300 Words

I write letters to the editor of my local newspaper. The newspaper arbitrarily limits letters to 300 words, and the newspaper web site strictly enforces the word-limit. At first I was annoyed, but annoyance turned to satisfaction when my letters became more concise and more effective.

Some of these letters do not reach a newspaper, but all follow the 300 word limit.

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(abood) Judicial Activism

This essay was posted on 10/18/20.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave Judge Amy Barrett a lecture about how the Supreme Court operates. He describes how conservatives forced a decision on the Supreme Court resulting in a 5-4 majority favoring conservatives. Whitehouse cited 80 decisions also decided 5-4 favoring conservatives. Whitehouse is troubled by the high level of judicial activism in the courts and exhorts Barrett to be a change-agent.

Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court has consequences to the ACA decision and others, but the replacement of Justice Scalia was far more impactful. When Scalia died, conservatives lost their 5-4 edge, resulting in a 4-4 court where law mattered more than ideology. Worse, Barack Obama tried to fill the seat until Mitch McConnell refused to even consider Merrick Garland. Republicans under Donald Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch and preserved their 5-4 edge, leading to the scenario in Whitehouse’s legal lesson.

A 5-4 majority isn’t a conservative monopoly. Liberals have enjoyed periods with a 5-4 majority, and there have been periods where one justice held most of the power by being a swing voter. A 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court seems to bring out a higher level of judicial activism, at least in the eyes of the minority.

Activism can be a good force. It can make an injustice right. It can equalize an inequity. But many argue that activism doesn’t belong in the courts. The litigants should be the activists, and the justices should be the referees.

If a 5-4 court is an activist court, then maybe a 4-4 court or a 5-5 court would be fairer, or at least be less predictable. If, for example, Joe Biden added three liberal justices to the Supreme Court, he would not be packing the court with liberals. He would be unpacking the conservative super majority.

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(try) The FDR Rule

This essay was posted on 10/4/20.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a simple, effective strategy for dealing with the Great Depression. It is the same strategy used by our most innovative people. The strategy is: Take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.

One of Donald Trump’s greatest and most dangerous weaknesses is his inability to learn FDR’s simple maxim.

The COVID pandemic is a good example. In the middle of June when we had over 21,000 new cases per day, Trump declared that we turned the corner, and it’s time to restart the economy. Only we weren’t ready. In three weeks, we were hitting 70,000 cases per day, and hospitals were filling up in some states.

Trump waited until the case rate dropped to just over 40,000. Once again, he declared that it is time to restart the economy. Once again, the daily case rate went up. Meanwhile, the economy remains damaged.

Trump’s trade wars are another example. He has the strange idea that unfavorable trade balances are bad, period. He doesn’t see that the global economy provides enough options to counteract a trade tariff strategy. The most remarkable thing Trump’s trade war has accomplished is the devastation of small Iowa farms that depended on a China market.

Explain to Trump that the trade balance with Canada must be unfavorable simply because Canada has a much smaller market than ours, and he won’t listen. His answer, according to Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House, is: “I know I’m right. If you disagree with me, you’re wrong.”

Trump’s actions in the COVID pandemic and in his trade-wars have harmed the US, but he is apparently unable to invoke FDR’s simple rule. When he doesn’t let go of a bad idea, he just makes things worse.

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(sovereign) The Right to Vote

This essay was posted on 10/4/20.

We the people have one important role. To vote. It is the first and most important role of governing. Choosing the President and the Legislators is our only sovereign power. But it is under fierce attack by Donald Trump and by Republicans.

Trump announced his intentions at the first Presidential debate. He falsely claimed that 80 million unsolicited mail-in ballots would be full of fraud. Trump also implied that he might need the Supreme Court to win the election. These statements are not empty.

Pennsylvania Republican State legislators want to form an election oversight committee with subpoena power allegedly designed to ignore election results and have the legislators pick the presidential electors. They want to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters.

The Michigan AG The Michigan AG charged two conservatives with felony voter intimidation. The two men, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, allegedly called Michigan voters falsely claiming their personal information would be abused. The two men apparently made similar calls to voters in other states. Republicans want to suppress the rights of Michigan voters.

North Carolina election officials modified mail-in ballot processing rules to accommodate a larger voter turnout, but the Trump campaign had a different idea. They sent a letter to local election officials urging them to disregard the new voter guidelines. The Republican goal is to get more mail-in ballots thrown out. They don’t want all North Carolina votes counted.

Republican efforts to change the election results are not limited to three states. They want to force a Trump victory even if the ballots say otherwise. In some areas, state law enforcement and state courts are making a difference, but we can’t rely only on these institutions.

Voting is our sovereign right, and the best way of protecting that right is to exercise it and vote.

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(socialism4) American Socialism

This essay was posted on 9/28/20.

Socialist activity by a government occurs when the government owns or regulates a business. Socialism is omnipresent in the US.

It started with public schools and the US Postal Service. Land Grant Colleges followed. Then came National Parks.

Public transportation includes ferry services, bus services, subway systems, commuter trains, passenger trains, airports, Federal and State highway system, bridges.

Healthcare services include Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Veterans Administration hospitals, Military hospitals, hospitals, nursing homes.

Recreational items include public beaches, State Parks, libraries, museums.

National and State research centers and laboratories working on energy research, COVID research, nuclear physics research, cancer research, renewable energy, agricultural research, and many other areas.

Public utilities including electric, gas, water, sewage.

