Saturday, June 27, 2020

Response to Wishful Thinking Got Us

(See: Just Above Sunset : Wishful Thinking Got Us)

Why should all Americans, even the ones that like him, refuse to vote for Trump in November?

It’s really quite simple. We have three huge simultaneous crises going on right now, and all of them caused by him, mostly because he likes to be in control of everything, which is why he doesn’t seem to ever recognize any problems that are not of his own making:

* First, there’s all those nationwide “Black Lives Matter" protests, with rioting and burning and looting thrown in — probably mostly by outside kibitzers, horning in — none of which would have happened had he attended to what Colin Kaepernick was trying to tell us years ago about the chronic mistreatment of black people in this country, especially by the police.

Trump tried to let America off the hook by turning that into an issue of “patriotism" and “respect for the flag and the military", which a competent president might, at the very least, have been able to handle at the same time as he addressed what Kaepernick was talking about, which was recognizing the problem and trying to fix it — which is what a president Hillary would have done, which we know because she campaigned on the issue.

But Trump couldn’t do that, of course, because he didn’t really see it as a problem, so he sided with the cops — or at least the “bad apples” among them, assuming that was the case.

* Likewise, Trump screwed up Covid-19 badly, first of all by pretending it was not going to be a problem for America, which was just the first domino to fall. He finally got off to a late start dealing with it, if in fact he has been dealing with it, stumbling between saying it’s up to the states to do it themselves, then declaring that he’s in charge after all, then back again.

And now he insists that he and his people have been doing a spectacular job, despite the fact that, with only 4% of the world’s population, our country has 25% of all the world’s Covid-19 deaths! And that’s not a fact he can escape by blaming it, as Pence does, on the First Amendment of the Constitution, which the VP seems to argue gives all Americans the right to kill themselves, even if it means taking down hundreds or even thousands of Americans with them.

* And finally, the economy. Trump inherited a great one from Obama, which he kept taking credit for without contributing much to it other than failed trade wars, until he dropped the ball completely by mishandling our huge health crisis, by not knowing enough about the country he accidentally became the minority-president of to know that he was supposed to be in charge of guiding the states to safety.

One of his most blatant missteps was in thinking that, if we were to suddenly open the free market again, everything else would just take care of itself, and getting people back to work was more important that saving their lives!

Had he taken the management of this seriously, he’d have taken care of the money — not stimulus money to open up businesses, but food-and-rent-and-whatnot money to tide everyone over, allowing folks to stay safe at home until the virus was effectively beaten, and the curve was flattened into virtual nonexistence, as has happened in other countries.

And about all these deaths, which he and his people seem to think are not as important as the First Amendment? Hey, Americans have freedom of speech protection, but that doesn’t keep people from suing someone for libel, and winning! Someone else's constitutionally-protected freedom shouldn't mean a death sentence for you and me!

And as for the “relatively few" lives lost to Covid not being enough to care about, when it comes to protecting the freedom of Americans to do what they want?

Hell, two-thousand four hundred three deaths at Pearl Harbor was enough to get us into World War II the very next day, and just under three-thousand deaths on 9/11 got us into war with Afghanistan (and arguably also Iraq), so why do we allow a minority of nutcase-Americans who think it’s okay for 125,000 (and counting) of their fellow countrymen (that’s 52 Pearl Harbors!) to die just to defend their constitutional right to not be told they have to wear a face mask in Trader Joe's, to prevent us from fighting full-bore against this damn pandemic?

Because too many Americans don’t like to be told what to do are too lazy to care what happens to their fellow countrymen, the rest of us are forced to do everything we can just to keep from coming anywhere within breathing distance of them, lest we keel over dead, bequeathing this nice planet to their useless ilk? That just doesn’t seem right!

