Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

My state remains number three in coronavirus cases behind New York and New Jersey, despite the act that Gov. Charlie Baker has acted responsibly and Massachusetts citizens are overwhelmingly supportive of the state’s social distancing and other mitigation efforts.

The Washington Post: In educated and affluent Massachusetts, coronavirus cases surged. The decline has yet to come.

Massachusetts has one of the most educated and affluent populations in the country. It’s home to some of the nation’s most preeminent medical centers. And it has political leaders who have worked cooperatively, across party lines, in the face of a crisis.

Massachusetts also has the third-highest number of confirmed state coronavirus cases, along with the fourth-highest death toll. And despite predictions that numbers would be falling by now after a month and a half of people staying at home, new case counts have instead remained stubbornly high.

The state’s struggle to combat the coronavirus reflects just what a tenacious adversary it really is. Even for a place that has a lot going for it, the toll has been severe — and it is growing by the day.

As of Friday, Massachusetts had more than 64,000 cases — behind only New York and New Jersey, its larger northeastern neighbors. New cases totaled 2,106, continuing a dismal streak lasting more than two weeks of at least 1,500 additional cases per day. Deaths hit 3,716, behind only New York, New Jersey and Michigan….

The persistence with which people keep getting sick in Massachusetts has been matched in other hard-hit states. Rather than a precipitous decline, the number of new cases in places such as Illinois, California and the D.C. metro area has instead been leveling off slowly.

Experts say that is to be expected, even if it means a long road ahead.

“If social distancing is done well — and Massachusetts has done it pretty well — the effect is going to be to flatten the curve and spread it out over more time,” said David Hamer, professor of global health at Boston University and an infectious-disease physician at Boston Medical Center. “Instead of a peak, it’s a prolonged plateau. It’s going to be a gradual decline.”

Massachusetts is also working to incorporate cases and deaths that may have been left out of official counts. That will make our numbers look worse. Boston Magazine: Brace for Bigger Numbers of Official Massachusetts COVID-19 Cases.

The warnings have come again and again over the past several weeks: The official count of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is not what it seems. Month-to-month death totals show spikes that far outpace existing data on virus-caused fatalities. Antibody tests suggest neighborhood infection rates as high as one-in-three, far outpacing the number officially confirmed by nasal swabs. People wary of leaving home to seek treatment for any illnesses—pandemic-related or not—may choose to ride out their symptoms at home and may never get official confirmation of what ails them. Without a massive effort to swab every single person in Massachusetts all at once, which would be impossible, it seems the best we can do is make an informed guess about how many people have been touched by this thing, and what we should do in response.

So a new effort to make that guess more accurate may produce some shocking figures, but they shouldn’t come as a surprise. State public health officials now say they are working to count even unconfirmed COVID-19 cases in pandemic-tracking data, and expect to see the official numbers jump upward as a result. The new approach will see those with milder symptoms, or those who have not been tested and do not meet more stringent criteria for classifying illnesses as COVID, added to the tally in hopes of better tracking and responding to the spread of the disease.

In aggregate, more accurate data can give us a look at how the pandemic is trending overall. But the specifics of the results from the tests themselves, it seems, don’t tell us very much. There just aren’t enough tests to tell us conclusively who has had the virus and when, and how they got it, and where.

Read more at the link.

When will the state reopen? The Boston Globe: Expect a painfully slow reopening process, Mass. business leaders say.

Safely resuscitating an economy laid low by the coronavirus likely will be painfully slow and require a gradual return to the workplace supported by mandatory face masks, social distancing, and an expansion of state testing that could cost $720 million a year.

That is the sobering assessment of a high-powered Massachusetts business group — backed by research from top medical academics and professionals — that has the ear of the advisers who Governor Charlie Baker will rely on as he weighs how and when to begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

Stephen Pagliuca, the private equity investor and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, has been circulating a 70-page report that details the necessary conditions for reopening and recommends that companies bring back workers in phases, based on age and industry, with white-collar employees who can work remotely the last to come back.

“It’s going to be a while before we get back to normal,” Pagliuca, cochairman of Bain Capital, said during an online presentation to business leaders Friday. The report was put together by the Massachusetts High Technology Council and incorporates research from Bain Capital, McKinsey & Co., and a long list of academics including Brandeis professor Michael Rosbash, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2017.

So that’s the situation where I am. I’d love to hear what’s going on in other Sky Dancers’ states.

Meanwhile, states like Georgia and Texas are risking reopening businesses even as cases and deaths rise.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday: Georgia’s COVID-19 death toll increases to 1,165; cases nearly reach 27.5K.

UPDATE [6:30 p.m.]: Since 11:30 a.m., state officials have increased Georgia’s coronavirus death toll by 18, meaning 1,165 Georgians have died due to the outbreak.

In the past 24 hours, the Georgia Department of Public Health has recorded 33 COVID-19 deaths.

In addition, the DPH confirmed 358 cases of COVID-19 since 11:30 a.m., bringing the state’s total to 27,492. Of those, more than 5,300 patients have been hospitalized at some point in Georgia, which is about 19.3% of all cases. At least 1,229 patients have been admitted into a hospital’s intensive care unit due to the virus.

More than 168,000 tests have been conducted in Georgia, and about 16.3% of those have returned positive results.

ABC News: COVID-19 cases on rise in state that starts 1st phase of reopening.

