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No, Trump Didn’t Cut the CDC’s Coronavirus Budget. No, People Aren’t Blaming Corona Beer for the Disease. – Reason.com

Misinformation about COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, is spreading almost as fast as the virus itself—and that’s really saying something, considering that an estimated 80,000 people worldwide are now infected.

Here’s a quick look at some of the fake news that’s circulating like a worrisome sneeze on a crowded airliner.

No, the CDC’s Budget Hasn’t Been Cut

During Tuesday’s Democratic primary debate, several candidates—including former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.)—accused the Trump administration of cutting key funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that impaired America’s readiness for a pandemic.

There is plenty to critique about the way the Trump administration has handled the outbreak so far (Mike Pence as virus czar? Really?), but this attack is inaccurate. Trump has proposed budget cuts for the CDC in each of his budgets since taking office, but Congress never approved those proposals. Trump’s most recent budget plan calls for a 16 percent cut to the CDC, but that budget has yet to be approved by Congress. It’s fair to say Trump has tried to defund the CDC, but it’s inaccurate to say that he has succeeded—or that those fictitious cuts have affected the agency’s ability to respond to COVID-19.

When Trump was asked about those budget cuts, and about his firing of some top CDC officials, at Wednesday’s press briefing on the virus, he offered a pretty good defense. “I’m a businessperson. I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them,” said Trump. “When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”

Indeed, that’s a good way for the government to operate.

No, Corona Beer Is Not Responsible for the Virus (and Most People Know That)

It seems insane to have to point this out but, incredibly, some people seem incapable of distinguishing a deadly respiratory illness that emerged in China from the golden-hued Mexican beer of the same name.

Citing a consumer survey from 5W Public Relations, CNN reported on Friday that 38 percent of Americans wouldn’t buy Corona “under any circumstances” because of the outbreak. Constellation Brands, the conglomerate that owns Corona, has seen its stock fall by more than 8 percent since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

But most Americans are smart enough to tell the difference. What the survey actually says is that only four percent of beer-drinkers wouldn’t buy Corona because of the outbreak. The 38 percent figure reported by CNN is the number of people who say they wouldn’t buy Corona for any reason.

Still, pour one out for the poor marketing folks at Corona.

No, Your Beard Isn’t a Coronavirus Risk

C’mon, CNN. The network that’s supposed to be “the most trusted name in news” also gets the blame for misleading readers into thinking they could fight the coronavirus with a razor. This chart, which CNN misleadingly said the CDC was publishing for “coronavirus safety” shows which types of facial hair can be fitted under respirator masks. Other outlets, including the New York Post, picked up the story as well.

Except that chart was created by the CDC as guidance for doctors participating in “No-Shave November,” a prostate cancer awareness campaign. It was not a guide for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

No, There’s Not a Shortage of Medical Equipment in the U.S.

Is there any problem the Trump administration doesn’t believe can be solved with a centrally planned industrial policy? Probably, but the coronavirus isn’t it.

Reuters reported on Friday afternoon that the Trump administration “is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus.” The law was originally passed in 1950 to ensure the U.S. could requisition necessary supplies.

The White House is reportedly considering this action because of fears that Chinese supply chains for protective masks and other medical equipment could be disrupted by the coronavirus’ spread. “Very little of this stuff is apparently made in the [United] States, so if we’re down to domestic capability to produce, it could get tough,” one unnamed official told Reuters. 

But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is little evidence to suggest that those fears will come true.

“We are aware of 63 manufacturers which represent 72 facilities in China that produce essential medical devices; we have contacted all of them,” the agency said in a statement on Friday. “While the FDA continues to assess whether manufacturing disruptions will affect overall market availability of these products, there are currently no reported shortages for these types of medical devices within the U.S. market.”

When it comes to protective equipment like surgical gowns, gloves, masks, and respirators, the FDA protective devices, or other medical equipment designed to protect the wearer from injury or the spread of infection or illness—the FDA says it is “currently not aware of specific widespread shortages of medical devices.”

Circumstances could change, of course, but there does not seem to be any need for aggressive government action that will centralize more control in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. Even if only intended as a temporary measure, such things rarely disappear when crises pass.

And even if circumstances do change, it’s unlikely that your Corona beer will get you sick. Well, at least not this type of sick.

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Today’s Social Democrats Should Be More Like Olof Palme

At 11:21 PM on Friday, February 28, 1986, Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was murdered on the street in Stockholm. His murderer has not been identified and remains at large. At this time every year, Swedish newspapers and the mass media to speculate on new theories about who might have done it. But far too few reflect on his political impact.

Olof Palme was prime minister of Sweden for two stretches, from 1969 to 1976 and from 1982 until his death in 1986. During that time, he oversaw a Social Democratic Party that was still committed to a radically different vision of the world — and to challenging capitalism at home and imperialism abroad.

Palme is perhaps better known for the latter. Like Tony Benn, Olof Palme had come from an upper-class background and was a relatively moderate when he emerged onto the scene in the 1950s. And like Benn he was radicalized by the times, and in particular the anti-colonial and anti-war tumults of the 1960s. As Prime Minister, Palme’s internationalism was remarkable — supporting the Vietcong against the United States during the Vietnam War, condemning Franco’s regime in Spain as “goddamn murderers” for executing political prisoners and visiting Cuba in 1975, where he condemned the Batista regime and praised Cuba’s revolutionaries.

