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 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.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VII

After inevitable Presidential grandstanding, last week the Trump Administration issued guidelines about opening the economy generally in keeping with health experts’ recommendations. The President told Governors, “You’re calling the shots.” Soon afterward, he tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” in an attempt to score political points against three Democratic Governors performing in the manner suggested by Administration guidelines. Given the size and complexity of the challenge we face, the President’s de facto encouragement of states’ opening up their economies without regard to his Administration’s own guidelines is not only asinine political pandering, but might have tragic consequences for a percentage of our citizens who actually place credence in his and his chorus’ propaganda.

It is commonplace for talking heads to intone, “The Coronavirus doesn’t care if you’re from the city or the country, white or black, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, etc., etc.” Actually, I would submit that it does. It is undisputed that the virus is highly contagious and spreads through close human contact. Close human contact is unavoidable (at least without rigid shutdown orders) for city dwellers, while generally more readily avoidable for rural residents; it is frequently unavoidable for those working at close quarters in lower-paying service jobs, while frequently more avoidable for those whose white collar jobs enable them to work from home; it is frequently unavoidable for those of lesser means (often minorities), who tend to live in tighter clusters in rented units, while being generally more avoidable for those whose families can shelter in individual homes. These are, of course, generalities; but which categories of our people are most likely to be subject to the brunt of any virus resurgence if Stay-At-Home orders are lifted prematurely?

In the first weeks of the shutdown, I saw more exercise equipment commercials during daytime hours than I can ever recall. Old ads for the Total Gym, featuring movie and TV Star Chuck Norris, proliferated. Clearly, the manufacturer saw the opportunity presented by the virus, and aired the ads it had available; in one spot, Mr. Norris – unquestionably in great shape for any age – mentions that he is 76. Mr. Norris is now 80.

The foreign policy effects of the crisis currently appear mixed and developing. No one could be surprised that North Korea’s recent testing of a short range cruise missile indicated that Chairman Kim Jong-Un (who himself is reportedly currently suffering from non-COVID physical ails) has no intent of suspending his nuclear program because of the crisis. On the other hand, there are reports that the disease has entered the North, and that if it passes rapidly there as it has elsewhere, the regime has no effective means to check its spread. Iran naval forces have initiated skirmishes with U.S. and other nations’ ships in the Persian Gulf, but a number of high Iranian officials have the virus and the regime is clearly currently focused on its own virus outbreak. (There are accounts of a philosophical split among U.S. foreign policy experts as to whether the U.S. should ease or harden its Iranian sanctions while Iran is under such stress. “Hawks” believe hardening the sanctions during the epidemic will cause the regime’s downfall; “Doves” believe that easing the sanctions during the crisis is the appropriate humanitarian response. With very little research, and although there is intellectual weight to both positions, I favor relieving sanctions. Foremost, it is the right, humanitarian – dare I say American – thing to do. Additionally, however, it seems to me the wise strategic step. Any replacement regime that views American sanctions as having added to the suffering of the Iranian people will not be any more favorably disposed to the U.S. than the current regime – nor will the Iranian people themselves; and it’s a little harder to call your adversary, “The Great Satan,” if it provides relief when you desperately need it.) Finally, there are reports of potentially dangerous interactions during the last month between U.S. and Russian air forces over the Mediterranean Sea initiated by the Russians. While no one can doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would leverage the Coronavirus to press his strategic international objectives if he could, the virus is crippling the Russian economy and the recent sharp drop in world oil prices caused by the COVID crisis is presumably causing Mr. Putin to direct his attention to his domestic challenges.

If – a huge if – we come out of this crisis more united (given our toxic political climate, clearly a challenge) and with a less adversely impacted economy (given our overall financial strength, a real possibility) than a number of our principal adversaries, and we leverage our advantages to assist those across the globe still favorably disposed toward us, we will have an opportunity to reclaim some of the strategic advantages either tossed or frittered away by the Trump Administration over the last three years.

