Five weeks

The job of president of the United States was meant to be a manager who would lead the executive branch to efficiently carry out the business of the nation’s government.  It still is that, but it’s also become a symbol of the battle between competing claims to exercise a moral imperative: on one side, those who want government to enforce upon the rest of us their idea of the one right way Americans should live their lives, and on the other those who have a broader view of the meaning of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The situation is tedious, and divisive, and destructive of our ability to get along with those of our fellow citizens who have different opinions of the proper role of government in our lives.  What’s worse is, the campaign for the job never stops—thank you, sir, may I have another!

Right now, five weeks before the election, is when we should be starting the campaign.  That’s time enough to review information about the candidates, time for reflection…and after election day it would be time to go back to regular life, where if you choose to you could escape the obsession with the daily minutiae of politics.  Time enough to make a reasoned decision, and move on.

The two major party candidates for president have their first side-by-side appearance tomorrow night (I’ll be surprised if they actually engage in debate), to talk about issues and make the case why we should give him the responsibility of managing—just for starters—our national defense; our response to global pandemics and natural disasters; our relationships with our allies and with our enemies; the delivery of our mail!  Someone we can trust to look out for our country’s best interests, and to obey its laws.

So, I’ll watch the debate tomorrow and I’ll think, which of these guys do I want representing us…me…for the next four years?  Will it be the guy who

(There are plenty more where those came from.)

No, it will not be that guy.

You get to make your own choice, and you’re pretty smart, and there are five weeks left to think it over…before you get to make a secret choice, and no one will ever know who you voted for unless you tell them.  Just sayin’…

A call to allies

One of the two best things I learned from watching the major political parties’ national conventions was that a four-night-long television mini-series with no drama about who will win the competition is much better when you concede that the live action in the hall doesn’t matter, so just producing it as a TV show works fine.  Probably better.  The second is that there’s a law called the Hatch Act that was designed to protect government workers from undue pressure and threat to their jobs from political parties and their operatives, but it also prohibits government facilities and workers who are on the clock from being used for partisan political purposes.

Truth is I actually knew that one before.  What I learned last week is that it’s just one more time-honored political tradition that President Trump and his party dumped on because, well, they are who they are.

I watched both major parties’ political conventions because I always do, because I thought I ought to so I’d have first-hand knowledge of what happened, and because I wanted to see what they would do since they couldn’t gather tens of thousands of people together in close quarters during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There was, shall we say, a distinct difference with respect to the medically-accepted protocols on how to fight the spread of a virus that is still killing a thousand Americans a day.

If you needed another opportunity to see the president give a rambling speech that focused on his many personal grievances, you got that.  If you are confused about how the incumbent president could offer a catalog of problems facing our country today—problems that started during his term or which became worse during that time—and try to scare you into believing those things are Joe Biden’s fault and will get worse if Trump loses the election, well, I’m with you on that one.  If you’re wondering how Joe Biden (or anyone, for that matter) could abolish the suburbs, I do not know.

For a faster and more entertaining version of the highlights of those lies, CNN’s Daniel Dale has it nailed.

Facing re-election is when most politicians take time to consider how to broaden their appeal and improve their chances.  Safe to say we can all agree that Donald Trump is not most politicians.  He is not trying to broaden his appeal.  He is counting on frightening those of our fellow citizens who supported him four years ago into doing so again, while taking actions which he thinks will make it harder for those who oppose him to vote at all.  And he’s hoping that his supporters will just overlook the fact that during his three and a half years in office he has weakened if not poisoned our relationships with international allies while sucking up to dictators, that he started trade wars that hurt American businesses and farmers, that his see-no-evil response to the pandemic is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and the cratering economy that was a direct result of our effort to protect ourselves from the virus, that he and his family businesses have siphoned off millions of tax dollars, that he overtly supports and encourages racists while never expressing concern for their actions (should we give him credit for honesty, for not pretending to care?), that he thumbs his nose at the laws of the land when they would inconvenience him and dares anyone to stop him.

To ignore the fact that so many of “the best people” he hired for his administration have ended up guilty of crimes committed in thrall to Trump and have served or are still serving time.  That he was impeached for trying to bribe another country to damage a political opponent.  That he lies to us every day in such an obvious way that it would embarrass a four year old.

Please don’t ignore this: former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, now a professor of international studies at Stanford, outlines the signs and symbols from last week’s Republican National Convention that identify Trump as an autocrat in the making:

Are you like me, do you read that list and hear the ring of truth?

