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CNN: Trump May Have Skipped Briefing On Russian Bounties

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

CNN is reporting that, despite denials by Donald Trump and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, information on Russia paying bounties for the murder of American soldiers was included in Trump's "daily brief." That briefing happened "sometime in the spring," though CNN does not indicate that their source provided a precise date for the briefing. The source indicated that this was such a big deal — directly involving the safety of American forces in Afghanistan — that it certainly would have been included in information that reached Trump.

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Video: How DeSantis Failed To Protect Florida From COVID-19

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On May 20, Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was continuing a statewide victory lap that saw him bragging about his "success" in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in every henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in the state—and on every right-wing media platform. Donald Trump held up Florida as the ultimate example of the benefits of reopening in a joint appearance with DeSantis on April 28 and was still at it on June 5, when Trump touted Florida for it's "tremendous success."

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‘Red Tide’ Of Virus Cases In GOP States Threatens Pandemic Recovery

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Mike Pence should never again write an editorial. Not only would that provide some relief for a nation that has absorbed just about every sentence on Donald Trump's "leadership" that it can tolerate, but Pence's recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal appears to have pulled off the rare reverse-Cassandra: Everything Pence said was going to happen, has already fallen apart. For example, there was this sequence: "Cases have stabilized over the past two weeks, with the daily average case rate across the U.S. dropping to 20,000—down from 30,000 in April and 25,000 in May."

On the day Pence wrote that, cases topped 25,000 for only the second time in two weeks. The next day, they topped 26,000. The next day, they touched 28,000. And on Friday, new cases of COVID-19 in the United States were at 33,300. That's the highest number of new cases since May 1. It's also a solid signal that the benefits of the temporary lockdowns have been expended. The pandemic is once again resuming an exponential march toward ever-greater numbers.

Florida has broken their record again on Saturday, with 4,049 cases. Texas has not yet given a final figure.

Back in March, after weeks of foot dragging and denial, Donald Trump and other Republican leaders finally jumped when confronted with charts laying out the expected numbers of dead from an unchecked epidemic in the United States. Trump never became energized enough to actually do anything, like call on governors for a coordinated national stay-at-home order, or institute a federally-managed system of testing and case management. But at least, for a short time there, Trump stood aside long enough for a medical professional to reach the White House microphone and encourage people to take precautions.

But that was then. After repeated exposure to evidence that Donald Trump was going to kill well over a hundred thousand Americans, Republicans haven't just become inured to the idea of the worst disaster in over a century, they've already declared it a win, and done, no do-overs. Trump has already declared there will be "no more shut downs," and Republican governors have taken that to heart. Even in states like Texas and Florida, which yesterday achieved a 1-2 position at the top of the chart for new cases, there's no sign that anything like sensible action is at hand.

On Friday, Texas racked up 4,497 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That's not just more than double the numbers from a week earlier, it even beats out the previous high number that Gov. Greg Abbott blamed on prisons and nursing homes bundling old results. Abbott's biggest achievement on Friday was once again declaring that he would not remove an executive order that keeps cities and counties from creating local mask mandates. However, earlier in the week he did support keeping restrictions on the southern U. S. border to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Which is probably a good idea. For Mexico.

Florida counted 3,822 new cases on Friday. That's 600 cases more than the previous high … which was on Thursday. As in Texas, the number of daily cases being reported in the state is now 200% the numbers from a week earlier. But rather than announce any new precautions, Gov. Ron DeSantis took a break from earlier excuses to blame roaming bands of watermelon-picking Hispanics for the state's surge. It would be hilariously racist if it wasn't also true. Making it much less hilarious, and infinitely more racist.

Texas and Florida have come up in discussions of COVID-19 several times this week not just because outbreaks there are solidly back on the upward arc that was in place before the first social distancing measures were taken. What's making both states notable is a third state: The state of denial. It might be possible to say that Abbott and DeSantis are caught between their knee-jerk determination to please Trump and the health of their citizens, but they're not. Because the health of their citizens is not a factor. Both men are going to ridiculous lengths to demonstrate that they will not pull the fire alarm, even when the smoke is everywhere.

