Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Banned Books Week 2020

We're at the tail end of Banned Books Week. I have much more extensive posts in this category in my archives, but I always find it interesting to see the latest lists of banned and challenged books. The site linked above tends not to keep old content, so I prefer to link the American Library Association's main site instead for specific lists. On the frequently challenged books page, the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019 unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly deal with issues of sexuality:

1. George by Alex Gino
Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
9. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole
Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content

The list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019 features many familiar favorites:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  2. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  5. George by Alex Gino
  6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  9. Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle
  10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  12. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  13. I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
  14. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  16. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
  17. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  18. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
  19. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
  20. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
  21. Alice McKinley (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  22. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
  23. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  24. Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
  25. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  26. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  27. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  28. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  29. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  30. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  31. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  32. It's a Book by Lane Smith
  33. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  34. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  35. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
  36. A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer
  37. Bad Kitty (series) by Nick Bruel
  38. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  39. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  40. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  41. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
  42. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman
  43. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
  44. A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  45. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  46. Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine
  47. In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco
  48. Lush by Natasha Friend
  49. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  50. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  51. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  52. The Holy Bible
  53. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
  54. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  55. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  56. Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar
  57. House of Night (series) by P.C. Cast
  58. My Mom's Having A Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler
  59. Neonomicon by Alan Moore
  60. The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake
  61. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  62. Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  63. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  64. Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle
  65. Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia
  66. Fade by Lisa McMann
  67. The Family Book by Todd Parr
  68. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  69. Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach
  70. Habibi by Craig Thompson
  71. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  72. Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
  73. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  74. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  75. Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
  76. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
  77. Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag
  78. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
  79. 1984 by George Orwell
  80. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  81. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
  82. Awakening by Kate Chopin
  83. Burned by Ellen Hopkins
  84. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  85. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  86. Glass by Ellen Hopkins
  87. Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesle´a Newman
  88. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  89. Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans
  90. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
  91. Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack
  92. Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology by Amy Sonnie
  93. Skippyjon Jones (series) by Judith Schachner
  94. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
  95. The Color of Earth (series) by Tong-hwa Kim
  96. The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
  97. The Walking Dead (series) by Robert Kirkman
  98. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
  99. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S Brannen
  100. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Happy reading!

Monday, September 07, 2020

Labor Day 2020

Happy Labor Day! Sarah Lee Guthrie performed her grandfather Woody Guthrie's song, "Union Maid," for a rally this weekend. Here's a 2007 performance of the song by her and her father, Arlo, with the bonus song, "The Ladies' Auxiliary."

My most in-depth post for Labor Day was this 2011 post.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Ennio Morricone (1929–2020)

The great film composer Maestro Ennio Morricone has died. He was prolific, with 520 composing credits on IMDb. Here are obituaries from The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Hollywood Reporter and The Guardian.

My favorite film score (after Alexander Nevsky) is Morricone's score for Sergio Leone's film, Once Upon a Time in the West. It's probably my favorite western and I've listened to the score countless times. Similar to Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Eisenstein's great collaboration on Nevsky, Morricone's music matches Leone's images so well that hearing it instantly conjures scenes from the five westerns and six films total they collaborated on, and it's all but impossible to imagine Leone's movies without Morricone's music. Morricone had range, too. He wrote some stunningly lovely pieces, but could also deliver menace, express grief or create creeping unease. His iconic main theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly let us know we were in for a fun ride. I used to look through used and bargain film score CDs and I'd buy anything by Morricone, even if I didn't like the movie, or hadn't seen it, or hadn't even heard of it. (That's how I discovered State of Grace below, which I eventually saw.) Ennio Morricone's music elevated the material and was transformative.

Nothing speaks better for Morricone than his own music. Here's the main theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which is mostly closely related to the character Jill (Claudia Cardinale), who gets a more subdued version in "Jill's America":

The other major theme is "The Man with a Harmonica," which appears in several versions. It's haunting, unsettling and used to great effect in the climactic scene:

"As a Judgment" is a subtly menacing piece. I had a friend who particularly liked the build from 1:26 to 1:47, which hangs unresolved in delicious tension until the horns come in, methodical and somber:

All the five main characters have a theme of sorts, with "The Man with a Harmonica" really a blend of riffs for Harmonica and Frank, which is appropriate if you've seen the movie. "Farewell To Cheyenne" is the more casual, slightly comical-but-not-really theme for Jason Robards' character. It's used to more ominous effect in a track called "First Tavern" for Cheyenne's entrance.

(I do have a "remastered" CD of the score where some idiotic mixer added a fade through the ending of this track starting before the false stop, which just stuns me. It's the equivalent of fading out before a key dialogue exchange, obscuring a critical moment. How could anyone be so comatose as to miss what the cue sounds like in the movie and why the music pauses? How could anyone think, "Morricone clearly made a mistake here – I know better and I'll fix it"?)

Sticking with westerns, here's the iconic and rollicking main theme from The Good, the Bad and Ugly:

Here's Morricone conducting the score's other signature piece, "The Ecstasy of Gold":

If you want to see Morricone's music in context, here's the film's finale, which of course you've seen before:

I think Morricone's score for The Mission is his second best. The music for "Gabriel's Oboe" may be the prettiest thing he ever wrote and is one of the loveliest pieces I've ever heard:

Here's Morricone conducting a suite of The Mission, which is quite moving:

Morricone also wrote the music for Leone's film, Once Upon a Time in America. The prettiest piece is "Deborah's Theme":

Here's the wistful theme theme from Malena:

The State of Grace main theme is moody and unsettling:

To close things out, here's music from Cinema Paradiso:

Finally, let's hear from Yo-Ya Ma, who recorded a CD of Morricone music:

Thanks for all the lovely and evocative music, Maestro.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

What to the Slave Is the Fourth Of July?