Texas reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths, just a day before Governor Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired and the state began reopening.

On Thursday, the Lone Star State death toll reached 50, bringing the total number of coronavirus fatalities in the state to 782. Positive cases increased by 1,033, the biggest one-day jump in three weeks.

These numbers precede phase one of the governor’s reopening plan, taking effect May 1. Under the new guidelines, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls may reopen, but must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Museums and libraries are permitted to open under the same guidelines, while churches and places of worship remain open.

“As we open Texas, we are each called upon to be Texans; to act responsibly as we reengage in the economy, to continue following all health precautions and sanitizing guidelines, and to care for our vulnerable neighbors. Lives depend on our actions. I know you will respond as Texans,” Gov. Greg Abbott stated in his report to open the state.

The Texas Democratic Party has criticized the Republican governor, posting on twitter, “Governor Abbott’s slow reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent rush to reopen the state is shameful.

Though the state has eased restrictions, many cities are keeping their own safeguards in place.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is working overtime to cover up their mistakes in dealing with the pandemic.

The Washington Post: White House blocks Fauci from testifying before House panel next week.

The White House is blocking Anthony S. Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee investigating the coronavirus outbreak and response, arguing that it would be “counterproductive” for him to appear next week while in the midst of participating in the government’s response to the pandemic.

The White House issued a statement about Fauci’s testimony shortly after The Washington Post published a story Friday afternoon quoting a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, who said the White House was refusing to allow Fauci to appear at a subcommittee hearing next week.

In fact, Fauci is expected to appear at a Senate hearing related to testing the following week, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

The Republican Senate, that is.

A Cat Accepts a Lick from a Cow at a Dairy Farm in Massachusetts, photo by Ira Block

Los Angeles Times: Trump administration blocks public disclosure on coronavirus supplies.

The Trump administration is refusing to disclose how it is distributing medical supplies for the coronavirus response that were brought to the U.S. at taxpayer expense through a White House initiative known as Project Air Bridge.

The administration instead has allowed six multibillion-dollar medical supply companies that are receiving government aid to import the supplies to block public release of the data, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counterproductive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.

“At this time, FEMA does not have the authority to release this information,” a spokesperson for the agency said in response to questions from The Times.

A spokesperson for McKesson Corp., one of the companies, denied making any demand that information be kept secret. “Consistent with McKesson’s commitment to fighting this pandemic, McKesson is cooperating with FEMA to facilitate the release of state-by-state data as appropriate,” the spokesperson said.

Nevertheless, the lack of disclosure effectively hinders any public accounting of which states are receiving the most assistance and what formulas are being used to distribute the equipment, despite a public investment of tens of millions of dollars in the airlift operation.

The lack of transparency about distributions comes on top of the administration’s refusal to provide information about the financial terms the White House struck with the medical distribution companies, which together reported more than $2 billion in profits last year.

The New York Times: Trump Moves to Replace Watchdog Who Identified Critical Medical Shortages.

President Trump moved on Friday night to replace a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services who angered him with a report last month highlighting supply shortages and testing delays at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House waited until after business hours to announce the nomination of a new inspector general for the department who, if confirmed, would take over for Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who was publicly assailed by the president at a news briefing three weeks ago.

The nomination was the latest effort by Mr. Trump against watchdog offices around his administration that have defied him. In recent weeks, he fired an inspector general involved in the inquiry that led to the president’s impeachment, nominated a White House aide to another key inspector general post overseeing virus relief spending and moved to block still another inspector general from taking over as chairman of a pandemic spending oversight panel.

Mr. Trump has sought to assert more authority over his administration and clear out officials deemed insufficiently loyal in the three months since his Senate impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress ended in acquittal largely along party lines. While inspectors general are appointed by the president, they are meant to be semiautonomous watchdogs ferreting out waste, fraud and corruption in executive agencies….

[Ms. Grimm’s] report, released last month and based on extensive interviews with hospitals around the country, identified critical shortages of supplies, revealing that hundreds of medical centers were struggling to obtain test kits, protective gear for staff members and ventilators. Mr. Trump was embarrassed by the report at a time he was already under fire for playing down the threat of the virus and not acting quickly enough to ramp up testing and provide equipment to doctors and nurses.

That’s all I have for you today. I’m getting ready for a visit from my brother and at least one of my nephews. They can’t some inside, but we can take a walk and sit on a bench outside on this lovely spring day.

Have a nice weekend, Sky Dancers!


Thursday Reads: Staying Inside and Peeking Into Other People’s Homes

Wassily Kandinsky, My Dining Room

Good Morning!!

Have you found yourself trying to read the titles of books behind all those experts appearing on TV from their homes these days? I certainly have, and I’m not alone. Some people also like to examine famous people’s knick knacks and decorating choices while watching TV. I found several interesting articles about these voyeuristic pastimes.

The New York Times: What Do Famous People’s Bookshelves Reveal?

Bibliophiles do not approach bookshelves lightly. A stranger’s collection is to us a window to their soul. We peruse with judgment, sometimes admiration and occasionally repulsion (Ayn Rand?!). With celebrities now frequently speaking on television in front of their home libraries, a voyeuristic pleasure presents itself: Are they actually really like us?

