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Monthly Archives: May 2020

Stupid is as Stupid has always done in private and now it affects millions of people, while his administration continues to assault the American voters and their allies. MA.
Karla Adam- The Washington Post
President Donald Trump formally cuts ties with World Health Organization

LONDON —Global health experts and government officials joined in criticism Saturday over President Trump’s plans to cut ties with the World Health Organization and funnel U.S. money elsewhere.

In the remarks made in the Rose Garden on Friday, Trump blamed China for the covid-19 pandemic and accused Beijing of effectively controlling the WHO and pressuring it to “mislead the world.”

The United States is the single biggest financial contributor to the U.N. agency, and its exit will hit its budget even as it struggles with a global pandemic that has resulted in more than 364,000 deaths.

Trump said that the annual $400 million that the U.S. contributes to the organization will be redirected “to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs” without giving specifics.

Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, tweeted in English on Saturday that Trump’s decision to sever ties with the organization was “a disappointing backlash for International Health.”

Spahn added that the WHO “needs reform” if it is to make “any difference for the future.” Germany will take over the rotating E.U. presidency in July and the minister said finding a way for the European Union to “take a leading role and engage more financially” with the U.N. agency would be prioritized.

South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, called Trump’s move “unfortunate.”

“Certainly, when faced with a serious pandemic, you want all nations in the world to be particularly focused … on one common enemy,” he told reporters, according to the Associated Press.

A spokesman for the British government said the WHO had an “important role to play in leading the international health response” to the pandemic. “We have no plans to withdraw our funding,” the statement said.

The European Union urged Trump to reconsider.

In a joint statement, E.U. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that “as the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the main task for everyone is to save lives and contain and mitigate this pandemic.”

“Now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions,” the statement added. “Actions that weaken international results must be avoided. We urge the U.S. to reconsider its announced decision.”

A number of scientists and global health experts also stepped forward to voice their support for the organization.

In Australia, Peter Doherty, the founder of the Doherty Institute, whose modeling has played a role in the government’s response to the crisis, tweeted that the WHO is “central to the global fight against COVID-19.” He added that the “leadership has seemed overcautious in some of its statements,” but added that “much of the real, essential work of the WHO” goes on at lower, professional levels.

Gail Carson, director of network development at the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium, warned that a pandemic was “not the time” to make health political.

Richard Horton, the editor of the Britain-based Lancet medical journal, which has not shied away in its criticism of Trump’s handling of the crisis, wrote: “We give our 100% support to the World Health Organization at this time of crisis.”

“The U.S. government has gone rogue at a time of humanitarian emergency,” he added


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Trump Signs Social Media Executive Order

The president acted against social media companies after Twitter attached a fact-check label to two of his baseless claims.

The move, which may expose social media companies to liability for what gets posted on their platforms, dramatically escalates a confrontation between Trump and his favored mode of communication, where the president can address his more than 80 million followers directly without relying on news conferences or the traditional media.

Trump and his backers claimed Twitter was suppressing free speech by labeling his tweets, which falsely claimed mail-in ballots would be “substantially fraudulent.” The president typically uses the platform to brag, attack rivals, bolster allies and spread falsehoods.

When a reporter asked at the signing why Trump didn’t simply stop using using the platform, the president retorted, “If we had fair press in this country, I would do that in a heartbeat.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how, if at all, the order can be enforced. The president cannot regulate tech companies without congressional approval and any challenge to their autonomy is sure to end up in court.

“Much as he might wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter. This order, if issued, would be a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president,” the American Civil Liberties Union noted on Twitter.

“The president has no authority to rewrite a congressional statute with an executive order imposing a flawed interpretation of Section 230,” the ACLU continued, referring to the section of the Communications Decency Act that shields platforms from being held liable for what users publish on them.

“Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230,” the legal nonprofit continued. “If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Trump’s lies, defamation, and threats.”

But Trump insisted Thursday that he would go as far as shutting down Twitter if his lawyers found a way. “I’d have to go through a legal process,” he said.

Social media companies have enjoyed legal protections for what gets posted on their platforms and have resisted tampering with even vile falsehoods, including Trump’s aspersions that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough committed murder.

