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Posts published in April 2020



Well, we’ve been cloistered for a couple of weeks now. Of course, being retired for about 20 years has been good preparation.

Barb, Clementine (cat), Skeezix (dog) and I going about our various rituals with minimal disagreements. A trip or two to the grocery store and a prescription now and then. Practicing careful “distancing,” masking and all that. Barb made masks using elastic from some old fitted sheets. They’re on the dashboard in the car for ready use.

Our Easter Sunday church services were online. Pastor did a good job, even walking his wired-in “congregation” through communion. Since bread and wine were not immediately available at that time of the morning, Barb and I substituted coffee and cinnamon rolls. Not exactly “bread and wine” for the elements but close.

Lots of little businesses still operating. Noted a CEO of chain stores said “We are down to the hair color phase of hoarding.”

Speaking of hoarding, I overheard the manager of a local grocery outlet tell a customer a resupply truck was due late Saturday night and there should be some toilet paper onboard. I got to the store at seven Sunday morning. Of the 48 six-packs offloaded, there were only four packs left when I picked one up. One per customer.

While much has been said offhandedly about TP hoarding, some city sewer plants are now being clogged up by things in the lines other than TP. Seems some folks have already run out.

On our little, infrequent trips for necessities, one thing keeps bothering me. With a “Swiss cheese” statewide gubernatorial closure order for all but “essential” businesses, I see an awful lot of stores open for business that don’t seem “essential.”

A block from our house, a golf cart shop remains open. Now, golf carts in our large retirement community are considered second “cars” and run about our streets with abandon. Still, continued sales of such doesn’t seem “essential.”

But, effective this week, our seven public, beautifully groomed golf courses are closed “till further notice.” You can hear the screams of outrage clear to Las Vegas! Snowbirds, who live for winter golf, are supremely pissed. Many are heading “back home” early to Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and the Dakota’s. Patio’s bare, blinds down, everything turned off.

Pet stores still open. Selling nothing considered “essential” except animal food - which is essential - but can be bought at grocery stores.

The problem with all these “stay-at-home” orders is there’s no enforcement in too many cases. We’ve noticed a good number of small businesses selling this-and-that still peddling their wares. What police departments have the manpower or the time to nail each violator? Oh, there was one story out of California about the arrest of six guys who had to go from one town to the other for some late night booze restocking. Cops nailed ’em. But, that’s about it.

Now, Trump has formed an “advisory committee” to study all the facts and “advise” him when it’s time to reopen the country and how. Given the name of the committee you just know what the “recommendation” will be. Strong on abortion but willing to kill possibly thousands more of us to get business operating again.

Trump has been strongly advised to “stay-off-the-stage” during those daily COVID-19 updates. He’s managed to ignore that wise advice. But, it’s interesting to see various health professionals openly disagree with our “leader.” Dr. Fauci, more than once, has followed Trump to the lectern with statements of fact 180-degrees from our President. Dr. Birks also has openly expressed factual data refuting Trump’s statements made only minutes before.

Interesting bit of non-logic from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on one of the Sunday talk shows. Claimed his refusal to issue a stay-at-home edict was proving “successful.” Said his state has a small population and “social distancing just isn’t necessary.”

Well, Sir, we’ve got a long way to go before we’re nationally out-of-the-woods. Health professionals who know are talking about a possible “second wave” of COVID-19 and the likely need to extend our lock-down environments. Some of us are curious to know how many of your constituents have to die before you face the hard reality that “social distancing” is saving a lot of lives in other states.

For all of us, our current environment is something we’ve never known. Hundreds of thousands of us stricken by an invisible virus. Terrible death numbers each day. We’re urged to stock up and stay at home. Told to avoid others because they - or we - might be carriers of disease. Told by reputable medical professionals that today’s restricted status quo may last until 2021.

When all this ends - and it will - we will not be the same. Not even the same as we were three months ago. Our entire economy will need to be restructured. We may come to our senses and finally decide health care for all is a right of citizenship and not for just a few who can afford insurance. Our school systems will be forced to undergo changes. How we compensate those who are unemployed or who fall through the cracks because they aren’t eligible will have to be re-examined.

Health care providers and insurers will have to change how they do business and figure out how to include everyone with at least minimal qualification for pandemic and other health catastrophes.

