Friday, May 29, 2020

So, Sure, Let's Keep That Gas Pedal On the Floor!


According to the New York Times, North Carolina has the worst Covid-19 death rate for nursing home residents and workers in the Southeast. According to the report, 57% of state deaths in North Carolina have come from nursing home residents or workers.

"Coronavirus deaths in [Burlington, NC] are doubling faster than any other in the US. .... Alamance County, about 60 miles northwest of Raleigh in North Carolina, has topped headlines during the coronavirus pandemic with a defiant racetrack [where somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 race fans crowded together last Saturday night]. Now the rate of COVID-19 deaths in the county’s largest city has made national news. Burlington, a Piedmont community of 55,000 people, had the highest daily average growth rate of deaths in the United States as of May 27, according to data compiled by The New York Times over the last two weeks. With a daily growth rate of 11%, the number of deaths doubles every 6.7 days in Burlington, The Times reported. The next highest rate is in Roanoke, Virginia, where the number of deaths doubles every 7.6 days." [News and Observer]

No Transparency in North Carolina for What's Driving the COVID Numbers


Major reporting is now available from a coalition of investigative journalists that much of the information about COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-processing plants is being kept from us.

North Carolina employs 35,590 workers in the industry, more than any other state except Texas and Georgia, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. We've known about the huge outbreak at the Tyson plant in Wilkes County because the Wilkes health department reported it and the company confirmed it, eventually admitting that almost 600 workers there had tested positive.

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson has admitted that the agency knows of more than 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at meat-processing facilities in North Carolina as of Tuesday of this week, but state officials are withholding information about the size of outbreaks at specific plants. Those 2,000 cases are spread across 28 outbreaks in 18 counties: Bertie, Bladen, Burke, Chatham, Davie, Duplin, Hoke, Lee, Lenoir, Randolph, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Surry, Union, Wayne, Wilkes and Wilson.

The department is leery of divulging the companies involved because it might discourage other companies from admitting they have a problem. What? That concealment seems guaranteed to harm the public health, and buck-passing looks like a virus of its own:
Statewide tracking of outbreaks at these kinds of facilities appears to have fallen into a responsibility or oversight gap. DHHS has repeatedly said the industry is regulated by the N.C. Department of Agriculture, and that DHHS can play only a supporting role in helping to implement protections for employees.
But state agriculture department officials say their oversight applies only to the food, not the health of workers. State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler repeatedly denied having authority to enforce any safety guidelines for workers at meat processing plants.
“That is not something we’re involved in,” Troxler said in a recent interview. “Public health is the lead agency on the response to this virus.”
Meanwhile, the people getting sick and spreading the disease to their families and their communities are largely poor, non-white, often immigrant. The president has already signaled that he thinks they're expendable, with his executive order that meat-processing plants stay open no matter what, and no one else seems to be rallying to their defense. Our nation, our society has grown callous and outright cruel, from the top down, and I'm not just talking about cops killing black people.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hospitalizations for COVID Trending Upward in North Carolina


Number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in North Carolina is trending upward, with a sizable uptick yesterday. No happy-talk flattening here.

Jeffrey Billman points out in his daily "Indy Week Primer":
Hospitalizations began rising around May 19, 11 days after Governor Cooper began relaxing restrictions, and picked up steam on May 25, three days after we entered phase 2 of our reopening plan. This could be a simple correlation, not causation, of course. We need more time and more data. But if I were in the ReOpenNC camp, these numbers might give me pause. (They won’t.)




Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Why Is the Town of Boone Mirroring Trump's Mockery of Masks?


Way back on April 3rd, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidance for Americans, that they should wear face coverings in public to slow the spread of a deadly virus. President Trump himself made the announcement while also saying that he wouldn't be wearing a mask himself, lest it make him look weak.

Without a mask, he looks like a fool. Since yesterday morning, when it turned down a motion by Councilman Sam Furgiuele to require the wearing of masks for indoor shopping in Boone, so does the Boone Town Council. What with hundreds of summer people now poised to return from far-flung places, bringing their novel driving skills and their coughs with them. Meanwhile, there's ample video evidence from across the land that individuals who choose to follow the advice of the CDC and wear a mask in public have been verbally abused as "pussies" and "sheep." "Politically correct Democrats."

The Town of Boone caved on its 14-day quarantine order yesterday morning, and then voted 3-2 against requiring masks for people entering indoor establishments -- they had already required masks for workers in those establishments, who are now exposed to everyone else's lack of respect. The three votes against face coverings -- Nancy LaPlaca, Dustin Hicks, and Connie Ulmer. They want to think that people will do the right thing.

Attorney Nathan Miller, who brought the suit against Boone for the quarantine order, proclaimed that the state of North Carolina has "flattened the curve" and that strict measures are no longer needed. "Flattened the curve"? That's Trumpian happy talk. I think of that moment in the horror movie when the teenagers hiding in the closet confer and decide that the slasher has gone. So they open the door. You know what comes next.

The best that can be said about our "curve" -- it's fluttering, not flattening. Saturday we hit the highest one-day total for new infections. Yesterday the total was down, probably because of less testing during the holiday weekend. On Monday the state reported its highest number ever of people hospitalized for COVID. North Carolina has surpassed 800 deaths. More cases mean more hospitalizations. More hospitalizations mean inevitably more death, especially for those patients in an ICU.

Mixing in public without face coverings will inevitably mean more infections. How many ICU beds does Watauga Medical Center currently have available?

How Can You Tell When Donald Trump Is Lying?


Answer: When his fingers do the typing.

Two days ago Twitterman tweeted:




"I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte" is just one of his quotidian whoppers, no biggie, like claiming Joe Scarborough killed someone or like saying all mail-in voting is fraudulent -- just a passing little lie that is supposed to sound like flattery.

When the fact is that Charlotte was the only city to bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention. The only one. (For the record, the Nevada Republican Party put in a request for Las Vegas, which was not supported by the city government nor by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.)

We could stage a good-sized tiff over just how misguided the six votes on the Charlotte City Council were to bring Trump and 50,000 of his flying monkeys to town, discounting of course the keen hindsight that a pandemic is giving us, but the fact that even Dallas, Texas, didn't bid for Trump's circus might have warned Charlotteans off this particular project.

Which is looking daily like a bigger burden than anybody bargained for. Roy Cooper could do worse than call this blowhard's bluff.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Vote-By-Mail Absentee Balloting Has Historically Been "Advantage Republicans" in NC


Seeing Twitterman begin to claim that vote-by-mail will be fradulent on its face in 2020 tells me a great deal about the fragility of this president, as though I needed more evidence that he's actually a snowflake. It also highlights his manifest stupidity, since in North Carolina at least, the Republican Party has benefitted most from absentee mail-in voting in the last four presidential elections.

