Thanks to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Jennifer Ives on LinkedIn:

  • If you are a woman and hold job, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you were able to keep that job even when you became pregnant, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you hold a credit card or a bank account or a house in your name, without the permission of your husband or your father, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you were able to marry the person you love, regardless of their gender or yours, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you don’t even know the number of rights that you have, because there are too many to count, or maybe because you take them for granted, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.

Every single woman stands on the shoulders of this tiny giant every second of every day; there are not enough thanks in this world for Justice Ginsburg.

#Leadership #RuthBaderGinsburg #JusticeGinsburg

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Stop the world— I want to get off!

As events whiz around us with dizzying speed, the title of a 60s musical taunts me. The overload is too much; it’s mind-blowing.

The week began with the New York Times exposé of the details of Trump’s financial fiascos and shady deals. We knew about the bankruptcies, but the extent of his losses belie his cultivated image of the savvy entrepreneur. Were his multi-million dollar losses evidence of ill-conceived, hubristic investments? Or were they deliberately contrived to evade paying income tax by neutralizing the income derived from his television show? That the president is a fraud and a swindler is “shocking, but not surprising,” the all-too-familiar reaction to every new revelation of his chicanery.

Tuesday’s presidential debate was anything but presidential. The president disdained even the pretense of decorum. He continually interrupted and talked over Biden to rattle him and prevent the national audience from hearing the former vice president’s ideas and proposals. Trump appeared to be goading Biden, pressuring him to stutter or stumble.

In Bret Stephens’s words, Trump was “crass and cruel, rough and rude, small and stupid.” He refused or was unable to empathize with Biden’s evident pain as he mentioned the loss of his son, rebutting Trump’s denigration of the military fallen. On a less personal level, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and their violent tactics.

Over seven million Americans have succumbed to COVID-19, and of those, almost 210 thousand have died. The president, who steadfastly scorned the urging of medical officials in his own administration to observe public safety measures like wearing a mask and social distancing, has now, inevitably, been infected himself. His willful carelessness in public and in the White House has spread the contagion among many in his entourage and who knows how many of the attendees at his rallies.

The world is watching.

Many are gleefully enjoying the karmic retribution, but the consequences of Trump’s illness could have nasty repercussions for the nation. At a minimum, the Coronavirus will impinge on Trump’s campaign events at a time when he is falling behind in the polls. If he becomes incapacitated, Pence may take the presidential reins from the president, as stipulated by the 25th Amendment. If Pence also falls ill, Nancy Pelosi, as the Speaker of the House, is next in the line of succession.

If the President dies or if he is incapacitated, he will be taken off the ballot. But when Election Day is less than a month away and millions have already voted early, printing new ballots is out of the question. The name of the incapacitated or deceased candidate will remain on the ballot. The Vice President will not automatically take his place. Who will choose a replacement? The political parties? Congress? The state electors— whom will they choose if they are not bound to a candidate? There are many permutations, all alarming.

Even worse, however, are the nightmare scenarios Barton Gellman explores that may ensue if Trump loses and refuses to concede as he has threatened to do. Or suppose Trump and the gerrymandered Republican “majorities” in the Electoral College finagle a victory?

What happens next is, at this point, unknown, because this is a situation with no precedent. I won’t be the only one looking for a way to jump off the whirling implosion.

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A funny thing happened…

On the way to the golf cart—

Out of breath, Donald Trump was slowly trudging back with his golfing buddies, all captains of industry. Suddenly, the wind howled, the sky opened, and the rain came pouring down. The shaggy, soggy, orange tuft left its perch on Trump’s head and blew drunkenly across the green. Glowering, Trump lurched into his cart and pulled a towel over his head, barking orders to the caddy to take him back to the clubhouse posthaste.

As far as we know, this didn’t happen, but having witnessed his vanity and his sensitivity to any degree of humiliation, we can easily imagine Trump’s reaction. He does not have a sense of humor, Trump’s erstwhile personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, writes in his tell-all memoir. Cohen, who saw Trump up close and personal for a decade before they fell out, notes that Trump doesn’t laugh and he can’t tell jokes.

Consequently, humor and ridicule may be Joe Biden’s best weapons against the taunts and lies Trump habitually hurls against anyone who dares to cross him.

Writing in the New York Times, columnist Nick Kristof and psychiatrist Richard Friedman both advise Biden to use humor in the presidential debates to put Trump on the defensive. Humor and ridicule, counsels Friedman, may be Biden’s most powerful weapons. Barack Obama skewered Trump so wickedly at White House Correspondents Dinners that Trump– alone among U.S. presidents– has skipped every one since he took office. He even forbade his staff to attend.

Donald Trump at 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner with his White House as imagined by President Barack Obama

Biden can rattle Trump, writes Friedman, by “mock[ing] the president as weak and unaccomplished.” His extreme narcissism makes him “exquisitely sensitive to criticism and especially to ridicule.”

Recounting the experiences of dictators, Kristof observes that “sly wit sometimes deflates them more effectively” that denouncing them. “Authoritarians are pompous creatures with monstrous egos and so tend to be particularly vulnerable to humor,” explains Kristof. He points out that skeptical voters who don’t trust liberals resent the negative press and criticism of the president. But they do enjoy jokes, so they are more likely to be won over by mockery of the president that is funny and mordant than by a familiar litany of Trump’s lies and his scorn of American traditions and institutions.

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It ain’t over yet

The President of the United States

After succumbing to panic, I’ve pulled back from the edge, trying to let my cooler self prevail. Trump repeatedly says and does outrageous things for two reasons: he wants to normalize his despotic conduct so that we forget how beyond the pale it actually is, and he attempts to instill fear in us, because fear is paralyzing.

But now is the time to be ANGRY, not fearful. Now is the time to do whatever it takes, whatever each one is able to do, in order to encourage people to come out and VOTE. This is no time to be passive.

The majority of voters, including quite a few covert Republicans as well as other very well known ones, do not like Trump.

Former Republican appointed and elected officials, generals in the military and political operatives have repudiated Trump. (For starters, former Director of the FBI, James Comey; former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois; former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell; senior campaign strategist for John McCain’s presidential run, Steve Schmidt.) By mid-summer the Republican super-PAC, the Lincoln Project, had raised $18.7 million to defeat Trump.

Knowing that Vote-by-Mail would greatly advantage Democrats, Trump attempted to cripple the US Postal Service. But the resultant hue and cry forced him to back down. Despise the awesome power invested in him, he blusters to disguise his fear of exposing his own failure.

So, until the fat lady sings, make calls, write letters, paint signs, take to the streets, raise your voice and above all, VOTE.

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No democracy, no union. Where do we go from here?

Small American flag recovered amid World Trade Center debris at the Fresh Kills Landfill. 9-11 exhibit at the East Tennessee History Museum. 2003 Smithsonian photo by Hugh Talman.

The United States is no longer. It is not united and it no longer has a government that is of the people, by the people, or for the people.

The Republicans in the Senate majority represent 18 percent of the country’s population; 60 percent of the Senate now represents just 24 percent of the country. Let that sink in.

The United States is not a democracy. The principle of one man, one vote has become a travesty.

Now Mitt Romney (R-UT), the lone Republican senator who voted to impeach Donald Trump, has announced that he supports the move to allow Trump to nominate the next justice of the Supreme Court. Romney’s decision almost certainly guarantees that the replacement of liberal icon Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be a hard-right-leaning conservative.

We can anticipate the resulting 6-3 majority to muzzle the liberals. In addition to the Senate, Republicans control the judiciary and possibly the executive branches of the government.

