Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Trump and His Administration Are Wrong about Covid-19 Testing: “Our health and the economy depends upon it” – Dr. Leana S. Wen

“Over the past week, members of the Trump administration have issued justifications for why the United States does not need mass covid-19 testing. Here’s what they get wrong:

“We don’t need mass testing to reopen the country. Actually, we do. Reopening depends on our ability to transition from population-wide mitigation — which is what social distancing does — to individual-level containment. That means we must identify each individual with covid-19 and then trace and quarantine their contacts. This requires mass testing. In addition, one of the White House’s guidelines for reopening the country is a downward trend in infections. We can’t know that the numbers are going down unless we have an accurate daily count, which can only be obtained through widespread testing.

“Mass testing will also provide the reassurance that many need to resume normal activities. Having enough tests to regularly check employees, students and teachers would help provide confidence that we can resume work and school. And imagine if all patients receive a test before they enter the hospital, and those who test negative will then receive care in a separate ward from those who test positive. Patients would not be so frightened to seek care for ongoing medical issues such as cancer, pregnancy or heart disease, and hospital staff could also conserve needed personal protective equipment.

“A person could test negative today and contract the virus tomorrow. That’s true for any infectious disease — or indeed, for any illness. We don’t stop screening people for HIV or diabetes because they could develop the disease later. At the time of testing, people can be given guidance about limitations of a negative test.

“Tests are not 100 percent accurate. Again, this is true for every test. To be sure, we need to develop tests that have as high a degree of accuracy of possible, and the federal government must stop fraudulent tests from coming on the market. But perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. We don’t stop doing tests for other diseases because there is a risk of false positives or negatives.

“It’s not just testing that we need to reopen society. It’s true that there are other key components, such as the public health infrastructure to conduct contact tracing and social supports to isolate those are affected. But testing is the linchpin. We must know who is testing positive before we can identify their contacts and quarantine them. Just because other components must also be present doesn’t change the necessity of testing.

“We shouldn’t focus on manufacturing one test because there are other tests being developed. There are two main types of tests: the PCR swab test that identifies people who are currently infected, and a blood serology test that looks for who has been exposed and, therefore, has antibodies to covid-19. Most public health experts agree that both types of tests are needed, but that the most urgent test that must be mass-produced is the PCR test — and ideally one that can produce results within minutes. The fact that the serology test is also being manufactured doesn’t replace the need for the PCR test; indeed, both should be produced and deployed in large numbers.

“In lieu of testing, there are other ways of doing surveillance by looking at the rate of influenza-like illnesses. Waiting for hospitals to register an increase in the number of visits for flu-like symptoms is acting too late. Two weeks could pass before a patient who contracts covid-19 ends up in the hospital; the key needs to be prevent the spike in illnesses through early detection. In addition, some studies suggest that most people with covid-19 may never develop symptoms but can still transmit the virus to others. The rate of flu-like illnesses is, at best, a proxy for when mass testing cannot be done, but it does not replace the need for it.

“We don’t need to test every single American. Why not? If everyone is at risk for contracting covid-19, everyone should be able to get tested — and not only once, but many times if needed. We routinely screen people for high blood pressure. We encourage everyone to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. There is no limit to the number of times people receive these screenings. Why shouldn’t everyone have access to covid-19 testing, too, when they want and need it?

“The bottom line is that there are many reasons for the United States to implement mass testing. The Trump administration needs to stop coming up with reasons for why we don’t need tests and instead get to work on a national strategy to secure the millions of tests needed every day. It is a daunting task, but as a country, we can rise to meet the challenge. Our health — and our economy — depends on it” (Washington Post).

Leana S. Wen is an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Previously, she served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.


We all know why lying, incompetent and narcissistic Trump does not want more testing: it will reveal how many more Americans are infected with the coronavirus that he purposely ignored for two months, and he is afraid that more testing will also damage his chances for re-election.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Two Stupid Gits

“[Irresponsible] Pence responded to criticisms that he defied Mayo Clinic policy by not wearing a mask during his visit Tuesday to the campus, saying he complied with federal guidelines and felt it was his duty to speak to workers at the facility unencumbered by a facial covering.

“‘As vice president of the United States, I'm tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,’ he told reporters, saying he is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“The CDC recommends wearing cloth face masks in public to help prevent transmitting the virus to others. ‘And since I don't have the coronavirus, I thought it'd be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.’

