Saturday, June 6, 2020

Looking Down Right Now

"Ryan is looking down right now, and you know that, and he is very happy, because I think he just broke a record." 
"Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country,"
Trump's cynical invoking of George Floyd yesterday has a history that explains what he imagined he was doing. In the first week after his inauguration, Trump approved a Navy Seal raid on suspected positions of al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the village of Yakla in Yemen. His National Security Adviser, General Flynn had portrayed the proposed raid as a "game changer" that would contrast Trump's toughness with Obama's supposed indecisiveness.

The raid was a fiasco. AQAP had somehow learned of the impending raid and fortified their positions. Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was mortally wounded and at least five other American personnel were also wounded. Dozens of civilians were killed. Owens's father called the mission "a screw-up from the start that ended badly."

Characteristically, Trump deflected responsibility for the raid to the generals and the previous administration while incongruously insisting that it had been a tremendous success. A month later, though, came his opportunity to seize the narrative. At his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump read from the teleprompter a glowing tribute to Officer Owens. He performed the encomium with gusto. When he finished, senators, representatives and guests stood in a sustained ovation while Owens's tearful widow, a guest of Ivanka Trump, gazed upward.

Trump then ad-libbed his remark about Ryan looking down. The quip was well received with gentle chuckling. It nicely broke the tension of the dramatic spectacle.

Now one might dismiss the episode as a cynical, and sinister, exploitation of a pointless death -- not to mention the "collateral damage" -- and a widow's grief. But that isn't the way CNN panelist and ex-Obama aide Van Jones saw it. Jones lauded the performance as "one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics." It was, in Jones's view, the moment Trump "became president of the United States":
That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period, and he did something extraordinary. And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight, because that thing you just saw him do—if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he's going to be there for eight years. Now, there was a lot that he said in that speech that was counterfactual, that was not right, that I oppose and will oppose. But he did something tonight that you cannot take away from him. He became president of the United States.
Undoubtedly Trump would have been shown Jones's effusive commentary and would have basked in its obsequious glow. Yesterday, when he pulled his "looking down right now" stunt for the second time, he probably expected it to resonate as a unifying moment, thinking he was finding "a way to do that over and over again" without quite understanding what "that" had been. George Floyd was not a Navy Seal killed in action. He was an African-American man murdered by cops. The protesters are not sycophantic trained seals like the senators and representatives (of both parties). And, of course, Princess Ivanka had neglected to bring a grieving widow in tow to the "press conference." There was nothing "presidential" about Trump's ghoulish sequel of his "most extraordinary moment."

If the prior performance illuminates the latter one, the opposite is also true. Trump's tribute to Ryan Owens was no less cynical than his clumsy attempt to enlist George Floyd as a posthumous protagonist of the allegedly "great thing that's happening for our country."

40 comments:

marcel proust said...

First time as farce, second time as farce?

Anonymous said...

Terrific essay.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Too much military spending got us into this mess
https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/06/07/opinion/too-much-military-spending-got-us-into-this-mess/?event=event25 via @BostonGlobe

Neta C. Crawford and Catherine Lutz - June 7

... For the majority of the past two decades, the US government has equated Americans’ national security with military supremacy, spending and obligating $6.4 trillion on America’s post-9/11 wars and allocating over two-thirds of the federal discretionary budget — the part that pays for public health, environmental protection, and virtually everything the government does other than programs like Medicare and Social Security — to the Pentagon each year. At the same time, the government has cut funding for public health programs, scrimped on investing in infectious disease research, and stockpiled weapons instead of medical equipment. ...

In a country in which the top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, it makes sense that a common refrain has become “we all face the same storm with the coronavirus, but we are not all in the same boat.” According to American Public Media’s Research Lab, the latest available COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.6 times higher than the rate for white Americans. Due to highly unequal access to education and jobs, most of the workers deemed “essential” are people of color and women; they’re also more likely to be immigrants. They are more likely to live below the federal poverty line or hover just above it. They’re not only facing repeated exposure to the virus; “diseases of poverty” and inadequate access to health care make them less likely to recover. America’s distorted priorities have exacerbated these economic and health inequalities. Instead of investing in programs and supplies that would have saved thousands of lives, our leaders were investing trillions in new weapons and continuing old wars. ...

COVID-19 proves that things can’t change until we decide they can. For so long, climate change has been considered “too complex to fix.” Last year, our research showed that the US military is one of the most significant contributors to climate change in the world. Its annual emissions are larger than those of Portugal, Sweden, or Denmark. ...

https://theconversation.com/the-defense-department-is-worried-about-climate-change-and-also-a-huge-carbon-emitter-118017

https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2019/Pentagon%20Fuel%20Use,%20Climate%20Change%20and%20the%20Costs%20of%20War%20Final.pdf

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Where in the world is Niall...

As the challenger in 1968, Nixon got
the "law and order" advantage. Trump
is aiming for it as the incumbent
https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-06-07/floyd-protests-and-coronavirus-2020-is-not-1968-it-s-worse

Niall Ferguson - June 7 - Bloomberg

The American death toll is rising. An unpopular president fears for his re-election chances. The U.S. sends men into space. Down on Earth, the economy is in trouble. Racial tensions boil over into rallies, looting and violent confrontations with police in cities across the nation, intensifying political polarization and widening the generational divide. The president considers invoking the 1807 Insurrection Act, which empowers a president to deploy the armed forces and National Guard in any state.

