Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Response to Checking the Math

(See: Just Above Sunset : Checking the Math)

Hate to say it, but Chris Christie has the guts to make the conservative case, and it’s a strong one: Yes, people will die, but so what? People die all the time! There’s no cure for death, so let’s stop trying to cure it and just get on with living our lives!

I see his point, although I still side with the liberals: We value human life and try to save as much of it as we can, since we believe that you don’t just sit back and not try to improve the human experience; we are all in this together, and should try to make things better!

It all goes back to the Renaissance, when liberals said we can fix all this, while conservatives asked, what’s the point? Don’t try to improve on God’s creation, since he seems to know what he’s doing.

Remember Anderson Cooper’s recent interview with Carolyn Goodman, the independent mayor of Las Vegas?

She was trying to make the same argument, although not as succinctly as Christie did: Yes, people will die as we open up the economy, but you don’t shut down the world just because people die! People are going to die, no matter how hard you try to prevent it, so in the meantime, if people start running out of money, they run out of food, then people can’t pay their bills, and they starve, and then you’re in real trouble!

Be that as it may...

So Trump, the president, tells the states to carefully follow the rules and do things right, but Trump, the candidate, encourages states to crawl out there on that limb, then saw the limb off behind them. Who can blame him for not choosing the correct course of action between two, when he picks both of them?

I see this as kind of the “Dumbo’s Magic Feather” approach:

All people need is something to give themselves confidence in themselves! And the way to do that is to do whatever you want to do, but just make sure everyone thinks you’re trying to do it right — even if you’re not. After all, who can blame you if you screw it up, as long as you gave it your best effort, then let the chips fall where they’re gonna fall?

As long as you fool everyone into believing you’re reopening the economy with the utmost of care, nobody’s gonna notice that you’re lying about the “utmost of care” part.

Afterward, you can always talk yourselves out of it by claiming that “nobody could have foreseen that all those states would all go tumble down to the ground, with dead bodies spread everywhere like that! But I’ll say this, we did a miraculous job, didn’t we? I mean if it weren’t for us, and with no help from those useless Democrats, the death toll would have been much worse!”

Mark my words, I expect that Trump will say something like that.

But where this analogy falls apart is, in the Dumbo story, the elephant really can fly without the feather, while in real life — in that reality that, if you stop believing it, it doesn’t go away — in real life, if Dumbo jumps out of that tree? He dies.

Okay, magic may be fun, but no, in real life, elephants can’t fly by just flapping their ears.

If we look back several centuries to when we emerged from the dark ages, we can see there were people who saw ways to make our lives better — by inventing forks and spoons and printing presses, engines to drive our trains and cars and ships, machines to make clothes and to allow us to fly to the moon, and even concocting medicines to help us fight off disease.

Improving our chances of survival doesn’t take belief in magic, it just takes intelligence and hard work and patience and good judgement, all of which are necessary building blocks for civilization, without which many of us — maybe you, maybe me, maybe both of us — would not be alive today.

So I’m not saying the conservative just-let-em-die approach, held by Carolyn Goodman and Chris Christie, aren’t legitimate points of view, I just prefer the liberal Democrats’ let’s-make-things-better-if-we-can point of view way more.

So in fact, this is a clash of different civilizations, between those of us who want to keep the virus from killing so many of us, no matter how much wealth we lose along the way, and those of us who want to exercise their right to just live their lives, no matter how many others of us have to die to make that happen.

Where do we all meet?

I realize that no matter when it is that we all conclude it’s safe to “reopen” our world, some people will end up dead as a result. Tragically, whatever time we choose should be based upon the question, how few of us can we sacrifice in order to come to that safe landing?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Response to Bumper Sticker Foolishness

(See: Just Above Sunset : Bumper Sticker Foolishness)

Uh! Oh! Puppy pooped on carpet! Need to put puppy outside, where he can poop all he wants without annoying everybody!

Okay, later in the day, the puppy took a hike. Trump says he had nothing to do with the guy’s decision, but in fact, everything Modly did and didn’t do, just his being there, acting in a position that he took over from a guy that Trump fired because Trump knows how to do stuff he doesn't understand, insulting the captain of a ship in a way that insulted the whole crew, and his finally jumping or being pushed out of there? Trump may have had nothing to do with it, except that’s not true at all. The whole filthy episode has Trump written all over it, and I’m guessing that Mr. “Look-at-me!-I’m-running-the-world!” had everything to do with all of it.

