Monthly Archives: May 2020

America, We Have a Problem

Readers old enough or well-versed in space flight history will recognize my playing off the famous statement from Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, shortly after an explosion aboard the spacecraft enroute to the moon: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” So calm you might have thought he was just reporting routine fuel burn information.

I had the honor of working briefly with Commander Lovell, then retired, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He was exceptionally gracious and willing to do whatever was asked. Our communications team at what was then the American Society of Travel Agents had the idea to have an astronaut film a public service announcement emphasizing that it was safe to fly again. We filmed it at O’Hare Airport, showing Lovell picking up a boarding pass, confidently going through the new security system. The PSA was seen by more than 200 million people.

I often think of those days in which our country was united in support of intelligently and safely getting the country moving again in the wake of the attacks that shut down air travel.

After the events of the past five or six, or is it 100 or the 56,575 days since the Civil War ended, I also often think of the ending of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet in which the Prince addresses the warring Capulet and Montague families:

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punish’d.

The Prince’s fine words are ultimately not enough to quell the irrational conflict between the families as they vie for who will create the better remembrance of the dead children. Thus, the Prince ends the play with,

A glooming peace this morning with it brings,
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

As I wrote recently, we seem to have learned nothing. Hate breeds hate. Violence breeds violence. Hate and violence reside in the ignorance of those who only see the “other” as less than human. It has been ever thus. Our beloved Constitution counted slaves as only 3/5 of a free person for purposes of congressional apportionment, thereby increasing the representation in Congress of states that legalized ownership of one person by another. The “North” won the Civil War but lost the peace. After “Reconstruction,” we reverted to Jim Crow and then segregation and it wasn’t just in the South that racism drove our politics.

That is part of the ugly truth of the history of the United States. Having spent my formative years in Memphis, Tennessee, often jokingly referred to as “really part of Mississippi,” I grew up all too familiar with the way racism robbed people of their dignity, their ability to earn a decent living and an equal education and, often of their lives without meaningful recourse.

Now in 21st century not much seems to have changed. Aside from income inequality, educational deprivation, and all the rest, we have again and again seen outrageous acts of white people against black people that go unaddressed. And those acts are often by police who have been given what the law calls “color of authority” to bear arms and enforce the law on the streets. They are given the benefit of the doubt in most close cases.

We all understand that their job is difficult and dangerous. There are many bad actors in our society, as in all societies, and we depend on the police to protect everyone else. The theory is that with good police protection, the citizenry does not have to arm itself and prepare to “take the law into its own hands” when it believes the police power needs to be invoked. That’s the theory.

Most police, I continue to believe, are honest, hard-working people trying to do the right thing. Their job does involve danger. That is why, among other things, they are provided training, advanced weapons and communications tools. I participated in one-day “school” in Alexandria, VA a few years ago, providing exposure to some of the tools and training that the police there were given. It was impressive. It also was discordant with some things I had personally witnessed on the streets of Old Town Alexandria in which police officers behaved in an unhinged way toward citizens who had engaged in minor violations of traffic laws. The line is a fine one.

It is also true that there are many police who cannot conform to norms of conduct. I have read stories of medical personnel saying they have treated many injured police officers and were stunned to see how many “white power” and similar tattoos they had.

So, finally, to the main issue for today. Multiple American cities are in turmoil. Protests have turned violent and the violence has been met with more violence, by the local police backed by state police and National Guard forces in full combat gear with military grade vehicles and weapons. To be sure, the LEOs are usually outnumbered but the protesters are unarmed at least usually. There are exceptions, of course, but the evidence so far is that the protesters’ main weapons are water bottles and traffic cones. And their bodies. Multiple videos have surfaced of police crashing cars into crowds of protesters, pepper spraying passively protesting individuals, physically attacking unarmed women and on and on.

Meanwhile, of course, the inevitable has happened. We are told, and there is no reason to doubt, that much of the violence (burning of buildings, destruction of storefronts, looting) has been caused by people from out-of-state to the city in which they were arrested. I expect that the affected cities will “throw the book” at these provocateurs; surely by now there is a state law everywhere for crossing a state line to perform terrorist acts or something similar.

I say this is inevitable because it simply is. Society, sadly, includes many people who are unwilling or unable to comply with law. It also includes people who, for reasons of ideology, will try to coopt a protest to make the protesters look bad. The right-wing media and the politicians to whom they cater will then try to shift the narrative to “it’s not a legitimate peaceful protest because, look, it’s looters and arsonists, etc etc.” This is a familiar refrain that is often, wittingly or otherwise, legitimized by the mainstream media. It doesn’t take long on the main channels to realize that the violence is getting most of the attention. It always does. And that’s part of why it happens.

The obsession with the violence obscures critically important issues that arise every time we are in this situation.

The major police presence at the scene of protests does not just happen. The police has a command structure. Orders are given. In light of the scenes of police behaving in inexplicably violent and seemingly random ways, it’s more than fair to ask, indeed, it’s essential to know:

What role do the police have? Stop the protest? Arrest as many protesters as possible? Just wait and crack down after the curfew? Why are they on the street?

Without focus, they seem intent on attacking demonstrators. Their role of protecting property seems minor or irrelevant to their reason for being there.

What instructions were the police given?

The videos I have seen tend to show large numbers of police either blocking protesters’ path or trying to push protest groups into particular spaces. If they are resisted, they react explosively. The videos show police using batons in repeated blows to protesters on the ground and multiple instances of pepper spray being used against unsuspecting, fully complying individuals.

Where are the police on-site leaders during these events?

There appears to be little or no leadership. If it’s present, the leadership seems to condone if not actually order these attacks.

One situation that brings the above question sharply into focus is a video of a roughly few dozen police marching down a residential street in Minneapolis, screaming at residents to “get inside.” The person who was apparently on her front porch filming this and expressing surprise at the force appearing on her street is suddenly fired out with either paint balls or rubber bullets. They flee inside. Fortunately, no one was hit in the face or worse.

In another video that has attracted the attention of the Mayor of New York City and the Governor of New York State, a police car drives up to a metal rack, similar to a bike rack, being held by a large group of protestors in the middle of the street. The car stops. Water bottles and a bag are thrown at the car. Another police car appears and passes the stopped car on its right and plows ahead into the protesters. The first car then moves rapidly against the metal rack, driving it and the protesters holding it sharply backwards. Many people go down. It appears, miraculously, that no one was killed. But they easily could have been.

I understand that the police in those cars may have felt threatened. But they could have backed up. If they had a critical reason to advance at that particular moment, despite the risk to the protesters, it will presumably be disclosed in the forthcoming investigation ordered by the Governor to be conducted independently by the state attorney general.

It is difficult to understand how these seemingly random acts of police violence contribute to anything positive.

Why were the police sent into these situations? Do they not employ spotters and have advanced communications to produce high-grade situational awareness?

The police in the Minneapolis residential video can be heard issuing the order “light ‘em up” just before the shooting starts.

Is that what the police are for? To “light ‘em up?” Rough them up so they’ll want to go home?

There is, of course, another way. There is a video from Flint, Michigan, one of the most troubled communities in recent history, in which the sheriff tells the protesters, “we’re with you. We’ve put down our batons. Let’s make this a parade…. My officers love you…. Where do you want to go?…. we’ll march all night. Tell us what you want.” The result: protesters want their selfies with the sheriff and peace prevails.

Another image shows police on one knee in solidarity with protestors, while yet another shows Kansas City police holding signs that say, “End Police Brutality.”

I want to make three other points. First, Governor Cuomo, whose work on the pandemic has been, in my judgment, exceptional, passionately addressed the protests in his briefing today. He, of course, decried the violence. Fine. He also offered several specific proposals to change the way things work. He mentioned having independent review of complaints about police conduct, saying “self-policing just doesn’t work.” He argued for a uniform state law across the country on what constitutes “excessive force.” Both are good ideas.

But they do not go to or anywhere near the root problem, which is the persistence of racism throughout the United States. We won’t eliminate racism everywhere overnight, especially given the history that has brought us to this sad day. But, is it not time to address racism in the police departments around the country? Surely, it is not acceptable to have police be members of white supremacy organizations. Surely, there are ways to detect suppressed racism and subliminal bias and racist attitudes through testing and investigation. What is missing is the will to do it. There is simply no excuse to have racist cops on the force. On any police force. Yet, judging from the events of the past five days, likely to be repeated tonight, there is a staggering amount of racism rampant among our law enforcement services.

Next, I have been disappointed, stunned really, to see that the past five days of protests have seen few if any political or religious leaders on the streets with the protesters. This is not how it was during the Vietnam protests. We often had major political figures with us and “handlers” who understand how to keep the crowd’s “temperature” down when “outside agitators” tried to provoke violence. And it wasn’t that way during the major civil rights protests and the Women’s March.

Finally, I truly understand how horrified many people are about the looting, burning and rioting of some of the protesters. Related to the other points I’ve made, however, is the proposition that if you don’t given people anything to hold on to, they will just choose something at random. This usually has bad outcomes, as it did this week. We might have expected that the president of the country would step into that void but was kept busy throwing red meat to his political base with tweets promising “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” would be used against protesters if they breached the security perimeter of the White House. Then, the president took the day off.  Nothing more need to be said about this total failure of leadership except that it, yet again, shows how unfit Donald Trump is to lead the country.

May I Remind You

I just published a long piece about the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. As I wrote it, another story kept emerging in my thoughts, a true story from my distant past.

It was 1968. April 5. A nice warm spring day in Washington DC, where I worked as a newly-minted trial lawyer at the Civil Aeronautics Board. The CAB offices were in a building at Connecticut Avenue just below the Washington Hilton. My then wife worked some blocks downtown for an association. Typical Washington jobs.

We got the news the previous day that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, the city where I grew up from age 2 to age 17 when I left for college. Washington was in flames, we were told, and the government was closing. I made my way downtown, leaving my car, a Volkswagen, parked on a sidewalk and walked to my wife’s office. Everyone was confused. There was no internet, no Google, no good way to find out “breaking news” that is now a staple of our daily existence. The rioting had started the evening before but there was no up-to-the-minute news. So, we watched the scene unfolding outside at a major downtown intersection. Gridlock. Total gridlock. No one moving. Horns honking. People shouting at each other from their cars. Panic.

