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New Jersey Governor Warns Against 'Illegal' Gatherings: 'No Corona Parties. We Will Crash Your Party'
Officers from Ewing Township broke up a house party where 47 people, including a DJ, violated the state's stay-at-home order.
Could Tokyo Olympics' postponement benefit U.S. women's basketball team?
Tokyo Olympics' postponement is disappointing, but it could give the veteran USA women's basketball team looking to make history time to recharge.        
The Grieving World
If you have ever lost someone you loved, you know the feeling of seeing the world through a bank teller's glass. You observe other people laughing and enjoying their day, but you are apart from them, separated by a thick, bulletproof barrier. You wonder how they can savor that plate of pasta or play music that loud, given what's happened.Normally the experience is isolating, but now, in our new coronavirus world, we're all on the same side of the glass. Every day, we are in contact with the suffering of others. Even if you don't know anyone who has died or have a loved one you are worried will die, you have read about the growing number of deaths in America. If you are like me, your mind can’t help but imagine the people at the other end of those numbers. Today a woman became a widow. A daughter never got to say goodbye to her father. A son answered his mother's request for a blanket, the last words she would ever say to him. For many thousands, today will be one of the hinge points of their life; everything will be defined as either before or after.The blast radius of a single death is bigger than we might think. There are the neighbors who put a candle in the window in solidarity with the family fretting the phone call that might come in the night. There is the retiree who has lost a bridge partner. The nurses and doctors fighting this virus have to shoulder the emotional load for every phone call to frantic family members looking for a sign of hope. They also have to deliver the bad news.Death and suffering surrounds us all the time, but typically the grieving are not in danger of being trampled by public debate. These deaths are now front page news, fodder for Twitter fights or cable pundits. And many of us are distracted, enraged, scared, or just doing what we can to manage the full plate of immediate worries. But in this period we should spare a moment for sorrow and grief. This is the human thing to do and to recognize it is to actually follow through on the pledges that we tell each other to be in this together.If we spare a moment, we avoid trampling on our neighbors who are suffering, who are in need of the simple community feeling of being seen in their loss. If we spare a moment, we minimize the risk of sending a public signal to those who have just lost their world that the rest of the world is indifferent to their suffering. If we spare a moment, we acknowledge that the national push to find solutions and get back to normal at some point, as reasonable as that is, is impossible for many.Ideally a public figure would use his platform, as heroic leaders have in the past, to set this tone. In the absence of that, perhaps we can all use our platforms, whether they be on Twitter or the family text chain, to say what I have tried to say here: that we feel your loss and sorrow and even if words are too clumsy. And when words fail altogether, a moment of silence can say you’re not alone, even in a moment of deep loneliness.The test of a time like this is that it either drives us toward our common humanity, or it drives us apart. Let it be the former.
No, Politics Won’t Take a Break for the Virus
Even in war, Americans keep arguing—and that’s how the country is supposed to work.
Opinion: Rams have become experts at disaster response, are drawing on experience to face coronavirus crisis
The Rams have faced several crisis since returning to L.A., and while construction on stadium continues, their ability to adapt will be tested again.       
China defends against incoming second wave of coronavirus
A growing number of imported coronavirus cases in China, where the epidemic originated in December, risked fanning a second wave of infections when domestic transmissions had "basically been stopped", a senior health official said on Sunday.
Trump campaign takes aim at Biden’s ‘puppeteer’
Ron Klain’s sharp criticism of the president’s coronavirus response has put a bulls-eye on his back.
Inside the White House during '15 Days to Slow the Spread'
Staffers described a time of reassessment as the West Wing reoriented itself entirely around a singular mission. They witnessed historic moments. They wondered what it would all mean.
A North Carolina county is using checkpoints to block visitors and keep coronavirus out
A North Carolina county is taking extreme measures to prevent coronavirus from spreading in its community.
Animal Shelters Urge Humans Confined To Home By Coronavirus Outbreak To Adopt
As states issue stay-at-home orders, animal shelters have had to close their doors. They're coming up with new ways to find homes as they brace for an onslaught of puppies and kittens.
Kenya Poet: 'Dear Corona Virus. Don't Be Surprised If You Fail.'
Samuel Mang'era admits he is afraid of the virus, but he writes open letters to it without fear and with both sorrow and humor.
Newt Gingrich: Soviets seriously considered nuclear attack on US in 1960s – And now it's basis of my novel
Imagine the Russians were plotting to cause a tsunami by detonating a nuclear bomb underwater, off America’s eastern coastline. It sounds like an absurd, yet wildly entertaining plot to some Hollywood blockbuster or page-turning thriller – made up out of thin air, of course. But all of it is true.
Hospitals wrestle with Trump's call to scrap elective surgeries
Hospitals are competing demands to protect patients and staff, as well as their own bottom lines.
Newt Gingrich: Coronavirus battle 'like being in a war,' Americans must call lawmakers to stop the 'pork'
Former House Speaker and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich has told his fellow Americans to call their lawmakers and urge them not to insert further billions of dollars of pork barrel spending into important legislation meant to fight the effects of the coronavirus contagion.
