Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sunday Reading

Investigating Trump — Jeet Heer in The Nation.

On July 21, The New York Times described a small but typical example of corruption in the Trump era. “The American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that President Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland,” the newspaper reported.

What’s striking about this report is how little of a ripple it caused. In any other administration, the use of an ambassador to further a president’s private business would be a major scandal and trigger congressional investigations and perhaps the appointment of a special counsel. At the very least, everyone implicated would have to resign. But Johnson remains the ambassador, and there is no sign that he or anyone else, especially Trump, will pay any penalty for using public offices for personal enrichment.

The singular fact about Trump’s corruption is that he has shown how much a president can get away with as long as Congress is complicit or cowed. The Republicans in Congress have from the start of the Trump presidency given him carte blanche for self-dealing. The implicit bargain has been that as long as Trump hews to the Republican agenda on substantive issues, like tax cuts and court appointments, the party will serve as his legal bodyguard.

Congressional Democrats have made a greater show of oversight but have proved ineffectual. They decided on a narrow impeachment, which left most of Trump’s crimes unpunished even by a symbolic rebuke. Trump has successfully stonewalled congressional investigations. In theory, the House of Representatives could use the power of the purse to fight Trump on this, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has shown no appetite for this sort of fight.

The sad truth is that that to date, Trump has gotten away with being a massively corrupt president. His success in evading any checks has only emboldened him, especially now that he has a compliant attorney general in William Barr. Acts that Trump might have blanched at early in his presidency—for example, commuting the sentence of his crony Roger Stone apparently in exchange for his silence—are now commonplace.

Pelosi’s argument is that any redress to Trump now is unnecessary because he’ll face punishment by voters. But would Trump’s electoral defeat bring justice?

While running for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, California Senator Kamala Harris suggested that if she became president, she would have “no choice” but to bring criminal charges against Trump.

Joe Biden, the presumed winner of the nomination that Harris lost, has been much more circumspect. On Tuesday, while speaking in a virtual interview with the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, he said that prosecuting a former president would be a “very unusual thing and probably not very…good for democracy.”

Biden qualified his remarks by saying that the matter would be out of his hands and would be dealt with by the Department of Justice. “Look, the Justice Department is not the president’s private law firm,” he noted. “The attorney general is not the president’s private lawyer. I will not interfere with the Justice Department’s judgment of whether or not they think they should pursue the prosecution of anyone that they think has violated the law.”

The political reality is that if Biden wins the election, he and his administration will be under enormous pressure to allow Trump’s wrongdoing to fade into history. Biden will be presiding over enormous problems, notably the Covid-19 pandemic and economic meltdown, that will require national unity. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post wrote, “Having campaigned on a vow of post-Trump reconciliation—and facing the daunting task of unifying a battered country around national solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and a potential economic depression—Biden might feel disinclined from sinking too much political capital into an effort along these lines, which might feel akin to diving right back into Trump’s black hole.”

Going after Trump would be portrayed, especially by the right-wing media, as a divisive and partisan move. It would allow Trump to play the role of martyr, fueling a lost-cause mythology that would keep Trumpism alive as a political force.

Despite these good reasons for moving on, doing so would be a massive dereliction of duty, one that would damage American democracy. As Sam Berger, the vice president of Democracy and Government Reform at American Progress, observed, “Ignoring the Trump administration’s attacks on the rule of law will only invite further attacks—and likely even more brazen and threatening ones.”

In the extensive report, Berger suggested that a Biden presidency could follow a nonpartisan approach that would effectively redress corruption while minimizing the appearance of a political vendetta. Berger recommended that the attorney general “conduct a top-to-bottom review of the DOJ to identify where politicization has influenced investigations, charging decisions, sentencing recommendations, and the like. There should be a particular focus on instances in which Trump administration allies received special treatment or opponents of his administration were targeted.”

Berger added that “nonpartisan career prosecutors must be allowed to pursue evidence of wrongdoing without political interference. If officials in the Trump administration—career or political—have broken the law, they must be treated like everyone else and held to account.”

