Author Archives: shiningseausa

Pandemic Influences on Higher Education Choices

My good friend and professional colleague, Kevin Mitchell, founded the Business Travel Coalition (http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/) many years ago and publishes a subscription based daily newsletter of important reporting on the entire travel business. The newsletter, now called tVillage Intelligencer, is seen by thousands around the world.

Kevin is prolific writer and thinker and has published a thoughtful and, as always, well-crafted essay addressing the implications of the pandemic on the decisions being faced by many families and young people whether to go to college or pursue other options. I responded to the piece and, with Kevin’s permission, am republishing the exchange here (without the graphics; his original essay can be seen at  https://publicate.it/p/KqXmdg152169):

A Pandemic Consequence: The Questioning of Higher Education

No idle Memorial Day weekend exercise for some

This weekend as Americans think about and honor the more than one million patriots who gave their precious lives for the promise of America, there is even more on the minds of parents. The economic fallout of the COVID-19 (C19) pandemic is causing parents of children already in college, about to enter college or considering applying to think long and hard if such an expensive commitment is the best and only path for their children.Indeed, there is a counter-push against the American must-go-to-college mantra that is increasing in strength. I believe that like previous pandemics, C19 will accelerate many existing or latent economic and societal trends. The crisis is likely, for example, to push a lot of parents and their children to rethink the cost/benefit of a traditional college education compared with alternative paths.

Sadly, a lot of kids today go to college because all their friends do without considering whether that’s what they really want to do and if it is worth 4 years of their lives and a lot of expense, including lost wages, versus other options. For sure, some have a dream of becoming an architect, physicist, astronaut or the next Olympic track star. However, that’s different in that those young adults have strong personal life-purposes and visions. Still, for others, they want to explore new intellectual, social and cultural experiences that are important and valuable to them to better understand.

Higher education has been justifiably pedestalled as a highly valued tradition in Western and non-Western cultures for its numerous and far reaching societal benefits. My grandmother and grandfather, for example, immigrated from Ireland to America in the early 20th century and originally took jobs in Boston as a maid and policeman respectively. They were determined to put my mother and her sister through college to improve their lives. My mother graduated from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia in 1940 when very few women of her parents’ means were able to attend college. Both went onto long careers in education touching many thousands of lives and living the American Dream. So, I am all-in for this important tradition of higher education and its linkage to upward social mobility.

Today, however, especially against the backdrop of a C19 economic crisis, where close to 40 million Americans have so far lost jobs in a highly unsure future-looking economy, many are beginning to challenge the assumption that college is the only path on which to responsibly put their children to achieve the American Dream and a productive, fulfilling life.

It’s not just the high cost. Also at issue is the perceived uneven quality of the education itself, the totality of today’s campus experience and the enabling public policy. Many point to the financing model of higher education as a root cause of the $1.6 trillion college tuition debt-bubble that is more likely to burst during this C19 economic malaise as parents making loan payments are increasingly under financial duress. And let’s not forget the superrich buying their kids’ entry to prestigious universities; not a good look for American society or higher education! In combination, these developments reinforce some parents’ weariness and instincts that it’s time for a revalidation of assumptions. This should worry U.S. institutions of higher learning that have already seen student enrollments decline every year since 2011.

It’s fair to ask if recent graduates are better prepared to work hard, take risks and achieve success than if they had chosen to take a different path, or waited for a while until they discovered their keen interests or passions to make the best possible decisions for themselves.

Perhaps with some irony, a pandemic is once again poised to insert itself in the trajectory of higher education – which has been forever short on innovation and long on cost increases. University education was democratized for the masses as an eventual consequence of the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century wherein prior to that time those of us with European roots had ancestors some 75% of whom were serfs largely confined to their lords’ fields and heavy-handed restrictions. However, while there is something very important about the pursuit of university study that should be understood, valued and safeguarded, there is reason for healthy skepticism as well.

I graduated from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 1980 with a 4-year tuition debt of a mere $10K, which I easily paid off in 3 years. Was it worth it for me? Yes, because I learned that jobs in a big company without a degree were virtually non-existent. In my case, a bachelor’s degree in international relations apparently provided an employer with an indication of some competence and/or other positive attributes. I was offered a job by CIGNA Corp.

Beyond getting my foot in the door at CIGNA, did I secure new skills and knowledge from investing four years of my life and working full-time, year-round? Yes. Was it an even-trade for the benefit? Leaving aside that it represented the key to the CIGNA door, my answer is a resounding no. Very little of what I learned in class helped me in my career and I did not benefit from the interactions of living on campus with fellow students because I lived at home.

The university model should be fundamentally reformed. However, it should also be cherished and safeguarded while culturally celebrating the upward-mobility successes available to those in America who want to strike out with personal visions and work hard and achieve their goals without four-year college degrees. Options include self-education, job training, trade schools and technical certifications, as an example, for aircraft mechanics.

The classic American expression “self-made man” was coined in 1832 by U.S. Senator Henry Clay to acknowledge the inner promise and strength of individuals who work hard and succeed irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves. There are enough examples in America to fill a university library.

Born poor in Kentucky, and with a total of one year of school, self-educated Abraham Lincoln led our country through its most profound crisis ever during the American Civil War abolishing slavery and fundamentally modernizing the American economy. Lincoln pursued a path that diverged from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn, Haverford, Fordham and other institutions accepting students at that time.

Lincoln, instead, chose a version of distance-learning enabled by borrowed books to become a self-taught lawyer at age 25, state legislator, Member of Congress and President of the United States. With some irony, in 1862 Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Act enabling the creation of soon-to-become prestigious universities such as Cornell, MIT, Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, Texas A&M, West Virginia and the University of California.

Not such a bad path, role model or agent of change! 

Perhaps it would be counter-intuitive, but fruitful, for colleges and universities to celebrate and embrace alternative paths to four-year degrees and lifelong learning and reinvent themselves by taking a leadership role in a comprehensive national initiative to prepare future generations of Americans to be productive, highly successful citizens. Lincoln, the epitome of the self-made man, was able to appreciate accomplishment without the benefit of a college degree and, at the same time, to champion the strategic importance to our nation of expanding institutions of higher learning.As pandemics are wont to do, I am sure many Americans this Memorial Day weekend are using the reflective time to think over many long-held assumptions about important components of their lives from college, to work-life balances, to placing their parents in nursing homes.

My response:

I read with great interest your essay on the questioning of higher education as a partial result of the economic disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been mulling this subject for a long time, inspired by some much earlier published pieces in which (1) a successful entrepreneur (one of your “self-made men”) argued that college was useless, that his son would have to make his way as an innovator, just like dad, or fail, without wasting time in college; (2) arguments were presented that the cost-benefit analysis, comparing future earning differentials for college graduates v. non-college people showed conclusively that, as you have suggested, it’s “not worth it.”

Having been blessed with a scholarship-financed liberal arts education at an Ivy League college, also with associated debt to repay, I must dissent.

You are no doubt correct that the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic will force many to rethink their ability to pay for a college education. This is but one of the many tragedies to emerge from the pandemic. But that, I suggest, is a separate issue from whether a college education is so valuable that, if the opportunity exists, it should almost always be chosen. The value is properly determined not simply by traditional “cost benefit” analysis but by a broader range of intangible considerations.

For example, an on-campus college education presents the opportunity for young people to engage with a range of intellectual and other mind-expanding stimuli in an atmosphere that, if properly run, expands understanding of how the world works. It forces students to confront different points of view and to think more deeply about hard questions about which they previously just assumed the answers. They have the opportunity to confront and understand complexity. Ultimately, they learn to think, often about subjects they had no original interest in and would never have been touched by in the absence of the “cloistered” college experience.

Viewed this way, college is not just a trade school, a place where you learn how to do something. It’s a place where you come to understand what you can and should be doing and then you move on to more advanced studies or enter the world and take up the rest through direct experience.

I do not suggest, however, that college is right or necessary for everyone. But it is right for most young people who life paths are still being sorted at the time college is an option .It is not just the ticket to superior employment – it is the essential prerequisite to the fully examined life.

I believe we are seeing now in our society the consequences of having a large population of adults who did not have this experience. The polls refer to them as the “non-college educated white people.” They tend to support Donald Trump, to revere destructive rhetoric, support anti-immigrant and anti-diversity policies, to “hate” the “other,” defined as people not like them. Their thought processes embrace ideas like “fake news” and are unable to distinguish truth from ideology. They don’t think deeply about anything because they’ve never been required to do so. They see themselves as victims and engage in much magical thinking, including attraction to conspiracy theories.

Obviously, not all non-college educated people are like that but I believe the shockingly large segment of the American population that the above does describe is in significant part a function of the lack of higher education and the exposure to “other” ideas and “other” people that such education most often provides.

It would be ideal, of course, if the United States offered both paths, so that those people who only want to learn a trade and pursue the resulting life can do so. In the past the country did have trade schools but the shifting of manufacturing to foreign sources caused job opportunities in many trades to dry up, leading to the closure of many related educational opportunities. The demand now is for computer science and related skills and while there are schools devoted largely to teaching those things, the emerging students will likely lead more rewarding lives, all aspects considered, if they also have some learning experiences in literature, history and the like.

You and I are probably not as far apart as might appear with respect to the above. Where we more seriously diverge, I suspect, is regarding the notion of the “self-made man,” for which you cite Abraham Lincoln as a stellar example of what can happen to individuals with the “inner promise and strength … who work hard and succeed irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves.” Lincoln certainly stands out in the pantheon of such people, but I suggest that the chances today of more “Lincolns,” or even more Steve Jobs emerging and doing great works, as opposed to simply making themselves rich with some new technology they imagined, is slimmer than ever.

That is not just a consequence of the greater complexity of today’s knowledge-demands; the system has been rigged to suppress many of the potential innovators. I wrote about this in my blog post entitled, The Larger Meaning of “Hidden Figures” https://bit.ly/2TGx172, the gist of which was expressed thus,

 As bad as slavery, Jim Crow and segregation were for the direct victims, and most of us cannot comprehend how it was to be the constant target of such practices every  day of our lives with no hope of change, the larger lesson from this movie is, I believe, the staggering cost to everyone, in the United States and everywhere, of the lost  contributions and achievements of which these practices deprived us.  And still do.

