Bannon, Trump and The Fourth Turning.

Donald Trump had his own Svengali. His name is Steve Bannon.

As it turns out, Donald Trump was, and probably still is, the key to Steve Bannon’s Fourth Turning apocalyptic vision of America. Steve Bannon, a strident determinist, is besotted with the ruminations of the late William Strauss and futurist Neil Howe as detailed in their 1997 bestseller, The Fourth Turning. The book postulates that history is divided into cycles of 80 to 100 years, each of which comprises a saeculum. Each seaculum consists of four turnings, the last of which is characterized by upheaval and chaos. We are, according to the book, well into the fourth turning of the current saeculum.

As such, Bannon believes the future is pre-ordained and that we’re all spectators, indeed, victims of a chaotic future. Bannon believes that an apocalyptic future is bearing down on us, and we can do nothing except, perhaps, help bring it about and shape its aftermath consistent with his view of what America should be. In that sense, Bannon looms as a menacing persona eager to play a major part in a surreal drama in which a new America emerges from the ashes of an old, and in his view, decrepit and misguided order.

He does not see the ebb and flow of momentous events and the continued and sometimes torturous evolution toward a more enlightened, inclusive, and prosperous society in America. He sees, instead, a downward slide toward disintegration. So, believing that chaos and disorder in America are inevitable, Bannon saw in Trump an opportunity to incite and guide the inevitable disorder to an outcome consistent with his notion of a better, more authoritarian, America. Something on the order of Hungry or Poland, or, perhaps, Turkey would, I suspect, do just fine.

True, Trump angrily fired Bannon early on as his Chief Strategic Advisor because the former Breitbart News chief was such a divisive presence in the west wing, a media lightning rod, and, viewed by many, as a sort of Svengali puppet-master, with Trump playing the puppet.  

However, the former President had and has, knowingly or unknowingly, embraced Bannon’s vision of, and enthusiasm for, chaos and the politics of destruction. That’s what his election-hoax strategy is all about. He began telegraphing the election hoax strategy before the first vote was cast. In fact, he telegraphed an election hoax strategy before the Trump-Clinton election in 2016, which he assumed he was going to lose.

Trump lambasted Bannon when he dismissed him but has since described Bannon as “one of my best pupils.” Bannon, however, was, and probably still is, far more the teacher than the pupil, although the pupil would never admit or even understand that.   

Bannon and Trump (actually, Trump because of Bannon) both believed that January 6th would (or could) be the pre-ordained penultimate event that would usher in the crisis and chaos that The Fourth Turning predicts is inevitable and which would presage a new authoritarian paradigm for America. While Trump has referred to the book as “too dark,” he has pursued the chaos predicted by The Fourth Turning with enthusiastic zeal. Just listen to the gleeful rantings of both Trump and Bannon before the deadly January 6th insurrection.

Trump: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election… “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there. It will be wild!”

Bannon: “All hell will break loose tomorrow. It will be quite extraordinarily different. I’ll tell you this it’s not going to be like you think it’s going to happen. OK, it’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. And all I can say is strap in. Tomorrow is game day. So many people said, ‘Man if I were in a revolution, I would be in Washington.’ Well, this is your time in history.”

It certainly seems Bannon was envisioning something more than a hail, hail, the gangs all here peaceful protest. Steve Bannon has fully embraced the apocalyptic predictions laid out in The Fourth Turning and has worked zealously as a catalyst to accelerate the implosion of social and civic order in America, as predicted by Howe and Strauss. That Bannon saw January 6th as the linchpin for America’s fourth turning into darkness seems inescapable, and his “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow” broadcast on the eve of the insurrection certainly suggests there was nothing spontaneous about the deadly attack at the Capitol.

This is how Strauss and Howe described the great American collapse: “A sudden spark will catalyze a crisis mood… remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire.” Sometime before 2025 (Strauss and Howe wrote, a quarter-century ago), “America will pass through a great gate in history” and “the very survival of the nation will feel at stake.”  And so, an election hoax strategy was conjured, and a Stop-the- Steal-Rally was meticulously planned and unleashed. Indeed, the nation’s very survival as a constitutional democracy was at stake at the January 6th insurrection that was kicked off at the Bannon-Trump Stop-the-Steal Rally.

This reasoning has become holy grail to Bannon. For the new order to take root, the old order has to come crashing down, and it seems clear that he believed January 6th could be the catalyzing event that ended American constitutional democracy. As Linette Lopez wrote in The Insider, “Bannon demonstrated…that he’s willing to advise Trump to enact policies disruptive to the current order to bring about what he perceives as a necessary new one.” In this sense, he was trying to bring about the Fourth Turning.

Because I am not a determinist, I am not overly impressed with The Fourth Turning. While judgments can be made and should be made based on historic trends and cycles, the certainty with which Strauss and Howe forecast apocalyptic collapse in America is extreme and, to the extent it energizes people like Bannon to influence people like Trump to bring about such a calamity it is both creepy and dangerous.

I question whether Donald Trump would knowingly or deliberately participate in an effort to cause mayhem as envisioned in The Fourth Turning, or the widespread collapse of civil order in America, but I certainly do believe he was willing to aggressively promote the negation of an election that didn’t go his way. Bannon saw the overthrow of the election as part of a much more significant historical event. He saw it as an essential requisite to the total collapse of America as we know it and the establishment of a new American order as he envisions it.

The Trump-Bannon phenomenon is alive and well, but January 6th did not turn out as they planned. Their efforts to corrupt the 2021 election failed, but they won’t stop trying. And you can bet the battle plan for 2024 is in place.  Either Trump or his hand-selected candidate wins, or we’ll be traumatized with yet another attempt to overthrow an election.

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PROFILES IN POLTROONERY

Or, simply stated, the opposite of Profiles in Courage.

Poltroonery is an old word, befitting some old men or younger men with an ossified sense of ethics and a diminished sense of honor. Chuck Grassley, Kevin McCarthy, and Steve Scalise come to mind. They qualify as profiles in Poltroonery, or, let’s just say it, self-centered, self-interested political hackery, who will do what they have to do, and say what they have to say to get re-elected. Conversely, Liz Cheney and a pitifully small group of Republicans will undoubtedly be remembered by history as genuine Profiles in Courage.

