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Government Response to Coronavirus: With Pence in Charge, We're Doomed

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I figured the government response to the coronavirus pandemic deserves a thread. I still can't believe Twitler put Pence in charge.

"Mike Pence was criticized for his handling of Indiana’s HIV outbreak. He will lead the U.S. coronavirus response."


When President Trump announced that Vice President Pence would lead federal efforts against the spread of the coronavirus, he said Pence was the right person for the task because of his experience.

“He’s got a certain talent for this,” Trump said at a White House briefing about the virus, which has infected nearly five dozen people in the United States so far.

The announcement has cast light on Pence’s record as a lawmaker and his handling of a major public health crisis during his time as governor of Indiana. The worst HIV outbreak in the state’s history happened on his watch in 2015, which critics blamed on Pence’s belated response and his opposition to authorizing a needle-exchange program.

In 2011, as a member of Congress, he voted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Two years later, a Planned Parenthood clinic that had been the only HIV-testing center in Scott County, Ind., closed after public health spending cuts, HuffPost reported.

Two months passed from the start of the outbreak in 2015 before Pence declared a public state of emergency.

The spread of the disease was attributed to people injecting Opana, an addictive painkiller, with shared needles. But Pence didn’t agree with federal health experts that distributing clean needles was a good idea.

I don’t believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia,” he told the Indianapolis Star at the time. Despite assurances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it is an effective way to halt the spread of infections and diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, Pence said that if state lawmakers tried to send him a bill for a needle-exchange program, he would veto it.

As cases spiked, Pence reportedly turned to prayer.

After 75 people were confirmed to be HIV-positive, Pence announced he would allow a 30-day needle exchange.

Public health officials weren’t the only ones to warn Pence about delaying action. State Rep. Ed Clere, a fellow Republican, also pushed Pence to approve a needle exchange.

“It was disappointing that it took so much effort to bring the governor on board,” Clere told the New York Times.

In 2018, researchers at Yale University found that the epidemic could have been prevented if Pence and state officials had acted faster. The study received financial support from the federal government.

“Our findings suggest that with earlier action the actual number of infections recorded in Scott County — 215 — might have been brought down to fewer than 56, if the state had acted in 2013, or to fewer than 10 infections, if they had responded to the [hepatitis C] outbreak in 2010-2011,” the paper’s senior author, Forrest W. Crawford, said in a statement at the time. Instead they cut funding for the last HIV testing provider in the county.”

One of the researchers on the study, Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves, tweeted Wednesday that Pence’s assignment overseeing coronavirus efforts “speaks to a lack of seriousness by the White House.”

Pence also downplayed the risk of smoking as late as 2000, Vox first reported; he wrote in an op-ed on his congressional website: “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

On Wednesday, Trump emphasized that Pence would not be a coronavirus “czar” because “he is a part of the administration.”

Pence said he looked forward to leading the federal response to the coronavirus.

“As a former governor from the state where the first MERS case emerged in 2014,” he said, “I know full well the importance of presidential leadership, the importance of administration leadership, and the vital role of partnerships of state and local governments, and health authorities in responding to potential threats and dangerous infectious diseases.”


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I'm sure the Rs hope that the bulk of those impacted are Dems:


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Honestly, I'm rather sceptical about this pandemic actually happening. Is it really such a threat, or will it go the way of the Mexican flu, that got everyone's panties in a knot and in the end wasn't as bad as all that? Probably the latter, if you ask me. 

That said, it's incredibly stupid and shortsighted as a country to not take the necessary precautions, stick your head in the sand, say that everything's under control and hand over the handling of it to a complete imbecile. All possible measures should be taken to prevent a pandemic (at all times, viral threat or not), no matter how big or small the chances are. Because the consequences if it does happen are so incredibly devastating and indiscriminate. Why would you want to run that risk?

Personally, I'm taking precautions. I may be sceptical, but I'm not stupid.