In the millions of people directly suppressed by these practices, it is a certainty that there were multitudes of people who would, in other circumstances, have become  great scientists, inventors, artists, musicians, athletes, caregivers, writers, teachers and on and on. All of us have lost forever the benefits of the achievements of those  people who never had a chance to develop into their individual potentials as human beings. The frightened people of no vision who perpetuated these practices from    America’s earliest days even to today in some places have deprived the country and the world of an immeasurable gift.

One of the most surprising aspects of that blog post, written in in early 2017, is that visitors to the blog to this day seek it out more than anything else I have written. From where I sit, there may still be some chances for so-called “self-made men” to emerge but the odds are heavily against them. And, I must say, that the term “self-made,” in my opinion, grossly understates the contribution that others made to all such people, including Abraham Lincoln properly understood.

In conclusion, having staked that position, I now declare that I agree strongly with you regarding the need for reform in our education system. Those reforms should certainly include opportunities for future “tradesmen” to learn and proceed with an honorable path through life. They should, I think, also provide for a viable economic path to and through higher education so that everyone who wants to study anything serious should be able to do so without assuming overwhelming debt that take decades to repay and have all manner of deleterious impacts on individuals, families and society at large. I readily confess I don’t know how to get to that idyllic state, but the price we pay as a society of failing at this may well be our undoing, not just as a nation-state but as a civilization.

COVID-19 & New American Mantra: I Only Care About Me

It was Memorial Day. What is that, exactly? It’s a day to remember and honor Americans who died while serving in the U.S. military, especially those who died in combat. Whether or not you approve or disapprove of a particular war, or indeed all wars, it is, in concept and intention, a somber occasion. It’s a time for reflection and showing respect.

The United States has adopted some strange ways of recognizing this occasion, although the phenomenon is not unique to Memorial Day. Most people get the day off from work. Some watch the televised memorials over the weekend; some watch the president and other dignitaries pay their respects officially by, for example, placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

Many others see the day only as a holiday occasion and this year, in particular, there was greater emphasis on the “re-opening” of the country following the various lockdowns driven by the coronavirus epidemic. I have no idea what the ratio was of celebrants to serious observers, but if the scene on Alabama’s beaches is any guide, a very large number of Americans saw this day as simply an excuse to abandon caution and head out for a good time. Multiple videos showed massive crowding at swimming pools in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri and the Ace Speedway in North Carolina, among others. Masks and social distancing were largely absent. St. Louis County officials called the scenes an “international example of bad judgment.” https://wapo.st/3gqBjcD

To be clear, I don’t care much what any individual chooses to do regarding protecting himself or throwing caution to the winds in pursuit of belief that he has a constitutional right to do what he pleases. Freedom, American values and all of that, are what each individual decides they mean for herself.

However, the line is drawn when an individual’s choices infringe on the rights and values of others, including the right to be protected from dangerous behavior. This is why we have speed limits, stop signs, protection of minors from certain types of work and many other restrictions on what we might individually be inclined to do. This is not hard to understand. True, there are violations of the speed limit, seat belt laws and the others every day by someone somewhere, often many someones. According to Rhino Lawyers, on average the police issue 112,000 driving citations a day! https://bit.ly/3gndAKd Some of these are for inadvertent mistakes and many are for deliberate decisions to, for example, disobey speed limits. And, of course, most violators of the rules of the road are not brought to justice. Sometimes, these behaviors lead to tragedies, resulting in deaths, disabilities, lawsuits and so on.

We are in the middle of a global health pandemic with similar deadly consequences, so far, in the United States for 100,000 individuals (exactly 99,498 as I write) and roughly as many families. Globally, the deaths exceed 348,000 out of more than 5.5 million cases. It is highly likely that the reported numbers understate the actual case and death toll. https://bit.ly/2ZL3soy No end is in sight. There is no “remedy” or “cure” that can be administered reliably to the stricken. All ages and demographics are affected, some more than others, but no sector is immune. There is no vaccine and none in the offing any time soon. Many more will fall ill and many more will die before this is “over,” if it ever is. Like the flu, COVID-19 may be with us forever.

Returning then to individual behavior, I repeat that if an individual wants to risk his life on the chance that he won’t be infected, so be it. Do whatever you want with your own life, provided that doing so does not place others involuntarily at risk.

Consider these statements from people interviewed at a packed Alabama beach yesterday, where there was no active enforcement of the policy that groups should consist only of same-family members:

“I’m just here to have fun and meet everybody and be cool, you know.”

Recent college graduate: “I don’t want to die but if [death] is what God has in store for my life, that’s ok.”

“If we get it, we get it…. We’re just going to handle it as a family and just get over it because that’s what a family does.”

“People die from the flu also.”

“I get it, I get it. The survival rate is so high…. we’re all going to get sick from something eventually.”

“If he’s not wearing a mask, I’m not wearing a mask; if he’s not worried, I’m not worried,” young male referencing Donald Trump.

“When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”

[https://cnn.it/3d4HG3c]

Such fatalism is fine for individuals who have no contact with other people but most of these people likely have plenty of social contacts. Their “decision” to risk sickness, permanent injury and even death at the hands of the coronavirus thus exposes many others to the same risk whether they want to take it or not.

This is a degree of selfishness, openly and proudly displayed, that should be of profound concern to everyone. These people are living by the “principle” that says, “I only care about me and no one else. My rights and privileges, my freedoms to do whatever I want are more important than the welfare of anyone else that I may come in contact with, including children, elderly people with compromised immune systems or co-morbidities. I am all that matters. Me, Me, Me.”

This comes not just from the very young or the older young restless/reckless who often think they are invulnerable and whose cerebral cortexes, science informs us, are not fully developed and often make bad decisions. People of all ages and with families were interviewed on the Alabama beach. These are our “fellow Americans,” for whose “freedoms,” many men and women gave their lives in foreign wars. I doubt that if we could ask the fallen warriors whether this is what they meant to sacrifice for, most all would say, “no, we did not act selflessly just so others could be so selfish and indifferent to the welfare of others.”

But this is the contemporary reality of life in the United States. It’s not happening in just one place and it’s not just the product of needing to re-open the economy. This is blatant selfish behavior. These people include some of the angry, usually white, people who have carried guns into some state capitols, without being challenged, to demand re-opening. Like the people at the beaches and pools this weekend, they refuse to wear masks or engage in social distancing to protect others. While shouting and waving flags and signs about their “rights,” these selfish people make clear that don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves. Other people’s rights to be free of disease and to avoid contact with high-risk people and behaviors mean nothing to them.

Having witnessed the ravages of this disease up close and personal, my patience with these people has been consumed. The tank is empty. I am fearful of my reaction if I continue to encounter unmasked people on the streets of New York when we dare to venture out. They were everywhere this Memorial Day weekend when we walked for the first time in two months. The Governor of New York has observed that wearing a mask is simply the “right thing to do.” Still, many are unmoved. They just don’t care.

As tempting as it is to wish they all get infected, that would just expose even more people, including health care workers, to the consequences of their reckless and morally bankrupt insensitivity and that would be wrong. So, I try not to be vengeful. It is hard. This kind of indifference to the fate of other people seems un-American. It seems inhuman. No one can claim valid religious conviction to justify this, though many do so. There is no true religion anywhere that says, “do for yourself and to hell with everyone else.” That, however, is where we are.

 

 

Some Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

In listening to another press briefing by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, I have noticed that he has consistently emphasized that much of what is being experienced, and governments’ responses, has never been faced in modern times. His related point is that if we want to avoid repeating the results of the past few months, we must learn from these experiences and change the way we do things going forward. We should not, he argues, just seek to restore everything from the past but build a new and better future based on the lessons learned during the pandemic. The possibilities are probably limitless but a few of them leap out at me.

Reliance on Foreign Supply

One big one is that as a society, we have come to rely on foreign sources, often but not solely from China, for many critical supplies, including medical supplies that are essential to addressing pandemic-driven illness. Cuomo correctly notes that the United States was ill-prepared to face an emergency of this nature, even though health experts have been predicting for years that a serious pandemic was virtually certain to occur.

How did we come to this situation? At the root of it, I suggest, is the “consumer mentality” of our evolved culture. Recognizing how broadly I am generalizing, it seems true that Americans generally lust for more and more “stuff” and the cheaper the price, the better. To accommodate this demand, our “free market” system of commerce turns to markets where labor and other factors permit the mass production of almost everything we lust for at prices below what they could be produced for domestically, remarkably even after the cost of transportation is accounted for. If you examine the origin labels on most of what you buy, you will see that most of it comes from China, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries in the Far East that are as far from here as you can physically get (except possibly for Australia).

Faced with these challenges from “foreign competition,” many American companies have closed their U.S. facilities and “shipped production overseas.” These decisions are supported, and sometimes even promoted, by the U.S. tax code, with the result that domestic jobs in hundreds of industries have been decimated and entire communities and even whole cities have been laid to waste. Youngstown, Ohio is one I am familiar with but there are many others all over the country.

These outcomes have not changed the demand for ever cheaper goods and have permitted companies like Amazon to dominate the supply chain for an astounding array of goods and services. If we are to believe the “reviews” on Amazon and elsewhere, much of what is produced in China and delivered in the U.S. is of low quality, but it’s “cheap” and it sells. What doesn’t sell is down-streamed through a largely invisible chain of distribution and re-distribution that sees a lot of this “stuff” for sale in so-called “dollar stores” and even second-hand shops.

If the only products we were considering were consumer electronics and such, the American lust for more and cheaper stuff would be somewhat less concerning, unless you ask someone who lives in a community devastated by the “foreign competition” that sucked local jobs dry and left the workers with nothing productive or remunerative to do.

Now comes the pandemic and we discover to our deep sorrow that we don’t have enough medical supplies to provide care of the swelling numbers of patients, many more of whom are going to die without it. Getting more supplies is now a global issue, as competition for scarce supplies erupts among countries and, we now learn, even between the states and our own federal government. The result is higher prices for everyone and still there is often a shortage requiring ordinary citizens to, for example, sew masks to try to protect healthcare workers on the front lines of patient care. If you’ve tried to buy your own masks from a foreign supplier, you may have learned, as I did, that much of the foreign supply is poorly made and often useless. And, of course, mask prices are now through the roof because government health policies are rigorously promoting/requiring mask use.

