Small Gestures

Those who wear masks in the midst of this pandemic are sheep. Those who will not are the lions among us. And those who have been vaccinated during the pandemic are sheep. Those who refuse vaccination for this particular coronavirus are the lions among us. They laugh at the risk, if there really is any risk, which they doubt. They are not cowards. They are proudly fearless. They are not sheep.

That’s the narrative, a narrative in which Donald Trump is a coward. He’s been vaccinated. He says everyone should be. And he’s booed every single time he says that, so he’s stopped saying that. Almost all Republicans have stopped saying that. Those who secretly see vaccination as a sensible precaution get vaccinated discretely and don’t tell anyone. If asked, they’ll deny they did any such thing. But no one wants to die.

All of this is nonsense, posturing, bragging and sneering, but now this is policy:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continue to battle the White House over how to curb the coronavirus pandemic, with both Republican governors challenging the vaccination requirements for businesses that were announced last month by the Biden administration. The mandate at issue covers any employer of more than 100 people, including federal employees, as well as employees of hospitals that receive federal assistance.

On Monday, Abbott signed an executive order forbidding any vaccine mandates in Texas. On the same day, DeSantis announced that his administration would be investigating entities that allegedly violated a Florida law prohibiting vaccine “passports.”

Among the supposed violators is an Orlando venue that hosted a concert by British singer Harry Styles. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was required for entry.

DeSantis will put that Orlando venue out of business, as well as the whole Disneyworld complex and Universal Studios, if they try that in Orlando. Or he’ll fine them. Or he’ll scold them. Or he’ll do nothing. He has not asked them to get the hell out of Florida. He and Abbott may just be making noise:

Asked Tuesday about the purported motivation for Abbott’s move, White House press secretary Jen Psaki answered bluntly, with a single word: “Politics.” The two Republican governors have also led the party’s resistance to school-based mask mandates. President Biden had previously criticized that fight as motivated purely by political considerations.

Of course it is:

DeSantis emerged over the summer as a leading contender for the 2024 presidential nomination, despite more than 50,000 people having died from COVID-19 in Florida, which was hit especially hard by the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus. The state ranks 10th in per capita deaths from COVID-19.

Abbott is also rumored to be potentially considering a White House run. More than 68,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Texas, which ranks 20th among U.S. states for deaths from the virus per capita.

“I think it’s pretty clear when you make a choice that’s against all public health information and data out there,” Psaki went on to say, “that it’s not based on what is in the interest of the people you are governing. It’s perhaps in the interest of your own politics.”

Perhaps so, but that might not be good politics:

Despite resistance from the governors of Texas and Florida, states where 17 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths have occurred, vaccine requirements have broad popular support. Even more importantly, compliance has been high.

According to the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll of 1,640 U.S. adults, conducted from Oct. 1 to 4, just 15 percent of those surveyed said they will not get vaccinated for COVID-19 – down from 19 percent in August.

Psaki said the White House would not back down from implementing its employer vaccine mandates in Texas, Florida or any other state. “Our intention is to implement and continue to work to implement these requirements across the country,” she said during Tuesday’s briefing, “including in the states where there are attempts to oppose them.”

The people are on their side, save for that pesky fifteen percent, and Abbott is being ignored:

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines will continue to require COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees as required by the Biden administration, defying Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order banning all vaccine mandates in the state.

The Texas-based carriers recently announced that all employees must get the shots to comply with the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for federal contractors. Both airlines have large contracts with the U.S. government to transport supplies and federal officials.

And both airlines sense political bullshit:

Abbott signed an executive order Monday that prohibits any entity with 100 or more employees from implementing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, directly challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement. The airlines said Tuesday that they will comply with the federal government rule over Abbott’s executive order.

“We are reviewing the executive order issued by Gov. Abbott, but we believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American,” an American Airlines spokesperson said in a statement.

Southwest Airlines took the same stance Tuesday, stating that “federal action supersedes any state mandate or law.”

Think of the quite mad idealistic Don Quixote. Abbott is tilting at windmills here:

Nearly every major airline announced a vaccine mandate after the Biden administration said that all government contractors must be vaccinated by Dec. 8. Delta Air Lines, the only major carrier without a vaccine requirement, imposes a $200 monthly surcharge on unvaccinated workers.

Is he going to tell them all to get the hell out of Texas if they don’t pay their big fines? No, he wants to lose this fight, and then be the heroic martyr for freedom. He tried, he really did, but this is a cruel world. He tried. To dream the impossible dream… and lose, with head held high. Who wouldn’t vote for him for president? But nothing is that simple:

Abbott’s new executive order is a reversal from his previous stance that the government shouldn’t tell private businesses how to handle vaccine mandates.

Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, said in a statement that the Biden administration rule “left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees.”

“The Governor’s executive order will help protect Texans from having to make that choice,” she said.

