Archives for the month of: December, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian at Boston College. I enjoy reading her views, which are always well-informed.

She writes:

December 30, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonDec 31

On January 6, insurrectionists trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election stormed the U.S. Capitol and sent our lawmakers into hiding. Since President Joe Biden took office on January 20, just two weeks after the attack, we have been engaged in a great struggle between those trying to restore our democracy and those determined to undermine it. 

Biden committed to restoring our democracy after the strains it had endured. When he took office, we were in the midst of a global pandemic whose official death toll in the U.S. was at 407,000. Our economy was in tatters, our foreign alliances weakened, and our government under siege by insurrectionists, some of whom were lawmakers themselves.

In his inaugural address, Biden implored Americans to come together to face these crises. He recalled the Civil War, the Great Depression, the World Wars, and the attacks of 9/11, noting that “[i]n each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.” “It’s time for boldness, for there is so much to do,” he said. He asked Americans to “write an American story of hope, not fear… [a] story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history…. That democracy and hope, truth and justice, did not die on our watch but thrived.”

Later that day, he headed to the Oval Office. “I thought there’s no time to wait. Get to work immediately,” he said.

Rather than permitting the Trump Republicans who were still insisting Trump had won the election to frame the national conversation, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as the Democrats in Congress, ignored them and set out to prove that our government can work for ordinary Americans.

Biden vowed to overcome Covid, trying to rally Republicans to join Democrats behind a “war” on the global pandemic. The Trump team had refused to confer during the transition period with the Biden team, who discovered that the previous administration had never had a plan for federal delivery of covid vaccines, simply planning to give them to the states and then let the cash-strapped states figure out how to get them into arms. “What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said to reporters on January 21.

Biden immediately invoked the Defense Production Act, bought more vaccines, worked with states to establish vaccine sites and transportation to them, and established vaccine centers in pharmacies across the country. As vaccination rates climbed, he vowed to make sure that 70% of the U.S. adult population would have one vaccine shot and 160 million U.S. adults would be fully vaccinated by July 4th.

At the same time, the Democrats undertook to repair the economy, badly damaged by the pandemic. In March, without a single Republican vote, they passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to jump-start the economy by putting money into the pockets of ordinary Americans. It worked. The new law cut child poverty in half by putting $66 billion into 36 million households. It expanded access to the Affordable Care Act, enabling more than 4.6 million Americans who were not previously insured to get healthcare coverage, bringing the total covered to a record 13.6 million.

As vaccinated people started to venture out again, this support for consumers bolstered U.S. companies, which by the end of the year were showing profit margins higher than they have been since 1950, at 15%. Companies reduced their debt, which translated to a strong stock market. In February, Biden’s first month in office, the jobless rate was 6.2%; by December it had dropped to 4.2%. This means that 4.1 million jobs were created in the Biden administration’s first year, more than were created in the 12 years of the Trump and George W. Bush administrations combined.

In November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will repair bridges and roads and get broadband to places that still don’t have it, and negotiations continue on a larger infrastructure package that will support child care and elder care, as well as education and measures to address climate change.

Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal report that U.S. economic output jumped more than 7% in the last three months of 2021. Overall growth for 2021 should be about 6%, and economists predict growth of around 4% in 2022—the highest numbers the U.S. has seen in decades. China’s growth in the same period will be 4%, and the eurozone (the member countries of the European Union that use the euro) will grow at 2%. The U.S. is “outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century,” wrote Matthew A. Winkler in Bloomberg, “and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years….”

With more experience in foreign affairs than any president since George H. W. Bush, Biden set out to rebuild our strained alliances and modernize the war on terror. On January 20, he took steps to rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords, which his predecessor had rejected. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that Biden’s leadership team believed foreign and domestic policy to be profoundly linked. They promised to support democracy at home and abroad to combat the authoritarianism rising around the world.

“The more we and other democracies can show the world that we can deliver, not only for our people, but also for each other, the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell, that theirs is the better way to meet people’s fundamental needs and hopes. It’s on us to prove them wrong,” Blinken said.

Biden and Blinken increased the use of sanctions against those suspected of funding terrorism. Declaring it vital to national security to stop corruption in order to prevent illicit money from undermining democracies, Biden convened a Summit for Democracy, where leaders from more than 110 countries discussed how best to combat authoritarianism and corruption, and to protect human rights.

Biden began to shift American foreign policy most noticeably by withdrawing from the nation’s twenty-year war in Afghanistan. He inherited the previous president’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, so long as the Taliban did not kill any more Americans. By the time Biden took office, the U.S. had withdrawn all but 2500 troops from the country.

He could either go back on Trump’s agreement—meaning the Taliban would again begin attacking U.S. service people, forcing the U.S. to pour in troops and sustain casualties—or get out of what had become a meandering, expensive, unpopular war, one that Biden himself had wanted to leave since the Obama administration.