Analysis of the massive North Carolina voter file by Dr. Michael Bitzer proves that "...absentee by mail voting, in North Carolina at least, is used by older, white suburban voters, who are more likely to be registered Republicans."




That graph also suggests that Gen-Z and Millennial voters are going to have to learn to navigate the unnecessarily complicated pathway to voting by mail if indeed the 2020 Blue Wave is going to break over the bow of Trump's yacht.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Holy Cow!


The scene Saturday at Ace Speedway in Alamance County.
Photo Robert Willett for the News and Observer
Adam Smith, a retired Marine and the husband of ReOpenNC organizer Ashley Smith, posted a string of Facebook Live videos on Facebook last Friday that culminated with a chilling threat:

“But are we willing to kill people? Are we willing to lay down our lives? We have to say, ‘Yes.’ We have to say, ‘Yes.’ Is that violence? Is that terrorism? No, it’s not terrorism. I’m not trying to strike fear in people by saying, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ I’m gonna say, ‘If you bring guns, I’m gonna bring guns. If you’re armed with this, we’re going to be armed with this.’ ”

In this context, who is this "you," and have they brought guns?

Mr. Smith is all about resisting "the New World Order" and, closer to home, the emergency COVID-19 provisions imposed in North Carolina by executive order. He calls himself a "constitutionalist," much like some of the folks criticizing Boone's attempt to impose quarantine restrictions on out-of-county visitors. (Raw Story has a complete rundown on Adam Smith's video proclamations along with his history of participating in the gun-toting "bugaloo" displays in Raleigh. According to Raw Story, Smith took down his video threat after being contacted by a reporter.)

Boone Town Council member Nancy LaPlaca, the lone vote against the restrictions imposed last Thursday night, said on Facebook that Judge Gregory Horne's temporary restraining order against Boone means that "the Town likely passed a measure that is NOT constitutional." Well, hardly. It only proves that Judge Horne thinks there's an argument to be made on the constitutionality of the restrictions, and he wants to hear it. In fact, Horne's order explicitly discounts any initial belief on his part that the Constitution has been violated: "The Court did not consider the likelihood of the Plaintiffs to prevail on the merits of the lawsuit in deciding this matter." Horne will hear the arguments a week from today, which is running out the clock on the time-frame for Boone's proposed quarantine restriction anyway, which was due to expire on June 16.

Threats of violence and temporary injunctions -- mainly pursued by citizens who either don't believe there's a credible threat at all or who think the governor and town councils like Boone's have over-reacted. Seconded by citizens who seem to believe that wearing a mask signals a political affiliation and that being unable to sit at Chik-Fil-A and order a Deluxe is an unacceptable infringement of their constitutional rights.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

NC Has Its Highest Ever One-Day Increase in COVID-19 Infections, But North Carolinians Gamble on Magic Thinking


1,107 new cases yesterday. Testing also shot up to 26,385 new screenings. Yes, they're related numbers. But one doesn't excuse the other.

And what are North Carolinians doing? They're gambling, wildly and without qualm. John Robinson describes some of the action: "4,000 people go to the racetrack – one in 10 wearing masks — with social distancing non-existent. It’s as if people have decided that being tired of the virus is enough to defeat it. 'I’ve done the recommendations for the last two months or so, and this is the first time I’ve kind of been out amongst folks. … I don’t know if this is the smartest thing. I don’t. But it’s outdoors, and I’m just not keen on closed-in spaces right now.' The Winston-Salem Journal has a dozen photos that will really depress the people who believe that the virus exists."

Buncombe County is now requiring face coverings for all visitors to any indoor facility. Who will sue to overturn that? Will Nathan Miller represent them?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Watauga Judge Halts Boone's New COVID Restrictions


Watauga County Superior Court Judge R. Gregory Horne issued a temporary restraining order late yesterday that forbids the town of Boone from enforcing a 14-day quarantine on visitors from out-of-county which was passed by the council on Thursday evening. 

The request for a temporary restraining order was filed at 4:07 p.m. by Anne-Marie Yates, Mountain Resort Management LLC (dba Holiday Inn Express), Hospitality Group of Hickory, and Smokey Mountain Hospitality LLC. The parties are represented by Boone attorney Nathan Miller.

Both Anne-Marie Yates and Judge Horne are former chairs of the Watauga Republican Party (Horne prior to becoming a district court judge in 2004), and Nathan Miller was a former vice chair of the Watauga GOP and past chair of the Watauga County Commission. Anne-Marie Yates has been a perennial plaintiff in lawsuits brought by Miller.

A hearing before Judge Horne is scheduled for 10 a.m. on June 1.

Meanwhile, the Boone Town Council is meeting in closed session this morning at 11 a.m.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Sarah Cooper Has Cracked the Code on How to Satirize Trump


Interesting article in the WashPost on the growing agility of women comics who have zeroed in on Trump's ridiculous verbal vomit by merely miming his words.

One of the most accomplished is Sarah Cooper, a 35-year-old black woman who wears her own street clothes and films herself in her Brooklyn apartment. "The effectiveness of her videos comes from the vast chasm between her identity and Donald Trump’s. 'I’m trying to present the words as me, Sarah Cooper, as earnestly as possible .... He is an older, rich white guy, in a suit, at a podium, with a presidential seal, and people standing behind him, nodding. All of these things mess with your head and make you think that what he says must make sense. I’m taking that setting away and putting those words into the mouth of someone who is much more low status and low power.' Stripped of the suit, the podium and the seal, she says, 'you focus more on the words. And focus just on how ridiculous those words are.' ”

It's brilliant. She's brilliant. And she's not alone in cracking Trump's shell.





Town of Boone Opts for Tighter COVID-19 Restrictions


Last night in its teleconference meeting, the Boone Town Council passed restrictions that are more stringent than the governor's Phase 2 guidelines, which the governor's original executive order expressly allows local governments to do.

These restrictions are to remain in effect until at least June 16 (language borrowed from the reporting of Anna Oakes):
Anyone (except work commuters) arriving in the town of Boone who previously overnighted outside Watauga County will not be permitted to enter establishments open to the public, other than medical facilities, until they have stayed overnight in Watauga County uninterrupted for at least 14 days -- unless current testing confirms the person is not COVID-19 positive. “Establishments open to the public” does not apply to state or county government facilities.
Social distancing is required in all establishments open to the public, in all places of employment and in all public areas except at businesses where distancing is not possible, and except for members of the same household.
Employees working for establishments open to the public are required to wear masks — except for employees with a medical or behavioral condition or safety concern — and to disinfect hands after each interaction.
To the extent possible, hand sanitizer or disinfectant shall be offered to customers as they enter and leave premises.
In retail businesses that can accommodate it, aisles must be designated as one-way.
Restaurants may use only disposable menus or menus that are disinfected in between each use.
Employees of public establishments must be subject to a daily screening process before the employee begins work, to check for COVID-19 symptoms, and employees should not be permitted to work if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are presumed positive due to symptoms until they meet CDC criteria for release from isolation.