There’s much to recommend in Berger’s nonpartisan approach, but there might be more to be gained by congressional Democrats’ making corruption a political issue. As Berger noted, Congress can continue to investigate the Trump administration even after he leaves office. This will be all the easier to do with a Biden White House presumably ending stonewalling in those areas.

These investigations could be used in the service of public education, to make Americans fully aware of the extent of Trump’s corruption and to shame all those implicated in it. Documenting Trump’s corruption could be a springboard to new laws to prevent corruption. One such measure is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal that all future presidential candidates be required to release their tax returns.

Moves like this might be dismissed as partisan, but they would ensure that corruption has political as well as legal consequences. To shrink from such fights would only perpetuate the normalization of Trump even after he has left the White House. As Warren told us during her candidacy, “It’s corruption, plain and simple, and we’ve got to call it out.”

Just A Reminder:

No More Free Ride, Mitch — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Americans are vehemently opposed to issuing more government payments to a Kentucky man who has not been working during the coronavirus crisis.

According to reports, the man has been receiving a weekly check amounting to over three thousand dollars for doing nothing, all at taxpayers’ expense.

Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of a watchdog group called Americans Against Waste and Abuse, called the payments to this non-working individual “nothing short of scandalous.”

“If you do the math, he is receiving checks that add up to $174,000 a year,” Dorrinson said. “Under those circumstances, what is his incentive to work?”

Dorrinson said that the payments the man has been receiving should be cut off “immediately” and sent to someone who is providing essential services during the pandemic, like a health-care worker or first responder.

As for the Kentucky man, Dorrinson said, “It’s time for him to stop living off the government and show some personal responsibility.”

Doonesbury — After the party’s over.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Friday, August 7, 2020

Happy Friday

I’m honored to be a part of the growing family of playwrights and plays now published and licensed by Smith Scripts.

This month we welcome over 40 new writers; it has been a pleasure to make contact with each and every one of you and to read many outstanding new scripts. Many of these writers are based in the USA and our resultant increase in customers and interest in the US has become self-evident. Thank you for joining us.

Along with writers new and old the catalogue at SMITH SCRIPTS has been expanded considerably. We have just published script Number 700 – a rise of 250 since the start of the Lockdown period in March. This is a phenomenal increase in our listings.

The net result of this increase is that our traffic through the website is now around 400% above what it was before lockdown and sales have increased 10-fold. Licensing is still, understandably, slow, but it is happening and we have issued a number of performance licences in recent weeks.

I have eight publications with Smith Scripts, including an anthology of eleven short plays, and soon to be joined by another collection of seven short plays. I hope you’ll check out my page and take your pick.

Racism Up North

What we’re up against in trying to end the pandemic and get back to some form of normal:

A local road commission meeting in northern Michigan on Monday started with one commissioner asking another why he wasn’t wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The unmasked official responded with a racist slur and an angry rant against the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Well, this whole thing is because of them n—–s in Detroit,” Tom Eckerle, who was elected to his position on the Leelanau County Road Commission in 2018, told his colleague at the start of the public meeting.

The commission chairman, Bob Joyce, immediately rebuked his colleague, but Eckerle continued his diatribe.

“I can say anything I want,” Eckerle said at the meeting, which the public could listen to via a dial-in number, the Leelanau Enterprise first reported. “Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”

Eckerle’s remarks came the same week Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) declared racism a public health crisis because of the disparate impact the coronavirus pandemic has had in Black, Native American and Latino communities. Michigan has reported at least 94,656 cases and 6,506 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

[…]

The racist remark spurred widespread condemnation of Eckerle, who is Republican, and calls to resign from party officials. Despite the backlash, Eckerle doubled down on his comments on Thursday, defending his position and using the slur repeatedly in an interview with the local public radio station.

“I don’t regret calling it an n—-r,” Eckerle told Interlochen Public Radio. “A n—-r is a n—-r is a n—-r. That’s not a person whatsoever.”

About 93 percent of Leelanau County’s 21,761 residents are white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fewer than 1 percent of the people who live there are black.

“It’s horrible,” Joyce told the Detroit News. “It’s absolutely horrific.”

He told the News that the other three road commissioners are pressing Eckerle to resign.

“We do not tolerate that,” he told the newspaper. “That’s not who we are.”