Yes, as writers across the political spectrum such as David Frum, James Fallows, Max Boot, Julian Zelizer and Zachary Karabell have pointed out, 2020 is looking a lot like 1968. For Vietnam, read Covid-19. For Lyndon B. Johnson, read Donald J. Trump. For Apollo 8’s successful orbit of the moon, read the docking of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon with the Space Station. And for Washington, Chicago and many other cities in 1968, read Minneapolis, Atlanta and many other cities in the last few weeks.

Ah yes, interjected Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen, but today we are dealing with a pandemic. Actually, they had one in 1968 as well: the Hong Kong flu, caused by the influenza virus A/H3N2, which was ultimately responsible for more than 100,000 excess deaths in the U.S. and a million around the world. ...

Stop the comparisons to 1968. America is facing a very different set of risks today
https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/06/02/opinion/stop-comparisons-1968-america-is-facing-very-different-set-risks-today/?event=event25

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Looking down right now...

Vote for Trump? These Republican Leaders Aren’t on the Bandwagon
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/06/us/politics/trump-biden-republicans-voters.html?smid=tw-share

... growing numbers of prominent Republicans are debating how far to go in revealing that they won’t back his re-election — or might even vote for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee. They’re feeling a fresh urgency because of Mr. Trump’s incendiary response to the protests of police brutality, atop his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private discussions.

Former President George W. Bush won’t support the re-election of Mr. Trump, and Jeb Bush isn’t sure how he’ll vote, say people familiar with their thinking. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah won’t back Mr. Trump and is deliberating whether to again write in his wife, Ann, or cast another ballot this November. Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain, is almost certain to support Mr. Biden but is unsure how public to be about it because one of her sons is eying a run for office. ...

ilsm said...

Fred,

Too much military spending [my living for 40 odd years] indeed.... however, how does a "public health system" prevent people from growing old with one or more co-morbidity?

Statistics [cherry picked] without context!

"mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.6 times higher than the rate for white Americans."

Today on worldometer NYS deaths per million are 1563. For the US it is 339. I worry a lot for New Yorkers (forever a blue state), regardless of ethnicity!

In NYS 40% of hospitalizations are Black Americans while they are 33% (US percent is about 12%) of metro NY residents. That is a bit less "troubling" than 2.6 times......

Worldometer COVID-19 co-mortality rates in NY state: 89% of the decedents had known (one or more) co-morbidity, 10% had no medical record to reveal a co-morbidity and ~1% with no co-morbidity. The sample showed 48% of the decedants 75 or over (a bit younger than early samples from Italy).

Thinking like these authors is defended by the first amendment?

Fred C. Dobbs said...

"mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.6
times higher than the rate for white Americans."

Do you want to suggest that this is a racial matter?

There's much literature that indicates 'comorbidity'
is entirely a matter of economic inequality. But,
to make it genetic suits you, perhaps.

ilsm said...

Fred,

The median age in NY sampling (75) is slightly lower than the median in Italy (78 in one sample) [I do not know the validity of the difference], both higher than Wuhan. Seems US and EU people live longer with co-morbidities than Chinese?

Socio-economic-environment/nurture versus genetics/nature.......?

My conundrum is "could public health have better prepared the population for a disease, which [like most] harms already distressed patients?"

Should the public health system be beefed up for the poor?

Fred C. Dobbs said...

On the Future, Americans Can Agree: It Doesn’t Look Good

NY Times - Lisa Lerer and David Umhoefer - June 12

... Five months from a crucial presidential election, the usual political debates, campaign events and policy fights have faded into the background for voters battered by a public health crisis, struggling through an economic recession and boiling over with fury over racial inequities. With tens of millions unemployed, more than 110,000 killed by the coronavirus and thousands of people protesting in the streets, Americans see their personal concerns and political choices through a strikingly existential lens — mourning the past, worried about the present and fearful of the future.

In interviews with more than two dozen voters in key political battleground states, Republicans, Democrats and independents of diverse ages, races and social classes expressed worries that their nation had careened off track, with problems no election could easily solve. Fiercely polarized over public health, public safety and, perhaps, truth itself, many people are united only in their collective anxiety.

Mr. Trump has done little to soothe the angst, offering few new policy proposals and plenty of pointed warnings that Democrats would make the country worse. He has offered an incendiary response, invoking “law and order,” promoting conspiracy theories and pushing hard for the nation to reopen despite rising case numbers.

The presumptive Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has spoken emotionally about those killed by the virus and the death of George Floyd, advocated new police reforms and urged Americans to rise to the challenge of the times. But he has struggled to break though the crush of news and connect with young voters, some of whom desire greater change than the promise of a return to normalcy that has fueled his campaign. ...

The level of worry and disillusionment marks a unique moment in American public life, according to historians. In the 1930s, Americans faced the hardships of the Great Depression. Thirty years later, the United States hurtled through the tumultuous 1960s, grappling with the politics of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, shocking assassinations and the rise of revolutionary social movements like civil rights and feminism. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...


Now, Americans are living through the social and economic unrest of both decades simultaneously, along with a historic pandemic. And it’s all filtered through the divisive lens of social media.

“You have a combination of the 1930s and the 1960s, this kind of converging of crises,” said Meena Bose, the director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. “I’m not sure there is an exact parallel, particularly given the rise of social media and how much easier it is to denigrate and attack than it is to have the kinds of thoughtful, hard conversations that are needed.”

Polling shows the cost of constant crisis on the American psyche. For the past two decades, a majority of Americans have consistently described themselves as optimistic about the country’s future. In April, 61 percent of registered voters said they were largely hopeful about the nation, in a survey by NBC News/The Wall Street Journal.

Eighty percent of voters now believe the country is spiraling out of control, according to a new poll released by the news organizations this week, with a majority both pessimistic that the United States can return to normal before next year and worried that someone in their immediate family could catch the virus.

