Thursday, May 28, 2020

UAB physician, who found that Joann Bashinsky has "cognitive impairment," is tied to attorney who sought Balch Bingham's involvement in estate dispute

Joann Bashinsky (front)

A UAB physician, who stated in court papers that Birmingham philanthropist Joann Bashinsky has "significant cognitive impairment, likely due to dementia," has social and educational ties to attorney Greg Hawley, who tried to get Balch Bingham lawyer Amy Adams involved in the estate case. Adams was captured on an audio recording (made by Bashinsky) threatening that Bashinsky could lose her house, even though her estate reportedly is worth $218 million.

The UAB physician's assessment differs from that of Bashinsky's personal physician, Dr. Robert Spiegel, who stated in a letter to the court that she was mentally fit.

Dr. Caroline Harada, the UAB physician, also has ties to a University of Alabama law professor -- and they wrote a joint letter to an academic journal, supporting the notion that seniors with dementia should be subject to being involuntarily placed in "units for the "acutely mentally ill."

All of this comes from a report yesterday at Also yesterday, Apryl Marie Fogel updated her story at Alabama Today to include audio Bashinsky captured of attorneys Amy Adams and Greg Hawley. At the heart of the audio are threats that Bashinsky is at risk of losing her house. The audio can be heard by scrolling to roughly the second half of Fogel's story and clicking on the audio links.

As for Dr. Harada's ties to attorney Greg Hawley, Publisher K.B. Forbes has this at

And what is Caroline Harada’s connection to Greg Hawley and the alleged co-conspirators?

Harada and Hawley were both listed as contributors to the prestigious, private Highlands School in 2015-2016, where Hawley’s wife Sally had been on the Board of Trustees.

Harada and her significant other, Fred Vars . . . ,  a professor of law at the University of Alabama, were listed as contributors to the Highlands School.

Dr. Caroline Harada
 Vars has written about mental health, gun violence, and suicide, including a letter to the editor with Harada in 2012 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

And what do they whine about in their letter? A Wisconsin Supreme Court decision holding that individuals with dementia cannot be placed involuntarily into “units for the acutely mentally ill.”
In January, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a stay on all proceedings in the Bashinsky matter in Jefferson County Probate Court. In a December 2019 article, this is how described the dueling doctors' opinions currently at the heart of the Bashinsky matter:

State law requires the probate court to appoint a doctor to examine Bashinsky, but court records do not reflect any doctor’s appointment prior to the Oct. 17 hearing. One UAB doctor’s letter is attached to court records, showing that she examined Bashinsky in September—before the petition was filed and for an issue non-dementia related—and determined Bashinsky to have “significant cognitive impairment, likely due to dementia” and that there was reason “to question her judgment and her ability to make sound decisions about her finances.”

But, a letter from Bashinsky’s personal doctor states that he performed a Mini Mental Status Exam on the 88-year-old on Oct. 3, and his determination was that Bashinsky does not have dementia or any other psychiatric issues. His letter states that he consulted with a geriatrician and a neurologist who agreed. “She is competent to make decisions for herself,” the doctor wrote. Both that doctor and a University of Alabama geropsychiatrist were not allowed to testify about their belief Bashinsky is mentally competent, the filing states.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Joann Bashinsky, widow of Golden Flake founder, is at the heart of a court battle about alleged mental deficiencies and control of her $218-million estate

Joann Bashinsky (front)

One of Birmingham's wealthiest and most prominent citizens is the target of apparent elder abuse and exploitation -- driven partly by the embattled Birmingham law firm Balch Bingham -- according to reports from and At the heart of the controversy is big money. Also involved is a recording that reveals two local attorneys engaging in highly dubious scare tactics.

Amy Adams
Joann Bashinsky, 88, is the widow of Golden Flake founder and CEO Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr -- and her estate reportedly is worth $218 million. Two former family employees -- lawyer John McKleroy and finance manager Patty Townsend -- have filed a petition in Jefferson County Probate Court, claiming Mrs. Bashinsky has dementia, is incapable of handling her affairs, and her estate needs the appointment of a guardian and conservator. Mrs. Bashinsky's attorneys deny those claims.

From K.B. Forbes, publisher of

A bombshell story on Alabama Today last Friday is rocking the legal and law enforcement community in Birmingham, Alabama.

A Balch Bingham attorney, Amy Adams, . . .  was allegedly involved in a scheme that appears to be {elder] abuse and exploitation while the FBI and U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town . . . have done nothing to investigate.

The target of this alleged scheme: 88 year-old Joann Bashinsky, known as Mrs. B.

Court records indicate Adams, the Balch lawyer, has been working in concert with Greg Hawley, the former law partner of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). Reports Apryl Marie Fogel at Alabama Today:

In a continuance of her ongoing fight for independence, Bashinsky (known to many as Mrs. B or Mama B) told me a story of intimidation, scare-tactics and questionable ethical actions by two powerful and well-known attorneys. It’s a story that would sound as if it were ripped straight from the headlines of any long-running t.v. crime and legal drama, or was the plot of a novel if not for the fact – there’s audio.

The lawyers involved, are Greg Hawley and Amy Adams. Hawley is the former law partner of U.S. Senator Doug Jones. Adams is an attorney from Balch Bingham, a firm long considered a state and national powerhouse (with strong connections to former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions).

The facts below are supported by a recording that was made by Mrs. B on a day she unsuccessfully fought back efforts to retain her voting rights in SYB Inc, a company whose board she’d been a part of for decades.

The conversation and actions between Hawley, a man the court-appointed to protect Mrs. B’s interest, and Amy Adams, a woman who in her own words Mrs. B said used “scare tactics” to intimidate her into firing her current counsel and hiring her are painful to read or listen to, but let me summarize them for you below.

How did the audio come about and how painful does it get? As for the second part of that question, it reveals lawyering at its ugliest. As for the first part . . . here is more from Fogel (with quotes from the audio recording highlighted in green.):

Hawley pulled Mrs. B aside before and then again after the board meeting, refusing to allow her chosen attorney in the room and leaving her alone with Adams for a period of time. Their goal: have Mrs. B fire her current legal council and hire Adams. When that didn’t happen, Hawley hired her anyway himself.

Here are 3 of the most alarming parts of the conversation:

1. Financial scare tactics

The first, yet not even the most concerning issue arises in the first couple of minutes when Amy Adams meets Ms. B and says “I’ve seen your finances”.

Those documents are or at least should be confidential. At this point, Adams (Balch  Bingham), had not been retained by anyone in the case nor had Mrs. B. given her permission for them to be reviewed. She wasn’t even expecting to meet with Adams that day or at any other point.

