Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Accidental infections

I recently continued reading the Summer edition of Lapham's, entitled Epidemic.  I had set it aside for a while, partially to catch-up on some other reading, and, I guess, partially because we have been living in this surreal world of the virus for the last 9 months.

A few days ago I encountered the story of Gene Tierney and her experience with being on the receiving end of an accidental infection.  For those of you who know the story, it is well worth hearing again, and for those of you unfamiliar with it (as I was) it is certainly relevant to what we see occurring with COVID-19.

Gene Tierney was a famous America actress during the 1940's and 50's.  Being a renowned and popular actress during WW2, she often spent time visiting and entertaining our troops.  In March of 1943, Tierney visited the Hollywood Canteen to meet and entertain the local GI's as was often done during those years.  The evening was uneventful, although she did encounter a young woman Marine that evening, an encounter that would change her life immensely.

A few days after that appearance, Tierney awoke with red spots all over her face.  Her doctor diagnosed her ailment as rubella, also called German measles, and he advised her to delay her scheduled trip to Kansas to meet with her husband, famed fashion designer Oleg Cassini.  It was at Fort Riley, Kansas that she and Oleg planned to raise their first child as Tierney was in her first trimester of pregnancy.

Within a year of the birth of their daughter, Daria, Tierney knew something was wrong. Then one day she read an article that a year after an outbreak of German measles in Australia, a generation of defective babies was being reported.  Up until then, there had been no direct evidence that this form of measles was dangerous to the a baby in utero, but as the research intensified and the evidence mounted, it was clear that German measles was one of the few diseases that could be transported via the bloodstream to a developing fetus, and that it could permanently damage the nervous system of the baby.

As it turned out, exposure in the first trimester was the worst time for the fetus, and was the time frame for  Tierney's bought with the disease.

Daria never improved.  She never spoke, could never see clearly and could barely hear. 

About a year after Daria's birth, Tierney was visiting in Los Angeles when a young woman approached her and told her that she probably didn't remember her but she had met and spoken with her at the Hollywood Canteen when she was in the woman's branch of the Marines.  Tierney shook her head that she didn't recall the meeting, but the woman remembered every little detail.

"You know," she said, "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but the whole camp was down with German measles, but I broke quarantine even though I was told not to.  I just had to meet the stars, and, you were my favorite."

Tierney didn't tell her the damage that had resulted but she remembers no longer caring anymore after that if she was anyone's favorite actress.

As sad as this story is, as mad as one might feel towards the selfish lady marine who placed her desire to see someone famous above the health of others, it is not a rare occurrence.  While we don't yet know how many people have been infected (and died) of COVID-19 by their own family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors, let alone strangers, it is not hard to guess that tens of thousands of Americans have been victimized just as Gene and Daria Tierney were in 1943.

When someone gets in their car, drunk, and kills someone while driving home, there is a penalty for such behavior.  Now, one might say that alcoholism is a disease, and the perpetrator of such a tragedy should be given help rather than prison, but we certainly would restrict their ability to drive again.  

But what of a person who wantonly endangers another person through a lack of caring for others, or simply because it is inconvenient.  How do we gauge the patriotism of someone who actively resists the simple act of wearing a mask in public, just in case they are asymptomatic, yet infectious?  Who have decided that their rights or freedoms demand a resistance to being "muzzled" when the act of masking up can lessen the kind of tragedy that had befallen Gene Tierney, let alone her innocent daughter.

We will probably never know how many Americans were saved sickness, whether just for 10 days, or an extended time frame due to complications, never know how many of our older citizens, or those with underlying health conditions were saved from death by the simple donning of a cloth mask or face covering.

But we do know that there are at least 400,000 stories of people who did not survive this pandemic.  That this disease will kill more Americans than any other event save the Civil War.  I don't know how history will judge us for our failure to address this virus, our acceptance that we need to make the false choice between death and our economy, but I imagine that there may be some who will call this our Uncivil War.  A time when we purposely defied standard health practices as some kind of act of patriotism, when we chose to maintain the stereotypes and prejudices that put Confederate generals on pedestals and the knee of a white police officer on a dying black man's throat, when we made the decision, conscious or subconsciously, to reject our founding documents which were forged from debate, contention and compromise in lieu of a misguided belief that consensus is possible or even desired.

