Archives for category: Democracy

Scientific American endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its history. These are unprecedented times. Never has the need for unbiased, evidence-based decision-making been more urgent.

The editors wrote:

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S. He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease, yet he did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines. Testing people for the virus, and tracing those they may have infected, is how countries in Europe and Asia have gained control over their outbreaks, saved lives, and successfully reopened businesses and schools. But in the U.S., Trump claimed, falsely, that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was untrue in March and remained untrue through the summer. Trump opposed $25 billion for increased testing and tracing that was in a pandemic relief bill as late as July. These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.

It wasn’t just a testing problem: if almost everyone in the U.S. wore masks in public, it could save about 66,000 lives by the beginning of December, according to projections from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Such a strategy would hurt no one. It would close no business. It would cost next to nothing. But Trump and his vice president flouted local mask rules, making it a point not to wear masks themselves in public appearances. Trump has openly supported people who ignored governors in Michigan and California and elsewhere as they tried to impose social distancing and restrict public activities to control the virus. He encouraged governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas who resisted these public health measures, saying in April—again, falsely—that “the worst days of the pandemic are behind us” and ignoring infectious disease experts who warned at the time of a dangerous rebound if safety measures were loosened.
And of course, the rebound came, with cases across the nation rising by 46 percent and deaths increasing by 21 percent in June. The states that followed Trump’s misguidance posted new daily highs and higher percentages of positive tests than those that did not. By early July several hospitals in Texas were full of COVID-19 patients. States had to close up again, at tremendous economic cost. About 31 percent of workers were laid off a second time, following the giant wave of unemployment—more than 30 million people and countless shuttered businesses—that had already decimated the country. At every stage, Trump has rejected the unmistakable lesson that controlling the disease, not downplaying it, is the path to economic reopening and recovery.

Trump repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease, saying it was not a serious concern and “this is like a flu​” when he knew it was more lethal and highly transmissible, according to his taped statements to journalist Bob Woodward. His lies encouraged people to engage in risky behavior, spreading the virus further, and have driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods. The White House even produced a memo attacking the expertise of the nation’s leading infectious disease physician, Anthony Fauci, in a despicable attempt to sow further distrust.

Trump’s reaction to America’s worst public health crisis in a century has been to say “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Instead he blamed other countries and his White House predecessor, who left office three years before the pandemic began.

But Trump’s refusal to look at the evidence and act accordingly extends beyond the virus. He has repeatedly tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act while offering no alternative; comprehensive medical insurance is essential to reduce illness. Trump has proposed billion-dollar cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agencies that increase our scientific knowledge and strengthen us for future challenges. Congress has countermanded his reductions. Yet he keeps trying, slashing programs that would ready us for future pandemics and withdrawing from the World Health Organization. These and other actions increase the risk that new diseases will surprise and devastate us again.

Trump also keeps pushing to eliminate health rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, putting people at more risk for heart and lung disease caused by pollution. He has replaced scientists on agency advisory boards with industry representatives. In his ongoing denial of reality, Trump has hobbled U.S. preparations for climate change, falsely claiming that it does not exist and pulling out of international agreements to mitigate it. The changing climate is already causing a rise in heat-related deaths and an increase in severe storms, wildfires and extreme flooding.

Joe Biden, in contrast, comes prepared with plans to control COVID-19, improve health care, reduce carbon emissions and restore the role of legitimate science in policy making. He solicits expertise and has turned that knowledge into solid policy proposals.

On COVID-19, he states correctly that “it is wrong to talk about ‘choosing’ between our public health and our economy…. If we don’t beat the virus, we will never get back to full economic strength.” Biden plans to ramp up a national testing board, a body that would have the authority to command both public and private resources to supply more tests and get them to all communities. He also wants to establish a Public Health Job Corps of 100,000 people, many of whom have been laid off during the pandemic crisis, to serve as contact tracers and in other health jobs. He will direct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to enforce workplace safety standards to avoid the kind of deadly outbreaks that have occurred at meat-processing plants and nursing homes. While Trump threatened to withhold money from school districts that did not reopen, regardless of the danger from the virus, Biden wants to spend $34 billion to help schools conduct safe in-person instruction as well as remote learning.

