Hot topics now top the news

Okay, readers, step up and vote for the hottest topic of the week–confession, coronavirus, corruption, or conflagration. 

If you read the news, chances are you are up-to-date on all those topics. The chief problem is deciding which category events like a taped confession of lying about coronavirus counts in. I offer this guide based for your use.  

  Confession is totally dominated by revelations promoting Bob Woodward’s new book Rage that’s being released today. It could be dismissed as just another hit on the President if Woodward didn’t have tapes of 18 interviews with Trump. Anyone with the Internet can listen to the President himself saying how deadly coronavirus is shortly before he assured people that everything is going well and ridiculed precautions by hosting six massive, indoor campaign rallies within a month.  

Also on tape, Trump dismissed Saudi Arabia’s assassination of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi as no big deal–”Iran is killing 36 people a day”–and bragged about stopping Congress from cutting financial support and arms sales to the country.  

Coronavirus is dominated by the United States continuing to see about 33,000 new cases and 700 new deaths every day.  The U.S., with less than 5% of the world’s population, has 22% of the known cases and deaths. 

We also have a nation of parents distressed because their children are either not learning much while facing a computer screen or are being exposed to a deadly virus daily. About 35% of American households report having used all or nearly all of their savings already. And nearly 14 million are out of work while both Trump’s emergency stipends and many state unemployment accounts are running out of funds.    

Corruption’s poster girl for this week is Seema Verma, administration of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  A 17-month investigation revealed that Verma used nearly $6 million dollars of taxpayer money to polish her image, e.g. arrange for interviews, feature articles, and a ‘girls’ night out.” 

And authorities in Georgia are threatening criminal action against 1,000 voters they claim voted both in person and by mail during the state’s June primary or August runoff elections. Someone’s corrupt.  But it wasn’t until August that a judge ruled that ballots postmarked, but not received, by election day should be counted. That means 1,000 voters could have mailed absentee ballots on or right before June 9, heard that the state would not count them, and hurried out to vote in person. 

Why didn’t Georgia check names on late-arriving absentee ballots and just not open duplicates? Hey, this is a state that provided so few scanners in some urban neighborhoods that voters at one polling place were still waiting in line after midnight.

 Conflagrations, i.e. wildfires, dominated the news this weekend. Thursday National Fire News reported that “102 fires have burned 4.4 million acres in 12 states.” Idaho accounted for about a dozen of those fires with the largest surpassing 40,000 acres Saturday.    

In California 25 wildfires have set a record for acres burned–2.2 million–and the fire season could stretch for another month or more. Oregon has lost 230,00 acres; eight fires are considered unstoppable until winter rains hit. Washington has lost over 300,000 acres. Eighty percent of the buildings in one small town are now ashes.    

Tens of thousands have been evacuated from their homes; and 33 have died since mid-August. 

People are blaming underbrush, trees killed by insects, and heat. Areas of California endured 110 degree temperatures before the fires started.  

Which is the hottest topic?  I guess it depends on your definition of  ‘heat.’

Schools struggling with plans to open

Idaho schools had their troubles before this pandemic began. Per student funding was second lowest in the nation. State results for math testing found entire districts–such as Caldwell and Vallivue–with percentile scores in the 20s. And many children entered kindergarten already well behind students of their age around the nation.  

The State had been working on the problems, but as the coronavirus slowed businesses, Gov. Little cut education funding by $99 million. Those negotiating teacher contracts are dealing with $20 million less in teachers’ extra duty pay, $27 million less in promised raises, cuts in funding for classroom aides, and increased health insurance costs.

Districts have received Federal funds for dealing with the coronavirus, but much of that will go into computers and Internet hotspots, safety supplies, and substitutes when teachers are quarantined. 

So, once again, we’re asking teachers to do more with less. 

It’s important to understand that the role of teachers is not merely to present subject matter and issue grades.   

Their real challenge is to fuel students’ desire to learn. 

Kids must believe they can learn things that seem difficult and that doing so will make a difference in the future. Kids with parents in good jobs often underestimate the hard work it took to get there; kids with parents in hard jobs that can’t keep a family alive often have no reason to believe that hard work pays off. 