In April, Biden said he would honor the agreement he had inherited from Trump, beginning, not ending, the troop withdrawal on May 1. He said he would have everyone out by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks that took us there in the first place. (He later adjusted that to August 31.) He promised to evacuate the country “responsibly, deliberately, and safely” and assured Americans that the U.S. had “trained and equipped a standing force of over 300,000 Afghan personnel” who would “continue to fight valiantly, on behalf of the Afghans, at great cost.”

Instead, the Afghan army crumbled as the U.S began to pull its remaining troops out in July. By mid-August, the Taliban had taken control of the capital, Kabul, and the leaders of the Afghan government fled, abandoning the country to chaos. People rushed to the airport to escape and seven Afghans died, either crushed in the crowds or killed when they fell from planes to which they had clung in hopes of getting out. Then, on August 26, two explosions outside the Kabul airport killed at least 60 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. troops. More than 100 Afghans and 15 U.S. service members were wounded.

In the aftermath, the U.S. military conducted the largest human airlift in U.S. history, moving more than 100,000 people without further casualties, and on August 30, Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, boarded a cargo plane at Kabul airport, and the U.S. war in Afghanistan was over. (Evacuations have continued on planes chartered by other countries.)

With the end of that war, Biden has focused on using financial pressure and alliances rather than military might to achieve foreign policy goals. He has worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to counter increasing aggression from Russian president Vladimir Putin, strengthening NATO, while suggesting publicly that further Russian incursions into Ukraine will have serious financial repercussions.

In any ordinary time, Biden’s demonstration that democracy can work for ordinary people in three major areas would have been an astonishing success.

But these are not ordinary times.

Biden and the Democrats have had to face an opposition that is working to undermine the government. Even after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to challenge at least one of the certified state electoral votes, propping up the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Many of them continue to plug that lie, convincing 68% of Republicans that Biden is an illegitimate president.

This lie has justified the passage in 19 Republican-dominated states of 33 new laws to suppress voting or to take the counting of votes out of the hands of non-partisan officials altogether and turn that process over to Republicans.

Republicans have stoked opposition to the Democrats by feeding the culture wars, skipping negotiations on the American Rescue Plan, for example, to complain that the toymaker Hasbro was introducing a gender-neutral Potato Head toy, and that the estate of Dr. Seuss was ceasing publication of some of his lesser-known books that bore racist pictures or themes. They created a firestorm over Critical Race Theory, an advanced legal theory, insisting that it, and the teaching of issues of race in the schools, was teaching white children to hate themselves.

Most notably, though, as Biden’s coronavirus vaccination program appeared to be meeting his ambitious goals, Republicans suggested that government vaccine outreach was overreach, pushing the government into people’s lives. Vaccination rates began to drop off, and Biden’s July 4 goal went unmet just as the more contagious Delta variant began to rage across the country.

In July, Biden required federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated; in November, the administration said that workers at businesses with more than 100 employees and health care workers must be vaccinated or frequently tested.

Rejecting the vaccine became a badge of opposition to the Biden administration. By early December, fewer than 10% of adult Democrats were unvaccinated, compared with 40% of Republicans. This means that Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to die of Covid, and as the new Omicron variant rages across the country, Republicans are blaming Biden for not stopping the pandemic. Covid has now killed more than 800,000 Americans.

While Biden and the Democrats have made many missteps this year—missing that the Afghan government would collapse, hitting an Afghan family in a drone strike, underplaying Covid testing, prioritizing infrastructure over voting rights—the Democrats’ biggest miscalculation might well be refusing to address the disinformation of the Republicans directly in order to promote bipartisanship and move the country forward together.

With the lies of Trump Republicans largely unchallenged by Democratic lawmakers or the media, Republicans have swung almost entirely into the Trump camp. The former president has worked to purge from the state and national party anyone he considers insufficiently loyal to him, and his closest supporters have become so extreme that they are openly supporting authoritarianism and talking of Democrats as “vermin.”

Some are talking about a “national divorce,” which observers have interpreted as a call for secession, like the Confederates tried in 1860. But in fact, Trump Republicans do not want to form their own country. Rather, they want to cement minority rule in this one, keeping themselves in power over the will of the majority.

It seems that in some ways we are ending 2021 as we began it. Although Biden and the Democrats have indeed demonstrated that our government, properly run, can work for the people to combat a deadly pandemic, create a booming economy, and stop unpopular wars, that same authoritarian minority that tried to overturn the 2020 election on January 6 is more deeply entrenched than it was a year ago.

And yet, as we move into 2022, the ground is shifting. The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is starting to show what it has learned from the testimony of more than 300 witnesses and a review of more than 35,000 documents. The fact that those closest to Trump are refusing to testify suggests that the hearings in the new year will be compelling and will help people to understand just how close we came to an authoritarian takeover last January.

And then, as soon as the Senate resumes work in the new year, it will take up measures to restore the voting rights and election integrity Republican legislatures have stripped away, giving back to the people the power to guard against such an authoritarian coup happening again.

It looks like 2022 is going to be a choppy ride, but its outcome is in our hands. As Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who was beaten almost to death in his quest to protect the right to vote, wrote to us when he passed: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part.”