NPR asked descendants of Frederick Douglass to deliver excerpts from his speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” It's pretty fantastic:

You can read the full speech here. The descendants' names and ages are listed on the YouTube page here. NPR notes that "this video was inspired by Jennifer Crandall's documentary project" Whitman, Alabama.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

National Poetry Month 2020

April is National Poetry Month, so I wanted to post a poem before the month was out, and as usual, I'll link the wonderful Favorite Poem Project. I encountered the poem below earlier this year and thought it was especially apt for the times.

blessing the boats
By Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that


My archive on poetry is here. Feel free to mention or link a favorite poem in the comments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Emperor's New Mutiny

This is extraordinary. Just a few days ago, I posted a piece mentioning that Trump was "trying to out-crazy Onion stories" and comparing him to "an imbecilic Captain Ahab – obsessive and prone to reckless decisions that endanger those he is supposed to lead, but without any redeeming qualities like, oh, basic knowledge of his chosen profession." Now he is choosing to compare himself to Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, which he claims "was one of my all-time favorite movies." But apparently Trump has never seen it, or completely misunderstood it, because Bligh is the villain, and does not fare well. (Or maybe Trump identifies with the villain and is so delusional he thinks others share his worldview… or can be bullied into accepting it.) Trump also brings to mind the obsessive, unstable Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. (Pick your favorite unfit captain, or combine them all!) This episode is reminiscent of Trump retweeting a meme of him playing the violin that was originally posted by his social media director Dan Scavino. It instantly drew comparisons to the tale of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, and apparently neither Scavino nor Trump got the reference.

To recap, Trump has said "I don't take responsibility at all" about a key pandemic response failure and also claimed, We're a backup. We're not an ordering clerk," meaning he has no responsibility to all the states lacking critical supplies.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps insisting he can command governors to reopen their states, when that pesky Constitution and case law say otherwise. The Washington Post covered one of these incidents in "Trump's propaganda-laden, off-the-rails coronavirus briefing":

Trump also used the briefing to repeatedly suggest he had absolute power to deal with the situation, despite the Constitution and centuries of Supreme Court precedent. He said he had "ultimate authority," adding: "The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots." He said later that "when somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that's the way it's going to be."

In other words, in his usual angry, incoherent style, Trump is simultaneously refusing any responsibility but insisting he has absolute power. It's characteristically lazy, clueless and dickish.

Speaking of which, Trump is especially vicious to women (and people of color, and particularly women of color) and here's a news segment on Trump's propaganda that also shows him being petulant and remarkably nasty to CBS' Paula Reid:

Needless to say, governors, many constitutional lawyers and everyone who remembers basic civics disagreed with Trump's tantrum assertions. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed out:

"We don't have a king," Cuomo said on NBC's Today. "We have a president. That was a big decision. We ran away from having a king, and George Washington was president, not King Washington. So the president doesn't have total authority."

(Dick Cheney and David Addington, with their batshit, authoritarian, unitary executive theory might agree with Trump if they were still in power, but even the loathsome Liz Cheney chimed in to criticize Trump at least this once, and Trump has backpedaled somewhat.)

Trump likes to pretend he's an absolute monarch, attacking career officials doing their jobs and serving their country instead of Trump as "the deep state"; he stands exposed as a buffoon like the emperor in Hans Christian Anderson's tale; he is railing against a nonexistent mutiny because on this and many matters he doesn't actually possesses authority to overthrow; he's an oversized brat throwing a tantrum for not getting his own way.

It bears mentioning, though, that as much as Trump deserves mockery, he deserves scorn much more. His staggering incompetence and corruption have made the pandemic crisis shockingly worse, and many people will die or suffer because of it.


That's the political part of this post. I did want to spend a little time on the films.

The historical Captain William Bligh was a complex figure and not a straightforward villain; some accounts have painted him much more favorably. The general consensus seems to be that Bligh was a superb navigator (and the Bounty tale includes a striking example of this), but not a natural leader or good manager of his crew.

The 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty is the most famous film version of the story, directed by Frank Lloyd, starring Charles Laughton in a great performance as Bligh, and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian. It was nominated for eight Oscars and won Best Picture. It's well worth a look; I find Laughton a particularly interesting actor. (Incidentally, he played Nero in Cecil B. DeMille's film The Sign of the Cross.) The one part that feels odd is the moment of Fletcher Christian's rebellion – several incidents occur that stir him but don't clinch the decision to mutiny, which comes rather suddenly after a lull. It's a great film of the era, though, and clips along despite being a bit over two hours.

The 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, directed by Lewis Milestone, stars Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh, and clocks in just under three hours. Richard Harris and Hugh Griffith have supporting roles. This version is handsomely filmed, but it feels slower and lower energy to me and I've never really gotten into it. I also prefer Brando in many other films. But it certainly has its fans, and you may be one of them.

I do like the somewhat underrated 1984 film The Bounty directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh (doing a proper Cornish accent) and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. Bligh comes off as harsh but not entirely without cause, and is sympathetic and even admirable at points. Fletcher Christian comes off as popular and charismatic, but also an immature dilettante. The film also has Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Bernard Hill and Edward Fox in supporting roles, plus a screenplay by Robert Bolt, some pretty scenery and a score by Vangelis.

Finally, The Caine Mutiny is a very good film set during WWII directed by editor-turned-director Edward Dmytryk. It boasts a superb performance by Humphrey Bogart as the prickly, paranoid, slowly unraveling Captain Queeg. Even when Queeg is outwardly calm, he fidgets with some metal balls in his hand, one of the great character-prop choices in acting and directing. The supporting cast includes José Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, E.G. Marshall and Lee Marvin.

(Naturally, film buff Digby posted on this story as well and includes a key scene from The Caine Mutiny.)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

From Fox News' Heart I Stab at Thee

It's hard to keep up with all stories of Donald Trump showing he's unfit for office, whether due to incompetence, idiocy, corruption, nepotism, trying to out-crazy Onion stories, or some deadly mix. That extends to his decision to put his equally incompetent son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of key portions of the pandemic response, when the unqualified dolt shouldn't be running anything. Several stories over the past couple of weeks have particularly stuck with me.

The Disaster I Caused Is All Over the News

On 3/29/20, Trump went on a crazier-than-usual bragging stint about how great the "ratings" were for the pandemic briefings, taunted the media, and bragged about how Republicans didn't trust the news:

Even for Trump, this is astounding. People are dying, and in alarming numbers, but Trump only cares about his ratings and "beating" his chosen foes. And as covered in more depth in a previous post, Trump bears significant responsibility for how bad the COVID-19 pandemic is in the United States by downplaying the coronavirus threat for months, dismantling or trying to underfund the agencies built to fight pandemics, lying and giving misinformation constantly, failing to coordinate national efforts and often actively interfering with those trying to bring some competency to bear on the crisis, and cheering on the reality-denying habits of his adoring, authoritarian followers. COVID-19 was going to be a grave challenge no matter who was in charge, but Trump's incompetence has been disastrous.

