Sidney Powell’s ‘Kraken’ Is Missing More Than a Few Tentacles

Sidney-Powell-Fox-Business

“I’m going to release the Kraken,” former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell declared in an interview with a credulous Lou Dobbs on Fox Business a couple of weeks ago. She was referring to the overwhelming evidence that supposedly would validate her claim that the presidential election was stolen by Joe Biden through a massive fraud involving “hundreds of thousands” (or possibly “millions”) of votes.

Last week Powell followed through on her threat by filing federal lawsuits challenging the election results in Michigan and Georgia. They are at least as hideous as the beast of legend and equally mythical.

Although the Trump campaign distanced itself from Powell on November 21, it was still presenting her as a member of its “elite strike force team” two days before that. Both the president himself and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have repeatedly embraced key aspects of her elaborate conspiracy theory, and they continue to do so. During his bizarre press conference on November 19, Giuliani accepted and amplified her story about fraud-facilitating voting machines and fabricated ballots, citing the affidavits she had collected as an important part of the president’s case that Biden did not really win the election. So when we look at Powell’s evidence, we are also looking at Trump’s evidence.

I will focus on Powell’s Michigan lawsuit, which alleges “a massive election fraud” aimed at “illegally and fraudulently manipulating the vote count to manufacture an election of Joe Biden as President of the United States.” This scheme purportedly included “the unlawful counting, or manufacturing, of hundreds of thousands of illegal, ineligible, duplicate or purely fictitious ballots in the State of Michigan,” representing “a multiple of Biden’s purported lead in the State.”

Powell’s evidence overlaps a lot with affidavits that were already submitted in a Michigan lawsuit filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center on behalf of two Republican poll watchers. When he rejected that lawsuit on November 13, Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny said the affidavits provided “no basis” for ordering an independent audit or issuing an injunction against certification of the election results in Detroit.

In one of those affidavits, Melissa Carone, a Republican who was working at Detroit’s TCF Center, the convention center where votes were counted, as an I.T. contractor for Dominion Voting Systems (yes, the same company that supposedly supplies fraud-facilitating software), said she “witnessed nothing but fraudulent actions take place.” The irregularities allegedly included a cover-up aimed at concealing the “loss of vast amounts of data” and “untrained counter tabulating machines that would get jammed four to five times per hour.”

Kenny noted that “Ms. Carone’s description of the events at the TCF Center does not square with any of the other affidavits”; that “there are no other reports of lost data, or tabulating machines that jammed repeatedly every hour during the count”; and that “neither Republican nor Democratic challengers nor city officials substantiate her version of events.” He concluded that “the allegations simply are not credible.” Yet here is Carone again, presented by Powell as one tentacle of her Kraken.

Kenny found that other affidavits were based on misunderstandings, offered unsubstantiated suspicions, or failed to make specific, checkable allegations. There is more of the same in the affidavits offered by Powell.

One example of a misunderstanding was the claim that absentee ballots had been backdated to make it seem as if they arrived earlier than they actually had. As Kenny noted, former Michigan Elections Director Christopher Thomas “explains that this action completed a data field inadvertently left blank during the initial absentee ballot verification process,” and “the entries reflected the date the City received the absentee ballot.” Yet here is Republican poll watcher Jessica Connarn, in an affidavit submitted by Powell, darkly reporting that an election worker “stated to me that she was being told to change the date on ballots to reflect that the ballots were received on an earlier date.”

The previous lawsuit also featured complaints from Republican poll challengers who said they were treated rudely and inappropriately by Detroit election workers. Powell covers that base too. In a handwritten affidavit with multiple crossouts, for example, Alexandra Seely says election workers “would not take out the log to record my challenges,” so “I had to write names and ballot numbers on my own.” She adds that she “was harassed and threatened to be thrown out multiple times.” At one point, she reports, “they told everyone to go to lunch if they haven’t ate.” But when poll watchers returned after eating, “they would not allow them back in and said they were at maximum capacity.”

Kenny addressed a similar complaint in his ruling. According to two affidavits, he noted, “Democratic challengers were also prohibited from reentering the room because the maximum occupancy of the room had taken place. Given the COVID-19 concerns, no additional individuals could be allowed into the counting area.”

Powell’s lawsuit also includes an affidavit from Trump campaign volunteer Kayla Toma, who says she received troubling phone calls and emails from “poll challengers, poll watchers, or concerned voters.” These secondhand reports include malfunctioning ballot-counting machines, rudeness to poll watchers, a machine that was “preemptively shut down” by an election worker who said “they could just tell when a machine was about to jam,” and “containers/coolers in the polling location which could have contained ballots.”

