Category Archives: Signs of the Times

Covid at 1 Million U.S. Deaths: A Special Scourge in the South

 

Reported Covid Deaths by U. S. Region:

Northeast  – 211,923 deaths
Midwest  – 211,648 deaths
West – 189,805 deaths
South – 378,472 deaths

RANDOLPH SEALS, 39, WAS elected the coroner for Bolivar County, in rural western Mississippi, in 2015. But the relentlessness of the deaths linked to Covid, and his personal ties to so many who were dying, brought him to the brink of quitting in the fall of 2020.

By early 2021, when the South’s death rate spiked again, he wished he had. Then came the Delta variant, and the Omicron wave, and it just got worse.

“It was a disaster that was coming back and back and back,” Mr. Seals said.

As hospitals overflowed, many residents died in their homes. The ripple effect of the pandemic was evident, too, as Mr. Seals began recording the deaths of people with heart or kidney disease for whom there were no hospital beds. Now, he said, he is handling the deaths of people who had Covid and never quite recovered. Continue reading Covid at 1 Million U.S. Deaths: A Special Scourge in the South

A Special Scourge of the South: Covid at 1 Million Deaths

Reported Covid Deaths by U. S. Region:

Northeast  – 211,923 deaths
Midwest  – 211,648 deaths
West – 189,805 deaths
South – 378,472 deaths

RANDOLPH SEALS, 39, WAS elected the coroner for Bolivar County, in rural western Mississippi, in 2015. But the relentlessness of the deaths linked to Covid, and his personal ties to so many who were dying, brought him to the brink of quitting in the fall of 2020.

By early 2021, when the South’s death rate spiked again, he wished he had. Then came the Delta variant, and the Omicron wave, and it just got worse.

“It was a disaster that was coming back and back and back,” Mr. Seals said.

As hospitals overflowed, many residents died in their homes. The ripple effect of the pandemic was evident, too, as Mr. Seals began recording the deaths of people with heart or kidney disease for whom there were no hospital beds. Now, he said, he is handling the deaths of people who had Covid and never quite recovered. Continue reading A Special Scourge of the South: Covid at 1 Million Deaths

Quote of the Weekend: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries vs. Clarence Thomas

Democrat Hakeem Jeffries calls out Clarence Thomas

David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement — May 12, 2022

Democratic House Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) delivered an impassioned speech Wednesday, telling Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas he should “have a conversation” with his spouse.

The far-right activist and lobbyist Ginni Thomas reportedly had a months-long text conversation with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, vehemently urging him to have the 2020 presidential election overturned.

Last Friday Justice Thomas complained in a speech to a group of judges and attorneys from the 11th Circuit, “We can’t be an institution that can be bullied into giving you just the outcomes you want.” He was referring to the majority of Americans who want the Court to uphold the 49-year-old decision in Roe v. Wade, supporting a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

“If Justice Thomas really wants to deal with bullying in America, or this problem of people supposedly unwilling to accept outcomes that they don’t like, I’ve got some advice for Justice Thomas: start in your own home, have a conversation with Ginni Thomas,” Congressman Jeffries said.

“She refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Why? Because she didn’t like the outcome,” Jeffries reminded the House. “So instead, she tried to steal the election, overthrow the United States government, and install a tyrant. That’s bullying. That’s being unwilling to accept an outcome because you don’t like the results, because the former twice impeached so-called President of the United States of America lost legitimately to Joe Biden.”

“How did she respond? Instead, she said, the Bidens should face a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, on trumped-up charges of sedition. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

When news broke in March of the text exchanges between Thomas and Meadows, Slate’s legal expert Mark Joseph Stern, said: “Ginni Thomas urged Mark Meadows to overturn the 2020 election by any means necessary—while her husband was ruling on cases attempting to overturn the election.”

Congressman Jeffries, considered by many to be Democrats’ next Speaker of the House after Nancy Pelosi, was far from done with the Supreme Court Justice.

“And lastly, let me ask this question of brother Thomas:

Why are you such a hater?

Hate on civil rights.

Hate on women’s rights.

Hate on reproductive rights.

Hate on voting rights.

Hate on marital rights.

Hate on equal protection under the law.

Hate on liberty and justice for all.

Hate on free and fair elections.

Why are you such a hater?”

“And you think you can get away with it – escape public scrutiny. Because you think that shamelessness is your superpower? Here’s a newsflash from the House Judiciary Committee,” he said while being interrupted. “Truth pressed to the ground will rise again. And truth will be your kryptonite.”

