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Michelle Goldberg: Government Failing Kids and Parents during the Pandemic!

Collage of images of schoolchildren in masks and social distancing

Dear Commons Community,

Michelle Goldberg, New York Times columnist, comments today that “At every level, government is failing kids and parents during the pandemic.”  I agree with her assessment.  Tomorrow is July 1st and many if not most parents have no idea whether schools will be open in the fall or not.  Granted this is not an easy issue especially in areas that have had outbreaks of the coronovirus, but there needs to be some communication of possibilities and decisions made soon so everyone can start planning.  Here is an excerpt from her column.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that if schools reopen, students’ desks should be placed six feet apart, which means far fewer kids in most classrooms. But there’s been no crash program to find or build new classroom space, or to hire more teachers.

Few seem to be exploring the possibility of outdoor classes where weather allows. Experts I spoke to knew of no plans to scale up child care for parents who will need it. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, described school districts as “immobilized” by lack of funding.

Reopening schools is an excruciating challenge, but more could be done to rise to it. “There’s a missed creative opportunity to use a different teaching force,” said Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University and author of “Expecting Better” and “Cribsheet.”

She suggested hiring college-aged people — who are disproportionately unemployed — as something like camp counselors. Kids, kept in pods, would attend schools for part of the day, then move to a space where counselors could oversee online learning or recess.

“Those things cost money, but having a bunch of kids lose out on their learning and having their parents not go to work also costs money,” she said.

There’s some evidence that young kids don’t transmit the coronavirus at the same rate as adults. In countries where schools have reopened, few outbreaks have been traced to elementary schools. As NPR reported, there have been no reported clusters at the child care centers that stayed open all over the country this spring to watch the children of essential workers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” Schools, it says, “should weigh the benefits of strict adherence to a six-feet spacing rule between students with the potential downside if remote learning is the only alternative.”

But many teachers, understandably, aren’t willing to jettison C.D.C. guidelines. So if American kids, unlike those in most other developed countries, continue to see their education derailed by the coronavirus, the fault lies primarily with a federal government that puts out safety standards but won’t help schools meet them.

Weingarten tells me that if the Senate doesn’t pass the HEROES Act, a House bill that contains around $100 billion in support for education, she thinks many schools, including those in New York City, won’t open at all in September. To open safely, schools are going to need much more money to buy protective equipment like gloves and masks, retrofit buildings and hire more teachers and nurses.

Instead, the economic crisis is forcing budget cuts. “What are states going to do? What are localities going to do?” she asks.

My kids go to elementary school in New York City, and I found Weingarten’s words gutting. But she thinks school districts need to start leveling with parents about what we’re facing, unless Republicans in the Senate can somehow be moved to act.

“At least plan with people so that people can get their heads around ‘This is what a school will look like,’” she said. “‘This is what the schedule will be. And if we don’t get the money we’re on remote.’” Airlines got a bailout. Parents are on their own.”

The situation is indeed “gutting” for all involved.

Tony

 

US Supreme Court Strikes Down Law that Would Reduce Abortion Access in Louisiana!

A placard saying, Abortion is a Human Right, is seen during the "Stop The Bans Day of Action for Abortion Rights" rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

Dear Commons Community,

The Supreme Court ruled this morning  that Louisiana’s tough restriction on abortion violates the Constitution, a surprising victory for abortion rights advocates from an increasingly conservative court.  The ruling struck down a law passed by Louisiana’s legislature in 2014 that required any doctor offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Its enforcement had been blocked by a protracted legal battle.  As reported by NBC News and The Huffington Post.

“The Supreme Court delivered a blow to Louisiana’s anti-abortion movement with a ruling on the first major abortion case it has heard under President Donald Trump.

June Medical Services v. Russo concerned a Louisiana law that sought to ban doctors from performing abortions unless they had admitting privileges at a local hospital, which in practical terms would leave the state with a single eligible abortion provider.

The court, which leans conservative with Trump’s appointees, declared the law to be unsafe for women in a 5-4 vote.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who in two previous cases ruled in favor of abortion restrictions, joined Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in their ruling.

“Enforcing the admitting-privileges requirement would drastically reduce the number and geographic distribution of abortion providers, making it impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the State and imposing substantial obstacles on those who could,” Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan wrote.

In an opinion written separately from his four more liberal colleagues, Roberts likened the case to a Texas law struck down four years ago that also required physicians performing abortions to have active admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

“The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents,” he wrote.

The justices appeared divided on the issue when they heard arguments in March. Chief Justice Roberts was the expected swing vote at the time, and his questions focused on the extent to which the court was bound by its decision in a nearly identical 2016 case out of Texas. He dissented with the court’s ruling against that law. 

