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TBR News July 18, 2020

Jul 18 2020

The Voice of the White House
Comments, July 18, 2020: At this point in time, Trump is starting a down-hill slide and unless he can create a new uproar to confuse the public or unless his people can find a safe way to rig the popular vote, he is toast. If he loses, he will do anything he can to remain in power but his own party and even the military will not support him. As the python said when winding himself around a tree, the end is in sight.”

The Table of Contents

  • Trump will cling to power. To get him out, Biden will have to win big
  • Anti-Trump Republican groups urge GOP voters to support Joe Biden for president
  • Who Wants to Be Seen With Trump Anymore?
  • HOUSE OVERVIEW
  • Homeland Security worries Covid-19 masks are breaking facial recognition, leaked document shows 
  • COVID-19: ‘Putin Hacked Our Vaccine’ Is Dumbest Story Yet
  • The Pentagon finally reveals what Trump’s mysterious ‘super duper missile’ actually is
  • Encyclopedia of American Loons

 

Trump will cling to power. To get him out, Biden will have to win big
Only a Democratic landslide can ward off the nightmare prospect of this president simply refusing to leave office
July 17, 2020
by Jonathan Freedland
The Guardian

Were we not thoroughly spooked by what happened in 2016, we’d find it easier to say out loud that all signs point to the defeat and removal of Donald Trump on 3 November. Superstition and a desire not to tempt fate hold us back, but the signs are plentiful. The most obvious is the polls, which show not only that Joe Biden is ahead of Trump by double-digit margins, but also that 72% of Americans believe their country is on the wrong track – a number that spells ruin for any incumbent.

Of course, we learned four years ago that national polls don’t matter – after all, Hillary Clinton led in those – and what really counts are the contests in the battleground states: the likes of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Biden is handily ahead in all of those, too. Could those polls be wrong? One expert reckons Biden is so far in front that even if the polls are as wrong now as they were in 2016 he will still win.

More important, these numbers reflect something solid. Naturally, liberals have been appalled by Trump’s behaviour since day one, but mere outrage and scandal have proved insufficient to sink his presidency. Now, though, he is associated with genuine catastrophe. More than 130,000 Americans are dead from coronavirus, with caseloads rising in 41 of 50 states. Trump’s handling of this disaster has so obviously made it worse – whether playing down the threat, urging premature easing of lockdown or calling on Americans to inject themselves with bleach – that he has made the case for his own removal more powerfully than any rival. His one hope was a healthy economy, but that too now lies in ruins (though, troublingly, Trump still leads Biden by 12 points on economic competence). His racial dogwhistling is also costing him: surveys suggest that, outside his base, Americans recoil at Trump’s widening of the country’s most enduring divide. It means Trump’s unpopularity is not ephemeral – the kind of thing that might be fixed by sacking a campaign manager, as the president did this week – but rather anchored in facts that will be hard to shift.

Given all that, surely the rational response is to look forward to Trump’s imminent departure from office? To which the right answer is: not so fast. To remove Trump, it will not be enough for Biden to win. He has to win big.

By that, I don’t mean that thanks to voter suppression – fewer polling places in majority-black neighbourhoods and the like – Democrats have to be several points ahead merely to draw level, though that is true. Nor do I mean that Biden can only overturn Trumpism by riding a wave so big that Democrats take back the Senate and therefore avoid being thwarted by Mitch McConnell for four gridlocked years, though that is also true. Or that Biden needs a wide enough margin to withstand the foreign hacking and disruption efforts in Trump’s favour that most monitors expect, having concluded that when Russian agents poked around voter registration databases in 2016, they were merely “casing the joint” for a more sustained offensive in 2020 – though that too is true.

No, what I have in mind is a threat more fundamental. The danger is that Trump will lose – and refuse to go.

He’s already laid out his rationale. “Rigged 2020 election,” he tweeted last month. “Millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries, and others. It will be the scandal of our times!” Here’s the scenario Trump is planning for. On the evening of 3 November, he loses the popular vote by a margin even greater than the 3 million votes by which Hillary beat him in 2016 – but the count of votes cast on the day puts him narrowly ahead in one or two key states. He promptly declares victory, claiming that the millions of votes that were cast as absentee ballots – by voters anxious to avoid polling stations because of Covid-19 – should be disqualified as fraudulent. He has a motive to do that, since mail-in votes often skew Democratic. And he has a precedent for it: in a tight senate race in Florida in 2018, Trump urged the state to stop counting the votes and go with the election night results, which favoured Republicans.

Let’s say he makes that same move in the three midwestern battlegrounds in November. Republicans are in charge of the state legislatures in all three. Now here’s where it gets nerdily arcane, but bear with me. Those Republican legislatures could refuse both to certify their state results and to send a slate of representatives to the electoral college, which has to meet by 14 December. Biden’s lawyers would plead his case all the way to the supreme court, but that court likes to stay out of elections. It could plausibly instruct the electoral college to meet on 14 December, with or without the disputed states. If it meets without them, and neither Trump nor Biden can reach the 270 electoral college votes required to win, then the constitution throws the question to the House of Representatives. Democrats control that body, but here’s the thing. Under the rules, the house would make its decision state-by-state, with one vote per state – so that tiny Republican Wyoming would have as much say as populous, Democratic California. By that count, Republican states would outvote Democratic ones by 26 to 24 – and Trump would remain president.

There are variations on that theme. Some imagine a standoff in which, say, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor certifies the state’s vote for Biden, while the state’s Republican assembly certifies it for Trump: the result is deadlock. Former senator Tim Wirth can picture Trump’s pliant attorney general ordering a bogus investigation, on grounds of national security, into foreign meddling, thereby giving Republicans an excuse not to ratify a Biden victory in their state. But it’s just as easy to imagine a situation where, with next to no legal or technical justification, Trump simply stays put and refuses to leave – and Republicans stand by him. After all, they’ve tolerated his every other assault on the republic: why would they change now?

Granted, these are nightmare scenarios, but if these past four years have taught us anything, it’s that nightmares can come true. There’s only one guaranteed defence against such a possibility, and that is for Biden to win a blowout victory. Which is why efforts such as those by the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump could be significant: they make it legitimate for conservatives, independents and, yes, lifelong Republicans to lend their vote to the Democratic candidate, just this once. It’s also how Biden’s weaknesses can become a strength: he is sufficiently inoffensive that millions of non-Democrats can back him, in a way they could not bring themselves to do for Hillary Clinton. It goes without saying that Democrats, whether of the left or centre, also have to turn out in colossal numbers, if not to elect Biden then to remove Trump.

Every vote will count this time because of the unique nature of this president. Make no mistake, it will take a landslide to get Trump out.

Anti-Trump Republican groups urge GOP voters to support Joe Biden for president
July 17, 2020
by Sarah Ewall-Wice
CBS News

As the general election unofficially kicks off, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is being aided by an unusual array of groups for a presidential election. What makes them an oddity is that they are Republican. A growing number of GOP organizations are moving forward with strategic efforts to unseat a commander-in-chief of their own party — and turn the White House over to a Democrat.

Appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency, they are spending millions on television ads and digital campaigns and weighing ground efforts in an election year that has seen a global pandemic and major economic crisis following the impeachment trial of the president earlier this year.

“We haven’t really ever seen anything like this before in a general election,” said Mitchell West, of Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group. “In primaries, there’s always one Republican group that supports one specific Republican candidate and will obviously bash some others, but in terms of a general election, usually you don’t see anything like this.”

From April through June, The Lincoln Project raised more than $16.8 million, rivaling several prominent Democratic PACs after raising less than $2 million in the first quarter of 2020. The Lincoln Project, whose founders include George Conway, a prominent Trump critic who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, views this president as an existential threat to the nation, a “clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic.”

The Lincoln Project’s recent financial filing shows donations flooded in from all over the country. According to the group, the average contribution was around $56.

Its first anti-Trump ad aired in March, but it was the “Mourning in America” ad in early May that really launched the group, attacking Mr. Trump’s handling of the economy and coronavirus. The spot was a twist on President Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign ad and attracted the attention of the president when it appeared on Fox News. Mr. Trump blasted the group on Twitter, inadvertently helping the Lincoln Project raise about $2 million in 24 hours.

He saw the ad, it did what we wanted it to do, and we have been the beneficiaries organizationally of his inability or unwillingness to not respond to things that we know are his weak points,” said The Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen. The group has since churned out videos on the coronavirus response, Confederate flags, reported bounties on U.S troops and more. “That’s the advantage of being independent of everybody… we say we think this going to move, this is going to hit, and we go do it.”

According to Kantar/CMAG, The Lincoln Project has spent nearly $4 million on advertising since March. Now as the general election nears, the group plans to take the fight directly into battleground states to target “soft Republican” and conservative-leaning independent voters. While it plans to continue with targeted advertising, the group also has a rapidly growing army of volunteers including some 3,000 in Michigan.

“I think we will be contacting voters directly,” Galen told CBS News. “I think the effectiveness of our messaging creates a potent combination to get in front of these voters who you can convince to make sure they get out and vote for Joe Biden, and if they’re not going to vote for Joe Biden, then leave Donald Trump blank.”

At the same time, Republican Voters against Trump is also going after similar voters, but with a slightly different approach, one that seeks to make Republican voters comfortable with the idea of not supporting their party’s incumbent nominee, even if they voted for him in 2016.

“I’ve been a Republican for more than 30 years in western North Carolina, and I find myself for the first time in many years not able to vote for a Republican,” said Steve in one video on the project’s website. The project has been compiling hundreds of testimonials from GOP voters in all fifty states.

“I voted for Donald Trump four years ago because I didn’t trust Hillary. That was a mistake,” said Craig from Colorado in another video. While some voters focus on what’s made them turn their backs on Mr. Trump, other voters talk about why they’ll be voting for Biden.

“What people were most persuaded by was real stories from real people, so basically we decided to build a project around that for 2020,” said Republican Voters against Trump founder Sarah Longwell. The initiative, which is a project of Defending Democracy Together – the organization founded by conservatives including Bill Kristol – is now using the videos in its $10 million campaign to digitally target voters in five states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arizona. Testimonials have also been used as TV ads.

But while a series of recent polls have shown Biden with at least a slight edge, these groups are aware that the president retains a strong base of unshakable Republican support. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, Mr. Trump would have the support of 84% of Republicans.

Where Anti-Trump Republicans see an opening is in the three states won by the president in 2016 by the slimmest of margins over Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democratic nominee helps . According to Longwell, early focus groups viewed far left Bernie Sanders as a “nonstarter,” but Biden is “not nearly as big a lift for a lot of these right-leaning independents.” He puts the crucial suburbs into play.

“A lot of the women who would consider themselves Republican or right-leaning, who voted for Mitt Romney, who voted for John McCain — those are the people who are moving out of the party fastest, or moving away from Donald Trump the fastest,” said Longwell.

That’s what some former George W. Bush administration officials also believe. At the beginning of July, they launched 43 Alumni for Joe Biden PAC. The galvanizing moment for the PAC founders was the attack on protesters in Lafayette Park in June.

“Our goal is to really give those folks who either still identify themselves as Republicans or those who have left the party or view that the party has left them permission to vote for Joe Biden, given the circumstances the country is in right now and needing to move in a new direction,” said John Farner.

The PAC aims to be a grassroots volunteer-based effort that uses the substantial Bush alumni network to engage Republicans and independents who have traditionally voted for Republicans. Those signing up to get involved online are asked how they would like to help — on fundraising, field operations or online.  The PAC expects to have a strong digital push as well as a get-out-the-vote effort, depending on what the coronavirus landscape looks like in the fall.

“There are a lot of people who have never voted for a Democrat for president before,” said Kristopher Purcell. “We feel we can talk to those voters very well.”

Who Wants to Be Seen With Trump Anymore?
Some Republican officials have apparently concluded that standing too close to the president can be hazardous.
July 8, 2020
by David A. Graham
The Atlantic

Donald Trump has never been much for encouraging social distancing. He might end up getting political distancing as a result.

This week, five senators announced that they will skip the Republican National Convention in August. A Republican governor up for reelection said he wouldn’t attend a Trump rally in his state. And Senator Lindsey Graham disagreed publicly with Trump for what his home-state newspaper reckoned was the fifth time in three weeks.

These are unusual, though not unprecedented, cases of Republican elected officials creating space between themselves and the president, and each case has situation-specific dynamics. The coronavirus pandemic creates plausible deniability about skipping conventions and rallies.

But these moves also all come in the context of widespread doomsaying about Trump’s chances in November. The president is not out but he is down, and suddenly Republicans seem to be contemplating a potential future in which he doesn’t hold sway. The officials in question either have really good reasons for why they don’t have to care about what effect Trump might have on them or have equally good reasons for why they do. We’re still far from widespread GOP abandonment of the president—but if that does happen, this is how one might expect it to begin: with the most bulletproof and most endangered politicians at the vanguard.

Of course, we’ve been here before. In 2016, many Republican leaders (elected, appointed, and self-appointed) opposed Trump’s candidacy all along. Many of those who endorsed him after he clinched the nomination then broke with him again in October, after a tape emerged in which he boasted about sexually assaulting women. The moral calculus aside, the political calculus was clear: Trump had looked likely to lose even before the Access Hollywood tape, and now it was a sure thing. Most prominently, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he wouldn’t defend Trump and encouraged GOP office seekers to focus on their own elections, basically conceding that Trump would lose.

Except: He didn’t. Trump went on to win the election a month later, and in office he proved to be swift in retribution for Republicans who crossed him. The result was that while GOP officials—even his own Cabinet members—were willing to insult and deplore the president in private, they stayed in line publicly.