Biden is getting advice on these public health issues from a group that includes David Kessler, epidemiologist, pediatrician and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief; Rebecca Katz, immunologist and global health security specialist at Georgetown University; and Ezekiel Emanuel, bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. It does not include physicians who believe in aliens and debunked virus therapies, one of whom Trump has called “very respected” and “spectacular.”

Biden has a family and caregiving initiative, recognizing this as key to a sustained public health and economic recovery. His plans include increased salaries for child care workers and construction of new facilities for children because the inability to afford quality care keeps workers out of the economy and places enormous strains on families.

On the environment and climate change, Biden wants to spend $2 trillion on an emissions-free power sector by 2035, build energy-efficient structures and vehicles, push solar and wind power, establish research agencies to develop safe nuclear power and carbon capture technologies, and more. The investment will produce two million jobs for U.S. workers, his campaign claims, and the climate plan will be partly paid by eliminating Trump’s corporate tax cuts. Historically disadvantaged communities in the U.S. will receive 40 percent of these energy and infrastructure benefits.
It is not certain how many of these and his other ambitions Biden will be able to accomplish; much depends on laws to be written and passed by Congress. But he is acutely aware that we must heed the abundant research showing ways to recover from our present crises and successfully cope with future challenges.
Although Trump and his allies have tried to create obstacles that prevent people from casting ballots safely in November, either by mail or in person, it is crucial that we surmount them and vote. It’s time to move Trump out and elect Biden, who has a record of following the data and being guided by science.

Editor’s Note (9/15/20): This article has been edited after its publication in the October 2020 issue of Scientific American to reflect recent reporting.

This article was originally published with the title “From Fear to Hope” in Scientific American 323, 4, 12-13 (October 2020)
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1020-12

Donald Trump, stable genius, claims that Joe Biden is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, that is, when he’s not claiming that Biden is a tool of the “radical left.” Watch this conversation and make your own judgment. Ask yourself how Trump would fare without a script on a teleprompter. The film also serves to remind us of another Trump characteristic: He is utterly without empathy. He despises what he calls “losers.” It is impossible to forget the time he mocked a disabled journalist at one of his rallies. It’s easy to remember that he called John McCain a “loser” because he was a POW.

This is a most interesting unscripted discussion between Joe Biden and Ady Barkan.

Ady is a brilliant progressive activist who was a supporter of Sanders, Warren, and Medicare for all.

In 2016, he was stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and is completely disabled. He is dying by the day.

He asks tough questions.

I recommend the conversation.

This may be the most important article you read this year. The pandemic has exacerbated the huge inequality gaps that existed before the virus struck. Now we see millions of our fellow citizens out of work and sinking into poverty. Wealth inequality and income inequality are growing larger and more damaging by the day.

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and Seattle labor leader David Rolf demonstrate the vast transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of our society to the top 1%. This is not good for our society. In fact, it’s horrible for our society because it creates widespread despair and hopelessness, as well as blighting the lives of our fellow citizens.

Here is a small part of the article. Open it and read it all.

They begin:

Like many of the virus’s hardest hit victims, the United States went into the COVID-19 pandemic wracked by preexisting conditions. A fraying public health infrastructure, inadequate medical supplies, an employer-based health insurance system perversely unsuited to the moment—these and other afflictions are surely contributing to the death toll. But in addressing the causes and consequences of this pandemic—and its cruelly uneven impact—the elephant in the room is extreme income inequality.

How big is this elephant? A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades.

This is not some back-of-the-napkin approximation. According to a groundbreaking new working paper by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, had the more equitable income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) merely held steady, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

Price and Edwards calculate that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality had grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans had inequality held constant—$50 trillion that would have built a far larger and more prosperous economy—$50 trillion that would have enabled the vast majority of Americans to enter this pandemic far more healthy, resilient, and financially secure.

As the RAND report [whose research was funded by the Fair Work Center which co-author David Rolf is a board member of] demonstrates, a rising tide most definitely did not lift all boats. It didn’t even lift most of them, as nearly all of the benefits of growth these past 45 years were captured by those at the very top. And as the American economy grows radically unequal it is holding back economic growth itself.

