A Grim Milestone and Bad News Cycle

The banner headline on all the papers Wednesday the death toll from the coronavirus passing the 100,000 mark. The 100,000th death was no more tragic than the 99,999th or the first, but headline writers can’t resist a round number.
Across the country the death rate has slowed over the past few weeks, but it’s increasing in several states, and as Americans emerge from their homes and get back to business the numbers are likely to worsen. President Donald Trump acknowledged the grim milestone by “tweeting” that “The Lamestream media” and “Do-Nothing Democrats” and boasting the death toll would have been far higher if not for the actions he took, while White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere helpfully added that “President Trump’s prayers for comfort and strength are with all of those grieving the loss of a loved one or friend as a result of this unprecedented plague.”
The death toll surely would have been higher if not for the travel restrictions and business shutdowns and “social distancing” that have occurred, most of which was done by state and local governments and individual citizens, but it arguably could have been lower if all that started earlier, and Trump is now urging an arguably premature end to it, and we harbor doubts that that Trump ever prays for others. This is a bad news cycle for Trump, and he seems to know it.
At the moment there’s nothing else in he headline to help Trump. The stock markets have recovered somewhat despite Great Depression unemployment rates and gross domestic product contractions, but that’s mostly due to an eye-popping $3 trillion deficit that once upon a time would have appalled Republican sensibilities, and is of little comfort to the tens of millions of unemployed. The death toll is declining nationwide, but increasing in states Trump needs to win. News about Trump’s continuing purge of inspectors general and “whistleblowers” and court fights about congressional oversight and feuds with any journalists who might his criticism also penetrate the news in the age of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t help.
The other big non-coronavirus story is about the black man who died shortly after being arrest by the Milwaukee Police, which is big news because a white officer was seen on videotape and cell phone photographs pressing his knee on the seemingly pacified suspect’s neck, which has resulted in predictable unrest, This followed after some attention-grabbing news about a black man in Georgia who shot on videotape by a white man while jogging, and has revived the centuries-old debate about race and America. Trump has quite quietly done the right thing by authorizing his Justice Department to look into these matters, which his most unabashedly racist supporters won’t notice or mind, but given Trump’s record of exhorting police to treat suspects roughly and calling black athletes “sons of bitches” for putting a knee down during the national anthem to protest racial injustice he won’t get many new voters.
For now Trump doesn’t have any compelling success stories, just reasons why everything would have been so much worse if not for him, and evidence-free accusations against the evil people arrayed against him. There’s a long hot summer and an early between now and Election Day, and there’s a chance that by then the coronavirus might miraculously disappear and the economy will be revved up and America’s race problem will be solved, but we’re not counting on it.

