Monday, September 21, 2020

200,000

Let that sink in.  Two hundred thousand lives lost to Covid-19.  Multiply that number by the friends, families, co-workers, and community members who knew each one of those people, and the number goes into the millions of lives not just touched but devastated by something that could have been controlled, even stopped, had it not been for the wanton ignorance and willful cruelty of those who had the means and the knowledge beforehand to do something about it.  Those who made it a political issue, a “civil rights” issue whether or not to take the same basic precautions someone takes when getting a medical exam or even changing a diaper.  Those who think that “thoughts and prayers” is as good a barrier to the plague as it is to a school shooting.  And those who mock the living for thinking the dead might have lived had not there been such negligence.

If 200,000 is too much to contemplate, let me bring it down to just one.  When my father came down with it, my mother could not be with him through his last weeks, and at 5:30 a.m. on May 25, he died alone.  My father is not a statistic.

Other countries have controlled it, and even stopped it.  They are returning, however cautiously, to normal or what passes for normal now.  And we, allegedly and in our arrogance, proclaim to be the greatest country in the history of the world, are indeed the leaders in infections and deaths per capita, and the predictions are that we are going to look back on this number as just one painful marker on the way to the end.

This number also reflects the loss to our way of life and our economy in numbers far beyond our ability to calculate just in dollars.  Businesses large and small, international and local, have been devastated, and with it the loss of livelihoods and stability for the people who work in them and rely on the benefits that come with it, including heath insurance.  Schools are shuttered, putting at risk not just the health of the students, teachers and support staff, but the learning process itself.  How will that impact the colleges and universities, themselves under the same heel of the disease, or even survive to keep our country running?

I think that it is safe to say that this pandemic will have the most profound impact on the nation since World War II, not just in the loss of life but in the foundational changes it will have on everything we do.  Even with a vaccine and even if we all become somehow immune to it, we are in a different world than we were on January 1, 2020.  And I think it is safe to say that much of this loss can be laid at the feet of one man whose sole mission through it all was to keep his job.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Of Course He Knew. Of Course He Lied.

There is nothing surprising at all in the revelations in the tapes released by Bob Woodward about what Trump knew about Covid-19 and the threat it raised to us.  Of course he knew and of course he lied about it, not because he wanted to save us from panic, but because he wanted to be re-elected.

That’s not a news flash.  I have never doubted it.  His lies and denials and malfeasance have basically destroyed millions of lives, businesses, and he doesn’t care.  Again, not a news flash.  We all knew he was capable of it.  We knew it in 2015, and anyone who has paid the slightest attention to his career knew it long before.

There are those who create evil and make it happen for their own ends.  Our civilization is rife with examples from time out of mind to our own generation: men who purposefully set out to destroy lives and nations for their own ends.  And then there are those who ignore the existential threat, who refuse to accept the reality of a threat as it approaches and let it run roughshod over the land, destroying everything in its wake.  Trump has done both.  He has, from the beginning, planned to take over the country and remake it for his own profit and aggrandizement, and to achieve that end, he ignored the threat from the virus; minimized it, mocked those who warned of what would happen, and then allowed it to go on.

I know what this pandemic has done to our lives, our jobs, and the future of this country.  I see it every day in the empty streets, the silent school halls, the shuttered theatres, my friends looking for a job after losing theirs.  I hear it in the voices of friends I see via Zoom but can’t see in person or hug.  And I know that through Trump’s negligence, my father is dead, along with more than 191,000 men, women, children; young, old, rich, poor, in every part of the country.  So while I and my family mourn the loss of Dad, multiply that by the millions of others who are dealing with the very real loss that could have been avoided because Trump and his minions want another political victory.

Maybe more generous souls can find it in their hearts to forgive him.  I cannot, and as long as I live, I will hold him responsible, not just for my father, but for all the rest that this plague has wreaked on this world.  He must be removed by whatever legal means there are before he does even more damage.  In the name of everything we hold dear, sacred, and to our hearts, nothing else matters.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Harsh Reality

Via Steve M:

On Monday, I told you about the new right-wing talking point on the coronavirus: Because the CDC says that all but 9,000 Americans who’ve died from it had one or more other contributing conditions, or comorbities, the right now insists that only 9,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 altogether. Over the weekend, President Trump retweeted a QAnon supporter’s now-deleted tweet to that effect, and Senator Joni Ernst told an Iowa newspaper reporter recently that she finds the idea intriguing: “They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly covid-19. … I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”

Now, what does this look like in real life? Here’s how it looks:

A Minnesota biker who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has died of covid-19 — the first fatality from the virus traced to the 10-day event that drew more than 400,000 to South Dakota.

The man was in his 60s, had underlying conditions and was hospitalized in intensive care after returning from the rally, said Kris Ehresmann, infectious-disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health. The case is among at least 260 cases in 11 states tied directly to the event, according to a survey of health departments by The Washington Post.

… Sturgis was unique in drawing people from across the nation to one small town, where they crowded into bars, restaurants, tattoo shops and other businesses, many without masks.

So here’s a man who was in his sixties. He had health conditions — as a lot of people in their sixties do. Maybe he had coronary disease, or asthma, or diabetes, or some combination.