“Instructions on the Mayo Clinic website request that all patients, visitors and personnel bring and wear a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“In a tweet eventually deleted but captured in screenshots and by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, the Mayo Clinic wrote that it had ‘informed @VP of the masking policy prior to his arrival today.’ …” (NPR).

“…Meanwhile, [Know-it-all] Kushner, who has been helping with the effort to get medical supplies to states that need them, suggested in an interview with Fox & Friends that the federal government has accomplished its mission.

“‘We’re on the other side of the medical aspect of this. And I think that we’ve achieved all the different milestones that are needed. So the federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story,’ he said.

“The administration, he added, is preparing the country to ‘get as close back to normal as possible as quickly as possible,’ and said that by July the country would be ‘really rocking again’” (The Guardian). 

Remdesivir: “Highly Significant" for Time Recovery – Dr. Fauci

“Gilead Sciences Inc. said early results from a U.S.-government-run study showed its experimental drug to treat coronavirus helped patients recover more quickly than standard care, suggesting it could become the first effective treatment for an illness that has turned modern life inside-out.
“The company issued a news release early Wednesday [April 29] commenting on the study from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases without providing details of the results.
“Anthony Fauci, the head of NIAID and the government’s top infectious-disease specialist, said at a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards that the trial showed a significant positive effect on the virus and that the results ‘were quite good news.’ Fauci called the study the ‘first truly high-powered randomized placebo-controlled trial’ of remdesivir…
“Remdesivir, which was originally developed to treat other novel viruses, has placed Gilead at the head of the race to develop a treatment for Covid-19. The drug, which has also been tested on Ebola, hasn’t been approved for use anywhere in the world.
“A separate study released by Gilead on Wednesday said remdesivir appears equally effective when it’s given over just five days, rather than the 10-day course used in the NIAID and other trials. But the Gilead study doesn’t have a comparison group, so its findings are considered less robust.
“The five-day regimen ‘could significantly expand the number of patients who could be treated with our current supply of remdesivir,’ said Merdad Parsey, Gilead’s chief medical officer.
“Taken together, the studies could signal a profound shift in the race to get the novel coronavirus under control. The availability of a treatment could allow the world to start reopening economies, as well as offer psychological relief to billions of people who have been self-isolating to hide from the virus.
“In the most severe cases, Covid-19 can lead to respiratory failure and death. More than 1 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S., and over 200,000 people have died around the globe from the illness…” Source.

For CNBC Video of Dr. Fauci's News Conference Today on Remdesivir, Click Here.

Failing the State by Peter Lake

“There has been much talk of late, not least from the estimable David Frum, of America as a failed state. It ill behooves those who, like Frum, within living memory, counted themselves Republicans, to make such claims without a very large dose of mea culpa. The pandemic has indeed revealed America’s government to be sclerotic and its social fabric to be tissue thin, undermined by grotesque levels of inequality and poverty, structured by generations of institutional racism, and exacerbated by a patchy and wholly inadequate ‘safety net.’ 

The health care system, it emerges, is not a ‘system’ at all but an economic sector, made up of individual profit centers, hard to co-ordinate at the best of times, let alone under Trump; parts of that system are going bankrupt because they can’t perform the elective surgeries that alone keep them going. The Federal government is made up of rival bureaucracies and centers of power created over decades, always been devilishly hard to co-ordinate. The division of functions and powers between the states and the Federal Government is entirely unclear, bedeviled by decades of politically divisive debates about states’ rights…

“For the Federal Government has been decapitated by the serial refusal of its notional head of state even to try to make the government function. The tragic consequences of having government run by people who do not believe in it, or understand, what it is for, still less how it works, is not a new experience for this country… Trump has turned the Federal Government into a slush fund that he can use to reward his friends and allies and punish his enemies.  

This distortion applies to the half-trillion-dollar give away to corporate interests and to the distribution of tests and PPE. Hence the absurd Federal effort to seize such materials from the states so they can be given back again as political favors. That is what the idiot Kushner meant when he talked about ‘our’ stocks of material; ‘our’ referred not to the Federal Government but rather to the Trump faction within the White House, of which (ludicrously) Kushner appears to be the eminence grise

I am not surprised that young Jarrod is only let out on his own every few months, since he spends nearly all of his time in the public eye with his foot jammed firmly in his mouth. After all, in this same briefing he opined that this crisis would soon sort out the competent elected public officials from the fools and charlatans. Well, out of the mouths of babes and grafters.

