Time to Stop the Bleeding

Alan Zendell, April 19, 2021

There’s been a rash of deaths associated with gun violence this year. I
divide them into categories: Individual/domestic incidents, mass shootings, and
police-involved shootings. Our attention is sharply focused when something in the
second or third category occurs, but for the sake of perspective, keep in mind
that the numbers in the first group far outweigh the others. Mass shootings and
police shootings horrify us, at least they used to before their frequency made
us numb, but shootings that don’t involve mass casualties or police are the
real horror story: accidents, domestic disagreements erupting into gunfire,
premeditated murder, drive-by shootings, gang wars, bar fights that turn
deadly, muggings – the list is endless.

GunViolenceArchive.org is a non-aligned, nonprofit website that tracks mass
shootings. If you think you’re on top of the numbers, click on the link and
have a look. You’ll find charts and maps like the one below that describe every
mass killing incident in the United States so far in 2021. You’ll be shocked.


In the 109 days between January 1st and April 19th of this year, 12,777 Americans died as a result of gun violence, an average of 117 per day, which exceeds the long term average of 106 I quoted in Americans’ Obsession With Guns. I was surprised to learn that of that number, 7,194, roughly four out of seven, were suicides. Some might argue that a person intent on killing himself would find a way regardless of whether he had a gun handy, but a loaded gun in a desk drawer is awfully enabling.

The other 5,583 were victims. Of that number, nearly a thousand were under 18 (416) or accidental (575). The concentration of dots on the map makes it clear that we’re not talking about hunting accidents – the dots are concentrated around population centers; most deaths due to gun violence occur in or near cities. The conventional wisdom that people in rural areas who own guns generally use them responsibly is thus supported by these data. NRA spokespeople and the Congressional representatives they “own” like to blame cities for the gun violence problem, citing places like Washington, DC and Chicago, both of which have very tough gun control laws. They argue, therefore, that gun control laws don’t work, but don’t buy it. Most of the guns used in crimes in Washington, for example, are purchased in neighboring states like Virginia, which is one of the easiest places in the country to buy one.

What are we to do? Do we keep sending our children to school every day knowing that theirs may be the next one to be locked down because of an active shooter? Do we stop going to events in urban areas that attract crazy people with guns looking for soft targets? And what about people living in cities who kiss their kids good night, not realizing that a gun battle is about to erupt outside their windows between rival drug dealers firing bullets that can easily
pierce the walls of their children’s bedrooms?

As popular pressure mounts for lawmakers to act to curb the number of guns and assure that mentally ill people or criminals can’t access them, we also have to deal with the civil war within the Republican Party. The supporters of Donald Trump march in lockstep to protect gun rights. Any attempts to pass responsible constraints, even those supported by three out of every five
Americans meets with knee-jerk rejection. We can no longer blame the NRA, which is drowning in its own legal and financial problems and not nearly the political force it was in previous  years. The Alt-Right and other Trumpers say they’ll fight to the death to protect their Second Amendment rights, no matter that they have no understanding of why the Amendment was added to the Constitution or how it was intended to be applied.

Our entire political rhetoric has become so twisted and convoluted, we’re losing sight of reality. Our friends and children are being killed every day while we argue pointlessly over things that are entirely obvious. Guns cannot be allowed to proliferate without restriction any longer, and we are well past the time when it may be necessary to confiscate many that are already in the wrong hands. As I’ve said before, when our elected representatives are clearly
marching to the wrong drummer, it’s up to us, the voters, the court of last resort, to set things right.  

We’ve seen a number of grass roots movements spring up in the past few years, many of which, like defunding the police, are seriously misguided. How about a movement that says, “If you don’t vote for gun control in this Congress, you will be voted out of the next one?” It’s really just that simple.

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Americans’ Obsession With Guns

Alan Zendell, April 16th, 2021

The first report I saw of the April 15th mass shooting at a Fedex facility in Indianapolis described it as “the country’s deadliest shooting since 10 people were killed March 22 in a grocery shooting in Colorado.” Eight people were murdered in Indiana plus the suicide of the shooter, a lunatic who, in a sane society, would never have had access to a gun. What a disappointment – if he’d only killed two more people before turning the gun on himself, we’d have had a twenty-five day record.

We used to be horrified when such shootings occurred every few years. Then they became annual events. Now we track them on almost a daily basis. There was no more angst or empathy in the Indianapolis news release than there was in the sports section’s report that yesterday, the St. Louis Cardinals scored their highest run total of the season, a seventeen day record. Are we so numb to the disease of gun violence that we now think of victim counts setting records in personal tragedy?

