Monday, September 21, 2020

The White House blocked the US Postal Service from sending face masks to every US household in April (Business Insider)


“The White House scrapped a plan by the US Postal Service to send every American household a face mask in April, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing documents obtained through public-records requests. 

“The Post obtained thousands of internal Postal Service documents that revealed previously unreported details of the agency's struggle to deal with the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The documents showed that in early April, after public-health experts began recommending face masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, some officials at the Department of Health and Human Services suggested that the Postal Service, an agency that delivers mail to the entire country, could be uniquely positioned to deliver packs of reusable masks to every American household. 

“A draft press release obtained by The Post showed that the Postal Service was preparing to send out 650 million masks, first targeting areas like Louisiana, Michigan, and New York, which at the time were experiencing particularly severe outbreaks of COVID-19. 

“But the White House immediately put the kibosh on the idea when it caught wind of the plan, multiple Trump administration officials told The Post, with one official saying: ‘There was concern from some in the White House Domestic Policy Council and the office of the vice president that households receiving masks might create concern or panic.’ 

“As of Thursday [Sept. 17], over 6.6 million Americans had tested positive for COVID-19, and over 196,000 had died of the disease, according to The New York Times.

“In recent days, President Donald Trump has come under renewed scrutiny for his handling of the pandemic after the veteran journalist Bob Woodward released his latest book, Rage, which extensively documented Trump's response to the pandemic as it was unfolding. Woodward conducted 18 on-the-record interviews with Trump.

“In a tape from early February released by Woodward, Trump indicated he knew that the virus was airborne and could be more deadly than the seasonal flu, despite underplaying the risk in public.

“And in a subsequent tape from March, Trump acknowledged to Woodward that he deliberately downplayed the virus to avoid alarming the nation, even as significant community transmission was already occurring.  ‘I wanted to always play it down,’ Trump told Woodward in a tape from March 19 after he moved to restrict travel from Europe and declared a national emergency, as CNN noted. ‘I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic’” (Business Insider).

Sunday, September 20, 2020

"Let us not be disconsolate over the increasing control of the court system by the right wing" -Howard Zinn

“...This morning I’m thinking about what Howard Zinn might say about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fight for the Supreme Court, even though he died 10 years ago. I’m certain he would want us to fight against a right-wing fascist takeover of the Court and would encourage us to take the fight to the streets, to the ballot, on whatever level and with every tool we could muster. The stakes in this fight are high. It is not too much to say that lives hang in the balance. I also am certain that Howard Zinn would use this opportunity to teach us some history of the Court, to give us some perspective, as he did in 2005 when writing about the John Robert appointment as Chief Justice” -Fred Klonsky’s Blog.



“There is enormous hypocrisy surrounding the pious veneration of the Constitution and ‘the rule of law.’ The Constitution, like the Bible, is infinitely flexible and is used to serve the political needs of the moment.


“When the country was in economic crisis and turmoil in the Thirties and capitalism needed to be saved from the anger of the poor and hungry and unemployed, the Supreme Court was willing to stretch to infinity the constitutional right of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. It decided that the national government, desperate to regulate farm production, could tell a family farmer what to grow on his tiny piece of land.


“When the Constitution gets in the way of a war, it is ignored. When the Supreme Court was faced, during Vietnam, with a suit by soldiers refusing to go, claiming that there had been no declaration of war by Congress, as the Constitution required, the soldiers could not get four Supreme Court justices to agree to even hear the case.


“When, during World War I, Congress ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech by passing legislation to prohibit criticism of the war, the imprisonment of dissenters under this law was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court, which included two presumably liberal and learned justices: Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis.


“It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice. The distinction between law and justice is ignored by all those senators—Democrats and Republicans—who solemnly invoke as their highest concern ‘the rule of law.’ The law can be just; it can be unjust. It does not deserve to inherit the ultimate authority of the divine right of the king.


“The Constitution gave no rights to working people: no right to work less than 12 hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance.


The Brown decision on school desegregation did not come from a sudden realization of the Supreme Court that this is what the 14th Amendment called for. After all, it was the same 14th Amendment that had been cited in the Plessy case upholding racial segregation. It was the initiative of brave families in the South—along with the fear by the government, obsessed with the Cold War, that it was losing the hearts and minds of colored people all over the world—that brought a sudden enlightenment to the Court.