Still, Twitter labeled two of Trump’s tweets with a fact-check warning for the first time on Tuesday after the president’s mail-in fraud claim. Many states have moved to expand vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic, including California, which said this month all registered voters would be sent ballots for the general election.

Donald J. Trump


There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone…..

83.5K people are talking about this

The Twitter addendum tells readers they can “get the facts” about mail-in ballots and directs them to news reports that debunk Trump’s claims.

The move, however, sparked a dramatic outburst from the Oval Office.

Twitter “is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election,” Trump wrote. He later said the social media giant was “completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”

Trump doubled down on that criticism Thursday afternoon, tagging Twitter’s head of site integrity Yoel Roth in a separate tweet and deriding him as a “hater.” It’s the second time in as many days the White House has specifically targeted Roth. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway spelled out his Twitter handle on Fox News Wednesday, ominously predicting “he’s about to get a lot more followers.”


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he disagreed with Twitter’s policy in an interview with Fox News set to air Thursday.

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said. “I think in general, private companies probably shouldn’t be — especially these platform companies — shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey fired back at the criticism, saying the company would “continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”

“This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth,’” Dorsey said. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”


Lydia O’Connor and Ryan Grenoble contributed reporting.


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Apparently placing restrictions on all large gatherings to slow the spread of  COVID 19 is a threat to Religious freedom or is it. The Thomas More Society in Illinois sued the Governor over the restrictions on mass gatherings in order to slow and hopefully curtail death from a pandemic that has resulted in 100,000 deaths that we know of across the nation. I do not recall asking this group to represent me, did you? Everyone in the United States is affected by this Pandemic and no one is happy about it so why is this religious subgroup advocating for the opportunity to increase the spread of an illness under the guise of religious freedom? Be wary of groups making statements in your name without your permission.MA

May 28  5:50 p.m. NPR Illinois
Churches Free To Gather. Gov. Recommends Against It

Governor JB Pritzker Thursday announced new guidance for churches and places of worship.   It comes as he faces multiple lawsuits over his ban on gatherings of more than ten people.

Pritzker now says faith leaders should try to limit attendance to a quarter of a building’s capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower, along with social distancing.

“We’re not providing restrictions. We’re simply providing the best recommendations that we can for keeping people safe so we hope that the pastor will follow those got that guides and those recommendations for his services, his or her services,” he said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health is still calling for outdoor or remote services when possible, along with cleaning protocols.

The conservative Thomas More Society responded to the changes by claiming victory and saying Pritzker used the pandemic “to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois.”


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“I’m not a shame person, but man, I want future generations to look back on us and say, ‘Look how hard they tried,’ not ‘Look at how blind they were.’”

Jacqueline Novogratz
Towards a Moral Revolution

These last four years have shown how broken our political system is. We have become so jaded and apparently oblivious to the activities of our elected officials that we are surprised at their actions. This is not new business but old business renewed. This is the same types of actions that occurred after the “War Between The States”, during and after WWII and more recently the middle east. We now have the “greatest show on earth” playing before us with all of the associated acts. We have a leader who at best is  uninformed and is abetted by 535 neer do wells who mouth homilies to appease us. During all of this are the lesser imps who dream up and institute the evils that will excite the leader and keep him engaged. This method of governing is at once inept and dangerous with effects lasting for years to come. Bear in mind that leaders lead and fakers fake!


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After conducting (orchestrating?) his  press conferences with the normal unverified statements TOTUS has brought on a fresh face with same and some new  unverified statements. That being said: Where is the proof that mail in votes are subject to fraud? Again TOTUS just makes stuff up to call attention to himself and his causes. It has been proven that States with mail in balloting have proper safeguards such as verification of the sender, bar codes which cannot be duplicated (so no one is printing and mailing ballots on a wholesale level). The purpose of these statements is to depress the voting, the fewer people that vote, the better TOTUS has a chance of winning. The 2016 election proved that. If as a voter you are not looking at the effects of this administration’s actions for now and the future then you could possibly be a candidate to purchase a bridge that crosses San Francisco bay! Many of us fail to realize that all legislation, executive orders do not take effect immediately but when they do, they have a lasting effect far into the future until they are repealed  or modified. the key to good government is good representation. The party lines are not good for us when those lines do not include the desires and needs of ALL of the voters. It is unfortunate that we as voters have put our hopes and dreams in the hands of miscreants masquerading as people of honor until they get in office or do we?


