COVID-19 is circulating in some animals. What does that mean for us?

COVID-19 is circulating in some animals. What does that mean for us?

Dr. Jonathan Chan                     February 21, 2021

 

Last month, the nation watched as Winston the gorilla came down with COVID-19 and then recovered. So far, the virus has been detected in zoo animals like Winston, domestic animals like cats and dogs, and most worryingly, in farmed and wild animals like mink and ferrets.

Now, animal experts are warning that if the virus is circulating freely in wild animals, it might develop mutations and evolve into a new version – one that is capable of jumping back into humans.

January has been the deadliest month in the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, as efforts to distribute and administer the new vaccines continue.

And just as the United States is ramping up its efforts to find new COVID variants among people, many scientists are speaking out that we should be doing the same for animals.

“In the current pandemic, we know that the virus originated in wildlife, most likely bats, then jumped to people,” said Dr. Jonathan Epstein, an epidemiologist and vice president for science and outreach at EcoHealth Alliance. “And we know that there are a lot of other animals that are susceptible to this virus.”

MORE: US life expectancy drops 1 year in first half of 2020 amid coronavirus pandemic, CDC says

Epstein explained that the COVID virus is so widespread and so many people are infected that there is a significant possibility that wildlife could be exposed through the environment, contaminated waste water or direct contact with humans.

PHOTO: A dog is tested for COVID-19 in South Korea on Feb. 10, 2021. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)
PHOTO: A dog is tested for COVID-19 in South Korea on Feb. 10, 2021. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

 

Minks are small, carnivorous mammals that are raised mostly for their furs. So far, six countries, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the United States, have reported COVID virus infections in their mink farms to the World Health Organization.

While there is no evidence yet that the virus found in the farmed mink population is more dangerous than what has already been detected in humans, the virus does spread easily among minks that are housed closely together.

But infections in farmed and captive animals can be managed. Some farmed mink populations in Europe, for example, have been culled. Meanwhile, zoo animals like Winston are isolated and treated for their infections to limit the spread of disease.

But it’s a different story once the virus jumps into wildlife.

As scientists were investigating the outbreak of COVID among farmed minks, they discovered that the virus had already spread to wild minks as well.

“What we are seeing right now is known as a spill back infection,” said Dr. Christine Kreuder Johnson, a professor of veterinary medicine and ecosystem health at the University of California—Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The virus, which likely originated from bats, spilled over to the human population and has now “spilled back” to infect other animal species.

According to Johnson, the threat of spill back includes both wildlife populations and zoo animals. Felines, including both tigers and domestic cats, are suspected to have been infected from their human owners or caretakers.

“Widespread transmission in any animal species could be a source of virus mutation,” she said.

While there is limited evidence that the virus can significantly spread to humans from animals, scientists are concerned that the virus could change while infecting other animal species. If it spills back, or returns, to infect humans again, it could come back as a new variant.

But more testing and research still needs to be done to better understand the extent the virus can spread in animals.

“We may never have the answer to the question about how COVID spreads in wild animals,” said Dr. Tracey McNamara, a professor of pathology at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Testing in animals was discouraged from the very beginning, largely because they were concerned that there were not enough supplies,” she said. “Testing in humans and wild animals use the same types of swabs.”

In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not currently recommend routine, widespread testing among animals, and animal testing is available if “public health and animal health officials agree the animal’s case merits testing.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t be able to learn more about the spread of COVID in different species, through a process known as retrospective serologic surveys. As McNamara explained, every time a staff member interacts with or handles an animal at a zoo, they obtain a blood sample and store that in a blood bank.

PHOTO: A guard stands at the entrance to the Bronx Zoo on April 06, 2020, in New York City. A four-year-old tiger named Nadia at the zoo tested positive for COVID-19, the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement on April 5. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

 

Those samples are saved, and with enough funding and support, scientists could look back at those samples and potentially learn more about when COVID may have first appeared in different wild and domestic animal species.

“So much funding was poured into the development of the COVID vaccine,” said McNamara. “Creating a vaccine is very expensive, but there may be less expensive modes to decrease spreading between animal species.”

That includes treatment and prevention efforts specifically designed for captive and farmed animals. And for wild animals, it means more robust monitoring and testing — and reducing direct contact with wildlife when possible.

Ultimately, the threat of “spill back” is a reminder that almost all virus outbreaks are zoonotic, meaning they originate in animals and wildlife.

“These pandemics don’t happen by accident,” Epstein said. “They happen because of human activity that changes the environment around us and brings us into closer contact with wildlife.”

Jonathan Chan, M.D., is an emergency medicine resident at St. John’s Riverside Hospital and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

North-central Minnesota lakes are getting murkier faster

Star Tribune

North-central Minnesota lakes are getting murkier faster

Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune                        February 20, 2021

 

Leif Olmanson has spent most of his career tracking Minnesota’s lakes from space, poring over decades of satellite images and crunching data on water clarity.

Now the University of Minnesota researcher is puzzling over a new question: What is driving the declining water clarity in Minnesota’s northern lakes, some of the jewels of the state?

“My big concern is that the areas that are more pristine are where things are changing quickly,” Olmanson said. “Why would these lakes be changing in northern Minnesota where there’s not a lot of land use changes going on?”

Olmanson quickly mapped the state’s late summer temperatures — the dog days when algae blooms — and saw they have risen fastest in Minnesota’s north-central regions where lakes have been warming the most. This is the home of deep, cold lakes. Bit by bit, the change in a few degrees could alter the state’s prized cabin country and angler havens.

“That’s some of the best walleye fishing in the country,” said retired DNR fisheries research biologist Peter Jacobson. “It’s a part of the state we’re very concerned about.”

