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!


Putin’s Obedient Servant

As Mr. Donald J. Trump continues to work hard over the last week to cement his status as the Worst President Ever, there are numerous examples of his total failure as a leader and as a person.  Whether it is continuing to espouse that COVID-19 will “sort of disappear”; promoting “white power”; holding thinly disguised rallies at national monuments; or running for president of the Confederacy, there are large numbers of occasions when one can only shake your head and hope that the election gets here soon.

And then it gets worse.

There may be no part of the job of President as important as that of Commander-in-Chief.  People die when the president gets it wrong.  For that matter, people sometimes die even when everything goes as planned.  It is a tough world and it is part of the pact between the military and the American people that service men and women will go in harms way to protect and defend the Constitution and our way of life in exchange for the promise that their lives, talent and American treasure will not be wasted in futile exploits and that those in charge — all the way to the president — will do all that they can to keep them safe in an inherently dangerous profession.  In the military it is known as force protection.

As a country, we can be reasonably certain that the recent revelations that Russian operatives worked with the Taliban in Afghanistan to put a bounty on the lives of US and coalition service members are true.  The evidence is startlingly clear.  The price for an American death was as much as 100,000 dollars.

Within a normal administration this would have caused one of several, or multiple, courses of action to kick in immediately upon learning of this threat.  The Russians would be warned at the highest level of government that this was a dangerous game that must stop immediately.  Likely, sanctions would be leveled against all involved.  Probably, especially if further evidence was uncovered, those involved in Afghanistan would have been on the receiving end of a capture or kill operation.

As we know, sadly this is not a normal administration.  The official announcement was that no action will be taken against Russia.

And then it gets worse.

Mr. Trump says, “I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.”  These remarks came on 1 July after several days of credible reporting that Mr. Trump continuously decried and belittled.

The excuses for inaction have come fast and furious.  Among those floated were the assertion that Mr. Trump was never briefed on the situation.  When that was reported to be inaccurate, the excuse was that it may have been in a written intelligence document but no one verbally briefed him.  When that did not quite pass the smell test,  the reason given was that the intelligence reports were not “verifiable.”  Well now.  That is not an intelligence term.  Most  intelligence reports in this vein are not verifiable.  The terms of art are “credible” or “not credible.”  When there is credible evidence of a terrorist attack, it is not verified that an attack is actually going to happen until it does.  The country does not — or at least did not — wait for an attack before acting.  The killing of Osama bin Laden was based on credible intelligence — they did not know for sure that he was in that villa at that time — it was verified when they got a DNA match from the dead body.  The terms that Mr. Trump and his enablers use are just gobbledygook designed to deflect from Mr. Trump’s dereliction of duty as Commander-in-Chief.

Rather than being bogged down in the weeds over who was briefed and to what level, etc. etc. etc.  the real question should be what action would a president take once the story broke?  The answer is easy.  The president picks up the phone and calls for an immediate update and then works with his staff for appropriate responses to counter the Russians or to put out a credible explanation as to what actually happened should the facts have been misinterpreted.

So now we all know about it.  Who knew about it when is not now important.  What is Mr. Trump going to do?  Apparently, whine about how it is unfair to him and that it is all designed to make him look bad and on and on with his usual “poor me” schtick.  Despicable.

It seems that the lives of US service men and women fighting our nation’s wars are less valuable than whatever political ax Mr. Trump has to grind.

The signal to Mr. Putin?  Do whatever you want Vlad because the USA is not going to hold you accountable.  It is open season on Americans abroad and on our national security at home.  Kill our folks.  Interfere in our election.  Conduct cyber attacks on our businesses and infrastructure.  Do whatever you want because the stable genius in the White House will not do anything to upset his personal apple cart full of Russian money.

To me, that is the best and most plausible explanation as to why Mr. Trump refuses, time and time and time again, to do anything to upset his “friend” Vladimir Putin.  My sense is not that Mr. Trump is protecting Mr. Putin.  My strong belief is that Mr. Putin is protecting Mr. Trump’s secrets and Mr. Trump is afraid that if he says or does the wrong thing, the Russians will put it all out there.  Putin is the name, blackmail the game.

No one with oversight responsibility has yet to see Mr. Trump’s taxes or the financial records of Trump, Inc.  Mr. Trump has fought long and hard in court to keep those records secret.  I am willing to bet that those records are full of illegal at the worst, unethical at the best, transactions.  Mr. Trump and Trump, Inc. had multiple bankruptcies.  US banks stopped lending him money for his far flung schemes.  My bet is that Russian oligarchs, beholden to Mr. Putin, bailed him out and in return Mr. Trump and his businesses helped the Russian Mafia to launder money and to conduct other illegal schemes.

Have you ever seen the movie The Godfather?  It’s all you need to know as to how Mr. Trump is entangled with the Russians.  And believe me, Mr. Trump is not the Godfather.  I don’t think he is even as smart or as skilled as Fredo.

We know that our values are totally corrupted when the Commander-in-Chief will take no action to protect our troops and the Party of Trump in the Congress stays silent.  It is hard for me to decide which is more loathsome — a president that will not do his job or members of Congress that protect and defend a corrupt president rather than our troops.


Testing Kills

“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”

Donald J. Trump on 15 June speaking of the number of coronavirus cases.

Really?  Just like if we stopped pregnancy tests there would be no more pregnancies?  Or if there were no cancer tests there would be no more cancer?

I suppose that I should not be surprised at Mr. Trump’s comments by now.  He failed every leadership test that the pandemic threw his way so what would change now?  His plan seems to be to pretend that there is nothing wrong and to resume business as usual.  What else to expect from the Worst President Ever?

Just when you think it cannot get any worse, of course it does.  As we know, Mr. Trump decided that the best way to prevent anyone thinking that we still have a COVID-19 problem is to pretend that we don’t by holding a rally with some 20,000 people in a closed space in a state that is one of the current pandemic hot spots.

Unfortunately, this appears to be the strategy for the entire Trump administration.  Yesterday Vice President Mike Pence authored an article in the Wall Street Journal that said, in part:

“In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections.  Such panic is overblown.  Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”

Most public health officials agree that we are not in a second wave of the pandemic.  They believe that we are still in the early stages of infections and that the second wave is a few months away.  This of course, is page one of Mr. Trump’s playbook.  When things are not going well, yell “hey everybody, look over there, the nasty media is at it again.  Pay no attention to my incompetence.”  Most preposterously, the Vice President went on the claim that:

The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different.  We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future.  That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”

“Cause for celebration”?  Shameful.

