2020 Election, Pandemic, Trump, Uncategorized

Unrelenting Logic…

There is an unrelenting mathematical logic to the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus. Denial of the logic is like playing Russian Roulette, the odds are unpredictable and choosing incorrectly is deadly. 

January 22, 2020Donald Trump: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

As brutal as the math will become – a couple hundred thousand cases become a million cases, a few thousand deaths become 100,000 deaths – the logic cannot be denied, unless you reside in a partisan political fantasy land. 

February 25, 2020Rush Limbaugh: “It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.” 

And it’s not like we haven’t been through something like this before – it happened in 1918 – it’s just that we don’t remember the history, or we chose to ignore evidence in plain sight. The logic remains. 

The Idaho Statesman, October 15, 1918

October 10, 1918 – The Wallace Miner: “We are confronted by an epidemic of influenza which will affect more than half of our population in probability. There is a shortage of physicians, nurses and hospital accommodations.” 

March 20, 2020 – The New York Times: “Even in the best case situation, with a shortage of skilled doctors and nurses, caring for Covid-19 patients with life-threatening respiratory distress will be like using a Band-Aid to stop a carotid artery bleed,” Pauline M. Chen, MD

News briefs from the Kendrick, Idaho Gazette, October 1918

October 11, 1918 – The Kendrick Gazette: “The quarantine has been placed in Idaho. All public gatherings, excepting schools, both public and private, are forbidden by an order issued Wednesday by the state board of health.”

October 15, 1918 – The Blackfoot, Idaho Republican: “In its fight to stop the spread of Spanish influenza, the public health service is investigating the causes of the disease, the conditions which promote its spread and the part played by carriers in epidemics of the malady.”

March 20, 2020 – The Hill: “The intelligence community was warning of the danger posed by the novel coronavirus throughout January and February as the White House downplayed the threat and was slow to roll out nationwide measures, reports show.”

October 17, 1918 – Twin Falls Weekly News: “To her credit be it said, Twin Falls has not hesitated to comply fully with the terms of the latest closing order to emanate from Boise…if it is necessary to close up every industry and every institution in the city in order to prevent an outbreak of Spanish influenza, Twin Falls will cheerfully do just that.” 

October 21, 1918 – The Spokesman-Review: “Three more deaths have occurred (in Nez Perce, Idaho) from influenza…(including) Carl Price, proprietor of the local garage…he leaves his widow and four small children.” 

October 22, 1918 – The American Falls Press: “Dr. Noth, who has been confined to his home for the past several days with influenza, suffered a relapse yesterday. Miss Virginia Nunnelly, who had been visiting in Salt Lake City for several weeks, has been summoned to help care for him.” 

October 23, 1918 – Spokane Chronicle: “Four deaths yesterday and three last night from pneumonia, following Spanish influenza, have resulted in closing the state college in all departments.” 

March 29, 2020 – Politico: “Liberty University, meanwhile, has invited its students to return to the dorms, whatever their circumstances might be. [Jerry] Falwell has said this decision was in students’ best interests—that students would be better off if they returned to campus before the coronavirus spread—but that suggestion has met with exasperation by public health experts, state and local officials, and many residents of Lynchburg.”

October 25, 1918 – Rathdrum Tribune: “The alarming spread of influenza throughout Idaho, caused the state board of health to order all public and private schools in the state to close indefinitely.” 

November 5, 1918 – Blackfoot, Idaho Republican: “The Bradford family is still seriously ill with influenza…Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Tanner are the proud parents of a baby son, born Monday morning. Both the parents are ill with influenza…Miss Hazel Quigley has been dangerously ill with the influenza, but is slightly improved at the present.” 

November 15, 1918 – Burley, Idaho Herald-Bulletin: “[With] the death of Ralph Jamison Gochnour from influenza Sunday night the University of Idaho lost one of its most prominent students…Mr. Gochnour was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. He was a young man of pleasing personality, a student of keen and inquiring mind.” 