We can expect the minority “majority” to overturn every Democratic initiative to safeguard the country and protect its people. Republicans will achieve their fondest goals. They will

  • revoke Roe v. Wade, erasing the woman’s right to choose that RBG was instrumental in establishing almost 50 years ago.
  • dismantle the social safety net devised by Democratic administrations
    • Social Security, envisioned by Franklin Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression
    • Medicare and Medicaid, initiated under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society
    • Obamacare, Barack Obama’s first step toward universal health care
  • abolish regulations that combat climate change, protect the environment from commercial exploitation, reform the banking system
  • stifle any attempt to regulate guns

What can the gagged majority do? It’s clear that a country so divided cannot stand.

Civil war is one response. The blue states could secede. Geography is an impediment, because Democrats inhabit not only the East and West Coasts that are separated by a vast expanse, but also great cities in the Republican Midwest like Chicago. Republicans tote guns, Democrats by and large don’t. I suspect the food supply from the Farm Belt is largely in Republican hands.

At this moment I’m not coming up with alternatives to this nightmare scenario. I ask readers to argue with me and suggest ways to cope with the untenable situation that we face.

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RBG, Nina Totenberg and the friendship that bound them

This morning I read Nina Totenberg’s tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and their 50-year friendship. Lovingly written, the NPR obituary is a series of vignettes that

have little to do with her brilliance, hard work or devotion to the law, or even her pioneering role as the architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in this country. 

“Rather,” Totenberg continues,

they are examples of her extraordinary character, decency and commitment to friends, colleagues, law clerks — just about everyone whose lives she touched. I was lucky enough to be one of those people.

The first story Totenberg relates about her friendship with RBG reveals the depth of the future Justice’s commitment to her friend:

She was still on the D.C. Circuit in 1988 when the Cosmos Club, after years of effort from many of its male members, finally voted to admit women. Against my better judgment, I agreed to be proposed as one of the first female members. But, as it turned out, I was blackballed. While I was happy not to have to pay the significant fees associated with membership, the truth is I was really hurt, and I must have told Ruth about it.

Some time later, RBG was invited to visit the club, and at the end of a tour of its lovely interior, her escort invited her to become a member. As the story was related to me, Ruth paused, and in that quiet, low voice of hers, said to her escort, “You know, I think that a club that is too good for Nina Totenberg is too good for me, too.”

The story of two women, reporter and Supreme Court Justice, and their friendship despite their potentially adversarial professions touched me deeply. If you have read this far, I am sure you will enjoy “A 5-Decade-Long Friendship That Began With A Phone Call.”

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2020 Annus Horribilis

And the stars fell out of heaven and the moon could not be found
The sun was in a million pieces scattered all around
Why did you ever leave me, you knew how it would hurt
And now there’s darkness on the face of the earth

Willie Nelson, Darkness on the Face of the Earth

Palo Alto, California, 9-9-2020. Photo by Evan Baldonado

The apocalyptic events of 2020, all coming together, are overwhelming. People are dying. 200,000 dead! and millions infected. Mind-boggling. As are the fires on the West Coast. Who ever heard of orange skies? The pictures are beautiful, awesome, and horrifying. Disasters of epic proportions. Fire tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, ashy skies– Loss and death and destruction everywhere.

Loyalton, California. 8-16-2020. Photo by Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett, AP
Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her Senate confirmation hearing, 1996

But all that wasn’t enough. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, feminist icon, extraordinary legal brain, unflagging energy, is GONE. After a long, difficult bout with cancer, we should be happy that she is finally relieved of her pain. She was 87, after all; she lived a full life, by any standard.

But I can’t stop thinking of her, what she achieved, what she meant to me, personally. I can’t stop thinking about her, sobbing in spite of myself. In other times, no one would question that her legacy, the liberation of women and of men too, would live on.

But today the world is upside-down. Truth is becoming an extinct commodity, and half the country is convinced that everyone else is deceptive, cruel, and scheming to take over the government or what’s left of it. The other half believes the others are ripping the country apart, snuffing out democracy, shredding the Constitution. The freedom and the ideals that we aspired to, but never quite reached, are dissolving. A nightmare.

Is the world truly coming to an end?

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Thank you, RBG. Rest In Peace

Looking down from the steps of the supreme court on mourners and demonstrators gathering following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 9/18/2020 Photo by Rosa Pineda

NOOOO!!!

The anguished cry rose across the country with the news that the legendary, beloved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had lost her final battle. She fought determinedly and won the first skirmishes, but cancer’s relentless invasion ultimately overcame her body.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

She must have suffered during the last few years with several surgeries complicated by three broken ribs, but she refused to let such inconveniences interrupt her work. Thanks to her crusade against the mistreatment of women and minorities, RBG changed the lives of all Americans. We can rejoice that Ginsburg was celebrated during her lifetime for her remarkable achievements. Many artists and great minds die in obscurity, deprived of the satisfaction of knowing their works would be widely acclaimed. 

Ruth was a barrier-breaker and a high-achiever. She was among the first women admitted to Harvard Law School. When Marty, her husband, got a job in New York, she moved with him and completed her law studies at Columbia. During her last year she made Law Review and finished at the top of her class, while simultaneously caring for her baby and Marty, stricken with cancer.

Her professors from both Harvard and Columbia recommended her for a clerkship on the Supreme Court. But Justice Frankfurter, a good friend of theirs, would not consider her because he refused to hire a woman. This was not the first nor the last of continual rebuffs. Each one increased her sensitivity to the abuse of marginalized groups, especially women.

How many women born 50 years ago or less understand how inequality made women’s lives and aspirations radically different from those of men? How many know that until the 1970s, when old laws were struck down and new laws began to change the culture, women were rarely if ever seen in corporate boardrooms, in the houses of Congress, state legislatures or the courts? They were prohibited from serving on juries (so they never could be judged by juries of their peers) and often were not hired or promoted in order to protect jobs for men.

Women suffered domestic inequality as well. It grew from a culture that didn’t question the unproved assumption that women have to be protected because they are weak— essentially inferior to men. Inequality was not confined to the home. The premise that women are dependent on men was also embedded in the entire American legal system. Not until the first two women in history— Sandra Day O’Connor first, followed by Ginsburg— were appointed to the Supreme Court and gained the power to challenge those laws, did the barriers that were holding women back begin to crumble.

Even before Ginsburg became an Associate Justice at the Supreme Court, however, she argued five landmark cases before it in less than a decade. Her victories in these cases during the 70s transformed women’s constitutional status.

Ginsburg’s primary goal was to equate discrimination against sex to offenses against race, applying the Fourteenth Amendment to both. In Frontiero v. Richardson she maintained that

Sex like race is a visible, immutable characteristic bearing no necessary relationship to ability. Sex like race has been made the basis for unjustified or at least unproved assumptions, concerning an individual’s potential to perform or to contribute to society.

Ginsburg’s work has made it possible for women to no longer be singled out because of their sex and treated differently from men under the law. Ginsburg taught, for example, that alimony and shorter work hours are actually harmful to women because they enable dependency. Shorter work hours also mean lesser jobs for women and less pay. 

Ginsburg understood that sex-role stereotyping can also adversely affect the dominant sex. Men are in a double bind: they do not benefit from all the talents of their wives, they have to work harder and they miss out on quality time with their children.

Justice Thurgood Marshall and his tactics served as a model for Justice Ginsburg in her crusade for women’s equality. Marshall led the battle for civil rights in the Supreme Court. His strategy of achieving small, incremental changes culminated in the sweeping change of the Civil Rights Act. The achievements in civil rights and women’s rights of Justices Marshall and Ginsburg brought about radical and profound change in American society. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg richly deserves the hagiographic reverence accorded to her. A diminutive woman, she presumably had tiny feet, but no one has feet large enough to fit into her shoes. She will be sorely missed, and those who follow her have an obligation to preserve her legacy and build on it.

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Another day in the time of Covid

img_2079Feeding  the cats was first on the agenda this morning.