If we are to somehow get rid of this American malignancy, maybe it will be because just the right number of voters come to their senses about what he’s done to this country in the last four years, and this time try to not accidentally do what they accidentally did back in 2016.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Response to Ending Some American Carnage

(See: Just Above Sunset : Ending Some American Carnage)

About those recent Gallup numbers:
The percentage of Americans expressing extreme pride in the country has been declining over the past 20 years, especially recently. Just over half, 55%, felt extreme pride in the initial January 2001 reading, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the three subsequent years, between 65% and 70% were extremely proud as the public rallied around the flag. 
By 2005, that reading fell to 61% and remained steady until 2015 when it dropped to 54%. The current reading is the sixth consecutive year since then that it has fallen to a new low in Gallup’s trend…
And how low did it go?
Although a majority of adults in the U.S. still say they are “extremely proud” (42%) or “very proud” (21%) to be American, both readings are the lowest they have been since Gallup’s initial measurement in 2001.
Forty-two percent!! You think this might be what we
get when we decide to put just any old doofus in the White House? Okay, good poll for our side, but I still have to ask myself...

Am I even “proud” to be an American?

Not really, since I don’t really find it meaningful to talk about being “proud” of one's nationality.

After all, are you proud of the size of your feet? Proud of your gender? Or how about your race? Not I, but neither am I ashamed. I was born a white male human being, and with relatively small feet, in the United States of America, none of which are “accomplishments" that I can take credit (or blame) for.

Yes, I like living here, but while I have the choice to live elsewhere — and I’ve been elsewhere and seen other countries that I enjoyed visiting — I choose not to move there, because in spite of its problems, I’d really rather stay put right here

Besides, I do like the idea of America being a place that implicitly recognizes its ability to improve itself, although that’s something only American liberals 
seem to care about, not so much conservatives. We liberals tend to see Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling as recognition that America needs to fix its race problems, particular in the area of police interactions with African Americans, while conservatives only seem to see it as an insult to the country or the flag or to the troops that fought for them somewhere.

Personally, I think that sort of oversimplified disingenuousness hurts, rather than helps the country.

And I’m proud to have made the choice to see this country as a good idea, rather than some club that I’m supposed to be loyal to, because not doing so, in public, would make some not-very-bright people I don’t particularly like very much mad at me.

And I’m glad that, somewhere along the way, I picked up on the notion that Stephen Decatur famously toasting "his country, right or wrong” was wrong — that if your country is wrong, you don’t offer an after-dinner toast to it, you make your country right!

So maybe I’m proud to be a liberal Democratic American, because first of all, that’s a good thing to be, but it’s also an accomplishment I can actually take credit for.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Responding to Finally Losing It All

(See: Just Above Sunset : Finally Losing It All)

Maybe he should have said, "I’m your president of 'Law ad Order, Criminal Intent’”. After all, it’s hard to think of Donald Trump without also thinking of some sort of criminal intent. (Maybe he could follow that with, “Check local listings.”)

And while it’s been characterized in the media as some sort of "photo-op" of him holding a bible in front of a church, I think it’s actually more than that. This should be taken in its entirety:

* We start with one of his famous “no-questions-from-the-press,-please" press conferences, laying out the contention that governors and mayors are too weak to take care of business the way it needs to be taken care of, which includes a promise to send Federal troops, complete with sticks and shields to hit people with, into any state that refuses to voluntarily invite them in (or something like that), followed by...

* A demonstration of how it’s done: Military guys and cops in various type of uniform, out in front of the White House, on split screen and without warning, start brutalizing nearby street protestors (“peaceful” protestors? “Car-burning” protestors? Hey, for our purposes, no need to put too fine a point on that!), which then clears the way for...

* Generalissimo Bonespurs, surrounded by a gaggle of self-satisfied goons and goonettes, to strut through the newly-emptied Lafayette Park, to the nearest boarded-up church they can find, where he can…

* Okay, let’s pause here. He can do what? It didn’t look like they had fully thought this part through. Say something memorable? … although, right now, I forget what memorable thing he said. Okay, how about pose for a picture? But wait! Do it while holding up a Bible! But signifying what? Something about Jesus being on our side? Who knows! Let people use their imagination! Hey, how about the rest of you crowding into the picture here? Come on, don’t be shy!

