Category Archives: health

Supreme Court Gives Back of Hand to Voter Protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump 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.

It Is What It Is

Or What it is, it is. Take your pick. The title version earned global attention when Donald Trump used it to address the staggering and growing death toll from COVID-19 that he has downplayed, denied and declined to address with an aggressive national plan. https://cnn.it/2QhEVSc Basically, Trump said, in the now infamous Axios interview, “meh, I’m not really interested in it anymore.” Then, during the Democratic National Convention, Former First Lady and for many of us Permanent First Lady, Michelle Obama used it in her blistering take-down of the president for his gross failure of leadership:

He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

https://bit.ly/31hWTKC BOOM!!

The interest in this phrase led me to investigate its origins because I remembered its being used by members of the crime families in the movie, The Irishman, that provided an explanation of the murder/disappearance of labor boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. https://bit.ly/3j5FLxY I was curious about why this reference was never made by the media when Trump, whom many (me included) have likened to a crime boss, used it regarding the pandemic.

It turns out the phrase has been in use for a long time, though its true origins have not been confirmed. According to Wikipedia, the phrase has been a movie title, book title, song title and more. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Is_What_It_Is Curiously, there is no reference there to The Irishman, in which the words are spoken multiple times in two scenes. In the movie, the text means “there is nothing to discuss; the bosses have decided and that’s the end of it,” a conclusion Hoffa (Dustin Hoffman) cannot accept. That decision leads to his death.

A couple of sources attribute the phrase to 1949, when, according to a New York Times piece, it appeared in a column written by J. E. Lawrence in the Nebraska State Journal:

New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without an apology.

That’s a subtly different meaning than the one ascribed in an online dictionary: https://bit.ly/2YpvvIS

When there’s nothing left to say or no way to answer questions about what happened, “It is what it is” puts an end to the conversation, usually with a shrug. It’s another way of saying, “I don’t like it either, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

That’s close to Trump’s “meh.” Closer still is the Quora.com interpretation of one person on Quora.com:

It is what it is” is a pronouncement of the man-in-charge that means the man-in-charge is giving up on a problem or situation (no more “doing”). This is a prompt for an ambitious lower status male to say “I’d like to try one more thing” if he can.

https://bit.ly/31lJT6O

For those who may be interested, the phrase translates in Latin to “est quod id est.” and in Italian it’s ‘È così!’ The Urban Dictionary https://bit.ly/3hmSKdU says,

Used often in the business world, this incredibly versatile phrase can be literally translated as “f*** it

which most perversely may be the closest to what Trump really meant to say.

ICYMI – Part 7: Trump Turns on the Country

News worth remembering in a few months when you vote:

TeamTrump didn’t wait 24 hours before launching racist, misogynist attacks on Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his Vice President. Trump mouthpieces on Fox Propaganda deliberately mispronounced her name while Trump, inspired by others, signed on to the birtherism argument that Harris might be disqualified. Every respectable legal scholar I have seen agrees that her birth in Oakland, California settles the question. But in TrumpWorld nothing says “class” like a playground level name-calling campaign of lies and deflections.

Trump’s associates are the gift that keeps on … stealing. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former senior strategy adviser, and three others have been arrested for “defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors” in a crowdfunding campaign called ‘We Build The Wall.’ https://bit.ly/3aLOxxZ  See https://webuildthewall.us/ourteam/ for high school photo of Founder-President (and now defendant) Brian Kolfage, along with Steve Bannon’s ready-made mug shot (he’s Chairman of the Advisory Board). Erik Prince, “Sheriff” David Clarke and Curt Schilling also sit on the board.

How long before Trump says ‘Steve Bannon? I don’t know him?” How long before Trump pardons him? The General Counsel for the Build the Wall PAC is Kris Kobach, known mainly before this as the lead vote suppressor in Kansas and failed head of Trump’s failed commission to find voter fraud in the U.S., and who was later demolished in his races for Governor of Kansas and the U.S. Senate. [For the record, this is not “fake news;” it’s the real thing].

Chaos in the Postal Service. Conflicting stories abound regarding the Trump administration ‘plan’ to disrupt the Postal Service based on Trump’s zero-evidence-based claim that mail-in voting is fraught with fraud. https://wapo.st/2YfB1xC and https://nbcnews.to/2EmbLih In one sense the  details don’t matter. Trump has, in classical Trumpian fashion, already accomplished his mission: to induce chaos in the system and to discourage people from voting at all. If you look back at the past 3.75 years, you can readily see that chaos/confusion is the main product of the Trump administration. It’s what you get when you appoint mostly “acting” leadership so you avoid normal vetting processes that would stop unqualified ideologues from taking charge of complex federal agencies and resources.

