Saturday, September 18, 2021
Republicans have been clearing the way for the coronavirus since early April 2020, when they found that COVID-19 seemed to be hitting Democratic cities and states hardest, with Black and Latino frontline workers particularly vulnerable in the early days of the pandemic.
Donald Trump and his minions apparently calculated the virus would kill more Democrats than Republicans in the election year, so the White House canceled plans to send cloth masks to every US household, which would have protected against transmission of the virus, in April 2020. By January, 400,000 Americans had perished, the economy had fallen off the cliff and Trump was out of a job.
After Joe Biden became president, he found the Trump administration had not developed a system to deliver to the American people the vaccines that were becoming available. Biden’s first priority was to organize the distribution of the vaccines, free of charge, across the country.
The pandemic had peaked in January 2021, when an average of more than 3,100 people died from COVID-19 every day. More than 246,000 new cases were reported daily in the week before Jan. 8. As the Biden administration rolled out the vaccines, the pace of shots grew to more than four million on some days in April. By July more than half the US population had received at least one dose of vaccine and new daily cases had dropped below 12,000 in June and early July, raising hopes that a return to normalcy was possible.
Meanwhile, right-wing media, led by Fox “News,” amplified concerns that the vaccines were rushed into production and masking requirements violated civil rights. Vaccines were welcomed in the “blue” Democratic cities but treated with relative indifference in “red” Republican areas. As numbers of COVID cases and deaths declined in the summer, Republican governors, with a few exceptions, continued to follow Trump’s lead in playing down the usefulness of getting the shots and wearing masks to prevent the infection of others, and the vaccination rates trailed those of states governed by Democrats.
When the Delta variant emerged in July and caused a surge of COVID infections the month before schools reopened, Republicans doubled down on resistance to anti-COVID measures, denying schools and businesses the authority to require employees or customers to be vaccinated, or to require teachers, staff and students to be vaccinated or wear masks to prevent transmission of COVID.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, who faces Republican primary challengers from the right next year, asked hospitals to halt non-emergency medical procedures as COVID-19 patients strained wards already struggling with a shortage of nurses. But he still banned local governments from implementing mask and vaccine mandates.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to defund school districts that defied his executive order prohibiting mask mandates for students — while the state saw its rates of hospitalization from COVID surge past the worst levels of 2020.
And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem welcomed an estimated 525,000 mainly unmasked revelers to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally again Aug. 6-15. Last year the rally was credited with helping spread the virus throughout the Midwest. In the weeks after this year’s rally, COVID cases rose dramatically, from an average of 54 new cases per day in early August to 440 new cases per day in early September.
Republicans tripled down after President Biden, in response to the Delta surge filling hospital ICUs with COVID patients, issued an executive order on Sept. 9 to force businesses with more than 100 employees to provide a safe workplace by requiring employee to be vaccinated (or be tested weekly for COVID). He also threatened to withhold federal funding from hospitals and nursing homes; as well as federal contractors. More than 100 million workers would be affected by Biden’s order.
Republicans complained that Biden’s initiative was unacceptable. They continue to oppose government efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic, which by that time had killed more than 650,000 Americans. Republican governors vowed to sue the administration to block the requirements.
Biden replied, “Have at it.” He added, “I am so disappointed, particularly that some of the Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities.”
The authority of governments to impose vaccines has been established since at least 1905, when the Supreme Court issued a 7-to-2 ruling, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, that Cambridge, Mass., could require all adults to be vaccinated against smallpox.
It is questionable whether the president could require all Americans to get shots. But the president can use the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to require that companies maintain safe workplaces with vaccination, under the federal government’s well-established constitutional power to regulate commerce.
Republicans argue that Biden’s plan is a big-government attack on states’ rights, private business and personal choice, reflecting their appeal to neo-Confederate and neo-fascist voters that Trump brought into the party, and who now hold the balance of power in Republican primaries.
Texas Gov. Abbott, for whom 60,000 COVID deaths was no cause for alarm, called Biden’s actions an “assault on private businesses.” Abbott issued an order protecting Texans’ “right to choose” whether or not they would be vaccinated, an ironic turn of phrase given the controversial new Texas law to remove women’s right to choose abortion. “Texas is already working to halt this power grab,” Abbott wrote, referring to the federal public health requirements.
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, whose state has 19,187 COVID deaths so far, wrote, “The Biden-Harris administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way.” He questioned how many workers would be displaced, businesses fined, and children kept out of the classroom because of the mandates, and he vowed to push back.