Really? Bloomberg’s Erik Larson tries to untangle this:

Under Texas law, the governor’s executive orders “have the force and effect of law.” Abbott, an outspoken Republican, was crystal clear with this one. “No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a Covid-19 vaccination by any individual, including an employee or consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from Covid-19,” the order said. The federal rules aren’t in place yet, so Abbott’s order, which carries a $1,000 fine for violations, applies to all companies in Texas right now. Even when Biden’s rules do take effect, they won’t apply to companies with fewer than 100 employees, so smaller firms will be obliged to heed the governor’s rules no matter what.

But wait:

Biden’s order carries more weight, period. While governors have a lot of power in their states, an executive order issued by a president preempts one issued by a governor on the same topic, says Mini Kapoor, a Houston lawyer with Haynes and Boone LLP. Biden’s executive order directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create rules implementing his mandate. When those rules come out, companies employing more than 100 people will need to follow Biden’s lead. “Those employers would be required to follow the federal mandate and not the Texas mandate at that point,” Kapoor said. “It’s a confusing situation because the federal OSHA standards are still being issued, but the governor’s order is in place right now.”

But that won’t last long:

Abbott’s order and the president’s order will probably see each other in court. While employment law experts say the supremacy of federal OSHA regulations over a governor’s executive order is a given, there’s nothing stopping the state from seeing how a judge might rule. Abbott could attempt to bring novel arguments to the court, expanding on his position that employees and customers should be allowed to cite religious, moral or medical objections to the federal mandate.

That argument might come up short, however, since the federal mandate already allows individuals to submit to weekly testing instead of getting the inoculation. Abbott’s order is likely to be put on hold during such a lawsuit, according to Kapoor. That’s because a judge is likely to find that vaccine mandates benefit public health, while an executive order against them creates potentially costly policy U-turns for larger businesses, she said.

That is a consideration:

Texas-based American Airlines Group Inc., the biggest U.S. airline, and Southwest Airlines Co., the fourth largest, aren’t waiting for OSHA to issue rules. Both companies said Oct. 12 they will follow Biden’s mandate, defying Abbott’s order and braving a $1,000 state fine. American, which had 117,400 workers nationwide at the end of June, and Southwest, which had about 54,500, both have federal contracts to transport employees and goods.

Many other large Texas-based companies, including AT&T Inc., are rolling out company-wide Covid vaccine requirements, and health systems such as Houston Methodist have had them in place for some time. Some large oil and gas companies with operations in Texas, such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc, said they were still evaluating Abbott’s ban, and others, including Valero Energy Corp., declined to comment.

What is going on here? Abbott is being a jerk. That makes him a hero to that fifteen percent. But the Washington Post reports more:

The clash over mandates is playing out far beyond Texas. On Tuesday, a federal judge said New York state, which has imposed a mandate on health-care workers, must allow religious exemptions while the mandate works its way through the courts. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an outspoken conservative, tweeted that “Ohio should ban all vaccine mandates.”

And the Brooklyn Nets basketball team told superstar guard Kyrie Irving on Tuesday that he must get vaccinated or he cannot play or practice with the team – prompting a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, lauding Irving over what he had “sacrificed.”

Kyrie Irving’s teammates think he’s being a jerk. He just ruined their season. He just sunk the team. He just became a Trump Republican. That’s what this was about:

“There are very few Republicans that you talk to – at any level – who are supportive of mandates,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based Republican consultant and former campaign manager for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). “So that’s the unifying feature.”

Abbott’s order shows that Texas Republicans, Steinhauser said, see an advantage in siding with the restive GOP base over their traditional allies in big business. “In Texas today, there are far more conservative rural Republicans than urban or even suburban Republicans, and they have a lot of clout,” Steinhauser said.

And they don’t fly on airplanes, and never will, and then there are those on the other side:

Democrats and public health experts say vaccines are crucial to defeating the pandemic, that mandates are necessary, and that actions like Abbott’s are reckless.

Democrat Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which includes Houston, blasted Abbott on Tuesday. “This prohibition against vaccine mandates is like as if the governor were telling me that I can’t issue an order to evacuate the coastal areas when a hurricane is barreling toward us,” Hidalgo said at a news conference.

But that makes sense now:

On the right, the dispute has become in large measure about identity and culture, not just about the policy itself.

Although Biden frequently talks about mandates, and has issued targeted vaccine requirements for groups including federal government workers, members of the military and health-care workers, his proposed rule would not force employees to choose between their job and their vaccination status.

But some companies have gone further, telling workers that they must get vaccinated to keep their jobs. That includes Southwest Airlines, which has said workers must be vaccinated by early December, unless they receive exemptions for religious or health reasons.

That became an issue when the airline in recent days canceled thousands of flights, citing bad weather and air traffic control issues. Republicans have seized on the disruptions, claiming they were caused by staff shortages prompted by principled workers refusing to get vaccinated.

“Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said via social media. “Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers. #ThanksJoe.”

“I’m asking, stop the madness before more damage is done,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a Twitter post reiterating his opposition to mandates.

Yes, that was bullshit:

Southwest’s corporate leaders, its pilots’ union and the Federal Aviation Administration have all forcefully pushed back on claims that flight cancellations were caused by pilots protesting the coronavirus vaccine mandate…

The Biden administration also pushed back on the emerging GOP narrative, with a touch of sarcasm. Pointing to comments from the union, Ben Wakana, a member of the White House’s covid-19 response team, said in a tweet Monday afternoon, “The cancellations also happened after Sox beat the Yankees but that had nothing to do with it either.”

No one was buying their line:

On Tuesday, DeSantis announced the state would levy a $3.5 million fine on Leon County, which includes Tallahassee. The county, he said, violated Florida’s ban on vaccine passports by requiring their employees to provide proof of vaccination and firing 14 who did not comply.

Leon County Administrator Vince Long told the Tallahassee Democrat that officials stood by the mandate and would fight the fine.

Besides Texas, only Montana has extended the ban on vaccine mandates to private employers, a policy that is expected to come under new scrutiny as the Biden administration moves forward on its worker mandate. The moves, Democrats argue, conflict with a long-held conservative principle of avoiding restrictions on businesses.

But that’s a topic for another time. For now, consider this mess:

Catholic U.S. troops should be allowed to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine based solely on conscientious objection and regardless of whether abortion-related tissue was used in its creation or testing, the archbishop for the military declared in a new statement supporting service members who are seeking religious exemptions.

“No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” said Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy P. Broglio, in a statement released Tuesday.

Broglio previously has supported President Joe Biden’s mandatory vaccination order for U.S. troops, citing the church’s guidance that permits Catholics to receive even vaccines derived from fetal tissue, when no other vaccine option is available. In his new statement, the archbishop said that while he still encourages followers and troops to get vaccinated, some troops have questioned if the church’s permission to get vaccinated outweighed their own conscious objections to it.

“It does not,” Broglio wrote.

If all forms of birth control are premeditated first-degree murder, well, this gets complicated:

 In August, Broglio was quoted by Catholic News Agency, a publication of Eternal Word Television Network, supporting the Pentagon’s then-forthcoming vaccine mandates, saying the church, including Pope Francis, “had recognized the morality of the vaccine.” But, the article added, “The archbishop said that while a person could object from the mandatory vaccine due to their personal conscience, ‘even that should be formed by the teaching of the Church.’”

Broglio’s Tuesday letter appears to formalize that exemption. It begins with an explanation of how the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines that were tested using an “abortion-derived cell line” are still not considered sinful by the Catholic church because it is “remote material cooperation with evil.”

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith examined these moral concerns and judged that receiving these vaccines ‘does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion,’ and is therefore not sinful,” Broglio’s letter reads.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, “was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines,” the archbishop said. Catholics still may accept that vaccine, but only if no others are available and they make known their moral objections.

This has gotten too complicated:

While the Pope has deemed COVID-19 vaccines to be not sinful, Broglio emphasized the “sanctity of conscience.” If the vaccine violates the sanctity of an individual’s conscience, they should not be forced to receive the vaccine. This deviates from previous statements from the archdiocese, when Broglio encouraged troops to receive whatever vaccine became available.

But the Pope is a simple man:

Pope Francis said on Wednesday he was puzzled why so many people, including some cardinals in Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, have refused to get inoculated against COVID-19.

“It is a bit strange because humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines,” he said aboard the plane returning from Slovakia, responding to a question from a reporter about the reasons for vaccine hesitancy.

“As children (we were vaccinated) for measles, polio. All the children were vaccinated and no one said anything,” he said.

Francis, who has been vaccinated against COVID, has often urged others to get inoculated for the common good.

But that hasn’t been easy:

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a conservative and a vaccine sceptic, was hospitalized in the United States last month after contracting the virus.

Some conservative anti-vaccine bishops, particularly in the United States, have said Catholics should have the possibility of claiming conscientious objection to the vaccine on religious grounds.

But the pope has made clear in the past that he disagrees, never having mentioned the option.

Last month, he issued an appeal on behalf of the nonprofit U.S. group the Ad Council and the public health coalition COVID Collaborative, saying the vaccine should be taken by everyone.

Yes, he said this:

The Pope noted that social and political love is built up through “small, individual gestures capable of transforming and improving societies.”

“Getting vaccinated is a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable,” he said.

Pope Francis then prayed to God that “each one of us can make his or her own small gesture of love.”

“No matter how small, love is always grand,” he said. “Small gestures for a better future.”

Is that so hard? Yes. Now it is.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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