Thursday, December 17, 2020

DeSantis Is Killing It In Florida

Literally.

When Ron DeSantis ran for governor of Florida in 2018, he made a politically savvy decision: He would be the most pro-President Trump candidate possible. He popped up on Fox News Channel repeatedly, understanding that it would be an effective way to get Trump’s attention. After he earned Trump’s endorsement in the Republican primary — and then won his party’s nomination — his campaign ran an ad touting how loyal he was to the president’s vision. At one point in the spot, he helped his young daughter build a wall with her blocks.

After narrowly winning the general election, he remained loyal to Trump. After the coronavirus emerged in the United States, he echoed Trump’s insistences that economic activity should not be constrained to slow the virus’s spread.

At one point in late May, DeSantis stood in the driveway of the White House after meeting with Trump, attacking members of the media for criticizing his decision not to limit business activity.

“You’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York,” DeSantis said. “‘Wait two weeks, Florida is going to be next. Just like Italy, wait two weeks.’ … We’re eight weeks away from that and it hasn’t happened.”

“We’ve succeeded and I think that people just don’t want to recognize it because it challenges their narrative, it challenges their assumption,” he later added, “so they’ve got to try and find a boogeyman.”

At the National Review, Rich Lowry echoed DeSantis’s rhetoric, asking where the Florida governor should go to get his apology.

Lowry should have waited a few weeks. On the day DeSantis spoke at the White House, Florida was seeing 724 new coronavirus cases a day on average. Three weeks later, the average was more than 1,200. Three weeks after that, more than 7,100, 10 times the figure as when DeSantis was taking his victory lap. At the worst point over the summer, Florida had nearly 12,000 new infections a day and 185 new covid-19 deaths.

[…]

A White House report recommending that Florida curtail the availability of indoor dining and other activity to slow the spread of the virus was reportedly muffled by DeSantis’s administration. On Tuesday, he appeared at an event to encourage restaurants to remain open, claiming — falsely — that restaurants aren’t a significant driver of new cases. (He also declined to refer to President-elect Joe Biden as president-elect.)

Last week, Jones’s home was raided by state police who seized computers she was using to create a standalone data tracker. She is accused of illegally accessing state computer and messaging systems; she claims the state sought to silence her.

In the end, Trump would almost certainly have won Florida no matter what the coronavirus death data showed. His victory was powered heavily by a shift among Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, where a 290,000-vote loss in 2016 became an 85,000-vote loss in 2020, as his statewide win margin grew to 260,000 votes. But with Trump leaving office and DeSantis sticking around for at least another two years, the question remains: Did his administration intentionally misrepresent coronavirus data for political purposes?

In other words: Did DeSantis’s loyalty to Trump and favored position as a keep-the-economy-open poster child manifest in less-dire death totals?

In a word: Yes.

Carl Hiaasen in The Miami Herald:

From the beginning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been a course of secrecy, cold-blooded deception and negligence.

Now comes the raid by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on the home of Rebekah Jones, the ex-state health data analyst who started her own COVID dashboard after complaining that the DeSantis administration was twisting statistics to underplay the severity of the pandemic.

The governor initially said he didn’t know about the investigation or raid. On Friday, he admitted he did, fumed about the term “raid,” and then huffed out of a press conference. Look for him soon on Fox News.

Seizing Jones’ computer — ostensibly to investigate a “hacking” incident — has all the appearance of clumsy retribution for embarrassing DeSantis. So spongy was the state’s search warrant that it prompted the resignation of former prosecutor Ron Filipowski from the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, to which DeSantis had recently reappointed him.

Filipowski, a Marine veteran and lifelong Republican, said that DeSantis has been “reckless and irresponsible” in dealing with the pandemic, and that Floridians “are not being told the truth about COVID.”

A recent investigative series in the Sun-Sentinel provided sickening details about the depths to which DeSantis sunk to please President Trump, his super-spreader idol.

In late September, for instance, the Florida Department of Health — DeSantis’ pliant Ministry of Propaganda — told county officials to stop making public statements about COVID-19 until after the Nov. 3 election.

News releases or media posts must not mention the virus, the order stated. It came from Alberto Moscoso, communications chief of the state health department. He left his job Nov. 6.

The motive for muzzling local health departments was obvious. Florida being a key state for Trump, DeSantis didn’t want voters to be reminded that COVID-19 was on a deadly surge.

On Sept. 25, DeSantis himself ordered a full reopening of bars and restaurants, and sought to stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates. Between Sept. 30 and Election Day, at least 2,526 Floridians died of COVID-related causes.

That number, which came from the state, is probably higher. Real experts believe the state’s death toll has already passed 20,000. Many of those victims could have avoided getting sick, but we have a governor who has shunned medical warnings in favor of “blue sky messaging.”

DeSantis’ own spokesman has disparaged the use of masks and tweeted that the coronavirus is “less deadly than the flu.” That yammering stooge, Fred Piccolo Jr., still has his job, which is all you need to know about DeSantis’ true priorities.

From the pandemic’s early days, his administration hid key information about the spread of the virus in nursing homes, prisons, hospitals and even public schools. Only the threat of lawsuits by family members, news organizations and patient advocacy groups has pried loose the data.

The governor habitually edits COVID statistics to paint the cheeriest possible picture. His latest spin is that most newly infected patients are younger, healthier and asymptomatic, which curiously fails to explain why hospital beds and ICUs are filling up with coronavirus patients.

Who in Florida can forget DeSantis’ smug victory sit-down with Trump at the White House? That was more than seven months and 18,000 deaths ago, but the governor’s arms are probably still sore from patting himself on the back.

Later he toured the state with Trump’s pandemic guru, Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and Stanford University Fellow who doesn’t like masks and preaches for a fully reopened economy.

Seeking infectious-disease advice from a guy who reads X-rays for a living is like hiring a dentist to do your colonoscopy — it’s not exactly in his wheelhouse. The Stanford Faculty Senate “strongly condemned” Atlas’s position as “contrary to medical science,” and he recently resigned from the White House.

Mercifully he has not resurfaced at DeSantis’ side, but there’s still time.

These days — when he’s not harassing the whistleblower who caught him fudging the COVID statistics — the governor is following Trump’s cue and focusing exclusively on the coming vaccines.

Like the President, DeSantis had little use for virus scientists until now, when they’re poised to save his political future.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University reports that new COVID-19 cases are doubling every 78 days in Florida . As of this writing, more than 4,500 persons are hospitalized here with the illness, nearly twice as many as a month ago.

True, lots of people who once scoffed at the idea of masks are wearing them now, but lots of people are dead who might never have been infected if their friends and loved ones had been more careful.

