Like Nobody’s Ever Seen

Not so long ago President Donald Trump was plausibly bragging about the best economy, and hoping that would carry him to reelection despite everything else. The latest economic figures suggest we’re now in the worst economy ever, however, and Trump is struggling to find another argument.
The jobs and gross domestic product numbers are undeniably gruesome. Another 1.4 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past week, bringing the overall unemployment rate to 14.7, which is higher than in any previous post-war recession. Over the past three months the GDP shrank at an annualized rate of 32.9 percent, which is even worse than the worst quarter of the Great Depression.
The cause of all this the coronavirus epidemic, which is unlikely to away by Election Day, and is currently getting worse in many parts of the country. Trump does his best to defend his administration’s response, but but he’s not convincing any skeptics and even losing some supporters. He’s peddling a cure that most scientists believe would do more harm than good, relying on the advice of some very dubious doctors, and has resisted public health measures a consensus of medial opinion are urging. Some of his die-hard supporters will appreciate his defiance, but the rest of the country won’t.
Lacking a boast-worthy record to run on, Trump is instead pursuing two related strategies. One is o claim that his expected loss in the election will be due only to massive fraud by mail-in ballots, and the other is to argue that his Democratic opponents “sick people” bent on destroying everything good about America. Trump will have a hard-time arguing that the man he’s nicknamed “Sleepy” Joe Biden is up to such a gargantuan task, and there’s nothing in Biden’s 40 year record that suggests he want to do it.
Trump “tweeted” a suggestion that the election be delayed, but his most loyal allies in the Senate shot that down, and a few extra weeks of a deadly epidemic currently killing an American every minute and a continued Great Depression economy wouldn’t do him much good.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Big Tech

Even in these hyper-partisan times, Democrats and Republicans alike can at least agree on one thing. Both sides share an intense dislike of the giant tech firms that dominate social media and on-line commerce.
The House’s top antitrust subcommittee called the chief executive officers of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to testify, and they all came in for harsh questioning from both sides of the aisle. The two sides didn’t have the same complaints, as Democrats are mostly worried the companies are using their considerable clout to crush potential competitors, while the Republicans are mostly worried the companies have a left-wing bias and are censoring right-of-center opinions.
Both sides came with evidence-backed questions the CEO’s had difficulty answering, but we can’t get on board with the booing and hissing.
We don’t worry much about monopolies, as they tend go away without any government intervention. Once upon a time there was worry that Sears & Roebuck would wipe out every Main Street retailer in America, but no one is afraid of the company anymore. More recently Wal-Mart was expected to dominate the retail sector of the economy, but it’s now a distant second to Amazon, which is so dominant that some big money will try to take a chunk out of its market share, and by that time Amazon will be too ponderous to respond to whatever new idea the competition comes up with. Apple is powerful, but it’s a stretch to say they have a monopoly on the rapidly developing computer industry. If you don’t like Google you can search the internet on Bing, which is owned by the Microsoft Corporation that once seemed poised to take over the world. Facebook doesn’t have any significant competition in social media business at the moment, but we notice that people routinely abandon it and assume they’re finding other ways to share pictures of what they’re having for dinner.
As for the worries about censorship, we only worry when the government is doing the censoring. We’re free speech purists, but we also support the right of any company decide what information it wants to disseminate. Some on the right are angry that a video calling itself Frontline Doctors has been pulled from most of the social media platforms for being skeptical about face masks and social business and economic restrictions, saying that hydroxychloroquine is a proved cure, but they also believes that some gynecological diseases are caused by women having sex with demons in their dreams and doctors are creating medicines with alien DNA and the Illuminati are developing a vaccine against religious belief. We can’t see why any conservative would want to equate that with conservatism, and conservatives should also distance themselves from the conspiracy theories and racist rants that are routinely banned. There are still other places to post such nonsense, and if they’re not as widely viewed there’s a free market reason for that.
It’s nice to see both sides united, if only for a moment and for far different reasons, but it’s hard to see them coming up with any legislative solution that will satisfy everyone. For now, we have bigger problems to worry about than Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

