post-election

I was relieved when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were projected winners in the US election, becoming president and vice-president elect. Some say that those terms should not be used until the vote is certified in each state or until the electoral college meets in December but it has been common in past election cycles to do so and I’m observing the norm.

While there are still ballots being counted, it is clear that Joe Biden has comfortable margins of victory in enough states to have earned the presidency. Election officials and volunteers of all political persuasions are continuing to work hard to complete the final tallies of the record number of ballots cast. Despite the pandemic, attempts by both foreign and domestic actors to suppress the vote, postal service slowdowns, and unfounded accusations of malfeasance, this election saw the highest percentage of voter turnout in more than a century.

When Biden was reported as the projected winner on Saturday morning, spontaneous celebrations broke out around the country and around the world. Although there were some demonstrations with upset Trump supporters, there was not an outbreak of violence as many had feared. Congratulations poured in from around the nation and the world. On Saturday evening, Harris and Biden gave moving victory speeches, recognizing the historic achievement of the first woman and first person of color to become vice-president and calling for national unity to combat the pandemic and rebuild our economy and society. There has been particularly moving coverage of the impact of Kamala Harris’s election among girls, particularly those of African or Asian descent, who are excited to see someone who looks like them about to become vice-president.

Unfortunately, President Trump refuses to accept the reality that he has lost the election. Even more unfortunately, many of his supporters believe his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Perhaps most distressingly of all, many other Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are refusing to acknowledge that Biden has won the election.

This has delayed the official mechanisms that facilitate a smooth transition between administrations. While the Biden/Harris team is moving forward with their governing plans for after the inauguration on January 20th, most notably the convening of a coronavirus task force comprised of physicians and pubic health experts, they do not have access to all the current government personnel and assets that they need because the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration refuses to ascertain that Biden has won the election. With so many pressing issues, it is vital that these resources are available to the Biden-Harris transition team as soon as possible.

On Saturday morning, I wrote a simple message of congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Facebook. I did get one angry face as a reaction among the thumbs up and hearts, which I understand. There was also a negative comment that I wound up deleting because I don’t allow unchallenged falsehoods, conspiracy theories, or profanity on my social media. I remain committed to thoughtful dialogue and hope to be able to engage in some as the opportunity arises in the coming months.

I started writing this post early this morning and it is now late afternoon, so I will close, but, someday, I’ll write a post about my background that might prove elucidating about how my mind works.

Stay tuned.

over 90%

Today, Pfizer/BioNTech announced analysis that showed over 90% effectiveness of their coronavirus vaccine, currently in Phase III clinical trials. There are over 43,000 people around the world enrolled in this study, including spouse B, daughter T, and me. My most recent post on the trial is here.

That is an extraordinarily high percentage for a vaccine; for comparison, most years, the seasonal flu vaccine is about 50% effective. Lest you think that Pfizer or BioNTech are exaggerating the data, neither company did the analysis. That was accomplished by an independent science review board.

While this is welcome news, there are some cautions involved. The number of cases of COVID among the large study group is still small; as time goes on, it’s possible that the efficacy rate might drop. Because the virus and the vaccine are so new, there is no way to know how long immunity might last. This is part of the reason that the study is set to last for two years, so more data can be collected about the long-term efficacy, longevity, and safety of the vaccine.

Besides the speed with which this vaccine was developed, the remarkable thing is that this is among the first messenger RNA vaccines to be tested in a large trial. If it is shown to be safe and effective, there are hopes that the Moderna vaccine, also currently in Phase III trials and an mRNA vaccine, may be effective as well. Additionally, there are vaccines that were developed in more traditional ways in Phase III trials. The more vaccines that are shown to be safe and effective, the more people can be vaccinated in a shorter timeframe, so that we can bring the global pandemic to an end, perhaps as early as late 2021 or early 2022.

It’s possible that Pfizer will be able to apply for emergency use authorization in the United States later in November, after there is two months of safety data from half the study participants after their second dose. This, along with manufacturing safety data and the efficacy numbers, will be considered by the Food and Drug Administration to determine if the vaccine can begin to be distributed, with full approval coming after more data is collected.

It’s worth noting that Pfizer/BioNTech have a contract to provide 100 million doses to the United States government if the vaccine is approved. Unlike some other companies, though, Pfizer and BioNTech did not take money from the US for their research and trial expenses. The contract is for $1.95 billion but the US government will distribute it free of charge.

