Years after 9/11, first responders are still dying from exposure. This is their story

Newspapers and magazine retrospectives of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks tend to frame the attacks as a discrete event. In their telling, the nation was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2011. They killed around 3,000 people in one day, who were mourned and continue to be mourned.

The problem with this mainstream narrative is that it frames those attacks as something singular and isolated: they happened, and people died tragically on that horrific day. But that is not the reality lived by hundreds of thousands of 9/11 World Trade Center first responders and survivors. For them, it's not over: the death toll continues to mount every week since. It will continue to do so late into this century. For them, 9/11 is a 20-year (and counting) ordeal of mass death.

This is the untold 9/11 narrative, in which the United States was attacked; and then, in the days and months after, first responders and the people that lived, worked and studied in lower Manhattan and western Brooklyn were betrayed both by municipal officials and the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency. The reason, of course, relates to money: Officials in both agencies were more concerned amount preserving the pulse of Wall Street than the lungs of close to a half million people, including roughly 90,000 rescue and recovery workers.

* * *

Three days after the 9/11 attack, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, then-head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told reporters that "the good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause us no concern."

That upbeat and false statement was uttered as the fires at the World Trade Center site continued to burn and smolder — as they would for months after the Towers collapsed — casting a hazy, toxic pallor over the southern tip of Manhattan that lingered in the lungs of residents.

Undoubtedly, Whitman's reassurance and the encouraging EPA press releases — along with then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's cheerleading — helped Wall Street and lower Manhattan's businesses and schools re-open so quickly. Within a few years, though, the revelation began to sink in that the danger had not passed. Thousands were becoming sick and dying from their exposure to the unique cocktail of abrasive toxins released by the collapse and fires that followed.

Two years after 9/11, an investigation by the EPA Inspector General found that EPA "did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement" as it did at the time.

"Air monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern," the inspector general concluded. Moreover, the Office of the Inspector General revealed that President George W. Bush's White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) heavily edited the EPA press releases "to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

The EPA's Inspector General (IG) found that the CEQ described the readings as just "slightly above" the limit, despite the reality that samples taken indicated asbestos levels in Lower Manhattan were double or even triple the EPA's limit.

And when the EPA's IG tried to determine who had written the press releases, they "were unable to identify any EPA official who claimed ownership," because investigators were told by the EPA Chief of Staff that "the ownership was joint ownership between EPA and the White House" and that "final approval came from the White House."

The EPA chief of staff "also told us that other considerations, such as the desire to reopen Wall Street and national security concerns, were considered when preparing EPA's early press releases," the EPA's Inspector General continued.

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According to a 2008 case study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the EPA press releases were also vetted by Bush's National Security Advisor.

"Unfortunately, the agency lacked authoritative information on which to base these claims, and internal agency data conflicting with this reassuring public posture were ignored," the case study reads. "The EPA's press releases and public statements after 9/11 were vetted by then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, suggesting that the White House placed politics over science when communicating about ground zero's air quality."

For a number of years after the attack and "clean-up," which dosed potentially hundreds of thousands of men, women and children with the World Trade Center's "Drano dust," the City of New York, then led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, resisted claims by 9/11 first responders that linked their respiratory diseases and cancers to the lingering toxic air after the destruction of the towers. The Bloomberg denial reached its nadir when, after the death of WTC responder NYPD Detective Jimmy Zadroga, Bloomberg insisted the ailing detective was no hero but had died because he was a drug addict.

It wasn't until 2006 the official denials stopped. It took a New Jersey coroner to conclude that Zadroga, who had spent weeks on the WTC pile wearing just a flimsy paper mask, had actually died as a consequence of the chronic disease that compromised his vital organs as a result of his post-9/11 WTC exposure to the air Whitman and Giuliani had insisted was "safe to breathe."

Bloomberg subsequently apologized to the Zadroga family and became a strong advocate for the federal support of what would become the World Trade Center Health Program, an unprecedented collaboration between labor, management and the city's leading occupational health experts.

More apologies from politicians followed. In 2016, former Governor Whitman told the Guardian she was "very sorry that people are dying, and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I'm sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had."

* * *

In the two decades since, the toll from toxic exposure to those in proximity to the World Trade Center has continued to mount. Nowadays, experts generally accept that the post-9/11 death toll likely exceeds the almost 3,000 killed in the actual attack and collapse. The FDNY, which lost 343 members the day of the attack, lost 256 since; three quarters of the 15,000 FDNY responders on 9/11 are saddled with at least one life-altering health condition.

To this day, close to 110,000 first responders and survivors are enrolled in the federally-funded 9/11 WTC Health Program, with many of these participants suffering from multiple diseases and debilitating conditions. While close to 95 percent of the first responders are participating in the 9/11 WTC Health program and getting screened every year, less than 10 percent of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were present are enrolled in the program. Part of the reason for that is that one must display symptoms before being able to participate in the program.

The WTC Health Program, now in need of additional federal funds, came into being thanks to the militant advocacy of a powerful coalition of public and private unions as well as local community activists. Many of these fierce labor and neighborhood advocates have since died from their exposure at ground zero. Many still struggle with life-altering diseases; many thousands more are beating the survival odds thanks to the program's holistic care model, which integrates mental and physical health care as well as lifestyle change.

Catherine McVay Hughes, former chairwoman of lower Manhattan's Community Board 1, which includes the WTC site, remembers being skeptical when former EPA Administrator Whitman proclaimed that air in lower Manhattan was safe. At the time, the fires at the WTC site were still burning; they would not be fully extinguished until just before Christmas.

But Hughes, who serves on the WTC Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee, said that it was taboo at the time to raise such concerns.

"First of all, I am one of the most patriotic people out there," said Hughes, who was speaking only as a longtime member of the community. "But questioning whether or not the air was safe to breathe back then was perceived as almost being unpatriotic; and nowadays, there's scientific studies indicating how toxic and dangerous it was."

* * *

Twenty years out, I can't help but feel that history is repeating itself. There are alarming parallels, then and now, between what happened to WTC first responders and what we see today with essential workers amid the pandemic. Today, the CDC plays the role the EPA played then — particularly with the CDC's shifting guidance about the need for masks that characterized the early, anxious months of the pandemic.

And substitute Giuliani's maniacal push to be "open for business" as the WTC continued to burn for Trump's willful deceit about the pandemic, followed by his crime against humanity when he pitted red state against blue state to gain partisan advantage.

That cynical ploy continues to kill Americans to this very day.

And now, just as back in 2001, workers for the unions that represent first responders are cognizant of the situation on the ground in a way that politicians aren't. Long before a public health emergency was declared in New York City for the COVID-19 pandemic, TWU Local 100 subway workers with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority started wearing face masks. They were threatened with being written up by managers who said the mask was not part of their official uniform and that they were frightening riders.

Similarly, the CDC advised healthcare professionals early on that they should ignore existing workplace requirements that they dispose of their N-95 masks after each clinical encounter and keep the same mask for days at a time because of the lack of PPE.