The “vermin” and “national divorce” quotations are tweets from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) but I didn’t want to spread them on social media. They were retweeted by several other Republicans.

This is a blogger whose thoughts and writings I enjoy.

Personal Reflections on 2021

December 31, 2021


Robert B. Hubbell

Dec 31

[Audio version of newsletter here]

Legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill was fond of saying that “All politics is local.” I would add that “All politics is personal.” My effort to interpret the news each day through “a lens of hope” begins and ends with my family. Above all else, I am trying to sustain and lift-up my family by staring into the noisome stream of information that passes for “news” to find the thread of decency and hope that binds us together as a nation. You get to ‘listen in’ as I write for my wife, my daughters, and (now) my granddaughters.

Every story that passes through the pages of the newsletter affects each of us in very personal ways—some immediately, others over the long term. As we come to the end of 2021, my wife and I are taking this opportunity reflect on how four developments affected our family. We hope that our personal reflections on daily life will resonate with you and encourage you to reflect on 2021 with your family and friends. As you do, let me issue a spoiler alert: 2021 was a rough year, but we endured by binding together as families, communities, and Americans (at least, enough of us did to carry all of us forward). We face many challenges ahead. But having made it through 2021 should give us confidence as we face the challenges of 2022 and beyond.

The coronavirus pandemic.

Twelve months ago, we lived in a constant state of apprehension and anxiety. A vaccine was approved for emergency use but was not generally available to the public until mid-year. My wife and I essentially sheltered in place. We left the house to take walks (with masks) and made a daily drive to a local burger joint to get a diet coke at the drive-through window. (The staff behind the window eventually took pity on us and started giving us a “military discount” on a tab of $2.65.)

In April, we sat in our car in mile-long lines in the Dodger Stadium parking lot to receive our first and second vaccinations. It was reminiscent of standing in line in 1964 with hundreds of children at the local National Guard armory to receive the polio vaccine. The sense of relief was palpable. Despite the long lines, we were filled with pride at the efficiency of the national vaccination effort and the scientific accomplishment of developing a vaccine in less than a year. Our daughters were filled with relief that their “elderly” parents had received protection from the coronavirus. And we heaved a sigh of relief as we were able to gather with family over the summer months and early fall.

And now, Omicron. With two unvaccinated infant granddaughters in the family, we have essentially returned to lockdown. Despite the frustration and new round of anxiety, we feel better prepared and protected (everyone in the family is triple vaccinated). But this wave is more complicated because partisan politics tinges every aspect of the effort to contain the coronavirus. It is difficult to feel charity towards people who turned their backs on science for partisan reasons and now clog the emergency rooms in many states, preventing care for others with conditions unrelated to coronavirus. They are, of course, victims of the disinformation peddled by the right-wing news media and cynical politicians who are seeking re-election by endangering the lives of their constituents.

For me, the biggest casualty of the pandemic is trust in science. The rapid development of the vaccine saved millions of lives. But 40% of Americans believe nonsense about the vaccine and the coronavirus, including its origin, treatment, and damage to the human body from Covid-19. We have a lot of work to do to overcome that blow to science. The health and safety of our children and grandchildren depend on scientific progress, and it is up to us defend science and scientists if we hope to prevent future catastrophes.

January 6th.

There is a “before” and “after” aspect to January 6th. Before the insurrection, the notion that some members of Trump’s base would resort to violence to intervene in the democratic process seemed unthinkable. January 6th changed everything. On that day, for the second time in five years, one of my daughters said, “I told you it would happen; you didn’t believe me.” She was right, and it is humbling to be proven wrong after giving assurances that something would not come to pass. (The first was the accidental election of Trump.)

Perhaps the worst part of January 6th was that, after a few days, Republicans overcame their shock over the assault on the Capitol and began to talk themselves into believing that “It wasn’t so bad; just some overenthusiastic patriots getting rowdy.” In that sense, January 6th is about the utter, complete, and final collapse of the Republican Party. It is not only irredeemable, it is unworthy of being redeemed. It has become an apologist and propagandist for an insurrection against the United States. It doesn’t get any worse than that.

And yet, the media treats Josh Hawley like he is a U.S. Senator rather than a traitor to the Constitution. The same with Kevin McCarthy and Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Green and every other member of Congress who encouraged or excused the violence on January 6th. The insurrection continues to this day as Republicans in Congress refuse to cooperate with the Select Committee’s investigation of the assault on the Capitol.

But not every act of partisan politics amounts to rebellion and not every threat by an unhinged Trump supporter portends civil war. January 6thchanged everything, but we cannot let it change us. We must remain vigilant without surrendering to exaggerated fears; we must take threats seriously but retain our ability to assess the scale of threats and likelihood of materialization. We must not suffer from a lack of imagination in anticipating new threats, but we must remain firmly rooted in reality as we defend democracy. Those competing demands will challenge us as we move toward the next presidential election, but we are up to the task.