My hope is that this and several other vaccines will be approved over the next few months so that as many people as possible can be protected as quickly as possible, starting with frontline health workers, first responders, and those most vulnerable due to age, underlying conditions, living facilities, and occupation.

We got the sad news today that there are several people in the skilled nursing unit of Paco’s senior community who have tested positive for the virus. Access to the unit had already been restricted, so there is hope that it will not spread any further, but we are all worried about those impacted.

The sooner we have vaccines – and better treatments – the better.

Calling on Republican Senators

As I write this, the US presidential race has not yet been called, although it is likely to be called later this weekend for Joe Biden. This would mean that Kamala Harris, as vice president, would preside over the Senate, with the power to break tied votes.

We also don’t know what the final make-up of the Senate will be and we won’t know until January as the state of Georgia, in a highly unusual circumstance, will have run-off elections for both of their Senate seats in January.

Regardless of the final composition of the Senate in 2021, I am making a plea to those Republican senators who actually want to help craft legislation and govern the country rather than engage in obstruction under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell.

I think that those senators should form their own caucus. Their first act would be to vote for Sen. Chuck Schumer as majority leader, so that House-passed legislation would actually be considered in the Senate rather than gathering dust on McConnell’s desk as it has been.

They would then meet with the Democratic caucus on a regular basis to offer their ideas for advancing bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems, which could then be enacted and signed into law. I’m sure that the Democrats would gladly agree to this solution to the Senate gridlock that has prevailed for years.

In my mind, some senators who might consider such an initiative are Sen. Romney of Utah, Sen. Collins of Maine, Sen. Murkowski of Alaska, and Sen. Toomey of Pennsylvania. Perhaps Sen. Sasse of Nebraska. They would not necessarily have to leave the Republican party to become independents, although some with strong support in their home states might be able to do that, thus obviating the threat of a primary challenger.

A lot would depend on what becomes of the Republican party without Trump as president. Will it attempt to revert to being a traditional conservative party or continue in the rather haphazard counter-factual populism it has exhibited in recent years? Would even the willingness to engage in bipartisanship be enough for the Republican leadership to kick out any senators who dared to attempt it?

In the House, the Democrats will still hold a small majority, but there might be some Republicans willing to form a similar caucus to help craft and advance bipartisan legislation.

Joe Biden has a long history of bipartisan cooperation as a senator and as vice president and has been speaking for months about restoring unity to our deeply fractured country.

Republican members of Congress, how do you respond to this call? You swear an oath to the Constitution which proclaims that our government is to “form a more perfect union” and to “promote the general welfare”.

Are you willing to act for the good of all people or only that segment that voted for you?

Update: A few minutes after I posted this, Joe Biden was projected the winner and is now President-elect. This will mean Vice-President Kamala Harris will preside over the Senate and have the power to break tie votes.

SoCS: journalists

Journalists in the United States have been working overtime to keep us all apprised of the latest facts in the election. I’m very grateful for their hard work and their expertise.

So, this post will be short so I can get back to watching. Another group of votes from Pennsylvania is due to be announced any minute.

Confession: I’m watching as I write.

Yay, journalists!

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is a word containing jour. Join us! Learn how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/11/06/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-7-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

Election Day

B and I baked an election day pie early this morning with an important message: VOTE! We did early voting last week and will be watching television coverage as the returns begin to come in this evening, by which time our tummies will be full of our fruits-of-the-forest pie. Today’s rendition is made with apples, raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb.

early vote

This is the first presidential election year that New York State has had extensive in-person early voting. Because B, T, and I were planning to be out of the country on election day, we decided we would avail ourselves of that opportunity rather than voting absentee by mail, an option that was expanded this year to include fear of illness to protect people from exposure to coronavirus.

Across the country, there were long lines for early voting but no one knew how New York voters would respond. There was also no historic basis from which to plan. The first day of early voting was Saturday, October 24. We reasoned rightly the first weekend would be busy, so we planned to vote on Monday afternoon.

It was still very busy. It took us two and a half hours to vote, most of which was spent standing in a social distanced and masked outdoor line. Just as we were near the door into the library polling place, the line stalled. It turned out that one of the two ballot printing machines had stopped working, so the final check-in took longer, but all the election workers, volunteers, and people in line were very patient and respectful.

Because the lines were long, the county board of elections added more early voting hours so that wait times would be shorter.

