Category Archives: Economics

Faux Election Integrity Fever Identified in Texas & Florida

Like coronavirus, “Faux Election Integrity Fever” (hereafter “FEIF 2021”) moves quickly across state lines and attacks Republicans with a vengeance. In this case the evidence indicates that Georgia’s sudden post-election awakening to the realities of demographic change and resistance to racism (see https://bit.ly/3njQqbC and https://bit.ly/3aGt0rQ) has morphed into a collection of proposed voter suppression legislation in Texas and Florida.

The odd thing is that Trump won 2020 Texas handily and the state’s two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, are among Trump’s most devoted sycophants. Cruz in particular is an avid member of the Sedition Caucus that voted to overturn the 2020 election and hand it to Donald Trump as, in effect, Dictator of the United States. So what is going on with the Texas variant to FEIF 2021?

Trump also won Florida — by more than 370,000 votes, split largeyn,ly by urban (Biden) and non-urban (Trump) preferences. Florida also sports two Trump shills in Senators Rubio and Rick Scott.

Disclosure: I am relying on published reports regarding the content of the legislation that, based on past experience, are highly reliable sources for such information. Texas GOP Targets Access for City Voters [print headline 4/25/21] https://nyti.ms/3gls1vc and Florida Legislature OKs Bill That Limits Voting By Mail, Ballot Drop Boxes, https://n.pr/2RgSnte 

The NY Times online report regarding Texas notes:

Republicans Target Voter Access in Texas Cities, but Not Rural Areas

In Houston, election officials found creative ways to help a struggling and diverse work force vote in a pandemic. Record turnout resulted. Now the G.O.P. is targeting those very measures.

The NPR report indicates many of the Florida provisions are similar to those recently adopted in Georgia.

Defenders of these bills argue that they include some provisions that make voting easier and more secure. The problem is that there are other provisions that either make voting harder or create the danger that Republicans, motivated as they have shown regarding the 2020 election to overturn important election losses, will use the tools contained in the legislation to simply override the voters’ choices in the future. This is not fantasy.

Given that (1) there is no credible evidence of voter fraud in any of the states where Trump challenges were mounted, (2) these states all had highly detailed vote regulatory laws in place before the new legislation, (3) these are states where 2020 turnout set records, creating (4) reasonable doubts that the Republican-controlled legislatures’ real goal is to enable even great turnout in the future. No, the most reasonable inference is that the huge turnouts in 2020 that resulted in Trump’s defeat have led not to sudden enthusiasm to increase Democratic opportunities going forward but have inspired renewed efforts to suppress Democratic voting in future elections.

These areas of focus are more than a little curious, considering certain other facts about Texas and Florida that one might think would be the real subjects of interest by the governing bodies of those states.

For example, Texas ranks 36th nationally in per-student education spending. While some conflicts exist about the exact amounts spent, https://bit.ly/2S8gyuz, the real losers in the squabbling over the state’s stinginess are the students. As for the mothers of those students,

While maternal mortality is decreasing in most countries, maternal death rates in the U.S. have been increasing and Texas is recognized as having the highest maternal death rate in the country. Texas’ own study on maternal deaths indicates that Texas’ rates have nearly doubled in recent years.

[https://www.texmed.org/MMM/]

U.S. News https://bit.ly/3noOXRc ranks Texas in these categories among the states:

Health Care – No. 31

Education – No.34

Opportunity – No. 39

Economic Opportunity – No. 40

Equality – No. 45

Crime & Corrections – 37

Natural Environment — 40

Population without Health Insurance

                   Texas 24.5 %

                  National Average 12.9 %

And that’s despite having the nation’s 9th largest economy and net inbound population growth, due, it is reported, to little regulation, low taxes and low labor costs.

The Florida story is similar. Despite its famously aged population, Florida ranks:

Health Care                25

Infrastructure            20

Opportunity               33

Crime & Corrections  26

Florida ranks 3rd in Education, driven, however, by the large higher education establishments. It’s only 16th in PreK-12.