But he was living his life. He was healthy enough to hop on a motorcycle and party in Sturgis. The rally took place from August 7 to August 16. Less than a month ago, this man was healthy enough to attend it.

And now he’s dead.

But according to the new right-wing dogma, this man didn’t die of COVID-19 at all. He died because he had death coming to him, what with all those comorbidities.

Who wants to tell the people closest to him — his family, his biker friends — that COVID didn’t kill him? Who wants to tell them that he’d probably be dead anyway?

Would you like to do the honors, Senator Ernst?

Or you, Mr. President?

That has become my question to those who have the gall to tell me that Covid-19 is no big deal or that it’s a hoax: would you like to explain your theory to my family about my father’s death?  I would be more than happy to show them his death certificate.  I won’t give them my mom’s contact information because she’s still dealing with the fact that the man she was married to for almost 72 years died from it and that the restrictions placed on her due to the quarantine kept her from being with him when he died on May 25.

I get it that dealing with grief and the loss goes through those stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and all the rest.  I’ve been there; I’m still hearing Dad’s voice when I dial their home number.  I’m still dealing with it over Allen’s death two years ago.  In my own way I’ve handled both losses by writing about them; not here, but in my plays.  Other people deal with it — or don’t — as they have to.  But when you start to deal with it by not only calling into question the harsh reality that over 180,000 people have died due to the pandemic but trying to turn it to your political advantage in pushing that denial, there’s an element of inhumane cruelty and heartlessness that borders on villainy.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

How To Control A Pandemic

While the numbers are shockingly high — yesterday recorded the largest numbers of deaths from Covid-19 since May — there are places where contact tracing and preventative measures are working to keep infection rates low.  From the New York Times:

The coronavirus is raging through the White Mountain Apache tribe. Spread across a large reservation in eastern Arizona, the Apaches have been infected at more than 10 times the rate of people in the state as a whole.

Yet their death rate from Covid-19 is far lower, just 1.3 percent, as compared with 2.1 percent in Arizona. Epidemiologists have a hopeful theory about what led to this startling result: Intensive contact tracing on the reservation likely enabled teams that included doctors to find and treat gravely ill people before it was too late to save them.

A crucial tool has been a simple, inexpensive medical device: an oximeter that, clipped to a finger, detected dangerously low blood oxygen levels in people who often didn’t even realize they were seriously ill.

Contact tracing is generally used to identify and isolate the infected, and thereby to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Elsewhere in the United States, the strategy mostly is failing; the virus has spread too widely, and tracers are struggling to keep up.

But on the reservation, contact tracers have discovered effective new tactics as they trek from home to faraway home. They may not have been able to stop the virus, but they have managed to prevent it from causing so many deaths.

“This is really not about contact tracing cutting down spread,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the project but reviewed the findings. “Do it right, and the mortality will be lower.”

“This could help with other hard-to-reach communities,” he added. “If we identify cases sooner, they won’t come in half dead with horrible lungs.”

This approach, which doctors at the Indian Health Service laid out recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, may offer a new strategy for reducing Covid-19 deaths in some of the hardest-hit communities, Dr. Monto and other experts suggested — especially among people of color who more often live in housing where multiple generations share space.

Dr. Vincent Marconi, director of infectious diseases research at Emory University in Atlanta, said it was “incredible” that contact tracing could have such an effect on a population so disadvantaged and at such high risk.

If the reservation’s methods have lowered death rates, he added, “then absolutely, without a doubt, this needs to be replicated elsewhere.”

It is indeed a lesson for the rest of us: that in a place where life is hard by any measure during the best of times, intelligent medicine and taking care of others is working. If it works in the IHS, it can work in Florida.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Trump Pandemic

I strongly suggest that you read this article by Will Saletan in Slate.

On July 17, President Donald Trump sat for a Fox News interview at the White House. At the time, nearly 140,000 Americans were dead from the novel coronavirus. The interviewer, Chris Wallace, showed Trump a video clip in which Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned of a difficult fall and winter ahead. Trump dismissed the warning. He scoffed that experts had misjudged the virus all along. “Everybody thought this summer it would go away,” said Trump. “They used to say the heat, the heat was good for it and it really knocks it out, remember? So they got that one wrong.”

Trump’s account was completely backward. Redfield and other U.S. public health officials had never promised that heat would knock out the virus. In fact, they had cautioned against that assumption. The person who had held out the false promise of a warm-weather reprieve, again and again, was Trump. And he hadn’t gotten the idea from any of his medical advisers. He had gotten it from Xi Jinping, the president of China, in a phone call in February.

The phone call, the talking points Trump picked up from it, and his subsequent attempts to cover up his alliance with Xi are part of a deep betrayal. The story the president now tells—that he “built the greatest economy in history,” that China blindsided him by unleashing the virus, and that Trump saved millions of lives by mobilizing America to defeat it—is a lie. Trump collaborated with Xi, concealed the threat, impeded the U.S. government’s response, silenced those who sought to warn the public, and pushed states to take risks that escalated the tragedy. He’s personally responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

This isn’t speculation. All the evidence is in the public record. But the truth, unlike Trump’s false narrative, is scattered in different places. It’s in emails, leaks, interviews, hearings, scientific reports, and the president’s stray remarks. This article puts those fragments together. It documents Trump’s interference or negligence in every stage of the government’s failure: preparation, mobilization, public communication, testing, mitigation, and reopening.

