Mother Jones Magazine

A Rare, Inflammatory Disease Is Sickening Children After COVID-19. An Overwhelming Proportion Is Black and Latinx Kids.

Over the past several months, it’s become abundantly clear that Black and Brown people in this country are at a much higher risk of contracting the coronavirus and dying from COVID-19 than their white counterparts. As my colleagues Edwin Rios and Sinduja Rangarajan have reported in detail, this is because “racism is a preexisting condition”; people of color are more likely to work essential jobs, to be uninsured, and to see higher rates of conditions like asthma and cancer due to disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards like highways and toxic dumping areas near their homes. 

Now we have preliminary yet startling new data that reveals similar disparities in children, specifically in the case of MIS-C, a rare inflammatory illness linked to COVID-19.

The first reports of MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, were something of a mystery: In May, doctors in New York reported seeing otherwise healthy children enter the hospital with symptoms like fever, rash, vomiting, and diarrhea. They noted the condition was similar to Kawasaki disease, a decades-old condition that also afflicts children, but in this case, there was a clear coronavirus link: Most of the children tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 or had been infected before. 

Shortly after these initial reports came in, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking cases of MIS-C across the country. Government researchers have found that the condition is still relatively rare—only a few hundred cases have been reported nationwide—but there appears to be a deep disparity in who is ultimately stricken by the illness: Out of the 342 cases of MIS-C reported to the CDC, according to the CDC-defined categories of race, about 70 percent of cases have been in Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic Black children. Only 15 percent of cases have been in non-Hispanic white children. These are extreme differences: Consider that the US child population is reportedly about 50 percent non-Hispanic white, 25 percent Hispanic, and just over 13 percent non-Hispanic Black. 

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It’s still unknown exactly why Black and Latinx children are disproportionately burdened with this disease, but it’s clear that those populations, including children, are seeing high rates of COVID-19 infection to start with. Where data on race is available, again using the CDC-defined terms, Hispanic or Latino children make up about 47 percent of COVID-19 cases between the ages of 5 and 17; non-Hispanic Black children make up about 17 percent of cases; and non-Hispanic white children make up about 27 percent of cases. (The CDC collects data on children younger than 5 in separate reports, but the same trend holds true.) 

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High rates of COVID-19 infection may partially explain why so many Black and Latinx children are later developing MIS-C, though researchers say that is far from certain. “If you look at the population as a whole, exposure to the virus—there is a lot of Black and Hispanic overrepresentation,” says Dr. Adrienne Randolph, an author of a recent CDC-funded nationwide study aimed at better understanding how children are impacted by MIS-C. “It’s hard to know where people are exposed to the virus, but if they’re getting exposed in their home or home community, then that may be why children are getting exposed more and then getting MIS-C more. That’s the assumption. But that has not been proven.” Aside from the high rates of exposure to this coronavirus, it’s also possible there’s something in the kids’ environments that make them more vulnerable to MIS-C. For example, Randolph says, Black and Latinx communities see higher rates of asthma due to disproportionate exposure to environmental “triggers” like air pollution. 

Randolph, who is also a senior associate in the division of critical care at Boston Children’s Hospital and a professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, and others are currently working to fill in these gaps in our understanding. She is assisting the CDC in designing a study to monitor children who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, to see who does and doesn’t develop MIS-C later on, while tracking factors like race and ethnicity. This won’t fully answer the question of why Black and Latinx children are getting sick at higher rates, she says, but may provide a “little bit of a hint.” The next step, she says, would be to conduct a study in which families are interviewed by researchers to determine what risk factors they may have faced before getting sick. The CDC is currently designing such a study, she says. (The CDC did not respond to an interview request from Mother Jones.)

As schools move to reopen, she says, researchers will need to be ready to track who is getting infected, where they’re getting infected, and if complications like MIS-C are arising. “It’s important to design studies going forward that would capture the right data to answer those questions,” Randolph says, though she cautions that robust, forward-looking studies can be difficult to carry out.

“It’s a very concerning problem and it really needs to be addressed,” she says about MIS-C. “And we’re trying to get more answers as best we can, but it’s not gonna be an easy question to answer.”

Herman Cain’s Death Is Political. All Coronavirus Deaths Are.

Herman Cain, the former presidential candidate and top Donald Trump surrogate as one of the leaders of the group Black Voices for Trump, died from coronavirus on Thursday. The 74-year-old former pizza mogul had been hospitalized for a month, announcing that he’d been infected with the virus less than two weeks after attending the president’s infamous indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20. Cain was pictured with several other prominent Black Trump supporters with the signature maskless faces.

Here’s just a few of the #BlackVoicesForTrump at tonight’s rally! Having a fantastic time!#TulsaRally2020 #Trumptulsa #TulsaTrumprally #MAGA #Trump2020 #Trump2020Landslide pic.twitter.com/27mUzkg7kL

— Herman Cain (@THEHermanCain) June 20, 2020

For weeks after the rally and his diagnosis, regular tweets from Cain’s Twitter account gave the impression of someone still very much engaged in the effort. And now he has died. As with the passing of nearly every public and sometimes controversial person, there were calls to not politicize his death. But why should we ignore a critical variable that has contributed to his death and the deaths of more than 150,000 less prominent others from the coronavirus? And that variable is politics. 

We will never know if attending Trump’s Tulsa rally where more than 6,000 people gathered in an indoor stadium with very little social distancing and mask wearing in a state where the coronavirus was surging sealed his fate. But it’s probably safe to say it didn’t decrease his chances of contracting the deadly virus. Oklahoma public health officials urged the campaign to postpone the rally until it was safe. Obviously that didn’t happen. More important, the act of attending it without a mask and pressing up against other Trump supporters against the advice of public health officials and local leaders was a political act.  

The Blaze, a right-wing media company, quickly published a story feigning horror at how liberals were already politicizing Cain’s death. But let’s be clear, politics contributed to Herman Cain’s death, and it’s much too late for conservatives to claim that this disease and its tragic outcomes should now be apolitical. From the very beginning, they turned the coronavirus, which has killed 151,000 people and infected more than 4 million others, into a partisan cause. First, there were the conservative pundits and the president himself who claimed that Democrats were using the virus to ruin Trump’s chances of being reelected. Then, there were the “lockdown protesters” who claimed essential public health restrictions for containing the spread of the virus were impeding on their constitutional right to get a haircut. And that doesn’t even include the xenophobic blame cast on Chinese people for the virus, with Trump’s repeated references to the “China virus.” Or the determination to sideline the Centers for Disease Control or science-based evidence out of concern of hurting the president’s fragile ego. 

Once it became evident that the virus was a very serious problem, Trump acolytes suggested that older people, like Cain, should face death with equanimity.

Once it became evident that the virus was a very serious problem, Trump acolytes suggested that older people, like Cain, should face death with equanimity, knowing that they might contribute to saving the economy and their grandchildren’s future. Trump also withheld desperately needed medical supplies from states with Democratic governors. Treatments became political as well. Hydroxychlorquine, an anti-malarial drug, was touted by the president without evidence as having curative powers for the virus and received emergency use authorization use by the Food and Drug Administration. But, after several studies showed that it could be dangerous for certain patients, the FDA revoked the emergency use authorization. Undeterred, Trump and other conservatives touted its use to combat the virus, claiming liberals were against it because it would help the president. Even reopening the economy was politicized, with Trump threatening to withhold federal aid from states that didn’t reopen their schools and businesses. 

Ever the loyal soldier, in the days leading up to Cain’s announcement that he had contracted coronavirus, on his personal website and Twitter feed, the pizza magnate continued to downplay its seriousness. 