I'll leave formal diagnoses to mental health professionals, but in general layperson terms, Trump is a narcissist, a megalomaniac, a sociopath, and a soulless, cruel, self-absorbed asshole. Trump is like an imbecilic Captain Ahab – obsessive and prone to reckless decisions that endanger those he is supposed to lead, but without any redeeming qualities like, oh, basic knowledge of his chosen profession. As covered in that previous post, Trump cares much, much more about public adulation than human lives. He will sink and doom everyone around him, and unfortunately, he can adversely affect most of the country (and interfere with other nations as well). Yet most Republican politicians and voters don't care, and many continue to cheer him on, perhaps most of all the professional dissemblers and sycophants at Fox News.

I'm Not a Doctor or Expert and I Can't Play One on TV, Either

Trump seems extremely fond of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, perhaps because, like Trump, he's an incompetent rich kid who's advanced mostly if not entirely due to his family connections. Both of them frequently sound like the kid who didn't read the book trying to bullshit his way through a presentation. Reportedly, Trump has heeded Kushner for some of Trump's most idiotic and dangerous statements, and for some reason, Trump gave Kushner (or allowed Kushner to take) a key role in shaping the already-chaotic White House's pandemic response – a "senior official described the Kushner team as a "frat party" that descended from a U.F.O. and invaded the federal government." Kushner quickly showed how out of his depth he was when, on 4/2/20, he complained petulantly and incorrectly to reporters about the Strategic National Stockpile:

The notion of the federal stockpile was, it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use.

This is the answer of a high school student who's completely failed basic civics. Who does Kushner think the Strategic National Stockpile is for? Obviously it should be used to help U.S. citizens, who live in, what are they called, oh yeah… states. He was justifiably savaged for this dangerously ignorant response. It's hard to guess what Kushner was even thinking. Maybe he meant that he thought that the Strategic National Stockpile was for him and Trump to dispense to their pals as political favors like cut-rate Mafioso wannabes and, like Trump, he was dumb enough to say the quiet parts out loud? Or does that give him too much credit for actual thought? Why is someone with so little basic knowledge of an essential job during a major crisis being given power? Coordinating a response to a deadly pandemic is not a nepotistic patronage gig – it requires actual experience and competence.

Predictably, Trump lashed out at a reporter for asking about Kushner's inaccurate remarks and gave a nonsensical defense. And Trump has made similarly ludicrous claims that individual states are responsible for their own disaster relief and the federal government is supposed to serve only as a backup – "We're a backup. We're not an ordering clerk" – which isn't true and makes little sense. Trump also clearly doesn't actually believe that, otherwise he wouldn't keep stealing supply orders from the states. As usual, Trump is asserting both that he can do whatever he wants but that he's not responsible for the consequences.

On top of that, as was widely reported, the Trump administration made the Orwellian move of changing the stockpile website description to better match Kushner's incorrect remarks. It bears remembering that one of Trump's first actions as president was directing his then-press secretary Sean Spicier to yell at reporters for not accepting obvious, Trump-flattering lies about the crowd size at Trump's inauguration, which was clearly much smaller than Obama's. Apparently, Trump, who believes whatever reality suits him in that particular moment and expects everyone around him to kiss his ass, also expects the same treatment for his idiot son-in-law.

Michelle Goldberg summed up the concerns about Kushner nicely in a 4/2/20 column titled, "Putting Jared Kushner In Charge Is Utter Madness" (originally titled "Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed"):

Reporting on the White House's herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. "I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity," Kushner reportedly said. "I'm doing my own projections, and I've gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn't need all the ventilators." (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo's estimate.)

Even now, it's hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House's daily coronavirus briefing: "People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections." . . .

The journalist Andrea Bernstein looked closely at Kushner's business record for her recent book "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power," speaking to people on all sides of his real estate deals as well as those who worked with him at The New York Observer, the weekly newspaper he bought in 2006.

Kushner, Bernstein told me, "really sees himself as a disrupter." Again and again, she said, people who'd dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he "believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn't know what he was talking about."

It's hard to overstate the extent to which this confidence is unearned. Kushner was a reportedly mediocre student whose billionaire father appears to have bought him a place at Harvard. Taking over the family real estate company after his father was sent to prison, Kushner paid $1.8 billion — a record, at the time — for a Manhattan skyscraper at the very top of the real estate market in 2007. The debt from that project became a crushing burden for the family business. (Kushner was able to restructure the debt in 2011, and in 2018 the project was bailed out by a Canadian asset management company with links to the government of Qatar.) He gutted the once-great New York Observer, then made a failed attempt to create a national network of local politics websites.

No wonder Trump likes Kushner – he's his spitting image, inept and arrogant. As The Washington Post has reported, "The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged." The article features several chilling passages, including this:

Other officials have emerged during the crisis to help right the United States' course, and at times, the statements of the president. But even as Fauci, Azar and others sought to assert themselves, Trump was behind the scenes turning to others with no credentials, experience or discernible insight in navigating a pandemic.

Foremost among them was his adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. A team reporting to Kushner commandeered space on the seventh floor of the HHS building to pursue a series of inchoate initiatives. . . .

This isn't a game – Kushner's heavy involvement has pushed out more competent leadership, and like Trump, he appears to be actively interfering with positive efforts to mitigate the pandemic crisis. As covered by Vanity Fair's article, "Lawmakers Want to Know: WTF Is Jared Kushner Doing?," congressional Democrats have pressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to explain why supplies to the states have been delayed or hijacked by the Trump administration and what Kusher's role is. (" 'It would be like high school cafeteria drama if it weren't life or death,' political consultant Jared Leopold, the former communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, told the [New York] Times.") The buck should stop with Trump, not that he will ever accept responsibility. As The Washington Post piece sums up:

If the coronavirus has exposed the country's misplaced confidence in its ability to handle a crisis, it also has cast harsh light on the limits of Trump's approach to the presidency — his disdain for facts, science and experience.

He has survived other challenges to his presidency — including the Russia investigation and impeachment — by fiercely contesting the facts arrayed against him and trying to control the public's understanding of events with streams of falsehoods.

The coronavirus may be the first crisis Trump has faced in office where the facts — the thousands of mounting deaths and infections — are so devastatingly evident that they defy these tactics.

More Lunacy

What else? Well, where to begin?

