Mother Jones Magazine

Dementia Is On the Wane . . . But Maybe Not For Long

A new study says that dementia has been on the wane for multiple decades:

The risk for a person to develop dementia over a lifetime is now 13 percent lower than it was in 2010. Incidence rates at every age have steadily declined over the past quarter-century….In 1995, a 75-year-old man had about a 25 percent chance of developing dementia in his remaining lifetime. Now that man’s chance declined to 18 percent, said Dr. Albert Hofman, chairman of the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and the lead author of the new paper.

But wait:

In a reversal of trends, American baby boomers scored lower on a test of cognitive functioning than did members of previous generations, according to a new nationwide study.

Findings showed that average cognition scores of adults aged 50 and older increased from generation to generation, beginning with the greatest generation (born 1890-1923) and peaking among war babies (born 1942-1947). Scores began to decline in the early baby boomers (born 1948-1953) and decreased further in the mid baby boomers (born 1954-1959).
While the prevalence of dementia has declined recently in the United States, these results suggest those trends may reverse in the coming decades, according to study author Hui Zheng, professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

Trust the boomers to screw things up. On the other hand, this might be the result of juvenile lead poisoning, and that’s the fault of the Greatest Generation. Greatest indeed.

Lunchtime Photo

This is the third and last picture of highways fading into the distance from my Arizona trip earlier this year. But this isn’t really one single highway: it’s Baker Blvd. in the foreground and Interstate 15 in the distance. If I had backed up a few hundred feet you’d also be able to see the world’s largest thermometer, but alas, that would have put me on lower ground and spoiled the shot. All art is a series of compromises.

January 25, 2020 — Baker, California

Do We Really Need Senate Confirmation of 1,200 Positions?

This is probably not a big vote-getter, but it’s worth a thought:

seriously i want congress to either completely rewrite the vacancies act or just repeal it altogether

— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) August 3, 2020


This tweet was spurred by President Trump’s latest temporary appointment: Anthony Tata, a retired brigadier general with a history of anti-Islamic tweets. The Senate made clear that Tata was not going to be confirmed as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, so instead Trump simply appointed him as “the official Performing the Duties of” the DUDP. He could do this because the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows him to. Trump has used the Vacancies Act to appoint dozens (hundreds?) of temporary officials without the bother of Senate confirmation.

This is an abuse of the intent of the Vacancies Act, but in the spirit of bipartisan benevolence I’ll offer up a simple compromise: tighten up the Vacancies Act and at the same time cut way back on the number of executive branch officials who require Senate confirmation. There are about 1,200 of them these days, and that sure seems like overkill. Does every deputy undersecretary really need a full-dress Senate confirmation, after all?

So that’s that. Let Trump—and other presidents—appoint far more of their team than they do now, but for the positions that really matter get stricter about Senate confirmation. Given the intense partisanship of the Senate these days, this might also require placing some bounds on how long the Senate can keep a position from being filled, but that’s a subject for another days.

Donald Trump’s Businesses Did Okay in 2019. But 2020 Might Be Awful for His Personal Wealth.

Before COVID-19 hit, Donald Trump’s business empire was continuing to earn hundreds of millions of dollars. But the president’s recently filed personal financial disclosures show that much of that came from hotels and resorts, two of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. We won’t know the specifics of how COVID-19 has diminished Trump’s wealth until next year (and even then, only if he is reelected and has to file another disclosure), but based on last year’s report, it could get quite ugly for the president—right before he has hundreds of millions of loans due to private lenders.

Trump annually files a personal financial disclosure form that details the income he earned, the assets he owns, and the debt he owes. It is not as detailed as his tax returns, and it crucially leaves out key information for assessing the president’s financial status—for example, how much money he spends. According to the most recent copies of the forms, filed Friday night, Trump earned at least $446 million in the 2019 calendar year through his businesses and investments—a slight uptick from the previous year. But it’s not clear how much of that the president kept, and even when numbers appeared to be good for individual businesses in the president’s portfolio, all may not be as well in reality.

For instance, according to Trump’s disclosure, his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland earned $25.6 million in revenue in 2019, up $5.2 million from 2018. But those figures don’t include how much it costs to run the golf course—and it costs a lot. We know from corporate filings in the United Kingdom that in 2018, the golf course actually lost $13.1 million—far more than even the 2019 increase in revenue. Unless Trump dramatically cut costs at Turnberry (we’ll know later this fall when the British corporate filings are due), it seems unlikely the course was profitable.

At Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, which he touts as “the Winter White House,” revenues slid by $3.7 million to $21.4 million for the year. No information is available on how much Trump spends to operate Mar-a-Lago, but it’s not a good sign for one of his marquee properties. Down the road at the Doral golf course he owns—which he tried to steer an international summit to last fall—revenues climbed $2.4 million from 2018 to 2019, but profitability at the resort has slipped since Trump was elected. 

Trump’s other favorite vacation getaway, his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, also had revenues rise by about $2.5 million last year, but across many of his other golf courses, revenues seemed to just inch up, even as the economy as a whole was roaring. Trump’s Jupiter golf course, in Palm Beach, Florida, where he frequently golfs while visiting Mar-a-Lago, saw an increase in revenues of just about $429,000.

One of the most prominent properties the president owns is a luxury hotel in downtown Washington, DC, which he opened shortly before Election Day in 2016 and quickly became a hangout for administration members, lobbyists, and foreign delegations hoping to make an impression on the president. Trump rents the building from the federal government and pays rent, partially based on how much profit he makes—and has yet to pay above the basic amount, suggesting that even as its revenues inched up to $40.5 million (a $150,000 increase from 2018), the property is still not making much money for the president when all its expenses are added up. The Trump family announced they were planning to sell the property last fall, but the sale seems to have been put on hold.