There are only two reasons for a public figure to dance around the affront that January 6th was, and is, to American constitutional democracy; malignant partisanship or rank political cowardice.

lt is of no particular surprise that McCarthy and Scalise have turned out to be Toadies for Trump. They are relatively young, exceedingly ambitious, and will do whatever they have to do to pander to the former President. He holds sway over their once honorable party for the time being, and rather than honorably fight that sad reality, they pander to it.

Senator Grassley is another matter. Political ambition can’t be his motivation to pander. He’s an old man who will be pushing 100 by the time his next Senate stint ends, assuming Iowa voters return him to the Senate next year. There’s no mystery why Grassley joined former President Trump at his Iowa rally earlier this week. He told us why. “If I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91% of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”

This, from the same man who only months ago said of former President Trump, “he continued to argue that the election had been stolen even though the courts didn’t back up his claims,” and “belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way…. encouraged his own, loyal vice president, Mike Pence, to take extraordinary and unconstitutional actions during the Electoral College count. There’s no doubt in my mind that President Trump’s language was extreme, aggressive, and irresponsible,” Trump, he said, “must take responsibility for their destructive actions that day.” Well, that was smart. What he had to say at the Iowa rally, however, wasn’t smart. It was simply craven.

What is really tragic about Senator Grassley’s genuflect to Trump is that it wasn’t essential to his re-election. Grassley enjoys exceptionally high approval ratings in Iowa. He was the ideal Republican to stand up to Trump, the man he called irresponsible and the man he said had demanded that his Vice President take extraordinary and unconstitutional actions on January 6th.

Then again, so many members of my old party have turned out to be craven toadies, or as Merriam-Webster would put it, “lacking the least bit of courage, or contemptibly fainthearted.”

Grassley and the others have, with eyes wide open, chosen to make a Faustian bargain with the former President. In effect, we won’t publicly admit that you lost the election or encouraged the deadly insurrection on January 6th, which was a blatant attack on American constitutional democracy. In return, you will praise us, and you won’t endorse or support whoever might run against us in the next election cycle. Such Faustian bargains never work out well in the long run, but as the late economist John Maynard Keynes once famously said, “In the long run, we’ll all be dead.”

Most Republicans cringe at Trump’s anti-democratic nonsense and demagoguery and his outrageous penchant for lying with such complete abandon. They rationalize that putting up with such behavior is an acceptable price to pay to stay in power. Elsewhere today, and in the past, others have made the same mistake. Never poke the bear, they rationalize, and we’ll stay in power. Other American politicians knew better. As John Kennedy reminded my generation sixty years ago, “Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

But sadly, we’ve seen this craven pandering before. It has become the Republican game plan, and it may well yield a short-term tactical advantage. However, it is likely to result in long-term strategic disaster for them and, quite possibly, for the rest of the country as well.

Seventy years ago, Polish-American poet Czeslaw Milosz described in his international bestseller, The Captive Mind, how the political toadies of the day behaved in the presence of the authoritarian strongmen on whose good graces they had hitched their wagons. “Some were recalcitrant; some tried not to show how much his favor meant to them; some were openly servile. In a short time, he was surrounded by a court of yes-men who frowned when he frowned or guffawed loudly whenever he deigned to tell a joke.”

Sound familiar?

General Mark Milley’s Contretemps

 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, in consultation and coordination with other top Defense Department officials, took steps to guard against a possible Wag-the-Dog attack on China by a defeated, irrational, and erratic American President. General Milley’s decision has generated a lot of heat, especially among Trump followers, but among others as well. While the precedent for stopping an illegal order is well established, interfering with a hypothetical illegal order that hasn’t been issued is, well, a sail into somewhat uncharted waters.

However, in light of the failed Trump-encouraged insurrection at the Capitol, as well as Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat, and intelligence reports that the Chinese were growing concerned about the stability of American governance, erring on the side of Milley’s actions is a reasonable call. After all, some military attack orders can’t be called back once missiles are hurtling toward a target.

Concern about a rogue order by a rogue president to launch nuclear missiles hasn’t been contemplated in our country in the last forty-five years. Former President Trump declared before the election that he could only lose if the election about to take place was rigged. Military intelligence knew the Chinese were growing very nervous about the Trump-caused chaos leading up to the election and following the election.

General Milley in consultation and coordination with other top Defense and State Department officials made two calls to his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng. The first call, On October 30th, was at Secretary of Defense Esper’s direction. Eight people sat in on that call with General Milley. On December 31st, the Chinese requested another call with General Milley. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific helped coordinate that call, which was then scheduled for January 8th.

Eleven Defense Department staff were on that call and readouts of the call were provided to the participants. Then General Milley personally informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Meadows about the call. Acting Secretary Miller was also briefed on the call.

General Milley, assured Gen. Li Zuocheng, that the United States was not planning to launch an unprovoked attack against China. It is good that these men know and trust one another. And it is reasonable that General Milley called upon that trust to calm Chinese jitters. Far-right suggestions that General Milley was, in effect, acting alone and plotting with the enemy are ridiculous.

General Milley’s concern as well as that of other Defense Department officials was not without justification. Never before in our history had a President, without a shred of justification, gone to war against the result of an election by refusing to concede, by calling, without a shred of credible evidence, an American election a hoax, and by inciting a deadly insurrection at the Capitol to stop the constitutionally mandated tabulation of electoral ballots that had been duly certified by every state in the nation.

While certainly controversial, General Milley’s instructions to the brass at the pentagon are also certainly defensible. An order to nuke another nation, once implemented, can not be called back or undone. General Milley’s instructions were simply to ensure that such an unprovoked order was not issued by the defeated and highly agitated President for his own political purposes.

When the January 6th mob stormed the Capitol of the United States with the encouragement of former President Trump and with the intent of interfering with the peaceful transfer of power, General Milley took steps to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. He did the right thing because his oath of office is to do just that—to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. General Milley’s cause was just, and the steps he, in coordination with other key Defense Department personnel, took were measured and appropriate, given the irrational and unprecedented behavior of a defeated president in the waning days of his administration.

From General Milley’s vantage point, and that of other Defense Department officials, there was genuine concern that former President Trump, who refused to acknowledge his defeat, was capable of doing something catastrophic and something that could not be called back once initiated. After all, he was openly calling for his Vice President, Mike Pence, to refuse to do his constitutionally mandated duty to announce the electoral votes that had been unanimously certified by every state in the country. The former President was cajoling a crowd to fight like hell to stop the constitutional counting of electoral votes and inciting his followers that the country was being stolen from them. And before the day was over, the Capitol of the United States was stormed and sacked by a mob of rioters, many carrying Trump banners, who believed the defeated President sent them. Indeed, the defeated President gave them ample reason to feel they were doing his bidding.

