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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Testing Logic

Via the New York Times, Pence and Trump come up with infallible logic as to why Covid-19 is spiking:

Pence encouraged governors on Monday to adopt the administration’s explanation that a rise in testing was a reason behind new coronavirus outbreaks, even though testing data has shown that such a claim is misleading.

[…]

“If we stop testing right now,” Mr. Trump said, “we’d have very few cases, if any.”

If there had been no testing, I would have passed Algebra in 1968.  So there.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

It’s Not Over

The pandemic of Covid-19 isn’t over.  It’s surging.

As restrictions are lifted around the world, the sense of urgency surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic has weakened. Hundreds of millions of students have returned to school; restaurants, bars and other businesses are slowly reopening in many countries. In parts of Europe, vaccine researchers worry that they will not have enough sick people for testing.

But this historic pandemic is not ending. It is surging. There were 136,000 new infections reported on Sunday, the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic. There are more than 7 million confirmed cases so far. The number of deaths is nearing half a million, with little sign of tapering off, and global health experts are continuing to sound the alarm.

“By no means is this over,” Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s executive director, said Wednesday. “If we look at the numbers over the last number of weeks, this pandemic is still evolving. It is still growing in many parts of the world.”

[…]

U.S. states are seeing an increasing number of patients since Memorial Day weekend, when many people socialized in groups in parts of the country, while there are new concerns that the anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis could add to a nationwide surge.

In the United States and elsewhere, the protests about injustice are partly fueled by the racial disparities seen in the outbreak. Protesters have attempted to maintain social distance and use masks and hand sanitizer — but that has not always proved possible.

Public health experts have expressed understanding about the protests. “It doesn’t help to say police violence doesn’t matter,” Gregg Gonsalves, a professor of epidemiology at Yale, told New York Magazine. “The health disparities that have killed tens of thousands of people over a half a century don’t matter. We are saying we understand it matters; they’re public-health issues too.”

But almost all experts acknowledge that mass protests are a risk — just as the reopening of the economy seen in many nations around the world, including the United States, carries risks. “The facts suggest that the U.S. is not going to beat the coronavirus,” the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer write. “Collectively, we slowly seem to be giving up.”

That demoralized attitude is reflected at the top of American politics: It has been more than a month since the Trump administration held a daily coronavirus task force briefing.

There are several reasons for this.  The first is that Trump, who never really paid attention to it in the first place or saw it as some kind of plot against his regime, has now just given up even the facade of doing anything about it.  The second reason is that most Americans saw it as something akin to a fad like the hula hoop or the Macarena and are now bored with it and want to get back to whatever it was that occupied them before all this happened last winter.  As Matthew Dalby noted on Twitter, “The one thing that wasn’t in pandemic disaster movies was people getting bored with the whole thing and ignoring it.”

Perhaps the most insidious reason this plague is still spreading and surging is the baseline of willful ignorance — “It’s no worse than the flu” — and rampant stupidity along with the other American pandemic, blatant racism.  As seen in this benighted elected official from the great state of Ohio:

A Republican Ohio state senator is under fire this week after asking if “African Americans or the colored population” have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic because they “do not wash their hands as well as other groups.”

State Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) raised the question Tuesday during a hearing on whether to declare racism a public health crisis. Huffman, an emergency room doctor, wanted to know why African American communities are being hit so much harder by the virus, posing the query to Angela Dawson, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.

“I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from covid. But why does it not make them more susceptible to just get covid?” he asked. “Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation for why the higher incidence?”

He later explained that he thought “people of color” and “colored people” were interchangeable terms.  Really.

The harsh reality is that this pandemic will end with effective vaccination.  But until then, following the guidelines that medical professionals have been telling us since the middle of March is the only way.  Unfortunately it’s all too abstract for people who really need to get their hair done and have an uncontrollable urge to share a swimming pool in the Ozarks, and it won’t hit home until it actually hits home.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Reading

He Should Have Seen It Coming — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker.