In a fund-raising email, Florida Gov. DeSantis, with 48,772 deaths, wrote, “Joe Biden has declared war on constitutional government, the rule of law, and the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Americans.”
The Republican Governors Association hopes to use the anti-COVID policies as a wedge issue against vulnerable Democratic governors up for re-election in 2022. “Let’s see who Democrat governors side with: Joe Biden or the families and businesses they were elected to represent,” the group said in a Sept. 9 statement.
If Republicans want to be known as the pro-COVID party, so be it. Recent polls suggest that a solid majority of Americans support vaccinations and, at least in schools, they support mask mandates for staff and children to protect those who can’t get vaccinations.
Republicans are completing their rebrand from the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Trump, and from the Grand Old Party (GOP) to the Grand Sociopathic Party (GSP) and the Big Lie Party (BLP). They scorn masks as a sign of their resistance to public health requirements. They appear willing to die on that hill (or, to be more accurate, let their supporters die, as most Republican “leaders,” and all the Fox “News” hosts, have been vaccinated).
The rest of us can thank science that we can take the vaccine to protect ourselves and wear a mask in public to protect our neighbors from what has become the Republican Flu. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2021
Copyright © 2021 The Progressive Populist
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Friday, August 27, 2021
When Donald Trump reached a withdrawal deal that enabled the Taliban to overrun the demoralized Afghan government, while US troops and diplomats were packing to leave, it made the chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport inevitable. Then the withdrawal was left for Joe Biden to carry out.
The media, eager to show they would hold Biden to account, jumped on those horrible images of desperate Afghan refugees rushing US planes. There was less accountability for past presidents: George W. Bush, who started the war but got distracted in Iraq, Barack Obama, who continued the war, even after Osama bin Laden was found — in Pakistan — and disposed in the Arabian Sea, and particularly Trump, who wanted to finish the war in the worst way, and may have sabotaged the situation for his successor.
For those who are keeping score, the Trump administration negotiated with Taliban leaders at a neutral site in Doha for 18 months in 2018 and 2019, without consulting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani or requiring the Taliban to cease fire on Afghan troops. While the talks progressed, Trump in December 2018 ordered the Pentagon to plan removal of half the troops in Afghanistan, at the same time Trump abruptly announced withdrawal of US military from Syria. Those moves prompted James Mattis to quit as defense secretary.
After the US negotiator announced the US had reached a deal “in principle” with the Taliban, Trump invited Taliban leaders to Camp David to meet with Ghani to settle the deal on Sept. 11, 2019. But that invitation was cancelled after a Taliban car bombing killed 12 people, including a US soldier, as part of a surge of violence in Kabul.
Talks continued between the US and the Taliban in Doha, and in February 2020, Trump announced there was a deal. Basically, the US would get out of Afghanistan in 14 months. In exchange, the Taliban agreed not to let Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists. The Taliban, whose forces were attacking Afghan government forces throughout the talks, agreed to start peace talks with the Afghan government and consider a cease-fire with the government. (That never happened.)
Trump said US troops had been killing terrorists in Afghanistan “by the thousands” and now it was “time for someone else to do that work and it will be the Taliban and it could be surrounding countries.” He added, “If bad things happen, we’ll go back with a force like no-one’s ever seen.”
The US agreed to reduce troops from 14,000 to 8,600 in the first 100 days and leave five military bases to the Afghan army. Over the next nine months, the US would vacate the rest.
The Taliban pledged to not harbor terrorists, but the deal did not require them to denounce al-Qaeda. It contained only a weak pledge by the Taliban “not to cooperate with or permit international terrorist groups or individuals to recruit, train, raise funds … transit Afghanistan,” or use Afghan passports.
“The peace deal was transparently an effort to paper over an American retreat,” wrote Paul Miller, a professor at Georgetown University. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, recently called it “a surrender agreement with the Taliban.”
Months later, the UN judged that the Taliban retained ties to al-Qaeda after signing the peace deal, and US intelligence warned that al-Qaeda was “integrated” into the Taliban, but the Trump administration kept withdrawing US troops.
On Oct. 8, 2020, with the election a month away, Trump tweeted that all US troops would be out of Afghanistan by Christmas. His tweet surprised Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Afghan President Ghani.
After Joe Biden beat Trump in the election, the Great Misleader relaxed the pace of withdrawal, but he brought the level down to 2,500 at the end of his term. By that time, all the US bases were under Afghan government control.