Business regulations including work safety, environmental protection, clean water, securities and exchange, banking, product and food safety.

Each of these services runs in place of or in competition with privately owned businesses running in the free market. Most of them exist because the same level of service is often not feasible in the free market.

I make one simple assertion: This socialist intrusion is not anything like the old Communism practiced in the Soviet Union, and it is not anything like the new Communism practiced in China. And I ask one simple question: Has this socialist intrusion prevented you from pursuing a full and active life in the free market?

So, what are you afraid of?

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(fbi) Politics in the DOJ

This essay was posted on 9/23/20.

FBI Director Christopher Wray is under heat from Donald Trump over testimony to Congress in particular. Trump took exception to Wray’s characterization of ANTIFA as more of a movement than an organized group, and Trump didn’t like the reports that Russia is actively working to favor Trump over Biden in the presidential election. Based on generally reported news of ANTIFA and the Russians, Trump might be asking Wray to perjure himself before Congress.

There has always been a tortured history between the DOJ, the FBI, and the President, but a milestone occurred during Watergate when US Attorney General John Mitchell was knee deep in the Watergate conspiracy and other crimes while supposedly fighting for law and order. An outcome of Watergate was the independence of the DOJ from Presidential politics. Since then, the record has been mixed until Bill Barr took over the AG.

AG Bill Barr follows Trump’s lead. He has criticized FBI investigations not approved by him and for failing to cooperate with the Durham investigation. Barr is trying to keep the FBI aligned with Trump’s election goals. Barr openly campaigns for Trump. He protects Trump allies from prosecution. It’s all about politics.

Bill Barr acts like Trump’s taxpayer-funded private lawyer. The Trump Administration has completely forgotten the lessons of Watergate and fostered a DOJ motivated by politics instead of law.

Trump is talking about firing Christopher Wray because Wray won’t play along. Trump has the authority to fire Wray, but the firing would be politically motivated. The lesson of Watergate is simple. He should not fire Wray over politics.

By politicizing the DOJ, Trump and Barr have created an important issue to be decided by the voters on Nov 3. This abuse of power will not end until Trump is out of office.

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(fear) The Politics of Fear

This essay was posted on 9/15/20.

In 2016, Donald Trump remarked, "Real power is — I don't even want to use the word — fear."

Since then, Trump uses fear better than any politician in recent memory. Without evidence Trump called protesters in Portland, Oregon dangerous anarchists and agitators who hate our country. Trump falsely portrayed the Portland protests as being out of control. He painted a fearful picture that could come to your or my town. He made people fearful of the Black Lives Matter movement. What would be Trump’s purpose?

Fear is a distracting force. It can lead you away from the true issues. In the case of the BLM protests, the true issue is the discriminatory way many police departments treat non-white people. The discrimination is a statistical reality. Blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police than Whites. But if Trump uses fear tactics to make BLM the enemy, then the relationship between police and minorities becomes a side issue or maybe no issue at all.

Donald Trump is a consistent supporter of police actions, even when they are problematic as in the case of George Floyd. Trump has said that sometimes the police choke, as in making an error in baseball. Trump wants a tough law and order police force that cracks heads, but he doesn’t want us to think about the police. He wants us to blame the victims instead.

There is a dark side to the politics of fear. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Trump supporter went to Kenosha, Wisconsin to defend property from violent rioters. Instead, he shot three unarmed protesters, killing two. Kyle said he was afraid for his life.

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(herd) Herd Immunity

This essay was posted on 9/8/20.

Donald Trump is now trying to sell herd immunity as a strategy for fighting COVID. Trump’s strategy is to let COVID run its course among the younger population and protect the most vulnerable. He would stop testing. Stop social distancing and just get the economy blasting again. The percentage of people immune from COVID would rise to over 60%, and COVID would not spread. But there are severe problems.

There would be more deaths. Dr Fauci’s estimate is probably the most accurate. He simply says that the death count would be enormous. It might not work. Permanent immunity after infection is not guaranteed. The vulnerable would still get COVID. Trump offers no specifics in his plan. The strategy of doing nothing is, at a stark minimum, non-productive.

Herd immunity is not a strategy. It is an outcome. The best way to achieve herd immunity is with a vaccine that works. A viable strategy for getting to herd immunity is: Control COVID with social distancing, masks, and limited crowd sizes combined with testing, contact tracing and quarantine. Then apply mass inoculations with a fully tested, safe, and effective vaccine. Society and the economy can run at full steam after the vaccine-induced herd immunity takes effect. We will know it when the daily COVID numbers diminish on their own.

The consequences of this strategy are an economy that runs more slowly with more people needing government support – two outcomes that Trump dearly wants to avoid. He appears willing to sacrifice a whole bunch of lives to avoid them.

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(blm) Black Lives Matter

This essay was posted on 9/2/20.

When Donald Trump identifies the protests as out-of-control riots without acknowledging that much of the violence is from white supremacists and other fringe conservative organizations and when he supports current police tactics instead of reforming them, he stands clearly against the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement. Trump is on the wrong side of history.

Blacks in America are on solid ground about their often-difficult relationship with police. A Harvard study declares that Blacks are three times more likely than whites to be killed by police. The usual objection to this statistic is the fact that police kill more whites than blacks. I needed to know, so I collected the applicable data for the last four years. The Black death rate per million Blacks is three times higher than the white death rate per million Whites.

Some critics of BLM say all lives matter and add that Blacks don’t have a special privilege. Then why is there a three to one disparity between blacks and Whites in what really matters – lives?

