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Laughing in the Face of Denial

TOPSHOT – Trump supporters engaging in healing the country at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. –  (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Not this again.

From Trump lawyer David Schoen on day one of the second Trump impeachment trial:

[The House impeachment managers] tell us that we have to have this impeachment trial, such as it is, to bring about unity. But they don’t want unity, and they know this so-called trial will tear this country in half, leaving tens of millions of Americans feeling left out of the nation’s agenda as dictated by one political party that now holds the power in the White House and our national legislature. But they are proud Americans, who never quit getting back up when they are down and they don’t take dictates from another party based on partisan force-feeding. This trial will tear this country apart, perhaps like we have seen only once before in our history.

*sigh*

Long ago, as a young pastor, a couple came to me about concerns with their marriage. The husband had slept with someone else, and when his wife threatened to file for divorce, they came to me together for advice. After some pleasantries at the beginning of the conversation, the tone quickly shifted. Filled with righteous indignation, the husband said “She’s going to file for divorce and break up our family! Whatever happened to forgiveness? Tell her she can’t do that!”

I laughed out loud.

Not a chuckle, not a single snort, but a good 15 seconds of laughter. (I said I was young.) They both looked at me in absolute shock. When I quelled my laughter, I said “*She* is going to break up your family? Please. *You* broke up the relationship when you slept around. That relationship is dead. You have to decide if you are willing to take responsibility for that and make the effort to repair it, or if you want to live in denial that breaking your marriage vows wasn’t that big a deal and sleeping around really didn’t hurt anyone.”

This was met with silence, so I plunged on.

Still speaking to the husband (but with the wife listening closely), I said “You don’t get to decide the terms of how she forgives anyone. Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it was. It means that she quits seeing you as a monster, and quits letting the pain you caused her continue to govern her life. If she forgives you, it doesn’t automatically mean that you two will stay married. It just means she is done with letting what you did continue to hurt her. If you want this relationship to be healed and this marriage to be rebuilt, that starts with honesty, not denial. Honesty about what happened, honesty about how damaging and painful it was, and honesty about what you are or are not willing to do going forward.”

No, that husband was not David Schoen — but in listening to Schoen yesterday, the two of them sure sound a lot alike. The more Schoen and the defenders of Trump talk about unity and moving on without acknowledging anything about Trump’s role in the insurrection, the more they show they have no interest in unity or healing.

But we already knew that.

In one of my former congregations, I had a parishioner who was a psychologist who worked with men who had been convicted of child abuse, and the two of us had a number of long conversations around abuse and denial. When someone is accused of child abuse, my parishioner told me, he would see the same dynamic play out with each one. First, they deny that the abuse happened. “I didn’t do it!” When presented with evidence that they did indeed do it, the denial shifts to avoiding judgment: “OK, but it’s no big deal. No one got hurt. She/he came on to me. He/she had it coming. You have no right to judge me for that.” When that doesn’t work, denial pulls out the big trump card to avoid any consequences: “You have to forgive me!”

Perpetrators of abuse turn to denial because if there are consequences to their actions, something will have to die – their image of themselves, their relationships with others, and more. Denial is how they hope that nothing in their lives will have to change, with no consequences for their damaging actions.

Honesty, on the other hand, is where perpetrators of abuse turn if they are truly interested in healing and moving on. From everything I heard yesterday, the abusers and their enablers have no interest in healing. Power? Absolutely. Healing? Not so much.

This trial will not tear this country apart. Trump has already torn it apart.

The question now is whether the Senate wants to honestly acknowledge that reality and begin to deal with it by holding Trump accountable, or if they want to remain in denial and encourage the tear in our country to continue growing.

 

Who Did More This Year to Help their (or anyone else’s) Country?

What do you do when confronted by a humanitarian crisis? José Andrés did it the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. Buy the book here.

While Marcy’s earlier post comparing and contrasting the destructiveness of the current administrations in the US and UK is important, it is far too depressing a way to end 2020. Don’t get me wrong: we absolutely need to be aware of the specific problems induced by, exacerbated by, and enabled by Trump and Johnson, but as critical as that examination of the mess is, we need one thing more.

While Donald and the Grifters were doing their worst this year in DC/Mar-a-Lago, and Boris and the Bunglers were doing the same in the UK, there were others doing other things that were absolutely spectacular. They were spectacular on their own, but in contrast to the elected national leaders, they were even more amazing.

Over in the UK, while Boris was fiddling over Westminster and worrying about deficits, a young footballer (US: soccer player) named Marcus Rashford decided he’d had enough. Marcus grew up in public housing, and was quite familiar with being short of food growing up. One reason his mom fought to get him into a football academy/boarding school at age 11 was because he was good at the game, and another was that it meant he’d get fed decently and allow her income to feed the rest of the family.

Rashford has never forgotten what a difference a decent meal means to a young child, and his efforts to address childhood hunger have grown as he has moved from being a teenage football phenom into one of the stars of the Premier League. A year ago, he led a big local effort in his hometown of Manchester to provide food to the hungry over the holidays; this past year he has been leading the effort to do the same with kids all over the UK — and doing so in the teeth of policies put forward by Boris Johnson and the Tories. In a powerful open letter to the members of Parliament last June, Rashford wrote:

This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling like we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?

