A Letter To My Senator Joe Manchin

Dear Senator Manchin,

I am a resident of West Virginia and a subscriber to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Therefore, I had full access to your column of June 6 rather than having to settle for the abbreviated versions shown on TV. I appreciate your steadfastness towards your principles, but must disagree with you about the nature of those principles. You appear to believe that the stability of the democracy depends upon the continuation of the filibuster as a mechanism to foster bipartisanship. I believe you are mistaken as to the nature of the opposition, as it is now apparent that the party of Mitch McConnell disdains any attempt at bipartisanship. Just as the fanatics on the right have referred to Democrats as snowflakes, they in turn live in mortal fear at being called RINO’s. Ever since the members of the Freedom Caucus emerged from the primal swamp of the Tea Party movement, and burrowed into the halls of Congress, the rules of the game have changed.

No more is it possible for those of good will to seek out compromise with the opposing party. Being seen as being open to compromise is a sure way to gain an opponent on their right who will decry openness to compromise as socialism light. It is no longer possible to generate even a fraction of Republicans who are willing to extend their necks out in order to have them chopped off by those who still carry weapons for Donald Trump. Therefore, I believe your mission to save democracy by insisting upon the virginal purity of the filibuster to be misguided, and dangerous to the democracy you so rightly wish to defend.

This is the most dangerous time for the status quo to remain in place. With the decennial reapportionment staring at us, the result of redistricting in states with Republican majorities in their legislature will be gerrymandering on steroids. When you consider the results of the last election, where Republicans were able to convert a state where in 2012, Democratic candidates received 81,000 more votes than Republicans. Yet Republicans captured 9 of the 13 Congressional races in 2012 in North Carolina. This is the future you will unleash upon this nation due to your intransigence at both favoring the filibuster, and your opposition to the For the People act.

I believe you find more portions of the For the People act to be good than those that are prone to increase division. This is your opportunity to use the processes of the Senate to propose changes to the bill in order to gain support from the opposition, and become a bipartisan act. But it will only happen if you agree to some sort of proposal to enable the bill to be brought onto the floor of the Senate for discussion and amendment. Please go ahead and express your support for some mechanism to bring this bill up for debate. It does not have to be blanket abandonment of the filibuster, but whatever legislative sleight of hand allows this type of bill to avoid the strictures of being filibustered would be greatly appreciated by this constituent. We know what the Republicans will do if they attain the majority again. Handing them the keys to the car of state by allowing the For the People bill to die a lonely death will not end well. It truly is in your hands to keep democracy alive, but not by the means you believe to be necessary.

What Happens Next?

Despair creeps in when hope is exhausted. For so many during this long pandemic season, despair has been a constant companion after the shock of the first few weeks passed. But now, along with the seasonal change, hope is returning. For some, the financial boost coming from the COVID relief package will enable them to hang on until the economy fully recovers, and they can go back to a service economy job that pays just enough to squeak by. For many others, the opportunity to abandon the prison of their home with the onslaught of vaccination, will bring back essential socialization and family interactions. Still, it is hope that is omnipresent in this time of rebirth in nature.

As a nation, we begin to crawl out of our foxholes and survey the landscape around us. Some things should come into focus, even if they were visible prior to the pandemic. Though visible, they did not register as urgent problems in the before times. Will we have the collective will to address these problems now? We will see. The COVID relief bill has taken a first step towards solving some of these problems. But it is time-limited relief, and its provisions are for only one or two years. The problems, like child poverty, have existed for far longer. It was only during the nadir of the pandemic that we realized how interconnected we all are, and how we need to solve the problems of our brothers and sisters in need, or we will be swept under the tide of humanity crying out for aid.

We had a foretaste of what can happen when we ignore these problems for too long. Demonstrations aimed at protesting excessive use of force by law enforcement, were coopted at night by those who favored direct action and anarchy. It is important to recognize that the demonstrations were instigated by acts of violence, but the economy was also a significant factor. When people do not see hope in their lives, despair can overwhelm them and it is a small step to violence. Of course, those who saw only the violence in the streets were convinced that the source of that violence was organized, and financed by an evil cabal. Then we saw what could happen when those who decried violence, decided to perpetrate violence themselves on January 6. Certainly we all were living in a state of despair at that time.

Will we learn our lessons? Will we let the siren song of substance abuse wrap its embrace of slithering tentacles around us? Will we continue to insist upon punitive actions only as the sole treatment method available to those who succumb to its fatal attraction? Will we realize that the costs of maintaining our prison complex are vastly greater than the costs of providing real treatment? That’s just one of the problems that existed long before the pandemic, yet shows up now in greater relief.