Other military officers have, on occasion, and with justification, also given orders for which there was little or no precedent. When their judgment was justified, they were not punished by their superiors nor condemned by publicity-hungry politicians. When their cause was just, they were, instead, honored and decorated. Readers, at least as old as me, might remember Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson. He was an American warrior who disobeyed orders. He even threatened to open fire on American troops if they carried out orders at My Lai, Viet Nam, 54 years ago. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his actions. Okay, former President Trump hadn’t ordered an unprovoked attack on China or any other nation, but there was real concern that he might.

His outrageous and unprecedented behavior in encouraging participants at his Stop the Steal Rally to fight like hell to stop the constitutional process underway at the Capitol and his promised “wild day” in Washington was a clear and present danger to our constitutional democracy. Our intelligence people were reporting that the Chinese had become very concerned that Trump would do whatever he had to do to stay in power. Milley took steps to assure the Chinese that no hostile action was being contemplated, nor would such an unprovoked sneak attack be undertaken.

This is not the first time orders were given out of concern that an enraged president would initiate a wag-the-dog war to serve his personal interests. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger did precisely that in 1974 when President Nixon was also acting irrationally. Schlesinger instructed the military not to follow any presidential nuclear order without first checking with him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Unprecedented and bizarre circumstances sometimes might require unprecedented judgments.  

Our system works when men of honor hold our highest offices. When self-interest and self-aggrandizement, rather than honor, are the driving and motivating forces that bring men or women to leadership in America, the entire American experiment is at risk.

James Madison, at the Virginia Ratifying Convention on June 20, 1788, gave wise counsel. It was true then, and it is just as true today. Listen to him: “But I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation…”

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the essay’s subject or are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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FAKE NEWS: IT’S MIND-BOGGLING.

Of course, it is. It is intended to be. And it is working. It is boggling minds

First, let’s try to agree on a few basics. News coverage of people or movements with which one vehemently disagrees is not, by definition, fake news. Legitimate news outlets often have strong editorial points of view, some strongly conservative and some strongly liberal or progressive. That’s just healthy journalism, and while one might disagree with a given news outlet’s point of view, opinionated editorial content does not constitute fake news.

Conversely, news that is simply fabricated to persuade people to believe what the fabricator wants them to believe is fake news. The real danger lurks in this age of world-wide-web connected social media when spurious and deceptive information can be packaged to look authentic and be instantly and widely distributed. Fake news is pernicious, deceitful, and a danger to our democracy. Democracy depends on ready access to factual information. It atrophies when smothered in deliberately and widely distributed false information masquerading as news.

As the old and often misattributed saying goes, a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on. Actually, it’s much worse than that. Today, information (including misinformation) can travel all the way around the world about as fast as the speeding bullet used to analogize the speed of an old Action Comics superhero.

With a nation besotted by the power of social media, we have a perfect storm on our hands. Machine-learning algorithms that enable unscrupulous political tacticians to refine messaging to appeal to fear, uncertainty, and even anger, along with irresponsibly ambitious politicians and an obscene flow of cash, all conspire to manipulate public opinion and our elections.

Today, most Americans consume their news online. Research shows that over two-thirds of adults use news websites, and about 65% rely on search engines such as Google. Slightly more than half draw their news from social media and about 25% from various podcasts. We rely on various electronic devices for our news. That’s fine as long as everyone knows who is feeding their devices and what their motives are. But few people do.

NewsGuard, one of several sources I use to check and corroborate information I receive online, shows that people are increasingly, and unsuspectingly, turning to sources that peddle unreliable content. Misinformation masquerading as news or real insight is polluting the flow of information in the United States.

BuzzFeed found in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election that the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from established major news outlets. While Facebook began identifying phony and malicious news distributors before the 2020 election, it was too little, too late.

The US-based online activist network Avaaz found that if Facebook had tweaked its algorithm and moderation policies in March of 2020, instead of waiting until October, it would have prevented an estimated 10.1 billion additional page-views on the 100 most-read pages it has now classified as repeat spreaders of misinformation. Think of that. And think of this—Facebook reported last March that it took down 1.3 billion fake accounts between October and December 2020 and that it had over 35,000 people working on tackling misinformation on its platform.

Here are some examples of fake news presented as legitimate news on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election:

         “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President,” attracted 960,000 engagements, meaning “likes,” “comments,” or “shares.”

         “Wikileaks Confirms Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS…Then Drops Another Bombshell! Breaking News” 789,000 engagements on Facebook. 

         “It’s over: Hilary’s ISIS email just Leaked, and It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined.” 754,000 engagements.

         “Just read the Law: Hillary Is Disqualified from Holding any Federal Office” 701,000 engagements.

         “FBI Agent suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apartment Murder-Suicide” 567,000 engagements.

These five false stories are a small indication of the massive traffic in misinformation speeding along the social media highway. They generated nearly four million engagements on Facebook, not counting the enormous number of Facebook users to whom these stories were shared.

During those critical months of the 2016 presidential campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. As the election drew closer, engagement for fake content on Facebook skyrocketed and surpassed that of the content from major legitimate news outlets.

Partisans on the left are as active as partisans on the right in generating fake news. This from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC): “It [fake news] affects both the right and the left. It affects educated and uneducated. So the stereotypes of it being simply right-wing and simply uneducated are 100% not true,” says Jeff Green, who is the CEO of Trade Desk, an internet advertising company that was recently commissioned by American TV channel CBS to investigate who is reading and sharing fake news online.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that Google serves up 48% of ad traffic on “fake” news sites. Google has issued a statement acknowledging that it has removed ads from “more than 1.3 billion pages” that breached its policies last year.

Social media platforms are, belatedly, taking steps to remove posts that they deem to be irresponsibly and chronically purveying fake news. Good for them. That isn’t censorship, as the purveyors and consumers of fake news complain, but simply responsible management. No newspaper is obligated to run any advertisements, letters to the editor, or opinion pieces submitted for publication that the editors deem inappropriate, untruthful, or simply not worthy of publication. It is entirely appropriate that social media platforms are setting standards as well.

