Babylon the Great’s nukes are hacked

Harrer–Bloomberg/Getty Images

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Agency Hacked as Part of Massive Cyber-Attack

The U.S. nuclear weapons agency and at least three states were hacked as part of a suspected Russian cyber-attack that struck a number of federal government agencies, according to people with knowledge of the matter, indicating widening reach of one of the biggest cybersecurity breaches in recent memory.

Microsoft said that its systems were also exposed as part of the attack.

Hackers with ties to the Russian government are suspected to be behind a well coordinated attack that took advantage of weaknesses in the U.S. supply chain to penetrate several federal agencies, including departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce and State. While many details are still unclear, the hackers are believed to have gained access to networks by installing malicious code in a widely used software program from SolarWinds Corp., whose customers include government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, according to the company and cybersecurity experts.

“This is a patient, well-resourced, and focused adversary that has sustained long duration activity on victim networks,” the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a bulletin that signaled widening alarm over the the breach. The hackers posed a “grave risk” to federal, state and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure and the private sector, the bulletin said. The agency said the attackers demonstrated “sophistication and complex tradecraft.”

The Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains America’s nuclear stockpile, were targeted as part of the larger attack, according to a person familiar with the matter. An ongoing investigation has found the hack didn’t affect “mission-essential national security functions,” Shaylyn Hynes, a Department of Energy spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“At this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks only,” Hynes said. The hack of the nuclear agency was reported earlier by Politico.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said the company had found malicious code “in our environment, which we isolated and removed.”

“We have not found evidence of access to production services or customer data,” he said in a tweet. “Our investigations, which are ongoing, have found absolutely no indications that our systems were used to attack others.” Reuters had earlier reported that Microsoft was hacked and that its products were used to further the attacks.

In addition, two people familiar with the broader government investigation into the attack said three state governments were breached, though they wouldn’t identify the states. A third person familiar with the probe confirmed that state governments were hacked but didn’t provide a number.

Biden’s Pledge

While President Donald Trump has yet to publicly address the hack, President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement Thursday on “what appears to be a massive cybersecurity breach affecting potentially thousands of victims, including U.S. companies and federal government entities.”

“I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office,” Biden said, pledging to impose “substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks.”

Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.

Hynes, the Department of Energy spokeswoman, said that efforts were immediately taken to mitigate the risk from the hack, including disconnecting software “identified as being vulnerable to this attack.”

–With assistance from Ari Natter and Dina Bass.

Babylon the Great’s nukes are hacked by Russia

U.S. nuclear weapons agency hacked by suspected Russians

The Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains America’s nuclear stockpile, were targeted as part of a larger attack by suspected Russian hackers.

BY WILLIAM TURTON , MICHAEL RILEY , JENNIFER JACOBS , AND  BLOOMBERG

December 17, 2020 5:30 PM EST

The U.S. nuclear weapons agency and at least three states were hacked as part of a suspected Russian cyber-attack that struck several federal government agencies.

The Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains America’s nuclear stockpile, were targeted as part of a larger attack by suspected Russian hackers, according to a person familiar with the matter. The hack affected unclassified systems, the person added. The hack of the nuclear agency was first reported by Politico.

In addition, two people familiar with the ongoing investigation said three states were breached in the attack, though they wouldn’t identify the states. A third person familiar with the probe confirmed that states were hacked but didn’t provide a number.

In an advisory Thursday that signaled the widening alarm over the the breach, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said the hackers posed a “grave risk” to federal, state and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure and the private sector. The agency said the attackers demonstrated “sophistication and complex tradecraft.”

While President Donald Trump has yet to publicly address the hack, President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement Thursday on “what appears to be a massive cybersecurity breach affecting potentially thousands of victims, including U.S. companies and federal government entities.”

Biden statement

“I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office,” Biden said, pledging to impose “substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks.”

Russia has denied any involvement in the hack.

Although many details are still unclear, the hackers are believed to have gained access to networks by installing malicious code in a widely used software program from SolarWinds, whose customers include government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, according to the company and cybersecurity experts. The departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce and State were breached, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“This is a patient, well-resourced, and focused adversary that has sustained long duration activity on victim networks,” CISA said in its bulletin.

US troop pullouts in Mideast will leave a vacuum for Iran: Daniel 8:4

US troop pullouts in Mideast raise fears of Iranian attacks

FILE – In this March 27, 2020 file photo, U.S. soldiers stand guard during the hand over ceremony of Qayyarah Airfield, Iraqi Security Forces, in the south of Mosul, Iraq. In a quest to root out Islamic State group hideouts over the summer, Iraqi forces on the ground cleared nearly 90 villages across a notoriously unruly northern province. But the much-touted operation still relied heavily on U.S. intelligence, coalition flights and planning assistance. (Ali Abdul Hassan, File/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — As the Pentagon pulls troops out of the Middle East in the coming weeks, under orders from President Donald Trump, U.S. military leaders are working to find other ways to deter potential attacks by Iran and its proxies, and to counter arguments that America is abandoning the region.

A senior U.S. military official with knowledge of the region said Monday that Iran may try to take advantage of America’s troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the planned departure of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz from the Arabian Gulf.

The official said as a result military leaders have determined that based on the security situation in the region, the Nimitz must remain there now and “for some time to come.” In addition, the official said an additional fighter jet squadron may also be sent to the region, if needed.

The Nimitz left the Gulf region and was set to begin heading home. But the ship was ordered to return last week to provide additional security while the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan continue. A U.S. defense official said at the time that the decision would ensure that American troops could deter any adversary from taking action against U.S. forces. No timeline was given, but the U.S. military official speaking Monday made it clear that the change is open-ended, and it’s not clear when the ship’s crew will return home.

