End of July Random Thoughts

Thoughts as we head into what has traditionally been the hottest part of the Midwest summer:

I have seen reports that the Trump Campaign believes that the development of a Coronavirus vaccine by Election Day will boost the President Trump’s electoral prospects.  I don’t see why.  Even assuming one is developed within that time frame and it is entirely safe and effective (more on substantive questions about the vaccine below), I would submit that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden will still have the upper hand if he asks, “Based upon our nation’s experience over the past year, which candidate do you trust more to see that the vaccine is competently, quickly, fairly, and affordably made available to our people?”

Given Mr. Biden’s age, his choice of a running mate will clearly be assessed by voters as someone that could be President.  I have seen speculation in the last week that Mr. Biden is seriously considering picking U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris.  I hope he does not, for all of the substantive and political concerns I have already expressed in earlier notes. That said, I would add another risk related to a selection of Sen. Harris, visceral and potentially explosive.  Do an internet search on the term, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.”  Although Ms. Harris’ presidential bid collapsed before any of her Democratic competitors had any incentive to raise the matter, after reviewing a few of the apparently reasonably-accurate accounts of Ms. Harris’ long-ago close personal relationship with Mr. Brown (a man 30 years’ Ms. Harris’ senior, and then Speaker of the California State Assembly) and the seeming boost that Mr. Brown provided to Ms. Harris’ early political career, it is perhaps not unreasonable to ask how the Trump Campaign, the Russians, Fox News, and the rest of the Trump cohort might seek to exploit the old Brown-Harris relationship to dampen support for the Democratic ticket among feminists and swing voters in swing states.  I would respectfully suggest to anyone who says, “It won’t matter to voters if they take that tack.  Look at Trump’s past,” that s/he needs to reconsider.  Ms. Harris isn’t Mr. Trump, and California isn’t America.  Mr. Biden can’t afford a salacious distraction, and we can’t afford to have him lose. 

As polls continue to show decent leads for Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump in most key measures, I have seen speculation that the polls are flawed because respondents won’t admit that they favor Mr. Trump.  While it seems a near certainty that some 2016 Trump supporters who now truthfully tell pollsters that they lean toward Mr. Biden will return to the President’s fold by Election Day – for example, I think the continuing unrest in Portland, OR, is starting to help Mr. Trump as the outrage that initially attended the killing of George Floyd fades in some voter segments – I would suggest that although there are presumably latent Trump voters (those who didn’t turn out for him in 2016), there are no longer many secret Trump voters.  While there is always a tendency to generalize based upon one’s own experience, the Trump supporters we know are vehemently, unabashedly, and proudly so.  Mr. Trump’s divisive conduct of the presidency  and the manner in which he has dominated the national consciousness over the last four years have arguably surfaced those of his supporters who, due to the social stigma then perceived to exist in some quarters, were reluctant to admit to their support for him in 2016.

As current accounts report that amazing progress is being made toward development of Coronavirus vaccines – it is not unusual to see declarations that processes that normally “take years” are being executed “in months” – I consider such speed a double-edged sword.  While the creation of a truly safe and effective COVID vaccine in such a compressed time frame would be one of the greatest scientific achievements of our lives, any prophylactic created within such a short period will seemingly likely come with unresolved questions regarding effective dosage amount, duration of benefit, unforeseen allergic reactions in certain patient profiles, unknown long-term side effects, etc., etc.  Speaking as one that believes in science, has had all the appropriate vaccinations for a person of my vintage, and gets a flu shot every year, I ponder:  If authorities assure us that through this incredibly compressed process they have a safe and effective vaccine by year’s end, and I am somehow given an early opportunity to receive it, will I get it, or prefer to wait a bit?

As of the time this is typed, we have passed 150,000 Coronavirus deaths in the United States.  One Hundred Fifty Thousand.  There can be a tendency to become oblivious as the numbers slowly rise – like the proverbial frog in the slowly-warming water.  It becomes terrifying when made concrete:  the deaths exceed the populations of the largest cities of at least seven states – Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.  They approximate the combined total capacity of Michigan Stadium, the country’s largest stadium – the University of Michigan’s “Big House” – and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  Think about that.  Think of your partner, your family, your friends.  Even if thus far you and your loved ones have been fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by the virus, imagine one or more of them … gone.  Anyone that reads these pages recognizes that I am preoccupied with the risk to our nation presented by Mr. Trump’s dictatorial tendencies, but how many of our people have been and will be lost, how badly will our economic downturn be extended and exacerbated, due to the President’s denial, self-absorption, misinformation, and sheer incompetence?  Even if we had a resurrected Franklin Roosevelt in his prime assume the presidency this minute, given where we are now, he’d tell us that times were going to get worse before they got better. 

