In a land not so far away, in a time not so long ago

January 25, 2020 – from the Oval Office of the White House

My fellow Americans. Today, our country faces a pandemic risk, that only has begun to hit our shores. I have been briefed on multiple occasions by the Directors of Intelligence, Defense and CDC regarding the coronavirus risk to our country. The virus appears to easily spread and can be deadly to some who have other medical issues they are dealing with.

Since, mission #1 in a pandemic is to tell the truth, I want to shoot straight with you. If this hits our shores like anticipated, then we need to be prepared to act. I have been told masks are important, and we may have a shortage.

In fact, Mike Bowen, owner of the largest surgical face mask producer in the US — Prestige Ameritech in Texas — contacted our officials in the Department of Health and Human Services on January 22, the day after the first US coronavirus cases were identified. He asked the US government to provide the funds needed to dust off four dormant manufacturing lines, and his firm would produce 1.7 million N95 masks every week. I have authorized emergency funds to Prestige Ameritech to start these dormant lines effective immediately.

Masks will only get us so far, but are a key part of the plan. So, I am asking the Vice President to head a task force to work with the CDC, both chambers of Congress, governors, major health care systems and facilities, and supply manufacturers to identify concerns, needs and develop a national and state level plans.

I have learned a new term called social distancing, which suggest people to remain six feet or more away from each other. I am told washing hands after some contact would also be wise. So, I would suggest people to start doing more of these things until we know more.

Since the coronavirus appears to have originated in China, I want this task force to advise me by the end of the month on whether travel restrictions to and from China, and other areas of Asia and around the world, are needed. In the interim, I would ask business leaders to reduce the amount of travel in their companies until we determine next steps. Private citizens should do the same. People returning to our country should self-quarantine for at least a week, I am told, but that time may need to be longer.

There is obviously a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus. As we learn more and develop plans and suggestions, we will conduct briefing sessions led by the Vice President and head of the CDC and other important scientific voices. I ask that you be diligent and do what is needed to protect yourself, families and friends.

Let me emphasize. This is not a hoax and it is not something we can just blow past. We need a concerted effort and take this seriously. There may be a time when we need to make more than suggestions requiring certain behaviors. Let’s hope it does not come to that. But, if it does, we will need your help to comply.

Thank you all and may God bless America, as well as our friends around the globe.

The President of the United States

Note: This speech did not occur. However, Prestige Ameritech offered twice to the White House to restart the idled lines in January. Because of the mask shortage, the initial emphasis was on masks for medical practitioners, which increased risk to other citizens. The US president did enact a travel ban to and from China on January 31, but would have been better served with more staging (and less blaming) beforehand about the risk. Democrats (and others) who were critical of the travel ban due to how it was communicated, should have been more supportive. Frustratingly, the president’s references to the virus being a hoax and downplaying the impact occurred throughout February at major pep rallies, placing many folks in attendance at risk. The misinformation continues until this day, which is amazing in its own right.

Social distancing and masking up are musts, even for presidents

With US approaching 210,000 COVID-19 deaths, we learned the president and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19. I wish them well in their recovery. Their testing positive follows a day after Hope Hicks, a key White House staff member who traveled with the president tested positive.

Today, more announcements of public figures testing positive occurred. Republican Senators Mike Lee from Utah, Thom Tillis from North Carolina and Ron Johnson from Wisconsin all tested positive. Also testing positive are former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former White House staff member Kellyanne Conway, Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel, campaign manager Bill Stepien, the president of the University of Notre Dame, and three White House reporters.

In terms of tracing, I heard the tail end of a report that some of these folks may have all been together at the announcement of SCOTUS candidate Amy Coney Barrett. The NPR report noted there was a White House lawn ceremony followed by an event indoors, neither of which followed all of the protocols needed.

This may or may not be the link, but it reminds us that we must be careful. We must avoid large gatherings, especially indoor ones, and follow social distancing and mask wearing protocols. Also, hand washing is essential.

While I am saddened that public people or any one, for that matter, gets COVID-19, what is happening to the president and people who have been near him is not a surprise. Flouting all of the requirements and choosing to not only not wear mask, but being flippant with those who do, is not conducive to cautious behavior.

To be frank, pandemics are not to be trifled with. While those who have to work in jobs that cannot be done from home are most at risk, pandemics truly know no zip code or income status. And, those who are the most fragile have the greater risk, if tested positive.

Let’s wish everyone, including the president and first lady well, but let’s also be smart and following social distancing and mask wearing protocols. Maybe, those who have not, will start to take notice. If we do not have universal compliance, the risk remains, especially as the colder weather force us more indoors.

Just a quick refresher on the ACA animosity in the Republican Party

Our friend Scottie asked me why the Republican Party detests the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so much and wants to kill it. I have written many posts about this, but here is quick refresher.

