Bill Kaplan: GOP-led U.S. Senate refuses to act.

Bill Kaplan: GOP-led U.S. Senate refuses to act.

The U.S., including Wisconsin, is facing a twin catastrophe: an out-of-control COVID-19 pandemic and a cataclysmic economic meltdown. Public health efforts – masks, social distancing and contact tracing – have been undermined nationally by Trump and by Wisconsin GOP legislators. However, Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers has not given up. He joined GOP-led Indiana and Ohio in issuing a statewide mask mandate. Why?

More than 4.6 million COVID-19 cases nationally, over 54,000 in Wisconsin. U.S. deaths are about 155,000, approaching 1,000 in Wisconsin. Sun Belt states are setting one-day death records. Moreover, COVID-19 is spreading widely to rural areas, including Iron County, Wisconsin which has no hospital. Currently, almost all 72 Wisconsin counties have high COVID-19 activity.

A surging COVID-19 is crippling the economy and stymieing a recovery. “The U.S. economy shrank by a stunning 9.5 percent from April through June, a historic contraction …” (Washington Post-WP). Moreover, new claims for unemployment benefits totaled over a million for the 19th straight week. Yet the U.S. Senate refuses to act as over 30 million Americans, including hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, have lost $600 weekly federal jobless benefits. A delusional Trump said: “I think the recovery has been very strong. We’ve set record job numbers.” And, Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson, 7th-wealthiest U.S. senator, supported cutting the benefits to a paltry weekly $200!

Back in May the Democratic-led House saw the coming train wreck and passed relief and recovery legislation. All Wisconsin Democratic representatives voted yes, while state GOP representatives were opposed. The bill would help struggling state, local and tribal governments facing huge budget deficits due to declining revenues and increasing COVID-19 costs. The bipartisan National Governors Association said: “(W)ithout federal revenue replacement, state and local governments would need to cut more than $500 billion … eliminating more than 3 million jobs.” The bill also extended federal jobless benefits, funded education, food assistance, health and housing needs.

However, for months the GOP-led Senate did nothing. At the 11th hour the Senate finally rolled out a response – a glaring contrast to the House bill. Republicans have proposed billions for new military weapons, despite U.S. defense spending already accounting for about 60 percent of federal discretionary spending. Almost nothing for the millions going without enough food, but “boosts the ‘three-martini-lunch’ (tax) break, not food stamps” (WP). Then there is the easing of capital requirements for big banks, put in place to reduce their risky behavior. Help for Wall Street not Main Street.

Reminiscent of expanding the pass-through tax break in the March COVID-19 relief bill, inserted by Senate Republicans. What role did Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson play? He is the leading advocate of this tax break for the wealthy (70 percent of pass-through income goes to the top 1 percent). Finally, the Senate bill does little for millions of Americans who can’t pay their rent or mortgages. Shame.

As talks continued between Democratic congressional leaders and the Trump administration, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate and went home to Kentucky. Pathetic.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: State congressional Republicans fail Wisconsin

Bill Kaplan: State congressional Republicans fail Wisconsin

Back in May the Democratic-led House anticipated that the toll from COVID-19 and its economic consequences would continue to be devastating. The House passed relief and recovery legislation, largely along party lines. The $3 trillion bill would help

state, local and tribal governments facing huge holes in their budgets; fund more COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; hazard pay for first responders and essential workers; extension of unemployment benefits; aid to education and help with housing problems. Wisconsin Democratic Representatives Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan voted yes. However, Wisconsin GOP Representatives Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Jim Sensenbrenner and Bryan Steil shamefully voted no (Tom Tiffany was not yet sworn in).

The legislation would help Wisconsin avoid draconian budget and service cuts. The Wisconsin Budget Project said the bill would: “Allocate $8.5 billion to the state and $7.5 billion to local governments … provide an additional $1.9 billion in Medicaid dollars … (and) $1.4 billion for education … .” But the irresponsible GOP-led Senate refused to consider the House bill. In the middle of a pandemic Republicans played the fiddle while everything burned down. Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson, unlike Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, had excuses when urgent action was needed. Finally, last week Senate Republicans bestirred themselves, but failed to pass anything. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “Hopefully, we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks.”

