No shortcuts to controlling covid-19

The Thinker by Rodin

Early in the Trump Administration, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts”. The term that could have come out of George Orwell’s book 1984. By definition a fact is not disputable, but Ms. Conway made them so. Apparently, if actual facts won’t provide the answer you need, you invent another fact instead.

Since then the Trump Administration has been inventing all sorts of alternative facts, otherwise known as lies. And with the exception of a small group of die-hard Never Trumpers, Republicans have embraced Trump’s truthiness. It does solve a lot of messy problems, like having to admit reality is, well, real. Decide on your new reality and move forward. Problem solved!

But their world of alternative facts is crumbling. You can deny reality if you want, but at some point it cannot be denied. In canceling the Republican convention, Trump was acknowledging reality that getting covid-19 is in fact a lot worse than getting the sniffles; in fact it can kill you. Rather than tell Trump he was full of crap, Republicans simply decided they weren’t going to his convention. So to avoid humiliation not to mention all the covid-19 cases that would invariably result, Trump had to cave.

Obviously, most Republicans are perfectly fine with those other people getting covid-19, but not them in particular. After all they can stay in their gated communities and buy their kids private tutoring if needed. That’s true of most Republicans who control the party, but obviously not all of them. Many of them aren’t quite so moneyed.

Here’s a prediction that’s pretty easy to make: virtually no school district in the country will open for in-person classes this fall. All it takes is one kid in a school district to test positive to close the schools. In the unlikely event a school superintendent won’t; parents will make the choice for them. They won’t put their children in jeopardy and will keep them home.

So far, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is continuing to buck the trend, insisting that all Florida schools will reopen on time in a few weeks. But he will buckle like Trump did because actual facts will force him to do so. He looked so popular when the state’s infection rate was relatively low but obviously that has changed. He’s already more unpopular than Trump is in the state. Assuming he wants to win reelection in a couple of years, he’s got to pivot. He will, but it’s unclear whether voters will forgive his insistence that their kids were fair game in Trump’s world of alternative facts.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, the Republican Party is melting. Reality is catching up with the party. Donald Trump is melting too, and bringing down much of the party with him. In many ways, this is a perfect political storm. As much as Republicans hoped to escape reality by inventing their own facts, reality won’t bend. The coronavirus will keep doing what it is doing and will kill people regardless.

False hopes like herd immunity and throwing caution to the wind won’t do much beside leaving many more of us dead or victims of the disease. Restarting the economy hasn’t saved us. In fact, it’s made things much worse, prolonging the disease, greatly enlarging its impact and slowing our recovery, putting us at a competitive disadvantage to other more enlightened countries.

It’s actually a lot worse than that. Effectively, no Americans can travel internationally until we contain the virus. Even traveling state-to-state is chancy. If you wanted to visit me in Massachusetts, after August 1 in most cases you would have to self quarantine for up to two weeks before or after coming or get a covid-19 test showing no exposure within 72 hours of arrival. If you don’t quarantine before coming, you must also produce a negative exposure test to get out of quarantine. There’s even a form you have to fill out. Violations can cost up to $500 a day.

It appears that the coronavirus won’t listen to all the truthiness out there. Let’s hope one result of all this mess is the end of truthiness and alternative facts, along with the Republican Party.

Trumping Trump

The Thinker by Rodin

It should be obvious that Donald Trump is pulling out all stops to ensure his reelection. We can’t expect him to leave office quietly, regardless of how much he is trounced in the election. He’s been laying a lot of the groundwork already, claiming with of course no evidence that millions of mailed in ballots will somehow be rigged. He claimed that millions of “illegals” voted in the 2016 election with of course no evidence too. In his post-truth world where any evidence that doesn’t agree with his point of view is “fake news”, he can’t be expected to see things objectively. As with his malignant narcissism, we can’t expect him too. He’s no more capable of discerning truth than his false claim that his inauguration had the largest crowds ever on the national mall.

He’s also a president that has no respect for norms and is busy pushing the envelope to the maximum extent. A wannabee dictator, he is running on “law and order” and if that means sending unmarked federal agents to Portland, Oregon to throw protestors into the back of unmarked vans, well, where’s the problem? His buddy Philippine president/dictator Rodrigo Duterte had no problems telling his forces to shoot suspected criminals, screw the legal process. Trump seems compelled to see what he can get away with, and many people are taking notes. We must not allow it.

Portland is just the first city to experience this unwanted policing. It appears these are agents from Custom and Border Protection. They don’t appear to be trying to round up “illegals” but to prohibit citizens from exercising their constitutional rights to protest. It is likely that these agents are not legally allowed to do what they are doing, but like Duterte it doesn’t bother Trump. He is haphazard about obeying courts that strike down his many actions. In short, Trump plays a game of dare me and sees if he will suffer any consequences. For the most part, he won’t. By not removing him in January, Republicans in the Senate effectively put him above the law, at least until he is out office.

We are clearly in uncharted constitutional waters and it’s likely to get worse before and after the election. Trump expects that he won’t be held accountable, so why not push all envelopes? While he’s president anyhow he’s immune from most criminal charges and lawsuits, so he has plenty of incentive to remain. And if you don’t have any scruples, all’s game.

How do we deal with all of this? The answers are largely unknown. It will probably require a lot of intelligent tactics by his opponents. One thing that may help is not to inflame things, which is what Trump wants. Putting unmarked “police” in Portland has already had the obvious consequence of enlarging protests. This gives Trump an excuse to add more police and to keep upping the ante. There is some logical limit as the number of these police is limited. Too much civil unrest though could give Trump the excuse to deploy active duty troops to “keep the peace”, which is not legal but again that’s wouldn’t stop him.