All lives really do matter because Black lives matter. As a White person, ignoring BLM is not so simple. If I do nothing, will a Muslim be next? Will an Asian follow? When will it be my turn? Ignoring the problem diminishes the value I place on a Black person and denies some of his or her humanity, and it denies some of my own as well.

How can we fix police departments? First, acknowledge that there is a problem. Second, concentrate on practices and protocols. Third, adopt a community-centered approach to policing. We can find ways of achieving law and order without shooting someone in the back for no discernable reason.

Killed by PolicePopulation(millions)Deaths/MillionRatio
YearWhiteBlackWhiteBlackWhiteBlackB/W
2017457223249.2743.371.835.142.80
2018399209249.9643.731.604.782.99
2019370235250.5244.081.485.333.61
2020242123251.1044.440.962.772.87
Average3.07

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(fauci) In-Person Voting

This essay was posted on 8/24/20 and posted on the Portland Press Herald website on 9/8/20.

Trump supporters are now using Dr Fauci’s words to support in-person voting over mail-in voting. Dr Fauci said that in-person voting should be as safe as going to the grocery store as long as you meet the safety guidelines. I agree. In-person voting should be safe, and grocery stores can be good models.

In my area, grocery stores require masks for entry. Social distancing is strongly encouraged. The aisles are marked one-way. The registers all have plexiglass barriers. Waiting lines are marked for social distancing. All workers have masks. The stores are not overcrowded.

If polling places follow the same guidelines, they should have the same risks. That means, polling workers should be tested, gloved, and masked. There should be barriers between workers and voters. Ballots should be available with contactless exchanges. Waiting lines should be marked for social distancing. The voting process should be a one-way process in which the flow is monitored to avoid bottlenecks. The number of people voting at one time should be limited to allow social distancing.

Implementing safety protocols will take more polling-place workers, not less, and it will take more polling places, not less. Early voting should be encouraged and expanded, and, yes, mail-in voting will also make it safer for everyone.

How you vote is a decision that is either personal or based on necessity. I requested absentee ballots. I will vote at home and return them to our early voting location. Whatever you decide, please vote.

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(bottleneck) The Post Office Problem

This essay was posted on 8/18/20.

The Post Office claims it will run out of money by September because of shortfalls caused by the pandemic. Nancy Pelosi added $25 Billion for the Post Office, but the money is for keeping the Post Office open; it’s not there just for mail-in balloting.

Meanwhile new Post Master Louis DeJoy has been cutting costs in bizarre ways. He cut overtime. He pulled blue drop boxes off the streets. He even scuttled labor-saving mail sorters. His cost-saving measures are mostly bogus, but they help DeJoy’s investments in competitors of the Post Office.

DeJoy’s so-called cost cutting has had one side-effect already being felt. The mail is slower and less reliable. It is so slow that the USPS warned 46 states that the post office could not meet their mail-in voting requirements this year.

USPS spokesperson Martha Johnson told a reporter that “The Postal Service’s financial condition is not going to impact our ability to process and deliver election and political mail.” Does that mean the $25 Billion request to Congress isn’t really needed? Are DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures totally unnecessary? Is the COVID induced financial emergency real? Maybe. Maybe not.

Someone is lying. One liar’s test is to decide who has the most to lose. Trump could lose the election. DeJoy’s investments might not grow fast enough. Martha Johnson will still go to work. Based on this simple test and past performance, I trust Johnson more than Trump and DeJoy.

I believe Donald Trump when he said, “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. That means they can’t have it.”

Donald Trump is sabotaging postal efficiency and making it harder for you to cast your vote, especially if you are not voting for him.

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(model) The Contact Tracing Model

This essay was posted on 8/12/20.

Donald Trump doesn’t like testing. “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have fewer cases,” he said. Testing is much simpler than Trump would have you believe. It’s all about quarantine, probably the oldest remedy for a pandemic. Quarantine reduces the rate at which new cases appear, so it is an effective way to manage a pandemic.

There is an added benefit to putting an infected person in the hospital besides providing medical care. Patients in hospitals are effectively quarantined and are much less likely to spread COVID. Hospitalizing patients lowers the growth rate of COVID, but we can do a better job. If we can identify infected people earlier, we can quarantine them and lower the growth rate of the disease even more.

Testing identifies a new case, and contact tracing identifies people who have come in contact with a new patient. The contacted people can be quarantined and tested before they have the opportunity to infect others.

Testing availability and timely evaluation are a critical success factor in contact tracing. Maine expanded an aggressive testing program in July to include new test sites and increased laboratory evaluation capabilities.

Maine has continued to use contact tracing since mid-May, but it has reported results from contact tracing only for the period from May 14 to June 26. They discovered 190 new cases with contact tracing. These cases were monitored, quarantined, and isolated from other potential cases. A simple EXCEL model suggests that isolating the new cases prevented another 150 cases and contributed to a slower COVID growth in Maine. The effort is paying off. The daily new case count has gone down steadily from 49 cases per day when contact tracing started to 11 cases per day in August.

Update on 8/18/20:

The 7-day average new daily case rate has risen from 11 cases per day to 23 cases per day. I want to see if Maine’s contact tracing can get COVID back under control. I am optimistic.

Update on 9/2/20:

In the last two weeks of August, the average daily case rate rose to 24 cases per day. During the same period testing increased to 3471 tests per day. A large portion of the increase can be attributed to a wedding that reportedly spread to 123 cases and counting.

