Mark Sumner

Trump officials bragged about blocking scientists from accurately reporting on COVID-19

It's not certain that Donald Trump did everything wrong when it comes to handling COVID-19, but he certainly tried. Not only did Trump promote false cures and downplay effective strategies, he deliberately avoided creating a national testing plan because he thought this would lead to a greater number of deaths in Democratically controlled states. That action alone meets the U.N. definition for genocide, and researchers have set the number of unnecessary deaths in the U.S. at 400,000.

But Trump didn't do it alone. At every step, he had the assistance of Republicans inside and outside the White House who worked with Trump downplay the threat, misdirect public concerns, and mock serious efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19. That included not just sidelining serious officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci and inserting unqualified Trump supporters like Scott Atlas, but forcing officials within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies to either suppress information or alter statements.

A year later the House select subcommittee on the pandemic and its handling is finally getting a look at some of those internal calculations and decisions. The Washington Post has acquired copies of documents before that committee showing Trump officials pressured agencies and scientists to change their reporting to the public. Then those officials celebrated the fact that the nation had been duped.

In particular, the emails between former Health and Human Services (HHS) Public Affairs Chief Michael Caputo and former Science Adviser Paul Alexander show these officials working to force the CDC to make changes in reports on how COVID-19 spread. Then they celebrated their victory with a "yippee." Alexander also managed to make changes in the "sacrosanct" Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) to tone down the apparent damage done by COVID-19.

Even then, the changes to some reports—in particular one about how the disease was spread among young people—weren't enough to make Alexander and Caputo happy. So they worked with Atlas to create op-eds to "preempt the story" and promote the idea that schools could be opened safely. That included a fishing expedition in which they sought to throw out unfounded numbers about how closing schools was causing more death than it was preventing.

"I know the President wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening," wrote Caputo. "We need solid estimates to be able to say something like: 50,000 more cancer deaths! 40,000 more heart attacks! 25,000 more suicides!"

There does not appear to be any factual basis behind these numbers. Alexander, Caputo, and Atlas understood Trump's goal: He wanted the schools open no matter what, so they created a stream of fear, uncertainty, and doubt for the purposes of justifying that action.

In September of 2020, The New York Times reported on how Caputo and Alexander worked together to bully and silence scientists. For example, when 32-year-year CDC veteran Dr. Anne Schuchat made an appeal to Americans to wear masks, saying, "We have too much virus across the country," Alexander went on the attack. In an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association, Alexander claimed that Schuchat's real goal was to embarrass Trump. Alexander called her "duplicitous," said that the threat of COVID-19 to children was "zero," and stated of Schuchat, "She has lied." Working together with Caputo, Alexander attempted to stifle Schuchat by threatening to hang all the deaths connected to the H1N1 virus on her decisions.

Select Committee Chair Rep. James Clyburn has written to both Alexander and Atlas stating: "Our investigation has shown that Trump Administration officials engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the nation's public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, overruling and bullying scientists and making harmful decisions that allowed the virus to spread more rapidly." The committee is now seeking testimony from both Alexander and Atlas.

Caputo—a nonscientist whose work as a media adviser included a stint in which he was hired to approve the image of Vladimir Putin—put himself on medical leave in September. When he did so, he apologized to many members of the HHS staff and admitted that he had not read some of the reports he had pressured people to alter. However, this did not come before Caputo posted a Facebook video in which he claimed there were "hit squads being trained all over this country" for an armed revolt against Trump's second term. He also claimed those hit squads were going to come after him personally. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with throat cancer. It's unclear if Caputo will be asked to testify.

During the 2016 campaign, Caputo worked for Trump while maintaining offices in both Miami Beach, Florida, and Moscow, Russia. He previously worked for Trump in creating an AstroTurf campaign to make it look as if people wanted Trump to buy the Buffalo Bills.

Clyburn has requested that Alexander and Atlas appear before the committee by May 3. Considering the documentation shows they deliberately sought to alter scientific reports and pressure scientists into providing the answers they wanted, it would not be surprising if getting Alexander and Atlas to show requires a court fight.

What's both amazing and distressing is how all of these men took their obligation to support Trump to be greater than their obligation to protect public health, even when they knew the scope of the threat. Trump said many times that he sought personal loyalty above everything else. He got it.

Black Army Lt. pulled over, terrorized, and beaten even though police knew he'd done nothing wrong

Last December, Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario was on his way home with a new SUV when the lights of a police car appeared behind him. Rather than pull over on a narrow, darkened street, he proceeded just over one minute, and less than one mile, down the road and pull into the parking lot of a gas station. There he was confronted by two police officers who proceeded to hold him at gun point, pepper spray him through the window of his vehicle, and threaten him with death.

According to the Associated Press, Windsor, Virginia police officer Daniel Crocker radioed that he was pulling Nazario over because his vehicle lacked a license plate and had tinted windows. He also described Nazario's one minute, low-speed drive to the parking lot as "eluding police." This, to Crocker, justified calling the stop a "high-risk felony traffic stop." Which justified calling for backup and approaching the car with gun drawn.

Except that the temporary tag for Nazario's recently purchased vehicle was clearly displayed in the rear window of the SUV. If Crocker had missed it initially, it seems impossible that he would have not seen it either during that "pursuit" conducted well below the speed limit. It's also clearly visible as the car sits under the lights of the parking lot. By the time Crocker approached Nazario's vehicle, he had to know that, if there ever had been any justification for the stop, that reason no longer applied.

Crocker might have stepped up, explained that he had missed seeing the tag initially, and sent Nazario on his way with an apology. Instead, he was joined by a second officer, Joe Gutierrez, and together the two terrorized Lt. Nazario … while never actually filing any charges.

