Category Archives: Health

Vaccinate or Else!

Somewhat, and only somewhat, like the Most Interesting Man in the World from the beer ads, I don’t usually curse but when I do, well …. run.

As the world crumbles around us, I am sick to f*cking death of the whining, immoral, selfish, ignorant, indifferent fools who refuse to get vaccinated because of … what? Their “rights?” Their “freedom to choose?” I am not interested. I don’t want to hear it anymore. We now have people seriously saying we should pay these people to vaccinate. Or just be nice and understanding of their concerns. Or just leave them alone because they’re Americans and have the right to decide how to protect themselves and their families, never mind the impact their intransigence and ignorance may have on others, including children who are, for all practical purposes, entirely at the mercy of decisions made by adults.

No, no and more no. I lost a relative to COVID. I lay her death at the feet of Donald Trump and the mob of lying, sniveling cowards who supported him while he knowingly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, promoted the use of medically unsound remedies, and generally allowed the country to sink into near oblivion. More than 600,000 dead in the United States alone. Most of them On Trump’s watch.

In early 2020 we lived in New York City, the epicenter of the initial coronavirus explosion in the United States. Within days of my wife’s office in midtown Manhattan closing (in mid-March,) I experienced what turned out to be mild symptoms of COVID as then understood. A local clinic doctor, dressed like a spaceman, said, “You almost certainly have COVID, but we have no tests for people like you who are still standing. Even if we confirmed it, we would just send you home. So, go home, stay there and good luck.” Given my health history, this was a terrifying direction that felt like a potential death sentence.

My wife was not as lucky as I was. She had been incredibly healthy, worked out all the time, ate right and all the rest but within days was in extremis with every known COVID symptom except the very worst ones – she had no lung or brain involvement. Some days you just get lucky. It was terrible. No other words for it.

I did what I could to help her through long nights when she was unable even to walk unaided, fevered, with severe body aches and all the other horrors you have likely read about by now. We lived about 50 yards from the Emergency Room entrance to Mount Sinai West hospital and, on many nights, I thought we were on the verge of having to take her in, knowing that she would be alone under the “no visitors” policies. The horror went on for over two weeks around the clock. People were dying left and right. Many of those who survived had permanent heart, lung and brain damage. The sirens bringing victims to the hospital blared throughout the day and night, day after day. It felt like the end of the world.

We were among the most fortunate in that we both recovered, long before much was even known about the virus, long before there was any realistic suggestion that a vaccine might be developed in less than a year. We were, of course, in lockdown. Our essential needs, and a few luxuries, were met by a stranger in our building, with a big heart and a lot of courage. [See the text of Angels In New York reposted below, originally in my discontinued blog AutumnInNewYork.net]

COVID is thus not an abstraction for us. It has taken the life of someone we knew and loved. It destroyed our sense of security in life – that if we worked hard and subject to the usual ups and downs, all would somehow be well. The pandemic stole more than a year of my waning lifetime. We burrowed in like animals, waiting for an invisible monster to slide silently into our lives again and possibly destroy us. We were afraid of everything: the mail, the Amazon boxes, the concierge at the front desk, the neighbors.

But, as I said, we were among the very fortunate who survived, almost entirely intact. When we moved to Washington in late 2020, a flukish circumstance enabled us to be vaccinated in January-February of 2021. We joined the growing legion of the saved, eventually able to walk outside without masks, to eat outdoors in restaurants without feeling we were placing our lives on the line and generally to resume a semblance of normal life. This was true freedom.

Now, inevitably it seems, the Delta Variant of COVID has arrived, reaching the United States virtually overnight, and is rampaging through the country. And what happens? The former president, who downplayed the virus at the outset, called the virus a “Democrat hoax,” secretly had himself vaccinated and is focused entirely on promoting the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. His voice could have been influential in altering the course of the Delta Variant infection but, no, he only cares about himself. One of his chief sycophants, Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, has taken up the mantle of COVID-denier-in-chief, while the Delta Variant ravages his state. His continuous mixed messages just end up reinforcing the resistance.

And on and on it goes. If this keeps up, we are facing another wave of avoidable deaths (almost all current COVID deaths are from unvaccinated people) and possibly nationwide lockdowns that would deal a death blow to the economy and to hope itself.

I am in no f*cking mood for more of this ignorant nonsense. This is like sitting in theater watching a group of fools enter the haunted house, knowing they are headed into dangers they don’t see even though the evidence is everywhere. The feeling of impending doom can be a high for fans of horror movies, but I always hated them. My new sense of impending doom is far more profound and realistic now.

And, so, what is happening? CHAOS. The Republican Governor of Alabama has awakened from her self-induced political coma to say “it’s “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.” https://wapo.st/3x2eOSo Why now? Here’s why: her state has had a “92 percent increase in coronavirus infections and a 72 percent rise in hospitalizations over the past week.” But just one-third of Alabamians are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest levels in the nation. Meanwhile, “exhausted health providers say they are bracing for case spikes that are largely preventable, driven by the hyper-transmissible delta variant.” And, once again, and totally predictably, “hospitals are becoming overwhelmed in states with low vaccination rates.” And, also predictably, “a number of prominent Republicans and conservative media voices continue to shower vaccines with skepticism, and social media disinformation continues largely unabated.”

