Commentary, COVID-19

Two hopeful signs on Job Number One for the Biden team

There is no single, near-term issue of greater importance right now than the coronavirus pandemic. If the United States can’t get a handle on the issue that Donald Trump so horrifically botched — a failure that almost assuredly cost him reelection — then just about everything else is in jeopardy.

Fortunately, the morning headlines have greeted us with two encouraging pieces of news on this front. This is from a story on CNN:

Pfizer says early analysis shows its Covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective

Drugmaker Pfizer said Monday an early look at data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective — a much better than expected efficacy if the trend continues.

The so-called interim analysis looked at the first 94 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the more than 43,000 volunteers who got either two doses of the vaccine or a placebo. It found that fewer than 10% of infections were in participants who had been given the vaccine. More than 90% of the cases were in people who had been given a placebo.

Pfizer said that the vaccine provided protection seven days after the second dose and 28 days after the initial dose of the vaccine. The final goal of the trial is to reach 164 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.

In a news release, the pharmaceutical giant said it plans to seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration soon after volunteers have been monitored for two months after getting their second dose of vaccine, as requested by the FDA.

Click here to read the full story.

And this is from a story in the Washington Post:

President-elect Biden announces coronavirus task force made up of physicians and health experts

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced the members of his coronavirus task force, a group made up entirely of doctors and health experts, signaling his intent to seek a science-based approach to bring the raging pandemic under control.

Biden’s task force will have three co-chairs: Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general during the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Murthy and Kessler have briefed Biden for months on the pandemic.

Biden will inherit the worst crisis since the Great Depression, made more difficult by President Trump’s refusal to concede the election and commit to a peaceful transition of power. The Trump administration has not put forward national plans for testing, contact tracing and resolving shortages in personal protective equipment that hospitals and health-care facilities are experiencing again as the nation enters its third surge of the virus.

Click here to read the full story.

In an ideal world, of course, President Trump would be putting the good of the nation ahead of his ego and cooperating in this latter effort (and others). Unfortunately, at this point it looks like the Biden team will simply have to establish a competent government-in-waiting on its own. Thankfully, the early signs indicate it has the wherewithal to pull it off.


Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A provision of the Constitution that should be retired

Let’s face it. The idea of anybody being appointed to any job “for life” is ridiculous.

It’s important to remember when Alexander Hamilton and Company came up with this notion of lifelong appointments for federal judges, the life expectancy was 33. To put it another way, they made this call at a time in our nation’s history when it was entirely possible to step on a rusty nail and die of tetanus a week later.

Today, the average life expectancy is 77. So, yeah. Bad call.

Because of Article III, Amy Comey Barrett can realistically expect to serve four decades or more on the Supreme Court, which is a thought that maketh me want to lie down in green pastures and cry myself to sleep.

The Supreme Court needs term limits. Nothing crazy, mind you. Maybe 15 years. They are lawyers. Successful, ambitious lawyers. Why do we treat them like they are exotic, heavenly creatures who descended to earth on the wings of angels?

Their brains aren’t that special or rare. It’s not like they invented that preset button in your car door that remembers where you like the seat. Now that’s genius.

They are just ambitious, well-connected lawyers who clerked for the right judges and managed not to hire undocumented housekeepers. That we know of.

It galls me to think we’re supposed to worship the intellect of Brett (“beers and boofing”) Kavanaugh. C’mon.

Perhaps the best example of how foolish a lifetime job is on the highest court is Justice Clarence Thomas, who is now in his 30th year of doing…not much of anything. Thomas has been as quiet as a mouse peeing on cotton the entire time. He’s so famously quiet, in fact, you could be forgiven if you thought he’d died years ago and was propped up “Weekend at Bernie’s” style for all those black-robed class pictures every year.

The notion of a lifetime job anywhere is goofy. You don’t get hired at Taco Bell or Jiffy Lube and, on day one, the boss says: “Oh, and by the way, you know this is FOR LIFE.” These are honorable jobs, to be sure, but they’re not likely something you want to do forever.

