Coronavirus Crisis in the Capital–Washington Isn’t Well

With less than a month to go until the presidential election, one would think the upcoming vote would be the biggest headline. Nah! Nothing is normal in 2020; a health topic has been all the buzz. Sure COVID-19’s old news, but there’s a twist now. The high and mighty in our nation’s capital, the Commander in Chief, his staff members/aides, FLOTUS, members of Congress, and the top military brass, have fallen victim to coronavirus. Washington isn’t well.

The D.C. coronavirus crisis started off with a bang when President Trump announced his positive diagnosis via Twitter at 12:54 a.m. last Friday. Call me old school, but I’d have thought such a momentous piece of news would rate a press conference in broad daylight. But, nevertheless, the word got out and spread like–take your pick here in 2020–California wildfires or, fittingly, the coronavirus itself.

By Friday night, President Trump had developed a fever and his blood oxygen level had “dropped rapidly,” requiring him to be given supplemental oxygen at the White House. No ambulance was called for Trump’s transportation to the hospital though. This COVID sufferer is the Commander in Chief, so a helicopter, Marine One, was summoned to fly him to his medical care destination. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s Trump’s Covid Copter.

The medical destination for the mask-clad president was Walter Reed, a tri-service (Air Force, Army, and Navy) military medical center in Bethesda, Maryland. While the facility’s official name is Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (“WRNMMC”), it is more commonly known simply as “Walter Reed” after the yellow fever researcher. This facility routinely treats presidents and vice presidents in a secured and autonomous ward. A presidential office is available offering a sitting room, kitchen, conference room, hospital bedroom, and an office for the White House Chief of Staff (assuming that individual isn’t down for the count with COVID and unable to work).

Speculation was rampant as to the president’s condition after his admission to Walter Reed. He is, after all, at higher risk due to his age (74) and weight (just over the threshold for obesity for his height). If the Physician to the President (Navy Commander Sean Conley, D.O.) and the White House’s world-class medical resources weren’t enough to handle the situation, there was cause for concern. Would the president be able to carry out his executive duties or would the 25th Amendment be utilized to designate VP Mike Pence to take over for his boss?

Dr. Conley gave press briefings, but they didn’t provide as much detail as enquiring minds wanted. The press pressed for for further information but were rebuffed. The president must be hiding something, right? Not according to Conley who explained that doctor-patient confidentiality had not been waived. Donald Trump may be the president and live in a fishbowl, but he is a patient like anyone else and entitled to some privacy. Sorry, Charlie! No one’s getting ahold of the president’s lung scans.

Medical updates did reveal Dr. Conley’s patient had been drinking while at Walter Reed–an experimental Regeron’s polyclonal antibody cocktail that is. President Trump downed one 8 gram dose of this so-called cocktail which supplies antibodies to help the immune system fight the virus and rid the body of it. The Commander in Chief also started a five day course of the expensive (think about $520 or so per vial) antiviral remdesivir used with moderately to severely ill patients and shown to speed recovery. This drug curbs the virus’ ability to multiply.

Additionally, the president underwent steroid therapy. Unlike athletes, he wasn’t trying to bulk up; Dexamethasone was given to tamp down on possible dangerous inflammation. This cheap and widely available steroid drug has been around for decades, but it is usually reserved for patients deemed severe or critical cases. In this case it was used because it was critical to get the president better and back to the White House to run the country.

The COVID hospital drama ended Monday evening when the president was released and flew home aboard Marine One. But of course the drama continued thereafter because opinions were offered by many that President Trump had been sent home too early. Home for him, of course, is the White House, which offers “world-class” medical resources and a personal physician unlike the home of your average COVID patient.

Why should the president have all the COVID fun though? The high and mighty in Washington began following suit and testing positive. Forget the D.C. “A” list. There’s now a lengthy “C” list in the nation’s capital, and that “C” stands for COVID. Joining President Trump as COVID patients, among others, are his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the Republican National Committee Chief Ronna McDaniel, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett politely declined since she’s already participated over the summer.

