Tag Archives: COVID

Vaccinate or Else!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gist of the gist is that,

Unvaccinated people are getting the wrong message, experts said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Amtrak to Suspend Train Service to Respond to Republican Document Requests

Republican Troubleshooters Demand 190 Years’ Worth of Records

It’s natural, I suppose, for people who have not spent time on Capitol Hill to wonder what those highly privileged people do up there all day – you know, on behalf of the public that elected them and, presumably, also for those who thought someone else would be better. We have been given some insight into that question as regards Republican representatives by an October 20 records request to William J. Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak, technically the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, sent by four Republican Congressmen from the Republican Office of the House Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

There is a subcommittee, often many of them, for every committee in Congress (this one is among six under the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, or T & I as it is affectionately known in Washington circles). I’m sure your mind is now trying to wrap itself around what the entire organization chart for the entire Congress must look like. Please stop right there lest you suffer lasting mental harm.

This particular Subcommittee has some pretty impressive sounding responsibilities [https://bit.ly/3knpaqr]:

  •  “jurisdiction over the economic and safety regulation of railroads and the agencies that administer those regulations.  Economic regulation is administered by the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB).  This independent agency also has the authority to address national emergencies as they affect the nation’s rail transportation system.”
  • “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for administering and overseeing railroad safety laws, railroad infrastructure and development programs, performing research and developing technology, and has federal oversight of Amtrak.”
  • “Amtrak [established in 1970] is the nation’s major provider of intercity passenger rail service….The Subcommittee continues to oversee efforts to increase efficiency and improve service in Amtrak’s operations.”
  • “The Subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is responsible for providing regulations and safety oversight of pipelines and pipeline facilities, as well as overseeing the transportation of hazardous materials.”
  • “Railroad retirement benefits and unemployment systems, as well as rail labor relations also fall under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee.”

That’s enough responsibility and overseeing, you would think, to be a full-time job for the Subcommittee members.  But two members out of 15 Republicans on the Subcommittee, found time to produce the aforesaid letter to Amtrak. Those four are Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR), fellow Subcommittee-man Scott Perry (R-PA) plus T&I full Committee members, Bob Gibbs (R-OH), and Lloyd Smucker (R-PA). The others? Who knows? Politics, as we will see, is a peculiar affair. Truth is, of course, the letter was written by Subcommittee staff and approved up the chain of command. That’s just how things work.

The letter concerns [drum roll] Joe Biden’s use of Amtrak charter trains for his recent campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Republicans, ever watchful for profligate spending, claimed not to know what Biden paid for the trains and, through their questions suggested that something was rotten on the railroad tracks. Had they bothered to look first, they would have discovered that  “in its disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, the Biden campaign reported spending $265,000 on the train charter. Amtrak says that the starting rate for a charter is $30,000, and that no discount was given.” https://wapo.st/2ThtQCf But who wants to investigate when the opportunity to allege political scandal by an opponent arises? Not Republicans. Notify the media!

The asserted reasons for the Republicans’ deep concerns about Biden’s train charters are that [footnotes omitted],

  • “the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak’s charter train redirected Amtrak’s scarce resources during a time of record losses, employee layoffs, and service cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  
    • The premise here is that Joe Biden, a private citizen, somehow commandeered Amtrak’s charter train against Amtrak’s wishes and did so at a particularly bad time. The bad time, of course, was the result of Donald Trump’s failure to act against the virus, but never mind that.
  • “We are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time.”
    • Here the premise is that Biden hurt Amtrak by paying it for services rendered in exchange for “political gain.”
  • “we question whether the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak caused delays of freight trains at a time when supplies are crucial.”
    • Here the Republican Congressmen show profound regard for the nation’s PPE supplies that it believes, for no apparent reason, may have been delayed by Biden’s charter train.