You would think that with those standings, the governing parties would be focused on more than just voter suppression but apparently not.

Much of the Republican hullabaloo about voting has no factual or logical foundation. Putting aside the absence of meaningful evidence of voter fraud (all this legislation is directed at a non-existent problem), if you can file taxes online, then why not voting online?  Maybe we need to reconsider leaving all this to the states. Maybe, just maybe, the federal government could do a better job of securing voting systems under a well-crafted legislative plan.  Surely there is a way to do this safely. And, if not, then why not establish through federal legislation a uniform system of manual voting that affects everyone the same way across the country?

Beyond actual voting, why is there a concern that sending out absentee ballot applications, or real ballots, to everyone is a problem, given that voting is highly regulated with detailed checking and matching of ballots to registrations before votes are counted?  Why are drive-through voting sites a problem? In many places you can get a COVID vaccination at a drive-through. And millions routinely do bank transactions at drive-through windows. What is the problem, other than the fact that these practices make it easier for more people to vote?

Is DC Sinking?

Since returning to live in DC four months ago, one thing that has struck me, literally and figuratively, is the condition of the District’s streets. Roads I drive on frequently, long sections of I Street NW, Pennsylvania approaching Washington Circle from the east and in the 24-to-25th block, and long stretches of L Street NW, are in really poor condition. A remarkable number of axle-busting holes are everywhere and either jolt you out of your kidneys or cause cars to suddenly veer out of their lanes in avoidance maneuvers. And then there are the manhole covers. Some streets are “littered” with them and they seem to be set in the precise path that car wheels follow if the car is centered in the lane. All too frequently the covers are an inch or more below the road surface. These are not acceptable conditions for the capital city of what purports to be the greatest nation on earth.

I recently learned, courtesy of the DCist newsletter, https://bit.ly/3sWOXZT, that a monster machine, named Chris, has just finished digging and lining the walls of a 5-mile, 23-foot-wide tunnel 100 feet below the city. The 650-ton machine is reportedly longer than a football field (100 yards for the unknowing). We better hope that Chris does not become sentient one day and decide it doesn’t like working underground anymore.

Anyway, the purpose of the tunnel is to “prevent sewage overflows into the Anacostia River and stop flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, including Le Droit Park and Bloomingdale,” which seems like a really good idea. My theory, however, is that one explanation for the condition of the roads may be subsidence induced by Chris’s underground excavation.

My theory is no doubt a bunch of hooey, but I need to understand why Washington’s roads are in such terrible shape, so I make up stuff. There is, however, some hope. This morning I noticed, as I was flung about the interior of my car, that a long section of I Street NW has been “shaved,” perhaps by a relative of Chris, in preparation for resurfacing. Now the manhole covers protrude above the road surface. It was dodge-em cars the entire stretch as drivers tried to avoid blowing tires on the edges of the covers that, as I have noted, seem to be everywhere and in all the wrong places.

I am now aware that Mayor Bowser “has committed to eliminating all poor quality roads in the District by 2024.” More details than you want to know may be seen at the DDOT Paving Plan. https://bit.ly/3dZbpxh Hmmh. 2024? That’s easier to grasp if you look at the history of road improvement expenditures. https://tabsoft.co/3nqSxKM To paraphrase a paraphrase, it’s a long road ahead.

 

Day 2 –Republican Whining Begins

We should have seen it coming.

Washington Post reports that after two days of the Biden administration, with Day One largely devoted to the inauguration, Republicans are already whining about what they now claim is profligate Biden spending proposals in his initial stimulus package to help struggling families as well as states/localities trying to get schools started again, and more. https://wapo.st/39f295C The WAPO title, Turned off by Biden’s approach, GOP opposition to stimulus relief intensifies, tells the story even without reading the article. But I read it anyway.