— Bud Norman

If It Quacks Like a Doctor

Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter account was restricted on Tuesday due to violations of the company’s policy against spreading disinformation about the coronavirus. His father spread the very same disinformation to q wider audience without consequences, but wound up looking justice as foolish.
Both Trumps shared a short video by a group calling itself Frontline Doctors, and emphasized a statement by a Houston pediatrician who said that there’s no need to wear face masks in public or practice social distancing or ban mass gatherings because she has used a mix of hydroxyclhoroquine, zinc and zithromax to cure 300 patients of the disease. There is no proof that a pediatrician with a small clinic in a strip mall has cured any COVID-19 cases, and o credible medical organization endorses these views, with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization all having conducted studies showing it does not work and poses additional risks to people.
President Trump continues to tout the benefits of hydroxychloroqine, and seemed happy to hear from anyone share that view, and noted in Tuesday’s public health briefing that “I took it 14 days, and I’m still here,” and then endorsed Immannuel as “a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it.” When a reporter noted that Immanuel also believes many gynecological problems are caused by women having sex with demons in their dreams, and that pharmaceutical companies are using “alien DNA” to create medicines, along with other conspiracy theories, Trump backed off slightly.
“I can tell you this,” Trump said. “She on the air with many other doctors, they were big fans of hydroxychloroquine, but I know nothing about her.”
So Trump winds up admitting he’s basing public health policy on the word of someone he knows nothing about. Which is not reassuring.
Trump also criticized Twitter for restricting his son’s account, and groused about how many negative stories will appear on Google is you search for his name. Facebook and all the other major social media platform banished the Frontline Doctors, but Immanuel seemed unworried about it, “tweeting” “Hello Facebook put back my profile page and videos up or your computers will start crashing till you do. You are not bigger that God. I promise you. If my page is not back up face book will be down in Jesus name.”
Later in the press briefing Trump conceded that Dr. Anthony Fauci is more popular than himself, and wondered aloud why that might be, concluding “maybe it’s my personality.” We’re not at all fond of Trump’s personality, but there’s probably more to it than that. Fauci’s credentials as an epidemiologists are better than Trump’s and Immanuel’s combined, and most of what he says is the consensus of the world’s leading experts, and people might like Trump better if he followed the best advice rather than quackery of someone he knows nothing about.

— Bud Norman

When Coronavirus Hits Home

Our hometown of Wichita largely locked down at the moment, a response to the increase in coronavirus that followed a brief unlocking, and that’s unsettling enough. Worse yet, we’ve learned that we’re in the most infected part of town.
The 67203 zip code is a nice area, comprised mostly of the picturesque Riverside neighborhood and the adjacent historic Delano district, and the folks here are mostly friendly and don’t deserve this. We attribute the high infection rate to facts that it’s in heart of the city, and that Riverside’s many parks and art museum and botanical garden as well as Delano’s popular nightspots draw many visitors from all around the city. Also, people here tend to socialize with their neighbors more than in other parts of town.
These are usually selling points for the area, but not during a coronavirus epidemic. Suddenly it’s better to be of those boring suburbs no ventures into except to deliver packages and nobody even knows his neighbors.
There’s not much to do about it except to stay at home as much as possible and wear a face mask when forced to venture outside. We’ve already been doing that for what seems an eternity, and try to be even more strict about it until given an all-clear signal by the local health officials. At this point we’re willing toke our chances, but we don’t want to put any of our nice neighbors at risk.