But the need is right now! For example, the emergency $600 per week in extra unemployment benefits expired last Saturday in Wisconsin. Moreover, thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites face eviction. And, Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers “seeks another $250M in state budget cuts to offset pandemic revenue losses” (MJS). But University of Wisconsin System interim President Tommy Thompson pleaded no more cuts to the UW System. (Hint for Thompson – ask Wisconsin GOP legislators to approve federally funded Medicaid expansion. State savings from it could help the UW System). The state faces higher unemployment, on top of an epic farm crisis with over 2,000 dairy farms out of business! What’s wrong with Wisconsin
congressional Republicans?

Bill Kaplan: Trump and Johnson, dead wrong about COVID-1

Bill Kaplan: Trump and Johnson, dead wrong about COVID-1

photo by: Gage Skidmore

Trump and Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson’s incompetent response to COVID-19 continues to hammer the economy. Double-digit unemployment nationally, and in WI. “The Wisconsin Economic Forecast, a state report, said … that it could take two years for the state to recover to pre-coronavirus employment levels, with personal income growth projected to fade dramatically this year and next” (Washington Post-WP). Meanwhile, COVID-19’s toll skyrockets.

More than 3.2 million cases nationally, over 36,000 in WI. U.S. cases are on track to rise to 100,000 a day. COVID-19 deaths are increasing nationally to past 135,000 and over 800 in WI. Health experts predict a death toll of 200,000 soon. Moreover, COVID-19 is hitting northern rural WI (Ashland and Douglas County). Community spread in rural WI would be catastrophic for a region that is uninsured and is underserved by hospitals and doctors.

However, Trump and Johnson continue to be dead wrong about COVID-19. “White House officials … hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day …” (WP). Trump said: “I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope” (WP). Trump also falsely claims “99 percent” of COVID-19 cases are “totally harmless”. He wants us to forget the dead and thousands with long-term serious health problems. Johnson, on Trump’s wave-length, said: “I think we overreacted. We closed too much of our economy down … .” But premature state reopenings, failure to wear masks and limited adherence to social distancing caused the renewed surge.

All reminiscent of when Trump and Johnson opposed controlling the spread of COVID-19 by heartlessly comparing COVID-19 fatalities to auto-related deaths. But they were wrong on the science, pretended COVID-19 deaths would be similar to or less than the 40,000 annual auto accidents deaths and overlooked the fact that auto accidents aren’t contagious. It’s the same when Trump and Johnson pushed unproven medication such as hydroxychloroquine. And, who can forget when Trump thought it might be useful to ingest disinfectants!

Trump and Johnson are now attempting to take health coverage and protections from 23 million, including hundreds of thousands in WI. Again, they have gone to the Supreme Court – in the middle of a pandemic! All on top of nearly 27 million, including 446,000 Wisconsinites, losing private health insurance because COVID-19 is out-of-control. Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers has done his best, e.g., helping enroll about 85,000 in Medicaid.

However, more could be done if the GOP-led WI legislature expanded Medicaid like 37 other states. “Missouri’s the next red state test for Medicaid expansion at ballot box” (Forbes). The business community, hospitals and doctors have gotten behind the August 4 vote. WI GOP state Senator Luther Olsen wants the legislature to consider Medicaid expansion. Interim UW System President (former GOP governor) Tommy Thompson should weigh in. State savings from federally funded (90%) Medicaid expansion would help the UW System.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: 446,000 Wisconsinites lost health insurance

Bill Kaplan: 446,000 Wisconsinites lost health insurance

The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed the economy with double-digit unemployment in the U.S., including Wisconsin (WI). Recovery is uncertain while COVID-19 is out-of-control. High unemployment has resulted in nearly 27 million, including 446,000 Wisconsinites, losing employer sponsored private health insurance (Kaiser Family Foundation, KFF). Meanwhile COVID-19 is exploding.