Will Trump Leave If He Loses the Election? Trump and his White House enablers like Kayleigh McEnany continue to hint/deflect/lie about his repeated statements that the election is going to be “rigged” against him. When directly asked, the answer seems to be “we’ll see how it goes.” In 2016 the question of his respecting the outcome was answered with “yes, but only if I win.” I will break habit here and predict: if Trump loses, he will leave the White House on time – one way or the other way.

If you missed Barack Obama’s speech at the DNC, you owe it to yourself to watch the video. His speech will, I believe, be considered one of the great presidential statements in textbooks and histories for years to come. And, of course, the women. Let me not overlook the women: Michelle Obama (“It is what it is”), Dr. Jill Biden and, of course, Kamala Harris. These women were simply magnificent – intelligent, forceful, direct. Trump must be eating his own flesh, consumed with rage and envy. You know how he hates “uppity” women.

In a likely unprecedented statement, 74 former national security officials who served during the administrations of four Republican presidents, including Trump’s own, or as Republican Members of Congress, declared that

Through his actions and his rhetoric, Trump has demonstrated that he lacks the character and competence to lead this nation and has engaged in corrupt behavior that renders him unfit to serve as President.

https://bit.ly/34o3zJk The statement consists of 10 paragraphs detailing the charges, a stunning indictment of staggering scope and awesome power. If you read nothing else, read the statement. Then plan how you’re going to safely and securely cast your vote for the Biden-Harris ticket and for Democrats up and down the line so that we have a governable outcome in which coherent policies can be proposed, adopted and executed. There is no other way back from the abyss that threatens to engulf the nation.

The noose tightens as the federal district court denied a motion to delay the effect of a subpoena for many of Trump’s financial/tax documents possessed by the Mazars USA accounting firm. https://cnb.cx/3gjxk0f The request for emergency relief now goes to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. You will recall that the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected Trump’s claim that he was absolutely immune from criminal investigation. Things may be about to get interesting if Mazars is required to turn over the documents to prosecutors in New York.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a demand for federal criminal investigation by the FBI of amateur Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for undermining voting by mail that Trump has claimed would help defeat his re-election. https://bit.ly/3gixuF8 Of course, the FBI is currently operating as an arm of the Trump administration under the command of Trump’s personal lawyer, the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, so one must wonder what will be accomplished by this move.  Nevertheless, it’s another example of the web of corruption that infests the Trump administration from top to bottom.

QAnon wackery/quackery – take your pick – has now been embraced by major elements of the   and effectively endorsed by Donald Trump. https://nyti.ms/3l6AlEu I will not waste space setting out the Q version of the world, but you owe it to your sanity and your country to know it’s out there. Multiple Republican candidates for Congress believe the Q nonsense and some of them are almost certain to win. And you thought Congress could not descend to any lower level than the depths to which Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz have taken it. To quote the Natural Born Killers, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Political Herd Immunity

You’ve likely heard the term ‘herd immunity’ mentioned in connection with the COVID-19 crisis. The Mayo Clinic defines herd immunity this way:

Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.

Often, a percentage of the population must be capable of getting a disease in order for it to spread. This is called a threshold proportion. If the proportion of the population that is immune to the disease is greater than this threshold, the spread of the disease will decline. This is known as the herd immunity threshold.

What percentage of a community needs to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity? It varies from disease to disease. The more contagious a disease is, the greater the proportion of the population that needs to be immune to the disease to stop its spread

Experience with COVID is too limited for a reliable estimate, but experts appear to coalesce around a figure of 70 percent infection rate of the entire population. To achieve that level would require infection and recovery of well over 200 million people in the U.S. alone. Don’t even think about it. The other path is, of course, a vaccine. No assurances there either.

So, meanwhile, the country is in total meltdown. Tens of millions of people are unemployed with no near-term prospects of getting back to work. Unemployment compensation benefits have run out, and payments from the federal government are consumed. Holds on evictions are running out as well. The Greatest Great Depression looms.

What, then, is the federal plan to help the American people? There isn’t one. The Democrat-controlled House passed a relief package back in May, but the Republican-controlled Senate sat on it. Negotiations now appear to be stalled. The President’s Chief of Staff says he is not optimistic a deal will be struck.

The President’s solution is to make threats he lacks power to carry out (such as Executive Orders that would change the tax code) and to declare that the virus will simply “go away” like “things go away.” In short, and as usual, the President has no idea what to do. The national salvation appears to be dependent upon magic, literally.