He’d also tell us that from a safety standpoint, we can be our own best friends.  Each of us individually can only do our best.

Awaiting Opening Day … 2021

In January, 1942, a little more than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball – the team sport which then dwarfed all others in terms of public support – and indicated that if the Judge wished, baseball should continue despite the war.  The President wrote:

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going….  [U.S. citizens] ought to have a chance for recreation …. [Baseball players for whatever reason not able to serve the war effort] are a definite recreational asset to … [millions] of their fellow citizens – and that in my judgement is thoroughly worthwhile.”

An abbreviated MLB season opened a few days ago, to the completely understandable delight of millions.  I appreciate the point that Mr. Roosevelt was making 78 years ago, but for me, baseball’s relaxed pace and old world allure will need to wait a bit.  I don’t begrudge — indeed, I envy – those for whom the game provides a distraction in these times of political, health, and social crisis.  Perhaps, if the National Football League plays games this fall, I will be able to immerse myself in the short, intense once-a-week 3-hour distraction of the Sunday football rite ;).  As for baseball … hopefully, by next spring, the Coronavirus will no longer be raging, we will have put the blight of the Trump presidency behind us, and I can return to the languid charm of the game I love best.  So I’m hesitantly anticipating the prospect of the first pitch of Opening Day … in spring, 2021.  Hopefully, for me, it’ll then be time … to Play Ball.

Sturmabteilung

[This is the second time in recent weeks that an action by President Trump or his Administration has warranted deferring publication of the remainder of a note (in this case, impressions regarding the Biden candidacy) for which the first part has already appeared; I suspect that it won’t be the last time.]

By this time, virtually all who care are aware that at President Trump’s order, federal officers from a number of federal agencies – among them at least the U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – have been patrolling the streets of Portland, OR, for part of July, seeking to quell ongoing protests related to the killing of George Floyd.  Apparently tensions between authorities and protestors have actually escalated since the federal officials’ arrival.  There are reports that federal agents, dressed in military fatigues and traveling in unmarked cars, have grabbed a number peaceful protestors off the streets. The Marshalls Service has shot a peaceful protestor in the head, severely injuring him.  Federal agents have used tear gas on protestors – notwithstanding a state law that only authorizes the use of such agents by local authorities after a riot has been declared and those gathered given a chance to depart.

The federal authorities involved here are not the United States military.  Without delving into the full extent of its jurisdiction, DHS is obviously primarily responsible for protecting us against foreign attacks; even accepting that it has a role in safeguarding federal property, it appears undisputed that DHS agents have conducted operations well beyond the perimeter of the federal courthouse.  There likewise seems to be little in the Portland situation that would invoke the jurisdictions of ICE and CBP, federal authorities sharing responsibility for immigration, border enforcement, and customs.   

U.S. OR Sen. Jeff Merkley has stated, “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

U.S. OR Sen. Ron Wyden has tweeted, “… Trump and [DHS Director] Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”

OR Gov. Kate Brown has stated that she told Mr. Wolf that the federal government should remove federal officers from the Portland streets.  Ms. Brown indicated that Mr. Wolf has refused the request.  She has called the federal deployment “a blatant abuse of federal power.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has indicated that he has told the Trump Administration to take the federal officials out of Portland.  He has added:  “[W]hat I want to do is raise awareness nationally. This could happen in your city. And what we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls. And this is a direct threat to our democracy.”  (Mayor Wheeler’s assertion seems strikingly similar to U.S. UT Mitt Romney’s recent description of Mr. Trump’s unwarranted dismissal of four federal Inspectors General as “a threat to accountable democracy.”)

It is cruelly ironic that the Trump Administration – all too eager to cast responsibility for a Coronavirus response on state and local officials so as to shirk accountability for its own inability to deal with the crisis – is unwilling to accede to state and local officials’ request to let them establish and maintain order in Portland, although policing has traditionally been a local charge within our federal system.

Close friends and I recently exchanged emails on the Trump Administration’s deployment of federal policing agencies to the streets of Portland; the same thought had independently struck us:  Brownshirts. 

“In the summer of 1920 … Hitler organized a bunch of rough-neck war veterans into “strong-arm” squads … [T]hey were officially named the Sturmabteilung [the “S.A.”] …. [O]utfitted in brown uniforms … [t]hese uniformed rowdies …soon took to breaking up [meetings] of other [political parties.”

“[T]he S.A. was reorganized … to generally terrorize those who opposed Hitler.”

“From the earliest days of the Nazi movement Hitler had insisted that the [S.A. was] … to furnish the physical violence, the terror, by which the party could bludgeon its way to political power.”