Opponents of the Louisiana law say restricting which doctors may perform abortions is not only medically unnecessary, it puts an undue burden on women’s right to access the procedure.

Many abortion providers cannot easily obtain hospital admitting privileges, doctors have explained, because of the excessive paperwork required and because of resistance from hospitals that don’t want to appear as though they’re taking sides on the issue. Some hospitals also set up impossible-to-meet benchmarks for granting the admitting privileges, such as doctors having to admit a minimum number of patients each year in order to keep the privileges. 

A 2018 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that 95% of women who have abortions in the U.S. receive them in clinics or offices, and that such facilities were perfectly equipped to handle such a procedure.

The law’s supporters have relied on arguments that abortion is a dangerous, high-risk procedure,

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a family medicine physician in Texas and the medical director for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which operates two clinics in Louisiana, told HuffPost last year that forcing women to leave the state for an abortion would only increase the risk of complications.  

“We know from rigorous studies that barriers to access abortion care in a timely manner create harm, rather than actually increasing the safety profile,” Kumar said of the Louisiana law. “When laws that are masked as promoting the health and safety of our patients are actually harming them, that’s when I think a lot of us become concerned.”

Several states have sought to pass anti-abortion laws during the Trump era. Like many of those measures, the Louisiana one was justified as based on concerns for the health of women rather than moral objections to abortions. But the effect is to further the goals of those opposing abortion rights, said Michelle Erenberg, the executive director of Lift Louisiana, an organization focused on women’s health in that state.

“I think it was actually a pretty clever move on their part,” she told HuffPost last year of those who pushed for the law. “It’s easier for people to see these regulations as reasonable and not as just an effort to prohibit abortion or shut down abortion clinics, even though we all know that that is their impact.”

Great day for women and abortion rights advocates!

Tony

Trump shares video of man chanting, ‘White power’ in protest clash!

 

Dear Commons Community,

To the astonishment of even members of his own Republican Party, President Trump promoted a video yesterday (see above – courtesy of CNN) that featured clashing protesters, one of whom chants, “White power.”

“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” Trump wrote on Twitter while sharing the video. “The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!!”

Trump deleted his post later in the morning.

The White House said in a statement that Tump “did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”

The person who posted the video said it was scenes of seniors protesting each other in the retirement community of the Villages, Fla.

Early in the video, a man in a golf cart with pro-Trump signs yells, “White power! White power!” 

“F*** Trump! F*** Trump!” an anti-Trump protester soon yells in another part of the clip.

“Nasty language,” a woman shoots back.

“Nazi racist pig!” the anti-Trump protester shouts at another pro-Trump golf cart.

Trump’s Sunday tweet comes as the president has been accused of inflaming racial tensions after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd on video and Black Lives Matter protests have swept the nation. Last week, Trump tweeted two videos of Black men attacking white victims, asking, “Where are the protesters?

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he had not seen the video but broadly denounced white supremacy.

“Obviously neither the president, his administration nor I would do anything to be supportive of white supremacy or anything that would support discrimination of any kind,” Azar said when asked about Trump’s tweet.

Later in “State of the Union,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who is Black, called Trump’s Twitter post “indefensible.”

“He should not have retweeted it,” Scott said, “and he should just take it down.”

This president has got to go!

Tony

 

Mississippi Lawmakers Vote to Remove Rebel Emblem from Flag!

Dear Commons Community,

Mississippi lawmakers voted yesterday (see video above) to bring down the state flag dominated by the Confederate battle emblem that has flown for 126 years.  The flag, the only state banner left in the country with the overt Confederate symbol, served for many as an inescapable sign of Mississippi’s racial past and of the consequences of that history in defining perceptions of the state.

Still embraced by many white Mississippians as a proud display of Old South heritage, the flag increasingly has come to evoke segregation, racial violence and a war that had a central aim of preserving slavery.  Here is news article on this story courtesy of the Associated Press.

“Mississippi will surrender the Confederate battle emblem from its state flag, more than a century after white supremacist legislators embedded it there a generation after the South lost the Civil War.

Mississippi’s House and Senate voted in succession Sunday afternoon to retire the flag, with broad bipartisan support. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag would lose its official status as soon as he signs the measure.

The state has faced increasing pressure to change its flag during the past month amid international protests against racial injustice in the United States.

A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.

Mississippi has a 38% Black population — and the last state flag that incorporates the emblem that’s widely seen as racist.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying that the Confederate symbol is offensive. The House passed the bill 91-23 Sunday afternoon, and the Senate passed it 37-14 later.

“How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,” Gunn said. “Many prayed to Him to bring us to this day. He has answered.”

