Two Kinds of Kindness

This is from my writer friend Therese Doucet. Her book, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment, is available on Amazon.

We hear a lot about the divisions in our country these days that seem to be contributing to no end of problems – racial tensions, a global pandemic, soaring unemployment, the general decline of our democracy, just to name the most recent crises. We are led to believe that these divisions stem from politics and identity, and are about whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, pro-Sanders or pro-Biden, Trump supporters or Trump opponents, white versus people of color, rural or urban, old or young, and so on.

One thing a lot of us have in common across these visible divides is that we want to think of ourselves as kind, good people. However, there’s a deeper and far less visible divide within this common longing: two very different ideas of what kindness means.

The two different ideas of kindness are kindness based on principle, and kindness based on loyalty. Principled kindness is based on the idea that human beings have intrinsic worth and are deserving of empathy, compassion, and basic respect just because they are human beings who exist on this earth. Kindness based on loyalty, on the other hand, means we are kind to people on the condition that they agree with us, they think like us, they are part of our group, they like the things or people or ideas we like, and hate the things or people or ideas we hate. The loyalty-based view of kindness holds that if people disagree with us, we punish them or retaliate against them by withdrawing our kindness and treating them with contempt and hatred.

An example of loyalty-based kindness would be the Trump administration sending supplies of PPE during the pandemic to states like Florida that are perceived as loyal and supportive, and withholding PPE from states like Michigan that are perceived as disloyal, actions which Trump supporters view as totally fair and totally in line with what kindness means. Meanwhile, I frequently hear threats from my fellow Trump opponents that they will cut off and ostracize long-time friends and family members if the friends and family continue to support Trump, actions that these anti-Trumpers view as being for the sake of kindness, to defend all the out-group members who are harmed by Trumpian partisanship.

Those of us who urge principled kindness towards all people regardless of political loyalties are deemed weak, complicit, and disloyal to party ideals, and our refusal to embrace hatred and contempt towards “the enemy” is viewed as false allyship worthy of the same contempt as enmity. And of course, the anti-Trumpers who are steeped in this contempt fail to see that they have embraced the same notion of loyalty-conditioned kindness as the pro-Trumpers.

This is not to say that pro-Trumpers and anti-Trumpers are morally equivalent in the policies they advocate: what I am saying is that they share a notion of kindness being properly conditioned on ideological agreement and on how loyal and useful the other person is to the causes one embraces. In both cases, people are deemed worthy of kindness depending on whether they are “us” or “them.” We are good, moral, and upright, and they are bad, dumb, and degenerate. If you’re not with us you’re against us. My way or the highway. To be different, to dissent, to think independently, to differ even slightly or subtly, is to render oneself an enemy.

Of course, kindness that is conditioned on loyalty is not really kindness at all, but simply an exercise of power relations. It is part of a system of rewards and punishments that is oriented to achieving control and influence.

True kindness is based in a humanist philosophy that human beings have intrinsic worth and should be viewed as ends in themselves. The opposed idea of kindness based on loyalty is anti-humanist, based on the idea that others only have value in so far as they are useful to us. In this anti-humanist way of thinking, people should be treated as means to ends. People are useful to us if they boost our sense of self-worth by agreeing with our ideas. They are valueless and worthy of contempt if they disagree, even if in reality the disagreement is based in a principled concern with truth and compassion, rather than any lack of love for us. The anti-humanist philosophy is dehumanizing because it makes people into tools and objects to be manipulated to achieve our goals.

This anti-humanism that makes kindness into a power relation is flourishing on the Left and on the Right. And it is this division, between those who view kindness as a principle and those who view it as a mechanism of control, that is the true rift driving us further and further into our state of crisis.