A video version of Jeffries’ speech is here.

 

 

Trump’s Superspreader Packing Plants

[NOTE: Since I live in North Carolina, the #2 biggest meat packing state, issues of disease, pollution & regulation of these industries were familiar, well before COVID.

But the pandemic highlighted some key problems: while Governor Roy Cooper and the state health secretary Mandy Cohen delivered daily “don’t panic” briefings,  outbreaks in areas with large meatpacking operations were frequent, but too often wrapped in a fog of doublespeak or silence. Cohen revealed why in a little-noticed interview: in 2010, when Republicans won a big majority in the state legislature, one of their early achievements was to strip state agencies of almost all meaningful inspection and regulatory powers. These were “replaced” with voluntary reports, “self-regulation,” and slick PR; aka “thoughts & prayers.”

When COVID arrived in 2020, incomplete local data pointed to repeated major outbreaks in areas with packing plants; but state responses were mostly about statewide stats, masking, and later vaccines. The big packers basically got a pass. The GOP is still in charge at the statehouse, and is ready to fight any COVID resurgence by outlawing critical race theory & closing down women’s health clinics. Continue reading Trump’s Superspreader Packing Plants

Dead Meat: How Trump & Cronies Turned Slaughterhouses Into Covid Death Traps

[NOTE: Since I live in North Carolina, the #2 biggest meat packing state, issues of disease, pollution & regulation of these industries were familiar, well before COVID.

But the pandemic highlighted some key problems: while Governor Roy Cooper and the state health secretary Mandy Cohen delivered daily “don’t panic” briefings,  outbreaks in areas with large meatpacking operations were frequent, but too often wrapped in a fog of doublespeak or silence. Cohen revealed why in a little-noticed interview: in 2010, when Republicans won a big majority in the state legislature, one of their early achievements was to strip state agencies of almost all meaningful inspection and regulatory powers. These were “replaced” with voluntary reports, “self-regulation,” and slick PR; aka “thoughts & prayers.”

When COVID arrived in 2020, incomplete local data pointed to repeated major outbreaks in areas with packing plants; but state responses were mostly about statewide stats, masking, and later vaccines. The big packers basically got a pass. The GOP is still in charge at the statehouse, and is ready to fight any COVID resurgence by outlawing critical race theory & closing down women’s health clinics.

Posts about the industry have appeared here before, one about the fact of Chinese ownership of the biggest plant, Smithfield, which runs what’s described as the world’s biggest hog slaughterhouse; and NC industrial hog farming, as the source and center of one of the state’s most, um, significant current landmarks, the “Great Brown Wave,” aka Big Poop.

A special congressional subcommittee has been investigating the industry’s performance during the pandemic, and their report, scathing but not shocking, is described below. It’s welcome, but will it change much?  Mark me as dubious. And as Covid case numbers are rising fast again, keep that mask handy, and your boosters up to date.

Plus, don’t forget the Thoughts & Prayers.]

AP News: Report: Trump officials, meat companies knew workers at risk

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — During the first year of the COVID19 pandemic, the meat processing industry worked closely with political appointees in the Trump administration to stave off health restrictions and keep slaughterhouses open even as the virus spread rapidly among workers, according to a congressional report released Thursday.

The report by the U. S. Houses Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said meat companies pushed to keep their plants open even though they knew workers were at
high risk of catching the coronavirus. The lobbying led to health and labor officials watering down their recommendations for the industry and culminated in an executive order President Donald Trump issued in spring 2020 designating meat plants as critical infrastructure that needed to remain open.

Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, who leads the subcommittee, said U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and the industry prioritized production and profits over the health of workers and communities as at least 59,000 workers caught the virus and 269 died.

The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated,” Clyburn said.

Former Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who now leads the University System of Georgia, declined to comment Thursday. A spokesman for the university system said Perdue is focused on serving the students of Georgia.”

The report is based on communications among industry executives, lobbyists and USDA officials and other documents the committee received from government agencies, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, JBS, Cargill, National Beef, Hormel and other companies. Those firms control 85% of the beef market and 70% of pork production nationwide.

The North American Meat Institute trade group said the report distorts the truth and ignores the steps companies took as they spent billions to retool plants and purchase protective gear for workers.

“The House Select Committee has done the nation a disservice, the trade groups President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said. The Committee could have tried to learn what the industry did to stop the spread of COVID among meat and poultry workers, reducing positive cases associated with the industry while cases were surging across the country. Instead, the Committee uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.”

