Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Radical Right Craziness Going Too Far

The following concerning the President’s tweets appeared on a recent posting by Heather Cox Richardson, the Boston College professor I quote so often:

“Most dramatically, though, he went on a Twitter crusade against television show host Joe Scarborough, tweeting inaccurately, and with no evidence, that Scarborough murdered a young woman in 2001. The 28-year-old woman to whom he was referring was working in a local office of then-Florida Representative Scarborough, with whom she had virtually no contact, when a heart condition caused her to fall and hit her head. There was no sign of a struggle or anyone else with her; the medical examiner concluded that she died of natural causes.
It all just looked mean and self-serving and small, and as if he had given up on appealing to any but the radical conspiracy theorists who make up his base. Some of them are listening: although at the end of April, 81% of Kentucky residents approved of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, on Sunday protestors in Kentucky hung an effigy of Beshear from a tree limb at a mock lynching at the state capitol. They attached to the effigy's shirt a piece of paper that said *“Sic Semper Tyrannis,” the same motto John Wilkes Booth shouted in 1865 when he murdered President Abraham Lincoln, and the same words that were on the t-shirt Timothy McVeigh wore in 1995 when he set the bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City that killed at least 168 people and injured more than 680 others.”
Booth Assassinating Linclon - 1865
Kentucky Rightist hanging
Governor Beshear in Efficy - 2020

Oklahoma Federal Building Bombing - 1995

In my blog postings I have assiduously avoided going in the direction suggested by the words of John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, but when Kentucky right wing protesters use it against their Democratic governor, I begin to worry.  “Sic Semper Tyrannis” is a *death threat and Professor Cox explained how it was used in the Lincoln assassination and the Oklahoma City bombing 25 years ago.   Any suggestion that the act of assassination can be legitimatized in any way in this country is wrong and should not be made.
*Sic semper tyrannis is a Latin phrase attributed to Marcus Iunius Brutus, one of the Senators who assassinated Julius Caesar. It can be translated as "Thus always to tyrants". It is a shortened version of the phrase "Sic semper evello mortem tyrannis" ("Thus always I bring death to tyrants").
Senators Assassinating Julius Caesar - 44 B.C.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Delicate Balance

Many Americans feel that restrictions imposed to lessen the spread of the Coronavirus Pandemic violate their Constitutional rights.  There have been demonstrations, some even with weapons, and the political right is not reluctant to take up this issue.  The President has strongly chastised Governors who favor such restrictions.

This is despite medical (not political) authorities with established expertise having determined that the best way to fight the virus, which has killed over 100,000 Americans thus far, is to limit its “person to person” spreading by restricting contact between people.  This has resulted in “social distancing” guidelines, masks and closure of businesses, schools and activities which bring people close together and encouraging people to “stay at home.”

Mary Sanchez
In Mary Sanchez’ May 19 Kansas City Star column, she made the following comment which represents, tragically, what many who are in favor of loosening restrictions believe:

“Bear in mind that ample studies and evidence show most people believe that staying at home or limiting their interactions with others is the right course of action, even as they are hyper aware of their own plummeting savings and inability to pay bills. But their voices are lost among the shrill.  Here’s a snippet from one conspiracy pusher that promotes under the tagline We Are NOT In This Together: “The power-grabbing politicians who used the phony Covid plague as an excuse to destroy our jobs, close our businesses, rob us of our freedom, and wreck our economy knew exactly what they were doing…And they did it intentionally.”

That’s the chorus pressing people to believe that it’s not COVID-19 that is causing cataclysmic stock market plunges, businesses to post closed forever signs and unemployment figures so dire that discussions of a depression are not out of line. They blame social distancing and municipal orders to stay-at-home for the economic fallout of the coronavirus; rather than the virus itself.
It’s a dangerous switch-up.
The very nature of the virus mocks such views. We are in this together whether those who like to shout about tyranny and government overreach like it or not.”

In a setting where the numbers of actual cases is unclear (see my blog posting of May 22), in which we have to accept these numbers as potentially representing and including those capable of spreading the virus, these restrictive guidelines have significantly affected business and social activities.  Businesses are failing, employees are losing jobs, and economic activity is grinding to a halt.  Education has been disrupted.  Wall Street is ‘kaput.’

The wealthy always manage to survive, but the greatest effect of this is on individuals who have lost their income and risk losing the ability to pay mortgages, rent and even put food on the table.  Existing unemployment benefit laws, varying from State to State, are proving inadequate to relieve this problem.  Improving them with more Federal aid is tied up with the traditional differences in opinion about this between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Up to a point, it is to their credit that most Americans have put up with this situation.  As its economic effect worsens, people cooped up at home begin to realize that these restrictions have taken away their individual freedoms.  This is particularly noticeable in States where the virus has not yet struck with full fury, and in States where restrictions have already been partially reduced.  Unquestionably, the restrictions cannot be made permanent, but early lifting of them can result in an increase in the number of cases and deaths.  The American people, it appears to me, want some restrictions removed or modified, and are behaving as if that is already happening.  This position is not discouraged by the position of the President, who has minimized the threat of the Pandemic all along and encourages removal of restrictions.  This results in the appearance of the disease actually being stopped, which is not the case.  The numbers do not support this position but they are being ignored in some States where the people want to go back to work and resume normal activities, despite them.