It’s not just politicians who are on the “C” list either. The military brass didn’t want to be left out. Taken captive by this unseen enemy were the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Millay, the Army Chief of Staff James McConville, the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, the chief of the National Guard Gen. Daniel Hokanson, and the naval operations chief Adm. Michael Gilday. Sounds like a lot of “stars” are under the gun from this rampant virus.

Notice how the country has come to a screeching halt with all the “C” listers out of action? No? Me either. That’s a good thing since the Russians are surely watching the evening news on our major networks and keenly aware the top honchos are out of the office. But the C-listers are still minding the store even while sick–just remotely. Washington’s not well, but are country is still up and running.

Just WONDER-ing:

How much medical information about a sitting president are Americans entitled to have? Where do you draw the line between patient confidentiality and the public’s right to know? Was it inevitable influential individuals running our country would at some point come down with COVID?

Over The Ocean And Through The Dark To See The Troops He Goes

In a classic case of “you can’t believe everything you read,” Newsweek predicted President Donald Trump would spend his Thanksgiving golfing and tweeting. What really happened? The Commander in Chief flew to Afghanistan under cover of darkness to be a surprise guest at the Thanksgiving meal for troops at Bagram Air Field. So, who was more surprised? The troops or Newsweek?

Regardless of what your political leanings are, Americans can certainly agree  the troops stationed in Afghanistan serving our country sacrifice a lot. Having their Commander in Chief make the effort to appear personally to express thanks for their service was undeniably a morale booster for them. I mean, President Trump could have spent his Thanksgiving merely playing golf, tweeting, and eating turkey at Mar-a-Lago. But no, he went out of his way to travel halfway around the world to serve turkey to our troops.

Lest you think that this trip was no big deal, let’s consider the facts. In the first place, President Trump’s Thanksgiving destination was further than over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. The round trip totaled 33 hours. Upon arrival in Afghanistan, the president advised he had traveled 8, 331 miles to get there to join the men and women stationed at Bagram. That’s a long way. Just imagine how many times someone on his plane could’ve asked “Are we there yet?”

Furthermore, this Thanksgiving trek was unannounced. It had to be kept under wraps and concealed from the president’s public schedule for security reasons. As a result, cloak and dagger moves were required. Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday where he would presumably, according to Newsweek, be golfing and tweeting. Nevertheless, Trump secretly flew out of Palm Beach back to Washington, D.C. Wednesday under cover of darkness leaving Air Force One behind. Apparently it was believed people would assume he was still in Florida if his plane was there.  There is no word as to whether the president wore a trench coat for his great escape.

Awaiting his arrival in D.C. were thirteen clueless reporters and photographers assembled on the top floor of a parking garage. I say clueless because they had no idea of their destination. The group was transported to Andrews Air Force Base where they secretly (from other journalists and the public) boarded the hidden twin version of Air Force One which was stashed away in a large hangar. The plane took off at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday night with the shades drawn and the running lights off.

Cell phones were confiscated from all those aboard the plane. Yes, even President Trump’s phone was taken from him. But wait! Weren’t tweets coming from his Twitter account during his flight? Why, yes, indeed they were. To cover his absence, the White House posted tweets from the president’s Twitter account while he was in the air.

President Trump and his entourage arrived in the darkness at Bagram just after 8:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. He was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers because, after all, the Commander in Chief was in a war zone. The President was put to work serving turkey to the troops, but he didn’t get time to eat any. He eventually got food for himself, but after taking a bite of mashed potatoes he was called to pose for photos leaving the turkey, cornbread, and remaining mashed potatoes on his plate uneaten. Eagle-eyed and likely hungry pool reporters revealed that ham, mac and cheese, and candied yams were also on the military’s holiday menu.