There, yet again, were the flames. Before the furious conflagrations erupted in Minneapolis, the final weeks of May had already seemed like the answer to a grim math problem: What is the product of a crisis multiplied by a crisis? The official mortality count of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States swept toward a hundred thousand, while the economic toll had left forty million people out of work. It was difficult to countenance how so much misery could come about so quickly. But on Memorial Day we became video witnesses to the horrific death of George Floyd, at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. By Friday, the looted shops, the charred buildings and cars, the smoldering Third Precinct—these were evidence of what the world looks like when a crisis is cubed.

These seemingly disparate American trials are not unrelated; they’re bound by their predictability and by the ways in which the Trump Administration has exacerbated them since they began. In March, the President claimed that “nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” and he has echoed that sentiment throughout the course of the emergency. But virtually everyone paying attention to public health saw something like the novel coronavirus coming. In less than two decades, we have seen epidemics of the SARS, MERS, Ebola, and H1N1 viruses. The Obama Administration created a National Security Council Directorate to mitigate the impact of such events; the Trump Administration largely disbanded it.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the protesters in Minneapolis were “thugs”—a term with deep-rooted racist connotations—and later noted that the military was present in the city. “When the looting starts,” he warned, “the shooting starts.” This situation, too, is part of a long-building problem whose warning signs have gone unheeded by the current Administration. Progressives have widely criticized the 1994 Crime Bill, which was spearheaded by Joe Biden, but an element of that legislation has been underappreciated. The 1992 Los Angeles riots broke out after the acquittal of four police officers who had violently assaulted Rodney King (an incident that was also captured on video). As has often been the case with riots, the chaotic fury in Los Angeles was not simply a response to one incident but an accretion of anger at innumerable issues with a police department which had gone unaddressed for years. The Crime Bill authorized the civil-rights division of the Department of Justice to intervene in the instance of chronically troubled departments, by negotiating consent decrees that laid out specific reforms to be followed, and provided for monitors to oversee their implementation. Like the precursors to the coronavirus, Los Angeles—and later Ferguson and Baltimore—was an indicator of how such problems could play out without intervention. But, in this area as well, the Trump Administration has functioned like a building contractor who can’t recognize a load-bearing wall.

In July, 2017, in an address to law-enforcement officers in Suffolk County, New York, Trump told them to use more force when taking suspects into custody. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting the head,” he said. “You can take the hand away, O.K.?” The following May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech to the National Association of Police Organizations, said that the Justice Department “will not malign entire police departments. We will not try to micromanage their daily work.” That November, as one of his last acts on the job, Sessions issued a memorandum that severely curtailed the civil-rights division’s ability to pursue decrees with police departments. This meant that, in communities plagued with bad policing, resentments could accrue unchecked by any higher authority until they reached their detonation points. Those detonations tend to resemble the streets of Minneapolis this week.

On Thursday, in a press conference that was short on developments or new information, Erica MacDonald, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, said, “To be clear, President Trump as well as Attorney General William Barr are directly and actively monitoring the investigation in this case.” But what, precisely, does that mean? Barr presides over a civil-rights division that has been stripped of its chief mechanism for creating compliance among police officers. In the past five years, the Twin Cities area has seen three other controversial police shootings: of Jamar Clark, in 2015; of Philando Castile, in 2016; and of Justine Damond, in 2017. Each of these fatal incidents featured a victim of a different racial background from the officers involved, and each was highlighted as an example of police misconduct. Like the COVID cases that emerged in Seattle at the beginning of the year, Minneapolis is a study in the importance of foresight and planning, and an example of what happens when neither of those things occurs.

The President posted his “the shooting starts” tweet early on Friday morning, just hours before Officer Derek Chauvin, who had knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, was taken into custody and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Twitter, in an unprecedented move, labelled Trump’s tweet a violation of company policy against “glorifying violence.” A Presidential threat to have the United States military shoot civilians is the opposite of leadership, the antithesis of wisdom—a comment as ill-advised and as detrimental to the public well-being as recommending injecting disinfectant or self-prescribing hydroxychloroquine.