Examples of failed strategies abound. The National Football League adopted new rules that a team

“could be forced to forfeit a game if there is a coronavirus outbreak linked to unvaccinated players. The move has both competitive and financial implications: Players won’t get paychecks for forfeited games, the NFL said. About 80 percent of all NFL players had at least one shot before the rules took effect, said league spokesperson Brian McCarthy, who credited seminars about the vaccines’ benefits, on-site vaccinations and other tactics.”

The operative word is “could,” because the policy has two conditions: a game must be canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak among unvaccinated players or staff members and cannot be rescheduled. In any case, many players among the college-educated vaccination holdouts may well be prepared to take the chance. The policy applies to mostly very well-off athletes and staff for whom the risk of financial sacrifice may be a small price they can easily afford to pay. If the NFL wants to stop the virus, it needs to tell the players: “vaccinate or you’re off the team.” More on that in a moment.

A well-meaning article in the New York Times, Should Vaccinated People Start Wearing Masks Again?  https://nyti.ms/3BBvaoq has a lot of nice advice and information about masking and distancing practice in the face of the Delta Variant, but the problem now is that the complexity of the situation has worsened.  People generally don’t do well with such complex decision-making. The article presupposes freedom of choice, deep understanding of risks, a multitude of factual situations and more. It’s just too much to expect.

Contrast that with the decision of more than 400 colleges and universities requiring returning students for in-person classes to be vaccinated. The schools have simplified the decision-making: vaccinate or study elsewhere. Period. Hospitals and health systems are now also lining up to mandate vaccination or strict testing regimens that could lead to being sent home without pay or termination of employment.

The federal government has stated, correctly in my view, that private companies may require vaccination to return to work in offices. Failure to return could result in loss of employment and unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, the data on the benefits of vaccination is overwhelming:

As of July 12, more than 159 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Of those, just 5,492 had breakthrough cases that resulted in serious illness, including 1,063 who died. That’s less than 0.0007 percent of the vaccinated population. Meanwhile, 99 percent of deaths from Covid-19 are among the unvaccinated.

 In this one instance, I find myself partially aligned with Dr. Leana S. Wen, a regular WAPO columnist who seems always to find grounds for disagreeing with Democratic health policies. https://wapo.st/3iK5ddB  Dr. Wen says, “the Biden administration needs to strongly urge a return of covid-19 restrictions.” She’s not referring to lockdowns, at least not yet. She notes that “the CDC’s honor system didn’t work” but that “vaccinated people are still well-protected” and thus “in settings where everyone is known to have immunity, no additional restrictions are needed.”

In all other contexts, however, where the risk of infection spread is present, “indoor mask requirements should be reinstated.”

The problem, yet again, is that urging jurisdictions to follow science is no longer a realistic option. Los Angeles County issued a new mask mandate, only to find that its sheriff declined to enforce it. At the risk of letting some reality creep in, Dr. Wen notes, correctly, that “the areas with the lowest vaccination rates are also the ones least likely to implement mask mandates.” Nevertheless, she sticks to the “Biden administration can make a difference” theme.

Then, Dr. Wen makes what I believe to be a classic mistake:

The federal government could also use this opportunity to — finally — incentivize vaccination. It could say that areas with high vaccine uptake do not need to reimplement mask mandates, and mandate vaccination on planes and trains and in federal buildings.

Incentives have been tried in various places and they don’t solve the core problem. And a random policy on travel will just confuse everyone even more and lead to further non-compliance. Wen gets its right with her next suggestion:

And [the Biden administration] can finally get behind a vaccine verification system that would allow restaurants, gyms, workplaces and universities to create safe, maskless environments where everyone is vaccinated.

But, it’s going to require more than encouragement and cheering from the sidelines to get this done. We need, must have, a nationally mandated policy on vaccination.

I’m with Max Boot on this. https://wapo.st/3i55mt4: “Stop pleading and start mandating.”

…. even as evidence grows that vaccines are safe and effective, resistance to them is also growing. A recent Post-ABC News poll found that 29 percent of Americans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated — up from 24 percent three months earlier. Only 59 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

…. the biggest obstacle to vaccination is now Republicans who are being fed a steady diet of anti-vaxxer propaganda by Fox “News” Channel, Facebook and other social media, and reckless demagogues such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

This is madness. Stop making reasonable appeals to those who will not listen to reason. (According to an Economist/YouGov poll, a majority of those who refuse to get vaccinated say vaccines are being used by the government to implant microchips.) It’s a waste of time. Start mandating that anyone who wants to travel on an airplane, train or bus, attend a concert or movie, eat at a restaurant, shop at a store, work in an office or visit any other indoor space show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

I understand the argument that Republican Governors may resist a national vaccine passport, but that’s too damn bad. The federal government has the authority under the Commerce Clause, among other powers, to compel compliance. It should act before it’s too late.

The argument that the federal government should step in with financial awards for getting vaccinated suffers from multiple problems. Principles developed in behavioral economics tell us that people are more concerned about loss than about gain. Offering some modest amount, declining over time, as recommended by Charles Lane in WAPO, https://wapo.st/3kSyfue, not only rewards the wrong behavior, it assumes that the recalcitrance of anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers can be overcome with a few pieces of silver. For some, maybe that’s true, but it seems unlikely for the vast majority, and we have little time to lose with such experiments.

Adopting a strong, mandatory federal policy that supersedes all conflicting state laws, regulations and mandates (recall the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause), with significant consequences attached to non-compliance, is now the fastest path to assuring the bulk of holdouts are vaccinated in time to prevent the worst consequences of an uncontrolled pandemic resurgence. The mandate must be accompanied by clear and specific instructions on the acceptable proof of vaccination.