Debate over changing the flag has arisen before, and in recent years an increasing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have taken it down on their own. But the issue has never garnered enough support in the conservative Republican-dominated Legislature or with recent governors.

That dynamic changed in a matter of weeks as an extraordinary and diverse coalition of political, business, religious groups and sports leaders pushed to change the flag.

At a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion in early June, thousands cheered as an organizer said the state needs to divorce itself from all Confederate symbols.

Religious groups — including the large and influential Mississippi Baptist Convention — said erasing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral imperative.

Business groups said the banner hinders economic development in one of the poorest states in the nation.

In a sports-crazy culture, the biggest blow might have happened when college sports leagues said Mississippi could lose postseason events if it continued flying the Confederate-themed flag. Nearly four dozen of Mississippi’s university athletic directors and coaches came to the Capitol to lobby for change.

“We need something that fulfills the purpose of being a state flag and that everybody in the state has a reason to be proud of,” said Mike Leach, football coach at Mississippi State University.

Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they see it as a symbol of heritage.

Legislators put the Confederate emblem on the upper left corner of Mississippi flag in 1894, as whites were squelching political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.

The battle emblem is a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have waved the rebel flag for decades. Georgia put the battle emblem prominently on its state flag in 1956, during a backlash to the civil rights movement. That state removed the symbol from its banner in 2001.

The Mississippi Supreme Court found in 2000 that when the state updated its laws in 1906, portions dealing with the flag were not included. That meant the banner lacked official status. The Democratic governor in 2000, Ronnie Musgrove, appointed a commission to decide the flag’s future. It held hearings across the state that grew ugly as people shouted at each other about the flag.

After that, legislators opted not to set a flag design themselves. They put the issue on a 2001 statewide ballot, and people voted to keep the flag. An alternate proposal would have replaced the Confederate corner with a blue field topped by a cluster of white stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state.

Democratic state Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, who is African American, said the state deserves a flag that will make all people proud. “Today is a history-making day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told colleagues before the Senate voted for passage. “Let’s vote today for the Mississippi of tomorrow.”

God bless the government leaders in Mississippi who passed this legislation in a peaceful and orderly manner.

Tony

Princeton University to Remove Woodrow Wilson’s Name from School of Public Policy and International Relations!

2018 Application Countdown, Part 4 – Evaluation of Transcripts ...

Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and international Affairs

Dear Commons Community,

Princeton University has announced plans to remove the name of former President Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school because of his segregationist views, reversing a decision the Ivy League school made four years ago to retain the name.

University president Christopher Eisgruber said in a letter (see below) to the school community yesterday that the board of trustees had concluded that “Wilson’s racist views and policies make him an inappropriate namesake” for Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs and the residential college.

Eisgruber said the trustees decided in April 2016 on some changes to make the university “more inclusive and more honest about its history” but decided to retain Wilson’s name, but revisited the issue in light of the recent killings of George Floyd and others.

Wilson, governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913 and then the 28th U.S. president from 1913 to 1921, supported segregation and imposed it on several federal agencies not racially divided up to that point. He also barred Black students from Princeton while serving as university president and spoke approvingly of the Ku Klux Klan.

Earlier this month, Monmouth University of New Jersey removed Wilson’s name from one of its most prominent buildings, citing efforts to increase diversity and inclusiveness. The superintendent of the Camden school district also announced plans to rename Woodrow Wilson High School, one of the district’s two high schools.

“Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time,” Eisgruber said, adding that the former president’s segregationist policies “make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school.”

The trustees said they had taken what they called “this extraordinary step” because Wilson’s name was not appropriate “for a school whose scholars, students, and alumni must be firmly committed to combatting the scourge of racism in all its forms.”

The school will now be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, he said. Princeton had already planned to close Wilson College and retire its name after opening two new residential colleges currently under construction but will change the name to First College immediately.

Eisgruber said the conclusions “may seem harsh to some” since Wilson is credited with having “remade Princeton, converting it from a sleepy college into a great research university,” and he went on to become president and receive a Nobel Prize.

But while Princeton honored Wilson despite or perhaps even in ignorance of his views, that is part of the problem, Eisgruber said. “Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people,” he said.

Four years ago, a 10-member committee gathered input from Wilson scholars and more than 600 submissions from alumni, faculty and the public before concluding that Wilson’s accomplishments merited commemoration, so long as his faults were also candidly recognized. The committee report also said using his name “implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times.”

Princeton will retain Wilson’s name on an award given annually to an undergraduate alumnus or alumna since it stems from a gift that requires that the prize be named for Wilson and honor his “conviction that education is for ‘use’ and … the high aims expressed in his memorable phrase, ’Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” the trustees said.

My colleague, John Wallach at Hunter College made me aware of Eisgruber’s letter.