A major union that represents workers at the processing plants condemned the way the Trump administration helped the industry.

“We only wish that the Trump Administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it did about meat, pork and poultry products, when we wanted poultry plants to shut down for deep cleaning and to save workers lives, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The report said meat companies were slow to take measures to protect workers from the virus and pushed to make government recommendations to require masks to be worn, install dividers between work stations and encourage social distancing in their plants optional.

But JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said the company “did everything possible to ensure the safety of our people who kept our critical food supply chain running.”

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson echoed that sentiment and said Tyson has worked closely with both the Trump and Biden administrations, along with state and local officials, to respond to the pandemics challenges.

Smithfield spokesman Jim Monroe said the industry reacted quickly, and Smithfield has spent more than $900 million so far to protect workers. He said it was appropriate for meat companies to share their concerns with government officials as the pandemic unfolded.

But the report cited a message that a Koch Foods executive sent a lobbyist in the spring of 2020 that said the industry shouldn’t do more than screen employees’ temperatures at the door of plants. The lobbyist agreed and said, “Now to get rid of those pesky health departments!”

To that end, the report said USDA officials — at the behest of meat companies — tried to use Trumps executive order to stop state and local health officials from ordering plant shutdowns.

Even with those efforts, U.S. meat production fell to about 60% of normal during spring 2020 because a number of major plants were forced to temporarily close for deep cleaning, widespread testing and safety upgrades, or operated at slower speeds because of worker shortages. Companies closed plants in consultation with health officials after outbreaks were confirmed.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve worked hard to maintain safe and consistent operations. At the same time, we have not hesitated to temporarily idle or reduce capacity at processing plants when we determined it necessary to do so,” Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said.

Documents the companies provided to the committee showed that meat companies pushed hard for the executive order partly because they believed it would help shield them from liability if workers got sick or died — something a federal appeals court later rejected in a lawsuit against Tyson over worker deaths at an Iowa plant. Emails show the companies themselves submitted a draft of the executive order to the administration days before it was issued.

Early on in the pandemic, meat companies knew the virus was spreading rapidly among their workers because infection rates were much higher in the plants and their surrounding communities. The report said that in April 2020, a doctor at a hospital near a JBS plant in Cactus, Texas, told the company and government officials in an email that there was clearly a major outbreak at the plant because every COVID19 patient at the hospital either worked there or was related to a worker. “Your employees will get sick and may die if this factory remains open,” the doctor warned.

The report also highlighted the way meat companies aggressively pushed back against safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That led to the final guidance including language that effectively made the rules optional because it said the recommendations should be done “if feasible” or “where possible.”

Seeking a Ukraine “End Game”, and The Divergent Evolution of the Ukrainian & Russian Armies

AP News: US, Western Europe fret over uncertain Ukraine war endgame

BY MATTHEW LEE — May 11, 2022
WASHINGTON (AP) — An interminable and unwinnable war in Europe? That’s what NATO leaders fear and are bracing for as Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds into its third month with little sign of a decisive military victory for either side and no resolution in sight.

The possibility of a stalemate is fueling concerns that Ukraine may remain a deadly European battlefield and a source of continental and global instability for months, or even years, to come.

Energy and food security are the most immediate worries, but massive Western support for Ukraine while the world is still emerging from coronavirus pandemic and struggling to deal with the effects of climate change could deepen the toll on the global economy. And should Russia choose to escalate, the risk of a broader conflict rises.

The U.S. and its allies are pumping a steady stream of lethal weaponry into Ukraine to keep it in the fight. While most analysts say Kyiv is holding its own at the least, those infusions must continue if they are to support President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s vow to win, or at least continue to match or beat back, Moscow’s advances.

Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin has not signaled a willingness to intensify the invasion with either a general mobilization of troops or the use of unconventional arms, neither has he shown any sign of backing down. Nor has Zelenskyy, who is now asserting that Ukraine will not only beat back the current Russian invasion but regain control of Crimea and other areas that Russia has occupied or otherwise controlled since 2014.
“It’s very difficult to see how you could get a negotiated solution at this point,” said Ian Kelly, a retired veteran diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Georgia, another former Soviet republic on which Russia has territorial designs. He added, “Neither side is willing to stop fighting and probably the likeliest outcome is a war that lasts a couple of years. Ukraine would be a festering sore in the middle of Europe.” Continue reading Seeking a Ukraine “End Game”, and The Divergent Evolution of the Ukrainian & Russian Armies

War Notes: Catching Up

AP News: Detailed ‘open source’ news investigations are catching on – in Ukraine & Elsewhere

BY DAVID BAUDER – May 8, 2022
NEW YORK (AP) — One of the more striking pieces of journalism from the Ukraine war featured intercepted radio transmissions from Russian soldiers indicating an invasion in disarray, their conversations even interrupted by a hacker literally whistling “Dixie.”