Anticipating the objections, yes, of course, the plan would require some form of exception for limited religious and demonstrable medical issues involving people with relevant co-morbidities, small children and the like. Compared to the consequences of an uncontrolled and continuously morphing viral pandemic, those are small problems. Some of those affected would, however, experience limitations on their behavior until we can be satisfied that herd immunity has been achieved.

Will this approach have implementation issues? Very likely. We have fiddled around so long that a rational, well-executed plan may be nearly impossible, but that’s not cause to shy away from trying. At this stage, we are grasping at straws, but it seems apparent that nothing of a “voluntary nature” is going to overcome the suicidal tendencies of, mainly, Republican anti-vaxxers. They are unmoved by the data showing that most of the deaths and other serious consequences of COVID infection are among the unvaccinated.

We must, therefore, remove the question from consideration: you want to drive, you get a license. You want to go to restaurants, movies, bars, travel, etc., you get vaccinated. Otherwise, stay home in lockdown. Our lives depend on it. End of story. If the vaccine resisters don’t approve, well, return to the first sentence of my second paragraph ….

************

Repost of Angels in New York [from April 20, 2020]

Just when you least expect it and are sinking into the despair of self-isolation with a sick spouse and extreme personal vulnerability to the coronavirus, someone appears as if by magic to save the day. It’s not magic, of course; it’s human kindness and generosity at its best. I referred to her as an angel in an email and, with no prompting from me, my wife used the same terms. It must therefore be true.

The story is simple enough. My wife has come down with what appears to be COVID-19. We don’t know how it happened. We’ve taken all the precautions. Nonetheless, a doctor in a televisit said she thought it was COVID. It fits the symptoms list perfectly. Fortunately, so far, there are no breathing issues. But you may take my word for it – this virus is mean as a junk yard dog. Everything bad you’ve heard about it is true.

Anyway, my own vulnerability has led my wife to vehemently object to my leaving the apartment. Since she became ill six days ago, I have left only twice to pick up food deliveries and packages at the concierge desk and that was over her protest. When she started to need some things we had consumed, like ginger ale, I found that it is impossible to order online at CVS for delivery of items sold “only in store.” We then recalled that a few people in our building (700 apartments in two towers) have volunteered through the resident portal to help people like us. One of them was recent. I found her message and we began to communicate.

Skipping some of the details, she instantly agrees to trek to the CVS around the corner to buy whatever we need. Faced with imminent store closure (it’s Saturday night at 8 pm and the normal “open 24 hours” has apparently been suspended), she makes them stay open until she gets everything we asked for and delivers it to our door. She exhibits no impatience whatsoever as we text back and forth about the options/brands, etc. She wants us to have exactly what we want, not just what is convenient for her to grab and go. I am a bit overwhelmed.

This leads to a second trip the next day when we discover other needs. She texts me from the store to recommend an over-the-counter medication that may help my wife’s nausea (it did) after consulting with the pharmacist about it. She sends photos of various options so I can choose specifically what she should buy.

She patiently helps me struggle to reimburse her through her website (standby re that), but refuses to accept anything beyond the actual cost of the purchases. She says: “no way I’m taking anything other than exact amount.  Grandpa, who stormed the front in Battle of Bulge, would be horrified and embarrassed if I were to dishonor family name during time of national crisis.”

Now, I know I’ve encountered someone very special. An angel in human disguise. In New York City. We exchange a bunch more emails and texts after I check out her website where she manages, as a hobby, a meditation/mindfulness training program for working people. My wife in particular is interested in this for her post-recovery work life. It turns out this new friend-by-text and I are both alums of Yale University (me, Yale College, she the Law School) and Harvard (me the law school, she the Business School). To respect her privacy, I will not identify her by name. Her resume is intimidating. I joke that I and members of my class often observe that we probably couldn’t get into Yale now and her background shows why. She finds this amusing. She has a sense of humor and an infectious positive attitude toward life. [Is it a pun to refer to “infectious positive attitude” during a pandemic?]

I explain that since there is an immutable rule of life that no good deed goes unpunished, there will be two consequences to her work as Good Samaritan for us: one is that my wife must make dinner for her when the lockdown ends and life returns to some semblance of normality. The other is that I will write about her in this blog.

This is a story that must be told and included in my tales of life in New York City. She demurs on the blog but we agree she will bring dessert of her choice to the dinner. She sends me a remarkable photo of a multi-color dessert cake she had baked and says, “be afraid.” Date to be determined but I am optimistic we will make this happen.

And, for sure, my wife and I will be made better by having known this generous, ebullient, kind-hearted person, an unexpected benefit from the pandemic. As I conclude this post at 7 pm, I hear the New Yorkers that have balconies applauding, banging pots and cheering for that other group of angels working in the Emergency Rooms and ICUs around the city. This happens every day and apparently has started a national “movement,” as well it should. Giants and angels come in all sizes and in many disguises. If you’re lucky enough, an angel will find you too. I hope so.

AMTRAK Responds

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I took AMTRAK to task a while back for what I considered an amateurish performance in its communications about the resumption of “normal service,” wherein it had failed to mention and reinforce the federal mask mandate. https://bit.ly/3dekJwC I emailed AMTRAK to inform them of my posted statement. It took a while (pandemic, you know), but to my pleasant surprise, AMTRAK responded.