Personal attention and bonding are huge factors in convincing students that the challenges ahead are worth tackling. That’s why instructing young students online this spring was exhausting to many teachers–and the failure of many students to participate weighs on them.     

This fall teachers must tackle an obstacle course with unforeseeable twists.  

The Governor’s Public School Reopening Committee may release its recommendations today.  School districts, however, will make the final decisions–and some won’t be popular.

Masks, for instance. Can young children adapt to them?  What happens when a kid has a runny nose?  What happens when a parent insists their child will not wear one?  

Online instruction. How are teachers to give instructions to students online and in person? Preparing for both can be time consuming.  Doing both at once can be a herculean. Aides could help–if there were funding for aides. 

Busing. Can buses be made even minimally safe? Can someone check temperatures and disperse hand sanitizer before students get aboard? Will enough students opt for online instruction to allow some distancing?  And how will the buses be sanitized between uses?      

Liability. Can districts be sued if students–or their family members–suffer life-long handicaps? Districts have been held responsible for injuries. Could they now be sued for negligence if they failed to follow the state guidelines–or their own?  

Illness. What happens when a student or teacher does become ill? Businesses may require a 14-day self-quarantine of employees exposed. Will entire classrooms be closed to students? How will working parents cope? And what happens when the entire faculty is exposed? coro

Sports, music, events. A recent editorial by teacher Levi Cavener included these as “items we need to discuss,” i.e. areas where any solution may anger lots of parents and students. Cutting dangerous activities will cut student motivation and lessen chances for college scholarships. 

And, as Cavener also stated, “Schools WILL BE sources of outbreak clusters.”  Chances are that every one of Idaho’s 1,718 schools will have one or more outbreaks of coronavirus. Each one may cause the death of a grandparent, parent, school personnel.  

Participate in–and accept–district decisions. They are for the short term. Do what you can to protect your family and trust that there will be a vaccine.        

Idahoans are proud to cope and desperate to return to normal  

Ever since I can remember, there’ve been certain constants on the calendar. Kids were in classrooms from September to May.  Graduations were in late May or early June. Swimming lessons started in June, and the 4th of July meant parades, booths, baseball, and fireworks. July ended with the carnival and county fair.  

These were traditions of our culture–appreciated, yes, but also taken for granted.

But this year, students quit going to school in March. Some kids got a few hours of on-line instruction each week, others more–and most less. Graduations were celebrated with driveby parades and on-line presentations.

Most public pools haven’t opened at all. And many town leaders–perhaps envisioning kids diving for candy thrown from floats and cars–are cancelling traditional Fourth of July parades. And carnivals are out–chances are 10,000 fingers would be grabbing those tilt-a-whirl rails between wipedowns. 

Kids and their animals may compete at fairs without cotton candy, rides, or crowds. Weddings, milestone birthdays, and funerals already seem muted with limited attendees and careful hugs.  

Idahoans are proud of their efforts to cope–and desperate to return to normal. 

 Since 2020 is a presidential year, some quadrennial traditions also need adapting. 

Fortunately, Idaho moved swiftly to an all-mail general primary.  

And, thanks to zoom, party committees have been able to conduct business without meeting physically. 

Last Saturday more than 250 Democratic delegates joined in a virtual meeting to elect Idaho’s 25 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Plans for adopting resolutions and platform planks in August are still fluid. 

So far, I’ve heard nothing about changes in the traditional National Convention schedule.   Will the convention actually meet in person? Will  masks, distancing, and hand sanitizers be enough?   

Republicans are planning an in-person convention with all the precautions North Carolina requires. They won’t rewrite the platform though or see President Trump in person.

The President plans to accept his nomination in a well-packed stadium of 15,500 in Jacksonville, FL, the following Saturday. Some say the purpose of the change is to show a dense crowd to television audiences; others say, to gain more support in an important swing state. 

The fear of a second wave clouds every plan. Twelve states–including Utah, Oregon, and California–have seen increased hospitalizations for coronavirus this month. And many are blaming that increase for the stock market dropping 6.9%–1,862 points–last Thursday.  

