Getting Ahead of Themselves

As pressure builds to “reopen” America, it should be noted that if you remove the New York metropolitan area (which includes northern New Jersey) from the statistics, the number of Covid-19 cases is increasing. The New York metro area has been hit the hardest and is now showing improvement. But the situation is getting worse elsewhere, including states where Republican politicians are eager to move past all this unpleasantness.

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Here are the trend lines for four states with right-wing governors in thrall to Dear Leader:

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From Andy Slavitt, former administrator of Medicare and Medicaid:

Like many countries, we picked a strategy to beat COVID-19. We just decided not to stick to it. It’s a long and difficult road, and after we climbed halfway we decided it was too hard and chose to roll back down the hill.

There is, however, a plan to slowly and steadily bring the economy back, but only by solving the public health crisis. It was put forward by [the] White House all of three weeks ago. It had gates and stages, and hinged on conditions on the ground. But none of the conditions have been met.

Rather than wait, [the Toddler] grew impatient. He wants life to go back to the way it was before the pandemic. He wants the economy growing. [He wants to be re-elected, not judged a “loser”!]

Our expectations are simple. The truth, no matter how hard. To know that our safety matters. A plan which uses all our tools and best thinking that we stick with. Candor in discussing the tough trade offs.

We’re not getting that.

Instead, in Slavitt’s words, we’ll get:

… a food fight between the hardened realists who can tolerate death to “get our country back”, and the “public health mafia who are willing to kill the economy for the sake of a few people who will die soon anyway.” And if those people say that the death toll is going to be big, they’re just alarmists.

Many in the news media will present this as one more political controversy requiring balance between “both sides”. Dana Milbank of The Washintgon Post sees it as something else:

This is state-sanctioned killing. It is a conscious decision to accept 2,000 preventable deaths every day, because our leaders believe the victims [will be] poor schlubs who work in meat-processing plants… It is deliberately sacrificing the old, factory workers, and black and Hispanic Americans, who are dying at higher rates….

All we can do is pray for a vaccine breakthrough and hope summer weather helps. That’s because our president abandoned the fight. [He] can lie all he likes about the adequacy of testing and supplies, and blame his predecessor, his opponents and the media for his incompetence. It [won’t] matter to the virus.

Finally, some not exactly optimism from Tom Tomorow:

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What He Does and Doesn’t Have Going For Him

People who write headlines often do a crappy job. Here’s an example from The New York Times:

Even if presidents have less sway over the economy than is widely assumed, perception can be important.

The headline implies that the economy is just about perfect. It’s not. As Steven Rattner points out:

T—- promised growth of “4, 5, 6 percent”, a tax cut that would raise workers’ wages significantly [and pay for itself!] and new trade policies that would again make the United States a manufacturing powerhouse. None of those things has happened….

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut explains the situation:

One of T—-‘s favorite tactics is taking credit for Obama’s economy. Democrats need to stop letting him get away with it. A quick thread debunking some of his favorite lies:

Job Creation:

Obama created 227K jobs a month in his last three years in office. In T—-‘s first three years, it’s only been 191K per month.

Job creation numbers were 20% higher under Obama during that three-year span.

Deficits:

T—- DOUBLED the budget deficit, creating over $3 trillion in new debt.

Where did all this money go? Mostly to tax cuts for corporations and rich people. But instead of boosting the economy, business investment has actually fallen since the tax law passed.

Wages

Real wages aka what you can buy for the amount of money you take home, are actually doing worse under T—-.

They increased just 0.8% since T—- took office, compared with 1.3 percent over a similar period under Obama.

Trade War

Trump’s self-inflicted trade war contributed to outright job declines last year in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Indiana and New York.

Overall, the trade war with China cost America 450,000 jobs in 2019.

Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the great depression and pulled America out of it.

T—- was handed a healthy economy and has made things harder for working families while juicing corporate profits.

Don’t let his lies try to tell you otherwise.

Paul Krugman provides needed context:

[It’s] worth talking about why the economy is growing. The answer is, it’s the deficit, stupid.

T—-‘s deficitpalooza is giving the economy as much stimulus now as it was getting in 2012, when the unemployment rate was 8%. Imagine what Obama’s economy would have looked like if [Republicans] and Very Serious People had let him run deficits that big.

And of course imagine if we were using that money to build infrastructure and help children, not give corporations more money to buy back their own stock.

[In 2009] some of us were tearing our hair out over the fact that the stimulus was obviously too small. But Obama and his inner circle insisted that it was inconceivable to [get around the filibuster by using] reconciliation to enact something bigger, because norms or something.