Protective gear in the national stockpile is nearly depleted. FEMA is not operating well; Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, the FEMA supply chain task force lead, has made remarks that suggest the U.S. is flying in supplies but then giving them to private companies and letting the states bid on them competitively, which has driven up prices. That's an unnecessarily bad system, and "some governors and critics say the White House distribution approach of mixing federal and state entities with private health care companies continues to create confusion, anger and state bidding wars that waste time and money." Adding to the mess, only 3,200 of the 100,000 new coronavirus ventilators FEMA is sourcing will be ready in time for the peak of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a Department of Defense agency that is well-positioned to handle supply chain issues, is not being used. Even some Republicans have criticized Defense Secretary Mark Esper for a lack of leadership. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer asked Trump to appoint a military czar to coordinate supplies and suggested some candidates, but Trump defended his current team and immaturely made personal attacks against Schumer. (No crisis is ever more important than Trump's wounded ego.) A recent New Yorker article by Susan B. Glasser asks and answers, "How Did the U.S. End Up with Nurses Wearing Garbage Bags?" It starts with Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley CEO approached by the White House to help with the pandemic response:

What [Ries and others] did not foresee was that the federal government might never come to the rescue. They did not realize this was a government failure by design—not a problem to be fixed but a policy choice by President Trump that either would not or could not be undone. "No one can believe it. That's the No. 1 problem with the whole situation: the facts are known, but they are inconceivable," Ries told me. "So we are just in denial."

Independent reporting has corroborated what Ries and other volunteers saw for themselves: "a fragmented procurement system now descending into chaos," as the Associated Press put it. The news agency found that not a single shipment of medical-grade N95 masks arrived at U.S. ports during the month of March. The federal government was not only disorganized; it was absent. Federal agencies waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders for the urgently needed supplies, the A.P. found. The first large U.S. government order to the big U.S. producer 3M, for a hundred and seventy-three million dollars' worth of N95 masks, was not placed until March 21st—the same day that Ries got his first phone call about the Kushner effort. The order, according to the A.P., did not even require the supplies to be delivered until the end of April, far too late to help with the thousands of cases already overwhelming hospitals.

(The Glasser article is disturbing and should be read in full; you'll be shocked to learn that Trump attacked government officials who reported problems and accused them of being politically motived. As Glasser summarizes, "There was a window for action. It wasn't just closed. It was slammed shut.)

Meanwhile, Trump keeps shilling the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, astonishingly telling people to try it, because "What have you got to lose?" Although hydroxychloroquine is being tested, its efficacy for COVID-19 remains unproven, and obviously Trump should not be dispensing medical advice or silencing Dr. Fauci, an actual expert, as Trump did when a reporter tried to ask Fauci about the drug. To be fair, hydroxychloroquine has actual value for malaria treatment and might have other uses, but Trump isn't making his statements based on facts, careful thought, or expert advice, and simply doesn't care about such things, including the potentially dangerous side effects of the medication. Even if hydroxychloroquine proves to be a wonder drug, what Trump is doing should be seen as part of a long conservative tradition of shilling snake oil. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised some guidance from its website about hydroxychloroquine and other drugs for COVID-19 on its website. The earlier, pro-hydroxychloroquine "was crafted for doctors at the request of a White House coronavirus task force, which had urged prompt action." So unlike the Strategic National Stockpile website change, the CDC site became more accurate, but in both cases, the Trump administration interfered with a government agency and peddled misinformation for political purposes.

If that weren't enough, Trump recently fired inspector general Glenn Fine, who was the chairman of the panel that would have overseen the $2 trillion stimulus package. As The Washington Post reports, "In just the past four days, Trump has ousted two inspectors general and expressed displeasure with a third, a pattern that critics say is a direct assault on one of the pillars of good governance." Nancy Pelosi called Trump's actions "part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the president against independent overseers fulfilling their statutory and patriotic duties to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people." The other inspector general Trump fired was Michael Atkinson, apparently in retaliation for heeding the whistleblower in Trump's Ukraine scandal. In a statement, Atkinson wrote, "The American people deserve an honest and effective government. . . . Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices." Atkinson's firing continues a pattern of retaliation by the obsessive Trump, and congressional Democrats are "seeking legislative proposals that could restrict Trump's ability to remove or demote inspectors general for political reasons." It's important to remember that the Trump administration isn't just incompetent; it's deeply corrupt.

The Trump administration's incompetence is so staggering, so jaw-dropping, it would have been rejected as implausible in fiction not long ago. Science fiction author Ted Chiang observed:

While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there's no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn't be dangerous if competent people were on the job. A pandemic story like that would be similar to what's known as an "idiot plot," a plot that would be resolved very quickly if your protagonist weren't an idiot. What we're living through is only partly a disaster novel; it's also—and perhaps mostly—a grotesque political satire.

Scott Z. Burns, the screenwriter for the quite good movie Contagion (2011), made similar observations:

I never contemplated a federal response that was so ignorant, misguided and full of dangerous information. I thought our leaders were sworn to protect us. . . .

I would have never imagined that the movie needed a "bad guy" beyond the virus itself. It seems pretty basic that the plot should be humans united against the virus. If you were writing it now, you would have to take into account the blunders of a dishonest president and the political party that supports him. But any good studio executive would have probably told us that such a character was unbelievable and made the script more of a dark comedy than a thriller. . . .

The virus doesn't care what TV network you watch or newspaper you read. We now have more sick people in this country than anywhere else in the world. And even with a three-month head start, we find ourselves scrambling to provide protective gear for our doctors and tests for our neighbors. That is not the fault of the virus. That is something everyone who called it a hoax has to answer for. . . .

I never thought in a million years that the scientists and public health people would be questioned and doubted and defunded and, in many cases, dismissed from their posts. That was something as a screenwriter and storyteller I would have never anticipated, because the threat is so obvious.

The problems aren't limited to the Trump administration, either. Wisconsin governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, tried to delay the 4/7/20 state primary and expand voting-by-mail due to increased COVID-19 concerns, but was blocked by state Republicans, a Republican-controlled state supreme court, and the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissenting opinion said, "the court's order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement." Voter suppression is a diabolical conservative tradition, and it's been noticeably bad in Wisconsin for several years at least. These latest voter suppression efforts by Republicans were mainly to try to keep control of the state supreme court. The scene on election day was appalling, with voters unnecessarily endangered, especially due to moves like reducing Milwaukee's polling places from 180 to a mere 5; other cities also had reductions, if not as drastic. On top of that, thousands of requested absentee ballots were never delivered. To be fair, some of those issues weren't due to Republicans, but unfortunately far too many problems in the state are –Republicans keep trying unprincipled power grabs in Wisconsin. (Nor has it been the only state so afflicted, unfortunately.) The insanity and hypocrisy of the Republican position was perfectly captured by Republican Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, dressed in protective mask, gown, and gloves, telling voters, "You are incredibly safe to go out."

