Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Reynolds Forbids More Than 100 Tests Per Day

By way of introduction to this story, it's useful to provide at least one example of how Iowa's governor presided over gross under-reporting of COVID-19 infections. The Dubuque story, below, is what she moved on to do (curtail the actual testing itself) after mere manipulation of data proved politically inadequate.
The first confirmed coronavirus outbreak at an Iowa meatpacking plant was far more severe than previously known, with more than twice as many workers becoming infected than the state Department of Public Health told the public, newly released records show.

The department announced at a May 5 news conference that 221 employees at the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus Junction had tested positive for COVID-19.

But days earlier, Tyson officials told Iowa workplace safety regulators during an inspection that 522 plant employees had been infected ....
Ryan J. Foley, "Coronavirus outbreak at Iowa pork plant was larger than state reported," Associated Press/Des Moines Register, July 22, 2020

”Gov. Kim Reynolds orders reduced coronavirus testing at Dubuque site; Reynolds cuts number of COVID-19 tests to 100 per day as cases rise,” AP/The Gazette, July 22, 2020, p. A3

(If AP or The Gazette would like this post to be deleted from this blog just email me at

DUBUQUE — Coronavirus testing will be reduced to only 100 tests per day at a Test Iowa site in Dubuque, despite a sharp increase in cases in Dubuque County.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office ordered the site to reduce its testing, Dubuque officials announced Monday. The site will be opened only from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday. The site had been testing 400 to 550 people per day, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reported.

U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, whose district includes Dubuque County, wrote a letter to Reynolds on Tuesday criticizing the decision and asking the governor for further explanation.

“This month, Dubuque County has seen its most staggering case counts of the entire pandemic, and one of the highest days was just last Thursday,” Finkenauer said in the letter. “Now is not the time to be ramping testing down anywhere in our state — in fact, testing is needed now more than ever to identify and contain the spread of the virus.”

Reynolds’ spokesman, Pat Garrett, said in an email to media Monday that the governor ordered the test reduction at Dubuque “to ensure their process is in line with others across the state of Iowa. We want to maintain consistency and high quality performance across all Test Iowa sites.”

Garrett did not respond to follow-up questions about what processes were being questioned at Dubuque. He also did not say how long the tests would be limited or whether other Test Iowa sites have been placed on similar restrictions, the Des Moines Register reported.

Daily coronavirus cases have more than doubled in Dubuque County since June, according to state data. At least 23 people in the county have died from COVID-19.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

When Everything Needs Fixing

When you've got to choose
Any way you look at it you lose.

-- Simon & Garfunkel, "Mrs. Robinson"

From slavery to segregation to incarceration
Ibram X. Kendi, the author of How to Be an Antiracist, says of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow that her "bestseller struck the spark that would eventually light the fire of Black Lives Matter." The Chronicle of Higher Education says it is one of the "Most Influential Books of the Last 20 Years." Others have reacted with words and phrases such as "devastating," "stunning," "invaluable," and "explosive."

The recent protests were triggered by, and focused on, policing practices, such as the knee on the neck of George Floyd that resulted in Floyd's murder. Outrage was expressed by protesters in many countries around the world. Reforms have followed pressures both inside and outside institutions from city councils and police departments to corporations' cultures and hiring practices, NASCAR's ban on Confederate flags, removal of statues, and renaming military bases.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been a huge, significant force in raising everyone's awareness of America's 400-year history of racist oppression of Blacks. So long as its leadership, and millions of participants, remain active it can continue to be.

But it no way diminishes BLM's accomplishments to recognize that the racist "cancer" infects virtually every aspect of all Americans' lives -- those who benefit from the systemic racism (while believing that they are not "racist"), and those who suffer from it.

I mention Michelle Alexander's book in this context, not only because it belongs on the reading list of every aspiring anti-racist, but because of the way it puts police practices in a context of the entire judicial system -- disproportionate number of Blacks involved in stops, searches, arrests, prosecutions, incarceration, lengthy sentences, along with the biases of prosecutors and judges -- up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court. She supports her assertions with frightening statistics -- including the death penalty research of my late friend and beloved UI College of Law faculty colleague David Baldus.

And I want to make a further point by including here just one of her many stories from the 325 pages of text (Chapter 3, p. 120). (Her fulsome notes cite a Frontline (PBS) program and Angela Davis' Arbitrary Justice as sources. Notes, p. 343.)
Imagine you are Erma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year-old, single African-American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne,Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African-American. You are innocent.

After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence.

Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to 10 years probation and ordered to pay $1000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs.

You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least 12 years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put in foster care. . . .

At trial, the judge finds that the entire sweep was based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution. You, however, are still branded a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children.
I reproduce the story here for five reasons. (1) It is compelling in its own right; those with even one ounce of empathy cannot help but be moved. (2) It powerfully makes the point that, innocent (as she was) or guilty, as I open this blog post: "When you've got to choose/Any way you look at it you lose." How many innocent Blacks, like Ms. Stewart, end up pleading "guilty" because the consequences of that choice are better than the alternative? (3) As itemized in the next to last paragraph above, to go through the justice system can result in consequences as, and often more, serious than the fines or prison time.