Gene and Daria Tierney were accidentally infected and suffered the consequences.  It is difficult for me to describe as accidental, the rancor and division that has been employed which drove Americans to attack their own capitol, and continues to drive even more Americans to believe it is all or nothing, one way in absolutes, or nothing.  But it is certainly clear to me that like Gene and Daria, there are far too many victims, victims of a viral disease, victims of ideological diseases, victims of a war without guns and bullets, but just as deadly. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Freedom of Speech

Just a quick aside.

I watched almost all of the impeachment debate yesterday. There were a few statements which struck me, but none so much as that of Representative Dan Newhouse of Washington.  In his short speech he encapsulated what, I believe, a majority of Americans think; that both sides share the blame for tacitly and even directly stoking the violence that occurred this past summer and last Wednesday in Washington, that they (and us as voters and citizens) need to do better, and that the president has added to our toxic, partisan environment, then did nothing when his supporters attacked the seat of our government to disrupt the confirmation of the transfer of power.  

We can certainly debate the false equivalency that Newhouse referred to, can even debate whether Trump's words led directly to the attack or whether that attack might have occurred no matter what was said at that rally, but there seems no doubt that Trump watched on TV as the marchers walked towards the Capitol, watched as the violence began, yet did nothing.  He did not perform his sworn duty to protect our country from all enemies, because they were HIS supporters trying to subvert the tabulation of the electoral count when his campaign of pressure and intimidation against various state legislators and the Vice President failed to achieve that goal.  

For that alone, Trump deserves to be removed from the White House.

With the spate of censorship that has arisen since last Wednesday's insurrection attempt, I thought it relevant to read some of my past posts on the First Amendment, and then comment today on the perceived attacks on this precious right.

The first link is from March 27, 2010 and was a copy of a letter I sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer in response to an article written by Michael Smerconish concerning the protest that had occurred by the members of a Baptist Church during the funeral of a slain, gay Marine.


The next post is from November 12, 2010 and was inspired by the calls for the president to revoke the first amendment rights of a pastor who was going to burn a copy of the Quran.  Interestingly, that call came from Pat Buchanan whose point was that such an action might inspire our enemies to take aggressive action against our soldiers abroad or soft targets here at home.


The third post attempted to distinguish whether the First Amendment protected all speech, even speech which was a blatant lie.  My point in that post is that when, for instance, those church members mentioned above protested at the funeral of a Marine who had died protecting their rights because they truly believed that gay people are condemned to hell, then, while odious and repugnant, their freedom of speech should be protected.  But, should the speech of a US Senator (or President) who knows that the Constitution does not provide for the Vice President to throw out the state certified electoral results, yet, who, in effect, lies, and continues to propagate that lie to those already angry citizens who then act upon that lie, should that speech be protected by the First Amendment?  And, that just because one has the right to free speech, should it be employed in a way that does harm to another?


My conclusion at the end of that last post, written on August 23, 2018, is that we should never engage in censorship, that we should assume that all speech is protected regardless, and especially, if we find it to reflect the exact polar opposite of what we believe.  That we should assume that all speech is spoken out of belief in the truth of that speech, even when there are no facts to back it up, or a plethora of facts that contradict it.  That speech that is opinion, is protected.

But, of course, like all freedoms, there are limits to our first amendment rights and the protection it guarantees.  When I say that the 2020 election was ripe with fraud, I am allowed that opinion despite evidence to the contrary if I truly do not believe that evidence.  But am I protected by the first amendment if I know what I am saying is a lie, but I continue to say it anyway?  When one tells lies about another person that get that person in some kind of trouble, they can be sued for libel and jailed if it is proven that they knew it was a lie but said it anyway.  Similarly, if someone tells a mob that person X just killed someone, and that mob hangs person X out of belief of that lie, are not all those involved guilty, those who did the crime and those that perpetuated the lie?

If a Muslim cleric held a legally sanctioned rally in Washington, fired up the crowd by telling them that their legal rights were being denied, exhorted them to walk to the capitol and make their voices heard and demand changes, and then violence ensued which caused the death of a police officer guarding the building, I would imagine that many Americans would call for that cleric's arrest, even though he never mentioned violence in his speech.  And, especially, if he had posted many such inflammatory statements on his tweeter feed or facebook account.

