Another “week that was”

I’ve been meaning to write a post all week, but couldn’t settle my mind enough to do it.

Now it’s Saturday and I probably still have not settled my mind enough, but am plunging in regardless.

I’ve written often about how disconcerting and bizarre it is to be living in the United States in 2020. The national government is dysfunctional, although I am fortunate to be living in New York State with a competent governor, Andrew Cuomo, so there is some sense of stability, despite the public health and economic fallout from the pandemic.

The sad news on the national pandemic front this week was surpassing seven millions known cases. This comes on the heels of passing 200,000 known COVID deaths, which means that the United States, with about 4% of the world’s population, has suffered about 20% of global deaths. This is a result of the incompetence of the president and his administration. The staggering news this week is that the administration is saying that they could overrule the Food and Drug Administration and grant an emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine even if the FDA does not feel that there is enough data yet to show that the vaccine is safe and effective. The president has been hinting about having a vaccine approved before the November third election, even though phase three trials only began in the United States in July. (My spouse, daughter, and I are part of the Pfizer vaccine study. You can find my posts about it by using the search box here at Top of JC’s Mind.) This threat of political interference from the White House comes on top of recent revelations that political appointees have interfered with what the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publish on their official website and the stunning statements by Olivia Troye, a national security specialist who until recently served on the staff of Vice-President Mike Pence and was assigned to the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

This week also saw the public memorials for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There was a remembrance service at the Supreme Court to open two days of public viewing there, followed by a service and a day of lying in state at the Capitol building where Congress meets. She was the first woman and the first person of the Jewish faith to be so honored. Her burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery next week, after the conclusion of the High Holy Days. Meanwhile, the president and Republican senators are intent on rushing through a replacement even though the election is so close. This is against Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish that the president elected in November choose her successor and against the path that those same Republican senators took when Justice Scalia died in early 2016, when the election was much further away.

What has been most disheartening is that Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and others in the administration has increased their rhetoric about the unfairness of the election itself. Even though absentee voting by mail is a long-established, safe, and secure practice in the United States, they are trying to say it is a source of wide-spread fraud. It is not! The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state and local election officials have said over and over that they have procedures in place to verify ballots and that election fraud is exceedingly rare and small-scale when it has occurred.

There will likely be many, many more citizens voting by mail this year because the public health risk of crowded polling stations has led millions of people who would ordinarily have voted on election day to request absentee ballots. Because of state laws, most of these ballots that arrive by mail or by delivery to election boards will not be counted until after election day. This means that, absent a clear landslide victory, the winner won’t be known for some number of days after the election. People will need to be patient while votes are counted and certified.

Trump has seized on the delay, intimating that not knowing the outcome immediately means that there is fraud. What it really means is that each state is carefully following their rules to ensure a full and free count. The count could have proceeded more quickly if the Senate had passed and the president signed the House’s HEROES Act, which included money to help states with additional machinery, training, and staff to deal with the expected increase in mail-in ballots. Instead, the Trump administration further gummed up the system by slowing mail delivery, which caused problems in the primaries in some states by delaying election mail so much that ballots were thrown out for arriving too late.

The presidential election system in the US is complicated. The winner is not necessarily the one who wins the popular vote, but depends on the winner of each state and how many members of Congress they have. This gives more power to small states and was how Trump became president even though he lost the popular vote by three million. There are reports that Trump and Barr are looking at a scenario where they would file court cases to try to throw out absentee ballots and allow Republican-controlled state legislatures to choose Republican electors, even if Biden wins the vote within the state. The level of corruption involved is staggering.

Meanwhile, the president is giving away the plan by refusing to say there would be a peaceful transfer of power, intimating that “the ballots are a disaster.” Trump and the Republicans also seems to be in a hurry to have nine justices on the Supreme Court so that there wouldn’t be a tie if the election lands there as the 2000 Bush-Gore race did.

It seems that the president’s re-election strategy isn’t to convince the majority of citizens to vote for him but to find loopholes to stay in power even though the majority want Biden to become president. It’s especially terrifying because the president’s rhetoric has become even more disconnected from reality. He tells his supporters lies about Biden’s positions on issues. He encourages violence against those who disagree with him and says that he will give legal protection to those who are caught in wrongdoing on his behalf. And, by the way, Russia and other state actors are also throwing misinformation into the mix.

Almost five hundred national security experts endorsed Joe Biden this week, saying that the current president is not up to “the enormous responsibilities of his office.” It’s hard to conclude otherwise when I look at the millions of folks who are suffering from COVID impacts, injustice, hunger, and lack of livelihood. That there might be election shenanigans that continue the Trump presidency is more than I can bear to contemplate.