I took a glass of scotch and walked down to the middle of the intersection, threading my way carefully through the cars. I wore my customary work clothes, a vested suit, as was common in those days. I put my drink down in the dead center of the intersection and became a traffic cop. I began “ordering” cars to wait before entering the intersection. Most drivers, though not all, obeyed, and a semblance of order began to emerge from the chaos.

Every so often a car would stop in passing by me, roll down the window and a frantic person, always white, would look out at me and yell “Thank you, oh thank God for you.” I didn’t know what to say except “you’re welcome.” The scene was totally surreal.

White people were fleeing the city by the tens of thousands. Some crying. I could see the smoke from the 7th Street NW and 14th Street NW corridors, just three blocks from where I stood and could smell the acrid odor. For whatever reason, I was not afraid, but fear was all around me. I suspected that those people thought the black people burning Washington were going to come after them if they didn’t get out of town quickly.

The aftermath is well known. One of the major reactive themes was, “those people are crazy because they burned their own businesses.” It was true. Many black-owned businesses in the area were savaged in the rioting. The rage was simply that – rage – and the rioters took it out on what was near them, their own businesses and even homes.

Crazy? Perhaps, but that’s what rage does. White people seem to think that rage should somehow be rational, in the way that a professional boxing match is rational – people fighting by agreement over a prize, winner-take-all. But, of course, that is not rage. That is just business. Rage is something else altogether, and we’re seeing it in Minneapolis and many other cities across the country. We should not be surprised.

My story ended quite simply and quietly. A relatively young police officer appeared out of the chaos surrounding the intersection. He was black, as were many members of the Washington police force. He walked toward me slowly, carefully. I thought, “great, reinforcements.” I looked at him and he looked at me, the anger etched in his face. He was in no mood to have a friendly chat with the white stranger doing a policeman’s job in a scene of total chaos. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I think I tried to smile and asked if he was going to stay. He said something about taking over and I picked up my drink and backed out of the intersection. He had no time or further interest in me. I understood then and understand now why that was so.

I can still see his face. He was in control of his anger, but it was obvious how conflicted he was to have been ordered to help these hysterical, panicked white people flee the city that was burning just down the road. I suspect he came from that direction, knew what was happening but was here now to do his duty, despite his personal pain and despair.

I confess I was glad to get back inside. But I will never forget the way that young black policeman looked at me. He felt no sense of thanks for me having helped out, no empathy, and I didn’t expect otherwise. I can’t begin to imagine the depth of his suffering even as he continued to do the duty he had sworn to perform.

The coda to the story is that there were mass arrests of protestors and rioters alike. A call went out for lawyers to come downtown to the courthouse to help process and represent those huge number of detained people, many of whom were innocent of any wrongdoing. My good friend and officemate at the CAB and I decided to volunteer. We drove into Washington that evening, passing military guards on the Key Bridge. Soldiers were stationed in the doors of businesses on M Street in Georgetown. Machine gun emplacements were visible on the lawn of the White House. Ultimately, we were rejected by the administrators of the court on grounds that as federal employees we had a conflict of interest in representing individuals charged with federal crimes. We drove home. The rioting lasted for four days.

And here we are again. Fifty-two years later. Same story. Again. And again.

Déjà vu All Over Again – We’ve Learned Nothing

Minneapolis burns. Los Angeles. Memphis, Louisville. Others.

A police officer in full view of multiple people, including store surveillance cameras, calmly kills an unarmed, non-resisting person accused of trying to pass a fake $20 bill. The unarmed, non-resisting man is a big man, imposing stature, but not resisting. His hands are in cuffs behind his back. The police officer forces him to the ground on his face, or maybe he sits down on his own. Maybe he said something offensive or even threatening. So what? He is cuffed and defenseless. The officer places a knee on the man’s neck. The man complains “I can’t breathe.” Multiple times. The officer ignores him. The other three officers on the scene ignore him. Witnesses plead with the police to check the man, but they are ignored. The man stops breathing. Still the police officer sits on his neck. The man dies.

The man dies in the presence and under the complete control of FOUR ARMED POLICE OFFICERS EQUIPPED WITH PEPPER SPRAY, TASERS, CLUBS, SIDEARMS. IF the man said something threatening to the officer OR IF the man did “resist” by passively dropping to the ground, under what police procedure and training did one of the four officers to think that the appropriate response was to sit on the man’s neck until he died? Is it even conceivable that police procedure condones this practice? Anywhere in the United States?

The prosecutor goes on TV and says there is “other evidence” indicating no crime was committed. What evidence? No comment. Why, then, did the prosecutor think it was a good idea to tell everyone he already had doubts about what virtually every non-racist person on the planet believed was almost certainly a crime – the deliberate taking of a life without justification under color of authority? Again.

All four of the officers have been fired so they are not among the strike force of hundreds of police now sent to suppress the, surprise, rioting and looting that have broken out in the wake of yet another “good people on both sides” scenario. The police use tear gas, pepper spray, fire hoses, among other things, against the crowds of enraged protestors.

Many people who were silent in the immediate aftermath of the video releases that at least raised a presumption that a police officer had, for the how-manyieth-time, killed an unarmed, non-resisting black person have come out clutching their pearls over the terrible rioting and looting. Sure, there may have been a problem with the police conduct – maybe, who knows, there could be an explanation, let’s wait for all the evidence, don’t jump to conclusions –but rioting and looting? Outrageous. Taking property? Unacceptable. Must meet force with force. Law and order. Restore peace by whatever means. Call out the National Guard.

And if you’re the president of the United States, what do you do? Well, our current president calls people names, threatens to “take control” with the military and “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Here is part of Trump’s actual message:

These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!

You don’t need a degree in linguistics to get the president’s message: “I will declare martial law and I approve of the National Guard/military shooting protesters who are rioting and looting. That’ll show ‘em who’s the boss.”

The victim here was a black man named George Floyd. His name joins the pantheon of unarmed black people killed by police in circumstances where other means of addressing the “situation” were readily available. Often the “situation” is really just that a black or brown-skinned person was involved. Involved in the sense of just being there. Despite the availability of other options, the police in these cases chose the lethal option. It’s not an accident. It’s a choice. And in virtually every case, the police are exonerated. There have been a few exceptions, but precious few.

The officer who killed George Floyd had 18 complaints on his record. One of the other four had six complaints and was involved in a settled lawsuit alleging use of excessive force among other things. https://cnn.it/2M8R3mm

All four officers in the present case have been fired. Fine, but not enough. Not even close. They will no doubt face civil suits whether or not the City of Minneapolis takes action against them. Why they are still at large is unknown and inexplicable on the known facts. Reminds us of the initial reaction of authorities in Georgia to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The “there is other evidence” position of the prosecutor is very close, too close, to “good people on both sides,” the president’s unsubtle endorsement of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. The mind boggles at the thinking behind the prosecutor making such a statement while refusing to describe the evidence. But, rest assured, he will study this case really hard and be sure the law is followed. Rest assured.

While you’re waiting for the prosecutor, think about this. What would the operative difference be if, instead of kneeling on Floyd’s neck, the policeman had rolled him over, pinning his cuffed hands under his body, sat on his chest and choked him to death with his fingers? Any real difference?

The Minnesota GOP had plenty to say about the beaches being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but I can’t find anything they have had to say about the killing of George Floyd. No doubt, they are “extremely concerned” that there has been violence and property loss. They likely joined the Trump-led GOP chorus of outrage at Colin Kaepernick peacefully protesting by kneeling at a football game during the playing of the National Anthem. They can’t have it both ways. Peaceful protest – Noooo! Riots and looting – Noooo! The real message, obvious to me and others, is, “don’t be black.”

As a society, if that term still applies, we appear to have learned nothing. Armed racists threaten legislators over pandemic lockdown and masking policies, and no one lifts a finger. Police are expected, and do, stand in rows while being screamed at by AR-15 carrying vigilantes complaining about their “rights.” No one is arrested. In Minneapolis, on the other hand, today’s protesters were pepper sprayed by the driver of a passing police car for no discernable reason except a “take that” attitude by an unhinged and uncontrolled police force. The officers surely know they are being filmed but they are not concerned there will be repercussions if they wantonly attack protesters.

I get that police are under a lot of stress. I support the police almost all the time, but not when unarmed black and brown people are killed and there were readily available alternatives to the use of deadly force. Police are supposedly trained and re-trained on the use of deadly force. Presumably their calm under stress is evaluated carefully before they are unleashed on the community carrying an array of weaponry, some of which can be used to kill. Or maybe not. Maybe in Minneapolis and the countless other places where these violations of human rights have occurred the police are not really trained. They are just armed and sent into the community with instructions to “keep the peace” however they choose. Is this possible?

In the George Floyd case, ironically and painfully, the police didn’t need to use anything but handcuffs to kill a man. We have learned nothing from all the prior cases. And the president of the United States just fans the flames with hostile rhetoric, showing yet again his complete unfitness to hold office. Still, the Grand Ole Party is apparently silent. They sat silently and voted to acquit Trump when he was impeached for extorting a foreign government, allowing him to withhold relevant evidence and witnesses. They sat silently while Trump’s henchman Attorney General William Barr lied and distorted the Mueller Report. They preach law and order while the president’s immigration policy separates families and leaves small children parentless, in some cases forever, locking them in cages in concentration camps.

This is but a small sample of what Republican leadership has created in America. All the racism can’t be blamed on them, but they have endorsed and facilitated it over and over. And when the police yet again kill an unarmed and defenseless black person, they sit silently until their leader speaks and incites further hatred, dividing the country even further.

How long does the white conservative establishment think the underclass which is huge and growing is going to continue to tolerate this blatant racism and discrimination? Do they not understand that when large numbers of citizens no longer feel invested in the established order and peaceful change of that order is foreclosed, they lose their connection to that society and their justified but ignored and resisted rage boils over? How long do they think this can continue without serious and violent consequences becoming the order of the day, as the unwarranted killings of unarmed black and brown people has become the order of the day?