“These machinations are designed to allow Trump to treat the state governors the way he treated the President of the Ukraine: dangling stuff the governors need in front of them, until they give him the approval and co-operation he demands. And if not, not. Cuomo has to deal with Trump, because Trump has things he needs, so Cuomo has intermittently to stroke Trump’s ego. Since he has to do that on television otherwise it does not count in Trump-world, Trump then gets to edit the Cuomo highlights into what is in effect a campaign ad,  funded by tax payer money and distributed free of charge on all the major networks though the daily White House press briefings. 

“In short, having tried to turn American foreign policy into a sort of protection racket, Trump is doing the same thing to domestic policy in a time of national crisis… As we have learned, Trump’s aim is to minimize blame and to take whatever credit is available. There is surely a good case to be made that he currently resists mass testing because it would reveal how bad things are – remember the classic Trumpian line ‘I like the numbers where they are.’ 

No doubt Trump wants to keep the number of reported cases down to enhance the rationale for ‘reopening the economy’ and therefore his chances of re-election. But since that strategy is doomed to fail unless and until the pandemic is brought under control, there is a sub-text here, if possibly not fully realized by Trump, now sunk in bleach-drinking magical thinking, and obsessed by the polls, then certainly known to the more sentient members of his clique and to bought-in leaders of the Republican Party.

“They are gambling, it seems to me, that, over time, the fear and anxiety caused by the pandemic will be eclipsed by the fear, anxiety, anger, and desperation caused by the lock down. That pervasive panic will enable a populist campaign to be run against the purveyors of said lock down now identified with certain Democratic governors and various denizens of the ‘deep state,’ i.e. anybody who knows what they are talking about. 

“This desperate strategy gives Republicans an interest in sustaining the economic misery of most Americans, which their campaign to minimize relief efforts at the Federal level is well on the way to furthering. As are the dysfunctional unemployment programs created by Republicans in many states (for example, the system currently in place in Florida was recently described by a Republican as having been ‘designed to fail’). 

Even the localized ‘reopening’ of the economy will actually serve to stop many people from claiming unemployment, and small businesses from claiming the already inadequate financial aid available to them. It’s a safe prediction that Americans will refuse to flock back to cinemas, restaurants, gyms, barbershops, massage parlors, and bars in sufficient numbers to sustain those businesses. Many of them, deprived of government aid by the very fact that they are open, will slowly go bankrupt.  
“A related hope is that the Republicans can diminish the Democratic vote not only by the means they’ve used to such effect in past elections, but also by relying on the virus to keep some voters away from the polls on Election Day, and on the closure of various DMV and other government offices to prevent people either from registering to vote or gaining the sort of ID many states now require to vote.  Think about a mixture of Georgia under Kemp, Florida first under Scott and then DeSantis, and most recently Wisconsin under a Republican legislature superintended by a Republican judiciary.
“All of the above is accompanied by an assault on the financial stability of the states. Mitch McConnell, having made sure to pay out vast sums to the corporate interests that fund his party, now urges bankruptcy on states and municipalities. Presumably many of these statements are posturing – ‘Blue state bail out,’ anyone? After all what would any serious politician do, in the midst of a depression and a pandemic but troll his political opponents and fire up his base? But his invective is not merely rhetoric. Forcing certain states into bankruptcy has been a Republican goal for decades (not a default on bonds, but a default on state workers and their pension benefits). 
What is certain is that, having inflated the Federal deficit with a tax cut targeted to benefit the very rich, Republicans will now revert to type, deploying the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility to ensure, at the very least, that the states remain in fiscal jeopardy, and consequently that the capacities of wealthy blue states like New York and California deteriorate, while also blaming those same states for the consequences.
“We are now seeing active collusion between the ‘populist’ demonstrations in the states and the workings of high politics, collusion partly constituted through the activities, influence, and money of various billionaire Trump supporters and Republican donors, and the agit-prop organizations they fund. This alliance is busily bussing people to the demos, while boasting that the re-run of the Tea Party will get Trump over the line in November. 
A great deal of this business is being transacted in plain sight, not merely by the ever tweeting, ever briefing Trump and by the trolling McConnell, but, God save us, by the Attorney General of the United States. The egregious Barr has recently brought his performance of owl-faced, jowl-wobbling, lawyerly gravitas and bottom – a sort of Rumpole-of-the-Bailey meets Lee Attwater tribute act – to bear on the protest movement, which, like some of the protestors themselves, he has now chosen to frame in terms of ‘liberty,’ rather than of public health. 
Barr has promised to add the weight of the Justice Department to private suits brought against governors he deems to have gone too far in supporting stay-at-home measures. This stance will incite the same groups who are behind the protests to go to law against governors seeking to protect the public in the midst of the greatest heath crisis in a century; those groups will be able to do so safe in the knowledge that the Justice Department will have their back. Barr may come off like an establishment lawyer, but he is, in fact, playing a cross between a partisan spin doctor and a Jacobin demagogue, and he has been doing so almost from the moment he took office.
“One might add in passing that this would be a good moment for those Democrats who voted to confirm Barr because he was an ‘institutionalist’ to consider some form of, if not public penance, then at least private reflection. The same goes for those members of the commentariat who, until recently, kept expressing surprise and dismay about what had happened to the Bill Barr they once knew. 