Never again. We now have the evidence it didn't help at all. #Coronavirus https://t.co/57n1VphXak

— Herman Cain (@THEHermanCain) June 24, 2020

The day after he was hospitalized, his personal website, HermanCain.com posted a blog about a study that showed hydroxychloroquine has positive affects on coronavirus patients, despite most experts saying that it doesn’t. The post says that the only reason it’s even doubted as a drug to fight COVID-19 is because the president is for it. When the Miami Marlins, a major league baseball team, announced an outbreak among players, Herman Cain’s blog thought it was good that the league didn’t panic “like the media wanted.”

Thank God baseball didn't panic like the media wanted. #Coronavirus #MajorLeagueBaseballMLB #MiamiMarlins https://t.co/w478fwfq6A

— Herman Cain (@THEHermanCain) July 28, 2020

This was posted three days before his death. 

The same day Cain’s death was announced, Congressman John Lewis, who died earlier this month from pancreatic cancer, was laid to rest. Lewis’ death was political in the best kind of way. The civil rights hero spent his life fighting for voting rights, notably getting brutalized by Alabama State Troopers in 1965. As Republicans sought to align themselves with the civil rights hero despite blocking everything he fought for, elected officials, and other activists demanded they explicitly politicize his death by passing voting rights legislation that has been idling on Mitch McConnell’s desk since December. In a posthumous op-ed in the New York Times, Lewis wrote a call to action. “Democracy is not a state,” he wrote. “It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

How far away we are from Lewis’ dream for the nation. Today, America has the dubious distinction of being the country most financially-equipped to handle a pandemic, but the most politically incompetent. The Republican party has all but given up on providing relief, and we’re running out ways to describe the economic cliff we’re barreling toward because there’s hardly anything to compare it to. This summer’s outbreak is worse than the outbreak in the spring. Nobody knows what will happen when schools start reopening and COVID-19 coincides with flu season. Instead of handling the virus with the guidance of science and expertise, Trump treated the virus like one big political game. How can one not politicize the tens of thousands of deaths the partisan actions of Trump and his Republican enablers have caused?  

In a way, Cain was Trump before Trump. His 2012 presidential campaign was marked with xenophobia and was eventually upended by allegations of sexual misconduct. On Thursday afternoon, Trump paid tribute to Herman Cain on Twitter, calling him a “powerful voice of freedom” and a “great friend.” He did not mention the cause of his death. At a press conference that evening, however, Trump did say that Cain died from the “China virus.”

Trump on Herman Cain: "Unfortunately, he passed away from a thing called the China virus." pic.twitter.com/W3Px3FwL1R

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 30, 2020

Herman Cain’s Enduring Lobbying Triumph

Herman Cain, who died this week of COVID-19, lived quite a life: He was a fast-food magnate, a zealously antiimmigrant presidential candidate, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump to the very end, and more. But his accomplishment with the most lasting impact happened during his days as the number-one lobbyist for the restaurant industry.

During the 1990s, as president of the National Restaurant Association—an outfit representing mainly chain restaurants—Cain transformed the NRA “from a sleepy little trade association to earning a spot in Forbes magazine’s 1997 Survey of Washington’s 25 most powerful pressure groups, coming [in] at number 24,” as labor reporter Mike Elk put it in a 2011 piece. Cain earned his stripes as an ace lobbyist in 1994, when he emerged as a key cog in the successful corporate campaign to kibosh President Bill Clinton’s push to reform the healthcare system.

In 1996, Cain won his greatest triumph as a lobbyist. In a 2016 piece on the racist history of tipping, my colleague Maddie Oatman explained

America’s first minimum-wage law, passed by Congress in 1938, allowed states to set a lower wage for tipped workers, but it wasn’t until the ’60s that labor advocates persuaded Congress to adopt a federal tipped minimum wage that increased in tandem with the regular minimum wage. In 1996, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who was then head of the National Restaurant Association, helped convince a Republican-led Congress to decouple the two wages. The tipped minimum has been stuck at $2.13 ever since.

Restaurant employers were supposed to help servers earn tips to make up the difference between this tipped minimum wage and the regular minimum wage. But the result was by and large a disaster for restaurant servers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 1996, the tipped minimum was half the regular minimum wage; by 2014, it was “equal to a record low 29.4 percent of the regular federal minimum wage of $7.25,” where it remains today. Around two-thirds of workers making the tipped minimum are women, EPI reports. Forcing women to rely on the whims of customers for the bulk of their livelihoods exposes them to sexual harassment: “Tipped workers have a median wage (including tips) of $10.22, compared with $16.48 for all workers. While the poverty rate of non-tipped workers is 6.5 percent, tipped workers have a poverty rate of 12.8 percent.” Tipped workers rely on food stamps at a rate twice that of the general population.

Around two-thirds of workers making the tipped minimum are women.

A recent report from One Fair Wage, which seeks to abolish the lower minimum wage for tipped workers, shows that the burden of Cain’s lobbying accomplishment falls heaviest on Black women. “The subminimum wage results in a nearly $5 per hour differential in wages (including tips) between Black tipped women and white men tipped workers nationally, and a nearly $8 per hour differential in New York,” the group found. The low minimum is more painful still, the group adds, as the coronavirus destroys demand for restaurant dining, and a “majority of workers and employers surveyed are reporting that tips are down at least 50 percent.” 

Under pressure from One Fair Wage and other advocates, there has been a stirring among restaurateurs in recent years to abandon the whole vexed institution of tipping and pay all workers a regular wage. But one of the most high-profile of the nation’s no-tip restaurant pioneers has backslid. In 2015, the influential New York City restaurant empire Union Square Hospitality Group began phasing out tips. In July 2020, the company’s CEO, Danny Mayer, announced he would return to the practice, suggesting the current economic climate made it too onerous to factor “full liveable wages and benefits for all of our employees into our menu prices,” while competitors still relied on the generosity of diners to provide the bulk of compensation to servers. 

Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy, a small, celebrated no-tip Manhattan restaurant, wasn’t impressed by the logic.

If restaurant groups were clever enough to figure out how to grow and expand and make $$$ then surely they must be clever enough to figure out how to pay all their employees a living wage that is not dependent on the generosity of their customers.

— dirtcandy (@dirtcandy) July 29, 2020

Despite Mayer’s reversal, restaurants might not be able to lean on tipping to compensate servers for much longer. Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden has vowed to double the federal minimum wage and eliminate the tipped minimum if he’s elected. Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association, the trade group Cain once helmed, continues its lobbying to keep servers’ wages low, putting their livelihoods at the whim of diners.

Big Tech Won’t Admit They Are the Only Game in Town

Big tech companies love to say how, no matter how much the little guy criticizes their actions, the time and resources that users spend on their products show that people still love them.

The relationships between the companies and users aren’t as good as the platforms want people to believe.

In April of last year, Google CEO Eric Schmidt pushed back on the idea that people were growing frustrated with big tech, saying that “all the studies I’ve [seen] indicated that people really like our products…We know that because they use them more and more and more.” This, of course, is something like bragging about how people love going to the DMV because there’s always a long line to get in. There’s a simple reason for both institutions’ popularity: Like the DMV, to get the basics of what you need for modern life, Google is the only option.

Regardless, this kind of refrain is common among the leaders of big tech companies and was on full display during Wednesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, in which the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google answered a range of questions, including many related to the companies’ competitive practices and anti-trust profiles. The hearing pulled the mask off such all-is-well sentiments, demonstrating the relationships between the companies and their users aren’t as good as the platforms want people to believe.

