Tag Archives: Trump

Some Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

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

Reliance on Foreign Supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tying Access to Health Insurance to Employment

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And barely a peep from Republican lawmakers.

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

Fear has a way of bending us….

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

“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinking the Ship of State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barr, who lacks a medical degree, went further,

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

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

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

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

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

 

New York As a Dead City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Cuomo: If we fail, it’s on me.

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

 

Have Progressives Been Unfair to Donald Trump?

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

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

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

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

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

https://bit.ly/3bsGoO8

Senator Lindsey Graham said the following about Trump:

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

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

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

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

… embracing Donald Trump is embracing demographic death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compartmentalized Thinking Can Kill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Price of Dishonesty: Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus is spreading around the globe at a remarkable pace. Mistakes have been made by leading health authorities regarding testing criteria, quality of test kits and in other ways that have delayed detection and facilitated the spread. Hopefully, all of those mistakes can be corrected relatively quickly and the lost ground made up. The news so far is not encouraging for a quick stoppage of the metastasizing disease.

Overarching in this sad story is the reality that the President of the United States is widely distrusted because of his record of relentless self-interested lying and distortion in a vast array of areas in order to perpetuate the mythology that he is the greatest president in history. Trump’s rule is to say whatever he wants to self-promote and never to admit error or apologize for demonstrable mistakes. He routinely and quite casually will say something on camera, then, faced with blowback, simply deny that he said it. He claims credit for things his administration did not do and denies responsibility, usually blaming Barack Obama, for errors he has committed.

The consequence of this reputation for dishonesty and untrustworthiness is, predictably, when a genuine crisis comes along, Trump’s reputation infects everything he does and bleeds over into the actions of administration people tasked with actually combatting the crisis. Plainly, coronavirus is such a crisis. Trump not only regularly contradicts statements of experts in the field, he insists at every turn that there really is little to worry about because he’s doing such a great job. He has even suggested that people with symptoms that could be coronavirus should report for work as usual, despite advice to the contrary from experts. Trump’s biggest fear seems to be the effect of the health emergency on his re-election hopes rather than the welfare of the tens of thousands of sick people, some of whom are going to die as many already have.

Fear of a pandemic is a real and powerful force that can easily cause people to act in self-defeating ways. Fear is spread by, among other things, distrust. One medical authority has observed that the government knew in December, 2019 that the coronavirus was going to arrive in the United States and did almost nothing to prepare. If Americans doubt the word of the authorities because they believe the president is influencing what they are being told, the fear can easily turn to panic.

That, then, is the ultimate price we may yet pay for the president’s lack of truthfulness and integrity. Those “chickens” are coming home to roost, raising questions about how much to believe in the advice being given by federal medical authorities. Based on a CNN Town Hall on the virus situation indicates that the government is still being disingenuous about the availability of test kits. Dr. Anthony Fauci says we need many millions of coronavirus tests but there is no current basis for believing that millions of tests will be available in the foreseeable future. As a result there will be no accurate evaluation of the mortality rate for the virus until a large number of tests have been completed, which may take several weeks.

There should be only one guiding principle behind the information being given to the public: truth and nothing but the truth. Many of the federal authorities involved in fighting the virus are people of unquestionable integrity but their authority will be quickly undermined if the impression arises, as it already has in some instances, that the politicians supporting Trump are tilting and filtering the information the public gets. The appointment of the Vice President to lead the U.S. response to the virus has only contributed to the impression that the administration is being less-than-candid with the public.

We already know that the virus was able to get a head start in China because, as usual, the government there did not want the news to get out and failed to act swiftly to isolate the disease. If the public in the United States comes to the conclusion that the federal government is playing that same game, we are in for really hard times.

The solution is to get the Vice President Pence out of the command-and-control position he occupies regarding the federal response and put a medically-qualified expert in charge of the counter-attack against the coronavirus. The sooner this is done, the sooner public trust and support for the necessary counter-measures will develop and be sustained.