Monday, June 29, 2020

A Nation In Crisis-- A Presidency On The Skids... And A Reelection Campaign Up Shit's Creek Without A Paddle


The picture John Harwood painted of the incompetent, traitorous boob in the Oval Office for CNN over the weekend wasn't attractive: impulsive, self-destructive and self-defeating. These traits help explain how he's driven U.S. pandemic response into a ditch where thousands of Americans will needlessly die. As of Sunday, the U.S. had over 2.6 million confirmed cases and almost 130,000 deaths. From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, 84,121 new cases drove the cases per million from 7,844 to 7,967.

Evidence of Harwood's description of Trump: his refusal to wearing masks during the pandemic. "His dogged stance, mimicked by supporters," wrote Harwood, "undercuts efforts by public health officials to stop the summer resurgence of coronavirus. That in turn impedes efforts to revive the US economy, now staggering under the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Failures on both fronts has left Trump in a deep hole on his pre-eminent priority of winning reelection. And they leave public health experts mystified... In April, Trump said a masked president wouldn't look right. More recently, he suggested some Americans wear masks to signal disapproval of him."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading infectious disease authority, initially opposed mask-wearing by average Americans for fear of draining supplies needed for health care workers. Fauci later reversed course, saying last week that those still balking at mask-wearing need to "get past" political objections and "look at the data."

Yet Trump leads a party that, by ideology and temperament, has grown deeply skeptical of government mandates and scientific expertise. Many in the GOP, which increasingly relies on white voters without college degrees, look askance at higher education itself.

So libertarian Republicans oppose mask requirements as infringements on personal choice, while others on the fringes see plots against their freedom. Of 20 states that have implemented broad mask-wearing requirements, just four have Republican governors.

GOP politicians still have room to lead. In a recent Fox News poll, 68% of Republicans expressed favorable views of people who wear masks, even if they're less likely to consider masks important themselves.

"This is due to the misinformation surrounding mask-wearing, as well as their skepticism about a mask's capacity to help stop the spread," the GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies concluded in a recent analysis of attitudes in Ohio.

Trump could correct that misinformation. Had he done so two months ago, says Democratic public health expert Andy Slavitt, the US would have suppressed the virus enough by now to "have an open economy and no mask-wearing."

If 95% of Americans wore masks now, a University of Washington health institute projects, 33,0000 fewer people would die by October 1. As imprecise as such projections are, a swelling body of research agrees masks would significantly reduce the spread of infection.

"Universal masking is the most obvious and least intrusive intervention that states with large epidemics can now reach for," Gottlieb, the former Trump administration official, tweeted last week.

As the pandemic worsens, McClellan hopes "reality will set in" and produce "leadership on the conservative side." There are signs of movement.

Trump's deferential Vice President Mike Pence has begun wearing masks in some public appearances. Trump-friendly Republican governors in the Sunbelt, who earlier followed the President's call to re-open their economies before public health officials considered it safe, have been shaken by rising infection among their constituents.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida still won't require mask-wearing in public as cases hit record levels, but he let local governments do so.

"Everyone should just wear a damn mask," GOP Sen. Marco Rubio said.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona adopted the same stance as DeSantis. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) continues to resist mandatory statewide mask-wearing, but now praises local officials for requiring them at businesses.

The mask mandate imposed by the city of Phoenix gave Trump a fresh example to shift course last week when he traveled there to address conservative students. The stakes had been raised days earlier by his Tulsa reelection rally.

Eight campaign staffers and two Secret Service agents involved in that event had tested positive for coronavirus. Lackluster attendance in a deep-red state-- the Tulsa arena was two-thirds empty-- underscored public fears of indoor crowds.

But Trump let the opportunity pass. He ignored the Phoenix mask mandate, and allowed his audience to do the same.
Meanwhile, Washington Post reporters Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb concluded that after 5 months of Trump's pandemic leadership, the U.S. has failed and looks worse than ever, a record surge in new cases "the clearest sign yet of the country’s historic failure to control the virus-- exposing a crisis in governance extending from the Oval Office to state capitals to city councils."

