Governors in the hot seat

Flowering Dogwood | State Symbols USA


Journaling the coronavirus
Wednesday April 15: who’s zooming WHO?


A friend reminds me that Andrew Cuomo pre-pandemic made a lot of decisions that didn’t sit well with New Yorkers, specifically, the closing of hospitals and reductions to Medicaid, and I agree that the reassuring presence he has been during this pandemic does not erase poor past performance, but I also think he’s been the steady hand America needs while our complainer in chief rants about poll numbers, big ships no one even needed and press criticism.  Our governor here  in California deserves props too, as do the governors of Washington, Ohio and Kansas, among others.
Yesterday the president alluded to the fact that some of the governors are good and some not so good and while he’s not mentioning any names he’ll be watching them closely.  My guess is having a D next to your name is a sufficient condition to be deemed a bad governor; guys like Gavin Newsom and “that woman from Michigan” are starting out in a hole, but they can quickly ratchet their reputations up to mid-Republican level with a little well-placed flattery. That being said, Illinois Governor Pritzker is apparently fine with staying on the naughty governor’s list, as evidenced by his interview with CNN, the president’s favorite network to call “fake news”.
“We have gotten very little help from the federal government. It’s fine. I’ve given up on any promises that have been made,” says Governor Pritzker, referencing the millions of tests and PPE the president promised, and continues to droningly list at each presser, but hasn’t delivered. Governor Cuomo, among others, have made similar statements about the federal response.
A reporter reminds the governor of the president’s threat yesterday, delivered from the Rose Garden, that “there will be severe consequences” if he or any governor doesn’t get it right, and the governor shrugs, saying, well, the consequence he cares about is the health of Illinoisans which makes my heart rejoice to hear, because Illinois contains my parent and my sister’s family and a whole bunch of friends and relatives besides. Whoever thought we’d be at a point in the USA where one would quake in fear because their loved ones live in a state with a democratic governor the president wants to get even with, and so may not get the testing or care they need if and when the time arises?  “No one has not gotten a ventilator,” was the strongly delivered message at the presser; supporting data would be helpful here. Are we close to running out? I know Jay Inslee and Gavin Newsom sent some ventilators on loan to the beleagured New York; Governor Cuomo says so far, they’ve stayed ahead of the surge. But accounts like this ER doctor in New York and this bus driver in Michigan make it clear, essential workers do not have the equipment or support they need to keep themselves or those they come into contact with safe.

Messages to the governors
The main takeaway from yesterday’s presser is that while the president insists he has “total authority” over anything any state does, the locus of accountability has shifted from the plenary padded shoulders of Donald Trump’s boxy suit jacket onto fifty sets of shoulders belonging to the governors of each state. He will henceforth be telling us what he ‘approves’ of the governors doing, vs. ordering them.

Here is a sampling of quotes to demonstrate:

The governors are responsible, they have to take charge and do a great job.

We’re counting on the governors to do a great job.

We have ventilators if they need them we have beds if they need them we have hospitals if they need them. We’re there to help.

The governors will be respectful of the presidency.  The presidency has such importance to what we’re doing.

If we’re unhappy we’re going to let them know and we’ll have to do something very serious, close them up and start all over again.

~President Trump

Meanwhile, I’m super grateful I don’t have family in Indiana, where Republican Representative Trey Hollingsworth was quoted saying “It is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”  Death for some is the lesser of two evils, when compared to a projected GDP decline of 20% is how he explained it, but he used different terms, something along the lines of “We have to put on our big boy pants” to make this tough decision.

Ol’ Trey maybe watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail too often, that’s the only reason I could come up with why he is so cavalier about human life, he saw that “Bring out your dead” scene where peasants are piling plague victims in a cart, and one of the victims pipes up to inform them “I’m not dead yet” so with a quick clubbing they rectify that, the carter has his rounds to make after all. The economy must be kept moving!

When politicians (Trey isn’t the first, only the most recent) propose letting people die so that others may shop, I think they should immediately be hustled to a big stage to make their case, and then every family member can be brought out to be infected right then and there. This method gets rid of a lot of uncertainty, and foreshortens the most unfortunate branches of the human family tree. I get why the politicians’ family might not want to go along with this plan, though, so maybe they should be given weapons and told the audience (who will be texting in their votes) will accept the head of the politician as a tribute they can redeem for their own lives. Or something.  It could be just what the reality TV genre needs to attract advertisers. (Stephen King had a story like this once, where lives were balanced against the economy, it was called “The Running Man”. I re-read it recently and reader, plot wise it does not seem nearly as dystopian as it once did.)

I know none of this can happen, and the worst I can do is wish someone would put fire ants in Trey’s big boy pants.

If the governors don’t do a good job we’re going to come down on them very hard.