This came through during an exchange between Amazon CEO’s Jeff Bezos and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), when Bezos boasted about all the merchants who choose his company’s services—a version of something that he and his Amazon colleagues have said many times before. “I believe that there a lot of options for small sellers. I believe that Amazon is a great one. We’ve worked very hard. I think we are the best one,” the Amazon CEO said. 

Cicilline replied that he had heard from small businesses that they feel they have no choice but to work with the online giant. “We’ve heard again and again from third-party sellers that Amazon is the only game in town,” Cicilline said, recalling what one entrepreneur told him: “We’re stuck. We don’t have a choice to sell but to sell through Amazon.” He relayed that another small business owner had said “they’ve never been a great partner but we have to work with them.”

A similar exchange took place between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) about the company’s acquisition of Instagram. In a 2012 email discussing the then potential acquisition, Zuckerberg wrote “I think this is a good outcome for everyone.”

Documents from the Hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google" pic.twitter.com/WyZFapAE29

— House Judiciary Dems (@HouseJudiciary) July 29, 2020

Jayapal revealed documents that showed that it was unclear if one of Instagram’s co-founders, Kevin Systrom, actually thought the outcome would be good “for everyone.” Instead, Jayapal read emails detailing how Systrom, at the time Facebook was attempting the purchase, was afraid that if he didn’t agree to the sale, Facebook would go into “destroy mode” and try to crush his product with a new app. “Facebook cloned a popular product, approached the company you identified as a competitive threat, and told them that if they didn’t let you buy them up, there would be consequences,” Jayapal summarized.

These exchanges with Zuckerberg and Bezos focus on vastly different business relationships but have the same motif running through them: a massive company taking advantage of its size to force smaller businesses to capitulate.

The mutually beneficial relationships that technology companies love to tout might look like normal customer or business agreements, but they can be coercive arrangements in which the weaker party had few to no other options. At a certain point, that kind of dynamic starts looking a little like a monopoly. 

Obama’s John Lewis Eulogy: “Let’s Honor Him by Revitalizing” the Voting Rights Act

In 1965, John Lewis was brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers as he led a march advocating for the protection of Black Americans’ right to vote—an event that helped lead to the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In his gripping eulogy to Lewis at the late lawmaker’s memorial service Thursday, former President Barack Obama condemned the modern-era restrictions on voting rights that have undermined Lewis’ legacy.

“We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar to be able to cast a ballot,” Obama said, raising his voice over the applause that rang out from Ebenezer Baptist Church, “but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision—even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”

Obama applauded President George W. Bush for signing a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and President Bill Clinton for signing a law making it easier for people to register to vote. “But once the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act,” he said, referring to conservative justices’ decision in 2013 to allow states with a history of discrimination to change voting laws without federal approval, “some state legislators unleashed a flood of laws designed specifically to make voting harder—especially, by the way, state legislators where there’s a lot minority turnout.”

Republicans in Congress have blocked legislation to restore the protections the high court invalidated. As my colleague Ari Berman wrote the day after Lewis’ death:

In December 2019, Lewis presided over the House as it passed legislation to restore and modernize the Voting Rights Act, requiring states with a long history of voting discrimination to once again get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures. In a primary season marred by voting problems, like six-hour lines in Lewis’ home state of Georgia, it’s been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk for 225 days.

“I know this is a celebration of John’s life,” Obama said. “There are some who might say we shouldn’t dwell on such things. But that’s why I’m talking about it. John Lewis devoted his time on this earth to fighting the very attacks on democracy and what’s best in America that we’re seeing circulate right now.”

Obama called for passing the renewed voting rights law, recently renamed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that Republicans have been blocking. “You want to honor John?” he said, as the audience rose to their feet. “Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law he was willing to die for.”

And the former president went further, calling on lawmakers to eliminate the filibuster (“another Jim Crow relic”), enact automatic voter registration, enfranchise former inmates, make Election Day a national holiday, expand early voting, end gerrymandering, and grant congressional representation to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. He also urged every eligible citizen to exercise their right to vote and praised the young protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s killing—activism he sees as a crucial extension of Lewis’ legacy.

Read the transcript of Obama’s eulogy below:

James wrote to the believers, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” It is a great honor to be back in Ebenezer Baptist Church in the pulpit of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to pay my respects to perhaps his finest disciple. An American whose faith was tested again and again, to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance: John Robert Lewis.

To those who have spoken, to Presidents Bush and Clinton, Madame Speaker, Reverend Warnock, Reverend King, John’s family, friends, his beloved staff, Mayor Bottoms, I’ve come here today because I, like so many Americans, owe a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom.

You know, this country is a constant work in progress. We’re born with instructions: to form a more perfect union. Explicit in those words is the idea that we’re imperfect. That what gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further than any might have thought possible. John Lewis, first of the Freedom Riders; head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; youngest speaker at the March on Washington; leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery; member of Congress, representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years; mentor to young people—including me at the time—until his final day on this Earth, he not only embraced that responsibility, but he made it his life’s work. Which isn’t bad for a boy from Troy.

John was born into modest means—that means he was poor. In the heart of the Jim Crow South to parents who picked somebody else’s cotton. Apparently he didn’t take to farm work. On days when he was supposed to help his brothers and sisters with their labor, he’d hide under the porch and make a break for the school bus when it showed up. His mother, Willie May Lewis, nurtured that curiosity in this shy, serious child. “Once you learn something,” she told her son, “once you get something inside your head, no one can take it away from you.” As a boy, John listened through the door after bedtime as his father’s friends complained about the Klan. One Sunday as a teenager, he heard Dr. King preach on the radio. As a college student in Tennessee, he signed up for Jim Lawson’s workshops on the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience. John Lewis was getting something inside his head. An idea he couldn’t shake. It took hold of him. That nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience were the means to change laws but also change hearts and change minds and change nations and change the world.

So he helped organize the Nashville campaign in 1960. He and other young men and women sat at a segregated lunch counter, well dressed, straight back, refusing to let a milkshake poured on their heads or a cigarette extinguished on their backs or a foot aimed at their ribs—refuse to let that dent their dignity and their sense of purpose. And after a few months, the Nashville campaign achieved the first successful desegregation of public facilities of any major city in the South. John got a taste of jail for the first, second, third—well, several times. But he also got a taste of victory, and it consumed him with righteous purpose and he took the battle deeper into the South.

That same year, just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of interstate bus facilities was unconstitutional, John and Bernard Lafayette bought two tickets, climbed aboard a Greyhound, sat up front, and refused to move. This was months before the first official Freedom Rides. He was doing a test. Trip was unsanctioned. Few knew what they were up to. And at every stop through the night, apparently, the angry driver stormed out of the bus and into the bus station. And John and Bernard had no idea what he might come back with. Or who he might come back with. Nobody was there to protect them. There were no camera crews to record events. We—you know, sometimes, Rev—we read about this and we kind of take it for granted. Or at least we, we act as if it was inevitable.

Imagine the courage of two people Malia’s age—younger than my oldest daughter. On their own. To challenge an entire infrastructure of oppression. John was only 20 years old. But he pushed all 20 of those years to the center of the table, betting everything, all of it, that his example could challenge centuries of convention and generations of brutal violence and countless daily indignities suffered by African Americans. Like John the Baptist preparing the way, like those Old Testament prophets speaking truth to kings.

