2020/10/16

Closing arguments against re-electing Donald Trump as President

PBS put out an episode of Frontline that’s a bit less than an hour on how Donald Trump has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. PBS is less partisan then the media I normally consume, so I recommend it for people who are more middle-of-the-road than I am. The episode blames President Obama for not leaving the US as prepared as he could have. I found all of their arguments on that score to be reasonable and well-documented.

They had a Rear Admiral who was in charge of the  FEMA Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force who was, wow, he sounded straight out of the Vietnam War "Five O'Clock Follies," and just kept repeating that everything was fine and everybody was well-supplied. The report makes it clear that neither assertion was true.

What particularly infuriated me was when the President had a "meeting" with regular doctors (Around the 30 minute mark in the episode). With Trump sitting down, everybody else standing and everyone facing the camera (Trump had to crane his neck back to talk to people), it was crystal clear that the "meeting" was intended to be nothing more than a quick photo-op. The President clearly had no interest in getting input from the field.

One of the weaknesses of the episode is that it nowhere mentions that the US shipped off large quantities of supplies that we urgently needed here at home. Nothing wrong with helping out other countries, as long as we have a fully-functioning supply chain that’s busy cranking out enough supplies for both US domestic needs and for what foreigners need. This Twitter thread details the large quantities of supplies that were sent off to other countries in March. Apparently, the Trump Administration ceased to do this at the end of March, but it’s just amazing that they had so little concern for what our own domestic needs were.

The result of all of these shortages of basic equipment and of the President slacking off on the wearing of masks is that we’re now heading for a third peak of infections! Every other country just had one. They might be headed for another wave of infections, but the US never stopped getting a high rate of infections, so our ”wave” just keeps getting higher and higher.

The President admitted on October 15th that he owes around $400 million. This is extremely serious. When agencies investigate people for security clearances, one of the first things they look at is whether the person is financially secure. If they’re not, they’re open to being blackmailed! This, in light of the fact that the President has tried extremely hard, throughout his presidency, to keep his income tax returns a secret. CNBC:

Since entering the White House, Mr. Trump has broken with tradition set by his predecessors by not only refusing to release his tax returns but by waging a legal battle to keep them hidden.

What else is he hiding, even after the NY Times revealed many years worth of tax returns? Point 3 in the CNBC report says that Trump has lost $315 million on his golf courses since 2000. The United States has an extreme security risk in that the President owes so much money and that the US still doesn’t have a complete picture of his finances.  

Amazingly, there are still people who are skeptical that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The Republican-led Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that Russia intervened from 2014 to 2017. Is Russia still meddling? Well, if the Trump Administration is trying to show that Russia isn’t meddling, it’s taking actions that increase Democratic suspicions rather than to disprove them.

A blog reports that: “The Presidency of the United States Has Been Penetrated By Russian Intelligence: The US Intelligence Community Determined That Rudy Giuliani Was the Target of a Russian Intelligence To Use Him To Influence The President & the President Was Informed of That Finding In December 2019!

How has the President been on dealing with three foreign countries? Sure, Europeans may disdain him and think he’s uncouth and disloyal to NATO, but hey, he’s been effectively dealing with Venezuela, Iran and North Korea, right?

Trump has been trying to conduct a “regime change” in Venezuela for quite a while now.  Juan Guaido – president of the National Assembly who is recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by more than 50 countries, has been trying to overthrow Venezuela’s de facto president, Nicolas Maduro since January 2019. The latest attempt was in early May. Venezuela is undergoing a massive humanitarian crisis with a 94% poverty rate, but Hollywood fantasies expressed in initiatives like Operation Gedeon give the government legitimacy and encourage Venezuelans to “rally ‘round the flag” in opposition to the imperialist US.

The “Maximum Pressure” campaign against Iran has been similarly unsuccessful.

While many ordinary Iranians are suffering, the economy is not in total free fall, as many in Washington hoped for. Instead, the country has shown signs of economic recovery, with domestic production and employment increasing. According to Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, Iran’s nonoil gross domestic product grew by 1.1 percent last year. Prominent Iranian economist Saeed Laylaz also contends that Iran’s economy can weather the coronavirus pandemic and may experience growth this year despite the virus.


For years, the Trump Administration has taken the view that Iran was about to collapse and surrender any day. Clearly, that’s not going to happen.