The nation's nurse unions warned that the watering down of these occupational health protections would result in them dying, their families getting COVID, and the hospitals where they worked becoming vectors for the disease. All three things happened.

Then in May of this year, the CDC struck again when they unilaterally lifted the universal mask mandate for the vaccinated even as vast swaths of the nation were unvaccinated. And once again the unions sounded the alarm that the move was premature, put them at risk, and could spark yet another devastating surge of the virus.

And that happened.

Even as our nation attempts to weather the latest Delta surge, we have still not come close to assessing the long-term health consequences for the millions of essential workers who put themselves and their families at risk to serve society. We know, based on multiple health studies that as many as 25 percent of the people who experienced a bout with COVID will have long term health consequences of varying severity.

Thanks to the reporting of the Guardian newspaper and Kaiser Health Care, we know that at least 3,700 health care workers and professionals who died as a consequence of their COVID exposure. We know that by almost a three to one margin they were people of color.

According to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, the number of public safety employee COVID deaths has jumped from 15 in July to 43 in August. All totaled, since the start of the crisis, 483 police officers, 149 firefighters and 78 EMS members have died from the virus, for a total of 737.

The death toll of 9/11 attack was worsened by government deceit. Likewise, we must never forget just like the government's missteps in battling COVID that continue to exact such a heavy human toll on our essential workforce.

But mercifully, in the World Trade Center Health Program we have a model for COVID survivors that can help heal this workforce, and in the process learn more about how we can make workplaces safer for workers and the public in future pandemics.

In doing so, we will be affirming their value and honoring their service in a way that will be tangible and enduring.

More from Salon on the 20th anniversary of September 11:

Cuomo and Christie: A pair of bullies

A year and a half into a once-in-a-century mass death event, we are still held captive by a deadly pandemic and a scourge of endemic political corruption that enabled Andrew Cuomo to remain in power far too long. Until the New York governor finally saw the writing on the wall and announced his resignation this week, he shamelessly attacked the very same attorney general who, just months earlier, he asked to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

As the world now knows, independent investigators charged with conducting the probe on behalf of Attorney General Letitia James concluded that from 2013 through 2020 Cuomo "sexually harassed multiple women" and violated state and federal law in a spree of "inappropriate groping, kissing, and hugging" while creating "a hostile work environment rife with fear and intimidation."

In a sense, we really can't blame Cuomo for clinging as long as he could to Trump-style like tactics meant to undermine the rule of law and representative democracy.

He came of age in an era where both New Jersey and New York have had a hard time rooting out political corruption or even making convictions stick. And toughing it out over howling public outrage, as Cuomo at first clearly intended, can have its rewards in a post-shame world.

Consider former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey's gambit in August 2004, when he admitted to actions that amounted to a massive breach of the public trust, yet opted to remain in office until mid-November. That robbed the electorate of the chance for a special election, handing the governorship to State Senate President Richard J. Codey, a fellow Democrat.

McGreevey also tried to make his sexual orientation the central issue, when he was really forced to resign by strong evidence of corruption. "I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality if kept secret leaves me, and most importantly the governor's office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations, and threats of disclosure," he said at the time. "So, I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality."

Nowhere in the mea culpa did McGreevey apologize for appointing his lover, who had no relevant qualifications, to a $110,000-a-year job as New Jersey's Homeland Security adviser, or for trying to hand real estate developer Charles Kushner, his single biggest campaign donor, a seat on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with an eye towards making him chairman.

Kushner, a prolific Democratic donor at the time, would plead guilty in 2004 to 16 federal counts including tax fraud, witness retaliation and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. On Christmas Eve in 2020, President Donald Trump pardoned Kushner, the father of Trump's son-in-law.

For years, that kind of bipartisan stench has emanated from the Port Authority, an unaccountable sovereign duchy of self-dealing, which has on occasion been weaponized against the public that pays dearly to use the bridges and tunnels we paid to build.

During Chris Christie's tenure as New Jersey governor, he and Cuomo had a kind of compact to align themselves politically when it came to handling the bi-state agency. According to multiple reports they coordinated what was in essence feigned outrage over the Port Authority's 2011 proposal to raise tolls by 50 percent, setting the stage for them to ride to the rescue of motorists with just a $1.50 hike.

Over a period of days in September of 2013, including the 9/11 anniversary, when Port Authority police are typically on high alert for potential terrorist attacks, they instead were ordered to carry out a scheme dreamed up by Christie partisans to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, by closing lanes feeding into the George Washington Bridge.

This politically induced traffic coronary delayed emergency vehicle responses and paralyzed traffic on the first day of school in that Hudson River city directly across from upper Manhattan.

For months, the Wall Street Journal, along with the Record (a north Jersey daily), pressed to get to the bottom of the story. The Port Authority initially claimed the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. It wasn't until January 2014, when the media published an email from Bridget Kelly to then-Port Authority official and Christie operative David Wildstein saying it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," that the cover story was fully discredited.

It was still enough of a live issue that Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, then chair of the Commerce Committee, wrote to the Port Authority taking it to task for providing no proof of an actual traffic study. He blasted the agency for the lane shutdown, writing that it was "unconscionable that anyone would block commercial traffic and risk the safety of thousands on our interstate highway system in this way."

In response, months after the lane closures the Port Authority was still obfuscating, claiming the lane closures were "aberrational events" and that it still did "not have many of the facts as to the motivations behind actions taken at the GWB."

On the surface, the narrative that emerged was that Wildstein conspired with allies of Christie to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie's re-election campaign by staging four days of lane closures on the heavily-trafficked George Washington Bridge, from Sept. 9 to 13, 2013.

In our region, we have historically relied on U.S. attorneys to bring corruption cases, since the New Jersey attorney general (appointed by the governor) and Manhattan district attorney (elected by the voters) are often reluctant to do so.

Ultimately, prosecuting the Bridgegate caper would fall to New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who zeroed in on former Port Authority executive director Bill Baroni and former Christie chief of staff Bridget Kelly. Fishman had the help of David Wildstein, who opted to become a cooperating witness.

Fishman got convictions against Kelly and Baroni, yet they were ultimately overturned. Christie was never charged, although the prosecution's position during the trial was that he was aware of the plot as it was unfolding.

As was widely reported at the time, and reaffirmed in testimony during the criminal trial, Port Authority police were actively involved in executing the scheme. Senior officers were aware of the plan to alter traffic before it happened, and when rank-and-file officers raised concerns about the problems it was causing at the time, they were told to keep it to themselves. In September 2014, the Record reported that when Port Authority police officers used their radios to report that the lane closures were creating "hazardous conditions" on local Fort Lee roads, their supervisors told them to "shut up."

In the midst of the lane closures, which crippled his city and ruined the first day of school for Fort Lee's school children, Mayor Mark Sokolich — the apparent target of the whole enterprise — appealed via email for Baroni's help.