A friend recently suggested that we take mass shootings too seriously. After all, the number of Americans who die from gunshot wounds (not counting police and the armed forces) is far overshadowed by the number dead from COVID. The Brady Center For the Prevention of Gun Violence reports that an average of 316 Americans are shot by someone trying to kill them every day, and 106 of them die. An almost identical number, about 104, die every day in automobile accidents, prompting some gun advocates to suggest that gun control measures would be equivalent to revoking our drivers licenses.

At its height, COVID claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people per day. The Trump administration refused to take simple, obvious actions that could have saved a half million Americans from the pandemic, and even with the Biden administration vaccinating more than three million people per day, we are still averaging between 700 and 1,000 daily COVID deaths. Why are we so upset about a mere 106 gun deaths per day? Either my friend was right or something is terribly amiss in America. Hint: it’s the latter.

Last week, President Biden issued an Executive Order aimed at getting rid of “ghost guns” and making it easier to apply Red Flag laws to prevent people who are incapable of owning a gun responsibly from having access to them. The measure was limited and may never take effect if pro-gun advocates challenge it in court. Any hope of improving our gun violence epidemic will require bipartisan legislation. I’m sure Biden will make the effort, but far less confident that it will succeed.

At the first indication that such legislation has any chance of success, the extreme right wing media outlets will start their usual rants about the government coming to take our guns away. We’ve seen this madness play out so many times, I could write the script today. As far as the gun lobbies are concerned, the Second Amendment is the Holy Grail. The simple statement in the mindset of the eighteenth century, that sought to assure that citizens could arm themselves and form militias in case the British wanted to take their colonies back has become the most hyped and politicized argument of our generation.

The Second Amendment wasn’t intended to support universal gun ownership without qualifications. Questions like whether a Chicago police officer was justified in shooting a thirteen-year-old boy because he appeared to be carrying a gun miss the point. Who in his right mind would give a gun to a thirteen-year-old child in the first place? And who wants to see guns in the hands of mentally incompetent adults or convicted felons? These questions are in no sense political, yet they have been conflated with the entire far right agenda.

I have always supported an individual’s right to possess firearms, though I don’t believe the Second Amendment intended that to be an unlimited entitlement. I’m coming to believe that it’s time the government began fulfilling the far right’s prophesy and confiscating guns from those who a consensus of responsible citizens agree shouldn’t have them. If our cities were teeming with plague-infected rats, we’d initiate an all-out campaign to exterminate them. How is easy access to guns different?

The Gallup organization reports that since 2013 about 60% of Americans consistently believed we need stricter gun control laws. Yet our lawmakers are more concerned with what the NRA and gun lobbies think. But no matter how much money they receive from those entities, all they really care about is being re-elected. It’s up to us, the voters, to let them know that the 60% who want gun ownership reasonably regulated will be paying attention in November, 2022.

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A Traffic Stop in Virginia

Alan Zendell, April 14, 2021

Amid the seemingly endless shootings of men of color by police, it would be easy to dismiss last December’s traffic stop by two Windsor, Virginia police officers as a minor incident – after all, no black people were shot or killed. But it stands out for different reasons. The motorist brutalized by one of the police officers wasn’t a kid, a drug addict, or a person of interest to the police for any reason. Caron Nazario is a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army Medical Corps who was returning from work in uniform with his dog on the back seat. He was stopped for driving his new SUV without a license plate, because the car dealer had taped his temporary plate to the back window and neither of the cops noticed it.

A simple misunderstanding, right? And it would have been if, for example, the driver had been a pretty blonde woman or a white man in a business suit. Instead, despite visible and audible attempts by Lt. Nazario to respectfully de-escalate the situation, he and his dog were pepper sprayed four times while he sat with his hands out the window in plain sight, strapped into his seat. As we see and hear in bodycam videos, the officer who over-reacted was angry because Nazario refused to leave his vehicle with guns pointed at him until someone told him why he had been pulled over. The officer was fired after Virginia Governor Northam and the Windsor police chief initiated an internal investigation. Lt. Nazario has filed a law suit against the officers involved.

Compared to the cases of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, that almost sounds like justice, but it’s not. When I read about this incident, I was watching a celebration of Jackie Robinson Day, which commemorates Robinson’s first game as a Brooklyn Dodger on April 15, 1947.  I was only four on that day, but over the next few years I saw Robinson play at Ebbets Field and learned about what life was like for a Negro hero in post-war America. Like Nazario, Robinson had been a second lieutenant in the Army during the war, though he had to overcome discrimination in the segregated Army to be accepted into Officer Candidate School. And despite a spotless record as an officer, he was court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Texas. Although an all-white panel of judges acquitted him, that ended his military career.