Trump and Barr have warned about the dangers of a group called “Antifa.” I had never heard of them and don’t know anyone who belongs to this group. I did a small amount of digging and learned that Antifa means “anti-fascist.”

That confused me. How can it be wrong to be anti-fascism?

Hitler and Mussolini were fascists.

We fought a world war from 1941-1945 to save the world from fascism.

During World War II, there were pro-fascist people in America.

The current American fascists are the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and armed militias like those that stormed the Michigan State Capitol to protest public health measures to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Fascists threaten their fellow citizens with military-type assault weapons. Fascists use extra-legal means to subvert the rule of law and to intimidate people of color and those who oppose them. Fascists want to make America a white a Christian nation where none is welcome who is either white nor Christian.

I oppose fascism. I support the efforts to suppress fascism.

I support the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I believe in democracy and the rule of law. I believe in equal justice under law for all. I believe in pursuing the goal of equality of educational opportunity. I know we are far from our ideals and values. I believe in pursuing them, not abandoning them.

I am a proud anti-fascist.

Are you?

The media has been churning out stories about the exodus of people from cities, to escape crowding and coronavirus. People, they say, are rushing to the suburbs.

New Yorker Peter Goodman dissents. He believes that city life will bounce back in time. New York City already is healthier than most other parts of the nation, though mass transit has not yet recovered from the pandemic. Everything ground to a halt in mid-March, and city life is only now beginning to resume, but with masks and social distancing.

Goodman argues that “Cities are the Engines of Democracy, Innovation, and Growth and Schools Play a Major Role.”

As cultural life revives, so will cities.

Ambitious young people flock to them for exposure to museums, dance, concerts, theater, and civic life and diversity of people and experiences.

An interesting article on a real estate website called Curbed.com says that the “urban exodus” story is mostly a myth. True, there has been flight from two of the most expensive places in the U.S—San Francisco and Manhattan (but not Brooklyn!)—but the flow out of cities has not accelerated.

But a nationwide, pandemic- or protest-induced urban-to-suburban migration taking place on a scale that impacts both urban and suburban housing markets in a measurable way? There is zero empirical evidence to support such a trend. None. Nothing. Zero.

Earlier this month, real-estate-listings giant Zillow published an exhaustive study examining every conceivable housing-market data point related to cities and suburbia to see if there are major divergences that suggest an urban-to-suburban migration trend.

Are pending home sales between urban and suburban areas different now than they were before the pandemic? They aren’t!

Are suburban homes selling more quickly than homes in urban areas? Nope!

Are suburban homes selling above their list price at a higher rate than urban homes? Not at all!

Are urban homes seeing price cuts at a higher rate than suburban homes? If anything, the opposite!

Are home valuations accelerating faster in suburban areas than in urban areas? Urban zip codes have a slight edge!

Are suburban home listings getting a larger share of search traffic relative to urban areas now than they were last year? The suburban share is actually down 0.2 percentage points!

There is a German saying: Stadtluft macht frei (“urban air makes you free”). It has been true for centuries. It will be true again.

Last night, while watching the PBS Newshour, I watched a segment about the demise of local journalism. The author of a new book on this subject—Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy— Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post, warned about the danger to democracy when citizens are uninformed about local and state issues and get their news only from national sources. When asked if there was any hope for the future, she spoke about the rise of state and local websites.

One of the best of them is Capital & Main, based in Los Angeles, which just won 17 awards at the 62nd annual Southern California Journslism awards.

Capital & Main has posted excellent articles on education and has been vigilant about the abuses committed by errant charter schools and the charter industry. I have posted many of their excellent articles here and am delighted to see that the online journal received the recognition it deserves.

I salute Danny Feingold, the publisher of Capital & Main, for his tireless efforts to keep the new local journalism alive and excellent. He and the journal provide a great service to the community. Not just local news, but heat investigative reporting and fearless independence.

Jack Hassard writes that 75% of Americans can vote by mail.

Although your vote will be counted if it is postmarked by 7:00 pm on November 3, I urge you to vote earlier or, if possible, vote in person. I intend to vote in person, no matter how long the lines. Trump will try to drag out the counting of the votes, in order to throw doubt on the outcome and discredit the election. Unless there is an overwhelming vote against him, he will lick himself in his office or in the White House bunker and refuse to leave. Vote him out by overwhelming numbers. Show up at the voting place if you can. If you must vote by mail, cast your vote as early as possible.