As evidence of fabricated ballots, Powell offers an affidavit from Matt Ciantir, who says he was walking his dog on “the afternoon following the election” when he saw “a young couple” in their late teens or early 20s transfer several “very large clear plastic bags” from their van to a “running USPS vehicle.” He thought that was “odd,” because “they did not walk inside the post office like a normal customer to drop of [sic] mail.” Rather, “it was as if the postal worker was told to meet and standby until these large bags arrived.” Another “oddity” was “the appearance of the couple”: “After the drop, they were smiling, laughing at one another.”

Ciantir took pictures of the bags “in an indiscriminate way” because he thought they could contain “ballots going to the TCF center or coming from the TCF center.” But he “didn’t get a chance to snap a license plate of the van nor the couple.” The implication, I think, is that the highly sophisticated conspirators who rigged the election against Trump hired giggling teenagers to transport bags of phony ballots and load them into a truck in broad daylight.

“Patriots are coming forward every day, all day, faster than we can collect their information,” Powell told Dobbs. If these affidavits represent the best Powell can do, you have to wonder about the quality of the “information” she decided to leave out.

Powell, joined by Trump and Giuliani, claims Dominion Voting Systems played a key role in denying the president his rightful victory. At the heart of that allegation is a redacted affidavit from an unnamed source who claims to have worked for “the national security guard detail of the President of Venezuela.” In that capacity, he says, he learned that President Hugo Chavez had commissioned Smartmatic (a different company) to “create and operate a voting system that could change the votes in elections from votes against persons running the Venezuelan government to votes in their favor in order to maintain control of the government.” Although Powell calls this document the “Dominion Whistleblower Report,” Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Poulsen notes, “the voting software used in Venezuela has no connection to Dominion, and wasn’t used anywhere in Michigan.”

Another affiant cited by Powell averred that “data manipulation by artificial means” was clear from the way that Trump’s early leads in battleground states shrank as more votes were counted. In Pennsylvania, for example, “President Trump’s lead of more than 700,000” was “reduced to less than 300,000 in a few short hours, which does not occur in the real world without an external influence.” The same affiant cited another example of suspicious tallies in “Edison County, MI,” a jurisdiction that does not exist.

Newsweek notes several other errors in Powell’s lawsuits:

The 104-page suit detailing allegations of fraud in Georgia and the 75-page document focusing on Michigan both contain a series of typos, including spelling “district” incorrectly twice in the Georgia suit’s opening line. In the Michigan lawsuit, the court name is also misspelled in the top line to read “Eastern Distrct of Michigan.”

The documents misspell the name of William Briggs, one of Powell’s key expert witnesses, incorrectly, referring to him as “Williams Briggs” and “William Higgs.”

The Michigan document contains a number of pages where entire sentences do not have any spaces between the words.

While mistakes like these obviously do not go the heart of Powell’s allegations, they do reflect a general lack of care. We will see what the courts make of her claims. But even if the lawsuits are quickly dismissed, it probably will not weaken the faith of Trump supporters who still believe he actually won.

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Sidney Powell’s ‘Kraken’ Is Missing More Than a Few Tentacles

Sidney-Powell-Fox-Business

“I’m going to release the Kraken,” former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell declared in an interview with a credulous Lou Dobbs on Fox Business a couple of weeks ago. She was referring to the overwhelming evidence that supposedly would validate her claim that the presidential election was stolen by Joe Biden through a massive fraud involving “hundreds of thousands” (or possibly “millions”) of votes.

Last week Powell followed through on her threat by filing federal lawsuits challenging the election results in Michigan and Georgia. They are at least as hideous as the beast of legend and equally mythical.

Although the Trump campaign distanced itself from Powell on November 21, it was still presenting her as a member of its “elite strike force team” two days before that. Both the president himself and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have repeatedly embraced key aspects of her elaborate conspiracy theory, and they continue to do so. During his bizarre press conference on November 19, Giuliani accepted and amplified her story about fraud-facilitating voting machines and fabricated ballots, citing the affidavits she had collected as an important part of the president’s case that Biden did not really win the election. So when we look at Powell’s evidence, we are also looking at Trump’s evidence.

I will focus on Powell’s Michigan lawsuit, which alleges “a massive election fraud” aimed at “illegally and fraudulently manipulating the vote count to manufacture an election of Joe Biden as President of the United States.” This scheme purportedly included “the unlawful counting, or manufacturing, of hundreds of thousands of illegal, ineligible, duplicate or purely fictitious ballots in the State of Michigan,” representing “a multiple of Biden’s purported lead in the State.”

Powell’s evidence overlaps a lot with affidavits that were already submitted in a Michigan lawsuit filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center on behalf of two Republican poll watchers. When he rejected that lawsuit on November 13, Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny said the affidavits provided “no basis” for ordering an independent audit or issuing an injunction against certification of the election results in Detroit.

