Monthly Archives: October 2020

Dear Jack Nicklaus

I saw your recently published “letter” about your having voted for Donald Trump’s re-election. For the benefit of my readers who missed it, this is the document:

[Click on the red square if you want to read all of it]

Your embracing Trump appears to be based on a set of nine specific ideas. Those are :

  1. His “resolve and determination to do the right thing,”
  2. He “delivered on his promises,”
  3. He “worked for the average person” & “tried to help people from all walks of life – equally,”
  4. He “has been more diverse than any President” you have seen,
  5. He is committed to “strong family values,”
  6. His policies will bring the “American dream” to “many families … who are still trying to achieve it,”
  7. We should “look past “ the “way our President says or tweets some things” and focus on “what he has tried to accomplish,”
  8. He “has put…his country first,”
  9. We don’t want to “evolve into a socialist America and have the government run your life.”

These observations about your letter remind us of Trump’s talking points that usually have little to do with reality and often are simply lies. That said, since you’ve already voted for Trump, there is no hope of changing your mind. Nevertheless, the nature of your statements cries out for response, and this is mine. In writing this, I’m assuming that, unlike many Trump endorsements, this one did not come from a golf-course conversation in which Trump offered to trade his endorsement of you as the greatest golfer of all time in exchange for your endorsement of him as the greatest president you have ever seen.

I believe the last item on the list (last because it was the last expression in your letter) is the truest explanation for all that preceded it. You think, somehow, that election of Joe Biden will lead America to fall into a “socialist” chasm in which the government will “run your life.” Trump’s re-election, on the other hand, you believe will promote something called the “American dream.” Nowhere do you explain “socialism” or the “American dream.”

That’s concerning because throughout your long life, you were able, admittedly through considerable skill and discipline, to make a fortune playing golf for a living. You also designed golf courses, gave product endorsements and engaged in other commercial activities largely related to golf. And you’ve done some charitable work.

Good for you. But during that period of 80 years, the United States had seven Democratic presidents and seven Republican presidents (counting Trump as a Republican). One Democrat (Kennedy) was assassinated and one Republican (Nixon) resigned in disgrace. And here we are, with the ‘American dream’ intact (at least for the same people for whom it was a realistic goal during your career) and no “socialism” by which the government is running your, or anyone else’s, life.

I’ll offer a serviceable definition of the “American dream” as the opportunity to grow up safely, get at least a middling education, pursue a lawful career of your choice and be paid at least reasonable pay for your labors, the chance to advance in your career free of racial/sexual/ethnic/religious discrimination, share the risk of getting sick or injured by having access to affordable health insurance and medical care, the chance to grow old and receive back the money you paid the government for retirement, the chance to invest your earnings in excess of current needs in safe markets and related elements.

People like you who have not been subject to racial or other structural discrimination throughout life have plenty of chances to “live the American dream.” You seem, however, as unaware and uninterested as Donald Trump in the millions of Americans who have not been so blessed. These are our Black, Latino and other ethnic populations who struggle to make ends meet with two and sometimes three jobs, people who were denied equal opportunity throughout their lives, who did not get a fair start and a straight course to run.

You seem to be willfully ignorant of American history in this respect, much like the man you appear to idolize. Your use of the phrase “who are still trying to achieve it” suggests that meaningful numbers of Americans have given up on the American dream as a goal. That may be true, but Trump has done nothing to encourage them to resume the quest. Instead, he demonizes minorities and “others” with travel bans, praising Neo-Nazis as “very fine people” while claiming that adherents of Black Lives Matter are going to rape, pillage and destroy the lily-white suburbs. He promotes preposterous conspiracy theories while openly praising dictators around the world. He denies science, regularly uses racist tropes in speech, encourages violence and openly threatens to reject the fundamental principles on which the American democratic republic is based.

You claim Trump wants to do the “right thing” but fail to say what the “right thing” is.  Do you mean the forced separation of children at the southern border, with now more than 545 of them orphaned because the government lost track of their parents? You say he delivered on his promises but don’t identify which promises those are. For sure, Mexico is not paying for Trump’s wall. For sure, since he’s reversed most of the climate advances and environmental protections adopted before his terms, you can’t mean he’s made the air and water safer.

You say Trump has worked for all people equally but, just looking at the pandemic alone, the impact has been disproportionately high on Black and other minority populations and Trump downplays it, saying it’s over even as cases and death surge around the country. You praise his “diversity” in the same histrionic terms he uses, but ignore the composition of his cabinet and the overwhelming majority of his appointments.

Mr. Nicklaus, you claim Trump adheres to “strong family values,” and that we should just ignore his vile insults and personal vilification of everyone he believes is opposed to his agenda. You  seem quite content to overlook his sordid personal life, including buddying up with Jeffrey Epstein and the huge number of sexual assault allegations made against him  (he still refuses to produce DNA samples that could establish his innocence, if he is in fact innocent). What “family values,” exactly, are you referring to?

You also maintain Trump puts his country first. This must be a reference to his “America First” theme that led to tariffs undermining American farmers, phony claims of bringing jobs back to the United States. But did you also consider how Trump’s refusal to separate from his businesses (despite promises to do so) have resulted in his personal/family enrichment from foreign interests, how his refusal to disclose his tax returns (promises kept? Really?) has enabled him to avoid scrutiny of conflicts of interest? Apparently not.

The list of abuses goes on and on. Yet, you call on Americans to overlook everything Trump says, everything he does, everything he stands for so that … what … we can prevent the transformation of the United States into a socialist dystopia?