Tony

———————————————————————————–

 

Dear Members of the Princeton Community,

When I wrote to you on Monday morning, I noted that the Princeton University Board of Trustees was discussing how the University could oppose racism and would soon convene a special meeting on that topic. The meeting took place yesterday. On my recommendation, the board voted to change the names of both the School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College. As you will see from the board’s statement , the trustees concluded that Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms.

As most of you know, the board previously considered whether to remove Wilson’s name after a group of student activists occupied my office in November 2015. The Wilson Legacy Review Committee conducted a thorough, deliberative process. In April 2016, it recommended a number of reforms to make this University more inclusive and more honest about its history. The committee and the board, however, left Wilson’s name on the School and the College.

The board reconsidered these conclusions this month as the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks drew renewed attention to the long and damaging history of racism in America. Board Chair Weezie Sams ’79 and I spoke individually to members of the board, and it then met on June 26.

The board continues to respect, as do I, the Wilson Legacy Review Committee’s process and report, including its description of Wilson’s historical record and its “presumption that names adopted by the trustees after full and thoughtful deliberation … will remain in place, especially when the original reasons for adopting the names remain valid.” The board nevertheless concluded that the presumption should yield in this case because of considerations specific to Wilson’s racist policies and to how his name shapes the identities of the School and the College.

Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.

Wilson’s segregationist policies make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school. When a university names a school of public policy for a political leader, it inevitably suggests that the honoree is a model for students who study at the school. This searing moment in American history has made clear that Wilson’s racism disqualifies him from that role. In a nation that continues to struggle with racism, this University and its school of public and international affairs must stand clearly and firmly for equality and justice. The School will now be known as “The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.”

The University had already planned to close Wilson College and retire its name after opening two new residential colleges currently under construction. Rather than ask students in the College to identify with the name of a racist president for the next two years, the University will accelerate retirement of the name. The College will instead be known as “First College” in recognition of its status as the first of the residential colleges that now play an essential role in the residential life of all Princeton undergraduates.

These conclusions may seem harsh to some. Wilson remade Princeton, converting it from a sleepy college into a great research university. Many of the virtues that distinguish Princeton today — including its research excellence and its preceptorial system — were in significant part the result of Wilson’s leadership. He went on to the American presidency and received a Nobel Prize. People will differ about how to weigh Wilson’s achievements and failures. Part of our responsibility as a University is to preserve Wilson’s record in all of its considerable complexity.

Wilson is a different figure from, say, John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, whose fame derives from their defenses of the Confederacy and slavery (Lee was often honored for the very purpose of expressing sympathy for segregation and opposition to racial equality). Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.

That, however, is ultimately the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people. When Derek Chauvin knelt for nearly nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck while bystanders recorded his cruelty, he might have assumed that the system would disregard, ignore, or excuse his conduct, as it had done in response to past complaints against him.

The steps taken yesterday by the Board of Trustees are extraordinary measures. These are not the only steps our University is taking to combat the realities and legacy of racism, but they are important ones. I join the trustees in hoping that they will provide the University, the School of Public and International Affairs, and our entire community with a firm foundation to pursue the mission of teaching, research, and service that has defined our highest aspirations and generated our greatest achievements throughout our history and today.

With best wishes,

Christopher L. Eisgruber

Russia Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops!

Dear Commons Community,

U.S. intelligence has concluded that the Russian military offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops and other coalition forces, the New York Times reported on Friday, citing officials briefed on the matter.

According to the article, a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year. It said Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some of the bounty money.

“This primitive informational dump clearly demonstrates low intellectual abilities of the propagandists at the American intelligence service,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement cited by the RIA news agency.

The White House, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined requests for comment on the newspaper report.

President Donald Trump has been briefed on the intelligence finding, the Times said. The White House has yet to authorize any steps against Russia in response to the bounties, it added.  As an aside, Trump has been lobbying for Russia to rejoin the G7.

Of the 20 Americans killed in combat in 2019, the Times said, it was not clear which deaths were under suspicion.

After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban, the U.S. is looking for a way to extricate itself from Afghanistan and to achieve peace between the U.S.-backed government and the militant group, which controls swathes of the country.

On Feb. 29, the U.S. and the Taliban struck a deal that called for a phased withdrawal of American troops.

U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is down to nearly 8,600, well ahead of a schedule agreed with the Taliban, in part because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus, U.S. and NATO officials said in late May.

The video above reports on this story courtesy of MSNBC.

Tony

 

Ivanka Trump Announces Initiative to Promote Federal Government Hiring of People with Skills Not Necessarily a College Degree!

Dear Commons Community,

Ivanka Trump announced yesterday (see video above) that it planned to direct the federal government to overhaul its hiring to prioritize a job applicant’s skills over a college degree.  