Other scientists at the U, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are monitoring the trend, too.

Casey Schoenebeck, a research scientist who runs the DNR’s sentinel lakes program, said Olmanson’s heat map is supported by what his team has found in the water. Lake water temperatures are rising statewide, but particularly in the state’s transition zone from the plains to forest and in the northern forest area.

“It’s all changing,” Schoenebeck said, “but the changes are happening the fastest in those two central eco-regions.”

Warmer water encourages the algae growth, including the toxin-producing cyanobacteria commonly called blue-green algae. It can clog fish gills, and when it dies and sinks to the bottom of a lake it consumes oxygen, starving fish and other aquatic life.

The murkiness can actually amplify the warming temperatures, said Gretchen Hansen, another U scientist studying the decline in water clarity. Murky surfaces absorb more of the sun’s radiation, warming surface waters even faster.

The most ominous sign of the impact is the plunge in cisco populations across the Midwest as lakes warm. Also called tullibee, the small silvery fish are a main source of food for prized game fish such as walleye. They thrive in bands of deep cold water, and are highly sensitive to temperature changes. The DNR has been working to try find “refuge” lakes for them.

There are multiple factors that can make Minnesota lakes murkier, that Olmanson, Hansen and others are trying to untangle, such as changes in precipitation and, perhaps more important, in land use.

Minnesota is losing forests to farmland as row crops spread north, for example, as timber is harvested and as communities grow with new homes, businesses and roads. Then there are cabin owners tinkering with shorelines.

Plus, more intense rainstorms wash more nutrients, sediments and solids, such as leaves, into lakes with tannins that turn water brown.

As Peterson, the retired DNR biologist, sees it, the solution to protecting water quality in the state’s deep clear lakes is to protect the intact forests around them. If 75% of a lake’s watershed is forested, you can protect it, he said.

“It’s critical that it does not get converted to agriculture or homes, and shopping centers and roads,” Jacobson said.

That’s what the Northern Waters Land Trust has been working on. Based in Walker, Minn., the nonprofit conserves private land on strategic tullibee refuge lakes in Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Aitkin counties. It uses grants from the state’s sales-tax funded Outdoor Heritage Fund to arrange conservation easements for landowners and has protected nearly 2,500 acres that way since 2014. The trust also buys land outright.

Olmanson said the approach makes perfect sense: “It’s cheaper to protect the lake before it gets impacted than to try to restore it.”

To explore the effects of land-use changes on water clarity, Olmanson is analyzing new satellite-derived data that show changes in land cover. His goal is to build an automated data set to show which factors are most important in driving declining water clarity in different lakes.

“Different things are happening in different parts of the state,” he said. In the near term, he’s racing to finish a major update of the U’s interactive LakeBrowser tool in time for this year’s fishing opener May 15. It’s popular with anglers and real estate agents.

The tool, which Olmanson helped create, displays information about the clarity of all Minnesota lakes down to 10 acres in size. It shows a lake’s current and historic clarity measures and comparisons to other lakes in the watershed, for example, how much algae it has and the nature of the land around it, such as forest or fields. It complements the DNR’s LakeFinder tool.

The map Olmanson generated of late-summer temperature changes in Minnesota’s center north reflect a broader pattern, climatologists say.

Northern Minnesota is warming faster than southern Minnesota, with north-central and northeast Minnesota warming a little more than west-central Minnesota, said Kenneth Blumenfeld, senior climatologist in the state Climatology Office.

If you zoomed out from Olmanson’s map, Blumenfeld said, it would show that high readings in north-central Minnesota are part of a larger continuous belt extending north into Canada. In general, the farther north you go around the world, the faster warming is occurring. There are variations on our continent, he said, where the interior is warming faster than near the coasts.

“Northern Minnesota has some of the fastest warming rates in the contiguous U.S., including during the late summer,” he said. “The variations we see to the east and west are based on topography, elevation, land cover, proximity to water, and other factors climate scientists do not fully understand.”

Georgia Republicans File Sweeping Elections Bill To Limit Early And Absentee Voting

NPR – GPB – Politics

Georgia Republicans File Sweeping Elections Bill To Limit Early And Absentee Voting

Items at a Gwinnett County, Ga., voting location on Jan. 5, when Democrats flipped two U.S. Senate seats after President Biden won the state in November. Georgia Republicans are proposing a sweeping new state law that would restrict early and absentee voting. Megan Varner/Getty Images

 

version of this story was originally published by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Republicans in the Georgia legislature have released legislation that proposes tougher restrictions on both absentee and in-person early voting, among other sweeping changes to election laws after an election in which Democrats won the presidential race in the state and flipped two U.S. Senate seats.

The bill, HB 531, filed by GOP state Rep. Barry Fleming was introduced directly into the Georgia House’s Special Committee on Election Integrity on Thursday, and the text of the bill was made available about an hour before a hearing.

Many of the changes in the bill would predominantly affect larger, minority-heavy Democratic strongholds of the state, constituencies that helped President Biden narrowly defeat former President Donald Trump in the state last November, then boosted Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s January runoff elections. In recent months, many Republicans at the local, state and federal level have pushed false claims of election fraud, and lawmakers in Georgia have vowed to change laws in response.

Part of the bill would provide “uniformity” to the three-week early voting period, Fleming said, requiring all counties to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for three weeks before the election, plus a mandatory 9-to-5 period of voting the second Saturday before the election. It would allow counties to extend hours to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but would prohibit counties from holding early voting any other days — including Sunday voting popular in larger metro counties and a day of traditionally high turnout for Black voters through “souls to the polls” voter mobilization events.