A third of Americans were showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression at the end of April, according to an emergency weekly survey of American households carried out by the Census Bureau to measure the pandemic’s effects. In early May, half of those surveyed said they felt “down, depressed or hopeless,” double the number who responded that way in a 2014 national survey. ...

... While the majority of Americans feel a sense of unease, their response to the dueling crises of the pandemic and the protests diverges along partisan lines.

Nearly three-quarters of Democrats said it might take the next year or even longer curb the virus and return to work as normal, according to the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Almost a third of Mr. Trump’s strongest supporters within the Republican Party said the virus was already contained.

About half of all Republicans said they were more concerned about the protests than the policing that led to Mr. Floyd’s killing, while 81 percent of Democrats held the opposite opinion. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Eighty percent of voters now believe the country is spiraling out of control: poll

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump faces bleak polls five months before election

Boston Globe - June 13

... a series of bleak polls in recent weeks have both Democrats and Republicans wondering if he’s finally lost his protective coating.

His performance in the nation’s twin crises this spring has pushed Trump’s approval rating under 40 percent in the latest Gallup survey, as a majority of voters in several polls disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus and recent protests over police brutality and racism. It’s a perilous position for an incumbent: The two modern presidents with an approval rating below 40 percent in June of an election year — Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — lost badly, according to Gallup. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump Speaks at West Point Graduation Amid Tensions With Military Leaders

NY Times - June 13

... it was a commencement ceremony like none other in the 218-year history of West Point. Graduating cadets who had been isolated for 14 days in advance of the event marched onto the field in their dress gray-and-white uniforms and face masks. They sat in white folding chairs spaced six feet apart, at which point they were allowed to take their masks off. The West Point band played with plexiglass shields to protect against the virus.

Rather than march onto stage to shake the president’s hand as is customary, the cadets instead saluted the commander in chief from below the stage as their names were called. Mr. Trump saluted back. No family or friends were allowed to attend, but the cadets were permitted to throw their caps into the air as is traditional.

Neither Mr. Esper nor General Milley were on hand, although officials said their decisions not to attend were made before the latest conflict with the president. Mr. Esper, a West Point graduate, sent a video congratulations played on jumbo video screens on the field.

Mr. Trump included in his speech some of his favorite claims from the campaign trail, including taking credit for rebuilding a military that he characterized as “totally depleted” when he took over and investing “over two trillion — trillion, that’s with a T — dollars” in the armed forces. As he often does, he exaggerated. Military spending has increased substantially since he took office, from $607 billion a year to $713 billion, but in using the $2 trillion claim Mr. Trump gave himself credit for the entire military budgets over three years rather than just the increases.

Likewise, he hailed himself for victory in the battle against the Islamic State in the Middle East. “The savage ISIS caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed under the Trump administration and its barbaric leader al Baghdadi is gone, killed, over,” he said. While it is true that American forces killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and recaptured territory it once held, the terrorist organization has carried out a series of attacks in Syria and Iraq over the last two months. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump Made Inaccurate Claims About the Military During His West Point Speech

... The $2 trillion figure refers to the defense budgets for the past three fiscal years: $671 billion in 2018, $685 billion in 2019 and $713 billion in 2020. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the military was “depleted” when he entered office and had seldom received such a large amount of money is wrong.

Adjusted for inflation, the Pentagon operated with larger budgets every year from the 2007 fiscal year to 2012 fiscal year, peaking at $848 billion in 2008. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Economy is rebounding, White House economic director says

Bloomberg - June 14

The U.S. economy is recovering from the “act of nature” that coronavirus shutdowns created, said White House economic director Larry Kudlow, rejecting a more cautious view of the outlook given last week by Fed Chairman Jereme Powell.

“There’s a very good chance you are going to get the V-shaped recovery,” Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “The unemployment rate will fall, and 2021 is going to be another solid, solid year.”

Kudlow said the $600-a-week bonus payments made to some Americans laid off during the coronavirus pandemic will end as planned on July 31 to prevent a “disincentive” for workers to return the jobs market.

Congress in March approved the payments as the economy reeled. Since then, it’s been reported that the U.S. officially fell into recession in March, ending a record 128-month expansion.

President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser offered bullish forecasts on the economy. The U.S. is on track for 20% growth in the second half of 2020, and a jobless rate below 10% by year-end, he said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

In some cases, the top-up payments plus regular unemployment checks add up to more than workers had earned at their jobs, Kudlow said on CNN, adopting a talking point used by several Republican lawmakers.

“We are on our way, we are reopening, and businesses are coming back, and therefore jobs are coming back, and we don’t want to interfere with that process,” he said. “At the margins, incentives do matter.”

Trump is looking at a measure that would be a bonus to return to work, Kudlow said, without offering specifics.

The Fed’s Powell gave a mostly downbeat assessment of the economy on June 10, after policy makers held interest rates near zero at a two-day meeting. He suggested there would be a “long road” to full recovery. Kudlow said the Fed chief’s comments had been “really morose.”

Kudlow also said there’s a “panoply of ideas” for a Phase Four economic stimulus bill, and that work wouldn’t begin until after the Congressional recess in July.

“We will have several more weeks to assess the recovery,” he said on Fox.

Kudlow defended a Trump administration decision to not disclose details about companies that received billions of dollars in taxpayer funds through a high-profile federal coronavirus-relief initiative.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the move, which reversed earlier guidance. “I don’t think it’s necessary” to make the details public, Kudlow said on CNN.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Pence urged governors to echo a misleading claim about infection spikes

Vice President Mike Pence encouraged governors on Monday to adopt the administration’s claim that increased testing helps account for the new coronavirus outbreak reports, even though evidence has shown that the explanation is misleading.