— Bud Norman

The Next 99 Days

Several stories we read on Sunday noted the presidential election was 100 days away, so by our calculations there are only 99 days to go. President Donald Trump spent much of Sunday golfing with former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, but starting today he should spend more time in the office.
The latest batch of public opinion polls were released on Saturday, and they’re even worse for Trump than the last batch, which were very bad. Trump can believe that each of the 19 polls released are “fake news,” but just in case they’re not he’ll need to deal effectively with very serious problems in the country.
The coronavirus will eventually “just go away,” as Trump has long promised, but it probably won’t happen in the 99 days. So far, with the death toll past 146,000 and cases spiking and hospital filling up in parts of the country he’ll need for reelection, the public seems unimpressed with his response. The states were the worst increases are occurring were states that Trump urged to fully reopen their economies earlier than health officials had advised, and all of their Republican governors are now restoring the measures and even ordering face masks in public, yet Trump continues to urge a laissez faire coronavirus response. The problem is bad enough that Trump reluctantly cancelled his convention in Florida, but he believes it not so bad that children can’t be back in school by mid-August, although most public health experts and the administration of the elite private school Trump sends his youngest son disagree.
So long as the coronavirus persists the economy will remain at its Great Depression level, and Trump seems indifferent to the tens of millions of unemployed who are set to lose the government largesse they’re counting on to pay rent and buy groceries. Nor does Trump want to offend the free market Republicans who are rightly worried about the exorbitant cost, although it probably won’t help the economy if tends of millions stop paying rent and buying groceries, and so he doesn’t have any alternative solutions to offer.
There’s also been outbreaks of rioting and looting and property destruction around, and although that would be bad news for most presidents in ordinary circumstances it actually gives Trump a glimmer of hope. He clearly intends to frighten the country to such an extent that they’ll turn to Trump, but that also carries political risks. Rioting and looting and property destruction are not at all popular, but sending militarized secret police units into cities where they are not wanted and beating and teargassing peaceful protests as well as violent rioters is also unpopular. Once again, Trump seems to have no middle-ground solution.
The president will probably spend most of the next 99 days trying to convince the public that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe is a greater threat than anything Trump is dealing with now. He’s already accused Biden of wanting to defund the police and hand the country to the “left wing mobs,” as we as wanting to “abolish the suburbs” and “ban windows” and “shut down” America’s energy industries except for those cancer-causing wind turbines, but it’s going to be a hard sell even for such a formidable salesman as Trump. “Sleepy Joe” has been Trump’s preferred taunting nickname, but it doesn’t sound very scary, and we expect that many Americans would now appreciate a president sleepier then Trump. Trump had also derided Biden as a “career politician,” which is true given his 40 years of public service in the Senate and as Vice President, but by now an experienced hand might seem appealing to a lot of Americans, and there’s nothing in that 40-year record that indicates he might turn America over to rampaging mobs or abolish the suburbs or ban windows and close a vital sector of the American economy.
Seventy-four-year-old Trump also likes to question the cognitive abilities of the 77-year-old Biden, but that would be more effective he stopped boasting about his ability to distinguish a lion from a camel and recited the words Person Woman Man Camera TV in order and count backward from 100 by seven. Biden has long been gaffe-prone, and will have many gaffes in the next 99 days, but none will probably be on the order of suggesting COVID-19 patients be injected with bleach or sending best wishes to an accused sex trafficker.
Trump still has 99 days, though, and he’s a resourceful fellow. Except that despite his best efforts to prevent early voting starts in early September in many states.
— Bud Norman

Person Woman Man Camera TV and Other Problems For President Trump

The coronavirus news keeps getting worse, and it’s not likely to start getting better any time soon. Wichita has shut down the bars again, meaning  we won’t be drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and play chess and grouse about President Donald Trump at Kirby’s Beer Store for a while, and the situation in Jacksonville, Florida, is dire enough that Trump won’t be able to have the big raucous Republican convention he wanted.
Cancelling the RNC except for some “virtual” gatherings on the coronavirus-free internet not only denies Trump the sort of spectacle he’s long counted on, but it’s yet another admission that his many boasts about containing the coronavirus were untrue. Meanwhile, the rare non-coronavirus stories aren’t much help.
Even coronavirus could stop the news that Trump pressured his ambassador to Britain to pressure the government to pressure the people who run the British Open to hold it a tournament at a money-losing golf course in Scotland owned by the Trump Organization. In more normal times a president using the power of his office no matter the diplomatic consequences to enrich himself would be a big deal, but these days most people won’t hear about it. Still, we thought it worth mentioning.
Trump had hoped to divert the nation’s attention with a vigorous “law and order” stance, but so that seems to have backfired. There have been peaceful protests across the country over the past hot months against racial injustice and police brutality, and they’re polling better than Trump. Racial justice is now more popular than ever, and Trump has responded with a defense of the heroes of the Confederacy. There have also been some violent riots, which do not poll well, but sending military-armed federal agents with no identification on their camouflage uniforms to cities who would rather handle their own affairs is also not popular. Trump’s response has unleashed videos of a 50-something Navy veteran being billy-club for approaching the officers, moms and dads and the Portland mayor being teargassed for no apparent reasons, seemingly random people in the vicinity of a protest being whisked off to undisclosed locations in unmarked vehicles, and to many Americans this isn’t what they mean by “law and order.”
At the moment the most talked-about non-coronavirus story in America is “Person woman man camera TV,” which has launched thousands of “viral” memes on the internet, and that’s not good for Trump. The president is quite touchy about his cognitive abilities, and frequently cites his perfect score on a test created to find if someone has dementia as proof his fitness for office. In a disastrous interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace last week Trump denied the test — which includes drawing certain times on clock and distinguishing a camel from a lion — is easy for anyone not suffering dementia. He took a lot of ridicule about it, so he’s more recently brought it up with another interviewer, boasting about how he could remember the words “person woman man camera TV” in order, and insisting most people couldn’t do it, and certainly not presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, which of course has invited more ridicule.
Elsewhere in the news there’s something about heightened tensions with China and Russia, and fights in Congress over what to about the Great Depression-like economic numbers, but none of that is likely help Trump. Despite Trump’s best efforts to prevent, early voting starts in less than three weeks, too.

