TBR News May 20, 2020

May 20 2020

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. May 20, 2020: Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it. “
Comment for May 20, 2020:”I think that Trump’s next lunatic belief will be to suggest that American’s drink a cup of Drano to ward off Covid-19.
This man, president or not, is as crazy as they come and what is really shocking are the number of wierdo citizens who believe him.
If he said Jon Rappaport was a brilliant scientist, that Obama was a giant lizard, that the earth was flat or, even more deranged, that Jesus was coming down from a fictional heaven to help him with his election campaign, the pin-heads would jump up and down with joy and run around sceaming like Special Olympics particpants.
His father was an active member of the KKK and his great uncle was a senior officer in the Nazi SS but he poses as a friend of Israel (though not black people) and he was a close friend and supporter of Willis Carto.
Hootings of joy and gibbering in the back woods of America can be heard whenever Trump launches one of his illiterate and manic screeches on Twitter.
Trump might seriously consider sitting down firmly on a very hot wood stove while the saner citizens cheered with delight.
Upwind of course.”

The Table of Contents
• Hydroxychloroquine, Trump and Covid-19: what you need to know
• Trump Taking Drug Discredited as Safe or Effective Against Coronavirus
• The Meaning of Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Quackery
• In Its Zeal to Blame China for Coronavirus, the Trump Administration Is Thwarting Investigations Into the Pandemic’s Origins
• Trump lashes out with distractions and disinformation
• Coronavirus is Just the Latest Excuse to Expand the Surveillance State
• The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Hydroxychloroquine, Trump and Covid-19: what you need to know
As the US president reports he is taking antimalarial drug, what are the risks and research?
May 19, 2020
by Peter Beaumont
The Guardian
Donald Trump has reignited a controversy over the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine after telling reporters he was taking the latter to protect himself against coronavirus. What do we know about these drugs?
What is hydroxychloroquine?
Hydroxychloroquine, which Trump says he has been taking for about two weeks, was developed as an antimalarial but it is also used to treat conditions like lupus, an anti-immune disease, and arthritis, where it can help combat inflammation. It has been licensed for use in the US since the mid 1950s and is listed by the World Health Organization as an “essential” medicine.
What is the link to Covid-19?
Researchers have been interested in chloroquines as an anti-viral agent for some time. A study in Virology Journal in 2005 found that chloroquine inhibited the closely related Sars virus in primate cells in lab conditions.
However, evidence for the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in recent human trials during the coronavirus pandemic has been at best inconclusive, with some suggestions that it could worsen the outcome of severe cases.
The WHO is looking at whether hydroxychloroquine could be an effective Covid-19 treatment, while the US National Institutes for Health is also running a clinical trial to establish whether the drug, administered together with the antibiotic azithromycin, can prevent hospitalisation and death from Covid-19.
In recent days, enthusiasm about hydroxychloroquine has been boosted by a study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, that looked at the combination of hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin and zinc supplements.
It showed that patients who received the three-drug combination vs the two-drug combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were 44% less likely to die than the second group. Joseph Rahimian, a co-author of the study, pointed out that the study’s findings were limited to the possible promise of zinc, not of hydroxychloroquine.
What’s the state of the current evidence?
In May, the British Medical Journal reported on a randomised (although still problematic) clinical trial in China that found little evidence hydroxychloroquine worked, with serious adverse events noted in two patients.
A second study reported in the BMJ last week on a French trial also concluded that hydroxychloroquine does not significantly reduce admission to intensive care or improve survival rates in patients hospitalised with pneumonia owing to Covid-19. Overall, 89% of those who received hydroxychloroquine survived after 21 days, compared with 91% in the control group.
The US Food and Drug Administration in a safety alert issued on 24 April warned that it had received reports that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine could have serious side-effects and that the drugs should be taken only under the close supervision of a doctor in a hospital setting or a clinical trial.
What are the risks in taking hydroxychloroquine?
There are a number of side-effects. The most serious is that it can interfere with the rhythm of the heart. Other side-effects include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, skin rash or itching or hair loss. Research published by the Mayo Clinic has suggested that “off-label” repurposing of drugs such as hydroxychloroquine could lead to “drug-induced sudden cardiac death”.
Although Trump’s official physician has said he was in “very good health” at his last official checkup, the president is 73 and his recorded weight would put him in a BMI category of “clinically obese”.
So why is Trump taking it?
Despite there being no conclusive body of evidence that it can be effective when used to prevent contracting coronavirus, the president apparently decided in conversation with the White House physician Sean P Conley that it was worth the risks.
“After numerous discussions he and I had for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,” Conley wrote.
It is probably worth pointing out that Conley, a naval doctor, trained initially as an osteopath and then in emergency medicine, serving as research director at Portsmouth Navy Department of Emergency Medicine prior to his assignment to the White House medical unit.
For his part, Trump, despite the FDA and other warnings, said: “I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years.”
Have we been here before?
Yes. Trump has a history of personally advocating for the use hydroxychloroquine, which he has described as a potential “game-changer”. Although it has been reported that Trump has a small stake in a French company that makes hydroxychloroquine via an investment fund, this seems to be about Trump’s own hunches and his desire to be both proved right and protected against the disease.
On Monday, he also claimed lots of doctors were using the drug prophylactically and cited letters he had received from members of the public. As Paul Waldman, a columnist in the Washington Post, has suggested, this is more about Trump’s psychology than anything else.
“Trump compensates for his own insecurity by working to convince himself and everyone else that the experts don’t know what they’re talking about, and he knows more than them about everything,” Waldman has written.

