Category Archives: Law

The Doomsday Scenario – Strangelove as President

You’ve seen one of the movies, most likely. One masterpiece that comes to mind is Dr. Strangelove, subtitled, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” If you are one of the five living people who hasn’t seen it, Wikipedia summarizes the story like this:

The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It separately follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force (RAF) exchange officer as they attempt to prevent the crew of a B-52 plane (who were following orders from the general) from bombing the Soviets and starting a nuclear war. [https://bit.ly/39fqU0M]

There are other such stories, including the similar Seven Days in May, about a “military-political cabal’s planned takeover of the United States government in reaction to the president’s negotiation of a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union.” [https://bit.ly/2Xip8cF]

At the root of each drama is the conflict between the civilian and Constitutional leader of the military (the President) and the military leadership. Usually, it’s the military people that go off the reservation. In the real world, we had the opposite, terrifying scenario of the President of the United States becoming unhinged from reality and unrestrained by Constitutional or any other restraints (including his Cabinet). Trump was behaving so irrationally that the senior military authority, General Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, undertook steps to be sure that Trump’s lunacy did not destroy the world.

Republicans, and even a few Democrats, are losing their minds over this. Ignore the Republicans, who, as with COVID-19, Ukraine and many other situations, can be counted upon to suspend all rational thinking in favor of obeisance to Donald Trump. Especially people like the morally compromised Senator Marco Rubio. Their reaction is predictable and meaningless.

Our attention is captured, however, as it should be, when someone like Ret. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, driven out of the service by Donald Trump, complains that Gen. Milley should be removed because he “usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military.” https://wapo.st/3zbu9Ry

Despite my great respect for Lt. Col. Vindman for his courageous stand against Trump’s lies about the Ukraine extortion, I disagree with his judgment on Gen. Milley.

In time of crisis, there are two essential options: (1) look to an authority source for direction and mechanically do what it says, or (2) use judgment to assess whether the authority source works in the situation at hand and, if not, choose another course of action. People face these choices every day in one way or another, thankfully almost always in situations trivial by comparison to the problem Gen. Milley faced. They make such choices on the spur of the moment, often without much thought. Sometimes they are right and sometimes not.

For example, in a different realm, the standard instruction is: don’t run from a bear; running will trigger its predatory instincts to attack. Also, don’t get between a mother bear and her cubs.

Fine, but what if you’ve wandered between the mother and cubs before you are even aware of their presence. The rules then are more complicated: if it’s a brown bear and it charges you, fall into a fetal position, trying your best to protect head, neck and stomach. If it’s a black bear, fight back. Throw things, get “big,” shout. Brown bears are more aggressive typically but may lose interest when you cease to be a threat. Black bears are ferocious but may yield and run from a fight.

If it’s a polar bear, well, hope your estate plan is in order.

The point is that these “rule book” principles are fine until they don’t work. If a grizzly attacks, you go fetal and he starts eating you, it may be that the stick lying beside you is your only remaining hope of survival. So, you grab the stick and poke him in the eye or other sensitive place, make a lot of noise and fight like hell for your life. You’re going to die otherwise, so you do what you have to do. Your options are few so you do what you can to change the odds.

Imperfect as analogies may be, the ultimate question is crisis is: will following the authority solve the problem or do I have to improvise and do the unthinkable?

Gen. Milley was faced with precisely this situation. [Disclosure: I haven’t yet read the Woodward/Costa book that revealed this story and even then might not have all the information.]

Gen. Milley had the real-life Dr. Strangelove in the role of President of the United States. His choice was to follow the rule book, let events take their course. He realized he could possibly be witness to, and complicit in, the destruction of the world as we know it if Donald Trump, desperate to cling to power, were to issue orders for a nuclear strike against China. Evidence was abundant that Trump was having serious mental disfunction. This was nothing new, but the loss of the 2020 election unhinged him from reality to a degree not previously seen. He claimed without evidence that the election had been stolen; he refused to cooperate in the peaceful transition of power; on January 6 he had urged his followers to use force to stop the final step in certifying the election result; he openly sought to reverse election counts in multiple states by pressuring state officials.

Donald Trump spit in the face of the constitutional order, giving every indication that he might be prepared to do something even more unprecedented in human history to retain power.

In those circumstances, perhaps one person alone stood as the final bulwark against insanity on the loose. That was General Milley. He chose to act rather than be another passive instrument of Trump’s delusion. I think I understand the tendency of people like Lt. Col. Vindman to turn to the “book” in cases like this, but history should vindicate the judgment of Gen. Milley that the evidence of irrational behavior was too strong, and the weakness of the inner Trump circle was too compromised, to simply hope for the best. The nation, indeed the world, should be grateful.

Note: Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post opinion piece on this issue raises questions regarding the lessons to be taken from this episode and how we shore up the constitutional order against a future Trump. https://wapo.st/3hEyKpm Those are very important questions that require the most serious consideration.

 

Religious Exemption – What Religious Exemption?

I keep hearing about people claiming they have a religious objection to (1) wearing a mask and/or (2) getting a COVID vaccination. I have asked the Twitterverse to identify the religion that contains such prohibitions in its doctrine, so far without response.

To be clear, I am not writing this to belittle anyone’s religious faith. I write to raise the highly relevant question in the pandemic of what exactly qualifies as a valid “religious exemption” to masking and/or vaccination.

My thesis is that (1) the sudden discovery during the pandemic of one’s “religious doctrine” is just too convenient and is not a valid claim; (2) to make a valid religious exemption claim, at least two things must be demonstrated: (a) an established discoverable documented statement of clear doctrine opposing the use of masks/vaccinations to prevent/limit disease on the basis of an identified moral/ethical code, and (2) evidence that the claimant has in actual fact practiced the doctrines of the asserted religious for an extended period prior to the pandemic.

Point (1) should not be that hard. Established religions that have such doctrines can be expected to have produced writings/speeches/published practice directives that make these assertions and tie them to some “higher power” ethical controlling principles. I am not aware that such religions exist. Christian Science may be one, though I am not clear that it actually rejects vaccination conceptually. But I am not an expert on religions and there may be others. Waiting.

Point (2) may be much harder for many people. I do not accept that a person may make a valid religious exemption claim if they suddenly discover that their “religion” has some doctrine that may be used as an exemption support, and they then decide to assert it when the reality is that they never followed the doctrine before.

I am astonished and perplexed to learn that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has adopted as policy in its Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination the “principle” that in practice means a religious exemption is in most cases whatever the person says it is, regardless of past practice of adherence or any other considerations. I am not going to elaborate on my judgment of that – if you’re interested, you can find the details here: https://bit.ly/3yUWlIh I do believe it is conceptually and otherwise preposterous.

But that such muddled thinking is part of government policy, at least in one domain, it is small wonder that people are using religious exemption claims to cover their political or merely ignorant resistance to public health measures that have been shown to limit COVID infection spread. The resisters – the anti-makers and anti-vaxxers – are not only dying at much higher rates than the vaccinated, but they are facilitating the “evolution” of the virus into more virulent strains, such as the Delta Variant that is ravaging the country now. Breakthrough infections, with sometimes deadly outcomes, are increasing also. This is virtually certain to result from vast numbers of unvaccinated people walking among us.

My limited understanding of religion is that any legitimate one has an ethical/moral foundation of principles to live by. Whether it’s one deity or many, a set of principles to live by is the central idea. If so, I can’t help wondering what foundation of ethical/moral principles the people who suddenly found religion think they are asserting. Their new “religion” has the effect of exposing themselves and, worse, others to a deadly disease. What principle of ethics/morality justifies that? How do they square their supposed adherence to a set of ethical/moral principles while basically lying about their “sincerely held religious beliefs?”

The Road Not Taken

Kudos to President Biden for taking the hard but right path to restoring the physical and economic health of the country. Shame on those who continue to harp on the ignorant and irrationally resistant themes of “my rights” at the expense of the health and welfare of others. ENOUGH!

We’re at the fork in the road. Nothing short of a full-on frontal attack on the virus is going to get us out of this mess. The great American poet Robert Frost captured the idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Biden has taken the road that many politicians would eschew – the one that will, and has, inevitably create another furor. Rather than the “safe path,” Biden has shown the courage of a leader by doing the right thing rather than the safe or easy route. You can hide from destiny only so long, as this great story reminds us:

A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market.
The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The
servant told the merchant, “I was jostled in the market,
turned around, and saw Death.