Now nearly 3 million cases nationally, over 31,000 in WI. One-day records have been broken in the U.S. and WI. Doctor Anthony Fauci said: “I’m not satisfied with what’s going on because we’re going in the wrong direction.” Fauci expects new infections to exceed 100,000 a day! COVID-19 deaths are seemingly on a slower trajectory with about 130,000 nationally and 800 in WI. However, health experts caution there is a lag between confirmed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and death.

Moreover, Modern Healthcare reported: “Researchers found some of the most vulnerable populations – including African Americans, Native Americans, lower-income individuals, those residing in rural areas and in states that have not expanded Medicaid – were both more likely to be at high risk of severe COVID-19 illness and lack adequate health care coverage to get care if they did get sick, according … (to) the Journal of General Internal Medicine.” What is needed at a minimum is health care coverage for all Americans.

But the Trump administration has gone to the Supreme Court to have the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) declared unconstitutional. 23 million Americans, including over 200,000 Wisconsinites, would lose health coverage and 54 million (nearly 1 million in WI) with preexisting conditions would no longer have ACA protections. The Democratic-led House countered Trump by voting to expand ACA coverage and financial help. Wisconsin Democratic representatives voted yes while state GOP representatives mostly voted no (Representative Mike Gallagher didn’t vote).

WI Democratic Governor Tony Evers has established a new online site to help Wisconsinites who have lost their health coverage get covered through Medicaid and the ACA. KFF estimates thousands on Wisconsinites are now eligible either for Medicaid or ACA subsidies for private insurance. But others will get inadequate help because the GOP-led WI legislature has not passed Medicaid expansion. Evers has continued to urge WI Republicans to expand Medicaid. He now has a partner.

Retiring GOP state Senator Luther Olsen has called for the legislature to consider Medicaid expansion. Olsen explained that circumstances have changed: COVID-19 pandemic, soaring numbers of uninsured and a budget shortfall. Olsen said WI can no longer leave “that kind of money on the table”. The 90 percent federal funding would replace the current 59 percent federal funding for about 150,000 individuals enrolled in Medicaid (2019) and allow tens of thousands more to enroll. Will the state Senate pass it?

Perhaps GOP state Senator Jerry Petrowski, who previously endorsed Medicaid expansion, would support Olsen. But WI Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald needs to allow a vote. In 2018, Fitzgerald briefly said he would not “rule it out” (Medicaid expansion). Circumstances have changed. GOP-led Oklahoma (in 2016, 65% supported Trump) just voted for Medicaid expansion. It’s time to expand Medicaid in WI.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995-2009.

Bill Kaplan: Cheerleading won’t end COVID-19 and the recession

Bill Kaplan: Cheerleading won’t end COVID-19 and the recession

Cheerleading won’t end COVID-19 and the recession. To date there are over 2 million COVID-19 cases nationally, including 22,500 in Wisconsin, over 115,000 U.S. deaths, near 700 in WI. Politico reported it took about 3 months to hit 1 million cases, but only 6 weeks to double to over 2 million. And, Wisconsin will soon double cases from the date when GOP legislators and the state Supreme Court ended stay-at-home (no replacement).

However, Trump consistently self-congratulates as the horrific toll rises: “We’ve made every decision correctly. We may have some embers, or some ashes or we may have some flames coming, but we’ll put them out.” Except new COVID-19 cases are increasing in 22 states (NYT). “(E)pidemiologists said that even taking into account a rise in testing, the increase in Sun Belt states suggested increased transmissions” (NYT). Moreover, rural Wisconsin could see a surge if tourists return. Finally, the protests against the police murder of George Floyd have resulted in a small (so far) increase, including 1 case in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

The economic news is also grim. When the unemployment rate declined to 16.3 percent, highest rate since the 1930s, Trump declared victory: “This shows that what we’ve been doing is right. This is outstanding … .” While Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson breathlessly declared: “I think the shutdown is definitely over and we can really start recovering … spectacular news”. Cheerleading and delusion. You can’t see around the corner with long lines of the unemployed at food banks.

