Wednesday, April 08, 2020

DRUGS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19: YOU GOTTA KNOW A GUY WHO KNOWS A GUY

So it isn't just that President Trump is hyping hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for covid-19, thus encouraging random doctors to prescribe it. It's also that large quantities of the drug are being diverted to Trump allies, while people who really need it for legitimate reasons are struggling to get it.

The Texas Tribune reports:
More than two dozen Texas City nursing home residents who have tested positive for the new coronavirus are being treated with hydroxychloroquine....

The doctor who prescribed it to 27 residents of The Resort at Texas City was Robin Armstrong, the nursing home’s medical director and a prominent GOP activist who serves as a surrogate for the Trump campaign....

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said the treatment that the nursing home patients are receiving comes from a donation of 1 million hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets that he recently helped secure for Texas from Amneal Pharmaceuticals. The New Jersey-based company made the donation directly to the state.
That's not the only hydroxychloroquine donation Anneal has made recently. There's also this:
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) today announced Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc., one of the largest U.S.-based generics manufacturers, has donated 200,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate to Georgia’s Department of Public Health for potential use in treating hospitalized COVID—19 patients.
Collins, of course, was one of Trump's most tireless defenders during impeachment, and is now running for Kelly Loeffler's seat in the U.S. Senate.

These hydroxychloroquine donations come at a time when there are ongoing shortages of the drug for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients -- some of whom might need to be hospitalized for symptom flareups if they can't get the drug, which has been proven effective for their conditions.
When Elaine MacKenzie hears President Trump talk about how a particular drug might be a "game-changer" for people with coronavirus, it's more than just news to her -- it's personal.

Her doctor wants her to take hydroxychloroquine for her rheumatoid arthritis....

MacKenzie, 58, went to several pharmacies near her New Canaan, Connecticut, home, and found they they were all out.

Her joints ache, and some days she even has trouble walking, which makes it hard to cook and care for her 91-year old mother, her husband, and their four children who live at home.

"Trying to do all the work I've been trying to do keeping everyone healthy exacerbates the swelling and pain. It becomes pretty daunting," said MacKenzie, who lives in New Canaan, Connecticut....

When lupus patients who regularly take hydroxychloroquine stop taking it, they often develop withdrawal symptoms and flare-ups that require hospitalization.... That spike could come at a time when hospitals beds are already filled with Covid-19 patients.
Does this drug work for covid-19? We still don't know.

But eventually we'll have drugs that are effective. Eventually there'll be a vaccine. And I hope we all realize that, at least in the early stages, any problems with availability of these treatments or the vaccine will be resolved in favor of Trump and his allies, as long as he's president.

Let's say an effective treatment is developed before Election Day, but production of the necessary drugs can't be fully ramped up for a while. The drugs won't go where they're most needed. They'll go where Trump wants them to go. If New York is still the epicenter of the crisis, they won't come here -- Trump knows he won't get New York's electoral votes.

The same with the vaccine. We won't have one until 2021, in all likelihood. So an important question when we vote in 2020 is: Who do you want deciding how the vaccine is distributed? Which president will get the first doses to the people who should have them first?

If Trump is still president, those first doses will go to his family, his family's friends, his Mar-a-Lago friends, Tom Brady, Robert Kraft... Front-line healthcare workers and other medically at-risk people will struggle to get the vaccine, especially if they live in the "wrong" states or metropolitan areas.

In a Biden presidency, these decisions will be made ethically and morally, in consultation with knowledgeable people, and they'll be carried out by people with expertise. In a Trump presidency, they'll be made based on favoritism and resentment, by the worst person on earth, and carried out by "acting" department heads and Jared Kushner.

Choose wisely.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

IS DONALD TRUMP THE WORLD'S MOST INCOMPETENT GRIFTER?

This is the sixth paragraph of a New York Times story on President Trump's advocacy of hydroxychloroquine, and a lot of people think the Times buried the lede:
If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.
However, Walter Shaub -- the former director of the federal Office of Government Ethics, who has been a fierce critic of the president -- is willing to let him slide on this:



Fifteen hundred bucks? If this is grifting, it's grifting at a pathetically low level.

This makes much more sense:



Yes:
It’s unclear why Trump has been such a proponent of hydroxychloroquine, but one answer may lie with the millions of dollars in political support he has received from the founder of a pharmaceutical industry-funded group that has been pushing him to make the drug available.

On March 26, Job Creators Network, a conservative dark money nonprofit, launched a petition, a series of Facebook ads, and a blast text message campaign calling on Trump to “cut the red tape” and immediately make hydroxychloroquine available to treat patients....