The potential Iranian threat has become an increasing concern in recent weeks following the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has blamed the death on Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists. U.S. officials are also worried about a possible Iranian retaliatory strike on the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassim Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad’s airport in early January.

The military official said the U.S. is aware of Iranian attack planning and threats, and that some are more mature, while others are aspirational. A key worry, he said, is that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq may be willing to act even without the blessings or direction of Tehran.

The presence of the Nimitz, said the official, may cause Iran or the militias to rethink a possible attack.

The Pentagon is mindful of the impact of the extended deployment on the Nimitz sailors and on the Navy’s plan for the ship’s maintenance, said the military official, who spoke to a small number of reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing troop deliberations.

The Pentagon announced last month that the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America’s long wars. Under the accelerated pullout, the U.S. will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.

Postponing the return of the Nimitz, however, will keep between 5,000-7,000 sailors and Marines in the Middle East, likely into next year. Other ships in the Nimitz strike group may remain with the carrier.

The military official said that the Pentagon will look at other ways to make up for the loss of the Nimitz when the carrier does leave the region.

Trump’s troop withdrawal decision got a cool reception from Republican lawmakers and allies, who warned of the dangers of reducing forces before security conditions are right. And it came despite arguments from senior military officials who favor a slower pullout to preserve hard-fought gains.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, top U.S. commander for the Middle East, has long argued for a consistent aircraft carrier presence in the Gulf region to deter Iran.

Visiting the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the North Arabian Sea in February, McKenzie told the sailors: “You’re here because we don’t want a war with Iran and nothing makes a potential adversary think twice about war than the presence of an aircraft carrier and the strike group that comes with it.”

Despite widespread demands for U.S. Navy ships in other parts of the world, McKenzie requested and received a much larger than usual naval presence in the Middle East region throughout the early part of this year. But over time, the numbers have declined, in recognition of the Pentagon’s effort to put more emphasis on China and the Indo-Pacific.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Trump Is Leaving Us With a New Cold War: Revelation 16

Trump Is Leaving Us With a New Cold War

Besides failing to end our forever wars, the Trump administration has set us on course for a prolonged, potentially catastrophic cold war with China and Russia.

By Michael T. KlareTwitter Today 5:37 pm

US President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference during the 2018 NATO summit. (Gints Ivuskans / Shutterstock)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.

In the military realm, Donald Trump will most likely be remembered for his insistence on ending America’s involvement in its twenty-first-century “forever wars” — the fruitless, relentless, mind-crushing military campaigns undertaken by Presidents Bush and Obama in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia. After all, as a candidate, Trump pledged to bring U.S. troops home from those dreaded war zones and, in his last days in office, he’s been promising to get at least most of the way to that objective. The president’s fixation on this issue (and the opposition of his own generals and other officials on the subject) has generated a fair amount of media coverage and endeared him to his isolationist supporters. Yet, however newsworthy it may be, this focus on Trump’s belated troop withdrawals obscures a far more significant aspect of his military legacy: the conversion of the U.S. military from a global counterterror force into one designed to fight an all-out, cataclysmic, potentially nuclear war with China and/or Russia.

People seldom notice that Trump’s approach to military policy has always been two-faced. Even as he repeatedly denounced the failure of his predecessors to abandon those endless counterinsurgency wars, he bemoaned their alleged neglect of America’s regular armed forces and promised to spend whatever it took to “restore” their fighting strength. “In a Trump administration,” he declared in a September 2016 campaign speech on national security, America’s military priorities would be reversed, with a withdrawal from the “endless wars we are caught in now” and the restoration of “our unquestioned military strength.”

Once in office, he acted to implement that very agenda, instructing his surrogates — a succession of national security advisers and secretaries of defense — to commence U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan (though he agreed for a time to increase troop levels in Afghanistan), while submitting ever-mounting defense budgets. The Pentagon’s annual spending authority climbed every year between 2016 and 2020, rising from $580 billion at the start of his administration to $713 at the end, with much of that increment directed to the procurement of advanced weaponry. Additional billions were incorporated into the Department of Energy budget for the acquisition of new nuclear weapons and the full-scale “modernization” of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Far more important than that increase in arms spending, however, was the shift in strategy that went with it. The military posture President Trump inherited from the Obama administration was focused on fighting the Global War on Terror (GWOT), a grueling, never-ending struggle to identify, track, and destroy anti-Western zealots in far-flung areas of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The posture he’s bequeathing to Joe Biden is almost entirely focused on defeating China and Russia in future “high-end” conflicts waged directly against those two countries — fighting that would undoubtedly involve high-tech conventional weapons on a staggering scale and could easily trigger nuclear war.

From the GWOT to the GPC

It’s impossible to overstate the significance of the Pentagon’s shift from a strategy aimed at fighting relatively small bands of militants to one aimed at fighting the military forces of China and Russia on the peripheries of Eurasia. The first entailed the deployment of scattered bands of infantry and Special Operations Forces units backed by patrolling aircraft and missile-armed drones; the other envisions the commitment of multiple aircraft carriers, fighter squadrons, nuclear-capable bombers, and brigade-strength armored divisions. Similarly, in the GWOT years, it was generally assumed that U.S. troops would face adversaries largely armed with light infantry weapons and homemade bombs, not, as in any future war with China or Russia, an enemy equipped with advanced tanks, planes, missiles, ships, and a full range of nuclear munitions.