It was the work of an investigations unit at The New York Times that specializes in open-source reporting, using publicly available material like satellite images, mobile phone or security camera recordings, geolocation and other internet tools to tell stories. Continue reading War Notes: Catching Up

A Progressive Catholic Goes There: Against Abortion, But Supports Keeping Roe

I can relate to this article. I published one like it in a Boston alternative weekly in early January of 1973. Angry letters poured in for weeks, until January 22, when Roe v. Wade was issued; then my qualms & quibbles were instantly forgotten.

I wasn’t sorry. Since then, some of my views have evolved, while my general antipathy to most abortions remains. (More on my personal pilgrimage here.) But I’m still as staunchly against criminalization as I was 49 years ago.

Now I’m too old to draw much fire, so it was gratifying to see this piece by a young radical Catholic (if indeed she’ still identifies as Catholic), planting her flag in the columns of the National Catholic Reporter, the “loyal opposition” progressive American weekly.

Some pro-Roe adherents may not care about Chastain’s reasons, but only that she arrives at their preferred destination.

A blast from the Kavanaugh past; we didn’t get fooled, like Collins & other Fools on the Hill.

That’s a mistake. In the new struggle that’s upon us, the agonized ambiguity of many, Catholics and non-  will be a crucial arena of either progress or further setbacks. If not agreement, finding a basis for respectful coalition will be — and in truth, long have been — imperative.  This article is one  such new opportunity.

I’m thinking first here of my fellow liberal Quakers: to save our rights, we’ll have to learn & think and act outside our blue bubbles. But this sentiment applies more broadly too.

National Catholic Reporter: COMMENTARY

I’m an anti-abortion disability advocate. Overturning Roe isn’t the answer.

Medical instruments for a surgical abortion are seen in this photo. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)

Medical instruments for a surgical abortion are seen in this photo. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)

I was in high school when I first learned which of my extended family members had encouraged my mom to abort my very-much-alive disabled brother. At the time, I had just begun attending youth group, which was the first place I ever saw images of abortion. I attended my first Walk for Life. Those same youth leaders helped that same brother finally receive his sacraments of initiation, after he’d been denied them for almost a decade.

As I entered undergraduate studies at a small Catholic liberal arts school and pursued a degree in theology with an emphasis in disability, I confronted the historical reality that had galvanized me as a teenager: Abortion is implicitly eugenic. The disproportionate targeting of disabled fetuses for termination hinges on deeply violent assumptions around worthiness, rooted in capitalistic beliefs around productivity and conventional social futurity.

Put plainly? Disabled people may not learn, work, marry or procreate “normally,” and that nonnormative lifestyle will inconvenience too many people. A disabled person may experience profound pain and social exclusion.

Regardless of whether or not these things are always and everywhere true (they are not), it is equally troublesome that people who hold these beliefs around disability often don’t believe these circumstances are within their power or responsibility to change outside of abortion (they are).

Abortion was always going to be personal for me — the abortion topic always is — even when approached from different angles. One in four women will have an abortion, which includes treatments of ectopic pregnancies, tubal pregnancies and other forms of “spontaneous” abortion or miscarriage. And whether or not they personally experienced one, everyone knows someone impacted by abortion. It is this intimacy that has kindled the fire of many in the pro-life movement, including myself.

20210316T1100-NORTHERN-IRELAND-DISABILITY-1166813 resize.jpg

Pro-life supporters are pictured holding signs outside the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 3019. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Lawless)

Pro-life supporters are pictured holding signs outside the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 3019. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Lawless)

But then, in graduate school at a large secular research university, I began to study feminist, queer and crip histories and theories of the body. I began participating in more progressive religious spaces that emphasized Catholic social teaching and needs for social reconciliation.

Being in relationship with secular, pro-abortion feminists who were learning alongside me about the systematic underresourcing of marginalized groups — while the world’s racial and medical disparities were being aired live during the COVID-19 pandemic — moved me into the place of intense nuance where I am now and that I believe undergirds a truly consistent life ethic: I am anti-abortion, but I do not think criminalizing abortions will stop them, because having access to abortions isn’t what causes them.

