Ranked Choice Voting Plus

First, a reminder:: If you have any questions about what Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is or how it works, plan to attend the local Fair Vote Washington chapter Zoom “Ranked Choice Voting 101” this coming Monday, January 11th, 7-8PM. These are the basics. It’s a great presentation with local people. This is one of the ways Washington State (and, later, maybe the rest of the country) can help avoid repeating the last four years. If you are available to join, please register to receive the join link. (I advertised a different meeting around RCV [See “Elections-A Better Way] that happened last December 14. Some of you may have attended. Our Spokane County Auditor, Vicky Dalton, was available to answer questions on that Zoom, which was great, but that Zoom lacked the time to go over the basics. RCV 101 covers the basics.

Fox News v. MSNBC on the insurrection/riot. Last week Wednesday, January 6, I was seated, socially distanced from two other watchers, in a waiting room seeing the violence and destruction in our U.S. Capitol Building unfold in real time on ABC TV. It was quickly apparent that the three of us were similarly aghast at the unfolding spectacle. After fifteen minutes or so, a late middle aged woman pushing someone in a wheelchair passed behind us, glanced over her shoulder at the television and declared loudly, “All you see there is lies. You need to watch OAN [One America News]!” All three of us realized that my response, stated calmly, “Lady, you need to crawl out of your news silo and come up for air,” had zero chance of changing her mind. Clearly, talking this woman out of OAN would be like trying to extract a believer from the Jim Jones cult before they drank the Kool-Aid. I’ve met other pro-Trump cult members devoted to the news they get from The Epoch Times, financed and run by the Falun Gong, now based in New York City. Copies of The Epoch Times are sprinkled across news stands in Spokane. You may have had one or several sent to you. And, then, of course, there is the whole QAnon cult. The people adherent to these sources of dis-information are among Trump’s most loyal followers. 

I do not ordinarily have access to cable TV, but this weekend I did. The One America Network (OAN) was not offered, but I had access to Fox News and MSNBC on adjacent channels. Fox News (and the Wall Street Journal) are part of 20 billion dollar media empire owned and run by Rupert Murdoch and his family. [Aside: Some have cited the absence of Murdoch-controlled media in New Zealand as a major reason the Kiwis have done so well controlling Covid-19.] The contrast between the coverage and opinion could not have been more stark. MSNBC was wall-to-wall footage of the mayhem at the Capitol, the Trump speech just before that egged on the insurrectionists, and talk of resignation, impeachment, and the 25th Amendment. 

On Fox I watched parts of Watters’ World and parts of The Greg Gutfeld Show, both talking head programs of which I had never before heard. The striking thing was the uniformity of message: The mayhem at the Capitol was deplorable. It was carried out by crazy people who needed to be punished! Both shows then went on to draw a grossly false equivalency between the BLM protests this last summer and the Capitol mayhem. Both shows featured clips of talking heads on other media who were portrayed as downplaying the violence last summer, and ridiculing them for any rage they expressed over the events of January 6. Even more striking was the absence of coverage of Trump’s exhortation to take over the Capitol. It were as if the rioters had simply materialized on their own. Impeachment would be an unjustified effort by crazed Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, all the “haters” intent on destroying the country with socialism. Goebbels must be smiling. When talking with any Republican you know with whom you can still have a conversation, beware that this false equivalency narrative may be fresh on their mind accompanied by little awareness of Trump’s blatant incitement to riot. 

It is quiet long, but if you have access to the New York Times Magazine this is a great read: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/magazine/trump-coup.html?referringSource=articleShare, The article is entitled “The American Abyss.”

There is much to do, much to shore up, much to repair. This evening from 7-8 get informed about Ranked Choice Voting with the Zoom meeting RCV 101. Here’s the link for signup again: register to receive the join link.

Keep to the high ground,

You Didn’t See This Coming?