The implication is that Biden somehow purloined the Amtrak trains for “political gain” when Amtrak would have been better off doing something else with its trains, despite the fact of collapsed demand for travel demand due to Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Republican research,

According to Amtrak’s guidelines, charter trains are not a part of its “primary objective” of operating its “core train service safely, punctually, and efficiently.” Amtrak’s guidelines for operating charter trains include requirements that the use of Amtrak’s resources will not impact its regular operations, and that the train “must generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify the Amtrak resources and assets.”

Moreover, the Republicans’ preliminary investigation revealed the following salacious information:

The Biden charter train included several Amtrak cars and made multiple stops for campaign events where guests were invited aboard the train. The Biden campaign distributed plastic identification cards to riders designed like actual Amtrak tickets. News reports suggested freight train interactions with the stopped charter train and the potential for delays at campaign stops.

The Republicans clearly believed they were on to a big one. “Abuse of train” is a matter to be taken very seriously, and Amtrak is committed to the policy that the truth must come out.

Now, I happen to have it on good authority that Amtrak is both short-staffed now (COVID-19 layoffs, you know) and struggling to get the trains to run on time (big surprise to past Amtrak users). So, I’m going to help out these Republicans who apparently don’t know how to conduct even a minimal investigation but who love to issue press releases. I’m going to suggest answers to the ten questions and offer them, hereby, to Amtrak and the Subcommittee free of charge. This will help enable Amtrak to answer the questions by November 2, as demanded (coincidentally, I’m sure, the day before the election), unless … well, let’s not spoil the surprise. See below and buckle up.

  1. The total cost to Amtrak, including in equipment, resources, and salaries, to operate the Biden campaign charter train.
    • Answer: “A fully-allocated cost analysis of a small set of charters would entail dozens, possibly hundreds, of hours of staff time. Since the Subcommittee has indicated its sensitivity to Amtrak’s resource use, we’re sure you won’t mind if we “hard pass” on this question,” but if you insist we address it, you may expect the answer around June 2021. We don’t mean to be disrespectful but note for the record and in our defense that many congressional subpoenas (you just sent a letter) have been flatly rejected out-of-hand by the administration. What’s good for the goose and all that…

2. The total cost paid to Amtrak for the Biden charter train     and whether the Biden campaign received any financial discount, reduced fares, special treatment, or special services for using Amtrak’s resources to campaign through Pennsylvania and Ohio.

    • Answer: This information was largely covered in the press already. You can find it here: https://wapo.st/3dPoYxv But, be advised, you’re not going to like the reporting on Republicans’ long-standing efforts to cut Amtrak’s budget and the historical data about other candidates who have used Amtrak trains in campaigns.

3. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train delayed any Amtrak trains or disrupted any Amtrak services.

    • Answer: We’ll look into this when we can, but it’s doubtful. It’s often hard to identify exactly what “causes” a particular delay, but we will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

4. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train received track preference over any freight trains or other trains.

    • Answer: That information is also difficult to identify since we normally don’t have to keep that data to run a railroad, but, as above, we’ll get back to you. Soon. Promise.

5. Whether riders on the Biden campaign charter train purchased tickets to board the train.

    • Answer: We think you should know the answer to this already. Biden chartered the train, so there would be no reason to sell tickets except possibly as a fund-raising activity, the conduct of which is not Amtrak’s business. Perhaps another federal agency or body of Congress can help you with this. We hope so because we take your need for information very seriously.

6. The number of Amtrak employees taken off their regular duties to staff the Biden campaign charter train, including any overtime hours worked.

    • Answer: We don’t understand the question. Working on charters are part of the “regular duties” of employees when charters are sold. Amtrak is in the passenger train business and charter trains are part of that business. Amtrak, as you know ,or have reason to know, was paid for the charters according to standard charges that cover all costs to the extent possible.

7. A copy of standard operating procedures or similar documents utilized by Amtrak and its employees in operating standard charter trains.

    • Answer: We believe you already possess this information since you cited our procedures in your letter. We respectfully decline to provide duplicate information. We’re sure you understand we are busy trying to run a railroad. If you don’t understand that, we can’t help you.