November is coming, not soon enough, but it’s coming. The good people of this country had better put an end to the Republican leadership that has brought us to this place. The consequences of failure are too grim to imagine, but it seems certain that the failing light of democracy that, at least in principle, was the founding dream and aspiration of this country will be extinguished if change is not achieved. That sounds apocalyptic, I know, but don’t believe it can’t happen here. It can and it will, unless we stop it. ENOUGH!

 

 

Pandemic Influences on Higher Education Choices

My good friend and professional colleague, Kevin Mitchell, founded the Business Travel Coalition (http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/) many years ago and publishes a subscription based daily newsletter of important reporting on the entire travel business. The newsletter, now called tVillage Intelligencer, is seen by thousands around the world.

Kevin is prolific writer and thinker and has published a thoughtful and, as always, well-crafted essay addressing the implications of the pandemic on the decisions being faced by many families and young people whether to go to college or pursue other options. I responded to the piece and, with Kevin’s permission, am republishing the exchange here (without the graphics; his original essay can be seen at  https://publicate.it/p/KqXmdg152169):

A Pandemic Consequence: The Questioning of Higher Education

No idle Memorial Day weekend exercise for some

This weekend as Americans think about and honor the more than one million patriots who gave their precious lives for the promise of America, there is even more on the minds of parents. The economic fallout of the COVID-19 (C19) pandemic is causing parents of children already in college, about to enter college or considering applying to think long and hard if such an expensive commitment is the best and only path for their children.Indeed, there is a counter-push against the American must-go-to-college mantra that is increasing in strength. I believe that like previous pandemics, C19 will accelerate many existing or latent economic and societal trends. The crisis is likely, for example, to push a lot of parents and their children to rethink the cost/benefit of a traditional college education compared with alternative paths.

Sadly, a lot of kids today go to college because all their friends do without considering whether that’s what they really want to do and if it is worth 4 years of their lives and a lot of expense, including lost wages, versus other options. For sure, some have a dream of becoming an architect, physicist, astronaut or the next Olympic track star. However, that’s different in that those young adults have strong personal life-purposes and visions. Still, for others, they want to explore new intellectual, social and cultural experiences that are important and valuable to them to better understand.

Higher education has been justifiably pedestalled as a highly valued tradition in Western and non-Western cultures for its numerous and far reaching societal benefits. My grandmother and grandfather, for example, immigrated from Ireland to America in the early 20th century and originally took jobs in Boston as a maid and policeman respectively. They were determined to put my mother and her sister through college to improve their lives. My mother graduated from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia in 1940 when very few women of her parents’ means were able to attend college. Both went onto long careers in education touching many thousands of lives and living the American Dream. So, I am all-in for this important tradition of higher education and its linkage to upward social mobility.

Today, however, especially against the backdrop of a C19 economic crisis, where close to 40 million Americans have so far lost jobs in a highly unsure future-looking economy, many are beginning to challenge the assumption that college is the only path on which to responsibly put their children to achieve the American Dream and a productive, fulfilling life.

It’s not just the high cost. Also at issue is the perceived uneven quality of the education itself, the totality of today’s campus experience and the enabling public policy. Many point to the financing model of higher education as a root cause of the $1.6 trillion college tuition debt-bubble that is more likely to burst during this C19 economic malaise as parents making loan payments are increasingly under financial duress. And let’s not forget the superrich buying their kids’ entry to prestigious universities; not a good look for American society or higher education! In combination, these developments reinforce some parents’ weariness and instincts that it’s time for a revalidation of assumptions. This should worry U.S. institutions of higher learning that have already seen student enrollments decline every year since 2011.

It’s fair to ask if recent graduates are better prepared to work hard, take risks and achieve success than if they had chosen to take a different path, or waited for a while until they discovered their keen interests or passions to make the best possible decisions for themselves.

Perhaps with some irony, a pandemic is once again poised to insert itself in the trajectory of higher education – which has been forever short on innovation and long on cost increases. University education was democratized for the masses as an eventual consequence of the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century wherein prior to that time those of us with European roots had ancestors some 75% of whom were serfs largely confined to their lords’ fields and heavy-handed restrictions. However, while there is something very important about the pursuit of university study that should be understood, valued and safeguarded, there is reason for healthy skepticism as well.

I graduated from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 1980 with a 4-year tuition debt of a mere $10K, which I easily paid off in 3 years. Was it worth it for me? Yes, because I learned that jobs in a big company without a degree were virtually non-existent. In my case, a bachelor’s degree in international relations apparently provided an employer with an indication of some competence and/or other positive attributes. I was offered a job by CIGNA Corp.

Beyond getting my foot in the door at CIGNA, did I secure new skills and knowledge from investing four years of my life and working full-time, year-round? Yes. Was it an even-trade for the benefit? Leaving aside that it represented the key to the CIGNA door, my answer is a resounding no. Very little of what I learned in class helped me in my career and I did not benefit from the interactions of living on campus with fellow students because I lived at home.

The university model should be fundamentally reformed. However, it should also be cherished and safeguarded while culturally celebrating the upward-mobility successes available to those in America who want to strike out with personal visions and work hard and achieve their goals without four-year college degrees. Options include self-education, job training, trade schools and technical certifications, as an example, for aircraft mechanics.

The classic American expression “self-made man” was coined in 1832 by U.S. Senator Henry Clay to acknowledge the inner promise and strength of individuals who work hard and succeed irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves. There are enough examples in America to fill a university library.

Born poor in Kentucky, and with a total of one year of school, self-educated Abraham Lincoln led our country through its most profound crisis ever during the American Civil War abolishing slavery and fundamentally modernizing the American economy. Lincoln pursued a path that diverged from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn, Haverford, Fordham and other institutions accepting students at that time.

Lincoln, instead, chose a version of distance-learning enabled by borrowed books to become a self-taught lawyer at age 25, state legislator, Member of Congress and President of the United States. With some irony, in 1862 Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Act enabling the creation of soon-to-become prestigious universities such as Cornell, MIT, Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, Texas A&M, West Virginia and the University of California.

Not such a bad path, role model or agent of change! 

Perhaps it would be counter-intuitive, but fruitful, for colleges and universities to celebrate and embrace alternative paths to four-year degrees and lifelong learning and reinvent themselves by taking a leadership role in a comprehensive national initiative to prepare future generations of Americans to be productive, highly successful citizens. Lincoln, the epitome of the self-made man, was able to appreciate accomplishment without the benefit of a college degree and, at the same time, to champion the strategic importance to our nation of expanding institutions of higher learning.As pandemics are wont to do, I am sure many Americans this Memorial Day weekend are using the reflective time to think over many long-held assumptions about important components of their lives from college, to work-life balances, to placing their parents in nursing homes.

My response:

I read with great interest your essay on the questioning of higher education as a partial result of the economic disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been mulling this subject for a long time, inspired by some much earlier published pieces in which (1) a successful entrepreneur (one of your “self-made men”) argued that college was useless, that his son would have to make his way as an innovator, just like dad, or fail, without wasting time in college; (2) arguments were presented that the cost-benefit analysis, comparing future earning differentials for college graduates v. non-college people showed conclusively that, as you have suggested, it’s “not worth it.”

Having been blessed with a scholarship-financed liberal arts education at an Ivy League college, also with associated debt to repay, I must dissent.

You are no doubt correct that the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic will force many to rethink their ability to pay for a college education. This is but one of the many tragedies to emerge from the pandemic. But that, I suggest, is a separate issue from whether a college education is so valuable that, if the opportunity exists, it should almost always be chosen. The value is properly determined not simply by traditional “cost benefit” analysis but by a broader range of intangible considerations.

For example, an on-campus college education presents the opportunity for young people to engage with a range of intellectual and other mind-expanding stimuli in an atmosphere that, if properly run, expands understanding of how the world works. It forces students to confront different points of view and to think more deeply about hard questions about which they previously just assumed the answers. They have the opportunity to confront and understand complexity. Ultimately, they learn to think, often about subjects they had no original interest in and would never have been touched by in the absence of the “cloistered” college experience.

Viewed this way, college is not just a trade school, a place where you learn how to do something. It’s a place where you come to understand what you can and should be doing and then you move on to more advanced studies or enter the world and take up the rest through direct experience.

I do not suggest, however, that college is right or necessary for everyone. But it is right for most young people who life paths are still being sorted at the time college is an option .It is not just the ticket to superior employment – it is the essential prerequisite to the fully examined life.

I believe we are seeing now in our society the consequences of having a large population of adults who did not have this experience. The polls refer to them as the “non-college educated white people.” They tend to support Donald Trump, to revere destructive rhetoric, support anti-immigrant and anti-diversity policies, to “hate” the “other,” defined as people not like them. Their thought processes embrace ideas like “fake news” and are unable to distinguish truth from ideology. They don’t think deeply about anything because they’ve never been required to do so. They see themselves as victims and engage in much magical thinking, including attraction to conspiracy theories.

Obviously, not all non-college educated people are like that but I believe the shockingly large segment of the American population that the above does describe is in significant part a function of the lack of higher education and the exposure to “other” ideas and “other” people that such education most often provides.

It would be ideal, of course, if the United States offered both paths, so that those people who only want to learn a trade and pursue the resulting life can do so. In the past the country did have trade schools but the shifting of manufacturing to foreign sources caused job opportunities in many trades to dry up, leading to the closure of many related educational opportunities. The demand now is for computer science and related skills and while there are schools devoted largely to teaching those things, the emerging students will likely lead more rewarding lives, all aspects considered, if they also have some learning experiences in literature, history and the like.

You and I are probably not as far apart as might appear with respect to the above. Where we more seriously diverge, I suspect, is regarding the notion of the “self-made man,” for which you cite Abraham Lincoln as a stellar example of what can happen to individuals with the “inner promise and strength … who work hard and succeed irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves.” Lincoln certainly stands out in the pantheon of such people, but I suggest that the chances today of more “Lincolns,” or even more Steve Jobs emerging and doing great works, as opposed to simply making themselves rich with some new technology they imagined, is slimmer than ever.