Update on 9/15/20:

In the first 15 days of September, the average daily case rate rose to 26 cases per day. During the same period testing increased to 4901 tests per day. The consequences of the wedding continued.

Update on 10/4/20:

In the last 15 days of September, the average daily case rate rose from 26 cases per day to 32 cases per day. During the same period testing increased from 4901 tests per day to 6570 tests per day. York County became the new COVID epicenter.

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(optimism) The Danger of Optimism

This essay was posted on 8/6/20.

Donald Trump’s optimism over COVID is boundless. He said it would be over in two weeks. He was wrong. He said a vaccine would be ready quickly. He was wrong. He said we had flattened the curve and it was time to reopen. He was wrong on both counts. Since June 20, the daily case rate has more than doubled to over 70,000. Now that the new case rate is going down, Trump is itching to reopen again, and he wants to reopen schools. Wrong again. Donald Trump’s false optimism is wearing thin.

As a nation, we have a simple choice. We can follow Trump’s advice or we can be realistic about COVID.

Realistically, the vaccine might not work, but if it does work, it still might not be ready for widespread use until well into 2021, optimistically speaking. We need millions of doses, millions of syringes, distribution of the medicine, and a willing public. Meanwhile we need to continue using masks and social distancing.

Realistically, we can’t contain COVID until we increase our testing capability, which means more tests and more labs. We need more testing to implement contact tracing and to monitor schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and essential businesses. Otherwise, the alternative is a shutdown.

Realistically, we will need to continue using masks and social distancing as long as the threat of another COVID wave exists.

Realistically, COVID will be around for much longer than we could imagine or want. Probably years. After hanging around for a couple millennia, the black plague still claims a few victims every year. The common flu still kills too many people every year. We may be adding COVID to the list of chronic problems.

We can hope for the best, but we should plan for the worst.

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(magic) Misdirection

This essay was posted on 7/27/20.

Donald Trump often resorts to misdirection when he wants to get his way. He has used misdirection all his life. When he needed money for a stalled project, he ordered trucks and graders to drive around and look busy to impress on investors that the project was in good shape. It worked. Trump got his money.

Trump is now using misdirection with the Portland, Oregon protests, which have been ongoing since the death of George Floyd. Recent protests had gotten more violent and destructive, but the local authorities recognized that the majority of protesters were peaceful. Then Donald Trump launched his misdirection in the form of Federal agents in combat fatigues, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The Federal agents are rounding up and tear gassing anyone that protests under the false assumption that all protesters are dangerous. Even the so-called Naked Athena got tear gassed.

Trump is now saying that Portland, Oregon is out of control just like all those other ‘liberal Democrat’ cities. He doesn’t say that his uninvited troops are contributing to the problem.

As a campaign strategy, Trump is portraying all Democrats as bad guys, and only he can fix them. He creates the problem and then blames his assigned scapegoat. This is classic political misdirection, but Trump wants us to ignore something that is more serious.

Trump wants us to forget that there are over 4 million COVID cases in the US, and there are 150,000 COVID deaths in the US, and the daily cases and deaths are rising out of control. Donald Trump wants us to worry about something else besides COVID.

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(police) Portland, Oregon

This essay was posted on 7/20/20.

Federal officers just showed up in Portland, Oregon and used tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons on peaceful protesters, sending one to the hospital with a fractured skull. They also grabbed and detained some of the protesters for no apparent reason.

The Federal agents physically attacked people who were protesting the use of excessive force by police officers. Note the irony. Navy veteran Christopher David joined the protest to ask the simple question: Why were the Federal agents violating their oath to the Constitution? The answer they gave him was a dose of irritating spray in the face and a broken wrist. Federal agents managed to escalate the anger of protesters until a serious confrontation emerged.

The Federal agents should have known better at face value, but they went to Oregon unfamiliar with the legal ramifications and the basic duties of the police work they were undertaking. The consequences of their actions are documented. They did more harm by being in Oregon than by simply watching the protests on TV.

Obviously, Oregon authorities at the city level and at the state level are demanding that the Federal agents unceremoniously leave.

Christopher David is right. The order sending Federal agents to Oregon without the knowledge or consent of Oregon officials is a violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, and that violation fostered numerous civil rights violations against Oregon residents.

Donald Trump resorts to hyperbole when he characterizes the mostly peaceful protests as out of control rioting. Apparently, Trump doesn’t like these protests in an election year. He surely wants them stopped, but Trump’s wishes don’t change the reality that peaceful protesting is a right protected by the US Constitution.

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(testing2) More Testing

This essay was posted on 7/14/20.

Donald Trump made the spurious claim that the increase in COVID cases is caused by an increase in testing. While more tests mean more discovered cases, the overall increase in COVID cases should be temporary. Test data from the State of Maine contradicts Trump’s claim.

Maine is a small state, population-wise with wide-open spaces. Most of the COVID cases are in the three southern counties. Maine’s per capita case rate is similar to Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Oregon, and Vermont.

Maine’s experience with COVID shows how increased testing combined with a controllable case load and contact tracing can work. Maine began to reopen in phases around the middle of May. The state is more open than in May, and the process is continuing.

The testing data used here is for diagnostic testing only because antibody testing doesn’t specifically identify newly infected patients. Testing increased in May and again in June. Maine now has 44 contact tracers and some additional volunteers. From mid-may until the end of June, contact tracers discovered 71 additional cases or about 4% of the cases during that period.

