Thursday, September 23, 2021

Freedom To Die

Tom Avril of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports

Seated in an ornate, columned hearing room before a panel of state legislators, the 7-year-old girl spoke with conviction.

“I love God with my whole heart,” she said. “He made our immune systems perfect.”

Therefore she — and other children from families with such religious beliefs — should be exempt from requirements to get vaccinated against measles and other infectious diseases, the girl argued.

A crowd of supporters erupted in applause. And within days, lawmakers tabled their effort to tighten the state’s school vaccination rules, leaving intact the option of obtaining a religious exemption.

A scene from a red state, perhaps? Somewhere in the Great Plains or the Deep South?

Try New Jersey, which has voted for Democrats in the last eight presidential elections.

West Virginia and Mississippi have two of the lowest rates of vaccination against COVID-19, and lately they have paid the price with jammed hospitals and school closures. Just 40% of West Virginians and 41% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated, according to Covid Act Now, a nonprofit that tracks pandemic trends.

But the states’ longtime success in school vaccination is built on firm policy, Buttenheim said: For decades, they were the only two states not to allow religious or personal-belief exemptions.

West Virginia and Mississippi are respectively, the seventh most religious state and the most religious state in the USA. The low rate of vaccination against the coronavirus therefore is not surprising. Ironically, the religiosity of the two states also may help account  for them being the only two states not to allow religious or personal belief exemptions.

There is, nonetheless, hope for New Jersey.  Avril notes

New Jersey lawmakers have reintroduced their proposal to ban religious exemptions. Democrat Herb Conaway, the bill’s sponsor in the state Assembly, where it passed in December 2019 before stalling in the state Senate, did not respond to a request for comment.

But in a floor speech to colleagues back then, Conaway, a physician, made his views clear, railing against “junk science.”

“It’s tragic that a child would die or suffer a grievous illness by a disease which is preventable by a vaccine,” he said. “Vaccines have been proven time and time again. Vaccine mandates have been proven time and time again to save lives.”

It's not only irresponsible but absurd that legislators would more highly value the testimony of a child than that of adult professionals with educational and professional achievements in the scientific or medical fields.

Avril adds

Science did not carry the day in New Jersey in January 2020, when state senators scrapped their effort to eliminate religious exemptions after the testimony from the 7-year-old girl, Emelia Walls of Cape May.

The sincerity of people leaning on a religious liberty exception to being vaccinated undoubtedly varies from one individual to another. However, the validity of their objection does not vary. Through belief or formal affiliation, Emelia presumably identifies with a specific Christian denomination or generally as a Christian.  But there is nothing in the Bible about vaccination, there is nothing in Scripture about the quality of immune systems, and the sects which have qualms about vaccination are extremely small.

It's not science vs. religion. It's science vs. emotion, and the objective is to intimidate those on the side of public health, who are expected to cower before individuals, especially little children, who claim an entitlement because of supposed religious faith.  In New Jersey, Assemblyman Conaway, as a medical doctor arguing from a position of strength, has been able to withstand the intimidation. 

Nevertheless, too few legislators in too few states are able to do so. It may be no coincidence that West Virginia and Mississippi, two states with a dominant Christian culture, traditionally have been able to withstand pleas from individuals or groups who claim a special insight into God's perspective on immunization.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Color Blind Coddling

It's time for us liberals/progressives to be honest. It shouldn't be too painful, though as Democrats it will hurt a little.

Eric Boehlert recently wrote

National Public Radio relayed more shocking Covid news on Monday: “In 2020, for the first time in recorded history, more people died in Alabama than were born in the state.” The pandemic has shrunk the red state. Yet local Republican leaders still oppose mask and vaccine mandates, leaving the Trump outpost exposed to more fatalities.

But like so many news outlets, NPR missed the real story. The pile of Alabama deaths continue to mount not simply because of Covid. But because so many people in the Trump-friendly state have been brainwashed by bad-faith partisan actors and they refuse to get inoculated. Anti-science Republicans seem determined to spread the virus among their own voters, which seems inconceivable.