The gist:

President Biden’s pitch for bipartisan unity to defeat the coronavirus and resurrect the economy is crashing into a partisan buzz saw on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on ground rules for running the Senate — let alone pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Biden’s relief package is being declared dead on arrival by senior Senate Republicans, some of whom say there has been little, if any, outreach from the Biden team to get their support. Liberals are demanding the president abandon attempts to make a bipartisan deal altogether and instead ram the massive legislation through without GOP votes. And outside groups are turning up the pressure for Biden and the Democrats who control Congress to enact economic relief quickly, even if it means cutting Republicans out of the deal

Some Republicans, WAPO cites Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), are saying that some elements of Biden’s pandemic stimulus package were really their idea and, naturalment, they’re on board with those. But some were apparently insulted that President Biden had not personally reached out to them to beg for support “even though Biden pitched himself on the campaign trail as a bipartisan dealmaker.”

According to the WAPO story, it’s not just the bruised egos of Republicans who think the President, before having breakfast, owes each of them a personal call. What it actually is remains unclear, however, as, for example, Sen. Portman (R-Ohio) is quoted, doing the classic Republican two-step, to the effect that “it’s not about me but it’s all about me – I didn’t get a call.”

The English translation of all this Republican hand-wringing and hair-pulling is that the new president had the nerve to announce his $1.9 trillion plan without first asking the Republicans to approve it. And, presumably, if the Republicans disapproved, the President, being a champion of bipartisanship, should simply have yielded to the partisanship of the Republicans. How nice for the Republicans who, having lost the election, would still get final say on the Democratic agenda.

The issue as portrayed is not whether in substance the Biden proposal is the correct approach in its details to the massive mess that the Trump administration, with full Republican congressional support, created for the country. It’s whether Biden is acting in a genuinely bipartisan manner, which to Republicans means they get to define the plan.

Having forgotten their affection for Trump’s deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy, the always oh-so-conservative anti-spending Republicans are bent out of shape over the dastardly possibility of increasing the national minimum wage to $15. In case you’re wondering, as I was, about the history of the minimum wage, it was raised a whopping 70 cents in July 2009 to the current $7.25 per hour. https://bit.ly/3sPSIl3 At that rate, a person working 40 hours of paid time per week makes $290 gross per week and $15,080 a year if no unpaid leave is taken. The 2020 “poverty guidelines” for the 48 contiguous states plus DC were:

Persons in Family/Household           Poverty Guideline

1                                                               $12, 760

2                                                               $17, 240

3                                                               $21,720

4                                                               $26,200

Biden’s proposal would yield annual gross income of $31,200 and, technically, move most minimum wage workers out of “poverty.” It would also, obviously, help many of people most seriously affected by the unemployment driven by the pandemic.

But – the Republicans say this is a “non-starter.” Why, after all, would Republicans want to help people most in need of help when they can help themselves instead?

The Democratic strategy, according to Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, is to put Republicans in the position of identifying what they don’t want to pay for. That’s a good strategy, but the Republicans will be remorseless in saying “no” to provisions like an increase in the minimum wage, the first in more than 11 years. Republican logic, says that the minimum wage is not related to the pandemic. Kind of like saying the vaccine is not related to the pandemic either – you can take it, but you can also not take it. And if it’s not related, then under the reasoning of occasional Republican dissenter, Mitt Romney, the spending is not “absolutely necessary.”

Having witnessed Republican indifference to the suffering of caged children at the southern border and other crimes against humanity and multiple overt acts of criminality, including obstruction of justice and voter suppression, it was a bit disconcerting to see how sensitive Republicans have become. They are a virtual chorus of “Biden poisoned the well with an extreme proposal and our feelings are so hurt, we simply can’t cope with negotiating in good faith.” The horror, the horror.

The article notes that the legislation could be passed with just Democratic votes, but that individual senators could then try to force acceptance of their individual agendas.  That would, of course, be classic Democratic politics – get control and then shoot yourselves in the foot/head. Hopefully, that won’t happen this time. Opportunities like this only come along occasionally and the need is critical.

