This Is Not Working Out

Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post is encouraging one powerful old man to rein in another one:

The insidious feedback loop between President T—- and Fox News is no secret.

When T—- says “jump,” the network leaps into action. And what the president hears on Fox News often dictates his own pronouncements and policies — which, in turn, are glowingly represented in Fox News’s coverage and commentary.

That’s never been anything short of dangerous, since the effect has been to create a de facto state-run media monster more devoted to maintaining power than shedding light on the truth. But now the mind-meld of Fox News and T—- is potentially lethal as T—- plays down the seriousness of the coronavirus and, hearing nothing but applause from his favorite information source for doing so, sees little reason to change.

There’s one person who could transform all that in an instant: Fox founder Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born media mogul who, at 89, still exerts his influence on the leading cable network — and thus on the president himself….

So imagine if the word flowed down from on high that Fox News should communicate to T—- that he needs to take an entirely new tack on the virus. Imagine if Murdoch ordered the network to end its habit of praising him as if he were the Dear Leader of an authoritarian regime and to instead use its influence to drive home the seriousness of the moment….

The network’s influence on T—- is clear from the presidential tweets that follow fast on the heels of a Fox News broadcast. He was always a fan of Fox News, but after entering the White House, he made it even more of an obsessive daily habit,  … to the extent of blotting out dissenting voices from other sources.

T—- made specific reference to his reliance on Fox News during his misleading press event Friday, when he offered unwarranted reassurance rather than urging extreme caution and decisive action…

The message: Go about your business, America, and it will all disappear soon….By contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is telling hard truths: As much as 70 percent of that country could end up being infected.

Matt Gertz, a Media Matters senior fellow … connected the dots: “Roughly an hour before his comments, a Fox News medical correspondent argued on-air that coronavirus was no more dangerous than the flu; a few hours later, the same correspondent argued that coronavirus fears were being deliberately overblown in hopes of damaging T—- politically…. The network’s personalities have frequently claimed that the T—- administration has been doing a great job responding to coronavirus….”

But it’s not just the opinionators … who are at fault. The news segments — while certainly more tied to reality — seldom push back in a meaningful way against the T—- message.

On Tuesday, news anchors … docilely sat back and lobbed soft questions while the president’s son Eric praised his father’s crisis-management skills and blamed liberal media figures who criticize him…

Even if all that changed today, great harm has already been done. As The Washington Post and others have documented, the administration has repeatedly squandered chances to prepare for and manage the epidemic.

Meanwhile, reality chugs on. From Crooked Media’s daily newsletter:

The World Health Organization … pointedly noted that while all countries can still change the pandemic’s course, “some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.” It always feels nice to be seen. Anyway, President T—- is still hiding the truth about the pandemic from the public:

The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, for no conceivable reason other than to prevent embarrassing leaks about the administration’s response. Officials have had dozens of improperly classified discussions in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health and Human Services, and staffers without security clearances, including key health experts, were thus unable to attend….

A day after T—- once again insisted, “it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” top health officials told the House Oversight and Reform Committee the opposite…. Dr. Anthony Fauci informed lawmakers that the outbreak is “going to get worse,” and that COVID-19 has a mortality rate ten times higher than the seasonal flu. 

Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield, who has taken up residence in T—-’s pocket, told the committee there are no CDC plans to implement curbside coronavirus testing, because “we’re trying to maintain the relationship between individuals and their health-care providers”, a comically terrible justification for several reasons…. Minnesota care providers have begun their own curbside testing, and hopefully other states will soon follow suit.

From the start, the U.S. outbreak has been a story of state and local officials doing their best to respond in the face of egregious federal delays….

It’s still unclear how many Americans have been tested—the CDC said around 8,500 swabs have been taken, but that number would be much higher than the total number of tested patients. By devastating contrast, South Korea has been able to test 10,000 people per day since late February. …

The White House’s imposed secrecy around the federal response has restricted crucial information, delayed action, and will ultimately cost lives. At the heart of the cover-up is the cavernous gap between what T—- and top health experts have said about the coronavirus threat, and so far, T—-’s only acknowledgement of the contradiction has been to call it “fake news”…

The president could declare a national emergency. That would give the government more power to deal with the virus. Politico reports, however:

T—- is reluctant to declare an expansive emergency to combat the escalating coronavirus outbreak, fearful of stoking panic with such a dramatic step, according to three people familiar with the situation.