To the degree that the Trump Organization appears to have been financially healthy in 2019, much of the business is built on Trump’s resort and hotel business. Besides his golf clubs and hotels he owns, Trump manages hotels for others around the world. All told, revenues from resorts, hotels, or management fees accounted for $352 million, about 78 percent of all of Trump’s revenues. The bad news, for Trump, is that in 2020, just weeks after the period covered in this financial disclosure, the COVID-19 pandemic steamrolled across the global economy, with the hotel and resort industries hit particularly hard. One industry group estimates American hotels have lost $46 billion in revenue since the pandemic started.

At one point, nearly all of Trump’s resorts were closed, and he was forced to lay off as many as 1,500 employees. His Scottish golf courses rely heavily on wealthy American golfers, but with international travel out of the United States almost completely curtailed—the UK has maintained a two-week mandatory quarantine for travelers from the United States—any progress reported by Trump’s businesses in 2019 has likely been completely erased in 2020. 

In that respect, the Trump Organization is no different than almost every other business around the world, but the president—who has retained full ownership of all of the properties, refusing to divest upon taking office—has some unique challenges. For one, he continues to owe a lot of money. The 2019 personal financial disclosure shows no substantive change in his listed debts—he still owes hundreds of millions to lenders on mortgages for some of his favorite properties. While Trump’s overall level of debt is not unusually high—the New York Times estimated his assets are worth about $1.35 billion compared to debt in the neighborhood of at least $470 million—several of his largest debts are coming due in the next few years, possibly during a second presidential term. Among others, Trump will need to repay Deutsche Bank about $125 million for mortgages on the Doral resort, and $170 million on the Washington, DC, hotel. If Trump doesn’t have the cash to pay these debts, he could try to refinance the loans—but banks will look toward his recent revenues to determine his creditworthiness, numbers that will probably not be pretty after the damage from the pandemic is totaled up.

Read Trump’s full personal financial disclosure below:

In His Latest Coronavirus Rant, Trump Slams Fauci, CNN, China, and the Democrats

On Monday, President Donald Trump pulled out all the old stops to defend his inability to control the coronavirus: delegitimizing public health experts, denouncing the media, and vilifying Democrats.

After signing an executive order limiting US government agencies’ use of foreign labor, Trump began extolling the virtues of hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug that has not been proven to improve outcomes in patients with COVID-19. When a reporter countered that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s foremost infectious disease specialist, has said the drug doesn’t work, Trump replied, “I don’t agree with Fauci on everything.” Earlier in the day, Trump lashed out against Dr. Deborah Birx, apparently for accurately noting that the coronavirus is “extraordinarily widespread” in the country and for warning against reopening schools in areas with high infection rates.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: Research has shown that hydroxychloroquine is not effective in the treatment of COVID-19.

Donald Trump: "I happen to take it myself…I don't agree with Fauci." pic.twitter.com/tmvSPeJaZZ

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) August 3, 2020

Trump also criticized Fauci for allegedly arguing against a ban on travel from China in the early weeks of the pandemic, saying, “I overrode him, and I did the right thing.” As The Atlantic‘s Ed Yong explains, travel bans ironically tend to do more harm than good, promoting last-minute travel before the restrictions go into effect and ultimately failing to halt the spread of disease.

When asked why the United States has experienced so many coronavirus deaths compared to other countries around the world, Trump said, “Hold it. Fake news, CNN. Hold it.” He then falsely implied that the worldwide spread of the virus was intentional, claiming that the virus “was released by China.” And, rather than taking responsibility for the way that the virus has ravaged American cities, he blamed Democratic mayors and governors.

This. Clip. Is. Insane.

A reporter asked the president why the US has so many deaths compared to other countries (150K+), and Trump responds with a "hold it fake news CNN." He then descends into a racist rant claiming it was "released" by China (3 times over). pic.twitter.com/E4fafsTUib

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) August 3, 2020

“What the Democrats want,” he said, “all they’re really interested in is bailout money to bail out radical left governors and radical left mayors like in Portland and places that are so badly run. Chicago, New York City. You see what’s going on over there?”

Trump’s Attack on Mail Voting Is Good for Democrats

This is so bugfuck nuts:

President Trump’s unfounded attacks on mail balloting are discouraging his own supporters from embracing the practice, according to polls and Republican leaders across the country, prompting growing alarm that one of the central strategies of his campaign is threatening GOP prospects in November.

Voting by mail has always been viewed as favorable to Republicans—or at worst a wash. Democrats embraced it this year because it makes sense in the middle of a pandemic, but Donald Trump simply refused to believe that anybody, let alone Democrats, could possibly be acting altruistically. The only thing that made sense to him was that mail voting must be some kind of Democratic trick and therefore he was opposed to it.

That’s what happens when you’re so transactional and so cynical that you don’t believe non-selfish behavior is even possible. This should have been a no-brainer bipartisan initiative, but Trump didn’t believe it and no one in the Republican Party had the guts to tell him the truth. Now they’re getting exactly what they deserve.

It’s Possible to Drive Down Gun Violence Without Increasing Arrests

Defunding police ideally means shifting more of a city’s budget to social services, and we’ve found yet another reason why that’s a good idea: Doing so helped drive down gun violence in Oakland, California, a city long known for high murder rates.

And I mean it has seriously driven down gun violence. As I reported in a new investigation, shootings in Oakland dropped in half from 2011 to 2017, after Black activists convinced the mayor and local residents to invest more in social services—from job training to housing to life coaching—for men who had shot someone or been a victim of gun violence.

Andre Reed, 37, went through a life-coaching program after he was shot eight times at a party in 2018. His coach, Leonard Haywood, helped him find a job and build confidence. I followed them over the course of about 10 months as Andre got his feet back on the ground after the shooting. Today, they refer to each other as brothers.

One study showed that less than 1 percent of Oakland men who participated in the same life-coaching program were rearrested for another shooting in 2018. And only 10 percent were rearrested for any crime that year. That’s major progress when you consider that nearly three-quarters of California men in their early 20s with juvenile records end up arrested again within a few years of their release from detention.