In one of those affidavits, Melissa Carone, a Republican who was working at Detroit’s TCF Center, the convention center where votes were counted, as an I.T. contractor for Dominion Voting Systems (yes, the same company that supposedly supplies fraud-facilitating software), said she “witnessed nothing but fraudulent actions take place.” The irregularities allegedly included a cover-up aimed at concealing the “loss of vast amounts of data” and “untrained counter tabulating machines that would get jammed four to five times per hour.”

Kenny noted that “Ms. Carone’s description of the events at the TCF Center does not square with any of the other affidavits”; that “there are no other reports of lost data, or tabulating machines that jammed repeatedly every hour during the count”; and that “neither Republican nor Democratic challengers nor city officials substantiate her version of events.” He concluded that “the allegations simply are not credible.” Yet here is Carone again, presented by Powell as one tentacle of her Kraken.

Kenny found that other affidavits were based on misunderstandings, offered unsubstantiated suspicions, or failed to make specific, checkable allegations. There is more of the same in the affidavits offered by Powell.

One example of a misunderstanding was the claim that absentee ballots had been backdated to make it seem as if they arrived earlier than they actually had. As Kenny noted, former Michigan Elections Director Christopher Thomas “explains that this action completed a data field inadvertently left blank during the initial absentee ballot verification process,” and “the entries reflected the date the City received the absentee ballot.” Yet here is Republican poll watcher Jessica Connarn, in an affidavit submitted by Powell, darkly reporting that an election worker “stated to me that she was being told to change the date on ballots to reflect that the ballots were received on an earlier date.”

The previous lawsuit also featured complaints from Republican poll challengers who said they were treated rudely and inappropriately by Detroit election workers. Powell covers that base too. In a handwritten affidavit with multiple crossouts, for example, Alexandra Seely says election workers “would not take out the log to record my challenges,” so “I had to write names and ballot numbers on my own.” She adds that she “was harassed and threatened to be thrown out multiple times.” At one point, she reports, “they told everyone to go to lunch if they haven’t ate.” But when poll watchers returned after eating, “they would not allow them back in and said they were at maximum capacity.”

Kenny addressed a similar complaint in his ruling. According to two affidavits, he noted, “Democratic challengers were also prohibited from reentering the room because the maximum occupancy of the room had taken place. Given the COVID-19 concerns, no additional individuals could be allowed into the counting area.”

Powell’s lawsuit also includes an affidavit from Trump campaign volunteer Kayla Toma, who says she received troubling phone calls and emails from “poll challengers, poll watchers, or concerned voters.” These secondhand reports include malfunctioning ballot-counting machines, rudeness to poll watchers, a machine that was “preemptively shut down” by an election worker who said “they could just tell when a machine was about to jam,” and “containers/coolers in the polling location which could have contained ballots.”

As evidence of fabricated ballots, Powell offers an affidavit from Matt Ciantir, who says he was walking his dog on “the afternoon following the election” when he saw “a young couple” in their late teens or early 20s transfer several “very large clear plastic bags” from their van to a “running USPS vehicle.” He thought that was “odd,” because “they did not walk inside the post office like a normal customer to drop of [sic] mail.” Rather, “it was as if the postal worker was told to meet and standby until these large bags arrived.” Another “oddity” was “the appearance of the couple”: “After the drop, they were smiling, laughing at one another.”

Ciantir took pictures of the bags “in an indiscriminate way” because he thought they could contain “ballots going to the TCF center or coming from the TCF center.” But he “didn’t get a chance to snap a license plate of the van nor the couple.” The implication, I think, is that the highly sophisticated conspirators who rigged the election against Trump hired giggling teenagers to transport bags of phony ballots and load them into a truck in broad daylight.

“Patriots are coming forward every day, all day, faster than we can collect their information,” Powell told Dobbs. If these affidavits represent the best Powell can do, you have to wonder about the quality of the “information” she decided to leave out.

Powell, joined by Trump and Giuliani, claims Dominion Voting Systems played a key role in denying the president his rightful victory. At the heart of that allegation is a redacted affidavit from an unnamed source who claims to have worked for “the national security guard detail of the President of Venezuela.” In that capacity, he says, he learned that President Hugo Chavez had commissioned Smartmatic (a different company) to “create and operate a voting system that could change the votes in elections from votes against persons running the Venezuelan government to votes in their favor in order to maintain control of the government.” Although Powell calls this document the “Dominion Whistleblower Report,” Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Poulsen notes, “the voting software used in Venezuela has no connection to Dominion, and wasn’t used anywhere in Michigan.”

Another affiant cited by Powell averred that “data manipulation by artificial means” was clear from the way that Trump’s early leads in battleground states shrank as more votes were counted. In Pennsylvania, for example, “President Trump’s lead of more than 700,000” was “reduced to less than 300,000 in a few short hours, which does not occur in the real world without an external influence.” The same affiant cited another example of suspicious tallies in “Edison County, MI,” a jurisdiction that does not exist.