"Adding insult to injury, many members of the public have indicated to me that the Port Authority [police] officers are advising commuters in response to their complaints that this recent traffic debacle is the result of a decision that I, as the Mayor made," Sokolich wrote to Baroni.

It's important to put this in context: Christie was in a heated re-election campaign against state Sen. Barbara Buono, and the lane closures were a hot issue. Had the Port Authority come clean, it could have been a very different race.

At the time, Cuomo insisted he knew nothing about Bridgegate beyond what he read in the newspaper. But WNYC reported later that based on emails it received through a freedom-of-information request, "Cuomo and his top aides" were "responding instantly and far more intensely to the abrupt lane closures on the George Washington Bridge than had previously been known," which helped "keep a lid on the scandal."

In 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that Christie had called Cuomo to complain that Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye "was pressing too hard to get to the bottom of why the number of toll lanes onto the bridge from Fort Lee, NJ, was cut from three to one." The Journal attributed its story to "a person familiar with the matter."

At the criminal trial, three people testified that Cuomo was part of the effort to cover up the real origins of the Fort Lee lane closures after a conversation with Christie where the latter asked his New York counterpart to have Foye, a Cuomo appointee, "stand down."

As NJ.com reported, although Foye ordered the lanes reopened and "suspected foul play was involved," he still issued a press release claiming the Port Authority was conducting "a week of study" and would "review those results and determine the best traffic patterns at the GWB."

Under oath at the criminal trial, Foye admitted that he he knew the statements in the press release were false and that the agency used the excuse of an internal probe to stave off reporters' questions for a month after that investigation was over.

That was invaluable cover for the Christie crew. Artfully controlling the narrative to blunt the reporting on the Bridgegate scandal certainly didn't hurt Foye's career. In 2017, Cuomo tapped him to be CEO and chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees New York City's subway system and the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines.

Members of the Port Authority Police Department even surfaced in what prosecutors alleged was a criminal conspiracy to cover up the initial lane-closure plot. In November 2013, Baroni testified before the New Jersey state legislature that the concept of the traffic study was first raised by Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association.

In 2014 The New York Times reported that Nunziato and Wildstein had met regularly from 2012, leading up to Nunziato's endorsement of Christie's re-election campaign, on behalf of his 1,500-member union. (Under Christie's tutelage the ranks of the Port Authority police grew from 1,500 to 2,000 by March 2014.)

When Nunziato took questions from reporters after a December 2014 Port Authority commissioners' meeting, he reaffirmed that he had originated the George Washington Bridge-Fort Lee traffic study. A month earlier, he had said in a statement that speculation that politics was behind the GWB fiasco lane closures was like speculating on the location of Jimmy Hoffa's body.

Nunziato's lawyer, Charles J. Sciarra, told the New York Times his client had nothing to do with the closures. "My client was trying to be supportive of people who were supportive of his union; he never intended to mislead."

In May 2015, Wildstein pled guilty to two federal felony counts. His convictions were vacated by a federal judge last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions of Kelly and Baroni.

So Fishman's extended effort to prosecute the Bridgegate schemers was an expensive flop. One thing he did succeed in doing was keeping sealed the list of unindicted co-conspirators, which has remained off limits to the media and the public to this very day.

This is not a Hollywood movie — all too often, the bad guys get away. Sometimes they don't: Cuomo hired Fishman as outside counsel to defend him against the harassment allegations. This time, that wasn't enough. But it's no wonder Cuomo believed he could mold the collective reality by "hanging tough." Power protects power.

Unions are horrified at the mask mandate rollback — and fear workers' lives are at risk again

On May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the indoor mask mandate for people who say they are vaccinated. Individually, many of those who were vaccinated celebrated the news at what seemed like a step towards a pre-pandemic normalcy. Yet public health experts and unions alike were horrified.

This article first appeared in Salon.

In a May 17 tweet, the New York State Nurses Association, which represents 40,000 Registered Nurses, warned "the rushed CDC mask guidance is a rollback on patients' & workers' protections across the country. The path to stop the virus is more than the vaccine alone. This guidance will push communities to remove their masks sooner than recommended — risking lives."

Indeed, the unions that represent healthcare professionals and essential frontline workers are speaking out about the CDC's walkback on masks. These workers, they say, have paid for and will continue to pay for the nation's scandalous lack of preparation for this totally foreseeable event.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, also blasted the CDC's new guidance, saying it would force retail workers to play "vaccination police" to sort out which customers needed to wear masks.

The union stated: "Since March 1, UFCW reports a nearly 35-percent increase in grocery-worker deaths and a nearly 30 percent increase in grocery workers infected or exposed following supermarket outbreaks at Whole Foods, Costco, Trader Joe's and other chains across the country."

The union estimated at least 185 grocery workers and 132 meatpacking workers have died from the virus, with tens of thousands of other union members infected or exposed, incurring potential long-term health risks.

A key concern among unions is that in the neighborhoods of color hardest hit by the coronavirus, where a large portion of the essential workforce resides, the rate of vaccination is well below the 50 percent threshold found in whiter, more-affluent areas.

During a May 19 press briefing, epidemiologist Dr. Celine Gounder echoed the New York State Nurses Association's concerns about the rollback of the indoor-mask mandate. She told reporters the CDC should have coordinated the shift in guidance with "stakeholders" including labor unions and the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

She was sharply critical of the CDC's decision to rely on the "honor system" when it came to waiving the mask and social-distancing requirements for those that are vaccinated.

"You need to take into consideration other questions: for example, how can you be sure somebody has truly been vaccinated?" she said. "There's a reason somebody goes into a bar and we card them when they want to buy alcohol."

Dr. Gounder also noted that "some of those who have been most resistant to wearing a mask are also those who unfortunately may be most resistant to getting vaccinated right now. And so that does really pose a risk to other people."

According to the former Biden administration COVID advisor, slightly more than one in four Black Americans are vaccinated, with the rate for Hispanics just a few percentage points higher. She maintained that the CDC should have waited for the vaccination rate in communities of color to hit the 50 percent mark before rolling back the requirements.

"It is the duty of public health not to just look out for the individual, but the population and specifically the most vulnerable among us," Dr. Gounder said at press briefing held after the CDC rollback.

Throughout this pandemic, the political and commercial interests have ignored the warnings from health care unions and then failed to admit when the union predictions came to pass.

It was the nurse unions that warned the CDC's watering down of workplace protections that require the disposal of N-95 masks after each encounter with a patient — done to stretch personal protective equipment inventory — would result in nurses dying and the hospitals where they worked becoming vectors for the virus.

Both things happened. Yet even now, we continue to ignore what these professionals we supposedly honor.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, who had originally resisted following the CDC mask reset, fell into line on May 23 when he told reporters that he was concerned that New Jersey businesses would lose money because residents would choose to cross the Hudson or Delaware to patronize businesses in neighboring states where there was no longer an indoor mask requirement.

