- On Tuesday, President Donald Trump compared COVID-19 to the yearly flu, telling Americans that “we are learning to live” with the coronavirus.
- Despite this comparison, the coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 Americans — much more than the yearly flu — and no vaccine exists for it. On top of that, a COVID-19 resurgence during the flu season could potentially strain hospitals.
- Shortly after posting the message on social media, Facebook removed the comment. While Twitter left it up, it flagged it as “misleading and potentially harmful.”
- That post follows another from Monday where Trump told Americans not to be afraid of the coronavirus. That post generated sharp criticism from medical experts and even celebrities like Chris Evans.
Trump Compares COVID to the Flu
Facebook removed and Twitter flagged a post made by President Donald Trump on Tuesday that compared the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to seasonal flu deaths.
“Flu season is coming up!” Trump wrote. “Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”
Twitter, which flagged this tweet as “misleading and potentially harmful,” likely did so for multiple reasons.
For one, in the last decade, each year, the flu has not accounted for over 100,000 deaths in the U.S. According to the CDC, the most was actually about 61,000 in the 2017-2018 flu season.
That is much less than the 210,000 Americans who have died from COVID this year alone. In fact, for U.S. flu deaths to outnumber this year’s COVID deaths, you would need to add together the last six flu seasons.
Two, even if over 100,000 people each year did die from the flu, this would still not be a 1:1 comparison. That’s because there is still no widespread vaccine for COVID-19, unlike the flu. On top of that, while some people can express a level of immunity against the flu each year, COVID-19 is completely novel, making it much easier to spread.
That’s not to say the flu isn’t important. Every year, it poses very serious health problems, but that’s particularly why such a comparison is dangerous.
Health experts, for months, have believed that this flu season could be critical to monitor. That’s because colder weather may bring a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, and that could lead to hospitals becoming strained as they have to deal with both COVID and the flu.
Trump, for his part, has now again called for a repeal of the law that allows tech companies to flag or remove his posts.
Trump: “Don’t be afraid of COVID.”
That’s not the only social media post from Trump that has attracted attention and criticism.
On Monday, when announcing that he would be leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center later that evening, he said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
While many of Trump’s supporters echoed this message, many others overwhelming condemned the comments, with some calling for Twitter and Facebook to take action against it.
Dr. Bob Wachter, a physician and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, essentially called the comment “callous, inhumane, & counterproductive.”
Emergency Physician Bernard P. Chang warned that medicine shouldn’t be practiced “by one-off anecdotes. Practice by data. And with over 210,000 souls lost, I’d remain VERY afraid.”
Outside of medical professionals, actor Chris Evans explicitly noted the difference between Trump’s care and the everyday person’s care.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid?!” Evans said. “You’ve been under round-the-clock care by the best doctors using the best drugs. Do you really think everyone has access to that?! Sadly, I’m sure you’re aware of that disparity, you just don’t care. This is reckless to a shocking degree, even for you.”
Bill Goodykoontz, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, dubbed this as potentially the most irresponsible tweet from Trump ever.
Neither Twitter nor Facebook — where this same message was also posted — have issued any kind of warning over this tweet. In fact, a Twitter spokesperson even said specifically that this tweet does not violate the company’s rules since it does not include a call to action that could potentially result in real-world harm.
Trump Appears to Struggle to Breathe Normally
After Trump returned to the White House, Trump stoked another level of controversy when he immediately removed his mask after climbing the steps to the building.
While this was very likely an attempt by Trump to show that he’d overcome the virus and that he had recovered, many have noted that the president appears to be struggling to breathe normally.
“This is a textbook example of increased work of breathing” Dr. Ilan Schwartz tweeted. “In addition to using normal respiratory muscles… ‘accessory muscles’ in his neck are kicking in to help draw a breath.”
Minutes later, when Trump turned to enter the White House, he remained maskless as he walked into the building. Notably, other people could be seen inside.
White House Denies CDC Contact Tracing Help
Trump isn’t the only high-profile Republican to contract COVID-19 in the last few days.
Others such as Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC.) and Mike Lee (R-Ut.), RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, First Lady Melania Trump, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have all tested positive. Additionally, multiple White House staffers and journalists have also tested positive.
