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Trump ignores science at dangerous indoor rally – CNN

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The event in Nevada — his second rally in the state in as many days — did not only risk the health of those present, thousands of whom were packed together inside a manufacturing facility in defiance of the state’s ban on local gatherings of 50 people or more. It also has the potential to turn into a super spreader event that could seed Covid-19 outbreaks in the wider community. Trump hadn’t held an indoor rally in nearly three months, since his last one, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after which the city saw a surge in cases and multiple campaign staffers along with Secret Service agents tested positive for the virus.
The jarring scenes of the indoor event clashed with footage from the first weekend of NFL games that went ahead in cavernous empty stadiums, reflecting how almost alone the President, who might be expected to set an example, is responsible for the most dangerous breaches of his own government’s coronavirus recommendations.
CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that major television networks, including CNN, decided not to send their crews and correspondents into the rally for their own safety. It’s not unusual for media companies to take steps to shield their employees in war zones abroad, but such precautions are exceedingly rare on home soil.
The same ditching of inconvenient facts to service Trump’s personal whims, political goals and conspiracy theories will likely be highlighted again on Monday when the President visits one of the raging Western wildfires in California, where more than 3 million acres have burned this year and 22 people have died since mid-August. The President insists that the fires are caused by poor forest management. Scientists argue that they have been exacerbated by climate change.

Accelerating efforts to reshape reality

As the election fast approaches, the administration’s broader attempt to reshape reality to benefit and accommodate an unrestrained President is accelerating, including among government officials who appear to be trying to stop the full story of the coronavirus emergency from coming out. Trump’s decision not to share what he knew about the deadly potential of the disease back in February — detailed in Bob Woodward’s new book — may have cost tens of thousands of lives. The economic effects of the pandemic are devastating. Yet as his incessant demands to open states — based on political motives rather than scientific rigor — show, the President is still not taking the human toll of Covid-19 with consuming seriousness.
A similar effort to create a reality that Trump would prefer is underway as he repeatedly lies about what he says is a Democratic attempt to rig the vote in November. In fact, his own political appointees in the Department of Homeland Security are accused of trying to conceal the full extent of Russian election interference designed to prop up his trailing campaign. CNN reported last week that the same whistleblower who raised that complaint had also cautioned that officials had also modified intelligence assessments to downplay the threat posed by White supremacists and to line them up with false comments made by the President about Antifa and leftist and anarchist groups.
New signs of politically-motivated investigations at the Justice Department are meanwhile adding to Attorney General William Barr’s reputation as Trump’s personal enforcer and also to concerns that an investigation he ordered into the origins of the Russia probe is being cooked up to offer Trump a pre-election surprise.
Across Washington, it seems to be a similar story as the truths and facts are remolded to support a President who admitted last week that his worldview and perception of reality are filtered through hour after hour of Fox News opinion shows whose counsel he appears to value over some of the highly qualified experts in his own government.
In a new example of the President picking conspiratorial or fantastical positions that match his political goals, rather than those rooted in fact and science, he complained over the weekend that California’s raging wildfires were the result of poor forest management. This is in line with his previously expressed belief that state governments need to “rake” and “clean” forest floors to remove the kindling for wildfires. Many scientists have said that drought and longer fire seasons are a direct consequence of climate change and have produced peer-reviewed studies to back up their conclusions. But such a conclusion is inconvenient to the President’s desire to promote fossil fuels and would require him to challenge conservative orthodoxy.
“Talk to a firefighter, if you think that climate change isn’t real,” the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.”
One of Trump’s top economic advisers, Peter Navarro, warned in several academic papers that climate change was one of the most serious potential environment challenges of the age. But in an interview with Tapper, in which he repeatedly refused to answer questions about the new Woodward book, Navarro seems to have changed his views to accommodate those of Trump.
“For many, many years, particularly because of budget cutbacks, there was no inclination to manage our forests. That’s actually a real issue,” Navarro said.