You might think that a Judeo-Christian religious heritage could be the solution to this profound division, and part of the problem might be the secular rejection of theism. In Christianity there’s the principle “love thy neighbor.” And in the Jewish Talmud, there is a beautiful vision of the sacredness of human life in the saying that if anyone destroys a single person, it’s as if they destroyed an entire world. On the other hand, what basis would an atheist or an agnostic have for believing in the Golden Rule or in the intrinsic worth of the human soul, without first embracing the faith that we are all equally children of God? But in reading the work of a Nazi philosopher from Weimar Germany, Carl Schmitt, it was fascinating to me that he interpreted the Christian idea of loving one’s neighbor as, essentially, loving the fellow members of one’s in-group, not loving members of the out-group. Just as Trump is seen as a loving Jesus to his white Christian base, but a tough and protective fatherly strongman admirable in his abuse of everyone else, Schmitt viewed Jesus as a deity of partisanship. Of course, this interpretation ignores the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the point is clearly to praise kindness that extends to the outsider. But it is also fascinating how few on either the Right or the Left seem to fully understand that in embracing the idea of kindness as a power relation rather than a humanist principle, they’re literally embracing a Nazi idea of power and control being more important than principles, the idea that might makes right.

Religious faith is no guarantee of humanist ethics, since religion and the lack thereof so often get treated as just another in-group boundary in need of defending. That said, I think the vision of that Talmudic principle of each individual human containing a vast and complex world within, the vision of other people as beings filled with hidden potential for goodness and beauty, is one we can choose to embrace regardless of our religious views. We each individually have to grapple with our conscience to decide whether we will have the courage to put our faith in humanism, in each other, in love, compassion, and empathy, in our shared humanity, and in the sacred obligation to protect each other’s autonomy to be who we are as separate individuals, people who differ from one another in a multitude of ways, but who can still show each other love and kindness despite our differences.

If we choose kindness as a principle, this doesn’t mean failing to be strong advocates for the policies we believe in or failing to stand up for our rights and for equal justice for all. Martin Luther King Jr., a tireless advocate for Christian love and kindness, preached that “hate doesn’t drive out hate, only love can do that,” and at the same time rightly criticized the Northern liberals of his day for failing to commit thoroughly to the ideas of racial justice, and Southern moderates for remaining silent out of fear. What choosing kindness means is that the principle of kindness for its own sake underlies and motivates everything else we do.

 

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I Should Be Famous

It strikes me as very sad that I am not a famous person, because I would be a wonderful famous person.

I would self-effacing when necessary, and always grateful to the little people who made me famous. I would encourage them to follow in my footsteps and perhaps set up a tax-free non-profit foundation to further my thoughts and teachings.
I would never show up drunk at an award ceremony, or elbow someone off the stage and announce that the honor should go to someone prettier, more talented, and related to me.

I would not elbow another world leader out of the way to be in front for a photo op.
I would give money to charity, very anonymously, with only a press release or two and maybe a Facebook announcement. And when the media discovered that I was the one who gave all that money toward deprogramming ISIS terrorists, or curing Covid-19 in tigers, I would adopt an aw-shucks attitude and say anyone in my famous position would do the same.
I would not dress all in white like Tom Wolfe and pretend to be an albino carrot.
I would not, as did Norman Mailer, champion the cause of a convicted murderer/author who, when released, knifes someone to death.
I would not charge millions of dollars to come to your campus and make a twenty minute speech.
I would not own a house in the Hamptons or associate with people who do, except perhaps with Terence Stamp, and that only because of his astounding performance as Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And because he once dated Brigitte Bardot.
I would not pretend familiarity with things I know nothing about.

I would not promote Clorox as a cure for any virus.

I would try to reverse global warming by creating a group of other famous people who do not like global warming.

I would become friend with Ruth Bader, and got to the gym with her.
I would not run for office.
I probably would not become transgender, because I think it’s too late for that.
I would be kind to small animals.
And to children.
And to the elderly.
And to all those people who don’t speak English.
Or French.
I would become a UN Special Ambassador and espouse several worthy causes.
I would write books that leave critics gasping, and then give the books away free on Kindle without even asking people to post Amazon reviews.
I would compose spectacularly hummable songs that never have more than four chords, so that amateur musicians could play them and become famous themselves.

I would compose a country music opera , Lucky Tonight. (Several songs are already written. Investor, please contact me.)
I would never, ever, quote Shakespeare.
And if I were to be in France, I would never, ever, quote Molière.

Or Cervantes in Spain.
I would not die at age 27 from a drug overdose.
I would not become a Scientologist.
I would not vanish and reappear several weeks later with a shaved head and in the company of someone else’s wife.
Or dog.
I would not text photos of my private parts to anyone.
And if caught doing so, I would not enter rehab with great fanfare and say I had been bullied as a child.
I would not go on all-expenses-paid trip to former Soviet Nations to give a speech no one attends.