Gutierrez reportedly saw Lt. Nazario's car pull into the parking lot, which he admitted was a common occurrence. It was something that happens, "a lot, and 80% of the time, it's a minority." If there was any doubt about why a person of color might feel the need to pull over in an area that's well lit, and where there are potential witnesses, the Windsor police soon made the reason clear.

In the bodycam video (some of which has to be watched at YouTube due to age restrictions), both Crocker and Gutierrez can be seen pointing their guns at Lt. Nazario—with Gutierrez adopting a kind of sideways, faux-gangsta style as he waggles the barrel at the uniformed Army officer's face. Gutierrez then begins to tell Lt. Nazario, "you're under arrest right now for,,," stops himself, and then says, "you're being detained for obstruction of justice."

At this point, Lt. Nazario is holding both hands out the open window and asking what is going on. Gutierrez pepper sprays him through the window. As Lt. Nazario winces and pulls back, Gutierrez steps in and gives the lieutenant an extra little toot of spray directly in his face.

After Nazario opens the door— a process delayed because as one officer is telling him to open the door, the other is shouting at Nazario to keep his hands up — Gutierrez orders him to get out of the car. "What are you?" says Gutierrez. "A specialist? A corporal?" naming two lower ranks.

"I'm a lieutenant," said Nazario. Who then informs him that he's afraid to step out, or even reach for his seat belt, and again asks what's going on.

"I'm honestly afraid to get out," says Lt. Nazario.

"Yeah, you should be!" says one of the officers.

Finally pulled from the car, Lt. Nazario is forced to the ground by Crocker and Gutierrez. Still without being told why he was stopped, and even as he is begging for some help for his dog, who was in the car and choking from exposure to pepper spray. In the middle of this, Gutierrez tells Nazario that he is about to "ride the lightning," an expression usually connected to someone being executed in the electric chair.

Lt. Nazario was beaten, handcuffed, and held for interrogation while one of the officers searched his car without a warrant. The two officers threaten to charge Nazario with eluding police, obstructing justice, and assaulting an officer … but they don't. Instead, one expresses concern about the Army learning about the arrest and says he'll let Nazario go if he will "chill."

Nazario has launched a lawsuit against the Windsor police. Both Crocker and Gutierrez still work for the Windsor police department. Neither has been suspended for their actions.


Lawsuit: Windsor, Virginia police officers threatened Navy sailor during stop www.youtube.com

South Carolina's governor revives the language of racism in the past to defend racism in the present

Republicans aren't making any secret of their approach to winning future elections. It has nothing to do with coming up with better positions. Nothing to do with expanding their base. It has everything to do with restricting the number of people allowed to vote and creating those restrictions in such a way that they favor the rural white population that is increasingly the only stronghold of the Republican Party.

The structure of both the Senate and the Electoral College already gives Republicans an unwarranted advantage by discounting voters in more populous states and elevating the votes of those who live in the least populous states. With each passing year, that lopsided valuing of voters grows. However, it's clear that Republicans are completely aware that this is not enough to save them. In order to preserve any chance of Republican victory, not just at the national level, but in a growing number of states, they need a system that makes in-state voting as unequal as federal voting. And then some.

That's why, as of April 1, there were 361 bills spread across 47 states with the pure intention of making it harder for Americans to vote in local, state, and federal elections. That's why conservative magazines are openly making a plea for "fewer, better voters." And it's why South Carolina's governor is using language that's lifted straight from not just the era in which men like him fought openly against extending voting rights in the 1960s, but from the time men like him fought against freedom in the 1860s.

On Tuesday afternoon, the all-too-appropriately named Gov. Henry McMaster delivered a speech in which he threatens to defy federal law in order to uphold the "constitutional sovereignty" of South Carolina because the federal government is seeking to protect equal rights for Black citizens. Sometimes history doesn't just rhyme, it recycles.

The direct target of McMaster's ire is House bill H.R. 1, also known as the For The People Act. The legislation is designed to provide more uniform access to the polls, and to prevent Republicans from throwing up the kind of voting roadblocks enshrined in the new Georgia law. It also happens to be the subject of Sen. Raphael Warnock's first floor speech.

Republicans have no illusion about H.R. 1. They know it represents a substantial threat to exactly the sort of suppression that is absolutely necessary for them to long maintain any semblance of power. But the card that McMaster is playing is something beyond Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp making false claims about the legislation passed there.

Here is McMaster explaining his position (and I encourage you to spent a minute listening to it).

"This bill, H.R. 1, threatens the constitutional sovereignty of the state of South Carolina. And those are not just words. That's very important. This country, our state, is built on the sovereignty of the states. This bill takes that away. Like others, I have sworn an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of this state, and the United States. An oath, 'So help me God.' Many of you have taken such an oath. As long as I am governor, I will stand against those who seek to infringe or deny South Carolinians their Constitutional protections, freedom, and liberty."

If that language tickles something deep, compare it to this 1956 article from The Asheville Citizen.

"South Carolina was today one step away from interposing its claimed constitutional sovereignty between its schools and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against their segregation. The general assembly ordered final action on the resolution which should reach Gov. Timmerman for his promised signature next Tuesday. Thus South Carolina becomes the third state to resort to this old, but never completely tested, doctrine that the federal government cannot enforce acts a state claims are unconstitutional."

And it that doesn't completely silence the "where have I heard that before" buzzer, how about this:

"In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; … expressly declaring, in the first Article 'that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence..."

That's from the statement issued when South Carolina become the first state to officially secede from the United States on December 20, 1860. The language it cites isn't actually from the Constitution, but the 1777 Articles of Confederation—a name that was soon to be recycled.