That is not just a consequence of the greater complexity of today’s knowledge-demands; the system has been rigged to suppress many of the potential innovators. I wrote about this in my blog post entitled, The Larger Meaning of “Hidden Figures” https://bit.ly/2TGx172, the gist of which was expressed thus,

 As bad as slavery, Jim Crow and segregation were for the direct victims, and most of us cannot comprehend how it was to be the constant target of such practices every  day of our lives with no hope of change, the larger lesson from this movie is, I believe, the staggering cost to everyone, in the United States and everywhere, of the lost  contributions and achievements of which these practices deprived us.  And still do.

In the millions of people directly suppressed by these practices, it is a certainty that there were multitudes of people who would, in other circumstances, have become  great scientists, inventors, artists, musicians, athletes, caregivers, writers, teachers and on and on. All of us have lost forever the benefits of the achievements of those  people who never had a chance to develop into their individual potentials as human beings. The frightened people of no vision who perpetuated these practices from    America’s earliest days even to today in some places have deprived the country and the world of an immeasurable gift.

One of the most surprising aspects of that blog post, written in in early 2017, is that visitors to the blog to this day seek it out more than anything else I have written. From where I sit, there may still be some chances for so-called “self-made men” to emerge but the odds are heavily against them. And, I must say, that the term “self-made,” in my opinion, grossly understates the contribution that others made to all such people, including Abraham Lincoln properly understood.

In conclusion, having staked that position, I now declare that I agree strongly with you regarding the need for reform in our education system. Those reforms should certainly include opportunities for future “tradesmen” to learn and proceed with an honorable path through life. They should, I think, also provide for a viable economic path to and through higher education so that everyone who wants to study anything serious should be able to do so without assuming overwhelming debt that take decades to repay and have all manner of deleterious impacts on individuals, families and society at large. I readily confess I don’t know how to get to that idyllic state, but the price we pay as a society of failing at this may well be our undoing, not just as a nation-state but as a civilization.

COVID-19 & New American Mantra: I Only Care About Me

It was Memorial Day. What is that, exactly? It’s a day to remember and honor Americans who died while serving in the U.S. military, especially those who died in combat. Whether or not you approve or disapprove of a particular war, or indeed all wars, it is, in concept and intention, a somber occasion. It’s a time for reflection and showing respect.

The United States has adopted some strange ways of recognizing this occasion, although the phenomenon is not unique to Memorial Day. Most people get the day off from work. Some watch the televised memorials over the weekend; some watch the president and other dignitaries pay their respects officially by, for example, placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

Many others see the day only as a holiday occasion and this year, in particular, there was greater emphasis on the “re-opening” of the country following the various lockdowns driven by the coronavirus epidemic. I have no idea what the ratio was of celebrants to serious observers, but if the scene on Alabama’s beaches is any guide, a very large number of Americans saw this day as simply an excuse to abandon caution and head out for a good time. Multiple videos showed massive crowding at swimming pools in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri and the Ace Speedway in North Carolina, among others. Masks and social distancing were largely absent. St. Louis County officials called the scenes an “international example of bad judgment.” https://wapo.st/3gqBjcD

To be clear, I don’t care much what any individual chooses to do regarding protecting himself or throwing caution to the winds in pursuit of belief that he has a constitutional right to do what he pleases. Freedom, American values and all of that, are what each individual decides they mean for herself.

However, the line is drawn when an individual’s choices infringe on the rights and values of others, including the right to be protected from dangerous behavior. This is why we have speed limits, stop signs, protection of minors from certain types of work and many other restrictions on what we might individually be inclined to do. This is not hard to understand. True, there are violations of the speed limit, seat belt laws and the others every day by someone somewhere, often many someones. According to Rhino Lawyers, on average the police issue 112,000 driving citations a day! https://bit.ly/3gndAKd Some of these are for inadvertent mistakes and many are for deliberate decisions to, for example, disobey speed limits. And, of course, most violators of the rules of the road are not brought to justice. Sometimes, these behaviors lead to tragedies, resulting in deaths, disabilities, lawsuits and so on.

We are in the middle of a global health pandemic with similar deadly consequences, so far, in the United States for 100,000 individuals (exactly 99,498 as I write) and roughly as many families. Globally, the deaths exceed 348,000 out of more than 5.5 million cases. It is highly likely that the reported numbers understate the actual case and death toll. https://bit.ly/2ZL3soy No end is in sight. There is no “remedy” or “cure” that can be administered reliably to the stricken. All ages and demographics are affected, some more than others, but no sector is immune. There is no vaccine and none in the offing any time soon. Many more will fall ill and many more will die before this is “over,” if it ever is. Like the flu, COVID-19 may be with us forever.

Returning then to individual behavior, I repeat that if an individual wants to risk his life on the chance that he won’t be infected, so be it. Do whatever you want with your own life, provided that doing so does not place others involuntarily at risk.

Consider these statements from people interviewed at a packed Alabama beach yesterday, where there was no active enforcement of the policy that groups should consist only of same-family members:

“I’m just here to have fun and meet everybody and be cool, you know.”

Recent college graduate: “I don’t want to die but if [death] is what God has in store for my life, that’s ok.”

“If we get it, we get it…. We’re just going to handle it as a family and just get over it because that’s what a family does.”

“People die from the flu also.”

“I get it, I get it. The survival rate is so high…. we’re all going to get sick from something eventually.”

“If he’s not wearing a mask, I’m not wearing a mask; if he’s not worried, I’m not worried,” young male referencing Donald Trump.

“When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”

[https://cnn.it/3d4HG3c]

Such fatalism is fine for individuals who have no contact with other people but most of these people likely have plenty of social contacts. Their “decision” to risk sickness, permanent injury and even death at the hands of the coronavirus thus exposes many others to the same risk whether they want to take it or not.

This is a degree of selfishness, openly and proudly displayed, that should be of profound concern to everyone. These people are living by the “principle” that says, “I only care about me and no one else. My rights and privileges, my freedoms to do whatever I want are more important than the welfare of anyone else that I may come in contact with, including children, elderly people with compromised immune systems or co-morbidities. I am all that matters. Me, Me, Me.”

This comes not just from the very young or the older young restless/reckless who often think they are invulnerable and whose cerebral cortexes, science informs us, are not fully developed and often make bad decisions. People of all ages and with families were interviewed on the Alabama beach. These are our “fellow Americans,” for whose “freedoms,” many men and women gave their lives in foreign wars. I doubt that if we could ask the fallen warriors whether this is what they meant to sacrifice for, most all would say, “no, we did not act selflessly just so others could be so selfish and indifferent to the welfare of others.”

But this is the contemporary reality of life in the United States. It’s not happening in just one place and it’s not just the product of needing to re-open the economy. This is blatant selfish behavior. These people include some of the angry, usually white, people who have carried guns into some state capitols, without being challenged, to demand re-opening. Like the people at the beaches and pools this weekend, they refuse to wear masks or engage in social distancing to protect others. While shouting and waving flags and signs about their “rights,” these selfish people make clear that don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves. Other people’s rights to be free of disease and to avoid contact with high-risk people and behaviors mean nothing to them.

Having witnessed the ravages of this disease up close and personal, my patience with these people has been consumed. The tank is empty. I am fearful of my reaction if I continue to encounter unmasked people on the streets of New York when we dare to venture out. They were everywhere this Memorial Day weekend when we walked for the first time in two months. The Governor of New York has observed that wearing a mask is simply the “right thing to do.” Still, many are unmoved. They just don’t care.

As tempting as it is to wish they all get infected, that would just expose even more people, including health care workers, to the consequences of their reckless and morally bankrupt insensitivity and that would be wrong. So, I try not to be vengeful. It is hard. This kind of indifference to the fate of other people seems un-American. It seems inhuman. No one can claim valid religious conviction to justify this, though many do so. There is no true religion anywhere that says, “do for yourself and to hell with everyone else.” That, however, is where we are.

 

 

Some Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

In listening to another press briefing by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, I have noticed that he has consistently emphasized that much of what is being experienced, and governments’ responses, has never been faced in modern times. His related point is that if we want to avoid repeating the results of the past few months, we must learn from these experiences and change the way we do things going forward. We should not, he argues, just seek to restore everything from the past but build a new and better future based on the lessons learned during the pandemic. The possibilities are probably limitless but a few of them leap out at me.

Reliance on Foreign Supply

One big one is that as a society, we have come to rely on foreign sources, often but not solely from China, for many critical supplies, including medical supplies that are essential to addressing pandemic-driven illness. Cuomo correctly notes that the United States was ill-prepared to face an emergency of this nature, even though health experts have been predicting for years that a serious pandemic was virtually certain to occur.

How did we come to this situation? At the root of it, I suggest, is the “consumer mentality” of our evolved culture. Recognizing how broadly I am generalizing, it seems true that Americans generally lust for more and more “stuff” and the cheaper the price, the better. To accommodate this demand, our “free market” system of commerce turns to markets where labor and other factors permit the mass production of almost everything we lust for at prices below what they could be produced for domestically, remarkably even after the cost of transportation is accounted for. If you examine the origin labels on most of what you buy, you will see that most of it comes from China, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries in the Far East that are as far from here as you can physically get (except possibly for Australia).

Faced with these challenges from “foreign competition,” many American companies have closed their U.S. facilities and “shipped production overseas.” These decisions are supported, and sometimes even promoted, by the U.S. tax code, with the result that domestic jobs in hundreds of industries have been decimated and entire communities and even whole cities have been laid to waste. Youngstown, Ohio is one I am familiar with but there are many others all over the country.

These outcomes have not changed the demand for ever cheaper goods and have permitted companies like Amazon to dominate the supply chain for an astounding array of goods and services. If we are to believe the “reviews” on Amazon and elsewhere, much of what is produced in China and delivered in the U.S. is of low quality, but it’s “cheap” and it sells. What doesn’t sell is down-streamed through a largely invisible chain of distribution and re-distribution that sees a lot of this “stuff” for sale in so-called “dollar stores” and even second-hand shops.

If the only products we were considering were consumer electronics and such, the American lust for more and cheaper stuff would be somewhat less concerning, unless you ask someone who lives in a community devastated by the “foreign competition” that sucked local jobs dry and left the workers with nothing productive or remunerative to do.