Even this wasn’t the height of the Palme government’s internationalism. Under his leadership, Sweden not only supported but funded the FMLN in El Salvador and Sandinistas in Nicaragua during their fights against the US-backed Contra militias. Most famously, it also provided funding the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. Palme was one of the world’s most vocal opponents of apartheid. When he was assassinated, ANC president Oliver Tambo wrote an incredible essay in his memory:

Olof Palme demonstrated that we were right to expect that leading politicians and statesmen of the Western world could overcome all constraints, both real and imagined, finally to side with the poor, the oppressed, the exploited, and the brutalized in southern Africa. When he died, a beacon of hope was extinguished. Present and future generations of the peoples of our region, our continent, and our world will forever sing of Olof Palme as the thorn in the flesh of the forces of reaction that represented a terrible and petrified old order.

But at home, too, Palme represented a fundamental challenge to established interests — and stood in the best traditions of Swedish social democracy. He was committed to protecting an economy in which the vast majority of workers (between 70 and 80 percent during his tenure) were in trade unions, the state owned the majority of the economy, and the welfare state ensured that the basic necessities of life were available to all.

Olof Palme’s predecessor, Tage Erlander who was prime minister for twenty-three years without a break, was, beneath his calm exterior, a studied Marxist and a passionate socialist. In 1974 Erlander was asked what the future was for the ideas of nationalization and control over the means of production. He replied that today “50 percent of production has been extracted from the capitalist economy through taxation. If we can increase this (share) to 60, 70, 80 percent, then the welfare state will have become a form of socialism.”

That kind of economy had been built by the Left. In 1932 the Swedish Social Democrats won the election in the shadow of the Great Depression by promising full employment and a new economic policy. Ernst Wigforss, who was soon to become finance minister, attacked his right-wing opponents with a rhetorical question — “can we afford to work?” — and made the case that laissez-faire economists were undermining the economy by advocating that workers be left idle and poor.

From 1932 to 1990 the Social Democrats considered full employment their most important goal and made it the essential element their economic policy. In principle, unemployment never exceeded 2 or 3 percent during the entire period. Socialism through the expansion of the welfare state was the strategy, with the state sector aiming to become a sphere outside the capitalist production system with its profit-maximizing principles.

The political generation which created these reformist strategies had one thing in common: a deep democratic-socialist conviction. Palme and the politicians before him who built the world’s strongest Social Democratic Party were reformers because they sought to transform capitalist society. Incremental reforms based on social-democratic values with equal distribution of wealth, democratic decision-making, and freedom of expression as primary aims were the path to democratic socialism.

Seen in this context, the murder of Olof Palme was a political murder since it had enormous political consequences. When Palme crossed Sveavägen, in Stockholm, at 11:17 PM he was leader of the party which had won the 1985 parliamentary election by opposing privatization in the welfare system, which had introduced wage-earner funds in private companies, which opposed membership of the EEC (now EU), stood for non-alliance and neutrality in foreign policy, and resolved to maintain a public sector which extended over half the economy and was subsidized through the highest taxation in the world. The kind of social democracy which was to emerge minutes later, without Olof Palme, not just in Sweden but across the West, was a fundamental break with all of this.

In 1980, Sweden was arguably the most egalitarian capitalist country the world had ever seen. Under Palme, the country had responded to the tumult of previous decades with a new wave of social-democratic policies: public universal childcare, housing allowances for pensioners and parents with young children, increased children’s allowances, and expanded free health care provision, including for abortion.

However, according to the OECD, Sweden today is the developed country in which the gap between rich and poor is widening most rapidly. As sociologist Göran Therborn demonstrates in his book Capitalism, the Powerful and the Rest of Us, when it comes to wealth distribution Sweden has become one of the world’s least egalitarian countries, comparable to Brazil, South Africa, and the United States.

Tax revenues from the economy rose during the 1980s to exceed 50 percent. Today it is around 43 percent, which constitutes a cut in taxes of seven percent of GNP since 2000, or a reduction of 240 billion Swedish Kronor (£20 billion) per year in public spending.

For decades, Sweden’s Social Democratic Party pursued a policy of full employment. In 1990, it changed course and made low inflation the primary goal. This reappraisal was to some extent dictated by Sweden’s entry into the European Union but it was also the policy which the domestic right-wing and their economic advisors had been advocating for decades. Since then unemployment has never fallen below 6 to 8 percent — three times higher than it had ever been before.

Over recent decades we have also witnessed a rampant neoliberal revolution driven by privately owned, profit-maximizing but publicly financed schools similar to those advocated by Milton Friedman. These schools are in the model of those which the “Chicago Boys” used to build free-market economics in Pinochet’s Chile — but even there they were subsequently abolished. In Sweden, one in every five pupils now attends a privately owned school, exacerbating the already pronounced racial and class segregation. For a number of years there has been a major crisis within the health care system due to a serious lack of resources and the failure to achieve the building of private hospitals.

After the 2018 election, the Swedish Social Democratic Party which had been the largest in the country for more than a century considered itself compelled to enter into a co-operation agreement with centrist parties, embracing a neoliberal program comprising tax cuts for high earners, the privatization of the labor exchange, and the deregulation of the market for rental accommodation.