Newsweek notes several other errors in Powell’s lawsuits:

The 104-page suit detailing allegations of fraud in Georgia and the 75-page document focusing on Michigan both contain a series of typos, including spelling “district” incorrectly twice in the Georgia suit’s opening line. In the Michigan lawsuit, the court name is also misspelled in the top line to read “Eastern Distrct of Michigan.”

The documents misspell the name of William Briggs, one of Powell’s key expert witnesses, incorrectly, referring to him as “Williams Briggs” and “William Higgs.”

The Michigan document contains a number of pages where entire sentences do not have any spaces between the words.

While mistakes like these obviously do not go the heart of Powell’s allegations, they do reflect a general lack of care. We will see what the courts make of her claims. But even if the lawsuits are quickly dismissed, it probably will not weaken the faith of Trump supporters who still believe he actually won.

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Vaccines Don’t Save Lives. Vaccinations Save Lives.

VaccinatedCOVIDPojoslawDreamstime

In less than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, several safe and effective vaccines against the coronavirus are apparently on track to be approved and made available later this month. This spectacular achievement is in large part due to the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program that incentivized pharmaceutical companies to rapidly develop and deploy these vaccines. Operation Warp Speed’s chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui told The Washington Post this morning that he expects there will be enough COVID-19 vaccine to immunize every American by June 2021. Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday that vaccine distribution could begin during the week of December 14.

But as Emory University infectious disease researcher Walter Orenstein reminds us, “Vaccines do not save lives. Vaccinations save lives.” The question of just how many infections, hospitalizations, and lives lost could be averted by the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign is at the heart of a new modeling study in Health Affairs by a team of Harvard and Yale researchers led by infectious disease physician Rochelle Walensky.

It’s great to have highly effective vaccines, but as the researchers observe, “How well a vaccine program ‘works’ will also depend on how quickly it can be manufactured, how efficiently it can be distributed to locations in greatest need, how persuasive health messaging can be in promoting public acceptance, and how consistently the public can adhere to the many complementary prevention strategies (e.g., masks, hand-washing, distancing) to limit the spread of the virus.”

To get at the question of how well the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine campaign might work, the researchers set up a heavily caveated model that seeks to take into account the relative efficacy of vaccines (25, 50, 75, and 90 percent) that are preventive, or severity reducing (disease modifying), or a composite of both. The model also takes into consideration the pace (speed of deployment) and coverage (extent of vaccine uptake) as they interact with various epidemic severity scenarios. The researchers also consider various lag times for the vaccines to become fully effective. For simplicity the simulation uses a population of 100,000 people.

In their base case, the pace is 0.5 percent of the population is vaccinated daily and they assumed an eventual coverage of 50 percent of the population. They defined three different epidemic severity scenarios based on basic reproduction numbers, that is, the average number of people to which an infected person will transmit the virus, ranging from a best case of 1.5 to a baseline case of 1.8 to a worst case of 2.1 people. In the best case scenario, people are keeping the basic reproduction number lower by adhering to social distancing, mask wearing, and other preventive practices. The higher number is associated with greater crowding indoors as the weather grows colder. They also sketch out a scenario in which the basic reproduction number is 1.2 cases per infection. As it happens, that appears to be close to the current nationwide level.

Their baseline scenario assumes an epidemic basic reproduction number of 1.8. With no vaccinations, more than 61,000 people out the population of 100,000 would become infected within six months. Cumulative deaths would reach 2,725 and hospitalizations would peak at 1,780 people. The researchers then assume that 50 percent of people are inoculated with a composite vaccine that is 50 percent effective after 42 days at preventing—as well as reducing—disease severity. In that case, total infections drop to around 37,000 (32,000 unvaccinated and 5,000 vaccinated). Cumulative deaths among the unvaccinated fall to 1,430 and to only 16 for those who are vaccinated. Peak hospitalization drops to 962 people.

Keep firmly in mind that these calculations are not predictions about what will actually happen in the coming months. They are designed to provide some insight on how the interaction of the speed of deployment, vaccine uptake, and the severity of the epidemic could affect the trajectory a vaccination campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a scenario with a six month time horizon (say, by this June) in which the basic reproduction number is 1.5, the vaccine is 90 percent effective, 1 percent of the population is vaccinated daily, and 90 percent are eventually vaccinated, infections are cut by more than 90 percent below what they would have been without a vaccine.

If the epidemic is more severe, with a basic reproduction number of 2.1, then infections over six months in that scenario are only reduced by a little over 60 percent. The basic reproduction number for the COVID-19 pandemic now depends largely on the actions we choose to take—avoiding crowded indoor spaces, mask wearing, and proper hygiene—to slow the trajectory of the pandemic for the next several months as the vaccines are rolled out. While the highly effective vaccines that appear to be in the pipeline are critical to ending the pandemic, the researchers point out, “the benefits of a vaccine will decline substantially in the event of manufacturing or deployment delays, significant vaccine hesitancy, or greater epidemic severity.”