“Death made a threatening gesture, and I fled in terror.
May I please borrow your horse? I can leave Baghdad
and ride to Samarra, where Death will not find me.”

The master lent his horse to the servant, who rode away,
to Samarra.

Later the merchant went to the market, and saw Death in
the crowd. “Why did you threaten my servant?” He asked.

Death replied, “I did not threaten your servant. It was
merely that I was surprised to see him here in Baghdad,
for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. 

The choice we face now, that we must face, is between aggressively striking at the virus with all the tools at our disposal or continuing to beg the irrational and uninformed to do the right thing. The former has a chance to stop the pandemic, to take advantage of the astonishing opportunity that the rapid deployment of vaccines has provided. The latter approach has virtually certain terrible consequences: more illness, more death, more permanently damaged bodies.

The reality is that the vaccines are safe and effective. The reality is that the rapid spread of the Delta variant has again overwhelmed the nation’s medical capabilities. COVID infections that are mainly in unvaccinated individuals are denying needed medical services for people with other medical conditions.

I have read some of the insane rantings of primarily right-wing and libertarian “authorities” who claim to have inside knowledge that the virus was released deliberately by agents of the federal government who are cashing in on the vaccines. These people claim that the vaccines contain various poisons, microchips and who knows what else.

It seems that one can always find someone who claims to have the inside track on awful secrets and conspiracies that are constantly being plotted against the rest of humanity. These sometimes include people with “medical credentials,” but often they are former workers in the pharmaceutical industry who are certain that they have inside information to expose the crimes being perpetrated in the name of … whatever. They readily accept the plausibility of conspiracies involving many thousands of people around the globe, no one willing to spill the beans, all in the name of “follow the money” or some other cliché that substitutes for actual thought.

We see this same theme played out in science fiction movies and what I call “caper movies” in which bad guys pull off, at least temporarily, extraordinary schemes to steal, blow up, capture huge sums of money, power over the world, etc. Movies like Air Force One, Die Hard and so many others. I have struggled through a few episodes of a TV series called Eureka that is loaded with utterly implausible, preposterous concepts and science-like doublespeak and gibberish. Some people apparently take such stories to be true. It’s an easy shift from one phantasmagorical storyline to another. Harry Potter is real, flying broomsticks and all.

Reality is more mundane. Two kinds of sickness pervade the country. One is the COVID-19 virus. We’ve learned a lot about it and about how to prevent its worst manifestations. Vaccines, masks, social distancing – that’s pretty much the essence. Study after study confirms the validity of these measures, if, at least, they are applied broadly and consistently.

But it’s damned inconvenient and mighty annoying. COVID has shuttered many businesses, interfered with our fun and instilled a deep-seated fear in many people that they and their loved ones, including children for whom they are responsible, are being exposed to an invisible, highly transmissible and deadly disease. More than 648,000 dead from a disease that our former president assured us would “soon disappear like magic.” Damned annoying.

The other sickness is the resistance to the solution. We know what to do but for many Americans, the disease isn’t the real enemy. The real enemy is the government. Many people appear to believe the government unleashed the virus. Why would the government do that? Did the government want to destroy the economy? Weaken our national defenses? Reduce the population? End civilization? Apparently, many believe so.

Logic and reason have little to do with this mindset. It’s analogous to those who argue that the January 6 insurrection was actually the work of the winners of the election who wanted to stop the certification of their win so that the loser, whom they hate, would be installed as the winner. That make sense to you? If so, take two giant steps to the right.

Along comes the new president who starts an unprecedented and initially successful campaign to deliver life-saving and pandemic-ending medicine into tens of millions of citizens without any meaningful adverse consequences and at no cost. And yes, yes, I understand we can’t prove that ten years from now there won’t be some inexplicable adverse outcome for somebody. There is no scientific or medical reason to suspect that could or would happen, but we can’t predict the future with 100% certainty, so ….

But, you know, in the long run we’re all dead anyway. In the meantime, we can return to “normal life.” All we have to do is get vaccinated and comply with a few annoying but otherwise trivial practices a while longer with a few minimal restrictions on our behavior.

But, no, this is apparently asking too much for millions of Americans. They have their “rights” to protect, regardless of the consequences. “Freedom” is their watchword. Don’t tell me what to do even if it’s for my own good. Sounds like a teenager who thinks he knows everything already and is invulnerable. Or the guy with the boat who insists on going out in the hurricane because he can “handle anything.”

Many of these people end up in the ICU, begging for the vaccine, only to be told by doctors, “it’s too late for you. You should have taken the vaccine earlier. It can’t help you now. Nothing can help you now.”

The solution is in our hands, if only our minds will allow us to see it. I despair of it, after engaging yet another person who on first encounter seemed reasonable and thoughtful, but then insisted “we are being lied to” and that the vaccines contain deadly poisons that make them magnetic. She argued with me that the vaccination program was unnecessary because “natural immunity” was superior protection to the vaccines and lasted longer. How she knows this: read on the internet.

I end where I began. History will record that Joe Biden acted justly and rightly in ordering mandatory vaccination programs, with, in most cases, very generous opt-outs for people with true medical conflicts and genuine religious objections (I don’t know what religion that is, but the exemptions are available).

I find some inspiration in these closing words from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

September 18 — What Do I Expect from the Police?

As a resident of the District of Columbia, and a long-time resident of the DC area, I am fully aware that I live, by choice, in the heart of protest country. I also disapprove of violent protests regardless of which side is responsible. Peaceful protest, fine; choose your issue. I may think you’re a fool to believe, for example, that the 2020 election was stolen, but if you want to go out in public and proclaim you believe it was, go for it.

BUT don’t dare come here with the idea that you can violently display your anger or whatever it is and get away with it. That’s what happened on January 6. It appears that members of that violent mob of cowards and traitors who haven’t yet been arrested for their crimes are returning on September 18 to protest the arrest, detention and punishment of those who were arrested for attacking the Capitol. There is much conflicting information about who is doing what, which groups will show up and in what numbers. https://cnn.it/3A9oqgl No doubt there will be counter protests. What’s good for the goose….

This is the “law and order” mob. They’re for “law and order” provided it doesn’t apply to them. The mob includes many white supremacist groups and individuals. It doesn’t take much to start trouble in this kind of situation.

It’s a rule of life that you get what you tolerate. Most people seem to be competitive by nature. If there are no boundaries established, likely as not many, perhaps most, will simply do what they want to satisfy their personal desires.

Thus, if we tolerate air passenger violence, we tend to get more of it. That’s happened in 2021, mostly over mask requirements. Thousands of people threw violent tantrums when required to follow federal law and crew member instructions to keep masks on except when actively eating or drinking. Screaming, fights with other passengers and crew, people being forcibly duct-taped to their seats! In airports and even during flight. It took a while, but the government is now imposing serious fines on people who act out this way. Yet, it continues. Probably because people don’t regard the threat of fines as meaningful. Jail time, on the other hand, might get their attention. You get what you tolerate.

We tolerate anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, people with bogus claims of “sincere religious objections,” and more. We tolerate health disinformation. And so, we get more of it. Just turn on any Fox News show. Or join Twitter.

Purely as a thought experiment, what do you suppose might happen if some rules were changed? For example, if the rule were that any refusal to comply with a crew member demand to mask up on a flight would be met with instant and automatic banishment from air travel on any airline for, say, five years. No discussion, no arguments, no fights. Fight and you go to jail, plus lifetime banishment, 100 percent of the time. Next time you want to travel, you go by car. And the next time and ….

I can imagine some of the objections. What about the evidence? Suppose the flight attendant talked mean to me and hurt my feelings so I pushed back? What about my rights? My rights! OMG! I don’t like being told what to do. This is America. And so on.

The evidence objection is easy enough to resolve with some good technology that would record all interactions. Inform passengers at the outset, like the seatbelt instruction: “Buckle your seatbelt and mask up. No mask, we suggest you deplane now. If not, you will, we repeat, you will be arrested, jailed and banned. 100%.”

But it’s not just air travel. I am concerned about September 18.

My view is simple. I expect more, much more, from the law enforcement establishment than was seen on January 6. Some rules need to change to assure that this is the outcome. Trump and his criminal cabal are gone so this should be relatively straightforward.

