A Clear And Present Danger

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

— Maya Angelou

Following Tuesday’s national embarrassment, a disgusting display of attempted bullying, there is a lot to think about.  Probably, Donald J. Trump acted the role of the out of control drunk at the end of the bar because he knew he could not win a debate.  He does not have control of the facts, has barely put together a complete sentence in his entire term, and knows that former Vice President Joe Biden has plenty of experience in such a format.  Mr. Trump was probably not concerned about criticism for telling more lies — he has already accumulated over 20,000 documented lies since his inauguration — but he was concerned about losing.  The answer was to blow it all up, burn the place down, and attempt to look “strong” in an attempt to make Mr. Biden look weak.  He failed in every respect and in the process broke the rules of democracy and decorum and deprived the American public of the chance to assess both candidates, their policies, and their fitness for the job.

With all of the outrageous statements and shenanigans, two stand out above all and should alert every one of us to the clear and present danger to our country that exists in the persona of Mr. Trump.  We need to look no further than his two statements near the end of the debate.  When given the opportunity to clearly and forcefully condemn the antics, tactics and goals of white supremacists, he demurred.  (“The Proud Boys: stand back and stand by.”)  Indeed by all accounts by those that follow such things, the white supremacist groups took his answer as a call to arms.  (Several incorporated the words into their new logos and one leader tweeted out “Standing by sir!”)  Even on Wednesday as Mr. Trump claimed he did not know, then or now (really? c’mon man!), who the Proud Boys were, he still passed up the opportunity to publicly condemn white supremacists.

The second issue was his continued declarations that if he lost the election it was only because it was rigged against him.  In other words, he will accept no other result than his own victory and explicitly said that he didn’t know if he would allow for a peaceful transition of power should he lose.  Tuesday night he said that he is “urging his supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully.”  If Mr. Trump sees “thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”  When asked about what he meant by that he said “it means you have a fraudulent election.” When asked specifically if he would warn his supporters against “civil unrest” and tell them to keep calm if the vote counting goes on longer than Election Day, he refused.

So let’s put this all together and then see what he, and unfortunately Attorney General William Barr have been saying over the last few weeks.

First, on Tuesday night Mr. Trump gave a green light to white supremacists and other supporters to use violence if the election goes for Mr. Biden.  Additionally, he told his supporters to engage in voter intimidation by going to polling places to keep people from voting or to claim voter fraud if they are not allowed into the polls (in most states poll watchers have to be certified and there are rules about their behavior).

Please do not say that Mr. Trump did not really mean what he said or that his words are being overly exaggerated.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  More importantly, the folks on the receiving end of his message know what he meant and will act on it, regardless of what “he meant to say.” He encourages vigilantes and is a major league fearmonger. There are people that believe him.  So get real.  The threat to a fair and open election is staring us in the face.

As I have written in this space before, autocrats tell you exactly what they are going to try and do before they do it.  Mr. Trump is no exception.

Here is the playbook as I see it.

Mr. Trump’s goal is to make things look so bad that he can claim, as he already has, that he alone can fix it.  As the pandemic continues to spread, the economy is ready to take another hit (today alone 35,000 airline employees are set to be laid off), schools are mostly still remote, demonstrations continue across the land, and golly, no one can even rely on the Postal Service anymore.  All of this and more creates a sense of crisis.

In a crisis, people want action.  By demonstrating that he is not afraid to break the rules — be it holding a political convention on the White House lawn or not abiding by debate rules — he is attempting to demonstrate that he is willing to do anything.  Anything.  Rules, norms, laws do not apply in a crisis and he is not afraid to throw all of them out the window to achieve “results.”  Without a bit of shame as to the illogical nature of his argument, he now tends to claim that things are so bad now (remember, he has been the president for the last four years and precipitated many of these crises himself), he needs a second term to restore order.  He argues that Democrats are the real problem and that they want anarchy.  “Law and Order” is required to bring back the America you love (read: white male Christian dominated society).  Contempt for the law is part of the message. It is necessary to get things done.  Straight textbook Autocracy 101.

He knows he is losing, so now he needs to bring it all home by suppressing the vote for Mr. Biden, and claiming that the election was a fraud.

In recent weeks he has railed against any and all mail-in ballots as being rigged.  He continually claims that all vote counting must stop on Election Night.  The Attorney General went on CNN and claimed that foreign entities were going to counterfeit absentee ballots and other cheaters were going to pay people for their votes, buy up blocks of blank ballots and fill in Mr. Biden’s name.  Indeed he even implied that postal workers might do that.

And on and on.  The point?  They are trying to lay the ground work for a legal challenge to the election results when Mr. Trump loses.  I suspect that they will have people try to forge ballots and pay for ballots and send in lots of crudely duplicated ballots in order to prove their point.  They are telling us what they are going to do.  Add to that some nut cases or groups of nut cases (I’m looking at you white supremacists) that hear that a county election office threw out some ballots (does not have to actually happen, just put it out over social media and they will come) and they storm the building to confiscate the “illegal” ballots.

The number of scenarios are vast.  We already know that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have no bottom for shameful and immoral behavior.  The only goal is to retain power.  Mr. Trump cannot stand the thought of losing — especially since he may end up going to jail in the not too distant future.  Mr. Barr is on some bizarre crusade to shape American society in the way that he thinks it should function and Mr. Trump is his blunt instrument to achieve his ends.

All of it sets up the conditions for a legal (yes legal) attempt to steal the election.  I am not a Constitutional law expert and I am not an attorney.  My understanding is it can work as follows:

  • Claim that the results in certain swing states (enough to give Mr. Trump a win) are suspect because of all the “illegal” ballots that were submitted by mail and because of improprieties at voting places.  Remember that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have already encouraged voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to vote twice.  Those two men know that is illegal, but if enough people try it, it really gums up the works and they can also claim that legitimate voters were turned away at the polls.
  • Go to the courts to invalidate the election results in enough precincts to change the state’s electoral outcome.  If that doesn’t work, go to state legislatures and claim that the Electors voted into the Electoral College from that state were illegitimately determined.  Under the law, state legislatures determine the Electors and certify their validity to the Congress.  Many states have laws that the legislature must certify Electors as voted on by the people, but not all.  Additionally, the laws are often vague and some experts believe that the courts could decide in favor of legislatures over those voted on by the people.  Reports from Pennsylvania already reveal that members of the Trump Campaign have talked to the leaders of the the Republican controlled legislature to do just that.
  • If the courts do not rule as to which slates of Electors are the legitimate ones, or the states decide to send the competing slates to the Congress, the Electors seated in the College are determined by a vote in the Congress.  The House and the Senate both vote.  Although new Representatives and Senators will be seated by then, Vice President Pence will still be the tie breaker in the Senate.
  • Should the House and the Senate vote to seat different slates of Electors, then the vote goes back to the House, but with different rules.  In this vote, each state votes as a block.  One state, one vote.  Thus South Dakota has as much power to decide the president as does New York.  Even though the Democrats have a large majority in the House, when decided on a state by state basis, currently 26 have Republican majorities (or only one Representative from that state) and 22 have Democrats.  The other two are split.
  • Meanwhile a parallel effort will go in in the courts.  If it makes it to the Supreme Court the result could go either way.  However, Mr. Trump specifically mentions Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as the ninth justice he “needs” in order to “win” in the Court.  In her pre-hearing submission to the Senate answering a host of questions, she indicated that she would not recuse herself from any 2020 election cases that may come to the court.