Debbie White, a registered nurse and president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, New Jersey's largest healthcare union, had initially praised Murphy's holding off and keeping the indoor mask mandate in place.

In an interview, before Murphy's reversal, she said her members will yet again pay the price for expedient CDC guidance.

"It is so alarming because you know it is on the honor system," White said. "We have no way to prove [people are vaccinated]. There's no tracking device that you can scan."

White added that politicians are caving in on the mandate "just because people are just so afraid of losing business, even though it puts food workers and frontline worker at risk again."

White says her union has lost at least seven members to the virus, but that the failure of hospitals to be transparent she really has no way of discerning the actual number. That's important, she says, to be able to flag the failures in infection control to better prepare for the next pandemic.

"We have kept track in our state and across the country of so many different groups where there are outbreaks—we've kept track of Little League teams and communities where there were outbreaks that occurred, but it is not an accident we have not tracked data for health care workers," White said.

Even after New Jersey passed a law earlier this year requiring hospitals be more transparent, White says some are resisting.

"This will trump asbestos for healthcare workers," she predicted.

We know that at least 115,000 health care workers have been killed globally by COVID and the spectacular failure of infection control which has meant their families and neighborhoods also paid a price.

Here in the U.S. there's no official government registry of healthcarae workers that passed away of COVID-19. A joint reporting project by the Guardian and Kaiser Health News found that more than 3,600 healthcare workers died from COVID-19 — with 700 of those from New Jersey and New York.

The government's cavalier response to this catastrophic death toll is eerily reminiscent of other comparable historical incidents in which workers were treated as dispoable; for instance, when the Pentagon staged above-ground atomic bomb testing which exposed American soldiers to radiation. The Pentagon justified it as just a cost of doing business.

The ripple effects of healthcare workers' deaths extend beyond these tens of thousands of graves, and will be generational in consequence for the lucky survivors.

On April 6, the medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry published a study of more than 230,000 medical records of surviving COVID patients that indicated one in three COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with 14 different neurological or psychiatric conditions within six months of their infection.

"Thirty-four percent of survivors were diagnosed with at least one of these conditions, with 13 percent of these people being their first recorded neurological or psychiatric diagnosis," reported Yahoo News. "Mental-health diagnoses were most common among patients, with 17 percent diagnosed with anxiety and 14 percent diagnosed with a mood disorder."

Consider the finding by the New York the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a non-profit, that 250,000 essential workers in New York state were sidelined by the virus, with another 150,000 experiencing an asymptomatic infection, which health experts warn may have long-term health consequences as described by Lancet Psychiatry.

Ignoring the lived experience of medical professionals and their unions is not just something we do here in the US.

In Japan, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association (TMPA), which represents 6,000 medical professionals, recently sent a dire warning to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and Olympic officials, noting that their country was already in the midst of its fourth and worst spike yet of the virus.

"Viruses are spread by people's movements," wrote the TMPA. "Japan will hold a heavy responsibility if the Olympics and Paralympics work to worsen the pandemic, increasing the number of those who must suffer and die."

The sobering letter continued:

"The medical systems responding to COVID-19 are stretched thin, almost to their limits. The reality is that the entire medical system faces an almost insurmountable hardship in trying our best to respond with coronavirus measures…The doctors and nurses of the medical system who are being asked to respond are already at this point exhausted, and there is absolutely no extra manpower or facility for treatment."

Healthcare workers in Japan are under tremendous strain. As the Guardian reported, "a recent poll by a national hospital workers' union found that more than half of nurses working in Japanese coronavirus wards had considered leaving the profession, with many citing stress, fatigue and fear of infection."

According to the Guardian, the response to the local public health call for cancelation by the IOC was an "insistence that 'sacrifices' must be made to ensure the Games go ahead in Tokyo regardless of the coronavirus situation in Japan" that "sparked a backlash and more calls for them to be cancelled.

'House of Lords' Democrats who dumped the $15 wage will be held accountable: civil rights activist

Over the week it took the U.S. Senate to deliberate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan — and to vote down raising the Federal minimum wage from its $7.25 poverty level to $15 an hour — close to 13,000 Americans died from COVID.

No one knows how many of those 13,000 deaths were of low-wage essential workers or of their family members infected because that worker brought the highly contagious virus home with them. What we do know is that the number of COVID deaths are disproportionately high among people of color, who make up a major percentage of the workforce that doesn't have the luxury of working remotely.

We know that 530,000 of us have died, but as with the U.S. Postal Service, employers are reluctant to publicly disclose their body count for fear of incurring liability. Close to 30 million have been infected, with as many as one third of those survivors experiencing lingering symptoms of varying severity that could lead to permanent disability.

It's estimated that between 27 million and 32 million Americans would have benefited from the raise to the federal minimum wage, which sets a floor for most, but certainly not all, workers nickel-and-dimed in a gig economy, where basic benefits like workers compensation, disability or even unemployment insurance are far from guaranteed while billionaires reap ever-growing profits.

Early on in the pandemic, House and Senate Democrats talked about hazard pay for essential workers. That never materialized even as Republican governors in states like Texas and Florida refused to impose the most basic public health precautions, such as wearing masks which certainly put essential workers in their states at greater risk of getting infected and dying.

Not only did hazard pay never materialize, but the $15 minimum wage was voted down by every Republican senator and eight Democrats: Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana and the "moderate" ringleader, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

After the Senate vote on March 6, President Biden took a victory lap with a short speech from the White House which extolled the virtues of his plan and assured reporters that the bill that emerged from the Senate, without the $15 wage provision was "essentially about the same."

"Over 85 percent of American households will get direct payments of $1,400 per person," Biden said. "For a typical middle-class family of four — husband and wife working, making $100,000 a year total, with three kids — they'll get $5,600 — I mean, with two kids — will get $5,600, and it'll be on the way soon."

Yet that pandemic relief, no matter how generous, is just not the same thing as the lifetime boost in weekly earnings that would have uplifted tens of millions of workers, an issue on which Biden and Kamala Harris enthusiastically campaigned last year. Throughout the campaign, and particularly in states like Georgia, Democrats aligned themselves with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II's Moral Monday movement and the current iteration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign.

Perhaps Biden didn't perceive the jettisoning of the $15 minimum wage as a loss because he had already given up on it before the Senate took up ARP.

"I respect and love President Biden and I preached at his inaugural ceremony, but it was wrong a few weeks ago for him to say he didn't think [the minimum wage] was going to make it into the bill," said Dr. Barber during a phone interview.

"He's the president just like Franklin Delano Roosevelt was, who used his bully pulpit and said in the middle of the Great Depression that any business that did not want to pay a living wage did not deserve to be a business in America. Well, poor and low-wealth people have been in a depression because we know that right now, as you and I are speaking, there are 62 million poor and low wealth workers in this country."