The next day, after a couple of abortive attempts to defend themselves in the face of huge public support for Rashford’s letter, Boris Johnson and the Tories announced a U-turn and set up a program to feed hungry kids over the summer.

But Poor Boris just couldn’t learn. In October, as COVID-19 continued to ravage the UK, Rashford and others asked Parliament to set up a meal program that would feed poor kids over the Christmas holiday break when there would be no “free lunch” meals at school. Rashford pushed, but the Tories in parliament held firm (or firm enough) to reject a motion to pay for these meals, and so Rashford pushed some more. Two weeks and much outrage later, Boris caved again.

What is so powerful about Rashford personally is that it’s not just about food with him — it’s that he sees real people struggling with real problems, and he works indefatigably to address both the problem and the person. For instance . . .

In February 2020, Rashford received a letter from a young fan, who invited him to be a judge at his school for a poetry competition.

“Dear Marcus Rashford, please will you be our judge for our World Book Day poetry competition?” read the letter.

“The deaf children in Manchester will write poems. Please can you pick your winners! And give our prizes if you can? Please let us know if you can before Feb 7th.”

After agreeing to judge the competition, Rashford then started learning sign language in preparation for the meeting the kids.

The England international has vowed to hand out the awards in person when the current lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Thank God, Marcus Rashford is not alone.

Based out of the US, world-renowned chef José Andrés has been doing the same kind of work. It began when Andrés saw the absolutely inept response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He gathered a bunch of cooks, called on his network of suppliers, and set up a huge field kitchen operation to feed both those responding to the emergency but also the ordinary folks who live there. His work to organize a response meant jobs for local restaurant folks who provided the bulk of the workforce alongside his emergency crew members, and this became a juggernaut in the disaster relief world: World Central Kitchen. Since then, WCK has gone into Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Florida and the Gulf Coast after US hurricanes, and all kinds of other locations suffering from disasters, man-made and otherwise.

And then came COVID-19.

As pandemic-related lockdowns ravaged the food industry, Andrés devoted himself even more strongly to turning the devastated restaurant industry into a powerful force for feeding the growing numbers of folks in need of food. “It is WCK’s intention that by working directly with restaurants and providing demand for the restaurant business, we can get meals to those who need them most while also uplifting an industry that needs all of our help to keep their doors open.” Andrés sums up the mission of WCK quite simply: “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people may eat, we will be there.”

And they are.

The key to the work of both Rashford and Andrés is that they see themselves as partners with those in need, not as saviors who swoop in and do their thing, take a bow, and then leave. This mindset of partnership stands in stark contrast to Trump and Johnson, and the way in which the broader, non-political community has gotten behind folks like Rashford and Andrés is a challenge to politicians, as Johnson’s Tories learned not once but twice.

This afternoon, Rashford tweeted this out (paragraph breaks added for readability, but punctuation from the original):

I’ve got a game tomorrow so I need to sign off here but before I go I wanted to reflect on what has been the most challenging year. I’ve been so proud to see people coming together to help those in need and that same compassion needs to continue into 2021 because it’s people like you that make this country great and there is still so much more work to do. We have shown the difference we can make when we unite.

Don’t look back on this year thinking you haven’t achieved anything, you achieved everything. You survived 2020. Your strength was tested and you made it. Give yourself a pat on the back. I’m hoping in 2021 I get to celebrate in the crowd with you again, I really just miss that, I can’t believe none of you got to be with me for the Leipzig hat trick but hoping there will be many more.

Everything I have achieved this year has been our achievement I couldn’t have done it without your support. Let’s aim and hope for an equal playing field for all in 2021. Love to you all. Be safe and a happy new year. MR x

[That Leipzig hat trick was amazing – he came off the bench in the second half and scored 3 goals in just 18 minutes. But I digress.]

Back in late 1970s, in the face of anti-gay activists like Anita Bryant and the politicians like John Briggs who sought their votes, Harvey Milk brought his own community-based political approach to the streets of San Francisco. While he was withering in his critique of those who put the big money powers first, of those who lived to oppress others, and those who preached a “go slow” approach to seeking change, he knew that was not enough. When speaking to his supporters about reaching out to others, he told them that beyond criticism, one more thing is needed: “You gotta give ’em hope.”

That’s what Marcus Rashford does. That’s what José Andrés does. That’s what countless of less famous others do on a smaller, more local level. As I said at the top, Marcy’s earlier post was necessary, but going forward we need signs of hope.

But Rashford is right: there is still so much more work to do. As we come to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, as we mourn the efforts of Trump and Johnson to push their countries into hopelessness, who gave hope to you and your corner of the world?

Poor Donald Trump Got Dumped

h/t rocksunderwater (public domain)

Poor Donald Trump.

He’s been having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, every day for about the last six weeks. He lost the election, then in his battle to overturn things in court he lost and lost and lost and lost some more, each time more bigly than that last. But the worst day, the most terrible horrible no good very bad day of them all, had to be last Sunday, when the Russian electronic spying operation using Solar Wind to hack into highly sensitive government and corporate networks became public.