Many people compare all of this to the 2000 election and the “hanging chads” in Florida.  Historically, it is closer to the election of 1876 where Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and came up one Electoral College vote shy of winning that over Republican Rutherford Hayes.  The electoral slates of three Southern states were in dispute and the decision came to the Congress.  After deliberation and the formation of a bipartisan commission comprised of Representatives and Senators, and the departure of the lone tie-breaking independent on the commission, replaced by a Republican, the disputed Electoral College votes were awarded to Mr. Hayes to give him a one vote Electoral College win.  In exchange for giving up their candidate, the Democrats secured the end of Reconstruction in the South.  It was a shameful and dirty chapter in the history of our country.

I am concerned that we may face another Constitutional crisis in this election.  Barring an overwhelming landslide in favor of Mr. Biden, I think that we may be in for a long final three months of the year full of unrest and probable violence.

Mr. Trump makes it abundantly clear that he has no qualms about ignoring the Constitution and bringing the full weight of the Federal Government to preserve his power.  One pundit likened it to the old saying that “if I’m going down I’m taking all of you with me.”  In his Attorney General he has an accomplice that will help him bend the law if not outright ignore it in the name of allegedly preserving the safety and security of our city streets.

Meanwhile we have a Republican Senate that has lost its backbone, its allegiance to the Constitution and its voice.  The president might Tweet about me!

We must all vote.  We must all be vigilant.  We must all be vociferous in our opposition to such a blatant attack on our Constitution.

I take solace in the fact that there are still good upstanding Americans in our midst.  For the scenario to unfold as I’ve sketched it here, an awful lot of people would have to go along with what is clearly a power grab by a budding autocrat and his cronies.  I have faith that enough people along the way will stand up to the bully and refuse to compromise or cooperate.

God Bless America.

 


The Coming War Over the Supreme Court

Last Friday we learned of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Please take a moment to think of her and her family.  She was a great American and a great American success story, coming from humble roots in middle class Brooklyn New York to rise to the Supreme Court.  Along the way she was a true trail blazer and a forceful voice for human rights.  She will be missed.

Her death opens a seat on the Supreme Court and offers Mr. Donald J. Trump the chance to put a third Justice on the Court.  Elections do have consequences.  The question then becomes, when do the consequences of an election kick in?  In 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans kept an open seat on the Court for roughly a year claiming that no new Justices should be nominated or voted on until after the election of a new president.  President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland did not even get a hearing, much less an up or down vote.

The real player in the drama then and now is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Tr – KY).  As much as Mr. Trump has pushed and pulled and ignored the norms surrounding the office of the president, Mr. McConnell has done the most to undermine the legitimacy of the Senate and the norms that used to guide our selection of judges to federal courts and to the Supreme Court.  Along with unilaterally changing the required number of votes to approve a Supreme Court Justice from 60 — which normally meant that whichever party was in power would have to have some votes from the other party in order to confirm a nominee, thus allowing for more moderate judges to make it on to the court — it now only requires 51 votes which gives each party a chance to approve radical judges aligned with their party’s interests.

Indeed, Mr. McConnell has been so focused on getting judges on to the federal courts that very, very little else has been addressed over the last two years in the Senate.  Mr. McConnell put his pursuit of judges over the lives of the now 200,000 Americans dead from Covid-19.  He will not address any of the pandemic relief bills so desperately needed to fight the virus and to restore our economic well being.  So much for claiming to be pro-life.

Much has been and will be written about the sheer utter hypocrisy of Republicans surrounding the nomination and confirmation of a new Justice during an election year.  In 2016 it was a full ten months before the election.  This year it is only about six weeks before the election.  In fact, some states already have early voting underway.  You will see lots and lots of video clips of one Republican Senator after another twisting themselves into more knots than a pretzel trying to explain why it was different then than it is now.  Sad.  Additionally, please remember that there is no such thing as the “Biden Rule” or “Thurmond Rule” or even a “McConnell Rule.”  That is a lot of smoke to hide what is actually going on.  There is only the law.

The bottom line?  There is no shame in Trumpland.  They will do whatever they want and without regard to the lies, hypocrisy and sheer awfulness of it.  It won’t change so I won’t waste time arguing it or bemoaning it.  To quote the president’s remarks about the deaths of so many of our fellow citizens, “It is what it is.”

There is no shame.  It is just pure power politics.  In effect, they will steal a Supreme Court seat for the second time.

What action can those that still have a sense of duty do to stop it?  Procedurally, not much.  The Constitution is vague about this issue.  Article III, Section I of the Constitution says merely that:

“The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

Significantly, there is no indication of how many Justices there shall be or exactly what their role should be.  Starting with the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress shapes the size and authority of the Court.  Of the three branches of our government, the Supreme Court is probably the one that most resembles its origins and relies heavily on custom and tradition in the process of taking care of business.  Chief Justice John Marshall, appointed to the court by President John Adams, is credited with shaping the court into the form and substance we know today.  The number of Justices on the court varied over time until 1869 when the number became nine and remains so today.

All of this is background as to what means are available to Democrats, and perhaps a few Republicans, to delay the confirmation until after the election and leave the choice to the winners in the White House and the Senate.

Since it now takes only 51 votes to over-ride any legislative maneuvering and to confirm a nominee, the opposition to a hasty process can only come from political pressure.  It is an election year and several Republican Senators are up for re-election and find themselves in very tight races.  This issue could have a significant impact on who is elected or re-elected.  If their constituents forcefully voice their opposition to proceeding without regard to the election, some sitting Senators may find it difficult to support Mr. McConnell’s plan.

So far two Republican Senators have indicated that they do not support moving ahead with the process until after the election.  Is it possible more might join them?  Possible, but not a sure thing.  Tremendous pressure will be applied to every Republican Senator to stay in line.  In that regard, when the vote is taken will be critical.

By all accounts, the only thing that Senator McConnell values more than changing the face of the judiciary is retaining his power and prestige as majority leader.  He will use everything in his power to keep power.  It is conceivable that to protect vulnerable Senators that could be harmed by having to vote for a Trump appointee prior to the election, he will hold hearings before the election to gauge the political winds and hold off on the actual vote until after the election.  Those that are re-elected are safe, those that are not have nothing to lose.  The question then becomes a matter of conscience as to how individuals may vote, a commodity that unfortunately seems to be in short supply in the current political arena.

It would be a real insult to our democratic ideals if the Republicans lose the White House and their majority in the Senate but go ahead and confirm a Trump appointee.

There are many scenarios that could play out.  I have no idea what will happen.  The Republicans have a three seat majority.  If three Republicans vote against a nominee, the Vice President would be the tie breaker.  The Democrats would need to convince at least four Republicans to vote against a nominee, something that will be difficult to do should the nominee be a truly qualified jurist.

