Category Archives: Commentary

Really, Mr. Pence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump – Who Is He?

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

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

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

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

 

Advocating Violence

Attacks Democrats

Attacks Press

Audience Praise

Blatant Lies

Domination – words expressing Trump’s power over                      others

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

Invokes Patriotism

Racist Statements

Self-Praise

Some People Say/I Hear/Heard

Trump as Victim

Word Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confronting Racism is Our American Duty

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

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

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

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

Just consider how preposterous that sounds.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Can’t Walk Back His Racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politico again,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Presidency in Memes — Round 2

The hits just keep coming so it seems only right to share what I have found on Twitter, where I spend far too much time, and Facebook. This time I will offer a few comments along the way. Just because I can. If Republicans can twist themselves into logical pretzels that would have bedazzled Escher (Google him if new to you — very interesting work) to justify reversing the decisions made to deny a hearing/vote on Merrick Garland for Supreme Court Justice, I can add my thoughts to these precious memes. Note for the record that I did not create any of them — I chanced upon them while searching for coherence on the cited sites. The are the work of people far more creative than I.

Most prominent among Trump’s failures is his decision to downplay the severity of the coronavirus the severity and deadliness of which he knew very early on. He decided to lie about it allegedly to “avoid panic” — making him the only president in modern history to not trust the people with the truth about a killer virus — with massively deadly consequences: 200,000 dead so far and many thousands more with permanent organ damage. And no end in sight.

While Trump’s crimes against humanity are the major story of the hour, we cannot overlook the loss of icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The photo on the right is from the Supreme Court the night the news of her passing spread in Washington. RIP fair lady.

Below is a random-ish collection of other memes I found. One note: I have not included a number of photos of Donald Trump inappopriately engaged with daughter Ivanka. I just can’t do that, although I think those photos speak volumes about the nature of the man who sits in the White House. For similar reasons, I did not reproduce the meme that includes the infamous quotations of his comments coming off the bus with Billy somebody about grabbing women. Everyone knows those words by heart, I suspect, so no need to repeat them here. Just remember — that was man now the sitting president of the United States.

One more note: the last shot of the Trump cabinet below had a label: “No misogyny found in our investigation” or something similar. Let your imagination run wild & add your own.

 

 

 

Trump’s Presidency in Memes

As a frequent participant in Twitter and Facebook, I have come across some clever and powerful pictures that encompass elements of the battle for the salvation of the American republic and its more-or-less democratic system of choosing and controlling its leaders. Recognizing that a picture may indeed be worth a thousand words and having blessed/cursed these pages with many thousands of words (with more coming), I thought it would be interesting to just do a post as a collection of these mini-masterpieces. The provenance of most of them is unknown but, where there is an identified author, I have included the portion of the photo with that indication and give huge props to those creative individuals. Enjoy.

So It Begins – Grooming Us For the Bad News

Yesterday the legal authorities in Wisconsin who are charged by law, they said, with conducting an “independent investigation” of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha spent a lot of time in front of the cameras pleading for time to conduct what they repeatedly said was an “independent’ investigation, that is, independent of the police department being investigated. We heard all the usual platitudes about the complexity of the situation, not jumping to conclusions, these things take time, be patient, etc. No surprises.

Then, today, we read that, lo and behold, those same authorities disclose a few new “facts” already discovered that, presumably, they didn’t know the day before: “Wisconsin authorities say there was knife in Jacob Blake’s vehicle.’ https://bit.ly/3gtAlLm

 The “press release,” issued by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, was reproduced in a report from WKOW, an ABC-affiliate station in Kenosha [https://bit.ly/31xWpjF], and in relevant part reads as follows with my notes in brackets :

Kenosha Police Department officers were dispatched to a residence in the 2800 block of 40th Street after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.

During the incident, officers attempted to arrest Jacob S. Blake, age29. [Why? “Girlfriend said Blake wasn’t supposed to be there. Is that why he was arrested?] Law enforcement deployed a taser to attempt to stop Mr. Blake, however the taser was not successful in stopping Mr. Blake. [Stopping him from doing what? Was he resisting arrest? Audio evidence from police radios indicate police were on site for only 3 minutes from start to shooting Blake] Mr. Blake walked around his vehicle [good; they got this right; Blake did not run as some have claimed]. opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward. While holding onto Mr. Blake’s shirt, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his service weapon 7 times. Officer Sheskey fired the weapon into Mr. Blake’s back. No other officer fired their weapon. Kenosha Police Department does not have body cameras, therefore the officers were not wearing body cameras.….