There has been a lot written about the potential damage of the Solar Wind mess, both in terms of national security and corporate secrets, most of which is speculation. But there is one bit of enormous damage that is obvious, not at all speculative, but is getting no attention at all from anyone.

Along with the rest of the world, Donald Trump just learned that he got dumped by Vladimir Putin.

We almost made it up where they are
But losing your love
Brought me down hard
Now I’m just hanging, just getting by
Where expectations aren’t that high, but

Here on cloud 8
A lotta nothing’s going on
I’m just drifting day to day
Out here on my own
While up on cloud 9
I hear ’em party all the time
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8

Poor Donald. He just learned that Putin has been doing stuff behind his back, all while Putin has been telling him that he’s Putin’s BFF. It’s been almost a week, and poor Donald still can’t come to grips with it.

He’s tweeted about getting the COVID-19 vaccines out (“Yay Me!”) He’s tweeted about the “fact” that he actually won the election and condemned everyone who has failed to have his back (Brian Kemp, he’s looking at you). He’s tweeted about bizarre public health theories (“masks and lockdowns don’t work!”). He’s tweeted about vetoing the defense bill in order to defend 19th century traitors. He’s tweeted about Senator-to-be Tommy Tuberville, on whom he’s pinning his hopes of overturning the election when the electoral college vote gets to Congress. He’s tweeted against Mitch McConnell for arguing against this. But despite this flood of tweets, the one thing he can’t bear to tweet about is being dumped.

And it’s not just that he got dumped. It’s that Putin cheated on him.

He cheated on Trump for months, privately whispering sweet nothings in his ear in their special phone calls, while working behind Trump’s back. Worst of all, in Trump’s mind the hack tells Trump that Putin believed that Trump would lose, and Putin needed to take advantage of Trump’s blindness while he could.

And it’s not just that Putin cheated on him and didn’t believe in him. It’s that everyone knows that Putin cheated on him

Angela Merkel knows. Boris Johnson knows. Emmanuel Macron knows. Justin Trudeau knows. Xi Jinping knows. Kim Jong Un knows. Jacinda Ardern knows. Even Andrés Manuel López Obrador knows about it, and Trump is sure that everyone in Mexico is laughing at him. Even the nobodies who rule those shithole countries know, and they’re laughing too. Putin made him look like a fool in front of everyone in the whole cafeteria world, and they’re all laughing at him.

And it’s not just that Putin made him look like a fool. It’s that there’s not a damn thing that Trump can do about it.

Everyone knows that Trump has been played, bigly. Trump can’t run a PR operation to deflect things. He can’t deny that it ever happened. He can’t say that he dumped Putin and not the other way around. He can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. And he can’t keep everyone in the whole damn world from talking about it, and from laughing about him behind his back.

While up on cloud 9
I hear ’em party all the time
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8

And before you think this is all a good laugh, and that Trump got what’s been coming to him, I’ve got two words for you: John Hinckley. Something tells me that Trump does not take well to being dumped, being cheated on, and being held up before the world as a fool.

And that scares me.

Who Will Be Forced to Walk the Plank on November 4th?

Who will Trump force to walk the plank after the election?
(h/t Stacey Harvey for the image, [CC Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) ]

Win or lose, Donald Trump will be looking for vengeance once the election is over. Either he will lose, and want to punish those he deems responsible, or he will win and want to punish the folks he’s had to put up with despite their failures to do what he wanted. One way or another, Trump will want to make certain people pay and pay dearly after the voting is over.

It might be to get rid of people who have angered him by not being sufficiently publicly loyal and submissive.

It might be to get rid of people who angered him by not being sufficiently good at making Trump look good before the election.

It might be to get rid of people who angered him by making him look bad, indecisive, or (gasp!) wrong.

It might be to get rid of people who stood up to him in private and made him back down on something, even if that backing down was only done in private.

It might be to get rid of people who stood up to him in public, and he had to simply take it at the time because Trump would have paid a price if he got rid of them when it happened.

Put me down for Trump demanding that the following people be forced to walk the plank:

  • Doctors Tony Fauci at NAIAD, Stephen Hahn at FDA, and Robert Redfield at CDC, along with HHS Secretary Alex Azar for not keeping these disloyal doctors in line;
  • Bill Barr for failing to deliver any indictments and convictions of any Bidens or Clintons, John Durham for dragging his feet on his reports that would have made that happen, Christopher Wray for being the FBI director and generally annoying, whoever approved letting Andrew Weissmann reveal that Manafort was breaking the gag order in his case by communicating with Sean Hannity, and a host of other US Attorneys who didn’t behave according to Trump’s rules;
  • General Mark Milley for publicly apologizing for taking part in the infamous Bible-waving photo op created by driving protesters out of Lafayette Park with chemical agents, various generals and admirals who refused to back Trump’s call to deploy US troops to American cities he didn’t like, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for not keeping these military folks in line;
  • Dr. Sean Conley, for not being more deceptive with the press around Trump’s COVID-19 status;
  • Mark Meadows for undermining Conley’s initial “he’s doing great” press remarks, as well as for more generally not keeping the WH functioning smoothly (as if that were possible, given his boss);
  • Mike Pompeo for failing to get Ukraine to do Trump’s bidding, as well as for not keeping folks like Fiona Hill in line.

