Category Archives: Politics

The Fourth Reich — It’s Them or Us

Disclosure: Much of this post depends on information from the Bob Woodward- Robert Costa book, Peril. Woodward and I were friends in college and have had sporadic contact since then. I still consider him a friend, though we do not communicate regularly. Back in the day, a national magazine (not to be named) briefly suspected I might be Deep Throat. As everyone now knows, I was not Deep Throat. I never was.

This post is also inspired both by the column in the Washington Post by Margaret Sullivan [https://wapo.st/3v4LeMv] that asks the question why the “news” has largely ignored or downplayed the revelation that John Eastman, a Trump lawyer (and thus, legally, Trump himself), produced an outline for the steps to overturn the 2020 election and replace the real winner, Joe Biden, with Donald Trump.

The third inspiration is a line in Steven Pinker’s new book, Rationality:

Many facts, of course, are hurtful: the racial history of the United States, global warming, a cancer diagnosis, Donald Trump. Yet they are facts for all that, and we must know them, the better to deal with them.

So we must.

Since I began thinking deeply about this, we have also learned that Trump’s Department of Justice deliberately sat on its hands and did not brief Congress or others in the administration about what it apparently understood could be a day of violence against the government. https://bit.ly/3npJLON

We have also become aware that,

Republican leaders loyal to Trump are vying to control election administrations in key states in ways that could drastically distort the outcome of the presidential race in 2024. With the former president hinting strongly that he may stand again, his followers are busily manoeuvring themselves into critical positions of control across the US – from which they could launch a far more sophisticated attempt at an electoral coup than Trump’s effort to hang on to power in 2020.

… in recent months Trump has emerged as an unashamed champion of the insurrectionists, calling them “great people” and a “loving crowd”, and lamenting that they are now being “persecuted so unfairly”.

A poll released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute found that two-thirds of Republicans still believe the myth that Trump won. More chilling still, almost a third of Republicans agree with the contention that American patriots may have to resort to violence “in order to save our country”. [https://bit.ly/3ckbwlq]

As Donald Trump Jr has asserted, the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump. He owns it. His army of sycophants are as loyal to him as ever. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, his people believe the 2020 election was stolen, just as Trump continues to claim.

This is so despite Trump’s admitted bungling of the response to COVID that added significantly to the death toll, his incessant grifting and lying and treasonous acts of disloyalty to the United States, and, of course, his many “ordinary” crimes, such as giving secrets to Russia, extorting the president of Ukraine and a multitude of documented obstructions of justice, among many others. Evidence of cultish blindness to Trumpism is everywhere – mainstream media, Fox Propaganda, Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn and more.

Even with all that, the Eastman memo, unearthed in Woodward and Costa’s book, is shocking. As explained by Sullivan,

Written by Trump legal adviser John Eastman — a serious Establishment Type with Federalist Society cred and a law school deanship under his belt — it offered Mike Pence, then in his final days as vice president, a detailed plan to declare the 2020 election invalid and give the presidency to Trump.

In other words, how to run a coup to overturn the election in six easy steps.

Yet, Sullivan reports, the mainstream media largely ignored it at first. She rightly asks why this was not the multi-alarm firestorm – a presidential advisor casually informing him of the steps needed to undermine the outcome of a national election and claim the presidency that he had clearly lost.

The answer, it turns out, is as disturbing as the memo itself.

As reported by Sullivan, network executives thought the story unworthy because it was “crazy” and unsurprising. In effect, Trump has so normalized the idea of overthrowing the election that evidence of actual work to do so is not important enough to report. Another didn’t address it because “There’s no indication that Pence considered it seriously.” Others responded that there was much other news that seemed more important. What would be more important than an attempt to overthrow the government?

The normalization of the Trump-Republican attempt to subvert the Constitution and reinstall Trump as president, and de facto dictator, is being enabled by publications as venerable as the Wall Street Journal. The Journal published a letter from Trump on October 27. It did so without comment or any attempt to address the truth or falsity of his claims. The grotesque problems with the letter and the Journal’s decision to publish it are addressed in detail by Philip Bump in the Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3GTiYCg

The obvious and logical, and profoundly disturbing, conclusion is that WSJ supports Trump’s claims of election fraud and his belief that he was denied re-election by widespread vote fraud. Thus, the Wall Street Journal joins the campaign to undermine American democracy and replace it with a Republican autocracy led by Trump and his family.

