by Daryl Slusher


A Pearl Harbor – Coronavirus analogy falls short.

Ways to support medical workers and Austin businesses

Folks, I’m still keeping an eye on local government, just like it says on the masthead. It’s difficult though to write about anything other than the coronavirus. So let’s begin today’s installment with a look at semi-local Congressman Chip Roy and his approach to the coronavirus. Roy represents part of Austin in one of the districts that the Texas Legislature gerrymandered long ago in a failed attempt to get rid of Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett

The District, District 21, stretches from around Barton Springs, south through a sliver of South Austin, then bulges out into the Hill Country well beyond Kerrville, while a sliver snakes down into suburban San Antonio. Before first termer Roy, it was represented by famous climate change denier Lamar Smith, who retired. 

The last time most of us heard about Roy was when he voted against an earlier coronavirus relief package. He even went so far as to ridicule the bill on Twitter: “The only thing missing from the #PelosiDeal is free toilet paper for all.” This was accompanied by a picture of a stack of toilet paper rolls. 

Roy quickly got zinged by a number of constituents and also by his Democratic opponent, former State Senator Wendy Davis. Davis tweeted in response: “I see you tried to delete this tweet below. Unfortunately for you, the internet doesn’t forget. Nor will voters when they find out you voted against bipartisan legislation addressing this growing health and economic crisis.”

Of course it remains to be seen whether a majority of District 21 voters will kick Roy out come November, but he does seem a bit nervous. Roy, however, announced support for the recent $2 trillion relief package, although he didn’t actually make it to the vote.

Roy granted an interview to YNN News late last week. Reporter Karina Kling asked him some pretty tough questions, but let’s just say the first one wasn’t quite as hard as Roy made it. Kling pointed out that Roy supported the more recent relief package and asked, “Do you anticipate more relief on the way?”

This prompted Roy to launch into a rather defensive explanation of why he supported the recent bill. Some call it a “stimulus” package, he said, but to him “it is much more  analogous to a sort of a taking.” Roy went on, “Government is limiting our ability to engage in commerce. They’re shutting down restaurants, shutting down the ability of people to carry out their livelihoods. So it’s an appropriate role for government to say, ‘we are going to compensate you for being shut down.” He never got close to answering whether he anticipated more relief packages. 

Next Kling asked if Roy supports “stay at home orders” currently in place. Roy acknowledged the importance of social distancing, but pivoted to: “however, we have to start working towards a date to get the economy back and going” — framing that as if getting the economy back on track was a unique idea with him. Roy offered only one specific on how to do that: “we’ve got to work very hard to get testing in place and get the protocols in place so that in a matter of a few weeks we can get everything back up and running.” Roy didn’t mention that the Trump Administration he so ardently supports continues to fail the country in developing testing and protocols.

OK, first of all let’s note that Roy, an elected US Congressman, refers to “the government” as “they.” Then there’s that “taking” analogy which he invokes in an attempt to fit his support for the $2 trillion relief package into his anti-government ideology. How far can we go with that? If that applies to the stay at home orders, then what about government negligence in responding to the coronavirus. Under Roy’s logic, If the government “takes” away a person’s health through ignoring the coronavirus and ridiculing its danger, is that a taking? What about government failure to provide testing which has led to wider spread of the virus? And, what if a person that gets it does not have insurance, like the Texans who aren’t covered because Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid? Shouldn’t the government cover that under Roy’s logic?

Now, let’s turn to US Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Adams has sometimes veered off the Tump line and made more sense than higher-ups in the administration — such as the President and Vice-President. His much quoted Pearl Harbor analogy on Sunday, however, comes up a little lacking — although he was sincerely trying to warn the country about a tragic week ahead. The problem with the analogy is that Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack on the United States. The coronavirus was only a surprise to the the Trump Administration, Fox News et al, and whoever was listening to them. To anyone else paying attention, it was clear for ten weeks that the coronavirus was coming to America and that it was very, very serious. If you need any reminders about Trump downplaying and ridiculing the seriousness of the virus, see our previous Trump coronavirus timeline.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams

If any more information was needed to prove that this should have been no surprise, the Washington Post piled it on in heaps in a Sunday April 5 article titled, ““The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged.” Among other issues the Post summarizes, “The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.” 