The man is pandering to one man and one man only.  Mr. Trump.

On March 15 of this year there were roughly 60 deaths known to be a result of the pandemic.  As I write, we have more than 119,000 Americans dead.  Americans dead.  In three months.  And we should celebrate?

By any measure we have failed in this crisis.  Take any metric that you choose; total deaths, total cases, deaths per capita, whatever, and the USA is in on the wrong side of the power curve.  There are 7.94 million known cases in the world.  The US has 2.18 million of them.  Roughly 28% of the world’s cases.  There are 435,000 deaths world wide.  The US has about 119,000 of them.  Roughly 27% of them.  In what is supposed to be the greatest country in the world with the greatest scientists, doctors and public health facilities we are doing very poorly indeed.

But, yeah, go to Oklahoma and celebrate.

Following the administration’s logic as espoused by the President and Vice President, if there were no testing there would be no coronavirus deaths.  Therefore, testing kills.  We should stop testing immediately.

 


There Is A Major Storm On The Horizon

As we all ponder the significance to our country of the many protests and responses to the horrific murder of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, some local issues with national importance may be overlooked.  In the end, all politics is local as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once opined.  In each locality and municipality we can work to improve our local community relationships and to ferret out the institutional racism that most citizens must now recognize.

Most striking to me in the video chronicling Mr. Floyd’s murder is the unabashed, even nonchalant way in which the officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck and held it there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  It took my breath away to realize that the officers were equally unabashed at knowing numerous people were recording their actions even as those civilians pleaded with the officers to let him breathe.  The officers just did not care.  Clearly, they thought that there would be no retribution for their actions.  There was no shame.  While I firmly believe that by far the vast majority of law enforcement personnel are good people that do the right thing, in this case there must have been a climate in the Minneapolis police force that gave these officers a sense that there were no personal consequences to their actions.

In that vein, the climate in Washington D.C. is like a powder keg waiting for a spark to set it off.  As in most cities, demonstrations have been quite peaceful, interrupted by periodic looting and destruction to buildings perpetrated by petty criminals and a small group of wing nut anarchists from both ends of the ideological spectrum.  Yet, this is also a city problem that may have national repercussions.

You would not know that nearly all of the protests in the district, and indeed around the country, were peaceful if you only listened to the impeached Worst President Ever and all around vile human being Donald J. Trump or his side kick Attorney General William Barr.  To me, the unprovoked attack on peaceful demonstrators assembled in Lafayette Square last Monday in the District, using rubber bullets, flash bang explosives and chemical weapons was a dangerous turning point.  The only objective was to provide a photo-op for the president to strut around and hold up a Bible in front of historic St. John’s Church in a manner that seemed to convey that it was some symbolic object with which he was unfamiliar.

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”  — of unknown origin.

Many of you have been to Washington D.C., either as tourists or because you live or work there.  Still, it is worth reviewing the local political relationships to totally understand the danger inherent in the current situation.  Washington is used to demonstrations.  They happen all of the time.  Many of them occur in Lafayette Square directly across (a closed) Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.  The Washington Police Department (officially the Metropolitan Police Department) is well trained and used to dealing with demonstrators.  Here is the problem.  The MPD does not have jurisdiction over the federal portions of the district.  A plethora of federal law enforcement agencies have that jurisdiction depending on the situation.  Additionally, Washington D.C. has a mayor and city council, but under the Home Rule Act passed by Congress in December 1973, any laws, regulations, actions by the city government and just about anything else that the Congress or federal government does not like can be over-ruled or thrown out.  Indeed the federal government moved to federalize the MPD this week before vigorous political push back put that on temporary hold.

So here is the set up as I write. It is a very fluid situation that could change for the better or worse on short notice.  The mayor and MPD in the district essentially have been shut out of dealing with their own citizens and controlling their own streets.  The federal government, under the direct personal control of Mr. Trump’s very own Luca Brasi, Attorney General Barr, has taken over the city.  As documented by the Washington Post, Washington is now an occupied city.  There are at least sixteen federal law enforcement and military agencies with thousands of people on the ground.  These agencies range from the obvious such as the FBI to the less obvious where agencies have been deputized and given unique authorities outside their charters to patrol the streets and make arrests including the Bureau of Prisons, the DEA, the ATF, ICE, Customs and Border Protection, to name a few.  None of these organizations normally operate in the district to police the streets and many do not have training to manage peaceful demonstrations.  More ominously, many have been recorded as being in riot gear without name badges, insignia or organizational badges.  Never a good sign.

Additionally, 3300 National Guard troops from ten states are operating in the district.  This is in addition to the 1200 National Guard troops from the district that are under federal control, rather than local.  In the fifty states governors control the National Guard unless they are federalized in extreme conditions.  The mayor of Washington has no control over the Guard coming from her own city.

Wait!  There’s more!

1,600 regular Army troops from Ft. Bragg North Carolina and Ft. Drum New York are deployed in military bases within a 15 minute drive of downtown Washington.  Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared that he would not allow U.S. military forces to be used against Americans on the streets of the nation’s capital and ordered them back to their home bases.  Within hours the president overrode that order and they remain in the D.C. area.

For what purpose, you may ask, does the city of Washington need 4500 Guard troops, 1600 regular Army troops and several thousand federal law enforcement agents?  Good question, as the demonstrations in Washington have been generally peaceful and while large, not as big as in many other cities across the land.

There is one purpose and one purpose only.  They are being used as political campaign talking points by Mr. Donald J. Trump so that he can say that he is “tough” and that the only way to deal with “domestic terrorists” (as of yesterday the FBI stated that they have no evidence of any terrorists among the protesters) is to “dominate” them.  This while he sits in his basement and fortifies the White House — the People’s House — with extra defenses well beyond the grounds, and speaks of “vicious dogs” waiting to get at the demonstrators like some third world despot.

It is political theater.

But political theater with a cost.  Not only does it trample the First Amendment rights of citizens to assemble peacefully to protest against policies — and yes, politicians — of which they disapprove, it significantly increases the mistrust on all sides and with so many elements at play it could easily blow up into a major tragedy where numerous civilians are injured or killed in the ensuing melee.  It also puts law enforcement and troops in difficult situations that may cause retaliation and injury.