This shift in outlook from counterterrorism to what, in these years, has come to be known in Washington as “great power competition,” or GPC, was first officially articulated in the Pentagon’s National Security Strategy of February 2018. “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security,” it insisted, “is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers,” a catchphrase for China and Russia. (It used those rare italics to emphasize just how significant this was.)

For the Department of Defense and the military services, this meant only one thing: from that moment on, so much of what they did would be aimed at preparing to fight and defeat China and/or Russia in high-intensity conflict. As Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis put it to the Senate Armed Services Committee that April, “The 2018 National Defense Strategy provides clear strategic direction for America’s military to reclaim an era of strategic purpose… Although the Department continues to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, long-term strategic competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”

This being the case, Mattis added, America’s armed forces would have to be completely re-equipped with new weaponry intended for high-intensity combat against well-armed adversaries. “Our military remains capable, but our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare,” he noted. “The combination of rapidly changing technology [and] the negative impact on military readiness resulting from the longest continuous period of combat in our nation’s history [has] created an overstretched and under-resourced military.” In response, we must “accelerate modernization programs in a sustained effort to solidify our competitive advantage.”

In that same testimony, Mattis laid out the procurement priorities that have since governed planning as the military seeks to “solidify” its competitive advantage. First comes the “modernization” of the nation’s nuclear weapons capabilities, including its nuclear command-control-and-communications systems; then, the expansion of the Navy through the acquisition of startling numbers of additional surface ships and submarines, along with the modernization of the Air Force, through the accelerated procurement of advanced combat planes; finally, to ensure the country’s military superiority for decades to come, vastly increased investment in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, hypersonics, and cyber warfare.

These priorities have by now been hard-wired into the military budget and govern Pentagon planning. Last February, when submitting its proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2021, for example, the Department of Defense asserted, “The FY 2021 budget supports the irreversible implementation of the National Defense Strategy (NDS), which drives the Department’s decision-making in reprioritizing resources and shifting investments to prepare for a potential future, high-end fight.” This nightmarish vision, in other words, is the military future President Trump will leave to the Biden administration.

The Navy in the Lead

From the very beginning, Donald Trump has emphasized the expansion of the Navy as an overriding objective. “When Ronald Reagan left office, our Navy had 592 ships… Today, the Navy has just 276 ships,” he lamented in that 2016 campaign speech. One of his first priorities as president, he asserted, would be to restore its strength. “We will build a Navy of 350 surface ships and submarines,” he promised. Once in office, the “350-ship Navy” (later increased to 355 ships) became a mantra.

In emphasizing a big Navy, Trump was influenced to some degree by the sheer spectacle of large modern warships, especially aircraft carriers with their scores of combat planes. “Our carriers are the centerpiece of American military might overseas,” he insisted while visiting the nearly completed carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, in March 2017. “We are standing here today on four-and-a-half acres of combat power and sovereign U.S. territory, the likes of which there is nothing… there is no competition to this ship.”

Not surprisingly, top Pentagon officials embraced the president’s big-Navy vision with undisguised enthusiasm. The reason: they view China as their number one adversary and believe that any future conflict with that country will largely be fought from the Pacific Ocean and nearby seas — that being the only practical way to concentrate U.S. firepower against China’s increasingly built-up coastal defenses.

Then-Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper expressed this outlook well when, in September, he deemed Beijing the Pentagon’s “top strategic competitor” and the Indo-Pacific region its “priority theater” in planning for future wars. The waters of that region, he suggested, represent “the epicenter of great power competition with China” and so were witnessing increasingly provocative behavior by Chinese air and naval units. In the face of such destabilizing activity, “the United States must be ready to deter conflict and, if necessary, fight and win at sea.”

In that address, Esper made it clear that the U.S. Navy remains vastly superior to its Chinese counterpart. Nonetheless, he asserted, “We must stay ahead; we must retain our overmatch; and we will keep building modern ships to ensure we remain the world’s greatest Navy.”

Although Trump fired Esper on November 9th for, among other things, resisting White House demands to speed up the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the former defense secretary’s focus on fighting China from the Pacific and adjacent seas remains deeply embedded in Pentagon strategic thinking and will be a legacy of the Trump years. In support of such a policy, billions of dollars have already been committed to the construction of new surface ships and submarines, ensuring that such a legacy will persist for years, if not decades to come.

Do Like Patton: Strike Deep, Strike Hard

Trump said little about what should be done for U.S. ground forces during the 2016 campaign, except to indicate that he wanted them even bigger and better equipped. What he did do, however, was speak of his admiration for World War II Army generals known for their aggressive battle tactics. “I was a fan of Douglas MacArthur. I was a fan of George Patton,” he told Maggie Haberman and David Sanger of the New York Times that March. “If we had Douglas MacArthur today or if we had George Patton today and if we had a president that would let them do their thing you wouldn’t have ISIS, okay?”

Trump’s reverence for General Patton has proven especially suggestive in a new era of great-power competition, as U.S. and NATO forces again prepare to face well-equipped land armies on the continent of Europe, much as they did during World War II. Back then, it was the tank corps of Nazi Germany that Patton’s own tanks confronted on the Western Front. Today, U.S. and NATO forces face Russia’s best-equipped armies in Eastern Europe along a line stretching from the Baltic republics and Poland in the north to Romania in the south. If a war with Russia were to break out, much of the fighting would likely occur along this line, with main-force units from both sides engaged in head-on, high-intensity combat.

Since the Cold War ended in 1991 with the implosion of the Soviet Union, American strategists had devoted little serious thought to high-intensity ground combat against a well-equipped adversary in Europe. Now, with East-West tensions rising and U.S. forces again facing well-armed potential foes in what increasingly looks like a military-driven version of the Cold War, that problem is receiving far more attention.