Now comes the pandemic and we discover to our deep sorrow that we don’t have enough medical supplies to provide care of the swelling numbers of patients, many more of whom are going to die without it. Getting more supplies is now a global issue, as competition for scarce supplies erupts among countries and, we now learn, even between the states and our own federal government. The result is higher prices for everyone and still there is often a shortage requiring ordinary citizens to, for example, sew masks to try to protect healthcare workers on the front lines of patient care. If you’ve tried to buy your own masks from a foreign supplier, you may have learned, as I did, that much of the foreign supply is poorly made and often useless. And, of course, mask prices are now through the roof because government health policies are rigorously promoting/requiring mask use.

Another issue is that the federal government has allowed more than 100 coronavirus tests into the marketplace without full review. Many of these tests are sub-standard or worse. https://wapo.st/3c7V4TC

The lesson is clear, although the solutions are complicated and will, as with all major changes, take time. The United States should never again allow itself to be dependent on any foreign country for critical medical supplies. There will, of course, be a price to be paid for achieving this. Some things likely will cost more to produce here than in the “labor mills” of China. Americans will not willingly submit to the mass-production practices, and attendant low wages and poor working conditions, that dominate Chinese and other Far East manufacturing processes. So be it. Related to this is the question of foreign ownership of American companies, a readily available backdoor to foreign control of American business. We have to learn and change or face these problems all over again.

Tying Access to Health Insurance to Employment

Most Americans of working age buy health insurance provided/purchased through their employer. Putting aside ongoing issues of price/quality and coverage of options, not to mention extraordinary complexity of what is and is not covered, the real problem with this system is that when you lose your job, you lose your insurance as well. In normal circumstances, you have the option of paying for interim coverage through the COBRA program but there is no employer contribution, so the premiums are extremely high. There is also a time limit. COBRA can be a life-saver but it is economically challenging to put it mildly and highly disruptive.

The root problem is the connection between employment and insurance. There is no reason I know that this connection is immutable. Other systems exist in developed countries and seem to produce adequate or even superior protection for insureds. I am not an expert in all this, but it seems clear from the public dialogue about this that many people are invested in the current system, including the insurance companies. Many people are also opposed to greater direct government involvement on the grounds that it is “socialism.” The result is that the public discussion has partisan and irrational components that prevent a rational consideration of alternatives.

Of course, there is the issue of Obamacare that was intended to, among other things, give people the option of obtaining healthcare independent of an employer. In the gig economy that’s vital because so many people are independent contractors. When everyone’s health is tied together, as it is in a pandemic, we should be very concerned about people without health insurance and sick leave, but the Trump administration is working very hard to destroy Obamacare without proposing a replacement. Trump has, of course, denied that he is trying to end Obamacare and in particular has denied that he wants to eliminate insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions. Trump is lying about that. The Department of Justice is actively pressing litigation that would do precisely what Trump says he is not trying to do.

It is, however, clear that viable alternatives to the present system, whether it is Obamacare or something else, do exist and should be evaluated in a calmer, more rational way. I don’t know how to get there, but our society as a whole is paying a dear price for its failure to address this issue. The pandemic that has, as of this writing, led to nearly 40 million unemployed persons, has pushed evaluation of this issue to the top of the list of “must do” tasks as the United States tries to figure out what its future will be.

 

 

 

 

When Do We Take a Stand? – Injustice in Georgia

WARNING: this post contains graphic material that some people will find disturbing. Continue reading at your own risk. The text bolding throughout is mine.

NOTICE: After most of the drafting of this post was completed, I received news that two of the killers had finally been arrested and charged with murder. Rather than rewrite the entire piece, I am leaving it as it was. I hope it will illuminate important issues of “justice in Georgia.” The case has a long way to go. Here, then, is the post:

Normally, I don’t write about criminal matters other than the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Trump administration. But I now venture into those dark and troubled waters, drawn by the apparent assassination of another innocent black man by armed white men claiming they thought he was a fleeing burglar.

I do not presume to ultimately judge the guilt or innocence of the killers, although the evidence thus far made public strongly suggests a cold-blooded murder. The presumption of innocence will apply to this case and a trial will be held to determine what crimes may have occurred and what penalties should be imposed. This will take time and the killers will have their opportunity to try to justify their conduct.

But, you may say, aren’t you assuming a crime was committed? Fair question and the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Why? Here’s why.

When a killing by firearms occurs and the available evidence indicates “probable cause” to believe a crime occurred, an arrest should be made. What then is “probable cause?” Was there probable cause to arrest the killers in this case?

“Probable cause “is the legal standard, compelled by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and applied to, among other things, the power of the government to arrest for suspected criminal conduct.

As explained by the Cornell Law School website,

Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed …. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/probable_cause]

Further,

An arrest warrant is preferred but not required to make a lawful arrest under the Fourth Amendment. A warrantless arrest may be justified where probable cause and urgent need are present prior to the arrest. Probable cause is present when the police officer has a reasonable belief in the guilt of the suspect based on the facts and information prior to the arrest. For instance, a warrantless arrest may be legitimate in situations where a police officer has a probable belief that a suspect has either committed a crime or is a threat to the public security. Also, a police officer might arrest a suspect to prevent the suspect’s escape or to preserve evidence….

To obtain a search warrant or arrest warrant, the law enforcement officer must demonstrate probable cause that a search or seizure is justified. A court-authority, usually a magistrate, will consider the totality of circumstances to determine whether to issue the warrant. [https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/Fourth_Amendment]

The published video of the incident shows the victim, a 25-year old black man, running on what appears to be a wooded residential or country road. He is jogging at a reasonable pace. If you have observed joggers, as I have literally hundreds of times, his pace is well within the range of normal recreational/fitness running. There is nothing to suggest he is running particularly fast or trying to escape from something. However,

According to a police report obtained by the New York Times, Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and district attorney’s investigator, told investigators the incident began when he spotted Arbery from his front yard “hauling ass” down the street. [https://bit.ly/2SIg4Zt]

So, immediately there is powerful reason to question the killers’ version of events. The jogger was not running as if to escape the scene of a crime. If McMichael was referring to what he observed earlier than the period covered by the video, the fact that Arbery was no longer “hauling ass” should have given McMichael pause. It didn’t.

Beyond that discrepancy, the undisputed facts thus far establish that the killers tracked the victim in a vehicle (two vehicles actually; details are scant about why the third person was trailing along and filming). I have seen nothing reported to suggest they made any attempt to contact the police. If McMichael did contact the police, there is nothing reported to indicate why he could not simply have trailed Arbery in the truck until police arrived to deal with the situation, whatever the situation was.

McMichael’s status as a former police officer does not confer upon him the power to exercise police powers involving the use of deadly force in the absence of an immediate threat to his own safety, a matter to which I shall return.

There are other discrepancies:

After they chased down Arbery, McMichael told police, Arbery and McMichael’s son Travis struggled over his son’s shotgun. McMichael said two shots were fired before Arbery fell to the street, the report said.

In a letter to police, George Barnhill, one of the district attorneys who has recused himself from the case and who saw the autopsy report, wrote that Arbery sustained three wounds during the struggle for the gun.             [https://cnn.it/2ywRHXG]

I have watched the video numerous times. There were three shots.

That’s not all. According to the Washington Post report, which was derived from the New York Times reporting,

They chased Arbery in a truck, according to the report, and Gregory McMichael told police that he shouted to Arbery, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you,” before, according to their statements, they pulled up beside him in their truck. The report suggests a third person may also have been involved in the pursuit. [https://wapo.st/3dmPT2h]

The bolded portion of that quotation is flatly and uncontrovertibly inconsistent with the video. The killers are ahead of the victim, parked on the road, when the victim jogs up to the truck and passes it on the right.

According to the New York Times reporting, https://nyti.ms/3bbnfjp, the first District Attorney assigned to the case recused herself. The second DA to handle the case, George E. Barnhill, the DA in Waycross, Ga., eventually recused himself also because he was alleged by the victim’s mother to also have a conflict of interest (he disputed that).

Notwithstanding Barnhill’s decision to recuse himself, he wrote a letter to a police captain in the Brunswick Police Department Investigation Division. That letter (undated but written sometime in early April) states that,

 “since I have already given you an initial opinion the day after the shooting [on February 24!], I feel I can still comment on this limited issue. [whether an arrest should be made].

That is an astonishing move, saying in essence, “I am recusing but I am going to continue trying to influence the handling of the case by expressing a detailed opinion regarding whether an arrest is warranted.”

The letter then recites Mr. Barnhill’s extensive background in criminal law enforcement, which, I readily confess, far exceeds anything I know, or professionally knew, about criminal law. It’s also obviously true that Barnhill has seen documents, like the actual autopsy report, that I have not. But I, like Mr. Barnhill, am undeterred.

The substantive part of the letter begins with this conclusory statement:

It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and Bryan William were following, in ‘hot pursuit,’ a burglary suspect, with solid firsthand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/ telling him to stop. It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal,

citing:

OCGA 17 -4 -60 A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”

There are so many things wrong with this, it is hard to know where to begin.

First, a reasonable definition of “hot pursuit,” also known as “fresh pursuit,” is:

An exception to the general rule that police officers need an arrest warrant before they can enter a home to make an arrest. If a felony has just occurred and an officer has chased a suspect to a private house, the officer can forcefully enter the house in order to prevent the suspect from escaping or hiding or destroying evidence. [https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/hot_pursuit]

The concept also applies to pursuit across a state line, but the only Georgia statute I could find limits “fresh pursuit” to “law enforcement officers” who are persons “employed or appointed by a state or political subdivision who is granted, by state law, the authority to enforce criminal … laws….” Plainly, that definition does not include the McMichaels. Case law in Georgia makes clear that the critical element of “hot pursuit” is the “continuity and immediacy of the pursuit” following the officer’s observation of the offense. State v Hoover, 253 Ga. App. 98, 558 S.E.2d 71 (2001) and cases cited. It seems very doubtful that the doctrine of “hot pursuit” applies here.

The letter then says that Arbery was a “burglary suspect” as if this were an established fact. But the only sense in which Arbery was a suspect in a burglary was McMichael’s asserted but untested “belief” that Arbery “looked like” someone who had been seen, by someone not identified, burglarizing homes in the neighborhood.