So protesters can help by reducing tensions. This is not forever. We are closing in on three months until the election. Some of their tactics so far are at least innovative: a “wall of moms” and a Naked Athena confronting police. The optics of his forces tear-gassing moms is very bad. Trump feeds on conflict, so the less of it that presents itself; the likelier he is to find other things to distract him. Trump needs plenty of distractions because without them it’s easier for us to focus on the 140,000 or so who have died due to his bungling of the coronavirus outbreak, or the double-digit unemployment.

Trump is destined to lose massively in November, and bring down much of the Republican Party with him. So the real question is whether he can still retain power somehow. Legally, it’s moot. At noon on January 20 unless he wins reelection he is no longer president. Whether President Biden is sworn in our not, Biden would be president. If Biden died unexpectedly, his chosen VP would be president. It would then fall to Nancy Pelosi, assuming she retains her title of Speaker of the House. So the only issue is whether Trump could pull off some sort of coup.

Thankfully, the answer is likely no. Anyone who acted for him will be in violation of the law, as their terms expires when his does. It is true that our military in general leans more to the right than the left, but a true occupation of government would require the military’s active consent. Given how huge the country is, it’s hard to see how it could be carried out. Occupy all fifty state capitals too? There is no reason to think the military would do anything other than what they’ve always done: follow the orders of the Commander in Chief.

But as I have noted before, we can assume it will get very ugly and Trump will pull out all stops. It’s possible a massive vote against him will force him to accept reality, but given his condition it’s unlikely. So it will amount to his followers abandoning him. His cabinet won’t want to serve an illegal administration and risk criminal charges. Republicans in Congress are likely to abandon him too. No one really likes Trump, so he will be abandoned.

That won’t mean he won’t press his hardcore supporters. White guys with guns are likely to make shows of force here and there and they likely can’t be brought down until Trump is out of office. It might take the armed forces to find and kill these insurrectionists, leaving Biden with the worst possible mess to try to clean up. The period between Election and Inauguration Days are likely to be the most politically fraught and dangerous in anyone’s living memory.

The country should survive it somehow, with lots of trauma. Hopefully enough of the rule of law will remain to hold accountable all those who encouraged and ordered these events. Unlike President Ford, President Biden should not use his pardon powers to clean things up. Instead, the fundamental weaknesses in our constitutional system need to be addressed through appropriate legislation that hopefully a Democratic congress will provide.

November is likely to fatally maim the Republican Party

The Thinker by Rodin

In January 2019 I wrote this post about how Trump was likely to kill the Republican Party. At the time, a Marist poll noted that 57% of voters surveyed said they would never vote for Trump, which if true pretty much doomed his reelection prospects. I said then it was likely to kill the party. Since then of course Donald Trump has been busy making sure to do his best to definitely kill the party.

Of course, it’s not entirely Trump. It’s also circumstances, specifically the covid-19. My hairdresser, who lost sixty percent of her customers due to covid-19, asked me if I thought I’d ever see a pandemic. And the truth was yes. We were overdue for one, and we’ve had a number of mini-pandemics recently to use as an example. There was the SARS outbreak (severe acute respiratory syndrome) of 2002-2004 that caused 8000 cases and 774 deaths, including four deaths in the United States. The last big pandemic was about a hundred years ago, the so-called Spanish Flu. It was badly named, as its origin was likely at an army base in Kansas. Fortunately, covid-19 is unlikely to be quite as lethal as that disease, which took an estimated seventeen to 50 millions lives worldwide. But its impact is going to be far more than the lives lost and the millions affected by it.

What would it take to destroy the Republican Party? The party is actually a loose conglomeration of capitalists, libertarians, racists and evangelicals, with skin tone being the main thing they have in common. Take away too many of these groups, and the party as a whole is unlikely to endure. The party’s symbol, the elephant, might offer a clue. Elephants are deeply familial creatures, deeply protective of their children and their tribes. Break those bonds and the party may crumble.

That of course is exactly what Republicans are doing to themselves and the rest of us. While a conglomeration of interests, the party is actually controlled by the capitalists. And its capitalists have no problem inflicting pain on those in the party that emphasize family and stability.

This is best evidenced by Trump and the party’s obsession to open schools, damn the costs and objections. Trump wants schools to open next month, five days a week, in person in the classroom, damn the torpedoes. He is threatening to cut federal funding to states that don’t comply, which he can’t do. In any event, federal funding accounts for less than ten percent of local school funding. So it’s a pretty empty threat. For it to be effective, he needs to convince governors to open the schools. In states like Florida, he is finding receptive governors.

If this prevails, the outcome is already obvious based on how the disease has progressed. Children will carry the disease home and spread it among the community. Most children will be passive carriers and probably won’t know they are carriers, but some will get it and die too. Much more likely to die are their teachers and others at the school and the children’s parents. Why is this being done? Because Donald Trump wants to get the economy roaring again because he believes that’s how he will win a daunting reelection. As a consequence, teachers feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Some are writing their wills.

Parents will soon have to decide where their priorities lie. Do they send their kids to school where they might contract the disease, or pass it on to others, like them? Or do they keep them home and maybe try remote learning instead? Remote learning is at best a poor teaching experience, but given the unpleasant choice between risking their or their children’s lives to making Donald Trump happy, most are probably going to keep the kids home. They have to keep their family safe. Mass disobedience on this sort of scale cannot be enforced by truant officers.