This time around, however, U.S. forces face a very different combat environment. In the Cold War years, Western strategists generally imagined a contest of brute strength in which our tanks and artillery would battle theirs along hundreds of miles of front lines until one side or the other was thoroughly depleted and had no choice but to sue for peace (or ignite a global nuclear catastrophe). Today’s strategists, however, imagine far more multidimensional (or “multi-domain”) warfare extending to the air and well into rear areas, as well as into space and cyberspace. In such an environment, they’ve come to believe that the victor will have to act swiftly, delivering paralyzing blows to what they call the enemy’s C3I capabilities (critical command, control, communications, and intelligence) in a matter of days, or even hours. Only then would powerful armored units be able to strike deep into enemy territory and, in true Patton fashion, ensure a Russian defeat.

The U.S. military has labeled such a strategy “all-domain warfare” and assumes that the U.S. will indeed dominate space, cyberspace, airspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum. In a future confrontation with Russian forces in Europe, as the doctrine lays it out, U.S. air power would seek control of the airspace above the battlefield, while using guided missiles to knock out Russian radar systems, missile batteries, and their C3I facilities. The Army would conduct similar strikes using a new generation of long-range artillery systems and ballistic missiles. Only when Russia’s defensive capabilities were thoroughly degraded would that Army follow up with a ground assault, Patton-style.

Be Prepared to Fight with Nukes

As imagined by senior Pentagon strategists, any future conflict with China or Russia is likely to entail intense, all-out combat on the ground, at sea, and in the air aimed at destroying an enemy’s critical military infrastructure in the first hours or, at most, days of battle, opening the way for a swift U.S. invasion of enemy territory. This sounds like a winning strategy — but only if you possess all the advantages in weaponry and technology. If not, what then? This is the quandary faced by Chinese and Russian strategists whose forces don’t quite match up to the power of the American ones. While their own war planning remains, to date, a mystery, it’s hard not to imagine that the Chinese and Russian equivalents of the Pentagon high command are pondering the possibility of a nuclear response to any all-out American assault on their militaries and territories.

The examination of available Russian military literature has led some Western analysts to conclude that the Russians are indeed increasing their reliance on “tactical” nuclear weapons to obliterate superior U.S./NATO forces before an invasion of their country could be mounted (much as, in the previous century, U.S. forces relied on just such weaponry to avert a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe). Russian military analysts have indeed published articles exploring just such an option — sometimes described by the phrase “escalate to de-escalate” (a misnomer if ever there was one) — although Russian military officials have never openly discussed such tactics. Still, the Trump administration has cited that unofficial literature as evidence of Russian plans to employ tactical nukes in a future East-West confrontation and used it to justify the acquisition of new U.S. weapons of just this sort.

“Russian strategy and doctrine… mistakenly assesses that the threat of nuclear escalation or actual first use of nuclear weapons would serve to ‘de-escalate’ a conflict on terms favorable to Russia,” the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 asserts. “To correct any Russian misperceptions of advantage… the president must have a range of limited and graduated [nuclear] options, including a variety of delivery systems and explosive yields.” In furtherance of such a policy, that review called for the introduction of two new types of nuclear munitions: a “low-yield” warhead (meaning it could, say, pulverize Lower Manhattan without destroying all of New York City) for a Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

As in so many of the developments described above, this Trump initiative will prove difficult to reverse in the Biden years. After all, the first W76-2 low-yield warheads have already rolled off the assembly lines, been installed on missiles, and are now deployed on Trident submarines at sea. These could presumably be removed from service and decommissioned, but this has rarely occurred in recent military history and, to do so, a new president would have to go against his own military high command. Even more difficult would be to negate the strategic rationale behind their deployment. During the Trump years, the notion that nuclear arms could be used as ordinary weapons of war in future great-power conflicts took deep root in Pentagon thinking and erasing it will prove to be no easy feat.

Amid arguments over the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia, amid the firings and sudden replacements of civilian leaders at the Pentagon, Donald Trump’s most significant legacy — the one that could lead not to yet more forever wars but to a forever disaster — has passed almost unnoticed in the media and in political circles in Washington.

Supporters of the new administration and even members of Biden’s immediate circle (though not his actual appointees to national security posts) have advanced some stirring ideas about transforming American military policy, including reducing the role military force plays in America’s foreign relations and redeploying some military funds to other purposes like fighting Covid-19. Such ideas are to be welcomed, but President Biden’s top priority in the military area should be to focus on the true Trump military legacy — the one that has set us on a war course in relation to China and Russia — and do everything in his power to steer us in a safer, more prudent direction. Otherwise, the phrase “forever war” could gain a new, far grimmer meaning.

Pestilence and plague comes soaring back: Revelation 16

‘The next wave has started.’ Capital Region braces as COVID-19 numbers grow

ALBANY — A second wave of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths is well on its way in the Capital Region. But will it be as bad as the first?

If there’s one thing public health experts and hospital leaders don’t like to do, it’s predict the future — especially when so much of it hangs on the behavior of a weary public and a virus we still don’t know enough about. But they have expressed hope that vigilance on the part of the public, combined with the region’s greatly expanded testing and tracing capabilities, will help shield us from the worst of what could come.

“I feel hopeful, frankly, about the next few months based on how we’ve responded to surges this past month,” said Eli Rosenberg, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health. “I think it’s truly about testing. In March, the virus took off on this scary exponential slope. Suddenly it was this runaway thing and it was so mysterious. Now that it’s less mysterious, now that we have testing and we have tracing, we can react in an intelligent way.”