The reply contained what by now is the obligatory standard chiché for every public issue by virtually every enterprise, for-profit or otherwise:

… the safety of our passengers and employees is our number one priority.  Therefore, we have documented and forwarded your correspondence to the appropriate management for their review and appropriate action.  Please rest assured that we take matters such as these very seriously and appreciate your bringing it to our attention. [emphasis mine]

 OK, I admit to being a bit testy. The message went on to assure me that,

all passengers must complete this pre-trip COVID-19 check within 24 hours prior to departure. The pre-trip check includes acknowledgement that passengers agree to wear a mask at all times in compliance with federal laws and Amtrak policy. If they cannot acknowledge this, they will be asked [sic] reschedule.

That, of course, is good news and nice to know. The AMTRAK website does contain a clear statement of the mask rule that is still in place. I haven’t received any more promotional emails since my exchange with AMTRAK so I can’t say what, if anything, has changed in their communications. But I can say, GO AMTRAK!”

There, I feel better already.

The Kindness of Strangers

The title of this post is borrowed from the famous last line of Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, see https://bit.ly/3ge4ce1, but has no connection to it:

Blanche [DuBois] is led off to a mental hospital by a matron and a kind-hearted doctor. After a brief struggle, Blanche smilingly acquiesces as she loses all contact with reality, addressing the doctor with the most famous line in the play: “Whoever you are…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

It’s a line, though, that fits in every other way with my experience yesterday at the rally in support of S.1, the For the People Act. The site was in front of the Supreme Court, an appropriate location to address the need for protection of voting rights for all Americans. Typically for a Democratic rally, at least 18 people were scheduled to speak. It was hot, really hot, and, typically for this time of year in Washington, quite humid. Still, I’ve attended plenty of rallies and marches in all kinds of weather, so no worries. Wrong.

I arrived early and was pleased that among the early speakers were Senators Amy Klobuchar and Jeff Merkley. I secured a good spot for photos with a direct line of sight to the podium. The crowd was smaller than I expected, but vocal and passionate about the matter at hand. Some photos appear at the end of this post.

Returning to my theme, as I continued shooting, I failed to notice how “close” the atmosphere had become. As my lightheadedness become more apparent, I realized, too late, that I needed to leave. I summoned an Uber and moved toward the curb to wait, as the dizziness worsened rapidly. I bent over a few times and was thinking of sitting down on the curb when … I realized that several people had their hands on me. I had literally become unconscious for a few moments. Unknown to me, though, several people had their eyes on me, including at least one police officer and some others from the crowd.

They basically held me up, then pushed me down on the curb. The police officer told me I was not going to leave until they had a medical evaluation. I heard discussion of calling a nurse from the Supreme Court. A complete stranger handed me a bottle of water, assuring me it had been poured that morning from the faucet and was safe. Another person appeared with an even colder unopened bottle of water which I gratefully guzzled. Within what seemed like only a minute to me, Nurse Pat appeared, crushed to active two cold packs and quizzed me about my health and present state. She was really outstanding at nursing and her confidence in my well-being restored my own sense of stability: “Gatorade is your best friend now.”

The Uber car arrived, and the police officer told him what was going on. He made clear that I could not leave yet. The driver, named Michael, without hesitation, insisted on waiting for me.

After a while, when I had regained my composure and was feeling much better, the officer and nurse guided me into the Uber car and off we went. Turned out that Michael was wearing a Harley-Davidson shirt and was a traveler, so we talked motorcycles and Alaska cruises while driving. After a cool shower and some down time with more hydration, I began to feel normal again, though still a bit shaken by the unexpected take-down.

Looking back, several things about this stand out. One, I must be more careful about hydration in this Washington DC heat and humidity. Readers, take note. Two, how amazing it was that within seconds of my going wobbly, people who did not know me had rushed to grab me and prevent a nose-dive into the street. Then they gave up their water to help me recover. Nurse Pat was amazing, kind but firm and obviously very competent.  Three, and this lingers even now, I am upset not so much that this happened, but that I don’t know the names of the strangers who came to my aid. I don’t even know which police department the officers were with: DC or Capitol. I was too dazed to notice or ask. Four, the kindness of these strangers saved me from a potentially serious disaster. No one asked for anything; they just wished me well as I departed, carrying their spontaneous goodwill and generosity with  me. I am and will always be most grateful for the kindness of those strangers.

No News Is … No News – Risks Are Higher for Unvaccinated People

The Washington Post published a piece on May 21, updated May 28, entitled, The unseen covid-19 risk for unvaccinated people. https://wapo.st/3vDfAoK

The gist of the gist is that,

Unvaccinated people are getting the wrong message, experts said.

“They think it’s safe to take off the mask. It’s not,” said Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. “It looks like fewer numbers, looks like it’s getting better, but it’s not necessarily better for those who aren’t vaccinated.”

Rarely speechless, this “news” came close to making me so. I will not curse – this is a family-friendly blog – but I’m sorely tempted on this one.

It’s possible I’m misunderstanding something here, but it seems to me, very clearly, that the revelation that as more people are vaccinated against COVID, the risks of catching the virus will rise in the group of people who, for whatever reason, have not been vaccinated. Then, it also follows, as the night follows day, that when the data are evaluated only for the unvaccinated group, cases/hospitalizations/deaths will tick upward.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why this is news. Or why it is in any way surprising or anomalous. And it hasn’t got a damn thing to do with “wrong message.” Anyone who has been paying even a little attention to one of the biggest and most impactful stories of the century, and possesses a modicum of common sense, is aware that not being vaccinated against a highly contagious virus will leave you vulnerable.