As we sit in our isolation, we need to consider what we’ll face when this pandemic is over. Consider what conditions will be and how we’ll react to that new environment.

How we re-open, or not


The medicine and statistics, and medical statistics, involved with working our way out of our Covid-19 social isolation I'll leave to the physicians, epidemiologists and statisticians. But there's a simpler, more basic element to our current shutdown debate that, in a time of political trench warfare, tends to go unremarked.

The nature of the problem turned up in the last week with a series of protests at statehouses and county courthouses around the country. The rules limiting travel, work, business and social activity and large groups of people have been imposed in most states - there remain a few holdouts - and are going on their second or third weeks, a little more in some places. One Ohio protester, who said she has no worry about contracting the illness, said the whole thing has been hyped (this at a time when cases in the United States topped 700,000 after barely a month of expansion), and the restriction "enrages something inside of you."

The emotional reaction is not hard to understand, and the request the protesters are making is clear enough: Eliminate the rules imposed by various governments - mainly state and local - since Covid emerged.

That is: Just do away with the restrictions so we can all go back to normal.

The desire is perfectly rational. But the people making the demand aren't thinking the situation through.

Suppose a given state immediately dropped its social distancing requirements at this moment. Would things go back to normal?


To begin with, most people do accept the evidence of their eyes and ears and the testimony of the many thousands of people who have or have had Covid-19. They do know that it is a risk, that it is serious and can be fatal, and that it spreads easily when people are grouped together. As long as most of us understand this, and recognize that the illness still is spreading and can easily reach where they live, most of us won't be very eager to jump into crowd situations or mingle with people who mingle with lots of other people.

I hate seeing the businesses and other places I like to frequent in their closed or diminished mode. But even if no governmental orders were in place, I wouldn't be going there, or going there much, anyway. I want to minimize exposing myself to risk of serious illness. When I do, for example, visit a grocery store, I get in and out as fast as I can - no shopping around. Knowing what I know about the virus, I wouldn't have been frequenting restaurant dining rooms even if they were open. That's simple self-preservation. Most people tend to operate that way most of the time.

So most of these businesses that have shut down would have been losing much of their customer and employee base even without any governmental requirements.

Not all, to be sure; some would bull through, exposing people to higher risks. (I just read an article about a nursing home firm in Idaho accused of pressuring employees to work in high-risk environments.) But many businesses, probably a large majority, already were taking safety action before governments required them to. Some of this may have owed to genuine concern about customers, employees, vendors and others; some may have been uneasy about the prospects of lawsuits or other ugly blowback if (all-too-predictable) problems happened. Either way, most businesses would rather not jump on a land mine if they can avoid it, even if the immediate consequences are - as they are for so many - extremely costly. Operating normally under the current conditions would be as risky, and maybe more so, over the longer haul.

Thomas Friedman got at some of this toward the end of his fine New York Times column today: "if this is the future, every business, restaurant, hotel, theater, sporting facility, factory, nonprofit and government office needs to ask itself: What does my business look like when, on the best days, the responsible people coming to my door will be wearing a mask, gloves, distancing six feet apart and volunteering to have their temperature taken before they enter, and the irresponsible ones won’t be? How do I handle that? Whom do I serve? What kind of business will I really have?"

If a governor told all businesses and other organizations in that state, "You all can go back to normal now!" - the reality is that many, probably most, wouldn't, much as they would love to. Not until it's safer than it is now.

And if most customers and other people thought the orders were out of bounds, they wouldn't be very widely adhered to. But most people are following the rules; they do see the point.

Once people - most people, recognizing that some out there never will believe what makes them uncomfortable - perceive that conditions are relatively safe, then likely we will return to some kind of rough normality. The experts in this field caution that this could be a dangerous time, because if that perception runs too far ahead of the reality, the virus will have a terrific opening to strike again. If it does, we'll have another (unfortunate) opportunity to learn our lesson, all over again.

But at least until then, protesting state or local orders is futile and counterproductive.

People who have fully internalized the idea that governments are the source of all problems may see regulation as the core of the problem here. It isn't. The problem is the virus. The problem will be under control, and our normal lives will resume, when the virus is squashed, and not before.

