Tag Archives: coronavirus

Some Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

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

Reliance on Foreign Supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tying Access to Health Insurance to Employment

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Governor Andrew Cuomo Presents

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

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

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

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

Click on the image and follow the prompts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinking the Ship of State

Watching the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is like watching a panicked group of passengers rushing from side to side of a listing ship, each time reacting late and making the boat rock more severely, eventually leading to its swamping.

While Trump continues to gaslight Americans every day in his so-call press conferences, the undeniable facts are that he was warned early, rejected what he heard, ignored reality in favor of sloganeering and cheerleading for a losing hand and failed across the board to take appropriate action to prepare for and fight the pandemic. This incompetent lunatic continues to tweet about how good the TV ratings are while thousands of Americans are dying. Trump doesn’t understand that people in car accidents get good “ratings” too as passing drivers become rubberneckers who can’t help but slow down and stare at the wreckage.

Trump’s meltdowns and attacks on the press at his press conferences are, for reasons that defy understanding, given continuous national TV coverage by networks and cable services, although of late, some of them have cut away when, as always happens, Trump begins his delusional rants about what a great job he’s done. All of the fact-checking done by responsible journalists conclude that virtually every one of Trump’s press conferences is laced with lies, deflections and distortions. He makes statements that are demonstrably untrue and when questioned, attacks the person who asked the questions.

One conclusion to be drawn from this is that Trump doesn’t see these “press conferences” as means of conveying truthful information, or even inspirational messages, to the press or the American public. He sees them as opportunities to glorify himself, little more than campaign events for his re-election. And, as always, a cast of Republican sycophants in and outside Congress readily defends his failures with still more lies and distortions.

A good example of Republican representatives distorting the record, mostly by omitting inconvenient facts, is the video of Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) that is circulating on Facebook and Twitter. Crenshaw is good at dissembling, appearing oh so reasonable (“I’m not blaming the Democrats” while in fact blaming the Democrats). His demeanor suggests a thoughtful man just trying to set the record straight, but, as occurred throughout the phony Senate “trial” of Trump’s impeachment, leaving out key information is not making the record better. It is rewriting history to make Trump look better. It’s a hopeless task, but Republicans know that much of their political base is so enamored of them that they can be relied upon to believe almost anything. Take a look at this: https://wapo.st/3cyFf8n, a solid fact-checking of Crenshaw’s false narrative.

Trump himself, possibly aware at some deep level that his actions and inactions have been a disaster for America and Americans, like the crowd on the troubled boat, changes targets for his deflections almost daily. One day it is former President Obama’s fault, the next day it’s the Democratic governors, the next day it’s China or the World Health Organization, then back to Obama. Anybody but Trump and the incompetent corps of White House lackeys who report to him from their knees.

None of this is a surprise. Concerned observations have been worrying over the possibility that during his term, Trump would face an emergency he could not handle. Much of the speculation about this had to do with a possible military confrontation, but it turns out it was something else, perhaps with even greater consequences. In a sense, the entire world is at war with itself and the putative Leader of the Free World has come up short at every turn.

One report says a Republican congressman had argued it was better for people to die than to face severe economic losses even if they are relatively short-lived. This is revelatory of the Republican philosophy that values money over everything else. I have to wonder whether these people would be elected if an express element of their political platform were that their parents and other family members should sacrifice their lives so that the economy could be restored to its former glories sooner. Maybe the electorate that installed them would think that’s just fine. It’s hard to be surprised by any degradation of moral principles in the world of Donald Trump.

Now we see that Republican governors in multiple states have decided to follow their fuhrer into hell by reopening business in their states, withdrawing the social distancing orders and generally saying “let the chips fall as they may.” That might be okay if the “chips” weren’t people. Contrast this with the evaluation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who has been asked “why can’t you just open up businesses in counties that have few or no COVID cases?” Cuomo explained the obvious: that the virus, and the people who carry it, don’t know about county boundaries. Open restaurants in County A while keeping them closed in County B will simply result in people from County B descending on the restaurants in County A and end up sharing their infections. The result, when looked at one county at a time, is that the infection rate will simply go up in both counties.

This is not rocket science, but just as Republicans reject climate science among other scientific principles, people who don’t want to be inconvenienced any further will simply disregard principles of responsible behavior. Cuomo has discussed this at length in his daily press briefings, noting that (close paraphrase), “I can’t force people to comply. All I can do is persuasively explain the facts of the situation and urge them to comply. And when I do that well, most New Yorkers do comply, which is why we’re seeing the positive results in hospitalizations and other indicators.”