Will we be willing to invest in improved facilities for schools? In some states, the disparity between school facilities and achievement is immoral. The zip code you live in should not be the primary determinant of your educational outcome. Yet it is in far too many states. But of course it is the greedy teachers’ unions that are seen as the source of poor student performance.

Will we continue to accept that in the service economy we now have, it is not moral to allow those who look after the most vulnerable in our population to work full time for wages that do not provide enough money to live in dignity? We’ve lost many of the jobs we had in small towns, where a manufacturer could take those who did not pursue advanced education and provide them jobs where they could support a family. We may decry the global shift of labor and capital, but it will not reverse and provide those jobs in the future. Any manufacturing that returns, will use smaller amounts of labor, and require advanced education in order to control and maintain the machines that actually perform the manufacturing. We can wail and moan about this change, or we can accept it and try to fashion our real world into one where we’d like to live.

We’ve just gone through a period where we tried to squeeze out testosterone as a grease for our economy. Witness the frantic push to grab the last bit of fossil fuels out of the public lands. Because, you see, drilling for oil is manly. And we need that image of the roughneck out there in his domestic pickup, living his life out in the frontier towns of the Dakota’s, or among the tumbleweeds of Texas, showing the best of what America has to offer. Yes, doesn’t require much education to be a roughneck. Just what we need to Make America Great Again. But the investment required to keep the oil and gas flowing through the fracking fields won’t just keep coming, since it is nigh unto impossible to make money when the output from the wells declines so precipitously. So will we turn from the allure of fossil fuel towards a cleaner future?

The Texas freeze has shown us just how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is. Will we have the will to require investment in upgrading facilities and making it possible to integrate periodic sources of energy generation (i.e., renewables) into our delivery systems? The next failure may not just be in Texas, but can be global in nature, especially if we get smacked by a coronal mass ejection from the sun. Are we willing to spend money now to protect against something that may not happen for 100 years?

All of these problems (and many more) have existed for decades if not longer. The virus has shown us that we are all living on borrowed time if we expect life to continue blissfully ignorant of the risks we run. Somehow we need to change our mindset from a heedless rush for maximum profits by corporations, to a model where some of the excess profits are recycled into system improvements that ensure continuity of service. Can such a change in mindset happen without government mandates? Texas may be our canary in that a completely deregulated environment did not ensure continuity of service to cover a once in a hundred-year weather event.

Since the 1980’s in the US, we have seen government put down as being the worst enemy of true Americans. It is past time to put that phrase into our history books, as we see what that philosophy does to a society after over 40 years of implementation. You end up with massive inequality in the economy, a bulging underclass that does not share in the overall prosperity of the nation, and facilities that all depend upon that have grown increasingly frail. It is time to change our perspective and look at what can be, and work to create that future for all of us.

I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore

West Virginia Capital Building

In January 2011, the State of Kansas embarked upon an experiment, where they deliberately slashed tax rates without a plan to replace the revenue. The revenue would be replaced, and indeed it would grow, due to the influx of investment and residents responding to the reduced tax rates. Alas, this plan ran afoul as reality intruded, and in order to maintain a balanced budget, the state had to cut spending for education and other expenses. Finally, the state legislature had to wrest control back from the governor, and raise tax rates back to their previous level in order to keep schools from imploding, and get the state’s bond rating back to an acceptable category. Governor Brownback ended up resigning his office, only to land on his feet when the President nominated him to be the US Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom. Governor Brownback was so toxic that it took two congressional sessions for his nomination to be approved, and it was only approved when Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie to place him in this newly-created office.

Never one to learn from the experiences of others, the West Virginia legislature this year is treading much of the same path that Kansas did a decade ago. Flush with cash from COVID legislation, the governor of West Virginia has proposed slashing the state income tax in half this year, with a view at eliminating it altogether in the future. He is proposing to replace the revenues with a combination of sales tax increases, and expansion of items that will be covered by sales tax. He also is proposing increases in certain sin taxes. But his plans are bereft on guidance on how the basic needs of the state will be met when eventually 41% of the taxes funding the state budget are eliminated.

At the same time, the state legislature is proceeding to add another layer of bureaucracy in the state judicial system, by instituting an appeals court system. Considering that the workload for the Supreme Court of the state has declined precipitously over the past decade, the addition of the new court layer is aimed at pleasing the corporate clientele of the legislature, as they enable another opportunity to delay and perhaps overturn verdicts from lower courts. And at the suggestion of the Governor, two new cabinet posts have been created, and given the natural tendency of bureaucracies to grow over time, state government appears to be growing instead of shrinking.