Trump Taking Drug Discredited as Safe or Effective Against Coronavirus
May 19, 2020
by E.J. Mundell
HealthDay News —
Despite numerous studies suggesting that certain drugs touted by President Donald Trump as “game changers” against coronavirus are actually useless and even harmful, Trump on Monday claimed he has been taking one of them for more than a week.
Trump said he has been taking the drug hydroxychloroquine for about a week and a half in an effort to help prevent infection or illness with SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus. He said he is taking the drug with the approval of the White House physician.
Trump said, “All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK,” The New York Times reported.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Trump pointed to hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, as perhaps a quick medicinal solution to the growing coronavirus scourge.
But any early promise on the drugs’ potential against the virus soon fizzled.
For example, one U.S. study published in late April found the death rate for people with COVID-19 who took hydroxychloroquine on top of usual care was actually higher than those who didn’t — 28% vs. 11%, respectively.
Soon after, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that “hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.”
The FDA also warned that “hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation and a dangerously rapid heart rate called ventricular tachycardia.”
On May 8, New York City physicians reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked outcomes for nearly 1,400 patients with severe COVID-19. Those that got hydroxychloroquine fared no better than those who did not.
Two other studies showing similar results were published just last week.
Despite all the bad scientific news on hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, the mere fact that Trump endorsed the drugs triggered a surge in sales. A study led by Michael Liu at Oxford University in the United Kingdom found that Google searches indicative of online shopping for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine surged by 1389% following Trump’s endorsement.
Dr. Matthew Heinz is a hospitalist and internist at Tucson Medical Center in Arizona. Reacting to Trump’s announcement on Monday, he said that, “I cannot stress enough how reckless it is to encourage anybody to take hydroxychloroquine or any other unproven remedy for SARS-CoV-2.”
“Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are not benign substances and can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening, adverse effects,” including sometimes fatal cardiac arrhythmias, he noted. “This is especially true when so many people already have underlying cardiac and other medical conditions — they are even more susceptible to such side effects.”
According to the Times, Trump, 73, is statistically obese at 243 pounds, eats fatty food, shuns exercise, and takes a cholesterol-lowering statin.
Heinz said that beyond any theoretical threat to the president’s health, supporting the use of hydroxychloroquine poses a threat to the health of those who might copy his actions.
“Our political leadership must serve as an example during this pandemic and should reinforce the recommendations of qualified medical professionals and public health officials,” Heinz said. “Taking hydroxychloroquine is not recommended to treat or prevent COVID-19.”
The drug is useful in treating other conditions, such as lupus.
So, “encouraging off-label use of hydroxychloroquine [plaquenil] has caused shortages of the medication for patients, like my own sister, who rely on the medication for other conditions,” Heinz said.

The Meaning of Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Quackery
The President’s pronouncements are a reminder, if one was needed, of his scorn for rigorous science, even amid the worst pandemic to hit the U.S. in a century.
March 29, 2020
by Steve Coll
The New Yorker
On March 18th, researchers in France circulated a study about the promising experimental use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, in combination with azithromycin, an antibiotic, as a treatment for the disease caused by the coronavirus. The study was neither randomized nor peer-reviewed, and other scientists soon criticized its methodology. But Tucker Carlson, on Fox News, highlighted the work. The next day, President Trump promoted hydroxychloroquine’s “very, very encouraging early results.” He added, mentioning another unproven therapy, “I think it could be, based on what I see, it could be a game changer.”
At a White House press briefing on March 20th, a reporter asked Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whether hydroxychloroquine could be effective in treating covid-19. “The answer is no,” Fauci said, before yielding the microphone to Trump, who countered, “May work, may not. I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling, you know, smart guy.” A few days later, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said, “Using untested drugs without the right evidence could raise false hope and even do more harm than good.”