Under these restrictions, customers at commercial establishments are not mandated to wear masks, but the Town Council seemed willing to take that step next.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Tom Fetzer Has Left the UNC Board of Governors


Not to put too fine a point on it, UNC BOG member Tom Fetzer got knifed yesterday by his fellow Republicans on the board. And not without cause.

Fetzer resigned his seat on the Board of Governors rather suddenly because he was probably going to be removed.

Fetzer, former mayor of Raleigh and former chair of the NCGOP, had been involved in every major rumble in the University of North Carolina system since Phil Berger and the Republicans in the NC Senate appointed him to the board. He was a prime mover in ditching system President Margaret Spellings. He proved himself a neo-Confederate over the Silent Sam controversy. He obtained and made public the video surveillance that led directly to the resignation of Chancellor Dan Gerlach at East Carolina University. He inserted himself into the chancellor search at Western Carolina Univ. and reportedly sought the job himself.

Joe Killian for NC Policy Watch got some of the scoop in this post by Rob Schofield.

AppState Students Will Be Back on Campus This Fall


This is the only statement we see on the AppState website, and it's (appropriately?) vague: "...we are planning to have students and faculty return to classrooms and labs in the fall." And they will comport themselves ... how? That's still up in the air.



At yesterday's University of North Carolina Board of Governors (virtual) meeting, interim system President Bill Roper said, optimistically, “We are optimistic, leaning in and expecting our students, faculty and staff to return to classrooms, labs and libraries this fall.”

"Leaning in" is academic-speak for "shooting the moon." Great rewards/great danger.

Apparently, every campus has been cut loose to decide for itself what's best -- the libertarian solution: "Some UNC System schools plan to finish the fall semester before Thanksgiving [UNC-Greensboro plus NC A&T], another won’t start the semester until after Labor Day [UNC-Charlotte] and others are still deciding exactly what to do as the system develops a 'detailed contingency plan' and guidance for welcoming students back to campuses."

Those of you who were faculty and who retired in the nick of time, I salute you. Those of you still in those trenches, I pray for your safety.

Meanwhile, Next Door in Wilkes County


Richard Craver reports in the Winston-Salem Journal that after the testing of 2,007 workers at the Wilkes Tyson chicken plant, some 570 of them tested positive for COVID-19 (another 237 employees were either tested by Wilkes County Health Department officials or through their health care provider). These numbers push Wilkes County into the dubious distinction as the hottest of hot spots in the state. Tyson said the majority of infected employees “did not show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified.” Tyson says that the infected workers are on paid leave.

Forsyth County
Hanesbrands Inc. has tested 164 employees at its Rural Hall distribution center. "At least" 16 tested positive.

Cases of COVID-19 have doubled in Forsyth in the last two weeks.

Dire Warning
From Julie Swann, an N.C. State University professor who has worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “If it’s in the local prison and if it’s in the local meat-packing plant, I don’t care, don’t open that county. Because it’s spreading in other places in that county and they just don’t realize it.” (Swann quoted here.) To wit, Wayne County, home to the prison with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, was among the counties begging the governor to be exempted from his shutdown order.

Cooper's "Modified" Phase 2 Starts Tomorrow at 5 pm
"Safer at Home" is what he's calling it.

Restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50% dine-in capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements. Salons and barbershops will also be able to open at that 50% threshold with specific distancing and cleaning requirements. Employees of personal care businesses will be required to wear face coverings. Retail stores that were allowed to open in phase one at 50% capacity will continue at that level.

What will not be open in this new phase? Bars, gyms, playground and indoor venues such as movie theaters, museums and bowling alleys will all remain closed for the time being. Because the virus can be easily spread, mass-gathering-limits in phase two will be no more than 10 people indoors or 25 people in an outdoor setting. 

Heading into the holiday weekend, Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen urged North Carolinians not to let their guard down. “We need to rely upon one another to practice the three Ws as we begin leaving our homes more. When we wear a face covering, wait six feet apart, and wash our hands often, we are showing we care for our loved ones and neighbors,” said Dr. Cohen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"NC fails White House benchmarks for reopening, health experts say"


That headline above appeared on the WRAL website late yesterday, with this paragraph:
As of Tuesday, ... a nationwide collaboration [created by public health and crisis experts] tracking every state's progress toward recovery puts North Carolina in the red. That color-coded designation means it failed one of several "gating criteria" provided by the administration of President Donald Trump in its guidelines for "Reopening America Again."
Not that Donald Trump even knows what those guidelines are or gives a flip.
So far, North Carolina has hit benchmarks for low flu-like illness activity and sufficient hospital capacity. But it's the trendline for new cases, however, that scored the state the lowest on the project's three-color scale.
All signals from Raleigh suggest that Governor Roy Cooper is poised to accelerate reopening anyway, and he could make that announcement that we're going to Phase 2 today.

Meanwhile, last night the Watauga County Commission voted unanimously to ease up on its own virus shutdown. The Commish modified its original plan, which included a ban on short-term rentals and a 14-day self-quarantine order for those arriving from an overnight stay outside of the county, to align with the governor's phases. So now Watauga will allow short-term rentals to resume at the beginning of Phase 2 -- likely to be this Friday — and will lift the 14-day quarantine order for those arriving from an overnight stay outside of the county. The Watauga commissioners said they didn't want to be out of synch with neighboring counties, let alone the governor.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel,
resisting pressure to reopen too quickly
You know what local North Carolina government isn't going along with a hopeful, easier "unity" with "the neighbors"? Durham Mayor Steve Schewel has extended his stay-at-home order for the foreseeable future, which includes a continuing mandate for face coverings. Durham County ranks 13th in the state for positive COVID-19 cases with 29 cases per 10,000 residents. For deaths, the County ranks 19th in the state with 1.12 deaths per 10,000.
Schewel did not state how long the stay-at-home order would last nor did he go into specifically which guidelines or restrictions would be affected. He even offered a word to critics who say the order is too strict and the city should reopen sooner rather than later.
"There are some people who are just opposed to the stay-at-home orders, and I simply disagree with that. And I think that we've needed those orders .... Because our infection rate is so low ... it means that we don't have much immunity. And so, unless we are coming back with safe practices, it would be very easy for the COVID-19 cases to spike and to hit us very hard. We want to keep our community safe."
Word! Watauga County, too, has had a blessedly low infection rate, but our leaders seem vague about the equation that Durham Mayor Steve Schewel understands. COVID-19 cases are increasing in North Carolina. Why in the world would a responsible local government help that acceleration without requiring, say, face coverings at the very least?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Continue To Reopen NC? Can Gov. Cooper Stand Up to the Pressure?