The Republican party has spent about ten years nay-saying the ACA. This is in addition to actual efforts to sabotage it by Senator Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump and the fourteen states who still have not expanded Medicaid. Rubio and Trump’s actions caused premiums to increase. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBS of NC) said it was geared to have a 0% increase in 2018, but after Trump de-funded reimbursing insurers for co-pays/ deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty rate, BCBS of NC said it would have a 6.6% increase. Not only did Rubio’s action cause premiums to go up, it drove some insurers out of the exchanges lessening competition which also hurt consumers. *

So, to me the Republicans are so far down the path of killing something that is working pretty good (it still needs improvements), they cannot stop. And, it is apparent that Trump has an Obama obsession that he must kill everything that Obama did regardless of its level of efficacy. As a retired benefits consultant and former actuary, what the GOP came up with in 2017 to replace the ACA was god-awful. It was throw-against-the-wall planning. The fact the Republicans did not follow due process was a key reason Senator John McCain voted it down. Mind you, I fault Obama for the terrible roll out of the exchanges in 2013, but he at least involved Republicans in the planning process in very public sessions (although they were told not to vote for it).

And, here is the rub. The reason the GOP does not have a plan is the ACA is largely based on a Republican idea set in motion by Mitt Romney for Massachusetts, when he was governor. It worked so well, that Senator Jim DeMint, the leader of the Tea Party, advocated its national use in writing to President George W. Bush. And, DeMint politicked with Romney on stage in 2008, Romney’s first run for president. I recognize the ACA is not exactly the same as Romneycare, but there are a number of similar constructs.

Everything I mention above, including the DeMint piece can be found by Googling. But, here is the major concern I have. Employers have been going to more part-time and contract work forces even before the pandemic. Why? – to avoid providing subsidized health care benefits. So, to survive in this gig and part-time employment world, the ACA is essential.

Plus, the ACA imposes requirements on employer based plans as well that may go away if SCOTUS rules unwisely with the court case. Those include pre-existing condition protection, guaranteed renewability, no deductibles on wellness visits, and limitations on insurer margins in pricing, e.g. So, a bad SCOTUS ruling could impact over 200 million Americans not just those in the exchanges and Medicaid.

* Note: The reason for the premium increases are complex, so I will mention them here. Rubio led a Republican move to defund 89% of the payments to insurers for adverse selection (pent up demand for new policy holders) for the first few years, a process used when Medicare Part D was rolled out. Insurers were forced to increase premiums and some left the market with the US owing them money that was promised. The Trump change is more complex. By stopping the reimbursement to insurers for this extra benefit for low paid policyholders, the insurers still honored their commitment to the policyholders. This drove up premiums. Trump said this would only impact insurer profits, but that was not true. The CBO said it increased the annual deficit by $10 billion because the premium subsidies went up as well. The people who ultimately got screwed were those who did not get a full subsidy.

True story of a community health care provider 100 years ago

I have shared before stories about my maternal grandmother’s family. She grew up in southwest Georgia in a small community along with her thirteen siblings, with one passing at birth and another dying as a young adult. My grandmother shared that her Mama was the chief health provider in the community and would accompany the visiting doctor when he would make his rounds once a month.

The following two paragraphs were written by my third cousin based on interviews with his grandmother (a sister of my grandmother) and her brother who was the youngest of the surviving children. It is further evidence of their Mama’s health care role, using a very appropriate historical marker in one episode.

“There was a bad flu epidemic in 1918 and five of the children were in the bed with the flu at one time. People all around were dying, and my great uncle tells me he vividly remembers the hearse passing their home several times during this flu epidemic. The hearse was a glass enclosed carriage drawn by big white horses. My great grandmother was able to get her children well by using a home remedy of kerosene, turpentine and tallow. She made bibs, soaked them in the above mixture and placed them on the sick children. Also, they had cedar water buckets that were smaller at the top than bottom. They would fill the eight-to-ten- quart bucket with water and put a little fresh turpentine in it and drink it for colds.

Other home remedies included using the gland from a hog and placing it on the clothes line to dry out. When it dried, my great grandmother would boil the gland and remove the jell which was used for arthritis. She called this jell ‘pizzle grease.’ She did not understand or have the education to know why it worked, she only knew it did. Today this ‘pizzle grease’ is know as ACTH which is a polypeptide hormone of the anterior part of the pituitary gland that stimulates hormone production of the adrenal cortex and is used to treat arthritis.”

Let me add one more story that I have shared earlier. The youngest sibling noted above liked being a gymnast. When he was an adolescent, he was swinging his whole body over a single bar like the male gymnasts do. He fell and knocked out his front teeth. Mama asked him to sit down as she cleaned the teeth and boiled some water. Once boiled, she put a clean towel in the water and rinsed it with cold water. She said put this in your mouth as hot as you can stand it. This was to swell his gums. Once swollen, she jammed the cleaned teeth back into the gums and the teeth held.