“We are modernizing federal hiring to find candidates with the relevant competencies and knowledge, rather than simply recruiting based on degree requirements,” she told The Associated Press. “We encourage employers everywhere to take a look at their hiring practices and think critically about how initiatives like these can help diversify and strengthen their workforce.” 

How ironic is it that this announcement was made by Ivanka Trump given that she is totally inexperienced and only has her position as a White House adviser because of her father.   Or as Jennifer Hayden tweeted yesterday:  “If the White House hiring were “skills-based” — this woman wouldn’t be within 100 miles of that building.”

Tony

Trump and Pence in Denial as COVID-19 Infections Spike in the South!

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the coronavirus task force held their first briefing in two months.

Dear Commons Community,

On Thursday, COVID-19 infections rose to their highest levels in Texas, Florida and Arizona, all states where the president, the vice president and their Republican allies urged people to return to normal.  Both President Trump and Vice President Pence seem oblivious to this new sad chapter in the pandemic.  President Trump made no mention of it yesterday during a business meeting at the White House.  Vice President Mike Pence and members of the coronavirus task force held a public briefing for the first time in two months. But ever loyal to Mr. Trump’s desire for good news, Mr. Pence tried to slough off the statistics that Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the task force coordinator, pointed to, showing surging cases and hospitalizations in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states.

“We have made a truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward,” the vice president said. “We’ve all seen the encouraging news as we open up,” he added, dismissing any suggestion that the outbreaks across the South should prompt a return to the shutdowns that Mr. Trump so badly wants to be over. “The reality is we’re in a much better place.”

Refusing to wear a mask even as the health officials next to him did, Mr. Pence described the recent outbreaks across the country as little more than the product of increased testing among younger, more healthy Americans who should be less likely to get seriously ill from the coronavirus even as they spread it to others.

“Very encouraging news,” he said.

Mr. Pence’s comments came against the backdrop of a very different message from Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who warned of a broken testing system and said the outbreaks could engulf the country.

“If we don’t extinguish the outbreak, sooner or later, even ones that are doing well are going to be vulnerable to the spread,” he warned. “So we need to take that into account because we are all in it together. And the only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together.”

The return of the televised task force news conference — at which reporters were limited to only a handful of questions — revived the deep disconnect between Washington and the states where local officials spent Friday sounding the alarm and, in some cases, halting the reopening that Mr. Trump has so often encouraged.

Trump and Pence are in denial and their actions and the examples they have been setting are making people sick and dying.

Below is an excerpt from an article that appears today in The New York Times written by Michael Shear and Maggie Haberman that provides the source for some of the issues raised in this posting.

Tony

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“In the past week, President Trump hosted an indoor campaign rally for thousands of cheering, unmasked supporters even as a deadly virus spread throughout the country. He began easing up on restrictions that had been in place at the White House since Washington instituted a stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus in March, and he invited the president of Poland to a day of meetings. Then, on Thursday, he flew to Wisconsin to brag about an economic recovery that he said was just around the corner.

But by Friday, it was impossible to fully ignore the fact that the pandemic the White House has for weeks insisted was winding down has done just the opposite.

The rising numbers in Texas, Florida and Arizona made that clear, as well as the reality that those are all states where the president and his Republican allies had urged people to return to normal.

In a reflection of a growing sense of anxiety over the new numbers, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the coronavirus task force held a public briefing for the first time in two months. But ever loyal to Mr. Trump’s desire for good news, Mr. Pence tried to tiptoe around the statistics that Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the task force coordinator, pointed to, showing surging cases and hospitalizations in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states.

“We have made a truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward,” the vice president said. “We’ve all seen the encouraging news as we open up,” he added, dismissing any suggestion that the outbreaks across the South should prompt a return to the shutdowns that Mr. Trump so badly wants to be over. “The reality is we’re in a much better place.”

Refusing to wear a mask even as the health officials next to him did, Mr. Pence described the recent outbreaks across the country as little more than the product of increased testing among younger, more healthy Americans who should be less likely to get seriously ill from the coronavirus even as they spread it to others.

“Very encouraging news,” he said.

But Mr. Pence’s comments came against the backdrop of a very different message from Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who warned of a broken testing system and said the outbreaks could engulf the country.

“If we don’t extinguish the outbreak, sooner or later, even ones that are doing well are going to be vulnerable to the spread,” he warned. “So we need to take that into account because we are all in it together. And the only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together.”