Of course, I do understand that there remain people who oppose vaccination. They have a variety of “reasons,” ranging from abstract fear to belief that the vaccines contain microchips or may change one’s DNA to …. never mind. Their resistance to vaccination has at least two effects: (1) it, obviously, leave them unprotected against the COVID virus, especially if they have never been infected, and (2) reduces the chance that we can achieve herd immunity by reducing the number of potential infecteds to the point that transmission effectively ceases.

Their resistance creates these problems despite the extensive clinical trials and the huge number of vaccinations delivered so far with minimal meaningful adverse effects. As of today, 135,087,319 people in the United States have been fully vaccinated. https://bit.ly/3pg4Tq9 Also as of today, 591,265 people have died from COVID in the United States, 3,126 in the last seven days. [Reason exists to believe the number of deaths may be close to double that. See https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america]

I repeat that this is not a result of messaging. The message has been clear for a long time that the vaccines, following extensive clinical trials, are safe and effective. Anyone who refuses vaccination is therefore deliberately exposing themselves to increased risk. The COVID vaccine does not concern itself with the reasons a person is unvaccinated. It mindlessly infects any host it can find whose immune system does not kill or reject it.

Therefore, I remain unable to understand why the Washington Post published an article that expresses such obvious information as if it were Late Breaking News of a startling and unexpected nature. Presenting the vaccination situation as the Post has done provides more fodder for the deliberately ignorant or delusional people who have no medical excuse for refusing vaccination but now have “poor messaging from the government” to add to their list of excuses.

Time for Strong Action Against Unruly Air Travelers

Back in July 2020, when the pandemic was still raging around the country, the Association of Flight Attendants called on the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate masks be worn by passengers on commercial flights. https://bit.ly/3yGZqgm The AFA called the FAA’s failure to act “absurd,” and it was. One can easily imagine that the FAA was, like many other federal agencies, intimidated by Donald Trump and his overt resistance to admitting the seriousness of the pandemic which (despite his assurances it was under control and would soon disappear “like magic”) has been responsible for the deaths of what is approaching 600,000 Americans.

Frankly, madam/sir/whomever, I really don’t give a damn about your “rights” and your claim to “freedom” to put others at risk. Air travel has proved to be relatively COVID-risk- free, and the widespread implementation of vaccinations is making it more so.

Nevertheless, many remain vulnerable and while the federal mandate is now at long last in place, enforcement remains a problem. The union president noted that while airline crews were doing better in protecting themselves with masks, some customers continue to resist. Threatened bans on future travel were insufficient deterrents. Flight attendants were subjected to verbal abuse and even physical attacks, for which, apparently, the airline employees are left to their personal legal remedies.

Most recently, it was reported that a Southwest Airlines flight attendant was attacked by a passenger and lost two teeth, among other injuries. https://bit.ly/3hYwbjb  Once again the president of the local flight attendants union sent a letter to the airline’s CEO calling for more aggressive action, since this was “just one of many occurrences.” The letter said,

Today’s traveling environment requires a new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin of our aircraft as the attitudes and behaviors of the flying public have, unfortunately, declined.

Part of the issue is, as the union noted, “Oftentimes, appropriate actions to maintain a safe environment have been misconstrued as being unkind or inhospitable. As alcohol sales are added back into this already volatile environment….” Airline reluctance to engage passengers aggressively may be particularly affected now that the pandemic appears to be receding and national policy is opening the door to increase travel. Pent-up demand for travel is very strong, so a near-term major increase in both travel and incidents may be in the offing. Airlines are likely concerned about any action that will be seen as off-putting by some passengers.

If so, that’s no excuse for inaction. The union letter noted there were 477 incidents on Southwest Airlines alone in the five week period ended May 15. The total incident count nationally must therefore have been in the thousands.  This is not just a Southwest Airlines problem. According to USAToday,

The FAA has taken notice of a spike in passengers behaving badly, adopting a zero-tolerance policy in January and extending it in Marchso it’s in place throughout the pandemic.

Since Jan. 1, the agency said it had received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate.

The agency has proposed hundreds of thousands of fines, including $258,250 so far in May.

That’s all well and good, but likely more must be done to stop the escalating attacks on flight attendants working to keep everyone safe in flight.

The union letter asked for three steps:

  • Better inform passengers that misbehaving could land them on Southwest’s restricted travelers list and result in potential fines, criminal charges and possible imprisonment:  “The flying public needs to understand that egregious behavior will result in being banned from flying with Southwest Airlines.”
  • Be consistent in policies: “No passenger should be removed from one flight only to be permitted to board the very next Southwest Airlines flight after a noncompliance incident. We ask that you take a strong stance to ensure that unruly passengers are not welcome to travel with us. Period. Full stop.”
  • Demand the U.S. government increase the number of federal air marshals on flights and request that they “get involved and take action” when crew members are threatened.

Those steps are all good, but I believe more is required. A number of possibilities come to mind.

