Ron DeSantis has no COVID plan -- 100,000 may die

At a news conference on Wednesday, Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis defended Florida's failure to publish an official vaccine distribution plan, making it the only state with such an oversight according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

"If you notice, a lot of [states] adopted plans, and then they've already had to change the plans," DeSantis said. "We haven't done that."

He echoed that defense on Thursday: "I would point out, people say, 'Oh, well these other states have all these plans of when they're going to do it.' A lot of those plans haven't worked out," the governor said. "I mean, they've had to change their criteria from the beginning. They had plans in December, had to shift, most of them have shifted to doing what Florida is doing and so we're gonna continue with seniors first."

While Florida is one of only two states to have first prioritized all persons over the age of 65, regardless of health or occupational concerns, it has not yet announced when other demographic groups will become eligible for a vaccine. Although the state is currently approaching 2 million seniors vaccinated, its plan has left out healthcare workers and younger residents with underlying medical conditions that may be more vulnerable.

DeSantis initially suggested that workers in education and law enforcement would be the next to receive a vaccine dose. "We'll start with probably 50 and up," he hinted on Tuesday. But during Wednesday's presser, DeSantis withheld any official plans for the vaccine rollout, emphasizing the need for an open-ended approach. The same day, data science firm Cogitativo released a report that found Florida's lack of a future distribution plan might leave the Sunshine State vulnerable to "complete chaos."

Even using the CDC's Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), which measures the relative vulnerability between populations in order to assess which ones should be prioritized for vaccines, Cogitativo argues, Florida will suffer excess deaths as a result of COVID because the SVI "does not account for social determinants of health such as air quality or access to fresh food," as the report notes. the study notes.

According to Cogitativo's projections, Florida's current distribution trajectory would leave 48% of Florida counties in a vaccine deficit, with the top five counties being Palm Beach, Broward, Orange, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade. Florida would have a "combined shortage" of 694,990 vaccine doses. Cogitativo's study found that if Florida implemented a plan with "clinical data provides a clear view of the prevalence of health conditions — such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension — that are major risk factors for negative outcomes with the virus" it could save nearly 100,000 lives and avoid 840,760 hospitalizations.

Josh Hawley dipped into campaign funds to help bankroll family trip to Universal Studios

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, is facing new scrutiny for billing $197 in food expenses for his family during a "lobbyist retreat" in Orlando after his fellow Republican senator and purveyor of the election fraud myths that lead to the deadly Jan 6. attack on the U.S. Capitol Ted Cruz received widespread condemnation after fleeing Texas for Cancun during a winter storm crisis in his state.

Federal Election Commission filings show that Hawley's campaign footed the bill in seven separate charges paid to Voodoo Doughnut, Seuss Popcorn, Lard Lad, Lagoon Popcorn, Hopping Pot, Bumblebee Taco, and Margaritaville during a personal vacation last March. The New York Post reports that the event was organized in conjunction with fellow Missouri Senator Roy Blunt's Rely on Your Belief PAC, which spent $4,680.65 on admission to the theme park.

Because politicians are strictly prohibited from using campaign money for personal expenditures, Hawley's splurge sounded alarms amongst campaign finance experts. "It appears to not be a legal use of campaign funds," said Ann Ravel, the former F.E.C. chairwoman under Obama. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, echoed her, arguing that Hawley's charges "warrant some scrutiny."

Hawley's office defended the expenses and told the Post, "This was a trip for the respective Leadership PACs of Senators Hawley and Blunt. The event is designed specifically for families to attend. Guests are encouraged to bring their children and Sen. Blunt has been hosting it for a number of years." His office maintained that "the expenses were reimbursed on Jan. 30," ten months after they were made.

Campaign finance violations, of course, have the potential to swiftly derail a politician's career. Last year, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, resigned over a misuse of campaign money, $200,000 of which the Congressman spent with his wife on medical procedures, travel, donations, clothing, and more. In 2018, Hunter and his wife were convicted of corruption and misuse of campaign funds. However, in 2020, Donald Trump pardoned the couple before leaving office.

Hawley's impropriety comes after the Senator was cast into the spotlight after being indicted in a trial by public opinion for having incited the insurrection at the Capitol. Hawley was one of more than a dozen Senators who vowed to oppose the results of the 2020 election on President Trump's behalf. The Senator went on to grossly exaggerate claims of "Antifa scumbags" protesting outside his Virginia home following the Capitol riot, who he claimed "vandalized" and "pounded on the door," despite local police claiming otherwise.

