Memory is Fluid

It seems to me that writing a blog is the equivalent of having a diary that you let anyone who happens by read whenever they want.  I don’t know if there’s any rule, official or unwritten, about how much to reveal versus what you should keep under wraps, especially about the people in my life who haven’t exactly given permission to have their lives exposed on the interweb for others to see. 

I’ve so far made a point of only identifying others by first name, since everyone in my life has names that are popular, so using a Mike, Rose, Anna, Chris or Joey doesn’t reveal the individual I’m referencing except within my own circle.  Outside that circle, I could be talking about almost anyone.  At least, that’s my perspective now.  I’ll see how this goes when my friends and family have found themselves in my posts and decide, based on their reactions, whether or not I have to change their names in the future.  No matter what, I think it’s impossible to avoid having the people in my life recognize themselves in my posts, since they have memories too and can recall the things I do.  Memory, though, is a funny thing.

In college, I had to write a paper for English class about the fluidity of memory.  That semester, I was also taking my Intro to Psychology (or was it Abnormal Psychology?) class, so I was really deep into the human brain and its assorted foibles.  I had never considered how flexible memory actually is, or that the simple act of recalling a past experience can change that memory to something other than what it originally was.  For instance, my late friend Simone had a litter of kittens coming, and I was positive she had promised to give me a female from that litter so I could join her in breeding Himalayan cats.  I looked forward to the birth, and was excited when she told me that two of the kittens were female, so I didn’t quite know how to respond when she started talking about keeping both females for herself. 

Eventually, I approached her to ask why she hadn’t given me a kitten like she’d promised, and Simone told me that in fact she’d said she would give me a female kitten only if she already had two she could keep herself.  Since the litter had contained only two females (I can’t recall whether there were males), there wasn’t another for her to give to me, so if I wanted to be a breeder of kittens, I was going to have to actually buy a female someone else.  This was over thirty years ago, and I still have no memory of Simone telling me she would give me the third potential female kitten.

The point of all this is that memory itself, without a contemporaneous written record, can be folded, molded and rewritten until it becomes something that bears little or no resemblance to the actual experience that occurred in the first place.  The person with the new memory has no idea that what they remember as an actual event has been altered.  Because of this fluidity, there are untold numbers of people in prison based on eyewitness testimony that in all likelihood has been manufactured by the repeated questioning and retelling of the witnessed event to police.  It is possible to convince large numbers of people that they witnessed something or someone by slowly and repeatedly altering actual memories in little ways until the story they all tell matches what those doing the investigating think it should be.  Sort of what Trump does at his political rallies.

This brings me to the accusations that have been brought against Joe Biden by Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer from thirty years ago who last year complained about being made uncomfortable by Joe’s tendency to be a little too touchy-feely with all people, but especially women throughout his life and political career.  At that time, Tara claimed that Joe’s tendency to put his hands on a woman’s back or shoulders, or to touch a woman’s hair made her uncomfortable. Ms. Reade claimed that she’d filed a complaint with the personnel office on Capitol Hill and reported this ‘harassment’ to three supervisors within Biden’s office.  Reade is unable to find a copy of the complaint she says she filed.  All of the people who worked in Biden’s office at that time deny ever hearing any complaint from Reade about this, and in fact deny anyone filing such a complaint against Biden, and there is no documentation to support this claim.

Recently, Reade has changed her story, reporting that she was asked to bring a gym bag to Biden in a public hallway in the Senate building, and that Biden assaulted her right there in this public area, forcing himself on her, putting his hand down her skirt and then up inside her, digitally penetrating her while forcibly kissing her.  She reports pushing him away, and that he responded to her rebuff by saying, “Come on, man, I thought you liked me.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this accusation, and of course, everyone who comes forward no matter how long after the incident should be listened to, and their accusations should be investigated.  I know personally that it took me some fifteen years before I mentioned to anyone that I’d been molested by the cousin of a friend when I was thirteen years old and playing hooky from eighth grade.  I never said anything to my mom then because I knew that the first thing she was going to do was to yell at me for cutting school, since I couldn’t have been molested by this guy if I’d gone to school in the first place.  Since my Mom was there when I made this revelation, she admitted that I was likely correct in assuming I’d get in trouble for skipping school first, before we even addressed the molestation part.

Having said that, however, let’s revisit the fluidity of memory and how easy it is to end up mis-remembering something.  I don’t doubt that something happened to Tara Reade, but I don’t believe that what she claims is what actually occurred.  Reade says reported the assault to her mother at the time it occurred, and she told a former neighbor in 1995 or 1996, two or three years after the alleged assault, who has come forward in support of Reade’s accusation.  A call made to the Larry King show on CNN in 1993 is purported to be the voice of Reade’s mother, who is deceased, but the caller does not mention sexual assault or harrassment and there’s no way to verify if it was Reade’s mother on that call. 

Joe Biden does not have a reputation of being a skirt chaser, although there have been several women who also spoke out last year that they were made uncomfortable by Biden’s documented tendency to touch them – hands on their shoulders, kissing the top of their heads, and other non-sexual physical interactions that were previously not considered taboo.  It is only recently that men are finally getting it, that women are not here as a gift to the men in the room, either as eye candy or as a plaything, and the culture that existed just thirty years ago is not the way things are going to be anymore.  There is a big difference, however, between a man putting his hands over your clothes in a non-sexual manner versus forcibly kissing someone or digitally penetrating them against their will.

I’ve worn skirts – and after my marriage ended in the early 90’s wore some short ones that provided opportunities for consensual adult activities.  Using that access requires going under the skirt from below, but Tara Reade’s story claims that Joe put his hand down the waist of her skirt before digitally penetrating her vagina while also kissing her against her will.  This seems physically challenging if both parties are willing participants.  Tara’s description of this part of the alleged assault troubles me because it doesn’t make sense on its surface.  Why would a man get his arm all tangled up in the waist band of a skirt when he could just stick his hand up from the bottom?

Assuming for the sake of argument that Biden would even have considered such a thing, why would anyone, in the midst of the Bob Packwood scandal, do so in a public place where anyone could come by and see what was going on?  How crazy would a man be to do such a thing out in the open?  It’s not like he was just propositioning her to go get a room, she’s claiming he was up to at least his elbow down her skirt while digitally penetrating her vagina and attempting to kiss her.  I have to say that I find the entire story not quite right, when added all together. 

Could Biden have thought Tara Reade ‘liked him’ and was game for a roll in the hay, no strings attached, then decided that he’d go for it right there, out in the open, while Bob Packwood’s political career was in free fall over sexual harassment allegations?  I suppose anything is possible, but I believe it’s highly unlikely both because Biden has no history of behaving this way and events at the time would have given pause to him if he were so inclined. 

Biden has been in the public eye for decades, and never, during all those years, has there ever been even a hint of sexual scandal.  Usually, these creeps, like Bob Packwood, did these things over and over again because they could do so without repercussions.  As recently as the Kennedy presidency, the media didn’t report on sexual scandals involving politicians because they viewed it as a private matter unrelated to the man’s position in power.

There are only two people who may know what happened the day that Tara Reade brought that gym bag to Joe Biden so he could work out at the gym – Reade and Biden.  Biden has emphatically denied that the incident with Reade occurred.  The rest of us have no way of knowing for sure what, if anything, actually happened between Reade and Biden.  Reade’s refusal to do interviews with any mainstream media (versus Trump-leaning outlets) does not make me more likely to believe her.

But here’s what I do know.  Today, we have a man in the White House who was a known sexual predator and boasted of grabbing women “by the pussy” on tape before the 2016 election, and Republicans still voted him into office.  Keeping this allegation in the headlines is useful only for the Trump campaign, because their only hope for keeping Trump in office is to so dishearten Biden voters that they don’t bother to vote. 

I still support Biden for president, and will cast my mail-in ballot for him both in the June primary (since Warren is no longer an option) and in November.  That is the only thing that matters at this time in our democracy.  Voting for anyone else, or simply not voting at all, is unacceptable.