Know nothings


My political education began in the 1970s in South Dakota. An uncle served in the legislature as a Republican and later a top aide to a GOP governor. I remember sitting in the gallery watching him on the floor of the state senate. I started to pay attention and politics and government became real when as a senior in college I had a marvelous opportunity to cover the state legislature for radio stations all over South Dakota.

In those days South Dakota, a state with a long history of Republican dominance, was nevertheless competitive for Democrats, rather like Idaho in that same period. There was a healthy two-party system, the occasional Democrat in the governor’s office and Democrats could and did win national office. A guy named McGovern represented South Dakota for 18 years in the Senate.

But for the last 15 years or so, certainly since Tom Daschle lost a Senate seat in 2004, South Dakota has been, like Idaho, as red as red can be. My old state hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 1978. Today the statehouse in Pierre (pronounced Peer, by the way) is the domain of a Sarah Palin-like Republican by the name of Kristi Noem. She may not be the worst governor in the country, but she is certainly in the running.

Noem has steadfastly refused to join 43 other governors and order a statewide stay at home order. Mayors in the state’s larger cities – a relative term in South Dakota – have taken their own faltering steps to control the COVID-19 pandemic, while front line health care workers have implored their conservative governor to take broader, more effective action beyond her proclamation of a statewide day of prayer.

The governor’s most recent response was to announce that South Dakota would be a test case for the unproven hydroxychloroquine drug that the president has repeatedly cited, without a shred of scientific evidence, as a potential game changer. Noem said she had “an exciting day” after talking to Trump son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner about the drug.

At the same time news broke that the massive Smithfield Foods pork processing plant near Sioux Falls had shut down indefinitely after more than 50 workers tested positive for the coronavirus. The area is now one of the major virus hotspots in the country.

Of course, Donald Trump and the know nothing base of the Republican Party, supplemented by a few neo-John Birchers like the gun toting crank Ammon Bundy and anti-government, but well-funded libertarians like the Idaho Freedom Foundation, is where to look to understand the origins of nonsense from Republicans like the South Dakota governor.

As the one-time Republican and 2016 independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said this week: “We’re now witnessing just how devastatingly destructive it can be when even one of our two major parties turns its back on truth and expertise in favor of blind loyalty to one man,” which brings us to Idaho.

I began wondering last week why Governor Brad Little was receiving so little support from fellow Republicans as he has struggled to respond to the pandemic. No senior Republican had taken to the airwaves or social media to lend him support or push back against the party’s primitive wing exemplified by Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin and Rep. Heather Scott who have actively resisted the governor’s leadership.

Scott actually called the governor, a fellow Republican, a “little Hitler” and equated his state at home order to the Holocaust. Such idiocy literally seeps out of the seams of these Republican know nothings.

Little’s actions, including a statewide stay at home order, too slowly implemented and lacking sufficient statewide coordination, have nonetheless certainly saved lives and slowed, but far from stopped the spread of the virus. Little’s decision this week to extend his order for another two weeks was prudent and almost certainly lifesaving.

The answer to why he’s received so little support from fellow Republicans came earlier this week. Those leaders clearly stated their priority and it was not to follow the science and the common sense of how this pandemic is eventually brought to heel.

“Somewhere between a blanket stay-at-home order and a complete disregard for the reality of this virus’s potential, there lies an acceptable level of risk,” House Speaker Scott Bedke wrote last weekend to the governor. “A statewide, one-size-fits-all approach,” Bedke blithely said, “is ill-advised.”

Boise State public radio reporter James Dawson broke the story of Bedke’s letter, a stunning example of the kind of anti-science, anti-expertise thinking that dominates the party from bottom to top.

Meanwhile, that reliable reactionary Raul Labrador, Little’s primary opponent in 2018 and now the GOP party chairman, weighed in with the very Trumpian “The cure cannot be worse than the disease!” Labrador’s statement – perhaps his first blast at a repeat run against Little – was headlined: Reopen Idaho.

What Bedke, Labrador and the many they speak for in their party were really saying is damn the public health, what’s a few more deaths, many more sick people and an almost certain second wave of disease when the Idaho economy is at stake?