Everything is complicated by disagreements over how to manage the Senate’s business with a 50-50 split in party membership (the Republicans claiming their 50 percent is worth more than the Democrats’ 50 percent) and the handling of Trump’s second impeachment trial (Republicans claim that holding Trump accountable for his crimes will be “divisive.”) Everything depends on everything, and meanwhile the American people continue to suffer – COVID deaths continue to mount, lunatic right-wing white supremacists continue to claim that the election was stolen from Trump and threaten to resume attacks and unemployment claims continue at economy- and company/family-destroying rates.

Republicans don’t seem to care because, well, they’re Republicans and the economic suffering of Americans is simply not something of major importance to them. They had no hesitancy last year in dawdling for months over the last stimulus legislation, only finally agreeing at the very end of the year. We should have seen this coming.

My view, then, is that Biden tells the Republicans to put up or shut up – and do it now. No prolonged negotiations. It’s time to act. If Republicans can’t see the problem, proceed without them. Democrats who try to leverage the situation should be taken out to the woodshed and, well, you know. It’s time to end politics as usual. We didn’t run Trump out of town just to have all the good ideas pulled into Republican quicksand.

 

 

 

Sammies – A Better Oscar

Some years ago, when my wife worked for a union representing federal employees, I attended a Sammies award ceremony. Sammies is the shorthand for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America medal. You may not have heard of them, but this is the deal:

The Sammies, known as the “Oscars” of government service, are a highly respected honor with a rigorous selection process. Named for the Partnership for Public Service’s late founder who was inspired by President Kennedy’s call to serve in 1963, these awards align with his vision of a dynamic and innovative federal workforce that meets the needs of the American people.

The Partnership is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to help make our government more effective, and the Sammies honorees represent the many exceptional federal workers who are doing just that—breaking down barriers, overcoming huge challenges and getting results. Whether they’re defending the homeland, protecting the environment, ensuring public safety, making scientific and medical discoveries, or responding to natural and man-made disasters, these men and women put service before self and make a lasting difference. [https://servicetoamericamedals.org/about/]

Like the annual Oscars, I frankly don’t recall much of the detail of the ceremony which was, like the movie Oscars, long with speeches explaining each award and with thank you statements from recipients. What I do clearly remember, however, is how impressed I was with the nature of the achievements being honored.

I was reminded of this by today’s editorial in the New York Times entitled “The Wreckage Betsy DeVos Leaves Behind.” https://nyti.ms/3hFswo7 It’s a condemnation of the terrible legacy in one of the nation’s most important components (education of our children). It summarizes what happens when the philosophy of “less government” is turned over to incompetent ideologues who simply produce “bad government” and believe it’s the same result. This is the story of agency after agency, function after function under the morally and substantively bankrupt management of the Trump administration’s gang of grifters.

Yet, under it all, persevering and achieving, were federal employees accomplishing amazing feats, largely without awareness by the general public. This is the true “deep state” that was so often vilified by Trump’s lieutenants in service to his fevered imaginings. Here are just two excerpts, among thousands of their achievements:

LINA ALATHARI, PH.D. – 2020 Finalist in Safety, Security & International Affairs

As head of the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, Lina Alathari has expanded the agency’s traditional role by supporting state and local governments, law enforcement and school districts nationwide in the fight against targeted violence.

… Alathari and her team have delivered more than 1,200 training sessions to more than 83,000 law enforcement officers, educators, mental health providers, government officials, faith-based leaders and other private organizations across 50 states. Hundreds of schools and communities have adopted Alathari’s behavior-based threat prevention protocols.

“The 2019 Secret Service research report analyzed 41 attacks and found that many could have been prevented by using Alathari’s threat assessment model,” Murray [Director of the Secret Service] said. “There are people doing active shooter response research, but no one is doing prevention intervention research like her.”