The last week was full of events in Washington, D.C., Olympia, WA, and communities all over the nation, events that will, in FDR’s and Chuck Schumer’s words, “live on in infamy.” The dust is only beginning to settle. The stage-setting for the trashing of the U.S. Capitol Building by Confederate flag-waving terrorists has been visible in Eastern Washington and northern Idaho for decades. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich (R) called out then Representative Matt Shea years ago for Shea’s gun-waving theocratic militia nonsense.  Knezovich warned that a local Republican Party that supported the like of Matt Shea was courting its own disaster. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, nonetheless, played footsie with that local domestic terrorist wing of the Spokane County Republicans. After all, it was good politics for her, the political chameleon with a toothy smile–she needed their votes to stay in the U.S. Congress. She strode in lockstep with Donald Trump for four years. Last Tuesday afternoon she said she would vote the next day with the seditious wing of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives to challenge the Electors from several states. She tried to conceal this pandering to Trump’s siloed base by couching her position as supporting “investigation.” After the trashing of the U.S. Capitol at the instigation of Donald Trump she hurriedly backpedalled, stating she would no longer vote with the insurrectionist representatives. All I can think to ask is “You didn’t see this coming? Where were you?” 

There was a discussion way back in 2016 on whether to take Donald Trump “seriously, but not literally” or “literally but not seriously.” I’ve long suspected that we all should have taken him both seriously and literally, as the Wednesday storming of the Capitol amply demonstrates. The best column I’ve seen on this is by Ezra Klein in the NYTImes on January 7–“Trump Has Always Been a Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing.” I highly recommend it as bedrock material for understanding present events. Trump has always been completely transparent; he has always believed exactly what he said, but what he said was so outrageous many were unable to imagine that he actually meant what he said. 

Today I offer a copy of an email I received yesterday morning from Nicole Bishop, the chair of the Spokane County Democrats, that was sent to members of the local Democratic Party. It does an excellent job of wrapping the local to the national in terms with which I resonate.

Dear Democrats,

Today is a dark day in our country’s history.

The world watched as armed terrorists stormed the U.S. Capitol Building as a means to protest the results and certification of the United States Presidential Election. Governor Inslee’s mansion has now been infiltrated by these domestic terrorists as well. This is a widespread effort.

The term “terrorism“ is used so often in incorrect circumstances that the term has become hackneyed. Terrorism is not a term reserved for peaceful protestors or people of color engaging in the political process, nor is it reserved for foreign extremists. It’s reserved for insurgents who violently take over a government building in an attempted coup. These armed insurgents are domestic terrorists, and will be referred to as such. Today, our country faced a coordinated domestic terrorist attack.

Network and cable news appear shocked that this horrendous and violent coup would take place, but as Democrats, we saw the writing on the wall for quite some time.

Let’s first take a look at Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:
Sedition (n): Incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority

For months, Republican leaders have been inciting resistance among their supporters. Until today, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers vowed to oppose the Electoral College results. She joined a litany of political leaders who made the same pledge, all while decrying the “stolen election”- the same stolen election, whose results they gladly accepted for their own victories.

It’s easy to blame Trump for this, and certainly Trumpism is a huge part of the problem. But the reality is, this problem existed long before Trump, and will continue long after January 20th when he ceases to be relevant. The real actors to blame are the Republican politicians who consistently opposed doing the right thing and who repeatedly supported the most extreme voices within the party.

Politicians who are complicit in this need to be held accountable to set a precedent that this cannot happen nor be swept under the rug. Our Democracy is at stake. We cannot accept months, years of language that incites resistance (sedition), and expect that one statement repudiating it to undo the years of destruction their sedition caused. At this point, we are seeing politicians (like CMR) speaking out as a form of damage control. And I appreciate that they finally now have decided to take a stand and do the right thing. But one statement does not reverse years of hostility that incited these insurgents to this point.

For the record, I do not place the preponderance of blame on the insurgents who are seizing the Capitol Building. They are scared individuals who have placed their trust in the wrong leaders. These leaders cannot now act as though the step these insurgents took is unimaginable; they’re merely following the implicit orders of the leaders they support.

And unfortunately, this is not new. 

In 2009 when Former-President Obama was inaugurated into office, Mitch McConnell met with other Republican leaders at the time with a single pledge: Do anything in their power to make Obama a one-term president. Fortunately, their efforts failed, but along the way, they dog-whistled their way to the rise of the Tea Party. For eight years, Democrats endured the constant onslaught of Republicans insisting Obama was not born in this country, that he was not a true adherent of the religion he claimed to follow, that his tan suit was an abomination, that he violated the constitution on grounds unknown, that he should be impeached for the four lives lost in Benghazi.