The Kansas City Star, the largest newspaper in Hawley's home state, rebuked the senator as having "blood on his hands." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, another Missouri newspaper, panned him as "a phony," quoting, "This is a man who will say and do anything to advance his personal political agenda."

In early January, Loews Hotels, where the senator stayed on his trip to Orlando in March of last year, canceled a fundraising event for him, posting on Twitter, "We are horrified and opposed to the events at the Capitol and all who supported and incited the actions."

REVEALED: Leader of violent Neo-Nazi group agitating for US civil war previously worked for DHS

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Wednesday that the neo-Nazi leader of the Base, a white nationalist and accelerationist paramilitary group recently designated a terror group by the Canadian government, worked within their ranks for several years, coordinating efforts to combat terrorism.

According to a VICE News report released on Wednesday, Rinaldo Nazzaro, the leader of the Base, publicized three letters from the DHS and the Marine Corps thanking Nazzaro for his service. The Base, which Nazzaro has described as a "survivalism and self-defense network ... sharing knowledge and training to prepare for crisis situations," has been responsible for coordinating train derailment plans, weapons stockpiling, synagogue vandalism, and an assassination plot.

Nazzaro told VICE News that he posted the letters to legitimize his history in the military, which has been questioned within the far-right community. "There's been much speculation about my background," he said, "So, I posted the letters for the benefit of my side as evidence that I am who I say I am."

The DHS did not authenticate the letter Nazzaro alleged it had sent him, but it did admit that the far-right leader worked for the department for two years. "I can confirm that Rinaldo Nazzaro worked at DHS from 2004 to 2006," a DHS spokesperson told VICE News.

The department's letter, which Nazzaro posted to Telegram, an online hub for right-wing extremists, read, "Thanks for all the personal work you did to make DHS/Intelligence Analysis [...] as good as they were. You did a superb job," adding, "Your outstanding service has been greatly appreciated. All the best in the future - I will miss you."

The Marine Corps' letter similarly thanked Nazzaro for his "performance as an intelligence professional," which "reflect[ed] an impressive understanding of the insurgency in Afghanistan and tireless devotion to duty."

According to VICE News, Nazzaro also worked as a private military contractor in 2014 in the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), a highly secretive element of the U.S. military tasked with fighting jihadist terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.

"[I did] multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan over five years," said Nazzaro in May 2019, noting that he worked at the Victory Base Complex, a collection of military buildings just outside the Baghdad Airport. The Marine Corps' letters noted that Nazzaro was responsible for the deaths of thirteen "enemies." The Pentagon, however, denied any evidence of Nazzaro's employment.

In early February, the DHS issued a terror advisory, warning of domestic terrorists that felt "emboldened" by the Capitol riot. However, reports have shown that many domestic terrorist groups are largely comprised of active troops and veterans. Reports have also revealed a "resurgence" of white supremacism in the ranks of the military itself, casting doubt over whether the military has done enough to weed out right-wing radicalism.

Higher prices and slower deliveries: How Louis DeJoy plans to sabotage the Postal Service -- again

In the wake of a months-long string of operational failures and dramatic rollbacks endured by the U.S. Postal Service, Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is reportedly planning to undercut the Postal Service once more. Although DeJoy's plan has yet to be unveiled, according to the Washington Post, it is expected to yield significantly higher postage rates and slower mail, a devastating blow for consumers and businesses already in financial straits amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Multiple sources told NBC News that DeJoy intends to eliminate first-class mail, pooling all deliveries into a three to five-day delivery window instead. The move would cause a backlog of mail, making the overall cost of delivery skyrocket.

DeJoy's plan, said to "raise revenue" for the Postal Service, would pile on to the many policies he has already instituted that severely undercut the Postal Service's delivery system. These policies –– instituted during the election, when the voters were relying heavily on mail-in-ballots –– included the reduction of mail-sorting machines, cutting overtime for workers, and scaling back the number of mailboxes across the country.

"Over the past eight months," DeJoy said in an email to NBC News, "our executive leadership team has been working on developing a comprehensive 10-year strategy to address the serious but solvable challenges of the Postal Service that commits to six and seven day a week delivery service," adding, "This work is not only needed, it is long overdue."

DeJoy, a longtime Trump donor, has been the subject of widespread outrage by Democratic lawmakers, many of whom have called upon President Joe Biden to oust members of the Postal Service's Board of Governors, all of whom Trump appointed.