Governor Roy Cooper has promised a decision by mid-week -- tomorrow? -- on whether he'll move to Phase 2 of his planned reopening, which according to the governor's own website would involve the following:

Lift Stay At Home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home
Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars and other businesses that can follow strict safety protocols (reduced capacity)
Allow gathering at houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity Increase in number of people allowed at gatherings
Open public playgrounds
Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and congregate living settingsLift Stay At Home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home
Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars and other businesses that can follow strict safety protocols (reduced capacity)
Allow gathering at houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity Increase in number of people allowed at gatherings
Open public playgrounds
Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and congregate living settings

Phase 2 was originally projected to run only a couple of weeks, starting this Friday, May 22, and extending (maybe) into the middle of June -- when, barring really bad news, we'll have the launching of Phase 3. Because surely by then every Trumpist will be thoroughly immunized by hydroychoroquine. Phase 3 will be a PAR-TAY for some, while the rest of us can eat our masks.

Last Saturday -- three days ago -- North Carolina experienced its biggest one-day jump in COVID-19 cases -- 853 new cases. Trumpists hurry to assert that the spike exists only because there's more testing. The state has ramped up testing with 275 new testing sites, managing about 7,500 screenings a day. But -- d'oh! -- more testing means more discovered infection. The logic for denial follows: no testing, no virus. Thus saith the Twitterman, in between chugalugs of hydroxychloroqine.

Such is the state of our national pandemic management.


Meanwhile, North Carolina is reopening. The pressure on the governor has been staggering. Chambers of Commerce, always genteel, nevertheless grumble audibly. Ashley Smith's ReOpenNC militance threatens the governor with implicit violence, while young men with something to prove go theatrically armed about our capitol city. NC Republican Boss Phil Berger bitches from the sidelines, the man who can singlehandedly stop any bill for pandemic relief. While preachermen successfully find a federal judge to reopen the churches. Naw, no pressure at all.

But Governor Cooper can also play from strength, and should. According to a Meredith College poll, more than 75% of respondents supported Gov. Cooper's stay-at-home order, including "people from different political parties, all age groups, rural and urban communities and those with low and high incomes."  (While a more recent poll by Duke’s social science researchers found rising dissatisfaction with shutdown, that number -- 8% rise -- was offset by a 9% rise among respondents who believe that North Carolinians are underestimating COVID-19.) Strength? Cooper easily out-polls Dan Forest, the Republican choice to replace him, whose every attempt to make political hay out of Cooper's coronavirus management has turned to chickenshit. Jeffrey Billman at IndyWeek bills Forest as "an idiot," which seems a fairly generous assessment.

Are we flattening the curve? Yes, in some respects -- the select numbers that Cooper's being urged to pay attention to by re-openers rather than the steadily mounting number of new cases. As of Sunday, the number of days it took to double the number of infections had stretched to 20 days, as opposed to the 2-3 days for doubling in the first three weeks after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in March. The rate of new cases, down. Total new cases, up.

I don't see a lot of talk from Raleigh about the efflorescence of infection at meat-processing plants in Wilkes and Surry counties. It's a trend that's everywhere. By the last week in April (already!) there were at least seven other meat plants with at least 190 infected workers, but the state's Department of Health and Human Services was refusing to divulge the names and locations of those plants -- which really does nothing to dispel an impression of cover-up. On April 21, local health officials in Bladen County confirmed an outbreak at a Smithfield Foods pork plant, and the Bladen Journal reported outbreaks at food processing facilities in Robeson, Duplin, Lee, and Chatham counties. Some of those plants -- definitely the Tyson chicken plant in Wilkes -- employ prisoners on the line, and those slave laborers (is that too strong a characterization?) carry the infection back to their pods at night. Their guards and keepers carry the infection home to their families at night.

And such in the logic of highly infectious viruses, which would be jumping up and down at the thought of their coming new opportunities, if viruses thought at all.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

It's a Terrible Time To Have a Terrible Government


It's out this morning that SecState Mike Pompeo asked Trump to fire his department's inspector general, career official Steve Linick, and Trump was only too willing to do so. Linick was investigating Pompeo's frequent use of department resources for his personal comfort, like his frequent trips back to Kansas using State Department funds and aircraft, perhaps to explore a run for the US Senate, and like taking his wife with him on many official trips abroad, and like using diplomatic security personnel for personal errands. None of that appears to have caused the inspector general to open the investigation that got Pompeo's panties in a wad.

But this did: "...Mr. Linick had been looking into whether Mr. Pompeo improperly used a political appointee at the State Department to perform personal tasks for him and his wife." That's what we know. The details have yet to come out, which they will, and then maybe it'll be Mike Pompeo's turn to jump.

What am I saying! There is no accountability in this government, and no one takes personal responsibility. It's a corrupt government with corrupt people led by an evil, self-gratifying liar-in-chief.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Body Count -- Steve Linick


A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Being Pushed Off Luxury Liner Trump

President Donald Trump announced late yesterday that he was firing State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. The executive branch is required to notify Congress 30 days ahead of time if it intends to remove an inspector general.

Congressional insiders say that Linick had opened an investigation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said "Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation."

A Democratic congressional aide said Linick had launched an investigation into Pompeo’s alleged misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and Mrs. Pompeo. The State Department did not respond to an inquiry about the allegation.

Linick played a minor role in the House of Representatives' impeachment proceedings against Trump, ferrying a trove of documents to lawmakers that had been provided to the State Department by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer.

A State Department spokesperson said that Amb. Stephen Akard, a former career Foreign Service officer and "an ally of Vice President Pence," will now lead the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department in an acting capacity.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Tyson's Wilkes Plant Shuts Down Again Because of COVID-19


The Tyson chicken-processing complex in Wilkesboro shut down last Saturday and Monday of his week to do deep cleaning to eliminate the coronavirus from the premises. After reopening on Tuesday, the plant was shutting down again yesterday (Thursday) for additional cleaning. Richard Craver reports that Wilkes County health officials confirmed the majority of the county's 274 COVID-19 cases are linked to the Tyson plant. The complex has a combined workforce of about 2,200.

Tyson said in a statement that the second temporary shutdown was prompted by “a combination of positive COVID-19 cases and team member absences related to quarantine and other factors.” Craver: "At least 70 cases of COVID-19 are Forsyth County residents who either work at the Tyson plant or have come into close contact with someone who works there, according to the Forsyth Department of Public Health."