The letter then claims that McMichaels had “solid first hand probable cause” meaning that he had “reasonable basis” for believing a crime had been committed by this specific individual. The DA thus accepted McMichael’s asserted belief about Arbery’s crimes as fact when, as far as the published reports reveal it, McMichael had not stated that he had actually witnessed Arbery in the act of burglarizing a home. If McMichael had witnessed such an event, would he not have summoned the police then and perhaps have assisted in Arbery’s apprehension?

If the McMichael’s intent was to stop and hold Arbery, why was it reasonable and necessary to stop him when he was on foot, wearing shorts and a tee shirt and they allegedly had contacted the police (no mention is made of such contact; I am giving benefit of doubt here). What facts led the McMichaels to believe it was necessary to brandish a shotgun and .357 magnum pistol?

Finally, under the statute cited by Barnhill, a citizen’s arrest is authorized only when the crime committeeis committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” Neither of these elements is established in the letter or any other reporting I have seen.

Thus, regardless of anything else, no citizen’s arrest was authorized here and the McMichael’s confronting of Arbery was unlawful and no violence against his person can be explained away in the manner attempted by the Barnhill letter.

Mr. Barnhill also argues that if Mr. Arbery attacked Travis McMichael, Mr. McMichael was “allowed to use deadly force to protect himself” under Georgia law.” [https://nyti.ms/3bbnfjp] The letter contains a detailed recitation of what Barnhill claims to see on the video that he says “clearly shows the shooting in real time.”

Here, then, is where the rubber meets the road and the gross distortion begins in earnest. Barnhill’s narrative says,

Arbery was running along the right side of the McMichael truck then abruptly turns 90 degrees to the left and attacks Travis McMichael who was standing at the front left corner of the truck.

I have reviewed the tape many times, and it is quite clear that (1) shouting is heard before Arbery turns but it is not clear what is said or by whom, (2)  McMichael was in front of the truck when he and Arbery came together but was obscured by the open door of the truck, and (3) the first shot was fired while both men were obscured behind the truck door.

It is therefore beyond astounding that a recused DA would assert on the basis of the video alone that Arbery “attacks Travis McMichael” although there is no doubt whatsoever that a struggle for control of the shotgun ensues when Arbery and McMichael are in front of the truck. But it is impossible, I suggest, to infer from the video alone that Arbery “attacked” McMichael. Of course, Mr. Barnhill no doubt also heard from Mr. McMichael who no doubt made an impassioned case that he was “attacked” and was simply defending himself.

As you think about this, bear in mind that McMichael was wielding a shotgun. Shotguns use a variety of ammunition from very small “birdshot” to slugs (.33” diameter) capable of bringing down a deer or elk. We don’t know what “load” McMichael’s shotgun had, but at point-blank range even birdshot will make a terrible mess of human target. Barnhill’s “analysis” of the video continues,

The 1st shot is through Arbery’s right hand palm which is consistent with him grabbing and pulling the shotgun at the barrel tip.

That is an interesting detail because (1) after disappearing from camera view and re-entering the frame, with two shots now having been fired, Arbery strikes at McMichael with his right hand. A shotgun blast at point-blank range through Arbery’s right palm would almost certainly have disabled if not completely shredded Arbery’s right hand, and (2) a wound to the right palm might just as well have occurred by Arbery instinctively raising his right hand in defense when McMichael pointed the shotgun at him – the video cannot exclude this possibility, yet Barnhill is completely clear in his description that Arbery was “pulling the shotgun at the barrel tip.” Alternatively, in his surprise that Arbery was confronting him and not running away, McMichael could have fired the shotgun and only some of the shot hit Arbery’s hand. Either outcome is just as plausible as Barnhill’s.

Next, Barnhill asserts it is a fact that Arbery initiated the fight, so that

at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.

Here, it seems to me, that Barnhill has it backwards. Wasn’t Arbery equally entitled to defend himself against a shotgun-wielding stranger who, from all Arbery could tell, had been lying in wait for him, had shouted something at him and was reasonably perceived to be a threat to Arbery’s life? And, if Arbery were merely trying to redirect the gun away from his body?

Mr. Barnhill seems all too ready to resolve all the doubts here in favor of the aggressors who initiated the confrontation when other interpretations of the evidence are at least equally plausible.

But there is more. Much more. Here is the next part of Barnhill’s exegesis as to why the killers were innocent of wrongdoing:

Just as importantly, while we know McMichael had his finger on the trigger, we do not know who caused the firings. Arbery would only had to pull the shotgun approximately 1/ 16th to 1/ 8th of one inch to fire weapon himself and in the height of an altercation this is entirely possible. Arbery’s mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.

Wow. We don’t know what those alleged “mental health” issues were (I can find no explanation in any reporting), but the New York Times did determine from court records that “Mr. Arbery was convicted of shoplifting and of violating probation in 2018. Five years earlier, according to The Brunswick News, he was indicted on charges that he took a handgun to a high school basketball game.” Neither of those factors could rationally lead to the conclusion that Arbery had an “aggressive nature” such that he would attack a man armed with a shotgun.

That leads to Barnhill’s ultimate conclusion – McMichael was being attacked without justification and was entitled under Georgia law to use deadly force to defend himself, citing these statutes:

OCGA 16-3-21 Use of Force in Defense, once confronted with a deadly force situation an individual is allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves or others

Mr. Barnhill apparently believes that the statute permits deadly defensive force even if the “defender” initiated the “deadly force situation.” That is an implausible interpretation of the law. It would mean that if A attacks B with what could become deadly force if the attack is successful, and B responds with what A believes is potentially deadly force, A may proceed to kill B and claim “self-defense.”

OCGA 16-3-23.1 Georgia’ s No Duty to Retreat Law, an individual is not required to back away from or submit to an attack.

Again, the statute surely does not mean that a person who initiates an attack and is met with a forceful response in defense is then free to stand his ground and kill the person defending the initial attack. That is not the situation the “stand your ground law” was intended to permit but it exactly what appears to have happened in the Arbery case.

OCGA 16-3-24[b ] The use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to prevent trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with real property other than a habitation or personal property is not justified unless the person using such force reasonably believes that it is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Same response. The “forcible felony” here would have to be Arbery’s defense against the shotgun that McMichael was wielding. Arbery had nothing but his hands. McMichael may indeed have feared that once Arbery gained control of the shotgun, he might use it to kill McMichael, but McMichael was the initiator of the confrontation and cannot use this statute to justify killing another person in such circumstances.

___________________________

The issue right now is not whether a “self-defense” claim can be sustained. That will be for a jury to decide if there is a trial.

The question is this: why are these killers still at large? Why have they not been arrested and charged? The killing occurred on February 23! Their statements about what happened are inconsistent with the video evidence. It is hard to imagine a clearer case of “probable cause” than this one. Can the police in this case state they have no “reasonable basis” for believing a crime was committed here?

Even if it were true that McMichaels genuinely believed the victim had committed burglaries, the use of deadly force could not be justified as the victim was not threatening anyone at the time of the encounter. The McMichaels were not pursuing someone he had just seen committing a serious crime. They were after someone who was jogging.  It is extremely unlikely that the law of Georgia confers on private citizens police powers that even the police do not possess.

Again, none of us can know with certainty at this point all that the evidence in a trial will establish, but when deadly force is used against an unarmed person not directly observed in the act of violating the law and not also endangering another person, the law should favor securing the perpetrator to prevent him from fleeing, destroying evidence, manufacturing evidence, conspiring with witnesses and many other things that might occur.

I am not accusing the McMichaels of these things, but their future conduct is not the question. There is no way to predict that. There are good reasons for making arrests when probable cause exists and there is no apparent reason they would not apply here. This is how law enforcement is supposed to work. Apparently not in Georgia. More than two months have passed since the killing and the killers are still at large in the community.

Meanwhile, we have the usual platitudes. The Governor tweeted, “Georgians deserve answers.” The Georgia Attorney General was “deeply concerned.”

Closing Note: As mentioned at the outset, arrests of at least two of the killers have now been made. This is a welcome development in a most troubling case, another situation in which white men killed an unarmed black man, were given the benefit of every doubt and more and were only arrested when public outcry finally overcame the institutional and racial factors that initially led the involved governments to look the other way. This is just one of a long line of situations in which strong visual evidence conflicts with the official police narrative exonerating white killers of unarmed black people.

I don’t know all the facts, of course, but, yet again, all the hallmarks of racial injustice are present. It is time society, all of society, took a firm stand against this behavior. Nor should we overlook the role of access to guns plays in situations like this where the passions of the moment may lead someone to grab a gun and initiate a process that, even if not “intended” to, spins out of control and leads to an unnecessary and unwarranted death. We must do better.

Donald Trump – American Terrorist, The Enemy Within – Part 1 of Many

By now we are well accustomed to learning about a mass shooting somewhere in the U.S. and seeing the statement that authorities are determining whether the killing represents an act of terrorism or “merely” something else. The “else” is, presumably, less serious, less grievous, less disturbing, at least if you’re not among the victims or their families.

But there is another kind of terrorism that that may not directly lead to deaths but that has broad impact on many more people and leads to, among other things, loss of freedom. I refer to political terrorism. We know about it from observing other countries with “less democratic” and “less free” societies. In those countries, you step out of line, and you get imprisoned, disappeared, shot, poisoned and so on. If you’re “lucky,” you just lose your job, maybe your home and possessions and possibly your reputation. Political terrorism can take other forms as well. Among them are public humiliation, shunning and so on.

In one way or another, all of these non-violent (so far) forms of political terrorism have arrived on our shores and are embodied in the practices of the Trump administration. They didn’t come from overseas, however, and can’t be blamed on “foreigners” or “immigrants.” These are all home-grown right here in the US of A. USA! USA! USA! All part of “Make America Great Again.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines “domestic terrorism” as “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/terrorism  The FBI’s definition of “international terrorism” also includes a violence component.

The common elements are “violent crimes” and bitideological goals” that in the domestic case arise from domestic “political, religious, social, racial, or environmental” beliefs.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “terrorism” is broader: “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”  bit.ly/2zbV86n The root “terror” means “a state of intense or overwhelming fear.” No physical violence is required.