Trump has always been malignant and incompetent. As president, he has coasted on economic growth, narrowly averted crises of his own making, and corrupted the government in ways that many Americans could ignore. But in the pandemic, his vices—venality, dishonesty, self-absorption, dereliction, heedlessness—turned deadly. They produced lies, misjudgments, and destructive interventions that multiplied the carnage. The coronavirus debacle isn’t, as Trump protests, an “artificial problem” that spoiled his presidency. It’s the fulfillment of everything he is.

It rises to the level of classic Sophoclean and Shakespearean irony and karma that the one thing that Trump was famous for — he’s a germophobe and kept hand sanitizer in his pocket — would be the one thing that would rip the facade off his tissue-thin cover of lies and bluster. Oedipus couldn’t have done it better.

It’s hard to believe a president could be this callous and corrupt. It’s hard to believe one person could get so many things wrong or do so much damage. But that’s what happened. Trump knew we weren’t ready for a pandemic, but he didn’t prepare. He knew China was hiding the extent of the crisis, but he joined in the cover-up. He knew the virus was spreading in the United States, but he said it was vanishing. He knew we wouldn’t find it without more tests, but he said we didn’t need them. He delayed mitigation. He derided masks. He tried to silence anyone who told the truth. And in the face of multiple warnings, he pushed the country back open, reigniting the spread of the disease.

Now Trump asks us to reelect him. “We had the greatest economy in the history of the world,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. “Then we got hit with the plague from China.” But now, he promised, “We’re building it again.” In Trump’s story, the virus is a foreign intrusion, an unpleasant interlude, a stroke of bad luck. But when you stand back and look at the full extent of his role in the catastrophe, it’s amazing how lucky we were. For three years, we survived the most ruthless, reckless, dishonest president in American history. Then our luck ran out.

And over 160,000 Americans are dead because of him.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Nerf Vibrator

From the Washington Post:

Trump’s new executive actions to disburse coronavirus relief without congressional approval sparked confusion and frustration on Sunday among businesses, Democrats and state officials, some of whom lamented the moves would not deliver the necessary relief to cash-strapped Americans.

Trump’s directives were aimed at offering new unemployment benefits, protecting renters from eviction and postponing the payment of a federal tax. But some economists and experts faulted these policies as incomplete or legally questionable — raising the prospect that the president’s attempt to boost the economy may have only a muted impact.

One of the orders allows employees making less than $104,000 to delay until January payment of a payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare. Trump added he would try to change federal rules next year to make the deferred payments into a permanent tax cut — but only if he is reelected.

The tax is typically taken out of paychecks by employers. And businesses, payment processors and economists signaled Sunday in the absence of a guarantee that the payroll taxes actually will be absolved, businesses would be unlikely to alter worker paychecks.

So it was all a show; not only will it not help the people that need it the most, it could come back to bite them when the postponement of the payroll tax comes off and it has to be made up.

The end result is that not only were the executive orders questionable and surely a violation of the Constitution — as if that matters to him — they will have little to no immediate impact, and will actually make it worse.

Hey, all you seniors who love Donald Trump. Not only does he consider you all expendable (practically dead already) to the economy with COVID-19, he’s intent upon ending Social Security and Medicare.

Anyone who gets this “tax relief” had better save the money because they’re going to have to pay it back next year when they do their taxes if Trump loses. If he wins they’d also better save their money because all their older relatives will be moving in with them. Maybe Trump will let you write them off as dependents.

And speaking of making it worse:

The number of coronavirus cases reported to date in the United States topped 5 million on Sunday, meaning that more than a million cases have been reported in the past 17 days alone. The tally has doubled since late June, and now accounts for approximately a quarter of all cases reported worldwide.

Remember when the GOP went nuts when President Obama used the pen-and-phone executive orders method to get around Congress? So what are they saying now?  At least a Nerf vibrator won’t kill you.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Racism Up North

What we’re up against in trying to end the pandemic and get back to some form of normal:

A local road commission meeting in northern Michigan on Monday started with one commissioner asking another why he wasn’t wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The unmasked official responded with a racist slur and an angry rant against the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Well, this whole thing is because of them n—–s in Detroit,” Tom Eckerle, who was elected to his position on the Leelanau County Road Commission in 2018, told his colleague at the start of the public meeting.

The commission chairman, Bob Joyce, immediately rebuked his colleague, but Eckerle continued his diatribe.

“I can say anything I want,” Eckerle said at the meeting, which the public could listen to via a dial-in number, the Leelanau Enterprise first reported. “Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”

Eckerle’s remarks came the same week Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) declared racism a public health crisis because of the disparate impact the coronavirus pandemic has had in Black, Native American and Latino communities. Michigan has reported at least 94,656 cases and 6,506 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

[…]

The racist remark spurred widespread condemnation of Eckerle, who is Republican, and calls to resign from party officials. Despite the backlash, Eckerle doubled down on his comments on Thursday, defending his position and using the slur repeatedly in an interview with the local public radio station.

“I don’t regret calling it an n—-r,” Eckerle told Interlochen Public Radio. “A n—-r is a n—-r is a n—-r. That’s not a person whatsoever.”