To look at it another way, maybe these justices don’t even want this job for life. Sure, Amy Comey Barrett might, at age 48, be filled with dewy-eyed dreams of ending reproductive rights for women, trashing the Affordable Health Care Act and sending LGBTQ rights hurtling back to the ‘50s, but she may feel differently in her 80s.

The founders came up with Article III, of course, to keep the federal courts independent of partisan politics. Which, as we now know, doesn’t work even a little bit.

The Barrett confirmation is the most recent assault on the spirit of Article III’s intentions because the process was bloodlessly manipulated by assorted vindictive “United States Senators.” I literally have avocados I bought before she was nominated that still aren’t ripe.

Damn shame.

Celia Rivenbark wonders why clogged gutters are suddenly such a big deal.


2020 presidential election makes the case once again for ditching the Electoral College

How much longer, America? How much longer are we going to continue to employ this archaic and obsolete system for selecting our president that makes absolutely no sense?

At this writing, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by almost three full percentage points in the national popular vote with 73,803,730 votes (50.5%) to 69,685,325 (47.7%). By all indications, this is a gap that is almost certain to grow in the days and hours ahead. And while it looks increasingly clear that Biden will finally secure the 270 votes necessary in the Electoral College for victory, it clearly shouldn’t have taken this long to determine the outcome and that outcome shouldn’t have been dependent on a few thousand votes in a tiny handful of states.

Simply put, if it ever made sense (a highly dubious proposition), the Electoral College system is without merit at this point. If Trump had somehow managed to snake his way to victory, it would have marked the third time in the last six elections (and the sixth time in U.S., history) that the popular vote loser had been elected. Not only is this system antithetical to the basic principle of majority rule, it brings several other negative consequences — most notably the fact that only a handful of “competitive” states (like North Carolina) receive almost all the attention from the candidates, while noncompetitive states (like, say, Illinois, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Tennessee) receive none.

This, in turn, brings on an effect essentially the same as political gerrymandering. For Republicans in Massachusetts or Democrats in Alabama, it’s as if their votes and voices are utterly irrelevant — just as is the case in for so many Americans unlucky enough to reside in gerrymandered legislative districts.

So, what should we do?

The most obvious solution would be to enact a constitutional amendment that simply abolishes the Electoral College and replaces it with direct popular vote system.

Until such time as that can be accomplished, however, a quicker and easier solution that deserves very careful consideration is the system that’s been touted by reform advocates for some time (and already enacted by several states) that would put in place a compact in which states would agree to award their Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

This is from the website National Popular Vote:

The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 1) gives the states exclusive control over awarding their electoral votes: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….” The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is state law. It is not in the U.S. Constitution. The winner-take-all rule was used by only three states in 1789, and all three repealed it by 1800. It was not until the 11th presidential election (1828) that even half the states used winner-take-all laws.

The National Popular Vote interstate compact will go into effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). At that time, every voter in the country will acquire a direct vote for a group of at least 270 presidential electors supporting their choice for President. All of this group of 270+ presidential electors will be supporters of the candidate who received the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC—thus making that candidate President.

In contrast, under the current system, a voter has a direct voice in electing only the small number of presidential electors to which their state is entitled. Under NPV, every voter directly elects 270+ electors.

Is this system the answer or, at least an answer?

Maybe. At the very least, it sure seems as if it needs to be seriously considered.


NC’s new Lt. Governor: Taking Trumpism to new depths?

In case you missed it, the person who will soon be the top ranking Republican in NC state government is someone for whom outrageous and divisive statements are his stock-in-trade

A lot of smart people are still trying to understand everything that went down in the 2020 election in North Carolina, but here’s one thing that seems as if it must be true if there’s much hope for our state in these troubled times: a heck of a lot of people were not paying much attention when they voted in the lieutenant governor’s race.

While it’s undoubtedly the case that many people do share some of the ignorant and hateful views espoused by Lt. Gov.-elect Mark Robinson, it simply can’t be that more than half of our state’s voters were aware of them and voted for him anyway.