Shootings are rising again during the pandemic—in Oakland and elsewhere. Even so, the city’s gun homicide rate is still half of what it was before this particular life-coaching program kicked into full gear. Police departments in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC, have all sent officials to observe Oakland’s model for preventing gun violence. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s a promising argument for why investing more in social services can make us safer. Read my full investigation here.

Trump Goes After Birx for Speaking the Truth on Coronavirus Crisis

President Trump on Monday lashed out at Dr. Deborah Birx after the White House coronavirus response coordinator warned that the coronavirus is now “extraordinarily widespread” in the United States—an assessment that while backed by science, contradicts Trump’s ongoing efforts to falsely portray the crisis in more optimistic terms.

It marked the first time the president has publicly criticized Birx, who until now, had echoed the White House’s talking points on the pandemic, even when doing so drew heavy condemnation, as well as doubt over her independence as a public health official. Trump’s newfound frustration with Birx came after she told CNN Sunday that the US had entered a “new phase” of the pandemic, one different than the situation in March and April, while also suggesting that distance learning—not the in-person reopening of schools Trump has aggressively pushed for—may be more appropriate for communities struggling to contain the spread of the virus.

On Monday, without offering any evidence, Trump framed Birx’s remarks as a response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blunt comments announcing that she didn’t have confidence in Birx. “I think the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee,” Pelosi told ABC on Sunday, “so I don’t have confidence there, no.” 

“It is deeply irresponsible of Speaker Pelosi to repeatedly try to undermine & create public distrust in Dr. Birx,” Alyssa Farah, the White House’s director of strategic communications, tweeted. “It’s also just wrong. Period. Hard stop.”

That call to end criticism of Birx apparently did not reach Trump, who by accusing Birx of taking “the bait” and hitting the administration,” had unwittingly taken the baton from Pelosi. “Pathetic!”

So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2020

Here’s How Trump Is Emboldening Other Countries’ “Bad Behavior” on the Climate Crisis

This piece was originally published in the Guardian and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

The origins of the world’s historic agreement to tackle climate change, in Paris in 2015, have some familiar themes. Back in 2007, there was a Republican president in the White House who had long been hostile to any action on climate change.

George W. Bush had refused to give US backing to a new global roadmap on the climate.

Fortnight-long UN talks had dragged on long past the deadline, through the night and into the next afternoon. Every other country wearily signed up, and still the US would not budge.

Delegate after delegate pleaded publicly and privately, there were even tears, to no avail. Then finally, to loud cheers, the representative from Papua New Guinea summed up the whole developing world’s frustration as he called to the US officials: “If you’re not willing to lead, please get out of the way.”

That stung. And what followed, in December 2007, was a dramatic moment on the international stage, as the White House—under Bush—publicly backed down. The UN’s resolution passed and the so-called Bali roadmap, precursor to the Paris agreement, came into effect.

It took another eight tortuous years for the Paris accord—the only global agreement binding nations to hold global heating within scientific limits—to be signed by another US president, Barack Obama. But that moment in Bali was crucial, because it clearly demonstrated for the first time the limits of US power.

Bush had sought to stymy progress for years, but ultimately even an intransigent US administration could not prevent the rest of the world moving forward on the climate crisis, if other countries showed a united front.

This year, the world will face a similar watershed.

“We Need Leadership”

Donald Trump began the process of withdrawal from the Paris agreement in June 2017, but for legal reasons it will take effect only on 4 November this year, the day after the US presidential election.

The withdrawal comes at a crucial point, as the Paris accord requires countries to come forward this year with new strengthened commitments to cut emissions, ratcheting up their inadequate initial targets from 2015. Only with fresh commitments from all nations can the aims of Paris be fulfilled, as current pledges would take the world to a potentially catastrophic 3C of warming.

“This really is absolutely vital,” says Mary Robinson, twice a UN climate envoy and ex-president of Ireland. “How can we reach the level of ambition that we need? We need leadership.”

The possibility of a Trump delegation blinking at the last minute, as Bush did, is remote. The 45th president pays far less respect to a rules-based international system than his Republican predecessor. But some in the developing world are sanguine about the prospect of a US withdrawal.

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, and a longtime observer at the UN talks, argues: “Trump has actually proven the resilience of the Paris agreement. When it was signed, very few people thought that it would have survived a US withdrawal, and yet here we are, the accord is still intact and no other country has followed Trump’s lead and pulled out. Trump has been the ultimate stress-test, and although he’s clearly caused damage, it’s actually shown that the global consensus is that we need to address the climate crisis.”

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, and an adviser to developing countries, draws parallels with the US performance on Covid-19. “Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement has been ignored by the rest of the world, as countries have gone on without the US. However, the damage that Trump is doing to his own citizens by ignoring climate science and virology science is killing his own citizens in alarming numbers.”

The world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries are also prepared to push ahead without the world’s biggest economy, and focus on encouraging new commitments from other developed nations. “The US withdrawal is regrettable,” says Carlos Fuller, lead negotiator of the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), many of which face inundation at 1.5C or more of warming. “One can only hope that it is not the final chapter for them, and they will return. As for the rest of the world, there is no excuse for further climate inaction and paralysis. The stakes are simply too high, and the window for meaningful action is closing rapidly.”

“Bad Behavior”

The divisions Trump’s stance has opened up within his own nation have also been starkly in evidence at the annual UN climate talks, where for the last three years, two different American groups have been showing up. One occupies a brightly lit central pavilion hosting prominent politicians, celebrities, business leaders and top investors, attracting big audiences for glitzy presentations on clean technology and green jobs. These are congressional Democrats, state leaders and city mayors, commanding huge budgets and able to slash emissions and foster green schemes, but without the levers of federal power. The real US delegation—the one with the power to vote and veto at the UN—sits down in the hall, in a small drab office with only a diminutive Stars and Stripes and photocopied sign on the firmly shut door, denoting its presence.

