Sunday, September 5, 2021

America isn’t a pretty picture.

New York Times Opinion columnist Maureen Dowd shows how we are Drowning Our Future in the Past.

One coast is burning. The other is under water. In between, anti-abortion vigilantes may soon rampage across gunslinging territory.

What has happened to this country?

Scriber recommends that you read the whole thing!

With thanks to our Editor-at-Large, Sherry.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

McCarthy threatens using a GOP House to punish private companies. That's just a start.

Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent looks ahead to a possible future containing a GOP House as Kevin McCarthy keeps revealing how ugly a GOP House would be.

Mark this down: If Republicans win the House in the 2022 elections, one of their very first acts in the majority will be to impeach President Biden for the offense of having won the 2020 election.

Okay, that’s a joke. But only partly. Republicans would not put it in those terms, of course, but that would be functionally what they are doing.

We’re now beginning to see just how ugly a House GOP takeover would be for the country. What is unmistakable is that a Republican House would be singularly devoted to using its power to avenge Donald Trump’s 2020 loss — and to whitewashing his efforts to overturn it in every way possible.

Case in point: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has now openly threatened to use a GOP-controlled House to punish private companies that comply with lawful subpoenas issued by the House select committee examining the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In an extraordinary statement, McCarthy lashed out at the select committee over its directive earlier this week that telecommunications and social media companies should preserve records that might be relevant to their investigation.

McCarthy said that if these companies turn over any information, they will be in violation of federal law, adding that “a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable.”

That is an explicit threat to use the “Republican majority” — his words — to punish compliance with congressional subpoenas that serve an investigation into an effort to overturn U.S. democracy through mob intimidation and violence.

It should be noted that the select committee hasn’t even issued any subpoenas along these lines. It has only directed the companies to preserve records in preparation for possible ones later.

What’s more, despite McCarthy’s lurid claims about potential lawbreaking by these companies, subpoenas targeting private entities are in fact routine in congressional investigations.

“These companies have a legal obligation to preserve the records,“ ethics expert Norman Eisen told me. ”The committee has the legal authority to get this critically important evidence.”

So McCarthy’s line is utterly bogus. But Democrats cannot stand by in the face of this naked effort to use the threat of a GOP majority to cripple an accounting into an effort to wield mob violence to thwart a legitimately elected government from taking over.

One option for Democrats would be to refer McCarthy’s threat to the House Ethics Committee, …

… Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.): “He’s telling the telecommunications companies to not honor a lawful subpoena, or there could be some penalty down the line.” Swalwell said a referral to the Justice Department should be considered.

… many House Republicans plainly think the underlying cause of the [Jan 6] rioters was righteous and just, even if they publicly condemn the violence itself. All this comes as Republicans are already pressuring McCarthy to prepare to impeach Biden on invented pretexts, showing that a GOP House would nakedly abuse its power to slake the Trump Rump’s desire for vengeance over 2020.

… McCarthy’s threat is really an effort to protect Republicans themselves from accountability. It’s also an effort to carry forward a coverup designed to preserve the myth that a virtuous set of motives undergirded the worst outbreak of U.S. political violence in recent times.

In that context, it’s easy to see how a House GOP majority could use its investigative powers in 2023 to exact retribution against companies that cooperate with the Jan. 6 investigation, even if Democrats still controlled the White House and Senate.

“We ought not to be desensitized to the horrifying implications of what the highest-ranking Republican in the House has suggested,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. “We ought to be universally condemning that kind of blatant extortion.”

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Vaccine Refusers Must Not Dictate Terms Anymore

Vaccine Refusers Don’t Get to Dictate Terms Anymore writes Juliette Kayyem in The Atlantic. Americans are entitled to make their own decisions, but their employers, health insurers, and fellow citizens are not required to accommodate them.

Why should I, among the vaccinated, pay the price for the recalcitrance, of anti-vaxxers? Read on.

SNIP

The vaccinated have for too long carried the burden of the pandemic. In theory, unvaccinated people should be taking greater precautions. A recent poll conducted for the Associated Press found that vaccinated adults have been more likely than unvaccinated ones to wear masks in public settings, refrain from unnecessary travel, and avoid large group settings.

Public-health officials can keep trying to figure out ways to persuade the unvaccinated to get shots, and maybe at this late point they can still discover some new message that succeeds where all others have failed. If so, that would be fantastic. But begging is not a strategy. It is not a coincidence that many of the entities pushing hardest for mandatory vaccination are in industries—higher education, travel, entertainment—that have been badly disrupted by unpredictable waves of infection and are existentially threatened by a pandemic that goes on without end.