Like other bills making their way through the GOP-controlled legislature, there would be a new photo ID requirement for absentee ballots. The bill would require voters to include their driver’s license number, state ID number or a copy of an acceptable form of photo ID. The driver’s license number or state ID number is already required for a new online request portal for Georgia voters, and photo ID is required to vote in person.

But the proposal would also shrink the window for Georgia voters to request an absentee ballot and limit the timeline for county officials to mail them out. No absentee ballot could be requested earlier than 11 weeks before an election or later than two Fridays before the election, and absentee ballots would not be sent out by mail until four weeks before day of the election.

The bill aims to restrict the location of secure drop boxes in the state to early voting sites and would limit the use of those drop boxes to just the days and times when early voting takes place. Another section would ban county elections offices from directly accepting outside funding for elections, after the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the Schwarzenegger Institute gave tens of millions of dollars to counties across Georgia to run the November and January elections in the midst of the pandemic.

One section appears to target mobile voting buses in Fulton County, which includes part of Atlanta. They were used during early voting to provide several pop-up polling locations in the Atlanta area under a recent Georgia law that allows early voting sites to be held at any location that is an Election Day polling place.

Some changes would give county elections workers more flexibility and greater staffing for polling locations, such as a tweak that would allow poll workers to operate sites in adjoining counties instead of just the county of their residence. Another would allow officials leeway in the requirement of voting equipment for typically lower-turnout primaries and runoffs. However, the deadline for results to be counted and certified would move up four days sooner to the Monday after the election.

Fleming’s bill revives a measure supported by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last year that would require precincts with over 2,000 voters and waiting times over one hour to add more workers, more machines or split the precinct.

Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Burnough expressed concern that Democrats did not have any input into the 48-page measure, as well as the quick timing of the bill.

“The public, people of color, they didn’t have opportunity to review or to give an opinion and there’s a lot of information in here that needs to be digested and looked at,” she said. “I think if we’re trying to really work towards restoring confidence that we should be working towards improving everything based on suggestions from the entire state of Georgia, not just us down here in the General Assembly.”

There will be more hearings on the bill in the coming days before it’s potentially sent to the floor of the Georgia House.

Minneapolis gardener transformed gritty city lot into productive urban farm

Star Tribune

Minneapolis gardener transformed gritty city lot into productive urban farm

Kim Palmer, Star Tribune                   February 19, 2021

 

Andy Lapham has a knack for salvaging castoff things and transforming them into something useful.

“I do like junk,” said Lapham. It’s what he used to build his shed, his chicken coop and his one-of-a-kind trellis/gazebo, which is topped with a canopy of old bicycle wheels.

But Lapham’s biggest reclamation project is a formerly vacant, junk-strewn lot in Minneapolis’ urban core that he and others have nurtured into a lush, productive garden that grows apples, plums, berries of all kinds, sunflowers to nourish birds and bees and other pollinator plants.

Lapham doesn’t own the garden; its out-of-state owner has given him permission to grow there.

“They let me garden for free,” said Lapham, 35, whose laid-back demeanor belies his drive to produce. In return, he takes care of maintenance, snow shoveling and trimming branches that dangle into the street.

This compact oasis of urban agriculture at a busy corner in the Central neighborhood is Lapham’s passion. It’s a community garden and a demonstration site, where he leads tours and shares what he’s learned about permaculture — producing food sustainably within a system inspired by natural ecosystems.

Lapham and his gardens were one of six chosen in the Star Tribune’s annual Beautiful Gardens contest, selected by a panel of judges from more than 380 nominations from readers. In this year of pandemic and racial justice reckoning, the contest was changed a bit. Readers were invited to nominate gardens that are beautiful in spirit and contribute to the greater good.

Lapham’s passion for growing food has evolved, although the seed was planted in his bloodline. “All my grandparents were born on farms,” he noted. Growing up in Golden Valley, his family tended a vegetable plot. “We always had a garden, but it wasn’t really intense.”

His own interest intensified after a 2013 trip to Hawaii, where he visited an eco village in the jungle.

“It was so cool!” he enthused. “There was all this food growing, 30 to 40 people, a communal kitchen. I wished we had places like that.”

Back in Minneapolis, Lapham asked his landlord if he could install a garden at the home he was renting in Seward. The landlord balked. “He said, ‘If you move, the next tenant won’t want to take care of it, and it will turn into a weed patch.’ ” Lapham did it anyway. “I built a raised bed, got books and started learning different things.”

Later he took a class on permaculture, and learned more things, including water collection methods, sustainability techniques and low-tech building using recycled materials.

“Before that, it was just gardening,” said Lapham, who makes his living working on landscape jobs.

Finding the lot Lapham took over the vacant lot in 2015. At the time he was working for a food share program, Sisters Camelot, and helping tend its garden on a city-owned lot. When the program lost the use of the lot, Lapham called around and found the empty lot in Central. He tracked down its owner in Pennsylvania. “They loved the garden idea,” he said.

So Lapham cleaned up the junk and abandoned mattresses, and recruited friends and volunteers to help him clear buckthorn and brush.

“The soil was pretty poor,” he said, so he brought in better soil and compost and started brewing compost tea.

Then he began planting — apple, plum, apricot and pear trees, berries of all kinds, cherries, grapes and currants. Once the plants started producing, neighbors started to help themselves to the fruit. “People come and pick ’em, especially kids,” he said.

Tending the garden led Lapham to buy the house next door, a century-old fixer-upper. He was working in the garden with a friend when he noticed the tenants loading up a moving van.

Later the landlord stopped by. “He said, ‘I can’t believe what you guys have done [with] this lot. One of you should buy this [the house].’ ” Lapham told him he couldn’t afford a house. It sat vacant for two months.

By that time, Lapham’s lease was ending, and his roommates were moving so he asked the landlord if he could rent the house. After renting for two years, Lapham had saved up enough to buy the house on a contract for deed.

