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.

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.

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.

Welcome to hell, Republicans

The Thinker by Rodin

Here in Massachusetts, our blue-leaning state has elected a Republican governor twice. His name is Charlie Baker. He’s the kind of Republican I remember from my youth, before most of them went insane. Governor Baker is pragmatic and works across the aisle. In some ways he is more Democratic than Governor Andrew Cuomo next door in New York, supposedly a Democrat. He refused to vote for Trump and his main focus seems to be to just do things sensibly. Baker may be the only pragmatic Republican left in the country.

Baker has been busy with COVID-19 issues, of course, as have most governors. Governors, well, govern. They deal with the world as it is and no matter how messy aim to make it work better for their people. No wonder then that our blue-leaning state has put him twice in the governorship; we appreciate people who have these skills regardless of party. To get things done he has to figure out how to do it adroitly. Right now it’s a combination of bully pulpit, stretching what he can do under the law a bit and hunkering down with aids and our legislature to more intelligently allocate our state’s resources.

Trump though is ruling, not governing. Rulers don’t govern; they just tell other people what to do and don’t care about how if affects people. Trump is tone deaf to the needs of most Americans and listens only to those who give him money or keep him in power. He has no central strategy, no real plans. He ping pongs from moment to moment, hoping to find the words that strokes his ego. He really doesn’t care about governing; he just wants to rule. He’ll do it his way, or not at all.

It never occurs to Trump to try to work together with people unlike him to try to achieve his goals. He never learned the art of flattery; instead he expects everyone to flatter him. He’s quite comfortable short shifting New York state in its supply of ventilators because Governor Cuomo hasn’t flattered him sufficiently. He wants people to grovel and kiss his ring like he’s the pope. And he’s filled his administration with lackeys that know only how to chase after his constantly changing desires, rather than people who try to exercise the levers of government to achieve what people actually need. He not only expects tone deafness; he requires it.

So it’s no surprise that we were caught with our pants down on this COVID-19 crisis. It’s no surprise that it took months to start doing just a few of the things intelligent people do to mitigate these things. He has no experience in governing and has used none of his time in office to try to acquire these skills. Bullies never learn the art of negotiation. They just practice fear and intimidation because it’s all they know how to do.

With the exception of a few Republican governors like Charlie Baker, most Republican governors out there seemed more enamored with ruling rather than governing too. Take Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, who only recently decided to keep people home, allowing his state to contribute disproportionately to the spread of COVID-19. Now his solution seems to be to not allow New Yorkers to drive into the state. He is also bizarrely exempting churches from his social distancing rules, arguing that religious services are essential services.

By ruling rather than governing, he’s going to kill a lot more citizens of his state proportionately than most other states. By following the Republican Party playbook rather than by applying the resources of government to meet the needs of the moment, like Trump, he is seeking short term popularity and adherence to party dogma against the needs of his state.

It’s not a stretch to say that Republicanism is killing people in these states and all over our country. It’s a philosophy that says business is always right, and that government has no legitimate role to play beyond enabling extreme capitalism and promoting cronyism. Unsurprisingly, this is leaving states and the federal government without the tools and the institutional memory to adroitly handle the challenges we all face. It may kill millions of us.

Governing requires pragmatic people with a long term vision who not only need to adroitly shift resources to meet the challenges of the moment, but to imagine beyond their term of office and leave their jurisdictions better prepared for these events than when they have arrived. It’s called being a fiduciary. With the exception of a few Republican governors, they, our president and the Republican parts of our Congress have only proved to be miserable failures.

They swallowed Reagan’s KoolAid: that government is the problem. A government though that governs in response to the needs of the people is exactly what government is supposed to do. What we have now is a largely wholesale lack of governing.

Welcome to hell, Republicans. And if looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror.

Our constitutional crisis has arrived

The Thinker by Rodin

With the Senate’s “exoneration” of Donald Trump last week, and his subsequent but wholly predictable reaction to it, our constitutional crisis has now formally arrived.

I’ve been warning about it for years, twice in 2016 alone, but it’s now here. Unfortunately, there is no knight in shining armor to save us. Turmoil and a likely tainted election are ahead, with a good chance that Trump will try a constitutional coup before then.

You can see it in his increasingly unhinged tweets. He’s been posting over a hundred of these a day lately, but now that he feels he can govern with impunity, he’s off on a rampage. His rampage is likely to get much, much worse because we know what happens with narcissists with power. Arguably he’s got more power than any narcissist since Adolf Hitler. Like Richard Nixon, he’s got his enemies list, but unlike Richard Nixon he’s knows he can get away with pretty much anything now. In Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon got next in line Robert Bork to fire the special prosecutor investigating him, after his attorney general and deputy attorney general wouldn’t do as ordered, and resigned. Robert Bork, who later went up for an ill-fated Supreme Court seat, had no such scruples.

