Ready to reenter post-shut down America? Good luck

As we enter the uncharted waters of a post-shut down America, I have a couple of questions: Is it safe to go outside? Where is it safe?

Like everybody else, I’m tired of spending too much time at home. Like you, I’d like to return to the world I knew back in early March, when I was free to come and go as I pleased without worrying if the next person I encountered was carrying a virus that could be my death sentence.

I also appreciate the fact that the economy can’t remain in hibernation forever. The damage to date has been significant—a lot of people on “furlough” are going to discover they don’t have a job to return to—and it will just get worse the longer it takes us to return to some semblance of normalcy.

So states are starting to reopen even though they have suspect data thanks to a lack of testing that works, the death total has passed 100,000 while infections continue to increase in some areas, and scientists warn of a second or third wave of infections without a vaccine or herd immunity.

We are asked to take some simple precautions: Wash your hands frequently, stay at least six feet from people in public, and wear a face covering when mingling with the public. But thanks to a president who only believes experts who tell him what he wants to hear, these simple acts have become controversial.

Ignoring the advice of the experts at the Centers for Disease Control, President Trump informs us that wearing a mask is just being “politically correct,” that testing is “overrated,” and that the coronavirus will disappear without a vaccine, which we should have any day now. Meanwhile, he wants every state to reopen ASAP, ready or not.

Most of this is driven by politics. Trump was all set to run for reelection on the strength of the economy, and is fervently praying (assuming he ever prays) for a “V” shaped rebound of the economy before November. (This is not to be confused with economists outside of Trump’s sphere of influence who expect a “U,” “W”, “Z” “L” or Nike swoosh economic recovery.)

Trump’s cavalier dismissal of science has prompted editors of the Lancet, one of the most authoritative medical journals in the world, to dismiss Trump’s “magic bullets” and urge people to put health ahead of politics.  

That hasn’t stopped some of Trump’s acolytes from saying masks are un-American and that people who wear them are Communists. People attending reopen America rallies, such as the ReOpen Nevada County gathering in Grass Valley, don’t care about masks or social distancing.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose responsibilities include the CDC and other public health agencies, explained the situation this way: “I think in any individual instance, you are going to see people do things that are irresponsible. That’s part of the freedom we have as Americans.”

People don’t like social distancing either, as news coverage of Memorial Day weekend activities suggests. The same applies here. The Union ran a series of pictures last week capturing the reopening of our community, and several of them showed residents close by with no face coverings, as if nothing has changed from March.

Businesses are being asked to reopen slowly with restrictions on how many people are allowed inside at any time, and with a long list of sanitation and cleaning protocols to be followed. McDonald’s franchisees have been given a 59-page guide for sanitizing their facilities, and the state has a 12-page document (counties are free to add more requirements) all restaurants are expected to follow.

News broadcasts are full of video of diligent restaurant workers keeping facilities safe and sanitary for customers, but you have to wonder how long that’s going to last. Restaurants operate on thin margins and the added cost of new sanitary procedures when they can’t run at full capacity is a burden many of them can’t handle. Expect slippage from the survivors.

Venues where large numbers of people gather appear to be problematical as scientists accumulate evidence they are super spreader events. Mardi Gras festivities in Louisiana, a choir practice in Skagit County, Wash., and a meeting of drug company executives near Boston are among the one-off events scientists think helped give the pandemic a boost.

“Most cases globally, and especially most deaths, happen after super spreading events,” said Hendrick Streech, a virologist in Germany who published the first worldwide study of a coronavirus super spreading event. You should probably stay away from New York City—and from any unauthorized local church services.

One of the largest super spreader events in the country occurred at a church service in Louisiana, and recent unauthorized services in Butte and Mendocino counties have triggered a spike in coronavirus cases. That’s something to keep in mind as Trump pushes to resume religious services and many ministers are threatening to ignore local strictures and hold services as they see fit.

But, you are probably thinking about now, many of these problems will go away—or at least become minor ones—when we get a vaccine for the virus. Well, maybe. For starters, it’s not likely we’re going to have an effective vaccine in the next year or two—the record is four years for the mumps vaccine.  