Currently, it’s believed that all of these cases are connected. Because of that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday offered to lead a contact tracing effort to track down and notify people who were exposed to this outbreak.
On Monday, the White House rejected that offer.
“The White House has plans and procedures in place that incorporate current CDC guidelines and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure and has established a robust contact tracing program led by the White House Medical Unit with CDC integration,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere said.
Another White House official added that a CDC epidemiologist, who’s been working with the administration since March, is assisting the effort.
However, Michael Shear, a journalist with The New York Times who covers the White House and who has now tested positive for the coronavirus told CNN, “I have not been contacted by the White House,”
“Nobody from the White House has said ‘boo’ and asked anything about where I was or who I talked to or who else I might have infected.”
Shear added that the lack of followup “just shows you that… they’re not taking it seriously, at least as it pertains to themselves.”
Similarly, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said the health department hasn’t received any response from the White House, despite multiple attempts to do so.
In fact, even within the White House itself, while the coronavirus has taken off, information on what to do has reportedly been slow to spread. For example, it took three days for staffers to receive any kind of response as to what they should do if they start experiencing symptoms.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (USA Today) (CNN)
Biden To Pull All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11
- President Biden declared Wednesday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
- The Afghanistan war is the longest war the U.S. has ever been in. It has resulted in the deaths of 2,400 American troops, injured and killed almost 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
- Some praised the decision as a key step to address seemingly endless wars and promote diplomacy.
- Many experts and defense officials, however, have warned the withdrawal could undermine American goals in the region and embolden the Taliban, which is currently the strongest it has been since the U.S. invasion removed the group from power in 2001.
Biden Announces Troop Removal Amid Growing Violence
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war in history.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden said in an afternoon speech. “It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’
The decision comes as Biden nears the May 1 deadline set under a February 2020 peace deal by the administration of former President Donald Trump to bring the troops home from the war, which has killed nearly 2,400 troops, injured and killed nearly 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
Biden had previously said that it would be hard to meet the date after taking office, but even with the extended timeline, many experts and defense officials have warned against the move.
The U.S. first entered the war to oust the Taliban government, which was harboring al-Qaeda militants involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban was removed within months, but the group still had support in parts of the country and steadily regained territory and strength.
Now, almost two decades later, the group is the strongest it has been since the 2001 invasion, and according to reports, controls or has influence over half the country. The situation has also escalated in the months after Trump, during his last week in office, reduced the official number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, which is the lowest level since 2001.
As the U.S. has scaled down its operations, the Taliban has taken control of major highways and tried to cut off cities and towns in surges that have exhausted Afghan security forces. Violence has also ramped up in recent months.
According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of the year, a nearly 30% increase from the same period last year.
Notably, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations present an immediate threat to strike the U.S. from Afghanistan, an assessment that reportedly played a big role in Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.
However, many experts are more concerned about how the move will impact Afghanistan and its citizens.
Concerns Over Withdrawal
The Pentagon has warned against removing American troops from the region until Afghan security forces can effectively fight back against the Taliban.
As a result, critics of the plan have argued that withdrawal will leave the forces — which have limited capacities and until now have been funded and trained by the U.S. — entirely in the dust
Beyond that, many also worry that the move could undermine the entire goal of the 2001 invasion by empowering al-Qaeda operates that remains in the country and who could become emboldened once the U.S. troops left.
Some experts and Afghan politicians have said that withdrawing from the country without a solid peace deal in place could end in concentrating more power in the hands of the Taliban. After a long delay following the U.S. agreement in February of last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started up in September.
But those talks have since stalled, partly due to Biden’s win and the anticipation of a possible change in policy under the new administration.
While other countries have recently made moves to restart the talks, and there are a number of possible options on the table, nothing is set in stone. American commanders, who have long said a peace deal with the Taliban is the best security measure for the U.S., have argued that the U.S. will need to use the promise of withdrawing their forces as a condition for a good deal.