Another issue is that the federal government has allowed more than 100 coronavirus tests into the marketplace without full review. Many of these tests are sub-standard or worse. https://wapo.st/3c7V4TC

The lesson is clear, although the solutions are complicated and will, as with all major changes, take time. The United States should never again allow itself to be dependent on any foreign country for critical medical supplies. There will, of course, be a price to be paid for achieving this. Some things likely will cost more to produce here than in the “labor mills” of China. Americans will not willingly submit to the mass-production practices, and attendant low wages and poor working conditions, that dominate Chinese and other Far East manufacturing processes. So be it. Related to this is the question of foreign ownership of American companies, a readily available backdoor to foreign control of American business. We have to learn and change or face these problems all over again.

Tying Access to Health Insurance to Employment

Most Americans of working age buy health insurance provided/purchased through their employer. Putting aside ongoing issues of price/quality and coverage of options, not to mention extraordinary complexity of what is and is not covered, the real problem with this system is that when you lose your job, you lose your insurance as well. In normal circumstances, you have the option of paying for interim coverage through the COBRA program but there is no employer contribution, so the premiums are extremely high. There is also a time limit. COBRA can be a life-saver but it is economically challenging to put it mildly and highly disruptive.

The root problem is the connection between employment and insurance. There is no reason I know that this connection is immutable. Other systems exist in developed countries and seem to produce adequate or even superior protection for insureds. I am not an expert in all this, but it seems clear from the public dialogue about this that many people are invested in the current system, including the insurance companies. Many people are also opposed to greater direct government involvement on the grounds that it is “socialism.” The result is that the public discussion has partisan and irrational components that prevent a rational consideration of alternatives.

Of course, there is the issue of Obamacare that was intended to, among other things, give people the option of obtaining healthcare independent of an employer. In the gig economy that’s vital because so many people are independent contractors. When everyone’s health is tied together, as it is in a pandemic, we should be very concerned about people without health insurance and sick leave, but the Trump administration is working very hard to destroy Obamacare without proposing a replacement. Trump has, of course, denied that he is trying to end Obamacare and in particular has denied that he wants to eliminate insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions. Trump is lying about that. The Department of Justice is actively pressing litigation that would do precisely what Trump says he is not trying to do.

It is, however, clear that viable alternatives to the present system, whether it is Obamacare or something else, do exist and should be evaluated in a calmer, more rational way. I don’t know how to get there, but our society as a whole is paying a dear price for its failure to address this issue. The pandemic that has, as of this writing, led to nearly 40 million unemployed persons, has pushed evaluation of this issue to the top of the list of “must do” tasks as the United States tries to figure out what its future will be.

 

 

 

 

When Do We Take a Stand? – Injustice in Georgia

WARNING: this post contains graphic material that some people will find disturbing. Continue reading at your own risk. The text bolding throughout is mine.

NOTICE: After most of the drafting of this post was completed, I received news that two of the killers had finally been arrested and charged with murder. Rather than rewrite the entire piece, I am leaving it as it was. I hope it will illuminate important issues of “justice in Georgia.” The case has a long way to go. Here, then, is the post:

Normally, I don’t write about criminal matters other than the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Trump administration. But I now venture into those dark and troubled waters, drawn by the apparent assassination of another innocent black man by armed white men claiming they thought he was a fleeing burglar.

I do not presume to ultimately judge the guilt or innocence of the killers, although the evidence thus far made public strongly suggests a cold-blooded murder. The presumption of innocence will apply to this case and a trial will be held to determine what crimes may have occurred and what penalties should be imposed. This will take time and the killers will have their opportunity to try to justify their conduct.

But, you may say, aren’t you assuming a crime was committed? Fair question and the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Why? Here’s why.

When a killing by firearms occurs and the available evidence indicates “probable cause” to believe a crime occurred, an arrest should be made. What then is “probable cause?” Was there probable cause to arrest the killers in this case?

“Probable cause “is the legal standard, compelled by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and applied to, among other things, the power of the government to arrest for suspected criminal conduct.

As explained by the Cornell Law School website,

Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed …. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/probable_cause]

Further,

An arrest warrant is preferred but not required to make a lawful arrest under the Fourth Amendment. A warrantless arrest may be justified where probable cause and urgent need are present prior to the arrest. Probable cause is present when the police officer has a reasonable belief in the guilt of the suspect based on the facts and information prior to the arrest. For instance, a warrantless arrest may be legitimate in situations where a police officer has a probable belief that a suspect has either committed a crime or is a threat to the public security. Also, a police officer might arrest a suspect to prevent the suspect’s escape or to preserve evidence….

To obtain a search warrant or arrest warrant, the law enforcement officer must demonstrate probable cause that a search or seizure is justified. A court-authority, usually a magistrate, will consider the totality of circumstances to determine whether to issue the warrant. [https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/Fourth_Amendment]

The published video of the incident shows the victim, a 25-year old black man, running on what appears to be a wooded residential or country road. He is jogging at a reasonable pace. If you have observed joggers, as I have literally hundreds of times, his pace is well within the range of normal recreational/fitness running. There is nothing to suggest he is running particularly fast or trying to escape from something. However,

According to a police report obtained by the New York Times, Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and district attorney’s investigator, told investigators the incident began when he spotted Arbery from his front yard “hauling ass” down the street. [https://bit.ly/2SIg4Zt]

So, immediately there is powerful reason to question the killers’ version of events. The jogger was not running as if to escape the scene of a crime. If McMichael was referring to what he observed earlier than the period covered by the video, the fact that Arbery was no longer “hauling ass” should have given McMichael pause. It didn’t.

Beyond that discrepancy, the undisputed facts thus far establish that the killers tracked the victim in a vehicle (two vehicles actually; details are scant about why the third person was trailing along and filming). I have seen nothing reported to suggest they made any attempt to contact the police. If McMichael did contact the police, there is nothing reported to indicate why he could not simply have trailed Arbery in the truck until police arrived to deal with the situation, whatever the situation was.

McMichael’s status as a former police officer does not confer upon him the power to exercise police powers involving the use of deadly force in the absence of an immediate threat to his own safety, a matter to which I shall return.

There are other discrepancies:

After they chased down Arbery, McMichael told police, Arbery and McMichael’s son Travis struggled over his son’s shotgun. McMichael said two shots were fired before Arbery fell to the street, the report said.

In a letter to police, George Barnhill, one of the district attorneys who has recused himself from the case and who saw the autopsy report, wrote that Arbery sustained three wounds during the struggle for the gun.             [https://cnn.it/2ywRHXG]

I have watched the video numerous times. There were three shots.

That’s not all. According to the Washington Post report, which was derived from the New York Times reporting,

They chased Arbery in a truck, according to the report, and Gregory McMichael told police that he shouted to Arbery, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you,” before, according to their statements, they pulled up beside him in their truck. The report suggests a third person may also have been involved in the pursuit. [https://wapo.st/3dmPT2h]

The bolded portion of that quotation is flatly and uncontrovertibly inconsistent with the video. The killers are ahead of the victim, parked on the road, when the victim jogs up to the truck and passes it on the right.

According to the New York Times reporting, https://nyti.ms/3bbnfjp, the first District Attorney assigned to the case recused herself. The second DA to handle the case, George E. Barnhill, the DA in Waycross, Ga., eventually recused himself also because he was alleged by the victim’s mother to also have a conflict of interest (he disputed that).

Notwithstanding Barnhill’s decision to recuse himself, he wrote a letter to a police captain in the Brunswick Police Department Investigation Division. That letter (undated but written sometime in early April) states that,

 “since I have already given you an initial opinion the day after the shooting [on February 24!], I feel I can still comment on this limited issue. [whether an arrest should be made].

That is an astonishing move, saying in essence, “I am recusing but I am going to continue trying to influence the handling of the case by expressing a detailed opinion regarding whether an arrest is warranted.”

The letter then recites Mr. Barnhill’s extensive background in criminal law enforcement, which, I readily confess, far exceeds anything I know, or professionally knew, about criminal law. It’s also obviously true that Barnhill has seen documents, like the actual autopsy report, that I have not. But I, like Mr. Barnhill, am undeterred.

The substantive part of the letter begins with this conclusory statement:

It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and Bryan William were following, in ‘hot pursuit,’ a burglary suspect, with solid firsthand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/ telling him to stop. It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal,

citing:

OCGA 17 -4 -60 A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”

There are so many things wrong with this, it is hard to know where to begin.

First, a reasonable definition of “hot pursuit,” also known as “fresh pursuit,” is:

An exception to the general rule that police officers need an arrest warrant before they can enter a home to make an arrest. If a felony has just occurred and an officer has chased a suspect to a private house, the officer can forcefully enter the house in order to prevent the suspect from escaping or hiding or destroying evidence. [https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/hot_pursuit]

The concept also applies to pursuit across a state line, but the only Georgia statute I could find limits “fresh pursuit” to “law enforcement officers” who are persons “employed or appointed by a state or political subdivision who is granted, by state law, the authority to enforce criminal … laws….” Plainly, that definition does not include the McMichaels. Case law in Georgia makes clear that the critical element of “hot pursuit” is the “continuity and immediacy of the pursuit” following the officer’s observation of the offense. State v Hoover, 253 Ga. App. 98, 558 S.E.2d 71 (2001) and cases cited. It seems very doubtful that the doctrine of “hot pursuit” applies here.

The letter then says that Arbery was a “burglary suspect” as if this were an established fact. But the only sense in which Arbery was a suspect in a burglary was McMichael’s asserted but untested “belief” that Arbery “looked like” someone who had been seen, by someone not identified, burglarizing homes in the neighborhood.

The letter then claims that McMichaels had “solid first hand probable cause” meaning that he had “reasonable basis” for believing a crime had been committed by this specific individual. The DA thus accepted McMichael’s asserted belief about Arbery’s crimes as fact when, as far as the published reports reveal it, McMichael had not stated that he had actually witnessed Arbery in the act of burglarizing a home. If McMichael had witnessed such an event, would he not have summoned the police then and perhaps have assisted in Arbery’s apprehension?

If the McMichael’s intent was to stop and hold Arbery, why was it reasonable and necessary to stop him when he was on foot, wearing shorts and a tee shirt and they allegedly had contacted the police (no mention is made of such contact; I am giving benefit of doubt here). What facts led the McMichaels to believe it was necessary to brandish a shotgun and .357 magnum pistol?

Finally, under the statute cited by Barnhill, a citizen’s arrest is authorized only when the crime committeeis committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” Neither of these elements is established in the letter or any other reporting I have seen.