People have contacted me with the “news” that the American Medical Association had changed its position on hydroxychloroquine, having found it to be an effective treatment for COVID-19. Because I try to corroborate any information I receive that seems the least bit questionable, I searched what the American Medical Association had to say about this revelation. Sure enough, they had already issued a statement in their official publication, Lancet, debunking the false assertion that had been circulating on social media and talk radio. It was phony. The Lancet rebuttal presented research that showed that hydroxychloroquine had not demonstrated any meaningful benefit.

Massive misinformation about Dominion Voting Machines had been trafficked on social media, and in the mainstream news, especially by former Trump attorney Sidney Powell. When Dominion filed a billion-dollar defamation suit against Powell, her defense was, “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were true statements of fact.” Think of that. Anyone who was sucked into the misinformation campaign about Dominion Voting Machines should remember that the person who sucked them in now pleads “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were true statements of fact.”

Sadly, many people simply seek out “news” that merely affirms their point of view. Critical thinking is enfeebled in the process. Yes, the enormous traffic in fake news is, indeed, mind-boggling. Tens of millions of Americans have been, and are being, mind-boggled.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the essay’s subject or are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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Entropy and American Democracy

A Clear and Present Danger

Benjamin Franklin, whose formal education ended at age ten, was America’s first world-class scientist and a wise and beloved statesman. He wouldn’t have known about the law of entropy in physics because the term didn’t come into use for another seventy-eight years following his death in 1790. But his perceptiveness was on sharp display when he told the nation you have a Republic if you can keep it.

 The “if” in his pronouncement was both remarkably perceptive and immensely foreboding. Whether we can keep our republic, our democracy, is very much open to question. There seems to be a principle that over time, man-made and conceived order often devolves into disorder or chaos. In physics, the law of entropy teaches that a closed system gradually declines into disorder. Every galaxy, indeed, even the universe itself, has a finite life according to the laws of physics. Perhaps, that is equally true of any system conceived by man that relies on human nature to determine the durability of a society’s political and social life.

Fortunately, the survivability of our democracy is not independently preordained by the laws of physics or thermal dynamics. That is, we can protect our democracy for as long as we choose or, of course, abuse it at its (and our) peril.

Sadly, abusing our democracy has become political sport. It is a game in which everyone who cherishes our republic will eventually lose. And no, the abuse about which I write is not the exclusive franchise of the Left or the Right. American democracy is facing a clear and present danger. Like an out-of-control virus, malevolent political behavior is slowly but surely eroding the very sinews of our democracy. These excesses are not new in our history. What is new are the tools to exploit these excesses and the abundance of self-aggrandizing politicians and other power-seekers eager to exploit these means for their own selfish and destructive gain.

On the left, we have a growing and aggressive cancel culture that tolerates no deviation from the demands of the priests and priestesses of the prevailing woke ethos. The wholesale denigration of the great American experiment has gained favor because there was, and continues, a stubborn residue of intolerance and inequity in its story. America is the wealthiest country in the world, but its riches have always resided in great concentration, and exceptionally so today. Upward mobility has always been a hallmark of America, but the upward trek has grown much steeper, the path narrower and the obstacles abundant.

Laws are enacted and enforced to protect civil order, and they are essential to the orderly functioning of a sane and safe society. Our society must insist on the fair, consistent and dedicated administration of justice in America. That probably means enhanced, not diminished, funding for law enforcement so that the compensation provided for those enforcing and administering the law will attract the very best candidates available for this essential public service. Demands to defund law enforcement only contribute to societal entropy and do nothing to strengthen civil order or respect for the very laws that are enacted to protect us.  

Many cities were slow to react to extreme urban disorder following the murder of George Floyd and arson and looting were rampant in many American cities. This, too, represents a body blow to civic law and order, without which the American experiment is greatly diminished.

Conversely, on the far-right, there is an unhealthy obsession with, and pursuit of, power—the coveting of it, and the no-holds-barred determination to capture it and hold on to it by any means, including demagoguery and, if need be, it seems insurrection as well.

To be sure, both political parties covet power, but never in our history have we seen such an attempted abuse of political power. Never before in our history has a defeated president referred to his lost election as a “third-world-country election like we’ve never seen before.” Never before in our history has a President acquiesced, indeed, urged such anti-democratic, illegal, and unamerican behavior as when former President Trump told his January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally, “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

Think of it; we had a president who had decisively lost an election, urge a crowd to go to the United States Capitol, and “fight like hell” to interrupt the constitutionally mandated counting and certification of the election results. Results that had been duly certified by each of the fifty states and attested to by every state governor, the majority of whom were (and still are) Republicans.

This, after his own Department of Homeland Security and his own Department of Justice, failed to find any case of election fraud that would have altered the results of the election. In fact, the official at the Department of Homeland Security responsible for election security considered the 2020 election the most secure election in our modern history. Indeed, not one of the sixty-one judges, many of whom were Republicans, found sufficient reason to indulge Trump’s attack on our constitutional democracy.

Furthermore, nearly all of the Republicans in Congress, after fleeing from the assault on the Capitol on January 6th, now pay homage to former President Trump who called for the insurrection in the first place. This fealty to a defeated President who insists that he was the victim of the greatest election hoax in history in the complete absence of any credible evidence of any hoax at all is unprecedented in American history. It represents nothing less than an assault on our democracy by a former President of the United States and his enablers in Congress.

And, finally, we have the unprecedented degree to which demagoguery had permeated the language of the oval office.

Harry Truman, one of our most underrated presidents, once mused aloud, “I sit and shiver… at the thought of what could happen with some demagogue in this office I hold.” Indeed!

In physics, entropy, the second law of thermal dynamics, is considered immutable. Let’s pray political entropy isn’t as well.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the essay’s subject or are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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The covid monologues: Recalcitrance versus reason

People have a right to be recalcitrant about vaccines and mask mandates, and to be left alone. So, yes, they should be left alone. Very alone.

As of yesterday morning, 4,634,549 people had died of CO VID worldwide, 677,037 in the United States. With 4% of the world’s population, we account for nearly 15% of the entire world’s COVID fatalities. Well over 40 million Americans have caught COVID, and over 1,100 Americans a day are dying of the largely preventable disease. Make no mistake about it, our COVID score is miserable, and frankly, disgraceful. We’re rushing toward 700,000 COVID deaths in the United States. Last week alone, we logged over 7,000 new deaths. Too many cases and too many unnecessary deaths.

