How to overcome the danger that your vote won’t count

Imagine how much higher voter participation (and Democratic turnout) would be if voters in the entire country could mail in or drop off ballots as they do in several states.

Donald Trump is trying to convince his base that mail-in voting — which he and most members of his administration use regularly — is somehow “rigged” and will delegitimize the results of November’s election. He’s even gone so far as to cast doubt on whether he would accept the election results.

Never mind the fact that the GOP boogeyman of “voter fraud” is extremely rare, whether it’s in-person or mail-in voting. According to a Reuters story:

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which has warned of the risks of mail voting, found 14 cases of attempted mail fraud out of roughly 15.5 million ballots cast in Oregon since that state started conducting elections by mail in 1998.

Go ahead, do the math: That’s a .00009% rate of mail fraud.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing more and more voters to turn to mail-in voting, both for primaries and for the general election — likely twice as many voters will vote by mail this fall. It’s hardly a new practice: In the 2016, election, nearly one-fourth of all voters voted by mail.

The fear of coronavirus transmission, along with the fact that the majority of election judges are senior citizens and thus more likely to decline that civic duty this time around, already has led to closure of polling stations across the country. For the April Wisconsin primary, the city of Milwaukee, which normally has 180 polling stations, had only five stations open.

No doubt Trump and Republicans are frightened that more mail-in voting will give Democrats an edge when more people vote. Yet that’s not the case, according to the Reuters story, even though it’s true that voter turnout increases.

Turnout rates tend to be higher in states that conduct elections by mail. A Stanford University study found that participation increased by roughly 2 percentage points in three states that rolled out universal voting by mail from 1996 to 2018. It had no effect on partisan outcome and did not appear to give an advantage to any particular racial, economic, or age group.

This GOP attack on mail-in voting could backfire on Trump and Republicans candidates. While Trump rails against the practice, GOP leaders worry that Republican voters might follow his lead and refuse to cast an absentee ballot, possibly lowering the number of votes for Trump and other Republicans. As a Washington Post story explains:

Multiple public surveys show a growing divide between Democrats and Republicans about the security of voting by mail, with Republicans saying they are far less likely to trust it in November. In addition, party leaders in several states said they are encountering resistance among GOP voters who are being encouraged to vote absentee while also seeing the president describe mail voting as “rigged” and “fraudulent.” …

State and local Republicans across the country fear they are falling dramatically behind in a practice that is expected to be key to voter turnout this year.

Even as more voters are counting on voting by mail, there is evidence that delivery of first-class mail is being slowed down deliberately, as this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer explains.

The U.S. Postal Service is experiencing significant changes. The new Postmaster General’s policies eliminate overtime, order carriers to leave mail behind to speed up their workdays, and slash office hours, which — coupled with staffing shortages amid previous budget cuts and coronavirus absences — are causing extensive delivery delays.

The new practices have an obvious reason: kill the Postal Service. (The new Postmaster General, Trump campaign fundraiser Louis DeJoy, has between $30 million and $75 million in assets in Postal Service competitors and contractors such as UPS.) As the Inquirer story says:

Philip F. Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T State University who has written numerous books about the Postal Service, said the current changes are part of the Trump administration’s quest to turn the public against the post office and ultimately privatize it.

The mail slowdown could threaten the speedy delivery of millions of expected absentee ballots, causing some social media posts to advise mailing in ballots a full two weeks before Nov. 3. Politifact claims that the two-week warning is an exaggeration. “The Postal Service recommends that domestic, non-military voters mail their ballots at least one week prior to their state’s due date to allow for timely receipt by election officials,” Politifact explained. Although several states are now sending out automatic ballot applications in plenty of time, the Postal Service also advises voters to request their absentee ballots “as early as possible.”

Some states, such as California, require that ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day — ballots from Golden State voters can arrive up to 17 days after Election Day and still be counted. Others, such as Iowa, require that ballots be postmarked at least one day before the election. Several other states require that ballots must be received no later than Election Day.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a state-by-state breakdown of when ballots must arrive. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia also allow voters to return their ballots by hand if they don’t trust the mail. 

So how can you make sure your ballot is delivered in a timely enough fashion to be counted correctly?

Double-check your voter registration. Some states (led by Republicans, naturally) are notorious for scrubbing voter rolls ahead of elections. Go to Vote.org to make sure you’re registered to vote. If you’re not registered or if you’ve moved, there’s still plenty of time to do so.

Request your absentee ballot early. If you know you’re going to vote by mail, it’s not too soon to send in that request. You won’t receive the actual ballot for a while, but your request is on record.

Don’t wait to do your homework on other races. Ballots are local, as there are county- and statewide races, judges’ races, ballot initiatives, and much more. You might know which candidate will get your vote for president, but you might not know all there is to know about the candidates for county coroner or state’s attorney.

Make sure you know your polling place. Not everyone will vote by mail; some will vote early and some want to show up on Election Day. With so many polling places closed, check to make sure you know where to go. In the June Kentucky primary, many voters in Louisville went to the huge Fairgrounds to cast ballots, where hundreds of voting machines were set up, all at least six feet apart. Voters said it took them longer to find a parking space than it did to wait in line to vote. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, along with his nonpartisan nonprofit organization More Than A Vote, is trying to get NBA arenas to serve as mega polling stations. So far, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Detroit Pistons are on board.

If you’re worried, drop off your ballot in person. Inserting your ballot into a ballot drop box before or on Election Day ensures that your vote will be counted. In the states that have them, drop boxes (such as the one in the photo above) are clearly marked, are secured and locked at all times, and are in public places such as city halls and public libraries. This PDF, from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and Sector Coordinating Council’s Joint COVID Working Group, explains more about the regulations for drop boxes. Some states without drop boxes will allow voters to deliver absentee ballots to early voting sites. Pressure your elected officials to install ballot drop boxes throughout your state.

This election is too important to leave anything to chance. Decide how you’re going to vote — and then, as Nike says, just do it.

If you want to reopen schools, conquer COVID-19 virus first (UPDATE)

Will students line up this way to enter school? Fat chance.

Schools can’t reopen for a “normal” school day until the U.S. has a better handle on the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

It’s a broken record by this time, but public health experts have made it clear that the infection rate must be lowered before schools can reopen. The latest message is from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, delivering his message on several regular morning TV shows, even on (gasp) Fox News. As Dr. Adams said on CBS This Morning, as reported by CNN:

What I want people to know is the biggest determinant of whether or not we can go back to school actually has little to nothing to do with the actual schools — it’s your background transmission rate. And it’s why we’ve told people constantly that if we want to get back to school, to worship, to regular life — folks need to wear face coverings, folks need to practice social distancing. Those public health measures are actually what’s going to lower the transmission rate.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against opening schools without precautions and have developed general guidelines for schools, which Donald Trump insists are “too expensive.” Vice President Mike Pence downplayed the CDC guidelines, saying they shouldn’t be used as a “barrier” to students returning to classrooms. 