During the investigation following the initial incident, Mr. Blake admitted that he had a knife in his possession. DCI agents recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Mr. Blake’s vehicle. A search of the vehicle located no additional weapons. [When did this discovery occur?]

I have read this release several times. My first, and continuing, thought was: why, after all the “be patient; these things take time, etc.” did the DOJ decide to release these tidbits of initial investigative findings which, standing alone, imply — but do not state – that Blake was indeed being arrested for a legitimate reason, resisted arrest after admitting to having a  deadly weapon in his car and was shot while attempting to reach the weapon with which to attack the two officers who already had pistols trained on him?

Is all that plausibly possible? Certainly. But why is the Wisconsin DOJ now so seemingly anxious to start slanting the public mind against Mr. Blake? What happened to “be patient, let’s collect all the evidence and then we’ll impartially decide whether a crime was committed and, if so, by whom?

These events suggest an effort by the DOJ to prime the public to accept a defense the police have yet to make but which may be inevitable. Is this the model for how this investigation will be conducted – dribbling pieces of seemingly incriminating evidence (only regarding Mr. Blake) to the public to prepare them for the [inevitable?] decision to bring no charges against the police because – what – they “reasonably feared for their safety?

I don’t want to be guilty of prejudging anything in this volatile situation even as I am demanding impartiality by the investigators. As I said when I first wrote about this case, I wasn’t there and have only seen the videos which cloak as much as they reveal. But I can’t help but be reminded of the all-too-familiar ring of “be patient while we game this situation.”

It strikes me that even if one imagines the worst case — Blake was out of control emotionally and was reaching for a knife with which to attack the police and that the police had tased him to no effect, ordered him to stop, he didn’t and instead reached for a knife and the police believed he was trying to reach the weapon he had confessed to having during the less-than-three minute interaction before the shooting and everything was moving fast – still, why could the police have not backed away? They had weapons drawn and pointed. There were two of them. If they had backed up several feet, they would have had a better view of Blake and could still have shot him if he turned with a weapon, maybe even a gun, in his hand.

Easy enough to speculate. Things were moving fast indeed. Split-second decisions had to be made.  But that’s part of the problem. Could the police not have avoided a situation in which split-second decisions had to be made and in which the risk of mistake, possibly fatal mistake, would arise? If the police thought Blake was going to the car to retrieve a weapon, why did they not shoot him in the legs, say, before he reached and opened the car door? Why did the shooting officer grab Blake’s tee shirt while pumping seven rounds into his back?

Many questions. Few answers because it’s early in the investigation. Why then, I ask again, is the Wisconsin DOJ moving so quickly to release only incriminating evidence against Mr. Blake?

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Subversion of Federal Health Authority Complete

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that Trump’s subversion of the national health service is complete. In apparent obedience to Trump’s expressed desire to “slow the testing down, please,” CDC now says that it “no longer recommends testing for most people without symptoms, even if they’ve been in close contact with someone known to have the virus.” https://cnn.it/32vgQgz

According to the CNN report,

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who was previously Baltimore’s health commissioner, said … that the testing guideline changes make no sense. “These are exactly the people who should be tested,” Wen said, giving the example of a person exposed at work who wants a test so they can protect their family at home.

It almost seems that CDC is trying to confuse the public further.

The CDC guidelines say if someone has symptoms and they’re mild, a health care provider “may advise a COVID-19 test,” and if symptoms are severe, people should contact a health care provider or seek emergency care.

“It is important to realize that you can be infected and spread the virus but feel well and have no symptoms,” the updated CDC site says, noting that local public health officials might request asymptomatic “healthy people” be tested, depending on cases and spread in an area.

In its pandemic planning scenarios, the CDC says its current best estimate is that 40% of infections are asymptomatic and 50% of transmission occur before symptoms occur.

The CDC did not explain the change, and doctors were puzzled by it.

Uh huh. Puzzled. Yes, not only doctors.

Dr. Wen further said,

“This is key to contact tracing, especially given that up to 50% of all transmission is due to people who do not have symptoms. One wonders why these guidelines were changed — is it to justify continued deficit of testing?”

Not unexpectedly, CNN reports that

A spokesperson at the US Department of Health and Human Services denied the change would affect contact tracing efforts, which most public health officials say is key to any eventual control of the virus. “The updated guidance does not undermine contact tracing or any other types of surveillance testing,” the spokesperson said.