The official delegation has been as quiet as its understated appearance suggests. Unlike the Bush administration, the Trump White House has made little attempt to disrupt the UN process, and few interventions of any kind. Supporters of Paris have greeted this somnolence with relief, eager to avoid another showdown like Bali.

Opponents of Paris have viewed it as an opportunity, however, and that is where the real impact has been felt. Trump’s stance has emboldened other populist leaders and countries with previously veiled hostility to Paris. Last year’s UN climate talks in Madrid sputtered to a close without agreement on the key issues after Brazil held out, with Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India accused of assisting in the obstruction at various points.

“When you have a player as big as the US not moving forward, that enables others to hide behind them.”

“There has been bad behavior in the negotiations,” says Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. “When you have a player as big as the US not moving forward, that enables others to hide behind them.”

This year, the coronavirus crisis has forced a postponement of the Cop26 summit to November 2021. While the delay is worrying to many, who fear time and focus will be lost, it also neatly solves a diplomatic dilemma. The talks, called Cop26, were due to start in Glasgow on 9 November, just days after the withdrawal date and the US election.

For the UK hosts running the summit, the balancing act was to keep good relations with the Trump White House—which would lead the US Cop26 delegation even if Trump lost, because the presidential handover happens in January—and prevent a blow-up that would scupper any hopes of a deal. At the same time, they were also expected to keep warm backchannels with the Democrats, in case of a Biden victory.

 

The Next Chapter

By the rescheduled date, either a resurgent Trump will have long departed from the Paris fold and the UK will be dealing with the fallout, or Joe Biden will be president and will have begun the process of taking the US back in.

In some ways, the plan for a Trump victory is simpler. The world has already had years to prepare, and long experience of moving on without the US. China and the EU have a summit planned, originally for this year and now delayed, at which they are expected to forge a common approach to Cop26 and fulfilling the Paris agreement. Indeed, the climate crisis looks one of the lesser problems, notes Robinson: “If Trump gets elected, climate will be only one of many disasters with consequences that do not bear thinking about.”

Biden has promised the opposite of Trump: a return to the Paris agreement, a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis, emphasizing renewable energy, low-carbon technology, and a switch from jobs in fossil fuels to green jobs with long-term prospects. That would give fresh impetus to the Cop26 talks, and hearten activists. But no one should think it would be straightforward, warns Yvo de Boer, UN climate chief from 2006 to 2010, who oversaw Bali and the Copenhagen talks in 2009.

“You have to remember that there is nothing between the US Senate and God—certainly not the UN,” he says. “So you can’t have any kind of regime that tries to impose things on a sovereign state, no targets to be imposed, no review processes to be intrusive, and if you want to say things about financial obligations it has to be made in loose language.”

The US has proved a difficult partner in the past, even under Obama who made climate a key issue, but frustrated the Europeans with lists of demands and vetoes. That close control was demonstrated in Paris, when the conclusion of the accord was almost derailed in the final moments as the US found a single “should” had been mis-transposed as a “shall” in the text. The world was put on tenterhooks for an afternoon while it was fixed.

Biden and Trump may not even be the biggest headache the UK faces in trying to forge a new global plan at Cop26. As the White House’s U-turn showed in 2007, a united front among developing countries and enough rich world allies can overcome or bypass US recalcitrance. Far more concerning for the prospects of a breakthrough next year is the position of the world’s other superpower, and biggest emitter: China. Relations between China and the UK, hosts of Cop26, have sunk to a new low. That may turn out to be a far greater obstacle to progress than anything Donald Trump can manage.

The Trump Files: Donald’s Petty Revenge on Connie Chung

This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on June 23, 2016.

Donald Trump knows that a mere insult sometimes isn’t enough for a journalist he doesn’t like. So when CBS’ Connie Chung savaged Trump in an April 1990 interview on her show, Face to Face With Connie Chung, Donald concocted his Trumpiest revenge plot.

“You might just consider our next story to be a unique artifact of the ’80s, The Donald before the fall,” Chung said in the introduction. “It’s a conversation with Donald Trump literally just hours, we believe, before he told his wife, Ivana, that their marriage was over…What did Donald Trump know as he bravely strutted through our interview?”

Whatever he knew, Chung was clearly prepared to deflate the tycoon at what seemed like the height of his power. She spent much of the interview mocking Trump’s pretension about his buildings (“They aren’t that great. Come on.”), his claims that he didn’t like publicity, his constant talk of having renovated a skating rink in Central Park, and other Trump foibles.

CBS re-aired the interview that August, and Trump ripped Chung during an interview on the Joan Rivers Show a month after the rebroadcast. “This woman has less talent than anybody I know of,” he said. He called her a “disaster” and said she interviewed “like a little child.” Then he described his big revenge move.

“She sent me roses afterward, and I won’t tell you what I did with the roses,” Trump coyly told Rivers. When she prompted him for the big reveal, he caved. “I cut ’em up and sent ’em back,” Trump said. “I sent her back the stems. Actually, I did.”

Actually, Chung said, he didn’t. The Toronto Star reported that Chung was still “waiting for the stems” when it contacted her for comment.

ER Doctor: We Must Do Better on COVID-19 Messaging in Black Communities

As the world grapples with the devastation of the coronavirus, one thing is clear: The United States simply wasn’t prepared. Despite repeated warnings from infectious disease experts over the years, we lacked essential beds, equipment, and medication; public health advice was confusing, and our leadership offered no clear direction while sidelining credible health professionals and institutions. Infectious disease experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before the next pandemic hits, and that could be even more deadly. So how do we fix what COVID has shown was broken? In this Mother Jones series, we’re asking experts from a wide range of disciplines one question: What are the most important steps we can take to make sure we’re better prepared next time around?

