Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Unity

Biden says he wants to unite people. Some interpret this as meaning a bipartisan thing, that he will give a little and the other side will give a little. So the question is, is there room to compromise, to meet in the middle? Is President Biden promising to adopt Republican policies to unite the people? I don't think that's what he means.

I would typify the previous administration as an incompetent presidency, with the economy gone to hell, massive corruption, natural disasters with no response, and of course a pandemic that somehow didn't get the message that it was supposed to go away like magic. But conservatives hate to see Trump go, they insist that he fulfilled his campaign promises, that he gave them what they wanted. I am not really the one to speak for what a great job he did, but I saw a few things that he delivered for his voters. Off the top of my head:

The wall. An attempt to physically block immigrants from coming over the border. Completely ineffective on every level and Mexico did not pay for it, but conservatives loved it as a symbol of American fear.

Muslim ban. The assumption is that all Muslims are terrorists, they hate our way of life. All billion and a half of them are our enemy. For many Americans this is (ironically) a no-brainer.

Amnesty for domestic terrorists. Armed militants taking over state capitols, caravans attacking cities with federal and local police protection. White murderers and vandals praised and rewarded.

ICE. Not just blocking immigrants, but humiliating them, making refugees' miserable lives even more miserable. So what if a few hundred women are raped, a few hundred kids are taken from their mothers, a few thousand get COVID, a few dozen die? What in the world ever gave all those foreigners the idea we would welcome the huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

Wealth inequality. The rich got much richer under the previous administration, and the poor got poorer. Good job, Republicans!

The courts. It didn't really help him any, but the Republicans under Trump filled the courts with conservative and incompetent judges. I think this is really about abortion, which the Bible says is ... uh never mind, it doesn't say anything about it.

Racist police violence. Conservatives loved the police brutality in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and other cities, blaming it on the victims. Their point of course is that those people deserve it. Tear gas, rubber bullets, running over people, kettling and beating people, chokeholds -- conservatives think this is great, as long as the victims are Black or, you know, antifa or something.

Gay and transgender people. Rights eliminated all over the place. Hey, it's their choice, if they don't want to be discriminated against they ought to just quit that stuff.

Women. Grab 'em. The Stormy Daniels situation was something to be proud of, what a stud. And you could tell there were a bunch of others too, man this guy is a regular Romeo. Official Republican platform: hot women are the best. The rest of them are bitches, especially the ugly ones.

Guns. Look, Trump doesn't know anything about guns. He's a New York real estate developer. He's got soft little hands. But the point is, he is in favor of white people being able to shoot somebody without getting arrested. The Constitution is: sumpn sumpn Second Amendment sumpn sumpn sumpn, under God.

In other words, no, there is not room to compromise. Those of us who care do not want to see America turn into that. By that I mean, a majority of Americans do not and did not want that. Hate had its turn, it didn't work out, it's time to move on.

Unity does not mean compromise. It means inviting people back into our community who have been pushed out, often verbally and sometimes literally attacked by our government. The saying during the previous administration was "it's all about the cruelty," and that is going to stop. Laws need to be enforced, order needs to be maintained, but the government does not need to be abusive to people just because they don't meet the privileged profile.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

The End of Doomscrolling

A browsing technique emerged on Twitter and news media over the past four years, called doomscrolling. This is where you go to your phone or computer every half hour or so and scroll furiously down the screen to see what insane or atrocious thing the President or his team have just done. Journalists found new ways to say, "We thought we had seen the craziest, stupidest thing possible, but he has outdone himself," and then they would describe some boorish or ill-considered decision or outburst, and by the time you read it the President and his crew had broken their own record and you had to scroll again to find out about the newest Worst Thing Ever. Pitching paper towels in Puerto Rico, Four Seasons Total Landscaping, "Lock her up..." I could go on for a long time.

We don't doomscroll now. Occasionally the White House press secretary gets off a mild zinger, but these are easily defensible statements of values and assurance that the US has changed directions. The President is not shooting gotchas at his enemies, he is meeting with them and trying to work out deals. And if they don't want to contribute something, he has both houses of Congress and will go ahead with the agenda he was elected to implement. The Republicans have their reasons for hoping he doesn't do too well, y'know, and sometimes he's got to roll past them. There's no time for their malarkey, man.

People are liking this. No poll has had Biden's popularity under fifty percent since he was inaugurated -- you might remember, Trump never got up to fifty percent. And as for his policies, Yahoo conducted a survey:

When asked about the 20 policies that define President Biden’s agenda, more Americans support than oppose all 20 of them, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

The margins are decisive. The majority of Biden’s proposals garner at least twice as much support as opposition. Nearly half are favored by more than 60 percent of Americans.

The biggest issue facing the country right now is the coronavirus pandemic. During Trump's term it appeared he was intentionally undermining the United States, and he left us in bad shape. The previous administration lied about having reserves of vaccine. Their statistics were sabotaged to make the epidemic look less deadly than it actually was. They muzzled the scientists, hijacked the protective gear -- the State Department literally overruled the CDC to bring infected people into the country and release them to wander around and infect others. The actual plan was to let Americans get sick and die until there was nobody left to infect. There was no strategy for distributing vaccine, even with a year to figure it out.

It is frustrating now to see the government scramble to get vaccine made, to see the logistical difficulties of getting "shots into arms" of people (I hate that phrase), but everybody knows the situation. It's going to take a little while to recover from Trump's attempt to bring our country to its knees but progress is visible. Each state still has its own approaches and quirks, with "good governors" turning into "bad governors" and vice versa from day to day, but it is very complicated to chase down an invisible enemy, disrupting everyone's lives, figuring out how to prioritize fairly while still giving the rich and powerful their expected special treatment. There are rumors about the vaccines, some are borderline-credible and some are borderline-schizophrenic, but a good percentage of people are afraid to take the stuff. It's hard to reach people, hard to keep records, hard to transport the medicine... there are competing layers of complexity in every aspect of this task.