I was hungrier than usual, so I took time that I usually don’t, to make myself a cappuccino and a slice of buttered olive bread. Then laundry, then a Zoom call.

A friend was coming for lunch at noon. We had planned to sit outside, social distancing, of course, but the summer sun has given way to autumn chill. We would have to improvise a Covid-safe setting indoors.

We began to prepare a pizza rustica, one of my husband’s specialties. He makes the filling, and I do the crust. Unless it’s a very special occasion, I don’t make the crust from scratch. I let the bottom crust thaw a little, then pierced it all over, intending to blind-bake it.. An idea came to me for a new way to make the crust hold its shape. I set an empty pie pan on the raw crust, and in lieu of pie weights (mine had disappeared), I sprinkled the pan with pebbles I’d collected on the beach.

Meanwhile, I began making a chocolate mousse with a recipe I found last night. Wonder of wonders, it had only two ingredients, bittersweet chocolate and water, and the author, Melissa Clark, assured me that it would take all of 10 minutes.

Right.

First, I had to break the block of chocolate into pieces that would melt in the water. Do you know how hard a block of chocolate is? I began to chop last night and made some headway with a hammer. My husband had a better idea. He used a knife as a chisel and was much more successful. In the morning, I combined the water and chocolate, put it on the stove and hoped it would be okay on its own while I took care of the pie crusts. I prepared two bowls, a large one with ice and a second, smaller bowl inside. Though Melissa said the chocolate would melt quickly while being constantly whisked, mine was pokey. We should have chopped the chocolate into even smaller pieces.IMG_1396

The bottom crust held its shape beautifully. I assembled the pie, filling it with the eggs, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and tiny pieces of soppressata that my husband had prepared. I gingerly placed and sealed the top crust and slipped it into the oven. By this time, it was 11:30, and our guest was due at 12. The pie usually bakes for at least an hour and has to rest for another 10-15 minutes.

Back on the stove, the chocolate was still lumpy. I continued to whisk. Finally, it was smooth, ready to be whisked in the cold bowl that was waiting for it. I whisked and I whisked, this time using an electric immersion blender. It was tedious work, though the chocolate smelled wonderful. When it failed to become thick and fluffy, I melted more chocolate as Melissa suggested. While it was melting, the beaten chocolate in the cold bowl hardened. It clearly had to be melted again. Using the bowl as the top of a double boiler, I stirred and stirred until the chocolate liquified and showed no remaining lumps. By then, it was 12 o’clock. Out with the electric whisk. Again. This time, the chocolate gained close to the right consistency.

I filled the first dessert cup. Looked fine. For the second one, I realized I had to remove the bowl from the ice and work very quickly. The chocolate was a little thicker and harder. For the third, I had to dig into the stiff chocolate with the spoon. The leftover chocolate was very solid.

The pizza rustica was in the oven for an hour and a quarter. By then, it was close to 1:00. Our guest must have forgotten or scrambled the date or was very late.

Much later, she called and apologized profusely. She told me the date was on her calendar, but she forgot to look. I laughed. I’ve done that too.

My husband and I enjoyed a delicious lunch, followed by the virtual activities we are obliged do in the time of Covid.

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Another way to shut down a mailbox

MailboxLocked

Mailbox in Washington, D.C.

No, they are not taking them away any more. They are just locking them up.

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Japan celebrates ghost of Olympic Games

Screen Shot 2020-08-17 at 4.36.36 PM

Fireworks in Tokyo planned for the cancelled Olympic Games

The fireworks were prepared by Tokyo for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games this year. The Olympics are not taking place because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but these fireworks cannot be stored until 2021. The Japanese put the show on anyway. Enjoy the outstanding Olympic fireworks under Mount Fuji.

Go to YouTube.com and watch https://youtu.be/r9fSwpZtUu8   And turn up the volume.

#Fireworks #Olympics 2020

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Voting in 2020. Tricky.

MailBoxHeap

Mailboxes cast away and heaped up like so many corpses

Many of us are concerned about the problems with the U.S. Postal Service and the 2020 presidential election.

Trump’s escalating attacks on the USPS are both politically and personally motivated. 

Trump can’t abide anything, whether fact-based or not, that he perceives as criticism. His feud with the media, especially the New York Times and Washington Post, is unremitting, because they relentlessly search, find and publish details of Trump’s illegal and immoral activities. 

Jeff Bezos owns the Post and is also the CEO of Amazon, so Trump’s animus extends to the online retailer as well as the newspaper and the person who heads both. The mutually beneficial contract between Amazon and the USPS particularly sticks in Trump’s craw, because he wants to cripple Amazon, not let it benefit from a special, lower rate for its packages. Consequently, the ineffectiveness of his demands that the post office raise its rates infuriates him.

Trump’s upcoming bid for re-election provides the political rationale for his hostility to the USPS. He knows that the ease of voting by mail will greatly increase voter turnout, and that a larger turnout will favor the Democrats. This understanding drives his campaign against mail-in voting. In the throes of the pandemic, Trump would force voters to crowd in and outside the polls, exposing themselves unnecessarily and increasing the chance of a new spike in Covid-19. 

Crippling the post office would effectively handicap the Democrats. Dirty tricks, like eliminating most polling places in densely populated areas, make voting onerous and suppress the vote. Democrats are mostly clustered in cities, so they would bear the brunt of such tactics.

On Twitter, we are admonished to put the current problems in perspective:

Sheletta Brundidge @ShelettaIsFunny

·I ain’t gone say we ain’t worried about #45’s trying to keep us from voting, but Black folks have overcome much more and still found a way. Folks gotta cast their ballots by any means necessary. Ain’t a dog barking at you, no clubs beating you and no fire, so make it happen!

And:

Straight No Chaser @serioustalk01

Everytime I hear people lamenting that they shouldnt have to risk their lives to vote I think of John Lewis and so many others who did just that. No, you shouldn’t have to risk your life to vote, but we have to deal with what is, as Black people have done for centuries.

Trump won’t approve billions in emergency funding for the post office that would enable Democrats to expand mail-in voting. “Now, they need that money in order to have the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. Without that money, “they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.” The president made plain his intention to stymie the electoral process. It is up to the states to extend their deadlines or explain the importance of voting as early as possible.

USPSSortingLoss

As I write this, mailboxes are being taken away in parts of California, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Montana. Ten percent of the expensive mail-sorting machines at distribution centers have also been removed. We don’t know if they are being moved to other places, abandoned, stored or destroyed. 

The officials who are dismantling the Post Office should be cognizant of 18 USC §1701:

Whoever knowingly and willfully obstructs or retards the passage of the mail, or any carrier or conveyance carrying the mail, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

To be sure, the administration has relented somewhat in reaction to the outpouring of outrage, protests and petitions to Congress. USPS spokesman Rod Spurgeon told NBC News that they will halt the removal of post boxes until after the election.

What can you do, to safeguard the election and make sure your vote is counted?

  • Request an absentee or mail-in ballot
  • Do not mail it.
  • vote.org has all the information you need. Or google the Board of Elections in your state to find out where to drop off your mail-in ballot. It is usually not the polling place. 

By following these guidelines, you will not be relying on USPS to deliver your ballot on time. Instead, you can ensure that your ballot is delivered and counted. You won’t have to stand in long lines and risk infection. After dropping it off, find out how to track it online to make sure it is verified. California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado can track your ballot as if it were a package from Amazon.

Take whatever precautions you choose, but VOTE!

Update:

To countermand your ballot being sent as bulk mail, put a 55-cent stamp over whatever is printed on the part you mail back and it automatically must go First Class.

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Cognitive dissonance

From the idyllic

Sitting in the garden, watching the green leaves flutter overhead, matching the birdsong to the red cardinal in the apple tree, listening to the rustle of the pines in the gentle breeze, I marvel at the absence of the sounds of city traffic, ambulance, police and fire engine sirens. I am in a world far removed from “real life.” The contrast between the microcosm to the macrocosm could not be greater. Though now the occasional plane is resuming its drone overhead, the only real disturbance is the roaring of the motorized lawn mowers.