Are this cleric's words protected if he truly believes what he is saying?  Are they protected if he believes what he is saying but also knows his words could lead to violence?

I have said before that great freedoms come with great responsibility.  (I did not make that up, Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with that saying).  Justifying acts which harm others, or violate others rights, because '"I am free to do and say whatever I want", is a poor interpretation of freedom, or at least very childish.  

If, in the exercise of our freedoms, especially the freedom of speech, we are tasked with evaluating our speech in the context of how our words might cause harm or negate the rights of others, how much more important is it for those of influence or political power to be careful when making provocative or inflammatory statements, even if true, let alone those same kind of statements that are knowingly false?

I was not happy to hear that Donald Trump was silenced on the various social networks.  Not happy, not just because I believe that free speech should be restricted in only the most serious situations, but because the President of the United States had chosen to repeat over and over that our elections were fraudulent, even though there were countless rebuttals of those claims by judges and state officials from both sides of the political aisle who ruled against or refuted such charges.  

Does Trump truly believe what he is saying?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  I can no longer decipher when he is lying to just himself, or to all of us including himself.  But does he not hold an even greater responsibility in the exercise of his freedom of speech than the everyday person? Is he not responsible for the actions of those who react to his words given his position of influence? 

When we debate such issues, we often do so as if in an ivory tower, above the realities of life.  In an ideal world, we would not need the first, or any amendment guaranteeing our rights because we would all respect the rights of those with whom we share our homes, our neighborhoods, our country, our planet. We wouldn't dream of telling someone that they could only drink from  a specific water fountain or piss in a specific bathroom, only go to school in a particular neighborhood, or only marry a person of a specific gender.  But, sadly, we do not live in that world.  

It is necessary for us to record our rights in legal documents, to test those rights against the actions of individuals in our courts, and to remember, above all, that when we deny someone else their rights, we deny them for all of us.  And, if in the exercise of our rights we trample on the rights of others, we lessen those rights for ourselves as well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

One last call for Trump to resign

On Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 I published the following post asking President Trump to resign, and detailing a host of reasons why I thought he should do so.


Then, on Thursday, July 16th, 2020, I published the following post asking, once again, that Donald Trump resign from his office. (At that point, I did not believe he deserved the title of president, so I did not use it). One of the many reasons I mentioned for him to resign touched on what I anticipated would be his immature reaction to losing the election, and the damage his false narratives about how he lost might cause.


So now, here we are on January 13th, 2021.  The attack on Capitol Hill is one week past.  Another vote for impeachment is hours away.  Cracks in the GOP leadership of defending Trump above all have begun to develop.  A majority of the American people place some blame on Trump for the seditious riot that will stain the reputation of our country for many years to come.   Multiple cabinet members and staff have resigned from the Trump Administration, the sight of open rebellion in the halls of Congress being the final straw.

Yet, Trump fights on.  After hiding out in the White House for a few days, he finally addressed the media yesterday and labelled the speech which immediately preceded the attack on the capitol "appropriate".  Further, he said that many Americans were angry (true), and that impeachment would only make them angrier, (also true), but did not mention that his words about his "landslide" victory that was stolen were the root cause of the anger, and that his support for conspiracy theories, some which even convinced people to ignore their own eyes to believe that those rioters were anything but Trump supporters, is what continues to generate the anger of those millions of Americans who have replaced loyalty to America with loyalty to him.

When someone as conservative as Pat Toomey, Senator from my home state of Pennsylvania, declines to vote to object to the electors of his state, and actually calls for Trump to resign, it becomes painfully clear that the true believers (legislative members of Congress and everyday Americans) will never listen to facts, never seek the truth over far right conspiracy theories to justify the 2020 presidential loss, never direct their patriotism back to America and away from their leader, unless that leader tells them so.

At this point, it is not enough for Trump to resign, certainly not enough for him to be impeached whether convicted or not.  It is the words of Donald Trump that has fed the fire of this anti-democracy mob, and it is only his words that could begin to douse that fire.  And, even then, it will take many months of him denouncing violence and admitting defeat for the momentum of this rebellion to be slowed.  

