Category Archives: Health

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.

 

 

 

Trump Subversion of Federal Health Authority Complete

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that Trump’s subversion of the national health service is complete. In apparent obedience to Trump’s expressed desire to “slow the testing down, please,” CDC now says that it “no longer recommends testing for most people without symptoms, even if they’ve been in close contact with someone known to have the virus.” https://cnn.it/32vgQgz

According to the CNN report,

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who was previously Baltimore’s health commissioner, said … that the testing guideline changes make no sense. “These are exactly the people who should be tested,” Wen said, giving the example of a person exposed at work who wants a test so they can protect their family at home.

It almost seems that CDC is trying to confuse the public further.

The CDC guidelines say if someone has symptoms and they’re mild, a health care provider “may advise a COVID-19 test,” and if symptoms are severe, people should contact a health care provider or seek emergency care.

“It is important to realize that you can be infected and spread the virus but feel well and have no symptoms,” the updated CDC site says, noting that local public health officials might request asymptomatic “healthy people” be tested, depending on cases and spread in an area.

In its pandemic planning scenarios, the CDC says its current best estimate is that 40% of infections are asymptomatic and 50% of transmission occur before symptoms occur.

The CDC did not explain the change, and doctors were puzzled by it.

Uh huh. Puzzled. Yes, not only doctors.

Dr. Wen further said,

“This is key to contact tracing, especially given that up to 50% of all transmission is due to people who do not have symptoms. One wonders why these guidelines were changed — is it to justify continued deficit of testing?”

Not unexpectedly, CNN reports that

A spokesperson at the US Department of Health and Human Services denied the change would affect contact tracing efforts, which most public health officials say is key to any eventual control of the virus. “The updated guidance does not undermine contact tracing or any other types of surveillance testing,” the spokesperson said.

HHS said people should consult with their doctors or with local health officials to decide if they need to be tested. “The guidance fully supports public health surveillance testing, done in a proactive way through federal, state, and local public health officials,” the spokesperson said.

If your head is spinning, that is the intended effect. Mission accomplished. You have been gaslighted by your government at the behest of the president. Recall that Trump has repeatedly complained that “we do more testing, we show more cases.” In Trump’s bizarro mind, that means if you do less testing, there will be fewer positive cases to report and we can say “Trump did a great job because the virus is under control – just look at those low positive case counts.”

This is the conduct of a proto-dictator who cares nothing about the welfare of the people he swore an oath to protect. He has finally succeeded in subordinating yet another government function to his Alice-in-Wonderland version of reality. Just to get re-elected, the only thing that really matters to him other than money.

You know what to do.

ICYMI – Part 6: Fast & Furious

News worth remembering in a few months when you vote:

If you’re looking for something positive to do, consider signing up to work with ProtectOurVotes.com (@ProtectVotes on Twitter). The group is working on multiple projects to guard against vote manipulation in November, an increasing risk in many states led by Republicans. And, in case it’s not obvious (it is), contribute as much as you can as often as you can to the Biden campaign as well as down-ballot candidates in your state. We must not only win the presidency but also control the Congress to prevent Republican obstruction of the post-Trump recovery.

Per Axios [https://bit.ly/2CTjqEr] the Trump administration is sending increased PPE, test kits and top health officials like Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx to coronavirus hotspots as part of a campaign called the “Embers Strategy.” The name “Embers Strategy” is meant “to highlight the risk level of ’embers’ to decrease the likelihood of ‘fires,'” a senior WH official said. If anyone knows what the hell that means, please advise.

While three former presidents were eulogizing Rep. John Lewis, the sitting president of the United States was on Twitter hawking pizza from a company on Long Island, NY whose leader apparently said something nice about Trump. Don’t believe me? Here it is:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.). Great Pizza!!!

10:26 AM · Jul 30, 2020

Two hours later, Trump pinned a new tweet raising the question whether the 2020 election should be postponed. Sen. John Cornyn mansplained to reporters it was just a joke “so all you guys [no females in press corps??] in the press, your heads will explode and you’ll write about it.” By this standard, everything Trump ever said was a joke, including all the claims about his intelligence, business skill and leadership qualities. Oh, yes, and his loyalty. That was a joke too. Just ask Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, many Republicans are saying “oh, no, the election will not be postponed,” as if the U.S. Code was not absolutely clear on when the election is to be held. Trump, however, may yet think otherwise since he fancies himself a king with supreme power over everything: “I can do whatever I want.” The price of freedom, someone once said, is eternal vigilance.