Signs of a second wave

By nearly every single metric the Capital Region is headed into a second wave.

New daily cases across eight local counties have increased noticeably, coming just 17 cases shy recently of the region’s spring peak of 147 new cases recorded May 1, a Times Union analysis of local county data reveals. The region has topped 100 new daily cases only four times this year — three of which occurred this month.

The five-day rolling average of new daily cases in the region — a more forgiving metric that takes sporadic jumps and anomalies into account — reached its highest point since spring on Monday, with 78 average cases. That average peaked at 117 on May 2, and bottomed out at just 13 on June 17.

The percentage of positive tests performed on residents in the region has also climbed, from 0.5 on Sept. 26 to 1.3 on Oct. 26, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. This metric can be a less reliable indicator, however, depending on testing capacity at any given time, as well as whether repeat testing of essential workers is taking place.

Most concerning to local officials is the recent rise in hospitalizations. Daily hospitalizations in the region have increased more than 400 percent over the past month alone, from 15 on Sept. 27 to 80 on Oct. 27, according to figures published by the state. Leaders from Capital Region hospitals gathered at Albany Medical Center on Wednesday to warn of the increase, and to urge the public to get vaccinated against flu and remain vigilant about mask use, distancing and hand hygiene.

“It seems as though for us, the next wave has started,” said Dr. Fred Venditti, hospital general director for Albany Medical Center.

There is a glimmer of good news. Venditti and other hospital officials say that while cases are rising, their severity is decreasing.

“What’s interesting is we’re seeing a very, very different outcome for patients being hospitalized now than we did in the spring,” Dr. Steven Hanks, chief clinical officer for St. Peter’s Health Partners, told the Times Union. “The mortality rate seems to be much lower. The number of hospitalized patients who go to the ICU is down compared with spring. The number of patients needing to be ventilated is down compared with spring. And the number of patients who are dying with COVID-19 who are hospitalized is down compared with spring.”

The reasons for this remain unclear, though officials have a few ideas. Doctors have learned when and in what combination to administer therapies to patients to produce the best outcomes, Hanks and Venditti said. There’s also a theory circulating that mask use may be shielding people who are exposed to the virus to smaller viral doses than they would have been otherwise.

“That’s all conjecture,” Hanks said. “But these are all things we’re giving consideration to, including possibly just changes in the virus as the virus mutates in the wild. So that’s the good news part of the story. The bad news is the virus continues to spread.”

While mortality appears to be falling, deaths have picked up pace in recent weeks. The region saw a wave of deaths in the first three months of the pandemic, and then sporadically over the summer. Some counties went months without seeing any. In recent weeks, however, those streaks have ended. As of Tuesday, at least 360 residents of the eight-county Capital Region were known to have died from the virus.

‘COVID fatigue is real’

From the beginning, public health experts and epidemiologists worldwide warned that much like the 1918 Spanish Flu, the coronavirus pandemic would occur in waves — hitting hard in the cold months and dying down in the summer. That has generally been true for New York and the Capital Region, though the United States experienced a second wave outside of the Northeast this summer and is now entering its third wave.

Part of the reason is that viruses just have an easier time circulating on dry, cold air. Another reason is that people tend to spend more time indoors when the weather gets cold, and virus from an infected person has fewer places to escape.

Unfortunately, officials fear a confluence of other factors will cause a surge this winter. People are exhausted by the stress and isolation the pandemic has caused, and a sort of “COVID fatigue” has set in that is leading to increased socialization and decreased vigilance, public health officials say.

“COVID fatigue is real,” Rosenberg said. “It’s fatigue at multiple levels — individuals letting their guard down, visiting family more, as the cold season approaches thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t eat outdoors at the restaurants I’ll just try indoors a few times.’ All of that is real.”

While they may have been able to count on people staying away from loved ones in the spring when the virus was new and lockdowns were novel, officials are now worried that the impending holiday season and return of college students from possible hot spots is going to fuel a new surge of cases at the worst possible time.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said people were already associating the reopening of schools and businesses as a green light for pre-pandemic behaviors.

“People were taking that to mean they could be doing other things, like attending parties and socializing in groups and maybe letting their guard down in terms of wearing masks and keeping distance socially and avoiding large gatherings,” she said. “But those latter three strategies are more important than ever and what people need to understand is the ability for us to keep businesses functioning and schools open are entirely contingent on those behaviors.”

Whalen and other health officials who spoke to the Times Union agreed that people should try and avoid holiday gatherings with family and friends outside of their immediate household this year.

“I know it’s difficult,” she said. “But I think this is a different year and I think people need to take that into consideration in their planning. Because the last thing we want is for families to be brought together for a holiday that’s supposed to be about celebrating the things that we’re thankful for and for that to result in a case or sickness of a loved one.

Preparing for round two

While local health officials are hopeful a second wave won’t be as big as the first, they are preparing for possible contingencies in the coming months.

Hospital leaders on Wednesday urged the public to fight the fatigue and stay vigilant about basic precautions such as hand washing and masking while out in public. They also urged people to get vaccinated against influenza — a move that will help divert people from the hospital at a time when COVID-19 is surging. Local hospitals also announced that they will be mandating all staff, including those at private physician practices, to get vaccinated for flu, with exemptions for medical and religious reasons. That should impact roughly 35,000 health care workers in the region, they said.

“We don’t know where that curve is going to go,” said Dr. David Liebers, an infectious disease specialist at Ellis Medicine. “The more we do proactively, the better. It may be a tough winter but we can make it a better winter with sticking to everything we’ve been doing so far.”