Our problems generally do not stem from treacherous unknowns; they’re the result of a failure to make good use of what is known already. In July, 1967, after a brutal police raid at an after-hours bar in Detroit, that city exploded in retaliatory violence. A month later, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech to the American Psychological Association, in which he described riots as “durable social phenomena” that arise in conjunction with discernible conditions—acts of lawlessness that mirror the excesses of those charged with upholding the law. Leaders cannot predict the future, but they can be cognizant of the immediate past, and the possible dangers it suggests. They cannot be clairvoyant. They need only be intelligent.

Doonesbury — Instant Karma

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Priorities

From the Washington Post:

One hundred thousand Americans dead in less than four months.

It’s as if every person in Edison, N.J., or Kenosha, Wis., died. It’s half the population of Salt Lake City or Grand Rapids, Mich. It’s about 20 times the number of people killed in homicides in that length of time, about twice the number who die of strokes.

The death toll from the coronavirus passed that hard-to-fathom marker on Wednesday, which slipped by like so many other days in this dark spring, one more spin of the Earth, one more headline in a numbing cascade of grim news.

Nearly three months into the brunt of the epidemic, 14 percent of Americans say they know someone who has succumbed to the virus.

At the moment, Trump’s attention is elsewhere.

Trump is preparing to sign an executive order Thursday that could roll back the immunity that tech giants have for the content on their sites, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Trump’s directive chiefly seeks to embolden federal regulators to rethink a portion of law known as Section 230, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a document that could still evolve and has not been officially signed by the president. That law spares tech companies from being held liable for the comments, videos and other content posted by users on their platforms.

So the most important thing for him right now is to muzzle his critics.

What the hell is wrong with us?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Fatal Attraction

From TPM:

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) pounced on a golden opportunity on Tuesday after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the 2020 Republican National Convention out of Charlotte, North Carolina if that state’s Gov. Roy Cooper (D) didn’t allow full attendance at the convention amid COVID-19.

“With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention,” Kemp tweeted. “We hope you will consider the Peach State, @realdonaldtrump!”

The Georgia governor wasn’t the only Republican to swoop in amid Trump’s clash with Cooper.

Florida GOP chair Joe Gruters threw his hat in the ring several hours after the President issued his threat on Monday.

“The Republican Party of Florida would welcome the opportunity to host the Republican National Convention,” Gruters said in a statement. “Florida is committed to ensuring a safe, secure and successful event for President @realDonaldTrump and all attendees.”

And Texas GOP chair James Dickey made a similar offer on Monday during an interview with the American-Statesman.

“Texas would welcome President Trump and the RNC Convention,” he said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is all in favor having both conventions here.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the political conventions for both major parties would be great for Florida’s coronavirus-damaged economy as President Donald Trump has suggested moving the planned Republican convention out of North Carolina.

“Heck, I’m a Republican, it’d be good for us to have the DNC (Democratic National Convention) in terms of the economic impact when you talk about major events like that,” DeSantis said while in Miami to announce two appointments to the Florida Supreme Court.

DeSantis was asked about Trump tweeting Monday about possibly moving the Republican convention from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte because North Carolina wasn’t reopening fast enough amid the virus.

Yeah, the most important thing is to revive the economy by endangering the lives of the citizens of the state and brown-nosing Trump because he’s the lead lemming of their political future.

Florida’s tax structure relies on tourism and convention business, so naturally attracting thousands of people from out-of-state is good for the state’s coffers.  Unfortunately, you can’t really raise a lot of money from people that are sick and dying unless you’re in the healthcare business.  That would be Rick Scott, the former governor and now senator who made his fortune by running a scam healthcare business.

I got really tired of hearing how “pro-life” the Republicans are and how the Democrats are the ones who were going to implement “death panels” with Obamacare.  But it seems that the GOP is the one that is sick to death of it.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Reading

An Incalculable Loss — The front page of today’s New York Times.

Instead of the articles, photographs or graphics that normally appear on the front page of The New York Times, on Sunday, there is just a list: a long, solemn list of people whose lives were lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States approaches 100,000, a number expected to be reached in the coming days, editors at The Times have been planning how to mark the grim milestone.

Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Graphics desk, wanted to represent the number in a way that conveyed both the vastness and the variety of lives lost.