The return of the televised task force news conference — at which reporters were limited to only a handful of questions — revived the deep disconnect between Washington and the states where local officials spent Friday sounding the alarm and, in some cases, halting the reopening that Mr. Trump has so often encouraged.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has resisted rolling back the economic reopening, banned drinking in bars after saying that patrons were not abiding by social distancing rules. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, went further, ordering all bars closed in the state. And Judge Lina Hidalgo of Harris County, the largest county in Texas, reimposed stay-at-home orders on Friday, calling the rise in cases there “a catastrophic and unsustainable situation.”

Taken together, it was grim news about a pandemic that is still a threat to the public’s health, the nation’s economy and the president’s political future.

At a time when his poll numbers now call into question whether he can win a second term in November, Mr. Trump faces the prospect that his efforts to boost the economy by shrugging off the virus have backfired. Rather than head into the summer with a country on the mend, the president will be forced to explain how his response to the coronavirus contributed to a resurgence of it that may force some Americans back into a painful shutdown.

And yet Mr. Trump made no appearance at the task force briefing to demonstrate concern. Instead, an hour after it was over, the president addressed a panel of industry officials, political allies and White House economic advisers for a self-congratulatory session about how successful the economic recovery has been.

In taking his victory lap, Mr. Trump made no mention of the increase in cases around the country, underscoring a message that he posted on Twitter late Thursday night: “Our Economy is roaring back and will NOT be shut down. ‘Embers’ or flare ups will be put out, as necessary!”

All spring, Mr. Trump expressed his impatience and annoyance with the social distancing measures that various states, and his own aides, were taking.

Sign up to receive an email when we publish a new story about the 2020 election.

He showed some concern when his personal valet, who serves his food, was diagnosed with the coronavirus and Mr. Pence’s press secretary tested positive. But since then, Mr. Trump has maintained a posture of denial and dismissiveness.

He has been enabled by a handful of advisers, some of whom share his desire to focus on the economy and some of whom are afraid of the president’s reaction if they press him too hard about the public health crisis unfolding once again in large chunks of the country.

The White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has been among the chief proponents of keeping the administration’s public health experts largely out of sight, according to several senior administration officials.

But he is not alone. Even though they are aware that Mr. Trump’s mishandling of the virus presents a threat to his re-election, his campaign advisers agreed to his demand for the rally last Saturday at an arena in Tulsa, Okla., hoping the adulation he would receive there would snap the president out of a funk he has been in for months.

But at least eight staff members — including two Secret Service agents — tested positive for the virus before the rally, which was lightly attended and attracted none of the overflow crowd that Mr. Trump’s advisers had promised. Since then, dozens of campaign aides who were in Oklahoma for the event have been told to quarantine.

His advisers are now trying to figure out how to give Mr. Trump the traveling road show he wants while acknowledging the widespread fears about the coronavirus and allowing for proper health measures. At the same time, the White House has stopped employing the health checks it had been using for several weeks, like temperature checks for people entering the complex.

One of the states where the cases are rising drastically is Florida, where Mr. Trump insisted the Republican National Convention at the end of August be relocated to meet his desire for a large-scale event free of social distancing measures. As of now, Republicans hope to put on a show celebrating Mr. Trump, the first lady and Mr. Pence with three nights of crowds as large as 12,000 people in Jacksonville….”

 

Val Demings:  Good Possibility for Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Running Mate

Central Florida congresswoman Val Demings is a central figure in ...

Val Demings

Dear Commons Community,

Representative Val Demings, Democratic Congresswoman from Central Florida, is one of the finalists for Joe Biden’s pick of a running mate for the 2020 Presidential Election.  She has been in Congress for four years, is from a crucial swing state (Florida), and was the first Black woman to serve as chief of police in Orlando.  All pluses especially in this time of Black Lives Matter and police reform.  NBC News has done an analysis and points out that a former policewoman regardless of color might have problems with Black voters.  Below is the entire analysis.  If you are at all interested in the Democratic ticket for the November election, there are a lot of insights here.

Tony

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NBC News

How Rep. Val Demings could help Joe Biden ‘meet the moment’ as his vice presidential pick!

 Christina Wilkie

“It’s almost laughable to hear the president defend law enforcement now,” said Rep. Val Demings on a recent Democratic conference call. “This is the president, remember how well I know, who considers himself above the law and everyone else beneath it.”

With these two lines, the Florida Democrat unwittingly captured both why she belongs on Joe Biden’s vice presidential shortlist, and why she could be a risky choice for a running mate.

The first Black woman to serve as chief of police in Orlando, Florida, Demings was elected to Congress in 2016 to represent the Sunshine State’s 10th district, which includes parts of the city.

But today, with the nation at a political and cultural crossroads, Demings seems like a politician who was made for this moment. Weeks of nationwide protests against police killings of unarmed Black people are forcing Americans to confront the reality of systemic racism. Meanwhile, in cities and towns across the country, ordinary people are asking tough questions about the fundamental purpose of law enforcement.