As Obama worked against nearly impenetrable opposition to make improvements to the country, the Tea Party movement grew in equal measure, eventually resulting in the election of Donald Trump.

What we are seeing today did not grow in a vacuum overnight. And we need to hold politicians who led to this moment accountable to their culpability.

When Black Lives Matter protestors used legal means to peacefully protest, they were met with an onslaught of rubber bullets and tear gas and harsh decries from Republicans across the country that their actions are dangerous and unpatriotic.

Today, insurgents charged the Capitol Building and seized control, armed with guns and bombs. The response? Donald Trump told them “I love you.”

The past four years have highlighted all that is broken in our country- and has been broken for a long time. We have much to fix- from the deeply embedded relationship with white nationalism within our bureaucratic systems to the extent to which complicit leaders can produce violence and despotism.

How can we start to fix this incredible brokenness? We start by not forgetting the leaders who incited this violence locally and nationally: Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Jenny Graham, Loren Culp, Matt Shea- the list goes on.

Their silence was literally violence, and our country’s future depends on us remembering.

In solidarity,
Nicole Bishop | She, Her, Hers
Don’t forget to sign up for RCV 101 (go back to the top 🙂 and

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. For a more optimistic take on our present situation nationwide I recommend “The next era starts now.”

CMR’s “Trickle-Down” Economics

Supply-side economics” has been the economic policy of the Republican Party for the last forty years. Known pejoratively (and more accurately) as “trickle-down economics,” supply-siders subscribe to “the economic proposition that taxes on businesses and the wealthy [the “job creators”] in society should be reduced as a means to stimulate business investment in the short term and benefit society at large in the long term.” [1]

Of course, as a guiding principle for enactment of policy, trickle-down economics can be a tough sell. The trickle-down pill needs a sugar coating to make it palatable to the voting public. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, eastern Washington’s representative to the U.S. House (Congressional District 5), applied the sugar coating to one of the biggest Republican trickle-down triumphs in the last forty years, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Tax Cuts and Jobs mostly benefitted corporations and wealthy taxpayers, but every time McMorris Rodgers spoke of the bill in public, you were guaranteed to hear that she was proud of her vote for this bill that would put “money in your pocket.” That sugar coating was meant to direct the average taxpayer’s attention to the small tax break for the average guy contained in the bill in the hope that voters would ignore the huge tax breaks the bill contained for corporations and the already wealthy–and the huge expansion of the national debt. If she thought at all beyond the “money in your pocket” slogan she never let on. But as a good Republican she probably justified “money in your pocket” as a necessary subterfuge to put in motion the magic of trickle-down economic expansion. Indeed, the broad economy expanded and the stock market roared in response to the extra money at the top. Before the pandemic the average family might be pardoned if they felt their prospects brightened as their tiny boat rose with the tide as “all boats were lifted.” 

But the pandemic–and McMorris Rodgers voting record in response to the pandemic–lay bare the fallacy of trickle-down economics. A yawning chasm has opened in the American economy between the wealthiest of the wealthy (think Amazon and Jeff Bezos) and the folks trying to pay their rent, take care if their children and put food on the table. Yes, the stock market is roaring again–and the bank accounts of the wealthy have not shrunk–but the 45% of Americans who own no stocks whatsoever (and many of the 55% who do have a small stake in the market) see their boats taking on water–even as the wealthy float high–and invest in ever-larger boats.

So where is McMorris Rodgers’ allegiance? Is she still convinced that the way to help her constituents pay their bills and put food on the table is to pour money in at the top so it trickles down? In March, along with 419 of her 433 House colleagues she voted “Aye” on the CARES Act. It wasn’t a controversial vote–nor should it have been. Most citizens remember CARES for the $1,200 tax rebate it provided. Some others remember CARES for its extension of unemployment benefits. But, in fact, three quarters of the roughly two trillion dollars in CARES went out to a complex mix of large corporations, small businesses, and local and state governments. All of that money was doled out via fragmented and complex application and grant procedures of which most hourly and even salaried wage earners were oblivious. [2]

