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Some good Wuhan news

Here’s another useful PSA on the virus from

Judging by the forums and private Facebook groups we follow, the most terrifying feature of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak so far has been the Chinese government’s aggressive response — whole cities and tens of millions on sudden lockdown in their homes, public gatherings banned, internal travel by road cut off with roadblocks.

Why would China take such disruptive and expensive measures to stop the spread of a virus with well under a hundred deaths and a few thousand infections (per the official count)? It doesn’t add up, and the internet has noticed, giving rise to the theory that Chinese are trying to cover up how catastrophically deadly this outbreak really is.

But newly published migration data suggests a far less terrifying logic behind China’s aggressive response: it seems an astonishing five million people bugged out from Wuhan in the days before intercity travel was banned. Some portion of that was due to planned holiday travel, but it’s clear many people left (or left earlier than planned) due to the virus news.

Our Chinese reporter in Beijing explains it this way:

  • SARS is still fresh in the minds of many Chinese.
  • Modern Chinese people are already wary of weird food sources as a possible epidemic spark — in this case, it looks like a mix of bat and snake at the local Wuhan food market is to blame.
  • There’s a degree of mistrust towards the government, so people expect party leaders to downplay legitimate concerns.
  • Local people were glued to their phones for instant updates very early in this process.
  • Every social media post that could even seem related, such as a person collapsing at a hospital, instantly spreads.
  • That combination of predisposed fear, viral media, and modern on-demand transportation networks meant millions of people “bugged out” of Wuhan very quickly.
  • So the governments only way to contain the spread was to use fast and heavy lockdowns.
  • But even with such a heavy response, it was too late, and the virus left Wuhan.

This level of sudden, coordinated action across a population of this size in response to breaking news was unthinkable in the days before social media.

But it’s likely now the new normal in societies as connected as China. That new reality makes China’s “shock and awe” response look less like a desperate measure to stop Black Death 2.0 and more like a logical effort to arrest a set of social-media-driven, “flash mob”-style mass migrations before centrally planned containment measures could be put in place.

While initial reports indicated that over a hundred thousand people left Wuhan by rail in the single day before the quarantine, the Times has now reported that including the entire leadup and all travel modes, the true figure was closer to five million people — about 45% of the population of Wuhan.

With so many Wuhan citizens spread to every part of the country, the move to lock down public spaces across the country as a whole makes a certain amount of sense; any measure intended to be effective at arresting the epidemic’s exponential spread would have to be carried out nationwide to be effective.

In addition, this explains the intercity travel ban being put on Wuhan despite the “cat [being] out of the bag”: if a precedent were established that affected cities would empty entirely, as Wuhan may have done, the migrations may have become even more destabilizing as active propagation of the virus began to hit other major cities.

For me, the scariest aspect of this virus was the extreme Chinese response. It indicated that it was likely far worse than what we were being told. This explanation makes sense. With millions fanning out across the country due to hearing about it on social media, well, they really had no choice even if the virus was much more contained than they may have thought.

And the authors of this post are right. This will likely be the standard response going forward. Nobody believes the government, any government, and panic will likely follow social media if something like this happens in any country.

As Tom wrote this morning, this is yet another fallout from the assault on reason and lack of trust in institutions and authorities and even common sense. On the other hand, we as individuals can cultivate trusted sources and keep our heads in these situations. It’s a good idea to be ready.

And the winner of the gaslighting championship is …

As I write this I am listening to Ken Starr, with his usual chilling, unctuous, sanctimony, rail against the use of impeachment for partisan purposes, insisting that it is being trivialized.

Here he is during the Clinton impeachment:

Here he is today:

Here’s a little reminder of what Starr’s “charges” were all about:

Starr’s investigation climaxed in the fall of 1998 with the publication of a bodice-ripper with an unusually long title: Communication from the Office of the Independent Counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, transmitting appendices to the referral to the United States House of Representatives pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, section 595(c)

As Retropolis reported last year, when publishers in New York rushed out copies, they shortened the title to “The Starr Report,” which was easier to market. The report shot up the bestseller list, in part because it read more like a Danielle Steel novel than a prosecutorial document.

