Amidst COVID Third Wave 75 Members of Congress Look to Cash In 

Washington Crossing the Delaware

We have been here before.

We are a fractured population with disparate views lacking trust in each other or in our neighbor unable to act in our collective interest facing a common enemy. There’s a creeping despair as death comes knocking yet again despite all of “our efforts” to thwart its advance.

Or failure to act collectively increases the odds we will know people, even love people, that will get picked off individually in our isolation.

It’s a surreal juxtaposition—the trappings of the Christmas season, a celebration of faith and light mixed in with the blinking red and green light of an intensive care unit.

Across our region and even the world, you could hear a groan of disappointment when MSG announced that it was canceling Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes due to multiple COVID breakthrough cases.

How ironic.

We had to cancel performances of the world’s preeminent precision chorus line because of our inability as a state, region, nation or world to do anything in unison whether it be to get vaccinated or just wear a mask.

Reading Alan Taylor’s American RevolutionsI couldn’t help but find the parallel to our time and the near despair felt by General George Washington pre-Christmas 1776 after successive defeats on the battlefield undermined the societal support for the patriot cause.

“In New Jersey, most people abandoned the Patriot cause. Washington reported,”recounts Taylor. Taylor recounts how 5,000 men accepted British pardons including Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. “Washington grimly understood that the people ‘will cease to depend upon or support a force, from which no protection is given them.’”

Former patriots abandoned the collective notion of a new nation to cut their own deals in their own self-interest that would help them preserve and even expand their own wealth at the expense of the forward motion of a nascent nation on the verge of being stillborn.

“On December 25, Washington had 6,000 men, but their number would shrink to 1,400 with the expiration of most enlistments at the end of the week,” writes Taylor. “He had one last chance to win the victory needed to reverse the downward spiral in Patriot morale. Washington saw an opportunity in the exposed Hessian garrison of 1,500 men posted across the Delaware at Trenton. But crossing the icy, twisting river was risky, and the Hessians were tough, veteran troops.”

Taylor continues. “Washington said that only ‘necessity, dire necessity, will, nay must, justify’ and attack, for he had to ‘raise the spirits of the People, which are quite sunk by our misfortune.’”

Washington’s success in surprising the Hessians set in motion his successful engagement with the rear guard of the British army at Princeton clearing the path from Washington’s strategic move to seek sanctuary in the hills around Morristown.

By the following winter of 1777, Washington’s army found themselves in Valley Forge, northwest of Philadelphia. Basics like food, shelter and fuel to stay warm were scarce. The snow was not, and material support to sustain the troops could only be had COD.

They were at the mercy of what Taylor tells us Washington regarded as “prosperous and selfish citizens who pursued profits instead of sacrificing for the cause: ‘Is the paltry consideration of a little dirty pelf to individuals to be placed in competition with the essential rights and liberties of the present generation, and of the Millions yet unborn?….And  shall we at last become the victims of our own abominable lust of gain?’”

Scroll forward to 2021.

We are well into the second year of this killer pandemic on the way to killing one million Americans and infecting well over 50 million. At the very least, we can expect over ten million, maybe more, of our fellow Americans to have some long-term health consequences of varying severity.

Yet, with death and dying all around us, we are incapable of advancing the conversation about how universal health care should now be a national security or even civil defense priority. Failing that, you would think we could make sure that all of our essential workers have free access to rapid in-home testing for COVID.

The White House’s idea of being proactive is to tell the insured Americans they should be able to get reimbursed through their insurer for at-home tests and to double the number of free tests they are sending out to community organizations from 25 to 50 million. What about the several million workers who don’t have healthcare?

Once again the gauge of what the Beltway is doing is too small and too slow. Perhaps, it’s because they are multi-tasking, acting more like those mercantile interests that Washington wrote about when the colonial troops were suffering so in Valley Forge.

Incredibly, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) declared on the Fox News that he was not going to back President Biden’s Build Back Better bill that progressives had shrunk from over $7 trillion to $1.7 trillion in hopes of winning Manchin’s support.

The recent disclosures that a member of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation was among the 75 members that held stock in Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, or Pfizer in 2020 during our ongoing pandemic tells you everything you need to know about why we remain such a stuck nation.

Business Insider ranked the 533 current members of the House and Senate based on a half dozen criteria including their compliance with the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 which requires timely disclosure of their investment transactions and those of their staff.

407 of the members of Congress who were examined were coded green for “solid” as in compliant. Another 113 members were color coded yellow for “borderline” to signify their actions “deserve greater scrutiny.”

13 others are coded red for “danger”, signifying that they have “multiple issues that could expose them to ethical problems.”

According to Business Insider’s Conflicted Congress”  Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th) “was the only other lawmaker who held Moderna stock. In May 2020, he sold up to $15,000 worth of his shares.” Gottheimer was color coded yellow for “borderline” when it comes to complying with Congress’s requirements.

The news outlet noted that in “early January 2020, a share of Moderna traded below $20. As the pandemic took hold, the stock’s value grew exponentially. Moderna peaked in September 2021 at more than $455 a share.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ 7) was one of the 13 members of Congress in the red zone. The lawmaker sold up to $15,000 worth of stock in Chembio Diagnostics, a company that offers COVID-19 testing kits and infectious-disease testing, in the early days of the pandemic.

Last year he failed to disclose dozens of stock trades in violation of the federal Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 — which makes it illegal for members of Congress to engage in insider trading. According to Business Insider, he only acknowledged them only after the news outlet reported them.

“Malinowski has since placed his stock assets in a qualified blind trust,” reported Business Outsider. “But he remains under investigation by the House Committee on Ethics after the independent Office of Congressional Ethics said it found “substantial reason to believe” that Malinowski violated federal rules or laws designed to promote transparency and defend against conflicts of interest. The New Jersey lawmaker is one of 10 lawmakers who have taken the option to use a qualified blind trust, Insider found.”

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about whether or not members and their spouses should be prohibited from trading stocks, she said “No…We are a free market economy. They should be able to participate in that.”

“The issue of congressional stock trading has taken on new urgency since the beginning of the pandemic, when suspiciously timed stock trades by lawmakers in both parties provoked outrage and led to multiple investigations,” reported Yahoo News. “To date, no one has been charged in connection with stock trading investigations undertaken by the Justice Department and the Securities Exchange Commission.”

As much as we may believe our current circumstances are new and unique, the tension between our collective well-being as society versus the prosperity of a few has been a consistent theme since before the nation came into existence. The great American tradition of self-dealing and using political office for wealth creation transcends political party and is a hidden tax on us all.

Does America have sufficient social cohesion to avoid a collapse from within?

If we had the level of vaccination resistance that we have today back when Washington ordered smallpox inoculation for his troops on Jan. 6, 1777 his army wouldn’t have persevered.

According to a research paper by Amy Lynn Filsinger and Raymond Dwek American independence “must be partially attributed” to Washington’s decision to inoculate his troops from the smallpox, a contagious, disfiguring and deadly virus. “Among the Continental regulars in the American Revolution, 90 percent of deaths were caused by disease, and Variola the smallpox virus was the most vicious of them all,” write Filsinger and Dwek.

The researchers recount that on the 6th of January 1777, Washington wrote to Dr. William Shippen Jr., “ordering him to inoculate all of the forces that came through Philadelphia.” Washington explained that “Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army . . . we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.’”

Over 240 years later, it’s our lack of national solidarity and beltway self-dealing that are the enemies that are  killing us.

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