In 1956, Gov. Timmerman actually signed that "imposition" bill. He then joined the governors of Mississippi, Georgia, and Virginia to promote federal legislation that would prevent "federal encroachment" on state sovereignty. That included not just segregation of schools, but sustaining segregations in other public facilities. Timmerman also signed a law which barred members of the NAACP from holding any public job in South Carolina.

The language Gov. McMaster is using is a deliberate callback to those previous statements. South Carolina used the concept and language of "state sovereignty" to keep Black Americans in bondage. They used that same language to defend segregation. They're using it now to deny voting rights. McMaster could not have been more clear in his racist intent had he made his speech while aiming a canon at Ft. Sumter.

It's easy to believe that Donald Trump had no accomplishments in his four years, unless the needless death of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the shattering of trust around the world counts as an "accomplishment." But for Republicans, Trump actually did provide them with a gift. His unabashed willingness to embrace racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia has provided them with a certain, noxious version of "freedom." One in which they are free to drop their dog whistles for bullhorns and to say "the quiet things" out loud.

In response to the decision to secede, former South Carolina state Attorney General James Petigru famously said this of his state: "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum." McMaster may not be quite at the point of testing the former, but his statements certainly come close to challenging the latter.

Robert Redfield proves he never should have been in charge of the CDC

This week, former CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield declared that he believes that COVID-19 originated in a lab. Also this week, the former head of Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui, was booted from the board of the GlaxoSmithKline following charges of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct. Neither of these events says anything about the origins of the virus or the efficacy of the vaccines. But it does say something about the quality of the people Donald Trump hired to see America through a crisis.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there were rumors and conspiracy theories about the origin of the disease. The simple fact that the first major outbreak occurred in the Wuhan region of China was enough to launch a thousand "biolabs" claims, and to give Trump fuel for endless racist memes that are definitely connected to the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. There were also claims that the virus had been circulating in humans much longer than then the official date of the last few weeks of 2019.

However, we know these things are not true. We've known this from before the pandemic was a pandemic. What Redfield's statements and Slauoi's dismissal make clear—again—is that Trump was more interested in appointing people to position who demonstrated loyalty to Trump, rather than any degree of competence for their role.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus was sequenced in January 2020, Analysis immediately showed that virus is, as the name implies, very similar to the SARS-CoV virus that causes the disease SARS. And both of them are in turn nearly identical to viruses that are endemic within bats. Specifically, to the family that includes horseshoe bats, which are found in tropical areas of Asia and Africa. The virus behind COVID-19 is the seventh coronavirus to have become infectious within humans. Three of those viruses can cause severe disease. Both previous coronaviruses that cause serious disease within humans came from bats. And by March 2020, scientists had a very good idea of SARS-CoV-2's origin; it was not a lab.

Redfield's entire basis for claiming that COVID-19 didn't come straight from bats is that it's too infectious. In his interview with CNN, the former CDC director insists that it takes time for viruses "to figure out" how to become more efficient in humans. And to some extent, that last part is true; viruses do tend to become more contagious over time. That is, in fact, the only evolutionary pressure on viruses.

However, that statement ignores a huge amount of evidence about COVID-19. For one thing, the virus is definitely not human specific. Cases have been found of it spreading to close relatives like gorillas, as well as far more distantly related mammals like tigers and domestic pets. COVID-19 is not, or at least did not start out as, a human specialist. Its tool kit of proteins allow it to infect almost any mammal. What has happened over time—as we've seen with the European variant, the UK variant, the South African Variant, and the Brazilian variant—is that SARS-CoV-2 is constantly becoming better at spreading from person to person.

Something like that likely happened at the beginning, as well. In fact, people may have become exposed to, or even infected by, versions of the SARS-CoV virus for years before a version appeared that was infectious person-to-person. Imagine a situation in which people exposed to horseshoe bats were frequently getting infected with a precursor virus, and producing trillions of copies … but none of them were efficient at spreading that infection to another person. Then, one day late in 2019, someone gets infected by this same virus, and a slight mutation does allow the state of human-to-human spread. This is very likely the actual situation.

One other thing we know is that the version of SARS-CoV-2 which spread around the world and causes COVID-19 wasn't circulating in the human population for an extensive period. We know that because all the early cases of COVID-19 that have been sequenced were almost genetically identical. That would not have been the case had the disease been widely circulating in the human population for months in advance of the recognized outbreak.

There are still serious questions about the origins of SARS-CoV-2 that need to be answered. For example, was there an earlier, related version of the virus, one that did not cause severe disease, which circulated among humans previous to 2020? This might account for reports of antibodies similar to those generated by SARS-CoV-2 showing up in blood samples outside of China in November of 2019.

Did the virus jump straight from bats to humans, or did what this particular virus percolate first in some "intermediate host" like the poor beleaguered pangolin, or in something as commonly raised and eaten as rabbits? Bats have unusual immune systems which makes them a unique viral reservoir, so it's important to know if these diseases are making a direct leap from bats, or if the "infects just about any mammal" feature of COVID-19 developed elsewhere.

These are exactly the sort of questions that are currently being addressed by the World Health Organization. It began an investigation of the origins of COVID-19 in 2020. That investigation has issued an initial report, a more extensive updated report, and a final report is scheduled to appear within days.

All of these reports, and all of the analysis that has been published, is in agreement on one thing: SARS-CoV-2 shows exactly the sort of structure that might have been expected from natural evolution from related viruses, and none of the fingerprints that might have been expected were that virus manipulated in a lab. Redfield's claims about scientists working with viruses to make them more contagious in order to make them easier to study, simply make no sense. How well virus is transmitted person to person has nothing at all to do with how easy it is to replicate that virus in a lab. And if Redfield is going to fall back on "I'm a virologist," he should be made to explain that basic flaw in his reasoning.