We are blessed to live in a part of the country with enough open space that we can walk in our city parks and maintain appropriate social distancing (at this point, it seems that the vast majority of our area’s residents are mindful of social distancing). Even so, I note that while on our walks, I now maintain the same watchfulness regarding the whereabouts and approach of our fellow park patrons … as I employed last summer for bear sign as we hiked in Alaskan national parks. [All that is lacking is the call, “Hey, Bear” as we trudge along ;)].

Stay safe.

Admittedly Random Coronavirus Information

Since a number of those who read these pages are 60 or older, and those 60 and older have been consistently reported to be at greater risk of dangerous Coronavirus-related complications and death than the younger population, I sought to discover currently-indicated mortality rates for those over 60. The first citation below links to a piece indicating that the risk of dying for the more senior infected by the virus roughly doubles by decade: for those aged 60 – 69 it is 3.6%, for patients aged 70 to 79 years it is 8%, and for patients above 80 years of age it is 14.8%.

[NOTE:  The data related to the septuagenarians and octogenarians underlying the first link is apparently derived from a Chinese study based on 72,000 case records that I found cited on other sites (no links to those attached)]. [SECOND NOTE:  Since the information underlying the first link is dated in late February, I’ve searched for more recent data; the second link below is to a MarketWatch story updated as of this morning (March 9), which still appears to rely on the same Chinese study for mortality rates among those 70 and older.]  [THIRD NOTE:  It is seemingly arguable that the virus is accelerating much more quickly than the data.]

We have seen indications that the disease can be particularly dangerous for adults with “underlying health conditions.” I have seen two sites that indicated that about 60% of U.S. adults have at least one affliction that would be considered “an underlying health condition.”

Below are links to four sites addressing different aspects of the challenge. Although I obviously lack the knowledge or resources to verify their accuracy, I found them informative.

Age, Sex, Existing Conditions of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-age-sex-demographics/

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/coronavirus-fatality-rates-vary-wildly-depending-on-age-gender-and-medical-history-some-patients-fare-much-worse-than-others-2020-02-26

How Does Coronavirus Kill?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okg7uq_HrhQ

A Reason Viruses Can Originate in China

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPpoJGYlW54

The Impeachment Kaleidoscope: Part III

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Parts I and II (which are immediately below), I would start with those 😉

The most impressive figure in our current impeachment saga is obviously Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. She is literally running the clock down on the President. Through the continual drip of damning information about Mr. Trump’s coercion of the Ukrainians — including this week’s testimony by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — Ms. Pelosi is shaping the attitude of that sliver of the electorate – I would guess between 10 and 20 percent — who aren’t already irrevocably committed to or against the President. She has so far withstood both the Republicans’ efforts to speed the process (the longer this goes, the shorter the President’s and their time to politically recover) and kept the inquiry focused on the President’s pressure on the Ukrainians (which polls show that a majority of Americans viscerally consider wrong) despite her own caucus’ desire to broaden it (which will blur the voters’ focus and give the Republicans more opportunity for distraction).

I’ve mentioned in these pages my concern that Congressional Impeachment proceedings would ultimately redound to the President’s benefit. Now, I’m not so sure. Although the Republicans’ impeachment initiative against President Bill Clinton ultimately politically benefited the Democrats, what Mr. Trump indisputably did with the Ukrainians seems different in kind from Mr. Clinton’s inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his attendant falsehoods (although I believe in retrospect that Mr. Clinton should have been removed from office for perjury). Since Ms. Pelosi has made it plain that she considers Mr. Trump manifestly unfit for the presidency, I hope she hopes (more on that below) that for the good of the country, Mr. Trump will be removed from office after the Senate trial; but there may be even greater Democratic political advantage arising from the proceedings – in which the evidence of the President’s and his agents’ activities will be brought before the American people once in the House, and again in the Senate — if the President is acquitted. Any Senate acquittal is likely to look like a Republican whitewash to the electoral sliver Ms. Pelosi is targeting and will put swing state Republican Senators running for reelection in 2020 in a bind between Trump loyalists and independents. I would suggest that in the seemingly unlikely event that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conjures up a Senate procedural maneuver to avoid bringing the House’s articles to a vote, enough of the electorate will be sufficiently outraged that such would result in an even greater national electoral rout of Republicans – and perhaps cost Mr. McConnell his seat.