At the same time, Trump is desperately fighting to prevent the release to the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection/coup attempt of a large trove of documents that would reveal his role, and that of his key enablers, in the attack on the Capitol. https://nyti.ms/3wgXYAc His claims of executive privilege have been rejected by President Biden, but Trump maintains he can assert the privilege even though no longer in office. Trump’s claim of privilege fails on multiple grounds, not least of which is that most of the documents sought have nothing to do with this execution of the job of president – they are related to his personal political objective to remain in office despite the electoral outcome.

Thus, Trump continues to maintain his thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud while resisting efforts to uncover facts that might expose his role in trying to overthrow the federal government.

What else does the Woodward/Costa book contribute to our understanding of all this? A lot.

  • The chair of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, after plenty of chances to observe Trump’s thinking and behavior as president, agreed with Speaker Pelosi’s observation that Trump was “crazy” and had been “crazy for a long time.” Peril at xxii. Colin Powell, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs described Trump as a “f*cking maniac.” Peril at 106.
  • Pelosi characterized the Oval Office under Trump as an “insane snake pit.”Peril at xxiii.
  • Referring to the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, and under pressure from then-Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump refused to criticize the marchers because “These people love me. These are my people. I can’t backstab the people who support me.” Peril at 8.
  • Trump was often unaware of his own actions. He did not know that the money for the border wall in the early 2018 spending bill was an amount he had approved. He finally agreed to sign the bill to prevent a government shutdown. Marc Short, Trump’s legislative advisor told Ryan this chaos was typical of “every day around here.” Peril at 9. Bill Barr, who was committed to run the Justice Department in Trump’s best interest to promote his re-election thought Trump’s big problem was his “pigheadedness and his blindness.” Peril at 71.
  • Trump failed to grasp the nature of the threat posed by COVID-19 and refused to accept information that conflicted with his view. Peril at 82.
  • Trump rejected advice of Gen. Milley and other senior advisors to rename military bases from Confederate traitors to Medal of Honor winners. Peril at 108-109.
  • Even as the U.S. pandemic continued to escalate (approaching 4.9 million cases and more than 160,000 deaths), Trump insisted that it was “disappearing. It’s going to disappear.” Peril at 113.
  • Trump tweeted that the “deep state” was interfering with the development of vaccines. When his own appointed head of the FDA tried to explain the process, Trump changed the subject. “the president had no idea how the FDA operated and had made no effort to find out.” Peril at 113-115.
  • Aware of his failing election campaign, Trump primed his followers for the possibility of defeat by repeatedly claiming that the only way he could lose was a rigged election. Peril at 131.
  • As soon as Trump’s defeat was reported, he announced from the White House that the election was a “fraud on the American public.” Peril at 133.
  • Even Michael Pompeo, one of Trump’s most loyal sycophants, told Gen. Milley that “The crazies are taking over,” referring to Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn and Mike Lindell, the key players on Trump’s legal defense team. Peril at 150.
  • On November 10, following Trump’s firing of the Secretary of Defense, Gina Haspel, the CIA Director, presciently predicted, “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.” Peril at 152.
  • Mark Meadows made repeated efforts to install a Trump super-loyalist into a leadership position at the FBI and, stymied by Barr, later at the CIA, stymied by Haspel. Peril at 154-156.
  • Trump acknowledged that Giuliani was “crazy” but claimed that “sane lawyers” would not represent him in attacking the election. Peril at 164. Trump’s AG Barr referred to Trump’s legal team as a “bunch of clowns.” Peril at 170. See also Peril at 180.
  • Trump’s team of incompetents had no plan to efficiently distribute COVID vaccines. Peril at 187.
  • Steve Bannon advised Trump to focus on January 6, the day the Electoral College votes would be certified by Congress, the last step to elect Joe Biden as President:

We’re going to bury Biden on January 6 …. If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden’s victory on January 6 … it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again. “We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib… [Peril at 207-208]

  • Trump directly threatened VP Pence if he refused to reject the Biden Electoral votes and hand the election to Trump. Peril at 229-230.

