Monday, October 26, 2020

Abject Failure

We’re not “rounding the turn.” We’re circling the drain.

From the Washington Post:

The presidential campaign was roiled this weekend by a fresh outbreak of the novel coronavirus at the White House that infected at least five aides or advisers to Vice President Pence, a spread that President Trump’s top staffer acknowledged Sunday he had tried to avoid disclosing to the public.

With the election a little over a week away, the new White House outbreak spotlighted the administration’s failure to contain the pandemic as hospitalizations surge across much of the United States and daily new cases hit all-time highs.

The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is “rounding the turn,” as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.

Further complicating Trump’s campaign-trail pitch was an extraordinary admission Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the administration had effectively given up on trying to slow the virus’s spread.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who regularly wears a mask on the campaign trail and strictly adheres to social distancing guidelines, sought to capitalize on the remark.

“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows; it was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away,” Biden said in a statement. “It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

Some in the vice president’s office suggested that White House doctors should release a statement saying that Short was positive and that Pence was still okay to travel. But that idea was scuttled by Meadows and others, officials said.

No sane or well-informed person expected a miracle or that the virus wouldn’t spread. But the least we could expect was an honest effort to inform the public, do whatever it would take to contain it like the majority of other countries did, and stop trying to find someone else to blame for it. We are on the verge of a quarter of a million deaths in this country alone and we’re being led by a pack of liars and sycophants who think it’s more important to win an election than it is to save lives. And they have the amazing gall to call themselves “pro-life.”

Every last one of them is accountable.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Almost Adults Zoom Theatre Event

Tonight at 6 PM ET, tune in to see three short plays presented by Almost Adults Theatre of Santa Fe.

Here is the link to the reading.

The plays are:

Repetition by Doug Devitta (New York, NY)
Directed by Bradd Howard (Albuquerque, NM) with BJ Stokey (Santa Fe, NM) Juliana Liscio (Chicago, IL), Mark Westberg (Santa Fe, NM)
Trouble ensues for soon to be childhood friends and next-door neighbors Phillie McDougal and Barbie Bradley, both soon to be 25-years-old, as they are drunk and alone on New Year’s Eve.

Last Exit by Philip Middleton Williams (FL)
Directed by Matt Cogswell (Clinton, MA)
With Rob Salerno (Los Angeles, CA) and Aaron Leventman (Santa Fe, NM)
Moving day brings closure to a relationship. Or does it?

X, Y, Z by Emma Meyers (Santa Fe, NM)
Directed by Andra Laine Hunter (Dallas, TX)
A young woman’s odyssey takes her to encounters with her friend at three different parts of her life.
Rachel Wilson, Carmen Gallegos, Elizabeth Rich, Margaret Lyman, and Aaron Leventman.

 

The running time for the plays should be about 45 minutes in total.  There will be a talk-back after the readings with the playwrights.

Sunday Reading

How To Stop a Coup — Lizzie Widdiecombe in The New Yorker.

Ah, election season. There’s a patriotic buzz in the air. Bumper stickers and lawn signs all over the neighborhood. Now comes the time when we check the location of our polling places, make a plan to vote—and pack a “go bag” in case we need to take to the streets in sustained mass protest to protect the integrity of the vote count. That last one is not something you’d expect to be doing in the United States, but things are different in the Trump era. For months, the President has been warning that he might not concede the election in November if he loses, telling reporters who asked him to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.” It sounded ominous, although it was hard to imagine how he could make good on the threat to stick around no matter what. Then, media organizations began publishing pieces outlining the myriad ways in which the President and his allies might turn a narrow loss into a win. The possibilities include familiar tactics—contesting mail-in ballots and turning the process into Bush v. Gore on steroids—and others that sound straight out of a police state. For example, Trump could summon federal agents or his supporters to stop a recount or intimidate voters. According to some experts, this would constitute an autogolpe, or “self coup”: when a President who obtained power through constitutional means holds onto it through illegitimate ones, beginning the slide into authoritarianism.

O.K., then. Time to start getting ready. But how, exactly, do we do that? In September, a group of organizers and researchers published a fifty-five-page manual called “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy,” which has been downloaded more than eighteen thousand times. And the Indivisible Project, along with a coalition called Stand Up America, are preparing their members to take to the streets if Trump contests the election results. “I’ve been beating the drum on this particular cause since July, and I’m delighted to see so many people coming around to it,” the activist and sociologist George Lakey said recently. His own “Aha!” moment came when Trump sent federal agents in military fatigues to Portland, Oregon, to tangle with protesters. “It hit me, the way Trump is dealing with Portland, Oregon, that’s a test,” he said. He guessed that Trump was hoping to provoke a violent backlash from the protesters, so that he could lay the groundwork for not accepting the election results, under the pretense that the country had descended into violent chaos. “Trump can be underestimated by the left,” Lakey said. “He gets made fun of, but he’s shrewd.”