Now, looking ahead a few years, one can envision a future where it becomes obvious that the revenues lost from the income tax rate reduction have not been replaced from the consumption tax increases. Since there is no more coverage of state expenses from federal appropriations, the state will have to look for opportunities to cut. Indeed, the targets have already been floated for a significant portion of the cuts. It’s in higher education, where the flagship universities of Marshall and WVU offer the chance to reduce expenditures and force the increased expenses upon the students in the form of higher tuition and fees. Oh, by the way, the program that the state has to off-set tuition, the Promise Scholarship? That is also in the gunsights of those who would plow ahead and reduce the income tax rates to zero.

What would be the potential gain for making these cuts in tax rates? Why, the increased revenues coming in from the flood of business investment, and the in-migration of residents who react solely to tax rates as a way of making a decision about where to live.

Look, this state has a well-deserved reputation for refusing to value education. We are the lowest in the nation regarding post-secondary graduation rates. We have difficulty in providing potential employers with an educated work force already. To put the screws further on the universities of this state is self-defeating. Instead of cutting education further, we need to enable students to attend community college, and to improve the offerings of community colleges to better match up with the needs of employers. The last thing we need to do is cut aid to the institutions that offer us hope of moving ahead in the world.

By the way, most people do not make decisions about where to live solely based upon tax rates. Maybe in the case of New York, and California, where income and property taxes are significantly higher than in West Virginia, tax rates are a factor, but in a state with competitive total taxation, the little bit of tax reduction we can offer will not be a significant driver of behavior. A better determinant will be whether broadband access is adequate (it’s not in much of the state), and whether the local roads are adequate (they are horrible once you get off of the interstates and Appalachian corridors). And also, the issue of schools and support for the same comes into play. Needless to say, this legislature is also toying with the idea of cutting funding to local schools in the future by proving vouchers for homeschooling or private schools (in person or virtual). Just what we need, an opportunity for the next generation of this state to be able to marinate in their petri dish of ignorance and intolerance rather than be exposed to the real world through the public school system.

Speaking of the reputation of this state, our legislators seem bound and determined to uphold our perception of being a bunch of yahoos who don’t belong in civil society. After all, it is not every state legislature that has a newly elected member film himself entering the Capital during the January 6 riot. It certainly is not the case where several members of the legislature wear masks made of mesh on the floor of their chamber so as to comply with the letter of the regulations concerning face covering. It is not every state that has multiple bills being offered to pull back on sex education in the schools, and eliminate any chance for providing protection to those who do not choose to use the missionary position to procreate. Yes, the national media does not tire of holding up examples of West Virginia politicians in order to feed the stereotypes to the national audience, and we keep giving them ammunition. This past election has resulted in Republican supermajorities in both houses of the WV legislature. The members certainly seem to be having fun as they dance upon the shredded remnants of decency and hopes that this state can ever float the ship of state off of the shoals we foundered upon many years ago.

It Is Finally Time

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

I began this blog in early 2017. Thus the entire period that I’ve placed my words out into the ether have come during the Presidency of Donald Trump. I’ve used what wit I possess to attempt to persuade others of the utter vapidity and unsuitability of that man to hold the office of President of the United States. I’ve been accused of TDS, and of not accepting the results of the last election, and I can deal with that. I’ve also had the opportunity to share bits of life from West Virginia, and certain thoughts I’ve had on the sciences, sports, and reminiscences. But over everything hung the pall of Donald Trump.

Now we are within a day of the election where I hope there is a wholesale denunciation of the character and actions of this charlatan con-man. But even if the polls are to be believed, we still  live in a country where over 40% of the inhabitants who bother to vote, still want a continuation of the abysmal results of the last four years. That alone bothers me. It concerns me that so many Americans know so little about their past that they think only the present matters. It concerns me that so many Americans are willing to throw away hard-earned bricks of freedom in exchange for the pabulum of reality television. I am concerned that we will not find it possible to re-emerge after the election with a national sense of purpose and identity, because the 40+% who favor Trump do not share any of the vision I have about this nation’s purpose and identity.

