Monday, April 06, 2020

Midnight Meme Of The Day!


by Noah

The Republican Party has always been loud, proud and totally out in the open about its disdain for science. To them, science is just so much mumbo-jumbo and downright witchcraft.

Now with the coronavirus pandemic, we can see a blatantly obvious real-life real-time consequence of that disdain, a disdain that 62,000,000 voters endorsed when they put on their stupid red hats and voted for their false idol. Some of those voters will eventually die directly because of their vote. They'll never acknowledge that of course.

Republicans would also have you believe that they are "The Pro-Life Party." That's evil enough but their propagandists at FOX "News," Breitbart, Drudge, Sinclair, OAN, and others are even more responsible. So will be any of the rest of us who let their evil go unpunished. Based on recent history, that will be the case but those just named not only ignored the danger, they pushed the psychotic lie that it was all a bigly "democrat hoax." Ditto Rush "Medal Of Freedom" Slimebaugh and those that slither up and down the stairs of the White House and through the corridors of the Capitol Building. Death is their calling card. This is a crime against humanity.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Sir Keir Starmer Replaces Jeremy Corbyn As Leader Of Labour


This is how Bloomberg News summed up the story for American readers:
After a decade in the political wasteland, members of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party have chosen a moderate, un-flashy lawyer as their new leader. Their hope is that turning the page on the socialist radical Jeremy Corbyn, who was resoundingly rejected by voters last year, will see them re-take power.

Keir Starmer, 57, offers dry competence and seriousness after a turbulent five years under the firebrand Corbyn. At a time when the U.K. is grappling with the global coronavirus crisis and its own exit from the European Union, a steady hand could prove popular.

“Maybe being boringly competent is a magical thing-- because we haven’t got many boringly competent politicians at the moment, particularly in government,” said Steven Fielding, a professor at Nottingham University and historian of the Labour party. “People just flock to him like a safety raft from a sinking ship.”
On Saturday he won 275,780 votes (56.2%) in a three-way race and was elected party leader (over 2 women candidates). He represents a London district (Holborn and St Pancras), served in the shadow cabinet as the Brexit spokesman and was caught on tape opposing Corbyn as party leader. He's anti-Brexit and although widely known as a moderate, claims to be a socialist. He isn't an inspiration leader.

And if Boris Johnson passes away from his COVID-19 infection, the U.K. will need an inspirational leader. Johnson, who tested positive and has been getting worse in home quarantine, was admitted to the hospital today. In a extremely rare TV address, not necessarily in regard to Johnson's condition, Queen Elizabeth urged Brits to stay strong, united and resolute: "While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal."

Labels: , , , ,

Putin Is Probably Worse Than Kushner-in-Law


Yesterday, the Washington Post published another piece on the deadly dysfunction the Trump Regime has brought to the pandemic response. "By the time Donald Trump proclaimed himself a wartime president-- and the coronavirus the enemy-- the United States was already on course to see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined." Every step of the way, Trump has dragged his feet 'til his two-little-too-late policies meant next to nothing in the battle, where a courageous and dedicated leader was desperately needed. Because of Trump's timid cowardice "the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation."

Trump's latest solution? Putting his unaccomplished and farcical son-in-law in charge. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez explained that Kushner is an executive in his father's crooked real estate firm "with no public health expertise. [He] generally works behind scenes at the White House. So, critics have been curious about his role in the administration's efforts to confront the coronavirus pandemic. He has emerged with a central role working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to oversee the distribution of vital medical supplies to hospital and health care providers. On Thursday, he explained that Trump and Vice President Pence came to him looking for new ideas and 'outside of the box' thinking. But his lack of experience has drawn scrutiny, especially when he referred to the national stockpile of medical supplies as 'our stockpile. The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile,' he said. 'It's not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use.' The backlash was quick and harsh."

Trump is desperate to get get Anthony Fauci-- the most trusted pandemic-related leader by the American public-- off center stage. Even though Kushner is a failed clown with no qualifications whatsoever except for his proximity to the Oval Office, Trump is hoping he will draw attention away from Fauci and his politically-difficult recommendations. Eventually Trump will fire him. The firestorm won't be less hot with the cloddish son-in-law in charge.

Morons by Chip Proser

It could have been worse. Trump's role model Vladimir Putin has demonstrated that again. Russia has been hiding it's COVID-19 numbers from the public. Anastasia Vasilieva the leader of the Alliance of Doctors, an independent doctors’ union, was arrested and tossed into jail when she talked about the fake numbers the Putin Regime is handing out. Andrew Higgins, reporting for the NY Times wrote that she was arrested while "traveling from Moscow to an impoverished rural town to deliver masks, gloves and other supplies to a local hospital." I bet Trump would love to arrested Fauci.
The detention of Dr. Vasilieva, an eye specialist who has been highly critical of Russia’s response to the pandemic, added fuel to already widespread skepticism, particularly among Kremlin critics, about the accuracy of official figures showing relatively few cases of the virus in Russia. Her detention also increased skepticism about the readiness of Russia’s health care system to cope with the pandemic.

A group of doctors at a hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second biggest city, released a video on Friday appealing to the public for help in obtaining the protective equipment they said they needed to treat coronavirus patients.

Maria Bakhldina, the head doctor at the hospital, speaking to Fontanka, a news site in the city, dismissed the doctors complaints as “untrue.”

Views on how far the virus has really spread in Russia and how prepared the country is have been largely determined by political leanings. The general public, which mostly supports President Vladimir V. Putin, has voiced little concern while many of the Kremlin’s opponents suspect a cover-up.

Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, recently accused the authorities of lying about the number of tests carried out and suggested that, as a result, the number of cases could be much higher than reported.

Russia has sharply stepped up testing and now says it has conducted more than 575,000 tests, but this includes cases of multiple tests on the same person, lowering the head count.

In an address to the nation on Thursday, President Putin, holed up for most of the past week in his country residence outside Moscow, praised health workers for “holding the line of defense against the advancing epidemic” but acknowledged the worst is yet to come.

Russia has been far more open in confronting the pandemic than many other former Soviet countries, some of which insist they have no cases now and can keep the virus at bay with quack remedies.

A sudden large surge in cases would likely break Russia’s rickety medical system and undermine Mr. Putin’s already declining but still robust approval ratings, especially as state-controlled media has bombarded the public for months with gushing reports about how the president is improving health care across the country.

The virus has also slowed Russia’s already sluggish economy, posing another problem for the Kremlin less than a month after it pushed through constitutional changes to allow Mr. Putin to dispense with term limits and stay in power until 2036.

Dr. Vasilieva, the detained physician, set up the Alliance of Doctors last year in part to counter the Kremlin’s claims of dramatic improvements in funding and other support for hospitals. She has treated Mr. Navalny as a patient and affiliated her group with his. The authorities arrested her last year for rallying opposition to the closure of a tuberculosis clinic in a poor region of southern Russia.

Mr. Putin’s approval rating, according to a recent survey by the Levada Center, a respected Russian polling organization, fell from 69 percent in February to 63 percent in March, near to what it was in 2014 before a surge in the president’s popularity after Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

In his last public outing early last week, Mr. Putin visited a new state-of-the-art infectious diseases center, Hospital No. 40 in Moscow, escorted by its head doctor, who this week tested positive for the virus. The Kremlin said that Mr. Putin has been tested regularly and that “everything is O.K.”

