As CNN reports, the White House is moving ahead with plans for “a big celebration on the South Lawn” with 1,000 guests on hand to cheer for how vaccines have put most of the country on a path to something that’s starting to look a lot like “normal.” Biden is expected to introduce new milestones, which may include the number of doses that the U.S. has delivered to other nations. In addition to sharing excess vaccines that are available from the U.S. stockpile and working out a plan for distribution, Biden has made it clear he intends to buy another 500 million doses for distribution outside the U.S. — which puts America down for fully half the vaccine that has been promised by the G7.
Back in January, Biden moved quickly to secure additional doses of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines. By the end of the month, he had secured enough doses to cover the nation, and had hopes of vaccinating every American adult by summer. That hasn’t happened, not because of a lack of vaccine or a lack of vaccination facilities, but because over 40% of Republicans are still refusing to be vaccinated.
That vaccine resistance among Republicans is the biggest reason the nation will not be hitting the milestone set out by Biden on July 4 — a fact that is sure to garner some high fives on Newsmax and some self-congratulatory smugness on Fox News. See Republicans? You can thwart Biden’s plans when you stick together.
In other news, Wyoming, Louisiana, Idaho, and Missouri continue to top the charts when it comes to cases of COVID-19 per capita. In particular, while most of the nation has seen a sharp decline in cases, Missouri is actually seeing both new cases and deaths at their highest level since February. This comes shortly after the Republican legislature and Republican governor passed a new law that limited the ability of county health officials to address public health threats with restrictions on business, schools, or public gatherings. It’s not clear if Missouri will have its own celebration on July 4 to celebrate those patriotic Americans who surrendered their lives so that Joe Biden couldn’t meet his goal.
Republicans now claiming that veterinary drug used in worming dogs cures COVID-19
How far will conspiracy theorists go to avoid taking vaccines that have proven to be both safe and effective? So far that they’ll skip right over taking dangerous levels of a drug meant to treat malaria, and move right on to a veterinary wormer. As Science-based Medicine reports, even as right-wing media pretends that taking massive doses of hydroxychloroquine is effective (it’s not), there has also been revived interest in the drug ivermectin, which is most often used in the United States to treat dogs and horses for heartworm.
To be fair, ivermectin is also used in treatment of humans, specifically those with a handful of tropical parasitic diseases including onchocerciasis (“river blindness,” a disease caused by parasitic worms and spread by repeated bites from tropical black flies) and helminthiases (more parasitic worms).
This isn’t a new claim. ivermectin was one of the first “wonder drugs” being passed around in 2020 with claims it was effective against COVID-19. In fact, it was so widely praised that a year ago the FDA had to explain “Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19”. The reasons included:
- The FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses.
- Taking large doses of this drug is dangerous and can cause serious harm.
The FDA also had to point out that doses formulated for a horse weighing close to a ton, should not be taken by a human being who (hopefully) weighed somewhat less than a horse.
The CDC took early reports of ivermectin’s effectiveness more seriously, and published a note on the proposed mechanism by which is was thought to “work.” And then people did trials, like this one in The Lancet from February, showing that ivermectin was completely ineffective against COVID-19.
But the fact that more and more analysis have shown that neither hydroxychloroquine nor ivermectin have any benefit for COVID-19 patients hasn’t stopped a 2021 resurgence of interest from the same people who are convinced that vaccines make people magnetic. And in both cases, right wing media is rife with claims that the good news about these miracle drugs has been “suppressed” by the liberal elite — a group that apparently includes the vast majority of medical experts.
This harmful nonsense isn’t limited to the United States. It’s also being spread by Trump-of-the-South, Jair Bolsonaro, who seems set on passing his fellow authoritarian’s death toll. And he very wll make it.
South America in serious, serious trouble
As The Wall Street Journal reports, the hot spot for COVID-19 cases has shifted away from Asia to South America. And “hot” barely seems adequate. Brazil has now passed 500,000 dead, and is still topping the charts for new cases and new deaths as Bolsonaro continues to take actively harmful action (see above). The 5% of people who live in South America now account for a quarter of the COVID-19 deaths. As a group South American nations are now losing people seven times as fast as India. Seven of the bottom 10 worst countries at the moment are in South America.