John Lewis did not hesitate, and he kept on, getting onboard buses and sitting at lunch counters, got his mug shot taken again and again. Marched again and again on a mission to change America. Spoke to a quarter of a million people at the March on Washington when he was just 23. Helped organize the Freedom Summer in Mississippi when he was just 24. At the ripe old age of 25, John was asked to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery. He was warned that Governor Wallace had ordered troopers to use violence. But he and Hosea Williams and others led them across that bridge anyway. And we’ve all seen the film and the footage and the photographs. President Clinton mentioned the trench coat, the knapsack, the book to read, the apple to eat, the toothbrush. Apparently, jails weren’t big on such creature comforts. And you look at those pictures, and John looked so young and he’s small in stature. Looking every bit that shy, serious child that his mother had raised, and yet, he’s full of purpose. God put perseverance in him.

And we know what happened to the marchers that day. Their bones were cracked by billy clubs. Their eyes and lungs choked with tear gas. They knelt to pray, which made their heads easier targets. And John was struck in the skull. And he thought he was going to die, surrounded by the sight of young Americans gagging and bleeding and trampled. Victims in their own country of state-sponsored violence.

And the thing is, I imagine initially that day the troopers thought they’d won the battle. You can imagine the conversations they had afterwards. You can imagine them saying, “Yeah, we showed them.” They figured they’d turn the protesters back over the bridge. That they’d kept, they’d preserved a system that denied the basic humanity of their fellow citizens. Except this time there were some cameras there. This time the world saw what happened, bore witness to Black Americans, who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans, who were not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment, promised to them a century before, and almost another century before that. And when John woke up and checked himself out of the hospital, he would make sure the world saw a movement that was, in the words of scripture, “hard pressed on every side but not crushed. Perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted but not Abandoned. Struck down but not destroyed.” They returned to Brown Chapel, a battered prophet, bandages around his head, and he said, “More marchers will come now.” And the people came. And the troopers parted. And the marchers reached Montgomery. And their words reached the White House. And Lyndon Johnson, son of the South, said, “We shall overcome.” And the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

The life of John Lewis was, in so many ways, exceptional. It vindicated the faith in our founding. Redeemed that faith. That most American of ideas, the idea that any of us, ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame, can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation and come together and challenge the status quo. And decide that it is in our power to remake this country, that we love, until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals. What a radical idea. What a revolutionary notion. This idea that any of us ordinary people, a young kid from Troy, can stand up to the powers and principalities and say, “No, this isn’t right; this isn’t true; this isn’t just. We can do better.” On the battlefield of justice, Americans like John, Americans like Lowery and C. T. Vivian, two other patriots we lost this year, liberated all of us. That many Americans came to take for granted. America was built by people like them. America was built by John Lewises. He, as much as anyone in our history, brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals. And someday when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it’s years from now or decades, or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.

And yet, as exceptional as John was, here’s the thing: John never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country can do. I mentioned in the statement the day John passed, the thing about John was how gentle and humble he was. And despite this storied, remarkable career, he treated everyone with kindness and respect because it was innate to him, this idea that any of us can do what he did—if we’re willing to persevere. He believed that in all of us there exists the capacity for great courage. That in all of us, there’s a longing to do what’s right. That in all of us there’s a willingness to love all people, and extend to them their God-given rights. So many of us lose that sense. It’s taught out of us. We start feeling as if, in fact, we can’t afford to extend kindness or decency to other people. That we’re better off if we’re above other people and looking down on them, and so often that’s encouraged in our culture. But John always said he always saw the best in us, and he never gave up and never stopped speaking out because he saw the best in us. He believed in us even when we didn’t believe in ourselves.

And as a congressman, he didn’t rest. He kept getting himself arrested. As an old man, he didn’t sit out any fight, sat in all night long on the floor of the United States Capitol. I know his staff was stressed. But the testing of his faith produced perseverance. He knew that the march is not over. That the race is not yet won. That we have not yet reached that blessed destination, where we are judged by the content of our character. He knew from his own life that progress is fragile, that we have to be vigilant against the darker currents of this country’s history. Of our own history. Where there are whirlpools of violence and hatred and despair that can always rise again. Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans. George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.

We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.

I know this is a celebration of John’s life. There are some who might say we shouldn’t dwell on such things. But that’s why I’m talking about it. John Lewis devoted his time on this Earth fighting the very attacks on democracy and what’s best in America that we’re seeing circulate right now. He knew that every single one of us has a God-given power and that the faith of this democracy depends on how we use it. That democracy isn’t automatic. It has to be nurtured. It has to be tended to. We have to work at it. It’s hard. And so he knew that it depends on whether we summoned a measure, just a measure of John’s moral courage, to question what’s right and what’s wrong. And call things as they are. He said that as long as he had a breath in his body, he would do everything he could to preserve this democracy, and as long as we have breath in our bodies, we had to continue his cause.

If we want our children to grow up in a democracy, not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, and a big-hearted tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America of perpetual self-creation, then we’re going to have to be more like John. We don’t have to do all the things he had to do, because he did them for us. But we got to do something. As the Lord instructed Paul, “Do not be afraid. Go on speaketh. Do not be silent. For I am with you and no one will attack you to harm you for I have many in this city who are my people.” It’s just, everybody’s got to come out and vote. We got all those people in the city, but they can’t do nothing. Like John, we’ve got to keep getting into that good trouble. He knew that nonviolent protest is patriotic, a way to raise public awareness and put a spotlight on injustice and make the powers that be uncomfortable. Like John, we don’t have to choose between protests and politics. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and situation. We have to engage in protests where that’s effective, but we also have to translate our passion and our causes into laws. Institutional practices. That’s why John ran for Congress 34 years ago. Like John, we’ve got to fight even harder for the most powerful tool that we have, which is the right to vote.

The Voting Rights Act is one of the crowning achievements of our democracy. It’s why John crossed that bridge, why he spilled that blood. And by the way, it was the result of Democrat and Republican efforts. President Bush, who spoke here earlier, and his father, signed its renewal when they were in office. President Clinton didn’t have to because it was the law when he arrived. So instead, he made a law to make it easier for people to register to vote. But once the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, some state legislators unleashed a flood of laws designed specifically to make voting harder, especially, by the way, state legislators where there’s a lot of minority turnout and population growth. That’s not necessarily a mystery or an accident. It was an attack on what John fought for. It was an attack on our democratic freedoms, and we should treat it as such. If politicians want to honor John, and I’m so grateful for the legacy and work of all the congressional leaders who are here, but there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there. Just trying to get back to where we already were.

Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance. By adding polling places and expanding early voting and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are somebody who’s working in a factory or you’re a single mom, who’s got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot. By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico. They’re Americans. By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering, so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around. And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.

Now, even if we do all this, even if every bogus voter-suppression law is struck off the books today, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves that too many of us choose not to exercise the franchise. Too many of our citizens believe their vote won’t make a difference, or they buy into the cynicism that, by the way, is the central strategy of voter suppression, to make you discouraged, to stop believing in your own power. So, we’re also going to have to remember what John said. If you don’t do everything you can do to change things, then they will remain the same. You only pass this way once. You have to give it all you have. As long as young people are protesting in the streets hoping real change takes hold, I’m hopeful, but we can’t casually abandon them at the ballot box. Not when few elections have been as urgent on so many levels as this one. We can’t treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy, and like John, we have to give it all we have.

I was proud that John Lewis was a friend of mine. I met him when I was in law school. He came to speak. And I went up and I said, “Mr. Lewis, you are one of my heroes. What inspired me more than anything as a young man was to see what you and Reverend Lawson and Bob Moses and Diane Nash and others did.” And he got that kind of “Aw shucks, thank you very much.” Next time I saw him, I’d been elected to the United States Senate. And I told him, “John, I’m here because of you.” And on Inauguration Day in 2008-2009, he was one of the first people I greeted and hugged on that stand. And I told him, “This is your day too.”