And, it appears that America’s other leadership, the captains of industry, the people who raise capital, hire workers and who keep telling us they are the backbone of the American way of life, are intimidated by the President’s fine crystalline ego that threatens to shatter at the slightest touch. Some American businesspeople have, of course, lined up to attend his “press briefings,” with the sole purpose of praising Trump’s leadership, fawning and stroking him as he needs them to do for his re-election. Other business groups make lists of proposals of why they need bailouts, each industry competing with the others for attention and a higher spot on whatever dispensations eventually emerge from the government, if any.

And that, THAT, is the problem. As we move ever closer to unrecoverable economic disaster, ALL industry leaders of consequence should band together, in a new form of herd immunity, and tell the President and the Senate leadership what is needed to save the country, and possibly the entire world, from imminent catastrophe beyond anything that has ever been seen. Every industry of consequence has one or more associations that represent its interests. WHY don’t those associations band together, agree on a program and DEMAND that it be passed and passed immediately? Take some of their vast wealth and go big, go public, go social media, in a massive way with a collective demand for immediate action.

By acting collectively, they will gain “political herd immunity” from the President’s retaliatory instincts that could lead him to lash out at any group coming to him on its own. Their collective voice would be much harder to resist and the traditional Republican approach of divide-and-conquer wouldn’t work. This would require a lot of discipline among the groups, so they don’t break ranks and get picked off one-by-one with inducements for their industry alone. Hopefully, these people will realize that the only hope for a good outcome rests on unity to the end. This approach would also require that many in the herd replace their ideological preferences with a realistic appraisal of what is about to happen in the absence of coherent federal action.

I am not naïve about the problems this solution faces. Having worked in Washington and its political penumbra for decades, I understand how hard getting agreement on anything of substance can be even within one industry, let alone across many. I also get the aversion to taking political risks. However, the stakes now are higher than they have ever been in our lifetimes and beyond. The current political process is not working. Something better must be tried. Catering to the whims of a personality like Trump is not getting the job done. Instead of trying to get coherent policy  from a White House whose key advisors are afraid of the President’s ire more than anything else, it’s time to stop fawning and demand action. Tell, don’t ask. Before it’s too late.

 

 

 

Trump’s America – Food Lines in New York City

As I was walking home from an optician’s office today and passing Lincoln Center, I was jolted to see a line of people pulling grocery carts and/or carrying empty satchels. The line snaked down into the garage entry that goes underground on Ninth Avenue and came back up the other side, then went down Ninth to West 62nd and continued to the edge of Damrosch Park which is about halfway down the long block to Amsterdam Avenue. I suspected what was happening but decided, despite the 91-degree heat and my having started my walk at 79th and Broadway, to inquire. A security guard told me that the Food Bank for New York and some other companies were distributing free food to anyone who needed it.

The photo above and the one below capture the scene. It made me sick to my stomach to see this in New York City in 2020. This is where Donald Trump’s mismanagement/neglect and incompetence/stupidity has brought us. Food lines stretching for blocks. The security guard told me the lines had developed at 6 am and remained all day:

I returned to our apartment on West 59th, discussed the situation with my wife who, as usual, leapt into action pulling food items from the kitchen cabinets. We’ve been fortunate to have income during the pandemic and were well stocked with foods of various kinds. We filled our grocery cart two-wheeler (bought when we moved here and never used) and I walked it back to Lincoln Center. I was shocked to see the lines were gone, but there were still a few stragglers approaching the distribution site. I presented our offerings which were gratefully received by the young volunteers.

It’s pretty clear that people are now desperate for basic staples of life. Most of the people in the line were not young and, as I said, it was very hot and humid. This had to be a struggle for many of them.

This, then, shows us yet again the consequences of the utter failure of our national leadership – the Donald Trump administration – to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Americans in bread lines. COVID deaths exceeding 152,000 and climbing.

And what does the president do? He spends his time hawking products of companies whose leaders have praised him and promoting the use of drugs found by extensive medical studies to be ineffective and in many cases dangerous. He promotes the “opinions” of a quack doctor/minister who believes people in their sleep have sex with demons and insists that Trump’s pet drugs are the “cure” for COVID-19. And he dispatches federal law enforcement people to multiple American cities; personnel who wear no identification and use extreme violence to harass and arrest lawful protesters still enraged over the lack of action in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

This is Trump’s America. These are the acts of a tyrant and a fool. We are at the point of no return. Either Trump is put out of office through the electoral process in November or the United States is finished. Period.

ICYMI – Part 4

In keeping with the Trump ethnic cleansing policy, the administration announced that all “foreign” college students whose schools are planning purely online instruction for the next school year must leave the United States. https://nyti.ms/2ZOCb33 Trump and neo-Nazi Stephen Miller will stop at nothing to remove as many non-white people as possible from the United States.