“Now I get to learn how to fix an old house, too,” he said. And owning the house next to his garden gave him more land for planting and for keeping chickens — four hens and a rooster.

Lapham also helps tend a third food-producing garden a block away. It’s owned by the Baha’i Center of Minneapolis, which asked Lapham to give its youth farm a permaculture makeover. He dug a swale [a trench for irrigation] and redesigned the garden, adding new crops.

“Neighbors come and pick them,” he said. “Corn disappears fast. We know it’s everybody’s favorite.” Pattypan squash and watermelon also have been popular. “But nobody touched the kale.”

Lapham’s latest hobby is plant propagation. “I’m learning how so I can give plants to neighbors, other community gardens and spread them around the neighborhood,” he said. Last March, he posted a plant giveaway on Facebook, and about 20 to 30 people showed up to get his plants.

Troubled timesAfter George Floyd was killed by police just two blocks from Lapham’s home, the neighborhood erupted in unrest and increased crime.

“It’s been real scary,” Lapham said last summer. “I woke up to gunshots.”

More recently, a neighbor was clubbed in the head with a gun and had his wallet stolen, and there’s been a spate of carjackings. “I’m lucky enough to own terrible cars nobody wants,” Lapham said, including two old Volkswagens and a work van.

He’s also had tools, equipment and plants stolen from the garden. He built a shed out of salvaged materials for storing his tools, but “I can’t put everything inside,” he said.

Sometimes the challenges of urban living make him dream of owning a small farm in the country. “I think about it a lot, with the crime in the neighborhood,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll turn around.”

But there are examples of caring and altruism in his neighborhood, too. The bench Lapham built at the corner bus stop on the edge of his garden has become a place where people drop off food for the taking to help neighbors in need. What doesn’t get taken by people, Lapham feeds to crows and other birds.

While most Minnesota gardeners take a break during the winter months, Lapham stays busy with garden-related chores.

“I’ve been trying to fix a lot of the tools,” he said earlier this month. “I took apart and rebuilt the tiller, the blower and the chain saw. I spend a lot less time out there in the winter but there are still things to do all the time.”

He’s been doing some pruning. “A lot of trees you can only prune in winter,” he said. “It’s safer for the plant, and helps it produce better. It wakes up in the spring and doesn’t even realize it is missing a limb.”

Soon he’ll start collecting cuttings to propagate. And he recently filled out an application to get seeds through the Horticulture Society’s Minnesota Green Program, with the aim of starting seeds in March and April.

“I’m excited to see what we’re going to do — more garden plans and more tours,” he said of the growing season ahead.

What motivates him to invest so much time and energy into urban farming?

Lapham paused to ponder that question. “I don’t watch TV, drink or go out or do anything,” he said with a smile. “I want to learn all these things and be an inspiration for others to try — build a better world instead of wasting time.”

Trump complained that he was served a smaller steak than a dining companion at his DC hotel restaurant: report

Business Insider

Trump complained that he was served a smaller steak than a dining companion at his DC hotel restaurant: report

Eliza Relman                 February 19, 2021

 

President Donald Trump once complained that a steak he was served at his Washington, DC, hotel restaurant was smaller than the one given to his table companion, the steak house’s former executive chef told the Washingtonian. Bill Williamson, then the chef of BLT Prime at the Trump International Hotel, said the two steaks were virtually identical.

“It was the same steak. Both well done. Maybe it was a half ounce bigger or something, I don’t know,” Williamson said to The Washingtonian.

But after Trump’s complaint, Williamson switched from serving the president a filet mignon or bone-in rib eye to a 40-ounce tomahawk, which is larger than all the other steaks offered on the restaurant menu. The restaurant also ordered special extra-large shrimp for Trump’s appetizer dish, The Washingtonian reported.

Former first lady Melania Trump was also known to be picky with her food. Williamson said she once returned a plate of Dover sole, a fish that’s priced at $64 on the menu, because it was topped with chives and parsley, according to the report.

Trump always sat at the same table at the center of the dining room, which was always reserved for him and his inner circle, and ate the same meal every time he visited the restaurant, The Washingtonian reported.

Immediately after he was seated, a waiter would offer him a small bottle of hand sanitizer and ask him whether he’d like his Diet Coke with or without ice. Then the server would open the drink, according to a seven-step instruction manual The Washingtonian obtained, in front of Trump.

Donald Trump during Launch of Trump Steaks at The Sharper Image at The Sharper Image in New York City, New York, United States.
Donald Trump during the launch of Trump Steaks in New York City. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

 

The president would have two popovers, then jumbo-shrimp cocktail, his signature well-done steak, and fries. He’d sometimes have either apple pie or chocolate cake for dessert, the report said. Trump also required that an assortment of snacks and sweets, including Lay’s sour cream and onion potato chips and Milky Way and Snickers bars, be laid out for him.

Trump’s red-meat and fast-food-heavy diet has long attracted attention. His former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski wrote that Trump would regularly eat a 2,400-calorie McDonald’s meal consisting of two Big Mac burgers, two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and a chocolate milkshake on the campaign trail. In the White House, Trump would often be served two scoops of ice cream with his dessert, while his guests received one scoop, Time reported.

How a Hardcore Liberal Lawyer Joined the Pro-Trump Mob

How a Hardcore Liberal Lawyer Joined the Pro-Trump Mob

Richard Fausset and Campbell Robertson      February 18, 2021
The law offices of W. McCall Calhoun in Americus, Ga., Feb. 8, 2021. (Audra Melton/The New York Times)
The law offices of W. McCall Calhoun in Americus, Ga., Feb. 8, 2021. (Audra Melton/The New York Times)

 

AMERICUS, Ga.— Over the past three decades, as the state around him turned ever more resolutely Republican, W. McCall Calhoun Jr. remained an outspoken and unwavering liberal. He gave money to Democrats, ran for office as a Democrat and zealously championed Democratic policies in social circles that were far from sympathetic. If friends admitted they voted for Donald Trump, his reaction could be blistering.