There is a thing that I told my kids when life dealt them difficulties, like for instance a knot in their shoelaces or a friend's sudden change of heart: It's just a problem, and all you have to do is solve it. You can freak out, you can blame somebody, you can feel sorry for yourself, you can deny they exist, but you will inevitably encounter problems, and the way to get past them is to solve them. So Biden's administration is taking the coronavirus problem and breaking it into its components -- statistics and prevention, informing the public, subsidizing a stalled economy, vaccine production, deployment, etc. -- and figuring out how to solve each of the sub-problems. It may seem overwhelming but it's not actually the end of the world, it is a big problem and it will be hard to solve but at least the President is doing that. He doesn't have to blame China or brag about what strong and great measures he has taken, he needs to boost vaccine production and put supply chains into place to get the stuff to the people, and he's doing that.

So you don't have to doomscroll these days. There might be a breakthrough today, or a setback, but generally you know where this is going. We citizens need to stay home, wear masks, avoid crowds, wash our hands, and hold on while they figure it out. You will eventually get a phone call or email telling you how to schedule an appointment for a shot, and while that is not the end of it, you can at least relax a little knowing that your life has been saved. The end of this catastrophe is in sight.

It will make a lot of difference to have competent leadership in this country. There are still big issues to resolve, especially in some of the states, but these are just problems, and all we have to do is solve them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A New Day in History

Four years of unimaginable dystopia come to an end today as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn into office as President and Vice President of the United States. It is a solemn occasion held in a city filled end to end with soldiers to protect the incoming executives from the white nationalist rebellion fostered by the outgoing President. The event will be attended by a carefully selected few in a time when uncontrolled pandemic sweeps through the country, killing thousands every day and interrupting normal business and daily activity. There will be no inaugural balls, no parties, not even a parade.

The country looks ahead to recovery. Management at the federal level, which has been suspended for months, will be resumed today. Incompetent grifters appointed to powerful positions will be ushered out. Policies implemented to serve the rich and greedy will be reversed in executive orders and legislative bills, one by one. Hands will reach across the chasm to our allies, reassuring them that we are awakening from our nightmare. Tyrants around the world will once again be pressed to promote policies of freedom and human rights.

The Trump legacy will not end abruptly. We can expect racist mobs, police violence, outbreaks of anti-American sentiment, to continue. Republicans and their propaganda media outlets have declined to refute the Big Lie, and millions of gullible citizens still believe against all evidence that Biden and Harris won a rigged election. The Big Lie will be the Trump legacy, and it will be Biden's challenge.

The fact that we survived to this point is confirmation of the strength of the Constitution and the wisdom of the Framers. We wish the new administration good fortune in leading the recovery of a badly injured country.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Two Theories About What Happened

The people who were supposed to be in charge of security at the Capitol on January 6th all said nearly the same thing: "We had no idea this group would be a problem." They said this even after weeks of social media postings and rally promotions declaring the intention of storming the Capitol and starting a civil war, among other things. They said this even though their own field offices had sent memos and notices warning of violence. The security people said they were caught totally by surprise.

So it seems like you have a choice of two theories. One, the heads of the Pentagon, the Capitol Police, Metro Police, House and Senate Sergeants at Arms, and every other police and security force were in on it. They may have been part of the planning process, with Trump and his entourage telling them to stand down and stay away and let the rightwing revolutionaries do their thing busting up the Capitol. Once the election was disrupted and the Vice President and a few Congresspeople had been executed, then they could send some cops and soldiers in to chase everybody out. Oh, and no arrests, please. We'll blame antifa afterwards, no problem.

This theory is entirely plausible. If you live around here you know how the government buildings are, you don't just stroll into them. Once you get through the lines, after the barricades, there are metal detectors, x-ray machines, pat-downs and wanding. And whenever there is a protest or parade the whole mall and surrounding area is flooded with cops. January Sixth there was none of that. All of Congress -- both chambers -- were meeting together, along with the Vice President, in one room, and there were a handful of Capitol Cops stationed outside, about the same as any pandemic Wednesday with tours canceled.

There are reasons to believe the theory that this attempted coup was a setup from top to bottom. We can be sure that Trump himself was in on it, refusing to authorize National Guard help from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and we can be sure his idiotic Acting Secretary of Defense was in on it, and probably some generals who denied requests for support and made sure the military was not ready. There were plenty of mid-level officials who could have assigned security to the occasion, and all they had to do to make the plan a success was nuthin. Just sit there and let the crowd have its way. Memos sat on desks, requests and pleas went unanswered.

The second theory is that they really did not expect violence. Sometimes they express this by saying that they viewed it is a smallish political rally on the mall, happens every day. Some of them said they did not have any reason to believe that Trump followers would have bad intentions. The most-repeated reason was that they didn't like "the optics" of a bunch of uniformed troops outside the Capitol.

This is worse.

I can see if two political factions organize to oppose one another. One side wants democracy and the kind of government we have had for a couple hundred years with constant improvement and expansion of individual rights, and the other side wants to overthrow the US government and install their God-sent dictator to rule us in glory for life. We understand what is going on there. Antifa, and fa. Democrats and Republicans.

Remember when Trump wanted to hold up a Bible in front of a church? They loved the optics of a bunch of uniformed troops shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in a public place. It was Trump's greatest moment, optically, you can still see the dramatic, photogenic clouds of gas, the scrambling, choking crowd, the cops in riot gear with their weapons out, beating citizens. Later one general apologized for stepping out of his role (the optics there were not so good); otherwise everyone understood, that is what this government does. Portland, Seattle, Kenosha, Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Miami, Detroit, Port Huron, St. Louis, Buffalo, New York City, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Pearland Texas, Tacoma ... the federal government sent extra uniformed officers into American cities with military-grade technology to make sure the FOX-watching public could enjoy "the optics" of a repressive police state putting down an uppity minority.