Trump’s quackery was at once eccentric and terrifying—a reminder, if one was needed, of his scorn for rigorous science, even amid the worst pandemic to strike the country in a century. Yet his conduct typified his leadership as the crisis has intensified: his dependency on Fox News for ideas and message amplification, his unshakable belief in his own genius, and his understandable concern that his reëlection may be in danger if he does not soon discover a way to vanquish COVID-19 and reverse its devastation of the economy.
New York City now faces a “troubling and astronomical” increase in cases, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the emergency is overwhelming hospitals, straining drug and equipment supplies, and threatening to cause a shortage of ventilators. The grim course of events in the city is a “canary in the coal mine” for the rest of the country, Cuomo said, and leaders elsewhere must take decisive action lest they, too, become inundated. Trump, though, spent much of last week promoting a contrarian gambit that has been percolating in the right-wing media. He said that, to revitalize the economy, he would like to lift travel restrictions and reopen workplaces across the country within weeks, perhaps by Easter, which is on April 12th, because, as he put it repeatedly, “we can’t let the cure be worse than the problem.”
Public-health experts immediately warned against such a reversal of social-distancing rules. “The virus will surge, many will fall ill, and there will be more deaths,” William Schaffner, a specialist in preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told the Times. When a reporter asked the President whether any of the “doctors on your team” had advised him that a hasty reopening was “the right path to pursue,” he replied, “If it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down . . . let’s keep it shut for a couple of years.’ ” Public-health specialists have said no such thing; they have spoken of a conditions-based approach (“You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Fauci has said), while advising that, to save the most lives, local leaders must wait to lift restrictions in their areas until the data show that the virus has stopped spreading. Trump said that any loosening of rules he might seek around the country—he mentioned Nebraska and Idaho as possible sites—would be “based on hard facts and data,” but he also said that he chose Easter as a target date because he “just thought it was a beautiful time.”
It is true, as Trump also argued, that enormous job losses and an all but certain recession caused by the pandemic will harm many vulnerable Americans, and claim lives, as ill people without health insurance, for example, forgo care or struggle to get it at stressed clinics and hospitals. Yet, at least in the short term, over-all mortality rates fall during recessions; the reasons for this aren’t fully clear, but social scientists think they may include the public-health benefits of a decrease in pollution, as a result of the slowing economy. In any event, the case the President made for hurrying an economic revival against the advice of scientists was morally odious; it suggested that large numbers of otherwise avoidable deaths might have to be accepted as the price of job creation.
Public-health officials spoke frankly to the press about the catastrophic prospects of the President’s Easter folly. (“President Trump will have blood on his hands,” Keith Martin, the director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, told the Times.) Trump responded on Twitter by lashing out at the “LameStream Media” for reporting such forecasts, calling the press “the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success.” Last Wednesday, after Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted to convict the President, on a charge of abuse of power, during the Senate impeachment trial, announced that he had tested negative for COVID-19, Trump tweeted mockingly, “I’m so happy I can barely speak.” At the White House briefings, surrounded by the sorts of civil servants and experts he habitually disdains, Trump has adapted awkwardly to the role of solemn unifier. When he leaves the podium to tweet nonsense at his perceived enemies, he at least provides his opponents among the country’s homebound, screen-addled, and anxious citizenry with a galvanizing dose of his immutable obnoxiousness—a splash of the old new normal.
The journal Science asked Fauci why he doesn’t step in when the President makes false statements in the briefings. “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” he said. America’s public-health system is fragmented and market-driven, conditions that only compound the challenge of quashing COVID-19. In the Trump era, however, decentralization has a benefit: the President is not solely in charge, and in the months ahead governors and mayors will continue to shape the odds of life or death for great numbers of Americans. Last week, Trump reviewed the possibilities for quarantine in New York City, his ravaged home town. He rambled about the stock exchange (“It’s incredible what they can do”), before going on to pledge, “If we open up, and when we open up . . . we’re giving the governors a lot of leeway” to decide how this should be done. We can only hope so.