The above references are just a small taste of the astonishing revelations in Peril. Most of the rational people in the White House at the time of the election and its aftermath appeared to believe that Trump was mentally unstable, incapable of and uninterested in the complexities of governing and focused only on retaining power. There was palpable fear, even among some Republican leaders, that Trump was so unhinged and desperate that he might start a war or try to use the military to retain power. His distraction likely played a role in the continued spread of COVID and  his administration’s failure to respond appropriately.

These concerns, which continue in the wake of the January 6 insurrection that Trump inspired and encouraged, raise the gravest questions about the capacity of the American democratic republic, and the Constitution on which it is based, to survive the presidency of an incompetent psychopath like Trump.

Thus far, the only action against the insurrectionists has been to arrest just over 700 of the perpetrators out of what appeared to be several thousand involved in the assault. No charges have been leveled against anyone in Congress or the Trump administration in relation to the attempted coup. Trump continues to claim in every available forum, without any factual basis and in the face of more than 60 defeats in legal proceedings, that the election was stolen. His supporters in Congress continue to obstruct President Biden’s efforts to end the pandemic and restore the economic health of the country.

Republicans around the country continue to alter election rules, gerrymander districts and prepare to overturn the results of any election defeats they may experience in 2022 and 2024. The Doomsday Clock on American democracy is ticking down and, as far as can be told, more than a year after Joe Biden’s election, no meaningful actions to hold the real leaders of the January 6 coup attempt accountable has been made.

Watch this video, produced by Don Winslow Films, listing 19 critical questions central to the January 6 insurrection, that remain unaddressed as far as anyone can tell.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2cG1PIhLIA

We are told we must be patient, that building a solid criminal case against a former president requires time. To a lesser extent the same “principle” is offered regarding the members of Congress who actively promoted the insurrection and have worked very hard to sustain a ludicrous phantasmagorical version of what occurred on January 6.

I understand the need for careful preparation, but in a little over a month we will have reached the one-year anniversary of the attack on Congress. I ask what evidence of conspiracy, perjury, sedition and obstruction of justice, to mention just a few of Trump and team’s major crimes, is missing? Has a grand jury been impaneled?

As Don Winslow’s video compellingly asks, why have so many key witnesses not been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee and placed under oath? What kind of investigation is this? Are we going to get another version of the Mueller Report that says we can’t find enough evidence to indict but neither do we exonerate? How could such a conclusion be reached without a full investigation? Mueller failed to fully investigate, as revealed in Andrew Weissmann’s book, discussed at length in an earlier post in this blog, “Lawless White House” – the Mueller Report – “Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave …” https://bit.ly/32GUDA1

Trump is infamous for using legal processes to stall and delay investigations and actions against his multi-various criminal activities and civil offenses. If the government takes much longer, there will be no chance for meaningful action while Republicans scheme to undermine the democratic process whose survival is central to a full accounting from Trump and his enablers. I am encouraged, not much but more than zero, by the fact that the Biden administration has not announced that it is closing any investigations but that is not sufficient.

Winter for American democracy is theatening and once it is here, there may be no chance for a renewal.

 

 

 

An Anti-Masker Walked Into a Bar ….

Actually, no, it’s not a bar and it’s not a joke. They’re boarding airplanes, knowing full well that there is a federal policy requiring that masks always be worn except when actively eating or drinking. Yet they continue to reject compliance and, in many cases, verbally and physically abuse flight crews and fellow passengers.

The situation is so bad that the Federal Aviation Administration is publishing monthly Unruly Passenger Statistics. See https://www.faa.gov/unruly

It’s time to stop calling these miscreants “unruly passengers” and call them by their true name: Criminals. Why?

As stated by the FAA:

Interfering with the duties of a crewmember violates federal law

“Unruly passengers” can be fined by the FAA and criminally prosecuted by the FBI.