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"Trump keeps his coronavirus news conference focused on one high-risk patient: Himself"


Midway through his news conference on the new coronavirus Wednesday night, President Trump criticized Democrats for questioning his and his administration’s response to the virus.

Of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Trump said, “I think she’s not thinking about the country.”

But after the display we just saw, you could sure be forgiven for thinking Trump had politics on the brain, first and foremost.

From the start of the news conference, Trump repeatedly sought to pat himself and his administration on the back, even as the scope and severity of the viral outbreak worldwide and in the United States is still coming into focus.

“We really think we’ve done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum,” Trump said. “And again, we’ve had tremendous success — tremendous success, beyond what people would have thought.”

He added at another point: “We’re doing great. Other countries have not been doing great."

And: “So far, we’ve done a great job.”

When he was asked why the stock market has plunged 2,000 points in recent days, Trump acknowledged part of the reason was coronavirus fears. But he also blamed the Federal Reserve, Boeing, General Motors, and he said he thought the markets were suddenly worried about one of his potential 2020 Democratic opponents beating him for reelection — despite that campaign having been going for more than a year.

He added: “I think after I win the reelection, the stock market’s going to boom like it’s never boomed — just like it did, by the way, after I won the last election."

Perhaps most striking, Trump brought up the annual death toll for seasonal influenza in the United States, which is generally between 25,000 and 69,000 people. It wasn’t clear why he brought it up, but it seemed possible he was trying to play down whatever might come of the spread of the new coronavirus in the United States.

Trump also repeatedly claimed his political opponents had initially opposed his decision to close down travel from certain areas of the world, without elaborating.

He cited “decisions that were ridiculed at the beginning” and said “a lot of people thought we shouldn’t have done it at the beginning.” He later returned to the idea that, “had I not made a decision very early on not to take people from a certain area, we wouldn’t be talking this way” — about the situation being relatively contained.

Trump was even asked about supporters like Rush Limbaugh advancing the idea that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was exaggerating the potential impact of the new coronavirus to hurt him and that Trump’s opponents had weaponized the estimates against him.

“I agree with it,” Trump said. “And I’d like it to stop.”

Trump also picked a particularly notable political battle, targeting Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) who said the administration should have asked for more money than the $2.5 billion to deal with the coronavirus. Trump suggested that was meant to “demean” his administration. He said this even though some Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), have made similar suggestions.

“That’s okay; we’ll take more money,” Trump said. “But they shouldn’t demean the people that are on the stage who are the finest in the world. They’re not demeaning me. They’re demeaning the greatest health-care professionals in the world and people that do exactly what we’re talking about.”

By that point, however, it was difficult to believe he wasn’t taking it personally.


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"Trump just pushed one of his worst conspiracy theories yet"


President Trump is now fully embracing the conspiracy theory that his assorted enemies are deliberately hyping the coronavirus threat, all to damage him politically. At his Wednesday news conference, Trump agreed with Rush Limbaugh’s suggestion that Trump’s foes are “weaponizing” the outbreak against him.

There is something deeply dangerous about this idea that might escape initial scrutiny. So let’s be clear: This cannot be described with the usual head-in-the-sand media euphemisms. This isn’t just spin. It isn’t just crazy Trump being crazy Trump. It isn’t just Trump flooding the zone with chaos.

Instead, it poses a direct threat to the notion of accountability in government. This is thrown into sharp relief by coronavirus, at a time when it’s particularly urgent that the government operate neutrally, with the branches interacting in good faith.

At Trump’s presser, a reporter cited Limbaugh and noted that he and other Trump supporters have spread the idea that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be “exaggerating the threat of coronavirus” to “weaponize” it and “hurt you politically.”

“I think they are,” Trump replied. “And I’d like it to stop.” He then cited the Democratic opposition in Congress, in particular Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Trump later clarified he didn’t believe CDC officials in particular were doing this. But at a minimum, Trump fully confirmed his view that this is what the Democratic opposition is doing. Indeed, as Aaron Blake reports, Trump even claimed that in sounding the alarm about the threat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is “not thinking about the country.”