Bedke and Labrador don’t say, of course, how many more deaths might be acceptable, but perhaps they should have consulted with the family of the woman in her 60s who died this week at a Boise nursing home where 14 care givers are believed to have the disease. Or maybe they could have spoken with doctors in Lewiston or Blaine County who continue to be frustrated by a lack of sufficient testing, which remains the key to slowly resuming a more normal life. The harsh reality remains that there will be nothing approaching “normal” until the disease is truly at bay and that is going to take time, perhaps a long time.

But instead of the very real life and death implications of the need for more physical distancing, while more testing and contract tracing of those who have been exposed is put in place, Bedke threatened Little with retribution during the next legislative session for the governor’s handling of “legislative powers.”

There once was a time when willful Republican ignorance about science and wholesale disregard for facts were abstract matters of theoretical concern. Now they have become minute-by-minute threats to life and health.

As this is written U.S. deaths from the virus are headed for 30,000 and higher, the largest number in the world, and we should remember the immortal words of House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, the Hammett Republican who bizarrely sits on the board of her local health district. “This is not the plague. Stop treating it like it is,” Blanksma said a month ago. “Wash your hands and act like responsible humans.”

The key words there are “responsible humans,” a concept beyond many in today’s Republican Party.

The pandemics rhyme


A decade from now, or further out, as big a deal as it is right now, will our coronavirus emergency of 2020 be much remembered - if at all? And how will our response to it be remembered?

Illnesses sweeping across civilization are something old in human, not to mention American, history, and yet many tend to be largely forgotten some years after the fact. The period around and after the American Revolution (especially in 1793) featured a mass eruption of American plague - or yellow fever as it also was known - in Philadelphia and other emerging cities, and thousands died of it. It was one of the biggest regional events of the time … now largely forgotten.

I’ve wondered how many Americans, until the last couple of months, knew about the flu pandemic (then widely called the Spanish flu) of 1918 which infected a third of the world’s population and killed two-thirds of a million Americans. Last week I scanned a number of general history books that cover the period, and found scarcely a mention of the disease, immense a reality though it was for people at the time, and as debilitating for individuals, businesses and society as … what we’re dealing with now, if not more so.

A couple of weeks ago regional columnist Marc Johnson pulled a collection of quotes from Idaho newspapers circa 1918 demonstrating it did not go unremarked at the time, and that the responses then included many of the same we experience now: Social distancing and shutting down group activities whether commercial, educational, religious or otherwise.

There are even indicators the measures taken then were more restrictive in some ways than those taken today. Consider this from the December 27, 1918, Salmon Recorder: “The epidemic appeared last week in the stoutly quarantined community of Challis, where it is said more than a score of cases in pronounced form were reported. It was said the disease was conveyed to the town by an enterprising traveler who forded the river in order to get by the quarantine guards.”

A short essay put together by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is one of the better overview reports on the World War I-era pandemic in Idaho. Starting (apparently) in Canyon County in September 1918, it spread swiftly to more than a dozen of the larger communities all over the state, from Boise to Wallace to Pocatello, in a pattern that roughly resembles that of Covid-19 today.

The report quoted Paris resident Russell Clark as recalling, “There was a feeling of depression and sadness because neighbors, you see, were passing away.” He wasn’t exaggerating: “The mortality rate was nearly 50 percent in Paris, Idaho. State officials and newspapers urged calm. In Rexburg, the local paper insisted that there was ‘no occasion for panic’ but then went on to discuss the need to enforce the town’s quarantine. The Northern Idaho News of Sandpoint also urged calm, but then noted that, as a precautionary measure, schools would be closed indefinitely, and churches, picture shows and all public gatherings of every kind would be prohibited.”

All of that may sound familiar to us today, but remember those quarantine guards outside Challis? The flu had spread just about everywhere there were people.

The shutdown of 1918-19 was not well liked, and plenty of people complained that their rights were being trampled. But the more prevalent view seemed to be that of a businessman in Preston who noted his county had been “closed tight” but “in looking up similar conditions in other towns, we find that the said towns have been opened in spite of the prevalence of the epidemic. And reviewing these cases, we find that the conditions in those places have been much worse than what we have had in this section.”

History, as they say, may not repeat exactly, but it does rhyme.

The Spanish flu in Idaho as elsewhere came in waves, before finally running its course and dissipating in mid-1919.