“Can be,” yes, but are they? Some are, for sure. You can read about some of the fines imposed in Travel Pulse: FAA Fines 10 Unruly Passengers $225K for Alleged Assault, https://bit.ly/3qGcoJm That’s some serious coin. The Washington Post reports that the FAA has referred 37 cases to the FBI for prosecution. https://wapo.st/3BQT5iq

The problem, as I see it, remains that only a small share of the cases is being pursued, despite a “zero tolerance” policy adopted by the FAA at the beginning of 2021:

The FAA reported 5,033 incidents of unruly passengers as of November during this year, 3,642 of which were related to mask-wearing. From the total number of incidents, the FAA initiated 950 investigations, a sixfold increase from last year.

The agency initiated enforcement action in 227 cases, some of which will lead to a civil penalty. Of the 227, 37 of the most egregious cases of disruptive or violent passenger behavior were referred to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution.

The progression from 5,033 incidents to 950 investigations to 227 enforcements to 37 possible criminal prosecutions suggests to the irresponsible anti-masker (who thinks it’s perfectly fine to violate federal law, assault flight attendants and possibly endanger the safety of an entire aircraft in flight) that his chances of getting away with “unruly behavior” are pretty good.

The words we use are important. Calling someone’s misconduct “unruly” diminishes its significance. It superficially equates attacks on flight attendants with talking too loudly, playing music without earbuds and generally being a slob. But those latter misbehaviors – obvious acts of unruliness — are in a completely different category from refusing to comply with masking rules and, even more obviously, physically attacking a flight crew member.

Aircraft in flight are no place for scuffles and fist fights. Nevertheless, in many cases other passengers have engaged miscreant anti-maskers in efforts to protect flight attendants and to restore order. It’s good that there are people prepared to engage in this way, but it should never escalate to that stage.

I well understand that airlines are reluctant to sound too “authoritarian” in presenting passengers with the “rule of the airways” after boarding, but the fact remains that the dangers of violent passengers on an aircraft present a uniquely problematic situation – for the passengers and crew as well as people on the ground.

The AFA-CWA International that represents flight attendants has argued that,

Expeditiously referring the most violent, physical assaults against crewmembers and passengers to the Department of Justice for public prosecution is the most effective way to deter bad actors and put a stop to the spike in disruptive passengers. https://bit.ly/3Cj0eZh

Absolutely right, but I would go even further and argue for criminal referral of every act of assault against crew members, as well as every act of refusal to follow flight crew instructions to “mask up.” If in the off chance that a crew member oversteps, the passenger can take it up with the airline after the flight, not by verbally or physically attacking the crew. Based on experience to date, it seems clear that the only way to deter this dangerous criminal behavior is to create the certainty that criminal prosecution will ensue.

So, FAA, start using the right words to describe the conduct and refer all the cases to the FBI. And while you’re at it, adopt the flight attendants’ union’s call for,

the creation of a centralized list of violators who will be denied the freedom of flight on all airlines. If a passenger physically assaults crewmembers or other passengers on one airline, they pose a risk to passengers and crew at every airline. They should be banned from flying on all airlines. Period.

The time has passed for putting that issue “on the table,” as suggested by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. It’s time to act.

The Right to Vote

One necessary condition for the existence of a democratic republic is the ability of the people to control their government representatives. The control may be indirect and often untimely, but without the ultimate power in the hands of the governed, there is no democracy and no republic.

The essential manifestation of the power of the governed to control the governors is the vote. Without a watchful voting population, the baser instincts of politicians will eventually prevail, and the system will devolve toward uncontrollable authoritarian rule that benefits the governors at the expense of the governed.

To be effective, the right to vote must be available to everyone affected by the decisions of the governors. They must be able to exercise the vote with sufficient ease and frequency that the governors will remain cognizant of, and influenced by, the belief that if they fail to adequately and properly represent their electing constituents, they may be replaced. Since under normal conditions (e.g., no gerrymandered districts) the electing populace will be a mixture of viewpoints and interests, elected officials will often necessarily seek compromise and consensus to retain the consistent favor of at least a working majority of the electorate. When the interests of large electoral sectors are ignored consistently by political leaders, the normal conclusion is that gerrymandering is at work and politicians believe they only answer to a subset of the electorate. That in turn means that the interests and views of many voters are being ignored, that laws and policies will lag behind (often very far behind) the current views of the majority.