The full impact on the students and schools is not known because not all colleges have firmed up plans re online versus attended classes. However, “vocational program students and English language training program students will not be allowed to take any classes online” so those students’ access to US higher education is effectively being terminated. The revenue streams from those students (potentially numbering hundreds of thousands) will, of course, also be lost to higher education. Since Trump’s “education” was a complete waste, he apparently doesn’t care what happens to American colleges and universities as long as he can strike a blow for an all-white America.

BUT Harvard and MIT are not taking this lying down. They have sued to block the action. https://cnn.it/2Co23uQ and have been joined by other universities.

UPDATE: For reasons not made clear, in less than one week, the Trump administration, aka the Katzenjammer Kids and/or the Keystone Kops, reversed its decision to force foreign students to leave or be deported. https://cnn.it/2CPyFxL But stay tuned. The neo-Nazis advising Trump are not deterred.

Trump’s Storm Troopers descended on Portland OR wearing camo outfits with no outward identification and used flash-bang grenades and tear gas to facilitate “arrests” of peaceful protestors without charges or Miranda warnings, using unmarked vans and generally behaving like the Stasi, the feared secret police force in communist East Germany. This “federal help” was imposed over objections from Oregon’s governor and Portland’s mayor and, on the face of it, seem to have made the conflict on the streets of Portland worse rather than better. Trump is promising to send more such “help” to various cities he has deemed unable to defend themselves against protestors demanding more just policing and removal of racist statues and symbols from public view.

Trump seeks to strangle COVID testing programs by withholding funds because the surge in infections and deaths is, he rightly believes, imperiling his chances for re-election. His personal political goal is more important to him than the health of the people he took an oath to protect. Following what we hope will be his overwhelming defeat in November, Trump may well face charges of crimes against humanity, among other offenses committed during his term.

Trump has suggested he will not accept any election outcome in which he is not the winner. He was squarely asked more than once in a Fox interview and said, “I’ll have to see.” Meanwhile, he continues to complain that any form of voting except in-person will result in a rigged election. That, despite his own use of mail-in ballots and their use by multiple states with no evidence of meaningful fraud issues. The Post Office, whose funding Trump also wants to cut, will surely face challenges in handling the increase in mail traffic but given the past decline in postal use due to electronic communications, it seems implausible that this is an issue that can’t be resolved within the months before the election. Unless, of course, Trump doesn’t want to solve it but wants to cripple the agency responsible for mail ballot transmission to bring about the very problem about which he claims to be so concerned.

Despite Florida’s attempt to doctor the data, COVID cases and deaths continued to spike there and through most of the states outside the northeast. https://tmsnrt.rs/3eKvmVP Trump, however, using his customary word-salad, continued to claim that the virus will soon just disappear:

“We have embers and we do have flames. Florida became more flame-like, but it’s – it’s going to be under control.”

Trump on “Fox News Sunday” repeated his assertion that the virus would eventually disappear.

“I’ll be right eventually,” he said. “It’s going to disappear and I’ll be right.”

https://reut.rs/30x0OBB

It is well known and widely discussed by many people that Trump is always right. Many people. Bigly. A grateful nation must appreciate these reassuring words from their leader. (thick sarcasm for those who don’t recognize it).

In the least important news, Kanye West, who had previously announced he was running for president, then announced he had suspended his campaign, has now apparently decided, in his best imitation of a human pinball machine, he is running after all. He has missed qualifying on many state ballots and the entire enterprise seems like a sick joke that is not remotely funny. Despite his manifest lack of qualifications, even more so than Donald Trump, West has a large, and like Trump, inexplicable following of people who would actual waste their votes on him. Some of us don’t even think he’s a decent musician, and he certainly cannot do anything but muck up an already problematic campaign situation for the nation’s highest office. It is equally inexplicable that news media think this is a newsworthy story and continue to provide oxygen for what should be ignored.

In multiple disturbing videos, the New York City Police Department is shown to have used unreasonable and unnecessary violent force against protesters in the recent demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. Be advised that the videos in this New York Times report are extremely violent: https://nyti.ms/39bNNBs NYPD says it used restraint, which is ludicrous gaslighting in the reality shown in the video.

Equally disturbing video shows an individual painting black paint over the Black Lives Matter street mural that was placed on 5th Avenue by the city in front of Trump Tower. NYPD officers purport to be trying to stop her but this one woman is somehow, while crawling on all fours, able to manhandle the officers and continue what the defacement. https://bit.ly/39cMIJK  Later she posted this message on Twitter stating that she was treated “like royalty” by the police who actually approved of what she was doing and thus it may be concluded that their faux “arrest” was just for show. https://bit.ly/3jnlp43 The city has some explaining to do.

 

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

###

Pandemic Influences on Higher Education Choices

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

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

A Pandemic Consequence: The Questioning of Higher Education

No idle Memorial Day weekend exercise for some

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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