The Job Creators Network was founded in 2011 by billionaire Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, a major GOP donor who spent more than $7 million through outside groups to help elect Trump in 2016. Marcus has said that he plans to spend part of his fortune to help re-elect Trump in 2020.

Job Creators Network has been funded by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a drug industry trade that counts among its members leading hydroxychloroquine makers Novartis, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Bayer. According to tax documents, PhRMA donated $500,000 to Job Creators Network in 2017.

Novartis, Teva, and Bayer have all committed to providing millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine for clinical testing, and the companies potentially stand to profit if the drug becomes adopted as a common coronavirus treatment.
That's not Trump lining his pockets. That's Trump being a bog-standard bootlicking Republican officeholder, someone who'll do anything for the people who finance his campaign, in the expectation of no reward other than more money to run for reelection. Besides, I think profiteering is completely outside his skill set.

WILL THE RIGHT-WING RANK-AND-FILE REBEL AGAINST CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS?

So I was just reading a Free Republic thread in which one Freeper wrote this:
Once the All Clear is Given, How can Trump counter Governors Keeping their States Closed

... Let’s assume that in the coming 2-3 weeks, Trump gives the all clear that its time to get back to work. We already have several governors just looking for any reason to keep things closed. Inslee in WA just shut the schools down for the rest of year. Murphy in NJ is talking well into May before he opens things up. Cuomo will probably be a bit more flexible in NY but not much. Northam has VA closed until June. Wolf has PA closed indefinitely. DeWine has Ohio until May.

Point is, Trump can give the all clear but the governors can choose to keep their lockdowns continuing to hurt the economy. In an ironic way, it’s the states rights argument that conservatives have always championed. Of course, Democrats corrupt it for their own purposes. So, thoughts on how this opens back up uniformly and quickly to get the economy rolling again.
Here are some of the responses:
Good question. I’m more afraid of Comrade Governors and Comrade Mayors than I am of the virus. Cuomo and de Blasio will be very stubborn to give up the dictatorial powers.

****

The citizens of each state will get fractious with stupid governors and their will be widespread ignoring of governor’s orders at the county level if they keep the stupid going.

The more the governor’s piss off their citizenry, the more likely that state will flip to Trump. Wait for it.

****

Ongoing Federal Grants to States that go back to work.

****

I think the best way is that when Republican States open up, pressure will build -very- fast on the Dem states. Very quickly it will become unbearable.

****

Don’t give them any money. They are already begging after four weeks. If they want to starve the people in their States, then they will have to deal with it.

****

He could start visiting states that open back up and touting each company that does so. That would be a start. Having a President walk around helps to create the atmosphere of safety. I doubt states will sit on the sidelines for too long.

****

The people will take care of it. You can’t arrest everybody.

****

The president probably has no authority to overrule a governor. What he CAN do is tell them that they’re on their own and will not be made whole when their tax revenues disappear while they’re shut down.

****

He can use tanks!
Just after reading that, I saw this in The New York Times:
A ‘Liberty’ Rebellion in Idaho Threatens to Undermine Coronavirus Orders

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Inside an old factory building north of Boise, a few dozen people gathered last week to hear from Ammon Bundy, the man who once led an armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge.

The meeting, which appeared to violate orders by Gov. Brad Little of Idaho to avoid group gatherings, was an assertion of what Mr. Bundy said was a constitutional right to peacefully assemble. But Mr. Bundy said he also hoped to create a network of people ready to come to the aid of those facing closure of their businesses or other interference from the government as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

“If it gets bad enough, and our rights are infringed upon enough, we can physically stand in defense in whatever way we need to,” Mr. Bundy told the meeting. “But we hope we don’t have to get there.” ...

State Representative Heather Scott, a Republican from Blanchard, northwest of Coeur d’Alene, is encouraging her constituents to push back on the statewide stay-at-home order, saying people have “a God-given constitutionally protected right to peacefully assemble.”

Tim Remington, a Coeur d’Alene pastor who was appointed to the State House of Representatives in January, led a church service on March 29, four days after the stay-at-home order went into effect, that was open to the public....

Mr. Bundy said in an interview that a group in the Boise area was looking for a venue to host an Easter service this coming weekend with a potential crowd of 1,000 people. Mr. Bundy said a man in Twin Falls hoped to host communion in a park. And Mr. Bundy himself is now leading regular meetings with dozens of people to assess how to fight back against what he calls government overreach, including with a physical presence if necessary.