Texas is now the fifth highest state in overall cases of COVID-19. Florida is close behind at number seven. And both are now far outpacing the results from states like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut that formed the first flank of the U. S. epidemic. In fact, none of those states have seen numbers like those in Florida and Texas since the first week of May.

The amazing graphic from The Washington Post, showing how red states have taken over as the chief location of new cases, does not even include the data from the last half of this week.

Texas and Florida are not alone in driving the "red tide" of new cases. On Friday, Arizona reported 3,246 new cases. That number (say it with me now) is double what the state was reporting a week ago. However, that state's Republican governor, Doug Ducey, allowed at least a modicum of reason to slip in when he announced that he was rescinding his earlier order and would allow cities and localities to create mask mandates.

The far-too-rapid reopening of America, followed by the refusal to mandate masks or enforce social distancing, is the reason that the lines in this other Washington Post chart are so distinct.

In March, as cases in Italy and Spain exploded, then spilled over into other European nations, the word was always that the United States was "two weeks behind." But that period is long over. By strict, nation-wide application of social distancing guidelines, extended lockdowns, and far more use of masks, the nations of the European Union have turned the COVID-19 pandemic into something that both their citizens and their economies can tolerate until a vaccine or effective treatment is available.

But in the United States … roll tide.

Report: Twitter’s Top ‘Reopen’ Accounts Are Propaganda Bots

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos.

Russia's 2016 campaign in support of Donald Trump included many different means of inserting false information into the national conversation. It featured ads on radio stations in key cities intended to suppress Black support for Hillary Clinton, faux local news sites filled with fabricated stories supporting Trump, and fake Black Lives Matters sites on Facebook meant to increase the fear of rural white voters. There were targeted ads that leveraged online tools to plant false stories directly into critical districts, and direct intrusion into voter databases that did … who knows what. But one key component of the 2016 campaign was a vast army of 'bot' accounts, managed by a team of Russian military hackers. That effort filled Twitter, Facebook, and other sites—and in the process became some of the most influential accounts in social media.

Now it appears that it's happened again. A new study shows that when it comes to forcing workers to go back into offices, stores, and factories, almost half the online voices shouting for the "reopening of America" were, and are, bot accounts. Of the accounts that have tweeted most on this topic, more than half are bots. Of the most influential, almost all are bots. And behind the bots … is someone still unknown.The report comes out of Carnegie Mellon University. Digging through over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus, researchers focused in on the most influential accounts—those most active, most retweeted, and most liked. Out of the top 1,000 accounts, 62% are bots. Perhaps even more amazing: of the 50 most influential accounts on this topic, 82% are bots.

The bots may be numerous, but their message isn't varied. They're not being used to pass along accurate news about COVID-19, to encourage social distancing, or to support state government calls for preventive measures. In addition to pushing false cures, like Trump's much-pushed hydroxychloroquine, and spreading general false information about the dangers of COVID-19, there's one point where bots are driving the whole of social media. According to the report, they are "dominating conversations about ending stay-at-home orders and 'reopening America.'"

Other disasters have also brought along swarms of bot accounts trying to take advantage of the chaos to drive either profit or political division, but CMU reports that the pandemic has generated far more fake accounts than expected. Those bots aren't just participating in the online discussion about reopening America, they are driving it. These same bots are also pushing stories that deaths due to COVID-19 are being overcounted, that medical workers and hospitals are exaggerating the scale of the pandemic, that hospital rooms are filled with crisis actors or even mannequins to make the situation seem far worse than it is. The bots are both originating and repeating more than 100 different categories of false stories about COVID-19, the pandemic, and the steps needed to fight the disease. These conspiracy theories are designed to both increase anger and generate distrust of medical authorities. They've also played a role in driving in-person protests in cities across the country.

Proving the origin of the bots may be difficult, and there are certainly other candidates. The first reopen protests were in Michigan, where they were funded and pushed through an online effort of the Michigan Freedom Fund. The MFF is funded by the family of Betsy DeVos. The tools and propaganda developed by the MFF for that first protest were used as a template for other protests in other states. These protests have also leveraged pro-gun groups that descended on state capitols in the past—which is why the same protesters have appeared to threaten officials in multiple states.