Magical Thinking Is Killing Thousands

Why aren’t more people outraged at the callous, nonchalant manner with which Trump repeatedly tries to justify the thousands and thousands of us whose lives will be lost as a direct result of his inaction, incompetence and complete lack of interest in anything other than securing his own reelection?

Trump keeps pushing Republican governors to “reopen” their economies, and every mitigation effort that is relaxed in this dangerous effort raises the likely death toll, so now Trump no longer “believes” the same CDC and University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) models he’s been fully on board with for months.  Not that this behavior is new for Trump, who recently flew into a rage and threatened to sue his campaign manager when Brad Parscall revealed polls showing Trump losing the election to Joe Biden.

Trump’s life experience has so far supported his magical thinking, and he prefers to rely on his ‘gut’ for management of everything, including the country, versus taking advantage of actual experts.  Certainly, for Donald Trump, rules and laws are just suggestions that he can follow or not as he chooses.  Consequences are not a thing for Donald Trump. 

  • Owe money to subcontractors for work completed as promised?  Refuse to pay, let them sue, fight them in court until they give up or settle for pennies on the dollar.
  • Demands from the House for documents and testimony?  Obstruct, delay, and make specious claims of “absolute immunity”, anything to run out the clock without producing anything.
  • Participation in your own impeachment?  Use questionable legal representatives willing to permanently tarnish their reputations and careers, to make unconstitutional and/or illegal arguments while trying to shift the focus to political opponent.
  • Perform the duties required as the President of the United States?  If said ‘duty’ benefits Trump and excites the base, then no problem.  If it’s going to benefit places he sees as Blue, he wants something in return.
  • Disband the Covid-19 task force while cases continue to rise?  Why not, it’s time to ‘reopen the country’.  “We can’t stay closed for five years.”
  • Protect the American people from all threats, foreign and domestic?  Where to start?

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” is a saying for a reason.  Trump has been doing the same thing since this pandemic was first brought to his attention in December (per the latest reports) – continuing to plow onward using the sheer force of his will to make  the coronavirus magically disappear.  Or now, by demanding that his toadies in governorship’s across the country do his bidding and “reopen”, as if doing so will make the rest of us lose our minds and go running out to go bowling or see a movie, unmasked and vulnerable, in large groups.

Trump has no problem saying on camera that people will die because of his focus on the economy instead of the health of the citizens for whom he is responsible, despite his inability to actual accept that he is responsible for anything.  He is doing this in such a chaotic fashion in large part to have a scapegoat upon whom he can lay blame for the resurgence of cases certain to occur in areas led by fools in the Fox media bubble.  He is not being forced to make this choice by circumstances; it is his intention to focus on the economy because it was the only thing pre-Covid-19 he hadn’t broken or grossly mismanaged, and his only concern is always and forever himself.  He has nothing else to point to during his time as president that did as well as the stock market, although what he really did was simply not fuck up what Obama had started – until Covid-19.  Trump’s refusal to first address the health crisis from Covid-19 will prevent any real economic recovery to happen because people aren’t nearly as stupid as Trump.  Personally, I don’t want to get sick from Covid-19, and studies have shown that 80% of the people wearing masks that are 60% effective can prevent the spread of the virus, so wearing a mask whenever we go out in public has to happen until a vaccine is widely available and administered to at least 60% of the population.  Trump will not require that we all wear masks in public, and is incapable of making the small sacrifice to his vanity that wearing a mask in public entails to encourage voluntary mask usage by example, despite the CDC recommendation to do so.  Viruses do not apply to Trump.

The testing that has been made available to Trump and everyone he has contact with has given him a sense of security that the rest of us have no access to, and again he’s being saved from the consequences of his own behavior.  When the person at the head of the government cannot find it within himself to don a mask when in a public setting for the benefit of the people around him, it incentivizes the selfish to skip the masks too.  I would have been more surprised if Trump had worn a mask, given his inability to acknowledge that he is not the only one who matters.

Trump’s lifetime ignoring the rules has convinced him that his magical thinking works, so here we are, with a leader whose number one go-to for everything is to just keep saying what he wishes were true until everyone believes him or moves on to the next scandal.  Unfortunately for us all, viruses care not what anyone says, they just multiply and transmit to as many hosts as possible as fast as they can.  We have about two weeks before the curve goes way up in all the places with leaders craven enough to kill their own constituents.

Currently, models of those parts of the country that haven’t hit their peak, excluding the areas first hit (like the tristate area in the east, California, Washington), show cases are clearly trending upwards in those areas.  Some of those places never issued stay at home orders at all, while others closed late and relaxed orders too early, and none have come close to following the recommendations issued by the CDC and White House a few weeks ago, so it’s not surprising that they are still actively spreading the virus.  Many of the places with the highest number of cases voted for Trump in 2016.

While the majority of the country that has historically voted Republican gets to experience what the more densely packed areas on the coasts have lived with for weeks, their governors are doing the exact opposite of what they should be to get the disease under control and save lives.  Testing is still a huge problem all over the country, given Trump’s inability to do his job, and many states have tested only a small fraction of their population so have no idea how widespread the virus is in their own state.  Many rural areas of the country were already severely medically underserved, with fewer hospitals that are further apart.  Local community hospitals have limited or no ICU capacity, and ventilators are scarcer than in the cities as well, so it takes longer to get patients to the large facilities capable of caring for them with respiratory failure. 

The Senate Republicans continued refusal to send local and state governments’ stimulus funds to make up for tax income lost because of the pandemic is nothing short of willful negligence.  There will be massive job losses because municipalities all over the country will be unable to pay for police, fire, EMS, trash pickup, and other services funded by taxes, and adding all these workers to the unemployment rolls is not in the best interest of the country.  All of our municipal workers, many of whom are front-line essential for the usual functioning of our lives, have to remain employed and working in a safe manner.  Anything that the federal government has to do to ensure that this occurs isn’t a partisan thing, it’s an American thing.  People in Kentucky, Idaho, West Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Utah all need to know when they call 911 for an emergency that someone will answer and come to their aid.  The same is true for those of us on the coasts, and our much larger populations have historically paid the taxes that have helped the states with the most need, such as Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee that have smaller, poorer populations because that is what Americans do – we lift up those who need the boost to help them move up the ladder.

I hate that there are Republican governors whose disregard for the lives of their own residents has resulted in the deaths of many of those residents, while my own Governor Phil Murphy extended the stay at home order for another thirty days to help keep New Jersians safe.  Using partisan politics as a metric for how to handle a deadly pandemic should permanently disqualify all who do so from ever holding any office of public trust again.  There is nothing about this that should be normalized – it is not okay to choose money over life, period.  Note that none who so cavalierly equate their stock portfolio with the life of any of the rest of us have offered to be one of those sacrificed to their cause.  Since they lack the will to put their own lives at risk, why are they forcing the most vulnerable of their constituents to choose between a paycheck and possible death?  Some are threatening their residents with cutting off unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work due to fear of contracting Covid-19, rather than requiring that all employers ensure the safety of their workers using social distancing and the right PPE for the job. 

Where is the CDC in all this?  Rachel Maddow has been talking about what appears to be a silencing of the experts at the CDC around Covid-19, particularly with regard to worker protections in meat packing plants, protecting congregate residential facilities and their employees, detention facilities, jails and prisons – all places with significant viral outbreaks and almost no testing/tracing or real mitigation efforts.  Why has the CDC gone silent now, in the midst of the worst pandemic in our lifetime?  And why aren’t any of the Republicans in government at all bothered by the sidelining of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at this pivotal moment?   I can’t wrap my head around it.

Trump continues to strip from the administration any and all professionals, experts, and dedicated civil servants who have the audacity to do their job and speak truth to power and to the country, with the full support of the Republican Party.  They are complicit with the destruction of the structures of our federal government and its ability to do what it was designed to do.  They do this and then point to the failure they caused and say, “See, government isn’t good for anything and should be dismantled.”  Their ownership of the outcome will be nil, while they use the Fox bubble to convince the base that the Chinese, or the Mexicans, or Muslims, or Democrats, or some new ‘other’ not yet identified are to blame for all their pain and suffering.