I would not participate in a sing-along of Blueberry Hill with Vladimir Putin.

I would not play basketball in North Korea.

I would refuse to be Trump’s press secretary, although I would certainly do a better job than any predecessor.

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Acceptance

It’s amazing the things we’ve come to accept. I read the paper in the morning and, by the time I get to the op-ed page, I wonder how it came to be that such events as mass shootings are now commonplace and rarely deserve front-page coverage. People are killed in churches, bars, gas stations, nightclubs and while waiting for buses. The only bright spot is that March 2020, it turns out, was the first March since 2002 without a school shooting. But then again, most schools are closed.

We are accepting the Covid-19 deaths. By this time, most of us know someone who has been affected, rendered ill and hospitalized. The present administration tells us the deaths are the sacrifice we must pay for living in America. We have, by and large, come to accept the ineptitude of the federal government’s response to the pandemic. Where other nations have marshaled the forces needed to cope, we have accepted the dithering, the lies, the misstatements.

We allow misfits to buy weapons that can mow down dozens in a heartbeat.

We have accepted that these armed misfits have blocked hospital entrances and state capitols to shout their rights to infect us by not taking precautionary measures, such as wearing masks. They demand the re-opening of businesses, when scientific voices across the country warn that this will lead to a second and third wave of illness. We have been told these are very good people whose demands are rational and constitutionally protected.

We allow racist murders, but then again, racism and white on black murder have always gone hand-in-hand here.

We let people whose jobs have vanished lose their homes, their health coverage, their families.

We watch politicians and rapacious financial enterprises profit from the current debacle without displaying a hint of shame or remorse.

Most of us may laugh at the suggestion of ingesting bleach, but some of us have done so because we were told by the highest authority that it might provide a cure.

We’ve been led to believe that receiving a check for $1200 is a demonstration of the government’s grandeur and generosity when what it actually is, is a piddling, even insulting, gesture. Meanwhile, our neighbor to the north has put into effect a financial plan that will truly serve its citizens.

With millions upon millions unemployed, we have done nothing to freeze rents and mortgages. We have been told that states and communities must create their own plans, while the feds dump billions into mismanaged big businesses.

We have watched inept people be put in charge of our lives and our futures.

This disrespect for the nation’s citizenry is nothing but egregious, and I wonder—what will we be told to accept next?

 

 

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Cannibalism, Coercion and Corruption

My stomach tightening begins when I first check the news. I can’t help it. I worked for The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a couple of Canadian and European newspapers. I’m a news junkie; I admit it.

What I see first is a photo of Pence not wearing a mask, but surrounded by people who are and next to a supine Covid-19 patient. Everyone is masked, save him. Then I notice the patient is wearing a golf shirt, socks and loafers, and I think they must have relaxed the rules at the clinic.

Next is a story about how Pence’s people plan to punish the Voice of America reporter who first tweeted the mask story. The Mayo Clinic had advised everyone traveling with Pence that masks were mandatory. Pence didn’t wear one because he wanted to see patients eye to eye (?). He endangered himself and others for a photo op, and his people will gloss over the flouting of clinic rules and seek a scapegoat instead.

Scapegoating is the favorite sport of this administration. The stomach tightening turns to queasiness.

The next item is Trump calling the armed men and women who invaded the Michigan state senate “very good people.” These very good people have assault rifles. They are protesting the Covid-19 regulations. I am reminded that—was it three years ago already—Trump said of white supremacists at a deadly rally that they were nice people too.  My stomach tightens a bit more.

Another disturbing Trump story—1000 West Point cadets sent home weeks ago because of the pandemic will now return to West Point so the president can address their graduation ceremony in person. Or eye to eye, as Pence might say.

Ah. Here’s a story that tells me a billion dollars meant to help small businesses affected by the pandemic, instead went to publicly traded companies. I’m relatively sure that’s not right.