I put the heaviest blame on Congressional Republicans.  Most cannot be found anywhere that will speak up against Mr. Trump’s boast to use American troops against American citizens.  There is video available of reporters trying to get a comment from a large array of “name” Congressional Republicans.  They should be embarrassed and hope that the tape gets lost.  Most shuffled off while mumbling that they did not know anything about it.  Some proclaimed they could not comment because they were late for lunch.  Others just tried to pretend they did not hear the question.  Yesterday, only Republican Senators Murkowski (Alaska) and Romney (Utah) finally spoke publicly against the use of troops in our cities.  Shameful.

God help us if American Guardsmen or Army troops open fire on American citizens.  I fear that we are not out of danger of that happening.  In recent days former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, several former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and numerous Admirals and Generals have raised serious objections to the president’s boasts that he will send “thousands and thousands of heavily armed military personnel” to stop the “rioting.”  All military personnel that I knew throughout my 28 year career in the naval service would join me in saying that we signed up to to defend the Constitution and to protect the American people, not to fight our neighbors in our cities’ streets.

There is no organized demonstration scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 6 June.  That is to say no one organization is planning for people to take to the streets like with the Women’s March.  However, local media and social media are buzzing with news that people are going to come to Washington tomorrow in what could be one of the largest demonstrations so far.  The MPD Chief is on record with his concern that it could be one of the largest the city has ever seen.  More important than whether it is big, bigger or biggest is how the demonstrators and federal law enforcement forces face off against each other.  Pray that it is peaceful but it has all the ingredients of a disaster.

As many of you know, I have worried for three years as to what lengths Mr. Trump will go to consolidate his power.  His autocratic tendencies are well documented.  He feels invincible after no one has stopped his relentless assault on our national norms and values.  As an expert opportunist, it will not take much for him to make good on his promise to send troops into our streets to show that he is “very strong.”  It helps him to successfully deflect from his total screw up in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.  Once the Army is deployed in Washington, what happens next?  Where does he stop?  How does it end?  What if he loses the election and claims it was due to fraud?  These are dangerous times.

I have faith in my fellow citizens.  I have faith in our collective values.  We will survive the struggle.  In the short run, let’s hope that cooler heads prevail.

 


The Supremes And Our Presidential Election

While you were focused on the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating impact on our society, other government functions continue as intended.  Among those continuing to function, although for the first time in history they did so via video conferences, was the Supreme Court.  A number of pending cases could produce profound precedents that could change the ways our government functions.

Among these are two cases involving the Electoral College and whether or not the individual Electors are obligated to vote for the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates with the most popular votes in their respective states.  The two cases stem from the 2016 election and are Chiafalo v. Washington [the state] and Colorado Department of State v. Baca.  In both cases, Electors voted for candidates other than the one with the most popular votes in their state.  In the Chiafalo case the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that under the Constitution the state has the power to enforce the state law that requires Electors to vote for their party’s candidate.  In the Baca case, however, the The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th District (in Denver) over-ruled the state’s law requiring Electors to vote for their party’s candidate saying that under the Constitution, once an Elector is appointed, they are free to vote as they choose.

In all, in 2016 seven Electors voted for candidates that were not the one’s they were supposed to represent.

It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide which determination is correct, with profound implications for our future elections.  The practices and traditions which have served us well for all these many years could be codified through the Court’s action or it could be thrown on its ear.

So what does this mean to us?  Perhaps a little background is in order as the Electoral College (which is a process rather than a place — and is never mentioned in the Constitution) is often misunderstood by many of us.

The Founding Fathers did not trust the great American unwashed average citizen to make rational choices as to our elected officials.  The House of Representatives was to be “The People’s House” where they could participate in governing, but the real power was in the Senate.  Recall that Senators were not popularly elected until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment which was ratified in 1913.  Before that, State Legislatures elected each state’s Senators.

Likewise, the Founding Fathers did not trust a direct popular vote for president.  Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that the Electors would have the “information and discernment” to determine the best person for President.  Under the original text of the Constitution, state legislatures selected the Electors and each Elector would cast two ballots for president.  The candidate with the most votes (assuming it is a majority) would be President and the candidate with the second most votes would be Vice President.  Then came the election of 1800 where Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied with 73 votes each.  The decision then went to the House of Representatives where after 36 ballots (neither could garner a majority), Jefferson was voted in as President.

Following this near debacle, the Twelfth Amendment was ratified in 1804.  This modified how Electors cast their ballots, separating the vote for President from that of Vice President.  It did not designate how the Electors would be chosen.

Over time, most states decided that the Electoral votes from their state would go to the candidate with the most popular votes.  (Maine and Nebraska have laws that divide the Electoral votes by Congressional district.  It is thus possible that votes from those states could go to two candidates.)  Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia (they gained Electoral votes under the Twenty-third Amendment in 1961) have laws that bind the Electors to vote the same as the popular vote.

In practice, when we vote we do not vote for the president.  We vote for Electors who promise to vote for a particular candidate.  Most Electors are party luminaries or workers in the same party as the candidate.  Where laws do not govern the specifics of how a state’s Electors must vote, it is assumed that by pledging their loyalty to a particular party’s candidate, they will so vote.

Over time, “faithless Electors” — those that do not follow the popular vote — have not decided any election.  However, there were at least five presidential elections where the winner would have been different if ten Electors had changed their vote.  Likewise, there have been five elections where a president lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College vote (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016).

Here is another fun fact about presidential elections.  If the electoral vote is tied, the decision rests with the House for President and the Senate for Vice President.  But here’s the rub.  Each state votes as a block and each state counts as one vote.  Thus the vote for President from the North Dakota delegation (with only one Representative) counts the same as the vote from California with 53 Representatives.

Clearly, our president is not, and never has been, decided by the popular vote in any way that would be comparable to our election for every other office in the land since 1913.  Over the years there have been many attempts to do away with the current system and to have the voters directly decide on the President and Vice President.  It would require an Act of Congress and ratification from the states to do so because it would be a change to the Constitution.  The closest attempt to change it was the passage of a resolution in the House of Representatives in 1969 calling for a direct vote with a run off if no candidate received at least forty percent of the vote.  The resolution failed to pass in the Senate.