HHS said people should consult with their doctors or with local health officials to decide if they need to be tested. “The guidance fully supports public health surveillance testing, done in a proactive way through federal, state, and local public health officials,” the spokesperson said.

If your head is spinning, that is the intended effect. Mission accomplished. You have been gaslighted by your government at the behest of the president. Recall that Trump has repeatedly complained that “we do more testing, we show more cases.” In Trump’s bizarro mind, that means if you do less testing, there will be fewer positive cases to report and we can say “Trump did a great job because the virus is under control – just look at those low positive case counts.”

This is the conduct of a proto-dictator who cares nothing about the welfare of the people he swore an oath to protect. He has finally succeeded in subordinating yet another government function to his Alice-in-Wonderland version of reality. Just to get re-elected, the only thing that really matters to him other than money.

You know what to do.

Kenosha – The Shooting of Jacob Blake

Seven shots at point-blank range from behind. A literal miracle that the young man is still alive.

I have no idea what actually happened, any more than anyone who was not there. Even for those present, the shock of an event like this, both expected yet not expected, may lead to conflicting understandings of the facts. But I do know a few things.

This was labeled by the media as an “officer-involved shooting,” a formula for reporting that has become commonplace in today’s journalism. In plainer English, it means a police officer shot someone. It does not mean there was a shooting incident in which a police officer was somehow involved. Why the media dresses up these incidents with this deflective language is not hard to understand. It’s a way of de-intensifying the truth, a way of making the reality somehow less disturbing. The language tends to dull the emotional response, especially when the truth is that one or more police officers fired seven times at point-blank range into an unarmed man’s back.

One witness interviewed on camera said there was a fight among some girls that Jacob Blake, who is a security officer, attempted to break up. The witness reported that after the police arrived, Blake walked to his car where his three children were waiting, opened the door and was shot in the back. Seven shots at point-blank range. The witness said Blake was not armed and made no gestures that could be interpreted as threatening to the police who shot him.

Presumably, we’ll learn more about those details. How this incident began, how Blake became involved, who called the police and why, what the police did when they arrived, why Blake tried to leave with apparent determination (walking quickly back to his car) and so on. There is much yet to be known.

But I also know this much.

The president of the Kenosha Professional Police Association issued a statement:

Part 1 – the standard formula of “we feel bad too”:

Anytime deadly force is used, our hearts go out to those affected by it.  We assure you an independent investigation is being conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation.

Part 2 – the standard formula of “we need more time:”

Until that investigation is completed, we ask that you withhold prejudgment about the incident and please the let process take place.

Part 3 – the standard formulaic objection to statements made by others suggesting something might be amiss with the police response:

Governor Evers’ statement on the incident was wholly irresponsible and not reflective of the hardworking members of the law enforcement community, not to mention the citizens of the City of Kenosha.

As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident. We ask that you withhold from passing judgement until all the facts are known and released.

Part: 4: the standard formula “let’s all be patient, fair and objective:”

We, along with the citizens of the great City of Kenosha, ask for peace and to let the process play out fairly and impartially.

https://bit.ly/34uOOnO

The Governor’s statement was largely formulaic too, but it’s tone and direction was quite different, explaining perhaps why the head of the police union took such offense at it. For example,

We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equality and accountability for Black lives in our country — lives like those of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, Tony Robinson, Denise Hamilton, Earnest Lacy, and Sylville Smith. And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites.

I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action. In the coming days, we will demand  just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.

https://bit.ly/34qr3xn

Of course, we understand that an investigation is necessary. No one can know exactly what happened based on the video taken from across the street. However, the similarities between this case and the many that preceded it cannot be overlooked. I am particularly reminded that in the aftermath of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery we were told the same kinds of things. The first official report in that case actually argued that the unarmed Mr. Arbery was responsible for his own death. See my analysis at https://shiningseausa.com/2020/05/08/when-do-we-take-a-stand-injustice-in-georgia/

The Kenosha police union has offered no solace in terms of a reasonable timeline in which to complete an investigation of a case like this. I heard one report stating that the authorities hoped to have a report in about a month. That is hard to accept. A man’s life has been threatened and may yet end tragically. Three young children saw their father shot. Apparently, the police in Kenosha do not wear body cameras. But surely the police know something that could be shared in the immediate future about what transpired. The longer the investigation goes on, the less confidence people will have in its outcome.