It’s only a matter of weeks before many schools have to make final decisions on how to hold classes for the fall session: in person, remotely, or with some kind of hybrid combination. Many of the largest school districts in the country, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, with more than 600,000 students, won’t start in-person classes this fall. Many districts in major cities have postponed the start of classes, hoping that COVID-19 numbers will drop before they must make a definite decision. This CNN roundup describes the state of school starting plans across the country, even as some cities are going against state directives.

Of course, Trump is threatening to withhold federal money from schools if they don’t reopen — an empty threat, as that decision is made by Congress, not the president.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and who has the trust of 65% of the American people about coronavirus (as opposed to only 30% who trust Trump) has been cautious all along on whether schools should reopen. Dr. Fauci said that while schools’ goal should be to reopen in the fall, the decision should be left up to local districts in areas where the virus is surging.

Instead of listening to Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, or GOP governors who are insisting that school reopen no matter what, local school districts and parents might learn more by paying attention to countries where schools are more hopeful about reopening this fall because the virus is more under control. According to a story in Science magazine:

When Science looked at reopening strategies from South Africa to Finland to Israel, some encouraging patterns emerged. Together, they suggest a combination of keeping student groups small and requiring masks and some social distancing helps keep schools and communities safe, and that younger children rarely spread the virus to one another or bring it home. But opening safely, experts agree, isn’t just about the adjustments a school makes. It’s also about how much virus is circulating in the community, which affects the likelihood that students and staff will bring COVID-19 into their classrooms.

TIME has a roundup on what some other countries are doing.

Certain countries have reduced class sizes and implemented social distancing measures and have not seen rises in new daily cases. American schools might also look to other countries for examples of how not to reopen when the academic year begins.

For instance, Denmark, a country with a low incidence of COVID-19 transmission because of an early lockdown, reopened schools in April. Children ages 2-12 are sectioned off into “bubbles” of no more than 12. These groups arrive at staggered times, eat lunch separately, and have their own zones in the playground. There is no face mask requirement (you try getting a young child to wear a mask all day), but all students are required to wash their hands every two hours. Desks are roughly six feet apart, all education material are cleaned twice a day, and when possible, classes are held outside. “Other countries who followed similar measures — such as Germany, Finland, and Norway — have also avoided significant spikes in the number of new COVID-19 cases,” TIME reports.

Other countries have taken a much stricter approach. In Korea, “schools have temperature checks at school entrances and require students to wear masks, socially distance and frequently wash their hands,” TIME says. “Some schools are having students come in on alternate days while others have adopted a hybrid in-class and online approach to lessons.”

On the other hand, after initially adopting the “bubble model,” Israel eventually dropped it and let children leave masks at home during a heat wave. But by June 3, “the Israeli government was forced to close down schools after 2,026 students, teachers and staff had tested positive for COVID-19,” TIME reports. In addition, more than 28,000 students were placed under quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus.

No U.S. school district wants that — to reopen just to close again after widespread virus transmission. And that doesn’t even address the likelihood of spreading the virus to older relatives at home, who will be more susceptible to a more serious case of COVID-19.

Illness for relatives is not the only issue. If a teacher gets sick, where will a substitute come from? Who would want to be a substitute teacher in a class where the virus is spreading?

Best to listen to the public health experts in the first place. “Like herd immunity with vaccines, the more individuals wear cloth face coverings in public places where they may be close together, the more the entire community is protected,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and two colleagues wrote in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Redfield went further in a JAMA Live webcast. “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really think in the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control,” the CDC director said.

A new study in PLOS Medicine makes it simple with three basic rules: Wash your hands regularly, wear masks, and keep your social distance from each other. These three simple behaviors could stop most all of the COVID-19 pandemic, even without a vaccine or additional treatments, says a CNN story on the study.

You want kids to return to school? You want life to return to some semblance of normalcy? #WearADamnMask.

UPDATE: After first standing their ground, officials at the CDC caved to Trump’s demands and revised their standards to offer more leeway for schools to open. It turns out the the looser guidelines also were edited by the White House. The revised guidance stresses the importance of getting parents back to work and kids back in the classroom with few points about health. There is a brief mention that there could be exceptions for reopening schools in COVID-19 “hot spots,” which include parts of 33 states.

It’s only fair to point out that the school attended by Trump’s youngest son, Barron, will not fully reopen this fall.

A virtual town hall hosted by the National PTA was held in mid-July to discuss how and if schools could reopen safety. A Washington Post story listed 10 common-sense takeaways, such as staggered drop-off times, social distancing, the need for local control, etc.

Bottom line: Don’t except many schools to open in August or September.

Even with COVID-19, don’t forget about cutting plastic waste

This cleanup activity at a beach in the Philippines shows only a tiny part of the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. (Photo by Daniel Muller/Greenpeace)

The overwhelming news of a worldwide pandemic, a coming presidential election, and the daily battering of scandals from the Trump administration threatens to downplay one of biggest issues we all still face — climate change. Here’s an easy way to bring part of this issue back to the forefront: Adopting a plastic-free July.

Organized attempts to cut out or at least limit the amount of single-use plastic items consumers use have been going for nearly a decade. Plastic Free July is a worldwide movement asking people to take a pledge to avoid single-use plastic for a month, hoping that the habits become ingrained to last all year long. The group has involved 250 million participants in 177 countries, and its website offers practical tips to cut down on plastic.

One simple way to start is to avoid using plastic bags and stop accepting them at stores. Putting groceries in 20-30 plastic bags during each trip to the grocery store adds quickly to the overwhelming total of 100 billion plastic bags Americans use every year. And only 1% of those 100 billion actually get recycled. Worldwide, more than 1 million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute.

Many countries successfully passed plastic bag bans, as did 200 municipalities across the U.S. (only a few states did, though — California, Hawaii, New York, and Oregon). The European Union, Canada, and 34 countries in Africa have banned or are phasing out many single-use plastic items. Cities around the world and in the U.S. also instituted fees when consumers asked for items to be bagged in single-use plastic.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to put an end to those positive actions, as health concerns about possibly spreading the novel coronavirus meant states banned the practice of using reusable bags, lest it put baggers at risk. Several states suspended the five- or 10-cent fees they had imposed on single-use plastic bags.

Now, however, some states are moving forward again. The Connecticut Department of Public Health determined that, given the most current scientific information available, reusable bags do not serve as a significant source of infection for COVID-19. The state has reimposed its 10-cent fee for single-use bags. California reinstated its ban on plastic bags in late June.

