bad timing

The United States government authorized direct cash payments to adults in order to help people face the challenges of the pandemic economic impacts.

The implementation has been dicey, though.

Most of the payments were based on 2018 or 2019 income tax returns and were made by direct deposit, if banking information was on file with the Internal Revenue Service, or by check.

Unfortunately, the IRS didn’t cross-reference with the Social Security system, which meant that some payments were issued to people who were deceased. That is what happened with my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, who received a payment by direct deposit last month, even though Nana’s date of death was on file at Social Security.

Many others were similarly affected and, at first, it seemed that surviving spouses would be allowed to keep the full payment as had happened in a similar economic stimulus program a number of years ago.

However, a few days ago, the government issued instructions that required people to mail them a check for any payment sent on behalf of someone who had died.

I am not arguing against the principle of payments to only those who are living, but I wish that the program had been implemented with accuracy. It’s been painful dealing with the hassles and uncertainty of the situation.

I couldn’t make myself write the check and required note to the IRS on Mother’s Day, my first without my mom. I did put it in the mail today. Later this week will be Nana’s birthday and the following week the first anniversary of her death. I didn’t need another reminder of her absence from the government in the midst of it.

I feel badly for those whose loss is more recent, who may need the money to help pay funeral bills or to support surviving family. I would hope in those instances that the government would not demand that the money be returned, but I doubt that the current administration will act with compassion and competence.

It’s sad.

“The Time Is Now”

Shortly before the spirituality class that I facilitate went on indefinite hiatus due to the pandemic, we finished our study of The Time Is Now:  A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister, OSB. It was published in March, 2019 in response to the signs of the times.

The book deals with the characteristics of prophets, using examples from biblical times up through the present. While some think of prophets as people who tell us our future, prophets are not fortune-tellers. They are more often those who speak hard truths to draw the community back to its original ideals when it has strayed or who call for growth and positive change in times of selfishness or apathy.

As we studied the book week after week, we often drew parallels between the text and things we were experiencing in the present. These parallels have become even more evident now that the world is dealing with the pandemic.

We see examples of prophetic voice and action, such as Doctor Li Wenliang of China, who in early December alerted colleagues to cases of what appeared to be a new virus, only to be detained by police for several days for “spreading false rumors.” After his release, he went back to work at the hospital. He contracted COVID-19, sent out another medical alert online, and died from his illness in early February. He acted as a prophet in giving warning of danger and was maligned by authorities and ignored, as often happens with prophets. As sometimes happens, he also became a martyr, with his death serving as stark testament to the truth of his message.

Sister Joan calls us to look at what is happening around us and to stand up for truth, whether that means being a prophetic voice ourselves or standing in solidarity with those who are prophets, speaking truths that are considered threatening by the powers that be. We have seen this recently in the United States where some of the governors have been belittled by the president for their science-based and prophetic public statements about the present and likely future effects of COVID-19 in their states. New York State, where I live, is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States and our governor, Andrew Cuomo, gives daily public briefings. He is very straightforward and makes it clear what is evidence-based and what is his opinion. It is very upsetting to have the president disparage him – and even more upsetting that the president contradicts the science and facts because he thinks it makes him look weak or bad personally.

It is time for all of us to have the courage to follow the prophetic voices or, if so called, to be a prophetic voice ourselves.

 

SoCS: a disconcerting disconnect

There is a major disconnect between the president of the United States and public health regarding covid-19, the form of coronavirus that is causing illness and death around the world and which may soon cross the line to become a pandemic.

From its start in China, there are now major outbreaks in Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Iran, with cases in lots of countries in both hemispheres. Some of the countries have tested thousands of people, ramped up medical care, imposed quarantines, even closing schools for weeks as was just announced in Japan in the last few days.

Meanwhile, the United States has only tested a few hundred people. There are under a hundred confirmed cases, but most likely there are more cases that only had mild symptoms or no symptoms. This is dangerous because those people can spread the virus unknowingly.

Ordinary Americans have been watching the news of the spread of covid-19, first in China and then into other countries. Some doctors and public health specialists were speaking in the media about the epidemic – and preparedness and cases in the US. Earlier this week, some federal government officials who work in agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had spoken publicly about the virus in the United States.