This is a complex and fraught business especially given the propensity of politicians to want to insulate themselves from the employment vulnerability that democracy necessarily imposes. Thus, professed fealty to the electorate and the “common good” often conflicts with the self-interest of employment security and the other fruits of power and influence. Hence the truth of the aphorism, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

We were recently reminded of this, and more by the invitation of a good friend to attend a presentation of the Women’s Advisory Board of the Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital at the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial in Occoquan Regional Park. We learned some interesting history not covered in many American history curricula. Inconvenient truths, it seems, are everywhere.

In a nutshell, the right to vote for women was not included in the original Constitution. Men resisted the idea for a very long time, despite persistent efforts by women to secure equal standing at the ballot box. While there are varying explanations of what led to the eventual drastic measures, the common point in the narratives is that women suffragists took to picketing the White House during the Woodrow Wilson administration. Wilson’s support for female suffrage had been unenthusiastic at best.

Eventually, the picketers, were arrested and jailed. They chose jail rather than pay fines they felt were unjust. In jail, fed rotten food with maggots, many of the women refused to eat and were force-fed with funnels and tubes. A diorama of this torture can be seen at the Lucy Burns Museum housed in the old Lorton Reformatory just up the road from the Suffragist Memorial. Lorton has now mostly been converted into an arts center, but the Burns Museum is must-see.

The Memorial is supported by the Girl Scouts National Capital. Lidia Soto-Harmon, the CEO of GSNC advised me that,

We are thrilled that in the design they created a bridge that will allow generations of Girl Scouts to “Bridge” to the next level in Girl Scouting.  We had two long time Girl Scout champions, that made a donation to the memorial on behalf of our council, and we are grateful to be listed along with the many contributors.

That bridge is pictured below with the attendees at the event.

Patricia Wirth, Executive Director of the Turning Point Suffragists Memorial Association, presented an extemporaneous and compelling history lesson for the enthusiastic group that attended. Pat is pictured here on the left, with Nancy Lyons Sargeant, who following long involvement in the TPSMA, has served as the Chairman of the Board since 2015.

A trip to Occoquan Regional Park is worthwhile for other reasons. There are paved and unpaved paths of varying degrees of difficulty, a very nice café with outdoor seating, great views of the Occoquan River

and plenty of space to picnic and play. But you don’t want to overlook the Suffragist Memorial. It’s an excellent learning opportunity for some history often overlooked, and especially for young people who need to understand all aspects of America’s history so, hopefully, they can improve on it in the future.

 

 

 

 

Artists Speak in Tongues

I often don’t understand. I recently had this experience again at DC’s Hirshhorn Museum https://hirshhorn.si.edu/about-us/ when we visited the huge Laurie Anderson exhibit, https://hirshhorn.si.edu/exhibitions/laurie-anderson-the-weather/ that will be displayed until July 31, 2022.

The museum describes Anderson as a “groundbreaking multimedia artist, performer, musician, and writer.” While I’m not qualified to judge, the description seems accurate. She’s going to be performing live at the museum next year, at times yet to be published, and, to my surprise, I think I want to see her. This woman has designed new musical instruments! Hirshhorn describes her thus:

As a Grammy Award-winning musician, performer, writer, and artist, Anderson has an international reputation as an artist who combines the traditions of the avant-garde with popular culture. Anderson’s theatrical works combine a variety of media, including performance, music, poetry, sculpture, opera, anthropological investigations, and linguistic games, to elicit emotional reactions. As a visual artist, Anderson has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum, SoHo, and extensively in Europe, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. She has also released seven albums for Warner Brothers, including Big Science, featuring the song “O Superman,” which rose to No. 2 on the British pop charts. She is currently Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University.

Her particular style/mode of artistic expression is not one to which I have been drawn in the past, but the two expressions below got my attention and I am something of a convert:

These photos are but a tiny portion of the full exhibit that includes many forms of multi-media, including video of Anderson dancing with electronic devices strapped to her body that make drum sounds when slapped.