Speaking of law, and the rule thereof, the Michael Flynn case is going to be heard by the full federal circuit court (en banc, we lawyers call it) in the District of Columbia, thus staying the panel decision that overturned the trial judge’s decision to investigate the Justice Department’s decision to drop the Flynn prosecution. Wheels within wheels. Trump/Flynn celebration may have been premature. https://wapo.st/312r86X

Trump endorsed as “very impressive” and “spectacular” the rantings of a witch doctor {licensed to practice pediatric medicine in Texas) who believes, among many bizarre ideas, including that vaginal cysts and endometriosis are caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches. She also believes  scientists are developing a vaccine to prevent people from being religious and that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19. https://wapo.st/316QY9W Nothing more to say about this except that millions of Trump supporters believe her and him and they’re going to vote in November. You know what to do.

In a shocking (for Ohio) display of fealty to the rule of law, the Ohio House of Representatives voted 90-0 to remove Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder from his position as Speaker, following his indictment by a federal grand jury for a $61 million bribery scheme. He was noteworthy for having led the fight to establish concealed carry, always popular with the 2nd Amendment crowd, and defunding Planned Parenthood.

In a new extension of Trump’s totalitarian ambitions, the Department of Homeland Security, formed after the 9/11 attacks to coordinate the protection of the US homeland from foreign attacks, was revealed to have been compiling ‘intelligence reports’ on journalists who published leaked documents. https://wapo.st/2EH3pSu In the ensuring firestorm of criticism, DHS removed the acting head of the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. https://politi.co/3i2UjOl Apparently, the office also monitored protesters’ electronic communications. It’s hard working for Trump – one minute you’re doing as ordered; the next minute, you’re the sacrificial lamb. As the election draws closer and Trump becomes even more panicked at the prospect of defeat, we can expect more lambs being hatcheted by the “firer in chief” – cleaning house to free him, he thinks, of the taint of corruption that he has manifested throughout his presidency.

 

ICYMI – Part 3

Such a cornucopia of Trumpian gems, it’s hard to choose.

Ignoring the ongoing slaughter of Americans at the hands of COVID-19, Trump has decided that the path to his re-election requires doubling-down on racially divisive themes of grievance. This will motivate his diminishing political base but seems destined to alienate many former supporters and entire classes of ethnic voting groups. https://wapo.st/3f6LG4f: “Never in our lifetimes has the Independence Day holiday been used for such divisive and personal ends.”

In a stunning move against the environment, the Democrat-led House Armed Services Committee voted to yield 800,000 acres (one-half) of southern Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the Air Force for training activities at the already enormous Nellis Air Force Base (more than 3.2 million acres of land next to the refuge). Less surprisingly, the move was led by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who thinks it a good idea to convert public lands to private use. https://bit.ly/2VUE1yp The move is consistent with the Trump administration policy of repurposing national parkland and other natural treasures for commercial exploitation. Until, to repurpose the great line from Kismet, “no one but me is left.”

Coronavirus infections set a new record on Independence Day, with the 7-day rolling average at a new high for the 27th day in a row, testimony to the gross mismanagement of the crisis by the Trump administration. https://wapo.st/2O6OBhb Indeed, Trump seems to have thrown in the towel to the virus and moved on to other issues, mainly centered on retaining racially motivated monuments. Republican-led states whose governors accepted/adopted Trump’s phantasmagorical thinking about the imminent disappearance of the virus are now backtracking on premature re-openings and “do your own thing” policies on masking and social distancing.

Trump is holding up funding for the military (that he claims to love) – a  $740 billion defense authorization bill — to stop the renaming of Army bases named after Confederate generals. https://wapo.st/2ZJLSQd The president has now firmly and openly aligned himself and the Republican Party with the white supremacy element of American society.