On a call with the governors, audio of which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Pence urged them “to continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of the increase in testing” in addressing the new outbreaks.

And he asked them to “encourage people with the news that we’re safely reopening the country.”

In fact, seven-day averages in several states with outbreaks have increased since May 31, and in at least 14 states, the positive case rate is increasing faster than the increase in the average number of tests, according to an analysis of data collected by The New York Times. ...

The F.D.A. withdrew emergency approval for malaria drugs promoted by Trump.

The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that it was revoking emergency authorization of two malaria drugs to treat Covid-19, saying that they are “unlikely to be effective.”

The drugs, hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, were heavily promoted by President Trump after a handful of small, poorly controlled studies showed that they could work in treating the disease. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

(If we just cut back on testing, all will be better soon enuf, fer sher.)

New projection puts US COVID-19 deaths at over 200,000 by October

(Reuters) - A new forecast projects 201,129 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States through the beginning of October mainly due to reopening measures under way, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington said on Monday.

The IHME raised its estimate by 18 percent from 169,890 and said Florida would be among the hardest hit states, with an estimated 18,675 deaths, up 186 percent from a previous estimate of 6,559 on June 10. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

(Is this anything?)

NOAA Chief Violated Ethics Code in Furor Over Trump Tweet, Agency Says

NY Times - June 15, 2020

WASHINGTON — The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration violated the agency’s code of ethics in the fall when he rebuked employees for contradicting President Trump’s inaccurate claim that a hurricane would hit Alabama, NOAA said Monday in a report.

Neil Jacobs, NOAA’s acting administrator, “engaged in the misconduct intentionally, knowingly, or in reckless disregard” for the agency’s scientific integrity policy, according to a panel commissioned by the agency to investigate complaints against him.

On Sept. 1, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Hurricane Dorian, which was then approaching the East Coast of the United States, would hit Alabama “harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Ala., which is part of NOAA, posted on Twitter: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

Alabama was not struck by the hurricane.

Five days later, Dr. Jacobs’ office issued an unsigned statement calling the Birmingham office’s Twitter posting “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

That unsigned statement turned out to be the result of pressure from the White House on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees NOAA and who threatened to fire the political staff at NOAA unless the contradiction of Mr. Trump was addressed. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

The Rich Cut Their Spending. That Has Hurt All the Workers Who Count on It.

NY Times - June 16

... Economists at the Harvard-based research group Opportunity Insights estimate that the highest-earning quarter of Americans has been responsible for about half of the decline in consumption during this recession. And that has wreaked havoc on the lower-wage service workers on the other end of many of their transactions, the researchers say.

“One of the things this crisis has made salient is how interdependent our health was,” said Michael Stepner, an economist at the University of Toronto. “We’re seeing the mirror of that on the economic side.”

As income inequality has grown in America, so has inequality in consumption. That means that when the rich spend money, they drive more of the economy than they did 50 years ago. And more workers depend on them.

Put another way, this particular economic shock — one that has halted much in-person spending, even by rich people who never lost their jobs — has been devastating for an economy in which many low-wage workers count on high-income people spending money.

Mr. Stepner and the economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and John Friedman have collected data from credit card processors, payroll firms and other private companies tracking how and where people spend their money, and how businesses and their workers have been affected as a result. By tying debit and credit card spending back to the home ZIP codes of millions of anonymized cardholders, they estimate that households in the bottom quarter of ZIP codes by income cut their spending by about 30 percent from pre-coronavirus levels at the lowest point in late March. Now, with the help of government stimulus, low-income spending is down only about 5 percent. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...


Pence dismisses fears of a second wave. Fauci warns the country is still in the first wave.


Vice President Mike Pence argued in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that concern over a “second wave” of the coronavirus was “overblown” and that “we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top epidemiologist, also said that the country was not in a “second wave,” but for a very different reason: he warned that the nation was still in the first wave.

“People keep talking about a second wave,” Mr. Fauci said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. That is not accurate, he said, because “we’re still in a first wave.”

Mr. Pence’s argument appears to have oversimplified a complicated picture, emphasizing regions where the pandemic is waning while explaining away surging infection rates in other states. His rosy picture conformed with President Trump’s desire to reopen the economy and get Americans back to work, but it ignored bad news, especially in the Sun Belt.

In at least 20 states, new cases are increasing, some at alarming rates. Some states, including Texas, South Carolina and Arizona, are seeing their largest surges yet, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Mr. Pence is vice president of the United States.

This op-ed appeared in The Wall Street Journal on June 16, 2020

In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a “second wave” of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.

While talk of an increase in cases dominates cable news coverage, more than half of states are actually seeing cases decline or remain stable. Every state, territory and major metropolitan area, with the exception of three, have positive test rates under 10%. And in the six states that have reached more than 1,000 new cases a day, increased testing has allowed public health officials to identify most of the outbreaks in particular settings—prisons, nursing homes and meatpacking facilities—and contain them.

Lost in the coverage is the fact that today less than 6% of Americans tested each week are found to have the virus. Cases have stabilized over the past two weeks, with the daily average case rate across the U.S. dropping to 20,000—down from 30,000 in April and 25,000 in May. And in the past five days, deaths are down to fewer than 750 a day, a dramatic decline from 2,500 a day a few weeks ago—and a far cry from the 5,000 a day that some were predicting.