Here are some thoughts penned by someone else n Facebook that perhaps you should have considered before voting for the most corrupt, ignorant and incompetent president in American history:

A Day in the Life of Sue Republican

Sue gets up at 6 a.m. and fills her coffeepot with water to prepare her morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.

With her first swallow of coffee, she takes her daily medication. Her medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised. All but $10 of her medications are paid for by her employer’s medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance – now Sue gets it too.

She prepares her morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Sue’s bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the shower, Sue reaches for her shampoo. Her bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for her right to know what she was putting on her body and how much it contained.

Sue dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air she breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

She walks to the subway station for her government-subsidized ride to work. It saves her considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Sue begins her work day. She has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Sue’s employer pays these standards because Sue’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union. If Sue is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, she’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn’t think she should lose her home because of her temporary misfortune.

It’s noon and Sue needs to make a bank deposit so she can pay some bills. Sue’s deposit is federally insured by the FDIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Sue’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.

Sue has to pay her Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and her below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Sue and the government would be better off if she was educated and earned more money over her lifetime.

Sue is home from work. She plans to visit her father this evening at his farm home in the country. She gets in her car for the drive. Her car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards.

She arrives at her childhood home. Her generation was the third to live in the house financed by Farmers’ Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification.

She is happy to see her father, who is now retired. Her father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Sue wouldn’t have to.

Sue gets back in her car for the ride home and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn’t mention that Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Sue enjoys throughout her day. Sue agrees: “We don’t need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I’m self-made and believe everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have.”

——–

Mr. Nicklaus, you are a serious disappointment. I understand why someone like you would be a Republican, but Donald Trump is no Republican and certainly not a conservative. You have voted for a monster. Shame on you.

So, in closing, I also want you to know that I always liked Arnold Palmer more than you.

 

 

Supreme Court Gives Back of Hand to Voter Protection

CNN reported last week that the Supreme Court, without opinion or explanation, granted a request by Alabama to prevent voters from dropping off their ballots by handing them to an election official at the curbside. https://cnn.it/3osEjJB The decision in an unsigned 5-3 order, to which Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer dissented, addressed a permissive ruling by a federal District Court judge permitting, but not requiring, willing Alabama counties to allow curbside voting, as they have done in prior elections in 2016 and 2018. The District Court judge’s opinion was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

The District Court judge reached the following conclusions issued in conjunction with a lengthy set of Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law:

1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications because they are either age 65 or older or disabled or have underlying medical conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the curbside voting ban violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities who cannot safely obtain a copy of their photo ID, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities, the curbside voting ban violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the Voting Rights Act.”

For the highly determined, the court papers may be read at: https://bit.ly/3opiLgI

The Court of Appeals reversed all of the District Court’s conclusions except for the curbside voting issue.

In a classic Trump Republican fashion, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued that “Some level of risk is inherent in life and in voting.” Stated differently, if voting in person ends up killing you (there are no mask requirements in Alabama), well, that’s life. The Alabama Secretary of State had earlier expressed concern about the security of ballots because voters “wouldn’t be able to physically put their ballot into the machines that read the ballot since they’re held indoors.” Apparently, the Alabama Secretary of State does not trust the poll workers that the counties employ for the purpose of assisting voters.

Justice Sotomayor’s dissent said, in part, “We should not substitute the District Court’s reasonable, record-based findings of fact with our own intuitions about the risks of traditional in-person voting during this pandemic or the ability of willing local officials to implement adequate curbside voting procedures.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is remarkable insofar as it permits a state to disallow voting practices that, at least in a pandemic, could reduce vulnerable voters’ exposure to sometimes deadly health risks, especially for older and health-vulnerable voters. The ultimate rationale for the state’s inexplicable overturning of prior practice was the Republican Attorney General’s view, in effect, that “life’s a bitch and then you die, so who cares?”

In truth, the state position is a form of voter suppression directed at a segment of the population more-likely-than-not to vote Democratic. These types of decisions, especially unexplained, are particularly problematic when considered against the anti-democratic decision of the Supreme Court in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013) that gutted the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those provisions compelled certain states to seek prior approval of the Justice Department for any new election or voting laws, because of those states’ prior history of voter suppression.

Shelby County involved one of the worst examples of judicial legislating ever seen, as evidenced by Chief Justice John Roberts’ explanation of the decision:

A statute’s “current burdens” must be justified by “current needs,” and any “disparate geographic coverage” must be “sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” The coverage formula met that test in 1965, but no longer does so.

Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned nationwide for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in the covered States have risen dramatically in the years since. Racial disparity in those numbers was compelling evidence justifying the preclearance remedy and the coverage formula. There is no longer such a disparity.

As reported in The Atlantic, https://bit.ly/34uqn9C,

The results have been predictable. Voter-identification laws, which experts suggest will make voting harder especially for poor people, people of color, and elderly people, have advanced in several states, and some voting laws that make it easier to register and cast ballots have been destroyed. For many of the jurisdictions formerly under preclearance, voting became rapidly more difficult after the Shelby County decision, particularly for poor and elderly black people and Latinos.

Decisions like the Alabama curbside voting case are the predictable consequence of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority inserting its judgment, without explanation, where only the legislature should go. At the risk of repetition, the current decision affirms the elimination, for partisan political purposes, of a health-based practice that was permitted in two prior elections.

