By Robert A. Vella
With seven weeks to go before the election, and after its “law and order” message failed to resonate with most Americans, the Trump disinformation campaign is going full-rogue with wild conspiratorial accusations, renewed attempts to downplay the severity of the coronavirus pandemic (despite Trump being caught on tape admitting so by journalist Bob Woodward), and absurd climate change denials in reaction to the record wildfires now devastating western states. President Trump’s reelection strategy defies electoral logic, doesn’t even offer the pretense of appealing to moderate voters, and instead resembles the defiant and hostile campaigns used by fascists in Europe during the 1920s-30s.
That resemblance to fascism is no coincidence.
Trump isn’t trying to persuade voters to support him. He isn’t trying to win democratically. He is attempting to hold onto power through deceit, intimidation, and collusion with a foreign antagonist. Above all, Trump is inciting his rabid followers as a cudgel to wield against the U.S. election system – and perhaps the judicial and political systems as well, to contest the likely outcome. He is also relying upon foreign interference from Vladimir Putin’s Russia which is already evident.
The 2020 election will surely test the mettle of America’s constitutional foundations and the character of its people. In a newly released opinion poll on values, there are very encouraging indications about Americans’ collective character. Not so encouraging is a new study on the long-term societal consequences of the COVID-19 contagion which could last for 25 years.
I’ve also included a couple of pictures taken from my residence yesterday about two hours before sunset. It shows hazardous air quality conditions from the wildfires which obscured the sun and has hung over our community for a week. Initially, the color of the sky was an ominous reddish-brown when humidity was extremely low; but, the sky color turned grey when high humidity returned. Regardless of humidity, these dense smoke conditions are worryingly unhealthy.
Trump’s disinformation campaign linked to Russia
President Trump’s first indoor rally in months was staged as a rebuke to Democrats he accuses of using coronavirus restrictions against him, but the campaign event in Nevada also prompted sharp denunciations from critics on Monday as a symbol of the president’s failure to effectively confront the deadly covid-19 crisis.
The Sunday night gathering came as the pandemic has caused at least 190,000 deaths in the United States, with the number expected to pass 200,000 sometime before Trump holds his next official campaign events on Friday. The Nov. 3 election had already become a referendum on the president’s often dismissive approach to the pandemic before revelations last week that he had told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward he knew the severity of the virus but preferred to play it down in public.
Trump’s address to a large and mostly mask-free crowd standing shoulder to shoulder indoors defied a Nevada public health ban on mass indoor events. It had been hastily moved inside a warehouse offered by a political supporter after the state and its Democratic governor sought to prevent a previously planned outdoor event that would have violated Nevada’s pandemic precaution rules.
Trump’s speech appeared to be a gamble that his defiance would energize his most loyal supporters, even at the risk of alienating more moderate voters he needs to win. Many around the president are acutely aware that a potential surge in coronavirus cases and deaths close to the election could be disastrous, according to campaign and White House aides, but they are mostly bowing to Trump’s desire to pack the house.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign staffer who now serves as spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, floated a series of conspiracy theories in a Facebook video reported by the New York Times.
According to the Times, in the video that aired Sunday Caputo baselessly accused scientists from the CDC of forming a “resistance unit” for “sedition” against President Donald Trump.
The comments come days after Politico reported that Caputo has led an effort to interfere with reporting on the coronavirus pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. House Democrats said Thursday they would be investigating “efforts by political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to block the publication of accurate scientific reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the coronavirus crisis.”
Caputo, a Trump loyalist you might recognize from many a fiery cable news segment, was appointed in April as spokesman for the HHS. Back then, he deleted a trove of tweets making offensive comments about Chinese people and floating conspiracy theories about the pandemic.
On September 11, Politico reported that Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, interfered in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reports on COVID-19 in order to make them conform to President Donald Trump’s claims about the pandemic. And Caputo, journalist Mary Papenfuss reports in HuffPost, is drawing scrutiny for another reason as well: his ties to the Kremlin.
Caputo, Papenfuss notes, lived in Russia for six years and served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin from 1995-1999 before Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president. The HHS assistant secretary was an adviser to a subsidiary of Gazprom, an energy company owned by the Russian government — and Papenfuss points out that Caputo “reportedly helped shore up Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reputation.”
“Caputo’s Kremlin ties were so concerning that he became a target of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Papenfuss explains. “He was questioned but was not charged with any offenses. He also testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he had no contact with Russians while serving on the Trump campaign.”
Caputo, a long-time ally of veteran GOP operative Roger Stone, has promoted the debunked conspiracy theory that it was the Ukrainian government, not the Kremlin, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election — and that the interference was in support of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, not Trump. Papenfuss notes that Caputo “has spread baseless accusations concerning activities in Ukraine by Joe and Hunter Biden. A key source of that Ukrainian smear, Andrii Derkach, turned out to be a Russian spy attempting to interfere in the current U.S. election, the Treasury Department revealed last week.”
American values poll
… most Americans hold an expansive view of their rights beyond those explicitly laid out in the Constitution, but which they say are under threat.
“Overall I think Americans want not to be divided as politics are forcing it to be, and that’s probably the biggest message of this poll,” said John Shattuck, director of the Carr Center’s project on Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States and a former U.S. assistant secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Several of the rights and freedoms that an overwhelming bipartisan majority viewed as essential to being an American, however, go far beyond those provided directly by the Constitution, like freedom of speech and religion.
The right to clean air and water, for example, was considered important by 93 percent of those surveyed; protection of personal data, by 93 percent; the right to a quality education, by 92 percent; racial equality, by 92 percent; affordable health care, by 89 percent; and the right to a job, by 85 percent.
Of 16 rights and values polled, a majority considered every single one either very or somewhat important to being American today.
Even issues like immigration (66 percent) and protecting a woman’s right to choose and make decisions affecting her body and personal life (72 percent) — typically viewed as highly divisive — garnered bipartisan support, though with more of a partisan divide.
A long-lasting pandemic
In only half a year, the coronavirus pandemic has wiped out decades of global development in everything from health to the economy.
Progress has not only stopped, but has regressed in areas like getting people out of poverty and improving conditions for women and children around the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation finds in its 2020 Goalkeepers report published Monday.
Vaccination coverage, seen as a good indicator for how health systems are functioning, is dropping to levels last seen in the 1990s, it says.
“In other words, we’ve been set back about 25 years in about 25 weeks,” the report says. “What the world does in the next months matters a great deal.”
Global action to stop the pandemic would prevent illness and deaths caused by Covid-19, but there’s more at stake: The crisis sets back strides made in global poverty, HIV transmission, malnutrition, gender equality, education and many more areas. Even if the world manages to get the coronavirus under control soon, it could take years to claw back lost progress.
[Federal] Judge rules Chad Wolf likely unlawfully serving as Homeland Security secretary and temporarily blocks some asylum restrictions [previously, the Government Accountability Office found that Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of deputy secretary, were appointed as part of an invalid order of succession]