“He was hard core, there’s no doubt about it,” said Dr. Michael Busman, a physician who has known Calhoun for years. “He wouldn’t even want to talk to you if you were Republican.”

But last year, as the progressive movement in Georgia was on the cusp of historic electoral triumph, Calhoun, a small-town lawyer whose family had long roots in the state, suddenly abandoned the Democrats. And not only that, he pledged to kill them.

“I have tons of ammo,” Calhoun wrote on Twitter three months before storming the U.S. Capitol with a pro-Trump mob. “Gonna use it too — at the range and on racist democrat communists. So make my day.”

The sudden conversion of Calhoun, who is now in federal custody, was baffling to many who knew him. Indeed, Calhoun’s story seemed a walking embodiment of Georgia’s contradictions: a state where a rising multiracial coalition of voters sent two Democrats — a Black preacher and a Jewish millennial — to the Senate in January, but where thousands of voters also elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, vanguard of an incendiary brand of hard-right politics.

​Some Black residents of Americus, Calhoun’s hometown, were not shocked that a person so worldly could end up doing something like this. “The Jekyll and Hyde effect,” said the Rev. Mathis Kearse Wright Jr., the head of the local NAACP chapter. He knew Calhoun, who gave donations and regularly bought tickets to the group’s annual banquet. But Wright suggested that the racism deep at the root of Georgia’s history was still very much alive, even if white people, including some of those who saw themselves as progressive, did not want to admit it. “What President Trump did was allow it to bud and to grow,” he said. “A lot of people who had been suppressing it no longer felt that they had to suppress it.”

Before it fell away, Calhoun’s white progressivism had a homegrown flavor, steeped in Georgia’s history, countercultural currents and higher education system. He preached criminal justice reform and broadcast his support for Hillary Clinton.

Then came his abrupt turn, and a headlong descent into some of the darkest places in Georgia history. He peppered his social media posts with racial slurs, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris as a “fake negro.” He saluted the Confederacy, and he seemed to thirst for civil war.

He was not an unlettered man: In his years at school, Calhoun had written a master’s thesis on the historiography of Napoleon’s peninsular war and had attended a law seminar in Belgium. His profile — a well-educated, white-collar white man — matched that of some of the other Georgians who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, radicals of the establishment from a state in the grips of a political identity crisis.

The crowd that came from Georgia included a 53-year-old investment portfolio manager and a 65-year-old accountant. It included Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr., 51, a successful business owner who graduated from an elite Atlanta prep school, who was arrested in Washington the day after the riot with guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a phone with his text messages about “putting a bullet” into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head.

Calhoun, 58, was the grandson of a lawyer and the son of a doctor, in a family that counts among its ancestors John C. Calhoun, the 19th-century pro-slavery politician. He grew up in Americus, where he attended Southland Academy, one of the many private all-white schools that opened across the South during the wave of public school integration.

At the University of Georgia, in Athens, Calhoun found his place in the Greek system, a largely segregated world of columned fraternity and sorority houses, parties and privilege. His fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, was the longest continually active fraternity at the university, and boasted of producing two Georgia governors.

But he also found a place amid the distinctly Southern college-town bohemia that had emerged in the 1980s in Athens, which had become an incubator for idiosyncratic rock bands like the B-52s and R.E.M. While not always overtly political, the scene introduced a generation of white Southerners to new ways of thinking and living. Calhoun was one of them, and he became a mainstay in Athens as the bass player for a group called Fashion Battery, and later, the Kilkenny Cats.

Later he began a law career in Americus, an old Confederate cotton town and the seat of Sumter County, about 140 miles south of Atlanta. Sumter has for decades played an important role in liberal Georgia’s sense of possibility. A multiracial Christian commune, Koinonia Farm, was founded there in the 1940s. Jimmy Carter lives in the tiny town of Plains, and the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, founded by a Koinonia family, is headquartered in Americus.

Black residents in Sumter make up a reliable Democratic base, while whites are often divided, as one local put it, between liberal “come heres,” like Habitat employees, and conservative, locally raised, “been heres.”

Calhoun was a liberal “been here,” and he did not hide it. He ran, unsuccessfully, as a Democrat for district attorney. In 2004, he wrote a letter to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, praising a Black state Supreme Court justice in a tight reelection race and criticizing her opponent for running a “rather contemptuous and somewhat racist campaign.” People had no doubt about his politics.

“He would oftentimes talk about how our judicial system is too hard on people,” said Bruce Harkness, a lawyer in the mountains of northern Georgia where Calhoun spent a few years as a public defender. “He didn’t believe that drug offenses should be so criminalized.”

Calhoun was now moving with a neo-hippie crowd, playing in jam bands and going to festivals. When he returned to private practice, he was an all-purpose small town lawyer, and many of his clients had little income. From one, he accepted payment in tie-dye garments.

After the 2016 election, an old friend, Bob Fortin, remembers Calhoun excoriating him for voting for Trump. “He cussed me out in his kitchen,” said Fortin, who said he later regretted his vote. “He made me feel like a complete ass.”

Then, about a year ago, came Calhoun’s abrupt political shift. “I thought his Facebook was hacked,” Fortin said.

The trigger appeared to be gun control. Calhoun had not always been obsessed with guns, friends said. But in the fall of 2019, some Democratic politicians began talking of ambitious new gun restrictions and it seemed to flip a switch. Calhoun said as much himself.