But my most important reasons for reproducing it is as a lead in to an observation and a proposal.

(4) The observation involves the web of obstacles confronting, especially, those who are both Black and poor. It's not just police practices, or even the racial bias throughout the entire justice system. As I title this post, "Everything Needs Fixing." Everything is interconnected and reinforced for the Black and poor. Your mother may have been without the benefit of quality pre-natal care. If your pre-K and K-12 education was inadequate, even if you could afford to pay the tuition while not working full time, an additional community college education -- let alone four-year college or university -- may be beyond your ability. If so, you're left with little choice beyond the income and status of low or minimum wage jobs. And if you were unlucky enough to have been among the disproportionate number of poor Blacks put in the "kindergarten to prison" pipeline during your K-12 years you carry the added burden of a "felon" during your job search. Financially, you have no inheritance, investments, equity in a home, savings, or ability to borrow (at rates below pay-day loan rates). Without a car, transportation to a job (if you have one) or job interviews (if you don't) is an expensive hassle. If you have an unreliable junker, the day you miss work is the day you may be fired.

I could go on with examples, but you get the idea. Every disadvantage is connected to all the others. "Any way you look at it you lose." "Everything Needs Fixing."

(5) Many of the world's religions, including Christianity, have some equivalent of the "do unto others" admonition. Sadly, many find the preaching easier than the practice. And so advocates of social justice must revert to economic arguments -- that they are really just proposing "doing well by doing good."

That was how housing for the homeless was sold to the doubters. It turned out to be cheaper than insisting homeless continue to sleep on the sidewalks.

I suspect the same would be true for efforts to improve the lives of everyone in the bottom 40% of our socio-economic caste system -- including all races and nationalities. I suspect that it really is true that "We all do better when we ALL do better." As with the global eradication of smallpox, and our current need to eradicate every COVID-19 case on Earth, we will not see the full fruition of an anti-racial culture until we clean every dark and dusty corner containing elements of our systemic racism.

To work toward that goal I believe an essential element is the gathering of the hundreds of thousands of stories from Blacks in all walks of life (such as that of Erma Faye Stewart, above) -- ideally in a single, online location. We need to encourage this reporting, make it easy, and anonymous when desired, for Blacks to report the daily indignities and hurdles they confront.

For change to occur, whites need to know -- emotionally as well as intellectually -- what it's like to live as a Black person in America's 21st Century, and then get about the job of making the necessary reforms. (In the course of doing this they will be improving the lives of the white poor as well.) The distribution of Blacks' experiences is a job for the mass media, book publishers, television and film producers. That's what it took to reduce the health hazards of tobacco. This will be more difficult. But it is possible. It's up to all of us -- and will benefit all of us.

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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Biggest Thrill in Johnson County

What's "the Biggest Thrill of All" in Johnson County?

According to Merle Haggard ("Okie From Muskogee") Muskogee is:

A place where even squares can have a ball.
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightning's still the biggest thrill of all.
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA.
[I'm Proud to be an] "Okie From Muskogee"

To which, of course, the west coast hippies felt they had to responded with:

We don't throw our beer cans on the highway
We don't slight a man because he's black
We don't spill our oil out in the ocean
'Cause we love birds and fish too much for that

And I'm proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we're friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they're Haggard
In Olema, California, Planet Earth
"Hippie from Olema"

I've always found just being in the Olema area kind of thrilling. Apparently the hippie lyricists either assumed that was so obvious to everyone it didn't require mention, or whatever thrilled Okies probably would be more disruptive than supportive of Olema's aura of peace, love and bliss.

All of which brings us back to The People's Republic of Johnson County, and what might I be thinking is its "greatest thrill of all."

Want to guess?

Give up?

Why it's the outflow from the Coralville Reservoir after heavy rains. Take it from an old, retired former U.S. Maritime Administrator, this is our landlocked equivalent of taking a ship through the North Atlantic in the wintertime, as pictured.

Exhibit #1, which I'm about to show you, is a video taken yesterday, July 10. Why is the date relevant? Because if you're the kind of Johnson County citizen who recognizes her or his responsibility for knowing how much water the Iowa River is bringing through Iowa City, and how fast it is coming, you check the United States Geological Survey report each morning to find out. You know that number can change daily, even hourly within a day.

And what was the number yesterday? 9,000. Nine thousand what you ask? It's 9,000 cubic feet a second, I reply. And just how much is that, you persist?

As you can imagine, it is difficult to keep and measure water that is cube-shaped. But that's why, as with COVID-19, we must rely on the scientists at the USGS for our answer. And if you would ask one of them they would be happy to tell you that if you had their powers to make a one-foot by one-foot by one-foot cube of water you would discover, when you measured it, that you had 7.49 gallons of water.

Thus, if you had the patience to create 9,000 cubic feet of water you would have (quickly multiplying 7.49 by 9,000) 67,410 gallons. And how much is that, you ask? Well, if you and those living with you use about 100 gallons a day (check your water bill, it's probably around that much each month) that would be 36,500 gallons a year.