Uché Blackstock saw the warning signs early. An emergency room physician with a part-time urgent care practice in Brooklyn, Blackstock often treats poor or working class Black and Brown New Yorkers who don’t have access to preventative health care. In the early days of the pandemic she noticed that patients were coming in with unusually severe respiratory issues. Even though she suspected they might have COVID-19, they couldn’t get tested for the novel coronavirus because they hadn’t traveled internationally to what were then hotspots: Wuhan, China or Italy. She knew immediately that the screening process was biased, and wasn’t considering poor and working class people with already compromised immune systems who may not have even had passports. As the pandemic unfolded, New York City became one of its earliest epicenters, and Black communities got sick and died at disproportionate rates across the country. Blackstock, who is also the founder of Advancing Health equity, a racial justice consulting practice that helps train health care organizations in unconscious and structural racism, believes that equity work is a key to preventing the next pandemic. 

On the COVID-19 knowledge gap in Black communities: I just submitted a recommendation to the Select Subcommittee for the Coronavirus representative because I testified a few weeks ago. I divided my recommendations into short and long term recommendations, but the shorter ones were: having testing and contact tracing employees in Black communities. The other part of it is the issue of education and outreach. There’s a study that came out in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) two weeks ago that surveyed a lot of different people, but showed that even though Black Americans were disproportionately impacted by coronavirus, that we actually had less knowledge of how the virus was transmitted.

We’re seeing there’s a gap in messaging…I think it’s obvious that we need a more nuanced approach with Black communities.

We’re seeing there’s a gap in messaging. While you can have Dr. Anthony Fauci talking about what to do—wear a mask, physically distance—I think it’s obvious that we need a more nuanced approach with Black communities.

On how to make sure Black Americans get the public information they need: Given the history of distrust of healthcare by Black Americans, it’s even more important. What does that look like? That would look like making sure that you have individuals who are trusted in the community be the ones that are doing the messaging, because usually people who are from the community that they work in, they know the community well. Or it could be faith-based organizations. It should be people who are in community-based organizations and are already doing the work in those areas.

Whether it’s housing, and making sure the housing advocacy group are in a neighborhood is one of the first groups that public health departments work with to ensure that people have safe housing alternatives. We should be working with to ensure that people have safe housing alternatives. Even contact tracing, which involves asking people who they’ve been around for the past few weeks. Most people are not just going to tell a random stranger who they’ve been around. That’s because, who knows what you’d be doing? That’s private information. That emphasizes more of a need to have trusted individuals from the community involved in any sort of response to a pandemic.

If we don’t want to see the disparities that we’re seeing this time, we have to have a long term, sustained commitment by the federal government to investing in Black communities. That includes Medicaid expansion and making sure that everyone is insured. But also  investing in the social determinants of health in communities: education, housing, gainful employment.

The Republican Party Is Racist and Soulless. Just Ask This Veteran GOP Strategist.

When Donald Trump decided to back-burner the coronavirus crisis and reboot his reelection campaign with superspreader events in June, he headed to an arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to present his case for four more years. In front of an audience of maskless fans standing side by side, Trump performed his usual routine. He threw out buzzwords (“law and order,” “left-wing radicals”). He boasted. (“I have done a phenomenal job” responding to the pandemic.) He denigrated his opponent as “Sleepy Joe.” He obsessed over personal grievances and slights, devoting much time to slamming news outlets that had recently shown video of him walking gingerly down a ramp after delivering a commencement address at West Point. What was mostly missing from Trump’s speech: ideas.

Although he referred to his tax cuts for the wealthy, his appointment of conservative judges, and his “beautiful” wall on the US-Mexico border, Trump had little to say about economic policy, national security, health care, education, housing, the environment, and other subjects. Moreover, he offered no agenda for a second term other than vague promises of making everything swell. Days later, during a friendly Fox News “town hall,” Sean Hannity asked Trump to spell out his plans for a second term. He replied by rambling on about his inauguration and attacking John Bolton.

All this was nothing new for Trump, who approaches the presidency more as performance artist than policymaker. But in the Oklahoma crowd were many unmasked Republican senators and House members, who clapped along and looked delighted to be props for The Trump Show. Once upon a time, Republican legislators and party leaders claimed they cared deeply about certain foundational issues—the deficit, family values, free trade, hawkish foreign policy. Now they were cheering a twice-divorced adulterer who had run up the federal debt, sloppily imposed tariffs, and embraced the anti-American autocrats leading Russia and North Korea—a man devoid of serious thought and guiding policy principles, a self-fixated candidate who presented no intellectual framework for his presidency. Had the GOP become the party of no ideas?

Brandon Partin, of Deland, Fla., stands in front of a flag he brought as he waits for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to arrive to a campaign rally, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

This seemed a premise worth exploring, so I thought I would check in with veteran Republicans who once were attracted to the party for its conservative ideals but who have become Trump critics. First on my list was Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. I should note that I feel a bit awkward when I talk with Stevens. Plenty of people have asserted that my exposé of the “47 percent” tape in 2012—remember Romney denigrating nearly half of Americans as freeloaders who want the government to take care of them?—played a part in his defeat. But Stevens has always been gracious when we have crossed paths. And this time was no exception. It turned out Stevens had much to say on the current state of his party. Actually, enough for an entire book.

Asked if the Republican Party in the Trump years has become an outfit free of governing ideas, Stevens went even further: “It was all a lie.” He noted that this was word-for-word the title of his forthcoming book, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. The modern GOP, he said, never truly cared about the ideas it claimed to care about.

This was a stunning indictment coming from a longtime political consul­tant who had toiled on five Republican presidential campaigns and numerous Senate and gubernatorial races. “The Republican Party has been a cartel,” Stevens said excitedly. “And no one asks a cartel, ‘What’s your ideological purpose?’ You don’t ask OPEC, ‘What’s your ideology?’ You don’t ask a drug gang, ‘What’s your program?’ The Republicans exist for the pursuit of power for no purpose.”

