Birx rightly said most US Covid-19 deaths were preventable. But she won’t acknowledge her complicity.

““I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” Birx told CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

In sum, Birx suggested that thousands of American deaths were all but unavoidable as a result of the initial surge of the coronavirus in February and March of last year. But she said better adherence to public health guidelines — including mask-wearing and social distancing — could’ve saved the lives of many of the 450,000 people (and counting) in the US who have died since then.”

“While Birx’s suggestion that as many as 100,000 deaths were too difficult to prevent is arguable — a better-prepared federal government could have limited spread and saved lives by building out a testing infrastructure much more quickly than the one overseen by Trump”

Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from Somalia, briefly explained

“The Trump administration will pull virtually all of the US’s roughly 700 troops in Somalia out of the country just five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The withdrawal, announced Friday by the Pentagon, ostensibly marks the latest attempt by President Donald Trump to scale back US presence overseas in what he’s described as costly and ineffective military operations across regions like the Middle East.

Acting defense secretary Christopher Miller announced in November that the US plans to reduce US troops from 4,500 to 2,500 in Afghanistan and from 3,000 to 2,500 in Iraq. But the strategy shift in Somalia appears to be something different.

Rather than a case of troops being brought home, many of the forces will be repositioned to neighboring Kenya, according to a Defense Department official, although it’s unclear so far what percentage of the Somali-based troops will be restationed there.

“As a result of this decision, some forces may be reassigned outside of East Africa,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Friday. “However, the remaining forces will be repositioned from Somalia into neighboring countries in order to allow cross-border operations by both US and partner forces.””

“The US forces stationed in Somalia were largely tasked with counterterrorism missions, with a particular focus on fighting the presence of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group. And US troops have also worked on training Somali forces to conduct raids and capture al-Shabaab leaders.

According to the Pentagon, the mission against al-Shabaab won’t end — instead, the troops once stationed in the country will “maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia” from bases in Kenya and elsewhere.

The Pentagon also said the military will “retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland.”

How successful the US has been in Somalia at this mission isn’t exactly clear. And the US’s methods for accomplishing its work against al-Shabaab have been met with sharp criticism from watchdogs, who argue counterterrorism operations in East Africa have been conducted without a proper level of accountability.

One of the US’s primary tools against al-Shabaab has been drone strikes, which it has been conducting in Somalia since 2007. The frequency of those strikes have increased significantly during the Trump administration, with 47 strikes carried out in 2018 and 63 in 2019, according to the New York Times. All told, the Trump administration has carried out at least 192 drone strikes in Somalia, an analysis by New America found.

Under Trump’s tenure, the oversight guidelines for strikes in Somalia, some of which are meant to minimize civilian casualties, have also been loosened.”

““Despite many years of sustained Somali, U.S., and international counterterrorism pressure, the terrorist threat in East Africa is not degraded: al-Shabaab retains freedom of movement in many parts of southern Somalia and has demonstrated an ability and intent to attack outside of the country, including targeting U.S. interests,” the report states.

And that ability has been on display of late. Recently, a CIA contractor was killed in action in Somalia, and al-Shabaab staged a January attack on a US facility in Kenya that resulted in the death of a US solider, two contractors, and the destruction of expensive military equipment — including a US surveillance craft.

Particularly in light of the January attack, US military officials in East Africa reportedly began to push for greater flexibility to launch airstrikes from Kenya, and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta also reportedly asked Trump for greater aid with countering al-Shabaab earlier this year. The troop redeployment would appear to accomplish both these aims.

And indeed, while US training of Somali security forces is expected to end, airstrikes against militants in Somalia will be continuing, since the air bases housing the US drones that carry out strikes in Somalia are currently based outside the country.”

The Constitutionality of Trump’s Impeachment Trial Is Not ‘Crystal Clear’

“Preconstitutional practice in England and America included impeachment of former officials. Ten of the 12 state constitutions that were written before the U.S. Constitution was drafted addressed impeachment. In those state constitutions, Kalt notes, “late impeachment was either required, permitted, or not discussed, but was nowhere explicitly forbidden.”

Did the Framers mean to break from historical practice by limiting impeachment to current officials? If so, they never clearly expressed that intent.

The Constitution says “the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” It gives the House the “sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate “the sole Power to try all Impeachments,” while limiting the penalties to removal from office and disqualification from future federal office.

