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.

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.

Faux Election Integrity Fever Identified in Texas & Florida

Like coronavirus, “Faux Election Integrity Fever” (hereafter “FEIF 2021”) moves quickly across state lines and attacks Republicans with a vengeance. In this case the evidence indicates that Georgia’s sudden post-election awakening to the realities of demographic change and resistance to racism (see https://bit.ly/3njQqbC and https://bit.ly/3aGt0rQ) has morphed into a collection of proposed voter suppression legislation in Texas and Florida.

The odd thing is that Trump won 2020 Texas handily and the state’s two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, are among Trump’s most devoted sycophants. Cruz in particular is an avid member of the Sedition Caucus that voted to overturn the 2020 election and hand it to Donald Trump as, in effect, Dictator of the United States. So what is going on with the Texas variant to FEIF 2021?

Trump also won Florida — by more than 370,000 votes, split largeyn,ly by urban (Biden) and non-urban (Trump) preferences. Florida also sports two Trump shills in Senators Rubio and Rick Scott.

Disclosure: I am relying on published reports regarding the content of the legislation that, based on past experience, are highly reliable sources for such information. Texas GOP Targets Access for City Voters [print headline 4/25/21] https://nyti.ms/3gls1vc and Florida Legislature OKs Bill That Limits Voting By Mail, Ballot Drop Boxes, https://n.pr/2RgSnte 

The NY Times online report regarding Texas notes:

Republicans Target Voter Access in Texas Cities, but Not Rural Areas

In Houston, election officials found creative ways to help a struggling and diverse work force vote in a pandemic. Record turnout resulted. Now the G.O.P. is targeting those very measures.

The NPR report indicates many of the Florida provisions are similar to those recently adopted in Georgia.

Defenders of these bills argue that they include some provisions that make voting easier and more secure. The problem is that there are other provisions that either make voting harder or create the danger that Republicans, motivated as they have shown regarding the 2020 election to overturn important election losses, will use the tools contained in the legislation to simply override the voters’ choices in the future. This is not fantasy.

Given that (1) there is no credible evidence of voter fraud in any of the states where Trump challenges were mounted, (2) these states all had highly detailed vote regulatory laws in place before the new legislation, (3) these are states where 2020 turnout set records, creating (4) reasonable doubts that the Republican-controlled legislatures’ real goal is to enable even great turnout in the future. No, the most reasonable inference is that the huge turnouts in 2020 that resulted in Trump’s defeat have led not to sudden enthusiasm to increase Democratic opportunities going forward but have inspired renewed efforts to suppress Democratic voting in future elections.

These areas of focus are more than a little curious, considering certain other facts about Texas and Florida that one might think would be the real subjects of interest by the governing bodies of those states.

For example, Texas ranks 36th nationally in per-student education spending. While some conflicts exist about the exact amounts spent, https://bit.ly/2S8gyuz, the real losers in the squabbling over the state’s stinginess are the students. As for the mothers of those students,

While maternal mortality is decreasing in most countries, maternal death rates in the U.S. have been increasing and Texas is recognized as having the highest maternal death rate in the country. Texas’ own study on maternal deaths indicates that Texas’ rates have nearly doubled in recent years.

[https://www.texmed.org/MMM/]

U.S. News https://bit.ly/3noOXRc ranks Texas in these categories among the states:

Health Care – No. 31

Education – No.34

Opportunity – No. 39

Economic Opportunity – No. 40

Equality – No. 45

Crime & Corrections – 37

Natural Environment — 40

Population without Health Insurance

                   Texas 24.5 %

                  National Average 12.9 %

And that’s despite having the nation’s 9th largest economy and net inbound population growth, due, it is reported, to little regulation, low taxes and low labor costs.

The Florida story is similar. Despite its famously aged population, Florida ranks:

Health Care                25

Infrastructure            20

Opportunity               33

Crime & Corrections  26

Florida ranks 3rd in Education, driven, however, by the large higher education establishments. It’s only 16th in PreK-12.

You would think that with those standings, the governing parties would be focused on more than just voter suppression but apparently not.

Much of the Republican hullabaloo about voting has no factual or logical foundation. Putting aside the absence of meaningful evidence of voter fraud (all this legislation is directed at a non-existent problem), if you can file taxes online, then why not voting online?  Maybe we need to reconsider leaving all this to the states. Maybe, just maybe, the federal government could do a better job of securing voting systems under a well-crafted legislative plan.  Surely there is a way to do this safely. And, if not, then why not establish through federal legislation a uniform system of manual voting that affects everyone the same way across the country?

Beyond actual voting, why is there a concern that sending out absentee ballot applications, or real ballots, to everyone is a problem, given that voting is highly regulated with detailed checking and matching of ballots to registrations before votes are counted?  Why are drive-through voting sites a problem? In many places you can get a COVID vaccination at a drive-through. And millions routinely do bank transactions at drive-through windows. What is the problem, other than the fact that these practices make it easier for more people to vote?

Sunday at the Mall

It was a beautiful spring day, albeit quite windy, so a visit to the Mall was in order to see how advanced the budding of trees was coming. [Technically, I am advised, the area from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial is called West Potomac Park. Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, DC but it’s the Mall to me] We got a late start and found parking was scarce in the area close to the Lincoln Memorial, but persistence (and a questionable U-turn) paid off eventually.

We were closest to the World War II Memorial. A few signs of spring were present but most of the trees were still bare, with few showing significant budding.