Climate change.

For nearly two months in 2021, we believed that our small cabin in the Sierras would be destroyed by wildfire. After a monumental effort by CalFire and other agencies, the southern edge of the fire stopped one mile from our cabin. Even then, it smoldered for several months more—until December snows finally extinguished it.

It is always a mistake to point to a single event and declare that it was caused by climate change. But the 2021 wildfires in the Sierras followed a historic drought that killed more than one hundred million trees in the southern Sierras. That is not a once-in-a-generation event. That is a once-in-recorded-history event. Although the snows have returned to the Sierras in December 2021, one wet winter cannot recharge aquifers depleted by a decade of drought. The vast San Joaquin Valley, which produces 25% of the nation’s table food, depends on snowmelt from the Sierras to recharge groundwater basins and aquifers. Friends who farm in the San Joaquin Valley tell us that 100-foot wells are being replaced by 800-foot wells as farmers chase ever receding groundwater. These dramatic changes happened in a generation. Are they permanent? We won’t know the answer to that question until it is too late to do anything about it. The sensible course is to assume that the historic droughts in California are caused by climate change and act accordingly—before it is too late.

The next generation.

At root, this newsletter is about redeeming democracy for the next generation. With the birth of two granddaughters in 2020 and 2021, that task took on greater urgency and a broader time horizon. Being a grandparent is wonderful, but it is also an awesome responsibility—especially so during a pandemic. It is impossible to look at their beautiful faces and not wonder what type of world we are leaving to them. Like climate change, we won’t know the answer to that question until it is too late to do anything to change the outcome. So, the only option is to do everything in our power now to ensure that they will live a country that is free, tolerant, safe, healthy, and peaceful. As one reader reminded me recently, we must “govern for our grandchildren—and their grandchildren.” Taking the long view in governing requires discipline, sacrifice, and wisdom. We should elect our leaders accordingly. In 2020, we made a good start. And yet, despite all we hope to do for them, what they have done for us is incalculable. They are our joy, our hope, and our reason. We feel blessed.

Concluding Thoughts.

This newsletter started in response to Trump’s accidental election in 2016. After Biden’s inauguration, I had no definite plans for the future of the newsletter—except to write the next edition each day. I entertained the vague hope that it would outlive its usefulness and slowly fade away. But the events of 2021 had other plans for the newsletter. Its growth in Biden’s first year has exceeded the newsletter’s growth during four years of Trump. It is clear that we are engaged in an extended fight for the soul of democracy. We will win, but it will require decades of vigilance and effort on our part. I will be by your side every step of the way, offering encouragement, consolation, information, and the collective wisdom of the community of like-minded people who comprise this newsletter. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. It is an honor.

It being New Year’s Eve, it is not a time for serious thinking.

Thus, I take this opportunity to offer my suggestions for good things to watch on television. Or, to put it another way, things that I really liked watching.

My favorite was the Belgian crime series called “Professor T.” on PBS. Do not mistakenly watch the British version. Professor T. is a highly intelligent, neurotic criminologist who solves difficult crimes. The series is urbane, witty, provocative, and sometimes zany. I enjoyed watching Professor T. think, and I liked his taste in music (mostly Bach.)

The best film I have seen lately is Don’t Look Up. It is a terrifying, sometimes hilarious metaphor for our times. It has a star-filled cast (Merryl Streep as a Trump-like President), Leonardo DiCaprio as a scientist at Michigan State, Jennifer Lawrence as a graduate student at MSU). And many more big names (Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande).

The story, in brief, is that a grad student observes a giant comet headed directly for earth. A direct hit will extinguish all life on earth in a bit more than six months. She tells her professor and they contact federal authorities,who bring them to D.C. to meet with officials at NASA, the military, and the White House. The White House decides the story should be buried because it might have a negative effect on the midterm elections. They go to the media. The nation’s biggest talk show treats them as less important than a story about a singing star breaking up with her boyfriend. They get low ratings, and the news media decides their story is not interesting; it won’t sell papers. Basically, their warnings are discredited, and no one takes them seriously.

But the President calls them back, says their calculations have been verified by the scientific community, and she deploys plans to destroy the comet with massive strikes of nuclear missiles.

Then the plot changes as a tech genius convinces the President that the comet can be stopped without destroying it, and its minerals are worth trillions. The profit motive brings a sharp change of plans. I won’t tell you how it ends. You should see it. It captures the essence of our celebrity-driven, superficial mass culture, where power and greed outweigh common sense and integrity.

What are your favorites?

Michael Hiltzik, a superb columnist for the Los Angeles Times, says farewell to “the stupidest year in American history. “ (Again, I violate copyright law by posting this column. I appeal to the good graces of the wonderful L.A. Times. If they object, I will delete the post.)