Assuming Biden wins, some of the actions of the last four years can be reversed almost immediately. The horrendous decision to pull out of the WHO will never take place, since it wouldn’t have taken place until next July, and the Biden administration will be certain that it never happens. Some will take time. If the Republican attorney generals who brought the misbegotten suit against the ACA have their way, the Supreme Court will eviscerate that legislative act. Hopefully they will provide an interim period before the act is inactivated. The new administration will need to use that time to come up with a new legislative solution, perhaps one that incorporates many of the proposals made during the campaign.

But what will remain is the imprint of the Trump administration on the judiciary. The Faustian bargain that Republicans made with Donald Trump was to have the Federalist Society provide the acceptable list of judicial candidates, and then the Republicans would overlook all of Trump’s failings in exchange for this wholesale remaking of the judiciary. I’m old enough to remember when the radical fringe of Republicans were clamoring for the impeachment of Earl Warren, since they viewed him as the avatar of all evil in the US. Imagine declaring that schools needed to be integrated! Imagine that someone believes the Constitution requires eliminating state sponsored prayer in school!  Imagine that someone believes a person accused of a crime had a set of rights that had to be enunciated when they were arrested, and if those rights were not shared, the person could be released even if they were guilty of a crime! It was for these and other similar errors of judgment that the John Birch Society wing of the Republicans demanded the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren. That smoldering fire finally re-ignited into a blaze during this current administration. The effect on the judiciary and the Supreme Court will be felt for decades to come, ensuring that the court falls further and further out of synch with the direction of the nation.

It will be interesting to see what realignment and renunciation of the previous administration occurs within the halls of Congress if Trump is defeated. Will it be possible for those Republicans who had surgically attached themselves to the generous hips of Donald Trump, to extract themselves from their current folly? Or will we see the splintering of the party into two factions: one, a populist wing based upon Trumpian concepts; and two, a wing of pragmatists who believe in conservative principles. Similarly, if the Democrats assume control of all three elective branches of the Federal government, will they be able to hold together the two factions in their party. The wing that believes, like the Trumpian wing, that the entire structure of government needs to be demolished and replaced with an idealistic new structure. Or, the wing that believes in incremental changes to the current structure, ensuring that change is more gradual.

I would not be surprised to see an eventual realignment into a three party system. One would be based upon the Trump position of isolation and America First, one would be the Democratic Socialists, and one would be the centrists who wish to tinker with the current structure. How those structural changes could be brought about remains to be seen. We’ve lived with the current two parties for over 150 years. Yet the events of the past four years has shown that it may not be possible to reconcile the disparate belief systems back into the previously defined containers.

First things first, though. If Trumpism is not repudiated on November 3, then the existential threat that is Donald Trump will have enough time to dismantle the structures and mores of our government so that we may not survive as a nation to have another election.

Even if Trump is defeated, I still worry about the damage he can do during the remaining time he has left in office. For those who are fans of Lord of the Rings, think Saruman and his deliberate attempt to spread evil in the Shire after he was thrown down. Doing destruction merely because it formed his only form of revenge. That is what I can foresee if Biden wins on November 3.

Let’s Subsidize Work Instead of Shareholders

Substation transformer

Looking back, there is no surprise that the result of the tax reductions passed by Republican votes in 2017 failed to rejuvenate the economy. The stated belief was that businesses would use the windfall from reduced taxation to invest in their employees, through higher wages, or invest in productive assets and expand their production base. Surprise! They didn’t. Businesses found that their analysis of the best use of the windfall was to increase stock buybacks and increase stock dividends. The main reason? There is just not justification for investing in new productivity within a mature market like the US.

Production facilities were not relocated from low wage countries, since the cost of labor greatly exceeds the benefits from lower taxation. Therefore it does not make economic sense to relocate low-value manufacturing back to the US for strictly economic criteria. It is only due to events like the supply chain interruptions from the pandemic (and to a lesser extent trade and tariff wars) that created a new incentive for bringing low value manufacturing back to the US.

What is needed is to create new incentive to build businesses that address needs within the US that are additive to the existing consumer base, rather than attempting to relocate existing production to meet stagnant demand. The best place where new demand could be created is in the energy markets and the infrastructure of the electrical grid. Somehow we must make it worthwhile to cause a market shift to use of renewable energy on a smaller scale than through citing of huge power plants, which result in inefficiencies through thermodynamic factors and through distribution from the grid. We already know that large power plants and the necessary facilities to distribute the energy are vulnerable to external shocks. A single large coronal mass ejection event from the sun could result in system wide outages for months at a time until new transformers are built and installed. Similarly, with the destabilization of international relations, use of electromagnetic pulse weaponry could cause equivalent destruction. Either way, our civilization is vulnerable to external forces that would bring us immediately back to the pre-industrial age, leading to immense loss of life.