Instead, the president is expected to sign within days what the White House calls a more limited designation… Any emergency declaration would go significantly beyond that move, bringing in the Federal Emergency Management Agency and freeing up funding and resources for states struggling to contain the rapidly spreading virus.

T—-’s concern at this point is that going further could hamper his narrative that the coronavirus is similar to the seasonal flu and could further agitate Wall Street….

Health experts have rigorously disputed any assertion that the coronavirus is equivalent to the seasonal flu, noting it is much more lethal and particularly dangerous to the elderly and those with other health conditions….

The administration is “not comfortable with the optics of national emergency” because of how it might impact Wall Street, tourism and air travel, a former Department of Homeland Security official said….

T—- has spent weeks trying to reassure the public about the outbreak, while the stock market shows daily declines not seen since the 2008 recession.  He is especially sensitive to variations in the stock market, seeing it as a key talking point in his reelection campaign.

“Everything is about the election now,” said a former T—- adviser….

Unquote.

Having the most self-centered man in America as our president is not working out.

Another Post Mortem

When she opened Saturday Night Live last night, Elizabeth Warren pointed out that she’s not dead, she’s merely in the Senate.

Still, Moira Donegan says the Democrats would be more viable for the presidency if:

… if the media and the electorate were less blinded by cynicism, sexism and fear and more willing to see Warren for who she was – the most capable, competent and kindest candidate in the race.

As a woman, the Massachusetts senator always faced an uphill battle of double standards and misogynist resentment. She had to be competent but not condescending, cheery but not pandering, maternal but not frumpy, smart but not haughty. As she rose in the polls last summer and fall, she came under the kind of scrutiny that male frontrunners are not subjected to, and faced skepticism about her claims and character that male candidates do not face.

As she rose in the polls last summer and fall, she came under the kind of scrutiny that male frontrunners are not subjected to.

This is the fate of a lot of women who come close to attaining power, and empirical data backs up the phenomenon: writing in the Washington Post, the Cornell philosopher Kate Manne cited a 2010 Harvard study that found that women are viewed more negatively simply by seeking office. “Voters view male and female politicians as equally power-seeking, but respond to them quite differently,” Manne writes. “Men who seek power were viewed as stronger and tougher, while power-seeking women provoked feelings of disgust and contempt.”

As a result, all of Warren’s virtues were recast as vices in the public eye. Her impressive credentials and superlative intellect became out-of-touch elitism. Her joyousness and enthusiasm were cast as somehow both insincerely pandering and cringingly over-earnest. This kind of transformation of neutral or positive character traits into negative ones is not something that happens to men in similar positions. Sanders can aestheticize his practiced cantankerousness for laughs and sympathy without anyone asking if its a put-on. Biden can use slang from the 1930s without anyone ever questioning whether the ostentatious folksiness of his “no malarkey” messaging might be just a tad affected. But for Warren, every smile was interpreted as a sign of concealed hatred, of secret, nefarious motives.

Her policy efforts, too, were cast as a repudiation of her principles rather than as steps toward realizing them. Her attempt to transform Medicare for All from a symbolic rallying cry into a substantive, workable and affordable policy change that can be made in our time brought, paradoxically, accusations that she was less serious about the policy for trying to make it a reality. Her plans to break up tech monopolies, repair the damage to black wealth done by historic redlining policies and reshape massive federal spending projects to make them environmentally sustainable were all cast as signs of duplicity and lack of commitment to her stated values. Meanwhile, male candidates who did not have substantive plans to implement such policies were believed, largely uncritically, when they told the public that they would put them in place.