The truth is that we’ve made great progress over the past four months, and it’s a testament to the leadership of President Trump. When the president asked me to chair the White House Coronavirus Task Force at the end of February, he directed us to pursue not only a whole-of-government approach but a whole-of-America approach. The president brought together major commercial labs to expand our testing capacity, manufacturers to produce much-needed medical equipment, and major pharmaceutical companies to begin research on new medicines and vaccines. He rallied the American people to embrace social-distancing guidelines. And the progress we’ve made is remarkable. ...

(Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.)

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Seizing the Presidency to Suit His Own Needs

NY Times - Peter Baker - June 18, 2020

One day in the summer of 2018, John R. Bolton commiserated with John F. Kelly over the burdens of working for President Trump. Mr. Kelly, then the White House chief of staff, had just had another argument with the president in trying to stop him from using the power of his office to punish a political foe. It did not go well.

“Has there ever been a presidency like this?” Mr. Kelly asked plaintively.

“I assured him there had not,” Mr. Bolton recalls in his new book.

That is self-evidently true and yet it bears repeating every once in a while. After more than three years of the Trump presidency, it has become easy to forget at times just how out of the ordinary it really is. The normalization of Mr. Trump’s norm-busting, line-crossing, envelope-pushing administration has meant that what was once shocking now seems like just another day. ...

The portrait he draws in “The Room Where It Happened,” due out Tuesday, is of a president who sees his office as an instrument to advance his own personal and political interests over those of the nation. That is what got Mr. Trump impeached in the first place, but the book asserts his Ukraine scheming was no one-off. The line between policy and politics, generally murky in any White House, has been all but erased in Mr. Bolton’s telling.

Decisions on trade, foreign policy, national security, law enforcement and other issues are fashioned through the prism of what it will mean for Mr. Trump. Other presidents at least maintained the notion that there was a difference between presidential duty and campaign imperative, but as Mr. Bolton describes it, Mr. Trump sees little need for pretense. ...

In this portrayal, an “erratic,” “impulsive” and “stunningly uninformed” Mr. Trump could make “irrational” decisions and “saw conspiracies behind rocks.” In an interview to promote his book, Mr. Bolton told ABC News this week that he had concluded that Mr. Trump was not “fit for office” and did not have “the competence to carry out the job.” ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

... After more than three years of the Trump presidency,
it has become easy to forget at times just how out of the
ordinary it really is. ... what was once shocking now
seems like just another day. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Twitter labels President Trump’s tweet about ‘racist baby’ as ‘manipulated’

NY Times (via Boston Globe) - June 19

Twitter added a warning to a post from President Donald Trump about a racist baby on Thursday, saying it contained manipulated media designed to mislead people.

Trump’s tweet, which he posted earlier Thursday, featured a video of two toddlers running down a sidewalk. The video had been altered to appear as if CNN had broadcast it, along with a fake chyron that claimed, “Racist baby probably a Trump voter.” The video went on to accuse “fake news” of stoking misinformation. ...

Twitter added the warning later Thursday after the tweet had been viewed nearly 4 million times, tagging it with an exclamation mark and the words “manipulated media.” The company’s policies prohibit sharing videos, photos or audio that “have been deceptively altered or fabricated” to trick viewers and have the potential to cause harm. It was the first time Twitter used that particular label on one of Trump’s posts. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Twitter labels President Trump’s tweet about ‘racist baby’ as ‘manipulated’

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump issues thinly veiled threat to protesters in Tulsa

NY Times - June 19

President Trump on Friday morning issued a thinly veiled threat to individuals who want to protest his campaign rally scheduled for Saturday evening in Tulsa, Okla., writing on Twitter: “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”

In his tweet, Mr. Trump drew no distinction between peaceful protesters, whose right to assemble and speak out is protected by the First Amendment, and violent looters, some of whom were responsible for vandalism and fires that broke out during mass protests across the country where tens of thousands of people took to the streets to express outrage over the killing of George Floyd.

The rally in Tulsa, scheduled for the day after the Juneteenth holiday, will mark Mr. Trump’s return to the campaign trail after the coronavirus pandemic deprived him for three months of the arenas packed with die-hard fans that serve as the cornerstone of his political brand.

His return to campaign mode comes as the country grapples with its racist history, a legacy of violence that is painfully significant in Tulsa, the site of a 1921 race massacre in which up to 300 people were killed and hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed in a historic black neighborhood. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Tulsa mayor imposes curfew ahead of Trump's rally

WASHINGTON – The mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, imposed a curfew ahead of President Donald Trump's campaign rally there, prompting officers to move out supporters who had been camping out in front of the arena.

Mayor G. T. Bynum announced the order Thursday evening, citing the expected crowds of more than 100,000, the planned protests and the civil unrest that has already erupted in the city and around the nation this month. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

How many needless Covid-19 deaths were caused by delays in responding? Most of them

via @statnews - June 19

More than 120,000 Americans have now perished from Covid-19, surpassing the total number of U.S. dead during World War I. Had American leaders taken the decisive, early measures that several other nations took when they had exactly the same information the U.S. did, at exactly the same time in their experience of the novel coronavirus, how many of these Covid-19 deaths could have been prevented?

That isn’t a hypothetical question. And the answer that emerges from a direct comparison of the fatalities in and policies of the U.S. and other countries — South Korea, Australia, Germany, and Singapore — indicates that between 70% and 99% of the Americans who died from this pandemic might have been saved by measures demonstrated by others to have been feasible.

At least three factors enable meaningful comparisons of these nations with the United States. First, we scaled up their population sizes and Covid-19 deaths to match those of the U.S. Second, in each of these countries, roughly 80% or more of the population lives in urbanized, transmission-prone areas, similar to the U.S. Third, the pandemic took root earlier in these other countries than here, as measured by the date of the 15th confirmed case in each, meaning that foreign leaders had to act with less information to guide their decisions than did U.S. leaders.