Item from the Blackfoot, Idaho Republican, October 1918

November 22, 1918 – Kendrick Gazette: “There will be no church services in Kendrick Sunday. Both churches agreed to postpone church meetings for at least another week.” 

March 30, 2020 – Associated Press: “A northern Idaho lawmaker led a church service on Sunday despite a statewide stay-at-home order by Gov. Brad Little to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Republican Rep. Tim Remington, the pastor of The Altar Church in Coeur d’Alene, held the service, but it’s not clear how many attended…On Sunday, he told worshipers that the stay-at-home order violated their rights.” 

December 19, 1918 – Grangeville Globe: “Undertaker A.J. Maugg returned last Friday evening from Riggins where he was called the day before to direct the funeral of Mrs. Cleveland Hollenbeak of that placed who had passed away Thursday from influenza. Mrs. Hollenbeak was 28 years old and is survived by her husband and two small children.” 

December 27, 1918 – Salmon, Idaho Recorder: “The epidemic appeared last week in the stoutly quarantined community of Challis, where it is said more than a score of cases in pronounced form were reported. It was said the disease was conveyed to the town by an enterprising traveler who forded the river in order to get by the quarantine guards.” 

John Barry, author of the definitive study of the 1918 influenza pandemic: “Of all the lessons from 1918, the clearest is that truth matters…You don’t manage the truth. You tell the truth. . . Those in authority must retain the public trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.” 

March 27, 2020Charlie Sykes, conservative columnist: “[This crisis has] its own peculiar awfulness: the overlay of bad faith, cynical spin, and serial deception. Who do we believe? What do we believe? Who is telling us the truth and who is shoveling fabulist bullshit? 

“But what did we expect? We had taken a long vacation from truth because we could afford to, right?” 

“You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus, you know you can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody even knows what it is,” Donald Trump

March 30, 2020 – The New Yorker: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. Trump said repeatedly that he wanted the country to reopen by Easter, April 12th, contradicting the advice of most health officials. (On Sunday, he backed down and extended federal social-distancing guidelines for at least another month.)”

March 31, 2020Donald Trump: “This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks. When you look and see at night the kind of death that’s been caused by this invisible enemy, it’s incredible.”

March 6, 1919 – Salmon Recorder: “With but 18 new cases of influenza reported yesterday to the city health office the crest of the third revival of the epidemic is believed to have passed.” 

The logic is unrelenting. 

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Additional reading:

  • In lieu of Opening Day, a wonderful essay on baseball by Adam Garfinkle.
  • NeverTrump conservative William Kristol – I’ll remind you he was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle – on how Trump has broken the Republican Party and conservatism for good. Kristol says: “We have now reached the terminus of craven loyalty and pathetic apologetics. I don’t see how either the political institution of the Republican party or the intellectual movement of conservatism recovers from what we have seen over the last three years—but especially the last three months.”
  • I won’t be reading Woody Allen’s new book, but you should read this review by Dwight Garner in the Times. Here’s a preview: “Volunteering to review [the book], in our moral climate, is akin to volunteering for the 2021 Olympic javelin-catching team. I told my wife and daughter my plan, and they stared at me as if I’d announced my intention to find the nearest functioning salad bar and lick the sneeze guard.”
  • And finally, video conference is bigger than ever in the age of physical separation. Here’s a thoughtful piece on how to make the most of it and also understand the limitations. And remember: failure to mute is the new “reply all.”
  • Stay safe.
2020 Election, GOP, Pandemic, Trump

War on Government…

As a world-wide pandemic silently sulks its way across the globe pulling the international economy into recession or worse, it has become increasingly clear that Americans are facing a political, societal and economic crisis unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. 

It looks kind of interesting. It’s not

And for better or worse, it’s going to be up to individuals, a few insightful business leaders and a relative handful of courageous political leaders to chart the course forward. Our politics is broken, perhaps fatally. Half of the political leadership class is captive to willful misinformation, conspiracy theories, disdain for science and expertise of every kind and devoted to the kind of government that shutdown the White House office responsible for coordinating the response to what we now call COVID-19.