Or if we’d had leadership that sent the right message from the first day, instead of spinning upbeat story lines while trying to gag local health officials who knew what was coming.

Heartsick families, packed hospitals, crushing unemployment — but in the DeSantis version of reality, nothing but blue skies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

300,000

Via the AP:

The U.S. crossed the 300,000 threshold on the same it day it launched the biggest vaccination campaign in American history, with health care workers rolling up their sleeves for COVID-19 shots Monday.

The death toll was reported by Johns Hopkins University from data supplied by health authorities across the U.S. The real number of lives lost is believed to be much higher, in part because of deaths that were not accurately recorded as coronavirus-related during the early stages of the crisis.

It took four months for the virus to claim its first 100,000 American lives. But with cold weather driving people inside, where the virus spreads more easily, months of reluctance in many states to require masks, and an increase in gatherings over the holidays, some public health experts project 100,000 more could die before the end of January.

“It can certainly feel like you’re standing on the beach and sandbagging a tsunami,” said Dr. Leon Kelly, who attends to both the dead and the living as coroner for El Paso County, Colorado, and deputy medical director of its public health department.

Already, the number of dead in the U.S. rivals the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. The toll is equivalent to repeating a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina every day for 5 1/2 months.

As usual, silence from the White House.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Happy Friday

Some good news:

Federal advisers endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Thursday, making it all but certain the Food and Drug Administration will authorize the vaccine on an emergency basis within hours or days, kicking off an unprecedented effort to inoculate enough Americans to stop a rampaging pandemic.

But the prospect of relief from the coronavirus came on a day when 107,000 people were hospitalized with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and a record 3,347 deaths were reported by state health departments, topping the milestone reached one day earlier. Within days, the country will likely surpass 300,000 deaths since the pandemic’s arrival.

The worsening situation has riveted attention on the final steps of the vaccine approval process. The thumbs’ up from the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee was the culmination of an all-day meeting during which the panel heard presentations on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, including plans to monitor its longer-term safety.

The key moment came just after 5:30 p.m., when the agency asked its independent advisers: “Based on the totality of scientific evidence available, do the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine outweigh its risks for use in individuals 16 years of age and older?”

The committee voted yes, 17 in favor, four against and one absention.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Trump are pressuring the Supreme Court to endorse their attempted coup d’etat.

With his legal options dwindling and time running out before a key electoral college deadline, President Trump on Thursday ramped up pressure on the Supreme Court to help overturn Joe Biden’s victory, gaining the support of more than 100 congressional Republicans in the unprecedented assault on the U.S. election system.

In a morning tweet, Trump called on the court to “save our Country from the greatest Election abuse in the history of the United States,” repeating his baseless claims of widespread fraud. He had a private lunch at the White House with some of the attorneys general from 18 Republican-led states asking the court to dismiss the results in four swing states that Biden won, an effort supported by the Trump administration.

By late afternoon, 106 GOP House members — a majority of the 196-member Republican caucus — had signed on to an amicus brief to support the Texas-led motion, among them Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.), the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Once this is over and Trump is in exile, we need to hold all 106 of those minions accountable work to send them into exile as well.

Time to bring the Christmas tree home.  (Actually, this was last year, but you get the idea.)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

More Than 3,000 In One Day

We lost 2,403 at Pearl Harbor and went to war.

For the first time in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States reported more than 3,100 deaths in a single day, according to a Washington Post analysis. With overtaxed intensive care units running out of beds in many parts of the country, there was also a record number of those hospitalized with covid-19 at 106,000 on Wednesday.

The pandemic’s new heights in the United States came as Britain began to distribute the Pfizer-BioNTech two-dose coronavirus vaccine, which Canada approved Wednesday. An advisory panel will meet Thursday to decide whether to recommend the Food and Drug Administration approve the vaccine in the United States.

Meanwhile, Trump spent his day playing with a dreidel and claiming he really won.  Honest.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Shot Felt Around The World

Via the BBC:

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said it was the “best early birthday present”.

She was given the injection at 06:31 GMT – the first of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that will be given in the coming weeks.

Up to four million more are expected by the end of the month.

Hubs in the UK will vaccinate over-80s and some health and care staff – the programme aims to protect the most vulnerable and return life to normal.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has dubbed Tuesday V-day, said he was thrilled to see the first vaccinations take place but urged people to keep their resolve and stick to the rules for the next few months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on a visit to a London hospital to see some of the first people getting the jab, said getting vaccinated was “good for you and good for the whole country”.

About 70 hospitals nationwide are gearing up to deliver vaccines this week.

At University Hospital, Coventry, matron May Parsons administered the very first jab to Ms Keenan.

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19,” Ms Keenan, who is originally from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, said.

“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.

“My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it. If I can have it at 90, then you can have it too,” she added.

The next person to get the “jab” was a man named William Shakespeare. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth…”

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Sunday Reading

Creating Theatre in a Time of Plague — Mark Kennedy at the Associated Press on how performers and playwrights have adapted to take the stage during the pandemic.

Jefferson Mays performs his one-man show “A Christmas Carol” for streaming. Photo via AP

There’s theater on Broadway. You just have to adjust your sights.

More than a hundred blocks north of Manhattan’s shuttered theater district but on that same famed thoroughfare, an actor recently read his lines from a huge stage.

But there was no applause. Instead, all that was heard was a strange command for the theater: “And cut!”

Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays was performing multiple roles for a high-tech “A Christmas Carol” that was being filmed for streaming this month at the empty 3,000-seat United Palace.

The one-man show is an example of how many who work in theater are increasingly defying COVID-19 by refusing to let it stop their art, often creating new hybrid forms.

“Because it’s such a roll-up-your-sleeves business, theater people figure it out,” said Tony Award-winning producer Hunter Arnold, while watching Mays onstage. “Of everything I’ve ever done in my life, it’s the place where people lead from ‘how?’ instead of leading from ‘why not?’”

The coronavirus pandemic shut down theater and the TV/movie industries in the spring. Film and TV production have slowly resumed. Live theater is uniquely tested by the virus, one reason it will be among the last sectors to return to normal. Props and costumes are usually touched by dozens each night, an orchestra is crammed into a pit, backstage areas are small and shared, and audiences are usually packed into seats. New ways are needed.

Mays’ “A Christmas Carol,” which was filmed on a high-tech LED set, veers much more filmic than most other streaming theater options and is raising money for suffering regional theaters — one stage production helping others during the pandemic.

Other green shoots include radio plays, virtual readings, online variety shows and drive-in experiences that combine live singing with movies. The cast of the musical “Diana” reunited on Broadway to film the show for Netflix before it opens on Broadway.