Starr turned to two experienced lawyers/authors on his staff to write the bulk of the 475-page report, including Stephen Bates, who already had written several books and contributed to magazines such as the New Republic and Playboy before penning the ultimate Penthouse Letter.

Readers, including professional readers like book critics and actual authors, immediately noticed the report had an unusual tone and structure. “The prose, far from a dry, factual recitation, contained rich, erotic details of the sort we expect from a book-club romance,” Daniel M. Filler, a prominent law professor, wrote in a California Law Review article.

Here’s an example:

En route to the restroom at about 8 p.m., she passed George Stephanopoulos’s office. The President was inside alone, and he beckoned her to enter. She told him that she had a crush on him. He laughed, then asked if she would like to see his private office. Through a connecting door in Mr. Stephanopoulos’s office, they went through the President’s private dining room toward the study off the Oval Office. Ms. Lewinsky testified: “We talked briefly and sort of acknowledged that there had been a chemistry that was there before and that we were both attracted to each other and then he asked me if he could kiss me.”

Ms. Lewinsky said yes. In the windowless hallway adjacent to the study, they kissed. Before returning to her desk, Ms. Lewinsky wrote down her name and telephone number for the President.At about 10 p.m., in Ms. Lewinsky’s recollection, she was alone in the Chief of Staff’s office and the President approached. He invited her to rendezvous again in Mr. Stephanopoulos’s office in a few minutes, and she agreed. (Asked if she knew why the President wanted to meet with her, Ms. Lewinsky testified: “I had an idea.”)

They met in Mr. Stephanopoulos’s office and went again to the area of the private study. This time the lights in the study were off.

This time.

You might be wondering what happened next. Not to worry — the writers do not leave their audience hanging: “She and the President kissed. She unbuttoned her jacket; either she unhooked her bra or he lifted her bra up; and he touched her breasts with his hands and mouth.

His buddy Kavanaugh helped with that too.

Today he’s defending the man who says he can grab women by the pussy and they let him do it because he’s a star. And he’s complaining that the impeachment of that man because he extorted a foreign government to help him cheat in his election is not an impeachable offense.

I think I can finally see the Trump strategy. Just gaslight us until we finally all go mad.

It’s working.

Update from the “shamelessness in their superpower” files:

In his presentation today he simply pointed out that the House had rejected the argument in 1999 as if he was just a potted plant in the whole proceeding.

It’s Only True If a Wingnut Agrees

Nothing factual — absolutely nothing of substance — was added by yesterday’s Times report that John Bolton, one of the most hot-headed nut right wing jobs that has ever served in government, wrote that Trump withheld millions of dollars of aid so he could cheat on the 2020 election.

Yet, as seems the norm today, the press is attaching more weight to the words of a single extremist than to the mountain of careful evidence amassed by some of the most sober and level-headed people elected to Congress.

“Even the well-known conservative X has a problem with Y” is the general structure of the argument. As if somehow the gold standard for what is reasonable and factual is not whether a statement is factually true or an argument is logical and reasonable. A right winger also has to agree, the more extreme the better, or there is no reason to accept it.

This really has to stop.

Did Trump blindside his own accomplices?

Of course he did:

By Monday morning, several Republican senators had angrily called the White House trying to determine who at the administration knew about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which aides there have had for several weeks, and what was in it. They told the White House they felt blindsided, according to people briefed on the calls who insisted on anonymity to describe private discussions.

One reason for their ire is that Mr. Bolton’s account flies in the face of the rationale the president’s lawyers have offered the Senate for his actions, and which many Republicans have latched onto themselves as a defense of his conduct.

Michael Cohen warned them:

“I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years. The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”

The Big Shoe drops — and GOPers aren’t sleeping well

The impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump continues this week, with the president’s defense team making the case for his acquittal followed by questions from senators. The president’s lawyers opened their presentation on Saturday with a mere two hours of arguments.