About 93 percent of Leelanau County’s 21,761 residents are white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fewer than 1 percent of the people who live there are black.

“It’s horrible,” Joyce told the Detroit News. “It’s absolutely horrific.”

He told the News that the other three road commissioners are pressing Eckerle to resign.

“We do not tolerate that,” he told the newspaper. “That’s not who we are.”

But Eckerle has not wavered. State Rep. Jack O’Malley (R), who represents Leelanau County, said he had a conversation with Eckerle and also asked the commissioner to step down.

I spent summers of my childhood in Leelanau County, and I lived in that part of Michigan year-round for seven years. Mr. Eckerle and his views are not an anomaly. Certainly not everyone is like him, but they’re there. They may not be on the record and spoken so bluntly, but it was my experience that racism and those kinds of epithets are an undercurrent in a part of the state that is over 90% white. I knew a number of people who moved there not only for the natural beauty but to get away from what they called the “mess” in downstate Michigan, meaning Detroit. Along with putting up with the “fudgies” — the local term for tourists who came in search of the legendary chocolate confection — getting away from Other people was a fair price to pay for living Up North.

This wouldn’t be news — gee, a racist on a county board in a snow-white community in rural Michigan — except for the fact that his hatred and racism is helping spread Covid-19 and kill people in the process.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Sick Child

Trump’s lies are so dangerous that even Facebook is taking them down.

Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday took extraordinary action against President Trump for spreading coronavirus misinformation after his official and campaign accounts broke their rules, respectively.

Facebook removed from Trump’s official account the post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said children are “almost immune” from covid-19. Twitter required his Team Trump campaign account to delete a tweet with the same video, blocking it from tweeting in the interim.

In the removed video, President Trump can be heard in a phone interview saying schools should open. He goes on to say, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease,” and that they have stronger immune systems.

The twin actions came roughly three months before the elections in which Trump’s performance on coronavirus is a key issue, and the social media companies have made it clear in recent months that they will not tolerate misinformation on the global pandemic.

Well, finally, Facebook.

But more importantly, we have someone saying it’s okay for children to get sick because they’ll survive. What kind of psychopath is okay with that?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Surging In The Heartland

Back in February when Covid-19 came to the United States, it arrived in the coastal regions because it was brought in by people coming from other countries.  Places like New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles were hot spots because that’s where international flights arrived.  Before masks and social distancing were fully in place, infection spread in those areas.  Trump and his allies and the wackos put the spin on it that was one person from China (Trump is still whipping the China horse) and according to one of my now-unfriended contacts on Facebook, it was only happening in places where there were immigrants (illegal, of course) and if we kept them out, then we’d all be better off: kids could go to school and we can get our nails done.

It still spread in places where the governors and the public were convinced it was a liberal lie and fake news; the South and Texas.  When cases and deaths skyrocketed in June, two weeks after those states began to reopen the beaches and the beauty parlors, those governors, notably Gov. Abbott of Texas, suddenly realized what was happening (even as his lieutenant governor said the equivalent of “oh well, folks gotta die”).  And now it’s spreading in the Midwest.

The novel coronavirus is surging in several Midwestern states that had not previously seen high infection rates while average daily deaths remained elevated Monday in Southern and Western states hit with a resurgence of the disease after lifting some restrictions earlier this summer.

Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma are among those witnessing the largest percentage surge of infections over the past week, while, adjusted for population, the number of new cases in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama still outpaced all other states, according to a Washington Post analysis of health data.

Experts also see worrying trends emerging in major East Coast and Midwest cities, and they anticipate major outbreaks in college towns as classes resume in August.

Whether it’s karma or epidemiology, Covid-19 is ravaging the places where Trump and his deniers defiantly refuse to wear masks and threaten those who do, often with weapons.

No one should take any schadenfreude from this. What we should take from this is that willful ignorance and political posturing have become as deadly was the virus itself.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Raging Fire

It’s getting worse, not better.

The United States has entered a “new phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, Deborah Birx, the physician overseeing the White House coronavirus response, told CNN on Sunday. Outbreaks are increasing in both rural and urban areas, touching isolated parts of the country that once counted on their remoteness to keep them safe.

“What we’re seeing today is different from March and April,” Birx said. “It is extraordinarily widespread.”

Alaska, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma are among the states witnessing the largest surge of infections over the past week, according to a Washington Post analysis of health data. Experts also see worrisome trends emerging in major East Coast and Midwest cities, and anticipate major outbreaks in college towns as classes resume this month.

At least 4,641,000 coronavirus cases and 151,000 fatalities have been reported in the United States since February. Close to 50,000 new cases and 478 deaths were reported on Sunday, a day of the week when numbers are often artificially low because some jurisdictions do not report data.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans showing very little interest in doing anything about the economic impact because at least a third of them think that it’s not the job of the federal government to do anything.

The Trump administration is looking at options for unilateral actions it can take to try to address some of the economic fallout caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic if no relief deal is reached with Congress, according to two people with knowledge of the deliberations.

The discussions are a reflection of officials’ increasingly pessimistic outlook for the talks on Capitol Hill. The White House remains in close contact with Democratic leaders, but a wide gulf remains and deadlines have already been missed.