The dilemma the Supreme Court faces is how to interpret the Constitution without upending two centuries of practice.  Essentially, our country devised a new way of electing our presidents, different from the original ideas of the Founding Fathers, even if we keep the relics and traditions of that system.  If the “originalists” on the Court decide that the Constitution intended for Electors to use their discretion and vote for whomever they want, the popular vote could become meaningless as there would be no obligation to vote for the winner in their respective states.  They could vote for anyone, potentially throwing the system into chaos.  If the Court decides that states can in fact determine how their Electors are chosen and that the Electors must vote as per the state’s law, then they run the risk of voiding what some consider to be the original intent of the Founding Fathers.

Given the ongoing destruction of long-standing norms, practices and ethical behavior that previously stood the test of time, it is imperative that the Court codify existing practice and give the states the power to best determine how their Electors will be allocated.  Further, the Congress should again address the issues surrounding the use of Electors to determine our presidents.  Even if one is in favor of the way we have come to interpret the value of the Electoral College (theoretically giving more states a chance to participate in the selection of our presidents) it is time to put into law how those Electors are chosen.  To do otherwise invites disaster in either the near or long term.  I have voiced my opinion in this space in previous postings that I believe we should do away with the anachronistic Electoral College and provide for direct popular votes for president.

Either way, we should not leave it up to chance.  The forthcoming decision from the Supreme Court will have a direct impact on our future elections.  Let’s hope that they get it right and keep the states in charge of enforcing votes from their Electors.  The Congress must then follow up to instill a rigorous and uniform method for selecting Electors and their subsequent votes — either by putting our current system into law or by abolishing the Electoral College and providing for the direct election of President and Vice President.  The future of our Republic demands it.

 

 


American Carnage

During his 2016 Inaugural Address, Mr. Donald J. Trump talked about “American carnage” — a dystopian view of the United States that he promised to fix.  Little did we know that actually he was predicting the future.  Our country is in shambles and disarray and the Trump Administration does nothing.

Mr. Trump and his cronies are trying out two strategies moving forward during the pandemic caused by the coronavirus:

  1. Declare victory and go home.  We could have lost 2 million Americans and it looks like we’ll only lose about 150,000 so, as Mr. Jared Kushner said from the White House last week, people should recognize “that this is a great success story.”  The number of deaths is exaggerated anyway.  Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.
  2. Make the case that all Americans are “warriors” that are fighting to regain the American way of life just like in WWI or WWII and of course there will be casualties along the way. This is war and people die in wars.  Get over it.  Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.

Meanwhile, over 77,212 Americans are dead.  The virus is spreading into areas that have yet to feel the full brunt of the pandemic.  There is no widespread testing, tracing or methodical isolation.  I have concluded that for most Americans, we are on our own.  We will get no help from the government.  We will have to make personal choices as to what is safe and what is not.  As the song playing in the background during Mr. Trump’s factory visit in Arizona says, “Live and Let Die.”

The federal government, as a reflection of Mr. Trump, has failed miserably in fighting the pandemic.  Mr. Trump’s leadership has been inept, incompetent, divisive, vindictive, callous, resentful and antagonistic.  He’s worked hard to win the award as The Worst President Ever.  In fact, in my feverish mind with too much time on my hands, I believe he has worked too hard to reach this level of destruction throughout the land.  It cannot just be incompetence and a failure to learn from what works or does not.  It has to be deliberate.  Why is that?  Why would he work so hard to destroy the U.S.A.?

There are several possibilities.

  • It is deliberate.  Mr. Trump did not invent the coronavirus or introduce into the U.S.  Once here, however, perhaps he seized the opportunity to use it to fundamentally disrupt our way of life and to bring us down in the eyes of the world — no longer the greatest country on Earth.  There is, after all, a reason that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Mr. Trump to be president.  Why would Mr. Trump call Mr. Putin when news broke that General Michael Flynn’s prosecution was dropped by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as he did yesterday?  What were they celebrating?  Did the Russians work on Mr. Trump’s behalf for the opportunity to destroy us?
  • It is a sign that Mr. Trump is mentally ill.  I don’t mean this in any “the dude’s cray cray” kind of way.  I mean it in a serious, albeit judgmental, way that he is ill.  He is a known narcissist.  He claims he is a stable genius.  He acts irrationally.  He has no empathy for the tens of thousands dead.  He seriously suggested that people should inject cleaning disinfectants into their bodies to fight the virus.  He fires anyone that disagrees with him.  He lied about the magnitude of the threat.  He is vengeful.  He seems to enjoy chaos and dysfunction.  Perhaps he enjoys playing a bigger than life figure that commands death or salvation based on his whims.  Perhaps he enjoys the harm done to people, especially, it seems, in “blue” states.  Perhaps he is not just a text book case study of a bad leader but rather an unstable individual emotionally, intellectually and mentally unfit for the office.
  • It furthers his agenda.  The sad statistics are that a disproportionate number of the COVID-19 sufferers and especially deaths are immigrants, minorities and the poor.  For four years, Mr. Trump has raged about the “other” — those not “like us.”  He supports armed white militia members storming state capitals with their guns to insist on “liberation” from the safer at home policies around the country.  In his eyes they are “very good people.”  Just like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Mr. Trump tends to emphasize that many of those dying are old or with underlying health conditions.  They use the old “they were going to die anyway” meme.  Is this a chance to cull the herd in his mind just as some of these far right groups argue?  Under the cover of the pandemic his administration has implemented draconian measures at the border, denied asylum seekers respite as required by U.S. law, and limited legal immigration — all outside of and in addition to the travel restrictions in place.  From the moment he declared his candidacy for president in front of paid supporters he has railed against non-white (and for that matter non-male) members of our society.  Kids in cages anyone?  What he may or may not believe in his heart does not matter.  His actions are clear.
  • He cares only about himself and making money.  He honestly does not care how many Americans die or struggle financially as long as it does not impact him negatively.  Perhaps he sees an opportunity to profit financially off of the pandemic.  In short, he is an opportunist.  At the very least, Mr. Trump sees a chance to consolidate his position and to remove any impediments to his power within the government and to replace good people with lackeys.  Many Inspectors’ General professional life expectancy is measured in the amount of time before they do their job and call a foul on Mr. Trump.  There are gaping holes in the diplomatic corps and in every cabinet agency in the government.  Mr. Trump claims he does not need them.  Those that are left are not the A-Team or even the B-Team.  It is more like F-Troop.  At this point in time, it is obviously part of the plan to eliminate the “Deep State” as he sees it.  He does not care that the Deep State (of course there is no such thing) of professionals and experts are needed in times of crisis.  Jared Kushner will take care of it.  The pandemic covers nicely for an ever more blatant power grab beyond what we have seen over the last few years.  Mr. Trump has learned that he can get away with anything without consequences.