The stock market in the United States went down – a lot – this week, the steepest decline since the financial crisis of 2008. This finally got the president’s attention and there was an evening news conference about the virus in the US. Unfortunately, the president made mistakes in his remarks, including saying there were only 15 cases in the US when there were actually 60 confirmed cases. He also put the vice-president in charge of the US efforts against the virus, which is disconcerting because, as governor of Indiana, he botched an early intervention effort against HIV. It’s also disconcerting that all communication from the federal government has to be approved by him first, including public statements by Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the infectious disease department for the country.

Late this week, there was the announcement of the first covid-19 case that couldn’t be traced to someone who had contracted it abroad. This is an important development because it could mean that there would be community spread here in the US, which would also bring the world closer to declaring a pandemic. It’s scary because it brings to mind the flu pandemic of 1918, which infected millions worldwide and had a mortality rate of almost two percent. Early statistics from China show that covid-19 has a mortality rate of a little over two percent, which is beyond the ability of even large modern health systems to combat. There would be shortages of needed equipment like respirators and of appropriate hospital facilities that can isolate the patients so that no one catches the virus in the hospital.

Yesterday evening, I was watching a news station. Several times throughout the evening, the stories they were covering were interrupted by news of several new confirmed cases in different locations that appeared to be the result of community spread, instead of direct transmission from abroad or from being in the household of someone who contracted it abroad. This bring some communities in the US close to needing to impose states of emergency and doing things like prohibiting public gatherings, including school and work and church.

The most chilling thing for me was that, at the same time, the president was speaking to a rally in South Carolina, telling them that covid-19 in the US was a hoax perpetrated by Democrats.

This is disconcerting and irresponsible and shows how disconnected the president is from the reality that the country is facing.

To be clear, I am not a paranoid person regarding disease. I’m not running around in a mask and gloves in fear of covid-19. I am, however, vigilantly watching the public health news and, as recommended, making plans for possible cases and restrictions on travel and being out in public in my region.

While I hope and pray for safety and good health around the world, I want to be prepared to stay as safe as possible if this epidemic does become a pandemic. In the US, I hope that people will make sure that the information they get comes from a reliable source.

Sadly, our president is not a reliable source.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is base the post on a word that contains “ect”. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/02/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-29-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

fears realized

Like me, many people feared the president’s reaction to the impeachment trial vote to leave him in office.

We were not wrong to be apprehensive.

The president has removed numerous people from their posts because they dared to do their duty and tell the truth. I can barely believe that he dismissed the Director of National Intelligence because a member of his staff briefed the House Intelligence committee on Russian interference with the 2020 election. These briefings are required, not optional.

Worse, the president is denying that Russia is interfering in this election and that they interfered in the 2016 election. The 2016 election interference is well-documented and resulted in indictments of over a dozen Russian GRU officers. The conclusion on Russian meddling in 2016 is supported by all the US intelligence agencies, the Democratic-led House Intelligence committee, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence committee, the first volume of the Mueller report, and the Mueller grand jury that handed down the indictments. We ought to have been preparing since 2016 to better secure our campaigning and election security, but the denial by the administration has kept Congress from passing needed legislation.

It’s terrifying.

The new acting Director of National Intelligence has no intelligence experience and is keeping his current job as ambassador to Germany. Meanwhile, the president has assigned his former bodyman to clear out appointees in various departments and agencies who he feels are not sufficiently loyal to him.

Civil servants and elected officials do not swear an oath to obey the president. They swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Of all people, the Attorney General should know this, but he has been undermining the work of his own department.

There are many people of good will and good morals who are trying very hard to ensure that the election is fair and that our government returns to respecting the rule of law and human rights. I hope we succeed, but, until it happens, I will be very afraid.

 

 

What a week!

I started the year by posting for 33 days in a row, thanks largely to Linda’s Just Jot It January.

Then, I fell off the wagon.

Today, though, I am taking advantage of being kept inside by a snowstorm to try to process what has been a surreal week into a post.

On the personal side, my spouse B has been involved in a major workshop week with co-workers from the US and Germany, so he has been working loooong days, sometimes capped off by group dinners that run late into the evening. Between his schedule and working around the weather, things were already feeling unsettled here.

This just added to what has been a very unsettling week here in the United States. T and I had watched giant swaths of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The House managers who served as prosecutors were very methodical in laying out their case. The president’s defense team was much harder to follow and tended to be in conflict with both some of the evidence and some of what other members of the team had presented. Their arguments were often circular.