In Its Zeal to Blame China for Coronavirus, the Trump Administration Is Thwarting Investigations Into the Pandemic’s Origins
May 19, 2020
by Mara Hvistendahl
The Intercept
For weeks, President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been claiming without evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic is linked to a lab in Wuhan that researches bat coronaviruses. Their efforts are clearly calculated to distract from Trump’s bungled response to the virus, and, for rational observers, they have tainted the notion that the outbreak began with a lab accident or safety breach.
But while many scientists think a lab origin is unlikely, biosafety experts still see it as a possibility. The administration’s posturing may ultimately make it much more difficult to figure out what actually happened in the earliest days of the outbreak — even if, ironically, the clues do end up leading back to a lab.
Based on the available evidence, SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes Covid-19 — likely emerged in bats in the wild and then jumped to humans, possibly via an intermediary animal. What is unclear is where that pivotal transmission, called a “spillover” event, occurred. Chinese authorities have pushed the theory that it happened at Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where 27 of the 41 earliest cases were clustered. Some scientists believe it could have happened in nature, for example in the villages surrounding the caves in southwestern China where bats harboring coronaviruses live. As countries urbanize and humans encroach onto animals’ habitats, natural spillovers have become increasingly common. But other experts say that the possibility of a lab accident, infection during fieldwork, or other safety breach cannot yet be ruled out — and that determining whether such a breach occurred is imperative.
“An open investigation is absolutely warranted and absolutely essential,” said Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University. A longtime biosafety proponent, Ebright believes that a lab error is “at least as probable” as an entirely natural spillover event. “Unsupported claims by Trump and Pompeo have politicized and polarized the issue and likely have had the effect of making an open investigation less likely.”
Last month, Australia led the way in calling for such an investigation, suggesting that it would raise the issue at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, at its meeting this week. “We just want to know what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference on May 8. Canada, Germany, and Sweden backed the idea. But U.S. meddling sabotaged the effort, and the result is a watered down resolution, backed by the European Union and over 100 countries, calling for an inquiry into the international response to the pandemic. The resolution avoids singling out China, and on Monday Beijing threw its support behind the weakened language. It was adopted on Tuesday, but the world will need to wait for a full investigation.
Such an effort is needed for many reasons. China has been conducting its own investigation but has not shared any information with the World Health Organization. And the Chinese government’s early cover-up of the outbreak and silencing of critics does not instill confidence that it will be forthcoming as to the origins of the virus.
Virologists say that learning more about how the coronavirus infected humans could help ward off future outbreaks. The discovery of an animal species carrying a closely related virus, for example, could help the world prevent a resurgence in cases by showing where to focus control efforts. A wet market origin could fuel an international movement to close wildlife markets. And for scientists, knowing whether a lab accident played any role is critical to ensuring safe research conditions going forward.
But by relentlessly pushing the lab leak theory without giving evidence to back it up, Trump and Pompeo have narrowed the chances that the world will get clarity on the pandemic’s origins. Both men have clouded the discussion by touting the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was deliberately made in a Chinese lab as a bioweapon — an idea that has been roundly rejected by both scientists and intelligence officials. Trump has also called on China to compensate the United States for the outbreak. Pompeo, meanwhile, has so angered Beijing that on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called him a “lying blabbermouth.” By most accounts, the international push for an investigation came about not because of the extreme U.S. position, but in spite of it.
Speculation about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level 4 facility built with French assistance, started early on. In January, a study published by Chinese scientists in The Lancet found that the first patient diagnosed with the coronavirus, on December 1, had no connection to the wet market.
That set off guesses and conspiracy theories alike. “We need to look wider than just the wet market origin,” said Filippa Lentzos, a biosafety expert at King’s College London. “At the moment it’s still an open question.” The closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2 is a bat coronavirus that was sampled by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but the two viruses are not close enough to suggest a direct link.
A number of recent outbreaks, including HIV, Zika, and the first SARS virus, were caused by purely natural spillovers. And yet, there have also been outbreaks caused by lab accidents. A 1977 outbreak of H1N1 in the Soviet Union and China is believed to have been caused by Soviet scientists experimenting with a live virus in a lab, perhaps to make a vaccine. In a 2007 breach at Pirbright, a biosafety level 4 animal research facility in Surrey, in the United Kingdom, wastewater containing live virus leaked out of drainage pipes and into the soil, sickening animals in the region with foot-and-mouth disease. The first SARS virus escaped from labs in Asia on three occasions. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratories — which are considered state-of-the-art — have experienced serious safety breaches.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology worked with U.S. collaborators on controversial experiments called gain-of-function studies, which involve making viruses more dangerous to test their transmissibility. Years before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, gain-of-function experiments were at the center of a global scientific controversy. Proponents said that the studies could help advance knowledge of infectious diseases and prevent the next pandemic. Detractors warned that they were too risky and that they might also cause the next pandemic. The National Institutes of Health, which funded work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology through its PREDICT program, placed a moratorium on such research in 2014 and lifted it in 2017 after developing a new review framework for the studies. Today, most gain-of-function research is funded by the United States.
In order to determine what happened, these experts say, the world needs a neutral inquiry untainted by the Trump administration’s efforts to divert attention away from the botched U.S. response. “The investigation shouldn’t be about apportioning blame,” said Lentzos. “The investigation needs to be about finding a credible answer for how the pandemic started and then using that to develop an early warning for the future.”
When Australia called for an inquiry in April, its government aimed to counter the Trump administration’s posturing with a more sensible proposal. The goal was “to minimize the reach of conspiracy theories about the virus that have been surfaced by U.S. and Chinese officials alike,” said Natasha Kassam, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, a think tank in Sydney.
For years, Australia had been a loyal ally of the United States, backing American foreign policy goals even as the rest of the world balked. During the Iraq War, as the Bush administration pushed faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, Australian Prime Minister John Howard was so pliant that commentators dubbed him Washington’s “deputy sheriff.” The Trump presidency has seriously tested Australia’s devotion, though. Pompeo tested it further when he suggested, following Australia’s announcement, that the country was merely supporting U.S. efforts to pinpoint an origin.
A “dossier” leaked to the Australian press caused further problems. The document, which was detailed by the Australian paper the Daily Telegraph in a breathless article published on May 4, dealt with China’s handling of the outbreak and cast suspicion on the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Many of the details were familiar, including the fact that China had silenced doctors, thwarted early attempts at international cooperation, and subjected academic papers on the virus to special review. It later emerged that the dossier was in fact a summary of existing news reports that is believed to have been circulated by the U.S. embassy in Canberra.
These developments annoyed Chinese officials, who last week threatened to place steep tariffs on Australian beef and barley. “They see it, through their dialectical lens, as a coordinated and direct attack by Australia on behalf of the United States,” said Andrew Chubb, an expert on Chinese politics and international relations at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. Australia ended up backing down, and the Morrison government threw its support behind the milder World Health Assembly resolution. China imposed the tariff on barley and banned exports from four Australian meat processing plants anyway.
If a full investigation is eventually conducted, biosafety experts hope that it will include a review of samples and safety protocols from the Wuhan labs as well as the wet market. Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said it would be useful to see lab records from Wuhan going back to August, as well as any records from work with other mammalian viruses.
“If it was a breach, we need to know, because then clearly we are overestimating our capacities to contain some of these viruses,” he said. “We need to know this as scientists because if it can infect one scientist then it can infect a third, fourth, fifth.”
The Trump administration’s determination to find a scapegoat is short-sighted, he said, and the notion of asking China to pay for the outbreak is unprecedented. “No country can pay retribution for a thing like this,” Wain-Hobson told The Intercept. “What about a bit of compassion?”