But what’s worse? Not that Adams has seen the documents, but that she misrepresents them repeatedly.

She tells Mrs. B that she could potentially lose her house and staff and run out of money. These “scare tactics” as Mrs. B calls them is repeated, no fewer than 10 times over the course of their 2 conversations. With Adams saying things like,

“You’re not going to have enough money to live off of the rest of your life if you keep going through your money the way you’ve gone through it the last couple of years.”

“It takes a lot of money to stay in your house and you’re not keeping enough money to stay in your house. You realize that right?”

“Okay. I’m just telling you – I’ve looked it you’re not keeping enough money.”

She doesn’t stop there, at the threat that Mrs. B losing her house. She goes on to suggest that Mrs. B might need to fire some of those who help her at her home. Trusted employees, some of whom have been with her for many years. Adams says this about them, “We might have to get rid of some of the people that are on your staff.”

Greg Hawley
The problem is Mrs. B owns her house and has tens of millions in liquid assets, not including stock. This painful conversation goes on for several minutes at a time off and on during both meetings. The basic theme of Adams being if you want to stay in your house you need to hire me or my firm Balch Bingham — at $425 per hour. She goes on to joke though if retained drinks with her would for free, “I wouldn’t charge you for that,” she says.

When Hawley returns to the conversation, he makes it clear that Adams' repeated misrepresentations about Mrs. B being in dire financial straights can’t be verified, “What I don’t know yet is, I don’t have the whole financial picture so I can’t say, I can’t say that yet.” That doesn’t stop [Adams]  from saying it a few more times as the conversation continues, though.

2. HIPAA compliance questions

Mrs. B sat for several competency tests. The results of which she describes as showing she is perfectly capable of managing her own affairs. Again, results that the court never even heard.

That said, when Hawley brings up one of the initial tests, it was clear his office sent them to Adams. While Hawley is looking for them himself, Adams says, “I might have it on my phone.” Note this report would fall under the category of private health information (PHI) covered by HIPAA.

[Adams] proceeds to check, confirming that Hawley’s assistant Margaret sent private and confidential medical records.

Hawley’s casual dismissal of the fact she has them and his office sent them, should send shock waves through his client list, “Margaret was supposed to just send you the letters of conservatorship but anyway…” he says, as if this sort of mistake happens every day and is just fine.

I emailed Hawley and among the questions I asked him was if his office was HIPAA compliant. In his response, in which he did not answer the HIPAA questions following his signature was this boilerplate messages, “CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This e-mail and any attachments may contain confidential information that is legally privileged. Do not read this e-mail if you are not the intended recipient. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of any information contained in or attached to this e-mail is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please immediately notify us by replying to the sender or calling the sender at (205) 490-XXXX and destroy the original email and its attachments without reading or saving it. Thank you.”

I don’t think it takes an expert to know Adams should have known better than to read private medical information that came from another attorney’s office before she was formally engaged by either party.

3. Hawley hires Balch Bingham

After Amy Adams spoke alone with Mrs. B, Hawley continues to push Mrs. B to hire Adams. Refusing to allow Mrs. B’s existing lawyer to be in the room. When Mrs. B decided not to hire Adams, telling me that she felt like Adams talked down to her, tried to use scare tactics, and made her feel disrespected, you’d think this would be the end of Adam’s chapter in this sordid situation. It wasn’t. After this meeting, Hawley hired Adams himself.

Nevermind that at the beginning of the conversation Adams gives her word that she’s not interested in helping Hawley just in being Mrs. B’s attorney, “When Greg called me I told him the only way I’d do it is if we could fire him because I wasn’t going with him. I’d only go with you and that’s what I told him that’s the only I would come.”

It wasn’t just a promise by Adams that she would only represent Mrs. B. Here’s what Hawley said, “Let me tell you, there are lawyers – Amy’s very decisive. Some people use the B-word to describe her, okay. She’s a great lawyer, but she’s very decisive, and she will represent you. And I even told her, and I’ll tell you this and I’ll tell you this, in front of her, and I’ll put it in writing that if she ever sees a conflict of interest developing between what’s best for you and something different I say, I want her to represent you, not me.”

“I want her to represent you, not me.” Those were his words and then he hired her anyway after Mrs. B said she didn’t want her engaged. It’s enough to make one’s head explode.

Understandably alarmed by what she hears on the recording, Fogel wonders about the ethics rules that are supposed to govern such interactions:

Can you imagine a loved one going through this? I cannot.

What’s more, I cannot begin to imagine how intimidating it would be find yourself at the mercy or a court who didn’t allow your voice to be heard before placing you in the “protection” of a lawyer who among, other concerning actions could willy nilly allow your medical and financial documents to be shared with others, by a lawyer who brought onto your case someone you clearly didn’t and wouldn’t hire yourself, someone you felt bullied by. This whole situation leaves many questions to be answered.

I asked about this situation, their code of conduct for lawyers, and a host of other questions to Adams' direct supervisor at Balch Bingham, Stan Blanton. I received a response to reach out to their media relations person. The spokesman sent the following statement after a call, “It is our understanding that Mrs. Bashinsky expressly stated that she did not want the conservator to engage Amy Adams as her attorney, and therefore no attorney-client relationship was formed. Balch Bingham has not taken any position adverse to Mrs. Bashinsky. Nevertheless, we notified the conservator of the firm’s intent to withdraw from our representation of the conservator in this matter to avoid being a distraction.” I responded to that message repeating questions from my first inquiry about their code of conduct or ethics and did not get a response.

It seems to me that keeping your word would be included in any code of conduct required of Adams, and as such, she shouldn’t have taken any role in this case after her promises to Mrs. B that she would only engage if she could engage on her behalf.

What I found after examining this case and conservatorship, in general, is that there is an exceptional lack of openness and transparency in the process. Seniors all over the country have found themselves seemingly railroaded by the court system and the attorneys who are supposed to “protect them”.

So I close this first story of a multi-part series posing the following questions: Are conservatorship/guardianship courts failing seniors here in Jefferson County or more broadly throughout Alabama? Who is going to stand up for the seniors who can’t stand up for themselves?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Coronavirus hits close to home as stylists at Springfield, Missouri, hair salon expose 140 clients after working while experiencing symptoms

"Gabby the Investigative Tabby"
We are pleased to announce that the Schnauzer family seems to be doing OK, hunkered down here in the Midwest during the coronavirus pandemic. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have been fortunate to not experience any alarming symptoms -- although the whole thing is wearing on us emotionally, largely because of the "Orange Cheeto" and his band of inept sycophants in the White House, who allowed a deadly virus to take hold on our shores. Perhaps we are most grateful to have "Gabby the Investigative Tabby" in our family unit, watching him rollick along to his own kitty-kat beat -- an endless source of amusement, good-naturedness, curiosity, and inspiration. We see him as a gift from God, helping us put one foot in front of the other.