~President Trump

Checking in
President Trump is going to put his signature on the stimulus checks; it’s not really legal for him to do so, so they will put it in the little Memo section where you write stuff like “groceries” or “sex toys” to remind you what you bought while you’re balancing your checkbook.  Nancy Pelosi called it shameful; in retaliation, Trump then claimed that Nancy was late on COVID, running around Chinatown urging people to have parades, saying “this isn’t going to happen”

(reader, she didn’t; I was literally in Chinatown when she made her solidarity visit, very much needed with the rise in hate crimes against Asians as the coronavirus started to spread. While here, Nancy visited a fortune cookie company, something that cheered the business community considerably, as they went through a seismic contraction of business well before the rest of the city).

Personally I’m surprised that the president didn’t have the idea to put “Make America Great Again” in the memo section; probably he did and Mnuchin nixed it, trying not to roll his eyes. They’re saying that adding the signature won’t delay the checks but reader, here we are two weeks past April rent and mortgage due date, and there are no checks, at this point does it really matter what is causing the delay? The check is in the mail has always been a meme, for a reason.

Meanwhile, the airlines are getting checks too! Unlike most Americans, half of whom have ZERO cash on hand, the airlines according to a report by Raymond James  have enough to last eight months before bankruptcy looms. Nevertheless, Treasury Secretary says he welcomes them into the Payroll Support Program, so that they can get their fair share.

The 6 Ps
In college, my softball teammates had a unique way of shaming a player who’d made an error, yelling in unison “Prior planning prevents piss poor performance!” The coach did not approve of swearing but was not above muttering “Six Ps” when the error was particularly egregious with on-base runners advancing or even scoring.  With all of the excuses (or external locus of control, if you prefer) coming from the White House, it has become really important to listen to the people on the front lines; when you do, the fact of America’s lack of preparedness (if not the reason for it) becomes immediately clear, because it’s part of the reality our frontline defenses against the virus must deal with day by day, minute by minute. Like this comment from a New York ER doctor, journaling during the pandemic and noting things like when the ER is out of disinfectant wipes and requiring multi-shift use of PPE:

“Because of how infectious the virus is and the country’s lack of preparation and equipment, the decision to intervene is a question not only of how to apportion tangible supplies, but also of how to best distribute risk among health care workers.”

Guests in the Rose Garden
There was no new campaign video, but there were guest appearances from the healthcare industry, hospital administrators who each got up in turn and prefaced their remarks with “Thank you Mr. President” which I swear is the only reason Trump invited them to talk, he loves hearing the honorific uttered, especially in front of a crowd.  No data or decisions were forthcoming, it was just four guys exchanging pleasantries at the microphone.

The president spent the greater part of his time at the podium reading a long list of industries, companies and CEOs, all of them apparently people his administration will be meeting with for advice on how to re-open the country. It is an excessively long and boring recitation that includes insurance, professional sports, technology, religion (!) and agriculture with President Trump occasionally appending “a good friend of mine” when he recognizes the name of a CEO. There was only one woman listed – Condolezza Rice, who he called “a great person” which I think meant, a person who held an important position of great power and not “Condi and I are pals” though who knows.

Mark Cuban, owner of a professional basketball team and one of the entrepreneurs on the hit show Shark Tank was mentioned, which is a surprise because Cuban has been outspoken in his criticism of the president – that plus his much higher approval and TV ratings is bound to evoke the ire of President Trump, but clearly he was not yet aware of  Cuban’s remarks because the opportunity to get in a dig passed without incident. “We’ll be meeting by phone because we don’t want people traveling,” the president assures us, as the four hospital administrators flown in from Ohio and Louisiana nod in unison.

Innovation under pressure
The president continues to barrage us with numbers – today the focus is ICU beds. He reviews the ICU bed availability of other countries compared to the US in terms of beds per thousand population, as if the fact that the US has more demonstrates his administration’s relative greater preparedness for/responsiveness to this pandemic than other countries.

He announced there will be a new program, the Dynamic Ventilator Reserve. How this is different from the Strategic National Stockpile, no one says.  The president talks about the ventilators that were asked for and not needed (ding! Cuomo dig) and thanked the task force for all their brain power in not sending the ventilators that weren’t needed after all (ding! Cuomo dig). At this point it’s hard to tell what the president’s preferred storyline is – 1) that there were’t enough ventilators in the US because of Obama (“the cupboard was bare, folks!) , 2) that there weren’t enough ventilators anywhere because who could have predicted this, 3) that there were plenty of ventilators but certain governors were unprepared and also making ridiculous and wrong projections that made it look as if the US wouldn’t have enough when it did. It kind of seems like he is trying to have all of these blames/excuses – not at once, but in a kind of shifting rotation, depending on the accusation he is defending himself from. Running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, my grandpa called it.