“I will be there, and I will bring as many people as I can,” he told those who attended the meeting he convened on March 26, a day after the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect. “We will form a legal defense for you. We will perform an active political defense for you. And we will also, if necessary, provide a physical defense for you, so that you can continue in your rights.”
But is this representative of right-wing thinking? In a HuffPost/YouGov survey released last week, at a time when President Trump was still talking about reopening the country by Easter, respondents were asked:
If the area where you live lifted all coronavirus restrictions in mid-April, how would you personally act?
By a 70% to 22% margin, respondents chose "I would still try to stay home as much as possible" over "I would go back to living as normally as possible" -- and even Republicans chose staying home 60% to 38%. So it appears that GOP voters fear covid-19 and want to continue staying as safe as they can -- although a considerable minority don't.

I'm not sure how this will change, however, if the numbers get a little better in the hot spots and don't worsen significantly elsewhere. I worry that being against the shutdowns might be good politics in the deep-red parts of America within a month or so. I don't put it past Ammon Bundy and others like him -- drama addicts, all of them -- to occupy some turf just to get on the news again. And hey, maybe they'll get the virus, for freedom. But they might not. (Infection rates in Idaho are still quite low.) If infection rates continue to be concentrated in population centers, we might start hearing from a lot of Crazy Uncle Liberty types very soon.

Monday, April 06, 2020

THE IDIOTS ARE GETTING READY TO DECLARE THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS A HOAX (AGAIN)

The death and hospitalization predictions of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which have been cited by Dr. Deborah Birx, have been revised downward -- and right-wingers are very interested in this revision. One of the more evenhanded reports on the revisions at a right-wing site comes from Hot Air's Allahpundit:
... the new IHME projections for hospitalization in New York are waaaaaay down....



... A new paper published by Jeffrey Harris, an economist at MIT, points to growing evidence that New York has indeed flattened the curve:



Note the dates. Things start to flatten out around March 21.... Harris attributes that partly to Bill de Blasio’s belated order on March 15 to close NYC restaurants and bars.... But Harris sees another factor: Simply put, the more aware locals are of a spreading epidemic, the more they’ll self-isolate without prompting.
There is, however, another strand in the economics literature suggesting that people voluntarily engage in avoidance behaviors once they fully perceive the risks of contagion....
So the numbers are improving because measures urged by people who take the virus seriously are working.

But right-wingers elsewhere are grumbling. Here's Allahpundit's RedState colleague Nick Arama:
While they are still forecasting 81,766 deaths in a range between 49,431 and 136,401 with a peak day of April 16, that’s far less than prior estimates....

Who wants to bet that those revised projections are overestimates as well? ...

These projections are supposedly based off staying under lockdowns until the end of May. By then the economy will be in a shambles. So the question is how can they address the issues without driving the economy under with models that are ever changing and upon which major policy decisions that affect all Americans are being made.
It gets worse when you slide further down the gutter. Here's Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft:
Estimated IHME US Coronavirus Deaths Now at 81,766 or the Same Numbers as the 2017 Flu Season

Last TUESDAY Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx pushed the talking point that by completely locking down the US economy and American public, the US government and Coronavirus task force “experts” were able to cut the total coronavirus deaths in the United States from 1 to 2.2 million deaths to 100,000 to 200,000 deaths.

This is based on “models” by her chosen scientific “experts” — Chris Murray and the IHME....

Today the IMHE model used by the CDC and Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci estimate the total US coronavirus deaths to be 81,766 by August 4th.

And 81,000 by May 21st....

In 2017-2018 an estimated 80,000 Americans died in the particularly harsh flu season....



The “experts” estimate similar numbers from the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s time to open the economy.
That flu death toll was with no lockdown, no social distancing, and no other alterations to normal life. If we get out of this with a similar death toll now, it'll be in large part because we shut down the economy.

And then there's the real Stupidest Man on the Internet, Bill Mitchell, with his half-million Twitter followers, some of whose responses I post below:







I hope we're really seeing some good news. But if we are, I warn you that the right will use it to proclaim, once again, that the entire crisis was a hoax perpetrated in order to harm Donald Trump and destroy capitalism.

And I guarantee you that Trump will want to fling open the economy at the first sign of good news. So I'm expecting a tremendous push, starting with Trump and echoed throughout the conservative media, to declare this crisis over very, very soon.

That would be disastrous. But it might happen.

HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE: IS IT POSSIBLE THEY'RE NOT IN IT FOR THE MONEY?

They're obsessed.
President Donald Trump spent much of his time at the coronavirus news briefing on Sunday once again promoting unproven drugs to treat COVID-19. “And another thing we have bought a tremendous amount of is hydroxychloroquine,” Trump said. “We have stockpiled 29 million pills of the hydroxychloroquine. 29 million. A lot of drugstores have them, by prescription. And they’re not expensive.”