The San Francisco Playhouse recently offered screenings of Yasmina Reza’s play “Art,” an onstage production captured live by multiple cameras, with a crucial wrestling scene reimagined to keep social distancing. A musical version of the animated film “Ratatouille” is being explored on TikTok.

“We will conquer it. We are theater people. By God, we will conquer it and get it done,” says Charlotte Moore, the artistic director and co-founder of the acclaimed Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City.

Her company has put on a free streaming holiday production of “Meet Me in St. Louis” with a dozen cast members, each filmed remotely and then digitally stitched together. Moore directed it — appropriately enough — from St. Louis. Other theater pros are calling to ask how she did it.

The cast was mailed or hand-delivered props, costumes and a green screen. They rehearsed via Zoom and FaceTime. A masked and socially distant orchestra recorded the score, and the sets were beamed onto the actors’ screens.

“You learn minute by minute by minute along the way what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do,” said Moore, who starred in the original Broadway run of “Meet Me in St. Louis” in 1989. “It’s torture and it’s thrilling — thrilling torture.”

Like many other theatrical hybrids venturing into the digital world these days, it’s not clear what to call it. It’s not technically live theater, but its soul is theatrical.

“It’s not definable in our current vocabulary,” Moore said. “It has to have a new definition, truly, because it’s certainly unlike anything that has been done.”

One of the companies to show the way forward was Berkshire Theater Group in western Massachusetts, whose “Godspell” in August became the first outdoor musical with union actors since the pandemic shut down productions.

Artistic director and CEO Kate Maguire refused to entertain the notion that the company — established in 1928 — would have an asterisk beside 2020 that said no shows were produced that year.

“We’re theater makers, we’re creators, she said. ”We should be able to figure out how to create something.”

So they used plexiglass partitions between each masked actor. The performers were tested regularly — at a cost of close to $50,000 — and had their own props and a single costume. Each was housed in their own living space — bedroom, living area and little kitchenette. In an open-air tent, they managed to pull off a crucifixion scene without any touching or lifting, itself a miracle.

Audiences underwent temperature checks and were separated by seats. Staff were placed in three protective bubbles: artistic, production and front-of-house. And there was monitoring: Last year it was an intimacy officer; this year it was a COVID-19 one.

Maguire thrashed out a 40-page agreement with the stage union Actor’s Equity Association. “We never had a positive test,” Maguire said. “We had five false positive tests,” which was “harrowing.”

She thanked grants for allowing her to keep her staff on payroll, making the stress level tolerable. It was clear audiences were hungry for theater: “I would watch people shoulders shaking as the show started because they were weeping,” she said. They’re doing another outdoor show now — “Holiday Memories.”

Since that first brave step, other theater companies have plunged into the void. Play and musical licensor Concord Theatricals says theater companies across the country are looking for flexibility in case of virus restrictions.

“We’re seeing many groups applying for small cast, easy to produce, plays and musicals. They’re even seeking casting flexibility and asking for permission to perform with or without an ensemble,” said Sean Patrick Flahaven, chief theatricals executive.

“There’s also a trend for groups to apply for both live performance and streaming rights. Many amateur theaters are producing single virtual performances to keep revenue flowing.”

Playwright Natalie Margolin decided to write a new play during the pandemic but not a conventional one. She imagined what the world would look like when it was a given that all social life existed on Zoom.

Hence “The Party Hop,” a play specifically to be performed on Zoom that’s set three years into quarantine in which three college girls hit the town — online. It became her first published play, and she got stars such as Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein and Ashley Park to perform in an online version, currently on YouTube. She hopes high schools and colleges will be attracted to a play reflecting the era.

“It was just exciting to take part in something where it wasn’t a placeholder or a replacement, and no one needed to imagine they were anywhere else than where they were to fully realize the piece,” she said. “It’s been exciting and heartwarming to see different ways theater has reinvented itself during this time.”

Theater makers have also leaned into the storytelling part of their craft, making The Broadway Podcast Network a hub for everything from audition advice to behind-the-scenes stories.

Launched shortly before the pandemic with 15 podcasts, the theater shutdown initially wiped out its revenue streams, advertising and sponsorship. The network has since righted itself and is growing with some 100 podcasts — from the likes of Tim Rice and Tonya Pinkins — plus benefits, show reunions and original programs, like the digital theater-based frothy soap opera, “As the Curtain Rises” with stars Alex Brightman, Sarah Stiles and Michael Urie.

“Even though we had lost all of our advertising, we just knew that this was important to our community, to keep our community connected and continue to tell stories,” said Dori Berinstein, co-founder of the network and a four-time Tony-winning Broadway producer. “It’s not anything that will ever replace live theater, but it’s an extension. It’s a different way of doing that.”

Barr’s Break — David Rohde in The New Yorker.

The Fox News host Lou Dobbs was among the first Trump supporters to denounce William Barr. On Tuesday, Dobbs began his nightly program by announcing “progress” in Donald Trump’s effort to remain in office and to vanquish “the insidious, radical Dems, corporate America, Big Tech, and the deep state, who have tried to overthrow his Presidency for more than four years.” Dobbs paused, briefly, and then lambasted Barr for having told the Associated Press earlier in the day that the Justice Department had found no evidence to corroborate Trump’s claims of election theft. “Today, a member of his own Cabinet appeared to join in with the radical Dems, and the deep state, and the resistance,” Dobbs said. “For the Attorney General of the United States to make that statement, he is either a liar or a fool or both. He may be, um, perhaps, compromised. He may be simply unprincipled. Or he may be personally distraught or ill.”

Barr’s actions during his tenure as Attorney General may be up for debate, but he is not compromised, distraught, or ill. Nor is he a member of a deep-state coup. There is no deep-state coup. As state and local Republican officials in six battleground states and nearly fifty judges have found, Joe Biden decisively won the 2020 election. Barr’s refutation of Trump’s false claims came late, but, nevertheless, it deserves praise. At long last, the country’s chief law-enforcement officer has defended American democracy. And that, in the waning days of the Trump Presidency, could cost him his job.

Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, the lawyers for the Trump campaign, immediately issued a statement accusing Barr of failing to seriously examine the President’s claims: “With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation.” Online, Barr was vilified. Joe Hoft, at the Gateway Pundit, wrote that Barr had destroyed “his name for all eternity” and claimed that he has spent his time in office working surreptitiously to keep Hillary Clinton, James Comey, and Robert Mueller out of jail. “Now we know why the DOJ didn’t arrest anyone for the past four years,” Hoft wrote. “The reason is they wanted it this way. . . . They never were going to arrest anyone.” On pro-Trump Reddit channels, Barr was declared a “deep state” agent. The President was reportedly livid at Barr. Asked at a White House event on Thursday if he still has confidence in Barr, Trump replied, “ask me that in a number of weeks from now.”