He was a good and kind and gentle man. And he believed in us. Even when we don’t believe in ourselves. And it’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was on Zoom. And I’m pretty sure neither he nor I set up the Zoom call because we didn’t know how to work it. It was a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists, who had been helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. And afterward, I spoke to John privately. And he could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists standing up for freedom and equality. A new generation that was intent on voting and protecting the right to vote. In some cases, a new generation running for political office. And I told him all those young people, John, of every race and every religion, from every background and gender and sexual orientation—John, those are your children. They learned from your example, even if they didn’t always know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they’d only heard about his courage through the history books.

By the thousands, faceless, anonymous young people, Black and white, have taken our nation “back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” Dr. King said that in the 1960s. And it came true again this summer. We see it outside our windows in big cities and rural towns. In men and women; young and old; straight Americans and LGBTQ Americans; Blacks, who long for equal treatment, and whites, who can no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of their fellow Americans. We see it in everybody doing the hard work of overcoming complacency, of overcoming our own fears and our own prejudices, our own hatreds. You see it in people trying to be better, truer versions of ourselves.

And that’s what John Lewis teaches us. That’s where real courage comes from, not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another. Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance and discovering that, in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.

What a gift John Lewis was. We are all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while and show us the way. God bless you all. God bless America. God bless this gentle soul who pulled it closer to its promise. Thank you very much.

In a New Ad, It’s AOC Vs. the Kennedys

Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) has premised his primary challenge to Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on an argument about generational change. The 39-year-old Kennedy, the grandson of RFK and grandnephew of JFK, said he was in the “fight of my generation” in his race against the 74-year-old Markey, who has served in Congress since the bicentennial.

But on Thursday, the Boomer incumbent got an assist from the quintessential millennial lawmaker, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who appeared in a new advertisement on Markey’s behalf. Her argument: The generational change progressives are looking for is as much about one’s ideas as their age.

The ad features Ocasio-Cortez talking straight to the camera as she touts Markey’s record as an original cosponsor of Medicare for All and his work on the Green New Deal, which Markey and AOC co-wrote. “When it comes to progressive leadership, it’s not your age that counts, its the age of your ideas,” Ocasio-Cortez says. 

Progressive leadership means taking on the tough fights, not because they're popular, but because they're right. pic.twitter.com/fLr7Rkegvy

— Ed Markey (@EdMarkey) July 30, 2020

Ocasio-Cortez’s script echoes the words Markey himself used to defend his incumbency to the Boston Globe editorial board, which endorsed him on Wednesday. The argument takes direct aim at the premise of Kennedy’s candidacy, which the Globe described as a “generational showdown” between two candidates “separated more by age than ideology.”

But progressives like Ocasio-Cortez flocked to Markey’s defense on the eve of Kennedy’s announcement to counter that narrative. Indeed, both Kennedy and Markey have signed their names to liberal legislation like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. More than $20 million has been spent in the US Senate Democratic primary in Massachusetts, a head-scratching amount for a contest between two lawmakers with two solidly liberal records running to represent a deep blue state. Markey’s supporters on the left say that it doesn’t just matter what lawmakers put their names on, but how they go about doing it. “Joe Kennedy got on board with the Green New Deal, but Ed Markey was there on day one,” Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, told me last fall.

And while Ocasio-Cortez herself won office based in part on an argument of generational change, Waleed Shahid—a spokesperson for Justice Democrats, which has backed several progressive primary challengers—told me that is just one piece of what’s needed to advance a progressive agenda. There’s a role for incumbents like Markey, who has served in Congress for more than four decades:

There are the Overton window-movers like the Squad, who represent the purest form of the left’s political and policy vision. But there’s also people like Markey, “Democrats who have powerful roles in the party but see the winds changing” and choose to lead on progressive issues. Markey, Shahid explains, can “shift the center of gravity in Washington,” channeling the energy of the activist left to ensure their demands are represented at the negotiating table.

Kennedy’s campaign manager slammed the Globe‘s endorsement, accusing the paper of catering to its “disproportionately white, well-off, well-educated readers” who thrive on the “status quo.” Though polls showed Kennedy with a double-digit lead when he entered the race, both campaigns have said the race has tightened considerably in recent months, according to Politico

Lunchtime Photo

This is a very pretty king snake being exhibited by a handler at the Orange County Zoo in the Before Times. I was hoping to handle it myself, but by the time I finished taking pictures the zoo guy got a call and had to rush off somewhere.

April 6, 2019 — OC Zoo, Orange County, California

COVID-19 Can Cause Heart Problems Too

The more we learn about COVID-19, the worse it gets. This is from a recent study of recovered patients in Germany:

CMR [cardiovascular magnetic resonance] revealed cardiac involvement in 78 patients (78%) and ongoing myocardial inflammation in 60 patients (60%), independent of preexisting conditions, severity and overall course of the acute illness, and time from the original diagnosis.

Nearly two-thirds of patients, even those with no preexisting conditions, developed myocarditis! Now, myocarditis is not always serious, but it can be. Sometimes it lasts a few hours, other times a few months. But why is a respiratory virus causing heart problems? The good folks at UCSF magazine explain:

We Thought It Was Just a Respiratory Virus
We were wrong.

By the luck of the evolutionary draw, [the coronavirus can] easily grab hold of protein gates on human cells known as ACE2 receptors and, like jackknives, pry these gates open….“You can think of an ACE2 receptor like a docking site,” says Faranak Fattahi, PhD, a UCSF Sandler Fellow.

….It stands to reason that SARS-CoV-2 affects the heart. After all, heart cells are flush with ACE2 receptors, the virus’s vital port of entry. And, indeed, laboratory experiments suggest that the virus can enter and replicate in cultured human heart cells, says Bruce Conklin, MD, a professor of medicine and an expert in heart-disease genetics at UCSF and the Gladstone Institutes.

This, along with interactions from the immune system, appears to be responsible for many of the non-respiratory effects we’ve started seeing in COVID-19 patients. That’s why, increasingly, it’s not just important to get COVID-19 deaths down. We need to crush the case count too because even seemingly asymptomatic cases can sometimes cause serious problems down the line.

South Texas Hospitals Are Overwhelmed by COVID-19. But No One Is Being “Sent Home to Die.”

Last week, a small rural county in south Texas went from the poster child for good pandemic response to the entire country’s worst nightmare. In a widely-covered press conference, Starr County Health Authority Jose Vasquez announced that, like many hospitals in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley region, the local hospital had reached capacity for COVID-19 patients and they had adopted a plan to start triaging the sickest patients. While that meant allocating the dwindling ICU beds to patients the most likely to survive treatment, some media outlets across the country sounded the alarm on the soon-to-be-formed “death panel” that would decide which patients would be saved at Starr County Memorial Hospital, and which would be “sent home to die.”

“I don’t want to say everything is OK, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

This week, however, things are actually … looking up? (Hold onto that, you won’t get it much in 2020.) In the wake of the media frenzy, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent Navy teams to help out hospitals in the Valley, including Starr County’s tiny 29-bed COVID-19 unit. According to Thalia Munoz, the hospital’s CEO and administrator, a hospital in San Antonio, nearly 250 miles away, has allowed them to start transferring patients to their facility. The “death panel” was called off. 

“I don’t want to say everything is OK,” Munoz told Mother Jones on Wednesday, “but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Still, while the state’s recent response to the dire situation along the Texas border is certainly welcome, some say the situation never should have gotten this dire to begin with. They argue Abbott’s own inaction early in the pandemic, as well as his efforts to reopen the state back in early May—at the expense of local control—was part of what put these communities in this situation in the first place. 