— Bud Norman

Opening Day at Long Last

Today is Opening Day for major league baseball, ordinarily a big day on our calendar, although it doesn’t feel like it.
Opening Day is supposed to be in early spring, when the games in Boston and Detroit and other northern cities are played in the lingering cold, and not in searing heat of July. The stands are supposed to filled with fans hopeful that this will be their championship season, but this time around the stands will be empty and silent. The season is supposed to last for 162 games, leaving plenty of baseball to allow a team to claw back from a slow start in a game were even the best teams have losing streaks and only 20 points or so separate the best teams from the worst, but this time around each team plays 60 games.
Other time-honored traditions of the national pastime have been discarded as well. There will will be an American League and a National Team playing one another in a potential World Series, but over the shortened season they’ve been merged into one league. There’s been some inter-league play for the past several years, which offended our traditionalist sensibilities, and we find this outrageous. Teams will be playing their divisional counterparts, which means they won’t be facing the same quality of competition across the season, making it more likely a more deserving team will miss the playoffs.
The game will be less fair this shortened season, but there’s a lot about this year of the coronavirus that isn’t fair. Perhaps we should just be glad that we’ll have a diversion from all the rest of it, and hope no one gets sick.

— Bud Norman

The Coronavirus Briefs Reboot

President Donald Trump resumed his coronavirus press briefings on Tuesday after a two month hiatus, and it was strikingly different from his previous shows. It probably won’t get the boffo ratings that Trump boasted about before, but at least it will get better reviews.
The first round of coronavirus press briefings were the most compellingly bizarre spectacles this side of Netflix’ “The Tiger King.” They featured up to two hours of Trump angrily berating reporters for their questions, pushing his top health experts away from the podium to contradict what they were saying, and making extravagant promises that everything was under control and America would soon be roaring back to business. He stopped doing it after extemporaneously saying to a live nationwide audience that perhaps covid patients should be injected with bleach or other household disinfectants, and well-deserved and widespread ridicule ensued. Trump said the briefings were a waste of time because of how the fake news media twisted his words to make him look bad, but reports indicated that Trump’s most trusted advisors persuaded him was the live-on-air that was dragging his poll numbers down.
This time Trump mostly stuck to the script during a taut thirty minutes at the podium, and he struck a very different tone. He freely admitted that “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” which is very uncharacteristic of man who prefers to talk about how everything’s great and it’s going to get so much better your head will spin, and he added “That’s something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”
He also urged Americans to wear face masks while in public, despite his long resistance to doing so himself. He once again boasted of the extensive testing that’s being done in America, although he recently told a rally crowd he’d asked health officials “to slow the testing down, please” and has proposed cutting funding for the tests. All in a surprisingly somber voice and civil demeanor, with no castigation of the reporters and none of his insult comic shtick about Democrats, but it remains to be seen how long her can keep that up.
Trump had some trouble answering questions about his infrequent mask-wearing while in public, but the only big gaffe came in response to an off-topic question about Ghislaine Maxwell, who currently in jail facing charges that she groomed underage to have sex with notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who officials say committed suicide in federal prison after being convicted of rape and other sex crimes. “I wish her well,” Trump said, admitting that he Maxwell and Epstein from frequent encounters on the Palm Beach, Florida, social circuit. Trump ordinarily dismisses anyone he knows who is in trouble as people he hardly knows, but in the case of Maxwell there’s too much photographic proof of the friendship, and we guess he didn’t want to seem a fair weather friend.
Trump’s longtime association with Epstein and Maxwell wasn’t much of a problem when he was running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose hound dog of an ex-president also had close ties to the couple, but this time around the Democratic nominee isn’t named Clinton. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden might choose to take the high road and not exploit the Trump-Epstein-Maxwell relationship, but not everyone opposed to Trump will be quite so polite. Expect “I wish her well” to become a widely seen internet “meme.”
What matters more is what Trump does to slow the spread of the virus, and on Tuesday he didn’t lay out any specific plan. At least he didn’t exude improbable optimism and make extravagant promises, and we suppose that’s a start.