What actually motivated Barr is unknown at this point, and nothing is likely to become clearer until after Trump leaves office, on January 20th. This week, an associate of the Attorney General’s told me that Barr and Trump have barely spoken for weeks. The associate said that Barr had intentionally distanced himself from Trump as the election approached, because he wanted to perform the traditional role of Attorneys General—declining to take legal actions during an election season that favor one candidate, particularly the President who appointed them.

That explanation is charitable. During Barr’s interview with the A.P., he hedged, as he has in the past. He disclosed that, in October, he had secretly appointed John Durham, a federal prosecutor investigating the F.B.I.’s 2016 Trump-Russia probe, as special counsel. That move will please the President and make it more difficult for Biden’s new Attorney General to curtail Durham’s work. Then, after Barr’s comments about the election were attacked, his office released a statement saying, “The Department will continue to receive and vigorously pursue all specific and credible allegations of fraud as expeditiously as possible.”

The week’s events exemplified the tragic, destructive, and cynical nature of the Trump-era Justice Department. Barr has clear legal and political convictions—many of which infuriate liberals—but he has pursued them consistently throughout his career. Like other Republicans, he seemingly embraced an alliance of convenience with Trump. An adherent to the obscure legal view that the Presidency has too little power, Barr contends that special-counsel and congressional investigations have become so excessive that they hamper a President’s ability to govern the country.

Barr viewed the F.B.I.’s 2016 Trump-Russia investigation, the subsequent appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, and the convictions of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Roger Stone as illegitimate. He did his best to reverse each of those measures, by undermining Mueller’s report and lessening the punishment of the Trump allies who were successfully prosecuted by Mueller. During Trump’s impeachment, Barr accused Democrats of “waging a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war of ‘Resistance’ against this Administration,” adding, “it is the left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law.” Critics accused Barr of doing the same, in helping Trump to demolish decades of effort to build public confidence that the law is applied equally to all Americans, regardless of their proximity to the President. They contend that Barr’s politicizing of the Justice Department will lead him to be considered one of the most destructive Attorneys General in modern American history.

Until now, Barr has delivered virtually everything that Trump could possibly have wanted politically—from the Justice Department arguing that Manhattan prosecutors should not have access to Trump’s tax returns, to defying subpoenas from congressional oversight committees. Those acts and others that Barr has taken set legal precedents that have made Trump one of the most powerful American chief executives, in legal terms, since Congress and the courts curbed Presidential power after Watergate. In the final weeks of the campaign, though, Trump went too far, apparently, even for Barr. In the pursuit of victory and vengeance, Trump publicly called for him to open a criminal investigation of the Biden family, and demanded that Barr announce the results of the Durham investigation in time to sway votes. After the election, Trump’s campaign pressured Barr to become the first U.S. Attorney General to aid a de-facto coup attempt—albeit a chaotic and, at times, comical one.

Barr’s public defense of Biden’s victory—at a politically existential moment for Trump—was an irreversible step for the Attorney General. If Trump or his allies maintain control of the Republican Party, Barr will now have no future in it. George Terwilliger, who worked for Barr in the Administration of George H. W. Bush, told the Times that Barr’s intention this week was “just to be responsible.” Terwilliger added that, when false conspiracies are being spread about the Justice Department, “it is responsible to say no, that did not happen.” Barr’s statement showed an Attorney General doing what is required of him in a democracy. It also showed how utterly this President has failed to do the same.

Doonesbury — A meeting of the minds.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Madness Continues

From the Washington Post:

Escalating his attack on democracy from within the White House, President Trump on Wednesday distributed an astonishing 46-minute video rant filled with baseless allegations of voter fraud and outright falsehoods in which he declared the nation’s election system “under coordinated assault and siege” and argued that it was “statistically impossible” for him to have lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

Standing behind the presidential lectern in the Diplomatic Reception Room and flanked by the flags of his office and of the country whose Constitution he swore an oath to uphold, Trump tried to leverage the power of the presidency to subvert the vote and overturn the election results.

The rambling and bellicose monologue — which Trump said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made” and was delivered direct-to-camera with no audience — underscored his desperation to reverse the outcome of his election loss after a month of failed legal challenges and as some key states already have certified Biden’s victory.

The president’s latest salvo came a day after his attorney general, William P. Barr, said the Justice Department had found no evidence of voting fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election.

Trump delivered in person many of the claims he previously has advanced on social media or that his lawyers have brought on his behalf in courts, which have been debunked or summarily dismissed because there is no evidence to support them.

Trump claimed in Wednesday’s video, again without evidence, that “corrupt forces” had stuffed ballot boxes with fraudulent votes. He claimed the fraud was “massive” and “on a scale never seen before.” He called on the Supreme Court to “do what’s right for our country,” which he suggested entailed terminating hundreds of thousands of votes so that “I very easily win in all states.”

The only difference between him and the urine-soaked homeless guy living under the overpass of the MacArthur Causeway and Biscayne Boulevard is that Trump is indoors and not wearing a mask.

If this isn’t the grounds for the Twenty-fifth Amendment, if not the Baker Act once he gets to Mar-a-Lago, then what is?

Meanwhile, we hit the largest number of cases of Covid-19 infections and 2,777 deaths.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

First Shots

Via The New York Times:

LONDON — Britain gave emergency authorization on Wednesday to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, leaping ahead of the United States to become the first Western country to allow mass inoculations against a disease that has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.

The decision kicked off a vaccination campaign with little precedent in modern medicine, encompassing not only ultracold dry ice and trays of glass vials but also a crusade against anti-vaccine misinformation.

Britain beating the United States to authorization — on a vaccine codeveloped by the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, no less — may intensify pressure on U.S. regulators, who are already under fire from the White House for not moving faster to get doses to people. And it has stirred up a global debate about how to weigh the desperate need for a vaccine with the imperative of assuring people that it is safe.

“Help is on its way with this vaccine — and we can now say that with certainty, rather than with all the caveats,” the British health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Wednesday, as the government exulted in the authorization.

Here in the States, the first to get an approved vaccine will most likely be first responders, healthcare workers, and the elderly in nursing homes.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving Travel

I’m staying close to home this week since school is out all week and I have a lot of writing to do.  That would be my plan even if we weren’t in the middle of a worsening plague.  The CDC is warning against traveling, but apparently that’s falling on deaf ears.

The rule should be: stay home unless you can drive a 1958 Edsel Bermuda to the dinner.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

250,000

Remember when we thought that 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 was beyond comprehension and the idea that we would see a quarter of a million before the end of the year was unfathomable?  We’re there, and yet we as a nation can’t seem to grasp what has happened.