It’s clear they are anxious to get this over with so that the Republicans can bring the “vindicated” Trump into the House chamber like a conquering hero on Feb. 4 for the State of the Union address. They certainly don’t want him to deliver it in the middle of his impeachment trial. If the incontinence Trump has displayed on his Twitter feed over the last few days is any indication, there’s a good chance he’ll leap off the dais and try to strangle House manager Adam Schiff with his bare hands.

He came perilously close to an outright threat on Sunday morning:

He didn’t say, “He’s going to go through some things,” but you know he was thinking it.

Throughout the weekend the whole country listened to audio of the president having dinner and intimate conversation with Lev Parnas, the indicted co-conspirator of Ruy Giuliani — immediately followed by footage of the president insisting over and over again that he doesn’t know the man. That conversation included a discussion of former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, with Trump saying, “Get rid of her, take her out,” as if he were Sonny Corleone giving the order to Luca Brazzi.

There was no word from the delicate GOP Victorians who got the vapors during the trial last week about this bullying, mobster talk from the president. Perhaps they all went to a spa retreat to calm their overwrought nerves and didn’t hear any of it.

They were present on Saturday morning when White House counsel Pat Cipollone began his presentation with a twist, claiming the Democrats were trying to meddle with the 2020 election. “They’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history,” he said. You have to give them credit for gall, if nothing else. They are defending the president who eagerly welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election and extorted it from a different country for 2020 by claiming that using the constitutional remedy of impeachment for such acts is actually preemptively stealing the next election. I don’t think they can even hear what they are saying anymore.

Reporting throughout the weekend suggested that despite the president’s anemic defense, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House have been able to keep Republicans on board, leading to a quick end to the trial, possibly as early as Friday.

Nonetheless, there has still been some jockeying back and forth over the question of witnesses. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri is said to be preparing subpoenas for former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and the unnamed whistleblower, threatening a possible circus that has the timorous vulnerable senators up for re-election this year in a tizzy. Cipollone complained during his Saturday presentation that Schiff didn’t appear before the House Judiciary Committee, hinting that he might be called to testify as well.

Trump is said to be happy with the trial so far, and even thinks he can get a few Democrats to vote for acquittal. He’s particularly focused on Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama, both of whom have been saying they have an open mind. But it’s pretty obvious that both Manchin and Jones are dangling this possibility in order to hear witnesses, which they’ve both demanded from the beginning.

That seemed increasingly unlikely as the weekend wore on. From what we could tell, with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who said he was “very likely” to vote for witnesses, the GOP Senate caucus seemed to be firm in its desire to end the process as quickly as possible.

Then came Sunday night and this New York Times bombshell:

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton. …

Over dozens of pages, Mr. Bolton described how the Ukraine affair unfolded over several months until he departed the White House in September. He described not only the president’s private disparagement of Ukraine but also new details about senior cabinet officials who have publicly tried to sidestep involvement.

We don’t know how this manuscript came into the New York Times’ hands, but the paper claims that Bolton shared drafts with close associates and delivered one to the White House to determine whether it contains classified information as is usual practice. While the motive behind leaking it is unclear, it stands to reason that Bolton may have feared that the White House would withhold the book on national security grounds after hearing the president say this in Davos last week:

The problem with John is that it’s a national security problem. You know, you can’t have somebody who’s at national security — and, if you think about it, John, he knows some of my thoughts.  He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader, and it’s not very positive, and then I have to deal on behalf of the country? It’s going to be very hard. 

That sounds very much like a rationale Trump’s lawyers were testing out to keep Bolton’s book from seeing the light of day.

And speaking of the lawyers — and Mitch McConnell too, for that matter — they all knew what Bolton would say since the manuscript was turned over to the White House at the end of December. Yet they went before the American people and lied repeatedly as recently as Saturday. There doesn’t seem to be any accountability for anyone in this administration, so I doubt there will be penalties. But these lawyers are shockingly unethical.

