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Fri Mar 20, 2020, 09:08 PM

Friday Talking Points -- 19,382 And Counting

The big political news this week was that former Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in federal prison for using money from his campaign to pay for all sorts of personal items. Oh, and also that one of the few remaining anti-abortion Democrats, Dan Lipinski of Illinois, was successfully primaried by a progressive candidate this week. Lipinski was also previously against both Obamacare and gay marriage, so this will be a real ideological changing of the guard.

We're kidding, of course. Neither of these stories -- which, in normal times would have been covered extensively by the media -- even caused a blip on the radar this week. Because the nation is gripped in the midst of a viral pandemic and we've got the Keystone Kops running the response. Which, admittedly, is a much bigger story to focus on.

A quick review of where we stand is in order. Less than a month ago, on February 24, President Trump tweeted: "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.... Stock market starting to look very good to me." Two days later, during a press conference, Trump exuded optimism once again: "And again, when you have 15 people [in the country infected with COVID-19], and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done." Got that? "Within a couple of days" the number of infected people would get "down close to zero." OK, less than a month later, let's check the numbers, shall we?

As of this writing, that number is -- surprise! -- nowhere near zero. In fact, it currently stands at 19,382. By the time you read this, it will be higher -- much higher (when we began writing this article, it stood at 18,755). And it's probably far from accurate, since not everyone who is sick and should be tested is currently being tested. The administration cannot now even predict the date when enough testing will be available to achieve this rather fundamental goal. Until then, those numbers should be seen as a mere fraction of the reality. And that number just climbed by 5,000 people in a single day, as more and more testing is being performed.

The American Clinical Laboratory Association, representing commercial testing labs, said that as of Wednesday night its members had completed "approximately 43,000 tests to date." Three weeks ago, the Trump administration was promising that "one million," or "a-million-and-a-half," or sometimes even "four million" tests would be available "by the end of the week." We were told this over and over again. Week's end would arrive and the goal (quite obviously) had still not been met. So they started making even higher promises for "the next week." That was two and three weeks ago, and we're still under 50,000 tests performed. Here is some of what the state-level people are now saying about the current situation:

"I watch a news conference and they tell us we have testing capacity, but I am telling you we don't have testing capacity. It is not out there yet," said Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz during a Wednesday news conference. His state has a current backlog of 1,700 samples waiting to be processed.

. . .

Trump on Thursday insisted that governors have all they need, telling reporters he was hearing "very good things on the ground."

"I can tell you what we're doing is working with local governors to get them what they want," Trump said.

But the president's words don't match reality, state and local officials say.

"We're the boots on the ground. We know what's available," said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease division director for the Minnesota Health Department. "Some of the commercial labs do not have the materials they need."

That's left states to impose strict criteria on who can be tested, frustrating people across the country who are showing symptoms, worried but were told to wait and see if their cases worsen. In several states, only those who are hospitalized or at high risk, including those with underlying conditions, can be tested.

. . .

Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in Michigan and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare, said the lack of testing combined with a critical need for manpower leaves patients at risk. Doctors are being told to keep working until they have a fever, even if they are exposed to a patient with the virus. They are being told to use one mask per shift unless it becomes soiled. But because of the lack of testing, there is no way to know whether a doctor contracts the virus until it's too late.

"For God's sake, just get us more tests," he said.

Trump is deaf to their pleas, however. In fact, he's deaf to anyone who isn't offering up fulsome praise to him, as evidenced by his tantrum today when asked a perfectly legitimate question by NBC reporter Peter Alexander. Worth noting: an NBC News colleague of Alexander died today of the coronavirus. When Alexander tried to ask why Trump's spokesmen are disagreeing with his rather rosy assessment of the possibilities of a drug for treatment, Trump responded:

"Well," Trump said, "you know I think we only disagree a little bit. I disagree. Maybe and maybe not. Maybe there is; maybe there isn't. We have to see."

Alexander countered: "Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things, may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?"

"No, I don't think so," Trump said.

Alexander noted it was not yet an approved drug.