“The Supreme Court in 1883 had interpreted the 14th Amendment so that nongovernmental institutions—hotels, restaurants, etc.—could bar Black people. But after the sit-ins and arrests of thousands of Black people in the South in the early Sixties, the right to public accommodations was quietly given constitutional sanction in 1964 by the Court.


“It now interpreted the interstate commerce clause, whose wording had not changed since 1787, to mean that places of public accommodation could be regulated by Congressional action and be prohibited from discriminating. Soon this would include barbershops, and I suggest it takes an ingenious interpretation to include barbershops in interstate commerce.


“The right of a woman to an abortion did not depend on the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. It was won before that decision, all over the country, by grassroots agitation that forced states to recognize the right. If the American people, who by a great majority favor that right, insist on it, act on it, no Supreme Court decision can take it away.


“The rights of working people, of women, of Black people have not depended on decisions of the courts. Like the other branches of the political system, the courts have recognized these rights only after citizens have engaged in direct action powerful enough to win these rights for themselves.


“This is not to say that we should ignore the courts or the electoral campaigns. It can be useful to get one person rather than another on the Supreme Court, or in the presidency, or in Congress. The courts, win or lose, can be used to dramatize issues.


“On St. Patrick’s Day, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, four anti-war activists poured their own blood around the vestibule of a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and were arrested. Charged in state court with criminal mischief and trespassing (charges well-suited to the American invaders of a certain Mideastern country), the St. Patrick’s Four spoke their hearts to the jury.


“Peter DeMott, a Vietnam veteran, described the brutality of war. Danny Burns explained why invading Iraq would violate the U.N. Charter, a treaty signed by the United States. Clare Grady spoke of her moral obligations as a Christian. Teresa Grady spoke to the jury as a mother, telling them that women and children were the chief victims of war, and that she cared about the children of Iraq. Nine of the 12 jurors voted to acquit them, and the judge declared a hung jury. (When the federal government retried them on felony conspiracy charges, a jury in September acquitted them of those and convicted them on lesser charges.)


Still, knowing the nature of the political and judicial system of this country, its inherent bias against the poor, against people of color, against dissidents, we cannot become dependent on the courts, or on our political leadership. Our culture—the media, the educational system—tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected president and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system.


“Let us not be disconsolate over the increasing control of the court system by the right wing. The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people. Those words engraved in the marble of the Supreme Court, ‘Equal Justice Before the Law,’ have always been a sham.


“No Supreme Court, liberal or conservative, will stop the war in Iraq, or redistribute the wealth of this country, or establish free medical care for every human being. Such fundamental change will depend, the experience of the past suggests, on the actions of an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence—an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—be fulfilled."


-Howard Zinn


Howard Zinn was a historian, political scientist, social critic, activist and playwright, best known as author of the bestseller “A People's History of the United States.” He died in 2010.


Published in The Progressive • November 8, 2005

Saturday, September 19, 2020

"Five Times Mitch McConnell Said We Shouldn’t Confirm a SCOTUS Justice in an Election Year"


“Not two hours after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already thrown down a gauntlet: The Senate would not confirm a replacement for Scalia before a new president had taken office. McConnell sneeringly called the principle the ‘Biden rule,’ referring to remarks in 1992 from then-Sen. Joe Biden, who urged the Senate president to delay a hypothetical confirmation until after the election if a vacancy did appear, following the contentious confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas.

“We all know how this story ended in 2016: McConnell got his way. President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, was never given a vote, and Trump nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed on April 7, 2017. 

“There’s little hope that McConnell will actually stick to the principle he laid out when Scalia died four years ago (342 days before the next president took office). ‘President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,’ McConnell said in a statement Friday night. But following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier today (124 days before inauguration day 2021), it’s worth holding him to his words anyway.

“February 13, 2016: ‘The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,’ McConnell said in a statement released after Scalia’s death. ‘Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.’ [Furthermore], ‘I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everybody in my conference, is that the nomination should be made by the president the people elect in the election that’s underway right now,’

“McConnell told reporters following Senate Republicans’ first closed-door meeting after Scalia’s death. ‘I believe the overwhelming view of the Republican Conference in the Senate is that this nomination should not be filled, this vacancy should not be filled by this lame duck president…The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be.’