I indicated above that I hope that Ms. Pelosi hopes that for the good of the country, President Trump should be removed from office as expeditiously as possible. That said, I’m not sure that a presumed succession by Vice President Mike Pence helps Democrats’ 2020 national prospects. By the time any such transition would occur, it will be too late for another Republican to meaningfully challenge Mr. Pence for the 2020 GOP nomination; it seems overwhelming probable that the Republican base, infuriated at Mr. Trump’s removal, will rally to the Republican cause; and Mr. Pence would have the power of the incumbency. Query, had Senate Democrats not acquitted Mr. Clinton when he was impeached, whether a President Al Gore might not have eked out an Electoral College victory over then-TX Gov. George W. Bush in a contest in which Mr. Gore won the popular vote. President Gerald Ford lost by only the slimmest of margins to then-former GA Gov. Jimmy Carter in 1976 although Mr. Ford was politically weakened by his pardon of President Richard Nixon (a decision with which I agree) and the disappointment of the diehard followers of then-former CA Gov. Ronald Reagan. I pose this: given the demographics that are still likely to prevail in 2020, if Mr. Pence succeeds to the presidency without being directly implicated in the President’s untoward interactions with the Ukrainians or other malign activities, and has former U.S. Amb. Nikki Haley or perhaps U.S. FL Sen. Marco Rubio join his ticket, which likely Democratic presidential candidate can beat him? A candidate’s prospects are in part measured by the candidate’s opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. I would submit that contrasted with Mr. Pence, to many independents Mr. Biden could look too old, U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders could look too old and crazy, U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren could look too feisty and disruptive, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg could look too young and inexperienced, and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris could look too “California.” Either U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker or U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar might have a chance against Mr. Pence, but they appear too far behind the other Democratic candidates to have a meaningful opportunity to secure the Democratic nomination and Mr. Pence’s election odds would still be better than either of theirs. Mr. Pence would have to finesse one hurdle similar to that faced by Mr. Ford: how to deal with the fallout – either way – arising from Trumpers’ demands that he pardon his predecessor.

As we plunge into the impeachment maelstrom, perhaps its facets are best considered not a kaleidoscope … but a roulette wheel. Clearly, much more to come.

The Impeachment Kaleidoscope: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

If the Wikipedia account of Hunter Biden is at all accurate, the younger Biden’s primary profession since his 1996 law school graduation has arguably been exploiting (albeit legally) his father’s name and position. While any parent can have sympathy for another parent’s desire to see his/her child get ahead, one would have to lack the sense God gave a goose not to recognize that a Ukrainian company’s selection of the son of the Vice President of the United States as a board member – a son who I understand had no specific qualifications for the post – was, legal or not, a blatant attempt by Ukrainian interests to curry favor with the United States. The elder Biden should have quashed the overture. While I continue to support the former Vice President (pending any meaningful advance by other moderate Democratic candidates), the Bidens’ actions or inactions relating to Hunter Biden’s appointment have sullied Mr. Biden’s candidacy and lowered my estimation of him. Their behavior was (there is no better word for it) … swampy.