We could keep going; the crazy and disturbing news keeps coming. But what do we know from all this?

As the saying goes, conservatives say government doesn't work, and when in charge, they set out to prove it. As Digby has often pointed out, incompetence is a feature, not a bug, of corruption.

Conservatives want their chosen political foes to die.

Conservatives don't care if their own constituents and supporters die.

Conservatives don't care that they are risking death and great harm themselves.

So what do we do now?

Ideally, Republicans would not have voted for Trump. Ideally, congressional Republicans would have voted to impeach and convict Trump to remove him from office.

Congressional Republicans could still do the right thing and ask for a new vote. The House and Senate could vote unanimously to impeach and remove Trump. (But that ain't gonna happen.)

Trump's cabinet could also invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office. (But that's extremely unlikely, too.)

Trump and many other conservatives and Republicans can be voted out of office in November. But registering people to vote and making sure they actually can vote is essential – Trump's admitted several times that greater turnout and making voting easier would hurt Republicans – "You'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." (Shades of Paul Weyrich.) Trump, ever shameless and incoherent, has also simultaneously argued without evidence that voting by mail is corrupt and defended voting by mail himself. Voter suppression is a serious issue for the general election.

Meanwhile, considerable harm can be done to the American populace by horrible governance before a new administration could take office, should one be elected. Residents of states with sane governors and decent resources can count themselves lucky; that's mostly been Democratic governors but fortunately some Republican ones as well. So far, the worst responses have been from conservative Republican governors, especially in the South.

Governors could bypass the Trump administration as much as possible, make deals to benefit their states and coordinate among themselves. Some of them are already doing this. Oregon is lending 140 ventilators to New York. California was reportedly lending 500 ventilators to the Strategic National Stockpile, and in theory they're being shipped to four states and two territories. Given the chronic corruption and incompetence of the Trump administration, however, it may prove wiser for state leadership to manage such transactions directly unless trustworthy federal leadership emerges.

Sadly, that seems unlikely. Good federal leadership coordinating a national response, purchasing supplies and distributing them to the states, would be invaluable and could significantly reduce unnecessary death and suffering. Letting experts and other qualified people lead the way would help immensely, and should be a no-brainer. But the Trump White House is drowning in incompetence and threatens to sink America with it. We need national leaders who work to serve their fellow citizens rather than elevating the inept, acting on whims or pursuing personal obsessions.

Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!

– Captain Ahab in Moby Dick

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Masque of the Orange Death

The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the madness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were incidents of half an hour.

But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his crenellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death."

"The Masque of the Red Death," by Edgar Allen Poe.
"Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?"

"No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine."

– Donald Trump responding to a reporter on 1/22/20, the first of many times he minimized the risk of the coronavirus.
Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They're politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, 'How's President Trump doing?' They go, 'Oh, not good, not good.' They have no clue. They don't have any clue. They can't even count their votes in Iowa, they can't even count. No they can't. They can't count their votes. One of my people came up to me and said, 'Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn't work out too well. They couldn't do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they've been doing it since you got in. It's all turning, they lost, it's all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax. But you know, we did something that's been pretty amazing. We're 15 people [cases of coronavirus infection] in this massive country. And because of the fact that we went early, we went early, we could have had a lot more than that.

Donald Trump ridiculing concerns about the coronavirus to his supporters at a South Carolina rally, 2/28/20.
"Dr. Fauci said earlier this week that the lag in testing was in fact a failing. Do you take responsibility for that, and when can you guarantee that every single American who needs a test will be able to have a test? What's the date of that?"

"No, I don't take responsibility at all."

Donald Trump responding to a reporter, 3/13/20.

– A Donald Trump tweet on 3/22/20, one of several statements he's made in opposition to health experts and stay-at-home measures.

(I'm hardly the first or only person to make the Poe connection – it's been on several people's minds, and Driftglass has been citing the story for years.)

Trump cares much, much more about public adulation than human lives. We saw it with his inept response to devastation in Puerto Rico and lashing out at those who contradicted him, we saw it with his misstatements and then lies about Hurricane Dorian, and we've seen it throughout his entire handling of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration is doing to the United States what the Bush administration did to Iraq.

In 2018, Trump closed the U.S. "pandemic office," despite its value for precisely this type of crisis. Trump has repeatedly tried to cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health agencies, although Congress has blocked his efforts. Job vacancies and inexperience throughout the Trump administration haven't helped, either. Trump's team was briefed about pandemic threats before he took office. The Trump administration received multiple warnings about a major pandemic threat since January. Yet Trump has consistently downplayed the coronavirus threat, ignoring health experts even in his own administration.

Trump has styled himself as a "wartime president" for his pandemic response, but the concocted mantle is just characteristic self-adulation with little to show for it. Trump pawned off the coronavirus task force to Vice President Mike Pence, then apparently became jealous of the attention Pence was getting. Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) but long refused to actually use it, even though the law lets the government tell private companies to produce critical supplies that are sorely in need, such as masks and respirators. Trump's opposition to using the law despite pleas to do so seemed partially based on conservative dogma but also the usual corporate influence. As of this writing, after significant criticism, Trump has finally used the DPA to order ventilator manufacturing from General Motors, which is a start, and we'll see if this trend continues. (In the meantime, Trump and his surrogates have gone after the governors for insufficient public praise; Trump has insisted, "I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job.")

Trump has also insisted on calling the disease "the China virus" and protested the term is not racist, even as hate crimes against Asian-Americans increase. Other members of his administration have used the terms "Kung-flu" or "the Wuhan virus," and even scuttled a G-7 statement by insisting on their terminology.