Hassard writes:

Most of us living in the United States can vote by mail. There will be no need to stand in line for hours. There will be no fear of COVID-19 because you can receive your ballot by mail, and then drive to a drop off location. A friend can do the same for you. If you want to use the USPS, then make sure that your ballot is time stamped before 7:00 P.M. on November 3, 2020.

However, one of the underlying fears, beyond the coronavirus, is voter suppression. In Georgia, where I have lived for more than 50 years, voter suppression in the last Georgia election (2018) likely led to Stacey Abrams losing to Brian Kemp. Kemp, who was Georgia’s secretary of state, was accused of conflict of interest by overseeing an election in which he was a candidate. There were accusations that Brian Kemp, as secretary of state made if very difficult for some people to vote, including blacks, poor people, and students. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, precinct closures around Georgia made it very difficult for a lot of people to vote. The journal article estimated that between 55 and 85,000 voters were affected. Stacey Abrams lost the election by 55,000 votes.

Even today, some counties in Georgia have either moved or closed polling stations. This makes it very difficult for people to vote, especially if people simply can’t take hours off of work to cast a vote. In some cases, people who had only to travel a mile or so to vote, now have to travel more than 10 miles. Because of this, Black voters were 20% more likely to miss elections because of long distances.

Voting by Mail is Essential Business

In the upcoming election, it is imperative that we as the citizenry pay attention, and learn as much as we can about the voting options open to us.

Voting by mail will overrule those officials who have a vested interest in making it difficult to vote. But, it doesn’t have to be that way, and it is possibly very easy for us to fight back against the “suppressionists.”

Barack Obama was president of the United States for eight years without a single scandal. None of his aides were arrested and jailed. I disagreed with his education policies but I respect him as a man of integrity and a patriot.

This is the speech he delivered to the virtual Democratic National Convention.

Please watch. It was riveting.

George T. Conway III is a lawyer and a Republican. He is a founder of The Lincoln Project. His Twitter feed is brilliant. He happens to be married to Trump’s senior advisor Kellyanne Conway. Imagine the dinner-table conversations at the Conway home.

He wrote this article for the Washington Post, where is is an occasional contributor. I did not insert the many links that verify each statement. It may be worth the cost of a subscription to see them.

Conway writes:

If there’s one thing we know about President Trump, it’s that he lies and he cheats. Endlessly. And shamelessly. But still, mostly, incompetently.

So it should have come as no surprise that Trump finally went where no U.S. president had ever gone before. In a tweet last week, he actually suggested that the country “Delay the Election.”

That trial balloon was a brazen effort to see if he can defraud his way into four more years in the White House. And why not try? After all, Trump has managed to swindle his way through life, on matters large and small, essential and trivial.

He paid someone to take the SAT for him, according to his niece Mary L. Trump. (He denies it.) A prominent sportswriter wrote an entire book, titled “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump,” on how Trump cheats at golf — golf! — through such methods as throwing opponents’ balls into bunkers, miscounting strokes and even declaring himself the winner of tournaments he didn’t play in.

Trump posed as a nonexistent publicist, so he could lie about his wealth and plant stories about his supposed sexual exploits, including one with actress Carla Bruni, who denied a tryst and called Trump “obviously a lunatic.” And his life has been littered with myriad alleged financial cons, including Trump University, which resulted in a $25 million settlement, though no admission of wrongdoing, and his “charitable” foundation, which regulators ordered be shut down.

His presidency has been of a piece. By The Post’s count, more than 20,000 falsehoods in 3½ years, on subjects ranging from his inaugural crowd size to the coronavirus, from conversations with foreign leaders to forecasts of a hurricane track. The untruths have accelerated, from five a day in early 2017 to nearly two dozen daily this year and last. With the coronavirus, his untruths have finally brought him down: No, concern about the virus wasn’t a “hoax.” No, the disease won’t just “disappear,” “like a miracle.” No, we’re not in a crisis because we’ve done so much testing. No, Trump hasn’t done a “great job” fighting the virus, and no, we’re not on the verge of a “tremendous victory” over it.