The Republican Party has been fighting a “war on government” since Ronald Reagan infamously labeled government the cause of our problems, not the answer. Whether he intended to or not, and Reagan was less ideological than almost anyone in the GOP today, at his 1981 inaugural the heir of Barry Goldwater heralded the establishment of a new Republican philosophy that continues. There are essentially two Republican policies: tax cuts for the wealthy and unlimited spending on the military. Everything else, perfectly highlighted by Donald Trump’s incomprehensible inability to anticipate and counter a killer pandemic, is expendable, or unnecessary. 

When in 2018 our blustering incompetent president shuttered the National Security Council office devoted to preparing for the next pandemic there was nary a ripple of concern. Trump has been lying this week, as every week, saying he had nothing to do with the decision, but videotape has now surfaced where he brags about this epic leadership failure. 

“Some of the people we’ve cut they haven’t been used for many, many years and if we ever need them we can get them very quickly and rather than spending the money,” Trump said at the time. How has that been working out? 

Some times a picture really is worth a thousand words

Some astute observers of American politics can remember all the way back to the early days of the Trump regime when Steve Bannon, Trump’s government hating senior strategist, boasted that his job was the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning, as Fortune magazine pointed out, “weakening regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities.” Bannon’s bombast and stupidity doesn’t look so good these days. 

Indeed, as Beth Cameron, a leader in the White House pandemic office that is no more, wrote recently “it is clear that eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response. What’s especially concerning about the absence of this office today is that it was originally set up because a previous epidemic made the need for it quite clear.”

Put another way, Barack Obama created the office in 2014 to combat Ebola and did so effectively, so Trump did away with it four years later because he could. 

This utter disdain for expertise and common sense has become the defining feature of the Republican Party and you can see it from Washington, DC to Boise. Congressman Russ Fulcher defaulted to the GOP playbook that tax cuts will cure a pandemic when he was one of 40 House Republicans who voted against emergency legislation to address sick leave for the millions of Americans who are without it, a move considered by health experts as a key strategy to contain the spread of the virus. 

“First of all, government shouldn’t be mandating to businesses how they pay their employees, in my view,” Fulcher said in explaining his inexplicable vote. “And secondly, that’s going to put some small businesses out of business.” 

Fulcher advocated tax incentives, not “hard mandates” from the government. The rookie congressman will soon enough discover that “hard mandates” are precisely what is required along with massive government spending that preserves jobs and enhances the ability of health care providers to meet the crisis. 

Fulcher is the perfect embodiment of a head in the sand political Neanderthal, a dim partisan functionary tethered to right wing ideology rather than real world realities. The same can be said of the Republican dominated Idaho Legislature that is stumbling to adjournment worried not about strategies to protect the sick and those who will be, but devoting its closing hours to passing legislation to prevent transgender females from participating in athletics, making sure Idaho can outlaw abortion when the Supreme Court makes that possible and twice defeating an already inadequate higher education budget.

Legislators debated how many ideologues fit on the head of a pin. Local school boards and mayors got to work.  

As the Washington Post noted earlier this week: “For weeks, many on the right, including Trump, minimized the virus, if they considered it at all. Even in recent days, as much of the world shuts down to try to stop its spread, some Republicans mocked what they saw as a media-generated frenzy.

“Their reaction reflected how the American right has evolved under Trump, moving from a bloc of small-government advocates to a grievance coalition highly skeptical of government, science, the news and federal warnings.”

It is so transparently telling that Trump’s Oval Office speech last week where he made his first faltering effort to get in front of the danger the pandemic represents to all Americans was written by two incompetent ideologues – Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller – guys with no experience whatsoever in the subject at hand. Trump and his speechwriters were practicing public relations, and badly to boot, not engaging in crisis management or presidential leadership. 