“I was a Democrat for 30 years,” he wrote in a recent social media post. The new gun control proposals changed that, he said. “I was called a white supremacist and a racist for defending the 2A,” he continued, using a shorthand for the Second Amendment. Given all that he had done as a lawyer for “justice,” he said, “that hurt my feelings a little. That’s when I became a Trump supporter.”

His conversion was total. By the fall of 2020 he was posting about a looming “domestic communist problem” and the “rioting BLM-Antifa crime wave.” Of Joe Biden, he wrote: “Hang the bastard.”

Old friends were baffled, and some grew nervous. “I’ll be slinging enough hot lead to stack you commies up like cordwood,” Calhoun wrote on Twitter in October. Then, a few days later: “Standing by, and when Trump makes the call, millions of heavily armed, pissed off patriots are coming to Washington.”

After the election, Calhoun held a small gun rights rally in town, and the violent posts continued, with talk of civil war, mounting heads on pikes and showing the Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar “what the bottom of the river looks like.” In December, a reporter for The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, found Calhoun buying a Confederate flag outside a Trump rally. “This is about independence and freedom,” Calhoun told the reporter, describing Trumpism and Southern secession as similarly justified fights against tyranny.

On Jan. 6, Calhoun’s posts showed he had made his way inside the U.S. Capitol with the mob. “The first of us who got upstairs kicked in Nancy Pelosi’s office door,” he wrote in one post. “Crazy Nancy probably would have been torn into little pieces, but she was nowhere to be seen.”

A week later, federal agents arrested him at his sister’s house in Macon, Georgia, where he had stockpiled two AR-15-style assault rifles, two shotguns, a handgun, brass knuckles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, according to the testimony of an FBI agent.

David Lankford, an old friend and client, said that Calhoun, whose federal public defender declined to comment, had always been hot-tempered in debating his views. The two had sparred for years, said Lankford, a Republican, so he was surprised when Calhoun called him last year talking of Democratic “betrayal” over gun policy and other matters. But while Calhoun’s politics had changed drastically, Lankford said, his personality had not.

“He’s the same old banty rooster, just on the other side of the fence,” Lankford said.

At Calhoun’s Jan. 21 court hearing in Macon, Charles H. Weigle, the federal magistrate judge, ruled that there was probable cause to believe that Calhoun had committed crimes when he stormed the Capitol.

He declined to let Calhoun out on bond.

A man who had committed such “extreme violence,” the judge said — who believed that it was his patriotic duty to take up arms and fight in a new civil war — constituted a danger to the community.

The judge sent Calhoun back to jail.

Republican senator who voted to convict Trump was not sent to DC to ‘do the right thing’, his party complains

Independent

Republican senator who voted to convict Trump was not sent to DC to ‘do the right thing’, his party complains

Gustaf Kilander                                  February 16, 2021
Senator Pat Toomey walks through the Senate subway after the end of Mr Trump’s second impeachment trial on February 13, 2021. (Getty Images)
Senator Pat Toomey walks through the Senate subway after the end of Mr. Trump’s second impeachment trial on February 13, 2021. (Getty Images)

 

A Republican senator who voted to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial was not sent to Washington to “do the right thing”, the GOP chair of one county in his state has said.

Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey was one of seven Republicans who voted with all 50 Democrats on Saturday to convict the former president of incitement following the lethal insurrection at the US Capitol on 6January, when a mob of Trump supporters tried to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

Those Republican senators are now facing blowback from their parties back home.

Speaking to KDTV, Washington County Republican Party chair Dave Ball said: “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing, whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us, and we feel very strongly that he did not represent us.”

 

Mr. Toomey was censured by the Washington County GOP, and Mr. Ball said that he didn’t think Mr. Toomey “was straightforward with us”, on his thinking surrounding his looming impeachment vote.

Westmoreland County Republican Party chair Bill Bretz told KDTV that they too are looking to censure Mr. Toomey.

Mr. Bretz said: “We strongly disapprove of his action both to hear the case and the subsequent vote to convict,” adding “This is a matter of magnitude beyond a simple up or down vote on some trade policy or something”.

Allegheny County Republican Party chair Sam DeMarco was worried that censuring retiring senators like Mr. Toomey was focusing too much on the past.

He said: “Every minute that we spend sitting there and fighting among each other and going back and trying to censure somebody who has already announced they’re retiring and are leaving is a moment where we’re not focused on the future.”

He added: “We’re a big tent party. I believe there is room under this tent for people who don’t always agree.”

As county parties censure the senator, the state party chairman Lawrence Tabas has signaled that a meeting will be called to “address and consider actions related to the impeachment vote,” meaning that there’s a movement in the party to censure the Senator on a statewide basis.

The York county GOP passed a resolution on Saturday before Mr. Toomey voted to convict, saying that the county’s Republican Committee “condemns, in the strongest terms, the actions of United States Senator Patrick Joseph Toomey, Jr for his failure to defend the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees”. The resolution was passed because Mr. Toomey voted to proceed with the trial, something the county GOP considered unconstitutional.

York County GOP chair Jeff Piccola told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the vote was “overwhelming,” and added: “There was no debate. They were cheering when they were voting and when the resolution was being read. It bubbled up from beneath, it wasn’t my idea.”

Mr. Toomey has been part of the GOP’s rightward journey and has supported almost all of Mr. Trump’s policies and nominees but failed what is becoming the most important litmus test within huge swathes of the Republican Party: unwavering support for Donald Trump.

A poll released on Tuesday shows Mr. Trump routing all possible competitors in a hypothetical 2024 GOP primary, with 54 per cent supporting him. His past right-hand man, former Vice President Mike Pence, came in second with 12 per cent.