Trump lashes out with distractions and disinformation
May 18, 2020
by Chris Megerian, Noah Bierman, Eli Stokols
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump has accelerated his attacks on government watchdogs, judges, reporters and other independent voices as he runs for reelection, escalating his spread of disinformation about perceived enemies and his administration’s record during the COVID-19 crisis.
Trump fired yet another inspector general, raged against a government whistleblower and repeatedly retweeted video of a local TV reporter being harassed in New York — all since Friday. He also amplified a sinister conspiracy theory he dubbed “Obamagate” in which he alleges, but never specifies, crimes by his predecessor.
On Monday, Trump abruptly said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine pills daily for “about a week and a half” as a preventative against the novel coronavirus, dramatically intensifying his efforts to promote an unproved anti-malaria drug that he has touted as a potential “game changer” for dealing with the pandemic.
His comments caused alarm because the Food and Drug Administration warned last month that the prescription drug has “not been shown to be safe and effective” at treating or preventing COVID-19, saying it could cause “serious heart rhythm problems.”Trump lashes out with distractions and disinformation Trump lashes out with distractions and disinformation
Experts struggled to think of a historical parallel where the president has turned the world’s most powerful and influential office into a megaphone for wholesale fabrications and bizarre claims in an effort to confuse voters and salvage his own political future.
“Trump is certainly not the first politician to lie or invent stories,” said Eileen Culloty, who researches disinformation at Dublin City University in Ireland. “But his history of making baseless, conspiratorial claims — whether it’s Obama’s birth certificate, linking Ted Cruz’s family to the Kennedy assassination or now Obamagate — is striking for its scale and frequency.”
Critics said Trump’s messaging was particularly destructive as Americans struggle with the pandemic, which has crippled the economy and killed more than 90,000 in the U.S. as of Monday.
“A pandemic is the perfect laboratory for disinformation because people are scared, they’re anxious — and all of the social science around conspiracy theories shows when people feel anxious and scared, they’re more likely to believe conspiracy theories,” said Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine and former senior State Department official.
“Trump has figured that out. This campaign is headed to a low point that we’ve never experienced before in American history, because he is not at all compelled to align his message with reality,” he added.
Trump’s adult children have gone even further in attempts to smear his opponents and raise doubts among voters.
Trump’s eldest son, who serves as a campaign surrogate, posted an Instagram meme outlandishly describing Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, as a pedophile. Donald Trump Jr. later claimed he was joking but continued to share videos of the former vice president touching women in what he described as an inappropriate way.
The president’s other son and campaign surrogate, Eric Trump, claimed in a weekend Fox News interview that Democrats were somehow manipulating the coronavirus to prevent his father from holding large campaign rallies.
“They’ll milk it every single day between now and Nov. 3, and guess what? After Nov. 3, coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear, and everybody will be able to reopen,” he said.
Trump’s allies have routinely excused his outlandish attacks by describing him as a victim of partisan attacks who is fighting dirty by necessity. Still, Trump learned early on that the most incendiary attacks earned him the most attention. Since taking office, his torrent of falsehoods has set records.
The strategy was outlined two years ago by the president’s former political advisor Steve Bannon.
“The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon told an interviewer. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with [excrement].”
Trump is the first president to rely so extensively on social media to bypass the news organizations that traditionally served as a check on the White House. He has nearly 80 million Twitter followers, and his campaign routinely posts tailored ads on Facebook and other digital platforms.
Trump has long demonized major media organizations as unpatriotic and unfair. But he has expanded his attacks beyond the White House press corps as polls show broad public disapproval of his response to the coronavirus crisis.
On Monday, he again retweeted a video of a local television reporter getting heckled with profane gestures and shouts during an anti-shutdown protest in Long Island, N.Y.
“They hate Fake News, and so do I!” Trump wrote atop the video.
Trump’s barrage of accusations and counterattacks helps muddy the truth about his administration’s performance. Trump puts all criticism into a jumble of partisan bickering, too messy for many voters to unravel.
Experts in disinformation say Trump’s attacks on fact-checkers as well as internal government watchdogs serve a common purpose: working the refs.
“One of the strategies that Donald Trump uses is to flood all of those spaces,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the nonpartisan think tank Atlantic Council, which researches the intersection of governance, technology, security and social media.
“If you can’t tell what is true, then we’ve basically lost the shared sets of facts that democracy is based on,” he said.
Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford in England, said modern right-wing politicians in Europe have tried similar tactics but with fewer resources and less success.
“In most democratic countries, what we see is a public outcry,” she said. “But Trump not only gets away with it, he’s celebrated for it.”
Trump has increasingly alleged that former President Obama, Biden and members of their administration committed unspecified crimes during the Russia investigation, which Trump now calls “Obamagate,” and urged that they be hauled before Congress or prosecuted.
Two of Trump’s most public defenders have declined both suggestions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he has no plans to invite either Obama or Biden to testify. And Atty. Gen. William Barr told reporters Monday that he doesn’t expect a “criminal investigation of either man” based on “the information I have today.”
Speaking later at the White House, Trump professed surprise at Barr’s comment, saying he has “no doubt that they were involved in it.”
Barr recently asked a federal judge to drop the case against Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security advisor. Flynn pleaded guilty more than two years ago to lying to federal agents about his conversations with the Russian ambassador but later claimed he was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has appointed a retired judge to argue against Barr’s motion and to recommend whether Flynn should be charged with contempt for perjury.
Flynn has “a judge that I guess doesn’t like him very much,” Trump told Fox Business last week. “Maybe the judge doesn’t like me very much.”
Trump has chipped away at independent oversight by firing federal officials empowered to find waste, fraud and abuse.
On May 1, he ousted Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, whose office had issued a report critical of the nation’s response to the coronavirus.
A month earlier, he removed Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community watchdog, as revenge for his role in providing Congress a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment by the House.
On Friday night, Trump sacked the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick. He was reportedly investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for improperly using a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and his wife.
On Monday, the president said he was removing inspectors general because they were appointed by Obama and were unfair to his administration.
“If they were put in by me, and it was somebody else’s administration, especially the other party, it could very well be that you’d be treated unfairly,” he said.
The role of inspectors general was strengthened after the Watergate scandal in the 1970s as Congress assumed a more investigative and adversarial role in countering the executive branch.
But those checks and balances have eroded in recent years, and Trump is hastening their demise.
“He is in a class by himself,” said Kathryn Olmsted, a UC Davis history professor who has studied post-Watergate political reforms. “He doesn’t feel constrained by rules or optics or norms.”