Meanwhile, a second outbreak has occurred at a Surry County chicken-processing plant, at Wayne Farms, which employs over 500 workers. Surry County health officials would only confirm "a small number" of COVID cases at Wayne Farms, but with this virus, a small number has a way of becoming an explosion.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The FBI, Knock Knock Knocking on Dick Burr's Door


The Los Angeles Times broke the news last night (their site is protected by a paywall, so I'm relying on a secondary source) that Sen. Richard Burr surrendered his cell phone yesterday when the FBI served a search warrant at his Washington home. The G-men are investigating "whether Burr used information he obtained as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to sell a significant share of his stocks before the coronavirus outbreak upended the markets."

Apparently, there was a previous (first) search warrant that was used to collect information from Burr’s iCloud account. Some of the data collected from Apple was then used as evidence to obtain the warrant for Burr’s phone.

"Burr was one of just three senators who voted against the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which extended insider trading regulations to U.S. senators and representatives. At the time, he called the legislation 'ludicrous.' ”

“This is a very, very big deal,” Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, tweeted Wednesday night. “This is not something the FBI or DOJ does lightly. It requires layers of review, the blessing of a judge, and consideration of severe reputational harm to a sitting US Senator.”

"Reputational harm"? You don't say.

"A search warrant indicates that investigators were able to show to the satisfaction of a federal judge or magistrate probable cause to suspect a crime occurred and an expectation of the search yielding evidence."

So if a serious investigation of Richard Burr's activities are underway, one wonders what's going on with the similar stock-dumping accusations against Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and for that matter the accusations against senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) that date from the same time.

Some people are already forecasting a resignation for Burr and two, not one, US Senate seats on the ballot in North Carolina in November. I'm maybe more interested in the conspiratorial suggestion that Trump's grudge against Burr, for once upon a time subpoenaing Donald Trump Jr. in the Russia investigation, has motivated his handmaiden at the Department of Justice, William Barr, to send the FBI against Burr.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Inside a Religious Cult in Spindale, NC


Just finished reading "Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America's Most Dangerous Cults" by investigative reporters Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr. It's a deep-dive into the Rutherford County church run by the authoritarian preacher-lady Jane Whaley who claims that she -- and she alone -- gets direct messages from God. Unfortunately, many of those messages contain revelations that various demons infest members of her church -- especially the men and boys -- and God requires verbal and physical abuse to exorcise them, what the church calls "blasting."

You know who never gets blasted: Jane Whaley.

The experience of Jamey Anderson, who escaped the church at the age of 18 and who subsequently put himself through law school, informs some of the book. I found this Associated Press interview with Anderson that will give you a 3-minute primer on the particular predatory nature of the Word of Faith Fellowship:





I too grew up in a charismatic, Pentecostal church and knew a female preacher very much in the Jane Whaley mold -- fiery, controlling, scary-as-shit. I know about that particular brand of mind control and can remember to this day my own personal guilt when she yelled that I was going "to split hell wide open" because I watched TV. It never got to physical abuse, but the mere threat that The Rapture could occur at any minute and catch me out kept me very much in line. Until I went to college. Who could have guessed that a Southern Baptist College would free me from those mental shackles?

I was very interested in the political power that the authors of "Broken Faith" claim Jane Whaley holds in Rutherford County, particularly within the law enforcement community which had consistently failed to investigate child abuse and false imprisonment charges. The church even sued the Rutherford County Department of Social Services in 2005 to prevent social workers from poking into church practices. The resulting settlement of that case left law enforcement essentially "toothless" to investigate the welfare of children in the church.

From "Broken Faith":
In February 2017, the AP ran the first in a yearlong series of investigative stories that exposed extensive abuse in the World of Faith Fellowship. Violations include brutal beatings, children routinely wrested from their families, and a pipeline of young laborers brought from Brazil and forced into virtual slavery in North Carolina -- all perpetrated in the name of Jesus Christ. The AP disclosed how businesses owned by church leaders came up with a fraudulent unemployment scheme to pay workers -- and keep their tithes flowing in -- during a major economic downturn [2008?].
These stories revealed widespread institutional corruption and incompetence that allowed the church to escape serious charges. At least six times over two decades, authorities investigated reports that church members were being beaten. And every time, orders came down from Jane Whaley: witnesses must lie to protect the sect.
The AP investigation showed that lawyers Frank Webster and Chris Back were among the Word of Faith Fellowship members who coached congregants and their children on what to say to investigators. Webster and Back -- assistant prosecutors for three counties nearby the church -- provided legal advice, helped at strategy sessions, and participated in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member.
After the stories ran, Webster and Back were forced to leave their jobs. No criminal charges were filed against them.
The AP reports brought to light several other criminal actions and enterprises.
Three church leaders, including Kent Covington, entered guilty pleas in May 2018 for their roles in the unemployment scheme that lasted between 2008 and 2013. The charges carry a maximum penalty of thirty years in prison and a $1 million fine. A fourth pleaded guilty a year later.
And in late April 2019, Covington was sentenced to thirty-four months in prison and ordered to pay $466,960 in restitution for his role in an unemployment fraud scheme....
Jane Whaley was not charged in the case, but survivors considered it a promising development when court records named her as a coconspirator, someone who "promoted" the illegal activity.... 
. . . .

This is an old photo of Jane Whaley, shown with her
husband Sam, "who faded into the background
once his wife took control of the church."
He's described in "Broken Faith" as cowed
and subservient. Jane Whaley is now around
80 years old
There's more, much more, including the claim by the Rutherford County Republican Clerk of Court that a man was hired to murder her and another sudden, unexplained suicide by a critic of the church.

In December 2014, five church members were finally indicted on charges of assaulting church member Matthew Fenner -- trying to beat "the homosexual demons out of him." One of those -- Jane Whaley's number one disciple and "the daughter of wealthy Kansas farmers," Brooke Covington -- was the first to face trial in 2017. That court proceeding ended in a mistrial when a juror was arrested for bringing "unauthorized documents" into the jury's deliberations. The charges against Brooke Covington and the other four defendants in the beating of Matthew Fenner are still pending.

Even though the Republican Clerk of Court in Rutherford County proved to be a thorn in Jane Whaley's paw -- and she did die a sudden and mysterious death -- the church has been a big supporter of Republican Dan Forest, running for governor this year, and of Congressman Mark Meadows, who is currently wearing a mask in the White House. They're also very enamored of Trump, whose FAKE NEWS mantra fits the church's response to all the criticism coming its way.

I have one big complaint against "Broken Faith" -- no index.

