Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


NORTH CAROLINA'S BEAUTY TRIUMPHS AMID COVID 19: During the next few weeks and months while many of us are “hunkered down,” it is important to remember that the world around us is still beautiful, ever changing, and very much alive. Across North Carolina new wildflowers will pop up every week, different birds arrive and depart each month. Beaches, rivers and forests can provide sanctuary and respite in these difficult times. While we are unable to travel freely, isolated from friends and the natural world, I’ll try to send pictures of North Carolina each week—from Bald Head Island to Cape Lookout, Southport to Currituck, Umstead Park to Pilot Mountain, and from Linville Gorge and Panthertown Valley to the high peaks of Mitchell, Grandfather and Roan.

EPIDEMIOLOGISTS ON WHY SOCIAL DISTANCING IS CRITICAL: Reducing the contact rate means reducing and changing the ways that individuals and populations interact and therefore spread infectious agents. Isolating people with COVID-19 is one way to reduce the contact rate between infected and uninfected people, as is quarantining people who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. But those strategies work best when you can identify with certainty who has the disease and who does not. In the current situation, when we mostly don’t know who is infected and who isn’t due to testing delays and lots of people about possibly with asymptomatic infections, reducing the contact rate essentially means that the entire population needs to reduce mixing. This, in the absence of a vaccine, which will be many more months away, lever number three is our most effective disease control strategy. Data released this week suggest the majority of the U.S. drastically restricted movement starting in March – except in the U.S. Southeast. Smartphone movement data suggests that many people in Georgia, Louisiana and other southern states have continued to move about their daily lives despite urgent news about the pandemic on the horizon and case counts increasing rapidly. Unnecessary trips to the grocery store, group outings on the beach or interactions with others at the park could mean life and death for someone’s grandmother or diabetic brother, for example. We should be overcautious and assume that those in the street, those in aisles at the grocery store and those passing on the hiking trail are infected.

ALARM, DENIAL, BLAME. THE PRO-TRUMP MEDIA'S CORONAVIRUS DISTORTION: A review of hundreds of hours of programming and social media traffic from Jan. 1 through mid-March — when the White House started urging people to stay home and limit their exposure to others — shows that doubt, cynicism and misinformation about the virus took root among many of Trump’s boosters in the right-wing media as the number of confirmed cases in the United States grew. It was during this lull — before the human and economic toll became undeniable — when the story of the coronavirus among the president’s most stalwart defenders evolved into the kind of us-versus-them clash that Trump has waged for much of his life. Now, with the nation’s economic and physical health in clear peril, Trump and many of his allies on the airwaves and online are blaming familiar enemies in the Democratic Party and the news media. The pervasiveness of the denial among many of Trump’s followers from early in the outbreak, and their sharp pivot to finding fault with an old foe once the crisis deepened, is a pattern that one expert in the spread of misinformation said resembled a textbook propaganda campaign. By the middle of March, the story of the virus on the right was one of how Trump’s enemies had weaponized “the flu” and preyed on the insecurities of an emasculated America. Limbaugh blamed “wimp politics — which is liberalism.” Pollak, whose tone grew more serious, said the virus had spread while Democrats stretched out the president’s impeachment. “We now know the cost of impeachment,” he wrote.

FOOT-DRAGGING GOP GOVERNORS ARE IMPERILING THE WHOLE COUNTRY: Those governors, all Republicans, have been enabled by Mr. Trump, who points to states that don’t yet “have the problem,” and remarks that it’s “awfully tough to say, ‘Close it down.’ ” He favors flexibility and is seconded by Vice President Pence, who says the federal government “will defer to state and local health authorities on any measures that they deem appropriate.” As the White House leads from behind, the effect is to endorse and induce complacency. Faced with a stealthy pathogen that can spread from asymptomatic individuals, or incubate for weeks before a victim falls ill with fever, states are free to delude themselves into thinking the virus has passed them by — until, having bidden its time, it erupts inside their cities and towns. Governors of those states can entertain the illusion of alternative facts, imagining their borders are impermeable. They can, like Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, resist a stay-at-home order for weeks until discovering just this week — surprise! — that the virus is “transmitting before people see signs.” It allows state-to-state gaps in the firewall that will likely encourage a raging disease to erupt in a series of rolling blazes across the country. As many states get tough, even deploying the police to encourage people to stay indoors, their odds of impeding the pandemic’s path of destruction are undercut by their neighbors’ selfishness.

PUTTING JARED KUSHNER IN CHARGE IS UTTER MADNESS: According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.) Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.” Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures. Kushner, Bernstein told me, “really sees himself as a disrupter.” Again and again, she said, people who’d dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he “believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.” (Sound familiar?)


KATHY REPASS: OUR "AMERICA FIRST" POLICIES ACTUALLY MADE US MORE VULNERABLE: Every “America first” article has concerned me. We’re now seeing the reasons for my angst. As we concentrated on “America first,” the Trump administration abolished the position of our CDC liaison in China, eliminating our inside connection to the onset of COVID-19. Gone was the knowledge we needed to stay ahead of this threat. When America was viewed as a global leader and partner, we helped the world overcome Ebola and SARS, eliminating threats to our homeland while also helping the world. Unfortunately, our current lack of global leadership left us vulnerable. Americans need to do some soul-searching while quarantined. Do we want a president who fires key scientists? Or, do we want a government that’ll ensure necessary offices are reinstated so that we once again become a global leader. Our lives depend on us taking back the reins of international partnership.