  1. Give each boarding adult passenger a card that states unequivocally the mask and other pandemic-related rules, that these rules are requirements of federal law and/or airline policy and not subject to discussion or debate and will be enforced strictly throughout the flight. Failure to comply will result in arrest at the next stop.
  2. Anyone physically attacking a flight attendant will be sued on behalf of the attendant by the employing airline. Not may but will. For serious actual and punitive damages. Count on it.
  3. Any person physically attacking a flight attendant will be, not may be, will be banned for life from flying on that airline.
  4. The federal government should add a new policy that if a passenger is found guilty and/or liable for assaulting a flight attendant or other crew, other airlines will be notified of the identity of that passenger, so they can take whatever action they want to take in the circumstances. Such passengers are clearly unsafe for those around them, so safety considerations warrant such disclosures.

In short, adults will be expected to act like adults. If you can’t comply, don’t fly. If you do fly and you don’t comply, you will, not may, face severe consequences, guaranteed.

This will seem harsh to some and downright un-American to others. Too bad. It is intolerable and unconscionable that flight attendants should be subjected to the reported abuses by inconsiderate and violent jerks who think the laws and regulations should not apply to them. There is no doubt that flying commercially involves a degree of regimentation. This is done for the safety and comfort of everyone involved, not just the few who think they are above the law. This is not new.

If the union and my reforms are implemented, it seems most likely that violent incidents in air travel will decline swiftly and significantly. With any luck, in the slightly distant future, the masking rules may be relaxed. Until then, it’s time for the airlines and the government to act decisively to restore consumer confidence in air travel and to protect the people who are in place to protect the rest of us.

Kids Like Me Book Drive — Smash Success

Thank you for your support of the Kids Like Me Book Drive. It was a phenomenal success and the donations keep on coming! Nearly 1,200 books have been donated so far.  The Reading Is Fundamental Team sent this video of the books starting to arrive at RIF Headquarters. I cannot thank you all enough for all your generosity.

You can still donate. Use this link https://tinyurl.com/kidslikemebookdrive to select the book/s you wish to donate directly to RIF.

  • If you are already signed up for Amazon Smile, the link will take you directly to the RIF Wish List.
  • If you are not signed up for Amazon Smile, you will need to search the Charity List for Reading Is Fundamental.
  • After you add the book/books to your cart and go to checkout, be sure to select Reading Is Fundamental as the shipping address so that they go directly to RIF.

The site provides plenty of books to choose from, starting at less than at $7.00. If you do decide to participate, I would love for you to share the link on your social media pages and invite others to donate.

#DayofService #ReadingisFundamental #KidsLikeMeBookDrive

Sammies – A Better Oscar

Some years ago, when my wife worked for a union representing federal employees, I attended a Sammies award ceremony. Sammies is the shorthand for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America medal. You may not have heard of them, but this is the deal:

The Sammies, known as the “Oscars” of government service, are a highly respected honor with a rigorous selection process. Named for the Partnership for Public Service’s late founder who was inspired by President Kennedy’s call to serve in 1963, these awards align with his vision of a dynamic and innovative federal workforce that meets the needs of the American people.

The Partnership is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to help make our government more effective, and the Sammies honorees represent the many exceptional federal workers who are doing just that—breaking down barriers, overcoming huge challenges and getting results. Whether they’re defending the homeland, protecting the environment, ensuring public safety, making scientific and medical discoveries, or responding to natural and man-made disasters, these men and women put service before self and make a lasting difference. [https://servicetoamericamedals.org/about/]

Like the annual Oscars, I frankly don’t recall much of the detail of the ceremony which was, like the movie Oscars, long with speeches explaining each award and with thank you statements from recipients. What I do clearly remember, however, is how impressed I was with the nature of the achievements being honored.

I was reminded of this by today’s editorial in the New York Times entitled “The Wreckage Betsy DeVos Leaves Behind.” https://nyti.ms/3hFswo7 It’s a condemnation of the terrible legacy in one of the nation’s most important components (education of our children). It summarizes what happens when the philosophy of “less government” is turned over to incompetent ideologues who simply produce “bad government” and believe it’s the same result. This is the story of agency after agency, function after function under the morally and substantively bankrupt management of the Trump administration’s gang of grifters.

Yet, under it all, persevering and achieving, were federal employees accomplishing amazing feats, largely without awareness by the general public. This is the true “deep state” that was so often vilified by Trump’s lieutenants in service to his fevered imaginings. Here are just two excerpts, among thousands of their achievements:

LINA ALATHARI, PH.D. – 2020 Finalist in Safety, Security & International Affairs

As head of the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, Lina Alathari has expanded the agency’s traditional role by supporting state and local governments, law enforcement and school districts nationwide in the fight against targeted violence.

… Alathari and her team have delivered more than 1,200 training sessions to more than 83,000 law enforcement officers, educators, mental health providers, government officials, faith-based leaders and other private organizations across 50 states. Hundreds of schools and communities have adopted Alathari’s behavior-based threat prevention protocols.

“The 2019 Secret Service research report analyzed 41 attacks and found that many could have been prevented by using Alathari’s threat assessment model,” Murray [Director of the Secret Service] said. “There are people doing active shooter response research, but no one is doing prevention intervention research like her.”

Rory Cooper – 2017 Winner in Science & Environment

In the years following … [a] 1980 accident [while serving in the Army that left him paralyzed & confined to a wheelchair], Cooper founded the nation’s leading assistive technology research laboratory and has been the driving force behind game-changing innovations in the design of manual and power wheelchairs, adaptive sports and recreational equipment, and rehabilitation instrumentation.