Rory Cooper – 2017 Winner in Science & Environment

In the years following … [a] 1980 accident [while serving in the Army that left him paralyzed & confined to a wheelchair], Cooper founded the nation’s leading assistive technology research laboratory and has been the driving force behind game-changing innovations in the design of manual and power wheelchairs, adaptive sports and recreational equipment, and rehabilitation instrumentation.

“Rory Cooper’s inventions are used by over one-quarter million people with disabilities, and research equipment he designed is being used in nearly 100 laboratories and training facilities around the world,”

Cooper and his team are credited with 25 patents that have advanced wheelchair technology. He has spearheaded such innovations as a wheelchair with robotic arms that features hands that can grasp, and he has improved motorized wheelchairs by taking advantage of new capabilities in electronics, safety and controls, and by making changes to steering mechanisms and seating functions.

I could go on and on with this, but you get the idea. Just take a cursory look at the website if you dare to have your preconceptions about the federal workforce changed.  https://bit.ly/2LaXNDb And the next time you hear someone make a crack about federal workers, or government workers at any level for that matter, challenge them to do some self-education. Throughout the past four years, Donald Trump, his family and his enablers in the White House, Congress and elsewhere have done everything they can to undermine the effectiveness of the United States government, to weaken it, and with it the entire country, in the eyes of the world. It’s time now to reverse that disgusting, ill-informed and self-defeating legacy of shame with recognition and honor for those laboring largely in the shadows to make the world safer for everyone.

 

Me & My Manuals

Subtitle: More Than You Want to Know About My Technology Skills

Subtitle: Why We Are Doomed

Modern life is complicated. Much more so than when I was growing up (some people say I was never actually young – not so, but I won’t argue). I am, however, astounded that anything actually works any more.

Growing up, I was a tinkerer/investigator. I would skulk around the neighborhood and remove broken radios/lamps/vacuums, anything electrical, from neighbors’ trash  to disassemble and study how they were built and what made them work. I didn’t learn much but it was something to do.

I was a “technology leader” in my profession. While still a young associate back in the 1970s, I introduced my law firm to its first electronic calculator. It cost me $125, grudgingly reimbursed by the partnership that saw it as wasteful and pointless, an enormous sum at the time for a lowly associate lawyer. It had only four functions. It was the junior model to the first Bowmar breakthrough product, as reported at www.bowmarllc.com:

One of the company’s biggest defining moments came in 1971 when it produced the world’s first hand-held calculator. The Bowmar Brain sold for $240 and ushered in a new frontier of global technological advances. However, since its inception, Bowmar’s primary market has remained aerospace and defense.

While I couldn’t afford a Bowmar Brain, I bought the next best thing and thus it was Bowmar and me on the frontier of technological innovation. The firm resisted but I persisted and soon the partners were secreting the device in their desks to prevent others from secreting it in their desks.

Leaping from Memory Lane to almost-today, I once again faced the technological frontier.

I had owned two inexpensive, limited-function devices to work with my high-powered iMac computer. One was a flat-bed scanner that scanned documents and photos one page at a time. Like an old bike, reliable but slow.  As time passed, the controlling software became somewhat squirrelly (details spared—thank me later).

The other “device” (device, that’s what we call them now) was a simple printer. It did both black/white and color and had a limited but functional sheet feeder. The company that produced this inexpensive marvel decided it was a good idea to modify the software in some fashion that caused the printer to … die. Since the device was far out-of-warranty, multiple tries to download/update the software failed and there was apparently no one home at Hewlett-Packard anyway, I made a command decision: give the scanner to a friend who could use its limited functions and trash (recycle) the moribund printer, replacing both with a more modern, all-purpose single box that would do everything I needed: copy, print and scan. Fantastic. What could go wrong?

My extensive online research led me to what turned out to be a very large, incredibly heavy (circa 50 pounds) All-in-One (AiO) machine from a well-known brand not Hewlett-Packard (some affronts cannot be forgiven). Algorithms at American Express, acting on their own, “decided” that the company identified in the purchase order was “suspect,” and rejected my charge. Stunned at this development, I called Amex which promptly said, “oh, ok, no problem.” So, no problem.