Great Clips location where 140 people were exposed to virus.
With that said, the virus has hit close to home in a peculiar and instructive way. Our current home base, Springfield, MO, has made national news after two hairstylists potentially exposed 140 customers to the coronavirus. Both stylists worked for Great Clips, at 1864 S. Glenstone Ave. (for those familiar with the city), which is next door to the old Tower Theater location. In fact, in some photos of the Great Clips, you can see what looks like a theater marquee to the far left. That's what remains of the Tower Theater, which I think now is home to a restaurant. From a report at CNN:

Two Missouri hairstylists potentially exposed 140 clients to coronavirus when they worked for up to eight days this month while symptomatic, health officials said.

The Springfield-Greene Health Department announced Saturday that a second hairstylist tested positive for coronavirus, and may have exposed 56 clients at the same Great Clips salon.
A day earlier, officials had said another hairstylist with coronavirus at the same salon potentially exposed 84 customers and seven coworkers.
Both stylists had symptoms while at work, officials said. They did not provide details on their conditions or when they tested positive.

Both stylists worked from the second week of May to Wednesday. The clients and the stylists all wore face coverings, the Health Department said. At the time, businesses like barbershops and hair salons were allowed to operate in the state. "It is the hope of the department that because face coverings were worn throughout this exposure timeline, no additional cases will result," it added.

Health officials are reaching out to all the people who were exposed and offering them testing. They urged them to be on the lookout for symptoms.

What can we learn from this? That takes us back to the "Orange Cheeto." He is intent on reopening churches -- and considering that many church services probably draw 100-500 people, maybe more --  the potential problems there likely would overwhelm those at a hair salon.

How might a major spike in COVID-19 cases affect strained health-care systems? Missouri authorities already are concerned about that:
The salon kept impeccable records that made contact tracing possible, said Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. But he cautioned about the risks of overwhelming resources. "I'm going to be honest with you: We can't have many more of these," he said at a news conference. "We can't make this a regular habit or our capabilities as a community will be strained."

Gabby, in repose between reporting assignments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Focus of State Department inspector general's firing shifts from Secretary Mike Pompeo's personal errands to controversial $8-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Mike Pompeo

Donald Trump's firing of the State Department inspector general, according to early reports, was driven by an investigation into Secretary Mike Pompeo's propensity to have publicly paid government employees run his personal errands. That seemed like a relatively minor deal.

Now we learn that Pompeo refused to cooperate with a watchdog probe into an $8-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. That could be a very big deal, and it might be the next major scandal tied to the Trump administration. From a report by Zachary Cohen at CNN:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the State Department inspector general's office as part of its probe into the administration's move to bypass Congress and expedite last year's $8-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia by declaring an emergency, a congressional aide told CNN Monday.

Neither the State Department nor the office of the inspector general responded to CNN's request for comment on the matter. The allegation Pompeo declined to cooperate with the investigation came after House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Eliot Engel, claimed the State Department inspector general fired by President Donald Trump on Friday, Steve Linick, had nearly completed an investigation into Pompeo's controversial decision to fast-track the same arms sale.

"I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick's firing. His office was investigating — at my request — Trump's phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia. We don't have the full picture yet, but it's troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed," Engel, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement to CNN Monday.

For those who remember the Republican obsession with Hillary Clinton's emails while she was secretary of state might be curious to see how seriously the GOP takes the Pompeo tempest now that it involves one of heir own. Writes Zachary Cohen:

Last May, the Trump administration declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries -- including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- citing the need to deter what it called "the malign influence" of Iran throughout the Middle East.

"These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said in a statement at the time, which put the value of the sales at $8.1 billion.

But the move drew bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers decrying the precedent it sets, questioning the administration's claims of an emergency and raising the issue of Saudi Arabia's human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Now, Engel says Pompeo might have removed the federal watchdog who was looking into his handling of the arms sale. Linick's Saudi Arabia investigation was first reported by The Washington Post.

The revelation will increase scrutiny of Trump's firing of Linick on Friday evening -- the latest in a series of dismissals of independent government watchdogs tasked with oversight of the President's administration. A senior State Department official previously confirmed to CNN that Pompeo recommended Linick be removed, but they did not know the reasons why.

Lawmakers appear to be taking the matter seriously:

Democrats on both the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees are interested in learning more about Linick's investigations into Pompeo, and Engel emphasized the importance of cooperation from the administration in his statement Monday.

"The administration should comply with the probe I launched with Senator Menendez and turn over all the records requested from the Department by Friday," he said, a reference to Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Trump's latest late-night firing of an inspector general as the media's attention was focused on the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 89,000 Americans, prompted immediate bipartisan criticism from lawmakers including Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a longtime proponent of inspectors general.

"As I've said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG's removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress," Grassley said on Saturday, referring to the justification for Linick's firing cited by Trump.

Grassley told CNN's Manu Raju on May 4 that he did not think more legislation was necessary to protect IGs, saying, "I think we have plenty of laws to protect inspectors general."

On Monday, Grassley sent a letter to Trump asking the President to explain his firing of Linick by June 1. The Iowa Republican sent a similar letter after former Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson's dismissal.

He also told CNN he will "try to get to the bottom" of what happened with Linick's removal and said "it's not difficult for me to take on any President. That's my reputation, Republican or Democrat."

Trump addressed the Linick firing at a White House briefing on Monday:

Speaking at the White House Monday, Trump repeatedly said he fired Linick -- whom the President claimed not to know -- at Pompeo's request.

"I said, 'Who appointed him?' And they say, 'President Obama.' I said, 'Look, I will terminate him.' I don't know what's going on other than that. You would have to ask Mike Pompeo. They did ask me to do it, and I did it," Trump said.

Greg Sargent, of The Washington Post, has an op-ed piece titled "Trump’s purge just got much more corrupt. Here’s what’s coming next":

In their demand for an investigation, committee Democrats argued that the administration had failed to provide adequate justification for the emergency declaration. They noted that one core claim — that the threat from Iran required it — appeared to be a “pretext,” since the House had not been told by Pompeo of the need for the sale in a briefing on Iran only days before.