Thus, regardless of anything else, no citizen’s arrest was authorized here and the McMichael’s confronting of Arbery was unlawful and no violence against his person can be explained away in the manner attempted by the Barnhill letter.

Mr. Barnhill also argues that if Mr. Arbery attacked Travis McMichael, Mr. McMichael was “allowed to use deadly force to protect himself” under Georgia law.” [https://nyti.ms/3bbnfjp] The letter contains a detailed recitation of what Barnhill claims to see on the video that he says “clearly shows the shooting in real time.”

Here, then, is where the rubber meets the road and the gross distortion begins in earnest. Barnhill’s narrative says,

Arbery was running along the right side of the McMichael truck then abruptly turns 90 degrees to the left and attacks Travis McMichael who was standing at the front left corner of the truck.

I have reviewed the tape many times, and it is quite clear that (1) shouting is heard before Arbery turns but it is not clear what is said or by whom, (2)  McMichael was in front of the truck when he and Arbery came together but was obscured by the open door of the truck, and (3) the first shot was fired while both men were obscured behind the truck door.

It is therefore beyond astounding that a recused DA would assert on the basis of the video alone that Arbery “attacks Travis McMichael” although there is no doubt whatsoever that a struggle for control of the shotgun ensues when Arbery and McMichael are in front of the truck. But it is impossible, I suggest, to infer from the video alone that Arbery “attacked” McMichael. Of course, Mr. Barnhill no doubt also heard from Mr. McMichael who no doubt made an impassioned case that he was “attacked” and was simply defending himself.

As you think about this, bear in mind that McMichael was wielding a shotgun. Shotguns use a variety of ammunition from very small “birdshot” to slugs (.33” diameter) capable of bringing down a deer or elk. We don’t know what “load” McMichael’s shotgun had, but at point-blank range even birdshot will make a terrible mess of human target. Barnhill’s “analysis” of the video continues,

The 1st shot is through Arbery’s right hand palm which is consistent with him grabbing and pulling the shotgun at the barrel tip.

That is an interesting detail because (1) after disappearing from camera view and re-entering the frame, with two shots now having been fired, Arbery strikes at McMichael with his right hand. A shotgun blast at point-blank range through Arbery’s right palm would almost certainly have disabled if not completely shredded Arbery’s right hand, and (2) a wound to the right palm might just as well have occurred by Arbery instinctively raising his right hand in defense when McMichael pointed the shotgun at him – the video cannot exclude this possibility, yet Barnhill is completely clear in his description that Arbery was “pulling the shotgun at the barrel tip.” Alternatively, in his surprise that Arbery was confronting him and not running away, McMichael could have fired the shotgun and only some of the shot hit Arbery’s hand. Either outcome is just as plausible as Barnhill’s.

Next, Barnhill asserts it is a fact that Arbery initiated the fight, so that

at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.

Here, it seems to me, that Barnhill has it backwards. Wasn’t Arbery equally entitled to defend himself against a shotgun-wielding stranger who, from all Arbery could tell, had been lying in wait for him, had shouted something at him and was reasonably perceived to be a threat to Arbery’s life? And, if Arbery were merely trying to redirect the gun away from his body?

Mr. Barnhill seems all too ready to resolve all the doubts here in favor of the aggressors who initiated the confrontation when other interpretations of the evidence are at least equally plausible.

But there is more. Much more. Here is the next part of Barnhill’s exegesis as to why the killers were innocent of wrongdoing:

Just as importantly, while we know McMichael had his finger on the trigger, we do not know who caused the firings. Arbery would only had to pull the shotgun approximately 1/ 16th to 1/ 8th of one inch to fire weapon himself and in the height of an altercation this is entirely possible. Arbery’s mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.

Wow. We don’t know what those alleged “mental health” issues were (I can find no explanation in any reporting), but the New York Times did determine from court records that “Mr. Arbery was convicted of shoplifting and of violating probation in 2018. Five years earlier, according to The Brunswick News, he was indicted on charges that he took a handgun to a high school basketball game.” Neither of those factors could rationally lead to the conclusion that Arbery had an “aggressive nature” such that he would attack a man armed with a shotgun.

That leads to Barnhill’s ultimate conclusion – McMichael was being attacked without justification and was entitled under Georgia law to use deadly force to defend himself, citing these statutes:

OCGA 16-3-21 Use of Force in Defense, once confronted with a deadly force situation an individual is allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves or others

Mr. Barnhill apparently believes that the statute permits deadly defensive force even if the “defender” initiated the “deadly force situation.” That is an implausible interpretation of the law. It would mean that if A attacks B with what could become deadly force if the attack is successful, and B responds with what A believes is potentially deadly force, A may proceed to kill B and claim “self-defense.”

OCGA 16-3-23.1 Georgia’ s No Duty to Retreat Law, an individual is not required to back away from or submit to an attack.

Again, the statute surely does not mean that a person who initiates an attack and is met with a forceful response in defense is then free to stand his ground and kill the person defending the initial attack. That is not the situation the “stand your ground law” was intended to permit but it exactly what appears to have happened in the Arbery case.

OCGA 16-3-24[b ] The use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to prevent trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with real property other than a habitation or personal property is not justified unless the person using such force reasonably believes that it is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Same response. The “forcible felony” here would have to be Arbery’s defense against the shotgun that McMichael was wielding. Arbery had nothing but his hands. McMichael may indeed have feared that once Arbery gained control of the shotgun, he might use it to kill McMichael, but McMichael was the initiator of the confrontation and cannot use this statute to justify killing another person in such circumstances.

___________________________

The issue right now is not whether a “self-defense” claim can be sustained. That will be for a jury to decide if there is a trial.

The question is this: why are these killers still at large? Why have they not been arrested and charged? The killing occurred on February 23! Their statements about what happened are inconsistent with the video evidence. It is hard to imagine a clearer case of “probable cause” than this one. Can the police in this case state they have no “reasonable basis” for believing a crime was committed here?

Even if it were true that McMichaels genuinely believed the victim had committed burglaries, the use of deadly force could not be justified as the victim was not threatening anyone at the time of the encounter. The McMichaels were not pursuing someone he had just seen committing a serious crime. They were after someone who was jogging.  It is extremely unlikely that the law of Georgia confers on private citizens police powers that even the police do not possess.

Again, none of us can know with certainty at this point all that the evidence in a trial will establish, but when deadly force is used against an unarmed person not directly observed in the act of violating the law and not also endangering another person, the law should favor securing the perpetrator to prevent him from fleeing, destroying evidence, manufacturing evidence, conspiring with witnesses and many other things that might occur.

I am not accusing the McMichaels of these things, but their future conduct is not the question. There is no way to predict that. There are good reasons for making arrests when probable cause exists and there is no apparent reason they would not apply here. This is how law enforcement is supposed to work. Apparently not in Georgia. More than two months have passed since the killing and the killers are still at large in the community.

Meanwhile, we have the usual platitudes. The Governor tweeted, “Georgians deserve answers.” The Georgia Attorney General was “deeply concerned.”

Closing Note: As mentioned at the outset, arrests of at least two of the killers have now been made. This is a welcome development in a most troubling case, another situation in which white men killed an unarmed black man, were given the benefit of every doubt and more and were only arrested when public outcry finally overcame the institutional and racial factors that initially led the involved governments to look the other way. This is just one of a long line of situations in which strong visual evidence conflicts with the official police narrative exonerating white killers of unarmed black people.

I don’t know all the facts, of course, but, yet again, all the hallmarks of racial injustice are present. It is time society, all of society, took a firm stand against this behavior. Nor should we overlook the role of access to guns plays in situations like this where the passions of the moment may lead someone to grab a gun and initiate a process that, even if not “intended” to, spins out of control and leads to an unnecessary and unwarranted death. We must do better.

Donald Trump – American Terrorist, The Enemy Within – Part 1 of Many

By now we are well accustomed to learning about a mass shooting somewhere in the U.S. and seeing the statement that authorities are determining whether the killing represents an act of terrorism or “merely” something else. The “else” is, presumably, less serious, less grievous, less disturbing, at least if you’re not among the victims or their families.

But there is another kind of terrorism that that may not directly lead to deaths but that has broad impact on many more people and leads to, among other things, loss of freedom. I refer to political terrorism. We know about it from observing other countries with “less democratic” and “less free” societies. In those countries, you step out of line, and you get imprisoned, disappeared, shot, poisoned and so on. If you’re “lucky,” you just lose your job, maybe your home and possessions and possibly your reputation. Political terrorism can take other forms as well. Among them are public humiliation, shunning and so on.

In one way or another, all of these non-violent (so far) forms of political terrorism have arrived on our shores and are embodied in the practices of the Trump administration. They didn’t come from overseas, however, and can’t be blamed on “foreigners” or “immigrants.” These are all home-grown right here in the US of A. USA! USA! USA! All part of “Make America Great Again.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines “domestic terrorism” as “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/terrorism  The FBI’s definition of “international terrorism” also includes a violence component.

The common elements are “violent crimes” and bitideological goals” that in the domestic case arise from domestic “political, religious, social, racial, or environmental” beliefs.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “terrorism” is broader: “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”  bit.ly/2zbV86n The root “terror” means “a state of intense or overwhelming fear.” No physical violence is required.

When I started this post, Donald Trump had already become the quintessential American-bred political terrorist. Here is some, a tiny fraction, of the overwhelming, incontrovertible proof. The only potentially missing element is violence but in the United States, at least for now, fear serves almost as well as violence to fulfill the monarchical aspirations of the putative dictator that sits in the people’s house.

It was fear, for example, that motivated Trump’s henchmen in the United States Senate, who, refusing to look at the evidence, but with plenty of proof before them even without additional witnesses, decided to ignore their oaths of office and constitutional obligations by voting against the Articles of Impeachment. It is reliably reported by a U.S. Senator present on the scene that “In Private, Republicans Admit They Acquitted Trump Out of Fear,” https://nyti.ms/395DTAs

In the United States Senate, like in many spheres of life, fear does the business…. History has indeed taught us that when it comes to the instincts that drive us, fear has no rival…. Playing on that fear, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, sought a quick impeachment trial for President Trump with as little attention to it as possible. Reporters, who usually roam the Capitol freely, have been cordoned off like cattle in select areas. Mr. McConnell ordered limited camera views in the Senate chamber so only presenters — not absent senators — could be seen.

And barely a peep from Republican lawmakers.

One journalist remarked to me, “How in the world can these senators walk around here upright when they have no backbone?”