TAMARA GREGORY: HELP US CONTINUE TO FEED THE POOR: Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen in downtown Raleigh has remained open during this time. We prepare bag lunches and distribute them to our guests outside our facility. Remaining open amid so many closures presents challenges. Most of our partners have temporarily ceased operations or no longer have the excess supply that enabled their generosity in the past. It has created the unanticipated expense of having to purchase bag lunch contents rather than rely on donations from our restaurant, corporate and grocery partners. I invite Raleigh’s civic and corporate leaders and anyone with the means to think outside the box to ensure we remain able to provide our food-insecure neighbors with community and a good solid meal during these hard days. Distance should be no obstacle to sustaining our mission of feeding those neighbors. What will you do to help keep that mission strong?

NANCY MERRICK: THE PRESIDENT'S POSTCARD WAS A SHAMELESS POLITICAL PLOY: I was appalled to receive a postcard from the White House and CDC titled “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America.” As usual Trump wants to turn any situation, no matter how catastrophic, into a spotlight moment for him. But now is the time for the spotlight to be on the health care professionals furiously working to combat this pandemic. It is outrageous that taxpayer money was spent on this postcard when all funds should go toward acquiring supplies for our health care workers as they fight to save the lives. The heartbreak is that Trump is appropriating this time of national tragedy for political gain. Please remember this in November. Remove this man from office. The nation is at stake.



From the dark side

This week's loser is John Hood for criticizing the Governor's Stay At Home directive:

Their goal is not to contain the spread of the virus in the long run. Most officials grant that a large swath of the population already has been or eventually will be infected. In the vast majority of cases, the infected will experience either mild symptoms or none at all. But some will be hospitalized, and a small share — disproportionately older and suffering from serious preexisting conditions — will not survive their bout with the virus.

Did Cooper and local officials make the right call?

I don’t know for certain. Neither do you, to be blunt. They are acting on limited, incomplete and problematic data. I recognize they are under extreme stress, likely sleep-deprived and facing a set of unattractive policy choices.

If you've been watching some of his fellow Puppets like I have, you would have seen them picking apart some of the data that hospitals provide to the state, such as the number of beds available. Some hospitals haven't been as forthcoming as they should, and the numbers have fluctuated a little from day to day.

Considering the crisis they are dealing with, I'm not surprised. Accurate data is one of the first things that suffer when life and death is at stake, and it's also one of the first things that anti-government zealots pounce upon.

I don’t envy the position they are in. I respect their public service and pray for them. You should, too. But that doesn’t mean we should simply accept their decisions without scrutiny or complaint.

By all means, scrutinize, complain. But if you want to pray for something, I strongly recommend you pray for Congress (or somebody) to get Donald Trump off that daily podium, because his self-centered and contradictory stream-of-semi-consciousness is making this crisis much worse.

Our government hasn’t just shut down businesses (some potentially for good), thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and disrupted the daily lives of millions of North Carolinians with no clearly articulated standard for when the dictates will be lifted. Our government has also suspended our basic liberties as citizens of a free society.

Really? Do I have to explain why it's called a "Novel" virus? It has never infiltrated the human body until a few months ago. We don't know how long it will persist, how it might mutate, or even if our bodies will develop immunities that will protect us from re-infection. And you're pissed off because the Governor can't give you a specific date for when Stay-At-Home will be lifted? How about Easter? That's only seven days from now, no big deal. Trump said that would be a good target to say "fuck it" and start up society again.

I have been ordered, under threat of arrest and imprisonment, to minimize my contact with friends and family who live across town or in another city. I have been ordered, under threat of arrest and imprisonment, not to assemble with others to express our jointly held opinions or practice our jointly held faith.

If it wasn't for the fact that idiots can (and would) infect non-idiots, I would gladly grant you the freedom to Greco-Roman wrestle with all the Libertarians you could muster. But science tells me the collateral damage from that would be unacceptable.

The threshold for government to resort to such measures should be extremely high, however. And I get very suspicious when I see public officials justify actions such as shelter-in-place orders with the claim that “if even a single person’s life is saved, it will be worth it.”

Let me be crystal clear: Anyone who says that should be kept far, far away from wielding governmental authority at any level. They lack the knowledge and judgment to make reasonable public policy. They exhibit a basic ignorance of how free societies work.

Who said that? Seriously, you put quotation marks around it, who(m) are you actually quoting? Because I'm pretty sure that's either a non-government advocate or a strawman you have created, and you know better than that.

If North Carolina set a maximum speed limit of 25 mph on every road and street, we would see fewer traffic fatalities. If North Carolina prohibited swimming pools, we would see fewer drownings. And if North Carolina issued a shelter-in-place order every year from December to March, we would see fewer deaths from influenza and other familiar but deadly diseases.

Oh fer fuck's sake. I don't have the patience for hyperbolic what-ifs, and since it's apparent John is suffering from cabin fever and possibly carbon monoxide poisoning, I'm going to hit the "Save" button and call it a day.

They're true believers

in scoring political points. Always have been, regardless of truth.

EVERYONE knows we have imperfect knowledge about this virus. And everybody also know that the reason is because of Republican criminal negligence. We failed for six weeks at least to have adequate testing in place. The result? We couldn't track the spread. Someone HAD to make policy decisions even though we couldn't see the whole picture clearly.

People like John Hood and Dan Forest have the luxury of Monday morning quarterbacking. But thank god neither of them had any say about our state's response to covid 19 ... or there'd be a lot more people dead.

virus is, and will be exploited to the max by the fascists

The elections in November are in peril. There are hundreds of billions of dollars in the various chains now that were for disaster relief, but are being steered by Kushner, his frat brothers and the plutocrats, including Hood and Forest. Holding them accountable, even red handed has not worked so far. What actions next?

You said it.

Holding them accountable, even red handed has not worked so far. What actions next?

I have no idea. We can all see it coming, but it seems almost impossible to stop. If I had any confidence in the Supreme Court, that might suggest action, but I don't. The court will side with Trump when push comes to shove.