So it makes it very clear that we need to create enough incentive to enable the decentralization of our electrical system. By doing that, we would improve our own future by reducing the potential for severe disruption. We would also create literally millions of jobs by creating a market for home energy system improvements that would use local labor to install and maintain. And our large scale manufacturing would also benefit by creating the solar panels and battery storage devices that the new grid would use.

Several years ago, we in West Virginia suffered through the aftereffects of a derecho that stopped electrical service across our region for multiple days. Living through that encouraged us to purchase a whole-house electrical generation system, powered through natural gas. Those systems have a weekly 5-minute system test where the generator runs. In my immediate neighborhood in West Virginia, I can hear three generators (including ours) conducting their tests over the course of the week. Good for us. We are assured that we cannot lose electrical power for an extended time. Or are we? Since we would all tap into the natural gas system, would it have enough capacity to handle all of us (and the others up and down the line) who have generators to handle peak demand? There is no way for us to know that except to run the full-scale test and suffer through an extended power outage. Surely this back-up generator expansion is not a scalable solution for metropolitan areas, since I am aware of no studies indicating how much gas would be available if it was being used extensively to replace standard electrical service.

Electrical service is the best example of an area where new means of producing and distributing a commodity (electrons) could be reworked to create new opportunities for investment and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, other areas of our infrastructure are not as amenable to creating new incentives for reworking and repair. Other utilities such as water and gas are already regulated, and new fees for upgrading service are scrutinized and rarely approved by regulatory agencies. Face it, to replace water or gas lines involves huge investments, and the incentive to do that is not worthwhile for the private market to seek this as an area for investment. But it is crucially needed. Therefore if we are looking for places for government to stimulate the economy, it makes much more sense to provide subsidies for additional productive work rather than to provide tax reductions that only benefit shareholders. And I’m speaking as one who is fortunate enough to receive dividend income through my owned equities, so I am a beneficiary of the current system.

If anything has become evident during this year of pandemicmonium, it is that maintaining the ability of the consumer to keep stimulating the economy through spending is vital. If we suddenly turn off the spigots, then the result is longer term shrinkage of the economy, and a further increase in income inequality. So the types of changes I am proposing are not appropriate for this stage in the pandemic. But coming out of this mess, it is vital that we begin to plan to actually improve the state of our nation and its infrastructure, rather than accept what we had as being adequate. We now have a wealth of data to show that we’ve lived with inadequate systems, merely because it would have gored someone’s ox to fix the problems.

Tick-Tock

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The tick withdraws his mouth from the host, where he has been siphoning life blood. As his head disengages, dollars drip from his extended drill bit serving as a mouth. The tick moves on, slowly waddling down a slightly sloped ramp, until he comes to his next victim. There he engages with that next victim, another seeker of favors, and snuggles down to begin the extraction process.

The victims keep coming, willingly, as long as the favors they can procure keep coming as well. It is worth a bit of their lifeblood to enable them to carve out larger cavities in the body of the US government as their favors are translated into new contracts or new rulings in their interest. Sometimes the result of the parasitic infection is a purulent discharge coming from the body of the government, as the host rejects the outlandish demands of its parasitic free rider. But often, the burrowing of the new parasite is hidden, out of sight from those who try to decipher the acts of the government we all pay for. All of us, that is, except for the tick in chief, who pays nothing for his benefits, yet keeps feasting upon those who would request just one favor, just one contract, or just one tweet.

The tick in chief leads his progeny in learning just how to drill into a willing victim. By siphoning off a portion of the victim’s life blood, the family of the tick in chief can keep its engorged status intact. The rest of the world looks on in horror as the images of the tick in chief permeate the airwaves. No more can they revere the country the tick has invaded. Instead, they ridicule it, though the tick in chief keeps insisting that they are laughing with him, not laughing at him.

The tick in chief believes that only through displays of brute force can the rest of the population be brought into submission. Amazingly, there are many who believe that having a parasite at the top of government is just fine, they’d all like to be there sucking the lifeblood if they were ever given a chance, and the more that the parasite can do to weaken its host, the better off they will be.

The tweezers of government have proven to be ineffective at removing the tick from its host body. Though quite credible allegations were provided on multiple occasions, the tick in chief got the report on the allegations quashed by those whom the tick had appointed. And of course, his enablers glommed onto the statements about the allegations being quashed, and they never examined the findings of fact in the original reports. Thus the enablers feel gleeful as they announce complete vindication. In fact, the tick in chief truly believes he has done a good job for his host.

