Archive for September, 2020

The Overlooked COVID-19 Long-Haulers – posted 9/27/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/5/2020

September 27, 2020 2 comments

So much of the coverage of COVID-19 has focused on statistics about the number of deaths and the number of infections. While it is important to have an accurate statistical picture of the pandemic, the problem with this picture is what it leaves out.

The statistics fail to mention the many thousands of COVID-19 patients who have suffered for months from unrelenting and unpredictable symptoms. These are the COVID-19 long-haulers. They are living with the disease and their situation has been downplayed and ignored.

I think the best reporting about the long-haulers has been done by Ed Yong who writes for the Atlantic. Yong points out that we are maintaining incorrect stereotypes about who is being affected by the pandemic. President Trump has incorrectly pushed the view that COVID-19 is only affecting elderly people with pre-existing conditions. The elderly are not the only ones suffering.

Yong says that among the long-haulers the typical victim is a 44 year old woman who was previously fit and healthy. He says there is an inaccurate caricature that COVID-19 kills some but is mild for the rest. He challenges the view it is “mild” for many.

There are a large number of stories out there about the on-going suffering of the long-haulers with a wide constellation of symptoms reported. Heart abnormalities, shortness of breath, fatigue, fevers, headaches, brain fog, memory loss and post-exertional malaise are all reported. Yong says the symptoms resemble dysautonomia, a condition where the autonomic nervous system is not working properly.

WBUR reported the story of Diana Berrent, a suburban mom from New York, who has experienced debilitating symptoms even after tests showed she no longer carried the virus. Berrent has had symptoms for the last seven months including vision deterioration, gastrointestinal tract complications and recurring headaches. She found out she has borderline glaucoma, a condition that could cause blindness.

Berrent formed an on-line group, Survivor Corps, where members document their symptoms and provide support. She told WBUR that Survivor Corps members are experiencing damage to almost every organ system because coronavirus is a vascular disease.

She said that respiratory issues are the most common long-term symptom of the long-haulers. She also noted neurological issues, particularly “soul-crushing headaches”.

WBUR also told the story of Dr. Scott Krakauer, a 40 year old psychiatrist from New York. He had chills and fevers for nearly two weeks in April before testing positive. He closed himself off in a room at his home to protect his wife and two children.

He lost his sense of taste and smell. He developed a violent cough that would not stop and he was eventually coughing up blood. His doctors reported he was having a cytokine storm in his throat. Lung inflammation and fluid buildup led to respiratory distress. It got so he could not swallow and he started to choke on his food. After he lost 15 pounds, his family brought him to the hospital.

His doctor put him on IV steroids which helped to decrease the swelling in his throat. The treatment, which opened his throat, saved his life. He survived but months later he is still feeling winded on short walks and he has trouble swallowing and talking.

Business Insider interviewed numerous people who have survived coronavirus but who cannot shake the symptoms months after they were diagnosed. Elissa Miolene, a 27 year old from New York City, was quoted:

“It is now 115 days later and I am still feeling the exact same symptoms. Life for me is waking up in the middle of the night and crying because I’m in so much pain and not knowing why.”

She now relies on virtual physical therapy to help address her constant back and chest pain. She said,

“I can be walking down the street and be perfectly fine. And then I’m heaving and cannot walk another step.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does now recognize that COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness but the matter of people living with ongoing coronavirus symptoms has been largely brushed aside.

President Trump gives himself an A+ on handling the virus while pretending this population does not exist. He does not want to talk about it. Response to the long-haulers is consistent with the overall Trump Administration approach to the virus: minimize the story, sideline it and move on.

There are many thousands living with the virus who are not sick enough to be hospitalized but they are experiencing long-term effects. Physicians remain stymied by the persistence of COVID-19 symptoms. There is no certainty about why symptoms last and how long they will last.

I am expecting a disability wave in 2021 because even though symptoms wax and wane for many they are disrupting work and everyday activities.

Our knowledge about COVID-19 is still preliminary, tentative and evolving. There are more questions than answers. It is a certainty though that long-haulers are a population who will be commanding more attention as the pandemic unfolds.

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North Wilmot Fall Foliage – posted 9/25/2020

September 25, 2020 2 comments
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Some questions around the Curtis Flowers case – posted 9/19/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/28/2020

September 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Possibly readers saw the story about Curtis Flowers, an African American man from Mississippi who was tried six times for capital murder. The same white prosecutor, Doug Evans, tried for over 20 years to convict Flowers and to see him executed.

The case originated in 1996 when someone shot and killed four people at a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi. Flowers’ convictions have now been overturned and he is a free man. After the sixth trial in which he was convicted and the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction.

The state of Mississippi, through their Attorney General, decided to drop charges. The case was finally dismissed, with prejudice, which means the murder case cannot be brought against Flowers again.

