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.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Harsh Reality

Trump is threatening to cut off funding to schools that do not fully re-open, virus or not.

Trump on Wednesday intensified his demand that schools fully reopen this fall, slamming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pressuring it to loosen guidance and threatening to cut funding for schools that do not open.

The CDC was already planning to issue new guidelines for schools in the coming days. But Vice President Pence on Wednesday explicitly tied the effort to Trump’s ire.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence told reporters. “And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”

Pence, speaking at a briefing of the White House coronavirus task force, was replying to a question about the CDC’s recommendation that students be kept six feet apart to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

School officials across the country have concluded they cannot fully reopen while following that guidance, because classrooms are too small to accommodate all students with the recommended distancing.

Just so you know, the president — whoever he/she is — cannot just “cut off funding.”  Neither the Department of Education nor the OMB can do that.  The only power the USDOE holds over local public schools is the ability to not reimburse school districts for the expenditures they have made on behalf of federal grants that were already funded by Congress.  So what Trump said — surprise! — is bullshit.

But doesn’t mean that it won’t have an impact on the school systems. From a teacher here in Miami via Facebook:

So apparently the federal government wants us all back in the classroom no matter what, so the guidelines that the CDC has put out (having students and teachers being six feet apart) will likely be watered down to fit an election agenda. There is not enough data on how much transmission can occur from kids (although due to increased lung capacity, kids in middle school and up likely have a higher ability to do so than smaller kids) but until we have a 14 day period where there isn’t an increase in cases locally, I do NOT feel safe going back in a brick and mortar setting. While distance learning is not the same and has its notable cons, my health and those of my colleagues are not being adequately considered by this administration. Please,if you don’t work in a classroom…don’t post here. You want to insert yourself into the convo? Then get a teaching certificate.

Ironically, the Florida Department of Education is pouring money into grant programs to provide schools with funds to do remote learning and to provide for infrastructure support to make the schools safe.

There’s another harsh reality: the toll on the mental state of people who have been isolated by the necessary precautions taken to prevent the spread of the virus. I’m thinking of people in retirement facilities who cannot be visited by relatives or who have been left behind by the toll.  Via my sister on Facebook:

The other group suffering from Covid are the grieving and depressed survivors of the covid death of a loved one who is then left in loneliness and isolation. Giving up on life. “Nothing to live for. Can’t see my family. The isolation is so painful and so depressing!”

But the harshest reality of all of this could have been prevented or allayed or brought swiftly under control were this country not being run by a sociopath and his fawning minions who care more about their political future or fear a midnight tweet from him. When it’s all over, they have to be held accountable.

Monday, July 6, 2020

How Was Your Weekend?

Better than Trump’s.

With the coronavirus pandemic raging and his campaign faltering in the polls, his appearance amounted to a fiery reboot of his re-election effort, using the holiday and an official presidential address to mount a full-on culture war against a straw-man version of the left that he portrayed as inciting mayhem and moving the country toward totalitarianism…

The scene at Mount Rushmore was the latest sign of how Mr. Trump appears, by design or default, increasingly disconnected from the intense concern among Americans about the health crisis gripping the country. More than just a partisan rally, it underscored the extent to which Mr. Trump is appealing to a subset of Americans to carry him to a second term by changing the subject and appealing to fear and division…

[…]

Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has tried to bend events to his will, often using social media to drive home his alternate version of reality and, thanks to the power of repetition and the loyal support of his base, sometimes succeeding. But the president’s attempt to drive deeper into the culture wars around a national holiday, during an intensifying health crisis that will not yield to his tactics, risked coming across as out of sync with the concerned mood of the country at a moment when his re-election campaign is struggling and unfocused.

This is from the New York Times, which heretofore has been basically a weaselly template for bothsiderism: “Sun rises in the East; some disagree.” But it’s getting to the point where even the most objective observers have to acknowledge that whatever Trump is selling isn’t being bought by the people he needs to win another term, and those who do buy it could be sick or dead by the time November comes around.

Meanwhile, the plague rampages on. Texas and Florida had exponential growth in Covid-19 infections.

At least two counties in South Texas say they have hospitals already at full capacity. This comes after officials in Texas, California and Arizona rolled back their reopening plans. In Florida, however, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week that the state was “not going back” on reopening, saying younger people were driving the spike but that they were at lesser risk than older people.

Republican Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez called the growth “extremely worrisome,” and said the growth was partially due to the early reopening of the state.

Gov. DeSantis is echoing his hero and not taking responsibility for the surge in infections.