The Times discovered that actress Cate Blanchett owns all 20 volumes of The Oxford English Dictionary; and Prince Charles owns a copy of Shattered, by Dick Francis, the famous mystery writer whose books feature horse racing as well as a biography of the painter Basil Taylor, who mostly painted horses. Read more examples and see photos at the link above.

Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room in the Country, 1913

Vogue: If You Can’t Stop Staring at TV Anchors’ Home Backgrounds, You’re Not Alone.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past month contemplating the home-design choices of network anchors, cable-show hosts, and the ubiquitous talking heads who join them on a fairly regular basis. As more interviews are held remotely and as the anchors themselves have moved into makeshift home studios, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the backdrops each of these has chosen as they pronounce judgments on the waning days of the Democratic presidential primaries or the latest bizarre statements made by President Trump at his daily coronavirus briefings.

They range from the relaxed manner of John Heilemann, in a blazer and checked shirt sitting in front of his open-plan kitchen, to the full-suit-and-tie (well, at least from the waist up) look of Jon Meacham, backed by wall-to-wall bookshelves that fill the entire frame behind him. (And no, those books are not arranged by color.)

Ah, yes, bookshelves. Rows of carefully arranged books seem to be the go-to choice of most of the reporters and commentators who provide the bulk of the cable-news programming. Thus my curiosity about their reading habits. Peter Baker, a White House correspondent for the New York Times and a frequent guest on MSNBC, sits in front of a tall, narrow bookshelf containing an array of political tomes and presidential biographies, including what looked like one of his own, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. David Gura, another MSNBC correspondent, has a more haphazardly arranged bookshelf as his backdrop, with an eclectic reading taste that ranges from the *New Yorker *’s Jane Mayer (Dark Money) to novelist Colson Whitehead (The Nickel Boys). And Josh Barro, a business columnist for New York magazine, has been doing his frequent TV appearances lately framed by a row of travel books and a vintage poster from United Airlines (wishful thinking?).

Read the rest at Vogue.

Henri Matisse, The Piano Lesson

Town and Country: Billionaires on Video Chat Are Giving Us a Rare Peek Inside Their Homes. This article introduces a new Twitter feed: Room Rater. Check it out!

Two weeks ago Claude Taylor and Jessie Bahrey launched a Twitter account called Room Rater (@RateMySkypeRoom). In it, the boyfriend-girlfriend team comment on and score the background decor of broadcasters, pundits, and celebrities forced to do interviews from home during coronavirus physical-isolation orders.

In brief, pointed tweets, they weigh-in on art selection, bookshelves (content and arrangement), lamp placement, color palettes… you name it. Although neither has a background in interior design, their comments address some newly universal aesthetic questions: Will having a bookcase in the background make me look smarter? Is my wallpaper dorky? Am I force for good in the world during uncertain times?

Room Rater quickly accrued 100,000 followers and Taylor has appeared on Inside Edition and been interviewed by numerous websites. Subjects of their tweets have begun to tweet back, begging for higher scores.

Peter Baker of the New York Times added artwork to his walls after Room Rater pointed out an empty wall hook. They are still getting angry DMs about a 9/10 they gave Michelle Obama four days ago. “Come on. That’s a great score. We all need room to grow,” says Taylor.

Room Rater focuses mostly on TV pundits and politicians, but we asked them to take a look at a seemingly under-analyzed segment of home backgrounds—those of billionaires.

Check out the video backgrounds of Barry Diller, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Mike Bloomberg at the T and C link.

Grant Wood, The Sunshine on the corner

Financial Times: When bookshelves are more informative than the books.

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Our bookshelves have suddenly come under intense and unexpected scrutiny. The ad hoc backgrounds to our home office Skype and Zoom calls, the random arrangements of books accumulated and the knick-knacks in front of them have become public property. TV news is populated by hairy-nostrilled talking heads mediated sketchily across our screens. You just can’t help peering at those backgrounds. What do they say about their owners? The academics and scientists come out best. Shelves fully stacked have spiral-bound reports and papers stuffed sideways into every spare inch of space. There is no curation here, just accumulated knowledge, constantly updated, overwhelming the shelf space. These are texts as tools, not interior decoration. Historian Simon Schama caused a little flutter of recognition when he appeared against a backdrop of steeply stacked books and jumbled shelves. Even the comfy-looking armchair was requisitioned as storage….

And then there are the shelves themselves. The political class tend to have built-ins, the marker of a proper home office (rather than the Ikea Billy bookcase that does the job for so many). They range from the minimal modern (UK chancellor Rishi Sunak) to faux-Victorian dark wood (former US presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who also mostly displays political biographies). The zenith of shelving must be the Dieter Rams-designed white modular Vitsoe wall units. They pop up only rarely, but I noticed one behind Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers.

On to more serious stuff. The U.S. appears to be poised to kill record numbers of people by opening up states’ economies prematurely, while European countries take it slower.

Interior with a young woman cooking, Knud Erik Larsen

William Bredderman and Olivia Messer at The Daily Beast: Europe Watches With Horror as the U.S. Rushes to Reopen.

ROME—Some of the hardest-hit countries in Europe will start opening up their economies in the coming days after several long months of very tight pandemic lockdowns. But they are doing it in conjunction with scientific guidance that marries widespread testing and aggressive contract tracing—and no crowded beaches. And, under the understanding that if anything goes wrong, everybody goes back inside.