To the gruesome 

Hundreds of thousands dead and dying from a relentless disease, millions of lonely people suffocating in their sickbeds, and the as yet uninfected constrained to wear masks and keep others at a distance. Many millions more out of work, unable to return to their jobs which no longer exist… Institutions that were the heartbeat of the city: theaters, restaurants, music, museums and movie theaters, street artists, exhibitions of human creativity, schools and great universities — gone: some never to return, some irretrievably altered, only a few managing to hold on— for now.

To the unthinkable

The earth is dying and there is no collective will to save it. The air we breathe and the water we drink become more toxic every day. The oceans are rising, reclaiming the land that was home to about 40 percent of the world’s population, exiling them and forcing their migration into the territory of people inland. The seas are warming, increasing the frequency and intensity of death-dealing storms and dispersing previously tropical diseases into the temperate zones. Deserts are expanding and the supply of fresh water and arable land is shrinking. The over 400 million tons of plastic produced annually are choking the oceans and killing marine life. Every human being alive today has plastic in his or her body.

To the signs of hope and change

Black Lives Matter. At last, white people are struggling to understand and begin to acknowledge the legacy of slavery, the systematic racism that pollutes every aspect of American life. Peaceful protests and the eradication of icons of the Confederacy are symbolic actions, but it will take much more to atone for the sins of 400 years and to build a society that fulfills the premise that all men [and women] are created equal and that each has the absolute right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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This is our government

To aid her readers in their quest for the most egregiously malfeasant actors in Trump’s cabinet— “Vote for Trump’s Worst!”— Gail Collins inventories the cast of characters and their blatant abuse of the public trust. Her column is a handy reference tool, because the misdeeds and corruption vie for supremacy in venality. Choosing the worst is a real challenge, because, she warns, “the competition is intense.”

Vice President Pence: prim and unperturbed by the president’s lies and scandals; his confidence mirrored Trump’s delusion that the pandemic would be history by Memorial Day.

Attorney General William Barr “Can President Trump move Election Day?” Barr responded, “I’ve never looked into it.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as Tom Friedman recounts, persuaded Trump to fire the State Department’s inspector general “reportedly because he was investigating … Pompeo’s own efforts to evade a congressional ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and for improperly asking a State Department employee to run errands for him and his wife.” Among many more examples of deceit and corruption.

Chad Wolf, the acting head of Homeland Security, had previous experience as a travel industry lobbyist, which apparently prepared him to be Trump’s yes-man, confining immigrants at the Southern border and tear-gassing peaceful protesters in Democratic cities.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, whose big donations to Republican causes initially qualified him for the job, now sees as his mission the destruction of the U.S. Post Office to accommodate Trump’s wish to abolish voting by mail.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. shut down the census count a month early, though it had been previously extended to October 31 because of the Coronavirus. Up to 40% of the population has not yet been counted, disproportionately people of color, the disabled, immigrants, and the elderly, all groups difficult to count and likely to vote against Trump. The dramatic undercount of Black, Latino and other minority communities will diminish their federal funding and political representation.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industries, “took a lead in the administration’s massive financial relief package for oil and gas companies.” He was a central figure in the decision to use military police to gas protesters from Lafayette Square so that Trump and his bible could have their photo op.

Andrew Wheeler, former lobbyist for energy companies, Collins writes, is currently engaged in “a crusade” to extend “the life of giant pits of toxic coal sludge.”

Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, the very wealthy wife of Mitch McConnell, has close ties to power players in China and benefits from her family’s shipping company. It garnered up to $1 million from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Alex Azar, Health and Human Services, whose principal occupation seems to be supervising the dismembering of the Affordable Care Act.

Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary and sister of Erik Prince, favors charter schools and doesn’t like public schools. Her brother founded Blackwater, the military mercenary hit squad in Iraq. The family is very wealthy and has ties to right-wing billionaires.

And the winner is …

On August 12, Collins announced the winning readers who picked “Trump’s Cabinet from Hell.” First place was no contest. Attorney General William Barr won hands down, as he did last year. Second place went to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in third.

The “smug arrogance” and “ignorant incompetence” of DeVos set her apart from the field. 

Reader Martin Benjamin wrote, “Rookie of the year has to be [Postmaster General] Louis DeJoy, for the sheer chutzpah of destroying one American institution (the mail) in the cause of destroying another American institution (democracy).”

For some reason, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin came in near the bottom. One reader noted that he walked away from Goldman Sachs with about $46 million in stock, yet he thinks $600/week is overpaid.”

One reader worried that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao wasn’t “getting enough credit for the wholesale theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from Americans.” Airline passengers weren’t reimbursed for their tickets on flights cancelled because of the Covid-19 emergency.

But Attorney General William Barr earned the most opprobium: ”When the country’s top law officer ignores the rule of law to protect Trump from prosecution and advance the president’s political interests, it is downright scary, not to mention a threat to our democracy.” 

VOTE November 3 so that the work of draining the swamp in Washington can begin. The Republic cannot survive another four years of Trump.

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Never two without three

After two misadventures, my husband’s Italian mother used to say, “Non c’è due senza tre.”

The trio of mishaps began last night before dinner.

I tried to slice an onion with a mandolin, but the onion rings kept slipping around. Inefficient. So I sliced thinly by hand, slowly and carefully not to cut myself, though not without knocking over a glass of water by my elbow. Spilled water is a nuisance, but it is easily taken care of.

I proceeded to sauté the onion with garlic and rosemary, adding 2 pounds of coarsely chopped tomatoes and some anchovies when the onions were really limp. As the tomatoes softened and lost their shape, I added the pork chops that I had previously seared. Then I put the whole heavy mess into the oven — a really hot oven. A few minutes later, when the meat should have been cooked through, I opened the oven door to check.

My oven is about 30 years old and I live very close to the sea, so the salt air and the humidity have wreaked their havoc. The shelves don’t slide easily and the door sticks, requiring a mighty heave. The saucepan was really heavy and my arm is still weak, not fully recovered from surgery. I had a hard time grasping the single handle of the very hot and large sauté pan and could barely lift it. Moving it to the counter proved to be too much. The pan slipped in my grip and slopped half the meal on the counter, to the floor and everything in between. The cleanup was … well, extensive. Meanwhile, the meat stayed in the sizzling pan.

By the time I finally served dinner, the sauce was still delicious, but the chops were overcooked. And then my husband said, “Non c’è due senza tre.”

Superstition. The rest of the evening was unremarkable.

The next morning, everything seem to be going well. Pretty well, that is, until I tried to join my Zoom partner. The URL stayed stuck and nothing happened. I left the desktop computer, which is often slow, and went downstairs to my laptop, but that didn’t work either. I resorted to the cell phone, and when my call wouldn’t go through, I tried texting. No dice. By that time, it finally dawned on me that the wireless was not connecting.

I decided to wait it out with the distraction of a good read. Sometimes it behooves us to acknowledge and yield to force majeure.

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No celebrations

Fourth of July Solitary bonfire

On Independence Day we should be celebrating the American spirit that strove to cast off burdensome chains and gave birth to a new country unlike any that came before. But not this year.

This year there are no spectacular fireworks, no beach parties, no barbecues— nothing to mark what many fear may be the last gasp of American democracy. Will the American electorate succeed in loosening Trump’s chokehold on us and the traditions we hold most dear? Will the deadly Coronavirus wring the life out of hundreds of thousands more?

We can’t breathe!

The plague can’t last forever, but the devastation Trump has wrought will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair. His Administration has snuffed out the beacon of hope that the world used to covet, sullied our ideals and accelerated the despoliation of the planet. We have become the home of the incarcerated, the tortured, the hungry and the sick.