What Redfield is saying doesn't match the scientific data. It does, however, exactly match claims made by Donald Trump in April 2020. Trump became obsessed over the idea of "proving" that COVID-19 originated in a lab. He made such charges during those daily rant sessions that replaced functional briefings on the pandemic, and he instructed agencies—likely including Redfield—to get out there and find the proof he wanted. They didn't find that proof.

In response to Redfield's strange insistence on supporting a theory that's not just without evidence, but contrary to the evidence, Dr. Anthony Fauci stopped short of slapping down the former CDC chief. However, he made it clear that there was nothing unusual about the idea of a virus that had circulated in Wuhan through November and December becoming highly contagious by the time the outbreak took off in January.

What's apparently been forgotten now that Redfield is "the former director of the CDC" in every article or interview where he appears, is that Redfield never should have held that position in the first place. His biggest claim to fame was insisting that the Department of Defense conduct a huge program of HIV screening, not with the intent of helping anyone found infected, but as a means of purging LGBTQ+ people from the military. Redfield saw HIV infection as a sign of "immorality." He then followed this up with a program supporting an HIV treatment that didn't work.

At the CDC, Redfield was complicit in consistently weakening guidelines, and making it more difficult for scientists at the agency to put forward facts. And as late as September, he was telling Americans there would not be any COVID-19 vaccines until late 2021 (to Redfield's credit, he was also telling Americans that the same effect could be achieved if everyone wore masks).

Meanwhile, in seemingly unrelated news, Moncef Slaoui, who led Trump's Operation Warp Speed, was "terminated" from the board of his former employer after charges of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct. The allegations were investigated by GlaxoSmithKline, which says that it's investigation upheld the charges against Slaoui.

"Dr. Slaoui's behaviors are wholly unacceptable. They represent an abuse of his leadership position, violate company policies, and are contrary to the strong values that define GSK's culture."

Slaoui, at least, seemed to have a career that justified some level of trust when it came to appointing him to a high position in Trump's vaccine effort. However, his greatest achievements at GSK seem to have been in guiding the company in taking over other pharmaceutical firms. Once in charge of Operation Warp Speed, Slaoui took an approach that seemed to guarantee a vaccine shortage. Not only did OWS fail to secure enough vaccine for America, its largest investments were $1.6 billion for the Novavax vaccine, which is still not available, and $2.1 billion for a vaccine from Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline. That vaccine was sent back to square one in December, when it turned out to not generate a sufficient immune response.

At best, Slaoui made a huge mistake. At worst, this represents huge corruption from a former executive who still controls $10 million in GlaxoSmithKline stock. "I won't leave those shares," said Slaoui before giving his old company $2.1 billion, "because that's my retirement."

Retirement sounds like a good idea … for both Slaoui and Redfield. When CNN is looking for scientists who can shine some light on the COVID-19 vaccine, these two are among the last they should question.

COVID-19 long-haulers are a long-term cost of the pandemic that we've barely started to calculate

The count of COVID-19 cases in the United States has now passed 30 million. It's one of those numbers that seems like it should mark a milestone, but … there have been so many milestones. A year after the start of the pandemic, it's easy at this point to feel as if the whole thing is on the edge of ending. It's spring. There's vaccine. And the nightmare is almost over. Except, of course, for the fact that the rate of new cases and deaths is now right where it was in November 2020, just before it exploded into the largest peak so far.

But even if the race between vaccine and pandemic fatigue falls to the side of not starting another big surge in cases, some people just can't seem to shake off the effects of COVID-19. Right from the start, it was clear from doctors in Wuhan, and then South Korea, and then Italy, and then the United States that while a course of illness lasting less than two weeks might be typical, some patients were being laid low by the SARS-CoV-2 virus for an extended period. Some of this was easy to see in the form of patients who remained on ventilators for day after day. But some of it was a lot more subtle.

A year in, the term "long-hauler" has entered the vocabulary in a way that has nothing to do with trucking. Those exposed to COVID-19 are showing a wide array of symptoms, some of which are genuinely debilitating, or even life-threatening, long after they've supposedly cleared the virus from their systems. And for some patients, serious and long-term problems are occurring even though the disease itself was apparently mild or asymptomatic.

The idea that there may be long-term consequences from COVID-19 is one that doctors were reluctant to accept at first. But it shouldn't have been. Back in 2010, researchers in Hong Kong took a look at people who had come down with SARS during the 2003 outbreak. Almost all of them showed significant impairment of breathing functions seven years later, with an average rate of function over 20% lower than should have been expected. These were not elderly patients, but mostly younger people, and many had not been the most severely affected at the time of infection.

SARS-CoV-2 is closely related to SARS-CoV. Their names alone suggest that close relationship, and genetic analysis has confirmed it many times. So it shouldn't be surprising that both coronaviruses don't depart "cleanly." They leave behind lingering damage that we're only starting to understand. In the case of SARS, the relatively small number of people affected made it possible to overlook the damage this disease had done to their lives. However, with so many people infected by COVID-19, the long-term effects of the disease may represent a huge long-term challenge to both the healthcare system and the economy, as well as the individuals involved.

While the SARS study was limited to looking at lung function, the actual effects of COVID-19 (and likely, of SARS) go far beyond the respiratory system. A new study from Northwestern Medicine found that 85% of COVID-19 long haulers suffered from multiple neurological symptoms. The most common symptom is so-called "brain fog," that includes muddled thinking and forgetfulness. Large number of patients also reported headaches, numbness in parts of their body, muscle pains or weakness, and disorders of taste and smell. That last issue wasn't always a complete loss of those senses. In some cases it was mixed-up signals, with things having unpleasant or simply wrong smells and taste. It was as if COVID-19 had rewired these senses. Badly.