If you want more on this weird church, John Huddle, who had to leave his wife and children to escape the church in 2008, has a very built-out blog site where he posts much information on the Word of Faith Fellowship and on other religious cults: http://religiouscultsinfo.com.

Monday, May 11, 2020

There Is No Cure for True Belief


In politics I try to remain a pessimist. Because I know all too well about late frosts. To become a "true believer" ends often -- not inevitably, but sometimes -- in disillusion, depression, angry letters that vow never to participate in any political party again, and the ultimate Thelma and Louise barrel-roll into the Grand Canyon: "I'm not even gonna vote this year!" (Bros, I'm looking at you.)

I'm always -- full transparency here --  a true believer, by the way. If I don't believe, how am I going to work 24/7 for somebody's election? If I don't believe somebody's our best hope? I dropped college classes to "come clean for Gene," and became a fired-up field organizer for the Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign of 1968. I was given a region of precincts in Salt Lake City to canvass and recruit McCarthy delegates in precinct meetings. I lost every precinct.

That whole election year both enflamed me and just about snuffed me out. McCarthy put an end to LBJ, then lost to Kennedy, who died by assassination, and Nixon squeaks by Humphrey. I didn't stand up again in political activism until the very late-80s. I went all in for the senatorial campaign of Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt in 1990. I thought he would beat Jesse Helms, but he lost by six points, and I had to claw my way out of deep depression after that. The 1990s and 2000s often proved a death march for Democrats in North Carolina. We won some and we lost some, but the slide was definitely toward the Right -- North Carolina politics were listing to starboard like the torpedoed Lusitania, and you had to be over-caffeinated to keep organizing through it all.

Things changed on my enthusiasm meter during the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, the local sweep by Democrats in 2006, and the Barack Obama campaign of 2007-08.

Candidates I'm lukewarm about ... don't ask me to bake a cake. Oh, I'll work just as hard, but it'll be for "the ticket," because even when the top name(s) on the ballot don't inspire, a Democrat in office is generally a better thing than a Republican in office. Generally.

True believer? More a skeptic these days, not to mention a fatalist. I expect the worse -- got it big time in 2016 -- but I'm also delighted by Democratic courage when I see it. And I still see it in enough people, in enough candidates to keep me active, even though at my advanced age I don't do door-knocking any more (knees) and have become too deaf for phonebanks. I can write checks. I can howl at the moon. I can sit at a table and scheme.

All of the above by way of cautioning guardedness of belief when you read these opening graphs of a story in today's WashPost ("Republicans grow nervous about losing the Senate amid worries over Trump's handling of the pandemic"):
Republicans are increasingly nervous they could lose control of the Senate this fall as a potent combination of a cratering economy, President Trump’s handling of the pandemic and rising enthusiasm among Democratic voters dims their electoral prospects.
Cal Cunningham
In recent weeks, GOP senators have been forced into a difficult political dance as polling shifts in favor of Democrats: touting their own response to the coronavirus outbreak without overtly distancing themselves from a president whose management of the crisis is under intense scrutiny but who still holds significant sway with Republican voters.
“It is a bleak picture right now all across the map, to be honest with you,” said one Republican strategist closely involved in Senate races who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss concerns within the party. “This whole conversation is a referendum on Trump, and that is a bad place for Republicans to be. But it’s also not a forever place.”
"Republicans have privately become alarmed" at the polling numbers for some of their Senate incumbents, particularly Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Democrat Cal Cunningham outraised him in the first quarter of 2020 and has come on strong as a young, progressive alternative to the waffling and wobbling study in ineptitude that is Thom Tillis.

I feel my feet moving under me. Damn the isolation and social distance!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Wilkes Tyson Plant Stonewalls on Virus Outbreak Numbers But Closes for Two Days for Cleaning


H/T Richard Craver:
Tyson Foods confirmed Saturday that an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has led to a temporary shutdown of its fresh chicken production plant in Wilkesboro.
Derek Burleson, a public relations manager for Tyson, said the plant "will be idled Saturday and Monday for deep cleaning and sanitizing, and will resume operations Tuesday."
The plant typically does not operate Sundays. That facility has about 2,200 production and support employees....
Altogether, Tyson has more than 3,000 employees in Wilkes County, making it one of the two largest private employers with Lowe's Cos. Inc.
The total number of infected local Tyson employees has not been released by state and Wilkes public health officials, who cited HIPAA and state regulatory guidelines.
Burleson declined to say how many employees have tested positive for the virus.
Wilkes officials said Friday a majority of the county’s 228 COVID-19 cases are linked to the outbreak, with 86% of the cases considered as contracted through close contact. There have been 11 individuals hospitalized, including nine as of 3 p.m. Friday.
At least 70 cases of COVID-19 are Forsyth County residents who either work at the Tyson plant or have come into close contact with someone who works there, according to the Forsyth Department of Public Health.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Your Weekend Update on ReOpenNC


Thankful for EQV Analytics (@AnalyticsEqv) for updating us on developments in the ReOpenNC movement, which we understand (really) as a surrogate re-elect Trump subset in the Republican/Libertarian universe, because -- let's get real here -- anyone wearing a mask must be an effing Democrat.

ReOpenNC leader Ashley Smith (not from Boone) has started a GoFundMe page:



I became fixated on a protest sign clearly shown in the lower righthand corner of the photograph above. "NO FAUCI NO GATES NO VACCINE." I know who Fauci is, and I understand how he's offended the person who painted that sign: Fauci has occasionally contradicted Trumpolini. But "Gates"? Bill Gates? Oh, okay, because he secretly launched the whole virus to make money, and he and his wife Melinda have been publicly critical of Trumpolini's inept and bungled response to the pandemic.

But "NO VACCINE"??? It takes a graduate class in stupidity to advocate against finding a cure, but maybe it makes some sense if you believe -- along with the Trump of approximately two months ago -- that coronavirus is all a hoax. You can't vaccinate a hoax. Makes perfect sense now.

But I digress.

Back to not-from-Boone Ashley Smith. She's taking some heat on the ReOpenNC Facebook page over the loosey-goosey GoFundMe effort above.



Friday, May 08, 2020

The Spiking COVID-19 Outbreak in Wilkes County


According to a joint press release issued by the mayors of Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro, and Ronda, "The number of [COVID-19] cases in the county has jumped nearly 3,000% in the last two weeks," with two particular hotspots at the Tyson chicken plant and at Wilkes Health & Rehabilitation (formerly known as Wilkes Senior Village).

The mayors amended their earlier "state of emergency" declaration to be in line with Governor Cooper's Phase 1 reopening plan, calling their new resolution a “modified stay-at-home” order that legally permits limited commercial activity as long as prescribed measures are in place to ensure social distancing and sanitation.