Some of those countries, like Argentina, have seen a recent drop in cases, but are still at levels far above past peaks. Others, like Brazil, are not just at high levels, but still trending upward. Still others, like Uruguay, Suriname, and Colombia are simply red hot.
When it comes to vaccination, there is an enormous range across the region, but even in those nations with a high rate, the numbers can be deceptive. For example, both in Chile and Uruguay the high level of vaccination includes mostly doses of Sinovac, which had an efficacy of just 51% in Brazil and 56% in an earlier test in Chile. That relatively low efficacy means that the current level of vaccination has still not been sufficient to stop a new wave of infections.
Facing both the rapidly spreading Delta variant and dominated by the somewhat vaccine evasive Gamma variant (formerly known as the Brazil P1 variant), these countries are being hit with a one-two punch of the worst variants evolution has yet cooked up, and vaccination programs that are either completely ineffective or short of high-efficacy vaccines.
Things may be getting back to normal in much of the U.S., but mass graves and overflowing hospitals are still the rule in far too many nations. The pandemic is not over.
Florida demonstrates how not to deal with a deadly outbreak
As CNN reports, an outbreak of COVID-19 swept through the offices of Manatee County, Florida. At the head of the outbreak was an IT manager who was unvaccinated. The outbreak spread through the building, leaving two dead and four others hospitalized.
Only one worker in the office who was exposed to the virus had been vaccinated. Because Florida. Also, because Republicans. That one vaccinated person was the only person known to be exposed who did not get infected.
With all of this happening in just a small group of a single building, it might seem reasonable that Manatee County would not require all employees to get vaccinated before returning to work. Or require that all employees wear a mask. That didn’t happen. The building reopened on Monday with no mask requirement. And thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Manatee County — like every other state or local government body — can’t require anyone to get vaccinated.
“The clinical presentation gives me concern that we’re dealing with a very infectious variant that is quite deadly,” said the county administrator. And now they’ll wait for it to happen again, having taken exactly zero effective action.
Because deadly COVID-19 isn’t scary enough, add in “Black Fungus”
As NDTV reports, COVID-19 cases in India are being accompanied by a rapid rise in a disease that has all the horrific aspects of something cooked up in a horror novel. “Black fungus” can spread across the nose and face and into the lungs. It discolors the skin, and causes blindness, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood. It also causes death. In the last three weeks, over 2,000 people in India have died from the fungal infection, many of them patients who were fighting off long term effects from COVID-19.
The fungus, mucormycosis, is generally considered rare. However, the large number of patients weakened by COVID-19 represents a unique “opportunity” for this opportunistic infection. Cases are up 150% in just the last month. Increasing the problem is a nationwide shortage of Amphotericin-B, an antifungal medication that is often the last line of treatment against this infection.
In the United States, mucormycosis is still considered rare, but it is widely established at hospitals and care facilities across the nation. As Medical News reports, COVID-19 creates “the ideal environment for mucormycosis” by inducing diabetes, new-onset hyperglycemia, or steroid-induced hyperglycemia. Abnormal levels of glucose help to promote the growth of the fungus spores. Low oxygen levels and a weakened immune system can also help the fungus to get established. It can be spead around a hospital after spores land on “adhesive bandages, wooden tongue depressors, hospital linens” and can also be spread by poorly sterilized equipment, such a ventilators.
While the disease may be rare in the United States, it is no less serious. In fact, the CDC gives the disease a mortality rate of 54%.
‘Beginning of an historic moment’: First group of Afghan allies who aided military arrive in U.S.
In a statement, President Joe Biden called the first group of allies and families to be evacuated as part of Operation Allies Refuge “an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan.”
“This morning, the first flight of Operation Allies Refuge has arrived in the United States, carrying Afghans who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and their families,” the president said. “These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate SIV-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way—to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries—so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications.”