For those who want to treat this election in a more traditional way and focus on “the issues,” I found a nice website that will help you with that.  It’s keepamericagreat.com and we’re all for that, right; here’s what you will find:

image

The cool thing is it lays out what Trump promised four years ago in areas such as the economy and jobs, immigration, foreign policy and more, and reports whether he made good on those promises or not.  (Hint: they say he did not.)  The hilarious thing is the site, sponsored by the Biden campaign, snatched up the URL of a variant of Trump’s mantra because, well, the Trumpsters apparently didn’t think to do it themselves.

I am encouraged to read of many Republicans coming out publicly against Trump…too bad there are so few Republicans in federal office who are doing the same.  I sympathize with people like life-long Republican William Treadway, a West Point graduate who swore an oath (as did Trump himself!) to protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic.

Well, we have met the enemy, and he is a bigoted, failed businessman whose primary use of the American presidency has been to dodge accountability for his own misdeeds, to distract from ongoing Russian attacks on both our election systems and our soldiers, and of course, to line his pockets with money squeezed from the blood and sweat and suffering of Americans nationwide.

He has even sent federal agents, dressed like my soldiers were in Afghanistan, to a city near you with the prime goal of beating, assaulting and abducting women, veterans, and others exercising their First Amendment rights as part of a program of unconstitutional “proactive arrests.” (Never has a more Stalinist term been uttered in this decade.)

Trump is an existential threat to the United States. That is not hyperbole. Many Republican friends will say that they, too, understand that fact, and find his behavior abhorrent. Yet, when it comes to considering Joe Biden, the struggle remains very real.

Their solution instead is to pick a third party, write-in Captain America or simply not cast a ballot at all.

This would be an evasion of civic responsibility. The right to vote is sacred and hard-earned, and to waste it on what amounts to abstention is an insult to those who have given their lives to protect that privilege. (emphasis added)

The only powers we citizens have against such a reckless and cruel administration as Trump’s are the voice and the vote. While one voice and one vote may seem too minimal to have any impact against a government so powerful, if we all join in chorus, a nationwide roar, we can reclaim our America from under the boot of an abusive, corrupt and shameful administration.

Staying home this fall or voting for a write-in under these conditions would be a gutless act. The two-century experiment in self-government that’s given us all so much is in need of just one thing to keep from withering: A sensible vote from responsible citizens.

In the face of a national leader so toxic to the Republic and her people as Trump, the policy goals of his opponent become irrelevant next to the preservation of the Union. What we need right now more than anything is stable, honest leadership and serious accountability for those who’ve wronged this nation and her people. We need a President Joe Biden.

(snip)

I’m willing to announce it, openly and proudly, because while it may not align with my policy goals, it aligns perfectly with my oath to protect this nation from danger. I understand that others cannot take that position publicly. But when you fill out your ballot, whether you do it at home or in a voting booth, remember: I’m on your side, and always have been.

We’ll be secret allies for now, and later, when our country has healed, we will take pride together, knowing that we did our part to save it.

A peek of sun

This is a miserable day: there’s a small hurricane a few hundred miles to the south that is shooting enough rain over my area that the golf course has actually closed, and they rarely do that; I’m finishing four months mostly stuck at home doing my tiny part to stifle the spread of COVID-19, which has a renewed outbreak here in southeast Texas thanks mostly to simple impatience encouraged by misguided state and national political leadership; and while the Major League Baseball season finally began in Houston last night I found from watching just a bit of it on television that the lack of fan excitement in the ballpark compounded my disinterest arising from the off-season report that my team cheated.

But there is good news: support for Donald Trump among Republicans is starting to crack!  Finally.

I do not understand—have never understood—the attraction of Donald Trump to the American people, beyond the fact that he is not Hillary Clinton and that was enough for many.  Trump has no guiding philosophical principles (beyond self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement) that might attract like-minded people, and even if he did, you’d think the cold, clear reality that Trump lies (about everything) should be enough to persuade those people that he cannot be trusted in anything that he says.  Even his TV catchphrase “You’re fired” was misleading, in that we’ve now seen that he doesn’t have the courage to fire anyone to their face, no matter how much they may deserve it.  He’s a con man; a fraud.  He’s also an incredible whiner, obsessed with whether people have been “fair” and “nice” to him—why didn’t he ever learn that life is not fair, and people are not always nice?  (Has he looked in a mirror?)

He’s also proven himself to be conspicuously susceptible to praise—he thrives on having others tell him how great he is.  Don’t think the leaders of Russia, China and North Korea haven’t noticed.  I’ve never seen anything as demeaning as those Cabinet meetings and other gatherings at which Trump kicks it off by going around the table “giving” everyone the chance to open up their Roget’s and find new ways to kiss his ass—in public!  Like they had a choice…I do not understand why, after the first one of those, the people around that table ever came back.