Coronavirus is Just the Latest Excuse to Expand the Surveillance State
May 13, 2020
by Mike Maharrey
Tenth Amendment Center
Federal, state and local agencies have teamed up to operate a warrantless cellphone tracking program to monitor compliance with COVID-19 social distancing requirements.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the program provides information on people’s movements in over 500 U.S. cities. According to the report, the CDC spearheads the program known as the COVID-19 Mobility Data Network with assistance from state and local governments. Tech companies and data providers have reportedly been cooperating with the effort.
This information has been fed to law enforcement agencies. For instance, according to a report from the Daily Mail, “one source shared that researchers learned that a huge number of New Yorkers had been visiting Brooklyn’s Prospect Part and handed the information over to authorities.”
Emergencies create the perfect excuse for government power to expand.
The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. The spread of coronavirus and the fear generated has opened the door to all kinds of government actions that would be intolerable in normal times. Once established, these government powers never go away. In fact, the 9/11 emergency allowed the federal government to create the foundation for the surveillance state that exists today with the passage of the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 “authorities.”
Since then, the federal government has been constructing an integrated national surveillance state with the cooperation of state and local agencies. The COVID-19 “emergency” provides an excuse to put that system to “good use.” it also sets the stage for further expansion and abuse of the system in the future.
Some have pushed back against further expansion of the surveillance state during the pandemic, recognizing the inherent danger of letting that particular cat out of the bag. The New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) released a statement opposing the expanded use of location data to track coronavirus.
“Even as we battle this unprecedented public health threat, we still have to uphold the Constitution. Warrantless cellphone location tracking has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and this surveillance program poses dire consequences for Americans’ privacy. We are deeply concerned that this data was not only collected in secret, but that it’s apparently being shared with no protections against being used by police or even ICE. While it’s unclear if this sort of surveillance state helps prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s quite clear that it undermines our most fundamental rights and risks driving countless Americans into the shadows.”
The COVID-19 tracking program reportedly strips records shared with government agencies of identifying information. But as a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points out, it’s virtually impossible to truly anonymize location data.
Practically speaking, there is no way to deidentify individual location data. Information about where a person is and has been itself is usually enough to reidentify them. Someone who travels frequently between a given office building and a single-family home is probably unique in those habits and therefore identifiable from other readily identifiable sources. One widely cited study from 2013 even found that researchers could uniquely characterize 50 percent of people using only two randomly chosen time and location data points.
It is possible to aggregate data in a way that protects individual identities, but once the pandora’s box is open, how do you keep everything inside? By its nature, government pushes the boundaries. It’s only a matter of time before police agencies are using this information to identify individuals.
Other countries have already used location data to identify specific people. China was particularly aggressive in using mass surveillance of phones to classify individuals based on their health status and to then restrict their movements. Those who claim “that can’t happen here” are naive. In fact, police have already used mass location tracking to hunt down fugitives.
Judges across the U.S. are issuing search warrants that effectively authorize police to search broad geographical areas to determine who was near a given place at a given time. In practice, these warrants give police permission to use Google location data to engage in massive fishing expeditions and subject hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people to police location tracking.
In practice, “geofence” warrants authorize police to search Google’s massive location tracking database for all of the phones within a given geographical area during a specific timeframe. According to the New York Times, federal agents first utilized the practice in 2016.
According to the Times, these broadly construed warrants help police pinpoint possible suspects and witnesses in the absence of other clues. Google employees said the company often responds to a single warrant with location information on dozens or hundreds of devices.
North Carolina produced the first public reports of this investigative tactic last year after detectives obtained warrants to obtain location data for all the phones that were in the area of two shootings. According to WRAL, “On a satellite image, they drew shapes around the crime scenes, marking the coordinates on the map. Then they convinced a Wake County judge they had enough probable cause to order Google to hand over account identifiers on every single cell phone that crossed the digital cordon during certain times.”
Geofencing could also be accomplished in real-time using celt site simulators, commonly known as “stingrays.” These devices essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower. This allows law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device.
Some argue that this kind of mass surveillance is necessary to catch “bad guys.” But what happens when the government defines a person stopping at the gun store or attending a church a “bad guy?”
Government powers never shrink. They only expand. Each expansion begets new expansions. It is imperative to place absolute limits on surveillance. We can’t trust government agents to limit themselves. As Patrick Henry warned, “Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed in the sole chance of their rulers being good men without a consequent loss of liberty.”