(Hey, maybe he was imagining how our boys felt when they liberated Paris! He’d always wondered, but was just too young to serve in whichever war that was.)

So you see? That’s how it’s done! First, a bunch of friendly demonstrators were standing here, but then we had big men with sticks shove them out of the way, and now, WE’RE standing here! Easy as pie! Now all you weak governors, you go ahead and try it!

The whole presentation had all the klutzy grace of a second-grade Thanksgiving pageant, minus the charm.

Apparently he’s been feeling left out lately; first, nobody paying him any attention, and then he finally gets some ink, but it turns out to be the story about him and his family having been whisked off to a bunker, like scared bunny rabbits! They’re making him look like a fool, dammit! He needs to somehow get outside the building and make himself look tough!

The staged theatrics of this, taken alone, were almost comical, in a really bizarre, scary-for-America sort of way. I’m thinking we may all someday ask each other where we were on June 1st, 2020, the day President Trump took his “Funny Walk” across the street.

But is using the military in combat uniforms as part of his little “Passion Play” publicity stunt even legal?

Who knows! Who cares!! It’s not a big deal! Maybe the reason America has gotten so flabby is because they think too much! They take everything sooo seriously!!

Who knew back in the Framers’ day that the concept of what America is all about would end up being too complicated for one of its presidents to comprehend! He thinks our country is no different at its core from all those dictatorships he’s heard about and learned to envy, nasty countries that have mean men in gaudy uniforms, shoving their citizens around this way and that. If the writers of the Constitution were to wake up today and see what they’ve done, they’d scurry back 
into their graves, just to roll around.

And it’s not that Trump had nothing to do with all the craziness going on in the country today. In fact, he had everything to do with it.

First, starting with the easy stuff:

It’s not that nobody warned him about the upcoming virus crisis; it’s just that Trump found it too boring and wouldn’t listen.

Here’s a virus timeline, that includes a corresponding timeline for the rotten economy that sprang from it, from Robert Reich in the American Prospect:

 In 2018, he let the pandemic preparedness office in the National Security Council simply dissolve, and followed up with budget cuts to HHS and CDC this year. That team’s job was to follow a pandemic playbook written after global leaders fumbled their response to Ebola in 2014. Trump was briefed on the playbook’s existence in his first year…

The initial outbreak of the coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

By mid-January 2020, the White House had intelligence reports that warned of a likely pandemic.

On January 18, HHS Secretary Azar spoke with Trump to emphasize the threat of the virus just as U.S. diplomats were being evacuated from Wuhan.

[On January 20], the virus was confirmed in both the U.S. and South Korea.

That week, South Korean officials immediately drafted medical companies to develop test kits for mass production. The WHO declared a global health emergency. But Trump … did nothing.

As Hubei province went on lockdown, Trump ... barred entry of any foreigners coming from China … but took no additional steps to prepare for infection in the United States.

He said, “We pretty much shut it down, coming in from China.” He didn’t ramp up production of test kits so we could begin isolating the virus.

By February, the U.S. had 14 confirmed cases but the CDC test kits proved faulty; there weren’t enough of them, and they were restricted to only people showing symptoms. The U.S. pandemic response was already failing.

Trump then began actively downplaying the crisis and baselessly predicting it would go away when the weather got warmer.

Trump decided there was nothing to see here, and on February 24, took time out of his day to remind us that the stock markets were soaring.

A day later, CDC officials sounded the alarm that daily life could be severely disrupted. The window to get ahead of the virus by testing and containment was closing.

Trump’s next move: He compared coronavirus to the seasonal flu … and called the emerging crisis a hoax by the Democrats.

With 100 cases in the U.S., Trump declined to call for a national emergency. Meanwhile, South Korea was now on its way to testing a quarter-million people, while the U.S. was testing 40 times slower.