While at Bagram, the president fulfilled presidential duties. He met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and announced that talks with the Taliban had been reopened. He also addressed some 1,500 troops who had gathered in an aircraft hangar to hear from their Commander in Chief. Apparently the president was too busy with these presidential duties to play golf while there. He also spent the holiday away from his wife, Melania, who did not accompany him.

The news embargo about the unannounced trip was lifted after the president had been at Bagram for about three hours and was getting ready to depart. The long trip back home was broken up by a stop at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany where the president switched to the real Air Force One which had been flown in from Florida for him. (Does this mean there is an Air Force One A and an Air Force One B?) He returned to Mar-a-Lago where he was still able to work in some golf and tweets before returning to the White House.

President Trump’s trip to Afghanistan was not his first trip to a war zone. OK, well, an official war zone. Political skirmishes are ongoing in Washington, D.C. He and Melania traveled to Iraq to visit troops last Christmas. In choosing Bagram, the president went to the largest military base in Afghanistan, one occupied by the Afghan Armed Forces and U.S. forces. Bagram is the base of operations for most U.S. air activity in Afghanistan as it has a dual concrete runway capable of handling any size aircraft.

A military base in Afghanistan is not a cushy or particularly safe spot to spend a holiday or even a few hours on one. Bagram is located at a high altitude (4,895 feet above sea level to be exact) near the Hindu Kush mountain range. Temperatures can be extreme (translate below zero) and violence is always a threat (think suicide bombers and incoming mortars).

President Trump was beaming and smiling during his time at Bagram. Even assuming he had a great Thanksgiving there, he hopes he won’t have to return. He campaigned on a promise to get the U.S. out of “endless wars,” and the war in Afghanistan certainly qualifies for that designation. It is the longest war in U.S. history; American troops were first deployed to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The war has spanned three presidential administrations and seen thousands of U.S. troops stationed there. Currently about 12,000 troops remain in Afghanistan, down from the 14,000 earlier in the year. That’s a lot of people to supply with a holiday meal!

Thanksgiving is now over, but the president’s trip provided reasons for giving further thanks. The troops in Bagram had a memorable holiday and were told how much they were appreciated even if they were far from home. American citizens were assured that if, God forbid, something happened to Air Force One, its twin is ready and able to take to the skies. The press got a feel good story to run for the holiday albeit pretty much after the fact. Not giving thanks, however, are a large number of turkeys who got the short end of the wishbone and gave their lives to feed Americans both at home and stationed abroad.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are you surprised that President Trump was able to slip out of the country unnoticed? Is it safe for a sitting president to visit a war zone? Has someone you know been stationed in Afghanistan?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, Greenland — Let’s Make A Deal!

President Trump is no longer a secret shopper. Word is out he would like the U.S. to buy Greenland. Yes, that’s right–the large northern land mass which is pretty much covered with ice, i.e., it isn’t green. The idea sounds crazy, but is it really?

Why would anyone want a frigid and icy land mass which mostly sits above the Arctic Circle? (Can you say Brrrr?) Three-fourths of Greenland is covered by a permanent ice sheet. In fact, 80% of Greenland is covered by ice one mile thick. Well, potential purchasers aren’t eyeing Greenland for its balmy weather and golf courses. Two things draw their attention–Greenland’s abundant natural resources and its strategic location.

Global warming leads to more than just higher temperatures; it causes Arctic ice to melt. As a result of global warming, Greenland’s mineral and energy resources are being uncovered and becoming more accessible. These resources include iron ore, zinc, diamonds (that’s my kind of ice!), gold, lead, oil, and uranium. Drilling and mining are more likely activities on Greenland than golfing.

Strategically, Greenland provides access to the Arctic. The United States’ northernmost military base, Thule Air Base, is located in northern Greenland. The base is 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 947 miles from the North Pole. In the past, the U.S.’s main interest in Greenland has been obtaining space for military bases there.