“March 16, 2016: “The Senate will continue to observe the ‘Biden rule’ so that the American people have a voice in this momentous decision on who to name to the court,’ McConnell said in a floor speech the day Obama nominated Garland.

“May 18, 2016: Reacting to a forum called by Senate Democrats to discuss the lingering nomination of Garland, a statement from McConnell’s office called it a ‘sham hearing’ and claimed Democrats were being hypocritical about the need to confirm Garland in an election year: ‘It seems the more we hear from Democrats about the Supreme Court the more we’re reminded by comparison of how reasonable and common-sense the Republican position is today.’

“August 6, 2016: ‘One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy,'’ McConnell told supporters at a political event in his home state of Kentucky.

“Then, three year later, McConnell confirmed what everyone already knew: The principle he’d touted so regularly in 2016 was nothing but a matter of pure partisanship.

“May 28, 2019: An attendee at a Chamber of Commerce event in Kentucky asks McConnell, ‘Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?’ ‘Oh, we’d fill it,’ McConnell replied, grinning” (Five Times Mitch McConnell Said We Shouldn’t Confirm a SCOTUS Justice in an Election Year, Mother Jones).

Friday, September 18, 2020

Remembering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“This year, more than 54 million Americans, or roughly one in every six people—including 18 million children—may experience food insecurity, according to the nonprofit group Feeding America”

New research published Monday found that the top 1% of U.S. income earners have taken $50 trillion from the bottom 90% over the past several decades, and that the median worker salary would be around twice as high today as it was in 1945 if pay had kept pace with economic output over that period. 

“The study's authors, Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, examined income distribution and economic growth in the United States from 1945 to the present. The researchers found stark differences between income distribution from 1945 to 1974 and 1975 to 2018.

“According to the study—which was funded by the Seattle-based Fair Work Center—the median salary of a full-time U.S. worker is currently about $50,000. Adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index, workers at or below the current median income now earn less than half of what they would have if incomes had kept pace with economic growth. This means that if salaries had kept pace with economic output, the median worker pay would be between $92,000 and $102,000 today, depending on how inflation is calculated. 

“Had the more equitable distribution of the roughly 30-year postwar period continued apace, the total annual income of the bottom 90% of American workers would have been $2.5 trillion higher in 2018, or an amount equal to about 12% of GDP.  In other words, the upward redistribution of income has enriched the 1% by some $47 trillion—which would now be more than $50 trillion—at the expense of American workers. 

“David Rolf, a Seattle labor organizer, president of the Fair Work Center, and founder of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 775, is blunt. He calls this ‘the $2.5 trillion theft. From the standpoint of people who have worked hard and played by the rules and yet are participating far less in economic growth than Americans did a generation ago, whether you call it 'reverse distribution' or 'theft,' it demands to be called something,’ Rolf, who helped lead the fight for a $15 hourly minimum wage in Seattle and beyond, told Fast Company

“Remarkably, the study found that workers at all income levels would be better off today if income kept pace with output. Full-time, prime-age workers in the 25th percentile, for example, would be earning $61,000 instead of $33,000. Workers in the 75th percentile, who in 2018 earned $81,000, would be making $126,000. Even 90th-percentile workers, who earn $133,000, would be making $168,000 under the more equitable distribution. 

“On the other hand, had the economic pie been divided more equitably, the income of the top 1% would fall from around $1.2 million to a still-affluent $549,000. ‘We were shocked by the numbers,’ said Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist and self-described ‘zillionaire’ who, along with Rolf, came up with the idea for the study. ‘It explains almost everything,’ Hanauer told Fast Company. ‘It explains why people are so pissed off. It explains why they are so economically precarious.’

“Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made correcting economic inequality a pillar of both of his presidential bids, lamented the ‘h-u-g-e redistribution of income in America’ in a Monday tweet. The researchers' findings, which come amid a deadly coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic, shine light on the injustice of an economy—by far the wealthiest in the history of civilization—in which essential workers struggle mightily, and often in vain, to survive while the richest people grow ever richer at their expense. 