It is the job of DC law enforcement at every level to be sure that the government is protected so it can continue to function. No one has the right to interfere with the operation of the government. I expect the police, and such other reinforcements as they need, to put down with all necessary and immediate force any attempt to stop the courts from functioning as they are supposed to. The mob can blather all it wants to about the “injustice” of holding accountable the people who assaulted and killed police, threatened Congress and desecrated the Capitol. But they must be peaceful or face immediate and harsh consequences. Prepare for the worst and demand the best.

A democracy must tolerate much dissent. It is the nature of, and great strength of, a democratic republic that dissent is permitted, indeed encouraged. But when dissent boils over into violence aimed at stopping government functions, there is no basis for tolerance.

I understand well enough that there are people coming here on September 18 who believe that the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6 are American patriots. They are wrong. Their views are not entitled to deference of any kind or extent. If they get the necessary permits and want to march around like fools chanting about how the government is evil, how Joe Biden stole the election from Trump and all the other nonsense, go ahead. But that’s it. First sign of trouble, arrest them all. Use the same kinds of defense “tools” that have been used against multiple peaceful demonstrations in the past when Trump was president.

The consequences of failure to prepare and act appropriately on September 18 are too grim to contemplate. But they are real. There’s a popular saying on social media: “f*ck around and find out.” So it is written, so let it be done.

Facing the Abyss – What Should CDC Do Now?

The COVID-19 virus that Trump predicted would “just go away” has now killed More than648,000 Americans out of more than40 million cases. https://wapo.st/38PnK3N

The leading states in new deaths are, unsurprisingly, South Carolina (+36%), Florida (+32%) and Texas (+24%). As cooler weather approaches and more people stay indoors more of the time, the cases/deaths toll can be expected to rise, especially in places with low vaccination rates and persistent refusal to follow national health guidance on masking and distancing. It is what it is.

Predictions now always face opposition from the determined crowd of COVID deniers, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who are doing their best to ignore reality and push the country closer to the abyss. This is happening despite the overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective and that masking works to reduce infection rates. The excuses offered for rejecting vaccines, masking, etc. are too well known to warrant recital.

The CDC and the leaders of the healthcare community that know the most about all this have, to be sure, made “mistakes” during the runup from early 2020 to now. Those mistakes are an inevitable part of the steep learning curve during a novel virus epidemic, especially when combined with inept and corrupt national leadership promoting bogus cures and inspiring resistance to promising candidates to contain the spread. We are where we are.

The question now is what could be done to change the national narrative. I address this with full awareness that millions of Americans would rather risk a horrible death than be seen to “comply” with national health guidance. There may be nothing we can do about them, but I think there are some things we haven’t tried yet.

Starting with the CDC, setting aside the chaotic approach in the early days when Trump’s political pressure seemed to influence CDC’s public posture, I have been troubled by what I label “website data bloat.” The CDC Data Tracker [https://bit.ly/3hd72A0] is the object of my derision. The site is an extraordinary trove of information for Job and others with much patience, consisting of a multitude of boxes and lists and maps, many of which are redundant or require some study to fully understand what is being shown.

I speculate that the site is the product of turning over the communication function to programmers who believe more is always better and just don’t know where to stop or how to organize information to tell a story rather than “show what we’ve got.” But, whatever the root cause, the site, for all its robustness, does not communicate the story as dramatically as it could. And if anything cries out for dramatic storytelling, it is the continued, and avoidable, rampage of COVID through America.

It should come as no surprise at this late date that, having been blunted in impact among most older people (who, generally, have a higher percentage of vaccinated individuals than other cohorts), is turning its mindless “attention” toward other groups, including children, many of whom are too young to be vaccinated according to the latest protocols.

In my view, parents of young children who refuse vaccination should be prosecuted for child endangerment, but we know that’s not going to happen. We can, however, more effectively communicate the danger.

This is how. It will require a fundamental change in the way the government does things.

Instead of presenting a vast array of charts/graphs/pathways to still more charts/graphs and offering data in various formats (gross, per capita, per this and that), focus on one thing: the message. This is a situation in which the data should be used not just to inform but to persuade. To teach. To affect.

So, what to do?

First, move all the “just data” charts/graphs to the back of the site with a simple index of what’s there.

Second, in the front, using graphs backed by data, show the key facts in a direct comparison of, for example, deaths of vaccinated versus deaths of unvaccinated people over time. Include data on adverse effects of vaccinations to the extent it exists.

Third, add to the data on cases and deaths, the data on known cases of adverse health impacts (heart, lung, brain, etc.) for COVID “survivors,” information that has largely been ignored.

Fourth, stop focusing on the number of people with one shot. We know that for the main two vaccines, two shots are essential and that’s the key number to show. Focusing on one shot is misleading.

Fifth, show the damn videos!

A wealth of videos exists showing, especially, the end stage of COVID experience in hospital ICUs: the ones where the unvaccinated, wired and tubed beyond recognition, are facing intubation and medically induced comas and are begging doctors and nurses for vaccination and “do anything to save my life.” Show those videos in TV ads in lieu of the bland “please do the right thing” messages now in use. Show the healthcare providers, dressed like aliens from Planet X, saying, “I’m sorry but it’s too late. Vaccines can’t help you now.”

 Some people will see this as unacceptably harsh. To them I say, if you don’t like it, don’t watch. But if done properly (get some experts in this kind of dramatic communication on the task), this stands some chance of jolting resisters into doing the intelligent thing and rushing to get vaccinated.

Make the message simple and clear and unmistakable – if you don’t get vaccinated, this is what may await you. Or your family. Your children. Do it now.

We know from experience that presenting the public with vast quantities of unconsumable statistics is not achieving the level of success we need to stop the pandemic. It is time to pull out all the stops. Stop acting like the government and act like you’re trying to sell something: public health. Survival.

Do it now. We’re almost out of time. The abyss is nearer by the day. It doesn’t have to be this way. Act like it’s the emergency it really is. Just do it.

Texas, the Handmaid State

Texas, through its legislature, has now made unmistakably clear that women are not equal to men. It is no exaggeration to say that Texas has moved from being the Lone Star State to being the Handmaid State. The reference, for the small number of people who don’t know, is to The Handmaid’s Tale, the dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood in which women in a theocratic authoritarian society are forced into what amounts to sexual slavery for the benefit of the men who run the country.

The headlines about the adoption of SB 8 by Texas are still fresh and resonating around the country and the world. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to enjoin the enforcement of the law while its constitutionality is considered on the merits. Thus, Texas, proud Texas, has become the leader in subordination of women. Through the back door in Texas, a Republican (53%)/male (73%)/aged (67% over 49/14% over 69)-dominated state legislature has introduced a version of Sharia Law to the United States.

There are, of course, significant reasons to believe that SB 8 is unconstitutional under both the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Whether Texas likes it or not, the established federal constitutional principles of the Fourteenth Amendment “equal protection of the laws” and “due process” still apply to the states:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The dissenting opinions in the Supreme Court’s astonishing back-handed approval of the Texas maneuver say as much. If the Court’s current view of the law stands, states will be encouraged to adopt similar laws on other subjects, insulating such laws from judicial review. That, as with the current case, is simply unsustainable and would undermine the separation of powers, among other things.

It’s important to understand that Texas thinks it’s been very clever in crafting this statute so that it will escape meaningful judicial review on the merits. It had the audacity to represent to the Supreme Court that it was entirely realistic to believe that the entire elaborate text of SB 8 would have been enacted but that no one would take up the opportunity to earn a quick $10,000 (the minimum statutory damages). In perhaps the most ridiculous legal position I have seen in years, the Texas Attorney General told the Supreme Court, “This Court cannot expunge the law itself. Rather, it can enjoin only enforcement of the law.” He argued since government officials “explicitly do not enforce the law,” the abortion providers “have not shown that they will be personally harmed by a bill that may never be enforced against them by anyone.”

Thus, Texas would have us believe that it passed a law giving private citizens standing to bring lawsuits against other citizens with a minimum payoff of $10,000 plus attorneys’ fees and costs, with zero risk of having to pay fees & costs for the defendant if the suit were judged frivolous, but no one will bother to file suit under the law. That’s a whopper even by Texas standard.