With respect to vaccine deployment, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified last September in a Senate hearing that it would take about $6 billion to adequately fund the speedy distribution of the coronavirus vaccines. A bipartisan $908 billion stimulus plan proposed today in Congress would authorize $16 billion in health care funding that would allocate some spending for coronavirus testing and tracing and vaccine distribution.

Extensive vaccine hesitancy would stymie the development of real herd immunity to the coronavirus. Most researchers now believe that achieving the herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 would require that close to 60 to 70 percent of the population will have to have been infected or vaccinated. The good news is that a poll released in early November by the STAT biomedical research newsletter and the Harris Poll reported that 63 percent of Americans responded that they would get inoculated if the COVID-19 vaccines were 90 percent effective. In clinical trials, the Moderna and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are more than 90 percent effective in preventing infections. My hope is that as vaccine-hesitant Americans see most of their neighbors getting inoculated, that they too will choose to take the responsibility to protect themselves and vulnerable others from the COVID-19 scourge.

Ultimately, this modeling exercise suggests that millions of infections, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths can be averted in the coming six months if we keep the COVID-19 epidemic relatively under control and persuade our neighbors to take advantage of this amazing biomedical achievement.

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Vaccines Don’t Save Lives. Vaccinations Save Lives.

VaccinatedCOVIDPojoslawDreamstime

In less than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, several safe and effective vaccines against the coronavirus are apparently on track to be approved and made available later this month. This spectacular achievement is in large part due to the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program that incentivized pharmaceutical companies to rapidly develop and deploy these vaccines. Operation Warp Speed’s chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui told The Washington Post this morning that he expects there will be enough COVID-19 vaccine to immunize every American by June 2021. Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday that vaccine distribution could begin during the week of December 14.

But as Emory University infectious disease researcher Walter Orenstein reminds us, “Vaccines do not save lives. Vaccinations save lives.” The question of just how many infections, hospitalizations, and lives lost could be averted by the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign is at the heart of a new modeling study in Health Affairs by a team of Harvard and Yale researchers led by infectious disease physician Rochelle Walensky.

It’s great to have highly effective vaccines, but as the researchers observe, “How well a vaccine program ‘works’ will also depend on how quickly it can be manufactured, how efficiently it can be distributed to locations in greatest need, how persuasive health messaging can be in promoting public acceptance, and how consistently the public can adhere to the many complementary prevention strategies (e.g., masks, hand-washing, distancing) to limit the spread of the virus.”

To get at the question of how well the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine campaign might work, the researchers set up a heavily caveated model that seeks to take into account the relative efficacy of vaccines (25, 50, 75, and 90 percent) that are preventive, or severity reducing (disease modifying), or a composite of both. The model also takes into consideration the pace (speed of deployment) and coverage (extent of vaccine uptake) as they interact with various epidemic severity scenarios. The researchers also consider various lag times for the vaccines to become fully effective. For simplicity the simulation uses a population of 100,000 people.

In their base case, the pace is 0.5 percent of the population is vaccinated daily and they assumed an eventual coverage of 50 percent of the population. They defined three different epidemic severity scenarios based on basic reproduction numbers, that is, the average number of people to which an infected person will transmit the virus, ranging from a best case of 1.5 to a baseline case of 1.8 to a worst case of 2.1 people. In the best case scenario, people are keeping the basic reproduction number lower by adhering to social distancing, mask wearing, and other preventive practices. The higher number is associated with greater crowding indoors as the weather grows colder. They also sketch out a scenario in which the basic reproduction number is 1.2 cases per infection. As it happens, that appears to be close to the current nationwide level.

Their baseline scenario assumes an epidemic basic reproduction number of 1.8. With no vaccinations, more than 61,000 people out the population of 100,000 would become infected within six months. Cumulative deaths would reach 2,725 and hospitalizations would peak at 1,780 people. The researchers then assume that 50 percent of people are inoculated with a composite vaccine that is 50 percent effective after 42 days at preventing—as well as reducing—disease severity. In that case, total infections drop to around 37,000 (32,000 unvaccinated and 5,000 vaccinated). Cumulative deaths among the unvaccinated fall to 1,430 and to only 16 for those who are vaccinated. Peak hospitalization drops to 962 people.

Keep firmly in mind that these calculations are not predictions about what will actually happen in the coming months. They are designed to provide some insight on how the interaction of the speed of deployment, vaccine uptake, and the severity of the epidemic could affect the trajectory a vaccination campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a scenario with a six month time horizon (say, by this June) in which the basic reproduction number is 1.5, the vaccine is 90 percent effective, 1 percent of the population is vaccinated daily, and 90 percent are eventually vaccinated, infections are cut by more than 90 percent below what they would have been without a vaccine.