Two months later, in May 2020 McMorris Rodgers must have gotten over the idea that “money in your pocket” for the average person was in the country’s  best interests, the slogan she’d pushed with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Instead, that May she quietly voted “Nay” on a second stimulus bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, the HEROES Act. The pandemic economic downturn continued in spite of Trump’s rosy predictions. People were hurting, evictions were on the rise. HEROES offered another $1200 payment to individuals, extended unemployment benefits, offered help with utilities payments, and expanded SNAP benefits [3]. The bill targeted much more of its aid to struggling workers and working families than did the CARES Act. (See Stipulations.) HEROES passed the Democratically-controlled House but it was blocked from a vote (like so much other legislation) by Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate. HEROES was blocked because it was anathema to Republican trickle-down dogma. Deficit spending was fine as long as the deficit was expanded by cutting taxes on the wealthy (as in Tax Cuts and Jobs), but not fine if it merely shored up the average American struggling in the pandemic economy.

McMorris Rodgers was faced with one more test of trickle-down devotion, a test she surely had hoped to dodge. In December 2020 the latest round of coronavirus relief, in the amount of 900 billion dollars, was wrapped up in H.R.133 – the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, the last minute 2.2 trillion dollar bill to fund the government. McMorris Rodgers voted “yea” on December 21. She could hardly vote otherwise. To vote against this massive piece of last minute legislation might have shut down the government (and certainly would have kept legislators in Washington, D.C. even longer.) She must have breathed a sigh of relief when H.R. 133 was sent to President Trump for his signature. Despite strong voices for a greater amount, Republicans had managed to limit direct payments to Americans to only $600, rather than the $1200 others had proposed. (These $600 payments only represent 7% of the spending authorized in the H.R.133. However, the $600 number got a lot of press because it was a number to which the average voter could relate. It was, after all, the one direct “money in your pocket” piece of the whole Act.) 

But then Donald Trump threw the whole tidy political triumph in disarray. After taking a mostly hands-off approach to H.R. 133 negotiations, he lashed out at Congress by demanding the $600 payment be expanded to $2000–while threatening to veto (or pocket veto) the bill if he didn’t get his way. In response, the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help Act (CASH Act), was immediately presented in the House of Representatives to increase the payment to $2000. How would McMorris Rodgers vote? Only one time in the last four years had she voted against the will of Donald Trump (on a bill that would have weakened the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a law of intense personal interest to her as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome). But now: Drama! Consternation! An up and down vote on the choice between trickle-down dogma and offering $2000 of direct help to struggling citizens. The choice was made worse by her lame duck leader, a man for whom a majority of her constituents had voted in November. How she must have wished to dodge this vote…

Her allegiance was clear. She voted against the CASH Act, explaining her “Nay” vote by writing “Unfortunately, the CASH Act would add $464 billion to our national debt. I believe assistance should be more targeted.” She had just voted for a 900 billion dollar coronavirus stimulus as part of H.R. 133, only $166 billion would go to direct checks. She had enthusiastically voted in 2017 to fuel the deficit by cutting taxes, but now, suddenly, oh, my, the national debt! We cannot raise the national debt by actually helping people at the bottom directly! Too much!

These votes of McMorris Rodgers need to be remembered. In this “Nay” vote on the CASH Act, McMorris Rodgers has once again declared her devotion to trickle-down economics–the bogus Reaganite economic idea that everyone benefits by cutting the taxes of the wealthy. While Spokane families can’t come up with the money to pay their utility bills, McMorris Rodgers wants to “target” money elsewhere. 

Keep to the high ground,

[1] Supply-side, aka trickle-down, economics follows directly on economic principles current in the Gilded Age (approx.1870-1900), a time of glaring income and wealth inequality not unlike our own. Those principles were derided at the time as “horse and sparrow economics,” the idea that oats fed into the horse (the wealthy, “job-creator” class) would offer undigested grain in their manure for the sparrows (the working class) who would pick over. The income and wealth disparity of the Gilded Age fueled the labor movement of the early 20th century. 

[2] Note that Republicans had no difficulty with the broad tax cuts for corporations and upper income taxpayers in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Republican rhetoric revolves around “not picking winners and losers” and “the magic of the free market,” but when it comes right down to it offering money to struggling Americans with no strings attached isn’t palatable to them. After all, those lazy common people given $1200 or $2000 won’t use it to pay their bills or stay economically afloat, would they? Giving those folks “money in the their pocket” in times like these will just be a disincentive for these lazy people to get back to work, won’t it?