The Democrats also raised questions about potential conflicts of interest surrounding a former State Department official who may have been obligated to recuse himself of involvement in the sale, given his previous role as a lobbyist for Raytheon Co., which made many weapons involved in the transfer.

To reiterate, we don’t know what the IG found on the arms sales, and it’s possible there’s no connection between that and his firing. But at a minimum, the firing of Linick, coming after the removal of numerous other IGs, already shows Trump’s efforts to purge the government of oversight and accountability on his administration are getting much worse.

And the timing here demands a full accounting of what the IG found on the arms sales and any possible connection to his firing.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who joined Menendez in advocating for Senate efforts to block the arms sales, pointed to the administration’s “coziness” with the Saudis, which has included a refusal to hold the royal family accountable over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and asked why Trump won’t use these arms sales to exercise “leverage to get them to change their behavior.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona appear to hold the keys to Democrats' hopes of reclaiming the White House and sending Donald Trump to the sidelines

Democrats' strategy for reclaiming the White House in November should focus on strengths in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, while building on signs of hope in the West, and to a lesser extent, certain areas of the South, according to an analysis at Axios.

Written by Doug Sosnik, White House political director for Bill Clinton's successful re-election effort, the report is built largely around the notion that the country has completed a political realignment that started with Clinton in 1992 and ended with Donald Trump's first term. That means Trump is running on different terrain than he faced in 2016. Key features of the realignment are expected to be central to the 2020 race:

* Changing demographics: The fastest-growing demographic groups — nonwhites and millennials (now the largest voting bloc) — are D-friendly.

* Women are increasingly abandoning the Republican Party.

* More-educated voters are increasingly Democratic.

* Suburbs, which constitute an increasing share of the U.S. population, are moving D.

As usual, the battleground states of the Rust Belt will bear watching, as will states where the political sands appear to be shifting -- at least a little. Writes Sosnik:

* Trump’s chance of winning Michigan, which he carried by 11,000 votes in 2016, has been significantly reduced by the impact of COVID-19 in the state, which has suffered the fourth most deaths in the country.

* Pennsylvania has almost been as hard hit as Michigan (fifth most deaths).

* Of the three Rust Belt states, Trump is best positioned in Wisconsin, where his job approval has remained higher than the national average.

West and South emerge as new Democratic base:

* Seven western states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington — are firmly in the Democratic column.

* Six states in the South and Southwest — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia — are in various stages of becoming blue states.

* Outside of Virginia, which has already become a blue state, Arizona is the state most likely to transition to a Democratic base state as early as November.
Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, has five best paths to victory -- and Sosnik spells them out:
Biden’s most likely paths to 270 electoral college votes:

* Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona: Biden wins all three states — his best option, given the political environment.

* Michigan and Pennsylvania + two congressional districts — Nebraska-02 and Maine-02.

* The Rust Belt: Biden wins Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

* Michigan and the Sunbelt: Biden carries Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina.

* Florida +1: Biden carries Florida, getting him to 261 electoral votes. A win in any of the other battleground states would put him well past 270.

Here is how Sosnik summarizes:
The bottom line: Biden's best strategy:

* Make putting Michigan out of reach for Trump the top priority.

* Lock up Pennsylvania.

* Prioritize winning Arizona, Maine-02 and Nebraska-02.

* Focus remaining resources on Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Georgia man, who took video of Ahmaud Arbery shooting, is under investigation and living out of his car, fearful for his life after receiving a series of threats

Ahmaud Arbery shooting

A man who took video of a black jogger's shooting death in Brunswick, Georgia, is receiving death threats and is under investigation by state authorities, according to news reports. (Video is embedded at the end of this post.)

William "Roddie" Bryan was doing yard work when he saw an unfamiliar man jogging down the street, followed by a vehicle he recognized, said Kevin Gough, Bryan's attorney. From a report at CNN:

The man who recorded the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia is receiving threats after authorities announced that he's also being investigated following the killing, his attorney said.

The man, William "Roddie" Bryan, shared the 36-second video with police and was cooperating with investigators, his attorney Kevin Gough said in a statement Friday.

"It was Mr. Bryan who videotaped the incident in question, disclosed the existence of the videotape, and invited a responding Glynn County Police Officer to sit with him in his truck where they watched the video together," Gough said. The video appears to show the confrontation between Arbery and two men before the shooting that left Arbery dead in Brunswick, Georgia.

The men -- father and son Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, -- were arrested Thursday and face charges of murder and aggravated assault in Arbery's February 23 killing, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The footage was a "very important piece of evidence," GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Friday. Asked whether there will be additional arrests, Reynolds told reporters the investigation is still active.

"We investigate everybody involved in the case, including the individual who shot the video," he said.

Surveillance video from a home-construction site shows Arbery was just one of several people who trespassed on the property in the weeks leading up to the shooting. Arbery was the only trespasser to be attacked and killed. Meanwhile, "Roddie" Bryan has suffered significant consequences because of the video, his attorney said:

The comments by authorities have put Bryan's life in danger, along with his family, friends and neighbors, his attorney said in a statement. He added that his client has lost his job, despite committing no crime and cooperating with the investigation.

In an interview with CNN Saturday, Gough, Bryan's attorney, said his client was not acting in conjunction with the McMichaels the day of the shooting.

Bryan was doing yard work when he saw an unfamiliar man being chased by a car he recognized as being from the neighborhood, Gough said.

Bryan filmed the incident and shared the video with police when they arrived on the scene. Later, he went to a police station so authorities could access and download the footage, Gough said.

Bryan and the McMichaels did not have a relationship, Gough said, besides being neighbors and one point when Gregory McMichael brought lawnmowers to the shop where Bryan worked.

Any implication that his client was a vigilante, Gough said, was inaccurate.

"Mr. Bryan videotaped what was going on and because he did that there is a prosecution," Gough said. "If he had not videotaped that incident, the only person who really could speak to what happened is dead and we'll never have that opportunity. That video is the prosecution.

Bryan told the UK Independent he was living in a state of fear, following the shooting and release of the video:

A man who who recorded the viral video that showed a white father and his son allegedly shooting a black 25-year-old named Ahmaud Arbery while he was jogging has spoken out about the fatal incident.

William Roddie Bryan said in a new interview he was in “complete shock” when he witnessed the shooting in Brunswick, Georgia that took place on 23 February, and has received threats since the video he recorded drew national media attention.