Pandemic Delays Return Of Arctic Researchers
The COVID-19 crisis is throwing off the complex logistics of a year-long Arctic research expedition. A team of researchers set to rotate out may have to stay on board an ice-breaker for another six weeks.
Facing Likely Defeat, Bernie Sanders' Campaign Found A New Cause
It looked like Sanders was about to drop out of the Democratic primary, until the coronovairus crisis gave his agenda a boost and turned his campaign into a relief drive. But what's next?
An LA Native Drives Us Through His Hometown — Using Google Street View
Multidisciplinary artist Felix Quintana created honest portraits of South Central Los Angeles' people and urban landscape with the help of archived images.
'Be good to each other': Alicia Keys discusses new memoir, shares hopeful messages amid coronavirus
Alicia Keys, who has a new memoir out March 31, is exactly the type of person you want to talk to during a crisis.        
A world of difference in what waiters earn across the U.S.
Tipped workers' wages have been frozen at the federal level for nearly 30 years. States have responded by setting their own.
Column: China rises as Trump cedes leadership in coronavirus crisis
For decades, the world relied on the U.S. to help in a crisis. But with Trump's blunders on coronavirus, China is stepping up instead. It's a historic shift.
Central America fears Trump could deport coronavirus
Central American governments can do little to stop the U.S. from deporting migrants who may introduce coronavirus cases to a region so far largely shielded from the virus.
How to Survive the Blitz
They thought it would be worse than it turned out to be. In the years leading up to World War II, British planners estimated the effects a German bombing campaign would have on England. They figured that London would be flattened, 200,000 Brits would die in the first barrage, and millions would go insane. In The Splendid and the Vile, his gripping history of the period, Erik Larson quotes one military planner: “London for several days will be one vast raving bedlam. The hospitals will be stormed, traffic will cease, the homeless will shriek for help, the city will be a pandemonium.”The Blitz did turn out to be pretty bad. The bombing went on for months, sometimes by day, always by night. Hundreds or more than a thousand were killed each night—occasionally dozens in one blow, when a bomb would hit an underground shelter. There were scenes of horror: a dog walking down the street with a child’s arm in its mouth; a young girl tossed into a neighboring backyard by a blast that decimated the rest of her family. Early in the Blitz, a man named Len Jones emerged from his shelter and found two heads protruding from a mass of rubble. One was his neighbor’s. “He had one eye closed and I realized he was dead,” Jones recalled in an interview with The Telegraph. “I just convulsed. I was shaking all over. I thought, well, I must be dead because they were, so I struck a match and tried to burn my finger. I kept doing it to see if I was still alive. I could see, but I thought, I cannot be alive. This is the end of the world.”But the worst-case projections did not come to pass. People generally did not lose their mind. Few called for surrender, and only a handful criticized the government. Social solidarity was not shredded—it was enhanced. During the months of the bombings, war production actually increased.Government censors found that morale was actually highest in the most badly hit places. When you read through diaries and letters from during the Blitz, you do come across some passages that describe raw terror—but mostly they are filled with descriptions of surreal circumstances, rendered in a quotidian, unemotional, and matter-of-fact tone.People felt they were achieving moral victory merely by staying alive. “Finding we can take it is a great relief to most of us,” one woman wrote. “I think that each one of us was secretly afraid that he wouldn’t be able to, that he would rush shrieking to shelter, that his nerve would give, that he would in some way collapse, so that this has been a pleasant surprise.” A man wrote, “I would not be anywhere in the world but here, for a fortune.”Britain during the Blitz has gone down in history as the exemplar of national resilience—a role model for any nation going through a hard and stressful time, whether a war, terror attack, or pandemic. How did the British do it? What can we learn? What exactly are national resilience and social solidarity made of, and how are they built?One popular cinematic explanation for British resilience is that they had Winston Churchill, who gave rousing speeches that unified the nation. But Churchill’s buoying effect may have been limited. Larson reports that Churchill’s now-famous “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech was not treated as a major news event at the time. When public-opinion experts conducted a survey after one of Churchill’s radio addresses, they found that as many people were dispirited by it as were encouraged. (Nor can we attribute British pluck to those iconic Keep calm and carry on posters—because while millions were printed, they were not distributed during the war, according to the historian Anton Rippon.)So if it wasn’t Churchill’s soaring rhetoric that bolstered Britain’s national spirit under siege, then what was it?If you want to list the factors that contributed to the country’s indomitable resilience, start with a sense of agency. Brits needed to feel that they were not helpless or passive, that the nation was taking positive action every second of every day. Churchill set a frenetic pace for his whole government, showering his aides with “Action This Day” memos. Londoners could look up and see Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots fighting on their behalf against German planes. Rooftop artillery units fired anti-aircraft guns throughout the nighttime raids. These guns had almost no chance of actually bringing down an enemy plane, but citizens wanted to see the folks on their side doing something, so the guns blazed.The second element of British resilience was intense social connection. People were forced together every night in tightly packed group or family shelters. They sat shoulder to shoulder and lay in crowded bunks with heads touching heads. They coped with hardship together. Some of the shelters created little newspapers to record the personal news of those who slept there.The pressure of the situation induced people to be frenetically social. Singers offered free concerts, which were packed. Larson reports that young women would set up dates for every night, planning weeks in advance, so as to never be alone. The histories and novels from the period talk about the rampant sexuality that prevailed. People had sex multiple times a day, for release, comfort, and fun. Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair is just one of the many cultural examples from the time depicting how strictures on adultery were temporarily loosenedThird, laughter. Brits credit themselves, accurately, for being a comic people. During the war, every disaster was turned into an occasion for humor, dark or otherwise. A sign on one bombed-out London store read: This is nothing! You ought to see what the RAF have done to our Berlin branch!I recently read through an entire book of purportedly funny stories people told one another during the Blitz. Many of them seemed to involve one fellow or another running out of a bathroom with his pants around his ankles during a bomb attack and diving under a table. I confess that I found the stories painfully unfunny. But they were evidently hilarious to people under those circumstances; you literally had to be there, amid the stress and the dread. This is the kind of laughter produced when social tension is resolved, when people feel themselves experiencing the same event in the same way. Shared moments of hilarity under duress produce needed social harmony.The fourth factor in British resilience was moral purpose. Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked that “he who has a why to live for can endure any how.” The Brits had a firm sense of the moral rightness of their cause, the unique evil Hitler represented, and the reason they had to endure all this. Churchill’s private secretary, John Martin, wrote that, under Churchill’s leadership, Brits came to see themselves as “protagonists on a vaster scene and champions of a high and invincible cause, for which the stars in their courses were fighting.”Finally, there was equality. During moments of threat and crisis, people are intensely sensitive to inequality, to the feeling that some people are being treated better than everybody else. During the bombings, members of the working class would occasionally storm luxury hotels, figuring they had as much right to the sumptuous restaurants and bomb shelters as anyone. The government did what it could to foster an egalitarian spirit. Rationing was mostly equitable. Most adults got 66 coupons to use for new clothing each year. The Queen was delighted when Buckingham Palace was bombed, because she didn’t want it to seem like she was being spared. One evening, Churchill was driving into the country when a major bombing campaign began to hit London. He had the car turn around so that the people could see their prime minister sharing the danger. His visits to bomb-devastated neighborhoods were among his most important public acts, along with his occasional bouts of openly weeping among the people.The lessons from Britain’s experience during the Blitz are pretty clear. In national crises, a sort of social and psychological arms race takes place. The threat—whether bombings or a pandemic—ramps up fear, unpredictability, divisiveness, fatalism, and feelings of weakness and meaninglessness. Nations survive when they can ramp up countervailing emotions and mindsets. This happens when countries take actions, even if only symbolic ones, that make frightening situations feel more controllable and predictable. This happens when they foster social solidarity by paying extreme attention to fairness. This happens when they intensify social connection and create occasions for social bonding and shared work.Societies that build resilience do not hide behind a wall of happy talk or try to minimize the danger. Resilience does not come from mindless optimism, or from people telling one another to be calm amid the turmoil. Resilience is built when people confront a threat realistically, and discover that they have the resources to cope with it together.Resilience is built when people tell a collective story about the danger that places the current terror they are facing within a larger redemptive context. When all this is over, we’ll be better because of it. What was once a scary threat to be avoided, releasing a surge of destructive cortisol, becomes a challenge to be met, releasing a cascade of adrenaline.During the Blitz, the British told a story about themselves that shaped their reaction to the experience and that shapes their self-perception to this day: They are at their best when their backs are to the wall, they are at their best when they are alone as a nation, and their national strength comes from their ability to be funny and phlegmatic during a crisis.When I began researching the Blitz, my sense was that Americans today have it much easier than the Brits did then, despite the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. We don’t have to deal with bombs ripping into citizens’ bedrooms every night.But in some ways, COVID-19 is on par with the Blitz. Like the bombing campaign, the virus induces cascades of fear—the fear of possible death, the fear of the random extinction of our neighbors and loved ones, the fear of job loss and economic collapse, the fear that our future may be altered in unknowable and terrible ways.Evolution equipped us to deal with short bursts of terror, such as getting chased by a lion, not to cope with long, unrelenting months of stress. Nor did it equip us to remain cooped up for extended periods like this. And we’re not spiritually equipped to cope with the sense of moral injury we will feel when we start telling old and weak people that we can no longer care for them and they’re on their own to die or not.Isolation, fear, and stress send the autonomic nervous system into overdrive, and weaken the immune system. The social-distancing measures we are taking to avoid the coronavirus make us more susceptible to it when it comes.And in some ways, COVID-19 presents an even more dire challenge to us than the bombing did to Great Britain in 1940. A study by the Russell Sage Foundation found that what makes societies resilient during a crisis are high levels of faith in institutions, high social trust, high levels of patriotism and optimism, and high levels of social and racial integration. The United States that confronts the coronavirus pandemic has catastrophically low levels of all these things.Worse, unlike the Blitz, this pandemic deprives us of the thing social resilience needs most—close physical and social connection with one another. In America, the pandemic finds a country that has already seen a recent tripling of the number of people suffering from depression; a sharp increase in mental-health issues of all varieties; a sharp rise in suicides; and record levels of tribal hostility and polarization. The dread and isolation that COVID-19 causes threaten to exacerbate all this, to drive people even farther apart.And then, most challenging of all, there is the question of national morale. In 1940, Britain faced a uniquely evil foe.Building a sense of moral purpose was relatively easy. Today, the world is threatened by a virus. The moral story we tell has to be less about the evil we face and more about the solidarity we are building with one another. The story we tell has to be about how we took this disease and turned it into an occasion to become a better society.The people of America are less psychologically and socially healthy than the British under the Blitz. This means that we have a lot of work to do—to create a sense of agency, compose a redemptive national narrative, cultivate a moral purpose.In the months ahead, our already fragile American psyches are going to be challenged when they get hit with a double whammy of pervasive fear and extended isolation; when cooped-up families begin to squabble; when, as a people who generally don’t like to think about death, we find it staring us in the face. We’re about to learn how well we stack up against Londoners of the 1940s. The Brits, of course, had Winston Churchill and the RAF during their crisis. We’re going to need Oprah, Brené Brown, and flying squadrons of online psychologists to cope with ours.
