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A second Trump term might injure the democratic experiment beyond recovery

Opinion by the Editorial Board AUGUST 21, 2020

AFTER HE is nominated at a pared-down Republican convention next week, President Trump will make this argument to the American people: Things were great until China loosed the novel coronavirus on the world. If you reelect me, I will make things great again.

Seeking reelection in the midst of the worst public health crisis and sharpest economic downturn of our lifetimes, this may, realistically, be the only argument left to him. But, fittingly for a president who has spoken more than 20,000 lies during his presidency, it rests on two huge falsehoods.

One is that the nation, his presidency and, above all, Mr. Trump himself are innocent victims of covid-19. In fact, his own negligence, ignorance and malpractice turned what would have been a daunting challenge for any president into a national disaster.

The other is that there was anything to admire in his record before the virus struck. It is true that the economic growth initiated under President Barack Obama had continued, at about the same modest rate. Mr. Trump achieved this growth by ratcheting up America’s deficit and long-term debt to record levels, with a tax cut that showered benefits on the wealthy.


Trump Fails Cognitive Test When Asked to Remember Steve Bannon

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump’s stellar reputation for mental acuity took a hit on Thursday when he failed a cognitive test in which he was asked to remember Steve Bannon.

According to the White House physician, Trump was shown several pictures and asked to identify them, including ones of a woman, a man, a camera, a TV, and Steve Bannon.

“He nailed woman, man, camera, and TV but drew a blank when it came to Steve Bannon,” the physician said. “He said he was unfamiliar with that picture and could not remember ever seeing that person before.”

After repeated attempts to jog Trump’s memory concerning the identity of Steve Bannon, including writing the name Steve Bannon on a notecard and showing it to him, the physician gave up trying.

On a positive note, the physician said, Trump’s cognition appeared to improve later in the morning, when he was able to block Steve Bannon on Twitter, Facebook, and his phone.


How the Trump administration is undermining science by pandering to abortion opponents

The use of fetal tissue has long been invaluable in scientific research on numerous fronts. Significant work on Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury, kidney failure and Parkinson’s disease has all been aided by the use of fetal tissue. Cells from fetuses have been used to develop vaccines for rubella, rabies and other serious diseases.

Yet it has been controversial because the primary source of the tissue has been elective abortions. That’s why abortion opponents have fought to stop its use in research, and anti-abortion members of Congress have investigated (harassed, really) the biomedical companies that supply it.

Pandering to the abortion opponents who support the president, the Trump administration has gone out of its way to cripple research that utilizes fetal tissue. Last year, it forbade scientists at the National Institutes of Health from obtaining any more fetal tissue for further research. The federal government also stopped funding an annual contract between NIH and UC-San Francisco that involved fetal tissue research. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the decision was a result of a new process prompted by a review of all the research projects it funded to ensure “adequacy of procedures and oversight” of fetal tissue research “in light of serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations.”

This year, HHS set up the Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board to review proposals from outside research institutions that require fetal tissue. In its first report, released this week, the board rejected all but one of the 14 research projects brought before it. In many cases, the board decided that the researchers were using too much tissue or hadn’t proven why they couldn’t do the research without using it. The only project that did clear this panel was one that would establish a research method that replaces the use of fetal tissue. (Those researchers pledged to use tissue they already had in storage.)


We Have Crossed the Line Debt Hawks Warned Us About for Decades

The debt of the United States now exceeds the size of its gross domestic product. That was considered a doomsday scenario that would wreck the economy. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Economists and deficit hawks have warned for decades that the United States was borrowing too much money. The federal debt was ballooning so fast, they said, that economic ruin was inevitable: Interest rates would skyrocket, taxes would rise and inflation would probably run wild.

The death spiral could be triggered once the debt surpassed the size of the U.S. economy — a turning point that was probably still years in the future.

It actually happened much sooner: sometime before the end of June.

The coronavirus pandemic, and the economic collapse that followed, unleashed a historic run of government borrowing: trillions of dollars for stimulus payments, unemployment insurance expansions, and loans to prop up small businesses and to keep big companies afloat.

But the economy hasn’t drowned in the flood of red ink — and there’s a growing sense that the country could take on even more without any serious consequences.


White House budget office gives political appointees more power in spending, alarming career officia

The White House budget office has upended a decades-old practice on how federal agencies spend money, giving more power to political appointees to move money around, two senior administration officials confirmed.

Previously, career staffers at the White House Office of Management and Budget, the kind of employees who work at agencies despite changes in administrations, were charged with signing off on approving the “apportionment” of funds, deciding how to shift or restrict the disbursement of money already approved by Congress.

Under a new system unilaterally put in place last week, those decisions will now be signed off on by political appointees chosen by the Trump administration who work as program associate directors at the OMB. The change was confirmed by two senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly about the new internal policy. A White House spokesman dismissed the significance of the change on Thursday, noting career staff have always served under the direction of political appointees.

Career OMB staffers have privately expressed concern that the shift will dramatically slow down the disbursement of federal funding approved by Congress, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with these staffers. Some career staffers have also expressed “deep suspicion” about the administration’s motives for the change, one of these people said. Career staffers say they are unclear why this change is happening now.