So finally, Trump’s credibility, such as it ever was, is shot — and his poll numbers with it. He stands on the verge of electoral oblivion. He’s capable of no response other than his lifelong mainstays: shamelessly lying and trying to cheat. He tried once before, of course, to cheat in this election, by using presidential powers to try to extort Ukraine into propagating lies about his opponent — and was caught, although not punished.

Now he peddles a different lie: that somehow extensive “Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good)” would produce “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.” Hence the supposed need to “Delay the Election.”

All untrue, of course. Voting by mail has a long, venerable tradition in this country, most notably the election of 1864, when 150,000 Union soldiers sent in ballots that helped ensure President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection, the preservation of the union and the abolition of slavery. Mailed votes leave a paper trail that renders them less, not more, susceptible to fraud. The fraud is Trump’s: He’s lying so he can buy more time — or so he can delegitimize the vote and blame someone other than himself for his defeat.

But Trump is apparently too inept, ignorant, desperate or deluded — probably all four — to realize or care: His suggestion is absurd. The electoral calendar is set in stone, by law. Title 3 of the U.S. Code makes clear that the election must be held on Nov. 3, that members of the electoral college must meet and vote on Dec. 14, and that their votes must be counted before a joint session of the new Congress on Jan. 6 at 1 p.m. sharp. And the 20th Amendment provides that, no matter what, Trump’s current term ends at precisely noon on Jan. 20, and that if no president has been elected, another provision of Title 3 would confer the presidency’s powers on … the speaker of the House.

Even the worst of Trump’s enablers in Congress dismissed out of hand the idea of delaying the election. But Trump’s suggestion was more than just imbecilic. Steven G. Calabresi, a law professor who was a founder of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ group of which I’ve long been a member (and a member of its visiting board), nailed it: Trump’s suggestion was “fascistic.” It was the ploy of a would-be dictator, albeit an inept one.

Calabresi added that Trump should be impeached and removed for his tweet, and if Trump ever acted on it, and were there time, I’d agree. Trump should have been removed already twice over, for obstructing the Russia investigation and extorting Ukraine. His effort to sabotage a democratic system he swore to protect only confirms his unfitness for the job. But it’s too late for impeachment now.

Trump’s sanction must come at the polls, and beyond. For the sake of our constitutional republic, he must lose, and lose badly. Yet that should be just a start: We should only honor former presidents who uphold and sustain our nation’s enduring democratic values. There should be no schools, bridges or statues devoted to Trump. His name should live in infamy, and he should be remembered, if at all, for precisely what he was — not a president, but a blundering cheat.

Johann Neem, historian of education at Western Washington University, wrote an article in USA Today about the threat that COVID-19 poses to the future of public education. Affluent parents, he notes, are making their own arrangements. Some have created “learning pods” and hired their own teachers. Others will send their children to private schools, which have the resources to respond nimbly to the crisis. He recounts the early history of public schools and points out that they became essential as they served an ever-growing share of the community’s children.

Neem writes that the increase in the number of charter schools and vouchers, as well as Betsy DeVos’s relentless promotion of charters and vouchers, has already eroded the stature of public schools.

He warns:

We are at a moment of reckoning. The last time public schools were closed was when Southern states sought to avoid integration. The goal then was to sustain racial inequality. Even if today the aim is not racist, in a system already rife with economic and racial inequality, if families with resources invest more in themselves rather than share time and money in common institutions, the quality of public education for less privileged Americans, many of whom are racial minorities, will deteriorate.

His warnings are timely. Others warn that home schooling will increase so long as pinprick schools stay closed or rely on remote learning.

But there is another possibility: Eventually, schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction, when it is safe to do so.

How many parents will continue home schooling when their children can attend a real school with experienced teachers and a full curriculum and roster of activities? How many parents will pay $25,000 or more for each child when an equivalent education is available in the local public school for free? At present, only 6% send their children to charter schools. How likely is that to increase when new charters close almost as often as they open?
How many parents want vouchers for subpar religious schools, when only a tiny percentage chose them before the pandemic?

My advice: Don’t panic. Take care of the children, their families, and school staff. Fight for funding to make our public schools better than ever. After the pandemic, they will still be the best choice because they have the best teachers and the most children.