Lakey, who is eighty-two, is best known for his book “A Manual for Direct Action,” from 1964, which was often referred to as a bible for the participants of the civil-rights movement. Since then, he has trained activists in countries including South Africa, Thailand, and Sri Lanka in their struggles against repressive regimes. “In the U.S., we’re used to waiting for social change,” he said, referring to multiyear efforts like the civil-rights or women’s-rights movements. But defeating a coup is different. “Everything happens really fast. You’ve got sometimes three days, sometimes a week, sometimes three months to beat a coup.” The average American activist needed a new skill set. “This is the teen-ager who’s been playing excellent football, and now he wants to play baseball,” he said. “He can’t just walk on the field and be great. He needs to learn a new set of rules.”

In August, Lakey helped form a group called Choose Democracy that has been circulating a pledge committing people to “nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted,” which has more than thirty thousand signatures. And he began giving a series of training sessions via Zoom called “How To Beat an Election-Related Power Grab.” On a recent Thursday, at 7:30 P.M., more than five hundred concerned citizens tuned in. They exchanged greetings on the group chat:

Hello from “Bad things happen” in Philadelphia!

Please do more of these!!! I know lots of white suburban women who are interested.

Lakey, who has white hair and bushy white eyebrows, is a Quaker, and brings a cheerful, Sunday-school-style delivery to lessons about overthrowing authoritarian regimes. He began with the work of the political scientist Stephen Zunes, who has studied occasions when the citizens of a country managed to rise up and defeat a coup: Bolivia, in 1978; the Soviet Union, in 1991; Thailand, in 1992; and Burkina Faso, in 2015. According to Zunes, these movements had several things in common: they were nonviolent, and they drew from a broad cross-section of society. And they refused to compromise. So, Lakey emphasized, there could be no cutting a deal with Trump. “That is reeeeally important,” he said, citing a demand from the Choose Democracy pledge: “Every vote must be counted. And we refuse to accept the authority of someone who is practicing something different.” Another takeaway, for activists, is to focus “on the center of the political spectrum,” Lakey said. “We’re looking to influence them to tip the outcome of the struggle in our direction.” Will they side with the protesters or with Trump?

To illustrate, he told the story of the Kapp Putsch, in the Weimar Republic. In 1920, a group of soldiers, veterans, and civilians tried to seize control of Berlin, under the right-wing leadership of Wolfgang Kapp. The legitimate government fled, and Kapp proclaimed himself the country’s leader. “He walked into the capitol building ready to run the country,” Lakey said. “However, he found that the government workers had all gone on strike. There was nobody in the building except him.” He wanted to issue a proclamation that he was running the country, Lakey added, “But he didn’t know how to type. So, the next day, he had to bring his daughter to type out the manifesto.” The coup collapsed within days. Lakey said, “The magic in that situation was the rapid alliance that was built, over a weekend, between the left”—trade unions, Communists—“and the center. It could overcome the right wing, even though they had the Army.”

He said that his listeners should start to build similar alliances. “Go beyond the usual suspects: the progressives, the left.” One woman asked in the chat, “Who is the Center in the US these days? Dems? Church? Libertarians? Moderate Republicans? Ha. How to trust them?” Lakey assured his audience that, while the U.S. may feel extremely polarized, “the truth is we’re not nearly as polarized as we may become.” He said that centrists could be found everywhere from the business world to the medical establishment. “Bank presidents. People who manage schools or colleges . . . you name it, if it’s some kind of institution that expects to have a future.”

There were questions about tactics. 
“What does refusal to recognize illegitimate authority look like?
” one participant wrote. Mass protests? Lakey warned that, while marches may be useful, “in my opinion they are wayyyy overrated.” (It is hard to imagine a Trumpist regime being swayed by a mob of citizens in pussy hats.) Instead, he encouraged his audience to think strategically. He pulled up a slide titled “Pillars of Power,” which showed a classical edifice. The roof was labelled “Regime/Status Quo.” The pillars were labelled with the words Business, Politicians, Military, Media, Judiciary, Police, and Bureaucracies. “Obviously, the Trump family is not going to be able to run the government by itself,” he said. They’ll need institutional support. “The question is how do we, as activists, go after these pillars in such a way as to encourage them to buckle, and allow the Trump regime, or his attempted regime, to fall?” Participants in the chat then came up with politicians they might approach:

Last, Lakey clicked to a slide that said, “What about Violence?” This topic had been hovering over the proceedings. Zunes, the political scientist, had said in a recent interview, “The thing that scares me the most is, unlike all these other countries I’ve studied, this country has millions of people who have guns—and not just guns but semi-automatic weapons—that are loyal Trump supporters, and whom he can call out to suppress such a nonviolent uprising.” Several attendees had expressed concerns in the chat about groups like the Proud Boys and right-wing militias, writing things like, “
I have never been in a demonstration where some people are likely to have automatic weapons.”

Lakey acknowledged, “There are a lot of alarming things going on already in this country with regard to what I call Trump’s ‘irregulars.’ ” He said that protesters should plan their rallies for places where it would be difficult for violence to break out: in the lobby of an office building or in a car caravan. He told participants to imagine that they were Proud Boys looking to “rumble.” “Ask, ‘What would they welcome?’ And then not do that!” he said. One tip, from the civil-rights movement: “When in doubt, sit down. It’s counterintuitive. But it has been used in multiple cultures, and it works.” (Except with tear gas. Then, he said, “walking slowly would be best.”)

If things do get ugly, he noted, it could be useful for the cause. “Get your smartphone and expose what happened. Offer yourself for interviews,” he said. The key is to draw a contrast between the violent regime and the peaceful protesters. That’s what happened during Thailand’s military coup, in 1992, when soldiers shot into a crowd of nonviolent demonstrators. The public was horrified. “It brought a surge of people into the struggle that overthrew the coup plotters,” Lakey said. “What we’re teaching tonight is evidence-based. It’s how baseball is played.”

Frances Brokaw, a retired physician and Quaker in Hanover, New Hampshire, attended the Zoom training and came away feeling better about the coming weeks. “I found it helpful and hopeful,” she said. She’d written to New Hampshire’s secretary of state, a Democrat, and its governor, a Republican, asking them not certify the election results until all absentee ballots have been counted. The secretary of state’s office had responded affirmatively. “I haven’t heard back from the governor,” she said. But she plans to keep writing. And she will join in street protests if necessary, despite the spectre of election-related violence and the threat of the coronavirus. “If need be, I’m ready,” she said. “If we’re talking about the well-being and safety of millions of people in this country from this President—who is totally off the rails from what I’ve seen—yes, I’ll put myself on the line for that. I have a grandson who’s five months old, and I want the world to be safe for him.”

Cuba Goes For Trump? — Tim Golden in The New York Times.

With Florida again looking pivotal in the presidential race, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have found themselves revisiting a decades-old question that could decide a crucial share of votes: What to do about Cuba?

It’s a debate that many analysts thought was largely over. When President Barack Obama traveled to Havana in 2016 to “bury the Cold War” between the two countries, the tentative support of many Cuban-Americans surprised even hopeful Democrats. That fall, Hillary Clinton — who had called for ending the United States economic embargo against Cuba “once and for all” — won more Cuban votes in Florida than Mr. Obama had collected in 2012.

Four years later, the Cold War is decidedly back. In a sustained barrage of punitive measures, Mr. Trump has restricted travel to the island, blocked investment and withdrawn most American diplomats from Havana. Visas for Cubans to visit or join family in the United States have been cut sharply. The administration has even begun to limit the ways Cuban-Americans can send money to their relatives.

But while Cuban-Americans oppose many of those specific policies, according to a survey this summer by Florida International University, two-thirds broadly support Mr. Trump’s confrontational stance toward the island’s Communist government.

“Ultimately, most Cuban-Americans view logistical inconveniences as a small price to pay for freedom and accountability of a dictatorship that has oppressed its people for far too long,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a Cuban-American who served in the Trump White House and is a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Mr. Biden argues that the president’s tough line should be judged by the results, not the rhetoric. “The administration’s approach is not working,” he said on a visit to Miami this month. “Cuba is no closer to democracy than it was four years ago.”

Yet if recent polling holds, analysts said, Mr. Trump could win 60 percent of the Cuban-American vote — surpassing the estimated 50 percent to 54 percent he won in the 2016 election. “Trump has gone through the roof with the poll numbers from Hispanics,” the president told a group of Cuban-American supporters at the White House last month. “I guess they didn’t know I love you, but I do.”