The Republican Party has brought us to this place – their policies for decades have taken funding from education, public health, the social safety net, infrastructure, and basically anything to benefit the people in order to line the pockets of the super wealthy, the fossil fuel industry and the military industrial complex.  When in power, they cut taxes for the rich and big corporations, and then insist on taking money from the social safety net and public benefits when in the minority to make up for the ‘deficit’ they created with their tax cuts in the first place, forcing Democrats into untenable ‘compromises’.  Now they’re trying again to give more money to their donors while leaving millions without rent, mortgage payments, food money, utility payments, car payments, insurance payments, etc.  The right-wing media that refuses to expose this to those in its bubble should be held accountable for the damages its propaganda has caused. 

I was afraid that success at mitigating the spread of the virus by maintaining stay at home orders and strict social distancing would be so anticlimactic that those in charge who lack the insight to acknowledge their own deficits would be unable to recognize that the thing to do next would be to stay the course until everything needed for the next step is in place.  Without adequate, highly accurate testing and contact tracing, it will be impossible to isolate the virus as it flares up in places all over the country until it has spread far and wide, leading to spikes as bad or worse than this first one has been and is still around the country.

Polls show that some 80% of respondents recognize that the virus does not answer to Republicans, and that continued isolation and containment is the only way to manage Covid-19 until a widespread vaccine is available, and I hope that’s representative of the population as a whole.  Since it is apparent that we cannot rely on the federal fucking government to do what it should in a crisis like this, each of us has to do the right thing for everyone else.  That means everyone wearing masks in public, maintaining physical distancing of at least six feet from everyone else, and staying away from others not in your family bubble by remaining at home. 

I left work on long-term disability a few years back and live alone (with Libby and Frankie), so I’m accustomed to being by myself most of the time, but I miss my family and friends too.  My hair is pretty scary after two missed haircuts, and I’ve had to reschedule my PCP visit three times so far.  I’m waiting for deliveries of mask making materials and other items for projects around my house and property.  My canister vacuum and my steam iron decided they’d had enough this week and are now sitting in the trash for pickup tomorrow, but I’m really not too put out by staying at home.  Sadly, the people whose jobs are most important to the daily lives of many of us do not have the option of staying at home to avoid the virus, and they all should be given hazard pay as well as paid sick time and healthcare coverage.  This pandemic has made the idiocy of employer-based healthcare painfully obvious.

In his closing arguments in the impeachment ‘trial’ in the Senate, Adam Schiff said, “…you know you can’t trust this President to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to….”  Representative Schiff hit the nail on the head, and we are all paying the price for the Republican Senators’ inability to hold Trump accountable for his own behavior, as Trump has grown accustomed to during his lifetime.  A lack of consequences in response to bad behavior leads inextricably to escalating outrageous and destructive behavior.  Trump was assured by the Senate that there is nothing he can do for which he will pay the price, and he has no reason to worry that this will change.  His only concern now is ensuring his own reelection, and he couldn’t care less how many Americans die in the pursuit of that goal, because the lives of everyday Americans do not matter one bit to Donald Trump.

Trump knows that his only hope of avoiding legal jeopardy in January, 2021, is to be reelected and outlast the statute of limitations for the crimes we already know he’s committed.  Each and every life lost to Covid-19 is Trump’s responsibility, and in the best outcome possible, he will lose the election and Attorney General Kamala Harris will find a way to charge him with negligent homicide for all of them.  At his trial, he’ll be found guilty and thrown in jail for the rest of his miserable life.

A girl can dream.

You Must Testify in the House, Dr. Fauci

From National Geographic

I just can’t understand how there are people anywhere in the country right now so brainwashed by right-wing media propaganda that they cannot see what is being foisted onto them by the wealthy donor class.  While the ones making all the noise in the Fox media bubble about “opening up the economy” and “give me my freedom” are fully insulated from any fear of catching Covid-19 by virtue of their wealth and status, they are funding “Astroturf” demonstrations in cities all over the country by people armed with assault rifles and other firearms who are almost entirely white and still employed.  The ones who are most at risk by a “return to normal” are the lowest-paid, mostly minority citizens or immigrants with the least to gain by being forced back to a job without adequate protections or sufficient testing to keep them from getting the virus.  I haven’t seen anyone like that at any of those stupid protests.

It’s amazing to me that it is still possible for propaganda to convince such large swaths of people of outright lies that are easily debunked with just a few Google searches.  A virus has no interest in the political leaning of the human host that it infects, and a lack of belief in the virus does not provide immunity.   It is not the wealthy donors/corporate leaders that incite these Tea-Party-esque protests who are out in the streets spreading Covid-19; many of the armed protestors were members of militias, along with extremist groups and conspiracy theorists attracting in-kind attention.  These are a loud, vocal but statistically insignificant section of society encouraged to expose themselves to Covid-19 by groups supporting the presidential reelection.  The vast majority of us agree that it is too soon to relax social distancing guidelines or to go back into enclosed spaces with large groups of people.  Nothing the Republicans and their donors are doing now in any way is meant to benefit the vast majority of us, and anyone who tries to tell you anything different is lying to you. 

Every one of the loudmouth idiots on right-wing media claiming that getting the “economy” going again is worth a loss of some lives continue to keep themselves and their loved ones safely sheltering at home, away from the masses that includes the rest of us.  Our lives are of no importance to them in the big picture, as they see the rest of us as expendable and of little use if we’re not promoting a cause that benefits their corporate line.

Everyone who died after contracting Covid-19 mattered to someone, and their deaths are being mourned by loved ones all over the world.  It is notable that there have been few publicized cases of Covid-19 in the Republican Party higher echelon.  There were a few representatives, and of course Senator Rand Paul (who continued to expose everyone with whom he had contact while he waited for his test results) who tested positive early on, but all of them had an uneventful disease course and recovery.  To the best of my knowledge, none have lost family members or close friends to the virus, what with their white privilege and higher net worth versus the population at large.  Trump, Pence and everyone with whom they come into contact are getting tested regularly, while those of us in the real world can only access tests that may take days to return results if we’re hospitalized and symptomatic, so no one knows who among us are asymptomatic carriers.  Still, Trump keeps pushing to “reopen our country” while regularly but insufficiently raising the expected number of Americans who will not survive his negligence while trying to convince his base he has no responsibility for those unnecessary and totally preventable deaths.

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York said, “They want to fund corporate America.  That’s who puts money in their pockets.  And I say let’s fund working Americans.  That’s the choice.”  The Republicans in power at the federal, state and even local levels are parroting Trump’s reelection politics and also focusing foolishly on the economics of the pandemic, rather than sensibly addressing the pandemic, which is the only way the economics will improve.  I don’t care how many beauty shops, massage studios, tattoo parlors or restaurants are approved to reopen – if customers don’t feel safe enough to come in, there will be no recovery.

This is the bottom line for the Republican Party – keep the money flowing to their donors so it can find its way into their reelection coffers.  They have sold their voters a real bill of goods using dog whistle politics.  Trump’s xenophobic attack on the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus – like he used immigration from Central and South America during the 2016 election – and a debunked conspiracy theory that the virus was 1) man-made in a lab in Wuhan and released or 2) released accidentally from a Wuhan lab where they were experimenting with virus in monkeys, are just the start.  Republicans all over the country have jumped onto the bandwagon with Trump, including (no surprise) Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Kris Kobach, Josh Hawley, John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham and Martha McSally.  They and many more are utilizing this rhetoric in their campaign ads, and they have no problem saying so out loud in public.  These things strike a chord in voters with a tendency towards racism and xenophobia, and they have learned to manipulate their constituents by tapping into this underlying inclination.  Birtherism, confederate flags, “illegal aliens” – all are used to inflame racial tensions and divide us.

When right-wing media – particularly Fox – supports this skewed and highly prejudicial messaging, it makes it easier to keep their viewers tuned in to their propaganda.  Who doesn’t want to have their own biases confirmed by the host on your favorite “news” channel?  No one questions whatever garbage comes at them from their screens; confirmation bias keeps the bullshit meter quiet, and using this xenophobic rhetoric helps to distract from Trump’s utter failure to protect us.