While Trump was drawing down US troop presence in Afghanistan, his minions were undermining efforts to get Afghan interpreters and other allies out of the country. Trump adviser Stephen Miller spread “racist hysteria” about Iraq and Afghanistan in cabinet meetings, according to Olivia Troye, a former national security aide to Vice President MIke Pence. Miller and his allies were placed the departments of Justice and Homeland Security and other security agencies to stymie special immigrant visas (SIVs) for Afghans who worked with the US government or troops in Afghanistan, Troye said. “The number of SIVs dropped dramatically during the Trump administration,” she said. “We knew the offices were under-resourced and overwhelmed.”
“Trump had FOUR years—while putting this plan in place—to evacuate these Afghan allies who were the lifelines for many of us who spent time in Afghanistan,” Troye said, according to Business Insider. “The process slowed to a trickle for reviews/other ‘priorities’ — then came to a halt.” Biden’s folks had to re-start the process.
Miller was Trump’s point man for blocking brown refugees. On Fox News Aug. 17, Miller said “those advocating for mass Afghan resettlement are doing so for political and not humanitarian reasons,” adding that it would also be too expensive, Business Insider reported.
“The United States of America never, ever, made a promise, written or unwritten, to the people of Afghanistan that if after 20 years, they were unable to secure their own country, that we would take them to ours. That is nonsense. That has never been US government policy,” Miller said, rebutting the pledges made by American veterans of the Afghan war.
Also, with Trump’s refusal to transfer power, his administration refused to brief Biden’s incoming national security appointees during the transition, so Biden and his aides entered the White House playing catch-up.
When Biden took office on Jan. 20, after Trump supporters failed their Jan. 6 coup attempt, the Taliban was making gains against the Afghan government forces, al-Qaeda enjoyed safe haven in Pakistan, and commentators wondered how long the Afghan government would last before collapse. Biden faced the choice: repudiate Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban, escalate US troop presence in Afghanistan and put those US troops in the Taliban crosshairs — or complete the withdrawal and leave Afghanistan to the Afghans.
Biden pushed back the date of the withdrawal from May 1 to Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He later said he expected US troops to be out by Aug. 31, which should have given US forces plenty of time to evacuate refugees, since most of his advisers felt the 300,000 Afghan government forces could hold out at least until the end of August. But as the Taliban swept through the country, the Afghan troops dropped their guns and scattered. The Taliban entered Kabul virtually unchallenged, leaving US forces to hold onto the airport, Afghan President Ghani fled to the United Arab Emirates, reportedly with $169 million in cash. Meanwhile, US forces evacuated more than 120,000 people from the end of July to Aug. 30. That’s actually a remarkable showing, but Trump, in a last bid to undermine the evacuation, said Biden should “resign in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan, along with the tremendous surge in COVID, the Border catastrophe, the destruction of energy independence, and our crippled economy.”
Irony may be dead. But a lot of Afghan refugees are still alive, outside the reach of the Taliban, no thanks to Donald J. Trump. — JMC
Copyright © 2021 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652
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Saturday, August 14, 2021
Republican leaders aren’t ashamed of Donald Trump’s deep vein of lies. Far from it: They’re vying to become the next Trump, following his example of misleading and distracting.
Texas Gov. Greg Abott (R) got an early start on blaming President Biden for the COVID resurgence, accusing him in March of “recklessly releasing hundreds” of COVID-positive undocumented immigrants into the country. Biden had condemned as “Neanderthal” Abbott’s decision to “reopen” Texas and restrict local governments from requiring mask use. He also signed a bill that prohibits Texas businesses from requiring “vaccine passports.” At that time, cases were declining in Texas as vaccines spread among the population.
Then, on July 28, as the Delta variant led a surge in infections, Abbott took the initiative of issuing an executive order instructing the Texas National Guard to assist law enforcement officers in stopping civilian drivers, including federal contractors, who appeared to be transporting migrants. If drivers refused to cooperate, Abbott’s executive order instructed that officers might seize their vehicles.
That order lasted a week before US District Judge Kathleen Cardone blocked Abbott’s order, ruling that it posed “irreparable harm,” after US Attorney Gen. Merrick Garland filed a lawsuit that called Abbott’s order unconstitutional, stating that it threatened to impede contractors working on behalf of the federal government, as well as interfering with the federal government’s “broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration.”