Reasonably believing the algorithmic rejection of the charge had invalidated the first purchase, I returned to the source website and purchased the item again. I also bought a service contract with a firm that claimed to offer turnkey setup and technical advice for years. Little did I know that algorithms in the seller’s website had kept the first transaction “alive” following the credit rejection, so now I had unwittingly ordered two of the devices, each of which was half the size of a Volkswagen beetle.

These particular devices would not connect to my wi-fi system for reasons never understood. The algorithms did not like my network, I suppose. The service contract also turned out to be useless, as, after multiple excruciating waits “on hold,” the “technical experts” at the service company simply told me to call the manufacturer for advice on set-up. They had no idea what to do and really weren’t much interested.

So, I returned the devices. Both of them. Fortunately for me, the seller had a UPS pick-up system so all I had to do was get the devices, in their original boxes with all wrappings, wires, etc., down to the concierge desk. Done and done, sore back and all.

The search for a viable machine resumed. I located another AiO, from a different well-known brand, sold by Best Buy. Well-known brand. Free shipping. What could go wrong? Chastened by my earlier experience, I paid for another service contract with the “famous” Best Buy Geek Squad that claimed to include 24-7 installation/setup advice, guaranteed. I’m on a roll now. Stand back and stand by.

The device was delivered promptly enough but, and this is a big but, this device also was unable to connect to my wi-fi system and thus could not, for example, print documents that resided on my computer. It was the  algorithms, I’m sure. I spent more than two hours on the phone with various “representatives” from the Geek Squad, mostly on hold, none of whom had any helpful advice on the rare occasions when I was able to actually speak with someone. And, Best Buy, it turns out, does not pay or arrange for returns.

Since by this time we had moved from New York City to Washington DC, but had no car, we paid an Uber fee to return the machine to the nearest Best Buy. The staff there was singularly uninterested in why we were returning it: “just drop it over there.” But, without argument, they did refund both the purchase price and the cost of the utterly useless Geek Squad service agreement. [Note to self: don’t forget to send Best Buy a bill for the Uber fees].

Sooo, the search resumed yet again, eventually settling on an older, smaller AiO from Epson with more limited features (e.g., a smaller sheet feeder) available at Amazon, where, in my experience, returns were usually pretty straightforward. Now, my prime criterion for buying anything was whether it was easy to return the item when, most likely, it didn’t work. Ben Franklin said “experience keeps a dear school but a fool will learn in no other.” That is what we have come to. I declined to buy the service contract this time. It was me and my manual or bust.

Well, and here I reach the point at last, the substantive portion of the user’s guide for my device is only available online and is 350 pages long! That’s in the upper end of the range for New York Times Best-Seller Non-Fiction books, since the list began. I don’t know what the significance of that is, but it seems important.

Suffice to say that the manual was pretty much useless. Recalling my early successes in the law firm back in the golden era of the 1970s, I succeeded on my own in enabling “print from computer” and “copy from on a roll using my wi-fi network to connect the devices.

BUT, not so fast. The scanning function would not work! The Epson device in scan mode would not “recognize” my printer sitting just a foot away. “Recognize?” Don’t you love how we’ve anthropomorphized computers? We think they’re like people but, of course, people can do things. Algorithms just say no.

After multiple hours on hold with Epson Support, lengthy discussions with multiple technical reps, including several “Level II” senior advisors, several dropped calls after being put on hold “for just a minute while I check something,” I suggested that maybe a direct connection between the printer and the computer with a USB cable might solve the problem. “Oh, for sure, that will do it,” the Epson guy said, as if this obvious solution had been under discussion all along.

I bought a cable, Amazon delivered it the same day (a miracle right there) and then a fellow named “Albert” [uh huh] walked me through a software uninstall/ reinstall of two of the dozen software programs involved in running my device and voila! I was able to scan while using the “buttons” on the front of device, which had been my simple goal all along. It was a victory worthy of Game of Thrones.