So, the choice is to follow sensible principles that are working to reduce infections or go ahead and open up massage parlors, hair salons, beaches, restaurants and the rest and “let the chips fall where they may.” It would be one thing if the people screaming about their “rights” and “freedoms” to disregard sensible practices would be turned away from overwhelmed medical facilities and sent to suffer, and in many cases die, on their own away from anyone else they might infect. But that’s not how our systems, such as they are, work and it’s not how viruses behave. It’s almost amusing, but not, that many of the protestors following Trump’s LIBERATE call-to-action to demand their freedom from lockdown orders are wearing masks and other protective gear even as they scream at medical personnel. And many of them, it should also be noted, carried Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas as they demanded “freedom.” Irony is not a strong force among these people.

Speaking of Nazis, William Barr, the part-time Attorney General of the U.S. and full-time consigliere for Trump, has declared that the Department of Justice will join private lawsuits on the plaintiff’s side if he concludes that the governors are imposing restrictions that, under well-thought-out standards such as “going too far,” violate the Constitution. https://bloom.bg/2ywzOIo In a statement that plainly makes DOJ an arm of the White House political agenda, Barr said,

“We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that’s reasonably safe,” Barr said. “To the extent that governors don’t and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce — our common market that we have here — then we’ll have to address that.”

Asking the courts to address issues of this nature reminds me of that wonderful song, “In the Year 2525.” If you don’t remember it, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izQB2-Kmiic

Barr, who lacks a medical degree, went further,

“You can’t just keep on feeding the patient chemotherapy and say well, we’re killing the cancer, because we were getting to the point where we’re killing the patient,” Barr said. “And now is the time that we have to start looking ahead and adjusting to more targeted therapies.”

Barr appears as unaware as Trump that we are not “killing the cancer.” Barr apparently lost his thinking capacity when he signed on as Trump’s consigliere and now believes that he knows everything about everything.

How will DOJ determine what state business operations are “reasonably safe” is undetermined. Trump’s own articulation of the standards states should follow for “reopening” has been as unstable as everything else the Trump administration does.  His standards didn’t last 24 hours, as pointed out by Washington Governor Jay Inslee who said Trump had gone “off the rails.”

Trump has managed to destabilize one of the strongest economies in the world while bringing death and misery to millions. Their blood is on his hands and it can’t be brushed or washed off with more self-adulatory platitudes. Much of this could have been avoided, but the president doesn’t read and he doesn’t listen. He thinks he already knows everything he needs to know. We are aware of this because it has told us so, repeatedly, and his behavior shows his corrupt incompetence every day. So, as Trump veers one way and then the other way, his followers do the same and the Ship of State rocks back and forth, teetering ever closer to the brink of complete disaster. All the gains against the virus, made at such huge human and economic costs, may disappear literally in a few days if the states follow the medical advice of the fool-in-chief and his ignoramus Attorney General.

We will know who is responsible even as Trump tries to blame someone or some many others. He is out of excuses. Not even Putin can cover up the catastrophe Trump has brought about. Start the countdown.

 

New York As a Dead City

We have no balcony but many windows from which we can see south down Ninth Avenue into the 30s and east on West 58th to Columbus Circle and even parts of Central Park. In normal times West 58th would be teeming with foot traffic in both directions, much of it related to either Mt Sinai West Hospital that sits next to our apartment building and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (enrollment of more than 13,000 undergraduates). Now, almost no one is on the street and there is little traffic. Few of the distinctive yellow taxis because no one is looking for rides.. Even the ambulances that normally come and go all day and night with sirens blasting are few and far between. The city is silent.

We remain self-sequestered in our 50th floor apartment. I have left it only twice since March 10, once for a disturbing walk around the block and once to go to a clinic where my “symptoms” were judged to be caused by a cold I’ve had since before coronavirus was recognized as rampant among us. I returned home from that experience chastened and profoundly disturbed at the incoming hourly news of the spreading catastrophe. I finally determined not to watch any more Coronavirus Task Force “press briefings” from the White House. The last straw was the dragging onstage of the Bible-thumper Pillow Guy who used the occasion to proclaim that the president was brought to us by God to save us from the virus. The constant slavering pandering to the president’s ego is more than I can bear to watch as thousands are dying and hundreds of thousands are suffering.