The three mayors made it clear that they "reserve the right to re-institute stricter protective measures should the situation warrant.” The governor's phased reopening allows for local jurisdictions to impose stricter rules.

Then there's this note, added in the Wilkes Journal Patriot, about an apparent lack of transparency on the part of Tyson: "The state doesn’t require that the number of confirmed cases at meat processing facilities be made public, but Wilkes County government officials have said cases tied to the Tyson complex in Wilkesboro account for the majority of Wilkes cases."

We understand that the Wilkes Tyson outbreak has spread into Ashe County (two of three new cases, "linked to an ongoing investigation with a known outbreak in a food processing facility in another county" (Watauga Democrat). There had already been a 9th confirmed case in Watauga, also "linked to an ongoing investigation with a known outbreak in a food processing facility in another county."

Bottomline: Outbreaks in meat plants and in nursing homes don't stay confined to those places, do they?

Thursday, May 07, 2020

ReOpenNC Organizer Urges Fellow Idiots To "Double-Down!"


I believe this video features the voice of not-from-Boone ReOpenNC organizer Ashley Smith, along with video footage of her recent arrest in Raleigh by the Capitol police. All of this by way of characterizing Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest as the head idiot.




This Ad Hasn't Been Replayed Enough


This is the one minute that got Twitterman's full attention. Thank you, @TheRickWilson and the other members of The Lincoln Project.





Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The People Trump Sees as Expendable


No surprise that there's a reported outbreak of COVID-19 at the Tyson chicken-processing plant in Wilkes County, the largest employer in the county. Winston-Salem Journal columnist Scott Sexton got the story by interviewing a Tyson worker who spilled the beans: the virus is "running wild" inside the plant. "As of April 23, Wilkes County was reporting just 13 positive cases. By Tuesday afternoon, the number had increased more than 10 times to 144," most of those new cases directly linked to the Tyson plant.

“It’s not safe,” James, the Tyson worker, said. “They tell us ‘Wear your mask you’ll be OK. You’re more likely to get it at the grocery store than here.’ I feel like they’re treating us as if we’re expendable.” (James is not his real name.)

According to Sexton's reporting, "Workers from the Wilkes County Health Department went Monday to three shifts at the Tyson complex to collect samples from 200 workers for testing. The remainder of the plant’s workers will be tested today through Saturday by Matrix Medical, a company hired by Tyson."

“It’s a scary situation,” James said. “Don’t nobody work there but poor white people and brown people. Black people, minorities. It feels like taking advantage of the little guy.”

Suck it up, James. Donald Trump has ordered meat factories to stay open. You're a cog in his wheel.

Update on Not-From-Boone Ashley Smith, Leader of ReOpenNC

Ashley Smith
Capitol Police mug shot from
her arrest last week

Yesterday in Raleigh, about 200 people, led by a grandstanding Ashley Smith, gathered at the legislative building to protest the governor's stay-at-home order (which, in fact, he's beginning to relax as of this Friday, 5 p.m., which is another bone of contention for the rest of us). About 30 of those marched to the governor's mansion. Few were wearing masks. In fact, Smith is promoting a boycott of CostCo and Whole Foods because those two businesses are requiring shoppers to wear masks.

Membership in Smith's ReOpenNC group appears to be dwindling, especially with the defection last week of a co-organizer who disagreed with Smith's version of civil disobedience. She accused Smith of "nearly inciting a riot."

Yesterday outside the General Assembly, "Speakers took turns at the microphone for nearly an hour. They prayed, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and made references to those killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge." Their minds just naturally go to bloody violence because the governor -- a jack-booted thug if there ever was one! -- wants them to wear masks and stand six feet apart.

According to the News and Observer, "ReOpenNC leader Ashley Smith said the group will become a nonprofit and begin a fundraising campaign. She said upcoming legal fights require funds. The group had wanted to file a class-action writ of habeas corpus, but doing so required a filing fee of $200 a person." "A class-action writ of habeas corpus"? Jeffrey Billman: "I’m fairly certain that’s not a real thing."
Read more here: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article242506046.html?utm_source=INDY+Week+-+Pico&utm_campaign=2234b8ccb2-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_05_06_03_29&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4bfd26c21a-2234b8ccb2-220514609#storylink=cpy
Read more here: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article242506046.html?utm_source=INDY+Week+-+Pico&utm_campaign=2234b8ccb2-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_05_06_03_29&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4bfd26c21a-2234b8ccb2-220514609#storylink=cpy

Smith doesn't like Governor Cooper's phased reopening plan. She proclaimed that it "will change little and lead to economic downfall." “It’s time to make a stand,” she said. “I think I’ve shown willingness to put skin in the game in a tactile way.”
Indeed, yes. She's caused a good stink.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

The Founder of ReopenNC Is From Morganton, Not Boone


Guest Blogging: Boone Nonnymouse

Special to WataugaWatch:

I keep seeing reports that Ashley Smith of ReopenNC is identifying herself as a small business owner in Boone. Does anyone in Boone actually know her? Boone is still a small town, and you’d think somebody would know her.

I’ve Googled extensively. There’s an Ashley Smith who is involved in management at Greystone Eye, but they actually issued a statement and posted it on their website stating the Smith involved with ReopenNC is not the same.

There’s an Ashley Smith who is an Allen Tate Insurance Agent. She’s affiliated with the Blowing Rock offices of Allen Tate, but she is in Charlotte. Also photo doesn’t match mug shot of the Smith arrested in Raleigh last Tuesday (see above).

And then there’s the Facebook page for the Smith of  ReopenNC. No likes, friends, or photographs of anyone related to Boone or the High Country. Here it is: https://www.facebook.com/AshleyESmith77

I guess a copy of the police report of her arrest by Capitol Police would have her information, including address, employer, etc.

This is she in Morganton yesterday:

https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/charlotte/news/2020/05/02/dozens-of-protestors-were-in-downtown-morganton-saturday

This story says Morganton is her hometown. She says she and her husband run a business called Blue Ridge Merchants, a credit card processor. No mention of Boone at all.

https://www.morganton.com/news/local/political-protest-group-gaining-statewide-attention-has-local-ties/article_d3197d7d-efaf-5e97-87c4-4443215d8f73.html

And this is the business’s website. Nothing about Boone here either.

https://www.facebook.com/Blueridgemerchants/

So wherefore did it get started that Ashley Smith of ReopenNC was from Boone?

Saturday, May 02, 2020

The Body County -- Christi A. Grimm


A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Being Pushed Off Luxury Liner Trump

WASHINGTON [NYTimes] — President Trump moved on Friday night to replace a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services who angered him with a report last month highlighting supply shortages and testing delays at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House waited until after business hours to announce the nomination of a new inspector general for the department who, if confirmed, would take over for Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who was publicly assailed by the president at a news briefing three weeks ago.