8. A copy of any documents, standard operating procedures, or guidelines Amtrak has for trains chartered for campaign and/or political events, particularly presidential campaigns.

    • Answer: We are initiating a company-wide search for these documents. Since the request was not time-limited, the hunt for historical versions of any current documents will likely take some time, so don’t expect anything before the election. We will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

9. A historical list of any time Amtrak trains have been previously chartered for campaign usage and the costs of those resources and costs paid by the individual candidate’s campaign.

    • Answer: Well, that’s a doozy, all right. We will certainly initiate a good faith search but estimate this will take the balance of 2020, 2021 and possibly 2022 since trains run by Amtrak and its predecessors for campaigns likely began in 1836 and have been used, according to reported sources, by at least Harrison, Carter, Ford, Bush (both) and Clinton. You did not specify whether you want the costs, whose estimates will necessarily be speculative, in current dollars or constant dollars. We await your clarification.

Meanwhile, be advised that good-faith compliance with the aforementioned requests will require Amtrak to suspend for the foreseeable future all passenger service in the Northeast United States until further notice, starting November 4, 2020. Have a nice day.

10.  A written response on how the Biden campaign charter train remained in compliance with Amtrak guidance and procedures on COVID-19.

    • Amtrak’s COVID-19 practices are set out on our website. You can find our website at www.amtrak.com. We assume the Subcommittee knows how to use a computer. Have a nice day

I believe my suggestions will do much to move this process along at the pace it deserves.

 

Trump Goes Full Dictator

The president has been asked multiple times if he will respect the result of the vote and participate in the peaceful transfer of power that has been a hallmark of American democracy since the Founding. His chilling responses are, in essence, “only if I win,” just as he said before the 2016 election. In that election he made much of claims that the election was being “rigged” by Democrats against him. Little was known at that time about the support he was getting from Russia which wanted Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton at all costs. Of course, a significant majority of voters went for Clinton anyway. Trump’s squeak-by win was the product of a few votes in a few states favored by the Electoral College.

This time, Trump has gone all-in with his “election rigging” claims, focusing mainly on the on-going shift toward mail-in voting compelled by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis that the president himself has admitted he deliberately downplayed the danger and misled the public despite his early knowledge of how deadly and easily transmitted the virus was. Details in Bob Woodward’s Rage. Trump claims that mail-in voting, in which ballots are sent to all registered voters rather than the traditional absentee method that send ballots only to voters who ask for them, are inherently infected with fraud.

These assertions have no basis in history. Multiple states, including Republican-led states, have long used mail-in voting without material evidence of voter fraud. Paul Begala’s recent book, You’re Fired, The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump, shares some compelling data on this subject. He reminds us of the Pence-Kobach voter fraud commission, ponderously named by Trump as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach was the lead horse in the Trump wagon train seeking evidence that voter fraud was rampant in the United States.

During its roughly seven-month life, the Commission came up with … nothing of substance. The pathetic history of this effort at voter suppression, inspired by Trump’s hurt feelings over having lost the popular vote in 2016, are set out at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Advisory_Commission_on_Election_Integrity, including the finding by a federal magistrate that Kobach had engaged in “patently misleading representations” in a court dispute over document access.

Begala reports that the Bush administration had also tried to unearth voter fraud. Then Attorney General Ashcroft investigated hundreds of campaigns involving 197 million votes and prosecuted 26 people. In a study of 14 years of elections (1 billion votes), the Washington Post found 31 cases of actual or plausible voter fraud. For the 2016 election, a WAPO investigation revealed 4 published reports of fraud in an election with 135 million votes. Sidebar: one of those cases was someone who voted twice for … Donald Trump.