Early in the pandemic, numerous advocacy groups and local media outlets warned that places like Starr County were particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. The Rio Grande Valley’s residents are more than 90 percent Latinx and have one of highest poverty rates in the state; nearly half are uninsured and chronic health conditions abound—the rate of diabetes in the Valley is triple that of the national average, for example. In nearby Hidalgo County, the coronavirus fatality rate is more than twice that of the state’s overall average.

“My concern is not only that it is circulating without our knowledge, but we also have a population at high risk for severe disease,” one epidemiologist told the Texas Tribune in early April. “I don’t think it will take very long at all to overwhelm the facilities at our hospitals.”

“We’re gonna have to keep an eye on some of these outbreaks that we’re seeing in very rural states because the local hospital might be very small, or it might be a quite a long way away from where the population is. So no, nothing is over.” 

A few weeks later, I had an eerily prescient conversation with medical ethicist Nancy Berlinger about triage in the hospitals in New York City, then the country’s most severe coronavirus hot spot. “The tremendous effort on the part of governors and hospitals to get ventilators and beds into places where they were needed staved off the need for triage, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” she told me. “Remember, in some parts of the country, where you’re just beginning to see outbreaks, you might have much smaller hospitals. We’re gonna have to keep an eye on some of these outbreaks that we’re seeing in very rural states because the local hospital might be very small, or it might be a quite a long way away from where the population is. So no, nothing is over.” 

At Starr County Memorial Hospital, the staff—sans triage committee—is working hard to care for their community. But some damage has already been done. One nurse told me last week’s discussion of “death panels” was a misrepresentation of her on-the-ground reality and disheartening for both frontline workers and residents who, for a myriad of reasons, are already hesitant to seek medical care. She said between the at-risk patient population they worked with and the state’s rush to reopen, medical workers were just doing their best in a worst-case scenario.

Bryn Esplin, a medical ethics expert and professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, told me blaming doctors in chronically underfunded and underserved areas misses the mark. “No one wants to decide who lives and who dies,” Esplin said. “It’s an excruciating decision that leads to burn out and moral distress. But these heart-wrenching decisions [almost had] to be made all because of social priorities and structural racism.”

In Attacking Amazon, Matt Gaetz Boosts a Terrorist Organization

During Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing with CEOs from major tech, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) defended multiple homophobic, Islamaphobic, and antisemitic groups, including one that is a federally designated terrorist organization.

While Gaetz seemed to highlight groups with innocuous names, the organizations he listed are considered fringe outfits.

Gaetz remarks came in the course of attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that maintains a list of hate groups that Amazon has chosen to ban from using its fundraising service. “The Southern Poverty Law Center, which you allow to dictate who can receive donations on your AmazonSmile platform, have said the Catholic Family News, Catholic Family Ministries, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Jewish Defense League, and even Dr. Ben Carson are extremists,” Gaetz said to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “I’m just wondering why you would place your confidence in a group that seems to be so out of step and seems to take mainstream Christian doctrine and label it as hate?”

While Gaetz seemed to highlight groups with innocuous-sounding names, the organizations he listed are considered fringe outfits by far larger groups involved in similar issues.

Catholic Family Ministries and its publication Catholic Family News are a part of the antisemitic brand of Radical Traditional Catholicism that rejects the Vatican’s liberalizing reforms in the 60s and has played home to excommunicated priests. On their website, they have a page for articles tagged with “The Jews” with posts rejecting the Roman church’s modern conciliatory overtures to the Jewish community. They explicitly reject the kind of “mainstream Christian doctrine” that Gaetz’s question claimed they represent.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, according to the SPLC, has multiple ties to white nationalists and eugenicists. The organization has documented FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, as saying the US should remain majority white.

The American Family Association and Family Research Council, have frequently espoused homophobic views, and in the American Family Association’s case, Islamaphobic statements as well. As recently as 2010, the Family Research Council likened being gay to pedophilia. 

The Jewish Defense League is the most puzzling Gaetz endorsement. In 2001, the FBI designated the organization as a “right-wing terrorist group.” Federal officials found them responsible for 15 acts of terrorism between 1980 and 1985, and JDL members were suspected of being responsible for a 1972 New York bombing that left two dead.

Despite the groups’ history of hate, Bezos caved to Gaetz’s questioning. “Sir, I’m going to acknowledge this is an imperfect system,” Bezos responded. “And I would like suggestions on better or additional sources.”

Gaetz fired back with the suggestion that Amazon should “divorce from the SPLC,” something conservatives angered by the watchdog group’s designations have long advocated.

Chart of the Day: GDP Plummets in Q2

GDP plummeted 9.5 percent in the second quarter of the year, an annualized rate of 32.9 percent. Just in case that’s not dramatic enough for you, here’s a view of GDP that you don’t normally see:

The reason you seldom see this view of raw GDP is that even big drops barely show up. The 1980 recession is hardly visible and even the 2008 Great Recession looks pretty puny. It’s just a nice, steady march of trendline growth until 2020. The coronavirus recession is the first in 90 years to be so big that it’s visible from outer space, so to speak.

I used to take solace from the fact that this drop was deliberately manufactured, which meant it could be deliberately remedied when the coronavirus was under control. Little did I know that our president had no real interest in controlling the virus and Republicans had no real interest in keeping the country afloat in the meantime. There is going to be tremendous suffering over the next year.

John Lewis Says the Right to Vote Is in Danger. Then Trump Threatens to Take It Away.

In a posthumous op-ed published in the New York Times to coincide with his funeral on Thursday, John Lewis wrote about the importance of the right to vote but also warned of the danger it faces.

“Voting and participating in the democratic process are key,” wrote Lewis, the civil rights icon and longtime congressman from Georgia who passed away on July 17. “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

Hours after Lewis’ article was published, President Trump suggested in a tweet that he might delay the 2020 election, dramatically escalating his massive disinformation campaign against voting by mail.

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020

Trump’s tweet is nonsense. For starters, the president doesn’t have the authority to postpone the election—Congress does. Second, there’s no evidence of widespread vote-by-mail fraud—the conservative Heritage Foundation found only 143 criminal convictions for mail ballot fraud over the past 20 years, a rate of .000006 percent. Third, Trump and 15 other top administration officials, including the vice president and attorney general, have voted by mail in the past.

But Lewis was right to be concerned about the threat to voting rights. Since the 2010 election, half the states in the country have passed new restrictions on voting, such as voter ID laws, cutbacks to early voting, and closing polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, unleashing a wave of new voter suppression in states with a long history of discrimination like Georgia and Texas. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been blocking a vote on bipartisan legislation to restore the VRA for most of a year.)

Video

Related: Mitch McConnell Refuses to Honor John Lewis' Legacy 

More recently, the Trump administration has waged an unrelenting campaign against vote-by-mail, lying about mail ballot fraud and filing a series of lawsuits opposing efforts to make it easier to vote by mail. He has also politicized the United States Postal Service by appointing the former top fundraiser for the Republican National Committee as postmaster general, cutting overtime for postal workers, and slowing down mail delivery at a time when the agency faces a major budget crisis, which could lead to mail ballots not arriving in time to be counted. All of these efforts have erected new barriers to mail voting at a time when the country will cast mail ballots in unprecedented numbers during a pandemic with no end in sight.

Lewis nearly died marching for the right to vote in 1965. Trump seems more determined than ever to undermine that right.