This is what we have to look forward too as the Republican majority of Trump enablers in the Senate affirms yet another right-wing judge to the high court this very day. I don’t know what the solution to the Supreme Court dilemma is, but Joe Biden’s thoughtful and measured approach seems the right way to move forward, provided his commission acts swiftly. The issue has been exhaustively analyzed by many constitutional scholars so we’re not going into new territory here. The composition of the Court has changed before and the nation survived. It’s less clear today that the Republican approach to governance is survivable by anything resembling a democratic republic. Time is therefore of the essence once the Democrats take control of the government in January.

Amtrak to Suspend Train Service to Respond to Republican Document Requests

Republican Troubleshooters Demand 190 Years’ Worth of Records

It’s natural, I suppose, for people who have not spent time on Capitol Hill to wonder what those highly privileged people do up there all day – you know, on behalf of the public that elected them and, presumably, also for those who thought someone else would be better. We have been given some insight into that question as regards Republican representatives by an October 20 records request to William J. Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak, technically the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, sent by four Republican Congressmen from the Republican Office of the House Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

There is a subcommittee, often many of them, for every committee in Congress (this one is among six under the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, or T & I as it is affectionately known in Washington circles). I’m sure your mind is now trying to wrap itself around what the entire organization chart for the entire Congress must look like. Please stop right there lest you suffer lasting mental harm.

This particular Subcommittee has some pretty impressive sounding responsibilities [https://bit.ly/3knpaqr]:

  •  “jurisdiction over the economic and safety regulation of railroads and the agencies that administer those regulations.  Economic regulation is administered by the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB).  This independent agency also has the authority to address national emergencies as they affect the nation’s rail transportation system.”
  • “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for administering and overseeing railroad safety laws, railroad infrastructure and development programs, performing research and developing technology, and has federal oversight of Amtrak.”
  • “Amtrak [established in 1970] is the nation’s major provider of intercity passenger rail service….The Subcommittee continues to oversee efforts to increase efficiency and improve service in Amtrak’s operations.”
  • “The Subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is responsible for providing regulations and safety oversight of pipelines and pipeline facilities, as well as overseeing the transportation of hazardous materials.”
  • “Railroad retirement benefits and unemployment systems, as well as rail labor relations also fall under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee.”

That’s enough responsibility and overseeing, you would think, to be a full-time job for the Subcommittee members.  But two members out of 15 Republicans on the Subcommittee, found time to produce the aforesaid letter to Amtrak. Those four are Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR), fellow Subcommittee-man Scott Perry (R-PA) plus T&I full Committee members, Bob Gibbs (R-OH), and Lloyd Smucker (R-PA). The others? Who knows? Politics, as we will see, is a peculiar affair. Truth is, of course, the letter was written by Subcommittee staff and approved up the chain of command. That’s just how things work.

The letter concerns [drum roll] Joe Biden’s use of Amtrak charter trains for his recent campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Republicans, ever watchful for profligate spending, claimed not to know what Biden paid for the trains and, through their questions suggested that something was rotten on the railroad tracks. Had they bothered to look first, they would have discovered that  “in its disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, the Biden campaign reported spending $265,000 on the train charter. Amtrak says that the starting rate for a charter is $30,000, and that no discount was given.” https://wapo.st/2ThtQCf But who wants to investigate when the opportunity to allege political scandal by an opponent arises? Not Republicans. Notify the media!

The asserted reasons for the Republicans’ deep concerns about Biden’s train charters are that [footnotes omitted],

  • “the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak’s charter train redirected Amtrak’s scarce resources during a time of record losses, employee layoffs, and service cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  
    • The premise here is that Joe Biden, a private citizen, somehow commandeered Amtrak’s charter train against Amtrak’s wishes and did so at a particularly bad time. The bad time, of course, was the result of Donald Trump’s failure to act against the virus, but never mind that.
  • “We are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time.”
    • Here the premise is that Biden hurt Amtrak by paying it for services rendered in exchange for “political gain.”
  • “we question whether the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak caused delays of freight trains at a time when supplies are crucial.”
    • Here the Republican Congressmen show profound regard for the nation’s PPE supplies that it believes, for no apparent reason, may have been delayed by Biden’s charter train.

The implication is that Biden somehow purloined the Amtrak trains for “political gain” when Amtrak would have been better off doing something else with its trains, despite the fact of collapsed demand for travel demand due to Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Republican research,

According to Amtrak’s guidelines, charter trains are not a part of its “primary objective” of operating its “core train service safely, punctually, and efficiently.” Amtrak’s guidelines for operating charter trains include requirements that the use of Amtrak’s resources will not impact its regular operations, and that the train “must generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify the Amtrak resources and assets.”

Moreover, the Republicans’ preliminary investigation revealed the following salacious information:

The Biden charter train included several Amtrak cars and made multiple stops for campaign events where guests were invited aboard the train. The Biden campaign distributed plastic identification cards to riders designed like actual Amtrak tickets. News reports suggested freight train interactions with the stopped charter train and the potential for delays at campaign stops.

The Republicans clearly believed they were on to a big one. “Abuse of train” is a matter to be taken very seriously, and Amtrak is committed to the policy that the truth must come out.

Now, I happen to have it on good authority that Amtrak is both short-staffed now (COVID-19 layoffs, you know) and struggling to get the trains to run on time (big surprise to past Amtrak users). So, I’m going to help out these Republicans who apparently don’t know how to conduct even a minimal investigation but who love to issue press releases. I’m going to suggest answers to the ten questions and offer them, hereby, to Amtrak and the Subcommittee free of charge. This will help enable Amtrak to answer the questions by November 2, as demanded (coincidentally, I’m sure, the day before the election), unless … well, let’s not spoil the surprise. See below and buckle up.

