Editors’ Blog

Catastrophe

I seldom think anything good about Donald Trump. I hate what he has done to the country. I hold his enablers even more responsible for what has happened on his watch. But today I feel that stew of emotions in a new deadening way I have seldom experienced. I am baffled and aghast and angry in a way I seldom have been.

The US is not experiencing a surge. We are back to exponential growth in the virus just as most of the rest of the wealthy, industrialized world is moving on. COVID is not done for them of course. There are masks and mitigation and distancing and people are still falling ill. Some are dying. But most of these countries have beaten Covid down into low enough numbers that they can get about the business of a new form of social and economic life.

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Watch Out, New York

After being the center of the cataclysm, New York State and New York City have become a great COVID success story, showing what’s possible with an aware public, aggressive mitigation and robust testing. But we may be seeing the first hints that the national trends are catching up with this.

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Curbside Only, Folks

One of the many ancillary insights or interesting developments during the epidemic is the creative use of anonymized big data to learn to things about the outbreak. Mobility data tied to cell phone and mapping apps is one example. Not too long after the outbreak began they started surfacing some of their trove of mobility data for people and public officials making public health decisions. (If you haven’t seen it, check it out here.) Credit card use is another. JPMorgan Chase just released a report based on their own credit cards which suggests a strong correlation between “card present” restaurant purchases and new outbreaks.

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SITE ISSUES

As many of you have seen we are currently experiencing site issues at TPM. This has affected site availability and log-in. In some cases, it’s lead to people seeing ads in Ad Free. We believe as of about 9:45 AM eastern that we have it at at least partly resolved. Our tech team is working to resolve it. We really appreciate your patience and we apologize for the inconvenience.

This Is a Big Deal

This may seem trivial on the surface. But it is a big, big deal. President Trump is trying to use an NDA to stop Omarosa Manigault-Newman from talking about her time working as a government employee at the White House. But the specifics are key. It’s the Trump campaign taking the action, not the White House or the federal government or even Trump personally. So the Trump campaign, a private organization, is trying to use an NDA to block someone from talking about their time working as a government employee at the White House.

Where Things Stand: Keep An Eye On Azar’s Travel
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

Even though the White House has cut off its coronavirus task force briefings in order to pump up President Trump’s political aspirations, most Americans are acutely aware of which states are experiencing massive COVID-19 spikes.

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Explosive and Out of Control

The COVID infection numbers from yesterday and indeed since early June are ominous and harrowing. As we note here yesterday was another big record. They are best absorbed visually. Here are the case counts from early March with the original epicenter of New York separated out from the rest of the country.

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Stop Talking About “Reopening”
TAMPA, FL - JUNE 26: Zack Vermes a bartender at  Carmine’s Ybor Italian restaurant wipes off the bar while awaiting patrons on June 26, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. Florida has suspended the consumption of alcohol at bars amid a surge in the positive coronavirus cases according to a tweet by Halsey Beshears, the secretary of the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Friday.  (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

From the start of the COVID epidemic we’ve been talking about “reopening”, when it would happen, whether it is safe. The President started demanding it about two weeks into the crisis – the churches needed to be full on Easter, the 12th of April. Now we talk about which states have reopened and which haven’t. It’a all wrong. From the start this metaphor has saddled us with distorting language and a distorted concept which has enabled and driven bad policy. It suggests a binary choice when one doesn’t exist. The impact goes beyond semantics.

There is no opening or closing and there won’t be until we have a vaccine or a very effective cure for COVID. There are various mitigation strategies. Does the state push or mandate widespread masking? Does it permit indoor dining? Are bars open? Has it scaled sufficient testing capacity and a robust contact tracing program? The devil and the death toll are all in this particulars. The ‘reopening’ metaphor obscures all of this.

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Folks, Let’s Do This

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Where Things Stand: Here Are The Admin Officials Who Don’t Want To Give You Daily COVID Info
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, senior adviser Jared Kushner, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and counselor to the president Hope Hicks, for starters.

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Biden Should Commit to it And Trump Should Be Warned: The Cover Ups End in January

It now seems likely that President Trump will lose his bid for reelection in November and perhaps by a margin large enough to head off any effort to contest the results and unconstitutionally hold on to power. But even if this doesn’t happen in November it will happen one day. Now is the time to plan for accountability for and recovery from the catastrophe of Trumpism.

One of the most abiding criticisms of the Obama administration is that no one was held accountable for the actions that led to the 2008 financial crisis. Relatedly, but addressing a different set of equities, others criticized Obama for ‘turning the page’ on the manipulated intelligence scandals that led to the Iraq War. These are complicated questions that are beyond the scope of this discussion. But there are at least potent reasons to avoid the cycle which has plagued so many countries in which losing power means vulnerability to political prosecutions and the necessity of exile.

But we often get this part of the civic accountability calculus wrong. Prosecution and criminal punishment play an important role in combating public wrongdoing. But they are not the most important tool. Indeed it often operates at cross purposes to the far more important goal of public exposure.