Russia on Friday reported 601 new infections, down from 771 new cases reported on Thursday, bringing the total number to 4,419. This is a fourfold increase over the past week but still far fewer than the more than 245,000 cases reported in the United States and nearly 118,000 in Spain and 115,000 in Italy.

Critics of the Kremlin, however, have questioned the official figures. Dr. Vasilieva, the detained doctors’ union head, said in a video late last month that authorities were lying about the true number of infections, accusing them of deliberately misclassifying people who had developed the disease as victims of ordinary pneumonia.

A few days later, she said she had been called in for questioning over her comments, declaring defiantly in another video that “You can send whomever you want to get me-- the Federal Security Service, the fire service-- but the truth will not change.” The real number of coronavirus cases, she said, “is much higher than the authorities say.” She provided no evidence of any cover-up.

Her medical workers’ union, warning that Russian hospitals were desperately short of masks and other protective equipment, recently started a fund-raising drive online to raise money from the public to buy supplies for hospitals and clinics.

The government, too, seems worried that it may need to do more to control the virus. On Friday, it suspended the last remaining flights into the country, halting even special flights bringing Russians home from abroad, the Interfax news agency reported. All land borders have already been closed.

Moscow, St. Petersburg and many Russian regions this week ordered residents not to leave their homes except to buy food and medicine or walk their dogs close to their residence.

Dr. Vasilieva was stopped by police officers on Thursday while attempting to deliver supplies by car to a hospital in Okulovka, northwest of Moscow, according to Natalia Kolosova, a colleague who was traveling with her. “They were clearly waiting for us,” Ms. Kolosova said, noting that police officers had set up a check point at the entry to Okulovka but stopped no other vehicles.

Dr. Vasilieva appeared in court on Friday charged with disobeying police orders and violating quarantine restrictions. She was released on Friday evening after being ordered to pay a small fine.

Natalia Zviagina, director for Amnesty International in Russia, condemned the detention, saying in a statement that: “It is staggering that the Russian authorities appear to fear criticism more than the deadly Covid-19 pandemic” caused by coronavirus. By detaining Dr. Vasilieva, she added, the authorities show “they are willing to punish health professionals who dare contradict the official Russian narrative and expose flaws in the public health system.”

Dmitri Sokolov, a paramedic at the Okulovka hospital and the head of the regional branch of Dr. Vasilieva’s Alliance of Doctors, said that the hospital had not yet admitted any patients confirmed as suffering from Covid-19 but that staff members were deeply worried because of severe shortages of masks and other equipment.

Okulovka hospital’s head surgeon, Yuri I. Korvin, also a critic of the authorities, had been ordered to stay away from the hospital and self-isolate for two weeks because he had had contact with Dr. Vasilieva, Mr. Sokolov said. Police officers involved in her detention, however, were allowed to keep working, he added.

Mr. Sokolov said “nobody knows the real number of infections” and added that residents in Okulovka were alarmed by a recent flood of people arriving from Moscow and St. Petersburg. Fleeing quarantine restriction and high infection rates in their home cities, urban residents have been fleeing to rural towns like Okulovka to take shelter at country homes.

“None of us know where these people have been or whether they have been tested,” he said.

Labels: , , , ,

It Pains Me To Say This, But There Are 8 Governors Who Deserve To Catch COVID-19 And Die


Did any normal person ever think Brian Kemp was fit for public office?

A few days ago, I noted that Bill Scher made a few mistakes in his list of the most effective and least effective governors in the response to the pandemic. He was savvy enough to understand that Andrew Cuomo doesn't belong on the list-- not among the best nor the worst, and he was correct about Trump asslicker Ron DeSantis (R-FL) being the worst. But as I went down his list of clowns I asked myself how could he have possibly left off pathetic Georgia Governor Brian Kemp who will be responsible for nearly as many COVID-19 deaths as DeSantis will. (Kemp has quickly become a favorite in the annual battle for "worst governor in America.")

On Friday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Kemp's long-overdue statewide order supersedes county and city-level shelter-in-place mandates. Many of the state's beach communities had closed in response to local mandates imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19. Kemp's order has opened them all up again. As the B-52s would never have said in this case, Partyyyyyyyyy.

As of this weekend, there are just 8 states still refusing to issue stay-at-home orders, endangering not just their own backward supporters, but everyone in their states and the rest of the country. CNN senior DC correspondent Jeff Zeleny tried to figure out why. First, the moron states who have elected governors who don't understand what flattening the curve means-- listed in order of their 2016 support for Señor Trumpanzee:
Wyoming- 67.40%
North Dakota- 62.96%
South Dakota- 61.53%
Arkansas- 60.57%
Nebraska- 58.75%
South Carolina- 54.94%
Iowa- 51.15%
Utah- 45.54%
All 8 governors are right-wing Republicans who have collectively ignored Fauci's stay-at-home pleas. Since Trump doesn't have the political courage to give a nationwide stay-at-home order, "a patchwork of rules," reported Zeleny, "has emerged in all corners of the country that offer conflicting guidance for how citizens should protect themselves and their families from coronavirus. 'I leave it up to the governors. The governors know what they are doing,' Trump said at his daily White House briefing. 'States that we are talking about are not in jeopardy.' But as the week wore on, with the death toll rising, confirmed cases mounting and an absence of national leadership, several once-reluctant governors ultimately heeded the call and issued statewide orders of their own." Though not these 8 imbeciles, at least 4 of which-- Iowa, Arkansas, South Carolina and Nebraska-- are likely to have huge infection rates and deaths.
It wasn't until late Friday that Alabama took action, with Gov. Kay Ivey reversing course and imposing a statewide mandate beginning Saturday. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson followed suit, one day after saying his state didn't easily lend itself to "a blanket order." He signed just that, but said it wouldn't take effect until Monday.

...It's not as though the novel coronavirus hasn't touched each of their states in some way. Yet a combination of states' rights defiance, persuasion from some business and agricultural leaders and a largely rural composition have branded these governors as outliers during a moment of national crisis, where the actions of one potentially affect all.

In South Dakota, a Republican state lawmaker was among the first in the state to test positive, followed soon after by his wife, brother and sister-in-law. His 51-year-old niece has died of Covid-19, family members told reporters, with several others experiencing symptoms.

In explaining her rationale against issuing a stay-at-home order, Gov. Kristi Noem told reporters, "The people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety." She also pointed to the state and national constitutions that "prevent us from taking draconian measures much like the Chinese government has done."

In state after state, the Republican governors have all used the argument of government intrusion as one of the leading reasons for not following the lead of a majority of states in issuing stricter guidelines that could help sound the alarm about the serious nature of the threat.

All states have made strong recommendations to practice social distancing and at least half have some degree of restrictive measures in place, often because mayors or county officials made local decisions. But these governors have stopped short of giving statewide orders that have been in place for weeks elsewhere.

In Iowa on Friday, a statewide board of medicine voted unanimously to recommend a so-called shelter-in-place order to limit the movements of residents to essential work and travel.