The players who are perhaps drawing the most wry amusement from the President’s imbroglio are Chinese President Xi Jinping and his aides. In the midst of sensitive trade negotiations, Mr. Trump has called upon Mr. Xi and his administration to investigate allegedly illegal activities by the Bidens in China. If the President believes that he can pressure the Chinese due to the disruptions our tariffs can create for their economy, I would suggest that he has grossly misjudged the level of his leverage. Mr. Xi, unlike Mr. Trump, is President for Life. He can politically withstand a downturn in his economy much better than Mr. Trump can. Even aside from the fact that it would only hurt long term Chinese foreign policy and financial interests if Americans became inflamed because of Chinese meddling in American domestic politics, why would the China want to help Mr. Trump? From China’s point of view, his mercuriality and inconsistency have unsettled its and the world economy. I suspect that the Chinese leadership concluded some time ago that any successor to Mr. Trump will be better to deal with than he is – even if the American is tough, s/he will almost certainly be more consistent.

The player with the “X” on his back is former New York, NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has obviously emerged as the central figure in the Trump Administration’s efforts to influence the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens. While I have not researched the scope of a President’s Executive Privilege [I plan to read The United States v. Nixon in the near future ;)], I invite the savvy legal minds that read these pages to confirm or reject this premise: If Mr. Giuliani is subpoenaed to appear before Congress, his status as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer will not enable Mr. Trump to claim Attorney-Client privilege to limit Mr. Giuliani’s testimony about his discussions with Mr. Trump regarding the Ukrainian affair because there seems to be no legal claim or lawsuit between Mr. Trump and the Bidens related to Ukraine.  If Mr. Giuliani is himself facing criminal charges, he can obviously claim his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but may find himself facing a very difficult decision if offered broad immunity for his testimony about his Ukrainian-related communications with the President.

I mentioned in a recent post that we might have reached the end of what has arguably been a grace period our international adversaries have perhaps afforded Mr. Trump due to his emotional unpredictability tied to American military and financial might. As the impeachment proceedings obsess Mr. Trump, perhaps cause further erosion in his popular support, and probably cause him to become even more erratic, what could be the waning days of the Trump Presidency – i.e., before a President Pence would restore some sense of normalcy to American foreign policy – might be viewed as the best foreseeable window by Russia to secure its interests against Ukraine and NATO, by China to advance its positions in Hong Kong and Taiwan, by North Korea to leverage its military might to dominate the Korean Peninsula, and by the Taliban to overrun Afghanistan. Indeed, the President’s recent abrupt inexplicable withdrawal of our troops from the Syrian border so suddenly furthered Russian interests at the expense of our own as to make one ponder whether Mr. Putin hasn’t already decided that Mr. Trump’s value (perhaps merely as a Useful Idiot) is coming to an end.

My attempt to keep this post to a manageable length was, obviously, futile. I have left consideration of the person and some of the political aspects I find most intriguing in our impeachment saga to Part III, which I promise will bring this note to a merciful conclusion.

The Impeachment Kaleidoscope: Part I

Taken together, the Memorandum of the July 25, 2019, conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Whistleblower Complaint, which collectively provide details regarding efforts of Mr. Trump and his cohort to pressure Ukraine to investigate debunked claims related to former Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and a phantom email server allegedly linked to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are literally the most disturbing things I have ever read. I don’t understand any of the material facts set forth by the Whistleblower (a man or woman of extraordinary courage) to be substantively disputed. Even without White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s recent de facto admission that the Administration’s investigations demand was a “quid pro quo” for the transmission of Congressionally-approved American aid to Ukraine or Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor’s recent Congressional testimony, I submit that any objective observer acquainted with the context of events surrounding the Presidents’ conversation would consider Mr. Trump’s requests of Mr. Zelenskyy to be abuse of American resources in coercive pursuit of his own self-interest – and counter to our national interest in helping to secure Ukraine’s defenses against Russia. Until reading these documents, I had not been in favor of Congressional Impeachment-related proceedings; I felt that the effort was politically counterproductive for those seeking Mr. Trump’s 2020 defeat, was certain to invite divisive antagonism, and was, from an objective standpoint, almost certainly destined to fail.

Now, I don’t see how we can stand by in the face of such flagrant malfeasance.

