Book Review:  Note – This Blog Post Is A…

Honest!  Not one word about coronavirus below!

“Belgravia” – The Book, Not The Made-For-TV Movie

Publication date:  2016roses three_01

Review, short version:  Three roses out of four.

Review, long version:

If you know the name Julian Fellowes, it’s probably because you’ve been hearing it – a lot – for the past 10 years.

Fellowes was the creator and co-writer of Downton Abbey, a television phenomenon that began airing in the UK in 2010 and the U.S. in 2011.  It ran for six seasons with 52 episodes, and was so popular it was crowned with a Downton Abbey feature film in 2019.

Rumors of a sequel abound.

julianFellowes was a prolific writer before Downton Abbey and since then as well, including his 2016 novel Belgravia.  Not content to simply have written that, he then wrote a six-episode made-for-TV version of the book that aired in the UK earlier this year, and was introduced to U.S. audiences in April.

Belgravia isn’t the high-profile, multi-year phenom that Downton was, but I’m looking forward to seeing all the characters and costumes and twists and turns it when it becomes available on DVD.  Though set in a different time period than Downton, the two stories have much in common:  English aristocracy, their “downstairs” counterparts, and the customs, morals – and snobbery – of both.

Belgravia (the book) opens one night in June 1815 in Brussels, just before the famous Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon’s final defeat.  That takes a mere 30 pages, then we then skip ahead to 1841 and the ramifications of events that transpired back in 1815.

Fellowes is a master at depicting English class-consciousness in a way I think is like watching two cars crash – it’s dreadful, yet you can’t look away.  Calling on a countesssnobbery without an invitation?  Unheard of!  A single woman walking in the park without her maid?  Horrors!  The daughter of an earl wanting to marry in man in trade?  Absolutely not!

And downstairs, the maid is kowtowing to and conspiring with the butler, the butler is kowtowing to and conspiring with the heir, and the heir has murder in mind.

Mix in a load of secrets and scandals, some truly nefarious and not-so-nefarious characters, gambling problems, drinking problems and the de rigueur of changing your outfits (including jewelry) five times a day, and no wonder the aristocracy needed a few months to rest.

At their country mansions, of course.

Several Amazon reviewers described Belgravia as a “soap opera” and that’s accurate enough, based on the plot description from the book jacket:book

“…in this new world, where the aristocracy rub shoulders with the emerging nouveau riche, there are those who would prefer the secrets of the past to remain buried…”

Soap opera?  Bring it on!

Fellowes weaved his large cast of characters into a plot that kept me guessing – will the Trenchard’s reputation be ruined beyond redemption?  Will Charles ever find out who he actually is?  How long can this cover-up stay…covered up?

I enjoyed reading Belgravia, snobbery, secrets and all.  And I have no doubt that Fellowes did a masterful job of bringing his characters to television.  Let’s meet some of them, shall we?

(left to right):  Mrs. Oliver (Susan) Trenchard, Lady Maria Grey, Mr. Charles Pope, the Countess of Brockenhurst, Mr. and Mrs. James Trenchard, the Earl of Brockenhurst…

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The “downstairs” gang…


And a cast of thousands…

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Ah, Justice…

Sometimes, there is justice, after all.

Take this recent story about a guy who decided to make money off the pandemic.

He and a bunch of cronies made multiple trips to Drakes Supermarket in Adelaide, Australia and bought mass quantities of toilet paper and hand sanitizers.

His plan was to sell the stuff on eBay and gouge people like you and me and everyone who’s gone looking to buy those items and…


This guy, who so far is nameless, figured he’d make lots of money off desperate people.

And it may have started that way.

But then eBay shut Nameless Gouger down.

And the Drakes Supermarket director, John-Paul Drake, shut him down, too.

According to this article and numerous others…

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Nameless Gouger returned to Drakes to get a refund on 150 packets of 32-pack toilet paper and 150 units of one-liter hand sanitizer.

That’s 4,800 rolls of toilet paper and about 40 gallons of hand sanitizer.

About $10,000 Australian dollars worth of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

John-Paul Drake’s response:

“I told him that,” Drake said later in a YouTube video, emphatically extending his middle finger (which YouTube chose to pixilate):


Leaving Nameless Gouger with $10,000 worth of products instead of $10,000 in his pocket.

I call that…

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This story happened in Australia but make no mistake, it’s happening here, too.