The Trump administration appears to be doing the exact opposite, pushing to kickstart stagnant economies before the pandemic has even reached its peak in some states, going for a “rip off the Band-Aid very quickly” approach, while here in Europe, countries are lifting it corner by corner, slowly, to make sure everything is fully healed.

The authors describe cautious reopening steps planned by Italy, France, and Spain. In contrast, in the U.S. some states are opening up willy-nilly.

In the United States, bowling alleys and pizza joints are full in a number of states, with people rubbing shoulders as if the global pandemic is a movie or someone else’s nightmare. The only European nation that even compares to the U.S. is Sweden, which didn’t officially lock down—though the Swedes mostly self distanced on their own accord— and which is now grappling with a higher infection rate than any of the other Nordic countries, according to statistics gathered by Worldometer.

European news outlets have featured mocking photos this week of people eating barbecue in Georgia and running along crowded beaches in Florida, but there are plenty of wistful Europeans here complaining that their countries are moving too slowly in returning to normal. The most vocal tend to be those who have been working from home just fine, but who desperately need their roots touched up and are sick of cooking….

Yet in Europe, life seems to mean more than the bottom line and even those in the tourism industry are worried about opening too soon, and what liabilities will come with mass tourism and international travel if it kicks off another wave and a return to the darkest circles of hell.

Ah yes, here in the U.S. it’s all about the bottom line, especially in the red states. Case in point: Georgia.

Interior by Katherine Nolin

The Atlantic: Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice. The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy. As we’ve all heard, Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp ordered businesses in his state to open up this week.

Kemp’s order shocked people across the country. For weeks, Americans have watched the coronavirus sweep from city to city, overwhelming hospitals, traumatizing health-care workers, and leaving tens of thousands of bodies in makeshift morgues. Georgia has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and the state’s testing efforts have provided an incomplete look at how far the virus continues to spread. That testing capacity—which public-health leaders consider necessary for safely ending lockdowns—has lagged behind the nation’s for much of the past two months. Kemp’s move to reopen was condemned by scientists, high-ranking Republicans from his own state, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; it even drew a public rebuke from President Donald Trump, who had reportedly approved the measures before distancing himself from the governor amid the backlash.

By acting with particular haste in what he calls a crucial move to restore economic stability, Kemp has positioned Georgia at the center of a national fight over whether to stay the course with social distancing or try to return to some semblance of normalcy. But it’s easy to misunderstand which Americans stand on each side. Many Georgians have no delusions about the risks of reopening, even if they need to return to work for financial reasons. Among the dozen local leaders, business owners, and workers I spoke with for this article, all said they know some people who disagreed with the lockdown but were complying nonetheless. No one reported serious acrimony in their communities.

Instead, their stories depict a struggle between a state government and ordinary people. Georgia’s brash reopening puts much of the state’s working class in an impossible bind: risk death at work, or risk ruining yourself financially at home. In the grips of a pandemic, the approach is a morbid experiment in just how far states can push their people. Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Interior with black dog, William Robinson

At Slate, Jordan Weissmann writes that red states aren’t immune from being overwhelmed by the pandemic: Republicans Are Absolutely Deluded if They Think Only Blue States Need a Bailout.

With the coronavirus crisis threatening to choke state budgets and force massive, economically damaging spending cuts, Republicans have responded in their time-honored fashion, by telling New York and the rest of blue America to politely drop dead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the tone last week when he said that any aid to state governments would amount to a “blue state bailout.” He suggested that instead of handing governors money, which would supposedly allow them to paper over years of financial mismanagement, Congress should just let states declare bankruptcy. On Tuesday, meanwhile, Donald Trump signaled that he might be willing to discuss aid with Democrats in Congress, but only if states bend the knee on immigration policy….

What’s a bit odd about all of this is that GOP leaders are acting as if they have an upper hand on this issue, because only Democratic strongholds like New York and Illinois are in trouble. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Red states are also fiscally screwed thanks to the coronavirus, and in many cases may be in worse shape than supposedly irresponsible blue states.

It’s unclear why, exactly, some Republicans appear convinced that only political entities that happen to be run by Democrats are about to experience a financial rout. Perhaps it’s because the biggest coronavirus hot spots have tended to be in places like New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. But economic activity has frozen all over the country as governors try to slow the pandemic, and even if Georgia or Texas attempt to “reopen” a bit early, that won’t save them from the shockwaves of a deep national recession. Some Republicans, like McConnell, have seemingly suggested that states like Illinois are in financial trouble now because of their long-standing public pension problems. Insofar as that makes any sense, it’s because some states with pension issues (Illinois, Pennsylvania) haven’t been able to build large rainy day funds or other reserves that would help tide them through this crisis. But that list of offenders also includes McConnell’s own home state of Kentucky, which has one of the worst-managed pensions in the country.
Follow the link the read the rest.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?

Sunday Reads: A tRump Wall Along the Trail of Tears…

 

 

 

Tuesday was like an emotional whiplash, driving to practice…I was crying for songs I heard on the radio, songs that really were not the kind to get weepy over. (I mean, John Mellencamp’s Check it Out?)

