26 June 2020

Heather Cox Richardson and my plan to devise an "Oregon Plan" for America

If you liked Heather Cox Richardson's piece I sent around, she has a Facebook page in which she delivers folksy but scholarly and  fascinating American history lectures via live stream and also makes cogent and succinct (as well as historically informed) comments on current affairs. I can't say I listen every week, but she is interesting and engaging and makes you realize that understanding the history of how we got to this ridiculous predicament is helpful in thinking about how the hell we navigate ourselves out of it. 

Apropos, I'm thinking of writing a long open letter to "President-elect-to-be" Biden, and Schumer and Pelosi, laying out an "Oregon Plan" for a step by step approach to repairing our republic and our society. If I actually do it, I'll share it first and maybe hone it a bit, incorporating any changes and good ideas suggested by others. I don't kid myself that I, a mere retiree in a remote West Coast state with no political connections and no financial heft, have any chance at actually being influential, but sometimes ideas are "in the air," and when individuals make the effort to actually express them,it contributes to the overall process of their becoming real potential policy. 

23 June 2020

Please indulge a little rant about the COVID response

It was bad enough, as in searing blue-fire anger, when the Trump Death Cult and their administration did nothing during the long lockdown... a time which the American people sacrificed precisely so that their government could organize a real, and effective response to the Pandemic. The experts were unanimous and perfectly clear what needed to be done. We needed to stage a massive mobilization, comparable to a major World War of the 20th century, to develop tens and tens of millions of tests, administer them broadly and widely, hire an almost literal army of contact tracers, train, organize, and deploy them; and organize and deploy a massive system of isolation and quarantine of people testing positive. We knew this; epidemiologists explained all this to the government officials with the power to make it happen. And to a great extent other countries have done this, and as a result have come close to containing the virus; are able to manage outbreaks. We are not. We are on the verge of the whole thing commencing another out of control geometric increase. Here it is nearly 90 days out, and not only has our government not done what was needed, they are bragging about doing nothing, denying the truth of the pandemic, feeding their foolish followers lies and propaganda, and cutting back even on what minimal efforts were made. This is not negligence. It is not even recklessness. This is criminality, and we must not tolerate it further. We have marched for racial justice, for an end to police violence. Now it is time to demand that this do-nothing, malevolent government step the fuck aside and let others take the lead and serve the American people in their time of need. Demand that Trump resign now. We should be prepared to take to the streets to demand action. It is not enough to just vote him out of office. We need to organize and demand that there be a real response to this threat to our peoples' health, their livelihood, and the very economy these idiots claim to be trying to protect!

21 June 2020

Heather Cox Richardson : good summation of the State of Trumpworld at this very moment

This is a rather good post lifted from the Facebook page of the political historian Heather Cox Richardson. Good summation of the current state of Trumpworld. My impression is that CNN and MSNBC are floundering a little over the weekend to put together a coherent narrative. (I don't usually even watch either of them on weekends, but I get the impression the ongoing meltdown of the Trump campaign and presidency is sort of coming to a head right now). Even the Post and Times seem a little unfocused. This piece is tight and informative. 

June 20, 2020 (Saturday)
Yesterday's standoff between Attorney General William Barr and the interim U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman, whom Barr was trying to fire, was only one of today's significant stories.
Last night, Barr announced Berman was "stepping down." Berman retorted he was doing nothing of the sort and that Barr had no authority to fire him. This morning, Berman showed up for work. Then Barr wrote Berman a letter saying he was "surprised and disappointed by the press statement you released last night…. Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so." Barr gave no reason for the firing.
Because Berman was an interim U.S. Attorney, appointed by the court rather than confirmed by the Senate, it was not clear if Trump had the authority to fire him (although it was clear Barr did not). But that point became moot quickly, when Trump told reporters: "That's his department, not my department…. I'm not involved." The president's disavowal of Barr's declaration means Barr, the Attorney General, has lied in writing twice in the past two days.
And Berman had gained his point. Barr's letter said he would not replace Berman with an outside candidate—which was highly irregular—but would follow normal procedure and permit Berman's deputy, Audrey Strauss, to become acting U.S. Attorney in his place. With this win for the Southern District of New York's U.S. Attorney's office, Berman said he would leave his post. A former SDNY prosecutor said: "After all this what did they gain by getting rid of Berman? Nothing."
Berman's office has been handling a number of cases involving Trump and his allies, including one involving Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and political operatives Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who are charged with funneling Russian money to Republican candidates for office. The three have also been involved in the attempt to smear Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden by digging up witnesses in Ukraine who are willing to testify against the Bidens, although after repeated investigations there is no evidence either Biden committed any wrongdoing.
It may be these cases, or others, that the Trump administration is eager to quash. My guess is that we have not heard the end of its attempt to stifle the SDNY, but there is yet another roadblock in their way. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and usually a staunch Trump supporter, said he had not been consulted on the proposed replacement for Berman. He added that he would follow Senate tradition, and permit the Senators from New York, where the office is based, to veto the nomination if they wished. Nominee Jay Clayton has never been a prosecutor, and New York's Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrats both, will almost certainly not accept his candidacy.
There was another loss for the administration today. A federal judge decided against Trump's attempt to stop the release of former National Security Advisor John Bolton's memoir of his days in the Trump administration. U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said it would be impossible to stop the distribution of the book, which has already begun to circulate.
The judge also blasted Bolton for moving ahead with publication without an official government sign-off on the book certifying that it did not reveal classified information. He warned that Bolton might face prosecution if he has exposed national security secrets in the book. Bolton's lawyer welcomed the decision and said "we respectfully take issue… with the Court's preliminary conclusion at this early stage of the case that Ambassador Bolton did not comply fully with his contractual prepublication obligation to the Government…. The full story of these events has yet to be told—but it will be."
The other big story today was, of course, Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, designed to jumpstart his campaign and reunite him with the crowds that energize him. His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, along with the president himself, has spent days crowing that almost a million tickets had been reserved, and the campaign had built an outside stage for overflow crowds.
But far fewer than the 19,000 people Tulsa's BOK Center could hold showed up: the local fire marshal said the number was just under 6,200. Young TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music (so-called "K-Pop stans"), along with Instagram and Snapchat users, had quietly ordered tickets to prank the campaign. The technological savvy of their generation has turned political: they knew that the Trump campaign harvests information from ticket reservations, bombarding applicants with texts and requests for donations. So they set up fake accounts and phone numbers to order the tickets, then deleted the fake accounts. They also deleted their social media posts organizing the plan to keep it from the attention of the Trump campaign.
The poor turnout after such hype was deeply embarrassing for the campaign. Trump's people took down the outside stage and Trump blamed "protesters" who had kept supporters out of the venue for the small size of the rally, but there were few reports of any interactions between Trump supporters and protesters and no one was turned away.
The rally itself did not deliver the punch Trump's people had hoped. The speech was disjointed as the president rambled from one topic to another, rehashing old topics that no longer charged up the crowd, many of whom were caught on camera yawning or checking their phones. It was clear that The Lincoln Project's needling of his difficulty raising a glass to his mouth and walking down a ramp at last week's West Point graduation has gotten under Trump's skin: he spent more than ten minutes pushing back on those stories—the ramp was "like an ice skating rink," he claimed-- which, of course, only reinforced them.
Much more damning, when discussing coronavirus, he told the audience falsely that the recent spikes in infections are because there has been more testing: "When you do more testing to that extent, you are going to find more people, you will find more cases. I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.'"
This is an astonishing admission. More than 120,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 so far, and while in some states hard hit early on numbers of cases are declining, cases are right now spiking in a number of other states in far higher numbers than increased testing would show. Experts agree that the administration's odd reluctance to test for coronavirus cost American lives. Within hours of his statement, it was being used in a political ad against the president.
Far from energizing Trump's 2020 campaign, the rally made Trump look like a washed-up performer who has lost his audience and become a punchline for the new kids in town. According to White House reporter Andrew Feinberg, a Trump campaign staffer told him that Biden "should have to report our costs to the [Federal Election Commission] as a contribution to his campaign."