There are a multitude of serious substantive problems with SB 8. Here are just a few of the big ones:

    • The medical premise for the law is not scientifically accurate;
    • The essence of the statute is to confer “standing” on the entire civilian population of Texas to bring actions to sue physicians who perform abortions in conflict with the many non-medical details of the statutory scheme and to sue any person or entity that aids and abets the violation, with the assured award of not-less-than $10,000 in damages for each successful case brought, plus reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs incurred;
    • Plaintiffs may not be assessed attorney’s fee and costs even if the suit is thrown out because the statute is ruled unconstitutional, so the millions of potential plaintiffs incur no risk in bringing such suits;
    • Being an aider or abettor is determined without regard to the actor’s knowledge of the legality of the procedure;
    • Relying on some unspecified mind meld, the law authorizes suits against aiders/abettors who merely “intend” to assist forbidden abortions;
    • The clear intent of the legislation is to stack the legal deck against people who would help a woman with an abortion and thereby prevent abortions from being performed in Texas;
    • The statute in the words of Justice Sotomayor, “a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas,” dissenting from the Court’s decision to allow the Texas law to be effective Sept. 1 without appellate review;
    • The Supreme Court’s decision to allow SB 8 to become effective was based on a complete distortion of the holding in California v. Texas, a 2021 case addressing whether injunctive relief could be had against a statute whose key operative provision had been removed by Congress. The Court there said, “to find standing here to attack an unenforceable statutory provision would allow a federal court to issue what would amount to “an advisory opinion without the possibility of any judicial relief.” That is plainly not the case with the Texas statute which is not only enforceable but is drafted precisely to induce massive enforcement by citizen bounty-hunters. The fact that enforcement may occur at the hands of private persons inspired and enabled by a state law does not affect the impact of the law on its targets. Further, the cause of action created by the statute is fully effective and ready to be used, totally different than the tax provision removed from the law at issue in California v Texas.
    • Texas devoted much legislative language trying to (a) prevent federal court review of the statute and (b) control the nature and effect of the review. The very obvious goal was to have the law continue to apply to everyone who had not yet been sued, even if judicial review held the law facially unconstitutional in one case. Texas-sized hubris here, trying to tell the federal courts what they can and can’t do. Texas has decided to simply ignore the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

Justice Sotomayor’s eloquent dissent in Whole Woman’s Health v Austin Reeve Jackson, Judge, joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan, said everything that should have been needed to stop the law in its tracks:

The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.

It cannot be the case that a State can evade federal judicial scrutiny by outsourcing the enforcement of unconstitutional laws to its citizenry.

… the Court has re- warded the State’s effort to delay federal review of a plainly unconstitutional statute, enacted in disregard of the Court’s precedents, through procedural entanglements of the State’s own creation

I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that after further briefing and argument, a majority on the Supreme Court will find its way back to reality and reason by rejecting the Texas law on multiple constitutional grounds . Meanwhile, the women of Texas will have to live with the white hoods of handmaidens under the thumb of their totalitarian masters.

*****

For those with the interest and fortitude to understand the details of this astounding act of legislative hubris, here is an unfortunately long explanation of exactly what SB 8 purports to do.

The key scientific idea on which the law is based is that the presence of a fetal heartbeat “has become a key medical predictor that an unborn child will reach live birth.” Texas tries to tie this idea to a further finding that “the pregnant woman has a compelling interest in knowing the likelihood of her unborn child surviving to full-term birth based on the presence of cardiac activity.” Based on my limited review, those “findings” are of limited relevance, since there are other significant predictors of ultimate viability and nothing in the law specifically addresses the communication of this specific information to the pregnant woman considering an abortion.

Instead, absent a “medical emergency,” the statute bans abortions after the mere detection of a fetal heartbeat and nothing more. Adding to the pretextual nature of this, the statute conveniently fails to define “medical emergency,” thereby creating a condition in which both the physician and the pregnant woman can never be certain that later litigation will not reject the physician’s determination and expose the physician to an intolerable financial risk.

It’s important to understand that the statute does not directly expose the pregnant woman to lawsuits – the targets of the legislative scheme are the doctors, clinics and anyone else who,

Knowingly engages in conduct that aids and abets the performance or inducement of an [prohibited] abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an [prohibited] abortion through insurance or otherwise … regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this chapter….

The sweep of this language encompasses every imaginable form of support for the abortion process and is plainly designed to intimidate medical personnel, insurance companies as well as friends and family of the pregnant woman.

But that’s not all. The statute authorizes civil damage suits against any person who “intends to engage” in forbidden aiding and abetting of a prohibited abortion. No, I’m not making this up. We are in the land of science fiction, popularized by the movie Minority Report in which a special police force is authorized to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes. In Texas’ case, the “offense” is civil, not criminal but the penalties are large enough to deal a death blow to the finances of many people (minimum statutory damages of $10,000 plus costs and attorneys’ fees).

The damage provisions apply to every forbidden abortion the defendant performed or aided/abetted. If multiple parties are sued for aiding and abetting a single abortion, it appears the plaintiff stands to collect the minimum damages against each one.

Under the special statute of limitations applied by Texas, the specter of being sued will hang over potential aiders/abettors for six years.

The drafters anticipated that there might be other defenses presented to courts in the civil cases and have preemptively eliminated them. Thus, the following are rejected as possible defenses: a good faith belief in the unconstitutional nature of the law, reliance on court decisions that are later overruled or reliance on federal court decisions that are “not binding” on the state court where suit is brought.

These provisions are designed to prevent judicial review by federal courts of the state’s statutory law as written and as applied. Texas has, apparently seceded from the U.S. Constitution, or at least thinks it has.

In a cynical twist, Texas added a provision that seems at first look to mitigate the intimidation created by the rest of the statute: it provided an “affirmative defense” for those sued under the statute if (1) the defendant conducts a “reasonable investigation” and (2) then “reasonably believes” that the abortion physician “had complied” or “would comply” or “will comply” with the statute. I say this is cynical because the Texas legislators may be presumed to understand that that whatever a “reasonable investigation” means, an aider/abettor trying to conduct such an investigation will almost certainly be stymied by the privacy provisions of HIPAA (the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), not to mention the natural distaste any doctor will have to being embroiled in a lawsuit. The burden of proving an “affirmative defense” is on the person asserting it, so this looks like a Texas head-fake.

Not content to stack the deck against women, their physicians and their families and friends, Texas has added a provision barring absolutely the award of attorneys’ fees and costs against a defendant. This means that the most egregious unfounded lawsuits brought by damage-hunting lawyers and others can be brought with impunity. Which is, of course, exactly what Texas wants – a legal unchallengeable in terrorem regime that will force Texas women to take significant health risks and/or incur staggering expenses to get an abortion regardless of the reason or need. The statute also enables bounty-hunting plaintiffs to bring suits where they live against defendants who live across the state, with the proviso that venue can only be changed if the plaintiff agrees.

The statute also immunizes the state of Texas and its officers from any legal challenge to the statute and further provides that if a court finds the statute unconstitutional in its application to one person, the statute may still be enforced against everyone else. This is an obvious attempt to deprive the federal courts of jurisdiction to adjudicate the constitutionality of the statute as written and not just “as applied.” The courts of Texas may stand for such a violation of the separation of powers, but it is hard to imagine that the federal courts will accept it.

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of SB 8 is the provision that purports to instruct the courts in the nature and scope of their decisions and in the meaning of “unconstitutional:”

No court may decline to enforce the severability requirements … on the ground that severance would rewrite the statute or involve the court in legislative or lawmaking activity. A court that declines to enforce or enjoins a state official from enforcing a statutory provision does not rewrite a statute, as the statute continues to contain the same words as before the court’s decision. A Judicial injunction or declaration of unconstitutionality: (1) is nothing more than an edict prohibiting enforcement that may subsequently be vacated by a later court if that court has a different understanding of the requirements of the Texas Constitution or United States Constitution.

This is Texas-size hubris that banks on the willingness of the Supreme Court of the United States to permit a state to decide for itself the nature, scope and effect of the Court’s decisions as regards the U.S. Constitution. Maybe the current Court will buy that nonsense, but I will be surprised as it would seem to overturn the very foundations of the federal system and the separation of powers, among other things.