Millions of conservative Americans are being brainwashed about the pandemic, and thousands are killing themselves in the process. Yet the media downplay the huge story, framing it simply as “vaccine hesitancy.".

.... the rest of the world must be looking on in slack-jawed astonishment as Trump voters lead a mad movement powered by Fox News. The network is doing what no other outlet has done in the history of television news — it’s deliberately getting people killed during a public health crisis by feeding eagerly gullible red state viewers a mountain of lies.

From PizzaGate, to QAnon, to the current anti-vaccine and anti-mask hysteria, the GOP has been brainwashed. It’s no secret — lots of victims openly admit it. Still, the press shies away, nervous about offending conservatives by portraying them as mindless zombies being easily duped about a miraculously safe and effective vaccine. (It’s the same reason news outlets refused to call Trump a “liar.”)

Instead of calling out the Covid zombies, the press coddles them, especially white, Southern ones, depicting them as merely “vaccine hesitant,” “vaccine-reluctant,” or “vaccine skeptics.”

But it's not only whites who are depicted as merely "vaccine hesitant," "vaccine-reluctant" or "vaccine skeptics."  In the study "Addressing Justified Vaccine Hesitancy in the Black Community," Carl T. Laurencin notes

Blacks are disproportionately affected by poverty, mass incarceration, infant mortality, limited healthcare access, and health-related conditions including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, respiratory illness, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) [1]. We are also more likely to contract the virus and spread it within our communities because we are less likely to be able work from home and physically distance ourselves due to living, working, and commuting [6]

All true and undeniable. He then states

Blacks as a community have the highest levels of individuals who state they will never get the vaccine or are not sure if they will get the vaccine, Fig. ​Fig.11 [7, 8].

Many studies have noted that Black people cite distrust in the government and in the medical profession. Black people cite our nation’s history of racism in medical research and in medical care as key reasons for their hesitancy [9, 10]. This distrust is totally justified.

Well, no, it's not.  Boehlert reflects a prominent view in the left community when he refers to a lot of whites who refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccine as "mindless zombies being easily duped about a miraculously safe and effective vaccine.." By contrast, resistant blacks are, according to Laurencin and many others on the left, "totally justified" in their distrust.

Such is "the soft bigotry of low expectations," a tendency to which blacks themselves are not immune.   Promptly upon availability of the vaccine at the end of 2020, President Biden and Vice President Harris (for whom blacks recently had voted overwhelmingly in the presidential election) and a whole host of other prominent individuals, both black and white, publicly were observed getting the vaccine. They did not die. In general, neither blacks nor whites nor others should be coddled.

In general, neither blacks nor whites or anyone else should be coddled. Many African-Americans were initially distrustful of the vaccine, and too many remain so.   They're not zombies, but neither are the whites, Latinos, and others who have refused the shot. They are foolish, a human trait possessed by a large number of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and individuals of any other background.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Popular Strategy

No, the media has not, and the American public has not. Had the media paid attention, the American people nonetheless would have not.

Speaking Monday to Tucker Carlson, Tulsi Gabbard, U.S Representative from Hawaii and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, laid out the threat she perceives from "Islamist ideology," which she distinguished from "Islam." She stated

Militarily, we have two choices in how we do that. Number one, continue to invade and occupy and nation-build in countries around the world, just as we did in Afghanistan- at great cost. number two, we an take a targeted approach using air strikes, using our special forces to go in and go after these terror cells.

The reality is that the cost, the cost to the American people, the cost to our troops, the cost to civilians will be far less if we take this targeted approach to go after these Jihadist terrorists, that if we continue to make the very same mistakes that we saw in Afghanistan and other parts of the world of invasion, occupation, and nation-building...

Gabbard argues "the cost to the American people, the cost to our troops, the cost to civilians will be far less if we take this targeted approach." 

"Two out of three ain't bad," Jim Steinman wrote for Meat Loaf over 40 years ago, and Gabbard might have gotten two right. Obviously, the cost to American soldiers will be far less and, unless there is an increase of terrorism on American soil, the cost to the American people will drop. But the cost to civilians will not.