"A stronger commitment to isolation is in the best interest of the public and health care providers," Kent Nebel, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine, told the Des Moines Register.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said she is studying the data from across her state, which she said did not yet merit a statewide directive to restrict movement in places that have not yet been affected by coronavirus. As of Friday evening, the state had nearly 700 cases and 11 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

She acknowledged Friday that refusing to impose a shelter-in-place order had become a "divisive issue." She pushed back on Fauci's remark that questioned why all states have not issued stay-at-home orders.

"I would say that maybe he doesn't have all the information," Reynolds told reporters. "You can't just look at a map and assume no action has been taken."

Other governors said that they are following medical advice from their own experts, including in Nebraska, where Gov. Pete Ricketts said he was taking cues from his advisers, rather than national health officials.

He pointed to Dr. James Lawler, co-director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Global Center for Health Security, who said people should spend more time heeding the warnings of social distancing and handwashing, rather than focusing on semantics of a statewide order.

"What I think we should really focus on is improving compliance and adherence," Lawler told reporters. "This depends on people taking this seriously and doing the right thing."

He added that if Nebraskans do "what we've already implemented and we do it well, I think we'll get much more bang for our buck than we would from going to a much more draconian posture."

The remainder of the holdouts are North Dakota, South Carolina and Utah. In each state, the Republican governors have been urged by experts and Democratic officials to take the additional step of issuing a statewide order, even if the action would only serve to draw attention to the rising severity of the health crisis, but several made clear they were taking their cues from the White House.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas continued to defy calls for a statewide order and dismissed Fauci's comments.

"It's understandable that (Fauci) looks at that as a solution, a nationwide shutdown order. What's important is that has not been given," Hutchinson said Friday at a news conference. "The CDC-- I watch their guidelines regularly-- and they have not indicated that's an appropriate or necessary step across the country."

In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum acknowledged that some residents were taking seriously the guidelines for social distancing and limiting gatherings, while others were not. Still, he said he was resisting a statewide order, instead urging residents to "stay home, stay healthy and stay connected."

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency last month, restricted use of the state's beaches and ordered non-essential businesses to close. But he has stopped short of issuing a statewide order, saying: "We are not ordering people to stay at home, but from the very beginning we've been telling people to stay home."

In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert has resisted arguments from Salt Lake City officials and leaders in five of the state's 29 counties where local stay-at-home orders are in place. He said his "stay home, stay safe" instructions struck a more positive tone, without a statewide mandate.

In Wyoming, where the state medical society called for a stay-at-home order this week, Gov. Mark Gordon said he believes such a statewide directive would not accomplish its goal. His spokesman told reporters the governor was more focused on "changing behavior right now."

Aides to several of the Republican governors said the only persuasion that was likely to move their positions was specific guidance from the President.

But with each new order, it becomes clear the rules are far from uniform from state to state. The Alabama order signed Friday, for example, leaves open big box stores and garden stores, prompting local officials in Birmingham to follow their previous, stricter policy of traveling for things people only need to survive.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis had repeatedly dismissed the notion of imposing a statewide stay-at-home order, even as cases of coronavirus were rising. But then, this week he suddenly urged Americans to brace for "a very tough two weeks" after citing the President's "demeanor the last couple of days" to explain why he was taking this step.

DeSantis said it was the President's alarm-- not warnings health officials had been making for weeks-- that finally persuaded him.
Former Orlando area Congressman Alan Grayson is no fan of Gov. DeSantis or his dangerous politicized decision-making. "All of this is a mistake," he told me this morning. "The virus works the same way in Maine as it does in California. All of these decisions should be made scientifically, and legitimated by national governmental institutions. This is federalism gone nuts."

Labels: ,

Blue America Endorsement: Julie Oliver (TX-25)


Late last year, Texas progressive Julie Oliver wrote a spectacular guest post for us about universal healthcare. She was in the midst of a primary battle with another worthy challenger eager to take on crooked conservative incumbent Roger Williams in the gerrymandered 25th congressional district. Julie won her primary 55,721 (70%) to 24,340 (30%) and is in the midst of a virtual campaign for the R+11 seat she made great strides towards winning in 2018, holding Williams down to a 53.5% win.

Julie trounced Williams in the district's biggest county, Travis and beat him by an even bigger margin in Bell County. This cycle, she is aiming to make bigger inroads into traditionally Republican Johnson, Hays, Burnet and Hill counties. But not by running on a GOP-lite platform. Yesterday she told us that she and her family "are in day 23 of social and physical distancing. We’re one of the very fortunate families who still have income, but like millions of Americans we’re unsure how long that will continue, or what happens next. As front-line healthcare workers who are making the absolute best they can out of an impossible situation continue to step up and serve those who need help, the lack of a coordinated federal response to the global pandemic of COVID-19 is only making matters worse." She told us that Medicare for All is taking hold among more and more Texas voters in the midst of this pandemic. If you agree Julie would make a great replacement for anti-healthcare fanatic and Trump stooge Roger Williams, please click on the Taking Back Texas thermometer below and consider contributing what you can in these challenging times.

It has driven home how badly we need those who value science, expertise, and competence to serve in positions of public trust.

But it has also underscored how broken and utterly inadequate our healthcare status quo really is-- and how wobbly our economy was for so many in this country in the first place.

Goal ThermometerI watched as our Congressman, a multi-millionaire Republican career politician from Weatherford, TX, voted to end protections for people like my son-- who we refer to as the walking pre-existing condition-- and I knew that I had to run.

I knew that not only was our healthcare status quo immoral, it was inefficient, expensive, and produced suboptimal outcomes, because I spent a 15-year-long career in healthcare finance. When folks don’t have insurance, they go to the ER for healthcare, and this in turn drives up the cost of healthcare for everyone.

I had no money, no party machine, no fancy insider connections, no list of donors waiting to write checks-- I was a total novice-- and in my naïveté, I thought if only I could explain to folks how broken the U.S. healthcare finance system was and how universal coverage could actually lower our healthcare costs and improve our healthcare outcomes, Republicans (who have historically run as “champions” of fiscal conservatism) would end their assault on healthcare in America.

We all know that’s not how things work. Congress has been utterly corroded and captured by corporate money-- from the pharmaceutical industry to the for-profit insurance industry-- with members of both political parties susceptible to its influence.

But I still believe that we can change how we do politics-- and how we deliver healthcare in this country. It is an urgent priority, made only more severe by a global pandemic that threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, nearly five million Texans did not have health insurance, twice the national average.

In this past week another 6.6 million people nationally filed for unemployment; this doesn’t include independent contractors who lost clients during the same week.

Not everyone who loses their job will have insurance tied to that job. But for the folks who had insurance prior to getting laid off, if they cannot afford their COBRA coverage, they will join the ranks of the unemployed and uninsured.

6.6 million people lost their jobs in a single week, and that number is only going to grow over the next six to twelve weeks.

It shouldn’t take millions of people losing their jobs to show us how broken our healthcare status quo is.

We should have decoupled insurance from employment in this country long ago and caught up with the rest of the developed world-- now it is imperative that we do so.  It never made sense for us to permit for-profit insurance companies to create artificially small risk pools that allow them to drive up costs for everyone while making billions in annual profits from human suffering. It’s why I’m fighting for Medicare for All-- one comprehensive, nationwide risk pool.