So said many media outlets in mid-March – here’s my favorite headline:

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According to The New York Times,

“On March 1, the day after the first coronavirus death in the United States was announced, brothers Matt and Noah Colvin set out in a silver SUV to pick up some hand sanitizer.  Driving around Chattanooga, TN, they hit a Dollar Tree, then a Walmart, a Staples and a Home Depot.  At each store, they cleaned out the shelves.

“Over the next three days, Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes.”

Matt Colvin

The nimble brothers continued scooping up hand sanitizer, eventually amassing more than 17,000 bottles, and began selling them on Amazon:

“Mr. Colvin said he had posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for between $8 and $70 each.”

Amazon shut down the Colvin enterprise, said the Times article, leaving them with lots of product and nowhere to sell it.

I call that…

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Reading about Nameless Gouger, the Colvins and others like them gave me the opportunity to learn a new phrase:

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Here’s the definition of retail arbitrage, or “RA,” as some call it:

“Retail arbitrage is a simple concept.  A retail store (such as Walmart, Target, etc.) sells a product (either online or in-store) for a certain price.  You purchase that product and sell it for a higher price yourself and pocket the profit.”

And, said another source,

“The practice is perfectly legal.  According to the US Supreme Court, a retailer cannot stop someone from reselling their products if the merchandise has been legally acquired.”

Retail arbitragers have always been with us, and always will be.  And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with buying an item, marking it up a few dollars, and reselling it.

70 croppedBut the Colvins were charging up to $70 on Amazon for a bottle of hand sanitizer – and selling it to someone desperate to protect their family from COVID-19.

And one of the Colvins suggested, according to the Times, that he was actually performing a “public service.”

To the Colvins and the Nameless Gouger and all the others who hoarded, and are now stuck with their hoard instead of wads of cash…

I call that…

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Taxpayers Can Take Little “Comfort” From The “Comfort”

It’s unsurprisingly easy to find lots of statistics about the Comfort (pictured above), one of the Navy’s two hospital ships (the other is the Mercy, below).Mercy ship

It’s unsurprisingly difficult to find out what it cost us taxpayers for the Comfort to sit in New York’s harbor for a month, doing…

Not much.

As the Comfort sailed away from New York on April 30, the Navy was – to say the least – tight-lipped about the cost of the excursion.  According to a USA Today outlet:

“The Defense Department said it did not have information on how much the Comfort’s mission to New York cost.”

That, of course, is a lie.

Why not just say, “The Comfort’s mission to New York cost $X,XXX,XXX”?

Perhaps because after its March 28 HUGE sendoff from its Norfolk, VA home, during its 30 days in New York…

Only 182 people were treated on the 1,000-bed Comfort.

Backstory:  When the Comfort was deployed to New York, according to this article:

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“The Comfort was supposed to take in patients not infected by the coronavirus, so that hospital staff could focus on the pandemic.  However, this plan was shortsighted and poorly implemented.  The procedure used to determine who was and wasn’t infected was inefficient and time-consuming, making it hard even for qualifying patients to be admitted.

“To make matters worse, even if a patient did not have the coronavirus infection, there was still a list of 49 other medical conditions that would exclude him or her from receiving the aid on board the Comfort.”

Eventually the Comfort crew did start caring for coronavirus patients, and 11 people that were treated on the ship died from it, the Defense Department said.  Several ship personnel came down with the coronavirus while deployed to New York.

And then the Comfort went home.

Since the Defense Department wasn’t telling us taxpayers what this cost, I headed for google and searched for “cost of Comfort deployment to New York.”  Silly me – I thought I’d found an answer on the Navy’s website, but when I clicked the link and got this:

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“File not currently available.”

Imagine that.

So I kept looking – and looking – and eventually encountered this 2018 article:

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According to the article, referring to both the Comfort and the Mercy:

“In its 2019 fiscal year budget proposal, the Navy asked for just over $120 million to sustain both ships and their on-board facilities.”

Ah!  Now we’re getting somewhere.dollar plus cropped

So, $60 million per hospital ship for one year.

$60 million divided by 365 days is $164,383 per day.

$164,383 per day times 30 days is $4,931,490.

So, about $5 million for the Comfort’s 30 days in New York harbor.dollar plus cropped

Let’s not overlook the six or so days the Comfort spent sailing to and from New York:

Six days at $164,383 per day, add about another $1 million.

And what did we taxpayers get for that?

True, the Comfort’s crew treated 182 people, and of course we’re grateful for that.