If your state is still one of those banning reusable bags, here’s an easy tip: Take your reusable bags to the grocery store and leave them in your trunk. In the checkout line, tell your checker and bagger just to put all items back in the cart without bags. Once you get back to your car, bag your groceries yourself. You just saved up to 30 single-use plastic bags from entering the waste system.

Upstream, a nonprofit seeking to reduce plastic pollution, gathered research on how coronavirus transmission has been overblown, mostly by the plastics industry. According to a story on Grist:

Health experts don’t think that a pivot to single-use plastic is necessary. In a statement released on Monday, more than 125 virologists, epidemiologists, and health experts from 18 different countries said it’s clear that reusables are safe to use during the pandemic. You just have to wash them.

It’s way past time to get serious about plastic pollution. Much of the plastic waste and plastic bags that Western countries used to send to countries in Africa or Asia for recycling aren’t being accepted anymore. Many countries such as China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and multiple countries in Africa have reversed many policies on plastic garbage. Some no longer accept plastic waste; some have instigated stricter rules when plastic garbage is contaminated; and some are even sending it back to its countries of origin, mainly the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

All of that plastic waste makes its way into the world’s waterways and oceans. It breaks down into microplastics that are consumed by birds and fish. Here are just a few depressing statistics:

  • Every day around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into the world’s seas. The annual total is about 12.7 million tons.
  • Plastic is found in one-third of fish caught for human consumption.
  • Some 100,000 sea creatures and 1 million seabirds die each year from being tangled in plastic.

It’s not just ocean creatures. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research reveals that microplastics are absorbed in fruits and vegetables, too. According to a story at Inhabit.com:

Some of the most commonly consumed produce, including apples, carrots, pineapples, kale, and cabbage, may be contaminated with high levels of plastic. The study found that apples and carrots are among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables.

A recent study from Australia’s University of Newcastle estimated that each person consumes the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of plastic each week, mostly in drinking water and shellfish. The study found that in the United States, nearly 95% of tap water samples contained plastic fibers.

I don’t know about you, but I want food to be just food and water to be water. Let’s leave the plastic out of it.

On a national level, let’s work for passage of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, introduced in February in Congress by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California. The bill is co-sponsored by six senators and 29 representatives, all Democrats. The legislation is described as “one of the most aggressive, sweeping attempts to hold the plastics industry, beverage makers, and other companies financially responsible for dealing with the waste they create.” It would phase out many single-use plastic items and put a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags in 2022.

While it won’t pass with a Republican Senate and a climate denier in the White House, the bill is one more reason to vote in November for people who take climate change and plastic waste seriously.

But you can do something on your own. Take the pledge and change your habits. Let’s all aim for a plastic-free July.

Police reform could save cities millions of dollars in misconduct payouts

Police behavior during protests over George Floyd’s killing only reinforced impressions of police brutality and racial disparity.

Why should we reform the police? Besides being the right thing to do, it will save a ton of money in the long run.

How to reform the nation’s police forces is turning into a potent political issue for the November election. The ongoing protests in nearly 150 U.S. cities about police violence against African-Americans haven’t let up since George Floyd died when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, and a growing number of activists and lawmakers are calling for change.

It’s a moral imperative for police to treat all citizens fairly and equally, regardless of race. It’s also an imperative for police not to brutalize citizens. But when they do, those same victimized citizens and their families file lawsuits against police departments when they’ve been treated unjustly, injured, or killed. Huge settlement payouts in lawsuits over police misconduct are bleeding budgets dry in both small cities and major metropolitan areas.

The frequency of police killings nationwide is staggering: A Washington Post investigation shows that police shoot and kill nearly 1,000 Americans each year. “Since 2015, police have shot and killed 5,400 people,” according to the ongoing Post tally. In addition, “Black people have been shot and killed by police at disproportionate rates — both in terms of overall shootings and the shootings of unarmed Americans.”

Of course, it’s not just shooting and killing unarmed people. Three common types of police misconduct are false arrest from illegal search and seizures; the use of excessive or unreasonable force; and the misuse of a position of power, which can include sexual assault during a pat-down or body cavity search. You can add to that list wrongful conviction, planting evidence, stealing evidence in drug cases, lying on officials reports, driving drunk — there’s no shortage of misdeeds. At least 85,000 police officers nationwide have been investigated for misconduct in the last decade.

It’s not easy to challenge police misconduct, as police accountability boards are often made up of former officers. But successful lawsuits by victims of police misconduct can mean major payouts by the nation’s cities, often to the tune of millions of dollars each.

A story from VirTra News explains it.

Cities across the country spend millions upon millions of dollars defending themselves or even settling lawsuits dealing with police wrongdoings. Litigation fees, settlement fees, and in some cases, court-ordered payments can all but bankrupt a city.

There is no overall compilation of how much the nation’s cities have paid out to settle cases of police misconduct, although one 2018 study looking at 20 big cities found a combined annual payout total of over $1 billion. Such payouts mean an increasing drain on city budgets. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • In Los Angeles, police misconduct was responsible for 42% of the $880 million in settlements from 2005 to 2018, a sum higher by far than for any other municipal department.
  • Chicago paid out more than $113 million in 2018 alone to settle police misconduct cases. The total tab from 2011 to 2018 is more than half a billion dollars. The median payout was $50,000 for all police misconduct cases, and Chicago paid for an average of one lawsuit every two days.
  • New York City pays out more than any other municipality. In 2017 alone, New York paid a record $302 million for police misconduct lawsuits.

It’s not just big cities getting hit with a financial sledgehammer. According to a story in Governing, smaller cities also feel the pain and are sometimes forced to close their police departments.

Most small governments have liability insurance to help them cover the costs of lawsuits. But legal costs for police misconduct can still place huge strains on budgets and, in some cases, can lead to law enforcement agencies being disbanded. …

When misconduct lawsuits start mounting, insurance companies can withdraw coverage. Without insurance, a single claim against a local police department has the potential to bankrupt a small municipality. As a result, cities in California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have in recent years opted to disband their police departments after losing coverage.

Another factor in the debate over police reform is the idea of defunding or abolishing police departments all together, which is putting the issue front and center politically. A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has announced its intention to disband the city’s police force, so naturally Republicans were quick to pounce. Donald Trump immediately tweeted: “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!”

Some other big-city mayors also are proposing cuts to police department budgets. Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti wants to cut the LAPD budget by $150 million, and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio wants cuts to the $6 billion NYPD budget.

What, exactly, does defunding the police mean? Here are well-thought descriptions of defunding or abolishing the police by Christy Lopez, Georgetown Law School professor and co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing Program, writing in The Washington Post.

Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental-health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.

Police abolition means reducing, with the vision of eventually eliminating, our reliance on policing to secure our public safety. It means recognizing that criminalizing addiction and poverty, making 10 million arrests per year and mass incarceration have not provided the public safety we want and never will.