Unfortunately for the tick in chief, a new validation is coming soon. The host has a chance to throw off the parasite that has dominated it for nearly four years. It remains to be seen whether the tick and its many other enabled parasites have infected the host body with an illness that survives beyond the lifespan of the tick in chief. A nation infected with spotted fever or lyme disease would be preferable to one that is infected with the ongoing illness of lack of trust and belief in illogical and silly conspiracy theories. But first, we have to throw off the shackles of the tick in chief. Sometime in early November, we will see if the head of the tick in chief has been extricated from the body of the government. May it be so.

The End Of The World, As We Know It

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To many, these times we live in are reminiscent of Götterdämmerung, the twilight of the Gods. Certainly that is the image presented at the abomination called the Republican National Convention. They see the changes our society has undergone as being so threatening to their way of life that they cling to a would-be autocrat who has leveraged their fear into a term as President. He now himself clings desperately to the power he has enjoyed, and is pushing all of the levers of that power in order to gum up the normal electoral process. To the group that believes their way of life and unchallenged superiority is indeed challenged, all tactics seem fair to ensure their continued grasp on power.

The 2016 election proved this. While the Democratic candidate won by 2% of the popular vote, due to the small state bias built into the electoral college, the Republicans won the office. They proceeded to rule based as if they had received a massive vote in favor of their policies, though vote really did go against them. Therefore, they knew it was imperative to provide the tools to ensure the changing demographics of this nation did not prevent their takeover of all of the reins of power. In a way, we were fortunate. This President was so ignorant of how government worked, that his first year’s efforts at neutering government were mainly failures. Think of how many different iterations of the Muslim ban came down the pike, only to be swatted away by the judicial branch. But unfortunately, those within the government were able to learn how the levers of power worked. And by the third year, they were capable of implementing the family separation policy. Oh, they didn’t have a way of reuniting families, but who cared?

In a way, it is remarkable that this nation has succeeded in using a single set of founding documents to navigate through the ensuing 2+ centuries. The Constitution has stretched enough to deal with the intervening crises that swirled through this country. But the events of this year have shown that continuing to rely solely upon the document that preceded the technological age, does not always work in the current era of globalized material and people flow, and instantaneous flow of both real and misinformation. When so many people simply refuse to accept what appears to be unambiguous scientific facts, it becomes impossible to conduct a purposeful discussion. This shows itself in so many folks refusing to believe that we are in a pandemic, denying that the outbreak of disease is anything more significant that a variant of the normal flu virus.

Though the current administration insists that the country of origin for the virus was fundamentally negligent in allowing the genii to escape, what happened early this year was what epidemiologists have known and feared would happen in a world interconnected by human and material flow. Before this year, very few people in the US could have identified Wuhan on the map, and even fewer knew that the city and its environs had 11 million residents. But the outbreak of a virus that exhibits high infectivity showed that it could not be contained within a single country. Soon outposts of the virus were set up in Italy, and thence migrated into the US. But of all of the nations hit by the first wave of the virus, it has only been the US that has not brought infections down below a simmering boil. The virus has shown that it is still present, and shows up in all locations where the guard is let down even for a moment.

But in the US, a confluence of events and trends have prevented us from ever bringing the virus under control. The US has never viewed it as necessary to have the Federal government serve as a backstop to private enterprise. So when it was necessary to shut down commercial life in order to reduce the spread of the virus, the mechanisms to provide financial support were creaky at best, balky and unworkable at worst. And now, those mechanisms have been exhausted, and this nation still is operating under the assumption that it is a moral failing that so many people cannot find work, rather than accepting that we are in a fundamentally different era. Then the strain of individual liberty fanatics insisted that any mandated protective acts were an infringement on constitutional rights. Even the simple, though uncomfortable practice, of wearing a face mask has become weaponized, and blood has been spilled in defense of the right to infect others.

Those who were convinced that the blood of Jesus would protect them against any infection were also convinced that the government was infringing against their first amendment rights by preventing them from worshiping in person. You can see time after time where ministers were insistent on holding services in person, even though those services spread disease and death. Indeed, the American desire for a divine miracle to protect the faithful is fully in evidence as a response to this pandemic. The viral particle doesn’t recognize religious denomination, or even if someone is or is not a religious adherent. It recognizes only the opportunity to colonize a new host and spread itself. It is a mindless automaton with only the genetic information inside of it to allow it to propagate.

