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.
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.
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, 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!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.