“I’ve never been involved in anything like that before,” Mr Bryan said. “Complete shock. . . . ”

“I had nothing to do with it,” he said in the interview with CBS affiliate WJAX-TV. “I’m trying to get my life back to normal, and it’s been smeared for the last week … I was told I was a witness and I’m not sure what I am, other than receiving a bunch of threats. . . . ”

Mr Bryan told the news outlet he was currently living out of a car with his fiance while fearing for his life.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t scared,” he said. “If that’s what they wanted to do was scare me, they’ve scared me.”

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Remdesivir, an FDA-approved antiviral developed at UAB, is cleared for COVID-19 testing in combination with Olumiant, an arthritis drug from Eli Lilly and Co.

Eli Lilly headquarters

Drug cocktails have proven to be lifesavers for many HIV patients, perhaps most notably, retired basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has begun to test a similar approach with COVID-19.

From an NIH press release announcing a clinical trial of the antiviral remdesivir -- developed in Birmingham, at UAB -- in combination with an arthritis drug, baricitinib:

A randomized, controlled clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of a treatment regimen of the investigational antiviral remdesivir plus the anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has begun. The trial is now enrolling hospitalized adults with COVID-19 in the United States. The trial is expected to open at approximately 100 U.S. and international sites. Investigators currently anticipate enrolling more than 1,000 participants. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, is sponsoring the trial.

The clinical trial is the next iteration of NIAID’s Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial (ACTT), which began on Feb. 21 to evaluate remdesivir, an investigational broad-spectrum antiviral treatment developed by Gilead Sciences, Inc. That trial closed to enrollment on April 19 after recruiting 1,063 participants at 47 U.S. and 21 international sites. An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) overseeing the trial met on April 27 and shared their preliminary analysis with the study sponsor, NIAID. Their analysis showed that patients who received remdesivir had a statistically significant shorter time to recovery compared to patients who received placebo. More detailed information about the trial results, including more comprehensive data, will be available in a forthcoming report. In this next trial with baricitinib, called ACTT 2, all participants will receive remdesivir or remdesivir with baricitinib.

While remdesivir, alone, has not proven to be a "knockout punch" against COVID-19, it stands as the first FDA-approved building block upon which additional studies can be based:

“We now have solid data showing that remdesivir diminishes to a modest degree the time to recovery for people hospitalized with COVID-19,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “ ACTT 2 will examine if adding an anti-inflammatory agent to the remdesivir regimen can provide additional benefit for patients, including improving mortality outcomes.”

Baricitinib, a product licensed to Eli Lilly and Company by Incyte and marketed under the brand name Olumiant, is approved in the U.S. and in more than 65 additional countries as a treatment for adults with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis. Some people with COVID-19 experience acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), in which inflammation of the lungs leads to shortness of breath and rapid breathing. Baricitinib, taken orally, inhibits cytokine signaling in the body that play roles in causing inflammatory responses. The putative benefit of baricitinib for COVID-19 has been described in a case series of critically ill patients who recovered from COVID-19. The combination of remdesivir and baricitinib for COVID-19 has not been evaluated in a large, randomized controlled treatment trial.

How is the combination-therapy trial expected to unfold?

In accordance with standard clinical research protocols, eligible patients who provide informed consent will participate in ACTT 2. Participants in the trial must have laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection and evidence of lung involvement, including a need for supplemental oxygen, abnormal chest X-rays, or illness requiring mechanical ventilation. Individuals with confirmed infection who have mild symptoms, or no apparent symptoms, will not be included in the study. Eligible study participants will be randomly assigned 1:1 to a treatment arm:
Arm 1: participants receive baricitinib tablets orally and intravenous (IV) remdesivir
Arm 2: participants receive placebo tablets orally and IV remdesivir

The study is double-blind, meaning neither trial investigators nor participants know who is receiving which treatment regimen. Remdesivir is administered as one 200-milligram (mg) IV dose followed by a 100-mg once-daily IV dose for the duration of hospitalization up to a 10-day total course of treatment. Baricitinib is administered as a 4-mg oral dose (or crushed and given through a nasogastric tube, if necessary) for the duration of hospitalization up to a 14-day total course of treatment. The placebo tablets resemble baricitinib but contain only inactive ingredients.

Investigators will evaluate whether time to recovery is shorter in the combination arm (baricitinib plus remdesivir), relative to remdesivir alone. Recovery is defined as the participant being well enough for hospital discharge, meaning the participant either no longer requires supplemental oxygen or ongoing medical care in the hospital, or is no longer hospitalized (with or without some limitation on activities). Recovery is evaluated up until day 29. A key secondary goal of the study is to compare patient outcomes at day 15 using an ordinal eight-point scale ranging from fully recovered to death. The trial will also compare other secondary outcome variables between treatment groups, including mortality alone.

From a New York Times story about the combo-therapy study:

As a coronavirus infection progresses, the amount of the virus infecting cells does not appear to be extremely high. But the immune system in some people goes into overdrive, sending out vast amounts of small proteins — cytokines — that trigger inflammation. Cytokine storms can kill patients with other diseases, including flu. This immune overreaction, some scientists think, could explain why some people infected with coronavirus have only mild symptoms while others have severe or fatal illnesses.

[Scientists have] noted another potential advantage of baricitinib, said Dr. Vincent Marconi of Emory University, a key investigator in the federal trial. The drug might have anti-viral activity. That, plus the chance of subduing cytokine storms, Dr. Marconi said, “made a compelling case for baricitinib to be explored further in a clinical trial.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci draws right-wing smear attacks, led by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, based on grants for study of coronaviruses in China, dating to Obama era

Dr. Anthony Fauci

Right-wing conspiracy theorists and media outlets are using a series of U.S. grants to study coronaviruses as grounds for a smear campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci -- suggesting he is in cahoots with a Chinese laboratory, and the two helped cause the COVID-19 pandemic, or both -- according to a report at BuzzFeed News. The campaign apparently is part of Donald Trump's efforts to blame the pandemic on China and undermine Fauci for failing to be sufficiently deferential to the president.

Fauci yesterday told a Senate committee the country faces "really serious" consequences if it reopens too early. That probably will not help his popularity with the right wing.

The attacks on Fauci started, in part, with an April 26 Tweet from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, suggesting research grants to Wuhan Virology Laboratory were tied to Fauci and essentially helped fund the pandemic. The Web site PolitiFact says Giuliani's assertions -- both about U.S. policy under President Barack Obama and the grant amounts -- are false:

A virology lab in Wuhan, China, continues to draw scrutiny for work it did on bat viruses as part of American-funded research.

