Friday, September 25, 2020

Cheering for the President, Sorta

Yesterday I was driving through the peaceful residential streets of Rockville, listening to WTOP, our local DC news radio station, when the deep-voiced announcer teased an upcoming story: "News in one minute. President Trump was met with cheers at the Supreme Court today."

I was a little surprised at that, as you can imagine, and so I waited through a couple of commercials until the news came on. The actual story: "President Trump was met with chants and cheers of 'vote him out' at the Supreme Court today when he and the first lady went to pay their respects to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg." (I am paraphrasing, pretty close.)

The President and First Lady made an obligatory appearance at Ruth Bader Ginsburg's flag-draped coffin, laid out between the imposing pillars of the Supreme Court building. In 2016, Ginsburg had told the New York Times that "I don't even want to contemplate" four years of a Trump presidency and the effect it could have on the high court. He responded "Her mind is shot - resign!" You could say the say the two of them represented two divergent views of what America can be.

Her death is a loss to the country and the Republicans' rush to fill her position before the election is ghoulish and embarrassing for them. They have announced that they already have enough votes for approval in the Senate but they do not know who the nominee will be -- a definition of partisanship. Trump wants to have another ally on the Supreme Court in case they have to decide the election as they did in 2000. At the same time, however, the country remembers that the Republican Senate would not even consider Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland in March, 2016, well before the campaign season. Playing games with our democracy leaves a bad taste and serves as a reminder of the current administration's corruption and its support by Congressional and downticket Republicans.

This is historic video, something you can show your grandchildren.



The crowd is murmuring and then one woman's voice is heard saying, "Vote him out," and the chant quickly sweeps through the crowd. There are no audible dissenters, no nervous tittering. Where Ginsburg brought stability and support for democracy to the country, Trump is undermining our institutions at every point, and the contrast was too stark here to make light of.

Trump stands there expressionless while the crowd expresses their loathing. It is a little reminiscent of the time he attended a baseball game last year and had to sit through a long round of booing and chants of "Lock him up!"

The country wants to get rid of this guy, and early voting has already started. His plan though, is simpler than all that: "We want to get rid of the ballots, and we’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation."

Maybe, maybe not.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Health, Then Business

It appears that American discourse regarding the pandemic has broken into two sides, one of which believes that public health is a priority and one that believes that the economy is a priority.

In reality, all of us want both of those things. None of us want to die, or want our neighbors to die, or our families, and none of us want to be evicted, to lose our jobs, to go hungry. It isn't really a binary choice. We have always had pretty good levels of both health and prosperity, well the distribution of each could be improved but that is not the question right now. The US has not led the world in healthcare but we have mostly managed to get by, and our prosperity is mostly controlled by a handful of billionaire oligarchs but most people have been able to find a job and a place to live.

Everyone wants to reopen the economy. We want kids to get back to school, workers to get back to their jobs, we want to produce and consume like normal. We want to go to a game or a concert and socialize with friends and strangers. And many countries around the world have recovered economically from the pandemic and are living pretty normally, with perhaps occasional emergency restrictions. Reopening the economy is entirely possible, an entirely reasonable thing to hope for and expect. Honestly, it is shameful that we have not reopened by now.

But you cannot open the economy while a highly contagious, deadly virus is spreading through human contact. Maybe most people don't die from it, but lots do, and there seem to be long-term health consequences of COVID-19 infection. Even if one person survives or has a mild case, they can pass the virus to someone else who will die.

Good example right now, an August 7th wedding in Maine and now, a month later, 147 cases of COVID-19 are tied to this one event. Three people have died -- and none of the three were people who attended the wedding. Cases have spread to a nursing home and a prison, both more than 100 miles away from the venue. The wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn had 65 people, and at least one of them was a coronavirus carrier.

Without getting into details, these kinds of examples, which are numerous, can be combined with the observation of many other countries that have controlled their epidemics, to lead to one simple and obvious conclusion: we need to beat the pandemic before we can restore the economy. It is simply a matter of doing them in the right order: public health, then the economy. The reverse is literally, logically and practically, impossible.

We know what needs to be done, it is not a secret and not even that hard, but this requires everybody in the country contributing at the same time. People need to wear masks, they cannot congregate indoors, they should maintain social distance, sick people should be isolated and exposed people should be quarantined. Nonessential businesses, sporting events, concerts, and crowds should be shut down. Hand-off deliveries of market products, work-from-home where possible. We know the drill, we just need to implement it nationwide. With these precautions we can get the virus prevalence down to a level where we can resume normal living and open up a normal economy. You just can't have a way of life where going to work or shopping for groceries is a matter of risking your life. That is simply suicidal. We cannot reopen the economy before we have control of the virus.

We cannot practice these restrictions if we fear we will lose our homes, our jobs, and our future. And that means that the government -- the federal government -- needs to do some of the things that other countries have done. Clear guidelines need to be publicized and enforced, and businesses need to be subsidized so they can keep their payroll going even if their employees are huddled in their homes. Testing needs to be ramped up, and treatment needs to be available to everyone who needs it. This is not a time to be cheap, and not a time for billionaires and corporations to siphon more money out of the public's treasury.

Health experts think that six weeks of this kind of lockdown might be sufficient to get the virus under control. I would read that as eight weeks. We are now eight months into this pandemic, where the citizens initially thought that the government would manage it in the first few weeks and months and that did not happen. Our next opportunity to get on top of the pandemic is late January, about five months from now. By that time we will be near a half million Americans dead, and hopefully a new administration will issue strict and inflexible orders. People will groan and complain, but we can practice some discipline for two more months, and by next spring things can be back to near-normal again.

Again, the simple fact: the economy cannot restart until the pandemic is controlled.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Covid Test Interpretation and Response

I am seeing stories about people who are taking leave from work because they are infected with covid, and they are expected to return when they are well. So as a kind of ready-reference let me review what the decision process is for ending isolation, according to the CDC:
You can be around others after:
  • 10 days since symptoms first appeared and
  • 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
  • Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving*

*Loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the end of isolation​
You will notice that there is nothing in that list about "getting a negative test result."

That is because negative test results don't really mean anything. They do not tell you whether you are sick or well.

One problem with developing an accurate test is determining the standard. To tell if the test works on somebody, you need to know if they are sick or not when you test them. How can you know that -- especially if they are asymptomatic? Researchers test and then test again the next day, to see how consistent a test is. They figure if you're sick the second day, you were probably sick the day before. They know they underestimate the number of errors this way but it is the best method they have.

A physician interpreting the test takes prior probability into account. For instance, they will consider the infection rate in the region. They will adjust their prior probability estimate if you have traveled to a place with a high rate, or have engaged in risky behaviors like going out without a mask or attending a concert or party, have been exposed to a sick person, or if you have symptoms of covid-19. Then they take the test result and make a diagnosis. The Bayesian math is more than we need here, but the point is that they do not just look at the test result.

The positive result is pretty good on its own -- if the test sees enough viral RNA to trigger a reaction then the result is positive. It seems that positive test results are about 98 percent accurate; if it says you're sick, you're sick.

But what if the result is negative? A false negative test has serious consequences, for instance it can lead an infected person to interact with others with minimal precautions. Because there is no true gold standard, researchers can only estimate the false negative rate. One review of five studies estimated false negative rates up to 29 per cent, but those estimates have been questioned and are probably low.

The point is that a negative test result does not mean you are not infected.

The BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) has published guidelines in an article titled, sensibly, "Interpreting a covid-19 test result." Their interest is professional, they are mostly advising doctors about when they can return to their practice without infecting their patients. Here's what they say:
While positive tests for covid-19 are clinically useful, negative tests need to be interpreted with caution, taking into account the pre-test probability of disease. This has important implications for clinicians interpreting tests and policymakers designing diagnostic algorithms for covid-19... False negatives carry substantial risks; patients may be moved into non-covid-19 wards leading to spread of hospital acquired covid-19 infection, carers could spread infection to vulnerable dependents, and healthcare workers risk spreading covid-19 to multiple vulnerable individuals. Clear evidence-based guidelines on repeat testing are needed, to reduce the risk of false negatives.