An all-powerful President

The triumph of Trump’s political ideology over fact and truth underscores the way he has systematically removed restraining personalities and forces from his administration. In many cases, the government now runs much like a massive version of the Trump organization, all working to fulfill the desires of the all-powerful boss. While Trump had now-disgraced legal fixer Michael Cohen in his business life to impose his will, he now has loyalists who are working to subvert what they see as the “Deep State” opposition in the bureaucracy to a President who demands total loyalty.
It’s not clear that the power grabs of the President will be anything like a decisive factor in the election, despite warnings by former President Barack Obama during the Democratic convention that the very future of American democracy and the integrity of the republic are on the ballot.
Trump’s efforts to stifle good governance draw big headlines in Washington but don’t resonate as much elsewhere in a country staggering amid a pandemic and consequent economic disaster that have destroyed the rhythms of normal life. Political maneuverings at the top of a government agency can often seen arcane. One lesson from countries in places like Eastern Europe, where democracy has been challenged, is that damage to good governance only becomes clear in retrospect, following months and years of erosion.
Yet Trump, a President who was impeached for trying to use government power to coerce a foreign nation, Ukraine, to interfere in a US election, appears to be sending a warning of how he would behave in a second term freed from any future accountability from voters. Government agencies and departments often reflect the priorities and interests of a President. But the recent attempts by Trump aides to reshape facts, truth and data is highly unusual.

Trump aides part with reality in Woodward defense

Troubling revelations by Woodward about Trump’s negligence amid a pandemic that has killed more than 194,000 Americans were compounded by new suggestions of fact-twisting by top Trump officials.
A federal health official told CNN on Saturday that Trump’s communications team at the US Department of Health and Human Services pushed to change language of weekly science reports released by the CDC.
Former Trump campaign aide turned chief HHS spokesman Michael Caputo and his team demanded to see reports out of the CDC before they are released, a senior administration official said. The story was first reported by Politico.
The source said some federal health officials at the CDC believe the interference to be an effort to change communications by the CDC’s scientists so as not to contradict the President, who argues that the pandemic is all but over and it’s time to fully reopen the country.
Caputo defended the behavior and praised Dr. Paul Alexander, who has reportedly been adding political content to CDC reports tracking the emergency.
“Dr. Alexander advises me on pandemic policy and he has been encouraged to share his opinions with other scientists,” Caputo said in a statement. “Like all scientists, his advice is heard and taken or rejected by his peers.”
The news is likely to stir more alarm at the way the administration has often prioritized the President’s political goals — on issues like masks and economic and school openings — in ways that repeatedly ignored science and facts.
The administration’s credibility on such issues and the need to separate politics and epidemiology will be incredibly important in convincing Americans to take a vaccine to end the pandemic when one is eventually widely available.
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel pushed back Sunday on the idea that Trump had managed the pandemic according to his political requirements rather than as the massive public health emergency that it is.
“I disagree that the President took political calculations into a global pandemic,” McDaniel, one of a string of Trump allies sent to Sunday talk shows to try to push back against the Woodward revelations.
But when she was asked by “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd on NBC why the US had 25% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths, she repeated a misleading claim that has come to typify the misinformation and illogical responses often used by Trump aides throughout the pandemic. “Well, we do have more testing,” McDaniel said.

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Bipartisan Politics | Politics and Public Affairs – Denison University

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But the ties that bind these four individuals are stronger than most. They, and several other Big Red alumni, are connected through Forbes Tate Partners, a bipartisan, full-service government and public affairs advocacy firm, founded by Forbes and his partner Dan Tate.

In today’s divisive political landscape it might be difficult to imagine that colleagues from opposite sides of the aisle can be, well, collegial. But according to Forbes, who has worked on Democratic campaigns since Al Gore’s presidential bid, that’s the whole point.

“People forget about the moderate factions in politics — and that’s where real work can be done,” says Forbes. So it made sense to build a firm that could work well with both parties and provide positive results for everyone.

And the work has become more complicated. “Lobbying has changed,” he says. “It’s not as much who you know – though that still matters. Today, you have to run a full-fledged campaign with traditional PR, social media, news updates. You have to make sure the people back home see the reason for what you are doing, to create that support before you move forward.”

So how did all these Denisonians find their way to Forbes Tate? You can credit another Denison tie, the Hilltoppers men’s a cappella group. Forbes was a member of the popular campus group, and several years ago a student Hilltopper reached out to him, struggling to figure out what to do for the summer. Forbes’ impulsive response, “Why don’t you come here?” became the beginning of an internship program that has brought scads of students from Denison’s hill to Capitol Hill.

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US vetted stars' politics to showcase Trump virus response – CKPGToday.ca

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The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesman Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesman for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.

Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.

According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of soundbites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the President will Help the Country.” The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II against Germany.

“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.

The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.

The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.