Herman Cain Dies of COVID-19

Herman Cain—the businessman, Tea Party conservative, and 2012 Republican presidential candidate—has died of complications from COVID-19 at the age of 74.

Cain had appeared without a mask at President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, though it is not known where and when he contracted the coronavirus. He tested positive for the virus on June 29 and had been hospitalized since July 1, according to a message posted on his Twitter account.

Cain was a successful businessman who helped boost sales at Burger King and Godfather’s Pizza in the 1980s. His other roles included chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and economic adviser for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.

Cain gained prominence in the race for the 2012 GOP nomination with his proposed “9–9–9 Plan,” which suggested replacing the existing tax structure with a 9 percent personal income tax, 9 percent federal sales tax, and 9 percent corporate tax. He withdrew from the race in December 2011 after several women accused him of sexual misconduct. (He denied the allegations.)

Cain was a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and co-chaired Black Voices for Trump. In 2019, Trump attempted to nominate him for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, but Cain withdrew his name from the nomination pool amid resistance from Congress—and after learning that he would have to give up most of his business interests.

Trump, Who Lacks the Authority to Do So, Suggests Delaying Election

As his poll numbers continue to drop, President Trump on Thursday floated the idea of postponing the November election, now less than 100 days away, falsely claiming that mail-in voting will lead to rampant voter fraud. It would require an act of Congress to delay the election.

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020

It’s the first time Trump has publicly proposed delaying the election. But in many ways, the tweet seems like an inevitable progression from his longstanding attacks against measures designed to expand ballot access, such as widespread absentee and mail-in voting, as states struggle to work out plans for conducting elections during the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats have long warned that Trump would push for a delay. They also worry that the president might refuse to accept defeat if he loses, which he openly hinted at as recently as last week.

“Mark my words: I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Joe Biden told supporters in April, as Trump continued to promote misleading and false claims about mail-in voting and accused Democrats of trying to “steal the election.”

Trump, in all likelihood, knows that he lacks the legal authority to postpone the election. But in finally saying the quiet part out loud this morning, he could be hoping to distract from the grim news that the US just suffered its biggest drop in GDP on record. Might as well throw some casual voter fraud lies into the mix.

How Our “Balkanized” Healthcare System Made the Pandemic Far Worse

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 deadlier. 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?

William Hanage is an epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health who studies the spread of infectious diseases. In the past, Hanage, who is British and trained at Oxford University and the Imperial College London, has looked at how viruses and bacteria evolve. Since the pandemic began, he’s written a paper evaluating the effectiveness of coronavirus control measures in Chinaand he’s emerged as a sharp critic of the American government’s response to the virus. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, he wrote: “In the spring, the federal pandemic response was akin to bringing a rubber chicken to a gunfight. The attempt to defend against the greatest threat to public health in a century was limp, grudging and delayed. Now it is barely existent.” 

On the problem of a “balkanized” healthcare system: Back in January or February, I remember thinking that the United States’ healthcare system could almost have been precision engineered not to be able to deal with a pandemic—or to deal with it badly. Part of it is the very many different parts of it. You have a health insurance provider, and you have your healthcare provider, and then you have to get your medication from somewhere else.

It’s just not something that makes it possible for us to respond in any kind of coherent fashion. A pandemic comes at you really fast. My experience with this one was this absolute rushing sense of a tidal wave coming in early March. We were looking at the number of cases and predicting when that was going to be here—and then trying to convince people that we couldn’t be doing business as usual, because the doubling time was like twice a week. There is a real problem with a balkanized healthcare system of the sort we have in the United States. What is working in one place is not necessarily what’s going to be working in another place, due to all kinds of local regulations. The complicated system that the US has must be overhauled to become simpler, and that will take huge political will. Medicare for All could be a step in the right direction. 

The most crucial part is to accept that mistakes are being made. Don’t try and hide them and sugarcoat them for some political game. 

Historically people have seen healthcare as a profit-making thing, which means that there’s much less investment in the possibility of having things like ventilators for an emergency. And the situation in which states are having to compete for things like personal protective equipment or ventilators is utterly counter to everything that we would hope for health care in a pandemic.

On what we can learn from the UK and Germany: Having a one-stop shop for health care, like the UK’s National Health Service, is helpful. The dexamethasone finding came out of the UK, and I think one reason they could do that is it’s easier to do a trial like that there rather than here, where even the largest healthcare providers deal with coordinating massive numbers of patients in very different contexts.

Germany’s response has been widely praised, and I would join in that praise. It was focused on somewhat different things. The thing that was interesting was that each of the Lander [local regions] were able to devise their own testing systems. Whereas here, everything was supposed to be controlled by the FDA and the CDC, which ended up going completely awry in terms of developing a test that could be used effectively in order to study the emergence within the American population.

On the importance of learning from our mistakes: The most crucial part is to accept that mistakes are being made. Don’t try and hide them and sugarcoat them for some political game. Just accept that you have a once-in-a-century-scale public health crisis. And once you’ve accepted that, you can start working on how to make it better rather than pretending it’s not there. We need an honest accounting of the current situation, just looking at it and recognizing that the phases haven’t worked. We need to recognize that it’s not the same for every part of the country. Here in Boston, we’ve gone through our three-week ICU surge and had a really tough time in that area. But now community transmission has dropped. We need to be talking to people, for example, in Arizona, because they’re quite in the thick of it.

On why we need to consider the worst-case scenario: The last administration thought about pandemics. One of the biggest problems with the current situation actually dates back to 2009 and swine flu. In 2009, a pandemic was called, and, as a result of a pandemic being declared by WHO, the world swung into action against the virus, which, in the end, turned out to be pretty serious. It killed well over a million people. But it was not the kind of existential threat that people had initially worried about. And that means that when people warn about pandemics the tendency is to think that they are crying wolf, or that it’s not going to be as bad as they say it’s going to be—when actually, it could be.

When I talk to local people, like a city council or a schools’ committee, I say, “What cost are you willing to accept for being wrong? What is an acceptable cost to you?” Frankly, we got lazy, and we’re not prepared for something like this. Even people like me and my colleagues, we would look at the data and kind of think, can it really be that bad? It’s hard to admit to yourself that it really can be that bad, but you have to know in the back of your mind that it may well be.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Billionaires Are Doing Better Than Ever. Why Isn’t Their Philanthropy Trickling Down?

If you’re one of the ten percent of Americans who works for a nonprofit, you’re biting your nails right now. A CNN commentator recently called COVID-19 an “extinction-level event for America’s nonprofits.” Philanthropy News Digest reports that 83 percent of nonprofits have seen a drop in revenue between March and June 2020. Seventy-one percent say they can’t provide the same services they once did. The number of nonprofit staff dropped by almost half amid a torrent of layoffs and pay cuts. And philanthropic grants are down by a third. No wonder, right? Who has loose change to give away at a time like this?

Billionaires do.

The biggest philanthropists, the ultra-rich, are doing great. Between March 18 and June 5, American billionaires added more than half a trillion dollars to their collective net worth. Thanks to growing inequality, small-dollar donations to charity are being replaced by upper-class philanthropy. But upper-class philanthropy is a lot less likely to make its way to people in need.

Those are the conclusions of a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, a DC-based progressive think tank that backs an overhaul of charity laws. The number of donors is falling—by 12 percent from 2009 to 2019, the report finds, likely because stagnant wages and growing inequality have made it difficult for many small donors to keep giving. In 1989, 81 cents of every dollar that went to charity came from an individual. In 2019, that figure was 69 percent. On paper, the richest Americans have made up for a drop in middle- and working-class donations. In practice, their donations are more likely to gather dust—and tax deductions.