In other words, every second yesterday the amount of water flowing out of the Coralville Reservoir into the Iowa River was almost twice the amount of water you use in a year.

Here is a video of what that looked like yesterday afternoon for 38 seconds chosen at random. So how many gallons was that. Right!!! See, I told you it wasn't complicated. It was 2,561,580 gallons. That's what you got, didn't you? Isn't this fun? Doesn't it remind you of your cruise in the North Atlantic last winter? Isn't it exciting? Don't you have to agree it really is Johnson County's "greatest thrill of all"?

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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Your Risk Isn't Just COVID-19 Symptoms, It's What Comes Later

Do you know the long term harms COVID-19 may do to your brain, lungs, heart, kidneys and the rest of your body?

Over 500,000 persons worldwide have died from the disease -- and one quarter of them used to live in the United States. But there is now increasing evidence that may be only part of the damage the disease can do.

There has been a recent upsurge of young people becoming infected.

Unfortunately, if they are willing to ignore their moral obligation to avoid infecting others -- as apparently many are -- their use of analytical tools such as risk assessment, benefit-cost, and opportunity cost could rationalize their ignoring masks, social distancing and hand washing.

What's the worst that could happen? How serious would that be? How likely is it to happen? They may not become infected. If infected they may have no symptoms. If they have symptoms they may be mild and quickly pass. So the benefit of masking up is relatively small, and the cost of avoiding crowds, the opportunity cost of missing out on social opportunities at parties and beaches, is (in their minds) very high. Their behavior -- if one can overlook their selfish disregard of others -- is marginally understandable.

Videos of hundreds of young folks without masks gathered shoulder to shoulder, ignoring the warnings, makes it seem hopeless. How can their behavior be changed?

What if we were to significantly increase the "cost" side of their equation? And how might we do that? We could "start spreading the news" (to borrow a line from Sinatra's "New York") of the serious after effects of COVID-19 infections -- starting with the human brain and cognitive function (to focus the attention of college students).
In the years to come, it may well be medical professionals who focus on the brain and cognitive function who are seeing and helping many post-COVID patients. The reason is that hypoxia, cardiac dysfunction, blood clots, strokes and similar conditions — all of which have been observed, to one degree or another, in those suffering COVID-19 — can all have long-term effects on brain function and cognition.
Wilfred Van Gorp, "Wave of cognitive disorders in young people from COVID-19," The Hill (Dr. Gorp is the former president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology.)

Here are some more excerpts, this time from the BBC: Zoe Cormier, "How Covid-19 can damage the brain; Some scientists suspect that Covid-19 causes respiratory failure and death not through damage to the lungs, but the brain – and other symptoms include headaches, strokes and seizures," BBC, June 22, 2020
For Julie Helms, it started with a handful of patients admitted to her intensive care unit ...and it was not just their breathing difficulties that alarmed her. "[M]any had neurological problems – mainly confusion and delirium,” she says. “this was completely abnormal. It has been very scary, especially because many of the people we treated were very young – many in their 30s and 40s, even an 18-year-old.” [T]he neurological symptoms in their Covid-19 patients, ranging from cognitive difficulties to confusion ... are signs of “encephalopathy” (the general term for damage to the brain) ...

Now, more than 300 studies from around the world have found a prevalence of neurological abnormalities in Covid-19 patients, including mild symptoms like headaches, loss of smell (anosmia) and tingling sensations (arcoparasthesia), up to more severe outcomes such as aphasia (inability to speak), strokes and seizures. This is in addition to recent findings that the virus, which has been largely considered to be a respiratory disease, can also wreak havoc on the kidneys, liver, heart, and just about every organ system in the body.

“In fact, there is a significant percentage of Covid-19 patients whose only symptom is confusion” – they don't have a cough or fatigue, says Robert Stevens, associate professor of anaesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. “We are facing a secondary pandemic of neurological disease,” says Stevens. “We’ve now learned that the disease affects many different organ systems: patients can die not only from lung failure, but also neurological manifestations. If you had asked me a month ago if there was any published evidence that Sars-CoV-2 could cross the blood-brain barrier, I would have said no – but there are now many reports showing that it absolutely can,” says Stevens.

In fact, some scientists now suspect that the virus causes respiratory failure and death not through damage to the lungs but through damage to the brainstem, the command centre that ensures we continue to breathe even when unconscious. ... The brain is normally shielded from infectious diseases by what is known as the “blood-brain barrier” – a lining of specialised cells inside the capillaries running through the brain and spinal cord. These block microbes and other toxic agents from infecting the brain. If Sars-CoV-2 can cross this barrier, it suggests that not only can the virus get into the core of the central nervous system, but also that it may remain there, with the potential to return years down the line.

