Wednesday, April 22, 2020

There Are More Important Things Than Living

I have long held a view of the Republican party as a bunch of rich people who are able to convince uneducated white losers to support policies to make them, the rich guys, richer. Mostly they did this by stirring up fear that some minority or other is going to take over the country and destroy "our" way of life. Republican voters are easily manipulated and there are enough of them to win elections sometimes. It still requires making sure that not everyone gets a vote, still requires some lying and cheating, but basically if you can keep the rednecks stirred up about how the threat of [insert group here], you can stay in power. Especially when the gazillionaires can directly lobby government and influence the media with their money.

In this deadly pandemic, the government has failed us but the American people have been very good about quarantining and social distancing. We've got our masks, businesses are shut down, it's strange but it's what we've got to do. The US already has the most deaths of any country and there is no sign that the virus is running out of steam, even with this drastic change to our lifestyle. It is terrible to think how much worse it could have been, if we were not quarantined and shut down like this.

Last week, the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, backed by the wealthy DeVos family, organized a protest in Lansing. In traditional Republican form, the billionaires sent around some propaganda and the streets of Lansing were jammed with pickup trucks sporting confederate flags and Trump stickers. They shut down traffic trying to get to the trauma hospital. Pretty soon old Tea-Party groups like Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity were in on it, the Kochs and their allies backing protests to "reopen" the country.

And suddenly this is a thing. We even had a protest in Annapolis.

These are people (sometimes referred to as "Covidiots") protesting the fact that the pandemic has inconvenienced them. They want to live like they used to, they want businesses to open up, bars, sports events. The president supports these protesters, urging them to "liberate" blue states. There is some muttering about the second amendment, oh and it's religious persecution when churches, like everybody else, are prohibited from assembling crowds. This is a movement that believes if you close your eyes the virus will go away.

Nobody disagrees that this is a question about the relative importance of the economy versus people's lives. It is not clear why a bunch of working people in MAGA hats care about the economy so much, but those rich people know how to get them stirred up. The lieutenant governor of Texas had a pretty good way to put it on Fox News this week: "There are more important things than living, and that's saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us."

His assumption seems to be that other people's lives can be sacrificed so that his family can maintain their comfort level. I doubt he means that there are more important things that his own children's and grandchildren's lives. But maybe he does, maybe these rich Republicans are that hardcore about it.

Last week a Republican Congressman, Trey Hollingsworth, who by the way is worth of $50.1 million, the 12th wealthiest member of Congress, said, "It is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter." It makes sense to him to choose the loss of American lives, to maintain the status quo. Especially somebody else's lives, not him and his family.

I cannot understand why anybody in their right mind would be taking to the streets for the right to catch a deadly illness and spread it to others.

The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 had a similar phenomenon. Businesses were closed, there were laws requiring masks to be worn, and by November 1918 the epidemic was declared ended in San Francisco. They had a big celebration and went back to business as usual. But then the second wave hit a few weeks later, even harder, and people did not want to go back into quarantine. A group called The Anti-Mask League formed and held big demonstrations and the city declined to close movie theaters and businesses, and from December to February the number of deaths in the city doubled.

Kentucky had one of these stupid protests last Wednesday and Sunday the state had 273 new cases, the highest one-day spike in the state since the pandemic began. You hate to wish ill of anyone, but there is a little bit of Darwin Effect in some of this. They were protesting for the right to be exposed to infection and the right to spread it to others, and there ya go.

I think in some ways these insane demonstrations are a kind of warm-up or test of the rightwing propaganda machine. They are setting up the communications networks and preparing the slogans, the Facebook groups, to spring into action as the November elections near. At this point in time they are able to get hundreds of people to literally go out and conduct kamikaze protests. Maybe the rich folk who run the Party will be able to get them to vote for Trump again.

Friday, April 10, 2020

An Unprecedented Disaster

Can we agree yet that America under Trump is an unprecedented disaster? The guy has no interest in running the government, and in fact at this point it is appearing that he is destroying the country intentionally. You couldn't accidentally do this badly.

The president dismantled the pandemic team a couple of years ago and cut the budget to the CDC. When the pandemic came to the US he said "It's going to disappear. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear," and he went off to play golf and hold campaign rallies.

As the epidemic exploded into chaos, Trump claimed he is "not responsible at all" and told the states to figure out where to get their own supplies, while the federal government confiscated medical supplies that the states had ordered.

He put Jared Kushner in charge.

Hospitals are cutting their employees, reducing pay, nurses are wearing garbage bags for protection. Doctors and nurses make up a significant proportion of the cases, including deaths, because they are working without protective equipment that the government used to stockpile, but somehow the stockpile was not maintained and now the stockpile is almost depleted.

We have no idea how many Americans have the disease, who is most vulnerable, how it is spreading, where it is subsiding, because we are not conducting enough tests. The federal government had announced it is not funding any tests after today, though as of yesterday they say they will help sites that ask for it. Typically, nobody knows what is going on.

Why would they even consider that? Testing is the only way for us to get knowledge about the epidemic, so we can plan a rational strategy to deal with it. The United States has no strategy. We have people avoiding one another and Republicans worrying about the economy, urging us to get back to work and stop hiding under the bed.

The president has expressed no concern or sympathy for any of the tens of thousands dead from the disease, but he is concerned about the stock market and his Facebook and television ratings. He is in a big hurry to get people back out in public to be exposed to the virus even more. He wants to save the cruise industry and the hotels.

It is time to ask the question: why is he doing this?

The thing is, there are so many possible explanations that there is no best theory. Personal, financial, political... This is an unprecedented attack on American society and it is succeeding. When Trump came into office his spokesperson said they intended to "deconstruct the administrative state," and indeed he appointed comically unqualified people, fired the competent ones, and ran the whole government like a three-year-old in a mud puddle. Now thousands are dead and the economy is a shambles. Since the start of the pandemic he has replaced or fired key people, he has eliminated all regulations to protect the environment, arranged government bailouts that will go to his own companies, fired two inspectors general who would oversee his corruption, reorganized his office for the umpteenth time, I don't need to go on, you can read the news same as me. It is an unprecedented attack on America. We have literally never seen anything like this before.

Americans are staying in, practicing "social distancing" very well, and the virus' spread has been slowed in many places. But the United States did literally nothing at all, as a unified country, for critical months while this thing built up. The intelligence community was aware of the epidemic in Wuhan and began briefing high-level White House staff last November, and they did nothing until the middle of March. Didn't buy supplies, didn't plan, didn't alert the public or the medical community: nothing.

Could this be mere incompetence? It really doesn't seem possible. Look at the Republican Senators who sold their stocks in anticipation of the pandemic, but did not warn citizens about it -- they are all in on this. Even a bungler would appear to feel sorry when thousands of people were dying, but Trump acts like these are characters on a TV show. Why is the federal government intercepting supplies headed to states who ordered them? That isn't incompetence, that is intentionally interfering, making it harder for Americans to fight the disease. It can't be simple incompetence.

[Update: CNN: Federal support to end for coronavirus testing sites

He changed his mind again.]