Trump has tweeted variations of this. He’s even blamed Democrats, and the news media, for deliberately hyping the coronavirus threat expressly to panic the markets and hurt his reelection chances, which to him is apparently the most frightening thing about this situation.

But it’s worth stressing that this time, Trump validated the claim at a news conference designed to brief the American people about a serious public health threat to the country, and about what the government is doing in response to it.

What Democrats are saying

In drawing attention to the coronavirus threat — or, in Trump’s telling, exaggerating it — Democrats aren’t offering passing commentary on it. Rather, they are making their case that the threat requires a more robust government response than the one Trump has offered.

Democrats have argued that Trump’s initial request for $2.5 billion in response funding is badly insufficient and that this funding should not be taken from other sources, such as low-income home heating assistance.

They have also argued that the coronavirus sheds light on other failures. The New York Times has a good rundown: The White House eliminated a National Security Council position that coordinates responses to pandemics. It has ignored an expert panel’s warning that the United States is badly unprepared for global health threats and needs to restore funding to address them.

Trump doesn’t see a problem, as the Times notes:

Instead, the president’s budget request this month for the fiscal year that begins in October would cut the C.D.C.’s budget by almost 16 percent, and the Department of Health and Human Services’s by almost 10 percent. The proposal’s $3 billion in cuts to global health programs included a 53 percent cut to the World Health Organization and a 75 percent cut to the Pan American Health Organization.

And so, there is a very serious difference of opinion between Trump and Democrats, a difference of opinion that matters. The latter want to fund our response to coronavirus far more robustly than Trump does and to take from this the lesson that we need to fund global health programs far more robustly as well.

In this context, when Trump accuses Democrats of hyping coronavirus solely to damage him politically, he’s shutting down this larger argument. At bottom, it’s really a form of dodging accountability.

There’s a reason we have a political opposition

Trump constantly treats the political opposition as if it’s entirely illegitimate or nonexistent. He declared impeachment an affront to “the American voter,” as if only his voters, and not those who elected the House, exist at all. He has vowed to defy all oversight.

As Will Wilkinson notes, much of what Trump does is premised on the core idea that “Democratic power” has no “legitimate authority to second-guess anything the president does.”

Trump’s latest conspiracy theory should be understood as putting this basic idea into practice at a particularly dangerous moment.

It’s true that when government is divided, what each side says and does toward the other will inevitably be somewhat political. Criticism will be exaggerated. Cooperation will be withheld for cynical purposes. And so forth.

But we want this to be the case precisely because it holds forth the possibility of accountability. When Democrats offer a stark reading of a particular crisis — like the coronavirus threat — it theoretically puts pressure on the executive to defend his handling of it before an alerted public.

By telling voters that this is solely about hurting him, Trump is casting aside that imperative as a dead letter. This is of a piece with Trump’s constant downplaying of the threat: Everything is absolutely under control, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just out to get him.

Trump’s biggest cheerleaders in the media are aggressively feeding this instinct. As Matthew Gertz documents, numerous Fox News segments are pushing this line: “You can’t trust the other party, you can’t trust the media, you can’t trust the experts, you can only trust Trump and those loyal to him.”

Time will tell just how badly this ends up misleading the American public about the coronavirus threat, and what the consequences will be. But we already know this is really about placing Trump’s response to it beyond accountability entirely.


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4 hours ago, fraurosena said:

Personally, I'm taking precautions. I may be sceptical, but I'm not stupid.

I have been taking some as well.   Mr. No finally decided to go in and get his flu shot as per CDC recommendations.  Plus stock up on some OTC meds just in case because the medicine cabinet is pretty bare after my last purge of old meds.    My company has also put some precautions in place.   

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Funny, I don't see an epidemiology background on Pence's Wikipedia page. Could it have been hacked? Could the evil Democrats be behind this? It couldn't have been the Russians, but it must be somebody, so....