See if this looks familiar:

  • A social media campaign that dominates a national conversation, introduces divisive themes, and helps to orchestrate small physical protests.
  • Out-sized media coverage and intense social media amplification that makes those protests seem both far more significant and legitimate.
  • A network of lies and conspiracy theories that opens divisions in the nation, plays on existing fears, and generates distrust of knowledgeable sources.

If any of that seems like a repeat, it's because that was exactly Russia's 2016 playbook. And that's not a great surprise. Because this isn't some random group of bots cobbled together by hackers just for kicks. The scale of this effort is huge, the messages are coordinated, and the impact has already been felt nationwide. According to CMU professor Kathleen Carley, "…it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks."The coordinated effort behind reopening America may or may not be a Russian plot. But it is a plot; one that has been eagerly supported by a network of conservative organizations who definitely learned a lesson from 2016. What they learned is that America is hugely vulnerable to a coordinated propaganda campaign, that a small number gun-waving protesters can be made to seem like a mass movement, and that they can get their way even if a majority of Americans disagree.

Whoever is behind it, it's clear they got tired of asking Americans to sacrifice themselves for Wall Street. So they just took away the options.

2016 demonstrated America's vulnerability to this kind of attack. 2020 shows that the nation is no more secure … but the attackers have improved.

Trump Invented Google’s Coronavirus Test Website

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

During his Friday afternoon press event—an event that seemed focused entirely on pumping up the stock market by name dropping as many corporations as possible—Donald Trump claimed that Google was working on a website that would help worried Americans figure out if they needed to be tested for the novel coronavirus.

The website, according to Trump, would be done soon, and would not only provide information on whether a test was called for, but advise on where to go for a test. Trump was not only very specific, noting that Google had “1,700 engineers working on this right now,” but took the time to make a backhanded swipe at the initial difficulties of the web site connected to the Affordable Care Act.

The only problem is … everything. Google is not building the website Trump described. Not with 1,700 engineers. Not at all. Another company owned by the same parent company as Google is working on a site connected to the coronavirus, but it is absolutely nothing like what Trump described. In a press event that was entirely designed to make Trump’s disastrous handling of this crisis look better, Donald Trump decided the best approach was to simply lie his ass off.

Trump’s claim about the Google site wasn’t something made in passing. He went on at length. “Google is going to develop a website,” said Trump. And getting in that knock against the difficulties in bringing the Obamacare insurance site up to snuff, he added, “It’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past.” Trump then went on to detail how this site would direct Americans to testing facilities; testing facilities which Trump hyped as if he was opening a chain of chicken sandwich joints. 

“Determine if a test is warranted, and facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location. We have many, many locations behind us, by the way. We cover this country and large parts of the world, by the way. We’re not gonna be talking about the world right now, but we cover very, very strongly our country. Stores in virtually every location.” Stores. He actually called them stores. “Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They have made tremendous progress.”

This wasn’t the only time Trump referred to the site during his press event. Dr. Debbie Birx even brought a visual aid, a poster suitable for hanging in any fourth grade classroom, that supposedly showed the functionality of this site. Birx reinforced Trump’s statements that Americas would be able to select their symptoms, check on whether they needed to be tested, and get directed to the nearest facility. She even added to the supposed functionality, suggesting that after taking a test, people would be able to check on their results.

It was only hours after Trump talked that Google slipped out an announcement to explain just when Americans would be able to access this wonder site directing them to the nearest Honest Don’s Really Existing Testing Station. That would be never.

Google is working on nothing, they explained. Verily Life Sciences—another company opened by the same parent, Alphabet—is working on a site, but nothing about it matches what Trump said. That site is to help triage COVID-19 patients. It’s only for the Bay Area. And it’s not just about to appear, it’s still in “early stages of development.” Google doesn’t specify how many engineers are working on the site at Verily, but since the entire staff of Verily, most of whom are not web developers, is just 400 people, it’s a cinch the number is not “1,700 engineers.”