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Where Things Stand: The GOP’s Embarrassing Mask Prodding
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

At this point, multiple Republicans and Trump allies have done their damnedest to quietly nudge President Trump on masks — all without actually calling him out for it.

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White Supremacy In The White House

“Woodrow Wilson was in wide company in being a white supremacist at the turn of the 20th century, but he stands apart in having overseen the triumph of this ideology at home and abroad,” writes journalist and author Colin Woodard for Cafe.

Reading John Roberts

TPM Reader JO, a lawyer, reacts to this morning’s Supreme Court decision on stare decisis (and abortion, of course!):
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Shoeless In St. Louis

TPM Reader BL writes in to offer a clarification on the gun-toting couple in St. Louis. It’s potentially important context in a legal sense, but in the larger context I’m not so sure that armed residents of a Gilded Age knockoff of an Italian Renaissance palazzo defending their own private street patrolled by private security guards changes the essential meaning we can draw from this cartoonish encounter:

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Where Things Stand: We Should’ve Known A While Ago That Kavanaugh Can’t Be Trusted
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

Back in the days of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious Senate confirmation, the Washington Post killed a story that could’ve exposed a striking example of Kavanaugh’s public disingenuousness.

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New Data Source

Here is a new source of COVID data I want to share with you: outbreak.info. There are a lot of these sites and I try to dig into just who is running them and what standards they’re using for their data. This one appears to be the work of a team headed up by Andrew Su at the Scripps Research Center Institute in La Jolla. A lot of the data is what you find at other great sites like The COVID Tracking Project, the Johns Hopkins data site, etc. But this is a team specializing in bioinformatics. So they’ve worked on creating uniform formats for COVID data so the data can be efficiently and accurately meshed together – so the data can talk to each other.

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Standing Athwart The Revolution

All that stands between us and a conservative revolution on the Supreme Court is one John Glover Roberts, Jr.

Bonnie And Clyde
Armed homeowners standing in front of their house along Portland Place confront protesters as they march to Mayor Lyda Krewson's house on Sunday, June 28, 2020, in the Central West End in St. Louis. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

TPM Reader MD writes in with his personal account of the St. Louis protest that featured the gun-waving Bonnie and Clyde in front of their “Midwestern palazzo”:

Trump just re-tweeted images of the gun-toting St. Louis couple, so this seems destined to become a national obsession. Might as well send you my two cents.

I was in St. Louis last night. In fact, I attended the protest. Let me give you a play-by-play.

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Clean AF

We interrupt our regular programming for an unsolicited testimonial from TPM Reader JD:

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More on Shifting COVID Age Demographics

Yesterday I discussed how shifting age demographics could mean fewer deaths from the current COVID outbreaks than the ones mostly in the North in March and April. Here’s a much more granular discussion of this issue at the COVID Tracking website. Highly recommend if you’re interested in going deeper on this question.

Princeton Drops Woodrow Wilson from Name of Public Policy School

The Board of Trustees of Princeton University has voted to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the University’s public policy school and one of its residential colleges.

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Thank You!

Super proud of the TPM team for the original investigative reporting this week on the Trump administration preparing to bail on COVID testing sites, particularly in Texas, where the pandemic is surging.

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Appreciate The Congrats

This speaks for itself:

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BREAKING

After TPM’s reporting this week, the Trump administration has reversed course and will not bail on five COVID testing sites in Texas as the pandemic surges there.

Texas Officials Brace For Fed Withdrawal

In a letter obtained by TPM, Dallas’ mayor asked HHS Secretary Azar to continue federal support for two testing sites in his city. Sens. Cruz and Cornyn have made the same request for seven sites across the state. The incident commander of the Dallas sites is holding out hope that federal support might continue.

But as the COVID outbreak in the state intensifies, the sunset date for federal support — June 30 — is drawing near.

Matt Shuham reports on the situation in Texas as the day approaches.

Not Long Ago. Not Even Past.

We should remember that until quite recently — just about a year ago — Harriet Tubman was scheduled to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. It wasn’t just an idea. Much of the work and preparation had already been done. But the plan was canceled because it made President Trump mad.

Mystery Solved?

One of the most persistent mysteries of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is why cases have largely plateaued (until the last couple weeks) while mortality figures have fallen substantially. As we’ve discussed, there’s been an ongoing debate about disentangling the evolving case counts from the ongoing rise in the number of tests being conducted every day. But particularly as cases started to rise in June it is clear that cases are growing well in excess of what can be explained by more testing. So why have the daily mortality numbers dropped? Why the disjuncture between the two numbers, even taking into account a two- or three-week lag between spikes in new cases and people succumbing to the disease?

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Guardians Not Warriors

Five years ago, former cop Seth Stoughton wrote one of the best things we’ve ever published at TPM. It was on point, expert yet accessible, and very timely. Now he’s back, with co-author Karen Collins Rice, with a new piece on the need to dramatically change police culture to embrace the guardian ethos.

Important Read

A former FEMA administrator tells us that the Trump administration’s approach on closing testing sites as hotspots flare is, to use the technical term, “dumb.”

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