Predictably, Trump has continued his staggering record of lying and bullshitting with harmful lies to the public about the coronavirus, many due to his habit of making up the reality he wants at the moment. His sycophants at Fox News and other conservative outlets have cheered him on despite his bad information. If that weren't enough, conservatives have also attacked Dr. Fauci, an actual expert giving good advice. Trump has even bragged about "tremendous testing" in the U.S., even though anyone with the slightest grasp of reality knows that American COVID-19 testing is still dangerously scarce, far, far below the demand, and woefully behind that of many nations. In fact, as of this writing, a Seattle NPR station "will not be airing the [Trump] briefings live due to a pattern of false or misleading information provided that cannot be fact checked in real time." Trump cannot get through a single unscripted press conference without being petty and narcissistic, even about softball questions, and recently said governors "have to treat us well." It's one of his trademark threats; anyone who doesn't suck up to him should suffer. (Update: Trump has admitted he's told Mike Pence not to call governors who aren't sufficiently "appreciative." Suck up, or your constituents, the American citizens Trump is supposed to serve, will die.)

Besides masks and other protective gear, what hospitals need most are ventilators to help the most critical COVID-19 patients breathe. The U.S. has about 160,000 ventilators, far short of what experts think the nation will need – estimates differ, but one projection estimates America might need 960,000. The U.S. also lacks trained personnel to use the machines. Anyone's who's followed the pandemic news from credible sources knows that the lack of ventilators is a huge problem that could significantly increase the death toll in the U.S. and around the world. But despite his conceits that he is leading the pandemic response and doing a great job, Donald Trump apparently is not "anyone." His administration balked at paying for ventilators (before a partial reversal), but Trump also questioned their necessity:

In an interview Thursday night, [3/26/20], with Sean Hannity, the president played down the need for ventilators.

"I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” he said, a reference to New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appealed for federal help in obtaining them. "You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?' "

Of all the astounding Trump statements, this one may be the most shocking and infuriating. Was Trump in a coma the past three months? Has he been sleeping through every briefing or staring at himself in the mirror when medical experts have explained the situation? Is he an imbecile? Does he have dementia? He honestly thinks a hospital in a major city can treat the COVID-19 pandemic with just two ventilators, despite the statistics on COVID-19 cases and deaths? He rejects out of hand the advice of experts based on a fleeting whim – or to spite a perceived political rival – or due to the extensive medical knowledge he's obtained by pulling it out of his ass? This is deadly narcissism.

Trump simply will not acknowledge any reality he doesn't like, and he expects others to play along. On 3/17/20, Trump lied and even tried to gaslight the public, claiming, "I've always known this is a real, this is a pandemic. I've felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic." Likewise, his allies at Fox News pivoted 180 degrees and went from downplaying the virus like Trump to acknowledging its seriousness, as chronicled by The Washington Post:

More recently, Trump has been pushing to end stay-at-home measures, claiming the nation would suffer dire economic harm otherwise. Trump has said he'd like to end the safety measures by Easter (4/12/20), in opposition to all sound expert medical advice, apparently due to pressure from family members and doctrinaire conservatives.

So far, the stages of coronavirus response from Trump and his allies have been:

1. It's not a threat.

2. I said it was a threat all along.

3. It's only a threat to the little people. Who cares if your grandmother dies? I need to boost my slumping stock portfolio.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses severe challenges for months to come and could remain a problem for years, with a vaccine likely 12 to 18 months away and no actual cure for the contagious and sometimes deadly disease. That alone should keep us all mindful and spur those with power to try to help by all available means, and to invent new methods of aid. But the delusional incompetence of the Trump team and the 'expendable grandmother' mindset could make everything nightmarishly worse.

Texas' Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick claimed that "lots of grandparents" would be willing to die to preserve America, by which he meant the stock market. Brit Hume defended Patrick's remarks, calling them "entirely reasonable." Glenn Beck urged older Americans to go back to work and claimed, "I'd rather die than kill the country." Several billionaires have expressed similar sentiments, including Tom Golisano:

The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people. I have a very large concern that if businesses keep going along the way they're going then so many of them will have to fold. . . . You're picking the better of two evils. You have to weigh the pros and cons.

("Real" talk, from people unlikely to suffer the consequences of their callous idiocy.)

Likewise, some investment banks are pressuring medical companies to raise prices to increase their profits during this crisis. (The notion that they are killing their potential customers does not seem to have occurred to them.) Pharmaceutical companies have largely gotten their way in Congress to put profits first, mostly due to Republicans. At least one drug company has been publicly shamed into rejecting a ridiculous and potentially dangerous sweetheart deal, and perhaps public pressure can continue to spur corporations to renounce evil.

Speaking of which, congressional Republicans have continued their tradition of being cartoonishly evil, proposing a 500 million dollar slush fund to be controlled by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who could also hide the names of the companies he gave to for up to six months. (Perhaps some Trump companies or Trump allies would be included?) To add to the farce, Trump declared that "I'll be the oversight." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ever shameless, attacked Democrats for opposing the bill while fighting against the public interest. Oh, and some members of the Republican Party (which sadly has been the party-before-country-party for decades) were likewise shameless enough to argue that some unemployment measures were too generous and could make workers too uppity. (This mindset is likely also why the Trump administration is cutting food stamps.) The Democrats did fight for and won some good measures in the two trillion dollar stimulus package under consideration, but David Dayen has described it as "robbery in progress" (and has some more details here; Digby highlights another provision open for abuse).

Rulers often use a crisis as an excuse to grab power and make corrupt deals – the Trump EPA is suspending environmental laws at the behest of the American Petroleum Institute and the Trump Justice Department has asked for emergency powers that could include suspending habeas corpus. These are classic shock doctrine moves; the Republican track record does not inspire confidence and U.S. conservatives are significantly more evil than many of their international counterparts (although they almost always seem to get a pass for it).

Like Prince Prospero in Poe's story, Trump the Orange One and other conservatives in power believe that they will survive the pandemic unscathed. They've become more cavalier about expressing their true views: that other people simply matter less, and that they're happy to let other people suffer and die for their own benefit. They are too dumb, selfish, greedy and short-sighted to realize that the same fate could befall them, or that killing off their customers and fellow citizens might not be a good long-term plan. The U.S. conservative reaction to this pandemic is basically the same as their reaction to climate change – ineffective, full of denial, and focused on profit and personal gain at the expense of all the people of the world – but for COVID-19, the deadliest consequences have been accelerated, and will be hitting hard in days, weeks, and months instead of years and decades from now.