To be clear, there is no sign that the coronavirus that has swept around the globe was bioengineered, but suspicions run high, including from President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

PolitiFact then cuts to the chase:

* The United States did not give $3.7 million to a lab in China. That is an incorrect amount. The actual amount was just under $600,000.

* The money that was given was permitted.

BuzzFeed reporter Jane Lytvynenko adds depth to the story:

Right-wing media and conspiracy theorists have seized on a series of grants awarded over the course of six years to study coronaviruses to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, the immunologist who’s been at the helm of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. The narrative moved to the spotlight at the White House when, during a press conference on April 17, a reporter with Newsmax asked President Donald Trump about the grants, totaling $3.7 million since 2014.

The Daily Mail, a British tabloid known for publishing unreliable stories, first reported the $3.7 million figure on April 11. The paper wrote a story on the funding, parts of which went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Although the article stated that there’s no evidence the novel coronavirus leaked from the lab, it implied a correlation between the grants and the pandemic: "The revelation that the Wuhan Institute was experimenting on bats from the area already known to be the source of COVID-19 — and doing so with American money — has sparked further fears that the lab, and not the market, is the original outbreak source."

Those questions have had real effects. Politico reported on April 27 that the National Institutes of Health would be revoking grants given to New York–based nonprofit organization EcoHealth Alliance in 2019, including funds for 2020 that the nonprofit now has to return.

But in reality, the grants appear to have nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, they were awarded after a different kind of coronavirus — SARS — spread across the world in 2003. The NIH also didn’t give the funds directly to the Wuhan Institute, instead awarding them to EcoHealth Alliance, which invests in health research globally. The money helped support research that led to 20 research papers on coronaviruses published over the six years, according to the NIH. It’s not clear whether Fauci was personally involved in the grants in any way.

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes reported on the Trump administration revoking funding for Peter Daszak, a coronavirus researcher with EcoHealth Alliance. Are such actions based on facts? The answer appears to be no, according to BuzzFeed:

Aside from the Wuhan Institute, those funds also went to research facilities in Shanghai, Beijing, and Singapore. The grants were meant to “support research that aims to understand what factors allow coronaviruses, including close relatives to SARS, to evolve and jump into the human population and cause disease (called a spillover event),” an NIH spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

“Most emerging human viruses come from wildlife, and these represent a significant threat to public health and biosecurity in the US and globally, as demonstrated by the SARS epidemic of 2002–03, and the current COVID-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson said. “The project includes studying viral diversity in animal (bats) reservoirs, surveying people that live in high-risk communities for evidence of bat-coronavirus infection, and conducting laboratory experiments to analyze and predict which newly discovered viruses pose the greatest threat to human health.”

The grant also wasn’t the first awarded to EcoHealth Alliance. The NIH has been funding infectious disease research projects through the nonprofit since 2005. . . .

For Joan Donovan, the director of the Technology and Social Change Project at Harvard's Shorenstein Center, the attacks and conspiracies are part of a larger narrative undermining Fauci and his work. “If you don’t trust the scientist, you don’t trust the science,” Donovan said.

And the right-wing media and conspiratorial YouTube channels have used the grants to stoke that distrust.

On April 26, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani called for an investigation of the grant on a New York morning radio show. Falsely and without evidence, the former mayor of New York implied the virus was created as a biological weapon, blaming Fauci and the administration of President Barack Obama.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Florida biotechnology company receives FDA approval to begin clinical trials of EIDD-2801, an antiviral drug showing promise as a treatment for COVID-19

Wendy Holman, CEO of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics

A pharmaceutical company in Miami, Florida, has received FDA approval to begin human testing of an antiviral drug that shows promise as a treatment for COVID-19. Ridgeback Biotherapeutics made the announcement at and PR Newswire, in a release dated April 7.

The company describes the drug, EIDD-2801, as "an oral broad-spectrum antiviral proceeding into clinical trials." The drug is similar to remdesivir, a compound developed at UAB that recently became the first FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19. Both drugs are designed to interfere with a coronavirus' ability to copy itself. EIDD-2801, developed at Emory University in Atlanta, is administered in pill form, while remdesivir is received via intravenous therapy. From the report:

Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, a closely held biotechnology company, and Drug Innovations at Emory (DRIVE), LLC, a not-for-profit biotechnology company wholly owned by Emory University, today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved an Investigational New Drug application by Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE), LLC, wholly owned by Emory University, for an orally available antiviral compound, EIDD-2801, exclusively licensed to Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, LP (Ridgeback). This action by the FDA allows Ridgeback to initiate human clinical testing of EIDD-2801 in the United States.

"We are thankful to FDA Commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn and his team at the Anti-Viral Division for the unprecedented speed in reviewing our submission, the guidance and the highly collaborative process that ensures this promising drug can advance into the clinical development as fast as possible," said Wendy Holman, Chief Executive Officer of Ridgeback. "We also appreciate the guidance we have received from the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR), including discussions that occurred months before COVID-19 first emerged, to help Emory/DRIVE advance the development of EIDD-2801 as quickly as possible to address this global pandemic."

Here are details about how EIDD-2801 is designed to work:

EIDD-2801 prevents the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and has shown potent activity against SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV in animal models of infection. In addition to coronaviruses, EIDD-2801 has broad spectrum activity against a number of diseases of public health concern, including influenza, chikungunya, Ebola, and equine encephalitis (VEE and EEE). The antiviral is orally available and, in addition to COVID-19, is being developed for the treatment of seasonal and pandemic influenza under a contract awarded to Emory Institute for Drug Development by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and for Venezuelan and Eastern equine encephalitis virus (VEEV and EEEV) by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

"FDA's prompt approval of our IND allows us to initiate human testing for EIDD-2801 as quickly as possible," says George Painter, Ph.D., director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD) and CEO of DRIVE. "We are grateful to our collaborators for helping us to assemble this application quickly, and to the FDA for expediting the process. An orally available antiviral medication would be a critical weapon for fighting COVID-19."

Ridgeback and DRIVE have established a partnership to advance EIDD-2801 through clinical development and to optimize availability during the current COVID-19 pandemic. EIDD-2801 was exclusively licensed to Ridgeback in March 2020.

"We look forward to our continued work with the highly experienced drug development team at DRIVE and the dedicated medical, public health and governmental personnel who are on the front line of this pandemic – in the United States and abroad," says Wendy Holman, CEO of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. "The ability to deliver promising treatments to patients in need is what makes us excited to come to work every day. Ridgeback brings its unique perspective, honed by our success developing an Ebola therapeutic during the 2018-2020 outbreak in the DR Congo, to help advance EIDD-2801 for the treatment of diseases that are critical to pandemics and global health."