How has the US been doing with North Korea? It’s hardly Trump’s fault that North Korea threatens the US with nuclear weapons. They’ve been doing that under many leaders for many years. ArmsControl.org refers many time to “denuclearization.” But has North Korea agreed to a definition of the term? It’s impossible to engage in any serious negotiations unless both parties agree to terms that are critical to the issue that’s under discussion. Apparently, according to NK, that term means that everybody in the entire world must decommission their nuclear arms all at once. The US is, of course, highly unlikely to ever agree to this. In July of this year, North Korea declared that denuclearization “is not possible at this point in time.” So, despite President Trump making many cheerful declarations, diplomacy with NK isn’t any further advanced than it was when Trump entered office.

There are many other issues we could discuss, including the President’s apparent belief that he’s free to discuss wacky theories like what QAnon brings up as though he’s just some private citizen that no one takes seriously, but he is taken seriously by many millions of people as they, quite reasonably, believe that he has access to the best and most current information.

My view is that he’s accomplished nothing of note in the last 3-plus years and that his record simply does not justify giving him another term.  

Update: The former star of Cheers, Kirstie Alley, weighs in on the election:

I’m voting for @realDonaldTrump because he’s NOT a politician. I voted for him 4 years ago for this reason and shall vote for him again for this reason. He gets things done quickly and he will turn the economy around quickly. There you have it folks there you have it

1. Agree. Trump is an utterly incompetent politician. 2. "He gets things done..." Erm, ah, no. No, he doesn't. He can't get things done at all. See the above essay. 3. "he will turn the economy around..." For the same reason he can't apply "Law 'N' Order," no, he can't turn the economy around because he's responsible for the horrible shape that it's in today. Nothing is going to change after a successful election.

2020/09/18

President Trump and the coronavirus

 This, to me, is the Trump Administration's worst failure. 

Was Trump responsible for the existence of COVID-19? No, and neither was China (Which is why it's racist to call it the "China virus").

Was he responsible for it spreading to the US? No, it spread everywhere. Even though the route from China to the US was partially blocked, evidence has shown that it was Italy was the main portal that the coronavirus came from. 

The REAL problem is pointed out in this piece: "...hospitals were pleading for masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment to safeguard their medical staff." 

The piece goes on to document the Trump Administrations faith in the free market. But the free market was simply not the answer, as producing equipment is something that the federal government has done extremely well for well over a century. 

As the piece explains, the need for the federal government to take the lead was obvious. This is something that, over the past several months, has gotten better. But this, and other problems the piece points to ("With just 4% of the world’s population, we now account for 20% of global deaths from the virus."), shows that Trump is simply incapable of doing the job of President. 

The free market was simply incapable of doing the job of supplying America's hospitals with what was needed and The President deserves every curse and insult he's gotten for not recognizing this.

Update I: The Press Secretary condemned the Vanity Fair story and is heavily criticized by commenters on Twitter. 

Update II: From a Vanity Fair story about the Pentagon being allocated $1 billion to fight the pandemic by producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE - gowns, masks, gloves, etc.) and then deciding to spend it on other things.  

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials say there are still significant funding gaps in the country’s pandemic response, with CDC director Robert Redfield warning a Senate panel last week that states urgently need about $6 billion for vaccine distribution. There is still a severe shortage of N95 masks at multiple U.S. hospitals. 


2020/08/24

Conversation on occupation of the South in the late 1860s

Reconstruction in Georgia | New Georgia Encyclopedia

Had a lengthy and interesting conversation on Facebook with someone who described himself as an amateur historian and appeared to be suggesting that Black people weren’t ready for emancipation in 1865.


He was initially upset by my posting a piece saying that Black Lives Matter people drove off a group of white supremacists, or in his telling, patriotic Georgians who were defending their heritage.


We discussed whether the Civil War was really all about slavery. I replied that yes, it was. As evidence, I supplied a link to the declarations of various Southern states in 1861 that made it very clear that, yes, slavery was the issue that was uppermost in their minds when the war commenced.


We got into a discussion about Black people in the South who died in the years immediately after they were freed from slavery.


Former slaves were left without any livelihood or means of support. They simply moved into the woods and lived a stone-age hunter-gatherer existence. According to a speech given by the Governor of Mississippi, it resulted in the death of one million blacks - dwarfing the combined deaths of Union and Confederate soldiers.

I first encountered this in one of Sierra Club founder John Muir's adventure books. He met such a family while on his thousand-mile walk from Indiana to Florida. His description is appalling.