But I must admit this is an incomplete list. Who else do you think might be on Trump’s Naughty List? Add your own thoughts in the comments.

Note: I also left off the list a bunch of folks like Mitch McConnell, Andrew Cuomo, Savannah Guthrie, and Cy Vance that Trump would demand walk the plank, but who remain outside his ability to make that happen. I also didn’t include Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr, or Eric, as he can’t fire his family. Though of course, he could disinherit them . . . for whatever that’s worth.

Doesn’t Anyone in the Media Read the Actual Election Laws?

Election Resolution Judges
(h/t Lance Fisher and used under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic [CC BY-SA 2.0])

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and all elections were conducted either with paper ballots or “pull the lever” machines, my high school government class was given an election season project. For the precinct around our high school, we were to do four things: (1) canvas the neighborhood to determine who was registered and who was not, (2) work to increase the number of registered voters, (3) try to get as many of these folks to the polls on election day as possible, and (4) report back to the teacher how it all went.

Shorter #4: It was a blast.

Oh, it was a lot of work, too. Lots of knocking on doors (and going back and back again when no one was home), and also lots of reading the elections laws. What were the deadlines? What did we have to do in order to be polling place observers, so that we could see who voted in the morning in order to start making calls or knocking on doors in the afternoon and evening? What were we allowed to do in the polling place, and what were we not allowed to do? Who would make the GOTV visits in the afternoon and early evening? Who had a driver’s license and a vehicle, so we could offer rides to the polls, if needed? Who could be available to babysit, if needed?

In a precinct that generally had turnout of around 30%, that year it hit 70%. We weren’t allowed to be advocates for a candidate or ballot proposition (this was a non-partisan school project, after all), but simply were trying to get as many folks as possible to the polls, and we did a damn good job. In the years that followed, I’m sure there were campaign strategists who looked at that number and figured it must have been a typo, because it never came close to that again.

Since high school, I’ve worked on a number of campaigns, from local school board stuff to Paul Simon’s presidential campaign and a bunch at every level in between. One thing I’ve never forgotten is simple: read the election law.

With all the “will we have a winner on Election Night?” blather, it seems few in the media have bothered to do that one very simple thing.

So let’s give it a try, OK? From the Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 115:

115.508. Certification of election prohibited prior to noon on Friday after election day.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no election authority or verification board shall certify election results, as required under section 115.507, before noon on the Friday after election day.

What? You mean it’s illegal (at least in Missouri) for an election board – city, county, or state – to certify a winner before Friday?

115.507. Announcement of Results by verification board, contents, when due—abstract of votes to be official returns.—
1. Not later than the second Tuesday after the election, the verification board shall issue a statement announcing the results of each election held within its jurisdiction and shall certify the returns to each political subdivision and special district submitting a candidate or question at the election. The statement shall include a categorization of the number of regular and absentee votes cast in the election, and how those votes were cast; provided however, that absentee votes shall not be reported separately where such reporting would disclose how any single voter cast his or her vote. When absentee votes are not reported separately the statement shall include the reason why such reporting did not occur. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the election authority to tabulate absentee ballots by precinct on election night.

What? You mean that each election jurisdiction has two weeks to submit their certification, and ballot counters don’t have to pull an all-nighter on election night?

115.430. Provisional ballots, used when, exceptions, procedure, counted when, how—rulemaking authority—free access system established—provisional ballot only used,when—no jurisdiction in state courts to extend polling hours.—
All provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility has been verified as provided in this section shall be counted in accordance with the rules governing ballot tabulation. Provisional ballots shall not be counted until all provisional ballots are determined either eligible or ineligible and all provisional ballots must be processed before the election is certified.

Here’s part of why you can’t certify a winner before Friday, and you get two weeks to finish the count. By Missouri state law, every individual provisional ballot has to be either accepted or rejected before ANY provisional ballots are actually tabulated and added to the regular count. If you get a lot of provisional ballots, or if there are lots of challenges to these ballots, this could take a while. And if you have both of those things, it *will* take a while.

What is reported on election night is — and always has been — unofficial. When you go to any state’s election website next Tuesday evening and frantically refresh the page to get the latest numbers, they will tell you that these results are unofficial. They aren’t official until at least a couple of days later, after every precinct has verified and counted all their provisional ballots, checked all their math, and filed a formal certification with their Secretary of State. Careful media voices may project a winner on election night, but it’s not official until the certification of the results is complete.

And at least in Missouri, that is not allowed to happen before the Friday after the election, and could be as much as two weeks after election day.

Look, I get it. I want to know who will win all kinds of different races as soon as anyone, but it’s not an automatic sign of any nefarious goings on if no clear winner is projected on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. More than anything, it’s a sign that everyone from the election judge in your local polling place on up to the Secretary of State wants to be really sure that they got the count right before they declare it to be official.

I know that Donald Trump doesn’t know election law, or even the mechanics of how elections work once the polls close, and I have no illusions about educating him on that subject. I just wish the media would quit imitating his ignorance.