From Ellijay to Dalton, the original Trail of Tears…

 

Home of James and Joseph Vann, on the Chieftains Trail in Nortthwest GeorgiaI take a route that follows the exact path of the Trail of Tears, even passing by Chief Vann House that sits atop a hill overlooking a four corner stop that is home to two gas stations and a used car lot. This grand house that once belonged to James Vann, a member of the Cherokee elite. It was built in 1804…and in 1819 President James Monroe spent the night in this home of Cherokee honor. The Vann family continued to live there until February 1835, when James Vann’s eldest son Joseph…and his family were forcibly removed. Imagine, a family whose home once hosted the President of the United States, forced from that home by a different President…sixteen years later. And who was that President? Andrew Jackson, of course.

1830

  • Jackson authorizes Indian Removal Act of 1830.

1835

  • Jackson signs Treaty of New Echota with unrecognized leaders of Cherokee Nation, which allows him to force the Cherokees to move to land in what is now Oklahoma. 4,000 Native Americans die on this journey, also known as the Trail of Tears.

I wonder if Jackson would have called the number of deaths due to his Trail of Tears, “fake news” if Twitter was around back then?

But back to what I was saying….

While following this path of sorrow and death, that is constantly in my thoughts as I drive, I think about the horrors the Cherokee experienced so many years ago.

I think about the irony, that not a half a mile away from the Vann house, along the original route….the original round up route, there is this sign. Blatant. Hate filled. Disgusting.

You should see the other side of this sign, the tRump is surrounded by “patriotic” colored “bricks” of red, white and blue…to make a symbolic wall.

Yes, on this Trail of Tears, there is a wall of support for tRump. The twist of the screw is painful. This tRump supporter is so deplorable, he puts up a sign expressing bigoted racist views, on a road that many years ago…thousands of Native Americans died on while they were rounded up and kicked out of their own country.  And the frosting, the person responsible for this horrendous Act, is the one President that tRump admires most.

On Tuesday, it seemed to truly come into focus.

It was an anniversary, thousands were killed 17 years ago. The death totals from Hurricane Maria were finally making news, in fact it would only be a matter of 36 hours before tRump would tweet this disgusting shit:

 

 

There was only a sliver of a moon on Tuesday, it was the same orange color as the other bright star in the sky…Mars. The road was pitch black. I could see nothing at all, except for the area that my headlights illuminated. I was startled to see a horse and rider coming towards me on the right hand side of the road. This original road marking the Trail of tears.

The horse and the rider were all dark, nothing alerted me to their presence except for the whiteness of the rider’s bare feet. I know it is strange but those white bottoms of a shoe-less rider hit me like a slap across my face. The horse, saddled…not bare backed. The rider fully dressed including a cowboy hat, but riding barefoot? And my headlights reflecting back to me the whiteness of the soles of his feet.

The darkness surrounding this Trail of Tears. The darkness of the day, September 11th. The hate filled sign of a tRump Wall and an American Flag.  It seemed to echo back to the sliver of a blood orange moon…was it waning or waxing? I am so tired of the months that go by…watching everything going to hell. I just want to sleep. No more, please, no more.

 

 

 

 

This is an open thread…please post links to worldly events below.


Thursday Reads: Winter Storms, Political and Corporate Corruption, and Other News

winter2013bookshelves

Good Morning!!

Snow began falling here before 7AM, and there is already a coating over everything. Of course we already had a around a foot of the stuff on the ground, so whatever we get will pile on top of that. Depending on where the rain/snow line falls, everything may be coated with ice by tonight.

Once again the South has been hit hard with winter weather. The Washington Post reports: Winter storm headed toward D.C. knocks out power across the Southeast U.S.

A powerful winter storm dropped a coat of snow and freezing rain across the Southeast on Wednesday, leaving almost 300,000 customers without power, forcing the cancellation ofmore than 3,600 flights, and creating gridlock on roadways in North Carolina.

In Atlanta, where another recent snowstorm had caused massive traffic jams, people seemed to have learned their lesson. Schools were closed. Workers stayed home. The city turned into a kind of wintry ghost town.

But in North Carolina, drivers didn’t seem to have learned the lesson at all.

In both Charlotte and Raleigh, news outlets reported that people headed out onto ice-covered roads in mid-afternoon. The result was the same it had been in Atlanta two weeks ago: creeping traffic, abandoned cars and folks offering stranded motorists a place to stay the night….

As Wednesday went on, the storm swept from Alabama, across Georgia and up into the Carolinas on its way toward Virginia and the Washington area.

Another Winter Storm Affects Atlanta Area

CBS Atlanta warned Georgians to stay off the roads today if possible.

Georgia Department of Transportation officials said they are expecting road conditions to remain treacherous into Thursday morning as sleet and freezing rain is expected to continue. GDOT is urging the public to avoid all but emergency travel until at least mid-day Thursday

Forecasters at the National Weather Service said they are expecting falling pieces of melting ice to pose threats to drivers and pedestrians near overpasses and tall structures on Thursday.

Forecasters are also anticipating wet roads to refreeze Thursday night, which could lead to patches of black ice.

Several inches of snow could accumulate in North Georgia while the area across the state between a line just north of Columbus, Macon, Warner Robins and Statesboro and extending northward to above Interstate Highway 20 are experiencing icing roadways, power lines and trees. Moreover, winds gusting to as much as 30 m.p.h. could cause limbs and trees to fall on power lines and roads. A State of Emergency remains in effect for 91 counties in this region.

Traffic in Charlotte, NC

Traffic in Charlotte, NC

NPR: Winter Storm Paralyzes Roads In North Carolina, Despite Warnings

They knew it was coming. But drivers in North Carolina still fell prey to the winter storm that the National Weather Service predicted would be “potentially crippling” to the area. Even those who left just after noon have been trapped by the heavy snow that arrived today.