There may be other scenarios that may be equally plausible or outrageous.  The bottom line is that our national response to the crisis was badly bungled and continues to be an embarrassment.  The sad part is that this not nuances of policy.  People are dying.  The numbers continue to go up.  Many more will die as more and more states are pushed by Mr. Trump to ignore CDC guidelines and to open up their economies without the testing, tracing and isolation infrastructure in place.

Pay attention to what he says and does.  We have learned that he projects his personal feelings onto others and in the process of his complaining he tells us exactly what he intends to do to further destroy the norms, regulations and laws that govern our day to day discourse.

At one point I thought maybe we had Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show as president.  Ted was not deliberately a loose cannon, he just had no clue. Unfortunately, this is serious business.

Deliberate or not, Mr. Trump changed the American way of life well into the future, if not forever.


The Wrong Leader At The Wrong Time

Earlier this month I opined that Donald J. Trump was the worst president ever in our great country.  I have had nearly two weeks to reconsider that opinion and upon sober reflection I concluded that I was right.  He has only done more and more to solidify in my mind that he is, without doubt, the worst ever.

Besides demonstrating his total lack of intellectual ability or common sense by advocating for the ingestion of cleaning fluids to rid the lungs of the coronavirus (I hope that Mrs. Trump has child proof locks on the bleach cabinets in their house) and advocating for the revocation of journalists “Noble” Prizes (not a typo as he repeated it more than once — it appears he meant “Nobel” Prize but the actual award is a Pulitzer Prize in journalism), he continues to show a blinding lack of any leadership or organizational ability.  Perhaps we are lucky, in one sense, as his professed managerial acumen resulted in six bankruptcies.  A stable genius, indeed.  But then, what should we expect from a man that tells lies as easily as he breathes?  To date Mr. Trump told over 18,000 lies since assuming office.  Maybe that was cute, or Trump being Trump when he was holding his campaign rallies.  We are long past that.  Now, his lies are costing people their lives.  His response?  “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

We have no national effort to combat the biggest health threat to our country since 1918 and the biggest threat to our economy since the Great Depression.  Instead, we have a hodge-podge of fifty different governors trying their best to provide for their citizens.  Some are doing way better than others.  I live in one state on the East Coast so I cannot pretend to know what is best for the folks in the Dakotas or Kansas or Oregon, but we all know that the COVID-19 knows no boundaries and cares not about one’s ethnicity, social status or wealth.  The virus is truly an equal opportunity killer.

It is not an East Coast or West Coast phenomenon.  On a per capita basis, at the moment the worst hit county in the country is Lincoln County Arkansas.  The second worst is Bledsoe Tennessee.  Three counties in New York state are in the top ten but other top ten counties are in Nebraska, Iowa, and two in Ohio.

Yet, we continue to pretend that the worst is behind us even as the experts tell us the worst is still ahead.  Think of that.  As I write we are approaching one million people in the U.S. known to have been infected, roughly one-third of all known cases in the world.  The death count in the U.S. stands at 56,037 and rising, roughly one-quarter of all the COVID-19 deaths in the world.  Is the U.S. lacking in the knowledge and technical capability to fight this pandemic or do we have incompetent national leadership?

Now states are starting to loosen social distancing requirements and opening businesses, even as we still have a long, long way to go to attain testing levels that can sustain a prolonged effort to protect everyone.  In Georgia today one can get a massage but that same person cannot get a coronavirus test.  The masseuse cannot get one either.  What could go wrong?

Here is my question of the day.  Why did we essentially shut down the country in the middle of March when there were roughly 20,000 coronavirus cases in the entire country if we are going to reopen it when many of those states have over 20,000 cases just in their state alone?  How does this make sense  when experts — not Pollyanna politicians or wannabe “patriots” — say that we will certainly have a second wave of infections and having lifted our basic precautions, it will certainly be worse than what we have experienced.

Don’t believe it?  Look at what happened in the U.S. in 1918-1920 with the Spanish flu.  There was no vaccine then.  They practiced wearing masks and social distancing.  The parallels are startling.  Cities that relaxed their precautions had a devastating second wave.  That pandemic lasted two years with ups and downs.  There were three outcomes:  you died, you survived and gained immunity, or you did not get it.  Pretty much where we are a hundred years later.

Yesterday, Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Task Force said that we will not rid ourselves of this curse until there is a significant “breakthrough” in medical technology in the form of a new type of testing.  Experts do not see a viable vaccine for the public for at least a year, a time frame most think is wildly optimistic.

Clearly, we can judiciously re-open some businesses as we learn what is doable and what is not.  Take small steps to see how things develop.  There is near unanimity that the only way out is a comprehensive, organized, coherent strategy to implement testing, contact tracing, and isolating those infected.  Period.  Wishing it away, willing it away, or pretending it’s no big deal does not solve the problem.  Pitting cities and states against each other does not solve the problem.  Mr. Trump complaining in his best Rodney Dangerfield impersonation that “I don’t get no respect” does not solve the problem.  It takes money, lots of people, patience, and a will to make it happen across the country.

We know what we have to do.  With no national leadership it is infinitely more difficult.


The Ugly Facts

In the course of this crisis created by the coronavirus I have been pulling for the federal government to step up and fulfill its duty under the solid direction and knowledgeable leadership of the president.  I have given up hope that it will happen.  This leads me to wonder whether Donald J. Trump is the worst president in our life time or the worst president ever?  In my opinion, he is the worst ever.

Many historians compare Mr. Trump to President Herbert Hoover who is universally considered one of the worst.  He took no action to avert or to mitigate the Great Depression putting all of his faith in the capitalist system and the ethos of the survival of the fittest.  Indeed, he vetoed a 2.1 billion dollar relief bill (about 38 billion in today’s dollars) because it was full of “pork” and what he considered to be unproductive jobs such as federal works projects.