... Although Trump has been pushing hydroxychloroquine for a while, he seems to have taken those recommendations further this weekend. On Saturday, Trump had pretty much called on sick patients to take the drug. “What do you have to lose? Take it,” the president said. “I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like.”
They're monomaniacal.
In one-on-one phone calls with Trump, [Rudy] Giuliani said, he has been touting the use of an anti-malarial drug combination that has shown some early promise in treating covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes, but whose effectiveness has not yet been proved. He said he now spends his days on the phone with doctors, coronavirus patients and hospital executives promoting the treatment, which Trump has also publicly lauded.



They're even getting into fights over this.
The White House coronavirus task force had its biggest fight yet on Saturday, pitting economic adviser Peter Navarro against infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. At issue: How enthusiastically should the White House tout the prospects of an antimalarial drug to fight COVID-19?

... Fauci pushed back against Navarro, saying that there was only anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine works against the coronavirus.

... Fauci's mention of anecdotal evidence "just set Peter off," said one of the sources.

... Navarro started raising his voice....
On Twitter, every mention of the Trumpers' hydroxychloroquine advocacy is met with the same response: They must be making money off it. They must have investments in a company that makes it.

It's true that Trump has been trying to make money off the presidency -- though he hasn't done it in a focused way. As I often say, if he's a kleptocrat, he's not very good at it. He's no Vladimir Putin, who profits from much of the business in Russia, and may be the world's richest man as a result. Trump gets revenue from those who stay at his properties in order to curry his favor, and from government staffers who have to accompany him when he travels to those properties, but the damage Trump's presidency has done to the reputation of his brand has largely offset those gains. The presidency hasn't been very profitable for him.

Trump didn't seek the presidency because he had a focused plan to cash in. I know it's argued that he ran solely because he believed it would be good publicity for his brand and he had no intention of winning, but he's been talking about running for president for decades -- on some level, he wanted the job. He wanted the world to defer to him. He wanted to be the big boss. It's ego.

Giuliani has an ego, too. Most Americans paid attention to him only after 9/11, but those of us who lived through his eight years as mayor know that he spent nearly every day arguing with people, insisting that he was right about everything and they were idiots.

I don't know what Navarro's motives are, but underlings often live on reflected glory. And let's not forget lib-owning. For conservatives, the desire to own the libs sometimes seems stronger than the drives for food, sex, or oxygen. Liberals have been criticizing Trump's handling of the virus crisis. They want to deflect our criticisms with promises of a miracle cure.

As I was writing this, the president just posted this tweet:



I have no idea what Trotter was talking about -- but it doesn't matter, does it? This is what Trump craves: being told he's right and -- perhaps more important -- being told that his enemies are wrong. That was Giuliani's prime motivation throughout his mayoralty. I think this (along with Trump's huckster impulse to try to make the customer feel happy) might be sufficient to explain the hydroxychloroquine obsession.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

NEITHER TRUMP NOR THE DOCTORS SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT "WEEKS"

An unbylined New York Times report dispenses with euphemisms while describing the president's approach to the coronavirus crisis.
Veering from grim warnings to baseless assurances in a single news conference, President Trump on Saturday predicted a surging death toll in what may be “the toughest week” of the coronavirus pandemic before also dispensing unproven medical advice. He suggested again that Americans might be able to congregate for Easter Sunday services.
The unproven medical advice is more of Trump's incessant hyping of hydroxychloroquinone, which has been found to be not particularly effective in a French study.

Trump went on to muse aloud about the possibility of relaxing social distancing guidelines somewhat for Easter services next week ("he had told advisers, 'maybe we could allow special for churches' gatherings that were possibly outside with 'great separation'"). Oh and he also wants sports to come back:
The president discussed a Saturday morning call he had with commissioners of most of the major sports to discuss the effects of coronavirus to the industry, emphasizing that he wants fans "back in the arena" as soon as they can be.

"You know, they want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice clean, beautiful fresh air," Trump said. "No, I can't tell you a date, but I think it's going to be sooner rather than later."
Tossing off an optimistic assurance ("I think it's going to be sooner rather than later") is such a reflex for Trump, the lifelong huckster. Meanwhile, he's selling the upcoming week as a bad one -- as if we'll pass through it and everything will be much better. Alarmingly, so are some of the doctors who work with him.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned Sunday amid the coronavirus pandemic that the week ahead would be the “hardest and the saddest” of “most Americans’ lives.”

“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives,” Adams said on “Fox News Sunday."

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment and our 9/11 moment only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country,” Adams said.

He added, however, that there "is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days.”
And:
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, warned the hardest hit U.S. hotspots could reach their mortality peaks, simultaneously, in the next week.

“The Detroit area, the New York area, the Louisiana area ... They’re all on the upside of the curve of mortality,” Birx said at a White House briefing. “By the predictions that are in that healthdata.org, they’re predicting in those three hotspots, all of them hitting together in the next six to seven days.”
Birx may be right about the timing of peak mortality in those three hot spots, but taken together, what she, Adams, and Trump are saying suggests that we just need to hang on for a week, or a couple of weeks, or thirty days, and everything will be just swell.