But Eckerle has not wavered. State Rep. Jack O’Malley (R), who represents Leelanau County, said he had a conversation with Eckerle and also asked the commissioner to step down.

I spent summers of my childhood in Leelanau County, and I lived in that part of Michigan year-round for seven years. Mr. Eckerle and his views are not an anomaly. Certainly not everyone is like him, but they’re there. They may not be on the record and spoken so bluntly, but it was my experience that racism and those kinds of epithets are an undercurrent in a part of the state that is over 90% white. I knew a number of people who moved there not only for the natural beauty but to get away from what they called the “mess” in downstate Michigan, meaning Detroit. Along with putting up with the “fudgies” — the local term for tourists who came in search of the legendary chocolate confection — getting away from Other people was a fair price to pay for living Up North.

This wouldn’t be news — gee, a racist on a county board in a snow-white community in rural Michigan — except for the fact that his hatred and racism is helping spread Covid-19 and kill people in the process.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Sick Child

Trump’s lies are so dangerous that even Facebook is taking them down.

Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday took extraordinary action against President Trump for spreading coronavirus misinformation after his official and campaign accounts broke their rules, respectively.

Facebook removed from Trump’s official account the post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said children are “almost immune” from covid-19. Twitter required his Team Trump campaign account to delete a tweet with the same video, blocking it from tweeting in the interim.

In the removed video, President Trump can be heard in a phone interview saying schools should open. He goes on to say, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease,” and that they have stronger immune systems.

The twin actions came roughly three months before the elections in which Trump’s performance on coronavirus is a key issue, and the social media companies have made it clear in recent months that they will not tolerate misinformation on the global pandemic.

Well, finally, Facebook.

But more importantly, we have someone saying it’s okay for children to get sick because they’ll survive. What kind of psychopath is okay with that?

But Her E-mails

Dana Milbank in the Washington Post:

Nearly 5 million covid-19 cases in the United States. One-hundred fifty-seven thousand dead. Thirty-two million out of work. Tens of millions facing eviction, foreclosure and hunger.

What do we do now?

Simple: We talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails!

“During the investigation of Hillary Clinton over her email server, James Comey, the FBI director, had a press conference, as you know, on July 5 where he . . . said ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would prosecute that case,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said at Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Did you know before July 5, 2016, that he was going to do that?” Cornyn asked.

The witness, Sally Yates, a former Obama administration deputy attorney general called before the panel to testify, told Cornyn she had not known.

Cornyn pressed on. “When he reopened the case after Anthony Weiner’s computer was looked at, did you know he was going to reopen the case beforehand?”

“That was more than four years ago now,” Yates replied, “and I didn’t go back and try to review any of that.”

But Cornyn was not to be disturbed from his time warp. He went on about Comey’s conduct, Loretta Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, and Rod Rosenstein’s memo justifying Comey’s firing. “Director Comey was out of control,” the senator concluded.

Maybe so. But you know who’s out of control now? Cornyn — and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and all the others trying to change the subject from the crises now gripping the nation to their greatest hits from 2016. As the Trump administration drifts and millions lose their unemployment benefits, the Senate Judiciary Committee staged yet another hearing Wednesday about the Steele dossier, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, Bruce Ohr, Fusion GPS and other golden oldies.

Graham, the committee chairman, seemed defensive about his choice of hearing topic, for he kept posing and answering rhetorical questions: “So what’s the purpose of this hearing? . . . And to the public, why does this matter to you? . . . Why are we having these hearings? . . . And again, why does it matter?” And those were just the ones from his opening statement.

[…]

It’s much the same with “Obamagate.” An inspector general concluded that the Trump-Russia probe had a legitimate basis, and he found no evidence of political bias. Yet even now, in the midst of national crises and collapse, Trump’s allies are still talking about Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

“BIG NEWS!” Trump tweeted in response to Wednesday’s hearing. “The Political Crime of the Century is unfolding. ObamaBiden illegally spied on the Trump Campaign, both before and after the election. Treason!”

In reality, Yates testified that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “did not in any way attempt to direct or influence any kind of investigation” and she repeatedly asserted that a genuine “counterintelligence threat,” not politics, was behind the Trump-Russia investigation.