September 11

Nineteen years ago today, terrorists, most of whom were from Saudi Arabia, attacked the United States, killing thousands of people and destroying airplanes and buildings in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I remember those killed, the many who acted valiantly to try to save lives, often at the cost of their own, those who worked in the aftermath of the disaster, many of whom suffered illness as a result, and the many thousands, both military and civilian, who were impacted by the wars in Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East that sprang from the 9/11 attacks.

Nine years ago, my area was suffering from a record flood of the Susquehanna River, brought on by the remnants of tropical storm Lee. What many people don’t realize is how long it takes to recover from such an event – and that some things aren’t recoverable. It took years to repair homes that could be and tear down those that couldn’t. There are neighborhoods with patches of grassland where homes once stood, interspersed with homes that managed to survive. Those neighborhoods have changed character, with fewer older folks in them as they were the most likely to move to higher ground or leave the area after the flood. Our own home was not flooded, but there was standing water three blocks away and significant basement flooding one block away. We had long carried flood insurance on our house, although it isn’t required by the (still outdated) flood maps; we will continue to do so, hoping that we never have to use it while realizing that the increased strength of weather systems and changes to the upper-level wind patterns brought on by global warming may someday send us another record-breaking flood that will reach our home.

Despite these prior events, September 11, 2020 feels even more fraught. The global pandemic has exacted a terrible toll on the United States. We are over six million cases and closing in on 200,000 fatalities. The economic impact, especially on those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, has been severe, with rising rates of hunger and housing crisis. The pandemic also made more prominent existing problems with the health care system, racism, environmental degradation, education, infrastructure, jobs, wealth, taxation, and social programs. While some of the effects have been buffered by living in New York State, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has been leading an effective response to the crisis, I am appalled by the lack of leadership from the president and the callous intransigence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which are prolonging and deepening the suffering in the country as a whole. Because the Senate hasn’t passed the HEROES Act which the House passed in May, additional federal assistance to households, state and local governments, the post office, and the election system isn’t available. As a result of the national inaction, states are going to have to lay off front-line personnel and the vote count in November’s elections will take a long time.

To make matters worse, this week has seen new evidence that the president’s failure to address the pandemic was not due to lack of understanding the crisis. A just-released recorded interview on February 7 with Bob Woodward makes clear that the president knew that the virus was highly contagious, deadly, and spread through the air, yet he continued to intentionally downplay the threat rather than mount an effective and protective response. If the president had lead the nation in the kind of efforts that Governor Cuomo did in New York, there would have been millions fewer cases of the virus and thousands upon thousands fewer deaths. There would be widespread testing and contact tracing. The test positivity rate would be below one percent, as it has been in New York State for over a month. Businesses and schools would be thoughtfully and carefully re-opening, ready to re-adjust if cases start to rise. Instead, Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, is telling the United States to “hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy.” I only hope that people take the advice to heart in their own lives and at the state and local level, because Trump and McConnell are still not helping us mount a national response.

The Trump/Bob Woodward interview I mentioned above was just released because Woodward has a book coming out, part of a spate of books about Donald Trump being published with less than two months to go before the presidential election. These books reveal information that, while perhaps suspected, had not previously been confirmed about the president and his staff. The picture isn’t pretty. While there is some straight-up incompetence and inexperience at play, there is even more corruption, selfishness, greed, and disregard for the Constitution and laws, morals, ethics, and the common good.

Time for the pitch. Make a plan and vote! We need there to be a President Biden in January 2021 in order to have any hope of reclaiming our democracy.

Which brings me to another fear. While there is widespread and credible polling both nationally and in battleground states showing that Biden is leading Trump by several percentage points, the election process itself is under threat. The most frightening is that the Russians, along with several other countries, are once again attempting to interfere with election. This week, a whistleblower came forward with evidence that the administration is knowingly tamping down revealing the extent of the Russian interference, in particular. At the same time, the administration and the Republicans are filing lawsuits to disrupt mail-in voting. The postal service is slowing mail delivery, which could make ballots arrive too late to be counted. The president keeps saying that mail-in ballots lead to widespread fraud, which is absolutely a lie; states and local election boards have numerous, proven safeguards in place to prevent fraud. It is true that the final vote tally will take longer, especially in states that don’t count mail-in votes until days after Election Day. (Of course, some of the delays could have been averted if the Senate had acted on the HEROES Act which would have provided more training, machinery, and personnel to count ballots more quickly.) People need to be aware that we may not have final election results for a couple of weeks. This does not mean there is fraud; it means that election bureaus are diligently following their procedures to report an accurate tally.

