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How AOC Is Moving To Maximize Her Effectiveness In Congress

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared as a guest on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” earlier this month following Super Tuesday, host Meyers asked the New York City Democrat if she would support former Vice President Joe Biden if he receives the presidential nomination — and without hesitation, she responded that she would. AOC’s assertion signaled a willingness to help fellow Democrats who aren’t nearly as left-of-center as she is. And journalists Alex Thompson and Holly Otterbein, in an article for Politico, argue that in 2020, the 30-year-old congresswoman doesn’t appear to be adopting some of the most forceful tactics of the left wing that she is identified with.

Ocasio-Cortez herself is in the U.S. House of Representatives because of a primary challenge: in 2018, she defeated incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary by running to his left and enjoyed a landslide victory over Republican nominee Anthony Pappas in the general election. But so far in 2020, Thompson and Otterbein report, AOC hasn’t been joining the progressive group Justice Democrats in taking on an abundance of Democratic incumbents.

“Of the half-dozen incumbent primary challengers Justice Democrats is backing this cycle, Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed just two,” the Politico journalists note. “Neither was a particularly risky move: both candidates — Jessica Cisneros in Texas and Marie Newman in Illinois — were taking on conservative Democrats who oppose abortion rights and later earned the support of several prominent national Democrats.”

This year, Thompson and Otterbein note, Justice Democrats have been “trying to boot not just conservative Democrats, butalso, someliberal Democrats” and “replace them with members who are more left-wing.” But Ocasio-Cortez has been “reluctant” to join them.

“Ocasio-Cortez’ endorsement moves are not a fluke, but part of a larger change over the past several months,” Thompson and Otterbein report. “After her disruptive, burn-it-down early months in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez — who colleagues say is often conflict-averse in person — has increasingly been trying to work more within the system. She is building coalitions with fellow Democratic members and picking her fights more selectively.”

In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed her mentor, Sen. Bernie Sanders. But when she told Meyers she would get behind Biden — now the frontrunner — if Sanders doesn’t receive the nomination, Ocasio-Cortez pragmatically asserted that the former vice president would be better than four more years of President Donald Trump (Sanders has said the same thing, making it clear that he will support Biden if he’s the nominee). And veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, who has been asserting that he doesn’t think Sanders is electable, told Politico that AOC appears to be embracing a big tent view of the Democratic Party.

Carville said of Ocasio-Cortez, “The Democratic Party is the party of coalitions, not a cult. I’ve observed her. I think she’s really talented, that she’s really smart. Maybe she is — I don’t speak for her — coming to the conclusion that she wants to be part of the coalition.”

Why COVID-19 Trutherism Is So Popular On The Right

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Thirty days ago, Donald Trump said confidently that “we have 15 cases of COVID-19 that have been detected in the United States… [but] because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low. … within a couple of days [the number of cases] is going to be down to close to zero.”

Today, less than a month later, we will hit 100,000 confirmed cases. And experts say that because of limited testing capacity, many more than we know are infected. If current trends persist, we’ll have one million cases on April 6.

Yet despite the rapid spread of the disease, there’s still an abiding belief among many conservatives that this is no more serious than the seasonal flu, and the problem is being hyped by Democrats and the media to hurt Trump’s chances in November. A poll released this week found that over 60 percent of Fox News viewers embrace that view. Right-wing pundits talk about the annual death rate from influenza and car accidents, and while doctors and nurses say that many COVID-19 fatalities are going unreported, some on the right are convinced that the rising death toll is also exaggerated.

On its face, the reason for this disconnect is straightforward. The president is a serial liar who’s incapable of processing events in any context other than his own interests, knows this is a catastrophe unfolding on his watch, and has been telling this story to his base every evening on The Donald Trump Pandemic Show during the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force briefings.

But let’s dig down a little deeper.

First, we should acknowledge how incredibly appealing this storyline is. Grappling with the reality that public health experts describe is downright scary. Take a step back, and it’s easy to see how comforting it must be to believe that everything is basically normal, this pandemic is only fatal for a handful of older, sicker people and that another deep recession is only approaching because the pernicious media aren’t reporting the scope of the problem accurately. At this point, who among us wouldn’t be thrilled if that were really true?

Motivated reasoning–the process of embracing even dubious information that supports one’s strongly held views and rejecting that which contradicts them–requires two things. First, you need motivation. Nobody engages in motivated reasoning over mundane things, or issues that they don’t feel strongly about.

They have that in abundance. Studies have long found that “political conservatism is associated with an increased negativity bias, including increased attention and reactivity toward negative and threatening stimuli.” This a fearful time, and people on the right tend to be highly sensitive to threats.