In perhaps the most ludicrous act of his bizarre presidency thus far, Trump signed an executive order calling for creation of a national monument park to contain new statues of the “greatest Americans to ever live.” If the list didn’t reflect the insane thinking of the Trump administration, it would make a great comedy skit. Defending against what he called an “assault on our collective national memory,” Trump named Billy Graham, Davey Crockett, Antonin Scalia, Daniel Boone and, wait for it, Audie Murphy. Excluded were Democratic presidents – so no Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson – Native Americans (no “heroes” there – we killed them all; Trump doesn’t like dead people, even though he’s responsible for killing some 130,000 so far). General George Patton was ‘in’ but Dwight Eisenhower was not. You can see the full list here: https://wapo.st/38Cnh43

After much struggle, the Trump Administration finally gave the SBA permission to disclose the recipients of at least the largest loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. https://wapo.st/2ZJqLO4 Not surprisingly, ethical considerations appear to have had no role in the decision-making. Thus, significant loan money was given to businesses owned by or closely connected with members of Congress, Trump’s personal lawyers, tenants of Trump’s real estate company, as well as,

private schools catering to elite clientele, firms owned by foreign companies and large chains backed by well-heeled Wall Street firms. Nearly 90,000 companies in the program took the aid without promising on their applications they would rehire workers or create jobs.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s (wife of #MoscowMitch, Republican Senate Majority Leader) family’s shipping business was a beneficiary. And many others too numerous to mention separately. One must wonder, of course, how much of the Trump tenants’ relief money will end up in Trump’s pocket as rent. Grifting by Trump and his Republican enablers is nothing new, certainly. In keeping with established practice,  Yeezy, owned by Trump sycophant and supremely wealthy alleged musician Kanye West, was awarded between $2 million and $5 million. https://bit.ly/300UMcz

Of course, the program was intended to help workers stay off unemployment, but there are some real curiosities in that regard. Among recipients, for example,

48,922 reported zero as the number of jobs they would retain with the money, and 40,506 applicants appeared to leave that section blank. It appeared that 10 other companies received between $5 million and $10 million but reported retaining only one job with the money they received.

Also curiously, the SBA ordered affiliates of Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of Trumppublican “pro-lifers,” to return their loans.

And so it goes. More gems soon.

ICYMI – Part 2

In the most stunning revelations to date regarding Trump’s unfitness for office, see this must-read article by Carl Bernstein of Watergate reporting fame: From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump’s phone calls alarm US officials https://cnn.it/2NQ1CeU I won’t do spoilers here. You really need to read this one.

Trump was elected with Russian help and wants more of it. It’s therefore no surprise that the Republican-controlled Senate strips provision from intelligence bill requiring campaigns to report foreign election help https://cnn.it/3dRpZn2 Republicans forced the removal in order to include the intelligence bill in the “must pass” defense policy legislation, another clear indication that Republicans will sacrifice anything to re-elect Trump, including the nation’s defense.

In a move as rare as discovering life on another planet, it appears that a Trump nominee to head the imperiled Consumer Product Safety Commission is too in-the-pocket of the chemical industry even for a few, very few, Republicans. The nominee is reportedly a “former chemical industry lobbyist named to a high-level post at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump” who “has been rewriting chemical safety rules to make them less protective of consumers and more friendly to businesses.” Seems like she’s right up the Republicans’ alley of indifference (at best) to the environment but the nomination may not make it out of committee. https://bit.ly/2D0IEAl  Go figure. Maybe they have a “better” nominee lined up in the shadows.

In the “no surprise to anyone paying attention” category, we are reminded yet again that the president of the United States does not read the President’s Daily Briefing Book, a departure from practice going back at least seven administrations. https://wapo.st/2C1yleD The same story reports that oral briefings are often limited because the president doesn’t want to hear certain information that conflicts with his personal agenda, particularly matters involving Russia. Do we have a traitor sitting at the head of our government? Or just a fragile, incompetent, egomaniacal man-child who thinks he’s a king?

Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis has left the U.S. in a condition of economic peril, notwithstanding Trump’s endless excitement (on the up-days) about the stock market. The stock market marches to a different drummer, often going up when the health news is the worst, as it is now. You need look no further than the European Union’s decision to bar Americans when it reopened today. https://bit.ly/2NKL4VE The United States’ banishment is shared by the likes of Russia and Brazil. Another “well done” for the Trump administration whose leader only today repeated his earlier claim that the virus would just “disappear” one of these fine days. https://wapo.st/2NLZDbB

If you want a good shorthand picture of why the U.S. is in such COVID trouble, look at Bloomberg.com, specifically at this article: https://bloom.bg/31yBr4y  which shows the problem graphically in five charts.

ICYMI-Part 1

You are likely familiar with the abbreviation in the title of this post. My own good intentions of keeping up with, and writing cogent interesting posts about, the major news stories of the day have come to naught. The insanity is coming so fast and furious that I can’t keep up. I start dozens of posts that never get finished because a flood of new material arrives almost continuously. I spend obscene amounts of time reading the news from multiple sources, most of which is unpleasant or worse.

I have therefore decided to start “ICYMI,” which will contain abbreviated commentaries on some of the news that catches my attention. The posts won’t be in any particular order, but roughly will appear in reverse chronology, starting with the most recent and working backwards in time as best I can manage. The reason for this is that November is coming and as we move further away from, say, March, we simply lose memory of many of the insane things that, for example, Donald Trump has said or done. Since his corrupt and incompetent administration of the nation’s affairs dominates most news cycles, it will dominate ICYMI as well. But, first, a few preliminary thoughts:

November presents the last chance to save the United States and our quasi-democracy from final political, cultural and social destruction by Trump and his Republican enablers. Therefore, as we get closer to the election, I will be reminding everyone of events they have likely forgotten. It is also true, of course, that the onslaught of insane news will continue and perhaps worsen, so most posts in this series will include both contemporary and gems-from-the-past. I will continue to write longer “single topic” posts as time permits.

It is vital that we never forget who Donald Trump really is. He started with a large financial gift and made money in real estate. Not too difficult and certainly no innovation (a la, Steve Jobs). The evidence over the years is that he hung with people like Jeffrey Epstein, cheated vendors to enhance corruptly his own wealth and managed to bankrupt a range of businesses. That did not stop Trump from having his own TV show on which his schtick was to fire people. Show ‘em who’s boss. Always.

Factcheck.org reports,

President Donald Trump’s namesake charitable foundation agreed to cease operations in late 2018 as part of an agreement with New York’s attorney general, who alleged that the nonprofit organization was improperly leveraged to further Trump’s business and political interests. A November court order resolved the lawsuit, and Trump ultimately paid a total of $2 million in damages to eight charities, which also received equal portions of the foundation’s remaining $1.8 million.

[https://www.factcheck.org/2019/12/social-posts-distort-facts-on-trump-charities/]

The settlement also required Trump’s children to undergo “training” relating to charitable organizations. Very trustworthy, that bunch.

THAT is who Trump and his family are.

The Blue Wave must be overwhelming on November 3. I see that many polls indicate Biden is leading Trump by substantial margins, but polls are fickle things. Many polls had Hillary Clinton winning handily, and we know how that turned out. All that matters in the end is that every possible Democratic vote is in fact cast – for Biden and for the down-ticket Democrats who can restore a Democratic majority to both Houses of Congress. Only then can the process of healing, reconciliation and progress resume. If we fail at this, Trump will be unconstrained for his final four years. American democracy will then succumb to a stacked Supreme Court, stacked federal judiciary and corrupt Congress that will stop at nothing to establish the Republican Party’s long-sought theocracy/autocracy.

Because of the polls and their Trump-supported and promoted collection of grievances, Trump’s troops (now officially called the Trump Army—think about that) have an increased sense of threat and will almost certainly turn out in huge numbers to try to save him. Little is to be gained by trying to understand why they continue to support him. Theories are plentiful. The only important take-away is that the Democratic vote, possibly assisted by rational Republicans who have finally seen enough of Trump, is maximized. Hopefully, reading ICYMI will stimulate readers to promote, and actively assist, voting among trusted family, friends, colleagues and strangers in November. We’re going to need every one of them.

So, ICYMI ….

Trump uses Twitter to promote racist messages: he retweeted a video of supporters rallying in golf carts in Florida (of course) one of whom yelled “white power.” Trump called his supporters “great people.” https://wapo.st/3dMCfVY Remember the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville: “fine people on both sides.” Sometimes I wonder if Trump has a KuKluxKlan robe in his closet.