My hope on the other side of the pandemic is that we do not repeat the mistakes that Democrats and Republicans made following the Great Recession of 2009. We have seen the pattern of allowing Congress to use a crisis to grant gigantic tax cuts to corporations paired with massive upward transfer of wealth, with all of the gains going to those at the top while the rest of the country struggles to get by without basic public goods like healthcare and paid sick leave.

If we want to truly rebuild our economy so that it is sustainable, let’s lift the burden of healthcare off of employers. Let employees decide where they want to work based on job satisfaction, not how much the employer will pay in health insurance. Let’s allow small businesses, who have been hit the hardest by this administration’s incompetence and lack of leadership, to compete for employed talent.

And let’s do the right thing by our fellow human beings and ensure that every single person in this country can see a doctor, afford prescriptions, and be well enough to live to their full potential.

Let’s pass Medicare for All.

Labels: , , , , ,

Can You Imagine What This Crisis Would Be Like If We -- Or At Least Lots Of Us -- Didn't Have Access To Today's Onilne Resources?


Plus: Since the world needs music, I'm tacking
a bit on at the end of this post. Here's a tease:

Nobody could be more surprised than your humble author to find himself a practicing Zoomer.

-by Ken

I imagine that Howie and Noah have covered this by now. Nevertheless, let me note for the record how inexpressibly grateful I am, first, for the unbelievably vast range of resources for information and occupation now available online to those of us with decent online access, which is the other thing I want to express inexpressible gratitude for: that I do have such access. I have no idea how many people don't have such access; I just have this terrible feeling that there are a scary-awful lot of them. I try to imagine sometimes what this crisis, dreadful as it is, would be like without that access. It scares and horrifies me.

That said, count me astounded at the quantity and range of stuff being made available for me to read, watch, and do -- going beyond the expanded information and content universe the Intertubes have, in just a few decades, made us take for granted, to a new world of information, instruction, and entertainment which, at least for most of us, didn't exist even a few years ago.

While I don't think of myself as a Luddite or technophobe, I'm far from what you'd call can't-get-enough-new-technology type. I'm a confident e-mailer (hey, it's just writing and reading; I can do those!), but the whole social-media thing fills me with something bordering on dread and horror. I consort with Facebook only 'cause there's stuff and folks there I really do want to keep up on, and I shudder at the thought of going onto Twitter -- the only tweets I see are those for which I've been sent links by a trusted soul.

You can imagine, then, that I would never have imagined myself as even a candidate for Zooomerdom. When, from one week to the next, the leader of my clutter-fighting Meetup group Neatniks (or, more formally, "Hoarders No More"), took us virtual, I approached the first session, not really knowing WTF this Zoom thing is exactly, with intense unease. I got through it in a daze, but was grateful for the trian run when, in short order, my WW workshops also went virtual. By now they've both become fixtures of my life, and I've begun Zooming into a wider world. Just this afternoon, after doing another WW workshop (my third this week, with three different coaches, who've all figured importantly in what I've accomplished), I "attended" a slide-illustrated talk by the associate curator of the New York Transit Museum (one of my favorite places in NYC) on the history of transit signage in the city.


Notices began to trickle into my e-mailbox, as I expect they did yours, from organizations and businesses I've had dealings with announcing at first the postponement of events or cutback in services, then increasingly cancellations and on-site physical closures. When the trickle started flowing faster, I had the presence of mind to create a folder into which I could dump the ones I'd read and wanted available for future reference and also lots of others I didn't take precious time to read but thought I might later want to.

At first the e-mails were basically informational announcements. Almost from the start, though, the announcements were including stuff to read or watch, and links -- lots and lots, and soon more and more links to a mind-boggling range of stuff to read and watch. It wasn't long before the onetime trickle had swollen to a flood, and my bluntly named "coronavirus" folder was overflowing to the point where it will now require a project in itself to distribute the contents into separate folders by category (which I'm still working out in my head), in order to have any chance to have some control over this material, and to retrieve any of it.


. . . for their stated purposes, they're godsends for the social contact they make a possible, at a time when social contact is the very thing we can't have. Granted, virtual meetups aren't the same as the real thing. Still, It's been wonderful to (literally) be able to see all those familiar faces at my Neatniks and WW gatherings -- and to meet up with new folks too.


I can't claim to have more than scratched the surface of what's out there. Early on I remember logging on to an entertaining audienceless performance in a series offered free, with the hope that we'll be moved to cough up some bucks, by Caveat, the politically charged comedy club housed (when it's offering actual performances, I mean) in a basement on the Lower East Side. Now, I can't keep up. For example, Brooklyn Brainery, where I've done a slew if interesting, offbeat, modestly priced classes in recent years, has virtualized its upcoming class schedule, and looking at the list the other day I spotted a class I'd have signed up for on the spot -- if it wasn't already full!

You say you've never heard of Caveat and Brooklyn Brainery? They're among the countless invaluably enterprising organizations which are now struggling to stay viable, and the thing is, anyone anywhere with online access can now participate in what they're doing. Ditto with all the museums and cultural organizations and . . . and, well, everybody.

All these orgs, large and small, are hungry for virtual audiences, and of course support. Brooklyn Brainery's Jen Messier, for example, put up this blogpost on March 15:
We Need Your Help!

The COVID-19 wildness has come at us all in NYC fast and furious over the past week or so. Like lots of other tiny businesses here, we have really small margins and depend on a packed schedule to cover expenses. Because we also have two storefronts, we have a lot of fixed costs, and this past week has been nothing short of devastating. My ultimate goal is to have nothing change once we all bounce past this phase - hell, to have even more classes to help our teachers make up any losses - but right now we're faced with a difficult situation where revenue has dried up almost entirely while expenses remain nearly the same. We'll of course be applying for the city's small business aid when available as well!

If you're able to and would like to help us during this financially tough stretch, we have a few options. Thank you so much!

1) Purchase a gift certificate to be used on a future in-person class:

2) Try out an online class (more being added each day as we navigate this new world): - just look for "online class" next to the class name

3) Sign up for a class further into the future:

4) Join us as a virtual member to provide critical revenue for our fixed expenses at this time:…/virtual-supporter-membership

5) Grab a Brainery tote bag online (this is all we have to sell you!)

6) Share these options with friends!
There's really no good reason for me to be sharing this story rather than the thousands of others. It just happens to be something I'm looking at right now.

There's so much good work being done out there, and so much of it hanging by a thread. And of course this is happening everywhere. I feel horrible that I can't afford to help much, but for all of us this is a unique chance to get acquainted with stuff happening all over the country -- my guess is that any time you Web-surf you'll stumble across a zillion such opportunities, people and organizations who have gone virtual to survive, and are offering us all these riches.


I don't want to burden DWT readers, as I often felt I was doing with the old Sunday Classics posts, with the kind of music I love. But lately, as I've been writing a little, I've also had cherished pieces of music lodge in my head which I thought might be pleasant to pass along. And I thought maybe I'd tack one on every time I write a post.

One such is the overture to Leonard Bernstein's deeply delightful, verging-on-opera 1956 Broadway musical Candide. As I've mentioned in the past, this is one of those pieces which can seize hold of me to the point of listening endlessly -- 5 times, or 10, maybe 15. Just now, at a time when I think most of us could sure use an infusion of joie de vivre in our lives, I can't imagine a more sheerly joyous four, or four and a half, minutes' worth.