William L. Shirer:  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

“[The S.A. wanted] to protect the prophets of the spiritual goal …. And in this they understood that they were not obligated to undertake the protection of a state which offers the nation no protection, but that, on the contrary, they had to assume the protection of a nation against those who threatened to destroy the people and the state.”

Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf

There is no gentler way to put it:  Since Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made it clear in June that the United States military is not willing to follow Mr. Trump’s orders to act against peacefully protesting American citizens, the Trump Administration has found other federal units more amenable to his political agenda to serve as its private enforcers.  While one can point out that unlike the S.A. – a nongovernmental Nazi militia — the officers deployed to Portland are indeed federal employees, I would submit that such is a distinction without a difference.   Consider: while securing the federal courthouse in Portland is a valid federal objective, it should be relatively straightforward for elite law enforcement agents. The local authorities have asked Mr. Trump’s force to limit its activity to that valid objective, and Mr. Trump’s force has refused. Although I have cautioned in other notes against being distracted from efforts to win the presidential election by the President’s random illiberal acts, I agree with Mayor Wheeler that the Administration’s actions in Portland are a threat to our democracy that can be brought to bear in any city.  Our best defense is to cast a spotlight on such overtly authoritarian activities.  This concludes with a link to those who it is clear are our best soldiers in any struggle to maintain the American way of life.

https://twitter.com/JoshuaPotash/status/1284704272282800128

The Harper’s Letter

The link below is to a letter Harper’s posted online last week (the “Letter”) that has stirred what I find an inexplicably vehement response in some progressive quarters given the benign (a Harper’s Vice President called them “anodyne”) — to me, also commendable – statements expressed within it.  Apparently, the Letter has stirred such acrimony in part because some number of its signatories are claimed to hold anti-transgender views (I have no idea whether or not such is true; the document does not address gender issues) and because it warns against the possibility that resistance to right-wing demagoguery “might harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion.”

I am – this will come as no surprise to anyone that reads these pages – in my own bubble.  I only recognize the names of about ten of the 150 or so signatories.  There are two, New York Times Columnist David Brooks and The Righteous Mind author Jonathan Haidt, whose work I hold in high regard.  One might suggest that the very fact that the seemingly even-handed sentiments expressed in this Letter have stirred such outrage is some evidence that progressives do, indeed, need to guard against “censoriousness” and their “own brand of dogma.”  I, but a humble amateur ;), would have readily signed this Letter if asked; arguably, by including it within these pages, I have.     

https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/

Gone with the Wind … and Beaver Cleaver

A number of President Trump’s recent tweets — respectively retweeting a video of an apparent supporter yelling for “White Power,” describing a  proposed “Black Lives Matter” sign on New York City’s 5th Avenue as a “symbol of hate,” threatening to veto a defense authorization bill because it provides for renaming federal installations currently named for Confederate Generals, and declaring an intent to review an Obama-era Fair Housing regulation – have caused me to recall Mr. Trump’s comments at a Colorado rally in February, when he noted that the South Korean film, Parasite, had just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and stated in part:  “What the hell was that all about? … You know I’m looking for, like – let’s get Gone with the Wind.  Can we get, like, Gone with the Wind back, please?”

At the time, given Parasite’s South Korean origin, the thought that first struck me when hearing him was:  Now, he’s starting after Asians.  Perhaps an accurate assessment; that said, his latest tweets have made clear that he believes that inflaming all racial divides is a key to his re-election.  I suspect that most Americans have seen Gone with the Wind and can recall the film’s brief written introduction, which provides, in part:

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields

Called the Old South …

Here in this pretty world …

… was the last ever to be seen …

Of Master and of Slave …

… it is no more than a dream remembered.

A Civilization gone with the wind ….”

After watching a YouTube clip of the GWTW introduction, the following verses of the world Mr. Trump obviously yearns for came to mind; I forthrightly acknowledge the obvious:  I’m as atrocious a poet as Mr. Trump is a president.

There was a land of Leafy Streets and Baseball Fields

Called ‘50s America …

Here in this pretty world

Elvis was King.

Cadillac to harmonica —

Made in America.

Of faiths, two:

Christian; a rare Jew.

White was right.

Black was set back.

Sex was clear …

No room for the Queer.

Suits were gray and skirts chaste;

Every woman knew her place.

Shame for the wimpy;

Shadows for the gimpy.

Ike was liked; Lucy, loved.

Jackie tolerated; Mick, lionized.

The Duke was boss … 

The Injuns lost.

Commies, “Pinkos,” and the Bomb we feared —

But not tobacco, carbon exhaust, or the steak well seared.