It seems that for the Democrats to stop the appointment of another conservative Justice, thus giving them a 6-3 advantage on the Court, they need to play hardball.

During the last four years the institutions of our government have been abused, even debased, in the pursuit of power by Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell.  To play the same game, some advocate for the Democrats to say that should the process ignore the election results that they will expand the Court to include more Justices.  The law designating the number of Justices can be changed by a majority vote.

Personally, I think this is wrong.  It would never stop as eventually one party loses the majority and the other looks to regain the upper hand.  Our system of government has been under assault for four years, messing with the Supreme Court would be the beginning of the end of any restrictions on changing the rules to suit one party and undermining everything we used to hold as important to our fundamental system of government.

It may also backfire in that some voters may vote against the Democrats if they threaten to expand the Court.

There are some twists and turns that could influence the outcome.  Two Senate institutionalists are retiring this year.  Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) and Pat Roberts (KS), with no debt to pay to Mr. McConnell, or to Mr. Trump, may put the traditions and unwritten norms of the Senate and the judiciary above party politics.  Should Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) stick to their avowed decision to oppose a nominee that would be the four votes needed to stop this move.

Another wild card vote comes from Arizona where Senator Martha McSally is currently behind her Democrat opponent former astronaut Mark Kelly.  Since Senator McSally is an interim appointee (she fills the seat that belonged to John McCain), if Mr. Kelly wins the election he would be seated by the end of November bringing down the Republican advantage in the Senate.

Numerous possibilities will be floated in the coming weeks.  There are no arguments to be made or scenarios to play out should Mr. Trump get re-elected and Mr. McConnell retain his majority in the Senate.  There would be nothing that could, or should, stop Mr. Trump from seating his third appointee.  Mr. Trump will campaign on this issue and try to make it a referendum that he thinks will help him win.  Of course he wants the campaign to be about anything that distracts from his horrifying dereliction of duty mismanaging the pandemic and the loss of over 200,000 of our fellow citizens.

However the next few weeks unfold, two things are certain.  Our nation lost a truly historic presence in the Supreme Court and an already wild and improbable election cycle where anything can happen just got even wilder and more unpredictable.


He Lied and People Died

“This is deadly stuff.”

Donald J. Trump on 7 February 2020 to journalist Bob Woodward

In the course of writing his book Rage, Bob Woodward talked directly with the president eighteen times and recorded those conversations with Mr. Trump’s permission and knowledge.  The tapes and available excerpts from the book clearly show that Mr. Trump knew from the beginning that the coronavirus was deadly and yet he continually took no action and played down the threat through much of January, February and March.  In important ways he still ignores the severity of the crisis.

Mr. Trump clearly is not responsible for the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but his belated and inconsistent response cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives.

The timeline of Mr. Trump’s private statements to Mr. Woodward, matched up with his public statements about the state of the pandemic, demonstrates his callous disregard for American lives and his deliberate deception to prevent coherent actions in the early days of the crisis.

For example, Mr. Trump was briefed by his National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien that “this will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.  This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”  His Deputy added that this was going to be at least as bad as the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million people worldwide.

The briefing was given to him on 28 January 2020.  On 7 February he told Mr. Woodward,

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.  And that’s a very tricky one.  That’s a very delicate one.  It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.  This is deadly stuff.”

Meanwhile on 26 February he compared the coronavirus to the flu and talked about how much worse the flu was in our country.  He downplayed the threat and again compared it favorably to the flu on 9 March.

On 19 March he told Mr. Woodward,

“Now it’s turning out it’s just not old people, Bob.  Just today and yesterday some startling facts came out.  It’s not just old — it’s plenty of young people.”

On 24 March, 6 May and 5 August he downplayed the threat to young people and focused primarily on the threat to senior citizens.  In fact, during an interview in August he said,

“If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease.  They don’t have a problem.  They just don’t have a problem.”

There is more, but you get the idea.  I suppose it should not be surprising that a president that lied over 20,000 times while in office continually lies about the pandemic.  But the brazen, uncaring, callous way he treated our society is breathtaking.  In the excerpts of the tapes that I have heard, I am struck most of all by the nonchalance and indifference in his voice.  He truly does not care.

His avowed reason for lying to all of us (he calls it “downplaying” the impact) is that he did not want the public to “panic.”  That would be hilarious if the results were not so horrifying.  This from a president that creates fear and campaigns on panic be it “MS-13 caravans” flooding the border, or “destroying the suburbs” or a hundred other things he has injected into our lives.

The only panic he was trying to prevent was a panic in the markets on Wall Street.  He tied his reelection to the economy and he was afraid that if he told the truth, if they took the required precautions early, that there would be an economic impact.  He thought he could ride it out and therefore took no action.

Put this in perspective.  According to a Columbia University study, if social distancing efforts had been put in place even just one week earlier (8 March instead of 15 March) 36,000 lives in the U.S. would have been saved and there would have been 700,000 fewer infections.

That is still a month after Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward that “this is deadly stuff.”

Remember, since he was briefed in January about how the coronavirus spreads, Mr. Trump conducted campaign rallies, belittled people that wore masks, pushed for restaurants and bars to open, recommended injecting bleach into bodies, pushed hydroxychloroquine and generally brushed off all of the known precautions to stop its spread.

Based on his words and actions in pushing to reopen the economy, millions of Americans forswore masks and social distancing, gathered in bars, partied hearty, and otherwise facilitated the spread of the disease and the consequences we still feel over seven months after Mr. Trump knew the dangers inherent in this new disease.

Every American, Trump supporter or not, should be outraged.  It is not hyperbole to say that his actions and inactions, with full knowledge of the threat, resulted in the loss of life.

Just as bad, his staff and advisers had the same information and said nothing.  Shame on them all.  They are just as guilty.

Mr. Trump failed in his primary duty as president.  The president first and foremost must put the health, safety and security of all of us above all else.  He still refuses to do so.  His enablers continue to lie for him, cover up for him, and allow him to put himself above all.  He insults us by saying he was just trying to be a “cheerleader” for our country.  His enablers say he was just doing what any good leader does by projecting a calm demeanor.  They even dare to compare him to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Hogwash.

Their words and actions are despicable.  Tell that to the families and friends of the nearly 200,000 dead Americans.

He lied and people died.

 


Losers And Suckers

If you have not yet heard about the article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg then you may think that this piece is about someone or something else other than the United States military.  Unfortunately, the title comes from the mouth of Mr. Donald J. Trump and he was referring to our military, especially to those killed, wounded or missing in action.  In accordance with the over 20,000 documented lies that the president has uttered since taking office, no one is surprised that Mr. Trump denied saying anything like that and trotted out a series of sycophants and Trump associates to deny that he ever said it.