Demings, 63, can offer an uncommon insight into both of these national debates. She also hails from the swingiest swing state, Florida, a state Trump won in 2016, but which Democrats hope to retake in November. Indeed, recent polling suggests that Biden has a lead over Trump in the state.

Demings’ unique resume and life experience, along with the talent for oratory she revealed last winter while serving as an impeachment manager in Trump’s trial, make the second-term congresswoman seem like an ideal running mate for Biden.

But Demings’ greatest strength is also her greatest weakness.

During her four-year tenure as chief of police in Orlando from 2007-2011, critics say Demings led a police force whose officers used excessive force, often on young, Black suspects. This has led some progressive Democrats to argue that, as a former cop, Demings cannot be trusted to help fix the national policing system.

“Her biggest obstacle as a running mate is her police background,” said Sharon Austin, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.

“That automatically is going to turn off a group of voters who will just never vote for a police officer. They see her as part of the establishment, part of the problem,” Austin said in an interview with CNBC.

Yet Austin also noted that Demings “has a very positive reputation here in Florida,” having won her congressional race in 2016 by a double digit margin, and running unopposed in 2018.

Today, Demings faces stiff competition in the 2020 veepstakes, where she is on the short list. Biden has already pledged to choose a woman as his running mate, and he is under pressure to choose a woman of color.

“What I’m hearing is it’s down to three people, Demings, [Sen. Kamala] Harris and [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren,” said John Morgan, a Florida based attorney and well-connected Biden bundler.

Susan Rice, a Black woman who served as President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, is also reportedly in the running, as is Rep. Karen Bass of California, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Sure, they’ll find some police brutality in Orlando, and that’ll be her albatross,” Morgan said of Demings. “Her greatest strength is, ‘I was a police chief who prosecuted the president.’ But the way opposition research works, is they make your greatest strength into your greatest weakness. Look at John Kerry. He was a war hero, and look what they did to him.”

Morgan was referring to the infamous 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign, a conservative effort to smear the Vietnam War record of then-Sen. Kerry, the Democratic nominee.

But while the Swift Boat claims were later discredited, the Orlando Police Department has long faced criticism for fostering a culture of impunity, including under Demings’ leadership.

Demings knows this. “Looking for a negative story in a police department is like looking for a prayer at church,” she wrote in a 2008 op-ed defending the Orlando police after the publication of a damning expose.

But acknowledging that there are bad stories out there, and successfully defending your record in a bare-knuckle fight for the White House, are two different things.

“The question is whether she’ll be able to talk about her law enforcement background in a way that’s going to meet the moment,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, a national organization dedicated to elevating the political power of women of color.

“Any vice presidential nominee, including Val Demings, will need to communicate a policy vision on racial justice that’s comprehensive, and that pushes the boundaries of traditional models,” Allison said. “So I look forward to learning more about her.”

Born in 1957, during the waning years of the Jim Crow South, Demings grew up poor in Jacksonville, Florida, one of seven children in a two-room house. Her father worked as a janitor, and her mother cleaned houses.

As a young police officer, Demings met Jerry Demings, and the two were married in 1988. They have three children. Jerry Demings also served as chief of police in Orlando from 1998-2002, retiring five years before his wife was named chief. Today, Jerry Demings is the mayor of Orange County, Florida, and one half of a power couple in the state’s political scene.

To hear Demings tell it, her career has been driven by a desire to share the opportunities she’s had with others.

“I know what discrimination feels like. I know what racism feels like, because I have been subjected to it,” Demings said this week on CNN. “I chose jobs where I could work directly with people to help improve their quality of life. As a social worker, as a career law enforcement officer, chief of police, and now a member of Congress,” she said.

Demings was not available for an interview Wednesday with CNBC, her office said. But in response to a question about whether she has a policy vision for racial justice, a spokeswoman for Demings pointed to the former social worker’s life story.

“She had access to opportunities that she wants everyone to have, like equal access to health and mental health care, education and economic opportunities,” said the spokeswoman, Kate Coyne McCoy.

But this statement offers a window into another factor weighing on Demings’ qualifications as a running mate for Biden: After four years in the House, Demings has yet to be the public face of major legislation, something that her chief rivals for the VP nod, Harris and Warren, have both done in the Senate.

This is largely due to the mechanics of the two chambers – with only 100 senators total, each senator spends a lot more time in the spotlight than the average House member, who is one of 435.

But it also reflects the fact that, save for issues related to criminal justice and policing, Demings has so far staked out relatively few defined policy positions.

On issues ranging from foreign policy, veterans affairs and big business regulation, to trade, technology and health care, Demings’ positions amount to little more than a few votes in the House and a few bills she co-sponsored.