As you know if you follow the news, all of New York City is the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, a dubious distinction of the worst type in the current circumstances. Broadway shows, ballet at Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center and elsewhere, all shuttered along with the restaurants. Food deliveries are no long permitted to be brought to our door; someone must venture to the lobby to pick up everything. Absent a genuine emergency, medical appointments must be conducted by videoconference. How fortunate we are that such technology is available to us. We recently had a Zoom visit with some friends in Brooklyn, a delightful respite from the bleakness everywhere we look.

Which brings me to what is really most puzzling and disturbing. From up here, it appears that the people of New York are observing the social distancing practices recommended by the government and health experts. Of course, we can only see a tiny portion of the city, but you must wonder why the social distancing practices would vary dramatically from the limited area we can view. In any case, the number of new COVID-19 cases in New York City continues to surge. Experts are now suggesting that the early advice about how the virus spreads in the community was inaccurate. That is not a criticism because this is a new virus and the experts are learning more about it every day. But the reality appears to be that social distancing as thus far practiced has not “flattened the curve” sufficiently. The peak or apex day when the number of new cases begins to reverse is at least a week away. Maybe no one really appreciated how fast and how deeply the virus had reached before the true scale of the threat was understood.

Elsewhere, irrationality borne of cult-like beliefs in the unbelievable are causing the leaders of numerous states, mainly in the south, to either reject the experts’ medical advice entirely or to apply it very selectively. Only when the inevitable occurs and COVID-19 cases begin to surge do these geniuses decide that some response is required. Meanwhile, thousands of people crowd still-open beaches and continue about their daily lives as if nothing had happened. This is not, I must admit, solely a product of southern, religious or other regional misjudgment of reality. Even in New York City when the decision was made to leave open the many public playgrounds that dot the city, many New Yorkers flocked to them and behaved as if it was just another day in the park. The city noticed that social distancing practices were being ignored and closed the playgrounds.

I cannot leave this subject without noting another stark difference between New York and the Republican stronghold states around the country. I refer to leadership. As I was considering this post, a piece by Jon Katz appeared in the Bedlam Farm Journal, The Cuomo Brothers Versus The President: What A Show! https://bit.ly/2x2eHx8 Katz is a “former journalist and media critic” who compares the leadership performances of Donald Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during the COVID-19 crisis. I think Katz’s analysis is excellent with one major exception. He seems to think that Trump and Cuomo are basically the same except that Cuomo is better at presentation. I, on the other hand, believe that the differences are so stark and fundamental that they are a difference in kind, not merely in style.

Katz’s article contains much of what I had intended to say after watching Cuomo’s press briefing on Friday. He sat at a table flanked by senior advisors and experts in health and finance. His presentation was not accompanied by a cast of business executives parading to a microphone to sing the governor’s praises. Instead, Cuomo’s remarks related to a series of charts and graphs showing the extent of the challenges New York City and state face from the coronavirus. Much of it was bad news: “At the current burn rate we will be out of ventilators in six days.” The little good news was marked with warnings about undue optimism that could mislead people into taking unnecessary and dangerous (to themselves and others) risks by departing too soon from the social distancing and other measures designed, it is hoped, to “flatten the curve” in virus case growth and deaths. Hospitals and the doctors, nurses, orderlies and others laboring there are reaching the breaking point.

The data was clear and stark and frightening. Cuomo glossed over nothing. He spoke in full sentences in simple New York-accented English. No word salad, no gibberish, no self-praise. Just simple language, elegant in its simplicity and directness, intended to communicate both concern about the harsh realities and encouragement that we will get through this together. He carefully avoided engaging Trump in a war of words and recriminations when reporters tried to bait him into reacting to Trump’s verbal insults to New York and its health care workers.

And, in total contrast to the self-referential obsessions of the president, Cuomo said “If we fail, it’s on me.” Near, I think, to the limits of emotional control, he said “I’m doing everything I can, but people are still dying. It is very hurtful and painful. I take it very personally.” Then, after an hour of speaking hard truths and answering questions, Cuomo looked to his advisors: “Anything I said that is wrong? Now is the time to speak up.” The cameras were still rolling and there is no doubt that if any of his experts had something to qualify about his presentation, they were being called out in public to do it in full public view.