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"U.S. workers without protective gear assisted coronavirus evacuees, HHS whistleblower says"


Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services sent more than a dozen workers to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, without proper training for infection control or appropriate protective gear, according to a whistleblower complaint.

The workers did not show symptoms of infection and were not tested for the virus, according to lawyers for the whistleblower, a senior HHS official based in Washington who oversees workers at the Administration for Children and Families, a unit within HHS.

The whistleblower is seeking federal protection, alleging she was unfairly and improperly reassigned after raising concerns about the safety of these workers to HHS officials, including those within the office of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. She was told Feb. 19 that if she does not accept the new position in 15 days, which is March 5, she would be terminated.

The whistleblower has decades of experience in the field, received two HHS department awards from Azar last year and has received the highest performance evaluations, her lawyers said.

The complaint was filed Wednesday with the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal watchdog agency. The whistleblower’s lawyers provided a copy of a redacted 24-page complaint to The Washington Post. A spokesman for the Office of the Special Counsel said he could not comment on complaints filed with the office.

The complaint alleges HHS staff were “improperly deployed” and were “not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation.” The complaint also alleges the workers were potentially exposed to coronavirus because appropriate steps were not taken to protect them and staffers were not trained in wearing personal protective equipment, even though they had face-to-face contact with returning passengers. The workers were in contact with passengers in an airplane hangar where evacuees were received and on two other occasions: when they helped distribute keys for room assignments and hand out colored ribbons for identification purposes.

In some instances, the teams were working alongside personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in “full gown, gloves and hazmat attire,” the complaint said.

“We take all whistleblower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act. We are evaluating the complaint and have nothing further to add at this time,” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said.

The whistleblower, in her complaint, states that “appropriate steps were not taken to quarantine, monitor, or test [the workers] during their deployment and upon their return home.” The repatriated Americans were among those evacuated from Wuhan and quarantined on military bases in California and Texas because they were considered at high risk for contracting the flu-like illness.

About 14 personnel from the Administration for Children and Families, or ACF, were sent to March Air Force base in Riverside County, Calif., and another team of about 13 ACF personnel were sent to Travis Air Force in Solano County, Calif., according to the complaint and the whistleblower’s lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld. In Solano County this week, the first U.S. patient was confirmed to be infected with coronavirus who did not travel to a region where it is spreading or have known contact with someone diagnosed with the disease.

Several people within HHS voiced objection to sending the ACF personnel to receive passengers, according to a person familiar with the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

A second person familiar with the situation said the workers were not tested for coronavirus because none of them met the criteria, which was restricted at that time to people who had recent travel to China or contact with a confirmed case. The workers also did not exhibit any symptoms, the person said. If they had, appropriate protocol would have been followed.

The deployments took place Jan. 28 to 31, around the time when the first planeload of evacuees arrived at March, and Feb. 2 to Feb. 7, during the time when additional flights were arriving at Travis. The planes each carried about 200 Americans who were repatriated from Wuhan.

After their deployments, the workers returned to their normal duties, some taking commercial airline flights to return to their offices around the country, the lawyers said.

“Our client was concerned that ACF staff — who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus — were allowed to leave quarantined areas and return to their communities, where they may have spread the coronavirus to others,” said Lauren Naylor, one of the whistleblower’s lawyers.

The whistleblower is also seeking assistance from the office of Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), a member of the House Ways and Means committee and vice chair of the House Oversight Committee, according to a Gomez spokesman.

During a hearing Thursday, Gomez asked Azar whether any employees from ACF could have been sent to help with the repatriation of Americans from Wuhan without any training in emergency response. Azar replied that some ACF employees were involved.

Asked what sort of health and safety training the personnel received and whether any of them were exposed to high-risk evacuees from China, Azar said: “They never should have been without P.P.E,” referring to personal protective equipment.

Asked whether any protocols may have been broken, given the urgency on the ground, Azar replied urgency was never a reason for breaking safety protocols.

