including other coronaviruses, so it was sped into clinical trials in the early days of the pandemic.

The drug is designed to interfere with the process the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, uses to make copies of itself. The resulting copies of the virus lack their full RNA genome, so they can’t go on to replicate themselves or infect other cells.

Inspired by the West African Ebola outbreak, Gilead once pushed remdesivir as a potential therapy for that infection. But in a clinical trial, remdesivir did not produce the survival benefits that two other drugs did, and it was dropped as an Ebola therapy.

In a UAB press release, Whitley makes clear that the fight against COVID-19 is a wide-ranging team effort:

“The collaboration between UAB, our colleagues at Southern Research (also located in Birmingham, adjacent to the UAB campus), Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina, along with our pharmaceutical partner Gilead Sciences, is indicative of our collaborative approach to respond to outbreaks in real time, and in helping communities worldwide fight 2019-nCoV. This is a prime example of how the research we are conducting at UAB plays a critical role in treating patients on a global scale and our contribution of substantial scientific advances,” Whitley continued.

If the COVID-19 battle is won -- perhaps via remdesivir -- the world will need to remain on alert for similar threats, Whitley says, in an article at He notes that UAB is involved in a clinical trial at Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated:

Dr. Richard Whitley is the lead researcher and distinguished professor of pediatrics at UAB. He says they’ve tested the drug on a few patients in the U.S., but the trial in Wuhan is the first time they’ll test it on large numbers of people.

“The drug has been released on what we call a compassionate plea basis for a few patients in the United States who were sick. And those patients all did well,” Whitley says. “But we don’t know whether it was the effect of the drug or the natural healing process that took place in those patients. So we need the data from this controlled study.”

Dr. Richard Whitley
Whitley says about 400 people in Wuhan will be part of the trial. He says the Federal Drug Administration authorized use of the drug in clinical trials after it was used to successfully treat MERS and SARS in animal models. MERS and SARS are viral respiratory illnesses caused by the coronavirus.

Whitley says as of right now researchers aren’t using mortality rate as a benchmark to determine whether remdesivir effectively treats the coronavirus. Instead, he says they’ll track whether it works based on the resolution of respiratory illness and the prevention of complications from a respiratory illness. . . .

Whitley says while scientists didn’t predict the magnitude of the coronavirus, he’s not surprised.

“What we need to be aware of is that the National Institutes of Health anticipated that we would see emerging infections occur in the United States,  and this is a classical example of it,” Whitley says. “Because of climate change we’ll see diseases like dengue. We’ve already seen West Nile virus in the United States. We’ve seen a few sporadic cases of Zika and we’ll certainly see chikungunya. So we’ve got to be prepared and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Trump's words of defiance to protesters flaunt federal and state laws, sending a peculiar anti-government message from someone who heads the government

Protesters in Michigan

Donald Trump's recent Tweets, exhorting his followers to "liberate" themselves from state-sanctioned stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus outbreak, likely violate federal law, according to a former official with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Trump's actions also could violate state laws that criminalize defiance of lawfully issued state orders, a lawyer source tells Legal Schnauzer. That especially might be the case in Virginia, where Trump's Tweet included a reference to protesters' "Second Amendment rights," which could be construed as an incitement to violence.

While Trump clearly is playing dangerous games with the law, he also may be playing a wildly flawed political equation, according to New York Times columnist Maggie Haberman, in a piece titled "Trump, Head of Government, Leans Into Anti-Government Message."

As for lawlessness emanating from the White House, Mary McCord addressed that in an op-ed at The Washington Post. McCord is legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. She was acting U.S. assistant attorney general for national security from 2016 to 2017. From the McCord op-ed:

President Trump incited insurrection Friday against the duly elected governors of the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. Just a day after issuing guidance for re-opening America that clearly deferred decision-making to state officials — as it must under our Constitutional order — the president undercut his own guidance by calling for criminal acts against the governors for not opening fast enough.

Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” followed immediately by “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and then “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” This follows Wednesday’s demonstration in Michigan, in which armed protestors surrounded the state capitol building in Lansing chanting “Lock her up!” in reference to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and “We will not comply,” in reference to her extension of the state’s coronavirus-related stay-at-home order. Much smaller and less-armed groups had on Thursday protested on the state capitol grounds in Richmond, Va., and outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Minn.