The dominant form of U.S. conservatism is essentially neo-feudalism: those born to privilege are inherently better, and can rule over the masses. If you choose the right parents or suck up to the right lord or corporation or institution, you might live pretty well or even extravagantly, but the vast majority of the populace will have far less opportunities and likely a markedly lower quality of life. The U.S. is the wealthiest nation in the world, and the richest could still remain obscenely wealthy without seeking to increase the inequities of wealth and power as conservatives and the Republican Party consistently do. Our current, messed-up system is a choice. Although decent people exist who self-identify as conservatives, it should be blatantly clear by now that the dominant strain of American conservatism is destructive and sometimes literally lethal, and these crappy citizens and corrupt governors should be voted out of office and kept far away from power. Republican voters saw Trump was unfit for office and voted for him anyway. Congressional Republicans saw he was unfit for office, corrupt and incompetent, yet refused to convict him and remove him from office when he was impeached. The Conservative policies are simply awful, and Trump is not an aberration of conservatism; he's emblematic.

If there's anything positive about the pandemic, besides heroic medical workers and acts of kindness and creativity and community, it's that more people seem to be realizing how many "rules" in the U.S. system are bullshit, "with power structures built on punishment and fear as opposed to our best interest." For instance, it should be clearer than ever that the U.S. needs good, universal health care, a much stronger social safety net, and a much kinder, compassionate and supportive society. Jared Bernstein has characterized conservatism as YOYO, "You're on your own," whereas liberalism is WITT, "We're in this together." The present crisis has produced some clear insights and articulations of moral principle in that vein.

Steven Klein captures the real fear of plutocrats:

Alex Cole points out a telling contrast:

(Why, it's almost as if they always argue to benefit themselves at the moment rather than from some deeper principle.)

Alexandra Petri offers the satirical "I regret that I have but one grandparent to give for my country."

Ken Tremendous considers the flaws of the conservative "let people die" proposal in terms of the trolley problem.

Scott Lynch explains "Disaster 101":

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explains some basic humanity:

I want to make a point on the president's point about the economy and public health. I understand what the president is saying, this is unsustainable that we close down the economy and we continue to spend money. There is no doubt about that, no one is going to argue about that. But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it's no contest. No American is going to say, 'accelerate the economy at the cost of human life.' Because no American is going to say how much a life is worth. Job one has to be save lives. That has to be the priority. . . . My mother is not expendable. And your mother is not expandable. We're not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable. We're not going to put a dollar figure on human life. . . . We are going to fight every way we can to save every life that we can. Because that's what I think it means to be an American.

Cuomo is overly optimistic or diplomatic when he says "no American" believes such monstrous things, because sadly, we've seen that some of them do, and many of those people have power and influence. But may we hold them to account, follow higher principles, and try to help one another stay safe in these trying times from the Orange Death as well as COVID-19.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

St. Patrick's Day 2020

I hope everyone has a good and safe St. Patrick's Day. This year, I thought I'd feature the haunting version of "The Foggy Dew" performed by Sinead O'Connor and the Chieftains. Here's some background. The video has a bit of commentary at the very end.

Feel free to link or mention any favorite Irish songs in the comments.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Warren's Exit

I was disappointed that Elizabeth Warren didn't do better in the primary elections and had to drop out last week. I've been impressed with her since hearing her interviews on Fresh Air as a professor and consumer advocate before she became a senator. She was one of the few heroes in Congress fighting against foreclosure fraud and other malfeasance by big banks. Her record has been overwhelmingly positive.

As a candidate, she had many good policies, and they were more comprehensive than those from most politicians. She even adopted Jay Inslee's more detailed environmental plan after he dropped out and met with her, which was an encouraging sign about adopting better ideas and coalition building. Warren was also adept at putting human faces on policy proposals, whether it was weaving in her personal biography or talking about the people she met on the campaign trail and the struggles they were facing. Liberal and Democratic candidates often fail to do that effectively, sometimes offering fine polices and data and thinking that those policies will win on the merits alone, or failing to consider how nefarious their political opposition is. (Why, of course the Republicans will support this plan, because it's a good plan and helps their own constituents! Only a monster would oppose this! And surely they wouldn't – um, they wouldn't – uh, the Republicans voted how?) The human angle and the values driving those better policies are essential parts of explaining them to voters, and Warren consistently does that well.

She was also one of the few candidates who could talk about overall goals (such as universal health care) but also multiple possible routes to get there or at least make progress. Likewise, she was one of the few candidates who gave a good answer on Mitch McConnell and the unprecedented obstructionism by Republicans in government, who have shown they will almost always put party before country and even their own constituents, will not evaluate policies on their merits and simply will not argue in good faith. In several interviews, Warren spoke of the importance of Democrats winning back the Senate, but also explained what she could do via executive order if that didn't happen in 2020.

In contrast, some other candidates would blame "Washington" but not Republicans and conservatives, and basically were selling themselves as magic kumbaya figures who would somehow make Republicans see the error of their ways and renounce evil. (Buttigieg was particularly egregious about this as his campaign progressed, but it's also been a key part of Biden's pitch, and Klobuchar, Gillibrand and some of the early dropouts made similar if more modest claims.) Practicality is admirable, but delusion is not, and I remain wary of political figures who will not call out that conservatives and Republicans are the core problem in American politics and have been for a long time. Republicans are shameless about making false claims and manufacturing scapegoats – especially racial minorities, liberals and Democrats – while the more establishment Democrats often are afraid to call out real villainy by conservatives and Republicans. Throw in the "both sides" false equivalences that imbecilic hack pundits love and it becomes almost impossible to have an honest political conversation in many major venues ostensibly devoted to discussing politics.

I think some Democratic candidates know the real problem, but shill a weak, general condemnation of politics and offer "both sides" bullshit, which strikes me as cynical and counterproductive to long-term progress. And others are naïve enough to believe that crap, which may be worse. All – well, almost all of the Democratic candidates – condemned Trump. But of all the candidates, Warren and Sanders have pushed the strongest critiques of Republican abuses of power in government and abuses of power in general by corporations and other influential entities.

Warren might wind up as a vice presidential pick or a cabinet official. But I think being a good senator is underrated.

Here's her press conference at her house:

Here's her interview with Rachel Maddow:

Here are her remarks to her staff and supporters:

I want to start with the news. I want all of you to hear it first, and I want you to hear it straight from me: Today, I’m suspending our campaign for president.

I know how hard all of you have worked. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you have poured into this campaign.