"The optics" is Washington talk for how a show looks to a white audience, and armed-to-the-teeth police cracking down on Black people and hippie socialists is great optics. Those militarized police are rarely enforcing any law, the protesters have a right to be there, but if anybody breaks a window or starts at fire the networks play it over and over again and the optics are great when the cops show up at a protest, an army attacking its own citizens.

But January Sixth, this was white people, Republicans, and the optics of police actively controlling a crowd of insurgents would not look good to white people who normally sit at home and watch TV and the announcer tells them that "BLM and antifa" are looting and rioting and the police had to be called in, and they're dumb enough to believe it. Honey, aren't the police supposed to be on our side?

Two theories, both correct. This was a plot by the fascist right, from the President all the way down to the local police chiefs, to overthrow the federal government, and it was racist security professionals believing their own propaganda. Could it be that any police authority actually believes that "BLM and antifa" are a danger and white supremacists are not? Well, yes, that is exactly what they say. The police departments are infiltrated with white supremacists, including their leadership, definitely their unions. Local police and federal officers have been violently and increasingly suppressing Black people throughout this administration. It makes sense to them to gas and beat groups protesting for rights for Black people, and it just doesn't compute that their own side would cause any trouble beyond a little, y'know, boys-will-be-boys rowdiness, driving around shooting off guns and cracking skulls for fun.

Yes, of course this was planned. Trump has been firing and replacing people in his Cabinet Departments on the basis of loyalty alone for a couple of years. He knew that someday he would need them for this. He and his staff met with police and military leaders and made sure nobody would be around when his people decided to attack. Trump and his family and associates had been talking with violent rightwing groups, planning how they would pull it off, and were actively coordinating with them on the phone while the attack was underway. At the same time, profoundly biased police simply could not imagine any threat from racist Trump supporters. Simply. could. not. imagine. They favor white conservatives so much that they didn't think action was necessary when the mob started marching against our democratic government, breaking windows, smashing in the doors, when they set up a gallows and chanted "Hang Mike Pence" and "Where's Nancy Pelosi" and swarmed through the Capitol building. Their racism is so baked-in that they could not imagine any problem with a white, conservative crowd.

Joe Biden will be inaugurated the day after tomorrow and now the District of Columbia is wall-to-wall soldiers. Citizens will not be able to come into the city for the event, the bridges are blocked, roads are blocked, there are fences and barricades everywhere. There will be no celebration, no inaugural balls, no parade, no cheering crowds. It is a weird transition in a country under attack from within (and there is concern about traitors among the troops). At least these four years of overt, government-sanctioned fascism will be coming to an end.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Closing One Door, Opening Another

If you look back at previous posts here, you will see that on December 21st I wrote, "Trump is planning a 'wild' demonstration in Washington DC on January 6th, the day when the Electoral College vote count is finalized and the results are certified by Congress." That was three weeks before Trump's attempted coup, which took law enforcement entirely by surprise. How did I know that was going to happen? Everybody knew that. Trump had announced it. The social media were all full of talk about it, with lefties agreeing among themselves that it was a good day not to counterprotest -- and in fact there was no counterprotest or liberal presence as far as I saw -- and the radical right licking their chops and planning what to wear on the Big Day (Proud Boys decided on a black ensemble).

And yet, you saw it -- rightwing radicals walked right past the understaffed police, into the Capitol building. Smashed windows, broke things, wandered the halls, stole stuff. A few of them died, one shot by cops, but then after a few hours they walked right back out of the building; some of them paused to pose for selfies with the cops. Almost no arrests. Maryland's Governor Hogan says he offered the Maryland National Guard to help, and was delayed by the Defense Department while rioters looted and vandalized the Capitol; the federal government told him no thanks, not right now -- I will be interested to learn about coordination between the Trump crime syndicate and the Pentagon in this attempted revolution.

Many of the rioters were armed and at least one man in military fatigues who was moving together with several others was carrying a handful of expensive twist ties that are used by police for handcuffs, as if he planned to take hostages; there appears to have been at least one team on a mission inside the Capitol. Work is ongoing to identify the violators, and it appears there are a number of military and police personnel among them. We'll see. The Pentagon agreed to provide 300 unarmed troops, mostly to help oversee traffic checkpoints and Metro subway stations. That's it. They are pretending to have been totally taken by surprise here.

Maybe the puny police presence calls to mind any of a great number of recent scenes of police by the hundreds, armed to the teeth, teargassing and beating peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, running over them with their cars, putting their eyes out with rubber bullets. The contrast is clear. Trump had been promoting this "wild" (as he called it) event for weeks. I have seen two social-media videos of people bragging that they were preparing to come to DC "to occupy the Capitol." Nobody was surprised this happened. It appears that the attempted coup was coordinated between Trump's people, the Pentagon and Capitol Police, and underground rightwing militias and mercenaries; the story will come out but I speculate that intended kidnapping and hostage-taking was interrupted by armed Secret Service officers protecting Mike Pence. Otherwise, you have to agree, the plan went very well.

Trump needs to be removed, either by 25th Amendment or impeachment. Nuff said there. It's time for him to go.

A new team is coming in, with a new tone. Today's poisonous Republican rhetoric has been simmering for several decades and it is time to undercut it and establish a kinder, fairer America. We have real problems and do not need to be making up my-inaugural-crowd-was-bigger and I-did-not-say-that-thing-you-heard-me-say fake controversies for people to take sides on. I have previously talked about several concrete steps that could be taken, all of which were implemented in the past and which could take us back to happier days. And how progressive does that sound?