Texas gives prevailing parties in any constitutional or other challenge to the abortion law three years to file for award of attorneys’ fees and costs. This opportunity applies even if the plaintiff in such suit wins the case on grounds that the severability provisions are unconstitutional or preempted by federal law!

It appears that the desperation of the Texas legislators to insulate SB 8 from federal court review has led them to a strange and untenable place. The statute contains a confused and obtuse section that appears to say that even if a court finds the statute facially unconstitutional, the statute shall still be severed, and the “unconstitutional applications” shall remain enforceable. Further, in such case the statute “shall be interpreted as if containing language limited the statute’s application to the persons, group of persons, or circumstances for which the statute’s application will not violate the United States Constitution and Texas Constitution.

That seems like an overt invitation for the courts to rewrite the legislation to help the Texas legislature save it. There may be precedent for such an astonishing approach, but I am not aware of it. That is, I believe, precisely what courts don’t, and should not, undertake. If the legislature writes an unconstitutional statute, it is the responsibility of the legislature to rewrite the law to repair the damage, unless some form of severance is possible that satisfies the court that it is not in fact just rewriting the law.

The legislation forces the physician to try to talk the woman out of going through with an abortion. This occurs through a series of compulsory disclosures and medical advice that the law declares, ipso facto, to be medically accurate and sound without any specific knowledge of the health condition of the woman in question.

The law addresses the issue of rape/incest and developmental abnormalities by exempting the woman from being forced to hear an explanation of the sonogram images, but rape/incest/developmental abnormalities, and, for that matter, threats to the woman’s life, are not otherwise treated as relevant to the process by which the woman gives consent to the abortion.

Finally, note that the Texas Constitution includes the following:

Sec. 3. EQUAL RIGHTS. All free men, when they form a social compact, have equal rights, and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments, or privileges, but in consideration of public services.

But it also includes this:

Sec. 3a. EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW. Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed, or national origin. This amendment is self‑operative. (Added Nov. 7, 1972.)

But also this:

Sec. 32. MARRIAGE. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage. (Added Nov. 8, 2005.)

But there’s also this:

ARTICLE II

THE POWERS OF GOVERNMENT

Sec. 1. SEPARATION OF POWERS OF GOVERNMENT AMONG THREEDEPARTMENTS. The powers of the Government of the State of Texas shall be divided into three distinct departments, each of which shall be confided to a separate body of magistracy, to wit: Those which are Legislative to one; those which are Executive to another, and those which are Judicial to another; and no person, or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly attached to either of the others, except in the instances herein expressly permitted.

I predict the ACLU and other entities that are going to challenge SB 8 are going to have a field day with these contradictory provisions, some of which are inconsistent with existing Supreme Court precedent and, of course, the U.S. Constitution.

Afghanistan

Republicans are ecstatic that the mess in Afghanistan has given them another excuse for deflecting attention from the treasonous insurrection of January 6. Afghanistan is a mess, of course, and little that the White House can say about it is going to fix it in the near future, or ever. Understanding full well that the President is “responsible” for what happens on his watch, the sudden awakening of Republican and media angst over the plight of Afghan citizens is more than a little hypocritical and nonsensical.

That noted, I am not here to defend the seemingly failed planning by our military and intelligence people around the final departure of American and allied troops. I will just note before getting on with my points that the departure of Western troops from Afghanistan was never going to be met with the Taliban stepping back, popping some champagne, and waiting for the last troops and fleeing citizens to depart. The handwringing over this is, in my opinion, beyond absurd. And, after twenty years, it is simply ludicrous to suggest, as someone on CNN just did, that, ‘we promised them democracy – how can we just abandon them now?’ I will leave it to others to sort that out. Given the response so far, the media will have a lot to say about it.

My mission here is to place some context around the Afghanistan scenario, observations that some may find objectionable but which, I firmly believe, are reality.

Whatever the actual thinking was in sending American forces into Afghanistan, we were apparently trying to achieve two goals: (1) deny a base to Al Qaida-like terrorists, a task thought to be achievable by applying broad and constant military pressure against any “group” thinking of launching attacks against the United States in the vein of the September 11, 2001, and (2) while we were there, engage in some Western-style nation-building by promoting democratic political values and processes for adoption by the tribes and warlords that had dominated Afghan society for a very long time.

What could go wrong?

The one essential thing that went wrong, in my view, safely ensconced in my living room, is the same thing that went wrong in Vietnam, the first war officially “lost” by the United States since the country’s founding: we underestimated our adversaries. Déjà vu all over again.

Incidentally, “lost” in this setting doesn’t mean we were defeated. It means we didn’t win.

Americans have, I believe, been underestimating our adversaries since before the country was founded in 1787. The westward expansion from the original colonies followed the repression and subjugation of native populations east of the Mississippi River. Encounters with the Indians of the Western Plains met a formidable collection of adversaries, particularly the Comanche and Apache tribes. Underestimation of the native people, who were regarded as savages by white settlers and government/military alike, led to many deaths, until the white man’s superior firepower and ruthless violence finally overcame the natives’ resistance to expansion into their territory. Suggested reading: Empire of the Summer Moon.

The invincibility of the United States military was well-established in the American mind by the beginning of World War I and proved itself in World War II, albeit with many setbacks, not least of which was, of course, the Day of Infamy, the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that led to our entering the war in the first place. Not long after WWII ended, and after renewed isolationism reduced our military capabilities, the U.S. was caught by surprise again by the invasion of North Korea into South Korea. We suffered huge setbacks in that conflict as well, basically fighting to a draw, but coming away with some sense of having prevailed. North Korea did not get South Korea. We didn’t win, but neither did they.

Then there was Vietnam. Undeterred by the dismal failure of France to overcome resistance to the continued colonization of the country, the United States crept its way into full-throated engagement against the army of “little men in black pajamas” (a common way at the time of denigrating the enemy that was, in truth, winning the war). South Vietnam ostensibly was critical to U.S. interests in preventing communism from “taking over” Southeast Asia, a continuation of the “red menace” thinking of the 1950s. Accustomed to “winning” and to maintain the myth of American fighting superiority against all enemies, the U.S. government lied its way into an impossible situation: an unwinnable jungle war in which superior technology (total air superiority, napalm, carpet bombing, Agent Orange and more) failed to break the will of the resistance.

In January 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese armies stunned the world with the Tet Offensive, launched country-wide on the Lunar New Year festival when many of the South Vietnamese forces were on holiday leave. https://bit.ly/3z0psuw While the battle(s) were ultimately won by Western forces, the cost was staggering. As the Wikipedia article notes,

The offensive had a strong effect on the U.S. government and shocked the U.S. public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation; American public support for the war declined as a result of the Tet casualties and the ramping up of draft calls.

The war went on for seven long years more, leaving us with the Pentagon Papers and the now iconic scene of an American helicopter airlifting terrified Vietnamese from a building in Saigon (not the American embassy).

Much happened thereafter even before the 1991 Operation Desert Storm to drive Iraq back out of Kuwait. Most of the details are lost to memories, but you can review them here. https://bit.ly/3sE6UxR Prepare to be jolted. Desert Storm did not take long and “victory,” once again, belonged to the Western coalition led by the United States. We were once again winners.

The confidence of Americans was then shaken to the core by the attacks of September 11, 2001. The enemy, it seemed, was roaming free within the country and, armed with boarding passes and box cutters, was able to murder thousands in a few minutes. The furious response at yet another Day of Infamy was not short in coming.

Undeterred by history, and fully aware of the failure of Russia to subordinate the country, the United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 and in 2003 invaded Iraq. The U.S. left Iraq “officially” in 2011 but military engagements continued largely outside the interest of media and the public. See https://bit.ly/2W8W8nt for a short history.

We remained in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, and others, until President Trump, in what was to be his final year in office, negotiated an agreement with the Taliban (not including the Afghan government, our putative ally) to withdraw U.S. forces by May 1, 2021. President Biden, following up Trump’s prior decision and based on his own long-standing opposition to continuing a futile fight not strongly supported by the Afghan government or its people, decided to end the American military presence and ordered the final removal of U.S. troops. In about a week the Taliban launched a remarkable takeover of the country, leading to scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport as fleeing Afghans and Americans, who were warned of our imminent departure some time ago, tried to escape.