According to Americans for Tax Fairness, the total wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by $792 billion, or 27%, during the first five months of the Covid-19 pandemic. During this period, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world's wealthiest person, has become the world's first multi-centibillionaire, with a net worth now surpassing $200 billion. Meanwhile, his employees struggle to make ends meet, and Amazon workers who speak out against poor pay and hazardous working conditions during the pandemic have been fired and derided by company executives. 

“Compared to other most-developed nations, the U.S. has done a relatively poor job of taking care of its people during the pandemic. In addition to the U.S. being the only developed nation without universal healthcare, its workers have received less in direct payments and government support than people in many comparable countries

“The gap between the richest and poorest U.S. households is now wider than it has ever been in the past 50 years, according to the most recently available data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, as around half of lower-income American households have reported a job or wage loss due to Covid-19. 

“Internationally, the U.S. ranks 39th out of over 150 nations in income inequality, according to Gini coefficient data compiled by the CIA, placing it roughly on par with nations like Peru and Cameroon. Among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations, the U.S. has the seventh-highest level of income inequality. 

“The U.S. has the highest poverty rate among the world's most-developed nations, and the fourth-highest poverty rate among OECD nations after South Africa, Costa Rica, and Romania. According to UNICEF, the U.S. also has the second-highest rate of childhood poverty in the developed world behind Romania, with more than one in five U.S. children—and over one in four Latinx children, and nearly one in three Black and Native American children—living in poverty. 

“This year, more than 54 million Americans, or roughly one in every six people—including 18 million children—may experience food insecurity, according to the nonprofit group Feeding America” ("$2.5 Trillion Theft": Study ShowsRichest 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From Bottom 90% in RecentDecades by Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams). 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Prestigious US science journal to back Biden in first endorsement in 175-year history

“In a break with its 175-year tradition, the prestigious US magazine Scientific American has for the first time endorsed a candidate in a US presidential election – the Democratic party nominee, Joe Biden. The magazine has taken the line because, it says, ‘Donald Trump has badly damaged the US and its people – because he rejects evidence and science.’

“In a piece published in October’s edition, the editorial board writes: ‘The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges.’

“They criticize Trump, saying: ‘At every stage, Trump has rejected the unmistakable lesson that controlling the disease, not downplaying it, is the path to economic reopening and recovery,’ and refer to the recent revelation from interview tapes published by the veteran journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was stating in public ‘this is like a flu​’ while saying in private that it was ‘lethal and highly transmissible.’

“They go on to say the president ‘repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease.’ and that while supporting the wearing of masks – a strategy they say would hurt no one – could have saved thousands of lives in the US. Instead ‘Trump and his vice-president flouted local mask rules, making it a point not to wear masks themselves in public appearances.’ They condemn the president for reacting to America’s worst public health crisis in a century by saying: ‘I don’t take responsibility at all.’

“Away from the coronavirus pandemic, the article also attacks the president’s record on environmental, health and scientific issues more broadly, saying: ‘Trump’s refusal to look at the evidence and act accordingly extends beyond the virus. He has repeatedly tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act while offering no alternative; comprehensive medical insurance is essential to reduce illness. Trump has proposed billion-dollar cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agencies that increase our scientific knowledge and strengthen us for future challenges. Congress has countermanded his reductions. Yet he keeps trying’” (The Guardian).

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Does forgetting a name or word mean that I have dementia?