For example, one of the arguments that the president’s team was making against the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress was that the House should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. Meanwhile, a court case that the House had brought trying to enforce subpoenas in the ongoing investigation of Russian election interference saw the Justice Department lawyers arguing that the courts weren’t the proper remedy, that impeachment was! As Rep. Adam Schiff, who was leading the House managers, said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Because the Senate had voted not to call witnesses or request documents, the first part of the week was about senators being able to speak for ten minutes about their reasoning behind their upcoming trial vote on Wednesday. However, on Tuesday night, President Trump gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union is usually a very formal and solemn opportunity for the president to lay out their agenda for the coming year, including what legislation they would like to see taken up by Congress and passed. It was obvious from the start that this address was not going to follow that norm, when the Congressional Republicans started chanting “four more years” before the president even began speaking.

Much of the president’s message mirrored his campaign speeches. As a reasonably well-informed citizen, I knew immediately that some of the things the president was claiming were not true. He tried to take credit for things that actually happened during the Obama administration. He said he would always protect health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions at the same time the Justice Department is in court trying to have those protections under the Affordable Care Act thrown out.

It was surreal.

The State of the Union often features special guests of the president who sit in the gallery near his family. Their stories are inspiring and heart-warming. President Trump added a twist, though, in that most of the people received a surprise reward.  This seemed to harken back to Donald Trump’s experience as a “reality show” celebrity. A couple of these surprises made me cringe. There was a girl, attending with her mom, who received a scholarship to attend a private school. Education is a wonderful thing and I am happy for this girl, but the president framed it as her leaving “a failing government school.” In the United States, we don’t call them “government schools”; we call them public schools. One of the responsibilities of our government is to provide free public education through primary and secondary school. If a public school is doing poorly, it is up to our government at all levels, working on behalf of the taxpayers, to ensure that the school is brought up to a high standard – for the good of those students and the general public. To see the president totally abrogate responsibility for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of US students, was disheartening.

The shocking part of the evening was the “surprise” awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States and is usually given to individuals who have brought people together in a positive way. By contrast, Rush Limbaugh has been sowing division for decades. He regularly belittles people who don’t follow his particular brand of conservatism. [Fun fact: He once railed against a women’s prayer group of which I was a member. We were a small, local group getting lambasted on nationally syndicated radio. It was ironic, because his actions gave us more power and visibility and led to a 60 Minutes interview.] Limbaugh has recently revealed a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis; it is appropriate to ask for prayers and well wishes on his behalf, but the Medal of Freedom is not an appropriate honor for so divisive a figure.

Speaking of prayer, yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast, which is sort of an unusual occasion in and of itself, but I can’t give its history here as this post is already shaping up to be long. First, though, there needs to be a wrap-up of the impeachment trial.

As expected, Trump was not removed from office. All the Democratic and independent senators voted for removal on both counts. There had been hope that some of the more moderate Republicans would join them, especially on the abuse of power article. Several Republican senators, in opposition to the president’s assertion that his behavior was “perfect”, issued statements saying that what the president did was inappropriate but didn’t warrant removal from office so they were voting for acquittal.

In the end, one Republican, Utah senator and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did vote to remove the president on the abuse of power charge. In his ten-minute floor speech, he spoke about how difficult this decision was. He is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and because he had sworn an oath to God to deliver “fair and impartial justice” and because the House managers had put forward convincing evidence of the president’s abuse of power, he decided that he must follow his conscience and vote to convict. He did not let political expediency deter him from his obligation to follow the dictates of his faith and the Constitution. He has faced immediate backlash from the president and other members of the Trump family, as well as from some of the conservative media. I appreciate Romney’s integrity. It took a lot of courage to vote against a president of one’s own party in an impeachment trial. Indeed, this is the first time that that has happened in the United States.

Which brings me back to the prayer breakfast…

The keynote had been on the subject of love and, in particular, the Christian call to love one’s enemies. When President Trump, who is ostensibly Christian, spoke, he proceeded to attack the faith of those he considers his enemies. After speaking about the impeachment, he said, ” I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.” This was a thinly veiled attack on Sen. Romney for his impeachment vote and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, in answering questions from reporters has revealed that she prays every day for the president. Speaker Pelosi was sitting at the head table, only a few feet away from the president as he spoke. As a fellow Catholic, I admire Nancy Pelosi’s prayer life and don’t doubt for a minute that she sincerely prays for the president and for our country every day. That the president dismisses people of faith, equating his own viewpoint as being right and theirs as being “wrong”, compounds the damage that he has done to our country.