We are teetering on the cusp of an inflection point— we can continue our decline into ignominy or aspire to revive and finally realize the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. 

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America has a death wish

How else to explain that at least 40 percent of Americans are comfortable not wearing masks, blithely attempting to return to life as it was before the pandemic invaded the nation? Is it possible they don’t understand that the Coronavirus spreads when people are close together, especially in enclosed spaces? That wearing face masks inhibits some of that contagion? That close to 120,000 Americans (that we know of) have already died from Covid-19, that the virus is still raging and infections are spiking in states that ignore the warnings of scientists?

Most Americans can’t afford to get sick. They cannot pay for the hospitals, doctors and medicines that serious illnesses require. Do they know that the U.S. is the only one of 33 developed countries that lacks universal healthcare?

Almost a third of Americans own guns, an average of three each. Over 50 percent of suicides in 2018 were executed with firearms. Though “mass shooting” is variously defined, in 2019, there were 417 mass shootings in the US, more than the number of days in a year. According to the Small Arms Survey of 2017, U.S. Civilians have more firearms per capita than any other country, double the rate of its closest competitor. Assault weapons, designed for the military to kill enemy combatants efficiently, are wielded by civilians and enable domestic terrorism.

Some American cities, like Detroit, poison their inhabitants with contaminated water. Some burn coal, polluting the air with asthma-producing fumes. They allowed government to dismantle the regulations that protected drinking water and the air we breathe.

It is time— past time— to resuscitate the life force that gave rise to American ingenuity and determination. To revive the love of knowledge and respect for science that empowered earlier generations to reach the moon and ours to sequence the human genome. We must rebuild the institutions that made the American experiment the envy of the world.

Image credit: oNline Web Fonts

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It Matters, 7 o’clock cheering

Andy Newman, New York Times

I left the city a few weeks ago to eke out the shelter-in-place mandate where I can take long walks without wearing a mask or having to worry much about social distancing. Far from the city, it’s easy to maintain a safe distance from the few people I encounter outdoors.

Though I realize how lucky I am to be able to do this, I miss the city, especially at 7 p.m. I used to set the alarm for 6:55 every evening so we wouldn’t accidentally miss the time when New York opens its windows to cheer, clap and crash pots and pans. We thank and show our appreciation to health care workers and all the others who risk their lives to perform the essential services that make it possible for the rest of us to quarantine ourselves safely at home.

CIMEDICALCENTER.org

Even though we could barely hear or see our neighbors from the 35th floor, we joined the chorus in the hope that the intended audience would feel our support and recognition of their selfless service.

My alarm still rings daily to remind me that it is 7:00 and New York is cheering. But now, even farther away from neighbors who could hear and be heard, I give thanks in silence.

Tonight I read a post on the Upper West Side Nextdoor blog that affected me deeply. I still have tears in my eyes. I hope Julie Brickman won’t mind that I repost it here:

Tonight, as I was standing at my open balcony window at 7 o’clock, clapping and cheering as the health care workers returned home from their long 12-hour shifts, risking their lives to save ours, a young man in shorts stopped to talk to me. My balcony is only one story up and the window is 8-feet high and leads onto a little Juliet balcony, so everyone can see me there; sometimes people shout something from their cars or give me thumbs up in return.

But tonight, this young man left me in tears.

“I think I’m one of the people this is for,” he said. “And I want to tell you how much it means to me.”

I was stunned. So little to give for all that he’s doing, and yet I can’t stop crying. I wish I could tell him how deep is the gratitude in my heart to see such dedication and bravery at a time when there is so much else that I won’t name, because I’m not going to stain the wonder of this moment, of seeing the kind of humanity I have admired and respected all my life, standing in front of me and speaking with heartfelt gratitude about the decency he feels coming from all of us, locked down in this “joyless” city, yet showing up from our diverse solitudes to cheer those who are using their skills, energy, heart and moral courage on our behalf.

I thought it was worth sharing with all of you who are cheering too.

Yes, there is decency out there. Yes, I had the chance to see it tonight. Yes, it made a difference.

It made me believe in the long arc again; of justice or “what love looks like in public,” and especially of goodness. It made me believe we will survive this and create, if not a better world, at least a decent one again.

All I want to say is: Bless this health care worker who spoke out. Bless everyone who is helping get us through. Bless Upper West Siders and New Yorkers and everyone suffering through this lonely pandemic. May you stay well, safe, happy and find your own ways to give to our community following in the spirit of this amazing young man.

Like Julie, I want to believe that after Covid-19 the world will be better: more just, harmonious and cleaner. Looking beyond the catastrophe in Washington, it’s easy to find generosity and selflessness. Look no further than the Pennsylvania workers who volunteered to labor round the clock in 12-hour shifts for a month at their factory. Without ever going home, they slept on makeshift beds and produced millions of pounds of PPE materials, uncontaminated by the virus.

Self-sacrifice and the American can-do spirit are alive and well.

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Killing the virus, Trump style

Donald Trump is the object of ridicule, not only in the United States, but internationally. After the President mused about taking household disinfectants internally, Twitter exploded. Almost immediately, medical doctors and the makers of cleaning products and disinfectants hastened to refute Trump’s suggestions and warn people not to believe the President’s theories.

Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr), a writer and comedian, posted a video of herself mouthing Trump’s own words, in his voice, proposing to bring “the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. … Sounds interesting. I see disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning.” Transcript below

The Italian Newspaper Il Corriere della Sera is one of many news media worldwide that picked up the story. “Injections of disinfectants, UV lamps to ‘dry out’ the virus: these are two of the absurd proposals advanced yesterday by the president of the United States Donald Trump during his daily Coronavirus briefing from the White House,” wrote the Corriere. In the video, the paper also focused on the speechless horror of Dr. Deborah Birx as she watched her boss promote remedies for the Coronavirus that would sicken and potentially kill anyone who heeded his remarks.

Why would any sane person consider injecting or ingesting highly toxic products?

Donald Trump is desperate. He sees his prospects for reelection rapidly decaying. He can no longer tout a strong economy and low unemployment. The economy is in tatters now, and though the stock market is recovering from a precipitous fall, the Dow Jones is still almost 6,000 points lower than its record high two months ago. Twenty-two million people are out of work, more than during the Great Depression. Trump will seize on any remedy that might end the pandemic, let people go back to work and revive the economy.  Trump’s ignorance of science is manifest. Realizing that blue states have much higher rates of infection than red states, could he be dreaming that Democrats will drink the KoolAid, die off, reduce their number, and so improve his chances in November?

Transcript of President Trump’s remarks on remedies to vanquish the Novel Coronavirus

So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think [Dr. Deborah Birx] said, that hasn’t been checked but you’re gonna test it. 

And then I said, supposing it brought the light inside the body, which you can either do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you’re gonna test that too, sounds interesting. 

And I then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it goes in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.”

Politifact

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Coronavirus News

Princess Sofia of Sweden
  • Princess Sophia of Sweden became a medical assistant to aid in the fight against the novel coronavirus and is now working in a hospital, cleaning and cooking.
  • Trending on Twitter: #ObamaCommencement2020. President Barack Obama is being besieged by thousands of high school and college seniors who want him to deliver a national, online commencement address to the Class of 2020. Because of social distancing and quarantine the students will will be deprived of the traditional graduations and proms. “In an unprecedented time, it would give us great comfort to hear your voice,” tweeted high-school senior Lincoln Debenham, 17. His tweet has been liked by 218,500 and retweeted 44,400 times.

