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Sexual Harassment

Saturday, my favorite political site Electoral Vote published a question from one of their readers asking about Tara Reade’s accusation of sexual assault against Joe Biden. Here’s the question and their answer:

Q: I was wondering if you might comment on the recent failed anti-Biden propaganda push related to sexual assault. Whoever is pushing the story is currently failing to get oxygen because of COVID-19 news, but they do successfully inundate Twitter and Reddit and Facebook every night. Do you think this indicates a pre-scheduled propaganda schedule? If so, did they have to go through with it, even though they knew they wouldn’t get traction? Or are Republicans just trying to get this into the news so they can start pretending it’s real? Is the current failure an instruction that the best way to deal with obvious Republican propaganda is to just ignore it? I would love to hear your thoughts. M.A., Washington, DC

A: Just so everyone is on the same page, the story being referenced is Tara Reade’s claim that she was sexually assaulted by Joe Biden back in 1993, while she was working for him. Here is the key portion of her narrative:

He just had me up against the wall. I was wearing like a skirt, a business skirt. I wasn’t wearing stockings. It was kind of a hot day that day, and I was wearing heels…I remember I was wearing a blouse, and he just had me up against the wall. And the wall was cold. It happened all at once…his hands were on me and underneath my clothes. Yeah, and he went down my skirt but then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers, and he was kissing me at the same time, and he was saying something to me. He said several things. I can’t remember everything he said.

Biden, of course, has denied this.

It does not appear to be centrally coordinated; in fact, it started on one end of the political spectrum and then jumped to the other. You’re right that the story definitely did not gain traction, despite the fact that many mainstream outlets took a look at it. Here are some guesses as to why:

The “#MeToo Moment” Has Passed: There was a period of time there, right after the Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby stories broke, that the mere whiff of sexual impropriety was career-ending. Perhaps the most obvious person caught up in this was former senator Al Franken, who was compelled to resign his office before an investigation could be conducted. It is the case that sexual assault claims are taken much more seriously these days than they used to be, as well they should. But we seem to have exited the time in which a mere accusation was seen as proof of guilt.

Is Reade Trustworthy?: The general progression of events does not increase confidence in Reade’s account. The first problem is that she didn’t tell anyone at the time that she was assaulted, and she did not come forward with the story until a quarter-century had passed. Second, she came forward previously, and was one of the women who accused Biden of inappropriate hugging/touching, but didn’t mention anything beyond that. Third, she has been an outspoken anti-Biden and pro-Sanders voice on social media (and, in fact, when she made the assault allegations, she did so to a staunchly left-leaning website, The Intercept). None of this proves she is lying, but it certainly does raise some concerns about her veracity and her motivations.

Out of Character for Biden: There is no question that Biden grew up with a 1950s/1960s sense of boundaries, a sense out of step with where we’re at today. But, unlike Bill Clinton, Brett Kavanaugh, Anthony Wiener, and other plausibly accused alleged perpetrators of sexual assault, Biden’s never been associated with any misconduct beyond that. There is a huge chasm between “inappropriate hug” and “violent sexual assault.” It’s highly unusual for someone to jump over that chasm with no intermediate/gateway steps. It’s even more unusual for it to happen exactly one time. And thus far, nobody else has come forward with claims like Reade’s.

Right Wing Framing: After The Intercept ran the story, right-wing media grabbed it and ran with it. Interestingly, most of them had a headline or a lede that included the formulation “Joe Biden Said He Believes All Women. Does He Believe Tara Reade?” That’s a very unusual framing, one that downplays the more serious crime of sexual assault, and plays up Biden’s alleged hypocrisy (which is, of course, not a crime). Framing things in that way certainly makes it seem like even the right-wingers don’t really think Biden assaulted Reade, and instead they’re trying to use this as a “gotcha.”

Going to the Well Too Many Times: Shamefully, a number of folks (most commonly hacky right-wing operatives) have tried to use 100% fabricated claims of sexual misconduct to smear political opponents. The most notable case of this is probably the comically inept Jacob Wohl, who tried to smear special counsel Robert Mueller in this manner, and then tried it again with Pete Buttigieg. This has undoubtedly put the idea in people’s minds that when a sexual assault claim seems like in might fail the smell test, it might just be a political hit job.