As The New York Times reports, a study from California found almost a third of former COVID-19 patients facing symptoms like shortness of breath, continued coughing, or abdominal pain. This included patients who were supposedly "asymptomatic" during the period where they were actively infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. For some patients, symptoms did not begin until well after they should have been "over" any illness.

The wide variety of symptoms post-infection mirrors the baffling array of symptoms and systems affected during active infections. As Americans have learned over the past year, when it comes to COVID-19, everything seems to be a symptom. And even when it seems that nothing is wrong … that could also be a symptom.

The Atlantic began reporting about COVID-19 long-haulers last August, at a time when some officials (and media outlets) seemed scornful of the idea that a disease which was originally thought of as a respiratory infection could cause such a list of lingering illnesses. However, it's become clear that the inflammation and blood clots generated by COVID-19 can affect almost any part of the body. That realization required both a reassessment of what constituted high-risk factors for the disease, and now it's propelling a fresh look at those who are still falling ill weeks or months after infection.

In a follow-up article at the beginning of March, researchers interviewed by The Atlantic offered a new name for what may be wrong with many COVID-19 long-haulers: dysautonomia. This is a condition where systems that regulate the autonomic nervous system have failed, which could explain another cluster of symptoms that some long-haulers are experiencing: high blood pressure, chills, and periods of very rapid heart rate. But even dysautonomia is just a description of an effect. It's not a cause. A real understanding of what's behind the symptoms of COVID-19's lingering effects, and how best to treat them, is still ahead.

What's clear is that the pandemic will leave a lingering social and economic cost that goes beyond just the number of dead. Of those 30 million infected, millions are going to have symptoms that are completely or partially debilitating for a period of months. Some, like SARS patients, may be still be operating at well below their expected capacity years later. Some may never fully recover. That's going to represent both a long-term demand on the healthcare system, and a long-term reduction in productivity, that—like everything else about events of the last year—may be unprecedented.

Though there is one odd sign of hope: As CNN reports, some of those expressing long-term symptoms have apparently improved after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. It's unclear why waking up the immune system to fight this virus again should have an effect on people whose tests show no active virus … but then, the whole long-hauler issue is poorly understood. And if it works for at least some people, then that's a good thing.

The costs of the pandemic that we've barely started to calculate

The count of COVID-19 cases in the United States has now passed 30 million. It's one of those numbers that seems like it should mark a milestone, but … there have been so many milestones. A year after the start of the pandemic, it's easy at this point to feel as if the whole thing is on the edge of ending. It's spring. There's vaccine. And the nightmare is almost over. Except, of course, for the fact that the rate of new cases and deaths is now right where it was in November 2020, just before it exploded into the largest peak so far.

But even if the race between vaccine and pandemic fatigue falls to the side of not starting another big surge in cases, some people just can't seem to shake off the effects of COVID-19. Right from the start, it was clear from doctors in Wuhan, and then South Korea, and then Italy, and then the United States that while a course of illness lasting less than two weeks might be typical, some patients were being laid low by the SARS-CoV-2 virus for an extended period. Some of this was easy to see in the form of patients who remained on ventilators for day after day. But some of it was a lot more subtle.

A year in, the term "long-hauler" has entered the vocabulary in a way that has nothing to do with trucking. Those exposed to COVID-19 are showing a wide array of symptoms, some of which are genuinely debilitating, or even life-threatening, long after they've supposedly cleared the virus from their systems. And for some patients, serious and long-term problems are occurring even though the disease itself was apparently mild or asymptomatic.

The idea that there may be long-term consequences from COVID-19 is one that doctors were reluctant to accept at first. But it shouldn't have been. Back in 2010, researchers in Hong Kong took a look at people who had come down with SARS during the 2003 outbreak. Almost all of them showed significant impairment of breathing functions seven years later, with an average rate of function over 20% lower than should have been expected. These were not elderly patients, but mostly younger people, and many had not been the most severely affected at the time of infection.

SARS-CoV-2 is closely related to SARS-CoV. Their names alone suggest that close relationship, and genetic analysis has confirmed it many times. So it shouldn't be surprising that both coronaviruses don't depart "cleanly." They leave behind lingering damage that we're only starting to understand. In the case of SARS, the relatively small number of people affected made it possible to overlook the damage this disease had done to their lives. However, with so many people infected by COVID-19, the long-term effects of the disease may represent a huge long-term challenge to both the healthcare system and the economy, as well as the individuals involved.

While the SARS study was limited to looking at lung function, the actual effects of COVID-19 (and likely, of SARS) go far beyond the respiratory system. A new study from Northwestern Medicine found that 85% of COVID-19 long haulers suffered from multiple neurological symptoms. The most common symptom is so-called "brain fog," that includes muddled thinking and forgetfulness. Large number of patients also reported headaches, numbness in parts of their body, muscle pains or weakness, and disorders of taste and smell. That last issue wasn't always a complete loss of those senses. In some cases it was mixed-up signals, with things having unpleasant or simply wrong smells and taste. It was as if COVID-19 had rewired these senses. Badly.

As The New York Times reports, a study from California found almost a third of former COVID-19 patients facing symptoms like shortness of breath, continued coughing, or abdominal pain. This included patients who were supposedly "asymptomatic" during the period where they were actively infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. For some patients, symptoms did not begin until well after they should have been "over" any illness.

The wide variety of symptoms post-infection mirrors the baffling array of symptoms and systems affected during active infections. As Americans have learned over the past year, when it comes to COVID-19, everything seems to be a symptom. And even when it seems that nothing is wrong … that could also be a symptom.