Barber likened the Senate to a "House of Lords" disconnected from the daily experiences of the tens of millions of poor and low wealth Americans. "It took Black people 400 years to get to $7.25 — we can't wait another 400 years," he said. "What they are doing should embolden us and intensify the agitation. If we challenged Trump for using power in the wrong way, then we have to challenge our own 'friends,' the people we voted for. We did not vote for 'normalcy.' We did not vote for the same.

"We voted for folks because they said, 'Elect me and I am going to deal with systemic racism and I am going to pass a living wage of $15 an hour,' which is a compromise in and of itself. We have to hold people to what they said."

According to Barber, 55 percent of poor and low-wealth voters cast their ballot for the Biden/Harris ticket. "We found that poor and low-wealth people make up a third of the electorate. That's 65 million voters, and 35 million voted this time — 6 million more than in 2016 … So that's the only place you can expand the electorate."

As Barber sees it, the abandonment of the $15 minimum by centrist Democrats doesn't just reinforce systemic economic racism, it's political science malpractice.

In August 2020 the Poor People's Campaign and Columbia University researchers released a report entitled "Unleashing the Power of Poor and Low Wealth Voters," which found that in 15 states, including several in the South, getting just 22 percent of poor and low-wealth voters who have not voted before to cast a ballot could be determinative in which party prevailed.

If Democrats fail to deliver on the $15 minimum wage as they promised, Barber warns, they could suffer the same fate in next year's midterm elections that Democrats did in 2016, when a marked decline in African American voter turnout sank Hillary Clinton's campaign and handed Trump the Oval Office.

Meanwhile the news media narrative heralds the imminent return to normal as the day in, day out death toll has become like the background noise at the top and bottom of the hour that includes the weather and stock quotes.

For Rev. Barber, that return to a pre-COVID "normal" that so many crave is a "sign of a kind of spiraling spiritual death" and a willful blindness to the 250,000 poor and low-wealth people that were dying every year due to inadequate or nonexistent health care, even before the pandemic. "We had seven people die from vaping and we had the White House and Congress convening hearings," he said, "while with 750 people dying from poverty and low wealth every day [pre-COVID] you still couldn't get a politician to talk about poverty consistently. Now that death rate has accelerated."

Democrats consistently pay lip service to the systemic racism that's been laid bare by the pandemic, which includes the increasing precarity of so much of the essential workforce, well before COVID came calling. The speed with which they dropped the provision for a $15 an hour minimum wage shows how disconnected they remain with the tens of millions of poor and low-wealth workers that both parties have ignored for generations — and how beholden they are to big corporations.

So far, our nation is four for four in failing to address the living economic legacy of slavery, a through-line from Jim Crow right on through the poverty wages paid to this very day for essential services in the face-to-face work world where millions of people of color work. This 21st-century Grapes of Wrath-class of worker, of course, includes millions of poor whites as well, particularly in the South and rural Midwest, along with immigrants of all races in all 50 states.

There was the reversal of Reconstruction after the Civil War, when the North let the South rise again through draconian segregation, lynching and total voter suppression. Then FDR allowed Southern Democrats to maintain their economically oppressive apartheid by exempting agricultural workers and domestic workers from the landmark 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act and the minimum wage, which lifted so many out of poverty but left so many behind.

In our time there was the Bush and Obama response to the Wall Street heist of the American economy, which bailed out vulture capitalists at the expense of millions of homeowners who lost their homes on Main Street and MLK Boulevard, leading to a loss of household wealth for African Americans of generational consequence.

And now we have the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan, which spends vast amounts of borrowed money to be paid off by taxpayers — and ensures that corporations can continue amassing huge profits while denying tens of millions a living wage.

"Low wages hurt all workers and are particularly harmful to Black workers and other workers of color, especially women of color who make up a disproportionate share of workers who are severely underpaid," reports an Economic Policy Institute fact sheet on the minimum wage. "This is the result of structural racism and sexism, with an economic system rooted in chattel slavery in which workers of color — and especially women of color — have been and continue to be shunted into the most underpaid jobs."

A bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate just voted to keep it that way.

Teachers are terrified that experts don't really know how risky re-opening schools is

Forty-five days into President Biden's term, he and his administration have somewhat improved public health messaging compared to his predecessor's admittedly low bar. But they hit turbulence when they pressed for the return of in person school instruction, and the assertion it wasn't necessary for teachers to be vaccinated first because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed that schools could be relatively safe.

The most high-profile support for this assertion is the New York City public school re-opening, which is being held up as a national model.

"Nowhere in the country has indoor, in-person learning resumed on such a large scale so safely," opined the New York Daily News recently. "And while much remains in allowing high-schoolers to return and letting remote K-8 families opt back in, the city's plan has all but been copied by the CDC on how to do it right."

The newspaper went on to credit Mayor Bill de Blasio and outgoing school chancellor Richard Caranza for the successful return of hundreds of thousands of kids to the classroom "essentially virus free."

The Daily News made no mention of the essential role played by the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and the tens of thousands of staff that implemented a complex and expensive plan that included mandatory testing of 20 percent of all of the staff and students in each school.

An education in COVID-19

Nor did the newspaper make any mention of the steep and deadly learning curve the de Blasio administration had been on from the earliest day of the pandemic when it downplayed the virus before it shut the schools down mid-March. And the de Blasio administration has been anything but transparent.

As The City newspaper reported in May, the city was slow to close down its schools as the virus was getting traction in the community and resisted the United Federation of Teachers' (UFT) call to shift to remote learning, despite mounting evidence the pandemic was starting to take a toll.

"A review by The City of internal emails and interviews with teachers uncovered a pattern of Department of Education officials playing down the threat of COVID-19 in the days before the schools shuttered, during the week teachers were required to come in for training, and even after the start of remote learning," the outlet reported.

What's not well understood outside of the New York City metro market was this "national example" cited by the Daily News was the product of behind-the scenes intense negotiations between union members, their unions and city officials that were forced to scrutinize everything, including existing cleaning protocols and deficient ventilation systems.

All too often the corporate news media's pandemic coverage depicts essential workers like teachers as brave public servants who fall prey to the virus. Such a one-dimensional rendering of them — as victims without agency — ignores the role they and their unions are playing in stopping the spread of the killer virus while resuming essential functions of society like public education.

In fact, all too often the teacher unions have been cast as obstructionists who are only acting in their narrow self-interest.

COVID-19 has hit educators and school support staff hard. For them, the risks of contracting the virus are very real and deadly, and pose a danger to their entire extended family. In insisting on stringent protocols for returning to in-person instruction they are indeed acting in the broader public interest.

No one knows how many have already died nor how many family members teachers and staff may have infected.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, 530 of their members have died from the virus nationally. In New York City, the UFT confirmed that over 70 union members have died from the virus.

"Safe to breathe"

There's an essential backstory to the New York City collaboration between the unions and the de Blasio administration that goes back to the tragic lesson learned by the UFT in the aftermath of the 9/11 WTC attack. The teachers' union went along with Mayor Giuliani's push to repopulate 29 schools in lower Manhattan and western Brooklyn that turned out to be in the hot zone for the killer ambient air that the Bush administration's EPA had falsely claimed was "safe to breathe" to ensure that Wall Street got up and running.