Trump is getting tired of Dr. Anthony Fauci and his inconvenient facts and realistic predictions for what’s likely coming in the next year, and he’s starting to do what he always does when someone with a brain disagrees with his own “feelings” – he’s pushing Dr. Fauci off the stage and out of sight of his base.  Trump refuses to let Dr. Fauci testify before the House Appropriations Committee, claiming he has to focus on Covid-19 and doesn’t have time to waste on pointless oversight, but he’s approved Fauci’s appearance next week in the Senate.  Trump has stated out loud that this is because “Trump-haters” are in the House. 

I know that Dr. Fauci has devoted his professional career to the NIAID/NIH, where he began as a clinical associate after completing his residency in 1968.   He worked his way up to director in 1984, and was instrumental in HIV/AIDS research.  I applaud his service to the country over all those years, and thank him sincerely for choosing a career in public health instead of the more lucrative private practice route.  I appreciate his desire to continue on after this has passed, but desperate times really do call for desperate measures.  This desperate time calls for Dr. Fauci to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the country, maybe even the world, and resign from NIAID so that he can appear before the House and testify freely about all that he knows regarding the federal government’s response (or lack thereof) to this pandemic.  Trump knows that his inability to do what is best for the country will once again be on full display if Dr. Fauci is able to enlighten us, but his ability to quash Dr. Fauci’s testimony drops to zero once Dr. Fauci leaves the NIAID and becomes just another private citizen. 

Dr. Fauci is seventy-nine years old, and (as my dad used to say), has more years behind him than he does in front.  It is time for him to pack up his desk and head off into the sunset of retirement, freeing him to testify in the House.  I’m sure that Dr. Fauci believes he can do more good by remaining in his position to push the science to manage the pandemic, but I think he’s fallen victim to the same magical thinking that has spread like a virus throughout the entire executive branch.  Remember Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, Reince Priebus, John Bolton and John Kelly?

Trump does not listen to anyone with expertise in any field.  The fact that Trump himself is singularly, incredibly and uniformly uninformed, under-informed and misinformed about everything that he needs to do or manage in his role as president is obvious to anyone who takes a few minutes to fact find.  It never ceases to astound me that Fox viewers, who have listened to Trump ramble on for hours and hours, bouncing from one subject to another while making almost no sense, still cannot put together his incoherence and incompetence as the existential threat to our very existence as a democracy and as humans that has been so apparent to the rest of us.  This is why Dr. Fauci has to stand up and speak out now.  Otherwise, the preventable deaths that follow will weigh on him for the rest of his life.

Dr. Fauci must resign his position at NIAID and provide the House with any and all documentation they have requested in their investigation of the response to Covid-19.  He should also include unrequested information if it addresses the matter at hand.  Dr. Fauci’s testimony should be public, and the Republicans on the committee should be prevented from propagandizing – although how you accomplish the latter is beyond me.  We have already lost more than 65,000 citizens due in large part to the denial, down-playing and inaction of Trump and his administration.  To limit further loss of life, Dr. Fauci must speak out and elucidate what the president knew, when he knew it, what was recommended by the experts, and what he chose to do instead.  Dr. Fauci needs to clarify why the US didn’t utilize the WHO tests already proven to be effective instead of tasking the CDC with a job it was not designed to do, and any information he can provide with regard to the millions of PPE that was sold to China shortly before it was discovered that our own stockpiles of these items was beyond insufficient should be enlightening.  

Trump continues to purge the executive branch of all who dare to do their jobs, since most of those jobs entail the honest and public reporting of Trump’s wildly erratic and incoherent leadership, and Dr. Fauci’s time is drawing neigh.  Trump has never admitted wrongdoing or mistakes, whether intentional or unintentional, as his malignant narcissism completely avoids any introspection or contemplating the possibility that something he did was wrong or caused harm.  He lacks empathy, or even the ability to pretend to be empathetic, never failing to make everything, including the deaths of tens of thousands of us whose protection he is expected to foster, all about him.  Since starting these stupid coronavirus rallies (which is obviously what they are in Trump’s head), the Washington Post last week reported Trump had spoken for at least 28 hours over 35 briefings, more than two hours attacking opponents and the media, an hour praising himself and his administration, around nine minutes touting the use of unproven drugs as treatment for Covid-19, and a big 4 ½ minutes expressing sympathy over the dead.  A quarter of the things he said from prepared remarks were either false or outright misleading, culminating in his off-the-cuff suggestions to inject disinfectant or get “really powerful” light inside the body.  He later tried to claim he was being sarcastic.  We have eyes, Donny, so no.

Dr. Fauci, we love you, and under other circumstances, we would support you remaining at NIAID for as long as you want to be there.  This presidency and administration are something never before considered as an actual threat to our society, and your work at NIAID is superseded by your duty to protect Americans from the negligence and incompetence that Trump has spread throughout the administration in a deliberate strategy to destroy government as we know it.  I know that this isn’t how you expected to end your time at NIAID, but rest assured that doing this now is necessary for the good of the many…

not the few….

or the one.

History will remember your choice.  We will owe our lives to you.

I Wish I Had a Lawn Service

I love spring – in fact, it’s my favorite season.  What I like is weather that’s warm enough to work outside without a jacket and cool enough that I’m not dripping sweat (and I really sweat), and for sure that time is now.  I enjoy planting annuals in the beds I’ve made, getting my pond ready for the warm weather, and hopefully completing the repairs to my above-ground swimming pool so that I can actually use it this summer.  I’ve spent years slowly adding ground covers, planting beds and other projects throughout my property for both my ongoing enjoyments as well as to improve the final value of the place when I sell it.  I get personal satisfaction from using my own labor to accomplish these changes and the physical activity is beneficial to my overall health.  My friend Mike helped me get my garden tractor running for the season (although I’ve been doing it by myself since 1985!) last week, and it’s been raining almost every day since, so today was my first real chance to jump on the tractor for that first cut of the season.  I have to admit it – I hate mowing the grass!

We (my first husband and me) moved to my current home in 1984, when our kids were both under the age of five.   I was fortunate enough back then to be able to stay at home with the kids while their father was at work, and I made the mistake of offering to do the grass cutting that could be done with the tractor because of the novelty of it all.  This of course resulted in my being the one responsible for the inside of the house as well as more than an acre of ground on the outside, the kids all day and, much of the time, a part-time job in the evening after my husband came home from work and could take over the care of the kids.  What he did, to be honest, was babysit his own children, often acting as if he were an irresponsible teenager rather than a parent.  It’s bad enough having two kids to take care of, but adding a grown man who acts like a kid to the mix was more than I could stand.  “If this is ‘til death do us part,” I thought, “Then one of us better die soon!”  But I digress.

My first spring, with the new tractor and spreader, I drove all over the property spreading weed and feed, like the books I’d been reading recommended.  I was so frustrated a few weeks later as I surveyed my domain, which had gone from being sparsely covered with something green to a more consistent dirt covered with dead stuff.  I hadn’t even considered that none of the stuff I’d had growing all over the place was in fact grass – it was all weeds – so what I was left with were really hard to kill weeds that I’m still dealing with more than thirty years later.  Mental note to self….

I’ve been the primary landscaper/gardener and all that entails for thirty-six years, and every year I try to postpone that first mowing in the spring, as if watching the ‘grass’ grow taller will slow it down somehow (it doesn’t!).  I really hate having to go all over the back yard, where the majority of the trees are, to pick up all the branches that the winter and wind knocked to the ground but haven’t yet come up with a way to stop gravity inside the fence.  Fortunately, I do have a dump cart for the tractor, so I move it around the back yard to collect the twigs and branches.  Today’s experience was the worst to date.

I started out, as I have for the last two seasons, by firing up the compressor to inflate three of the tires on the tractor.  Sure, I could have bought new wheels last spring, but that would have cost around $400, and I do have a compressor and hose that makes inflating the tires every time I use the tractor quick and relatively painless, so I’ve kept my cash while filling the tires.  Last season, I could use the tractor all day (or as long as I usually used it on a day) without a problem, and I expected things to remain the same this year.  Apparently, I did not take into consideration that the tires might have another plan.