BERNSTEIN: Overture to Candide

Original Broadway Cast recording, Samuel Krachmalnick, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Dec. 9. 1956

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded 1960-63

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded July 1982

London Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded December 1989

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, David Zinman, cond. Decca, recorded Feb. 3-4, 1996

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Davis, cond. EMI, recorded live at Glyndebourne, Apr. 27, 1997

In the event that the Candide Overture has the effect on you that it so often does on me, you can of course listen to it now as often as you like, and you don't even have to listen to it the same way, at least not the first six times. We hear, in chronological order (and also, you'll note, in order of fastest to slowest):

• First, the boisterous performance (of which we sampled the final minute at the top of the post) from the Original Broadway Cast recording conducted by that crackerjack theater conductor Samuel Krachmalnick.

• Then three performances, steadily more gradual, by the composer -- with orchestras in New York, within memory of the original Broadway production; Los Angeles, two decades later, and noticeably broader; and, finally, a bit slower still, London, from the studio recording made at the time of Lenny's famous London concert performance of Candide (available on video).

• A suitably sparkling performance from Baltimore conducted by one of the more satisfying (and versatile) conductors of recent times, David Zinman.

• And a wholly international performance, recorded live, with another English orchestra but this time an English conductor, and a fine one, (not-yet-Sir) Andrew Davis (now music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago), who provides a rousing kickoff for a gala concert staged in the theater at Glyndebourne celebrating the centenary of EMI.

Labels: , , , ,

Midnight Meme Of The Day!


by Noah

Sunday Thoughts:

Yes, Donnie Head Case and his nutball "Christian" followers want the churches packed for Easter. No isolation or 6 feet of separation for them! 6 feet under is more like it. Go for it!

Meanwhile, it won't be long before Donnie Mental says:
Jesus Christ is only a hero because he got crucified. I don't like people who get crucified. I like people who don't get crucified.
J-L Cauvin, thank you for your service! You've nailed it! I encourage everyone to check out your youtube channel and I look forward to hearing your album.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Masks Are Important-- And Something You Can Do To Protect Yourself... And Everyone Else


Don't ask me why, but politicians seem to be afraid of being photographed wearing masks. Andy Levin (D-MI), a real leader is not afraid-- and he's leading by example. Today was his first day heading out in public wearing a mask like the CDC now suggests. "I'm going to do a curbside grocery pick-up in my Chevy Bolt EV right now," he told me. "America, world, we've got this! (Even if we have to work around a few clueless leaders.)"

Remember when the government said don't buy a mask because they don't work and hospital workers need them? And remember realizing there was a disconnect there? Friday we posted Chris Martsenson's podcast on why everyone should wear a mask. If you didn't watch it yesterday, do yourself a favor and watch it now. A few hours later, the Trump government-- if not Señor Trumpanzee himself-- is now recommending everyone wear a mask. Trump, who suddenly sidelined the most trusted pandemic expert in the country-- Dr. Anthony Fauci-- said this about wearing a mask: "You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it. It’s only a recommendation." Everyone who comes near him is tested so it's safer for him than it is for you.

Lena Sun and Josh Dawsey reported for the Washington Post yesterday that the CDC had Trump announce the mask recommendation-- which will be ineffective until it's mandatory-- even though they should have guessed he would immediately undermine their work. "But Trump immediately undermined the announcement," they wrote, "by noting it was voluntary and he would not choose to do it, even though 'it may be good,' reflecting a sharp debate that has been going on in recent days between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the wearing of such cloth face masks."
White House coronavirus task force officials had been considering whether to recommend universal use of face coverings such as cloth masks when people go out in public or making the guidance narrowly targeted to areas with high community transmission of the virus that causes covid-19.

Some senior administration officials pushed to focus on people living in the hardest-hit areas because they worried that wide community use of masks is unnecessary and could cause panic. The president has repeatedly said that he fears widespread use of masks will scare Americans, and that he believes it is unnecessary, according to one senior administration official.

But federal health officials, including experts at the CDC, say the guidance only makes sense if it is recommended broadly because it would be an additional way to contain the virus and prevent communities with low transmission from becoming areas with explosive spread. The CDC has been recommending widespread community use since late last week.

White House officials had been privately contradicting CDC proposals for everyone to wear face coverings. The topic was part of spirited debate in the coronavirus task force meetings this week, and in Oval Office discussions with the president, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance.

One of the main proponents for wider mask use has been Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration who has been acting as an informal adviser to the White House and sometimes talks to Trump and regularly speaks with administration officials.

Earlier Friday, the draft guidance the CDC had been directed to publish only focused on recommendations for people in the hardest hit areas, according to a federal official involved in the response. But the guidance was changed to the broader version, urging all Americans to wear face coverings, at the coronavirus task force meeting Friday, according to two administration sources.

Trump’s remarks at Friday’s daily briefing also made clear the guidance was for broad community use, with a special emphasis for those in the most affected areas. The guidance posted on the CDC website states:

“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

The guidance makes clear that wearing face coverings or cloth masks is an additional public health measure to prevent the spread of the virus, not a substitute for social distancing. Social distancing of at least six feet is still recommended even when wearing a mask. Guidance and internal memos from CDC emphasize that a cloth facial mask is intended not so much to protect the wearer but to help prevent people who do not know they are infected from spreading of the virus to others.

Recommendations for people to wear face coverings in public represents a major change in CDC guidance that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings. Internal memos and guidance had previously made clear the coverings are not medical masks, such as N95 respirators or surgical face masks, which are needed by front-line health-care workers and are in extremely short supply. Those must continue to be reserved, they say.

Separately, U.S. officials are weighing a plan to distribute reusable cloth face masks-- not medical masks-- to U.S. households, starting with locations hardest hit by covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a federal official involved in the response and documents shared with The Post.

The new CDC guidance was drafted in recent days and was prompted by increasing evidence that infected people without symptoms can spread the coronavirus. Simple cloth masks that cover the mouth and nose can prevent virus transmission from such individuals when they are out buying groceries, when people may come into closer contact, for example.

“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms,” the published guidance states. “This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity-- for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing-- even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.”

Labels: ,

Trump vs Democracy


Our heroic jefe, Señor Trumpanzee, is not just a war-time president, he's fighting a war on two fronts-- one against the COVID-19 pandemic-- who could have known?-- and one against democracy. Yesterday, Alex Isenstadt reported from the front lines in Trumpanzee's war against democracy. As you can see on the chart above, 65% of registered voters support the idea of vote by mail-- including 93% of Democrats, 70% of independents and even 32% of Republicans.

It is notable that 68% of Republicans oppose vote by mail. Makes no sense. Actually it does. Historically, conservatives have always done everything they could to keep the franchise as small as possible. They year for their glory days when only older white males with property were allowed to vote. Progressives have slowly but surely chipped away at that. This week David Ralston, the Republican Speaker of the Georgia House explained it as well as any conservative: "The president said it best. This will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia." Yep, larger numbers of people voting usually is "extremely devastating" to conservatives.