The worrisome thing to me is that employers are using the test as a binary decision-maker. If your test is positive, then they let you stay home, but if it's negative they interpret that to mean that you should get back to the office and get to work. That kind of decision is going to send a lot of sick people back into a risky environment, which will in turn drive up the numbers, put more people in danger, and perpetuate the chaos of this pandemic.

In the face of a negative test result, a responsible physician should make an informed diagnosis.

Here is how the BMJ piece suggests doctors explain it to patients:
  • No test is 100% accurate
  • If your swab test comes back positive for covid-19 then we can be very confident that you do have covid-19
  • However, people with covid-19 can be missed by these swab tests. If you have strong symptoms of covid-19, it is safest to self-isolate, even if the swab test does not show covid-19

We should play this safe. Supplement a negative test result with a medical diagnosis. If you are sick, remain isolated until you meet the CDC criteria given above.

Monday, August 10, 2020

MoCo Popo Changes Being Discussed

If you do the math, you see that approximately half the adult men in the United States have a criminal record, meaning they have at least been arrested. Generally those are not the ones who are running things, they are not politicians, business executives, lobbyists. Our society is two-tiered, where one tier locks the other tier up. If you're on the locking-up side of it, you may be unaware of this.

It is not news to note that the Black community is especially targeted by law enforcement. In 2010, one-third of Black men were reported to have a felony conviction, and the percentage was growing. Black Lives Matter protests across the country are largely about police bias and violence.

Montgomery County is mostly known as a wholesome suburban community, diverse and affluent. Occasionally a police problem reaches the public eye, but generally we are a peaceful, liberal place. The county recently released a Report on Local Policing Data and Best Practices, and the results reveal some issues.

I should note that Montgomery County, Maryland, is probably more self-aware and less racist than many places. We are an extremely diverse county, progressive, welcoming. So as you read results from this report, remember that a whole lot of the country is a whole lot worse. Montgomery County has begun studying the extent of their problem, at least, and is discussing solutions where problems are found.

The report is really about data, especially data that focuses on "constitutional" policing practices (bias-free policing and use of force) and police-community relations (police satisfaction, trust in police, and police legitimacy). It contains a number of tables and a lot of discussion of datasets and links to them. I did not open any and analyze but it could be a fun quarantine activity. We are not necessarily interested here in databases so much as what the data can tell us about our county.

Most of the results in the report have been broken down to highlight differential treatment of ethnic groups, broadly defined. TL;DR : the cops are harder on Black people than anybody else.

The county has data on traffic stops but not on pedestrian stops or street stops that are not done in response to 911 calls. That is, stop-and-frisk and ordinary hassling remain off the record. For traffic stops, 2018 data shows (percents in parens calculated by me):
  • Black people accounted for 18 percent of all residents v. 32 percent of MCPD traffic stops (177% of equity rate)
  • White people accounted for 44 percent of all residents v. 35 percent of MCPD traffic stops (79.5% of equity rate)
  • Latino people accounted for 19 percent of all residents v. 20 percent of MCPD traffic stops (100.5%, about what is expected)
  • Asian people accounted for 15 percent of all residents v. 7 percent of MCPD traffic stops (46.7% of equity rate)
County records have no data to determine whether there are disparities in MCPD searches of pedestrians, but searches at traffic stops were conducted on 4.4 percent of Black drivers, compared to 3.3 percent of Latino drivers, 2.0 percent of White drivers, and 1.3 percent of Asian drivers. This is what happens when cops use their personal judgment to decide if someone looks sketchy -- Black drivers get searched more than twice as much as white ones.

Why would you search somebody at a traffic stop in the first place -- to see if they're hiding their registration sticker in their pocket? If they are breaking a traffic law, then ticket them for that. If there is contraband in plain sight, well that's just dumb and no search is necessary. Otherwise, all of these searches mean that a traffic cop "suspected" something.

The county is planning to automate more traffic enforcement, so if you're speeding with a bag of weed in the glove compartment you get a ticket for speeding. I hate traffic cameras myself but you have to admit they are blind to privilege.

"Hassling" should be a legal term.

Traffic stops resulted in arrests of 2.2 – 2.3 percent of Latino and Black drivers compared to 1.3 percent of White drivers and less than one percent (0.9%) percent of Asian drivers. These are people who are pulled over for a traffic offense and end up going to jail. Unless there is an active warrant for the driver, this should almost never happen. (BTW, note that arrests correlate with searches. This is a time when it is actually true that "if you do more testing you're going to find more cases.")

BTW if you are thinking, well those white people just weren't doing anything wrong, I can't help you.

How about the use of force?
  • Black people accounted for 18 percent of all residents v. 55 percent of use of force incidents (305% of equity)
  • White people accounted for 44 percent of all residents v. 26 percent of use of force incidents (59%)
  • Latinx people accounted for 19 percent of all residents v. 18 percent of use of force incidents (94.7%)
  • Asian people accounted for 15 percent of all residents v. 1 percent of use of force incidents (6.7%)
These numbers eerily confirm common stereotypes: Black percentages more than twice as high as white; force used on Blacks in Montgomery County more than three times their proportion in the population. BTW- the word "violence" appears here only once, in the term "Domestic disturbance/violence." It is never associated with police behavior in the report.

Looking at traffic violations, Black drivers were ticketed in 2019 at the rate of 321 per 1,000 population -- nearly a third of Black drivers got pulled over and ticketed in one year. The rate for white people was less than half that, at 132 per 1,000. Latinos were in-between, at 215/1,000, and Asians at the bottom of the list, a common thread here, at 70 violations per 1,000 population. Oddly, the "Other" group got a lot of tickets, at 319 per 1,000. I don't know what that is.

Another table in the report shows that Latino and Black drivers were more likely to earn six or more violations during a single traffic stop than any other racial and ethnic group. Are you seeing a trend here? Black and Latino drivers, especially males, are subjected to searches at higher rates than other groups. In 2019, 27 percent of Black adults in the county experienced a traffic stop compared to 17 percent of Latino adults, 14 percent of White adults, and 7 percent of Asian adults -- Blacks nearly twice as likely as whites. Further, 4.4 percent of Black drivers were searched in 2018 compared to 3.3 percent of Latino drivers, 2.0 percent of White drivers, and 1.3 percent of Asian drivers -- Blacks more than twice as likely as whites. Black men were three times as likely to receive any violation, to receive a citation, or to receive a repair order as white men, and twice as likely to receive a warning. This is in diverse, liberal Montgomery County.

The report details and links to a number of databases but acknowledges frequently that particular variables are not collected, or that data from various databases has not been linked. So for instance if someone is in a traffic accident, they do not record the race or ethnic group of the driver. It's on their license, but apparently they cannot connect the two.

Most of the recommendations in this report had to do with getting better data. We can tell enough from this to start working on an obvious problem, but the county needs better metrics and better ability to analyze them. The Washington Post says:
County council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) has commissioned a study to figure out whether – and how — Montgomery might be able to move certain traffic enforcement functions out of the police department and into other government agencies... 
County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said he is “more than concerned” about the racial inequities in traffic enforcement and will consider the possibility of reallocating resources. 
Montgomery appears to be the only jurisdiction in the Washington metro region targeting traffic enforcement in policing, though the District last year moved automated enforcement from police to the transportation department... 
Officials say the differences signal discriminatory policing, though the police union and Police Chief Marcus Jones dispute this. 
“There are many factors that need to be considered beyond simple census data to determine if racial bias exists in law enforcement,” Jones said in a statement. Should police be in charge of traffic enforcement? In a suburb beset by racial inequities, lawmakers aren’t sure.
The US has been struggling lately with the concept of democracy, of providing rights and security to all its citizens, and bias in policing is central to the problem. Many Americans leave their house not knowing if they will make it back again, because of the police. Philandro Castile had been stopped by police forty-six times before they finally killed him. As NPR noted, "only six of them were things a police officer would notice from outside a car — things like speeding or having a broken muffler."