— Bud Norman

Crazy Like a Fox

One of the more interesting things President Donald Trump is an extended interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, which chock full of Trump saying interesting things, was that “I’m not a fan of Fox. They’ve changed a lot since Roger Ailes.”
Which seemed an odd thing to say during his 92nd presidential interview with Fox, or 10 times more than the number of interviews he’s granted to any other network, but we’re not surprised he was nostalgic for the days of Ailes. The late Ailes was a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before becoming chairman and chief executive of Fox News and building it into a ratings powerhouse as a conservative alternative to the existing cable news networks. He was ousted in 2016 due to the high cost of settling with 23 women employee who had sued for sexual harassment, including two of Fox’s most prominent female reporters, then became a campaign advisor to Republican presidential nominee Trump, who was not offended by Ailes’ alleged behavior.
Fox News was largely unchanged by Ailes’ departure, remaining a conservative alternative to the other cable news outlets and apparently maintaining hostile workplace environment for women. Despite big ratings pundit Bill O’Reilly was shown the door when his sexual harassment lawsuits became to expensive to settle, and now there’s another round of lawsuits. This one involves former anchor Ed Henry, who was fired July 1 for “sexual misconduct in the workplace,” and now stands accused by longtime Fox Business News employee Jennifer Eckhart of a sadistic rape. The same lawsuit alleges she was fired for complaining about a “toxic work environment,” and also claims that other Fox employees, including star opinion show hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, sexually harassed her.
This is Carlson’s second recent scandal, by the way, following the revelation his now-fired head writer had for years used a pseudonym to post outrageously racist and sexist post on white nationalist web sites.
None of this will likely trouble Trump’s mind, of course, but he has other issues with the network. The early morning primetime opinion hosts remain as slavishly devoted to Trump as ever, but the straight news reporters in the afternoon occasionally report things Trump would rather not hear, and have an annoying habit of interviewing Democratic politicians as well as Republicans, and their polling has long displeased the president. Wallace is a very tough interviewer, which Trump surely knew when he agreed to the interview, and all the ringside observers think Wallace won by points if not a technical knockout.
So now all the cable news networks are “fake news” except for the One America Network and the Sinclair Network, which are steadfastly sycophantic to the president but only reach a small percentage of America’s televisions. The good news for Trump is that if all the current polls prove true and he loses reelection by a wide margin he’ll have something to blame.

— Bud Norman

When Paranoia Becomes Plausible

For as long as we can remember, some people associated with both parties have fretted that if the other party wins communist or fascist style totalitarianism will result. They feared a secret police detaining dissidents in undisclosed locations, and a suspension of democracy to retain power. We always laughed it off as paranoia, and felt vindicated when it didn’t come to pass, but we’re not laughing now.
Over the past several days federal agents bearing no insignia on their camouflage uniform have been roaming Portland, Oregon, in unarmed vehicles and snatching people off the streets without warrants or any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and holding them in places undisclosed to the “suspects.” That’s not paranoia, but something that has actually been happening in the United States of America.
This is in response to weeks of mass protests that have occasionally devolved into vandalism and arson and violence, and Portland is a stereotypically touchy-feely city and its local police response has arguably been to permissive, but still. America has long dealt with similar problems without resort to such Orwellian measures, and leaving law enforcement to states and localities is one of longstanding American principles that conservatives once wanted to conserve.
President Donald Trump has threatened the same tactics in other American cities, lest the “angry liberal mob” bring anarchy and destroy America’s history. By now its one of Trump’ biggest reelection issues, and he hopes it will deflect attention from the rapidly spreading coronavirus and its resultant economic catastrophe, but he’s going to need a lot more rioting to convince anyone who’s not already a die-supporter he’s dealing with an existential threat that justifies any means.
There’s already speculation that what’s happening in Portland is a practice run for what Trump intends to do to “dominate the streets” in the mass protests that would surely happen if he refuses to accept a losing outcome in the next election. We’d like to laugh that off as paranoia, but in a very embarrassing interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday Trump did not promise to accept the election results, and at this point we don’t underestimate his ruthlessness. We’re already seeing internet comments and hearing callers to “conservative” talk radio cheering on armed resistance to a possible Democratic administration, and although it probably won’t materialize and likely would quickly be put down it’s still chilling.
To be clear, we do not approve of rioting and looting and arson and vandalism and violence, and expect local law enforcement to effectively deal with it, but we’re quite tolerant of peaceful protests no matter what the cause. Trump has shown a willingness to disperse peaceful protests with flash grenades and pepper spray and billy clubs, however, and that is more worrisome than those scruffy “antifa” thugs and the sorts of riots that have been constitutionally quelled throughout our lifetimes. As much as the next red-blooded American we believe in law and order, but given his law-breaking proclivities and the pardons and commutations he’s given his law-breaking allies, we don’t care to be lectured about it by Trump.
What’s most worrisome is that we can no longer laugh off the paranoia.

— Bud Norman