Perhaps that is the solace that Trump should take from his loss.  That even though he will no longer be "the most powerful man on earth" after January 20th, he will still be one of the most influential men on earth, and that it is up to him to use that influence to protect American democracy, and advance the cause of healing and unity, or continue to measure his actions and words against the yardstick of his own ego.  

Frankly, I have real doubts that Donald Trump would rather create a legacy of unity over chaos.  You see, it takes real strength to create bridges between the diverse opinions of people.  It is far easier to create division, which is how Trump built his power and his base of voters to begin with.  It is more than ironic that a man who talks of strength and weakness, rarely treads a path which requires actual strength.  Being a bully is far easier than someone who strives for peace and reconciliation. 

There will be much debate in the coming months about how to handle a man who loves himself so much that he is willing to damage the country which provided him with the freedoms and opportunity to be elevated to such a position of power and influence. But more importantly, how do we engage with his devoted followers who have been brainwashed into believing that Donald Trump cares for anything other than himself.  How do we bring these hard working, patriotic, misguided Americans back into the fold of our American democratic experiment?

Let's just hope that, while it is true that the environment that helped create Donald Trump did not just appear when he first began his run for the White House, it might also be true that by ignoring Trump, as it will be more possible once he is a private citizen, the veil will be removed from the eyes of more Americans every day, and it will be possible for President Biden to begin the slow process of unification, not to mention improving our approach to conquering a virus that will have claimed over 400,000 American lives by the end of this month. 

Please, Mr Trump, resign from office, but then, even more importantly, admit your defeat.  And, if that is not possible, then resign from American politics and political discourse.  Build your legacy by subtraction, by retracting one falsehood at a time.  Put America first, for once.  

Sunday, January 3, 2021


 KISS is an acronym for keep it simple, stupid.

It dawned on me today, that Donald Trump has been employing this philosophy for all of his political career, and perhaps even longer.

While Trump has focused his message on a number of topics, immigration, China, and law and order among others, there was always a key thread running through his campaign, and his presidency.  US vs Them.

If you recall, he first made headlines in the political theater when he popularized, and became the spokesperson for the birther movement.  Whether on far right talk shows or the more mainstream Fox and Friends, Trump claimed that Obama was not born in America.  He demanded proof via a birth certificate, then claimed it was fraudulent, once it was published.  Regardless of his never producing any proof of his claim, he sowed the seeds of doubt in a significant percentage of Americans, especially those who were already primed to receive such a racist message concerning the first African American President, that so resisting Obama at every turn was not only the right thing to do, but the patriotic thing to do.  

Then, during his campaign, he continued to stoke the US vs Them power by reminding his followers how much crime emanated from the illegal swarm coming from Mexico, justifying his Build the Wall idea.  It didn't matter that a large percentage of that swarm were children, or that statistics showed that illegal immigrants committed less crimes on the average than Americans, he never relented.  And, while it didn't get much play on his state run TV station, he also slashed legal immigration, removing the basis for so many defenders of his racist policies.  Sadly, those defenders never realized that they supported an immigration policy that would have kept their own ancestors from becoming part of the American tapestry.

But no topic better illustrates the keep it simple, stupid philosophy than his view of elections.  Even before 2016, he assured his cult that he would win, and that a loss would only be because of fraud and cheating.  Oddly, when he did win the electoral college with narrow victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, he still claimed voter fraud, claiming he won the popular vote as well.  The fact that the commission that he authorized found no evidence of massive fraud, did not deter him from using the same strategy for 2020.

What was brilliant about this year, however, was that as the president, he could influence the postal service by attacking its competence, and placing one of his stooges in charge of it, while claiming that mail-in votes would delay the declaration of a winner of the November election.  Additionally, when many states sought to legally expand their mail in voting process, he made sure that the legislators who knew that their constituents wanted safe, mail-in voting, also put restrictions on when the ballots could be tallied, which, of course, resulted in a delayed determination of the victor along with a plethora of conspiracy theories that votes were either altered, changed, fraudulent, or just shouldn't be counted at all, depending on which state's results did not add up to a Trump win.

All the while, US vs Them.  True Americans vs socialist democrats, patriots vs America haters.  