Again, if you think he was getting stopped for doing something wrong -- I'll give you six of those. What about the other forty times he was stopped? As this county report shows, Black citizens are targeted by police compared to white people, even here in progressive, prosperous Montgomery County.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Wow What a Zinger

Steve Guest is the Rapid Response Director for the Republican Party. In general his job is to monitor the media and respond to attacks from the Democrats. This sounds like a useful position in a political campaign, a job for somebody smart who can think fast and go for the jugular.

Today he really flung a beanball zinger at those Democrat libtards. As you know, the Washington Redskins are finally going to change their name. Today was the day they announced the change, though they do not have a new name selected yet. It's a controversy that has dragged on for years. "Redskins" is a slur, and hopefully nobody today would choose a name like that for their team, but back in 1933 it was the best they could come up with, I guess. Everybody knows the story, I'm sure it is expensive to change all your merch but you can't fight it forever.

OK, so GOP attack dog Steve Guest found a picture of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a Redskins game. His kid was even wearing a wool cap that said "Redskins" on it. Ha -- this is a good chance to show what a bigot and hypocrite this lib is! Guest loaded up a piercing verbal barb and posted the incriminating photograph of Joe and his son at a football game. Man, it made young Joe Biden look bad:


It is not known if the boy in this picture, apparently from the 1970s, is Hunter or Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer at age 46 on May 30, 2015. At any rate, as Molly Jong-Fast tweeted, "He was hoping to troll Biden but it reminded many of us about how Joe raised his young children after his wife died in a car accident."

The tweet has been deleted. I see that Guest has posted some new stuff maligning Hunter Biden, who may be the evil demonic beast pictured in the insensitive wool cap. All right man, good luck with that.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Multiple Simultaneous Catastrophes

Things have gone from weird to crazy. It is just about impossible to keep up with the news. We have at least three crises in the headlines -- a pandemic, a collapsed economy, protests against police violence -- and literally dozens of minor crises swirling through the columns of the back pages. The President is going looney-tunes, tweeting video of very fine people chanting "white power" and calling his colleagues "traitors" and "losers." He has been protecting Russia's bounty on American soldiers, and maybe he didn't know about it, and maybe that's because nobody told him and maybe it's because they told him and he wasn't listening. Or maybe he knew. Maybe he doesn't know if he knows or not.

But there is good news in this insanity as well. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly revealed problems that our society has been covering up for a long time, and this clown of a President has pushed the population to the point of wanting to do something about it. It turns out Americans, even comfortable middle-class white Americans, do not like the police strangling innocent citizens, and they also don't like the police gassing people, shooting them, slashing their tires, beating them with clubs. This has been going on for a long time but the corruption and racism has become so central and so obvious during Trump's term that decent people find themselves ashamed and sickened, to the point where they are willing to get out of their cozy living rooms and do something about it. There may be a temporally-limited burst of enthusiasm over Black Lives Matter initiatives, but the changes that are being implemented now will last for a long time.

Also, those statues and flags. To me, it's like those people who yell at immigrants in public: "This is America, talk English!" Only now, a century and a half later, Americans are saying to supporters of the Confederacy, "This is America, cut the racism!" Bout damn time.

I am tempted to say that the pandemic is the big story. It has touched our daily lives in a way that few political controversies have. The virus is amping up to hurricane level out there, killing people, crushing the economy, changing everything about the way we live. We're at forty thousand new cases a day now, still increasing.

But the pandemic has hit everywhere in the world, and it is not the big story in most places. It was a known quantity, a contagious respiratory disease, it required a coordinated campaign to stop it, and most countries in the world figured out a way to do that. There were lots of solutions, from shutdowns to contact-tracing and isolation to masks and distancing, and they have worked. While we are dying and dreading the next wave, some countries have zero cases and are going to the beach and the movies like normal.

So the big story is not the pandemic but the ineptness of the government that we relied on to manage it. I will not list all the ways they made the epidemic worse, but will echo the sentiments of some insightful analysts who say: they couldn't have done this badly by accident.

The polls are showing that Trump is unpopular and the Republicans are beginning to wonder if they should run somebody else for President. They are breaking from him on masks, even Sean Hannity is telling people the opposite of what the President says. Tomorrow the European Union is going to announce their new travel strategy and it looks almost certain that travel from the US will be restricted, if not banned. That isn't because we have a virus, it is because we got a virus and the official plan to fight it was "one day, like a miracle, it will disappear."

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The American Epidemic Continues


What month is this? Huh, June, oh yeah. Half over. And when did we shut down? Oh yeah, March, middle of March. It's been three months.

People are getting tired of it. They want to work, buy things, socialize. Hear some music. In fact, a lot of people are acting like the pandemic is over.

But it's not.


Many countries around the world are opening for business. They implemented measures when the pandemic hit, followed the playbook, and when cases were reduced to a certain number people were able to come out again.

The Washington Post talks today about the success of some countries, and notes the odd fact that many of them relied on American research that was ignored by US policy makers.

Germany, for instance, with a large older population, has had 9,000 covid deaths, compared to 120,000 in the US so far. The Post interviewed a German leader who said Germany had especially looked at American research. They were one of the first countries to require face masks on public transportation and supermarkets and to practice social distancing. They watch the data, and public policy makes adjustments as the cases decrease or increase.

Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch has recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and officials or advisers from Canada, New Zealand and South Korea. He said when he went to the Trump White House, early in the outbreak, "the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic did not reflect his conclusions. 'I think they have cherry-picked models that at each point looked the most rosy, and fundamentally not engaged with the magnitude of the problem, he said." In countries keeping the coronavirus at bay, experts watch U.S. case numbers with alarm
[Epidemiologist and German MP] Lauterbach said that even though most Germans disapproved of Trump before the pandemic, even his staunchest critics in Germany were surprised by how even respected U.S. institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, struggled to respond to the crisis.

The CDC, for instance, initially botched the rollout of test kits in the early stages of the outbreak.

“Like many other aspects of our country, the CDC’s ability to function well is being severely handicapped by the interference coming from the White House,” said Harvard epidemiologist Lipsitch. “All of us in public health very much hope that this is not a permanent condition of the CDC.”

The good news, I'd say, is that there was no surge in cases after the BLM protests. The experts note that most people wore masks and most continued to keep marching and moving from place to place. So maybe you don't have to be an isolated hermit, you can go out, you just have to be careful.

Japan, a country with 126 million people -- about half of the US -- has had a total of 858 covid deaths without shutting down or even social-distancing. How did they do it? The government told people to avoid the three C's: closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings. According to Business Insider, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said recently, "We need to create a new lifestyle from now on. We need to change our way of thinking."
Lockdowns in the United States have been framed as extreme, temporary procedures, while in Japan the three C's have been framed as a new, permanent lifestyle for residents. This may bode well for the sustainability of the approach.
Under flailing leadership, the US is not even thinking about permanently changing our way of life, as we continue at a plateau level of about 20,000 new cases a day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Antifa - They're Everywhere, Maybe

Martin Gugino is a volunteer with PUSH Buffalo, which focuses on affordable housing, and Western New York Peace Center, a human rights org. He is also part of the Catholic Worker Movement. He supports peace, opposes nuclear energy, he is 75 years old and he marches in protests when he can -- prostate cancer has slowed him down, but he still gets out.