Further reading tells me the nation is ready to re-open selected businesses. Tattoo parlors are now deemed necessary, as are nail salons, barber shops, fast-food outlets and liquor stores. I also read that workers who do not go back to work for fear of becoming Covid-19 victims will forego their unemployment benefits. Hundreds of thousands have already lost health care when their employers closed their businesses. The US is the only developed country where losing your job means losing your health benefits. That’s not right either. By now my stomach is in full flux.

BBC says the White House will not allow Dr. Fauci to testify about the pandemic before a House panel. Fauci, in my estimation, is one of the trustworthy scientists whom people listen to. He is, in effect, being gagged. “It’s not the right time,” says a White House spokesperson. The right time for what?

There’s an amusing item about a popular gun aficionado and protester who says he would resort to cannibalism if we are, as he believes, nearing end times. He’s a rather portly fellow, so I imagine a few months will pass before he practices anthropophagy but still, I’m sort of glad he doesn’t live in my neighborhood.

On the positive side, I see Canada is banning assault weapons, as did New Zealand. There are oases of sanity, but they’re going fast.

Kim Jong Un of North Korea is alive! Wait. Is that good or bad news?

Oh my. The nauseating, the infuriatingly stupid, the willful ignorant and the plainly dishonest rule the news today.

I’m nauseous.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Horror! The Horror!

With apologies to Joseph Conrad, whom I think would understand.

I think what gets me is the arrogance. No, wait, I take that back. It’s the assumption that we’re all stupid people whose sensitivities can be cast aside. No, wait. It’s the boorishness, the lack of grace and humor, the look-us-in-the-eyes-and-lie philosophy. Maybe it’s the self-aggrandizement, the disdain for others, and the eagerness to derail the better options offered by smarter people.

It’s all of the above and more.

I no longer watch the daily Punch and Judy show, but I’m curious about how people presently writing books about Trump will present him. Here, in no particular order of importance, are a few facts I hope they don’t forget to mention.

  • Trump was not invited to address West Point graduates. He announced that he would do so and indicated it would be a live presentation. So approximately 1000 graduating cadets will head back to West Point after finishing their school year using distance learning. They will assemble shoulder to shoulder. A few will die of Covid-19.
  • Trump’s war against the Post Office has nothing to do with budgets and everything to do with his attempts to block mail-in voting, which he knows will not favor him come November. Also, it feeds his undying hate for Amazon’s Jeff Bezos whom he wants to harm.
  • He pardoned Eddie Gallagher, a Navy Seal convicted of posing with the body of a teenage Islamic State captive he had just killed with a knife. Trump called Gallagher a “great warrior.” Gallagher’s fellow Seals said he was toxic and “OK with killing anything that moved.”
  • Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated officer, who testified during the impeachment hearings.
  • Trump fired Glenn Fine, the watchdog overseeing coronavirus emergency funds.
  • Trump led the country to the longest government shutdown in American history.
  • He has disseminated Soviet propaganda and North Korean falsehoods.
  • He has attempted to kick transgender service members out of the military.
  • He helped the Saudis cover up the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
  • He withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, claiming, “We’re gonna have the cleanest air!”
  • He was supposed to speak at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. It rained, so he didn’t attend the ceremonies.
  • He lies constantly. Trump made 16,241 misleading or false statements in his first three years in office.
  • He calls developing nations “shithole countries.”
  • He responded to the Puerto Rican crisis by throwing rolls of paper towels to a jeering crowd.
  • He insulted black athletes for their stand on free speech.
  • He refuses to release his tax returns and has caused millions to be spent on court proceedings.
  • He calls white supremacists “very fine people.”
  • He has condoned separating children from their parents and putting both in detention camps.
  • He has at every opportunity denigrated this country’s intelligence community.
  • He has endangered the public by making false medical claims regarding COVID-19.

The list is endless.

I just realized I could spend the rest of the day writing this. It’s not exactly a waste of time, but I do have better things to do.

The horror. The horror.

 

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Some Thoughts from Ireland

Irish Times-April 25, 2020-By Fintan O’Toole

THE WORLD HAS LOVED, HATED AND ENVIED THE U.S. NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, WE PITY IT

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted … like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.

If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated.

Other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?

It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.

Abject surrender

What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.

Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.

In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”.

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.”

This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fuelled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted.

The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

Fertile ground

But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.

There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.

Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.