The Atlantic began reporting about COVID-19 long-haulers last August, at a time when some officials (and media outlets) seemed scornful of the idea that a disease which was originally thought of as a respiratory infection could cause such a list of lingering illnesses. However, it's become clear that the inflammation and blood clots generated by COVID-19 can affect almost any part of the body. That realization required both a reassessment of what constituted high-risk factors for the disease, and now it's propelling a fresh look at those who are still falling ill weeks or months after infection.

In a follow-up article at the beginning of March, researchers interviewed by The Atlantic offered a new name for what may be wrong with many COVID-19 long-haulers: dysautonomia. This is a condition where systems that regulate the autonomic nervous system have failed, which could explain another cluster of symptoms that some long-haulers are experiencing: high blood pressure, chills, and periods of very rapid heart rate. But even dysautonomia is just a description of an effect. It's not a cause. A real understanding of what's behind the symptoms of COVID-19's lingering effects, and how best to treat them, is still ahead.

What's clear is that the pandemic will leave a lingering social and economic cost that goes beyond just the number of dead. Of those 30 million infected, millions are going to have symptoms that are completely or partially debilitating for a period of months. Some, like SARS patients, may be still be operating at well below their expected capacity years later. Some may never fully recover. That's going to represent both a long-term demand on the healthcare system, and a long-term reduction in productivity, that—like everything else about events of the last year—may be unprecedented.

Though there is one odd sign of hope: As CNN reports, some of those expressing long-term symptoms have apparently improved after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. It's unclear why waking up the immune system to fight this virus again should have an effect on people whose tests show no active virus … but then, the whole long-hauler issue is poorly understood. And if it works for at least some people, then that's a good thing.

Why the GOP threat over calling witnesses reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of Trump's impeachment

Lindsey Graham, who is, just as evidence that we have not yet exited the worst timeline, still the chair of Senate judiciary committee, went on Fox News Monday evening to deliver a threat. Should House impeachment managers attempt to call a single witness during Trump's trial before the Senate, Republican senators are going to want witnesses of their own. Which could make this trial last just ages.

But this time around Graham isn't threatening to call witnesses about such non sequiturs as what Hunter Biden did in Ukraine. Instead the threat is much stranger. If Democrats call even a single witness, it will "open up Pandora's Box," according to Graham. Because Republicans will "want the FBI to come in and tell us about how people actually pre-planned this attack." It's a threat that's not only not a threat, it's one that shows that Graham hasn't actually read the impeachment documents.

The reason that Graham, and other Republicans, are putting forward "calling in the FBI" as a threat is because of a very simple theme they've been repeating since before Trump was actually impeached, again, in the House. If the impeachment is all about Trump inciting the mob that marched on the Capitol, murdered a police officer, and ultimately caused more American deaths than Benghazi while erecting a gallows on the lawn; then the fact that many of those insurgents came prepared for sedition means it's not Trump's fault.

Not only is that argument completely foolish on its face, it ignores what's actually in the impeachment. The supporting materials submitted to the Senate make it explicitly clear that there is more to Trump's impeachment than a single morning or a single speech.

In the months leading up to January 6, 2021 President Trump engaged in a course of conduct designed to encourage and provoke his supporters to gather in Washington, D.C. and obstruct the process of the electoral votes that would confirm his defeat. That conduct spanned months and included frivolous and harassing lawsuits, direct threats to state and local officials, and false public statements to his supporters, all in an effort to incite his supporters into believing it was their patriotic duty to attack Congress and prevent the peaceful transition of power.

The incitement over which Trump was impeached took place not just on the morning of Jan. 6, but in the preceding months. During those months, Trump repeatedly lied about the outcome of the election, fed a rising tide of rage among his supporters with claims he knew were false, told white supremacist militias to "stand by," and called on his forces to gather on the day when electoral votes were counted for a "wild" event.

As the impeachment makes clear, Trump acted to "undermine confidence in the results of the election, spread dangerous disinformation, and stoke false and wild conspiracy theories." The whole body of that action is the reason for Trump's impeachment and the subject of his trial before the Senate. Trump specifically and repeatedly pointed out Mike Pence and members of Congress as targets for the hatred of the supporters he had inflamed with a stream of continuous lies.

So why does Graham think calling the FBI to speak to how the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and others came prepared to storm the Capitol and seek congressional hostages is somehow a threat to the Democratic case? That's because from the very beginning Republicans—and especially Republicans appearing on Fox and other right-wing media—have been repeating a claim that the impeachment is all about Trump inciting the march on the Capitol in his speech at the "Stop the Steal" rally that morning. According to the framing they've been selling Fox viewers, if Trump didn't expressly tell people to invade the Capitol that morning, he wasn't really responsible. And if any of the treasonous mob came prepared to violence, it's proof that the insurgency was not Trump's fault.

Unfortunately for Graham and others, this reading of the impeachment is as fantastical as the lies Trump told leading up to Jan. 6. The impeachment makes it clear that Trump worked for months to build anger and hatred among his supporters though repeated lies about the election. Trump supporters began planning violence against election supervisors in both Nevada and in Pennsylvania within hours of Trump standing up in the early hours of Nov. 4 to falsely claim victory. Trump encouraged that violence in every statement, every rally, every tweet between the election and Jan. 6. Trump didn't even disown the invaders while they were inside the Capitol, stepping out to say "we love you" and calling them "very special."

If Lindsey Graham thinks that calling the FBI is some kind of threat … call them. Call in the agents that have been imbedded with the Proud Boys and Ohio Militia. Call in the agents that have been warning of the increased threat of white supremacist violence, only to have their warnings swatted down. Call them all. If what it takes to purge Trump from the system is pouring out all the poison in public, let's do that.