Of course, no one at Epson thought it might be a good idea to offer to pay for the USB cable as partial compensation for the staggering time I had spent while setting up the device, not to mention that it was I who came up with the solution.

Now, standing alone, this story has little meaning in the grand scheme, whatever that it. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, we just moved to Washington from New York City, thereby necessitating the purchase of a car. After extensive research, we decided to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid similar, but much more fuel efficient, to the one we owned three years ago before decamping to NYC from Alexandria and giving up our cars. But, no, not so fast.

There are no Ford dealers in the District of Columbia! None. Mon Dieu!

We ultimately settled on two options in the near Virginia suburbs, based on distance from our apartment and the late-season availability of the car type/color, etc. we wanted (relevant but probably ineffectual).

Suffice to say, the salesmen at both dealers knew next to nothing about the cars they were selling nor about how they are taxed or financed. Actually, not next to nothing. Just plain nothing. But, OK, cars have only been around a short while and young guys no longer tinker with them, so nobody knows a damn thing about anything. So be it. I can always look things up. Right?

And that, my reader (if you’re still here) is where the gist of the gist is found. The car manual is an actual book. And when I say “book,” I mean “book.” The manual is 550 pages long! Not only does the inside of the car resemble an airplane cockpit, but you need a degree in aeronautical engineering to understand how to operate it.

Lest you think I exaggerate, something I never do, permit me an example or two. At p. 54 of said manual, one encounters “Keys and Remote Controls.” The first subheading is “General Information for Radio Frequencies.” Radio Frequencies!?! Why do I need to know about radio frequencies to drive my car????

Following three bolded “Notes,” there is a subheading for “Intelligent Access (if equipped).” Parenthetically, I don’t know whether that is a reference to a car feature or to the possibility that the owner may not be intelligent. Maybe it’s just a linguistic oversight because no one knows anything anymore.

Returning to Keys & Remote Controls,” there are three ways to unlock your car door (details unimportant) UNLESSexcessive radio frequency interference is present in the area,” which I take to mean you are parked under a military radar installation (in which case you are about to have other problems). Anyway, if your car won’t unlock electronically, you can always do it with the “mechanical key blade” hidden in your “intelligent access key” as to which “see Remote Control (page 54),” which is, as it happens, immediately below and unsurprisingly reads “REMOTE CONROL” followed by “Integrated Keyhead Transmitter” and another paragraph of instructions. Finally, all of this is on page 54. All of it. Who, then, thought it was useful to direct you to Remote Control on page 54 when you’re already on page 54? Is proofreading now a completely dead occupation?

The above information is followed by pages of information about keys and their uses, including 11 “photos” of various keys and functions most of which do not resemble my keys.

Thereafter, it gets … worse. There are, for example, seven pages devoted to Starting and Stopping the Engine and another seven on Unique Driving Characteristics, which seems likely to be important. Someday I will read about it.

Well, I have to go now. If we’re ever going to actually use our new car before the warranty expires, I have to study up to be sure I don’t accidentally activate the passenger automatic ejection seat (we did not get the moon roof option) while trying to turn on the ten position/six speed variable/fixed windshield wiper/cruise control. Wish me luck. And remember, this is why nothing works any more. You read it here.

Why Americans Are Dying By the Thousands Under Trump’s Leadership

Here are a few excerpts from WAPO regarding the federal response to the pandemic as we head into Election Day. https://wapo.st/3oJDI69 They speak for themselves.

“President Trump’s repeated assertions the United States is “rounding the turn” on the novel coronavirus have increasingly alarmed the government’s top health experts, who say the country is heading into a long and potentially deadly winter with an unprepared government unwilling to make tough choices.”

“Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, said: … “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

“Fauci … said the country could surpass 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day and predicted rising deaths in the coming weeks. He spoke as the nation set a new daily record Friday with more than 98,000 cases. As hospitalizations increase, deaths are also ticking up, with more than 1,000 reported Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the total to more than 230,000 since the start of the pandemic….”