Throughout his decades as a Republican, Stevens considered this racist element a bug in the system. He now realizes it has been a feature.

He huffed that the Republican Party had not merely drifted away from its core positions, as sometimes occurs with political parties: “Fair trade, balanced budgets, character, family values, standing up to foreign adversaries like Russia—we’re all against that now. You have to ask, ‘Does someone abandon deeply held beliefs in three or four years?’ No. It means you didn’t ever hold them.” He added: “I feel like a guy who was working for Bernie Madoff.”

Stevens, an erudite fellow who is also a novelist and a travel writer, has become an emblematic ex-Republican. He once believed in GOP ideals and ideas. Now he saw it all as a huge con. His new book is a confession and cri de coeur. The first line is blunt: “I have no one to blame but myself.” In these pages, Stevens self-flagellates, calling himself a “fool” for his decades of believing—and lying to himself—that the Republican Party was based on “a core set of values.” Acknowledging his role, Stevens writes, “So yes, blame me. Blame me when you look around and see a dysfunctional political system and a Republican Party that has gone insane.” The book offers one overarching prescription for the GOP: “Burn it to the ground and start over.”

In our conversation, Stevens exploded with loathing for the party he once faithfully (and lucratively) served. He rejected the common view that Trump had hijacked the GOP. No, he explained, the triumph of know-nothing Trumpism marked the culmination of an internal conflict that had existed for decades between the party’s “dark side” and its professed ideals. Even William F. Buckley Jr., often hailed as a grand public intellectual and the founding father of the modern conservative movement, was “a stone-cold racist” in the 1950s, Stevens pointed out. (Buckley at that time considered white people more “advanced” and more fit to govern.)

“A lot of us in the party liked to believe the dark side was a recessive gene, but it’s a dominant theme,” Stevens, a seventh-­generation Mississippian who was named for Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart, told me. “And it’s all about race. The Republican Party is a white party and there still are more white people than non-white people.” So that is whom the party aims at—even if this will eventually be a losing proposition as the nation’s demographics continue to shift. Ronald Reagan achieved a landslide victory in 1980 by bagging 56 percent of white voters; 28 years later, John McCain lost with 55 percent of white voters. Perhaps the party’s fixation on white voters can work one more time with Trump in 2020. “But we’re talking about the Confederacy—literally,” Stevens said.

And Nazi Germany. On his own, with no prompting, Stevens went straight to the Defcon-1 analogy: “I tell my GOP friends, ‘It’s crazy to say it’s 1934 in Germany…when it’s clearly 1936.’” He insisted that the 1930s are important for understanding the current moment. “When there was rising anti-Semitism, isolationism, and pro-Nazi sentiment, why did the US not become fascist?” Stevens asked. “Because of FDR. Leaders matter, and the GOP has now completely abdicated its role.” Instead, the party has yielded completely to demagoguery and race-baiting to exploit the racism and resentments of certain white voters. Throughout his decades as a Republican, Stevens considered this racist element a bug in the system. He now realizes it has been a feature.

“They are the Trump Generation. It’s how they will be remembered. Like the segregationists of old.”

In 2012, Romney enthusiastically sought and accepted Trump’s endorsement, though Trump had been championing the racist birther conspiracy theory. But for Stevens, the decisive moment when the party embraced its ugly heritage came in December 2015, when Trump, then the leading Republican presidential candidate, called for a ban on Muslim travelers to the United States. As Stevens now sees it, Reince Priebus, then the chair of the Republican National Committee, should have declared that the GOP did not support such bigotry and staked out a moral position. Perhaps Trump would still have marched on to victory, but such a move might have distanced the party from a racist candidate. Instead, the party kept mum and eventually folded to Trump. (Romney would go on to be the only GOP senator to vote to remove Trump from office at the end of his impeachment trial.)

Stevens now argues that Trump’s rise was not a fluke that the party can sidestep or survive. “This is the complete moral collapse of a governing party of a major superpower,” he remarked. He wonders how he could have been blind to the GOP’s racism and turpitude for so long. “It is hard to see this when you’re in the middle of it,” he said. “The only analogy I can find is the collapse of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, when the difference between reality and what is believed became so disjointed. I should’ve seen this. I did see this, but I wanted to believe the crazies were a minority.”

Stevens conceded that had Trump not come along, he still might not have been fully aware of the structural immorality of the GOP: The Republican Party was “a comfortable place for a lot of us. If Trump had lost, I’d probably still be working for a Republican candidate. But Trump made it impossible to deny what the party is. I just don’t get why these Republican senators don’t stand up to him. What’s the worst thing? You’ll be an ex-senator? They are the Trump Generation. It’s how they will be remembered. Like the segregationists of old.”

It was hard to slow Stevens down as he spoke. He had so much to confess. He forecast a bleak future for the party. Citing the demise of the Repub­lican Party in California (where more voters are now registering “no party preference” than Republican), he observed that the GOP was becoming a “regional/Sun Belt party.” And he shared his fear that young political operatives working for the party have drawn the lesson that a candidate must emulate Trump to win—that what most matters is not policy ideas but the ability to attack and exploit fears, divisions, tribalism, and resentments. “Elizabeth Warren can articulate a coherent theory of government,” Stevens said. “There is no coherent theory of government for Republicans right now. Usually a coherent theory versus an incoherent theory carries the day.”

“It’s really incredible how this had happened,” Stevens told me, as I realized I had received far more material from him than anticipated. “This is the last book in the world I wanted to write. It is tough to come to terms with this, and incredibly depressing. If we say we believe in personal responsibility, you have to take personal responsibility and start with yourself. We created this. It didn’t just happen.” Stevens was not pleased or satisfied with his epiphany: Ideas are not the currency for today’s GOP and never truly were. And Trump alone could not be blamed for that. “Republicans only exist to elect Republicans,” Stevens remarked with sadness. “They are down to one idea: How can we win?”