Since the signing of this agreement support for the Social Democrats in the opinion polls has plummeted and the most recent polls indicate support only among between 22–23 percent of the electorate, which is less than Sweden’s largest right-wing extremist party, the Sweden Democrats.

To put it mildly, something has happened to Olof Palme’s party and his country. On the thirty-fourth anniversary of his murder, social democracy is in existential crisis. The paradigm shift I described brought about decades of decline — and there’s no sign of it ending soon.

On days of remembrance, you might hear the odd Social Democratic politician express regret that so few people recognize Palme’s political achievements. But the modern party has practically eradicated everything for which he stood. In this vacuum Palme rapidly became just a part of history.

Olof Palme was no messiah. Like many politicians, he made mistakes. Many of his ideas failed to take into account changes caused by the end of the Cold War and an emerging era in which capital was no longer controlled by the nation state. But the murder of Palme was a moment of global significance — the end of a strain of radical, reforming social democracy that saw a world beyond capitalism and the age-old crimes of imperialism. Although it was Palme who was shot, it was a politics that died.

It was not replaced by any new social-democratic ideas, rather Europe’s center-left parties adapted to neoliberalism and its economic policies. Since 1986 social democracy has put forward no major policies to reform society, at least none which might challenge the business establishment’s control over the means of production. The wage-earner funds which were introduced in 1982 were revoked without protest by the right-wing government of 1991–94.

Social democracy’s strong and well-organized foes faced a more pliable and accommodating opponent after Palme was removed. Social democracy was no longer a distinct political concept. It had broken with a line of independent thinkers which had existed for over a century, with one of the party’s founding fathers Axel Danielsson putting in the first party program that its aim was “to distinguish ourselves from all other parties.” Today the Social Democratic Party is just one of the pack.

According to the official party line, it was hatred of Palme’s personality which was the motive for the murder. But the reason for this hatred needs to be examined. Palme’s personality was no doubt a contributory factor, particularly the rancor which characterized his style as a debater. But it was his political message that provoked this hatred. Palme became the target for those who detested what a confrontational, aggressive, proud, and confident labor movement which raised taxes and aimed to democratize might achieve.

Without such policies there would have been no hatred. The hatred of Palme was not aimed at a single provocative debater who had betrayed his upper-class origins; it was a very specific campaign against a person who stood for policies which threatened entrenched vested interests.

Olof Palme is often in my thoughts. His portrait hangs in my office. The Swedish model has provided an inspiration for left-wingers across the world. Our strong unions, our comprehensive welfare state, and gender equality have made Sweden a blueprint. In the United States, Bernie Sanders frequently references the Nordic welfare states and their free health care and free university education as a path to follow.

But today the Swedish Social Democratic Party is facing the opposite direction. Its international officer returned from a recent trip to America and declared Sanders too “radical.” Better to side with the billionaires. Today, the leadership of Palme’s party finds Pete Buttigieg more inspiring. For millions of Swedish socialists, however, Sanders is a role model and an icon. His contributions to the debates and his speeches are distributed on social media and taken up by celebrities. His proud embrace of the term “democratic socialism” still touches the hearts of social democrats, and everyone else who dreams of policies which aim to change the world.

The morning after Palme’s murder — March 1, 1986 — I woke to find my devastated parents comforting each other on the sofa in our tiny living room. They wept uncontrollably in the dim light. The TV was on. Strangely, I recall it as black and white, like a photograph. “They got him,” said my mother, without saying who she meant.

There were many who at that moment felt that Sweden would never be the same again. We now know that they were right. Thirty-four years have passed. We still have no idea who murdered our prime minister. But we know who mourns him. And we know who maintains his tradition.

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‘FBI Lovebirds’ Strzok-Page Skit Brings Down The House At CPAC

‘FBI Lovebirds’ Strzok-Page Skit Brings Down The House At CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) featured its first-ever play, “FBI Lovebirds,” and it brought down the house.

The play performed Thursday was actually just a dramatic reading of the text messages between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who are longtime Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) sufferers who each played roles in investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The text messages were read aloud on stage by actors Dean Cain of “Superman” fame and Kristy Swanson of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame, bringing plenty of laughter and rounds of applause from the audience, Business Insider reported.

Both Cain and Swanson hammed it up, playing up the “smug DC elite” factor, as well as the inherent absurdity of two grown adults in national law enforcement positions reading their candid text messages allowed.

The actors read from scripts with long pauses between each others “texts.” The CPAC crowd seemed to enjoy the novelty of the actors announcing their emoticons (“smiley face,” “wink”), acronyms (OMG) and multiple exclamation marks as part of the dialogue.  …

One line in particular that received a lot of applause was Strzok’s text reading: “Just went into a Southern Virginia Wal-Mart, I can smell the Trump support.”

During a Q and A session following the performance, Cain was asked how he could inhabit Strzok so well. Cain, like Swanson a vocal conservative, replied, “Well, I’ve played Scott Peterson.”

 

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Judge Orders Hunter Biden To Appear For Sworn Testimony

Hunter Biden got some very bad news this week when an Arkansas judge ordered him to appear in person next month to testify in a paternity lawsuit filed by his baby mama Lunden Alexis Roberts, a former stripper.