Last week, stocks took a dive, worst since March. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told the press that millions of jobs may be lost permanently. (Note: over 626,000 Wisconsinites have applied for unemployment benefits since March 15.) The Fed said the economic misery may last years and recovery was “extraordinarily uncertain”. Powell pleaded that “Congress will need to do more”. Are Wisconsin congressional Republicans listening?

The economic collapse and pandemic spell disaster for health care. Prior to COVID-19 and the recession, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites lacked health coverage. They included the elderly, white rural Wisconsinites and blacks in cities. However, the rising uninsured rate encompasses the entire state. Over 446,000 Wisconsinites lost their private employer-based health insurance as unemployment increased (Kaiser Family Foundation). Let that catastrophic number sink in: no health coverage means human misery and a collapsing health care system.

Study after study before COVID-19 showed rural Wisconsin hospitals vulnerable – worse now. Moreover, many private medical practitioners may have to close. The GOP-led Wisconsin legislature can do something – expand Medicaid with 90 percent federal funding. The New England Journal of Medicine made the case for expansion amid COVID-19: “Our findings … are consistent with case studies from several states showing that they have used federal dollars from the Medicaid expansion to offset … direct subsidies to public hospitals and mental health centers … and (for) a more generous match rate for optional groups previously covered … .”

Time to face reality and expand Medicaid. Circumstances have changed.

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: U.S. Senator Johnson undermines checks and balances

Bill Kaplan: U.S. Senator Johnson undermines checks and balances

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached horrific milestones. A stunning 1.6 million cases nationally, including over 15,000 in Wisconsin (WI), near 100,000 deaths nationally, over 500 in WI. Moreover, the economy is plunging downward, including historic mortgage arrears, retail sales collapse and a sharp rise in unemployment. The U.S. jobless rate is 14.7 percent, while WI is at 14.1 percent.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

However, the unprecedented crisis offers an opportunity for Trump and his acolyte WI GOP Senator Ron Johnson to undermine checks and balances. Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, apparently does not grasp that the Senate and White House are separate institutions. The Senate is supposed to provide oversight over the Trump administration to help expose and root out corruption and misconduct.

After the Watergate scandals, Congress passed the Inspector General (IG) Act of 1978. The legislation established a system of independent nonpartisan IG’s, appointed by the president for all cabinet-level departments. The watchdogs were to investigate corruption, misconduct and waste. IG’s are not supposed to be fired by the White House without justification. But Trump has decided to do just that, often on a Friday night to avoid the glare of news coverage.

Trump first removed the intelligence community IG Michael Atkinson for his having taken seriously a whistle-blower report on Trump’s infamous phone call with Ukraine’s president. Then Trump fired Glenn Fine, selected to be the IG to oversee the $trillions of COVID-19 relief that Congress passed. No explanation given. What is the White House hiding or afraid of? Later, Trump removed Health and Human Services IG Christi Grimm, whose report on COVID-19 supply and test shortages upset Trump. Then, Transportation IG Mitch Behm was removed, amid allegations that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was favoring grants to Kentucky, represented by her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. One more bombshell dropped.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked Trump to fire the State Department IG Steve Linick. No explanation. The press exposed that Linick had been investigating Pompeo over multiple allegations: Pompeo had defied a bipartisan Congress’s blocking military aid for Saudi Arabia’s murderous involvement in Yemen’s civil war. Pompeo declared a phony emergency so the U.S. could sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Other allegations involved Pompeo’s using staff to run personal errands for himself and his wife. Worse were fancy dinners for GOP donors at the State Department to advance Pompeo’s political career.