Sound familiar?

At least 1,000 Teachers and support personnel with the Department of Education and thousands of their former students were exposed to the toxic contamination generated in lower Manhattan by the 9/11 attack and the months of clean-up that followed at the World Trade Center site, the union's top occupational expert testified before the New York City Council back in December of 2018.

Ellie Engler, the union's top industrial hygienist at the time of the attack, testified about the role she played, along with city officials, in signing off on repopulating the schools. Years later, she learned that she, like so many others, had contracted a WTC-linked cancer.

"It took years before any of us made a connection and understood the breadth of the health crisis that would befall many," she testified. "Only as first-responders started getting sick, with unusual cancers and multiple respiratory problems, did the real impact become public. The message had not hit home."

She continued. "We were part of clean-up efforts and, along with thousands of Teachers, city workers, students and residents, walked to and from school breathing air that Federal officials only years later acknowledged was not safe. As the years passed, the UFT began hearing from staff who worked in lower Manhattan schools who were now getting sick."

She continued, "Critically, and unexpectedly, students—young men and women in their early 20s—began receiving cancer diagnoses typically affecting people twice their age."

Ms. Engler disclosed at the hearing that among the three employees of the UFT's Health and Safety Department, two, including herself, subsequently were diagnosed with WTC-linked cancers.

The rush to "normal" was costly. And the teachers and students were not alone. Almost twenty years after 9/11, more people have died from their WTC exposure than perished on the day of the attack. Over 60,000 people are enrolled in the WTC Health Program, with one or more cancers or other certified conditions.

"The UFT has a long history of protecting educators and students from potential health dangers where they work and learn," Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in response to a Salon query. "We advocated for school communities during the asbestos crisis in the '90s. We fought for educators, students and residents of Lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 health crisis."

Mulgrew continued. "We relied on those experiences, and the long-standing relationships we developed with medical experts, to craft the health and safety protocols, and testing and tracing requirements, during the COVID pandemic. With these guidelines in place, we were able to safely open New York City public schools. We knew from experience that educators would have to demand these safeguards. They weren't going to happen otherwise."

Setting precedents as you go

In New York City it was not just the teachers' union challenging the city, but activist union members willing to challenge both sides. Should teachers be expected to just "suck it up" and risk returning to the classroom without vaccines, just so the market economy can get back up and running? Logically, teachers challenged school administrators, as well as local and state elected officials, on what seemed like expedience.

"We can't do everything to make sure everyone is one hundred percent safe and we can't do everything to make sure everyone is one hundred percent free — there has to be a balance," said Michael Kane, a proud UFT member who teaches special education in Queens. Kane started New Yorker Teachers for Choice, a union caucus against "forced medical mandates," after it became known school staff and students were going to be subject to random, mandatory COVID testing.

"If we did not agree to it, we would be placed on unpaid leave, so this led me to a number of questions—the first one being, 'is my specimen protected? Is it guaranteed that my specimen will be destroyed?'" Kane recalled. For a month, Kane and his colleagues were ignored, until the group hired noted civil rights attorney Michael Sussman. Sussman petitioned the city for answers, and when officials weren't sufficiently forthcoming, sued the city.

Ultimately, the city agreed to guarantee the destruction of the specimens after they were evaluated for COVID, ensuring the testing company could not build out their genetic library with the specimens from the mandatory testing.

"In maintaining safety, there are going to be some civil liberties that are going to be sacrificed to a certain extent, but they just can't be thrown out the window and just not cared about at all," said Kane whose group opposes mandatory vaccine but believes that teachers who want the vaccine before they are ordered back into the classroom should get it. "I believe teachers should have access and I understand people saying they want access to it before they go back into the classroom,

No sure thing

Government officials' public health guidance has changed repeatedly during the pandemic, which hasn't helped give clarity to teachers. Rather, it has heightened an anxious situation.

When Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared Feb. 21 on NBC's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked him what level of risk an unvaccinated teacher was taking right now by going back into the classroom for in person instruction.

"You cannot give a numerical figure to that," said Dr. Fauci. "You can't say what is the risk — give me a number. I mean obviously being in school is very similar to being in the community so the risk of a teacher being infected in school is very likely very much similar to what you would see in the community. But we don't know that yet."

When Todd pressed him to say if he would be "comfortable" going into a school as a teacher, Dr. Fauci said he "understood the concern that people have." He noted that his daughter was teaching in a classroom "in a city far from Washington, DC" where he and his wife live.

Teachers deserve more definitive answers. Their unions must press for them, and members have to be engaged enough to hold their unions and elected officials accountable.

Donald Trump's a traitor — and we shouldn't cut him the same slack we gave Jefferson Davis

Presidents Day originated in 1885 to honor the birthday of George Washington, who as our nation's first president established the pattern and practice of a peaceful transition of power. That endured up until Donald Trump and his Jan, 6 insurrection that left five people dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

Forty-three Republican U.S. senators voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald J. Trump of inciting the insurrection that was witnessed in real time by the entire world on live TV. Last month, 197 House Republicans voted against impeaching Trump for the second time.

It's important to contextualize their abdication with the reality that our nation is in the throes of a mass death event likely to kill a half-million Americans and infect 30 million with a life-threatening killer virus by the end of the month, all while food and shelter insecurity spreads across the land.

Unlike their Senate colleagues Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump, keeping his political aspirations alive, did not want to jump into the breach that had already proved fatal to Officer Sicknick.

That dozens of people of such privilege and rank, like the congressional Republicans who opposed holding Trump accountable, opted to instead protect their own partisan political position, has ample precedence in our history.

Luckily, for us, the original framers were more visionary in spirit and put the potential of our democracy, not yet fully conceived, above their own personal fortunes, with the awareness that if they did not "hang together" they would surely "all hang separately."

Incredibly, the Republican leader in the Senate concluded that holding Trump accountable should be left to the country's civil and criminal justice system. This provided a procedural fig leaf for the GOP caucus' 'Don't be a snitch' culture, which actually works to undermine the Constitution that serves as the foundation of our criminal and civil law.

By choosing to avoid holding accountable the bully and his mob they fear, Republicans memorialized their subjugation.

"When the holding and keeping of power is the organizing principle then everything else becomes a means to that end," observed biographer and historian Jon Meacham on MSNBC this past weekend. "It may be politically rational, but it is constitutionally derelict."

After the acquittal vote, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted that Trump's actions that resulted in the storming of the Capitol for several hours were "disgraceful" and "a dereliction of duty."

"Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor," McConnell said. "They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president."

The Kentucky Republican observed that Trump's "unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began," adding that "whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day … whatever reaction he says he meant to produce … by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world."

McConnell continued. "A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!"