My one criticism of his incisive critique is that he nearly ignores the astonishing, unprecedented attack on the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists on January 6, 2021, a day that will live in infamy, a day that a sitting President urged his supporters to overturn the election he lost, a day that the Capitol was breached and ransacked by hundreds or thousands of Trump supporters, who proceeded to attack scores of law officers defending the Constitutional transfer of power and hundreds of legislators. Hundreds of those legislators—all Republicans—soon became defenders and apologists for the insurrectionists who besieged them. It doesn’t get stupider than that.

Hiltzik writes:

One year ago, we were looking forward to a safer and sounder 2021.

The Food and Drug Administration had granted emergency authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines against COVID-19.

A new presidential administration was poised to take office in the next month, armed with a commitment to bring together a nation cleaved by four years of divisive policymaking.

Instead of unity and immunity, this year has brought us stupidity and insanity on an unimaginable scale. In the categories of public health, education policy, fiscal policy and investment options, we appear to have taken leave of our collective senses.

Certainly there are other years or periods in which stupidity or heedlessness brought civilization in general close to eradication.

Consider 1914, when most of Europe dived hellbent to war for no discernible reason. (Read Barbara Tuchman’s book “The Guns of August” for the full horrific picture.) The Dark Ages were a period benighted by scientific ignorance.

Some individual countries and national leaders stand out for tempting fate, to their and their citizens’ misfortune. Britain in 1938 under Neville Chamberlain. Russia’s warmongering with Japan in 1904-1905. Louis Napoleon poking a stick into the Prussian bear’s cage in 1870-1871. Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990.

The perpetrators of some of these errors might assert in their defense that they were brought low by circumstances they didn’t know at the time.

But America in 2021 can’t plead that it didn’t know. Didn’t know that vaccines representing stupendous scientific achievements were the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic?

It was not to be.

Didn’t know that Donald Trump wasn’t joking when he demanded that government officials overturn a fair presidential election? Didn’t know that bitcoin, NFTs, SPACs and meme stocks were destined, even designed, to take unwary investors to the cleaners?

Of course we knew, and know. We don’t seem to care.

In reviewing the most intellectually demoralizing events of 2021, I’ll leave aside a few discrete outbursts of asininity.

So I won’t go into detail about the conservative movement’s lionizing of Kyle Rittenhouse, the self-confessed but acquitted killer of two unarmed men at a protest rally in Kenosha, Wis. Or the openly antisemitic ravings by former President Trump. Or the ugly, dishonest attacks that forced the withdrawal of Saule Omarova, one of the most qualified nominees for a federal banking regulatory job in memory.

Or the shameful behavior of congressional Republicans, who cowered in safety during the Jan. 6 insurrection, pleading with Trump to help quell the riot, only to claim ever since that the violence of the crowd was no big deal.

Or the posting of Christmas cards by politicians showing their families hoisting assault weapons, as Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) did just four days after a gunman killed four students at a Michigan high school. He was followed by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).

Instead, we’ll focus on a few of the bigger pictures. So, as Virgil said to Dante before guiding him into the Inferno, “Let us descend now into the blind world.”


The pandemic is surely the focus of the most obtuse and ignorant public reactions and state and local policy responses to any crisis in American history. It’s as if the grown-ups have all been beamed up, and we are left in the hands of people like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (I am paraphrasing a line from the great pandemic movie “Together.”)

In any rational world, the refusal or failure by some 50 million adult Americans to take a vaccine of known efficacy against a deadly disease would be inexplicable. But this is not a rational world, and the situation is even worse.

Vaccine refusal is seen in many benighted corners of the United States not merely as the exercise of personal choice for personal reasons but as a means of showing moral superiority over the vaccinated.

A conservative critic of anti-pandemic measures writing from rural southwest Michigan for the Atlantic bragged absurdly and selfishly, “I am now closer to most of my fellow Americans than the people, almost absurdly overrepresented in media and elite institutions, who are still genuinely concerned about this virus.”

The author may think he’s remote from virus concerns, but that’s not the case at a hospital visited by CNN in Lansing, Mich., which can’t be much more than 100 miles from his location and where “the latest COVID-19 surge is as bad as healthcare workers there have seen.”

How did it come to pass that Americans, who almost uniformly are inoculated against at least a half-dozen serious diseases in childhood, chose this moment to refuse a spectacularly effective shot against one of the most dangerous diseases to arise in their lifetimes, out of pure ignorance?

Its effectiveness is scarcely disputable: The Commonwealth Fund estimates that the vaccine averted about 1.1 million American deaths from COVID-19 and more than 10.3 million hospitalizations this year.

A chart showing COVID-19 deaths

The Commonwealth Fund estimates that the U.S. would have experienced more than 1.1 million additional deaths from COVID-19 if not for the vaccines.(Commonwealth Fund)

The answer lies in politics.

Trump drew the line first, dismissing social distancing steps and refusing to speak up for vaccination. He established these steps as partisan choices, and his political acolytes followed him over the cliff.

DeSantis has been a leader in this descent into the Inferno. He’s chosen to make Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and America’s most respected authority on the pandemic, a target of partisan calumny. He’s appointed a vaccine doubter as his state’s top public health official.