The second component is having seemingly legitimate, reassuring information to latch onto. In this case, they see the White House, Republican officials at all levels of government and the conservative media unified around the message that this pandemic is a readily manageable problem being overblown for partisan purposes.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the outbreak has so far hit urban areas and blue states hard, while in many rural, conservative parts of the country it is still an abstraction. Fourteen states have 1,000 or more confirmed cases, and only four are red (Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana) or reddish (Georgia). When people see others in their own communities suffering grave illness or death or lose loved ones to the disease, reality will break through the partisan spin, but that hasn’t happened yet.

It will. The data show that COVID-19 spreads exponentially unless or until aggressive social distancing measures are put into place and enforced, and the 28 states that have not done so are mostly led by Republicans. And polls show that those believe the COVID-truthers on Fox News and among their elected officials are less likely to wash their hands regularly, avoid large gatherings or take other measures to avoid infection. According to Nate Silver, on Tuesday “cases increased by 31 percent in Trump states as compared to 21 percent in Clinton states.” That trend is likely to continue or accelerate as long as conservatives hold onto the belief that this isn’t really a historic public health crisis.

It’s a tragic paradox: Pandemic denialism won’t survive widespread outbreaks in conservative communities, but it all but guarantees that they will suffer a lot of illness and death in the coming weeks and months. But this is what happens when a political movement eschews expertise and dismisses science–and rallies around a leader who cares deeply about his political prospects but seems unconcerned about the health and well-being of his supporters.

Team Trump’s Collected Remarks About The Pandemic

Donald Trump and his administration spent the first several weeks of the current coronavirus crisis downplaying the problem and claiming that it might actually be good for the economy, among other things.

Their rosy predictions, unfortunately, have fallen flat.

The nationwide death toll from the virus has now passed 1,000. The United States now has more known COVID-19 cases than any other country, and unemployment claims are at a record high.

Here are some claims that aged particularly poorly.

Everything is under control

Trump claimed on Feb. 25 that the coronavirus was “very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are … getting better. They’re all getting better.” As recently as March 15, he was still claiming that it was “something that we have tremendous control over.”

On Thursday, the CDC reported more than 68,000 confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases.

Larry Kudlow, head of Trump’s economic council, made a similar claim on Feb. 25, saying, “We have contained this. I won’t say [it is] air-tight, but it’s pretty close to air-tight.” He vowed it would not be an “economic tragedy.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also insisted on March 7 that the virus was “contained.”

“It is being contained,” she told skeptical reporters. “Do you not think it’s being contained in this country?”

Trump made an even bolder claim on Feb. 26, suggesting that the then-limited number of cases would go away. “And again, when you have 15 people, 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,” he said at a press briefing.

Asked whether schools might need to shut down, he added, “I don’t think it’s going to come to that, especially with the fact that we’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.”

Infections have since risen by more than 100,000 percent.

On March 9, Trump suggested that influenza was a bigger deal than the coronavirus. “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” he tweeted. “At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Testing is perfect

The Trump administration has repeatedly pushed back on reports of limited coronavirus testing, despite an abundance of complaints from states and localities that they have no way to administer tests to all those who need them.

On March 6, Trump claimed “anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is.” He added that the tests were “all perfect.”

On Tuesday, the New Yorker reported “widespread” coronavirus testing was still unavailable and would not be ready any time in the near future, due to a “critical shortage of the physical components needed to carry out tests of any variety.”

Mike Pence, whom Trump appointed to lead the coronavirus task force, claimed as recently as March 10 that “over a million tests have been distributed” thus far, promising that, “before the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed.”

As of Thursday, the COVID Tracking Project, which gathers the most recent test information from across the country, said just 519,338 tests had been conducted in total. And Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s coronavirus testing “czar,” admitted on Wednesday, “We’re not at the level of having tens of millions of people tested.”

This will actually be good for the economy

Trump claimed on March 6 that the lack of international fights due to coronavirus would be good for domestic tourism.

“You know, a lot of people are staying here and they’re going to be doing their business here, they’re going to be traveling here. And they’ll be going to resorts here. We have a great place,” he argued. “So foreign people come, but we’re going to have Americans staying home instead of going and spending their money in other countries and maybe that’s one of the reasons the job numbers are so good.”

The travel industry has since ground to a virtual halt as states implement widespread lockdowns and shelter-in-place restrictions.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross went so far as to predict that the outbreak would boost U.S. jobs. “The fact is it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain,” he told Fox Business on Jan. 30. “I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America. Some to the U.S., probably some to Mexico as well.”

According to Thursday’s weekly job numbers, 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

Back on Feb. 24, as the stock market started to tumble over coronavirus fears, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Kudlow echoed this on on Feb. 28, telling Fox Business that investors should not “rule out” optimism. “Stocks look pretty cheap to me,” he opined.

As of Friday morning, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 21,734, more than 4,000 points lower than when Kudlow first made his prediction.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Our Reality-Show President Needs To Get Real

It was selfish to even ask the question: Will Broadway turn the lights back on in a month, as promised?

Turns out that’s doubtful, despite a goal of an April 12 reboot. Those tickets I had scored are worthless either way, since that particular show in previews, “Hangmen,” has announced it has permanently closed before it officially opened.