After an increase in cases in May the daily case numbers have been going down. The initial increase could have been caused by the reopening of the State or by increased testing, but the steady decrease after the peak is most likely due to testing and contact tracing.

The future is always uncertain with this pandemic. For Maine, it makes sense to stay the course. If the percentage of cases found by tracers holds or rises, then Maine’s health future will remain positive.

DateME CasesTestsPositiveCase/dayTest/dayPos rate
Apr 13448744344184603.9%
Apr 2290717691907274266.3%
Apr 291056206021056214165.1%
May 131515330351515338883.7%
Jun 524825798424824210853.9%
Jun 2129578062236193014175.0%
Jul 132949686939623416212.1%
Jul 12353912191843442222771.5%

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(mailin) Mail-in Ballots

This essay was posted on 7/8/20 and appeared in the Portland Press Herald on 7/10/20.

Without proof, Donald Trump and the Republican Party claim that the use of mail-in ballots leads to widespread fraud. My experience with mail-in voting doesn’t match Trump’s claims at all. This is how I voted in this year’s Maine State primary election.

The first step is to request an absentee ballot. I can request a ballot using a State of Maine web page https://www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/AbsenteeBallot/index.pl. After filling out my name and address and attesting that I was the named person, I submitted the form. After receiving my confirmation number, I waited.

The State Election Commission forwarded my request to the town clerk for verification and processing. The town clerk first sent me an email confirming my voter registration and followed up with a ballot package. Inside the mailing were blank ballots and a return envelope with my name and address affixed. One of the three ballots was for candidates running from my political party. I was ready to vote.

My wife’s ballot arrived the same way. We sat down, voted, placed the ballots in our individual envelopes, and signed and sealed them. We chose to take the envelopes to the town office ourselves instead of mailing them.

The process was easy for us and verifiable by the town clerk. Election officials take their jobs very seriously. I firmly believe that my ballot will be counted.

When Donald Trump says mail-in voting is fraudulent, he is trying to keep you from voting. Don’t let him.

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(protest) The Mask Issue

This essay was posted on 7/2/20.

Medical experts recommend slowing down the spread of COVID with a shutdown of economic activity combined with social distancing and wearing facemasks. When we start reopening businesses and other meeting places, we should still practice social distancing and wear facemasks.

Experts aside, the rest of us are not so unanimous. We can divide society between those that preponderantly wear masks and those that don’t. The divide follows political lines. Most Trump supporters do not wear masks and do not honor social distancing. Most non-supporters of Trump wear masks and social distance.

The driving force in the political divide are the politicians, and the most visible one is Donald Trump, who has downplayed and contradicted the medical experts from the beginning. Trump disparaged testing. He hawked home remedies. He showed disdain for masks. Trump called the pandemic a hoax and just another flu outbreak. His denouement was the poorly attended and ill-advised Tulsa rally where masks and social distancing were scorned.

Republican governors are also giving bad medical advice in a failing attempt to restart the economy by reopening too early. Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets threatened to withhold COVID relief funds if county governments require people to wear masks. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis blamed Hispanic workers for the current surge in cases. There is no cohesive message. No leadership. Many governors are beginning to slow down the reopening, but only after the COVID genie left the bottle.

Mike Pence and Donald Trump are finally supporting the wearing of masks as if the first five months of the pandemic never happened. Mike Pence was actually caught on camera wearing a mask.

Trump’s and Pence’s medical advice isn’t backed by a federal mandate for mask wearing. Their statements continue to be based on politics over good medicine.

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(tulsa) The Tulsa Rally

This essay was posted on 6/23/20.

Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally laid a big fat egg because of bad attendance, painfully demonstrated by the sea of empty blue seats in the arena and the huge screen outside that was watched by a couple technicians. For Donald Trump, this campaign kick-off rally was a disaster.

Never mind that Trump made a speech chock full of fabrications, this audience would vote for him anyway. Trump needed a large, screaming audience because his rallies are all about spectacle over substance, all about projecting the feeling of invincibility. This rally was short on people, short on screaming, and short on winning.

Donald Trump was really pissed off. He blamed radical protesters. They prevented his followers from coming. Really?

The Trump staffers deny that COVID kept the rally-goers from coming, but I am not so sure. COVID cases are rising in Oklahoma, and they are rising in other states as well. It is highly likely that many Trump supporters, after reading the COVID disclaimer they needed to sign, are taking the advice of a relative, sick from COVID, and are just staying home.

Blaming the poor Tulsa rally attendance on COVID is out of the question for Donald Trump after he has declared that the pandemic is over and that it is time to get back to work. Getting back to work for Donald Trump means finding a place to deliver his rambling speech to a loud, screaming packed house. It didn’t happen in Tulsa.

Maybe there is another reason. After months of having the local sports bar off limits and no spring baseball. After NASCAR banned the Confederate flag, maybe Trump supporters are just tired. Maybe they don’t want to hear the same angry speech again. Maybe they just want a break.

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(camden) The Camden Model

This essay was posted on 6/16/20.

The slogan ‘Defund Police’ has become a rallying crowd for the Black-Lives-Matter protesters, but its meaning is debatable. Some want to shift some police department funding to other service areas. Some want to close the police departments entirely. Defunding police generally supports the idea that less policing is better. The people in Camden, New Jersey may have a different idea. They abolished their police department in 2013.

In 2013, Camden was a dangerous place. It had a high murder rate, a high violent crime rate, and a high rate of excessive force by police. Drugs were sold openly on the streets. There was a lot of violence perpetrated from both sides of the badge. The violence and crime had other consequences, high unemployment and a 40% poverty rate. So, Camden decided to dissolve its city police department and start a new Camden County Police Department.