Nevertheless, few Democrats are embracing the terms. Congressional Democrats announced sweeping legislation on police reform designed to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system but did not call for defunding or disbanding police departments. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made clear that he opposes defunding the police and instead backs a criminal justice reform plan based on community policing and other proposals.

The Minneapolis proposal to disband the police, however, is not the first time such an idea has been tried in the U.S. The police department in Compton, California, for instance, was disbanded in 2000, and all policing was turned over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Camden, New Jersey, serves as an example of how to disband police successfully. Camden dissolved its city police department in 2013 and joined forces with the Camden County Police Department. The city instituted a series of incremental reforms with an emphasis on community policing. Although some local activists still see shortcomings and are pushing to create a civilian review board for cases in which force is used, complaints of excessive force in Camden have dropped 95% since 2014.

Despite the fact that payouts over police misconduct should be a matter of public record, cities rarely publicize them. “Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed,” said a 2019 USA Today investigation looking into records of such actions.

The settlements that make the news are the high-profile and high-dollar payouts, often over an unjustified killing. For instance, In Chicago, the family of Laquan McDonald, the black teenager shot 16 times by a white officer in 2015, received $5 million. In New York, the family of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in 2014, received $5.9 million.

So local and independent journalists have been forced to dig on their own. The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism site that has reported on all types of police misconduct since 2014, lists individual payouts by municipality, city by city, and few cities are immune. The Chicago Reporter established a searchable database detailing the amount paid out per officer in police misconduct settlements. USA Today launched its investigation in partnership with the nonprofit Invisible Institute and discovered a motherlode:

The records obtained include more than 110,000 internal affairs investigations by hundreds of individual departments and more than 30,000 officers who were decertified by 44 state oversight agencies.

This USA Today database lets readers search a list of those 30,000 officers banned in 44 states.

Republicans always say they’re against high levels of government spending (except when deficits skyrocket because of tax cuts). So selling police reform as a way to save cities millions of dollars should appeal to them. Getting rid of brutal police practices will help in the area about which Republicans claim to care the most — the bottom line.

And it will save a lot of innocent lives at the same time. Because Black Lives Matter.

We can all be heroes in the time of COVID-19

Superhero fabric makes superhero masks for health care heroes.

News stories are filled with images of health care heroes in medical facilities nationwide treating patients sickened with the novel coronavirus. No one would disagree with that characterization — those working on the front lines deserve nothing less than our full respect, not to mention hazard pay. That includes not only health care workers, but all essential workers restocking grocery shelves and making deliveries.

What about the rest of us? How can we rise to the challenge of service? You don’t need to have superpowers to make a difference and become a hero in your own right, even if it’s in a limited fashion.

Here are just two examples on how people are stepping up during this time. We may not personally be working on finding a cure, treatment, or vaccine for COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be part of the force that helps those who have been affected by this global pandemic.

Food insecurity. Food pantries throughout the country are being overrun with requests from new clients. With the national number of people filing claims for unemployment now reaching nearly 39 million, it’s no surprise that people need help to feed their families.

We’ve seen the staggering photos of what looks like miles of cars or hundreds and hundreds of people waiting in line to pick up food donations. A story from Vox spelled it out.

“Our city struggled before Covid — many … families [are] living on the edge — and Covid knocked them over the edge,” says San Antonio Food Bank President Eric Cooper.

The spike US food banks are experiencing now is unrivaled in modern history. The images of thousands queued up to receive basic necessities throw the effects of the recent economic downturn into sharp relief.

How you can help: Food banks can do more with your money than they can with the forgotten canned goods lurking in the back of your cupboards. Every dollar donated “helps secure and distribute at least 12 pounds of food — the equivalent of 10 meals — through our nationwide network of food banks,” says the Feeding America website. “Through large-scale negotiating and nationwide donation programs, we’re able to stretch your donation to make the biggest impact possible.” With a network of over 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, Feeding America can help you find service providers in your ZIP code, whether you need food or want to volunteer.

Feeding America is not the only national group fighting hunger, but it receives high marks from both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator also has compiled a list of well-rated nonprofits responding to the coronavirus pandemic. That list contains both national and local groups and is broken down into those providing the following:

  • Medical services.
  • Relief supplies, health and medical.
  • Relief supplies, community support and services.
  • Funding local organizations.
  • Education and awareness.
  • Cross-categorical.

If there was ever a time to make a donation to help those in need, this is it. Every charity you ever supported is likely asking you to step up. It’s probably best to start with those meeting the basic need of hunger. If you can’t donate, you could still volunteer at a local food bank, especially because many regular volunteers are older and might not feel comfortable going out in public more than necessary.

The mask and PPE shortage. Before this pandemic hit, unless you worked in a medical field, I bet few of us knew that PPE stood for personal protective equipment, but now it’s an abbreviation that few of us will ever forget.

How you can help: First of all, wear a mask yourself while out in public. Just because Donald Trump refuses to wear a mask in front of a camera doesn’t mean the rest of us have to mirror such ignorance. The practice is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wearing a mask is your way of saying you care about those around you, especially for people who may not know they’re infected.

What about other masks? If you sew, you can become part of the sewing army. The New York Times chronicled stitcher’s early efforts:

All over the country, homebound Americans are crafting thousands upon thousands of face masks to help shield doctors, nurses and many others from the coronavirus.

They are pulling together to meet an urgent need: Hospitals, overwhelmed by the fast-spreading pandemic, are burning through their supplies of protective gear, in particular masks, at an alarming rate. Doctors and nurses are getting sick and dying.

Because I sew, I decided to start making masks. A local group in my Chicago suburb started small, with one person who said, “I can’t cure corona, but I can sew a mask.” She and another mask-maker formed a Facebook group that started with a handful of members. It gradually added more volunteers to become an army of sewers, suppliers, and supporters. Its geographic volunteer base spread from one suburb to throughout the Chicago area.

Chicago Mask Makers is run by seven volunteer leaders, all women and moms, one of whom is a registered nurse, but they haven’t all met each other in person. “We bonded with a common mission,” said one of the group’s administrators, Christine Baumbach (full disclosure: I knew Baumbach before COVID-19; we carpooled to our kids’ preschool).

While the group has about 2,000 members in support, many of whom have donated supplies, about 200 take part in actual mask-making. They sew; cut fabric squares; track down elastic, pipe cleaners, metal nose pieces, thread, and nonwoven fabric; and transport supplies, since some of the older volunteer sewers don’t drive. The group’s Facebook page and website offer online tutorials and a PDF with step-by-step instructions on how to sew a mask.