Isenstadt wrote that "Trump's political operation is launching a multimillion-dollar legal campaign aimed at blocking Democrats from drastically changing voting rules in response to the coronavirus outbreak. In the past several weeks, the reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee have helped to oversee maneuvering in a handful of battleground states with an eye toward stopping some Democratic efforts to alter voting laws, and to bolster Trump. The mobilization is being closely coordinated with Republicans at the state and local levels.
The Trump campaign and RNC are actively engaged in litigation in Wisconsin, where the parties are at loggerheads over an array of issues including voter identification, and in New Mexico, where the battle involves vote-by-mail. The skirmishing has also spread across key states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, where the well-organized Trump apparatus has fought over changes that could sway the outcome of the election.

The enterprise-- which includes more than two dozen GOP officials, including lawyers dedicated entirely to litigation-- shows how completely the pandemic has upended the 2020 election. While litigation over voting issues is not uncommon, the coronavirus-- and the likely obstacles it will create for voting in November-- has brought the issue to the forefront of the campaign.

The public health crisis is already injecting a huge X-factor into the election, with impossible-to-predict effects on voter turnout, and officials in both parties acknowledge the fights over voting laws could affect the outcome of the election.

Democrats-- who typically benefit from high turnout elections because their voters cast ballots less reliably-- are plowing ahead with initiatives to make it easier to vote.

...Trump advisers say they are open to certain changes, such as automatically sending absentee ballot applications to voters over age 65. But they’re opposed to other moves Democrats are pushing, such as sending every voter a ballot regardless of whether they ask for one, which Republicans argue would open the door to fraud.

Trump has long been fixated on voter fraud. He has repeatedly claimed without evidence that he lost New Hampshire in 2016 because out-of-staters cast ballots, and after the election the president set up a since-disbanded voter fraud commission. Following the disastrous 2018 midterms, Trump said that after voting, some people “go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again.”

During an appearance on Fox News this week, Trump pushed back against an effort by House Democrats to secure billions of dollars for election assistance in the coronavirus relief package. The bill Trump ultimately signed included $400 million, a fraction of what Democrats had been seeking.

“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said.

Federal funding to help states ease voting barriers in response to coronavirus is just one front in the battle. Trump's political apparatus is taking a state-by-state approach.

In Pennsylvania, where Democrats proposed an entirely vote-by-mail system, Trump advisers worked with the Republican-controlled Legislature to push through more circumscribed rules. They include a limited expansion of absentee voting and changes to the handling and counting of those ballots.

In Georgia, some officials are recommending sending everyone a ballot, also a no-go for Trump's team. The president’s advisers instead advocated mailing people applications they would need to fill out and return in order to receive a ballot. The idea was approved by Georgia’s Democratic Party and Republican secretary of state.

Republicans see an advantage in the change in Georgia. They say they will be able to use their financial advantage over Democrats to reach their Georgia supporters to ensure they're returning ballot request forms.

The Democratic offensive is being led by Marc Elias, a veteran election attorney who is currently involved in litigation in more than a dozen states. He has advocated a handful of changes in the wake of the outbreak, including providing pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots and extending the postmark deadline to Election Day.

"If states are not able or willing to rise to the occasion of the challenges that Covid-19 poses, we’re going to continue looking very seriously to the courts to protect the rights of voters and to ensure that ballots don’t go uncounted that should be counted,” Elias said.

Trump advisers say they are trying to prevent overreach on the part of Democrats, who have long sought to ease voting restrictions.

“It is beyond disgusting that the Democrats are using this crisis to try to dismantle the integrity of our voting system,” said Justin Clark, a senior Trump campaign counsel who is helping to spearhead the legal fight. “The American people won’t stand for this, and the campaign and the party intend to fight with them for a free, fair, and open vote in November."

Clark pointed to so-called community ballot collection-- an idea embraced by some Democrats that would allow local organizations and individuals to collect ballots from voters at their homes-- as something the Trump campaign would fight.

The pandemic is expected to increase the amount of funding the Republican Party devotes to lawsuits. The cash-flush Trump machine announced in February it was directing $10 million toward legal battles, but people involved in the effort say that figure is now likely to climb much higher.
You know how you always see photos of presidents and their wives early on election day voting at the polls? You won't see one of those this Friday for the Florida primary; Trump has requested absentee ballots for himself and the former Slovenian sex worker he married-- just as some 160,000 other Palm Beach County residents have. Yesterday at his daily shit show, he said "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting. People should vote with ID, voter ID, I think voter ID is very important. The reason they don’t want voter ID is because they intend to cheat. It shouldn’t be mail-in voting. It should be you go to booth and you proudly display yourself, you send it in the mail… all sorts of bad things can happen… by the time it gets in and is tabulated."

Some think that the conservative plot to demolish the U.S. Post Office-- which happens to be constitutionally-mandated-- is now, because of the pandemic-- in high gear. No post office, no trustworthy mail-in-voting? Kara Eastman, in the progressive Democrat running to replace Trumpist toady Don Bacon in Omaha. "Republicans are afraid of high turnout so they are afraid of universal vote by mail," she told us. "We need to push to ensure that our democracy doesn’t fall victim to this virus like our economy has." Texas progressive Mike Siegel noted that "In one fell swoop, we see that the Republicans are both a death cult and fundamentally anti-democratic. They’d rather us risk infection than increase voter participation. I understand that creating national vote-by-mail is a monumental task, but with resources and commitment it is certainly achievable. It’s the right thing for public health and it’s the right thing for our democracy." Please consider supporting the campaigns being run by Kara, Mike Siegel, Mark Gamba and Liam O'Mara by clicking on the thermometer below and contributing what you can in these tough times.

Goal ThermometerMark Gamba, the mayor of Mikwaukie, is running for Oregon's 5th congressional district against Blue Dog Kurt Schrader, who finds himself voting with Republicans far more than an actual Democrat. Gamba is a progressive with every instinct and every action. This morning he told us that "Oregon has been 100% vote by mail for over 20 years. It’s super convenient, we have two weeks with our ballots and can vote at our kitchen tables. We get some of the best turnouts in the country especially since we have one of the highest levels of voter registration in the country. What’s more, there’s a paper trail. It can’t be cheated. That last one in particular is what worries the Republicans. They know that in totally fair elections they lose. In this Pandemic moment, we are one of the few states that can safely vote. Our primary will continue as scheduled. I think the Republicans know that these last 3+ years have been some of the worst in American history for a significant part of the population. In a fair election, with a big turnout, they will lose the presidency, the Senate and the House will move further to the left. If we hope to stop climate change and create a universal health care system so that these pandemics don’t become a regular part of our lives then moving to a nationwide, Oregon style, vote by mail will be a powerful first step."

A Riverside County congressional candidate for a seat help by Trump-lockstepper Ken Calvert, progressive Liam O'Mara is also a history professor. "It is one of the most poorly-kept secrets in American politics that not everyone involved in it likes democracy," he said today. "There is a vocal subset of Republican officials who scream about Democrats wanting to take our freedoms, while they quietly do the job themselves-- authoring and passing surveillance legislation, expanding police powers, eroding civil rights legislation through the courts, and engaging in active voter-suppression. This has long since moved past hypocrisy and into farce, and if we cannot find a way to reach the voters who enable these figures, we will find ourselves living under permanent minority rule as the kind of "managed democracy" we see in places like Russia. If we're not willing to fight back for basic liberties like voting, then the act could lose meaning, becoming a rubber-stamp for a minority party, and our freedom be stamped out with it. We need to extend and secure voting rights, not let them be stripped from more each year. Enough is enough. Are we to be a republic or a party dictatorship? Talk to your Republican friends. Help them to understand that partisan divisions are being exploited to undermine what it means to be an American. If we can't talk to each other again, we may lose those values to which we pledged our allegiance."