  1. The total cost to Amtrak, including in equipment, resources, and salaries, to operate the Biden campaign charter train.
    • Answer: “A fully-allocated cost analysis of a small set of charters would entail dozens, possibly hundreds, of hours of staff time. Since the Subcommittee has indicated its sensitivity to Amtrak’s resource use, we’re sure you won’t mind if we “hard pass” on this question,” but if you insist we address it, you may expect the answer around June 2021. We don’t mean to be disrespectful but note for the record and in our defense that many congressional subpoenas (you just sent a letter) have been flatly rejected out-of-hand by the administration. What’s good for the goose and all that…

2. The total cost paid to Amtrak for the Biden charter train     and whether the Biden campaign received any financial discount, reduced fares, special treatment, or special services for using Amtrak’s resources to campaign through Pennsylvania and Ohio.

    • Answer: This information was largely covered in the press already. You can find it here: https://wapo.st/3dPoYxv But, be advised, you’re not going to like the reporting on Republicans’ long-standing efforts to cut Amtrak’s budget and the historical data about other candidates who have used Amtrak trains in campaigns.

3. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train delayed any Amtrak trains or disrupted any Amtrak services.

    • Answer: We’ll look into this when we can, but it’s doubtful. It’s often hard to identify exactly what “causes” a particular delay, but we will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

4. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train received track preference over any freight trains or other trains.

    • Answer: That information is also difficult to identify since we normally don’t have to keep that data to run a railroad, but, as above, we’ll get back to you. Soon. Promise.

5. Whether riders on the Biden campaign charter train purchased tickets to board the train.

    • Answer: We think you should know the answer to this already. Biden chartered the train, so there would be no reason to sell tickets except possibly as a fund-raising activity, the conduct of which is not Amtrak’s business. Perhaps another federal agency or body of Congress can help you with this. We hope so because we take your need for information very seriously.

6. The number of Amtrak employees taken off their regular duties to staff the Biden campaign charter train, including any overtime hours worked.

    • Answer: We don’t understand the question. Working on charters are part of the “regular duties” of employees when charters are sold. Amtrak is in the passenger train business and charter trains are part of that business. Amtrak, as you know ,or have reason to know, was paid for the charters according to standard charges that cover all costs to the extent possible.

7. A copy of standard operating procedures or similar documents utilized by Amtrak and its employees in operating standard charter trains.

    • Answer: We believe you already possess this information since you cited our procedures in your letter. We respectfully decline to provide duplicate information. We’re sure you understand we are busy trying to run a railroad. If you don’t understand that, we can’t help you.

8. A copy of any documents, standard operating procedures, or guidelines Amtrak has for trains chartered for campaign and/or political events, particularly presidential campaigns.

    • Answer: We are initiating a company-wide search for these documents. Since the request was not time-limited, the hunt for historical versions of any current documents will likely take some time, so don’t expect anything before the election. We will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

9. A historical list of any time Amtrak trains have been previously chartered for campaign usage and the costs of those resources and costs paid by the individual candidate’s campaign.

    • Answer: Well, that’s a doozy, all right. We will certainly initiate a good faith search but estimate this will take the balance of 2020, 2021 and possibly 2022 since trains run by Amtrak and its predecessors for campaigns likely began in 1836 and have been used, according to reported sources, by at least Harrison, Carter, Ford, Bush (both) and Clinton. You did not specify whether you want the costs, whose estimates will necessarily be speculative, in current dollars or constant dollars. We await your clarification.

Meanwhile, be advised that good-faith compliance with the aforementioned requests will require Amtrak to suspend for the foreseeable future all passenger service in the Northeast United States until further notice, starting November 4, 2020. Have a nice day.

10.  A written response on how the Biden campaign charter train remained in compliance with Amtrak guidance and procedures on COVID-19.

    • Amtrak’s COVID-19 practices are set out on our website. You can find our website at www.amtrak.com. We assume the Subcommittee knows how to use a computer. Have a nice day

I believe my suggestions will do much to move this process along at the pace it deserves.

 

Really, Mr. Pence?

USAToday, following the venerable New England Journal of Medicine and a number of other entities and groups, has broken its long history of neutrality in elections to endorse Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The lengthy endorsement document explains why in compelling detail. https://bit.ly/3jhaszG I will not repeat its key elements here – I urge you to read it and share it with anyone who is still “undecided” in this race to save the nation.

USAToday gave the White House a heads-up on its plan to endorse Biden-Harris and an opportunity for an Opposing View. Mike Pence was the chosen vehicle. I will address some of the Vice President’s remarks.

The remarkable central premise of Pence’s argument is that Trump has kept the promises he made when campaigning, framed as a “movement to restore the promise of America” by undermining the “permanent Washington political class and their allies in the mainstream media.” In his standard googley-eyed adulation of Trump, Pence proclaims Trump has delivered “record-breaking results for all Americans,” unlike all the failed presidents from both parties over many decades, a truly super-human achievement despite “unprecedented attacks.”