The Republican Party has become a smash-and-grab operation

President Trump’s former campaign chief (not the one arrested Thursday) Paul Manafort was convicted of multiple felonies, as was Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, his former lawyer Michael Cohen, his former fix-it man Roger Stone and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump, according to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, engaged in at least 10 categories of conduct that contain elements of the crime of obstruction of justice. The Senate Intelligence Committee believes that Trump lied in written answers given under oath about his discussion of WikiLeaks with Stone. The Manhattan district attorney (who won a big victory on Thursday regarding Trump’s objections to a subpoena) is investigating Trump for financial crimes.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has been accused of misusing donors’ money, and its longtime executive director, Wayne LaPierre, has been accused of using the foundation’s money for his own benefit. Jerry Falwell Jr., who headed Liberty University, was recently put on leave after sharing a photo with a young woman (not his wife); both had their pants unzipped.

Given that the right wing has become a coven of crooks and con men, it was not a surprise at all when former Trump campaign chief Stephen K. Bannon was arrested Thursday on a boat (by officials from the U.S. Postal Service, which sounds like an over-the-top plot point in a bad movie) on suspicion of bilking people out of money for a private build-the-wall scam. (Trump’s fear-mongering that we needed a border wall, constant lying about how much has been built and snatching money from the Pentagon to fund part of it are not criminal acts. But they are evidence of the disdain with which the right wing and the Republican Party specifically hold their fellow Americans who have bought into the xenophobic tripe the far-right peddles.)

What is Fox News (disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor) other than a propaganda machine trying to con viewers into believing in a parallel universe in which Ukraine has the Democratic National Committee’s server and Trump is the victim of the deep state? What are right-wing columnists and talk show hosts — who know better but recycle Trump’s exaggerations, conspiracies and bigotry — other than snake-oil salesmen who figure their fans will buy just about anything they say so long as they slam liberals and play to the White grievance mentality that has replaced conservatism as the GOP’s animating force? (Imagine waking up every morning to defend a president who embraces Confederate symbols, QAnon and Russian propaganda.)


The scheme Bannon is indicted for boggles the mind in its brazen cynicism

STEPHEN K. BANNON and his alleged co-conspirators, charged this week with defrauding donors to a border wall crowdfunding campaign, repeatedly claimed that organizers would “not take a penny” in compensation. This may have turned out to be true: Prosecutors allege they took more than 100 million pennies instead.

The scheme outlined in Thursday’s indictment boggles the mind in its brazen cynicism. A military veteran named Brian Kolfage began raising money that he told participants he would give to the federal government for an initiative called “We Build the Wall” in late 2018. It raked in more than $20 million before needing to be relaunched because he was not directing funds to a legitimate nonprofit. Eventually, We Build the Wall raised more than $25 million. For the makeover, Mr. Kolfage called in Mr. Bannon and some associates. The group allegedly came up with the brilliant idea of promising explicitly, over and over, that “100% of the funds raised” would be “used in the execution of our mission and purpose.”

But Mr. Kolfage, investigators say, ended up $350,000 richer — and, it appears, the proud owner of a new Jupiter marine boat called Warfighter, in addition to a luxury SUV, a golf cart and some jewelry. The funds also paid for cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt. All this was made possible by funneling the money through a nonprofit run by Mr. Bannon dedicated to U.S. sovereignty and “promoting economic nationalism,” as well as, if the charges are to be believed, promoting the economic well-being of its founder. He and the other organizers are accused of siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars for “personal uses and expenses.”

The grift alleged is disgusting, if not surprising. Mr. Bannon’s alleged masterminding of the plot, to the extent there was any mastery involved, is particularly repugnant. Both in his former role as chief strategist for President Trump and in his current self-appointed position as a crusader for global populism, he has purported to represent everyday people against the interests of the “deep state” and swamps in Washington and the world over. Yet, as we see again and again with the people whom Mr. Trump brought into public life with him, the only interest he really cares to serve seems to be his own.


San Diego home price leaps to all-time high: $634,000

Home prices in San Diego County blew past previous records to hit an all-time high of $634,000 in July.

That represented a 9.3 percent price increase over a year earlier, according to CoreLogic data provided by DQNews, its highest annual jump in nearly two years. The previous record median price — the point where half of all homes sold for more and half for less — was $600,250 in June.

Prices were up sharply across Southern California as experts pointed to historically low interest rates and a lack of homes on the market as driving forces — despite a global pandemic and high unemployment.

Rich Toscano, a partner at San Diego financial firm Pacific Capital Associates, said it is hard to imagine a better scenario for rising home prices: People don’t want to put properties on the market because it could risk bringing COVID-19 into their houses, which has made listings even more scarce. Borrowing costs are low. And buyers are seeing increased value in homeownership as they are stuck working from home.

“For now, everything is going in the housing market’s favor,” he said.


Name this band

Lots of clever suggestions at the link.

Forget the Trump tweets. This is the Trump action that might actually kill us.

If you want to understand the long-term consequences of the Trump presidency, forget his Twitter feed. Instead, think about methane.

Methane is the main ingredient of natural gas. When released into the atmosphere, it traps 80 times as much heat as its better-known greenhouse-gas cousin, carbon dioxide, over 20 years. Because of methane’s potent heat-trapping abilities, this “super-pollutant” is the sleeper issue of climate change.

Unfortunately, scientists don’t know precisely how much methane is being released because there hasn’t been adequate measurement. But recent studies suggest emissions are much greater than previously believed. In fact, recent research estimates that the fossil-fuel industry emits about 13 million metric tons of methane annually. That’s 80 percent higher than estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. In heat-trapping terms, it is roughly equivalent to total carbon dioxide emissions from all of the United States’ remaining coal-fired plants.

Considering that Death Valley in California on Sunday notched the hottest temperature (130 degrees) recorded on Earth since at least 1931, this is not exactly welcome news.

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