For one, Citizens United was a 2010 court ruling that overturned 100 years of previous law. With a President and both houses of Congress, the Democrats can quickly and effectively write legislation to un-do that terrible decision, which gives unlimited power to corporations that have unlimited financial resources. They didn't used-ta could do that, and it would be good if they couldn't do that again. The ruling had assumed that corporations would be transparent and not corrupt, and those assumptions have been proven wrong. Put some reasonable limits on what people can donate while you're at it. (I suppose taxing political churches would be too much?) We have billionaires and huge companies who could buy the United States of America, cash on the barrelhead, if they wanted to. Let's make it so us little guys have a share in it too, how about that?

Second thing. In 1987 the all-Republican-appointed FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine. This was the rule that said licensed broadcast media -- radio and TV -- had to present controversial issues of public importance and they had to make it honest, equitable, and balanced. "Too much government regulation," those 80's Republicans said, and then they changed the law, allowing rich investors to influence programming so their message would prevail on radio and TV. The result today: one-sided, fact-free propaganda blasting into American family homes day and night. Beyond the point of endorsing an opinion, some of the shows present fiction as news, claiming that news is a form of entertainment. Bring that law back. I get tired of the same "panel of experts" every night anyway, what if we had news that was news? Is that idea too old-fashioned? They should be accountable for their facts and coverage.

Finally, the Voting Rights Act was, you know, awkward. I appreciate that a lot of people wanted to get rid of it. But people we do have a problem. This year Black people were motivated after four years of Trump's overt racism, and they stood in line for hours, in a pandemic, to vote, and they changed history. This week's results in Georgia, you know what that was? A: Black folks. Many states -- you might find that most states -- make it harder for Black people to vote. Latinos, too. Native Americans have real problems, just getting to a ballot-box. Even poor rural whites. We don't need different rules for Southern states at this point, we just need some federal standards for voting. How many locations should there be per thousand people? What is the maximum distance someone should have to travel to vote? What is a reasonable time to wait? What kinds of ID can be required? Mail voting -- if it's okay then let the law reflect that, at the federal level. How will mail-in deadlines work, if the mail is slow? How will signatures be handled? These should be guidelines that the states have to follow. They don't have to offer mail voting, for instance, but it is all right if they do, and these will be the necessary conditions. Like, maybe they can start counting them before election day, is that unreasonable? Today's voting environment is engineered to give the minority party the advantage; the Democrats have a shot now at making voting a fair process that works equally well for all populations.

Sure I want the $2,000, actually I think universal basic income sounds like a good idea, especially now, in the pandemic, but I'll take the two grand. That isn't why we elected Joe and Kamala. America needs a real change. We need to be kind to people who are suffering and who need help, and we need to be fair to everyone. You and I expect fair treatment, and it should be something all Americans can expect from their government.

I want to see the door slam shut on these Trump criminals. The greed and corruption should be punished to the full extent of every applicable law, and this latest violent coup attempt should send a lot of people to prison -- not just local Second-Amendment-Bubbas but also the leaders who lied to them. All of them, the whole Trump family, their lawyers, their donors, the crooked people who work for them. We cannot shrug and move on, we need to slam the door. And I am picturing a tall door, on rollers, made of steel bars. We need to shut the door on this embarrassing chapter of American criminal leadership and open the door to a way of life that benefits everyone. We need to beat the virus, we need to get back to work, our kids need to be in school -- we need live music!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The New New Year

It seemed like 2020 would never end. It was just one disaster after another until you just about had to laugh, if you still could. We'd ask, what else can go wrong? And then something even worse would happen. In a couple of days we will flip our calendars over, and in a few more weeks America can start a new year.

In the meantime, the President who brought us 2020 will try to see how much disruption and misery he can cause before he is booted out of the White House. Trump has given up on presiding. As the country spirals into 2020's despair he wanders the golf course, inattentive and apathetic.

A suicide bomber took out a few blocks of Nashville: not a peep out of the President. COVID-19 killing three thousand people a day, every day, and not a peep. He got a relief bill and didn't sign it until unemployment benefits ran out for millions of citizens. Vaccine has been prepared for administration and there is no plan, millions of doses sitting in refrigerators while people die. Renters losing their homes and freezing on the streets, police and rightwing gangs joining forces to bring violence to US cities, with the President promoting rebellion on the day that the election results are officially certified by Congress.

It's crazy.

Dana Milbank at The Post writes it up as a King Lear story. And I guess this is how it happens. It seems so majestic on the stage, but the reality does not seem tragic or larger-than-life; this is the story of a miserable little man who got in over his head and refused to take on the responsibility he said he deserved. It is the story of a greedy, petty person who found it easy to complain loudly, but when he talked his way into leadership it was too hard for him. You can't really rule by tantrum; an organization as big as the federal government has policies and procedures, and you have to work with those. I remember George W. Bush saying, "If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier... as long as I'm the dictator. Hehehe." And as much as I hate to agree with him, he was right. It would be easier for the President if he just had to issue orders and people would jump to carry them out, or off with their heads. Also it wouldn't work. The country is just too big to follow one not-very-smart, not-very-mature person's whims.

This year there will be a sort of amendment to the calendar. The year 2020 will officially end on December 31st, as usual. The occasion will be celebrated by people sitting in their homes, possibly drinking, until after midnight. There will be no parties. Times Square will be evacuated. Midnight kisses are for pod members only.

Then, this year we will have a sort of Leap New Year, nineteen days that will be set aside for people to huddle in their homes, holding their breath and hoping we get through them. We can expect those weeks, from January first through January nineteenth, to be Republican Days of Hell, filled with rightwing violence and surging deadly disease. Washington's lies will reach a crescendo as reality-denying politicians make a last-ditch effort try to destroy American democracy and our country's way of life, and fail.