You likely will never see Donald Trump do anything like that. He maintains that everything he does and says is perfect. He is anointed and therefore cannot make mistakes. Remember that after downplaying the risks of the coronavirus while the rest of the world was being overrun by it, after claiming it was completely under control and predicting that it would soon drop to zero cases in the United States, Trump said, on camera, “No, I do not take responsibility.”

So, Cuomo: If we fail, it’s on me.

And Trump: I take no responsibility and deny I said what I said.

 

Have Progressives Been Unfair to Donald Trump?

On Facebook and other places I have seen many “conservatives” argue that “progressives,” or “ libtards” or “haters” more pejoratively, have been unfair to the “duly elected” president from some unspecified time before he was elected to the present. The argument, they seem to offer, is that Trump is president of all the people and thus deserves everyone’s 100% devotion. They believe Trump is acting in good faith, doing his best in the face of massive resistance at every turn and, as Trump himself proclaims on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, is being treated in a fundamentally unfair way.

I have reflected on this at some length and done some research which, in the interest of comity and intellectual honesty, I present herewith. Let’s begin at the beginning — with people who know Trump best.

On March 3, 2016, Mitt Romney spoke about Trump, calling his promises worthless, labeling him a “fraud.” https://nyti.ms/2JkGFH6 The speech listed a long list of failed business ventures bearing Trump’s name. He noted that on foreign policy Trump was “very not smart.” Dishonesty is Trump’s hallmark, Romney explained. Many Republicans were unhappy with Romney’s comments, but Senator John McCain, a fixture in the classical conservative wing of the Republican Party, agreed with Romney’s descriptions of Trump.

Senator Ted Cruz referred to Trump as a “bully” and “sniveling coward” who was “consistently disgraceful.” And,

“This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology text book, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying,” …. “The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist—a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.”

https://bit.ly/3bsGoO8

Senator Lindsey Graham said the following about Trump:

“I don’t think he has the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief.”

I just don’t think Donald is a reliable conservative Republican and quite frankly, he lost me when he said my friend John McCain was a loser because he was captured as a POW. He lost me when he accused George W. Bush of lying to the American people about the Iraq War, and he thinks Putin’s a good guy, so, I just can’t go there.

I’ve just got a hard time supporting somebody who claims that Ted Cruz’s dad was associated with Lee Harvey Oswald and involved in the Kennedy assassination. I’ve got a hard time supporting somebody for president who spent thousands of dollars of their own money trying to find out if President Obama was born in Kenya versus Hawaii. I think that’s crazy.

I just believe his temperament and judgment is not sufficient to be commander in chief of the finest fighting force in the world. I think his foreign policy is gibberish.

… embracing Donald Trump is embracing demographic death.

[https://bit.ly/2UzpKp6]

“I’m not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of space there. I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.”   [https://bit.ly/2UMttA6]

Trump lied about giving up his active interests in his business empire.  He lied about disclosing his tax returns.

Then, Trump appointed his cabinet of incompetents and grifters, including Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Ryan Zinke who, when they weren’t enacting anti-health insurance, anti-environmental protection and similar policies, were basically run out of town for corruption in office.

When Neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, VA, leading to the murder of a counter-protester, Trump declared there were “very fine people on both sides.” He said other things, to be sure, but overall the tenor of his comments about the white supremacists bearing swastikas & other Nazi paraphernalia was to equate their cause as equal to those protesting their presence. Trump’s history of equivocation and making false equivalencies is well-established on the public record. This has not stopped Trump from making outrageous and often outright false statements that are recorded on videos, then simply denying he made the statements thereafter.

He mocked a disabled reporter at a rally, urged violence against protesters, refused to read intelligence briefings, insulted U.S. intelligence authorities, insulted long-standing allies around the world, including shoving a world leader out of the way so he could stand in front for a photo opportunity.

Trump relishes giving demeaning nicknames to his political opponents, gets most of his “information” from the Fox News propaganda channel, demands unending praise from everyone around him at all times and constantly brags about his claimed achievements which are always the “greatest of any administration in history.”

All of that is on the public record and undeniable. The Washington Post Fact Checker has determined that Trump does hold one record: the most false and/or misleading statements in the history of American politics. This brings us to the current moment of national peril, the scenario that Trump’s critics have always feared the most: an existential crisis that Trump would prove incompetent to handle.