Abbott’s order had stakeholders, including city and county officials, confused about how it would be carried out. Civil rights and legal experts warned the order would cause racial profiling. “Would any car carrying Latino passengers in Texas be subjected to a traffic stop? Given that the state is home to more than 11 million Latinos, according to the US Census, comprising more than 40% of the population, that seems like a Texas-size recipe for the violation of Latinos’ civil rights,” wrote CNN columnist Raul Reyes.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) rejected any responsibility for the surge on COVID cases in his state after he had forbidden state or local officials from requiring masks to be worn in public. He even threatened businesses that tried to require customers to provide proof of vaccination. Instead, DeSantis also blamed Biden for the surge. “Joe Biden has the nerve to tell me to get out of the way on COVID while he lets COVID-infected migrants pour over our southern border by the hundreds of thousands. No elected official is doing more to enable the transmission of COVID in America than Joe Biden with his open borders policies,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising letter Aug. 4. In a bit of projection, he also suggested Biden was a “power-hungry tyrant.”
In a news conference, DeSantis added, “He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide-open southern border.” He challenged Biden, “Why don’t you do your job? Why don’t you get this border secure? “And until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you.”
DeSantis insisted he’s handled the crisis well, even as he has fought against COVID vaccine mandates and barred schools from requiring students and staff to wear masks, while hospitals fill up.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who sent state troopers to Texas to help Abbott patrol the border, also dodged responsibility for the COVID surge in her state by blaming immigrants entering the country over the US-Mexico border. “Part of the problem is the southern border is open and we’ve got 88 countries that are coming across the border and they don’t have vaccines so none of them are vaccinated and they’re getting dispersed throughout the country,” Reynolds said at an Aug. 3 news conference.
Republicans have managed to convince 32% of respondents to an Axios/Ipsos poll that “people from other countries traveling to the US” are to blame for the current surge in coronavirus cases. But 58% of respondents correctly blamed unvaccinated Americans and 28% noted former President Trump shares the blame.
The Washington Post noted in an Aug. 6 Fact Check that there has been an increase in the number of people seeking to cross the southern border, but the US Border Patrol has apprehended more than a million migrants since last October, and the Department of Homeland Security expects a record number of encounters this fiscal year. But under a public health emergency declaration, the department also is returning a record number of migrants to Mexico. For example, the Border Patrol caught 178,416 in June, and expelled more than 100,000 of them — mainly individual adults traveling alone.
The Rio Grande Valley has experienced a disproportionate share of those encounters, and city officials in McAllen, in Hidalgo County, said 87,000 migrants have passed through the city limits so far in 2021. Mayor Javier Villalobos, a Republican, has joined fellow Republicans in blaming migrants for an increase in COVID cases, with more than 7,000 migrants confirmed positive for coronavirus since February (a positivity rate of about 8%). But even as the COVID positivity rate among migrants increased to 13.1% in late July, that is still lower than the 18.55% positivity rate among tested residents in Hidalgo County. And migrants who test positive for the virus are immediately quarantined, along with any family members who might have been exposed but test negative. They are not released until they test negative, so infected migrants have little interaction with the community.
Philip Bump of the Washington Post noted that the current surge in coronavirus cases doesn’t overlap with the surge in immigration or with the locations where those immigrants end up. “The surge in new cases began in late June. The increase in immigration began in March, when coronavirus cases in the United States were going down.”
Then there’s the geography. “The places that are hardest-hit by the virus at this point are mostly not along the border with Mexico. Instead, they’re on the Gulf Coast, in Florida and stretching north from Louisiana up through Arkansas and Missouri.”
Bump added, “Of the 10 counties that are currently experiencing the highest rates of new infections relative to population, eight are more densely White than the United States as a whole and nine are less densely Hispanic. That doesn’t suggest that they are likely destinations for migrants.”
“Obviously, there will be migrants who have COVID, and it would be ridiculous for anyone to say that migrants are not susceptible to COVID. Of course they are,” US Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, told the Dallas Morning News. “But based on the numbers I’ve seen, the percentages of migrants who have COVID are very low. … The governor of Texas knows that this kind of xenophobia, racism and hate fuels hate crime. That’s something we in El Paso know all too well.”
On Aug. 3, 2019, a gunman, apparently inspired by Trump’s rants about invading immigrants, drove 10 hours from a Dallas suburb to El Paso, where he killed 23 people and wounded dozens more at a Walmart. In a manifesto the alleged shooter posted online before the shooting, he echoed Trump’s comments on immigration and said he made the trip to “stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Abbott, DeSantis and other GQPers should know better than accuse immigrants of spreading COVID, given the Republican Party’s recent history of race-baiting, but they went there anyway. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2021
Copyright © 2021 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652
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