How well will we do this time? And how will our response be remembered?

Pandemic placebo


The buzz drummed up around hydroxychloroquine by our President as a treatment for Covid19 doesn’t surprise me. Honestly, a lot of politics is snake oil and he’s proven to be really good at selling it to some of us.

But it’s a great opportunity to consider what pills we are willing to swallow. I find hydroxychloroquine quite bitter. Maybe you don’t.

Lots of what we do in this modern medical industrial complex is mysterious, but don’t think for a minute its more complicated than human nature. Placebos tell us something about human nature, so it would be wise to understand them if we can. It might tell us something about ourselves, and about the prescriber.

Kind of like Idaho Democrats, placebos have a bad name they don’t deserve. Why disparage something that really has an effect? I guess it depends on the effect you want. It turns out, our bias effects our outcome. What you believe about your treatment influences the effect the treatment has on you.
They frequently do work; placebos I mean, not politicians.

When a placebo is given to a patient it can have an effect on the measured outcome; the “placebo effect”. Placebos make headaches better, lower blood pressure, improve pain, ease anxiety and improve performance, the list is long. Believe it or not, they can have side effects too. They can cause nausea, ringing in the ears, all number of unpleasant things. Don’t forget that these effects, desired or not, are as real as we perceive them to be. Even the color of the pill can have an effect. We are such marvelous mysterious creatures.

For a drug to be FDA approved it has to show an effect greater than a placebo. That requires a lot of hard, expensive work. The patient has to be blind to whether the drug is a placebo or “real” and further, the treatment team needs to be blinded to the nature of the treatment also. The faith that patients place in their treatment, and the faith that providers have, has an effect. The standard for an effective drug is that it must clear the placebo hurdle of faith. That’s a high bar. Isn’t it refreshing to know our faith is so powerful?

The effect of hydroxychloroquine on the Covid19 illness has not been held to these standards. One very small report without blinded patients or providers reported some benefits; two larger ones showed no effect. Trying a novel treatment in the face of a novel virus in the midst of uncertainty is not irresponsible. Honestly reporting it for others to consider and test is responsible. Testing the treatment against a placebo would be responsible. Such testing might provide some evidence. But such testing takes time, effort and discipline. Do we lack such resources now? Should we be buying snake oil?

I remember my pharmacology lectures in medical school. The pharmacist professor wore a long white coat as he stood on the stage addressing the large theater of students. He spent a whole hour, after beta blockers and before tricyclic antidepressants, talking about the placebo effect. He emphasized how real the placebo effect was, how powerful it was, and how foolish we would be to minimize it. He encouraged us to tell patients the treatment would work. “Use this effect for your patients benefit.”

At the time I felt he was leading us down the road to be snake oil salesmen. But it’s really not as simple as that. I think he was encouraging us to choose a treatment we had faith in, and impart that faith to our patients. The foundation for that faith should come from tested evidence. It’s a sad fact that many medical treatments have no such evidence, yet they are prescribed daily.

Maybe that was why I was such a lousy Idaho politician. I couldn’t sell blue pills when red ones were in demand.

Covid-19 in the Northwest


Some weeks back, when the pandemic numbers were a lot smaller, I took a look at how the Covid-19 stats were developing in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. It looked a lot different then, not least because Idaho had hardly any cases. Now it has about as many as Oregon, and Oregon has a lot more than back then. So does Washington.

Based on the numbers at the Worldometer site, which seems to have some of the best and most regularly updated statistics around (not far off from the excellent Johns Hopkins site), here are some general thoughts.

Back then, Washington state was ending its reign as the state with the largest concentration of Covid-19 cases; a string of outbreaks in the Puget Sound area was making it the nation's leading hotspot. That's changed. It now ranks 13th among the states for number of cases reported, and the number of new cases and number of deaths have slowed dramatically. States like Florida and Georgia, which barely registered nationally then, have swept past the Evergreen State.

No doubt, Washington was helped a lot by early and aggressive state action aimed at blocking the expansion of the contagion. It seems to have worked. The total number of cases per million population there now stands at 1,467, which is well below the national rate of 1,845 - a remarkable turnaround. It also has one of the best rates of testing among the states. Washington should be considered one of the leading success stories in the anti-pandemic effort, at least so far.