In the end Obama [and other Democrats] paid a heavy political price because recovery was too slow, thanks to inadequate stimulus; T—- is getting a dividend because nobody, including the bond market, actually cares about budget deficits. So many bad things have followed from Obama’s caution back then. The course of history could have been very different.

… Republicans hobbled the Obama economy in the name of fiscal responsibility, which they abandoned as soon as T—- came in. But how big a deal was that?

Absent [Republican] sabotage, we would have been down to 4% unemployment in 2014. Think how different everything would look if we’d done that.

Finally, a few words from Nancy Pelosi:

Under Obama…

  • Unemployment dropped from 10% to 5%
  • Stock market went from 6,000 to 18,000
  • Deficit was reduced by a trillion dollars
  • The US gained more than 14 million private sector jobs.

[T—-] did not inherit “a mess”, he inherited a momentum.

The Passing Parade

The year is almost over and so is the decade that’s strangely ending with a “19” instead of a nice, round “20”. There is lots of news and commentary out there. An extremely truncated summary:

It didn’t make a splash, because this is 2019, not 1971, but The Washington Post reported:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable…

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking … Who will say this was in vain?”

The Afghanistan Papers won’t get as much publicity as the Pentagon Papers. They should have called them the “Afghan Papers”, more concise language now being the custom.

The Post also explained the history of the “It was Ukraine, not Russia” myth that has taken up permanent residence in what’s left of the Toddler’s brain and is so popular among right-wing politicians and propagandists everywhere. In a few words, the Russian government created the myth in order to cast blame on somebody else:

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity [of course]. . .One former senior White House official said [the president] even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

The Popular Information political newsletter summarized new analysis of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors:

An extraordinary analysis by top legal experts, published by Just Security, clearly explains how the impeachment inquiry [implied] that [the pres] committed at least three (and probably more) federal crimes. All of these crimes involved him abusing his presidential powers, making them particularly relevant to impeachment….

  • Federal campaign finance law
  • Bribery
  • Honest services fraud

[This last one] occurs “when a public official breaches his duty to act in the best interests of his constituents by performing an official act in exchange for personal gain”, such as “withholding funding that had been allocated by Congress —  money intended to advance U.S. national security by helping Ukraine combat Russian aggression — to advance his personal political interests”.

Cool.

By the way, Congressional Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash (an independent who was kicked out of the Republican Party when he exercised his conscience) finally got around to impeaching the monster. Paul Krugman reacted:

What we saw Wednesday was a parade of sycophants comparing their leader to Jesus Christ while spouting discredited conspiracy theories straight from the Kremlin. And as they were doing so, the object of their adoration was giving an endless, rambling, third-world-dictator-style speech, full of lies, that veered between grandiosity and self-pity…

Republicans, in other words, are beyond redemption; they’ve become just another authoritarian party devoted to the leader principle. And like similar parties in other countries, the G.O.P. is trying to rig future elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression, creating a permanent lock on power

But if Trump’s supporters look just like their counterparts in failed democracies abroad, his opponents don’t.

One of the depressing aspects of the rise of authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice has been the fecklessness of their opposition — disunited, disorganized, unable to make an effective challenge even to unpopular autocrats as they consolidated their power.

Trumpism, however, faced determined, united, effective opposition from the beginning, which has been reflected both in mass marches and in Democratic electoral victories. In 2017 there were only 15 Democratic governors, compared with 35 Republicans; today the score is 24 to 26. And last year, of course, Democrats won a landslide victory in House elections, which is what made the impeachment hearing and vote possible.

Many of the new Democratic members of Congress are in Republican-leaning districts, and some observers expected a significant number to defect on Wednesday. Instead, the party held together almost completely. True, so did its opponents; but while Republicans sounded, well, deranged in their defense of Trump, Democrats came across as sober and serious, determined to do their constitutional duty even if it involved political risks.

Now, none of this necessarily means that democracy will survive….

What we learned Wednesday, however, was that those who define America by its ideals, not the dominance of a particular ethnic group, won’t give up easily. The bad news is that our bad people are as bad as everyone else’s. The good news is that our good people seem unusually determined to do the right thing.

Finally, speaking of good people, the widely-read evangelical magazine Christianity Today called for the Toddler’s removal from office. The editorial got so much attention, their website crashed:

His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused…. .Whether [he] should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments….

To the many evangelicals who continue to support [him] in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of [the president] influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off [his] immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

You have to wonder how many of the president’s supporters understand that, if the Senate did its duty in the new year, our convicted president would be replaced by super-Christian Mike Pence, not the dreaded mainline Protestant who failed to carry Wisconsin.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we face two major issues:  climate change and bringing majority rule to America.