It’s not clear what steps the administration could take without the help of Congress on issues such as lapsed enhanced unemployment benefits or the expired moratorium on evictions — the two matters President Trump has recently identified as his highest priorities in the ongoing talks. Both of those programs were authorized by Congress earlier this year but were designed to be temporary.

If you think a vaccine will be the savior of us all and we’ll all be saved and back to normal, well, that only works on Star Trek when Dr. McCoy comes up with a cure ten minutes before the episode ends.

In the public imagination, the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine looms large: It’s the neat Hollywood ending to the grim and agonizing uncertainty of everyday life in a pandemic.

But public health experts are discussing among themselves a new worry: that hopes for a vaccine may be soaring too high. The confident depiction by politicians and companies that a vaccine is imminent and inevitable may give people unrealistic beliefs about how soon the world can return to normal — and even spark resistance to simple strategies that can tamp down transmission and save lives in the short term.

Two coronavirus vaccines entered the final stages of human testing last week, a scientific speed record that prompted top government health officials to utter words such as “historic” and “astounding.” Pharmaceutical executives predicted to Congress in July that vaccines might be available as soon as October, or before the end of the year.

As the plotline advances, so do expectations: If people can just muddle through a few more months, the vaccine will land, the pandemic will end and everyone can throw their masks away. But best-case scenarios have failed to materialize throughout the pandemic, and experts — who believe wholeheartedly in the power of vaccines — foresee a long path ahead.

“It seems, to me, unlikely that a vaccine is an off-switch or a reset button where we will go back to pre-pandemic times,” said Yonatan Grad, an assistant professor of infectious diseases and immunology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Or, as Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen puts it, “It’s not like we’re going to land in Oz.”

Mixing metaphors: he’s in Oz, I’m on the Enterprise. The point is the same: it will take years before it’s under control, and it may never be eradicated.

All of these scenarios could have been prevented or drastically reduced if we had had competent and caring leadership in the White House.  Remember that.  And wear your fucking mask.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

It’s Like They Want To Lose

The GOP version of the stimulus bill to replace the one that expires on Friday has some interesting elements in it.

“The American people need more help, they need it to be comprehensive and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads,” McConnell said. “That is what this Senate majority has assembled.”

But the GOP legislation contains a number of provisions not directly related to the coronavirus, including $1.8 billion for construction of a new FBI headquarters in Washington. President Trump has taken a personal interest in this project, but White House officials have not stipulated why they believe the language needed to be inserted in the coronavirus bill. Critics have alleged Trump is trying to keep the FBI building at its current location, which is diagonal from a Trump hotel property in downtown D.C.

The Trump administration previously squashed a plan to relocate the FBI building to the suburbs, which could leave the lot near the Trump hotel open for development.

“That’s a good question,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), when asked what the FBI project had to do with the coronavirus. He said the administration had sought its inclusion.

McConnell and his team worked for days to try to put together a $1 trillion package that could unite Republicans in a way that would strengthen their negotiating power with Democrats, but there were signs Monday that Republicans remain split over how to proceed. Congress already pumped $3 trillion into the economy in March and April, a level that many Republicans believe is sufficient.

“There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “The answer to these challenges will not simply be shoveling cash out of Washington; the answer to these challenges will be getting people back to work. And as it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns.”

[…]

In the new GOP plan, Senate Republicans propose cutting weekly emergency unemployment benefits from $600 to $200 until states can bring a more complicated program online. The $600 weekly jobless benefit expires in a few days, and House Democrats have proposed extending it until January because the unemployment rate remains very high.

Senate Republicans want to put the $200 in place until states can implement a new approach that would pay the unemployed 70 percent of the income they collected before they lost their jobs. The states are supposed to phase in the new formula within two months under the new GOP plan, though it’s unclear how cumbersome that process could prove to be.

So their idea of “help” is a boondoggle construction project to boost the property values in Trump’s neighborhood while cutting the emergency relief benefit by 2/3 because they want to encourage people to “get back to work,” which means go out there and expose yourself to the pandemic that’s killed over 145,000 Americans because it’s socialist to stay home.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the Republicans are doing everything they can now to tank their re-elections so that they don’t have to deal with the pandemic and the economic collapse, and under it all, be bound to the cratering flaming meteor strike that is Trump. It’s like they want to guarantee that he loses by such a big margin that only the looniest of the QAnonistas will claim it’s some vast conspiracy. They can then slink home in January 2021, collect their fat pensions, and yell from the cheap seats or a gig at Fox News — same thing — at how terrible things are now that Joe Biden is in charge and it’s all Obama’s fault and rally the surviving MAGA’s for another Confederate flag-draped march the take their country back to those heady days of graft, corruption, and choke-holds on those uppity Others.  But only if they can stay home.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Fatal Attraction

It’s not uncommon for a governor of a state to want to get along with a president.  After all, the federal government can be helpful and even a lifesaver in tough times like a hurricane or some event that requires more than just what the state can provide.  It’s not uncommon for a governor of the opposition party to do his or her best to be on good terms with that president; politics should stop when the emergency declaration is signed.  Of course, in recent years we’ve seen governors of the opposition staunchly refuse to go along with the president because of political consideration even at the peril of their citizens.  Gov. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) bullheaded refusal to accept the benefits of Obamacare and Medicare expansion in a state where a lot of the citizens (including this writer) count on Medicare was done for no other reason than it was coming from President Obama, and Scott would face electoral backlash from his base of right-wingnuts if he accepted it.