But I think what we were actually paying for was this:

Trump photo ops:

2020 Campaign Rally, Norfolk Naval Base, March 28, 2020:

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“We will stop at nothing to protect the health of New Yorkers and the health of the people of our country in their hour of need.”  [Except providing testing for everyone]

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“This legislation delivers job retention loans for small businesses to help them keep workers on payroll…” [like the Los Angeles Lakers]

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“We’re now the number one tester anywhere in the world, by far.”  [And as of May 3, we’re also number one in the world for confirmed cases and deaths]

Unsurprisingly, on April 30 Trump was not at the pier in New York for another campaign rally and additional photos ops when the Comfort departed.

Probably because, as the Comfort sailed away, these headlines were trailing behind it:

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“It’s Like UNO, Except There Are Goats, Magical Enchiladas And Kittens That Can Kill You.” – CNN

Seven-year-old to Alexa:  Alexa, what’s Russian Roulette?

Alexa:  Russian Roulette is a lethal game of chance in which a player places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against their head, and pulls the trigger, in the hope that the round does not reach the barrel of the gun and Girl Looking At Wireless Speakertherefore fire…

(Parents walk into room and pause, horrified)

…in which case, your head is blown open, your brains and blood are scattered all over the room, and you’re dead.

Horrified Parents:  Honey, why did you ask Alexa that?

Seven-year-old:  Because at school today, Janey invited me to come over and play Exploding Kittens.  She said it’s a kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette!


When Janey said that, she was simply echoing the words of Elan Lee, one of the creators of an apparent phenomenon that’s been around since 2015.

But I’d never hear of.

Until recently, when the words “Exploding Kittens” figured prominently in the headline of this New York Times article:

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“Exploding Kittens” are also the first two words in the article.

All this caused me to pause and think…

wait what

The article goes on to say that due to the pandemic, Amazon began prioritizing products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, so “tens of thousands of customers were searching” for Exploding Kittens but couldn’t find it.

What the hell, I wondered, is Exploding Kittens?

I started at the source – – and watched a brief but enlightening video.  The game is based on a deck of cards.  Players take turns drawing from a deck of cards until…

bikini cat
Exploding Kittens include what’s described as the “anatomically correct” Bikini Cat.

“Whoever draws an Exploding Kitten card explodes, they are dead and they are out of the game.”

Well, that seems pretty straightforward.

If I’m lucky, on my first draw I’ll get an Exploding Kitten card, I’m out, and I can go do something even more challenging.

Change the stale air in my car tires, maybe?

The video goes on to suggest that players can develop “fun or cruel strategies,” and “The longer you play, the more tense the game gets.”

So – so far I can be dead, or cruel and tense.

My next stop was Amazon, where it appears that Exploding Kittens was, in fact, available, and was, in fact, recommended for “ages seven and up.”

There’s also an adult version for “ages 30 and up,” the description of which includes:

  • Same Exploding Kittens madness, but with card art much too horrible/incredible to include in a kid-friendly version.  Do NOT buy for children, unless you’re ready to have some weird conversations.
  • More than 9 million copies sold, breaking records in kids games, adult games and everything in-between.loser sad sauce cropped
  • A highly strategic, kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette.  Basically, if you draw an Exploding Kitten, you lose and you are full of incendiary loser sad-sauce.  If you don’t explode, YOU WIN!  Congratulations, you are full of greatness!

So I could be dead, or cruel and tense, and “full of incendiary loser sad-sauce.”

And while I’m being all that, the Exploding Kittens creators are being millionaires.

This I learned in an enlightening article from CNBC:

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The 2016 article noted,

“Over 2.5 million decks of Exploding Kittens have been ordered in one year at $20 apiece, meaning revenues are an estimated $50 million.”

Meaning that making seven-year-olds dead, or cruel and tense, and curious about Russian Roulette, has been very profitable from the get-go for the aforementioned creator Elan Lee and his co-creator Matt Inman.

But Lee and Inman aren’t resting on their laurels, or rather – their millions.  They’ve gone on to create other games including Imploding Kittens, Streaking Kittens, Throw Throw Burrito, Bears vs. Babies and more.

But the one that especially caught my eye – and I’ve no doubt will catch the eyes of curious seven-year-olds – is this one:

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Seven-year-old:  Alexa, what are crabs?

Girl Looking At Wireless Speaker Alexa:  Crabs, also known as pubic lice, are parasitic insects that spread easily during sexual contact.  They’re called “crabs” because of the tiny claws they use to cling to hair.