In the six murder trials, four had ended in convictions and two had resulted in hung juries. Flowers spent 23 years in Parchman Prison in a solitary cell on Death Row in spite of the wrongful nature of his convictions. The District Attorney (D.A.) engaged in a pattern of gross prosecutorial misconduct. During the trials, he and his office hid evidence which should have been turned over to the defense. He also consistently used peremptory challenges to keep black people off the jury.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1986 case of Batson v Kentucky that it is unconstitutional to strike potential jurors on account of race but that is exactly what the prosecutor did in the Flowers case. And he did it over and over. The prosecutor has never faced any discipline or penalty for his long history of misconduct. In fact, he was re-elected in 2019 in an unopposed race.

The case got an unusual amount of publicity because of the podcast, In the Dark, from American Public Media. Over a three year period, the people behind the podcast delved into every aspect of the Flowers case. Upon close inspection, the case against Flowers turned into a house of cards and collapsed.

The prosecution’s key witnesses recanted. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence and no DNA evidence connecting Flowers to the murders. The murder weapon was not found in 1996. A Winona local found a 380 caliber pistol in 2001 near the site of the murders. It matched the type of weapon used in the murders and it was turned over to the D.A.’s office but somehow the weapon got lost.

The Mississippi Attorney General ultimately realized there was no case against Flowers.

It would be easy to dismiss the whole case as some kind of nutty aberration but questions abound. How could the same prosecutor be allowed to bring the case six times when he had been found to have committed prosecutorial misconduct as well as repeated Batson violations? Why did the prosecutor consistently pursue only Flowers when he had only the weakest circumstantial evidence? How could the white trial judge arrest and charge an African American hold-out juror with perjury after one of the trials where there was a hung jury?

The case raises larger systemic issues about racism in the criminal justice system and in our society. Why did the Mississippi Bar take no action against the prosecutor over a period of 20 plus years when courts had pointed out and reversed his racist misconduct? How was the D.A.’s conduct not an ethics violation? Why did the Mississippi Attorney General never step into the case to take it away from the D.A.? Why did Mississippi voters in 2019 re-elect this same prosecutor when he had a track record littered with racism ?

The sad truth is that Mississippi has failed to face its past. For all the talk about a new South, the Flowers case reeks of the old South. And, of course, it is not just Mississippi. The Flowers case, in microcosm, highlights an unwillingness to be honest about the terrible history that stains America. While the Flowers case is egregious, there are many other cases where black people have been wrongly fingered and put away. Those cases were not fortunate enough to have any brilliant podcast focus on them.

The history in the Flowers case is instructive in showing the pattern. A serious crime occurs and the prosecutor and police are put under tremendous pressure to come up with a perpetrator. All too often, a black man, almost any black man, will do. The public goes along as long as somebody is charged. The quality of the evidence does not seem to matter. The fact that someone is apprehended satisfies the community, especially the white community.

Flowers was 26 at the time of his arrest. He had no criminal record. There was at least one other suspect who had a history of violence.who was investigated and held in jail for 11 days. His existence was never disclosed by the prosecutors who always asserted Flowers was the only suspect in the case. Even after evidence came out about this suspect through the podcast, the D.A.’s office continued to cover this up.

The podcast more broadly researched D.A. Doug Evans’ use of peremptory challenges to strike black jurors. It was a common occurrence in all of his trials.

In the Dark also found a racist pattern of peremptory questioning of possible jurors. On average, the D.A. asked one question of possible white jurors while asking potential black jurors twenty nine questions. The D.A. used all his peremptory challenges to strike black jurors.

How many other Curtis Flowers are out there? It is a safe bet that all the dirty tricks were not used on him alone.

Any honest reckoning about how far we have come on racism must account for the deeply ingrained patterns demonstrated in the Flowers case. We have moved beyond lynchings to legal lynchings. The Flowers case is Exhibit A. We should not kid ourselves about progress made.

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I wake every day to this by Marge Piercy – posted 9/14/2020

September 15, 2020 1 comment

This Marge Piercy poem appears in the September 2020 issue of Monthly Review. She has graciously given me permission to reprint it. I would note that she has a new poetry collection On The Way Out, Turn Off The Light coming out at the end of September. It is published by Knopf and it will have a whole section of political poems in it. She also has a book of short stories The Cost of Lunch, Etc from PM Press. It is now out in paperback.

I wake every day to this

Marge Piercy

Cruelty seems to win votes.
The shouter is heard. The whisperer
shot to silence. Words turn
to worms and wriggle in our food.

We live in times dangerous
to butterflies, polar bears and us –
The 99% who don’t count.
I bathe in cold fear each dawn.

The news is a rabid bat.
Government is a deadly virus.
There’s no refuge from slow
murder by the state, pollution,

toxins on our plates, plastics
in our blood. Fast murder
by police. The ocean wants
to kill us for poisoning it.

We are a pox upon the earth.
Bees sing repent! Change
before we all die. Do you want
an earth where cockroaches rule?