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Conservatives Want Government To Run Like Corporations-- As The Former President Of A Big One, I Can Tell You That Would Mean A Hundred Million Americans Would Die Before The Pandemic Ends


Generally speaking, corporations run for just one reason: profit for the shareholders and-- dirty little secret-- profit for the largely unfettered management team. I wasn't really the president of a corporation-- just the president of a division of one, TimeWarner.

See these half dozen fellas? They run 6 U.S. health insurance companies. They're all grotesquely overpaid. Suppose the U.S. went back to an Eisenhower era tax structure for the super-wealthy-- with a top marginal rate of 91%. What that meant was that any individual making over $200,000 (something like $2 million in today's money) would pay 91% on the income over $200,000. Let's round it down to favor of the plutocrats to 90% on anything over $2 million. This is very roughly what these corporate CEOs would be left with after the 90% tax:
Michael Neidorff, Centene- $3.91 million
David Cordani, Cigna- $3.72 million
Bruce Broussard, Humana- $4.52 million
Barry Smith, Magellan- $2.63 million
David Wichmann, United Health- $3.95 million
Ken Burdick, Wellcare- $3.9 million
That would never work-- unless all corporate CEOs across all industries were subject to the same rate. Then it would make sense and it would work fine. All these fellas would still be rich and, more important, as rich as their peers.

Corporate America-- just like the conservative politicians they own and who bolster the status quo that puts them at the top of the heap (and so much richer than, say school teachers, firemen, medical care responders...)-- has failed our society again and again. The pandemic makes that crystal clear even to those with clouded vision and washed brains. On Thursday Washington Post reporters Jeanne Whalen, Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger wrote about how the mask shortage shows exactly why corporate rule is bad for America. Mike Roman has been the CEO of Minnesota-based 3M for about two years. His assail compensation is $9,843,753. Trump attacked 3M on Thursday, trying to shift the blame away from his own narcissism, incompetence and dysfunctional regime. Roman replied yesterday:

Month ago, Pence visited 3M, the top manufacturer of protective masks and ventilators. The company had already doubled its mask manufacturing output in January, when Trump was still calling the pandemic a hoax and taking no serious action to prepare for it at all. Pence praised Roman at the time. The Post reported that "With its factories in South Dakota and Nebraska cranked up and running around the clock, 3M was on pace to double its global output to nearly 100 million a month, according to the company. But in a private meeting shortly before Pence spoke publicly, company leaders had warned the vice president that 3M had a problem, according to people familiar with the session, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door discussion. Chief executive Michael Roman said he was concerned that repurposing the company’s industrial masks, which made up the bulk of its production, for use by doctors and nurses could leave the company vulnerable to lawsuits. The lack of a liability waiver from Congress-- a protection the industry has sought for years-- would hinder full distribution of the gear, he said. While all N95 masks, also known as respirators, filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles, masks for construction and medical use vary in design and fit-- and are subject to different regulations. The liability issue, which set off a scramble by Pence’s aides, was one of a number of roadblocks that delayed the distribution of a basic protective item desperately needed to stem the spread of the virus."
The confluence of a slow initial response by the Trump administration, its wariness of compelling the industry to produce gear and a long-running debate about granting manufacturers legal protection in a health emergency contributed to a critical shortage of masks to front-line workers, according to an examination by the Washington Post of the early weeks of the crisis.

On Thursday evening, hours after this report published online, Trump announced he had invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to compel 3M to provide more N95 masks for use by medical workers in the United States, a sharp turnabout in the administration’s posture toward the company.

Trump later tweeted: “We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. ‘P Act’ all the way. Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing-- will have a big price to pay!”

The dearth of masks for medical workers in the United States, despite weeks of warnings as the virus ravaged parts of China and Italy, has become symbolic of the nation’s wider failure to properly prepare for the pandemic.

The first coronavirus case in the United States was reported Jan. 21 in the state of Washington. By early February, the federal government had declared a public health emergency. But it took nearly a month, until March 2, for the Food and Drug Administration to issue an emergency order giving manufacturers formal blessing to begin repurposing industrial masks for health-care workers, a necessary step to getting construction masks into hospitals.

It was another two weeks before Congress passed and President Trump signed emergency legislation that included the protection against lawsuits that 3M sought, settling a long-running political battle over liability when industrial masks are used in health emergencies.

The liability waiver-- which was then extended to future health emergencies in the $2 trillion stimulus package-- helped open the floodgates. 3M is on track to distribute at least 31 million masks to health-care workers this month, up from 5 million a month it was providing earlier this year, according to the company and White House officials.

On March 21, the federal government awarded manufacturers contracts to produce about 600 million N95 masks over the next 18 months to supplement the private sector’s supply.

By then, the virus had been spreading in the United States for two months, and the need for masks was so dire that some doctors in Seattle and New York were reusing them or making their own from craft supplies.

“It is a basic role of government to provide defense, in this case against a public contagion. But they have not met the test,” said Rhonda Medows, a doctor in hard-hit Seattle, who serves as an executive with one of the region’s largest medical centers.

The need to dramatically ramp up U.S. production and distribution of masks should have been apparent early on in the crisis, former disaster preparedness officials said. For years, public health advocates had warned that the U.S. national stockpile of medical supplies was woefully inadequate. Domestic mask makers had repeatedly tried to sound the alarm about the country’s overreliance on foreign-made masks-- a problem that became acute when China shut down its factories as the virus swept through that country.

Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for Pence, said the vice president worked intently on procuring more masks from the moment Trump tapped him to lead the coronavirus response in late February.

“We were trying to do this in any way that we could, as fast as we could, understanding the urgency of the issue,” she said.

...Roman, the company’s CEO, said in a March 22 statement that the new law helped “ensure that all N95 disposable respirators can be used in healthcare settings, and has enabled us to increase distribution to those workers beginning this weekend.”

3 M declined to comment on Roman’s private remarks in his meeting with Pence. In a statement, the company said it did not delay shipments, adding that it shipped more than 1.35 million industrial masks to health-care customers in the two weeks before the law was signed. But the company acknowledged the volume increased after it secured liability protection.

“Don’t talk to your lawyers if you’re making masks or gowns or ventilators,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University School of Medicine. “See where the need is and get moving as fast as you can.”

In the past week, 3M said it delivered 10 million N95 respirators to health-care facilities across the country. The company is now manufacturing 35 million N95 masks a month in the United States, more than 90 percent of which are designated for health care-workers, it said, and expects to be up to 50 million a month in June. 3M did not respond to questions about the mix of medical versus industrial masks it is now producing.

Still, the need is outstripping supply, industry officials and health-care experts said.

Until Thursday, the Trump administration had refused to use one major tool at its disposal, the Defense Production Act, to force companies to produce and distribute masks, part of a pattern of showing deference to private industry in fighting the outbreak.