“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”

Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the Oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.

“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.

HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.

The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.

Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”

Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.

Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”

___

Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press

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How Virus Politics Divided a Conservative Town in Wisconsin’s North – The New York Times

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MINOCQUA, Wis. — When coronavirus cases began to spike in Wisconsin this fall, Rob Swearingen kept his restaurant open and let customers and employees decide whether they wanted to wear masks.

Mr. Swearingen, a Republican seeking his fifth term in the Wisconsin State Assembly, didn’t require other employees at his restaurant in Rhinelander to be tested after a waitress and a bartender contracted the virus because, he said, nobody from the local health department suggested it was necessary.

Kirk Bangstad, Mr. Swearingen’s Democratic opponent, took the opposite approach at the brewpub he owns in Minocqua, 30 miles away. He has served customers only outdoors, and when a teenage waiter became infected after attending a party, Mr. Bangstad shut down for a long weekend and required all employees to get tested.

Mr. Bangstad has since turned his entire campaign into a referendum on how Republicans have handled the coronavirus. On Facebook, he has served as a town shamer, posting lists of restaurants and stores in Wisconsin’s Northwoods that have disregarded state limits on seating capacity and don’t require masks.

With just days until the election, the contest for Mr. Swearingen’s Assembly seat in this lightly populated area in the Northwoods of Wisconsin serves as a microcosm for the way coronavirus politics are playing out across America. Mr. Bangstad is unlikely to prevail in a Republican-heavy district that covers parts of four counties stretching south from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but his effort to make the campaign a referendum on the virus echoes that of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has sought to make President Trump’s handling of the pandemic the central issue in the presidential contest.

Mr. Bangstad, a 43-year-old Harvard-educated former professional opera singer, moved back to Wisconsin six years ago from Manhattan, where he was a technology consultant and served as the policy director for Anthony Weiner’s 2013 mayoral campaign. Like Mr. Biden, he has eschewed traditional campaigning. He has moved his entire effort online, including in email and on the Facebook page of his brewpub, the Minocqua Brewing Company.

But unlike the former vice president, Mr. Bangstad has made little effort to win over voters who aren’t already appalled by Republicans’ handling of the coronavirus. Many of them, he said, are being duped by false or misleading statements by the president and the conservative news media.

“A lot of them, I feel, haven’t been equipped with the tools of media literacy or critical thinking skills to be able to discern if they’re being told something that doesn’t quite jell or is not true,” he said during an interview this week at his shuttered restaurant overlooking Lake Minocqua.

Rob Swearingen, a Republican State Assembly member, does not require staff or customers to wear masks at his restaurant in Rhinelander.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Wisconsin’s 2020 campaigns are concluding while the state is in the midst of one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. On Tuesday, as the state set records for the most new cases and deaths, Gov. Tony Evers said Wisconsin faces an “urgent crisis” and urged citizens to stay home.

Oneida County, which includes Minocqua and Rhinelander, where Mr. Swearingen operates the Al-Gen Dinner Club and has lived his entire life, has a virus rate nearly twice the state average over the past two weeks.

Scott Haskins, whose wife, Pamela, is a waitress at the Al-Gen, is among the county’s recent fatalities. Ms. Haskins contracted the virus after working a restaurant shift in mid-September and was hospitalized in early October. Mr. Haskins, 63, checked into the hospital with the virus four days after his wife, according to his daughter, Kelly Schulz.

Two days later, Mr. Haskins suffered a stroke and died.

“The day after my dad passed, Governor Evers put in the 25 percent capacity limit, and they weren’t abiding by it,” Ms. Schulz said of the Al-Gen. “People were posting pictures of themselves there on Facebook and it was pretty busy for a Friday night.”

Republicans who control the state legislature this month successfully sued Mr. Evers to overturn the capacity limits on bars and restaurants he ordered. In Oneida County, local sheriffs and town police departments weren’t enforcing them anyway.

Before winning election to the Assembly, Mr. Swearingen, 57, was the president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the powerful lobbying group for the state’s bars. He fought the state’s efforts to ban smoking indoors at businesses, lift the drinking age to 21 from 18 and increase the legal blood alcohol limit to drive.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

He said his restaurant is not responsible for employees who caught the coronavirus. No one from the local health department ever called with questions, he said, and no contact tracers contacted the restaurant. Mr. Swearingen said he has not had a test himself.