So, good reasons exist why a country would want to own Greenland. But Donald Trump is not the first or only leader to consider this, as he describes it, “large real estate deal.” In fact, the U.S. has tried to buy Greenland before. Way back in 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward explored the possibility of our country buying Greenland. His idea was dropped due to congressional opposition. Later, in 1946 President Harry Truman attempted to buy Greenland from Denmark for $100 million in gold. Today, that offer would equate to $1.3 billion.

And the U.S. is not the only country to be sizing up Greenland for a purchase. China has been eyeing buying Greenland for years because of the minerals and sea lanes it offers.

So Greenland is an attractive purchase for a world power such as China or the U.S. But why would a deal have to be struck with Denmark, a country over in Europe? Well, it’s because Greenland is an autonomous Danish territory and a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Based on the 2009 Self-Government Act, all governing power except for foreign affairs and defense was transferred to Greenland. Denmark’s constitution provides the future of Greenland’s sovereignty is in the hands of Greenland’s population to decide in a referendum. Sure, Denmark could negotiate to sell Greenland, but residents of Greenland would have to approve the purchase.

Why might Denmark want to unload Greenland? The icy land mass is poor with its economy tied to fishing, which accounts for 90% of Greenland’s exports. The country is not very developed. It consists of only about 17 towns, and virtually no roads connect them. Over one-third of the Greenland’s population lives in its largest city and capital, Nuuk. Danish subsidies are required to maintain the standard of living. Even if you aren’t an economic genius, you can see Greenland is an economic drain on Denmark.

And Danish subsidies go to support a fairly small number of people. Greenland’s population is merely about 57,000 people. To help you visualize this number of people, consider that the entire population of Greenland would not fill Sanford Stadium (seating capacity of just under 93,000), where my beloved Georgia Bulldogs play football. The world’s largest non-continental island, which is about three times the size of Texas, is not teeming with masses of people.

Denmark can’t bolster Greenland’s economy by promoting it as a great tourist destination. Since Greenland is located between the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans, it is not a Caribbean island with sun and fun. Greenland does boast the world’s largest national park, the Northeast Greenland National Park, which, true to its name, is located in the northeast portion of Greenland. But outdoor activities are limited due to the ice covering the ground and the freezing temperatures.

So, is Denmark eager to make a deal? It does have a track record of entering into large real estate deals with the U.S. about islands. Back in 1917 Denmark sold what was then known as the Danish West Indies to the U.S. for $25 million. Today these islands are known as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Despite this past transactional history, Denmark apparently isn’t interested in making a deal. Trump’s proposed purchase was quickly rebuffed by Greenland’s foreign ministry who responded, “We’re open for business, not for sale.” Similarly, Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, pooh-poohed the idea by characterizing it as “absurd.” Apparently responding, “No thanks, we’re not interested in selling,” was ruled out as being too diplomatic.

Thus, the deal is off. So what? Well, the drama continues. Donald Trump had been set to make his first formal visit to Greenland in early September. Not only is the purchase not happening, but neither is Trump’s visit which was cancelled in the wake of his real estate deal idea being torpedoed. President Trump did not take kindly to the Danish PM’s characterization of the idea as “absurd,” finding it a rather “nasty” response. Guess now is not a good time for the country’s leaders to meet face to face and have to play nice.

While the U.S. may not be buying Greenland, there is a bright side to the failed transaction. China isn’t going to be buying Greenland either since Greenland’s made it abundantly clear that it isn’t for sale. Period. Now China and the U.S. can go back to duking it out in their trade war instead of jostling to see who will buy coveted real estate.

Guess President Trump will have to revise his shopping list if Greenland is off the market. If he really wants an island, he may be able to get a good deal on a private one. I don’t think Jeffrey Epstein will be using his 70 acre private Caribbean island, Little St. James, now…

JUST WONDER-ing:

Is it “absurd” for a country to want to acquire specific real estate for strategic reasons? If Denmark was willing to sell Greenland and Greenland’a population would approve the transaction, should the U.S. spend the money to buy Greenland? Why or why not? Have you ever wanted to visit Greenland?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disorder In The Court

 

It’s the Fourth of July, so Americans are busy celebrating the founding of our country–squeezed in somewhere between going to the beach, grilling out and shopping red, white and blue sales. What all those activities have to do with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that most citizens have a good grasp on our country’s inception (Boo King George! Yea George Washington!), but they are uniformed about, and perhaps uninterested in, current events affecting our government..

