Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
"Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to say the coronavirus poses an imminent threat to the United States," according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to "say they are taking steps to be prepared, including washing their hands more often or limiting their travel plans."
Americans, who often consume news based on their political preferences, have received two different views of the virus’s potential impact.
Trump has accused the media and his political adversaries of trying to derail his re-election campaign by amping up alarm over the dangers posed by the virus. He has largely sought to cast it as a comparatively minor threat, comparing its risk to the less deadly seasonal flu.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners last week that, “The coronavirus is the common cold” and was merely being “weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump.”
Trump told Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Wednesday that he thought World Health Organization estimates of the virus’ death rate were a “false number,” that he had a hunch the rate was much lower, “a fraction of 1 percent.” The WHO said this week that the coronavirus killed about 3.4% of the people who contracted it worldwide.
During his now-infamous visit to the CDC this week, a reporter asked Trump if he'd consider suspending his
Nuremberg campaign rallies to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus among throngs of adoring fans. "I haven't had any problems filling them," he said, as if that were the issue. "We just had one in North Carolina, South Carolina, all of the place and we have tens of thousands of people standing outside of the arena." When the reporter pressed him on the potential risk of packing his supporters, many of whom are elderly, into arenas across the country, he replied, "Doesn't bother me at all, and it doesn't bother them at all." And he's no doubt right about that last part.
There is nothing like a pandemic to drive home the importance of competent governance, and the inherent hazards of putting a venal reality-TV star in charge.
In related news, The New York Times reported that "Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has urged American military commanders overseas not to make any decisions related to the coronavirus that might surprise the White House or run afoul of President Trump’s messaging on the growing health challenge.... Mr. Esper’s directive, delivered last week during a video teleconference call with combatant commanders around the world, is the latest iteration of Mr. Trump’s efforts to manage public fears over the disease, even as it continues to spread around the world."
Last week, we mentioned that Trump had hired a 23-year-old college senior named John McEntee for a key role vetting personnel to serve in his regime.
He won't be the only one. "The White House has placed another college senior in an influential administration position, according to four people familiar with the matter," reported Politico this week. "Anthony Labruna, who starts on Monday, is not slated to graduate from Iowa State University until early May. In the meantime, he’ll be deputy White House liaison at the Department of Commerce, according to an administration official."
A week after suing The New York Times over an opinion piece, Donald Trump is suing CNN for publishing another opinion he didn't like. He will soon sue a cow on Twitter, probably.
A couple of weeks ago, the media credulously reported that Trump had signed a "historic" deal with the Taliban to end the Afghanistan war, despite the fact that the Afghan government wasn't a party to the negotiations and immediately rejected Trump's promise to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, which was a key element of the agreement.
Days later, the Taliban launched dozens of attacks against government forces, and the US conducted airstrikes in Helmand Province.
But it gets worse!
The U.S. government has collected persuasive intelligence that the Taliban do not intend to honor the promises they have made in the recently signed deal with the United States, three American officials tell NBC News, undercutting what has been days of hopeful talk by President Donald Trump and his top aides.
"They have no intention of abiding by their agreement," said one official briefed on the intelligence, which two others described as explicit evidence shedding light on the Taliban's intentions.
According to The New York Times, a legal brief filed this week argues that "a Trump administration policy that diverts migrants at the southwestern border to Guatemala unlawfully sends a vulnerable population to a country 'in which their lives and freedom are directly threatened.'”
This will not stop Trump from pushing his contrived pseudo-scandal about Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings if Joe Biden becomes the Democratic nominee...
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has sold his stake in a company investing in Opportunity Zone projects offering tax breaks he had pushed for in Washington, sparking criticism that he was benefiting from his White House role.
According to the Associated Press report, Kushner's stake was worth $5 million three years ago and is now valued between $25-50 million. Pretty sweet gig.
Not one, but two federal judges ruled this week that Attorney General William Barr, the highest law enforcement officer in the country, had proven to be in the tank for Donald Trump and couldn't be trusted to make accurate representations to the Court. This is a simmering crisis.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported this week that "Barr testified before Congress last spring that 'it’s time for everybody to move on' from the special counsel investigation into whether Trump associates conspired with Russia’s 2016 election interference. Nearly a year later, however, it is clear that Mr. Barr has not moved on from the investigation at all. Rather, he increasingly appears to be chiseling away at it."
Finally, if you missed this week's podcast, you might want to check it out. Terry O’Sullivan, director of the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy Research at the University of Akron, explains the importance of flattening the "infection curve" of the COVID19 outbreak to prevent healthcare systems from being overwhelmed, why quarantining people on a cruise ship with the virus is almost guaranteed to make matters worse and other important information about this growing pandemic.