“Liberate” — particularly when it’s declared by the chief executive of our republic — isn’t some sort of cheeky throwaway. Its definition is “to set at liberty,” specifically “to free (something, such as a country) from domination by a foreign power.” We historically associate it with the armed defeat of hostile forces during war, such as the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control during World War II. Just over a year ago, Trump himself announced that “the United States has liberated all ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq.”

In that context, it’s not at all unreasonable to consider Trump’s tweets about “liberation” as at least tacit encouragement to citizens to take up arms against duly elected state officials of the party opposite his own, in response to sometimes unpopular but legally issued stay-at-home orders. This is especially so given the president’s reference to the Second Amendment being “under siege” in Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam just signed into law a number of gun-safety bills passed during the most recent session of the state general assembly — bills that prompted protests by Second Amendment absolutists at the state capitol in January, leading Northam to declare a state of emergency and temporarily ban firearms from the capitol grounds due to the threat of violence.

How could Trump's words run afoul of the law? McCord explains:

Trump has a bully pulpit unlike an ordinary citizen. His Twitter account boasts over 77 million followers, but many more see his tweets when they’re retweeted by others, posted on other social media and covered by media outlets. He is prolific, having tweeted more than 50,000 times. And he is influential: his three “liberation” tweets have been retweeted and “liked” hundreds of thousands of times. We are not talking about a typical person when we consider the impact of his statements.

That’s why we can’t write these tweets off as just hyperbole or political banter. And that’s why these tweets aren’t protected free speech. Although generally advocating for the use of force or violation of law is protected (as hard to conceive as that may be when the statements are made by someone in a position of public trust, like the president of the United States), the Supreme Court has previously articulated that where such advocacy is “inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action,” it loses its First Amendment protection. The president’s tweets — unabashedly using the current crisis to encourage a backlash against lawful and expert-recommended public health measures, falsely claiming a Second Amendment “siege” and calling for insurrection against elected leaders — have no place in our public discourse and enjoy no protection under our Constitution.

Our lawyer source provides details about state insurrection laws, especially from the Code of Virginia, and notes that states are not precluded from prosecuting a sitting president. Writes our source:
It is obvious Trump's tweets to protesters to "liberate" themselves from the "siege" the state governors have ordered was intended by Trump to encourage and incite those protesters (his base) to intimidate state governors. After all, wasn't intimidation of public officials the purpose of the so-called "Brooks Brothers Riot" in Florida in 2000?

You may find it interesting that the Criminal Code of Virginia has several applicable criminal provisions, including mob crime laws and criminal solicitation statutes. Also, the Criminal Code of Virginia defines a criminal "act of terrorism" as an act of violence with the intent to either "intimidate a civilian population at large" or to "influence the conduct or activities of a government, including . . . a state . . . through intimidation." Crim. Code of Va., Section 18.2-46.4. Trump's tweet was not violence; but the message Trump tweeted clearly suggested that Trump was encouraging protesters to act as a mob of public assembly and intimidate state officials to withdraw state orders issued to protect lives and public health. Therefore, if protesters, especially those known to revere Trump, end up forming a mob and engaging in any violence whatsoever, it is absolutely clear that Trump could be criminally prosecuted in Virginia for his public communications (tweets) in which he sought to command, entreat, or otherwise persuade persons to intimidate their state governments and state public officials and to resist execution of lawful state-government orders. If protesters followed Trump's encouragement and assembled, fomented riot, and/ or killed anyone, then Trump could be criminally prosecuted for criminal solicitation to incite riot, unlawful assembly, treason, and terrorism.

Virginia also criminalizes inciting a riot or unlawful assembly.

Finally, Virginia also criminalizes and calls it "treason" for a person to (1) solicit or encourage others to wage war against the Commonwealth of Virginia (e.g., insurrection or riot); or (2) solicit or encourage others to resist the execution of the laws of Virginia under color of its authority. See Crim. Code of Va., sections 18.2-29 and 18.2-481(1) and (5).