The rest of these are ancillary thoughts:

Quite a while ago, I posted a note about conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s 1998 book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors:  The Case Against Bill Clinton.  When I bought the book I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that Ms. Coulter had asserted that the bar for impeachable behavior was pretty low.  Ms. Coulter argued persuasively (and for her, given our current state of affairs, ironically) that the Founding Fathers considered grounds for impeachment in the American system to be primarily related to a moral standard, not necessarily linked or limited to legally criminal behavior, and that the standard was simply that the official “behave amiss.” I recommend the volume as a well-researched resource on impeachment issues.

I am obviously no fan of Vice President Mike Pence. That said, and although Mr. Pence has, as I noted recently, continually had me searching for additional synonyms for the word, “sycophant,” I fervently hope that he is not implicated in the President’s untoward interactions with the Ukrainians or other malign activities. Given my view that straightforwardness, support of our institutions, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for all of our citizens as persons supersede justified sincerely-held policy disagreements, I would, given the current state of our Republic, be comfortable with Mr. Pence serving as president until January, 2021. Joe Biden has called Mr. Pence a “decent guy” and South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg has called Mr. Pence “a super-nice guy.” Right now, what we most need is a President who doesn’t incite hate. Later, we as a people can decide whether he’s the right person to lead us into the future; at this point, the priority is to stabilize our ship, and Mr. Pence’s disposition is suited to do that.

The victims in this sordid drama for whom I have the utmost sympathy are Ukraine President Zelenskyy and the Ukranian people. They need America’s goodwill, financial and military assistance to withstand one of the world’s most powerful military forces. Given the President’s extortive overture, what does Mr. Zelenskyy do? Ukraine needs assistance now. If Mr. Zelenskyy he defies Mr. Trump, his country might not be there by January, 2021, when a Democrat might replace Mr. Trump. (One needs to look no further for an object lesson in Russian behavior than Crimea or the Turkish-Syrian border.) If he cooperates with the President, he will be labeled an American stooge by his domestic political rivals, undermined by Russia and Hungary, and run the risk that any Democrat that succeeds Mr. Trump might look less favorably on Ukraine. Mr. Trump’s despicable behavior has placed Mr. Zelenskyy squarely on the horns of an untenable dilemma.

The actors in this sordid drama for whom I have the most contempt are the President’s abetting Republican lickspittles. They know – they know – that he has compromised his office. And yet, for fear of their own careers, they – with the exception of U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, whom I would now support for President if ever again given the opportunity – cravenly cower in the corner, hoping that this cup will pass them by.  (I’m ashamed that my state is represented by Sen. Ron Johnson.)  In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt asserts that loyalty to a group is a more prominent intuitive characteristic in our people who lean conservative/Republican. Clearly, a significant share of Congressional Republicans, and I fear many of the President’s rank-and-file followers, have morphed from being Americans into being Trumpers.

Partisan bias remains a two-way street. During the week of October 21, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe pressed Democratic U.S. DE Sen. Christopher Coons to admit that even if Hunter Biden’s appointment to the Ukrainian board was legal, Joe Biden’s failure to quash the appointment was bad judgment on the elder Biden’s part. (More on the Bidens in Part II of this note.) Mr. Coons refused to admit to the obvious. Although I have found Mr. Coons a knowledgeable voice on foreign policy and a measured commentator of Mr. Trump’s inappropriate behavior, his unwillingness to concede the obvious smacked of Republicans’ partisan defense of Mr. Trump.

Benjamin Franklin noted in his Autobiography: “[As a young man] I grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life, and I form’d … resolutions … to practice them ever while I lived [Emphasis Mr. Franklin’s].”

Clearly, few national politicians of either stripe are now drawing lessons from Mr. Franklin. The next segment of this note will appear in Part II.