I was glad to see so many here and across the country making themselves heard through their votes. The US has historically had low voter turnout and I’m hoping that the energy around voting this year will mark a new era of greater civic participation.

Our votes and voices are important. We all need to vote and make sure that our votes are counted. We also need to be patient while the counts are completed and certified.

It’s been a looooooong election season but it’s almost over. Stay strong, everyone!

SoCS: unwelcome news

It’s Halloween, which is traditionally a day for “trick or treat.” This has usually been mostly treats with very few tricks, but my family is suffering from a trick this year.

My spouse B, daughter T, and I have been planning for weeks to spend the month of November in London, UK, visiting daughter E, son-in-law L, granddaughter ABC and meeting new granddaughter JG in person for the first time. We were going to need to quarantine our first two weeks there, followed by two weeks for visiting, and returning to two weeks of quarantine back here in New York State. We had re-arranged appointments, stocked freezers and refrigerators for our housesitter and for my father, made a bunch of care arrangements for him, etc. etc. etc.

And now, everything is cancelled.

The UK, which, like much of Europe, is suffering a COVID spike, is instituting a raft of new restrictions which make travelling for leisure there impossible.

We are sad not to be able to see our family. We had planned to have JG’s baptism while we were there. Not only is our trip cancelled but the baptism will also need to be postponed.

When we planned the trip months ago, the spike wasn’t expected until winter, so we had hoped to sneak in before things got bad. The reality was that summer holidays started more cases and, when people went back to school and work, the case numbers went up quickly.

Of course, here in the US, the country has never had the pandemic tamped down across the country. We are lucky to be in New York State which has been able to keep its rate pretty low compared to most of the rest of the country, but the country as a whole is suffering record numbers of illness and death.

The prospect of winter making things even worse is horrifying.

I wish I could say that we would know when in 2021 we could safely travel to London, but it is unknowable. I guess I’ll just say sometime in 2021, we’ll get there.

Will JG be crawling by then?

Or walking?

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “trick.” Join us! Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/30/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-31-2020/

One-Liner Wednesday: Vote!

A timely reminder that I saw on a bench when I was heading into the grocery store.

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/21/one-liner-wednesday-pro-tip-for-the-grocery-store/

My US Supreme Court plan

In a comment to this post on my refraining from watching the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, I promised my thoughts on the future of the United States Supreme Court, so here is my attempt to weigh in on a very fraught civics topic. Please note: This is my personal opinion as a citizen. I am not a lawyer or someone with a degree in public policy. This is my brainstorming on the basis of common sense, fairness, and trying to codify what had previously been expected to accord with good governance and ethics.

In the design of the Constitution, the judicial branch is co-equal with the legislative branch (Congress) and the executive branch (president and executive agencies). Its function is to interpret the Constitution and laws. In recent years, the courts have been politicized. The impartiality of their judgements is called into question by the machinations of the politics around their appointment by the president and confirmations by the Senate.

The process as written in the Constitution is that the president nominates individuals for open seats on the various federal courts with the Senate’s advice and consent. Since Mitch McConnell has been Republican majority leader of the Senate, he has failed in his Constitutional duty to give Senate hearings and votes to nominees made by Democratic president Barack Obama, most (in)famously in the case of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland but of dozens of nominees to lower federal courts, as well. During the Trump presidency, McConnell has busily filled those seats with Trump’s very conservative nominees, even when those people have been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.

This is an unfair practice but not technically illegal because there are not specific statutes on how the Senate gives advice and consent. My plan begins with codifying what had previously been expected, timely consideration of a president’s court nominees. I propose that all nominees to the federal bench have their Senate hearings begun within sixty days of their nomination and a confirmation vote by the full Senate for those who are advanced by the Judiciary Committee taken within ninety days. The exception would be for a vacancy to the Supreme Court in a presidential election year. A vacancy that occurs on July first or later would be held open for the winner of the presidential election that November.

My sense of fairness also calls for some remedy to the McConnell machinations that have skewed the federal courts to having more Republican appointees than there should have been. If Biden is elected, I think he should be able to make two immediate nominations to the Supreme Court, one for the seat that should have been considered for Merrick Garland because Antonin Scalia’s death was prior to July first in 2016 and one for the seat that will presumably be filled by Trump after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. This basically applies the principle that would be codified in the new law. I envision these two seats as temporary. Going forward, Supreme Court openings would be filled by Democratic (or independent) presidents as usual; Republican (or another conservative party that might arise out of the current maelstrom) presidents would forfeit the next two openings that occur during their presidencies, gradually reducing the Supreme Court back to nine justices.