This “poor drafting,” as Kalt describes it, leaves unresolved the question of whether the optional penalty of disqualification is enough to justify a Senate trial when the mandatory penalty of removal from office is no longer possible. As Turley sees it, “a private citizen is being called to the Senate to be tried for removal from an office that he does not hold.”

Kalt and many other scholars argue that the aims of accountability and deterrence would be frustrated if a president could avoid impeachment or trial by committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” toward the end of his term (as Trump is accused of doing) or by resigning (as Belknap and Richard Nixon did) after his misconduct comes to light. They also argue that disqualification is an important remedy when a president guilty of serious misconduct might plausibly make a comeback.

The “good faith” to which Turley aspires is hard to perceive in the arguments offered by most of Trump’s critics and defenders. As Stanford law professor Michael McConnell (who thinks Trump’s trial is constitutional) notes, “much of the discussion…consists of motivated reasoning on both sides that no doubt would be the opposite if partisan roles were reversed.””

Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx detail how Trump’s coronavirus response was even worse than we thought

“It didn’t take long for the two scientific faces of former President Donald Trump’s failed coronavirus response to speak out about how dysfunctional efforts to curb the pandemic really were under the 45th president.

On the first weekend following Trump’s departure from the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx — both members of the Trump White House coronavirus task force coordinated by Birx — did interviews with national media outlets in which they described a culture in the Trump White House that discounted scientific expertise and put a premium on the type of denialism that resulted in Trump continuing to hold packed political rallies even as coronavirus deaths and cases soared in the fall.

“We would say things like: ‘This is an outbreak. Infectious diseases run their own course unless one does something to intervene.’ And then he would get up and start talking about, ‘It’s going to go away, it’s magical, it’s going to disappear,’” Fauci told the New York Times.

Birx made similar comments to CBS during an interview with Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan, saying, “there were people [in the White House] who definitely believed that this was a hoax,” and adding that Trump had a penchant for listening to people who told him what he wanted to hear, even if that information had no scientific basis.

“I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made,” she said. “So I know that someone — someone out there, or someone inside — was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president. I don’t know to this day who, but I know what I sent up, and I know what was in his hands was different than that.”

Fauci corroborated that point, telling the Times that in the early days of the pandemic, he was “really concerned” to observe that Trump “was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, ‘Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?’ or, ‘Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.’”

“He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important,” added Fauci. “It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, ‘A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.’ That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.””

“What Birx and Fauci said during their interviews isn’t necessarily surprising. We’ve long understood that the Trump White House’s coronavirus response was a disaster, especially when compared with countries like Australia and Japan that have done a much better job limiting infections and deaths. We’ve known that Trump has a tendency to engage in wishful thinking and has an aversion to scientific reasoning.

But what Birx’s and Fauci’s willingness to speak out in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s departure from office does illustrate is just how bad things were under the previous administration. It now falls upon the Biden administration to try to clean up the mess left behind after a year of politically motivated short-term thinking, in which public health experts like Fauci and Birx had to struggle on a daily basis with questions about whether it was worth it for them to keep showing up at work.”

The ‘deep state’ of loyalists Trump is leaving behind for Biden

“A higher-than-usual number of Trump administration political appointees — some with highly partisan backgrounds — are currently “burrowing” into career positions throughout the federal government, moving from appointed positions into powerful career civil service roles, which come with job protections that will make it difficult for Biden to fire them.
While this happens to some degree in every presidential transition, and some political appointees make for perfectly capable public servants, Biden aides, lawmakers, labor groups and watchdog organizations are sounding the alarm — warning that in addition to standard burrowing, the Trump administration is leaning on a recent executive order to rush through dozens if not hundreds of these so-called “conversions.” The fear is that, once entrenched in these posts, the Trump bureaucrats could work from the inside to stymie Biden’s agenda, much of which depends on agency action.

The October executive order — which Biden is expected to swiftly rescind — has allowed federal agencies to help political appointees circumvent the usual merit-based application process for career civil service jobs, while moving career policymakers into a new job category with far fewer legal protections.

Thanks to weak transparency laws, the full impact of both changes may not be known for months.”