Drone strikes in North Africa/Middle East are likely to rise. They will do so in part because the military will not roll over and play dead.  The weapons of war must be used for something and they probably will be called upon to do more now that there will be fewer American soldiers in the region to respond to terroristic threats.

Journalist Garrett Graff is rightfully annoyed that there was little attention paid by the media to USA "targeting debacles" of the past twelve years.  Avoidance of the topic helped prevent public outrage over civilian deaths.

But this door swings both ways. One reason media generally ignored the air strikes was that there is scant interest among the public in deaths of foreign civilians. They are not Americans.  The deaths we care about are those of American men and women, the same individuals to whom we say "thank you for your service" when we are sincere and when we are not.

That's why Tulsi Gabbard can claim "the cost to civilians will be far less if we take this targeted approach,"  though she knows otherwise. She may know, too, that while numerous surveys in recent months have asked voters whether they support withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, far fewer explore sentiment about air strikes.

Those questions would raise awareness of this approach, to which the federal government has been pivoting in fits and spurts over the past three Administrations. Investigation of the role of the intelligence establishment in assisting the strategy is critical. Still, not many Americans would care- and even fewer would disapprove, especially if Gabbard and others continue to whitewash it as "targeted."


Monday, September 20, 2021

Down That Old, Ugly Road

Bill Maher on September 10 took on another sacred cow. This time it was segregation, which is dangerously insinuating itself into our national culture. In the video below, Maher is seen remarking

When people say to me sometimes like, boy, you know you go after the left a bit these days, "why," I'm like because you're embarrassing me. That's why I'm going after the left in a way you never did before because you're inverting things. I'm not going to give up on being liberal. 

This is what these teachers are talking about- that you're taking children and making them hyper aware of race in a way they wouldn't otherwise be.

I mean, I saw last night on the football game, uh, Alicia Keys sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which now I hear is called "The Black National Anthem." Now maybe we should get rid of our national anthem but I think we should have one national anthem. I think when you go down a road where you're having two different national anthems,  colleges sometimes now have, many of them have, different graduation ceremonies for black and white- separate dorms. This is what I mean- segregation. You've inverted the idea. We're going back to that under a different name.

These ceremonies, geared toward one or more minority groups, are not mandatory and generally not sponsored by colleges but are encouraged and endorsed by them. A more accurate term than "segregation" may be Balkanization- but segregation nonetheless is accurate.

The pernicious nature of these steps toward re-segregation are highlighted by the branding of the song, once a poem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." There should be only one national anthem, as Maher maintains, even if we "get rid of our national anthem," the Star-Spangled Banner. If there are two national anthems, there is no national anthem.  

Labeling any tune "the black national anthem" is itself misleading at best, noxious at worse. "Black" is not a country, a continent, or even a representation of national descent, which would be African or African-American. There can be no black national anthem because black is not a country. It is a color and description of a race. Were there a "White National Anthem," it not only would be offensive but similarly silly.

Perhaps devotees of a Black National Anthem literally don't know what they're supporting. If there truly is a black national anthem, white national anthem, or brown national anthem, there is an anthem depicting that ethnic group (or color) as a separate nation. That may have been the dream of Southern separatists some 160 years ago. It should not be our dream.


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tweet Of The Day- Taliban

It's not a tweet from today but rather of seven days ago. However, CNN's Fareed Zakaria has done what few others have done.  In the video below, he can be seen commenting

In other words, the world's most ideologically committed Islamic government has said its closest ally will be a nation engaged in what many observers call cultural genocide against its Muslims. Lesson: the Islamic militant movement has always been more about power than about religion.

Probably, and if so, it is analogous to the GOP's voter suppression in the USA. That is less (although somewhat) directed against blacks as a group than it is an expression of raw, naked power, an effort to acquire unlimited dominance and control. The party's white evangelical Christian base, a critical ally in the endeavor, also is less motivated by race than by power. Fundamentalists have a way of doing that.

Zakaria obviously continued "twenty years after 9/11, we are still not clear on how to think about radical Islam. It is real, it is evil, but it has lost the ideological argument."