If there is to be divine intervention, it is because the knowledge of humanity has allowed it to understand the genetic code of the enemy, and to effectively devise biological weaponry to defeat it. That can be manifested through effective treatments for the symptoms of the virus, but all hope is on one or more of the vaccines in clinical trial will be found to be:  1) Effective at preventing infection through activation of the immune system, and 2) Able to provide this immunity without adverse side effects. Indeed, the rapidity at which vaccines have been shepherded into phase 3 trials has been amazing. But due to the same tendency within this nation to reject science and any uncomfortable challenges to beliefs, even when a vaccine is released to the population, a sizable fraction will refuse to take it. Whether it is due to fears unleashed by the anti-vaxxers, or whether it is the belief that the entire virus episode has been a New World Order conspiracy, there will be enough who refuse to take the vaccine that it will still circulate within the population, causing infection, and illness, and preventable death.

The upcoming election does offer the opportunity to return to a semblance of normality. Whether enough of the electorate will recognize that the Federal response to this virus represents a natural outgrowth of the belief system of this administration remains to be seen. The ignorance of the American public can never be overestimated. Let us hope that incompetence can be seen for what it is – a natural consequence of selecting a con man four long years ago.

Eyes Wide Shut

3 dollar bill

When I worked at a chemical plant, and was involved in statistical testing, I learned one lesson. Never try to extrapolate two data points into a line. Always use at least three data points to determine the slope of a line. Given the dire nature of what we are seeing in the government response to protests across the country, I am violating my long-held prohibition against use of only two data points.

Lafayette Park and Portland. In both cases, the Federal government has used law enforcement personnel that were unidentified, save for a single word:  POLICE. The first time these unidentified forces were used, it was to clear the way for our great leader to pose in front of an Episcopal church with a Bible held high. That was bad enough.

But in Portland, things have taken a darker turn, and now we have these unidentifiable troops snatching people off of the streets, throwing them into unmarked vehicles, and whisking them away into detention. At least these individuals have been released promptly and no charges have been filed.

Here’s where the need exists to not allow another data point to be created. That data point will likely involve similar government-sponsored kidnappings, followed by disappearances of the arrested protesters. Or, it will involve non-government groups using tactics similar to these government groups, where they take people off of the street to enforce their own brand of justice. We cannot allow this illegal and immoral effort to expand to any other location across this country, not if we want even a sliver of our Constitutional freedoms to stay intact. When the Federal government believes they have the right to abduct those who have participated in protests, and use the human equivalent of unmarked cars as their enforcers, then all of us are in grave danger. The stated goal is to prevent damage to Federal facilities. But as the tactics used in Portland have shown, any relationship between protection of Federal facilities and the abductions of people off of the streets of a city is purely coincidental.

We are unfortunate that we have a commander in chief who is desperate to create a distraction from his abysmal performance as a leader against “this invisible enemy”. Resurrecting the ghost of George Wallace, he believes that only a strong hand against disorder can save his electoral hopes. Thus he will be increasingly unrestrained in his use of force going forward from here. And should the next election somehow come out in his favor, then he will have his storm troopers in place, with their practices established, and he will be ready to unleash them on any dissent whatsoever. Heaven help all of us who still believe in the rule of law when the person at the top of the Federal pyramid has corrupted the tools of government to only further his own misshapen fever dreams of converting this into a Great America.

Now, as I’ve sat on this post for a while before uploading, we’ve seen the list of cities expanding where Federal forces are to be applied whether they are requested or not. It is happening before our very eyes, and we cannot stand idly by as the nation gets dragged further and further into self-induced chaos and authoritarian dictums. Use your voice to protest this ongoing usurpation of the nation under this President.

Successfully Jumping Sharks

Trump's world

The words of Charles Mckay from 1841 ring as true today as they did then:  “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” Thus it has been with the slow recovery from the election of 2016, where the electorate went just enough insane to select the disruptor in chief, thinking that their choice would at the very most, place a thumb in the eye of the establishment. Little did they know that their choice was in fact an existential one.

Finally, though, the event we were waiting for happened last week. The President jumped the shark! By staging that photo op event of holding a generic Bible in front of an Episcopal Church, then inviting his enablers to stand beside him to join in this glorious display, this reality star performed his sit-com equivalent of Fonzie jumping the shark on water skis. Perhaps this is the only image this ratings-obsessed creation can understand. His act has gone stale, and the blatant hypocrisy involved in using mounted police to purge demonstrators from Lafayette Park while simultaneously declaring himself to be the ally of peaceful protestors everywhere, served as the last straw for many of his former allies. Add to this the story of his call to governors where he called for the domination of the streets and threatening to send the nations active military to any location that failed to maintain “LAW AND ORDER”, the mask came off and his true nature became apparent to all.