And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.

That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.

And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is reveling in it. He is in his element.

As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again.

+++

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Shame, Part II

Here are the facts:
* Back in January, over a month before the first Covid19 case, the Chinese posted a new mysterious virus and within a week, Berlin virologists had produced the first diagnostic test. By the end of February, the WHO had shipped out tests to 60 countries, but not to the United States. We declined the test even as a temporary bridge until the CDC could create its own test. No reasons were given for Trump’s decision to not accept the tests. Look for which pharmaceutical company eventually manufactures the tests and who owns the stock.

* In 2018 Trump fired Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossart, whose job was to coordinate a response to global pandemics. He was not replaced.

* In 2018 Dr. Luciana Borio, the NSC director for medical and bio-defense preparedness left the job. Trump did not replace Dr. Borio.

* In 2019 the NSC’s Senior Director for Global Health Security and bio-defense, Tim Ziemer, left the position. Trump did not replace Ziemer.

* Trump shut down the entire Global Health Security and Bio-defense agency. Yes, he did.

* Amid the explosive worldwide outbreak of the virus, Trump proposed a 19% cut to the budget of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, a 10% cut to Public Health Services and a 7% cut to Global Health Services. These are the organizations that respond to public health threats.

* In 2018, at Trump’s direction, the CDC stopped funding epidemic prevention activities in 39 out of 49 countries including China.

* Trump pretended the virus had been contained.

*Trump didn’t appoint a doctor to oversee the US response to the pandemic. He allowed his son-in-law to handle the crisis. When Kirchner failed abysmally, Trump appointed Mike Pence, an expert in social distancing who claims he will not be alone in a room with a woman other than his wife.

* Trump left a cruise ship at sea for days, denying its passengers and crew proper hospital care, rather than increase the Covid19 numbers in America, which would have made him look bad..

*Trump considers he is doing a good job because projections say only a quarter-million Americans will die from the virus.

*Trump endorsed the idea of not treating the elderly.

* Trump has on multiple occasions sowed doubt about the severity of the virus even using the word hoax at events and rallies. He did it at an event where the virus was being spread.

*Trump has slowed the distribution of needed medical supplies to states whose governors do not support him.

*Trump did not want Social Security recipients to receive government assistance in the form of a $1200 check.

*Trump wanted personally to sign the checks that will be sent out to millions of Americans, to make it look as if he, himself, was providing the funds.

*Trump has tried to use the pandemic as an excuse to roll back environmental regulations and benefit his corporate friends.

Trump will be remembered as the genocide president.

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The Shame

Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

It’s odd to realize we’re led by a man who has no sense of shame. Or perhaps, odd isn’t the correct word. Infuriating, frustrating, disappointing. Those terms are closer to the truth.

I  came with my mother and father to the States as a kid persuaded it was the greatest country on earth. That belief lasted many years. Over the past several decades, though, I have felt this certainty ebb away—Vietnam, Iran-Contra, Kent State, the macarena (sorry, trying—and failing—for a little levity here)—and I’ve gotten to the point where what I now feel is a great sadness and a great anger.

We are in the throes of a monstrous peril, one that calls for courage, exemplary leadership, and a willingness to face the truth with sagacity and candor. As the crisis worsens—and it will—and as we begin to lose loved ones—and we will—those who serve and lead us must rise to face the crisis head on. We need a Churchill, a de Gaulle, a Ghandi or a Mandela.

We have a Trump.

His entourage is equally venal and inept.

Somehow, the country’s leadership has morphed into liars and thieves, miscreants and opportunists whose goals are to stay in power and amass greater wealth. We have elected officials who have become the worst of the worst.

Their dishonesty is glaring, their lack of care for the health of the nation so apparent that it leaves me grief-stricken.

In the past few days, the President has accused health-care workers of stealing hospital supplies needed by the infected and dying. He has made sure states whose governors grovel before him will get federal assistance. Governors who do not abase themselves face obstacles. He is willing to accept the death of a quarter-million Americans and pat himself on the back for a job well done. The good news, we are told, is that his ratings now equal that of a popular television show.

How did this happen? How do we allow it to continue?