Here was the last ever to be seen of

Black and White TV,

Bald Presidential Candidates,

A Rebel without a Cause.

It is, for those that still pine, no more than a dream imagined …

Like Beaver Cleaver, a memory … gone with the wind …

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I would offer a pedestrian supplement:  Those that cling to the past … are condemned to forfeit the future.  As this weekend we as a people celebrate a cherished part of our past, may we prove to have the virtue and valor necessary to make ourselves better by moving forward from it.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XIII

We’ve seen any number of reports of “scientists around the world” working to develop effective Coronavirus treatments and a vaccine. Most of these reports assume a cooperative humanitarian distribution of these resources when they are developed. Aside from the inevitable competition between biomedical companies for what will be trillions in revenue, it seems not inconceivable that the outcome of these efforts could also have global political ramifications. While the nation whose scientists are the first to develop effective remedies will almost certainly not seek to exploit the virus as a biologic weapon against its adversaries while protecting its own populace, it will have the capability to resuscitate its own economy while other nations still struggle, and there might also be at least the temptation to secure significant concessions from competing nations in return for granting access to effective treatments or a vaccine. Although one can presume that humanitarian instincts will hold sway among all nations, it nonetheless seems advisable on geopolitical as well as humanitarian grounds for the U.S. to be the first to develop effective means to combat the virus.

As has now been widely reported, in a call with supporters on May 8, former President Barack Obama, who has generally been fairly circumspect in his references to the Trump Administration, observed that the decision by the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to drop its prosecution of former Trump Administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – who has twice pled guilty to lying to the FBI – indicated that our nation’s “basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk,” and at another point during the call, declared the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus response an “absolute chaotic disaster.” Several reports of the call stated that Mr. Obama’s comments were “leaked.” President Trump and his retinue have been predictably yelling about Obamagate – that’s “OBAMAGATE!” – ever since. Although the following reactions are not unique to me, I feel that it remains appropriate to record them here since I had them before I saw others voice them: Mr. Obama has proven himself too savvy a political operative to express such incendiary remarks where they might “leak” unless he intended it. He baited Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump fell for it. The more Mr. Trump attacks Mr. Obama – who will not be on the ballot in November — the less fire the President and his cohort are directing at former Vice President Joe Biden [although Mr. Trump has peripherally included Mr. Biden in his claims, the fact remains that neither he nor his collaborators are calling this trumped up {so to speak 😉 } scandal, “BIDENGATE.”] The attacks seem likely to backfire on Republicans with swing voters in swing states who turned out decisively for Mr. Obama in two elections, will arouse the defensive instinct in those constituencies in which Mr. Obama is particularly strong (Republicans aren’t the only ones seeking to increase turnout within their base), and further tie Mr. Biden to Mr. Obama in the eyes of Mr. Obama’s supporters – which Mr. Biden himself seeks to do at every turn. I note that despite Mr. Trump’s calls upon U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham to call Mr. Obama before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Graham, Mr. Graham has demurred – I’m confident not out of any sense of decorum, but because Mr. Graham must realize that Mr. Obama would relish the opportunity to come before the Judiciary Committee; he would crush the Republicans with swing voters in what would be the media circus of the decade. Only Mr. Trump has seemingly failed to grasp that.

I have genuinely increasing concern that the pressure of the COVID crisis and his falling polls are causing Mr. Trump to become dangerously unbalanced (he does, after all, control our nuclear codes). His widely noted suggestion that the novel Coronavirus might be combatted by injecting disinfectant into a patient’s body was an unnerving glimpse of his grasp of reality. His more recent claim that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine – which at this point even Republicans are generally aware is a medication with potentially serious side effects that the medical community has discounted as an effective way to prevent COVID-19 – seems a particularly blatant rejection of scientific expertise (even prompting an uncharacteristically direct – and commendable — refutation by a Fox News commentator, Neil Cavuto). If Mr. Trump is indeed taking the drug, it doesn’t appear a means to garner him additional electoral political support; it is hard not to conclude that he is actually electing to entrust his health to the Wizard of Oz.  If he isn’t actually taking the medication, and such is ultimately determined (which it will be), he has – and will be shown to have — capriciously risked the lives of those who decide to take it because they have faith in him. Either way, his declaration that he is taking hydroxychloroquine frankly makes him appear less than — to use his own words — “very stable.”