People in the crisis-management field have made peace with blanket one-size-fits-all policies that some individuals don’t like. When a ship is going down, passengers aren’t given the luxury of quibbling with the color or design of the life vest, and they can’t dither forever about whether to put one on or not. Emergencies invariably force people to make some choices that they might not consider ideal, but asking everyone to get vaccinated against a potentially lethal virus is not a big imposition. Ironically, by talking as if everyone, given enough time, will eventually choose the shot, public-health agencies may have understated the urgency of the matter and invited the vaccine-hesitant to dwell on the decision indefinitely.

Sorry. Time’s up.

The Biden administration could do even more to assist the communities and businesses that are trying to nudge unvaccinated people along. In 2021, paper cards that can easily be lost, damaged, or falsified are an outmoded way to keep track of who has gotten a shot. Even establishments that check their patrons’ vaccination status are doing so in makeshift ways—for instance, by asking patrons to show a driver’s license alongside a picture of their vaccination card on their phone. Some states are moving forward with their own vaccination-verification apps, but the failure to plan a national system will be viewed, in time, as a costly concession to a vocal minority.

Employers are being creative with some of their requirements, creating so-called leaky mandates. Rather than fire noncompliant employees, for example, Delta Air Lines opted for a financial penalty. This approach may make particular sense in industries where a rapid round of terminations will hurt a business’s ability to function. It also acknowledges the free will of vaccine refusers: They can keep rejecting the shot, as long as they accept the consequences.

Up to this point, many employers and medical providers—wary of offending anyone—have been careful to describe vaccination as a deeply personal decision. Vaccination mandates are essentially a recognition that vaccinated people have feelings too, and that the burden of fighting the pandemic shouldn’t be on them alone.

I know, I know: I should try harder to understand the feelings of unvaccinated Americans. Being more patient and empathetic would make me sound nicer. But do you know what’s really nice? Going back to school safely. Traveling without feeling vulnerable. Seeing a nation come back to life.

Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for homeland security under President Barack Obama, is the faculty chair of the homeland-security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.

With thanks to Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

What you need to know about the Delta variant

Jonathon V. Last, Editor of The Bulwark tells us about Everything Delta. His report is based on a conversation between Bill Kristol and Ashish Jha.

Bill Kristol sat down to talk with Ashish Jha, who’s dean of public health at Brown. Their conversation is very much worth your time.

But there are a few bits I want to flag for you:

[T]he biggest thing about the Delta variant that I think has been a bit of surprise is just how contagious it is. It is way more contagious than any variant of this virus, and that really changes things. And it changes things in terms of how much population immunity you need. It changes things in terms of what the breakthrough infections are for the vaccinated… .

we are starting to see some data around the durability of the vaccines, at least as far as preventing breakthrough infections. And this is preliminary data from the UK, preliminary data from Israel, maybe a little data from the US, that as you get six, seven months out of vaccinations, you start seeing some more breakthrough infections, particularly in elderly people.

So what does it mean to say that the delta is “more contagious”?

So if you start with the original strain, the original Wuhan strain from last year, from 2019, 2020, the Alpha variant, which was the one originally from the UK, B117, that was a super contagious variant. If you remember back in March, April, we were like, “it’s a race between the variant and the vaccine.” We were trying to beat the Alpha variant. And that we thought was 50 to 70% more contagious than the original Wuhan strain.

This one is, and again, people have different numbers, kind of in the 60 to a hundred percent more contagious than the Alpha variant. All right, so what does that all mean? And how do you think about it? There are a couple of ways of thinking about it. One is, if you look at the amount of virus in the nose, throat of a patient with Delta variant, it’s about a thousand times more virus than what we saw with the previous strain. So it’s a lot more with a much higher viral load.

Another way people think about this is where the original Wuhan strain virus, the average person might have infected two or three people, about three people. The Alpha, we thought the average person infects four to five. The Delta variant now, the average person may be infecting six to eight. And if you think about exponential growth, 1, 3, 9, 27, 81, that’s pretty substantial growth. 1, 6, 36, three, four generations of spread and it’s massive, you just get to much higher numbers, much, much faster with the Delta variant.

Okay, so you combine the increased contagiousness of delta with the unexpected number of anti-vaxxers and what you get isn’t great. But the third piece here is the vaccines being slightly less durable than expected.

In general, the vaccines have performed better than initial expectations in just about every way, but the biggest unexpected bonus was the extent to which they cut down on transmission. The durability problem is the first time they haven’t overperformed. But whatever. If people need booster shots, that’s not the end of the world.

But when you add it all up, what does it look like going forward? Not great.