He came out to join the Black Lives Matter protest this week. All is not clear, but it appears he found a police helmet and stopped a policeman to give it back to him. We don't know what was said, but another cop walked up and shoved Martin. He went reeling backwards and fell, striking his head. The first cop started to help but another pulled him away, and the whole gang of them paraded past without offering any help as blood ran out of Martin's ear onto the sidewalk. He is in the hospital, still alive as I write this.

You have seen this video. But for reference.


And then, just to note for history, here is President Trump's response to this incident:


I don't know for sure, there might be some people in the US who refer to themselves as "antifa." It's short for anti-fascist, and until a couple of years ago I would have though all Americans were anti-fascist. I cannot imagine any of my neighbors thinking that anti-fascists are the bad guys. I have never met an official antifa or seen anything they have produced as far as publications or even tweets, and honestly I am doubtful that such a group even exists, beyond maybe a dozen rowdy teenagers somewhere. I would look for them in Portland, Oregon, if there are any anywhere, but I don't know if there are any there, either.

It does not appear that the group is actually a "group." The Attorney General is trying to get them -- but not the KKK -- classified as a "terrorist organization," but I don't think he will be able to, without producing some evidence that such an "organization" actually exists.

Antifa is mainly a rightwing bogeyman. You can't mention them without mentioning George Soros, who supposedly funds them. As a Jew who survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary, I would not be surprised to learn that he opposes fascism in today's world as well. But the idea that he is the mysterious Illuminati-like force behind this all-powerful but invisible group is a piece of rightwing mythology that does not overlap with any facts. If anybody was funding antifa then wouldn't you expect an ad somewhere, a sign, maybe they would rent a room to meet in? Soros has gazillions of dollars, and antifa doesn't seem to have any money.

For the President of the Freakin' United States to be telling the world that this poor old man who was nearly killed by the cops is part of an antifa conspiracy to "scan police equipment in order to black out the equipment" is malevolence gone too far. And just watch the Republican Party line up behind him.

Part of this story, by the way, has to be the insane conspiracy theories that have been going out all over small-town America. Armed rednecks all over the country have been getting texts and social-media messages warning them that busloads of violent antifa members are coming to their irrelevant, lonely little town, to riot and destroy property. And these ignorant idiots grab their AR-15s and run down to Main Street to stop them, then brag about "scaring them away" when no busloads show up. This myth of the mysterious antifa cabal is very pervasive. And very crazy.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Lights Out


In addition to the worst public health crisis since 1918 and the worst economic crisis since 1933, Trump now faces the worst civil unrest since 1968.

Trump’s credibility gap complicates his response to the three crises enveloping his presidency

[UPDATE: Trump Took Shelter in White House Bunker as Protests Raged

White House Goes Completely Dark as Protests Rage Outside ]







Anti-anti-fascist ... what does that make you?







Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Red Pill: It Is What It Is

California is one state that is managing the epidemic relatively well. They have a plan, they have a governor who is taking active leadership, they have kept the numbers down, especially in the Northern part of the state. The people worked together, followed the protocols; looking good.

Elon Musk had to shut down his California Tesla factory for the epidemic though, and he hated that. He called the shutdown "fascist" and reopened the factory against county orders, putting more than 10,000 people back to work in one plant. He did not feel he should have to wait for local leaders to follow the careful steps of their successful strategy, he should not have to wait for the reopening criteria to be met -- he was losing money and he wanted to get his workers jammed into a factory so they could risk their lives making billions more for him.

This week Musk sent out a tweet that said "Take the Red Pill." The Red Pill, in The Matrix, is the one that reveals the hard-to-take truth and breaks you out of the illusion of the computer simulation you are living in. He got a reply from another serious seeker of truth, Ivanka Trump: "Done."

The Red Pill is not just a trope in a nineties movie, it has become a banner for certain especially-nutty rightwing types. The Red Pill subreddit is one of the ugliest, most antisocial stains on the Internet. The Red Pill is a codeword for men who believe that feminism has ruined their lives, and that it is foolish to try to treat women fairly. As one Republican state legislator wrote there, "I treat women like they're subordinate creatures, and suddenly they respect me." They believe this is the natural order of things, and the insight that we have been brainwashed by liberals is, to them, like taking the Red Pill in the Matrix and facing the uncomfortable, eye-opening Truth. Basically, the red pill tells guys that it's feminism's fault they can't get laid. It's not that they themselves are deplorable and have no social skills; the problem is that women are bitches. See how easy that is?

Religions, ideologies, peer-group norms often lead individuals into a kind of blindness, and the idea of an exercise or technique to let us see through the delusions, to Truth, has popped up many times over the millennia. Maybe it would be a mystical conversion of some sort, or a spiritual practice -- there are those who believe that LSD and other psychedelic substances can do this, can tear away the illusion and reveal truth. Accepting Christ into your heart, same thing, opening your crown chakra, whatever. People have often talked about transformational moments in their lives. Usually these are moments that make them a better person, more caring, more understanding. Somehow rightwing politics works the opposite way. For every Enlightenment in America you get an equal and opposite Great Awakening.

The Red Pill is a simplification of the concept that we can choose to remove the veil of illusion and see the world for what it is.

But it is not ordinary truth that is revealed by the Red Pill. This is a special, obvious kind of truth that says "It is what it is." Your feelings are right. Liberals will tell you otherwise, they'll label you and try to shame you, but the Red Pill gives you Truth. You can put all kinds of restrictions and rules on it but the impulse to grab women and kiss them, for instance, is Truth, it is obvious, and nature obviously intends for us to obey those kinds of impulses. If some people seem weird to you it is because they are weird. Blue-pill libtards can philosophize about it all day but it is obvious to those who see the truth directly that there's something disgusting there, and the right thing to do is to mock and bully weird people. This is the Truth you see once you take the Red Pill and your blinders are removed. It is what it is. And what it is, is obvious.

The Red Pill Truth is that human beings are self-centered animals. Therefore your own self-centered ignorance is perfectly justified. It is what it is. Easy peasy.

Red-Pill capital-t Truth rejects the liberal idea that other people's needs are equal to your own. The Truth is that other people are often obstacles to your ability to get what you want. They could be serving you, praising you, pleasing you, rather than pursuing some irrelevant and misguided Blue-Pill goals of their own.

The Red Pill offers a kind of Truth without empathy.

Looking at it from outside the bubble, the rightwing Red Pill is a shortcut that lets you get by without actually thinking about things, because you see Truth directly. It is that unexamined life that Plato talked about. You don't have to learn anything new, because it is what it is, which anybody can see, once their eyes have been opened. Conveniently, Truth is always the belief that makes your own group look better, always the belief that supports their own impulses in the first place. Red-Pill Truth never provokes self-doubt or makes one question one's assumptions; the Red Pill awakens you to the fact that your assumptions are True already.

The Red Pill offers a kind of truth without facts. It is nothing more than a justification for ignorance.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here

In the morning paper, the headline is "To Trump, economy determines discourse." Washington Post, Page One, above the fold. The article doesn't really stand out but someday you will look back and wonder if it was really as bad as you remember it. So I'll just copy and paste a few paragraphs for posterity's sake.
President Trump in recent weeks has sought to block or downplay information about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic as he urges a return to normalcy and the rekindling of an economy that has been devastated by public health restrictions aimed at mitigating the outbreak.

His administration has sidelined or replaced officials not seen as loyal, rebuffed congressional requests for testimony, dismissed jarring statistics and models, praised states for reopening without meeting White House guidelines and, briefly, pushed to disband a task force created to combat the virus and communicate about the public health crisis.

Several Republican governors are following Trump’s lead as an effort takes shape to control the narrative about a pandemic that has continued to rage throughout a quickly reopening country. With polls showing most consumers still afraid to venture out of their homes, the Trump administration has intensified its efforts to soothe some of those fears through a messaging campaign that relies on tightly controlling information about a virus that has proven stubbornly difficult to contain.