Dr. Birx is citing data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation -- its site is healthdata.org. Its national model predicts peak mortality on April 16 -- more than a week from now -- when it estimates that there will be 2,644 covid-19 deaths.

The model says that deaths will decline after that. But even thirty days out, the numbers will still be bad -- on May 4, a total of 1,391 deaths are anticipated. The number doesn't drop below 1,000 until May 11, and doesn't drop below 100 until June 11.

And here's the kicker:
COVID-19 projections assuming full social distancing through May 2020
We don't even have shelter in place in eight states, all with Republican governors. Georgia just instituted shelter in place, then Republican governor Brian Kemp opened the beaches.

Our situation is grim. In the absence of effective treatments, it will be grim a month from now. We aren't going to have just a bad week or two. We're going to have a bad spring, at least.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

SO WHAT EXACTLY WAS TRUMP TOO BUSY DOING DURING IMPEACHMENT TO FOCUS ON THE CORONAVIRUS?

Republicans have told us that President Trump shouldn't be blamed for errors early in the coronavirus crisis because, thanks to those evil Democrats, he was forced to devoted hours of his time to dealing with impeachment. And what do you know? A long Washington Post account of the early weeks of the crisis now confirms that Trump really was distracted by impeachment.

So, for Trump, what exactly was the nature of the impeachment distraction back in January, as the virus crisis was developing? Let the Post's writers explain:
... Trump was in the throes of an impeachment battle over his alleged attempt to coerce political favors from the leader of Ukraine. Acquittal seemed certain by the GOP-controlled Senate, but Trump was preoccupied with the trial, calling lawmakers late at night to rant, and making lists of perceived enemies he would seek to punish when the case against him concluded.
Right -- he wasn't preoccupied with establishing his innocence. He was preoccupied with venting his anger and concocting elaborate revenge fantasies.

Venting anger and plotting revenge aren't burdensome duties imposed on Trump by overzealous impeachers. For Trump, venting anger and plotting revenge are fun. Because acquittal was guaranteed, Trump wasn't forced to turn his attention away from the virus and toward impeachment. He chose to fixate on impeachment. He turned impeachment into entertainment.

So, sure in January, Trump was paying more attention to impeachment than to the virus -- but only because it seemed to offer him an opportunity to be an angry bully, which is Trump's idea of following his bliss.

JAMES BAKER (UPDATE: NO, NOT THAT ONE) IS CRITICIZING THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION MORE FORCEFULLY THAN SOME PROMINENT DEMOCRATS

UPDATE: Well, this is embarrassing. In the post below, I identify the author of a New York Times op-ed critical of the Trump administration's coronavirus efforts as James A. Baker III, former chief of staff to Presidents Ronald Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The author is actually James E. Baker, a former deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council and a former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. I regret the error. Here's the original post, which I've left intact, errors and all:

James Baker, the 89-year-old former chief of staff to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has written a New York Times op-ed that you might be tempted to skip because it's been given the gee-whizzy, star-spangled headline "It’s High Time We Fought This Virus the American Way." Don't pass it up. It's a brutal takedown of the Trump administration's failures -- much more forceful than anything we've heard from Barack Obama, for instance -- and a reminder of just how much the U.S. government can do if it chooses to.
The president has “invoked” the Defense Production Act, but the government has not used the full authority of the act. There is a difference between invoking a law and using it, just as there is a difference between talk and action....

The D.P.A.’s authorities go beyond prioritizing contracts and manufacturing supplies. Its allocation authority addresses the problem of states’ competing against one another for scarce resources based on market mechanisms. The federal government can allocate equipment and supplies based on actual need and best public-health practices. The D.P.A.’s industry assessment authority can be used to measure production and distribution capacity, remove blind spots, plan efficiently and recreate a supply chain at home. The federal government can determine now which entities could produce vaccines while it plans for their ethical allocation. The government can then use the D.P.A.’s Title III incentive authorities to issue loans, offer antitrust protection and guarantee purchases, creating a secure market for masks, tests and vaccines....

State and local authorities are imploring the federal government to use the authority it has to secure our medical supply chain. So far, the administration appears to have responded like a parent doling out candy to a child: one piece at a time. This is an “all hands on deck” moment, not merely to flatten the curve but to leap ahead of the curve. America was once the arsenal of democracy; the D.P.A. can help make us the arsenal of public health.
Baker goes into all this in great detail, citing legal justifications for the use of this authority and rebutting the charge that making full use of the act would result in unconstitutional "takings" of private property (just compensation must be provided).