The full language from the relevant Virginia law can be found at Title 18.2, Code of Virginia.
As for Trump's political calculations, they might be way off target, too. Writes Maggie Haberman, of  The NY Times:

Mobilizing anger and mistrust toward the government was a crucial factor for Trump in the last presidential election. And for many months he has been looking for ways to contrast himself with former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and a Washington lifer.

The problem? Trump is now president, and disowning responsibility for his administration’s slow and problem-plagued response to the coronavirus could prove difficult. And protests can be an unpredictable factor, particularly at a moment of economic unrest.

Monday, April 20, 2020

With six of his convictions on ethics violations upheld, ex-Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard appears headed down a road that leads to a prison-cell door

Mike Hubbard

Alabamians could be forgiven if they think, "Mike Hubbard is never going to prison. He runs with the corporate elites, and they will make sure he does not pay for his crimes the way the rest of us would." After all, a Lee County jury convicted Hubbard four years ago on multiple counts of violating the state ethics law, and he has been out on appeals bond ever since. But Hubbard's road to legal perdition might have begun in earnest 10 days ago when the Alabama Supreme upheld six convictions against him -- while reversing five -- and the chances of Hubbard avoiding prison now appear to be virtually zero, according to a report at Alabama Political Reporter (APR).

Reporting under the headline, "Will Mike Hubbard ever go to jail? Yes. And likely soon," APR's Josh Moon writes:

Mike Hubbard is likely going to prison within the next couple of months.

Hubbard, the former Alabama House speaker, had his conviction on 11 felony ethics counts partially upheld last week by the Alabama Supreme Court. The justices overturned five of the charges and sent them back to the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals for review, but upheld six of his charges.

And those six matter a lot.

Under the original sentence imposed by Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker, Hubbard was set to serve four years in prison and eight years of probation. That sentence was structured in a manner that all but assured Hubbard would serve that time unless the entire verdict against him was overturned.

It wasn’t. And a source familiar with the ALSC’s opinion in the case told APR that the justices were fully aware that their opinion would not lessen Hubbard’s jail time.

Another factor now working against hubbard: The ALSC's ruling punts Hubbard's appeals bond out of the picture:

That ALSC opinion puts an end to Hubbard’s appeals bond that has allowed him to remain a free man as his case worked its way through the appeals process over the past four years.

According to the Lee County Circuit Court clerk’s office, once a final determination is made by the ALSC on charges that result in a sentence, that opinion is the final piece supporting the need for an appeals bond.

Basically, there are no additional avenues for appeal that could possibly result in Hubbard not serving his prison sentence, so the bond has to be revoked and Hubbard sent to prison.

Here is where the process gets down to the nitty gritty. Writes Moon:

Once Walker receives the certificate of judgment from the ALSC showing it upheld the counts that related to Hubbard’s sentence, that should prompt Walker to revoke the bond,  and Hubbard will be notified that he is expected to begin his prison term.

According to Scott Mitchell, the clerk of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, that certificate of judgment can’t be issued by the ALSC until at least 14 days have passed. That span allows both the prosecution and defense time to submit requests for rehearings on ALSC’s opinion. Should either side do so, consideration of those requests by ALSC could add more time.

“It’s really hard to say (how long it might take) — it’s such a case-by-case thing,” Mitchell said. “It could be anywhere from weeks to a couple of months before we get it.”

It is also not uncommon for one side or the other to ask for an extension of time to file their requests for a rehearing, which would add additional time.

However, once that certificate is sent out by the ALSC, it should trigger Walker to revoke the appeals bond.

The Criminal Appeals Court will also have to review Hubbard’s case and issue a new decision that considers the ALSC’s opinion on the six reversed counts. That process is likely to take much longer.

“Again, a lot of factors play into that and it’s hard to determine how long any one case might take,” Mitchell said. “I’d say you’re looking at a few months at least.”

It will only add to the extraordinary length of this case.

Hubbard was convicted in June 2016 on 12 felony counts for using his office for personal gain and directing public business to his clients. Court testimony and evidence revealed Hubbard was making more than $600,000 per year in “consulting” contracts, mostly for work in areas in which he held no prior work experience.

Since his conviction, a team of attorneys working for him — and financed by his campaign funds and various other entities — have challenged every word of his conviction, accusing the prosecution of misdeeds and attacking the state’s ethics laws — which Hubbard helped write — as overly broad and vague.