Homes Weren’t Designed for This
This week, a new version of an old joke made the rounds: the meme of Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man, modified for a time of quarantine. @zahraloum’s update of the classic image featured, this time around, not two Spider-Men but seven—arranged in a circle, all of them pointing at one another. Each had a label: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. The image, shared with a brief commentary—“how everyday feels”—struck a chord. On Twitter, since it was posted on Tuesday, the tweet has been shared more than 350,000 times, and liked more than 1 million.I liked it too. The tweet’s three terse words captured something about the way time works in a moment that, for many, has brought panic and pain and loneliness and fear and frustration—but also, sometimes, basic, blunt-force boredom. Days flatten into one another, Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, their divisions dissolving, their hours—unstructured by commutes or classes or social gatherings—liquid.But the problem of time is also a problem of space. Homes, too, in this moment, are taking on a new kind of indeterminacy: They are now serving not only as shelter and refuge, but also as workplace and school and gym and theater and restaurant and bar and laundry and town square. They now contain, for many, an entire day’s worth of demands. But whether a house or a compact apartment, those dwellings were never meant to be as profoundly multifunctional as a shelter-in-place scenario requires them to be. American homes, Don Norman, the founding chair of the cognitive-science department at the University of California at San Diego and an advocate of user-centered design, told me, are simply not meant to be lived in 24/7.At a time when many people aren’t able to do their work from home, and when many others do not have the luxury of home at all, a home of any kind is a blessing. But quarantine also means that small elements of home design can have significant consequences. The experience of shelter-in-place will be greatly shaped by the type of place one has to shelter in. How much room you have, how many rooms you have, whether you have a dishwasher or a washing machine or internet, whether you have an area in which to exercise or be alone or be together or cook or get fresh air—those factors will now take on even more weight. When home is everything all at once, escape and confinement at the same time, its utility becomes more acute. And so do its shortcomings.“It’s like we just got moved to a different planet,” Sarah Susanka, an architect and the author of the Not So Big House series, told me this week. “But it looks the same.”Susanka’s area of expertise is the intersection of architecture and psychology: the ways people convert the buildings they live in—structures of wood and metal and stone—into homes. She has advocated, in particular, for homes that resist the bland assumption that bigger is better, treating function, instead, as a core value. Many homes have not embraced that approach; that becomes especially evident in quarantine.Homes, whatever their size or their layout, are constructed to be part of an ecosystem. They make assumptions about the way their eventual residents will interact with the affordances, and the economies, of the outside world. They assume, generally speaking, that people will commute to work (hence, in suburbs and rural areas, the abundance of driveways and garages). They assume that people will live much of their life outside the home. And they assume that the home’s residents will, as a consequence, have access to goods produced elsewhere: groceries, games, cleaning supplies. (American refrigerators are the size they are because their designers made informed bets about how often their owners would visit a grocery store.)Apartments in cities make similar assumptions, but in reverse: They assume that the city itself is a meaningful extension of whatever square footage a dwelling might offer. They treat the home as what it often will be, for the resident: one place among many in the rhythms of a day.[Read: We're finding out how small our lives really are]Neither scenario accounts for what many Americans are experiencing right now: home as the only place. Home as the everything. The confinement can pose, for some, a direct danger. Jacoba Urist, writing about the “tiny apartment” trend in 2013, noted that large amounts of time spent in enclosed spaces, particularly if those spaces have several occupants, can be a source of stress—especially for kids. A child-protective-services worker recently sent ProPublica a list of worries she has about the people in her care: “that my families will literally run out of food, formula, diapers. That some of them may die for lack of treatment. That some children may be injured or harmed through inadequate supervision as their desperate parents try to work. That stress may lead to more child abuse.” Gwyn Kaitis, the policy coordinator for the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, noted in the same piece that “violence increases when you have circumstances such as unemployment and isolation.”Confinement can heighten existing tensions and threats. It can also create new ones. When NASA thinks about long-term space missions, whether it’s a months-long sojourn on the International Space Station or, eventually, a years-long venture to Mars, the agency pays a great deal of attention to the psychological effects of social isolation: Even people who are handpicked for their temperamental ability to handle stress can find their mental health affected by periods of unceasing togetherness. (In the 1970s, when the notion of the space station was new, some Skylab missions were terminated