The piece is a reminder that, even under Republican presidents, the federal government used to be full of people who understood government's powers and knew how to use them, which meant that, for all their faults, they could use these powers for good in a crisis. That's what most Americans want right now, and we don't have it. Instead we have a president who scoffs at complex thinking and planning, and who believes that anything done the way previous presidents have done it must be bad.

Of course, it's the party of Baker and Trump that got us into this mess. Republicans have been telling us for decades that government is always the problem, never the solution. The first president Baker served is well known for saying, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

Republican politicians sold that line to the public, even though they didn't operate according to that philosophy. I blame them for the fact that the anti-government nonsense they spewed -- which spread to talk radio and Fox News -- is now taken seriously by a large percentage of the electorate, as well as by many (most?) of the people who now run the government.

Nevertheless, I'd rather have any of our recent presidents in charge now, including the Republicans. They'd be doing a much better job.

Friday, April 03, 2020

REPUBLICANS DON'T HAVE TO CANCEL THE ELECTION TO FINAGLE IT

We've been told many times that the Constitution and federal law simply don't permit the postponement of the presidential election -- Ben Jacobs says it again in this post at Gen:
Can the presidential election be canceled?

No, it can’t. The terms of federal elected officials are set by the Constitution. Trump’s term ends on January 20, 2021. Extending it would require two-thirds of both the House and the Senate to support such an amendment and then having three-fourths of the state legislatures ratify it. That is not happening....

Can it be postponed?

Almost certainly not.

The date of the presidential election has been set by statute since the Presidential Election Day Act of 1845. It would require a congressional act to change that date. The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate would have to reach a bipartisan consensus to change the date and then have the legislation signed by President Trump.
I've assumed that if we're still in a virus crisis (as I think we will be) and Republicans are certain that the election will go badly for them (not all that likely, given our seemingly unchanging partisan split), five Federalist Society members of the Supreme Court would be perfectly happy to make up an excuse for a postponement or cancellation of the election.

But if they're worried, they might not need to defy the law. Jacobs writes:
But are there any weird loopholes?

The language [of the Constitution] actually doesn’t provide for a popular vote. It states, “The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.” While the Constitution provided for a popular vote for the House in its original text and for the Senate in the 17th Amendment, it still doesn’t do so for the election of presidential electors.

As the Supreme Court noted in the 1892 case McPherson v. Blacker, “The Constitution does not provide that the appointment of electors shall be by popular vote... It recognizes that the people act through their representatives in the legislature, and leaves it to the legislature exclusively to define the method of effecting the object.” Thus, in theory, state legislatures could change the law to appoint electors and circumvent their state’s voters.
Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Iowa are five states where Joe Biden has a chance of beating Donald Trump but Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governor's mansion. How hard is it to imagine that one or more of these states might use this ruse to hand electoral votes to Trump?

I don't think it will come to that. I think covid-19 will continue to do disproportionate harm to the more densely packed areas of America -- i.e., the more Democratic areas -- so Republicans will be less fearful of voting come November. (Wherever Republicans have any power, universal vote-by-mail will be blocked.) So I think Republicans will still feel they can win in November even if the virus is raging and the economy is in shambles. But if I'm wrong, it won't shock me if some states try to bypass a popular vote.

PRESIDENT WHO CARES ABOUT POPULARITY MORE THAN COMPETENCE TURNS TO SOMEONE WHO OFFERS HIM NEITHER

Michelle Goldberg is right.
Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed

Reporting on the White House’s herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)

Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.”
And then there's this:



What does that even mean? Apart from residents of D.C. and various territories, all Americans live in states. So who is the stockpiled equipment for?

We know that even now, facing a six-figure and possibly seven-figure death toll, the president cares about how he looks, not how good a job he's doing. Which is why I'm puzzled that he's turned this over to Jared.

Americans don't like Jared. That was obvious as far back as 2017.
The husband of Ivanka Trump is viewed favorably by just 22 percent of American voters, with 36 percent having an unfavorable opinion, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll....
By 2018, his numbers in an Economist/YouGov poll were even worse.
... Kushner had a favorability rating of 25 percent in January 2017, compared with 29 percent who looked at him in a negative light. Since then, not only has the percentage of those viewing him favorably seen a modest drop, to 22 percent, but his unfavorability percentage now stands at a massive 42 percent.
By March 2019, his favorable rating had risen to 27% in a YouGov poll, but his unfavorable rating was up to 45%, including 32% "very unfavorable," which exceeded his "very favorable" (12%) and "somewhat favorable" (15%) numbers combined.

And then there was Kushner's "E-Score" from a firm called E-Poll Market Research. A 2019 report said it wasn't good.
... Mr. Kushner['s] overall strong positive appeal was 6 percent and ... overall strong negative appeal was 36 percent....