What Robinson, and seventy-three years later, Nazario deal with every day of their lives was brilliantly portrayed in the film, 42. In a powerful scene, Harrison Ford (as Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey) tells Chadwick Boseman (Robinson) why the Dodgers selected him from dozens of Negro ballplayers to break the color line. He explains that there were many candidates as talented as Robinson, but Robinson’s history of self-restraint in the face of bigotry and discrimination were what set him apart. Rickey told Robinson that he could only be successful if he never fought back no matter how he was treated.

Three quarters of a century later, the message for every non-white citizen who is involved in a police incident is the same. Remain docile and subservient, follow all instructions instantly, and be respectful no matter what they throw at you. In the cases of Floyd and Wright, even that wasn’t enough to save their lives, which explains why Lt. Nazario drove to a well-lighted gas station before stopping his vehicle.

Like the racists who threw obscenities at Robinson in the media and on the field, it’s clear from the bodycam videos in the Nazario case that the officers who assaulted and tortured Nazario (and his innocent dog) with pepper spray, did not consider Nazario someone worthy of basic human rights. They treated a U. S. Army officer who had done nothing wrong like a piece of trash, and clearly felt entitled to do so.

I  have no illusions about how prevalent that kind of behavior has always been in many police departments. Still, the recent wave of such incidents makes me believe this is yet another piece of the sad legacy left by Donald Trump. It’s almost as if his violent, divisive rhetoric was interpreted as permission to behave that way openly, much like inciting the crowds last December and January was heard by right wing extremists as an invitation to come out of the closet and bring their weapons to Capitol Hill.

The worst part of this may be the innocent victims we fail to notice. The police who care, who do their jobs faithfully and protect the rest of us from harm suffer whenever something like this happens. They deserve our respect and admiration. I make it a point to thank every police officer I meet for being there.

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Bad Boys

Alan Zendell, April 13, 2021

We all know them. They grow up resenting authority, rebelling against rules, pushing the envelope and flirting with trouble. It’s not just boys, but in a world in which men still hold most of the power, we notice bad boys more than girls. I have a theory about bad boys. It’s unvetted, and when I asked a psychologist I know if it made sense, he declined to comment, but I can’t let it go.

I’d like to, but events won’t let me. It starts with the premise that the ultimate bad boy in our recent experience is Donald Trump. It’s not a very controversial premise. I imagine Trump would endorse it himself, even revel in it. He bragged about his treatment of women and his avoidance of the tax code, and referred to his bankruptcies and other nasty business practices as evidence of how clever he is. He lies and bullies unapologetically and has a long history of associating with unsavory characters like organized crime figures John Gotti and Roy Cohn. I think he really believes he could shoot someone in broad daylight and walk away scot free. He believes his Teflon coating is impenetrable, and up until now he’s been right.

That’s what is most important about the bad boy in chief. Call him amoral, sociopathic, insensitive, shameless – all those descriptions are apt, but why does it matter now that his presidency is in the past? For the same reason kids fascinated with space look up to astronauts and other kids on sandlots and playgrounds look up to sports heroes. Bad boys have their heroes too, which brings me back to my unvetted theory.

Suppose you were a budding bad boy – a compulsive liar, a vile racist, a cheater, a sexual predator, or someone with any other socially unacceptable or criminal tendency. As an adolescent, you learned to submerge those tendencies in a place where others couldn’t see them. You had your public face and another, darker one you kept hidden. Maybe you carried around a burden of guilt, maybe you lived under a cloud of anger and frustration, or worse, you couldn’t fit in to normal society and instead turned to cults, fringe movements, or hate groups.

In a sense, you’ve lived your life underground. Your parents, teachers, mentors, and elected leaders preached values you couldn’t relate to. Part of you understood that you were broken, while another, darker part felt superior to everyone else. And then a new hero came on the scene who seemed to embody all of the things you’ve felt bad about. He lived his life in defiance of all the rules you’ve been told you had to obey, and while many people blustered and screamed, he always seemed to come out ahead. Everything he says and does triggers outrage and fear in many people, but not you – you feel inspired by the way he prospered and earned the adulation of millions.

Now you’re really angry. All your life you’ve been told you were wrong or sick or crazy. But seeing him get away with breaking every rule, ignoring every norm and custom, eschewing common courtesy and decency is freeing for you. You feel exonerated, justified, vindicated, enabled. It feels so good you ignore the evidence that it’s all an illusion. The number of people who have come under his spell and had their lives ruined when he no longer had any use for them goes unnoticed. You’re as hooked an any heroin addict; in a very real way, the example his life sets is a dangerous drug.

