$600 checks, pocket vetos, and calling out the troops

And the shitshow keeps rolling on. In today’s episode, the president of the United States hangs his supporters in Congress out to dry by threatening to veto the COVID relief bill because the $600 payments to individuals are a “disgrace.” He’s right, of course (even a broken clock is right twice a day), but this is after the White House refused to consider anything more than that amount and signaled to GOP members of Congress that the president would support such a bill. Now, not so much.

This, along with Trump’s veto of a massive defense bill, has Republicans angry and feeling a bit betrayed. The bill passed with a veto-proof majority in both houses, but now GOP representative and senators aren’t sure whether they should vote to override the president’s veto. It looks a lot like a loyalty test, and it also looks like a giant elephant trap.

Down they go.

Trump is also handing out pardons and commuting sentences for his friends, family, and supporters at a furious rate the past two days, including ones for people convicted of murdering innocent Iraqi civilians, abusing their political offices, or being related to his son-in-law. He may decide to “preemptively pardon” his own children and possibly even himself, though that seems to me to be an admission of guilt, because if you’re not guilty of anything (as he constantly claims), why would you need a pardon?

We were warned after the election that the worst was yet to come. There are still 28 days until Inauguration Day, and while martial law hasn’t been declared yet (as promoted by former Gen. Michael Flynn and supposedly former Trump attorney Sidney Powell), I wouldn’t say with any confidence that it’s off the table.

It feels like the worst political thriller ever written, but (unless I wake up from this nightmare soon) it’s real.

Yeah right

Now that healthcare workers are starting to get the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (and keep in mind they still need to get the second dose in a few weeks), the debate is over who gets it next. Adding the Moderna vaccine into the mix will help expand the list of people who might get vaccinated next, of course, but the whole process does raise some ethical issues, which doesn’t really concern me because we all did such a great job of sacrificing, social distancing, and wearing masks, right?

Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of people trying to jump the line and get vaccinated ahead of other critical front line workers. Also unsurprisingly, many of these people seem to be, shall we say, rich:

Or they’re members of Congress who have been somewhat less than helpful when it’s come to the nation’s pandemic response:

(And yes, I did just include a tweet from Billy Baldwin.)

Not that anyone cares what I think or do (I write this blog mostly for my own amusement, which is a good thing looking at the number of visitors it gets), but I’m willing to wait. Not because I’m concerned about the vaccines themselves – when it’s available to me, I’ll certainly get it. But because I’m extremely fortunate right now. I’m able to work from home. While I miss going out to eat or to grab a beer with some friends, I’ve gotten used to not being able to do that, and I can keep that up as long as necessary.

So while not surprising, the fact that rich and well-connected assholes are able to get some protection from the scourge that’s upended everyone’s lives over the past year before people who really deserve – and need – to be vaccinated pisses me off more than I can say. So I’ll leave it at that.

Wear a mask. Stay distanced. Get the shot when it’s your turn. Stay vigilant. It’s not like we’ve been asked to isolate in a fallout shelter. Grow the fuck up and try to think of someone other than yourself for once.

And now, some good news

As we stumble through the last weeks of 2020, there’s some good news:

  • The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed in the U.K., will start to be distributed next week in the U.S., and other countries will soon follow. Other vaccines are also close to approval, either full or emergency authorizations, and should continue to expand the vaccination of humanity against the cause of the biggest social upheaval in the last century. The vaccines are highly effective, have few side effects, and while there will be significant challenges ahead in the logistics of getting people vaccinated, there’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. One of the biggest remaining hurdles is getting people who are skeptical or who have bought into disinformation about the vaccines to actually get the shots. Unfortunately, a lot of the people who say they will refuse to get vaccinated are the same ones who won’t wear masks and won’t follow social distancing guidelines.
  • In the long run, the “miracle” development of the various COVID-19 vaccines bodes well for the future. As this article in New York magazine explains, the Moderna vaccine actually only took a weekend to develop back in January, even before we started to see how disruptive COVID-19 would be. This is the product of incredible advances in the understanding of how viruses work, but it’s as much a result of sheer computing power. Scientists can now model, in three dimensions and in real time, the structure and behavior of viruses, and can try out theories and hypotheses in days instead of months or years. The vaccines against COVID-19 have their basis in work that was done on other coronavirus infections, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. This has positive implications for our ability to combat future viruses and also other diseases and illnesses, including cancer.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court refused – twice – to play ball with the Trump campaign’s ongoing attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election with nuisance lawsuits. On the 8th, the court refused to stop Pennsylvania from certifying the results of the election, issuing a single sentence response to the request from Republicans in that state. And late Friday, they also refused to consider the ridiculous lawsuit brought by the state of Texas that sought to invalidate the results in four key battleground states that went to Biden, based on alleged irregularities in the voting, including mail-in balloting. (Of course, similar “irregularities” happened in a number of states that went for Trump, but apparently those are okay.) The justices, in a 7-2 decision that included Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett voting with the majority, determined that Texas didn’t have standing to bring the case in the first place, so they didn’t actually make any judgment on the merits of the case, but it seems to bring to a conclusion any legal recourse the Trump campaign has.
  • Finally, the Lions have a new leader in coaching winning percentage, at least until tomorrow’s game with Green Bay. Darrell Bevell won his first game as a head coach last Sunday when his squad came back from behind to beat the Bears, 34-30. That gives Bevell a perfect 1.000 winning percentage. If the Lions somehow beat the Packers tomorrow, he might be on his way to taking the “interim” tag off his title, though I’d prefer that the team come up a with a long-term plan before rushing into that decision.

Enjoy the good news, and have a great week!

In the pandemic, disruption may be our silver lining

The pandemic has brought plenty of changes to our everyday routines. The same is true in higher education. Beginning as soon as we closed our campus buildings in March, we had to figure out how we could continue to provide instruction and support services to students – and we had a week to figure it out. Classes moved online and to “alternative delivery methods.” Advising moved to working with students by phone and in virtual meetings. Our remaining holdout paper forms were transformed into web forms overnight.

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The will to work together to solve an epidemic: Polio in 1952

The disease had been known for many years. When it made an appearance in a town or county, schools closed and children were kept away from each other, because catching this disease could mean debilitating long-term consequences and even death.

In the worst outbreak of the disease, over 58,000 cases were reported in the United States, mostly children though a third of the cases were in patients at least 15 years old. 36% of those who contracted the disease that year – over 21,000 – were left with permanent physical problems, including mild to complete paralysis. If the paralysis was focused on the chest muscles, patients could suffocate unless an apparatus to assist breathing, an iron lung, was available.

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