The nomination was the latest effort by Mr. Trump against watchdog offices around his administration that have defied him. In recent weeks, he fired an inspector general involved in the inquiry that led to the president’s impeachment, nominated a White House aide to another key inspector general post overseeing virus relief spending and moved to block still another inspector general from taking over as chairman of a pandemic spending oversight panel.

Mr. Trump has sought to assert more authority over his administration and clear out officials deemed insufficiently loyal in the three months since his Senate impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress ended in acquittallargely along party lines. While inspectors general are appointed by the president, they are meant to be semiautonomous watchdogs ferreting out waste, fraud and corruption in executive agencies.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Joe Biden's Problem


I try not to out-right steal other people's writing, but Jeffrey Billman is making it hard for me. I get his daily Indy Week email, which has become indispensable for keeping up with any number of North Carolina and national storylines.

"Joe Biden's Self Quarantine"
Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer, April 30, 2020
I saw Joe Biden on TV this morning categorically denying the Tara Reade sexual assault allegations, and I noticed Kevin Sier's editorial cartoon in the Charlotte Observer. So I naturally went right to that section of Billman's daily email that headlined this:

→ TARA READE IS BECOMING A PROBLEM FOR JOE BIDEN. 

And absorbed a long, long piece that turned over every piece of evidence with just the right mixture of skepticism and open-mindedness:
For a month or so, Joe Biden’s campaign acted as though Tara Reade’s allegation that he had—how to put this politely—digitally penetrated her against her will in 1993 would go away on its own....
Then, in mid-April, the major national newspapers dug in, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
A former intern for another lawmaker told both papers that Reade had told her about the assault at the time, but she declined to go on the record.
Reade said she told her mother about the assault, but her mother was dead.
Another friend told the NYT that Reade had told her in 2008 that Biden touched her inappropriately and that she’s had a traumatic experience working in his office.
Reade’s brother had this curious exchange with WaPo: “In another recent interview, Reade’s brother, Collin Moulton, said she told him in 1993 that Biden had behaved inappropriately by touching her neck and shoulders. … Several days after that interview, he said in a text message that he recalled her telling him that Biden had put his hand ‘under her clothes.’ ”
All in all: Not good for Biden, but not fatal. So long as another shoe didn’t drop.
Then a shoe dropped. Not, like, a size-12 Doc Martin. More like a size-4 slipper. Reade had said that, after she told her mother about the assault, her mother had called in to Larry King’s CNN show. Last weekend, someone dug up a recording.
“In a Larry King Live segment that aired on August 11, 1993, on CNN, an unnamed woman calls in to the show with her location identified on the screen as San Luis Obispo, California. The show was about the cutthroat nature of Washington, DC, politics and media. ‘Yes, hello. I'm wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?’ she asks. ‘My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.’ ”
“The woman does not mention sexual assault or harassment, nor does she describe in any detail what ‘problems’ she might be referring to. Her daughter’s name and Biden's are also not mentioned. In a phone interview with CNN Friday night, Reade told CNN that she is certain the voice in the video belongs to her mother, Jeanette Altimus, who died a few years ago.”
And then another shoe, this one a little more impactful. A former neighbor of Reade’s told Business Insider that in the mid-1990s Reade had told her about the assault, and another former coworker said that Reade told her that she’d been sexually harassed and then fired when she complained about it....

I appreciate Billman's summary of the action thus far, which seems fair and fairly complete, because I wasn't likely to go search it all out for myself. So I'm thankful for his work.

Billman also spends a good deal of space on Republican charges that Democrats are hypocrites. I get that. I certainly do. And don't relish the charge. Uncannily, Billman exactly captures the mental gymnastics many of us fall back on when accused of hypocrisy:
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Assume Biden is innocent. (If you want to read a former federal prosecutor throwing shade on Reade’s allegations, here you go.) What can Biden possibly say? Reade’s allegation is unprovable; it’s also unfalsifiable. She can’t give a date or location where this happened—things that would allow Biden to show he was somewhere else.
So you say, “These allegations aren’t true.” Then what? If you attack Reade, you’ll be accused of doing what Republicans did to Christine Blasey-Ford. You’re stuck with “believe all women, just not this one.”
It’s a no-win scenario for even the deftest and most innocent politician. Biden certainly isn’t the former; the latter … well, continue reading.
HYPOCRITE: There are dueling thoughts I’ve been wrestling with this week: 1) Instinctively, I don’t think Biden did it. 2) I know that I think that because I don’t want to think that he did it.
It’s not because I’m a Biden fanboy; he wasn’t my choice in the primary (Warren). It’s not because he’s on my “team”; my “team” is thinking Donald Trump poses a threat to American democracy. If Biden got replaced between now and November, pretty much anyone (ahem, Warren) would be fine.
It’s because, as boringly generic and sometimes infuriatingly terrible as his politics are, Biden always struck me as an earnest, genuinely decent guy. OK, so, the Anita Hill hearing was not his finest hour. And his habit of invading women’s personal space is gross, but even that didn’t seem ill-intentioned so much as geezer-is-out-of-touch. I’ve known men like that—empathetic, affectionate, maybe a first-rate bullshitter, but not a predator.
My gut didn’t give Kavanaugh the same benefit of the doubt, not for a second. I’ve known men like him, too—children of privilege, self-important and self-righteous, feigning indignancy and projecting rage. It’s not hard to imagine the worst.
Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. More likely, it makes me human....

I don't feel defensive about Biden's embarrassment in this matter. He wasn't my first choice in the primary either, nor my second choice. If there's a swelling movement to replace him with another candidate at the Democratic National Convention, well ... throw me in that briar patch!

Here's Billman's conclusion:
LONG STORY SHORT: Politically, Biden needs to do just enough today to keep the women’s groups on board and (best case) get the media to move on—in other words, deny, don’t be defensive, sound credible, don’t say anything dumb, don’t attack Reade, and apologize to the women you’ve made uncomfortable. He can’t do much else. 
Republicans are still going to make Reade a prop to distract from Trump and paint Biden and his female VP nominee and Democrats in general as hypocrites, and the left’s Never Bidens will use her to justify voting third party (“the lesser of two rapists,” etc.). All that’s baked in already.
If Biden doesn’t screw up, the only thing that changes the equation is a second credible accuser.
Billman's entire take on the scandal seems well considered and wholly logical and caused me to contribute to the "Indy Press Club" to KeepItIndy.com. We need honest opinion brokers like Jeffrey Billman. He's a crucial part of my information universe.