“Rory Cooper’s inventions are used by over one-quarter million people with disabilities, and research equipment he designed is being used in nearly 100 laboratories and training facilities around the world,”

Cooper and his team are credited with 25 patents that have advanced wheelchair technology. He has spearheaded such innovations as a wheelchair with robotic arms that features hands that can grasp, and he has improved motorized wheelchairs by taking advantage of new capabilities in electronics, safety and controls, and by making changes to steering mechanisms and seating functions.

I could go on and on with this, but you get the idea. Just take a cursory look at the website if you dare to have your preconceptions about the federal workforce changed.  https://bit.ly/2LaXNDb And the next time you hear someone make a crack about federal workers, or government workers at any level for that matter, challenge them to do some self-education. Throughout the past four years, Donald Trump, his family and his enablers in the White House, Congress and elsewhere have done everything they can to undermine the effectiveness of the United States government, to weaken it, and with it the entire country, in the eyes of the world. It’s time now to reverse that disgusting, ill-informed and self-defeating legacy of shame with recognition and honor for those laboring largely in the shadows to make the world safer for everyone.

 

Why Americans Are Dying By the Thousands Under Trump’s Leadership

Here are a few excerpts from WAPO regarding the federal response to the pandemic as we head into Election Day. https://wapo.st/3oJDI69 They speak for themselves.

“President Trump’s repeated assertions the United States is “rounding the turn” on the novel coronavirus have increasingly alarmed the government’s top health experts, who say the country is heading into a long and potentially deadly winter with an unprepared government unwilling to make tough choices.”

“Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, said: … “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

“Fauci … said the country could surpass 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day and predicted rising deaths in the coming weeks. He spoke as the nation set a new daily record Friday with more than 98,000 cases. As hospitalizations increase, deaths are also ticking up, with more than 1,000 reported Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the total to more than 230,000 since the start of the pandemic….”

“Trump has rallied in states and cities experiencing record surges in infections and hospitalizations in a last-ditch effort to convince voters he has successfully managed the pandemic. He has held maskless rallies with thousands of supporters, often in violation of local health mandates. Even as new infections climb in 42 states, Trump has downplayed the virus or mocked those who take it seriously.”

“… he baselessly said that U.S. doctors record more deaths from covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, than other nations because they get more money.”

“By contrast, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris have consistently worn masks in public, and have held socially distanced events.”

Fauci … described a disjointed response as cases surge. Several current and former senior administration officials said the White House is almost entirely focused on a vaccine, even though experts warn it is unlikely to be a silver bullet that ends the pandemic immediately since it will take months under the best of circumstances to inoculate tens of millions of people to achieve herd immunity.”

“Fauci said … he has not spoken to Trump since early October…. He also lamented that Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and Trump’s favored pandemic adviser, who advocates letting the virus spread among young healthy people and reopening the country without restrictions, is the only medical adviser the president regularly meets with. “I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

[Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, attacked Fauci for speaking his mind, accusing him of being a member of the Washington Swamp and repeating Trump’s talking points that the president “always put the well-being of the American people first.” Believe what you will.]

“Some White House advisers … complain [Fauci] is too focused on his personal reputation and is “not on the team,” said one senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. The doctor has become loathed among many Trump supporters, and Fauci has told others that he has experienced a surge in harassment and threats.”

[See https://wapo.st/3kUAOJK for a list of the 184 times Trump has downplayed the pandemic threat, a reality he confessed to on tape in the Woodward interviews].

“Several senior administration officials and outside advisers described a White House overwhelmed by the pandemic, with a feeling of helplessness over the inability to curb its spread without also throttling the economy or damaging the president’s reelection chances.”

“… the campaign trail message that life is returning to normal underscores how little the president and White House have focused on the pandemic beyond pushing for development and approvals of vaccines and treatments. With the clearance of a vaccine unlikely until year’s end, that raises questions about what happens after Election Day, during what is projected to be the worst stretch yet of the pandemic. The Trump administration will be in charge of managing the pandemic until at least Jan. 20, no matter who wins.”

“Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb said, “If we don’t plan now, we’ll lose the opportunity to prioritize [school]opening what should be most important to us, just as we lost that chance in the fall because we didn’t plan appropriately this summer.”

“And one of the ways to say the outbreak is over is [to say] it’s really irrelevant because it doesn’t make any difference. All you need to do is prevent people from dying and protect people in places like the nursing homes,” Fauci said. “And because of that, Debbie [Birx] almost never ever sees the president anymore. The only medical person who sees the president on a regular basis is Scott Atlas. It’s certainly not Debbie Birx.”

“Fauci said that many people who catch the virus recover “virologically” but will have chronic health problems. “The idea of this false narrative that if you don’t die, everything is hunky dory is just not the case,” he said. “But to say, ‘Let people get infected, it doesn’t matter, just make sure people don’t die’ — to me as a person who’s been practicing medicine for 50 years, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“A similar assessment was offered by Tom Bossert, the former homeland security adviser in the Trump administration. “It sounds alluring,” Bossert said. “It sounds so seductive. It’s not possible. Math makes it irresponsible to even try and say it.”

Supreme Court Gives Back of Hand to Voter Protection

CNN reported last week that the Supreme Court, without opinion or explanation, granted a request by Alabama to prevent voters from dropping off their ballots by handing them to an election official at the curbside. https://cnn.it/3osEjJB The decision in an unsigned 5-3 order, to which Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer dissented, addressed a permissive ruling by a federal District Court judge permitting, but not requiring, willing Alabama counties to allow curbside voting, as they have done in prior elections in 2016 and 2018. The District Court judge’s opinion was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

The District Court judge reached the following conclusions issued in conjunction with a lengthy set of Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law:

1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications because they are either age 65 or older or disabled or have underlying medical conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the curbside voting ban violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities who cannot safely obtain a copy of their photo ID, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities, the curbside voting ban violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the Voting Rights Act.”