But Mr. Hoover is not considered the absolute worst.  That honor generally goes to President James Buchanan who favored the expansion of slavery and did nothing to stop southern states from seceding from the Union, resulting in the Civil War.  Mr. Buchanan, rest easy.  You are no longer the worst.

Where to begin to count the ways that Mr. Trump has earned this accolade?  To me there is one over-riding fact that cannot be ignored.  The greatest country on earth with the best health system in the world has the largest number of identified COVID-19 cases and the largest number of deaths.  In. The. World.  People are dying.  Over 32,000 Americans have lost their lives as I write this.  It isn’t theoretical anymore.  How can this be?  It is the result of the president’s dithering, lies, inaction, and a congenital need to be the center of everything but the leader of nothing that got us to this place. Precious time was wasted as the president told us it would magically go away.  Over the weekend, two newspapers laid out time lines of what the government knew and when they knew it.  As Mr. Trump told us it was all under control, dire warnings were relayed to him. People tried to take action and he stopped them.  He wants credit for stopping travelers from China from entering the U.S., a necessary but not sufficient action.  He fails to mention that after he declared the border shut, roughly 40,000 people entered the U.S. from China.  He then wasted nearly two months during which serious action could have been taken.  Thank you Mr. Trump.

Beware.  It will get worse in so many ways.  Two important areas of concern are his attempts to do away with all of the safeguards of our democracy and the other is his foolhardy need to “open up for business” in two weeks or less.  He cannot be trusted.  As one pundit put it, to Mr. Trump, truth is an adversary.

Some examples of his intolerance for criticism or oversight include the fact that there are 14 Inspector General (IG) positions vacant in the U.S. government.  Infamously, Mr. Trump fired the IG for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) because he did his job and followed the law in forwarding a whistle blower complaint to Congress.  In the short term, Mr. Trump demoted the IG in the Department of Defense who had been chosen by his fellow IGs in the government to oversee the recently passed stimulus package. Now there is no one. There are no Senate confirmed officials in the entire ODNI.  All have been fired or pushed out.  Mr. Trump likes “actings” as he calls them, because they do not have to answer to the Senate and he can make them do his bidding.

Yesterday he threatened to adjourn Congress by presidential decree so that he can appoint more “actings” without Senate approval and thus do away with all oversight from Congress.  This on top of his claim during his live melt-down on camera Monday that “when somebody is president of the United States your authority is total.”  Clearly he thinks he can run the entire United States like he ran the Trump Organization by just sitting in his office, talking on the phone and telling people what to do with little to no input.  Only, as he says, based on his “gut.”  Speaking of guts, where are the elected Republican members of Congress?  Why is there no rebuke to a president that wants to be an autocrat and is actively working in that direction?

More importantly to many Americans, is the question of how do we address this dual nightmare of a staggered economy and a virulent pandemic?  I do not trust the president to do the right thing.  I never thought I would write that.  I have disagreed with many past presidential policies over the years, but I always at my core thought that while I disagreed with them, they were doing what they fundamentally thought was good for our country.  Not so with Mr. Trump.  He does only what he thinks is good for him.

He is desperate to take credit for anything positive that takes place — such as putting his signature on relief checks to appear as if he, the benevolent monarch, is personally giving away money and not that it is tax payer money — while contorting himself into grotesque statements attempting to blame anyone or everyone for his massive failings.

Here is the ugly truth.  Many people, including the president, do not understand what flattening the curve of this pandemic actually means.  He misleads us on what mitigation means.  The steps that we have all taken to wear masks, practice social distancing and to stay home only buy time.  The coronavirus does not magically go away on 1 May or any time until there is a cure or a vaccine.  This idea that everything will be normal and no one else will die is the biggest lie of all.

Study the curves for yourself.  Most models do not go beyond sometime early this summer.  What do you think happens when the restrictions are lifted?  The number of sick and dying sky rocket.  Study the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920.  Even a cursory review reveals that many of the same mitigation efforts that we are using today were used then.  Cities like St. Louis and San Francisco had very strict regimes in place.  Cities like Philadelphia did not.  The differences in death totals is staggering between the two extremes.

How did it end?  When people built up a natural immunity or died.  There was no vaccine.  Just as we have no vaccine now.

Our current measures are designed to buy time.  Time to get sufficient treatment spaces and medical equipment in place to treat those infected.  Time to figure out the best way to treat the virus.  Time to develop a vaccine.  Time to build up our ability to test vast numbers of people.  Time to put a system in place to identify hot spots, isolate those specific people impacted and stop the virus from spreading.

So far we have none of those things and we won’t have them on 1 May.

A very difficult decision lies ahead.  It could be a year or more before all of those necessary conditions are in place.  Our economy cannot continue as it is for a year.  How many lives should be lost in exchange for restarting the economy?  I don’t know. There are those that argue that we should just let the virus run its course.  If hundreds of thousands die, so be it.  It is the natural resolution to the crisis. Just as with the Spanish flu pandemic, one builds up an immunity or you die.  Then it’s over.  Somehow I cannot bring myself to believe that we as a country want or accept that.

So what to do?  In the short term, the emphasis should be on saving lives.  As we try to restart the economy it should be in very small steps in a localized way.  As the saying goes, “build a little, test a little.”  Be prepared to try new ways of doing business.  In every step it will be necessary to be ready to acknowledge that it didn’t work, or that it was too much too soon, and adjust.  When it does work, build on those lessons learned.

I do not think that Mr. Trump is capable of that kind of leadership.  He has already earned his place in history as the worst president ever.  I fear that he will work hard in the coming weeks and months to cement his standing as the worst leader our country ever experienced.


The Road Ahead

It is obvious that we are not yet through the terrible ramifications of our pandemic and resulting economic crisis.  Public health concerns need to be balanced with economic concerns in order to reach some kind of “new normal.”  I am sure that none of us know what our country will look like in the next six to twelve months but what is clear is the need for some kind of road map for our national recovery that is consistent with the necessary steps to keep all of us safe and to prevent a second major wave of disease that could result from lifting current restrictions too soon.