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Joseph Pizzorno

Not as market-aggressive as Joe Mercola or as high-profile as Andrew Weil, Joseph Pizzorno is nevertheless one of the most influential pseudoscientists affiliated with the world of woo (and associated conspiracy mongering) working today. Pizzorno is the founding President and currently President Emeritus of Bastyr University, arguably the most influential “schools” of naturopathic “medicine” in North America, and is still involved in the institution where he, right from the beginning and until 2000, was running its day-to-day operations. Now, Pizzorno’s style is a far cry from the paranoia-driven delusions of someone like, say, Mike Adams – he did, for instance, recognize Hulda Clark’s quackery for what it was (not exactly a major cognitive feat, though) – but his own brand of naturopathy is hardly more evidence-based or health-promoting; it just sounds less deranged to the uninitiated. Bastyr embraces homeopathy without criticism, for instance; indeed, Bastyr’s students are required to study homeopathy together with all the other nonsense suggested to be beneficial by naturopaths, from myofascial analysis and vega testing to traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and even distant healing and germ theory denialism. Make no mistake; Pizzorno, his university, and naturopathy in general, are anti-science to the core.
Pizzorno is the co-author of the Textbook of Natural Medicine(with Michael T. Murray, who is also former faculty at Bastyr University and currently on its Board of Regents), which is widely used even in accredited education programs – despite being demonstrably a piece of unscientific junk. The book is described in some detail here. It is advertised as “the gold standard in natural medicine,” and as a scientific presentation that “includes the science behind concepts and treatments, and discusses Western medical treatments and how they can work with natural medicine in a comprehensive treatment plan;” more than “10,000 research literature citations show that the content is based on science rather than opinions or anecdotes.” It is interesting that they felt the need to point it out. Of course, as most critics would also point out, more important than what they included is what they did not include (i.e. all the well-designed tests, real scientific literature, and the parts of the texts they cited that do not support the conclusions they wish to draw); besides, the authors are fully prepared to drop any pretense of scientific support when it suits them, and the chapters on therapeutic modalitis baldly admits that “[a]lthough this textbook is strongly oriented to the scientific method and the use of the peer-review literature for documentation of the efficacy of a therapy, these modalities’ widespread clinical use and long history of patient satisfaction demand that they be given a place here even though the mechanisms of action of several have yet to be elicited.” Or in short: when scientific evidence shows that what they wish would work doesn’t work, disregard the science and rely on anecdotes and appeals to popularity or tradition instead. Among the most obvious and damning things that should strike anyone opening the book is naturopathy’s wholesale endorsement of medieval-style and thoroughly refuted vitalism; Pizzorno and Murray are unfazed by refutation, however, and claim against all evidence, knowledge and reality that homeostasis, entropy, and even evolution require vitalistic rather than mechanistic explanations. This is, of course, not simply false but a testament to the authors’ poor judgment and equally poor understanding of science. There is a good review of the second edition of the textbook here.
Pizzorno is also co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods and The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the Bible of Woo, in which more or less every piece of quackery is described as efficacious and studies that might seem to support those types of quackery if you don’t look closely enough to see the flaws, are carefully selected to provide a sheen of legitimacy while the many high-quality studies that don’t “fit the narrative” are just not mentioned. Like the textbook, the Encyclopedia (e.g.) recommends a range of questionable dietary measures, vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs for more than 70 health problems ranging from acne to AIDS – in many cases daily administration of ten or more products is recommended, often in dosages high enough to cause toxicity.
Pizzorno is also the author of Total Wellness: Improve Your Health By Understanding Your Body’s Healing Systems, which even contains a chapter titled “Strengthen Your Immune System” arguing (assuming) that “immune suppression” as an underlying cause of most disease. Total Wellness book is also antivaccine, of course. “Quackery” simply isn’t strong enough to describe the nature of Pizzorno’s advice. And things are barely better in his How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine (with Murray, Tim Birdsall, and Paul Riley), one of many cancer quack books providing a whole “arsenal” of advice that range from the admittedly sensible to the useless, and since the latter is hard to distinguish from the former in the authors’ presentation, the book is one to avoid completely and with prejudice if you ever need information about cancer.
From the very founding of Bastyr, Pizzorno’s main concern seems to have been how to make naturopathic quackery look respectable. An important part of that process was of course to get their naturopathic program accredited, and to achieve this goal, Pizzorno helped write the CNME standards for naturopathic programs that would eventually be used to accredit Bastyr’s naturopathic program in 1987. Yes, accredidation is a mess; what Pizzorno and his allies achieved, was establishing a separate accrediting agency for naturopathic schools, effectively shielding them from effective oversight of their pseudoscience-filled curricula. Pizzorno is also on the board of AAFP’s Board on Functional Medicine; “functional medicine” being one of the ultimate misnomers in the world of woo.
Pizzorno has worked tirelessly to achieve more widespread acceptance of quackery through other venues as well, including offering courses for the American Council for Continuing Medical Education, where he for instance teaches about “Detoxification” and “Assessing Body Burden” – the latter presumably related to his Encyclopedia’s nonsensical claim that 25% of the US population suffers from heavy metal poisoning, which can ostensibly be assessed by provoked urine testing. That is a myth, of course, but tests almost ensuring false positives are useful for people pushing fraudulent detox regimes – you won’t have toxic levels of heavy metals in your body after completing the detox regimes, of course, and what more do you want? More on his efforts here.
As for his own background, Pizzorno has a B.S. in Chemistry and an N.D. (Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine) degree in 1975 from National College of Naturopathic Medicine. He does, in other words, not have a background in medicine.
Diagnosis: Quackery galore. But Pizzorno isn’t just a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist with a website, and his efforts to give naturopathy a sheen of legitimacy – marketing is everything, since most people don’t have the resources or background knowledge to assess the contents – have proved scarily successful. Definitely one of the most dangerous loons alive today.

Dan & Steve Peters

Dan Peters (I think: there was also an older brother Jim sometimes involved in their side-show).
I have no idea whether these guys are still around, and their influence has certainly waned over the last 35 or so years, but they are absolute legends of fundamentalist insanity, so we have to cover them just in case.