“If the message were to go out with complete objectivity, it would be disastrous for Trump,” said Max Skidmore, a political science professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and the author of a book on presidential responses to pandemics. “So he is doing his best to prevent experts from speaking out or using their expertise, and he’s simply trying to divert attention.”

Trump tightens grip on coronavirus information as he pushes to restart the economy

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

There Are More Important Things Than Living

I have long held a view of the Republican party as a bunch of rich people who are able to convince uneducated white losers to support policies to make them, the rich guys, richer. Mostly they did this by stirring up fear that some minority or other is going to take over the country and destroy "our" way of life. Republican voters are easily manipulated and there are enough of them to win elections sometimes. It still requires making sure that not everyone gets a vote, still requires some lying and cheating, but basically if you can keep the rednecks stirred up about how the threat of [insert group here], you can stay in power. Especially when the gazillionaires can directly lobby government and influence the media with their money.

In this deadly pandemic, the government has failed us but the American people have been very good about quarantining and social distancing. We've got our masks, businesses are shut down, it's strange but it's what we've got to do. The US already has the most deaths of any country and there is no sign that the virus is running out of steam, even with this drastic change to our lifestyle. It is terrible to think how much worse it could have been, if we were not quarantined and shut down like this.

Last week, the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, backed by the wealthy DeVos family, organized a protest in Lansing. In traditional Republican form, the billionaires sent around some propaganda and the streets of Lansing were jammed with pickup trucks sporting confederate flags and Trump stickers. They shut down traffic trying to get to the trauma hospital. Pretty soon old Tea-Party groups like Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity were in on it, the Kochs and their allies backing protests to "reopen" the country.

And suddenly this is a thing. We even had a protest in Annapolis.

These are people (sometimes referred to as "Covidiots") protesting the fact that the pandemic has inconvenienced them. They want to live like they used to, they want businesses to open up, bars, sports events. The president supports these protesters, urging them to "liberate" blue states. There is some muttering about the second amendment, oh and it's religious persecution when churches, like everybody else, are prohibited from assembling crowds. This is a movement that believes if you close your eyes the virus will go away.


Nobody disagrees that this is a question about the relative importance of the economy versus people's lives. It is not clear why a bunch of working people in MAGA hats care about the economy so much, but those rich people know how to get them stirred up. The lieutenant governor of Texas had a pretty good way to put it on Fox News this week: "There are more important things than living, and that's saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us."

His assumption seems to be that other people's lives can be sacrificed so that his family can maintain their comfort level. I doubt he means that there are more important things that his own children's and grandchildren's lives. But maybe he does, maybe these rich Republicans are that hardcore about it.

Last week a Republican Congressman, Trey Hollingsworth, who by the way is worth of $50.1 million, the 12th wealthiest member of Congress, said, "It is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter." It makes sense to him to choose the loss of American lives, to maintain the status quo. Especially somebody else's lives, not him and his family.

I cannot understand why anybody in their right mind would be taking to the streets for the right to catch a deadly illness and spread it to others.

The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 had a similar phenomenon. Businesses were closed, there were laws requiring masks to be worn, and by November 1918 the epidemic was declared ended in San Francisco. They had a big celebration and went back to business as usual. But then the second wave hit a few weeks later, even harder, and people did not want to go back into quarantine. A group called The Anti-Mask League formed and held big demonstrations and the city declined to close movie theaters and businesses, and from December to February the number of deaths in the city doubled.

Kentucky had one of these stupid protests last Wednesday and Sunday the state had 273 new cases, the highest one-day spike in the state since the pandemic began. You hate to wish ill of anyone, but there is a little bit of Darwin Effect in some of this. They were protesting for the right to be exposed to infection and the right to spread it to others, and there ya go.

I think in some ways these insane demonstrations are a kind of warm-up or test of the rightwing propaganda machine. They are setting up the communications networks and preparing the slogans, the Facebook groups, to spring into action as the November elections near. At this point in time they are able to get hundreds of people to literally go out and conduct kamikaze protests. Maybe the rich folk who run the Party will be able to get them to vote for Trump again.

Friday, April 10, 2020

An Unprecedented Disaster

Can we agree yet that America under Trump is an unprecedented disaster? The guy has no interest in running the government, and in fact at this point it is appearing that he is destroying the country intentionally. You couldn't accidentally do this badly.

The president dismantled the pandemic team a couple of years ago and cut the budget to the CDC. When the pandemic came to the US he said "It's going to disappear. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear," and he went off to play golf and hold campaign rallies.

As the epidemic exploded into chaos, Trump claimed he is "not responsible at all" and told the states to figure out where to get their own supplies, while the federal government confiscated medical supplies that the states had ordered.

He put Jared Kushner in charge.

Hospitals are cutting their employees, reducing pay, nurses are wearing garbage bags for protection. Doctors and nurses make up a significant proportion of the cases, including deaths, because they are working without protective equipment that the government used to stockpile, but somehow the stockpile was not maintained and now the stockpile is almost depleted.

We have no idea how many Americans have the disease, who is most vulnerable, how it is spreading, where it is subsiding, because we are not conducting enough tests. The federal government had announced it is not funding any tests after today, though as of yesterday they say they will help sites that ask for it. Typically, nobody knows what is going on.

Why would they even consider that? Testing is the only way for us to get knowledge about the epidemic, so we can plan a rational strategy to deal with it. The United States has no strategy. We have people avoiding one another and Republicans worrying about the economy, urging us to get back to work and stop hiding under the bed.

The president has expressed no concern or sympathy for any of the tens of thousands dead from the disease, but he is concerned about the stock market and his Facebook and television ratings. He is in a big hurry to get people back out in public to be exposed to the virus even more. He wants to save the cruise industry and the hotels.

It is time to ask the question: why is he doing this?

The thing is, there are so many possible explanations that there is no best theory. Personal, financial, political... This is an unprecedented attack on American society and it is succeeding. When Trump came into office his spokesperson said they intended to "deconstruct the administrative state," and indeed he appointed comically unqualified people, fired the competent ones, and ran the whole government like a three-year-old in a mud puddle. Now thousands are dead and the economy is a shambles. Since the start of the pandemic he has replaced or fired key people, he has eliminated all regulations to protect the environment, arranged government bailouts that will go to his own companies, fired two inspectors general who would oversee his corruption, reorganized his office for the umpteenth time, I don't need to go on, you can read the news same as me. It is an unprecedented attack on America. We have literally never seen anything like this before.

Americans are staying in, practicing "social distancing" very well, and the virus' spread has been slowed in many places. But the United States did literally nothing at all, as a unified country, for critical months while this thing built up. The intelligence community was aware of the epidemic in Wuhan and began briefing high-level White House staff last November, and they did nothing until the middle of March. Didn't buy supplies, didn't plan, didn't alert the public or the medical community: nothing.

Could this be mere incompetence? It really doesn't seem possible. Look at the Republican Senators who sold their stocks in anticipation of the pandemic, but did not warn citizens about it -- they are all in on this. Even a bungler would appear to feel sorry when thousands of people were dying, but Trump acts like these are characters on a TV show. Why is the federal government intercepting supplies headed to states who ordered them? That isn't incompetence, that is intentionally interfering, making it harder for Americans to fight the disease. It can't be simple incompetence.

[Update: CNN: Federal support to end for coronavirus testing sites

He changed his mind again.]

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Murder

Tweet of the day: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

A: No

There is so much going on, as we hunker down in our houses, social distancing, living in fear and dying by the tens of thousands. America was unprepared for the pandemic, intentionally so, as our elected leadership first fired the country's pandemic experts and then watched without responding as the epidemic began to flare up in China. No preparations were made, as the President insisted US cases would quickly go from fifteen to zero and the coronavirus would vanish "like a miracle." States and municipalities did what they could but resources were not, and are not, available. There are no masks, ventilators, hospital beds. Nobody imported them, manufactured them, ordered them. Our ability to address the epidemic diminishes as medical staff are exposed to the virus, getting sick, dying. I don't need to tell you this. It's bad. It affects all of us personally.