The Chicks Are Owed An Apology

Once upon a time, back when the United States was under the leadership of another fairly incompetent Republican President (yes yes, Bush and Cheney look a little better now compared to Trump and Pence, but only because they were actually semi-competent in their evil, but they were still very evil), there was was sensationally good crossover country/pop group known as the Dixie Chicks.

They were country, but never of the “stars and bars” Dixie kind. It was simply an appellation. In fact, they were all pretty forward and progressive thinking and talking. And man did they get in trouble for it. I guess the new term of the day is “cancelled”, which is kind of an idiotic term, but the howlers really did try to obliterate Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire. From Wiki:

On March 10, 2003, nine days before the invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks performed at the Shepherds Bush Empire theater in London, England. It was the first concert of their Top of the World tour in support of their sixth album, Home. Introducing their song “Travelin’ Soldier”, Maines told the audience the band they did not support the upcoming Allied invasion of Iraq and were “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas. Many American country music listeners supported the war, and Maines’s remark triggered a backlash in the United States. The Dixie Chicks were blacklisted by thousands of country radio stations, and the band members received death threats. Maines issued an apology, saying her remark had been disrespectful; in 2006 she rescinded the apology, saying she felt Bush deserved no respect. The backlash damaged sales of their music and sales of their next album and tour.

In a September 2003 interview, Maguire told the German magazine Der Spiegel: “We don’t feel a part of the country scene any longer, it can’t be our home anymore.” She noted a lack of support from country stars, and being shunned at the 2003 ACM Awards. “Instead, we won three Grammys against much stronger competition. So we now consider ourselves part of the big rock ‘n’ roll family.” Some fans were dismayed, but the group made no clear response.

If you have forgotten, which is awfully easy to do in these pandemic days of Trump, this was a huge deal at the time. The United States government under the Bush/Cheney regime, and the entire country music scene hated on them and ostracized them. It was one of those kind of fulcrum moments. It was not just the Iraq war, it was torture, the unitary executive, free speech, protest…..everything was wrapped up, in a cultural way, in the actions of the Dixie Chicks. It was symbolic of the divide.

But Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire were bad ass and stuck to their morals and thoughts. They got hammered at the time, but they hung in and are still here bigger and badder ass than ever. They are now just The Chicks, having dumped the Dixie part of their original name. The Chicks are owed a debt of gratitude and an apology for the idiocy and bigotry they faced from the howlers during the Bush/Cheney years, and they are here to let you know they are still on the good side of the cutting edge.

The Chicks have a new song and video out. “March March”, and it is truly awesome. A song for this time. I saw it last night at Atrios’ joint, and it is really superb. Take a look. Expand it and watch it full screen, it is worth it. This is the music of protest, and in the best way. Music was key in the 60’s and it is key now. It spreads far and wide what people feel, whether they are in the streets or at home. The “at home” part seems even more pertinent now in the time of unabated pandemic at the hands of yet another evil Administration. And that is our trash talk for this weekend, get on it!

Trump And Southern Governors Team Up To Kill Republican Voters

The New York Times is out with another set of jaw-dropping cell phone data. This time, the analysis addresses, on a county by county basis, when various areas reduced their average travel below two miles a day. When I saw the map, it immediately looked to me like the map for the 2016 presidential election results. Because the areas where people still had not curtailed travel by March 26 were primarily in the South, I grabbed that section of the map and pulled a similar cut from a map of the 2016 voting results.

There really isn’t much that needs to be added to this, other than to point out that Southern Republican governors, by delaying statewide stay home orders, allowed control to devolve to the county and city level. The small pockets of blue you see in the 2016 election results overlay almost perfectly on the pockets which shut down despite the lack of action by Republican governors. My little island of blue, Alachua County, stands out nicely in north central Florida. Note also how isolated the Birmingham area is in Alabama. This map makes it not at all surprising that Birmingham elected a progressive mayor in 2017.

The correlation is not complete, as I’m a bit stumped by St. John’s county appearing to have shut down travel around the same time as Alachua County. I don’t think they ever did a county shut down, and in fact they didn’t even close their beaches until March 29, after a viral photo showed massive numbers of people on the beach on the St. Johns side of the line at Duval County on March 28.

What the Times map shows, though, is that we have a massive social experiment underway. In the South, red counties have been much slower about curtailing travel (and presumably social contact) than blue counties. According to Marcy’s constantly updated list, Florida, Georgia, Mississipi and Texas have statewide shut down or stay home orders going into effect today or tomorrow. I do hope that the cell phone tracking data collection continues, so that we can see if there even is compliance in these deep red areas. Considering Trump’s early rhetoric and the blather from Fox News, it would not surprise me in the least if compliance is much slower and spottier in these areas.

It almost goes without saying that the longer these areas continue social mixing, the longer the rest of us who are already isolating will have to wait before there can be a consideration of a general easing of restrictions. And, of course, we can sadly expect the death toll to stay high longer in those areas continuing to travel. The end result of this is that Trump’s failure to move quickly on a national stay home order, coupled with red state Republican governors parroting that rhetoric, means that in the South, counties that vote predominantly Republican could see deaths stretching out much farther into the summer than in counties and cities controlled by Democrats who enacted social distancing much earlier.

