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.
A poll released on Friday found that 44 percent of Republicans–and half of those who say their primary source of information is Fox News–believe that Bill Gates “wants to use a mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19 to implant microchips in people” so the globalists or the lizard-people or whomever can track our movements. More disturbingly, perhaps, was that only one-in-four of both Republicans and Fox News viewers said that claim was false.
Digitally tracking Americans’ every move has been a dream of the globalists for years. This health crisis is the perfect vehicle for them to push this. https://t.co/nkc0mSrM9u
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) April 7, 2020
Crowds at these goofy anti-lockdown rallies have called for Bill Gates, who is investing billions in tackling the pandemic, to be locked up for unspecified crimes. If the anti-Semitic and conspiratorial John Birch Society had dominated the GOP in 1953, Jonas Salk, who developed the first effective vaccine against polio, probably would have faced similar nonsense.
There’s a popular myth that the Birch Society was excommunicated from the GOP by serious members of the Republican establishment, but as Jeet Heer wrote during the 2016 campaign, that is “almost completely false.”
The Birch Society didn’t disappear after Buckley’s “excommunication,” but continued to be a major force on the right, peaking in influence in the 1970s and still existing to this day. More to the point, Bircher paranoia never went out of fashion on the right: It’s there in everything from Birtherism—Trump’s first excursion into the world of Obama conspiracies—to the antics of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones.
In this sense, Trump is more symptom than cause. But the emergence of Covid-19, shortly after Trump’s acquittal by the GOP, has pushed the mainstream right entirely over the edge. Broad swaths of the coalition believe that the virus was man-made–only 37 percent of Republicans told Pew that it was a natural occurrence back in April. The idea that the media are hyping the danger to hurt Trump–outlandish on its face given that the disease has spread across the entire planet–is almost universally embraced by the right.
The Republican nominee for Oregon Senate is a QAnon devotee. Presumably, she believes that prominent Democrats are in league with the Deep State to molest and eat babies. The party is also “backing away” from a House candidate in California who spread, among other things, conspiracy theories about Seth Rich, a former Clinton staffer who was murdered during a robbery in DC. The most outrageous claims are mainstream in today’s GOP.
Absolutely bizarre. The Bexar County GOP chair concludes this rally by stating that the coronavirus is a hoax perpetrated by Democrats, tells people to take off their masks, and then everyone hugs each other. pic.twitter.com/1XOFeswMiO
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) May 22, 2020
Conspiracy theories are a coping mechanism, a way of seeing some sort of order in a chaotic world. The pandemic has made it more so, and this kind of nonsense is proliferating across the coalition, sometimes with deadly effects.
Relatedly, from The Daily Beast:
A shocking report suggesting that the coronavirus was “release[d from] the Wuhan Institute of Virology” in China is now circulating in U.S. military and intelligence circles and on Capitol Hill. But there’s a critical flaw in the report, a Daily Beast analysis reveals: Some of its most seemingly persuasive evidence is false—provably false.
Donald Trump has no power to order states to lift lockdown measures on houses of worship, but he blustered to that effect anyway on Friday. But we should understand the game: Most states are moving to reopen anyway, and would have eased restrictions on in-person services in the next week or two anyway. According to Politico, Trump is ginning up a stupid new front in the culture war for the simple reason that his support among the religious right appears to be slipping.
The anxiety over Trump’s standing with the Christian right surfaced after a pair of surveys by reputable outfits earlier this month found waning confidence in the administration’s coronavirus response among key religious groups, with a staggering decline in the president’s favorability among white evangelicals and white Catholics. Both are crucial constituencies that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 and could sink his reelection prospects if their turnout shrinks this fall.
Trump’s COVID-19 vaccine czar, Moncef Slaoui, has a “huge conflict of interest,” according to The Huffington Post, which reports that “federal filings revealed he holds $10 million in stock options in one of the companies working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Easiest grift in the world…
The Trump administration has reportedly inked a $1.3bn deal with a North Dakota construction firm aiming to build 42 miles of border wall after its CEO praised the president in multiple interviews with conservative media. [The Independent]
Trump’s move to fire Steve Linick, the State Department Inspector General who had been investigating Mike Pompeo, got a lot of attention but Trump also fired the U.S. Department of Transportation’s watchdog, Mitch Behm, who had been investigating Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, according to CREW.
At DOT, the acting IG was overseeing a high profile investigation of Secretary Chao’s alleged favoritism benefiting her husband Senator Mitch McConnell’s political prospects, but has now been replaced with a political appointee from within the agency. The acting IG’s ouster calls into question the future of the Chao-McConnell investigation, other critical oversight, and whether the watchdog was dismissed for unearthing damaging information.
This move is the latest salvo of Trump’s assault on oversight. And it looks like the President made sure to cover all his bases to block accountability, not only nominating an IG to succeed the experienced watchdog who held the post, but also demoting the acting IG who was investigating Chao, and installing a political appointee to serve in his place while the Senate considers a permanent replacement. To make matters worse, Trump’s pick to be the new acting IG, Howard “Skip” Elliott, already has a job overseeing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an office he will now also be in charge of policing.