This morning we are reading about the federal government's decision not to send medical supplies to Michigan or Washington state. In Exchange for Aid, Trump Wants Praise From Governors He Can Use in Campaign Ads

In a press conference, the President reported what he had said to Mike Pence, who leads the pandemic response team:
“I tell him — I mean I’m a different type of person — I say, 'Mike, don’t call the governor in Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan' ... If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call. ... When they’re not appreciative to me, they’re not appreciative to the Army Corps, they’re not appreciative to FEMA, it’s not right.”
The governor of Michigan has told the press that federal officials have told medical supply vendors not to deliver critically necessary equipment to her state.

"When the federal government told us that we needed to go it ourselves, we started procuring every item we could get our hands on," [Michigan governor Gretchen Esther] Whitmer said Friday on WWJ 950AM. "What I've gotten back is that vendors with whom we had contracts are now being told not to send stuff here to Michigan. It's really concerning." Whitmer: Feds told vendors not to send medical supplies to Michigan

We are used to the president's pettiness. He surrounds himself with sycophants. He likes to be "appreciated," he cannot stand to be criticized. We know that, it is all part of the reality-TV life we live now.

But this is murder. There is nothing cute or funny about it. He's not draining the swamp or speaking for the voiceless, he is simply arranging for people to die. It's just wrong. No American life should depend on whether they or their governor "shows appreciation" for someone in Washington DC. I know there are people who will defend him, but this does not meet the standard of a modern civilized society.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Coronavirus, Wages, Healthcare

The really nasty thing about this particular virus is that it is very contagious and sometimes the symptoms are not very bad; someone can infect others even if they don't realize they themselves are infected. The death rate for this virus is terrifyingly high, but lots of infected people do not get very sick.

If you've got a job without paid sick leave then when you feel bad you have to decide whether this is bad enough to give up a whole day's pay. Given that jobs without benefits don't tend to pay that much to start with, people living hand to mouth, it is a certainty that many will decide to go to work. And as their co-workers catch the infection they will do the same thing. The company's cheapskate policy of making people work when they are sick can cause a destructive infectious cascade. First the company is going to collapse and then the surrounding community will be overtaken in ever-widening circles of infection.

If that company had had a sick leave policy, maybe they would have had to pay for some days off over the years, but the impact on the company as a whole would be buffered in an emergency. You can't realistically tell employees to live without money, but it is good for the company to have a policy that keeps people from coming in when they are contagious.

Similarly, consider the millions of Americans who do not have good health insurance. It costs hundreds of dollars to be tested for coronavirus, never mind being treated if it turns serious. Who do you know that is going to reach into their pocket for cash to pay for that test? To the individual it doesn't matter what kind of virus you have, it's a respiratory infection with fever, and if it turns into pneumonia or super-high fever you're going to have to be treated in the hospital no matter what germ it is. If it doesn't, you don't have to go to the hospital and it doesn't matter to you personally what particular virus you had. People won't spend their savings on medical expenses unless it's justified. The result is that your ordinary American without good health insurance is not going to be diagnosed and will not be isolated. Maybe you'll be okay, but two percent of the people you pass the virus to are going to die from it. Ever-widening circles add up to a lot of people.

In the meantime, while people avoid medical costs the authorities will not be able to assess how widespread the epidemic is. Without diagnoses there will be no statistics, no tracking, without engagement of doctors there will be no insights for how to control it. Scientifically, it will be like the Dark Ages again, the Black Death.

Some smarty on Twitter yesterday described us as a "country where a key source of healthcare is GoFundMe." If we had universal coverage then cases could be diagnosed, quarantines and treatment could be implemented rationally, the progress of the epidemic could be monitored, and catastrophic damage could be kept to a minimum. But when people pay their own medical bills the fact is that they are not going to spend thousands of dollars on something that might seem like a bad cold to them, even though it might kill the next person.

This is a case where we are all interdependent. Anyone you pass close to, anyone who has been in a room before you or handled something that you pick up, can spread the virus to you, no matter how good your health insurance is. It is in your personal best interest to be surrounded by strangers who can be diagnosed, treated, and isolated as appropriate, in a rational and well-coordinated manner.

You might be one of the lucky ones, and you might not be. We don't know who will get sick and who will die. But we are all safer in a society where everyone has paid sick leave and full access to comprehensive healthcare. The cost is shared, and the payoff is shared.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Stopping the Runaway Train

The November election is the last opportunity for reasonable Americans to stop the runaway train of fascism. Trump's support hangs around forty percent no matter what, and that is a beatable mark. Of course the electoral college distributes the impact of votes, overweighting unpopulated areas, but that is all just a matter of strategy. The party leaders and the candidate, whoever it might be, need to have a plan to win key electoral-college states, and they know what those are.

We are currently in the chaos of primary season, and Democrats have a gang of wannabes striving to win the nomination. They range along many dimensions, including some interestingly unique choices, each has a set of priorities and favorite policies, each brings a personal history of decision-making and acting and old videos of them saying things they wish they hadn't said, and they vary in charisma, speaking styles, the ability to listen. You know this, everybody understands this. You might have a favorite right now but many people do not. There is some nastiness going on as candidates maneuver to reach the top of the pyramid, but basically all are on the same page.

There is a bumper sticker: "Any adult in 2020."

I don't know how they will pay for universal health coverage, or whether we should support the Kurds or the Palestinians or anything else. I just want somebody who will get the facts, listen to the experts, consider what America stands for in the world and what the country needs, and make a good rational decision. Maybe they will declare or end a war, or sanctions, and maybe they will penalize Wall Street, or subsidize them. I don't care, as long as they are taking all the facts into account and making decisions based on the country's best interests. Any adult.

Sometimes politicians make promises and fail to deliver. Sometimes they say something palatable even when they plan to do something that might be controversial. Sometimes they nod and seem to agree with people when they don't really. I don't like any of that, but it's okay, it's normal, the world is dynamic and crazy and sometimes you gotta float and adapt to unanticipated changes. But normal, non-fascist politicians do not lie when everyone can see the truth, they do not steal from the populace like we are a bunch of suckers, normal politicians are held to an ethical standard and are censured or removed when they violate it. The Republicans are trying to establish a new normality, a system where oligarchical leaders have unquestionable power, and we have to stop that. This sham impeachment trial proves that the problem exists across the party, it is not just Trump. The whole bunch of them denied reality in order to support him, poked their own eyes out so they wouldn't see the truth. Forty percent of Americans prefer a dictatorship over democracy.

I do not want a travel ban based on religion. I do not want federal diplomacy, policies, and funds used to boost the president's political support and profits. I don't want the president's unqualified family members put into important roles. I don't want a cabinet full of donors and scam artists who are ignorant about their Department's responsibilities and are getting rich off the job while they plunder our nation's natural resources and human capital. I don't want tens of thousands of outright lies and moronic tweets, I don't want the president calling people names and interfering in court cases and trying to promote his own businesses from the Oval Office. I don't love dictators and I don't think my kind of people are superior to black people or gay and transgender people, or women, or Chinese people, or Mexicans, I want to see fair and equal treatment for everyone. I want to see sensible international policies that increase our national security and standing in the world order, that benefit our businesses and spread freedom and democracy to places that have never had it. I'd like to see the temperature drop a degree or two, clean water in American cities, gun violence controlled somehow.

You get that already. I am pretty much the same as everybody in these ways.

All of the Democratic candidates meet that standard. We can fight among ourselves now, we have our favorite and our person will probably not win the nomination. You might think the DNC is crooked and maybe it is, but all of the people running right now would be great in the presidency. You might want to focus on winning Senate seats, and that's a good idea too, it does not conflict with presidential goals. Reasonable people have to stop this train at all levels of government, top to bottom.