Anyhow, these are our guesses. We think it’s instructive that Donald Trump has yet to deploy this against Biden. If there was any chance it could stick, and was going to become an element of the 2020 campaign, surely the President would have tossed it out there already.

And yes, propaganda is best ignored.

This is an issue I have quite a bit of interest in. I am extremely happy that (finally!) people are now taking accusations of sexual harassment seriously, but that doesn’t mean that all accusations are automatically true. They must be investigated and vetted.

I strongly agreed with their answer to the question, including that Biden had an overly touchy feely behavior toward women in the past, but that is a far cry from sexual assault. However, I had a couple of comments, so I wrote a response to them for use in their Sunday mailbag, and they published it. Here’s my response:

I.K. from Olympia, WA, writes: I really appreciate you answering the question about Tara Reade and the anti-Biden propaganda push. You make excellent points, but I have two comments.

First, You left out what happened with the Time’s Up fund, who declined to fund legal and PR fees for Reade because the appearance of them being political would threaten their 501(c)(3) status. In response, some sites have cried “coverup”. However, Time’s Up could have safely helped Tara Reade (despite Joe Biden being a presidential candidate) as long as they used their normal procedure to decide whether to help. Doesn’t it make more sense that they used their normal procedure to evaluate Reade’s claims, and (they, like you) found them unconvincing?

Second, you say that this story did not gain traction, and you also say that it is instructive that Trump has not deployed this against Biden, but you ignore something important. Does Trump know a better way to harm Biden with this than using it against him directly (and appearing to be the pot calling the kettle black).

In the last week, I have been inundated with messages from my relatives and friends who are Sanders supporters, all of them saying exactly the same thing: that because of this one accusation of sexual assault, they refuse to vote for Biden for president. So this is splintering the Democrats, which can only help Trump. I have no idea who is spreading this, but it seems to be working, and there are plenty of actors (Republicans, Sanders supporters, Russians, etc.) who would benefit. Plus, this is eerily similar to the way that fear, uncertainty, and doubt was used against Clinton during the 2016 election.

(My only regret is that I didn’t add some cute snark, and say “the despot calling the kettle black”).


Three Things

Three things happened in the last three days that have made me so angry that I couldn’t write this post until I calmed down a bit. It is now many hours later, so here they are:

First, two days ago was this headline: “White House abruptly transfers DHS official amid loyalty purge“. This is a top official at DHS, the department that is in charge of protecting homeland security and has taken a leading role in fighting COVID-19. She was moved out of DHS because “the Presidential Personnel Office raised questions about her loyalty to President Donald Trump.”

We are in the midst of a pandemic where tens of thousands of people have died and over half a million are sick, and a record-breaking economic meltdown has led to the largest jump in Americans applying for unemployment insurance in history. And the Trump administration is using that as a distraction so they can quietly get rid of people who don’t kiss Trump’s ass enough.

Like any bully, Trump didn’t hide from people in the DHS that he was removing someone because of lack of loyalty. He wanted to use her as an example, to frighten everyone else there into being loyal.

As terrible as that is, we are no longer surprised when crap like this happens. It is almost a daily occurrence with Trump. Him acting like the king (or mob boss) of what used to be a democracy has sadly become the new normal.

But then yesterday came the following news:

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) suggested Friday that a growing rift with the White House is affecting shipments of medical supplies to Michigan amid exponential growth in confirmed coronavirus cases.

When the federal government told us that we needed to go it ourselves, we started procuring every item we could get our hands on. What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we had contracts are now being told not to send stuff here to Michigan.

Whitmer didn’t say who has told vendors to stop sending medical supplies to the state, but strongly implied the order came from President Trump’s administration.”

Seriously? Someone is blocking Michigan from receiving medical supplies that are urgently needed to save lives? Who could that be? And finally today, we got the horrible answer.

Today (Friday), during his now-daily TV briefing, Trump announced that “he told Pence not to call governors who aren’t ‘appreciative’ of White House coronavirus efforts.

Trump continued, “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call. I think they should be appreciative.” And if there was any doubt, he added “All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative. I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true. I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job.”

Trump even mentioned two governors by name:

Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him.

Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens.

Is there any doubt that Trump is also preventing Michigan from getting medical supplies? After all, he just said that it doesn’t matter what happens. Think about that, it doesn’t matter if people die, or if they lose their life savings. That doesn’t matter. It only matters to Trump if people kowtow to him.