“Snow arrives in the Triangle as expected but causes gridlock anyway,” reads the headline in the Raleigh News Observer, referring to the Research Triangle of the cities Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The intense traffic came one day after Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency ahead of the winter storm.

From what we’re seeing, people are blaming the problem on two factors: The snow came on fast and immediately stuck to roads; and most commuters who worked Wednesday tried to leave at the same time, adding to the gridlock.

The worst of the conditions may be yet to come, as officials expect freezing rain and sleet to hit the area as the storm moves out.

From NBC News: ‘Very Rough Commute’ Looms as Snow Blankets Much of Northeast.

The winter storm that tore through the American South, knocking out power to a half-million people, has marched up the East Coast to terrorize the morning commute Thursday.

More than 150 million people remain under a winter storm warning or advisory as snow falls in some Northeast cities at a rate of 1-2 inches per hour.

“The rate of snowfall will be hard to deal with,” said Kevin Roth, a forecaster with the The Weather Channel. “It will be a very rough commute. The may have enough plows to deal with normal storms but with two inches an hour the they drive by and the snow just builds back up. This will affect any roadways or airport runways in the region.”

It could be a very long weekend for many parents. Since Monday is a holiday, schools may just decide to close tomorrow as well as closing or letting out early today.

ray-nagin

Down in New Orleans, it was a bad day for former Mayor Ray Nagin and former St.Tammany coroner Peter Galvin, but a good day for a city that has endured more than it’s share of political corruption. From Nola.com’s James Varney: Ray Nagin convicted, Peter Galvan sentenced – a good day for Louisiana.

Wednesday was a very good day at U.S. District Court in New Orleans for those who favor good government in Louisiana. Or maybe simply for justice.

Either way, when a former mayor of New Orleans gets convicted on 20 of 21 corruption counts in one federal courtroom, and a crooked coroner is sentenced to two years in another, it at least means the bad guys don’t always get away with it.

Who knows what Ray Nagin, New Orleans’ mayor during its darkest hour of Katrina, will be sentenced to? He faces up to 20 years in prison, and I’m hard pressed to come up with many reasons he should get much less….

Meanwhile, disgraced former St. Tammany coroner Peter Galvan, who managed to make himself the highest paid official in the state and sweeten his pension pot while also raking in undeserved sick pay and other goodies, got off with a 2-year sentence when he could have gotten five.

From the Christian Science Monitor summarizes the evidence against Nagin:

The case against the former mayor was towering. In the nine-day trial, prosecutors summoned many co-conspirators to the stand who testified to the pay-to-play schemes Nagin orchestrated, plus the bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that he sought and then redirected to Stone Age, a granite countertop business operated by custom countertops seattle wa, who were not charged.

In addition to the witnesses, prosecutors presented jurors with a mountain of evidence – e-mail correspondence, business contracts, credit card and bank statements, and more – that they said proved the mayor was a willing participant in wielding power for personal profit.

Nagin was convicted on five counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, four counts of filing false tax returns, and one overarching count of conspiracy. Jurors acquitted Nagin of a single charge of bribery related to a $10,000 bribe that prosecutors said he accepted through the family business.

“The physical evidence was so overwhelming that for Ray Nagin to have successfully defended this case, he would have had, in some way, to refute these documents and use his credibility,” says Michael Sherman, a political scientist at Tulane University in New Orleans and a former legal adviser to current mayor Mitch Landrieu.

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Now if we could just get the Federal government to stop letting corporations to get away with murder. My jaw dropped when I saw this headline at Reuters: Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion.

Comcast Corp said on Thursday it would buy Time Warner Cable Inc for $45.2 billion in an all-stock deal that combines the two largest U.S. cable operators.

The friendly takeover comes as a surprise after months of public pursuit of Time Warner Cable by smaller rival Charter Communications Inc, and immediately raised questions as to whether it would pass regulatory scrutiny.

Comcast will pay $158.82 per share, which is roughly what Time Warner Cable demanded from Charter.

The combined company would divest 3 million subscribers, about a quarter of Time Warner’s 12 million customers. Together with Comcast’s 22 million video subscribers, the roughly 30 million total would represent just under 30 percent of the U.S. pay television video market.

The new cable giant would tower over its closest video competitor, DirecTV, which has about 20 million video customers.

WTF?! Comcast already owns broadcast giant NBC, and now they will essential control the distribution of TV and internet cable? If the feds let this go through, it will be another huge step backward to the Robber Baron days. Whatever happened to the Sherman AntiTrust Act, anyway?

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This news out of Kentucky is just unbelievable: Sinkhole ‘erupts’ inside National Corvette Museum. From the Autoblog:

A 40-foot sinkhole (see photo at left)  developed inside the National Corvette Museum overnight in Bowling Green, KY, swallowing up eight vehicles, including two Corvette models on loan from General Motors. No one was in the museum at the time of the incident, which happened early this morning.

According to the NCM, motion sensors were set off at 5:44 AM, leading museum authorities to discover a 25 to 30-foot deep chasm, that Executive Director Wendell Strode called “pretty significant.” The sinkhole developed in the museum’s Skydome, although it can’t be seen on any of the museum’s webcams (the Enthusiast cam is the closest look we can get to what’s going on).