Naturally, the details start with tax cuts because that’s what Republican mythology relies upon as its core premise: pay less and get more. How does this magic work? Simple, it’s always simple: roll back “burdensome federal regulations.” You know, the ones that protect the national parks from commercial exploitation. And the ones that protect the streams and rivers from rampant pollution from “unleashed” energy sector players. And the shibboleth of “free and fair trade” that Trump tried to achieve by imposing tariffs that raised the cost of goods to Americans while reducing demand for their products. Trump covered this catastrophic error by diverting other monies to subsidize farmers adversely affected, but, of course, not enough to fully compensate them. So while Trump may argue he “fought” for free and fair trade,” his efforts were a disaster for many American economic sectors.

Pence then turns to the “first three years,” during which Trump benefited from the on-going massive recovery engineered by Barack Obama following the disastrous collapse of the economy during the Bush presidency. But Pence pretends Obama didn’t exist because, of course, mentioning Obama in any positive light would send Trump into an emotional meltdown. Pence quickly pivots to the victimization trope – the global pandemic undermined Trump’s “America-First” plan but, no worries, “America is on track to bounce back bigger and better than ever before.” You know, like magic, the same magic that Trump expressly relied upon in telling America that the virus would, one fine day, just disappear.

Always careful never to engage in thinking independently of his idol, Pence repeats Trump’s favorite excuses and flaunts his remedy: suspending travel from China. THIS IS A LIE. Trump suspended a portion of travel from China, but many thousands of Americans were allowed to return unimpeded from China during the so-called China travel ban. More importantly, the virus was already in Europe and, most likely based on the latest scientific data, also already in the United States. Trump knew the virus was here in February, but, as documented in Bob Woodward’s book, Rage, and supported by tape recordings, TRUMP DECIDED TO DELIBERATELY DOWNPLAY THE VIRUS. That decision, to which  Trump adhered through many agonizing “press briefings” in which he muzzled and embarrassed the nation’s medical experts, led to the deaths and major organ damage of way over 215,000 Americans. And the virus is now spreading rampantly in states that have followed Trump’s ignorant lead.

Pence claims credit for the stimulus payments that Congress, with grudging Republican support, passed. Trump always claims credit but “No, I take no responsibility at all” when it comes to his failed pandemic policy.

Pence, never one to be embarrassed by the preposterous proclamations of his master, asserts that, despite the contrary advice of most credible health experts, “our country is on track to have a safe and effective vaccination by year’s end.” This is MORE MAGICAL THINKING. Indeed, based on reliable polling, it’s clear that Trump has successfully undermined public confidence in the nation’s health policy institutions like the CDC and FDA.

Pence then turns to the oft-repeated, but never proved, claim that the American military was “depleted” before Trump was elected and that “America’s standing as the leader of the free world was threatened.”   Pence says American “dominance” was restored by Trump, but the REALITY is that AMERICA’S INTERNATIONAL STANDING HAS BEEN UNDERMINED AROUND THE GLOBE BY TRUMP’S HAM-HANDED, UNINFORMED AND ARROGANT MISHANDLING OF DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS WITH U.S. ALLIES. Trump’s sucking up to dictators and authoritarians in Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, China and North Korea has met with enthusiastic acceptance from the Republican Party that was once considered a bastion of resistance to authoritarian ambitions against American interests.

Admiral William McRaven, who led the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, recently had this to say about Trump’s impact on US standing around the world:

Now, the world no longer looks up to America. They have been witness to our dismissiveness, our lack of respect and our transactional approach to global issues. They have seen us tear up our treaties, leave our allies on the battlefield and cozy up to despots and dictators. They have seen our incompetence in handling the pandemic and the wildfires. They have seen us struggle with social injustice. They no longer think we can lead, because they have seen an ineptness and a disdain for civility that is beyond anything in their memory. But, without American leadership the world will indeed be transformed, just not in the way we hope. https://on.msnbc.com/3dNODGT

Pence sees no inconsistency in claims that Trump funded up a broken-down military force with the denigration of America’s responsibilities in NATO and other international organizations with peace-keeping responsibilities, but Admiral McRaven see it clearly. And he is just one of hundreds of military and diplomatic veterans of American service who have condemned Trump’s brazen and haphazard destruction of American influence abroad.

Pence loves to repeat sound bites that Trump favors, like the claim that President Obama inappropriately sent money to Iran, when in fact the money was Iranian property. The end result of Trump’s undermining of the Iran Nuclear Agreement is that Iran is now free to resume, and likely is, developing the very nuclear capability that the INA was designed to prevent. Trump is making America less safe, not more, but is too ignorant to understand WHAT HE HAS DONE.

PENCE FLAT OUT LIES ABOUT JOE BIDEN’S POSITION ON FUNDING POLICE. And he fails to address the use of military against civilian protesters, not to mention emboldening white supremacy Nazi groups and so-called “militias” to take the law into their own hands. For a party that supposedly stands for “law and order,” the Trump administration violates more laws and undermines more order than any federal leadership in modern history.

Pence is right about one thing: “2020 has been a time of unprecedented challenges.” Some were unexpected and others are self-inflicted by an incompetent, corrupt and ignorant leader who has terrorized his adopted political party so much that no one will stand up to him for fear he will tweet about them. Think about that for a minute. Tweet aversion is the new Republican cowardice.

For all his preening about religious sanctity, Pence has chosen to align himself with a monster. Early in Woodward’s book, Rage, he reports Trump’s calling his generals “p*ssies” because they were more interested in international alliances than in Trump’s trade deals. Dozens of people who have worked closely with Trump, not to mention family members who have managed to escape his control, have characterized him as unhinged, stupid, moronic and worse. Trump’s principal skill seems to be inventing offensive nicknames for his many adversaries, the behavior of a schoolyard bully rather than a president.