Fear has a way of bending us….

For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:

“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”

“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”

“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”

My colleagues know they all just might. There’s an old Russian proverb: The tallest blade of grass is the first cut by the scythe. In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out….

I have asked some of them, “If the Senate votes to acquit, what will you do to keep this president from getting worse?” Their responses have been shrugs and sheepish looks.

They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.

As Senator Murray said on the Senate floor in 2002, “We can act out of fear” or “we can stick to our principles.” Unfortunately, in this Senate, fear has had its way. In November, the American people will have theirs.

When I started drafting this post, Trump was operating through non-violent fear, but that has changed. Trump wants the country to “reopen” and doesn’t much care how many people are exposed to the death-dealing coronavirus in the process. He was tweeted to his followers that they should LIBERATE Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota, leading to swarms of his lunatic followers blocking entrances to hospitals, calling for the firing of one of the few experts who seem to know what’s going on and intimidating a few governors into prematurely reopening beaches and other public places. Groups of angry people, almost all white men, many carrying guns, bearing Confederate flags and emblazoned with swastikas have descended on some state capitols to “demand” that the governor re-open immediately. In some cases, they have physically challenged police assigned to protect state property and personnel from violence and interference with government processes. Wearing no masks, they have screamed directly in the faces of officers who, presumably following orders, simply stood their ground and made no arrests.

These actions, at the behest of the President of the United States, are acts of terrorism by any reasonable definition. Trump is willfully inciting violence against state authorities who will not bend to his insane will by reopening their states to dangerous behaviors that will kill people as certainly as a Trump-adoring neo-Nazi with an AR-15. The appearance of Confederate battle flags and swastikas at these gatherings of Trump supporters are clear evidence of their beliefs.

To be clear, I am in complete agreement that the First Amendment allows people to peacefully protest government policy, no matter how misguided that protest may be. But, as I had to tell a (now former) Facebook friend the other day, the right to protest does not confer the right to endanger others. Society has adopted rules and processes, some of which are slower to move than we would like, to protect everyone’s “rights.” So, to use a well-worn example, you cannot shout fire in a darkened theater, and you can’t drive 50 in a 25 mph school zone. Those “freedoms” are limited to protect others freedom.

The “reopen immediately” crowd seem to think they are the only ones with “rights” that matter. Trump has openly encouraged them, calling them “good people.” He said the same thing about the neo-Nazi crowd that marched in Charlottesville, leading to the death of a counter-protester.

Further evidence of Trump’s fondness for Nazis and what they stand for lies in his decision to dishonor the Presidential Medal of Freedom by awarding it to Rush Limbaugh, whose career, as described by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2020, has been marked by “hate-filled racism, homophobia and misogyny, all characteristics favored by Donald Trump throughout his own career. https://wapo.st/35y1UiK This is the same medal previously given to the likes of Rosa Parks, Elie Wiesel and George Balanchine.

Citing multiple examples, Rubin noted that Limbaugh is the “embodiment of divisive, hateful right-wing media rhetoric, which, just like Trump, casts Democrats as evil and the media as enemies of the people.” Further, “a president who considers himself as president of only his supporters and who has debased and cheapened our language and our politics, making the reprehensible perfectly acceptable, would of course want to honor someone of Limbaugh’s ilk.”

Republicans, who claim to be offended by the accusation they were knuckling under to Trump on impeachment (before they knuckled under on impeachment) and collapse on the fainting couch when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rips up her copy of Trump’s historically divisive and dishonest address, cheer Trump’s selection….

Trump’s great lie is convincing Americans that white males no matter what their conduct — Brett Kavanaugh, convicted war criminals and, most of all, himself — are victims of elites. That, in turn, gives them license to unleash bigotry and engage in intolerable, unhinged conduct, all in the name of vindicating themselves from oppression. That mentality of grievance, propagated effectively by Limbaugh, is nothing more than cover for white nationalism. The country should denounce, not honor, its practitioners.

Here are a few of Limbaugh’s other statements that Trump agrees with; apologies to those who find these deeply offensive. It is important that they not be lost to history. Limbaugh speaks:

“Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”.

[To an African American female caller] “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”

“I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”

“You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [the confessed assassin of Martin Luther King]. We miss you, James. Godspeed.”

“Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud.”

“Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” while holding up a photo of 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton on his 1993 TV show.

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?”

Discussing the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison: “It’s sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank. Sort of like that kind of fun.”

Those are the principles that appeal to Donald Trump and apparently to roughly a third of the American voting population.  Terrorism by any other name is still terrorism. November is coming. Prepare.

Governor Andrew Cuomo Presents

I am deferring the next planned post of my thoughts about the Trump presidency in favor of sharing something that many readers of this blog likely do not hear every day, as I do: the daily press conferences held by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Rather than provide my words about his words, I am setting out the transcript that is published daily on the Governor’s website. I have edited it for length/flow and to fix minor errors (it is a “rush” version, not a finished clean copy of what transpired). I have also bolded some passages to reflect the Governor’s emphasis. This particular one can be seen at https://on.ny.gov/3bV46n0

A few observations before you begin. Note how this compares with the daily press “briefings” that Donald Trump has been conducting with the Coronavirus Task Force members as supporting characters in what has become a media circus and substitute campaign rally platform to promote Trump’s ego and re-election. [Incidentally, in this morning’s press conference a reporter asked Gov. Cuomo how he assessed his performance in light of the huge number of sick and dead in New York. Cuomo’s response: “I have tried to do my best. Next question.” No word salad of self-praise or self-promotion. Just: I’ve done my best.] Also observe the coherent sentences, the phrases that make sense, the structure of the presentation. No garbling of facts and fiction. You will also recognize the honesty and candor, the passion.

Finally, implicit in his approach is a welcoming attitude toward the press. The Governor is there to present information and answer questions, not to do battle with the reporters. He can be cryptic & sometimes sarcastic (New Yorker to the bone), but he is never, in my observation, hostile. The presentations are routinely followed by media questions but, unfortunately, the transcript does not include that material.

If you are inclined to watch a master at work, watch one of the live briefings. They typically begin at 11:30 a.m. but that start time can vary from day to day. The briefings are carried live in a number of media, but the most reliable way to watch is to go to Twitter shortly before 11:30 and search for @NyGovCuomo or just Andrew Cuomo. Scroll down 3 to 5 tweets until you find this image:

Click on the image and follow the prompts.

Here, then, is the Transcript of the April 29, 2020 Press Conference:

“Good morning. Members of the esteemed Legislative Correspondents Association, thank you very much for being here….

Hospitalization rate ticks down, good news. [charts displaying daily & 3-day average data on screen] Intubations down, that’s good news. COVID hospitalizations, new ones per day, just about flat, that’s not great news. Actually, up a tick. So, that is not good news. What we’re watching now is how fast the decline; how low does it go? We don’t want to see 1,000 new cases every day. We’d like to see that in the low hundreds, ideally, of new cases every day. Death rate, terrible news. 330. You see the decline has been slow at best and still disgustingly high. So, we’re making progress, that’s for sure, but we’re not out of the woods yet. And we’re proceeding with caution.

And there are caution signs out there that we should pay attention to. Singapore is talking about a second wave with 900 new cases …. Germany is a situation that we should also watch and learn from. They relaxed and started to reopen. they’re now seeing an increase. These are interesting, the rate of infection, which is what we watch, was at .7. One person infecting .7, obviously less than one person. 1.0 infection rate is one person infecting one person. They were at .7. They started to reopen. In 10 days, they went up to a one on the infection rate. That’s troubling. Shows you how fast the infection rate can increase if you don’t do it right on the reopening. So, proceed with caution.

Our reopening is different. We don’t have a conceptual plan. We don’t have an abstract plan because there is no conceptual plan; there is no abstract plan. You have to have a plan that is based on facts, based on specifics. This is not about politics, this is not about spin, this is not about emotion. There are no conspiracy theories at work here. We outlined a 12-step plan that is factual, that is based on numbers, based on data, and then it has a numerical circuit breaker that is not subject to personal emotion or desire, but just checks and monitors that infection rate that we just saw in Germany and is watching for those increases. And if there’s an increase, the circuit breaker stops the reopening at that point.

Some of the specifics we’re looking at, you must have 30 percent of your hospital beds available. We can’t go back to where we were where. We overwhelmed the hospital system. We have to have a 30 percent buffer. We have to have 30 percent of ICU beds. We have to have that buffer before we start bumping up against total capacity, and we have to watch the hospitalization rate and the diagnostic testing rate, how many are positive, how many are negative, which we’ll take on a continuous basis. You see that number start going up, worry. But it’s all based on the data and the numbers and the rate of transmission, RT, rate of transmission, our … rate of transmission has to be 1.1 or less. We just said Germany is at 1. The 1.1, that is textbook outbreak. So, watch the numbers and watch the transmission rate.

How do you do that? You do that with testing and that’s why everybody is talking about testing. The testing allows you to continually sample how many people are positive, how many people are negative. You see the positive start to increase through your day-to-day testing. That is a pause sign. We’re doing about 20,000 tests. We said we wanted to double that. We’re now on average about 30,000 tests per day which is a dramatic increase, not where we need to be, but a dramatic increase.

Where we are now, you should know, is New York State is doing more than most countries are doing so we have been very aggressive in testing and we have made great progress. New Yorkers should feel good about that, but we have more to do.

On elective surgeries, we had canceled all elective surgeries so we could have increased capacity in the hospitals. When you cancel elective surgeries, hospitals feel a financial pinch because that’s where they make their money is on elective surgeries. So, for areas that don’t have a fear of a COVID surge, we’re going to allow elective surgeries to begin. That’s primarily in counties upstate. Again, counties where we’re still worried about a surge in the COVID beds, we’re not going to open it up to elective surgery until we know we’re out of the woods on the COVID virus. This is a list of counties that are eligible now for elective surgeries. I’ll do an Executive Order on that today.

We’ve been worried about front line workers because they are the heroes who are out there every day so everybody else can stay home. Somebody asked me yesterday on a radio interview, well, you’re out there every day. Are you taking care of yourself? I’m out there every day.

Forget me. I’ll tell you who is out there every day. The nurses who are in the emergency room, the doctors in the emergency room, the police officer who is going into homes and apartments because there’s a domestic disturbance, the EMTs, the Fire Department, the delivery worker who goes to 50 doors a day and gets paid. Those people are out there every day. They’re the ones who are really doing the work. Compared to them, what I do is de minimis. They’re doing it not because they get paid a lot of money, not because people say thank you, God bless you. They’re doing it because it’s their value, their honor, their pride, their dignity, and they show up. Even when it’s hard, they show up. My hat is off to them.