A large number of deaths from Covid19 have been among nursing home residents and senior citizens whom believers in lifting restrictions feel would have died anyway from other causes.  Also, because the disease’s spread has been disproportionately larger among older Afro-Americans and those living in less than optimal economic situations (poverty, not speaking English, absence of any income), those seeking the lifting of restrictions see the problem as “someone else’s,” not theirs.  Look at the TV pictures of those on newly opened beaches or in sidewalk cafes for example, where some restrictions have been lifted, even though the statistics to justify such action do not really exist.  See who are sitting there sipping their drinks or soaking up the sun.

Okay.  That’s the muddled picture right now.  As I see it, the weight of those Americans who want their full Constitutional rights restored and the restrictions to lessen the disease’s spread relaxed, cannot be denied.  Like it or not, regardless of the medical facts, restrictions will be lessened State by State in order to restore some “individual” rights, give the economy a chance to improve and support an illusion of normalcy.  That is happening and going to continue to happen.  The price of this will be a greater spread of the virus than would be the case if the restrictions were maintained.  There will be more deaths, and that is the way it is going to be. 

The next decade will have to include a delicate balancing of how many more deaths such “opening up” of society and the economy causes and the success of returning “Constitutional Rights” to individuals.  This ought to be done on a Federal level, but unfortunately, it is being done State by State, making it an administrative mess.  A vaccine would change things somewhat but don’t count on it in the immediate future.

And remember, there is a Presidential election in November.  The position of the President is important is making this “balancing” work.   It is clear where Donald Trump stands.  His thumb is on the scale.  A Democrat President’s thumb would be on the other side of the scale, but neither side is going to have it entirely the way they want it to be.  It’s (1) the illusion of some kind of normalcy versus (2) the increased number of deaths which that would cause which will have to be balanced.  A delicate balance.

In a way, what happens is up to you on November 3.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Memorial Day Thoughts - Toxic Individualism Plus a Timothy Egan Column on Bill Gates

In the past I have managed the annual Memorial Day program at our community's flagpole.  This year I am unable to, but nevertheless, our thoughts should be with all of those who, in all wars, have given their lives for this country.  And it is not too far a stretch for us to include the war against Covid19 in that list of struggles.


The Memorial Day front page of the New York Times features a list of 1000 of us who have died from the Coronavirus Pandemic.   Heather Cox Richardson, the Boston College history professor often quoted here (Google her name for her frequent columns), had this to say about the Times front page:

“This dramatic cover does more than mark a stark number. It rejects the toxic individualism embraced by a certain portion of Trump’s base. These people refuse to isolate or wear masks either because they believe the virus isn’t actually dangerous or because they insist that public health rules infringe on their liberty or because, so far, the people most likely to die have been elderly or people of color and they are not in those categories.

“It’s a personal choice,” one man told a reporter as a wealthy suburb of Atlanta reopened. “If you want to stay home, stay home. If you want to go out, you can go out. I’m not in the older population. If I was to get it now, I’ve got a 90 percent chance of getting cured. Also, I don’t know anybody who’s got it.” Another man agreed: “When you start seeing where the cases are coming from and the demographics—I’m not worried.”

The New York Times cover rejects this selfishness and reminds us that we are all in this together… or should be.”   

I agree. There are certain individual actions which people can take which, intentionally or unintentionally, usually the latter, affect others.  One doesn’t pull a fire alarm lever or shout “fire” in a theatre just to see the people run and the engines come.  We all know that can cause harm to others.   
And because the Covid19 virus spreads from person to person, even the safe “personal choice” the man from suburban Atlanta made does not preclude its unintentional spread to those more vulnerable to the virus than he might be. We don’t know if that man is positive or negative for the virus (see the prior posting about the lack of dependability of testing), but if he is capable of spreading the virus, without having symptoms himself, he is a danger to others he encounters in his expanded “outside” life.  He might get a haircut in a supposedly 100% sanitized barber shop and still leave a droplet of virus there for the next customer, possible more vulnerable than he, to spread further.  Sure, this is the other end of the spectrum from calling out “fire” in a theatre, but it exists … and there are a lot of “ifs” and "buts" involved … but real American lives are at stake.

 I’ve had some “blowback” in regard to my comments on testing in my last posting.  Some think the published numbers are accurate.  But I am not the only one thinking in another direction.  Check out the following item from WLRN (Public Radio in South Florida) to see someone who agrees with me.   

May 23, 2020

Hi there.

In the past few days, we broke a story about how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 
lumping together the results of two different kinds of tests in the agency's tally of testing for the coronavirus. Experts say mixing the two kinds of tests together can paint an inaccurate picture about how many people are receiving COVID-19 testing, and can artificially lower positive test rates.