When I started this post, Donald Trump had already become the quintessential American-bred political terrorist. Here is some, a tiny fraction, of the overwhelming, incontrovertible proof. The only potentially missing element is violence but in the United States, at least for now, fear serves almost as well as violence to fulfill the monarchical aspirations of the putative dictator that sits in the people’s house.

It was fear, for example, that motivated Trump’s henchmen in the United States Senate, who, refusing to look at the evidence, but with plenty of proof before them even without additional witnesses, decided to ignore their oaths of office and constitutional obligations by voting against the Articles of Impeachment. It is reliably reported by a U.S. Senator present on the scene that “In Private, Republicans Admit They Acquitted Trump Out of Fear,” https://nyti.ms/395DTAs

In the United States Senate, like in many spheres of life, fear does the business…. History has indeed taught us that when it comes to the instincts that drive us, fear has no rival…. Playing on that fear, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, sought a quick impeachment trial for President Trump with as little attention to it as possible. Reporters, who usually roam the Capitol freely, have been cordoned off like cattle in select areas. Mr. McConnell ordered limited camera views in the Senate chamber so only presenters — not absent senators — could be seen.

And barely a peep from Republican lawmakers.

One journalist remarked to me, “How in the world can these senators walk around here upright when they have no backbone?”

Fear has a way of bending us….

For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:

“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”

“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”

“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”

My colleagues know they all just might. There’s an old Russian proverb: The tallest blade of grass is the first cut by the scythe. In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out….

I have asked some of them, “If the Senate votes to acquit, what will you do to keep this president from getting worse?” Their responses have been shrugs and sheepish looks.

They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.

As Senator Murray said on the Senate floor in 2002, “We can act out of fear” or “we can stick to our principles.” Unfortunately, in this Senate, fear has had its way. In November, the American people will have theirs.

When I started drafting this post, Trump was operating through non-violent fear, but that has changed. Trump wants the country to “reopen” and doesn’t much care how many people are exposed to the death-dealing coronavirus in the process. He was tweeted to his followers that they should LIBERATE Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota, leading to swarms of his lunatic followers blocking entrances to hospitals, calling for the firing of one of the few experts who seem to know what’s going on and intimidating a few governors into prematurely reopening beaches and other public places. Groups of angry people, almost all white men, many carrying guns, bearing Confederate flags and emblazoned with swastikas have descended on some state capitols to “demand” that the governor re-open immediately. In some cases, they have physically challenged police assigned to protect state property and personnel from violence and interference with government processes. Wearing no masks, they have screamed directly in the faces of officers who, presumably following orders, simply stood their ground and made no arrests.

These actions, at the behest of the President of the United States, are acts of terrorism by any reasonable definition. Trump is willfully inciting violence against state authorities who will not bend to his insane will by reopening their states to dangerous behaviors that will kill people as certainly as a Trump-adoring neo-Nazi with an AR-15. The appearance of Confederate battle flags and swastikas at these gatherings of Trump supporters are clear evidence of their beliefs.

To be clear, I am in complete agreement that the First Amendment allows people to peacefully protest government policy, no matter how misguided that protest may be. But, as I had to tell a (now former) Facebook friend the other day, the right to protest does not confer the right to endanger others. Society has adopted rules and processes, some of which are slower to move than we would like, to protect everyone’s “rights.” So, to use a well-worn example, you cannot shout fire in a darkened theater, and you can’t drive 50 in a 25 mph school zone. Those “freedoms” are limited to protect others freedom.

The “reopen immediately” crowd seem to think they are the only ones with “rights” that matter. Trump has openly encouraged them, calling them “good people.” He said the same thing about the neo-Nazi crowd that marched in Charlottesville, leading to the death of a counter-protester.

Further evidence of Trump’s fondness for Nazis and what they stand for lies in his decision to dishonor the Presidential Medal of Freedom by awarding it to Rush Limbaugh, whose career, as described by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2020, has been marked by “hate-filled racism, homophobia and misogyny, all characteristics favored by Donald Trump throughout his own career. https://wapo.st/35y1UiK This is the same medal previously given to the likes of Rosa Parks, Elie Wiesel and George Balanchine.

Citing multiple examples, Rubin noted that Limbaugh is the “embodiment of divisive, hateful right-wing media rhetoric, which, just like Trump, casts Democrats as evil and the media as enemies of the people.” Further, “a president who considers himself as president of only his supporters and who has debased and cheapened our language and our politics, making the reprehensible perfectly acceptable, would of course want to honor someone of Limbaugh’s ilk.”

Republicans, who claim to be offended by the accusation they were knuckling under to Trump on impeachment (before they knuckled under on impeachment) and collapse on the fainting couch when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rips up her copy of Trump’s historically divisive and dishonest address, cheer Trump’s selection….

Trump’s great lie is convincing Americans that white males no matter what their conduct — Brett Kavanaugh, convicted war criminals and, most of all, himself — are victims of elites. That, in turn, gives them license to unleash bigotry and engage in intolerable, unhinged conduct, all in the name of vindicating themselves from oppression. That mentality of grievance, propagated effectively by Limbaugh, is nothing more than cover for white nationalism. The country should denounce, not honor, its practitioners.

Here are a few of Limbaugh’s other statements that Trump agrees with; apologies to those who find these deeply offensive. It is important that they not be lost to history. Limbaugh speaks:

“Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”.

[To an African American female caller] “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”

“I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”

“You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [the confessed assassin of Martin Luther King]. We miss you, James. Godspeed.”

“Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud.”

“Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” while holding up a photo of 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton on his 1993 TV show.

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?”

Discussing the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison: “It’s sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank. Sort of like that kind of fun.”

Those are the principles that appeal to Donald Trump and apparently to roughly a third of the American voting population.  Terrorism by any other name is still terrorism. November is coming. Prepare.

Governor Andrew Cuomo Presents

I am deferring the next planned post of my thoughts about the Trump presidency in favor of sharing something that many readers of this blog likely do not hear every day, as I do: the daily press conferences held by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Rather than provide my words about his words, I am setting out the transcript that is published daily on the Governor’s website. I have edited it for length/flow and to fix minor errors (it is a “rush” version, not a finished clean copy of what transpired). I have also bolded some passages to reflect the Governor’s emphasis. This particular one can be seen at https://on.ny.gov/3bV46n0

A few observations before you begin. Note how this compares with the daily press “briefings” that Donald Trump has been conducting with the Coronavirus Task Force members as supporting characters in what has become a media circus and substitute campaign rally platform to promote Trump’s ego and re-election. [Incidentally, in this morning’s press conference a reporter asked Gov. Cuomo how he assessed his performance in light of the huge number of sick and dead in New York. Cuomo’s response: “I have tried to do my best. Next question.” No word salad of self-praise or self-promotion. Just: I’ve done my best.] Also observe the coherent sentences, the phrases that make sense, the structure of the presentation. No garbling of facts and fiction. You will also recognize the honesty and candor, the passion.

Finally, implicit in his approach is a welcoming attitude toward the press. The Governor is there to present information and answer questions, not to do battle with the reporters. He can be cryptic & sometimes sarcastic (New Yorker to the bone), but he is never, in my observation, hostile. The presentations are routinely followed by media questions but, unfortunately, the transcript does not include that material.

If you are inclined to watch a master at work, watch one of the live briefings. They typically begin at 11:30 a.m. but that start time can vary from day to day. The briefings are carried live in a number of media, but the most reliable way to watch is to go to Twitter shortly before 11:30 and search for @NyGovCuomo or just Andrew Cuomo. Scroll down 3 to 5 tweets until you find this image:

Click on the image and follow the prompts.

Here, then, is the Transcript of the April 29, 2020 Press Conference:

“Good morning. Members of the esteemed Legislative Correspondents Association, thank you very much for being here….

Hospitalization rate ticks down, good news. [charts displaying daily & 3-day average data on screen] Intubations down, that’s good news. COVID hospitalizations, new ones per day, just about flat, that’s not great news. Actually, up a tick. So, that is not good news. What we’re watching now is how fast the decline; how low does it go? We don’t want to see 1,000 new cases every day. We’d like to see that in the low hundreds, ideally, of new cases every day. Death rate, terrible news. 330. You see the decline has been slow at best and still disgustingly high. So, we’re making progress, that’s for sure, but we’re not out of the woods yet. And we’re proceeding with caution.

And there are caution signs out there that we should pay attention to. Singapore is talking about a second wave with 900 new cases …. Germany is a situation that we should also watch and learn from. They relaxed and started to reopen. they’re now seeing an increase. These are interesting, the rate of infection, which is what we watch, was at .7. One person infecting .7, obviously less than one person. 1.0 infection rate is one person infecting one person. They were at .7. They started to reopen. In 10 days, they went up to a one on the infection rate. That’s troubling. Shows you how fast the infection rate can increase if you don’t do it right on the reopening. So, proceed with caution.

Our reopening is different. We don’t have a conceptual plan. We don’t have an abstract plan because there is no conceptual plan; there is no abstract plan. You have to have a plan that is based on facts, based on specifics. This is not about politics, this is not about spin, this is not about emotion. There are no conspiracy theories at work here. We outlined a 12-step plan that is factual, that is based on numbers, based on data, and then it has a numerical circuit breaker that is not subject to personal emotion or desire, but just checks and monitors that infection rate that we just saw in Germany and is watching for those increases. And if there’s an increase, the circuit breaker stops the reopening at that point.

Some of the specifics we’re looking at, you must have 30 percent of your hospital beds available. We can’t go back to where we were where. We overwhelmed the hospital system. We have to have a 30 percent buffer. We have to have 30 percent of ICU beds. We have to have that buffer before we start bumping up against total capacity, and we have to watch the hospitalization rate and the diagnostic testing rate, how many are positive, how many are negative, which we’ll take on a continuous basis. You see that number start going up, worry. But it’s all based on the data and the numbers and the rate of transmission, RT, rate of transmission, our … rate of transmission has to be 1.1 or less. We just said Germany is at 1. The 1.1, that is textbook outbreak. So, watch the numbers and watch the transmission rate.

How do you do that? You do that with testing and that’s why everybody is talking about testing. The testing allows you to continually sample how many people are positive, how many people are negative. You see the positive start to increase through your day-to-day testing. That is a pause sign. We’re doing about 20,000 tests. We said we wanted to double that. We’re now on average about 30,000 tests per day which is a dramatic increase, not where we need to be, but a dramatic increase.

