In Your Neighborhood/Opinion

As the world turns, after impeachment

Finding common ground at the grocery store in the neighborhood, and the courage to confront the big lie

Image courtesy of New York Times online newsletter

A screen shot of the online version of the New York Times story on Rep. David Cicilline.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 1/18/21
The gap between the traditional news media and the reality of the real world life experiences continues to grow wider. What gets left out of the story is becoming more important that what gets included – when it comes to impeachment, vaccines, and the big lie by Trump.
Why are teachers not being given a higher priority when it comes to receiving vaccinations, particularly when non-medical personnel and administrators at health systems are receiving shots? At what point will the R.I. House Oversight Committee look into the way that money has been spent on high-priced consultants by the Raimondo administration? Why is it that a Providence Journal reporter doing a story about new telehealth legislation under consideration by the R.I. Senate quotes the Rhode Island Business Group on Health, which has attempted to blame rising costs during the pandemic on telehealth policies, but fails to mention the cost analysis findings by OHIC that identified prescription drug costs as the major driver of increased health care costs?
Timothy Snyder, in an essay in Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine, wrote: “America will not survive the big lie just because a liar is separated from power. It will need a thoughtful repluralization of media and a commitment to fact as a public good.”
In an interview with Fareed Zakaria, Snyder explained what he meant in his phrase, “Post-truth is pre-fascism,” from his book, On Tyranny.
“By post-truth, I mean the turn in our culture has gone too far, where we just accept that there is only opinion, and there isn’t truth. You have your views, I have my views, we look at each other and we walk away..”
Snyder continued: “The problem with that it is that it allows politicians to tell ever bigger lies, until those lies become violent. At the same time, we are in post-truth culture because we’ve let the sources of facts go away. Facts don’t arise by themselves. You need work, you need investment, and above all, you need local news and local reporters. We’ve been letting that die for the last 10 or 20 years, and we have to restore that.
Further, Snyder said: “When people don’t believe in truth, and that there are facts to be had, what happens next is that we fall back on belief. There’s a vacuum that is filled by spectacle, politicians emerge who are wealthy or charismatic, and they fill that vacuum with a myth, with a story, with their own personality, and that’s when you start moving toward fascism.”
What happened in November, Snyder continued, “is that Mr. Trump moved from someone who continuously told lies into someone who told a big lie – the claim that he won the election is a big lie. It is not just false: it is self-contradictory. How can there be fraud against him when there is not fraud against other Republicans.”
What Trump is really saying, Snyder argued, “is that if we didn’t count those Black voters, he won.”

PROVIDENCE – On Wednesday, Jan. 13, one week after a bunch of thugs, white supremacists and neo-Nazis stormed the U.S. Capitol, urged on by President Trump and his acolytes, causing a riot that resulted in five deaths, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach the President for the crime of inciting an insurrection against the U.S. government.

One of the leaders was R.I. Congressman David Cicilline, who had helped to draft the articles of impeachment along with his colleague, Rep. Ted Lieu, while the Capitol was still besieged. Cicilline was then chosen by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to be one of the 10 House managers for the upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.

Earlier on that same day, Gov. Gina Raimondo held what may turn out to be one of her final briefings, sharing the stage with Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who will become Governor when Raimondo exits stage-left after she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the position of Commerce Secretary in the new Biden administration, which could occur any time between the end of February and the beginning of April. Raimondo had refused to answer questions at the news briefing, sparking an outcry from journalists.

The latter decision caused many in the local fourth estate to behave as if their hair had caught on fire – imagine the audacity of the Governor not answering their questions.

Even the Rhode Island Press Association put out a memo condemning the action by Raimondo. [From ConvergenceRI’s perspective, it was situation normal, part of a six-year pattern of arrogance by which the Governor failed to honor her promise, sealed with a handshake twice, to conduct an in-person, one-on-one interview with ConvergenceRI. See below link to ConvergenceRI story, “The interview that never happened with Gov. Raimondo.”]

The work of Cicilline, no stranger to the art of political discourse, had been heralded on the front page of The New York Times – and he was then featured in the two latest political commentary columns in Rhode Island, one on Saturday, Jan. 16, by WPRI’s Ted Nesi, the other on Friday, Jan. 15, by The Public Radio’s Ian Donnis.

Nesi reported that Cicilline was not doing interviews, and Donnis reported that a security detail had been placed around Cicilline’s home, following an avalanche of threats.

Only in Rhode Island
The day after the impeachment vote and the Governor’s refusal to answer questions at a news conference, ConvergenceRI decided to venture out briefly, double-masked, to go shopping for groceries.

Driving to the store, ConvergenceRI tuned into WPRO, as a way of taking the political temperature of the intemperate in Rhode Island, listening to Dan Yorke argue and pontificate, mostly with himself, expressing outrage in the failure of the Governor to answer questions at the news conference. There were not many incoming phone calls, creating what’s known as “dead air” on the radio, through which any number of trucks could have rumbled, as Yorke careened from topic to topic, including his own golf game.

It is always a small, small world in Rhode Island, because you never know whom you may bump into while navigating the aisles and aisles of things to buy – from a prominent Providence lawyer to leading biotech CEO, from Providence city councilor to an affordable housing advocate, from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to a former Governor.

Or, to my local Congressman, who is leading the impeachment of Trump.

What peaches and what penumbras! Allen Ginsberg wrote in his 1955 prose poem, “A Supermarket in California,” imagining a surreal meeting Walt Whitman in the grocery store. “Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes – and you Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?”

Indeed, 24 hours after the impeachment vote in the U.S House of Representatives, 232-197, to hold President Donald Trump accountable on the charge of “inciting an insurrection,” ConvergenceRI bumped into Cicilline while shopping in the frozen foods aisle.