The Memorial contains some of the most compelling bronze (I believe) figures I have seen – a laurel wreath representing peace held by eagles, representing the power of the United States. At least that’s how I see it:

The artistic background of the Memorial can be read at https://bit.ly/3100BYF

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was a busy scene with mallard ducks feeding in pairs. A Hooded Merganser was also present, his white patch prominently reflecting the sun when he came up from his quick and repeated full dives to, presumably, catch small feeder fish.

The Lincoln Memorial, as always, was a dominant visual presence, along with the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the distance.

The sole negative on this visit to the Mall was something that may be an even bigger problem when warmer weather and vaccinations encourage more people to visit. I refer to the presence of people of all ages riding electric scooters and, far fewer, rental bicycles, along with riders of Onewheels who rode roughshod over the grass and sped past us at speeds estimated above 15 mph.  Pictured below are two of the leaders of a “parade” of Onewheelers, numbering about a dozen, along with a person on a bicycle who chose to ride in the Reflecting Pool.

Numerous people chose to ride scooters and bicycles in the inner ring around the still-drained central pool. As warmer weather leads to larger crowds, conflicts and injuries may occur.

 

Escape to U.S. National Arboretum

Desperate for a safe escape from the quasi/semi-lockdown conditions that have rendered the West End of Washington a ghost town, we recently drove to the U.S. National Arboretum situated at 3501 New York Avenue NE. Amazingly, admission is free. The place is huge (446-acres) and at this time of year much of the foliage is gone. Nevertheless, there is still much to see, especially here.

Uncharacteristically, we did not do any research before setting out and, until we chanced on that area, did not know what we might find. The official website reports that the Conifer Collection,

showcases conifers that hail from a range of climates, including the Arctic and subtropical regions. Japanese maples, ornamental grasses and daffodils combine with the conifers to create an alluring array of colors.

https://washington.org/visit-dc/guide-us-national-arboretum#

This small sample of photos implies but does not catalog the extraordinary array of scenes. You will see examples of:

Color & Light

Size

Complexity

Old Growth

New Growth [signs of spring already]

Mystery

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

Kids Like Me Book Drive

Today, the nation and the world acknowledge and celebrate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As part of that worthy effort, and in support of the Presidential Inaugural Committee MLK Day of Service, my wife started the “Kids Like Me Book Drive.” Here is her message:
“When I was a child, reading was such an important part of my life. It was a way to make sense of the world, find a temporary escape from reality, and a chance to learn about other people, places and things. I wish every child had the chance to own and love books like I did.
That’s why in honor of MLK Day of Service, I am hosting a virtual book drive to benefit Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). The event, titled “Kids Like Me Book Drive,” is centered around donating books celebrating diversity.
Here’s how you can help. Use this link https://tinyurl.com/kidslikemebookdrive to select the book/s you wish to donate directly to RIF.
A few things to note:
  • If you are already signed up for Amazon Smile, the link will take you directly to the RIF book 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 and not your home.
The site provides plenty of books to choose from, starting at less than $7.00. Some of the titles people have selected include,
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice
I Am Every Good Thing
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
Ada Twist, Scientist
Too Shy for Show and Tell
One is a Pinata
You Matter
Windows
Lend a Hand
Hair Love
If you do decide to participate, I would love for you to post the title(s) you select in the Reply section below. Also, please feel free to share the link on your social media pages.
With children continuing to learn at home, I would be very grateful if you would join me in helping RIF provide needed books and resources to assist children and families as they navigate the challenges this pandemic presents.
Thank you for your generosity!”
Note: Over 90 people have already signed up. There can never be too many books.

A Bright Spot in the Darkness

Much of what I write about here is dark and ominous. The past four years have brought the country low. We are on the verge, I believe, of beginning the long process of recovery, as I have indicated in earlier posts. But the darkness is tenacious. As we approach the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, on whom the hopes of the nation depend, the city of Washington is shrouded in massive defensive preparations – not against a foreign enemy, but against a segment of the American people who threaten to disrupt the inauguration to overturn the election.

As fate would have it, I am scheduled for some surgery in Bethesda, Maryland (a Washington suburb for those not familiar with the area) on February 19 and a follow-up exam in Rockville, MD on the 20th, Inauguration Day. Poor planning on my part, but I took what was available and could not predict that the capital city would be under siege by our own citizens.

Some days before, I had signed up for AlertDC, a messaging service about various disruptions one might want to know in traveling around the area. Last night (Friday at 8:22 pm) we received an alert including a message from the Virginia Department of Transportation about bridge closures, further raising our concerns  about our travel plans for my surgery. In the VDOT message were the standard “Contact” email addresses of people from VDOT and Virginia State Police.

Feeling increasingly concerned about the obstacles we might face making two roundtrips from downtown DC to the Maryland suburbs, I sent an email inquiry to all three. It was now 8:52 pm on Friday night. It would, I thought, be a miracle if we ever heard from anyone because they likely were being bombarded with messages and preoccupation with the brewing crisis across the area.

Eighteen minutes later, 9:10 on a Friday night, a reply email arrived with additional information about bridge closures and a specific suggestion to help reduce our risk of getting stuck. The message was from Ellen Kamilakis, Senior Public Affairs Officer at VDOT. Not a form message but a personal response with useful information that addressed my reason for reaching out. A  quick check of her LinkedIn revealed a multi-award-winning communicator. No wonder. I decided this person needs some additional recognition. Late on a Friday night, in an environment that must be fraught with pressure and uncertainty, Ms. Kamilakis took a moment to respond to a citizen with a problem.

As I noted in an earlier post, the next time someone makes a crack about “those government employees,” recall this message. Be thankful, as I am, that people like Ellen Kamilakis work for all of us.

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.