Circuit Judge Holly Meyer ordered Biden to appear in person for a deposition after he tried to argue that he would be unavailable to do so until April, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Meyer, however, was not having any of it.

“He needs to make himself available and unless his hair is on fire, he needs to be in Arkansas and he needs to be in a deposition,” she told the lawyers representing the two feuding parties on a recent phone call.

MORE NEWS: What if Biden drops out?

Biden initially denied that he was the father of Roberts’ child, but a paternity test then proved he was indeed the father back in January. The current legal battle is over child support, which Biden claims he can’t pay because he is unemployed.

Clint Lancaster, Roberts’ lawyer, had sought to depose Biden before March 13, but his lawyer Brent Langdon claimed that he would not be available until April 1. Meyer found this hard to believe, given the fact that Biden doesn’t have a job.

“My question to you is, why could your client not be available until after April 1? All the information I have is that he’s unemployed,” she said.

Langdon would not elaborate on what supposedly is keeping Biden so busy.

Democrats reportedly fear that Biden testifying could further damage his father Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, which is already struggling enough as it is, according to The Blaze. When he testifies in court, Biden could be forced to reveal all about his business dealings in Ukraine, which came under heavy scrutiny in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.

MORE NEWS: Sanders won’t attend pro-Israeli forum, loathes Israel

Meyer had previously ordered Biden to appear in court in January, when it was alleged that he was improperly withholding financial records. She told him at the time to “show cause, if any exists, as to why he should not be held in contempt for any of the alleged violations of this Court’s orders.”

We’re glad to see that Meyer is forcing Biden to testify next month. The Biden family is as crooked as they come, and the American people deserve to know the truth about what they have really been up to all these years.

This piece originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

Read more at LifeZette:
Hollywood seemingly turns on Democrats after disastrous debate: ‘What a mess’
Police backtrack on initial Obama-era DHS whistleblower ‘suicide’ reports—FBI investigating his death
Hillary Clinton breaks her silence about her Harvey Weinstein connections after he’s convicted of rape charges

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Bloomberg’s Choice to Speak at AIPAC Shows How Out of Touch He Is

The billionaire has defended Islamophobia and Israel’s wars. He’ll fit right in at the AIPAC conference.

Bernie Sanders is boycotting the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. So is Elizabeth Warren. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar aren’t showing up either.

But there’s one Democrat who is attending the March 1 to 3 conference: billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg may be alone among his Democratic presidential cohort in going to the Israel lobby’s annual confab, but he’ll fit right in: The event will feature speeches by other right-wing Islamophobes and defenders of Israeli apartheid. He’ll feel at home at AIPAC because Bloomberg himself has a long record of reflexive support for the Israeli state and Islamophobia—qualities that the AIPAC audience eats up.

There is one big problem for Bloomberg, however, with his AIPAC appearance. It’s only the latest example of how thoroughly out of touch the mayor is with the Democratic Party base, which is increasingly critical of U.S. support for Israel as it descends deeper into permanent military occupation of the Palestinians and permanent apartheid rule over them. A Data for Progress poll published last year found that 67% of respondents who voted for Democrats in the 2018 midterms supported reducing military aid to Israel because of Israel’s poor human rights record. A 2018 poll conducted by the Economist/YouGov found that 37% of Americans consider Israel an ally, a figure down from the 47% that saw Israel as a friend in 2015. What’s more, people of color, a core part of the Democratic base, are significantly more likely to view Israel in a negative light. According to the poll, 43% of white people see Israel as an ally, while 22% of Latinx and 19% of Black people do.

To understand why the former New York mayor’s natural voting base is more AIPAC than progressive, it helps to start with Bloomberg’s history of support for Israel no matter what the country does. 

The most telling example of this came in 2014, when Israel launched a punishing air and ground assault on the Gaza Strip, the Mediterranean coastal enclave already reeling from an Israeli blockade that decimated its economy. As Israeli warplanes wiped out entire Palestinian families and, eventually, killed over 500 children, Palestinian militants launched rockets at Tel Aviv, forcing the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to suspend American flights to Israel.

Bloomberg, however, wanted to support Israel so bad as it immiserated the Palestinians of Gaza that he flew on an Israeli airline’s flight to Israel. As he tweeted at the time, he wanted “to show support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Israel’s “right to defend itself” apparently included firing artillery shells at children taking refuge in a UN school in Gaza one week later, an attack that killed 20 civilians and prompted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to say, “Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.”

In early August 2014, Bloomberg was asked about the incident by CBS reporter Norah O’Donnell. His response was a master-class in Israeli talking points: He blamed Palestinian militant groups for the deaths of Palestinian children because the militants “hide among the innocent,” even though there was no evidence Palestinian militants were firing at Israel at the time from the school, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation. Bloomberg also said “Israel cannot have a proportional response if people are firing rockets at their citizens,” a talking point evincing blatant disregard for international law, which prohibits disproportionate military attacks during conflict.

In addition to his defense of Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza, Bloomberg will fit right in with the AIPAC crowd for another reason. This year’s AIPAC conference, as in past years, will feature virulent anti-Muslim bigots, among them Myles Holmes, a Christian pastor who once wrote on Twitter that Americans should wake up the danger of becoming a “sharia-compliant” country—a dog whistle to the Islamophobic movement that spreads the false claim that Muslims want to impose religious law in the United States. Another featured AIPAC speaker will be Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who once said, after the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, “You kill one Serb and we will kill 100 Muslims.” 