Nineteen years ago, despite sorrow and shock, the people of the United States pulled together to help us get through the crisis. Nine years ago, our local community drew together to assist those impacted by the flood. Unfortunately, I don’t see that same sense of solidarity in the country as we face the pandemic, government corruption, and economic catastrophe, along with the long-standing problems of racism, lack of equal access to good-quality education and health care, environmental ruin, and other injustices. Granted, it’s a lot, but we can improve our lives and our nation if we act together. When we say in the Pledge of Allegiance “with liberty and justice for all”, we have to mean it.

I can’t even…

There have been so many distressing articles about Donald Trump that you think nothing could possibly break through to elucidate something worse.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic, one of the oldest and most venerable magazines in the United States, published this article on Trump’s disparagement of members of the military across generations. Trump has publicly and privately called people who served “losers” and “suckers”, including those who were wounded, captured, or killed in action.

Some of the people interviewed for the story think that Trump can’t understand anyone being motivated by anything other than personal gain, especially monetary gain.

This inability to understand the fundamental nature of public service would be shocking enough coming from a president of the United States who is elected to serve the country and its people, but one particular incident in the report saddened me on an even deeper level.

On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

from Jeffrey Goldberg’s article, Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’, The Atlantic, Sept. 3, 2020

How could anyone, standing with a father at his son’s gravesite, not have the decency to either offer sympathy or maintain respectful silence?

Trump’s lack of compassion and humanity frighten me even more than his inability to govern and to protect the health and safety of our country. He and the press team at the White House are denying the reporting, but Goldberg’s reporting is well-sourced and has been corroborated by other reporters using their own sources. Sadly, it is also entirely believable because Trump has often publicly disparaged those who have served in the military, including the late senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain. For the White House to claim that Trump never said things that are archived in recordings, tweets, etc. only compounds the problem. Denying your lies is just another lie and another reason not to believe anything you say.

I have always believed that character matters and have used it as one of my top criteria in voting. I have made my plan to vote in the November third election and urge all US citizens to make sure they are registered and have a plan in place to safely and securely cast their ballot so that we can unequivocally elect Joe Biden so our country can begin the healing process and restore respect and human decency within and beyond our borders.

Surreal-er

I don’t think surrealer is an accepted English word, but it’s all that comes to mind right now.

When I was away for a week, I didn’t follow news as closely as I usually do, but after a few days back at home, it seems that the levels of contradiction and absurdity and fear-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing have reached new highs in the United States.

Serious journalists have to try to try to explain QAnon. The Republican convention played up fear of anarchy and violence as being part of “Joe Biden’s America” – despite the fact that Donald Trump has been president for over three and a half years – while neglecting to confront the very real fear of the spread of coronavirus. The official case count in the US is now over six million and the actual case number is probably much higher. That’s terrifying.

If the consequences weren’t so disturbing, I’d laugh. Instead, I’m stuck with the bewilderment of surreal-er.

I realize that people who are in a media bubble or conspiracy mindset are not generally inclined to factcheck, but I implore people to seek out credible sources of information. Go to Joe Biden’s campaign website for his positions on issues and his public statements. Go to the Johns Hopkins website for US and world COVID statistics. I was hoping to provide a link for Donald Trump’s plans for a second term, but his official website doesn’t have an issues and plans page; I haven’t heard him give a clear answer about plans in interviews, either. It’s a major problem, especially with so many challenges facing the country right now and so little effective action from the administration.

What will next month bring?

And the month after?

When will life not seem surreal?

Biden/Harris

A few days ago, former vice-president of the United States Joe Biden announced that he has chosen Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. Their nomination will be formally adopted at the Democratic convention, which will be held virtually this week.

Choosing Sen. Harris to run for vice-president is historic. She is the first woman of color nominated by a major political party, the first black woman, and the first Asian-American woman. She has experience in the judicial branch as a district attorney and attorney general in California, executive experience as attorney general in our most populous state, and national legislative experience as a Senator. She was part of the astonishingly large and diverse group running for the Democratic presidential nomination, so she has been part of national campaigning and debates. The daughter of immigrants, her mom from India and her dad from Jamaica, who met at civil rights rallies, she has a compelling personal story. She graduated from a historically black college and belongs to a strong black sorority.

I should be excited and energized about the ticket, but I’m not.

Let me be clear that I am 100% committed to voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and hope and pray that they have the opportunity to govern and begin to guide the country out of the stifling morass in which we currently find ourselves. I’m looking forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of US women’s suffrage with, at long last, the election of a woman to national executive office. As someone with family members who have roots in Africa and Asia, I appreciate the value of seeing a BIPOC woman in a position of executive leadership in the United States.