Again, the record on this is clear and indisputable by anyone able to face reality. Trump had reason to know in January that the coronavirus threatened the world with a death-dealing pandemic. He made multiple public statements downplaying the threat, boasting that he had the situation under control. He was supported in this by some of his sycophantic cabinet members who have learned they dare not criticize him if they want to keep their jobs. Trump essential dismissed the coronavirus threat, saying the cases would be down to zero in no time.

And, here we are. The number of cases has skyrocketed. The virus is present in every state. The death toll mounts hourly and is now in the thousands. Trump continues to publicly contradict the advice and public statements of the best medical advisors in the world. His penchant to say whatever he thinks will play well in the media has led him to make threats such as quarantining the entire states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In a rare victory for reason, his staff apparently persuaded him that a “strong travel advisory” would be the better approach, but his swing-from-the-hip statements caused alarm in the region.

Trump’s equivocation has other consequences. His sway over right-wing politicians is so strong now that his resistance to recognizing the truth about the coronavirus has infected many of them and led to rejection of sound medical advice that might limit the spread of the virus. Unnecessary deaths will inevitably result.

Without belaboring this further, the question I posed at the outset can have only one answer: Trump has not been treated unfairly. He and he alone is responsible for his standing as the most dishonest and incompetent president in the history of the United States. I have only touched on a few of the lowlights of his mal-administration of the public trust but these are sufficient to show that Trump is fully deserving of every criticism leveled at him. His reputation for lying, for bullying, for self-glorification and all the rest is both well-earned and documented for all time on the public record. It will never be erased and nothing about his current conduct indicates he has the capacity to resurrect a functioning leadership role for himself. His legacy is established. It is time to remove him from office before it is too late.

Compartmentalized Thinking Can Kill

Readers of this blog know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU primarily uses the legal system to protect everyone’s rights, sometimes in unpopular causes. ACLU recognizes the difficult truth that if one person’s rights can be taken away, then all peoples’ rights can be taken.

Compartmentalized thinking is one of the ways we are able to look away from wrongs – it’s “them,” not “us;” “I can’t afford to get involved so I won’t think about it;” and “maybe I’ll engage later/contribute later/pay attention later, but right now I have other important things on my mind.” And many other examples. Such thinking also enables our ability to block out unpleasant thoughts and to resist the inexorable logic of exponential growth.

Compartmentalized thinking also enables us to support abstract ideas that block our awareness of the interconnectedness of events and the forces that shape our society. I read a piece from ACLU that delivered this point with unexpected force today. https://bit.ly/2wz18oq

ACLU reports that “A group of over 450 public health experts signed a public letter today warning that widespread transmission of the Covid-19 coronavirus within the United States is “inevitable.” Their letter urges government decisionmakers to enact policies that will have the best chance of minimizing the effects of the virus: those based strictly on the best available scientific information, and those that are imposed in a fair and equitable fashion.”

Some will react to this with “uh oh, here they go again, worrying about peoples’ rights when we should be focused on survival.” That is, perhaps, an understandable response, but read on.

ACLU acknowledges that sometimes individual rights must yield to the “greater good.” However,

The public health experts remind us in their letter that there is a flip side to the limits on liberty …. Just as a disease cares little for our notions of individualism … neither does it care about other artifacts of our individualistic society, such as differences in wealth, status, ethnicity, or immigration status. If the authorities want to be effective in limiting the transmission of this virus, they will need to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable people in our society.

A disease does not care who has health insurance, for example. You may have the best insurance in the world, but if 30 million others who are part of your bio-mass are not getting tested or treated because they lack insurance, that will increase your risk. Similarly, if members of immigrant communities fear they’re going to fall into the hands of an ICE officer if they seek treatment, that is a public health problem for all of us. A disease does not care who is undocumented.

In their letter, the public health experts call for officials to work with insurance companies to make sure that lack of insurance and high costs do not become a barrier to testing and treatment. They call for health care facilities to be declared as “immigration enforcement-free zones” — a step that has been taken before during hurricanes and other emergencies….

The experts draw attention to the need to support minimum-wage workers and others who live on the economic margins, cannot telecommute, and cannot afford to lose their job. While an office worker who is starting to feel ill may be able to self-isolate, someone in a more precarious situation may calculate the different risks they face in their life and conclude their only option is to hide their condition and head to work. A disease does not care whose employers offer good sick leave.

Finally, “Political leaders need to scrupulously ensure that their public messages are accurate and guided by science. There is a sad history of responses to emergencies that are hindered by politics,” citing  China’s response to SARS as well as coronavirus and the Soviet government’s response to Chernobyl.