Most everybody in town knows that Gladys Maull has been battered this year: Her father, her sister, an aunt, a great-aunt, all dead from covid-19. Maull keeps a sign on her front door: “Please do not come in my house due to covid-19. Thank you.”

Some people just step on in, maskless.

They mean no harm, but masks never caught on in rural Lowndes County, which has Alabama’s highest rate of coronavirus infections. In a place that gave 73 percent of its vote to Joe Biden, the sheriff and the coroner agree that although cases are spiking and deaths are rising, most people share President Trump’s view that masks are a matter of personal choice and that the end of the pandemic is just around the corner.

“I don’t see people taking it seriously enough,” Maull said. “They still have their yard parties, yard cookouts. They’re back inside the church. This is just too much.”

From the start of the pandemic, public health officials and many political leaders hoped that covid’s frightening lethality — the death toll will hit 250,000 this week — might unite the country in common cause against the virus’s spread.

But the nation’s deep divisions — political and cultural — as well as the virus’s concentrated impact on crowded urban areas in the early months, set the country on a different path.

Now, more than eight months into a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, it has become clear that although close experiences with covid-19 do change some people’s attitudes, many Americans stick to their original notions, no matter what sorrows they’ve seen, no matter where they live.

Maybe it’s because out of a nation with a population of over 328 million, 250,000 doesn’t seem like a big number; chances are they don’t know anyone who has died from it, or if they do, they were old, sick, or out of some sense of cruelty, don’t care.

The one person who has the power and has had it all along to mitigate the pandemic is rage-tweeting about the election he lost by a bigger margin than he won it four years ago; by his own definition, a landslide.

I am reminded every day of the impact of this pandemic.  At work, in the grants that I manage, the kids I see trooping to class in masks and reminded to keep their distance, in the closed theatres and shops and changes to everyday life that we have come to accept.

And I am reminded every time I call my mom, now a widow, and the memories of my father who slept away in May and the words “Covid-19” on the death certificate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

2,000 A Day

Via Twitter:

Dr. Peter Hotez: ‘We’re going to move towards 2,000 deaths a day … Within a few weeks, COVID-19 will be the single leading cause of death on a daily basis in the United States.’

Meanwhile, the people who have the power to do something about it are tweeting about non-existent election fraud.

Monday, November 16, 2020

By The Numbers

Our friends over at Balloon Juice have a daily post about the status of Covid-19.  It’s a vital public service and we need to see it.  But it also can be numbing.  The Associated Press is reporting that over 11 million cases have been reported, with 1 million reported in the last week.  We are approaching 250,000 deaths.

I remember back to the height of the Vietnam war when the Pentagon would report weekly casualty figures.  It would show up on the nightly news as just another story, and on we went.

We have become inured to this pandemic; the statistics and losses are becoming part of our daily life along with the stock market numbers and the sports scores.  It doesn’t touch us unless it happens to someone we know.

Trump is ignoring it because he’s convinced he still won the election and is spending all his time on that.  Even the incoming Biden administration will have to fight a battle to not just end it but get Americans to pay attention to it.  And by the time they do, it will be too late.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Happy Friday

It’s a Friday the 13th, just in case that gives you pause to go out and risk your superstitions.  These days, who can tell a sign of bad luck from just the new normal, anyway?

In a gesture to sanity, Arizona has been finally called for Joe Biden, bringing his electoral count to 290 and in alignment with what the Associated Press said it was back on November 4.  Trump himself hasn’t been heard from other than his Twitter account since his appearance in the White House briefing room a week ago; an appearance that was abruptly terminated on many news outlets when it was obvious he was sowing bullshit.  Since then he’s had his tantrums and extended periods of pouting, sulking, and spates of vengeance by firing the Defense Secretary and seeding the Pentagon with his toadies, who have 68 days to bring us to the brink of Armageddon.

Meanwhile, the incoming Biden administration is end-running Trump’s refusal to concede by going ahead with staffing and policy outlines, perhaps a precursor to how he’ll govern when he actually takes office and has to deal with Mitch McConnell and the nutsery that survived.  If this was any other time, the fact that Trump and his cronies are largely inert would be seen as a blessing; out of sight out of mind.  But with the number of Covid-19 infections reaching record levels every day, they are doing worse than doing nothing.

On days like these, even Friday the thirteenth, the best you can hope for is that if a black cat crosses your path, she’ll cuddle up and purr.

 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Critical Care

From the Washington Post:

The coronavirus pandemic is rolling across America like a great crimson wave.

In Illinois, the rate of new infections is so high that a group of doctors sent an urgent letter to the governor. “We’re having to almost decide who gets treatment and who doesn’t,” said one of its leaders.
Follow the latest on Election 2020

In Ohio, the rapid spread of the virus has pushed the state health-care system to the brink. Expressing deep concern, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) vowed to enforce his statewide mask mandate and issued new restrictions on social gatherings. “We can’t surrender to this virus. We can’t let it run wild,” he said.

And in Iowa, where a record number of new infections in a day coincided with a record number of deaths, the White House coronavirus task force issued a dire warning about “the unyielding covid spread” throughout the state.

The number of new daily coronavirus cases in the United States jumped from 104,000 a week earlier to more than 145,000 on Wednesday, an all-time high. Nearly every metric is trending in the wrong direction, prompting states to add new restrictions and hospitals to prepare for a potentially dark future.

“We’re at a fairly critical juncture,” said Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association. The day will soon come when hospital staffing will fall below standards that are normally required, he said.

So what is the current administration doing about it?

Trump declared Wednesday on Twitter, “WE WILL WIN!”

But, in fact, the president has no clear endgame to actually win the election — and, in an indication he may be starting to come to terms with his loss, he is talking privately about running again in 2024.

Trump aides, advisers and allies said there is no grand strategy to reverse the election results, which show President-elect Joe Biden with a majority of electoral college votes, as well as a 5 million-vote lead in the national popular vote.

Asked about Trump’s ultimate plan, one senior administration official chuckled and said, “You’re giving everybody way too much credit right now.”

Republican officials have scrambled nationwide to produce evidence of widespread voter fraud that could bolster the Trump campaign’s legal challenges, but no such evidence has surfaced. And Biden’s lead in several states targeted by the Trump campaign has expanded as late-counted votes are reported. In all-important Pennsylvania, the Democrat now leads by more than 50,000 votes.

Still, the absence of evidence and of a comprehensive and realistic plan to overcome Trump’s significant deficit and secure him a second term have not stopped some of the leading figures in the administration and the Republican Party from amplifying the president’s misinformation about the election outcome.

That’s all they care about. Let the pandemic rage, let more people die, but by golly go to court and get yelled at by the judges for bringing baseless claims and no evidence. The only action plans Trump is thinking about is how to run again in 2024, which is both incredibly callous and an admission that he’s lost the election he’s fighting about in court.