Like remdesivir, EIDD-2801 has been around for  a while, showing potential against a number of virus-based illnesses. From the report:

EIDD-2801 is an orally bioavailable form of a highly potent ribonucleoside analog that inhibits the replication of multiple RNA viruses including SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19. In animal studies of two distinct coronaviruses (SARS-CoV1 and MERS), EIDD-2801 has been shown to improve pulmonary function, decrease body weight loss and reduce the amount of virus in the lung. In addition to activity against coronaviruses, EIDD-2801, in laboratory studies, has demonstrated activity against seasonal and bird influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, chikungunya virus, Ebola virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis virus. The development of EIDD-2801 has been funded in part with federal funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), under contract numbers HHSN272201500008C and 75N93019C00058, and from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), under contract numbers HDTRA1-13-C-0072 and HDTRA1-15-C-0075.

Here is background on Ridgeback Biotherapeutics:

Headquartered in Miami, Florida, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics is a privately held, majority woman-owned biotechnology company focused on orphan and infectious diseases. Initial funding for Ridgeback Biotherapeutics originated from Wayne and Wendy Holman; two individuals committed to investing in and supporting technologies that will make the world a better place. The team at Ridgeback is dedicated to working toward finding life-saving and life-changing solutions for patients and diseases that need champions. Ridgeback is in the process of completing a Biologics Licensing Application with the Food and Drug Administration for mAb114 (ansuvimab) for the treatment of Ebola. Ansuvimab development has been funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, under Contract No. 75A50119C00059 and 75A50120C0009.

An article last week at The Daily Report, an Atlanta-based legal newspaper, described intellecutual-property work performed on the EIDD-2801 application and addressed differences between the Emory drug and remdesivir:

Just last week the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use of Gilead Science’s remdesivir as a treatment for seriously ill hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drug, which has been tested at Emory and also attacks viruses’ reproduction processes, “was shown to shorten the time to recovery in some patients,” the FDA said.

A key difference between remdesivir and EIDD-2801 is that remdesivir must be administered intravenously, while a drug from EIDD-2801 would be given in a pill—meaning patients could take it at home. “That would allow EIDD-2801 to be taken earlier in the course of the disease, killing off the virus before it wreaks havoc on the body,” according to an article in Chemical and Engineering News (CEN).

From the CEN article:

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the world, George Painter’s life geared up considerably. In a matter of weeks, Painter and his collaborators have seen the antiviral they were working on—EIDD-2801—go from a promising therapeutic for influenza to a potential weapon in the fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The drug candidate began a human safety trial in the UK in mid-April, and a US trial is planned for late May.

Painter, a virologist and chemist by training, has devoted his career to working on antivirals, coinventing several approved drugs for HIV and hepatitis B. In 2013, after decades in industry, he joined Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE) as its CEO and became director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD). DRIVE and the EIDD aim to move drug candidates from early-stage development and preclinical testing to proof-of-concept clinical trials.

Painter wakes up early every morning to check in on the progress of the EIDD-2801’s clinical trial in the UK, and after a long day’s work of wrangling resources, he heads off to bed hoping that the drug candidate works as well in people as it does in animals. “You just lie awake every night worrying that you’re giving a drug to people, and you want them to be safe,” he says.

Although doctors and scientists are testing a vast arsenal of existing drugs and drug candidates in the fight against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, EIDD-2801 stands out. It attacks the same viral enzyme, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, as Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, which the US Food and Drug Administration recently granted emergency use authorization, allowing it to be used by doctors in the pandemic. But unlike remdesivir, which has to be given intravenously, EIDD-2801 can be taken orally as a pill.

This means if EIDD-2801 is shown to be safe and effective, people could take it at home rather than in a hospital. That would allow EIDD-2801 to be taken earlier in the course of the disease, killing off the virus before it wreaks havoc on the body.

EIDD-2801’s other intriguing feature is that it appears to have a high barrier to resistance. Drugs can force viruses to quickly develop mutants that aren’t affected by the drug, which then makes the drug obsolete. But EIDD-2801 hasn’t prompted that sort of resistance in lab tests despite efforts to coerce such mutants to arise.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Dysfunction in the Trump White House causes maldistribution of remdesivir, the antiviral developed at UAB and approved for COVID-19 treatment

Just when it seemed the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus outbreak could not get any worse, along comes this story from Axios with the headline: "Scoop: Trump officials' dysfunction harms delivery of coronavirus drug."

So, what did the Trumpies screw up this time? It involves remdesivir, the antiviral drug developed at UAB that stands as the only FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19 patients. Here are details from reporter Jonathan Swan:

A complete breakdown in communication and coordination within the Trump administration has undermined the distribution of a promising treatment, according to senior officials with direct knowledge of the discussions.

Why it matters: The drug, remdesivir, hasn't made it to some of the high-priority hospitals where it's most needed, and administration officials have responded by shifting blame and avoiding responsibility, sources said.

The Trump administration is shifting blame and avoiding responsibility? I'll be darned, who could see that coming? We know that is the Trumpies' go-to move, but what exactly is going on in this instance? Swan writes:

Where it stands: Gilead Sciences, the company that makes remdesivir, donated hundreds of thousands of doses to the federal government after the Food and Drug Administration authorized it as an emergency treatment for coronavirus patients.

* More than 32,000 doses of remdesivir were shipped and delivered on Tuesday to Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia.

* But many of these doses went to "less impacted counties," an administration official said.

"Some went to the wrong places, some went to the right places," said one senior official. "We don't know who gave the order. And no one is claiming responsibility."

Yes, but: That's only about 5% of the total doses that will be distributed.

Heck, this goof even made some Trump insiders want to wretch:

Behind the scenes: Senior Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, were angered about what has transpired here.

* At Wednesday's meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Pence personally directed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to take more ownership for getting remdesivir to the places where it's needed, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

* In subsequent conversations with colleagues, Azar said he had not known about the arrangements that led to mass confusion and misaligned shipments the day before.

* Azar distanced himself from the debacle despite the fact that one of his top officials, assistant secretary for preparedness and response Robert Kadlec, was intimately involved in the distribution plan.

Between the lines: HHS was supposed to work with FEMA to allocate and distribute remdesivir to coronavirus hotspots around the U.S., but as the problems became apparent to the wider team on Wednesday, neither agency took responsibility.

* HHS was supposed to be the brains of the operation, using clinical expertise to allocate the drug to the places and hospitals around the country most in need, according a senior administration official, while FEMA was supposed to be the "arms and legs" putting that plan into action.