I’ll end with a wee bit of good news. Of all places, Fox News just released a poll that shows Joe Biden up 49% to 40% over Trump. And in counties where Hillary Clinton and Trump were within 10 points in 2016, Biden leads Trump 57% to 32%, a 25 point advantage.


Viral Spending

The Senate has passed the Coronavirus Relief Bill, which will likely pass the House by the end of this week. The size of the bill is staggering, at $2.2 trillion dollars. To put that in perspective, total federal spending is already $4.45 trillion, so we are talking about increasing this year’s spending by 50%, to $6.65 trillion.

Note that total tax revenue for the US is $3.46 trillion/year, but don’t be too surprised when that goes down due to the economy cratering.

Already, politicians on both sides of the aisle are pointing out that even this staggering bill will not be enough, and are talking about additional money being allocated. Estimates are that $2.2 trillion will only be enough to keep the country afloat for a few months.

Lastly, and also to nobody’s surprise, the bill is full of pork for special interests. In addition, the largest chunk of money ($540 billion) goes into a slush fund, which the Trump administration (under the direction of Trump’s Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin) can hand out anyway they see fit (also known as “picking winners and losers”). The Democrats did manage to add a limitation that none of the slush fund can go to any elected federal officials (including Trump) but does anyone doubt that it will end up in the bank accounts of Trump’s big campaign donors? Or used to build a wall along the southern border?


Death Panels

Back when President Obama was trying to enact health care reform in 2009, Sarah Palin created and popularized the term “death panels”. She claimed that the ACA would create panels of bureaucrats who would decide who was “worthy of medical care”. Even though this was a complete fabrication on the part of Palin, it managed to turn many people against what Republicans derided as “socialized medicine”. And of course, the healthcare system then knew who was worthy of saving — people who had enough money (or power) to get healthcare or afford required drugs.

It would be like wanting to privatize firefighting because our current system will lead to panels of bureaucrats who would decide which houses were worthy of being saved when they caught fire. Or privatize police departments so you have to pay for their protection, or courts, or the military.

But last night, Donald Trump tweeted “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!”

The question Trump is saying we need to decide is whether the costs of social distancing are worth it. Do we want to focus on saving lives, or saving the economy by focusing only on “productive” citizens.

That’s right, Trump is proposing “death panels” pure and simple. We have to decide who is worth saving. And we already know Trump’s answer to that question. The rich and powerful, and even then, probably only those who support him.

Sarah Palin was lying when she claimed that the government would decide who lives and dies. But now that is exactly what Trump is proposing.

UPDATE: Trump is thinking about relaxing social distancing rules and having people go back to work … in order to “save” the economy.


Read this NOW – UPDATE

The same person who authored the Medium article featured in my original “Read this NOW” post has come out with an update, and this time he had lots of help. The new version has concrete suggestions of good ways to contain the coronavirus outbreak, and has the added benefit of only requiring harsh restrictions for a limited amount of time — they estimate 7 weeks.

Using similar measures, China was able to control their epidemic in around two weeks. And South Korea is having similar success now.

There is also a White House petition you can (and should) sign.


Coronavirus Concertos

Italy is one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. In fact, on Thursday they passed China on the number of people who have died from the pandemic — that’s an absolute number, which is pretty scary considering that China has far, far more people than Italy. And the Italians have been under a country-wide lockdown since earlier this month.

But that’s not going to stop the Italians from having fun, and a sense of humor about the whole thing. First, there were videos coming out of Italy showing the Italians standing on their balconies and playing music, with other nearby people joining in, or even dancing. Speaking of going viral, who knew music and dancing could stand up to social distancing!

Here’s just one video, but there are many more in this article in Vox, and even more on YouTube.

However, even more fun is this video, demonstrating how to prevent spreading the virus with music and dance. Note that there are captions in Italian, but even if you don’t know the language, you should be figuring out what they are demonstrating (if you can’t, you haven’t been paying attention lately!). And be sure to watch at the end, when they have one last joke.


Rewriting History

If you ever wanted to see the rewriting of history going so fast that it might give you whiplash, the Washington Post has put together this video showing Fox News hosts contradicting themselves over the course of a week. Do they really think their viewers are so stupid that they won’t notice? Could they be right?