Medical organizations in need of masks can fill out a request form. So far, in the group’s two months of existence, more than 13,000 masks have been donated to health care professionals at more than 40 area hospitals, ICUs, ERs, birthing centers, nursing homes, and clinics, but there’s always a waiting list of requests. “We opened it up to first responders, so anybody who is caring for a COVID patients is welcome to ask for masks,” Baumbach said.

“So many of our sewers had not sewn in 20 years, but it was incredible how many people were willing to step up and say, ‘I can contribute.’ It’s very gratifying,” Baumbach added.

“We have not done any real fundraising. Almost everything has been donated, but for some things we do need to buy, such as elastic, someone steps up with a donation.”

Sewing these masks has made me feel that I’m making a contribution. When I pick up fabric squares each week, I like to imagine that they were leftover fabric from a loved one’s quilt or a child’s curtains. I felt like I scored a home run when I received fabric with Marvel superheroes.

I keep telling myself, “This isn’t Project Runway,” but I like to coordinate the fabric and non-woven backing. Dark blue fabric and orange backing? I hope that hospital has lots of Bears fans. Yellow fabric and backing with blue ties? Maybe that will go to a Michigan Wolverine.

I’ve made more than 100 masks, when I count masks I’ve sewed for friends, family, church members, and health professionals. But I feel like a total slacker compared with what Rob and Susan Parks are doing.

The Parkses (full disclosure again: I’ve known Susan since our days in the PTO of the elementary school our kids attended) started a network to make and donate 8,000 face shields for health care professionals throughout Chicago. They use a 3-D printer to create a plastic frame. A heavy-duty plastic page protector, like the kind bought at an office supply store, serves as the actual shield. They put out a call for volunteers and have dubbed their group the “Noble Army.” It’s up to 40 people creating 200 frames a day, according to WTTW, the local PBS station (click link to play video).

https://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/3042855077/

The couple also created a website with directions on how to make such frames on a 3-D printer. The cost per unit is about $1, and donations are covering much of those costs. “I will be glad when what we do is not necessary anymore,” Susan Parks told WTTW, “because that means that people will not need this type of protection. But while it is there we will fill the need.”

You likely have a volunteer story one of your own, with a talent of your own that you’re using to help others during this time.

But we all have a superpower that we don’t need to keep hidden. We can use that power in the months leading up to Nov. 3 to elect people who share our empathy for patients, those out of work, and those on the front lines. Work for the candidates of your choice, even if social distancing requires a new kind of campaigning and volunteering from home. Send postcards. Make phone calls. Most of all, VOTE.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head to the basement to sew some more masks.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 27, 2020.

After COVID-19 closures, economy is returning with a whimper, not a roar

Salons, such as this one in Atlanta, offer one of the few bright spots in economic recovery. Let’s hope people aren’t literally dying to get their hair cut.

What if you reopened the economy and nobody shopped?

It’s still way too early to measure the economic effects of several states allowing the reopening of retail stores, restaurants, salons, gyms, doctors’ offices, and other businesses that have been hit hard by stay-at-home orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence is based on anecdotes rather than hard data, but businesses are desperate: U.S. retail sales tumbled a record 16.4% in April.

Who will spend money at those businesses is even more problematic. The U.S. unemployment rate soared to 14.7%, according to the April jobs report, and in just the first week of May, nearly 3 million people filed unemployment claims, for a total of 36.5 million unemployed Americans since mid-March.

But one thing is certain: The economy hasn’t come roaring back, as Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin promised in late March. Instead, the Trump administration is now singing a different, less lion-like tune: In a May 10 Fox News Sunday interview, Mnuchin admitted that the economy and employment numbers are “probably going to get worse before they get better.” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warns of long-term economic damage without more financial help to taxpayers from the federal government.

Governors itching to get their states going again — to appease both Trump and a small minority of often heavily armed protestors in several states screaming about “liberty” and demanding that businesses reopen — are announcing reopening plans, often going too fast for public health physicians and scientists. A dozen states were set to launch a major reopening of businesses by May 18, and more than two-thirds have reopened in some significant way.

On May 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued brief checklists of guidance on how to reopen public spaces safely, with details on transmission thresholds, travel recommendations, rules for large venues, and more.

Too bad the vast majority of U.S. citizens aren’t ready for reopening. Because they don’t want to die if they can avoid it.

Americans are obviously tired of living in quarantine and want to get back to a normal life, whatever that might look like in the age of COVID-19. But poll after poll, such as this one from Pew Research, shows that a large majority of people fear that states might be lifting restrictions too quickly.

The Pew data show that 68% of all Americans are wary of reopening too fast. There’s a growing partisan divide, too: In data collected from April 29 through May 5, 53% of Republicans thought restrictions were being lifted too slowly, up from 48% who thought that from April 5-12. Contrast that with 87% of Democrats who thought restrictions were being lifted too quickly, up from 81% a few weeks earlier.

Partisan divide, yes; class divide, no. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that “there just aren’t meaningful divisions along class or education lines on these questions,” as a Washington Post story put it.

By 78 percent to 22 percent, Americans believe it is “necessary” for people in their communities to stay at home as much as possible.

The spread is very similar among those of incomes below $50,000 (82-18), those of incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 (77-23), and those of incomes over $100,000 (71-29).

Like many media outlets, CNN regularly updates its list of each state’s reopening status. Some were early out of the gate, such as Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp unbelievably said he didn’t know that asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus.

Wisconsin joined the “let freedom ring and then die” club when the state Supreme Court struck down the stay-at-home order from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers after a challenge from the GOP-led Wisconsin Legislature. The decision also comes after 72 people in Wisconsin who attended a large protest against the stay-at-home order have now tested positive for coronavirus. There’s no telling what the infection rate will be in the hordes of people who descended on the state’s bars to celebrate opening up again after the Supreme Court decision.

Everyone is tired of being cooped up, and we all want to support local businesses that are hurting. But states where stores have been open for a few weeks are seeing a sluggish recovery at best. Most Americans are still too frightened to be in enclosed spaces with lots of people. According to a story in TIME:

A new study by Fivestars, a marketing platform for small businesses, found that while sales at small businesses in Georgia, Texas, Florida and California jumped 18% the weekend of May 7-10 compared to the weekend prior, they were down 63% compared to the same weekend last year.

The TIME story gives examples of several small businesses telling the same tale: gift shops, tattoo parlors, and music stores all report a trickle rather than a rush of business.

Lanie Lewis, the owner of State Street Trading Company in West Columbia, S.C., is less sanguine. Her store is a gift shop and arts & crafts store in a rapidly growing part of town. Before the pandemic, she had ordered $8,000 worth of trinkets and small gifts to sell during what she expected to be a bustling street fair season.

Lewis opened her doors back up on April 23, but the fairs are not returning, leaving her sitting on boxes of unsold goods. While regular customers buy things to support her from time to time, the foot traffic is nonexistent, and Lewis says she’s lucky if she gets two customers a day. “I’ve had days where I’ve had nothing in the register,” she says.