In this race, men’s statements – about who they are, what they value, what they would do as president – have largely been taken at face value, even when male candidates have made false or exaggerated claims or contradicted themselves. But Elizabeth Warren was never given the benefit of the doubt. Her flaws and missteps were magnified, and interpreted in ways disproportionate to their significance, while comparatively greater mistakes by male rivals were all but ignored. When she referred to her father as having worked as a janitor, a days–long news cycle asked why, if he was really a janitor, her brother had once referred to him as a “maintenance man”. That these are effectively the same did not matter: the irrelevant non-story was interpreted as a sign of her constitutional untrustworthiness.

Warren was said to be not really running for president, but running as a spoiler; not really happy to meet voters, but shamelessly pretending with her long selfie lines; not really committed to economic inequality, but merely devoting her life to it as some sort of long con. None of these accusations made much logical sense, but that didn’t matter, because they were backed up by the force of feeling – a very strong feeling, held by many men and women alike, that a woman seeking power and status just can’t be trusted.

The epistemic philosopher Miranda Fricker calls this tendency to disbelieve women, and to believe powerful men, “testimonial injustice”: the harm done to speakers when prejudiced listeners discount their credibility. Women face testimonial injustice in particular when they challenge or contradict men, as cultural tropes that depict women as conniving, scheming, and selfish can be mustered to make her seem less credible, him more believable. Fricker doesn’t apply her concept of testimonial injustice to gender conflict exclusively, but it is an obstacle that many women recount in their own experiences of gendered injustice: the sense that they cannot be believed, that they cannot achieve equal credibility and moral footing with men in the minds of their peers, that they will always be assumed to be either stupid or dishonest. Branded as dishonest even as she told the truth, duplicitous even as she kept her promises, Warren faced testimonial injustice on a huge scale, and it ultimately doomed her campaign.

Unquote.

In Case You’re Wondering How Prepared We Are

So far, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US is low. But there are now confirmed cases in at least 32 (now 35)(now almost 50) countries. The number of new cases outside China has doubled every 5.5 days since January. 

Today, an official of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said:

Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States. It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.

From journalist Judd Legum of Popular Information (a site worth visiting):

In 2018, the Trump administration ousted Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, who served as the Senior Director of Global Health Security. Ziemer was a member of the National Security Council, where he was responsible for coordinating “responses to global health emergencies and potential pandemics.” Ziemer was lauded as “one of the most quietly effective leaders in public health.” His work on malaria during the Obama administration helped save 6 million lives.

“Admiral Ziemer’s departure is deeply alarming,” Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA) said in May 2018. “Expertise like his is critical in avoiding large outbreaks.” Beth Cameron, who served on the National Security Council in the Obama administration, said that Ziemer’s ouster was “a major loss for health security, biodefense, and pandemic preparedness” and noted that it “is unclear in his absence who at the White House would be in charge of a pandemic.”

John Bolton, who was serving as Trump’s National Security Adviser at the time, did not just remove Ziemer. He decided to eliminate the position, and “the NSC’s entire global health security unit.” Bolton also forced out Tom Bossert, a highly regarded expert who was Ziemer’s counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security. “Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced,” Foreign Policy reported in January.

Trump slashed funding for the CDC’s epidemic prevention activities, forcing the agency to end its work “in 39 out of 49 countries because money is running out” in 2018. The program, which started in 2014, was designed to “help countries prevent infectious-disease threats from becoming epidemics.” Among the countries no longer included: China.

Trump has also tried to decimate funding for the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which is tasked with fighting the spread of disease. Congress, however, has refused to comply. So the Trump administration has simply let the group slowly atrophy, failing to replace members who quit or retire….

Who is in charge of the United States’ response to the coronavirus? You might assume it is the CDC. You would be wrong.

There were several hundred Americans aboard a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, that experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 near Japan. The Americans were evacuated and, before they were flown home, 14 tested positive for the coronavirus. The CDC advised that these infected passengers should not be flown home with the rest of the group, arguing that they could infect the others.

The CDC, however, was overruled by the “State Department and a top Trump administration health official.” The decision was made even though to government “had already told passengers they would not be evacuated with anyone who was infected or who showed symptoms.” CDC officials were so distraught that they “demanded to be left out of the news release that explained that infected people were being flown back to the United States.”