In 2018 Scott got himself elected to the Senate, and while it would be far more preferable that someone else was in office, at least he’s out of Tallahassee and can’t cause any further immediate damage to the state.  But he was replaced by someone worse; someone more craven, more ignorant, and a bigger toady to Trump and his proto-Fascist base than Rick Scott.  In ordinary times, all it would mean is that he spends his weekends on his knees in Palm Beach.  But as we are reminded every day, these are no ordinary times, and his sycophancy and political ambition are killing Floridians in record numbers.

As Florida became a global epicenter of the coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis held one meeting this month with his top public health official, Scott Rivkees, according to the governor’s schedule. His health department has sidelined scientists, halting briefings last month with disease specialists and telling the experts there was not sufficient personnel from the state to continue participating.

“I never received information about what happened with my ideas or results,” said Thomas Hladish, a University of Florida research scientist whose regular calls with the health department ended June 29. “But I did hear the governor say the models were wrong about everything.”

DeSantis (R) this month traveled to Miami to hold a roundtable with South Florida mayors, whose region was struggling as a novel coronavirus hot spot. But the Republican mayor of Hialeah was shut out, weeks after saying the governor “hasn’t done much” for a city disproportionately affected by the virus.

As the virus spread out of control in Florida, decision-making became increasingly shaped by politics and divorced from scientific evidence, according to interviews with 64 current and former state and administration officials, health administrators, epidemiologists, political operatives and hospital executives. The crisis in Florida, these observers say, has revealed the shortcomings of a response built on shifting metrics, influenced by a small group of advisers and tethered at every stage to the Trump administration, which has no unified plan for addressing the national health emergency but has pushed for states to reopen.

DeSantis relies primarily on the advice of his wife, Casey, a former television reporter and host, and his chief of staff, Shane Strum, a former hospital executive, according to Republican political operatives, including a former member of his administration.

“It’s a universe of three — Shane and Casey,” said one Republican consultant close to DeSantis’s team who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

The response — which DeSantis boasted weeks ago was among the best in the nation — has quickly sunk Florida into a deadly morass. Nearly 5,800 Floridians have now died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus — more deaths than were suffered in combat by Americans in Afghanistan or Iraq after 2001. One out of every 52 Floridians has been infected with the virus. The state’s intensive care units are being pushed to the brink, with some over capacity. Florida’s unemployment system is overwhelmed, and its tourism industry is a shambles.

DeSantis began the year as a popular governor, well-positioned to help his close ally President Trump win this crucial state in November’s election. DeSantis is now suffering from sagging approval ratings. Trump is polling behind Democrat Joe Biden in recent polls of Florida voters. And both men, after weeks of pushing for a splashy Republican convention in Jacksonville, succumbed to the reality of the public health risks Thursday when Trump called off the event.

Trump asked DeSantis in a phone call in May whether he would require masks for the convention and whether the virus would be a problem, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. DeSantis said he would not require masks and the virus would not be a major problem in August in Florida.

“You were elected to be the governor of our state and make decisions about what is best for us in Florida,” Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández said of DeSantis. “If he was more concerned with what the president thought of him, the outcomes are here.”

The good news — if there is any — is that DeSantis’s political future at the state and federal level is, to quote Col. Potter, lower than a gopher’s basement, and for the first time in nearly 100 years, Florida is on the verge of becoming a state that the Republicans will lose with a GOP incumbent. If Trump loses Florida, Gov. DeSantis will become the Bobby Jindal of 2024, assuming he can get re-elected in 2022.  Despite the fact that the Florida Democratic Party has basically been running on fumes since Lawton Chiles was in office (Bill Nelson was a cypher his last term), they have a real shot of at least winning the governor’s seat, and they may even make inroads in the state legislature, depending on how many un-masked Freedum-shouters make it out of The Villages alive.

It’s one thing to try to curry favor.  It’s another thing to be complicit in depraved indifference for the sake of your job.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Happy Friday

All of a sudden the Republicans realized that holding a convention in the middle of a pandemic was not a great idea.  The Democrats figured that out a few months ago and have already come up with alternatives.  But the GOP is going to host a giant Zoom meeting with all that goes along with it (“Hey, you’re still muted!”) and then try to make the case that while it’s too dangerous to hold the convention, schools must be re-opened.

Meanwhile, the Senate Republicans can’t even agree between themselves what to do about the stimulus bill to replace the one that is going to end a week from today and throw a whole lot of people into limbo regarding their unemployment payments.  And we’ve passed 4 million cases of Covid-19.

On the upside, or at least a glimmer of hope, Biden is leading Trump by 13 points here in Florida.  But remember that polls don’t matter.  Do they?

A moment of zen to appreciate some backyard nature.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Dumb Show

So now he decides that Covid-19 might be serious.

Trump struck a more concerned tone about the virus — at least by the standards of his previous run of briefings. “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” he said. He encouraged people to wear masks, stay apart when possible and to “avoid packed bars.” He said he carries a mask with him and puts it on if he’s in an elevator.