If the epidemic is more severe, with a basic reproduction number of 2.1, then infections over six months in that scenario are only reduced by a little over 60 percent. The basic reproduction number for the COVID-19 pandemic now depends largely on the actions we choose to take—avoiding crowded indoor spaces, mask wearing, and proper hygiene—to slow the trajectory of the pandemic for the next several months as the vaccines are rolled out. While the highly effective vaccines that appear to be in the pipeline are critical to ending the pandemic, the researchers point out, “the benefits of a vaccine will decline substantially in the event of manufacturing or deployment delays, significant vaccine hesitancy, or greater epidemic severity.”

With respect to vaccine deployment, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified last September in a Senate hearing that it would take about $6 billion to adequately fund the speedy distribution of the coronavirus vaccines. A bipartisan $908 billion stimulus plan proposed today in Congress would authorize $16 billion in health care funding that would allocate some spending for coronavirus testing and tracing and vaccine distribution.

Extensive vaccine hesitancy would stymie the development of real herd immunity to the coronavirus. Most researchers now believe that achieving the herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 would require that close to 60 to 70 percent of the population will have to have been infected or vaccinated. The good news is that a poll released in early November by the STAT biomedical research newsletter and the Harris Poll reported that 63 percent of Americans responded that they would get inoculated if the COVID-19 vaccines were 90 percent effective. In clinical trials, the Moderna and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are more than 90 percent effective in preventing infections. My hope is that as vaccine-hesitant Americans see most of their neighbors getting inoculated, that they too will choose to take the responsibility to protect themselves and vulnerable others from the COVID-19 scourge.

Ultimately, this modeling exercise suggests that millions of infections, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths can be averted in the coming six months if we keep the COVID-19 epidemic relatively under control and persuade our neighbors to take advantage of this amazing biomedical achievement.

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Biden’s Natsec Team Is Conventional in Style—and, Unfortunately, Policy

Joe Biden, Antony Blinken

President-elect Joe Biden’s selection for secretary of defense is rumored but, as of this writing, yet undetermined. The rest of his national security team, however, has been announced ahead of every other slate of cabinet-level nods. For secretary of state, Antony Blinken; for United Nations ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield; for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines; and for director of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

It is a list which delivers on Biden’s core campaign promise of a return to normalcy and conventional Washington.

The trouble is that this conventionality isn’t only a matter of style, which in isolation is plenty welcome. The Biden national security team is shaping up for a thoroughgoing conventionality on policy, too, which means maintaining the failed status quo of the post-9/11 era.

Take Blinken, an old school upper crust diplomat who will undoubtedly be far more interested in actual diplomacy than sitting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ever been. Blinken supported the development of the Iran nuclear deal and will likely spearhead the Biden administration’s move to jettison the Trump team’s disastrous “maximum pressure” approach to U.S.-Iran relations and rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. So far, so good.

But Blinken is also fundamentally an interventionist who has yet to learn that the U.S. cannot manage the planet. In his remarks accepting Biden’s nomination, he rightly noted Washington “can’t solve all the world’s problems alone”—but then, he went on to suggest our government can solve all the world’s problems if only it partners with other governments.

Thus did Blinken support U.S. military action in LibyaYemen, and Syria. And though he has since regretted the Yemen call, he believes the mistake in Syria was a failure to escalate. He has even attempted to rebrand Biden’s 2002 vote to invade Iraq as a “vote for tough diplomacy.” It was a vote for war—and after nearly two decades, tens of thousands of casualties, and trillions of dollars, we might at least be spared drivel about how endorsing a war is somehow a move for diplomacy.

Thomas-Greenfield may provide some counterbalance to that oddly military-focused mindset in a top diplomat. After 9/11, she recently wrote in a coauthored article at Foreign Affairs, the State Department became “too narrowly focused on terrorism and too wrapped up in magical thinking about the United States’ supposed power to transform regions and societies.” Thomas-Greenfield’s call there for “greater restraint and discipline” in U.S. foreign policy should be heeded, but whether the U.N. ambassador is able to influence policy (vs. simply communicating it) has varied widely in administrations past.

Next is Sullivan, who also worked on the Iran deal. He was an architect of the Libya debacle when he served under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a role in which he developed a reputation as a diligent, effective, and pleasant hawk. “On the spectrum of people in our administration, he tended to favor more assertive U.S. engagement” and “responses that would incorporate some military element,” Obama adviser Ben Rhodes told Vox of Sullivan in 2015.