Trump’s New Citizenship Test Is Full of Conservative Bias—And Dotted With Mistakes

“December 1, 2020, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service began administering a new naturalization test to those hoping to become U.S. citizens. The test draws from 128 potential civics questions, with the approved answers posted on the USCIS website. The test is given orally, and all applicants for naturalization will have to answer 20 of those questions chosen at random, with a passing score of 12.

When the test was first released a few weeks ago, many critics focused on its needless difficulty and complexity. The previous iteration of the test, last revised in 2008, required applicants to answer six of 10 questions, drawn from a pool of only 100. Several new questions call for biographical details about Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Dwight Eisenhower, while another asks for “the purpose of the 10th Amendment.” Critics of the new test believe that it is intended to create an additional and unnecessary barrier to naturalization.

But perhaps the most significant feature of the test is its decidedly conservative political tilt, sometimes to the point of inaccuracy.

Certain questions, for example, reflect the Trump administration’s position in a case that is currently under Supreme Court review. Earlier this week, the court heard oral argument in a challenge to Trump’s unprecedented attempt to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census count for the purpose of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives. All nine justices seemed fairly skeptical of Trump’s plan, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett observing that “a lot of the historical evidence and longstanding practice really cuts against [Trump’s] position.” After all, the 14th Amendment provides that representatives be apportioned according to “the whole number of persons in each State,” which has always previously been thought to mean exactly what it says.

We are unlikely to get a definitive answer from SCOTUS any time soon. (It appears probable that a host of complex procedural issues will send the case back to the lower courts for further consideration.) But fiddling with the census was not the Trump administration’s only opportunity to change our understanding of representation by limiting it to U.S. citizens. Here are two questions on the new naturalization test, as well as the only approved answers from the USCIS study guide, now embodying the Trump administration’s revisionist approach to government:

31. Who does a U.S. senator represent?

· Citizens of their state

33. Who does a member of the House of Representatives represent?

· Citizens in their [congressional] district

The acceptable answers have been changed from the 2008 iteration of the test, which accurately (at least for now, unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise) stated that U.S. senators represent “all people of the state.””

“The most recent time the test was revised, the Bush administration posted an advance “pilot” of 144 proposed questions, many of which included errors, omissions and shortcomings. The 100 questions that made the final cut corrected most of the mistakes—after I pointed them out in an article for Salon, although I have no way of knowing whether I actually deserve any credit. The Trump administration created no similar opportunity for correction, instead publishing an overtly partisan test that is sometimes just plain wrong.

Successful applicants will have studied hard to obtain their cherished U.S. citizenship, and it is a shame for USCIS to mislead them so badly about the nature of the government to which they will soon pledge allegiance.”

5 Profiles in Courage and Cowardice in a Trump-Dominated GOP

“Even before last week’s deadly invasion of the Capitol, McConnell, to his credit, forcefully rejected efforts to challenge duly certified electoral votes for Biden. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he warned less than an hour before he was forced to flee the president’s enraged fans. “We would never see the whole nation accept an election again,” he added, and “every four years would be a scramble for power at all cost.”

Based on “sweeping conspiracy theories,” McConnell noted, “President Trump claims the election was stolen,” but “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale…that would have tipped the entire election.” He added that “public doubt alone” cannot “justify a radical break” from historical practice “when the doubt itself was incited without evidence.”

These were strong words, but they came two months too late. From the moment that Trump began insisting that he actually won the election by a landslide, it was clear that the president’s conviction had no basis in reality. Yet McConnell humored Trump, neither backing nor rejecting his wild claims, based on the premise that Biden’s victory should not be conceded until the president had exhausted his legal options and the Electoral College had met. In the meantime, the fantasy underlying last week’s riot grew and spread, unchallenged by all but a few Republican legislators.”

“Even McConnell and Pence are models of bravery compared to Sens. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), who led the legally groundless objections to Biden’s electoral votes in the Senate. In doing so, they cynically and recklessly reinforced the twin delusions that gave rise to last week’s violence: that Trump won the election and that Biden’s inauguration could still be prevented.

At the same time, neither Cruz nor Hawley had the guts to explicitly endorse those beliefs. They calculated that they could reap the political benefits of kowtowing to the president’s supporters without paying the political cost of looking like kooks. It apparently never entered the minds of these two Ivy League lawyers that they might pay a cost for so blatantly trying to advance their careers by sacrificing their supposed devotion to the Constitution. The crucial question for the Republican Party now is whether they were right to ignore that possibility.”