Begala observes that voter fraud involves a very small gain for the fraud-favored candidate (one incremental vote) whereas the perpetrator faces the prospect of federal prison. If you think that’s fanciful, recall Crystal Mason who cast a provisional ballot, which was never counted, in Texas while on federal supervised release following a prison term for tax fraud. She was sentenced to five years – five years – in prison for an uncounted vote when she had never been told of her disqualification under Texas law. https://bit.ly/3mVm4eI

Never deterred by facts, Trump and his enablers have been stoking the fears of massive voter fraud and other problems for months. As reported by Politico,

This past spring, President Donald Trump began a full-fledged assault on voting by mail, tweeting, retweeting and railing about massive fraud and rigged elections with scant evidence. Then the Republican apparatus got to work backing up the president. In the weeks since, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have taken to the courts dozens of times as part of a $20 million effort to challenge voting rules, including filing their own lawsuits in several battleground states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Nevada. And around the time Trump started musing about delaying the election last week, aides and outside advisers began scrambling to ponder possible executive actions he could take to curb mail-in voting — everything from directing the postal service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day. https://politi.co/33ZERNl

The more recent developments are pretty well known, including the efforts of Trump’s Postmaster General, a man with zero experience managing the Postal Service, to slow down mail deliveries, removing automated mail-sorting machines, altering delivery schedules to force mail to be undelivered or delayed, and so on. This is classic voter suppression by other means in the face of a national health crisis that has, due in large part to the president’s lying, killed more than 200,000 Americans and left tens of thousands more with permanent, crippling organ damage.

We are now in the final two months run-up to Election Day. Trump is desperate. He is behind in almost every poll, including many  battleground/swing states and his lies/distortions/deflections have not moved the needle in his favor.

Then the question is put: will you respect the vote and participate in a peaceful transfer of power? His answer remains, in effect, NO.

Does he mean it? We would be foolish to think it’s just a ploy on his part, part of Trump’s bag of braggadocio that so excites his political base at rallies. When you ask someone, “what do you do?” and he answers, “I’m a thief,” you should believe him.

Trump’s campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the election is unrelenting, supported by Russia again, and like an elixir for his base. However, many of Trump’s key enablers, like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are falling behind their Democratic opponents and pleading for help from Fox Propaganda News viewers.

Remember Trump’s answer: ‘NO, I will not respect the election result because I know, in advance with the use of my mystical powers to see the future, that it will be unfair to me and I won’t stand for it.’ There are suggestions that he will order the U.S. military and state National Guard units to the polls, for the sole purpose of intimidating voters. His supporters in open-carry states have already appeared at some protests related to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor armed with AR-15s and other weapons. They call themselves militias, but they are actually armed gangs who will not hesitate to participate in voter suppression in support of Trump’s white supremacy agenda.

Lastly, and most recently, in a now common apparent effort to bolster Trump’s claims of voter fraud working against him, the Justice Department announced it was investigating nine “discarded military ballots” that were cast for Trump in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. https://cnn.it/2FZzo1a

The announcement is extraordinary in multiple respects: DOJ does not normally announce pending investigations absent compelling circumstances, especially if they may influence an election. That is true notwithstanding the astounding, history-changing decision by James Comey, then Director of the FBI, to announce a reopened email investigation of Hillary Clinton only days before the 2016 election. That decision, in which Comey overrode the advice of virtually everyone else at Justice, is recounted in Jeffrey Toobin’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The initial announcement regarding the Pennsylvania ballots was wrong regarding how many votes were for Trump and had to be reissued. As noted by CNN, the disclosure of the candidate’s identity

immediately raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to furnish material that Trump could promote for political gain. Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting. Election officials go to extraordinary lengths to protect ballot secrecy. It’s unclear how investigators figured out who the votes were for, and why they made that information public.

Not surprisingly, the federal inquiry was prompted by a request from the Republican District Attorney in Luzerne County; the DOJ attorney announcing the case is also a Trump-appointed Republican.

As usual with vote fraud cases, the “discarded” ballots are a tiny fraction of the “normal” voter turnout in Pennsylvania (6.1 million votes in 2016). Because the envelopes appeared similar to the ballot application envelopes, the story goes, the local officials decided to open them for fear of missing absentee ballot requests from the military, a problem that had cropped up in the last primary and, apparently, not cured.