Haines for director of national intelligence is a thoroughly establishment choice. She helped build the Obama administration’s drone warfare program—”Haines was sometimes summoned in the middle of the night to weigh in on whether a suspected terrorist could be lawfully incinerated by a drone strike,” Newsweek reported in 2013. (In 2012, a New York Times exposé revealed the Obama team maintained a secret drone “kill list” and counted “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” allowing deceptively low civilian casualty counts.) Haines also supported the Trump administration choice for CIA director of Gina Haspel, who helped lead the CIA unit involved in Bush-era torture.

The final name on the list is Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). His work to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations during the Obama years is an interesting history and could portend diplomatic progress to come in other antagonistic relationships, like U.S.-Iran or U.S.-North Korea engagement, insofar as DHS is involved. Mayorkas is expected to revive the DHS focus on counter-terror work (which faded into the background of the Trump administration’s attention to immigration), but his record is in prosecution and immigration, so it’s not yet clear what that will mean for policy.

Beyond normalcy, Biden has campaigned on most (though not all) foreign policy issues as a relative moderate, a liberal internationalist who has learned from the mistakes of the last 20 years. He’s said he’ll “end the forever wars,” and govern from the conviction that “use of force should be our last resort, not our first—used only to defend our vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people.”

Unfortunately, on balance, these appointments will make it difficult for Biden to keep that promise.

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Attorney General Barr Says There Is No Evidence of Election Fraud that Would Have Changed Election Outcome

Michael Balsamo of the Associated Press reports:

In an interview with The Associated Press, Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but they’ve uncovered no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP. . . .

“There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” Barr said. . . .

“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. They are not systemic allegations and. And those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on.”

These comments reflect what careful observers of the 2020 election have already concluded. The various viral claims of widespread voter fraud are bunk. The only think surprising about AG Barr’s comments is that he is willing to contradict so directly the wild election frauds claim made by President Trump. While AG Barr may be willing to take the President’s direction about what matters and which people to investigate, he is not wiling to make up facts or discredit the electoral process.

 

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Biden’s Natsec Team Is Conventional in Style—and, Unfortunately, Policy

Joe Biden, Antony Blinken

President-elect Joe Biden’s selection for secretary of defense is rumored but, as of this writing, yet undetermined. The rest of his national security team, however, has been announced ahead of every other slate of cabinet-level nods. For secretary of state, Antony Blinken; for United Nations ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield; for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines; and for director of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

It is a list which delivers on Biden’s core campaign promise of a return to normalcy and conventional Washington.

The trouble is that this conventionality isn’t only a matter of style, which in isolation is plenty welcome. The Biden national security team is shaping up for a thoroughgoing conventionality on policy, too, which means maintaining the failed status quo of the post-9/11 era.

Take Blinken, an old school upper crust diplomat who will undoubtedly be far more interested in actual diplomacy than sitting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ever been. Blinken supported the development of the Iran nuclear deal and will likely spearhead the Biden administration’s move to jettison the Trump team’s disastrous “maximum pressure” approach to U.S.-Iran relations and rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. So far, so good.

But Blinken is also fundamentally an interventionist who has yet to learn that the U.S. cannot manage the planet. In his remarks accepting Biden’s nomination, he rightly noted Washington “can’t solve all the world’s problems alone”—but then, he went on to suggest our government can solve all the world’s problems if only it partners with other governments.

Thus did Blinken support U.S. military action in LibyaYemen, and Syria. And though he has since regretted the Yemen call, he believes the mistake in Syria was a failure to escalate. He has even attempted to rebrand Biden’s 2002 vote to invade Iraq as a “vote for tough diplomacy.” It was a vote for war—and after nearly two decades, tens of thousands of casualties, and trillions of dollars, we might at least be spared drivel about how endorsing a war is somehow a move for diplomacy.

Thomas-Greenfield may provide some counterbalance to that oddly military-focused mindset in a top diplomat. After 9/11, she recently wrote in a coauthored article at Foreign Affairs, the State Department became “too narrowly focused on terrorism and too wrapped up in magical thinking about the United States’ supposed power to transform regions and societies.” Thomas-Greenfield’s call there for “greater restraint and discipline” in U.S. foreign policy should be heeded, but whether the U.N. ambassador is able to influence policy (vs. simply communicating it) has varied widely in administrations past.

Next is Sullivan, who also worked on the Iran deal. He was an architect of the Libya debacle when he served under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a role in which he developed a reputation as a diligent, effective, and pleasant hawk. “On the spectrum of people in our administration, he tended to favor more assertive U.S. engagement” and “responses that would incorporate some military element,” Obama adviser Ben Rhodes told Vox of Sullivan in 2015.