In the minority leader's own words, Trump then had crossed that "Rubicon" line from being the inciter of the riot to an actual participant-by-proxy, with his own vice president now on the run.

"Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger … even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the president sent a further tweet attacking his vice president," McConnell said.

What was established in the U.S. Senate trial, and supported by a 57-43 bipartisan vote to convict, is a fact pattern far more treacherous and lethal than a bid to delay the certification of the Electoral College. Rather it was a near-successful bid to murder the two elected officials in the direct line of succession after the president.

Add into this crucible the recent disclosure that when the Trump-activated rioters breached the Capitol and sent Pence scrambling for safety, his entourage, which that was sent into rapid retreat, included an Air Force officer who carried the "nuclear football" — a suitcase that contains the nuclear weapon launch codes.

As the House managers' prosecution of the case against ,Trump demonstrated, facts can move minds which accounts for the decision by seven Republicans to go against their party's partisan interests to vote with their Democratic colleagues.

What was clear was that for a number of those senators, it was what Trump did not do after the Capitol riot got underway that helped convince them of his guilt.

What we need now is for the Secret Service to be compelled to disclose publicly what its agents knew, when they knew it, how they sorted it out in real time and whether they saw this coming.

For a few hours there, we had one executive security detail protecting Pence while another was protecting Trump — who, even after he learned Pence was on the run, used his tweet artillery to further incite the mob that was pursuing him.

In terms its trajectory the Jan. 6 insurrection bears a striking similarity to the strategic arc of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. That plot also targeted Vice President Andrew Johnson, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State William Seward, who survived a gruesome knife attack.

When Johnson took office after Lincoln's death, he ordered that the several suspects in the conspiracy be tried not by an Article III court, but by a military tribunal.

Four people were hanged for their participation in the conspiracy. (Booth refused to be captured alive and was shot dead by Union soldiers. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis, a former senator from Mississippi, who became the so-called president of the so-called Confederacy, was arrested and charged with treason in May of 1865. He was never tried.

Two years later, Davis was released on bail raised mostly by prominent Northern abolitionists, including Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, who all "advocated for a speedy trial or release of Davis in order to heal the country."

Ultimately, federal prosecutors blinked and never pursued the treason case against Davis for fear that he "would either prove to a jury that secession was legally permitted under the U.S. Constitution or he would be transformed into a martyr if convicted and executed."

Davis remained resolute that his course of action was correct, telling the Mississippi Legislature in 1884, "It has been said that I should apply to the United States for a pardon. But repentance must precede the right of pardon, and I have not repented. … If it were all to do over again, I would again do just as I did in 1861."

In the final analysis it was the North that blinked: In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation passed by Congress that restored Davis' U.S. citizenship.

In substance we know that from Andrew Johnson onward, the federal government would betray the nation's enslaved African Americans and their descendants by letting the South, driven by its racist paranoia and passion, dismantle the ephemeral gains of Reconstruction.

"One of the great mistakes we have made in the country historically is that in the aftermath of the Civil War we did not hold insurrectionists — rebels — accountable for what they did," observed Meacham on MSNBC.

That's precisely the thought I had when I saw an FBI flyer depicting the Trump insurrectionist who carried the Confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol, something that had never happened before Jan. 6.

We have no bandwidth to make that mistake again.

Trump's coup attempt and the worsening pandemic are not separate stories — they're aspects of the same chaos

It's a new year, but our once-in-a-century mass death event continues. In my home state of New Jersey, the COVID death toll closes in on 20,000, while our national government remains in the kind of turmoil we might associate with a nation without a long tradition of the peaceful transition of power.

A nation with the mightiest and most high-tech military in the world has been cornered by a deadly virus — and by predatory leadership that's trying to exploit a public health crisis to perpetuate its hold on power.

As with so much during the Trump administration, what was promised in federal pandemic support to the states has failed to materialize in spectacular fashion, with the outgoing administration falling far short of its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.

CNN reported that only 2.1 million people have gotten the vaccination, just a tenth of the goal of Trump's "Operation Warp Speed." This speed bump, which anyone who knows Donald Trump could have predicted, came as several states confirm cases of the newest COVID strain from Britain, which scientists say is no more lethal than the original — but far more contagious.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease physician, has said that 80 to 85 percent of the nation's population would need to be inoculated for us to achieve so-called herd immunity. That would be more than 260 million Americans.

"At the current rate, it would take the United States approximately 10 years to reach that level of inoculation," warned Washington Post columnist Leana Wen. "That's right — 10 years. Contrast that with the Trump administration's rosy projections: Earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted that every American will be able to get the vaccine by the second quarter of 2021 (which would be the end of June). The speed needed to do that is 3.5 million vaccinations a day."

While the United States, the world's wealthiest nation and sole remaining superpower, represents just 4 percent of the world's population, it has reported almost 20 percent of the earth's 2 million COVID-19 deaths.

Here in New Jersey, with more than 200 COVID deaths per 100,000 people, we account for 5.7 percent of the deaths but are just 2.77 percent of the nation's population. "Put another way: if it were a country, the Garden State would have the highest COVID-19 per capita death toll in the world," reported NJ Advance Media on Dec. 14.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, President Trump has played red states off against blue states even as he downplayed the seriousness of the virus, consistently misleading many Americans into believing that the highly contagious and deadly virus was like the flu.

Rather than coordinate the nation's pandemic response, Trump installed political operatives in the CDC twisted its public health messaging to suit the presidential campaign calendar, undermining the critical agency's credibility when the nation's states were looking to it for science-based leadership.

Just as with Trump's reckless campaigning, this added to the body count and helped accelerate the spread of the virus, which at various times people in the White House suggested was the administration's goal, in pursuit of herd immunity.

The November election was, if anything, a referendum on this unprecedented betrayal of the public trust, whose deadly consequences will be felt by American families for generations to come. More than 81.28 million Americans voted for Joe Biden, blowing past the previous record for the most votes cast for a single presidential candidate, set in 2008 when Barack Obama garnered 69.49 million votes.

Despite the certification of the states' returns, a sizable faction of the Republican Party, including New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was elected as a Democrat in 2018 before switching parties during Trump's impeachment, want to end-run the will of the American people as and have the votes thrown out from swing states that went for Biden.

On Wednesday, well over 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives, along with about a dozen members of the U.S. Senate, are planning to protest the formal certification of Biden as president, even though all the lawsuits alleging voting fraud filed by Trump and his allies have been rejected by every court, including the nation's highest.

Moreover, despite the Trump campaign's post-election challenges in the contested states, Biden's victory in those states survived the labor-intensive process of hand recounts, which also produced no evidence of voter fraud.

On Dec. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to throw out the certified vote tallies from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, based on the claim that the mail-in ballot processes adopted by those states amid the COVID pandemic violated the law and were subject to widespread fraud.