Gov. Ron DeSantis would not take any responsibility for Florida’s skyrocketing coronavirus numbers Thursday, just hours after the state recorded its highest single day of new cases with more than 10,000.

“Well, do you give credit for Florida for having much lower fatalities per 100,000 than all the states you just praised?” DeSantis told a reporter who asked about Florida and other Southern states’ case numbers compared with the Northeast.

“We have fewer fatalities than some of those states have just in nursing homes,‘’ he said. “And we’re more populated than all of those. So we’ve worked very hard to protect the most vulnerable … and I think that the numbers bear that out.”

Florida reported a record-setting 10,109 coronavirus cases Thursday for a total of 169,106, and 67 new fatalities to bring the death toll to 3,617.

“I don’t think anyone predicted a Sun Belt resurgence in mid-June, but we had the infrastructure in place,‘’ DeSantis said. “And we’re in a much better place to be able to deal with this as a result of it.”

Yes, a lot of people predicted a Sun Belt resurgence in mid-June, which is two weeks after the state virtually threw caution to the winds and opened the beaches for Memorial Day. So, yes, those are on you. Maybe you’ll choke on it, if you’re lucky.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Fox Lied, People Died

This comes as no surprise at all.

It’s another one of those Trump Era realities best described as unsurprising but nevertheless shocking.

Three serious research efforts have put numerical weight — yes, data-driven evidence — behind what many suspected all along: Americans who relied on Fox News, or similar right-wing sources, were duped as the coronavirus began its deadly spread.

Dangerously duped.

The studies “paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others,” wrote my colleague Christopher Ingraham in an analysis last week.

Here’s the reality, now backed by numbers:

Those who relied on mainstream sources — the network evening newscasts or national newspapers that President Trump constantly blasts as “fake news” — got an accurate assessment of the pandemic’s risks. Those were the news consumers who were more likely to respond accordingly, protecting themselves and others against the disease that has now killed more than 123,000 in the United States with no end in sight.

Those who relied on Fox or, say, radio personality Rush Limbaugh, came to believe that vitamin C was a possible remedy, that the Chinese government created the virus in a lab, and that government health agencies were exaggerating the dangers in the hopes of damaging Trump politically, a survey showed.

“That’s the real evil of this type of programming,” Arthur West of the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, which sued Fox News in April over its coronavirus coverage, told the Times of San Diego, a news website. “We believe it delayed and interfered with a prompt and adequate response to this coronavirus pandemic.” (A Fox News lawyer called the suit “wrong on the facts, frivolous on the law,” and said it would be defended vigorously; a judge dismissed the suit in May.)

Beyond the risks the general public faces from consuming this nonsense and misinformation, there’s the fact that the president himself has been picking up these same ideas and using them to steer policy. Instead of tapping experts in the medical and scientific community — many of whom are on the government payroll — he has chosen to educate himself by watching right-wing news outlets.

Not only that, those who believed the lies or disregarded the truth have been attacking — literally — people wearing masks and businesses that are enforcing the CDC guidelines for social distancing. So they’re not only endangering themselves, they’re threatening the lives of other people.

It’s one thing to have a media outlet spew lies and disinformation; there’s not a lot that we can do to stop that, and the Constitution is pretty clear about that.  But to have the people who have sworn an oath to be responsible for the health and welfare of the people of this country not only go along with them but actually feed the lies is willfully negligent and criminal.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

On The Rise

Covid-19 cases are on the increase, most notably in places where the governors relaxed the restrictions.

Now those governors are basically saying “Oh, crap.”

While Vice President Pence urged senators to focus on “encouraging signs,” these governors and CEOs were instead responding to mounting indications of a deadly surge across the South and West. Nevada and North Carolina both ordered residents to wear masks in public, and Virginia moved to implement new workplace safety rules that would force companies to protect workers from infection. Disneyland delayed plans to reopen, and the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from certain hard-hit states.

The 38,115 new infections reported by state health departments Wednesday underscored the changing geography of the U.S. outbreak. The bulk of the cases were posted in Texas, Florida and California, while Oklahoma also set a new statewide record in infections. Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has recorded more than 2.3 million coronavirus cases and at least 119,000 deaths, while the global number of cases has soared past 9 million.

But what is Trump doing? He’s going full-tilt racist.

Trump’s first use of the phrase “kung flu” — during a campaign rally in Tulsa last weekend — drew broad political backlash as a racist slur against Asian Americans.

Within three days, however, it was also something else: a rallying cry for his supporters.