Mr. Toomey said on Saturday that Mr Trump’s “betrayal of the Constitution and his oath of office required conviction. Had he accepted the outcome of the election, acknowledged defeat, and cooperated with a peaceful transfer, then he’d be celebrated for a lot of the accomplishments that he deserves credit for. Instead, he’ll be remembered throughout history as the president who resorted to non-legal steps to try to hold on to power”.

The vote to convict Mr. Trump was 57 to 43, a majority but short of the 67 senators needed for conviction.

Spare us: After Trump, seven Republican lectures Democrats never need to hear again

Spare us: After Trump, seven Republican lectures Democrats never need to hear again

Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY                          February 17, 2021

 

There’s nothing like a new Democratic administration and a second Trump impeachment trial to clarify where Republicans truly stand on the values and policies they profess to believe. The impeachment verdict, with 86% of GOP senators voting “not guilty,” is the ultimate confirmation of the party’s galactic hypocrisy and the damage it has done.

Democrats have been hoping for years that, as former President Barack Obama put it during the 2012 campaign, “the fever may break.” Instead, the temperature rose higher and higher as Republicans nominated and elected Donald Trump, indulged his corruption, and acquitted him twice.

It’s an understatement to say Republicans have no credibility to lecture Democrats or anyone else. Don’t be fooled in the future when they try to claim superiority on these issues:

►Constitutional originalism. The second impeachment trial crushed that claim like a trash compactor. The House managers used historic precedent, the Framers’ words and the Constitution itself to prove it is constitutional to try an impeached ex-president. That was also the consensus of constitutional lawyers from right to left and, last week, the consensus of a Senate majority. The GOP 86% stuck with their own newfangled, Trump-friendly view of the Constitution as an excuse to vote not guilty. So no more lectures, please, on what the Founders “truly” intended on guns, religion, D.C. statehood or anything else.

Captive to a former leader

►Rule of law. No words are strong enough to express what the Republican Party has allowed Trump to get away with. Inciting a deadly riot at the seat of his own government may be the latest instance, but it was preceded by an astonishing four-year stretch of corruption and potential criminality. When Trump said in January 2016 that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” it was a joke. And yet, here we are: His base loves him more than ever, and captive Republicans — who have racked up their own astonishing four-year stretch of failing to hold Trump accountable — are continuing in that vein even though he’s gone.

►Abuse of power. There can be no worse abuse of power than inciting an insurrection against the government you lead. It makes all Trump’s other abuses seem forgettable, even though each one was outrageous, from turning the White House into a convention prop and backdrop to grabbing money Congress appropriated for military construction projects and using it for his border wall. Remember that conservatives attacked Barack Obama’s supposedly “imperial presidency” for years. Remember all of this as Republicans complain (already) about President Joe Biden’s executive orders as overreach.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021.

►Blue Lives Matter. You don’t often see someone using an American flag to attack a police officer, but a Trump supporter did that on Jan. 6, 2021. And video of that day, shown at the impeachment trial, may have set a record for F-words on daytime TV as Trump supporters repeatedly shouted it at police trying to protect the building. Republican “caring” about cops apparently doesn’t extend to making Trump say he’s sorry for inciting the Capitol attack and failing to stop it, or making him pay in some way for the deaths and despair it caused.

►True patriotism. The insurrection and Trump’s acquittal destroyed the mythology of conservative patriotism. Real patriotism means loving what makes America special: its diversity, its opportunity, its role in the world, and a history of peaceful transfers of power that lasted from the founding until Jan. 6, 2021. It means flag waving, not U.S. flags as weapons. It means never, ever countenancing racism or Confederate flags or violence or death threats masquerading as a new American Revolution. It means punishing a president who does countenance all that, and who told the lies to start it — not letting him off on a technicality because you fear a primary challenge.

Nothing left to pontificate about

►Value of human life. Republicans are pro-life when it comes to the unborn, because they cannot speak for themselves. But the dead of the Capitol attack can’t speak for themselves (nor can those who died in the tragically mismanaged coronavirus pandemic or because Trump and Republicans cut people off Medicaid or failed to expand it, but I digress). Where was the determination to insist on accountability for the inciter in chief, whose words and actions led to the violence? And what was “pro-life” about Republicans refusing to wear masks as they hid from the Trump supporters storming the Capitol? At least three Democrats who sheltered with them contracted covid.

►The party of Everyman. “We are a working class party now,” Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted on Election Night last year. But when Biden won, the “populist” Ivy League senator quickly turned to purveying the “populist” Ivy League president’s “stolen election” lie, which involved trying to rob millions of working-class voters of their legally cast votes and culminated in the Capitol siege. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan used to say. And look at who cleaned up during the Trump administration, starting with that well known working-class couple, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

It might have been easier to list what Republicans are still qualified to pontificate on. Why the federal deficit is a huge, huge problem? Hmmm. Never mind.

With this impeachment travesty, are they finally at rock bottom? Probably not. Trump has left plenty of acolytes to carry on the competition for new lows.

Jill Lawrence is the commentary editor of USA TODAY and author of “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.

Jimmy Kimmel Gives Trump Supporters An Uncomfortable Truth About The Ex-President

HuffPost

Jimmy Kimmel Gives Trump Supporters An Uncomfortable Truth About The Ex-President

Ed Mazza, Overnight Editor, HuffPost        

Jimmy Kimmel told Donald Trump’s supporters how the former president really feels about them on Tuesday.

The “Jimmy Kimmel Live” host aired footage of Trump fans lining the streets outside Mar-a-Lago to wave and cheer as the ex-president went golfing.