This is, I believe, related to an ongoing problem with ballots, the requesting and use of which has become so complicated that many mistakes are made by ordinary voters whose votes are then rejected. This happens even in jurisdictions that have no history of voter suppression.

Another curiosity about this situation is that the investigation apparently had not yet learned who “discarded” the ballots or why. Yet, DOJ was most anxious to make public statements about the investigation and, it turns out, brief Trump in detail before the DOJ’s public announcement of the situation.

Trump spoke to Fox News Radio about it and the White House Press Secretary was informed and advised reporters before DOJ’s announcement.

CNN’s report continues:

Trump and Attorney General William Barr …have promoted debunked conspiracy theories and blatant disinformation to claim that mail-in voting leads to massive fraud. Election officials from both parties have rejected these claims and say there are tried-and-true safeguards prevent and quickly detect fraud.

The unorthodox Justice Department announcement is sure to fuel suspicion that Barr is using the Justice Department as a political weapon to help Trump’s reelection.

In recent months, Barr has aided Trump’s effort to label Democratic-run cities as “anarchist” strongholds, and has targeted Democratic-run states over Covid-19 deaths at nursing homes. Barr has also intervened in criminal cases to help prominent Trump allies.

David Becker, founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation, and a former DOJ attorney himself, said

the announcement didn’t say anything about the voters’ preferences in the down-ballot races, and that it said nothing about how the ballots were actually discovered.… to release a public statement with so little info, at the beginning of an investigation, is inexplicable, and law enforcement malpractice.

Becker was not alone in his condemnation of the early partial release of what amounts to political campaign material supporting Trump. For example,

It’s wildly improper, and it’s truly unconscionable,” said Justin Levitt, a former Justice Department official who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. https://wapo.st/334NpDv

But, wouldn’t you know, the reality turns out to be quite different than the hysterical web of deceit and conspiracy that Trump and his sycophantic enablers weave. The discarding of ballots was a mistake by an inexperienced contractor, since fired. Another nothing-burger in the Trump pantheon of wounds and slights in the fantasy word he has concocted around voting fraud. https://cnn.it/2Sen7IV

Trump’s ongoing campaign to undermine confidence in the election, assisted by his Attorney General acting, and using the resources of the Justice Department, as de facto personal attorney for Trump and his re-election campaign. Barr’s involvements on behalf of the president and his enablers is so bad that more than 1,100 former DOJ officials publicly urged Barr to resign last February. https://n.pr/3hXHNPG

Trump’s plan seems clear. He intends to resist with every available tool, legal or otherwise, the outcome of the election. There are reports that his statements and claims have alarmed the generals in the Chiefs of Staff and in the Pentagon that they may be called on by Trump to intervene in the election. https://wapo.st/2Gawcj7 Trump would not hesitate to order the military to intervene if he thought that would save his presidency from electoral defeat.

In that case military leaders will have to choose between Trump and the Constitution – saying they’ll leave it to the courts will not suffice if Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, orders them to intervene on his behalf. And resignation, the other suggested option, will not work either. The decision-making authority would simply devolve down the chain of command until someone –- there’s always someone – says “I’ll give the order.” It will be someone least capable of leading but who is intoxicated by the power or the attention, however brief it may be.

Trump is half-way there. He has been asked repeatedly and continues to hedge: “we’ll see what happens.”

One suggested solution is that the Democratic vote must be so overwhelming that there simply is no basis for a claim of electoral fraud. A gigantic Blue Wave would be helpful, but it is no guarantee against a desperate man who has no allegiance to the Constitution or anything else beyond himself. Everyone should prepare for the worst. And, without fail, VOTE. VOTE like your country’s life and your own depend upon it. Because they do.

 

Trump’s Presidency in Memes — Round 2

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

ICYMI – Part 6: Fast & Furious

News worth remembering in a few months when you vote:

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

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

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

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

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

10:26 AM · Jul 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.