Actually, I think I do understand, at least to an extent: leaders of the Republican Party in and out of government are willing to put up with all the hideous and despicable behaviors of Trump because that’s the price to pay for getting what they want from having their party in power.  What other reason could there be for men and women who have demonstrated their skill in the system and risen to these positions of power to now debase themselves without public complaint to the same man most of them strongly dismissed and ridiculed right up to the minute he secured their party’s nomination?

The “what” of “what do they want?” from Trump differs, of course.  It could be as simple as political spoils, personal appointments or government contracts.  It could be as clear as being part of the plan to advance a philosophical agenda, either by, for example, enabling racists to control the levers of power, or by installing a generation of judges to lifetime appointments to influence the nation’s laws.  But in supporting him as president, they have also enabled all that we get from Trump: the disinterest in properly handling the government’s response to a pandemic, the misguided policy priorities, the self-inflicted trade wars, the attempts to use the government to enrich himself and to punish his enemies, the damage to relations with our allies as well as our enemies, including the attempt to blackmail a foreign leader for his personal and political gain that led to his impeachment.  (Don’t forget impeachment!)  And despite all that, the polls have been showing that Republicans still support him.

But if you look carefully, as Greg Sargent did in the Washington Post this week, you can see some cracks in that wall of support.

In a revealing aside, President Trump told chief propagandist Sean Hannity on Thursday night that he traces much of the overwhelming enthusiasm for his reelection now sweeping the country back to his Mount Rushmore speech commemorating Independence Day.

“Since that time, it’s been really something,” Trump told Hannity, before raging that fake polls are deliberately obscuring the mighty depth and reach of his support.

In that speech, Trump offered his canonical statement on the unleashing of federal law enforcement into cities, conflating protests against police brutality and systemic racism with a “far-left fascism” out to “take” our “national heritage” away from the “American people.”

At around the time Trump appeared on “Hannity,” all four Major League Baseball teams playing Opening Day games took a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter before the national anthem, flatly defying Trump’s relentless disparaging of the protests, and more broadly, the vision outlined in that speech.

In all kinds of ways, Trump’s depiction of this national moment, as enshrined in that speech, is losing its grip on the country. In some cases, Trump’s own officials are defying his efforts to carry that depiction to the authoritarian climax he so craves.

Meanwhile, Trump’s sinking popularity — which is linked to that loosening grip, as his efforts to impose that understanding on us are surely helping drive his numbers down — is leading to open defiance among his own party.

Players taking a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Republicans standing up to Trump on Confederacy issues and on vote by mail: Sargent cites these among seven examples where, across the country and including Republicans, people may finally be getting so tired of Trump and his constant drama that they are ready to tell him to shove it.  I hope he’s right.

Another example: Republican Congressional candidates in the Houston area who recently won their party primary runoffs by trumpeting their support of Trump are kicking off the general election campaign by…toning it down.  A lot.

Of course, I wonder why it’s taken so long, especially for elected officials who generally consider themselves, each and every one of them, the bright center of the universe around which all else revolves.  After swallowing their pride and kowtowing to this spoiled child for so long, they would not be abandoning ship now if they thought he was going to win in November.  Maybe they’ve finally seen the light and are doing what’s right for it’s own sake.  (Right.)  You decide.

Now.  For.  The.  Twitter.  Fun.

Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV!

Telework Journal: Two realities

It turns out that getting a better chair wasn’t the whole answer.

Two weeks ago I wrote about getting a new desk chair to ease my ability to work from home since my employer and the surrounding cities and counties had ordered those who were able to do so to start right away in order to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.  That first order expired last Friday; they have all been extended.  This isn’t going away like I thought it would.

At first, subconsciously, I think many of us in the Houston area treated the stay-at-home orders as a direction to do what we do when a hurricane comes: get your house ready, lay in supplies if you’re not going to evacuate, stay alert.  That might explain the inexplicable run on water and meat and soft drinks and toilet paper at every grocery store, drug store, convenience store and purveyor of paper products all across God’s creation.  When we lost electricity during Hurricane Ike it took three long days to get it restored here, but I have friends for whom it took three weeks, or longer.  In the meantime we all assessed the damage and made repairs, or started to, and life was returning to normal.

No hurricane lasts this long.  I think we didn’t really understand what we were in for when this started three weeks ago.

I work in television production for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and we’d been directed to come to the office if that’s what was necessary to keep making the products we make.  Since I do a weekly live television broadcast, I would have to come to the office, at least on that day, because that’s how you do these things.  Well, we did that once, although we put me in a studio by myself instead of the International Space Station flight control room, as usual, to support a plan to protect the flight controllers who fly the station from exposure to the virus.  By the following Monday our boss directed us all to figure out how to do the show without anyone having to come on site; we weren’t able to meet that goal, but we did scale it down to just one person and that wasn’t me—hence, the first episode ever in which America got to see a slice of my entry hallway at house.