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Conor Friedersdorf
a person sitting in a dark room© The Atlantic / GettyEditor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Earlier this month, Representative Adam Kinzinger told his constituents that he is worried by the excessive number of conspiracy theories he has seen circulating lately on social-media sites.

“As leaders, we have a choice,” he told his constituents in a video message posted to Facebook. “There’s far too many who will simply reflect back that paranoia, to feed fuel to that fire, if it’ll help their reelection … We need to push back against these attempts to divide and destroy us.”

Days later, President Donald Trump disseminated a conspiracy theory for the ages. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic that has killed 100,000 Americans, he attacked a cable-television host, former Representative Joe Scarborough, with a thinly veiled murder allegation. “A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough,” Trump wrote. “So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator?”


In fact, there is no evidence of an affair or foul play in the staffer’s death almost 20 years ago. Kinzinger quickly pushed back against the leader of his political party. “Completely unfounded conspiracy,” he wrote on Twitter. “Just stop. Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”

Why was his principled stand so lonely?

There are many reasons, besides general concern about conspiracy theories, that a Republican member of Congress would want to speak out on behalf of a former representative being unfairly attacked.

As members of a coequal branch of government charged with checking and balancing the executive, legislators might also feel duty-bound to rebuke flagrant abuses of the presidential pulpit, if only to deter future executive misbehavior. As public figures, they’d presumably all hope for defenders if the president were spreading thinly veiled murder accusations about them.

And even if they’re not concerned for Scarborough as a victim, they might have noticed that Trump’s attack on a political adversary did collateral harm to the still-grieving widower of the woman who died. “The President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him—the memory of my dead wife—and perverted it for perceived political gain,” that widower wrote in a letter to Twitter asking that Trump’s tweet be removed. “I would also ask that you consider Lori’s niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future.”

That message apparently moved Utah Senator Mitt Romney to speak out Wednesday morning, when he tweeted, “I know Joe Scarborough. Joe is a friend of mine. I don’t know T. J. Klausutis. Joe can weather vile, baseless accusations but T.J.? His heart is breaking. Enough already.”


The same morning, Representative Liz Cheney told reporters in Washington, “I do think the president should stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough. I think we’re in the middle of a pandemic. He’s the commander in chief of this nation, and it’s causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died. So I would urge him to stop it.” But this trio was among the rare exceptions of the 197 Republicans in the House and 51 Republicans in the Senate. Silence was the rule. There was no rebuke from the GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (who sidestepped questions about the matter, professing ignorance) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; no reaffirmation of basic decency as a valuable norm by a few dozen members; no call from a frustrated caucus to refocus presidential attention on the disease ravaging the country rather than one accidental death.

Perhaps that dereliction of the duty to protect and defend basic decency should not surprise anyone at this point. Trump bullied Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, implying that Cruz’s father killed JFK and likening Carson to a pathological killer. “Now those targets count as Trump’s most faithful servants,” Jonathan Chait observed in a recent New York magazine column. Trump has been conditioned to expect reward rather than rebuke from prominent GOP officials after he behaves badly.

But I didn’t want to infer too much from silence. So I reached out to the offices of the Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation, who represent the state where Scarborough served and the dead woman lived, seeking comment. I tried Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, as well as Representatives Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, John Rutherford, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, Gus Bilirakis, Ross Spano, Vern Buchanan, Gregory Steube, Brian Mast, and Francis Rooney. I also reached out to the Republican Party leadership of the counties of Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton, in Scarborough’s former district.

I have yet to receive a response from any member of the congressional delegation. The one GOP county official who replied to me defended Trump’s conduct. No one expects every member of Congress to comment on every controversy. But the president’s indecent behavior makes the silence among his many supporters in the GOP conspicuous. “There are many in the GOP power structure and pro-Trump media who have lost loved ones in unspeakable ways who would be gutted if the president spread malicious lies exploiting their tragedy,” the CNN anchor Jake Tapper wrote.