Though rare, this Lazarus-like behaviour is not unknown among viruses: the chickenpox virus Herpes zoster, for example, commonly infects the nerve cells in the spine, later reappearing in adulthood as shingles – roughly 30% of people who experienced chickenpox in childhood will develop shingles at some point in their lives. ... David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, says he himself treated many patients in the 1970s and 1980s who had suffered from severe clinical depression ever since the 1957 influenza pandemic in the UK. “Their depression was enduring and it was solid – it was as if their emotional circuits had all been switched off,” he says, warning that we could see the very same thing happen again, but on a much larger scale. “People who are discharged from the ICU with Covid-19 need to be monitored systematically long-term for any evidence of neurological damage – and then given interventionist treatments if necessary.”

And in Pittsburgh, through the Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunction in Covid-19, Sherry Chou, a neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh, has coordinated scientists from 17 countries to collectively monitor the neurological symptoms of the pandemic, including through brain scans. ... Although the virus’s impact on the lungs is the most immediate and terrifying threat, the lasting impact on the nervous system may be far larger and far more devastating, says Chou. "Recovery from neurological injuries is often incomplete and can take much longer compared to other organ systems (for example, lung), and therefore result in much greater overall disability, and possibly more death,” she says.

The final sentence reads, "Patients experiencing lung failure can be put on a respirator, and kidneys can be rescued with a dialysis machine – and, with some luck, both organs will bounce back. But there is no dialysis machine for the brain."
See also, Julie Helms, et al, Strasbourg University Hospital, Strasbourg, France, "Neurologic Features in Severe SARS-CoV-2 Infection," Letter, New England Journal of Medicine, June 4, 2020.

There may be a subsequent blog post regarding the other medical conditions that can be triggered by COVID-19 infections. Until then, here's a Fortune magazine article that groups the potential consequences by areas of the body: Blood, Brain, Eyes, Gastrointestinal tract, Hands, Heart, Limbs, Liver, Lungs, Kidneys, Nose and tongue, Skin, and Toes. "What are the potential long-term effects of having COVID-19?" Associated Press, Fortune Magazine, June 16, 2020

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Monday, July 06, 2020

One, Two, Three and You're Out

Restarting Sports in Virus-Deep Florida was the Worst of Miscalculations;
Sports leagues should have ignored the welcome mat offered by the Sunshine State

Jim Souhan
Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 5, 2020
You can subscribe to the online Minneapolis Star Tribune for only $3.79/week (99c/week for first four weeks).
[This column was announced in my morning [July 6] Facebook post as follows:

Searching for threads of stand-up funny under a shroud of deadly serious can be as dangerous as it is difficult. But when dissenting from my FCC colleagues' opinions satire was often the only effective response to the outrageous and absurd. (See opinions in my book, Catfish Solution, )

One skilled sports reporter found himself in a comparable position regarding COVID-19 and sports in Florida.]
A bunch of sports leagues have decided to stage their return this summer in Florida. Apparently Hades was booked for a coronavirus party. [Photo credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons]

Maybe the better way to think of it is that Florida is a corona­virus party. And the party promises to never stop.

The United States might have handled the pandemic worse than any other developed country, and Florida might have handled it worse than any other state. Sending thousands of athletes and staffers to Florida right now is like asking them to jump from the frying pan into the sun.

Restarting in Florida might be the worst idea in sports since the White Sox wore shorts. FC Dallas, in Orlando for the MLS tournament, had its Thursday game vs. Vancouver postponed because of eight positive tests. One NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, withdrew from that league’s comeback tournament after a handful of young players went to a Florida bar and later tested positive.

This is how badly these sports have miscalculated: They are getting outsmarted by Gary Bettman and Rob Manfred, the Ren & Stimpy of sports commissioners.

Bettman, who runs the NHL, took a look at the United States’ handling of the pandemic and crossed it off his list. He is expected to move the rest of his season to Toronto and Edmonton, just to be based in a country that understands that science is real whether you believe in it or not.

Manfred — a memorable figure from this summer’s disingenuous baseball negotiations — months ago considered restarting in Arizona, Texas and Florida. Then MLB must have hired someone with internet access, because he scrapped that plan.

Arizona, Florida and Texas are the Moe, Larry and Curly of the pandemic. Only recently has one of those states’ leaders begun acting like an adult. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, after watching the virus sweep through his state and overwhelm even the massive medical centers in Houston, finally mandated the wearing of masks statewide.

As a former Texas resident, I recognize this strategy. It’s known as closing the barn door after a lot of people died.

The NBA plans to return to action in Orlando. This decision was made for obvious and cynical reasons. ESPN, which has a close financial relationship with the league, is owned by Disney. Orlando is an NBA city and can offer large, entertaining bubbles in which athletes can live.

This all would make great sense if Orlando wasn’t located in Florida, and if this didn’t seem like a pure money play by Disney and ESPN, rather than a decision made in the best interests of players’ health.

Four NBA teams were recently forced to close their home workout facilities because of the virus. Are we supposed to believe that the virus will respect the borders of teams’ bubbles in Orlando, home to international tourism and many residents who think of the virus as some worldwide hoax designed to make mask manufacturers rich?

The first American pro sports league to reopen was the National Women’s Soccer League. A few younger players from the Orlando Pride went drinking in a Florida bar. Subsequently, six players and four staff members tested positive for the virus, and the team withdrew from the league’s comeback tournament, which is being played in Utah.