At the time this is typed, the United States, Russia, and Brazil lead the world with the most confirmed Coronavirus cases. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Jair Bolsonaro … a Kingston Trio for one to imagine. Understandably, Mr. Putin would claim the center and sing lead; Messrs. Trump and Bolsonaro would flank him and — appropriately given their records — provide the backup chorus.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XII

While President Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis appears at this point to have hurt his reelection prospects, it would seem that in Republican U.S. NC Sen. Richard Burr’s decision to temporarily step down as Chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, due to allegations that he traded stock inappropriately shortly after he received information in classified Senate briefings about the pandemic’s prospective effects on the economy, the virus may by carom have tossed Mr. Trump a high card. Throughout the President’s term and to the Administration’s evident displeasure, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Burr and the Committee’s Ranking Democrat Member, VA Sen. Mark Warner, has consistently reported on a bipartisan basis that Russia, and not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 15 that the last installment of the Committee’s findings, expected in coming months, is focused on whether the Trump Campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential contest. Mr. Burr’s vacation of the Chair, even on a temporary basis, may have given the Administration the opportunity to stifle and politicize the Senate Intelligence Committee in the same manner that for a couple of years it neutered the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee through its Republican Chairman stooge, CA Rep. Devin Nunes. Any Senate Intelligence Committee Republican that would even temporarily replace Mr. Burr as Chair is either a straightforward Trump supporter – ID Sen. James Risch, AK Sen. Tom Cotton, TX Sen. John Cornyn, and MO Sen. Roy Blunt – or has maintained a namby-pamby profile with regard to the President’s claims and antics — ME Sen. Susan Collins, FL Sen. Marco Rubio and NE Sen. Ben Sasse. None can be expected to resist the intense political pressure to downplay Russia’s involvement in the 2016 or 2020 elections certain to be applied by Mr. Trump and his cohort. To be sure, whether or not untoward behavior by Sen Burr is ultimately established, and regardless of whether the Trump Administration is exerting greater rigor in investigating Mr. Burr’s actions than it is similar behavior by Trump supporter U.S. GA Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Mr. Burr’s trades created an obvious appearance of conflict of interest and constituted a colossal failure in judgment. Since Mr. Burr, 64, has already indicated that he will not seek reelection in 2022, one can sympathize with any uneasiness he might have felt at the damage the virus would inflict on his retirement portfolio, but his lapse may have materially weakened our country’s security just as Mr. Trump calls for an investigation into an “Obamagate” that he cannot describe and craven U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham has announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs plans to hold hearings on – with the obvious intent to discredit — the Russia probe.

This past week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a lead member of the Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, indicated in testimony to the Senate, “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control” if the economy is opened too quickly or inappropriately. Later in the week, Mr. Trump – who had earlier toured a Pennsylvania mask-manufacturing plant without wearing a mask — declared at a news conference with Dr. Fauci standing behind him, “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back.” This dichotomy is obviously just the latest in a long line of conflicting messages sent by the two men (although I – presumably unlike the President — consider Dr. Fauci to have been extremely tactful in marking out their differences). What are the odds that either during the campaign, if the spotlight no longer shines so brightly on the government’s virus response, or after Election Day if the President wins a second term, that Dr. Fauci will be peremptorily removed from his post? The only saving grace: since he turns 80 this year, Dr. Fauci will be able to look back on a full career of service – rather than a career destroyed, like so many others, by Mr. Trump’s malevolence.

There’s a restaurant not far from our home. We first went there a number of years ago on a bitterly cold January Wisconsin night right after it opened, simply because it was too cold to go too far. Rick was our waiter. He and I hit it off immediately. There weren’t many people in the place. The food was excellent. We went back often. Over the years, the business has flourished – a product of wonderful food, excellent service and reasonable prices. Because we were early patrons, we are always treated like VIPs. Rick’s daughter is one of the hostesses. We are seated at one of Rick’s tables. We inquire about his family; he, ours. Since the pandemic hit, we have ordered out from the restaurant every weekend (before COVID, we went periodically, but far from every week). Since March, I, masked, have appeared in the parking lot at the designated time, and Rick, masked, has come out with our dinners. Last weekend, I asked him how it was going. His response: “It depends upon the numbers [of Wisconsin COVID cases]. If they stay stable, we’ll probably be all right [presumably, because traffic will pick up]. But if they go up [which will presumably keep traffic at its pandemic levels], we’re screwed.” For years, we’ve watched this team work hard, seen their efforts slowly bring success. This is just one of millions of groups that either has or soon could see years of effort wiped out … in a matter of 90 days.