After President Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he apologized again to the country and made a plea for reconciliation and moving forward as a nation. (He was impeached for lying under oath about an affair.) By contrast, when President Trump spoke later in the day after the prayer breakfast, he did not admit any wrongdoing and blamed everything on Democrats and anyone else he considers an opponent.

At this point, without a unifying leader, I don’t know how Americans can fully come together as a nation to meet our challenges. I do want to point out, however, that, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, the House of Representatives has passed over 300 bills, the vast majority of which are bipartisan, that Majority Leader McConnell has refused to take up in the Senate. I am a member of NETWORK lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Every Congressional session, NETWORK scores the votes on ten bills that deal with social justice issues, such as fair pay, access to medical care, and equal justice. For the first time ever, this year they were unable to score the Senate because they hadn’t held votes on the bills that were companions to the House-passed bills. I and millions of other Americans expect and deserve more.

I swear that I did not spend the whole week on nothing but politics. I wrote a new poem in response to a challenge on The Ekphrastic Review. If it gets accepted, you can be sure there will be a link here at Top of JC’s Mind – and a mini-celebration that I managed to get a poem published in 2020.

Now, I think there is a snow shovel that is calling my name…

 

 

finished and unfinished

The opening statements are finished.

The presentations from the House managers (the prosecutors) and the President’s counsel (the defense) are finished.

The two days of questions from the senators and answers from the teams are almost finished.

Tomorrow, there will be votes to consider hearing from witnesses and obtaining documents from the executive branch. The vast majority of US voters want there to be witnesses and documents as part of the trial. Many of us have been called to jury duty and know that fair trials always have witnesses and documentary evidence. Unlike presidential impeachments of the twentieth century, this one was not preceded by a special or independent counsel investigation, so there were not tens of thousands of pages of documents, depositions, and testimony already assembled. In the current impeachment, this was compounded by the blanket assertion of the president that he did not have to turn over any documents or allow any testimony from anyone in his administration. This is totally unprecedented. During the impeachment investigation of Richard Nixon, he directed all of his staff and Cabinet to testify before the Congressional committee and turned over documents. Some of the staff went to prison because of their wrongdoing. When the Oval Office tapes were revealed and Nixon tried to not turn them over as evidence, the Supreme Court quickly ruled that they must be turned over to the Congress. Hiding evidence of a corrupt act is also a corrupt act.

Still it appears that the Republicans want the trial finished this week before the Super Bowl, the Iowa caucuses, and the President’s State of the Union address.

If the Republicans vote to not have witnesses called and vote to acquit, the trial will still feel unfinished. More evidence will come out in the days and weeks ahead and people will rightly ask why the evidence was not presented at the trial. They will also rightly ask if the senators upheld their oath to do “impartial justice.”

When things are left unfinished, there is a sense of unease.

I think uneasiness lies ahead for the US.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Following prompts is not required, but I chose today to use the prompt “finished.” Find out more about Just Jot It January here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/30/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-30th-2020/

the other side

Because I want to be informed, even when it is scary, I listened to the first day of Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial.

It was puzzling.

A lot of what the president’s team spoke about wasn’t related to the case. It seemed that they were bringing up a lot of different issues in order to distract from the evidence that the House managers had presented over the three days of their presentation.

There were also a number of instances in which the defense would quote a certain person’s testimony and say, because that person didn’t know a certain piece of information, then it must not be true, failing to note that another witness or piece of evidence did provide that information. They also complained about there not being proof of such-and-such, which would be either proven or disproven if the administration hadn’t blocked all document requests and subpoenas for testimony.

It’s also confusing when the president’s lawyers try to draw parallels between this impeachment investigation and prior ones that had had a justice department investigation prior to Congressional proceedings. Other things are just strange, such as the defense saying that Congressional committees need a vote in the House before issuing subpoenas and/or document requests. Congressional committees routinely issue document and testimony requests in their oversight investigations.

If I, a citizen with no legal training, can notice these things, how can the senators, many of whom are lawyers or who have staff with legal expertise, fail to notice these problems?

I don’t know if the president’s team will make more sense in the next two days of the trial or not, but their first day is not at all convincing.
*****
There are still a few days to join in with Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/26/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-26th-2020/