Trump already has his cabinet of sycophants, so he’s taking it out on those who testified against him. His Friday Night Massacre removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland for testifying truthfully. Also gone, just out of spite, is Vindman’s brother and identical twin Yevgeny, who also happened to work in the White House.

This is likely just the start. An enraged Trump has a whole host of other targets including Mitt Romney who had the audacity to vote to convict him on one charge, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Adam Schiff. Moreover, he’s been combing government looking for ways to make others pay. All New Yorkers on the TSA’s Trusted Travelers program are being punished because its legislature made it a sanctuary state; they can’t use it. But that’s not all. Exports of New York titled vehicles have been put on hold until further notice.

Schiff’s life has been threatened. Threats are reported against Mitt Romney, who at least is independently wealthy to ensure his own safety is uncompromised. Doubtless Nancy Pelosi is getting threats too. This is probably not new for her, but the number of them is likely increasing. Trump is determined to make as many people hurt as possible for his mental illness.

With all but one Republican dutifully voting to acquit the president, the Senate obviously won’t hold him accountable should the House impeach Trump again. The election is supposed to straighten this all out, even though it will be an even more unfair and tilted election than the 2016 election. Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Barr says he has to approve all political investigations now and is setting up a channel for wholly discredited “evidence” “uncovered” by Rudy Guiliani against Joe and Hunter Biden to be considered for prosecution.

All this is because no one can tell Trump that he is wearing no clothes. With the possible exception of Mitt Romney, there’s not one Republican in Congress who’s got the balls to stand up to Trump. Oh, and by the way, lots of Republicans, including Donald Trump Jr., want to kick Romney out of the Republican Party. At least one member of the Utah legislature wants the legislature to censure him for his vote, even though it doesn’t have the power. Like Donald Trump, this Utah legislator doesn’t seem inclined to let law get in the way.

All this amounts to a huge rage by Trump but also from all those who support him. Trump has not only proven that he has a raging case of malignant narcissism, but his supporters have one as well. Evidence does not matter in the least. The Senate will let Trump do what he wants. Bill Barr has forced the Justice Department to stop applying impartial justice. And our conservative leaning Supreme Court seems content to stand on the sidelines.

I expect Trump to keep pushing the envelope. When he discovers that no one will hold him accountable, he will keep upping the ante. It will get worse and worse; mark my words. Losing the election is his only fear. If he loses power, he can be held accountable for his crimes and he cannot let that happen. So if it comes to it, he will make sure the election system is corrupted, or Americans he doesn’t like simply don’t get to vote. Or institute some sort of coup, if he can get the military to do it. I can see him shutting down the Capitol.

Our constitutional system of checks and balances has been shredded. Republicans have proven that they will put party over country and simply don’t care that in doing so we are no longer a representative government. Which doesn’t leave a lot of hope.

Mass protests will do little; Trump and Republicans have proven inured to them already. A huge economic downturn might help, but I hate to root for that. Change tends to happen only during times of great pain.

What I really hope for is that white knight. House Democrats have largely done all they can do. Mitt Romney though could go the extra mile. He could say the emperor has no clothes: that Donald Trump is very mentally ill, he is destroying our constitutional system of government, and his mental health should be assessed by a panel of nonpartisan physicians. It probably wouldn’t change anything, but it’s what I’m hoping for at the moment.

In truth, this black time is turning obsidian. Only Trump getting a sudden deadly stroke might change this around. From his crazy, rage-filled days spent tweeting about his enemies, who knows? His blood pressure must be sky high. It may be closer than we think.

I’m not a praying man, but it’s time for me to pray … fervently.

The needless suffering all around us

The Thinker by Rodin

My wife is volunteering at the local survival center. Twice a week during the dinner hour she volunteers there, helping to serve 40 to 80 families (sometimes more) survive during her shift.

The center takes all comers, so the undocumented and homeless are served. It’s not mostly these people that the center serves though. It’s neighbors who look a lot like me, but unlike me (I’m largely retired) they are working. They work whatever they can get and whenever they can. There are virtually no freeloaders that come through their doors.

Our community is not unique. About eleven percent of the population is food insecure. Thank goodness the survival center keeps them from starvation. That’s because these days you can’t count on much if anything from the government. That’s because Ronald Reagan convinced Americans that welfare queens driving Cadillacs were using food stamps to buy steaks. For forty years the Republican Party (and to some extent Democrats like Bill Clinton) have been making it harder and harder for people to simply survive.