In the end, we’re to blame. Trump’s tactics of flaying at us with lies and misinformation are bearing fruit. Many of us are shell-shocked. More of us—and I am not talking about the Trump cultists—have been perfectly comfortable voicing our despair on social media but doing little else that could lead to reform. Now, of course, it’s too late to take to the streets.

The shame. The shame.

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Apologies

A few days ago I unwittingly passed on misinformation spread by Trump. I wrote that GM was not volunteering to build ventilators. This was completely untrue, another Trump lie. I’m grateful to Guy Gordon of WJR Radio for setting the record straight and apologize for not doing better research. Thierry Sagnier. 

On Friday, the President insinuated General Motors was acting unpatriotically, and was attempting to profiteer from the shortage of life-sustaining ventilators. He invoked the Defense Production Act, ordering them to produce the ventilators. But GM was already far ahead of any other company in moving forward and had in fact made the commitment to produce the ventilators “at cost” with Ventec, a leading ventilator provider.

Here are the facts:

Wednesday 3/18: GM Chairperson Mary Barra reaches out to White House Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow and offers GM’s manufacturing and engineering capacity to fulfill the need for medical supplies. (Source: Axios, GM and White House)

Friday 3/20 GM and Ventec, a ventilator manufacturer from the Seattle area, announce they are undertaking a feasibility project to determine whether they can jointly initiate rapidly expanded production. (GM and Ventec joint release)

By Monday 3/23 GM and Ventec not only prove feasibility, but designate GM’s former electronics facility in Kokomo, Ind. as the “clean” facility for production. The UAW is asked to begin recruiting volunteers. It’s a labor intensive project and may need as many as 1,000 workers. GM’s purchasing chief informs Barra he has commitments from nearly all the suppliers needed for 700 components. He is confident the remaining 37 components can be sourced. (GM, Axios and Reuters)

Tuesday 3/24 Axios and Reuters report GM’s incredible progress. Ventec is told to anticipate an announcement from the White House about the impending contract. Ventec is ready to go but has still not received direction from the feds on how many ventilators it is ordering, making cost quotes per unit more difficult to estimate.

Wednesday 3/25 Without explanation the White House cancels the announcement and Ventec is told there will be no contract. Late that evening Ventec and GM agree to move forward anyway. GM agrees to help clear Ventec’s 20,000 unit back-order at cost. Essentially they agree to build a decade’s worth of ventilators in less than 2 months.

Thursday 3/26. NYT reports White House balks because they are trying to decide between different vendors who they believe can offer lower cost options. Ventec and GM prepare to announce their formal production agreement on Friday.

Friday 3/27 President threatens in 2 tweets to invoke “P” (Defense Production Act) against GM. Suggests they should build ventilators at Lordstown, a plant the White House knows GM no longer owns. They are also aware a much more practical electronics plant was chosen for production. He also insults Mary Barra who made the initial offer with prompting from no one.
Within 90 minutes, Ventec and GM announce their plans for production. They have hired 1,000 workers, a full shift, and have the sourcing to make 200,000 ventilators. They have printed training manuals and intend to start training in the new work week. All of these plans and progress occur well before any implied or actual threat from President Trump.

Friday Evening: The President announces he is invoking the Defense Production Act. It will not get things built any faster, but does eliminate the red tape normally associated with government contracting.

His new procurement czar Peter Navarro suggests many “patriotic” companies had come forward, but they hit a roadblock with GM. The President says, “we won’t pay double or triple for ventilators.” Yet GM and Ventec were producing them at cost. Throughout the briefing it’s implied they had difficult discussions with GM. In fact, Ventec is the primary contractor and handled all interaction beyond Barra’s original offer. When asked in opening Q and A whether cost and profit were a factor, the President was very candid. He doesn’t like GM.

President: “It got to be a debate over cost. We don’t want to think too much about cost when we’re talking about this. This is not about cost. I WASN’T HAPPY WHERE GENERAL MOTORS BUILT PLANTS IN OTHER LOCATIONS (MEXICO) OVER THE YEARS. ….. AND SO I DIDN’T GO INTO IT WITH A VERY FAVORABLE VIEW. I WAS EXTREMELY UNHAPPY WITH LORDSTOWN OHIO. THEY LEFT LORDSTOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF AN AUTO BOOM (in fact, sales of sedans produced at Lordstown were crashing). BECAUSE WE HAD 17 CAR COMPANIES COMING IN (?) AND THEN THEY WERE LEAVING ONE PLANT IN OHIO. I LOVE OHIO AND WHAT HAPPENS, THAT BECAME THE STORY.