"Such a lovely question," Trump shot back. He tried to say he agreed with [Dr. Anthony] Fauci -- despite what he had said just a moment before -- but then again offered a more optimistic tone than the doctor has about the drug.

"I feel good about it. That's all it is -- just a feeling. [I'm a] smart guy," Trump said, adding: "We have nothing to lose. You know the expression: What the hell do you have to lose?"

Alexander responded with what might seem like an innocuous question: "What you said Americans were scared, though? Nearly 200 dead. Fourteen thousand are sick. Millions, as you witness, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?"

"I say that you're a terrible reporter; that's what I say," Trump said. "I think it's a very nasty question. And I think it's a very bad signal that you're putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers, and they're looking for hope. And you're doing sensationalism."

He added: "Let me just say something: That's really bad reporting. And you want to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let's see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I've been right a lot."

But here's the thing: Alexander rightly noted that Trump was saying something that medical experts like Fauci have strained to avoid -- that this drug could be the kind of "game-changer" Trump actually volunteered that he disagreed with that and said it might be. There is a real difference in what they are saying, and it's completely fair for a reporter to ask Trump to account for that.

For the most part, though, Trump remains cheerfully oblivious. From his recent statements: "I don't take responsibility at all. We're doing a great job." When asked if the buck stopped with him and how he'd rate his response on a scale of 1 to 10, Trump answered (because of course he did): "I'd rate it a 10." He also said that the buck "normally" stopped with him, "but this has never been done in this country." So maybe the buck stops with Trump unless there's an emergency, when the buck can just get the heck out of the Oval Office entirely?

On the same day Trump gave himself a perfect score for dealing with the crisis, the stock market sent him a gigantic vote of no confidence in the form of the biggest one-day drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average's history, losing almost exactly 3,000 points.

We have to admit we've lost count of how many times the "circuit breaker" provision has kicked in over the past few weeks in the stock market, which temporarily halts trading when the market is down 7 percent in one day. Four? Five? Previous to this crisis, it had happened exactly once, over 20 years ago. It didn't even happen during the slide which began the Great Recession. The day Trump gave himself a perfect score, it almost hit the second threshold of a 13 percent drop, which would have halted trading for the day. The Dow dropped 12.9 points.

The stock market has posted multiple new records for "largest point drop in history" over the past few weeks, only to see these records fall when they hit an even worse trading day. We can't even give this market crash a day-themed name (like "Black Monday" ) since it isn't just one day, it is ongoing. Black March? March Madness? We have now moved beyond even week-based themes to having to use the whole month. That's how bad it's been on Wall Street, with no end in sight (the market dropped almost another thousand points today). All gains made during Trump's tenure in office have now officially been wiped out, meaning he won't be asking audiences how "their 401K" is doing quite so much any more.

Of course, the lucky ones got out of the market before the crash. Or maybe "lucky" isn't the best word to use, since it has now been revealed that several senators moved very early on to sell off millions in stock holdings right before the market crashed. Coincidentally enough, these very same senators got classified briefings about the coronavirus right before they sold their stocks. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Well, no. Nothing about this is funny, really. It's no laughing matter. While Trump gives himself perfect marks and throws a tantrum worthy of a five-year-old when reporters ask questions based in reality (rather than the fantasyland which exists only in Trump's head), people are dying out there. Hundreds of them. Soon to be thousands, if not tens of thousands.

Anyone tired of "all the winning" yet? November can't come fast enough.

We actually called for this earlier in the week, and we're pleased to see almost immediate action from three Democratic senators (two of whom have been pushing the idea for quite some time).

This week, Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, and Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill which would expand in-person and no-excuse absentee voting by mail to all 50 states. This could become a critical requirement if we're still fighting the coronavirus in November. The faith of the public in the American election system is what is at stake here, which is no small thing.

In fact, as we suggested in our article a few days ago, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer really need to demand this -- for the 2020 election, on an emergency basis -- as a piece of the next must-pass coronavirus bailout bill. We need to get started on this right now, to provide enough lead time for the states to get ready for it. Oregon -- the state Wyden and Merkley hail from -- already runs its entire election as vote-by-mail. And they have seen record turnout for their elections as a direct result (63 percent of eligible voters in Oregon voted in 2018 -- and that was only during a midterm election).