A similar remedy might be able to be applied to the other federal courts, looking at seats that McConnell blocked from being filled by President Obama as a basis.

This is not a perfect solution, as it will not restore the balance and integrity that the courts would have had without these abuses of power, but it would at least give a legal structure to prevent a repeat in the future and some measure of accountability to the parties that acted unfairly.

Another court reform that is being discussed is to put a term length on what are now lifetime appointments. I have mixed feelings about this. I like the concept of lifetime appointments because it removes any thoughts of a justice deciding in a certain way in order to influence their re-appointment for an additional term. On the other hand, it bothers me that there are justices who were rated as “not qualified” or who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment or lying under oath who will serve for a lifetime on the federal bench. If a term of service is imposed, it should be long, on the order of eighteen or twenty years. I would leave the option available for the president to re-nominate a justice for Senate confirmation. As much as I might like to apply a time limit retroactively, I don’t think this is a good idea. For better in some cases and worse in others, those approved as lifetime appointments should be able to remain in those positions.

For the record, there has been much talk about the Democrats, if they control Congress and the presidency, “packing the Court” meaning adding seats permanently to the Supreme Court. This term is meant pejoratively. I think the Democrats will definitely pursue court reform which is needed to prevent what Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has termed “court-stacking” – the Republican gamesmanship that has resulted in the current skewing of the courts toward justices nominated by Republican presidents.

The idea of temporarily adding seats and exacting a penalty against future Republican/conservative presidents is something that I dreamed up on my own, not something that I have seen proposed elsewhere, proving once again that you can never tell what might be top of JC’s Mind.

By the way, in tangentially related Senate procedure, I propose that the filibuster return to its traditional role as a tool to convince other senators to support one’s position. If a senator wishes to filibuster a nomination or piece of legislation, they may take the floor to talk about the issue as long as they wish. When they finish, debate ends and the measure is brought to the floor for a vote. In a body that already gives outsized influence to states with small populations, forty-one of one hundred senators should not have the ability to permanently block what the majority of senators wants to enact.

JC’s Confessions #16

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I should be watching the Senate Judiciary committee’s hearings on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court right now.

I can’t bring myself to do it.

There are a lot of reasons.

First, it renews my sorrow at the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Second, it is difficult to cope with the nomination going forward under the current circumstances. There is the proximity to the election with voters already casting their ballots and the hypocrisy of the Republicans in moving forward with the confirmation process when they would not allow a hearing for President Obama’s nominee in 2016 many months before the election. There is also the fact that the Senate is not in session due to several senators being COVID positive; if it isn’t safe to be in session, in-person hearings should not be held, either.

Third, I’m leery of how the subject of religion will be handled. Like me, Judge Barrett is Roman Catholic, as are five current members of the Supreme Court with a sixth having been raised Catholic. In a country that is predominantly Protestant, it seems odd to have so many Catholics on the Court. I realize that justices make determinations on the basis of the law, but there are times that some of the arguments made in cases cross into religious belief and the Catholic hierarchy sometimes makes arguments that are factually incorrect. For example, some recent cases have upheld employers’ refusal to offer birth control in the medical insurance of women employees on the grounds that birth control is abortifacient, which, while taught by the Catholic bishops, is not medically true. Likewise, you see arguments that same-sex marriage is an assault on religious freedom even though it is a civil law; while some religions choose to offer ceremonies for same-sex couples, no religion is compelled to do so.

Fourth, I remain suspicious of the originalist/textualist bent that Judge Barrett exhibits. That judicial philosophy fails to account for how the meaning of words changes over time. In my view, one of the strengths of our Constitution and laws is that it can be interpreted in the light of new circumstances. Let’s face facts: many of the men who wrote the Constitution were slaveholders who never envisaged that one day Blacks, women, and people who don’t own property would be voters. Many modern issues could not have been imagined by people in the 18th century.

However, some issues that were clearly spelled out in the legal writings of the 18th century are ignored by originalists when it suits them. For example, the second amendment very clearly places the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” but originalists often ignore that part of the text and original intent. It’s also very clear that the Founders understood that corporations are not people; a future Supreme Court may someday strike down the Citizens United ruling on that basis.

I don’t know what will happen with this nomination or with the Court in the coming years, but, right now, I can’t bear to watch.

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