California, the other west coast state where the illness caught on early and in a big way, also has made a lot of progress. After a brief turn as the national hotspot, it now ranks only 6th among the states for most cases - even though it's by far the most populous and got a head start in cases - and its cases per million people amount to just 642, one of the lowest rates in the country. It's a remarkable success story.

Oregon, situated between those states, has not done badly either. It never had the really big blooms as the places to the north and south, but it seems to have bent the curve a bit from fairly early on. At this writing, it has 1,633 cases, and has seen steady but not massive expansion. Its rate of cases per million people is 400, making it 6th-best in the nation.

Idaho reported its earliest cases well after Washington and Oregon did, so when I wrote about this a few weeks back there was hardly anything to discuss. since then the Gem State's raw numbers of Covid-19 cases roared upward to catch up with and at times surpass Oregon's; in the last week, the two states have moved upward closely in tandem. At the moment, Idaho reports 1,453 cases.

That's a little less than Oregon's total, but then Idaho has a far smaller population. Its per-million rate is 861, well below Washington but more than double the rate in Oregon. On a per-capita basis, it is growing Covid-19 cases faster than almost anywhere in the west, though the growth has slowed considerably since Governor Brad Little imposed statewide shelter-in-place orders.

In fact, in all three states (and in California and elsewhere too) orders of that kind seem to coincide with a flattening of the increase of cases.

The cases do seem to have popped up all over the place: A big majority of Northwest counties have at least one case. However, it's also true that the cases are heavily concentrated in a few areas. About three-fourths of Washington's cases have appeared in the Seattle-Everett-Tacoma metro areas, with large but much smaller numbers appearing around Spokane, Yakima, the Tri-Cities and Bellingham. In Oregon, almost three-fourths of the cases appear in the Portland metro area and near Salem, in four counties. In Idaho, about half of the reported cases are in the Boise area (Ada and Canyon Counties) and about two-thirds of the rest are in the Sun Valley-Ketchum area and in the communities from there to the nearest larger city, Twin Falls, to the south.

So far, then, the bulk of the cases have been concentrated in relatively few spots. That may be because other areas only caught their early cases after people began taking protective measures.

On the plus side, there are serious indications that the contagion is slowing down, in the western states at least. But that's probably only happening because of the steps, sometimes controversial steps, that have been taken so far.

The picture is much changed but resembles the contours of what we saw a month ago. Will it look the same a month from now?

Trump’s Covid-19 strategy


President Trump is facing substantial criticism for failing to launch an all-out federal effort to protect the country from the coronavirus pandemic. Many have questioned whether he has a coherent national strategy to bring the nation through the crisis. The President has taken to claiming that it is the job of state governors to combat the disease. The national government is there just for back-up and he is merely the “cheerleader” for the states.

On January 29, Trump’s close trade advisor, Peter Navarro, wrote a hair-on-fire memo to warn the President of the pandemic danger. Trump appears to have blown it off because on February 16, he told us there were only 15 cases of Covid-19 in the country and they would soon go away. It wasn’t until March 12, when the Dow Jones index took a 2,352-point dive, that Trump woke up to the danger.

By the time Trump finally recognized that he had a political disaster on his hands, there was no way he could either continue to deny it or fix it. The only way to avoid an election debacle would be to shift responsibility to someone else. In our federal system, the state governors are charged with protecting public health and safety, so Trump’s strategy of denial morphed into a deliberate plan to shift primary responsibility to the states. If things turned out badly, it would be the fault of the state governors.

Trump told state officials on March 16 that they should buy their own pandemic response equipment. Three days later, he told reporters: “The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.” On March 22, the President said: “The governors, locally, are going to be in command. We will be following them, and we hope they can do the job.” He told Sean Hannity on March 26 that the federal government is “a second line of attack.”

Since the President’s pivot to placing the onus on the states, his media and political supporters have also adopted that strategy. Even Nikki Haley, who served as Trump’s U.N. representative and has been rumored as a replacement for Mike Pence on the presidential ticket, has jumped on board, telling voters to focus on their governors rather than Trump.

Trump has positioned himself as a self-described cheerleader, offering advice and some assistance to the states, while cheering them on from the sidelines. At his press briefings, he acts as ringmaster, giving some information, mixed with politics, praise for his efforts, extraneous comments, and various miracle cures.

