Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Playing the numbers, revisited.

So, here we are, December 29th.  Before beginning this post, I reread the 3 posts I had written in March, as both a perspective of how things were 9 months ago, and to see if there is a way to answer some of the questions which I posed in those posts.  You may reread them by clicking on the links below.




First, let's be clear that the United States of America did a horrible job of battling the COVID-19 virus.  From the president through the legislature, the governors and even various state and local officials, our leadership failed us.  But even more so, we failed each other, and so, in the end, it is the fault of the American people that we have lost about 340,000 lives to this pandemic, with probably another 100,000 to come.  Long ago we swallowed and internalized the belief that America is great because of its economy and wealth, and so, by the time the vaccines have created a large enough percentage of immunity in the population, we will have sacrificed almost half a million of our fellow citizens upon the altar of greed and the almighty dollar. 

But Joe, many of us sacrificed a lot during these times?  How can you say it is our fault?

In face of just such reasoning, true as it is for a large number of Americans, I acknowledge that much suffering, economic and health wise has occurred, is still ongoing.  We wore masks when it was uncomfortable.  We stayed away from our older relatives just in case we were sick and did not know it.  We washed and sanitized our hands and common surfaces so much it would make Felix Unger proud. We altered our daily routines in innumerable ways in hopes of saving the lives of those we might infect unknowingly, or those who could not survive the virus.

In sports, there is an old adage that you are what your record says.  4-10-1 (4 wins, 10 losses, 1 tie) makes you a bad team, regardless of whether you played good teams, had a lot of injuries, or lost a number of close games.  

And so it is with our record.  As of today, almost 25% of the cases in the world have occurred in the US, yet with only 4% of its inhabitants.  About 20% of the deaths.  One of every 1,000 Americans have died, in 9 months, from this pandemic which puts us ahead of Spain, Italy, the UK, Belgium, Peru and 8 other countries, but behind Israel, Germany, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Norway and 180 other countries that have lost citizens to this virus.  Yes, in terms of deaths per million, out of about 195 countries reporting coronavirus deaths, we are 182nd. We are what our record says.


In my first post in March, I asked that we require all politicians and pundits to specify how many Americans they were willing to sacrifice to keep our economy open.  At the time, I was naive enough to wonder if they might answer that 50,000 dead would be OK, but that perhaps 100,000 might not.  I wonder how many people would have received much air time, in March, had they said they were willing to sacrifice 300,000 Americans to keep the economy open?  Of course, since we somewhat flattened the curve in the spring, then lost our nerve and began protesting the simple wearing of masks, and limiting our social contacts, anyone promoting the idea that we do nothing would have stated they were willing to sacrifice a half a million Americans, back then, to truly present their plan to "be free" since we will get close to that number, even with the use of all the mitigations put in place.  

Can you imagine if, in the interview with Bob Woodward, the words I always wanted to down play the virus were replaced with, I was willing to sacrifice 500,000 Americans?  Well, guess what, they mean the same, it is just that too many people were too far down the rabbit hole to realize that the high death rate was partly due to "being a cheerleader" rather than a real leader.

And so, too many average Americans listened to those saying that our freedoms were at stake, looked around and saw that the virus hadn't struck anyone they knew, or only people who were sick or a different color than they were, and refused to demand actual numbers.  Or worse, listened to those who continued to deny it was even real, right up until the time that the virus starting rampaging through rural America, and by then it was too late.  

If you happen to be interested in the death rates of some of those "freedom" loving states where the governors actually encouraged virus spreading events like motorcycle festivals and political rallies, you might note that North and South Dakota currently own the 4th and 7th highest death rates, respectively, of the 50 states.  I can only wonder if, had the White House been more interested in preventing death than winning an election, the governors of those states might have been more assertive in trying to prevent the virus from spreading, thereby saving the lives of Dakotans who might have been able to stay relatively unscathed had they tried even a little bit.

And then there is the obvious fact that upwards of 40% of the deaths (where barely 1% of the population lives) happened in long term care facilities.  Would a coordinated federal effort in concert with better decision making by some of the east coast governors have helped?  For sure.  But, if you want to better understand why those facilities, that industry, suffered so much death, you can read this month's AARP magazine for more details,  Suffice it to say, that when you allow an industry to self regulate, to pay paltry wages to its caregivers, to be dependent on tax payer money for a large percentage of its revenue, and to reflect the all too pervasive attitude that America exhibits towards its elderly (better unseen), then we have a recipe for disaster when facing such an unexpected pandemic.

Ultimately, the question is, what did we learn?

For me, the question of how much trust we place in our elected officials goes to the heart of some of our problems today.  For many years there has been a concerted effort to drive a wedge between the people and the government.  While it is certainly important to apply the smell test to the words and actions of our public servants, it times of crisis it is only through large scale action which can only be accomplished through coordinated efforts by all levels of government (and public-private partnerships), will effective measures be realized.  When the smell is too much too handle, we vote for someone new.  And when election results are threatened to be overturned, we call bullshit, and apply the label traitor.

During WW2 when rations of gas and meat were required, air raid drills were held, and sacrifices were made for our brave soldiers, policies that certainly restricted individual liberty, the vast majority of Americans understood the necessity of temporarily adhering to such restraints. Did we trust the government more, or did we understand that exceptional times demanded exceptions measures?  

Far too many politicians (and news organizations) made fighting the pandemic (or resisting calls to do so) a political issue rather than a health issue, and far too many Americans were unable to put their fellow citizens (and ultimately anyone in their family or circle of friends who worked in essential jobs, lived in long term care facilities, or were just old or sick) ahead of their own misguided selfish needs.  Too many were convinced that the individual is always more important than the whole so that give me liberty or give me death turned out to mean my liberty is more important than your death, "your" being defined as those who were already sick, or old, or just not like me.