They reiterated how Trump, "who has repeatedly downplayed the virus, sidelined experts and misled Americans about its dangers and potential cures-- now finds his presidency wracked by an inability to shepherd the country through its worst public health calamity in a century. The dysfunction that has long characterized Trump’s White House has been particularly ill-suited for a viral outbreak that requires precision, focus and steady leadership, according to public health experts, administration officials and lawmakers from both parties."
As case numbers began rising again, Trump has held rallies defying public health guidelines, mused about slowing down testing for the virus, criticized people wearing masks and embraced the racially offensive “kung flu” nickname for a disease that has killed at least 123,000 Americans.

A similarly garbled message for the country has also been put forward by the president’s top aides and other senior administration officials, who contradict one another on a daily basis. On Friday, Vice President Pence used the first White House coronavirus task force briefing in almost two months to praise Trump’s handling of the virus and cast aside concerns about a record spike in new infections.

“We have made a truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward,” Pence said, a few minutes after announcing that more than 2.5 million Americans had contracted the coronavirus. “We’ve all seen the encouraging news as we open up America again.”

Later Friday, the United States recorded more than 40,000 new coronavirus cases-- its largest one-day total.

It was the latest example of whiplash from the Trump administration, which has struggled to put forward a consistent message about the pandemic. While public health experts urge caution and preventive measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, Trump, Pence and other top aides repeatedly flout their advice, leaving confused Americans struggling to determine who to believe.

“They’re creating a cognitive dissonance in the country,” one former senior administration official said. “It’s more than them being asleep at the wheel. They’re confusing people at this point when we need to be united.”

...America’s position as the world’s leader in coronavirus cases and deaths is in large part the result of human error, and the still-rising caseload stands as a stark reminder of the blunders that have characterized the national response. Trump’s actions, and his position in the Oval Office, make him a central figure in any assessment of the country’s handling of the outbreak.

...As local officials struggled to enforce stay-at-home orders and other restrictions, the virus continued to circulate throughout a country riven by partisan politics and devoid of a national public health strategy, said Max Skidmore, a political scientist at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and author of a book on presidential leadership during health crises.

“We’re the only country in the world that has politicized the approach to a pandemic,” he said.

Now, covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is advancing at an accelerated pace in the United States, even as other countries reopen their economies after getting their outbreaks under control. European diplomats are poised to approve an agreement that will reopen the European Union to travel from many countries but not American tourists, because the coronavirus is still raging in the United States.

In contrast, states from Arizona to Florida are pausing or reversing their attempts to reopen their economies.

The new peak in cases-- coming so quickly after the first and with just months to go before a presidential election and an impending flu season-- has alarmed public health experts and the president’s political allies.

...The president has dramatically scaled back the number of coronavirus meetings on his schedule in recent weeks, instead holding long meetings on polling and endorsements, his reelection campaign, the planned Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Fla., the economy and other topics, according to two advisers, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

While Pence continues to convene weekly calls with governors to discuss coronavirus testing, supplies and other issues, Trump no longer participates, the advisers said. Trump now receives his updates on the coronavirus effort from Pence, officials said.

Trump’s intense focus on his campaign comes as he has been sliding in public polling and trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden, who is winning support from voters who disapprove of the president’s handling of the pandemic and the accompanying economic recession. Some Republican officials have tried to advise the president to focus more intently on managing the public health crisis at hand, arguing that doing so would help his political standing-- and theirs-- while also speeding along the economic recovery.

But Trump has shown little indication that he plans to re-engage on shepherding a national coronavirus response in the wake of surging cases. He has expressed frustration to aides that he was criticized for a lack of adequate testing and is now not being given enough credit for the 500,000 daily tests that are currently being conducted, officials said. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the caseload is only going up because of the increasing number of tests, and he has openly discussed reducing testing.

“The number of ChinaVirus cases goes up, because of GREAT TESTING, while the number of deaths (mortality rate), goes way down,” Trump wrote Thursday on Twitter.

In several states, where hospitalizations and positivity rates are sharply increasing, Trump’s words offer little comfort to governors trying to figure out how to respond to a burgeoning crisis.

Some states are still struggling to procure testing kits and supplies for the kits, including swabs, and have pleaded for the federal government to play a larger role in coordinating purchases, resolving supply shortages and distributing the tests. Doctors and health-care facilities are still grappling with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), including private doctors’ offices that cannot perform routine procedures safely because they do not have the necessary equipment, according to the American Medical Association.