The president is, according to his remarks on his daily Trump Show, looking forward to reopening the country to business as usual with a “big bang.”  Aides suggest that the date will be roughly 1 May or perhaps earlier in parts of the country.  This makes it sound like some kind of ribbon cutting at the grand opening of a new mall rather than a sober analysis of the pros and cons of particular actions.

As the death toll passes 16,000 Americans, we are still deep into this crisis.  The good news, if it can be called anything like that, is that models seem to indicate that the total death toll by August will “only” be about 60,000.  Imagine.  Only 60,000 Americans dead. That is down from 100,000 to 240,000 but nothing to rejoice about or to suggest that we have this crisis under control.  We are not even a third of the way towards that horrible number and the president seems to want to do away with the measures that have helped to get a small grip on the horrors of this pandemic.

Americans of all political stripes, age groups, ethnic groups and socioeconomic means seem to have come together to embrace, for the most part, social distancing and accepting that things will be tough economically for awhile but that the only way to get this outbreak under control is by working together.  Patience is a virtue.  The results of what we do today will not be seen for two or three weeks down the line.

I have no trouble with the president and his administration looking ahead to what we should be doing in the next month, six months or a year.  I hope that someone or some group of professionals is in fact doing that.  But I see no evidence of a coherent, realistic plan.

During his daily reality show, the president seems intent on focusing only on the next 15 minutes rather than the next 15 months.  He continues to spread lies and misinformation.  For example, health care professionals uniformly declare that the only way to get the country back on its feet is to have a robust testing regime in place to determine who is sick, who is not sick and who may have already recovered from coronavirus without ever going to a doctor or indeed, without ever knowing they had it.

The Trump Administration has made continual promises on testing that have come nowhere near being factual.  As just a few examples, remember that on 10 March Vice President Mike Pence said that over a million tests had been distributed and that by 14 March four million more would be available.  A few days later the president said that 5 million tests were available.  And of course a week before that on 6 March the president said that, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.  That’s the bottom line.”

A month later roughly two million tests have been administered so far in the entire country.

The president continually points out that the United States has tested more people than any other country in the world, and he is correct.  But he misses several key contextual aspects to that. The state of New York has more confirmed cases than any country on earth.  All by itself.  Obviously the United States as a whole is the sickest on earth so far.  This includes China (which nearly certainly under reported the number of cases), India, Indonesia and several others with much greater populations.

Most importantly, per capita we are failing badly.  Well less than one percent of our country has been tested.  In my state only medical personnel on the front lines and those with a referral from their doctor based on symptoms can get tested.

Just by the force of numbers alone, it is clear that the United States, the greatest country on earth, badly bungled this crisis.  Dithering and wishful thinking frittered away a chance to get ahead of the pandemic and here we are.

So, my question.  What is the long-term strategy?  I have heard nothing from this administration that looks ahead to how we know we are “winning.”  What are the measures of effectiveness (MOEs) that will determine how we are doing and whether it is safe to open up parts of the economy?  So far we only hear about flattening the curve — an indicator that social distancing is working — but not what “safe” numbers of infected may be.  If the curve flattens out at 1500 dead a day is that a good thing?  I think not.  The numbers are not dropping everywhere and across the country the totals continue to increase.

Numbers are great.  To say we have tested more people than any other country is nice, but meaningless. Since this all began, we have tested roughly 2 million people.  Total.  If we test one million Americans a day — a day mind you — it will still take roughly nine months to test everyone.  And a test only shows whether you have the illness at the time of testing.

Am I advocating for every American to be tested and until then we keep our daily lives on hold?  No.  Not realistic.  But what is realistic?  What are the MOEs?  When is the risk/reward equation in our favor?  How do we know when it is safe to eat in a crowded restaurant or go to a sold out college football game? What percentage of testing is adequate to give a good sense of the pervasiveness of the disease in a particular area?  What number of sick people in an area is an indicator that it is safe to go out in a crowd? Are certain precautions sufficient to reopen a particular business that may not work in another?  Until we have some measurable indicators beyond the number of people currently in the hospital we don’t really know where we stand.  This is especially true as we know that some people are asymptomatic carriers that unknowingly pass the virus to others who then become very sick.

Psychologically I think it will take a long time for many of us to feel totally safe in a crowd.  Having actual data from the experts rather than “cheerleading” “aspirational” statements that turn out to be false from the president would go a long way in helping each of us to understand where we stand.

Life has risks in everyday endeavors.  Nothing is perfect.  However it is possible to understand our world around us when presented with facts, not lies, or wishes or wannabe situations.

Many pundits in the right wing media are starting to attack the medical professionals claiming that they are part of the Deep State or to opine that some kind of Social Darwinism is at work with COVID-19 and it should be allowed to run its course. Weed out the weaklings. The president has at times opined that it is not as bad as the media says it is and that they are only trying to hurt his re-election.  Might I suggest that those people go to work in a hospital or a grocery store or a pharmacy without proper protection?  Or perhaps the president could visit a COVID-19 ward without PPE?  Cheer up the troops.  Oh right.  No one can now come into contact with the president and vice president without being tested for COVID-19.  Yesterday they even required testing of the White House press pool before they could attend his daily reality show.

Nothing is impossible for the people that don’t have to do it.

It is time to listen to the experts.  Health care professionals should take the lead and economic professionals base their analysis on what is healthy — literally impacting one’s health — for the country as a whole.  Perhaps a regionally focused approach would work, although I would be concerned that folks with “cabin fever” in stay-at-home states would gravitate to those open for business.

A national approach, based on facts and realistic MOEs is the only way we will find our way out of this crisis.  The worst thing that could happen is to prematurely lift the measures we know are working only because the president is impatient and has a gut feeling that everything is good to go.  A second wave of pandemic would do even greater damage to our country.  If there is a time for a very conservative approach, this is it.

Patience coupled with verifiable facts is the only way to go.

 

 


The Price of Imperfection

The numbers are difficult to comprehend.  100,000 to 240,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 if, as Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House Coronavirus Task Force said, “we do things perfectly.”

There is ample evidence that as a country we have most definitely not done things perfectly, and sadly I see little evidence that we will do it perfectly as we move forward.  As I write, the U.S. passed the 5,000 mark in deaths from the virus.  Most experts do not expect the pandemic to peak until late April or early May.  Recall that the day after the peak likely will be the second most cases, the third day the third most, and so on.  The peak is only a measure of how far along we are in trying to mitigate the impact of the disease, not an indicator that the crisis is over.