But I’m not excited.

Some people have described the ticket as a “dream ticket” for Democrats, but I’m not a Democrat. I’m an independent who is a progressive. My dream ticket from the people running in the Democratic field was Elizabeth Warren/Julian Castro, which would have been a historic ticket in different ways. Many people thought they were too progressive to be elected, but the pandemic and ensuing economic disaster have highlighted the issues of income inequality, gaps in our health care system and social safety net, and the impacts of systemic racism, sexism, immigration status, state residency, rural/suburban/urban residency, etc. on the lives of individuals and families. Biden and Harris are both moderates, but the circumstances at the moment and, increasingly, the will of the electorate will probably make their governing style more progressive. As others have pointed out, many elements of #BuildBackBetter are similar to the Green New Deal, melding climate/environmental/social justice with economic rejuvenation.

I’m steeling myself for the continuing onslaught of sexist and racist attacks directed at Sen. Harris. There is already a ridiculous attempt to say that Harris isn’t qualified to run because her parents were immigrants; the Constitution is very clear that the president must be at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen. Kamala Harris was born in California. End of story.

I think the biggest reason, though, that I’m not excited is that I’m too overwhelmed with anxiety. The president and the Republican party are putting up as many roadblocks as possible to having a free and fair election from interfering with the postal service to unjustly purging voter rolls to closing polling places in neighborhoods with more people of color or Democrats to court challenges against state rules to make it easier to vote by mail during the pandemic. We also know that Russia, China, and other countries are interfering in our election process and helping to spread disinformation. The administration is acting in increasingly authoritarian ways, trying to silence critics, violating freedom of speech and of the press, and violently attacking peaceful protesters. They have removed dedicated civil servants without cause, including the inspectors general who investigate allegations of wrongdoing within the executive branch departments. People are suffering from the pandemic and the economic fallout and the Republican Congressional leadership and the administration are not doing anything to help those most affected; while the richest people and companies in the country are doing well, most people are struggling.

When the votes are counted and Biden and Harris have been elected, that is when I will be be excited. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I can to spread the truth about the candidates and make sure that my vote and all the votes are counted accurately.

Warren emotions

Yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts suspended her campaign for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party and I am sad.

Sen. Warren was my favorite of all the candidates. She is intelligent, forthright, articulate, and principled. Her broad life experiences give her perspective on the impacts of government policy on everyday folks, as well as the ability to make personal connections with people in a wide range of circumstances. She can take complicated topics and explain them in terms that voters can understand. Like many women in leadership, she works well collaboratively and incorporates ideas from other candidates, with their permission and cooperation, into her own plans.

She has the makings of a good president and a trailblazer as the first female president of the United States.

I’m sad that she is unlikely to have the chance to serve in that capacity.

I’m also discouraged and disappointed with the way she was sometimes characterized. Some of these characterizations are common among women in the public sphere. Women candidates face a lot more scrutiny about what they wear, their hairstyle/color, their makeup, etc. I know you hear occasional comments about male candidates in this regard, like Bernie’s hair or Tom Steyer’s ties, but women face comments about their appearance much more frequently. Women also tend to get negative comments about their voices. I have heard men say their voices are too shrill, when they are not shrill at all, just higher-pitched as women’s voices usually are. I’ve also heard men say that women candidates sound like their wives’ haranguing them, which I find insulting to both the women candidates and the men’s spouses. I have even heard both men and women say that they didn’t think women should be president and that being president is a “man’s job.”

I also observed that Warren was being held to a different standard than her male colleagues, a phenomenon that also occurred with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Both Warren and Clinton were famous for having detailed plans in a broad range of policy areas. Warren was challenged on details of her plans while other candidates did not even offer plans to back up their promises. Women, along with other historically disadvantaged groups, often have to be hyper-competent to be noticed, although sometimes this leads to accusations of being an elitist or know-it-all.

Elizabeth also tended to get lumped in with the other candidates in their seventies. She is the youngest of that group, which also included Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders, and Trump. She is probably also the healthiest and most energetic. As a woman, she also has a longer life expectancy. One of my favorite comments from Warren when someone pointed out that she would be the oldest president ever elected was that she would be the youngest woman president. With her leaving the race, it looks like the winner of the presidency will be the oldest person elected, as Trump, Biden, and Sanders are all older than she.

I’m assuming that the Democratic nominee, whether Sanders or Biden, will choose a much younger running mate, which will leave Elizabeth off their list. This is unfortunate, as she would be best positioned to ascend to the presidency if needed.