But he also fell back on political attacks and misleading or false statements to downplay the virus and cast blame away from him. He called the virus “the China virus” and repeated his false claim that the United States has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. He said again that the virus “will disappear,” for which there is no scientific evidence, even if there is a vaccine.

And he refused to acknowledge widespread problems with testing in the United States, including test shortages and slow turnaround times for results. Even some top Senate Republicans have said that testing isn’t working as is. The Post has reported the Trump administration wants to block billions of dollars in federal money going to states for testing and contact tracing in a new coronavirus relief bill.

What is the over/under on how long this will hold his attention before the next shiny object or “Oh, look, a kitty!” I’ll be hopeful and say that he’ll make it to around noon today before he gets bored again and starts going after baseball coaches taking a knee or sending best wishes to the girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein who is accused of being his procurer. And his passing approval of wearing masks won’t stop the nutsery from attacking store clerks who are politely enforcing company policy to wear them.

Meanwhile, over 1,000 deaths from the virus were recorded yesterday.

Monday, July 20, 2020

What’s Worse

We’ve known for as long as he’s been a public figure that Trump can’t open his mouth without lying.  That’s a given.

What’s worse is that it will kill people.

What’s worse is that it will destroy the economy.

What’s worse is that it will alienate our allies and give comfort to our enemies.

What’s worse is that it will weaken our government and engender distrust in the institutions that we rely on for everyday life.

What’s worse is that there seem to be about 40% of the population of America who believe every word he says.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Big Eight

Miami-Dade County Public Schools lays out what has to happen before school can open at the school sites on August 24. From the Miami Herald:

The topic was brought up six hours into Wednesday’s School Board meeting. The criteria were the result of a closed-door meeting held Tuesday with medical and public health experts as well as Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. That meeting also may have violated Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.

“The No. 1 question on everyone’s mind is are we going to reopen schools,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who introduced the criteria. “We want to do the right thing.”

The eight criteria are:

▪ A sustained COVID-19 positivity rate of less than 10%, trending toward 5%, for 14 days. Miami-Dade County is currently over 30%; one month ago, that figure was 6%.

▪ A steady reduction in number of individuals hospitalized.

▪ A sustained reduction in ICU bed occupancy.

▪ A continuous reduced viral burden for 14 days with a decrease of virus-positive individuals.

▪ An increase in viral specific COVID-19 test availability with decreased wait time.

▪ A turnaround time for test results less than 48 hours.

▪ An increase in quantity and quality of contract tracing.

▪ Ensuring vaccinations for school-aged children. Carvalho said many parents who would’ve taken children for regular immunizations have not done so. He said the district is launching an awareness campaign.

“Based on where we are today, we don’t meet the criteria,” Carvalho said. “It is difficult to predict where we’ll be on Aug. 24.”

School officials had hoped to begin the 2020-21 school year in the school house five days a week, with mandatory masks and social distancing. The plan approved by School Board members July 1 called for smaller class sizes and classrooms in larger spaces, like cafeterias, gyms and media centers. It also allowed the school district to pivot to fully online learning or a hybrid model of in-person and online distance learning depending on data related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miami-Dade County continues to be the epicenter of the outbreak. The county is still in Phase 1 as the state reported 10,000 new cases Wednesday, surpassing a total of 300,000 cases.

School officials had said previously that physical schooling was only possible if the county entered Phase 2.

Miami-Dade is the fourth-largest school district in the country, with over 340,000 students and over 40,000 employees. The way things are going, with a little more than five weeks to go before August 24, the chances the county will enter Phase 2 are slim.

The state is ramping up funding to the schools to prepare for remote learning, but the process takes time to get the funding in place and the materials delivered in time to start classes, remote or otherwise. As Hank Tester of CBS4 reports, time is ticking away.

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The clock keeps ticking to figure out how the school year will begin in South Florida.

In Miami-Dade, the district is asking families to go online by Wednesday to declare their preference for August, which includes full on-campus learning, something virtual or a combination.

No campuses will reopen though unless the county is in Phase 2 of its reopening plan.

In Broward, four options remain on the table, though the superintendent is on record saying he sees no path to schools fully reopening in five weeks.

The governor is now changing how sees the school situation in South Florida.

“I’m not gonna dictate how everything goes… Miami is different,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “I’ve told the commissioner of education to work with these districts. Understand, we have a very diverse state. The response here is just gonna be different than other parts of the state.”

Teachers like Josh Paolino are waiting for the outcome of the Miami-Dade County Public School’s survey so they can begin planning.

“You need time to design the curriculum based on whatever model we have. Are we going to teach physically? Are we going to have a hybrid online?” he said.

Paolino is part of a group of teachers who want to make clear that “changing from online to a hybrid or schoolhouse model is not simply a matter of flipping a switch” because that “type of planning work we do changes under each model.”

“We have been told there are three possible models: in-home, a hybrid, which still needs discussion… and we have the full online model, which we are in much more favor of,” he said.

Online is favored because teachers are familiar with it and because of the health concerns – not only for kids, but for their own ranks.

“Nationwide 1/4 of all teachers have some type of underlying conditions that may affect their health when it comes to COVID,” Paolino said.