I can’t let go of this theory because it explains people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. Gaetz is the quintessential Trump wannabe. As a young man, his influential father always had the ability to bail him out of trouble, things like mysteriously getting his drivers license restored after DUI convictions got it suspended, like keeping his sixteen speeding violations under wraps. And now, he is alleged to have been involved in sex trafficking and consorting with underage girls. Not exactly the same things his new hero brags about and gets away with, but close enough to instill worship in the mind of someone like Gaetz.

I don’t give a damn about Matt Gaetz. He’ll get what he deserves. He’ll be another sycophant who fell by the wayside when Trump had no use for him, like the leaders of The Proud Boys, The Oath Keepers, and Trump supporters who were swindled out of millions of dollars in unauthorized contributions. I only hope that the rest of the bad boys who were energized by Trump get the message and crawl back into their holes.

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The United States Postal Service

Alan Zendell, April 10 2021

When I was a kid everyone took the post office for granted. Everyone in my building knew our mailman’s name, and our parents left $$-filled envelopes for him at Christmas. In the years after WW2, when everyone yearned for a return to normalcy, the reliability of mail delivery was an anchor to cling to in a chaotic world.

I remember the 1946 Fourth of July parade in Brooklyn, holding my father’s hand – he’d only been discharged from the army for a month. He stood passively as companies of soldiers and sailors marched by, lost in the cacophony of overlapping marching bands, experiencing (I learned, years later) what we now call PTSD. I was oblivious, cheering wildly as each cohort of men and a few women in uniform marched by. I cheered just as loud when a few hundred mail carriers passed in full uniform with mail bags slung over their shoulders. My father finally reacted: “Why are you cheering for mailmen?”

He didn’t know how my mother and her sister had waited every morning, hoping for letters from him and my uncle. Mailmen never missed a day, except for the ones who’d been drafted and sent overseas. Most people may have taken them for granted but not me. Fourteen years later, as a freshman at Columbia paying his own way, I needed a job. I became an all-purpose postal worker at the huge Grand Central Station post office in Manhattan.

Grand Central’s workforce was made up of what my inflated ego thought of as drones, thousands of them, who along with police and firefighters in New York made up the predominantly Irish civil service. A mix of high school graduates and dropouts, those with college degrees were foremen and managers. The post office was like a huge anthill with people scurrying around everywhere. Even on my 6 pm to 6 am shift, it was always busy in an organized chaos sort of way. The mail got where it was supposed to 99% of the time, the other 1% largely the result of pranks by bored college students like me. It was an amazing feat in the low tech world of 1960.

Postage stamps increased in price every few years, but the largely manual operation was always in the red. The United States Postal Service became a political football, threatened with privatization in each election cycle. As companies like UPS, Fedex, and Amazon prospered, USPS struggled to keep up with optical scanners and automated sorters, but it was a tortoise racing against an army of hares, and in the real world hares always win. Everyone disdained “snail mail.”

Enter 2020, the pandemic, and the most vicious presidential election of the modern era. It was clear that the election could only be successfully conducted using massive mail-in voting. Trump’s bungling of the response to the pandemic had turned his expected re-election into a likely defeat. Conventional wisdom was that his best chance of winning lay in sabotaging the USPS. It’s unclear how much Trump influenced the selection by the USPS Board of Governors of wealthy Trump donor Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. The Board was an independent body that consisted of five Republicans and four Democrats. Earlier this week, it confirmed that DeJoy continues to enjoy its unanimous support, despite the fact that he has a $50 million conflict of interest in investments in private mail delivery firms and was hired with no prior relevant experience.

DeJoy is accused of slowing down mail delivery prior to and during the election. Whether that’s true, or it was merely the first step in a long-term modernization effort, we have all suffered from the degraded performance of the USPS in the past year. DeJoy’s recently published ten-year plan does little to reassure people, since it calls for longer delivery cycles, reduced staff, and severely curtailed services and hours of operation.

On February 16th, my wife submitted forms to have our mail forwarded from Maryland to Florida, from February 28th through the end of April. As of today, April 10th, we had not received a single item of forwarded mail. Our situation is not unique; it’s typical and totally unacceptable.

President Biden has nominated three people to fill vacancies on the Postal Board, which Democrats hope will result in DeJoy’s firing. But the problem is a lot bigger than Louis DeJoy’s tenure as Postmaster General. Are Americans willing to see their beloved post offices become relics of the past and depend entirely on private, for-profit companies to deliver our mail? It’s a serious question about how we do business in the future and how our workforce survives the next wave of automation.