Now, perhaps, we shouldn’t force people to get vaccinated or to wear masks. Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are entitled to their views and are entitled to be left alone…very alone. Every school, or business, or airline, or government office, or venue where people gather should respect every anti-vaxxer’s and anti-masker’s right to be left alone and should, in fact, insist that they be left alone. Every venue can and should augment that right by doing their part to leave the unvaccinated and unmasked alone by keeping their venues anti-vaxxer and anti-masker free.

Recalcitrance versus Reason

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan liked to remind us, but no one is entitled to their own facts. A mighty wide gap yawns between many of the widespread and unfounded opinions regarding COVID and the verifiable facts regarding the disease. It represents an information chasm that has claimed, and is claiming, too many lives every day. Some of the misinformation is simply misunderstood reality. Much of the misinformation, however, is carefully nurtured by media personalities and politicians who seek a following for power or for money and who prey upon those who are fearful or distrustful, or both.

Make no mistake about it, there is power and wealth to be mined from fear and uncertainty, and it seems we have no shortage of prospectors eager to mine the nation’s miasma. That is what happens when politics pollutes reason; when politically motivated people see benefit or gain by tapping into people’s fear and uncertainty. The misinformation and the suffering it has caused in our country is heartbreaking, and much of it is deliberate, and, sadly, it continues unabated.

NewsGuard, a truth-in-reporting service, founded by Gordon Crovitz, former Wall Street Journal Publisher, and Steven Brill, prolific best selling investigative author, reports that of more than 6700 websites it has analyzed, 519 publish false information about COVID-19, some of which publish dubious health information or political conspiracy theories, while others were “created specifically to spread misinformation about COVID-19.”

These deliberately placed misinformation stories disguised as news are then shared and multiplied millions of times. “It has become virtually impossible for people to tell the difference between a generally reliable site and an untrustworthy site,” Crovitz says. “And that is why there is such a big business in publishing this information.” Of the sites on NewsGuard’s list, 339 cater to American-based readers. having an audience predominantly based here. Some such as InfoWars and Mercola.com, have, according to NewsGuard, a history of promoting conspiracy theories and dubious health claims. Some try to confuse readers by using domain names similar to real news outlets, such as WashingtonPosted.news and Ussanews.com, Small wonder tens of millions of Americans refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks. For these people, recalcitrance trumps reason.

Many people believe the vaccine was developed too fast, and therefore isn’t safe. Actually, most of the work in developing this vaccine was painstakingly done over many years. Researchers have been developing and researching an mRNA vaccine for coronaviruses for more than ten years. When COVID-19 appeared, its genetic sequence was quickly determined and it took just a short time to make the mRNA vaccine for this new coronavirus.

Many of the routine sequential functions that are usually followed in approving a new vaccine were conducted simultaneously to expedite the process. The data accumulated from tens of thousands of people participating in double-blind studies were extraordinarily affirming of the efficacy of the new vaccine, and a very effective vaccine was made available in record time. It has saved thousands of lives. Those who are being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 today are almost all unvaccinated people.

Some people believe it would be better to get and survive COVID-19 than it would be to be vaccinated against the disease. There have been conflicting reports regarding this question. According to a HealthDay report in US News and World Report, “Vaccinated individuals had the highest antibody levels, nearly three times higher than that of convalescent individuals recovering from symptomatic COVID-19.” What’s more, according to one study conducted in Israel, 99.4% of vaccinated people tested positive for COVID-fighting antibodies in blood samples just six days after their second dose of vaccine, while the number of these “seropositive” people fell to just under 76% for people recovering from a COVID-19 infection. Other data from Israel indicates that antibodies generated from COVID-19 represent a stronger defense against the disease. Nebraska Medicine, earlier this week, cited a number of studies strongly indicating that vaccinations create more effective and longer-lasting immunity than natural immunity from infection. It appears that the jury is still out on whether one gets better protection from the disease-generated antibodies or from the vaccine-generated antibodies. It would appear, however, that many survivors of the disease may have longer-term residual health issues with which they will contend long after the disease itself has run its course. The strong consensus within the medical community is certainly for individuals over the age of twelve to be vaccinated. (This paragraph has been updated to include reference to the information published by Nebraska Medicine this week).

Facebook, which is caught up in a maelstrom of its own has, according to Monika Bickert, Vice President of Content Policy, determined that over 3,000 of its accounts, pages, and groups have repeatedly published more than 20 million pieces of content that were simply vaccine misinformation and have, belatedly, been removed. The number of times this calculated misinformation has been shared and copied is all but incalculable. Small wonder vaccine recalcitrance has, for millions of Americans, become a badge of honor. Recalcitrance trumping reason.

As Medical Analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, of George Washington University Medical School, observed regarding the tens of millions of Americans who have been convinced not to get vaccinated, “We live in a country that has some basic rules. You can’t smoke in most buildings in the United States, and you can’t drive drunk. You can’t smoke on planes, and you can’t blow viruses into my face. That’s how it has to be in this country. And if you’re going to be a persistent threat to public health by refusing to get vaccinated, well your actions have consequences.”

Sadly, the unvaccinated represent just about all of the active COVID cases in America, and it is only in these active COVID cases that variants such as the deadly Delta Virus and the other variants that are certain to follow can emerge.

We have many legitimate issues to debate in our country. Whether or not to wear a proper mask, or to be vaccinated against a terribly virulent, mutating, deadly disease aren’t really issues over which we should be fighting. Reason over Recalcitrance!

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The Texas Anti-Abortion Law: Simply Mean-Spirited Politics

And misogynistic as well.

Legislating that abortion is flat-out illegal in Texas would, well, be unconstitutional. So, instead, the Texas male-dominated legislative posse has legislated the illegality of terminating a pregnancy if the embryonic weight is, essentially, a measurable fraction of an ounce, actually, about half an ounce. And, yes, at six weeks, the half-once embryo is not yet a fetus, and while cardiac cells have begun to form, there is no heart at six weeks either.

Let there be no mistake, however, regarding the preciousness of that half-ounce life-in-formation. Nor should there be any mistake about the propriety of a woman having reasonable agency over her own body. This column will not address the propriety of terminating a pregnancy, but rather the politics of abortion in Texas.

Let’s put the best possible light on the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Texas case and assume the five conservative Republican justices who declined to hear arguments regarding Texas simply considered another case from Mississippi that the Court is scheduled to hear this fall to be a better case on which to rule. After all, the Republican Supreme Court justices did write that their abstentions were, in no way, indicative of their views on the merits of the Texas anti-abortion case.