”These first Afghans are able to come directly to the United States because they have already completed extensive background checks and security screening by the Intelligence Community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security,” he continued. “They will complete the final steps of their visa applications and required medical checks at Fort Lee, in Virginia, before traveling onward to begin their new lives in the United States.”
In a second statement, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) President Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, one of the fiercest voices advocating for Afghan allies and their families, called the arrivals “the beginning of an historic moment,” and urged the safe evacuation of all allies and families to either the U.S. or a U.S. territory.
The 2,500 being evacuated to Fort Lee represent just a fraction of the thousands of allies and family members who must be brought to safety after aiding our military, and who have already been in danger even before the scheduled withdrawal of our forces. One interpreter, Ramish, told CNN that when Taliban members were unable to find him, they burned his house down. He’d been in hiding after he’d been told they were searching for him. “If he can’t get out, he said, ‘our future will be dark,’” the report said.
“The administration has set an important precedent in where it has moved these first allies, proving the easiest and safest way to relocate others is by bringing them to U.S. soil,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “Given the weight of our moral responsibility, we need nothing less than a full-scale evacuation of allies to Guam or elsewhere in the U.S. We cannot in good conscience put them at risk in third countries with unreliable human rights records, or where the Taliban may be able to reach them.”
“This flight, and its passengers being processed in Fort Lee, is precedent to bring all these heroes and their dependents to U.S territory while their visa claims are processed,” said Veterans for American Ideals’ Chris Purdy, another leading advocate. “Eighteen-thousand allies and their families are counting on these promises being kept.”
The arrivals come one day after the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation increasing special visas by 8,000. “I am incredibly grateful that the supplemental includes the HOPE Act to temporarily waive the medical examination for our Afghan partners and core components of the ALLIES Act to expedite the visa process,” Honoring Our Promises Working Group member and Colorado Rep. Jason Crow said. “As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, this legislation will allow us to honor our promises and protect those who served alongside us.” The bill now goes to President Biden for his signature.
“We are relieved that Congress has taken decisive action toward fulfilling the United States’ promise to Afghan allies,” said International Refugee Assistance Project policy director Sunil Varghese. “These additional visas and improvements to SIV procedures will go a long way in preventing further unnecessary loss of life. We are proud of advocating for these changes, and we are especially encouraged to see that the spouses and children of murdered SIV applicants will not be left out in the cold.”
Thanks to Trump, the GOP’s future doesn’t look very bright to Republican voters
That 18% sliver of GOP voters who’d like to rid the entire party of Trump has remained notably consistent since the beginning of the year. In February, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found what while 59% of Republicans wanted Trump to play a “major role” in the party, 17% said they “no longer” wanted to him play any role.
Interviews conducted for the AP survey suggest Trump’s divisiveness and baseless election lies could depress GOP voting on both ends of the Trump spectrum—among his most devout followers and never-Trumpers alike.
Nicholas Blethrow, a 28-year old Republican who lives in Orange County, California, called the party “pretty much a disaster” and said its continuing efforts to overturn the 2020 election were “ridiculous.”
“Clearly there’s a lot of people that enjoy him. But I don’t think it’s good,” Blethrow said.
Reedsville, Wisconsin, native Dennis Herzog, 36, identified as a staunch Republican but also said he has found the constant tension between the parties exhausting and is dismayed by “the whole system in general.”
“It’s nonstop,” Herzog said. “I don’t care who is in office. Just do what’s right for the people and stop picking certain sides.”
The repeated takeaway from polling about Trump is the fact that while he remains a powerful figure in the Republican Party, his dominant presence also poses real challenges for the GOP. While Washington Republicans keep trying to will Trump into talking about the future, his constant harping on the 2020 election continues to sow doubt in the electoral system among his followers. At the same time, some noteworthy sliver of GOP voters wishes he would just dry up and go away, even as their party goes all in on his antics.
Ideally, at this point, GOP voters would be galvanizing against President Joe Biden, but Trump is still hogging the spotlight—and that could prove detrimental to GOP hopes heading into 2022.