The new police force started with about 100 officers invited from the old city police department. After reviewing best practices and listening to advice from residents, the new community-centered model took shape. The old union contract was ditched in favor of one more in tune with the community policing model. The training curriculum was revamped. Police officers interacted more openly with the community. Community barbecues became a regular part of their work.

The change-over worked. Excessive force by police is down 96%. The murder rate is down 70%. Violent crime is down 46%. Camden improved in other ways as well. There is $2.5 Billion in new investment. High school graduation rates are up. Unemployment is down. They changed the police, and they also changed Camden.

Let the Camden experience define what ‘Defund Police’ means, and you might get a better result than you would reasonably expect.

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(fences) The White House Fence

This essay was posted on 6/9/20.

One of the most often quoted lines is, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ The line is in Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall. It has been argued that the poem does not praise fences. Frost says:

‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out, …’

I could ask Donald Trump the same question. What is the second fence around the White House walling in or walling out? A Secret Service source told Fox News that the new enclosure is an anti-rioting fence. It walls out the rioters, who are no longer rioting. But they might. In fact, the new fencing doesn’t surround the White House, but it makes more land in the neighborhood off-limits to the public. It walls in more real estate for the sole use of the White House.

The new riot fence makes Donald Trump more isolated from the protesters. Perhaps that is Trump’s plan – to frame protesters as the enemy. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has taken a different tack. He has reached out to protest groups and started dialogs. As Trump is more isolated from the issues, Biden is making himself more relevant.

Frost contends that walls, or fences, should have a purpose. Sometimes the purpose is to be symbolic. The protest groups are taking over the fence and plastering it with posters that champion their cause. By doing so, they are hijacking the symbolism of the fence from Donald Trump and turning it into their movement’s best spokesman.

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(history) A History Lesson

This essay was posted on 6/3/20.

The beating of Rodney King by police in 1991 led to deadly riots in Los Angeles and eventually led to a federal program designed to deal with systemic racism in police departments. The program continued in one form or another culminating with Barack Obama’s collaborative reform initiative, a voluntary program with a goal of improving community relations as well as developing better crime prevention techniques.

Over the years, federal involvement in police reform has been largely successful, but accomplishing the reforms has been a painfully slow process. Even though there were incidents of excessive force by police during Obama’s administration, the public remained relatively quiet.

Things changed after Donald Trump was inaugurated in 2017. Trump and AG Jeff Sessions dismantled Obama’s reform initiative as much as they could. They were not successful in stopping ongoing programs, but they managed to shift the focus away from community relations and toward getting tougher on criminals.

The change did not go unnoticed. Former Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey says that Trump’s policies remind him of tough-on-crime policies used 40 years ago. Those get-tough policies started in the 1970’s and evolved even into the 1990’s. A big problem with tough-on-crime policies is the tendency to get tougher on minorities, and the blacks had enough in 1991.

This year, the George Floyd incident is the last straw. This time it only took only 3 years of Trump’s tough-on-crime policy to instill the level of rage and distrust displayed by mass protests and unrest in every state of the nation. Once again people have had enough of a bad criminal justice policy in need of reform.

For reasons that are not so important, Donald Trump and the DOJ have not learned history’s lesson.

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(statistic) The Case for Truth

This essay was posted on 5/24/20.

Donald Trump said we lead in coronavirus cases because we have more testing. He is still trying to link the high case count to testing as if people were not somehow involved. Now, Trump wants to reopen everything because it’s time, I guess. Time for what? Golf?

Last week, I looked at the average new case per day statistic. It is the only metric I trust. There is no subtlety, just an unvarnished number and one of the CDC criteria that is mostly ignored. It is the statistic that drives everything else. Starting on May 4, the average number of new cases declined, albeit slowly, for 15 days until the average plateaued at 23,000 new cases. At the same time COVID-related deaths also declined, and they continue to decline.

I reported my observation on twitter and got some pushback. The statistics are rigged. The states are hiding the numbers. The decline in New York makes everyone else look good. The decline, in my opinion, was not big enough to rip off our masks and declare victory, but it gave me some hope that we are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, some facts cloud the reliability of the statistics. After COVID cases started rising to uncomfortable levels at meatpacking plants, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts pulled the statistics from public view. In Georgia, the official website had a graph showing declining cases except that the dates weren’t chronological. In Florida, Rebekah Jones was fired after refusing to doctor a COVID website. Now, diagnostic testing numbers are inflated to make reopening look safer. The truth will come out the hard way.

Some state governments are trying to put lipstick on the reopening pig, but they may soon learn some hard truths in November about the consequences of lying to the public.

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(relax) Reopening too Early

This essay was posted on 5/18/20.

Maine Governor Janet Mills relaxed the stay at home rules with a May 1 reopening of barber shops, hair salons, auto dealerships, car washes, state parks, and drive through religious services. At that time Maine was averaging about 23 new cases per day. A week later, when Janet Mills allowed retail businesses to reopen with restrictions in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties, the average new case count rose to about 36 new cases per day. Starting on May 18, Restaurants will have dine-in service in 12 counties. Expect rising daily counts over the next two weeks because relaxing rules strengthens the virus.

News reports show that shop owners want to keep their patrons safe. It is not only good for the state. It is good business. An unsafe store or restaurant will become an empty one. Even so, the relaxation of the rules will lead to more relaxed customers and potentially more COVID. The daily case numbers in the two weeks following May 17 will tell the story.