Barr was never someone who just loves the Justice Department and the rule of law, but rather a religious fanatic with views on Presidential prerogative and church and state so extreme that they would not have withstood public scrutiny, had he been subjected to any. Since Barr’s opinions on such topics were a matter of public record at the time of his confirmation, none of this is surprising. 
“For Barr is an ‘institutionalist’ in precisely the same way that McConnell is; that is to say, they both know their way around the institutions they currently lead well enough to be able fundamentally to subvert them from within, while bending them to their own wholly partisan purposes. For both of them, that process of subversion represents the height of their personal and political ambitions, and a fitting (and entirely logical) end to their wholly destructive careers in public life. 
All of which, plus the tax cut and a generation’s worth of judges, makes enduring the clammily corrupting embrace of Trump, with whom, in normal circumstances, neither of them would presumably want anything to do, a price worth paying.
“It is all very well for various liberal commentators to happy talk their way through poll evidence that shows extraordinarily high support for the lock down, and going on and on about the ‘chaos’ and confusion at the heart of the Trump administration. Those observations are true enough. But the poll evidence shows emerging differences between Republicans and Democrats on these issues, and the Republicans are playing the long game. 
If the demonstrations remain restricted to Confederate-flag-wearing gun nuts, wide eyed libertarians committed to their inalienable right to go fishing or get their hair done in the midst of a pandemic, those protests will not matter much. But the current round of demonstrations are intended to lay a seed. If and when people, confronted by ever deeper debt, hunger, and destitution, get desperate and join in in ever greater numbers, which, if the lock down goes on over the summer, as it must and will, might well happen, then we will be in a very different place. And that is the calculation currently in place on the Republican side.
“As for the chaos of the Trump regime, that is undeniable. Trump’s latest attempt to turn his following into a literal suicide cult through his ‘cup of disinfectant a day keeps the virus away’ wheeze is only the latest and worst example of a volatility rendered chronic by the impact of a crisis he cannot understand. Indeed, his current melt down represents the best hope we have that he will not be re-elected. But beneath the usual U-turns and the stream of contradictory, self-serving bilge, there is a pattern emerging, across the Administration and among its Republican allies in the country, the Congress and on the extreme and not so extreme right. 
“This convergence is not the result of a conspiracy; I very much doubt that there is a Trump Central in which Kushner, or Meadows, or whoever, pulls the levers of power and patronage, and everyone jumps. After all, this is the Trump administration we are talking about. But there is a Trumpian agenda and a mode of communication, that is now well established, and what we are seeing is different political actors, already connected through various ideological affinities and institutional and personal links, reacting to the same situation in terms of that same agenda. 
In writing about the Third Reich, the historian Ian Kershaw coined the term ‘working towards the Fuhrer’ to evoke a situation in which the central regime had been reduced to a ruck of warring factions, bureaucratic interests, and ambitious ideologues and parasites, all of whom were engaged in a struggle to win the favor of the Leader by anticipating and gratifying his desires. 
It is well known that Trump has reduced the White House and the upper reaches of the Federal Government to just such a bear pit, and staffed it, as far as he can, with sycophants and careerists committed to giving him at least a version of what he wants. In this situation even the likes of doctors Birx and Fauci have (occasionally) to genuflect to the great leader’s pronouncements, even in Birx’s case going on Fox News to produce an indulgent den-mother apologia for his latest farcical excursion into medical science. (He is so interested and cares so much, etc. etc.) 
What we see here is a prime example of working towards Trump. (Let me add that I am NOT comparing Trump to Hitler, merely adopting Kershaw’s useful phrase to characterize a certain style of rule, a mode of policy- and decision-making that is clearly visible in Trump’s regime.)
“There may be no centralized conspiracy, no commonly agreed plan, no single e-mail chain leading to the basement of the White House. Just as with the Russia ‘collusion’ business, I am sure that, while there is much incriminating material, much of it already in plain sight – remember ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ – there may well be no evidence of a smoking gun sort. However, there is a pattern, even a strategy, emerging, and we would be well advised to acknowledge as much…”