Rep. Liz Cheney has backed impeaching Trump — and even Mitch McConnell may be open to it

“Cheney is the highest-ranking Republican to commit to backing impeachment so far. In a scathing statement, she wrote that “the President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing.”

Cheney’s statement continues: “The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Not long before Cheney’s statement, Rep. John Katko (NY) became the first elected Republican member of Congress to commit to backing this impeachment. “To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy,” Katko said in his own statement. “For that reason, I cannot sit by without taking action.” A third House Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL), announced his support for impeachment, too.”

Police bias explains the Capitol riot

“Across law enforcement agencies, many are echoing the same message: that no one anticipated an attack of this kind on Congress and the Capitol”

““You literally couldn’t have had more information,” R.P. Eddy, a counterterrorism expert and CEO of the intelligence firm Ergo, told Vox. But law enforcement agencies, starting with the Capitol Police, didn’t do what was necessary with that information: “The threat assessment, obviously, was a total failure.”
And the reason for that, he and others say, goes back to the inability of law enforcement officials to see Trump supporters — a group of mostly white Americans, some of them law enforcement officers themselves — as a real threat.”

“It’s only become clearer over the past six days that insurrectionists were planning their actions openly in the days leading up to Wednesday’s riot, and that many people had sounded the alarm. Posters in pro-Trump online forums were making plans to “encircle” Congress and “go after the traitors directly” and to “Bring handcuffs and zip ties to DC,” according to the Washington Post. And numerous watchdog groups and private citizens sent warnings to government officials about the threats.

“It’s not so much that the cops weren’t aware of it. It’s almost like they were willfully ignorant of the possibility of violence,” Marc Ginsberg, president of the Coalition for a Safer Web, who personally warned officials of his findings, told the Post. Tensions surrounding brutal police action against protesters this summer also left local and federal officials wary of a large police presence during the planned protest.

Law enforcement officials were preparing for a crowd in the “low thousands,” according to Crow’s call on Sunday with Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy — not the approximately 8,000 people who showed up. They were also prepared for “small, disparate violent events” like stabbings and fistfights, despite numerous social media posts about guns, ammunition, and kidnapping lawmakers. The Capitol Police also had not requested federal support in the days leading up to the riot, and both the Capitol and DC Metropolitan Police Departments had declined offers of additional National Guard backup, McCarthy said.”

“After Bowser and Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested federal reinforcements shortly after 1:30 pm on Wednesday, federal officials worked to understand the situation for more than an hour, according to the call with Crow. Their efforts were hamstrung by the lack of an operations center in the Pentagon, forcing them to “manage the situation by tracking down previously unknown contacts of local law enforcement and making ad hoc calls in an office environment,” according to the call summary.

But whatever happened at the Defense Department, responsibility for Wednesday’s events really started with the Capitol Police, Eddy said. “Every event like this has a lead agency,” he explained: “one group who’s responsible, ultimately, for what’s going to happen.” In this case, it was the Capitol Police. They failed to prepare their officers — many of whom were in ordinary uniforms rather than helmets and riot gear — and they failed to prepare in advance for the federal reinforcements they would need, Eddy said. “They obviously failed to understand what the threat was going to be.””

“Many of the rioters had a lot in common with the officials in charge of doing threat assessments in the days and weeks ahead of the riot, he explained: “They probably were very similar in race, probably very similar in income, probably very similar religious beliefs.” That includes a number of rioters who are law enforcement themselves. Departments around the country have suspended officers for their involvement in the riot.

The failure to anticipate the violence of January 6 was a “failure to imagine that folks who look like you, who probably think like you, are going to come do something that’s wildly different than what you’d want to do, and they’re going to try to kill you in the process,” Eddy said.

And it wasn’t just about failure to prepare. While some Capitol Police officers were assaulted by rioters, others appeared to aid or at least do little to stop them, with one officer taking a selfie with a rioter (he has since been suspended, Rep. Tim Ryan confirmed on Monday) and others appearing to move aside barricades to let them get closer to the Capitol.”

““On one hand, different groups of people are deemed a threat when maybe they’re not because they’re peacefully protesting, whereas a group of rioters full of domestic terrorists are not seen as a threat,” Karim said. Addressing that “is going to take transformational change.””