It also breaks the compact between Republicans. If Republicans are going to put the family unit in such direct jeopardy, Republican with kids in the public schools finally have a deeply emotional rationale for bailing on the Republican Party. Their own party will have betrayed them. Come November, it will be in their own interest to vote out Republicans who can’t be bothered to protect their children. This may explain the 15-point lead that Joe Biden has amassed in the latest Quinnipiac Poll.

What would the Republican Party look like without most of its so-called value voters? Most likely it would look like a party on its last legs.

The November election is going to blow a devastating hole in the Republican Party. Democrats will retake the White House, Congress and probably a majority of governorships and possibly many state houses. Democrats need only two pickups to control the governorships. We’re going to see states we never thought would vote for Biden vote for him, like possibly Texas, but most likely Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia.

It all amounts to citizens needing a government that governs. Republicans only know how to drown government in a bathtub. It is likely that not just Trumpism that will die in this election, but Reaganism too. When we hear “I’m from the federal government, and I’m here to help” we’ll likely say, “Please”. Republicanism will prove a textbook case for why we need government.

If the party survives, let’s hope it looks a lot more like the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. If it doesn’t, it probably won’t survive.

Disney is going to screw the pooch

The Thinker by Rodin

Donald Trump deciding to hold an indoor rally in Tulsa was a bad idea. As I noted in my last post, Herman Cain likely contracted COVID-19 at the event, along with probably many others, which is likely singularly responsible for most of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma.

After Trump’s recent event at Mount Rushmore, the girlfriend of his son Donald Trump Jr. reported testing positive for COVID-19, prompting the couple to drive back to New York.

After six months even Donald Trump is starting to realize the optics look bad. Yesterday, he was seen wearing a mask in his visit to Walter Reed Hospital. The Republican Party is considering moving their convention to an outdoor venue. They would be much wiser to act like the Democratic Party and hold it virtually. If they hold a convention, I bet half the invitees won’t attend.

So why the hell is Disney opening up Disney World on July 11? In the history of bad corporate decisions, if they follow through, this is likely to be seen in retrospect as one of the stupidest corporate decisions of all times. If Trump’s optics look bad, consider what Disney’s short term pursuit of profits is likely to do with their family-friendly, squeaking-wholesome brand. If I had any Disney stock, I’d be putting in a frantic sell order.

Yes, of course Disney is claiming that it’s all quite safe. Attendance will be limited. Everyone will be required to wear masks. There will be social distancing. Doubtless they will be sanitizing surfaces regularly. But this is not just any theme park. This is the biggest theme park in the world. It brings in people from around the world. There are too many people in too confined a space coming from and going to too many places for this not to become a new super spreader event. Unlike a one-time Trump rally in Tulsa this is a super spreader that is likely to keep on spreading, making moot a lot of the efforts elsewhere to control the disease. It is likely to ensure a continuing set of COVID-19 casualties in the months ahead.

Consider what happened in and around New Orleans during Mardi Gras this year. It resulted in a spike of cases in the city and the state, but because people came from all over the world for the event, attendees carried the virus back home. It likely did a lot to spread the disease and likely killed thousands. It’s hard to say for sure.

Who knows what the effect of reopening Disney World will be? Umm, anyone with a brain. This is a state that had over 15,300 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. In any rational state, the Department of Public Health would lock the gates. It would be a no-brainer.

But Trump apologist “Governor” Ron Desantis, who is having a hard time even shutting the bars down, is running Florida. He wants to open the schools next month too, five days a week, damn the torpedoes, not to mention the students and teachers. St. Donald tells him it will all be fine.

Trump sent in the troops to quell protests in Washington D.C. If he wants to do some good, why not send in the troops to shut down Disney World or any other theme park that thinks it is safe to open up? This is a public health emergency. What Disney is going to do will be Mardi Gras on steroids. It’s going to spread the virus across the country and, if other countries lift their airline restrictions on our country, the rest of the world too.

This is just an appalling lapse of judgment on Disney’s part. Walt would be appalled, but more importantly perhaps its shareholders will be appalled when they discover the value of their brand is going to sink along with its share prices when this thing takes hold and the finger pointing starts.

This should go without saying, but don’t go to Disney World. If you have reservations, cancel them. If you have friends who have been there recently, shun them. Petition your governor to require Disney World attendees to go into a two-week quarantine if they are foolish enough to go there, or really any place in Florida.

This one company is likely to infect millions of us and kill tens of thousands more of us. Shut it down now, Disney, to protect your brand and what’s left of your good name.

Trump is doing everything wrong

The Thinker by Rodin

Our national horror show continues with no relief in sight before November 3rd, now thankfully less than four months away. That’s when I am certain Trump will lose reelection spectacularly. This is simply because he is doing absolutely everything to lose it, and to take as many Republicans down with him as possible too.

It’s hard to believe that any politician can be as inept and stupid as Donald Trump. But then he ran as an anti-politician. In that sense alone he has vastly exceeded expectations. He’s turning off almost all possible voter groups and will be left with only the hardest of his core group, a group that is fully vested in his nihilism and anarchy. You know, those few uninfected Boogaloo Bois.

It’s like he is taking secret orders from Vladimir Putin. It’s like he has a secure line to Vlad who tells him exactly what and how to mess things up next, which he quickly executes. I’ve never been big on conspiracy theories, but at this point Occam’s Razor definitely suggests he is compromised by Russian interests.