Yet despite the widower’s pleas, most “sit silently.” And that silence, like past silence on Trump indecencies, all but guarantees more abuses of this kind by the president. I’m hoping to be able to update this story with responses from Republican officials; my email address is


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By Scott Martelle, Los Angeles Times

55 mins ago

This is how a thug acts.

Twitter at long last has affixed fact-check links to a couple of tweets by President Donald Trump that include verifiably false details, in this case claims by the president that mail-in balloting leads to election fraud.

Note that Twitter didn’t remove the tweets, and hasn’t gone so far as to add fact-check links to the president’s baseless insinuations that MSNBC co-anchor Joe Scarborough might bear responsibility for a congressional aide’s long-ago natural death.

Trump’s response: Take out the flamethrower and scorch away.

Um, no, calling out bald-faced lies by a politician is not interfering with an election.

As slow and insufficient as Twitter’s response to Trump’s serial lies and grotesque insinuations has been, this moment spotlights just how Trump manipulates a moment to turn it into something it is not.

He’s tweeted spurious insinuations about MSNBC co-anchor Joe Scarborough and the long-ago death of an aide. He’s thrown out inane one-liners such as “OBAMAGATE MAKES WATERGATE LOOK LIKE SMALL POTATOES!” He’s spun lies about the spread of the coronavirus and his response to it, retweeted a cascade of conservative takes on events and his actions, posted free plugs for books and television segments that align with his world view, and attacked the media (he cheered announced staff cuts at the Atlantic; what kind of president cheers job losses?), Democrats and a smattering of fellow Republicans who have the temerity to oppose him.

He has also, most troublingly, tweeted his support for blatant attempts at intimidation by armed anti-government protesters who joined demonstrations in states whose Democratic governors froze many public interactions to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

This is how a thug acts. But it’s also how Trump works to deflect public attention from his historically inept presidency. He creates controversies, then turns them into us vs. them fights to keep his base engaged and his critics outraged. In a divided country Trump makes the divide the issue, at the expense of the public well-being.

Trump’s attacks on the mail-in voting option as a way to conduct an election amid the coronavirus pandemic is an effort to undermine public faith in the November election. And his attack on Twitter for supposed censorship (pointing out a lie is not censorship in any accepted definition) is an attempt to distract the electorate from his initial lie.

Trump is preparing the ground to, once again, claim victimhood. If he loses in November, he’ll scream (well, tweet) “foul!” and “unfair!” and somehow draw in President Barack Obama and Jeff Bezos and his expanding cast of political critics real and imagined to argue that he is the target of some vast left-wing socialist lamestream media conspiracy (it’s not beyond imagination that he’ll claim it was concocted in a Wuhan research lab) and that we need to TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK NOW! (emphasis in the imagined original tweet).

This is standard procedure for Trump. Attack, debase and devalue in the hope that he emerges victorious from the verbal battlefield. Never mind the carnage. Never mind the truth.

Never mind what’s best for the country.



Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and author of six history books, is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.


©2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. 


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National Geographic



Monday, May 25, 2020Before it was halted, people used to "mail" people, like this woman on a cargo flight to San Diego.

Before it was halted, people used to “mail” people, like this woman on a cargo flight to San Diego.



By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor


The art of letter writing, mailing pastel-colored birthday cards with floral stickers, and sending packages that need to be handled with care: Those are traditions still held dear by my mother, mother-in-law, and other seniors in my life. These traditions are directly tied to the belief that the post office will get each special delivery to the intended recipient in short order.


This quaint way of life and the deeply embedded trust that has endured for 250 years of the United States Postal Service, and which we too often take for granted, is in a fight for its life. Decreasing revenue in a dynamic marketplace has some congressional leaders speculating that the service could be out of business by June.


This is not new. The USPS has had a tumultuous and colorful existence, including 100 years ago when people would put stamps on their children and send them through the mail to their destination, Boyce Upholt writes for NatGeo. (Pictured above, a woman who was shipped air mail in an early plane’s cargo.) In forming the Post Office, the founders had wanted a service that connected the scattered populous of the new United States. For two centuries, the agency would drive the expansion of roads and transit, strengthen the nation’s connections with its rural communities, and brave all conditions to bring packages to citizens’ front doors, Uphold writes.