Seekers of law and order and the truth, using lies and conspiracy theories (like the one that claims a connection between Dominion voting machines and Hugo Chavez), to further cement the US vs Them divide that has millions of Americans doubting the veracity of the democratic process in a country that they continue to believe is the greatest country ever, in history.

I guess it doesn't dawn on them that a country that has rigged elections, a federal law enforcement organization that is rife with law breakers, a Congress of which half its members hate America and/or are closet communists, (or who eat children if you are a QAnon fan), a Supreme Court filled with cowards, a federal bureaucracy run by the "deep state", whatever that is, and a free press that is the enemy of the people, can't be in the running for greatest country today, let alone ever.

At this point, even those who have defended him in the past, Republican elected officials, his own Attorney General, a number of judges he appointed, all of them are off the US team and part of the ever growing, all encompassing Them conspiracy to steal the victory from US.  Sadly, US has long ago become him, it is just that those who believe in him haven't figured it out yet.

And then there is the pandemic. I have a relative who thinks that Americans who wear masks are sheep for following the guidelines put in place to slow the spread of a virus that has killed more Americans than any event since the pandemic of 1918-20, and has created a daily death toll that has surpassed that of 9/11 a number of times. See link below, which, unfortunately, if it were updated, would include a few days since that article.


He is a victim of KISS, ignoring all the grim statistics because he believes the simple message that Trump has voiced, we are on top of it, we have done the best job in the history of mankind, we are turning the corner, it will all be forgotten after the election.  A true sheep being led to slaughter by the ultimate con man. Trump downplayed the virus by his own admission, then turned his simple sheep against the very policies that he refused to take to save their lives, knowing that his simple message could be turned against the Democratic officials who did their best to save the lives of those in their cities and states.  He even held rallies that he knew were dangerous, even events at the White House that sickened him, his family, and innumerable people whose only mistake was being employed at the White House or assigned to guard someone who did not care about their welfare.

It is evil genius, simple, effective.  So much easier that understanding that a novel virus takes time to research and understand so there may be times that medical advice might be altered or adapted to the new data.  So much easier than understanding the basic foundations of American democracy that prescribe the process of a peaceful transfer of power precisely because so much of mankind's history is filled with power transfers that required horrendous bloodshed and suffering.  So much easier than thinking.  Especially when thinking involves calculating how we are going to return to normal if people all around us are getting sick and dying.

Perhaps then, it is time to propose our own KISS theory.

Personally, I would like to see all the "essential" workers who make less than $15 per hour, or have scant of no health care benefits, or need to work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, to all stay home for a month.  Of course, they can't because they don't have large stock portfolios or tens of thousands of dollars in an emergency fund, but it would sure be nice if it were simple enough that when our child care centers close, there are no more fast food outlets, no department stores, no one to take our online orders or deliver our online food, no lawn cuts or snow removed, and much less food on the table since the agriculture and meat packing industries aren't well known for their treatment of their workers, people realized that the policies that would actually help Americans, are not US vs THEM driven but WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER driven.

Or maybe just this.  Before you open your mouth, politician, pundit, talk show host, social commentator, tell us how many people we should sacrifice to save the economy, and how we should decide who to let die.

In the end, what is more realistic?  That state voting officials of both parties, the Supreme Court of the United States, the now resigned Attorney General, and the state and federal judges who almost unanimously threw out the various suits brought by Trump to challenge the results of the election, all conspired secretly to create a Biden presidency, or that Donald Trump is a sore loser?

Keep it simple, stupid.



Friday, January 1, 2021

Fake News/Real Facts

Assuming Mike Pence doesn't decide to be the ultimate arbitrator of the 2020 election as Rep. Gohmert from Texas would have us believe, Donald Trump will leave the White House three weeks from yesterday.

For those of you not following the latest attempt to steal the election from the American people, one of Trump's biggest sycophants, Louis Gohmert, is suing Mike Pence to force him to either throw out the rightful electors who are compelled to vote for President-elect Biden as reflective of the will of the citizens who voted in their states, or just unilaterally declare Trump the victor because, well, because Gohmert thinks that the United States Constitution gives such power to Pence.  Yea, right, the founders wanted the outgoing Vice President to be able to negate the results of an election that he lost!  