“I don’t believe that has taken place,” Azar said said, adding that health and safety protocols “should always be followed.” He said he did not personally know the names of the team, but other department officials did. Pressed by Gomez what the department would do if untrained employees were exposed to the virus, Azar said: “I’d want to know the full facts, and we’d take appropriate remedial efforts.”

The whistleblower said she received an email Jan. 25 about a potential deployment within ACF to support repatriation of the evacuated Americans, according to her lawyer. She initially supported the efforts because they had the “appearance that this was within ACF’s scope,” Naylor said. But later, she discovered the teams were dispatched without her knowledge by other senior officials at HHS. It was part of the agency’s “all-hands-on-deck” mission, Naylor said, but it broke agency protocol about what kinds of employees should respond to health emergencies. The whistleblower said she later found out about the deployment when she heard directly from some employees and other senior officials at HHS.

Some workers expressed concern about the lack of protective gear to the ACF team leader on the ground. That person joined ACF in September and had “no training or experience in any federal emergency management, public health emergency response, or safety or operational protocols to run the mission,” the complaint states.

ACF personnel typically deal with supporting people recovering from natural disasters, such as floods and fires, and helping victims apply for temporary assistance, all of which are under the category of human services, the whistleblower’s lawyers said. HHS officials broke established protocols for emergency support by sending ACF workers to a health emergency for which they have no training, Naylor said. ACF, which has about 1,300 employees, has been criticized in recent years because of its role in sheltering and taking custody of migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border who were separated from family members by the Department of Homeland Security.

The workers’ concerns about potential exposure to coronavirus were not addressed, the whistleblower’s lawyers said.

“She was involuntarily assigned to a position in a subject matter where she has no expertise,” Wilkenfeld, her lawyer, said in an interview Thursday. The agency said the reason for the reassignment was “necessary to meet the needs of the department,” according to a memo she received. “If I did not accept involuntary reassignment, I would be terminated from federal service through adverse personnel action,” according to her complaint.


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Because of course:


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I’m surprised he didn’t invoke “Just Say No.”

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"Conservative pundits blame a grab bag of supposed villains amid the coronavirus outbreak"


Choose your scapegoat: Democrats, the news media, the Chinese government, the “deep state,” Bernie Sanders or even “identity politics.”

All received some share of the blame this week from conservative media figures for the growing public concern over the coronavirus, the communicable disease that has spread across the globe.

In fact, many conservative commentators have expressed less interest in the spread of the virus or efforts to combat it than they are in the story of the virus — a story they are convinced shows evidence of bias designed to harm President Trump.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson’s commentaries were a mix of paranoia, erroneous information and sometimes dangerous conspiracy theories about the virus, which has killed about 2,800 people, mostly in China, where it was first detected.

Trump, who often engages in a feedback loop with allied media figures, has already picked up on one strand of the popular pundits’ thinking: That the news media and Democrats have hyped the threat posed by the outbreak.

“Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible,” he tweeted Wednesday, misspelling the name of the disease in the process. “Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!”

Limbaugh — a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient from Trump earlier this month — was early to the blame-the-media message. The conservative radio titan said on his program Monday that the media’s coverage of the virus was “an effort to get Trump” and to spook investors. (The Dow Jones was down more than 1,100 points Thursday, adding to its drop over the past week.)

During the same broadcast, Limbaugh repeated a debunked theory that the virus was engineered by the Chinese as a bioweapon. But then he seemingly contradicted himself saying the coronavirus “is the common cold, folks.”

Experts say that’s not the case. Early reports suggest that about 2 percent of those who contract the coronavirus die from it, making it about 20 times more lethal than the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the flu killed about 34,000 people in the United States during the 2018-2019 flu season.

In view of the uncertainty and risk, the attacks on the news media could be particularly damaging and ill-timed, given that they may undermine sources of reliable information at a time when such information is vital.