By 1860, these roads linked 28,000 post offices, where people sometimes waited in long lines to pick up their mail in an era before home delivery. In the 1990s the Postal Service was turning a profit. But since 2007, first class mail has dropped 34 percent. It’s greatest source of revenue is delivering packages fueled by an ever-expanding online shopping addiction.


For our family, the Postal Service is like a trusted member. Just last week, I felt guilty when the mail delivery woman had to lug three giant boxes of groceries packaged in cardboard from her truck to my front door. Not that long ago the Postal Service lost a quilt that was mailed to me, made of fabrics from important life moments. Their apology wasn’t particularly emphatic and I was really upset. I vowed to use other services to get packages where they need to go.


Not long thereafter I came around, acknowledging the important role of the Postal Service in keeping us connected. I hope we don’t learn this lesson after it’s too late to do anything about it.


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Allan Smith,

NBC News•May 25, 2020


As states ramp up their reopenings, some are coming under criticism for making public misleading statistics or concealing information related to the coronavirus outbreak.

While the U.S. has reported more cases and deaths than any other country, the method for counting COVID-19 deaths varies by state. In testimony before the Senate earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the actual number of people who’ve died as a result of the pandemic is “almost certainly” higher than what’s been counted.

Such data has been the basis for how quickly states are beginning to open up and return to a sense of normalcy. But government officials in a number of states are facing questions about how open and honest they’re being about how the virus is impacting their state.

“Accurate, complete and timely information is the best way to understand, respond to and limit the impact of the virus on both health and the economy,” Dr. Tom Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under former President Barack Obama, told NBC News.

“This helps to set realistic expectations on how the pandemic will affect people’s lives and to inform required changes in behavior to prevent the spread of the virus,” he added.

Georgia officials have apologized and corrected what was described as a “processing error” that wrongly showed a downward trend in the number of new daily infections in the state, making it appear as if new infections had dropped every day for two weeks. The error was at least the third in three weeks, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Georgia was among the first states to launch its reopening. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said the state on Tuesday recorded its lowest number of hospitalized patients since it began tracking such data in early April.

In the neighboring state of Florida, which has also moved expeditiously in reopening swathes of its economy, several data-related controversies also have brewed.

According to internal emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, state officials directed a top Florida Department of Health data manager earlier this month to remove data from public view that showed Florida residents had reported coronavirus-associated symptoms before cases were officially announced. The emails showed that the data manager, Rebekah Jones, had complied with the order but said it was the “wrong call.”

Jones was taken off her role maintaining the state’s coronavirus dashboard one day after that directive. She told a local CBS affiliate that she refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen” Florida. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Jones was under “active criminal charges” for cyber stalking and cyber sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, Florida officials last month stopped releasing the list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by the state’s medical examiners, which had at times shown a higher death toll than the total being published by the state. State officials said that list needed to be reviewed as a result of the discrepancy.

A spokesman for the state Health Department said the medical examiners had a different method for reporting deaths and that it was untrue “that deaths have been hidden.”

“The government has one mission; academics and scholars have a very different mission,” Dr. Dean Hart, an expert on viral transmission and former Columbia University professor who has run for the New York State Assembly as a Democrat, told NBC News.

“As a scientist, I’m looking for the truth, the heck with who it hurts politically,” he added.

Amid reopening in Arizona, the state Department of Health Services cut off a team of Arizona State and University of Arizona experts who provided pandemic modeling specific to the state, saying it was no longer needed as the state preferred to use a federal model. After a backlash, the Health Department reinstated the team, though it’s unclear whether state officials are using the local universities’ work in their decision-making.

Since that dust up, Arizona State released new data showing infections and hospitalizations in the state could soar this summer.

CDC conflates diagnostic, antibody test data creating ‘inaccurate’ portrayal of virus

When I first heard about it, I thought ‘there has to be some mistake. This is too obvious,'” Dr. Ashish Jha says. “Now I’m finding out it’s not just Virginia.”

The CDC and at least 11 other states have been combining the results of viral tests showing active infections with the results of antibody tests, which show whether someone had been infected in the past.While boosting a state’s total testing number, health experts have said that practice does not give a proper picture of how the virus is spreading, the Associated Press reported.

The CDC announced it planned to separate the data and some of those states have stopped doing so or committed to change course, CNN reported.