Curiously, Pence doesn't want such power; his lawyers claim that Gohmert should be suing himself along with the rest of Congress.  If Pence was at all interested in gaining even a minuscule amount of respect from this writer, he would accept the "power" Gohmert claims he has, count the votes as prescribed by the Constitution, and then declare Biden the winner, just as Biden did in 2016 when he presided over the process and named Trump the winner of the 2016 election, an election decided by even less votes in the 3 swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. (Trump won those 3 states in 2016 by a combined margin of 80,000 votes while Biden won those same 3 states by a combined total of 250,000 votes.  And, of course, Trump lost the popular vote in both elections by just about 10 million votes combined). 

So, again, assuming this last attempt to subvert the will of the people and convert the White House to just another dictator's residence fails, just as all the other attempts by the temper-tantrum-in-chief, in 3 three weeks, the analysis of the Trump presidency will begin.  Never one to wait for the spin to begin, here is my take on the last 4 years, facts up.

In January 2009, the unemployment rate when Obama was inaugurated was about 9.8%.

In January 2017, the unemployment rate when Trump took office was just 4.9%. During Obama's 2 terms, the rate fell by half, just about 5%.

In January 2021, the unemployment rate will most likely be about 6.7%, which means that while the rate did drop another 1.5% or so up until February, it will have risen almost 2% in total during the Trump administration.

In January 2009, the US was in the throes of a recession, which began in 2008.  This led to an surge in federal deficit spending during Obama's fist term, amounting to $5.1 trillion, and also spurred the Tea Party movement which focused on national debt, blamed Obama and the Democrats for selling out our children's future and led to the GOP taking control of the House in 2010.  As the economy improved, Obama's Administration added another $2.2 trillion to the national debt during his second term, $1.5 trillion of that in the last 3 years.

Trump, who inherited a relatively healthy economy, added $2.4 trillion to the debt in his first 3 budgets.  Another $3 trillion will be added in his fourth year, which means that during Trump's first term, he will have added $5.4 trillion to the debt, more than that which occurred during Obama's first term. 

Strangely, many of those same tea party advocates who voted for such deficit spending in times of a healthy economy, remained silent although I expect that when the final tally of becomes true later in 2021, they will be in full voice despite the fact that it will reflect Trump's budget, not Biden's.  (This info came from the article in Forbes referenced below.


In January 2009, the Dow Jones stood at just below 8100, again, the result of the ongoing recession. During Obama's 8 years in office, the Dow rose to about 19,800 when Trump took office.  An increase of about 11,700 points, or about 144%.  

If we assume that the Dow will go from its current 30,660 to, let's say 31,000, that will be an increase of 12,200 points since Trump took office, or about 62%.  Less than half the increase during Obama's 2 terms.

So, to summarize.  Obama took office during a recession which occurred during a 4 year term for a Republican president who had a GOP controlled Congress. During his 8 years in office, based on the 3 metrics detailed above, Obama's record was better than that of the business man who was elected to rescue our economy from the democrats.

One last number, GDP.  During Obama's 8 years, GDP grew about 12.5%, which includes the 2.5% slide in 2009 when the recession was at its peak. Growth was just under 9% in his 2nd term which is about 2.25% per year, a rate described as sluggish and unacceptable by Trump and his supporters.  GDP growth in the first 3 years of Trump totals about 7.7%, or about 2.6% per year, about 17% better.  See below.


However, projections are that GDP will drop about 3% for 2020, so if you subtract 3% from the 7.7% we have a 4 year growth rate of 4.7%, or about 1.2% per year.  Compared to 2.25% for Obama's last 4 years, and overall GDP increased at a rate almost 50% less during the Trump single term; sounds like less than sluggish and unacceptable to me.

At this point, for the 2nd time in 12 years, a Democrat president will inherit a bloody mess from a GOP Administration. We can only hope that Biden is able to oversee our recovery and build as strong a foundation as was built during the Obama years.  The only question is, when will the American electorate abandon its belief that the GOP is the party of financial responsibility.  This is not to say that the Dems are all that better, but the above information certainly indicates that those who vote Republican for its fiscally responsible policies may need to reassess that thinking.

Let me end by wishing everyone a Happy New Year.  Stay safe.  And please, put on your big boy pants and mask up!