“It is not clear to us how the administration has distributed PPE across the country during the pandemic, but having a single national coordinated strategy would help ensure that states, hospitals, physician offices and other facilities have a single, centralized authority to work through to acquire essential PPE,” said American Medical Association President Susan R. Bailey.

Politicization of the pandemic has left many Republican governors to choose between staying a doomed public health course while touting economic recovery or acting on recommendations from public health experts who Trump has dismissed.

We know what COVID-Ron is trying to sell

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, even as Florida’s cases jumped by 62 percent from its previous high of 5,511 on Wednesday to a new high of 8,942 on Friday. His argument, made publicly as recently as Thursday, is that not all parts of the state are experiencing the same level of outbreak, and therefore they should not be subject to a one-size-fits-all approach. The state announced Friday that all bars must shut down on-site consumption, three weeks after they reopened.

In Arizona, public health experts and local officials largely credit lobbying efforts by mayors for pushing Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to reverse his position and allow cities to implement mask requirements as they saw fit.

Kristen Pogreba-Brown, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, said she found it “disgusting” to watch politics penetrate considerations about public health precautions. She pointed in particular to issues of testing following the president’s erroneous suggestion that increased testing is to blame for the scope of the outbreak.

“The fact that we don’t have a federal testing program is pretty embarrassing, frankly,” she said, noting that her university is developing its own in-house testing system, because “we don’t have faith people can go out and get tested in the community.”

More than five months after the first test for the coronavirus was conducted in the United States, testing equipment is still being doled out based on which states manage to get federal officials on the phone to press their case. After a recent weekend that saw demand for testing outstrip capacity, the governor’s office in Arizona placed a call to the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Daniel Ruiz, Ducey’s chief operating officer. Within 24 hours, they had secured expedited access to a rapid Roche testing machine, he said.

Some states are banding together to issue quarantine orders against visitors from regions with rising cases, further highlighting the lack of a federal standard. Conspiracy theories about masks, vaccines and social distancing have abounded, threatening to stymie local leaders’ attempts to enforce public health guidelines.

Trump’s willingness to ignore ordinances on masks and large crowds has added to the sense of confusion, public health experts said.

“Any time there is politicization of an infectious-disease response, it makes it much harder to intervene,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. People are “less likely to actually listen to public health authorities on what are the best actions to take and how to take them because they think that everything has been politicized in that there is no truth-- it’s truth from Democrats or Republicans, rather than the truth,” Adalja said.

The White House has played a central role in undermining the kind of clear and consistent messaging experts say is necessary to mount a successful public health response to a viral outbreak, current and former administration officials said.

...The partisanship that has come to surround mask-wearing was on stark display on Capitol Hill on Friday, as House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) convened a hearing of the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis.

Clyburn and the other committee Democrats attended wearing masks, while the committee’s Republican members were maskless, which led to angry exchanges.

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-MD) accused Republican members who were maskless of provoking “terror and fear in your colleagues and perhaps your staff.”

Republicans, several of whom had worn masks into the hearing room before taking them off, contended that they could practice social distancing safely while seated maskless at the dais.

“We are six feet apart. We don’t need a mask,” said Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), who is a physician.

Publicly, GOP lawmakers remain largely supportive of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, declining to put any blame on him or the federal response for the upward trend in infections. They generally say the decision-making responsibility now lies with state governments, and that individual citizens bear the onus for responsible behavior to hold down infections.

The CDC is sending teams to states experiencing outbreaks, rather than following the usual policy of waiting for states to ask for help. The agency has sent nearly 150 people out to about 20 states, a federal official said, including California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. It has about three dozen more staffers awaiting deployment to hot spots to provide technical assistance, epidemiological support, surveillance and contact tracing, the official said.

While Trump has attacked some Democratic governors for their handling of the virus, its recent spread in Republican-led states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, South Carolina and Oklahoma has complicated the politics around the president’s response.

Officials in some states that have contained much of the virus’s spread have called on Republican leaders in other states to take drastic measures to get control of the disease.

“As painful as it is, you’ve got to overdo it in terms of the aggressiveness in which you shut things down,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in an interview.

While several Republican governors resisted shutdown efforts during the spring, some have begun to warn their residents that they are hardly immune.

Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s top health officer, told residents recently to be prepared for a lack of a hospital bed if they crash their cars or a lack of ventilators if they suffer a heart attack.

“If we’re not careful,” he said, “Mississippi will look like New York.”

States where governors followed Trump's absurd politicalization of the pandemic are the states experiencing the second spike of the first wave. A vaccine-- a real one, not a Trump one-- could save them, but one has to wonder just how many cases it will take states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Iowa, the Carolinas, even Mississippi and Alabama before majorities of voters give up on the Republican Party and consign their candidates to political oblivion. (I didn't mention Wyoming because it's the country's lost cause and if everyone the state but ne person dies of COVID-19, that last person will still vote for Trump, for Cynthia Lummis, and for Liz Cheney.)
Florida +8,530
Texas +4,330
Arizona +3,857
Georgia +2,225
Iowa +478
South Carolina +1,381
Alabama +358
Mississippi +361

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At 6:29 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I make it a point to not attempt a rational discussion with anyone who simply insults whoever they disagree with, rather than dealing with the issues involved. So let’s try considering an important issue…rationally, without rancor, or name-calling.

Let me begin this hopeful debate by pointing out that I am not a master chef, not a trained auto mechanic, not a physician, and certainly not a certified psychiatrist. However, I know when an omelet’s been burnt, when a finger is broken, when my car’s brakes don’t work, and when a person is mentally deranged.

Naturally, I might very well be wrong in any or all of these instances. I could be in a restaurant in France, where I’m told that omelets are typically reheated and browned on the bottom. That “broken” finger may simply be a congenital condition with no serious consequences. I could, and have, accidentally put my foot on the wrong pedal. And the object of my “analysis” could simply be clowning.

But, should actual experts in any of these fields make such “diagnoses at a distance”? That is a serious question, which is a crucial one in these troubled times. Here goes my attempt to answer it.

Not being a psychiatrist, I see no reason why I can’t state unequivocally, and based entirely on his tweets, speeches, interviews, and his public statements, that President Donald Trump is mentally ill.

But, should a professional psychiatrist make such a statement about our President? My answer is “yes”. Diagnosis at a distance by professionals in their field of expertise is ordinarily, at the very least, an absurdity. But, as in many instances in this life, actions which may be flat-out wrong in most instances could, under extenuating circumstances, be essential.

Since Donald Trump is clearly one of the most powerful persons on earth, can order someone killed without being held to account, may even plunge us into war through his position as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces…public recognition of his fragile mental condition by psychiatrists is not only acceptable but even required.

It has been some years since I’ve read Gulliver’s Travels, but I do remember that the protagonist did what would ordinarily be regarded as an unpardonable having made use of his giant stature and the contents of his bladder to urinate on the Lilliputian monarch’s palace. But it was on fire, and that was the only water readily available.

Maybe now is indeed the time when psychiatrists must commit what would ordinarily be an inexcusable offense, which consists of diagnosing a person at a distance. However, this time the subject is a person who could do, and has already done, irreparable damage to others, to this country, and even to the world.

And, perhaps, psychiatrists are even justified in analyzing at a distance anyone who can casually overlook the evidence that President Donald Trump is clearly showing signs of a serious mental illness.
John A. Broussard

At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, your circumspection is laudable.

It would appear that the sheepdogs are going to keep plugging the covid malfeasance hoping it convinces a few more of the potted plants to bother to show up to vote the malfeasers out. That the argument is fatally flawed won't matter to potted plants, who long-ago abandoned reasoned thought for the ease and convenience of accepting the direction of the sheepdogs of their choice.

"...the country’s historic failure to control the virus-- exposing a crisis in governance extending from the Oval Office to state capitals to city councils."

The crisis in governance has been ongoing for 4 decades and is manifold. It extends to all levels and areas of governance. Unless you are a single-issue Nazi and are orgasmic at finally having your fuhrer "elected" to rule the reich, you should know this... because your everyday experience reinforces your knowledge.

But the thing is... you don't. The proof is in the fact that you support an opposition to the Nazis that isn't... that has not served a single one of your needs or interests in 40 years. In one case, the best you can say is the democraps did not get in the way (LGBTQ rights. But neither did the democraps get in the way of the Nazis constant efforts to deny those rights).