This is a public health emergency, and we have to prepare our elections to be able to cope with it. As Wyden put it:

If Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland and Kentucky had vote by mail on the books years ago, they wouldn't have had to cancel their elections. It will give us the highest chance of avoiding delayed elections and ensuring Americans can exercise their Constitutional rights. No one should have to put their health at risk to vote.... Now is the time to bring this practice to the national stage so we can ensure that even during this crisis, the American people can safely exercise their sacred right to vote.

He's right. But it needs to happen now, not later. The states who will have to expand their mail-in voting dramatically are going to need all the time they can get in order to successfully get up and running by November. So Pelosi and Schumer need to start demanding this as the price for Democratic votes on the next must-pass bill.

For pushing the issue at precisely the right time with a piece of legislation, Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, and Amy Klobuchar are the winners of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Congratulate Senator Amy Klobuchar on her Senate contact page, Senator Jeff Merkley on his Senate contact page, and Senator Ron Wyden on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts. And, even more important perhaps, please don't hesitate to contact your own congressional representatives and demand they get on board with this effort right now.]

This may be somewhat premature, but it certainly looks pretty bad already. So far, Senator Richard Burr has been the poster child of "using inside information to cash in before the markets crash," but three other fast-moving senators (as of this writing) have also been identified. Two are Republicans, just like Barr.

But one isn't. Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose husband has made quite a lot of money in China over the course of his career, sold between $1.5 million and $6 million in stocks right before the markets crashed. Her office, when asked about this, stated that all of her assets were "in a blind trust," but they also admitted that there was a rather large loophole: "She has no involvement in her husband's financial decisions."

So it all must have been a huge coincidence.

Maybe she's right, but we've known DiFi for too long to just take her at her word (full disclosure: DiFi represents us in the Senate, as we live in California, so we know her quite well). This gives off -- at the very least -- the appearance of insider trading and using confidential information given in the Senate to lock in a profit before everyone else is affected, which is (to put it mildly) not the best look for a politician to have right now. Or ever, for that matter.

Which is why she's the obvious choice this week for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Because you just know that every time a Democrat brings up Richard Burr in the next few days, Republicans will immediately counter with: "Yeah, but what about Feinstein?" And, sadly, they'll have a point.

[Contact Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]

Volume 566 (3/20/20)

The only question that we have is what label historians will put on the epic failures of Donald Trump and his administration to handle a real crisis. Will they call it "Trump's Katrina" or maybe "Trump's Chernobyl" or even "Trump's 9/11"? At this point, none of those labels seems in any way an overstatement.

Starting to look pretty good right now

Too, too funny.

"Y'know, it wasn't that long ago that Trump's devoted followers were ridiculing some of the Democratic presidential candidates for 'promising free stuff from the government' and sneering at how Americans would never warm up to 'socialism.' But I seriously doubt that many of them will be complaining about 'free stuff' when they get a fat check from the federal government in a few weeks, will they? Call it the vindication of Andrew Yang. Because all those MAGA-hat-wearers are now beginning to think that 'free stuff from the government' is starting to look pretty good right about now."

Nothing to see here... move along...

Remember Baghdad Bob? That guy who told Iraqis that Saddam Hussein was winning the war against America?

"Of course, there have been plenty of folks over on the right who have treated the whole crisis as some sort of made-up scheme by the Democrats and the media to 'make Trump look bad,' which kind of ignores the fact that the stock market isn't exactly a hotbed of liberal orthodoxy, but whatever. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last Sunday that he certainly didn't expect the economy to slip into recession. Larry Kudlow was even more optimistic. Donald Trump himself even said:

We're not thinking in terms of recession. We are thinking in terms of the virus. I think there is a tremendous pent-up demand, both in terms of the stock market and in terms of the economy. And once this goes away, once it goes through and we are done with it, I think you're going to see a tremendous surge.