[3] SNAP is  the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”–the U.S. Department of Agriculture program once characterized as “Welfare” or “Food Stamps”–a program on which, in 2018, 40 million low income Americans depended). (Read “Let’s Talk About Food Stamps” for some perspective on this assistance.)

Covid and Immunity

In the study of Covid-19 we are learning as we go. Since it has only been a year (is that possible?) that this plague has been upon us, one thing we cannot yet know is the duration of immunity to re-infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Other coronaviruses (several of which cause versions of the common cold) stimulate an immune responses in their hosts that last only a matter of a few months, so it is logical to worry that our immune response to SARS-CoV-2 (or even our immune response to a fancy vaccine) might also wane over a few months. That’s worrisome to consider. 

In the December 23, 2020, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) a large and (to me) fascinating study was published entitled “Antibody Status and Incidence of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Health Care Workers.” This work provides an interim answer to the question of durability of the immune response to SARS-CoV-2. It is a great example of how modern science works. I love this stuff and I have read such articles for years, but with all the jargon I still find it challenging to digest the details. 

Here is the study conclusion: “The presence of anti-spike or anti-nucleocapsid IgG antibodies was associated with a substantially reduced risk of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection in the ensuing 6 months.” Dang. That’s really dry and unexciting. That conclusion barely made the news, even though this is a peer-reviewed study involving 32 authors, 12,541 participants, a huge effort and cost (funded by the government of the United Kingdom) that was published in one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world. Dry and unexciting it might be, but this is the stuff of which scientific truth is made.

Let me re-phrase and expand on the study’s conclusions and implications. If your blood shows anti-spike antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, whether as a result of asymptomatic or symptomatic Covid-19 disease, then, at least for six months, it appears that your protection against re-infection is really, really good. We didn’t know that. Instead, what we’ve seen in the news and on social media is the occasional worrisome anecdote, “Joe Blow was sick with Covid-19 in April and, OMG, he’s suffering with it again!” Basic details in these anecdotes are usually lacking. Was Mr. Blow PCR test positive in April? Was his first illness really Covid or something else? How often does this happen?

The results of this study make the Joe Blow anecdote doubtful–or at least suggest Mr. Blow’s experience is very rare. The study enrolled a special group of participants, 12,541 health care workers at Oxford University Hospitals in the United Kingdom, a relatively captive audience with more exposure to Covid-19 than most. All participants were tested for the presence of two different and very specific antibodies in their blood: anti-spike and anti-nucleocapsid IgG (immunoglobulin of “class” G). [1]  This special group of participants (called a cohort) was assembled back in April, 2020. (How’s that for forethought?) Of the 12,541 participants, 11,364 had no detected anti-spike antibodies when first tested on enrollment in the study, whereas 1177 did have anti-spike antibodies. 

During the study 88 of those who did not have antibodies at baseline “seroconverted,” that is, they developed anti-spike antibodies during the followup period and were then counted in the anti-spike antibody positive group, bringing the number of seropositive participants up to 1265. 

Of those 1265 people anti-spike antibody seropositive participants not a single one developed symptomatic Covid-19 in the following six months. Even more encouraging (and striking), of those 1265 participants only 2 turned up with a positive PCR test for the virus in routine followup testing. Since anti-spike antibodies are the same type of antibody produced in response to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines it seems likely that immunity induced by these vaccines will be similarly durable.

Of course, the lack of symptomatic Covid-19 in the antibody positive participants would be meaningless if those folks had no exposure to the disease during the followup period, so reporting the results among the antibody negative participants (the “control group”) is critically important. Among the 11,364 originally antibody negative participants, 223 had one or more positive PCR tests for Covid-19 during followup. Of those 223 with a positive PCR test 106 experienced symptomatic disease. (PCR=”polymerase chain reaction” test, the standard, highly sensitive, test for presence of a virus particle or part of a virus particle in the nose.) [2] 

After adjustments for total days followed in the study the ratio between the risk of having a positive PCR test for a person with anti-spike antibodies over six months is 0.11, i.e. 1 in 10, of the risk of having a positive PCR test for a person without baseline antibodies. Moreover, in this study, speaking only of symptomatic Covid-19, the risk ratio is zero. The takeaway is that immunity is durable at least up to six months once one demonstrates anti-spike antibodies in one’s blood. 