In preparation of that branch and twig clean-up in the back yard, I inflated the tractor tires and pulled the dumpcart around to hook to the back, discovering along the way that one of the tires on the cart was also flat on the bottom.  Of course, when Joey and I replaced the tires on the cart a few years ago, we managed to put both of them on backwards, so I have to tip the cart up onto its side in order to access the tire valve, so definitely an empty cart endeavor.  As I was spinning the tire around to find the valve, I saw why it was flat – someone (who knows who it could be?) had driven over something that made an L-shaped hole in the tire.  Not one to be stopped by minor inconveniences, I went into my newly organized laundry room and found some contact cement and extra-sticky duct tape.

With the glue along with a scrap piece of rubber pond liner, I patched the tire, and then used the duct tape to temporarily hold the patch on until the glue dries.  It may not have completely fixed the problem, but it did slow down the air escaping the tire enough that I was able to use the cart for a few hours, until it was almost dark and I was done with it for the day.  I still had enough light to mow the grass, and the tractor does have headlights, so I dropped the cart and climbed back on the seat of the tractor to cut more grass.  As I did so, I noticed the mower deck moving out of the corner of my eye.  I decided I’d imagined the movement and started the mower blades as I accelerated forward exactly nowhere.  It felt as if something was preventing my mower deck from moving ahead, so I shifted gears and reversed without a problem.  When I still couldn’t drive forward, I got off and discovered that the clip that’s been holding the mower deck up since I got the tractor had apparently decided to shelter at home.  I have no clue where that home is.  

I tried to use my giant magnet on a handle to locate the hardware in the grass, and quickly determined that I would be dragging it all over the place for days, so instead I grabbed the metal detector I’d borrowed from Joey’s stepfather when I lost my keys in the yard (it’s a long story for another day) and walked back out, following the newly mowed grass tracks swinging the detector side to side like a weirdo, but I didn’t find what I was looking for before it was too dark to tell where I’d been from where I hadn’t been.  No wonder I hate the first cut of the season!

I’m pretty sure I have reasonable facsimiles of the parts I’m missing to let me use the tractor until my parts order arrives.  All my apocalypse supplies, you know.

Day 2, First Mowing of the Spring

I decided to order four new tires (without rims) for the tractor on Amazon for $147, because it’s really a pain having a tire that simply can’t hold air. 

My plan, when I ordered the tires, was to keep doing my inflate-as-I-go plan until the new tires arrive, then take the tires and drive the tractor to my mechanic, about a quarter mile away.  I can stay off the street for a good part of the ride, and I firmly believe that there’s no one in town here who would bat an eye at me even if I was on the asphalt.  I’ve seen stranger things all over town.

Anyway, I was driving around the property, trying to mow as much of the property as possible that didn’t have winter debris still to be removed, so I returned to the part of the back yard that I’d cleared off the previous day.  By that time, it was around dusk, and it gets dark pretty quick now because the trees are leafier, so I flipped on the headlight.  I began to notice that it was getting harder to turn the wheel, but I know I need to add some grease so I attributed it to that.

Nope – the front tire had not only lost all its air again, it had lost its connection to the rim, making it impossible to inflate.  I had to give up trying to fix it because of darkness, and I’m possibly going to have to utilize a slightly dangerous but effective means of resealing the tire to the rim that involves a small, contained explosion.

What could go wrong?

Mask Maker, Mask Maker, Make Me A Mask!

I’ve been teased by my daughter Anna for years for saving things that, to her at least, had no real value.  Old sheets and pillowcases from a former waterbed, or the old queen-sized ones I can’t use on my king-sized bed, have been accumulating around my house for years.  Why?  Well, you never know when you’ll need a drop cloth to use when painting, or to protect furniture from dust, or, now, to cut up and use to make homemade face masks.  Why pay to buy something when you can just save another thing you already have until you need to use it later on?  My grandmother lived through the depression, so I learned early on about saving good things while discarding the useless ones.

Try to buy cotton fabric at your local craft store – assuming it’s even open – and you’ll find that there are none in stock you’d be willing to wear on your face.  I’ve placed an order on Amazon for a 70-piece bunch of quilting squares, just to make me feel less like I’m running a one-person assembly line in my kitchen.  I’ve reached a point where I now must await a different Amazon delivery to complete most of the masks I’ve already made with elastic bands.  I’m forced right now to use shoelaces, which I’ve also saved for years!  My house is the place to be in the event of an apocalypse!

I started out intent on making just a few masks for me and my family and friends, so I knew that my mismatched assortment of solid-colored pillowcases would be more than enough material to cover those faces.  My closest friends are all nurses, two of whom work in hospitals while the third works at an outpatient dialysis unit run by a national chain.  My friend who works in the Pennsylvania hospital has so far reported having sufficient PPE; I don’t know if my friend who works in a New Jersey facility is having issues, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no news is good news.  The dialysis nurse, however, was working in a unit without N95 masks despite having at least five of their regular patients diagnosed with Covid-19;  now that he’s agreed (for significantly higher hazard pay) to go to a Covid-19 positive facility.  Although he’s now being provided with an N95 mask, he’s expected to use the same mask for an entire shift instead of changing the mask between patients, which is the standard of care for PPE. 

It shouldn’t be necessary, in the richest country in the world, for random citizens to have to make cloth face masks for healthcare workers to use in place of appropriate PPE.  The federal government’s purpose for being is to support us (the citizens who pay our taxes to that government) when the fecal matter hits the air moving device, and the Trump administration continues to let every one of us down.  The whole point of having the federal government run point during any crisis is to simplify the work the states and local governments need to do to support us, their citizens.  Having our federal government standing around with its proverbial thumb stuck up its butt is outrageous, and the administration’s lack of purpose and urgency is costing lives on a daily basis around the country!

Trump’s laziness, illiteracy and inability to care at all about anyone other than himself has been once again put on display for all to see.  The PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) from the intelligence community that previous presidents actually read every morning might as well be used as fire starter for all the good it does us now.  Trump not only refuses to exert himself enough to actually read the PDB every day, he doesn’t even pay attention when he’s given an oral summary of the PDB just three times a week!  How is it that we are forced to keep this man in the presidency when he has made it so clear that he doesn’t have any intention of doing the peoples’ work, or really anything resembling work at all?  Why do the Republicans, who are so fucking on fire to push the citizenry back to work, remain silent as their president abrogates his duty to protect us while he wastes the majority of his time watching right-wing media and having Twitter tantrums?

Trump still refuses to use the DPA (Defense Production Act) to create the billions of tests we need throughout the country in order to safely return to something that resembles normal before a vaccine is widely available.  Instead, he chose to use it to force meat-packing plants that have been huge Covid-19 hotspots to reopen and recall their employees, clearly because the product is what is valuable, not the welfare of the workers.  Republican-led states are threatening their citizens with cutting off their unemployment if they don’t return to work because they fear catching the virus there.  Reasonable people should wonder why they don’t require employers to follow guidelines for social distancing and PPE. 

If there is anyone out there who still believes that Trump and the Republicans care about anything other than their donors and their own reelections, then I hope that those deluded individuals have the foresight to prepare themselves for the “American carnage” that is going to follow as these knuckleheads throw their most vulnerable citizens forward as fodder for the virus.  If the federal government had done the right thing, we would have nation-wide, science-based orders that would avoid what is surely coming in the next couple of weeks, but we have the most incompetent leader in the free-world at this time of crisis, and the Republicans are fine with things going on the way they are.  This must be seen for what it is – the negligent homicide of thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens, with a disproportionate number of those most affected in communities of color, on the altar of capitalism and profit for the wealthy.

The total absence of empathy towards those most affected by this pandemic is painful to observe, as Trump continues to whine about his perceived grievances, offering just 4 ½ minutes of time since the ‘task force’ news briefings began to express something he thought was sympathy to the survivors of those who have died.  His inability to recognize that he should not be forcing citizens to return to any workplace not prepared to keep them safe from this contagion is not surprising in this particular individual; his entire life has been spent in a narcissistic bubble, as he was raised by parents who never taught him that he’s not the center of the universe.