Believe what you want, but I’ll go with The Atlantic and the corroboration of the essence of the article as confirmed by the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and Fox News.  It also fits a long pattern of actions on his part that indicate his prime interest in the military is the trappings of office and banana republic style parades and displays of military equipment.  For example, in 2018 his personal attorney Michael Cohen testified that Mr. Trump told him that he would never have gone to Vietnam.  “You think I’m stupid?  I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”

To me, it is easy to believe.  It fits a pattern of behavior and conduct in office that fully supports his belief that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth doing unless there is some personal monetary or other reward involved.  He simply cannot comprehend that anybody would put their lives at risk for a concept such as democracy or the Constitution.  His world view is that everyone is out to get whatever they can, and to get it they will lie, cheat or steal.  If you do not do that then you are a loser or a sucker.  You are there to be had.

Apparently in his world view, no one gets rich in the military so to join makes you either stupid — literally, you couldn’t do anything else — or a sucker.  He is reported to have said to aides after a briefing by the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford; “That guy is smart.  Why did he join the military?”

This latest revelation of the superficiality of everything associated with Mr. Trump is not surprising.  A quick look at some of his greatest hits shows that his language about the military is nothing new.  I still find it depressing.  Apparently he is not just totally transactional, but also ill-informed and basically ignorant about anything that does not involve his personal interests.

  • In 1997 Mr. Trump said during the Howard Stern Show that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding Sexually Transmitted Diseases.  “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
  • Starting in 1999 he continually attacked Senator John McCain and called him a loser.  Mr. Trump denies this but his own Tweet from 18 July 2015 says exactly that.  The then Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security Mr. Miles Taylor attested to the fact that Mr. Trump did not want to take any honorific actions following the Senator’s death.  Indeed, Mr. Trump was outraged that action was taken.
  • Following the 2016 Democratic Convention he relentlessly attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan after they spoke about the sacrifice of their son Army Captain Khan who was killed in action in 2004.
  • In a botched condolence call in 2017 to the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson she said that Mr. Trump could not remember her husband’s name (he told her he read it after stumbling over it) and said to her “He knew what he signed up for.”  When she expressed her pain over the call, Mr. Trump spent the next eight days attacking her via his Twitter account.
  • In 2017 during a meeting in the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior administration officials, he angrily told them they were all “losers.”  “I wouldn’t go to war with you people.  You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
  • In 2019 he interfered in the military justice system by overturning the war crimes convictions of a Navy SEAL and an Army Special Forces officer and another Army officer about to go on trial for war crimes.  Special interests used the medium of Fox News to get him to intervene.  He thought it was good for him to do so because it would be popular.  He said, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.”  Such statements show that he has no clue about the military, its honor, or its code of conduct.
  • Against the advice of his senior military and civilian advisers Mr. Trump precipitously withdrew U.S. support to the Kurds in Syria leading to a near massacre as Turkish forces poured across the border.  He left a staunch ally in the lurch in order to impress the thugish leader of Turkey.
  • This summer Mr. Trump threatened to deploy U.S. combat troops against American citizens.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley had to make two separate public statements affirming the military is not in the business of acting against our own citizens and that the non-partisan nature of the military precludes support for any candidate for public office.
  • In July of this year Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw about a third of our deployed forces in Europe to support NATO.  This is a move that certainly delights Russian president Vladimir Putin.  His stated reason for doing so was “We don’t want to be the suckers anymore.  We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills.  It’s that simple.”  (Not surprisingly, his statement on bill paying is not accurate and shows his ignorance of how NATO defense spending works.  But hey, remember the 20,000 lies.)
  • It is well known in and out of government through published reports that Russian agents in Afghanistan put bounties on the heads of U.S. military personnel.  Taliban fighters would be paid for each American killed.  This is perhaps the greatest sign the Mr. Trump cares not one iota for American military personnel as he makes countless excuses for inaction.  Claiming ignorance, to this day he has not confronted the Russians over this outrage.  Preventing the needless loss of life for the troops and doing all in his power to keep them safe is the greatest responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and he refuses to take action.

There are many more examples of his callous disregard for the American military.  He seems to think that all he has to do is mouth a few words at some rally and he’s done.

Do I believe that Mr. Trump is capable of calling our dead and wounded losers and suckers?  You bet I do.  His track record is abysmal.  To paraphrase another president, Mr. Trump does not ask what he can do for the country, he asks what the country can do for him.


R.I.P. Republican Party

Over the last four years the Republican Party as a whole, but especially in Congress, lost its way.  They abandoned everything that they used to believe in in order to assuage the Tweeter-in-Chief.  As a result, the party has been on life support most of that time.  We can now call the time of death as Sunday 23 August, 2020.

The Republican Party is now officially a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Family, Inc.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the party announced that for the first time in its history, they would have no platform.  In a one page declaration of “whereases” assailing the media and affirming their enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, they concluded by saying,

Resolved, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;

Resolved, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.”

I guess it boils down to “I’ll have what he’s having.”  More succinctly, the Republicans now publicly declare that they stand for nothing.  There is no official vision, plan, policy, or goal that they will try to achieve over the next four years.  Whatever the president says at the moment, is, I suppose, what they will do, even if tomorrow they need to reverse course when he changes his mind after seeing something on Fox News.  The Republicans will just wait around for a kingly pronouncement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump does not have a vision or plan for the future either.  In interview after interview on Fox News and other friendly venues, interviewers have tossed him softball questions as to what to expect over a possible second term.  So far, zilch, nada, zip, nothing.  His replies only have been rambling statements about past grievances, pet peeves, or “acing” a cognitive ability test.

I find it sad, and a bad omen for our country.  I believe firmly in the two party system as part of the checks and balances that keep our country on a relatively middle of the road path to the future.

Arguably, many past platforms may have been exercises in producing wish lists by those that write them.  More positively, they provide a blueprint, plan, policies and aspirational goals that the respective parties want to accomplish should they carry the election.  Now, according to their own document, there is nothing that the Republicans want to achieve other than whatever Mr. Donald J. Trump and his family declare in the moment that they should do.

The Republican Party is dead.  The Cult of Trump is alive and well.

The Republican National Convention is now nothing short of a coronation for Mr. Trump.  Indeed, Mr. Trump has repeatedly declared that the upcoming election would be “rigged.”  Yesterday, to kick off his convention, he declared that “the only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”  Think about that.  His party has given him carte blanche to do whatever he wants, and he publicly declares, repeatedly, that the only election result he will accept is if he wins.

That is a combination that should concern us all, especially given Mr. Trump’s increasingly lawless actions.

I do not wish to insult the intelligence or motives of those that support Mr. Trump.  It is a long American tradition to distrust the government, the media, and experts about anything and everything.  Mr. Trump is nothing else if not a salesman.  He knows how to tap into that resentment.  No matter the facts, or the eloquence of the argument, no one is going to sway the die-hard Trump supporter that they should stop supporting him.  Listening to the language showered upon him in the first day of the Republican Convention shows he has attained a Messianic following.  It is truly a cult of personality.  His support rests upon cultural and emotional issues, not a coherent vision for the future.  That is not going to change no matter how outrageous his behavior becomes over the coming months.  His followers are going to “stick it to the man” no matter what.