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Culture War and Politics

Alan Zendell, April 3, 2021

Ever since Donald Trump hit the political scene in 2015 it’s been tempting to conclude that both our politics and our internal divisions over race and the distribution of wealth had hit a new low. Tempting but wrong. The labor movement triggered violent class riots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In the years leading up to WW2, the American political scene included powerful extremist movements on both the right (the American Nazi Party) and left (the American Socialist and Communist Parties).

President Harry Truman constantly had to battle ardent segregationists who were a powerful force within his own Democratic Party. The civil rights movement saw peaceful demonstrations erupt into violence, lynchings, and murders throughout the South. Anti-government demonstrations during the Vietnam War led to brutal clashes between demonstrators and police at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the 1970 Kent State shootings of demonstrators by Ohio National Guardsmen. The 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy triggered deadly riots in dozens of American cities that looked very much like the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

The difference between then and now is that in Donald Trump we had a president who thrived on divisiveness and conflict, who openly exacerbated divisions that had existed in America throughout its history. Terms like culture wars and cancel culture now dominate our political scene, poisoning efforts at bipartisan governing and compromise. Trump re-awakened the notion of the Big Lie and made it his primary means of communication. I am not aware of any time in the post-war era when deliberate lies have played so great a role in American life. From “immigrants are rapist and murders,” to Fake News, to Democrats replacing capitalism with socialism, to “the election was rigged,” to the China Virus, the lies grew in size and volume until we have been separated into armed camps ready to pull the trigger at the drop of a hat.

As the Biden administration attempts to pull us back from the disastrous effects of the pandemic and reverse the negative policies of its predecessor, it must deal with a Republican party drowning in internal conflict that is nevertheless united attempting to prevent minorities and the poor from voting, a staunch obstructionist in Mitch McConnell, and a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes. At a critical time in our history, when millions are suffering and mourning the loss of loved ones who died unnecessarily, political extremism and desperation driven by lust for power are our greatest obstacles.

I take heart from the response of the business community to Republican attempts to re-write voting laws around the country. Big business, the traditional base of mainstream Republicanism is reflecting a new reality. Corporations yield enormous financial clout, but they are comprised of millions of everyday Americans from all racial, ethnic, and economic strata, and their customer bases cross all those lines. Corporations that normally are interested only in bottom line profits and have traditionally rubber-stamped Republican policy initiatives realize that when those policies are clearly not in the interest of their workers and customers, they have to take a stand.

How ironic is it that the only substantial opposition to Republican attempts to suppress voting rights has come from the business sector? Moving the major league baseball all-star game out of Atlanta will cost Georgia’s economy more than $100 million. No wonder Governor Brian Kemp sounds more like Trump every day, doubling down on his version of the Big Election Lie. Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola are both synonymous with Atlanta’s economy. They and the hundred plus other corporations calling out Georgia’s new election law may or may not force the legislature to repeal it, but other states contemplating such laws noticed the fast, negative response. They haven’t forgotten the devastating hit Arizona’s economy took when the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix because the state refused to vote “Yes” on a measure that would have made Martin Luther King’s birthday a paid state holiday.

Major corporations and media outlets have begun a massive campaign to combat anti-Asian hate crimes. It’s showing up in popular television programs and commercials all over the country. By consistently referring to derogatory terms used by Donald Trump, they are making it clear in a not very subtle way that hate crimes are synonymous with Trumpism. That tells us the groups singled out by Trump’s racist propaganda may have enough economic clout to cancel the culture war.  

It would be nice if America took a loud, collective moral stand against the hate engendered by Donald Trump. But it may be even more satisfying to see his movement and its attempts to dominate the Republican Party brought down by the very corporate interests he claimed to represent.

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Doctors Speak Out About Trump’s Response to the Pandemic

Alan Zendell, March 29, 2021

Usually, when embarrassing mistakes are made at the highest level of government, especially when they result in loss of life, the first casualty is truth. We typically wait decades until all the principals involved are dead or otherwise beyond accountability for their actions, for records and personal notes to be declassified and revealed to the public. The good news, if we can call it that, with respect to the pandemic, is that the medical professionals who were ignored by the Trump administration aren’t making us wait that long. Now that they are no longer under threat from a vindictive Trump, they are all speaking frankly about what happened.

CNN’s Sanjay Gupta interviewed the six prominent health professionals who advised President Trump on how to respond to the pandemic. The results aired Sunday night, and were summarized today, here. I drew heavily on that summary in what follows.

Doctor Deborah Birx, the highly respected virologist who once trained under Anthony Fauci, served as COVID Response Coordinator under Trump. That’s the same Dr. Birx who cringed before a worldwide television audience when Trump asked her to confirm his suggestion that drinking bleach would cure COVID. Birx, who also has impressive diplomatic credentials, is normally circumspect, but even her best attempt at a poker face couldn’t stand up to Trump’s idiotic remark.