Even as the race in Florida has tightened, it remains to be seen whether the Cuba issue is still potent enough, almost 62 years after the revolution, to help swing the state and its 29 electoral votes; along with New York, Florida has the third-largest number of electoral votes, after California and Texas. The two-thirds of Cuban-Americans who live in Florida account for only about 5 percent of its roughly 14 million voters. But their shifting views on American policy are again drawing outsize attention in a state that remains closely divided between the two parties.

“This clearly is a harder line” toward Cuba, said Guillermo Grenier, a sociologist at Florida International University who has overseen its surveys of Cuban-American opinion for nearly 30 years.

To Miami’s old guard, who fled Cuba after the 1959 revolution, Mr. Obama’s attempt to promote change through closer engagement was always dangerously naïve. By not conditioning his opening on human rights improvements, they argued, Mr. Obama threw then-President Raúl Castro an economic lifeline while demanding nothing in return. The regime’s continued repression of political critics thereafter was entirely predictable.

Still, Democrats were confident that Cuban-American demographics were shifting their way. Whatever the recalcitrance of Cuban elders, their children and grandchildren appeared less wedded to the coercive approach that had so long failed to bring meaningful change on the island. More recent immigrants — who were generally more skeptical that the government in Cuba could be dislodged and were more connected to relatives there — also supported freer travel and closer economic ties.

So, after years of growing Cuban-American support for the Democratic Party, one of the most striking results of the F.I.U. poll was the 76 percent of recent Cuban immigrants who reported having registered to vote as Republicans. Only 5 percent the respondents, who came to the United States between 2010 and 2015, said they had become Democrats; the rest described themselves as independents.

Even as the Democrats have gained ground, the Republican Party has been more active and better organized among Latinos in South Florida. Hard-liners on Cuba remain powerful across local Spanish-language media outlets. “For Republicans, it’s always a home game in Miami,” said Ana Sofía Pelaez, a leader of the Miami Freedom Project, a progressive Cuban group focused on social issues.

Younger, hipper Republican partisans have also begun to emerge. Among the more prominent is a kooky YouTube personality, Alexander Otaola, who left Cuba in 2003 and offers a comedic, reggaeton-infused alternative to the vitriolic talk radio that still echoes on local airwaves. Mr. Otaola has become a boisterous Trump evangelist, exhorting his audience to beware the Democrats’ “socialist” tendencies.

The biggest influencer has been Mr. Trump himself. His warnings that the Democrats will deliver America to socialism, while silly to some voters, have been repeated constantly in advertising and social-media posts that target Florida refugees from Venezuela and Nicaragua as well as Cuba. The purported threat of self-described democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a staple theme of that campaign, which has established at least a notional coherence between Mr. Trump’s domestic politics and his bellicose stance toward leftist regimes in Latin America.

“They have been relentless,” said Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat and Cuban-American state senator, of the “socialism” attack. “So relentless that it has been somewhat effective.”

Another big factor in Mr. Trump’s success with Cuban-American voters has been his willingness to show up. Mr. Trump was mocked by some critics last month when he recalled a “beautiful” award he said he had received from veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. (No such award is known to exist.) But he should hardly have to prove his loyalty to the cause. The very first stop on Mr. Trump’s first foray into presidential campaigning in 1999 was the two-room Bay of Pigs Library and Museum in Miami’s Little Havana, where he turned up with his then-girlfriend, Melania Knauss. “My policy,” he said then, “is you have to keep pressure on Castro.”

As president, Mr. Trump has tried to ratchet up that pressure. In addition to blocking tourism, investment and trade, he all but shuttered the American Embassy in Havana, citing mysterious suspected attacks on diplomats there. Visas for Cubans to visit the United States were cut to 10,167 last year from a high of 41,001 in 2014. His administration also suspended a family reunification program that had authorized more than 125,000 Cubans to join relatives in the United States since 2007, and it sharply increased the deportation of Cuban asylum seekers.

Cuban-Americans’ response to those measures has been contradictory. In the F.I.U. poll, 71 percent of the respondents said the United States’ long-running economic embargo against Cuba hasn’t worked, yet 60 percent said it should remain in place. Many of them also said Washington’s Cuba policy was less important to them than other issues, including the economy, health care, race relations and even China policy.

Florida Democrats admitted that they have had little success in trying to focus attention on the collateral damage to Cubans from Mr. Trump’s policies. The Democrats may have done even less to argue the Obama administration’s case that closer contact with the United States is the best way to push the Cuban government toward greater political and economic freedom for the island.

“I think a lot of Democrats have concluded that while there are strong intellectual arguments for those initiatives, politically they just don’t pay off,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Miami.