Keep to the high ground,

[1] The anti-spike IgG antibody is produced in response to Covid-19 infection but it is also the antibody type our immune systems are asked to produce in response to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In contrast, the anti-nucleocapsid IgG antibody (the other antibody tested in this Oxford study) is not produced in response to the two currently approved vaccines. That suggests that anti-nucleocapsid antibodies can be thought of as a marker for actual infection with Covid-19. That offers a possible means of determining whether a individual’s immunity is based on a response Covid-19 disease or a response to the vaccine.(The “spike protein” is the corona of the coronavirus. It is essential to the binding of the virus to the surface of our cells. The “nucleocapsid” is the genetic material of the virus particle contained in the particle’s interior. It consists of the virus’ nucleic acids (in this case it’s RNA) and associated enveloping and associated proteins, its “capsid”) 

[2] Notice that only 26 of the 88 participants who seroconverted during the study (developed anti-spike antibodies) ever demonstrated a positive PCR test for the presence of virus. Message: unless one is tested very frequently (more than once every two weeks) the testing may miss a brief period of viral shedding–or maybe some folks never shed virus in their noses). Also notice that only 26 of the 233 originally seronegative folks who then had a positive PCR test went on to seroconvert (and be counted among the 88). Tantalizing (but not nearly statistically significant) is the fact that among 24 originally seronegative participants who had had a positive PCR test for the virus (and symptoms) before enrollment, none of them had another positive PCR test during the study (and 5 of those 24 seroconverted during the study). That raises some small hope that some folks with symptoms and a positive PCR even without seroconversion (at least to the threshold titer used in this study) may be more immune than this study otherwise suggests. 

P.S. Asymptomatic infection: Of the 1177 participants with anti-spike antibodies at baseline, 864 (68%) recalled having had symptoms consistent with Covid-19, that is, 32% recalled no symptoms. (This is consistent with current estimates that about 40% of those infected never have symptoms.)

P.P.S. One final note on the scientific endeavor. Immunity is complex. Other studies have been a bit worrisome because antibody titers (concentration of antibodies in the blood) naturally wane with time, but the immune system tends to keep a record of the threat and the antibody response to that threat in the form of “memory cells” of various kinds (T and B). This Oxford Study is, at this time, unique in providing us with actual data of viral shedding and re-infection–not just measurement of waning titers of antibodies. (It turns out that the assays for immune memory are expensive, challenging, and not always predictive. That’s why most of what gets quoted in the media are studies that worry us by reporting antibody titers alone as a proxy for immunity–and that can be misleading.)

Time Off

I intend to take the next two weeks off. Expect my next scheduled MWF post to appear at 5AM Monday, January 4, 2021. Please put that date on your calendar and look for the email so it isn’t shunted off into a Junk, Spam, or Promotions folder.

I have been writing these posts for four years. I am not done. I thank you, my readers, for the encouragement you provide. The task of learning a topic well enough to organize it and then write about it clearly enough that I can understand it myself (and, hopefully, others can, too) is satisfying, exhilarating–and consuming. 

As this tumultuous year staggers toward a close I wish you and all of us the happiest, safest, and healthiest holiday season we can possibly manage. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. For a clear explanation of how the new mRNA vaccines work and how they are different from previous vaccine technology I recommend this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMXGGmBfkf8&feature=youtu.be  It is probably not perfect in every detail and nuance, but the video is a great animated explanation of how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work. [One fine point: the video mentioned something called “self-amplifying mRNA vaccines.” Neither the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine is “self-amplifying” in the way illustrated as far as I can determine.]

Vaccines and Trust

As we stagger toward the end of 2020 there is hope, a hope tempered, for many, by skepticism and uncertainty. Vaccines against the scourge of Covid-19 are becoming available at a record pace, even as multiple worries and wonderings percolate among us. The concerns run the gamut from “I’m just not sure it’s safe” to “the vaccine is a plot by Bill Gates to track us by implanting nano chips in our bodies so the masterminds of the New World Order can control us.” Much concern stems fundamentally from doubts about the motivations of the vaccine innovators–folks we don’t know–toiling away somewhere meddling with biology we struggle to understand. We wonder how much money and politics pollutes the whole endeavor. All that concern is heightened by four years of a president consistently unmoored from reality and from science. [Watch “Totally Under Control” on Hulu or Amazon Prime for a comprehensive review of pandemic mismanagement, the last year of that unmoored reign.]