A betting person might rationalize that the Supreme Court will strike down the Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks because fetal viability is the standard the Supreme Court has embraced. A fetus is not viable at 15 weeks (well under half the term of a typical pregnancy). On the other hand, the Court could go the other way and uphold the Mississippi 15-week standard. While the Mississippi law may be just as onerous as the Texas law, fifteen weeks is still two-and-a-half times longer than six weeks and, therefore, perhaps, for many non-thinkers, not quite as absurd.

My search of world records found that one extremely premature infant born at 8.6 ounces after 23 weeks of gestation was among the smallest babies ever to survive. Another infant was born alive at only twenty-one weeks and four days, weighing 410 grams or just under one pound.

No newborn comes close to surviving at six weeks or fifteen weeks, so survivability as a standard in Texas and Mississippi is out the window. Legislators using political power to impose their own standard of viability at six weeks or fifteen weeks are shameful. Viability, life, death, disastrous life-long infirmity is of no interest to them at all.

The Texas law is mean-spirited because it designates no state office or official to enforce the law, essentially meaning there is no one against whom to litigate. The Texas law explicitly prohibits any office or officer of the State from enforcing the law. Instead, it provides a reward or bounty ($10,000 plus expenses) for anyone (as long as they’re not representing the State of Texas) who succeeds in suing any pregnant woman or anyone who, in any way, assists a pregnant woman to have or to seek to have an abortion.

You see, the Supreme Court has, since Roe versus Wade (1979), essentially held that it is unconstitutional for state or local governments to prohibit abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy. The so-called Casey case in 1992, however, did establish that certain requisites, such as a reasonable delay of 24 hours or so could be required before any procedure was performed. So, while it is deemed unconstitutional for any state or local government to outright outlaw abortion, the high court never contemplated run-of-the-mill, non-government snitches, or bounty hunters as plaintiffs.

This is as mean-spirited a piece of legislation as one could imagine. It is what one might imagine the old and feared East German Stassi (secret police) to have conjured up, given their penchant for getting citizens to spy on other citizens. Come to think of it, Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, rewards citizen spies.

To make the Texas law as onerous and mean-spirited as possible, the Lone Star Republicans ensured that neither rape nor incest would constitute grounds for terminating a pregnancy. In fact, under the Texas law, a rapist who might be the first to know he may have impregnated a woman could, himself, be the snitch who schemes to collect the bounty.

So far, Democratic and Republican Supreme Court Justices have slapped down laws enacted in a dozen states that have banned abortions. What this Court will ultimately do with six Republicans, three of whom were appointed by former President Trump, is anybody’s guess.

There may be a political backlash coming in the 2022 mid-term elections for these Texas Republicans who have decided they know what is best for the women of the Lone Star State. However, it is not hard to divine the political calculus the brave men of Texas have made. According to the Pew Research Center, the State is pretty evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with 40% of Texans identifying (or leaning) Democratic and 39% identifying (or leaning) Republican. The overall grouping by age is roughly the same between Democrats and Republicans as well.

However, because reproductive rights might energize younger voters, the Democrats have a slight edge, with 34% of this group (ages 25 to 40) against 28% for Republicans. Also, women who were so decisive in the 2020 presidential election could exact retribution against Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections, even in Texas, where Democrats have an edge among female voters, 53% to 49%.

Women will turn out in huge numbers for the mid-term elections next year, and the Republicans may pay a stiff price for what they have done, maybe even in Texas.

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An open letter to Benjamin Franklin

Dear Ben (if I may),

I know it takes an article of faith to presume these words might reach you, but faith sustains much of the world, so I thought I would give it a try. You were one of the most celebrated and perceptive thinkers of your time. You were an internationally renowned scientist, inventor, and diplomat. You were also America’s greatest political philosopher, and the senior statesman at that extraordinary meeting in Philadelphia 234 years ago when you and 68 other patriots produced our most sacred document, the Constitution of the United States of America. Sadly, you were the first of your compatriots to pass away only twenty-one months after playing such an essential role in creating this most precious gift to all of us.

Ben, you may recall that Elizabeth Willing Powel, the wife of Philadelphia Mayor, Samuel Powel, was among those who were eagerly awaiting word of what had transpired at the just-concluded constitutional convention. She asked you, “Well, Dr. Franklin, what have we got a republic or a monarchy?” According to notes of the exchange, you replied to Mrs. Powel, “A republic if you can keep it.” To which Mrs. Powel shot back, “And why not keep it?”

It was reported that you replied, “Because the people, on tasting the dish, are always disposed to eat more of it than does them good.”

That probably sounded a bit cryptic when people first heard of your exchange with Mrs. Powel. Still, when George Washington was elected to be our first President in 1789 by all 69 electors who participated in that first vote for President, you elaborated, “The first man put at the helm will be a good one. Nobody knows what sort may come afterward.” Well, Ben, we’ve had a lot of good men at the helm, and as you presumed, some real clunkers too.

You were prescient when expressing your fears about the durability of our new democracy. I still marvel at what you said when the drafting was complete. “I agree to this Constitution,” you said, and you continued, “I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” History recognizes you as a thinker for the ages, Ben, but I pray you were not a prophet as well.

Ben, I’ll get right to the point. The country you served for so long and in so many capacities is riven with dissension. I think you and most of your colleagues would be heartbroken at just how divided our country is today. The formation of political parties, or factions as they were referred to in your day, that you and George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison so dreaded did evolve almost immediately, as you knew they would.

Your concerns were well-founded, Ben. All of you were concerned that political parties, rather than becoming a rigorous source of competing ideas, would simply become strident opposing forces fighting for power. Our two main political parties are no longer simply advocates of differing ideas but rather antagonists in opposing camps primarily dedicated to defeating the other, almost at any cost.

Today, political discourse has grown contemptuous rather than contemplative. While you and the others at that remarkable constitutional convention didn’t always see eye-to-eye on the same issues, you were all pulling the same oar and shared a similar vision. It was a grand and audacious vision that changed the world, Ben. Today it seems as though every Democrat thinks every Republican is a fascist, and every Republican thinks every Democrat is a Marxist, at worst, and a socialist at best. These political philosophies, neither of which had gained currency in your day, are inimical to the American story. But that is how half the people in our country seem to view the other half.