— Bud Norman

The Problem With the Very Best People

President Donald Trump promised his enthusiastic voters he would have only “the very best people” in his administration, and he also made a lot of other extravagant promises about everyone having better and less expensive health care and the governments running on balanced budgets and such. It’s turned out that by “the very best people” Trump meant his son-in-law and his pals and anyone willing to tell Trump what he wants to hear.
Those brave messengers who dare bear bad to Trump tend to be quickly defenestrated, even though they tend to be the most credentialed people he’s got.
The latest example is Dr. Rick Bright, who earned his doctorate in immunology and molecular pathogenesis at Emory University and compiled an impressive resume in the public and private sectors and until recently was leading the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine program at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He’s now transferred to a “less impactful position,” as a White House statement put it, and he alleges in a whistleblower complaint that it’s because he didn’t share Trump’s enthusiasm for investigating the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus and wouldn’t be involved in cronyism..
Trump has told the press he doesn’t the guy and hard never heard of him but has heard bad things about him, which is his modus operandi when getting ride of people, and notes that he was on the job back when President Barack Obama was in office, which Trump and his fans find suspicious. We fine it worrisome that didn’t bother to introduce himself to the guy in charge of finding a vaccine for the coronavirus.
This sort of bureaucratic reshuffling goes on all the time and is rarely worth noting, we suppose, but in this case Bright’s complaint seems both valid and very noteworthy. Trump did indeed often tout the potentially miraculous effects of hydroxychloroquine in his daily press briefings, with much of the Trump-friendly media on Fox News and talk radio chiming in, and Bright did go on the record in government documents and press interviews to expose his more skeptical opinions. We freely admit we don’t know any more about this medical stuff than Trump or the people at Fox and on talk radio, but we’re the curious sorts who delve into what the methodically scientific studies say, so we’re inclined to believe that Bright was right and Trump was wrong, and that’s probably the reason Bright was demoted.
Christi Grimm was until recently an inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, but Trump decided to replace her after she wrote a report that hospitals across the country faced a short of supplies needed to deal the coronavirus problem. Trump brags about how well he’s done suddenly creating everything a medical system might need to deal with an epidemic, and doesn’t want some previously anonymous bureaucrat saying otherwise, but it seems she was right and Trump was once again wrong, and we figure that’s the most likely explanation for why she was demoted. We’d encourage her to write yet another whistleblower complaint and invite even further House oversight hearings.
Over three long years we’ve noticed that sycophancy is more important to Trump than expertise. Marine General John Kelly and Army General H.R. McMaster had distinguished careers over decades of Republican and Democratic administrations and enjoyed excellent reputations when they became Trump’s chief of staff and national security advisor, respectively, but both were shown the door for their annoying habits of saying things Trump didn’t want to hear. There are plenty of criticisms to be made of erstwhile Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ fealty to Trump’s views on immigration enforcement and state’s rights and civil rights and many other important things, but his decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the previous presidential election was the right thing to do, and that’s what got him fired.
All of which was annoying enough back when the Stock markets were setting record highs and the unemployment rate record lows and the gross domestic product was expanding at the usual slow-but-steady rate, but given the current statistics and the more than 72 thousand deaths in a death toll throws by the thousands every day it’s downright alarming. Now is the time, as best we can tell, to listen to the people who have some credible reason to believe they know what the hell they’re talking about.
For now the smarty-pants are telling us that we’re going to be largely stuck at home and wearing masks on beer runs and will be poorer for a longer while lest we wind up killing hundreds of thousands of people, and we don’t want to hear that any more than Trump does. but we’re inclined to believe them. Trump had an uncle who was a professor of some non-medical scientific field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he claims all the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control were all amazed by how how much he knew about this virology and epidemiology and scientific stuff, but he also advised the scientists to investigate the injection of disinfectants into the body as a possible cure, and we’re inclined to go with the degrees and the long records of public service.
Trump still has fans and media allies on the right who trust more in his hereditary gut instincts than any so-called “expert,” whose long and distinguished public service and bipartisan respect are proof of their role in a “deep state” conspiracy to prevent Trump from making America great again. We’ve also got a dear but loony-left friend who is saying pretty much the same thing about hydroxychlorine on Facebook, using weird right-wing sources to prove it’s same conspiracy that’s conspiring to prevent Sen. Bernie Sanders from making America great for the first time as socialist utopia.
By now Trump and his media allies have largely abandoned their advocacy of hydroxychloroquine, and they’re doing somewhat better at providing medial supplies, but no one will acknowledge ever being wrong. Events will soon push the fates of Bright and Grimm and Flynn and McMaster and all the other humble civil servants who dared question Trump off the news and into the history books, but the bigger story will be how this coronavirus problem played out. At this point, we’re betting on the establishment and its dissidents.

— Bud Norman

bright and hydroxy
grimm and ppe
jared and his pals
long history of good folks being defenestrated for doing their jobs

Pride Goeth Before Destruction

President Donald Trump spent several hours on Wednesday in teleconferences with company executives, labor leaders and the heads of various industry groups about reopening the huge sector of the economy that has been shut down due to the coronavirus. They reportedly had very flattering things to say about Trump’s leadership, but we doubt their sincerity.
Trump will be doling out a couple trillion dollars of stimulus money, and anyone shrewd enough to run a large corporation has surely noticed that he prefers to lavish money on those who lavish praise on him. Several of the people Trump spoke with urged that more testing be done, and warned that Trump’s hope to reopen the economy on May Day might be overly optimistic, but we’re sure they worded these suggestions carefully so as not to imply any criticism.
Which is a shame. Trump needs to hear blunt talk, and to carefully consider what his critics have to say. He needs to allocate money and resources according to the nation’s needs, and not according to how it benefits his political standing. For once in his life, he needs to overcome his eggshell ego and follow the advice of more knowledgable people.
He also needs to take responsibility for mistakes that have been and then try to correct them, rather than trying to pin the blame elsewhere. On Wednesday Trump announced he would withdraw America’s funding of the World Health Organization, a spiteful move and a mistake. The WHO did make the mistake of trusting the Chinese dictatorship about the severity of the coronavirus spread in that country, as did Trump, and was slow to acknowledge its global spread, as was Trump, but it has provided testing and other vital resources to countries all over the world, and the only reason to defund it during a pandemic is to deflect blame.

As we write this 30,826 Americans have died in this plague, with about 5000 dying in the past two days, and America has more fatalities than any other nation. Any damage done to Trump’s ego and popularity pales in comparison.