He supplied a link to a piece that confirmed this after I searched around and found an author who confirmed that yes, perhaps a million Black people died during Reconstruction. He appeared to hint and suggest that Black people just weren’t ready for freedom by suggesting that it was the Emancipation Proclamation that killed them.


My own theory is taken from Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote On War. He lived from 1780 to 1831. The book was published after he died. He was a Prussian general in the Napoleonic wars. Basic idea of the book was that war is politics by another means. What this tells us is that the occupation that follows the fighting can be just as important to victory as the battlefield combat is.


Let’s start with the idea of “40 acres and a mule.” The single most profitable investment a Southerner could make was land and slaves. How much money were Southern landowners putting into land and slaves?


Since planters needed ever more funds to invest in land and labor, they drew on global capital markets; without access to the resources of New York and London, the expansion of slave agriculture in the American South would have been all but impossible.


So then, all of the sudden in 1865, all of the labor that plantation owners had purchased as an investment, walked off the job. Contracts are based on mutual advantage. Slaves weren’t getting any advantage, so there was no reason for them to stay on the job once the force that had been keeping them there was removed.


So the popular idea was to simply confiscate those plots of 40 acres from Southern landowners. That would most likely have required more force than Northerners were willing to deploy. When people who have lost a fortune are pressed further, they’ll strike back.


Now, if I were the George Marshall of the Lincoln Administration (See Marshall Plan of 1948) and was put in charge of planning the post-war reconstruction of the South, I’d give each freed slave money enough to purchase “40 acres and a mule.” That way, Southern landowners would get something out of the deal, even though they’d lose land and might switch to paying laborers as opposed to simply forcing them into working. If the former slave wanted to put money into industry instead, the US was starting up a really expansive phase of the Industrial Revolution, so there were plenty of opportunities there.


Why couldn’t the US do that? Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice-President, took over. Back in those days, the idea of getting a President and a Vice-President who were on the same page philosophically, the way Harry Truman agreed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt or that Lyndon Johnson agreed with John F. Kennedy, hadn’t really been developed yet. Andrew Johnson didn’t regard Black people as deserving of full civil rights.


Most importantly, Johnson's strong commitment to obstructing political and civil rights for blacks is principally responsible for the failure of Reconstruction to solve the race problem in the South and perhaps in America as well.


So, while the deaths of about a million Black people during Reconstruction is a really terrible thing, it’s not clear there was any obvious solution that the country was willing to accept.


2020/06/21

The rally at Tulsa

Keep in mind that Brad Parscale, the President's campaign manager, has been paid lots and lots of money to do his job. Remember that when we look at the utter cluster%$#@ from last night. This link is the complete thread for all that follows, but I've selected a few highlight here.

How much of a disaster was it last night? Hoo boy!

Remember, the President is a malignant narcissist. These are "trigger words!"

Again, the President seems to be convinced that if you don't test for a disease, then everything will be okay. We had diseases for many millennia before we had tests for them.

Context for this clip: Aftermath from the brutal murder of George Floyd and 121k coronavirus deaths and this is what he talks about.

Oh, and there was racism, plenty of racism. Nothing overly blatant, just stuff like "kung-flu."

Campaign makes the wild, hysterical, utterly ridiculous charge that protesters blocked access to the rally. Really? There were no police there? Or the police put up with that? And also, uh, no video?

Ooh! NY Times asks "...has the MAGA rally lost its luster?"

As I mentioned months ago, any city that fails to get the Trump campaign to pay for everything up front is run by idiots. No sympathy for them. They'll never see that money!

2020/04/27

The President's rich fantasy life

 
 The President sure has a rich fantasy life. This is from a recent tweet:
"The people that know me and know the history of our Country say that I am  the hardest working President in history. I don’t know about that, but I am a hard worker and have probably gotten more done in the first 3 1/2 years than any President in history."
Trump's fourth Press Secretary says:

"[White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows] looks at the president's schedule and he made the point the president is so busy and so hard at work, his concern is making sure he gets a bite to eat here and there, so you gotta put that in context."
Yet, Slate says:

...the wealthiest country in history cannot seem to provide basic medical equipment to doctors and nurses and lifesaving care to its citizens during an emergency.

Slate says the problem is the same as in Eastern Europe during the 1980s:

One of the most enduring images of 1980s Eastern Europe is people queuing up outside of stores for scarce goods. But people were resourceful; they leveraged personal connections to skip lines and made do with ersatz products when something simply wasn’t available.