AND FRANKLY I THINK THAT WOULD BE A GOOD PLACE TO BUILD THE VENTILATORS. AND WE’LL SEE, WE’LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

SO I WASN’T TOO THRILLED.

“And then we thought we had a deal for 40,000 ventilators and then it became 6 and price became a big object. But Peter is getting involved… maybe they’ll change their tune.”

Sadly, the tune has always been the same. GM offered to help and in less than 10 days moved heaven and earth to find a location, hire a workforce, source a 700-part piece of technology, spec it out for suppliers and set employee training in motion. All of this to be delivered at cost, a cost that could have been pinned down better had the Government instructed how many they needed.
Maximum production for Ventec is 200 ventilators per month. GM was offering to build 100 times that many in a matter of a few months… needing less than a month for re-tooling and training. That is nothing short of incredible. Their thanks was a politically motivated shaming in a nationally televised White House briefing. GM was patriotic. GM was All-American. They will not profit. In fact, they may lose business because of the President’s diatribe. I wonder how many other companies are re-thinking their willingness to step up as a result.
But on Monday, GM will start making masks in Warren and begin training in Kokomo.

 

 

 

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Read and Pass On

Jonathan P. Smith is a Lecturer in Epidemiology at Yale University School of Public Health. His message might scare you, but the information he provides is vital. Reading this might save your life and that of people you love, particularly in light of the enormous amount of disinformation being peddled . Please pass it on. Thank you, Thierry 

“Hey everybody, as an infectious disease epidemiologist, at this point feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures. Like any good scientist I have noticed two things that are either not articulated or not present in the “literature” of social media. I am also tagging my much smarter infectious disease epidemiologist friends for peer review of this post. Please correct me if I am wrong (seriously).
“Specifically, I want to make two aspects of these measures very clear and unambiguous.

“First, we are in the very infancy of this epidemic’s trajectory. That means even with these measures we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities in the coming weeks. Our hospitals will be overwhelmed, and people will die that didn’t have to. This may lead some people to think that the social distancing measures are not working. They are. They may feel futile. They aren’t. You will feel discouraged. You should. This is normal in chaos. But this is also normal epidemic trajectory. Stay calm. This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception. We know what will happen; I want to help the community brace for this impact. Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t.
“Second, although social distancing measures have been (at least temporarily) well-received, there is an obvious-but-overlooked phenomenon when considering groups (i.e. families) in transmission dynamics. While social distancing decreases contact with members of society, it of course increases your contacts with group (i.e. family) members. This small and obvious fact has surprisingly profound implications on disease transmission dynamics. Study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups (i.e. social dinners, play dates/playgrounds, etc.), the epidemic trajectory isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place. The same underlying fundamentals of disease transmission apply, and the result is that the community is left with all of the social and economic disruption but very little public health benefit. You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk. Seemingly small social chains get large and complex with alarming speed. If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with. This sounds silly, it’s not. This is not a joke or a hypothetical. We as epidemiologists see it borne out in the data time and time again and no one listens. Conversely, any break in that chain breaks disease transmission along that chain.
“In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison. These measures also take a long time to see the results. It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how ‘one quick little get together’ can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does. I promise you it does. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a play date, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc. From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far.

“Until we get a viable vaccine this unprecedented outbreak will not be overcome in grand, sweeping gesture, rather only by the collection of individual choices our community makes in the coming months. This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices. My goal in writing this is to prevent communities from getting ‘sucker-punched’ by what the epidemiological community knows will happen in the coming weeks. It will be easy to be drawn to the idea that what we are doing isn’t working and become paralyzed by fear, or to ‘cheat’ a little bit in the coming weeks. By knowing what to expect, and knowing the importance of maintaining these measures, my hope is to encourage continued community spirit, strategizing, and action to persevere in this time of uncertainty.”

Jonathan P. Smith
Lecturer in Epidemiology,
Yale University School of Public Health

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