Things that cause abortions: lack of comprehensive sex education, inaccessible health care, violence against women, religious shame and exclusion, familial rejection or coercion, and workplace inequalities including but not limited to barriers for advancement, disparities in pay and lack of paid parental leave or child care.

Making abortion illegal before addressing these injustices is going to kill women, because women will continue to have abortions, secretively and unsafely.

For the first time that I can recall in my years of being anti-abortion, tales of the pre-Roeworld from women who lived it are being shared on a massive scale. (Many are circulating this New York Times article from January and sharing their own stories in the captions.) Social media is a flurry of back-alley horrors.

And in a post-COVID-19 society when young people are already experiencing a catastrophic mental health crisis, making abortion illegal is going to kill women in more ways than one.

Refusal to accept the reality of these dangers is resisting a nuance that is dire. You can accept the dangers of overturning Roe v. Wade are real and still be anti-abortion. I certainly am. None of these dangers changes that abortion is a deeply ableist system used to root out genetic differences based on bigoted sociocultural values. None of these facts change that I’ve seen disability-motivated abortion rhetoric devalue people at the cornerstone of my life. It is personal, but it is also necessarily systemic.

We can recognize that abortion being legal represents a certain form of public complicity in permitting a grievous sin to happen. But are we actually permitting it any less without changing the causes of abortion? To achieve the desired society in which abortion is no longer permitted, we have to create a reality where abortion is no longer caused. We are complicit in those systems, too.

We need mandatory and comprehensive sexual education and accessible health care. We need to address income inequality and mandate paid parental leave. We need to demolish the prison industrial complex and stop criminalizing the poor and marginalized. We need robust community-based postnatal care and to crack down on violence against women. We need to revolutionize the way churches approach sexuality, that we might embrace and support sexually active women in crisis, regardless of their marital status.

I am still anti-abortion. And yet, it is amazing how quickly the solidarity comes with my pro-abortion loved ones the moment I articulate these nuanced beliefs: I am anti-abortion, and I do not want it to be illegal. This solidarity will be crucial to providing a safe haven for at-risk women, if Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned. We must all keep our eyes on the true culprits; we must shout about the real causes of abortion, together.

Madison Chastain

Madison Chastain

Madison Chastain writes about the body, faith and culture. You can find more of her work on Instagram @maddsienicole, or on theologyforeverybody.com.

Roy Cooper for President?

I’m not in the habit of taking political advice from rightwing websites.  Never mind a site started by Tucker Carlson; or from anything else associated with the top Fox News motormouth.

But the headline below, I admit, gave me pause today. So here it is, with some comments in bold dark red.

The Daily Caller: The Democrats Only Have One Hope For 2024, And He’s Already Beaten Trump Twice
Hayden Daniel — May 3, 2022

Though it’s still over two years away, Democrats are beginning to panic over the 2024 presidential election.

Can’t argue with that.

A humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan,

— “humiliating” is YOUR word, Dude. I still give Biden points for biting that awful bullet.  Yeah, the execution sucked, and there’s other fair criticisms to be made, but Biden had the stones to do  what should have been done years ago– Continue reading Roy Cooper for President?

Sen. Bob Casey: The “Pro-Life” Democrat, Walking a Fine Line, On a Narrow Path, Down a Lonely Road, through a Minefield

Philadelphia Inquirer — May 3, 2022

by Jonathan Tamari and Max Marin

Bob Casey is one of the last ‘pro-life’ Democrats. The Supreme Court decision is going to test his views.

WASHINGTON — When the Sandy Hook school shooting rocked the country, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey changed his longtime stance on the Second Amendment, becoming a fierce advocate for stricter gun laws.

When a Supreme Court decision neared that would make same-sex marriage legal nationwide, Casey embraced the shift, abandoning his previous objections.

And when President Joe Biden took office early last year, Casey softened his stand on the Senate filibuster, suggesting he’d be open to changing the rule if it helped Democrats turn big, progressive ambitions into reality.

 

But as Casey has followed his party’s leftward trajectory over the past decade,, one key issue still set him apart from most Democrats: abortion. Casey is one of the few major Democrats left who describes himself as “pro-life.” Continue reading Sen. Bob Casey: The “Pro-Life” Democrat, Walking a Fine Line, On a Narrow Path, Down a Lonely Road, through a Minefield