One exception seems to be salons and barber shops. We’re all feeling pretty shaggy and long to get a professional haircut, so it’s no surprise that business has been booming in salons in reopened states. The TIME story quoted the owner of Salon Gloss in an Atlanta suburb.

“Our clients were just elated to be back,” Tim Timmons, the store’s owner, tells TIME. “Their hair looks terrible. It’s long and they’ve got bad roots, so they’re getting everything done.”

It’s not just the regulars who are coming in: Timmons says he had 60 new clients in his first two days of operation. While his staff is half of what it used to be, Timmons estimates he is taking in 75% percent of what he normally would, because his clients are asking for extra work: color, cuts, perms and more.

Another current economic success is community supported agriculture, or CSAs. While some of the nation’s farmers are being forced to pour milk down drains and leave crops rotting in fields because their restaurant markets have dried up, the CSA market of delivering boxes of fresh, locally grown produce to customers has seen a resurgence — and many CSAs have growing waiting lists. Customers fearful of shopping in grocery stores or even visiting a local farmers’ market are instead choosing to have produce delivered safely. From an NPR story:

CSAs have long been something of a niche market that have never really penetrated the mainstream. Yet the coronavirus just might prove to be sparking community supported agriculture’s breakout moment.

“In all the time that we’ve worked with CSAs, which is several decades, we’ve never seen a surge as quickly as we have of the last few weeks,” said Evan Wiig with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, which supports and lobbies on behalf of CSAs across California. …

The coronavirus has exposed the vulnerabilities and fragility of the U.S. global agribusiness supply chain. The CSA model’s focus on local and fresh is ideally suited for a crisis that has people deeply worried about germs on lettuce, beets or broccoli as the crops make their way from the field to the kitchen counter.

Even with the CDC guidelines, in the absence of a national plan from the Trump administration, governors are weighing public health against economic recovery. There have been successes in opening outdoor activities such as golf, hiking, boating, and even drive-in movie theaters. After some serious missteps that led to large crowds, most officials now know that reopening beaches means issuing requirements such as no sunbathing or beach volleyball to avoid crowds and maintain social distancing. Indoor events or events with bigger crowds, such as most worship services, professional sports, music concerts, and theater performances, are still on hold for now. Restaurants will function very differently, with waiters in masks, spaced-out booths and tables, and e-menus.

But will customers come back? The industry newsletter Restaurant Business said only 41% would go out to eat within 30 days.

In comparison, 18% of consumers canvassed by The Harris Poll said they’re likely to stay in a hotel within a month of infections decelerating. Fifteen percent said they expect to board a plan within a month of that marker, and 21% indicated their expectation of going to see a movie.

About 13% of consumers expect to resume going out to eat as soon as the risk of decontamination starts to abate. Twenty-eight percent said they’d dine out within the next one to 30 days.

Another 25% said they’d wait two to three months. Six percent said they’d hold off for a year, and 1% indicated they’d never again eat within a restaurant.

Germany and South Korea provided admirable models of COVID-19 containment with widespread testing and contact tracing. Yet when the two countries took steps to reopen, they were hit with higher infection rates. In South Korea, one man who went dancing at five nightclubs in one evening spread the virus to 162 people. Germany saw a tripling of cases in one day. A second wave in the U.S. could be much, much worse.

It’s best to listen to the advice of infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told a Senate panel that reopening too quickly could lead to needless suffering and death. Despite what Trump and Fox News commentators shout to discredit his warnings, Dr. Fauci, a member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force and longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is found to have more credibility than anyone else about the pandemic.

Until the new normal emerges, perhaps we should change our national motto to “In Fauci We Trust.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 15, 2020.

How to mark Earth Day’s 50th anniversary during COVID-19: online

Children used push brooms to sweep up litter in a New York City park during Earth Day 1970. This year, people seeking change through climate action will look for ways to do it online.

In the face of a pandemic, Earth Day 2020 is going digital.

COVID-19 has rightfully seized the world’s attention, and many around the globe are on lockdown. But being stuck at home doesn’t mean we can forget the long-term struggle to save the environment and fight global warming.

Groups marking the 50th anniversary of Earth Day were planning in-person events, but they had to switch gears quickly to comply with the new reality of social distancing. Commemorations of the first Earth Day, held in April 1970, will still take place, but organizers will be using the digital space to keep people engaged, informed, and inspired about the climate change fight. Instead of speeches, tree plantings, and protests, there will be online film festivals, Zoom webinars, and three days of livestreaming.

The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement and has been described as “the planet’s largest civic event.” As explained on the Earth Day 2020 website:

Earth Day was a unified response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers so polluted they literally caught fire.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet. …

The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many countries soon adopted similar laws.

Earth Day continues to hold major international significance: In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day when the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was signed into force.

The inspiration for the original Earth Day came from Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin after he witnessed the effects of a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Long interested in environmental issues as both Wisconsin’s senator and governor, Nelson wanted to harness the energy of campus protests against the Vietnam War and turn it into a national force for environmental action. A website outlining Nelson’s actions to launch Earth Day explained it further.

Nelson struggled through the 1960s to get his colleagues in Congress to take ecological concerns seriously. Nelson spoke out early and often against the Vietnam War and ballooning defense spending, which he saw deflecting funds and focus away from domestic crises. …

Reflecting on the empowering effects of campus activism, Nelson proposed a day when citizens nationwide would host teach-ins to raise awareness of environmental problems. His proposal was met immediately with overwhelming support. The national media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called “Earth Day” and Nelson’s office was flooded by enthusiastic letters.

But while Nelson established a small national office to offer support to the thousands of grassroots efforts, he firmly rejected a top-down organization. Instead, “Earth Day planned itself,” he later reflected. An estimated 20 million Americans, young and old, gathered on April 22, 1970, to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet—and to demand action from themselves and from their elected officials.

It worked. All of those millions of Americans formed huge crowds to listen to speeches from lawmakers, activists, and entertainers. They picked up garbage along roadsides. They swept up litter in city parks. Earth Day 1970 became the first day of what came to be called an “environmental decade,” with passage of major environmental legislation at national levels.

The size of events ranged from small high-school assemblies to the hundred-thousand participants who created a “human jam” on New York’s Fifth Avenue and flocked to the open-air carnival in the city’s Union Square. Tens of thousands congregated in Fairmont Park in Philadelphia. Colleges across the nation held teach-ins, such as Pittsburgh or Ann Arbor, turning Earth Day into a several-day event.

Each Earth Day event nationwide was some combination of festival, political and academic discussions, outlandish theatrics, and coalition building. The common act on April 22 was the speech. Earth Day presented the opportunity to speak at length about local and national environmental problems, and audiences discovered the will and expertise available in their communities to face the challenges ahead.