In order to give myself a feeling of control in an uncontrollable time, I keep making masks.  It’s the only thing I can do to help those I love, besides staying home without human companionship.  I haven’t seen my son or his wife since before this all started, and have no idea when I will.  I occasionally see Anna and/or Joey, but only for a couple of minutes and usually I’m masked.  I miss hugs. 

I worry about my friend Rosie, a psychiatrist who preferred to be isolated even in non-Covid-19 times.  I’d love to see her, but I couldn’t get her to make a plan without a pandemic, so I have no chance now.  I hope she knows I’m here if she needs me.

I offer my sympathy to the thousands and thousands who have lost loved-ones to Covid-19, although I know it offers small comfort.  I have to trust that the majority of us recognize that the threat from this pandemic is real, and that we will do everything possible to maintain physical distancing for the foreseeable future. That is really our best bet for avoiding magnitudes of death many times greater than we have already endured.  I have to believe that because one party in our country is doing the exact opposite, and the deaths that ensue will be on their hands. 

Mask the Republican’s responsibility for these deaths and you, too, become culpable.  Is that really who you are?

The 28th Amendment – Or Telling an Old Friend He’s Been Made a Fool Of

It’s funny – since the advent of social media, particularly Facebook, I’ve been able to reconnect online with quite of few of the people I was friends with in grade school.  Last week, my Facebook messenger pinged, and there was this long message from my old friend Louis about a proposed 28th amendment.  The amendment itself seems like a good idea in that it prevents the House and Senate from enacting laws that apply differently to them than they do to the rest of us.  Lou’s message to me made multiple false claims about “benefits” that don’t exist, like student loan forgiveness, the ability to retire with full pay after serving only one two-year term, no requirement to pay into Social Security (true until 1984) and that they do not participate in the ACA.  This proves yet again how easy it is for the uninformed to get all worked up about nothing out of laziness.  It took under a minute for me to debunk the incendiary parts of his email, so why couldn’t he have taken the time to check the facts before sending that stupid message to me?           

There is no “Congressional Reform Act”, although bogus emails and text messages have been circulating through the internet and social media since at least 2011.  The newer versions include references to Trump, and the message my friend sent me specifically claimed that “Trump wants you to send this to twenty friends…”  So now, I know that my friend is member of the right-wing disinformation bubble.

I was most disturbed by that fact that my friend Lou supports Trump despite the last three years of Trump in the White House.  I have to assume that Lou’s been getting his ‘news’ from Fox, and I felt it was necessary to respond to my friend rather than just sever ties with him because he has been bamboozled by right-wing media.  I hope that Lou realizes that I do not bear him any ill will for his views, and I hope that my response to him (which included a link to this blog!) gives him pause and leads him to enlarge his media intake to include outlets with more journalists and fewer sycophants.  State tv may be a useful tool in a dictatorship, but it’s incredibly destructive to our democracy, and I hope that my friends who have continued to support outlets like Fox and OANN will go outside of their comfort zones and try a little fact-based reporting.  Sure, the news is bad, and I’ll bet it seems even worse if you’ve been led to believe bullshit only to find out later that almost everything you’ve been told has been a lie.

Here are some facts for my friend, in case he’s still uncomfortable getting them from places like CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New York Times or even The Wall Street Journal, to name a few:

  • The Small Business Aid Program has already run out of money, and the Republicans in Congress refuse to negotiate with the Democrats on another aid bill. 
    • While telling the public that it wasn’t necessary for healthy individuals to wear facemasks in public, the National Security Council took 3,500 masks from a Taiwanese shipment intended to shore up the national stockpile for White House staffers.
    • Trey Hollingsworth, an Indiana Republican representative, has said out loud that allowing more Americans to die of the coronavirus is “the lesser of two evils” compared to the economic impacts of quarantine.
    • The CIA warned its employees that hydroxychloroquine could cause sudden death and told them not to try it to treat Covid-19.  Trump has a financial stake in the company that makes the drug.
    • Trump tariffs are contributing to shortages of hand sanitizer and disinfectant.
    • Trump was told by intelligence agencies in NOVEMBER that a coronavirus outbreak could be cataclysmic.
    • The Trump administration wasted 70 days in the Covid-19 battle, downplaying the threat, holding back payments, and denying we were at risk.
    • A group of 74 journalism professors wrote an open letter to Fox ‘News’ that reads “The misinformation that reaches the Fox News audience is a danger to public health….Your misrepresenting endangers your own viewers.”
    • ProPublica reported that Trump’s Justice Department blocked an indictment requested by Texas federal prosecutors against Walmart, after it was determined that they had filled hundreds of thousands of opioid prescriptions despite being warned by their own pharmacists that those prescriptions were coming from ‘pill mills’ and that those pharmacists did not want to fill the scripts.  Texas federal prosecutors were told to drop the case by the Trump Justice Department.
    • Noise from windmills does not cause cancer.
    • There were not millions of votes from undocumented immigrants in the 2016 presidential election.

I hope that this list of facts, some or all of which may never have been broadcast on Fox, will help my Republican friends make a better decision in the upcoming presidential election.  Perhaps, if they cannot find it within themselves to vote for Joe Biden, they won’t vote at all.  

It should be obvious now, as the federal government decimated by years of Republican deconstruction and neglect and hampered by a complete lack of leadership and direction from the top down is failing to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in any reasonable fashion, that the entire premise behind the conservative movement has been a lie.  Of course we need a robust and functional federal government, staffed by civil servants who actually know what they’re doing and can put things in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again.  We all pay for insurance for our cars and houses, not because we want to send insurance conglomerates our hard earned money, but because we all know that, should our homes burn down in a fire or our cars totaled in an accident, we won’t have to wonder how we’ll finance the replacements of these things.  This is no different than having teams in place in the government so that, should a pandemic arise, we are prepared. 

Trump and his administration deliberately removed the pandemics team put in place by the previous administration because Trump’s fixation on undoing anything Obama put in place is more important to him than any possibility that those Obama initiatives benefit the citizens of this country.  Now Trump is threatening to illegally withhold funding for the WHO during a world-wide pandemic.  He is doing this in large part as a diversion to his base, so they don’t realize that his own administration and its lack of foresight are the reason why we are now losing 100 Americans an hour to this virus. 

So please, my conservative friends, understand that voting for lower taxes is equivalent to agreeing that there is no reason to prepare for pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and every other disaster sure to strike somewhere in this great nation in the future.  And while the next catastrophe that strikes may not affect you personally, it is no less painful for the citizens who find themselves in the line of fire. Admit to yourselves that continuing to support a party that denies science while forcing their hypocritical religiosity down our throats is societal suicide. They may claim to believe that their god will prevent the planet from burning up, but facts are still facts, and when the oceans rise because they refuse to address the fossil fuel industry’s greed, their god won’t keep their homes dry. I cannot understand anyone supporting politicians who so clearly don’t give a shit about their constituents, voting against their own best interests because they’ve been brainwashed into believing that the ‘other’ is their enemy.

It is time to think not only about yourselves, but your fellow Americans as well.  We need everyone to pull together and fight for what is right for the whole country, not just the privileged few.  Republican politicians have succeeded in convincing you that they care about you, but the only thing they care about is getting your vote in order to give their donors tax breaks to maintain their own power, while the rest of us are taxed without the loopholes the wealthy are awarded.  Election reform to publicly finance elections will give us back the power while taking the influence of the wealthy out of our politics.  Only by putting Democrats in office throughout the country can we make sure that our government, at all levels, is chosen by the people and works for the people.

Please – take the time to verify the inflammatory stuff you’re forwarding to your friends. Doing so will help you maintain your dignity while you see what a fool you’ve been.

What the Hell, Dr. Phil???