Last week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., called on Biden "restore accountability and credibility" and "send a message to future leaders that silence in the face of a campaign of sabotage will not be tolerated" by firing every single Postal governor. This would likely result in a new Postmaster General, a position voted on by the governors themselves.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., tweeted on Friday that the Postmaster General "has been on a mission to send the USPS into a death spiral," condemning the Board of Governors as "a cabal of cowards, complicit in DeJoy's attacks, derelict in their duties, and unwilling to hold the postmaster accountable."

The House Oversight Committee is set to hold a hearing with DeJoy, as well as several Postal Service officials to "examine legislative proposals to place the Postal Service on a more sustainable financial footing going forward."

Biden's handling of the controversy will prove consequential for the Postal Service, which has historically netted annual losses for over a decade. Just last year, it announced a $9.2 billion loss, with less than a third of all three- to five-day mail delivered on time.

The White House said Monday that President Biden intends to fill the Board with newly-appointed governors who "reflect his commitment to the workers of the U.S. Postal Service — who deliver on the post office's vital universal service obligation."

Trump adds last-minute impeachment lawyer who previously sued him for spreading voter fraud lies

According to The Washington Post, Pennsylvania lawyer Michael T. van der Veen, now representing Trump in his second impeachment trial, sued the former president late last year for making "repeated claims" that mail-in voting was riddled with fraud.

Van der Veen –– co-founder of Philadelphia-based personal injury law firm van der Veen, O'Neill, Hartshorn and Levin ––brought the suit in August of last year, alleging that the former President's attacks on the U.S. Postal Service had "no evidence" to bear. In December of last year, van der Veen's firm brought on Pennsylvania-based attorney Bruce Castor, who was just hired by Trump's impeachment team last month.

Van der Veen's name now appears in Trump's impeachment filings alongside those of Bruce Castor and David Shoen, an Atlanta-based lawyer who Trump scrambled to recruit just last week.

Back in August, however, van der Veen's name had appeared on a document strikingly different in nature. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, van der Veen sued Trump, the U.S. Postal Service, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on behalf of their independent client, Melvin Johnakin.

Taking aim at Trump's moves to delegitimize the election system, the lawsuit's complaint stated: "These actions...arise in an environment subject to repeated claims by President Donald J. Trump that voting by mail is ripe with fraud, despite having no evidence in support of these claims, and lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign to stop mail-in voting in states such as Nevada and Pennsylvania."

The suit accused the Postal Service –– and namely Postmaster General DeJoy –– of instituting a series of operational changes that undercut the Postal Service's ability to process mail-in-ballots. These changes included "reducing staff hours, prohibiting overtime, removing hundreds of high-volume mail-processing machines from facilities across the country and removing mailboxes in urban areas with high concentrations of minority, low income and Democratic voters."

Van der Veen, who tarred Postmaster General DeJoy in the suit as a "Republican Party and Trump campaign megadonor," had reportedly circulated an email to Pennsylvania voters arguing that state Republicans were "running a campaign to unfairly and illegally intimidate voters."

Another email of van der Veen's emphasized Trump's corrosive influence on the integrity of the election system. "Donald Trump doesn't want you to be able to vote," he claimed, "It's time to stand up for what's right."

Interestingly, van der Veen's website continues to advertise itself in the spirit of last summer's lawsuit. "To exercise the fundamental right to vote," it reads, "many voters have and will utilize all available means to vote by mail rather than in person at a polling place. Advanced planning and proactive measures will be necessary to ensure that voters have sufficient access to vote by mail to preserve and protect the essential right to vote and prevent large-scale disenfranchisement."

A past client of van der Veen, Justin Hiemstra, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the Philadelphia-based lawyer had regarded Trump as a "f***ing crook" two years ago, a charge the attorney strongly denied. "He definitely came off as fairly anti-Trump in the context that I knew him," Hiemstra insisted.

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-PA, casted doubt on whether Trump even knows van der Veen opposed him. "...Since he generally demands total loyalty," Scanlon noted, "It does seem a little out of character for the former president to embrace someone who so recently sued him."

House Republicans are cracking up along Trump lines

There is a partisan storm brewing within the GOP.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The fate of two House Republicans, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, two Congresswomen who lie on opposite ends of a post-Trump Republican Party, will be decided this week as their colleagues convene to discuss whether they will keep their leadership and committee seats.

The House Rules Committee will move Wednesday to begin the process of removing the freshman flamethrower from Georgia off of the Education and Labor committee Republicans just assigned the infamous conspiracy theorist to. Greene, who has a strong affiliation with QAnon, has called for the deaths of various Democratic lawmakers, accused the Rothschild family of using space lasers to start wildfires, linked Israel to the Kennedy assassination, and has labeled several school shootings as "false-flag affairs."