When a cruise ship containing Americans with coronavirus floated toward San Francisco, Trump said he didn’t want people coming off the ship to be tested because they’d make the numbers look bad.

It wasn’t until the stock market reacted to the growing crisis and took a nosedive that Trump finally declared a national emergency.

By this time, South Korea had been using an app for over a month that pulled government data to track cases and alert users to stay away from infected areas…

Only when the stock market crashed did Trump finally begin to pay attention … and mostly to bailing out corporations in the form of a massive $500 billion slush fund, rather than to helping people. And then, with much of America finally and belatedly in lockdown, he said at a Fox News town hall that he would “love” to have the country “opened up, and just raring to go” by Easter.
So as you may have heard:

On May 3rd, there were 65,307 Covid-19 deaths reported in the United States, while, according to a Columbia University study, had social distancing started just one week earlier than it did, the estimated deaths on May 3rd would have been 29,410!

That’s about 36,000 Americans, maybe even someone you know, who might have survived the pandemic had the delay not happened. 

And that brings us up to the Cops-Killing-Blacks crisis. (Yeah, that’s on him, too.)

This used to be a hot political topic back before the 2016 election. Candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned on it, claiming that, while the police apparently were killing way too many black people, policing was a dangerous job and we need our cops to protect our towns and cities, so somehow, we needed to bring these two sides together and solve it.

Trump, on the other hand, campaigned for the law enforcement vote, mostly ignoring whatever the other side had to say.

By the way, do more blacks really get killed by the cops than whites in America?

Oddly, not really. In fact

According to The [Washington] Post’s database of fatal police shootings, since 2015 police have shot and killed about twice as many white people as black people...

Cops may shoot and kill twice as many white people as black, but there are about six times as many white people as black people in the United States. Proportionally, black people are much more likely to be shot and killed by cops.

If we look at shooting deaths of unarmed people, cops have shot and killed about the same number of whites and blacks, which means an even wider racial disparity as a percentage of the population. This is probably because when interacting with black people, police officers seem more likely to see innocuous movements — or even efforts to comply with their orders — as threatening.
So despite there being fewer blacks living in America than whites, African-Americans are, according to a 2015 study, 2.8 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.

So, is there a problem here? Maybe so, but not if you ask Donald Trump. He never discusses it. Maybe he hasn’t heard about it on Fox News?

And it was already a big problem when Colin Kaepernick tried to remind us about it in 2016, the year before Donald Trump came to office and started mocking Kaepernick, pretending that, by “taking a knee” during the national anthem, the football player was just trying to insult the American flag and American armed forces.

So Donald Trump, who single-handedly ginned up a distraction, can’t claim he wasn’t aware of an important issue that demanded the attention of the American president, and one that finally came back around just this last week to bite him in his more than ample Scottish bahookie.

I know, I know, there’s a tendency nowadays for people like me to trace every American mess back to our very own President Capone, but that's because, let’s be honest, can you think of any evil anywhere on the planet today that isn’t somehow connected to this guy?

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.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Response to No Thanks

(See: Just Above Sunset : No Thanks )

"And it may be time to let this go.”

Why should they do that? Isn’t the Republican bullshit machine working for them anymore? But it is still working, which is why they have no incentive to “let this go”.

In fact, Truth is not the Trumpy-headed Republican's best friend. Their ability to synthesize  chaos out of nothing but the moldy darkness inside their own brains has been working for them just fine, thank you!

The fact that these people can trick even ONE person into believing that this annual “War on Christmas” silliness is actually being launched by liberals instead of themselves is a skill they have no earthly reason to abandon. So good luck with that.

The one thing everyone needs to learn and remember from all this from one holiday to the next is that, when the “Political Correctness Police” show up at your door to stop you from saying something or other, (1) they'll be wearing MAGA hats, and (2) what they bully you to stop saying won’t be “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Thanksgiving” — nobody, anywhere, cares if you say that! — it’ll be “Happy Holidays”.