What is the outcome? Florida currently ranks eighth-worst among states in its COVID-19 death rate, with more than 62,000 Floridians having perished from the virus. Of the seven states with worse records, six are red states like Florida.

Corporate America has not showered itself in glory. On Dec. 18, Boeing announced that it was dropping its requirement that all U.S. employees be vaccinated. Its explanation was that a federal judge had blocked the enforcement of a federal executive order that employees of government contractors be vaccinated.

This is absurd. Nothing in the ruling required Boeing to drop its requirement. The company announced its step back just as the Omicron variant was about to produce a surge in infections. The pusillanimity of American corporations on this subject continues to astound. (The Times, which is owned by a physician and biomedical entrepreneur, is requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 31.)

To its credit, on Dec. 17 the Biden White House issued an uncompromising warning about the dangers of remaining unvaccinated.

“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said. “So, our message to every American is clear…. Wear a mask in public indoor settings. Get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get a booster shot when you’re eligible.”

Investment follies

In May, I asked whether we were experiencing a peak in investment absurdity. The examples then were bitcoin, dogecoin and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), as well as meme stocks, the prices of which were not tied to sober reflections about their issuers’ business prospects but to internet-fueled speculation.

Assets like these, which are priced in accordance with the “greater fool” theory (they have no intrinsic value beyond what you can cadge from a bigger fool than yourself), have only proliferated since then. Or perhaps it’s only the absurdity that has ballooned.

NFTs, for instance, are tradable digital files that confer no ownership to anything but the digital file, which may be an image of an object that is actually owned by someone else. Someone has parodied the NFT market by purporting to sell NFTs of images of individual Olive Garden restaurants, but it’s the kind of parody that gets at the essential truth of the target.

You don’t get to own the restaurant or the photo. You don’t get a discount on menu items or a guarantee that the photo is even accurate. You supposedly get to own something on the Non-fungible Olive Garden Metaverse, whatever that is, and you can try to find a greater fool to sell it to.

NFTs generally don’t confer ownership of the underlying asset or even the digital representation of the asset. The market doesn’t exist for any reason except to produce activity to suck in greater fools.

The best clue that there’s something hinky about these markets is that the Trump family is going all in. A purported media company started by Donald Trump, for instance, is merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.

As I reported, the deal promptly came under the scrutiny of financial regulators. In any case, no discernible business plan of any substance has emerged for the Trump company. People appear to have invested because of his name.

Now Melania Trump has gotten into the act, hawking NFTs of paintings of her eyes—”an amulet to inspire,” the pitch says, though obviously you don’t get to own the eyes or even the original watercolor.

Software developer Stephen Diehl, an established skeptic of these things, writes that we are entering upon “a hustler’s paradise … where the market now provides a financial token game for every meme, every celebrity, every political movement, and every bit of art and culture.” The old saw applies about how if you’re looking around the poker table and can’t identify the mark, it’s you.

Inflation and Build Back Better

Republicans and conservatives have never cottoned to spending on programs that assist the middle and working class. President Biden’s Build Back Better program was destined to get their backs up.

How could they attack a program that provides for universal prekindergarten education, assistance with child care, caps on the price of drugs such as insulin and better access to healthcare? Simple: Raise the old bugaboo of inflation.

That’s been the approach of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who recently announced — via Fox News, of course — that he couldn’t support the plan in any way. He’s since backed off a bit from his adamantine opposition, but the core of his position was concern that the measure would add to inflation.

As we’ve reported, that’s just wrong. Not even former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who sounded an inflation alarm about the pandemic relief package enacted this year, thinks it applies to this measure. The provisions of Build Back Better are paid for and represent investments in the economy, so they’re anything but inflationary.

Indeed, Wall Street views Manchin’s resistance as an economic negative. According to MarketWatch, Goldman Sachs cut its growth forecast for the first quarter of next year to 2% from 3%, for the second quarter to 3% from 3.5% and for the third quarter to 2.75% from 3%.

That’s not counting the direct impact of Build Back Better on Manchin’s own state, which is among the poorest in the nation and one in which government programs are crucial. That’s well understood on the ground: The United Mine Workers union publicly urged Manchin to reconsider his opposition to a program that would have “a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”

Much more happened in 2021 that prompts one to hold head in hands. To be fair, however, there were also glimmers of hope.

Biden on Dec. 21 announced steps to strengthen the country’s response to the Omicron variant, including mobilizing troops to help staff overwhelmed hospitals, opening thousands of vaccine sites and sending 500 million free testing kits to households. The Build Back Better plan is not entirely dead, and a revival effort will start in January.

Whether 2022 will be less stupid and insane than 2021 won’t be known until we can view it in a rearview mirror 12 months from now. We can only hope.

Andy Borowitz is a humorist who writes for The New Yorker. His jokes get their bite by being so close to reality that they are almost plausible. The magazine now labels them as humor because apparently so many people apparently believed they were true. He recently posted his best jokes of the year. Here are my favorites.