I well understand that the Trump base is unlikely to change their subjection to his venomous personality. The rest of the electorate, however, surely must recognize Trump for the shallow empty shell that he is and that he represents a genuine threat to the very existence of the democratic republic we call the United States.

The good people vastly outnumber those who are hypnotized by Trump. If you know any of those good people, and I know you do, be sure they vote. In addition to his other crimes, Trump is dead set on preventing Democratic votes from being cast or counted. The margin of victory must be huge so that his phony claims of voter fraud have no semblance of plausibility. Not only has Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, but he has demanded that the Justice Department open investigations of Joe Biden and his family prior to the election. Trump and his Republican enablers have turned the United States into a banana republic. It’s up to us to save it.

Trump – Who Is He?

NOTE: I apologize for the obvious formatting issues in this post. For reasons that defy understanding, WordPress unilaterally changed the editor for its posts, forcing workarounds that often simply don’t work. I have spent over an hour trying to fix these without success or useful help from WP. I will soon be moving to another platform that has figured out formatting. So …. onward:

For reasons perhaps too obvious to state,  I cannot bear to watch a Trump rally. It feels like … passing a bad car accident, somehow attracted to the horror while simultaneously trying not to see disturbing images that will linger far too long. Curiosity, however, is a powerful force. I have read many news stories, seen many film clips and watched comedians like Jordan Klepper interview attendees who seem lost in a cult-like euphoria about a man who, when you really think about it, has nothing in common with them and, based on overwhelming evidence, has no positive regard for them whatsoever. They are mere tools for his ultimate goal which seems to be maximization of personal glorification and wealth.

Faced with that conflict, I decided to do the next best thing – try to analyze Trump’s speech based on a couple of typical recent examples. Perhaps because they attracted much attention in the news, I chose his rallies in Nevada on February 21, 2020 and September 12, 2020. I also looked at his Fox Propaganda, oops, sorry, Fox News interview with Jeanine Pirro also on September 12, 2020 . For comparison, I also analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg on October 6, 2020. The transcripts were found at the Transcript Library at https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts which is a rich source of transcripts of all manner of speeches, albeit in uncorrected form.

The framework for analysis was constructed to a large degree by reading Trump’s 2/20 Nevada speech. Based on what appeared to be repeated elements in his speech, I developed this set of words/phrases to compile:

 

Advocating Violence

Attacks Democrats

Attacks Press

Audience Praise

Blatant Lies

Domination – words expressing Trump’s power over                      others

Fear Mongering – references to border/immigrant                          invasions, riots, destruction of cities &                                              neighborhoods/suburbs

Invokes Patriotism

Racist Statements

Self-Praise

Some People Say/I Hear/Heard

Trump as Victim

Word Salad

The categories I chose as analytical tools are my own creation. Trump’s method of delivery appears to be largely stream-of-consciousness, a kind of rambling around certain repeated themes, interspersed with what I have labeled “Word Salad,” a phrase that refers to a sequence of often-partial thoughts with rapidly mixed subjects and seemingly random expressions. Sometimes one can discern what Trump is talking about, but at others the “stream” is incoherent and indecipherable.

Curiously, these episodes do not seem to bother the rally audience, suggesting that little of what Trump says is actually absorbed as discrete intellectual ideas by the listeners. They are there mostly, it seems, for the hate messages against Democrats and Hillary Clinton, still after four years. Trump’s rhythm, if it can be called that, seems entirely random, changing subjects frequently, sometimes multiple times within a minute of speech time. He often repeats phrases two or three times.

Here is an example of Trump’s Word Salad from 2/21/20:

But Jake Tapper put out some things, basically saying, I believe it, that’s the way I read it, that the new Russian thing that started yesterday, that Putin wants to be sure that Trump, which give me a break. Give me a break. But Jake Tapper said it ain’t so, and if he did say that because they were a little complex, they can turn them around, or when Zucker sees him and said, “Why did you put that? I want that deleted and I want you to do a different one.” But he did say that. So I respect that because it’s another hoax story.

To do the analysis, I attributed a descriptor every time there was a change of subject. There were many occasions when more than one descriptor applied to the same text, as, for example, when Trump Attacked Democrats with what can only be seen as Blatant Lies. He often changes focal ideas within a few sentences, sometimes returning to the previous theme but also sometimes, seemingly randomly, moving on to other subjects.

Trump’s soliloquys are typically quite long when not scripted or pre-arranged. His February speech was 1 hour and 46 minutes; in September, it was 1 hour and 34 minutes.

Here then are the results of this exercise applied to Trump’s Nevada speeches:

 

February 21, 2020 September 12, 2020
Attacks Democrats = 20 Attacks Democrats = 36
Attacks Press = 20 Attacks Press = 15
Audience praise = 2 Audience praise = 3
Blatant Lies = 10 Blatant Lies = 45
Domination = 2 Domination = 6
Fear Mongering = 11 Fear Mongering = 32
Invokes Patriotism = 6 Invokes Patriotism = 3
Self-praise = 46 Self-praise = 34
Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 10 Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 1
Trump as Victim = 3 Trump as Victim = 8
Word Salad = 28 Word Salad = 1

 

A number of things leap out from this. Democrats come in for multiple attacks from Trump, often associated with Blatant Lies. The attacks are no surprise as this is campaign season, but the lying is astounding. Trump has no regard whatsoever for the truth.

The press remained a favorite subject of assault by Trump. His attacks on Democrats were often focused on Hillary Clinton, an audience favorite still eliciting “lock her up” chants from the Trump faithful.