To compare each country’s responses to the pandemic on a consistent basis, we turned to the work of an Oxford University team that has constructed a stringency index based on 13 policy responses (lockdowns, border closings, tests, etc.) to measure how strongly each country responded over time. The Oxford index shows that 14 days from the date of the 15th confirmed case in each country — a vital early window for action — the U.S. response to the outbreak lagged behind the others by miles. The U.S. stringency score of 5.7 at that point was 25% of Australia’s (23), 23% of Germany’s (25), 18% of Singapore’s (32), and only 15% of South Korea’s (38).

Due to exponential viral spread, our delay in action was devastating. In the wake of the U.S. response, 117,858 Americans died in the four months following the first 15 confirmed cases. After an equivalent period, Germany suffered only 8,863 casualties. Scaling up the German population of 83.7 million to America’s 331 million, a U.S.-sized Germany would have suffered 35,049 Covid-19 deaths. So if the U.S. had acted as effectively as Germany, 70% of U.S. coronavirus deaths might have been prevented.

Seventy percent, though, is the most conservative estimate. Scaled-up versions of South Korea, Australia, and Singapore would have experienced 1,758, 1,324, and 1,358 deaths, respectively, in the four months after 15 cases were confirmed in each country. Had we handled the coronavirus as effectively as any of these three countries, roughly 99% of the 117,858 U.S. Covid-19 deaths might have been averted. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

After campaign boasting, a smaller-than-anticipated crowd attends rally

Washington Post via @BostonGlobe - June 20

TULSA, Okla. - President Trump’s campaign boasted for days that a million people had requested tickets for his Saturday night rally. The campaign added an outdoor overflow area to accommodate the anticipated massive crowd.

But by the time Trump took the stage in Tulsa, there were thousands of empty seats in the arena. The overflow area was scrapped. And aides were left trying to explain why a president who has placed enormous value on his crowd sizes was addressing a smaller-than-expected audience. ...

... On Friday, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted photos of the outdoor stage being built. "This will be the 1st time that POTUS speaks to BOTH crowds in person - inside & outside. If you come to the rally and don't get into the BOK Center before it's full, you can still see the President in person!" he said.

After the outdoor event was canceled, Parscale tweeted: "Radical protesters, fueled by a week of apocalyptic media coverage, interfered with @realDonaldTrump supporters at the rally. They even blocked access to the metal detectors, preventing people from entering. Thanks to the 1,000s who made it anyway!"

There were about 6,100 people in the arena, which can hold 19,000, according to the Tulsa Fire Marshals' Office.

It's possible Trump and his aides - even Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, was touting the million-person number this week - dramatically exaggerated the demand for tickets. On social media some said there was a prank by teens to sign up for tickets to inflate the anticipated crowd size.

"Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

The rise and fall of North America

Stephen Kinzer - Boston Globe - June 21

For the first time in living memory, the continent’s
three biggest countries are poorly led.

Where is the geographic center of global power? It has shifted over the centuries. Persia, Greece, and Rome created the first empires. After they declined, China emerged to replace them. Around 1500, Europe began the spectacular rise that led it to dominate much of the world. Finally, in the 20th century, power shifted to North America. That brief era may now be ending.

One of the main reasons is the declining level of political leadership in North America’s three large countries: Mexico, the United States, and Canada. If well governed, these three countries could take advantage of the rapidly shifting global environment to position North America as an anchor of stability and a model for the world. Instead they are going in the opposite direction. For the first time in living memory, all three are poorly led.

The United States, which should by most measures lead this three-nation bloc, is immersed in turmoil for which President Trump bears much blame. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, who began his term in 2018 amid great optimism, has become an object of national ridicule for his failure to focus on pressing national problems — and for his recommendation that Mexicans wear amulets to protect themselves against the raging pandemic. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also hugely popular when he took office five years ago, but as a result of scandals and missteps, his popularity has dropped below the 50-percent level for the first time. Canada’s fall from international grace was evident last week, when the United Nations rejected its four-year campaign for a seat on the Security Council, selecting Norway and Ireland instead.

The political decline of our continent is lamentable to the point of poignancy. Canada, the United States, and Mexico generate enormous wealth. They have the resources to create just and thriving societies. To a certain extent they have succeeded. None is approaching failed-state status. Yet all three seem to have lost their vitality and sense of purpose. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

The president’s shock at the rows of empty seats in Tulsa

NY Times via @BostonGlobe - June 21

President Donald Trump and several staff members stood backstage and gazed at the empty Bank of Oklahoma Center in horror.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had canceled plans at the last minute to speak at an outdoor overflow rally that was almost entirely empty, despite claims of nearly 1 million people registering for tickets to attend the event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the president’s false boast of never having an empty seat at one of his events.

The president, who had been warned aboard Air Force One that the crowds at the arena were smaller than expected, was stunned, and he yelled at aides backstage while looking at the endless rows of empty blue seats in the upper bowl of the stadium, according to four people familiar with what took place. Brad Parscale, the campaign manager who had put the event together, was not present.

Pence spoke just after 6:30 p.m. in Tulsa and then left, the cue for Trump to come on. But there was a delay. Trump’s deputy chief of staff, Dan Scavino, peeked out from behind black curtains to scan the fan-free seats in the top rows.