Josh brings up a great point: everyone is talking about taking care of the children, and that is a high priority, no question, but what about the employees that are in the high-risk category for Covid-19? Can the District cover the medical costs of teachers and support staff who get sick from the virus because of having to work in the schools? (Full disclosure: Josh rents a room in my house.)

The District has some huge hurdles to overcome, not the least is the clustasrophic way that the state and federal governments have dealt with the pandemic and the unconscionable attitude that it’s more important to get the economy going and schools open at the expense of the health and lives of the people who keep it running.  In short, it is true that the state is suffering mightily from the economic collapse, but it’s also hard to make money from dead people.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Glimmer Of Hope

The first clinical tests of a Covid-19 vaccine are hopeful.

An experimental coronavirus vaccine made by the biotech company Moderna provoked a promising immune response against the virus and appeared safe in the first 45 people who received it, researchers reported on Tuesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Moderna’s vaccine, developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in humans, and the company announced on Tuesday that large Phase 3 tests of it would begin on July 27, involving 30,000 people. Half of the participants will be a control group who will receive placebos.

This large clinical trial is expected to be completed by late October. But it’s not clear whether it will be possible to prove the vaccine is safe and effective by then. The trial will need to show that those who were vaccinated were significantly less likely to contract the virus than those who got a placebo. The fastest way to get results is to test the vaccine in a “hot spot” with many cases, and the study is looking for people at high risk because of their locations or circumstances.

Vaccines and improved treatments are the only hope of returning lives back to anything close to normal, and dozens of companies are racing to develop vaccines. Experts agree that more than one vaccine will be needed, because no single company could produce the billions of doses needed.

It can’t come soon enough.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida reported 9,194 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, a decrease after the two heaviest days of new cases since the start of the pandemic. But 132 new resident deaths were included in the state’s latest data, the most Florida has reported in a single day.

The new resident deaths include 32 in Miami-Dade County and 13 in Palm Beach County. Broward and Monroe counties had no additional fatalities reported.

The state is now up to 291,629 confirmed cases with 4,409 resident deaths associated with the novel coronavirus, according to the latest data released by the health department.

Florida had reported 15,300 new cases Sunday, which was a one-day record for any state, and then another 12,624 cases Monday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Epicenter

We’re it.

From Local 10 News in Miami:

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A group of Miami-area medical experts joined Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez on a Zoom news conference Monday morning and made clear that South Florida is in a dire position when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

“Miami is now the epicenter for the virus,” said Lilian M. Abbo, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Miami Health System and the Chief of Infection Prevention for Jackson Health System. “What we were seeing in Wuhan [China] five months ago, we’re now seeing here.”

The experts were speaking minutes after Florida announced 12,624 new cases of COVID-19 — a day after Florida set a record for any state with 15,300 new cases.

The experts stressed the need to restrict large gatherings of people in indoor spaces, and Gimenez said the biggest thing that needs to be done is residents following the safety guidelines.

“The reason [for the spike] is us. There’s no Boogeyman. The reason is us,” he said. “We have to change our behavior. The no. 1 reason is our behavior.”

We are a little over a month away from the public school reopening day. Miami-Dade County Public Schools are bracing themselves for not reopening on August 24. So what are the authorities at the county level in Miami doing? Waiting to see if it gets worse.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday he wants to see if existing restaurant restrictions, an ongoing 10 p.m. curfew and a countywide mask order help stabilize the county’s alarming COVID numbers before forcing more businesses to close.

Gimenez is under pressure on both sides, with cities and restaurant groups criticizing last week’s ban on indoor dining and Miami-Dade seeing much more coronavirus spread and hospitalizations than when the county mayor ordered all nonessential businesses to close in March.

“We’re not there yet. But everything is on the table. I don’t think anyone on this call wants to take that drastic step,” Gimenez said at a Monday morning online press conference with local doctors advising him on Miami-Dade’s COVID plan. “If we simply follow the rules, and keep our masks on and keep our distance, wash our hands, that we’ve opened can be done in a relatively safe way. … Right now, I don’t have any intention of going further.”

Meanwhile, Gov. DeSantis says everything is just rosy. Others disagree.

Stay home. Stay alive.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Question of the Day

Can Trump cut funding to public schools to punish them for not going along with his Covid-19 super-spreading?

Short Answer: No.

Long(er) Answer: Neither the president nor the U.S. Department of Education can rescind funding to public schools.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, the USDOE does not directly fund local schools.  The department is prohibited by federal law from doing that.  (Nor can they directly dictate what is or isn’t taught in the classroom.)  What the USDOE does control is grant funding, but it takes an act of Congress to both send the money out for grant opportunities for such things as magnet schools, Title I education for poor children, and IDEA – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a part of the civil rights acts passed in 1964 — and other funding above and beyond what school districts get from their state and local tax revenues.  Those federal programs are managed by the states, and the budgets for those programs were passed in the last Congress.  It would require another act to take the money back, and in most cases, it’s already been included in the 2020-2021 fiscal year budgets at the state and local level.

In short, it’s all about the money.  That seems to be the only language both Trump and Ms. DeVos understand, and they think by threatening the flow of dollars they can somehow convince the 17,000+ local school districts into following their guidelines about dealing with Covid-19.  Except they don’t have any guidelines.

So it’s all bullshit.  It would be easy to ignore, except children are going to die.