WLRN reporter Daniel Rivero first noticed the different number of total tests when comparing Florida’s COVID-19 data with the CDC’s nationwide analysis of COVID-19 data, which was released this week. It showed broad discrepancies between what some states are reporting about testing, and what is being reported by the CDC. And moreover, the analysis listed Florida as “the most extreme case” of testing discrepancies between what the state and the federal government are reporting.

The reporting has since been picked up by NBC's Meet The Press, The Atlantic and other national outlets.

We’ve also covered the 
unemployment numbers across South Florida, how the Keys’ controversial mini lobster season might not be so contentious this year, and the future for two graduating high school seniors.  

Florida's numbers
As of Friday, May 22, 2020
Total cases: 49,451 (+ 2,507 since Wednesday)
Total deaths: 2,190 (+138 since Wednesday)
Florida Department of Health 


What Bill Gates is All About

Bill Gates

Papers throughout the country have reproduced New York Times West Coast writer Timothy Egan’s recent column regarding Bill Gates.   I recommend that you read it by  CLICKING HERE.     Do you agree?  Then do something about it!  In view of the truths Gates speaks there is a lot of phony criticism of him on the Internet.  Read Egan's column and take it from there.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Covid19 Unanswered Questions

There are a few things on my mind that I would like to address involving the Covid19/Coronavirus Pandemic.  There is information all over the place, on TV, in magazines, in newspapers and on the Internet, but I cannot get a solid fix on certain things.  Sometimes I feel I am dealing with melting Jello.

Let’s look at testing.  As I understand it, the tests to see if someone is or has been infected in the past by the coronavirus, report what they find as of the time of the test.  A negative test result, as reassuring as it might be, is meaningless if the next day, that person is infected by contact with a droplet of the virus.  Should we be tested daily? What about symptomless individuals (someone not manifesting significant Covid19 symptoms like cough, extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing, high temperatures, or other flu-like symptoms) who really are positive but deluded by an earlier negative test result.  A real danger!  That is, if all who are positive can spread the virus, but is that the case?  Are all those who were exposed on beaches recently and are positive out there spreading the virus?  I don't know.

I understand that for statistical purposes for what they call modelling, an effort to predict the virus’ future course, testing is valuable.  But I question the test’s value to the individual.   A negative test result is no substitute for a mask.

We hope that those who test positive, symptomless or not, acquire a degree of immunity from future infection … but so far, we have no solid evidence on this, despite tests supposedly designed to provide an answer.  You hear about testing for anti-bodies that accomplish this, but without real evidence.

Another thing that perplexes me are the statistics to which we are exposed daily.  Being told that there have been 95,000 Covid19 deaths in the United States along with about 1,500,000 cases does not distinguish what the makeup of those 1,500,000 cases actually is.  Do they include everyone who tests positive for Covid19, with or without symptoms, or do they refer only to those with real symptoms of the disease described above.  Do they reflect only those requiring hospitalization?  Statistics, which we depend on 50 different States to provide, may differ in defining what is a “case.”  Watch TV for a few hours to see if you can get any real answers to these questions. 

Finally, I feel the future (two or three years down the pike) will include testing at all schools, restaurants, workplaces, stores, recreation areas, theatres, beaches, gathering places, stadiums, etc. for all people entering and leaving them.  All people entering and leaving such facilities will have to walk through the same kind of gate we all walk through before entering an airliner.  We have been doing that already at concerts and sporting events, looking for weapons.  Covid19 is a dangerous weapon and deserves such screening. 

Then we will know who, for the moment, is positive and who is negative.  Such knowledge will be essential in dealing with a recurrence of the disease.  What specific action the results of such scanning brings about is another question entirely.  

Should a restaurant seat someone who is positive or claiming to be untested, but symptomless? Are the Atlantic Avenue restaurants in Delray all following the same practice?

Feel free to share your thoughts with me.  (  Next time around, maybe, the blog will look at the economic impact of Covid19.

                                                             *   *   *

What ever happened to Dr. Fauci?  Don't see him around much anymore.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Visit with Thomas Paine - Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered!

Thomas Paine wrote a series of pamphlets between 1776 and 1783 supporting the American Revolution.  In this famous one, known for the words “These are the times that try men’s’ souls,” Paine chronicles the details of the most crucial battles of the Revolution.  The foe, the British, is personified by the personage of their military leader, General Howe.   It is great historical reading, particularly from a military standpoint!

But more important is his urging of the American people to unite to defeat the British.  General Howe was the immediate foe then.  Today, we have others.   

It is important, that in dealing with the Coronavirus and the present administration, we do not panic.  Here are Paine's words on that point. 

'Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world.”

I wonder who are the "secret traitors" of today whom the Trumpublican party's "panic" over the 2020 election will reveal.  What are their "hidden thoughts"?

But more important is Paine's urging of the American people to unite to defeat the British.  General Howe was the immediate foe then.  Today, we have others.  Learn to deal with them, just as Paine urged in 1776. We must unite.  

But read the whole thing.  Now, you certainly have the ten minutes it will take.