If you have been following closely, you can still ferret out the facts that are like the last flowers standing in a field of creeping weeds: we didn’t have enough PPE or ventilators in the national stockpile as the curve of infections and intubations ascended, but “in less than a month” we’ll have ventilators pouring in and we’ll be sending them to other countries who need the help. I’m pretty sure by “sending” the president means “selling at a big fat profit” but we’ll see.  “Even powerful countries can’t believe what we were able to do with ventilators!” the president tells us in tones of amazement, and reader I’m sure it’s true that powerful countries can’t in fact believe what they’ve been seeing in the US, and hearing from its current leader:

“We’ve always wanted the states to do the testing…the state has to provide the ventilators but they didn’t do that so we went into the ventilator business essentially… so we solved a big problem for the states.”

~President Trump

In case you’re not following this, the president is saying that the national stockpile is not for the states but anyway it was a broken system he inherited, and though no one could have predicted this he’s doing a job like no one’s ever seen and now he’s fixing it for the states who also chose not to be prepared.

Rutgers is developing a self-administered test using saliva, and will shortly be able to administer ten thousand a day. Ten thousand! Think of it! As for when, or where, or for whom, well, don’t think about that part. This is innovation under pressure, the president informs us which I guess is just another way of saying necessity is the mother of invention, although prior planning to prevent piss poor performance works too.

As for how the Roche and Rutgers testing will enable, or not, the states’ re-opening plans, it is not clear. What IS clear is that president Trump now has the governors in his sights, and no wonder; in them, he has up to 50 stooges to blame if the re-opening results in a second surge of infection and death. “We want the states to do their testing, we’ve done more than anyone has done in the world, we had a broken system and now we have a great system,” says the president, without mentioning how the states can or will benefit from this system.

Opening Day

The US COVID death toll is just under 28,000, with more than 600,000 Americans infected.

I’m not going to put any pressure on any governor to open. they should take their time and do it right. some are ready to go. so we’ll open it up in beautiful little pieces.

President Trump

“I will speak to all 50 governors and then authorize each individual. governor of each individual state to implement a very powerful re-opening  of their state in a time and in a manner as most appropriate,” the president reads. He is coy about giving us a date, feeling burned about the whole Easter debacle when he projected full churches on Easter only to be foiled by Dr. Fauci, saying only “The day will be very close, maybe even before the date May 1. Some will open almost immediately.”

We learn there are 29 states that are closer than other states to opening, because they are states that are “very very different” from others.  The fact that the novel coronavirus is dubbed so because there is no immunity to it often seems to be overlooked when the president discusses states that are “in extremely good shape”.  Also, and I cannot stress this enough, the lack of testing presents a completely false picture of what shape any state is in. 

There is a saying about the best laid plans of mice and men that applies to the train a rollin’ that is the president’s plan to get the country back working again, a saying Dr. Fauci encapsulates with his repeated warning that “the virus makes the timeline”, but no one is really listening to Dr. Fauci or the virus, it seems.  The fog of opening day is drowning everything else out.

“We look forward to speaking with industry leaders seeking their input on returning to the greatest economy anywhere in the world, in the history of the world, there’s never been an economy like we had, more people working, the best unemployment numbers, everyone was dong well, the stock market was at a record, and I think we’ll be topping those records soon when we get rid of the invisible enemy.”

~President Trump

The president seems unaware that another enemy, equally invisible, has been at work much longer than COVID, the enemy of corporatism in government that has widened the inequality gap while keeping wages so low that the greatest economy in the world was so fragile it required 40% of the population being able to continue to work multiple jobs for non-living wages indefinitely.  Not surprisingly, “If we could just get back to the way things were” is not the wish of the majority of the working population.

bezos

PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

In other news, not everyone is suffering in this pandemic – the silver lining of the coronavirus definitely belongs to  Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who added $24 billion to his wealth so far during the coronavirus pandemic. That could break down to a $30,000 bonus for every single Amazon employee, but most likely it’s going straight into pockets already bulging from paying no taxes.

“We have to get our sports back, I’m tired of watching 14 year old baseball games,” Trump jokes, and just as I’m thinking he doesn’t really seem like a baseball guy, he adds “But I watch one batter and get back to work.” It’s something of a relief, knowing he’s not watching old baseball games to see how they come out.

“Our country is going to be booming,” the president enthuses. But keep in mind, in past pressers he has predicted this boom won’t really kick in until the third or more likely the fourth quarter.

Who could have predicted? 
People talk about pandemics all the time but no one was saying it’s going to happen, was the snarling defense of DPA czar Peter Navarro on 60 Minutes.  This tacit acknowledgement that politicians feel like it’s ok to ignore inconvenient data is definitely the the throughline of the Trump administration.  The idea that no one can ever predict a once in a century event is belied by the 100 year flood plains identified all over the American landscape, so that insurers can duck paying for known cycles of catastrophes.