January twentieth will be the New New Year's Day. We will have a modest and dignified inauguration and no bragging about whose crowds were bigger. The new President will put his hand on a Bible that he actually reads and believes in, and will swear to uphold the Constitution, which he has actually read and understands. I expect some rightwing hooligans will try to spoil the ceremony but it doesn't matter, the weight of American history carries a lot of momentum and despite anti-American attempts at disruption our country will emerge from this dystopian phase of history intact and ready to move forward. We have an economy to fix, a disease to subdue, racial injustice and rightwing police violence to tamp down, the climate needs immediate attention. People need to get back to work, kids need to get back to school, businesses need to open, as soon as the coronavirus is beaten, which will become a possibility in the New New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Prediction: It Will Get Worse

Joe Biden is staying calm, appointing people, getting briefings, treating his ascension to the Presidency as a normal thing after a normal election. This is the forty-sixth time we have done this, transitioned from one President to another, and it has become a sort of matter of routine. The exiting President leaves a note in the desk, rides with the new guy to the inauguration, there are meetings between the incoming transition team and departing staff at many levels. It is complicated to replace the CEO and senior leadership every few years but it is a traditional and healthy part of American democracy and Biden is treating it as such.

Trump doesn't want to leave. It is not clear why. He does not show any interest in doing the job he was elected to do, but he does not want to leave, and so he is making this as painful and ugly as he possibly can. He is encouraging violence and disruption, hinting at civil war and a military coup, he is setting up the Executive Branch agencies so they will barely be able to function once Biden comes in. He is appointing people to ridiculous positions, stirring up conflict with other countries, trying to start purely political investigations, siphoning huge amounts of money out of the system.

He still has not admitted that he lost the election, and insists it was rigged. And here is the beautiful thing: he has every right, under Constitutional law, to challenge any election result that might have been fraudulent in some way. Trump can use the judiciary to challenge anything improper that might have happened in the 2020 election.

I have lost count, but he has gone to court now more than sixty times over this, including at least two appeals to the Supreme Court. He has had a good share of Republican judges and even judges that he himself appointed. They would love to help him out, you just know, they like him and would be happy if they could catch those libtards cheating in the elections, if they could prove that Trump actually won "BY A LOT," as he is saying. By and large, the judges are on his side. More than sixty times his lawyers have written up narratives and lists of evidence, names of witnesses and descriptions of what they witnessed, video of trucks in the night and people using flash drives and marking up blank ballots, and more than sixty times the court has been unconvinced. The witnesses are incoherent morons. The videos show ordinary ballot-counting processes. The complaints are trivial and unrelated to bias or "rigging" of the election. Still, any time the Republicans think they have found something they have the right to go to court, to follow the Constitutional procedures and demonstrate that our system of government is robust and serves to maintain justice and order. And so far it's working.

Plus, Trump's people get all the air-time they could ever hope for. "Access journalism" means that reporters and media outlets will let powerful people say anything they want without challenge or criticism, and Trump and his people have been in the media constantly, alleging improprieties. All they would have to do is hold up one piece of evidence, one photograph or recording or a piece of paper that shows a vote was changed or entered illegally. That's all they need, one piece of evidence to turn the American public to their side. If they can't convince the courts, they can at least try to convince us citizens. And they can't. They don't have anything that holds up, even in the eyes of Joe Blow sitting at home in front of his TV with Fido on his lap.

The inauguration is a month away. So let me make a prediction. I am going out on a limb here, so hear me out. Just based on my gut, on my finely honed political instincts, on my encyclopedic knowledge of history and inside-baseball political maneuvering, I am going to predict: it's going to get worse over the next month.

Trump has given up on the coronavirus pandemic. He will not even mention it, will not call a meeting, will not push to allocate funds to fight it. He is focused on one thing, and that is the election that he lost. It was an honest, fair election, even according to his own people that he sent out to find problems with it. In order to "win" he has to overthrow the system of democratic voting that we have had in place since 1789. He has to overthrow the American government and the American way of life. That might sound bad to you and me, but the Republican Party is soundly behind him, they do not recognize the validity of our electoral system, they will not acknowledge that Joe Biden has won.

It will get worse before January 20th. Trump is planning a "wild" demonstration in Washington DC on January 6th, the day when the Electoral College vote count is finalized and the results are certified by Congress. He is stirring up violence and talking about civil war. If there is to be a civil war now, the only issue is that the loser of the election does not want to admit he lost. It is nothing more than that, a rejection of the rule of law, a rejection of the Constitution, a rejection of the American way of life. Trump has gone off the deep end mentally and has surrounded himself with raving maniacs who are detached from reality. They don't want what the country wants, they don't want the heritage that has been handed down to them by history. It's going to get bad.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Enforce the Law: Lock Him Up

There isn't much of a chance that Trump's Supreme Court appointments will pay off and a crooked court will overturn the election, say by ruling that all mail-in ballots in all states are disqualified. We've learned not to say "they can't do that," but it is extremely unlikely. Even Trump's own judges that he appointed for lower courts have been ruling against him.

In the meantime of course Donald Trump is going to make everything as terrible as he can. He is gutting and reorganizing important departments, assigning terrible people to important positions, making enemies with powerful countries, hurrying up a bunch of executions oh and also adding new ways to kill people, new methods of execution, he has even made it easier to kill birds, of all things.

You remember the last time the Republicans had the White House, we got into some wars that were unjustified and extremely violent. We tortured people, we demolished entire cities -- the US committed war crimes on a grand scale, apparently in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attack, though that story falls apart pretty quickly. The joke at the time was that Dick Cheney is Satan, that was just the way we understood him, Satan himself in the White House conducting evil operations. Ha-ha.

And then when Obama came in, he did not prosecute anybody for any of it. He said some heartwarming stuff about looking forward instead of back, about building a better future and all that, and he let the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, the neocons who had engineered these terrible crimes, go back into society and write their books and lecture and advise Republicans. They still show up on TV pretty often, they made millions and lived in luxury instead of going to jail.