Recently he had his toady of an attorney general, Bill Barr, fire the head of the Southern District of New York office of the Department of Justice, the very man charged to oversee a variety of sensitive investigations into Trump and his businesses. I sometimes wonder what he’s got on one of our local representatives, Richard Neal. Neal is in charge of the House Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the House. Neal could examine and hold hearings on Trump’s tax returns, but Neal won’t take it up. It must be some great dirt on Neal, who has a viable challenger this year in local Holyoke mayor Alex B. Morse.

So while Trump is terrible at governing, he’s proven unusually adept at protecting his own interests. He’s created a government of toadies and sycophants that exist to further enrich him and help his interests. He’s managed to shutdown almost all investigations that could damage him, or at least postpone them until he is out of office.

It would not surprise me in the least to find out that after Biden’s inauguration he discreetly flees the country and we find our “president” exiled in Russia. The arm of the law will eventually catch up with him otherwise, and we all know that Trump won’t allow himself to be held accountable for anything if he can avoid it.

Meanwhile, The Donald is busy doing everything he can to destroy our country and lose the election, leaving no stone unturned. He’s either planning to lose or (because he is so tone deaf) he can’t figure out that he can’t win reelection by only doubling down for the craziest of his supporters. If the election were held today he’d lose the popular vote by ten percent at least. To the extent he has a strategy, it’s to try to deny people likely to vote against him the opportunity to do so, by trying to disallow mail in voting.

The most likely result of the election will be a huge electoral rout of Trump and Republicans in Congress, which will likely cascade down to the statehouses too. If any president can manage to bring back the overwhelmingly Democratic Congresses of the 1970s and 1980s, it will be Donald Trump.

He actively promotes death every day. He went to Tulsa, held a rally and people are getting sick in Oklahoma as a result. One of them includes former presidential candidate and pizza chain magnate Herman Cain, cheering without mask at his rally. His most recent rally at Mount Rushmore will doubtless claim more too. One is apparently the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr. who recently tested positive for covid-19.

If Republicans are stupid enough to hold their convention in Jacksonville, that alone will wipe out a significant number of elite Republicans. Most likely though even Trump won’t be able to command his minions to attend. It looks like they are finding reasons not to go. Survival is a pretty powerful instinct. Even Florida, or at least the host city of Jacksonville, doesn’t want them anymore. Meanwhile, Florida’s hospitals are nearly overwhelmed with covid-19 cases. The situation in predominantly red states like Florida is only going to continue to get worse.

And now his most recent insane suggestion: send the kids back to school five days a week. He’s says he will to cut federal funding to school districts that don’t comply, although he doesn’t have the authority. He wants to turn our schools into super spreaders. Nothing like having our children infect their families, teachers and communities, making our already record-breaking covid-19 infections exponentially worse. Think of all the orphans in the making! That’s progress!

It’s all leading up to a great crescendo of awfulness timed to arrive around Election Day. We’re still in the first wave of this thing. We may never get to a second wave, but if we do it’s likely to arrive in the autumn on top of the seasonal flu. There’s plenty of room to make things worse. We have about three million confirmed cases, but that’s only one in 100 of us so far. But there will be many more awful things to hit: record rates of evictions, high unemployment, likely little more in the way of relief checks and when Wall Street realizes the underlying fundamentals, a second collapse of stock markets.

It’s just insane, which arguably makes Donald Trump insane. He may not be clinically insane, but his narcissistic personality disorder though effectively makes him insane. He will continue to act in what he thinks is his own interest no matter how many of us it kills. He has empathy only for himself. And he will relentlessly fight any actions to improve the situation.

Stay safe. Stay home. Use masks. Wash hands frequently. Pay attention to your local health officials. But plan to risk life and limb to vote on November 3rd, because this may be the only way to keep those of us who are still sane alive.

A time for courage and for antacids

The Thinker by Rodin

Five months from today we are likely to wake up and find that Joe Biden is our president elect. Donald Trump’s reelection seems increasingly unlikely, given that many polls now show Biden has a ten-point lead over Trump. Or maybe we won’t know. One factor in this election is that there may be a crush of absentee ballots that will take days to tabulate. But hopefully we are less than five months away before we can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy.

But can anything go back to normal after such a disruptive president as Donald Trump? Trump has been our gorilla in the china shop president, gleeful in breaking norms and rules. Given his advanced case of narcissism, as I speculated in an earlier post, he is unlikely to go quietly. In fact, he will go kicking and screaming, and will do his best to initiate a fascist state before then.

This week’s events alarmed most of us, which were preceded by last week’s alarming events with the death of George Floyd, unquestionably murdered by three officers of the Minneapolis police. You can watch all 8:46 seconds of it online, if you have the stomach for it. The murder caused predictable demonstrations followed by some looting and violence. Never one to miss an opportunity, Trump used the event to move us more dangerously close to fascism. He threatened to deploy active duty troops wherever needed, supposedly to restore order. There is a law called Posse Comitatus that prohibits just this, but of course Trump never seems to be concerned about his law breaking. He may use the Insurrection Act instead which other presidents have used, for example, to force integration in Alabama public schools but which most scholars agree is out of line for these events.

Chances are if it is even a fig leaf excuse, he will use it, which suggests dark days ahead. It was brought out on Monday when he ordered the Secret Service and Park Police to clear Lafayette Square of protestors who were peacefully demonstrating, all in order to stage a photo op in front of nearby St. John’s Church holding a Bible held upside down. To show what a man he was, the forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and a dangerously low helicopter hovering over protestors.

Clearly Trump hasn’t read the Bible, but even if he were a Christian he wouldn’t be the first Christian to ignore Jesus’s advice to turn the other cheek. In pursuit of the Christian evangelical voters, his forces also pushed out a pastor of the church. All this was made much worse because the order apparently given by our Attorney General supplicant Bill Barr and endorsed by our Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Esper later seemed to walk remarks that active duty troops should be used to quell unrest.