Trumpies are trying to change America for the worst, and so, now it's -- Whoops! There goes Freedom of Speech!

Ever since, in my memory (I think when I was ten years old), some people started browbeating us on how to celebrate Christmas by demanding that we not "take the Christ out of Christmas”, I’ve considered starting a group to urge everyone to “keep the ‘X’ in ‘Xmas!’” Maybe I need to revive that.

One of our ad campaigns could say, “If anyone doesn’t like the way we celebrate our holidays here in America, maybe they should move to the North Pole to live with Santa Claus!”

And I'm thinking that could be followed by this parenthetical tagline:

“(SUGGESTION: Bring a houseboat!)"

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Response to Our Neighborhood Now

(See: Just Above Sunset : Our Neighborhood Now )

I really enjoyed the way CNN summarized the breaking news of Monday's court ruling, which was that a federal judge informed the White House that “'Absolute Immunity’ is ’not a thing’!”

Sooner or later, it was bound to come down to someone explaining the way things really are to Donald Trump in the go-to language of a Middle Schooler. I love it!

I have two suggestions, plus one comment:

(1) I’m more and more thinking lately that Nancy Pelosi is wrong to narrow the focus of the impeachment to just the one article, concerning the famous phone call, which for some reason too many Americans find not necessarily all that impeachable.

Still, how anyone can think that a U.S. president, casually and for his own personal reasons, betraying one of our close allies, and one that we’ve promised to protect, putting them at risk of being swallowed up by one of America's long-time adversaries, is not the commission of a huge crime, is a mystery to me.

(In fact, I’m at a loss. I need these people to tell us what sort of crimes they think would be impeachable. I suppose the reason we don’t hear any Republicans coming up with any of those right now could be because they’re afraid of coming up with something Trump might have actually already committed, or that he might accidentally commit soon, god forbid. That could be very embarrassing! But if so, I have to agree, given that you never know if Trump will zig when you zag, they're probably right to be cautious.)

All we need in the Senate trial is one guilty verdict on one article, and I suppose threatening to hand Ukraine over to Russia is a better candidate for a guilty verdict than most, but it’s not the only thing he’s done wrong. 

In fact, I imagine that failing to fulfill one's oath of office to protect the Constitution (such as ordering his people to not cooperate with impeachment proceedings, a remedy spelled out the same Article Two of the Constitution that he cites as authority that he can do any corrupt thing he wants) is another. After all, we have so many misdeeds to turn to here, maybe we really should increase our odds by piling on.

When if comes to other crimes we could bring up, we can draw inspiration from Max Boot’s list of giveaways included in the price paid by Republicans when they chose to sell their souls to Trump:
When the Republican Party sold its soul to Trump in 2016, the price included overlooking his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, on Gold Star parents, on a disabled reporter, even on John McCain; his abysmal ignorance of basic matters of public policy (he had never heard of the nuclear triad); his open collusion with Russia (“Russia, if you’re listening”); and, of course, his boasts about sexually assaulting women. ... 
Trump has dramatically escalated the cost his supporters must pay to stay in his good graces as we approach his fourth year in power. The price came to include overlooking his racist rants (e.g., telling congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from); putting kids in cages; kowtowing to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other tyrants; abandoning America’s Kurdish allies; obstructing justice and stonewalling Congress; declaring a state of emergency to spend money that Congress has not appropriated for a border wall that we don’t need; lying nonstop; using the presidency to enrich himself; and disparaging the press as “the enemy of the people.”
There are, of course, many many more, but I suppose there is a point at which America will simply stop paying attention and drift off to sleep.

(2) Also, we need to push back on this idea that maybe we should just skip the impeachment, and let the upcoming elections decide the impeachment question.

The problem with that is that elections and impeachments are not the same thing, and serve two totally different purposes.