The Post also reports that beginning on January 3, the intelligence community began warning Trump about the danger of the coronavirus in his Daily Brief: “Yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.” 

These types of summaries, some might say opinions, are backed up with tons of research and investigative reporting. link

The Post calls testing “the most consequential failure.” According to one unnamed official quoted in the story, the problems at CDC included a  lack of required sterile conditions in a CDC lab. The Post reports that an FDA official told CDC officials that the FDA would shut down the CDC lab if it were a commercial, rather than governmental, operation. The Post analysis by the way goes just a little bit deeper than that of Chip Roy, who blamed failures in testing on “government red tape.”

Meanwhile in a CNN interview, Washington Governor Jay Inslee summed up both the lack of a coordinated federal response to the coronavirus and the flaws in the Surgeon General’s Pearl Harbor analogy:

Washington Governor Jay Inslee

“Can you imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, ‘I’ll be right behind you Connecticut, good luck in building those battleships.’”

The same clip from CNN also featured the refreshingly blunt Governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, explaining why a coordinated federal response to the coronavirus was so direly needed: “It’s because individual state governments can’t possibly do what the federal government can do. . . If they had started in February, building ventilators, getting ready for this pandemic, we would not have the problems that we have today and frankly very many fewer people would die.”

If readers want a slightly lighter look at all of this, try the late night comedy shows which are broadcasting from the hosts’ home. For example in one of his “A Closer Look” episodes, Seth Meyers compares governmental coronavirus efforts elsewhere to the US effort. For example Meyers played part of a PBS report saying that Taiwan, due to its proximity to China and the amount of back and forth travel, was early on predicted to have the second most coronavirus cases in the world. Instead, some 80 countries have more cases than Taiwan. Taiwan achieved this through a coordinated national government effort that included taking temperatures and testing at airports, disinfecting luggage, uploading testing results into a national database, and tracing the paths of people who tested positive and posting the resulting data online. 

In South Korea, which reported their first case on the same day as the US, a government led effort also featured aggressive testing, often in cars — convenient to citizens and safer for medial personnel. At press time South Korea had:

  • 10,284 confirmed cases
  • 3,500 of those cases still active; and 
  • 186 deaths. 

The US, with more than six times South Korea’s population, has:

  • 347,082 confirmed cases (or 33 times as many as South Korea); 
  • 317,780 of those still active (90 times as many); and 
  • 10,341 deaths (55 times as many). 

And, the United States’ case numbers are almost certainly lower than the actual reality due to a continuing lack of testing. Sorry, I forgot this was supposed to be the lighter segment.

Meyers also featured Iceland which has such extensive testing that social distancing and business closures did not occur on the level of the US or most European countries. Iceland also has detectives who retrace the paths of those with confirmed cases to warn those with whom the infected citizens came in contact.

Speaking of late night comedy shows, the Daily Show provided a compilation of right wing figures — including Rush Limbaugh and Fox News personalities — downplaying and ridiculing the seriousness of the virus. It’s called “Heroes of the Pandumbic.” lIt is well put together, very informative, and something we all need to remember, but, Warning: it’s not really very funny — through no fault of the Daily Show.

In closing, here are links to a few efforts to support local medical providers, restaurants, and other local businesses during the crisis. #ATXHospitalmeals takes donations to provide meals from local restaurants to local health care providers. They are currently providing meals to medical providers at St. David’s on E. 32nd and will soon begin a similar service to St. David’s Round Rock. Here’s a link to those who might want to donate, along with the hope that the program will be able to expand soon and help feed the great folks at St. David’s South.

And, here’s a link from the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) describing what a lot of local businesses are offering during the coronavirus crisis. There are lots of way to help them stay in business while improving the quality of our shelter in place situation.

In closing a sincere thank you to Austin’s grocery store workers, one of whom just tested positive for coronavirus. They are true heroes and everyone needs to do everything possible to protect them.

Correction: This post has been updated to correct that Chip Roy announced support for the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, but was not actually there to vote.

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