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Facebook and Twitter Take Action After Trump Downplays COVID-19 Threat

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  • 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)

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Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office

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The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom


What Was in the Files?

President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.

The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.

According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.

A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.

The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.

Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.

On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.

They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.

What Happens Next?

Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.

Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.

Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.

If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.

The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.

On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.

Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”

Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.

Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.

The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats

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The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.


The Right To Build Families Act of 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.

The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.” 

The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.

The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”

Fertility Treatments Under Treat

The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.

For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.

Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.

Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.

All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions. 

“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.

“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.

In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”

Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.

“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”

The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.

Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.” 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (HuffPost) (USA Today)

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Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees

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The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.


An Agency Crawling With Extremists

Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.

The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.

The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.

“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.

POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.

The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.

In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”

Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.

The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem

Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.

In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.

The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.

The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.

Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.

In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.

See what others are saying: (Project on Government Oversight) (Business Insider)

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