Elections ask the people to choose who (and also who’s vision) they want to run the country, whereas impeachment asks the government to determine whether the president committed any “crime” or “crimes” against the country, and should be removed from office because of it. Just as a priest who sexually molests a child should be fired and reported to the police, even if the Bishop likes the guy’s work, a president who commits a serious breach or law or rule should lose the job and shouldn’t even be allowed to run for future office, no matter what the voters think. (And by the way, part of the impeachment process includes an option allowing the Senators to vote to bar him from serving in any elected office in the future.)

(3) And finally, only because I haven’t heard anyone else mention this particular thing having to do with that Trump tweet, "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!”:

Trump, of course, having never served in the military (rumored to be because of bone-spurs — maybe on his brain, one might guess), never learned first-hand that America does NOT train its boys and girls to be “killing machines”. In fact, soldiers and sailors and Marines are not machines of ANY kind, they’re human beings, and when did it become anything but an insult to say someone is NOT a human being, but is, instead, some sort of machine, without a brain?

Trump has, once again, unknowingly stepped into doodoo of his own creation, thereby insulting the noble heritage of our military that traces itself back to George Washington, and also misrepresented the values of the country it serves. Trump has never understood that America's power comes from its goodness, or at least from its attempts thereto.

So I suggest that Trump's reckless destruction of the American command structure should also be included in the articles of impeachment, as should Trump's unilateral betrayal of our allies, the Kurds, even if Republicans decide these crimes are no big deal.

(4) Okay, I lied. Here’s one last thing that the Republican sock-puppets need to realize about us “Never-Trumpers” (which, for my money, is a way-the-hell better thing to be than an “Always-Trumper”) whenever they accuse us of trying to impeach Trump "simply because [we] don’t like him!”

First of all, they’re exactly right: I’m for impeaching Trump simply because I don’t like him.

But why don’t I like him? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not because I arbitrarily flipped a coin to decide whether, “Heads, I like him”, and “Tails, I don’t like him”. The real reason I don’t like Donald Trump can be summed up thusly:

President Trump is a stupid shit-head, and keeps doing stupid shit-head things.

In fact, being an annoying and stupid shit-head was essentially his whole campaign. He promised to do things to piss off the good guys and please the bad guys. And he kept those two promises. 

But who are the good guys and who are the bad?

The good guys tend to be people, trying to do good things for people in need. The bad guys are the ones trying to undo what the good guys do.

I didn’t used to believe in “Evil”. I saw it as too religious for my liking. But with the success of this president and his “Always-Trumpers” followers, I changed my mind. I became an empiricist. I now realize there are good people in the world, trying to make the world a better place, and there are bad people in the world, whose goal is to undo all the good done by the good people.

During the campaign, Trump promised all his followers that he’d annoy the establishment, a promise he kept, but now he’s whining that the establishment is trying to impeach him! And for what reason are they trying to impeach him? Simply because “they don’t like my policies!”

That’s true, we don’t like your policies, especially the ones having to do with destroying America’s place in the world, trying to undo all the good it’s been doing, and replacing it with evil.

But also your policy about you being a stupid shit-head.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Response to Shuffleboard in Florida

(See: Just Above Sunset : Shuffleboard in Florida)

Re your "In 2016, Donald Trump turned the world upside down. In 2019, the world returned the favor – his world was just turned upside down.”

I wish.

In truth, Michael Gerson is right. Unless something like a huge meteor hits the earth, then nothing will stop the GOP dinosaurs in the Senate from acquitting him.

I think the idea of Trump shooting someone dead on Fifth Avenue, without losing any of his Republican support, is literally the case. It's a good bet that the truth of whatever the House of Representatives charges him with will take a back seat to the question, “Seriously, who do we want as president -- on the one hand, Donald Trump, as hideous as he is, or on the other, whichever so-called way-too-serious 'woke progressive' candidate the Democrats offer up?”