At the moment, there is no “clear chain of command for pandemic response.”

… There are also serious problems with the system set up to identify new outbreaks.

The test developed by the CDC to detect the coronavirus has not been able to be verified as accurate by most labs. As a result, just “three of the more than 100 public health labs across the country have verified the CDC test for use.” This has “hampered CDC’s plan to screen samples collected by its national flu-surveillance network for the coronavirus.” These issues “could impede the U.S. government’s ability to detect scattered cases before they snowball into larger outbreaks”….

Inside the White House, the concern has been around how the coronavirus could impact T—-‘s reelection. Senior officials fear “a sustained outbreak could slow global markets and upend a strong U.S. economy that has been central to [his] political pitch.”

T—- has been eager to downplay the threat of the coronavirus in public, recently expressing confidence that the virus would dissipate in a few weeks when the weather gets warmer….

There is no scientific basis for [this] claim, which is based on the assumption that the coronavirus will follow the same pattern as the seasonal flu. Columbia University epidemiologist Stephen Morse called T—-‘s comments “wishful thinking” and warned against being “lulled by hopeful, but quite possibly wrong analogies.”

Unquote.

From Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut:

This morning’s classified coronavirus briefing should have been made fully open to the American people—they would be as appalled & astonished as I am by the inadequacy of preparedness & prevention.

We have a president whose main concern at the moment isn’t keeping people healthy. It’s how the spread of the disease will affect him. He’s also a pathological liar who doesn’t believe in science. Maybe this won’t be so bad, but that’s how prepared we are.

Not About the President, But Still Very Strange

From the Washington Post:

A recent uptick in sightings of unidentified flying objects — or as the military calls them, “unexplained aerial phenomena” — prompted the Navy to draft formal procedures for pilots to document encounters, a corrective measure that former officials say is long overdue.

As first reported by POLITICO, these intrusions have been happening on a regular basis since 2014. Recently, unidentified aircraft have entered military-designated airspace as often as multiple times per month, Joseph Gradisher, spokesman for office of the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare, told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Citing safety and security concerns, Gradisher vowed to “investigate each and every report.”

He said, “We want to get to the bottom of this. We need to determine who’s doing it, where it’s coming from and what their intent is. We need to try to find ways to prevent it from happening again.”

Luis Elizondo, a former senior intelligence officer, told The Post that the new Navy guidelines formalized the reporting process, facilitating data-driven analysis while removing the stigma from talking about UFOs, calling it “the single greatest decision the Navy has made in decades.”

Chris Mellon, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence and staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was less laudatory.

“I don’t believe in safety through ignorance,” he said, scolding the intelligence community for a lack of “curiosity and courage” and a “failure to react” to a strong pattern of sightings.

In some cases, pilots — many of whom are engineers and academy graduates — claimed to observe small spherical objects flying in formation. Others say they’ve seen white, Tic Tac-shaped vehicles. Aside from drones, all engines rely on burning fuel to generate power, but these vehicles all had no air intake, no wind and no exhaust.

“It’s very mysterious, and they still seem to exceed our aircraft in speed,” he said, calling it a “truly radical technology.”

According to Mellon, awestruck and baffled pilots, concerned that reporting unidentified flying aircraft would adversely affect their careers, tended not to speak up. And when they did, he said, there was little interest in investigating their claims.

“Imagine you see highly advanced vehicles, they appear on radar systems, they look bizarre, no one knows where they’re from. This happens on a recurring basis, and no one does anything,” said Mellon, who now works for To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences. Because agencies do not share this type of information, it is difficult to know the full extent of activity. Still, he estimated that dozens of incidents were witnessed by naval officers in a single year, enough to force the service to address the issue.

“Pilots are upset, and they’re trying to help wake up a slumbering system,” he told The Post.

In 2017, the Pentagon first confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a government operation launched in 2007 to collect and analyze “anomalous aerospace threats.” As The Post’s Joby Warrick reported, the investigation ranged from “advanced aircraft fielded by traditional U.S. adversaries to commercial drones to possible alien encounters”….