Venditti noted that Albany Med spent the summer looking through its emergency response plan and adjusting where appropriate. Surge plans that hospitals developed in the spring remain on file with the state. And hospitals have built up a 90-day supply of PPE as mandated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. They’ve also begun disinfecting single-use PPE for re-use — a practice used back in the spring to conserve supplies but which nurses have protested, arguing it puts them at risk.

“We’re definitely trying to be cautious with our use of PPE,” Venditti said. “Having said that, we are only doing what’s been sanctioned by the (Centers for Disease Control) or the Department of Health in terms of re-use … we’re trying to be careful anticipating that two months down the road, a month down the road, we could be in a different circumstance with limited supplies.”

As 2020 comes to a close, hospitals have also filed applications with the state to administer any COVID-19 vaccines that are expected to hit the market for essential workers in January 2021 and the rest of the population by spring.

Until then, individuals have an important role to play in keeping their communities safe, Whalen said.

“If people aren’t compliant and if people keep acting like it’s either a hoax or it doesn’t exist or they don’t like to wear masks, you know, yeah, we could be heading for (another shutdown),” she said. “I sincerely hope that doesn’t come to pass.”

What is Wrong with Our President?

Trump says Iran is on notice not to ‘f**k around’ with US

President Donald Trump says ‘you don’t see terror’ in Middle East because of his sanctions against Iran

US President Donald Trump talked up his Iran policy in a profanity-laden tirade on Friday, telling conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh that Tehran knows the consequences of undermining the United States.

“Iran knows that, and they’ve been put on notice: if you fuck around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before,” Trump said.

During a 90-minute interview where he mostly raged against his Democratic rivals, Trump promoted his foreign policy record, including relations with China, before shifting focus to Iran.

New deal with Iran?

The US president reiterated his pledge to secure a new agreement with the Islamic Republic if reelected. “If I win, we’ll have a great deal with Iran within one month,” said Trump, stressing that Iranian leaders are “dying” to have him lose.

Limbaugh, seemingly unsettled by the prospect of diplomacy with Iran, blurting out: “A deal on what?” interrupting the president. 

“No nuclear weapons,” said Trump, who pulled the US out of the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had seen Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against its economy.

With the rigorous international inspection regime implemented by the JCPOA, proponents of the deal say the agreement would have ensured that Iran did not acquire a nuclear weapon.

“He’s desperate to try to win this election, so he’s trying to be the tough guy again,” said Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

But what’s more concerning than the president’s rhetoric is his policies, Slavin added.

Earlier this week, the US Treasury Department announced a new wave of sanctions against Iran’s financial sector, including several private banks – measures that critics say may worsen foreign currency shortages and usher in a humanitarian crisis.

Slavin said Trump’s entire approach to Iran is “sanctions and more sanctions”.

But US administration officials and Trump supporters insist that the sanctions are working. Trump, who has been recovering from the coronavirus while tweeting incessantly about various subjects, told Limbaugh on Friday that Iran has become a “very poor nation” because of his policies.

“You don’t see the terror the way you used to see the terror, and they know if they do anything against us, they’ll pay,” the president said.

‘Sadistic streak’

Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), said that while the Iranian economy is struggling under sanctions, there is no evidence that Tehran is sending less money to its regional proxies and allies or spending less on its military.

“Their talking points don’t seem to add up. I think you can take as much money as you want out of the Iranian economy and continue to double down on threats… Iran is just going to divert its resources to defence and so forth,” Costello told MEE.

Slavin echoed his comment on the efficacy of sanctions. Asked if Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran is working, Slavin said: “It depends on what the goal is.” 

“If the goal is simply to make 80 million people miserable, they’ve succeeded brilliantly. If the goal is to make Iran change its policies in the region, they’ve totally failed,” she told MEE.

“It shows not just the lack of imagination, but a real sadistic streak, a willingness to penalise an entire country for the actions of a government that those people don’t control.”

Trump brings the plague to the Capitol: Jeremiah 23

Donald Trump returns to Oval Office, breaking COVID-19 quarantine

Trump’s return to the Oval Office prompted a flurry of precautions by his staff in an office building where the president and at least a dozen employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.

Doctors had wanted Trump to stay in the White House residence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say patients are supposed to quarantine for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms – in Trump’s case, last Thursday.

Since Trump announced last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19, a growing list of White House officials have also tested positive for the virus, most recently senior aide Stephen Miller, who revealed his diagnosis Tuesday.

Trump has sought to downplay the seriousness of the virus in an election year and has been eager to project an image of beating his own case of the disease and returning to normal. After returning from a three-night hospital stay for treatment Monday, he told Americans they shouldn’t fear the virus.

But White House officials have acknowledged imposing tougher protocols in the wake of the president’s case. Many staff have been working from home and images of workers in full hazmat suits disinfecting parts of the White House have captured the public’s attention.   

Safety precautions were taken, officials said. Staff access to the president was limited, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows – wearing a mask and other personal protective equipment – was in the Oval Office with the president the whole time; aide Dan Scavino, also in PPE, was in and out of the office. 

Aides refused to say whether Trump wore a mask.

Trump came into the Oval Office from the outside colonnade, officials said, so White House staff members “were not exposed,” an official said.

While in the Oval Office, Trump tweeted that he had been briefed on the threat of Hurricane Delta, and spoken with the governors of Louisiana and Texas.

Many of Trump’s employees do not consider the West Wing a safe place. The building has been near-deserted this week because aides are working from home, afraid to come to the office for fear of catching the virus that has infected Trump and more than a dozen colleagues over the past week.

Some members of the White House press corps are not working in the building, instead setting up chairs on the driveway outside the West Wing. 