Ed. note: For those of you outside of South Florida, it should be noted that there are other Latin communities in Miami-Dade besides Cubans. It’s just that they’re the loudest, another quality they share with Trump. They also seem to have a love/hate relationship with dictators. The old guard who left after the revolution fled a dictator they hated because he overthrew a dictator they liked, and now they’re flocking to another one with authoritarian tendencies. One thing this election may show is that for all their noise and propaganda, their power is diminishing.

Doonesbury — Postal service.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Friday, October 23, 2020

A Little Night Music

Some friends up north are reporting the first snow of the season, and thankfully they are starting to get some out west which will aid with putting out the wildfires.  And here in Florida, we start seeing our own Snowbirds; the ones with Ontario and Quebec license plates.  Welcome/Bienvenu for another season.

Happy Friday

Hey, I didn’t throw anything at the TV last night and Trump restrained by Kristen Welker was more annoying than when he was off the rails back in September.  Joe Biden was Joe Biden.  I count it as a win.

I’ve been paying attention to the wildfires in Colorado that burning through Rocky Mountain National Park and threatening Estes Park.  Friends are reporting that they have evacuated to Longmont and Lyons.  One fire is creeping closer to the town of Glen Haven where two of the Cheley Camps are located.

A view of Estes Park and Longs Peak, July 1991.

 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

If They Were Winning

I smell more desperation.

During a pro-Trump rally earlier this month in Nevada City, Calif., enthusiastic supporters in cars and trucks crowded into the parking lot of the county government center.

As many as 300 people played music, cheered and called out through a megaphone, according to Natalie Adona, a county election official who could see the gathering from her second-floor office at the Eric Rood Administration Center.

But unlike usual Trump rallies, this one was happening at the site of one of the most popular drive-up ballot boxes in the county. And early voting was already underway.

That afternoon, voters were forced to navigate through the pro-Trump crowd, and some felt the electioneering amounted to voter intimidation.

I think the reason you see all these pro-Trumpers showing up at early voting sites is because they’re seeing that the shit is about to hit the fan. If they were truly confident they were going to win, they wouldn’t have to carry on as if their home was in a tree. They’re desperate. The jig is up and they know it.

Running Interference

Via the Washington Post:

U.S. officials on Wednesday night accused Iran of targeting American voters with faked but menacing emails and warned that both Iran and Russia had obtained voter data that could be used to endanger the upcoming election.

The disclosure by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe at a hastily called news conference marked the first time this election cycle that a foreign adversary has been accused of targeting specific voters in a bid to undermine democratic confidence — just four years after Russian online operations marred the 2016 presidential vote.

The claim that Iran was behind the email operation, which came into view on Tuesday as Democrats in several states reported receiving emails demanding they vote for President Trump, was leveled without specific evidence. Other U.S. officials, speaking privately, stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.

On Thursday, Iran summoned the Swiss envoy in Tehran, which handles U.S. affairs there, to condemn the “baseless accusations of meddling in the U.S. election.” Hours after Ratcliffe’s announcement, the spokesman for Iran’s mission at the United Nations also described the allegations as “absurd.”

“These accusations are nothing more than another scenario to undermine voter confidence, & are absurd. Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election & no preference for the outcome,” tweeted Alireza Miryousefi.

The emails claimed to be from a pro-Trump group called the Proud Boys, but evidence had mounted that they in fact were the work of another, hidden actor. U.S. officials said that was Iran, a nation that increasingly has clashed with the president in recent years.

However, officials also stressed that the integrity of the election was intact. “We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, standing next to Ratcliffe. “When we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we’re going to aggressively investigate and work with our partners to quickly take appropriate action.”

According to NPR, about 90% of the e-mails were caught in the spam filters. Also, the e-mails themselves are suspect:

For one thing, there are no spelling or glaring punctuation or grammar errors, so it was written by someone who is well-educated in the English language, which is rare among the right-wing nutsery. But the message itself is written in the same manner as the ones you get from the mysterious stranger who is telling you to send them $388 in bitcoin or they will release your private pictures to everyone on your contact list.  Anyone who thought it was genuine is the same person who would send money to a televangelist, so going phishing after Democrats is, by and large, a waste of time.

If this is an attempt by Iran or Russia to elect Biden, it’s pretty clumsy.  It seems more like they’re messing with us because they can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

I Voted

It took twenty minutes from the time I got out of the car, walked across the parking lot of the Pinecrest Library through the phalanx of campaigners for various candidates, some I’d never heard of (I live in a different community than this particular early-voting location), got my ballot, marked up the three pages of candidates, constitutional amendments, and charter amendments for Palmetto Bay, got my I VOTED! sticker, and got back in my car.  There were a lot of voters, and the parking lot was full, but apparently in anticipation of a large turn-out, the county had set up a lot of polling stations.  Social distancing was enforced, and everything went smoothly.