Update: I am too angry to address this any further than to give this link and a couple of paragraphs:

Hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday, he quietly signed a second order to override restrictions put in place by local governments to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The second order states that new state guidelines that take effect Friday morning “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.” In other words, local governments cannot place any limitations that would be more strict than the statewide guidelines.

Locally, it means Hillsborough County cannot mandate churches close their doors, a rule that drew national attention and the ire of the local Republican Party after Tampa megachurch The River of Tampa Bay held two Sunday services, leading to the arrest of pastor Rodney Howard Browne.

Seriously though, fuck Ron DeSantis very thoroughly.

A Virus Does Not Care

There’s a right way to deal with a pandemic, and a wrong way to deal with a pandemic

A virus does not care. A virus simply wants to reproduce, and for that it needs a host. A virus does not care about who that host is. A virus just wants a place to live, eat, and reproduce. A virus does not care if it makes the host sick. A virus does not care if it kills the host. This is the First Rule of Viruses: A virus does not care.

In 1918, as WWI was being fought in Europe, a virus emerged at Camp Funston, in the area of Fort Riley, Kansas. This virus did not care about the war. The virus did not care about Our Boys who were preparing to go fight that war. The virus did not care about the farmers in the Kansas fields, who dropped at their plows in the fields when the virus attacked.

A virus does not care.

The soldiers from Fort Riley went to the front lines in Europe with their guns, their ammo, their packs, and their gear, and they took that virus with them. It attacked their comrades in arms, and it attacked their enemies across the trenches.

A virus does not care.

The virus attacked King Alphonso XIII of Spain. Wherever the virus appeared, people began to speak of “the Spanish Flu,” going back to the widely-reported news of the mighty king it brought low. But the virus didn’t care. The virus attacked soldiers. The virus attacked ordinary villagers. Some lived, and some died.

A virus does not care.

The virus spread across the US, just as the war was beginning to come to an end. Bonds were being sold to pay for the war, and soldiers were starting to come home. The virus did not care about the bonds. The virus did not care about the homecoming celebrations being planned.

A virus does not care.

But people care, and they care about lots of things, and that’s where things got worse. People care about their status. People care about their businesses and their livelihoods. People care about parades the celebrate the end of a long and ugly war. People care about gathering in the corner bar with their friends, and playing sports in the local parks. People care about staying safe when danger threatens. People care about singing and dancing and enjoying life. People care about a million and one things, but a virus does not care about any of those things.

A virus does not care.

By 1918, people knew how to deal with a spreading virus in two broad ways: quit interacting so closely with others and practice good hygiene (both individually and as a community). They knew that beating a virus requires that a community care about itself just as much as the virus does not care at all. Give the virus an inch, and it will continue its deadly spread.

Because a virus does not care.

Some communities enacted a wide variety of what epidemiologists today call “nonpharmaceutical interventions” – prohibiting large public gatherings, closing businesses, shutting down churches, suspending schools, and so on. Other communities enacted some of these measures, but not all of them. Some communities took few measures, or decided “We’ll prohibit large gatherings, but not until after the big parade next week.” On the spectrum from “we need to shut everything down” to “we need business as usual,” St. Louis was on one end of the spectrum, and Philadelphia was in the other.

St. Louis:

By late September, Jefferson Barracks [a US military post in St. Louis] went under quarantine as the first soldiers came down with the flu.

In early October, city health commissioner Dr. Max C. Starkloff ordered the closure of schools, movie theaters, saloons, sporting events and other public gathering spots. Churches were told to suspend Sunday services. At the time, with nearly 800,000 residents, St. Louis was among the top 10 largest American cities. . . .

Theater owners, as some of the largest taxpayers at the time, protested the closures. Musicians and entertainers claimed the quarantine threatened their careers. Others were delighted — anti-alcohol leagues that were forming in the runup to Prohibition went on the lookout for taverns that violated the shutdown, [director of library and collections at the Missouri History Museum Chris] Gordon said.

Within two days of the quarantine, eight soldiers at Jefferson Barracks were dead, another eight residents died at St. Louis City Hospital and the number of area flu cases topped 1,150.

Jacob Meeker, a St. Louis congressman, died Oct. 16, six days after touring Jefferson Barracks. He was 40.

With the flu continuing its rampage, Starkloff imposed a stricter quarantine in November, closing down all businesses with few exceptions including banks, newspapers, embalmers and coffin makers, according to Post-Dispatch archives.

The American Red Cross shifted from making bandages to face masks. Volunteers passed around blankets and vats of broth to flu sufferers. An ambulance waited at Union Station to take any sickly train passengers directly to the hospital upon arrival. Police officers and mail carriers wore masks on their daily routes.

And as these measures took hold, it slowed the virus down.

Philadelphia:

In an effort to boost morale for the war and also to sell bonds, the city of Philadelphia threw a parade that drew 200,000 people, despite warnings that the Spanish flu was spreading among the soldiers who were about to head off to World War I and would be in the parade.

That didn’t turn out to be a good idea.

Days later, hospitals in the area were filled with patients suffering or dying from the Spanish flu.