They live on the skin and coarse hairs that are around your genitals, and they feed on your blood.  Crabs can cause discolored skin, with pale blue spots developing where the crabs have been feeding continually.  In addition…

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With Pence It’s…

I rarely mention Pence in my blog posts because there’s not much to say about him.

He’s a greedy, self-seeking, selfish liar – so he’s suited for his current role as Trump Toady #1.

I’ll also add “hypocrite” to that description, after his behavior on April 28 during his visit to the Mayo Clinic:

Masks no masks

Everyone – everyone around Pence was wearing a face mask.

If Pence doesn’t want to protect himself – so be it.  But what about wearing a face mask to protect other people?

Or does the simple fact that there are people just…not occur to him?

Here’s my take on a possible follow-up conversation between Pence and a member of the media:

 Interviewer:  Mr. Vice President, you visited the world-famous Mayo Clinic on Tuesday, April 28, and didn’t wear a face mask.  Since then you’ve been excoriated in the press, on Twitter, on late-night talk shows and by medical experts, for your disregard of the Mayo Clinic’s face mask guidelines and the guidelines of your own Coronavirus Task Force, which you chair.  How do you feel about that?hypocrisy_meter cropped

Pence:  While our hearts are with the families of those who have lost their life to the coronavirus and those who are struggling with serious illness today, our team informs us that the data continues to show promising signs of progress.

Interviewer:  The Mayo Clinic had made the wearing of face masks mandatory on April 13, and said – in a now-deleted tweet – that they had informed you of their masking policy prior to your arrival.  How do you respond to that?

Pence:  Our only conclusion is that we’re getting there, America, because the American people have put into practice the President’s guidelines of social distancing because you’ve been listening and adhering to the guidance of state and local officials.

Interviewer:  You said “social distancing,” Mr. Vice President, yet at the Mayo Clinic you were seen elbow-bumping with a patient:

elbow bump

Interviewer:  Social distancing guidelines are six feet separation, so how do you explain that?

Pence:  We want to thank the more than 270 leaders of organizations dedicated to housing, homelessness, and improving the lives of people across our urban communities for the way they have partnered with our administration and partnered with state and local officials to put the health of all of their constituencies first.

Interviewer:  Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, pointed out that you were in “a hospital in the middle of a pandemic,” and that this, above all times, was “the time when you wear a mask.”  How would you respond to that?


Pence:  Since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be there, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health-care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.

(long pause)

Interviewer:  Mr. Vice President, you are aware that a face mask doesn’t cover your eyes, or in any way prevent your looking someone in the eyes…aren’t you?

Pence:  Let me just end where I began, and to say thank you to the American people.  The progress that we are seeing is a testament to what all of you have done; to our extraordinary healthcare workers; to a partnership between the federal government and to state and local officials.  And I’m confident it’s also owing to the prayers of millions of Americans each and every day.

Made For Each Other:

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You’ve Heard Of “Fox & Friends” – Here’s…

A friend mentioned that in my blog posts about Trump, I often use the words “toady” and “toadies” to refer to the people around him.

And why not?  It’s the perfect word:

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And here are some excellent synonyms:

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I use “toady” and “toadies” for people like Pence, Mnuchin, Pompeo, McConnell, Kudlow, McCarthy, Mulvaney, Kushner…

toads multiple

…Barr, Graham, Miller, McEnany, Wheeler, Conway, Trump’s offspring, other Cabinet members…the people you see on TV who, when asked a question about Trump, get that acolyte glow on their face like they’ve just had a religious experience.

And for them – they have.

I mention this now because of a recent example of just how obsequious (“obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree”) Trump’s toadies are, and how truly afraid of him as well.

On at least three recent occasions, when Trump was talking about the pandemic crisis, he referenced the flu pandemic of the early 20th century.

And while I’m no expert, I do know that that pandemic began in 1918.

It’s commonly referred to as the “1918 Flu Pandemic” – for example, on the Centers for Disease Control website…

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In reference materials…

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In the media…

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It’s tempting to say that everyone with a basic knowledge of 20th century American history knows it was the “1918 Flu Pandemic.”

Tempting, but inaccurate.

Because – no surprise – the Ignoramus-in-Chief does not.

Trump referred to it as occurring in “1917.”

Over and over and over again.