My mom told me I should watch The Dr. Phil Show when it first came on the air, and I have been a faithful viewer ever since.  In fact, I often use Dr. Philisms when I write and speak, with my favorite and most used one being “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”  When Libby (my cat) and I took our cross-country trip in 2018, I was excited to go to the show in LA, where I sat about ten feet away from Dr. Phil’s wife Robin during the taping of two separate episodes.  The studio has flat screen TV’s on the knee walls between sections of the audience, and I found myself watching the show on the TV in front of me instead of looking up at the stage where the show actually was.  It was surreal.  I’ve enjoyed watching him because he usually dispenses common-sense advice (given that common sense isn’t so common anymore) to people willing to air their dysfunctional lives and families on national television.

Dr. Phil has mostly managed to keep his political opinions and affiliation separate from the show, as he should.  Honestly, knowing for sure that he’s a died-in-the-wool Republican who supports Trump will forever taint my view of him and make it harder for me to see past that knowledge.  Yesterday, Dr. Phil went on Fox ‘News’ and said things that force me to re-evaluate my high opinion of this man from Texas.

Here’s the rub, though.  If Dr. Phil, a 69-year-old male and a known diabetic who is a member of the demographic group most at risk of a fatal outcome from Covid-19, really believes that he’s being harmed by sheltering in his 5-bedroom, 6-bath, 6,170 square-foot home with an in-ground pool, more art than the Met, an entire wall of guns on a half-acre of property (my house is on more than an acre), then he should walk outside and mingle with the little people out in the rest of the world, sans PPE.

Phil McGraw is a psychologist, and, although given the title of ‘doctor’, he is not a physician.  Psychologists do have to obtain a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s and doctoral programs, which Wikipedia shows Phil did, graduating in 1979, but he is not a medical doctor.  In fact, he is no longer a licensed psychologist, having voluntarily surrendered his Texas license to practice in 2006.  He has not hidden his unlicensed status from his viewers, and most of the guests on the show are offered actual mental health services with licensed personnel throughout the country paid for by the show.

His “I’m just an old Texas boy” character is a big part of his appeal, at least for me, and his show has occasionally aired subjects that seemed to reflect a right-wing perspective.  He doesn’t hesitate to let us know that he’s a Christian, although I would prefer he keep his personal faith, well, personal.  To those of us who have recovered from religion, there is no benefit to his talking about how he’s got a personal savior in Jesus.  In fact, I find it offensive when celebrities like Phil McGraw think we care one way or the other about their religious choices. If he doesn’t want to hear about my atheism, then he shouldn’t tell me about his god.

All those things were of no significance to my devotion to his show.  My DVR has been set to record every new episode for years – in fact, it’s the first show on my list – and I’ve watched them all, usually the same day they air.  It’s been frustrating during this pandemic, because the Philadelphia station that carries his syndicated show has been pre-empting portions for local Covid-19 news conferences, so his filmed-from-his-house shows haven’t been available in their entirety.  I find myself distracted by the stuff in the room behind him (what is that red thing in the corner of the counter over his shoulder???) and keep wondering how much countertop you have when you can cover so much counter with stuff.  Then I think about how much time someone has to spend dusting all the stuff in the kitchen alone.  Having seen photos of his eclectically decorated home, I also question his insistence that Robin is keeping that house clean.  There’s no way in hell that Robin is the one cleaning that stuff – she’d never have the time to do anything else, and would never be able to leave the house.  My mom used to tell me the way you know that a house is more than you can afford is when the first thing you think about is how long it will take you to keep it clean!  Those with money don’t have to worry about cleaning – they just pay someone else to do the work for them.  It must be nice.

Yesterday Dr. Phil revealed both his political ideology and his ignorance, two things that now force me to reconsider my devotion to his show.  I saw a clip of his Fox appearance on MSNBC last night, and today my daughter Anna made sure I didn’t miss him making an ass of himself.  At first, I tried to convince myself that maybe it was from a few months ago, before the fecal matter hit the air-moving device, but reality’s a bitch, so I was forced to acknowledge that Phil has revealed a part of himself by both appearing on Fox ‘News’ in the first place and then saying things that clearly have nothing to do with anything as it regards this highly contagious virus we are trying to keep from killing hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

For someone who purports to be wise and knowledgeable, his comparison of the Covid-19 pandemic to pool drownings, cancer or car accidents was beyond dangerous.  I’m not sure how Phil concluded that the loss of life from Covid-19, which has taken more than 33,000 Americans to date, can be equated to those lost by non-contagious illness and accident.  Surely, even though he never went to medical school, Phil McGraw can intellectually understand that a highly contagious virus with a significant mortality rate (especially among older men with comorbidities) that has no effective treatment or vaccine cannot be allowed to just spread unchecked throughout the population, overwhelming the healthcare system and leading to even more deaths because of a lack of ventilators and ICU beds in the interest of getting back to business as usual, right?  RIGHT?

The financial problems facing the citizens of this country could be addressed by a functional federal government led by a president who gives a damn about someone other than himself. Instead of pointing out how destructive this ‘lockdown’ is on people’s mental health and finances, maybe Dr. Phil could have pointed out how the Trump administration is failing to help out the neediest among us while they give more tax breaks to people in his own income bracket. Or maybe he could use his significant wealth and platform to help those most in need, instead of giving Trump’s state tv another sound bite to support their anti-science platform. Even better, he could use his private plane to fly around the world, gathering PPE for the healthcare workers on the front lines and flying it back to the US for distribution.

Phil McGraw is not a doctor – he’s a retired psychologist without any relevant experience or knowledge about infectious diseases – and he has overstepped his bounds with this Fox appearance.  Opinions are like assholes – everybody has one, and they should keep both of them out of the public eye!  Phil can be unhappy about the situation in which we now find ourselves, but he should not be publicizing his opinions in this atmosphere of political polarization and the demonization of experts.  His appearance last night on Fox has revealed that Phil McGraw’s common sense isn’t so common anymore.  So go on out, Dr. Phil.  Walk amongst the unclean, go to a homeless shelter or maybe an ICU full of Covid-19 patients, and breathe in the air, unmasked.  Then go back home and share what you’ve acquired without washing your hands or changing your clothes with your wife, your sons, and your grandchildren. Which one of them will you sacrifice to restart the economy?  If you’re unwilling to offer up one of your own on the altar of capitalism, shut the fuck up about getting everyone else back to work.  You’ve lost a devoted fan by revealing your callous disregard for your fellow citizens. 

I suspect I’m not alone.

When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.

When Did the Right Become the Party of Death?

It’s been clear for decades (outside of the Fox bubble) how little the Republicans really care about their own constituents, but never before has their distain been so blatant.  What is most outrageous about the present crisis is their cold & callous disregard for the lives of those most at risk from the Covid-19 pandemic as they try to justify “opening up the country” and “returning to normal” in order to boost the stock market to where it was a few weeks ago, before Trump revealed yet again his total incompetence at everything other than acting like a successful businessman on reality TV. 

A few weeks ago, I recognized that physical distancing would likely prove to be successful at flattening the curve of the sick and dying but that this success would prove to be anticlimactic in the view of some of our fellow citizens.  I worried that preventing thousands from dying from Covid-19 by mass quarantine would sooner rather than later lead some to claim that the demands to stay at home were draconian and that we need to get back to ‘normal’ (whatever that’s going to be for the next year or two) so that businesses stop losing money.  This has of course proven to be true with many conservatives on Fox ‘News’ and OANN (Trump’s new favorite state television network), Republicans in the administration, and the assorted wingnuts that Trump prefers to use as ‘advisers’ in place of the experts throughout his own administration he has no time for. 

Every day, we have these outrageous campaign events Trump inaccurately labels as ‘coronavirus task force press briefings’, during which he makes unfounded pronouncements, recommends anecdotal, unproven and possibly harmful medical treatments that his own agencies don’t support and outright conspiracy theories that Drs. Fauci and Birx and even Mike Pence have to counter with actual facts.  These ‘briefings’ are grievance-laden diatribes from Trump, whose malignant narcissism is on full display as he whines about how badly he’s been treated by the media while saying NOTHING about all our fellow Americans who are sick or have died under his watch.  He spends hours at these ‘briefings’, something no previous president has ever done, because he does next to nothing on behalf of the American people.  A full 60% of Trump’s time is unscheduled and he uses that time to watch right-wing media, send tweets and call his various non-expert friends to get their non-expert advice on all the things that matter to the rest of us.  Trump is known to be easily influenced; going with whatever the last person he’s spoken with said regardless of their lack of expertise. 