I want to make sure we do what we need to do to protect them, that they have the equipment, they have the PPE, they have our respect, they have our gratitude. I also want to make sure we’re testing so we get them the results of tests so they can be taking care of themselves.

I also want to see if we have a significant problem in any of those front-line workforces. So, we’re doing testing. We started with the New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department. What we found so far, the Fire Department, which also has the EMTs, tested 17% positive, NYPD 10% positive. Number much higher in the FDNY, EMTs. We believe that’s because the EMT number is driving it up, but we have to do more numbers and more research to determine that. Remember, the EMTSs, they are the front line. They’re the ones who are there assisting the person in the closest contact in many ways. FDNY, also. But we want to find out exactly what’s going on. They compare to a downstate average of the general population of about 18%. Again, we’ll do further research, further surveys to look at it by race and gender, also.

We’re also going to do the same thing with the transit workers, the people who drive the buses, the subways, who clean the buses and the subways. Without those buses and subways, the essential workers couldn’t get to work. Why didn’t we just close down subways and buses? Because you close down the subways and the buses in New York City, don’t expect the nurses and the doctors to be able to get to the hospital. Don’t expect the delivery worker to be able to deliver food when you ring on your telephone. We need that public transportation to transport the essential workers. Those front-line workers are at risk, so we’re going to do additional testing for the transport workers.

I also commented yesterday, the Daily News had pictures of things that are going on in the New York City subway system, where the cars were filthy, they were disgusting. Homeless people were there with all their belongings, and it was not just a Daily News picture. It reflected what has been in the press and what people have been saying, which is the deterioration of the conditions in the subways. Some crimes are up in the subways, even though ridership is down 90 percent. I don’t even know how mathematically that is possible. The trains are filled with homeless people. You’re not doing the homeless any favor. I’ve worked with the homeless all my life. To let homeless people stay on the trains in the middle of a global health pandemic with no masks, no protective equipment, you’re not helping the homeless.

Letting them endanger their own life and endanger the lives of others is not helping anyone. I told the MTA yesterday, in two days, which means tomorrow, I want a full plan. How do we disinfect every train every night, period. Any essential worker who shows up and gets on a train should know that that train was disinfected the night before. We want them to show up. We don’t want them to stay home. We owe it to them to be able to say, the train you ride, the bus you ride has been disinfected and is clean.

Also, state and local funding from Washington is essential. This is now turning into a political brawl on state and local funding. More and more, some of the elected officials in Washington are saying they’re against it. They’re led by Senator Mitch McConnell, who leads the Senate, who makes it blatantly political. No blue state bailout.

No blue state bailout. What is he trying to say? The states that have coronavirus are Democratic states and he’s a Republican, so he doesn’t want to help the Democratic states.

He went so far as to say, well he’d be in favor of the states going bankrupt. First, states have never gone bankrupt. States can’t go bankrupt. There are serious Constitutional questions about whether or not a state can declare bankruptcy and you need a federal law that would allow the states to declare bankruptcy even if you got around the Constitutional question on bankruptcy. If he believes that, if it wasn’t just political rhetoric and personal vitriol, then pass a law that allows states to declare bankruptcy. He would have to do that. I dare him to do that and get that bill signed by the President.

To make it partisan is what is most disturbing, and you can see they’re now rallying the partisan troops. Senator Scott from Florida says we’re supposed to bail them out. We versus them. We’re supposed to bail them out. It’s we and it’s them. That’s not right. Who is we and who is them? Who is we? And who is them? Them, the people who had coronavirus. They are the ones who had the coronavirus. We, without the virus, are supposed to bail out those people who have the virus. what an ugly sentiment.

First of all, on the facts, it’s not even close to right and why would they even want to go down this road when the facts damn everything they’re saying. And there are still facts. I know it’s hard to communicate facts in this environment. I know a lot of the filters don’t communicate facts. They all communicate spin now. Everybody has their own spin. But there are still facts that are not political theater, right?

New York State bails them out every year. They’re not bailing us out. We bail them out every year. New York State pays $29 billion into that federal pot, $29 billion more every year that we never get back. Our state contribution into the federal pot, the United States of America pot, every year we put in $29 billion more than we take out. On the other hand, they take out every year $37 billion more than they pay to the federal government. Senator Mitch McConnell, you are bailing out New York, when every year you take out more from the kitty, the federal pot, $37 billion more than you put in? Who is bailing out whom?

Senator Scott, Florida, you’re going to bail us out? You take out $30 billion more every year than you pay in. How dare they? How dare they when those are the facts? How long are you going to play the American people and assume they’re stupid? They are not; they can add and they know facts. And I don’t care what the news media tries to do to distort these facts. They are numbers, and they are facts, and they can’t be distorted, and this is every year.

Look, what this is really about, it’s Washington double speak. You look at the bills that they want to pass and who they want to help. They want to fund the hotels, the restaurants, the airlines, the big corporations. That’s who they want to fund. Who do state and local governments fund? State and local governments fund police, firefighters, nurses, school teachers, food banks. That’s who I want to fund and that’s what it means to fund a state and local government. And that’s the choice they’re making.

Everybody applauds the health care workers. Jets fly over in tribute to the health care workers. That’s all nice. Saying thank you is nice. How about actually rewarding them and making their life easier? How about giving them hazard pay? How about helping with their childcare? How about helping families who can’t feed their kids right now? How about helping the police, and helping the firefighters, and all the people who are out there right now killing themselves to make life easier for us?

That’s what this is really about. They want to fund corporate America. That’s who puts money in their pockets. And I say let’s fund working Americans. That’s the choice. Bail out us, them. No, it’s just theater. It’s just smoke and mirrors to avoid the American people seeing the reality, which is whose pocket they want to put money in, versus whose pocket state and local governments want to fund. The reason that it’s so disturbing to me, I’m not surprised by anything in politics. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly for many, many years. I was in Washington for eight years. I know what it’s like.

But if there was ever a time that one could reasonably believe you could put aside partisan politics. If there was ever going to be a moment where we could say, you know what, let’s stop just for one moment the partisanship, the ugliness, the anger, the deception. Let’s just stop for one moment. If there was going to be one moment to hit the pause button, the moment would be now. You have human suffering. You have people dying. You can’t stop the politics even in this moment? Even in this moment when people are dying all across the country, you still want to play your politics? That’s what this is about, and that’s why it is so disturbing on a fundamental level. Politics, I’m getting up and I’m reading that death toll number. I’m speaking to the widows and the brothers and the sisters and the children of people who died, and then we’re going to play politics with funding that’s necessary to save people’s lives? When does it stop?

And the disconnect is between the political leadership and the people, because the American people, it’s not them. They are principled, they are kind, they are better than what they are getting. The American instinct is to help each other in crisis. The American instinct is to be good neighbors. The American instinct is the farmer who sent me the one mask to help a New Yorker when he only had five masks and a wife with one lung and underlying illness. And he sends one of his five masks to New York. Think about that generosity, that charity, that spirit. That’s America. Why? Because we’re good neighbors, because we care about one another.

America was [caring] when I said we need help in our emergency rooms and hospitals and 95,000 nurses and doctors from across the nation said we will come to New York to help. We’ll come into the emergency room. We’ll come into the hospital. I understand it’s COVID. I will leave my family, and I will come to help yours. That’s America. That’s who we are and that’s who we have shown ourselves to be in the middle of this crisis. The crisis brings out the best and the worst, yes. And the best of America is beautiful and that’s what we’ve seen. Because, yes, we are tough. Yes, we are smart. Yes, we are disciplined. Yes, we are united. Yes, we’re loving. Loving, because we are Americans. And that’s who we are and how we are as Americans. And I just hope the political leadership of this nation understands how good we are as a people.

And the textbook says politicians lead, elected officials lead. No, sometimes the people lead and the politicians follow, and that’s where we are today. Follow the American people. Look at what they’re doing. Look at how they’re reacting. And politicians, try to be half as good as the American people.

I want to show you a self-portrait that was done by American people. This is a self-portrait of America, okay? [Unveiling a large collage of COVD-19 masks] That’s a self-portrait of America. You know what it spells? It spells love. That’s what it spells. You have to look carefully, but that’s what the American people are saying. We received thousands of masks from all across America, unsolicited, in the mail, homemade, creative, personal, with beautiful notes from all across the country, literally. Just saying, thinking about you, “We care, we love you, we want to help.” And this is just people’s way of saying we care. And we want to help. This is what this country is about. And this is what Americans are about. A little bit more of this and a little bit less of the partisanship and the ugliness, and this country will be a better place. Thank you.”

Sinking the Ship of State

Watching the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is like watching a panicked group of passengers rushing from side to side of a listing ship, each time reacting late and making the boat rock more severely, eventually leading to its swamping.

While Trump continues to gaslight Americans every day in his so-call press conferences, the undeniable facts are that he was warned early, rejected what he heard, ignored reality in favor of sloganeering and cheerleading for a losing hand and failed across the board to take appropriate action to prepare for and fight the pandemic. This incompetent lunatic continues to tweet about how good the TV ratings are while thousands of Americans are dying. Trump doesn’t understand that people in car accidents get good “ratings” too as passing drivers become rubberneckers who can’t help but slow down and stare at the wreckage.

Trump’s meltdowns and attacks on the press at his press conferences are, for reasons that defy understanding, given continuous national TV coverage by networks and cable services, although of late, some of them have cut away when, as always happens, Trump begins his delusional rants about what a great job he’s done. All of the fact-checking done by responsible journalists conclude that virtually every one of Trump’s press conferences is laced with lies, deflections and distortions. He makes statements that are demonstrably untrue and when questioned, attacks the person who asked the questions.

One conclusion to be drawn from this is that Trump doesn’t see these “press conferences” as means of conveying truthful information, or even inspirational messages, to the press or the American public. He sees them as opportunities to glorify himself, little more than campaign events for his re-election. And, as always, a cast of Republican sycophants in and outside Congress readily defends his failures with still more lies and distortions.