AUSTIN (The Borowitz Report)—A new bill moving swiftly through the Republican-controlled Texas legislature would institute a strict statewide dress code for women.

Governor Greg Abbott, a vehement supporter of the bill, said that the dress code would benefit women because “it will give them one less thing to think about when they get up in the morning.”

“I believe in the sanctity of human life, and the best way to protect that life, in the case of a woman, is to free her from the stress of having to choose what to wear,” Abbott said.

Abbott summarized the new dress code, which bars women from wearing skirts above the knee, sleeveless blouses, and most varieties of pants.

“Slacks are fine as long as they have cuffs,” he said. “However, if a woman is caught wearing jeans or dungarees, she will be sent home.”

Abbott dismissed comparisons between the state’s proposed dress code and that imposed by the Taliban, which has required women to wear burqas. “We are strongly opposed to masks of any kind,” he said.

In addition: ”Trump Taxes Reveal He Claimed Ted Cruz as Dependent.”

QAnon Fears that Greene’s Obsession with Jewish Space Lasers Is Distracting Her from Battling Baby-Eating Cannibals.”

“Trump Orders Kevin McCarthy to Go to Prison in His Place”

Recently the daughter of one of our regular readers (Roy Turrentine) posted a comment.

She wrote in response to the reports of politician

Bob Shepherd was delighted by her writing, and he offered her a reading list of some of his favorites (unlikely that these are on the Common Core reading list, since CCSS privileges “informational text” over fiction).

Bob wrote:

Have you read Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, yet? I fell head over heels in love with that book when I was your age. And take a crack at 1984, by Orwell, which may be the most important book to be read at this time in history. And here, a few suggestions for short fiction:


Asimov, Isaac. “The Last Question”
Atwood, Margaret. “Bread”
Benet, Stephen Vincent. “By the Waters of Babylon”
Bierce, Ambrose. “Chickamauga”
Bierce, Ambrose. “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Library of Babel”
Bostrom, Nick. “The Dragon Tyrant”
Bradbury Ray. “The Veldt”
Bradbury, Ray. “The End of the World”
Bradbury,. Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains”
Chiang, Ted. “Stories of Our Lives”
Chopin, Kate. “Story of an Hour”
Crane, Stephen. “A Mystery of Heroism”
Du Maurier, Daphne. “The Birds”
Faulkner, William. “The Bear”
Gallico, Paul. “The Snowgoose”
Goldstein, Rebecca. “The Legacy of Raizel Kaidish”
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappaccini’s Daughter”
Hathorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown”
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants”
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
Hemingway, Ernest. “The Long Wait”
Liu, Ken. “An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition”
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”
O’Conner, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
Roth, Phillip. “The Conversion of the Jews”
Thurber, James. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
Tolstoy, Leo. “The Life and Death of Ivan Illych”
Updike, John. “A & P”
Updike, John. “The Music School”
Vonnegut, Kurt. “Who Am I This Time?”
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use”

The Washington Post reports a concerted effort by Trump faithful to increase their base in the House of Representatives by challenging moderate Republicans. As a result of tedictricting, the number of highly concentrated conservative districts has increased. Joe Kent, running in Washington State, believes that the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, are “patriots.”

The defiant far-right acolytes of former president Trump in the House Republican caucus have embarked on a targeted campaign ahead of the midterm elections to expand their ranks — and extend their power — on Capitol Hill.

The effort, backed by Trump and guided by House members such as Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), is part of a broader push by followers of the “Make America Great Again” movement to purge the GOP of those not deemed loyal to the former president and his false claims that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of Joe Biden.

Former Army Green Beret Joe Kent is running for a U.S. House seat in Washington state held by another Republican, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump over his role in the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol.

Kent said he has little interest in fighting with Democrats if he makes it to Congress. Instead, he wants to force Republicans into tough votes, starting with articles of impeachment against President Biden and a full congressional inquiry into the 2020 presidential election, which he says was stolen from Trump.

“A lot of it will be shaming Republicans,” Kent said. “I need to be going after the people in the Republican Party who want to go back to go-along-to-get-along. It’s put up or shut up.”

The goal, organizers of the effort say, is to supersize the MAGA group in the House from its current loose membership of about a half dozen — and give it the heft that, combined with its close alliance with Trump, would put it in a position to wield significant influence should Republicans win the House majority.

Key to the strategy is to coalesce MAGA-movement support around certain candidates running in Republican primaries in heavily pro-Trump congressional districts where the primary victor is all but assured to win the seat in November. That effort is being bolstered by redistricting, as state lawmakers draw districts even more partisan than the current lines.

In 2020, Trump won 45 districts by more than 15 percentage points. Under new maps already finalized in more than a dozen states, he would have won 78 districts by that margin, according to a Post analysis.

“We should be gaining MAGA seats,” Boris Epshteyn, a Trump ally, said on a recent episode of the radio show hosted by former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon. “It’s not just about ‘let’s add some Republican seats,’ it’s about ‘let’s add MAGA strongholds.’ ”

Trump critics warn that a stronger MAGA wing in Congress threatens democracy.