Don’t ask me how I voted because other than the Big One, I don’t actually remember all the names.  Frankly, for a lot of the local races, I rely on seeing who has yard signs along side the candidates I do know.  So if a candidate for vice-mayor in Palmetto Bay is next to the one for the presidential candidate I support, they probably get my vote.  Yeah, I know, I should be doing better research, but a lot of it is hard to find, Google notwithstanding.  That said, I did read up and research the state constitutional amendments and made my informed choices.

The most important thing, though, is that I voted.  You can listen to all the hype, the pundits, the Twitter feeds, the Facebook posts, your friends, your neighbors, the crazy uncle, and the guy at the gas station, but it doesn’t do anything until you stand alone in that little portable polling station, with the ballot printed out and the ball-point pen that you use to fill in the little bubble on the page next to the name.  It is the most important act in our journey as a country and as a civilization.  And in those twenty minutes — the average length of a TV sitcom episode — I was doing something that people have fought and died for: the simple act of casting a vote.  Doing the one thing that will actually count.

What I will never understand, especially this year, are those who have the vote and don’t use it.  The state and county has made it as easy as they can even with the pandemic: early voting at a lot of locations with ample parking and open for 12 hours a day; absentee and mail-in secure ballots, doing practically everything but coming to your house.  How much easier can they make it, and what’s stopping you?

To be honest, I don’t want to hear your excuses for not voting because it’s not worth hearing, and if you don’t care about the outcome, then I really don’t want to be around you.  This is too stark a choice not to have a voice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Last Gasps

I know we still have two more weeks of this, but it’s beginning to sound more desperate than usual.

Trump dismissed precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and attacked the nation’s top infectious-disease expert as a “disaster” Monday, arguing that people are getting tired of all the focus on a pandemic that has killed more than 219,000 Americans and continues to infect thousands of people in communities across the country.

The president claimed that voters do not want to hear more from the country’s scientific leaders about the pandemic, responding angrily to a critical interview Sunday night with CBS’s “60 Minutes” by Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Trump said in a call with his campaign staff Monday that was intended to instill confidence in his reelection bid two weeks before Election Day. He baselessly suggested that Fauci’s advice on how best to respond to the outbreak was so bad it would have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more people.

I and a lot of people are over the outrage of his flailing at everyone else for his complete failure to deal with the pandemic. Calling Dr. Fauci a disaster and mocking Joe Biden for listening to him is just noise now, and anyone who pays any heed to what he’s saying is already so besotted with his toxicity that there’s no point in trying to convince them otherwise. All that’s left is to just keep our heads in the game, concentrate on end of this as it approaches, and not be distracted by the distraction.

One of those distractions is the inevitable stories that show the race tightening; that polls are saying the race is getting closer and that even if Joe Biden is up nine points nationally, state-by-state it’s much closer.  That may easily be; that’s how polling works.  And we’re being reminded again and again how wrong we were four years ago when it looked like Hillary Clinton had it in the bag, which now generates the usual warnings about complacency.  (Everybody does it.  I’d be surprised if you weren’t able to find the same kind of warnings from the Reagan ’84 campaign, too.)

I’m not trying to minimize the flaming stupidity and dictatorial tendencies of Trump and the people who slather their fealty to him.  It’s not going to end when the election is over — whenever that is — and the aftershocks are going to last well into the next cycle that begins on November 4.  The surest way we can end this sooner rather than later is to get out there and vote in whatever way works for you and guarantee that it is counted.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Early Voting

It starts today in Florida.  If you’re in Miami-Dade County, here’s where to do it.  You can also drop off your mail-in/absentee ballots at certain locations.

(Click on the pic to embiggen.)

According to NPR, over 28 million people have already voted, either through early voting in states like Texas, Virginia, and Illinois or mail-in.

Not that it matters, but I have decided to vote early as I did in 2008 and 2012. I voted on Election Day in 2016 and look what happened. I don’t buy into superstitions, but perhaps if I’d have voted early, it might have turned out differently, knock wood. So, I might join the socially-distant throng, take a book, and make a day of it.