But possibilities of a vaccine dance just out of reach and keep us moving forward.  According to a recent Associated Press article, Oxford University has developed a vaccine and, though it still awaits approval, the distributor has signed agreements to deliver the first of millions of doses to eight countries, including the U.S., by the end of the year.  

 And leading pathologists with five research agencies published an article in Science (June 12) stating that the live oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) developed in the mid 1950s may combat coronavirus by heightening general immunity. OPV is no longer used in the United States, but it is credited with cutting infant mortality greatly in African regions.  

Deep in this article, the pathologists state that the measles vaccination, though not as effective as OPV, has a similar effect. Could that be the reason no Idahoans under 50 have died from COVID-19–and why many school children don’t show symptoms?

Meanwhile, schools are preparing for fall by trying to increase the spaces between desks–six feet isn’t possible, but maybe two?–and searching for ways to protect at-risk teachers.   

And hopes are that voting at the polls will be an option in November.  

A vaccine is coming, folks. Hang on. 

Idaho hopes for normalcy ahead

During the 20th century, May 1 evolved from a large celebration known for dancing children plaiting streamers around poles to solitary children stealthily depositing spring flowers on neighbor’s doorsteps to overblown displays of military might. 

This midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice was chosen by early unions as International Workers’ Day, by U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars as Loyalty Day, and by the American Bar Association as Law Day.  

On May Day 2006 Latinos held the Great American Boycott calling for immigrant rights; in 2008, longshoremen protested against the Iraqi War; in 2012, Occupy Wall Street supporters protested economic inequality.

May Day 2020, however, won’t be remembered for celebrations or protests, but as the heroic–or foolish–starting point of the great American effort to re-establish normalcy.   

With polls indicating that 60% of the American people don’t feel the coronavirus danger is over, more than 30 states are easing social distancing restrictions. In an attempt to allay the fears of many, President Trump said it was possible that reopening would result in fewer than 100,000 deaths.  

Should we or shouldn’t we, that is the question. 

Idaho, fortunately, is more ready than most of the nation.  

Thirty-four states had more people die from coronavirus on May 2  than the 63 fatalities that Idaho has totaled over eight weeks. 

It sounds extreme for Michigan to ban motor boats, jet skis and travel to second homes. Yet, Michigan suffered 154 coronavirus deaths Saturday. That brought the state’s total to 4,020, a rate of 404 persons per million. Idaho’s rate is 37.

The U.S. average rate is 203 coronavirus deaths per million.  Twenty-two states have rates under 60.  Four states–Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York–have rates over 500 (https://www.wordometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/).   

Some states are definitely reopening too soon. Iowa opened 77 out of 99 counties the same day its total cases jumped nearly 10%. Georgia, one of the first state’s to reopen, saw its cases jump over 10.5% in three days. 

And, disappointingly, the initial test on remdesivir, the drug that caused a brief stock market surge, shows it decreases symptoms, but not deaths.

Why the pressure to reopen? Protestors would like to think it’s caused by a refusal to accept restrictions on our Constitutional right to assemble. Those who believe in following the money point to states faced with bankruptcy by the costs of unemployment payments for 18.6% of America’s workforce.

People who refuse to return to work because of the COVID-19 danger will not be eligible for state benefits or the extra $600 a week from the Federal government.  Finances will force many to take the same risks for which we’ve honored health care workers and other ‘essential’ employees.

And President Trump has offered some factories government help with any ‘liability,’ i.e. lawsuits resulting from worker deaths, rather than aid for frequent testing and personal protective equipment.

But Idaho is in pretty good shape. The rate of new cases has halved. And coronavirus deaths have been reported in only nine counties; three out of four deaths took place in just four–Ada, Nez Perce, Twin Falls and Blaine. 

Well done, Idaho. May our caution continue to pay off as we reopen step by step, health region by health region.  

I’m ready to don a mask my niece made and take some bold baby steps–having both my eyes (glaucoma) and my teeth checked. 

May all of you who’re returning to work face conditions as safe as possible amid responsible customers and co-workers.