These stories amaze me at her ingenuity and practicality. A couple of sidebars to this story, my great grandmother married when she was only fourteen, begetting fourteen children. My third cousin also writes the family survived the depression, as did many farmers, by growing their own crops, raising their own meat sources and making their own soaps. He noted they only bought sugar and coffee. They had no electricity using kerosene lamps and wood stoves (in a separate from the house kitchen). And, water was stored in two 66 2/3 gallon barrels they called Hogsheads, which sat in the covered walkway to the kitchen.

We should remember these stories when we complain the wi-fi is down or the power goes out. Please feel free to share your reactions and own stories in the comments.

Five minutes of your time – listen to candid wisdom on COVID-19 mishandling

If people want to get a sense of the failure of the president to lead us during the COVID-19 pandemic, following his admission and confirmation he lied to the American people (and continued to do so) about the risk of COVID-19, please click on Scottie’s post which has a five minute commentary by a very smart man who goes by the name Beau of the Fifth Column. Even a few minutes of the commentary will give you the gist.

The fact the president misled Americans on the dangers of COVID-19 is not news. The fact he admitted he knew and lied is. What the president fails to realize then, during his misleading press conferences and tweets, and even today, is too many people believe his BS. And, too many sycophants furthered his lies and downplayed the danger.

Too many Americans have died and more will. Too many Americans have gotten sick and more will. And, putting this in terms the president might understand, dying and sickness is not good for the economy. When people get sick when we reopen stores, schools, rallies, etc. without seriousness of purpose, it is predicted and predictable people will get infected.

I will say this bluntly. This calls for the resignation of the president.

Let’s talk about Trump, Woodward, and bad days….

Thirteen years and counting

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the start of my going alcohol free. The echo still remains, but it is a faint one and usually pops up at certain times in the late afternoon. It is indeed manageable. The following link is to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary, which remains my most visited post. If you have this issue or know someone who does, I mention some teachings therein I gleaned from others. The key one is “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Is this what a president for the common man does?

Many of the Trump base have no idea they are voting against their economic interests. This advertised populist, common man president, fails to let folks know the following:

– in his first two hours of being president, he repealed a regulation that would have reduced homeowners insurance premiums for securing mortgages with the less than 20% down, that was scheduled to go in effect February 1, 2017. This would have helped about one million low income homeowners.

– he has hobbled the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was very successful, but banks and credit card companies did not like it. The CFPB penalized these companies for fraudulent and aggressive lending practices, with 95% of the fines going to cheated consumers. In short, the CFPB helps folks who are targeted.

– he eliminated a new requirement that said all investment advisors have to be fiduciaries, meaning they must put your interests ahead of their own. This was done to help investment advisors, paid by the transaction, to encourage sales that may not be in your best interests.

– he passed a tax bill that favored the elites and businesses, under the guise of helping everyone. To keep the bill down to costing only $1.5 trillion in debt, he had to have some pay higher taxes – a sneaky requirement noted that state and local tax deductions were capped at $10,000, so if you owned a house and lived in a state where income tax occurred, your tax bill may increase. Note, folks who do not itemize deductions, tended to come out ahead with the change.

– he failed to tell people (actually lying about the impact routinely) the tariffs would be paid for by consumers when importers passed along the cost. He has routinely lied saying China will pay the tariffs, but that simply is not true. Each time he said this, economists would rebut his lie.

– he also lied about an ACA change he made that increased premiums for people, saying it would only impact insurer profits. In essence, he ceased the subsidy to insurers to repay them for paying deductibles, copays, etc. for members making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty rate. Insurers honored their written commitment (Trump did not) and subsidies went up to pay for the resulting increase in premiums. BCBS of North Carolina said premiums the next year were going to increase by 0%, but with the Trump change, they went up by over 6%. The CBO said the increase in subsidies increased the deficit by $10 billion per annum and unsubsidized folk saw premium increases.

– he has advocated a COVID-19 relief bill which will prevent employees from suing employers for endangering them with COVID-19 exposure.

– finally, environmental deregulation hurts those in poverty more, as they have fewer choices as to where to live.

There is more. With his attacks on the ACA, with a pending lawsuit that would harm it, more of Trump’s base will be harmed. Plus, with his misinformation and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are being harmed and dying. Of all that I mentioned, his callousness and negligence in COVID-19 handling is the most prominent failure that impacts people.

So, in turn for getting protection over gun rights and attacks on abortion access, the president has largely screwed over his base and they have no idea he has.

Fool’s errand

Over 152,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. The US has 4.3% of the global population, but 23% of the COVID-19 deaths and 26% of the global cases. Yet, those facts seem to not sink into the minds of supporters of the president.