— Bud Norman

Opening Day in a Closed Country

Yesterday was supposed to be Opening Day for major league baseball, one of those harbingers of spring we always look forward to, but because of the coronavirus that didn’t happen. Instead of poring over box scores, we were reading some grim statistics.
More than 1,200 Americans are dead, new infections are overwhelming the hospitals in several large cities and doubling every three days, a record-setting 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month, and most of the country seems to be stuck at home with nowhere to go. The stock markets are up on news of a bill to spend $2 trillion of freshly printed cash to prop up the economy, but it looks to be months before people can safely leave the house and start earning and spending money.
We saw another story that the crime rate is down in much beset New York City, but that’s probably because there are fewer people on the streets to mug. There is other good news out there, but for now every silver lining seems to have a cloud.
Somehow it reminds us of that scene in Ken Kesey’s “Once Upon a Cuckoo’s Nest” where mean Nurse Ratched wouldn’t let the patients at her mental hospital watch the World Series, so they sat in front of a blank television and pretended to watch the game and cheer every play they saw in their imaginations. We’re already going a bit stir crazy ourselves, and spent part of our day envisioning how our beloved New York Yankees would have gone 1-and-O to start another championship season, and later tonight we’ll probably continue imagining that scenario to lull us to sleep.
Here’s hoping that sooner or later things will get back to something like normal, and that most of us will be around for it. Until then, we urge everyone to do the right thing and use your imagination.

— Bud Norman

The Cold Calculations of Here and Now

No one is more eager than we are for the country to get back to something like normal, as this stay-at-home-with-nowhere-to-go social distancing stuff is already driving us quite stir crazy, but we can’t share President Donald Trump’s optimism that he’ll be able to announce all is well and we can all come out of hiding and get back to business as usual by Easter. Easter is just 19 days off, and current trends suggest that by then the coronavirus will be exponentially more widespread than it is now.
Even so, Trump is ignoring the advice of the government’s most expert epidemiologists and hoping that churches will be packed on Easter and everyone will be back at work the next day. He figures Easter is well past the 15-day period he’s been hoping will suffice since he started taking the coronavirus seriously, and adds that Easter is a very important day to him. Trump is what we weekly worshippers sometimes call a “Chreaster,” meaning the sort of Christian who only attends services at Christmastime and on Easter, so we’ll not question the sincerity of his religiosity.
We do suspect, however, that Trump also has other motivations. Shutting down bars and restaurants and theaters and sports and travel and large gatherings while having everyone stay at home is disastrously bad for business, including Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, as stock market indexes and unemployments claims clearly demonstrate, and Trump had hoped to run for reelection by boasting to the large gatherings at his campaign rallies about the record stock market highs and unemployment lows he had until the coronavirus came along. Continuing the current caution for weeks or even months past Easter might well spare an untold number of deaths, but there might well be severe economic repercussions to prolonging the status quo, and Trump now repeatedly argues that “We cannot let the disease be worse than the cure.”
Trump seems to have learned the phrase from a fellow who appeared on Fox News the night before Trump started using it, and much of the Trump-friendly media are already repeating it to bolster an argument that is coldly calculating yet deserving of careful consideration. An economic cataclysm might very well cause as many deaths and as much human misery as any pandemic, the argument goes, and those costs must be weighed against whatever deaths and misery that might be spared by everyone staying home until the crisis has passed. We weigh the benefits of automobile travel against the bigger-than-coronavirus number of deaths and human misery it causes every year, after all, and as a society have decided in favor of automobile travel, and in times of war and pestilence civilization our society have coldly and calculatingly made all sorts of similarly difficult decisions.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is also chairman of Trump’s Texas reelection campaign, says he’d be willing to risk dying of coronavirus if it meant his grandchildren could inherit Trump’s robust economy, and many of Trump’s supporters seem just as committed to the argument. Still, we don’t find it entirely convincing.
The coldly calculating types can go right ahead and accuse us of being too warm-heated and wimpy, but we weigh heavily the lives lost and human misery that might very well occur if the current precautions are prematurely lifted. We can’t deny the economic repercussions of more prolonged precautions, which are already apparent and painful to everyone, but we’re looking beyond the next news cycle and election day and wondering how the economy might fare after a cataclysmic plague. Yesterday the stock markets reacted to the possibility of a big deficit-spending stimulus package getting passed with the biggest day on Wall Street since 1933, and although that was one of the darkest years of the Great Depression it suggests that big government might once again muddle us through death and human misery as we stay at home and watch out for the old folks.
Trump has a different perspective, though, and from his cold and calculating way of looking at things Easter might well be the best time for the miraculous rebirth of the Trump economy. For now most of the mounting deaths of the coronavirus are predictably in populous urban states that Trump wouldn’t have won in any case, so he can blame their Democratic governments for the death toll, and the minority of the national population in the electoral majority of the states he won last time around are staying at home with nowhere to go despite low local infection and mortality rates and becoming quite stir crazy. Depending on the death tolls and economic data between now and November, which are hard to foresee, it might just work.
For now Trump seems to be discounting the advice of America’s most expert epidemiologists, who have clearly annoyed him with their televised differences of opinion, and is trusting the gut instincts he prides himself on, which has resulted in several casino bankruptcies and numerous other failed businesses and marriages, but has always somehow left him coming out ahead. There’s no telling how it works out for America and the rest of the world, or how the sooner-or-later election between the damned Republican and the damned Democratsis resolved, but we’re holding out hope for ourselves and our families and friends and all of you and yours, no matter what side you take.