So, by the way, is John Bolton. All this drama could have been avoided if he had simply volunteered to speak before the House under oath. Perhaps he’s more of a Trumpist that he likes to think.

We don’t know whether any of this will make a difference. Donald Trump has strong-armed senators into covering up for his crimes altogether, rather than allowing them to simply say that what he did was wrong, but he hadn’t committed an impeachable offense. He won’t stand for anyone saying he isn’t perfect. So they must all agree to be his accomplices.

Those senators may have been tossing and turning on Sunday night, however. In just the last three days, recordings have come to light that show Trump has been lying about knowing Parnas and Fruman, and now Bolton’s book testifying to Trump’s personal involvement has been leaked. Every day there’s something new. They have to be wondering how much more they will be forced to answer for next November

My Salon column reprinted with permission.

Liars flight rules

Kobe Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76B crashed on Sunday killing all aboard. Image capture via YouTube.

We joke that the conservative echo chamber operates on the “Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” principle. Senses can lie. Listen to us, they say. We’ll tell you what’s true and what isn’t. Except what they’re reading out isn’t true either.

The pilot of Kobe Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76B may have crashed the basketball legend’s helicopter into rising terrain after becoming disoriented in Los Angeles area fog Sunday morning. Paul Cline, assistant professor of aviation at the City University of New York, told Jeff Wise of New York magazine:

“When you get in the soup, your senses don’t work,” Cline, the aviation professor, said. “For me, I always feel like I’m falling to the right. Other people might feel like they’re falling to the left, or climbing.”

“Visual Flight Rules,” or VFR, no longer work in low visibility. Pilots train themselves instead to rely on instrument readouts, hard data, to stay alive. They train to ignore misleading input from their own senses. But switching to “Instrument Flight Rules,” or IFR, is “time-consuming and constrains pilots to following the directions of controllers.”

“A ton of rules come into play, and people don’t always want to fly that way. It takes away their ability to do whatever they want to do,” Cline said. “The trade off is, you get to live.”

This model helicopter has a strong safety record. We don’t know exactly what caused this crash. But Kobe Bryant and his passengers wanted to catch the start of a basketball game in Thousand Oaks. Flying IFR might have meant waiting. Being in a hurry may have cost them their lives.

The impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump resumes this morning in the U.S. Senate. His defense team will use the same tactics that have worked so well for conservative media for decades. Listen to us. Ignore your lyin’ eyes. Ignore the facts. Facts cannot be trusted.

Gathering additional data from witnesses will be time-consuming and get in the way of what Trump’s lawyers and Senate supporters want to do. They are in a hurry to get this over, to declare victory and go home. This isn’t even a low-visibility environment. The facts are in plain sight. More are coming in daily.

The New York Times reported Sunday evening that former Trump national security adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book recounts that Trump said in August he “wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” Bolton’s testifying to that under oath is data defenders would rather not hear and will ignore anyway. Loyalty to the president demands it.

The famously untrustworthy president responded in a tweet just after midnight, “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens.”

Well. Trump said it. They believe it. That settles it.

Decades of a misinformation diet has dulled Americans’ ability to process hard data. Everything your everyday senses tells you and what you hear from the “liberal” media is suspect. Trust us instead, conservative spinmeisters insist. Master manipulators such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin deliberately create a fog of lies to create public demand for a strong man with a loud voice to lead the way out of the soup they’ve cooked.

They may lead the country into a hillside at 170 mph instead.

● ● ● ● ● ● ● ●

For The Win, 3rd Edition is ready for download. Request a copy of my free countywide election mechanics guide at This is what winning looks like.

Who Could Imagine?

Wow. No one could possibly have guessed:

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was in office.

For some reason, whenever I hear about more evidence confirming Trump’s very obvious guilt, I keep thinking about this scene from Austin Powers.

Update: There are reports to the effect that the leaking of Bolton’s book might lead to some Republicans supporting Democrats’ requests to call witnesses.


Meanwhile, back in the real world

Trump’s henchmen throughout the government are destroying everything

He says he loves clean air and water and that American has the cleanest in the world as his answer to whether or not climate change exists.

He doesn’t love it that much:

The Environmental Protection Agency has made it easier for cities to keep dumping raw sewage into rivers by letting them delay or otherwise change federally imposed fixes to their sewer systems, according to interviews with local officials, water utilities and their lobbyists.

Cities have long complained about the cost of meeting federal requirements to upgrade aging sewer systems, many of which release untreated waste directly into waterways during heavy rains — a problem that climate change worsens as rainstorms intensify. These complaints have gained new traction with the Trump administration, which has been more willing to renegotiate the agreements that dictate how, and how quickly, cities must overhaul their sewers.

The actions are the latest example of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back nearly 95 environmental rules that it has said are too costly for industry or taxpayers. That list grew on Thursday, when the administration stripped clean-water protections from wetlands, streams and other waterways.

Our air and water are still polluted but they are much better than they would have been if those environmental rules had not been put in place, sometimes as long ago as 50 years ago.

He’s clueless about all of this but he ha strong opinions anyway based upon the fact that he’s had to fill out a lot of forms for the environmental impact of some of his development deals. He didn’t like that. So he’s given the green light to his henchmen to destroy the environment.

I don’t know how long it will take to even find everything they’ve done much less reverse it. That will be a huge job for a new Democratic administration.

Public Service Announcement Wuhan Virus

The first images of the Wuhan Pneumonia, 2019-nCoV, released by Chinese authorities

I don’t know if it’s going to turn out to be an epidemic anywhere but China but since they’re finding cases elsewhere now, even here in the all-important US, I thought I would pass along a link to this post which I have been told by people who know is an excellent primer on what’s happening with some links to various things you could do if you want to prepare.

It wouldn’t hurt. And it wouldn’t hurt to let other people know what they could do, just in case. It’s probably not going to be a major problem for us. But it’s good to be informed. At some point, we are going to have a major pandemic.

I watched this documentary about the 1918 pandemic in the US a while back. If you have time, do it. It didn’t unfold as you might have thought. Everything is different now, of course. But these bugs have a tremendous capacity to outsmart humans if everything breaks their way. No one should assume it can’t happen.

This is the post that talks about the Wuhan virus. It’s being updated with new information as it becomes available.

About that perfect call

The Republicans roll out the Welcome Wagon for foreigners who want to help them win in 2020

Here’s one indiscreet GOP Victorian Spinster explaining why he’s going to acquit the president:

“Hopefully it will be instructive to where … I think he’ll put two and two together,” Braun told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “In this case, he was taken to the carpet.”

“I think he’ll be instructed by what has occurred here and certainly any individual would want to avoid whatever might need to be modified to go through this again because the threat is already been out there that ‘we might find something else to impeach you on,” Braun added, pointing to Democrats. “Which I think is a mistake because I think we need to get back to what most Americans are interested in, the agenda.”

Braun said the process “ought to be instructive to anyone here that if you’re pushing the envelope or doing things that may not feel right, let alone be right, you better be careful.”

That’s this Mike Braun:

Let’s be clear about what he’s saying. Despite his earlier comment that “it didn’t happen” he clearly knows it did. He knows it’s wrong. But he is now fatuously insisting that Trump has learned his lesson.

He made the call to Zelensky on the day after Mueller testified that the Russians had hacked the 2016 election and were planning to do it again — and he said to him:

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.

As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Despite the fact that the report proved he had eagerly welcomed Russian interference in 2016 and obstructed justice at least 10 times to cover it up, he went out the next day and HE DID IT AGAIN!

Donald Trump is without a conscience and is, frankly, too arrogant and narcissistic to even understand much less care that he’s been “taken to the woodshed.” His response to anything like that is to double down.

Braun almost certainly knows this. As with all his Republican brethren, he’s lying and at this point I have to think that he’s signed on to the “Foreign Interference For Trump ” welcome wagon.

Hey, Trump is the Party and the Party is Trump. What helps him helps them. And they’re happy to have it.