A table stacked with PPE just outside the West Wing 

A Marine guard posted himself outside the door to the West Wing shortly after 3 p.m. ET; the Marine’s presence has long been the traditional signal that the president, any president, is in the Oval Office.

Two administration officials confirmed that Trump worked out of the Oval Office. They said Trump continues to speak with aides and congressional leaders, and to do the job as needed.

The president is also talking about the possibility of some kind of national address, or perhaps an another video.

“He wants to speak to the American people and he will do so soon,” said White House spokesperson Brian Morgenstern. “I don’t have an exact time or a definite way he’ll do that.”

Trump spent the morning and afternoon out of the public eye, though he was very active on Twitter – more than 40 tweets and re-tweets before 10 a.m., many of them attacking election opponent Joe Biden and other Democrats.

In his daily memo on the president’s condition, presidential physician Conley quoted Trump offering his own prognosis.

“The President this morning says ‘I feel great!” Conley wrote in a brief memo released by the White House. “His physical exam and vital signs, including oxygen saturation and respiratory rate, all remain stable and in normal range.”

More: Trump feels ‘great’ with COVID-19; Pence and Harris face off tonight: Live updates

More: Donald Trump’s COVID-19 treatment is similar to the average American hospitalized with coronavirus. Only faster.

Conley also reported that Trump – who has not been seen in public since he returned to the White House on Monday night – has been fever-free for more than four days and symptom-free for more than 24 hours.

The president also “has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization,” the doctor said.

Conley also reported that Trump’s blood work showed “detectable levels” of antibodies.

In this Oct. 5 file photo, President Donald Trump removes his mask as he stands on the Blue Room Balcony at the White House.

Alex Brandon, AP

Trump defies the plague: Revelation 6

Trump reports no symptoms after first night back at the White House, doctor says in memo

PUBLISHED TUE, OCT 6 2020 12:43 PM EDT

UPDATED 2 HOURS AGO

Kevin Breuninger

@KEVINWILLIAMB

• President Donald Trump reported no symptoms of the coronavirus Tuesday following his first night out of the hospital, the White House physician said.

• “This morning the President’s team of physicians met with him in the Residence,” Dr. Sean Conley said in a brief, nonspecific memo, the latest report on Trump’s progress battling Covid-19.

• The optimistic update from the White House doctor came less than a day after Trump was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

President Donald Trump reported no symptoms of the coronavirus Tuesday following his first night out of the hospital, the White House physician said.

“This morning the President’s team of physicians met with him in the Residence,” Dr. Sean Conley said in a brief, nonspecific memo, the latest report on Trump’s progress battling Covid-19.

“He had a restful first night at home, and today he reports no symptoms,” Conley wrote.

Trump’s “vital signs and physical exam remain stable,” Conley wrote. “Overall he continues to do extremely well.”

The optimistic update from the White House doctor came less than a day after Trump, 74, was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he had been flown as a precautionary measure after he began experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.

The president had been hospitalized Friday evening, the same day he had announced on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the virus.

White House officials said at the time that the president was experiencing “mild symptoms,” and Conley offered a rosy prognosis in a press conference Saturday. But he and other doctors have refused to answer specific questions from reporters about Trump’s health, and some officials have offered conflicting messages.

On Monday afternoon, Trump walked out of Walter Reed on his own, wearing a mask, and flew on Marine One back to the White House.

Upon his arrival, Trump climbed a set of steps to the balcony of the South Portico and removed his mask before saluting the helicopter’s departure. Critics, skeptical of the lack of transparency coming from the administration, noted that the president appeared to be breathing heavily at the time.

He then spoke in a video that was later posted to his social media, telling his followers not to let the coronavirus “dominate you.” 

“I know there’s a risk, there’s a danger, but that’s OK,” Trump added in the video. “And now I’m better, and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know.”

Trump has access to world-class medical care and still-under-review treatments that are unavailable to most Americans. At least 210,195 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19, and experts fear the virus could grow more intense as the winter approaches.

A member of the cleaning staff sprays The James Brady Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Washington.

Alex Brandon | AP

The president has been treated with a combination of drugs, some of which are given to patients suffering from severe symptoms of the coronavirus. They include Gilead’s remdesivir, along with an experimental antibody cocktail from Regeneron and the steroid dexamethasone.

Trump will continue to be closely monitored by a team of doctors.

Meanwhile, parts of the White House, including the press briefing room, have been deep-cleaned following a slew of people who work there recently testing positive for Covid-19. The list includes White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and presidential aide Hope Hicks, along with some members of the White House press corps.

Shortly after the administration shared Trump’s health update, Vice President Mike Pence’s physician said in a separate memo that Pence “has remained healthy” and that his most recent Covid-19 tests have come back negative.

Pence is set to debate Sen. Kamala Harris, the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in Utah on Wednesday night.

Trump defies the plague: Revelation 6

Trump to leave hospital on Monday after weekend Covid treatment – BBC News

President Trump pays “surprise visit” to supporters outside hospital

US President Donald Trump says he will be released from hospital later on Monday, four days after being admitted with Covid-19.

Just before a scheduled briefing from his doctors, Mr Trump tweeted he would be leaving at 18:30 (22:30 GMT), adding that he felt “really good”.

But questions remain over the seriousness of Mr Trump’s illness after a weekend of conflicting statements.

The true scale of the outbreak at the White House remains unclear.

Feeling really good!” Mr Trump tweeted.

Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!!”

There are more than 7.4 million Covid-19 cases in the US and the virus has killed nearly 210,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The president’s discharge comes as more new cases have been reported among White House staff.

At least 12 people close to Mr Trump have now tested positive, as have several junior staff members.