Two months after Trump left office, with the nation’s death toll rushing toward 550,000, Dr. Birx told Dt. Gupta that all but about 100,000 of those deaths could have been mitigated if the Trump administration had not politicized its response to the virus. In plain English, that means Trump’s decision to prioritize the economy against the advice of most leading economists over the lives of Americans may have been responsible for about 450,000 deaths, to date,.

Trump gambled that an all-out effort to develop a vaccine, as Dr. Fauci urged, would be sufficient. But he ignored everything every other bit of advice from his medical specialists, instead convincing his base that wearing masks and distancing was a socialist infringement of their personal freedom. The result was what Fauci called a horrifying number of avoidable fatalities.

Dr. Birx told Gupta that she joined the Trump administration to spare the United States from the devastation the virus was causing in Europe. She knew we weren’t prepared and she wanted to help.  But “[a]fter speaking out in August about the coronavirus pandemic being ‘extraordinarily widespread’ across both rural and urban communities in the US, Birx received an [angry] call from former President Trump, after which she says she was blocked from speaking about the pandemic nationally.”

Dr. Robert Kadlec and Admiral Brett Giroir, both Assistant Secretaries of Health and Human Services under Trump, reported that they had no idea what was in the supply chain with respect to “personal protective gear, medicines, ventilators and other medical equipment” when the pandemic began, underlining Dr. Birx’s fear that we were unprepared. Kadlec and Giroir said they had to start from scratch, which is odd, because the Obama administration bequeathed them a thorough analysis and pandemic response plan. But Trump cut the staff that prepared them from his national security team because they weren’t necessary.

Both Drs. Fauci and Birx felt undermined by Trump’s late to the game pandemic advisor, Dr. Scott Atlas. While the former were trying desperately to prevent Trump from opening the country too quickly after a brief shutdown in March, Atlas was feeding the President conflicting data, which was far out of the mainstream of what the professional health care community was advising. As a result, Birx said, the president told her in April that the country would never be shut down again.

Former CDC Director Robert Redfield and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn both complained that HHS Secretary Alex Azar repeatedly pressured them to change the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, to agree with what Trump was saying from the White House. Azar denied the charge although it had been widely reported in the media at the time. Wanting to assure that people called to testify before Congress were armed with accurate data and recommendations, Fauci, Birx, Hahn, and Redfield formed their own doctor’s group in defiance of Trump’s directives during the 2020 presidential campaign. In response, they and their families started receiving death and other threats.

The picture these respected doctors and health administrators painted was a of a president unwilling to accept the reality of the pandemic and its impact on American lives and the economy. It was the ultimate test for a president who claimed to care about the American people, and he failed, utterly. Finally unmuzzled, the doctors confirmed what most of us already believed. Trump was guilty of criminal malfeasance.

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Hypocrisy and the Filibuster

Alan Zendell, March 27, 2021

I’m not an expert in either government or politics, but if there’s anything in our history that has a worse record of hypocrisy than the Senate filibuster, I’m not aware of it. As we learned in seventh grade civics, the filibuster is a procedural mechanism unique to the Senate that prevents a majority party from steamrollering the opposition and effectively governing by one-party rule. There are many arguments for or against, and many claims about what its true purpose is, most of which are hypocritical in the extreme.

For example, in the latest incarnation of the filibuster debate, Democrats are calling the filibuster a racist tool. That’s like calling a knife a tool designed primarily for murder. The filibuster is a parliamentary procedure that is an essential element of the way the Senate does business. Inherently neither good nor evil, how it is used depends on who is in power and what is specifically at issue. Attacking the filibuster on moral or ethical grounds ignores the reality that politicians change their stance on it depending on how the wind blows.

Radical left-wing activists like Al Sharpton argue that the filibuster represents a return to Jim Crow segregationist politics, a sentiment mildly echoed by President Biden, yesterday. The filibuster and Jim Crow politics were synonymous for most of the first half of the twentieth century, when a small group of segregationist Senators were able to block every attempt to pass civil rights legislation. But in recent decades, the filibuster has been an effective tool of obstruction on a wide range of issues.

When he was Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell used the filibuster to block every initiative proposed by President Barack Obama after Republicans took back the majority in 2010. McConnell changed the rules and turned the filibuster into a never-ending roadblock, but when it came time to pass Trump’s 2017 tax law, he had no problem with suspending it.