Climate change is worsening despite the pandemic’s favorable impact on some pressure points. https://wapo.st/3icwZyh Trump’s presidency has reinforced the decline by “rejecting international pacts, gutting national environmental protections and regulations, and sidelining and censoring its own climate researchers and scientists.” The Republican Party’s nominal “pro life” stance actually just refers to birth; after that, they could care less if you die a horrible death as the planet suffocates.

In a non-shocking revelation, studies show that watching Fox News had a negative effect on viewers’ beliefs about the lethality of COVID-19. https://wapo.st/31toSHK

A Trump campaign spokesman equated protests over the murder of George Floyd and other non-white people by police with attendance at a Trump rally: “We don’t recall the media shaming demonstrators about social distancing — in fact the media were cheering them on.”  https://wapo.st/2VrBgUL Campaign staff removed stickers from seats that were placed by building management to induce social distancing. Trump will stop at nothing to promote himself and his message that COVID-19 is not a serious problem.

States that opened too quickly and, following Trump’s lead, with little regard to the scientific and medical advice of experts are experiencing large increases in COVID cases and in states have been forced to reverse their reopening plans.

In his continuing effort to lower standards of performance in the federal government, Trump signed an executive order directing the government to develop non-degree-based evaluation procedures, citing alleged “credential inflation.” https://bit.ly/3ig7HiQ The new system provides for something called “skills- and competency-based hiring,” though it is characteristically vague on how this will work and how safeguards will prevent gaming such a regime to exclude minority and other workers who may not be “favored” by the regime. The EO effectively equates a college education/master’s degree as just a “piece of paper,” an apparent reflection on the quality of the education received by Trump himself.

An online set of intriguing suggestions for constructive social changes can be seen at https://bit.ly/2BptvrR I cite it not to endorse all those ideas, but to help jump start thinking about these issues. This time around needs to be better, much better, than the last time. Removing Trump in November will not solve the core problems affecting this country. Creative actions are required, and we can learn a lot from the way some other countries approach similar issues. America’s favored moral codes based on right/wrong and guilt/punishment are not the only ways to manage behavior.

From the Covid Act Now Daily Download:

The Houston Chronicle reported that this past weekend Texas Medical Center hospitals stopped updating key metrics, and, when the charts came back online, eight of the 17 original slides had been deleted — including any reference to hospital capacity or projections of future capacity. The institutions — which together constitute the world’s largest medical complex — reported Thursday that their base intensive care capacity had hit 100 percent for the first time during the pandemic and was on pace to exceed an “unsustainable surge capacity” of intensive care beds by July 6

Well done, Texas, well done.

A selection of headlines from yesterday’s Washington Post:

With Trump leading the way, America’s coronavirus failures exposed by record surge in new infections

Texas, Arizona face record coronavirus hospitalizations as U.S. cases near 2.5 million

Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds

###

A Hero for the Times

People who know me well are aware that I have no heroes. All of them were murdered in the troubled 1960s. Since then, no one person emerged as a true hero, although Barack Obama came close. When he was elected, I fooled myself into believing that America had changed, that the bigotry and willful ignorance I had seen growing up in Memphis had receded and that great times lay ahead. I was wrong. As the Obama presidency proceeded, the Republican Party morphed into essentially what it is today and managed to block many of Obama’s greatest potential achievements.

The final blow to my aspirations for the country came when a relic of our ugly past, the Electoral College, worked to put Donald Trump in the White House. Every day of his administration is a tragic reminder that we could have had an intelligent, articulate, committed woman as president. A lot went wrong, of course, not just the flawed Constitutional structures put in place to placate rural and southern interests and that handed the national leadership to Trump with a minority of votes. It doesn’t much matter now. Trump is president and, as fate can do, his incompetence and corruption have been laid bare for the world to see, a bleeding open sore on what was one of the greatest countries on the planet, flawed but pure of aspiration, in need of much work but full of hope and promise.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a catastrophe for humanity. It was also an opportunity for the putative “leader of the free world” to show that, for all his obvious flaws, he could rise to the occasion and steer the country through one of its greatest challenges in a century. It was an opportunity to put to rest the oft-stated concern that, faced with a genuine crisis (threat of nuclear attack, for example), Trump’s staggering incompetence would destroy us. COVID-19 is not a nuclear attack but Trump still failed in almost every way imaginable. In the future I will devote much of my time in this blog illustrating those failures in the hope that the people of this country will rise to the occasion as Trump did not and remove him from office once and for all.