A good example of Republican representatives distorting the record, mostly by omitting inconvenient facts, is the video of Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) that is circulating on Facebook and Twitter. Crenshaw is good at dissembling, appearing oh so reasonable (“I’m not blaming the Democrats” while in fact blaming the Democrats). His demeanor suggests a thoughtful man just trying to set the record straight, but, as occurred throughout the phony Senate “trial” of Trump’s impeachment, leaving out key information is not making the record better. It is rewriting history to make Trump look better. It’s a hopeless task, but Republicans know that much of their political base is so enamored of them that they can be relied upon to believe almost anything. Take a look at this: https://wapo.st/3cyFf8n, a solid fact-checking of Crenshaw’s false narrative.

Trump himself, possibly aware at some deep level that his actions and inactions have been a disaster for America and Americans, like the crowd on the troubled boat, changes targets for his deflections almost daily. One day it is former President Obama’s fault, the next day it’s the Democratic governors, the next day it’s China or the World Health Organization, then back to Obama. Anybody but Trump and the incompetent corps of White House lackeys who report to him from their knees.

None of this is a surprise. Concerned observations have been worrying over the possibility that during his term, Trump would face an emergency he could not handle. Much of the speculation about this had to do with a possible military confrontation, but it turns out it was something else, perhaps with even greater consequences. In a sense, the entire world is at war with itself and the putative Leader of the Free World has come up short at every turn.

One report says a Republican congressman had argued it was better for people to die than to face severe economic losses even if they are relatively short-lived. This is revelatory of the Republican philosophy that values money over everything else. I have to wonder whether these people would be elected if an express element of their political platform were that their parents and other family members should sacrifice their lives so that the economy could be restored to its former glories sooner. Maybe the electorate that installed them would think that’s just fine. It’s hard to be surprised by any degradation of moral principles in the world of Donald Trump.

Now we see that Republican governors in multiple states have decided to follow their fuhrer into hell by reopening business in their states, withdrawing the social distancing orders and generally saying “let the chips fall as they may.” That might be okay if the “chips” weren’t people. Contrast this with the evaluation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who has been asked “why can’t you just open up businesses in counties that have few or no COVID cases?” Cuomo explained the obvious: that the virus, and the people who carry it, don’t know about county boundaries. Open restaurants in County A while keeping them closed in County B will simply result in people from County B descending on the restaurants in County A and end up sharing their infections. The result, when looked at one county at a time, is that the infection rate will simply go up in both counties.

This is not rocket science, but just as Republicans reject climate science among other scientific principles, people who don’t want to be inconvenienced any further will simply disregard principles of responsible behavior. Cuomo has discussed this at length in his daily press briefings, noting that (close paraphrase), “I can’t force people to comply. All I can do is persuasively explain the facts of the situation and urge them to comply. And when I do that well, most New Yorkers do comply, which is why we’re seeing the positive results in hospitalizations and other indicators.”

So, the choice is to follow sensible principles that are working to reduce infections or go ahead and open up massage parlors, hair salons, beaches, restaurants and the rest and “let the chips fall where they may.” It would be one thing if the people screaming about their “rights” and “freedoms” to disregard sensible practices would be turned away from overwhelmed medical facilities and sent to suffer, and in many cases die, on their own away from anyone else they might infect. But that’s not how our systems, such as they are, work and it’s not how viruses behave. It’s almost amusing, but not, that many of the protestors following Trump’s LIBERATE call-to-action to demand their freedom from lockdown orders are wearing masks and other protective gear even as they scream at medical personnel. And many of them, it should also be noted, carried Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas as they demanded “freedom.” Irony is not a strong force among these people.

Speaking of Nazis, William Barr, the part-time Attorney General of the U.S. and full-time consigliere for Trump, has declared that the Department of Justice will join private lawsuits on the plaintiff’s side if he concludes that the governors are imposing restrictions that, under well-thought-out standards such as “going too far,” violate the Constitution. https://bloom.bg/2ywzOIo In a statement that plainly makes DOJ an arm of the White House political agenda, Barr said,

“We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that’s reasonably safe,” Barr said. “To the extent that governors don’t and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce — our common market that we have here — then we’ll have to address that.”

Asking the courts to address issues of this nature reminds me of that wonderful song, “In the Year 2525.” If you don’t remember it, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izQB2-Kmiic

Barr, who lacks a medical degree, went further,

“You can’t just keep on feeding the patient chemotherapy and say well, we’re killing the cancer, because we were getting to the point where we’re killing the patient,” Barr said. “And now is the time that we have to start looking ahead and adjusting to more targeted therapies.”

Barr appears as unaware as Trump that we are not “killing the cancer.” Barr apparently lost his thinking capacity when he signed on as Trump’s consigliere and now believes that he knows everything about everything.

How will DOJ determine what state business operations are “reasonably safe” is undetermined. Trump’s own articulation of the standards states should follow for “reopening” has been as unstable as everything else the Trump administration does.  His standards didn’t last 24 hours, as pointed out by Washington Governor Jay Inslee who said Trump had gone “off the rails.”

Trump has managed to destabilize one of the strongest economies in the world while bringing death and misery to millions. Their blood is on his hands and it can’t be brushed or washed off with more self-adulatory platitudes. Much of this could have been avoided, but the president doesn’t read and he doesn’t listen. He thinks he already knows everything he needs to know. We are aware of this because it has told us so, repeatedly, and his behavior shows his corrupt incompetence every day. So, as Trump veers one way and then the other way, his followers do the same and the Ship of State rocks back and forth, teetering ever closer to the brink of complete disaster. All the gains against the virus, made at such huge human and economic costs, may disappear literally in a few days if the states follow the medical advice of the fool-in-chief and his ignoramus Attorney General.

We will know who is responsible even as Trump tries to blame someone or some many others. He is out of excuses. Not even Putin can cover up the catastrophe Trump has brought about. Start the countdown.

 

New York As a Dead City

We have no balcony but many windows from which we can see south down Ninth Avenue into the 30s and east on West 58th to Columbus Circle and even parts of Central Park. In normal times West 58th would be teeming with foot traffic in both directions, much of it related to either Mt Sinai West Hospital that sits next to our apartment building and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (enrollment of more than 13,000 undergraduates). Now, almost no one is on the street and there is little traffic. Few of the distinctive yellow taxis because no one is looking for rides.. Even the ambulances that normally come and go all day and night with sirens blasting are few and far between. The city is silent.

We remain self-sequestered in our 50th floor apartment. I have left it only twice since March 10, once for a disturbing walk around the block and once to go to a clinic where my “symptoms” were judged to be caused by a cold I’ve had since before coronavirus was recognized as rampant among us. I returned home from that experience chastened and profoundly disturbed at the incoming hourly news of the spreading catastrophe. I finally determined not to watch any more Coronavirus Task Force “press briefings” from the White House. The last straw was the dragging onstage of the Bible-thumper Pillow Guy who used the occasion to proclaim that the president was brought to us by God to save us from the virus. The constant slavering pandering to the president’s ego is more than I can bear to watch as thousands are dying and hundreds of thousands are suffering.

As you know if you follow the news, all of New York City is the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, a dubious distinction of the worst type in the current circumstances. Broadway shows, ballet at Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center and elsewhere, all shuttered along with the restaurants. Food deliveries are no long permitted to be brought to our door; someone must venture to the lobby to pick up everything. Absent a genuine emergency, medical appointments must be conducted by videoconference. How fortunate we are that such technology is available to us. We recently had a Zoom visit with some friends in Brooklyn, a delightful respite from the bleakness everywhere we look.

Which brings me to what is really most puzzling and disturbing. From up here, it appears that the people of New York are observing the social distancing practices recommended by the government and health experts. Of course, we can only see a tiny portion of the city, but you must wonder why the social distancing practices would vary dramatically from the limited area we can view. In any case, the number of new COVID-19 cases in New York City continues to surge. Experts are now suggesting that the early advice about how the virus spreads in the community was inaccurate. That is not a criticism because this is a new virus and the experts are learning more about it every day. But the reality appears to be that social distancing as thus far practiced has not “flattened the curve” sufficiently. The peak or apex day when the number of new cases begins to reverse is at least a week away. Maybe no one really appreciated how fast and how deeply the virus had reached before the true scale of the threat was understood.

Elsewhere, irrationality borne of cult-like beliefs in the unbelievable are causing the leaders of numerous states, mainly in the south, to either reject the experts’ medical advice entirely or to apply it very selectively. Only when the inevitable occurs and COVID-19 cases begin to surge do these geniuses decide that some response is required. Meanwhile, thousands of people crowd still-open beaches and continue about their daily lives as if nothing had happened. This is not, I must admit, solely a product of southern, religious or other regional misjudgment of reality. Even in New York City when the decision was made to leave open the many public playgrounds that dot the city, many New Yorkers flocked to them and behaved as if it was just another day in the park. The city noticed that social distancing practices were being ignored and closed the playgrounds.

I cannot leave this subject without noting another stark difference between New York and the Republican stronghold states around the country. I refer to leadership. As I was considering this post, a piece by Jon Katz appeared in the Bedlam Farm Journal, The Cuomo Brothers Versus The President: What A Show! https://bit.ly/2x2eHx8 Katz is a “former journalist and media critic” who compares the leadership performances of Donald Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during the COVID-19 crisis. I think Katz’s analysis is excellent with one major exception. He seems to think that Trump and Cuomo are basically the same except that Cuomo is better at presentation. I, on the other hand, believe that the differences are so stark and fundamental that they are a difference in kind, not merely in style.

Katz’s article contains much of what I had intended to say after watching Cuomo’s press briefing on Friday. He sat at a table flanked by senior advisors and experts in health and finance. His presentation was not accompanied by a cast of business executives parading to a microphone to sing the governor’s praises. Instead, Cuomo’s remarks related to a series of charts and graphs showing the extent of the challenges New York City and state face from the coronavirus. Much of it was bad news: “At the current burn rate we will be out of ventilators in six days.” The little good news was marked with warnings about undue optimism that could mislead people into taking unnecessary and dangerous (to themselves and others) risks by departing too soon from the social distancing and other measures designed, it is hoped, to “flatten the curve” in virus case growth and deaths. Hospitals and the doctors, nurses, orderlies and others laboring there are reaching the breaking point.

The data was clear and stark and frightening. Cuomo glossed over nothing. He spoke in full sentences in simple New York-accented English. No word salad, no gibberish, no self-praise. Just simple language, elegant in its simplicity and directness, intended to communicate both concern about the harsh realities and encouragement that we will get through this together. He carefully avoided engaging Trump in a war of words and recriminations when reporters tried to bait him into reacting to Trump’s verbal insults to New York and its health care workers.