The concerns about extended delays for such “investigations” are many. They often take many months despite there being ample opportunity to interview witnesses, collect and analyze physical evidence and evaluate the governing legal principles. Delays also provide increased opportunity for police officers to coordinate their version of events. No doubt this is not the only case under investigation by the Kenosha police department, but under the remarkable circumstances, this case cries out for priority consideration and for investigation by independent authorities. The days of police departments or local prosecutors who work with the police every day investigating themselves should no longer be tolerated. Have we learned nothing from experience after experience with these situations?

Events like this won’t end with this one, that is certain. And, in case you’re wondering, thinking maybe I’m “against the police,” I can assure you I generally favor the retention of a highly trained police force in every community. But I also insist that the police that be properly vetted, trained and equipped with the necessary weapons of community policing and self-defense (is military equipment really necessary and, if so, against whom do they expect to use it?).

It also makes complete sense to me that every community in the country do what the Governor of New York has demanded, upon penalty of loss of state funding: a from-scratch re-evaluation of what each community wants from its police department and the re-allocation of tax and other resources to enable those outcomes. Call it “defunding” if you like, but it’s a common-sense concept in the end – use police for enforcing criminal law and use other resources for mental health and other situations in which enforcing criminal law is not the priority. People of good will can figure this out if they try. It’s way past time to do this.

Meanwhile, we’re left with yet another in the seemingly endless string of deaths-by-police or, if you still insist, deaths by police-involved shooting. Viewed only on the single video that has been published, it’s hard to understand what justification existed for Mr. Blake to be shot seven times in the back at point-blank range.

Kenosha experienced, predictably, rounds of protests and destruction in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting. The destruction of property provides more ammunition for the “America is under mob rule” crowd of Republican Trump sycophants, but it is not hard to understand why the rage leads to this behavior.

All people of good will hope for Jacob Blake’s survival and full recovery, along with his children who must be traumatized beyond our imagining. Maybe the only clarity here is that we cannot move on until justice is finally done. The sooner the better, and also the righter, the better. I fear the consequences if the police dig in, withhold evidence, stall for time and eventually claim “qualified immunity.” This simply cannot continue. How many times do we have to go through this to learn from it?

It Is What It Is

Or What it is, it is. Take your pick. The title version earned global attention when Donald Trump used it to address the staggering and growing death toll from COVID-19 that he has downplayed, denied and declined to address with an aggressive national plan. https://cnn.it/2QhEVSc Basically, Trump said, in the now infamous Axios interview, “meh, I’m not really interested in it anymore.” Then, during the Democratic National Convention, Former First Lady and for many of us Permanent First Lady, Michelle Obama used it in her blistering take-down of the president for his gross failure of leadership:

He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

https://bit.ly/31hWTKC BOOM!!

The interest in this phrase led me to investigate its origins because I remembered its being used by members of the crime families in the movie, The Irishman, that provided an explanation of the murder/disappearance of labor boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. https://bit.ly/3j5FLxY I was curious about why this reference was never made by the media when Trump, whom many (me included) have likened to a crime boss, used it regarding the pandemic.

It turns out the phrase has been in use for a long time, though its true origins have not been confirmed. According to Wikipedia, the phrase has been a movie title, book title, song title and more. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Is_What_It_Is Curiously, there is no reference there to The Irishman, in which the words are spoken multiple times in two scenes. In the movie, the text means “there is nothing to discuss; the bosses have decided and that’s the end of it,” a conclusion Hoffa (Dustin Hoffman) cannot accept. That decision leads to his death.

A couple of sources attribute the phrase to 1949, when, according to a New York Times piece, it appeared in a column written by J. E. Lawrence in the Nebraska State Journal:

New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without an apology.

That’s a subtly different meaning than the one ascribed in an online dictionary: https://bit.ly/2YpvvIS

When there’s nothing left to say or no way to answer questions about what happened, “It is what it is” puts an end to the conversation, usually with a shrug. It’s another way of saying, “I don’t like it either, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

That’s close to Trump’s “meh.” Closer still is the Quora.com interpretation of one person on Quora.com:

It is what it is” is a pronouncement of the man-in-charge that means the man-in-charge is giving up on a problem or situation (no more “doing”). This is a prompt for an ambitious lower status male to say “I’d like to try one more thing” if he can.

https://bit.ly/31lJT6O

For those who may be interested, the phrase translates in Latin to “est quod id est.” and in Italian it’s ‘È così!’ The Urban Dictionary https://bit.ly/3hmSKdU says,

Used often in the business world, this incredibly versatile phrase can be literally translated as “f*** it

which most perversely may be the closest to what Trump really meant to say.