Read this excerpt from an October 10 article in Raleigh’s News & Observer:

Robinson’s Facebook page has more than 100,000 followers, and most of them elicit dozens of supportive comments echoing his opinions. Among the candidate’s posts:

  • He says that people “who support this mass delusion called transgenderism” are trying “to turn God’s creation backwards, and make it into a sickening image of rebellion to glorify Satan.” The LGBT advocacy group Equality NC condemned the statement, saying that “words like these fuel gender-based oppression and have led to an epidemic of violence against transgender women of color in this country. Transgender, and all LGBTQ North Carolinians, deserve elected officials who lead with compassion and who do not attack their constituents.”
  • He says the popular movie “Black Panther” was “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by (a) satanic marxist,” and “was only created to pull the shekels out of your Schvartze pockets,” using a Yiddish slur for Black.
  • Muslims, he says, “refuse to assimilate to our ways while demanding respect they have not earned.” He argues that they “are not ‘immigrants,’ they are INVADERS.”
  • He criticizes Black voters for supporting the Democratic Party given its past racist stances. He says they’re “voting for the very people who have abused them throughout our history. That’s what happens when negroes don’t read.”
  • He refers to Michelle Obama as a man, Barack Obama as “a worthless, anti-American atheist who wanted to bring this nation to it knees,” TV talk show host Joy Behar as a “she beast,” and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters as “Ol’ Maxie Pad” Waters.

Not surprisingly, the story also reported that Robinson, who will chair the state Energy Policy Council, has falsely claimed that “climate change ‘has not been proven scientifically.’”

Next, check out this story that ran on WRAL TV last night in which Raleigh’s Rabbi Eric Solomon expressed deep concern regarding Robinson’s anti-Semitic statements — a story for which, by all indications, Robinson refused to be interviewed after he found out reporter Julian Grace intended to ask him about the subject.

Then, if you’ve got the stomach for it, spend some time perusing Robinson’s Facebook page.

The bottom line: Robinson, who has never held public office before and first gained notoriety after delivering a pro-gun tirade at a Greensboro City Council meeting that went viral online, is certainly entitled to his views — however inaccurate and destructive they may be. But when a person serves in high public office — even one without a lot of direct power like Lt. Governor — they have a duty to serve all their constituents, to pay at least some attention to facts, and to refrain from making irresponsible, hateful and offensive statements about religious and ethnic groups.

It will be interesting to see if any of his fellow Republicans in state government can muster the courage in the days ahead to repudiate Robinson’s statements or push him to act in a more responsible fashion. Based on their mostly desultory performance in dealing with Donald Trump’s serial cruelty and dishonesty, we probably shouldn’t get our hopes up.


Biden pulls ahead as razor-thin margins nationally and in NC makes clear we must count every vote

Image: NC State Board of Elections

The importance of counting each and every vote in this year’s election has been made crystal clear once again this morning. Last night, many Democrats and other supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden went to bed feeling despondent in light of what appeared to have been a replay of Hillary Clinton’s PTSD-inducing defeat in 2016.

At this hour on the day after, however, the picture looks considerably brighter. As a large number of votes continued to be counted in numerous states, Biden now has a large lead in the popular vote and, more importantly, leads in enough states to give him precisely the 270 electoral votes he needs to secure a victory.

Right now, the key states would appear to be Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada. If Biden wins those states — all of which he currently leads by small margins and in which uncounted absentee ballots seem likely to break in his favor — he will have 270 electoral votes. Analysts believe he also still has a chance to win victories in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Meanwhile, the importance of counting every vote is also on display here in North Carolina. While Biden’s chance of pulling out a win here would seem to be tiny (he trails by 77,000 votes with as many as 117,000 absentee ballots still to be counted) other state-level races are much closer.

Incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, for instance, trails her challenger Paul Newby by just 3,700 votes and Attorney General Josh Stein leads his opponent Jim O’Neill by just under 11,000 votes. If mail-in ballots continue to favor Democrats, one would deduce that both incumbents are likely to prevail, but of course, no one knows for sure.

The bottom line: Excruciating as it may be, North Carolinians should stay tuned and stay calm and progressives should not abandon hope.