Those appeals have been successful in getting half of the charges knocked down. But because Hubbard’s prison sentence was tied to only a couple of the specific charges, those decisions will not lessen his jail time.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Donald Trump seems desperate to receive credit for helping Americans through a pandemic -- even going so far as to break the law -- but the crisis largely was of his own making, through incompetence and hubris

Donald Trump and a coronavirus relief check

Just when you think Donald Trump can't get any more shameless . . . along comes news like this from yesterday: Trump wants to have his name appear on coronavirus relief checks. Is this morally grotesque? Yes. Is it also unlawful? Yes, a lawyer source tells Legal Schnauzer:

The stimulus money does not come from Trump. The stimulus money is the American people's money.

So, similar to Trump's scheme to use the People's $400 million to extort Ukraine to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden, Trump is now using the People's $2 Trillion in "Stimulus" benefits as a vehicle to display Trump's Name, so that Trump can turn stimulus checks into a political campaign effort. It is a violation of federal criminal law for a politician to use public money to advance that politician's political ambitions.

This comes two days after Trump used a White House coronavirus briefing to unveil a campaign-style video to extol his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.That came one day after Rolling Stone (RS) published "The President and the Plague," a scathing account of Trump's fumbling and bumbling response to the outbreak of a deadly virus.

By affixing his name to relief checks and turning the White House briefing room into a screening for a propaganda video, Trump essentially is trying to portray himself as helping Americans cope with a crisis that he largely created. And he's breaking the law in the process, as US. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told MSNBC's Ari Melber:

Not only is it an ethical abuse, but it is a legal abuse. You cannot use official resources to campaign for office. . . .

They are engaging in a moral abuse of office, but they are also violating the law.

As for the Rolling Stone article, it is not the most timely account of Trump's virus debacle. But it likely is the most comprehensive and scathing critique so far. Also, it is expertly written by Jeff Goodell, in language that is concise and easily understood. Consider this, from the article:

The pandemic has already fundamentally changed virtually everything about modern life. The streets are eerily empty, we keep our distance from strangers, we worry that every cough is a harbinger of disease.

How bad this will get, and how we will weather the dark days ahead, is impossible to say. But we are deep enough into this pandemic now to see a few things clearly. The first is that President Trump has profoundly failed in his primary role: to keep America safe. The pandemic is not his creation, but as president of the United States, it was his job to make sure that we were prepared to deal with this before it happened, and then to react quickly when it did happen. After all, getting hit with a bad pandemic is not exactly a black-swan event. Virtually every public-health official in the world was openly warning of an outbreak for more than a decade. In 2005, President George W. Bush cautioned, “If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare.” During the presidential transition in early 2017, Obama’s national security team spent a full day with the Trump team, briefing them on the most pressing national security issues — including the threat of a pandemic. They even left the Trump team a 69-page book detailing what they had learned in viral outbreaks. In January 2019, the director of U.S. National Intelligence warned that the United States was vulnerable to the next flu pandemic and that it “could lead to massive rates of death” and “severely affect the world economy."

Did Trump have reason to see this coming? Absolutely, reports RS, and he still butchered it:

“This is the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, and everyone saw it coming,” says renowned epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, one of the key figures in eradicating smallpox in the 1970s and senior technical adviser on the movie Contagion. “And I mean everybody in this field saw it coming.”

Trump ignored it all. After he took office, he gutted the National Security Council of anyone with expertise in pandemics. Public-health budgets were slashed. International groups focused on disease and medicine, such as the World Health Organization, were shunned. “This is a global pandemic, and it requires a commitment to global cooperation and science,” says Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who was a central figure in stopping the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014. “And it requires the president of the United States to lead.”