Here’s one example:

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The article recounts,

“Trump was responding to a question about what he would say to children, many of whom have been stuck at home while the coronavirus pandemic has forced schools across the country to close temporarily.when cropped fixed

“‘I would say you are a citizen of the greatest country anywhere in the world.  We were attacked like nothing that’s happened possibly since 1917.  Many, many years ago.  We were attacked.’”

Same error, different quote, from a March 27 New York Post article:

“Swine flu is pretty bad, but it wasn’t to the extent of this.  I think you probably when cropped fixedhave to go back a long ways to go to this one.  Who would think – I read about the Spanish Flu – that was 1917 – which killed anywhere from 75 to 100 million people.”

And yet another one, from an April 4 Newsweek article:

“Trump said thousands of military soldiers, doctors and nurses will be directed to hot spots around the country to help supplement local physicians and nurses treating the virus.

“‘We’ll be telling them where they’re going.  They’re going into war, they’re going when cropped fixedinto a battle that they’ve never trained for.  Nobody’s trained for, nobody’s seen this, I would say since 1917, which was the greatest of them all.’

“The 1917 reference was for the 1918 flu pandemic, which was the most severe pandemic in world history, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

And while I was noticing this repeated error, so were others:

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I’m certain at least one or two of Trump’s toadies noticed as well, and that’s my point:

Not one of the toadies corrected him because they’re all too busy sucking up to him.

And they’re all too afraid of him.

Because such a conversation would have sounded like this:toad cropped

Toady #1:  Fine pandemic briefing today, Mr. President, so well done, your best yet.

Trump:  I nailed it, didn’t I?

Toady #2:  You did, indeed, sir, you did indeed.

Trump:  I gotta call Hannity and see what he says.  Did you want something else?

toad cropped reversedToady #3:  Yes, sir.  I mean…well, not exactly, but…it’s…um…

Trump:  And tomorrow morning I’ll call Fox & Friends – they love me on that show.  You’ve seen how much they love me, right?

Toady #2:  Yes, sir.  It’s just that…that…over the past few days, when you’ve been talking about the coronavirus pandemic…

Trump:  Yeah, that Chinese flu thing.

Toady #1:  …and you’ve been referring to the Spanish Flu pandemic and saying “1917.”

Trump:  Yeah, and something else happened that year, too.  1917, war or something, right?toad cropped

Toady #3:  Yes, sir.  Yes, but not the flu.  That didn’t happen until 1918.

(Long silence)

Trump:  Are you…saying…I…MADE…A…MISTAKE?

Toady #1:  Oh, no, sir, never!  Ever!  We just thought you’d want to know…

Trump:  I don’t pay you to #@%!#!ing think!  You’re #@%!#!ing fired!  You’re ALL #@%!#!ing fired!

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None – not one – of Trump’s offspring, his Cabinet, his chosen advisors had the huevos to offer this tiny correction to help Trump look just a tiny bit less ignorant.

Because if they do…

you're fired

Update April 28, 2020:

Here’s perhaps the worst toady of all:

Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the Trump Administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force.

On April 23, there she sat on the stage at Trump’s briefing as he talked about disinfectant and suggesting getting it into the lungs was a coronavirus treatment option:


He turned to her several times as he spewed out more of his ridiculous, unproven, dangerous and in this case, deadly theories.

Let’s take a closer look at Dr. B:

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There she sits, eyes lowered, head bowed, hands clasped in her lap, looking like a first grader who’s getting a shellacking from the teacher.

Now let’s imagine…

Imagine that instead of sitting like a spineless lump, Birx stands up and says, “No, sir, absolutely not.  What you’re talking about – getting disinfectant into the body – is dangerous and could be deadly and it’s totally wrong.”

Then she turns to the camera and speaks to the TV audience:  “I ask – I beg – the American people to disregard what the president just said.  Never, ever, under any circumstances should you inject or ingest any kind disinfectant into your body.  It will not kill the coronavirus but it could kill you.”

But…she didn’t.toad cropped


Because she’s another Trump toady.

And because of that – we have this:

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Do NOT Try This At Home

Trump, March 6, 2020:

“You know, my uncle was a great person.  He was at MIT.  He taught at MIT for, I think, like a record number of years.  He was a great super genius.  Dr. John Trump.  I like this stuff.  I really get it.  People are surprised that I understand it.  Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’  Maybe I have a natural ability.”

Trump, April 23, 2020:

“I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute.  And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs.  So it would be interesting to check that.”

April 25, 2020:

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