Departments across The Times have been robustly covering the coronavirus pandemic for months. But Ms. Landon and her colleagues realized that “both among ourselves and perhaps in the general reading public, there’s a little bit of a fatigue with the data.”

“We knew we were approaching this milestone,” she added. “We knew that there should be some way to try to reckon with that number.”

Putting 100,000 dots or stick figures on a page “doesn’t really tell you very much about who these people were, the lives that they lived, what it means for us as a country,” Ms. Landon said. So, she came up with the idea of compiling obituaries and death notices of Covid-19 victims from newspapers large and small across the country, and culling vivid passages from them.

Alain Delaquérière, a researcher, combed through various sources online for obituaries and death notices with Covid-19 written as the cause of death. He compiled a list of nearly a thousand names from hundreds of newspapers. A team of editors from across the newsroom, in addition to three graduate student journalists, read them and gleaned phrases that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost:

“Alan Lund, 81, Washington, conductor with ‘the most amazing ear’ … ”

“Theresa Elloie, 63, New Orleans, renowned for her business making detailed pins and corsages … ”

Ms. Landon compared the result to a “rich tapestry” that she could not have woven by herself. Clinton Cargill, assistant editor on the National desk, was Ms. Landon’s “editing co-pilot,” she said. Other key players in the project were Matt Ruby, deputy editor of Digital News Design; Annie Daniel, a software engineer; and the graphics editors Jonathan Huang, Richard Harris and Lazaro Gamio. Andrew Sondern, an art director, is behind the print design.

Marc Lacey, National editor, had warned Tom Bodkin, chief creative officer of The Times, that the milestone was coming. “I wanted something that people would look back on in 100 years to understand the toll of what we’re living through,” Mr. Lacey said in an email.

For the front page of the paper, two ideas stood out: either a grid of hundreds of pictures of those who had lost their lives to Covid-19, or an “all type” concept, Mr. Bodkin said. Whichever approach was chosen, he said, “we wanted to take over the entire page.”

The all-type concept came to the fore. Such a treatment “would be hugely dramatic,” he said.

The design references that of centuries-old newspapers, which Mr. Bodkin is keenly interested in. For many years after The Times started publishing in 1851, there were no headlines, in the modern sense.

“It was kind of running text with little subheads,” Mr. Bodkin said, describing newspapers in the mid-1800s.

Mr. Bodkin said he did not remember any front pages without images during his 40 years at The Times, “though there have been some pages with only graphics,” he said, adding, “This is certainly a first in modern times.”

Inside the paper, the list continues, threaded with an essay by Dan Barry, a Times reporter and columnist. But mostly there are names. More names, and more lives lost.

Doonesbury.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sowing The Whirlwind

We haven’t heard from Charlie Pierce in a while.

First, in Oregon, a devotee of the QAnon lunacy won the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Senator Jeff Merkley. From the Washington Post.

Jo Rae Perkins bested three other candidates to win the GOP nomination…In a video posted to her Twitter feed Tuesday night, Perkins declared that she supports the conspiracy theory, which revolves around “Q,” an anonymous Internet user claiming to be a government agent with top security clearance. “Where we go one, we go all,” Perkins said in the video, reciting a QAnon slogan. “I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic.”

It did not start with Trump and it will not depart with him. The Republican Party is a bag of monsters.

Then there is the Q-Poll, the national numbers from Quinnipiac University. We ordinarily don’t post on polls here at the shebeen. They are the ultimate shiny object. This one, though, is worth noting, because it is a snapshot of a campaign that really isn’t happening, and the numbers therein are not at all good for the incumbent.

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Trump 50 – 39 percent in a head-to-head matchup in the election for president, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll of registered voters released today. That’s up from the 49 – 41 percent lead Biden held in an April 8th national poll, but the change is within the margin of error. Democrats go to Biden 88 – 5 percent, Republicans go to Trump 87 – 8 percent, and independents go to Biden 47 – 36 percent.

“What does the 11 point Biden lead tell us? At best for Team Trump, it says voter confidence in President Trump is shaky. At worst for them, as coronavirus cases rise, Trump’s judgement is questioned – and November looms,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.