‘Bloody shirt’ gaslighting hits fruition as Republicans valorize insurrectionists, attack accusers
Indeed, Stefanik spent the week defending the insurrectionists by attacking Democrats. A few days before, she had joined the right-wing chorus (including Jordan) blaming Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for what they labeled “the so-called insurrection.”
“The American people deserve to know the truth. That Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility, as speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on January 6,” Stefanik told a press conference. Republican Congressman Liz Cheney tartly observed that she “would be deeply ashamed of myself” for such remarks.
Media Matters’ Eric Kleefeld recently assembled a nearly comprehensive rundown of the many ways that right-wing media have gone all-in on gaslighting the public about what happened on Jan. 6, as well as their culpability for spreading the very same disinformation about the election beforehand (as well as afterward) that was the fuel for the insurrection itself.
The gaslighting included the runup to Jan. 6, particularly the two months following the election when Fox News and an array of right-wing pundits produced a torrent of disinformation suggesting groundlessly that the presidential election results were fraudulent, and that moreover elected Republicans held statutory power to halt the ballot-counting process, another rank falsehood.
It continued even during the insurrection itself. The far-right Gateway Pundit website referred to the rioters as “patriots,” while an Alex Jones guest declared: “This is what happens when Americans rise up.” On Fox News, anchor Bret Baier opined: “It’s not like it’s a siege. … It seems like they are protesting.” A Fox reporter on the scene credulously repeated insurrectionists’ claims: “Aside from the things that were broken getting into the Capitol in terms of doors, they say there is no vandalism taking place.”
Immediately after the insurrection, the gaslighting intensified, with a completely different version of events: It wasn’t really Trump supporters who did it, it was antifa leftists. Gateway Pundit claimed that “at least one bus load of antifa goons infiltrated the Trump rally as part of a false flag operation,” while Fox’s Laura Ingraham speculated that, because she had “never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets” and body armor, it seemed unlikely that the insurrectionists were really Trump supporters. (Ingraham was obviously unacquainted with the kind of gear Proud Boys and Oath Keepers commonly wear at their events.)
The Sunday news talk shows were shortly dominated by Republicans claiming that the election had been stolen as a way to deflect discussion of the insurrection. In short order, the conversation turned from false denials about the nature of the violence to an attack on the motives of the people who were demanding accountability.
Tucker Carlson—who had first argued that “it was not an insurrection” in mid-January, less than two weeks after the event—led this particular parade, with a post-insurrection rant claiming that Democrats were intent on exploiting the Jan. 6 events for political gain and to criminalize their political enemies:
Got that? Vote the wrong way and you are a jihadi. You thought you were an American citizen with rights and just a different view. But no, you’re a jihadi. And we’re going to treat you the way we did those radicals after 9/11. The way we treated Bin Laden. Get in line, pal. This is a war on terror.
… Keep in mind, they’re talking about American citizens here. They’re talking about you. But nobody seems to notice or care.
Carlson went on to claim that the First Amendment had been “effectively suspended,” and that “we’re clearly living under some form of martial law at the moment.”
By May, the denial that Jan. 6 had been an insurrection had spread to Congress, with Republican House members comparing the rioters to ordinary tourists visiting the Capitol. It similarly became the favorite response of an array of right-wing pundits, as well as among the protesters who turned up outside the D.C. Corrections Center where most of the arrested insurrectionists are being held.
Accordingly, Carlson leapt to the fore in claiming victimhood at the hands of the new “war on terror” that right-wing pundits claimed President Biden’s crackdown on white-nationalist violence constituted. Piling falsehood upon falsehood, Carlson simultaneously argued that right-wing extremists were not a threat while claiming that in fact, the National Security Agency was spying on him.