However, Senator Johnson does not get it. He said: “I’m not crying big crocodile tears over (IG Linick’s) termination.” But Utah GOP Senator Mitt Romney had it right: “The firing of multiple inspectors general is unprecedented … It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power”. Similarly, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin told me: “The independence of inspectors general is crucial to rooting out the wrongdoings and failures of this administration, but Trump doesn’t want out government to work for the people, he wants it to work for him”.

Johnson is abdicating his responsibilities.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Conservatives leave Wisconsin without a plan to address COVID-19

Bill Kaplan: Conservatives leave Wisconsin without a plan to address COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is catastrophic. Almost 1.5 million cases nationally, including over 12,000 in Wisconsin (WI), approaching 100,000 deaths nationally, over 450 in WI. The Trump administration has failed spectacularly to develop comprehensive testing and contact tracing and assure an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). There are no treatments, and no vaccine available. The collapsed economy will not recover without remedying these stunning failures and more.

As U.S. unemployment soars to 20 – 25 percent, including over 500,000 WI jobless, millions have lost employer-based health insurance. That includes 446,000 Wisconsinites, with 214,000 now eligible for Medicaid, 150,000 eligible for Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies, but 82,000 not eligible for Medicaid or ACA subsidies (Kaiser Family Foundation). A fiscal and health disaster! Moreover, the WI GOP-led legislature refuses to expand Medicaid (90 percent federal funding). It gets worse.

The conservative state Supreme Court issued a ruling based on ideology and stupidity. The court, at the urging of GOP legislative leaders, struck down WI Democratic Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order. Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, videoconferencing on the case, said: The spread of COVID-19 in WI was “due to the meatpacking, though. That’s where Brown County got the flare. It wasn’t just the regular folks in Brown County.” However, conservative justice Brian Hagedorn dissented: “We are a court of law. … (T)his court has strayed from its charge … . To make matters worse, it has failed to provide almost any guidance … (on) how our state is to govern through this crisis … .”

With WI COVID-19 cases increasing, GOP legislative leaders no longer want “a seat at the table,” saying guidelines to control the spread are unnecessary. Local officials will be in charge. The over-crowded bars throughout much of WI point to a dire future. But Trump tweeted about “another win” and a now “bustling” state. People will get sick and die. Magical thinking will not change this.

Nor will wishful thinking mitigate the COVID-19 impact on the state budget. WI tax collections have spiraled downward by $870 million. Counties are on track to lose $68 million. At the same time COVID-19 expenses for health coverage, testing and contact tracing, PPE and first responders soar upward. However, 43 GOP state legislators have urged rejection of federal aid to WI and other states. Wiser conservatives such as GOP Senators Robert Cowles, Jerry Petrowski and Luther Olsen did not sign the shoot-in-the-foot letter to Congress.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said: “Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.” A sharp departure from Trump’s unwarranted optimism. He said such aid was “dead on arrival.” The Democratic-led House heeded Powell and ignored Trump, passing a massive spending bill Friday to help states and struggling Americans. All WI Democratic representatives voted yes, all WI GOP representatives opposed.

Maryland GOP Governor Larry Hogan said: “(D)elivering urgent state fiscal relief must be a top priority.” Will the GOP-led Senate and Trump listen?

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Former U.S. Sen. Johnson fundraiser tried to cash in on COVID-19

Bill Kaplan: Former U.S. Sen. Johnson fundraiser tried to cash in on COVID-19

Photo by Gage Skidmore

The U.S., including Wisconsin, is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and catastrophic unemployment. Over 1.3 million COVID-19 cases nationally, including over 10,000 in Wisconsin (WI), with near 80,000 deaths nationally, over 400 in WI. “Twenty-five million workers or more could lose employer-based health insurance due to COVID-19 related unemployment” (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Moreover, Trump and Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson are still trying to kill the Affordable Care Act (covers about 22 million) by lawsuit, regulation or repeal.