The next day Trump engaged in another obscenity by staging himself next to a statue of Pope John Paul II, who must be turning in his grave in the Vatican. Meanwhile, protests continue. Even our little city of Northampton, Massachusetts had more than a thousand people protested in front of the police department. Our chief of police took a knee with protestors. A huge dance is underway nationally and there’s really no way to know how this will all turn out. For most of us with a lick of common sense, we know it’s likely to get much worse, not better.

Trump is feeling the heat, of course, but all he knows how to do is double down. None of this actually helps him get reelected, so it’s counterproductive. He and the Republican Party are hoping with enough voter suppression they will eke out a win somehow. Trump didn’t win in 2016 with his base; he just managed to convince enough other voters in a few swing states (just 80,000) to pull off his unlikely victory. To win he will have to persuade more than his base, but it’s clear he won’t bother. From the day of his election he’s believed that he can win reelection with just his base, which is slowly diminishing.

All this plus a COVID-19 pandemic. It has officially caused more than 100,000 deaths in the United States. Just his handling (or rather lack of handling) of that is enough to doom his reelection, but it only gets worse from here on. A country that has five percent of the population and 30% of its deaths is obviously doing things catastrophically wrong. A twenty percent unemployment rate won’t help either. As the deaths mount up, it will just shrink his base, which are disproportionately old and white. Many seniors seem to have woken up and Biden now leads among them, perhaps because the sense Trump would go after Social Security and Medicare if reelected.

But of course the election won’t matter if you can neatly create a dictatorship before then. Trump realizes he can’t stop the election and he is likely to lose it, but that doesn’t mean he can’t claim it was rigged and see if he can use the armed forces to ensure that he retains power. He seems to be doing all the things that wannabee dictators are doing, just ineptly. It remains to be seen whether the military would be true to the people or Trump. It sure looks like these demonstrations are being used by Trump to see what he can get away with.

In any event, if you’re not having trouble sleeping and you aren’t reaching for the antacids, you should be. There are some signs of hope, but it’s hard to know how much to read into them. George W. Bush, for example, spoke up for protestors without actually criticizing Donald Trump. Any Republicans left who are looking for cover for mildly rebuking Trump can site Bush. Barack Obama doesn’t seem to be staying on the sidelines either. We haven’t heard from our only other living ex-president, Bill Clinton, but hopefully he will pile on the criticism too.

None of this is likely to matter to Trump, but it is likely that whatever he attempts he may find himself hastily walking back. It may be that his ever-expanding line of privilege will finally make too many key Republicans turn against him. A bully’s power is actually very fragile. Republicans may be already sensing the electoral disaster likely to take many of them out now less than five months away. Some may be more scared of being voted out of office than hanging with a losing Trump.

As screwy as today’s events are, I know in my gut that the time between Trump’s defeat and the inauguration of his likely successor will be the most dangerous time for our country since the Civil War, or perhaps in our country’s entire history. It’s time to stock up on the antacids. It’s also time for many of us to show the backbone we haven’t, particularly many people of privilege, i.e. white and moneyed guys like me. This likely won’t be solved at the ballot box, or by liking someone’s tweets, but by uncomfortably personal, face-to-face, civic engagement likely happening tonight in a city near you.

Chaos causes more chaos

The Thinker by Rodin

For those of you pining for anarchy, look around. Happy yet?

You should be ecstatic. For the rest of us, it’s feeling a lot like hell. Yesterday’s job report showed a 14.5% unemployment rate and more than twenty million newly unemployed people. The real unemployment rate is likely above twenty percent. Meanwhile, civil society is getting increasingly uncivil. Although less than thirty percent of us want to stop social distancing, those thirty percent are making a huge ruckus. They want to go back to the way things were, as if that were suddenly possible. Who cares if it kills grandma? Real freedom means being able to eat a Big Mac at 2 AM.

A few dozen of these idiots were protesting locally in Northampton, Massachusetts on the Coolidge Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River. The good news is that Massachusetts’s idiots are not quite a stupid at Duval County Florida idiots; some of who are rubbing shoulders on Jacksonville area beaches. About half of our protesters were wearing masks and at least attempting to keep a social distance. I hope they got it out of their system and returned to staying at home. We’ve managed to plateau COVID-19 infections here locally. It wouldn’t take too many of these protests to push the rate up again. And these idiots would be some of the most likely to contract the disease, and show Darwinism in action.

We spend billions of dollars a year supposedly to mitigate the risks for pandemics like we are experiencing. This crisis has revealed how poorly these agencies are doing their jobs. The Centers for Disease Control apparently has a set of guidelines for more safely opening up local economies. But they won’t see the light of day because the Trump administration won’t let them publish them. The part of our government that is supposed to function, the Executive Branch, is being held hostage by a constantly vacillating “president”. Voters elected Donald Trump because he was going to bring change to Washington.

Well good news there! Trump has brought change to Washington. He’s changed our government from one that often worked in the interests of the people to one wholly captive to his constant changes of mind, mood swings, tweets and general obnoxiousness. He has no idea what he is doing because he has spent his career running things chaotically. And his narcissism makes him impervious to criticism.

He’s a seventy-something Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes), still in his terrible twos. I was all for his White House COVID-19 task force shutting down. They weren’t doing anything useful anyhow, because doing something requires a plan. Trump is incapable of adhering to any plan and will change his mind on a dime if he thinks it will improve his reelection prospects. The result of course is chaos. A chaotic mind with power is bound to cause a lot of chaos.