Even when America is attacked and American servicemen are killed, our political parties, both of them, immediately grasp the opportunity to malign the leadership of the other. We had just such an example this week Ben; an awful example. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but thirteen American servicemen were killed, and over one hundred others died in a vicious bombing on the other side of the world. This was a horrible event that, at one time, would have had all Americans pulling together. Not this time though.

As one of America’s fine newspapers, The Arizona Republic, editorialized, “Republicans are using this moment, this failure to plan a complete and strategic retreat, to batter the Biden White House.  Were the tables turned Democrats would do the same, unmercifully. There was a time when Americans believed our differences ended at the water’s edge, but there is so much internal strife in the country that we aren’t likely to see that again soon. Perhaps not in our lifetime.” There is no question that there will be a time for serious recriminations, but today one party literally couldn’t even wait until the smoke cleared. And as the editorial correctly observed, the other party would have behaved the same way.

Ben, the concerns you expressed about human nature, that man always seems to drift toward despotism, were prophetic concerning the rest of the world because that is what has happened at one time or another almost everywhere, but so far not here in America. So far, the institutions you and your colleagues created have kept our democracy intact. Our democracy has certainly been tested. So far, however, the guardrails you created with our other founders like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton have held, but, it seems, just barely.

The ruling monarchies you were worried about over in Europe pretty much died out during the twentieth century. Ten monarchies disappeared in one year between 1914 and 1915, a time of unspeakable carnage and bloodshed.

While those monarchies generally (but not always) gave way to democracies modeled after the one you and your colleagues created for us, we have seen democracy after democracy trashed by authoritarian strongmen who used democratic institutions to attain power and then destroyed those very same institutions to hold on to power. During the last one hundred years, we have seen many democracies descend into strong-arm authoritarian regimes. It happened in Poland from 1926 to 1989, Germany from 1933 to 1945, Austria from 1933 to 1945, and Spain from 1939 to 1976. It happened in Latin America too—in Brazil from 1964 to 1985, Chile from 1973 to 1990, Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and then again from 2006 to the present, and even Venezuela from 2002 to the present.

The story has always been the same. Politicians gained power through democratic means and then schemed to keep control by dismantling the very democratic institutions that brought them to power. Even Hungary, which fought so hard for its democracy, has seen its democratic institutions enfeebled today, as has Poland and other countries in the Balkans.

Ben, our country, and a few other democratic countries recently funded a study through a non-governmental organization called Freedom House and found “a stunning democratic breakdown.” Specifically, fewer democracies were found among the twenty-nine countries studied than at any point since these studies began over twenty-five years ago.

Ben, we’ve seen democracies, time and time again, devolve into authoritarian regimes run by authoritarian strongmen just as you predicted they would. These authoritarian figures who enter the political arena invariably claim to be outsiders to the political establishment and vow to “get tough” on everyone they target as having sapped the nation’s strength, thereby saving the country. The technique is the same everywhere, and it seems to be very effective. Authoritarian strongmen often target many different groups; you know, minorities, immigrants, the political opposition, and, always, the established national leaders. Authoritarian strongmen tend to view these groups as both personal and national enemies. We’ve seen it so many times in the past, Ben, as you knew we would.

I will not be surprised if readers of this open letter to you comment by finding in it a reason to attack the current President or his predecessor. Among your many inventions Ben was the bifocal eyeglass to help those who were either farsighted or shortsighted to see more clearly. Perhaps, our best way to thank you would be for all of us who are the beneficiaries of your foresight to really work to see things more clearly. There is so much at stake.

I don’t know if my words will reach you, but I’ll try from time to time. Ben, I know you are pulling for us.

With heartfelt thanks for all you’ve given us.

Your steadfast admirer,

Hal

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Afghanistan: What Didn’t We Know, And When Didn’t We Know It?

There is much to unpack regarding the fiasco in Afghanistan.

Neither the Trump camp nor the Biden camp should point with ridicule at the other. Both camps are partners in the tragic spectacle playing out in Afghanistan. The tragedy isn’t that we are leaving with such dispatch. Both Trump and Biden were correct in pursuing our departure. The time had long since passed when we should have been exiting the country. It was time.

There was little American support for the never-ending American presence there. That we are leaving isn’t really the issue.  How we are leaving, however, is. Any aspirations we may have had that we would democratize Afghanistan, modernize Afghanistan, or turn Afghanistan into a reliable ally were never realistic.

We went into Afghanistan following 9-11 to rout the Taliban, which had provided a safe haven to al Qaeda. We accomplished that mission in short order. We stayed for a while to keep the Taliban and the terrorists they had hosted from returning. Mission creep kept us there for the next twenty years. During the two decades we have remained, an estimated 300,000 Afghans joined Team-USA, providing various direct or indirect services to the United States. Only a few percent have been relocated to safety. They and their families remain at great risk now that the Taliban has solidified its control of the nation.  

For years, we should have had a well-conceived plan to move to the United States and/or to other safe-haven countries those Afghans who were at great risk once we knew the countdown to departure had begun. Plans for protecting those who had worked with and protected us should have been the first order of business when we decided to ink a deal with the Taliban. We should have begun this process years ago, but as of July 31st, we had admitted only 494 Afghan refugees for this fiscal year which ends September 30th. Last fiscal year, we admitted 604 Afghan refugees. There is an enormous discontinuity between the predictable need to resettle Afghans who have helped us and the actual resettlement of these people. Other nations have also resettled Afghans, but the numbers have been pitifully small.

That our departure has turned into such a human tragedy raises serious questions regarding the reliability of our intelligence establishment, especially our military intelligence. What did we not know about the Taliban’s intentions, and, more importantly, when did we not know it.

Remember, it was February of last year that the Trump Administration reached a deal with the Taliban in Doha. That deal required the United States to be out of Afghanistan sometime in April of 2021. Under Trump, Afghanistan was to be free of all American military presence by May 1st this year. Biden added another three-and-a-half months to that departure schedule. It seems either Administration gave little thought to the well-being of the Afghans on whom we relied.

Some of the criticism being leveled at President Biden is just political jockeying and par for the course in this ugly partisan environment we find ourselves. Some opposed to the American withdrawal point to South Korea, where we have had troops for nearly 70 years. But South Korea is a strategic ally, a modern democracy, a robust trading partner, and an industrial powerhouse.

Others have suggested that we should have removed the huge arsenal of weapons we have maintained in Afghanistan lest they fall into Taliban hands, which they, indeed, now have. That would have, essentially, meant disarming the country we have been there to protect. Taking responsibility for securing those munitions would have required an indefinite American troop presence.