Steve Peters
The Peters brothers were seminal figures in the 80s fundamentalist anti-rock movement and produced an impressive amount of strikingly self-congratulatory and self-advertising books (including Why Knock Rock?and Rock’s Hidden Persuader: The Truth About Backmasking– with one Cher Merrill), tapes, lectures, TV appearances and what amounts to their very own traveling circus, starting with a widely publicized 1979 record burning event in Minnesota. Their success seems largely to be based on the strategy of taking everything Bob Larson says and going one step further (Jacob Aranza and Jeff Godwin would then go one step beyond the Peters Brothers again.) Their main complaint is what they perceive to be the fundamental themes of rock: nihilism, humanism (not a very profound understanding of that one), hedonism and occultism. And yeah, sometimes rock musicians appear to go in other directions, but things like LIVE AID won’t fool the Peters Brothers: “Many of the stars of LIVE AID got there by helping destroy the moral fiber of America’s youth.” Besides, it doesn’t matter so much what rock musicians profess to say, or what it sounds like they are saying – there are also the subliminal messages: The Peters Brothers are very concerned about the subliminal messages in rock music that are either backward-masked (apparently the unconscious mind can still interpret messages like “Here’s to my sweet Satan” in Led Zeppelin) or that they can identify by applying a solid dose of ill-will, motivated reasoning and something resembling numerology to the lyrics (interestingly, what they claim to find is usually related to sexual acts, like promoting “intercourse” and “oral sex” – the interpretations they find seem to tell us more about the “researchers” than the musicians they research). In fact, the Peters brothers don’t really think the musicians consciously put the messages there – rather, Satan himself is speaking through them and conveying his own messages through the music.
Their main data point is the alleged “epidemic” of suicides among kids involved in rock music, and their books tend to go on about the same number of highly mythicized stories about good teens ending up with drugs and shotguns after exposure to rock music (their circus often featured John Tanner – this story – performing for them and supporting their ideas.)
The most obviously lasting legacy of the Peters Brothers’ work “dedicated to exposing the TRUTH about rock” is probably the video titled Truth About Rock. In the video, you will ostensibly learn a lot of things, including:
– That “Mick Jagger is an avowed homosexual!”
– That “the cover of an Alan Parsons Project album has girls with syphilis sores on their faces cloaked by veils!”
– That “John Denver says that with the help of his guru, he will become God!”
– That “KISS stands for Kids in Service to Satan. Look into the eyes of Gene Simmons. The Bible tells us that the eyes are the windows of the soul. Nobody’s home there!” The Peters Brothers apparently once interviewed Gene Simmons.
– That “The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ is about the Church of Satan. I mean, I don’t know any other hotel where they’ll let you check out but you can’t leave!”
As opposed to some anti-rock figures, the Peters are fine with Christian rock: As long as the lyrics (and artist lifestyles) conform to the Bible, it is OK.
Diagnosis: Again: we don’t really know where they ended up, or whether they are still around for laughs and pointings, but if they are they really need an entry. This is pretty much as delusionally insane as fundamentalism comes.

Shelley Penney

The alkaline diet is a diet fad and type of nature woo that has recently gained quite a bit of popularity. The guiding idea is that altering your blood pH through diet change to make it more alkaline is a means to health benefits. As an idea, it is as stupid and insane as they come, because i) ) changing your blood pH will quickly lead to alkaliosis and death and certainly no health benefits, but ii) it doesn’t matter since it is impossible to change your blood pH through diet anyways. There is, in short, no evidence (not even the slightest) for any of the claims made by proponents of the diet, and the dietary recommendations – which are usually related to alkaline pH values at a rate little better than random chance – are often harmful for different reasons. Facts, however, tend to be of minimal importance to promoters of the idea, who often push it as part of some MLM scheme. It is of course common to mention that diet can alter urine pH (which may reduce the impact of kidney stones), something that is unrelated to your blood or the rest of your body.
One ardent promoter of the alkaline diet, is Shelley Penney, who runs the blog Real Water Health. RWH pushes in particular alkaline water, which ostensibly contains “millions of added electrons” to make the water alkaline and improve cell hydration. The blog does contain a list of 17 “Peer Reviewed Articles on Alkaline Water”, but a quick scan shows that these are articles discussing research on acidosis; none of them mention any benefits from actually drinking alkaline water. So it goes.
Penney herself is a retired nurse with interests in “health, peace and abundance”. Apparently she skipped the chemistry classes one would have hoped nurses (or any student with a highschool diploma) should have had. Penney claims, for instance, that “because it is very alkaline, ionized water may dissolve accumulated acid waste and return the body to a balance.” (The notion of “balance” involved is presumably this one.) She also claims that “keeping our body fluid pH in an alkaline state may be the first line of defense in fighting any disease,” which is technically true since an arterial blood pH much lower than 7.35–7.45 would quickly kill you. Of course, ionized water (which has a pH around seawater in any case) will not have the slightest effect on your body fluid pH.
Diagnosis: A disgrace to her profession, currently wasting her life on pushing harmful nonsense. A sad and sordid affair.

Jon Rappoport

Jon Rappoport is a deliriously insane “independent researcher” and blogger. According to his bio, he “has lectured extensively all over the US on the question: Who runs the world and what can we do about it?” For the last decade, however, he has “operated largely away from the mainstream” because, as he puts it, “[m]y research was not friendly to the conventional media.” Indeed. His independent research encompasses “deep politics, conspiracies, alternative health, the potential of the human imagination, mind control, the medical cartel, symbology, and solutions to the takeover of the planet by hidden elites.”
He is, for instance, a germ theory denialist, and in his post “Germ theory and depopulation” he argues that “[i]n general, so-called contagious diseases are caused, not by germs, but by IMMUNE SYSTEMS THAT ARE TOO WEAK TO FIGHT OFF THOSE GERMS” (yes, the capitalization is in the original). Indeed, “GERMS ARE A COVER STORY. What do they cover up? The fact that immune systems are the more basic target for depopulation and debilitation of populations.” The main tool is of course vaccines, which are weapons the nefarious powers that be use to kill off, well, it is a bit hard to see, partially because Rappoport’s post is mostly all-caps from there. At least HIV is a cover story as well.
He has a similar screed on flu vaccines on whale.to if that’s the kind of stuff you fancy reading. It is barely grammatical, but at least he gets his enthusiastic anger across rather well.
Currently Rappoport seems to write on various topics for InfoWars. Recently, for instance, Rappoport and InfoWars dubbed Rep. Tim Murphy’s bill seeking to reform the way the government addresses mental health services a “diabolical legislative package,” since Rappoport thought the legislation would require almost all children to take “psychiatric meds,” and that the bill will ultimately give the federal government “a monopoly of the mind.” Yeah, that’s the way he rolls.
Diagnosis: Hysterically crazy; and his influence is probably not quite as limited as his level of crazy should suggest.

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