Our suspicions have been stoked by at least a half century of Republican declarations on the evils of “big government,” by countless dystopian movies and novels (e.g. The Matrix), by religious leaders prognosticating the End Times evils that supposedly lurk among us, and by the fantastical conspiracies that crazy folk like Alex Jones spend their lives spinning. Small wonder that we harbor lingering doubts about everything. 

I take great comfort in reading the transparently presented vaccine trials themselves, like the Pfizer vaccine Phase III trial I reviewed here. I firmly believe that the, literally, thousands of people involved in this vaccine effort and trials and others like it, are primarily motivated by a desire to help their fellow humans threw off the oppression of this virus by developing a safe and effective vaccine.

Keep in mind there will never be a vaccine that has zero risk. There is absolute certainty. There will always be the chance of an idiosyncratic deadly or debilitating reaction. That said, a detailed report of nearly 20,000 people vaccinated with an excellent interim result is good enough for me–especially when I compare it to the isolation we have kept for nearly a year and the misery and death associated with Covid-19 that creeps closer each day among our friends and acquaintances. 

I have copied and pasted below Betsy Brown, M.D.’s December 16 post in Update from an Epidemic. I encourage you to sign up for her daily email at that link. I look forward to it each evening. She is a physician in Seattle whom I know as an acquaintance through several friends. Her emails offer me some surprising insights. I reproduce this one as an expansion on the issue of trust and as an example of her excellent work as an commenter on the pandemic.(In this one Dr. Brown expanded my mind on a topic about which I’ve written, Smallpox variolation and vaccination.)

Keep to the high ground, 

I have known about the Tuskegee Study for years. The Tuskegee Study is a major factor in why so many African Americans distrust the medical system, and especially, the research arm of it. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment ran from 1932 until 1972 (!). African American men who had latent syphilis were followed to see the natural history of the disease. The men thought they were getting free health care and were unaware they were infected. The syphilis was left untreated, despite penicillin being available to cure it. 600 poor sharecroppers were followed to see the course of the disease. 399 had latent syphilis, at least 128 died from syphilis or its complications. Obviously violating ethical standards, when discovered, outrage led to new regulations to protect people in studies. This is one reason why “informed consent” in research is so detailed. Consent is considered vital.The other effect of the study being found out was that it added more fuel to African American’s distrust of the medical system, especially involving clinical research. This is a major reason many clinical trials have low numbers of African Americans as subjects. It is also why they may be distrustful of a vaccine for COVID-19. You can’t really blame them.But maybe when they find out that Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who is African American, helped design the vaccine, they will be more accepting. She hopes so.And then I read another story about early inoculations for smallpox and learned things I didn’t know. I wish I had known this hidden history earlier. The concept of inoculation with a tiny amount of smallpox came from Africa and China. A slave in Boston shared the idea of using inoculation in the early 1700’s when there was a smallpox outbreak. The inoculation with a tiny amount matter from a small pox lesion, called variolation after the smallpox virus known as variola. This caused a milder case of smallpox which then gave that person immunity. Occasionally the person inoculated got much sicker and sometimes died, which made people leery of the practice. This is a fascinating read and involves Cotton Mather of the Salem Witch Trials fame. The story includes conspiracy theories and blame, with slave owners taking ownership for an idea that was not original, and with others dismissive and fearful of African culture. Our culture of disinformation is not so new, after all.Later this concept of inoculation was used in Great Britain to inoculate people with a less virulent (not as dangerous) but related virus (cowpox or vaccinia) to prevent smallpox or variola. It worked and vaccinations were born, named after that first vaccinia inoculation. Now we hope to convince people they are safe and effective and not some conspiracy. Our work is cut out for us.Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, check your sources.And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_Syphilis_Studyhttps://abcnews.go.com/Health/kizzmekia-corbett-african-american-woman-praised-key-scientist/story?id=74679965https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/16/health/kizzmekia-kizzy-corbett-interview-moderna-vaccine-gupta/index.htmlhttps://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/the-african-roots-of-inoculation-in-america-saving-lives-for-three-centuries/https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation/from-voter-fraud-to-vaccine-lies-misinformation-peddlers-shift-gears/