Chaos reigns in Afghanistan and the Republicans here have something new to cheer and deflect about. Officials in other countries are also quick to scoff at the “embarrassment” of a U.S. retreat in the face of the total collapse of the Afghan army that the U.S. spent 20 years training and funding and supplying. That’s not going to change.

The question remains — Why are we reliving, yet again, the tragic scenario of having fought a long and, in the end, futile war at staggering cost in treasure and, more importantly, human suffering?

There are, as always, many likely factors that contribute to the repetition of this behavior, but I believe there is one predominating force that drives the others. That is the core belief in American Exceptionalism.

Americans seem to have a compelling need for the myth of American Exceptionalism no matter what the evidence shows. It appears to be an essential element of national identity. The belief is reinforced regularly – in school lessons, in the celebration of July 4 Independence Day, in (at least in theory) Memorial Day celebrations and the formal ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington gets 3 million visitors a year; many of them witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb) and the periodic national obsession with domination of the Olympic Games medal count.

A critical component of American Exceptionalism is that the country is invulnerable to invasion by foreign troops. America is especially blessed, I was taught at an early age, by its geographical position on the planet. It is “protected” on the north by Canada and in the south by Mexico, neither of which is a threat as a haven for an invading army. Of course, the advent of the airplane and the aircraft carrier changed the threat scenario as we learned on December 7, 1941. The well-worn aphorism, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” became popular despite our unusual place in the world. https://bit.ly/3AX01dS During the 1950s period of the nuclear arms race, people in my generation were constantly reminded of the new peril to our very survival. We literally stood on the brink of nuclear holocaust in what became the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

We survived that threat, narrowly, and we “showed” the world in our response to the 9/11 attacks that the United States was still not to be trifled with. We were prepared to destroy entire countries and their civilizations to preserve our own.

But it was a shocking realization that we were not as secure as we thought, not as invulnerable to foreign or domestic threats after all and, after revelations like the torture in the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, not as pure of heart as we had been told.  Nevertheless, the insecurity fostered by changes in the world situation enabling our enemies to reach us with horrifying violence, of which we had been convinced we were immune, actually reinforced the commitment to the idea of American Exceptionalism. The more vulnerable we became, the more determined we were to believe in and act out the mythology of American Exceptionalism. If we weren’t so great, after all, why would they keep coming after us?

If we are the “best” of people, the purest example of the success of the Enlightenment, the people most committed to the preservation of democracy around the world, leaders of the Free World, then it follows we are not only exceptional but also entitled to special deference because of “who we are.” We hear this in political speech, among many other places, all the time. This mind-set primed many Americans to believe in the Fortress America idea, that we are essentially alone, that our very salvation as a nation and culture depends on “America First.” We are so special, so powerful, we don’t need other nations; America can go it alone. Trumpism.

Except that it’s just not true. We don’t much like to hear about it, but the fact is that the country was formed by taking, through force and artifice, the land of the natives who were here before the “white man” arrived. The evolution of the body politic led to a national constitution that, as an essential condition to its creation, formally embraced the idea that some people, brought here against their will and whose labor was taken without compensation, were less than fully human.

That ugly compromise with colonies whose economies and lifestyles were dependent upon human slavery conflicted with the moral fabric that underlay the national idea and eventually led to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet I was “taught” in junior high school history class in the 1950s that the Civil War had nothing to do with enslaved people and we were not to discuss the subject in class. We now see that many Americans believe that the Confederacy was an honorable undertaking that gave rise to some abstract idea of “heritage” justifying, among other things, the continued display of the Confederate flag as a symbol equal, if not superior, to the Stars and Stripes of our national flag.

And while the war was won and the enslaved people technically freed, much of the country refused to accept the idea of equality. Jim Crow laws and decades of other forms of discrimination produced a huge and possibly permanent economic underclass. Recall that school desegregation was not officially ended in this country until 1954 and violent resistance to it continued long after.

The country has continued whistling by the graveyard, pretending to be something it is not, thereby preventing the national reckoning that, in the long run, could unite most of the population around a common set of principles. If you have not seen the marvelous scene from the TV series, The Newsroom, in which Jeff Daniels, playing the anchor man, appears on a panel discussion and is asked, “what makes America the greatest country in the world?,” you really owe it to yourself to watch it. You can see it here: https://bit.ly/3AUkQXt If you’ve seen it, watch it again.

It’s a bit out of date (2012) and a touch misogynist (though I suspect/hope the writers meant “men” to refer to humans) and some of the data has changed. Nevertheless, in many respects, it sounds in the present moment. It’s a powerful statement of reality that conflicts with the mythology that has built up around the history of the United States.

That truth is complicated, and complication is something the human mind tries to avoid. Myths are more attractive. They’re easy to articulate and easy to believe. You can read all about that in any good book on behavioral economics. You could start with Thinking, Fast & Slow by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, one of the originators of the concept.

Lest you think this is apologia for Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan, let me disabuse you now. That slogan presupposes something that is blatantly false and plays on fear: fear of losing, blaming others for the perceived loss while simultaneously giving the national treasure away to the already wealthy and to the corporations whose lust to consume at any cost our precious resources is boundless.

The MAGA slogan is a scam, perpetrated on the willing (74 million voted for Trump in 2020 despite everything known about his grift, incompetence, dishonesty and failure to be courageous when courage was the only currency that could have saved the country from more than 600,000 deaths to COVID-19). No, if you’ve read any of my prior posts in this blog, you should be clear that I am not about MAGA.

Let’s look at some facts. These are, like science, true whether you believe them or not.

The U.S. economy is large, with the highest Nominal GDP. https://bit.ly/3sEPzFa [all cited data is pre-pandemic; the economic and social devastation caused by COVID-19 is staggeringly large but not yet measured.] Our economic “system,” measured by GDP, is thus a huge success. But not without cost. The United States ranks second only to China in delivering carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (we are fourth in per capita emissions). https://bit.ly/3B1NFB9 The United States is a prototype example of the Tragedy of the Commons on a global scale. We’re big but not the best.

And, before you start chanting “we’re No. 1, we’re No. 1,” recall that we don’t produce nearly as much stuff as we did in the good old days, while we consume enormous amounts of almost everything imaginable and then some. Much of that “stuff” comes from other countries, as we learned to our chagrin during the pandemic when many supply chains failed. Thus, while “the U.S. economy is at the forefront of technology in many industries … it faces rising threats in the form of economic inequality, rising healthcare and social safety net costs, and deteriorating infrastructure.” https://bit.ly/37VcSB5 Let’s review just a few details.

Based on the “the percentage of people between the ages of 25 and 64 who have completed some kind of tertiary education in the form of a two-year degree, four-year degree or vocational program,” the United States ranks only sixth. https://cnb.cx/3xWa2pW  We lead the world in persons incarcerated per 100,000 population [https://bit.ly/3z7HEm4] There are more guns in private hands in the U.S. than in the next 9 countries combined. https://bit.ly/3iZwc6d The U.S. literacy rate ranks 125th in the world. https://bit.ly/3svc8Me Of the 37 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD), the U.S. had the third highest poverty rate. https://bit.ly/3sB0rnh Finally, the U.S. ranks 15th on the U.N. Education Index. https://bit.ly/2WdIu2g

All that said, most people with some awareness of world affairs and conditions would not trade places with citizens of other countries. Viewed in its entirety and all things considered, the United States remains a pretty good place to live for most of its inhabitants, especially the white population. But we cannot have a realistic view of our place in the world, let alone within the country, if we have a glassy-eyed fantasy version of reality about the country, its values and what we can expect or demand of it. One can always say, “we could do better,” but the Afghanistan situation was a long-term losing proposition. Our chances of accomplishing the original goals were limited to non-existent and after twenty years of trying, there is no point to pretending otherwise.

Maybe we could have prepared better, but let’s not forget that the outgoing administration refused to cooperate with Biden’s transition team. We can’t know for sure what the implications of that non-cooperation were, but it’s not an unreasonable speculation that they had an effect. In any case, the idea that there was a clean simple way to exit Afghanistan is pure fantasy.

The Taliban weren’t going to let a power vacuum exist after we left. The speed of their advance through the country, facing little to no opposition from the Afghan government forces, is the clearest indication of the inevitability of the chaos that ensued. All the handwringing and political theater isn’t going to change that.