early because of squabbles among crew members.) An experiment run from 2010 to 2011, attempting to test the relationship between confinement and mental health, placed six crew members in a simulated spacecraft—775 square feet, or about the size of a small one-bedroom apartment—for 520 days. Some of the crew members moved less, physically, as the experiment went on. Most experienced interrupted sleep. Others experienced symptoms of depression.The home, for those who are lucky, will be a very mild example of that intense form of isolation. But quarantine can exert its tensions nonetheless—even in paradoxical form. The popular open layout, for example, eschews walls and other spatial divisions in favor of openness, airiness, “flow.” (“Look how everything flows!” Brian Patrick Flynn, the designer of HGTV’s Dream Home 2020, says in a promotional video.) On the plus side, an open floor plan allows for constant togetherness. On the minus side … an open floor plan allows for constant togetherness. The style meant to reject domestic confinement can end up replicating some of the very flaws it was meant to mitigate, precisely in its eagerness to sacrifice privacy for openness.“In general, it’s wonderful,” Susanka said of the open-concept approach to living spaces. “But when it’s done to an extreme, it makes it very difficult to live in the house, because your noise, whatever you’re doing, goes everywhere.” When the home involves kids, that borderlessness becomes even more acute. A child might need to be entertained or fed while her mom is on a conference call. An older sibling might be playing video games or watching a movie while her dad is trying to cook dinner. Another sibling might need a retreat from his co-quarantiners, and have no place to go. In an open space, one person’s activity becomes every person’s activity. Alone together, all the time: For many, that is the current state of things. The “See Also” section of Wikipedia’s “open plan” article cites only one related page: “panopticon.”That collision, in some sense, was intentional. One of the first manifestations of the open layout, my colleague Ian Bogost wrote in 2018, came from Frank Lloyd Wright—an outgrowth of the architect’s broader conviction that the buildings that housed people could also be engines of social progress. In 1901, in the February issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, Wright published his plans for a home “in a prairie town”—a layout that emulated the rolling expanse of its intended locale by emphasizing the interior possibilities of continuous spaces.[Read: The curse of an open floor plan]Open layouts were less formal than dedicated dining rooms and drawing rooms; they celebrated not only the idea of household togetherness, but also, Wright and his many acolytes assumed, something democratic and quintessentially American. The layouts also, however, merged spaces of labor with those of leisure—fusing, most obviously, the kitchen, that consummate place of domestic work, with family rooms and other areas optimized for relaxation. As Bogost noted, one result of that merger was that the person most traditionally associated with culinary labor in the American middle-class household of the 20th century—the housewife—ended up doing double duty: watching the kids while also cooking dinner; doing the dishes while also trying to catch the tail end of a TV show. The second shift, essentially, in architectural form.Constant togetherness can be a great thing, right up until it isn’t. American culture tends to treat the home as the ultimate manifestation of aspirational struggle: a reward, or a birthright. It is a dream whose realization, for many, is cruelly out of reach. But the dream keeps on selling itself, in American entertainment and in American design. Last year, to mark the 25th anniversary of the launch of HGTV, the journalist and design critic Ronda Kaysen gave an interview to NPR. As she talked with the host Lulu Garcia-Navarro about the impact HGTV has had on American home design, Kaysen mentioned one of the design elements most readily associated with the network: the open-concept living space. “I spoke with HGTV executives,” Kaysen said. “And the reason that they are so big on open concept is because it gets the male viewers. Like, guys like to watch sledgehammers and, like, taking out walls.”“Wait a second,” Garcia-Navarro replied. “Are you telling me that the open-plan concept, which we are all prisoner to, is because dudes like to watch HGTV and sledgehammers?”Yes, was the answer. “Dudes will only watch HGTV if there’s sledgehammers,” Kaysen said. That assumption makes it way into the architecture. Openness remains the trend. Maybe that will change; maybe these weeks—or months—of sequestration will alter what people want in (and from) their home. In the meantime, Susanka proposed a nonarchitectural solution to problems of home design: communicate. If you live with others and find yourself needing space of your own, she said, tell them that. Create small signals, legible to every member of the household, for “I’m on a call” or “I just need a minute to myself.” If a bedroom is doubling as an office, create the ritual, at the start of the workday, of shutting the door—a sign both to the worker and to everyone else that the bedroom is now a workspace. Use creative hacks. Create nooks. Have household meetings. Talk about what you need from your home, and from one another. Remember that different people have different ways of coping with fear, with threat, with isolation. Know that what many are experiencing right now is grief: for deaths, for smaller losses, for imagined futures that will not come to pass. Try to give people space—even, and especially, when the space itself is in short supply.