For the highly determined, the court papers may be read at: https://bit.ly/3opiLgI

The Court of Appeals reversed all of the District Court’s conclusions except for the curbside voting issue.

In a classic Trump Republican fashion, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued that “Some level of risk is inherent in life and in voting.” Stated differently, if voting in person ends up killing you (there are no mask requirements in Alabama), well, that’s life. The Alabama Secretary of State had earlier expressed concern about the security of ballots because voters “wouldn’t be able to physically put their ballot into the machines that read the ballot since they’re held indoors.” Apparently, the Alabama Secretary of State does not trust the poll workers that the counties employ for the purpose of assisting voters.

Justice Sotomayor’s dissent said, in part, “We should not substitute the District Court’s reasonable, record-based findings of fact with our own intuitions about the risks of traditional in-person voting during this pandemic or the ability of willing local officials to implement adequate curbside voting procedures.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is remarkable insofar as it permits a state to disallow voting practices that, at least in a pandemic, could reduce vulnerable voters’ exposure to sometimes deadly health risks, especially for older and health-vulnerable voters. The ultimate rationale for the state’s inexplicable overturning of prior practice was the Republican Attorney General’s view, in effect, that “life’s a bitch and then you die, so who cares?”

In truth, the state position is a form of voter suppression directed at a segment of the population more-likely-than-not to vote Democratic. These types of decisions, especially unexplained, are particularly problematic when considered against the anti-democratic decision of the Supreme Court in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013) that gutted the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those provisions compelled certain states to seek prior approval of the Justice Department for any new election or voting laws, because of those states’ prior history of voter suppression.

Shelby County involved one of the worst examples of judicial legislating ever seen, as evidenced by Chief Justice John Roberts’ explanation of the decision:

A statute’s “current burdens” must be justified by “current needs,” and any “disparate geographic coverage” must be “sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” The coverage formula met that test in 1965, but no longer does so.

Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned nationwide for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in the covered States have risen dramatically in the years since. Racial disparity in those numbers was compelling evidence justifying the preclearance remedy and the coverage formula. There is no longer such a disparity.

As reported in The Atlantic, https://bit.ly/34uqn9C,

The results have been predictable. Voter-identification laws, which experts suggest will make voting harder especially for poor people, people of color, and elderly people, have advanced in several states, and some voting laws that make it easier to register and cast ballots have been destroyed. For many of the jurisdictions formerly under preclearance, voting became rapidly more difficult after the Shelby County decision, particularly for poor and elderly black people and Latinos.

Decisions like the Alabama curbside voting case are the predictable consequence of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority inserting its judgment, without explanation, where only the legislature should go. At the risk of repetition, the current decision affirms the elimination, for partisan political purposes, of a health-based practice that was permitted in two prior elections.

This is what we have to look forward too as the Republican majority of Trump enablers in the Senate affirms yet another right-wing judge to the high court this very day. I don’t know what the solution to the Supreme Court dilemma is, but Joe Biden’s thoughtful and measured approach seems the right way to move forward, provided his commission acts swiftly. The issue has been exhaustively analyzed by many constitutional scholars so we’re not going into new territory here. The composition of the Court has changed before and the nation survived. It’s less clear today that the Republican approach to governance is survivable by anything resembling a democratic republic. Time is therefore of the essence once the Democrats take control of the government in January.

Trump’s Presidency in Memes — Round 2

The hits just keep coming so it seems only right to share what I have found on Twitter, where I spend far too much time, and Facebook. This time I will offer a few comments along the way. Just because I can. If Republicans can twist themselves into logical pretzels that would have bedazzled Escher (Google him if new to you — very interesting work) to justify reversing the decisions made to deny a hearing/vote on Merrick Garland for Supreme Court Justice, I can add my thoughts to these precious memes. Note for the record that I did not create any of them — I chanced upon them while searching for coherence on the cited sites. The are the work of people far more creative than I.

Most prominent among Trump’s failures is his decision to downplay the severity of the coronavirus the severity and deadliness of which he knew very early on. He decided to lie about it allegedly to “avoid panic” — making him the only president in modern history to not trust the people with the truth about a killer virus — with massively deadly consequences: 200,000 dead so far and many thousands more with permanent organ damage. And no end in sight.

While Trump’s crimes against humanity are the major story of the hour, we cannot overlook the loss of icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The photo on the right is from the Supreme Court the night the news of her passing spread in Washington. RIP fair lady.

Below is a random-ish collection of other memes I found. One note: I have not included a number of photos of Donald Trump inappopriately engaged with daughter Ivanka. I just can’t do that, although I think those photos speak volumes about the nature of the man who sits in the White House. For similar reasons, I did not reproduce the meme that includes the infamous quotations of his comments coming off the bus with Billy somebody about grabbing women. Everyone knows those words by heart, I suspect, so no need to repeat them here. Just remember — that was man now the sitting president of the United States.

One more note: the last shot of the Trump cabinet below had a label: “No misogyny found in our investigation” or something similar. Let your imagination run wild & add your own.