In New York City, the hardest-hit locale in the nation, local officials last week released COVID-19 data broken down by zip code after pressure to go beyond the county-by-county totals that had previously been shown. Such information made it easier to understand which communities were being most affected by the virus.

The top issue nationally related to the publication of specific coronavirus data involving nursing home cases and deaths, where state and local officials have faced intense scrutiny over the collection and release of such information. The virus has hit nursing homes exceptionally hard — a result of both their residents’ vulnerability and policies states and localities have put into place.

In one such example, Arizona officials argued this month they should not reveal the names of facilities with outbreaks because it could give those nursing homes a stigma and could lead to discrimination against them. The argument was made in response to a lawsuit from Arizona news outlets demanding the state provide information on COVID-19 cases in nursing homes and other data.

In Pennsylvania, state officials released such data last week after weeks of delay and in the face of significant pressure.

The federal government, on the other hand, plans to publish such information by the end of May.

Hart said more information on nursing homes could paint a clearer picture of what happened specifically in New York with the spread of COVID-19. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has come under fire for his administration’s March order that nursing homes must accept coronavirus patients. That order was reversed earlier this month.

The group Frieden now leads as president and CEO, Resolve to Save Lives, released a list of suggested criteria to adjust social distancing measures based on key indicators that he believes should be available in every city, state and country. Those indicators include case-count trends and health system and testing capacity to create an alert index for a specific area’s level of risk.

He said much would be improved if the CDC would provide and explain the meaning of such data, adding though “much more information is available, it has not been standardized, validated and presented in clear and compelling ways.”


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Elizabeth Shackelford
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Andyborodaty/iStock/Getty Images Plus.© Provided by Slate Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Andyborodaty/iStock/Getty Images Plus.Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

The greatest country on earth. It’s a label assigned to the United States frequently by politicians, pundits, and average Americans. The most prosperous, the greatest democracy, the mightiest military, a singular world power. And yet, here we are, proving an abysmal failure, both relatively and absolutely, in our national response to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is easy to blame President Donald Trump’s ham-handed response, replete with dangerous misinformation and deadly politicization. Without a doubt, his actions have cost American lives, but the full picture of how we got here precedes this administration. American arrogance was costly long before Trump came to power. It is what made his own arrogance so dangerous to us all.

I recall growing up with a sense of American exceptionalism. It inspired me to join the Foreign Service, to serve as a career diplomat representing our country overseas for eight years before I resigned. I believed that our country was a force for good in the world, and I wanted to be part of the civilian army carrying that forward. But my illusions of our grandeur were steadily eroded. I’m saddened by our failures today but not so surprised as most. Years of seeing America from the outside can drive home just how unexceptional America really is.

Though our influence is unparalleled, how we use that influence becomes the rub. I saw this firsthand as a diplomat in South Sudan, where I was serving when civil war broke out in December 2013. By the time I arrived, South Sudan had been an independent country for only two years. The United States had provided the new country unparalleled financial and political support and unwaveringly supported its independence. In the pre-independence period and subsequent years, however, we failed to reassess what we had deemed a success story, turning a blind eye to increasingly authoritarian behavior and bad acts of the government we had long championed. In doing so, we failed to wield our tremendous influence to good effect.

We expressed concern when the nascent nation’s army slaughtered civilians as part of a violent counterinsurgency campaign, but we chalked it up to the growing pains of a rebel force in transition. When President Salva Kiir sacked his entire Cabinet in a brazen move to root out dissent and political competition, U.S. authorities worried quietly but did not raise alarm. These actions didn’t fit the tidy narrative of good versus evil that had underpinned our support initially in bringing the new country into being, but we were too stubborn to admit that we’d played a bad hand, that the “good guys” we’d bet on were not who we’d believed them to be. Instead of using leverage to press Kiir and his government for change and accountability, at a time when such efforts could have made a difference, we chose to stick to our story of success, long after that story became fiction.