Elizondo, who ran the AATIP, said the newly drafted guidelines were a culmination of many things, most notably that the Navy had enough credible evidence — including eyewitness accounts and corroborating radar information — to “know this is occurring.”

“If I came to you and said, ‘There are these things that can fly over our country with impunity, defying the laws of physics, and within moments could deploy a nuclear device at will,’ that would be a matter of national security,” Elizondo said.

With the number of U.S. military personnel in the Air Force and Navy who described the same observations, the noise level could not be ignored.

“This type of activity is very alarming,” Elizondo said, “and people are recognizing there are things in our aerospace that lie beyond our understanding.”

PS: It’s time to impeach the bastard.

It’s Not the Reactionaries So Much as the Elites They Listen To

Twitter isn’t the best place for reasoned discussion, but depending on who you follow, it isn’t a vast, superficial wasteland either. One of the cool things it offers is the occasional tweetstorm that benefits from directness and immediacy.

Here, slightly edited, is what David Roberts, who writes about climate and energy for Vox, had to say in thirty or so tweets yesterday:

Ever since climate became a political issue in the US, one of the most ubiquitous topics of climate discussion has been “how can conservatives be persuaded to accept climate science and join in the productive search for solutions?” I have read, no joke, MILLIONS of words on that subject. Been following that conversation long enough to notice it has certain recurring features.

The weirdest aspect is that it almost always treats conservatives and their denial as a kind of feature of the landscape, like a mountain. It’s something that just IS, something other people have to maneuver around, or overcome, or otherwise deal with. It is not treated as a CHOICE, made by grown-ass adults who could choose differently, for which they are responsible.

Another (related) weird aspect is, it’s almost always treated as something that the right’s political opponents *caused*. Al Gore caused it. Strident rhetoric or “alarmism” caused it. Enviro aversion to nuclear power (or CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage], or geoengineering) caused it.

It’s always discussed as a result of something enviros or the left did–and something they could undo, if they just acted/talked right. “If environmentalists stopped doing [thing that personally annoys me], they’d be winning over the right” is a *ubiquitous* template.

But it’s bullshit. The question of what shapes conservative opinion is not some deep mystery about which your gut impulses carry any insight. It’s an intensely studied question in social science and has been, as least to a decent approximation, answered. I recommend this post, summarizing John Zaller’s book The Nature & Origins of Mass Opinion. To *very* briefly summarize: people don’t know anything; they don’t have strong opinions on political “issues”; they form opinions by following the cues of leaders in their various social tribes. We are social creatures; tribal ties (not “issues”) are primary.

So conservatives believe what conservatives believe. And they find out what conservatives believe from conservative elites.That means conservative politicians, celebs, and local leaders, but especially, in US conservatism circa 2017, *media figures*. Conservative media plays an *enormous* role in shaping conservative opinion and has dragged it steadily rightward.

So we can say with confidence that conservatives deny climate change because that’s what conservative political/media elites do. Elite cues are what matter. It follows that the *only* reliable way to get conservatives to stop denying climate change is for conservative political/media elites to stop. That’s it.

You might think that Al Gore should STFU, enviros should support nuclear, green journalists should avoid “doomism” and all the other things that VSPs [Very Serious Persons] are always scolding greens for. Fine. Think what you want. Scold away.

But there is no evidence, and no reason to think, that any of those changes would have any material effect on conservative climate denialism. Conservatives will change their tune on climate when the people they see on Fox & Breitbart change their tune. Until then, clever arguments and magic words (“national security!” “conserving God’s gift!”) are futile for everything except meeting think-piece word counts.

Conservative elites and media are to blame for conservative ignorance and obstruction on climate. Not greens, not Democrats, not Al Gore, not That Guy on Twitter. What they are doing is a monstrous crime that will directly result in enormous suffering. And they are grown-ass adults fully capable of understanding the consequences. They are responsible for their own actions and deserve to be called out for them.