Those Democrats who have been demanding impeachment from way back will all be shocked and disappointed, of course, but they just can’t place themselves inside the head of anyone in the opposition to figure out why we failed. They probably think Republicans are putting party above country, failing to realize that Republicans may actually believe retaining a president who nominates judges of their own conservative persuasion, instead of judges who won't try to repeal Roe, is putting country first, and that it might be actually EASY for them to see that holding up aid to Ukraine, in exchange for investigating whatever the Bidens may or may not have done, is no big deal -- and certainly not worth all the fuss of replacing Trump with Pence.

And even if the country DOES fall apart? No problem! They'll just start another one, only this time, one more to their liking!

We’re doomed. What can we do to change this? Nothing. Maybe pray for a meteor.

And about that line, “I have been treated very badly by…” Guess who always says that?

Exactly! President Whiney-face! He seems to use that phrase at least once a day, and sometimes two or three times!

Is there anyone anywhere who, at some point or other, hasn’t treated him "very badly"? Hardly a name comes to mind, which comes as no surprise since, being such a world-wide jerk, there's hardly a soul HE hasn't shit on first.

He’s the planet's biggest victim! What's so weird is that whiners of Trump's ilk, who are so often heard complaining about being mistreated by others, so often turn out themselves to be the biggest thugs and bullies.

And why does anyone vote for bullies?

Because there's this odd belief, mostly but not exclusively among conservatives, that the world is too rough to be run by nice guys. They seem to forget that the tough guys who attempt to create thousand-year reichs tend to find themselves at the end of their lives in underground bunkers, forced to marry their girlfriend just before putting a bullet in their own head.

And something else worth noting:

If you remember the playground bullies from your youth, they were all about process and no substance. It's not WHAT they say, it's THAT they say it, and that they say it totally out of any context, and they say it over and over and over, ad nauseam. In fact, their success usually depended on their overpowering reality with their own nasty nonsense. Some things never change.

Also, much of their power over their victim is derived from the acquiescence of whatever crowd of toadies happen to be nearby. Why are toadies so obsequious to bullies? It may be that they're afraid of him, or at the very least, they see no percentage in taking the side of some goody-goody who is likely to end up being humiliated.

A typical bullying session back then might have looked like this:

Bully: They tell me your mother is a whore.
Toadies: Whoooa! HA! HA!
Victim: What?!? My mother's not a whore! Where'd you hear that?
Bully: Your mother is a whore.
Victim: My mother's NOT a whore!
Bully: Yeah, she is. Lots of people say your mother's a whore.
Toadies: HA-HA! Your mother's a whore! Your mother's a whore! HA!
Victim: No, she's NOT! Stop saying that!
Bully: Your mother IS a whore.
Victim: If you must know, my mother died when I was in kindergarten.
Bully: Yeah, yeah, your mother's a whore.
Toadies: HA-HA! Your mother's a whore! Your mother's a whore! HA!
Victim: In fact, before she died, my mother was awarded a Nobel Prize for finding a cure for some disease that had killed millions of people in Asia! She wrote several novels, all on the New York Times best-seller list! She was famous! She used to date Warren Beatty! She was friends of kings and queens and presidents, was always being interviewed on Entertainment Tonight, and used to spend her holidays with the Beatles!
Bully: Your mother's a whore! Everybody says so!

It could go on and on like that, with the bully and the toadies just repeating some random lie over and over, paying no attention whatsoever to whatever the victim says, until the victim just gives up and walks away, secretly wondering if there's anything to the rumor that his dearly-departed mother actually WAS a whore.

But the good news is, years later, the bully will end up in the gutter, with no actual friends and no woman who would ever admit to ever knowing him, much less having slept with him, and finally, the day will come when someone on the school's Facebook page posts the news that he has fallen on hard times, is penniless, has moved to Florida, and they even post a photo of him, flabby, no longer sporting that phony swoosh of blond hair, struggling with his walker outside a McDonald's, trying to bully his way to the head of the line, hoping to make it in before they shut down the "Early Bird Special".

Or at least that's my sincerest hope.