IT IS ILLEGAL FOR TRUMP’S ACTING IG TO HAVE STARTED WORKING AT THE STATE DEPARTMENT THIS WEEK. THE LAW FORBIDS REMOVAL OF AN IG DURING THE 30-DAY NOTICE PERIOD. IF EVEN FOUR SENATE REPUBLICANS CARED ABOUT LAWS, THEY WOULD STOP THIS BY BLOCKING TRUMP’S NOMINEES. GOT IT?
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) May 21, 2020
“It’s a political coup, there really can be no question about it.” — Republican former Barr aide Stuart M. Gerson https://t.co/5RsPc9VaNL
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) May 18, 2020
A lot has happened during the Trump years that would have been difficult to predict in 2015 or 2016. This, via The Washington Post, is not one of them:
The Trump administration has discussed whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992 in a move that would have far-reaching consequences for relations with other nuclear powers and reverse a decades-long moratorium on such actions.
The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992, and nuclear nonproliferation advocates warned that doing so now could have destabilizing consequences.
A normal political party would probably be distancing itself from Georgia Sen Kelly Loeffler. She’s taken fire for apparently engaging in insider trading, and is trailing behind both fellow Republican Doug Collins and Democrat Raphael Warnock in the polls.
But Loeffler holds an advantage because of her party’s corruption, according to The New York Times.
Trump personally pushed the state’s governor, Brian Kemp, last fall to select Mr. Collins to fill the vacant Senate seat Ms. Loeffler now occupies. But the governor wanted to appoint someone who he felt could expand the party’s appeal in the suburbs of Atlanta, where Republicans have been shedding support in recent years. Ms. Loeffler’s vast wealth was an added appeal; she has pledged to pump $20 million or more of her own fortune into the race.
Ms. Loeffler’s supporters in Washington want Mr. Trump to understand what he would be risking by abandoning the wealthy Ms. Loeffler: her husband, one top Senate Republican official noted on Friday, just donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s “super PAC” last month, and the couple have directed tens of thousands of dollars more to key Senate races.
We’ll leave you this week with three stories which highlight that the cruelty is indeed the point–along with some greed.
Trump Judge Elizabeth Branch cast the deciding vote in this 2–1 decision denying soap and disinfectant to people incarcerated in a Miami JAIL. Now more than 300 of them have tested positive for COVID-19. https://t.co/P5VzkRnK8x https://t.co/W4iNO4yfDH
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) May 18, 2020
Politico reported that “more than 40,000 National Guard members currently helping states test residents for the coronavirus and trace the spread of infections will face a ‘hard stop’ on their deployments on June 24 — just one day shy of many members becoming eligible for key federal benefits.”
The looming loss of crucial frontline workers, along with questions about whether the administration is shortchanging first responders, would require a delicate messaging strategy, the official — representing FEMA’s New England region — told dozens of colleagues on [an] interagency call.
“We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” the official said.
The U.S. has rejected WHO language that would allow poorer countries to copy its coronavirus vaccines or drugs once developed, arguing it will stifle innovation.
In doing so, they seem to be arguing that innovation is more important than human lives. https://t.co/unVieRdyV1
— The New Republic (@newrepublic) May 22, 2020
‘One whopper after another’: CNN’s Acosta tears into Trump for lying the Postal Service can’t deliver enough ballots
On Monday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta slammed President Donald Trump's litany of lies about mail-in voting at the day's coronavirus press briefing.
"Right at the end of that press conference, the president was just telling one whopper after another about mail-in voting, at one point saying that he doesn't believe that the U.S. Postal Service has the ability to deal with mail-in balloting at election time," said Acosta. "We just need to point out, the U.S. Postal Service put out a statement late this afternoon that says, 'the Postal Service has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected election and political mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.'"
Trump’s strategy isn’t working in Pennsylvania — a state the president can’t afford to lose: report
Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio are the four states that GOP strategists have been describing as President Donald Trump’s “Rust Belt firewall” — states that went to President Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 but favored Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. But that “firewall” has not been holding up for the president. Trump’s reelection campaign has "temporarily" suspended its advertising in Michigan, although it continues to advertise in the other three — all of which are clearly in play for former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. And Philadelphia-based reporter Holly Otterbein, in an article published in Politico on August 2, stresses that so far, Trump’s attacks on Biden have not been resonating in Pennsylvania.
A 2020 ‘Blue Wave’ could badly cripple the Republican Party for years: Dem strategist
In a column for New York magazine, Democratic strategist Ed Kilgore claimed that a "Blue Wave" election in 2020, like the one that switched the balance of power in the House to the Democrats, could have a far-reaching impact on congressional representation in elections to come.
In 2018, distaste for Donald Trump -- who was not on the ballot -- led voters to take out their wrath on Republican lawmakers, handing Democrats a net gain of 40 seats in the House and making Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the House Speaker.