Peter Lake is a professor of history at Vanderbilt University.
For the entire article from Vox Populi, click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

U.S. Covid-19 Deaths Surpass Total American Deaths of the Vietnam War in Just 83 Days

Vietnam War (1954 - 1975)      
           58,220 Deaths 

Covid-19 (February 6, 2020 - April 28, 2020) 

On March 18, in the midst of a monologue disguised as a news conference on Covid-19, bone-spurs Trump compared himself to a "wartime president." Indeed, this is a war against an invisible virus, and thousands of Americans are dying because of his reprehensible ignorance, egregious incompetence, and malignant narcissism.

The World Has Loved, Hated and Envied the U.S./ Now, for the First Time, We Pity It by Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times)

“Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

“However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

“Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

“As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, ‘The United States reacted ... like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.’

“It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – willfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

“The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.

“If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated.

“Other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?

“It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.

“What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.

“Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.

“In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and recreational activities.

“Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: ‘We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.’

“This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fueled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the ‘deep state’ and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.

“Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralyzed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other, they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted.

“The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has ‘total authority,’ and on the other that ‘I don’t take responsibility at all.’ Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

“But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.

“There are very powerful interests who demand ‘freedom’ in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that ‘freedom’ is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (‘I Need a Haircut’ read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.

“Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.

“And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realization that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.

“That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behavior has become normalized. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.

“And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked ‘American carnage’ and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is reveling in it. He is in his element.

“As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics. Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again."

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sextortion Bitcoin Scam (from Malwarebytes)

Heads up: a particularly nasty sextortion Bitcoin scam from at least the middle of 2018 is making the rounds once again. The scam involves making use of old breach dumps, then emailing someone from the list and reminding them of their old password.
When something lands in your mailbox with “Hey, remember this?” it’s a surefire way to focus the reader’s attention. Pressure is then applied to start sending over some Bitcoin…or else.
What is the threat being made?
The generally accepted theory is that the scammer digs up personally identifiable information from old data breaches, including email addresses and passwords, plugs it into some sort of automated script, and then fires out thousands of emails.
Those mails reach people from said breach, and they then see talk of somebody “knowing” their login details. That’s then used as leverage to claim the attacker has access to their PC, files, folders, webcams, browsing history—in a nutshell, anything personal and sensitive. The scarier they can make it sound, the better. In fact, one of the more eye-popping claims is that the scammer has video of the user viewing adult websites, and they will share this video with all the user’s contacts unless they pony up and pay a Bitcoin ransom.
And in classic ransomware fashion, there’s typically a ticking clock. Giving users a short time limit to deliver the payment is social engineering at its finest.
What next?
The recipient may well have a panic attack, that’s what. To be suddenly confronted with an ancient (but potentially still active) password is certainly going to give a bit of a shock to the system. It’s at this point the confusion sets in, as they start to wonder what on Earth the attacker has. Did they really see what they claimed to see? Do they actually have video footage? What other potentially embarrassing (or worse) content could they use to extort and blackmail?
What do they really have? A large throne of lies, is what. Yes, they have your password from a long time ago. No, they do not have access to your computer. And no, even if you were checking out adult sites, they don’t have video of you doing so.
What they might have is access to your email account associated with the breach, if you haven’t changed the password since it took place. They could also potentially start trying to log into other accounts you have with the same password. If this is the case, you should fire up a password manager and get to work changing things.
In fact, you should do that if you share passwords across accounts in any case.
Okay, back to the scam. What does the email say?
It’s a fairly standard template, and hunting for portions of the below mail will throw up any number of hits in Google and other search engines.
The email reads as follows:
"I am well aware [REDACTED] is your passwords. Let's get right to point. Neither anyone has paid me to investigate you. You may not know me and you are probably thinking why you’re getting this e-mail? 
"Actually, i installed a software on the adult videos (pornographic material) web-site and do you know what, you visited this website to have fun (you know what i mean). While you were viewing videos, your web browser began working as a Remote Desktop that has a key logger which gave me accessibility to your display and also cam. Just after that, my software gathered every one of your contacts from your Messenger, Facebook, as well as email, After that i created a double video. 1st part displays the video you were viewing (you’ve got a nice taste ha ha), and next part shows the recording of your cam, yeah it's you. 
"You have not one but two choices. Shall we read up on these options in aspects: 
"First alternative is to just ignore this message. in such a case, i am going to send out your actual video to every single one of your personal contacts and think regarding the awkwardness you will definitely get and definitely if you happen to be in a loving relationship, how it would affect? 
"Number 2 solution is to purchase $2000 in bitcoin. Let's name it as a donation. in this situation, i most certainly will asap remove your video footage. You could carry on daily life like this never occurred and you surely will never hear back again from me.
"You’ll make the payment through Bi‌tco‌in (if you don’t know this, search for ‘how to buy b‌itcoi‌n’ in Google). 
"B‌T‌C‌ ad‌dre‌ss to send to: [REDACTED] [CaSe sensitive, copy & paste it] 
"If you are wondering about going to the law enforcement officials, well, this message can not be traced back to me. I have dealt with my actions. i am also not attempting to demand a huge amount, i would like to be compensated. within this%} emaiQUNdkpeC [SIC] if i do not receive the ‌bi‌tco‌in‌, i will send your video recording to all of your contacts including family members, coworkers, and so forth. Having said that, if i receive the payment, i will erase the recording immediately. If you really want proof, reply Yup then i will send out your video to your 9 friends. This is a non-negotiable offer, so don’t waste mine time and yours by replying to this e mail."