The establishment Republican Party that may have moderated his behavior ceased to exist.  They will not do their Constitutional duty.  I blame the Republican members of Congress and their obvious cowardice in the face of actions by a president that they would have wholeheartedly condemned in any other modern president Republican or Democrat.  Perhaps future historians will be able to figure out why there has been such a wide-spread display of cowardice on their part.  I cannot explain it.

It is now up to the voters to decide.  We need to weed out the merely outrageous aspects of Mr. Trump’s behavior that distract us nearly every wearying day.  Instead it is time to focus on those actions of his, as aided and abetted by a cowering Senate, that threaten our future as a Republic.

We cannot be intimidated or cowed.  Too much depends on it.  Please vote, no matter what.

 

 


Stealing The Election In Plain Sight

The President of the United States wants to take away your vote.  He tells us this now almost daily.  Four years ago he told us that he actually won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.  On 27 November 2016 he claimed that “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”  He had no proof of that then and he still has no proof.  It did not happen.  Of course, for a president that has told over 20,000 documented lies, we should not be surprised that he lied about this.

He continues to make this claim, and now that the 2020 election is approaching, he continues to assert that it will be “rigged,” “fraudulent,” “corrupt” and a host of other unsubstantiated claims that may put the integrity of the election into question in some people’s minds.  In a July 2020 interview with Fox News host Mike Wallace, the president (of the United States!) would not commit to accepting the results of the election if he lost.

Remember, even though he is a known liar, the president, just like Saddam Hussein did, tells us what he is actually trying to do.  He is up front about it.  In my opinion, he tells us what he is going to do — in this case, try to steal the election — because he knows no one will stop him.  Appeals to honor, ethics or the law have no impact on him.  Repeat after me: “He just doesn’t care.”

The key feature of his intended interference in the upcoming election is his knowledge that he is likely to lose.  He created an Electoral College victory in 2016 by the slimmest of margins (roughly 75,000 votes spread out over three states) and is unlikely to get more votes in 2020.  Low turnout and protest votes against Secretary Hillary Clinton allowed him to sneak by.  He knows that.  The conditions in 2020 are totally different and the voter turnout will be very large — a fact not in his favor.  What to do?  Suppress the vote, claim fraud, and fight with every available tool in his dirty tricks bag to keep votes from being counted.

Is this my usual hyperbolic ranting about the Worst. President. Ever?  No.  The president told us what he is going to do.  Right up front.  In July he was complaining that the results of the election would not be available for “days, months or even years later.”  He also said, wait for it, that the election results could be tied up in court for years.  Aha!  What is Mr. Trump’s favorite weapon?  The courts.  He sues everybody about everything.  All the time.  Rest assured that if he loses the election there will be a prolonged legal effort to invalidate ballots or even the results in key states that he loses.

More forthright still, the president has taken to attacking the validity of the process surrounding voting by mail.  He claims absentee ballots are okay (he and his family vote that way) but mail-in ballots are not. (Yes, I know that they are the same thing.) Again, there is no evidence of any nefarious activity.  Here is really what he means, as he put in a May 2020 Tweet (in all caps):   “MAIL IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE.  IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY. WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION.”  (It isn’t clear to me whether the tragedy is the end of the Republican Party or mail-in voting.)

In other words, the higher the turnout, by making it easier for people to vote during a pandemic, the less chance he has of winning.

What is he doing about it?  Trying to destroy the United States Postal Service.  As usual, he is upfront about it.  I will relate the details of his scheme, but perhaps all you need to know is what he is continually saying, and to also think about the ramifications of what he is saying.  Mr. Trump is blocking funding to the USPS to purposely keep the system from being able to handle the increased mail.  Specifically, he is blocking 25 billion dollars for the post office and 3.5 billion to help states with the mailed ballots.  This was supposed to be part of the Coronavirus aid package.  His opposition is a major impediment to continuing the aid which ran out at the end of July. He explicitly tied them together in an interview on the Fox Business Network.  But I’ll let him tell you how he is trying to disrupt a smooth election.

“Now they need that money to make the post office work, so it can take all of those millions and millions of ballots.  Now, if we don’t make a deal, it means they won’t get the money.  That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

In May, the president installed a crony of his as Postmaster General.  Since then over 30 seasoned leaders in the postal system have been reassigned, lay-offs have begun, there is a freeze on hiring and new required procedures have created great backlogs of undelivered mail.  Think that will have an impact on mail-in (or absentee, if you prefer) voting?  In addition, the new Postmaster General has decided that ballot information and ballots themselves will be treated as the class of mail with which they are marked.  Traditionally, the states mail in bulk using third class rates with the knowledge that the postal system will move those pieces as if they were first class mail.  So, if the states and the voters want to make sure that the ballots get out and back in on time, they have to spend millions of dollars more than before —  states that are already seriously cash poor as they have worked to fight the pandemic.

All of this hurts everyday Americans.  Millions receive needed prescriptions by mail.  Others receive checks by mail.  Business transactions are hurt.  And on and on.  All because the president is afraid of the voting results if Americans can vote without fear of catching a disease that has already killed over 165,000 of our fellow citizens.

Here is why it matters.  First, 34 states currently have “no excuse” absentee ballots.  That means you do not have to be out of the state to vote absentee.  Other states have pending legislation to implement similar procedures.  As more states move in that direction, the devil is in the details.  States count absentee ballots if they are post marked on or before (some require at least a day before) Election Day.  Thirty-two states require that the ballots reach election officials no later than, or the day before, Election Day.  The other eighteen states have deadlines ranging from the day after to three days after to ten days after the election.(Some states have legislation pending that may increase or decrease the numbers with these requirements.)

Do you see a pattern here?  Now you know why the president will provide no money for the postal system and why he placed a crony in charge of the system who is making changes that significantly slow down the process.  Time matters.

So let’s sum it up.  Mr. Trump is sabotaging the postal system to disenfranchise voters.  It is probable that with the mailed ballots that make it in, the count will not be over on election night.  It might be election week.  Pretend that Mr. Trump is leading on Election Day in some key states that have large amounts of mail-in ballots.  Over the following days, Mr. Biden overtakes Mr. Trump as the counts finish up.  Mr. Trump calls it a fraudulent election and takes steps to overturn the results.  He goes to court in every state that he claims he should have won.  Chaos ensues.  The mind can conjure all types of scenarios as to what he does in those circumstances.  Possible nightmare scenarios.

Fret not, however, as all reputable scholars and Constitutional experts from all political views agree that the Constitution is clear that the president’s term ends at noon on 20 January 2021.  Period.

If there is in fact no resolution to the election by then (inconceivable to me) then the third in line behind the former president and vice-president is the Speaker of the House.

President Nancy Pelosi.