Majority rule would mean dealing with the courts, the Electoral College, a skewed Senate, gerrymandering, election security, campaign finance reform and voter suppression. It’s quite an agenda. But, as Senator Warren [subject of the latest Rolling Stone interview] keeps saying, we need big, structural change in our political system if we’re going to make progress on issues like climate change, inequality and much more.

Oh, and you might check out “The Historical Case for Abolishing Billionaires” in The Guardian. It begins by quoting another well-known proponent of regulated capitalism, Adam Smith.

Tribalism On Parade

People often say left-wingers and right-wingers aren’t that different. Whichever side we’re on, we all belong to a political tribe. We’re all live in our own bubbles. None of us really think for ourselves. We simply go along with the rest of our tribe.

It’s not true. Left-wingers are open to more sources of information and less likely to automatically follow their side’s leaders. Compared to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is a cult.

Here’s an example. In 2013, a poll showed that 38% of Democrats supported bombing Syria because of the government’s use of chemical weapons. So did 22% of Republicans.

Last year, when asked the same question, the same poll showed 37% of Democrats still supported bombing Syria. But, remarkably, 86% of Republicans did!

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You might say, well, 64% of Republicans must have changed their minds over the course of four years because the situation in Syria changed. Maybe Democrats were too stupid or ignorant to recognize how different Syria 2017 was from Syria 2013. 

You could say that, but, from the Republican perspective, the real difference between 2013 and 2017 was which tribe occupied the White House and which position was being pushed by Fox News.

Sometimes It Still Feels Good To Be An American

As I’ve gotten older and learned more about our history, it doesn’t feel as good to be an American as it used to. But there are days like yesterday that remind me how good it used to feel and sometimes still does.

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Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post said it much better than I could:

By the hundreds of thousands, they came. They gave impassioned and articulate speeches. The shared their experiences in Chicago, South Los Angeles and Florida. They gave one TV interview after another, displaying remarkable poise and heart-breaking sincerity. Adults decades older watched with awe. These are teenagers. How did these kids learn to do  this? 

The sense of amazement among adults, including jaded members of the media, was palpable — both because supposedly sophisticated adults had not pulled off this kind of change in attitudes about guns in the decades they’d been trying and because the teenagers shredded the talking points, the lies, the cynicism and the indifference that we’ve become accustomed to in our politics.

If this was a movie, you’d think it was inauthentic. However, it may be our image of our fellow Americans and teenagers that has been wildly inaccurate and unfairly negative. Too many of us have bought into the notion that teenagers are passive, addicted to their phones and lacking civic awareness. Too many have been guilted into accepting that “real Americans” are the Trump voters, and that the rest of us are pretenders, pawns of “elites.” The crowd reminded us of the country’s enormous geographic, racial, gender and age diversity. (Plenty of teachers, parents and grandparents turned out.) And in the case of guns, these people are far more representative of the views of the country than the proverbial guy in the Rust Belt diner. 

Social media has its downsides, we have come to learn all too well. But we’ve forgotten amidst the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal and the daily torment of President Trump’s tweets that social media merely amplifies what is there already. It gives the Russians, the haters, the xenophobes a louder voice and the tools to disguise their true identities, but it can also amplify sincere, empathetic voices and knit together a community — an overused but underappreciated phenomenon — without which the students’ organization on a scale of this magnitude would have been impossible. It is all too convenient to blame social media; the actual problem is the small but significant segment of the population behind the nastiness, anger, aggression and refusal to grapple with reality. As is always the case, the solution to bad speech is more speech. If we had forgotten that, the students who have grown up never knowing a world without iPhones surely hadn’t. 

The decision to let only children and teenagers speak was key to the entire endeavor. No canned political speeches; no feigned emotion. The experience of the more than 180,000 students who have been  exposed to gun violence in schools over the past few decades was suddenly very real, very immediate.

Those on the event stage talked about their friends, their certainty in political change, their solidarity with other victims, and their fearlessness in the face of naysayers and cynics. They mocked and condemned the National Rifle Association and the politicians who take their money…. They sounded angry, sad and serious. They spoke about democracy and urged the crowd to vote; they inveighed against party politics….

And so we are left with the stark contrast — the sincerity of the students vs. the canned platitudes of the gun absolutists; the speed and vibrancy of a mass movement vs. the gridlock and sameness of our politics; the dogged determination of teenagers not yet world-weary vs. the sense of futility that pervades our politics. The outcome is not preordained. Yes, democracies are under assault. Xenophobes and nativists certainly have come out from under the rocks. The president has tried to make the abnormal commonplace and the unacceptable  inevitable. But if nothing else, the marchers reminded us we have a choice. We can be fatalistic and passive, or determined and active. If teenagers can take the capital by storm, surely the rest of us can do something more than complain and yell at the TV.

The young lady in the yellow sweatshirt gets the last word:

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