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports emergency personnel remain on the scene, and have only allowed museum employees to remove a single vehicle – the only remaining 1983 Corvette, which was part of a mere 44-vehicle run.

The two cars on loan from GM were a 1993 ZR-1 Spyder and a 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil,” while the damanged museum-owned cars included a 1962 Corvette, the millionth Vette ever built (a 1992), a 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 and the 1.5 millionth car produced. None of the damaged vehicles were on loan from private individuals. The extent of the damage to these vehicles remains unclear at this time.

Finally, some science news: Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claim to have achieved nuclear fusion. From the LA Times: Nuclear fusion reactions mark a ‘milestone’

It took 192 lasers and a building big enough to contain three football fields, but physicists have finally produced a pair of nuclear fusion reactions that created more energy than was in the fuel to start with.

The reactions lasted less than a billionth of a second, and they released only a few thousand joules — enough to power a 100-watt light bulb for less than three minutes. But it marks the first time scientists have been able to harness the power of stars here on Earth.

“This is really an important milestone,” said Warren Mori, a plasma physicist at UCLA who was not involved in the effort.

The experiment, conducted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, is still a very long way from “ignition,” the point at which the reaction generates more energy than was required to kick it off with lasers. Scientists agree that significant hurdles remain before that goal can be reached.

But the tests, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, give researchers a promising sign that they’re finally on the right path to reaching this goal — one that could ultimately lead to cleaner nuclear energy, safer weapons arsenals and a more profound understanding of astrophysics.

So . . . what stories are you following today? As always, please post your recommended links in the comment thread and stay safe and warm where ever you are!


Lazy Caturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

It’s a winter Saturday, a good day to stay in a comfy bed for awhile, relax, and catch up on the latest news. So let’s see what’s happening out there today.

First up, the all-important weather forecast. I know you won’t be surprised to learn there are more winter storms on the way. From the Weather Channel: Winter Storm Maximus Brings Snow, Ice to Midwest, South, East, Rockies Through Monday.

Winter Storm Maximus, the 13th named storm of the winter season in the U.S., will have deposited a wintry mess from coast to coast by the time it is finally over Monday.

This storm will have multiple waves of snow, sleet and freezing rain sweeping west to east across the country.

First, snow will taper off over parts of the southern and central Rockies. A few additional inches of snow are expected over the mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico. This storm will drop snow in the west, parts of the South and Midwest and then move into upstate New York and Northern New England. It’s not yet clear what we’ll be getting in the northeast, but right now we are expecting a warm weekend, and the storm shouldn’t interfere with the Super Bowl tomorrow.

another wave of wintry precipitation kicks off early Sunday in the Southern Plains, spreading to the Ozarks and the Mid-South region Sunday afternoon, then sweeping quickly through the Tennessee Valley, Appalachians and East Sunday night and Monday.

Snow accumulations look most likely in a stripe from northwest Texas into parts of Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virgina, and Virginia with several inches of accumulation possible. Parts of northwest Texas and southern Oklahoma near the Red River could measure up to around six inches of snow.

“Maximus” will be closely followed by Winter Storm Nika, which will bring “widespread” snow and ice to the Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast. Tomorrow is Ground Hog Day, but whether or not the sleepy rodent sees his shadow, it looks like winter is going to continue unabated.

In Georgia, where people are still trying to recover from their state government’s failure to prepare for a winter storm that had been predicted for two days beforehand, investigators are still trying assign blame for the massive f&ck-up.

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From the Atlanta Journal-Contitution: Storm debacle ‘case study’ of emergency management failure.

After two inches of snow turned Georgia into a national punch line, the state’s top disaster responder was cast as one of the debacle’s chief enablers. But the performance of state emergency management director Charley English is only part of larger-scale breakdown of the emergency management system, records and interviews reveal.

Records show there were failures up and down the line before and during Tuesday’s storm.

The performance of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency Tuesday is “a case study in how things can go badly,” said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

It’s also a case study in what can happen if you keep electing Republicans who hate government and don’t believe it has a role in public problem-solving. According to the article, Gov. Nathan Deal and other government officials had plenty of warning that the storm was going to hit Atlanta, yet they did next to nothing to prepare. Read all the gory details at the link.

At The National Memo, Joe Conason provides an example of how government has worked well in two blood-red states: Universal Pre-K? Ask Republicans In Georgia And Oklahoma — And Then Ask Grover Norquist.

Among the biggest policy mistakes of the past 50 years is our continuing failure to provide quality early childhood education to all of America’s kids. For children, families, and society as a whole, the benefits of “universal pre-K” are not only significant and well documented, but offset the financial cost many times over. Although we’ve been aware of these basic facts since the early Sixties, most politicians have preferred to squander billions of dollars on malfunctioning weaponry, catastrophic wars, and petroleum subsidies….

Even if there were no economic upside to starting the education of every child at three or four years of age, the obvious social benefits would vital for any country that aspires to cultivating a vibrant democratic republic. Citizens who can read and do math (and perhaps take an interest in science!) are more likely to succeed at self-government. They are also far more likely to succeed in life.

Enhancing personal opportunity is how universal pre-school generates universal public savings — estimated by a large cohort of studies to lie somewhere between 7 and 17 dollars for every single dollar spent.  Human brains mostly develop well before age five, so children who attend quality pre-school enter kindergarten with social skills, confidence, and knowledge that boosts achievement for many years.