Where small donors have traditionally given to working nonprofits, wealthy donors prefer donor-advised funds and foundations. (Donor-advised funds, increasingly popular with investors, let you donate, collect a tax deduction for the full value, and decide what to do with the money later. The Chronicle of Philanthropy calls them a “personal charitable savings account.”) That money—even when it comes in large amounts, or “mega-gifts”—doesn’t always trickle down to the grassroots organizations it’s supposed to help. In fact, most charitable foundations don’t have to spend more than 5 percent of their funds per year. Whether or not they give to working nonprofits, they’re still able to shield donors from the IRS by allowing billionaires to write off their contributions as tax deductions.

The UC–Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman has called mega-gifts the equivalent of a “tiny, tiny, wealth tax.” The top 20 US billionaires after Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, Saez writes, donated about 0.3 percent of their wealth in 2018. The catch: It’s barely more than the taxes they’d owe on half their wealth, even under our billionaire-friendly tax code. More than 200 ultra-rich donors have picked up great press for the Giving Pledge, a Gates/Buffet-led initiative to give away most of their assets. But as IPS points out, if the US signers gave away half of their net worth—$485 billion, including to their own foundations, they’d be shorting Americans $360 billion in taxes, given that they’re able to write off so much of their contributions. Unfortunately, donations to museums, universities, and even public health programs can’t replace the essential function of taxes: to float social goods like working transit, housing subsidies, unemployment insurance, and public education.

If you see an uncanny echo of dark money in politics, you’re not wrong. When small, individual donors get squeezed out, the report says, charities have to start responding to what a few big donors want. IPS calls it “mission distortion.” Despite bringing in massive tax breaks, much of the almost $16 billion donated by the top 50 philanthropists in 2019 “may not actually get into the hands of active public charities for years—or ever, potentially, in the case of donor-advised funds.” Even when mega-gifts do go to active working charities, the report notes, “they tend to be directed toward larger organizations, and towards causes that the wealthy prefer.” The most popular targets for those mega-gifts were the donors’ own private foundations.

Many private foundations are deeply entwined with offshore trusts and tax havens: Illinois governor and billionaire Hyatt heir J.B. Pritzker squirreled significant shares of his estimated $3.5 billion net worth into a tangle of Carribean trusts and holding companies, all of which funnel cash into his private foundation. (Other members of the Pritzker family have donated to Mother Jones.) America’s richest family, the Waltons, runs a foundation that sits on nearly $5 billion in assets. And “99 percent of the Foundation’s contributions since 2008,” one Forbes contributor reports, were made through trusts “specifically designed to help ultra-wealthy families avoid estate and gift taxes.”

And some foundations could use way more oversight. The Trump Foundation dissolved in 2018 after a complaint from New York’s attorney general accused it of a “shocking pattern of illegality,” including collusion with the Trump campaign, calling it “little more than a checkbook” for Trump’s “business and political interests.” The opioid-rich Sackler family, under increasing scrutiny for aggressively hawking OxyContin, has lent its name to the Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, the Sackler Trust, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation, La Fondation Sackler, and the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation—among others.

The Sackler and Walton names, among others, are splashed across institutions, from art galleries to hospitals and universities (although many museums, along with Tufts University, have now stripped references to the Sacklers from their buildings). That doesn’t always bode well for small charities. From the report: 

Top-heavy philanthropy favors bigger charities that already have sophisticated major donor programs, the capacity to manage and implement gifts of enormous size, as well as the infrastructure to accommodate gifts of appreciated stock and high-value noncash assets. This may put smaller, more independent, and potentially more innovative and nimble organizations at a disadvantage.

In other words, high-dollar philanthropy more often looks like equity billionaire David Booth’s $300 million gift to the already-very-rich University of Chicago’s business school—now the Booth School of Business—rather than a big check for scrappy youth organizations, prison abolitionists or hyper-local environmental justice groups like those backed by Resist, a non-profit that makes modest grants to grassroots organizers. From 2017 to 2018, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that giving to the 100 biggest charities grew 11 percent, even as giving fell overall. Nonprofit Quarterly says we live in an age of “philanthropic plutocracy.” And since 1985, according to Berkeley’s Zucman, foundation wealth has grown by more than half as a share of household income. Foundations now hold more than $1 trillion in assets, he writes.

Charity rules, drawn up in 1917 to benefit the Gilded Age rich, worked best in the post-war years, when millions more Americans had cash to throw around—which they did, consistently, at a rate of around 2 percent of their incomes. But when those incomes stagnated, charities leaned more and more on Walmart heirs parking billions in family foundations and dodging capital gains while they vote with their wallets. Are we really better off for that?

The Trump Files: The Time Donald Burned a Widow’s Mortgage

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 August 9, 2016.

Whether it’s giving to charities or young school kids, generosity doesn’t always come naturally for Donald Trump. But sometimes he’s capable of acts of genuine kindness, such as the good deed he performed for one Georgia widow in 1986.

That year, 66-year-old Annabel Hill was fighting to keep her farm in Waynesboro, Georgia. The farm, which was $300,000 in debt, had nearly been auctioned off that February. To save it, Hill’s husband killed himself, believing his life insurance policy would wipe out the debt. But he didn’t realize most insurance companies, including his own, wouldn’t pay out policies in the event of suicide, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Hills raised some money to pay down the debt, but they still owed $187,000 by the fall of 1986, and the farm was in danger of being sold again.

That’s when Trump stepped in. Atlanta businessman Frank Argenbright Jr. held a press conference for the Hills in September that earned national attention, including from Trump. “Trump heard about Mrs. Hill’s plight in September and worked with Argenbright to raise the remaining $187,000,” the Associated Press reported. “Donations of all sizes materialized—New York disc jockey Don Imus raised $15,000—but the debt remained at $78,000.” Trump agreed to pay half of the final $78,000 himself, and Tom McKamy, a wealthy Texas farmer, pitched in the rest.

“I’m just so grateful to these men,” Hill told United Press International. “It’s really hard with the main person in your family gone. This kind of eases the ache a little bit.” Hill’s daughter Besty told the Journal-Constitution that her family “saw a whole different side of [Trump] that was kindhearted, to reach out to us, to help us.”

There was still one Trumpian touch to the story. Two days before Christmas, Trump held a “burn the mortgage” party for the Hills in the atrium of Trump Tower. Trump flew the family up to New York on his own dime and set up a meticulously planned, TV-ready ceremony. “Trump ordered the waterfalls in his towers turned off, to make it easier for the TV sound technicians,” the Journal-Constitution reported. “He made sure that at least three tested cigarette lighters were on hand to spark the fire. The mortgage papers were fake, but Trump ordered an assistant to light one up to make sure they would burn quickly and dramatically.”

“I love burning mortgages,” Trump said. “There’s nothing that gives me a greater kick.”

The family was so eager to get back to work at the farm that Annabel’s son Leonard, named after his father, had remained in Georgia with his pregnant wife and spent the day before the party preparing to plant wheat, his mother told the AP. He still lives and works on the farm today.

Republicans Prepare for Latest Round of Pretending To Be Deficit Hawks

Here we go again:

“Trump’s weakening hand.” In other words, they think Trump is going to lose and they’re making sure everyone knows they will refuse to spend a single penny when a Democrat is in office, pandemics and recessions be damned.

Serious question, folks: Is there a Democratic equivalent of this? That is, something where Democrats literally turn on a dime whenever Republicans occupy the White House? Nothing comes to mind, but I loathe Republican leaders far too much these days to be able to think straight about it.

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