Did an Illuminati Conspiracy Theory Help Elect Thomas Jefferson?
The 1800 election shows there is nothing new about conspiracy theories, and that they really take hold when we don’t trust each other.
How Donald Trump Could Steal the Election
Even under a normal president, the coronavirus pandemic would present real challenges to the 2020 American election. Everything about in-person voting could be dangerous. Waiting in line, touching a voting machine, and working in polling stations all run afoul of social-distancing mandates. Already, Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana have postponed their presidential primaries, while Wyoming, New York, and Ohio have altered their voting procedures. Of course, other democracies face similar problems; the United Kingdom has postponed local elections for one year.But under President Donald Trump, the possibilities for how the coronavirus could wreak havoc on the election are all the more concerning. This is not a president who cares about the sanctity of the electoral process. After all, he has never seemed particularly concerned about Russia’s efforts to manipulate the 2016 outcome (presumably because they were on his behalf), and he was impeached for demanding Ukrainian help in his reelection efforts.Moreover, this is a president who has repeatedly joked about staying in office past the end of his second term and has frequently embraced authoritarian leaders and policies. Making matters even worse, the Republican Party more broadly has displayed a willingness to bend the rules for its own political gain, frequently trying to suppress the vote (especially minority votes), purging voter rolls, and implementing aggressive racially based gerrymanders. Americans simply cannot trust that his administration will preserve the integrity of the 2020 election.This puts America in a very dangerous position. Legal protections for the election do exist and are strong. The Constitution and federal law require the election of a president this November and state that the president’s term ends the following January. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that once states grant their residents the right to vote, doing so becomes a fundamental right. Forty-nine states recognize the right to vote in their state constitutions and 26 guarantee that elections must be free and open. Any attempt by the president or state legislatures to deprive people of the right to vote, in order to ensure Trump’s reelection, would blatantly violate these rights. But a lot could still go wrong, especially at the state level.The danger begins with the fact that, regardless of what people believe, the Constitution does not give Americans the right to vote for their president. Rather, the Constitution says that a college of electors votes for the president, and Article II of the Constitution gives states nearly unlimited power to decide how these electors are chosen. In the early years of the American republic, many state legislatures decided which presidential candidate the state’s electors would support. South Carolina used this method until 1868. Today, all 50 states grant their residents the right to vote for president, and the people’s vote determines which electors from each state will select the next president. However, any state could change its law and instead allow its legislature to decide which electors will choose the next president.In other words, states have a lot of power in deciding how the election will run. Today, Republicans control 30 state legislatures and Democrats only 19, with one state divided. (Nebraska technically has nonpartisan legislators, but it is a reliably red state, so I include it with the Republican states.) These red-state legislatures control 305 electoral votes, and only 270 are needed to secure the presidency. Presumably, most red states, if not all, would appoint electors who would elect Trump for another four years. Of those 30 states, 22 also have Republican governors, which means in those states there would be no Democratic governor to veto Republican legislation taking away the people’s opportunity to vote for president. Those 22 states represent 219 electoral-college votes—perilously close to the 270 required for Trump to be reelected.Could states really deprive Americans of the right to vote for their president? In Bush v. Gore, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court held that the state “can take back the power to appoint electors” at any time. And the Court is even more conservative today than it was in 2000, as Justice Brett Kavanaugh has replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy.The more complicated question is not whether states can do this, but whether they would. Republican lawmakers have been steadfastly loyal to Trump throughout his tumultuous tenure. If Trump were to ask states to appoint electors instead of having an election, they certainly might follow his request, especially those states where the president enjoys wide popularity. In 24 of the 30 states with Republican legislatures, a majority of people approve of the president’s job performance, according to last month’s Gallup survey. Those states control 224 electoral votes—enough to throw the election’s results into doubt. States could also wreak havoc on the election by not taking steps now to prepare for voting during a pandemic. If only a few states allowed their legislatures to appoint electors, or postponed electoral selection indefinitely, the November election could result in no candidate receiving a majority of electoral-college votes.This is a real concern. If no candidate wins a majority of electors, the Twelfth Amendment empowers the House of Representatives to decide who will be president. Although the House is controlled by Democrats, predicting the outcome is not that simple. The Amendment requires the House to choose the president by voting as states, not as individual members. So, instead of 435 individual votes, there would be 50 state votes.The Amendment does not say how the representatives for each state should decide their state’s vote. If the current House were tasked with selecting the next president, and states with more Republicans than Democrats in their delegation voted for Trump, he would win 25 votes. Twenty-three states have more Democratic House members than Republican, so the Democratic candidate would likely receive 23 votes. Florida and Pennsylvania are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, leaving their presidential votes up in the air. Whether the District of Columbia would be allowed to vote at all in this circumstance is not entirely certain. The text of the Twelfth Amendment suggests that only states can vote, but the Twenty-Third Amendment gave D.C. electors who vote for president and “perform such duties” as required by the Twelfth.If Trump tries to use the coronavirus to manipulate the election, and if states help him do so, disputes may arise about whether a state’s presidential electors are valid. This kind of dispute happened after the 1876 presidential election. Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote by 3 percent over his Republican opponent Rutherford B. Hayes. As a result, Tilden took 184 electoral votes to Hayes’s 165. However, the parties in four states could not agree on which candidate won the 20 remaining electoral votes. Days before inauguration, in a sordid backroom deal, Democrats agreed to allow all 20 of these electors to cast votes for Hayes in exchange for the assurance that the Republican administration would withdraw federal troops from southern states.After this debacle, Congress passed laws to deal with disputed slates of electors. Then in 1933, the Twentieth Amendment gave Congress more power to establish rules for counting electoral votes and resolving disputes. The resulting law still gave states almost complete power to determine the outcome of a presidential election, however. It requires Congress to accept electors if their state has followed the proper procedures to resolve any disputes and certified them six days before a specified date in December—the so-called safe-harbor date.During the controversy over Florida’s presidential vote in 2000, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices argued that because Florida could not manually recount its ballots before that election’s safe-harbor date, December 12, 2000, trying to do so would risk disenfranchising all Florida voters. Their ruling in Bush v. Gore decided the election for the Republican candidate, George W. Bush. Dissenting justices pointed out that Congress would be free to accept Florida’s electors, even if the state certified them after that date. After all, they noted, in 1960, Hawaii selected two different slates of electors and Congress chose to count a slate that was appointed well after the safe-harbor date.Under these statutes, if some red states decide to appoint electors (perhaps at Trump’s prompting) in light of the coronavirus, and voters challenge the validity of those electors, state decisions on that dispute would probably be conclusive as long as the state followed its legally prescribed procedures. And Republicans control enough states to exceed or come very close to the 270 electoral votes required to elect a president.Despite these weaknesses, the Supreme Court’s decisions to protect the equality of votes provide some safeguards. The Court has ruled that once state legislatures give people the right to vote in an election, the state cannot interfere with the exercise of that right or dilute the weight of peoples’ votes. In 1964, the Supreme Court considered whether Alabama’s refusal to reapportion its legislative districts to reflect major changes in its population violated voters’ rights. The most-populous districts had up to 41 times the eligible voters of the least populous.The Supreme Court held that electing our public officials “in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system,” and found that Alabama had unconstitutionally diluted votes in the most populous districts. Two of the smaller districts had populations of between 13,000 and 15,000 people and sent two senators each to the Alabama Senate, while the two largest districts had 300,000 and 600,000 thousand people and sent only three senators each. Thus the votes of people in the least populous (and whiter) districts were many times more powerful than those of people living in denser districts. With this ruling, voters in any state that were to deprive them of the right to vote for president could launch a powerful legal challenge claiming that their right to equal voting power had been violated. They could argue that their votes had been unconstitutionally diluted, like those of the voters in Alabama, because they would be able to express their preference for president only vicariously through voting for their state representatives. The votes of those in nearby states voting directly for their state’s presidential electors would be exponentially more powerful.America must protect the election from interference—not just Russian, this time, but also domestic. Already, proposals exist to do so. On March 16, Senators Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, and Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 to ensure the integrity of this year’s election. The proposed law would encourage states to make early voting more widely available, make it much easier to vote by mail, and require states to create contingency systems for voting and counting ballots during a period of emergency. As these senators pointed out, the country is meant to elect 35 Senators, 11 governors, and 435 House members in addition to the president this November. Beyond implementing the reforms in this legislation, states should make mail-in and absentee ballots universally available.Americans have successfully conducted elections in crises. Voters went to the polls during the Civil War, World War II, and Vietnam. New Yorkers voted in municipal elections just two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In this country, the right to vote is sacred. African Americans have risked and even sacrificed their lives to vote, and women struggled for more than a century to claim their right to do so. To honor that legacy, we must confront this challenge and provide safe and easy ways for Americans to vote this November.