What characterizes a "failed state?" More than any other one factor, corruption.

An extremely consequential example of corruption has been FEMA seizing medical supplies from those states and institutions that have ordered and paid for those supplies. When someone orders supplies from a vendor, it's because they've calculated that's what they need. When the Veterans Health Administration orders 5 million masks, it's because they've calculated that's what they need, not because "Hey, it'd be cool to have 5 million masks."

How well has the US responded to COVID-19?
Reported US coronavirus deaths on date:

Feb. 26: 0 deaths
Mar. 26: 1,195 deaths
Apr. 26: 54,856 deaths
Italy has been very hard hit and has suffered 26,640 deaths. Their death rate has declined to "only" around 400 a day. At their peak, they were around 750 a day, give or take 100. But Italy's daily death rate has been declining since late March. That of the US is still growing.

So yeah, it's a really nice idea that our President thinks he's working really hard, but he declared that COVID-19 was a crisis on 13 March, 46 days ago. Trump likes to grade his own performance as an A+, regardless of how well he actually does. I'd say his response to the coronavirus rates about a D-, at best.





2020/04/19

Jared Kushner: Progress Report on Dealing with COVID-19

Jared Kushner is the fellow who came up with an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that was so awesome, Palestinians want nothing to do with it. So naturally, Kushner's father-in-law, President Trump, asked Kushner to help him with the coronavirus. The President later
...said Google had developed a coronavirus testing website that did not exist. Mr. Kushner was deeply involved in both efforts, and had sold his father-in-law on the website as a smart concept.By Sunday evening, Mr. Trump was raging to aides that the press coverage was terrible after the promised national website failed to materialize.
So Kushner succeeded in coming below even my very low expectations for him and failed to contact Google about the website?!?!?! Now, that's not just Kusher's fault. The President also failed by not asking any questions about the website and thereby making false assurances.

2020/04/08

Why I prefer the unvarnished language of the blogs

When I was in college (78-82), I saw the Bertolt Brecht play Galileo and was powerfully impressed by one line in particular (quote is according to memory) "There are scholars who insinuate in Latin. I prefer to speak in plain German." 
Today: "The sub-headline for a New York Times article on the Vindman controversy announced that Trump's move represented, 'one sign of how determined the president is to even the scales after his impeachment.'"
The blogger who quoted this went on to express amazement. "Even the scales, what?? That suggests the 'scales' were ever tipped against him. The Nation's Joan Walsh suggested a more accurate headline for the Times story: 'Trump's reign of lawlessness enters new stage.'"
That's why I prefer the language of the blogs. They call thieves and criminals what they are without engaging in overly polite, euphemistic language.

2020/04/04

Travel and immigration standards

Based on an article in TPM, I looked up the original statement on the newest travel ban (1 February 2020). One of the claims: 
President Trump’s security and travel proclamations have immeasurably improved our national security, substantially raised the global standard for information-sharing, and dramatically strengthened the integrity of the United States’ immigration system.
There's an old American saying: "Don't fix what isn't broken." Let's look at the statement: "raised the global standard" Okay. But from WHAT? Appears to me the "global standard" was raised from a standard that was already satisfactory
How many terrorists were we getting on a yearly basis from "Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Nigeria"? Heck, how many terrorists had we ever gotten from any of these countries? How many did we ever get from "Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia"? Wouldn't we be far more likely to be shutting the door from people trying to escape from these countries?
Of course, there was the typical Trump Administration cluster$%#@ of failing to communicate: "...the additions appeared to take some foreign officials by surprise." Because Trump's people never thought to work out anything quietly. 
Update: And yes, despite the date of the new foreign travel ban, this ban had nothing to do with the COVID-19 coronavirus. , 

2020/03/24

Arguments to move quickly on impeachment

People have been suggesting that Congress is moving too quickly to impeach the President and that we need to slow down and allow the courts to force the Trump Administration to expose still more information. The piece at Reader Supported News makes a strong, but I think flawed, case for waiting.
This piece is behind a paywall, but the summary of the points is
1. "The evidence is already overwhelming."
2. Democrats are trying to "maintain the initiative with the President." That means moving quickly so he can't catch up.
3. The House can keep on gathering evidence right up until the Senate trial begins. That's likely to be well into January, perhaps even into February.
4. Acting as though the evidence is overwhelming is the best way to convince the public that the evidence is overwhelming. The best way to demonstrate that is to move forward quickly.