— Bud Norman

Baby It’s Very, Very Cold Outside

The big story of the day is obviously the record-setting cold in the upper midwest and northeast, with six states suffering lower temperatures on Wednesday than the South Pole, but theres’s not much to be said about it and nothing to be done.
As always the skeptics of “global warming” will gloat how about how cold it is, as President Donald Trump has already done, but even such a cold snap as this one doesn’t disprove the man-caused climate change theory any more than the heat waves that will inevitably come next summer will prove anything. The temperatures hit a toasty 116 degrees in Australia while North Dakota was at minus-49 degrees, and although it’s still darned cold the South Pole is also warmer than usual. Such extremes are worrisome, to be sure, but don’t necessarily mean that we need to ban big cars.
Temporary power outages and strained natural gas pipelines in Minneapolis and a few other frozen cities should spur some conversation and perhaps even action on the country’s aging infrastructure, but if that happens it will probably be inn the states rather than at the gridlocked federal level. On Tuesday the heads of America’s intelligence agencies were warning Congress that the Chinese and Russians could pick a moment such as this shutdown major portions of the national power grid but on Wednesday Trump was “tweeting” that they “need to back to school.” The current death toll from the cold is seven, which strikes us as miraculously low given the number of homeless in America, but that persistent issue will also go unaddressed.
We can say that we wish our best to our neighbors to the north, even though they’re crazy to be there and better them than us.</div?

— Bud Norman

Grading Hurricanes on the Curve

As Hurricane Florence heads toward the mid-Atlantic coast, threatening 130 mile an hour winds and 83-foot waves and severe flooding, President Donald Trump is promising another one of his A-plus efforts to deal with it. He’s also describing his response to last year’s Hurricane Maria as an A-plus effort, though, which should give pause to anyone in Florence’s path.
Most Puerto Ricans give Trump’s efforts a much lower grade, according to a recent poll commissioned by The Washington Post and the Kaiser family foundation. Only 15 percent of the respondents describe Trump as doing an “excellent” or “very good” or merely “good” job, with 52 percent rating his performance as “poor” and another 28 percent calling it “fair.” The Puerto Rican government and the territory’s governor fared only slightly better, with 25 percent giving high to the former and 31 percent to the latter, while the federal government’s overall response got favorable reviews from 39 percent and 41 percent approved on their local government’s efforts.
Such dissatisfaction is understandable. Sixty-four people died during the storm — a low number compared to other recent hurricanes, which Trump proudly touted in the immediate aftermath — but the lack of potable water and fresh food and medical services caused the storm’s death toll to rise to 2,975, making it the second deadliest natural disaster in American history. A year later large parts of the island remain without electricity and power outages remain common almost everywhere, the roads to several remote towns remain closed, and re-building efforts are moving slowly.
Trump is right to note that the Puerto Rican government had let its infrastructure to deteriorate to a vulnerable state, as most Puerto Ricans apparently agree, and he’s also right that getting needed supplies and personnel to a far-off island is more difficult than responding to a hurricane on the mainland. Even so, we can’t argue with any Puerto Rican who gives Trump a lower grade than A-plus. Nor can we blame them if they still resent Trump’s “tweets” about how the lazy Puerto Ricans wanted everyone else to take care of their problems, or his petty feud with the San Juan mayor who was wading through waist-deep waters to deliver help while the president was playing golf on one of his own courses.
The states and municipalities along the projected path of Hurricane Florence are more well-run and better built to withstand a hurricane than Puerto Rico, and their English-speaking citizens can probably expect more presidential attention in the lead-up to a mid-term election they’re eligible to vote in, but it looks a hard rain that’s gonna fall. We’ll be hoping for an honestly -earned A-plus to help out.

— Bud Norman