ConvergenceRI, who had reported on Cicilline throughout much of his political career, beginning with his successful election as mayor of Providence in 2002, congratulated the Congressman on his courageous leadership in the impeachment fight. Cicilline deflected the compliment, saying: “That’s what I signed up for.”

When asked if he would be willing to do an interview with ConvergenceRI, on Zoom, Cicilline enthusiastically agreed, saying to call his office to arrange it – before heading toward the cashier to check out.

The sense of neighborhood – and conversation with neighbors – talking with each other, not at each other, in person, not online, is perhaps the best defense against what Tim Snyder, author of On Tyranny, has described as the post-truth world, on the road to fascism.

Participant, spectator, observer
A few minutes later, going through the checkout line, ConvergenceRI asked the cashier: “Do you know Congressman David Cicilline?” curious if anyone else had been aware of his presence in the store. “Who?”

The congressman who is leading the impeachment fight, ConvergenceRI responded. “No,” she said.

Did you know that he was just in her shopping? ConvergenceRI persisted. The cashier shrugged her shoulders, annoyed by the questioning.

Another employee, who appeared dazed after just having completed a 10-hour shift and was now about to head home, shook her head no when asked if she had seen Cicilline.

A third employee, when asked if he had seen Congressman Cicilline, who had just been in the store, said that he didn’t follow local politics, only national politics.

It seems that the flow of information and news, much like our in-person conversations, have become disconnected to the reality of our day-to-day lives. The question remains: How do we engage with each other in a way that builds community?

What unites us, what divides us
Some days, it seems, it is hard to discern the truth in the game show paradigm of reality TV that has become the mirror of our lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

What do you say in response when notified by your health insurer that the denial of coverage occurred because the R.I. Department of Health had given incorrect information to your health insurer about what was covered under telehealth guidelines, eight weeks after the denial?

The biggest anxiety for many is not just the threat of catching the coronavirus but how and when they will receive a vaccination. A fellow journalist called me up to urge me to do a story about vaccines in Rhode Island, after U.S. Health and Human Services Alex Azar recommended a last-minute change in the distribution strategy for vaccines, saying that states should make vaccines available for anyone 65 or older. I demurred, saying that anything coming from Azar at this point in time could not be trusted.

Turns out my instincts were right: Azar had apparently been lying for months; it turned out that there was no reserve being held by the federal government and there was a missing gap – tens of millions of doses of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine that had been delivered to the federal government but had someone disappeared into thin air. Azar, like his boss, Trump, was practiced in telling and promoting the “big lie.”

Another surprising data point that has emerged, but not one you were likely to read about in Rhode Island: West Virginia is outpacing the rest of the country in delivering vaccine shots into the arms of its residents, while many other states are still struggling with the complex logistics of distributing the lifesaving medicines. Why was that?

As detailed in an NPR story by Yuki Noguchi, published on Jan. 7, 2021: “Having delivered vaccines to health workers and completed a first round of shots at all its long-term care facilities, the state is now administering second doses and moving on to other populations, including people age 80 and over, and teachers who are 50 and older.”

As Noguchi reported: Nearly two weeks before most states started vaccinating anyone in nursing homes, pharmacist Gretchen Garofoli went to a long-term care facility in Morgantown, WV, on Dec. 15 [2020] and administered one of the first COVID-19 vaccinations in the state.

“A lot of people are looking to us as a state, because after the first week we had, I believe, something like 90 percent of doses allocated to our state in arms which was really unheard of elsewhere,” Garofoli told Noguchi. [Garofoli is also a clinical associate professor of pharmacy at West Virginia University.]

One of the major reasons behind West Virginia’s early success in vaccination delivery, it turns out, according to Noguchi’s reporting, is the fact West Virginia had chosen to chart its own path to vaccine distribution. “All 49 other states signed on with a federal program partnering with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate long-term care and assisted living facilities. But those chain stores are less common in West Virginia, so the state instead took charge of delivering its vaccine supply to 250 pharmacies – most of them small, independent stores.”

The federal plan to rely on big chain stores to get the shots to long-term care facilities wasn’t going to work for her state, Garofoli explained, as reported by Noguchi.

Instead, the state decided to build its vaccine distribution system on existing relationships, which included the use of existing data, as reported by Noguchi: Many long-term care sites in the state already use local pharmacies for other vaccines and medicines as well as twice-weekly coronavirus testing of residents and staff. The state decided to piggyback off those existing relationships. Because those pharmacies already had data on many patients, it was easier to begin scheduling appointments in early December, securing consent forms and matching doses to eligible patients – logistics that are confounding efforts in many other states.

Further, Noguchi reported: This scheme gave the state an early jump on most other states, says Krista Capehart, director of regulation for the state’s Board of Pharmacy and chief architect of West Virginia's distribution plan. When vaccines finally arrived, pharmacists were ready, and knew the number of doses they’d need.

“When it got here, we already had pharmacies matched with long-term care facilities, so we were already ready to have vaccinators and pharmacists ready to go into those facilities and start providing first doses,” Capehart said.

The moral of the story, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion: The large public-private partnerships awarded by the federal contracts to deliver the vaccine to long-term care facilities may not prove to be the best investment in building out future public health infrastructure in Rhode Island.

Another impertinent question: Why has the news media in Rhode Island been so quiescent about the West Virginia success story? Does it have anything to do with Rhode Island being the headquarters to CVS?

Finally, one more important data point: The new mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium, which is scheduled to open on Monday, Jan. 18, with plans to do 300 vaccinations a day, has gotten a lot of news coverage. However, there is another story, far under the radar screen, which hopefully ConvergenceRI will be able to share in the near future, about a site in Rhode Island that is dispensing 50 vaccinations a day, in a hard hit neighborhood.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.