The intra-party storm is a culmination of a weeks-long battle within the House following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 that has since placed Republican lawmakers in something of a political quandary. Should they continue in the GOP's past direction –– that is, Trump-era demagoguery, radicalism, and conspiracy –– or attempt to "restore the soul" their party, bringing it back to a pre-Trump state of respectability?

Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted on Jan 13 to impeach President Donald Trump, is one of few House Republicans in support of the latter. Cheney will come under scrutiny this week on Wednesday, as a House Republican Conference will assemble to discuss whether her impeachment vote warrants expulsion from Congress. According to Politico, at least 107 of Cheney's colleagues have said they are willing to vote against her on a secret ballot.

Cheney, who was the subject of widespread Republican outrage, was joined by nine other Republicans, including Rep. Tom Rice, R-SC, Rep. Peter Meijer, R-MI, Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA, and Rep Adam Kinzinger, R-IL, who has launched a new PAC to challenge Republican support of Trump, likening his PAC's mission to that of the Lincoln Project, the NeverTrump super PAC whose founder was recently accused by 21 young men of making inappropriate sexual comments online.

Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-MT, who is leading the charge to expel Cheney, said last week, "[Rep. Cheney] has proven that she is out of step with the vast majority of our conference and the Republicans across the nation," adding, "A lot of people within our conference have a problem with it."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, has also expressed dissatisfaction with Cheney's repudiation of the former President but stopped short of calling for Cheney's removal.

"She took a position as a No. 3 member in conference, she never told me ahead of time," McCarthy told CNN. "She can have a difference of opinion, but the one thing if we're going to lead within the conference, we should work together on that as a whole conference because we're representative of that conference. So I support her, but I do think she has a lot of questions she has to answer to the conference."

Cheney's expulsion will require that lawmakers convene immediately unless two-thirds of the conference demands an immediate vote. Those who have come to Cheney's defense include Rep. Nancy Mace, R-SC, Rep. Chip Roy, R-TX, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-TX.

Also in the national spotlight is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, who has rapidly risen to notoriety as a laundry list of social media controversies surrounding the Congresswoman have come to light in the past several weeks. Greene, who has a strong affiliation with QAnon, has called for the deaths of various Democratic lawmakers, accused the Rothschild family of using space lasers to start wildfires, linked Israel to the Kennedy assassination, and has labeled several school shootings as "false-flag affairs."

Greene's team, which has been in a perpetual state of damage control, is now on a crusade to scrub all of her conspiracy-laced rants from the web –– a task which will no doubt prove challenging, given the steady stream of improprieties that continue to surface on a daily basis.

On Saturday, Greene revealed that she'd spoken with President Trump. "I had a GREAT call with my all time favorite POTUS, President Trump!" she said on Twitter, "I'm so grateful for his support [...] The blood thirsty media and the socialists hate America Democrats are attacking me now just like they always attack President Trump."

McCarthy, who plans to have a "conversation" with Greene, has been relatively silent on Greene's conduct otherwise and few other Republican leaders have taken a stance against the freshman congresswoman.

"I think Republican leaders ought to stand up and say it is totally unacceptable what she has said," Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, told CNN on Sunday. Portman expressed that he "wouldn't be surprised" if Greene were removed from her seat on the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-IL, joined Portman. "I'd certainly vote her off committee," echoed Kinzinger. "In terms of eviction, I'm not sure because I'm kind of in the middle. I think a district has every right to put who they want there. But we have every right to take a stand and say, 'You don't get a committee.' And we definitely need to do that."

McCarthy, who met with Trump on Thursday to discuss winning the House majority next year, has urged members of the GOP to refrain from infighting. He also said the former President's support will remain key advantage in regaining the House majority. "United and ready to win in '22," McCarthy tweeted.

With a divided House and the former President's voting bloc now rapidly shrinking, however, McCarthy will have to navigate a rocky political landscape full of partisan landmines to assemble anything close to a united GOP.

Republicans are using Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to deflect from controversy over QAnon congresswoman

House Republicans, facing increasing pressure to condemn the conspiratorially-minded newest members of their caucus, have largely ignored the growing extremism amongst their ranks — with some instead deflecting outrage towards prefered Democratic boogeymen like progressive Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

This article was originally published at Salon

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, took Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, to task on Twitter Thursday, when Cruz expressed support of Ocasio-Cortez's call for a congressional hearing to investigate Robinhood's trading freeze of GameStop –– a decisive victory for Wall Street and a loss for retail traders.