The WNBA is set to return at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays have started their summer training camps. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers have resumed workouts. Minnesota United and most MLS teams are practicing in Orlando, with the Loons scheduled to return to play next Sunday.

What makes anyone think any of this will work?

The most hopeful answer available is that athletes, disciplined by nature, will understand just how dangerous Florida is, and take all precautions.

For months, we’ve been wondering how basketball or soccer players can expect to sweat and breathe on each other and avoid the virus, but at least in practices and in games they are interacting with other athletes who have been tested and who have reason to be vigilant about their health.

Where their discipline will be tested is in the Florida wilds. The bars and beaches, the theme parks, the restaurants in which some of the patrons literally wouldn’t wear a mask to save your life.

Good luck with that, athletes. All you have to do is wear a mask, stay off Space Mountain, avoid the bars and shun the beaches. In other words, you might as well be in Edmonton.


I believe this promotion of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and praise of its sports reporter, Jim Souhan, is within the category of "Fair Use." (It is a "noncommercial" use of no financial benefit whatsoever to me; it relates to news and public policy regarding a global pandemic, the free dissemination of which to the public is of the highest public interest; its reproduction in this blog will enhance, however minutely (rather than diminish) the financial value of this material for the Star Tribune and author. Nonetheless, if either the Star Tribune or the author requests I remove this blog post I will be happy to do so.

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Saturday, July 04, 2020

How to Eliminate Police Shootings

How to Eliminate Police Shootings

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), July 4, 2020, p. A6

In 2010, I suggested a way to eliminate the cost of college. In 2013, it was "How to Totally Eliminate Flood Damage." Earlier this year, it was "How to Eliminate COVID-19."

Today, it's "How to Eliminate Police Shootings."

Iceland is the world’s 15th most armed country per capita. Yet a police shooting in 2013 was that nation’s first.

There were 461 "justifiable homicides" by U.S. police in 2013, but not one in the United Kingdom.

Data from Ireland, New Zealand and 12 Pacific island nations is similar.

How can this be? What are they doing?

Their formula isn't complicated. It turns out that it is virtually impossible for a police officer without a gun to shoot people. (In rare situations, an officer may check out a gun for a given assignment, after which it’s returned.)

Just as a gun in the home is many times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder, arming police apparently creates more gun violence than it prevents.

Doesn't this impose greater risk on those officers? Apparently not. A 2004 survey revealed 82% of British police did not want to be armed, even though one-third had sometimes feared for their lives. Less than one-fourth of Irish police are even qualified to use a gun.

Maybe begin with a community policing trial. Maybe we’d first need to remove the causes of crime, poverty and systemic racism from the U.S. But, shucks, we ought to be doing that anyway.

— Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City

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Friday, July 03, 2020

Frederick Douglass on July 4th

"What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

Frederick Douglass
Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, Corinthian Hall, Rochester, N.Y., July 5, 1852

He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion. [Portrait source: Wikimedia Commons; Douglass at 37; he was 34 when he delivered this address.]

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable — and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by


thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellowcitizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were


accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.

Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back.

As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.

The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present ruler. Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.


Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.

On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.

The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.

The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to


the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.


Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest — a nation’s jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.

Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You


have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men shout — “We have Washington to our father.” — Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

The evil that men do, lives after them, The good is oft-interred with their bones.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn


you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for


their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. — There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to bum their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with


blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is


contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and America religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowieknife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his bloodchilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the center of your soul! The crack you heard, was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow the drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point,


Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.

The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the antislavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.

In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains, and the heartrending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathized with me in my horror.

Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented. By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason and Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves


remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the Star-Spangled Banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, our lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, not religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes mercy to them a crime; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!

In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenseless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.

I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless


to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise, and cumin” — abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! — And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old Covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door, and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the beautiful, but treacherous queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which


divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation — a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain ablations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.

In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared — men, honored for their socalled piety, and their real learning. The Lords of Buffalo, the Springs of New York, the Lathrops of Auburn, the Coxes and Spencers of Brooklyn, the Gannets and Sharps of Boston, the Deweys of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land have, in utter denial of the authority of Him by whom they professed to be called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example or


the Hebrews and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend (Rev. R. R. Raymond) on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the antislavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, and Burchells and the Knibbs, were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable, instead of a hostile position towards that movement. Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors;


but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.

Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped

To palter with us in a double sense:
And keep the word of promise to the ear,
But break it to the heart.


And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practiced on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape. But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length — nor have I the ability to discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq., by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the Constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the Constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.


Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single proslavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic, are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:


God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered fights again

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end.
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
That hour will come, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive —
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven.

# # #

Source: Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1999), 188-206; Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (1852), The University of Texas at Austin, College of Liberal Arts, Core Texts,

# # #

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Digital Data Deception

What do "analog" and "digital" mean? Analog is approximate, digital is precise. A mercury thermometer, car gas gauge, or bathroom scale are analog -- you estimate numbers from a needle or sliding scale. Digital "readouts" on radios or clocks provide precise numbers.