This claim shortly mutated into a new accusation: Namely, that the real cause for the Jan. 6 insurrection was an FBI plot using informants to manipulate Trump fans into committing acts of violence. This conspiracy was quickly picked up not only by far-right Congressmen Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz, but also onetime progressive hero Glenn Greenwald, who devoted a long screed on Substack to the claim. The problem, however, was that the theory was built on a crude misunderstanding of how federal informant programs, as well as the process used by federal prosecutors to obtain cooperating witnesses in cases like the Jan. 6 prosecutions.
This clear departure from reality—and the insistence on inverting it on its head—for right-wing media was, as we have seen, largely fueled by the increasingly radicalized nature of the right-wing audience for outfits such as Fox News, which corrected course after its accurate but wildly unpopular election-night reportage caused its ratings to plunge. The gaslighting that now fills its programming is a reflection of its audience’s demands, suggesting that the right’s increasing radicalization is now stuck in an unstoppable feedback loop.
The final component in “bloody shirt” narrative entails demonizing and discrediting the actual victims of and rendering them into bullies, thugs, and would-be tyrants. After the recent opening hearing of the House Jan. 6 commission, Fox contributor Julie Kelly tweeted out an attack on Michael Fanone, the Capitol Police officer who was brutalized during the insurrection and testified before the panel, in which she made fun of him for crying. Kelly dismissed him as a “crisis actor,” adding that “he has many tattoos.”
In a similar vein, right-wing pundit Matt Walsh sneered at Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—one of only two Republicans on the Jan. 6 commission—for his tears during his remarks at the hearing: “Men should not cry in public. It is unmanly and dishonorable.”
But the focus of the demonization, as Stefanik’s remarks suggest, has been on Pelosi. Two of the Republican congressmen initially appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to the Jan. 6 commission and then removed by Pelosi—Jim Jordan and Jim Banks—have claimed that the speaker herself was to blame for the breakdown in security that led to the insurrection.
“Why wasn’t there a proper security presence?” Jordan asked. “And that’s a question that … only the speaker of the United States House of Representatives can answer.”
But in fact, as CNN notes: “The Speaker of the House is not in charge of Capitol security. That’s the responsibility of the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the US Capitol Police and approves requests for National Guard assistance.”
Moreover, the D.C. National Guard has a sole commander: The sitting president, which at the time was Donald Trump. Its website explains that “the Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard is subordinate solely to the President of the United States. This authority to activate the D.C. National Guard has been delegated, by the President, to the Secretary of Defense and further delegated to the Secretary of the Army. The D.C. National Guard is the only National Guard unit, out of all of the 54 states and territories, which reports only to the President.”
That hasn’t prevented right-wing pundits from trying to concoct an image of Pelosi as the secret overseer of the insurrection, apparently with the intent of eventually imprisoning all Trump supporters and Republicans.
Calling her “Nancy the Insurrectionist,” Ingraham told her Fox News audience that Democrats are engaging in a plan to take total control of the nation’s politics: “They’re following Nancy Pelosi and her efforts to poison the well, to accuse Republicans of fascism and otherwise drive their opponents from public life.”
Far-right cartoonist Ben Garrison concocted a caricature version of the “Gulag Archipelosi,” with a grim, dingy prison cell jammed with Jan. 6 insurrections wearing “Trump Won” T-shirts and miserable expressions, overseen by a Nazi-esque House Speaker (while Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn chides readers: “I warned you!”).
Turning the insurrectionists into victims and martyrs was the intent of a publicity stunt by Greene, Gaetz, and other far-right Congress members on Thursday, when they turned up at the D.C. Corrections Center demanding to be allowed inside to see the Jan. 6 prisoners. They were turned away, which infuriated Greene, who told Real America’s Voice: “We were completely rejected, and we were told that we were trespassing. They locked us out! They locked the door and wouldn’t let us back in!”
“I know that the people there, just from what little we saw from the outside, they’re being treated worse there than the bloodthirsty terrorists at Guantanamo,” Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas told reporters.
This is how the age-old “waving the bloody shirt” trope has always worked: Invert reality on its head, claiming innocence of violent intent, shifting the blame for violence onto the victims, always taking the rhetorical offensive. Thus, the bullies become victims, and the victims bullies. So far, it has worked every time.
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