After the virus emerged from China, Trump spent nearly three months denying the threat it posed, playing it down, ignoring it, clearly worried that if he acknowledged it, it might tank Wall Street, which he believed was key to his re-election efforts. In January, he said, “We have it totally under control.” In February, he falsely declared that “we are very close to a vaccine,” and that “within a couple of days [the number of cases] is going to be down to close to zero.” In early March, he said, “It will go away. Just stay calm.” (Trump reportedly believed a widely circulated but scientifically unproven view that the virus would disappear as soon the weather warmed up.) He hyped the effectiveness of unproven drugs and all but promised to roll back social-distancing guidelines and have “the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” “No president has accomplished more in his first term than Donald J. Trump,” a senior administration official emailed me when asked for a comment on this article. “His unprecedented actions to protect the health and safety of the American people will ensure we emerge from this pandemic stronger and with a prosperous, growing economy.”

In fact, Trump mishandled virtually everything. As I write this, the United States has the highest caseload in the world, with many urban hospitals overrun, more than 16 million people out of work, and fights breaking out between Trump and governors such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer over scarce equipment, including ventilators and medical masks.

We have a president who is not known for listening or respecting the opinions and feelings of others. Americans are paying a monumental price for that:

“Trump’s pre-existing flaws as a leader have all come home to roost,” says Ben Rhodes, a speechwriter and deputy national security adviser to President Obama. “His disdain for expertise led him to disregard the many public-health experts he had in his own government. His disdain for international cooperation has led to a failure to work with other countries. His adversarial posture toward China made it harder to get cooperation out of the gate. Obviously his very tortured relationship with the truth has led him to repeatedly provide misinformation about what we’re facing. President Trump’s response [to the virus] encapsulates his own unfitness to handle the responsibilities of the office.”

A recent story in Foreign Policy — hardly a haven for partisan Democrats — called Trump’s response “the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history.” But Jeremi Suri, a presidential historian at the University of Texas, Austin, disagrees: “An intelligence failure is when you have the pieces but you haven’t put the pieces together,” Suri explains. “9/11 was a classic intelligence failure. We had all these signals, all these pieces of the story, but no one really put it together to think that they were actually going to be getting on planes and doing the things they did on planes.”

To Suri, Trump’s response to the pandemic is analogous to Joseph Stalin’s response in June 1941, when all his generals were telling him that Germany was about to attack the Soviet Union. “Every public-health expert in public as well as in private for the last five years has been predicting a pandemic exactly like this,” Suri says. “It is like Stalin being told by his generals, ‘Look, the Nazis are mobilizing. Look what Hitler’s saying. He’s going to attack.’ And Stalin saying, ‘No, it’s all phony. I don’t believe it.’ Well, you know what happened. Hitler invaded, as everyone predicted, killing more than 20 million of Stalin’s people.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry tells me he considers Trump’s handling of the pandemic “a colossal failure. The entire national security process has broken down under Trump.” Suri goes further: “This is the greatest leadership failure in recent American history.”

When Americans receive their relief checks and see Donald Trump's name on them, perhaps they should remember that Trump largely created this crisis in the first place.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Coronavirus took a savage path through an Albany, Georgia, county courthouse after "Juror Zero" became sick in the midst of a highly publicized murder trial

The Dougherty County Courthouse in Albany, GA (

 A county courthouse in Albany, Georgia, became a hot spot for the coronavirus -- leading to the death of one judge -- and officials attribute the outbreak to  "Juror Zero." From a report at titled "Juror Zero: How COVID-19 Spread Through the Dougherty County Courthouse":

When more than 100 people were summoned to the Dougherty County Courthouse as potential jurors for a highly-publicized local murder trial in early March, no one knew one of them would become one of the first county residents to test positive for COVID-19.

Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards said the juror who became ill during the trial last month was the first person known to suffer from symptoms later diagnosed as the coronavirus while in the county courthouse.

The juror was one of 14 panelists, including two alternates, who began hearing the “stand your ground” case of local moving company owner Jazzy Huff on March 9, according to Edwards and the county’s clerk of court, Evonne Mull.

That infected juror potentially exposed the entire jury pool, the prosecutor, the defendant and his lawyer, court bailiffs, the judge and her court reporter and other court personnel.

Mull said she sent letters to 110 people in the jury pool notifying them they could have been exposed to the coronavirus after the juror was hospitalized. Mull said she is not aware of any members of the jury pool becoming ill or testing positive for the virus. But, she said, testing is still largely limited to people with severe symptoms who are reporting to the hospital.

The juror has since recovered and been released from the hospital, she said.