But seriously, folks, this is not the time to get complacent. I know that there are articles in major papers warning about the Democrats being Nervous Nellies and saying it’s a lot closer race than the polls are saying. I also know they do that to guilt-trip their electorate into voting. This time around it’s the same story, although there’s a bit a of difference this time. There are no third-party candidates, and the incumbent is an all-too-well-known commodity. So is Joe Biden, and instead of going for a historic first such as the first woman president, we’re going for a candidate who is more like a comfortable known with an appropriate woke twist with Kamala Harris as the vice president.

I’ve always said I’d rather vote for a candidate than against one. This time it’s both.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sunday Reading

Say Freedom — Michael Tomasky in the New York Times.

Donald Trump is now back on the road, holding rallies in battleground states. These events, with people behind the president wearing masks but most others not, look awfully irresponsible to most of us — some polls show that as many as 92 percent of Americans typically wear masks when they go out.

Trumpworld sees these things differently. Mike Pence articulated the view in the vice-presidential debate. “We’re about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people,” Mr. Pence said. The topic at hand was the Sept. 26 super-spreader event in the Rose Garden to introduce Amy Coney Barrett as the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court and how the administration can expect Americans to follow safety guidelines that it has often ignored.

Kamala Harris countered that lying to the American people about the severity of the virus hardly counts as “respect.”

It was a pretty good riposte, but she fixed on the wrong word. She could have delivered a far more devastating response if she’d focused on the right word, one that the Democrats have not employed over the past several months.

The word I mean is “freedom.” One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In “On Liberty,” he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”

Note the clause “as long as what we do does not harm them.” He tossed that in there almost as a given — indeed, it is a given. This is a standard definition of freedom, more colloquially expressed in the adage “Your freedom to do as you please with your fist ends where my jaw begins.”

Now, conservatives revere Mill. But today, in the age of the pandemic, Mill and other conservative heroes like John Locke would be aghast at the way the American right wing bandies about the word “freedom.”

Freedom emphatically does not include the freedom to get someone else sick. It does not include the freedom to refuse to wear a mask in the grocery store, sneeze on someone in the produce section and give him the virus. That’s not freedom for the person who is sneezed upon. For that person, the first person’s “freedom” means chains — potential illness and even perhaps a death sentence. No society can function on that definition of freedom.

Joe Biden does a pretty good job of talking about this. At a recent town hall in Miami, he said: “I view wearing this mask not so much protecting me, but as a patriotic responsibility. All the tough guys say, ‘Oh, I’m not wearing a mask, I’m not afraid.’ Well, be afraid for your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your neighbor, your co-worker. That’s who you’re protecting having this mask on, and it should be viewed as a patriotic duty, to protect those around you.”

That’s good, but it could be much better if he directly rebutted this insane definition of freedom that today’s right wing employs.

There are certain words in our political lexicon that “belong” to this side or the other. “Fairness” is a liberal word. You rarely hear conservatives talking about fairness. “Growth” is mostly a conservative word, sometimes the functional opposite of fairness in popular economic discourse, although liberals use it too, but often with a qualifier (“balanced” or “equitable” growth, for example).

“Freedom” belongs almost wholly to the right. They talk about it incessantly and insist on a link between economic freedom and political freedom, positing that the latter is impossible without the former. This was an animating principle of conservative economists in the 20th century like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

It’s manifest silliness. To be sure, when they were writing, it was true of a place like the Soviet Union. But it is not true of Western democracies. If they were correct, the Scandinavian nations, statist on economic questions, would have jails filled with political prisoners. If they were correct, advanced democratic countries that elected left-leaning governments would experience a simultaneous crushing of political freedom. History shows little to no incidence of this.

And yet, the broad left in America has let all this go unchallenged for decades, to the point that today’s right wing — and it is important to call it that and not conservative, which it is not — can defend spreading disease, potentially killing other people, as freedom. It is madness.

One thing Democrats in general aren’t very good at is defending their positions on the level of philosophical principle. This has happened because they’ve been on the philosophical defensive since Ronald Reagan came along. Well, it’s high time they played some philosophical offense, especially on an issue, wearing masks, on which every poll shows broad majorities supporting their view.

Say this: Freedom means the freedom not to get infected by the idiot who refuses to mask up. Even John Stuart Mill would have agreed.

Extreme Restraint — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

On the second day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court, she and Cory Booker had an exchange that indicated that both the Court and the country are nearing a precarious point. Did she believe, Booker asked, that “every Pres­ident should make a commitment, un­equivocally and resolutely, to the peace­ful transfer of power?” Barrett raised her eyebrows, and chose her words carefully. “Well, Senator, that seems to me to be pulling me in a little bit into this question of whether the President has said that he would not peacefully leave office,” she said. “And so, to the extent that this is a political controversy right now, as a judge, I want to stay out of it and I don’t want to express a view.”