09 June 2020


I can't cite chapter and verse scientifically. But (for a change) let me try to keep this brief.
1. Unlike (paradigmatically) New Zealand, and slighly less so other countries including some in Europe, the US has simply FAILED to do what is necessary to prevent the virus from roaring back when "social distancing" etc. is loosened. We can't get the time back and it's very clear we are NOT going to do the massive test, contact trace, isolate regimen that was the only option to actually suppress the virus.
2. The lockdown regime, stay home stay safe, is not sustainable. People just won't do it, so they have to be given an alternative. It's very much like "just say no" in past campaigns against teen pregnancy or drug use. Abstinence alone is not a viable option.
3. We may, just may, have gotten lucky. There may be a bit of a summer reprieve underway, at least in places where there was a lockdown in place long enough to bring the numbers way down. There are parts of the US where this is NOT happening, and short term peaks are still in the offing.
4. So what to do? If you live in an area (Oregon, even New York now, Washington, California), where the virus is somewhat controlled, given what we now know about how the virus spreads, this seems to be the best advice:
Always wear a mask when you go out in public places where you will be within 10 feet of other people.
Carry and use hand sanitizer and wash hands frequently and thoroughly, especially when outside the house.
Avoid public places where you aren't six feet apart, unless absolutely necessary, and when it is, wear a mask and don't linger in such places. Restaurants MAY be reasonably safe, if they are spread out enough and you are in a group that's only "household."
Avoid activities that involve yelling, singing, strenuous physical activity, etc. with others. This is tough, but it's really necessary. (Playing music with others is a big problem. Possibly outdoors or with maximal separation. But choral groups are screwed. There's just no way to do that safely now. )
Obviously, avoid big crowds. Malls, movie theaters, concerts... these things are best avoided for now. Sad, but I see no way around this.
A good thing. It is reasonable in harm reduction mode (that's what this is) to make pacts with a FEW friends and relatives to form extended "double" groups, but not too many. What this means is you agree to certain standards you will all follow with regard to social distancing, masks, etc., but then you will admit each other into your virtual household so you can socialize with them, with reasonable hygienic precautions, as if they were part of your own household. We all need some social contact. This is fraught. It's like high school. Are you in my "in" group, or not? But it's really the only safe way to have intimate social contact with people outside your household.
Another good thing. Apart from strenuous physical activity, outdoor recreation, maintaining physical distancing, is pretty safe. Go for walks, hikes, even swims, boating, etc. Just dont' party too close. Backyard gatherings (masks and hand sanitizer preferred) are safe if physical distance is maintained. Meet friends for dog walks, etc.
Minimize physical contact (except with actual family members). Don't hug. Don't shake hands.
This sucks. Some day there will be an effective treatment or vaccine and we can set all this aside. But as I see it, something like this modified harm reduction protocol is NECESSARY. If we want to avoid another 100,000 deaths (or more), especially in Fall, when there is nothing really in place other than peoples' behavior to prevent a recurrence of rapid spreading, we have no choice but to pretty radically change our lifestyle semi-permanently.
Thoughts? (Other than that, as usual, I didn't manage to keep it brief).