But Trump studiously avoids mentioning the federal government’s responsibility to orchestrate the response effort and pay the costs. He mightily resisted invoking the Defense Production Act to require private industry to manufacture the necessary supplies because that would imply a predominant federal role in the enterprise. In the few cases he has used the Act it has been too little, too late.

The federal government, acting through its elected leader, has the primary responsibility for protecting the country from serious national threats, such as a 50-state medical emergency. The federal government must lead the way because it has the financial and other critical resources necessary to provide the ventilators, protective gear, testing equipment and logistical support. We look primarily to the President for leadership and assistance in a national crisis. In this pandemic, we have gotten little of either.

Missing in (re)action


Thomas Modly did not resign his post as Acting Under Secretary of the Navy. He was fired!

I was not present. I have no more information than most folks. But, I’ve had enough time in the military and the media to know a bit about comings and goings of civilian appointees and military thinking.

Modly is the cretin who used a Navy jet to fly halfway around the world. Navy spokesman said Modly’s aircraft was a Gulfstream which costs $6,946 per hour to operate. ($6,946 x 35 hours flight time equals $243,110). Nearly a quarter-million dollars.

Modly boarded the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Roosevelt in Guam, accessed the ship’s public address system and told the crew of more than 4,000 sailors their captain was “too naive and stupid” to command such a ship and fired that captain. Then, he flew halfway around the world again.

Just 24-hours later, former Acting Under Secretary of the Navy Modly was sitting on the curb outside the Pentagon with his personal possessions scattered about.

The current Secretary of Defense is Mike Esper, who previously was a defense contractor and congressional lobbyist. Under him, as advisors, are the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The makeup of the Joint Chiefs includes Army, USAF, National Guard Bureau, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Naval Operations.

That last seat is currently filled by Admiral Michael Gilday, a man of considerable years of honorable naval service. A man devoted to the chain of command from his office down to the lowest “swabby.” His record shows he’s the kind of guy you’d want in a very tough and demanding job.

My guess is you wouldn’t have wanted to have been in the same office with the admiral last week when he was told of Modly’s speech-making to hear his reaction.

Every commanding officer lives a career believing in his/her gut the most important job is concern for - and protection of - the troops. That’s a fundamental fact of command. Makes no difference the branch of service.

The chain of command starts with the President, then to the Secretary of Defense, then directly to field combatant commands. The Joint Chiefs are advisory but their chain of command flows from them to commanders within each branch, down to troops in the field.

Chain of command is the life blood of the military. It’s been so since before the Roman Legions.

But, there’s also a political side.

Guys like Esper and Modly come and go regularly. While members of the Joint Chiefs usually serve four-year terms, the consistency of military command outlives any presidential appointee. So, the Chiefs retain a lot of power within the Pentagon. There’s always been a considerable effort made to keep a balance between the transitions of civilians and the permanence of the military side. So, a wise Defense Secretary consults with the Chiefs regularly.

Based largely on published reaction by the crew of the Roosevelt and immediate reactions by the Chiefs, what Modly did was regarded as a threat to operations of a key naval ship. A ship already battling cases of Covid-19 as it sat in a distant port. Without a captain who had a record of accomplished command. Civilian Modly, acting in bone headed-ignorance, made a bad situation much worse.

What Captain Brett Crozier did was try to get the attention of the Acting Naval Secretary and the Joint Chiefs through the chain of command. There were active cases of Covid-19 aboard the Roosevelt and, if left unchecked, other crew members would be stricken and the Roosevelt would be unable to perform its mission. A threat to our national security and a distinct possibility in Crozier’s view.

When action wasn’t forthcoming, Crozier put his concerns in a letter to the higher-ups. Somehow, a copy of that letter was leaked. Publication of the letter, in former Acting Secretary Modly’s civilian mind, caused the dunderhead reaction that resulted in his quick exit.

Admittedly, much of this account is speculation. But, with nearly a decade of military experience, some dealing with generals and admirals, some years spent in the political environs of Washington D.C. and, with a significant amount of published military detail, the scenario of Modly’s exit from his post likely happened as written.