Although there’s no use yelling out loud about this guy, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, since most Americans are already members of the choir, and the rest probably think he’s perfectly normal.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that the Trump administration should be the perfect study of some enterprising social scientist, along the lines of Laurence J. Peter’s The Peter Principle”, a managerial theory in which he describes how it is that so many people on their way up the ladder somehow stop rising at exactly the moment they reach their level of incompetence. The point is, nobody ever takes the time to move him back down to where his abilities were.

But back to our study, which would demonstrate the process in which a nasty blockhead at the top of an organization eventually ends up presiding over all these other nasty blockheads — all the nice smart people have been let go over the years, while all the budding nasty stupid-heads have been rewarded for turning themselves into Mini-Me replicas of the head jamoke, by adopting qualities not generally valued much in society at large.

Sort of like some virus that, by invading the cell, is able to replicate itself, lasting until the organism either successfully kicks it out, or dies in the attempt. Seems to be a lot or that going around lately.

And here's just one of the issues that illustrates what’s happening within the Trump administration, the presumption amongst its minions that a free range news media — that is, one with an unhealthy obsession with the very concept of “truth" —  is the natural-born enemy of all real Americans, especially those who might have accidentally volunteered to serve in our Navy, such lucky sea-dogs as happened to have heard, and maybe even recorded, this pep-talk from our late “acting” Navy Secretary:
You can jump the Chain of Command if you want and take the consequences, you can disobey the chain of command and take the consequences, but there is no, no situation where you to go the media. Because the media has an agenda and the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit and I’m sorry that’s the way the country is now but it’s the truth and so they use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy. They use it to embarrass you. 
So think about that when you cheer the man [off] the ship who exposed you to that.
In normal times, anybody in any leadership position of government who believes the news media is the enemy would be, and should be, physically and rudely removed from office, in the same way that any Secretary of the Navy, acting or otherwise, would be immediately shit-canned during the Cold War were he to publicly proclaim his allegiance to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Anybody in any position of leadership in the U.S. government who doesn’t understand that countries in which the public gets all their information from the government, instead of from an independent press, are countries not to be emulated. 

None of the politicos overseeing our military lately have seemed to have the brain cells needed for the job. In Modly’s case, if my calculations are correct, he was born about when I was finishing up high school — not old enough to have learned anything from our mistakes in Vietnam, and in the case of President Bonespurs, he suffers from a delusion that he actually WAS in the military, when in fact he was only in a private military academy (now defunct, having followed Trump University into a history best left forgotten) — which would be like me imagining myself a genuine Great White Hunter after having taken the jungle-themed cruise through Adventureland.

I harbor no delusions that this Modly guy’s anti-press prejudices will disappear from the regime after he’s gone. In fact, it seems to follow logically that some let's-pretend Commander-in-Chief would think it's okay to loosen the rules for some despicable war criminal in the ranks, at the same tighten the rules for sailors only trying to escape death from a rampaging pandemic, especially if you know that that commander learned everything he knows about the military by attending a military-themed high school.

So another “acting” whatever falls by the wayside, soon to be replaced by some new acting part-time something-or-other — one moving target replacing another — which seems to be Trump’s newly-discovered defense mechanism that this disease called “The Trump Administration” has adapted in order to survive.

But with any luck, this disease will have run its course by year’s end, at which time maybe we’ll all feel free to once again emerge from our hiding places and go back to putting our collective lives back in our control.

Unless, of course, we fail to stamp out the disease, and it stamps out us instead. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Response to To Fight or Flatter

(See: Just Above Sunset : To Fight or Flatter)

First, we need to remember this as how president Donald Trump brought the nation together during one of its darkest hours:

Trump said he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence not to call the governors of Washington or Michigan – two coronavirus hotspots – because of their public criticism. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said.

Close your eyes and imagine Abraham Lincoln, about to comfort the mother of a union soldier who died at Gettysburg, but after being told that she didn’t vote for him in the last election, he cancels the meeting. “Hey, you know, if they don’t treat you right…"

I think history will remember Trump for stuff like this. What do you remember about James K. Polk? How about Martin Van Buren? Nothing? Exactly!

But Trump? There you go! I’m pretty sure he’ll be remembered as the W.C. Fields of presidents, a clueless and self-centered dork who stumbles around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe, striking out resentfully at anyone who sees him for what he is.