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When the Outbreak Victims Were Children
In the late spring of 1949, the local newspaper in San Angelo, Texas, reported that a child had been rushed to the hospital with a fever, aching joints, and mild paralysis of the legs—the telltale signs of polio. A city of 50,000, dotted with oil rigs and cattle ranches, San Angelo was no stranger to the disease. Each year following World War II, polio would arrive like clockwork as summer approached, striking down a child or two before burning itself out.Within days that spring, however, the hospital’s ICU was overflowing with children, most in critical condition, and mild concern turned to panic. “Polio Takes Seventh Life,” screamed the banner headline. “San Angelo Pastors Appeal for Divine Help in Plague.”Prayer proved insufficient. For the first time in anyone’s memory, social distancing took hold. The city council voted to close theaters, bars, bowling alleys, and the municipal swimming pool. Tanker trucks sprayed DDT, singling out the open pit toilets on the “Negro” and “Mexican” side of town. Tourist traffic disappeared. The locals stopped handling money, and some refused to speak on the telephone, believing that germs traveled through the transmission lines. Known for its neighborliness, San Angelo quickly ditched the niceties that it once took for granted. “We got to the point that nobody could comprehend,” a pediatrician recalled, “when people would not even shake hands.”[Read: How the pandemic will end ]Although polio is only a memory in the United States, the current pandemic is stirring up feelings analogous to when this insidious crippler terrified a nation. Like the Great Influenza of 1918, polio offers historical perspective. Both the poliovirus and the coronavirus rely on “silent carriers”—those showing no immediate symptoms—to spread the disease, inciting a fearful sense of uncertainty. Both target specific, if dramatically different, age groups: COVID-19 seems especially lethal for the elderly, polio for the young.In San Angelo, some businesses remained open, simply hoping to survive. The local cleaning establishment vowed to disinfect its equipment before each pressing and wash. The Sherwin-Williams Paint and Hardware Company promised its loyal customers toxic bug spray free of charge. (“Bring your own container,” it advised.) Agents hawked special “polio insurance,” while the town chiropractor boasted that he could prevent the disease by “keeping your child’s body correctly adjusted.”The epidemic lasted until early fall, when the cool winds of October helped extinguish its destructive reach. In 1949, the United States reported about 40,000 polio cases, one for every 3,775 people. San Angelo, meanwhile, reported 420 cases, one for every 124 people. Eighty-four of the city’s children would be permanently paralyzed, and 28 would die. The San Angelo polio outbreak would stack up, percentage-wise, as one of the most destructive ever recorded anywhere in the world.[Read: The kids aren’t all right]Numbers aside, its patterns were all too familiar. The epidemic preyed on children, doing its worst damage in the summer months. It appeared to hit the tidy, stable neighborhoods of San Angelo far harder than those marked by poverty and squalor, a reversal of the belief that filth triggers disease. Much remains unknown about polio because the development of two effective vaccines in the 1950s and early ’60s made further research moot. Why did it strike almost exclusively in warm weather? Why did most of its victims appear to come from middle-class surroundings? And why was epidemic polio primarily a disease of the 20th century that struck the world’s more developed nations, especially the United States?There are no certain answers. Some believe that polio, a virus transmitted primarily through oral-fecal contact, not airborne droplets as with the coronavirus, is uniquely suited to warm-weather transmission. Others see polio’s dramatic spread in the 1940s and ’50s in terms of cleanliness. As Americans grew more germ-conscious and sanitary-minded, there was less chance that they would encounter poliovirus very early in life, when the disease is milder and maternal antibodies provide temporary protection.“Do you want to spend the rest of your life in an iron lung?” Children heard these words when they begged to go swimming or play outside, when they jumped through a puddle or licked a friend’s ice-cream cone, when they refused to take a nap or balked at the daily home polio test (“Chin to chest, touch your toes”). Hitting with full force at the very height of the Baby Boom era, a time of unprecedented prosperity and population growth, polio became the crack in the middle-class picture window, a summer plague dotted with visual reminders: wheelchairs, crutches, leg braces, breathing devices, withered limbs.[Read: How good is the polio vaccine?]The coronavirus, too, reminds us of our limits. The richest nation on Earth seems unable, at present, to offer health providers the basic supplies and protection they need to fight this pandemic. We face COVID-19 as we have faced so much else in recent years: divided by partisanship and ignorance, bombarded with mixed messages, uncertain of what constitutes proper behavior during a crisis. It should chasten us to know that Americans came together during the polio era to fight the disease with fewer tools than we have now but with greater purpose and determination.The great polio epidemic struck at a time when the federal government wasn’t much involved in the medical problems of the citizenry. The National Institutes of Health had a small budget, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was barely up and running, and the Cabinet-level Department of Health, Education, and Welfare wouldn’t be created until 1953. (President Dwight Eisenhower could barely remember its name, calling it “Health, Welfare, and Whatnot.”) Virtually all of the research, publicity, and patient support surrounding polio was accomplished by a single private charity, the March of Dimes, which raised hundreds of millions of dollars with its promise to end the scourge in a single generation.Celebrities from Bing Crosby to Elvis Presley to Marilyn Monroe implored Americans to donate their spare change. And millions of volunteers went door to door to collect dimes and quarters in tin cans and mason jars. The money raised exceeded the contributions of every other charity put together, with the exception of the Red Cross. In 1954, America’s parents lined up their children, almost 2 million strong, for the largest public-health experiment in our history, the Salk polio-vaccine trials, run by the March of Dimes with virtually no government oversight. It was partly a matter of risk versus reward—the terror of polio far outweighed the potential dangers of the vaccine. But there was more: Polio’s conquest represented a milestone for voluntarism and public-spiritedness. When Eisenhower invited Jonas Salk to the White House, the president choked back tears as he thanked the young researcher who had developed the polio vaccine for saving the world’s children. There was no grandstanding, no attempt to share credit. The victory belonged to science, and to the people.Although that moment seems unrecognizable today, the victory will come nonetheless.
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