  • Respirators may not be the ideal treatment for Covid-19, as evidenced by the 80 percent mortality rate of patients on ventilators in New York City. Some doctors argue that respirators do more harm than good. The high mortality rate may also be due to the scarcity of lung specialists. It takes special training to master the subtle adjustments required. Covid-19 patients have lung damage that may not respond well to mechanical respiration. AP News
  • President Trump is encouraging resistance against quarantine and social distancing in states where his supporters have been clamoring for “liberation” from these restrictions. In a series of tweets, he also specifically names– in all caps– states with Democratic governors who want to extend these measures and delay “reopening.” The Democratic governors are heeding doctors who warn that quarantine and social distancing are resulting in fewer hospitalizations and that discontinuing them too soon will result in a new wave of infections. It seems that Trump embraces tactics that will, he believes, jumpstart the economy (to improve his chances for reelection), though they are potentially harmful to the public.

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Coronavirus: No gloom and doom here

Cuban medical team arrives in Milan

Despite the death, disease, and disruption the novel coronavirus is visiting on nations across the globe, it is also responsible for generosity and good deeds. 

International cooperation is always good news: Italians welcomed a team of 35 doctors and 15 nurses sent by Cuba to aid in the fight against the novel coronavirus that is ravaging Italy. The Cuban medics came with expertise gained in combatting ebola and other infective diseases in Africa. Three million face masks are arriving in Italy from Egypt, India, and China, which is also sending 100 ventilators. Russia expedited one million face masks and nine huge cargo planes carrying eight mobile medical teams, medical equipment and aerosol disinfection trucks. Ironic that Europe is now receiving aid from its former colonies, and Russia and China, rather than the other way round. COVID-19 has a way of turning everything on its head.

People on diverse continents are working together to fight the virus. Labs and doctors worldwide are sharing their research and results on therapies and vaccines.

COVID-19 is sparking innovation. An Italian company designed a prototype of a respirator valve in three hours. They 3-D printed 100 valves in 24 hours for a hospital at a cost of about $1.00 each, according to the BBC. Materialise, a Belgian company, is making hands-free door openers.

In the U.S., Carbon is one of the companies that uses 3-D printers to make products of diverse materials. It has now pivoted toward face masks, nasal swabs and ventilator parts. Pres. Trump gave automakers Ford, General Motors and Tesla the go-ahead to make medical supplies instead of cars.

On a local level, here in Manhattan, young people are volunteering to run errands and go shopping for anyone who fears to go out or is unable to. 

News outlets are compiling video and TV watchlists. For music lovers, the Metropolitan Opera is streaming a different opera from their HD archives each day. (To see the weekly calendar and access the opera, scroll way down the page.). The NY Public Library has a vast array of digital resources available online. It is easy to find many more institutions sharing their previously paywalled gems to help shut-ins cope with isolation. It is a good time to catch up on reading, perhaps that interesting you didn’t have to finish.

Another way of passing time is reviving old friendships, connecting with friends on your Christmas card list, the ones you never have time to speak with. Now, people are rediscovering the telephone and communicating with live voices, not dry text. Social distancing is actually making many of us more social. Parents and children now have opportunity to spend time together and listen to each other.

The most exhilarating reaction to COVID-19 that I know of is the daily concerts in Italy that ring out from windows and balconies. Italians of all ages, amateur and professional, fill the air with music. With instruments and voices, they comfort and support each other and spark joy in everyone. Their indomitable spirit encourages the rest of the afflicted world. 

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Coronavirus Dilemma

Last night I posted a commentary on the President’s unhelpful and mendacious handling of the Coronavirus crisis. I appended a list of precautions to take to protect against being infected.

If everyone were to follow my advice, the epidemic would be stopped cold. The problem is that the effect on the US economy would be equally devastating. There is a very thin line between keeping the population healthy and causing an economic disaster.

The busiest intersection in Milan at rush hour during the Coronavirus crisis.

The recommendations that regard personal hygiene should definitely be followed, but the others involve making difficult decisions. Avoiding crowds is recommended for personal safety, but if no one shops or goes to restaurants or theaters or hairdressers, those will quickly face bankruptcy, go out of business and drag their landlords and suppliers along with them. 

Contagion travels like quicksilver and the stock market reacts accordingly. Italy is a case in point. As of today, February 28, almost 900 people in Italy have tested positive since the first case was announced on Feb. 21. Almost all the cases are clustered about Milan, a major city in Lombardy, a region in the North. 

At the end of January, a Chinese tourist couple fell ill, tested positive, and was put in isolation. None of the people they had been in contact with tested positive. All flights to and from China were banned.

Then on Feb. 18, “Patient One,” a 38-year-old man, took himself to a hospital, but wasn’t tested because he hadn’t been to China. He was surrounded by other sick patients. He returned home, then back to the ER the following day because he felt worse. He was diagnosed with the Coronavirus on Feb. 20, but by then he had infected at least eight people. On Feb. 23, the Italian government cordoned off the “Red Zone,” forbidding travel in or out of the towns where the outbreak is located. Many residents were commuting to the city for work.

Though there are no known cases in Milan, the financial capital of Italy is a ghost town. The streets are deserted as anxious people stay home and workers telecommute. Schools, universities, museums, bars, restaurants, hairdressers— all closed. Most Italians are rabid soccer fans, but in the North, games are being played in empty stadia. Worried by the effect these closures are having, the authorities have declared that schools, museums and other public places will reopen on Monday, a week short of the recommended 14-day quarantine.

It’s almost impossible to navigate the strait between the Scylla of economic wreckage and the Charybdis of a decimated populace. It took less than a week for the paralysis in the industrial North of Italy to bring the third-largest economy of the Eurozone to the brink of recession. Worldwide, panic and the pandemic have caused the disruption of supply chains, postponement of travel plans and cancellation of major events, bringing the global wipeout to $6 trillion.

And yet, most people have no reason to panic if they wash their hands frequently and keep their distance from people with respiratory disease. Even if they do contract COVID-19, healthy people seem to recover without ill effects.

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Combatting the Coronavirus

Credit: Scientific Animations

Knowledgable health officials are telling us that a Coronavirus epidemic will not spare the US. It’s a question of when it will arrive, not if. They warn that we must not lose any more time in preparing for the onslaught of the disease.

[Update: scroll to end for tips on how to protect yourself]

As of now, we are grievously unprepared. We don’t have enough hospital beds to accommodate both the predicted large numbers of victims and the patients hospitalized for the usual reasons. We don’t have nearly enough masks and other gear to protect health workers constantly exposed to the disease; we lack testing kits to identify and confirm infection. These are indispensable for preventing or at least limiting the spread of COVID-19, as the new Coronavirus is now called. 

There has been no concerted effort to remedy these and other deficiencies because two years ago Trump fired the global disease expert and eliminated the agency established by President Obama to deal with domestic epidemics and global pandemics. (Trump thought emergency preparation was a waste of money because without an epidemic, there would be nothing to do.) The President defunded the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), stripping away the infrastructure we now desperately need to deal with the crisis.

Instead, Trump assured Americans in a press conference on February 26 that he and his administration are doing a “great job” and have the situation completely under control. There are only 15 cases, he asserted, and there will soon be zero as those people recover. Actually, there were 59 cases in the US (now 60). Trump preferred not to count the 44 Americans  infected with or exposed to the Coronavirus who were airlifted home from Asia. Despite the insistence of the CDC that they be isolated, the Trump political appointees with no medical expertise had them travel in the same plane with their healthy comrades. Even worse, A whistleblower today revealed that the personnel sent to welcome the 14 persons in quarantine were not trained or equipped with protective gear. Moreover, after being exposed to the virus, they went their separate ways across the country, possibly exposing an unknown number of other people.

As of today, 49 countries have reported more than 82,000 cases and more than 2,800 deaths from the disease. But Trump denies we have an imminent crisis, controverting the scientists’ warning that we cannot avoid the certainty of an epidemic.