But precise is not the same as accurate. Have you ever heard someone described as "often wrong but seldom in doubt"? That's digital. After the power outage, the digital clock is still precise -- precisely wrong. The grandmother clock is accurate -- but approximate.

-- Nicholas Johnson (Excerpt from the column "My Grandmother's Clock" in the syndicated column series "Communications Watch," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 28, 1983)
For the past three months I have been graphing and posting on my Facebook page the reported Iowa COVID-19 cases (Saturdays) and deaths (Mondays).

Now I've stopped. Why? Because for six months now we have been driving, sometimes backwards, on four flat tires, in a ditch alongside a road to nowhere. To continue to watch and report on our odometer mileage, or our average miles per hour -- let alone those digitally precise numbers -- suddenly seems as foolish as it is futile.

I am angry at the politicians whose preeminent focus on reelection and campaign donors' interests have resulted in the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. I am disappointed by those Americans who -- while understandably confused by the mixed messages they're receiving -- risk infecting others. And I am dismayed by the total collapse of America's former reputation as an intelligent and compassionate world leader -- while our continued shouts of "We're Number One!," "We're Number One!" are only supported by our world rank in COVID-19 infections and ineffectiveness of our response.
What an embarrassment that when Europe opened to travelers from a list of countries, including Algeria, Montenegro, Morocco, Rwanda, Serbia, Tunisia among others, because of the U.S. failure to intelligently control its COVID-19 spread we were, rationally, excluded from the list. Council Agrees to Start Lifting Travel Restrictions for Residents of Some Third Countries," Council of the European Union, June 30, 2020.

Equally embarrassing for Iowans is that our uncontrolled outbreaks of the virus have placed us on New York's list of states whose citizens must be quarantined for 14 days before entering New York -- or face civil penalties up to $10,000. Marina Villeneuve, "New York adds several states, including Iowa, to travel quarantine list, sends monitors to NYC; New York is urging travelers from eight additional states to self-quarantine for 14 days as it awaits a decision on the reopening of indoor dining in New York City," Associated Press, The Gazette, June 30, 2020; J. David Goodman, "N.Y. Will Impose Quarantine on Visitors From States With Big Outbreaks; New Jersey and Connecticut will also require visitors to quarantine for two weeks. The rule reflects a stark shift in the course of the outbreak," New York Times, June 29, 2020.
Even using the inadequate numbers (as of June 29, 2020), the United States, with 4% of the world's population now has 25% of the world's positive COVID-19 cases -- 2,558,000 -- more than any other country on Earth, and more than the next two nations combined (Brazil and Russia -- both led by authoritarian dictators). (Source: Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.)

So what's wrong with the U.S. numbers?

The Numbers We Don't Have

You might start with the fact that roughly 90 percent of Americans (and 90 percent of Iowans) have never been tested. You could even end with that fact. Why go further? We not only don't know the names of infected Americans (and Iowans) we don't even know the accurate numbers of infected persons. It's like fighting a war in Vietnam or Afghanistan in which your enemy refuses to wear a uniform and is otherwise indistinguishable from the friendly folks. We have not a clue how many Americans (and Iowans) are wandering about infecting others.
[The CDC reports there have been 32,300,000 U.S. COVID-19 tests -- but that's tests, not people tested. (Source: CDC, COVID-19, Testing Data in the U.S.) Iowa reports 301,300 individuals tested. (Source: "COVID-19 in Iowa"). In other words, in Iowa and the nation as a whole roughly 90 percent of Americans have never been tested.]

As they say on late night TV, "But wait, there's more." You can add to that, if you must, the fact that about 50 percent (we can only guess at that number as well) of those infected with COVID-19 are either (1) in the incubation period (and therefore not now showing symptoms), (2) will never show symptoms, or (3) are experiencing such mild symptoms that they (and others) are unaware they are infected. All of which is made worse by a president who minimizes the threat, sets the bad example of refusing to wear a mask, urges less testing, and is seemingly incapable of understanding that neither the economy nor his political fortunes will improve so long as COVID-19 infections continue to spread (put aside his lack of both focus on the national interest and empathy for those afflicted).

The Numbers We Do Have

Then there's what may be wrong with the numbers we do have. Consider the "COVID-19 deaths." Which deaths qualify and why? Where does the data come from? How might some deaths be missing from the data? Who collects it?

Epidemiologists believe that what's more accurate than counting "COVID-19 deaths" is counting all deaths and comparing those numbers to prior averages. "Measuring excess deaths is crude, but many epidemiologists believe it is the best way to measure the impact of the virus in real time. It shows how the virus is altering normal patterns of mortality and undermines arguments that it is merely killing vulnerable people who would have died anyway." Josh Katz, Denise Lu and Margot Sanger-Katz, "What Is the Real Coronavirus Death Toll in Each State?" New York Times, June 24, 2020. "In places with large coronavirus outbreaks, researchers have recently found thousands of unexpected deaths beyond those captured in the official tally of COVID-19 fatalities." Kathleen McGrory, "Coronavirus may have caused hundreds of additional deaths in Florida; An analysis conducted for the Times shows a spike in unexpected deaths since late March," Tampa Bay Times, May 20, 2020.For a discussion of those and many other variables see the earlier blog post, "Deaths Data," June 16, 2020.