It’s curious indeed that Republicans who were all in on Trump’s desire to seal the U.S. borders to prevent immigrants from entering are now all about admitting huge numbers of Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Or are they just expecting other countries to take them? Politics and mythology can easily confuse one’s thinking. It would be interesting if Republicans applied their newly discovered empathy for Afghans to the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging their states, overwhelming their healthcare systems and killing their children.

Afghanistan is lost. The central issue is not whether we could have done a better job with the exit of military forces. We could have. The real issue now is whether we will simply reinvent the history to say that we “won,” and continue the fantasy of American Exceptionalism while not actually doing much to make the fantasy a reality. How, for example, will the Western international community of nations relate to Afghanistan under Taliban control? What happens regarding the seemingly inevitable human rights issues that are going to arise immediately regarding women there? What will United States policy toward a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan be and how will it be enforced?

Everything reasonable that can be done to avoid unnecessary bloodshed during the continuing evacuation should, obviously, be done but the focus must now be on the future. That future is as uncertain as it has ever been. That’s not Joe Biden’s fault. It’s not even Donald Trump’s fault. At this point the idea of fault is beside the point. It falls to President Biden to try to fashion a workable answer in a country that still lives in a fantasy dream of who we are and what we can do in a modern world.

Norwegian Cruise Line Fights the Right Fight Against Ignorance

The case is Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd., et al. Plaintiffs, vs. Scott Rivkees, M.D., Defendant, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The opinion was written by U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Williams acting on the Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The defendant is the Surgeon General of Florida and the head of the Florida Department of Health.

The lawsuit was brought to enable Norwegian to protect its customers to the maximum extent possible in the face of directives from the Republican “small government” Governor of Florida who has forbidden cruise lines operating there on international itineraries to require use of face masks, vaccinations and proof of vaccinations.

Judge Williams’ thorough and carefully crafted 59-page opinion grants the plaintiff’s motion. This allows Norwegian to establish its own COVID health protocols, including requiring proof of vaccination as a condition for cruising. The opinion skewers the defense for its failure to present evidence on key issues. While it’s always tempting to blame this on the lawyers, the reality in this case is that the evidence for the defense simply doesn’t exist. The state’s attempt to prevent cruise lines from adopting safe health standards is a political maneuver, not a rational health policy decision with demonstrable roots in local health needs or medical science.

Judge Williams’ opinion should stand up well in the appeal that Governor DeSantis, known on Twitter as #DeathSantis, has announced he will file. DeSantis’ statement about the case included this gem, “A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone’s speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information.”

That suggests the good governor did not read the District Judge’s opinion or lacks understanding of the legal principles involved. His lack of awareness extends to the growing public support for “vaccine passports,” and he is also unaware of federal ventilator resources sent to his state by the federal government to help relieve the crisis caused by the Delta Variant and his refusal to recognize the challenges it poses. Delta threatens to overwhelm the health facilities of multiple, mainly southern, states, including Florida, that have largely ignored the danger still posed by COVID-19. Florida’s governor is earning his moniker as #DeathSantis every day.

Norwegian Cruise Line is on the right side of health science, health policy and rational business behavior. Kudos to NCL’s management for standing up to the Florida Governor’s rejection of all of those as he plays to his right-wing political audience, the same base that thrives on adoration of Donald Trump (you remember him, speaking about Democrats: “the virus is their new hoax.”)

In an op-ed in TravelMarketReport, https://bit.ly/2VKcfri, way back in October 2020, long before anyone had heard of the Delta Variant, I argued that the path to travel industry recovery required restoration of consumer confidence but that the path then in play was more chaos than order. I suggested an approach that, in those troubled times, I thought might work:

I suggest that the atomization of the industry’s approach must be replaced with an across-the-board cooperative regime of joint decision-making to which individual firms commit to total compliance for a significant period into the future. For example, and as a great beginning, the cruise industry players (of which there are relatively few independent entities) have undertaken a collective effort to establish firm rules about how ships will be sanitized, how masking and social distancing will be applied and so on. Obviously, the science behind this is still evolving, but much is already known about how to manage indoor environments. I believe that the new rules should be vetted with a representative sample of cruise travelers to evaluate whether the rules are understandable, practical and reassuring. The likely outcome is not a return to full-on unlimited cruising and many economic challenges will remain. The concept is not a cure-all but an attempt to establish a common and trustable arrangement that will permit business to resume on some scale.

Call me a dreamer if you like. We are not close to what I had envisioned. Nowhere is this clearer than in the battle Norwegian Cruise Line is fighting, alone, with Florida. Downloadable CDC data for Florida, from August 6, paints a grim picture. https://bit.ly/3lU94rX This will not deter Florida’s governor from resisting science and common sense as he continues his efforts to stop the cruise lines from using the best defenses available to control the virus and resume safe cruising.

The chaos will thus continue for a while longer. I am confident Norwegian Cruise Line will continue the fight and hopefully will succeed, however long it takes.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Worlds

I love the New York Times. I hate the New York Times. It has the best stories.  It has the worst stories….

What?

Maybe that reminds you of the remarkable opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities that didn’t occur to me until I had penned the opening lines of this post:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Dickens, writing in 1859, two years before the start of the American Civil War, was on to something fundamental. He could have been writing today.

I pretend no such comparison, of course. It’s just that as I read the New York Times Sunday Review “Guest Essay” by Christopher Caldwell, entitled, What if There Wasn’t a Coup Plot, General Milley? [https://nyti.ms/3fsvPPC], I experienced the cognitive dissonance that I wrote about in a prior post: Media Bias—Who Are the Victims? [https://bit.ly/2Vf7PIH] Caldwell is the author of a book, published in January 2020, that Amazon describes as explaining how the social justice “reforms of the past fifty years gave the country two incompatible political systems—and drove it toward conflict.” I haven’t read the book, but the description suggests, not surprisingly, that the liberal movement toward equality, educational opportunity and the rest are the root cause of Donald Trump’s appeals to racism and xenophobia. That’s an argument for another day, perhaps.

Here we are in August 2021, more than six months past the January 6 mob attack on the Capitol that killed police officers among many other outrages and Mr. Caldwell suggests that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, was hallucinating when he viewed Trump’s post-election assault on the Constitution as “some kind of coup.”  Caldwell is offended by Milley’s suggestion, reported in a new book, that a coup would fail because the military would step up to prevent it.

While some might greet such comments with relief, General Milley’s musings should give us pause. Americans have not usually looked to the military for help in regulating their civilian politics. And there is something grandiose about General Milley’s conception of his place in government. He told aides that a “retired military buddy” had called him on election night to say, “You represent the stability of this republic.” If there was not a coup underway, then General Milley’s comments may be cause more for worry than for relief.

Caldwell claims that Milley’s only evidence of a coup was the January 6 attack, and this is where the idea of Two Worlds comes in. Caldwell says, “that day’s events are ambiguous.”

Seriously? Ambiguous? This is better, I suppose, than the argument I encountered on LinkedIn recently in which a large number of Trumpers stated, I kid you not, that the January 6 attack did not happen and that the videos are “all lies.”

To be more than fair, Caldwell accepts the reality that,

On the one hand, it is hard to think of a more serious assault on democracy than a violent entry into a nation’s capitol to reverse the election of its chief executive. Five people died. Chanting protesters urged the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, who had refused Mr. Trump’s call that he reject certain electoral votes cast for Joe Biden.

But then Caldwell dismisses the entire event as “something familiar: a political protest that got out of control.” Caldwell says that what he describes as merely “contesting the fairness of an election” and calling the election a “steal,” while “irresponsible” coming out of the mouth of a president, are mere hyperbole equal to “calling suboptimal employment and health laws a “war on women.”

Nor did the eventual violence necessarily discredit the demonstrators’ cause, any more than the July 2016 killing of five police officers at a rally in Dallas against police violence, for instance, invalidated the concerns of those marchers.

There are so many problems with this exercise in deflection and what-about-ism, it’s hard to know where to begin. Suffice to say, Mr. Caldwell has chosen to ignore the planning that we now are beginning to understand went into the January 6 attack. The “protest that just got out of hand” is a convenient intellectual ruse to plaster over the realities revealed by, for example, the New York Times’ video, “Day of Rage”. See https://nyti.ms/2VLfDSI

Caldwell is quite comfortable observing that Trump “ended his presidency as unfamiliar with its powers as with its responsibilities. That is, in a way, reassuring.” In effect, Caldwell seems to argue that Trump was too ignorant and incompetent to bring off a real coup. So, no need to worry.