This is a difficult time. It seems best to conclude with something I saw recently that although not COVID-related, may, given the time of year, bring a smile to baseball fans with long memories [and who don’t mind extremely blue language ;)]: the late Orioles Manager Earl Weaver in an exchange with longtime Umpire Bill Haller. (Umpires hated Mr. Weaver :)]. Part of the fun of the clip: Mr. Haller expressing doubt that Mr. Weaver would enter the Hall of Fame (he did). Others: the “Sigh; Here we go again” demeanor of Hall of Famer Oriole Firstbaseman Eddie Murray (No. 33); and the occasional views of Tiger Coach Dick Tracewski, a three-time World Series Champion.

https://twitter.com/Super70sSports/status/1261451987733839873

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part X

I ventured some time ago that President Trump’s most critical foreign policy flaw is that he knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing: that his focus on trade, his harping on perceived underpayments by NATO allies, etc., etc., betrays his own preoccupation with money and finance that has frequently hampered his understanding of and ability to effectively deal with global leaders, who generally think in terms of power. I would pose that the President’s chief substantive and political defect during the COVID crisis has proven to be the same: his visceral fixation with the virus’ effects on the state of the U.S. economy, which – arguably because his perception of Americans’ priorities is colored by his own – he sees as the proxy for his electoral prospects. He doesn’t understand that the vast majority of Americans of all political stripes place the highest value on the health and wellbeing of their families, friends, neighbors and themselves; that they view money not as an end but as a means to secure their higher priorities. Since the Coronavirus provides a particularly acute instance in which wellbeing and money can by some measures be considered at odds, it has caused Mr. Trump to be uncharacteristically tone deaf even with his base. Most tragically, his initial and continuing denials of the realities of the virus – reportedly due to his fear of the effect on the economy – has arguably resulted in greater illness and loss of life (and, ironically, damage to the economy) than would have occurred had he acted promptly, decisively, and consistently. At the time this is typed, the New York Times is reporting upon an internal CDC document projecting that virus-related deaths will increase from their current level of 1,750 a day to 3,000 a day by June 1. Even from a purely the political perspective, Mr. Trump’s uncertainty, inconsistency, pettiness and unreasoned behavior (the comment about disinfectant injection being the most disconcerting) has made plain to a wider swath of Americans – perhaps an electorally determinative swath — that he is at least a bit unstable, that his values are different from theirs, and – most crucially — that he cares more about himself than he does about them. I’ve seen various scholars grasping for American historical parallels to the bootless manner in which Mr. Trump has approached the COVID crisis. To me the most apt is obvious: Herbert Hoover, who proved unable to effectively deal with an economic depression engulfing his people — the closest an American President has heretofore come to the apocryphal account of Emperor Nero, said to have fiddled while Rome burned.

The Foxconn saga in southeast Wisconsin provides its own Coronavirus-related kaleidoscope. It is undisputed that the project is now a drastically-scaled back version of that proposed with such fanfare by Mr. Trump, then-WI Gov. (Republican) Scott Walker and then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Republican) Paul Ryan in June, 2018. It seems not unreasonable to assume, given a March Wall Street Journal report that Foxconn’s net profit had fallen 24% in Q4 2019 even before Coronavirus effects and an April Reuters report that its 2020 Q1 revenue was 12% below its comparable 2019 totals, that the company wishes to tap funding sources and perhaps reassess its investments. In light of the Wisconsin’s project’s underperformance, I had wondered whether Foxconn might attempt to take the political sting out of its shortcomings by blaming the virus. The company is apparently taking a different tack: below is a link to an April 9, 2020, CNBC piece indicating that Foxconn has filed paperwork with the state asserting that it has met its contractual hiring targets, perhaps entitling it to incentives approximating $50 million. The piece further indicates that the Administration of WI Gov. Tony Evers is studying Foxconn’s filing, but even if Foxconn is accurate and is entitled to the contractual benefits, the 550 jobs Foxconn claims to have created are reported to be a quarter of those it originally promised by this juncture. This seemingly creates a political optics problem for Republicans: a financially-strapped company seeking millions in incentives for a dramatically-reduced project from a state currently receiving ten times its 2019 unemployment claims while reasonably anticipating declining tax revenues. Foxconn is presumably aware of this; the final (at least as of now) pattern to its kaleidoscope: Medtronic and Foxconn are allegedly partnering to make ventilators at the Wisconsin facility. If brought to fruition, this welcome news and will put a positive face on the project; whether this is any more than talk remains, like other representations related to this Wisconsin facility, to be seen.

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/09/foxconn-says-it-met-hiring-targets-in-wisconsin-now-it-wants-its-money.html

Costco has recently announced that it will not let customers into its stores unless they are wearing masks. This has provoked an emotional negative response from what is obviously a tiny segment of Costco customers, who have been reported as tweeting comments such as, “Im [sic] a free citizen of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA I will not comply with your mask rule! My body, my choice!” While the overall level of American mental acuity may be enhanced if, as we confront a highly contagious and dangerous disease, Charles Darwin’s principle of Natural Selection manifests itself within this segment of our populace as well as within the segment carrying assault weapons while demonstrating in and about state legislatures, one cannot help but fear for all lives endangered by such capricious behavior.