I would further note that the new spread/spike/wave of covid infections is NOT ONLY the fault of leadershit, that we keep electing. It is clearly the fault of colossally stupid and evil americans who SHOULD know better than to whiplash back to non-distancing sans masks just because the president and governors and mayors are all morons and cowards who have one and only one interest -- getting re-elected.

Is it telling that their way to appeal to their voters is to be morons and cowards?

The problems in America all boil down to one thing: American voters are dumber than shit and far too many of them are pure evil.

when those conditions exist, it is impossible to imagine any form of democracy being anything but shit.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" has to wonder just how many cases it will take states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Iowa, the Carolinas, even Mississippi and Alabama before majorities of voters give up on the Republican Party and consign their candidates to political oblivion."

In his epic work, The Authoritarians [available for free download], Robert Altemeyer discovered that those who follow authoritarians like Trump are absolutely willing to mindlessly act in defense of the cause if their leader tells them it is necessary. Everyone else and everything else is to be disdainfully discarded.

The only cause right now is for Trump to remain as The Leader (I refuse to use the title of his office with his vile name) despite the massive heaps of evidence clearly showing that to continue down this path is a recipe for disaster. Why? I'll let Altemeyer explain:

"...research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and--to top it all off--a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic."

"They can be woefully uninformed about things they oppose, but they prefer
ignorance and want to make others become as ignorant as they."

"They scorn such noble acts as helping others, and being kind, charitable, and
forgiving. Instead they would rather be feared than loved, and be viewed as mean,
pitiless, and vengeful."

"Their image of themselves as the good people leaves no room for believing they
are cold-blooded, ruthless, immoral manipulators after power at almost any cost. So
[authoritarian leaders] might incite authoritarian followers to commit a hate crime, but the dominators and followers probably launch the attack for different reasons: the dominator out of meanness, as an act of intimidation and control; the follower out of fear and self-righteousness in the name of authority."

"Authoritarian followers want to belong, and being part of their in-group means
a lot to them. Loyalty to that group ranks among the highest virtues, and members of
the group who question its leaders or beliefs can quickly be seen as traitors.

To sum up, this nation remains a long way from acting as the quote I selected desires. Too many remain oblivious to the dangers because Trump tells them to be that way. The media makes sure that Trump gets a ridiculous amount of coverage which keeps things that way. And the Republican Party will ensure that voter suppression and outright electoral theft doesn't allow the forces of change to remove them from power.

Only when the horrors unleashed upon this nation have done their work on them and theirs will these authoritarian follows finally pause and realize what they allowed to happen. They will ask why someone didn't warn them.

What they won't know, and will refuse to learn, is that many did try to warn them. They were too busy aiding and abetting evil to bother to notice, because they were benefiting.

There will be no political oblivion. To steal a metaphor from a regular commenter on these threads, there are far too many potted plants for that to happen.

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

outstanding comment, 1:14. Altemeyer does paint a picture, that we've all been looking directly at since the election of Nixon.

I must only disagree mildly. they are not oblivious because trump tells them to be. They are oblivious because they are nearly as stupid as the potted plants on the left... relentlessly so. Their limbic motives and reflexes have been well described. But not their lack of potential to have an epiphany, even as they are being, literally, killed.

Various reports about the preponderance of belief in National Socialism in Germany and Austria even after their total defeat in WWII and even after the forced witnessing of places like Auschwitz show that a sizeable majority of those who were not killed still believed that National Socialism was virtuous, but was badly administered.

There were, sadly, scant few Reverent Niemollers.

These people do evil because they ARE EVIL. It's really pretty simple.

We on the left still need to emphasize, whenever possible, that a very big, maybe the biggest, reason we have trump and naziism is because the potted plants keep propping up a feckless opposition that isn't/can't/won't.
And, also, that the MAJORITY who do not vote have no candidates nor party worth showing up for.

At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK - you are generalizing about voters in Wyoming again. No, we will not all vote for tRump, Lummis or Cheney. Please try to understand that not everyone in Wyoming is a rethuglican idiot!

At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, generalizing. But the curve is heavily weighted toward the evil end of the spectrum.

the stupid curve is equally distributed between Nazi and fascist. But not the evil.

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jackson cannot out-balance the rest of WY, 7:20. Any state which allows drive-through liquor stores doesn't show much potential for improvement.


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