The numbers for "cases" are not of much use for a variety of reasons; those numbers are a function of the number of tests (among other things). Fewer tests, fewer "cases" -- which is why Trump wants less testing. We know nothing about those who haven't been tested. We're not told the number of infected who have no symptoms. There are problems with the test kits and the tests (and having a $26 million, no-bid contract with an inexperienced supplier). The Gazette reported that roughly 10 percent of the tests with those kits came back "inconclusive." Grace King, "Some Test Iowa results 'inconclusive,' Linn County officials say; 334 people tested in first four days of opening Cedar Rapids site," The Gazette, May 13, 2020. On June 26 The Gazette's Lyz Lenz reported that Test Iowa has left a trail of incompetence, inaccuracy, lack of transparency and "unusable" test results. Lyz Lenz, "'Unusable' coronavirus tests results plague Test Iowa," The Gazette, June 26, 2020.

No one has an incentive to report numbers higher than the reality. Many have an incentive to report numbers lower: partisan officeholders who want to minimize the appearance of disaster and chaos in order to maximize their favorability ratings, nursing home owners who know that reports of cases and deaths in their facilities are bad for business (and possible liability), meatpacking plant owners for whom closures can cost millions of dollars.

The Iowa governor announced that nursing homes need not report cases or deaths unless they had an "outbreak" -- which she defined a three or more cases. The Nebraska governor explained that packing plants did not have to report at all. "Vice President Mike Pence encouraged governors on Monday to adopt the administration’s claim that increased testing helps account for the new coronavirus outbreak reports, even though evidence has shown that the explanation is misleading." "Pence Tells Governors to Repeat Misleading Claim on Outbreaks,"New York Times, June 16, 2020. President Trump told his Tulsa gathering, "Here's the bad part, when you test the, when you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please!" "Trump: 'I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please!'" Yahoo News Video, June 21, 2020.

Would anyone deliberately change numbers for political advantage? Consider Florida.

Rebekah Jones worked for the State of Florida, gathering the state's COVID-19 data and presenting it in "dashboard" form online for the public. (Presumably this was analogous to the State of Iowa's "COVID-19 in Iowa" site.) Her story, as reported by NPR, is that the State wanted to open up more businesses, had a plan for doing so that required certain data levels, and was about to launch it before checking the actual current data. Upon officials discovery they could not justify the opening, under the standards of their own plan, she was ordered to change the numbers. She refused to do so and was fired. Laurel Wamsley, "Fired Florida Data Scientist Launches A Coronavirus Dashboard Of Her Own," NPR, June 17, 2020 (text); Rachel Martin, "Florida Scientist Says She Was Fired For Not Manipulating COVID-19 Data," Morning Edition, NPR, June 29, 2020 (7-minute audio; "NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Rebekah Jones, a scientist who was fired from Florida's health department, who is now publishing a coronavirus dashboard of her own to track the state's COVID-19 cases").

How Did We Get Here?

At least since the global pandemic of bubonic plague that reached Europe in 1347 humans have known the benefits of isolating those infected. During the late 20th and early 21st Centuries the best pandemic-fighting strategies have been explained in everything from fiction to films, from plays to playbooks from scientific, government and military experts. It is not, as we say, "rocket science." Indeed, this year has seen common sense successfully applied by responsible governments around the world: Australia, Canada, Georgia (nation), Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam -- and most recently Thailand (among others).

We have some of the world's most respected epidemiologists. Our CDC was looked to (and often present) everywhere. We'd had experience with pandemics, we'd written the playbooks on how to fight them, step by step. It's common sense. The steps could be laid out in a 15-minute YouTube video.

So why do we have more infected and dead individuals from this coronavirus than any other nation? How could our federal and state governments -- and the American people -- have been so woefully inadequate in their response to this global pandemic when compared with all of the other 193 UN countries and seven billion people on Earth? We can't blame immigration or China. All the successful countries also had immigration and China. (Thailand is even a favorite vacation spot for the Chinese.) No, the reason we have lost nearly twice as many American lives in three months from COVID-19 as we lost in Vietnam in 19 years is largely because (among other things) (1) the federal and state governments failed to start with the most effective strategies (total test-trace-isolate), and (2) delayed so long in doing even the wrong things.

A pandemic spreads rapidly. It's like weeds in a garden, a cockroach infestation, or erosion in a farm field. Stopped at its inception -- when the first COVID-19 cases were reported -- it can be brought under control and eventual elimination relatively quickly and easily (compared with our chaotic disaster of a response). The inevitable subsequent resurgences can also be more easily handled.