Groundhog Day

For quite some time now, life seems like an episode in the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.”  Day after day after day we hear the same things.  If you watch the news regularly at some point during the day, an expert clinician, a physician or a nurse in an overwhelmed hospital, an established epidemiologist or other recognized health care expert will come on to be asked how to stop the spread of Covid-19.  Given that we have passed 4.5 million cases and 155,000 American deaths since 1 March, it is an important question.  The response, day after day, is to wear a face covering, social distance, wash one’s hands and don’t hang out in large crowds especially inside.  Not hard.  Every day there is also someone who recovers after a severe bout of Covid and says “I thought it was a hoax.”  Or, “I’m young and I didn’t think it would really be that bad.  But it was.  The worst feeling in my entire life.”  Sadly, we often hear the loved one of a person dead from Covid say something similar.

I can only think that we are a country of morons or losers or both.  How hard is it?  We know what to do.  Why don’t we do it?

Today’s news is that the virus is spreading into every corner of the United States.  It is only a matter of time and it is going to be bad.  Real bad.  In just the last week alone there were 453,659 new cases in the United States and the rate of hospitalizations grows everyday.  Over the last six days we averaged 1,233 deaths a day.  At that rate we will have approximately 37,000 more Americans dead by the end of August.  Remember when people thought that estimates of a 100,000 deaths total from this pandemic was considered to be too high and a lot of hyperbole to scare people?  At the current rate we will be at or over 200,000 dead around Labor Day.  Time to celebrate the beginning of fall!

Increasing numbers of experts (you know, real ones like scientists and doctors not the ones that say to inject bleach into your lungs) believe that we need to start over from the beginning.  Reset the stage.  Shutdown uniformly across the United States for 4-6 weeks — an actual shutdown, not a “if you want to” shutdown — to stop the spread and to be able to have a significant drop in cases so that “testing, tracing, isolation” actually has a chance to change the equation.

But no, I’m bored. I don’t want to do this anymore.  I think I’ll hang out with all my friends for a little pandemic party.  Haven’t seen you for awhile.  Here’s a hug for you and a hug for you and a little Covid for you, and hey buddy, here’s a little Covid for you too.  And then be surprised when people get sick.

It turns out that we cannot merely wish it away or ignore it.  It is not business as usual.

On top of the pandemic, but because of it, our economy is in the proverbial toilet.  For the quarter ending 30 June, the U.S. saw the worst decline for a single quarter since at least 1875 — perhaps in the history of the U.S.  Way to go guys!  We even beat the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Don’t worry, though.  The Senate is on top of it.  The House passed a bill back in the middle of May to extend unemployment benefits, protect people from being evicted because they can’t pay their rent and other assistance for those that have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  Called the Heroes Act (H.R.6800), it passed and was sent to the Senate on 20 May.  And sat. And sat. And as of 31 July, all the worker benefits passed by Congress to help the economy during the pandemic expired.  But rest assured, someday the Senate will act to help those in need.  Maybe.  They don’t want people to get too comfortable with this easy lifestyle.

One of the main concerns of those critical of the Heroes Act is that it continues the $600 weekly supplement to existing state unemployment insurance.  The argument is that it is too much because people can make more money by staying home rather than by going to work, which is why some businesses are struggling to reopen.  Let’s take a closer look.

Yes, the money is in addition to state unemployment, but most states pay roughly 35 to 40% of one’s salary up to a limit that varies by state.  However, when you do the math, $600 breaks down to $15/hour for a 40 hour work week.  As a national average, babysitters make $20.30 an hour for two kids. Not exactly the stuff of aspiring millionaires.

Such thinking also avoids the difficult issues.  Perhaps people staying home and not exposing themselves or their families during a pandemic is a good thing.  It helps to stop the spread of the virus.  Additionally, the “too generous” argument ignores other issues such as those workers are staying home because they may not have access to child care during the pandemic or because with schools closed, they need to stay home and help give their kids an education.  Perhaps they rely on public transportation which has been halted or is experiencing severe service cuts due to the pandemic.  Maybe it’s all of those and more.  And of course it presumes that their place of business reopened and is willing to hire them back.

With the economy already in the dumpster how is it going to recover if people don’t have any money to spend?  Have you seen the food lines around the country? (In the 30’s they were called bread lines but now you can stay in your car and also get a healthier selection of food!  Isn’t progress amazing?)  In the greatest country on earth?  Yep.  A bunch of freeloaders according to some.

Perhaps you could just follow Ivanka Trump’s new initiative for out of work Americans to “Find Something New.”  In her position as a Senior Adviser to the President she is advocating that roughly 15 million unemployed Americans go back to school, or develop IT skills or use on-line learning or sign on to learn a new skill as an apprentice (no she was not referring to her role on a TV show).  Mostly, her initiative is just a web site with links to a lot of other web sites with information that has been out in the public for months or years.

As my favorite saying goes, “Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it.”

As I predicted back in April, in this country it’s every person for themselves.  There is no political will to institute the steps needed to get the pandemic under control.  Without that active effort, the economy cannot recover.  All those bars and other super spreader events will eventually close again when a large amount of their patrons and employees are sick or dead.  But, hey!  It was great while it lasted.

Dire measures are needed.  It will hurt, it won’t be fun, it isn’t what we want but unless you want one of your friends or family to get sick and possibly die, suck it up.


Coming Soon To A City Near You

Events unfolding around the country are the previews for coming attractions, and it won’t be fun.  To look at what is happening in Portland Oregon one might see a trial run for more such activity — currently announced for, or underway in, Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque.

Going forward, remember that this is all right from the autocracy 101 hand book.  I will explain my thinking in this piece, but two major things are happening.  One is that Mr. Donald J. Trump is trying to get video to support his campaign claim that the cities are out of control and that “only I can fix it.”  Second, and far more ominously, he is laying the ground work for declaring martial law leading into the election.  Mr. Trump and his campaign know that he cannot win solely through the support of his base.  He needs to keep people from voting for his opponent — voter suppression — and one way to do that is to intimidate the electorate and to make it too hard to vote.  It is an election strategy that comes at the expense of American cities and their citizens.  It threatens the very foundation of our democracy.

As a reminder, federal law enforcement units in full combat gear have been on the streets in Portland for about ten days.  Theoretically, they are there to protect the federal court house from protesters.  In fact, they have been patrolling the streets of the city picking up people that look like they might be willing to foment trouble.  Let’s dive into this further.

The federal government has a duty and a right to protect federal property from destruction.  In cases such as the court house in Portland, this would normally entail coordinating with the local city and state authorities for a cohesive plan and would amount to a defensive — rather than offensive — effort to keep trouble makers away.  None of this is happening.  There is no apparent coordination with local authorities — indeed the mayor and governor have explicitly asked  those forces to leave — and they are definitely using offensive tactics with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and other agents against the crowd.  To be sure, there are trouble makers in the ranks of the protesters.  However, the vast majority are peaceful.  Additionally, with proper techniques and coordination, peaceful protesters are likely to cooperate in identifying the bad apples in the crowd as it is in the best interests of the other protesters to keep it peaceful and to not provoke an over reaction by law enforcement.  By all credible accounts, after weeks of protests, the demonstrations in Portland had settled into a peaceful occasion and were slowly dwindling in size.  That is until the federal authorities arrived and began using their storm trooper tactics.  In military combat gear, the federal authorities wear no name tags or unit identification badges, only a small generic “police” tag on their camos.  Reportedly, they are from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  One might ask who is guarding our borders from the supposed hoards coming across from Mexico if they are in Portland?  One might also ask what training these particular agencies give to their agents regarding community policing?