We consider the CDC projection a warning: Don’t get bored, or complacent. Keep your guard up.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part IX

Below is a link to a Washington Post article reporting upon the escalating challenges pressuring Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro. Having recently linked a different article by our son, I would not have cited this one, but for the seeming incongruity – at least to our smug American psyches — it sets forth: that Brazil’s highly-respected Justice Minister and one-time Bolsonaro associate has resigned, claiming that Mr. Bolsonaro demanded the installation of a police chief who would accept the President’s investigation requests and provide information to Mr. Bolsonaro – at a time when Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons are under investigation by authorities; that this week, a Supreme Federal Court Justice ruled that an investigation into Mr. Bolsonaro’s alleged actions was necessary, because “No one, not even the president, is above the constitution and the law”; that Mr. Bolsonaro has fired his highly-respected Health Minister for urging Brazilians to stay at home to combat the country’s Coronavirus spread; that at least at one point Mr. Bolsonaro believed that the drug, chloroquine, would solve the country’s COVID outbreak; that Mr. Bolsonaro listens to only a small circle of advisors, particularly his children; that a former center-right Brazilian president (Mr. Bolsonaro is decidedly on the right) has withdrawn his support of the President, saying Mr. Bolsonaro “looked like a Nazi”; and that one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s powerful supporters in the National Congress has now broken with him due to Mr. Bolsonaro’s “isolation.” The irony that struck me has by now become apparent to you: that despite political stress, a constitutional separation of powers and system of checks and balances is working just as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay envisioned … in Brazil.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/for-brazils-bolsonaro-isolated-by-corruption-probe-and-virus-denial-the-troubles-mount/2020/04/28/de7de790-8951-11ea-8ac1-bfb250876b7a_story.html

I haven’t been in many closed spaces over the last six weeks, but now – unlike Vice President Mike Pence — wear a mask when I am. I wear glasses, and have been more than a little exasperated that even ordinary breathing into the mask fogs up my glasses. A former therapist colleague of one very close to me advises that if one washes one’s glasses in shaving cream, rinses them and lets them dry before donning the mask, this will prevent them from fogging up. I haven’t tried it yet, but since the source is highly credible and many of those that follow these pages wear glasses, felt it was worth passing along ;).

Even as we continue our battle with the virus, speculation is increasing as to whom former Vice President Joe Biden will pick as his running mate (Mr. Biden has indicated that he will ask a woman). I find that my irritation with former GA Rep. Stacey Abrams – the failed 2018 Democratic candidate for the Georgia Governorship – is mounting. Ms. Abrams, African American, is openly campaigning for the nomination, putting pressure on Mr. Biden and perhaps creating disappointment in the black community if Mr. Biden doesn’t choose a woman of color. I indicated in an earlier post that I did not consider Ms. Abrams a wise choice for certain tactical reasons. I would submit that the most important reason not to choose her – particularly for Mr. Biden, who would enter the White House at age 78, thus needing a running mate that voters are comfortable could assume the presidency on Day 1 — is her lack of appropriate background and experience. In a recent program, “Into 2020 with Stacey Abrams,” Ms. Abrams stated, “I think experience is a combination of issues. It’s competence, it’s skills, and it’s proven deliverables. And I would match my experience against anyone’s.” Maybe she would; I wouldn’t. The weightiest office Ms. Abrams has held in her public career is Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives. Even if effective in that milieu, she hasn’t governed a state, has no experience with the U.S. Congress, and lacks any foreign policy expertise – substantive gaps that swing voters in swing states will probably quickly recognize. At the same time, Ms. Abrams’ refusal to run for a Georgia U.S. Senate seat in 2020 could ultimately cost Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. She narrowly lost to GA Gov. Brian Kemp in a contest marred by alleged voter suppression. Her standing in the state has perhaps since been enhanced by Mr. Kemp’s arguably mixed management of Georgia’s COVID response (he’s been criticized by both Georgia Democrats and President Trump – no small feat).  Because of the health-related retirement of former U.S. GA Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia has two Senate seats on the ballot this year; Mr. Kemp’s appointed Republican replacement for Mr. Isakson, U.S. GA Sen. Kelly Loeffler, has during her brief time in office managed to at least create the appearance that she exploited information from a classified Senate Coronavirus briefing to avoid significant personal stock market losses. Ms. Abrams has huge name recognition in her state. Particularly given the current liberal fervor against Mr. Trump, she seemingly would have been a formidable candidate for a Georgia Senate seat.  In our current political circumstances, I’m dismayed at an apparent opportunity squandered.