“The number of cases of dementia in the U.S. is rising as baby boomers age, raising questions for boomers themselves and also for their families, caregivers and society. Dementia, which is not technically a disease but a term for impaired ability to think, remember or make decisions, is one of the most feared impairments of old age. Incidence increases dramatically as people move into their 90s. About 5% of those age 71 to 79 have dementia, and about 37% of those about 90 years old live with it.
“Older people may worry about their own loss of function as well as the cost and toll of care giving for someone with dementia. A 2018 study estimated that the lifetime cost of care for a person with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, to be US$329,360. That figure, too, will no doubt rise, putting even more burdens on family, Medicare and Medicaid.
“There’s also been a good deal of talk and reporting about dementia in recent months because of the U.S. presidential election. Some voters have asked whether one or both candidates might have dementia. But, is this even a fair question to ask? When these types of questions are posed – adding further stigma to people with dementia – it can unfairly further isolate them and those caring for them. We need to understand dementia and the impact it has on more than 5 million people in the U.S. who now live with dementia and their caregivers. That number is expected to triple by 2060.
“First, it is important to know that dementia cannot be diagnosed from afar or by someone who is not a doctor. A person needs a detailed doctor’s exam for a diagnosis. Sometimes, brain imaging is required. And, forgetting an occasional word – or even where you put your keys – does not mean a person has dementia. There are different types of memory loss and they can have different causes, such as other medical conditions, falls or even medication, including herbals, supplements and anything over-the-counter.
“Older people wonder and worry about so-called senior moments and the memory loss they perceive in themselves and others. I see patients like this every week in my geriatric clinic, where they tell me their stories. They forget a word, get lost in a story, lose keys or can’t remember a name. Details vary, but the underlying concern is the same: Is this dementia?
Normal memory loss
“As we age, we experience many physical and cognitive changes. Older people often have a decrease in recall memory. This is normal. Ever have trouble fetching a fact from the deep back part of your ‘mind’s Rolodex’? Suppose you spot someone at the grocery store you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you recognize the face, but don’t remember their name until later that night. This is normal, part of the expected changes with aging.
“What’s more of a potential problem is forgetting the name of someone you see every day; forgetting how to get to a place you visit frequently; or having problems with your activities of daily living, like eating, dressing and hygiene. When you have troubles with memory – but they don’t interfere with your daily activities – this is called mild cognitive impairment. Your primary care doctor can diagnose it. But sometimes it gets worse, so your doctor should follow you closely if you have mild cognitive impairment.
“You want to note the timing of any impairment. Was there a gradual decline? Or did it happen all of a sudden? This too you should discuss with your doctor, who might recommend the MoCA, or Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, which screens for memory problems and helps determine if more evaluation is needed. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists problems in these areas as possible signs of dementia:
·       Memory
·       Attention
·       Communication
·       Reasoning, judgment and problem solving
·       Visual perception beyond typical age-related changes in vision

More severe issues

“When memory loss interferes with daily activities, see your doctor about what to do and how to make sure you’re safe at home. There are numerous types of severe memory loss. Dementia tends to be a slow-moving progression that occurs over months or years. Delirium is more sudden and can occur over hours or days, usually when you have an acute illness. Depression can also cause memory changes, particularly as we get older.

Dementia and other brain issues

“Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia, followed by vascular dementia. They have similar symptoms: confusion, getting lost, forgetting close friends or family, or an inability to do calculations like balance the checkbook. Certain medical conditions – thyroid disorders, syphilis – can lead to dementia symptoms, and less common types of dementia can have different kinds of symptoms. Alzheimer’s has a distinct set of symptoms often associated with certain changes in the brain.
“Focusing on safety and appropriate supervision, particularly in the home, is critical for all people with dementia. Your doctor or a social worker can help you find support. It’s also important to be aware of two other things that can lead to decreased mental functioning – delirium and depression.
“Delirium, a rapid change in cognition or mental functioning, can occur in people with an acute medical illness, like pneumonia or even COVID-19 infection. Delirium can occur in patients in the hospital or at home. Risk for delirium increases with age or previous brain injuries; symptoms include decreased attention span and memory issues.
“Depression can happen at any time, but it’s more common with aging. How can you tell if you’re depressed? Here’s one simple definition: when your mood remains low and you’ve lost interest or joy in activities you once loved.
“Sometimes people have recurring episodes of depression; sometimes, it’s prolonged grieving that becomes depression. Symptoms include anxiety, hopelessness, low energy and problems with memory. If you notice signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, see your doctor. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself, call 911 to get help instantly.
“Any of these conditions can be frightening. But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.
“And, as with any disease or disease group, dementia is not a ‘character flaw,’ and the term should not be used to criticize a person. Dementia is a serious medical diagnosis – ask those who have it, the loved ones who care for them or any of us who treat them. Having dementia is challenging. Learn what you can do to support those with dementia in your own community” (The Conversation).
Laurie Archbald-PannoneAssociate Professor Medicine, Geriatrics, University of Virginia