Weeks later, more than 4,500 people in the Philadelphia area died from the virus.

The graph at the top of the post, from a 2007 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the picture of these two approaches in stark, and by now familiar, terms.

Unlike a virus, people get to choose what they care about and how that care will be expressed. In 1918, to borrow from the Grail Knight, the leaders of Philadephia chose . . . poorly, while the leaders in St. Louis chose wisely.

Today, like many places, I and my neighbors in metro Kansas City (on both sides of the state line) are living under a locally-imposed “stay-at-home” order, with school buildings closed, business activity limited to those deemed essential and curtailing large public gatherings completely, including weddings and funerals.

You see, the leaders here know that a virus does not care. Other leaders, however . . .

From an interview on Fox:

Trump: I saw wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full—you know the churches aren’t allowed to have much of a congregation there. And most of them, I watched on Sunday online—and it was terrific, by the way—but online is never going to be like being there. So I think Easter Sunday and you’ll have packed churches all over our country—I think it will be a beautiful time. And it’s just about the timeline that I think is right.

A virus does not care about whether churches are full or empty on Easter. A virus doesn’t care if it is beautiful. A virus doesn’t care about your personal faith or lack thereof. In Omaha in 1918, Rev. Siefke S. de Freese, a seemingly healthy 35 year old pastor, led worship on a Sunday, then quickly died days later. A virus does not care.

From yesterday’s coronavirus task force presser:

Q: Mr President, you just reiterated that you hope to have the country reopened by Easter. You said earlier you would like to see churches packed on that day. My question is, you have two doctors on stage with you. Have either of them told you that’s a realistic timeline?

Trump: I think we’re looking at a timeline, we’re discussing it. We had a very good meeting today. If you add it all up. That’s probably nine days plus another two and a half weeks. It’s a period of time that’s longer than the original two weeks, so we’re going to look at it. We’ll only do it if it’s good and maybe we do sections of the country. We do large sections of the country. That could be too, but we’re very much in touch with Tony and with Deborah whenever they [crosstalk].

Q: Who suggested Easter? Who suggested that day?

Trump: I Just thought it was a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline. It’s a great day. . . . I’d love to see it come even sooner, but I just think it would be a beautiful timeline.

A virus does not care if it is a beautiful time. A virus does not care if it is a great day. A virus does not care what you think. A virus does not care what you love.

A virus Does. Not. Care.

We can choose how we respond to an uncaring virus. We can choose like St. Louis did, or we can choose like Philadelphia. And for far too many people, my friends, that is a choice between life and death. And in 1918, even St. Louis didn’t get it completely right:

The quarantine was temporarily lifted Nov. 18 but reinstated when the flu roared back in December. By Dec. 10 the flu peaked in the city with 60 deaths in one day. After illnesses declined sharply, the quarantine was lifted just after Christmas.

Look at that graph again, and you can see the bump at the end of November when the quarantine was prematurely lifted. The virus came back, because a virus does not care.

I’m a pastor. I’d love to see my church packed to the rafters on Easter. I’d love to hear the trumpets leading a 1000 voices in grand hymns of celebration. But that’s not going to happen, because while a virus does not care, I do.

We’re going to be closed this year. Not because we want to be. Not because we lack faith. Not because we don’t care about worship. Not because we’re giving in to the virus. It’s because we care about ourselves and our community so much that we’ll give up this kind of gathering to defeat the virus. Anything less than a full community commitment to a choice like that, and the virus will not be slowed, because the virus does not care.

I pray that more local leaders, state leaders, and national leaders choose wisely, even as Trump seems determined to choose . . . poorly.

I pray this, because I know the First Rule of Viruses: a virus does not care.

Donald Trump Just Killed A Man. Now He Wants To Kill A Million Americans.

It wasn’t in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but yesterday, Donald Trump killed a man. The man’s wife survived, and did not have good things to say about him. Here’s NBC News on the death:

An Arizona man has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate — believing it would protect him from becoming infected with the coronavirus. The man’s wife also ingested the substance and is under critical care.

The toxic ingredient they consumed was not the medication form of chloroquine, used to treat malaria in humans. Instead, it was an ingredient listed on a parasite treatment for fish.

The man’s wife told NBC News she’d watched televised briefings during which President Trump talked about the potential benefits of chloroquine.

The wife talked further with NBC:

This death and near-death drive home the danger of Trump’s daily “press briefings” which he is now using as a replacement for his political rallies. His touting of chloroquine on Friday has now killed someone in the US. Recall that Nigeria had to put out a warning Friday as well, as NBC in the same article reported that there were at least two known chloroquine poisonings there right after Trump’s presser. (Chloroquine is more widely available in areas where malaria is endemic.)

But the chloroquine story is far from the biggest problem with Trump’s daily gaslighter. It’s hard to believe that we are only at one week since the publishing of the epidemiological model that really seemed to get the attention of even those who felt COVID-19 fears were overblown. Here’s a summary of the US findings of this modeling, as written by University of Minnesota researchers:

To understand how mitigation or suppression would play out, the Imperial College team, led by Neil Ferguson, OBE, ran a model based on three scenarios. In the first, US officials do nothing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, schools and businesses are kept open, and the virus is allowed to move through the population.