When Republicans held the majority in the Senate, notable Democrats like Delaware Senator Joe Biden and New York Senator Chuck Schumer defended the filibuster as essential to the survival of democracy. A few years earlier, serving in a Bush Senate with a large Republican majority, Senator Barack Obama argued that eliminating the filibuster would ensure Senate gridlock and kill any chance of bipartisan government.

Today, as the cycle of hypocrisy over the filibuster enters the Biden era, Democrats like Al Sharpton, who never shies away from inflammatory rhetoric, are calling it a tool of White Supremacy. The context of Republicans attempting to assure that Democrats never win another national election, given that that can only happen if the votes of non-white minorities are suppressed, adds credibility to the Jim Crow narrative, but turning up the heat with charges of racism doesn’t help the situation.

The Biden administration faces serious obstacles to passing its agenda on voting rights and immigration. Racism is a subtext in both debates, but it is also a distraction from the more fundamental argument over the meaning of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. What is at stake is the viability of a representative government based on a two party system.

Republicans are in greater shock at losing the presidency and control of both houses of Congress than Democrats were when Trump pulled off the same feat in 2016, but current Republican concerns are literally existential. Why else, only two months into the Biden Administration would Republican controlled legislatures be engaged in a concerted rush to pass 250 state laws that reduce voter participation?

It’s no accident that this is occurring at a time when we’re all exhausted from the pandemic, and the millions of Americans who will be most negatively impacted by these new state laws are distracted by the need to find jobs and feed their families. If we take our collective eyes off the ball, and allow the disenfranchisement of millions of mostly nonwhite citizens at the lower end of the economic spectrum and the continuation of immigration policies that only exacerbate the situation, our democratic principles could be dealt a fatal blow.

That is what today’s argument over the filibuster is really about. Ignore the political BS from both sides. Our country’s future for at least the decade of the 2020s, and likely much longer, depends on codifying our democracy in federal law to assure that every citizen who wishes to cast a vote is able to. That will neutralize efforts at the state level to restrict voting, since federal law takes precedence over conflicting state laws. The slippery slope arguments about killing the filibuster are irrelevant. We needs these law passed, and we need them passed now before redistricting for the 2022 elections takes place. McConnell has been clear that that will only happen if the filibuster is not in play.

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The Urgent Need to Pass the For the People Act

Alan Zendell, March 25, 2021

The aftermath of the Trump years is a number of genuinely urgent issues that need to be addressed now. Trump was indefatigable in his many and varied attempts to undermine our Constitution, and the damage he did, if not addressed quickly will fester into something truly toxic for our democracy.

President Biden was correct in making the COVID recovery act his first priority. It’s a rare event when economists agree with near unanimity on a subject as complex as recovering from the pandemic. Moreover, it was smart politically. When James Carville said, “It’s the economy, stupid” during the 1992 presidential campaign, he addressed the basic truth that Americans always respond favorably to something that improves their families’ standard of living.

The American Rescue Plan Act did precisely that, and it won approval from more than three fourths of Americans including 59% of Republicans. That’s a landslide number – since World War 2, only Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan won presidential elections by such large margins, and legislation almost never wins that level of universal approval. Biden promised to govern for all Americans, and the Rescue Plan was the first proof of that. Despite the continuing repercussions of the Big Lie that the election was rigged, getting close to 80% of Americans to agree was the best possible start to reunifying the country.

With priority one behind us, several critical issues compete for priority two: jobs, health care, repairing our infrastructure, voting rights, foreign policy, trade policy – where to begin? The answer, without question, is H.R 1, the For the People Act, the full text of which is here. H.R 1 will assure the integrity of future national elections, and it’s essential that it be passed this year, because states must re-draw their voting district boundaries to reflect the 2020 census before the 2022 midterms.

The most time-critical provisions of H.R 1 deal with gerrymandering, the process by which a state legislature can literally rig the playing field for future elections. Gerrymandering is a deliberate action, practiced by both parties, designed to distort election results to favor the party that controls a state’s legislature at the time the redistricting is done. In recent years, gerrymandering was responsible for disenfranchising more than twenty percent of the electorates of some states. There is no clearer violation of the concept of “one person one vote,” no more obvious contravention of the spirit of the Constitution.

Equally urgent is the need to head off attempts to make voting more difficult and suppress the votes of minorities, the poor, and the infirm. For decades, we have condemned and ridiculed elections in other countries. Russian elections, in particular, have been mocked as autocrats like Vladimir Putin do everything in their power to silence political opposition, including the suppression of any opponent who has a following large enough the threaten the existing order. Yet, that is exactly what Republicans in forty three states are attempting to do.

Republicans do best when the majority of voters are white, and it’s no secret that America’s white population is no longer in the majority. Republicans believe that if they are to retain political power at the national level, the nonwhite vote must be held down, and they want nothing less to a return to the Jim Crow era. It’s cynical and it violates the basic principles of our republic.