I wonder if, during the 2016 elections, Trump had promised everyone that, should someday the country be hit by a huge pandemic, all the states will be on their own and shouldn’t count on the federal government for help or even coordination, I wonder, would that have hurt his chances, or would that have helped him?

After all, if he’s the president, what the hell is he even president “of”?

If national disasters are to be dealt with by all the individual states, then what’s the point of us being “one nation, indivisible”? He doesn’t even know what his job is!

Or am I just being a “liberal”, thinking everybody shares my own liberal assumptions of a nation that looks out for all of itself, not just the parts that voted for whatever bean-dip-for-brains president happens to be in power at the time?

I view Andrew Cuomo’s fireside chats as the liberal Democrats, demonstrating to the conservative Republicans — Donald Trump, in particular, of course — how it’s supposed to be done. But of course, what’s missing in all this is Cuomo spelling it out that way.

Apparently he doesn’t want to rudely blurt out, “Ya see, Donald? This is the way OUR side does this! Leaders are supposed to do the RIGHT THING, not act like some Banana-Republic dictator who won’t do anything for anybody unless they give him the proper respect!”

Trump's worst shortcoming is that he doesn’t seem to get the fact that he just doesn’t get it, much less does he get the degree to which he doesn’t get it. He’s the most destructive kind of weak leader in that he spends most every waking hour doing little but trying to prove on Twitter how much stronger he is than everyone else.

I keep thinking that, while I was growing up, watching all those Hollywood movies, always rooting for the good guy, Trump must have been rooting for the villain. Who does that?

It’s an updated version of that famous old “Problem of Evil” question from philosophy 101:

If God is all-benevolent and all-knowing and all-powerful, then how the hell did he ever let this Donald Trump goofball become president?


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Response to "A Simple Matter of Principle"

(See: Just Above Sunset : A Simple Matter of Principle)

We seem to be back in the days of Hurricane Katrina, back when it took President Bush Jr. a long time to realize that the states were waiting for his help, and when the time came when he would have liked to lecture them on the Conservative theory that was, one could say, “instead of waiting for the federal government to do it, states should clean up their own messes, messes that wouldn’t have happened in the first place had they the sense to not choose to live in a hurricane zone!” —  but then he lost his nerve, and instead turned to “Brownie", the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and told him he was doing a heckofa job, which everybody pretty much knew by then was not all that true.

Remember Brownie? Some background:

Up until 1992, under President George Bush Sr., FEMA had been, according to a congressional report at the time, "widely viewed as a political dumping ground, a turkey farm, if you will, where large numbers of positions exist that can be conveniently and quietly filled by political appointment …” The agency was overseen by Wallace Stickney, who somehow was connected to White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, and was described by the report as “weak" and "uninterested in the substantive programs of FEMA”.

Then when Bill Clinton became president, he appointed James Lee Witt, a guy who had run Arkansas’s version of FEMA, and everything changed. "How did Witt turn FEMA around so quickly?” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked.

"Well, he is the first director of the agency to have emergency-management experience. He stopped the staffing of the agency by political patronage. He removed layers of bureaucracy. Most important, he instilled in the agency a spirit of preparedness, of service to the customer, of willingness to listen to ideas of local and state officials to make the system work better.”

"Witt's eight-year term in office saw approximately 348 Presidentially declared disaster areas in more than 6,500 counties and in all 50 states and the U.S. territories.” Clinton elevated his position to cabinet rank.

In other words, Witt knew how to do the job, because he had experience doing it before coming to Washington.

But when the Republicans took over again in 2000 under GW Bush, FEMA was removed from the cabinet, and things went back to the turkey farm. Bush appointed Michael D. Brown to the job.

Brown’s experience was essentially nil. His resume said he had “emergency services oversight” experience as assistant to the city manager of the city of Edmond, Oklahoma, back while he was in college, but that position was later described by the city’s head of PR as “more like an intern.” While attending law school, he also served as a staff director of the state senate Finance Committee, and after graduation, went into private practice where his boss described him as "not serious and somewhat shallow”.

According to Wikipedia, "Before joining FEMA, Brown was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association from 1989-2001. After numerous lawsuits were filed against the organization over disciplinary actions that Brown took against members violating the association's code of ethics, Brown resigned and negotiated a buy-out of his contract."