Beyond the obviously false happy-talk from the White House, though, everyone else is seeing a quite different reality. Here's Trump's own former chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Kevin Hassett: 'I think that the odds of a global recession are close to 100 percent right now. I think in the U.S., we're going to have a very terrible second quarter.' He also went on to predict: 'We think the jobs number in early April might be as much as minus a million or so because nobody is going to be hired next week.' So, who are you going to believe, all the happy talk from the White House or the consensus of every single economist who doesn't currently work for Donald Trump?"

Chaos everywhere you look

As usual, chaos is king in the Trump White House.

"I've lost count of how many people have now been named the Coronavirus Czar. First it was the doctors at the C.D.C., or maybe it was the N.I.H.? Then it was Mike Pence, who was supposed to be the point man. Then all of a sudden the surgeon general started appearing on television as the administration spokesman. Then we all learned that Jared Kushner was on top of things -- which, I have to say, is not a very comforting thought at all. Then a new doctor was shoved in front of the television cameras -- I've forgotten her name, because she is just the last in a very long line of people who were supposed to be responsible for the White House's efforts to combat the pandemic. Nobody now even knows who is supposed to have the answers to basic questions like when testing will be available to all patients who are either sick or think they might be sick. Nobody knows, and all they do is keep passing the buck to each other. Nobody knows if we'll have enough masks or respirators. Nobody can even answer why the response has been so chaotic, and so woefully inadequate. Oh, and by the way, I'm still waiting for that website Trump promised a full week ago to become available -- but, once again, nobody's even got an answer as to when that's going to happen. There's more organization in a Jackson Pollock painting than in the White House's response to this emergency."

It snuck up on you, pal

Trump, as usual, is trying to gaslight his way out of any possible blame.

"Donald Trump apparently was shocked that even Fox News started taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously this week, and immediately changed his tune to begin lying about what he's been saying for the past few weeks. He tried to tell the country that he had 'always known' it was a pandemic and even 'felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.' He also said the virus 'snuck up' on everyone. Of course, both of these were bald-faced lies, which many took to Twitter to point out. Best response: 'A stampede of elephants covered in bells and sh*tting bottle rockets could sneak up on him.' I guess Trump forgot that his immediate reaction to the pandemic was to tell his supporters it was a 'hoax' dreamed up by the Democrats."

Trump lies and lies and lies

Like a rug.

"Donald Trump has been lying about the crisis the country faces from the very beginning. He has piled one lie on top of another. Instead of being honest with the American people about the threat we all face, he has lied to us and told everyone that the virus is going to magically go away in a few weeks, quote like a miracle, unquote. Where are the millions of tests he promised weeks ago? They still don't exist, leaving doctors to refuse to test sick patients because they have to ration the tests they do have for the sickest patients. Remember when Trump lied that 'everyone who wants to get tested can get tested'? That was quite a while ago, wasn't it? And not only is it still not true, the Trump administration is now sheepishly admitting that they cannot even predict when it will become true. Remember the website that was supposed to be up and running by now? It's not. Trump lied that 1,700 people at Google were feverishly working on it. They weren't. He has said that basic safety equipment would be available to all states. It isn't. Remember when he said to buy stocks? The market's down almost 10,000 points since then. Remember when he promised that all coronavirus treatment would be fully covered by insurance companies? This still isn't true. Remember when he said he was shutting down the borders to trade goods from Europe? Even he had to admit that was false. Remember when he swore up and down that he had the virus 'under control'? Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember when Trump said the number of coronavirus cases in the country would -- within a few days -- be at zero? That number is now over 19,000 and climbing by more than 5,000 new patients per day. The only thing you can trust about Trump's response to the crisis is the fact that pretty much every time he opens his mouth, he lies about it."

Shhh! Don't tell the market!

Looks like the numbers are going to be pretty bad, folks.