Three things—a much more contagious variant, fewer people vaccinated [than we hoped], and now some waning immunity—means this is a very different situation than we thought we were in a few months ago. This means the next few months are going to be pretty tough. A lot of Americans are going to get infected. A lot of vaccinated Americans are going to get infected. Most vaccinated Americans are going to do extremely well, the unvaccinated Americans are not going to do extremely well. And we’re in for a bumpy few months.

One last thing: Here’s Jha giving a pretty nice layman’s explanation for how being vaccinated works to help you avoid really bad outcomes with COVID:

the vaccine has, essentially think of it as, it’s an army, and it has two kind of main things. It has the antibodies, which are your active forces. They’re the ones that would protect you from getting infected. Then you have your reserves, the T-cells and the B-cells, and they kick in once an invasion has happened, once you’re infected.Three things—a much more contagious variant, fewer people vaccinated [than we hoped], and now some waning immunity—means this is a very different situation than we thought we were in a few months ago. This means the next few months are going to be pretty tough. A lot of Americans are going to get infected. A lot of vaccinated Americans are going to get infected. Most vaccinated Americans are going to do extremely well, the unvaccinated Americans are not going to do extremely well. And we’re in for a bumpy few months.

Your T-cells and B-cells are still doing fabulously well with the Delta variant, that’s why we’re not seeing a lot of hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated people. But the problem is when the amount of virus that shows up is just much, much larger, because of this huge viral load, your antibodies can get a bit overwhelmed and that’s why we’re starting to see more breakthrough infections: you just don’t have enough antibodies and they do wane over time… .

So you’re having lunch with your friend indoors at a restaurant, your friend is unvaccinated and infected, what would your risks be if you were unvaccinated of picking up the virus from your friend, and then how much does the vaccine knock it down? And we think based on the best data that your vaccine knocks it down about 80, 90%, so that’s pretty good.

The problem is that when there’s very little infection in the community, it’s fabulous. But when you imagine that you’re having lunch with an infected friend every day, one of those times …

in May and June, I had lunch and dinner indoors with vaccinated friends several times and felt very comfortable doing so. And in the last 10 days, two weeks, when a friend reaches out for dinner, I’m like, “Let’s see if we can find an outdoor place to have dinner.” Not because I’m worried, because all my friends are all vaccinated, but I don’t know that I want to be in a packed restaurant where other people may be unvaccinated.

And here’s why, and this is really important, because people say, “Well, what’s the big deal?” I actually have had colleagues who’ve had breakthrough infections, and one of them had fevers for about three days, 103, felt pretty lousy. About a week later he was mostly back to normal, but just felt like he was kind of wiped out for a week.

And my thought was, “I don’t want that.” If I could avoid a week of my life being wiped out by an annoying viral infection, I don’t want that. So it’s not so much that I’m terrified that I’m going to die or get hospitalized. It’s easy enough to avoid and there’s a lot of Delta starting to spread the country, I think I’m going to stick with mostly being outdoors for a little while until this Delta surge subsides.

Be smart about this stuff.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Unless we as a nation act -- 'The unvaccinated will set the country on fire over and over again.'

On that theme, here is some of what Charlie Sykes wrote today in The Bulwark.

Responses should match circumstances. And in the last week, it has become obvious that the milder responses — including relying on the honor system — are no longer getting the job done. Daily coronavirus infections in the United States have climbed 145 percent in just the last two weeks.

Obviously, the surge requires a new strategy. Writing in the Wapo, Dr. Leana Wen writes that the federal government needs to “use this opportunity to — finally — incentivize vaccination.”

It could say that areas with high vaccine uptake do not need to reimplement mask mandates, and mandate vaccination on planes and trains and in federal buildings. And it can finally get behind a vaccine verification system that would allow restaurants, gyms, workplaces and universities to create safe, maskless environments where everyone is vaccinated.

One obvious starting place: mandating the vaccine for all health care workers.

Medical groups representing millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers on Monday called for mandatory vaccinations of all U.S. health personnel against the coronavirus, framing the move as a moral imperative as new infections mount sharply.

[Tweets Kyle Griffin:] Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey on the rise in COVID cases in her state: “Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

Every infected person, anywhere in the world, offers the coronavirus another opportunity to morph into a new variant. The more infections there are globally, the more likely new variants will arise.

The United States will be vulnerable to every one of them until it can immunize millions of people who now refuse to get the vaccine, are still persuadable but hesitant, or have not yet gained access. The unvaccinated will set the country on fire over and over again.

Pelosi - 'This is about seeking the truth.'