2020/03/22

A comparison of the two remaining Democrats

Biden's March 11th speech after winning Super Tuesday.
Sanders' speech, same day.

I went back and compared the two March 11th speeches of Biden and of Senator Sanders. Biden spoke in more general terms, Sanders talked of a laundry list of specific goals.

I found Biden's speech to be much more focused on what he could actually get done as president. Biden was focused on general subjects he would tackle with the idea that specific agendas would have to wait until he was actually in office and actually making decisions on the issues of the day.

Senator Sanders spoke of really big subjects that would take lots and lots of work to accomplish. Getting to Medicare for All, for instance,  would be a really heavy lift. Each one of the subjects Bernie mentioned would take really large amounts of discussion and consultation and working out of details. Doing all of it is way beyond the capability of anyone. If he had the record of getting big bills done, that'd be one thing, but he doesn't.

[Sanders] turned down chats with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, because why work to win the black vote? “His politics are not my politics,” Sanders said. “There’s no way in god’s Earth he was going to be endorsing me," because the only people worth talking to were the ones endorsing him.

Refusing to even try to broaden your appeal is not a winning strategy! Ain't no way Sanders is going to get any of his big-ticket items through without talking to everybody!

Sure, it's useful to have Sanders acting as a gadfly to the Democratic Party, pushing the party to the left. But let's not let enthusiasm for a romantic figure blind us to the top priority of the moment, making sure that Donald Trump is a one-term President!

2020/03/09

Moderate vs Progressive Democrats

Very broadly, I agree that if a Democrat tries to run as a "Republican-lite," they'll lose. I like the approach of Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), who was elected in a red state fluke election but has conducted himself as a real Democrat rather than by trying to please conservatives.

In the piece Seven Centrist Defeats, I was only around and paying attention from Mondale on, so I'll start with him. He had a good idea in promising to raise taxes. That sent the Reagan campaign into a tizzy. But Mondale had nothing to follow it up with. He had no ideas beyond that. There were no great, burning issues at the time when a challenger was trying to unseat an incumbent. That would have been a challenge at the best of times.

Yes, Dukakis tried to run as a "Reagan-lite" candidate and not as a Democrat. Plus which, he was up against a dirty trickster ("Willie Horton"). As the elder George Bush was so close to Reagan, he was essentially running as an incumbent.

I don't think anyone really doubted that Kerry would have been better on Iraq despite Kerry's stupid statement, but the Swift Boat Veterans really did him in. To their shame, the media allowed the group to dominate news coverage for the critical month of August, after which Kerry had permanently lost the veteran vote. And yes, again, by putting on the "I'm just as right-wing as the Republican incumbent is," that reduced progressive enthusiasm.

Vladimir Putin weakened Clinton and kept the contest close, plus which the Republican Party simply wasn't going to vote for a Democrat and even less for a woman. Clinton was ahead by a small, but steady margin right up until James Comey's last-minute intervention.

I completely support the Green New Deal and think much of the platform of Senator Sanders is very good. There's not much daylight between us on policy.

But very importantly, moderate Democrats did far better in their races in 2018 than progressive Democrats did. The popularity of AOC and The Squad has obscured this.
Moderate Democratic candidates were the big winners of swing congressional districts in the 2018 midterm elections, flipping most of the 28 key House districts from Republicans’ control and winning key gubernatorial races, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Illinois. Democrats’ net gain in the House was 26 seats.

2020/02/03

To impeach or not

I read this piece

Yes, Trump Is Guilty, But Impeachment Is A Mistake

and scribbled out a few thoughts on it in response. 

1. This will probably achieve nothing.
Agree in that the Senate will probably follow the lead of the 1868 and 1998 impeachments. House will convict, but the 2019 Senate will most likely not remove the President from office.

2. We’re in the middle of an election campaign.
No, we're still over a year out from the 2020 Election Day. Speaker Pelosi is determined to get this done by Thanksgiving.

3. This is not what the country wants to talk about.
As Speaker Pelosi has put it, the President has forced her hand. The law-breaking here is just too severe to do anything less than impeach.

4. Democrats are playing Trump’s game.
No, the White House is in a state of frantic hysteria. This happened because the President has gotten away with so much for so long that he thought himself to be invincible. The word here is "hubris."

Nope. Full speed ahead.