So of course we’re not doing the sensible stuff other countries have done to get them out of their COVID-19 quagmires. The USA has 5% of the world’s population and as of today 32% of its reported cases, and the number of reported cases vastly undercounts the likely number of cases. We also have 28% of the deaths, also probably vastly understated.

The testing that we are actually doing is a tiny fraction of the testing needed to determine whether it is safe to reopen local economies. There is no coordination or marshaling of resources so the pandemic can be fought logically. Trump finds it convenient to push responsibility onto the governors. It’s easier to do this than think and plan, things he is utterly incapable of doing. And of course, it allows him to blame others. Meanwhile his son-in-law Jared Kushner has been trying to deal with the issue by getting unpaid interns to dial around for masks and personal protective equipment. They have no experience in this and have proven ineffective, but neither does Jared Kushner.

We do have this entity called the Defense Logistics Agency whose mission is to adroitly find, marshal and distribute supplies just for things like this. It has 26,000 people trained to do exactly this who could be put to work. Logistics though is anathema to this administration. Logistics implies thought, order and planning. It’s quite likely that no one in the White House even knows the DLA exists. If Trump wanted to help his reelection prospects, he could put a general in charge of the effort then shut up about COVID-19 and let the professionals do their work. But of course he can’t. He will vacillate on anything. The DLA’s role in this crisis is ancillary at best.

Trump likes to say that nobody knows more about X than he does. The truth is just about anyone, even you, know more about X than he does. I suspect any of you reading this could do a better job of managing the procurement of nasal swabs than Trump or Jared Kushner. In fact, when Trump says nobody knows more than me about X, it’s a sure sign his narcissism is acting up again and he feels the need to cover for his deficiencies. Nobody knows more about nuclear proliferation than Donald Trump, someone who hardly ever reads. Yet some of his supporters actually believe this stuff. The truth is, Trump is dumb as dirt. By applauding this idiot his supporters are revealing they should be considered dumb as dirt too.

Trump’s one skill is simple carnival barking. He knows how to throw up a show. He knows how to entertain. He knows how to project what he wants to project. He gives his supporters what they want: validation, outrage and entertainment. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we need competence and true governance, something he is incapable of.

The result is the chaos all around us: twenty million unemployed and a country rapidly devolving into third world status. If that’s what you voted for, congratulations. Trump is doing a great job.

November’s election should be a blowout for Democrats

The Thinker by Rodin

Like most 2016 election prognosticators, I blew it. I accepted conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton would win. It sure looked that way from the polls. I blew it but most of us did as well. We didn’t understand the extent of Russian election interference; or the impact of former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that the FBI would be taking another look through her emails; and the misogyny factor which was hard to quantify, but was real enough. I also discounted how badly an unpopular candidate (Clinton) would fare, along with general desire of voters to switch things up after eight years. I also assumed most voters could see through the fraud that Trump was. Maybe many of them did, just didn’t care.

So my suggesting that Democrats will do very well on November 3 should be taken with a ton of salt. One reason is because it’s unclear whether an election could be held and if held, held fairly. There hasn’t been a fair national election in a very long time, simply because of rampant voter suppression in many red states. So I can’t assume this election will be any different; in fact it’s likely to be worse than 2016.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden thinks Trump will try to find a way to delay the election. I don’t think so; this would take an act of Congress and with power split in Congress I can’t see it happening. It’s not hard to imagine it taking place in the midst of a next COVID-19 wave.

Southern states will probably try to imitate Wisconsin and do away with mail-in voting as much as possible. The strategy didn’t work so well in Wisconsin’s latest election, which put a liberal justice on the state’s supreme court by about a ten-point margin. If there is another wave of the virus around election time, seniors are the most likely to stay home, as they have the most to lose. It’s likely to be counterproductive.

Still, it’s not hard to predict that Joe Biden should have a winning night, and will sweep in a large wave of Democrats with him. Here are some of my reasons for thinking this:

  • The COVID-19 epidemic is unlikely to get better. It’s likely to plateau at some point, but we can’t expect it to go away completely over the next few months. We’ll most likely see a resurgence in the summer or fall. Epidemiologists suggest that will be worse than this initial wave, and include a wave of flu-related deaths as well.
  • There has been virtually nothing the Trump administration has done to adapt to the pandemic. There is still nothing resembling mass testing. Whatever is done is done chaotically and way too late. Trump could not have done a worse job managing this, and as the death rate grows he can’t talk his way out of his bumbling incompetence.
  • The economy will still be in tatters, with the unemployment rate likely in the teens at best. The state of the economy is generally the best predictor about whether an incumbent gets reelected. But it won’t be just Trump who owns the economy, it will be all those in charge, mostly Republicans. House Democrats can point to legislation they introduced that is much more generous to working people. Voters will understand clearly who is on their side.
  • The factors that worked for Trump in 2016 will probably work against him this time. Misogyny and racism aren’t likely to be a factor in the presidential race, unless it’s against Biden’s VP pick.
  • Our conservative Supreme Court seems itching to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which will come at the worst possible time if it happens: just before an election. It’s possible it will do the same with overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision that is still widely supported by a majority of Americans.
  • In 2016, there were a lot of non-identified secret Trump voters; too embarrassed I think to tell pollsters they were going to vote for him. I think it will be just the opposite this time. Trump voters won’t admit they won’t vote for him, as that would be embarrassing to admit. But it’s in their best interest to vote against him. Mostly they will vote for whoever is likelier to improve their economic situation, which should still be pretty dire toward the end of the year.
  • The polls are already not looking good. At worst Biden has about a six-point lead nationally, but he’s polling ahead of Trump in key swing states like Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin that he must win. It looks likely that Trump will lose Arizona, possibly moving it into the purple state category.
  • We’ve going through a significant emotional event. As best I can tell this was coined by the sociologist Morris Massey. The basic thesis is to truly change behavior; it has to have a huge emotional impact. Twenty percent unemployment, worrying about losing your housing, bread lines, being unable to pay your doctor bills and watching people you know die unnecessarily from a virus should more than qualify. It worked during the Great Depression, and we may be in its redux by the time November rolls around.
  • The general trend since 2016 is that Democrats have been on a winning streak, and Republicans have been playing a rather poor defensive game. Where they have won, it’s mostly been through cheating, such as the Georgia governor’s race.
  • Seniors are turning against Trump, and they’ve been his most loyal voting block. They can identify with Middle Class Joe Biden. He looks nice and white, has a winning smile and seems relatable. Also, crazy and erratic tempers are no longer in.
  • Demographics: boomers like me are starting to die off, and COVID-19 will accelerate the trend. In any event, those of us who are retired certainly don’t want our safety net collapsed, but Trump seems to be doing everything possible to collapse it. There’s got to be a lot of buyer’s remorse out there.