Then there’s a question of whether people will actually take the vaccine in sufficient numbers to achieve herd immunity—generally around 90% of the population. A new poll by Associated Press reveals that half of respondents say they won’t take the vaccine, citing safety concerns about a vaccine that has been rushed to market, and opposition to all vaccines.

Another poll conducted by YouGov for Yahoo News is even more scary: 44 percent of people who “voted for Trump” or identified as Republicans say they believe the claim that Bill Gates is pushing a vaccine that will implant microchips in people in order to monitor their movements. Only 26 percent of Republicans polled said they don’t believe the conspiracy theory.

Keep all of this in mind as you venture back into the community, especially if you’re a member of the age group most likely to die if they get COVID-19.  There’s nothing to be gained by becoming a hermit, and life is not enjoyable when it’s weighed down by paranoia. On the other hand, you can’t discount the stupidity of selfish people who can endanger your health.

Good luck.

Posted in Donald Trump, Economy, Politics, Vaccinations | Leave a comment

Nevada County stumbles back to what passes for normal

Nevada County residents are beginning to resume what used to pass for normal life around here, and early indications are they are no more interested in wearing masks and practicing social distancing than their fellow Americans.

A variety of pictures in today’s edition of The Union are instructive in that regard. We are shown a picture of several people standing close together with no masks outside a Nevada City ice cream store, and an employee of another store working behind the counter with no mask.

There’s even a picture of Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum unmasked as she worked with fellow citizens—also unmasked—on the town’s annual cleanup day. Maybe she thought social distancing outdoors didn’t require a mask. I’m guessing she didn’t stay that far away from people all day.

But that’s the way it goes around here. Elected officials give us a lot of happy talk about how everybody’s working together to defeat the coronavirus, a lot of people ignore the advice to wash their hands, wear face coverings, and practice social distancing, and the authorities do nothing to disperse groups or write citations.

The latest dose of happy talk comes from Supervisor Dan Miller in today’s edition of The Union, where he encourages residents to patronize local businesses as quickly as they reopen.

He also takes the opportunity to pat “diligent” country employees and citizens on the back for bending the curve. “It’s never going to look like spring break anywhere in Nevada County,” he wrote. Really, Dan? Let’s see what happens when parking restrictions are lifted at the South Yuba River State Park and NID opens its recreational facilities to the public.

Miller’s an advocate of opening businesses as expeditiously as possible, and he was going to support that movement as last week’s ReOpen Nevada County rally in Grass Valley before backing out at the last minute.

“I decided not to speak,” Miller told The Union. “I believed the intended message of the organizers was to support the opening of all local businesses as soon as possible. That message was hijacked by people who interpreted that to be, open all businesses in violation of the governor’s order and phased plan to reopen.”

It’s hard to believe this surprised Miller. Similar rallies around the country have been little more than excuses to flaunt the rules, with not social distancing, no masks, and featuring signs like “Hang Fauchi, Hang Gates, open up all our states.” Miller expected the local rally to be different?

But at least Miller explained his reasoning. Fellow Supervisor Sue Hoek also backed out after committing to speak, but she dodged the media along with Grass Valley Mayor Lisa Swarthout. Maybe the mayor was too busy asking city officials why the rally was allowed to take place on city property when the organizers lacked liability insurance required by the city for such events.

The Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce also withdrew its endorsement of the rally after being heavily criticized on its Facebook page. Because two supervisors agreed to speak and the rally was on city property, the chamber lamely wrote, “…we viewed this as the County of Nevada and the City of Grass Valley supporting the event, and thus, we gave the Friday event our support as well.”

I have a question for the big thinkers at the chamber: If the city granted a permit for a rally sponsored by a white supremacy group or the Communist Party because they met all of the legal requirements, would the chamber view that as an endorsement?

Around here, you never know.

Posted in City of Grass Valley, Coronavirus pandemic, Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Lisa Swarthout, Nevada City, Public Policy, Reinette Senum, Supervisor Dan Miller, Supervisor Sie Hoek | Leave a comment

Put your money where your mouth is

People who like to bet legally on sports events have been left high and dry—and more solvent than they’ve been in a long time—since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the Nevada casinos and their bookmaking operations.