I am glad that Warren will be back in the Senate, where she will represent not only the state of Massachusetts but also the regular folks who make up the vast majority of the US. I know that she will have many opportunities to continue to serve the American people.

I’m just sorry that it won’t be as president in 2021.

Update March 8, 2020:  I was just reading this article that highlighted that women in political leadership are losing ground around the world. Instead of moving toward more acceptance of women in political office, in many places, we are seeing less.

uncharted territory

I can’t even count how many times during the Trump campaign and presidency I have heard historians, policy experts, and commentators say that we are in “uncharted territory.” It’s bewildering as each new scandal breaks, only to be swallowed up by the next one.

The story that has been breaking over the last few days is that a whistleblower from the intelligence community went to the inspector general with an issue of concern. The inspector general found the issue credible and urgent and, as statute dictates, told the (acting) Secretary of Homeland Security who was supposed to send the information on to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who have oversight duties. Instead, he brought the concern to the executive branch, in this case to the White House and the Department of Justice. He is now refusing to pass the information on to the committees because the person under question is not part of the intelligence community, even though the  statute is clear that the information must be handed over regardless of who is the subject.

Partial information about the case has been sussed out by the press. Apparently, the whistleblower was alarmed by a pattern of behavior by the president toward Ukraine. Part of the problem seems to be that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son; Joe Biden is one of the top tier Democratic contenders vying to run against Trump for the presidency in 2020. Trump now admits discussing the matter with the president of Ukraine, although he says he didn’t “pressure” him. If, however, the allegation is true that DT did pressure the Ukrainian president, he could be investigated for extortion, campaign finance violations, and courting foreign influence in a US election. He could also be charged with obstruction for not turning over evidence in a Congressional investigation.

And this new issue is on top of the possible obstruction of justice acts described in the second half of the Mueller report.

And the emoluments case wending its way through the courts and under investigation by the House.

And keeping members of his cabinet and staff, present and former, from cooperating with document requests and testimony, which is also obstruction.

And he hasn’t turned over tax returns for himself and his businesses, despite valid Congressional requests and New York state court subpoenas.

This is not a complete list.

The level of corruption is staggering.

What is needed at this point is for Congressional Republicans to step up and hold the president accountable for his actions. It is their duty to uphold the laws of the United States. So far, almost no Republicans have supported Congressional investigation which could lead to impeachment and removal from office. You can be sure that if a Democratic president had engaged in any of the actions that Trump appears to have taken, the Republicans would have investigated and impeached him/her long ago. During the 2016 campaign, there were Republicans saying that they would file articles of impeachment immediately after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as president, although it isn’t clear what grounds they thought they had. That Congressional Republicans are failing to hold Trump accountable only because he is a Republican is unconscionable and un-American.

What happens next? Who knows?

We are in uncharted territory.

SoCS: tempted by Stephen Colbert

I am tempted to stay up late so I can watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert when it actually airs, as opposed to recording it with a DVR and watching it the next evening. Even though this is the first week, there are clips of it on the morning news every morning.

I am so glad that the show is off to a great start. I loved Stephen on The Daily Show and watched the entire run of The Colbert Report (the T is silent!) with B, always on delay by DVR.

Despite the temptation to stay up late, 11:35 is way past my 10 PM bedtime, so Stephen will just have to wait inside our little black DVR box until the next evening when we get to see what everyone else was laughing about the night before.

It’s not all laughing, of course. While Stephen is a comedian, he is also a very philosophical and intellectual person. That can come out much more readily in his new show, where he gets to be (somewhat) more himself, as opposed to his former idiot-pundit persona on The Colbert Report. It must be a relief, especially when dealing with such sensitive topics as losing a son, as in the case of the interview with Joe Biden. Stephen lost his father and two brothers to a plane crash when he was ten, so he knows a lot about loss. It’s good that he can let that human side show, now that he doesn’t have to be in character all the time.

How about you all? Are you watching Stephen late at night, on delay, or not at all? Of course, this applies to US folks more than those in other countries, unless you can view it on the web.

For anyone who wishes to watch the Biden interview, CBS has it posted in two segments:  http://www.cbs.com/shows/the-late-show-with-stephen-colbert/video/Pc4LDUqN8wMyGkYP2ngp3WWQpNLfXpRz/vice-president-joe-biden-interview-part-1/
http://www.cbs.com/shows/the-late-show-with-stephen-colbert/video/E73677BA-3D99-0881-3FC2-BA98560FCC49/vice-president-joe-biden-interview-part-2/
*****
Linda’s prompt for this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday is “temp.”  Join us! Find out how here:   http://lindaghill.com/2015/09/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-1215/ 

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