Thus it was that during the week we were shown one after another of the military men who had graced both this and former administrations, moved to denounce the anti-constitutional nature of the current occupant of the mansion on Black Lives Matter Plaza. Next will come the tell-all to be released by the owner of the walrus mustache. Expect others who have taken part in this immoral and chaotic administration to slowly dribble their truths out into the media maelstrom over the summer and into the fall, until only those who still believe in the racism and evil that Trump personifies stick with him into the election.

Of course, we will have the benefit of seeing Darwinian evolution in actual practice, as the mass gatherings of Trump supporters will soon be back in vogue. When you are washed in the blood of the Donald, you need fear no virus. None would dare harm any of his followers. Or so he would have you believe. After all, the entire virus was nothing but a nothing burger. Don’t believe what you see on the TV. They only work to deceive you by directing attention away from the glorious economic recovery happening day by day. So when the smattering of contact tracers go back, they will find mass spreading events that coincide with Trump’s rallies. That’s a prediction for the future.

The events of the past few months have defied belief. This is how you know that time travel back to the past does not exist. If it did exist, someone would have come back at the start of the year and warned us of what we were to face. I don’t remember anyone that called for a pandemic plague, an economic catastrophe, and a racial explosion reminiscent of the late ’60’s. Maybe I just wasn’t listening hard enough to hear the rumblings beneath the surface of the serene waters of the DC swamp.

It’s Called Exponential Growth, Stupid

corona-4912186__340

The world and universe we live in operates according to scientific principles. That governs things like the rates of infection from a virus humanity has never before encountered. The response from humanity to exposure to this new virus is similar to when Native Americans were exposed to viruses like smallpox where there was no community immunity. It decimated the native population.

When this sort of illness is unleashed upon our population, mathematical relationships and principles become extremely important. In this case, the two figures are the infectivity rate, or Rowhich is the number of people that each carrier of the virus may be expected to infect, and the mortality rate, or fraction of people who will die once they contract the virus. In the journal Nature, this chart shows how the new virus stacks up against some of the other diseases feared by mankind.

Nature chart

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00758-2

This chart shows that the infectivity is estimated to be both much higher than the seasonal flu, and that the death rate is far, far higher. Higher even than the 1918 pandemic flu which was the last time humanity faced a global pandemic. Given these estimates, and observing the exponential growth in infections, it is the height of folly to believe that we will be able to “open up the country for business” in just over two weeks.

But that is what is being peddled by those who value money more than life. We face an enemy that has the potential to inflict more casualties than all the foreign wars the US has engaged in, during the timeframe of a few months. This wave of potential chaos sweeping across our nation’s health care infrastructure will finally open the eyes of this nation to the raging incompetence of the current administration.

It is certain that this administration has deliberately taken an approach that is aimed at protecting the popularity and electability of this President instead of focusing on the public health crisis we face. And now the evil is oozing out of those on the right on a daily basis, resulting in people saying that the “cure” (social distancing, closure of businesses), will have worse effects than the pandemic will cause. Thus we rescue our economy at the potential expense of millions of victims if we relax our social controls.

Only in an administration where the leader is violently anti-science would such virulent nonsense be allowed to be even breathed as potential policy. Only those who value the economy over the lives of so many future victims would dare to utter such folly. But that is the world we live in at present, where the fear of the deep state has overwhelmed the ability to respond to a real crisis that will not be bullied.

The real pity is that even with the duplicity and incompetence of this President on daily display, support for him is actually growing. Maybe part of that is a desire to pull together, and take common action against an invader. Maybe the naming of this virus by its location of origin is playing at the xenophobic gene, allowing us to turn against that country and all of its residents. Why blame our lax and inadequate response to this virus on the actions of our leaders when we can blame the Chinese?

It is not the bluster and false statements coming from this President that will decide the final outcome. Even if we do everything perfectly, and are able to slow the curve, we will likely have hundreds of thousands dying from this virus. But if we yield to the voices of incompetence and evil, and relax our vigilance just at the time when it matters most, we will be smothered by millions of bodies as the coronavirus tsunami withdraws from our shores. The difference between these future courses will be directly determined by the actions that our leaders take over these next few weeks and months. May we have the wisdom to choose the right course.