Mr. Kushner scored highest for the attributes of “insincere” (29 percent), “creepy” (27 percent) and “overexposed” (22 percent). He was lowest in terms of “exciting,” “glamorous” and “emotional,” rating 1 percent in those categories.
So why does Trump put Jared in charge of, well, practically everything? I can only guess that it's because Jared is a stupid person's idea of a smart person, the stupid person being the president. Unlike Trump, who doesn't read and therefore doesn't know anything (but who seems to pride himself on "street smarts," or something like that), Jared looks and talks like a well-read Ivy League preppy. He clearly believes he's capable of mastering any subject. To Trump, he must seem like the Professor on Gilligan's Island -- an expert on everything.

I also suspect -- I have to tread carefully here -- that Trump believes Jared is smart because Jared is Jewish. I'm basing this on a years of exposure to white bigots from the urban Northeast -- among their prejudices, as a rule, is a belief that all Jews are smart. Recall what John O'Donnell, who used to run a Trump casino, told us Trump said about African-Americans who worked for the Trump Organization as accountants:
And isn’t it funny, I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else.
Jared is tall, but I don't think height is the key factor.

Trump's M.O. is to delegate all the hard stuff to uncharismatic people who don't seem to mind sweating details. In Jared, he seems to have someone who's eager to sweat details -- of everything. But Trump can't judge competence, especially in running the country, which he knows even less about than he knows about business. So we're stuck with Jared, and we're all gonna die.

Until we do, though, Democrats should focus America's attention on Jared. I know that many voters tie themselves in knots trying to persuade themselves that the thrice-married, porn-star-shtupping, pussy-grabbing president is a great Christian, that his billionaire status doesn't prevent him from being the salt of the earth, that he's a good ol' boy even though he was until recently a lifelong New Yorker. But Jared? The right hates "elitists" -- can even conservative voters find a way to tell themselves that Jared is down to earth and one of them? Trump at least talks like Archie Bunker -- I'm convinced that he'd never have won GOP voters' favor without that Queens accent, which always reads as non-posh. Jared doesn't have that. Jared doesn't come off in any way as ordinary. While we're still (barely) breathing, can't we make him a liability for Trump?

Thursday, April 02, 2020

"THE CHURCH WAS NEVER BUILDINGS"

This is insane:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has overruled local counties’ power to ban large religious gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, carving out an extraordinary loophole that officials say will violate social distancing guidelines and ensure further spread of the virus.

By allowing religious services to continue, DeSantis is seemingly siding with religious leaders who’ve stood against the federally mandated guidelines—including controversial Tampa pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, who refused to stop holding services because he believed his church had machines that could stop the virus.

After weeks of political pressure and public outcry, the Republican governor signed a “stay-at-home” order Wednesday to curtail the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. But, unlike most mandates implemented in dozens of states, DeSantis ruled that religious services were an “essential activity.”

... Some counties had already implemented their own orders, like Hillsborough County, where Sheriff Chad Chronister had issued misdemeanors to Howard-Brown[e] for violating an order against large gatherings.

However, in a clarifying memo on Thursday, DeSantis said his order “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.”
DeSantis assures us that he wants the services to be conducted safely.
"I don't think the government has the authority to close a church. I'm certainly not going to do that," DeSantis said. "There's no reason why you couldn't do a church service with people 10 feet apart. So we absolutely asked them to abide by the social distancing guidelines."
But will they all comply? There clearly wasn't social distancing taking place at last Sunday's service at Howard-Browne's church, after which the pastor was arrested.



Howard-Browne is the preacher who said the coronavrus would never close his church.
“We are not stopping anything,” he said. “I’ve got news for you, this church will never close. The only time the church is closed is when the Rapture is taking place,” he said to laughter.

“This Bible school is open because we’re raising up revivalists, not pansies.”
And he has friends in high places.



But other megachurches, in Florida and elsewhere, have accepted the science and agreed not to put their parishioners at risk. At the website of largest megachurch in Florida, Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens, with an average weekly attendance of 27,000, pastors Todd and Julie Mullins have posted this:
As you have most likely heard by now, church at Christ Fellowship will look a little different this weekend. If you haven’t heard, here’s the latest update about weekend services from Pastors Todd and Julie. Although we might not be gathering physically, we can’t wait to gather with you at Church Online this weekend as we worship together, pray together, and give generously as the movement of God.
Information about livestreams of the services follows.

At the site for Northland Church in Longwood, Florida (average weekly attendance 22,000), there's this:
As we continue to respond to the proactive efforts of surrounding community leaders in mitigating the health impact of COVID-19, beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 26th, the Northland Campus will be closed to all public access....