China has also drawn suspicious glances from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who suggested on her prime-time program this week that Chinese officials may be taking some consolation from the growing crisis because it might hurt Trump’s reelection chances.

“I think they want to use this — I mean, in China, they don’t want to deal with Trump anymore, with the tariffs,” she said on air Tuesday. “I think for them, the best thing would be if this hurt Trump in his reelection, correct?”

Ingraham also bashed Democrats for “relishing in this moment,” adding, “How sick that these people seem almost happiest when Americans are hurting.”

Among those who came into conservatives’ crosshairs this week was Nancy Messonnier, the head of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. During a media briefing on Tuesday, Messonnier said an outbreak of coronavirus in the United States was inevitable. The warning quickly turned out to be accurate when reports of the first apparent case of “community transmission” of the virus in the United States came out Thursday.

Despite Messonnier’s expertise and experience with infectious diseases, conservatives spied a “deep state” conspiracy. They called her comments into question because of a family connection: She is the sister of Rod J. Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general who oversaw special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Trump.

Limbaugh suggested on Wednesday that Messonnier couldn’t be trusted because she’s related to Rosenstein, a theme echoed by the far-right, conspiracy-minded Gateway Pundit blog.

Noting that Messonnier spoke while Trump was on a state visit to India, the Pundit’s Joe Hoft wrote on Wednesday, “The brother of the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier, is the corrupt disgraced former DAG Rod Rosenstein. Following in his footsteps, Dr. Messonnier dropped a bomb on President Trump while he was in India yesterday. . . . This was eerily similar to past presidential trips when former and corrupt DAG Rod Rosenstein and the corrupt and criminal Mueller gang would drop shocking news as the president was overseas.”

But the “real” threat might be Bernie Sanders, the front-runner in the Democratic primary, not coronavirus, according to Fox Business host Stuart Varney.

“The real driver [of the stock markets’ 10 percent fall over the past four days] is obviously the spreading virus,” Varney said. “There’s no question about that. But politics is a factor. And if you see a Bernie Sanders presidency or a Democrat presidency looming at you, as the president says, anything can happen in an election. No matter how remote, you’re going to get worried if you’re an investor.”

Limbaugh connected the virus and Sanders, too, judging the latter to be more worrisome: “There’s no question that Bernie Sanders poses a far greater threat to this country and the Democrat party than the coronavirus — and I mean to say that,” he said Wednesday. “The Democrat Party, as it’s currently constituted, poses a much greater threat to this country than the coronavirus does. And you can quote me on that.”

The most abstract critique may have come from Tucker Carlson, who blamed “wokeness” for misinforming people about the dangers posed by the virus.

“For weeks the media told you it was wrong to worry about the coronavirus,” Carlson said. “If that concerns you in any way, if you think maybe we ought to take some steps to protect ourselves from it, then you’re a bigot.”

“Countless publications wagged their fingers in the face of readers, and told them it was irrational, probably immoral in fact to worry about the coronavirus than the annual flu,” he continued.

He summed up the situation by declaring, “Identity politics trumped public health and not for the first time. Wokeness is a cult. They would let you die before they admitted that diversity is not our strength.”


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Meanwhile in Texas


Police in central Texas say they have reason to believe methamphetamine in Blanco County may be contaminated with the coronavirus and should be checked.

The offer comes in a public service announcement posted by the Johnson City Police Department to Facebook.

Hey if it catches any branch trumpvidians in the process I'm all for it...

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Recently I remarked that a crisis might be the catalyst to Trump’s presidential demise. Cue up coronavirus and the resulting crash of the SM including a fall as deep as 2008, the biggest one day drop ever (yesterday) and an 11.5% over all drop in one week’s time. Now we will all see how Trump and his yes man minions respond...so far, they are not inspiring confidence. Is Trump actually talking about cutting taxes again, as a stimulus?

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Here's the latest from our COVID-19 Czar, VP Pence, via Stephen Colbert:


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