Haines for director of national intelligence is a thoroughly establishment choice. She helped build the Obama administration’s drone warfare program—”Haines was sometimes summoned in the middle of the night to weigh in on whether a suspected terrorist could be lawfully incinerated by a drone strike,” Newsweek reported in 2013. (In 2012, a New York Times exposé revealed the Obama team maintained a secret drone “kill list” and counted “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” allowing deceptively low civilian casualty counts.) Haines also supported the Trump administration choice for CIA director of Gina Haspel, who helped lead the CIA unit involved in Bush-era torture.

The final name on the list is Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). His work to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations during the Obama years is an interesting history and could portend diplomatic progress to come in other antagonistic relationships, like U.S.-Iran or U.S.-North Korea engagement, insofar as DHS is involved. Mayorkas is expected to revive the DHS focus on counter-terror work (which faded into the background of the Trump administration’s attention to immigration), but his record is in prosecution and immigration, so it’s not yet clear what that will mean for policy.

Beyond normalcy, Biden has campaigned on most (though not all) foreign policy issues as a relative moderate, a liberal internationalist who has learned from the mistakes of the last 20 years. He’s said he’ll “end the forever wars,” and govern from the conviction that “use of force should be our last resort, not our first—used only to defend our vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people.”

Unfortunately, on balance, these appointments will make it difficult for Biden to keep that promise.

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Attorney General Barr Says There Is No Evidence of Election Fraud that Would Have Changed Election Outcome

Michael Balsamo of the Associated Press reports:

In an interview with The Associated Press, Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but they’ve uncovered no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP. . . .

“There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” Barr said. . . .

“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. They are not systemic allegations and. And those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on.”

These comments reflect what careful observers of the 2020 election have already concluded. The various viral claims of widespread voter fraud are bunk. The only think surprising about AG Barr’s comments is that he is willing to contradict so directly the wild election frauds claim made by President Trump. While AG Barr may be willing to take the President’s direction about what matters and which people to investigate, he is not wiling to make up facts or discredit the electoral process.

 

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Another problem with self-pardons

Jonathan Adler’s post sets out some of the legal problems with a purported self-pardon by the President. (For more, see the arguments that Andrew Hyman laid out here.)

Those arguments make sense to me, but there’s also a practical problem involved. An attempt at self-pardon might also be self-defeating: it might encourage precisely the federal prosecution it’s intended to prevent.

Winning candidates usually don’t try to jail the losers. That’s for good reason: you want the incumbents to leave office peacefully, and you want the challengers to seek office peacefully.

Many people objected to the chant of “Lock Her Up” in 2016. It wasn’t because—or wasn’t just because—they believed Secretary Clinton to be factually innocent of any infraction of federal law whatsoever. It was also because a world in which elections determine who goes to prison is a world in which you can expect even more electoral mischief than we might see today.

Prosecuting former presidents is, in general, a bad precedent to set. That’s one reason why it’s important to deny the office to those whose conduct might force the issue. Whatever its virtues, the system of criminal law enforcement is not that great at handling crimes by those in high office. There’s a good deal of discretion and rough-justice inherent in the system, and when high officers are in the crosshairs, that can reallocate political power to the wrong people. (Cf. why J. Edgar Hoover was bad.)

Normally, the real checks on presidential lawbreaking aren’t criminal prosecutions and prison sentences. Rather, a presidential lawbreaker will face election losses, damage to their political party, and the undermining of a broader policy agenda. (Which is another reason why it’s important to deny the office to those who are relatively indifferent to such things.)

An attempted self-pardon, though, threatens to set precedent in the other direction. If future Presidents think they can get away with it, they might try all sorts of unusual things while in office, secure in their ability to self-pardon before they leave.

So, if President Trump claims to issue himself a pardon, the Department of Justice in a Biden Administration might see the balance as pointing the other way. They might see it as crucial to restore a consensus that such pardons are invalid. And the only effective way to do that, once a President has challenged the consensus publicly, would be to bring such a prosecution and to have the pardon tested in court.

In other words, an attempt by President Trump to grant a pardon to himself could well result in the very prosecution that the Biden DoJ might otherwise forgo.

(It’s yet another way in which the current administration can be both a symptom of the decay of crucial norms of behavior, and a cause of further such decay.)

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Poetry Tuesday!: “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Here’s “God’s Grandeur” (1877) by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).

For the rest of my playlist, click here. Past poems are:

  1. “Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  2. “The Pulley” by George Herbert
  3. “Harmonie du soir” by Charles Baudelaire
  4. “Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
  5. “Clancy of the Overflow” by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson
  6. “Лотова жена” (“Lotova zhena”, “Lot’s wife”) by Anna Akhmatova
  7. “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear
  8. “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allan Poe
  9. “Les Djinns” by Victor Hugo
  10. “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” by Alan Seeger
  11. “When I Was One-and-Twenty” by A.E. Housman
  12. “Узник” (“Uznik”, “The Prisoner” or “The Captive”) by Aleksandr Pushkin

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