We encourage you to join us for online worship at any of our regularly scheduled services times. If you’ve never been part of our online community, you can do so on our website, via Roku, our mobile app, and even on our Facebook page.
Many stories on the DeSantis order have compared what he's done to what Governor Mike DeWine has done in Ohio-- he has also declared church an essential service, while telling churches that they need to stay safe.
Mentioning an order ... coming Thursday to apparently further enforce social distancing orders and bans on mass gatherings, DeWine, in response to a question, said church leaders must not gather their congregations in large numbers.

“They are endangering themselves, they are endangering their families, they are endangering total strangers ... It’s not a Christian thing to do,” the governor added.
But I see Ohio megachurch pastors avoiding live services. At the website of World Harvest Church in Columbus (average weekly attendance 13,000), there's this notice:
Out of an abundance of caution and in light of recent developments surrounding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the leadership of World Harvest Church has made the difficult decision to not conduct public services on our campuses until further notice, which will be constantly updated and maintained at WHC.LIFE. Our goal will be to resume assembly as quickly as is safely possible.

In the meantime, Pastor Parsley will lead a LIVE and unique online worship experience on RODPARSLEY.TV, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms....
"Pastor Parsley" is no moderate -- that's Rod Parsley, who doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, and had his endorsement of John McCain rejected during the 2008 campaign after he said that Islam is an "anti-Christ religion" and added that “America was founded in part to see this false religion destroyed.” If that guy is closing his church to save lives, why can't Howard-Browne?

I'm not a believer, but I used to be one, and this, from the site of Crossroads Church in Cincinnati (average weekly attendance 38,000), seems right:



I have an evangelical in my family and this is what she says. It's how her church is operating now. Members of a church can support one another without gathering in a large group, no matter what Rodney Howard-Browne says.

NO, WE ARE NOT ALL RESTRICTIONISTS NOW

Rich Lowry writes:
We Are All Restrictionists Now

When President Donald Trump announced a restriction on travel from Europe in a mid-March Oval Office address, European Union officials erupted in outrage.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, issued a joint statement with the president of the European Council thundering, “The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

Just a few days later, von der Leyen was advancing her own proposal to ban nonessential travel into the EU. The initative noted that “globalization and international movements of people create conditions which facilitate the spread of virus across the borders.”

We are all restrictionists now. In the coronavirus crisis, everyone realizes the importance of borders, even the people who not long ago were ideologically hostile toward them and tsk-tsked the allegedly primitive nationalists who obsessed over them....

Borders mark off the sovereign territory of one people from another. They are a means — if they can be enforced and defended — for a sovereign state to protect its people from invaders and unwelcome immigrants and goods.
Invaders, immigrants, goods -- but not viruses.
Of course, travel restrictions haven’t prevented the spread of the disease — there’s no such thing as an air-tight seal against the virus.
Right. Early on, President Trump restricted travel from China, but allowed in U.S. nationals returning from there. A virus doesn't care whether you're a U.S. national. Also, the virus was already here.

Besides, we had international travel -- and pandemics -- even before we were "globalists." In 1918, we weren't "globalists" in the sense we are now, but the so-called Spanish flu (which might have originated in Kansas) traveled the world, partly spread in the trenches of a world war.

And the fact that we're talking about travel restrictions now doesn't mean we support zealously defended borders for all time. Right now, much of the world is closing shops, restaurants, bars, and businesses. White-collar workers are sitting at home in pajamas, working remotely. The fact that we're doing this now doesn't mean that we believe it's wise to close all bars and restaurants permanently and shut down every office building for all time.
Imposing travel restrictions is the least of it. Italy has had trouble importing masks because European counties have been working to keep medical supplies within their own borders, indeed to keep produce within their borders. According to the Wall Street Journal, “German officials said their restrictions were partly designed to safeguard supplies at German supermarkets from French shoppers.”

So much for a new era of European solidarity dissolving the historic, centuries-old political and cultural divisions among continental nations.
I'm trying to grasp Lowry's argument here. It appears to be: We should all be nationalists rather than globalists, because you see how globalism made it much more difficult for Italy to ... import masks from other countries.
The coronavirus has acted as a solvent on a decade or more of cliches about the arrival of a globalized world where borders no longer matter. In a crisis, no one believes that, and everyone turns to borders as a first line of defense.
No. Our first line of defense was -- or should have been -- a public health infrastructure that could have rapidly ramped up in order to test, trace, and isolate sick people, to buy time for scientists to develop treatments and a vaccine. The anti-globalist approach that might have saved us from the virus is the North Korean model, albeit even more extreme. (North Korea trades with China, and its claims of no cases of covid-19 have been met with skepticism.) If people and goods travel at all, a bad virus will get you, whether your country is "globalist" or not.