That’s pretty sneaky. It is, and I’d be surprised if there aren’t many others waking up to emails identical to the above. Should you receive one yourself, do the following:
  1. Don’t panic. They absolutely do not have the keys to your computer.
  2. See if the email in question pops up over on Haveibeenpwned.
  3. See if your password does the same thing.
  4. At this point, you may have a fairly good idea which breach they grabbed your old login from, which is always useful information to have.
  5. Delete the email you were sent, and under no circumstances pay them a penny/dime/insert currency of choice here.
Scare tactics: an evil practice
The anonymous sender of these emails doesn’t care about the trauma they could cause at the other end. These missives would be particularly traumatic for anyone involved in (say) a revenge porn case previously. And make no mistake, generic Internet blackmail threats can kill.
If you’re able to report these mails for spam/abuse before deleting, do so. There’s a remote chance you could actually save someone’s life while making the Internet a little safer into the bargain.
Posted: February 11, 2019 by Christopher Boyd


Since you're quarantined and have nothing else to do, you can also file a complaint at the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. Click here for the form:  (IC3).

Sunday, April 26, 2020

“The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken”

“When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

“The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.

“Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan—no coherent instructions at all—families, schools, and offices were left to decide on their own whether to shut down and take shelter. When test kits, masks, gowns, and ventilators were found to be in desperately short supply, governors pleaded for them from the White House, which stalled, then called on private enterprise, which couldn’t deliver. States and cities were forced into bidding wars that left them prey to price gouging and corporate profiteering. Civilians took out their sewing machines to try to keep ill-equipped hospital workers healthy and their patients alive. Russia, Taiwan, and the United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power—a beggar nation in utter chaos.

“Donald Trump saw the crisis almost entirely in personal and political terms. Fearing for his reelection, he declared the coronavirus pandemic a war, and himself a wartime president. But the leader he brings to mind is Marshal Philippe Pétain, the French general who, in 1940, signed an armistice with Germany after its rout of French defenses, then formed the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Like Pétain, Trump collaborated with the invader and abandoned his country to a prolonged disaster. And, like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a collapse that’s larger and deeper than one miserable leader.

“Some future autopsy of the pandemic might be called Strange Defeat, after the historian and Resistance fighter Marc Bloch’s contemporaneous study of the fall of France. Despite countless examples around the U.S. of individual courage and sacrifice, the failure is national. And it should force a question that most Americans have never had to ask: Do we trust our leaders and one another enough to summon a collective response to a mortal threat? Are we still capable of self-government? …” (We are living in a Failed State by George Packer, The Atlantic).

For the complete article, click here.

George Packer is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.