“We’re looking at a nihilistic Mad Max hellscape. It will be all about the show of 2024 to bring Donald Trump back into power. … They will impeach Biden, they will impeach Harris, they will kill everything,” said Rick Wilson, a longtime Republican strategist who is sharply critical of Trump.

If the MAGA crowd succeeds, one of our two major political parties will be controlled by unscrupulous, cynical, anti-democratic forces whose goals are power and greed, fueled by racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and fear of the other.

Mercedes Schneider digs into the background of Virginia’s new Secretary of Education. She is a data collector, not an educator. On the good side, she is conservative but apparently not an anti-CRT warrior:

On December 20, 2021, Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin announced that his choice for state education secretary is “education consultant” Aimee Guidera. In the ABC8News in which I read Youngkin’s choice, political analyst Rich Meagher commented, “We don’t know a lot about this nominee just yet in part because she is not a political operative. She is a data scientist.”

We don’t know much about this nominee, but let’s unequivocally label her a *data scientist* and not just a data collector.

The ABC8News article does identify Guidera as “founder and former chief executive of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), a leading voice advocating for improving the use of data to increase student achievement,” a statement that reads more like the pro-data-collection sales pitch than perhaps the article author realizes.

Guidera holds no degree in data collection and analysis or statistics and research. According to her Linkedin bio, Guidera’s bachelors of arts is from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (public policy), and her masters is in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Nevertheless, since she founded and operated a data collection organization, Guidera is cloaked in presumed credibility as a student data expert.

For those who are sketchy about founder Guidera and her DQC, allow me to offer information from several posts I have published between 2013 and 2017 concerning DQC, DQC’s controlling nonprofit, Education Trust, and her connection to Common Core and ubiqitous Gates funding, among other market-based, ed-reform connections. Then, readers can decide whether they believe “education consultant” Guidera to be more “data scientist” or just a well-funded, well-positioned data collector.

As for me, I’m going with “well-funded, well-positioned data collector.”

In the rest of the post, Mercedes (who has a doctorate in statistics, unlike Guidera) reviews the Data Quality Campaign. Open the link and read all about it.

Davyon Johnson, a sixth-grader in the MuskogeePublic Schools saved two lives in one day. In the morning, he performed the Heimlich maneuver on a classmate who was choking on a bottle cap (he says he learned it on YouTube). Later the same day, he pulled a woman from a burning building.

If he is in any sense representative of the children of America, our future is in good hands.

An 11-year-old boy from Oklahoma is being honored for his heroism after he saved a choking classmate and rescued a woman from a house fire in one day.

Davyon Johnson was named an honorary member of both the sheriff’s office and the police force and was recognized by the board of education in his hometown of Muskogee, a city about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa.

“Davyon performed the Heimlich maneuver on a classmate on December 9 and that evening helped a woman from her house that was on fire,” the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook last week.

Adults used to say that the young today are “going to hell in a hand basket,” and “why can’t they be like us?” (From the musical Bye Bye, Birdie: “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way/What’s the matter with kids today?”)

Now we have to worry about the adults, many of whom are behaving stupidly and dangerously, undermining democracy and fighting common sense public health measures, while the kids are all right. Maybe the grownups need to find role models like Davyon Johnson.

Ever since Republicans in North Carolina took control of the General Assembly (legislature) in 2010, they have tried to diminish the state’s responsibility for the common good or to extinguish it altogether. No institution has suffered as much by their hostility as the public schools.

NC Policy Watch is an outstanding source of information about the state. It recently reported about the General Assembly’s refusal to obey a court order to rectify the unconstitutional funding of the public schools, which is grossly inequitable. The historic ruling was the Leandro case, and Republicans have offered charters and vouchers instead of equitable and adequate funding. Now they are rumbling about impeaching the judge who told them to fix the funding.

Despite multiple judicial determinations that the state’s K-12 schools are unconstitutionally deficient, the Republican politicians – including, last week, a pair of appellate court judges – say that no court can order the legislature to actually fix the problem.

According to the judges in question, state courts have “no authority to order the appropriation of monies to satisfy any execution of [the Leandro] judgment.”

In effect, they argue, 25-plus years of trials, expert witness testimony, findings, rulings, appeals and remedy planning were all just a meaningless exercise in pushing paper. When it gets right down to it, the power to decide whether to make our K-12 schools constitutional remains right where it’s always been – at the whim of state legislative leaders who are the chief authors of the current failed system.

And just in case anyone had any doubts about the complete power they claim to wield (or had any inkling to question it), GOP lawmakers are firing some unmistakable warning shots designed to intimidate naysayers.

In concert with right-wing allies, lawmakers have sent the clear and appalling message in recent days (see item #8 of the recently adopted adjournment resolution) that they are considering the extraordinary (and deeply treacherous) step of impeaching Superior Court Judge David Lee – the visionary and courageous jurist who has been seeking to enforce the Leandro ruling and make it real.