Earth Day 2020 organizers invite you to find a local digital event out of the hundreds scheduled worldwide–or create your own. Instead of in-person protests, speeches, tree plantings, teach-ins, and nature clean-ups, there will be Zoom webinars, online environmental film festivals, and a three-day live event with training sessions, performances, and appearances by environmental activists and politicians. Searching for #EarthDayAtHome will be a good way to find activities.

Some of the nation’s leading environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, have their own digital events and offer plenty of environmental tips. The Earth Day Network issued daily challenges throughout April to allow people to take climate action from home. NASA has a special Earth Day Toolkit for students learning from home.

We’ve never needed Earth Day more. During his time in office, Donald Trump has tried to reverse the gains in climate action made by his predecessors. Now he is using the COVID-19 pandemic to gut environmental regulations, rolling back auto fuel efficiency standards and other rules. A story on Common Dreams spells it out.

Just last week, the EPA announced it would indefinitely suspend enforcement of environmental health standards in direct response to a request from the American Petroleum Institute. Trump’s EPA is currently racing to complete a half dozen other significant environmental and public health rollbacks over the coming months but has not extended deadlines on public comment. In some cases, the administration has even refused requests to hold virtual public meetings.

The Trump administration can block public meetings, but we can combine our voices by meeting online. Earth Day Live will hold a three-day livestreaming event from April 22-24 featuring celebrities, musicians, politicians, scientists, and youth activists. Among the many well-known participants are author and activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, and the Rev. William Barber, who gained national attention as leader of the Moral Mondays movement. The 72-hour event has three aims over three days: climate strikes, amplifying the voice of indigenous leaders and youth climate activists; divestment from fossil fuel companies; and political engagement, with an online youth voter registration drive. You also can search for a local live-streamed event in your area.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has motivated students across the globe to fight against climate change with her weekly school strikes for climate, had to switch gears. She has organized a series of weekly webinars titled “Talks For Future” each Friday featuring climate experts such as scientists, activists, and journalists to carry on the spirit of the climate strikes online.

The 17-year-old also has changed her weekly strikes each Friday to #ClimateStrikeOnline:

While you’re stuck at home, learn more by watching a film about the environment. The One Earth Film Festival is offering a virtual “mini film fest,” streaming films about climate action for the entire week of Earth Day, April 20-26. You can register for one or more free screenings (donations always appreciated, of course), watch a film in community online, then discuss with experts via live chat on Zoom. Featured films include some made by student filmmakers. Some museums also are streaming environmental films and hosting discussions, such as Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Since so many are staying home to stay safe, automobile traffic has cut down considerably — and so has the amount of air pollution. These effects can be seen worldwide. According to a story in Johns Hopkins Magazine:

Seismologists studying planetary movement have reported less ambient seismic noise—the daily rumbles and vibrations of mass human transit—and Belgian scientists have observed the Earth’s crust moving less. Widely shared satellite imagery shows fewer cars on the road in China as a result of lockdown orders, prompting speculation about a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Satellite measurements of nitrogen dioxide show dramatic decreases of the dangerous gas over China and Italy.

The effect might not last, says Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

We know there are fewer emissions, so the air that we’re breathing outside is going to be cleaner than it would otherwise be. … In the U.S., where social distancing and stay-at-home measures are becoming more common, we’ve certainly seen fewer cars on the road, meaning fewer emissions from cars and lower concentrations of traffic-related pollutants than we’d otherwise see. Looking at PM 2.5 data from the February through April period from 2014 to 2020, we’re seeing really low concentrations of pollutants, but they’re not concentrations we haven’t seen previously. Pollutant concentrations are strongly governed by meteorology — how winds move things around, how sunny it is, and if it’s raining or not raining. …

With fewer cars on the road, there will be fewer emissions of CO2 from traffic, similar to their being fewer emissions of particulate matter. Compared to our normal lives, we’ll have lower CO2 emissions while we’re all working from home and basically not driving very often. And that’s good for the short term. But how that translates into future gains is kind of an open question. A one- or two-month drop in emissions, for something that has a 100-year lifetime in the atmosphere, is probably not going to change things all that much.

Instead, it gives us a window into what we could potentially do to mitigate climate change going forward.

Even with millions of fewer cars on the road worldwide, March 2020 was heading toward new levels of global warming.

We don’t have to choose between taking climate action and fighting COVID-19. There is evidence that increased air pollution might be linked to higher death rates of COVID-19 patients, as explained by The New York Times.

In an analysis of 3,080 counties in the United States, researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that higher levels of the tiny, dangerous particles in air known as PM 2.5 were associated with higher death rates from the disease. …

The paper found that if Manhattan had lowered its average particulate matter level by just a single unit, or one microgram per cubic meter, over the past 20 years, the borough would most likely have seen 248 fewer Covid-19 deaths by this point in the outbreak.

Better air and fewer COVID-19 deaths: That’s a combination that should appeal to everyone. It’s a start as we mark Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in the fight against climate change.

It’s a reminder not only of how far we’ve come but also how far we still have to go.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 18, 2020.

COVID-19 relief law will send you a check. If you’re able, pay it forward — now

The nation’s food pantries are being overrun even as resources run dry.

The extraordinary $2 trillion coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and signed by Donald Trump will offer help to individual Americans, small business, cities and states, hospitals, U.S. industry, and more. The most immediate effect will come in the form of a $1,200 payment going to nearly all Americans (those with incomes up to $75,000, phasing out for incomes of $99,000) and $2,400 for married couples (with incomes up to $150,000).

If you can, take some of that money and donate it to those who need it most. But don’t wait for the check — do it now.

This message isn’t aimed at those who already have lost jobs (such as the 3.28 million Americans in the latest report, a number that is likely higher and will grow in coming weeks). Millions more probably will lose jobs soon in the coming recession, with restaurants, retail stores, and anything related to the hospitality industry either temporarily closing or going out of business. Young workers in the service sector will be those hardest hit.

Nor is it aimed at those who are still employed but who will be forced to take pay cuts. Analysts in some industries such as advertising and marketing are calling for voluntary 40% pay cuts for executives and other white-collar workers. CEOs and other top executives in some industries, such as airlines and hotels, have already cut their salaries or are donating their entire paychecks, even though their total compensation remains generous. Even the heroes in the medical field who are on the front lines of caring for COVID-19 patients, such as doctors and paramedics in Cincinnati, may be facing 20% pay cuts.

All of those folks, especially those who find themselves out of work, will welcome the $1,200 government check. They still need to pay the rent or the mortgage and buy groceries to feed their families, which is a lot harder with no money coming in.