So where did Trump get that this was a national site? Where did he get the idea that it was going to be ready soon? Where were the descriptions of the functionality generated? Where did the figure of 1,700 engineers come from?

Those are really good questions. Which you can bet that the press will not ask at the next event.

Graham Says DOJ Will Probe Bidens, Warns Russia Probers ‘Going To Jail’

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos.

Sen. Lindsey Graham took to the Sunday talk shows to bask in the Senate’s nullification of Donald Trump’s impeachment for using the tools of his power to extort the Ukrainian government into providing him “dirt” on a Democratic election opponent. It is not just Trump who appears to feel unleashed; Graham, too, was eager to describe the next steps of the administration-led descent into American fascism.

A first step: Trump “private lawyer” Rudy Giuliani’s smear campaign against the Bidens is now moving into Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department. Whatever Barr’s prior pretenses may have been, Barr is now explicitly establishing the means by which Rudy’s propaganda can be filtered into official “investigations” of Trump’s targeted enemies.

Throughout the House and press investigations into the Ukraine scandal, Trump Attorney General Barr either refused comment or denied that he was involved with the Giuliani efforts, despite Trump specifically naming both Barr and Giuliani as contacts for the Ukrainian president in the “transcript” of Trump’s now-infamous phone call. Whether this was a lie or not—and it is almost certainly a direct lie by a complicit Barr—such pretenses have now vanished.

On CBS’s Face the NationGraham said that the Department of Justice is now “receiving information coming out of the Ukraine, from Rudy.” Barr’s Justice Department, says Graham, has “created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified.”

And this, in turn, means the claims of Russian organized crime-tied Dmytro Firtash, seeking to exchange “dirt” on Biden in exchange for the U.S. Department of Justice dropping his indictments in this country, are now being funneled through Giuliani directly into a Barr-led Justice Department that seems more then agreeable to making such a trade.

That was not the only assertion from Graham that Republicans and the Trump administration would be adopting new fascist policies of targeting and retaliating against Dear Leader’s critics and enemies. Just after Trump removed multiple U.S. government officials (and a family member) who testified to the House impeachment committee despite Trump and Barr’s standing orders to refuse House subpoenas, Graham indicated that many of those who investigated Trump will be heading to prison.

“We’re not going to live in a world where as a Republican you get investigated from the day you’re sworn in, three years later they’re still coming after you,” said Graham, erasing both Whitewater and the Benghazi “investigations” from the nation’s history.

“Here’s what amazes me. The Russian investigation, what happened? Half the people behind the Russia investigation are going to go to jail,” the Republican told his Fox News host. “And Trump was cleared.”

This means that the president’s self-identified “personal lawyer”, acting on behalf of known-corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs and ex-officials and in concert with two now-indicted launderers of Russian cash, is now directly channeling conspiracy claims against Trump’s election opponent to the U.S. Attorney General’s office. There is no longer any pretense of Giuliani’s efforts not being state policy.

“When? Hopefully,” host Maria Bartiromo mugged.

“Well, just hang tight,” Graham responded.

We are now well into fascism, and it is the Republican Senate that is not merely looking the other way, but aggressively assisting Trump’s team in its implementation. Those that testified against Trump are being removed, despite laws seemingly barring such retaliation. The propaganda efforts against Trump’s targeted political foe spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani (financed, it should be noted, from Russia, as previous Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was financed for his own role in manipulating Ukraine towards Russian interests while creating schisms between that country and the West) are now being pipelined directly into Barr’s Department of Justice.

Barr, whose department attempted to stifle the Ukrainian whistleblower complaint and worked to sabotage all investigation of Trump, has issued orders that he must be informed of and approve of any new investigations that touch on a 2020 campaign or candidate—both giving him direct access to any information potentially damaging to Trump’s foes while maintaining absolute power to block probes of Trump himself.

It is in this environment that Lindsay Graham, who has been one of the prime advocates of Trump’s new, law-bending authoritarian powers, has confidence that Trump’s prior investigators will be jailed. “Just hang tight,” he tells his propagandizing state media host.