Compare our lackadaisical approach with what happened in Beijing a week or so ago.
Beijing’s new infections emerged two weeks ago . . .. As of June 22, the authorities had taken samples from more than 2.9 million people over the previous 10 days . . .. Wu Zunyou, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said last week that the outbreak was “under control.” In an interview this week . . . he predicted the number of cases would not exceed 400.
(Source: "China says it has tamed an outbreak in Beijing, at least for now" (sub-head within story with main headline: "U.S. Hits Another Record for New Coronavirus Cases"), New York Times, June 27, 2020)

In other words, the Chinese were testing in Beijing -- every day -- about the same number of people as Iowa has tested in four months! And as a result the Chinese virtually eliminated a COVID-19 resurgence from one of the world's largest cities in a couple weeks.

Or, if you'd prefer something a little closer to the size of many Iowa towns, check out one of my first columns on the importance of testing, "How to Eliminate COVID-19," The Gazette, April 4, 2020 (Vo, Italy, tested everyone in the city and eliminated any threat from COVID-19 in about three weeks).

There are many physical and mental health, economic, social, educational and other consequences of our delay. But the most dramatic is the number of predictable, unnecessary, preventable deaths. Joseph Guzman, "Experts: 90 percent of US coronavirus deaths could have been avoided if measures had been taken just two weeks earlier; Two medical experts say issuing social distancing measures just two weeks earlier could have drastically changed the trajectory of coronavirus deaths in the United States," The Hill, April 16, 2020.

The most efficient, speedy and effective way to deal with a COVID-19 (or other viral) global pandemic, knowing they happen from time to time, is to:
(1) prepare for it in advance. ("Preventing disasters is part of the job description of those getting the big bucks to lead corporations and government. ... Leaders’ performance should be judged by not what they propose to prevent 'next time' but by what they failed to do to prevent 'this time.'” Nicholas Johnson, "'Never Again' is Not Enough in Response to School Shootings," USA Today, March 6, 2018)

(2) Once informed of a potential pandemic anywhere (as we were repeatedly during the November 2019 through February 2020 period) be on the lookout for the first cases in the U.S.

(3) Immediately respond (in hours, not days, weeks or -- as in our case -- months) with the test-contact-trace-treat-separate/quarantine/isolate-test-again response with everyone showing symptoms and those with whom they've come in contact.

(4) "Wash, rinse, repeat." In other words, keep after each case as it pops up. The goal is to prevent the exponential explosion of a disease spreading throughout the population. This approach is designed to, ultimately, produce the entire elimination of the coronavirus (as was done globally with smallpox). This is the most cost-effective, economy-protecting, life saving, efficient way to quickly battle COVID-19.
This approach was available to us during January and even February. It is no longer (except for small pockets of infected persons). As of today there are 2.6 million confirmed cases. Some estimate the total number (including the untested) would be 10 to 20 times that number. Dan Mangan, "Coronavirus cases are likely 10 to 20 times higher in US than reported, former FDA chief Gottlieb says," CNBC, April 21, 2020; Joel Achenbach, "Antibody tests support what’s been obvious: Covid-19 is much more lethal than the flu," Washington Post, April 28, 2020.

There are, of course, other approaches to COVID-19 none of which have been, so far, successful in eliminating it. Because there is no vaccine, cure or treatment for the disease none of these options are fully satisfactory.
(1) "Herd immunity": A nation just waits until, finally, everyone has been infected -- this appears to be some American politicians' current unspoken favorite by default. This has three drawbacks. It maximizes the number of deaths. It takes a very, very long time. And the scientists don't yet know if it will work. If you are infected, and don't die, does that mean you can never get it again? They don't know. Even if you are immune, does that mean you can't give it to others? They don't know. And, if either are true, how long does your immunity last? They don't know.

(2) "Hospital capacity": focus on the ability of the healthcare system to handle the infected and dying. So long as the community, or state, has enough hospitals, healthcare workers, beds, intensive care facilities, ventilators, other equipment, and PPE you're OK. The problems with this one are that it is hard to predict the caseload, imposes excessive burdens on healthcare workers, and it does little to nothing by way of reducing the spread of the disease.

(3) "Mitigation": monitor and enforce efforts designed to minimize the rate and extent of spreading the disease, such as closing places where the disease is most likely to spread (e.g., bars, indoor arenas), wearing masks, maintaining six-foot distancing between people, forbidding groups of more than six (or 50). This approach requires acceptance of the ongoing numbers of infected, dying and dead from the coronavirus so long as those numbers are steady, or increasing only slightly ("flattening the curve"). That is mitigation advocates' benchmark for decisions regarding opening or closing businesses and events. Such measures may slow the rate of increase in infected persons, but it neither eliminates the virus nor provides any information about the roughly half of the infected who are without symptoms.

(4) "Mitigation light": the difference between "mitigation" and "mitigation light" is like the difference between those who follow "the ten commandments" and those who consider them "the ten suggestions."
At this point in time probably the best bet is to do what you and I can to encourage national and state leaders to crank up the enforcement of the epidemiologists' recommendations and their acceptance as national standards -- while complying with them ourselves.

I wish I had better news for you, I really do. But I don't. This is my current take on our current condition and probable future. Meanwhile, I pull such comfort as I can, while keystroking in the living room, from the rhythmic, if approximate, tick-tock, tick-tock from my 120-year-old grandmother's clock in the kitchen.

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