Johnson claims: “I am the working man”. However, throughout his tenure the millionaire businessman has tried to take health care coverage from hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites. But Johnson says he is a “change agent” and wants to help Trump in “draining the swamp”. What the heck does that mean? After Johnson was elected in 2010 he hired a lobbyist as his first chief of staff (WP). It gets worse.

Until recently, Mike Gula was a top fundraiser for Johnson and other GOP senators. However, the veteran Republican fundraiser abruptly changed course. He formed a company called Blue Flame to sell critically needed masks, ventilators and other medical equipment. Politico reported that Gula “looks to cash in on coronavirus”. Gula’s bio on the company website said: “Since 2009 Gula … has raised over $318,000,000 (eye-opening) for (GOP) House and Senate members … .” Not a word about any background in health care logistics or medical supply. State and local governments, desperate for personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other equipment, signed contracts with Blue Flame. But California and Maryland terminated their contracts when Blue Flame failed to deliver. Maryland GOP Governor Larry Hogan asked the state attorney general to investigate. Even the Trump Justice Department has started “a federal criminal investigation” (NYT). It looks like a price gouging-profiteering scheme built on lies.

Trump set the stage for this malfeasance. “In the early days of the pandemic (January), the U.S. government turned down an offer to manufacture millions of N95 masks in America” (WP). Trump and his cronies take no responsibility for PPE and other medical equipment shortages. Trump said: “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk”. And, governors were told don’t call unless they were “appreciative”. It is the “Wild West”, predatory capitalism. No wonder Blue Flame wanted to “cash in”.

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers has been trying his best to function in this environment. He said: “Frustration level is high. … The federal government needs to help us … .” Evers put together a public-private state partnership to increase COVID-19 testing, but still needs chemicals and swabs for the tests. Moreover, rural WI is in a tough spot if COVID-19 spreads further. Rural hospitals are “already stretched to a breaking point” (Kaiser Health News). They lack staff, intensive care beds, PPE and other needed equipment. The outbreak in Green Bay should wake up state Republican lawmakers.

Johnson needs to address the corrupt conduct of his former fundraiser. He has not been “draining the swamp” of incompetence, corruption and Trump’s misdeeds.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: COVID-19, the haves and have-nots

Bill Kaplan: COVID-19, the haves and have-nots

The U.S. is a nation of haves and have-nots. On March 6 Trump said: “Anybody that needs a (coronavirus) test can have a test.” A lie. The Washington Post (WP) reported: “Trump’s projection of normalcy relies on special testing. … Trump, Vice-President Pence … are tested regularly, and all who enter the White House campus to meet with them are required to undergo on-site rapid tests … which provide results within 15 minutes.” The optics were so bad that Trump offered Congress access to the same tests. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell jointly said no, asking that the tests be given to “front-line facilities.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Because Trump lives in a protected bubble he can’t see the coronavirus carnage. Over 1.1 million cases nationally, including nearly 8,000 cases in Wisconsin (WI), over 66,000 U.S. deaths and about 350 WI deaths. Governors, including WI Democratic Governor Tony Evers, are on their own. Evers put together a “public-private partnership” to increase testing. However, WI is still hamstrung by Trump’s failure to provide necessary chemicals and swabs. And, while Trump orders workers back to JBS meatpacking in Green Bay, they lack protective gear and rapid testing.

Trump is betting his reelection on delusion. He projects an unwarranted optimism, but “days of denial, delays and dysfunction” (WP) can’t hide the economy’s free fall. 30 million nationally, including hundreds of thousands in WI, are unemployed. The NYT reports that the job losses are far worse as many are having trouble applying for unemployment benefits. It took weeks (computer issue) for thousands of WI unemployed to apply and receive emergency federal jobless benefits. Other WI workers, e.g., UW-System, face wage cuts and furloughs.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic the economy had deep fault lines. Soaring income inequality, wealth concentration, endangered pensions, skyrocketing personal debt and a horrific farm crisis. Trump’s trade wars, compounded by expenses overwhelming farmers’ revenue, led to over 2,000 failed dairy farms. Coronavirus is delivering a knockout blow to America’s Dairyland.