While Trump made no overtly racist statements in these two speeches, Fear Mongering was prominent among his themes, especially in September. Fear Mongering often referred to members of minority groups as invaders and desecrators of white neighborhoods or borders so that Fear Mongering could as well been divided into overt attempts to stoke fear of the “other” and outright racist remarks.

Finally, while the later speech was far more coherent (only 1 instance of Word Salad), Trump’s self-promotion was a constant. His speeches never wander very far from a boast about his being the first or only president history to achieve some objective. His rally audiences never seem to mind the absence of policy content. They are not there to hear about Trump’s policies except in the form of boasts about all he has accomplished. Those boasts are often Blatant Lies but the adoring Trumper masses don’t seem to care. His arrogance seems to appeal to them even though it is evident that he has no personal regard for them and no real understanding of the problems they face.

As a kind of standardizing test, Trump’s interview with Jeanine Pirro of Fox Propaganda was instructive. It seems clear that the entire interview was structured from the outset, as Pirro often had to steer Trump back to what were pre-arranged lines. In just under 16 minutes, this is what happened:

Advocating Violence = 1
Attacks Democrats = 8
Attacks Press = 1
Blatant Lies = 12
Domination = 4
Fear Mongering = 9
Invokes Patriotism = 1
Self-praise = 5
Trump as Victim = 1
Word Salad = 1

The same major patterns emerge: Lying, Fear Mongering, Attacking Democrats and, of course, Self-Praise.

For further comparison, I analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg, PA on October 6 using the same criteria. Only one of the categories came up: Invokes Patriotism. As a piece of political oratory, Biden’s address at Gettysburg, just 24 minutes long, was high-minded, venerating the site and those who fought there, as he dwelt on the ultimate meaning of it all for America. As one would expect, he relied on Lincoln’s own historic words from his famous visit to those hallowed grounds. Biden exhibited humility in the face of the staggering events that occurred on those fields and the immortal words of Lincoln about the sacrifices of the people who fought there.

Biden’s Gettysburg speech will probably not go down in history in the same way that Lincoln’s did. Context certainly matters. But Biden and Trump might as well be in different countries. Trump’s vision of America, based on the words he uses, is ugly, self-focused, arrogant and demeaning. Biden is the exact opposite, appealing, as Lincoln did, to the better angels of our nature. The contrast is compelling. Biden is about America and its values. Trump is about Trump.

Confronting Racism is Our American Duty

By: Tony Reardon, National President, National Treasury Employees Union

Note: this is a guest post, the first one on this blog. I thought it was of such significance and so well done, that I elected to repost it here in its entirety (with the author’s consent, of course). Tony Reardon is someone I know well and respect much. My wife worked for the National Treasury Employees Union for 13 years. This post was originally published on October 9 at https://bit.ly/31ab0S3 in Government Executive, where much surprising and important information about the federal workforce is published. Here is what Mr. Reardon had to say:

Any guidance on how employees can better understand and respect others is a sign of progress in a civilized society, not a threat to it, argues the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union.

President Trump recently ordered a massive governmentwide investigation to root out programs in which federal employees learn about and guard against systemic racism. 

Just consider how preposterous that sounds.    

At this moment, political appointees and senior managers are under orders to turn their agencies upside down in a frantic effort to review any training or professional education programs that mention diversity or inclusion in an effort to comply with the president’s executive order. Employees are being threatened with disciplinary action for organizing such training that falls afoul of the president’s directive to eliminate “un-American propaganda.”

I wish I could just write this off as an insignificant executive order designed to make a statement but with little practical impact. I cannot. Executive Order 13950 — and the disturbingly elaborate OPM and OMB guidance that has followed — turns a blind eye to racism and aggressively discourages efforts to confront it.       

This is exactly the wrong direction we, as a federal workforce and as a nation, should be going. It was former President George W. Bush, at the 2016 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who said, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”    

The federal government should be a leading example for facing systemic racism by building a workforce that appropriately reflects the diversity of the United States, paying employees fairly, ensuring they are treated with respect, and establishing work environments in which employees can safely call out discriminatory actions and practices. Any guidance on how employees can better understand and respect their coworkers of different races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities or religious beliefs is a sign of progress in a civilized society, not a threat to it.     

Our union believes it is completely appropriate to make sure that all federal employees are trained to serve the taxpayers and each other fairly and respectfully. The delivery of government services should never be tainted by bias or racism, conscious or unconscious, and as a taxpayer and union president I applaud federal agencies that openly acknowledge that systemic racism exists and are taking steps to fight it now and prevent it in the future.   

The entire premise of the executive order is faulty. The order claims that such diversity training is driven by an ideology that is “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country.”     

No, Mr. President. The training is driven by the ideology that America’s imperfections are fixable but only with open eyes and hard work, and federal employees stand ready to do their part.    

I call on you to rescind the executive order and embrace training that acknowledges that we can, and should, do better as a country. Federal employees are willing to have these conversations, the question is whether their president will lead them.” 

Trump Can’t Walk Back His Racism

No one paying attention will likely ever forget Trump’s response to the neo-Nazis marching with torches in Charlottesville: “very fine people [pause] on both sides.” There are many older examples but the one getting the most attention today is Trump’s refusal to reject white supremacy during the first presidential debate on September 29. Pressed by the moderator and by Joe Biden, Trump first tried to deflect by asking who specifically he was being asked to condemn. Biden promptly replied, “the Proud Boys.”

Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, Trump’s response will live in infamy: “stand back and stand by.” Like many other astounding statements from Trump, it’s on video and can’t be denied. But that never stops the Republicans from finding some path to altered reality other than the obvious need to admit that their candidate is a racist and is ready to call for violence in order to stay in power. Trump’s debasement of the presidency and destruction of American democracy are now fully out in the open.

The GOP autocracy/theocracy is bending itself into pretzels trying to cope with the exposed reality that their candidate is a racist monster who represents everything antithetical to the American values Republicans are constantly harping about. Politico.com reports the story. https://politi.co/34eExdZ

Senate Republicans spent much of Wednesday pressing President Donald Trump to denounce white supremacy, with few in the GOP willing to explicitly defend his refusal to do so during Tuesday’s presidential debate.

Trump’s unsubtle dog whistle was understood by the Proud Boys and other right-wing neo-Nazi groups exactly as it was intended. Many of them tweeted, in essence, “we await your orders to attack.”

Several pathetic deflections ensued. One suggestion was that Trump didn’t understand the question, or that he “misspoke,” which is preposterous to anyone who saw the event or the video of it. Then, Trump tried to say he didn’t know who the Proud Boys are, which is a lie. He was quite clear at the time. If he wanted to escape unscathed, he could have said, “I don’t know them, but I am opposed to white supremacy in all forms at all times.” But, he didn’t.

Politico again,

In a series of interviews and public statements Wednesday, Senate Republicans pushed Trump to clarify his comments, with party leaders and the rank-and-file eager to put distance between themselves and the president’s stance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he shared the same views as Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only black GOP senator, who urged the president to correct his comments.

The suggestion that Trump’s remark can simply be “corrected” betrays the Republican perfidy in this entire subject. To them it’s just a question of what they can get away with and if exposed, “correcting” the comments fixes everything. But it doesn’t.

There are certainly gaffes and mistakes that everyone makes. This was not one of those. Given Trump’s history, it was virtually certain to arise in the debates one way or another and it is unimaginable that Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, Trump’s two primary debate preparers, did not address this with him. He knew it was coming, obviously didn’t like it but, visibly squirming, he said what he meant. Rick Santorum, the ever-reliable Trump toady who remains, for no apparent reason, a CNN commentator, objected that the question was unfair because the moderator knew how much Trump hates having to criticize his political base. If Santorum understands that Trump’s base has huge racist elements, you know all you need to know.

The Trump toady-in-chief, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, certainly understood it:

…McConnell said Trump’s performance in the debate wouldn’t hurt his efforts to keep the Senate: “I don’t know of any of my colleagues who will have problems as a result of that.”

Other GOP lawmakers, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), lately of insider trading fame, tried to deflect the criticism, arguing that Trump had said he would designate the KKK as a terrorist group. He hasn’t, of course, and we know why.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, lately of Bridgegate fame, downplayed the alarm many had to the president’s remarks, saying on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he “heard it differently.” Uh huh. Pressed, Christie performed the pretzel twist with the claim that he  “didn’t read it that way, but if you want to read it that way that’s your prerogative,” insisting there was “confusion on the matter.”

Apparently, the White House believe-anything-he-tells-you-even-when-it’s-obviously-false” team didn’t get the Christie memo. Per Politico,

Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, meanwhile told Fox News that “I don’t think that there is anything to clarify” from Trump’s comments the night before.” He’s told them to stand back,” she said, pointing to the president’s efforts to tamp down violence in cities across the country.

Farah conveniently ignored the “and stand by” half of Trump’s response.

Meanwhile, over at “Fox & Friends,” co-host Brian Kilmeade, always there for Trump, was quoted saying, “Why the president didn’t just knock that out of the park, I’m not sure.”  But, of course, he is sure. Trump is a racist and ignoramus. Trump believes that ‘antifa’ is some kind of organization bent on destroying America, a view even Trump’s own Justice Department, led by Trump’s personal consigliere the Attorney General William Barr, does not accept.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hit the nail on the head: “I think one thing he did present was the authenticity of who he is.”

We all know, I think, that public speaking is stressful, all the more so if much is at stake. If you have looked out over a large audience with expectant, perhaps even hostile, faces, you can understand how extemporaneous responses to questions can lead to regretful misstatements.

On the other hand, when you’re a public figure who has been  prepped and practiced and are aware of past issues and challenges with statements you’ve made, it is not too high a standard to expect certain things. First and foremost is ‘truth.’ We can accept and forgive dumb remarks, factual mistakes, failed memories over details and statistics. Those things happen in extemporaneous public speaking all the time.

The “stand back and stand by” comment by the president of the United States, almost four years into his presidency, is not in that class. Trump has history on this question. As Yogi Berra famously said, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”  Trump sent a message to the worst elements of his political base that he may call upon them to violently attack either the government or elements of the electorate he considers his enemies. They got the message loud and clear.

There is no walking this back, as the politicians like to say. Some things simply can’t be unsaid. Even if, under pressure from his Republican enablers in Congress, Trump were to categorically assert that he didn’t mean what he said, it’s too little too late. Everyone now has the clearest statement of Trump’s loyalties and they are not to the Constitution he swore to uphold. His loyalties are to himself ahead of everything and everyone else. The most remarkable aspect of this is that those same enablers do not accept Trump’s own version of himself. Or, maybe they really do and just don’t care.

Either way, the election draws closer by the day. Trump’s debasement of the highest office in the land will continue unless and until he is removed, one way or the other. You know what to do.