Trump’s appearance before a crowd of several thousand enthusiastic young people at the Dream City Church in Phoenix on Tuesday showed how his casual use of a demeaning phrase — one that even some White House aides rejected three months ago — has swiftly morphed into a staple of his reelection message amid tumbling poll numbers.

The president hadn’t even used the words in Phoenix before audience members, presumably primed from having heard his riff on the “many names” of the coronavirus at the Tulsa rally, beat him to the punchline and began shouting out “kung flu” — prompting Trump, with a grin, to repeat it.

“Kung flu — yeah,” Trump said, eliciting cheers. “Kung flu.”

Don’t tell Trump, but if he had grabbed hold of the pandemic at the very start, taken it seriously, enforced the social distancing and mask-wearing, and gotten behind printing tons of money to support the economy, not only would be be seeing the pandemic on the level of New Zealand or Vietnam, he would be coasting to re-election. But his lizard-brain instincts led him to appeal to his racist, xenophobic, glorying-in-ignorance base.  I honestly don’t know how anyone can claim that making people wear a mask is a political statement.  That’s like saying “I can drive drunk and you liberals can’t stop me.”

But Trump and his minions — the stupid ones especially — went around the country saying that it was more important to get the economy going again.  But that’s kind of hard to do when the people on both ends of the economy — the suppliers and the consumers — are getting sick and dying.The tragic irony is that all the people he’s appealing to with this tactic are the ones who are going to be the most vulnerable.  Kinda hard to vote for Trump from an ICU.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

No Kidding

I thoroughly believe that Trump told whoever is in charge of testing for Covid-19 to slow it down so that it wouldn’t look like the numbers of cases and fatalities were spiking.  Because the more people get sick and die, the more it makes him look bad.

His press secretary said he was kidding.  Then Trump said he wasn’t, and then he said he was being sarcastic to goad the media.  Then he said something else, and at that point you just give up because it’s such pathetic bullshit.

But people are dying.  Infections are spiking in states where Trump-following governors — Texas and Florida — reopened the states too early are suddenly realizing that more people are getting sick.  It’s not the “second wave;” it’s still the first.

The loudest voice of opposition has been The Lincoln Project.  This is a group of conservative Republicans who long ago realized that Trump was leading their party to doom and have been fighting back.  They’ve produced some devastating ads; in many ways they are way ahead of the DNC.  The latest one is impressive.

Digby:

People can have different definitions of what constitutes presidential authority and we’ve been arguing about whose dissent should be respected since the beginning of the republic. But I think the vast majority of the public will find this cavalier disregard for Americans lives, obvious inability to understand even the basic logic of an epidemic, his dismissal of scientific expertise and his general flailing and ineptitude may have finally opened the eyes of some people who reflexively believed that Republicans are “the grown-ups” who are naturally more competent to lead the country.

So, I think this is the line of attack that may have the most resonance. As far as I’m concerned, he is the worst president in history by every possible measure. But apparently, many people bought the Fox News hype. This pandemic response, however, hits home and I suspect quite a few of his voters may be having second thoughts.

He is responsible for more American deaths than any president in history. That’s one record he can legitimately claim.

And that’s no joke.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Back To Work For Real

Today I will resume my pre-quarantine schedule at my part-time job on-site.  Since March 18 I’ve been working from home with an occasional drop-in to pick up materials or drop them off.  But now all the precautions are in place: masks, plexiglass shields, and hand sanitizer everywhere, and I’ll be back to my three-days-a-week duties.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Florida’s Priority

It’s pretty obvious what’s most important to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis:

As the number of Florida coronavirus cases continues to climb and after his own administration announced that those who work at elder-care facilities must now be tested, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he’s not considering another shutdown.

“We’re not rolling back,” DeSantis said during a news conference when asked whether he would consider stopping some reopening efforts. “The reason we did the mitigation was to protect the hospital system.”

On Tuesday, Florida reported 2,783 new coronavirus cases, more than it has ever recorded in a single day. It was the fourth time in six days that the state reported a record number of cases.

[…]

He suggested that Floridians should be living with the virus without the prospect of shutting down the economy again.

“You have to have society function. You have to be able to have a cohesive society. That’s the best way to be able to deal with the impacts of the virus,” DeSantis said. “To suppress a lot of working-age people at this point I don’t think would be very effective.”

So it’s the money that matters.  Sure, people are gonna die, but that’s what makes America great.  As long as the cash registers ring, it’s an acceptable risk, and since Florida’s tax structure is based on sales and tourism taxes, it’s how it works.  That’s his idea of a cohesive and functioning society.

Pretty hard to do when you have over 2.1 million people infected and 116,000 dead in the the U.S.; the largest count in the world.