Trump eventually entered the arena for a meandering performance in which he excoriated the “fake news” for reporting on health concerns before his event, used racist language to describe the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” and spent more than 15 minutes explaining away an unflattering video clip of him gingerly descending a ramp after his commencement speech at West Point. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Fewer than 6,200 attended Trump rally in Tulsa

via @BostonGlobe

... when Trump thundered that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before,‘' about 1/3 of the seats were empty. ... Tulsa's fire marshal’s office reported ... less than 6200 in the arena.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

(In other news...)

Japanese Supercomputer Is Crowned World’s Speediest

NY Times - June 22

A long-awaited supercomputer called Fugaku, installed in the city of Kobe by the government-sponsored Riken institute, took first place in a twice-yearly speed ranking that was released on Monday. The Japanese machine carried out 2.8 times more calculations a second than an IBM system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which Fugaku bumped to second place in the so-called Top500 list.

Another IBM system, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, slid to third place in the ranking from second, while systems in China moved to the fourth and fifth spots from third and fourth.

Supercomputers have become a symbol for both technical and economic competitiveness. The room-size systems are used for complex military and scientific tasks, including breaking codes, modeling climate change and simulating new designs for cars, weapons, aircraft and drugs. Riken has said Fugaku is already being used to help study, diagnose and treat Covid-19.

Japan remains a relatively small player in supercomputing. China placed 226 systems in the latest Top500 list; the U.S. total was 114, though they accounted for a greater share of aggregate computing power.

But Japan has a long history of pushing the state of the art in computing. A prominent example is the K Supercomputer, its predecessor at Riken, which took the No. 1 spot on the Top500 list in 2011 before being displaced the next year by a system at Livermore.

“The predecessor was just a knockout,” said Steve Conway, a veteran analyst of the supercomputer market who is a senior adviser at the firm Hyperion Research. “People are expecting this to be very good also.” ...

The machine may also make waves because of its computer chips. Fujitsu, Riken’s partner in developing Fugaku, chose to design processors using the basic technology at the heart of billions of smartphones. It licensed designs from Arm, a company long based in Britain that is now owned by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Biden Takes Dominant Lead as Voters Reject Trump on Virus and Race

NY Times - June 24

A New York Times/Siena College poll finds that Joseph R. Biden Jr. is ahead of the president by 14 points, leading among women and nonwhite voters and cutting into his support with white voters.


Biden 50%; Trump 36%; Other 14%


Joseph R. Biden Jr. has taken a commanding lead over President Trump in the 2020 race, building a wide advantage among women and nonwhite voters and making deep inroads with some traditionally Republican-leaning groups that have shifted away from Mr. Trump following his ineffective response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new national poll of registered voters by The New York Times and Siena College.

Mr. Biden is currently ahead of Mr. Trump by 14 percentage points, garnering 50 percent of the vote compared with 36 percent for Mr. Trump. That is among the most dismal showings of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and a sign that he is the clear underdog right now in his fight for a second term.

Mr. Trump has been an unpopular president for virtually his entire time in office. He has made few efforts since his election in 2016 to broaden his support beyond the right-wing base that vaulted him into office with only 46 percent of the popular vote and a modest victory in the Electoral College.

But among a striking cross-section of voters, the distaste for Mr. Trump has deepened as his administration failed to stop a deadly disease that crippled the economy and then as he responded to a wave of racial-justice protests with angry bluster and militaristic threats. The dominant picture that emerges from the poll is of a country ready to reject a president whom a strong majority of voters regard as failing the greatest tests confronting his administration. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

... Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump by enormous margins with black and Hispanic voters, and women and young people appear on track to choose Mr. Biden by an even wider margin than they favored Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump in 2016. But the former vice president has also drawn even with Mr. Trump among male voters, whites and people in middle age and older — groups that have typically been the backbones of Republican electoral success, including Mr. Trump’s in 2016. ...

,,, Most stark may be Mr. Biden’s towering advantage among white women with college degrees, who support him over Mr. Trump by 39 percentage points. In 2016, exit polls found that group preferred Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Trump by just 7 percentage points. The poll also found that Mr. Biden has narrowed Mr. Trump’s advantage with less-educated white voters.

The exodus of white voters from the G.O.P. has been especially pronounced among younger voters, an ominous trend for a party that was already heavily reliant on older Americans.

Fifty-two percent of whites under 45 said they supported Mr. Biden while only 30 percent said they supported Mr. Trump. And their opposition is intense: More than twice as many younger whites viewed the president very unfavorably than very favorably. ...


(Graphics at the link)

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Biden 50%; Trump 36%

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump Has Delivered Only Chaos

The Atlantic - David A. Graham - June 2

If this is what a law-and-order presidency looks like, what is the alternative?

... After nearly a full term in office, Trump has delivered only chaos. Violent protests sweep the streets of cities across the nation, from large to small. Police are rioting, dealing with complaints about brutalizing civilians by brutalizing civilians. Heavily armed militias have invaded state legislatures. Nazis have marched in the streets of a bucolic college town. Mass shootings haunt the nation’s high schools and Walmarts and churches and commercial districts and music festivals and fairs. (To say nothing of more than 100,000 dead from COVID-19 and millions out of work.) If this is what a law-and-order presidency looks like, what is the alternative?

The president is not to blame for all these problems, though in many cases he has exacerbated them. But in that same RNC speech, Trump also assured the nation, “I alone can fix it.” It is now clear not only that the problems are larger than one man, but also that Trump is at a loss for how to use the powers he does have to solve them.

Law and order was not just a major theme of the convention speech. Throughout the campaign, and again during his inaugural address, Trump vowed that he would bring safety to the streets of the nation. The Obama years had seen extensive protests: in St. Louis, New York, Baltimore, and other cities. They had seen many mass shootings, the most horrifying in Newtown, Connecticut. Though violent crime overall continued its decades-long decline during the Obama presidency, Trump was able to capitalize on fears in the populace, in part by simply lying about crime numbers.