Where we are now, you should know, is New York State is doing more than most countries are doing so we have been very aggressive in testing and we have made great progress. New Yorkers should feel good about that, but we have more to do.

On elective surgeries, we had canceled all elective surgeries so we could have increased capacity in the hospitals. When you cancel elective surgeries, hospitals feel a financial pinch because that’s where they make their money is on elective surgeries. So, for areas that don’t have a fear of a COVID surge, we’re going to allow elective surgeries to begin. That’s primarily in counties upstate. Again, counties where we’re still worried about a surge in the COVID beds, we’re not going to open it up to elective surgery until we know we’re out of the woods on the COVID virus. This is a list of counties that are eligible now for elective surgeries. I’ll do an Executive Order on that today.

We’ve been worried about front line workers because they are the heroes who are out there every day so everybody else can stay home. Somebody asked me yesterday on a radio interview, well, you’re out there every day. Are you taking care of yourself? I’m out there every day.

Forget me. I’ll tell you who is out there every day. The nurses who are in the emergency room, the doctors in the emergency room, the police officer who is going into homes and apartments because there’s a domestic disturbance, the EMTs, the Fire Department, the delivery worker who goes to 50 doors a day and gets paid. Those people are out there every day. They’re the ones who are really doing the work. Compared to them, what I do is de minimis. They’re doing it not because they get paid a lot of money, not because people say thank you, God bless you. They’re doing it because it’s their value, their honor, their pride, their dignity, and they show up. Even when it’s hard, they show up. My hat is off to them.

I want to make sure we do what we need to do to protect them, that they have the equipment, they have the PPE, they have our respect, they have our gratitude. I also want to make sure we’re testing so we get them the results of tests so they can be taking care of themselves.

I also want to see if we have a significant problem in any of those front-line workforces. So, we’re doing testing. We started with the New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department. What we found so far, the Fire Department, which also has the EMTs, tested 17% positive, NYPD 10% positive. Number much higher in the FDNY, EMTs. We believe that’s because the EMT number is driving it up, but we have to do more numbers and more research to determine that. Remember, the EMTSs, they are the front line. They’re the ones who are there assisting the person in the closest contact in many ways. FDNY, also. But we want to find out exactly what’s going on. They compare to a downstate average of the general population of about 18%. Again, we’ll do further research, further surveys to look at it by race and gender, also.

We’re also going to do the same thing with the transit workers, the people who drive the buses, the subways, who clean the buses and the subways. Without those buses and subways, the essential workers couldn’t get to work. Why didn’t we just close down subways and buses? Because you close down the subways and the buses in New York City, don’t expect the nurses and the doctors to be able to get to the hospital. Don’t expect the delivery worker to be able to deliver food when you ring on your telephone. We need that public transportation to transport the essential workers. Those front-line workers are at risk, so we’re going to do additional testing for the transport workers.

I also commented yesterday, the Daily News had pictures of things that are going on in the New York City subway system, where the cars were filthy, they were disgusting. Homeless people were there with all their belongings, and it was not just a Daily News picture. It reflected what has been in the press and what people have been saying, which is the deterioration of the conditions in the subways. Some crimes are up in the subways, even though ridership is down 90 percent. I don’t even know how mathematically that is possible. The trains are filled with homeless people. You’re not doing the homeless any favor. I’ve worked with the homeless all my life. To let homeless people stay on the trains in the middle of a global health pandemic with no masks, no protective equipment, you’re not helping the homeless.

Letting them endanger their own life and endanger the lives of others is not helping anyone. I told the MTA yesterday, in two days, which means tomorrow, I want a full plan. How do we disinfect every train every night, period. Any essential worker who shows up and gets on a train should know that that train was disinfected the night before. We want them to show up. We don’t want them to stay home. We owe it to them to be able to say, the train you ride, the bus you ride has been disinfected and is clean.

Also, state and local funding from Washington is essential. This is now turning into a political brawl on state and local funding. More and more, some of the elected officials in Washington are saying they’re against it. They’re led by Senator Mitch McConnell, who leads the Senate, who makes it blatantly political. No blue state bailout.

No blue state bailout. What is he trying to say? The states that have coronavirus are Democratic states and he’s a Republican, so he doesn’t want to help the Democratic states.

He went so far as to say, well he’d be in favor of the states going bankrupt. First, states have never gone bankrupt. States can’t go bankrupt. There are serious Constitutional questions about whether or not a state can declare bankruptcy and you need a federal law that would allow the states to declare bankruptcy even if you got around the Constitutional question on bankruptcy. If he believes that, if it wasn’t just political rhetoric and personal vitriol, then pass a law that allows states to declare bankruptcy. He would have to do that. I dare him to do that and get that bill signed by the President.

To make it partisan is what is most disturbing, and you can see they’re now rallying the partisan troops. Senator Scott from Florida says we’re supposed to bail them out. We versus them. We’re supposed to bail them out. It’s we and it’s them. That’s not right. Who is we and who is them? Who is we? And who is them? Them, the people who had coronavirus. They are the ones who had the coronavirus. We, without the virus, are supposed to bail out those people who have the virus. what an ugly sentiment.

First of all, on the facts, it’s not even close to right and why would they even want to go down this road when the facts damn everything they’re saying. And there are still facts. I know it’s hard to communicate facts in this environment. I know a lot of the filters don’t communicate facts. They all communicate spin now. Everybody has their own spin. But there are still facts that are not political theater, right?

New York State bails them out every year. They’re not bailing us out. We bail them out every year. New York State pays $29 billion into that federal pot, $29 billion more every year that we never get back. Our state contribution into the federal pot, the United States of America pot, every year we put in $29 billion more than we take out. On the other hand, they take out every year $37 billion more than they pay to the federal government. Senator Mitch McConnell, you are bailing out New York, when every year you take out more from the kitty, the federal pot, $37 billion more than you put in? Who is bailing out whom?

Senator Scott, Florida, you’re going to bail us out? You take out $30 billion more every year than you pay in. How dare they? How dare they when those are the facts? How long are you going to play the American people and assume they’re stupid? They are not; they can add and they know facts. And I don’t care what the news media tries to do to distort these facts. They are numbers, and they are facts, and they can’t be distorted, and this is every year.

Look, what this is really about, it’s Washington double speak. You look at the bills that they want to pass and who they want to help. They want to fund the hotels, the restaurants, the airlines, the big corporations. That’s who they want to fund. Who do state and local governments fund? State and local governments fund police, firefighters, nurses, school teachers, food banks. That’s who I want to fund and that’s what it means to fund a state and local government. And that’s the choice they’re making.

Everybody applauds the health care workers. Jets fly over in tribute to the health care workers. That’s all nice. Saying thank you is nice. How about actually rewarding them and making their life easier? How about giving them hazard pay? How about helping with their childcare? How about helping families who can’t feed their kids right now? How about helping the police, and helping the firefighters, and all the people who are out there right now killing themselves to make life easier for us?

That’s what this is really about. They want to fund corporate America. That’s who puts money in their pockets. And I say let’s fund working Americans. That’s the choice. Bail out us, them. No, it’s just theater. It’s just smoke and mirrors to avoid the American people seeing the reality, which is whose pocket they want to put money in, versus whose pocket state and local governments want to fund. The reason that it’s so disturbing to me, I’m not surprised by anything in politics. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly for many, many years. I was in Washington for eight years. I know what it’s like.

But if there was ever a time that one could reasonably believe you could put aside partisan politics. If there was ever going to be a moment where we could say, you know what, let’s stop just for one moment the partisanship, the ugliness, the anger, the deception. Let’s just stop for one moment. If there was going to be one moment to hit the pause button, the moment would be now. You have human suffering. You have people dying. You can’t stop the politics even in this moment? Even in this moment when people are dying all across the country, you still want to play your politics? That’s what this is about, and that’s why it is so disturbing on a fundamental level. Politics, I’m getting up and I’m reading that death toll number. I’m speaking to the widows and the brothers and the sisters and the children of people who died, and then we’re going to play politics with funding that’s necessary to save people’s lives? When does it stop?

And the disconnect is between the political leadership and the people, because the American people, it’s not them. They are principled, they are kind, they are better than what they are getting. The American instinct is to help each other in crisis. The American instinct is to be good neighbors. The American instinct is the farmer who sent me the one mask to help a New Yorker when he only had five masks and a wife with one lung and underlying illness. And he sends one of his five masks to New York. Think about that generosity, that charity, that spirit. That’s America. Why? Because we’re good neighbors, because we care about one another.

America was [caring] when I said we need help in our emergency rooms and hospitals and 95,000 nurses and doctors from across the nation said we will come to New York to help. We’ll come into the emergency room. We’ll come into the hospital. I understand it’s COVID. I will leave my family, and I will come to help yours. That’s America. That’s who we are and that’s who we have shown ourselves to be in the middle of this crisis. The crisis brings out the best and the worst, yes. And the best of America is beautiful and that’s what we’ve seen. Because, yes, we are tough. Yes, we are smart. Yes, we are disciplined. Yes, we are united. Yes, we’re loving. Loving, because we are Americans. And that’s who we are and how we are as Americans. And I just hope the political leadership of this nation understands how good we are as a people.

And the textbook says politicians lead, elected officials lead. No, sometimes the people lead and the politicians follow, and that’s where we are today. Follow the American people. Look at what they’re doing. Look at how they’re reacting. And politicians, try to be half as good as the American people.

I want to show you a self-portrait that was done by American people. This is a self-portrait of America, okay? [Unveiling a large collage of COVD-19 masks] That’s a self-portrait of America. You know what it spells? It spells love. That’s what it spells. You have to look carefully, but that’s what the American people are saying. We received thousands of masks from all across America, unsolicited, in the mail, homemade, creative, personal, with beautiful notes from all across the country, literally. Just saying, thinking about you, “We care, we love you, we want to help.” And this is just people’s way of saying we care. And we want to help. This is what this country is about. And this is what Americans are about. A little bit more of this and a little bit less of the partisanship and the ugliness, and this country will be a better place. Thank you.”