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So what happened in Georgia and Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, where every child has been entitled to free pre-school since 1998, a well-known study by Georgetown University educators found substantially improved cognitive skills and test scores among Tulsa students who had attended public pre-K. The program made the difference between falling below national norms and moving up to achieve them. In Georgia, first to implement universal state-funded pre-school almost 20 years ago, painstaking research has likewise showed gains in math and reading that lasted through eighth grade, especially among underprivileged rural and urban children.

What about Grover Norquist? According to Conason he sends his own kids to D.C.’s free public pre-school program, despise his avowed opposition to taxes of any kind. Maybe some of those right wing Congresspeople should have a talk with him about early childhood education.

It’s looking more and more like the Keystone XL Pipeline will be approved, according to the NYT:

The State Department released a report on Friday concluding that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution, leaving an opening for President Obama to approve the politically divisive project.

The department’s long-awaited environmental impact statement appears to indicate that the project could pass the criteria Mr. Obama set forth in a speech last summer when he said he would approve the 1,700-mile pipeline if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Although the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the report appears to indicate that if it were not built, carbon-heavy oil would still be extracted at the same rate from pristine Alberta forest and transported to refineries by rail instead.

The report sets up a difficult decision for Secretary of State John Kerry, who now must make a recommendation on the international project to Mr. Obama. Mr. Kerry, who hopes to make action on climate change a key part of his legacy, has never publicly offered his personal views on the pipeline. Aides said Mr. Kerry was preparing to “dive into” the 11-volume report and would give high priority to the issue of global warming in making the decision. His aides offered no timetable.

If so, there will be pushback from indigenous Americans: Keystone XL ‘black snake’ pipeline to face ‘epic’ opposition from Native American alliance.

A Native American alliance is forming to block construction of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline which still needs final approval from U.S. President Barack Obama after the State Department released an environmental report indicating the project wouldn’t have a significant impact Alberta tar sands production.

Members from the seven tribes of the Lakota Nation, along with tribal members and tribes in Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, have been preparing to stop construction of the 1,400 kilometre pipeline which is slated to run, on the U.S. side, from Morgan, Mon., to Steel City, Neb., and pump 830,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s tar sands. The pipeline would originate in Hardisty, Alta.

“It poses a threat to our sacred water and the product is coming from the tar sands and our tribes oppose the tar sands mining,” said Deborah White Plume, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which is part of the Lakota Nation in South Dakota. “All of our tribes have taken action to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Read the rest at the link.

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The Economist has an interesting article about the Winter Olympic games and Vladimir Putin’s Russia: Sochi or bust: The conspicuous dazzle of the games masks a country, and a president, in deepening trouble

FEBRUARY 7th sees the opening of the winter Olympics in Sochi on the Black Sea. The message of the games is simple: “Russia is back”. Sochi was planned as a celebration of Russia’s resurgence, a symbol of international recognition and a crowning moment for Vladimir Putin, its president, who for the present seems to have seen off all his challengers.

Appropriately, the opening ceremony will include the image of the Russian “troika-bird” from Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls”. “Rus,” wrote Gogol, “aren’t you soaring like a spry troika that can’t be overtaken? The road is smoking under you, the bridges thunder, everything steps aside and is left behind!…Is this lightning thrown down from heaven? Other nations and states gaze askance, step off the road and give [you] right of way.”

The quote has long been used to justify Russian exceptionalism and moral superiority. Gogol describes Russia as a deeply flawed and corrupt country, but it is precisely its misery and sinfulness that entitles it to mystical regeneration. His troika carries a swindler, Chichikov, and his drunken coachman, but it is transformed into the symbol of a God-inspired country that gloriously surpasses all others.

So, too, with the Sochi Olympics. This grand enterprise, the largest construction project in Russia’s post-Soviet history, is also a microcosm of Russian corruption, inefficiencies, excesses of wealth and disregard for ordinary citizens. The Olympics are widely seen as an extravagant caprice of Russia’s rulers, especially its flamboyantly macho president, rather than a common national effort. The cost of the games has more than quadrupled since 2007, making them, at $50 billion, the most expensive in history. One member of the International Olympic Committee thinks about a third of that money has been stolen. Russia’s opposition leaders say the figure is much higher.

Check it out. It’s a long read, but worthwhile, IMO.

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There’s some good news out of New York City, now that neo-facist Mayor Mike Bloomberg is gone. It looks like the “stop and frisk” policy will end soon: Mayor Says New York City Will Settle Suits on Stop-and-Frisk Tactics.

New York City will settle its long-running legal battle over the Police Department’s practice of stopping, questioning and often frisking people on the street — a divisive issue at the heart of the mayoral race last year — by agreeing to reforms that a judge ordered in August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday.

In making the announcement, which he said he hoped would end a turbulent chapter in the city’s racial history, Mr. de Blasio offered a sweeping repudiation of the aggressive policing practices that had been a hallmark of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, but that had stoked anger and resentment in many black and Latino neighborhoods. He essentially reversed the course set by Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had appealed the judge’s ruling.

“We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We believe in ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.”

That’s great news, but I wish he had noted that women have also been targeted, often in sexually abusive ways.

I’ll wrap this up and put my remaining links in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same. Please let us know what stories you’ve found interesting today.

Have a great weekend everyone!!