Distinguished pol of the week: Someone finally put their foot down observes Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post.

And with thanks to Sherry, Scriber’s Editor-at-Large.

BEGIN QUOTE

There were many outstanding figures worthy of recognition this past week. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Sen. Rand Paul during a hearing on Tuesday that the Kentucky Republican didn’t know what he was talking about when he accused the National Institutes of Health of funding research that resulted in the coronavirus pandemic. “And I want to say that officially,” Fauci declared to the amusement of many tired of the persistent Paul’s unfounded accusations and belly-aching about lifesaving pandemic restrictions.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday said what any honest observer should acknowledge: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), given his peddling of propaganda about Jan. 6, would be unfit to serve as speaker should the GOP win back the House. “The rhetoric we have heard from the minority leader is disingenuous. … At every opportunity, the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened.” She added, “Any person who would be third in line to the presidency must demonstrate a commitment to the Constitution and a commitment to the rule of law, and Minority Leader McCarthy has not done that.”

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) outshone them all by deciding she would not allow two obstreperous Republicans to throw the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection into chaos. She accepted three of McCarthy’s appointees (one of whom voted against accepting the electoral count) but rejected Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) (infamous for shouting utter rubbish about Ukraine during the impeachment hearing) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) (who has absurdly tried to blame Democrats for the violence at the Capitol).

"As you know, well over 100 people were injured. Some died. It was a horrible, horrible thing. I’ll never forget the trauma it caused, not only for our members, but for our staff and for the people who work in the Capitol to make our work here possible,” Pelosi emotionally recounted at her Thursday news conference.

She offered a bipartisan commission to investigate the events. The Republicans in the Senate filibustered it. She offered a committee, but McCarthy offered two unhinged and unserious figures to serve on it. And even though she offered to keep his three remaining Republicans (and may appoint more Republicans), McCarthy withdrew all five in a huff.

Pelosi made clear she was in no mood to let the committee become a farce: “This is about seeking the truth.” She explained that given her “respect for the integrity of the investigation, with concern that the American people want to know the truth, and in light of statements and actions taken by them, I could not appoint them.” She added, “I said that while this may be unprecedented, so was an attack on the Capitol. I’m not going to spend any more time talking about them.”

Finally, someone is willing to put their foot down. Someone is refusing to let Republicans make a mockery of the House, of the investigation into the insurrection and of an assault on the Constitution. Republicans can try that routine on right-wing media, but not on a committee designed to hold people — perhaps some GOP members — responsible for an unprecedented, violent insurrection sparked by the disgraced former president and others.

Hopefully, the American people comprehend just how reckless, irresponsible and wildly dishonest the MAGA Republicans are. For defending the House, protecting the integrity of the committee and exposing McCarthy as a dangerous pawn in the former president’s attempt to undermine our democracy, we can say, well done, Madam Speaker.

END QUOTE

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Costs of the Anti-Vaxxers Among us

Trump Country Rejects Vaccines Despite Growing Delta Threat. President Biden missed a July 4 target for shots after politically conservative areas balked.

“There hasn’t been enough research done on it, and I’d rather take my chances with the virus than I would to get the vaccine. I trust my immune system,” [the niece] said in an interview. “If I get it, and it’s my time to die, then I get it and it’s my time to die.”

I, your Scriber, heard that one from one of the pickle ball players the other day.

Jonathon V. Last published this Bulwark piece in his “Triad” column today (July 22).

The Costs of Anti-Vaxxers

From CBS This Morning: “Many states are facing another surge of COVID–19 cases. David Begnaud spoke with a COVID–19 patient in a Louisiana hospital who says he won’t vaccinate because there are too many issues with the vaccine.”

The reporter asks this very fine, high-IQ citizen if, knowing what he knows now, he could go back in time to take the vaccine and avoid getting sick, being hospitalized, and almost dying—would he get the vaccine?

Dude does not even hesitate for a second.

Hearing that, I wondered: Who is paying for the costs of his hospitalization? I hope he has health insurance. And if he does, he’ll pay some out-of-pocket minimum to meet his deductible. Then the insurer will reach a negotiated settlement with the hospital. And then, next year, the insurance company will pass on the costs of that large payment to the rest of its customers.

The people in the insurance pool who got the vaccine will pick up the tab for the treatment of the people who got sick after refusing to get the vaccine.

That’s conservative, rugged individualism, circa 2021.

And it’s a pretty sweet deal, too. You can make whatever damn fool choices you want, and someone else—the hospital, your insurance company, your neighbors paying into the insurance pool—will pick up the tab.

Why would these people ever change?

Why, indeed?