I concede that the YouTube video linked below, forwarded to me by a close friend, is perhaps not entirely in keeping with the tone that I generally try to maintain in these pages … but a benefit of writing a blog – apparently, like being President — is the freedom to disregard one’s own guidelines ;).

Enjoy the weekend. Stay safe.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkU1ob_lHCw

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VIII

It is a travesty that the decision as to how and when to reopen the economy is becoming so politicized. While it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that our extreme shutdown over the last six weeks has saved as many or more lives as we have thus far lost to the Coronavirus, there is consensus among economists that the shutdown has already started a recession of now-undeterminable duration. I would submit that while we risk a tragic reappearance of illness and death if we reopen the economy either too soon or inappropriately, there is a credible argument that moving too slowly has its own potential to result in unnecessarily destroyed American lives: irretrievable poverty, serious damage to essential public services, increased suicide, mental-health related violence and suffering, and the general health and other ravages that destitution wreaks. At the global level — since our economy still drives the world economy – an extended and deep downturn will in many parts of the world cause chaos, famine, disease, and terror. Unfortunately, what we need is the measured judgment and courage of an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt. I would venture that Bill Clinton was the only president we’ve had in modern times that combined the acute intelligence, knowledge (in two weeks of briefings and study, he would have made himself a lay expert) and exquisite feel for the rhythms of the country to be able to effectively make such a call. Currently, we have a leader who mused on April 23 that perhaps the virus might be cured by light or disinfectant injections into the body. (Mr. Trump has since said that he was being sarcastic. I suspect that you have seen the tape. He wasn’t.) (A friend commented in an email on Friday: “Have to run and do a shot of Lysol with my lunch.” Too good.)

There is a link immediately below to an article recently appearing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Dr. Richard Levitan, opining that reduced oxygen saturation in the lungs without acute patient distress is an indication of COVID pneumonia and that such hypoxia can be detected in its early stages through use of a pulse oximeter (available without a prescription, but given a COVID-related run, perhaps now unobtainable by consumers until mid-summer). This piece particularly resonated with us because we have family experience with the danger of hypoxia and value of pulse oximeters.

https://www.startribune.com/what-i-learned-during-10-days-of-treating-covid-pneumonia/569857042/

There is a link immediately below to a Washington Post article by our son, describing Brazil’s perilous Coronavirus situation, wildly aggravated by the wantonly counterproductive actions of President Jair Bolsonaro. Mr. Bolsonaro’s complete denial of the virus’ danger makes President Trump by contrast appear reflective, cautious, and competent. Brazilians’ health has been left to responsible local leaders and their own diligence.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-brazil-testing-bolsonaro-cemetery-gravedigger/2020/04/22/fe757ee4-83cc-11ea-878a-86477a724bdb_story.html

There is currently what I consider a tempest in a teapot over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent comments that he didn’t favor having the federal government provide the states Coronavirus-related relief, and that he was instead “in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route.” This was an absurd comment, even for Mr. McConnell. State and local governments employ between 15 and 20 million Americans, and the two levels of government collectively provide police, fire, sanitation, highway, and a host of other services valued by all Americans of all political stripes, not to mention … health professionals. Sen. McConnell has been in the Senate too long – obviously for many reasons, but in this context, due to his seeming obliviousness to the optics of his negotiating ploy. State and local governments of both red and blue states are going to be unable to provide critical services without federal help. An article in The Atlantic following Mr. McConnell’s comments suggested that he sees forcing states into bankruptcy as a means to require certain states to shed their wildly underfunded pension liabilities — while at the same time protecting their bondholders. I think the piece is hyperventilation. In this time of crisis, not even Mr. McConnell – although he alluded in his comments to an unwillingness to bail out states’ underfunded pension funds — can believe that being saddled with responsibility for leaving local governments without help in serving their constituents or for forcing states to terminate their pension obligations to thousands of Americans (many of whom are Trump supporters) can be an advantage politically. Candidly, I believe that for once, Mr. Trump gets it even if Sen. McConnell somehow doesn’t – part of the reason why I think progressives and commentators have overreacted to Mr. McConnell’s trial balloon. Democrats shouldn’t provide one cent of concession to his ploy, and let him swing. Whether such optimism is properly placed obviously remains to be seen.

As we grapple with the disease and its many consequences, it’s a pleasure to add entries to these pages that may bring a smile. Below is a YouTube in which Mr. … er … Trump provides another perspective to his claim that he was merely being sarcastic in his comments about light and disinfectant ;).

https://digg.com/@digg/trump-disinfectant-impression-NZUFSuel

As we begin another week: Stay safe.