The revered Declaration of Independence begins with the words “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary….”  Back in 1776 it was necessary for the colonists to get out from under British rule.  Fast forward to 2018.  The British are out and so is a sitting United States Supreme Court Justice.  Anthony Kennedy, the tie-breaking voter on some of the court’s biggest cases, has announced his retirement at the end of this month.  Please raise your hand if this situation is the #1 topic at the water cooler at work.  I thought not.

Sadly, most Americans don’t even have a grasp of what SCOTUS is much less what’s going on there.  The Supreme Court of the United Status (edgily referred to as SCOTUS) is the highest federal court in the country and is in the judicial branch of our government.  It is composed of nine justices who may collectively be referred to as the Supremes, but the group has nothing to do with singing.  The members of the court are not elected (that would apparently be too political); justices are nominated by POTUS (President of the United States) and confirmed by the Senate (SOTUS?).

Even though SCOTUS is not a political body, a big political battle is brewing because the next justice confirmed will have the opportunity to shift the court to the right for some time to come.  Upon Justice Kennedy’s retirement,, the remaining eight justices will be split between four liberals and four conservatives, i.e., a Mexican–er, American–standoff.  Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg were Democratic (liberal) nominees and John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were Republican (conservative) nominees.  President Trump, being a Republican and a conservative, is going to appoint a conservative.  But whomever he appoints has to get past the Senate which is composed of a good number of Democrats/liberals.  Prepare for a rumble on Capitol Hill!

A justice confirmed now will be able to exert influence for many years. Justices have a lifetime tenure, so once a justice is on the bench, the country is stuck with him until he dies or retires. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, age 85 and a liberal, may die with her robe (not her boots) on because she does not want to allow the current conservative president the chance to replace her with a conservative justice. President Trump has already been through this process once when he nominated conservative Neil Gorsuch

The president’s nominee is to be announced on July 9th, the day before President Trump leaves for a presidential trip to Europe.  Twenty-five people are on his consideration list, all but one of whom are judges; the odd man out is Utah Sen. Mike Lee, an attorney and former assistant U.S.Attorney.  So far, so good. The President is astutely considering only those with judicial (and in the case of Sen. Lee, legal) experience.

News reports indicate that there is now a shortlist of candidates.  While it is uncertain who will be chosen, it is clear that Trump’s choice will be someone who can “serve for decades,”  i.e.., someone relatively young. Trump may be in office for only a few short years, but he can leave a living legacy on the bench in the Supreme Court building.

A frontrunner is said to be Judge Amul Thapar, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge.  Thapar is appealing because he would be the first American of Indian or Asian descent to receive a nomination. Amy Coney Barrett, another federal appellate judge and former Notre Dame law professor, is also a top contender.  Sure there are already women on the court, but do any of them have seven children like she does?  Are large families appropriately represented on the high court?  Being PC is all well and good, but this is the highest court of the land, so perhaps we should just aim to select the best qualified candidate regardless of race, gender, nationality descent, size of family, etc.

SCOTUS is in summer recess, but a judicial decision, i.e., confirmation of the newest SCOTUS justice, is expected before the first Monday in October, the day the high court traditionally reconvenes after its summer recess.  For the time being, all eyes will be on a decision about SCOTUS rather than from SCOTUS.  No matter who is added to the high bench, Americans should be interested in what’s going on with SCOTUS every day, not just on July 4th.  Regularly exercise your independence by staying in the know about SCOTUS.

JUST WONDER-ing:  Before your read this post, how many of the nine SCOTUS justices could you name?  Were you aware that Justice Kennedy had retired?  Did you already know what the acronym SCOTUS stands for?