The For the People Act does a number of other things, too. It limits the power of Super PACs to flood elections with limitless, anonymous contributions, and attempts to reduce the influence of big money on elections. It requires all significant donors to be identified. It maximizes opportunities for voter registration for all citizens, and codifies in federal law that everyone has the right to a reasonable period of early voting and to vote by absentee ballot without providing justification. It prescribes penalties for anyone who willfully aids a foreign power trying to influence the outcome of an election and clamps down on foreign money used to help specific candidates. It requires full transparency by all presidential and vice presidential candidates with respect to tax records and any potential conflicts of interest.

The For the People Act should not be a political football decided by the ability to filibuster in the Senate. It is essential to the future of our democracy, and thus justifies passage by any means necessary. Ask yourself if any of the provisions listed above violate your own notions of how our elections are supposed to function. This is a decision for the voters, not a small number of politicians desperate to retain power. It’s up to us to let them know how we expect them to vote.

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A Nation Spinning Out of Control

Alan Zendell, March 23, 2021

We’re all weary from what we experienced in the last year. We’ve suffered terribly from the pandemic, losing friends and family members, jobs, and careers. Our children’s educations have been disrupted. We talk about things returning to normal eventually, but no one can say with any assurance what the new normal will be.

Those of us who took COVID guidelines seriously and have been vaccinated are cautiously re-opening our lives, even optimistically talking about re-engaging with friends and family next Thanksgiving the way we used to. Those of us who abhorred the previous administration breathed a sigh of relief as Biden’s people quietly took their places. We wanted to relax – everything was going to be all right now that reason re-asserted itself. But has it? We haven’t been in this cocoon of calm very long. We’re not ready to leave it. We need all our physical and emotional energy to recover. We have to rest, but that is exactly what we cannot do.

Donald Trump did not invent racism and he did not cause the pandemic. He did not create Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei, or Bashir Al Assad; he did not create the enormous gulf between rich and poor in America, nor is he responsible for our evolving climate. But in each instance, he either kicked the can down the road or left us with far worse problems than we faced when he took office.

Look at the current state of our country. Seven mass shootings in the past seven days, acts of irrational violence, which though unrelated to each other, suggest that we are nearing a breaking point. While most Americans scramble to be vaccinated against COVID, a shocking percentage say they will refuse the vaccine, endangering themselves, their families, and millions of others whose long-term health may depend on the nation achieving herd immunity.

We are moving in the wrong direction, politically, as Trump supporters and many in Congress continue to perpetuate The Big Lie and worsen rather than attempt to bridge the divide Trump used to promote his own interests. Right wing extremists energized by Trump believe their time has come, and unless law enforcement can shut them down, we will see more violence and intimidation. There is no aspect of American life that is not less stable and secure than it was five years ago, unless you’re a billionaire whose net worth benefitted from Trump’s tax cuts.

The Republican Party, once a symbol of conservative values, is at war with itself, unable to control its destructive elements and united only by a desperate need to obstruct the Biden administration and make it more difficult for minorities and the poor to vote in future elections. President Biden accomplished his first major objective, passing the $1.9 trillion stimulus/recovery act despite failing to achieve even a semblance of bipartisanship. Not a single Republican in either branch of Congress supported it, and Biden was forced to go the reconciliation route to pass it. He still has mountains to climb, and none of them will be easy.

The Biden administration must deal with voting rights, expanding affordable health care to all Americans, a crumbling infrastructure, continuing fallout from his predecessor’s trade wars, gun violence, fractured alliances, and adversaries who believe they have weakened us enough that they we can longer dominate them either militarily or economically. But first things first. We have to get our own house in order. The Democratic majority in the Senate must defang the filibuster. Like most Americans, President Biden believes in bipartisan leadership, but the Republicans, both Trumpers and McConnell followers, have made it absolutely clear that that’s just a pipe dream. Biden must continue to govern by brute force or face the kind of stalemate that plagued Barrack Obama.

Ramming through legislation by a one vote majority is not in the long-term interest of the United States, but allowing obstructionists to stall the vital elements of Biden’s agenda would be a much worse outcome. Our democracy is already in serious trouble. If we do not have the courage to do what it necessary to restore prosperity, health, racial quality, and human rights to our people, we will have little hope of fixing it.

There’s really no alternative. The voting rights bill must pass by any means possible. People must have jobs in the new normal, and the best way to provide them is to pass a massive infrastructure bill, again, by any means possible. If the Biden administration does not do those things, our future as a nation is likely to be a long downhill slide. That must not be allowed to happen.

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