Bear in mind that Biden did little more during this polling period than issue the occasional message from his man cave in Delaware. Meanwhile, the president* has been all over television doing his own unique brand of presidentin’. Dark and rancid smears. Intimations of plots and scheming from The Deep State. Ginning up anger and fighting with his own government. However, this poll clearly indicates that the country’s actual pessimism is far outpacing the president*’s ability to create it to his advantage.

More than two months into the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., President Trump’s job approval rating ticks lower. 42 percent of voters approve of the job President Trump is doing, while 53 percent disapprove. That’s compared to a 45 – 51 percent job approval rating he received in April, his highest ever. On the president’s response to the coronavirus, 41 percent of voters approve and 56 percent disapprove. That is down from a 46 – 51 percent approval rating in April. On the president’s handling of the economy, 50 percent approve while 47 percent disapprove, compared to a 51 – 44 percent approval in April. On his handling of healthcare, although underwater, the president receives his highest approval rating ever, a negative 41 – 54 percent. In April he received a negative 39 – 54 percent approval.

Pessimism all around. 81 percent of respondents are afraid that the country will collapse into an economic depression. Almost half of them say the pandemic has affected their mental health. About 87 percent of them believe that a “second wave” of the pandemic is at least somewhat likely to occur. The country doesn’t need this guy’s help to feel bad about itself any more. He talked about American carnage in his inaugural address. He had no idea what that really looks like.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Back To The Office

For the first time since March 18, I’m going to the office.

It’s not for full-time (I’m a part-timer anyway), and it’s mainly just to see where we are with various projects, but it’s a start.  We’re taking all sorts of precautions: face masks, screens around the cubes in the open area, and it will be just a few of us.  School is over for the year.

But sunrise is coming.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Slow Going

Miami-Dade County is slowly re-opening.

Anyone going back to work on Monday needs to wear a face covering, and businesses must test all staff and hire deep cleaners if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

Those are two of the most sweeping decrees in an order released Friday night by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez outlining the rules that will be in place once businesses are allowed to reopen Monday.

The public schools — and the ones I work at — will remain closed to students for the rest of the school year. My office is open on a limited basis, but I can do what I need to do from home.

Everybody, me included, would like to get back to some semblance of normal.  I want my neighbors who own small businesses to get back to work.  I want the students to go back to school.  Watching graduations, weddings, and funerals on Zoom is no substitution for being there.  It’s going to take a while, and we’re probably not going to see life as we knew it again even after there’s a vaccine and everyone has been inoculated.

As for me, I’m staying put.  I’m not a worrywart, but I’m pretty sure a week from now we’re going to see a spike in new infections here in Miami-Dade.  And I’d rather not be one of them.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Armed And Dangerous

From the New York Times:

SHEPHERD, Texas — When Jamie Williams decided to reopen her East Texas tattoo studio last week in defiance of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, she asked Philip Archibald for help. He showed up with his dog Zeus, his friends and his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Mr. Archibald established an armed perimeter in the parking lot outside Crash-N-Burn Tattoo, secured by five men with military-style rifles, tactical shotguns, camouflage vests and walkie-talkies. One of them already had a large tattoo of his own. “We the People,” it said.

“I think it should be a business’s right if they want to close or open,” said Mr. Archibald, a 29-year-old online fitness trainer from the Dallas area who lately has made it his personal mission to help Texas business owners challenge government orders to keep their doors shut during the coronavirus pandemic. “What is coming to arrest a person who is opening their business according to their constitutional rights? That’s confrontation.”

Call it the armed reopening.

It’s one thing when a bunch of ammosexuals rally in the middle of the desert to play summer soldier and defy the BLM over grazing fees.  But when the very breath you blast when you’re carrying on about “freedum” endangers the people around you, then you’re a danger to the community.  If you want to take the risk, go ahead.  The Constitution grants you the right to be a blowhard.  But it doesn’t give you or any of your Spell-Check-challenged projectors the right to endanger innocent people or the ones who are doing their job to keep the community and the country you say you love out of danger.

But go ahead and scream “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  The way you’re going, you’ll get both.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How Are You?