This would result in 81% of the US population, about 264 million people, contracting the disease. Of those, 2.2 million would die, including 4% to 8% of Americans over age 70. More important, by the second week in April, the demand for critical care beds would be 30 times greater than supply.

If mitigation practices are put in place, including a combination of case isolation, home quarantine, and social distancing of those most at risk (over age 70), the peak critical care demand would reduce by 60%, and there would be half the number of deaths. But this scenario still produces an eightfold demand on critical care beds above surge capacity.

In order to suppress the pandemic to an R0 of below 1, a country would need to combine case isolation, social distancing of the entire population, and either household quarantine or school and university closure, the authors found. These measures “are assumed to be in place for a 5-month duration,” they wrote.

So, with no social distancing, this model predicts over 2 million deaths in the US. Even with fairly strong mitigation practices, there are still over a million deaths and we will need more than 8 times the number of ICU beds we have now. Sadly, from what I can tell, we are somewhere around that level of mitigation with perhaps a few states going a bit more stringent. The UK just yesterday went to social distancing of the entire population, a move that Trump has resisted. Note also that even should the US move to full distancing, the model suggests a need to do so for five months. I’ve seen some pushback against this model, but I would argue instead that if anything, it is an underestimate because I fully expect compliance to fall far short of the assumptions in the model. I’ve seen suggestions that lack of compliance with early distancing orders drove much of the rapid outbreak in Italy.

It appears that the World Health Organization agrees that the US is far short of the level of distancing needed to quash the outbreak here. From Reuters:

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was seeing a “very large acceleration” in coronavirus infections in the United States which had the potential of becoming the new epicentre. Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.”

I can only imagine Trump’s presser on the day we become “number one” for the virus.

So even though there was a push for distancing as the Imperial College model was released, we’re already hearing that Trump has had enough. To be fair, Trump and his team were only talking about a 15 day process from the start, but any fool can see that we are still moving in the wrong direction in terms of new cases being discovered to even contemplate letting up on social distancing.

David Farenthold suggests one reason Trump wants to ease restrictions in the Washington Post:

President Trump’s private business has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels because of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially depriving Trump’s company of millions of dollars in revenue.

Those closures come as Trump is considering easing restrictions on movement sooner than federal public health experts recommend, in the name of reducing the virus’s economic damage.

In a tweet late Sunday, Trump said the measures could be lifted as soon as March 30. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” he wrote on Twitter.

Heaven forbid that Trump should lose a few dollars to save some lives. Sadly, though, Trump isn’t the only one spouting the bullshit. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Trump’s tweet about the cure being worse than the problem came right after he heard that phrase on Fox News. And to soften the territory for easing distancing, Fox yesterday had the Lieutenant Governor of Texas on to suggest that old grandparents like me need to be prepared to sacrifice our lives so that the economy can get going again. Of course, that’s complete bullshit, as once distancing is reduced anywhere, the effects will be spread over a huge area and across age groups. Anyway, here it is:

So that’s where we find ourselves today. We are perched at a spot where WHO is convinced that the US will be the epicenter of the outbreak within a few days. Instead of moving ahead with the full nationwide lockdown that will be needed actually flatten the curve, Fox News is helping Donald Trump to prepare the public for losing grandma and grandpa so that Trump properties can generate income again and Trump can hold his ego-stoking rallies. If distancing is reduced in a week, as Trump is wanting, the death toll in the US will reach catastrophic levels somewhere between the 1 and 2 million mark Imperial College calculated.

What is likely to interrupt Trump’s desire here, though, is the rate at which New York hospitals are filling. It sounds like they will be overwhelmed as soon as this weekend, so I’d like to think that there will be too much pressure to increase rather than decrease distancing once that reality strikes.

With Trump, though, there are no guarantees and reality often gets left in the dust.

Trump Considers Getting Hospitals Ventilators Nationalization But a Bailout for Him and His Rich Buddies Necessity

Yesterday, Trump sent remarkably mixed signals in his press conference. He was asked whether he was going to use the Defense Production Act to address the shortage in key medical supplies. He replied by suggesting that using DPA to push manufacturers to prioritize urgently needed supplies amounts to nationalization.

We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well. The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept.

He went on to suggest his Administration doesn’t know who could fill urgent needs, which sounds like a confession that he shouldn’t have fired the pandemic experts.

Later however, Trump treated the socialization of big business losses — of his big business losses — as an acceptable step to save great businesses. After Seung Min Kim asked whether Trump would commit that none of the funds from a $500 billion bailout of big businesses would go to his company, he complained that he hasn’t been thanked for things like taking no salary. He ultimately said he would see, the kind of deferral he often uses to avoid saying yes.

He returned to his complaints later in the presser. In response to a question about whether he had sold stock, he first lied, and claimed that he didn’t own any. He rambled for minutes complaining about being booed. Ultimately, however, he complained about how much it cost rich people to run for office.

A big part of the reason the economy had to be shut down is because Trump did not respond in January when he was warned of the pandemic. And now he’s treating taking steps to provide medical workers the equipment they need as some kind of socialism but bailing himself out as a necessity.