He doesn’t care.  He never has.  He never will.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Tantrum

We knew this was coming.

Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on Monday, upending the military’s leadership at a time when Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede the election has created a rocky and potentially precarious transition.

Mr. Trump announced the decision on Twitter, writing in an abrupt post that Mr. Esper had been “terminated.”

The president wrote that he was appointing Christopher C. Miller, whom he described as the “highly respected” director of the National Counterterrorism Center, to be the acting defense secretary. Mr. Miller will be the fourth official to lead the Pentagon under Mr. Trump.

Two White House officials said later on Monday that Mr. Trump was not finished, and that Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, could be next in line to be fired. Removing these senior officials — in effect decapitating the nation’s national security bureaucracy — would be without parallel by an outgoing president who has just lost re-election.

Democrats and national security veterans said it was a volatile move in the uncertain time between administrations, particularly by a president who has made clear that he does not want to give up power and that he would be reasserting his waning authority over the most powerful agencies of the government.

Meanwhile, the GOP on Capitol Hill are doing what they do best: cowering like the cowards that they have been for the last five years, sucking up to Trump even though there’s nothing he can do to them.

Leading Republicans rallied on Monday around President Trump’s refusal to concede the election, declining to challenge the false narrative that it was stolen from him or to recognize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory even as party divisions burst into public view.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in Congress, threw his support behind Mr. Trump in a sharply worded speech on the Senate floor. He declared that Mr. Trump was “100 percent within his rights” to turn to the legal system to challenge the outcome and hammered Democrats for expecting the president to concede.

And now the Republicans in Georgia are rallying themselves into a circular firing squad.

A rift among Georgia Republicans exploded into public view on Monday as the state’s incumbent senators, both locked in fierce runoff fights for their seats, lashed out at the Republican officials who oversaw last week’s election and leveled unfounded claims of a faulty process lacking in transparency.

The all-out intraparty war erupted as the vote count in Georgia on Monday continued to show President Trump narrowly trailing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia took the extraordinary step of issuing a joint statement calling for the resignation of the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and condemning the election as an “embarrassment.”

“We believe when there are failures, they need to be called out — even when it’s in your own party,” the senators said in their statement, which did not offer any specific allegations or elaborate on how they believed Mr. Raffensperger had fallen short, except to accuse him of “mismanagement and lack of transparency.”

Even lawyers set to defend Trump in court are having second thoughts.

Doing business with Mr. Trump — with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, meritless lawsuits and refusal to pay what he owes — has long induced heartburn among lawyers, contractors, suppliers and lenders. But the concerns are taking on new urgency as the president seeks to raise doubts about the election results.

Some senior lawyers at Jones Day, one of the country’s largest law firms, are worried that it is advancing arguments that lack evidence and may be helping Mr. Trump and his allies undermine the integrity of American elections, according to interviews with nine partners and associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.

In real news, more than 133,000 new cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday with a total of 240,162 lives now lost to the pandemic. I can’t remember the last time the White House held a briefing on their efforts to combat the plague, but it doesn’t really matter since they’re not doing anything about it except reporting that more members of the White House staff and cabinet have tested positive for it.  The only person who is taking the lead on dealing with it is President-elect Biden.

Coronavirus cases surged to a new record on Monday, with the United States now averaging 111,000 cases each day for the past week, a grim milestone amid rising hospitalizations and deaths that cast a shadow on positive news about the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

As the number of infected Americans passed 10 million and governors struggled to manage the pandemic, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. tried on Monday to use his bully pulpit — the only tool at his disposal until he replaces President Trump in 72 days — to plead for Americans to set aside the bitterness of the 2020 election and wear a mask.

“It doesn’t matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day,” Mr. Biden said in Delaware after announcing a Covid-19 advisory board charged with preparing for quick action once he is inaugurated. “It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view. We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives — American lives.”

This would all be rather ridiculous and worthy of some sit-com were it not for the simple fact that lives are at stake every day, and not just from Covid-19. Disruption and disarray in the leadership of our defense forces, subject to the whims and tantrums of a child-like despot, reminiscent of a certain bunker scene in April 1945, can only lead to mischief from our enemies and mistrust from our remaining allies.

We’ve got 71 days.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Prince Of Arrogance

Jared Kushner gave Bob Woodward a piece of his wisdom. Via CNN:

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, boasted in mid-April about how the President had cut out the doctors and scientists advising him on the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, comments that came as more than 40,000 Americans already had died from the virus, which was ravaging New York City.

In a taped interview on April 18, Kushner told legendary journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was “getting the country back from the doctors” in what he called a “negotiated settlement.” Kushner also proclaimed that the US was moving swiftly through the “panic phase” and “pain phase” of the pandemic and that the country was at the “beginning of the comeback phase.”

“That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot of pain and there won’t be pain for a while, but that basically was, we’ve now put out rules to get back to work,” Kushner said. “Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors.”

This was April. Now we’re at nearly a quarter-million deaths, and now Trump is telling us that Covid-19 is a thing of the past.

But wait, there’s more.

Kushner was also dismissive of party politics, calling the Republican Party, “a collection of a bunch of tribes” and describing the GOP platform as “a document meant to, like, piss people off, basically.” Kushner went on to tell Woodward that Trump did a “full hostile takeover” of the Republican Party when he became its presidential nominee.

He also told Woodward, “The most dangerous people around the President are over-confident idiots” and that Trump had replaced them with “more thoughtful people who kind of know their place.”

Yeah, about those “over-confident idiots.” Look in the mirror, you arrogant little prick.

I cannot wait for them to be gone, and I can’t wait to see him in an orange jumpsuit, his back to the wall, trying to convince the guy with the most cigarettes in GenPop that he’s not really a bottom.  He’s going to find out all about those “more thoughtful people who kind of know their place.”

Monday, October 26, 2020

Abject Failure

We’re not “rounding the turn.” We’re circling the drain.

From the Washington Post:

The presidential campaign was roiled this weekend by a fresh outbreak of the novel coronavirus at the White House that infected at least five aides or advisers to Vice President Pence, a spread that President Trump’s top staffer acknowledged Sunday he had tried to avoid disclosing to the public.

With the election a little over a week away, the new White House outbreak spotlighted the administration’s failure to contain the pandemic as hospitalizations surge across much of the United States and daily new cases hit all-time highs.

The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is “rounding the turn,” as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.

Further complicating Trump’s campaign-trail pitch was an extraordinary admission Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the administration had effectively given up on trying to slow the virus’s spread.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who regularly wears a mask on the campaign trail and strictly adheres to social distancing guidelines, sought to capitalize on the remark.