On Substantive Doubts about Elizabeth Warren: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

Disposition. U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren clearly is – and makes no bones about being – feisty. Some of her supporters consider it among her greatest strengths. I don’t. As noted above, most pundits predict that Republicans will maintain control of the Senate and that U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell will retain his seat in 2020 and maintain his post as Senate Majority Leader in 2021. Every day of a Warren Administration will feature a blood feud between self-righteous ideologues. Her manner will provide Mr. McConnell the perfect foil to roil the conservative Republican base and trouble centrists. Say what you will about the despicable manner in which Mr. McConnell has performed his Senate leadership role – and I’ve said plenty in these posts, and thought more in terms not suitable for these pages — one of the few things that the vast majority of Americans agree upon: we are weary – indeed, exhausted – from all the fighting. I consider the toxic hyper-partisanship engulfing us to be by far our most pressing national problem. We need to quiet our differences, not further inflame them. We need healing if we are to ever move forward. Although Ms. Warren’s ascendency to the presidency would be an improvement by at least providing us a Chief Executive that respects our institutions and the rule of law, I fear that her natural combativeness will only exacerbate our rabid climate and give the nation a case of whiplash as she attempts to abruptly steer us from the alt-right to the avid-left. (Before I get assailed as sexist for expressing misgivings about an “uppity woman,” I will offer that my preferred candidate for the presidency remains U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who, unlike Ms. Warren, projects resolve without inciting undue antagonism in her adversaries.)

Finally: Attitude. “We need to … put economic and political power back in the hands of the people [Again, my underscore].” The Washington Post recently ran a piece, to which a link is provided below, that actually prompted me to write this note. It describes Ms. Warren’s answer when asked at a LGBTQ forum how she would respond to a voter whose faith teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. I agree with the reactions reported in the Post that her response was sufficient to alienate some men, some people of faith, and some holding even moderate conservative tendencies. It exhibited – for someone who constantly touts her rearing in Oklahoma — a lack of understanding of and disdain – indeed, bordering on contempt — for the sincere sentiments of at least a third and perhaps as many as half of “the people” she claims that she wishes to serve. The account of Ms. Warren’s remarks reminded me – even before I had read far enough to see the article’s allusions to them – of former President Obama’s disparagement of those of our people who “cling to guns or religion” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s labeling many of Mr. Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” This is not the way to lead a citizenry that is – if one will excuse the jibe – as diverse as we are. Robert Galston wrote in his book, Anti-Pluralism:

“…[I]n May, 2016, candidate Donald Trump [declared] … ‘The only important thing is the unification of the people, [because] the other people don’t mean anything.’ There we have it: the people (that is, the real people) against the other people who are somehow outside and alien.”

I ask: how different, really, is the attitude Ms. Warren exhibited in her forum response from that of Mr. Trump? Does she intend to be inclusive – or exclusive? Is she seeking to lead all of our people – or only her version of “the people,” in the same way that Mr. Trump has made plain that he only wishes to lead his version of “the people”?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/warrens-same-sex-marriage-quip-captures-what-some-find-exciting–and-others-distressing–about-her/2019/10/11/f3e15a14-ec34-11e9-85c0-85a098e47b37_story.html

The more closely I have examined Sen. Warren, the more firmly I would suggest that former Vice President Joe Biden – despite the egregiously obtuse peccadillos involving his son — is not only the best handicapping choice against Mr. Trump among the Democratic frontrunners; given the seemingly imminent demise of Ms. Klobuchar’s candidacy, Mr. Biden is also by far the most qualified of the Democratic candidates to assume the presidency. I hope that for the future of our nation, he has it within him to show it.