Instead, the president had praised companies that had volunteered to help produce masks. On Sunday, Trump outraged many doctors and nurses by questioning whether they need as many masks as they have requested, even suggesting without evidence that some were being squandered or “going out the back door.”

“We’re delivering millions and millions of different products and all we do is hear that, ‘Can you get some more?’ ” he told reporters on Sunday, citing the case of a New York hospital where mask usage has spiked. “I don’t think it’s hoarding; I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding.”

A global crunch

For two decades, experts on pandemics have cited the need for mass stockpiles of protective equipment and rapid production to replace quickly diminished supplies as key steps to contain outbreaks.

“What was done in the U.S. in early January-- in those precious weeks-- would have been critical,” said Christopher M. Kirchhoff, a former Pentagon and White House national security aide who worked on the Ebola mobilization and later put together a “lessons learned” report about the experience.

...In a normal year, the U.S. health-care system uses about 25 million medical N95s, according to Premier, an organization that helps hospitals purchase supplies. Many of the masks are disposable and meant to be used once.

HHS has estimated that the United States could need as many as 3.5 billion N95 masks during a pandemic.

A 2016 planning document prepared by the National Security Council called on the White House to prioritize procuring protective equipment in case of a pandemic. The planning guide, first reported by Politico, drew on the expertise of multiple agencies. It was developed by a White House medical preparedness task force established by President Barack Obama but disbanded by the Trump administration in 2018. White House officials have said the task force’s functions were folded into another office.

At the time, the issue was hypothetical. Now, nations around the world are grappling with the sheer scope of the need. Massive quantities of the filtration masks are sought now not just in the United States, but also in nearly every nation of the world.

The need has spiked just as countries have closed borders and worked to stockpile their own supplies.

“The pressure is just so intense because of the global nature of this,” said Khatereh Calleja, president of the Healthcare Supply Chain Association.

Despite known worries about possible pandemics, manufacturers said one reason for the shortage has been a decision by many hospitals to adopt just-in-time purchasing of items such as masks as a cost-saving mechanism.

“Manufacturers don’t carry inventory, and if you do, you are less competitive,” said Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association, a trade group that represents mask-makers. “They produce what they need to satisfy orders. That’s what has happened to global manufacturing.”

American manufacturers have also been warning for years that more and more production of medical supplies, including masks, has been relocated overseas, including to China. That has reduced costs for American health-care companies but has made the supply chain more vulnerable to global pandemics.

China, which experienced the world’s first coronavirus outbreak, was quick to stop exporting masks its own doctors and nurses needed at home, making stockpiling more difficult in recent months, U.S. health-care executives say.

An analysis by the Associated Press last month found that there had been no shipments of medical grade N95 masks from China since Feb. 19 and only 13 shipments of nonmedical N95 masks, which was about half as many that had arrived in the same period a year earlier.

To satisfy demand in the case of emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government in 1999 established the Strategic National Stockpile, a last-resort cache of drugs and supplies intended to be tapped only in moments of crisis.

But the national stockpile was significantly depleted during the H1N1 influenza outbreak of 2009, when 85 million N95 respirators were distributed from the cache, and was never significantly replenished despite repeated warnings and requests from health-care and industry groups.

Federal officials said in March that the stockpile contained about 12 million N95 respirators and 30 million surgical masks, a tiny percentage of what is now needed by health-care workers and emergency responders.

The Trump administration has begun distributing the meager supplies, but with so much more demand than supply, many states have received only a fraction of their requests.

By this week, the stockpile was nearly exhausted, The Post reported Wednesday.

In a statement, HHS said Secretary Alex Azar pushed for more funding for the stockpile and began transferring supplies to Washington state, site of the nation’s first outbreak, on March 1.

The agency noted, however, that “health care supply chains are private sector driven.”

Some experts said mask production and distribution could have been accelerated if Trump had more quickly embraced the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that gives the commander in chief the power to marshal resources in time of war and order industrial manufacturers to produce specific items.

“The administration has considerable power in this regard,” said Nicole Lurie, who served as a top HHS official in the Obama administration.

Trump did invoke the act last week to compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators to help handle the surge of coronavirus patients. On Thursday, he used the act to force six companies to facilitate the supply of materials for ventilators, along with ordering 3M to provide more masks.

“We are, as you know, using the act, but we use it only when necessary,” he told reporters last week. “We use it as leverage. We generally don’t have to use it to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”

...Agency officials did not say what caused the delay or respond directly to a question about whether they regretted not moving faster. In a statement, the FDA said it began creating “a more streamlined access to market” for some protective masks in 2018.

On March 10-- five days after Pence visited 3M-- Azar went further, using his authority under a law adopted during the avian flu outbreak to declare that manufacturers, distributors and other parties would be immune from federal and state lawsuits if they distributed products in accordance with the FDA emergency action. Instead, the federal government would assume the liability risk.

But manufacturers wanted the protections to be reinforced in new legislation.

“Whether or not the agency chooses to issue that order, it had to be tested in a court of law,” Johnson said. “Without clear cut legislative action that allows the government to take on that liability... our members would still face our day in court.”

Jonathan Moreno, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said a pandemic was the wrong time for companies to dwell on their liability concerns.

The dire medical need “was very clear in early March,” he said. “You didn’t have to be a fancy epidemiologist or Dr. [Anthony S.] Fauci to know what was coming,” referring to the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The liability language that the industry was seeking was included in an early draft of the first coronavirus relief act that Trump signed into law on March 6, but House Democrats cut the language, according to people familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), who opposed including the provision in that bill, said what the industry wanted amounted to “an indefinite blanket liability.”

Democrats agreed to include key liability protections that the industry was seeking in the second coronavirus-related bill, passed on March 18. It explicitly covered many industrial masks used to combat coronavirus until October 2024.

Pallone said he agreed with that approach because it was a “targeted liability waiver” with an end date.

On March 19, the day after the bill was signed into law, Pence described the measure as having opened the floodgates.

“Following the signing of last night’s bill, all of those masks now have liability protection and the companies can sell industrial masks to hospitals,” he said during the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing.

Standing beside him, Trump echoed that view. “They had a big problem with liability,” he said, in an apparent reference to 3M.

Roman, the company’s CEO, also cast the law as a game-changer.

“As I write this, more than 500,000 respirators are on the way from our South Dakota plant to two of the more critically impacted areas, New York and Seattle, with arrivals expected starting tomorrow. We are also ready to expedite additional shipments across the country,” he said in a statement.

Later in the month, the industry got even more cover when Senate Republicans included liability protection as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package, over the objections of some Democrats, who had said such a move would give away too much.

“Let me be very clear that this provides immunity for respirator manufacturers from this point forward,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) during a floor debate over the measure in mid-March.

The final bill-- which waived manufacturer liability for more types of industrial masks used during the coronavirus crisis, as well as future public-health emergencies-- was signed into law by Trump on Friday.

Last night, Bill Maher asked Bernie what he would do right now if he were president. Bernie-- as you would guess-- was more than ready for that question! Watch what he told Maher and his audience-- in great detail for TV. Maher, of course, asked the standard "How are you going to pay for it?"

Labels: , ,