The power of the presidency to actually solve all these problems is strictly limited, as Barack Obama had found. He was stymied in his attempts to enact stricter gun controls, and though the Justice Department embarked on some attempts to control police violence, its authority was limited. This is the reality of the presidency: The chief executive has to work with Congress and within the bounds of what courts will allow.

Trump insisted that “nobody knows the system better than me,” and adopted a strongman vision of an all-powerful presidency, apparently influenced by his career in business, wherein he could do nearly anything he wanted as head of the Trump Organization. But from the start of his presidency, his naïveté about the system has been on display. His attempts at unilateral moves—such as his Muslim travel ban—quickly ran into resistance from courts. Even a unified Republican Congress wouldn’t give him funding for his border wall.

Now, after nearly four years, the shortcomings of Trump’s approach are clear. The country is painfully divided. Police continue to kill black men and women. Mass shootings continue.
...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump Speaks! And Speaks. And Speaks …

NY Times - Gail Collins - June 24

Donald Trump thinks we’re out to get him.

“You could say 10 speeches. One little word, they’ll say: ‘He’s lost it,’” the president complained during a speech in Phoenix this week.

That would presumably be an inaccurate little word. Or something very weird, like his claim at a famously underattended event in Tulsa that he’d ordered a slowdown in coronavirus testing to make it seem as if the infection rate was smaller.

Desperate presidential spinners said that was just a joke. “I don’t kid,” Trump retorted.

Tulsa was, according to the president, the beginning of his re-election campaign. He’s actually shot off the starting gun several times before. But it does feel as if we’re in a new phase. Those big rallies are Trump’s very favorite part of being the leader of the most powerful nation on the globe. He’s been locked down for months now, confined mainly to gatherings in which other people occasionally get to talk.

He needs his screaming fans, even if this is a terrible idea, healthwise. Six members of Trump’s advance team got sick while doing the planning, and now at least two other staffers tested positive.

You’re not going to get this guy to stay home. He needs to compliment himself in front of thousands of people. Lacing into the Democratic “elite,” Trump assured his audience that he is more elite than anybody. “I look better than them. Much more handsome. Got better hair than they do. I got nicer properties. I got nicer houses. I got nicer apartments. I got nicer everything.”

And, for sure, a bigger ego. After he finished raging to his staff about the tiers of empty seats in Tulsa, the president announced the night had been a historical smash hit: “No. 1 show in Fox history for a Saturday night.” ...

Still, many of us will remember Tulsa as That Rally Where Two-Thirds Of The Seats Were Empty. His next appearance, in Arizona, was much more Trump’s cup of tea: a megachurch packed with cheering fans who generally ignored all the official pleas for masking. ...

Even if they’re a little dodgy on the facts side, the rallies are at least a good way to keep Trump distracted. In Tulsa, he was fretting about the ongoing demonstrations in Seattle. He asked a congressman who was traveling with him on the plane whether he ought to “just go in” and do something to stop the protesters.

The reply was: “No, sir, let it simmer for a little while.” Darned good advice, although if he’d gone the other way, maybe the congressman could have added, “And be sure to bring a Bible.”

One other thing about that story — it’s an example of how Trump likes to lace his rallies with anecdotes in which people call him “sir.” There were 11 “sirs” in the Tulsa speech alone.

Daniel Dale, a CNN reporter who’s been following this tic for a long time, theorized that “sir” was a hint that whatever anecdote Trump was telling was actually fictional. But it’s also pretty clear that the president just loves stories in which people are addressing him as if he were, say, a general.

Trump’s been spending a lot of time trying to beat down that image of him at West Point this month, leaving the stage with an old-guy totter down the ramp. The fake news, he insisted, cut off all the film that showed him running — running! — for the last 10 feet. “I looked very handsome,” he observed to the crowd.

Later, Trump asked Melania what the reaction to his West Point speech was. She assured him that the media wasn’t saying much about his address but “they mention the fact that you may have Parkinson’s disease.” ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Despite virus and wildfire risks, Trump plans a big fireworks fund-raiser at Mount Rushmore

WASHINGTON — President Trump is planning a massive fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on July 3, despite a decade-long ban on pyrotechnics at the iconic spot because of concerns about public health and environmental and safety risks.

Trump has wanted to stage fireworks at the national memorial in South Dakota’s Black Hills since 2018, according to two individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. But the idea was scuttled or delayed by a number of his advisers, these individuals said.

The National Park Service stopped staging pyrotechnics at Mount Rushmore in 2010 out of concern that they could ignite wildfires during drought conditions. The memorial is surrounded by 1,200 acres of forested land, including ponderosa pines, and lies next to the Black Hills National Forest’s Black Elk Wilderness. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

A large majority of voters say race should not be a factor in Biden's VP decision

NY Times - Alexander Burns and Katie Glueck - June 26

Joseph R. Biden Jr. appears to face limited political pressure from voters about whom to choose as his running mate, with no contender emerging as a clear favorite and the great majority of people saying that race should not be a factor in his decision, according to polling conducted by The New York Times and Siena College. ...

In the Times poll, four in five registered voters said that race shouldn’t be a factor in Mr. Biden’s selection of a running mate. That group included three-quarters of the black voters polled, and more than 8 in 10 white and Hispanic voters.

About a fifth of black voters said they would like to see Mr. Biden choose a black running mate. The largest group with that preference was very liberal voters, at 37 percent; 27 percent of voters with postgraduate degrees said the same. ...

(Graph at the link.)