Some of these people are homeless, but most are not. Most of their income is going to keeping a roof over their heads. Housing prices keep going up and almost all of them rent because they can’t afford to buy a home. Demand can’t keep up with supply, and certainly their wages can’t, so they are squeezed.

I live in Massachusetts which is reasonably progressive. Our minimum wage is currently $11/hour, and will rise to $15/hour by 2023. Still, it’s clear that this amount does not come close to providing a living wage.

Most of the people at the survival center are working two or more jobs, and it’s still not enough. Lots have dependents. An increasing minimum wage helps, but it is being raised slowly. The sorts of jobs these people work rarely pay much more than the minimum wage. That’s because despite low overall unemployment rates, the pool of relatively unskilled labor is still pretty high, so employers usually don’t have much of a problem filling these jobs. Our area is somewhat rural. Aside from some colleges and one university, there isn’t a whole lot of higher paying jobs.

What often tips the balance for these people is unemployment or health costs. Probably the biggest variable is unexpected health costs. The good news is that it’s hard to be uninsured in Massachusetts, as the Affordable Care Act was based largely on our program. The bad news is that most of these plans are still not that affordable. Since it’s required, they usually buy high deductible plans. While they often get catastrophic protection, in some ways its a worse system: they must pay for health plans they cannot really afford, plus they pay huge deductibles before they can get what are largely catastrophic benefits. These deductibles can wipe out the money for things like paying the rent or buying groceries. It also puts them on a treadmill of getting by, if you can call it that.

In short, the standard of living they require simply to get by is not close to what society is willing to pay them to let them achieve it. A lot of these people end up at the survival center because they run out of government benefits. And every year, our betters make things worse. Just yesterday, the Trump administration announced it is finalizing rules that will amount to kicking 700,000 more people off of food stamps.

It’s being done by changing the criteria of how high a state’s unemployment rate must be for it to get a federal waiver. Right now these SNAP benefits cannot exceed three months over 3 years for an individual without being enrolled in an education or training program for 80 hours a month, so if that happens these people are already at risk of homelessness and hunger. With the new rules, states could not seek a waiver unless their unemployment rate was at least six percent.

It’s based on the assumption that these people are lazy welfare queens who could easily get a job when in fact the vast majority are already working. In fact, most work a lot more than the rest of us. Most of the rest of us probably could not endure the superhuman amount of effort it takes for these people to survive. Without food stamps, they have to depend on their local survival center and hope there is food. My wife sees these people every day she volunteers. Fortunately, there are many giving individuals and organizations in the area willing to step up when the government clearly won’t. We give them $100 a month, in addition to volunteer work.

Prescription drug costs can also be killer costs. Recently, I sent $50 to an online friend, Jeff, whose state of Utah won’t provide Medicaid benefits. He’s currently homeless, living with a friend and despite having two jobs he can’t afford the $500 his specialized diabetes medicine costs. This is merely the most critical of his costs because he has other high cost prescriptions he needs and can’t afford because he is uninsured. He has no place to call home and his infrastructure crumbling around him. His car is giving out. He keeps looking for a cheap apartment, but there are none, at least not requiring very long drives from Salt Lake City. Oh, and he’s recently divorced, has a transgender teen and his ex expects him to pay for child support.

He’s hardly alone. I recently documented my friend Tom’s situation, which thankfully is not as dire at Jeff’s. They’re all over my community and they are all over yours too. All because those with money are largely in charge, they think these people are lazy, and they don’t want to contribute a dime to help them escape their misery or even keep them from going hungry. Ironically, a lot of these people are virulently pro-life.

These same people also tend to believe that we live in the greatest country. If we did, we wouldn’t tolerate the poverty and suffering of our fellow citizens.

No wonder candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have such support. Republicans are clueless, but the rest of us understand this suffering. We insist on a decent society that doesn’t allow it. For those of us who haven’t experienced it, we feel its closeness, knowing we are one job loss away from entering this hell.

It’s largely all because we allowed our energies and productivity to go to stockholders instead of the people whose sweat earned these profits. Moreover, we let people lead us who cut us off at the kneecaps. They turned our states into right-to-work states, which makes it hard for unions to form, but easier to give employers the upper hand.

As this Trump proposal demonstrates, there is no end to the level of cruelty Republicans will inflict on us to put yet more money into their pockets at our expense. If you are looking for a revolution, they may get one sooner than they expect. And they may be the ones found beneath the local hanging tree.

Republicans want to end our republic

The Thinker by Rodin

I must have been naive. All this time, I’ve been assuming there was some inner core among Republicans that would assert itself when push came to shove. For example, I figured they would be beating the bushes to find a 25th Amendment remedy to Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump is clearly mentally ill, has heart disease and simply does not have the intelligence for the complexity and nuance the job of president demands.