A President should absolutely make such a commitment; it’s in the job description. Yet, even when Booker reminded Barrett, who has described herself as an originalist and a textualist, of the importance of the peaceful transition of power to the Founders, the most she would allow was that America had been lucky that “disappointed voters” had always accepted election results. To say that a disappointed President might have an obligation to do so was apparently too far for her to go. What Barrett did offer was a study in the extent to which not giving an answer can be an expression of extremism. Her demurrals were more, even, than those of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, in their hearings, a measure of how thoroughly President Trump has moved the margins of our political culture.

It’s no surprise that the hearings would be characterized by some level of evasiveness: no nominee, particularly these days, wants to say something that will rally the opposition. Barrett, as a member of Notre Dame’s University Faculty for Life, had signed an ad that called Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision affirming a woman’s reproductive rights, “infamous.” But, in the hearings, she asserted that she really couldn’t say what her position on Roe might be—the decision was controversial, and a case that threatened to overturn it might someday come before her. She attributed the principle that nominees should not comment on potential cases to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But that principle doesn’t mean that the confirmation process should be a charade of non-answers; Ginsburg, in her own hearings, in 1993, acknowledged that she was pro-choice.

Barrett’s hearings weren’t just the latest reminder that the tiresome confirmation process is due for an overhaul; there were two novel, and alarming, aspects of the evasions in her testimony. The first was how many established principles she considers to be still open to debate. When Kamala Harris pressed her on the reality of climate change, and its consequences, Barrett protested that the Senator was “eliciting an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate,” adding, “and I will not do that.” More startling, Barrett seemed to suggest that core elements of our electoral democracy are up for grabs. Dianne Feinstein asked her if the Constitution gives the President the power “to unilaterally delay a general election.” The answer is no, but Barrett replied that she didn’t want to give “off-the-cuff answers”—that would make her a “legal pundit.”

The scenarios that Barrett declined to address were not wild hypotheticals that the Democrats had dreamed up in an attempt to trick her. Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. He has also mooted delaying the election, or maybe excluding ballot tallies he doesn’t trust, and said that he wants this Court seat filled quickly, so that his appointee can be on the panel deciding any election disputes. What he’s proposing is a clear attack on American democracy and the rule of law. Barrett, though, spoke as though the fact that the President tweets about something means that it is within the realm of reasonable constitutional inter­pretation. What she conveyed throughout was not so much conscientiousness as a combination of deference to, alignment with, and, perhaps, fear of Trump.

And that was the second warning that emerged from the hearings: none of the Republican senators in the room seemed shocked at what the President deems possible, or interested in hearing what the Court’s role might be in countering any President who abuses his power. Instead, they echoed Trump’s intimations of fraudulent voting, me­dia lies, and left-wing plots. Ted Cruz claimed that many Democrats had made a decision “to abandon democracy.” Thom Tillis said it was understandable that gun sales had increased in recent months, because Democrats, “including people on this committee,” had made Americans fear for their safety. Josh Hawley appeared to think that the real problem was Hunter Biden. It can be hard to tell whether the Republicans are extremists or opportunists, or have just retreated into passivity.

In one of the most notable exchanges in the hearings, the Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy tried, unsuccessfully, to get a straight answer from Barrett on whether a President could refuse to comply with a Supreme Court order, and whether such a refusal would be “a threat to our constitutional system of checks and balances.” A President defying the Supreme Court is the definition of a constitutional crisis, but Barrett would say only that the Court “can’t control” a renegade President. The Constitution, though, offers a clear course of action in such an event: impeachment. It seemed odd that Barrett, who spent much of her time commending committee members for their power as legislators—saying, repeatedly, “That’s your job”—didn’t emphasize that point.

Textualists often adopt a posture of “restraint” that masks their tendency to be true activists, which is what Barrett was when, in a dissent last year, she called Wisconsin laws limiting gun purchases by felons unconstitutional. Similarly, in suggesting that Justices, when faced with a President who rejects election results—or their authority—would just dither or shrug, she was making a radical statement, not a restrained one. Perhaps Barrett believes that such a crisis will never come to pass, and honestly doesn’t know what she would do if one did. In which case it might be prudent for her to begin thinking about how she would respond. The full Senate is on track to vote on her nomination as soon as October 26th. Eight days later, Donald Trump will be watching the election results come in, and he may not like what he sees.

Doonesbury — Can you hear the music?