“We Need To Move On” from Hydroxychloroquine, Says Trump Testing Czar

The country’s coronavirus testing czar on Sunday tried to put the endless debate over hydroxychloroquine, the president’s preferred coronavirus treatment, to bed. “We need to move on from that and talk about what is effective,” said Brett Giroir, assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, on NBC’s Meet the Press—contradicting his boss, who is still touting the drug.

WATCH: Trump's coronavirus testing czar @HHS_ASH says America needs to "move on" from debating hydroxychloroquine. #MTP

"The evidence just doesn't show hydroxychloroquine is effective, for now." pic.twitter.com/g8OpLqajDd

— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) August 2, 2020

For months, President Donald Trump has hyped the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. At one point, Trump even claimed that he was taking the drug himself. This past week, Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted a viral video showing doctors saying masks are not necessary and that  hydroxychloroquine was a proven antidote. Twitter and Facebook took the video down for spreading misinformation and Twitter suspended Trump Jr.’s ability to tweet for 12 hours. Trump, who also tweeted the video, defended his support of hydroxychloroquine after the video was removed and said the doctors in the viral video were “very respected.” One of the featured doctors, Stella Emmanuel, holds numerous unproven beliefs, including about sex with demons.

Despite Trump’s protestations, Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that hydroxychloroquine is not effective. “We know that every single good study—and by good study I mean randomized control study in which the data are firm and believable—has shown that hydroxychloroquine is not effective in the treatment of Covid-19,” he said.

On Sunday, Giroir piled on. “There may be circumstances, I don’t know what they are, where a physician may prescribe it for an individual, but I think most physicians and prescribers are evidence-based and they’re not influenced by whatever is on Twitter or anything else,” he said. “And the evidence just doesn’t show that hydroxychloroquine is effective right now.”

Democracy Depends on the Postal Service More Than Ever. Republicans Won’t Help Fix It.

An important sticking point in negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package in Congress is funding for the US Postal Service, which will play a critical role in the November elections. As Democratic voters increasingly turn to voting by mail during the pandemic, Republicans reportedly do not want to spend the money to make sure those ballots are counted.

Democrats “want new money for the Postal Service, new money for elections and nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments,” Politico‘s Playbook newsletter reported Sunday. Republicans “seem open to USPS money to address operational shortfalls, but they are a hard no on money going to a new mail-in balloting system. Dems want $25 billion for the USPS, Republicans think the number is closer to $5 billion.” 

Other parts of the stalled negotiations have received more attention, including payments to the unemployed, aid to states and cities, and money for schools. But Democrats have also pushed for new funding to ensure that people are not disenfranchised in the 2020 elections by funding the Postal Service as well as providing money to local election administrators. This is especially crucial as growing numbers of voters turn to absentee ballots to preserve their health during the pandemic.

In order for absentee balloting to work, voters have to receive their ballots in a timely manner and return them in a timely manner. For that to happen, the US Postal Service needs more resources. (Voters will also have to ensure that their ballots are not discarded for problems with the ballot envelope, like a missing or mismatched signature, which regularly result in tossed ballots.) But amid a lack of resources, there are fears that the Trump administration is purposefully sabotaging mail delivery in the United States in an effort not only to interfere with the election but ultimately privatize the Postal Service. 

President Donald Trump began undermining the service early in his administration, in part as an attack against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos because, Trump believed, USPS’ rates were too favorable to the e-commerce giant. Trump also faced pressure to privatize the Postal Service, long a goal among many conservatives; a precursor to privatization is to starve the Postal Service of funds so that it appears in need of rescuing.

The coronavirus pandemic only made the situation for the cash-strapped service more dire as a drop in sending packages cost billions in much-needed revenue. Recently, Trump installed a loyal mega-donor, Louis DeJoy, as postmaster general. DeJoy has stopped overtime pay for clerks and mail carriers necessary for completing each day’s deliveries on time. The result of overlapping and preventable crises is that mail delivery is slowing, in some places considerably, just when American democracy is dependent on mail delivery happening on time.

Mail delivery is slowing just when American democracy is dependent on mail delivery happening on time.

Requests for absentee ballots are soaring across the country as people seek ways to vote without getting sick. These rates are growing particularly for Democrats, at the urging of Democratic officials and state parties, while Republicans are slower to switch to mail balloting due to Trump’s false accusations, pushed out over social media, that voting by mail will lead to fraud. The number of mail-in ballots used this year will be magnitudes higher than in 2016, which puts millions of ballots at risk of not being counted. In 34 states, ballots received after Election Day—which falls on November 3, 2020—are not counted. In others, ballots need to be postmarked by Election Day, but a crippled Postal Service often fails to apply the postmark, which could result in more ballots being rejected. 

Mail delivery failures are not hypothetical. “Neighborhoods across the Philadelphia region are experiencing significant delays in receiving their mail, with some residents going upwards of three weeks without packages and letters, leaving them without medication, paychecks, and bills,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday. The recent cutbacks, end of overtime, and staffing shortages are leaving piles of mail unattended. “According to local union leaders and carriers, mail is piling up in offices, unscanned and unsorted.” If things don’t change, thousands and perhaps millions of ballots could be in those piles. Pennsylvania is a swing state.

An Inquirer analysis of voting in Pennsylvania’s June 2 primary elections found that voters who requested an absentee ballot more than three weeks in advance of the primary voted at a rate of nearly 90 percent, but among voters who requested an absentee ballot within the three-week window, participation dropped 76 percent. Pennsylvania’s tight deadlines for returning ballots, the frantic efforts of local election officials to keep pace with demand for absentee ballots, and slow mail delivery all contributed to thousands of voters being disenfranchised in the primary. Without a fix, the problem will only be magnified in November.

This crisis has been a long time coming. In 2018, close election results in races, including for Senate and governor, resulted in recounts and focused attention on the already poor mail delivery system in South Florida, where a majority of Democratic votes in the critical swing state come from. This year, millions Florida voters will rely on mail-in ballots. But if they aren’t received by 7pm on Election Day, they won’t be counted. 