It wasn’t that we couldn’t figure out how to do our jobs differently, it was that—at least for me—I didn’t get that I would have to.  Now I do.  And I have realized that, had this happened a few years ago, the technology that’s necessary would not have been available to us.  It wasn’t that long ago that most of America wouldn’t have had easy access to the audio and video conferencing hardware and software that we’re using all day every day right now.  The Houston Chronicle’s technology editor Dwight Silverman has a great story in today’s paper making the case that “Working from home, learning from home and getting your entertainment at home will become the newer normal when this is over”.

Within my own family there’s an instructive cross-section of how America is dealing with COVID-19, which at this point does not include anyone who has become sick.  There is a communications consultant, an accountant, a corporate manager, a salesman, and a customer service support specialist who, like me, are mostly doing their jobs routinely from home.  There are a couple of elementary school teachers who are learning how to teach their classes online, and other parents who are teaching their own kids at home.   The ones who work in restaurants and in-home child care are at work as usual, as are the banker and the computer chip manufacturer supervisor and the school district police officers and the owner-operator long-haul truck driver, and the one who has breast cancer finished her chemotherapy right on schedule.  The dental assistants have reduced hours because their bosses are only handling emergencies, and the real estate agent says “work for me has come to an almost complete standstill,” as it has for her son who she recently brought into the business.  Those who are retired are trying to adjust to not having the house to themselves any more.

I’m not complaining; for most of us, so far, this is an inconvenience.  Honestly, I’m having some cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile my experience with the one I’m reading and hearing about across the rest of the country and the world.  Three times as many dead in the New York City area as were lost on September 11; more than 9000 dead across the U.S. so far and nearly 70,000 across the world; more than 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment assistance with concerns of revisiting jobless levels not seen since the Great Depression; Queen Elizabeth addresses the United Kingdom on television for only the fifth time in 68 years (not counting Christmas addresses); no baseball or basketball or golf tournaments.

It was no surprise, sadly, to read this morning’s Washington Post story that lays out the damning timeline of how the Trump Administration has bungled the response to the threat of this virus right from the start.

By the time Donald Trump proclaimed himself a wartime president — and the coronavirus the enemy — the United States was already on course to see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

The country has adopted an array of wartime measures never employed collectively in U.S. history — banning incoming travelers from two continents, bringing commerce to a near-halt, enlisting industry to make emergency medical gear, and confining 230 million Americans to their homes in a desperate bid to survive an attack by an unseen adversary.

Despite these and other extreme steps, the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.

It did not have to happen this way. Though not perfectly prepared, the United States had more expertise, resources, plans and epidemiological experience than dozens of countries that ultimately fared far better in fending off the virus.

The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.

The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.

And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.

What could have been done in 70 days?  Read the story, remember the details: the leaders of our government ignored the warnings and refused to take the actions that very likely would have saved lives.  Thousands of lives.  Thousands of American lives.  The Trump Administration did not cause the virus, and shouldn’t have been expected to stop it from entering this country.  But hoping it would just go away on its own was not the right answer.

A week on his HBO show, John Oliver had a good summary of how I feel today. (Start at 15:16)

We can all do our part to help, if only by keeping our distance from each other.  As Oliver said, what we do out here to fight the spread of this virus will have an impact inside the hospitals where real heroes are at work fighting to save the tens of thousands of people who have been infected.  Since they don’t (yet) have the medicine and the hardware they really need to keep those people alive, the best thing we can do to help them is to try to keep more patients from flooding in.  Let’s do what we can.

Another day, another shrug

I’ve found a handy application for Twitter is using it to stockpile reminders about things that our president has done, things that we once would have said were unbelievable about any president but that in the last few years we have found all to easy to believe about this one.  Things that make us nod our heads and say “there he goes again.”  (I think Ronald Reagan would approve of us quoting him in this way, don’t you?  I think so.)  Just this afternoon there was this:

…in which maybe there is actually the possibility that a president can take this action, but not clear that he can do so.  And Congress does have room to fight back (not that today’s Congress is going to do that, of course; that much is a given).  Also today I saw this item, which I’m sure is just a coincidence (right?):

It feels like every day the Stable Genius invites disbelief and ridicule by making up something, something clearly false and easily disproved, just so he can praise himself:

If you care about the government’s budget deficit—I know this is of no concern to you any more, Republican members of Congress—we got the news this week that the deficit is snowballing toward record highs, thanks in large part to the Trump tax cut:

In fairness, Trump didn’t do this one all by himself—he had the cooperation of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.  The trade war with China, the one that’s got the stock markets around the world concerned: that one’s all on him.

All of this is just from this week, and this list is far from exhaustive (and we don’t know yet what he’ll do at the G7 meeting, other than campaign for his boy Putin):