Bloomberg doesn’t express his own anti-Muslim bigotry in such crude terms, but as mayor of New York, he did oversee a New York Police Department program of surveillance based on the bigoted assumption that places where Muslims congregate are places where terrorist attacks will be planned out. That program of mapping the New York Muslim population was modeled on Israel’s own occupation of the West Bank.

The company Bloomberg keeps at the AIPAC conference and his own defenses of immoral Israeli conduct may be good for the AIPAC crowd, but it’s disgusting to a Democratic Party base that is committed to social justice. And this base disagrees with Bloomberg on Israel, especially his insistence that he will never condition the massive military aid package the U.S. gives to Israel on changes in behavior like stopping the blockade of Gaza or halting illegal settlement building on Palestinian land.

When the billionaire Democratic presidential candidate steps up to the stage at the AIPAC confab and delivers the usual bromides praising Israel, he will almost certainly get applause from an audience used to candidates falling over themselves to voice support for Israel.

But he shouldn’t be surprised by the reaction of progressives outside of the AIPAC conference. Israel’s far-right government and the lobby that supports it are fast losing support among the Democratic Party base. Bloomberg’s love for Israel as it continues its brutal record of bombing Gaza and imprisoning an entire population there is not going to win him many votes from the base of the party he’s running to lead.


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Trump aides overtake health officials’ narrative – again

“That’s what this is all about. I got a note today from a reporter saying, what are you going to do today to calm the markets? Really what I might do today to calm the markets is tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours,” Mulvaney said at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

But Mulvaney also conceded to the seriousness of the virus, and said that the U.S. would “probably” see school closures as the illness continues to spread across the globe.

Mulvaney’s comments come amid a tumbling stock market and bipartisan backlash from lawmakers as the Trump administration works to show it’s in control of the spreading global threat. Trump launched the federal government’s response this week, appointing Vice President Mike Pence to command the U.S. coronavirus response team.

That move was followed a day later by Pence’s decision to appoint a government health official, Ambassador Debbie Birx, as the administration’s coronavirus “coordinator.” But White House efforts thus far have apparently done little to assuage public concerns or calm a tumbling stock market, which opened Friday by falling significantly once again.

The Trump administration has struggled in particular to bring its own messaging – led by Trump’s insistence that coronavirus poses little threat to the U.S. because of preparations he has directed – in line with that of government health officials, who have warned that a domestic outbreak of coronavirus is inevitable.

And while the acting chief of staff sought to downplay the outbreak’s seriousness, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested that the administration’s response would end up benefitting the president’s 2020 reelction campaign. Voters, he suggested, will be impressed by what he described as the “historic and unprecedented actions” the administration has taken to combat the coronavirus’ spread.

“This is a government-wide effort,” he said, “and so I think that folks are gonna look at that and say: ‘You know what, he’s doing his job very well.’ And therefore I think at the end of the day, it’s gonna actually help him on that.”

The commentary from Trump — who complained in a post to Twitter just after midnight Friday morning that Democrats are blaming him for the coronavirus outbreak — and his aides also comes as the administration has sought to balance warnings from government health and science officials with market-calming rhetoric. White House officials were “livid” on Tuesday with the remarks of Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases who said that a coronavirus outbreak in the United States was “not a question of if, but rather a question of when.”

That warning from Messonnier drew a sharp contrast with a remark that same day from Kudlow, who told CNBC that “we have contained this, I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight.”

Mulvaney’s message on Friday sought to dismiss concern about the coronavirus, suggesting that it is not as serious as previous viral outbreaks. The acting chief of staff told CPAC that coronavirus “is not a death sentence. It’s not the same as the Ebola crisis.”

“At any particular time, 20 million people in this country are going to have the flu. The flu kills people, it does. This is not Ebola, OK? And I’ll tell you what that means in a sense,” Mulvaney said. “It’s not SARS. It’s not MERS. Why do we say that? When you look at the severity of diseases, one of the ways you can look at it is looking at the percentage of people who get it who die. I know that’s sort of hard-hearted, but that’s sort of how we look at it.”

Mulvaney said people are watching the markets, and that there is a “huge panic,” but he questioned why there isn’t the same reaction every year with the flu.

“Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure. But we do this. We know how to handle this,” Mulvaney said. “So, that’s one of the things — that’s the kind of message you try to get out. There are professionals who know how to handle this.”

The administration’s convoluted messaging has drawn heated criticism from both sides of the political aisle, and Mulvaney’s comments on Friday only escalated frustrations. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday afternoon condemned Trump and his team for failing to “quickly and transparently combat the coronavirus.”

“For Mick Mulvaney to suggest that Americans turn off their TVs and bury their heads in the sand when they’re worried about a global health pandemic is Orwellian, counterproductive, dangerous, and would be repeating China’s mistake,” Schumer’s statement said.

The New York senator accused the administration of “hiding the truth,” an action the senator said will only increase the likelihood of the virus spreading.

“This situation demands more transparency from the government, and the American people need to hear the unfiltered truth directly from the scientists and health experts,” the statement said. “President Trump and his team have to stop blaming everyone but themselves, focus less on political rallies and more on solutions to combat the spread of coronavirus.”

Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this report

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Will 2020 be the coronavirus election?

It’s hard to run an election during a pandemic, let alone stay healthy.

In 1918, as Spanish influenza wreaked havoc in one of the greatest health disasters in United States history, politicians were sidelined as bans on public gatherings made it impossible to hold campaign rallies.

1:33 PM, Feb. 28, 2020
An earlier version of this story referred to the “Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, which has seen one confirmed case of coronavirus.” The convention is in Milwaukee, but the coronavirus case was reported in Dane County, not Milwaukee County.

There was no vaccine for that virus, which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and the best officials could do was keep people away from each other to limit the microbe’s spread. Voters in that year’s midterm election headed to the polling booths in masks for fear that a simple act of civic participation could be deadly.

And for good reason: In Wayne, Neb., officials lifted a public-gathering ban five days before the election, allowing a flurry of last-minute campaigning — which also coincided with a rise in deadly infections.

Now, for the first time in a century, a U.S. election faces the unusual threat of being upended by a potential pandemic as a new coronavirus has shocked the global economy, tested President Trump’s administration and fueled Democratic attacks on both his leadership and the private healthcare system’s ability to protect all Americans.

Should the virus spread, experts are also raising concerns over Americans’ ability to participate in the political process should the nation undertake the kind of isolation measures that could make it more difficult to hold campaign rallies, nominating conventions and in-person balloting.

Business leaders are already canceling large conferences as a preventative matter, and American health officials are warning that disruption to daily life could be “severe,” raising questions about a pandemic’s potential impact on the nation’s democracy.

“If we’re unfortunate enough that the virus becomes prevalent in the United States, it could affect both campaigns and the election itself potentially, and affect how campaigns are run, affect who turns out to vote, and potentially affect even the outcome of the election,” said Richard Hasen, a professor specializing in election law at the UC Irvine School of Law.

In the best case scenario, the one still hoped for by American health officials, the virus’ march can be stopped, or at least slowed long enough for the development of an effective vaccine, which would likely take more than a year.

That would allow Americans to carry on with their lives and limit the damage to the domestic economy from the drastic isolation measures taken by China and other nations. It would prevent deaths and, as a political bonus to Trump, boost his argument for reelection.

“Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said Wednesday at a news conference with medical experts at the White House, who nonetheless warned that the virus’ trajectory in the U.S. was “uncertain” and that they were bracing for more cases.

But as evidence emerges that the virus may have gained a toehold inside the U.S. in addition to other countries, Democratic candidates have slammed Trump’s sunny outlook on containment, while also arguing that the patchwork, costly nature of the nation’s private healthcare system poses a threat to the country’s ability to manage a deadly pandemic.

“We need a president who does not play politics with our health and national security,” Democratic front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in a statement Thursday. He urged support for his Medicare for all plan to create a national healthcare system “so everyone can see a doctor or get a vaccine for free.”

As stories circulate of some coronavirus tests costing as much as $1,400, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., said that insurance costs and coverage barriers could “get in the way of the opportunity to delay the spread of infection.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has attacked the administration’s “outrageous” refusal to promise a coronavirus vaccine would be affordable for all Americans.

In a USA Today op-ed, former Vice President Joe Biden slammed Trump’s attempted budget cuts to national health and disease-prevention agencies, which Congress has ignored by instead boosting financing for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg broadcast an attack ad against Trump over his management of the virus. Fellow billionaire candidate Tom Steyer warned that Trump’s management “risks a [Hurricane] Katrina-level disaster for our country.”

A pandemic poses a unique threat to the political process. Unlike an earthquake or a terrorist attack, a pandemic is not an unforeseeable event, potentially giving officials weeks or even months to prepare. A World Health Organization official on Friday declined to call the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, but scientists have previously said it could reach that level.

Political conventions could pose a particular risk for the spread of a virus; it’s happened before. In 2016, California Republicans had to be quarantined in their hotel rooms in Ohio after suffering from an outbreak of norovirus. Health and party officials are already monitoring the potential impact to this summer’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee; Wisconsin has seen one confirmed case of coronavirus.

“Our No. 1 concern is to ensure all eligible voters are able to make their voices heard without jeopardizing anyone’s health and safety,” said Maya Hixson, spokeperson for the Democratic National Committee. “We will continue to closely monitor as the situation develops.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is uncertain about the virus’ potential trend in the state by July, but it said it will take the advice of the Centers for Disease Disease Control and Prevention “to keep Wisconsinites and our visitors safe and health,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Miller.

A Republican National Convention spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about the party’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., nor did local health officials.

Unlike other potential election emergencies, a pandemic could affect the entire country, throwing the nation’s system of locally managed elections and their protocols under harsh strain. Voting experts are calling for election officials to make pandemic contingency plans now, rather than waiting to see the progress of the virus.

“You could have 50 states simultaneously all being impacted” in a pandemic, said Michael Morley, an assistant professor of law at Florida State University College of Law who specializes in election law. He warned that the legal complexities of such a scenario could be unprecedented.

“So rather than looking at the law of a single state or a handful of states, you’re looking at the law of 50 different states, which could handle crises in 50 different ways,” Morley said.

According to the most recently available research from the National Conference of State Legislatures, “At least 45 states have statutes that deal with Election Day emergencies in some way, though there is little consistency between states on what events would be covered and exactly what plans will be followed in each emergency.”

Morley said local officials should start planning now, getting rules in place “before the emergency hits. The last thing you want is government officials, many of whom themselves are elected officials, trying to make up the rules for an election in the middle of an ongoing election.”

But the National Assn. of State Election Directors, a group that represents election officials, was mum when asked if it was examining the issue of administering elections during a pandemic.

“For questions about the coronavirus and its impact on any domestic activities, you should contact the CDC,” the group’s executive director, Amy Cohen, told The Times. The Centers for Disease Control, in turn, did not respond to a request for comment on whether it had guidance for officials making contingency plans for elections.

Another question mark would be Trump’s management of the crisis, with critics questioning his ability to manage voting issues fairly and impartially.

“What if Trump decided is what he was going to do is put a quarantine on two or three states that were likely to go the other way [and support Democrats], but not on the red states?” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar and elections expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. “This raises a whole set of questions we don’t normally like to think about, but we have to think about.”

Ornstein added: “You would hope that people would act in the national interest and would put those things aside, but we’re in a time of high stakes and high tribalism.”

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A Big Biden Win in SC Could Actually Help Sanders

Op-Ed

Ironically, a big Biden victory in South Carolina could actually have the net effect of helping Bernie Sanders, his key rival for the nomination.

Sanders’ challenge is not just to win primaries but to do so by big enough margins as to help him win a first ballot majority at the convention.

The key to his doing so is to reduce the number of candidates in the field.

With only two candidates, of course, a plurality is a majority.

But, as the number of candidates increases, it is more and more difficult to breach 50 percent.

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A Biden victory in South Carolina is also likely to hurt the campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar significantly.

Weak finishes in South Carolina so soon before Super Tuesday could dramatically undermine their support as voters decide that backing them is futile.

Some of their support on Super Tuesday may go to Sanders, putting him closer to 50 percent.

Do you think Bernie Sanders will ultimately win the nomination?

Some of these voters won’t back Bernie, but enough may to bring him closer to a majority.

More will likely just stay home, having the same net positive effect for Sanders.

A Biden surge will also weaken Bloomberg and Warren, of course, but their candidacies can handle a drop better than the more fragile campaigns of Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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House Votes to Ban Flavors in Cigarettes and E-Cigarettes

WASHINGTON — The House, taking aim at youth vaping and tobacco use, voted Friday to ban the sale of flavored cigarettes and e-cigarette liquids, even as civil rights advocates and some African-American Democrats raised concerns that the legislation unfairly targeted black people.

The bill is aimed at curbing what public health experts see as an epidemic of youth vaping by banning online sales of e-cigarettes, as well as liquid flavors like mint, mango, cotton candy and bubble gum. But it also bans flavors in regular cigarettes, including menthol, which is popular among African-Americans.

That goes further than a partial ban announced by President Trump last month, which would forbid the sale of most flavored e-cigarette cartridges, but exempt menthol and other tobacco flavors. The bill’s fate in the Senate is unclear in the Senate, where Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader who represents the tobacco-producing state of Kentucky, has not given any indication that he would bring it up for a vote.

The House measure passed by a vote of 213-195 that ran largely along party lines, with all but five Republicans and some Democrats from tobacco-producing states voting against it. Opponents argued that it amounted to unnecessary overreach by “big government, liberal elites, telling adults what they cannot do,” as Representative Richard Hudson, Republican of North Carolina, said on the House floor.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and some black lawmakers warned about it for another reason: its menthol ban, they argue, could lead to over-policing in black communities.

Among those who have expressed concerns is Representative Jim Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the highest-ranking African-American in the House. His office said he did not oppose the bill, but he did not vote on Friday. Another black Democrat, Representative Yvette Clarke of New York, wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in The Hill newspaper that the measure “feels more like a targeted attack than a value-neutral health care policy decision.”

“Considering the fact that 90 percent of black smokers use menthol products, menthol tobacco users would live in fear of new stop-and-frisk opportunities under this legislation, because menthol would now be considered an illegal flavor,” she wrote.

For some opponents, the measure evokes painful memories of Eric Garner, the New York man who died after police put him in chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes. In a letter circulated to lawmakers this week, the A.C.L.U. quoted Gwendolyn Carr, Mr. Garner’s mother.

“When you ban a product sold mostly in black communities, you must consider the reality of what will happen to that very same overrepresented community in the criminal justice system,” the letter quoted Ms. Carr as saying.

But other African-American lawmakers, including Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, have expressed support for banning menthol cigarettes. Representative Donna E. Shalala, Democrat of Florida and a health secretary during the Clinton administration, said the cigarette makers — not lawmakers — are the ones responsible for negative consequences for African Americans.

“Cigarette companies are targeting the African-American community — they are the ones that have infected that community,” said Ms. Shalala, who is a lead sponsor of the measure. “Eight-five percent of African-Americans who smoke, smoke menthol cigarettes. Seventy percent of African-American kids that are vaping are now vaping menthol.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi used part of her weekly news conference on Thursday to defend the vaping measure. She cited a letter supporting the bill signed by African-American doctors and nurses’ organizations, as well as the N.A.A.C.P.

“For decades, big tobacco has targeted African-Americans with menthol cigarettes, with devastating consequences,” the speaker said, reading aloud from the letter, which noted the “high death rates from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other smoking‑related illnesses” among African-Americans.

The letter said the tobacco industry was “using e‑cigarettes to hook a new generation with flavors like bubble gum, mint, mango and menthol.”

The bill, which would also require the Food and Drug Administration to place “colored graphics” on cigarette cartons depicting the health effects of smoking, comes amid rising concern among public health experts about the use of tobacco products — and in particular e-cigarettes — among young people.

But the divisions it spawned among Democrats reflected the power of industry groups that have strongly resisted federal attempts to regulate vaping and e-cigarettes, finding common cause with civil rights organizations, anti-tax groups and others across the political spectrum.

Mr. Trump last fall announced his intent to ban most of the products, saying, “We can’t have our kids be so affected.” But under pressure from industry groups and on the advice of political advisers who said the move would be unpopular, he retreated, and ultimately scaled back the limits. He recently complained privately that he should never have made the move.

Nearly one in three high school students has reported using a tobacco product recently, according to a federal survey released in October. For the sixth year in a row, e-cigarettes dominated the students’ choice, the study found.

Congress in December banned the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to anyone under 21, approving the measure as part of a sweeping year-end spending bill, but many proponents argued for going further and imposing a flavor ban.

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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As Dems Refuse To Act, Ukraine Moves Against Biden, Opens Own Corruption Investigation

The Ukrainian government has opened an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s alleged role in orchestrating the firing of the country’s top prosecutor in March 2016.

The move came in response to a court order issued after former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin filed a complaint last month with the National Bureau of Investigation demanding an investigation be opened.

Shokin’s attorney, Oleksandr Teleshetsky, told The Washington Post, “They need to investigate this. They have no other alternative.”

“They are required to do this by the decision of the court. If they don’t, then they violate a whole string of procedural norms,” Teleshetsky said.

According to The Post, Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center confirmed the probe was underway. Its director explained that by going to the court, Shokin’s attorneys essentially forced the bureau of investigation to act.

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Shokin reportedly charged in his complaint that Biden pressed for his firing as a bid to protect the then-vice president’s son, Hunter Biden.

“Throughout the last months of 2015 and the first months of 2016 Joseph Biden, taking advantage of his position, came several times on official visits to Ukraine in order to negotiate with the leaders of the country my eviction and, consequently, the closing of the objective investigation into the offenses committed by persons associated with the company ‘Burisma Holding Limited’ (Cyprus), including the son of the aforementioned US official,” Shokin’s complaint reads.

Hunter was believed to be making at least $50,000 a month and possibly upward of $83,000 a month to serve on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma at the same time his father was the Obama administration’s point man for U.S. foreign policy regarding Ukraine.

At a Council on Foreign Relations event in January 2018, Biden bragged about an official visit he took to Ukraine in December 2015 during which he demanded then-President Petro Poroshenko fire Shokin or not receive $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees.

Are you glad Joe Biden’s conduct is being investigated?

“I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in,’ I think it was, ‘about six hours.’ I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden recalled telling Poroshenko.

“Well, son of a b—-, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time,” the former vice president recounted.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Biden did not accurately portray the timetable of Shokin’s firing, finding the vice president made his demand during a visit to Kyiv in December 2015.

However, the report said, “In the eight days before Shokin was fired in March 2016, Biden phoned Poroshenko four times to reiterate the U.S. position, former aides said. The Ukrainian leader finally relented, and Shokin was sacked.”

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President Donald Trump’s mention on his July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of Biden’s Council of Foreign Relations boast and his request to look into the matter is what the “whistleblower” and congressional Democrats pointed to as an abuse of power by Trump leading to his impeachment.

The original media reports were that Trump made a quid pro quo demand of Zelensky: Investigate Joe and Hunter Biden or forgo $391 million in U.S. military aid.

Then Trump released the transcript undercutting this narrative.

The president said during his call with Zelensky, “[T]here’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.

“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it. … It sounds horrible to me.”

No quid pro quo demand was made.

The proof is in the pudding that Ukraine never launched or announced it would launch an investigation into the Bidens and the aid was released in mid-September 2019.

Investigative journalist John Solomon said on Fox News in October that some media outlets wrongly reported that Shokin had closed his investigation into Burisma when Biden called for his ouster.

“Not true,” Solomon told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “I have the prosecutorial file. It was active.”

“I have the emails of the Burisma [legal] team negotiating with the prosecutor the very day that Shokin was fired,” he said.

The reporter added that Shokin offered sworn testimony that he was told he was fired because Joe Biden was not happy the prosecutor had not dropped the Burisma case.

In a piece for The Hill, Solomon wrote, “In a newly sworn affidavit prepared for a European court, Shokin testified that when he was fired in March 2016, he was told the reason was that Biden was unhappy about the Burisma investigation.”

“The truth is that I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas firm active in Ukraine and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a member of the Board of Directors,” Shokin testified.

Democrat lawmakers are quick to believe almost any conspiracy floated about Trump, and they even tried to remove him from office for one.

How about, for a change of pace, investigating a matter that actually has the appearance of wrongdoing on its face by someone who is now seeking the highest office in the land?

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