* But somewhere along the way, communication broke down. Thousands of doses were maldistributed, but as of Thursday, nobody was willing to put their name on this situation.

President Trump's stance of avoiding responsibility seems to have filtered down to his entire administration:

How it happened: The official said the criteria that determined where the drug was distributed was based off of outdated data, though it was nonetheless the best data the federal government had available.

* The official added that this failure of distribution highlights the need for better data. "But it more importantly highlights the reason why the administration continues to push a locally-executed response effort, because they [the local jurisdictions] know the data and the distribution better than the federal government."

* The administration will use more stringent criteria to target the remaining doses to the patients most in need, a source familiar with the planning said.

This dysfunction and blame-shifting inside the Trump administration was vividly highlighted in a CNN story Thursday about how doctors and pharmacists have been struggling to understand the administration's process for distributing the drug, as the two agencies placed the ultimate responsibility for the plan on each other.

As CNN and the Wall Street Journal have reported, health care leaders have been sounding the alarm over the Trump administration's lack of transparency in distributing remdesivir.

How deep is this problem? Pretty darned deep, it appears:

The backstory: This isn't the first time the Trump administration has descended into dysfunction over its handling of remdesivir.

* As Axios first reported, federal officials were slow to act on Gilead's request, in January, to send doses of the drug to China to begin clinical trials.

* The drug has shown promising initial results, at least at the margins, in some clinical trials. It appears to shorten some patients' hospital stays by about four days. Although the FDA hasn't yet fully approved the drug, it signed off last week on emergency use to treat coronavirus.

* Gilead then offered to donate more than 600,000 doses of remdesivir for the federal government to distributed to where it's most needed around the country.

What they're saying: "An initial allocation of the drug remdesivir was made to seven states on Tuesday, and — after consultation with health experts — HHS will be managing distribution of the next tranche of the treatment to 16 states tonight and tomorrow, based on urgent need," Devin O'Malley, a spokesman for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told Axios.

Trump administration officials worked throughout the day on Thursday on the distribution plan for its next batch of remdesivir.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Newly obtained documents show ALEC is playing a leading role in pushing Trump administration to reopen the economy amid wreckage of coronavirus

(from Center for Media and Democracy)

A nonprofit organization for conservative state legislators is leading the push to reopen the U.S. economy in the face of the coronavirus crisis -- even though experts tend to say the country is not ready for such a step -- according to a report at the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Write David Armiak and Alex Kotch:

Documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) show that a powerful corporate lobby front group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is playing a leading role in the right-wing movement to push for early reopening of the economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has cost the United States 61,680 lives to date.

ALEC is a corporate pay-to-play operation where legislators and corporate lobbyists vote behind closed doors to adopt model legislation on a broad range of public policy issues.

At a time when many hard-hit states and medical experts are lamenting the lack of federal leadership in dealing with the health crisis, the ALEC documents call for action to “bring the economy back to life through a free market approach that gets big government out of the way.”

What do the documents reveal? The CMD report explains:

In an email to legislators obtained by CMD, ALEC touts that “your ALEC team has been value-pushing your ideas and solutions into the mainstream” with “9 across the States podcast episodes with guests such as Newt Gingrich,” “30 policy prescriptions,” and hosting of “9 calls with top government officials and policy experts.”

ALEC is also coordinating a sign-on letter from “policy leaders and elected officials” to President Trump and state leaders urging them to “reopen the economy and get people back to work.” The letter praises Trump for his “Opening Up America Again” plan and thanks him for a “disaster response [that] is locally executed, state managed and federally supported.”

Are ALEC's positions popular with everyday Americans as they alter their lives to battle a lethal virus? It doesn't look like it:

Recent polling shows ALEC’s aggressive position on resuming commercial activity to be outside the mainstream of public opinion. Three in four voters (73 percent) think we need to continue social distancing measures despite the impact on the economy, 80 percent want more testing before schools and restaurants reopen, and 65 percent said “they did not want to go back to work without more thorough testing.”

ALEC writes in the letter that, “It is possible and preferable for employers to implement best practices to protect the health of their customers and employees – without micromanagement from the government,” but industry practices during the pandemic suggest otherwise.

“Essential” businesses that have stayed open have repeatedly jeopardized the health of their workers, including “thousands of employees across the country” at meat processing plants and shift workers in over 55 of Amazon’s fulfillment centers who have contracted the coronavirus.

A number of governors and health experts have warned that reopening the economy too early could make the coronavirus pandemic worse.

ALEC -- surprise, surprise -- is looking beyond public-health issues, including an almost certain spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths to come with a premature reopening:

Meanwhile, ALEC is attempting to use the national crisis to leverage movement on its pro-corporate policy agenda. The sign-on letter states in ALEC fashion that a “proven formula of tax relief, deregulation, and lawsuit reform” are keys to rebuilding the economy.

ALEC and the Koch influence network pushed hard for the massive 2017 tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthy that not only has not paid for itself, as Secretary Mnuchin notoriously argued it would, but as of January had led to a national deficit that is 28 percent greater than the Congressional Budget Office projected before the tax cuts.

Exploiting the opportunity of the coronavirus crisis, ALEC has put together a “policy prescriptions” wish list on its site composed of model bills it has drafted and recommends legislative members push for.

Emails obtained through records requests by CMD show that ALEC has been working closely with the Trump administration to convince members that now is the time to reopen. ALEC’s CEO Lisa Nelson wrote in an email to legislators Tuesday that ALEC hosted a call with Vice President Mike Pence (who once quipped, “I can say I was for ALEC before it was cool”) and over 300 members of the “ALEC family” to discuss reopening the economy on April 22.

Pence said on the call that the country “will look much different — and much better — by Memorial Day.”

Nelson also stated that ALEC would be hosting calls about reopening the economy with Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia (April 29) and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (May 5).

On March 30, ALEC hosted a conference call for its members and partners that featured National Federation of Independent Business‘s Senior Director of Government Relations Kevin Kuhlman and Job Creators Network‘s President and CEO Alfredo Ortiz to discuss how to help “businesses in their communities access capital and restart their businesses.”

ALEC legislators and lobbyists will have an opportunity to put their words into action in July, as ALEC announced this week that it will be going ahead with its plans for an in-person Annual meeting in Orlando Florida on July 15-17. Nelson wrote that the conference will “explore solutions that will empower our attendees with freedom-based policies as we rebuild our states.”

Florida ranks eighth in the country for the most COVID-19 cases.