Considering New York’s many troubles — the mounting human toll of the coronavirus, the shortage of hospital beds and protective equipment for health workers, the many thrown out of jobs — the fate of one show is just one item on a long list of things shaken by the global pandemic. Many who are rationing supplies and struggling to replace lost wages couldn’t afford a Broadway ticket in the best of times.

So, yes, selfish. But understandable, when in a world of uncertainty and danger in possibly the air we breathe, and on every object or human we touch, escape and connection are things we crave. Friends are trying new recipes, joining online dance parties and yoga classes, adopting dogs and often channeling unexpected free time into worthy activities, like my talented niece sewing face masks for the medical health pros who desperately need them.

Still, for those Broadway ushers, vendors, street buskers and others who depend on New York City hustle and bustle, a darkened Times Square is no diversion. When word came this week that playwright Terrence McNally, whose prolific portfolio had provided so many, including me, with thoughtful entertainment through the decades, had died from complications from the coronavirus, reality and the theater world painfully collided.

When I pivot to culture when trying to make sense of politics, it’s not because I take the workings of Washington or life lightly. Rather, it’s because culture is something everyone can share in during partisan times: the hot movie, the new music, the addictive television experience.

That still happens, though Americans no longer live in a time of three networks, the local movie palace with heavy velvet curtains or next-day conversations about antics on Johnny Carson or Carol Burnett. A Change.org petition started by the Metropolitan Museum of Art calling for the inclusion of art institutions, along with their employees, in any federal aid package, is getting support from folks who regard culture as a necessary part of life.

Though our culture often seems as fragmented as our politics, that bond has not completely disappeared, something I’ve seen in recent social media conversations as all sorts of people come together to, for example, offer suggestions for TV shows to stream in a crisis or movie lists to soothe bored teens stuck in the house for goodness knows how long. The New York Times just reported that those evening news shows are finding increased and new audiences as Americans revert to straight down-the-line reporting, no histrionics needed when a virus throws you unexpected plot twists.

Yes, this is one time when the escape of entertainment can be both soothing and dangerous, when the moment calls for something much more serious. Just take one look at the soused expressions on the faces of devil-may-care spring breakers looking for fun, unaware or unconcerned of the risk they may pose to themselves and the unsuspecting parents and grandparents they could infect.

Leading the way

Maybe they get it now. But do our leaders?

Some do. It’s no coincidence that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the task force, have become unlikely stars. During a global pandemic that came to America as it inevitably would, the good doctors have earned the spotlight and the benefit of the doubt.

Governors have also taken the lead, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, previously known for his combative streak, which has come as a refreshing splash of cold water, as he has provided leadership for a state that is hurting, with the bulk of new COVID-19 cases.

This crisis has revealed cracks in our “exceptional” American system, with spotty health care that may discourage sick people from visiting a doctor, a lack of paid sick leave that encourages those who still have a job to drag themselves to work no matter what. Too many children get the bulk of their nutrition from school meals, and too many parents can’t afford safe child care.

There is no escaping these shortcomings that have been years in the making.

The House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, sparred over details of a $2 trillion package that came together in the wee hours of Wednesday; but, though hopeful, many fear the money will not trickle down nearly enough or last long enough.

There are the bright spots of Americans pitching in, of the mail carriers and grocery clerks and sanitation workers pushing through, of the health care pros working through exhaustion and risks. The Rev. William J. Barber II’s daily tweets remind politicians of their duty to all Americans, including those often forgotten, without the wherewithal to shelter in place, the homeless, the poor. Barber promises the Poor People’s Campaign’s planned June 20 march in Washington, needed now more than ever, is going digital.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and more, signed a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal urging the release or transfer to home confinement for the most vulnerable inmates as permitted under the First Step Act. It’s called “compassionate release,” but it has been seldom used since the law passed.

An executive exception

So where is the American president? Can he pivot from the showman persona that is his comfort zone to the take-charge chief offering truth and transparency?

From President Donald Trump, we hear optimistic promises of a grand Easter, in sentiments that are not in line with his medical experts. “Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full?” he asked. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. … I think it’ll be a beautiful time.”

Trump’s press briefings have taken on the appearance of a show, with promises of a vaccine around the corner, a miracle drug, mean-spirited jokes about the “deep” State Department and personal insults to reporters, including one who lobbed a softball question, asking for the president’s message to anxious Americans, a question that almost any sentient human being with an ounce of empathy could hit out of the park by simply saying, “We’re all in this together and working hard for a solution.”

That statement is not grand enough for the entertainer in chief, now robbed of the rallies that are his oxygen.

Americans, with exceptions to be sure, have the capacity to take this new normal seriously, while carving out pockets of joy and even silliness, often joining in spirit if not in person with other members of the weary brigade, to work through a crisis few have seen the likes of in their lifetimes.

The reality show star needs to be real. We’ll handle the rest.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.