“Sure enough, on his way to the golf course he’d never let them join, the former president gave his fans a wave and two little thumbs-up,” Kimmel cracked:

Kimmel’s quick joke hits at a larger issue: Those who’ve been in the former president’s orbit have pointed out that he’s not very fond of his own supporters.

Olivia Troye,  who was on Trump’s coronavirus task force before turning on him, said Trump was happy when pandemic safety measures meant that he’d no longer “have to shake hands with these disgusting people.”

She made similar comments to The New York Times, clarifying that it wasn’t just the hands he didn’t like. It was the people.

“Oh, he talked all the time about the people themselves being disgusting,” Troye told the newspaper last year. “It was clear immediately that he wanted nothing to do with them.”

Radio host Howard Stern, who for years considered Trump a friend and had him on the show as a frequent guest, made similar comments.

“The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most love him the most,” Stern said on his show last spring. “He wouldn’t even let them in a fucking hotel. He’d be disgusted by them.”

Trump’s two impeachments hold same lesson: Republicans can’t be trusted with our democracy

Trump’s two impeachments hold same lesson: Republicans can’t be trusted with our democracy

Jason Sattler, Opinion columnist              February 15, 2021

 

A grand total of seven Republican senators.

That’s how many members of the so-called world’s greatest deliberative body were willing to convict ex-President Donald Trump of the most documented — and possibly most heinous — crime any American president has ever committed against our constitutional order. It can’t get much worse than inciting an insurrection that killed five and easily could have taken out several if not dozens more, including the same Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump.

To be fair, seven is six more Republicans than were willing to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial, which dealt with a lesser crime that also demanded removal, also related to Trump attempting to steal the 2020 election. But the lessons of both impeachments were the same: The Republican Party cannot be trusted with our democracy.

Sure, we should have known this before both trials. Yet Democrats had no choice but to document Trump’s high crimes for history, along with Republican complicity in those crimes, and hope to make them pay a political price for both. And you can argue that this strategy, though probably too limited to capture the monstrous scope of Trump’s crimes, succeeded.

America rejected the Party of Trump

Under Trump, Republicans lost the White House, the House and the Senate in one term — something that hasn’t happened since Herbert Hoover was president. But Trump also is the first modern president to leave office with fewer Americans employed than when he came in — something that also hasn’t happened since Hoover.

And there was the pandemic that left more than 400,000 Americans dead on Trump’s watch, with 40% of those deaths being avoidable, according to the recent findings of a Lancet Commission.

So it’s hard to tell exactly what made this country reject Trump’s GOP so quickly. What is clear is Democrats now have less than two years to do everything they can to make sure America never faces another president who would turn a deadly mob on his own running mate and our government.

We have now seen the limits of the Republicans who believe they have any responsibility to govern, especially when a Democrat is president: exactly seven Republicans. But to make almost anything happen in Congress, you need 10 Republican senators because of the Senate filibuster. Actually, let’s be precise. Because of Mitch’s Filibuster™.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington. D.C.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington. D.C.

 

“In the 87 years between the end of Reconstruction and 1964, the only bills that were stopped by filibusters were civil rights bills,” writes Adam Jentleson, author of “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy.”

When Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell become Senate minority leader in 2007, he began using the filibuster at a rate unprecedented in American history.

This gives a minority elected by tens of millions fewer voters an effective veto on almost everything voters elected Joe Biden and Democrats to do. Some argue this duplicitous “kill switch” promotes bipartisanship. But this is a sick canard, like McConnell delaying Trump’s trial for insurrection and then saying he couldn’t vote to convict because the trial was too late. What the filibuster actually does is make sure policies that are popular with average Democrats and Republicans — universal background checks for gun buyers, raising the minimum wage, citizenship for DREAMers brought to this country illegally as kids —have no chance of becoming law.

The filibuster is even delaying essential pandemic relief that voters are demanding. Large chunks of relief will be possible through an arcane process called reconciliation that allows budget-related bills to pass with just 51 of the Senate’s 100 votes, with the vice president breaking a tie. But this already drawn-out process was set back weeks even after Democrats gained control of the Senate.

Why? Mitch’s Filibuster™.

Led by McConnell, Republicans used to threat of a filibuster to make demands before relenting on the organizing resolution that let Democrats actually take control. McConnell’s demands mostly had to do with preserving his filibuster, which he already got rid of for the thing he cares about most — Supreme Court justices. If you think he wants to keep the filibuster because it helps Democrats, please do not ever operate heavy machinery again.

Don’t let GOP cement its gains

Republicans are already in the process of extreme partisan gerrymandering, making it almost impossible for Democrats to win the House or most state houses. The Senate is constructed to benefit the more rural states that Republicans now dominate. And if Democrats let the filibuster become cement handcuffs, they won’t be able to fix democracy. They won’t be able to pass a new voting rights act, or the For the People Act to reform elections for the 21st century, or statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Mitch’s Filibuster™ prevents all that or anything that could help democracy. That’s the Mitch guarantee.

Time for hardball: Let’s get real. Joe Biden, Democrats and America need results much more than unity.

Everybody knows that Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have assured McConnell they’ll be the wind beneath his filibuster. But Sinema only has to look at her home state of Arizona, where Republican legislators have introduced 34 bills making it harder to vote because Democrats are suddenly competitive there, to know that her constituents need a new voting rights act if she wants another term. And Manchin has to decide whether he wants to go down in history as the only Democrat who can win in West Virginia, or the savior of a state that kept hemorrhaging coal jobs under the coal-sucking Trump.

These two senators must be convinced. Nothing is more important. We cannot let Republicans let Trump get away with trying to steal the last election, then go on swiping elections for the rest of this decade and beyond.

Seven Republicans are not enough. The filibuster has to go, or democracy will.

Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast.