Lazy Caturday Reads: Trumpism Isn’t Over Yet

Room with Curved Window Cat and Bird, Paul Wonner

Room with Curved Window Cat and Bird, by Paul Wonner

Good Afternoon!!

It’s great to finally have a normal president who actually cares about the American people and isn’t completely focused on his own needs. But it’s going to take a long time for the country to recover from four years of Trump. For one thing, Trumpism still controls the Republican Party. There is also the aftermath of Trump’s immigration and tax policies as well as his destructive influence on nearly every aspect of the Federal government, including the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security and the intelligence community, as well as his efforts to corrupt U.S. elections. And of course Trump had a dramatic impact on the Supreme Court that will likely last for decades. In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the continuing influences of Trumpism in our politics and our justice system.

Trump loves the death penalty, and his first SCOTUS appointee Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote that led the execution of an innocent man in Arkansas in 2017.

The New York Times: 4 Years After an Execution, a Different Man’s DNA Is Found on the Murder Weapon. Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.

For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.

“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview published on April 19, 2017 — the day before officials in Arkansas administered the lethal injection.

Girl with a Cat, Franz Marke

Girl with a Cat, by Franz Marke

Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man….

Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug….

Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern on the Gorsuch vote, April 21, 2017

On Thursday night, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee—the state’s first execution in 12 years. Lee is one of eight men whom Arkansas originally planned to kill over 11 days before one drug in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail expires. Four of these men have received stays of execution, but Lee’s final plea to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected by a 5–4 vote. Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote allowing Lee to die. It was his first recorded vote cast as a justice of the court….

with Gorsuch’s vote, the court’s conservatives were able to ignore their four liberal colleagues and permit the execution. Lee was given midazolam, then a drug to paralyze and suffocate him—which may have been purchased under false pretenses. Finally, the state administered a chemical to stop his heart. Lee was declared dead shortly before midnight, Central Time. Had one more justice voted in his favor, Lee would still be alive today.

Lisa Lerer at The New York Times on Trump continued control of his party: Marooned at Mar-a-Lago, Trump Still Has Iron Grip on Republicans.

Locked out of Facebook, marooned in Mar-a-Lago and mocked for an amateurish new website, Donald J. Trump remained largely out of public sight this week. Yet the Republican Party’s capitulation to the former president became clearer than ever, as did the damage to American politics he has caused with his lie that the election was stolen from him.

Jennifer Gennari

Painting by Jennifer Gennari

In Washington, Republicans moved to strip Representative Liz Cheney of her House leadership position, a punishment for denouncing Mr. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud as a threat to democracy. Lawmakers in Florida and Texas advanced sweeping new measures that would curtail voting, echoing the fictional narrative from Mr. Trump and his allies that the electoral system was rigged against him. And in Arizona, the state Republican Party started a bizarre re-examination of the November election results that involved searching for traces of bamboo in last year’s ballots.

The churning dramas cast into sharp relief the extent to which the nation, six months after the election, is still struggling with the consequences of an unprecedented assault by a losing presidential candidate on a bedrock principle of American democracy: that the nation’s elections are legitimate.

They also provided stark evidence that the former president has not only managed to squelch any dissent within his party but has also persuaded most of the G.O.P. to make a gigantic bet: that the surest way to regain power is to embrace his pugilistic style, racial divisiveness and beyond-the-pale conspiracy theories rather than to court the suburban swing voters who cost the party the White House and who might be looking for substantive policies on the pandemic, the economy, health care and other issues.

“We’ve just gotten so far afield from any sane construction,” said Barbara Comstock, a longtime party official who was swept out of her suburban Virginia congressional seat in the 2018 midterm backlash to Mr. Trump. “It’s a real sickness that is infecting the party at every level. We’re just going to say that black is white now.”

Read more at the NYT link.

From the Editorial Board of the Financial Times: Republicans drift ever further into Trumpism. The right must find ways to head off disaster for party and country.

Six months after Trump was defeated in the US presidential election, no Republican can dispute his claim that Joe Biden stole it and expect to prosper among their peers. Facebook’s initial decision to suspend Trump’s account came after he had egged on the mob that assaulted Capitol Hill on January 6 in what was the most serious threat to American democracy since the civil war. Since then, Trump’s language has only grown more ominous. Republicans who think they can keep their head down and wait out the Trump era are probably deluding themselves. Trump is only consolidating his hold over their party — and shows every sign of planning a 2024 presidential run.

What should principled conservatives do? One option is to follow the example of Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, who correctly reminds her colleagues that last year’s election was legitimate and the assault on Congress was sedition. She will almost certainly be removed from her position next week.

August Macke

Painting by August Macke

This is nothing to do with ideology. Cheney is among the most conservative figures in the House. Elise Stefanik, who is set to replace her, is more moderate. Stefanik, however, has an unblemished record of echoing whatever Trump says, including that America’s voting is rigged. Like any revolution, the demands on its children grow more outlandish. The more preposterous the conspiracy theory, the greater the demonstration of loyalty from those who embrace it. The downsides to Cheney’s act of courage are obvious. She will lose her influence and ultimately even her Wyoming district to a Trump loyalist. Others among the principled holdouts, including Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, are also at risk.

A parallel line of attack would be to point out that Trump is already jeopardising his party’s hopes of regaining control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections, and the White House two years later. Trump lost the presidency, but his party did far better in non-presidential races. Millions of voters who endorsed Biden switched to Republicans down ballot. Not once in four years did Trump’s approval rating exceed 50 per cent. Biden’s has not yet fallen below that. 

Trump can keep the party united through fear of defenestration but his grip will make the party less appealing to the larger electorate. Sadly, there is little hope right now of severing Trump’s bonds to a party that is now largely his — 70 per cent of its voters say the election was stolen. 

Liz Cheney is getting a great deal of attention right now, and although I probably disagree with her on every political issue, I have to admire her principled stand against Trumpism. And now the GOP Trump cult is trying to excommunicate her.

The Washington Post: Liz Cheney’s months-long effort to turn Republicans from Trump threatens her reelection and ambitions. She says it’s only beginning.

Rep. Liz Cheney had been arguing for months that Republicans had to face the truth about former president Donald Trump — that he had lied about the 2020 election result and bore responsibility for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — when the Wyoming Republican sat down at a party retreat in April to listen to a polling briefing.

The refusal to accept reality, she realized, went much deeper.

When staff from the National Republican Congressional Committee rose to explain the party’s latest polling in core battleground districts, they left out a key finding about Trump’s weakness, declining to divulge the information even when directly questioned about Trump’s support by a member of Congress, according to two people familiar with what transpired.

Paul Wonner cat painting

Painting by Paul Wonner

Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in the core districts, according to the full polling results, which were later obtained by The Washington Post. Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.

Cheney was alarmed, she later told others, in part because Republican campaign officials had also left out bad Trump polling news at a March retreat for ranking committee chairs. Both instances, she concluded, demonstrated that party leadership was willing to hide information from their own members to avoid the truth about Trump and the possible damage he could do to Republican House members, even though the NRCC denied any such agenda.

Those behind-the-scenes episodes were part of a months-long dispute over Republican principles that has raged among House leaders and across the broader GOP landscape. That dispute is expected to culminate next week with a vote to remove Cheney from her position as the third-ranking House Republican.\At issue: Should the Republican Party continue to defend Trump’s actions and parrot his falsehoods, given his overwhelming support among GOP voters? Or does the party and its leaders need to directly confront the damage he has done?

I think we all know how that is going to turn out.

On the corruption of the Justice Department, Devlin Barrett broke this startling news yesterday at The Washington Post: Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Post reporters’ phone records.

The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.

In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.

Cameron Barr, The Post’s acting executive editor, said: “We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists. The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

Cat on Green Pilllow, August Mackee

Cat on Green Pilllow, August Macke

News organizations and First Amendment advocates have long decried the government practice of seizing journalists’ records in an effort to identify the sources of leaks, saying it unjustly chills critical newsgathering. The last such high-profile seizure of reporters’ communications records came several years ago as part of an investigation into the source of stories by a reporter who worked at BuzzFeed, Politico and the New York Times. The stories at issue there also centered around 2017 reporting on the investigation into Russian election interference.

It is rare for the Justice Department to use subpoenas to get records of reporters in leak investigations, and such moves must be approved by the attorney general. The letters do not say precisely when the reporters’ records were taken and reviewed, but a department spokesman said the decision to do so came in 2020, during the Trump administration. William P. Barr, who served as Trump’s attorney general for nearly all of that year, before departing Dec. 23, declined to comment.

A few more stories to check out:

The Washington Post: Trump’s out-of-power agenda: Retribution against foes, commanding the spotlight and total domination of GOP.

Joyce Vance at NBC News: Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s Barr rebuke opens the door to DOJ accountability.

CBS News: The Arizona GOP’s Maricopa County audit: What to know about it.

NBC News: Sen. Lindsey Graham says the GOP can’t move forward without Trump.

Brad Bannon at The Hill: GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories.

Have a great weekend everyone!! As always, this is an open thread.


Friday Reads: Push the Policy through NOW!

The Dance by André Derain, 1906,

Good Day Sky Dancers!

There was a pretty huge job fair in New Orleans this week alongside a first visit by President Biden to check out our dilapidated Sewage and Water infrastructure.   Our covid-19 cases have dropped and it’s a rare day when I see a death among the new case numbers.  It seems we should be recovering a bit more robustly.

We have eased some of our restrictions and there are inklings of brass bands returning to the streets to perform in distanced, open-air spaces.  However, the last few weekends of music I heard was the thumping of the worst of the worst from an ongoing illegal rave party at an abandoned gas station at the abandoned Navy Base. Last night, it went on until sunrise.  That kind of represents a type of Post Trump Dystopia Nightmare still lingering.

Bacchus dance, Andre Derain,  1906

Yes, Raves are so 1990s but for some reason, they’re back! I noticed that some Chinese Space debris is supposed to fall to earth today and I can’t help but wonder if I can psychically move the falling debris to take out that spot on the Mississippi so it can be reinhabited by something other than humans with opioid issues.  That seems appropriately Post Trump Dystopian Nightmarish also.

The economy is actually doing gangbusters despite the somewhat dismal unemployment numbers released today.  The Investment class should be quite happy with market performance. Something is still stuck somewhere.  Frankly, I think that as a nation, we’re all just tired.  I would like to add that American women are both tired and fed up so getting back to the old frantic normal seems less appealing all the time.  Why does the American normal always wear a lot of us out?

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell has some analysis over the dreary April Numbers.  It matches up with the anecdotal evidence one of my friends provided when she couldn’t believe that the New Orleans Job Fair was poorly attended even though there were lots of jobs and wages offered were up.  Rampell writes: “Behind the April jobs report: Is there a shortage of jobs or a shortage of workers?”  

No two ways about it: The April jobs report was extremely disappointing. And it’s likely to heat up the debate, now preoccupying the White House, over whether government policy might be subtly discouraging unemployed people from returning to work.

Economists and analysts had been expecting around a million jobs to be added on net in April, given the rising share of vaccinated Americans and relaxation of restrictions on business. Instead, employers created a measly 266,000 positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. Job growth for March was revised downward, too.

The size of the jobs deficit — the difference between how many jobs there are today vs. pre-pandemic — remains quite large, with employment in April still 8.2 million jobs, or 5.4 percent, below the peak from February 2020. If April’s hiring pace were to continue indefinitely, it would take 2½ more years before we regained all the jobs we had pre-covid (and we actually want more jobs than that, given population growth).

The disappointing numbers are almost certain to strengthen the narrative that there’s a labor shortage.

What do I mean by that? Unemployment is still elevated, at 6.1 percent in April compared with 3.5 percent in February 2020. So at first blush, that would suggest that there are still a lot of excess workers needing jobs. For about a month, though, a debate has been raging about whether there are too few workers willing to accept the jobs on offer. Restaurants and other small businesses have complained about their inability to hire, which is being disproportionately blamed on (depending on your politics) either Big Government’s too-generous unemployment benefits, or stingy employers’ reluctance to raise wages.

The industry that has been complaining the loudest about an inability to find workers, accommodation and food services (think hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.), accounted for nearly all of the hiring in April — 241,400 new jobs. This might suggest that their complaints are much ado about nothing.

Again, my friend Aine’s analysis of her experience here fits in with that narrative. Most of the employers at the fair were hotels, restaurants, and your usual array of dreary, hard, low paying service jobs.  The Hilton Hotel is unionized but that’s not the norm around the outrageous right to work plantation mentality of the Republican Majority here who are now screaming that unemployment benefits, rent moratoriums, and Covid relief checks are keeping every one home.

Andre Derain The Promenade 1906

So, yes I’m an economist although I’m a financial economist and have minimal exposure to advanced labor economics. My narrative however is a bit more on the behavioral side.

We’re all than a bit more than worn out but the women who make up these types of jobs are more worn out and fed up than usual. We’ve born the brunt of both the Pandemic and the Trumpist regime. Exhaustion and a huge degree of being fed-up have depleted our enthusiasm to go out and be underpaid, underappreciated, and not supported for being mothers or caregivers of our elderly relatives. Yes. Joe has a plan for that. Do it now.

You can see this in the economic analysis–hold that thought–plus pop culture. This headline greeted me from The Guardian: “The day of ‘female rage’ has dawned – and Kate Winslet is its fed-up face”.  The piece is written by Emma Brockes about a new Amazon Series featuring Winslet as a small town, Pennslyvania policewoman called “Mare of Easttown”.

Her success with viewers is also a question of timing. The aftershocks of MeToo won’t wear off for many years, and still the stories keep coming. In the past month alone we heard of alleged abuses by Hollywood producer Scott Rudin, and the almost unbelievably novelistic horror of Blake Bailey, lauded biographer of Philip Roth, being the subject of multiple accusations of rape and sexual assault, resulting in the book being hastily withdrawn.

We’ve had it. We’re done with it. Those years of Trump compulsively commenting on women’s looks, the intensity of demands made of women handling families and jobs throughout the pandemic, and the fact that women over 40 – particularly those in flannel and Timberlands – are still expected to remain largely invisible, have created a condition for this show to hit home. The absolute I’m-over-it energy of the heroine channels some broader snap in a willingness to go along with all this and a yearning for some reflection of how many are feeling.

It’s not even anger; much has been made of “female rage” in the past few years, but to my mind it’s more muted and long-suffering than that. It’s irritability, crossness, the oh-for-God’s-sake complete lack of surprise when the latest outrage comes along, with the occasional florid meltdown. In one scene, a middle-class character sensitively counsels Mare to open her heart to the daughter-in-law with whom she’s about to get locked in a custody battle. Instead, she storms over to her house, mocks her addiction, threatens to see her in court, then frames her for a crime she didn’t commit. I mean, it’s not ideal. But one appreciates a certain emotional truth.

There is, perhaps, one amusingly and I guess unavoidably false note in all this. Early on in the show, Mare meets a suave, middle-class character played by Guy Pierce, and reluctantly agrees to go out on a date with him. She throws on some makeup, finds a dress and a hairbrush, and – stepping out of her house – hey-ho, it’s Kate Winslet. Even that, I sense, we’ll give her. It goes badly; the guy’s a douche. She shrugs and goes home.

The Dancer,Andre Derain, c.1910

So, a lot of us have gone home for a while. Now, let me get back to a Brookings study last year on the impact of Women during the Covid-19 outbreak and shutdowns. It’s a grab bag of social sciences analyses by Nicole Bateman and Marth Ross: “Why has COVID-19 been especially harmful for working women?”

COVID-19 is hard on women because the U.S. economy is hard on women, and this virus excels at taking existing tensions and ratcheting them up. Millions of women were already supporting themselves and their families on meager wages before coronavirus-mitigation lockdowns sent unemployment rates skyrocketing and millions of jobs disappeared. And working mothers were already shouldering the majority of family caregiving responsibilities in the face of a childcare system that is wholly inadequate for a society in which most parents work outside the home. Of course, the disruptions to daycare centers, schools, and afterschool programs have been hard on working fathers, but evidence shows working mothers have taken on more of the resulting childcare responsibilities, and are more frequently reducing their hours or leaving their jobs entirely in response.

Problems facing women in the labor market have never been hidden, but they have been inconvenient to address because they are so entrenched in the basic operations of our economy and society. The low wages associated with “pink collar” occupations have long contributed to the feminization of poverty, and the chronic shortage of affordable, high-quality childcare reflects outdated notions of women’s societal roles, how the economy functions, and child development. COVID-19’s massive disruption to employment, childcare, and school routines has crippled the economy and pushed millions of women and families to the financial brink. This moment provides an important opening to rethink how policy supports women’s roles as financial providers and parents.

This is exactly the kind of plans that Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, and other women leaders have been pushing for years. These policy prescriptions have been adopted into the larger Biden-Harris policy efforts to promote better infrastructure.  The Republicans, however, are dead set against all of it and are hellbent on institutionalizing Trumpism. We’re already seeing laws at state levels that courts already settled scuttling like bottom feeders towards a stacked Supreme Court.  A huge number of these laws restrict the progress of women and minorities.

You may see the very different narratives offered by the two parties.  Let’s explore the HuffPo article: “Unemployment Benefits Are Not Creating A Worker Shortage. While some employers may be struggling to hire for one reason or another, economists say generous unemployment benefits are not the cause.”

At the time, millions of workers were losing their jobs every week, and nobody knew how bad things would get. But a few weeks after the initial lockdowns, businesses started recalling workers, millions returned to their jobs despite the extra benefits, and the jobless rate plunged. A spate of academic studies found the extra benefits weren’t stopping people from going back to work after all.

At $300 per week, the federal supplement is half what it was last year, but the criticism is twice as intense even though the previous doomsaying didn’t pan out.

“People get paid more not to work than to work,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told HuffPost, referring to the extra federal benefits. “Economists talk about that, but anecdotally, it’s clear.”

It’s true that the benefits amount to more than prior wages for some workers. It’s just that the extra money doesn’t seem to have held workers back.

The unemployment complaint fits a broader Republican argument that Democrats under President Joe Biden are out to destroy the American work ethic with their proposals for new parent benefits and affordable child care.

“Think about what the Democrats have done,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Republican leader, tweeted over the weekend. “They have demonized work so Americans would become dependent on big government.”

While some employers may be struggling to hire for one reason or another right now, economists say generous unemployment benefits are not the cause.

If demand for workers were exceeding supply, then the price of labor would be shooting up. But as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week, overall wage growth hasn’t increased. “We don’t see wages moving up yet, and presumably we would see that in a really tight labor market,” Powell said at a press conference. “And we may well start to see that.”

For now, unemployment remains elevated, at 6%, compared to 3.5% before the pandemic, and there were 4 million more unemployed people in March 2021 than in February 2020. That data reflects people who are trying to find jobs, not those who have removed themselves from the workforce for a number of reasons, like a lack of child care. Yet some business owners still say there are no willing workers out there.

Chef Andrew Gruel, owner of the Slapfish restaurant franchise, took to Twitter last week to declare “there are no employees available in California.” Gruel said his eateries were offering $21 per hour but couldn’t find any takers. The top reason? “They are making enough on unemployment and would rather not work.”

William Spriggs isn’t buying that. The chief economist at the AFL-CIO labor federation, Spriggs said it is “self-evident” that millions of people are trying to find work. Just because an employer hasn’t found them yet ― at the wages the employer is willing to pay ― doesn’t mean the workers aren’t out there.

Then, there’s this on the horizon. It’s also been the topic of the day among a lot of my friends that have not had the benefit of working at home like me. An economy–with lots of market-related rigidities–can be very slow on the rebound.  Labor markets are notoriously rigid and sticky.

Estaque,  Andre Derain, 1905

It’s not that I’m not excited about all the policies and traveling around that both Biden and Harris have done showing the need. I’m worried that if we don’t get it done now that the Republicans will come roaring back through voter suppression and more lies and we’ll be stuck, once again, in a place where everything and everyone has broken, while the money and the fun go to the very rich and powerful.  Well, that and the homeless opioid rave unattended until something catches fire and the next one or dozen of them die from their addictions.

Meanwhile, the short-term Air Bnbs will bring tourists. The streets will still flood. I will still be working here with a half-ass internet connection for which I pay Cox a small fortune. I just don’t want to miss the opportunity we have at the moment and I’m all too familiar with the lessons of the first few Obama years.  I don’t want a repeat.

So, sorry for being a bit of a Debbie Downer today but I just am beginning to see history repeat itself. The schadenfreude of broke and broken Guiliani is just not enough for the country.  We’ve got to realize the Republicans are a lost cause still hanging on to the mentality of The Lost Cause. Move on without them!

Have a great weekend!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Pandemic Good News and Bad News

download

Good Morning!!

There’s good news and bad news on the pandemic front. We may be “turning the corner” in the U.S., but the situation in India is out of control and getting worse.

First the good news.

After weeks of coronavirus patients flooding emergency rooms in Michigan, the worst Covid-19 hot spot in the nation, hospitalizations are finally falling.

On some recent days, entire states, including Wisconsin and West Virginia, have reported zero new coronavirus deaths — a brief but promising respite from the onslaught of the past year.

And in New York and Chicago, officials encouraged by the recent progress have confidently vowed to fully reopen in the coming weeks, conjuring images of a vibrant summer of concerts, sporting events and packed restaurants revving cities back to life.

Americans have entered a new, hopeful phase of the pandemic. Buoyed by a sense that the coronavirus is waning, in part because of vaccinations, more people are shrugging off masks, venturing into restaurants and returning to their prepandemic routines. Mayors, governors and other local officials — once the bearers of grim news about the virus’s toll and strict rules for businesses — have joined in the newfound optimism, rapidly loosening restrictions.

QCA2POEDYNEP5DIQ3CPLGCEHNMPublic health experts remain cautious, but said that while they still expect significant local and regional surges in the coming weeks, they do not think they will be as widespread or reach past peaks.

“We’re clearly turning the corner,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Across the country, the outlook for the pandemic has indeed improved, putting the United States in its best position against the virus yet. The nation is recording about 49,000 new cases a day, the lowest number since early October, and hospitalizations have plateaued at around 40,000, a similar level as the early fall. Nationwide, deaths are hovering around 700 a day, down from a peak of more than 3,000 in January.

The Washington Post: CDC says coronavirus could be under control this summer in U.S. if people get vaccinated and are careful.

Coronavirus infections could be driven to low levels and the pandemic at least temporarily throttled in the United States by July if the vast majority of people get vaccinated and continue with precautions against viral transmission, according to a strikingly optimistic paper released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report comes as administration officials and leaders in many states are sounding more confident that the country can return to a degree of normalcy relatively soon. President Biden on Tuesday announced a new vaccination goal, saying he wants 70 percent of adults to have had at least one dose by July 4.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday the modeling results give Americans a road map out of the pandemic — so long as they continue to get vaccinated and maintain certain mitigation strategies until a “critical mass of people” get the shots.

“The results remind us that we have the path out of this, and models, once projecting really grim news, now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring,” she said.

The CDC report is not a prediction or forecast. Rather, it is a set of four scenarios based on modeling of the pandemic, using different assumptions about vaccination rates, vaccine efficacy and precautions against transmission.

Read about the possible scenarios at the WaPo.

Interesting proposal by the Biden administration

Now the bad news. 

The Washington Post: India breaks its own records again with 412,000 new cases and nearly 4,000 deaths in 24 hours

India’s devastating coronavirus crisis deepened on Thursday, as the country reported 412,000 infections and nearly 4,000 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Epidemiologists believe that India’s surge could hit 500,000 cases a day in the coming weeks before retreating. That would represent a ruinous burden for a health-care system reeling from too many patients and a shortage of crucial supplies such as oxygen.

Last month, the United States advised its citizens to leave India, and the State Department on Thursday authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel.

Associated Press: India hits another grim virus record as oxygen demand jumps.

Infections in India hit another grim daily record on Thursday as demand for medical oxygen jumped sevenfold and the government denied reports that it was slow in distributing life-saving supplies from abroad.

The number of new confirmed cases breached 400,000 for the second time since the devastating surge began last month. The 412,262 new cases pushed India’s official tally to more than 21 million. The Health Ministry also reported 3,980 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 230,168. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

Eleven COVID-19 patients died when pressure in an oxygen line dropped suddenly in a government medical college hospital in Chengalpet in southern India on Wednesday night, possibly because of a faulty valve, The Times of India newspaper reported.

Hospital authorities said they repaired the pipeline last week, but the consumption of oxygen had doubled since then, the newspaper said.

Read more details at the AP.

Reuters: COVID-19 spreads to rural India, villages ill-equipped to fight it.

Hopes that India’s rampaging second wave of COVID-19 is peaking were set back on Thursday as record daily infections and deaths were reported and as the virus spread from cities to villages that were poorly equipped to cope.

Government modelling had forecast a peak by Wednesday in infections that have overwhelmed the healthcare system, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen….

“This temporarily halts speculations of a peak,” Rijo M John, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in the southern state of Kerala, said on Twitter.

While the capital New Delhi and several other cities have been hardest hit so far, limited public healthcare, including a dearth of testing facilities, means the threat is grave in rural areas that are home to nearly 70% of the 1.3 billion population.

In the town of Susner in Madhya Pradesh state, patients were being treated outdoors under trees, on blankets on the ground.

CBS News: India’s packed hospitals forced to turn COVID patients away.

Delhi — People are dying in record numbers amid the surge in coronavirus infections in India. CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay found that even the capital city’s hospitals are desperately short on beds, forcing them to turn away people battling symptoms of COVID-19. 

The constellation of forces that led to India’s coronavirus crisis is not unique; it’s the default in most of the world.Photograph by Rebecca Conway Getty

The constellation of forces that led to India’s coronavirus crisis is not unique; it’s the default in most of the world. Photograph by Rebecca Conway, Getty

CBS News watched as one woman showed up breathless at the Moolchand Hospital in Delhi, desperate for oxygen and a bed. The facility has some of the best resources in New Delhi, but there was no space left, so they sent her away. 

Dr. Nabeel Rahman runs the emergency room at Moolchand, which has been converted into extra space for an ICU that, still, is absolutely crushed with patients. He told CBS News that his team had resorted to purchasing its own oxygen supplies privately, at massively inflated prices, amid a desperate national shortage. 

The patients in the expanded ICU are extremely sick, but they’re also extremely lucky: In a country that’s losing the battle against COVID-19, they’re lucky to have oxygen, lucky to have access to doctors and lucky to have beds in a hospital that’s well over capacity. 

Someone tell the Supreme Court about this:

Many of India’s coronavirus victims caught the disease during huge religious gatherings, which were promoted by the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as it campaigned for recent state elections.  

There’s much more at the link.

Ankita Rao at The Guardian: India is hiding its Covid crisis – and the whole world will suffer for it.

A few years ago, as Narendra Modi came into power, I worked on an investigative report about India hiding its malaria deaths. In traveling from tribal Odisha to the Indian national health ministry in New Delhi, my colleague and I watched thousands of cases disappear: some malaria deaths, first noted in handwritten local health ledgers, never appeared in central government reports; other malaria deaths were magically transformed into deaths of heart attack or fever. The discrepancy was massive: India reported 561 malaria deaths that year. Experts predicted the actual number was as high as 200,000.

Now, with Covid ravaging the country, desperate Indians have taken to Twitter to ask for oxygen cylinders or beg hospitals for an open bed. The crisis has been exacerbated by the government’s concealment of critical information. Between India’s long history of hiding and undercounting illness deaths and its much more recent history of restraining and suppressing the press, Modi’s administration has made it impossible to find accurate information about the virus’s hold in the country. Blocking that information will only hurt millions within the country. It will also stymie global efforts to stop the Covid-19 pandemic, and new variants of the virus, at India’s border.

Narenda Modi and Trump hugging

Narenda Modi and Trump hugging

Epidemiologists in India and abroad currently estimate that the country’s official reported Covid-19 death toll – around 222,000 at time of publication – only accounts for a fraction of the real number. The director of the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that India is only detecting three to four percent of actual cases. Other experts point to total excess deaths in cities such as Mumbai as proof that there could be 60% to 70% more deaths from Covid-19 than the government is admitting to.

There are various reasons India could be cooking the books on Covid deaths. For one, the utter failure of the public health system makes it difficult to account for the millions of bodies passing through hospitals, clinics and those dying in their own home. Despite having become one of the largest economies in the world, India has always spent a dismal portion of its GDP on healthcare, with an investment somewhere around 3%, compared to Brazil (9%) or the US (17%).

But systemic failure is only one part of the puzzle. The reigning party of the Indian government touted its success in curbing the virus very early in the pandemic, and has never let go of that narrative. As bodies burned in funeral pyres across Uttar Pradesh in April, Yogi Adityanath – the state’s chief minister and a key Modi lackey – claimed that everything was under control and repeatedly refused to announce new lockdown measures, even as he himself contracted Covid-19.

That sounds a lot like Trump, doesn’t it?

More stories to check out today:

The Washington Post: Opinion: Liz Cheney: The GOP is at a turning point. History is watching us.

The Washington Post: D.C. police officer who fought Capitol rioters pens letter to officials: ‘The time to fully recognize these Officers actions is NOW!’

The New York Times: Daylight Attack on 2 Asian Women in San Francisco Increases Fears.

AZ Central: Department of Justice asks Arizona Senate to respond to concerns about election audit.

The Washington Post: Observers report ballots and laptop computers have been left unattended in Arizona recount, according to secretary of state.

Jennifer Taub at Washington Monthly: Starting with Trump, It’s Time for a White Collar Crime Crackdown.

Zachary B. Wolf at CNN: The big lie. The Covid misinformation. It all comes back to Russia.

The Daily Beast: Inside the Hunt for the Washington Post’s Next Top Editor.

What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.


Wednesday Reads: A bottle of insulin…

You know, Alan Dershowitz has totally ruined the film Reversal of Fortune for me…it was such a good movie. Wait..I think I’ve said that before…

Cartoons from cagle.com

Some newsy tweets:

This is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: What’s Behind Vaccine Hesitancy?

Good Morning!!

Richard Diebenkorn, Coffee, 1959

Richard Diebenkorn, Coffee, 1959

Trump is gone from the national stage, but the misinformation he promoted is still with us. Thanks to the Trumpists, we may never achieve herd immunity in the U.S. 

Dr. Rob Davidson, emergency room physician and Dr. Bernard Ashby, vascular cardiologist at NBC News: White Covid vaccine rejectors threaten herd immunity. Can we change their minds in time?

Even as we accelerate vaccinations, an immovable force stands in the way of achieving community immunity: Millions of Americans who are simply saying “No way.”

As of mid-April, both Florida and Michigan were hot spots for the more severe B.1.1.7 Covid-19 variant that originated in the U.K. and that is now the dominant strain nationwide. This variant is also sending younger, previously healthy people into our hospitals. With the coronavirus mutating to become more contagious and possibly more lethal, vaccination is more important than ever.

Yet, vaccine refusal — not reluctance, not “maybe later,” but flat-out rejection — could prevent us from reaching the threshold when epidemiologists say we can safely and responsibly fully reopen all aspects of society. Recent surveys like this one from CNN put that number at around one in four people. In rural, overwhelmingly white places like rural western Michigan, these are the folks who stagger into the Emergency Room, sick and struggling to breathe, yet still tell nurses and doctors that neither Covid-19, masks and vaccines are real.

Davidson and Ashby write that Black and Hispanic Americans have responded to efforts to educate people about vaccine safety and efficacy.

But though Black and Hispanic Americans are now increasingly rolling up their sleeves, one group continues to refuse vaccinationsWhite, evangelical and rural Americans.

We heard one rural Michigan patient call vaccines a form of government control. Another repeated the unfounded claim that Covid-19 was a Chinese bioweapons plot. One patient refused to get vaccinated despite getting Covid-19 twice, a rare reinfection. Rural white people scoffed at vaccines, citing microchips and infertility, or Fox News disinformation slandering health experts for lying about vaccine efficacy data and calling vaccines a tool for social control. We heard patients accuse hospital workers of being highly paid actors maintaining the pandemic charade.

Vaccines have struck conservative Republican leaders with a kind of stubborn anosognosia, an inability to line themselves up with reality.

Paul Wonner, Model Drinking Coffee, 1964

Paul Wonner, Model Drinking Coffee, 1964

 

The answer, say the authors must come from community leaders.

In Michigan, GOP legislative leaders are undermining vaccinations in word and in deed, including holding millions of dollars in federal vaccination funds hostage. The conservative base, however, says it would rather listen to doctors than politicians anyway. If the only information — or misinformation — about the pandemic is from Fox News and OANN, then the antidote is information from a source who understands the science, the medicine and most importantly, the community.

In the case of rural conservative communities, that source would be rural conservative family physicians who go to the same churches, fish the same stretch of river and volunteer every Friday night at local high school football games. These are the doctors who care for every stage of a family’s life. Births, broken arms, deliveries, disease management and deaths. They aren’t just trusted, they’re family —minus the birthright of blood. Most importantly, they know how vaccines and medicine work.

I hope this happens, but I’m not hopeful.

Sabrina Tabernise at The New York Times: Vaccine Skepticism Was Viewed as a Knowledge Problem. It’s Actually About Gut Beliefs.

For years, scientists and doctors have treated vaccine skepticism as a knowledge problem. If patients were hesitant to get vaccinated, the thinking went, they simply needed more information.

But as public health officials now work to convince Americans to get Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, new social science research suggests that a set of deeply held beliefs is at the heart of many people’s resistance, complicating efforts to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control….

About a third of American adults are still resisting vaccines. Polling shows that Republicans make up a substantial part of that group. Given how deeply the country is divided by politics, it is perhaps not surprising that they have dug in, particularly with a Democrat in the White House. But political polarization is only part of the story.

In recent years, epidemiologists have teamed up with social psychologists to look more deeply into the “why” behind vaccine hesitancy. They wanted to find out whether there was anything that vaccine skeptics had in common, in order to better understand how to persuade them.

They borrowed a concept from social psychology — the idea that a small set of moral intuitions forms the foundations upon which complex moral worldviews are constructed — and applied it to their study of vaccine skepticism.

Edvard Munch, At The Coffee Table, 1883, Munch Museum, Oslo

Edvard Munch, At The Coffee Table, 1883, Munch Museum, Oslo

What they discovered was a clear set of psychological traits offering a new lens through which to understand skepticism — and potentially new tools for public health officials scrambling to try to persuade people to get vaccinated.

Dr. Omer and a team of scientists found that skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty — the rights of individuals — and to have less deference to those in positions of power.

Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the “purity” of their bodies and their minds. They disapprove of things they consider disgusting, and the mind-set defies neat categorization: It could be religious — halal or kosher — or entirely secular, like people who care deeply about toxins in foods or in the environment….

“At the root are these moral intuitions — these gut feelings — and they are very strong,” said Jeff Huntsinger, a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago who studies emotion and decision-making and collaborated with Dr. Omer’s team. “It’s very hard to override them with facts and information. You can’t reason with them in that way.”

These qualities tend to predominate among conservatives but they are present among liberals too. They are also present among people with no politics at all.

Dakinikat quoted from this one yesterday, but it fits in with my theme so I’m posting again. Derek Thompson at The Atlantic: Millions Are Saying No to the Vaccines. What Are They Thinking?

What are they thinking, these vaccine-hesitant, vaccine-resistant, and COVID-apathetic? I wanted to know. So I posted an invitation on Twitter for anybody who wasn’t planning to get vaccinated to email me and explain why. In the past few days, I spoke or corresponded with more than a dozen such people. I told them that I was staunchly pro-vaccine, but this wouldn’t be a takedown piece. I wanted to produce an ethnography of a position I didn’t really understand.

The people I spoke with were all under 50. A few of them self-identified as Republican, and none of them claimed the modern Democratic Party as their political home. Most said they weren’t against all vaccines; they were just a “no” on this vaccine. They were COVID-19 no-vaxxers, not overall anti-vaxxers.

Pierre Bonnard, Coffee, 1907

Pierre Bonnard, Coffee, 1907

Many people I spoke with said they trusted their immune system to protect them. “Nobody ever looks at it from the perspective of a guy who’s like me,” Bradley Baca, a 39-year-old truck driver in Colorado, told me. “As an essential worker, my life was never going to change in the pandemic, and I knew I was going to get COVID no matter what. Now I think I’ve got the antibodies, so why would I take a risk on the vaccine?”

Some had already recovered from COVID-19 and considered the vaccine unnecessary. “In December 2020 I tested positive and experienced many symptoms,” said Derek Perrin, a 31-year-old service technician in Connecticut. “Since I have already survived one recorded bout with this virus, I see no reason to take a vaccine that has only been approved for emergency use. I trust my immune system more than this current experiment.”

Others were worried that the vaccines might have long-term side effects. “As a Black American descendant of slavery, I am bottom caste, in terms of finances,” Georgette Russell, a 40-year-old resident of New Jersey, told me. “The fact that there is no way to sue the government or the pharmaceutical company if I have any adverse reactions is highly problematic to me.”

Many people said they had read up on the risk of COVID-19 to people under 50 and felt that the pandemic didn’t pose a particularly grave threat. “The chances of me dying from a car accident are higher than my dying of COVID,” said Michael Searle, a 36-year-old who owns a consulting firm in Austin, Texas. “But it’s not like I don’t get in my car.”

And many others said that perceived liberal overreach had pushed them to the right. “Before March 2020, I was a solid progressive Democrat,” Jenin Younes, a 37-year-old attorney, said. “I am so disturbed by the Democrats’ failure to recognize the importance of civil liberties. I’ll vote for anyone who takes a strong stand for civil liberties and doesn’t permit the erosion of our fundamental rights that we are seeing now.” Baca, the Colorado truck driver, also told me he didn’t vote much before the pandemic, but the perception of liberal overreach had a strong politicizing effect. “When COVID hit, I saw rights being taken away. So in 2020, I voted for the first time in my life, and I voted all the way Republican down the ballot.”

Thompson’s interpretation of his findings:

My view of the vaccines begins with my view of the pandemic. I really don’t want to get COVID-19. Not only do I want to avoid an illness with uncertain long-term implications, but I also don’t want to pass it along to somebody in a high-risk category, such as my grandmother or an immunocompromised stranger. For more than a year, I radically changed my life to avoid infection. So I was thrilled to hear that the vaccines were effective at blocking severe illness and transmission. I eagerly signed up to take both my shots, even after reading all about the side effects.

Henri Matisse, Coffee, 1916, Detroit Institute of Arts

Henri Matisse, Coffee, 1916, Detroit Institute of Arts

The under-50 no-vaxxers’ deep story has a very different starting place. It begins like this:

“The coronavirus is a wildly overrated threat. Yes, it’s appropriate and good to protect old and vulnerable people. But I’m not old or vulnerable. If I get it, I’ll be fine. In fact, maybe I have gotten it, and I am fine. I don’t know why I should consider this disease more dangerous than driving a car, a risky thing I do every day without a moment’s worry. Liberals, Democrats, and public-health elites have been so wrong so often, we’d be better off doing the opposite of almost everything they say.”

Just as my COVID-19 story shapes my vaccine eagerness, this group’s COVID-19 story shapes their vaccine skepticism. Again and again, I heard variations on this theme:

“I don’t need some novel pharmaceutical product to give me permission to do the things I’m already doing. This isn’t even an FDA-approved vaccine; it’s authorized for an emergency. Well, I don’t consider COVID-19 a personal emergency. So why would I sign up to be an early guinea pig for a therapy that I don’t need, whose long-term effects we don’t understand? I’d rather bet on my immune system than on Big Pharma.”

For both yes-vaxxers like me and the no-vaxxers I spoke with, feelings about the vaccine are intertwined with feelings about the pandemic.

There’s much more at The Atlantic link.

So maybe my notion that vaccine refusal/hesitancy comes from Trump propaganda is wrong? I still think that’s a significant element of the problem. But clearly there are other psychological and sociological explanations. Is there a solution?

A few more vaccine reads:

The New York Times: The F.D.A. is set to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those 12-15 years old by early next week.

Science News: The surge in U.S. coronavirus cases shows a shift in who’s getting sick. Younger, unvaccinated people aren’t just getting mild infections; they’re landing in the ER too.

CNN: Vaccines are helping bring down US Covid-19 numbers. But the virus is now hitting one group of Americans harder.

USA Today: US nearing vaccine tipping point, dramatic decrease in COVID cases could come without herd immunity, some experts say.

Have a great Tuesday, Sky Dancers! As always, this is an open thread.