But that’s not it at all. Republicans want to end our republic through any means, fair or foul. For decades they have been waging a covert war to enable this to happen. They’ve been using built-in constitutional advantages that is more likely to give them power and to retain it.

The Electoral College, created to deal with the irreconcilable problem that our nation was formed with free and slave states, gave them disproportionate power from the start. The Constitution also gives states equal power, allowing them to generally hold the U.S. Senate with a minority of its population. The Constitution also allows states to determine procedures for voting. Republicans have used this to gerrymander relentlessly, making it very hard for another political party to gain power. With a Supreme Court decision pushed by its conservative majority, the court overturned the Voting Rights Act. And when they control state government, they have the power to purge voter roles and put fewer voting machines in neighborhoods with large minority populations.

None of this is news. But what is news is what Devin Nunes has been up to. Both CNN and The Daily Beast report that Lev Parnas, a Ukraine-related business associate of Donald Trump’s “personal lawyer” Rudi Giuliani, is willing to testify that Congressman Nunes (R-CA) and some on his staff traveled to Vienna, Austria last year to meet former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Shokin was widely seen as corrupt when in power and someone former Vice President Joe Biden eventually succeeded in getting the Ukraine government to fire. Parnas also allegedly has thousands of pages of documents and recordings he has shared with the House Intelligence Committee. Parnas is now under arrest with his partner Igor Fruman when attempting to flee the country for Vienna on October 9th.

Allegedly, Nunes was there to try to help push the story that Ukraine, not Russia, had tried to interfere in the 2016 election and to find the DNC server he believes is in Ukraine that contains the so-called “missing” Hillary Clinton emails. Nunes is hardly alone. Our attorney general Bill Barr has been doing this as well, also on the taxpayer’s dime.

Nunes also sits on the House Intelligence Committee that has been initially taking testimony for Donald Trump’s impeachment. His action if true (and there are records he went to Vienna during the time alleged on official business) is powerful evidence of a conspiracy among Republicans to subvert the rule of law and to use the powers of government against the constitution they swore to uphold.

To me one of the most amazing aspects of this is that Devin Nunes and many Republicans that I assumed knew better bought into these ridiculous conspiracy theories. Congress itself, including a Republican-controlled Senate, issued committee findings that directly tied Russia to 2016 election meddling. So this is not seriously in question, at least it shouldn’t be. Yet despite this, lots of Republicans in Congress still believe it. And apparently if they can’t find any actual evidence, they are willing to manufacture it, or at least sow doubt. That’s why Trump wanted Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens as a condition for giving the country the aid that Congress had already approved.

It’s totally laughable. This CrowdStrike server is supposedly in Ukraine, but both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee contract with CrowdStrike to store their information.

Republicans don’t seem to understand what CrowdStrike actually is: an Information Services provider, based not in Ukraine but in Sunnydale, California, not too far from Devin Nunes’ congressional district. CrowdStrike specializes in cyber-security, important for both the RNC and the DNC, and helped detect digital intrusions from agents in places like China. So the whole notion of a “server” somewhere is so 20th century. CrowdStrike stores it’s clients’ data in the cloud. It’s encrypted and spread out digitally among a lot of data centers. This is easily checked, but no Republican can seem to be bothered. Facts no longer have any relevance, because they apparently have bought into the notion that if they believe it is true, it must be so.

So Republicans are fully on board with supporting Donald Trump in any way possible, even if it is illegal and against the constitution they swore to uphold. Logically, they would be better with a candidate without Trump’s flaws. In any event, it’s unlikely that if Mike Pence replaced Trump, he would act so unlawfully. That they aren’t willing to do so suggests they want someone as unlawful as Trump.

Why would this be? It all makes sense if you give up the fiction that they care about our republic. It makes no sense otherwise. Their existential fear of the other seems to be overriding all other principles. Not that there are any principled Republican left. They all left, or when they stand up to object, like Justin Amash, they get ejected from party for being insufficiently loyal.

So our republic increasingly hangs by a thread. Republicans may now have a Supreme Court willing to say the President is above the law. If they have that and can control most elections, we don’t have a republic anymore. They can do and get away with anything they want.

If Trump were sane, he might call this treason. I’m not sure it qualifies. Treason is giving support to any country with which we are at war, and we’re not at war with Russia. But it is clearly against their sworn oath to put country over party. A sham Senate trial of Trump will likely prove this to be the case.

About the only check left is a court system that both Republicans in Congress and Trump are likely to ignore when they don’t get the ruling they like, and our election system which is already rigged on many levels. Only an overwhelming vote of the populace can start to make things right again.