I am not concerned right now about "unification." We will have to stand together when the time comes, but now we have a sifting process where we need to pick a candidate. This is the time to argue among ourselves, to select a candidate who we think will best serve the country. If they are called a "socialist" or an unprincipled centrist, well, if that's our candidate then that's the choice; you and I might have a preference but either kind of candidate can lead the country back to freedom, democracy, stability.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Warning from the Past

Earlier today, I was in an American Legion hanging up posters and they had the TV on. Well they had two TVs on, actually, Gunsmoke over the bar and the impeachment proceedings behind the pool tables. A bad guy in a black hat was threatening a woman in the bar, and in the billiard room Adam Schiff was addressing the Senate.

As I listened, I thought, man, Adam's been working on his speechifying -- them's some purty words there. He seemed to be describing President Trump, but in nearly poetic terms, brutally direct but at the same time the language was decorous and genteel. I saw some writing at the bottom of the screen and as I came closer to the TV I discovered that Schiff was reading a quote from Alexander Hamilton, writing to George Washington in 1792. Here it is:
When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'
Donald Trump is not a new or unique phenomenon, people like him have always existed. More than two centuries ago the Founders recognized the danger this kind of person posed to democracy and the way of life in our new country.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Literacy

I have a simple theory about Trump and his followers. It's all about reading. Trump doesn't read, and his followers don't read.

That's all. You can divide America into two halves, the half that reads and the half that doesn't read.

Do you think any Trump voter at all read the Mueller report? No, of course, he didn't read it either, but announced that it exonerates him and they believe him, though it explicitly does not. How about the six pages of dotardic whining he sent to Nancy Pelosi yesterday? His followers will think it says whatever he tells them it says.

Trump is not very smart but he knows how to manipulate people. When he doesn't want his people to know what is in a document, he tells them what he wants them to believe the document says.

The greatest example is the incriminating transcript of his phone call with the Ukrainian president, which by the way isn't even a transcript, it's some notes. But still, Trump released them and said, see, it proves I'm innocent. And so his followers believe the so-called transcript proves his innocence. Trump has made it a kind of mantra: "Read the transcript, read the transcript." The more he says it, the more people who can't read think it must say something that is good for him. It doesn't.

The transcript is an admission of guilt. He is quoted breaking the law, violating the Constitution and the people's trust. But you'd have to, actually, read it to know that. The Daily Show went to a Trump rally and talked to people about this. (Warning, they use the word "bullshit" sometimes.) The relevant part starts at about 4:05 into it.



To me, the question is not whether there is quid pro quo or pressure applied, none of that. As far as impeachment goes, I know this is hard to quantify but if you read this transcript or quotes of any Trump speech or comments, you come to the certain conclusion that the guy doesn't know anything, he cannot think logically, he can barely manage to form a sentence. He watches TV and ... that's it. I do not mean he is handicapped with an inferior brain or a low IQ, I mean that he nurtures his own ignorance by avoiding exposure to facts and reason and diverse perspectives.

I think this was the part of the phone call that got me: "I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation ..." Listen, who talks like that? The "whole situation with Ukraine," That is a country and he is talking to the President of it; the "whole situation" is Zelensky's job and it includes everything from pedestrian casualties and food safety to extortion in the oil industry. "Your wealthy people?" What? Which ones? What about them? "The server--" how could Zelensky possibly know what he is talking about? "The whole situation..." again, he is assuming this Ukrainian politician knows what he means and this is just the way a stupid person talks. This is definitive. It is incoherent. Never mind quid pro quo, a person whose thoughts are this loosely connected should not be running any country.

Unfortunately, it seems that Republicans think this is normal conversation between two presidents, Archie Bunker and his Ukrainian counterpart grunting in monosyllables.

Yesterday's letter to Pelosi will go into the history books. It demonstrates over and over that Trump has no idea what impeachment is, how it works, what is in the Constitution, what his duties and responsibilities are as President, and he has no idea what he has done wrong. He just thinks Democrats are picking on him for political gain. He watches Fox and accepts whatever they say as fact, instead of consulting his experts or reading for himself what others have written. The letter proves that he is simply mentally unqualified to preside.

Reading is a direct way to learn about points of view that might not follow from your own personal experience. An author may live very differently from you and have insights you would not have discovered on your own. The facts, for instance, the facts of electoral interference by foreign countries, are well documented from many perspectives, and if you read thoroughly you can see when someone is trying to fool you, and you can read other points of view and put the pieces together yourself. You can form your own conclusions based on facts and consideration of many sources of information. It is not actually hard to "know who to believe," as we hear people complaining now. Read a lot, learn a lot, the facts will be clear to you.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Elitism and Education

It was a cool move for the House Judiciary Committee to invite a panel of law professors to their first hearing. It seems obvious on the face of it, we are talking about impeaching a President, we should understand the legal standards and precedents as we consider our decision.

With this gesture the Democratic majority gave the Republicans an opportunity to state, clearly and on the record, their hypocritical support for ignorance and disrespect for education. Remember that fifteen of the seventeen Republicans on the committee are lawyers, they have been to law school themselves. But, for instance Rep. Matt Gaetz -- who holds a JD from William and Mary -- told Stanford Law School Professor Pamela Karlan that she was unable to see from “the ivory towers of your law school,” and how condescending she was being to “actual people in this country.”

Paul Taylor, the chief counsel for Republicans on the committee (Harvard Law '94), suggested that liberals control the legal profession as a whole -- which to me is an amazing accusation. He claimed, and we don't know if this is true, that 97 percent of 2016 presidential campaign campaign contributions from lawyers went to Hillary Clinton while Trump received only 3 percent. To them, this means that lawyers are biased against them. To me it means that if you understand how the country works you will tend to hold so-called "liberal" beliefs. A good education teaches you to seek out facts and reject old wives' tales, and the result is a liberal belief system. It is just weird to suggest that some group called "liberals" is controlling them.

This is why Betsy DeVos is so important. If the Republicans want to win future elections, it is in their interest to keep the public uninformed and uneducated. They need to make education as expensive and as ineffective as they can, because education is the enemy of conservatism as it is known today.

Their line in the sand is "us" versus "elites." Def: "A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society." Think for a minute about what it means to oppose superior abilities and qualities.

Even the mainstream press plays along with this, tossing the concept of "elites" around as if it meant snobs or some kind of lace-cuffed, powder-wigged aristocrats. There's nothing wrong with working with your hands for a living, but there is also nothing wrong with being smart, with speaking clearly, with keeping yourself informed of objective facts. These two things are not opposed.

Kellyanne Conway said this on Fox yesterday:
If you went to work today to manicure nails, to manicure a lawn, if you went to work with a jackhammer or a welding machine or mechanic's tools or a carpentry belt and not three degrees from Yale, that woman yesterday looks her nose down on you. She thinks that you are less than her. And I've had it. Do you know why that man ran for President in the first place, for the forgotten man, the forgotten woman? You know why I'm still here at the White House? For you. For people who are looked down upon by people with three Yale law degrees had the audacity, the audacity to say that liberals like to cluster together and live together while conservatives can't even stand to be together, that's why they're scattered. Who the hell are you, lady? Look down at half of the country."
To which the Fox & Friends guy said, "That's a good point."

And ... I know hypocrisy is not something that conservatives worry much about but Kellyanne Conway herself earned a Juris Doctor with honors from the George Washington University Law School. She is counting on Fox watchers to be too dumb to look that up.

Our country has a Constitution and a couple hundred years of history to test it and toughen it up, and the ordinary doofus like you and me doesn't know the details. We don't have time to know everything about everything; we need some elite professors to come in and tell us how the vague wording of the founders came to be, what they intended, how it has been interpreted in the centuries since the words were first composed. You don't have to make fun of them. It is not "boring" or irrelevant. The actual problem is that our President is himself an ordinary doofus when it comes to these things, but does not respect the elites, the academics, people who are knowledgeable, well enough to ask their opinion before he shoots his mouth off. He doesn't know and he doesn't care. Doofusism is not better than actual knowledge.