The only sports books currently operating are offshore, but they are illegal if you live in the United States and aren’t offering much in the way of action anyway. There is some horse racing taking place you can bet on. Otherwise, you’re confined to bets on future games that may never be played.

The Nevada casinos are likely to reopen before the professional leagues resume play, leaving the odds makers and ticket writers with little to do. Here’s a suggestion: Take a page from your European counterparts and offer proposition bets on non-sports activities.

The British sports books are famous for offering off-the-wall propositions tied to the events of the day, such as whether the latest pregnant royal will have a son or daughter, and what they might name the child. They also take bets on the outcome of our presidential elections, and that’s where the Nevada books can get in on the action.

This year’s presidential election figures to be hotly contested, and our rampant partisanship will generate strong opinions on both sides of the political divide that some people will want to back with wagers. That offers the opportunity for numerous proposition bets that can draw strong betting action.

That got me to thinking about what those propositions might be. Here are 11 from off the top of my head. I’m sure the pros can come up with a lot more. (Since I don’t run a bookmaking operation, the following is for amusement purposes only):

–What will be Donald Trump’s losing margin in the popular vote: Over 2.9 million, under 2.9 million.

–Will Trump dump Mike Pence from the ticket? Will, won’t.

–If Trump dumps Pence from the ticket, who will be his vice presidential running mate: Jared Kushner, Ivanka, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Alex Jones.

–How many new women will come forward to claim Trump sexually assaulted them: Over three, under three.

–If Trump loses a close election, will he: Leave office, refuse to leave office, send the troops into California to seize all of the illegal Joe Biden votes.

–Biden has promised to select a woman as his running mate. Will it be: Michelle Obama, Maxine Waters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, any other member of the Squad, Hillary Clinton, none of the above.

–Tara Reade said she voted for Barack Obama twice. Will she also vote for Biden: Yes, no.

–At some point during the campaign, Biden will forget where he is or forget his name: Forget location, forget name.

–If Biden is elected president, his son Hunter will become a lobbyist for: Ukraine natural gas interests, a Chinese coronavirus tracking company, Unwed Mothers of America.

–The newly formed Science Not Politics Party will sweep to victory behind a ticket of Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom. Yes, no.

–How long will it take to count the presidential vote in California: One week, one month, until the 12th of never.

Posted in Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Politics, Sports betting | Leave a comment

We’ll soon see one of the consequences of electing Trump

Barack Obama observed that “elections have consequences,” and we will soon learn one of the consequences of electing Donald Trump president when the Supreme Court hands down decisions on several hot-button issues.

The court is expected to issue decisions before its summer break next month on cases involving abortion rights, immigration, gay rights, presidential power, and religious freedom. Those decisions will be influenced by Trump’s two conservative appointees to the court—Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch replaced another conservative, Antonin Scalia, but Kavanaugh took the seat of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a long-time swing vote on the court who voted liberal too many times to suit conservatives. That appointment gives the court a shaky 5-4 conservative majority—some people think Chief Justice John Roberts is a budding Earl Warren in a conservative’s clothing.

Kavanaugh and Gorsuch are the most visible results of a Republican push to get as many conservatives in federal judicial positions as possible. At times, that appears to be the only agenda of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and there are reports that elderly conservative judges are being urged to retire so they can be replaced by younger ones who can serve 20 to 30 years on the federal bench.

We should get a good sense of the impact of Kavanaugh and Gorsuch between now and the end of June. How important are these decisions? “I have been teaching constitutional law for 40 years, and I cannot recall a Supreme Court term with more potential blockbuster cases in more areas of law,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the U.C.—Berkeley law school.

The cases he’s referring to include the following:

Abortion rights: The court will rule on Medical Services LLC v. Gee, which challenges the constitutionality of a Louisiana law that requires doctors performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

The court struck down a similar Texas law in 2016, ruling the law did nothing to protect a woman’s health but did impact the availability of facilities where abortions are performed. But that was before Kavanaugh and Gorsuch joined the court, and conservatives see this case as an opportunity to further restrict the availability of abortions and perhaps even overrule Roe v. Wade.