Now we have a President and administration who are criminals on every level. This administration is filled with narcissistic family members and gazillionaires who use the government as an arm of their business enterprises. Writing in the Washington Post last month, Barbara McQuade categorized the most salient of Trump's chargeable crimes into categories:

  • Obstruction of justice
  • Bribery
  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States
  • Campaign finance violations
  • Pre-presidency crimes - crimes that were committed or begun before he was President, and for which he cannot be charged while he is in office
  • Hatch Act violations

She notes that though his lies and inaction regarding the coronavirus pandemic resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, the cause-and-effect is indirect and probably not anything you can charge him with. He was elected to do a job and he didn't do it, and people died, the economy went to hell, our country lost its place in the international markets, millions of lives were traumatized and destroyed, but there does not seem to be a way to make the responsible person legally accountable.

Trump's presidency is sometimes described as "norm-breaking," and that is true but it is also extensively law-breaking. So for instance sharing highly classified state secrets with foreign agents is not actually illegal, because he's the President and can do that. Having his golf buddies running the Department of Veterans Affairs is not normal but there is apparently no law against it. But the lawbreaking is being documented, and the crimes are being investigated. The New York Times has run several long, detailed reports of the Trump family's financial crimes, and the New York Attorney General is quoted as saying, "We are going to be fine because we are ready. We've already researched the law. I and other Attorney Generals, we are ready"

It is nice to "maintain the peace" and "keep things on an even keel," and all of that, and we are looking forward to a new period of stability. But this is a country of laws and there is nothing reassuring or healthy in letting someone break the law egregiously for four years and then let bygones be bygones. If you or I did one of the things Trump and his appointees have done over the past four years we would be in jail, that's just a fact. Take one bribe, boom. Obstruct justice just one time, boom. He is already talking about running in 2024 and if it isn't him it will be one of his criminal family members, if we tolerate them this time. Their behavior is not going to be better next time, they have only let us see what their intentions are.

The great fear is that somebody who has Trump's criminal mindset but is also competent gets elected. Luckily for us Trump lost nearly every court case from the Muslim ban to the Georgia recount. But what if somebody was smart enough to pull those things off? What if they were not represented by somebody inept like Giuliani? Guaranteed, if we let these guys get off it will be much worse next time.

Joe Biden does not show much of an appetite for prosecuting his predecessor. But this isn't about being nice, isn't about a "smooth transition" or settling down the turbulence we have been experiencing. It is simply about enforcing the laws that our country is based on. Trump has demonstrated, simultaneously, the strength and weakness of our system. I looks like we will limp though one more election campaign but we realize that the system is designed with the expectation of decency and dignity. We can't go back and delete the tweets but the Trump crime syndicate has gotten rich through violations of the law and should face the consequences for our nation's sake.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Waaaa We Wanna Win, We Wanna Win, Let Us Win

This week we have two gigantic stories in the news. First is the acceleration of COVID-19. Infection, hospitalizations, deaths are happening at a higher rate than ever and higher every day. There is no national response to it, the President doesn't attend meetings or talk about it, there is no funding, no action other than doctors and nurses going to work every day and hospitals trying to keep up. And in one state after the other governors are saying they do not have the resources for it. If you get sick you will die at home, there are no more hospital beds throughout the Midwest and it's spreading. Rates are accelerating in our region, too, it won't miss us. It just hasn't hit here yet with its full force.

The other news story is about Trump's effort to end American democracy. We had a national election with record turnout, and even though Trump got more votes than anybody in history ever had, the other guy got more. Significantly more. Millions and millions more. Trump lost, fair and square.

By any measure this was a good, honest election. Barr sent his DOJ investigators to Democratic-run cities and they came back with no reports of funny business. The Department of Homeland Security sent people out to watch and they came back and said everything was fine. No state reported any systematic bias or malpractice in any jurisdiction. Sure we had the usual voter suppression in Black neighborhoods in the South, tear gas and such, but those people stood in line for hours to get their votes counted, and it worked. There have been audits, recounts, more than thirty lawsuits so far, and no finding of any wrongdoing. Republicans and Democrats sat at the table counting ballots, with bipartisan observers watching closely, and at the end of the day they tallied the numbers and Trump lost. They decided to set aside a handful of mail-in votes in Philadelphia that came in after election day but they didn't make any difference, Trump loses with them or without them. Somebody in Floyd County, Georgia, forgot to read the data from a memory card, and they got fired for that. It didn't make a difference, but things happen.

The Republicans are not actually challenging anything in particular about the voting in any particular place. Because there's nuthin there. Everything went just like it should. Now they are challenging the idea of voting itself. As Trump's lawyer Sidney Powell said yesterday:

I want the American public to know right now that we will not be intimidated. American patriots are fed up with the corruption from the local level, to the highest level of our government. We are going to take this country back. We are not going to be intimidated. We are not going to back down. We are going to clean this mess up now. President Trump won by a landslide. We are going to prove it, and we are going to reclaim the United States of America for the people who vote for freedom.

Trump's lawyers had long crazy speeches about Venezuela and the company that makes the voting machines, hackers and dictators and communists, Cuba and Argentina and Hugo Chavez and George Soros of course. The press conference was nuts. These are lawyers who had a chance to state their case in court, and they had nuthin. They did not have any facts, they did not have any evidence, they did not even have a cohesive or plausible story to tell.

Their whole point is: we wanted to win and we should.

If there was corruption then there should be some kind of evidence, somebody must have seen something, numbers ought to be off somewhere. There might be a money trail, or phone records of bad guys talking to each other about how to change the outcome of the election. Instead all you have is video shots of not-highly-paid state government workers in offices with fluorescent lights, flipping papers and handing them back and forth. There are other people, all in masks, sitting near them, people from both parties watching. It went all night in some places, people working shifts at the most boring job in the world, concentrating and following the rules to make sure everything was done right. That's all there is. We saw ridiculous long lines at voting places, early voting and on election day, we saw record mail-in voting, drop-boxes -- this was a big operation. There were a very few little things but nobody in their right mind really thinks this was a corrupt or crooked election.