Of course wishing won’t make it so, so to preclude the possibility activists like me will be working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Republicans will still probably outspend Democrats, but there aren’t that many persuadable voters out there. Trump has no record of accomplishments to run on. The carnage of his self-dealing and mal-administration is obvious and inescapable. Likely there will be many wild moments during the campaign, but I don’t see how Trump or Republicans can turn this around.

I expect a Democrat in the White House in January, and a Democratic Congress as well.

It’s not just #FloridaMorons, it’s about 40% of us with a death wish

The Thinker by Rodin

Few things get me hopping mad, but this article did:

Local news aired photos and videos of Florida’s shoreline dotted with people, closer than six feet apart, spurring #FloridaMorons to trend on Twitter after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) gave the go-ahead for local beachfront governments to decide whether to reopen their beaches during a news briefing Friday. Duval and St. Johns counties have reopened their beaches, while Miami-Dade County officials said they are considering following suit.

While it made me mad, it didn’t particularly surprise me. Florida was late to the game to shut things down, so I shouldn’t be surprised they are taking the first to take steps to open things up. Texas plans to ease restrictions this week too. Protestors in many states are clamoring to open things up in their states. Chilling at home with Netflix is proving too challenging.

Most people are finding the coronavirus inconvenient. I know we are. But I sure don’t want to open everything up, not without some credible data that shows us that the risks of doing so are minimal.

At best, these governors seem to think that because it appears they hit their death peak, that’s enough and it will be all downhill from now on. At worst of course there are a whole lot of Republicans who are all for sacrificing grandma, or really anyone, to bring back the America they knew before all this began.

Curiously, none of these people advocating this seem to be willing to put their own lives at significant risk. They could perhaps volunteer as the visitors’ desk at their local hospital sans mask, or take food to shut-ins, or volunteer to sit behind the cash register at the pharmacy counter at their local CVS. They want others to do these things, probably for at or near the minimum wage.

And of course a lot of these Republicans think coronavirus is a big hoax, as if all those COVID-19 deaths happening inside and outside our country aren’t happening, despite refrigerator trucks outside of hospitals with corpses and mass graves being dug at an island off the Bronx. Then there are the usual conspiracy theories run amok: it was created in a lab and it’s part of a secret plot by Democrats to destroy our freedoms. As if freedoms were not connected to our shared social responsibilities.

Science of course doesn’t matter to them. All those virologists and epidemiologists that get advanced degrees to study this stuff can be discounted if it goes against their prejudices and inclinations. Unlike during the 1918 Spanish flu, we not only know what causes this, but what we can do about it. During the Spanish flu, Philadelphia held a parade and it made the flu rampant in the city. It’s not hard at all to predict those Jacksonville, Florida beaches that were opened up yesterday, where plenty of people weren’t social distancing, will soon cause a spike in local COVID-19 cases.

Of course all this staying at home and social distancing is inconvenient and painful sometimes. For many people, there is no income coming in except a $1200 government handout, the sort of handout many of these people would have been against just a couple of months ago. Of course, it’s okay if it helps people like them, just not those others.

Many are wondering how long it will be before they get evicted for not paying rent, which about a third of renters aren’t or can’t pay. People in general have been living on the margins for decades, their increased productivity propping up stock prices, but never their bottom line. No wonder that 40% of households don’t have $1000 saved for an emergency. So some of them have to believe that it’s all a hoax because they have to go to work to make money to keep themselves from hunger and/or homelessness.

Republicans though specialize in cognitive dissonance; so of course so many of them can’t wrap their heads around the idea that this is just the way it is and what we are doing is the least painful way to get through this. Absent widespread testing (only 1% of Americans have been tested) and good empirical data, we simply don’t know. So opening up things will just make things worse.

But it probably won’t work anyhow. My mayor can declare that all the parks are reopened and we don’t need to wear masks or worry about social distancing, but I’ll still stay mostly homebound, and use gloves and a mask anyhow. Sensible people will. We know the risks are real and potentially deadly not just to people we don’t know, but to us. And because we won’t go out when things are uncertain, we won’t spend like we did, so the economic hit is likely to continue.

Polls say that’s 60% of us are sensible people, which means four out of 10 of us don’t get it. That’s roughly the percentage of people supporting Trump. All that disinformation has been crammed into their brains; they can’t see beyond it. To make it much worse of course our “president” has been promoting quack cures and encouraging people in certain states to “liberate” their states. Umm, inciting insurrection is a federal crime.