“There’s been no connection to the restaurant to all these cases,” he said during an interview in the dining room of the Al-Gen, which is bedecked with taxidermied heads of deer and black bears. “These people are part-time, coming from different jobs and different things.”

Of all the places where Democrats barely bothered to compete in 2016, Wisconsin’s Northwoods may have been the most neglected. Not only did Hillary Clinton skip Wisconsin altogether, county Democrats in this region didn’t even have yard signs to distribute, not that there was much demand for them.

Mrs. Clinton was a “polarizing’’ candidate, said Matt Michalsen, a high school social studies teacher who ran against Mr. Swearingen in 2016. “Personally, did I support her? No.”

Four years later, Mr. Bangstad has few expectations that he will win. He sees his campaign largely as an effort to increase Democratic turnout for Mr. Biden and cut into Mr. Trump’s margins by focusing attention on the impact of the coronavirus on northern Wisconsin.

Mr. Bangstad wrapped the side of his restaurant in a giant Biden-Harris sign that attracted the ire of the Oneida County Board, which sent a letter informing him that it exceeded the allowable size of 32 square feet. After Mr. Bangstad used the fracas to raise money and get more attention for himself in the local press, the board backed down.

At the same time, the Biden campaign and local Democrats have put far more resources into northern Wisconsin than they did four years ago. There are twice as many organizers focused on the area than in 2016. And though the Clinton campaign swore off yard signs as an unnecessary annoyance, the state party has made efforts to get them in every yard that would take one.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

“We distributed approximately 50 Hillary yard signs four years ago, and we’re at more than 1,200 so far for Joe,” said Jane Nicholson, the party chairwoman in Vilas County, just north of Oneida County.

There’s some evidence that Mr. Biden is making up ground. A poll taken for Mr. Bangstad’s campaign this month found Mr. Trump leading Mr. Biden in the district by five percentage points — a far cry from his 25-point margin of victory in 2016. The same survey found Mr. Swearingen ahead by 12 points, less than half his 26-point margin over Mr. Michalsen four years ago.

Mr. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by less than 23,000 votes statewide. His gap in Mr. Swearingen’s district alone was 14,000 votes.

“If we’re in the low 40s there, that means that we have blocked Trump’s path to pulling in the votes that he’d need to cancel out other areas of the state,” said Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

The Assembly race has engendered hurt feelings and worsened political divisions in Minocqua, a town of about 4,000 full-time residents. Down the street from the Minocqua Brewing Company, Tracy Lin Grigus, a Trump supporter who owns the Shade Tree bookstore, shook her head at Mr. Bangstad’s attempts to shame local businesses.

“On his Facebook, he’s calling all of us up here idiots, like a mini Joe Biden,’’ said Ms. Grigus, who doesn’t wear a mask in her store and doesn’t ask her customers to do so. “It’s insulting to people that share the space with him and other business owners. He’s like the only one in this town and surrounding towns that went this far.”

Across Oneida Street, the main drag through Minocqua’s small downtown, Casie Oldenhoff, an assistant manager at the Monkey Business T-shirt shop, where signs instruct customers to wear a mask, said Mr. Trump was to blame for the current wave of the pandemic.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

“He’s just not taking care of us,” Ms. Oldenhoff said. “He doesn’t care about what’s going on with the pandemic.”

Mr. Swearingen said he had little doubt that Mr. Trump would do just as well in the Northwoods on Tuesday as he did in 2016. Enthusiasm for the president is higher, he said, as evidenced by the regular boat and car parades adorned with Trump flags and carrying young men concerned foremost about a Biden administration taking away their guns.

But he said he had never been involved in a campaign as ugly as his own this year.

“We’ve been targeted by my opponent as a den of Covid and all sorts of rumors in Facebook,’’ he said. “I’ve never quite had to fight against Facebook in an election. He went after a couple of other bars in the area, and one of the bar owners was livid that that bar was on the list. It’s like, ‘Well, who are these people? It’s the mask police or something.’”

For Mr. Bangstad, shaming Mr. Swearingen and other Republicans who have fought against public health guidelines is exactly the point.

“If you’re a citizen in this state, and there’s one branch of government that’s trying to keep people healthy from Covid, and you have the legislative branch and the judicial branch trying to stymie him every single time he does it, it’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen,” he said. “As a Wisconsinite, I’m just completely ashamed.”

Andy Mills and Luke Vander Ploeg contributed reporting.

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