Then, after noting that the few rational people in Trump’s administration left or were ousted, his claims of a stolen election inspired his followers. And, Caldwell hastens to declare,

Republicans had — and still have — legitimate grievances about how the last election was run. Pandemic conditions produced an electoral system more favorable to Democrats. Without the Covid-era advantage of expanded mail-in voting, Democrats might well have lost more elections at every level, including the presidential.

If you’re going to claim legitimacy for arguments of electoral unfairness arising from a public health crisis, then you must also address how that public health crisis unfolded. And there, my friends, is where we find Mr. Caldwell’s hero stuck in the sucking muck of his incompetence and indifference. Trump’s legendary and thoroughly documented mishandling of the pandemic is likely at the heart of his defeat, and he cannot have it both ways. If the pandemic was another “Democrat hoax,” it cannot be blamed for his defeat.

Mr. Caldwell continues his monologue lost in the illogic of his argument that what began as a perfectly rational, if not necessarily correct, dispute about election procedures spun out of control in the hands of an “infuriated and highly unrepresentative hard core.” That “hard core” was precisely the group of politicians and supporters that Trump turned to in his desperation. His one true skill, inspiring hatred and irrational behavior, rose to the occasion just when he needed it most. Trump urged the mob to go to the Capitol, told them he would be there with them – and they believed him. Many of them have argued in court that they could not have committed crimes because they were “invited” into the building by Trump himself.

Undeterred by reality, Caldwell says.

The result was not a coup. It was, instead, mayhem on behalf of what had started as a legitimate political position. Such mixtures of the defensible and indefensible occur in democracies more often than we care to admit. The question is whom we trust to untangle such ambiguities when they arise.

Caldwell assumes away the central issue by simply declaring the situation was ambiguous and that the debate about the election just got out of hand when the mob listened to Trump claiming that the nation would be destroyed if the election were allowed to stand.

Under the rules of logical reasoning, defects in the premise remain in the outcome of a logical progression from that premise. By January 6 there was no even superficial plausibility to the argument that the election was flawed by fraud and “stolen,” notwithstanding the absurd claims of Republican politicians that the mob was just a bunch of friendly tourists. It is therefore impossible to logically argue that a rational dispute about the validity of the election simply got out of hand and led to the vicious beating of police trying to protect Members of Congress carrying out explicit Constitutional responsibilities.

In the end, Caldwell’s argument is that January   6 was not a coup attempt because he says so. And, therefore, he concludes that military leaders should not have “any kind of role in judging civilian ones.”

Most thoughtful people who respect the Constitutional scheme, despite its flaws, would agree that in normal circumstances the military should stay out of politics. Trump’s aspiration to turn the US into a “banana republic” notwithstanding, we remain a democratic republic and our military is subordinate to civilian authority. However, the Trump crowd should not get the wrong idea about that. Recall that it was Trump who called out military forces against civilian demonstrators in Washington. Gen. Milley had every reason to be concerned that Trump’s disrespect for, and fundamental ignorance about, the Constitution and his oath of office might lead to an attempt to use the military to overturn the election. I, for one, am happy to hear the General say “hell, no, not now, not ever.”

Lost in Space

I am harping a bit about the failure of the mainstream media to recognize the peril in which the country, and the MSM itself, finds itself. This failure is reflected in numerous ways, the latest being the decision of favorite New York Times to publish on page 21 of Sunday’s edition a story about the astonishing direct efforts by Donald Trump to suborn the Department of Justice to support his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was invalidated by fraud. Not only is Trump guilty of this effort to subvert the election, but compelling evidence has been produced that he had secured the support and active cooperation of Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division. https://nyti.ms/3iy3Gsw

This story is related to the on-going attempts of Trump and his enablers in Congress and the Republican-controlled states to overturn the lawful election of Joe Biden for President. That is the most important story of our time, right up there with the pandemic. If Trump had succeeded (or succeeds in the future), the democratic republic known as the United States of America would be finished. Seriously, is there a more important story than that?

As usual, the key players at the Justice Department have gone dark, refusing to comment substantively. But the testimony of Jeffrey Rosen, who was Acting Attorney General at the time, indicates that despite being directed otherwise, Clark continued having private conversations with Trump while Trump was still president. Clark even “drafted a letter that he asked Mr. Rosen to send to Georgia state legislators, wrongly asserting that they should void Mr. Biden’s victory because the Justice Department was investigating accusations of voter fraud in the state.” The proposal was rejected but the apparent fact remains that Clark engaged in multiple violations of DOJ policy, and possibly federal law, in working collaboratively with Trump to overturn the election.

Clark has a spectacular resume. https://bit.ly/2VG7yi4 That fact does not mean that he was incapable of the acts to which Rosen, with a similar resume (https://bit.ly/37vlgqu), has testified. The story mentioned almost in passing the suggestion by one of Trump’s lawyers that Trump “might take some undisclosed legal action if congressional investigators sought “privileged information.” That is, of course, a huge issue, but privilege (executive or attorney-client or whatever) cannot be used to coverup conversations about the commission or attempt at commission of a crime.

I well understand that there are many other big stories afoot at the same time. The Times front page this morning covers some of those: the Cuomo scandal, Republicans supporting infrastructure legislation, problems attributable to children being denied in-classroom learning, restaurant struggles in New York City and, of course, the Olympics. But page 21 for the inside story of attempts to defeat the lawful transfer of power?

Meanwhile, my other favorite publication, the Washington Post, has once again elected (it clearly had a choice) to publish an op-ed that undermines the effort to rid the country of COVID-19 through vaccinations and other public health measures. https://wapo.st/3iwpgxx This piece was written by Drew Holden, a public affairs consultant in D.C. and a former Republican congressional staff member. There is no surprise, therefore, that he objects to the recently re-established mask mandate in Washington, including those already vaccinated. Typically, he downplays the significance of the Delta Variant that is sweeping the country and overwhelming medical resources in numerous states. He focused on a “slight uptick in local cases” and “only three deaths from the coronavirus in the past two weeks and with a positive test rate hovering around 1 percent.Only three dead in two weeks, so who cares?

The author’s data, however, is massively contradicted by the Center for Disease Control’s COVID Data Tracker, https://bit.ly/3Cs8qrt. And, of course, the author dredges up the usual Republican talking points about overbearing government (ignoring, for example, the new Red Hero, the Governor of Florida, who has worked around the clock to defeat public health measures in his state that might help control the virus — #DeathSantis doesn’t hesitate to overrule local officials and to prevent Florida jurisdictions from following CDC guidance). So much for the principle of limited government.

Apparently no fan of logical consistency, Mr. Holden argues that while indoor mask mandates will reduce viral transmission, they will undermine the effort to persuade more people to vaccinate. He argues that more vaccinations are the “best way” to prevent more deaths, a view that most rational humans would accept, but Holden argues that vaccination is the only viable path forward, so the solution is to use the “best message” by repeating over and over again that vaccines are safe and effective.

Mandating masks even for the vaccinated sends a clear (if unintended) message to the contrary: Even when you have the vaccine, you aren’t really safe to yourself or others, even if we just told you the opposite was true. How can those already deservedly distrustful of the medical wisdom of the government overcome their skepticism if the government itself can’t seem to get the story straight?

Wow. If the author were really paying attention, he would understand that no one has claimed that vaccines were 100 percent security against COVID infection. This has been clear since the earliest public disclosures of the vaccines. The author also confuses mask requirements with other forms of incentive to vaccinate.

I could go on and on about this piece, but the real issue I want to raise is: why does the Washington Post continue to give credence and exposure to views like this? Is the Post’s commitment to truth tied to both-sides-ing issues of public health? Does the Post really believe that this type of message is essential to understanding the public health risks of another, and perhaps yet another, surge in COVID cases? If the Post is going to continue both-sides-ing COVID messaging, should it not explain its editorial policy to its readers?  If the issue were whether it is in the national interest to maintain a union of 50 states or whether we’d be better off as a nation by having multiple states secede, would the Post also both-sides that issue? How about smoking? Does the Post intend to publish both-sides commentary on the benefits and detriments of smoking tobacco? Wearing seat belts? How is this different?