Much of the criticism of President Biden is, however, fully justified. We had an obligation to assure that those who worked for us or openly opposed the Taliban and supported the United States would not be left high and dry once we decided we had had enough.

President Biden has protested that the deal President Trump negotiated with the Taliban left him with few alternatives and little flexibility. Really? Since when did a Trump policy constrain President Biden when it was a policy he opposed. President Biden’s unbridled rush to get out of Afghanistan has left him with few alternatives and little flexibility.

One would think President Biden conferred with his national Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, or other security officials, or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs before he assured the nation that it was highly unlikely that the Taliban would quickly overrun the country once we left. Instead, the Taliban quickly overran the country while we were still there.

Judgment would be an issue if President Biden made that statement despite warnings he may have received from his security advisors that a swift Taliban takeover was highly likely. Worse yet, judgment is still an issue if the advice he received was that an immediate Taliban takeover was highly unlikely.

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COVID Opinions and Myths Versus COVID Facts

Opinions and myths determine the politics. Only facts determine the outcome.

The comment section of this column has logged numerous opinions by our readers regarding the COVID pandemic, and many readers have also emailed me various opinions as well. I thank them all and appreciate the level of engagement by readers of this column. We all harbor opinions about a wide variety of subjects and COVID-19 is, of course, no exception.  It is, however, difficult to identify a time when the gap between opinions (or myths) and facts has loomed so large.

So, now is as good a time as any to address the dichotomy between the strong opinions and myths about COVID, and the simple facts regarding COVID. The information that follows is based on reports from Johns Hopkins University Medicine, other leading university medical research centers, The Cleveland Clinic, and the United States Center for Disease Control.

Myth: “Natural immunity” following COVID is better than the immunity one gets from a vaccine.

Fact: COVID-19 often produces long-term health issues that do not occur with the vaccine, making the disease itself a far less desirable way to attain immunity. While the Cleveland Clinic recently found that there was no reinfection among employees of the Clinic who had previously contracted COVID-19, the Cleveland Clinic states, “This is still a new virus, and more research is needed. It is important to keep in mind that this study was conducted in a population that was younger and healthier than the general population. In addition, we do not know how long the immune system will protect itself against reinfection after COVID-19. It is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine even if you have previously tested positive, and we recommend all those who are eligible receive it.” While there have been some breakthrough cases among vaccinated people, the vaccine vastly reduces severe illness, and, therefore, reduces the need for hospitalization. The vaccine provides remarkable protection against the disease.

Myth: The vaccine can cause the disease itself.

Fact: None of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that the COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect women’s fertility.

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccine will not affect fertility. The COVID-19 vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the specific spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. The vaccine does not contain syncytin-1 (a totally unrelated spike protein involved in pregnancy) as has been falsely reported in some social media.

MYTH: Researchers rushed the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, so its effectiveness and safety cannot be trusted.

FACT: Studies have demonstrated that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both very effective and reported few if any serious or life-threatening side effects. There are many reasons why the COVID-19 vaccines were able to be developed so quickly. Here are just a few:

  • The technology used in the COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna was in development for decades, so the companies could start the actual vaccine development for COVID-19 early in the pandemic.
  • COVID-19 genetic information was available very early in the outbreak, so scientists immediately started working on vaccines using existing mRNA technology.
  • The vaccine developers didn’t skip any testing steps, but conducted some of the steps on an overlapping schedule to gather data faster.
  • Vaccine development projects had plenty of resources, as governments invested in research and/or paid for vaccines in advance.
  • COVID-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA), which allows a faster approach than the traditional way that vaccines are made.
  • Mass media, including social media, helped companies find and engage volunteers, and many were willing to help with COVID-19 vaccine research.
  • Because COVID-19 is so contagious and widespread, it did not take long to determine the efficacy of the vaccine among volunteers who were vaccinated. Rarely did they become infected with COVID.
  • Companies began making vaccines early in the process — even before FDA authorization — so some supplies were ready when authorized.

MYTH: The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous.

Fact: The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can produce normal side effects, but they are generally very short-term —not serious or dangerous. Some people experience discomfort where they were injected; body aches; headaches or fever, lasting for a day or two. These are signs that the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system.

Myth: If one is young and healthy and, therefore, not at risk for severe complications of COVID-19 they don’t need the vaccine.

Fact: Regardless of your personal risk of getting very sick from COVID, you can still contract the infection just like anyone else, and spread it to others. Even if you don’t get very sick from COVID, you can still make other people very sick. The vaccine not only protects you but your family and community as well.

MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine enters your cells and changes your DNA.

FACT: The COVID-19 vaccines are designed to help your body’s immune system fight the coronavirus. The messenger RNA vaccines do not enter the nucleus of the cell where DNA resides. The mRNA causes the cell to make protein to stimulate the immune system, without affecting your DNA.

MYTH: The messenger RNA technology used to make the COVID-19 vaccine is brand new.

FACT: The mRNA technology behind the new coronavirus vaccines had been in development for almost two decades. Scientists began creating mRNA technology at the turn of the last century to enable the country to respond quickly to a new pandemic illness, such as COVID-19. Operation Warp Speed made funds available to focus mRNA technology on COVID-19 and to pay for the roll-out of the vaccine. The development of this technology did not begin with Operation Warp Speed.

Myth: The current vaccines cannot protect against emerging variants of COVID.

Fact: So far, the current vaccines recognize these variant viruses and induce excellent immunity against them. It is, of course, possible that new variants, yet to have emerged, may be more resistant to the vaccines. Variants are produced from time to time when the virus replicates in human cells. That means the unvaccinated population, those who remain susceptible to infection, are the primary source of new variants. This is another reason why everyone should get vaccinated.

Myth: Many have died and have been injured by the vaccine.

Fact: The vaccines are remarkably safe. Here is what is known as of this date. More than 351 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through August 9, 2021. During this time, deaths occurred among 0.0019% of those who received a COVID-19 vaccine. FDA requires any death to be reported following COVID-19 vaccinations—not whether the vaccine was the cause. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established any causal link to COVID-19 vaccines.

President Trump made a wise decision when he approved funding the use of mRNA technology for a COVID-19 vaccine, and for the procurement and distribution of the vaccine. President Biden also deserves credit for the massive effort currently underway to get the country vaccinated.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to the COVID-19 vaccine as a miracle. How often can we make an appointment with a miracle?

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the essay’s subject or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.