Trump has loaded up the courts with friendly judges but still has lost thirty out of thirty-two lawsuits so far. He might be hoping to get some issue to the Supreme Court, which he has also loaded up with friendly judges, but nobody really has anything that reaches that level. He needs to flip several states to claim a win, and that ain't gonna happen. Some Republican election officials tried not-certifying votes from a Democratic district of Michigan, and that became a mess but Trump is trying today to meet with local Michigan legislators to get them to fix this for him. That is not part of the democratic election process, of course, it is a way to overcome the will of the people so the Republicans can maintain their grip on power.

The Republicans know they did not win the election. As a party that traditionally represents a minority of Americans they have often had to resort to voter suppression, gerrymandering, and other techniques -- even screwing up the US Postal Service -- to win votes, and they tried all that here and it was not enough. Americans do not want Trump for President again, they have chosen Joe Biden. Is this a country that elects its leaders, or has that been a happy story we tell ourselves? We are finding out right now.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Bring in the New Guy

The election is over. Biden won easily. There is some counting to finish up but it's all over. Trump is throwing a fit, as expected. His tantrums demonstrate once again why it was necessary to get rid of him. An outsider, fine; a greedy criminal, no, that didn't cut it. He needs to know how America works, and he doesn't.

It will be interesting to see what happens now. I guess we have to expect some violence from Trump's Bubba Army. I don't really see how Joe Biden, fairly elected, is classified as a "tyrant," but then I don't watch Fox or follow QAnon. I have seen some of the things they believe and people it's time to turn off the TV and go outside for a while.

If you remember, Trump used to be a kind of mockery of a rich guy, he would go on professional wrestling and Howard Stern and talk about his money, with his stupid ties and his hairdo, brag about the women who fall all over him. Obama shredded him at the correspondents dinner, and I always felt like that's when Trump decided to run, so he could un-do all the good Obama had done. It's his one motivation: revenge.

In the Republican debates he was a kind of clown, a non-professional who sometimes did say the obvious thing out loud. You give money to politicians like these and they do things for you, he said, I do it all the time. It was kind of charmingly fresh but then as the debates went on, and the campaign, you realized that in fact he had no idea how to run a country. He had no understanding of history, no understanding of the migrations and movements, the personal creativity and independence, that have made America a powerful amalgam of the best the world offers.

During the campaign he started to take himself seriously. Debating Hillary Clinton, he didn't even try to appear competent. I remember her talking about arming the Kurds, and complex strategies we'd need in the Middle East, and all he could say was that he would "defeat ISIS." Like a comic book, he was going to kill the bad guy. He didn't know anything about anything, but he knew how to talk to uneducated, uninformed people, and he got them to vote for him.

Then there was the inauguration and mine-is-bigger and I think a lot of us smacked our heads in the realization that his idiot really was going to be in charge, and all he cared about was himself. He was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, and on January 22nd, with a straight face, Kellyanne Conway taught us about "alternative facts."

I won't go through the months and years.

Here is the one thing that I hope for from a Biden administration. I want them to fix this. My view has two parts to it: consequences for criminals and repairing the damage. I do not want to hear some mealy-mouthed crap about "let's not look at the past, let's look forward," I want to see a whole bunch of white-collar criminals in prison. I want to charge them for bribes and money laundering, emoluments and trademark violations, insider trading -- I want to see every instance of a Hatch Act violation, where federal employees used their positions for political purposes, sent to court. Kings are not above the law.

Second, we need to fix some things. In recent decades we have lost three key pieces of law. I want to see the Fairness Doctrine returned. The media should be held accountable for presenting objective news, and should not become mouthpieces for a political party. The doctrine was overturned under Reagan and we need it back. Government-licensed media should not be propaganda outlets.

The Voting Rights Act is pretty much dead and gone but obviously we need to protect our voting system. Voter suppression came out in the open during this election, and it might be hard to stay ahead of all the techniques -- who would have thought they would cripple the US Postal Service in order to get a little advantage? -- but it needs to be addressed. The basic principles of voting need to be secured in law.

Third, Citizens United needs to be undone legislatively. I know the politicians will hate to cut off the spigot but they need to put strict controls on corporate campaign contributions. The citizens need to be the ones who select their representatives, they should not be manipulated by media productions and communication strategies that have literally no budget limit.

Mainly, it will be refreshing to have someone in office who knows how to run a country. We have a carefully structured organization that is able to manage normal times as well as emergencies. The government has nonpartisan experts in every field, and their knowledge has been ignored or used for political and personal purposes by the Trump Family. We currently live in a dystopian nightmare, a plague where thousands die every day, where we can't work, can't go out to dinner, can't socialize with our neighbors. While China and other countries thrive, our American economy is crushed with no path to recovery. We need a leader with a vision and the intelligence to guide the government toward his goal. So yeah, let's bring in the new guy to fix this mess.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The End of Election Season

In most years when there is an election people go to a place in their neighborhood and vote on election day, but it's different now. This year election day is more like "the end of the election season." Fifty-seven million people have already voted. Any October surprise that Trump might have hoped to pull out is not going to have any effect.

They had planned to have the "Durham report" by now, documenting the shocking truth of Obamagate, remember that one? The Trump administration was investigating the Mueller investigation, and maybe also something to do with Hillary's emails. They were going to prove Obama spied on the campaign, FBI agents were biased, Steele dossier blah blah blah. Unfortunately the investigation found that everything Obama had done was legal and normal, and now they are not even going to release the report. Even William Barr could not find any way to spin this to make Democrats look bad.