It is a not an easy line to walk, valuing individualism over the state, then knowing when the state (all the citizens) needs to be prioritized even over one's own liberties.  Perhaps we need to remember that the United States government is we, the people and when you have completely fell victim to a con man who tells you that he is the government, or that only some people are part of we, the people, it is inevitable that you will lose the very thing that you prize the most. 

In the meantime, wear your mask, limit your travel, value your family, encourage the prioritization of health above wealth, and get vaccinated if your doctor recommends you to do so.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

More Thanks for Donald Trump

Last month I posted the following


In it, I posited that for good or bad, Donald Trump has energized the electorate far more than any person in recent history, and should be congratulated for, not only this fact, but perhaps, for awakening the sleeping giant, the American electorate.  As it turned out, I under performed in my assumption that we might reach a 60% voter turnout as it was in the range of 66%.  Now, let's be realistic, that still means the one out of three registered voters chose not to participate in one of the most contentions presidential elections in our generation.  

Still, as I said, it is a beginning.  Let's hope, no, let's demand, that we continue to stay involved in our democracy by encouraging our elected public servants to overhaul the election process by mandating that all states have some form of early voting, an organized framework to handle (and count) mail-in votes by election day or the day after, and the adoption of Democracy weekend which features voting from Saturday through Monday with Monday being a national holiday.  And, to further emphasize our seriousness, that the American electorate removes from office anyone not in agreement with the basics of this plan.

Today's post, is again, a tribute to Donald Trump.  

While Trump has governed from day one with no concerns for the norms and standards of modern presidential and political thought, it was not clear, at least to me, just how far he might go in challenging the foundations of our democracy.  (Nora, my wife, on the other hand, knew from day one that he would go as far as destroying our democracy if it pleased him).  Regardless of where you fell on that scale of doubt/certainty, it is now abundantly clear that Donald Trump cares even less about America than even the most naive among us might have thought.  Even starting before election day, he told his true believers that should he lose in 2020 (just as he said in 2016, by the way), it will be the result of massive fraud, cheating by the Democrats, the fact that the election is "rigged", or any combination of the three.  

He disparaged mail in voting even though he had mailed in many votes over the course of his lifetime, then spent taxpayer money to fly to Florida to cast his vote to prove that true Americans only vote in person.

Once there appeared that no proof of massive fraud could be found, he and his sycophants challenged in court the actions of various Democratic led states which altered their voting rules to allow for safer voting in this pandemic year.  In other words, they sued to have legal votes cast aside. 

And now that virtually all court challenges have resulted in abject failure, as judges from both sides of the aisle tossed out these frivolous suits, he is encouraging sympathetic GOP state legislators to ignore the vote of the people and choose electors that will vote for him, not Biden.

The good news is that there appears to be no path by which enough rogue electors can change the outcome of the current electoral count, which is 306 to 232. The bad news is that there is still one more hurdle before Biden is officially declared the winner of the 2020 election.  

The electoral votes must be tabulated and confirmed by Congress on January 6th, with Mike Pence, no less, to read and tabulate the results, in alphabetical order, state by state.  It is at this time that there is an opportunity for members of Congress to object to a state's submitted electoral result, and it will certainly happen this time, as a number of GOP House representatives have indicated, and as, undoubtedly, Trump will encourage both directly in contacts with those GOP representatives who he knows he can bully, and indirectly, by telling his cult members to contact their federal representatives to insist that they object to this "rigged" election.  

But, the rules require that a representative from both Houses object, which means a Senator from the state must also participate in this attempted coup.  While it is clear that there is little integrity residing within our current GOP senators, there may be an unwillingness even among them to tell the voters of their state who voted for Biden that their votes do not count.

Ultimately, however, an objection to a state's electoral submission must be upheld by both bodies of Congress, and there is little chance that the House of Representatives will choose to agree with a GOP assertion that a state won by Biden should not have its electors given to Biden.

That only leaves a military coup, which, if you have been watching the firing of key Pentagon civilians by Trump with the replacement of Trump loyalists (note that in this case, a Trump loyalist is not an American loyalist, since this person has been chosen based on his views Trump is more important that our country).  I know, you are saying, a military coup in America?  Sounds crazy, a manifestation of Trump syndrome.

Perhaps so, but then again, an incumbent president who claims that America's election system is rife with fraud and rigged is pretty far-fetched in itself.  It is truly amazing how Trump has convinced so many people to vote for him while telling them that the election is rigged.  That rampant fraud has occurred, but only in states that he lost.  (Just for the record, I heard that in Maine and Iowa, votes cast for the senate races there were changed from Dem to GOP.  How else can you explain Ernst and Collins winning again?  I have no proof, but since when is proof required to make an assertion?)

So, why am I thanking Donald Trump, you must be asking?

Well, for starters, his attempt at sedition has spurred many people to gain a better understanding of how our election laws work.  I was not fluent in all the details which I have laid out in the above paragraphs, as I would imagine most Americans are not.  His overt and covert attacks on the foundations of our democracy and freedoms, have motivated, perhaps millions of people, to learn more about the intricacies of how our government works, and how it can be used to not work.  Thank you.

But even greater than that, I am firm in my belief that come January 20th, 2021, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.  Our democracy may have flaws, it may have been bruised a bit, with some bruises going right to its core, but it will have survived.  So, thanks again Donald Trump for testing the American Democratic Experiment, and proving just how strong it is.  And, if you could do us one more favor, don't let the door hit your butt on the way out.