When Bush Jr. took office in 2001, Brown secured a job as FEMA's general counsel through his longtime friendship with Bush’s campaign manager, fellow Oklahoman and new head of FEMA Joe Allbaugh. Allbaugh’s tenure at the agency was somewhat marred by his publicly questioning whether taxpayers should pay to repair flood damages in flood-prone areas, but also complained when Bush proposed cuts to FEMA and the National Flood Insurance program, a dispute that may have helped bring about his resignation, leaving Brown, who had since been confirmed as deputy director of the department, in the post as administrator.

Brown’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has gone down in the annals of infamy, although, to be fair, he was also made the scapegoat by a bunch of conservatives who didn’t deeply believe that Acts of God such as Katrina, nor the at least 1,245 people who had died as a result, were the responsibility or the proper mission of the national government.

Yes, on September 1, Brown admitted to CNN that he didn’t know that the city was housing thousands of refugees in the Convention Center, and that they were running out of food and water, even though the TV networks had been reporting this for over 24 hours, but I remember hearing Secretary of Homeland Security Michale Chertoff himself learn of this during a live NPR radio interview that same day, and thinking that America was watching a deadly governmental debacle play out live, in real time, before its eyes.

After he was forced out in disgrace, Brownie turned on the White House, blaming them for not listening to his warnings, and pretending not to be aware of the situation. In fact, he also blamed handling of the disaster on FEMA having been folded into Homeland Security, a department whose War on Terrorism focus was ill-suited for saving lives in a natural disaster. There’s reason to argue that Trump’s reorganization of pandemic preparation in the NSC in 2018 had a similar effect, in that hiding it inside the bureaucracy of some other department made whatever warnings of impending doom end up going unheard for too long by those who needed to hear them. Seems to be a Republican form of governance.

Meanwhile, when Obama came along, he returned to the Democratic habit of picking people who took emergency management seriously. In fact, Craig Fugate, his choice for FEMA director, has started training as a volunteer firefighter back when he was in high school, then attended fire college and paramedic school while growing up in Florida, where he went on to serve the state in an emergency management capacity. Rescue was in his blood.

And so Trump waffles between asking the states what’s taking them so long in getting medical supplies, protesting that he’s not some “shipping clerk”, and then whining that he isn't getting the credit he deserves for all the good he's been doing. 

And yes, Trump's “task force” is giving us the impression of competence, that they’re working very hard at getting the tests and masks and respirators and whatnot to where they have to be, they’re also urging us not to get tested "just out of curiosity", so that they can reserve the tests for people who absolutely need to be tested. But in fact, if all the planning that needed to happen had happened the way it should have, everyone in America should be able to be tested, "just out of curiosity”, and in fact, get tested two or maybe three times.

(And while we’re at it, we’re told not to wear a mask unless we’re already showing symptoms, but then also told that maybe four out of five cases of transmittal of the disease comes from persons not showing symptoms, so shouldn’t that mean that everyone should wear masks, just in case they’re sick? But yes, that’s only possible if there are enough masks to go around. Maybe we’ll be ready by the time the next pandemic rolls around. Or maybe not.)

And the fact that Trump seems to think the White House has only a tiny roll in all this pandemic stuff, but somewhat short of “shipping clerk"?

That could be, one might think, a good topic for debate in the upcoming election, unless it once again turns out that not enough of us really care about how good he is at this presidenting stuff after all, since nobody, not even his base, thought he would be all that good at it in the first place.

Isn’t it strange that once everybody realizes you're a congenital and hopeless liar, from that point on, you can do no wrong?

In a White House press briefing the other day, NBC’s Peter Alexander threw Trump a softball, which good reporters usually try not to do because the press isn’t supposed to pander to the president, but then Trump dropped that ball. Trump may think Alexander isn’t a good reporter, but he’s certainly a better reporter than Trump is a president, since the president doesn’t seem to understand that when you insult a reporter for asking some question, you’re simultaneously insulting the public that he or she represents.

And the fact that he doesn’t feel this in his bones is an indication that he’s no good at his job, just like all those Republican FEMA administrators who didn’t get their job because they knew something about how to do the job, but because they knew somebody or other in a high enough place.

In Trumps’ case, his lack of leadership experience has to be the natural result of going through his whole misspent life without ever having to apply for a job, and in turn, never having had to answer to anybody of real power above him — except maybe his own father, which just isn't the same thing.

I hope I eventually survive this pandemic, but strangely, I absolutely have faith that the country will — although I’m still not so confident the country will survive Donald Trump.