There were few clear signs in the courtroom that the juror was having problems:

Edwards said he didn’t recall the juror displaying any physical symptoms that she was sick during the trial. “In my normal courtroom process, I make close contact with the jury box,” he said. “There was no noticeable coughing that I recall.”

On March 11, the trial’s third day, the juror sent a note to the presiding judge, Denise Marshall, saying she was feeling ill, the district attorney recalled. “The judge determined that we would see if she could press on at least for the rest of the day, which she did,” Edwards said. “She was in the [jury] box with everybody else.”

The following day, the juror was in the hospital with pneumonia and tested positive for coronavirus, Edwards said.

The virus' path through the courthouse was quick and devastating:

McCoy said he had already directed county department managers and elected officials to implement social distancing practices and encouraged telecommuting before the juror became ill. The courthouse also was thoroughly disinfected after the juror’s diagnosis. “We have been vigilant,” McCoy said.“But these were people who had high contact with the public.”

Despite their efforts, staff throughout the courthouse began testing positive for the virus. One of them, Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson—died April 1 after testing positive for the virus the previous week. Stephenson’s husband, Dougherty State Court Judge John Stephenson, is also ill with the virus.

“Our community is in mourning, not only from the public losses, but also the nonpublic figures who are lost,” said McCoy. “I think everyone should strongly consider closing their courts down,” he added. “Every day you are interacting with the public and carrying out your court functions, you’re putting yourself, your staff and the public at risk, especially if you are not able to provide personal protective equipment.”

The virus hit Albany so swiftly that, by the end of March, the city with an estimated population of 75,000, ranked second in the nation and fourth in the world for the number of reported coronavirus cases per capita. On Monday, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital reported 43 deaths tied to the coronavirus, with 1,405 people testing positive.

The juror was one of the first reported coronavirus cases in Albany. The same day she notified the court she was ill, Phoebe Putney reported its first presumptive coronavirus case. That patient, who was “visiting southwest Georgia,” was treated and transferred to a metro Atlanta hospital “to be closer to their home,” hospital authorities said in a March 11 news release.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Mike Hubbard's grand fall, which the Alabama Supreme Court has sealed, should teach about the dangers that lie at the crossroads of greed and power

Mike Hubbard
The Alabama Supreme Court's affirmance of six convictions against former House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) should serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers that reside at the intersection of greed and politics, state opinion writers say. It also should show the limitations of one-party voting, said one writer, but he sees no sign that Alabamians will absorb that lesson any time soon.

Bill Britt, of Alabama Political Reporter (APR), said justice was slow, but ultimately served, in the Hubbard case:

On Friday, April 10, 2020, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld Mike Hubbard’s conviction on six counts of felony ethics violations.

It was not a complete victory, but justice was served.

And even though the Court looked craven and reluctant in its ruling, it did, in fact, acknowledge Hubbard’s guilt and also maintained his sentence. He will receive a certification of guilt in the near future and will spend four years in jail for his crimes against the people of Alabama.

Hubbard did the one thing unacceptable in a democratic society; he betrayed the public trust by using his elected office for personal gain.

The idea of public trust holds that the true power in government lies with the people and that government officers are elected as their representatives, therefore when individuals use their office for personal benefit and not the public’s, they have broken the bond that gives them power.

Hubbard sought personal reward as a representative of the people, an inexcusable offense in a democratic republic.

Members of Hubbard's own party seem slow to grasp the gravity of his crimes, Britt writes:

For years and even today, there are Republicans in the state who believe that Hubbard should not have been prosecuted. Even Supreme Court Associate Justice Will Sellers wanted to let Hubbard walk free. Sellers, like many of his compatriots, seemed to believe that the office of the attorney general should have been pursuing Democrats, not fellow Republicans. This brand of partisan thinking holds true today in certain circles.

Hubbard was a talented politician, but power exposed his weakness.

Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Hubbard failed that character test miserably, Britt writes:

Hubbard wanted a life grander than that of a humble public servant. His mentor, former-Gov. Bob Riley, warned him by asking in an August 2011 email, “Question now is DO YOU “WANT” to be Gov— or— make a lot of money: good thing is you could do either but I am not sure it’s possible to do both.