On Substantive Doubts about Elizabeth Warren: Part I

Although impressions abound about Impeachment initiatives against President Trump, this week’s Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate has shifted my reflection more immediately to the candidacy of U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which pundits tell us is surging. All that read these pages are aware that I have serious handicapping reservations about Sen. Warren’s prospects in a general election contest against President Trump; I fear that the President will be able to engender sufficient alarm about her among his wavering 2016 supporters that, taken together with Ms. Warren’s relatively tepid support in the African American community, will enable him to duplicate his narrow 2016 Electoral College victory. Enough has been said here about that; but as Ms. Warren has reportedly begun edging past former Vice President Joe Biden, substantive factors about her are giving me perhaps even greater pause. Notwithstanding what follows: if Sen. Warren secures the Democratic presidential nomination and is running against Mr. Trump, she can rest assured of my vote; she doesn’t appear prone to the President’s character failings or likely to perpetuate his destructive malfeasance. Further, if she is running against a President Mike Pence, she will receive my vote; she has demonstrated strong will and independence throughout her career while Mr. Pence has exhausted my Thesaurus over the last couple of years as I’ve looked for ever-more blog-appropriate synonyms for the word, “sycophant.”

That said, I have deep reservations about her ability to successfully execute the presidency. The very introduction to the Senator’s campaign home page provides hints for my concerns:

“Elizabeth has a lot of plans, but they’re really one simple plan: We need to tackle the corruption in Washington that makes our government work for the wealthy and well-connected, but kicks dirt on everyone else, and put economic and political power back in the hands of the people [My underscore].”

Foreign Policy. I consider the highest responsibility of the President of the United States to safeguard us against foreign enemies. The President must conduct a foreign policy that reassures our allies and checks the unwarranted advances of our adversaries. These are perilous times – made more so by Mr. Trump’s boorishness, ignorance, and incompetence; the horrific tragedy unfolding in Syria as this is typed screams for a steady and knowledgeable steward for U.S. foreign relations. Even so, there is not a word about foreign relations in Ms. Warren’s introductory declaration. She appears to look at our international relations through her domestic prism, stating on her foreign policy page (consisting essentially of progressive slogans) that Washington’s foreign policy serves the “wealthy and well-connected” and calling for an end to “the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy.” She pledges to bring our troops home, but displays no understanding of the difficulties of achieving such a withdrawal without regional cataclysm and potential consequent risk to American and allied lives. Her pledge in the second debate not to use our nuclear arsenal in a first strike capacity amounts, in my view, to presidential malpractice. She cries for cuts in “our bloated defense budget,” and calls for a greater reliance on diplomacy; but although we need to ensure that our defense dollars are spent wisely, such railing is somewhat akin to Mr. Trump’s complaints about what he claims are insufficient alliance contributions by our NATO partners. She seems oblivious to the fact that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are investing heavily in military and cyber capabilities and that these and other adversaries are responsive to diplomacy backed by strength, not by moral outrage or a “Pretty Please.”

Fiscal Responsibility. Interestingly, while calling our defense budget “unsustainable” (which it probably is; that’s why we need to nurture – not destroy — worldwide alliances to maintain an international balance supporting our interests), Sen. Warren is advocating for (1) a trillion-plus dollar federal expenditure to support free public college and student loan debt forgiveness and (2) what will amount to tens of trillions more for Medicare-for-All. While I support adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act, our current budget realities make these sweeping initiatives as fiscally unsustainable as the Republicans’ chronic obsession with tax cuts. I went into law because I couldn’t do numbers, but it’s clear even to me that we do not have enough rich people and big corporations that we can tax enough to support these programs.

Practicality. “Elizabeth has a lot of plans …” She sure does. Even if Democrats gain control of both Houses of Congress – an outcome that few pundits predict, and one made even less likely if Ms. Warren is the Democratic candidate – she won’t command sufficient support in Congress for the progressive agenda she is proposing; many Americans (including me, and the Democrats representing swing states and districts that are desirous of keeping their seats) will be looking to Congress to check her most progressive impulses. Democrats will appear extreme, out of touch, and inept in the same manner as Republicans did in 2017-18, when they controlled both houses and despite years of haranguing still weren’t able (thankfully) to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In an effort to keep these posts to at least a somewhat manageable length, what remains of this note will appear in Part II.