Immigration: The court will rule on the legality of Obama’s executive order that accorded deferred deportation status to over 700,000 individuals known as “Dreamers,” individuals who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and are either in school, have graduated, are in the military, or have been honorably discharged. The order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), protects them from deportation for two years and lets them obtain work permits.

Gay, transgender rights: The court will decide on two cases where men were fired for being gay, and a third case where a woman was fired after informing her employer that she was transitioning from male to female.

The question before the court: Are these violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act? The law makes no mention of sexual orientation but previous court decisions have expanded rights for gays and lesbians. All of those decisions were written by Kennedy.

Presidential power:  The court will rule on three cases where lower courts upheld subpoenas concerning Trump’s financial records. Trump is asserting a broad immunity from investigation and legal process. The cases touch on the issue of checks and balances, and whether the president is effectively above the law.

Religious freedom:  Montana’s legislature passed a law that gives tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools, both secular and religious, but the state’s Supreme Court ruled the law violates the state constitution’s prohibition against direct and indirect aid to religion.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the state court decision violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. There is also the underlying issue of whether the government is required to give aid to religious institutions if it provides it to secular ones.

There’s no guarantee the court will render clear, unambiguous decisions in any of these cases. The court historically has—and will again—affirm or reject lower court rulings based on narrow grounds that dodge the main issue, and could even punt on an issue, as it did earlier this term in a case involving the transportation of legal firearms in New York state.

But I hope the court renders decisions that give voters a clear understanding of the consequence of their presidential vote in November. Given the age of two of the four liberal justices on the court, we will probably have a 7-2 conservative majority on the court in the next four years if Trump is reelected.

Voters need to decide if that’s the course they want the court to take.

Posted in Donald Trump, Politics, Supreme Court | Leave a comment

The truth is what you can get people to believe about China

It has been said that the truth is what you can get people to believe, and it is clear that the Trump administration is hell-bent to convince the American people that the coronavirus was leaked from a China bioweapons lab.

We have no evidence for this and it hardly matters how the virus reached the United States, but Trump needs to distract the American people from his bumbling response to the pandemic. He’s trying to do that by painting China as the bad guy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is the latest to repeat the party line, claiming May 3 on ABC’s “This Week” program that he has seen “enormous evidence” that a laboratory in Wuhan, China, is the source of the virus. “I can tell you there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” he said, but declined to go into specifics about the evidence.

That’s quite a change from just three days earlier, when he told WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa, the U.S. didn’t know where the virus first started infecting people. “We don’t know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We don’t know if it emanated from the wet market or yet some other place. We don’t know those answers.”

So what changed in three days? The State Department didn’t respond to press inquiries on whether Pompeo was provided with new information during those three days. What likely happened is that Pompeo was told to get on board with the administration’s narrative, regardless of the evidence.

As is usually the case with this administration, contradictory statements are coming forth from the president. Trump has said he has evidence the virus escaped from the Wuhan laboratory, but won’t detail that evidence: “I’m not allowed to tell you that.” 

But Saturday at the Fox News town hall, he called for greater transparency on the part of China when it comes to explaining the origin of the virus. “We want to know what happened,” he said.

The truth is we don’t know. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the virus is not man-made, but have drawn no other conclusions.  The so-called Five Eyes—the spy agencies of the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada—have concluded it’s “highly unlikely” the pandemic resulted from a lab accident.

The reality is the case for any possible origin is largely circumstantial because the U.S. has very little information from the ground to backup the lab escape theory. Any theory put forward now is just inference drawn from open-source reports available to all.

But that won’t stop the Trump administration and its media lackeys from suggesting China executed a plot to take down the U.S.—anything to draw attention away from the administration’s fumblin’, stumblin’ response to the pandemic.

This effort may be too late because several polls show a majority of Americans believe Trump did a poor job handling the pandemic. But Trump needs a villain to run against in November while he tries to convince voters he’s the guy to put China in its place and revive the economy.