Our arrogance in South Sudan was that we thought if we believed the country was a success, it would be. The work of actually making it a success would have been messier, less absolute, and less certain. Our lack of critical self-reflection stymied the utility of our actions and the efficacy of our significant investment. A similar pattern has played out repeatedly across our foreign policy repertoire. Our actions and outlook were dominated by short-term thinking, grounded in political expediency rather than principles. This is not a new problem, but one that has lured us time and again into foreign policy quagmires we could start but not finish. See Vietnam and Afghanistan for the most notable examples, but this trend repeats itself on a smaller scale far more frequently. When these projects inevitably fail, we cling to the assumption that we were right anyway, our actions were just, and bad outcomes were merely beyond our control. Because we were unwilling to admit our mistakes, we were unable to learn from them. However bad the result, it would have been worse without our intervention, we’d tell ourselves.

It isn’t that America is not capable of great things. It is—I’ve seen this firsthand too. We have led robust global responses in the fight against the Islamic State and the battle against Ebola. But we are also reluctant participants in group projects we are not empowered to dominate ourselves. We have worked with dozens of countries to promote more representative elections and reduce human trafficking and other crimes. Yet we are equally likely to pursue ineffective projects on untenably short timelines, designed to meet our own political ends rather than actual need on the ground. Undergirding all of this is our belief, as a nation, that America knows best, coupled with a reticence to admit our faults and failures.

The real tragedy is that we have that capability but readily squander it. We are seeing that play out today, to tragic consequence. The United States was perfectly capable of an exemplary response to the COVID-19 crisis, not only in how we cared for our own but in the role we could have played in leading a more integrated and effective global approach. We’ve dropped the ball, willfully, and our leadership’s unwillingness to admit that impedes us further still.

I’m certain that if someone else—anyone else—were president, our response would have been better, but America’s culture of arrogance made Trump’s actions, and inactions, possible. This culture is deeply embedded in our political leaders, who rarely prove willing to admit even the most obvious of missteps. Arrogance has enabled our political checks and balances to atrophy and undermined our bureaucratic ones. Gradually, our executive branch became emboldened and impervious to oversight. Under administrations of both parties, political allies would deem executive action bold and decisive as long as it aligned with their interests, while arguments for executive constraint were written off as partisan.

Arrogance is also woven into the fabric of both our civil service and military structures, neither of which nurture or welcome constructive dissent. If you doubt the power that culture wields, consider the standout stories of government officials over the past year. Out of 2 million federal employees, only a handful have taken the brave step of speaking out against this administration while still within its ranks, and most of them waited for a subpoena to do so. Career professionals routinely stand on a stage with Donald Trump and have little more recourse than flinching at his lethal lies. They contort mightily in statements and interviews to avoid contradicting their haughty leader. How is it that we find ourselves here, even as this administration’s poor decisions cost countless American lives? Because the culture in our staid, hierarchical bureaucracy rewards “good soldiers,” not challenging ones. Civil servants are expected to take it on faith that their leaders know best and are acting in our collective self-interest. If you disagree, it isn’t your job to say so.

As someone who pursued dissent through official channels in opposition to our support of the South Sudanese government in 2015, I know this trend predated Trump. Through the process of submitting a dissent cable to State Department leadership, I learned that this formal channel was designed to quell dissent rather than address it.

While this is not a new problem, it is executed far more indelicately under the Trump administration than it was before. The few public servants who do speak up only underline this point. Just ask Capt. Brett Crozier or a host of inspectors general pushed out of their positions for merely doing their jobs. The Trump administration has repeatedly gotten away with dismissing and retaliating against the loudest, most honest voices. Years of support for executive overreach—mostly partisan, but at times nonpartisan too—has provided some foundation for the growing autocratic actions of today.

Our redemption will not happen overnight. It will require a cultural shift in our governance, if we are to be an effective leader in the world once more. A change in administration is necessary, but alone it is not sufficient. Our government’s oversight mechanisms must be enhanced and respected. Our career civil servants and experts must be empowered to lead. Our discourse over policy, whether foreign or domestic, must be more honest, open, and accountable. Our failures must be admitted and evaluated to inform our future actions.

What America lacks as a leader is humility, an ability to admit mistakes and act to address them. Our hubris is our country’s Achilles’ heel. Perhaps a virus that brings us to our knees will leave us with this lesson learned. Perhaps we emerge less great, by measurable standards, but more capable of achieving greatness again.

a close up of a piece of paper: PublicAffairs© PublicAffairs PublicAffairs


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