Kushner, Miller and Bannon: the Three Stooges of the modern Republican PartyLA Times photo

There are so many mileposts over the last three years that might have flattened his unique curve of presidential malfeasance – the GOP dismissal of Russian election interference and the investigation that exposed it, Trump’s gross mismanagement of foreign policy and ignorant, heartless approach to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, the kids in cages on the southern border, the hate filled tweets and ugly insults, the Senate Republican willingness to ignore the president’s clear efforts at Ukrainian blackmail – but all now fade into our collective rearview mirror. 

We are left staring straight ahead at what will likely prove to be the worst American crisis since World War II, coupled with the worst economy since the Great Depression all presided over by a man no serious Republican would hire to manage a car wash. 

Trump and Republicans didn’t create the pandemic and the economic meltdown. They merely furthered a notion of government and political irresponsibility that made such a nightmare possible and they labeled it all “American exceptionalism.” But, of course, the only thing exceptional is the ignorance and selfishness. As the writer Howard Bryant says, “We replace destruction with exceptionalism: it could never happen here.” Yet, it has. 

There are tough days ahead. We’re in unchartered seas. Personal and mostly non-governmental institutional initiative coupled with charity, decency and honesty will be essential. When we emerge on the other side America will be a different place. 

We’ll be either a stronger, better, more decent people without Trump and a lot of his enabling Republicans, or we won’t. America will begin to get well, or our sickness will deepen. No one will save us but us. 

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Additional Reading:

  • I found this piece by Adam Garfinkle in The American Interest fascinating and I hasten to add I don’t agree with everything he says, yet he carefully and persuasively makes the case that the handling of the Trump impeachment was an American disaster. Read the whole thing.
  • American and world airlines are in a deep dive. (And I complained to Alaska Airlines this week about the carriers flight change policy in this time of turmoil, so I am hardly an uninvolved bystander.) And we should all brace ourselves for the big – BIG – cost of propping the air carriers up. Here’s why it matters and why the government should extract some concessions.
  • There are a number of viral – pardon me – videos making the rounds recounting the president’s earlier discounting of the cornoavirus. This one about Fox News is, well, stunning.
  • And…a serious and seriously funny guy, Dave Pell, has re-written a few lines of famous poetry for the Age of the Virus.
  • Thanks for reading…and sharing. Wash your hands.
2020 Election, Pandemic, Trump

Trump Face Palm…

The greatest vulnerability for most politicians is not the unwise vote they cast a dozen years ago, or the youthful but still stupid favorable comment made about a bearded Latin American dictator. No, the real vulnerability comes when an elected official’s political position intersects with a requirement for competence.

Gaffes can be managed; being awful at your job in public can be fatal. Think about some of the great political leaders of the not too distant past, and then if you dare, think about leadership today. 

Franklin Roosevelt was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and earned an Ivy League law degree, but still had few demonstrable skills beyond a sunny personality when he won the presidency. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said FDR possessed “a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.” And the great political analyst of his day, Walter Lippmann, dismissed Roosevelt as a “pleasant man who without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.” 

FDR, a born leader at his best in crisis

But Roosevelt was a born leader – decisive, informed, careful, yet willing to take a calculated risk. He surrounded himself with serious, smart, intelligent people who he empowered and for the most part listened to. Roosevelt’s leadership during World War II is reason enough to rank him among our greatest presidents. 

For sure FDR made mistakes with personnel, but he was smart enough to put General George Marshall in charge of the war effort and dispatch his most trusted aide, Harry Hopkins, to deal directly with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. Roosevelt was not a manager or meddler, but a grand strategist and his principle skill was as a communicator. 

Churchill, most historians agree, was a meddler, but also a brilliant synthesizer, a leader constantly prodding and pushing his subordinates to do more and do it better. And Churchill accepted advice. As his most recent great biographer Andrew Roberts recounts, not once during the entirety of World War II did Churchill go against the unanimous advice of his top military advisers, a remarkable fact given that Churchill trained as a soldier and fought battles on three continents by the time he became prime minister. 