And, in total contrast to the self-referential obsessions of the president, Cuomo said “If we fail, it’s on me.” Near, I think, to the limits of emotional control, he said “I’m doing everything I can, but people are still dying. It is very hurtful and painful. I take it very personally.” Then, after an hour of speaking hard truths and answering questions, Cuomo looked to his advisors: “Anything I said that is wrong? Now is the time to speak up.” The cameras were still rolling and there is no doubt that if any of his experts had something to qualify about his presentation, they were being called out in public to do it in full public view.

You likely will never see Donald Trump do anything like that. He maintains that everything he does and says is perfect. He is anointed and therefore cannot make mistakes. Remember that after downplaying the risks of the coronavirus while the rest of the world was being overrun by it, after claiming it was completely under control and predicting that it would soon drop to zero cases in the United States, Trump said, on camera, “No, I do not take responsibility.”

So, Cuomo: If we fail, it’s on me.

And Trump: I take no responsibility and deny I said what I said.

 

Have Progressives Been Unfair to Donald Trump?

On Facebook and other places I have seen many “conservatives” argue that “progressives,” or “ libtards” or “haters” more pejoratively, have been unfair to the “duly elected” president from some unspecified time before he was elected to the present. The argument, they seem to offer, is that Trump is president of all the people and thus deserves everyone’s 100% devotion. They believe Trump is acting in good faith, doing his best in the face of massive resistance at every turn and, as Trump himself proclaims on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, is being treated in a fundamentally unfair way.

I have reflected on this at some length and done some research which, in the interest of comity and intellectual honesty, I present herewith. Let’s begin at the beginning — with people who know Trump best.

On March 3, 2016, Mitt Romney spoke about Trump, calling his promises worthless, labeling him a “fraud.” https://nyti.ms/2JkGFH6 The speech listed a long list of failed business ventures bearing Trump’s name. He noted that on foreign policy Trump was “very not smart.” Dishonesty is Trump’s hallmark, Romney explained. Many Republicans were unhappy with Romney’s comments, but Senator John McCain, a fixture in the classical conservative wing of the Republican Party, agreed with Romney’s descriptions of Trump.

Senator Ted Cruz referred to Trump as a “bully” and “sniveling coward” who was “consistently disgraceful.” And,

“This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology text book, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying,” …. “The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist—a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.”

https://bit.ly/3bsGoO8

Senator Lindsey Graham said the following about Trump:

“I don’t think he has the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief.”

I just don’t think Donald is a reliable conservative Republican and quite frankly, he lost me when he said my friend John McCain was a loser because he was captured as a POW. He lost me when he accused George W. Bush of lying to the American people about the Iraq War, and he thinks Putin’s a good guy, so, I just can’t go there.

I’ve just got a hard time supporting somebody who claims that Ted Cruz’s dad was associated with Lee Harvey Oswald and involved in the Kennedy assassination. I’ve got a hard time supporting somebody for president who spent thousands of dollars of their own money trying to find out if President Obama was born in Kenya versus Hawaii. I think that’s crazy.

I just believe his temperament and judgment is not sufficient to be commander in chief of the finest fighting force in the world. I think his foreign policy is gibberish.

… embracing Donald Trump is embracing demographic death.

[https://bit.ly/2UzpKp6]

“I’m not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of space there. I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.”   [https://bit.ly/2UMttA6]

Trump lied about giving up his active interests in his business empire.  He lied about disclosing his tax returns.

Then, Trump appointed his cabinet of incompetents and grifters, including Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Ryan Zinke who, when they weren’t enacting anti-health insurance, anti-environmental protection and similar policies, were basically run out of town for corruption in office.

When Neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, VA, leading to the murder of a counter-protester, Trump declared there were “very fine people on both sides.” He said other things, to be sure, but overall the tenor of his comments about the white supremacists bearing swastikas & other Nazi paraphernalia was to equate their cause as equal to those protesting their presence. Trump’s history of equivocation and making false equivalencies is well-established on the public record. This has not stopped Trump from making outrageous and often outright false statements that are recorded on videos, then simply denying he made the statements thereafter.

He mocked a disabled reporter at a rally, urged violence against protesters, refused to read intelligence briefings, insulted U.S. intelligence authorities, insulted long-standing allies around the world, including shoving a world leader out of the way so he could stand in front for a photo opportunity.

Trump relishes giving demeaning nicknames to his political opponents, gets most of his “information” from the Fox News propaganda channel, demands unending praise from everyone around him at all times and constantly brags about his claimed achievements which are always the “greatest of any administration in history.”

All of that is on the public record and undeniable. The Washington Post Fact Checker has determined that Trump does hold one record: the most false and/or misleading statements in the history of American politics. This brings us to the current moment of national peril, the scenario that Trump’s critics have always feared the most: an existential crisis that Trump would prove incompetent to handle.

Again, the record on this is clear and indisputable by anyone able to face reality. Trump had reason to know in January that the coronavirus threatened the world with a death-dealing pandemic. He made multiple public statements downplaying the threat, boasting that he had the situation under control. He was supported in this by some of his sycophantic cabinet members who have learned they dare not criticize him if they want to keep their jobs. Trump essential dismissed the coronavirus threat, saying the cases would be down to zero in no time.

And, here we are. The number of cases has skyrocketed. The virus is present in every state. The death toll mounts hourly and is now in the thousands. Trump continues to publicly contradict the advice and public statements of the best medical advisors in the world. His penchant to say whatever he thinks will play well in the media has led him to make threats such as quarantining the entire states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In a rare victory for reason, his staff apparently persuaded him that a “strong travel advisory” would be the better approach, but his swing-from-the-hip statements caused alarm in the region.

Trump’s equivocation has other consequences. His sway over right-wing politicians is so strong now that his resistance to recognizing the truth about the coronavirus has infected many of them and led to rejection of sound medical advice that might limit the spread of the virus. Unnecessary deaths will inevitably result.

Without belaboring this further, the question I posed at the outset can have only one answer: Trump has not been treated unfairly. He and he alone is responsible for his standing as the most dishonest and incompetent president in the history of the United States. I have only touched on a few of the lowlights of his mal-administration of the public trust but these are sufficient to show that Trump is fully deserving of every criticism leveled at him. His reputation for lying, for bullying, for self-glorification and all the rest is both well-earned and documented for all time on the public record. It will never be erased and nothing about his current conduct indicates he has the capacity to resurrect a functioning leadership role for himself. His legacy is established. It is time to remove him from office before it is too late.

Compartmentalized Thinking Can Kill

Readers of this blog know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU primarily uses the legal system to protect everyone’s rights, sometimes in unpopular causes. ACLU recognizes the difficult truth that if one person’s rights can be taken away, then all peoples’ rights can be taken.

Compartmentalized thinking is one of the ways we are able to look away from wrongs – it’s “them,” not “us;” “I can’t afford to get involved so I won’t think about it;” and “maybe I’ll engage later/contribute later/pay attention later, but right now I have other important things on my mind.” And many other examples. Such thinking also enables our ability to block out unpleasant thoughts and to resist the inexorable logic of exponential growth.

Compartmentalized thinking also enables us to support abstract ideas that block our awareness of the interconnectedness of events and the forces that shape our society. I read a piece from ACLU that delivered this point with unexpected force today. https://bit.ly/2wz18oq

ACLU reports that “A group of over 450 public health experts signed a public letter today warning that widespread transmission of the Covid-19 coronavirus within the United States is “inevitable.” Their letter urges government decisionmakers to enact policies that will have the best chance of minimizing the effects of the virus: those based strictly on the best available scientific information, and those that are imposed in a fair and equitable fashion.”

Some will react to this with “uh oh, here they go again, worrying about peoples’ rights when we should be focused on survival.” That is, perhaps, an understandable response, but read on.

ACLU acknowledges that sometimes individual rights must yield to the “greater good.” However,

The public health experts remind us in their letter that there is a flip side to the limits on liberty …. Just as a disease cares little for our notions of individualism … neither does it care about other artifacts of our individualistic society, such as differences in wealth, status, ethnicity, or immigration status. If the authorities want to be effective in limiting the transmission of this virus, they will need to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable people in our society.

A disease does not care who has health insurance, for example. You may have the best insurance in the world, but if 30 million others who are part of your bio-mass are not getting tested or treated because they lack insurance, that will increase your risk. Similarly, if members of immigrant communities fear they’re going to fall into the hands of an ICE officer if they seek treatment, that is a public health problem for all of us. A disease does not care who is undocumented.

In their letter, the public health experts call for officials to work with insurance companies to make sure that lack of insurance and high costs do not become a barrier to testing and treatment. They call for health care facilities to be declared as “immigration enforcement-free zones” — a step that has been taken before during hurricanes and other emergencies….

The experts draw attention to the need to support minimum-wage workers and others who live on the economic margins, cannot telecommute, and cannot afford to lose their job. While an office worker who is starting to feel ill may be able to self-isolate, someone in a more precarious situation may calculate the different risks they face in their life and conclude their only option is to hide their condition and head to work. A disease does not care whose employers offer good sick leave.

Finally, “Political leaders need to scrupulously ensure that their public messages are accurate and guided by science. There is a sad history of responses to emergencies that are hindered by politics,” citing  China’s response to SARS as well as coronavirus and the Soviet government’s response to Chernobyl.

Finally, the experts echo some of the longstanding lessons of their field: Voluntary self-isolation measures are more likely to induce cooperation — and therefore be effective — than coercive measures. Mandatory restrictions such as quarantines and travel bans “can be effective only under specific circumstances” and “must be guided by science, with appropriate protection of the rights of those impacted.” Those rights include due process rights to appeal confinement and the right to legal counsel. While leaders in outbreaks can be tempted to impose draconian measures as a show of strength, the letter’s signers also remind us that a disease also does not care how tough a leader looks.

The record of the Trump administration, and the President’s repeated comments contradicting the advice of health experts, do not align well with ACLU’s insightful analysis. This has led to numerous mistakes in the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Everyone needs to recognize that just about everything is now connected to just about everything. If society now turns its back on the problems faced by the uninsured and others who are under enormous pressure to survive, we will all pay a dear price. We’re all in this together, like it or not.

Final Note:  Please consider making a contribution to the ACLU. It is fighting for each of us on multiple fronts and needs financial support to continue being an effective force for truth and justice for everyone.