In difficult times is it hard to know what to criticize and what to praise.  How to stay positive when things look so bleak.  Does one leave criticism of our leaders out of the conversation because we need to focus on the future and not the past?  Do we dissect what could have been done so much sooner to lessen the impact on our fellow Americans or just deal with the present and see what the future brings?  There is so much that could be said but does it help?  I think so.  If we are to deal with the crisis as it unfolds then we need to learn the lessons it is teaching us in order to deal with what comes along in the course of events.

Good leaders enter the fray with a plan.  As I have written in this space before, no plan survives contact with the enemy.  One must be able to adapt and alter the plan as events unfold, which is easier to do if beforehand the leader has thought through possible outcomes, surprises, and has the resiliency to adjust to circumstances as they unfold in order to bring the right resources to bear at the right time.

As resources start to deplete, it is necessary to assess the gravity of the situation in each sector of the battle.  Some places may need more of one thing rather than another.  Some forces are not currently engaged so extra attention is given to the places that are actively engaged while keeping some things in reserve for when the battle moves to a new front.  Forethought, tenacity and resilience are called for in order to vanquish the foe.

I see that leadership ability with governors in New York, Maryland, Ohio and elsewhere. Mayors and other local leaders are showing themselves to be able to cope with the situation by thinking imaginatively and using ingenuity to face the overwhelming impact of this virus.  Unfortunately, it is not evident throughout the country.  Even as we see the horrible impact of the virus in New York, Louisiana and elsewhere, some governors refuse to tackle the issue head on.  Some put in half measures while across the river in another state very stringent requirements are in place.  Both lose out as people are free to cross state lines and they will seek out what they want where they find it.  Consequently, both states will suffer as the virus spreads when people from different areas intermingle and interact.

Likewise, as the White House Coronavirus Task Force claims that states and cities are getting the supplies they need, we see countless reports, most from front line health care providers, begging for more help in acquiring supplies to keep them safe and healthy so that they can take care of their patients.

All of us have learned a new language and new words that we freely throw around when just a few weeks ago we had no clue about such things.  PPE.  COVID-19.  Social distancing.  Ventilators.  Pandemic.  And on and on.  We have learned a lot but we have more to learn.  So who to trust?

Sometimes two things can be true at the same time.  For example, if the White House claims that they shipped 500,000 masks to New Jersey, it seems like a big number.  It is a big number.  But if hospitals in the state are going through 750,000 masks in a few days then it is not enough.  In addition, many hospitals in hard hit areas have already thrown out best practices in order to save PPE.  Gowns, gloves, and masks should be changed for each patient in order to protect the sick as well as the providers.  Most places now issue one set for a shift.  Some now issue one set for a week.  Regardless of the numbers the White House claims to have provided, it is clearly not enough when it comes to the front lines.  If our first responders and health care workers go down, the entire house of cards will collapse.  Unfortunately, PPE do not help them with the emotional and physical toll this crisis is exacting.  What are the plans to relieve those who have been on the front lines for weeks on end?  Where are the psychiatrists and psychologists to help them deal with the stress and pain of losing so many people they pledged to help?  These issues should also be addressed on a large scale.

It does not help when the president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show and hints that doctors and nurses are selling the masks on the black market and that is why there is not enough to go around as he did on Monday.  “Are they going out the back door?”  “I don’t think it’s hoarding.  I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding.”

It does not help when the president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show and says “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators” as he did last week.

It does not help when the president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show and says that the governor of New York should be “grateful” to him for supplying ventilators and that he hit “paydirt.”

It does not help that president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show as he did a few days ago and brags about his “ratings” being better than “The Bachelor” while saying that some projections are for 2.2 million dead in the U.S. and “so if we have between 100,000 and 200,000 we all have done a very good job.”

It does not help when the president tweets as he did just hours ago that “Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being directly delivered to states, to hospitals by the Federal Government.  Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?).  Remember we are a back up to them.”

Funny thing.  When your citizens are dying one expects leaders to pull out all the stops to save them.

Maybe if you give everyone a ventilator that wants one pretty soon nobody will breathe on their own?

Again, two things can be true at the same time.  But here’s the rub.  The hospitals, mayors, governors are on the ground and know how much they need.  More importantly, we are dealing with a situation that projects that upwards of 240,000 citizens will die if we do everything perfectly.  That same projection from the president’s Task Force indicates that it could be between 1.2 million and 2.2 million if the right steps are not taken.  The key fact is that the worst is yet to come.  It does not matter whether current needs are being met if there is nothing left for the future.  Governors and mayors realize that if they are barely meeting demand now, there is no way they can meet it when things get really bad.  On top of that, multiple reports indicate that officials at the Department of Homeland Security report that the national reserves are nearly depleted.

Why is the federal government “a back up”?  This is a national crisis.  Why are states, cities, and even individual hospitals all competing against each other to get what they need?  Profiteering is certainly taking place.  Governors report that orders they expect to have delivered get cancelled because another client offered more money to the manufacturer for the same shipment.

The primary function of the federal government is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens.  All else is meaningless if people are not safe or secure.

It is beyond appalling that the president continues to refuse to step up and organize our response on a national scale.  There should be a centralized procurement and distribution system.  There is an old saying, “lead or get out of the way.”  I think it time for the president to get out of the way.  He has a Task Force formulating the medical response to the crisis.  Daily he puts out misinformation, lies or revisionist history and uses the briefing as a substitute for his rallies.  Just stop it.  Let the scientists and professionals give us the straight information.  What they know — good or bad, what they don’t know, and what are facts versus opinions.

Set up a similar Task Force for procuring and disbursing the needed supplies.  Then get out of the way.  The military is skilled at logistics, let them handle it if no one else in the administration knows what to do.

This is a national problem.  While the media’s and president’s focus seems to be on the New York region, the fact is currently Louisiana has the highest per capita hospitalization rate.  The highest per capita infection rate is in Idaho.  A national problem needs a national, coordinated response.

On a personal note, please keep those suffering on your minds and in your hearts.  This is going to be a long haul.  Remember the first responders and health care professionals that so far have been able to keep this pandemic at a crisis level rather than a national collapse.  Finally, keep yourself safe.

Stay calm and wash your hands.