Last summer, Trump said “I have an Article Two where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” In a country of uneducated people who resent expertise and knowledge, that is, to Republicans, this might hold water. But in fact Article Two is written where anybody can read it, and we are lucky to have educational institutions full of elite professors who can explain the nuances to us. Article Two defines an executive who is not a king, who cannot do whatever he or she wants. You can count on Fox viewers to be too dumb to look that up.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

What Do They Want?

So here's my question -- what do they want? We know what Democrats want. They want cheaper, better, or even free health care. Affordable and good education. They want lawful, regulated, and fair immigration. Equal treatment for all citizens regardless of who they are. Everybody votes. They want to promote democratic ideals in foreign policies and discourage authoritarianism, injustice, and genocide. They want to regulate guns in a way that protects gun-owners' rights but keeps insanely deadly weapons out of the hands of potential murderers. And so on.

And the Republicans, as far as I can tell, are ... against that. We don't all have to agree on everything, and I am sure there are reasonable alternatives to all of the above, but we just have not heard any of them. Say, Obamacare. Republicans are against it. Okay, I get that it's got "Obama" right in the name. Reminds them that they lost a few elections, and the black guy won. But what is their plan, instead? Deregulation is something they like, do they think insurance companies, pharmacy corporations, and big hospital conglomerates should operate without regulation? It looks like it. Do Republicans really like the idea of breaking up families and keeping children in cages, in violation of clear legal standards for seeking amnesty, traveling, and immigrating? Is that something they believe in? Do Republicans think that mass murder is just a fact of life and it is just fine to live with mass shootings nearly every day? Is that part of their platform? To them, the "gun problem" is that there are not enough guns.

They mutter about a civil war, like they are ready to rise up against the tyranny. But look, for two years the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. Why would they need to rebel against that? Okay, now it's only one house of Congress. Still, they can do a lot with that, just look at the courts. The government is theirs, what's this civil war thing about? You've got it, you're running things, now show us what it is you want to do. Then we will be able to see if it works or not. The victim thing doesn't work when you are on top. Have Trump and his Republican Congress done anything? If they have, I can't think of it. And the deal is, if you can't run the country then you will have to get out of the way and let some professionals take it over.

The liberals are fighting back, of course. They are not threatening civil war, but instead are following Constitutional guidelines to hold the President accountable for "high crimes and misdemeanors." They are focusing on one serious violation and letting the others go. Of course the President realizes that whether he resigns or is kicked out, he will be criminally liable for all those crimes that are not included in the impeachment proceeding, and there are a lot of them. So impeachment is about one little ol' extortion scheme involving little ol' Ukraine. Trust me, the fraud and money laundering, racketeering, tax evasion, perjury, and crimes against the United States are coming. He might even get pardoned for the Ukraine stuff, if Pence is able to squirm out of the net. I am pretty sure President Pelosi will not pardon him. But in any case he cannot be pardoned for the things he was not charged with in the impeachment process. When he steps out of the White House the sheriff'll be waiting.

And I am just wondering, what is this for? Is it really that gratifying to own the libtards, such a great feeling that you would trash the whole country for a snort of it?

If there were such a thing as "conservative principles," I would love to hear about it. We could debate them, negotiate, compromise, give speeches about principles, comparing ours to the other guy's. But it does not seem that there are any. It is just greed, rudeness, lying, belligerence, and simmering resentment. Is that what they want?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Dictators

Dictatorship is not alway a bad thing, y'know. A dictator can strip away the red tape and get things done. If the Metro is too slow, the dictator can order it to run faster. If your cable company is gouging you, he (it is alway a he) can order them to lower prices and give customers free services and extra channels. If your medicine costs too much he can lower the price, just like that. You put a strong authoritarian in charge and he can get a lot of stuff done. Why was health care in Cuba better than ours after decades of Castro's rule? When the beaches of Boracay were too polluted for tourists, Filipino President Duterte sent troops there to shut the whole island down for six months and clean it up. If you put one guy in charge, and he gives orders, where the alternative is to be executed on the spot, guess what -- you can get a lot of stuff done.

Lots of Americans like the idea of dictatorship. There are problems in the country, so why don't we just go ahead and put somebody in charge to fix them? The logic is obvious.

Our system of government is based on the premise that people can govern themselves. We vote on stuff, debate issues in public, elect leaders. If the people are running things they can make choices that are fair to themselves as a whole. So, like, if you are accused of a crime the government doesn't just take you out back and shoot you. A dictator can do that, Duterte himself has gone out and killed "drug dealers" without a trial or any justice process. When the people are in charge they don't like the idea that they might be shot by authorities for attracting suspicion, or that they will be disappeared for holding an opinion that their leader disapproves of. So in the USA we pass laws and set up processes to treat people fairly and allow ordinary people to prosper. We call it "freedom."

That means, generally, that government programs are expensive and take a lot of time. Democracies want to hear from all interested parties, they want to do studies of the possible effects of decisions, they want to debate and discuss all aspects of a change so that policies are good for the people. A government needs a detailed plan and a budget before they start anything. Sometimes it happens that a leader meets with their diplomats and military experts and subject-matter experts and makes a decision that the relatively uninformed general public doesn't very well understand; maybe there is a decision to declare a war, or to decline to respond to some aggression, or maybe the government invests in a sagging industry or lets one fail. If the people really don't like the decisions they can elect a new leader. The public understands that situations are complicated and that leaders have detailed knowledge that the rest of us don't have. It's our job to elect someone we can more-or-less trust.

Trump was elected to be a dictator, and he would be one if he could. He tries to cut the experts out of his decision-making and works "from the gut," under the theory that it is best to do something, even if it is wrong. Unfortunately that means that his decisions are often foolish and unworkable, as he fails to take important factors into account. It also means that his decisions almost always enrich himself and his circle of friends, and oddly his most important decisions tend to benefit Russia more than the US. We don't have any way to know how he comes to any decision, and he does not feel it's any of our business.

Our country's founders recognized these weaknesses in a dictatorial form of government, and they worked long and hard to figure out a plan to avoid it. So far the system is holding. Though Trump and his accomplices in the Republican Party have packed the courts with sympathetic judges, even conservative judges still have to rule in accordance with the Constitution and the laws. The result was that, with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress who would approve anything he wanted, Trump still could not get anything done. And with the House going to the opposition party, he is being held accountable for his crimes and faces impeachment, as provided for by the Constitution.

Everybody understands the frustration of red tape, of having to look at all sides of an issue before you decide what to do, of having to consider things that are not important to yourself personally but might affect others. It might seem needlessly complicated, when you know that a simple decision is all you need. But there are good reasons to do it this way. I hope that enduring a few years of Trump's attempted dictatorship will teach us a lesson that we remember for a generation, at least.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Cowardice

Afraid to defend the Constitution and American values.

“The Republican party has got to get a grip on itself,” Former Secy. of State Colin Powell on the state of the current GOP. “Republican leaders and members of the Congress… are holding back because they’re terrified of what will happen [to] any one of them if they speak out."

Mike Murphy, a former senior adviser to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and John McCain:
“One Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump,” Murphy said.

"I heard someone say if there were a private vote there would be 30 Republican votes. That's not true," [Republican former Senator Jeff] Flake said on Slate's "What Next" podcast. "There would be at least 35."

“Nobody wants to be the zebra that strays from the pack and gets gobbled up by the lion,” a former senior administration official said in assessing the current consensus among Senate Republicans. “They have to hold hands and jump simultaneously … Then Trump is immediately no longer president and the power he can exert over them and the punishment he can inflict is, in the snap of a finger, almost completely erased.”

et cetera