Finally, the experts echo some of the longstanding lessons of their field: Voluntary self-isolation measures are more likely to induce cooperation — and therefore be effective — than coercive measures. Mandatory restrictions such as quarantines and travel bans “can be effective only under specific circumstances” and “must be guided by science, with appropriate protection of the rights of those impacted.” Those rights include due process rights to appeal confinement and the right to legal counsel. While leaders in outbreaks can be tempted to impose draconian measures as a show of strength, the letter’s signers also remind us that a disease also does not care how tough a leader looks.

The record of the Trump administration, and the President’s repeated comments contradicting the advice of health experts, do not align well with ACLU’s insightful analysis. This has led to numerous mistakes in the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Everyone needs to recognize that just about everything is now connected to just about everything. If society now turns its back on the problems faced by the uninsured and others who are under enormous pressure to survive, we will all pay a dear price. We’re all in this together, like it or not.

Final Note:  Please consider making a contribution to the ACLU. It is fighting for each of us on multiple fronts and needs financial support to continue being an effective force for truth and justice for everyone.

 

The Price of Dishonesty: Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus is spreading around the globe at a remarkable pace. Mistakes have been made by leading health authorities regarding testing criteria, quality of test kits and in other ways that have delayed detection and facilitated the spread. Hopefully, all of those mistakes can be corrected relatively quickly and the lost ground made up. The news so far is not encouraging for a quick stoppage of the metastasizing disease.

Overarching in this sad story is the reality that the President of the United States is widely distrusted because of his record of relentless self-interested lying and distortion in a vast array of areas in order to perpetuate the mythology that he is the greatest president in history. Trump’s rule is to say whatever he wants to self-promote and never to admit error or apologize for demonstrable mistakes. He routinely and quite casually will say something on camera, then, faced with blowback, simply deny that he said it. He claims credit for things his administration did not do and denies responsibility, usually blaming Barack Obama, for errors he has committed.

The consequence of this reputation for dishonesty and untrustworthiness is, predictably, when a genuine crisis comes along, Trump’s reputation infects everything he does and bleeds over into the actions of administration people tasked with actually combatting the crisis. Plainly, coronavirus is such a crisis. Trump not only regularly contradicts statements of experts in the field, he insists at every turn that there really is little to worry about because he’s doing such a great job. He has even suggested that people with symptoms that could be coronavirus should report for work as usual, despite advice to the contrary from experts. Trump’s biggest fear seems to be the effect of the health emergency on his re-election hopes rather than the welfare of the tens of thousands of sick people, some of whom are going to die as many already have.

Fear of a pandemic is a real and powerful force that can easily cause people to act in self-defeating ways. Fear is spread by, among other things, distrust. One medical authority has observed that the government knew in December, 2019 that the coronavirus was going to arrive in the United States and did almost nothing to prepare. If Americans doubt the word of the authorities because they believe the president is influencing what they are being told, the fear can easily turn to panic.

That, then, is the ultimate price we may yet pay for the president’s lack of truthfulness and integrity. Those “chickens” are coming home to roost, raising questions about how much to believe in the advice being given by federal medical authorities. Based on a CNN Town Hall on the virus situation indicates that the government is still being disingenuous about the availability of test kits. Dr. Anthony Fauci says we need many millions of coronavirus tests but there is no current basis for believing that millions of tests will be available in the foreseeable future. As a result there will be no accurate evaluation of the mortality rate for the virus until a large number of tests have been completed, which may take several weeks.

There should be only one guiding principle behind the information being given to the public: truth and nothing but the truth. Many of the federal authorities involved in fighting the virus are people of unquestionable integrity but their authority will be quickly undermined if the impression arises, as it already has in some instances, that the politicians supporting Trump are tilting and filtering the information the public gets. The appointment of the Vice President to lead the U.S. response to the virus has only contributed to the impression that the administration is being less-than-candid with the public.

We already know that the virus was able to get a head start in China because, as usual, the government there did not want the news to get out and failed to act swiftly to isolate the disease. If the public in the United States comes to the conclusion that the federal government is playing that same game, we are in for really hard times.

The solution is to get the Vice President Pence out of the command-and-control position he occupies regarding the federal response and put a medically-qualified expert in charge of the counter-attack against the coronavirus. The sooner this is done, the sooner public trust and support for the necessary counter-measures will develop and be sustained.