Lacking a full policy portfolio likely puts Demings at a disadvantage in the vice presidential search, where insiders say Biden and his team are prioritizing candidates’ readiness to assume the presidency at a moment’s notice.

“The calculus that [former senator] Chris Dodd is doing, and [longtime Biden aide] Ted Kaufman, the people who are the closest to Biden, I think the main thing they’re thinking is, ‘ready on day one,’” said Morgan, the Florida Biden campaign bundler. “So that helps Warren and that helps Harris.”

But Demings still has an ace up her sleeve: Florida, her home state, is the crown jewel of the Electoral College.

In the last 20 years, no presidential nominee of either party has won the White House without winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes. But in those same 20 years, no one has won Florida by more than 3 percentage points, making every last vote a nominee secures in the Sunshine State both hard won and precious.

If by putting Demings on the Democratic ticket alongside Biden, it could help deliver for Democrats enough of these precious Florida votes to win the state, then perhaps this alone would be worth the risks of selecting a former cop.

“The battleground states like Florida that Biden could win are probably where he should put his energies,” said Austin, of the University of Florida. “He needs to win back states that Democrats lost in 2016, and running with [California Sen.] Harris might not help there, where Demings could.”

“It doesn’t matter what anyone says about Harris being a strong running mate because she’s a senator, the fact is, California is won” for Democrats, said Morgan, the Florida lawyer.

Hanging over all these deliberations is the knowledge that Trump won Florida in 2016 by 1.2 percentage points, just over 100,000 votes. In 2012, Obama won the state by less than 1 point.

And while Demings’ law enforcement career might not bode well with certain parts of the national Democratic electorate, in her home state, the actual work Demings did every day was very community focused, said Susan McManus, a professor emeritus at the University of Florida and an expert in the politics of the state.

“One of the big differences between a police chief like Demings and a prosecutor like Kamala Harris is that as a police chief, you’re really out among the community, doing outreach, listening to residents and helping people in very tangible ways,” said McManus.

“A prosecutor, on the other hand, is often making decisions from afar, and may only really interact with the community members in court.”

McManus also warned against looking at Florida through a binary Black and White lens, or even a Black, White and Hispanic lens.

“The fabric of Florida is very complex from a racial perspective and an age perspective,” she said. “Within each of the traditional racial categories, there’s a real diversity of political views, influenced by where people’s families originated, what religious group they belong to, and whether or not their communities are economically stable.”

“Then within all these nuanced groups, you have younger voters who might be more progressive, and their parents, who might be more conservative. And this is before you even factor in the retirees, who vote in higher numbers relative to their population than other groups,” said McManus.

Taken together, Florida’s diverse voting blocs, coupled with its razor-thin margins, said McManus, “mean that every group can say to the candidate, ‘without us, you’ll lose.’ That’s why figuring out a winning strategy in Florida is so incredibly challenging.”

But with so many diverse voter groups in Florida, could Demings really make a difference to a Biden ticket there? Or are there simply too many variables influencing the electorate to justify a “hometown hero” vice presidential pick?

McManus believes the biggest factor in choosing a successful vice president for Biden isn’t the geography, or even the ethnicity of his running mate.

“The real question is, can whomever it is reconstruct the passion voters felt when they voted for Obama,” she said. “He’s got to get a feeling of energy into his ticket.”

 

Centers for Disease Control – COVID-19 Ten Times Higher than Estimates – May Top 20 Million Infections!

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Dear Commons Community,

The true number of Americans who’ve been infected with COVID-19 may top 20 million, according to new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  As reported by NBC News.

“Our best estimate right now is that for every case that’s reported, there actually are 10 other infections,” CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said on a call with reporters Thursday.

The estimate comes from looking at blood samples across the country for the presence of antibodies to the virus. For every confirmed case of COVID-19, 10 more people had antibodies, Redfield said.

Currently, there are 2.3 million COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. The CDC’s new estimate pushes the actual number of coronavirus cases up to at least 23 million.

“This virus causes so much asymptomatic infection,” Redfield said. “The traditional approach of looking for symptomatic illness and diagnosing it obviously underestimates the total amount of infections.”

The estimation comes amid rises in cases across the Southeast and Western U.S.

He urged Americans to be vigilant about behavior measures known to minimize spread of the coronavirus.

“The most powerful tool that we have is social distancing,” Redfield said. That means maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet in public, wearing face coverings and ongoing hand-washing.

“If you must go out into the community, being in contact with fewer people is better than many,” Redfield added.

As the CDC announced these new estimates, political leaders in Texas and Arizona were rethinking their policies of re-opening their states.

Tony