When an official holding a high political appointment is said to have “resigned” during such a debacle, it’s often an attempt to cover up the fact that the axe fell quickly on the offender.

Trump has used “acting” appointments to fill many high-level government jobs. He’s attempting to avoid a required congressional approval process while creating a cadre of mostly unqualified office holders who owe their continued employment to him. It’s a violation of laws and oversight which, so far, a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate has allowed to continue.

As you cast your vote seven months from now, keep the story of Captain Crozier in mind. His excellent naval career was ended by an idiotic presidential appointee who was placed in a position of great responsibility by someone who has also been proven to be supremely unqualified for great responsibility.

Government closest/nullification


Nullification. The Idaho Republican Party hereby recommends that the Idaho Legislature and Governor nullify any and all existing and future unconstitutional federal mandates and laws, funded or unfunded, that infringe on Idaho’s 10th Amendment sovereignty. We also recommend that the State of Idaho continue to request funding and assistance from the Federal Government which complies with the Constitutional provision of the 10th Amendment, and recommend that the State of Idaho resist the withholding of federal funds as a means of forced compliance with the unconstitutional federal mandates and laws.
â–º Idaho Republican Party platform, 2012.

Government in the United States operates in regional levels: There are local governments, an intermediate state level, and a federal government based in Washington. Polling has shown with some consistency that government is trusted in relationship to how close to the constituent it is. A city government, in general and in theory, is trusted more than the state, which in turn is trusted more than the federal government.

As Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, but actually didn’t, “The government closest to the people serves the people best.”

At least sentiment often runs that way. Get down to cases and you can find poorly run – as well as well-run – units of government at all levels. Government agencies operated from far away usually come to most people’s attention when something goes wrong and the trouble winds up in news reports, and that colors the overall sense of the agency. More local agencies are less likely to be treated with so broad a brush.

The concept of trust-those-more-local can and does have ideological application, however.
Among many conservative activists who dislike government generally, a special loathing is held for the federal government. That helps account for a widespread support among activist Republicans, in some states at least, for nullification.

“Nullification” in United States history and government typically has expressed the idea that if a state government disapproves of a federal action, it can invalidate – nullify, or declare that action null. (The idea of local governments trying to nullify a state action has been mentioned from time to time, but hardly ever pursued.) It’s an old concept, but despite the age there’s little legal or other support for it, especially since 1865.

The theory behind it is that the Constitution is just a compact, in effect a treaty, between the states, and the states have retained primary authority in the system. The closest thing to constitutional support for this is the 10th amendment, which said, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The Constitution itself does not say it was established by the states, but rather by “We the people of the United States.” Nothing in the constitution lets states nullify federal actions, and courts consistently have affirmed federal supremacy (though the federal government has limited authority to force states into action). In the greatest congressional debate on the subject, featuring the likes of John Calhoun (pro) and Daniel Webster (con), Webster’s arguments carried the day. (One interesting specific application he made is worth a thought: If the United States declared war, could one or more states simply decide not to participate? Nullification theoretically would suggest that they could.)

The idea of nullification surfaced early in the nation’s history, in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (which Jefferson had a hand in writing). Several of the first major sectional battles in the nation invoked the cry of nullification, the hottest of these coming in 1832, when South Carolina tried to nullify a federal tariff; that conflict was resolved through a compromise in Congress over the tariff. But the attitudes surrounding nullification took root and grew, and fed into the secessionist movement in the south that precipitated the Civil War.

The result of the Civil War might have put an end to nullification as an active issue. It didn’t. It returned again in the Civil Rights era, as several southern states opposed federal efforts at desegregation.

And it has come back again. Nullification activism has returned in a number of states, where legislation has been introduced to provide for at-will nullification of federal actions (notwithstanding widespread legal advice that such measures would not stand up in court).
It even has come up at the federal level. Matthew Whittaker, who served as acting attorney general (of the United States in 2018-19), had said earlier in 2013 that, “As a principle, it has been turned down by the courts and our federal government has not recognized it. Now we need to remember that the states set up the federal government and not vice versa. And so the question is, do we have the political courage in the state of Iowa or some other state to nullify Obamacare and pay the consequences for that?”

Some states would cheer him on, but the first sentence of his statement is the one remaining operative.