It shouldn't be required. As Graham says in his interview on Fox, he "knows what happened that day." It should be more than enough to convict Trump and remove the possibility that he will ever again hold public office. But if it's not … witnesses, sir. Let us have the witnesses.

McConnell is terrified of Trump. Why isn't he worried about a center-right Republican revolt?

When Mitch McConnell gave a hint that—following that little thing where violent Trump supporters engaged in a deadly insurgency where they pushed aside police and went roaming the halls of Congress for congressional hostages—it might possibly, maybe, be okay to, just this once, hold Donald Trump accountable for inciting sedition, the response was simple. Trump broke out a few Patriot Party pins, hinting that he and his remaining followers might just slink away to some place where they were free to stage all the insurrections they liked without the pesky threat of someone wiggling The Finger of Concern. That was all it took to snap McConnell and crew back into line. Only five Republicans in the Senate were even willing to allow that impeaching Trump is constitutional, a question that is about as controversial as "is the sky blue?"

The ease with which Trump's threat to shave some fraction of the party's voters away generated boot-clicks (and licks), raises the question: Why doesn't someone else do this? It's possible to debate whether "sane conservative party" is an oxymoron, but back before the election—and even before the previous election—there were plenty of Republicans who claimed they were ready to pull up stakes and start a new party to save the old Grand Old.

So why haven't they?

Here's conservative author Tom Nichols writing in The Atlantic back in September 2020.

I was a Republican for most of my adult life.
[…]
I understand the attachment to that GOP, even among those who have sworn to defeat Donald Trump, but the time for sentimentality is over. That party is long gone. Today the Republicans are the party of "American carnage" and Russian collusion, of scams, plots, and weapons-grade contempt for the rule of law. The only decent, sensible, and conservative position is to vote against this Republican Party at every level, and bring the sad final days of a once-great political institution to an end. Then build the party back up again—from scratch.

Instead, argues Nichols, sensible conservatives should allow the GOP to crash and burn, so that it can be resurrected or replaced by a new "center-right party."

A month later, conservative pundit Max Boot pulled out one of history's most famous misquotes to make his point.

"We had to destroy the village in order to save it." That famous, if probably apocryphal, quote from the Vietnam War describes how I feel about the Republican Party. We have to destroy the party in order to save it.
As a lifelong Republican until Nov. 9, 2016 — and as a foreign policy adviser to three Republican presidential candidates—it gives me no joy to write those words. It's true that the party had long-standing problems—conspiracy-mongering, racism, hostility toward science—that Donald Trump was able to exploit. But he has also exacerbated all of those maladies, just as he made the coronavirus outbreak much worse than it needed to be.

Instead, says Boot, America needs a … sane center-right party.

Then in December, well after the election, when it was clear Trump was going to keep clawing away at the party no matter what, the Never Trumpers' never Trump Evan McMullin popped up in The New York Times to keep on pounding that drum.

So what's next for Republicans who reject their party's attempts to incinerate the Constitution in the service of one man's authoritarian power grabs? Where is our home now?
The answer is that we must further develop an intellectual and political home, for now, outside of any party. From there, we can continue working with other Americans to defeat Mr. Trump's heirs, help offer unifying leadership to the country and, if the Republican Party continues on its current path, launch a party to challenge it directly.

These are far from the only voices to raise the idea of walking away from the Republican Party of Trump and taking their ball elsewhere. Though in the immediate aftermath of Trump's election Republicans were still talking about just waiting him out then dragging the party back to center, everyone acknowledges that this is no longer possible. The Republican Party isn't just a party led by Trump, it's a party about Trump. With ideas and a foundation that goes no deeper than Trump's.

And why not? It may be easy to see that under Trump Republicans managed to lose the House, then the White House, then the Senate. What's less clear is how thoroughly they've cleansed their institutional memory. Of Republicans now serving in the House, 85% have never served under a Republican president who was not Donald Trump. He is all that they know.

That may explain why most congressional Republicans are so quick to roll over when Trump snaps his fingers. It doesn't explain why no one has followed through on the plan that conservatives have been talking up since before Trump took office. A whole cadre of Republicans from Jeff Flake to Justin Amash left the GOP—and their positions in Congress—after getting crossways with Trump. None of them has been out there on the hustings ringing the bell for the New Center-Right Party of Traditional Republican Dreams.

Donald Trump may not be able to get an accused pedophile elected in Alabama, or boost an inside trader back to office in Georgia. But he has demonstrated repeatedly that he can raise the temperature of his supporters high enough to knock good candidates out of Republican primaries. And there's no doubt that Trump means it when he says he lives for revenge. Whether it's Mitt Romney or Liz Cheney, every single Republican who supported Trump's impeachment (#1 or #2) is certain to get meet a frothing Trump supporter in their next primary.

So why don't they beat Trump at his own game? Why aren't Romney and Murkowski parked in McConnell's office letting him know that, unless he encourages the party to wake up and smell reality, they're going to start a new party? Bring in Flake. Bring in Amash. Enlist the pens of all those pundits and the pocketbooks of the Lincoln Project. Put up a New Republican Party candidate for every House and Senate seat.

After all, their threat is just as good as Trump's. They don't have to be able to win. They don't even have to be able to swing a majority of Republicans with them. In a lot of districts they'd need to persuade just 10%, or 5%, or 2% of Republicans to join them to make sure the GOP loses a slot. And that's what all those pundits and former officeholders and real red Republicans have been saying—the party needs to get a few shots until it wakes up and comes back to itself.