Trump believes that his reelection depends on the continuing record-breaking climb of the stock market. The market has been tanking for six consecutive days since February 20, significantly eroding the gains of the Trump years. The decline is a reaction to the virus and its adverse effect on the global economy, but Trump blamed it on the Democrats’ debate (which took place on February 25, after four days of market free fall) and the media, which he accuses of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation.

To combat the horrible truths that emerge each day, as we learn of more cases in more places, Trump has decreed that the CDC and other medical authorities cannot advise and update the public without first submitting their comments to the vice president for his approval. From now on, with the experts muzzled, we’ll have to depend on leaks and sharp reporting to find out what is really going on. Shades of Stalin, as democratic norms continue to be shattered and totalitarian constraints and restrictions inexorably replace them. 

People, products, food and disease-causing micro-organisms traverse the globe in unprecedented numbers and historic speed. When they were free to share their concerns, professional medics warned us to prepare by readying hospitals, testing and stocking medical supplies. But how can individuals prepare? What should we do? The recommendations for avoiding contagion are mostly common sense procedures, no different from what we already know. 

  • First of all, prepare, don’t panic. Healthy people experience what will feel like a cold or the flu. Children don’t seem to be affected. Seniors, however, are at risk, especially if they have chronic conditions like diabetes.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after touching handrails, doorknobs, elevator buttons, gym equipment— anything that others touch. Wash before eating and after using the bathroom. Use soap and hot water and scrub for at least 20 seconds: between the fingers, backs of the hands, under the nails. This video demonstrates the technique advocated by the World Health Organization as the best way to wash your hands. (It’s a little more complicated than what you’re used to.)
  • Don’t touch your face! Most of us do it all the time, but infection enters easily through mouth, eyes and nose.
  • For now, stop shaking hands.
  • Avoid touching handrails, doorknobs, etc. away from home.
  • Carry alcohol-based (at least 60 percent alcohol) hand sanitizer to use when soap and water aren’t feasible.
  • Keep your distance (six feet, if possible) from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Avoid crowds. It follows that you should avoid public transportation whenever possible. Also sport events, theaters, conferences.
  • Keep a 90-day supply of your medications on hand.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Stock your cupboard in case you have to stay home.
  • Avoid spreading your own germs:
  • Sneeze or cough into your elbow.
  • Stay home if you don’t feel well and see a doctor.

If you manage to follow these tips, you and your family will probably stay healthy. At least you won’t regret not taking the recommended precautions.

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Why Valentine’s Day?

It’s not just a Hallmark holiday: it commemorates a bishop of the 3rd century named Valentine. Hearts and flowers came later.

According to one story, Valentine was under house arrest in the home of a Roman judge. The judge challenged the Christian to prove the validity of his faith, bringing out his blind daughter, Julia. Valentine laid his hands on her and implored God to save the girl (and him). When he removed his hands, Julia’s vision was restored. Amazed by the miracle, the judge and all his household converted to Christianity. He broke all his idols and freed all the Christians in jail. 

Another account relates that Valentine continued to evangelize. He married Christian couples, which allowed the men to avoid conscription in the imperial army. To remind these men of their vows, Saint Valentine is said to have given them hearts he cut from parchment, which may explain the hearts of Valentine’s Day. 

Valentine supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring, as did other Christian bishops. He had an image of Cupid, a pagan god, engraved on it. Romans recognized the god of love and would ask him to marry them. (Probably because of the association of amethysts with Saint Valentine, the gem has become the birthstone of February, and is thought to attract love.)

Claudius, the emperor, was not pleased. He had Valentine brought to Rome, but he took a liking to the bishop, at least until Valentine tried to convert him. Claudius refused and condemned Valentine to death. On February 14, 269, he was stoned (or beaten with clubs) and then beheaded when the torture didn’t kill him. More than two centuries later, Pope Gelasius declared a feast day on that date. But sadly, it was downhill from there. Since 1969, inclusion in local liturgical calendars became optional.

Before his execution, some say Valentine wrote a note to Julia, the judge’s daughter, and signed it “from your Valentine,” a possible origin of Valentine notes and cards. Oh, and if you’d like to see what’s left of his head, his alleged skull is crowned with flowers and exhibited in a Roman basilica. Other relics are scattered throughout Europe.

Some say that Geoffrey Chaucer was responsible for the association of romance and St. Valentine. Chaucer wrote the Parlement of Foules on the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. The poem contains the lines, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” But the royal engagement was on May 3, also the day another Valentine (of Genoa) died. So who knows? It’s impossible to know how much is fantasy and what part of the legend reflects historical fact. Indeed, there were actually as many as 12 St. Valentines.

By the 18th century in England, the 14th of February had evolved into an occasion when partners expressed their love for each other with flowers, chocolate, and other gifts. And in the 19th century, the sending of Valentine’s cards had become so popular that they began to be mass produced, especially in America and Europe.

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A Valentine Lament

Oh, silly, solemn, lovesick Muse
Wherefore do you wander
Without giving me cues?
You must come forthwith, help me ponder and conjure
Not fish stew or cabbage or salamander
But tremors of passion and amorous rhymes.
Inspire my thoughts for St. Valentine’s.
Wooing, cooing, and otherwise doing
Cupid’s work with his confounded arrow
That pierces the heart deep into the marrow.
A wound that won't heal
No more than boys’ lust for an automobile.
Love conquers all,
Virgil famously said.
Caesar won Gaul,
Anne Boleyn lost her head.
For lack of a son
“Now you’re done!”
Henry said.
Muse, I don't hear you
Hope you don’t have the flu.
I'm not calling Euterpe, Thalia or Terpsichore,
No, Erato’s my lady, named for Eros, not war.
Love and love poems fall in your bailiwick
So fly to me, Precious. It’s urgent, be quick!
Of arms and the man I’m not singing tonight
Paradise is still Lost— it is nowhere in sight.
To Goethe and Dante, Mallarmé and Shakespeare
You whispered and murmured softly in the ear
So succor me now, lend me words I can pen
Please don’t forsake me, help me scribble again.
My love, how to praise him,
How to describe
The joys of our journey I want to transcribe.

Erato, your silence is hard to endure,
No lyrical stanza, no euphonious verse
You’re wayward and fickle
You’re being perverse.
Alas, you have failed me,
I don’t sense you near.
Too late for this Valentine,
Hope to see you next year.

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L’État C’est Moi: I am the State

photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

If Donald Trump has learned anything in his three years in the White House, it is that the president has awesome power. 

Trump may not have read the Constitution, but he now knows that Article 2 defines the executive branch of government. According to Trump, “I have in Article 2 the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Of course he doesn’t, but if the Senate doesn’t remove him from office, what little restraint he may have experienced will evaporate and he will accelerate the erosion of the pillars of  American democracy. 

Trump would have recognized a soulmate in Richard Nixon. He also believed that “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” But 1974 seems eons ago, a time when Republicans and Democrats recognized the danger of an out-of-control president and joined forces to oust him.

Yesterday Trump’s lawyer affirmed that Donald Trump could do nothing illegal as president. The man who defended O.J. Simpson put forth a terrifying argument in Trump’s defense. Alan Dershowitz asserted, “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment.” 

Dershowitz argues that a president can do whatever believes is for the public good. If the president believes, as Trump does, that he is the best president ever, then his election is necessary and justifies whatever it takes to achieve that end. Asking foreign governments to discredit his adversary, hacking the election, disseminating disinformation, rigging the voting machines, disenfranchising g/.roups known to vote Democratic— all of these and more are permissible. Trump has invited China, as well as Russia, to help re-elect him.

Dershowitz may have done irreparable harm, especially if Republican senators acquit the President. He has legitimized autocracy. 