Officials reassure us that increased testing uncovers more cases. True, but no one can really tell whether the new cases are new or newly discovered, because we introduced two changes in our pandemic experiment. We relaxed the rules and we increased testing. As a potential customer of the medical system, I choose the safer assumption that the relaxed rules are the cause.

We can’t go back and start volume testing earlier, and we can’t cork the reopening bottle. What we can do is: Slow down the reopening process until the daily COVID numbers actually start declining for a while. Maine is a small state with a relatively low COVID case load, and I want to keep it that way.

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(lessons) Lessons Learned

This essay was posted on 5/12/20.

Donald Trump wants us all to be warriors. In every circumstance, the warriors are the healthcare workers and the other essential workers who serve the public every day. The rest of us are not warriors. Donald Trump needs to learn a few things.

These are just some of the lessons of COVID:

There have been a lot of wasted opportunities, and a lot of money has been wasted, but being late in the game is not an excuse. The money, the lives, and the broken economy are gone and behind us. If there is ever a time to start applying the lessons of COVID, it is now. Only then will we all become warriors.

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(smithfield) One Chinese Conspiracy

This essay was posted on 5/4/20.

I ran into a really weird conspiracy theory on Twitter last week. When I commented on the Smithfield meat packing problem, I received a Tweet that claimed the Smithfield company Is owned by a Chinese billionaire. This was the time that Donald Trump forced the meatpackers to stay operational by executive order.

Rachel Maddow did a piece about the CDC. She compared the Smithfield safety report with others done by the CDC. Unlike previous reports where the CDC mandated safety changes, the Smithfield report only suggested changes. Her problem: CDC suggestions give Smithfield a loophole. They can override the CDC and still comply with the suggestions.

Trump’s order and the wishy-washy CDC report protected Smithfield more than it protected employees. So, I commented that Donald Trump is helping out the Chinese owners by keeping the plant open. The conspiracy theory came out of the woodwork.

The Tweet claimed that the Chinese government wanted to disrupt our food supply by making their plants so unsafe that they would be closed, except that Donald Trump stepped in and rescued the meat supply.

This theory ignores the opportunities to proactively fix these plants before they become a problem. If the plants were made safe, the food chain would be protected. No one thought of that, but they were clever enough to blame it on the Chinese.

The conspiracy theorists also never talked about the mostly immigrant work force that the company put in jeopardy. The typical meat cutter at Smithfield risks catching COVID-19 for an average salary of $20,166 per year.

At one time barbecued chicken was my favorite dish. No more.

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(war) The Tools of War

This essay was posted on 4/28/20.

The question is simple: How did the Allies win World War II? The allied soldiers won the battles, but the critical success factor was in US factories pounding out guns, bullets, tanks, jeeps, planes, bombs, and ships. Russian factories also helped on the other side of the world. Our weapons were often inferior to German hardware, but there were more of them, and they kept coming.

Wars are battles of attrition where the winner is the one that still has more men and guns. The Allies had a relatively unlimited supply of weapons, and bombed out Germany did not.

The COVID pandemic is also a war of attrition in which our doctors, nurses, and supporting staff all armed with protective gear and medical supplies must outlast the COVID-19 virus until a vaccine or adequate medication becomes available. Sheltering in place is a way of protecting people, but, until vaccines and antiviral drugs are developed, the weapons must include testing and contact tracing designed to root out and quarantine infected people.

Donald Trump wants to open up the country before the tools are ready, before the States and the CDC have expanded testing and mobilized enough contact tracing teams.

The medical weaponry is not new. They were used during the H1N1 epidemic and while fighting Ebola in Africa. Two questions should be answered: Why was expanded testing and contact tracing left on the sidelines until now? And why won’t the Federal government step up in this war and provide the weapons we need to win it?

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(week6) The Reopening Problem

This essay was posted on 4/20/20.

It is now week 6 of sheltering in place, and I share Senator Angus King’s anger and frustration over the Federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What makes me the angriest are the efforts to reopen the economy prematurely and risk a new surge in patients.

Donald Trump’s rosy picture is built on some clever lies. The biggest lie is the idea suggested by Trump’s rush to wrap things up because flattening the curve signals the end of the pandemic. It doesn’t. Flattening the curve only means things are better. The end is closer only when the curve is flat, when no new cases appear.

China didn’t stop the lockdown until April 1, when there were virtually no new cases. The lockdown in Wuhan is not completely lifted. When people leave their homes, they must have a government sanctioned phone. Businesses must follow strict guidelines designed to prevent a new surge. Body temperatures are monitored. And people are strongly encouraged to stay home. The new normal in China is not like the old normal.

Unlike China, Florida is taking a different approach. While Florida saw 1200 to 1400 new COVID-19 cases per day, Governor DeSantis decided to open up the beaches. Granted, the beach combers must follow social distancing guidelines, and pictures show that they are trying. The State, however, may not be taking COVID as seriously as it should. Florida, like most states is not ramping up testing fast enough and is not doing enough contact tracing.

Instead of painting a rosy picture and opening beaches, Florida should spend its time and effort on reducing the daily growth in cases, and Donald Trump should do the same. It is long past time to replace political rhetoric with real solutions, like China is doing.

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(stars) The Value of Stars

This essay was posted on 4/14/20.

Except for the examples of inspirational generosity, no foreseeable good can come from this pandemic, but this horrific emergency is the cause of a grand, natural experiment that is worth talking about.