"Donald Trump likes to boast of his administration's 'radical transparency,' but like much else he says, this is nothing short of a lie. The White House has already banned all executive administration officials from testifying to Congress about their coronavirus response for the rest of the month, and now it appears they are telling states not to release any unemployment numbers so they don't 'spook the markets.' The Labor Department just sent out an email asking states to only speak in, quote, generalities, unquote, and to use terms like 'very high' or 'large increase' for now. The administrator of the Office of Employment Insurance was more direct: 'States should not provide numeric values to the public.' Those numbers are, quite obviously, going to be horrendously bad. For three years, Trump has been bragging about the low unemployment rate, but it looks like this is another bit of bragging Trump won't be doing in the future."

Lookin' out for number one

Hoo boy. Bet this story starts getting repeated.

"Senator Richard Burr apparently got briefed about the seriousness of the coronavirus and immediately pulled millions of dollars out of the stock market as a direct result. That's bad enough and people are already expressing their disgust on Twitter, but this isn't the first time Burr has been looking out for himself in a time of financial crisis. Back in 2008, in the midst of the financial meltdown, Burr warned the public not to panic:

Today's news of Citigroup's acquisition of Wachovia might be unsettling to many in North Carolina. While these are difficult times in our economy, it is important to remember that this move provides for the protection of accounts and the soundness of savings for Wachovia's customers. FDIC has said that all services for customers should continue uninterrupted.

But he told his wife something very different, according to his own admission the year afterwards:

On Friday night, I called my wife and I said, "Brooke, I am not coming home this weekend. I will call you on Monday. Tonight, I want you to go to the ATM machine [sic], and I want you to draw out everything it will let you take. And I want you to go tomorrow, and I want you to go Sunday."

Words fail me to describe the sleaziness of Senator Barr. But I bet his constituents have quite a bit to say about his propensity to cash in during a crisis."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Reply Friday Talking Points -- 19,382 And Counting (Original post)
ChrisWeigant Mar 20 OP
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Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Mar 20, 2020, 09:29 PM

1. US Total Covid-19 Cases: 19,522 Dow Jones: 19,173.98

Last updated: March 21, 2020, 01:10 GMT

United States
Coronavirus Cases: 19,522
New Cases: +5,733
Deaths: 262


Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI Dow Jones Global Indexes)

Real Time Quote | Exchange | USD
Last | 6:31:42 PM EDT


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Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Mar 20, 2020, 10:58 PM

2. Knock off the nonsense about DiFi

"We" don't buy into all the loonie prog delusions about her.

The company in question, Allogene Therapeutic, has fuck fucking all to do with coronavirus research. Their R&D has a narrow focus on a particular strain of cancer cell totally unrelated to the pandemic. Implying that the Feinsteins divested their stake in that company over some kind of stupid insider dirt about COVID-19 is like accusing someone of insider information for dumping their prosthetic leg company stock when a market was obviously tanking.

Getting out of a market obviously tanking is business as usual for people in the market, even the not-famous ones. Even schmucks like my mother who took her money and ran from it. Was she getting inside information? Of course not. She was using her good sense to listen to me when I told her that the exuberant numbers of February were an illusion, and a massive dropoff with our fragile economy was coming now that COVID-19 had made landfall here. She knew that was sound advice, and backed out, right before the market peak.

I'm a moron about money and investments, but even I knew what was coming to the markets with coronavirus on the horizon. If I can figure that out, then DiFi's husband knew it as well. He didn't need one whisper of advice from his powerful wife about staying in a tanking market. The smart move was to get their money somewhere safer, and get it there, ASAP. Wealthy people stay wealthy by knowing when to cut their losses and bail while they have something to bail. And he had lost money on that stock, because it was falling hard from a previous peak. Rich people don't stick with certain stocks when they go into in a precipitous decline. AT&T loses 5% of their value in a week, meh, they'll make it back because they have so many fingers in so many pies, hold fast. But a similar drop for a one-note little company without something to tide them over if someone beats them to a cure or whatever? Get out, and get out now.

Not everything is about the rich or "establishment" or the "corporatists" out to get you.

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Fri Mar 20, 2020, 11:16 PM

3. K&R nt

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