Trump told testing is key to reopening during business panel call

“1917 was a looong time ago,” says the president from his Rose Garden podium. And there’s no arguing that, a hundred plus years is a lot of years.  You know what wasn’t a long time ago? 2003, when the  SARS outbreak killed more than twice as many people as 9/11. Also not so long ago was 2009 – that’s when we had the H1N1 outbreak.  Even less long ago was 2012 – that’s when the MERS outbreak happened.  For some reason the administration keeps ignoring these previous outbreaks that had news shows developing scary pandemic graphics and talking about death tolls. It’s as if this entire administration has no memory, it exists only in the present…much like the virus itself, come to think of it.

When one reporter notes that Dr. Fauci himself has admitted that the US does not yet have the level of testing and contact tracing needed to re-open safely, the president claims he can’t answer the question because he can’t be sure that the reporter is accurately representing what Dr. Fauci said or meant: “I don’t know what he said, no one does.”

The reporter tries again and the president cuts him off,  snarling “I know what your question is” and commanding him to Be Quiet! no less than three times, disgustedly calling him a showboat. “If you keep talking I’m going to leave,” he threatens, saying “You’re just a loudmouth.”

“Our country has to get open and it will get open safely and quickly. There is tremendous testing and the governors will use whatever testing is necessary.”

~President Trump

As he talks, a distinctly new view of the role of the federal government emerges: “We’re there to watch, to help, to be critics.”

More WHO
A reporter asks if it’s wise to stop funding the WHO during a global health pandemic and the president rants for awhile against the WHO and the WTO, repeating that they’ve been very very unfair to the US, saying “LOOK we have an investigation underway on the WHO, we will find out exactly what went on. We may be satisfied it can be remedied, if it can’t, we’ll go our own way.”  This means almost by definition the US will be less prepared for a future global pandemic than the Trump administration has been, by design of the Trump administration, but the president is too busy hammering nails into the coffins of his scapegoats to talk about implications.

There is no follow up data on the disproportionate impact of the virus on the black community, but the president assures us “we’re working on that very strongly.”  Though experiment: promise on Monday that you’ll make dinner on Friday and when your hungry family asks where is it, tell them you’re working on it very strongly and see what they say.

A reporter asks, What is the plan if there is a second outbreak, like in China and Japan?  The president says “We may not. I’m studying other countries.”  So that’s the plan – no plan.

A reporter picks up a stick and pokes the bear: “Mr. President, Governor Cuomo has said  if you pressured New York it would cause a constitutional crisis, and called you King Trump.”

“Yeah, I heard that,” the president says. “He needed help, we gave him 2900 beds he didn’t use, I have him a ship he didn’t use, we said look we don’t think you need it…we get along just fine.”  I suspect he liked the sound of King Trump so much, it made him disinclined to be more critical of the man acknowledging his greatness so publicly.

“What’s your assurance to workers who are fearful of getting sick?” asked a reporter, and the president said it’s totally up to governors and companies testing maybe weekly, doing some temperature taking, however they want to do it.  Just remember the president’s Tony Soprano-esque warning “We will hold the governors accountable.”

There is no brewing food crisis, according to the president. “Our farmers are incredible, producing levels of food that is unbelievable. The stores seem to be in good shape.” There is no mention of the millions of pounds of wasted produce and milk that grace the front pages of newspapers every day. Clearly not all farmers in the food chain agree with the president’s casual assessment: “Clearly we’re in a time of crisis,” says a dairy farmer in Wisconsin.”We’ve lost 25 percent of our income just through the crashed market. Now we face the reality of having to dump milk on top of that.”

In other news, there is a physican at a nursing home in Texas who got his hands on some hydroxychloroquine and started what he’s calling an “observational study” administering this unproven drug among the 56 residents and 31 staff that have vested positive for COVID. Rolling Stone reports some patients and their families are not aware that they are being given the drug, which carries with it some serious side effects that Rita Wilson, wife of Tom Hanks, detailed in her recent recovery from COVID: “I don’t know if the drug worked or if it was just time for the fever to break…. the chloroquine had such extreme side effects, I was completely nauseous, I had vertigo and my muscles felt very weak … I think people have to be very considerate about that drug.”

Good News:  Maybe good is not the word for this, but it touched me deeply to learn that on China’s version of Twitter, called Weibo, users have left more than 870,000 messages on the last post made by Dr. Li Wenliang, the doctor in the Chinese city of Wuhan who warned people of the virus, getting in trouble with Chinese authorities, before dying of COVD himself.  They write to him as we would any friend, telling him that spring has arrived and that the cherry blossoms are blooming. In my home state the dogwoods are blooming, too, a sight I would like to see again, sitting with my parents on their back porch in Illinois.


See past entries in Coronavirus Event

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