Trump refused to participate in the second debate because they were going to have a mute button. So when Biden scheduled an event for that time slot, Trump scheduled something, too, for the same time. Biden was on one channel, Trump was on three, and hilariously Biden's ratings were better than Trump's -- the one measure that means something to the reality-TV frontman.

Rudy Giuliani planted a story in the New York Post about Hunter Biden, intending to convince people that Joe Biden is corrupt and makes millions under the table off foreign governments while he's doing special favors as Vice President for his own kid. But the story was discounted immediately and disproven after a few days, it was such a transparently political move that nobody paid any attention to it. Did you realize they had a press conference right before the last debate, intended to slime Hunter Biden? Trump mentioned it in the debate, other than that it had absolutely no impact, it was somebody who had worked with Biden's son and is mad at him now. And the big bombshells Trump tried to explode in the debate, referring to Hunter Biden and millions that Joe got from foreign countries, were simply duds. The accusations were false, nobody believed them, and Biden easily turned the tables on Trump, who got a well-deserved round of attaboys for acting nearly like a normal person for an hour and a half. He needed to kick butt in the debate, to rescue his campaign from crashing and burning, and he failed. He was not as obnoxious as he was in the first debate but he still looked like a noisy, ignorant liar, especially compared the the cool and calm -- and truthful -- Joe Biden.

By the way, one year ago this week Joe Biden commented on a Washington Post article about pandemic preparedness:

Do you remember last year? Businesses were open, we could go places, we even had a thing last year called "Hallowe'en." But even though everything seemed fine, somebody was concerned about our vulnerability to a pandemic and Trump's lack of preparedness for it.

Of course Giuliani's part in Borat's new movie overshadowed his political contrivances. That sure was a big grin on his face in that hotel room with that fifteen-year-old girl, pretty much proving how easy it is for the Russians or anybody else to get dirt on him. And even worse for Trump, the coronavirus decided to rampage through the red states of the Midwest in the weeks before the election, reminding everyone of his devastating failure to lead America out of the pandemic. I think we are still seeing reverberations from Sturgis. Today I see that five of Mike Pence' aides have it. We are now heading into our third wave of deaths, more every day as tragic records are shattered.

There is some tiny chance that Trump will win the election honestly. Maybe his followers will turn out and vote for him in the states he needs for the electoral college. If that happens it will be the end of one period of American history and the beginning of another as he plays out his get-rich-quick ideology for real. I don't know what liberals' response will be, I suppose some demonstrations and a lawsuit or two in front of a Trump-appointed judge.

There is a bigger chance Trump will lose, and then the question is whether it will be close or not. If it is close then we can expect every trick in the book and a year of chaos. Trump will declare the election to have been rigged and will do what he can to undermine the transition. We can look forward to rightwing militias acting out their insecurities on the streets of our cities -- did you realize that they have now found evidence of plots to kidnap governors not only in Michigan, but in Virginia and Ohio, too? We can expect these bozos to be shooting things up everywhere you look.

If it is a Biden landslide then I'm afraid Trump is going to have to exit stage left. Some speculate that he will screw things up until the end of his term and then resign and let Mike Pence pardon him. That will keep him out of prison on his federal charges, but there are some states' attorneys general watching for his protected status to lapse. I do not want to see some Biden mamby-pamby about "looking toward the future." I want to see everybody who has gone along with this criminal regime subjected to the laws of the land. This time we need to not only return to normal but to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

VOTE

The intensity of the craziness is increasing. The president is using the White House and "his" generals and federal officials as props for political events. He is spreading the virus, going insane, saying things, cheering on the lawless militias and encouraging waves of police violence.

The election is going on now and, as a minority, the Republicans are doing all they can to disrupt it. Of course they would like to discourage Democrats from voting and show vote-counts that give them a win in the electoral college, but they can also try to win by creating chaos and doubt in the voting process and then tossing it to the Supreme Court, which by then should be packed with a nice secure 6-3 conservative majority. Or perhaps Trump will simply declare a "continuation," as he has suggested, and try to stay in the White House illegitimately. It is that crazy. We just don't know. No other President has ever even threatened such a thing, and nobody knows what would happen if he tried to go through with it.

There is one way out of this darkness and that is a Biden landslide. Yesterday in Georgia, Republican voter suppression led to people standing in line for early voting for eleven hours. That is discouraging and I am sure it worked, I'm sure a lot of people decided not to endure it. But thousands did. By the way, you will read about how "inspiring" the voters are who stayed in line and what a great day that was for democracy but I don't buy it. Yes I agree those people are inspiring, but it is a terrible day when the election is so corrupted that it makes the citizens stay home and not participate in the one moment when a democracy counts on them.

In Maryland we have early voting and we have vote-by-mail. You know the administration is trying to cripple the Postal Service, so I myself am hesitant to put my ballot into a mailbox, but you can take them to secure drop box locations near your home. Note that at least in California the Republicans have been putting out fake dropboxes, so check the list that is sent with your ballot or, if you're in Montgomery County, check this site: DROP BOX LOCATIONS to be sure you are going to a valid place.

The Republicans are set to lose pretty badly now, but they are in control at the federal level, so you can expect some heavy-handed tricks in the days to come. The country is more polarized than it has ever been, the President and his hierarchy are cranking up the volume, and we just don't know what lawlessness they are capable of.

If Trump will want to challenge vote-counts, saying mail-in votes don't count, or that the polling places were corrupt, or whatever, then a Biden landslide can't really be challenged. You can't have a Brooks Brothers riot unless the counts are close. You can't send it to th Supreme Court unless it's close. It is clear now that the majority of the country wants Trump's insanity to end, and it is also clear that he will do anything to stay in office, where he can avoid his financial liabilities and criminal prosecution.

So it is more important than ever to VOTE. Make sure your family members and neighbors vote. That is the fundamental activity that defines democracy and if we have another Trump administration it could be the last time he opportunity is offered to you.

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.