No, this message is for those of you for whom getting that check won’t make that much difference. Those who are working from home and are still on full salary. Retirees getting Social Security and perhaps (if they’re lucky) a pension. They won’t need that $1,200 for immediate needs. But nonprofits serving those hit hardest by the COVID-19 recession do.

Food pantries across the country are being hit with a triple whammy: Fears of COVID-19 contagion means they have fewer volunteers than usual, especially as many of those volunteers are retirees and thus fall into the category of those most vulnerable. Monetary and food donations have dropped off, especially those from corporate America. Grocery stores, which usually donate excess food, don’t have as much to donate, as people across America are clearing grocery shelves.

The food pantry run by our church has developed a “drive-through” method so that volunteers can just hand boxes to people in their cars, limiting the chance of contagion. People arriving by public transportation receive boxes of food on the sidewalk.

The number of those facing hunger issues is growing exponentially, just like the number of cases of those infected with the coronavirus. According to a story from The Washington Post:

“Not in my lifetime has there been a precedent for this,” said Catherine D’Amato, chief executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank, which is servicing two coronavirus hot spots, Boston and Pittsfield, Mass. “We know how to respond to fires, earthquakes, floods. There isn’t a playbook for this.” …

School closures, job disruptions, lack of paid sick leave and the coronavirus’s disproportionate effect on older adults and low-income families have further contributed to the demands placed on food banks.

Those $1,200 checks from the COVID-19 relief package will arrive before too long, especially for those with direct deposit already recorded with the IRS for tax refunds. Others will be mailed checks, likely by sometime in May at the latest. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin estimated that the first payments could start in three weeks.

Food pantries can’t wait until May — too many families are facing food insecurity and shortages now. Those organizations helping the homeless can’t wait that long, either.

If you can’t spare the cash, here’s another idea: Donate blood. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a shortage of blood, and many planned blood drives have been canceled. Check the Red Cross website to find a donation site near you.

Or maybe you’re a home sewer or crafter. With the shortage of N95 masks for hospitals workers and first responders, many are having to make do with the next best thing, even if it’s constructed from fabric instead of the nonwoven material that provides the protection of an N95 mask. Groups all over the country have formed to offer video instructions on how to make such masks and how to donate them. They are pitching in at the sewing machine — A Sewing Army, as The New York Times put it. Facebook groups have formed to offer members tips, such as this site, Masks4Medicine.

So thank you to all the medical workers on the front lines taking care of patients. Thank you to all who are volunteering your time to check in on older neighbors. Thank you to grocery store workers who are keeping us fed. Thank you to restaurants offering take-out and delivery (and make sure you tip those food delivery guys well). Thank you to blood donors and mask makers.

Organizations all over the country have started their own relief funds to raise money for nonprofits. In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker enlisted his sister, former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, to run the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund. The governor and his wife made an initial donation of $2 million of their own money, with an additional $2 million from the family foundation (when you’re a billionaire, you can do that).

If you’re able, find a fund in your area and make a donation. And if you can spare anything at all, please donate to your local food pantry.

A St. Patrick’s Day song parody about coronavirus (WITH POLL)

Who’s ready to dance a jig … at home?

Bald Piano Guy, the New York state public school music teacher who regularly posts ditties against Trump, is offering us an original St. Patrick’s Day special.

Bald Piano Guy, whose real name is Alan Schwartz, has taught music for some 25 years at a middle school on Long Island. His first claim to fame came in his parodies against Betsy DeVos, who knows nothing about public education, so naturally she’s the Education secretary. His parodies are available on his Facebook page and his YouTube channel — and they’re pretty darn funny, especially if you’re a teacher or a musician.

Watch and enjoy, and see if your feet don’t start tapping, if not moving to a jig.

I’m with Irene in quarantine
to battle the spreading of COVID-19.
There’s nothing as fair and quite as serene
than to be with Irene in quarantine!

I’m not positive, but I think the lovely Irene pictured in the song is actually Mrs. Bald Piano Guy, as he referred to her once as they danced in one of the parodies.

On a day when we might be hoisting a few at a local pub, we’re doing it in the privacy of our own homes. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, and don’t forget to wash your hands. And VOTE in November.

Biden displays compassion, competence over Trump on coronavirus

Joe BIden’s speech on COVID-19 accomplished more in 18 minutes that Donald Trump’s previous three months of inaction.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has shown us why he deserves to be the Democratic presidential nominee and why he will beat Donald Trump in November.

While Americans are left confused by inaction, contradictions, and downright lies from the Trump administration — mostly from Trump himself — on how best to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, Biden delivered a clear plan of action on how to take charge of the public health crisis. He knew how to respond and what to say because he had faced this kind of crisis before when he was vice president for eight years.

While Trump never admits that he ever does anything wrong, the world knows differently. A March 11 televised address to the nation contained several inaccuracies that had to be clarified within minutes. Specifically, he was wrong on travel bans (U.S. citizens and permanent residents can return home), acceptance of foreign goods (the U.S. will still accept cargo from other countries), and payment for COVID-19 infection treatment (health insurers say they’ll pay for testing but not treatment).

This is the same guy who claimed that coronavirus was a Democratic hoax, that the virus would go away by April, that the risk remains low, that his administration is doing a great job handling the crisis, and much more. The Washington Post has a timeline of all of Trump’s outrageous and false claims as he tried to play down the health threat.

Congress passed and Trump signed a bill to spend $8.3 billion to fight this pandemic. Yet many communities across America have no access to test kits — zero. Delays in testing have greatly exacerbated the crisis. The first cases in the U.S. were found in January, and officials in Seattle had to do their own tests without U.S. government approval. According to a story in The New York Times:

The failure to tap into the flu study, detailed here for the first time, was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier. Instead, local officials across the country were left to work in the dark as the crisis grew undetected and exponentially.

Even now, after weeks of mounting frustration toward federal agencies over flawed test kits and burdensome rules, states with growing cases such as New York and California are struggling to test widely for the coronavirus. The continued delays have made it impossible for officials to get a true picture of the scale of the growing outbreak, which has now spread to at least 36 states and Washington, D.C.

So instead, let’s listen to Joe Biden. He lists his proposals for COVID-19 on his campaign website, and he invited Trump to use any and all of his ideas, which include:

  • A decisive public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19; the development of a vaccine; and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities.
  • A decisive economic response that starts with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives all necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis. Make no mistake: this will require an immediate set of ambitious and progressive economic measures, and further decisive action to address the larger macro-economic shock from this outbreak. 

The entire speech is here and is definitely worth your while:

Is it any wonder that Democratic voters have realized who they want as a standard-bearer come the fall? Dare we say it: Joe Biden sounded downright presidential.

Be sure to keep washing your hands, don’t touch your face, stay away from large crowds, and stay home if you’re sick. And vote for Democrats in the fall.

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