So expectations for congressional relief legislation were high. However, the Trump administration has stumbled badly. First, Trump removed the watchdog of the panel overseeing how coronavirus relief was administered, with predictable results. Less oversight means the haves do just fine while the have-nots are left out. The loan program for small businesses turned into a fiasco. The NYT reported: “Banks gave richest clients ‘concierge treatment’ for pandemic aid”. In contrast, typical small business owners came up empty-handed.

Meanwhile, years of GOP cuts to the IRS budget and antiquated computer systems meant relief payment delays. Millions are still waiting. Some payments won’t be received until 2021! But Trump’s self-promoting signature is on mailed checks. Worse, the relief legislation included a tax break for pass-through income. “82 percent of the benefits … go to about 43,000 taxpayers who earn more than $1 million annually” (WP). What did WI GOP Senator Ron Johnson, champion of reducing pass-through income tax liability, know? The haves are still doing well at the expense of the have-nots.

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Stupidity vs. stay-at-home

Bill Kaplan: Stupidity vs. stay-at-home

Photo by: Gage Skidmore

Nearly a million coronavirus cases nationally, including 5,687 in Wisconsin (WI), over 54,000 U.S. deaths and nearly 300 WI deaths. Dozens of cases linked to in-person voting on April 7 in Milwaukee. And, hundreds of cases confirmed among workers at a JBS meatpacking plant in Green Bay. No zip code is immune.

Meanwhile: “The federal government scrambled Friday to stave off a potential wave of public health emergencies sparked by … Trump’s dangerous suggestion that injecting bleach or other household disinfectants into the body might cure people of the novel coronavirus” (WP).

Does Trump read his intelligence briefings? Back in January 2019, U.S. intelligence agencies said: “We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources …” (WP).

However, Trump is clueless, going from “liberate” (reopen) blue states to publicly criticizing Georgia GOP Governor Brian Kemp for reopening as coronavirus spikes there. The WP reported that Trump is “clear as mud”. Oklahoma GOP Representative Tom Cole has had enough: “You got to have some hope to sell people. But Trump usually sells anger, division and ‘we’re the victim’.” Moreover, Republican governors are showing public health leadership.

Maryland GOP Governor Larry Hogan, head of the bipartisan National Governors Association, said: “Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting … to get more (coronavirus) tests, not only from the federal government, but from every private lab in America and from all across the world.” Hogan, helped by his Korean-American wife, purchased testing kits from South Korea. Testing is central to reopening the economy, along with a decline in new cases, more personal protective and medical equipment, adequate hospital capacity and above all, contact tracing.

Massachusetts GOP Governor Charlie Baker has set aside $44 million to hire 1,000 people to do contact tracing to identify who has been exposed to coronavirus. This is a well-tested public health strategy. “The contact tracers … will inform the contact of approximately when they were exposed, and then take an inventory of symptoms, talk the contact through quarantine requirements, and help (if needed) arrange assistance with food or housing …” (NYT).

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers is on the same page as both GOP governors. His “Badger Bounce Back Plan” is a public health (nonpartisan) proposal. Evers has tried to negotiate with the WI GOP-led legislature to invest in contact tracing. One idea advanced by the Journal of the American Medical Association has called for incoming medical students to be hired (pay and medical benefits) to do contact tracing. How about asking the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Medical College of Wisconsin to sign on?

Finally, Jay Timmons, head of the conservative National Association of Manufacturers, had a pungent post for extremist protesters demanding immediate reopening without conditions: “IDIOTS”. Is Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce listening? Doctors, nurses and public health leaders are. Stupidity is not an option.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.