“Trump has rallied in states and cities experiencing record surges in infections and hospitalizations in a last-ditch effort to convince voters he has successfully managed the pandemic. He has held maskless rallies with thousands of supporters, often in violation of local health mandates. Even as new infections climb in 42 states, Trump has downplayed the virus or mocked those who take it seriously.”

“… he baselessly said that U.S. doctors record more deaths from covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, than other nations because they get more money.”

“By contrast, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris have consistently worn masks in public, and have held socially distanced events.”

Fauci … described a disjointed response as cases surge. Several current and former senior administration officials said the White House is almost entirely focused on a vaccine, even though experts warn it is unlikely to be a silver bullet that ends the pandemic immediately since it will take months under the best of circumstances to inoculate tens of millions of people to achieve herd immunity.”

“Fauci said … he has not spoken to Trump since early October…. He also lamented that Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and Trump’s favored pandemic adviser, who advocates letting the virus spread among young healthy people and reopening the country without restrictions, is the only medical adviser the president regularly meets with. “I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

[Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, attacked Fauci for speaking his mind, accusing him of being a member of the Washington Swamp and repeating Trump’s talking points that the president “always put the well-being of the American people first.” Believe what you will.]

“Some White House advisers … complain [Fauci] is too focused on his personal reputation and is “not on the team,” said one senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. The doctor has become loathed among many Trump supporters, and Fauci has told others that he has experienced a surge in harassment and threats.”

[See https://wapo.st/3kUAOJK for a list of the 184 times Trump has downplayed the pandemic threat, a reality he confessed to on tape in the Woodward interviews].

“Several senior administration officials and outside advisers described a White House overwhelmed by the pandemic, with a feeling of helplessness over the inability to curb its spread without also throttling the economy or damaging the president’s reelection chances.”

“… the campaign trail message that life is returning to normal underscores how little the president and White House have focused on the pandemic beyond pushing for development and approvals of vaccines and treatments. With the clearance of a vaccine unlikely until year’s end, that raises questions about what happens after Election Day, during what is projected to be the worst stretch yet of the pandemic. The Trump administration will be in charge of managing the pandemic until at least Jan. 20, no matter who wins.”

“Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb said, “If we don’t plan now, we’ll lose the opportunity to prioritize [school]opening what should be most important to us, just as we lost that chance in the fall because we didn’t plan appropriately this summer.”

“And one of the ways to say the outbreak is over is [to say] it’s really irrelevant because it doesn’t make any difference. All you need to do is prevent people from dying and protect people in places like the nursing homes,” Fauci said. “And because of that, Debbie [Birx] almost never ever sees the president anymore. The only medical person who sees the president on a regular basis is Scott Atlas. It’s certainly not Debbie Birx.”

“Fauci said that many people who catch the virus recover “virologically” but will have chronic health problems. “The idea of this false narrative that if you don’t die, everything is hunky dory is just not the case,” he said. “But to say, ‘Let people get infected, it doesn’t matter, just make sure people don’t die’ — to me as a person who’s been practicing medicine for 50 years, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“A similar assessment was offered by Tom Bossert, the former homeland security adviser in the Trump administration. “It sounds alluring,” Bossert said. “It sounds so seductive. It’s not possible. Math makes it irresponsible to even try and say it.”

Trump’s Presidency in Memes — Final??

As we approach the, hopefully, final hours of Trump’s catastrophic presidency, I am submitting a final round of memes collected from Twitter, Facebook and … wherever. If there is any justice in this country, this will be the last time it’s necessary to do this, although his electoral defeat may not entirely end his presidency. More about that another time soon. Meanwhile, back in the looney bin known as the Trump presidency:

 

Dear Jack Nicklaus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day in the Life of Sue Republican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——–

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

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

 

 

Amtrak to Suspend Train Service to Respond to Republican Document Requests

Republican Troubleshooters Demand 190 Years’ Worth of Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the Republican research,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Really, Mr. Pence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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