The 2020 William Inge Theatre Festival was supposed to start today.  At this hour — 6:00 a.m. — I was supposed to be boarding a flight to Dallas and then on to Tulsa for my 29th trip to Independence, Kansas, where the festival would honor the memory of the playwright who gave us “Picnic,” “Come Back, Little Sheba,” and “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” among other works including the screenplay for “Splendor in the Grass,” for which Inge won an Oscar.  The festival was planning to honor playwright Lynn Nottage with the Distinguished Achievement in American Theatre award in the name of William Inge, and I was going to present a paper for the scholars conference on the role of mothers in Inge’s plays.  We would also do what we do best at theatre festivals: make friends, read new plays, and eat a lot of good comfort food.

That’s not happening.  I’m sitting in my study at home in the eighth week of stay-home isolation, and the Inge Festival has been postponed for a year.  So has the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference, the Midwest Dramatists Conference, all the remaining car shows, and my summer camp reunion in Colorado.  The warnings from the smart people who are speaking out beyond the roses-and-rainbows forecast of the idiots in the White House are dire if we don’t pay attention to the real science, and we are all hoping against hope that by January we’ll all line up for vaccinations against the virus.  Maybe a year from today I’ll be finally using that ticket to Tulsa, along with the upgrade that came with it.

These are the things that occupy me right now, along with the health and safety of my friends and family.  I can hear about the global impact of the virus and the devastation it has caused on so many levels: physical, emotional, economic, and all the collateral damage that comes with it.  It can be overwhelming, and the urge to turn it off and tune it out is strong.  That would explain why the subscriptions to Netflix and other streaming services (and of course, porn, or so I hear) are through the roof and why everyone is now learning how to use Zoom for everything from doctor’s visits to play rehearsals and performance.  We are learning to cope — I found the New York Times crossword puzzle archives to be a godsend — and we are learning to turn our energy to other outlets.  For instance, I have written ten new plays and completed a novel since January, which means that I’ve done more playwriting in the last five months than I did in the first forty-three years since I had my first play produced.  And some of them are pretty good, if I do say so myself.

So, how are you doing?  How are you coping?  How’s your family?  Your friends?  Your pets?  What have you learned about yourself and your loved ones?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Losing It

I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and I don’t believe in diagnosis from a distance, but go ahead and look at Trump’s press conference yesterday, especially the closing minutes, and tell me that’s normal.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Trump abruptly ended a press conference Monday after telling an American reporter who was born in China to “ask China” about coronavirus testing statistics.

CBS News’ Weijia Jiang had asked Trump why he insisted on framing the United States’ testing capacity relative to other countries, to which Trump replied, “ask China.”

“Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay?” he said. “When you ask them that question, you may get a very unusual answer.”

“Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically?” Jiang responded. Trump dodged the question, saying he was posing the question to “anybody that would ask a nasty question like that.”

Jiang protested the characterization, but Trump moved on, calling on CNN’s Kaitlin Collins before trying to pass onto another reporter instead.

“Sir, I just want to let my colleague finish,” Collins said. But Trump was done. “Ladies and Gentleman, thank you very much,” he said, leaving the briefing.

It’s going to get worse.  So the question now becomes if there is anyone besides a Trump enabler or sycophant who can do anything about it?  There was a suggestion that the 25th Amendment be invoked, but that would require the Cabinet to sign off on removing the president from power temporarily, and they’re too much in his pocket to do it.  Congress also has the power to invoke the 25th Amendment, but that’s a non-starter as long as the Senate is in the hands of the Republicans; they are too much invested in Trump for their own futures to willingly go against him.

The only way the 25th Amendment can be invoked without turning it into a game of political cornhole is if Trump himself becomes physically incapacitated, certified medically.  In other words, he’s going to have to come down with Covid-19 or some other malady.

I wouldn’t willingly wish the virus on anyone.  But since a lot of Republicans are saying that sometimes we have to sacrifice human life for the greater good — destroying any “pro-life” argument they would ever make again — it would be ironic on a scale unimagined by the best classic Greek tragedians if that would be the end awaiting this administration.