Meanwhile, I want to recognize another leader who emerged from the gloom and despair of the pandemic to do what needed to be done, to say what needed to be said, who did the right thing. He was already an experienced leader of government, the political head of the state with the largest Gross Domestic Product per capita, a major driver of the national economy: New York.

New York City, the centerpiece of the state and the gateway to the nation for travelers from around the world, became the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. As of today, the World Health Organization reports 8,385,440 total cases and 450,686 deaths worldwide. The United States leads the entire world in both cases and deaths: 118,365 souls lost. New York City, the most densely populated metropolis in the country, quickly developed the most infections and ultimately, so far, more than 17, 546 deaths, as it was flooded by millions of travelers from Europe who brought the virus with them while the federal government hyper-focused on China. In my neighborhood alone, there were 616 cases and 43 deaths. Yesterday, there were fewer deaths than that in the entire city.

Mt. Sinai West Hospital sits immediately adjacent to our apartment building. You can walk to the Emergency Room 50 steps or so down the street. As the city emptied out under the lockdown that started in mid-March, way too late, we were witness to the relentless parade of ambulances bringing critically ill patients to the hospital.

There are two points to be made here. One, the president held a series of daily “press conferences” involving a task force headed by the Vice President and the leading medical authorities at the Center for Disease Control, among others. It quickly became apparent that these events were really for the president to promote himself as the successful defender of the country against the virus, even as the cases and death toll continued to rise. He simply denied any facts that made him look bad. He paraded a random group of corporate leaders in to praise him. He descended into a clown show in which he proposed that the government health authorities investigate injecting bleach into the body or using light of some kind. He promoted the use of drugs for which there was no medical support and which multiple studies indicated could be dangerous to large swaths of the public. He stopped the conferences when his staff finally convinced him that they were counterproductive to his goal of self-promotion and re-election.

Second point: in New York, people who were paying attention saw a completely different approach, one based on scientific facts and evidence. These were the daily briefings by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. In the last of these briefings, the Governor reported that a total of 59 million viewers had watched these presentations, each of which involved an opening statement and questions from reporters. The Governor always had staff and sometimes important guests, with him to help address questions, most notably Melissa DeRosa (Secretary to the Governor). In the wake of the George Floyd murder, Cuomo devoted substantial parts of each briefing to addressing the issues around policing practices. He proposed specific legislation that was passed immediately and signed at one of the briefings.

Cuomo proved to be a lifeline for many of us who were quarantined in our apartments.
My wife and I found great comfort in his rational, fact-based approach, his appeal to the better selves of New Yorkers and his repeated admissions that this was personal for him, too. In March he proposed Matilda’s Law, an executive order with the force of law, named for his elderly mother and aimed at protecting the elderly and the vulnerable by putting New York “on pause” with special guidelines for the elderly. We tuned in almost every day, as did millions of people around the world seeking some truth and objectivity in the maelstrom of falsity and self-serving lies from Trump and his enablers.

I won’t go on about this. Cuomo, like all prominent political leaders, has his critics. But whatever mistakes may have been made in his management of the COVID-19 crisis, they appear to be very few and given all the circumstances, understandable and not consequential. I do not believe anyone can legitimately say he did not do his best for the people of New York. The results are clear and undeniable. The cases and deaths attributable to the virus are now the lowest in the country. As the Governor put it, “from the worst to first.”

I urge you to watch this video of Cuomo’s final statement and the video that follows it. It’s less than 13 minutes long. Compare this to Donald Trump’s performance on any issue on any day. This is what actual leadership looks like. What a refreshing experience, even in the midst of the most terrifying situation. Cuomo’s handling of these events will be written about in textbooks and studied in leadership programs for years to come. The 13 minutes you spend watching this will be well spent.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=274891703966298&ref=watch_permalink

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.