The president resorted to misinformation on COVID-19, his modus operandi, when briefed on the pandemic risk back in January. This person who wants to be liked and viewed as great leader, chose not to lead in fighting the pandemic, choosing instead to call it a hoax and naysay it. And, it continues to this day – both the misinformation and the pandemic. Fixing the problem is secondary to fixing the blame.

Conservative pundit David Brooks has offered two pertinent quotes over the term of the incumbent president. First, he noted “The Trump White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Second, he said “Trump lacks a sense of decency or empathy.” Adding in attorney and fixer Michael Cohen’s comment under oath, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat,” and it paints a picture that is troubling about any person in leadership. Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States of America and our planet.

As for sycophants who carry water for the person defined above, I do not wish COVID-19 on anyone. But, it is not a surprise, when people flouting mask wearing and social distancing get infected. Herman Cain and Bill Montgomery, two conservative leaders, have died because of COVID-19, with Cain maybe picking it up at a Tulsa pep rally for Trump (where several staff members tested positive). Congressman Louie Gohmert has also contracted it and in so doing has galvanized criticism by Congressional staff for their bosses to take the virus seriously. They are being exposed because their bosses must carry water for the president and heretobefore have not acted cautiously.

Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand. Now, many Americans are in danger and a many have died needlessly. Putting one’s life at risk for such a corrupt and deceitful person is beyond unwise. It is a fool’s errand.

A speech never given

The following is a speech that would have been given by a real leader back in January, 2020. This speech would have both galvanized America and saved lives. What puzzles is the person who could have given it craves so badly to be viewed as a great leader. This was truly a missed opportunity.

My fellow Americans,

At this moment, our country has not been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet, I have been briefed by our intelligence and CDC folks that we must be ever-vigilant, as pandemics like this know no boundaries. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before this pandemic hits our shores. I do not wish to alarm, only to prepare ourselves.

So, I am authorizing the CDC to work with hospital systems and medical suppliers to ascertain our readiness for the pandemic. What do we need that is not in sufficient supply? How can we best remedy those shortfalls? I am asking Congress and our Governors to set aside their differences and think of solutions that will protect Americans, but keep our jobs and livelihoods from falling prey to the pandemic. With that said, safety must be the foundation of any strategy.

I will also restrict travel from China, and will see if we should consider such from other countries, as well. Travel might still occur, but we must think of identifying and quarantining folks that come from locations where the pandemic is present. We must think of ways to accomplish this and not stymie travel altogether. We must be smart, but we must be safe.

Finally, I will set up a pandemic task team of CDC and other epidemiologists who can help guide us. This is unknown territory, so my commitment to you is to shoot straight with you as we learn more. As we convene and assess this problem further, we will advise you on various strategies to mitigate the pandemic.

Thank you for your support and understanding.
The President of the United States

That is what a real leader might have said.

Planning and more planning to reopen schools (then plan some more)

Listening to a well-rounded discussion on NPR on going back to school makes one realize the need to plan. Buses, class sizes, cleaning, masking, outside vs. inside schooling, etc. All with a back drop of limited budgets. If this is the path forward, we should not be planning today, what should have been done months ago. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic should not have been a surprise with the caution-to-the-wind re-openings fueled by the president and some impatient governors. So, planning ahead should have started before the past few weeks.

NPR also played several vignettes from interviews with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She led off several comments with “As everyone knows…” Actually that is a false introduction, as everyone does not know. It is a ploy to make the listener cede her point. Here are a few things to consider, which are not being so considered, in this binary discussion of to re-open or not.

– Schools include teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, etc. who are not children. Some are even in their fifties. They will be at risk as will be the folks they come in contact with.

– Kids may be less susceptible to dying, but they can still get COVID-19 and can become carriers. They have parents and grandparents and come in contact with other adults and children as will these folks.

– Kids can be harmed by COVID-19. A rising senior who had COVID-19 says walking to the bathroom even now that she has recovered leaves her out of breath. So, she is frightened by coping with walking the halls of the school. She could not even read her own story on a local NPR show, as she did not have the wind capacity, so a reporter read her narrative.

I know parents and kids want to go back to school. We all want our economy back to normal. But, we let misinformation create false hope. Misinformation has and still gives people a false sense of security. Masks, social distancing, hand-cleaning, less hand-to-face contact, etc. are keys regardless of the path we choose. What we lose sight of is the exponential risk of contact.

So, we need to plan for all variables. We need to allow for the safest path forward. That may be delay for some. That may be online schooling for others. That may include small class sizes with outdoor learning. Whatever it is, the path will not be a normal one for quite some time. And, if any politician tells you differently, then they are not shooting straight with you. So, we must look out for each other. Is that too much to ask?