Seditious Sycophants

Last week Congressional District 5 (Eastern WA) U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, along with 125 of the 195 other House Republicans collectively lost their minds. In an act of sedition, they signed an amicus brief in support of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s delusional lawsuit to overturn the will of the majority of the American people. (Here’s the amicus brief. Search for your Republican Representative by using CMD-F and entering their name. In addition to McMorris Rodgers you will find Rep. Newhouse of south central Washington and Reps. Simpson and Fulcher of Idaho, all Republicans.) Paxton, Trump, and their supporters would like the rest of us to believe that Paxton’s lawsuit was meant to salvage the presidential election from rampant voting fraud–but that is not what Paxton’s suit addressed. Paxton’s legal claim turned on the idea that the State of Texas (represented by Paxton, its attorney general) had the proper standing with the U.S. Supreme Court to contest the legitimacy of the voting of four other states, specifically four states in which the popular vote was won by Joe Biden: Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

The technical point on which Paxton’s argument turns is extremely narrow. He contends that in each of these four states election rules were changed in the lead up to the November election by state entities that lacked the authority to make those changes. Paxton’s entire argument rests on one clause in the U.S. Constitution: Article II, Section 1, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…” Paxton wants the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and invalidate the certified result of the elections conducted in these four states on the grounds that details of the voting rules in those four states were adjusted without specific action by the respective state legislatures. 

Paxton argues that these supposed constitutionally invalid voting rule changes in these four states resulted in such massive voting fraud that the U.S. Supreme Court needs to step in and invalidate the election results, thus throwing the selection of Electors to the Electoral College to the choice of the Republican led legislatures of those states. Paxton makes this shameless argument in spite of the fact that these four state have already been the subject of numerous grandstanding lawsuits contesting the results, all of which have been ruled against for lack of evidence and credibility, in many cases by judges appointed by Trump himself. The results of the elections have already been certified, sometimes (Georgia) by long time Republican Secretaries of State, and the Electors appointed by the popular vote were due to cast their ballots last Monday. 

Last Friday the Court summarily dismissed Paxton’s suit. The Court said the state of Texas did not have the legal standing to ask the Court to meddle in the electoral affairs of other states. Mr. Trump, in his mob boss mentality, must have figured the conservative members of the Supreme Court “owed him one” after his three conservative appointments to the court. Fortunately, the Justices decided against Trump and in favor of the rule of law.

One might dismiss the 126 U.S. Representatives who signed on to Paxton’s suit as sycophants fawning over Trump and their mutual supporters who have bought into Trump’s more than four years of incessant and baseless rhetoric alleging rampant election fraud. Their whole movement has felt so absurdly faceless as to be humorous–but is no longer funny. Trump and these Republicans are tearing at the fabric of our democracy, fostering a narrative of minority grievance that broke out into Trump supporters roaming the streets of our cities last weekend with paintball guns, real guns, and knives. These actions (and Trump’s continued grandstanding and refusal to concede) threatens the stability of our government in a way this country hasn’t seen since the Civil War. (Read Prof. Heather Cox Richardson’s history lesson from December 10.

McMorris Rodgers and company will, no doubt, soft pedal the meaning of her signature on the amicus brief. At least she will soft pedal her signature when speaking to the general voters of eastern Washington. Indeed, you can read her statement here. She speaks of “razor-thin margins” and the need for the Supreme Court to answer Paxton’s constitutional questions “so the American people can move forward.” Apparently, a seven million popular vote margin and the need to overturn the popular vote in four major states to change the Electoral College is, in her fevered mind, “razor-thin.” What does she mean by “move forward”? Think, Cathy. Trump lost the election. Does having the Supreme Court deliberating for weeks or months over a hail Mary pass to overturn the electoral will of the people strike you as “moving forward”? You, Cathy, are a member of a Party with a problem, a problem of people led to believe in a fantasy–and you and yours are dependent on those people in order for you to stay in power. 

You and your fellow signatories in support of Paxton’s suit are leading your deluded followers toward unrest and rebellion. In a world with proper consequences the U.S. House of Representatives would refuse to seat all of you in January based on Section 3 of Constitutional Amendment 14

Keep to the high ground,