If you think it is an exaggeration, look at this video of a Navy veteran trying to talk to some of the agents and getting beaten and pepper sprayed while not even raising his arms or making any threatening movements.

All of this on its own is bad.  Very bad.  But it portends worse things to come.  Remember Mr. Trump’s words earlier this week.

“I’m going to do something, that I can tell you.  Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess.  We’re not going to let this happen in our country.  Look at what’s going on — all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats.  All run, really, by the radical left.”

So, first of all, only Democrat mayors are “bad.”  Secondly, there are currently no violent demonstrations in Philadelphia, Detroit or Baltimore or other cities he is going to “dominate.”  This is pure, unabashed partisan politics using federal law enforcement agencies for his personal gain.

Additionally, the hypocrisy is all too familiar.  The rationale behind the Portland deployment is to protect against citizens expressing their First Amendment rights on federal property.  In 2018 Mr. Trump gave full pardons to two Oregonians — father and son — that set fire in 2016 to 139 acres of federal land during Red Flag Warning conditions, endangering firefighters working on another fire nearby.  It resulted in a 40 day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by protesters supporting their cause.  He considered these men to be patriots.  Peaceful protesters in cities are considered to be criminals.

As I have written in this space before, I was very involved in figuring out Saddam Hussein’s next moves during Gulf War I.  We figured out after awhile that he pretty much always announced what he intended to do.  He couldn’t always carry it out, but he was pretty straightforward in his pronouncements.  Mr. Trump is the same way.  He announces exactly what he plans to do.

Here is the diabolical back drop to his strategy.  In my 8 May piece “American Carnage” I wondered aloud about how Mr. Trump could have so badly botched the national response to the pandemic and opined that perhaps it was deliberate.  I am now sure of it.  He did not create the pandemic, but he is going to use it to his advantage.  Similarly, he will use the Black Lives Matter movement to declare that they are terrorists working to destroy America.  He already barely hides his racism in this regard.  Yesterday in a speech he blamed Mexico (again) and the BLM protests for the spread of the Coronavirus in the South and Southwest.  He repeatedly declares that if the Democrats win the election, they will “destroy the suburbs,” a not-so-subtle racist canard.

Many pundits and political experts, as well as average citizens, have wondered for weeks and months why Mr. Trump refuses to put forward a national effort to halt the pandemic and to address racial injustice.  It dawned on me yesterday that as former Maryland Lt. Governor and National Republican Chairman Michael Steele explained on TV yesterday — this is his plan.  In other words, he will use the chaos currently engulfing our country to his advantage.  He will trot out again his beliefs that the the Constitution gives him “absolute power” and that “I alone can fix it.”  These will form the basis for action on his part to interfere in an election that he is already claiming — nearly daily — is rigged.  He is against mail-in ballots (even though he, his family, many of his aides and many service members vote by mail) and has installed a long-time ally as Postmaster General.  Mail bags mysteriously disappearing?  Mail trucks mysteriously bursting into flames?  The imagination can run wild.

The point is that we will not succumb to an outright coup on his part.  It will be gradual with incremental decisions and policies that set the stage for him to declare the election invalid and that he must stay on to save the country.  He is on record multiple times, most recently in his Fox News interview with Mike Wallace, that he will not accept the outcome of the election if he thinks it’s rigged.  Asked directly if he would accept the results he said,

“I have to see.  Look — I have to see.  No, I’m not just going to say yes.  I’m not going to say no.”

Since many of the states will use mail-in ballots, it could be days or weeks before the official results are in.  If the election is close as the polls close on Election Night, and the results change dramatically against Mr. Trump when the absentee, provisional and other ballots are counted, he could well declare the entire election a fraud and cancel it.  He is on record with the 2018 Florida election — which was very close and looked as if it would go against his preferred candidates — as saying that only ballots counted on Election Day should be valid.  He tweeted without offering a single piece of evidence,

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged.  An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected.  Must go with Election Night.”

Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis both won their races.

We already know that Mr. Trump will do anything that benefits him.  There is no ethical, moral or legal bottom for him.  He now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney and shares Mr. Trump’s belief in an Imperial Presidency.

The U.S. military put Mr. Trump on notice after they were used in a political stunt at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. for his bible thumping campaign photo op that they would not be used for political purposes.  Thus, Mr. Trump went to his flunkies in DHS (the top position and most of the sub-agencies are headed by “acting” leaders that do not have Senate approval) in order to create his own personal police force to pursue his personal goals.

Some may think that this is a “Chicken Little” scenario.  Alarmist.  Couldn’t happen here.  That’s not America.  Stop hyperventilating.  No way.  I hope that you are correct.  Personally, I am watching out for our “Reichstag Fire” moment.

 

 

 


The Mystery of Masks

As the number of deaths in the U.S. from the Coronavirus passes 140,000 (a number that just a few months ago would have been unthinkable), experts — actual doctors and scientists knowledgeable in the subject, not politicians — nearly unanimously agree that wearing a mask in public would significantly decrease the transmission of the disease and give us a chance to get it under control.  A seemingly innocuous precaution that is not a particular burden.  And yet.  Somehow it has become a major political issue often resulting in rude and belligerent behavior and sometimes, violence.

“No shirt, no shoes, no service” is an iconic sign posted in restaurants and shops around the country, especially in tourist or beach areas.  No one seems to have a problem with that requirement.  A sign that says “Please wear a mask in the store” somehow elicits the vulgar expression “F*** You!” and worse.  Somehow a mask has become an alleged Constitutional issue although I am hard pressed to find a single Constitutional scholar that can delineate how a mask worn to protect us all from a virulent disease is impinging on anyone’s rights.

Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Bahamas and many other countries around the world will not allow tourists from the U.S. into their countries or requires them to quarantine because of our extremely poor record in combating the pandemic.  We are now the “dirty, disease spreading” refugees shunned by the rest of the world.

I look at it this way.  Not wearing a mask is like drunk driving.  Perhaps if you do it you will make it home safely, but you have endangered yourself, your family, friends, and everyone that you encounter on the way.  Chances are you will kill some innocent person just doing their best, going home from picking up the kids or a quick run to the grocery for some milk.  It is in the public good that we crack down hard on drunk drivers.  It is in the public good that we all wear masks.

Unfortunately, we have a growing number of selfish folks that can give any number of reasons why they do not mask up, none of which hold any credible explanation other than the fact that they are so self-centered that they are entitled to do whatever they want, the rest of us be damned.

With such a blatant disregard of the community and social welfare in mind, we will never get this pandemic under control.  Ironically, we know exactly how to get the situation under control and begin to safely open up schools and businesses, but no one seems to want to do it, least of all our political leaders.

In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, the president expounded about all sorts of issues for an hour.  No description I can give here would do justice to the amount of lies, misstatements and delusional thinking that went on during the interview.  To his credit, Mr. Wallace held Mr. Trump accountable during his ramblings and fact-checked him on several issues in real time.