Posted in China, Coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, Politics, Public Policy | Leave a comment

Bleach, light to kill the coronavirus? Here’s one possibility

(This is an update of a post I wrote almost four years ago. The basic premise is more valid today than it was then.)

Supporters of Donald Trump are trying to portray Joe Biden as a fumblin’, bumblin’ senile old man unfit to serve as president of the United States.

It’s hard to believe his supporters would take this tact given Trump’s inability to string two coherent sentences together without a Teleprompter in front of him, and his increasingly wild flights into fantasy—his latest one being the use of bleach and light to kill the coronavirus.

But politicians don’t know the meaning of the word hypocrisy, and this is the same playbook the Republicans used against Hillary Clinton four years ago. The party’s arm-chair doctors—none of whom had medical degrees or had ever seen Clinton’s medical records—concluded then she had Parkinson’s disease.

The speculation ramped up when she almost fainted at a 9/11 memorial event in 2016—caused by walking pneumonia, according to her doctor—and her opponents started imaging the symptoms from every misstep or anomaly.

Now, the Republicans zero in on Biden whenever he fumbles a statement or misstates something, but apparently it was okay for Trump to say the following at a Fourth of July speech:

“Our army manned the air, rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it was nothing but victory.”

Of course, there were no airplanes to fly or airports to take over during the Revolutionary War, and the rockets’ red glare over Fort McHenry, which inspired the “Star-Spangled Banner,” occurred during the War of 1812.

Trump blamed the statement on a faulty Teleprompter, not his addled mind. Whatever you say, Mr. President.

Anybody who has paid attention to the president’s utterances during the three plus years he’s been in office knows there’s nothing unique about this incident, reinforcing the notion that he may indeed have mental health issues. Certainly, he has been less than forthcoming about the state of his health.

When Trump was a candidate for president, he promised to release a full medical report on his health. He tried to settle the issue in December 2015 with a hastily written letter from his long-time physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, that was widely mocked and ridiculed. So Trump decided to try again with a more detailed letter based on a physical exam.

He used the syndicated television show of Dr. Mehmet Oz to reveal the information. Oz has been widely criticized over the years for his endorsement of questionable medical treatments, and members of the faculty at the New York University School of Medicine protested when administrators tried to hire Oz as an adjunct professor in 2016.

Oz is known to be a supporter of Republican candidates, and said before Trump’s appearance he wasn’t going to ask any embarrassing questions. That’s the kind of platform Trump needed to gloss over any medical problems he might have.

Trump’s medical report consisted of the standard lab and other tests people are given when they have a routine medical exam. The lab results reported by Bornstein put Trump in the acceptable range for men his age, and the doctor pronounced him to be in “excellent physical health.”

Bornstein said Trump is blessed with good genes because he father lived into his 90s and his mother lived into her 80s (he didn’t mention that Trump’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease in his late 80s), and reported The Donald had “extraordinary” strength and stamina, but provided no objective measurements to support the opinion.

The letter didn’t mention mental status or summarize any neurological exams, an area of concern given his erratic behavior since becoming president. He has a personal history that suggests we take a more careful look at his mental health.

Trump has a well documented history of philandering, both before and during his three marriages. He’s bragged about his playboy days and once told shock jock Howard Stern that avoiding venereal disease “was my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very proud soldier,” he said of the time he was deferred from military service because of a bone spur in one of his heels—he can’t remember which one.

But you never know—he may have never been as successful dodging VD as he’d like to believe. Syphilis, for example, can go undetected for long periods of time, slowing working its way into organs like the brain and the heart. When it gets into the brain, it can trigger unusual behavior: Inability to pay attention or concentrate, spur-of-the-moment outbursts or fits of anger, bizarre and reckless charges against other people.

Do those symptoms remind you of any president? Me too. I’ll remain skeptical of Trump’s mental health until I see the result of a rigorous neurological exam and evidence that he is free of venereal disease.

Posted in Coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Politics, Republican Party | Leave a comment