In an email earlier that Hubbard lamented his position as the most powerful man in state politics writing, “To be honest, I feel like I am failing my family by sacrificing the opportunity to make money in favor of a job that costs me money and a lot of grief.”

Hubbard’s was an ancient problem, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” that is what laid him low. He looked at the men around him who enjoyed wealth and privilege and lusted for the same lifestyle. Hubbard was a dismal failure in business and only succeeded on occasions through rigged bids and the help of more influential older men.

In every one of his crimes underlies a desire for more money, and as Speaker of the House, the lure of easy money was his undoing.

I spend nearly eight years tracking Hubbard’s crimes and wrongdoings. I hope this is the last time I ever write about him, but that is not a given.

A prime lesson from the Hubbard affair? Public officials should be aware of the company they keep, writes's Kyle Whitmire:

Take this as a warning, Alabama lawmakers.

You, too, elected officials.

From the governor’s mansion to the town council, be warned.

If you break Alabama’s ethics laws, you may go to prison. It doesn’t matter how much power you have.

Nearly four years after a Lee County jury convicted Mike Hubbard of breaking ethics laws he helped pass, the former Alabama House speaker lost his last appeal — mostly.

In a messy opinion, with two justices recusing, and others concurring or dissenting for their own reasons, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld enough of the counts against Hubbard that he will have to spend some time in prison. The opinion kicks the case back to the Court of Criminal Appeals to figure out just how long he’ll be there.

That’s significant. Five years ago, Hubbard was the most powerful politician in Alabama. Soon he will be an inmate in one of the prisons the Legislature has spent decades neglecting.

Hubbard used his office to advance his personal business interests. That’s a fact now. There’s no “allegedly” attached to it. There’s no footnote saying if this survives appeals. He did it. He’s a crook. He’s guilty. And now he’s going to jail.

Will Alabama officials be slow to grasp that lesson? Probably, just as Alabama citizens fail to understand that voting reflexively for one party, no matter how corrupt it has proven to be, is not such a swift idea. Writes APR's Josh Moon in a piece titled "Mike Hubbard has taught us nothing":

Mike Hubbard is going to prison.

There is no glee in those words. There’s nothing happy or satisfying about them. A man did wrong and now a family will be without a father and a wife without a husband, and we’ll have one more body wedged into an Alabama prison for a few years.

Because Mike Hubbard, former speaker of the Alabama House and arguably the most powerful man in Alabama politics a few years ago, is without a doubt going to prison. According to sources familiar with the sentencing process, Hubbard’s original four-year sentence (and 16 years of probation) still stands, despite the Alabama Supreme Court graciously knocking down six of the 11 charges he faced.

Exactly when Hubbard will report to prison is a good question. The ALSC sent those six charges back down to a lower court to be considered again, so there’s a chance — maybe even likely — that Hubbard will again remain free on bond as he awaits that court’s decision.

But eventually, he’ll go. As he should.

Because Mike Hubbard broke the law.

In a perfect world, Hubbard’s crimes would be a wake-up call to Alabamians and Alabama politicians. The total exposure by Hubbard’s trial of greed and good-ol-boy politickin’ that goes on in Montgomery on a daily basis should have been enough to force voters to pay attention and force lawmakers to walk a finer line.

But that hasn’t been the case.

Instead, Alabama voters have done what they always do — go back to talking about football and voting for whoever registers for the popular party — and Alabama lawmakers have gone back to doing what they always do — stealing our money for themselves and their friends.

I don’t understand it. And I never will.

Hubbard’s case wasn’t a one-off, and you know it. Look at the people involved and the conversations they had — conversations through emails that were documented in court. They talked openly about schemes to get themselves and their friends more taxpayer money. They casually discussed ways that Hubbard, and other lawmakers, could use his office to generate more “consulting” contracts for himself.

In email after email, Hubbard whined about going broke and how the ethics laws, which he helped write, were preventing him from earning a living. He was making about a half-million bucks per year at the time.

A former governor, numerous lawmakers and some of the state’s top business leaders were all in on these conversations.

And let me tell you from experience — from walking those State House halls, talking to lawmakers and lobbyists and staffers and mistresses and wives and some of the biggest players in all of state politics: What Hubbard was doing happens EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.