So again, why aren't they doing it? The biggest reason is … they don't really mean it. Or at least they don't mean it enough to put in more work that writing a guest column.

Josh Hawley planned a Florida fundraiser to fatten his PAC. It's definitely not going well

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley always wanted national attention, and he's certainly been in the spotlight over the last two weeks. However, being the poster boy for supporting a deadly insurgency in which violent white nationalists attempted to overthrow the government of the United States is probably not what he was looking for. Probably. Because in a far-too-large segment of the Republican Party, cheering on extremists out to kill members of Congress is a good thing.

Rather than resign, as pundits, billboards, and newspapers across Missouri (and the nation) have been demanding, Hawley has been trying to take advantage of this moment in the way that's typical of a Republican caught doing something utterly vile. He's fundraising. In addition to sending out email solicitations on the same day his white nationalist pals stormed the Capitol, Hawley lined up a winter getaway to Florida. There ,Republican snowbirds could kick back for what Hawley described as a "family friendly" bit of fascism, all for the low, low price of $5,000 for his unlimited PAC.

But it looks like Hawley is going to have to reschedule, or at least relocate. Because the announced site of this shindig has taken Senator Sedition to the shed.

The intended site of Hawley's gathering was the Orlando Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.

Hawley

But when several people sent word to Loews, making it clear exactly what this gathering was about, the hotel chain had an immediate response.

"Horrified and opposed to" is exactly the attitude everyone should have about Josh Hawley.

These Republican representatives are accused of helping to plan January 6 insurrection

It's obvious that many Republicans—including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz in the Senate, and dozens in the House, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy—actively inflamed Donald Trump's white supremacist mob and encouraged their deadly assault on the Capitol. However, it now seems that some Republicans in Congress may have done more than knowingly fan the flames. In the days since the rotunda was cleared of debris and the halls were cleaned of the literal human excrement smeared there by Trump's biggest fans, information has appeared that indicates some Republicans may have actively been involved in planning or carrying out the assault.

On Tuesday evening, Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill conducted a Facebook live session for her constituents during which explained her support resulting in calling on Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment. During that webcast, Sherrill made an astounding accusation. She claimed to have witnessed Republican members of Congress leading Trump supporters on, not a tour, but a "reconnaissance" of the Capitol. "We can't have a democracy," said Sherrill, "if members of Congress are actively helping the president overturn the elections results."

As reported by USA Today's northerjersey.com, Sherrill's accusation was as astounding as it was direct.


“Not only do I intend to see that the president is removed and never runs for office again and doesn't have access to classified material, I also intend to see that those members of Congress who abetted him; those members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol that I saw on Jan. 5—a reconnaissance for the next day; those members of Congress that incited this violent crowd; those members of Congress that attempted to help our president undermine our democracy; I'm going to see they are held accountable, and if necessary, ensure that they don't serve in Congress."

Sherrill has not so far detailed what she means by this reconnaissance, or given names of Republicans who were involved. However, it's become increasingly clear in the days since the insurrection that the situation at the Capitol was much more dire than was originally reported.
The accusations of involvement by Republican members of Congress aren't just coming from Democrats, they're coming from those who were involved in the assault.

As The Washington Post reports, Ali Alexander, the right-wing activist who formed the "Stop the Steal" movement, did so with the help of three Republican members of Congress: Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks, and Paul Gosar. "We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," said Alexander. Biggs' staff has denied any contact with Alexander—but the involvement of all three Republicans is certainly worthy of investigation.

Completely disowning Alexander's claims could be difficult. He and Gosar appeared together at a "Stop the Steal" rally in Phoenix on December 19. At that same rally, Alexander played a recorded message from Biggs, who he described as a "friend." In both the live and recorded messages, Gosar and Biggs singled out January 6 for action.

Gosar would go on to promote other "Stop the Steal" events more than a dozen times, as well as pumping out tweets and emails promoting the January 6 gathering in D.C. Typical of Gosar's statements was an op-ed on the site Revolver, Gosar called simply counting the legal electoral vote a "Third World coup d'etat." According to Gosar, Biden's win involved "statistically impossible" spikes in the voting and "We will not tolerate this." Far from distancing himself from Alexander's group, Gosar claimed ownership. "As many of you know, I helped organize the very first 'Stop the Steal' rally," he wrote. "… Patriotic warriors joined together to gather evidence and tell the Left we will not accept a coup and a usurper in the White House."

All three Republicans continued to be involved in "Stop the Steal." As The New York Times reports, In the hours immediately before the assault on the Capitol, Brooks addressed the "Stop the Steal" rally in D.C. "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," said Brooks. "Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?"

Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks are far from the only Republicans connected to Alexander's group, or the only ones who both inflamed Trump supporters through lies about the election and demands to attend the January 6 event.

On December 30, Alexander tweeted what would happen if Congress voted to approve the count of the Electoral College vote. "If they do this, everyone can guess what me and 500,000 others will do to that building. 1776 is always an option." The use of "1776" appeared in a number of statements from hard-line Trump representatives right up to the insurrection. Both Q-supporting Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert directly called the insurrection an "1776 moment."

On Tuesday evening, The Washington Post reports that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she feared some of her Republican colleagues would not only open the doors to rioters, but direct them straight to her. "I can tell you that I had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die," she said. "I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive." According to Ocasio-Cortez, she can't go into specifics because of security concerns. But it's clear there were very good reasons to be concerned. And it's clear that multiple Republicans in both the House and Senate did more than enough to justify removing them from the halls of Congress. In fact, several of them may well deserve a new office—in very small room surrounded by bars.

Wednesday, Jan 13, 2021 · 9:27:10 AM Eastern Standard Time · Mark Sumner


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