The reason Fox News is doing this is that their telling people not to worry about the novel coronavirus has delayed America from taking measures to combat it, which means that dramatically more people will die, and the economy now looks like it will fall into a full depression, and they don’t want people to realize that their lies and propaganda were responsible.



Some of you may have noticed a few technical problems on this blog in the last couple of days. I updated the version of PHP and WordPress, and all hell broke loose. I think I have everything working properly again, and the new versions are faster and more secure now. But let me know at if you notice anything still broken.


The Market Strikes Back!

This Modern World
© Tom Tomorrow

How long before the market realizes that better advance preparation for epidemics and pandemics would be good for the economy (including the stock market)?

Bill Gates, one of the most ruthless businessmen of the modern era, talked about this 5 years ago!

UPDATE: The Atlantic has a great article listing all the times our government has been warned about the imminent danger of a pandemic. In fact, “a pandemic disease is the most predictable catastrophe in the history of the human race, if only because it has happened to the human race so many, many times before.”


St. Patrick’s Day

Have a fun, but safe, St. Patrick’s Day!


More Virus Humor

While you’re sitting at home, here’s two videos you can watch.

If you see any others, please post them in the comments.

UPDATE: I love this one, from Australia!


Read this NOW

Everyone should read this article NOW. It is long and contains lots of numbers and graphs, but it explains everything well, every step of the way.

If you want the short version, it is that we must reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, and the best way to do that is through social distancing, which means shutting down any place where people gather, and putting at least a meter (and preferably 2) between you and any other people. Or even just staying home. Now.

I cannot stress enough that these measures must be taken now. Every day that we delay taking measures will increase the number of cases of COVID-19 by a whopping 40%.

That’s right. 40% every day. That is how exponential growth works. For 40% growth per day, in just a week there are 10 times as many cases, two weeks means 100 times.

And when there are too many cases, the health system becomes overwhelmed and people die.

This is all based on the best numbers we have now, and you can look at the numbers and helpful graphs yourself.

And don’t panic. It is very reassuring to know that there is something straightforward that all of us can do, which we know will work.

If you think you can’t take measures now, know that if you don’t do it now, you will do it later, when it will be much worse. Do it now.


Please forward this link to everyone you know.

UPDATE: Washington Post has a “coronavirus simulator” which shows (simplified) simulations of COVID-19 spreading under different conditions, including with nothing done (very bad), closing borders in a forced quarantine (works a little, but not very well, and causes lots of problems), social distancing (works much better, as that other article predicted, and how well it works increases as more of the population practices safe social interactions. The percentage of people who practice social distancing can be improved by doing things like closing businesses and other places where people tend to interact closely.


Never Forget

Donald Trump is trying to rewrite recent history, but he may not realize that the internet never forgets. Here’s a post from Political Wire:

As President Trump attempts to blame President Barack Obama for his own handling of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to document Trump’s comments during this public health crisis.

These are not utterances from some of his more rambling news conferences or from his advisers. These are Trump’s most direct statements as a global pandemic took hold.

January 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.” (CNBC)

February 2: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” (Fox News)

February 10: “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in.” (Bloomberg)

February 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA… Stock market starting to look very good to me.” (Twitter)

February 26: “It’s going very substantially down, not up… The 15 within a couple of days, is going to be down to zero.” (CNN)

February 27: “It’s going to disappear one day, it’s like a miracle.” (Twitter)

March 6: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it… Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.” (Wired)

March 6: “I didn’t know people died from the flu.” (CNN)

March 6: “I like the numbers being where they are.” (Washington Post)

March 10: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” (Twitter)

March 13: “I don’t take responsibility at all because we were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules, regulations, and specifications from a different time.” (New York Times)


Virus Snark

This is a snarky article from The Independent, a UK newspaper:

Thank God we have Trump to do what the scientists won’t – build that coronavirus wall

by Mark Steel

We’re so lucky. Because in a time of global danger, we need leaders who are clear, informed, sensitive and decisive. So, truly, we have been blessed.

“The virus will not have a chance against us,” said Donald Trump in his presidential message. Clearly he thinks the coronavirus is a nationality, and tomorrow he’ll explain “we have to stop these Virutians from coming here, there are millions of them, coming to our great country, they’re very bad and they want to live in our stomachs and I’m going to stop them.”