In those three sentences, Zakaria has committed the sin of using the terms Muslim, Islamic, and Islam. To be sure, he specifies "Islamic militant movement" and "radical Islam," applying the accurate, and helpful, adjectives.

But in contrast to a current affectation of political correctness, he actually noted that the Taliban are Muslims. That is simply not done in polite company.

In contrast to Zakaria, there is a whole host of politicians, journalists, pundits, and activists. Included among them is Canadian Kimahli Powell, Executive Director of Rainbow Railroad.

Powell chatted on Friday with CNN's Victor Blackwell about Rainbow Railroad's efforts on behalf of LGBTQIA+ Afghans.  His Twitter timeline includes the following remarks by him and/or his organization:

With our partners, Rainbow Railroad is calling on the U.S. government to take ten specific actions to ensure the safety of #LGBTQI+ people in Afghanistan. We'll continue to post updates here as they happen.

Rainbow Railroad continues to liaise with #LGBTQI people on the ground in #Afghanistan. @KimahliPowell updated @CBCToronto and @chrisgloverCBC on our efforts to find safety for people caught in this conflict

In this seven-part thread, focusing on the Taliban's threat to LGBTQ+ individuals, from August 26, Powell addresses the "increasingly dire" plight of sexual minorities in Afghanistan, somehow without mentioning that the Taliban rationalize oppression with their religious zealotry.

There is an abject and reprehensible refusal, with serious and little understood implications, to referring to the Taliban as Islamist. Powell and others thereby are unable to characterize accurately a group which is militant, radical, and fundamentalist The Taliban are motivated by religion- but even more by power, which Zakaria is able to assert because he does what few others are willing to do: utter the term "Muslim."

Zakaria accurately characterizes the Taliban as Muslim while recognizing that they do not accurately represent the faith. They are religious fundamentalists who pose a danger to Afghanistan far greater than posed by religious fundamentalists in many societies, including our own.

Religious fundamentalists pose a danger to many societies, including our own, but especially in Afghanistan, a topic largely unexplored for fear of giving offense. However, Fareed Zakaria, perhaps because he himself is a Muslim, has had his "NIxon going to China" moment. Nonetheless, that doesn't excuse all others from ignoring the elephant in the room.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Trump Lite

At first, it might appear that freshman North Carolina congressman Matthew Cawthorn is merely ignorant.

Cawthorn has claimed that George Washington was 21 when he received his first military commission, though he was 22, and that Abraham Lincoln initially was 22 when he first ran for office, though he was 23.

Those seem like simple, trivial errors. Cawthorn attributed the famous John Adams quote "facts are stubborn things" to Thomas Jefferson, inaccurately referred to James Madison as a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and told Jewish Insider that Congress authorized the Emancipation Proclamation, though it was the handiwork solely of President Lincoln.

Cawthornalso  has claimed that George Washington was 21 when he received his first military commission, though he was 22, and that Abraham Lincoln initially was 22 when he first ran for office, though he was 23.

At first glance, they seem to be errors born of ignorance without being self-serving. But now there is this:

Constitutional scholar Madison Cawthorn says it would be illegal for airlines to require vaccines because, “you actually have a constitutionally protected right to free, unrestricted travel within the United States.”

Not in the United States Constitution and it's a safe bet it's not in North Carolina's document, either. One of the best responses to Cawthorn's ludicrous remark came from someone identifying as "TheSheaKitten," who tweeted "Free, unrestricted travel huh? WTF is a drivers license for then? Why can't 13 year olds drive? Why aren't toll roads unconstitutional? Why do you need to register boats? Snowmobiles?" Another: "I hereby invoke the Constitution to bring back my right to bring a full shampoo bottle, water, and have actual silverware when I’m lucky enough to fly business or first."

Generously speaking, vaccination has come under attack by the Republican Party because it is supported by Joe Biden, a Democratic President.   Unlike Barack Obama, Biden is white but like Obama, he plays for the other team, Team America.