You probably should read this before visiting the exhibit, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/06/magazine/laurie-anderson.html, but visit you should. I am still thinking about what I saw. Such stimulation of a distracted mind (you know, the destruction of our democracy) must mean something important is going on. Note that when the Hirshhorn first proposed a retrospective on Anderson’s long career (74 now), she refused and proposed an all-new show.

What Freedom Really Looks like

Many people are refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Some of them have adopted a mantra that they will not be vaccinated because complying with government directives or even guidelines somehow compromises their “freedom.” It’s sometimes expressed as “I’m an American and no one tells me what to do.” Even if it’s for their own good and the good of their fellow Americans. Freedom first, they say.

These people are becoming increasingly marginalized because American businesses are recognizing, slowly but surely, that the best hope we as a whole people have to return to normalcy rests with achieving a high percentage of vaccinated citizens. The federal government recognizes this as well and is requiring vaccination for federal employees.

I’m not here to argue about that. You know where I stand on vaccination. No, I’m here to talk about what true “freedom” looks and feels like.

True freedom was the ability this past Saturday night to attend the Paul Taylor Dance Company performances at the Kennedy Center. Everyone entering had to show a vaccination record, ID and then received a wrist band (see the photo above). Everyone had to remain masked in the theater. What did this mean?

First and foremost, it meant the freedom, for the first time since early 2020, to watch remarkable talented performers live on stage right in front of us. We can’t do what they do but we soared with them in another way. I wanted to jump up and shout but I restrained myself.

It meant that my wife had the freedom to chat with the man seated next to her about his having seen the first set of dances ten years ago. He clearly felt the freedom too, that deep sense of relief that we can live again. Live dancers – no Zoom! The real thing.

The audience was a good mixture of older people and many younger ones as well. Some of the latter group looked like dancers and I have no doubt they were as excited to see the Paul Taylor company as we were.

The performances were amazing. The first set was devoted to music from the late 1930’s and 1940’s sung by the Andrews Sisters, tunes like Pennsylvania Polka, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Rum & Coca Cola. The boogie woogie vibe of that era was fully realized in the choreography and high energy of the dancers. The dancers were clearly having a good time, and the audience was extremely responsive to the skills and enthusiasm of those remarkable people.

The second set was quite different: danced to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major and Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (Largo & Allegro). If you aren’t familiar with those somewhat obscure titles, treat yourself here: https://yhoo.it/3lwXQc1 and here https://yhoo.it/3Bzy0tJ

While the set began with what seemed, to me at least, some pointless running around, it didn’t take too long for the choreographer’s vision to take hold with spectacular acrobatic leaps, rolls and more. Amazing athleticism. Amazing grace. Freedom!

Two days later we were still talking about the performance and the feelings it inspired.

Obviously, there are other more profound and, in a broader sense, more important aspects of freedom, but I’ll take this for now. We could breathe again, stop being afraid and just rejoice in the passion of the moment. Because everyone in the theater was vaccinated and wearing a mask. Everyone was respecting everyone else. The truth is I hate the mask. But it’s a small thing to do for my own and everyone else’s safety. And, not surprisingly, during the performances I forgot entirely that I was wearing a mask.

I read now that the Delta variant of COVID is in “remission” and that cases and deaths are once again declining. That’s good news, but we’ve been here before. Instead of declaring victory, do the smart thing: get vaccinated immediately. Demand that friends, family and co-workers do the same. That’s the only way we’re going to emerge from this nightmare. If you live in states where leadership is resisting vaccination mandates, replace those people. They don’t care about you.

If you want true freedom again, the fastest, best and only road there runs through the vaccination program. Do it now.

More Than the Heart Can Bear

Early last evening we visited the Washington Monument grounds to see the acres and acres of white flags that have been placed there by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg to memorialize the more than 670,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. The display of flags is called America Remember. It has received little attention from media.

Stunning in scale, the flags cut into you, especially, I suspect if, like us, you have lost a loved one to the virus. Some who visited have penned notes on the flags, expressing their grief.

The setting is surreal, watched over by the Washington Monument. It can be seen from the White House. It is overwhelming. You have to see it, to walk among the endless row upon row of white symbols of death, of loss, of pointless tragedy. For those who can’t do so in person, I hope these photographs will suffice at least for now. There are no words.

 

 

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.