Editors’ Blog

A Sharpiegate Truther

One of my all-time fave reader emails just landed in the inbox. Indulging a little fanciful (but not completely implausible!) speculation on a summertime Friday afternoon, here is TPM Reader ST:

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Where Things Stand: Fauci Knows Politics Have Contributed To Our Grand COVID Failure Prime Badge
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Dr. Anthony Fauci has played a vital role and has been a consistent, therapeutic presence in the U.S.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic since the earliest days of the White House task force.

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Sharpie-Gate was a Harbinger

Matt Shuham has a good run-down here of the comical toadying behind the scenes in “Sharpie-Gate” which was unearthed by the newly-released Inspector General’s report. Read it.

It is worth remembering that while Sharpie-gate was from the start comical and absurd it was never “funny.” Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars to collect, distribute and publicize data about the weather to protect lives, property, economic vitality and more. When the President falsifies that data for trivial and self-serving reasons that’s a big problem. But this episode is best seen as an almost novelistic foreshadowing of the falsification of data and corruption of the country’s public health apparatus which only months later would lead directly to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and immiseration of millions more.

Back to Herd Immunity Hocum Prime Badge

An Alabama Republican political leader (Senate President pro-tem) is back to pushing the “herd immunity” strategy as cases mount in his state.

There are a number of problems with this approach, not least of which is that having everyone get the disease as a way of combating the disease is a rather logically and conceptually confused approach. But more particularly we have the case of New York City.

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The Crumbling Prime Badge

We’ve been inundated with news today. I don’t mean just “us,” as in TPM, I mean the collective us. Everything from Supreme Court decisions, to mounting COVID destruction, various Trump-driven or inspired legal developments and the unfolding story of the 2020 election. I’ve been trying to absorb and make sense of it. Across the whole terrain we can see President Trump’s power ebbing and fracturing.

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Desperate and Absurd Prime Badge

It’s the 20th most important thing in the Geoff Berman testimony. Or maybe the 100th. But I was struck by this line from Barr after Berman refused to resign from his job as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. According to Berman, Bill Barr told him “that getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects. I told him that while I did not want to get fired, I would not resign.”

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Where Things Stand: Something Else On Our Radar Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

While we digest today’s SCOTUS rulings on President Trump’s financial records — you can find our first breakdowns here and here — there’s something else we’re monitoring this afternoon that might be of interest.

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Into the Storm #2 Prime Badge

I’m publishing this letter from TPM Reader LS not because she and her family have encountered any great tragedies but because it illustrates the level of life disruption even for people who’ve been pretty lucky: reasonably comfortable financially, no job loss, no one seems to have gotten badly sick or died of COVID.

From LS (lightly edited for anonymity) …

So, I’m a teacher near Austin, TX. We had an over 800% increase in cases a few weeks ago. Now, we’re celebrating that we had an actual drop in case #s? I call BS. The free testing we had in our town a week or two ago is gone, and, here’s a note on my ARC website as I go to make an appointment for my annual visit:

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Into The Storm Prime Badge

From TPM Reader ES

I remembered a wistful email exchange we had on election night in 2016 – now we were going to see how resilient American institutions truly are or something to that effect. In retrospect our mistake was to only consider institutions like government and the press, and not the myriad of other small-i institutions that, taken all together, make up society.

I am very scared of what’s coming for 3 reasons:

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Where Things Stand: SCOTUS Decision On Trump Finances Coming Tomorrow Prime Badge
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We’re already preparing for a busy Thursday morning. 

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Ongoing Site Issues

UPDATE: We are back up. We believe we have a resolved the source of the issue that has been causing systemic site issues over the last week or so. Thank you again for continued support and your patience.

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Making Sense of the (Happy) Mystery of the Declining COVID Death Toll Prime Badge

One of the true mysteries of this stage of the COVID Crisis in the United States is why the death toll from the disease continues to fall, albeit slowly, even after months of plateaued cases and weeks of rapid case growth in most of the country. The White House has glommed on to this disjuncture in a highly dishonest and opportunistic way. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand what’s happening on its own terms.

It is helpful to distinguish between two issues.

The first is the range of potential reasons why fewer people may be dying of COVID or becoming severely ill even though more people are getting it – even taking into account more testing. I want to devote another post to making sense of potential reasons for this. They are a variety of factors including the age profile of people getting infected, an improved standard of care, perhaps even people becoming infected with less intensive exposure.

Again, we’ll come back to those in another post.

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Where Things Stand: An Endless Quest For Leakers Prime Badge
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The pattern has become pretty predictable.

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On the Schools #1 Prime Badge

From TPM Reader JS on the whether the schools should reopen in the Fall …

I’m a high school teacher. I teach math in a rural, Title I school. I have very conflicted feelings about the re-opening, but I can tell you there is a very vocal portion of my colleagues that feel like being sent back this fall is being treated like cannon fodder (check out /r/teachers for example). I disagree with that and I think between masking and the mounting evidence that children are weaker vectors, makes the situation more manageable. I’m also a parent I know that my kids need to do something soon or they are going to be damaged for life, not just due to lost learning (something in my household that isn’t as big of a problem) but due to the isolation.

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School Reopening and Magical Thinking Prime Badge

We’re now down to little more than two months before school starts in most of the country and a great many districts, if not necessarily most, are yet to announce definitive plans for how they are going to conduct school in the Fall semester. Indeed, the entire subject of school closures and openings is another example of a country trapped in magical thinking, yet another permutation of the “reopening” debate.

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Where Things Stand: Maybe He’s Sort Of Listening Prime Badge
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As we flagged earlier this morning, attendees at President Trump’s upcoming rally in New Hampshire will be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks even though President Trump has thus far refused to wear one in public.

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Can You Try This?

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Even In New York We’re Dropping the Ball

I mentioned yesterday that New York’s COVID numbers were moving in the wrong direction – albeit from extremely low levels and within the range that could simply be statistical noise. Today they’re a bit better. Let’s hope they keep in that direction. But New York, which currently is doing vastly better than any other state in the country, makes a different point. Even here, where daily cases are in the hundreds and the percentage of positive tests hovers around 1% it is not remotely good enough.

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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 am baffled and aghast and angry in a way that feels new.

The US is not experiencing a COVID 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 Prime Badge

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 Prime Badge

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 Prime Badge
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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 Prime Badge

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” Prime Badge
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 Prime Badge
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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 Prime Badge
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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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