On occasion, Trump-aligned Republicans did criticize the president: After a white-supremacist march turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump delivered a both-sides condemnation, some elected officials upbraided him. They were aghast again after Trump’s sycophantic summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

But in each case, they kept their criticism narrow and brief, lest they incur Trump’s wrath. If you crossed Trump, he’d make your political life hell. He might hound you into retirement; he might encourage a primary challenger and campaign for that person. Ryan was one of many Republicans to simply retire. By the time of Trump’s impeachment, Republicans in Congress had their backpedaling skills perfected. They laid out red lines for what might have been unacceptable behavior toward Ukraine, then swiftly erased them when it became clear that Trump had crossed them. In the end, no House Republicans voted to impeach, and among Senate Republicans, only Mitt Romney voted to convict, on a single count.

Trump’s survival of the impeachment, despite the damning evidence, was the high-water mark of his invincibility. Then came the coronavirus, an economic collapse, and especially protests against police violence and racism, a trifecta of mishandled crises. Suddenly, the president seems on a path to defeat, an impression that has taken hold in Washington circles. “Republican strategists we’ve spoken with this week think Trump is close to the point of no return,” wrote Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report. “A couple of others wondered if Trump had reached his ‘Katrina’ moment: a permanent loss of trust and faith of the majority of voters.”

Now there are signs of tentative breaks with Trump by Republican officeholders, although in each case they can cite mitigating factors or maintain plausible deniability. Consider the five senators skipping the RNC in Jacksonville, Florida. There’s widespread belief that holding a big in-person convention is a bad idea for public-health reasons. Three of the senators who are skipping are at high risk of illness from COVID-19 due to age: Chuck Grassley (86), Lamar Alexander (80), and Romney (73). Susan Collins says she never attends national conventions in years when she’s running.

But each of these senators has other reasons for why they might not bother. Most are relative moderates, and not especially Trumpy in ideology. Romney and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have both publicly broken with Trump in recent months. (Alexander gently chastised Trump during the impeachment trial as well.) Moreover, none of them needs Trump’s help, and none of them needs fear him. Romney and Murkowski are themselves all but indestructible in their home states, and neither faces reelection for two years. Grassley is probably similarly solid, should he choose to run again in two years. Alexander is already retiring.

Collins is a different story: She’s in the political fight of her life against the Democrat Sara Gideon, and the danger to her is that she’s too closely aligned with Trump for Maine voters—so keeping him at arm’s length has gone from being the liability it used to be for most Republicans to being a must for her. (The problem for Collins is that as politics has become more and more nationalized, it has become correspondingly difficult for moderate members of Congress to separate themselves from presidents of their own party.)

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu announced that he wouldn’t attend a rally on Saturday in Portsmouth, though he’ll greet Trump on arrival to the state. He, too, blamed the coronavirus.

“I will not be in the crowd of thousands of people, I’m not going to put myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people, if that’s your question specifically,” he told CNN. “I try to—unfortunately, you know, I have to be extra cautious as the governor, I try to be extra cautious for myself, my family.”

This is an implicit rebuke of Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the coronavirus, if a timid one. But not long ago, it would have seemed absurd for any sitting Republican governor to avoid a rally with Trump—especially a governor up for reelection. But Sununu, like the senators, probably just doesn’t need to worry about Trump right now. Polling on the ground is sparse, but Sununu seems to have a safe lead going into November. (One reason is public approval of his handling of COVID-19.)

Graham makes for the most interesting case, and also the most ambiguous. As I reported yesterday, he criticized Trump for attacking NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate battle flag from races and defended the Black driver Bubba Wallace. The State notes an emerging pattern of clear, though limited, disagreements:

Since June 20, Graham has blocked a Trump U.S. attorney nominee, criticized Trump’s decision to put a temporary freeze on visas for foreign workers, split with the president about face masks during the coronavirus pandemic and pressed the administration for information about alleged Russian bounties on American soldiers.

The South Carolinian was one of Trump’s most outspoken critics during the 2016 GOP primary, in which he was abortively a candidate. But after Trump took office, Graham became one of his most reliably obsequious defenders. Many columns of ink and pixels were devoted to contemplating why. One theory, pushed by Graham himself, was that cozying up to the president made it easier for him to criticize Trump and push him on pet issues, which Graham has, on occasion, done—especially on military policy in the Middle East.

Another theory was that Graham was just being cravenly political, and knew that getting crosswise with the president would be perilous in deep-red South Carolina. But now the senator has won the GOP nomination and is headed to a general election against the Democrat Jaime Harrison. Graham is still favored, but the race should be his toughest in some time, and he may benefit from moderating his image. The election analyst Dave Wasserman tweeted, “When even Lindsey Graham starts repudiating Trump, you know it’s … oh wait, he just made it through his primary and was willing to say anything to survive all along [because] he doesn’t have a life outside of being a senator. This isn’t hard, folks.”

There’s no need to choose between theories, though; both may well be true. The relevant fact is that Graham has decided it’s safe to create some distance, as have some of his colleagues. It’s all but impossible that there will be anything like a repeat of the turn against Trump in October 2016 this time around, and whether this proves to be the first augurs of broader defections or just a few isolated actions won’t be clear for some time. But Republican elected officials can see all the same polls everyone else can, plus some more, and they’re once again calculating that standing with Trump could cost them more than standing apart.

HOUSE OVERVIEW
House Rating Changes: 20 Races Move Towards Democrats
July 17, 2020
by David Wasserman
The Cook Political Report

President Trump’s abysmal polling since the pandemic began is seriously jeopardizing down-ballot GOP fortunes. We may be approaching the point at which dozens of House Republicans will need to decide whether to cut the president loose and run on a “check and balance” message, offering voters insurance against congressional Democrats moving too far left under a potential Biden administration.

Trump now trails Joe Biden by nine points in the FiveThirtyEight average, roughly matching Democrats’ average lead on the generic congressional ballot and seven points larger than his 2016 popular vote deficit. But because there are plenty of solidly blue urban districts where Trump didn’t have much room to fall in the first place, his decline is especially acute in swing suburban districts with lots of college graduates.

Republicans began the cycle hoping to pick up 18 seats to win the majority back. Now they’re just trying to avoid a repeat of 2008, when they not only lost the presidency but got swamped by Democrats’ money and lost even more House seats after losing 30 seats and control two years earlier. For the first time this cycle, Democrats have at least as good a chance at gaining House seats as Republicans on a net basis.

This week, we’re shifting our ratings in 20 races, all reflecting movement towards Democrats. View our full ratings here.