The Texas AG was joined by the attorneys general of Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

One hundred twenty-six Republican House members, including Van Drew, aligned themselves with that Texas challenge, which was unanimously rebuffed by the Supreme Court. Yet, this faction, with an eye on their own ambitions, have chosen to embrace Trump over abiding by their sworn duty to "support and defend the Constitution … against all enemies, both foreign and domestic."

In President-elect Biden's Dec. 14 speech, given after the certification of the election returns, he described the Texas lawsuit as an effort to wipe out the votes of more than 20 million Americans, a "position so extreme, we've never seen it before, a position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law and refused to honor our Constitution."

Biden went on to proclaim that the November results meant that "faith in our institutions prevailed" and that "the integrity of our elections" remained intact while suggesting now was the "time to turn the page as we've done throughout our history, to unite, to heal."

But as Trump and his junta have repeatedly demonstrated throughout the pandemic, they have no interest in uniting and healing, even in the midst of a once-in-a-century mass death event — if fostering division will help tighten their grip on power.

Their self-serving antics, pulled on a weary nation aching for a shred of normalcy in a sea of misery and uncertainty, need to be framed for posterity as the opening line of their obituaries.

America is a failed state -- and Trump leaving the White House won't suddenly change that

In the waning days of the Trump presidency, there's a steady drumbeat coming from the corporate news media and its pundits: the suggestion that, come Jan. 21, everything will suddenly and magically return to "normal."

Never mind the mounting COVID death toll, which on several days this month has spiked above 3,000 a day.

The projection of normalcy is essential to preserving the existing economic order, to organize our self-image as the noblest of nations built on the wisdom of great white men, the landed gentry, who — with the exception of their reliance on slavery — were divinely inspired when they wrote the Constitution.

After four years with Donald Trump at the helm, one would have to be a comatose ancestor worshipper not to see how Trump exploited the shaky 18th-century architecture of patriotism for his own family's enrichment.

A man who failed to win the majority of the popular vote in 2016 had carte blanche to turn state against state in a COVID civil war that produced a body count that may end up rivaling that of the Rwandan civil war of the 1990s, when actual weapons were used to kill 800,000.

The Trumpian internecine conflict tore the nation asunder at the granular level. Millions of once close-knit extended families have become alienated from each other over arguments as to the efficacy of wearing a mask or socially distancing.

And the legitimate public health remedy of social distancing and limiting in-person communication only encouraged the stratification of our society that was already well underway, thanks to late-stage vulture capitalism and its acceleration of wealth concentration.

Trump, by pitting red against blue, robbed the entire country of its most essential defense: cohesion. But Trump was not happy with that alone. He dug deeper, like the sadist he is, fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia that existed in volcanic fissures just below the surface of our nation. He hoped to ride that lava flow of ash and burning cinder to realize his ambition.

But to finger Trump alone for our miserable situation fails to not fully grasp the awful truth that's been decades in the making. That true narrative reads more like science fiction than like the accurate, if bleak, recounting of our post-9/11 history it is.

As the world's wealthiest nation, we invested vast sums in the deadliest and most ecologically destructive weapons known to man. We cut public health spending and closed hospitals in rural and urban areas where the poor lived.

Life expectancy declined in the U.S. three years in a row, just as it did around the time of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. Two decades into the 21st century, millions of American households either had no health care insurance or were underinsured. Thus, well before the onset of the pandemic, we had a significant population of Americans beset with chronic disease and with inadequate medical care. Even though we also have the most expensive health care system in the world.

In pre-COVID America, the vast wealth inequality we were seeing rivaled what we had experienced during the Great Depression. Now, in the jaws of this killer virus, the daily experience gap between those who are privileged enough to work from home, and those forced by economics to go out in the world to earn their daily bread, harkens back to the era of feudalism: the nobility safe in the castle, while the "essential" serfs must face bandits, wolves and weather outside the walls.

"There are the college-educated knowledge-based workers, who can continue to work insulated in their homes, who are served by the essential workers in transit and retail sectors who have to be out in the world to serve them," observed Dr. Harriet Fraad, a New York psychotherapist who focuses on the intersection of family life and the economy. "This means during this pandemic that it's the poor and working class, made up primarily of women and people of color, who are more likely to die."

In his victory speech, President-elect Joe Biden pledged "to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify" and who will seek to "heal and restore the American soul."

That presumes America had a soul before the pandemic.

A fully honest examination of the struggles of tens of millions of American households before COVID, and how they have fared during the pandemic, suggests we have yet to find it.

An election that lays bare America's soul — and the rot goes well beyond Trump

As we stand on the precipice of election night, with the shadows of yet another deadly wave of COVID looming over us, our sense of collective dread continues to build.

How did it come to be that our president is himself sowing the seeds of fear and division, turning red states against blue states as the virus' death toll mounts across them all?

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Atlantic City has a warning for the nation: Donald Trump brings ruin and despair

With just days to go before the general election the nation is amidst another wave of a once-in-a-century pandemic, with a president who has refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power, even if his opponent gets more votes.

How did New Jersey — my home state — go from being the "Crossroads of the American Revolution" to being implicated in our republic's disease-ridden authoritarian dead-end?

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This issue is staring America in the face -- will Biden and Trump even discuss it?

When Donald Trump and Joe Biden take to the debate stage in Cleveland on Tuesday night, they will be standing astride America's great socioeconomic fault line. Since the outbreak of COVID, that has become an abyss into which hundreds of thousands of Americans have fallen and hundreds of thousands more are likely to follow.

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Cannon fodder: Workers have never been more expendable than they are now

For hundreds of thousands of essential workers, the potential swearing-in of Joe Biden on January 20, 2021, will have come too late to save them.

It's kind of surreal, but even as the corporate media celebrates the role of essential workers, it's clear that the lives of the workforce — and by extension their families — have never been more expendable.

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Federal police are in the streets — but they couldn't protect a federal judge's family

The murder last Sunday of the Daniel Anderl, the 20-year-old son of a federal judge from North Brunswick, New Jersey, and the serious wounding of her husband comes along with the news that President Trump has sent armed federal agents to Portland,, Oregon to apprehend leftist protesters off the street and hold them illegally, apparently to avenge graffiti on a federal courthouse.

Judge Esther Salas has presided over high-profile trials like that of the former "Real Housewife" star Teresa Giudice and the suit brought by Deutsche Bank investors looking to hold President Trump's bank accountable for failing to monitor "high-risk" customers, including convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

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An eviction and foreclosure crisis is looming

Come autumn 2020, the convergence of disease, death and economic misery across our wounded nation will likely be without living precedent.

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By undoing Obama’s nursing home regulations, Trump opened the door for the deaths we're seeing

Years before the nation's nursing homes experienced a heavy COVID-19 death toll, the Trump administration rolled back the federal rules and regulations put in place by the Obama administration aimed at improving infection control in these kinds of facilities.

In an October 2016 edition of the Federal Register, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services published rules and regulations requiring long term care facilities "to develop an Infection Prevention and Control Program that includes an Antibiotic Stewardship Program and designate at least one Infection Preventionist"

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