Churchill, a great leader in a crisis, with General Dwight Eisenhower

No one in their right mind would suggest that the two great wartime leaders were anything but competent at their jobs. Tragically, and one hopes not fatally, we can’t say the same

Three events – at least three that we know of – converged in short order to highlight the abject incompetence of the current American commander-in-chief. Dealing with a raging pandemic, a fragile economy shaken by the COVID-19 virus and the 20-year military quagmire in Afghanistan has laid bare Donald Trump’s true skill, which is to say he has no true skill useful to the current perilous moment. 

The Republican politicians – think the Idaho delegation – who have belted their own reputations to the incompetence of a guy none of them would trust to manage a Dairy Queen (and I mean no respect to soft serve ice cream) deserve everything they will endure in the weeks and months to come. They have wrapped themselves in ineptitude hoping that partisanship would mask their own and the president’s failures.

Since most politicians default to thinking that their position will always prevail, they’ve been hoping – praying more likely – that what has happened over the last few days would somehow not be visited on Trump and his cabinet of bozos. Now it has and they own it. 

Oklahoma Republican Congressman Tom Cole, hardly a Trump basher, nevertheless put a fine point on Trump’s ineptitude this week when he chastised the administration for its persistent and cavalier dismissal of the threat of a serious health emergency. 

Cole was warning back in 2017 that Trump Administration inattention to budgets and personnel at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health would likely bite Trump where he sits. That prediction has now clearly come to pass. During a hearing this week Cole said the coronavirus outbreak and the abject failure of the administration to aggressively meet the crisis was a “sort of vindication of the bipartisan judgment over the last several years that this was really an area we needed to make investments.”

The Trump Administration has proposed steep cuts to these agencies in each of its four budgets, leaving Congress to devise, largely without the help of the agency experts its own funding and staffing priorities. 

Trump actually said when it still must have seemed to him that he could employ ignorance to bluff his way through a pandemic that “some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years. And if we have a need, we can get them very quickly.” Right. 

Stock futures began to fall Wednesday even as Trump delivered what was billed as a calming speech. One Wall Street analyst called it “the most expensive speech in history.”

The bumbler-in-chief when on: “And rather than spending the money — and I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”

Tell that to the hospital workers who will likely be overwhelmed soon with patients who need services which in many areas just may not be available. 

As world markets tumbled from unrealistic and unsustainable heights, Trump went before the camera to peddle his unique brand of nonsense. No Churchillian honesty and candor for the guy who bankrupted a casino, rather we get bombast and misinformation. The number of coronavirus cases in the country stood at 15 at the time with every credible expert predicting a serious increase almost immediately. “Within a couple of days,” Trump said, it “is going to be down to close to zero.” We are now well over 1,000 cases. 

Asked a few days later if he’d been briefed that as many as 100 million Americans could be exposed to the virus Trump didn’t exactly channel FDR in a fireside chat. “I’ve been briefed on every contingency you could possibly imagine. Many contingencies. A lot of positive. Different numbers, all different numbers, very large numbers, and some small numbers too … Be calm. It’s really working out. And a lot of good things are going to happen.”

Amid all the other chaos this week we haven’t heard much about Afghanistan. We will. It, too, will be a disaster. 

We are all advised not to touch our faces these days, but in moments like we’ve been experiencing a face palm every few hours seems entirely reasonable. 

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Further reading:

  • A serious recession is looming. “The US economy could shrink by 2% in the first quarter and 3% in the second, JPMorgan projected, while the eurozone economy could contract by 1.8% and 3.3% in the same periods.”
  • The Atlantic’s James Fallows on why Trump’s Oval Office speech was such a flop. “Until Trump,” Fallows writes, “other presidents have applied the ‘show, don’t tell’ policy when it comes to their own competence. They want to show they are acting the way the country would hope, so they don’t have to say it.” Trump can’t do it.
  • Since most of us are spending a lot of time at home these days…what to watch on Netflix. I recommend The Irishman.
  • Thanks for reading…and please pass along to anyone who might be interested.