Trump’s most recent ‘briefings’ have  been full-out temper tantrums, one of them including a taxpayer-funded campaign video to convince us that this unmitigated disaster has been handled perfectly by Trump and his lackeys despite what we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears.  Trump’s inability to learn anything new is on full display as he attempts to refute how a contagion works by repeatedly telling the country that “we can’t let the cure be worse than the problem”, or “we have to open our country back up as soon as possible”, or even worse, “we don’t need no stinkin’ tests” (I’m paraphrasing on that last one!).  Trump’s inability to fathom that the states that presently haven’t had as many confirmed cases of Covid-19 (although the inability to do massive testing of all  the population on a regular basis makes it impossible to know how many Americans have contracted the virus) are at the bottom of the curve, not avoiding it altogether. 

The more sparsely populated regions of the country took longer to start spreading the virus around because their citizens don’t run into as many of their neighbors as we on the coasts do on a regular basis.  The lack of a federal stay-at-home order allowed the governors of Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota (why are there TWO Dakotas???), Iowa, Arkansas, Utah, & Wyoming to refuse to issue such orders while others waited weeks before doing so, often while still permitting large groups of people to meet for religious services. 

The federal government is supposed to be there when the shit hits the fan – hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, pandemics – are all things that the federal government is supposed to help us with and are what we expect in return for the regressive federal taxes we pay.  The Republicans’ efforts at tearing down the functional portions of our government to lower the taxes of the wealthiest in the country supporting their political campaigns had already done significant damage to the infrastructure supporting the agencies we most need to be able to function before Trump took office unprepared and clueless. 

Trump’s lack of preparation for the job he now holds has continued to reverberate throughout the entire federal government since he took office, appointing rank partisans completely lacking in relevant experience throughout the federal government into only a small portion of the positions needed to staff our agencies to full capacity.  Instead, he’s placed people with ill-intent towards the agencies they now inhabit into positions that have allowed them to destroy those very agencies.  He has eliminated crucial positions because he has no capacity to understand that being prepared for an emergency includes keeping people whose expertise will be necessary in an emergency in positions that matter. 

The Republicans in the House and the Senate, as well as all those working in his administration, remain silent while tens of thousands of our fellow Americans die because of Trump’s incompetence.  After the citizens of the states that voted for Trump in 2016 have lost friends and family members to Covid-19 because of everything Trump did and didn’t do over the last several months, I hope they’ll begin to harass their Republican representatives and senators to do something for them instead of for big corporations.  Better still, I hope they see the light and recognize that their faith in the Republicans has been misplaced; we on the left will welcome them into the fold!  I want my Republican friends and family members (and you know who you are!) to see that their continued support of the Republican Party has brought us to brink of an economic and healthcare catastrophe and to agree that the only way to move forward as a country is to realign behind the Democratic Party. 

There is no other option.

To Fix the Problem, You Must Acknowledge the Truth

For non-Fox news consumers, it has been clear for a long time that the problem with our government is the Republican Party.  When a Democratic president is in office, the Republicans spend all their time complaining about the deficit, demanding that every program the Democrats put in place to help the population must be offset by taking benefits from somewhere else.  When there’s a Republican in the White House, not only do the Republicans stop talking about the deficit, they actually do everything they can to make it worse, cheering when huge tax cuts for the wealthy are passed.  They do everything possible to undo regulations that protect our environment and our health in order to appease their corporate sponsors while withholding money for the social safety net that helps the poorest and most at risk among us.  Republican governors throughout the country, with a few notable exceptions, waited longer (some are still waiting!) than their Democratic counterparts to order their citizens to quarantine themselves at home to slow the spread of the virus.  And then there’s Trump, whose rank incompetence and magical thinking has allowed this contagion to spread, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of thousands, with tens of thousands more expected in the near future.  The Republicans knew for months how dangerous this pandemic was going to be yet did nothing to prepare for it, lying to the country about how bad things could get.  State television on Fox and other right-wing outlets continue to lie to their viewers, which makes them culpable in the deaths of thousands of Americans who for reasons I fail to understand insisted on getting their “news” from these propagandists.

With the coronavirus now disrupting our primary elections, Republicans are now doing everything they can to use the pandemic to advance their main agenda – retaining their white, male, minority power under any and all circumstances.  In order to achieve this, they have exposed their true intentions only recently by saying the quiet parts out loud.  Sure, we’ve all known that their voter suppression efforts have been specifically directed at those who demographically are most likely to vote Democratic in order to prevent Democrats from winning elections, but the Republicans for years were thwarted in their efforts by the Voting Rights Act.  Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, however, it has become much easier for them to enact laws designed to prevent those voters most likely to vote Democrat from exercising their right to vote.  Voter ID laws were enacted while gerrymandering allowed representatives to choose their voters.  Now, when physical distancing is our only effective weapon to slow the spread of Covid-19, the Republicans are refusing to make it safer and easier for everyone to vote by mail because they believe Democrats will benefit electorally.  Trump has admitted that allowing every eligible voter to vote means “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again”.

How is it that paper ballots signed by each voter and mailed back to the counties where the signatures are verified are less secure than the computerized ones (some without any paper backup!) commonly used throughout the country?  How exactly does Trump think “thousands of ballots” are fraudulently submitted?  Who is getting the ballots together?  Is there someone going house to house, stealing mail-in ballots out of every mailbox?  How would this scale up to manage “thousands of ballots”?  Seriously, this makes even less sense than “millions of illegal immigrants” voting in 2016, but the Republicans are completely fixated on doing everything they can to prevent people from voting, and this should make everyone furious.  This is even more ridiculous when you recall that the only mass mail-in ballot fraud was in South Carolina by a Republican operative in 2018 that resulted in a redo of the election.

How is this okay with the citizens of this country?  There is no legitimate reason for anyone who is legally eligible to vote to not be sent a mail-in ballot for every election from here on out.  The Democrats have tried for years to have Election Day become a national holiday in order to make it easier for everyone to vote, and the Republicans have stood in the way.  The Republicans believe that they are going to be disadvantaged if everyone eligible to vote could do so, but rather than change their platform and policies to attract more voters to their side they resort to cheating.  This will eventually backfire on them despite the long game they’ve played for judges because of simple demographics.  The Republican Party’s demise is inevitable and will only be hastened by their callous disregard for their own constituents when they do things like forcing voters to choose between a possible fatal virus and casting their vote. 

I am waiting for my mail-in ballot for the New Jersey primary election to arrive in the near future.  I signed up for mail-in voting in 2018, when I was on my cross-country trailer trip, and I decided then that having my ballot mailed to me for every election would guarantee my ability to vote from home for the rest of my life.  I had no idea how much it would benefit me just two years later, and I’m encouraging everyone I know to do the same to make sure that they too can exercise their franchise without fear of Covid-19 or any other unforeseen future event.

In order to advance our society to a more egalitarian one, it is absolutely necessary that everyone who is legally eligible to vote be enabled to do so as easily and securely as possible.  Providing each and every registered voter in the country with a postage-paid mail-in ballot is the very least we can do.  Although I’ve always thought that voting should be mandatory rather than voluntary (it is one of the few things I think every citizen should be required to do as their civic duty), making it easier for all who can vote to vote is the closest we can get.  If that results in Republicans being voted out of office, then so be it.  However, Republican Senators Cory Gardner, Mitt Romney, Mike Lee would disagree with the premise that mail-in ballots favor Democrats, as they represent states with all mail-in ballots, along with members of the House from Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Therefore, it is time for the Democrats to do everything they can to protect our health as well as our ability to vote in November, because Trump will do whatever he can to remain in office, including preventing the election from happening and regardless of the threat to the citizenry from the novel coronavirus.  Laws are just norms that everyone agrees to follow that under normal circumstances are upheld by the Justice Department. Without an Attorney General who believes in upholding the law, there is a very high likelihood that Trump will do something illegal about which William Barr will do nothing.  We have to do whatever is necessary to prevent this from happening.