Basically, conservative elites are to blame for climate paralysis and only conservative elites can change it. I don’t like it, but there it is. Step one for everyone ought to be telling the damn truth about it. Quit finding “clever,” “counterintuitive” ways to blame others, FFS. As Ornstein and Mann said (more broadly, but it applies here as well), “Republicans are the problem”.

Of course, in the case of global warming, Republicans are only part of the problem. The big problem is global warming itself, combined with how unlikely it is that we will stop it from getting worse. What scientists have predicted for decades is coming to pass. The world is getting hotter; the atmosphere has more moisture in it; the oceans are rising; the ice is receding; the permafrost is melting; storms and heat waves are intensifying. We are polluting the planet to a dangerous degree and it’s coming back to bite us, too quickly for us to stop it, yet too slowly to make everyone feel the urgency of the problem. 

Later, I saw that David Roberts presented his thoughts more formally in an article with a long title: “As Hurricanes and Wildfires Rage, US Climate Politics Enters the Realm of Farce: Climate Denial Is Less Credible, But More Powerful, Than Ever”.

But if you want to get really depressed, take a look at The Guardian‘s “This Is How Your World Could End”. If the author is correct, it’s not out of the question that the earth’s surface may become too hot for mammals. The good news is that many other living things would survive, including birds, who handle heat better than we do.

Darkness in America

I suppose it’s possible there were some “very fine people” who chose to march with the Nazis and Klan in Charlottesville, chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Perhaps they were seriously misinformed about the nature of the event. But as Chris Rock said today: “If 10 guys thinks it’s ok to hang with 1 Nazi then they just became 11 Nazis”.

The good news is that the president* sunk so low today that more of our fellow citizens will turn against him, finally seeing him for what he is. His angry defense of white supremacy even generated disgusted reactions from a few of the right-wingers on Fox (order has probably been restored by now).

Congresswoman Gwen Moore, a Democratic Congresswoman who represents Milwaukee, called for his impeachment:

“As we once again hear [the president*] defend those responsible for the deadly riot in Charlottesville and receive praise by hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis, the time has come for Republicans and Democrats to put aside our political differences and philosophical debates for a higher cause. For the sake of the soul of our country, we must come together to restore our national dignity that has been robbed by [his] presence in the White House. My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history.”

Of course, impeachment is unlikely, given the Republican majority in the House, but perhaps the House and Senate will vote to censure him. I could see our not-as-terrible-as-some Republican Congressman voting for that. 

Perhaps being censured would finally give our president* the heart attack or stroke he so richly deserves (after his new chief of staff told him what “censure” means). 

Meanwhile, the sun, earth and moon are speeding toward the locations in space that will give America a solar eclipse on Monday. The “totality – the area where the sun is completely blocked by the moon – will be 70 miles wide and will travel from Oregon in the morning to South Carolina in the afternoon. The rest of the country will see a partial eclipse. 

Vox has a cool eclipse tracker that allows you to see when the eclipse will occur in your zip code and how much of the sun will be hidden. At its peak here in New Jersey, 72% of the sun will be hidden at 2:44 p.m. I don’t plan to use the special glass or glasses you need in order to avoid permanent eye damage, but I’ll certainly take a quick look. Coincidentally, I have an appointment with our optometrist at 3 p.m. I can experience the eclipse from his parking lot and then he can tell me if I’m blind.

I’m just brainstorming here, but I wonder if someone could convince our president* that the eclipse will be a Message telling him his presidency is over. Eclipses have often made a big impression on the ignorant and/or simple-minded. Assuming he’s in Washington, however, the moon will only block 81% of the sun. That might not be enough. But the Secret Service could tell him he’s got a rally to attend in South Carolina (they like him down there) and arrange him to be outside at just the right time. It’s a long shot, but one can dream.

PS: Another Democratic Congresswoman, Jackie Speier, who represents the area south of San Francisco, has called for the president* to be removed because he is mentally unfit: “[He] is showing signs of erratic behavior and mental instability that place the country in grave danger. Time to invoke the 25th Amendment”.