All this likely means that instead of flattening the curve, it’s likely to rise, last longer and kill a lot of people who’d otherwise survive. There are only a few ways out of this thing that will work. The sensible way is to do a lot of widespread and compulsory testing and contact tracing, until we have a vaccine that will inoculate us against the virus. But we don’t have the tests we need, we have at best a half hearted infrastructure for carrying it out, and we mostly lack quick and affordable tests to determine who has it or has been exposed to it.

Or we can drag this thing out interminably and allow millions to die unnecessarily because, apparently, many of us are too stupid to follow the advice of the people trained to deal with this stuff.

I’d care less if it took out only these foolish and ignorant people. They’re going to cause a bumper crop of Darwin Award nominees this year. But many of the rest of us still doing the sensible things will get this virus anyhow, in spite of our best efforts, because people like them will put so much more of it into our environment.

Ignorance kills. As much as Trump and many Americans want there to be an easy way out, there isn’t one.

On Easter, praise Jesus for the Internet!

The Thinker by Rodin

As you sit at home twiddling your thumbs, imagine how much worse all this social isolation would be without the Internet. There’s not much you can count on these days, but if you at least have a high-speed Internet connection, social isolation and boredom shouldn’t be among them.

It is likely that the Internet will only become more vital in the months and years ahead. That’s because contrary to what you might hope, most of aren’t going anywhere. Those of us who can work from home are going to keep doing so, and many will never return to the office.

“The office” may be one of the casualties of this crisis. If you make it into the office at all, it will probably be to a cubicle of the day. The new normal for white collar people will be what many of us were doing before all this started: working from home. We’ll be using VPNs (virtual private networks) to securely work remotely.

Our social life will evolve to what is already happening: Zoom meetings. This platform seems to be emerging as the go-to online meeting platform. Here on our hill of 55+ people, our association paid for a Zoom account. It sounds silly since we all live in the same neighborhood, but it’s a very socially active neighborhood. Many of these meetings are now virtual. Meeting in person in groups is probably at least a year away.

The ramifications of all this are still being sorted out. We can see one of them today: your Easter service if you are attending one is virtual. Our country was moving in a more secular direction already; this COVID-19 crisis will do more to accelerate it. After a while you may forget why you went to church at all. You can save a lot of money if you don’t have to tithe to your church, and since it can’t provide much in the way of spiritual services, what use is it?

It looks though that in our crazy, upside down world you can at least count on the Internet. Not that it isn’t under stress. Where I live, the only provider is Comcast. With everyone home all the time, and with neighborhoods sharing bandwidth over the same coaxial cable, latency issues are happening from time to time. Sometimes when we stream we get the dreaded hourglass. I’ve looked into this. We were getting 35 megabits per second, but are paying for “up to” 800 megabits per second. Sometimes Comcast can’t do better than 4% of the speed we are paying for.

It will be a wake up call to some that the Internet is not now just a nice-to-have thing, but an absolute necessity, and that we pay way too much for it. For a couple of years I have been trying to persuade our city to create a municipal network to compete with Comcast. The effort has been going great. We were all set to select a vendor to study the viability and costs of the network, then COVID-19 struck. It’s on hold, but I’m betting when our mayor and city council have a chance to catch their breaths, they will prioritize it over a lot of other things going on; indeed, it may be crucial to our city’s recovery from this. Ten years from now, if you are not getting Internet from your local government, you may be thinking you are living in the dark ages. In short, I don’t think Comcast stock is a good buy for the long term.

Most haven’t studied the history of the Internet, so we tend to take it for granted. While there is nothing miraculous about the Internet, the story of how it was created is indeed amazing. It’s the story of the success of long term investment, the sort of thing we rarely do in government anymore. Basically, we threw money at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the 1960s (then known as ARPA) to try to get military installations and educational institutions to be able to communicate electronically.

The genius behind it was a core group of radical thinkers (something you don’t associate with our Defense Department) that the network should be super reliable. By creating a public packet-switching network using open protocols, we created a super fault-tolerant network. If it breaks down at all, it’s in local neighborhoods like mine where the pipes provided by a single provider aren’t sufficient to meet the demand of the traffic that streams across it.

Imagine how socially isolated you would actually be if there were no Internet. You would be limited to telephone calls, probably from a landline. Since you could not afford long distance, it would be mostly to people on your local exchanges: one at a time, no conference calls. Imagine searching for work without the Internet. You would not be able to go out and knock on employers’ doors in the midst of a pandemic. You would be limited to local want ads in the paper, but even so what jobs that are available would largely be work from home jobs while the pandemic rages. Without the Internet, finding jobs at all is pretty much impossible.

The Internet provides a robust platform for information and knowledge exchange about pretty much anything, any time, and on demand. It just works. The Internet made much of my career possible and continues to provide me with income even in retirement. Now I help clients with their IT problems over the Internet, and have since 2006. I never leave home to work; it’s all done virtually. Most of my clients are from overseas. Without the Internet I would have never had their business. Yesterday, I was charging a client $60/hour to work on a site they are upgrading. Going to the office means going upstairs. That’s my office now and since I retired in 2014 it’s been my only office.

We’ll get through this in time. It’s going to be painful to get through it too. But if you think you are in pain now, imagine what life would be without the Internet. If nothing else, it can keep you fending off boredom pretty much indefinitely. If you are wise, you can use the Internet in this downtime to train for that next career, and emerge a winner in what is likely to be a new, more socially isolating age.