Specifically with respect to the ongoing pandemic Mr. Trump said, among other things, that we only have so many cases because we do more testing than anybody (tests are up 37 percent and the number of cases are up 194 percent according to Fox News); but that is okay because, according to Mr. Trump, “many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test.  Many of them — don’t forget, I guess it’s like 99.7 percent, people are going to get better and in many cases they’re going to get better very quickly”; responding to a question about his multiple statements that the coronavirus will just disappear Mr. Trump said “I’ll be right eventually”; and so on.  Really, I recommend that you read the transcript for yourself and think about the fact that this man controls the nuclear codes.  But I digress.

When asked specifically about wearing masks and whether there should be a national mandate to wear them, as has been done in the countries around the world that have a far better handle on this pandemic than we do, he said,

“No, I want people to have a certain freedom and I don’t believe in that [wearing masks].  No, and I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wears a mask everything disappears.”

And there we have it.  There is no national strategy to combat the pandemic and the person that should be setting the example and showing leadership in a crisis refuses to step up.  Some state governors take their cue from Mr. Trump and so there are cases like in Georgia where the governor is suing the mayor of Atlanta because she put out a mandatory mask order to help alleviate the crisis in her city.  And on and on and on and yet we wonder why we are having a problem.

We are apparently a nation of idiots (Covidiots) that think some how taking measures to stop the spread of a killer disease is violating their right to do whatever they want.  They should take a high school civics class and study what the word “freedom” really means in the United States of America.  It most definitely is not the right to do whatever one likes.

Here is my bottom line that should stop everyone in their tracks.  We are 4.3% of the world’s population and we have 24% of the deaths from the pandemic.  To quote the great philosopher Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”


In Case You Missed It

In case you missed it, the Confederate States of America (CSA) ceased to exist 155 years ago.  It will not rise again.  The current divisiveness over Confederate symbols, flags, and names for military bases makes no sense to me.  As I have written in this space before, there was a time when I was a young boy that I bought into the culture of the “Lost Cause” — the idea of a chivalrous, valiant, and courageous battle of the southern states against the oppressors from the North.  But, then I grew up.  I learned history.  I grasped what the Confederate States stood for.  I was appalled that many of the military leaders of the CSA were West Point graduates who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and that they turned into traitors willing to destroy the country to which they pledged their allegiance.  And, oh yeah, they were losers.

Even today one will hear arguments that the war was really about “States Rights” (the right to enslave other human beings), or to preserve a “way of life” (based on the enslavement of other human beings) or to keep their economy from being destroyed (an economy based on free labor from the enslavement of other human beings).  It doesn’t take much to realize what all the code words mean.

Arguments that the majority of Confederate soldiers were not slave holders but were merely protecting their families and homes doesn’t hold water when you realize the psychology of those times.  While they may not personally have enslaved other human beings, they knew that no matter how bad their life might be, someone else was worse off and could be looked down upon as sub-human, abused, and treated as property — which made their own lot in life more acceptable.

The Defense Authorization Act working its way through Congress contains an amendment to rename the ten U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals and directs the Department of Defense to no longer name anything after anyone or any battle victory or any other landmark from the Confederacy.  The Worst President Ever is threatening to veto the bill — putting in jeopardy the funding for our military currently fighting over seas — because of that provision.  Ridiculous.

Let’s look at the facts.  Of the ten bases, five were built and named during World War I, five during World War II.  Each of the bases were named for a general from that state in an effort to smooth the way for annexation of land needed to build the bases to fight our wars.  Local politics was mostly the reason for naming the bases, not some glorification of their military prowess or heroism.  Indeed, several of those generals were among the worst in military history, wasting lives on ill-conceived and poorly executed battle plans.  Losers.

And the monuments.  Yes, let’s look at the Confederate monuments that are now slowly coming down.  Of the roughly 740 monuments that remain, almost 700 of them were put up in the decades after 1900.  Nearly 400 in 1900-1920 were established in cities and towns.  The main source of those statues?  A powerful and determined lobbying group we know as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were responsible for the vast majority of them.  Ostensibly their cause was to honor their gallant fathers and grandfathers but they were so readily received because in post-Reconstruction America it was a clear signal to Black Americans that they may be free of their enslavement, but the rules and societal norms of the slave era had not changed.  Imagine as the free son or daughter of a former slave going to the county court house seeking justice and outside the building is a monument to a Confederate soldier or to someone like John B. Gordon (for whom a fort in Georgia is named) who was later the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.  Intimidation was the goal and it clearly sent a signal that there was no justice under any law for Black Americans, regardless of what may be written in the statutes.

The Confederate battle flag came into popular use during the 1950’s and 60’s.  For example, it was flown at the state capital in Georgia beginning in 1956 and over the capital in South Carolina in 1962.  Coincidentally, one might suppose, with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement?  (Thankfully, they were removed after the shooting in a Charleston church in 2015, but not without a political fight.  Last week the Mississippi legislature voted to remove it from their state flag.)  Just today Mr. Trump got on Twitter and chastised NASCAR officials for banning the flag from their race tracks.  The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps only recently banned the flag from all of its bases, ships, aircraft and property.

Cries that the removal of these symbols of treason and oppression are attempts to “rewrite history” fall on deaf ears in my case.  The only rewriting is the canard that these symbols are somehow proud vestiges of America’s culture and founding principles and that they reflect the American spirit.  The only American spirit that they reflect is that of white supremacy.  When armed right wing militia groups demonstrate in Michigan or Oregon carrying Confederate flags, they are not celebrating their heritage.  They are purposely carrying a symbol of their hate for the “others” — anyone who does not have the same color skin as they do.

Under the First Amendment anyone can fly any flag they care to fly.  If some redneck thinks that a giant Confederate battle flag flapping from the back of his pickup truck somehow makes him more manly, have at it.  To me it only shows a heaping pile of insecurity on his part.  Or ignorance.  Or discrimination.  Or all of the above.  However, no institution in the United States government should be a part of glorifying a shameful part of our history.  In my opinion, no corporation, sports authority or any other public entity should support that cause either.

We cannot rewrite history. No one is trying to wipe out our past by advocating for the removal of these symbols.   However, we do need to write a fuller history that incorporates all elements of that past.  As the cliche goes, we need to include the good, the bad and the ugly and to put it all into context.

Arguments ensue and demagogues rabble rouse over the question of “where does it stop?”  How far do we go in understanding the flaws and failures of those who went before us?  Outside of the hate mongering and fear laced rhetoric, it is a difficult question.  Who should we honor and how should we do that are legitimate questions that deserve consideration through community input, scholarly research, historical context and the realization that no one of us is perfect.  Perhaps we differentiate between those that laid out fundamental principles toward which our nation continues to strive versus those that worked to hold back progress and to deny freedom for all.

It seems to me that it is a no-brainer as to where to start.  There should be no tax payer supported monuments or other honors for those that forswore their oath to the Constitution, turned into traitors against the United States of America, and fought a war to enforce the enslavement of our fellow Americans.

After 155 years, enough is enough!