“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows; it was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away,” Biden said in a statement. “It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

Some in the vice president’s office suggested that White House doctors should release a statement saying that Short was positive and that Pence was still okay to travel. But that idea was scuttled by Meadows and others, officials said.

No sane or well-informed person expected a miracle or that the virus wouldn’t spread. But the least we could expect was an honest effort to inform the public, do whatever it would take to contain it like the majority of other countries did, and stop trying to find someone else to blame for it. We are on the verge of a quarter of a million deaths in this country alone and we’re being led by a pack of liars and sycophants who think it’s more important to win an election than it is to save lives. And they have the amazing gall to call themselves “pro-life.”

Every last one of them is accountable.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sunday Reading

Say Freedom — Michael Tomasky in the New York Times.

Donald Trump is now back on the road, holding rallies in battleground states. These events, with people behind the president wearing masks but most others not, look awfully irresponsible to most of us — some polls show that as many as 92 percent of Americans typically wear masks when they go out.

Trumpworld sees these things differently. Mike Pence articulated the view in the vice-presidential debate. “We’re about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people,” Mr. Pence said. The topic at hand was the Sept. 26 super-spreader event in the Rose Garden to introduce Amy Coney Barrett as the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court and how the administration can expect Americans to follow safety guidelines that it has often ignored.

Kamala Harris countered that lying to the American people about the severity of the virus hardly counts as “respect.”

It was a pretty good riposte, but she fixed on the wrong word. She could have delivered a far more devastating response if she’d focused on the right word, one that the Democrats have not employed over the past several months.

The word I mean is “freedom.” One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In “On Liberty,” he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”

Note the clause “as long as what we do does not harm them.” He tossed that in there almost as a given — indeed, it is a given. This is a standard definition of freedom, more colloquially expressed in the adage “Your freedom to do as you please with your fist ends where my jaw begins.”

Now, conservatives revere Mill. But today, in the age of the pandemic, Mill and other conservative heroes like John Locke would be aghast at the way the American right wing bandies about the word “freedom.”

Freedom emphatically does not include the freedom to get someone else sick. It does not include the freedom to refuse to wear a mask in the grocery store, sneeze on someone in the produce section and give him the virus. That’s not freedom for the person who is sneezed upon. For that person, the first person’s “freedom” means chains — potential illness and even perhaps a death sentence. No society can function on that definition of freedom.

Joe Biden does a pretty good job of talking about this. At a recent town hall in Miami, he said: “I view wearing this mask not so much protecting me, but as a patriotic responsibility. All the tough guys say, ‘Oh, I’m not wearing a mask, I’m not afraid.’ Well, be afraid for your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your neighbor, your co-worker. That’s who you’re protecting having this mask on, and it should be viewed as a patriotic duty, to protect those around you.”

That’s good, but it could be much better if he directly rebutted this insane definition of freedom that today’s right wing employs.

There are certain words in our political lexicon that “belong” to this side or the other. “Fairness” is a liberal word. You rarely hear conservatives talking about fairness. “Growth” is mostly a conservative word, sometimes the functional opposite of fairness in popular economic discourse, although liberals use it too, but often with a qualifier (“balanced” or “equitable” growth, for example).

“Freedom” belongs almost wholly to the right. They talk about it incessantly and insist on a link between economic freedom and political freedom, positing that the latter is impossible without the former. This was an animating principle of conservative economists in the 20th century like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

It’s manifest silliness. To be sure, when they were writing, it was true of a place like the Soviet Union. But it is not true of Western democracies. If they were correct, the Scandinavian nations, statist on economic questions, would have jails filled with political prisoners. If they were correct, advanced democratic countries that elected left-leaning governments would experience a simultaneous crushing of political freedom. History shows little to no incidence of this.

And yet, the broad left in America has let all this go unchallenged for decades, to the point that today’s right wing — and it is important to call it that and not conservative, which it is not — can defend spreading disease, potentially killing other people, as freedom. It is madness.

One thing Democrats in general aren’t very good at is defending their positions on the level of philosophical principle. This has happened because they’ve been on the philosophical defensive since Ronald Reagan came along. Well, it’s high time they played some philosophical offense, especially on an issue, wearing masks, on which every poll shows broad majorities supporting their view.

Say this: Freedom means the freedom not to get infected by the idiot who refuses to mask up. Even John Stuart Mill would have agreed.

Extreme Restraint — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

On the second day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court, she and Cory Booker had an exchange that indicated that both the Court and the country are nearing a precarious point. Did she believe, Booker asked, that “every Pres­ident should make a commitment, un­equivocally and resolutely, to the peace­ful transfer of power?” Barrett raised her eyebrows, and chose her words carefully. “Well, Senator, that seems to me to be pulling me in a little bit into this question of whether the President has said that he would not peacefully leave office,” she said. “And so, to the extent that this is a political controversy right now, as a judge, I want to stay out of it and I don’t want to express a view.”

A President should absolutely make such a commitment; it’s in the job description. Yet, even when Booker reminded Barrett, who has described herself as an originalist and a textualist, of the importance of the peaceful transition of power to the Founders, the most she would allow was that America had been lucky that “disappointed voters” had always accepted election results. To say that a disappointed President might have an obligation to do so was apparently too far for her to go. What Barrett did offer was a study in the extent to which not giving an answer can be an expression of extremism. Her demurrals were more, even, than those of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, in their hearings, a measure of how thoroughly President Trump has moved the margins of our political culture.

It’s no surprise that the hearings would be characterized by some level of evasiveness: no nominee, particularly these days, wants to say something that will rally the opposition. Barrett, as a member of Notre Dame’s University Faculty for Life, had signed an ad that called Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision affirming a woman’s reproductive rights, “infamous.” But, in the hearings, she asserted that she really couldn’t say what her position on Roe might be—the decision was controversial, and a case that threatened to overturn it might someday come before her. She attributed the principle that nominees should not comment on potential cases to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But that principle doesn’t mean that the confirmation process should be a charade of non-answers; Ginsburg, in her own hearings, in 1993, acknowledged that she was pro-choice.

Barrett’s hearings weren’t just the latest reminder that the tiresome confirmation process is due for an overhaul; there were two novel, and alarming, aspects of the evasions in her testimony. The first was how many established principles she considers to be still open to debate. When Kamala Harris pressed her on the reality of climate change, and its consequences, Barrett protested that the Senator was “eliciting an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate,” adding, “and I will not do that.” More startling, Barrett seemed to suggest that core elements of our electoral democracy are up for grabs. Dianne Feinstein asked her if the Constitution gives the President the power “to unilaterally delay a general election.” The answer is no, but Barrett replied that she didn’t want to give “off-the-cuff answers”—that would make her a “legal pundit.”