Now, the U.S. has taken a major bargaining chip off the table, causing concerns that if a deal is struck, the already weakened Afghan government will make key concessions to the Taliban. Many Afghan citizens who oppose the Taliban worry that if the group secures a role in a power-sharing agreement, it could eventually take over the government and re-impose the harsh rule it imposed before the U.S. removed it in 2001. The leadership was particularly tough on women, who were largely barred from public life.
Biden’s decision has sparked a divided front from both political parities, though Republicans have largely remained united against the move.
“It is insane to withdraw at this time given the conditions that exist on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, canceled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”
Many Democrats, however, have argued that U.S. presence in the region is not helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals, and that if withdrawal is based on conditional approaches, the troops will never be able to leave.
Others have also applauded the plan as a careful solution and will still emphasize diplomatic efforts in the region while simultaneously removing the U.S. from a highly unpopular and expensive war.
“The President doesn’t want endless wars. I don’t want endless wars. And neither do the American people. ” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “It’s refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the President waking up one morning getting out of bed, saying what just pops into his head and then having the generals having walked it back.”
In a series of tweets Wednesday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said had spoken to Biden, and emphasized that the two nations would continue to work together.
“’Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along,” he wrote.
The Taliban, for its part, has focused more on the fact that the initial timeline had been delayed.
“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” a spokesperson said on television Tuesday. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”
It is currently unclear how that stance might affect the situation, especially when it comes to peace deal negotiations.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TIME)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen
- A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
- Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
- Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
- Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”
Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.
Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.
Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.
Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.
The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018.
In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”
The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.
One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.
Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.
Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.
“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”
Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.
Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.
It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.
The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.
The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The New York Times) (The Hill)
Biden Announces Executive Actions on Gun Violence
- President Biden unveiled several executive actions on Thursday to address gun violence in America, which he described as “an epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.”
- Biden’s measures include new limits on “ghost guns,” which are built from separate parts and usually do not have traceable serial numbers, as well as stabilizing braces, which functionally turn pistols into more lethal weapons.
- Biden also said he would direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use in implementing “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement or family to petition a court to temporarily block a person in crisis from accessing firearms.
- The president characterized these actions as first steps, noting that congressional approval will be needed for his agenda and urging the chambers to take action.
Biden’s Plan for Gun Violence
President Joe Biden announced a series of executive actions on Thursday aimed at addressing gun violence in America.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” he said in remarks from the Rose Garden. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Among other measures outlined, the president said he will tighten restrictions on so-called “ghost guns,” which are firearms built at home by buying individual parts or kits to assemble guns that often lack serial numbers, making them hard to identify and trace.
Another rule will require devices to meet the requirements of the National Firearms Act if they are marketed as a stabilizing brace that can functionally turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. The alleged shooter who killed 10 people in Boulder last month appeared to have used a pistol with an arm brace, which Biden said made the weapon more stable and accurate.
Additionally, Biden will also direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use to enact “red flag” laws, which allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a court to temporarily ban a person in crisis from accessing firearms. He will also as require the agency to publish an annual report on firearms trafficking.
In addition to those actions, the president said that he will nominate gun control advocate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not had a permanent director since 2015.
Finally, Biden also emphasized that his administration will invest in community violence intervention programs. That includes proposing $5 billion for the initiatives over the course of eight years as part of his infrastructure plan.
Mounting Press and Continued Gridlock
Biden’s announcement comes as he is facing pressure from gun control activists and Democrats to act on gun violence following the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.
Many have also condemned the president for not making gun control a top priority for his first days in office, as he promised during his campaign.
According to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, 57% of Americans disapprove of the way Biden has handled gun violence so far, and two-thirds “believe reducing gun violence should be a higher priority than protecting the right to own a wide variety of guns.”
Biden, for his part, has repeatedly pressured Congress to take action on gun violence, specifically pointing to two bills passed by the House last month. Both were dead on arrival in the divided Senate. In his remarks Thursday, the president characterized the actions he outlined as the first steps.
“This is just a start, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go, it seems like we always have a long way to go.”
However, he also acknowledged that further, substantial action will require the approval of Congress, which he urged to close background check loopholes, ban assault weapons, and narrow protections for gun manufacturers from litigation.