I know that when we set out, this was not what you ever wanted to hear. It is not the call I ever wanted to make. But I refuse to let disappointment blind me — or you — to what we’ve accomplished. We didn’t reach our goal, but what we have done together — what you have done — has made a lasting difference. It’s not the scale of the difference we wanted to make, but it matters — and the changes will have ripples for years to come.

What we have done — and the ideas we have launched into the world, the way we have fought this fight, the relationships we have built — will carry through, carry through for the rest of this election, and the one after that, and the one after that.

So think about it:

We have shown that it is possible to build a grassroots movement that is accountable to supporters and activists and not to wealthy donors — and to do it fast enough for a first-time candidate to build a viable campaign. Never again can anyone say that the only way that a newcomer can get a chance to be a plausible candidate is to take money from corporate executives and billionaires. That’s done.

We have also shown that it is possible to inspire people with big ideas, possible to call out what’s wrong and to lay out a path to make this country live up to its promise.

We have also shown that race and justice — economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, criminal justice — are not an afterthought, but are at the heart of everything that we do.

We have shown that a woman can stand up, hold her ground, and stay true to herself — no matter what.

We have shown that we can build plans in collaboration with the people who are most affected. You know, just one example: Our disability plan is a model for our country, and, even more importantly, the way we relied on the disability communities to help us get it right will be a more important model.

And one thing more: Campaigns take on a life and soul of their own and they are a reflection of the people who work on them.

This campaign became something special, and it wasn’t because of me. It was because of you. I am so proud of how you all fought this fight alongside me: You fought it with empathy and kindness and generosity — and of course, with enormous passion and grit.

Some of you may remember that long before I got into electoral politics, I was asked if I would accept a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was weak and toothless.

And I replied that my first choice was a consumer agency that could get real stuff done, and my second choice was no agency and lots of blood and teeth left on the floor.

In this campaign, we have been willing to fight, and when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor. And I can think of one billionaire who has been denied the chance to buy this election.

Now, campaigns change people. And I know that you will carry the experiences you have had here, the skills you’ve learned, the friendships you have made, will be with you for the rest of your lives. I also want you to know that you have changed me, and I will carry you in my heart for the rest of my life.

So if you leave with only one thing, it must be this: Choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough — and they will — you will know that there is only one option ahead of you: Nevertheless, you must persist.

You should all be so proud of what we’ve done together — what you have done over this past year.

We built a grassroots campaign that had some of the most ambitious organizing targets ever — and then we turned around and surpassed them.

Our staff and volunteers on the ground knocked on over 22 million doors across the country. You made 20 million phone calls and sent more than 42 million texts to voters. That’s truly astonishing. It is.

We fundamentally changed the substance of this race.

You know a year ago, people weren’t talking about a two-cent wealth tax, universal childcare, cancelling student loan debt for 43 million Americans while reducing the racial wealth gap, or breaking up big tech. Or expanding Social Security. And now they are. And because we did the work of building broad support for all of those ideas across this country, these changes could actually be implemented by the next president.

A year ago, people weren’t talking about corruption, and they still aren’t talking about it enough. But we’ve moved the needle, and a hunk of our anti-corruption plan is already embedded in a House bill that is ready to go when we get a Democratic Senate.

We also advocated for fixing our rigged system in a way that will make it work better for everyone — regardless of your race, or gender, or religion, regardless of whether you’re straight or LGBTQ+. And that wasn’t an afterthought, it was built into everything we did.

And we did all of this without selling access for money. Together, more than 1,250,000 people gave more than $112 million dollars to support this campaign. And we did it without selling one minute of my time to the highest bidder. People said that would be impossible — but you did that.

And we also did it by having fun and by staying true to ourselves. We ran from the heart. We ran on our values. We ran on treating everyone with respect and dignity.

You know liberty green everything was key here — my personal favorites included the liberty green boas, liberty green sneakers, liberty green make up, liberty green hair, and liberty green glitter — liberally applied. But it was so much more.

Four-hour selfie lines and pinky promises with little girls. And a wedding at one of our town halls. We were joyful and positive through all of it. We ran a campaign not to put people down, but to lift them up — and I loved pretty much every minute of it.

So take some time to be with your friends and family, to get some sleep, maybe to get that haircut you’ve been putting off. Do things to take care of yourselves, gather up your energy, because I know you are coming back. I know you — and I know that you aren’t ready to leave this fight.

You know, I used to hate goodbyes. Whenever I taught my last class or when we moved to a new city, those final goodbyes used to wrench my heart. But then I realized that there is no goodbye for much of what we do.

When I left one place, I took everything I’d learned before and all the good ideas that were tucked into my brain and all the good friends that were tucked in my heart, and I brought it all forward with me — and it became part of what I did next. This campaign is no different. I may not be in the race for president in 2020, but this fight — our fight — is not over. And our place in this fight has not ended.

Because for every young person who is drowning in student debt, for every family struggling to pay the bills on two incomes, for every mom worried about paying for prescriptions or putting food on the table, this fight goes on.

For every immigrant and African American and Muslim and Jewish person and Latinx and trans woman who sees the rise in attacks on people who look or sound or worship like them, this fight goes on.

And for every person alarmed by the speed with which climate change is bearing down upon us, this fight goes on.

And for every American who desperately wants to see our nation healed and some decency and honor restored to our government, this fight goes on.

And sure, the fight may take a new form, but I will be in that fight, and I want you in this fight with me. We will persist.

One last story: When I voted yesterday at the elementary school down the street, a mom came up to me. And she said she has two small children, and they have a nightly ritual. After the kids have brushed teeth and read books and gotten that last sip of water and done all the other bedtime routines, they do one last thing before the two little ones go to sleep.

Mama leans over them and whispers, “Dream big.” And the children together reply, “Fight hard.”

Our work continues, the fight goes on, and big dreams never die.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I've seen a number of good postmortems on the Warren campaign, including pieces by David Dayen, Harold Meyerson and Matthew Yglesias. Ella Nilsen and Li Zhou, among others, have written about "Why women are feeling so defeated after Elizabeth Warren’s loss."

The primary race is now between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, and COVID-19 news is justifiably crowding out many other stories. But I did want to take a moment to recognize Elizabeth Warren.

(Incidentally, Warren's released and updated a good coronavirus plan, and as Digby's noted, both Biden and Sanders have given better speeches than Trump on the pandemic.)