I was chatting with a client on Skype the other day. He’s German, but living in Barbados. He was leery of giving me his business because he thought I could be a Trump supporter. He is very, very worried about the USA and say that’s true of Europe in general. Everyone is terrified. So am I. We are living through the most scary time in our country’s history. And it’s clear that Republicans simply want an autocrat in charge and to be a republic in name only.

We must somehow defeat them.

Election 2019 postmortem

The Thinker by Rodin

What can you really glean from an odd year election?

Quite a lot, but mainly that Republicans are going to have a hard time holding onto power next November. Consider:

  • A Democrat won the governorship in Kentucky, a state that went for Trump by thirty points in 2016. Kentucky is one of the reddest of red states, but it had one of the worst governors ever: Matt Bevin, an ultra tea partier who railed against one of the few things Republicans and Democrats can agree on: public school teachers and the need to compensate them adequately. Bevin was every bit as nasty as Donald Trump, just less inept. He tied himself closely to Trump, who rallied for him, yet he still lost, albeit narrowly.
  • Virginia went blue. Not purple, blue. Entirely blue. Democrats will control both chambers of the state legislature, the governorship, lieutenant governorship and the attorney general’s position. They also control both U.S. Senate seats and seven of its 11 congressional seats. Virginia is now a blue state, and likely to stay that way unless Democrats screw up monumentally. The inexorable increases in population in its suburbs and exurbs, mostly talented and ethnically diverse people from elsewhere, aren’t going to go away. It’s as blue as Maryland now, and some day may be bluer. Republicans haven’t won a statewide office since 2009 and without some terrible Democratic candidates the prospects for winning one look bleak. You can pretty much assign Virginia’s electoral votes to the Democratic candidate for the indefinite future. And speaking of which, Democrats will be drawing congressional districts in 2021. Any gerrymandering that happens won’t help Republicans.
  • If Trump hopes to win Pennsylvania again, it’s a fool’s hope. The outer suburban counties around Philadelphia, historically deeply Republican, swung dramatically blue. The Delaware County Council is now not just majority Democrat for the first time in anyone’s living memory, but Democrats controls all its seats. All four Republicans running for the judgeships on the Common Pleas Court lost too. In the even more traditionally Republican Bucks County, Democrats won control of the county council.

There is one minor anecdotal win too delicious not to share:

A legion of reasons propel political neophytes to run for office, but none may be as unusual as what inspired Juli Briskman, the cyclist who gave President Trump the finger two years ago and found herself without a job and at the center of a national uproar.

On Tuesday, Briskman got a new job, winning a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors — ousting a Republican in the process.

Briskman now represents the district holding one of Trump’s golf clubs.

All this gives some credence to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that finds if an election were held today, pretty much any Democratic candidate would trump Trump by double digits.

Obviously, we are a year out from the presidential election and lots of things could change. One thing that doesn’t seem to change is Donald Trump. Every week he gets wackier and seems more unhinged. His impeachment and the open testimony to be given starting next week will keep him in the news, but you can count on his Twitter feed to do that anyhow. The Senate is still likely to acquit Trump, but any Republican that does is likely to pay a political price.

All this momentum suggests that the Senate is likely to flip blue next year too, despite odds that should favor the Republicans. If Kentucky can elect a Democratic governor in a state won so decisively by Trump, there’s going to be a lot of carnage in red and purple states. One of these may be Senator Mitch McConnell, whose favorability ratings in his own state are half those of Donald Trump’s nationally.

Trump is plainly toxic to Republicans, but they can’t disassociate themselves with him. Those that do get ejected from the party. These incumbents main concern is to get through a primary. Afterward they may find it convenient to distance themselves from Trump a bit to attract the swing voters they may need to hold onto their jobs.

It’s unlikely Trump will let them. Trump’s assumption is that he can win with his base. But that’s not how he got elected. He certainly had an enthusiastic base, but he also brought over many independents. Current polling suggests independents will break nearly two for one for a Democratic candidate for president. He eked out a victory in 2016 but he won’t have these coalitions again in 2020. Well, not unless he morphs into something he is not: more moderate, even tempered and statesman-like. When you are convinced of your own infallibility, there is no need to change strategies.

I say throw Trump an anvil. Let’s encourage him to have more frequent rallies. He probably will anyhow, as it’s one of the few things that he enjoys. Since most Republicans are going to be tethered to him whether they like it or not, many of them will go down with him. The sooner he and Trumpism disappear, the better for our country.

Letting Trump be Trump (not that we have a choice) is just what Democrats need to win next year.