Trump Thinks Australia’s Outbreak Vindicates His Coronavirus Leadership. The Opposite Is True.

President Donald Trump thinks that just because there are coronavirus outbreaks around the world, he’s off the hook. That, and the only reason that the pandemic is raging unchecked is because terrific testing is revealing cases. With these twin denials, Trump has drilled an escape hatch from reality through which he can slip out to the golf course, comforted by the knowledge he’s doing the best job in the world, and even if he isn’t, the rest of the world is losing anyway, so what can a president do?

Today, Trump tweeted that the “fake news” isn’t covering an outbreak in the Australian state of Victoria. It is, of course. But this is an exercise in “Who are you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?” to deflect blame. If only the media covered other countries, they’d see just how much to not blame him.

Big China Virus breakouts all over the World, including nations which were thought to have done a great job. The Fake News doesn’t report this. USA will be stronger than ever before, and soon! https://t.co/pZwjvgmVTO

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2020

He picked the wrong country. Australia’s response to this recent outbreak proves him dead wrong.

After clocking record numbers of community-spread coronavirus cases—671 new coronavirus cases since Saturday, after a horrific week—the state of Victoria in south-east Australia announced it was moving to the strictest lockdowns the country has seen so far, after successfully tackling its first outbreaks earlier this year. Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, is enforcing an overnight curfew, backed by fines and other police powers, as a “state of disaster” was declared in the state. The latest stay-at-home order will last six weeks.

But for all the reasons to criticize Australia’s response, denial isn’t one of them. And the differences in responses between the US and Australian responses couldn’t be starker. Trump aggressively advocates against the kind of measures Victoria is embracing right now as it faces down a new spike, insisting instead on unfettered opening up, flouting social distancing himself by organizing rallies. Trump has pushed the nation’s response almost entirely to governors; Australia runs a nationally coordinated response, with scientists put in the driver’s seat. There’s now a mask mandate in Victoria; Trump’s relationship with masks is, well, bad. Australia outpaces the US in tests per thousand people. The list goes on.

And then you look at the actual numbers, which speak for themselves. In Australia, just 1 in 1,445 people have contracted the coronavirus, according to the New York Times. In the US, it’s 1 in 71.

Australia has kept its death toll to 1 in 124, 340 people. In the US, that’s 1 in every 2,112.

Deborah Birx Sounds a Dire New Warning: Coronavirus is “Extraordinarily Widespread”

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, acknowledged on CNN Sunday that the coronavirus pandemic has spread from the first big cities it hit in March and April to rural and urban areas across the country—an acknowledgement that the White House’s minimal response to the pandemic failed to contain it.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April,” Birx said. “It is extraordinarily widespread.” 

Birx stressed the danger to rural Americans who may think the virus cannot reach them. “To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus,” she said. “If you’re in multi-generational households, and there’s an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive, if you have individuals in your households with comorbidities.”

Birx also tentatively contradicted the White House’s exhortation to reopen schools in person, saying she agreed with Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that outbreak hotspots should use distance learning in schools. 

.@DanaBashCNN presses Dr. Deborah Birx on school reopenings.

“If you have high case load and active community spread … we’re asking people to distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control,” Dr. Birx says. #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/EgJwa8JjhY

— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) August 2, 2020

The warning from Birx comes shortly after news reports that she helped dissuade the White House from launching a national strategy to contain the pandemic by touting optimistic numbers about the virus’ spread back in April. The White House was in the process of abandoning what little it had done to stem the outbreak and transition responsibility to the states, and Birx, according to the New York Times, provided the data that justified that catastrophic plan:

For scientific affirmation, they turned to Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the sole public health professional in the Meadows group. A highly regarded infectious diseases expert, she was a constant source of upbeat news for the president and his aides, walking the halls with charts emphasizing that outbreaks were gradually easing. The country, she insisted, was likely to resemble Italy, where virus cases declined steadily from frightening heights.

On April 11, she told the coronavirus task force in the Situation Room that the nation was in good shape. Boston and Chicago are two weeks away from the peak, she cautioned, but the numbers in Detroit and other hard-hit cities are heading down.

Birx had failed to consider what would happen to the declining numbers if the White House not only washed its hands of virus containment but also politicized mask-wearing and urged states to reopen prematurely. Now, she’s acknowledging the calamitous results.

The GOP Is Blocking Journalists From Covering Trump’s Renomination. That’s a First in Modern History.

It’s the political party whose members openly mock masks, lambast the nation’s top infectious disease expert as a partisan hack for simply doing his job, and protect a president whose chief response to a pandemic has been to deny, deny, deny. But when it comes to re-anointing Donald Trump as the Republican Party standard-bearer, coronavirus safety suddenly matters. When Donald Trump is renominated for president later this month in Charlotte, North Carolina, it will be a private affair, according to a Republican National Convention spokesperson on Saturday. No press allowed.

According to the Associated Press:

While Trump called off the public components of the convention in Florida last month, citing spiking cases of the virus across the country, 336 delegates are scheduled to gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, on 24 August to formally vote to make Trump the GOP standard-bearer once more.

Nominating conventions are traditionally meant to be media bonanzas, as political parties seek to leverage the attention the events draw to spread their message to as many voters as possible. If the GOP decision stands, it will mark the first party nominating convention in modern history to be closed to reporters.

“Given the health restrictions and limitations in place within the state of North Carolina, we are planning for the Charlotte activities to be closed [to] press Friday, August 21–Monday, August 24,” a convention spokeswoman said.

That might change, the spokesperson admitted. We’ll see. In the meantime, there’ll be no shortage of press-packed events featuring Trump gorging on free airtime, lavishly flouting safety concerns and sickening his staff, while blaming everyone but himself.

Video

Related: Trump’s First 100 Days of Deadly Coronavirus Denial 

Pages