The scenarios that Barrett declined to address were not wild hypotheticals that the Democrats had dreamed up in an attempt to trick her. Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. He has also mooted delaying the election, or maybe excluding ballot tallies he doesn’t trust, and said that he wants this Court seat filled quickly, so that his appointee can be on the panel deciding any election disputes. What he’s proposing is a clear attack on American democracy and the rule of law. Barrett, though, spoke as though the fact that the President tweets about something means that it is within the realm of reasonable constitutional inter­pretation. What she conveyed throughout was not so much conscientiousness as a combination of deference to, alignment with, and, perhaps, fear of Trump.

And that was the second warning that emerged from the hearings: none of the Republican senators in the room seemed shocked at what the President deems possible, or interested in hearing what the Court’s role might be in countering any President who abuses his power. Instead, they echoed Trump’s intimations of fraudulent voting, me­dia lies, and left-wing plots. Ted Cruz claimed that many Democrats had made a decision “to abandon democracy.” Thom Tillis said it was understandable that gun sales had increased in recent months, because Democrats, “including people on this committee,” had made Americans fear for their safety. Josh Hawley appeared to think that the real problem was Hunter Biden. It can be hard to tell whether the Republicans are extremists or opportunists, or have just retreated into passivity.

In one of the most notable exchanges in the hearings, the Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy tried, unsuccessfully, to get a straight answer from Barrett on whether a President could refuse to comply with a Supreme Court order, and whether such a refusal would be “a threat to our constitutional system of checks and balances.” A President defying the Supreme Court is the definition of a constitutional crisis, but Barrett would say only that the Court “can’t control” a renegade President. The Constitution, though, offers a clear course of action in such an event: impeachment. It seemed odd that Barrett, who spent much of her time commending committee members for their power as legislators—saying, repeatedly, “That’s your job”—didn’t emphasize that point.

Textualists often adopt a posture of “restraint” that masks their tendency to be true activists, which is what Barrett was when, in a dissent last year, she called Wisconsin laws limiting gun purchases by felons unconstitutional. Similarly, in suggesting that Justices, when faced with a President who rejects election results—or their authority—would just dither or shrug, she was making a radical statement, not a restrained one. Perhaps Barrett believes that such a crisis will never come to pass, and honestly doesn’t know what she would do if one did. In which case it might be prudent for her to begin thinking about how she would respond. The full Senate is on track to vote on her nomination as soon as October 26th. Eight days later, Donald Trump will be watching the election results come in, and he may not like what he sees.

Doonesbury — Can you hear the music?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Numbers Don’t Tell The Real Story

From the Washington Post:

U.S. coronavirus cases are rising again, driven by rapid transmission in Midwestern states and sparking fears that a forewarned wave of infections this fall and winter has begun.

For almost a month, new U.S. cases have been trending upward. Since Saturday, more than 20 states have hit a new high in their seven-day average of case counts, and more than half of those states set records again on Tuesday, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

The rising numbers are especially concerning because they set the stage for an even greater surge this winter when the virus will be helped by drier conditions and people spending more time indoors. The upward trend comes before the increased mingling of people expected to arrive with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The virus has become especially rampant in Midwestern states after dominating U.S. coastal and urban areas in the spring, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

It is unclear what factors are driving the recent increase — whether it is the long-feared winter effect already taking place or the resumption of business and schools, or simply fatigue and people letting down their guard on social distancing efforts.

I felt the impact of this plague on a personal, gut-wrenching level when I went to visit my mom last weekend.  I was allowed to actually see her, give her a gentle hug, and take her out to dinner with my sister.  It was the first time I was with her since Dad died in May.  As we waited at a stop light, she said quietly, “I miss him.”

We all do, Mom.  Me, my sister, my brothers, my nieces and nephews, the rest of the family, his friends, the people he knew over his long life.  And we are just one family.  There are over 217,000 other families who miss their father, mother, sister or brother.

I can mourn for my loss and try to comfort my mother.  I can try to understand the complexities of dealing with a global pandemic and how it affects a nation of over 330 million people.  But I cannot rid myself of the visceral sadness and grief that comes from knowing the simple fact that this was all preventable.  It could have been stopped.  Something could have been done.  They knew it and they let it happen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Desperado

From the Washington Post:

Trump returned to the campaign trail Monday, holding his first rally since being hospitalized earlier this month, as part of an intense effort to demonstrate that his bout with covid-19 is behind him and that he is the more vigorous of the two septuagenarian candidates vying for the presidency.

Yet Trump’s rally in Sanford, Fla., came amid concerns that his plans to barnstorm the country could put him and others at risk.

Though Trump has declared himself now “immune” to the virus — which has killed more than 214,000 Americans and infiltrated the White House — he and his team have not clarified for the public the last time he tested negative before his covid-19 diagnosis was announced Oct. 2. This has raised questions about whom Trump may have infected before isolating himself at the White House and then at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

On Monday afternoon, however, Trump’s doctor, Sean P. Conley, said in a memo released by the White House that the president had tested negative for the virus “on consecutive days,” using the Abbott rapid testing machine, and was no longer contagious.

The Abbott antigen test produces quick results but has a greater chance of false negatives than the more reliable polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test. Conley said other diagnostic factors were considered when determining that the president did not pose a threat to others.

“This comprehensive data, in concert with the CDC’s guidelines for removal of transmission-based precautions, have informed our medical team’s assessment that the President is not infectious to others,” he wrote in the memo released to the public.

Some of Trump’s aides and associates initially hoped that his coronavirus diagnosis would help focus him on the pandemic, allowing him to emerge as a sympathetic figure with a newfound sense of seriousness and empathy.

That, so far, has not happened.

“The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself can. The cure cannot be worse,” Trump told the Sanford crowd — many of whom were not wearing masks — referring to public health restrictions in many states. “But if you don’t feel good about, if you want to stay, stay relaxed, stay. But if you want to get out there, get out. One thing with me, the nice part, I went through it. Now they say I’m immune . . . I feel so powerful.”

That sounds like the villain in the movies who is almost vanquished but rises again in a last gasp effort to defeat the hero and lashes out at anything and everything. He may not accept the fact that the polling is starting to solidify against him, that states where he won by a squeaker the last time are turning against him, and not just in the suburbs but in the rural areas where he had his base.

The president and his allies have seen grim polling, which shows him trailing in many battleground states that he won in 2016, including Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, advisers said. The latter two are particularly crucial to Trump’s path to victory.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is nearing 8 million Covid-19 infections, schools are re-closing because of students testing positive, and the pharmaceutical companies are pushing back against rushing a vaccine to market because that’s how science works.

All the while Trump proclaims that he feels “so powerful,” when in truth he’s sounding rather desperate.