Many of the people who have tested positive around President Trump attended a meeting at the White House on 26 September that is being scrutinised as a possible “super-spreader event”.

The White House has not revealed how many staff members have tested positive since Mr Trump’s own diagnosis.

Who else around the president has tested positive?

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany became the latest high-profile figure close to the president to confirm a positive test earlier on Monday.

US media said two other aides to the press secretary had had a positive result. Ms McEnany was seen speaking to journalists without wearing a mask on Sunday but said no members of the press had been listed as close contacts by the White House medical unit.

First Lady Melania Trump, senior aides and three Republican senators have also tested positive.

President Trump’s diagnosis has upended his election campaign, as he faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden on 3 November.

First Lady Melania, who is 50, has been isolating at the White House, reportedly with mild symptoms. In a tweet she said: “I am feeling good [and] will continue to rest at home” .

Trump confronts the plague: Revelation 6

Coronavirus battle shows the bravery of President Trump: Devine

By Miranda Devine

October 4, 2020 | 9:59pm

President Donald Trump working in a conference room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. REUTERS

President Trump is not a basement guy.

Sure, he could have done a Joe Biden and hidden in the White House the last five months, a president under quarantine cowering from the Chinese virus.

The symbolism would have been disastrous for the mightiest nation on the planet. Trump had to show fearlessness in the face of the virus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week called his refusal to kowtow to the coronavirus a “brazen invitation” to get sick.

But, as the president told his old friend Rudy Giuliani, Saturday afternoon, he took the risks he had to take, because: “Great generals do not lead from behind. They get out front and motivate the troops.”

He was speaking to the former Big Apple mayor by phone from his hospital room at Walter Reed Medical Center, where he was flown by helicopter after his oxygen levels began to fall.

“I knew there was a risk that I could catch [the virus]. But if I couldn’t accept that risk, I should resign . . .

“I am the president of the United States. I can’t lock myself in a room . . . I had to confront it so the American people stopped being afraid of it so we could deal with it responsibly.

“I couldn’t hide in the White House . . .

“If I had handled it any other way, I would have created more panic, more fear in the American people . . .

“I’m going to beat this. Then I will be able to show people we can deal with this disease responsibly, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it.”

Giuliani, widely praised for his leadership during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, knows a thing or two about leadership. His staff urged him to retreat to safety in Brooklyn after the Twin Towers were attacked, but instead he went straight to Ground Zero.

“You can only lead from the front,” he says.

Trump reiterated the message Saturday night in a four-minute video from Walter Reed.

“This is America, this is the United States . . . This is the most powerful country in the world. I can’t be locked up in a room . . . As a leader, you have to confront problems.”

The fact is that a president doing his job and running for re-election necessarily is in contact with thousands of people. It’s not surprising he would contract the highly infectious coronavirus, regardless of precautions.

Biden’s timid behavior is not a model for how a president needs to behave. The obsessive measures taken to protect the 77-year-old border on fetishistic, with elaborate social distancing circles taped on the ground and masks at 20 paces. Staff yell, “Keep back!” and, “Six feet.”

If this was your grandfather, you would appreciate the caution. But a president can’t be paralyzed by fear, and neither can the country.

The virus is no longer a death sentence. Treatments have been found, the fatality rate has plummeted and vaccines are on the horizon.

For political advantage, Democrats have tried to keep Americans scared, depressed and under house arrest, while blaming the President for every COVID death. Sensible Americans reject this perverse framing of the pandemic.

Maybe the basement option works for those in the media and protected classes who have jobs that allow them to sit at home and conduct business via Zoom.

But in order for them to eat and have their groceries delivered, somebody had to get out in the real world and risk the virus.

Those scolding the president and his supporters, tut-tutting about masks and social distancing, are sacrificing the welfare of children and young people who are least at risk.

For some, being cooped up inside is a death sentence worse than the virus.

We will see how the president, 74 and overweight, pulls through. But the signs are good, say his doctors, and he could be released from hospital in the next couple of days.

Trump adapted to the virus. His rallies became open-air events at airports around the country, with the theatrical backdrop of Air Force One gleaming splendidly under klieg lights.

At his last rally, Saturday night at the Harrisburg airport in Pennsylvania, he stood out in the rain, valiantly performing in his wet suit for two hours.

The cheers were even more ecstatic than I remembered at his old indoor rallies, with a new chant of, “We Love You.”

“I love the man because he cares about this country and he fights for us,” said attendee Teresa Tavoletti, a self-described “50-something suburban woman” who had driven from New Jersey.

“I don’t care how he speaks. I don’t care what he says. I care about his actions and his actions have proven it to me. He’s got a record now to prove that he cares.”

I heard the same from people across the crucial swing state Pennsylvania. I saw it in Weirton in West Virginia last weekend, at a gathering of 300 Trump supporters in a “Trump train,” a parade of vehicles and trucks waving Trump flags.

“He supports my livelihood, which is oil and natural gas,” said Jason Laster, 44, of Wellsburg, WV. “He supports the right to bear arms. I just I feel like he’s done great things for the country already. And, four more years, if we can get Pelosi to quit trying to impeach him, then I feel like he’s going to do a bunch more great things.”

You see the enthusiasm for the president outside Walter Reed, where stalwarts have gathered to wave flags outside his window and cars honk their horns in appreciation.

You see it in new voter registrations, from Florida to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where Republicans are outstripping Democrats by as much as two to one.

If the president bounces back onto the campaign trail, he will be an invincible hero, who not only survived every dirty trick the Democrats threw at him, but the Chinese virus as well. He will show America we no longer have to be afraid.