Rating Changes:

AZ-02: Ann Kirkpatrick (D) – Likely D to Solid D

CA-04: Tom McClintock (R) – Solid R to Likely R

CA-39: Gil Cisneros (D) – Lean D to Likely D

CO-06: Jason Crow (D) – Likely D to Solid D

IN-05: OPEN (Brooks) (R) – Lean R to Toss Up

KS-02: Steve Watkins (R) – Likely R to Lean R

MN-01: Jim Hagedorn (R) – Likely R to Lean R

MN-03: Dean Phillips (D) – Likely D to Solid D

NE-02: Don Bacon (R) – Lean R to Toss Up

NC-08: Richard Hudson (R) – Likely R to Lean R

NC-09: Dan Bishop (R) – Solid R to Likely R

OH-01: Steve Chabot (R) – Lean R to Toss Up

OH-12: Troy Balderson (R) – Solid R to Likely R

PA-08: Matt Cartwright (D) – Toss Up to Lean D

TX-03: Van Taylor (R) – Solid R to Likely R

TX-06: Ron Wright (R) – Solid R to Likely R

TX-21: Chip Roy (R) – Lean R to Toss Up

TX-25: Roger Williams (R) – Solid R to Likely R

VA-10: Jennifer Wexton (D) – Likely D to Solid D

WA-03: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) – Likely R to Lean R

Updated Bottom Lines:

AZ-02: Ann Kirkpatrick (D) – Southeast: Tucson, Cochise County

Solid Democrat. Kirkpatrick returned to work in February after a month in rehab for alcoholism and her top-fundraising GOP challenger, university lobbyist Shay Stautz, dropped out in April citing COVID’s limitations on voter outreach. Now the GOP frontrunner may be conservative 2018 candidate Brandon Martin, but Republicans aren’t about to spend in a Tucson seat President Trump lost by five points last time.

CA-04: Tom McClintock (R) – East central: Roseville, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite

Likely Republican. McClintock, long a conservative ideologue, survived by eight points in 2018. But Democrat Brynne Kennedy, founder of remote work software company Topia, has raised $1.4 million and will highlight McClintock’s lone vote in the California delegation against the Families First COVID Relief Act. It would still take a big anti-GOP shift in the Sacramento suburbs, considering Trump won here by 14 points in 2016.

CA-39: Gil Cisneros (D) – Northern Orange County: Fullerton, Yorba Linda

Likely Democrat. For over a year, Republicans have touted former Assemblywoman Young Kim’s rematch against Cisneros, who beat her 52 percent to 48 percent in 2018. But Trump lost this district by nine points in 2016 and the political environment in Orange County appears worse, not better, for the GOP than it was then. Cisneros, a former mega-millions jackpot winner, can also spend whatever it takes to win another term.

CO-06: Jason Crow (D) – Denver southeast suburbs: Aurora, Littleton

Solid Democrat. One of Democrats’ impeachment managers, Crow ousted GOP Rep. Mike Coffman 54 percent to 43 percent in 2018. Given President Trump’s abysmal standing in suburban districts (he lost here by 10 points in 2016), Coffman is no doubt glad he ran successfully for mayor of Aurora in 2019 instead of mounting a comeback for the House. Crow should easily dispatch former state GOP chair Steve House.

IN-05: OPEN (Brooks) (R) – Central: Indianapolis suburbs, Anderson

Toss Up. Democrats are touting a GBAO poll for former state Rep. Christina Hale’s campaign showing Hale leading GOP state Sen. Victoria Spartz 51 percent to 45 percent and Trump trailing Biden by ten points in this suburban Indianapolis open seat. The poll was shocking considering Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016, but the district is highly college-educated and former Sen. Joe Donnelly carried it in 2018.

Spartz, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine 20 years ago and became a successful accountant, dominated the 15-way GOP primary with 40 percent by self-funding $750,000 and airing ads against socialism. But Democrats believe Hale’s profile as a “lifelong Hoosier” who worked her way up as a single mom will contrast favorably with Spartz, who is backed by the Club for Growth. Republicans are increasingly concerned.

KS-02: Steve Watkins (R) – East: Topeka, Lawrence

Lean Republican. Topeka might be the site of 2020’s nastiest soap opera of a House race. On Wednesday, Watkins was charged with felony voter fraud for casting a ballot in a 2019 Topeka city council race while registered to vote at a UPS Store. Watkins claims the charges are politically motivated because local DA Mike Kagay shares a consultant with his primary opponent, but this is just one of the freshman’s many problems.

GOP state Treasurer Jake LaTurner is challenging Watkins in the August 4 primary and has been on air savaging Watkins over the UPS Store, owning two homes in Alaska (and none in Kansas) and for “pitching himself to Democrats as a pro-abortion candidate right before running as a Republican” in 2018. That year, Watkins beat Democrat Paul Davis by less than a point after winning a fractured GOP primary.

In truth, Watkins only won the 2018 GOP primary with 27 percent because his father, a Topeka endocrinologist, funded a Super PAC for his son despite Watkins living in Alaska and Massachusetts most of the past two decades. Now Watkins’s father is under FEC investigation for making illegal “straw man” donations in 2018 and Watkins must fend for himself, accusing LaTurner of running for three offices in two years.

Two weeks out, it’s hard to see Watkins as anything other than an underdog in the primary. His best hope might be that Dennis Taylor, a former state labor secretary under Gov. Sam Brownback, splits the anti-Watkins vote and allows the incumbent to hang on with a plurality. But LaTurner, who was able to carry funds over from an aborted Senate bid, has statewide name ID and the backing of the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Waiting in the wings is Democratic Topeka Mayor Michelle de la Isla, who has raised $694,000 and has EMILY’s List’s endorsement. Considering Trump carried the district by 18 points in 2016, she almost certainly needs to face Watkins to have a chance. If Watkins wins the primary, it could be a Toss Up. If Watkins loses, Republicans would remain strongly favored. For now, it’s in our Lean Republican column.

MN-01: Jim Hagedorn (R) – South: Rochester, Mankato, Faribault

Lean Republican. Hagedorn, a freshman who announced he has stage four kidney cancer in February, says his treatment is going well. But he also faces a tough rematch against former Defense official Dan Feehan, who ended June leading Hagedorn $1.6 million to $945,000 in cash on hand after losing by less than a point in 2018. Trump carried this rural seat by 15 points in 2016, but isn’t guaranteed to do as well in 2020.

MN-03: Dean Phillips (D) – Twin Cities west suburbs: Bloomington, Plymouth

Solid Democrat. Initially, Republicans were enthusiastic about Kendall Qualls, an African-American Army veteran and healthcare businessman. But President Trump lost this highly college-educated district by nine points in 2016 and is on track to lose by even more in 2020. That’s likely too strong an undertow for Qualls to swim against Phillips, who ousted GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen 56 percent to 44 percent in 2018.

NE-02: Don Bacon (R) – East: Omaha and suburbs

Toss Up. In 2018, the progressive group Justice Democrats endorsed 45 candidates for House and none won, but single-payer healthcare activist Kara Eastman came closest, holding Bacon to a 51 percent to 49 percent victory. Eastman is back for a rematch with the full support of the DCCC and a new consulting team, and Democrats are touting a GQR poll for the campaign showing Eastman ahead by a point.

Bacon, a well-liked former commander of Offutt Air Force Base, may ultimately need to run as a “check” preventing Eastman and progressives going too far. According to polling by both parties, Trump is trailing Joe Biden here after carrying this Omaha district’s lone Electoral vote by two points four years ago. Both counties in the district just announced they will automatically send all voters absentee ballot applications.

NC-08: Richard Hudson (R) – South central: Fayetteville, Concord

Lean Republican. Democrats are intrigued that the new map approved by courts in December united all of Fayetteville in the 8th CD and reduced President Trump’s 2016 margin from 15 points to nine points. Now, Republicans acknowledge that Hudson faces a real race after Democratic former state Supreme Court Justice Pat Timmons-Goodson outraised him $845,000 to $328,000 in the second quarter.

Timmons-Goodson, the first Black woman to serve on the state’s highest court, will highlight Hudson’s votes to repeal the ACA and his reputation as a longtime Capitol Hill insider. But it remains to be seen how her stance in favor of renaming Fort Bragg will play or whether Hudson will attack it . Timmons-Goodson will need a large African-American turnout, and Hudson still has the edge

NC-09: Dan Bishop (R) – South: Charlotte suburbs, Lumberton

Likely Republican. The site of the craziest absentee ballot fraud scandal of the 21st Century and a 2019 re-vote, this district looked like it would finally get a respite in November. African-American 9th CD Democratic chair Cynthia Wallace, who has worked in the financial services industry, had just $167,000 on hand at the end of June and isn’t likely to put together a top-flight campaign.

But President Trump’s weak standing nationally and in North Carolina means Bishop can’t take anything for granted. The court-ordered redistricting passed in December added a handful more Charlotte precincts to the district, narrowing the GOP’s advantage by a point. If the 2019 do-over race had played out under these lines, it would have essentially been a tie. In this environment, even Wallace is worth watching.

OH-01: Steve Chabot (R) – Southwest corner: Cincinnati, Warren County

Toss Up. This Cincinnati district was a missed opportunity for Democrats in 2018 when Democrat Aftab Pureval’s bid against Chabot went up in flames amid a campaign finance scandal. Now Chabot’s former campaign treasurer is under a grand jury investigation for embezzling over $120,000 in campaign funds, and multiple Republicans are grumbling that Chabot should have retired rather than run for a 13th term.

Democratic Cincinnati health board member Kate Schroder has raised $1.4 million and may have the ideal profile to run in a pandemic (read our full evaluation here). What’s more, President Trump is likely behind in this suburban seat after carrying it by six points in 2016. In 2008, Chabot lost in a wave amid high Black turnout two years after Democrats took back House control. Today, he’s at risk of history repeating.

OH-12: Troy Balderson (R) – Central: Columbus north suburbs, Mansfield

Likely Republican. Democrat Danny O’Connor came within a point of winning this suburban Columbus seat in an August 2018 special election and chose not to run again in 2020. But this is the most highly college-educated district in the state, and even second-tier Democrat Alaina Shearer ($199,000 on hand), who founded a digital marketing firm, is worth watching at a time President Trump is underwater in affluent suburbs.

PA-08: Matt Cartwright (D) – Northeast: Scranton, Wilkes-Barre

Lean Democrat. In January, this Scranton district looked like a terrific GOP opportunity: Cartwright had just voted for impeachment (the 8th CD voted for President Trump by ten points), and Republicans had a promising candidate in wounded warrior and adaptive athlete Earl Granville. But Granville failed to raise money and didn’t make it past the primary. And now, Trump trails Scranton native Joe Biden in Pennsylvania.

Former Trump Export/Import Bank official Jim Bognet won the primary with big margins in Trump-friendly Luzerne County, but will need to break through in Democratic Lackawanna County, where Granville ran strongest . Republicans still hope they can “buy” the seat because the Scranton market is so cheap, but Cartwright led Bognet $2.3 million to $278,000 in cash on hand at the end of June.

TX-03: Van Taylor (R) – Dallas north suburbs: Plano

Likely Republican. This Collin County seat voted for President Trump by 14 points in 2016 (down from Mitt Romney’s 30 point margin in 2012) and is the most college-educated district still held by a House Republican. Trump’s collapse among college-educated whites merits keeping an eye on Democratic attorney Lulu Seikaly, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants who just won the runoff with 61 percent.

TX-06: Ron Wright (R) – Dallas suburbs: Arlington, Waxahachie

Likely Republican. Wright, a freshman and former Tarrant County tax collector, has never been accused of aggressive collecting campaign checks: he had just $105,000 on hand at the end of June. Now, Democratic attorney Stephen Daniel is running Facebook ads about opinion columns Wright wrote in the 1990s musing about bringing back public hangings. It’s a long-shot, but Wright only won this suburban seat by eight points in 2018.

TX-21: Chip Roy (R) – South central: San Antonio and Austin suburbs

Toss Up. Welcome to the most expensive, polarizing brawl in Texas: Democrats view Roy, Sen. Ted Cruz’s former chief of staff, as a right-wing ideologue who voted to block $19 billion in federal disaster aid in 2019 and against the first COVID emergency relief package in 2020. Meanwhile, Republicans once labeled Democrat Wendy Davis “abortion barbie” for her 2013 filibuster of pro-life legislation in the state senate.

This is a rare case where the challenger is probably better-known than the incumbent. Republicans hope voters recall Davis from her disastrous 2014 run for governor, when she ran an unabashed liberal campaign and lost by 20 points. But Davis, a former Fort Worth area state senator who moved to Austin in 2016 to be near her new grandchild, has leveraged her notoriety into outraising Roy $4.4 million to $2.6 million.

The reason Roy is vulnerable isn’t that Davis is a great fit for the district; it’s demographics. This fast-growing I-35 corridor district voted for Trump by ten points in 2016, but sports the third highest share of college graduates of any GOP-held seat in the nation and is moving rapidly away from Republicans. Roy prevailed by just two points in 2018 and may need to rely on the Club for Growth to help keep pace with Davis.

TX-25: Roger Williams (R) – Central: Austin and Ft. Worth suburbs

Likely Republican. Williams, a wealthy auto dealer from the Fort Worth suburbs, has held this heavily gerrymandered seat since 2012. But in 2018, high turnout at UT-Austin allowed Democratic attorney Julie Oliver to hold Williams to 54 percent. Oliver is raising more this time and will attack Williams’s car dealership taking $1 million in PPP loans. However, a dearth of student votes at UT-Austin could ultimately shield Williams.

VA-10: Jennifer Wexton (D) – DC exurbs: McLean, Leesburg, Winchester

Solid Democrat. Northern Virginia is poised to be a bloodbath for Republicans: President Trump lost this wealthy district by 10 points in 2016 and is on track to lose by more this fall. Wexton, a former prosecutor and state senator, ousted GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock 56 percent to 44 percent in 2018 and should cruise to a second term over Marine veteran Aliscia Andrews, who had $111,000 on hand at the end of June.

WA-03: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) – Southwest: Vancouver, Longview, Centralia

Lean Republican. Herrera Beutler, the lone lower-48 Republican from a district touching the Pacific Ocean, edged out Democratic law professor Carolyn Long, 53 percent to 47 percent in 2018. It helped that Herrera Beutler broke against her party’s healthcare bill in 2017 and was the subject of favorable national coverage after her daughter was born without kidneys and survived the typically fatal condition in 2013

Now, Long is seeking a rematch and believes that without other pickup opportunities in the state this cycle, her race will be Democrats’ top priority. The WSU-Vancouver academic ran as a political outsider and outraised the incumbent $3.8 million to $2.9 million in 2018, and could be on track to outspend her once again. President Trump carried this suburban Portland seat 50 percent to 43 percent in 2016 but may not carry it this time.

Homeland Security worries Covid-19 masks are breaking facial recognition, leaked document shows 
July 16, 2020]
by Mara Hvistendahl and Sam Biddle
The Intercept

While doctors and politicians still struggle to convince Americans to take the barest of precautions against Covid-19 by wearing a mask, the Department of Homeland Security has an opposite concern, according to an “intelligence note” found among the BlueLeaks trove of law enforcement documents: Masks are breaking police facial recognition.

The rapid global spread and persistent threat of the coronavirus has presented an obvious roadblock to facial recognition’s similar global expansion. Suddenly everyone is covering their faces. Even in ideal conditions, facial recognition technologies often struggle with accuracy and have a particularly dismal track record when it comes to identifying faces that aren’t white or male. Some municipalities, startled by the civil liberties implications of inaccurate and opaque software in the hands of unaccountable and overly aggressive police, have begun banning facial recognition software outright. But the global pandemic may have inadvertently provided a privacy fix of its own — or for police, a brand new crisis.

A Homeland Security intelligence note dated May 22 expresses this law enforcement anxiety, as public health wisdom clashes with the prerogatives of local and federal police who increasingly rely on artificial intelligence tools. The bulletin, drafted by the DHS Intelligence Enterprise Counterterrorism Mission Center in conjunction with a variety of other agencies, including Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “examines the potential impacts that widespread use of protective masks could have on security operations that incorporate face recognition systems — such as video cameras, image processing hardware and software, and image recognition algorithms — to monitor public spaces during the ongoing Covid-19 public health emergency and in the months after the pandemic subsides.”

The Minnesota Fusion Center, a post-9/11 intelligence agency that is part of a controversial national network, distributed the notice on May 26, as protests were forming over the killing of George Floyd. In the weeks that followed, the center actively monitored the protests and pushed the narrative that law enforcement was under attack. Email logs included in the BlueLeaks archive show that the note was also sent to city and state government officials and private security officers in Colorado and, inexplicably, to a hospital and a community college.

The new public health status quo represents a clear threat to algorithmic policing.

Curiously, the bulletin fixates on a strange scenario: “violent adversaries” of U.S. law enforcement evading facial recognition by cynically exploiting the current public health guidelines about mask usage. “We assess violent extremists and other criminals who have historically maintained an interest in avoiding face recognition,” the bulletin reads, “are likely to opportunistically seize upon public safety measures recommending the wearing of face masks to hinder the effectiveness of face recognition systems in public spaces by security partners.” The notice concedes that “while we have no specific information that violent extremists or other criminals in the United States are using protective face coverings to conduct attacks, some of these entities have previously expressed interest in avoiding face recognition and promulgated simple instructions to conceal one’s identity, both prior to and during the current Covid-19 pandemic.” This claim is supported by a single reference to a member of an unnamed “white supremacist extremist online forum” who suggested attacks on critical infrastructure sites “while wearing a breathing mask to hide a perpetrators [sic] identity.” The only other evidence given is internet chatter from before the pandemic.

But the bulletin also reflects a broader surveillance angst: “Face Recognition Systems Likely to be Less Effective as Widespread Wear of Face Coverings for Public Safety Purposes Continue,” reads another header. Even if Homeland Security seems focused on hypothetical instances of violent terrorists using cloth masks to dodge smart cameras, the new public health status quo represents a clear threat to algorithmic policing: “We assess face recognition systems used to support security operations in public spaces will be less effective while widespread public use of facemasks, including partial and full face covering, is practiced by the public to limit the spread of Covid-19.” Even after mandatory mask orders are lifted, the bulletin frets, the newly epidemiologically aware American public is likely to keep wearing them, which would “continue to impact the effectiveness of face recognition systems.”

The battle over masks predates the pandemic. During the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, the New York City Police Department pulled legal gymnastics to arrest demonstrators donning grinning Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the hactivist group Anonymous, citing an 1845 law that bans groups of two or more people from covering their faces in public except at “a masquerade party or like entertainment.” Bans in states around the country followed, often in response to protest movements. In 2017, for example, North Dakota banned masks amid protests over the Dakota Access pipeline. Other anti-mask laws were designed to prevent Ku Klux Klan gatherings, though often with the primary aim of protecting white elites.

The Homeland Security document cites as cause for concern tactics used in recent pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. In that movement, which coincided with the emergence of China’s sophisticated surveillance state, police carried around cameras attached to poles, presumably to capture the faces of protesters. Demonstrators responded by shining laser pointers at police, sawing down lampposts mounted with cameras, and masking up. “At first only the militants wore masks,” Chit Wai John Mok, a Ph.D. student in sociology who studies social movements, told The Intercept. “But later on when even peaceful assemblies or marches were also banned, most protesters, moderates or militants, wore them.”

In Hong Kong, too, authorities saw masks as a problem. Last October, Chief Executive Carrie Lam banned face coverings at protests, further enraging protesters. In January, as Covid-19 spread, the government abruptly reversed its policy and began encouraging people to wear masks in public places.

In the past few months, companies around the world have scrambled to adapt their systems to facial coverings, with a few claiming that they can identify masked faces. So far, there is little evidence to support these claims. Some companies appear to have updated their algorithms by photoshopping masks onto images from existing datasets, which could lead to significant errors. To use facial recognition to identify individuals on the street, “it would be best to have lots of real life examples showing the many ways people wear masks and the different angles they get captured,” Charles Rollet, an analyst with IPVM, an independent group that tracks surveillance technology, told The Intercept. Without such images, he added, “There’s a risk of a substantially higher false positive rate, which, in a law enforcement setting, could lead to wrongful arrests or worse.” IPVM tested four facial recognition systems in February and found that their performance was drastically reduced with masked faces.

Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, which uses facial recognition screening on international travelers, has also claimed that its technology works on masked faces. In that scenario, however, travelers look straight into the camera — an angle that makes it easier to identify them, even with masks.

Homeland Security has recently come under fire for efforts to expand the use of facial recognition by CBP. In December, following public outcry, department officials walked back plans to make facial recognition of U.S. citizens mandatory in airports when they fly to or from international destinations. Current protocols allow citizens to opt out of facial recognition screening.

Even as Homeland Security warned in the document of the ostensible risks posed by masked “violent adversaries,” the agency cautioned about violence perpetrated by anti-maskers. The same day that the Minnesota Fusion Center distributed the intelligence note, it circulated a second one warning that some people viewed mask orders as “government overreach” — and would sooner fight than cover their faces. “There have been multiple incidents across the United States,” the second document read, “of individuals engaging in assaults on law enforcement, a park ranger, and essential business employees in response to requests to wear face masks and to abide by social distancing policies.”

COVID-19: ‘Putin Hacked Our Vaccine’ Is Dumbest Story Yet
July 17, 2020
by Caitlin Johnstone
Consortium News

OMG you guys Putin hacked our coronavirus vaccine secrets!

Today mainstream media is reporting what is arguably the single dumbest Russiavape story of all time, against some very stiff competition.

“Russian hackers are targeting health care organizations in the West in an attempt to steal coronavirus vaccine research, the U.S. and Britain said,” reports The New York Times.

“Hackers backed by the Russian state are trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions around the world, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said on Thursday,” Reuters reports.

“Russian news agency RIA cited spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the Kremlin rejected London’s allegations, which he said were not backed by proper evidence,” adds Reuters.

I mean, there are just so many layers of stupid.

First of all, how many more completely unsubstantiated government agency allegations about Russian nefariousness are we the public going to accept from the corporate mass media? Since 2016 it’s been wall-to-wall narrative about evil things Russia is doing to the empire-like cluster of allies loosely centralized around the United States, and they all just happen to be things for which nobody can actually provide hard verifiable evidence.

Ever since the shady cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike admitted that it never actually saw hard proof of Russia hacking the DNC servers, the already shaky and always unsubstantiated narrative that Russian hackers interfered in the U.S. presidential election in 2016 has been on thinner ice than ever. Yet because the mass media converged on this narrative and repeated it as fact over and over they’ve been able to get the mainstream headline-skimming public to accept it as an established truth, priming them for an increasingly idiotic litany of completely unsubstantiated Russia scandals, culminating most recently in the entirely debunked claim that Russia paid Taliban-linked fighters to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Secondly, the news story doesn’t even claim that these supposed Russian hackers even succeeded in doing whatever they were supposed to have been doing in this supposed cyberattack.

“Officials have not commented on whether the attacks were successful but also have not ruled out that this is the case,” Wired reports.

Thirdly, this is a “vaccine” which does not even exist at this point in time, and the research which was supposedly hacked may never lead to one. Meanwhile, Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University reports that it has “successfully completed tests on volunteers of the world’s first vaccine against coronavirus,” in Russia.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, how obnoxious and idiotic is it that coronavirus vaccine “secrets” are even a thing?? This is a global pandemic which is hurting all of us; scientists should be free to collaborate with other scientists anywhere in the world to find a solution to this problem. Nobody has any business keeping “secrets” from the world about this virus or any possible vaccine or treatment. If they do, anyone in the world is well within their rights to pry those secrets away from them.

This intensely stupid story comes out at the same time British media are blaring stories about Russian interference in the 2019 election, which if you actually listen carefully to the claims being advanced amounts to literally nothing more than the assertion that Russians talked about already leaked documents pertaining to the U.K.’s healthcare system on the internet.

“Russian actors ‘sought to interfere’ in last winter’s general election by amplifying an illicitly acquired NHS dossier that was seized upon by Labour during the campaign, the foreign secretary has said,” reports The Guardian.

“Amplifying.” That’s literally all there is to this story. As we learned with the ridiculous U.S. Russiagate narrative, with such allegations, Russia “amplifying” something can mean anything from RT reporting on a major news story to a Twitter account from St. Petersburg sharing an article from The Washington Post. Even the foreign secretary’s claim itself explicitly admits that “there is no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election.”

“The statement is so foggy and contradictory that it is almost impossible to understand it,” responded Russia’s foreign ministry to the allegations. “If it’s inappropriate to say something then don’t say it. If you say it, produce the facts.”

Instead of producing facts you’ve got the Murdoch press pestering Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party candidate, on his doorstep over this ridiculous non-story, and popular right-wing outlets like Guido Fawkes running the blatantly false headline “Government Confirms Corbyn Used Russian-Hacked Documents in 2019 Election.” The completely bogus allegation that the NHS documents came to Jeremy Corbyn by way of Russian hackers is not made anywhere in the article itself, but for the headline-skimming majority this makes no difference. And headline skimmers get as many votes as people who read and think critically.

All this new Cold War Russia hysteria is turning people’s brains into guacamole. We’ve got to find a way to snap out of the propaganda trance so we can start creating a world that is based on truth and a desire for peace

The Pentagon finally reveals what Trump’s mysterious ‘super duper missile’ actually is
July 18, 2020
by Ryan Pickrell
Business Insider

A senior Pentagon official told CNN on Thursday what the “super duper missile” that President Donald Trump first brought up in the Oval Office in May actually is.

The official said Trump was referring to a hypersonic glide body test that the Pentagon conducted in March.

Trump claimed the new weapon is 17 times faster than anything currently available, but the defense official told CNN that the weapon is actually able to fly at 17 times the speed of sound.

The Department of Defense finally revealed what President Donald Trump’s so-called super duper missile actually is, with a senior defense official telling CNN that the president’s previous descriptions were close but not quite right.

In May, Trump boasted about US military strength in the Oval Office and in the process announced that the US is building a new missile he said was much faster than anything currently available.

“We’re building incredible military equipment at a level that nobody has ever seen before. We have no choice with the adversaries we have out there,” the president said.

“We have — I call it, the ‘super duper missile,'” Trump said, explaining that he “heard the other night, 17 times faster than what they have right now. You’ve heard Russia has five times and China’s working on five or six times. We have one 17 times, and it’s just gotten the go-ahead.”

In June, the president claimed that the weapon could strike a target 1,000 miles away, hitting within 14 inches of center point.

The prevailing view of the president’s comments has been that the president was referring to some type of hypersonic weapon. The Department of Defense said in a statement shortly after the president’s first remarks that the Pentagon “is working on developing a range of hypersonic missiles to counter our adversaries.”

“What he was referring to, really, was the recent flight test that we’ve performed in March where we flew 17 times the speed of sound,” a senior defense official told CNN Thursday.

Toward the end of March, the US military successfully carried out a flight test of a glide body for future hypersonic weaponry.

“Today we validated our design and are now ready to move to the next phase towards fielding a hypersonic strike capability,” said Vice Adm. Johnny R. Wolfe, the director of Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, said in March.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the glide body “flew at hypersonic speed to a designated impact point,” adding that “this event is a major milestone towards the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic warfighting capabilities in the early- to mid-2020s.”

Hypersonic weapons are a key area of great-power competition between the US, China, and Russia, and fielding hypersonic weapons is a top priority for the Pentagon.

Hypersonic missiles fly at speeds of at least five times the speed of sound, but their speed — faster than a cruise missile but slower than a ballistic missile — is not what makes them deadly. These weapons fly along unpredictable flight paths, making them very difficult for traditional air-and-missile defense systems to intercept.

A missile able to fly at 17 times than the speed of sound is an impressive feat, but US adversaries claim they can beat that. Russia, for instance, claims its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, a weapon launched atop an intercontinental ballistic missile, can fly at speeds 27 times the speed of sound. Russia put the Avangard into an operational status last December.

China, another US strategic rival, unveiled its DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle during a military parade last fall.

The US Army intends to field a ground-launched hypersonic weapon in 2023, with the Navy fielding a ship-launched variant the same year, Defense News reported in March following the glide body test. A submarine-launched version is expected in 2024.

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Kelly Sutton

Kelly Sutton is a California-based MD who practices anthroposophic medicine, a branch of woo pretty much as quacky as it gets. According to her website, she “bases her diagnosis in part on conventional medicine,” but also asserts that “[s]ignificant understanding arises from listening to aspects of an individual’s biography, life purpose, the emotional context of illness and health, and understanding the level of vitality and strength of the life forces.” She then “treats acute and chronic illness using the least toxic effective treatment for the condition. Anthroposophic remedies (low potency homeopathic preparations and herbs), diet, nutritional supplements, healthy rhythm, warmth are some of the foundational principles she employs.” Not a doctor to consult if you suffer from acute illness, in other words, and yes: there will be homeopathy.

However, Sutton is probably more notable for having made a bit of a career as an ally of the antivaccine movement, for instance by offering webinars on how conspiracy-minded antivaccine parents can circumvent the requirements of California’s SB277 by seeking medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. For instance, her seminar “Step-by-step Program to Help Protect Your Child from the ‘One Size Fits All’ California Vaccine Mandate!” promises you the “tools and knowledge you need to protect your rights as a parent [yes: it’s all about the parents’ rights; the rights of children not to be medically neglected or protected from potentially life-threatening diseases rarely even cross these people’s minds] to choose the healthcare of your child” and to take you “from cornered to confident” for the meager sum of  $27 if you take advantage of the early bird special. She does claim that she is neither antivaccine nor pro-vaccine – her claim to take you from “cornered to confident” sort of suggests otherwise – but “pro-parent”: again, the child isn’t even on the radar. She also tells parents to trust themselves and that no one cares more or knows more, which is, of course, false, but an effective marketing gambit. The webinars are otherwise full of standard antivaccine misinformation and gambits, including “vaccines didn’t save us” and “Pasteur was wrong”. Kelly Sutton’s practices are, in other words, hardcore antivaccine; indeed, she even says that she sees “daily in my practice evidence of vaccine injury and I hear stories almost every day of families that vaccinate children and then decide not to vaccinate and the unvaccinated children within the same family are healthier, more socially adjusted and more capable academically even though their parents are older than the siblings who were born first and were fully vaccinated.” Which is what is otherwise known as confirmation bias – unless it’s lying, of course; perhaps her claim that she’s neither here nor there should be interpreted as not caring too much about whether she actually believes the claims she is making.

Fortunately the Medical Board of California was not impressed, and placed Sutton, together with fellow antivaccine-promoting doctors Bob Sears, Michael Fielding Allen, Ron Kennedy and Kenneth Stoller – yes, there is a whole cottage industry here – under investigation in 2019 (“We feel this doctor and perhaps her colleagues … are making easy money on these exemptions that are not based on true medical need and are actually putting children and other people in the community at risk for contracting and spreading serious infectious diseases,” stated the complaint, and a physician review of the exemptions found Sutton’s exemptions “either of questionable validity or patently without medical basis”). The court petition is here.

Diagnosis: Hard to tell whether she is insane or just spineless, but the two are not mutually exclusive. And the exemptions written by Sutton, Sears and some of their colleagues are actually increasing the likelihood of disease outbreaks that are likely to lead to deaths, which makes Sutton a genuine threat to public health and life. And just think about it: Sutton had the skills and perseverance needed to learn a trade where she could actually make the world a better place, yet this is what she ended up doing. What a waste of life and talent! It’s actually deeply tragic.

Shannon Strayhorn

The Thinking Moms’ Revolution is a website devoted to mothers who like to try their hand at what they characterize as thinking but also unfortunately lack any comprehension of what critical thinking could possibly involve (yes, it’s hard: It must be learned), how to evaluate evidence or in general many of the topics they choose to write about. The result is, of course, rampant pseudoscience, new age bullshittery and denialism – anti-vaccine views are for instance regularly promoted – and their conclusions are based not so much on thinking as on feeling their way to their own gut reaction, guided by carefully selected and framed anecdotes.

Shannon Strayhorn, for instance, is one of the “THINKERS”. She is not very good at it. (Perhaps nagging doubt is why they felt the need to put “THINKERS” in capital letters.) Instead, she tries to compensate with a large dose of self-righteousness and sense of self-importance. Strayhorn appears to consider herself as something of a modern-day, anti-vaccine Sun Tzu in her post “If You Know Your Enemy and Know Yourself …”. She fails miserably on that second part, of course, and, indeed, equally miserably on the first. When she signed up for Paul Offit’s free online course on vaccines at CHOP, for instance, Strayhorn “didn’t sign up to learn something about vaccines, as I have been studying that for years” (yes, the University of Google); she “signed up to learn about the opposition.” Yes, the result is a brilliant display of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

It wasn’t the first time Strayhorn signed up for such a course, and her previous antics in a course on vaccine clinical trials offered by Johns Hopkins University is telling: Instead of trying to learn anything, Strayhorn rather went directly to the student discussion boards to spread antivaccine misinformation and anecdotes (she has, for instance, weighed in on the so-called “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory with, well, conspiracy mongering (“mainstream media isn’t covering it”)). The other students were, predictably, not particularly impressed with her contributions, and it is worth quoting Strayhorn’s reaction to being rebuffed by the other students in full, since it gives such a fascinating and telling glimpse of where she is coming from: “I kindly said while I am soooooo impressed with their degrees and careers that I find it scary that someone so educated could in fact get to that point considering they couldn’t even be bothered to read the science, and couldn’t counter one little mom like myself. I asked if it was necessary to post my resume too? I was told we are just parents who are so clueless and don’t understand what the difference is between causation and correlation, that the discussion was going to be stopped because it was off topic, and that it wasn’t necessary to counter what I shared because the science was in and definite. Definitely in. Bahahaha….oh it is in….but it is clearly not showing what they want!” Yes, that’s the kind of person we are talking about. You know the kind.

According to Strayhorn, however, there is no need to learn because the issue is settled: “We don’t need to combat the same old nonsense. We have the information. We moved the goal posts. We won’t be dragged into ridiculous debates from ten years ago. There is no debate. We are not going to allow the same old tactics.” Well, they certainly moved the goal posts, but their tactics are precisely the same they were ten years ago – what Strayhorn means is of course that she is going to continue to disregard the obvious responses to her tactics and talking points provided ten years ago and ever since.

Diagnosis: Yes, a regular antivaccine troll, nothing more, but Strayhorn does her trolling with a level of self-righteousness and sense of self-importance that is truly dazzling, even for her ilk. Probably one of the best examples of Dunning-Kruger and Mount Stupid in our Encyclopedia.

 

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