"I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there's common ground," she replied, "but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out. Ocasio-Cortez added, "Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren't trying to get me killed. In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign."

Ocasio-Cortez's tweet comes just weeks after Cruz joined Trump's congressional cabal of acolytes hoping to challenge the certification of the 2020 election. It was this group's opposition to the certification that eventually sparked a violent rampage at the Capitol building, in which several members of Congress, including Ocasio-Cortez, were nearly killed.

Cruz –– who received $35 million in campaign donations from fracking billionaires and whose wife is Managing Director at Goldman Sachs –– is perhaps one of the least likely members of Congress to take a stand against Wall Street, making him an easy target for the Ocasio-Cortez, whose tweet sparked outrage from Sen. Chip Roy, R-TX.

"It is completely unacceptable behavior for a Member of Congress to make this kind of scurrilous charge against another member in the House or Senate for simply engaging in speech and debate regarding electors as they interpreted the Constitution," wrote Roy to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA.

He continued ominously: "If Representative Ocasio-Cortez does not apologize immediately, we will be forced to find alternative means to condemn this regrettable statement."

Roy was one of the congressmen who initially pledged to back the GOP-led effort to defy the election certification but backed down shortly after the Capitol was raided.

Right-wing media followed suit and feigned outrage over AOC's tweet just as House Democrats ramped up a pressure campaign on House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to remove Greene, who stalked a teenage school shooting survivor and repeatedly endorsed violence against her Democratic colleagues, from her plum committee assignments.

"Twitter silent as AOC accuses Ted Cruz of attempted 'murder' on its platform," Fox News reported.

Inside Rudy Giuliani's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

by Jon Skolnik

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions on seven foreign members of Rudy Giuliani's inner circle who sought to interfere in the U.S. election and sway the results in Trump's favor. The president has also reportedly dropped his reliance on Giuliani for his second impeachment trial, refusing to pay Giuliani for his unsuccessful post-election campaign to overturn November's results. Meanwhile, the New York State Bar Association has moved to disbar Giuliani this week. Needless to say, the week after he told thousands of Trump supporters to hold "trial by combat" before many of them violently stormed the U.S. Capitol with aims to halt the Constitutionally mandated certification of Joe Biden's Electoral College victory was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week for Rudy Giuliani.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The Treasury's targets include Russian-linked Ukrainians Konstantin Kulyk, Oleksandr Onyshchenko, Andriy Telizhenko, Oleksandr Dubinsky, and –– most principally –– Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker sanctioned

just last year, who played a key role in orchestrating the Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory. It was with the help of these actors that Giuliani spearheaded a failed campaign to smear President-elect Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, with false claims of past corruption. Trump's call to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky –– in which the President pressured Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden on his behalf –– would become the impetus for the President's own impeachment.

"Since at least 2019," said the Treasury in a statement on Wednesday, "Derkach and his associates have leveraged U.S. media, U.S.-based social media platforms, and influential U.S. persons to spread misleading and unsubstantiated allegations that current and former U.S. officials engaged in corruption, money laundering, and unlawful political influence in Ukraine."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a steadfast Trump loyalist, also attempted to add distance between his agency and Giuliani and his goons. "Russian disinformation campaigns targeting American citizens are a threat to our democracy [...] The United States will continue to aggressively defend the integrity of our election systems and processes."

"Trump has been blaming his longtime personal attorney and many others for the predicament he now finds himself in, though he has not accepted any responsibility in public or in private," CNN reported this week. "Giuliani is still expected to play a role in Trump's impeachment defense but has been left out of most conversations thus far."

The New York State Bar Association has also made moves to disavow Giuliani in light of last Wednesday's chaos. The Bar announced on Monday that it has launched an inquiry into Giuliani's role in Trump's months-long crusade to undermine the election. The group's bylaws make explicit reference to anyone "who advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States, or of any state, territory or possession thereof, or of any political subdivision therein, by force or other illegal means" and disowns anyone who has engaged in such activity.

The Association stated, "Mr. Giuliani's words quite clearly were intended to encourage Trump supporters unhappy with the election's outcome to take matters into their own hands," adding, "Their subsequent attack on the Capitol was nothing short of an attempted coup, intended to prevent the peaceful transition of power."

Giuliani, who called for "a trial by combat" in the rally leading up the riot on Capitol Hill, now faces the threat of permanent expulsion from the Bar, which would render him unlicensed to practice law in the state of New York. "We cannot stand idly by," said the Association, "and allow those intent on rending the fabric of our democracy to go unchecked."

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