A New York City resident told me about seeing stars from his home at night for the first time. With the stay-at-home orders and the closing of schools and many businesses and the work-from -home protocols, the traffic volume disappeared and so did the pollution. The conventional wisdom says that light pollution hides the stars, but it seems that the haze of invisible pollution is a contributing factor.

New York is not the only city to see less pollution. Los Angeles and London are both experiencing less pollution, and India’s cities can now see the Himalayan horizon for the first time in years.

With so many people staying home, the traffic volume dropped enough to make a difference, and the difference affects more than the appearance of stars and majestic mountain ranges. The old pollution levels made COVID victims sicker and more likely to die.

The experiment asks what would happen if most cars were taken off the roads. It would only be a hypothetical experiment in normal conditions, but the pandemic has forced it upon us. Shutting down normal activities to a minimum improves the health and well-being of everyone. The city of Wuhan, China is the control group in this experiment. After going off the lockdown orders, the pollution in Wuhan returned almost immediately.

Each major city around the world should acquire the creativity and political will to make these pollution reductions permanent either by reducing traffic requirements or introducing more electric cars. We ought to get something of value out of this mess besides our own skins.

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(week4) Adjusting to COVID-19

This essay was posted on 4/6/20.

For us, it is week four of staying home, and each week has brought new changes. COVID-19 has virtually shut down the economy. Most stores and businesses have closed or are working with skeleton crews. Many people are working from their homes or they are not working, period. And there are other, more subtle changes.

One at-home worker rediscovered remote conferencing tools. When he was first introduced to conferencing tools, he found them clumsy and awkward, but today’s tools are better. He may make more use of remote conferencing tools even after the virus abates.

Remote conferencing isn’t the only game in town. A chess player is trying to arrange an online chess group for his chess club, because meeting as a group to play chess doesn’t make sense right now.

People are taking stay-at-home seriously. One of the ironic side effects of COVID is a reduction in car accidents and fatalities with fewer cars on the road. Safer roads come at a very high price.

Maine’s governor closed hotels, but it may be more symbolic than real. With restaurants closed except for takeout, and beaches and parks closed, and many businesses shuttered, there are fewer reasons to use a hotel these days.

Everyone’s life has changed at least while the COVID threat remains, but will some of these changes become permanent? Will some people find working from home is just as efficient as driving to a place of work? Will sales people contact their customers online? Will curbside pickup become more popular? Will doctors rely more often on internet-connected health monitors? Life will become more normal after COVID, but some of the COVID changes will stick around.

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(universal) Universal Healthcare and COVID-19

This essay was posted on 3/31/20.

I believe in universal healthcare. Medical advances, new drugs, and technology have driven medical costs so high that the free market leaves too many people out in the cold. That being said, the people who claim that the COVID-19 pandemic makes a case for universal healthcare are not looking at the big picture. There is no case.

Italy and Spain both have universal healthcare with highly regarded medical services. Nevertheless, their efforts to control COVID-19 have failed. Italy has the most COVID deaths among reporting countries, and Spain comes in a close second. These are troubling numbers. Italy and Spain waited too long before they took action, allowing COVID to multiply pretty much unabated. By the time they implemented a plan, it was too late.

The plan was a lockdown also known as shelter in place. The goal was to flatten the curve and lengthen the time between infections. Shelter in place isn’t working in Italy because it is not a full quarantine that separates infected people from others. I like shelter in place because it improves my own chances, but I have no illusion that shelter in place is effective.

Iceland is testing everybody. They reported that half of the infected individuals were asymptomatic. Half of the infected people were spreading COVID unwittingly. Testing everyone in the US may not be possible, but the policy of waiting for symptoms before testing greatly reduces its value.

If we really want to get through this pandemic efficiently, we should have a national shelter in place order combined with routine testing of anyone serving the public or who has contacted a known COVID patient. Any person testing positive should be quarantined.

Doctors and politicians know this, but do they have the will to act?

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(dpa1950) Defense Production Act of 1950

This essay was posted on 3/25/20.

The Defense Production Act of 1950 is still on the books. The law authorizes the President to compel businesses to sign contracts or fulfill orders for the national defense. Donald Trump has already invoked war powers. The COVID-19 pandemic is surely a threat to our nation. Auto manufacturing companies are available. What is holding Trump up?

Trump signed the order to activate the Defense Production Act at the urging of Senator Chuck Schumer and others, but he has not yet actually compelled any company to do anything. Instead, he has encouraged states to do their own deals. Trump doesn’t want to nationalize these businesses, he says.

The COVID-19 crisis presents a real need. The projected growth in cases requiring hospitalization will soon overwhelm the medical people, because our healthcare capacity is designed to only handle a routine load. The virus will send critically ill people to hospitals, but an inability to respond will cause too many avoidable deaths.

Trump’s speculation about nationalizing companies is not without precedent. During World War II the US auto industry switched from making cars to making military equipment from jeeps to tanks. After the war, the auto industry went back to making cars. Now that the automobile companies are closing their US facilities, they might as well support our hospitals in the fight against COVID-19.

Trump has a national crisis on his hands. Solving this crisis and leading the US through it should be his only concern and his primary duty. The hospitals need ventilators that could be made in empty factories. It makes me wonder why Trump is so worried about the extremely hypothetical problem of nationalizing manufacturing. It begs the question: Why is Donald Trump slow-walking the production of necessary health equipment? It can’t be the money.