This could be how Trump will defeat the virus, with mass rallies chanting “bomb the virus”, and “send it back to Virussynia”, and tens of thousands of people huddled together in an enclosed area high-fiving each other will ensure the virus can’t possibly spread.

Trump supporters will then prove their determination to defeat the virus by putting one of its spores in a petri dish and firing at it for 40 minutes with an M60 machine gun while screaming “see you in hell, you infectious asshole”.

Trump also assured us it’s a foreign virus and that’s the problem: this virus doesn’t share American values. It doesn’t speak English, it kills people by restricting breathing rather than going berserk in a shopping mall with a rifle, it makes people croaky on purpose so they can’t sing the national anthem.

But he’ll reassure us: “I’ve convinced the doctors to build a wall around everyone’s kidneys. And who’s going to pay for the wall? Coronavirus is going to pay for the wall.”

In the address, he said: “Earlier this week, I met with the leaders of health insurance industry […] who have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments.” Later, a spokesperson amended this to say they weren’t waiving any payments for the treatment.

Then he announced a travel ban applying to US citizens, and later had to correct it slightly, to “the ban will not apply to US citizens.” But the important thing is he’s taking a clear lead so this isn’t the time to quibble about grammar.

The ban applies to almost all of Europe, but not the UK, because diseases are always careful to leave countries in the middle of an important trade deal with Trump alone.

He’ll explain: “It was the same with the plague in the 14th century. It was doing bad things, very bad, and I banned Europeans from coming here but not Britain because I was making a very good deal with Edward VIIII, wonderful king, and it worked, because no one has had the plague here for a hundred years.”

It’s also fortunate that the most powerful person in the world is someone whose specialist subject is science. For example, on the issue of the climate crisis, Trump has thrown doubt on all other scientists in the world, with their so-called “analysis”, with devastating theories such as: “I don’t believe it”; “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese”; and, “If there’s global warming, why is it so cold in New York?”

These detailed studies have all been extensively peer-reviewed and established Trump as an authority on the subject, so the scientific world anticipates his next pronouncement on coronavirus could be: “It’s all fake news made up by Chinese face-mask companies, believe me.”

The common feature of every mass outbreak of disease in history, is the population must be reliably informed about the ways to prevent it from spreading. This must be why news channels have invited experts such as Kelvin Mackenzie and Nigel Farage onto programmes to educate us. Mackenzie told us the best procedure was, if you catch it, “you should sue the Chinese government”.

He should put this expertise to wider use, and work for NHS 111. When someone calls gasping, “I think I’m infected, please please help me, oh God I’m scared”, he can advise them “The important thing is to make a claim against the president of China three times a day, after meals, and you’ll be running about like a whippet by Friday.”

US presenters are even more medically trained. Fox business presenter Trish Regan said: “Coronavirus is yet another attempt to impeach the president.”

Her colleague Sean Hannity answered a physician who explained the virus is “10 times more lethal than normal flu”, by saying: “Sadly, these viruses pop up from time to time.”

This is the strategy that will ensure the virus doesn’t have a chance against us. It was how we beat the Nazis. We told everyone “sadly, these Third Reich’s pop up from time to time” and off they went.

Luckily, we in Britain copy everything Trump does. So Priti Patel will tell us she’s designed a points system for any virus that wants to come here. “It has to prove it can survive on its own and not rely on sponging off our tonsils” she’ll tell us.

And some of us are dealing with it in our traditional measured manner, calmly buying 8,000 toilet rolls and setting fire to anything we bought from Primark as it was probably made in China.

There would be a certain justice if it turned out the fastest way to spread coronavirus is to assemble large quantities of toilet rolls together, as the virus keeps warm in the packaging, then jumps out and stabs you with a fork.

Every biologist and chemist is warning us about this virus being particularly sneaky, due to the way the symptoms don’t appear until the carrier has passed it on, and its ability to mutate. But they still underestimate how clever the virus is. Because it’s so smart it’s deliberately waited until we’re led by Johnson and Trump, then shouted: “NOW, over the top everyone, with them in charge we can take over the world by August.”


Heather Cox Richardson

A friend sent me this article from political historian Heather Cox Richardson that discusses the coronavirus, oil prices, and Donald Trump fiddling while America burns. I encourage you to read it.

This reminded me that I needed to add her website “Letters from an American” to my list of links (to the right). I’ve done that. You can (and should) subscribe to it.