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Rhinoceros is Now – posted 9/5/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/14/2020

September 5, 2020 2 comments

In his theater of the absurd play, Rhinoceros, the Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco presents an allegory about how fascism and authoritarianism advance and conquer a society.

In a sleepy French village, townspeople at first hear reports of a rampaging rhinoceros charging through their streets. Then there are reports of a second rhinoceros who has trampled a cat. Soon rhinos are spotted all over town.

The townspeople are perplexed about how to respond. Initially, they believe people are seeing things that are not there but then they evolve and grow upset about the presence of the rhinos. Some think the rhino invasion is a hoax to sell papers. Others think the residents are too intelligent to let rhinos dominate the space. Others, however, venerate the strength and power of the rhinos.

People in the town suffer rhinoceritis and start morphing into rhinos. Instead of being able to think critically, townspeople start repeating cliches. When townspeople realize they cannot stop the transformation, some say it is their individual right to make up their own mind about becoming a rhino. Others become a rhino because they cannot bear to be an outsider.

The play ends with Berenger, the protagonist, being the only one left in town who has not become a rhinoceros. Everyone else has been taken in by the lure of dramatic change represented by the rhinos. Even though he entertains the notion of becoming a rhinoceros, Berenger, Ionesco’s Everyman, shouts, “I am not capitulating”.

Ionesco was inspired to write Rhinoceros out of his own personal experience. He had Jewish background on his mother’s side but he hid his Jewish background and was baptized in the Orthodox Church. He witnessed the spread of anti-semitism and the growth of the Romanian fascist Iron Guard movement. As a university student, he saw his own philosophy professor use lectures to recruit young people into the fascist movement. Ionescu wrote:

“University professors, students, intellectuals were turning Nazi, becoming Iron Guards one after another. We were fifteen people who used to get together, to find arguments, to discuss, to try to find arguments opposing theirs. It was not easy…From time to time, one of the group would come out and say “I don’t agree at all with them to be sure, but on certain points, I must admit for example, the Jews”…And that kind of comment was a symptom. Three weeks later, that person would become a Nazi. He was caught in a mechanism, he accepted everything, he became a Rhinoceros. Toward the end, it was only three or four of us who resisted.”

In the late 1920’s, the Romanian radical right argued that Jews were illegal immigrants in Romania. The Romanian fascists said Jews had obtained Romanian citizenship fraudulently. Many Romanian Jews were of Ashkenazi descent and had moved from Poland to Romania in the nineteenth century.

Before World War II, Romania had a Jewish population of 700,000. The Jewish community was one of the oldest in Europe. It became a target for xenophobic feelings. The Romanian fascists and their Nazi allies murdered an estimated 280,000 Jews during the war years. Fewer than 9,000 Jews remain in Romania today.

President Trump’s demagogic arguments about illegal immigrants mirror the same type of arguments made by the Romanian fascists against the Jews in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Donald Trump is an angry, rampaging rhinoceros. He is best known for his verbal charge where he tries to scare everyone. The Trump rhino is unusually obese. Most rhinos are herbivores but the Trump rhino exists on a steady diet of fast food. Although lumbering, he has been known to charge in the direction of dollar bills.

In his younger years, during rutting season, he was infamous for hanging out with his rhino pal, Jeffrey Epstein, surveying the herd of very young female rhinos, looking for 10’s. The Trump rhino has a history of gravitating to low places.

Highly unusual in the animal kingdom, this beast demonstrates both a high degree of self-absorption and a very short attention span. The Trump rhino seeks wide open space on golf courses while experiencing a notable fear of enclosure in a zoo-like pen.

The creature has a nasty, vengeful temperament. Due to his mean streak, the Trump rhino can place babies and children in cages for months at a time. He ignores their cries.

As an elderly member of the rhino tribe, he does appear to be experiencing a mental decline. Conspiracy theories have replaced logic. While the ability to delineate truth from lies has always been a problem, as the Trump rhino gets closer to an election, lying goes into hyper-drive.

One branch of the Trump rhino family named Q’Anon has descended into madness entirely.

Those humans who have morphed into Trump rhinos follow the herd blindly. They have no difficulty swallowing all varieties of snake oil. Escaping freedom, they long for submission and surrender to a Dear Leader. The rhino followers love strength and hate weakness. Capacity for empathy has been replaced by a love of cruelty. Brute force is their guiding star.

The Trump rhino pretends to religiosity but winning at all costs is his only religion. And love of money.

If mention of 188,000 (and counting) dead Americans gets in the way of re-election narrative, the story of the pandemic must be buried. The Trump rhino mourns no one. He sees no money in public health.

Ionesco described engaging the fascist true believers in Romania. He said first they regarded him as an alarmist, then a nuisance and finally an enemy to be run down. He said, “….they looked like they wanted to lower their head and charge”.

2020 has become an effort to promote reason and to fight a fascist advance in America. The Trump rhino is not a buffoon – he is a skilled authoritarian politician who should not be underestimated.

We are living our own theater of the absurd. Rhinoceros is now.

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