Louis XIV

Trump reminds me of Louis XIV of France. He ruled as an absolute monarch, believing that what was good for him was good for France. “L’état c’est moi,” he said famously. Louis believed in the divine right of kings, much as Trump believes in Article II. Trump loves to live lavishly surrounded by gold furnishings, and Louis built the sumptuous palace of Versailles for his royal residence. Several decades after his death, his heirs and the rest of the French nobility succumbed to the guillotine and the French Revolution. France was never the same.

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Trump defensive strategy: delay, delay, delay

John R. Bolton

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, has indicated that he would testify in the impeachment hearing — BUT — he wants a judge to decide if he can continue to ignore the Judiciary Committee’s invitation to testify, as the president has ordered, or whether, as a former employee of the White House, he is not subject to the executive order.

Initially, I thought Bolton’s request for a judicial determination was a strictly CYA maneuver. But now his lawyer’s hint on Friday that Bolton knows about “many relevant meetings and conversations” that the House committee doesn’t suggests something more. The intimation that Bolton could supply new evidence is meant to be tantalizing. If the Democrats bite the bait by acceding to his request and taking him to court to force him to testify before the committee, the momentum of the hearings will be lost.

Delay only helps Trump.  The longer the impeachment inquiry drags on, the greater the chance that public interest in the eventual impeachment will subside. No one wants the impeachment to drag into a presidential year, and the first primary is only two and a half months away. The candidates for the nomination need to direct their attention to their campaigns. They can’t afford to be distracted by the impeachment.

Democrats already have all the evidence they need to impeach Trump, But Bolton’s position in the White House places him closer to the president than any of the other witnesses so far. His testimony would certainly be valuable to the Democrats and difficult for the Republicans to impugn.

Democrats must resist Republican attempts to bog down and obstruct the hearings by assailing the process, smearing the witnesses, and using the courts to delay unimpeachable testimony that will likely damn the president.

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Eyes on the Chief Justice

Will John Roberts defend the scofflaw Donald Trump, who boasts of being able to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue with impunity? We shall soon find out. 

Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about courts and the law for Slate Magazine, discusses the multiple lawsuits headed for the Supreme Court that will directly impact Trump’s fate, if not determine it. Federal and district courts have stymied Trump’s attempts to shield his tax returns from public scrutiny, to direct his cronies and White House staff (past and present) from testifying in the current impeachment inquiry, and to keep evidence presented to the Mueller grand jury inaccessible to the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry. Trump has appealed all these cases, and now the only place left for them to go is the Supreme Court.

Lithwick explains how the actions of the Chief Justice will affect the course and outcome of the impeachment inquiry. Roberts may agree to put the cases affecting the president on the docket this term, but the decisions would likely not come down until late spring, too late for an impeachment proceeding to use the testimony of key witnesses and critical evidence gathered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. A delay will be of great advantage to Trump. But if Roberts decides to let the rulings of the lower courts stand, he would in effect be ruling against Trump. If the Supreme Court takes up the cases, the delay will slow down the Democrats’ momentum, adversely affecting their ability to influence public opinion, a critical factor in impeachment.

Will Roberts, now the swing vote on the Court, support Trump’s defiance of court orders and subpoenas? Will he support Trump’s assertion assertion of complete presidential immunity, not only from being indicted, but even from being investigated? With unlimited executive power, the president is personally above the law and free to countermand or defy established federal law and historical custom. The judiciary and the legislature are subservient to the imperial presidency, not co-equal as defined by the Constitution. Trump’s impeachment is about much more than the fate of his presidency. It is about the authority of the Constitution and the survival of American democracy.

At least once the Chief Justice ruled against the Republicans, when he found a way to keep Obamacare from foundering. He apparently understood that the Affordable Healthcare Act  was benefitting millions, and that they would not look kindly on Republicans who would take it away just as they had begun to have the ability to obtain medical care previously denied them.

I believe John Roberts cares about his legacy and the integrity of the Court. We’ll soon know if I am right.

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Beauty Ablaze

Credit…Kyle Grillot for The New York Times

California is burning with no end in sight. People are dying, houses are blackened hulks, forests are decimated — Why? Why is the Golden State an inferno with flames incinerating homes and trees in hills and valleys?

Several factors come into play, but all are linked to climate change. Global warming in California has resulted in shorter winters and reduced snowpack. The fire season starts earlier and ends later each year. With warmer spring and summer temperatures, drought is inevitable. Starved of moisture, vegetation and the soil are desiccated by the dry, intense heat. Undergrowth in the forests becomes abundant kindling that can ignite spontaneously, and the trees, stressed by extreme heat and lack of water, are unable to withstand the flames.

The Santa Ana winds rush from high pressure areas in the mountains to lower pressure at the coast. Channeled through mountain passes and canyons, their velocity accelerates, and the lower pressure compresses, warms and dries them out. The winds augment the parching of extreme heat and drought. Once the underbrush ignites, the wind propels and nourishes the wildfire, easily driving it across thousands of acres.

Though wildfires are a natural part of California’s bioregion, the fire season is an estimated 75 days longer now. The trends of rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall are expected to continue, and wildfires will keep pace. Each year during this decade has experienced a more destructive fire season, and there is no reason, given the paucity of effort in capping or lowering emissions, to expect deviation from this ominous trajectory.

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Flooded future

Flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2017. Source: World Meteorological Organization / Flickr

An alarming, just published, report from Climate Central warns that flooding projected across the globe by 2050 will be far worse than previously thought. The areas affected are mostly in Asia, where millions live on or near the coast. Flooding by seawater implies not only inundation of homes, but the salting of cultivated fields. Worldwide, chronic floods will endanger 300 million people. By the end of this century, the high tide line will be permanently higher than the land where 200 million people now work, farm, and call home.

These dire predictions result from the discovery that coastal elevations are actually lower than previously estimated; hence more vulnerable to flooding, inundation and the contamination of freshwater. In fact, the incursions of saltwater could make the land uninhabitable even before it disappears under the sea.

The previous estimates of land elevation were calculated using data produced by satellite photography, which sees the tops of trees and buildings, thus overestimating the elevation of the land. The problem is particularly acute in areas of dense forest and close clusters of buildings. More accurate means of measurement, using lasers and overflights, are expensive and consequently not widely used.

Cities on the world’s coasts are the most densely populated areas on the planet, and most of them have low elevations. The older elevation estimates have been found to be too high on an average of approximately six to eight feet, which is the same as or even more than the highest sea level rise projections for all of the 21st century. The elevations of some American cities, including New York, Miami and Boston, were overestimated by an average of 15.5 feet.

As we now know, the rise in sea level occurs when the combustion of fossil fuels and other emissions caused by human activity pollute the atmosphere. The planet grows warmer, causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt and flow into the oceans. The increased volume of water raises the level of the sea.

The estimates of the number of people who will lose their farms and homes to floods of saltwater are based on moderate emissions cuts mandated by the Paris climate accords. (We are not currently meeting those goals.) If pollution and the subsequent greenhouse gases continue to increase, by the end of the century chronic flooding and permanent inundation will imperil the land that shelters and feeds 640 million people living now (actually more; based on 2010 data), close to 10 percent of the global population. Ironically, the people most likely to suffer are the ones least responsible for polluting emissions.

The United States is already experiencing the predicted effects of global warming. Hurricane Harvey caused epic flooding in Houston; diseases once confined to the tropics are increasingly occurring in the temperate zone; extreme heat is responsible for a sharp increase in deaths in Nevada and Arizona; wildfires are consuming California . . .

The loss of land and the resulting migration of climate refugees will surely give rise to humanitarian crises of unprecedented severity and have devastating effects on the world economy. Other aspects of global warming like drought and extreme heat will also have catastrophic consequences. All living creatures, from plants to insects, fish, birds and humans will have to flee their habitats and invade others. Some will survive; many won’t.

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Filed under Climate change, Global Warming