Arguing a constitutionally protected right to travel anywhere, anytime, serves an ideological purpose for Cawthorn and his fellow travelers and he presumably is aware it is false. Similarly, according to the (Asheville, NC) Citizen Times, as he was running for the office he currently holds

“Madison was homeschooled in Hendersonville and was nominated to the Naval Academy by Rep. Mark Meadows in 2014,” according to the 11th District candidate’s website. “However, Madison’s plans were derailed that year after he nearly died in a tragic automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair.”   

But in a 2017 sworn deposition obtained by AVL Watchdog, Cawthorn admitted his application to the academy had already been rejected before the crash. The campaign did not comment, despite repeated requests over several days.

The Naval Academy reference is a key part of the 25-year-old’s public portrait, featuring prominently in his campaign speeches and interviews. Cawthorn is careful to say he was nominated and that his plans were “derailed” by the crash, two statements that when taken together create the impression he was headed to Annapolis to attend the prestigious academy were it not for the 2014 crash.

Cawthorn's admission came after the election. And as the CitizenTimes notes

he has not publicly corrected the misimpression that he would have entered the academy in the class of 2018 were it not for the auto crash. Nor has he attempted to correct many TV interviewers who, in their introductions, often repeat the phrase that his aspiration was “derailed” by his injuries.   

His campaign website and Instagram page include a photo of Cawthorn wearing a Navy sweatshirt and another of him participating in a training exercise with others, all in the group wearing military fatigues and inflatable jackets pulling boats onto a beach. Cawthorn calls the group “my squad.”

The lying is not random.  Even the Lincoln & Washington fibs had their purpose. At that time Cawthorn, making his first run for public office, had the same month turned a mere 21 years of age. While a little ignorant and fairly immature, Madison Cawthorn has been making a sustained bid to succeed Donald Trump as Supreme Liar of the Republican Party.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Shortly after Donald Trump was defeated by Joe Biden, The New York Times reported

Since Mr. Trump dismissed Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and other top Pentagon aides last week, Defense Department and other national security officials have privately expressed worries that the president might initiate operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term.

A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post revealed

Fearful of Donald Trump’s actions in his final weeks as president, the United States’ top military officer twice called his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the two nations would not suddenly go to war, a senior defense official said Tuesday after the conversations were described in excerpts from a forthcoming book....

According to the defense official, Milley’s message to Li on both occasions was one of reassurance. The official questioned suggestions that Milley told Li he would call him first, and instead said the chairman made the point that the United States was not going to suddenly attack China without any warning — whether it be through diplomatic, administrative or military channels.

Milley also spoke with a number of other chiefs of defense around the world in the days after the Jan. 6 riot, including military leaders from the United Kingdom, Russia and Pakistan. A readout of those calls in January referred to “several” other counterparts that he spoke to with similar messages of reassurance that the U.S. government was strong and in control.

The second call was meant to placate Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6. But the book reports that Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him: “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”

Trump responded Tuesday with a sharply worded statement dismissing Milley as a “Dumbass,” and insisting he never considered attacking China.

Although, considering the source, the latter statement is of dubious validity, it might not be far off.  At about the same time General Milley was worried about an attack upon mainland China, according to the Post, President Trump "asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting"

whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material, four current and former U.S. officials said on Monday.

A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike.

So there was real fear that in the lame duck period, the President would launch a military strike upon one country or another.  Milley called Beijing after speaking to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who reportedly had told him "He's crazy. You know he's crazy."

However, Trump did not order an attack upon Iran, mainland China, or any nation while he was intent on remaining in office by preventing certification of the electoral votes. On January 5, he had told Pence “No, no, no! You don't understand, Mike. You can do this. I don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this”. On January 6 he rallied his supporters massed in Washington, using the word "peacefully" once and "fight" or "fighting" ten times.  He tweeted at Pence during the insurrection, describing it as a "time for extreme courage," for overturning the results of the election.

This is not how "crazy" behaves.  This is someone who accrued as much power as possible by shattering whatever laws and norms he could, monetized the presidency, and schemed to remain in power so he could escape the (otherwise) long arm of the law.  For the most part, he is a rational man and, far more thoroughly, an evil one.

Freedom To Die

Tom Avril of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Seated in an ornate, columned hearing room before a panel of state legislators, the 7-year...