Not that it mattered. “What I want to let the American people know,” Graham said after three hours of questioning Yates, “is I don’t buy for a minute that there were only two people at the FBI who knew the dossier was garbage.”

The nation, because of a worst-in-the-world pandemic response, is on the cusp of depression — and that’s what Graham wants Americans to know?

God help us.

What’s worse is that both Cornyn and Graham are up for re-election this year. And they will probably be re-elected.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Another Geography Lesson

Other than how to pronounce the name of a national park, Republicans are learning what creek they’re up.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A small but singularly influential group is a driving force for an agreement on a stalled coronavirus relief bill: Endangered Senate GOP incumbents who need to win this fall if Republicans are going to retain control of the majority.

Confronted with a poisonous political environment, vulnerable Senate Republicans are rushing to endorse generous jobless benefits, child care grants, and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen. Several of them are refusing to allow the Senate to adjourn until Washington delivers a deal to their desperate constituents.

Sen. Martha McSally, who has fallen behind in polls in Arizona, is breaking with conservatives to endorse a temporary extension of a $600 per week supplemental benefits. Republicans up for reelection such as John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are demanding results before returning home to campaign. And Sen. Susan Collins is in overdrive, backing help for cash-starved states and local governments — and Maine’s shipbuilding industry.

The opinions of senators up for reelection are of more consequence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell than those held by conservatives like Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who are broadcasting their opposition to the emerging legislation as costly and ineffective. As other Republicans gripe that they’re going to have to swallow a deal brokered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the vulnerable Republicans are craving just such a bipartisan result.

“Maybe eight Republicans who are up in tough states have a bigger interest in getting this COVID-19 bill done,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I think that’s accurate.”

Republican strategists, grappling with a political environment for their party that has worsened over the summer, said it’s imperative for GOP lawmakers to be able to head back to their states and districts with a deal in hand to show voters they are taking the pandemic and the economic fallout seriously.

“GOP Senate candidates need a deal, a good deal … so they can get home and campaign on helping small businesses get up and moving again,” said Scott Reed, the chief political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Republican operative Corry Bliss said it was crucial for incumbents facing tough re-election fights to “have wins” to highlight through the fall.

As what usually happens when times get desperate and they’re cornered, they are turning on each other; the safe seats willing to stiff the unemployed and the poor in order to cling to some kind of small-government/deficit hawk mantra while their vulnerable colleagues are doing everything they can to cling to power.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Beyond Petty

From the Washington Post and HBO:

As three former presidents gathered in Atlanta last week to offer stirring tributes to John Lewis, President Trump was absent. And in a new interview that aired on Monday night, Trump had few kind words of his own for the former Democratic congressman and Civil Rights leader, who died July 17.

Asked by interviewer Jonathan Swan how history would remember Lewis’ contributions to the nation, Trump demurred.

“I don’t know. I don’t know John Lewis,” Trump said in the “Axios on HBO” interview. “He chose not to come to my inauguration.”

Pressed by Swan on whether he found Lewis “impressive,” Trump was likewise noncommittal.

“I can’t way one way or another,” Trump said, before noting again that Lewis had skipped his inauguration and his State of the Union speeches, adding, “Nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have. He should have come.”

This is pathetic.

It should be noted that John Lewis didn’t attend the inauguration of George W. Bush. Mr. Bush came to the funeral,

Surging In The Heartland

Back in February when Covid-19 came to the United States, it arrived in the coastal regions because it was brought in by people coming from other countries.  Places like New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles were hot spots because that’s where international flights arrived.  Before masks and social distancing were fully in place, infection spread in those areas.  Trump and his allies and the wackos put the spin on it that was one person from China (Trump is still whipping the China horse) and according to one of my now-unfriended contacts on Facebook, it was only happening in places where there were immigrants (illegal, of course) and if we kept them out, then we’d all be better off: kids could go to school and we can get our nails done.

It still spread in places where the governors and the public were convinced it was a liberal lie and fake news; the South and Texas.  When cases and deaths skyrocketed in June, two weeks after those states began to reopen the beaches and the beauty parlors, those governors, notably Gov. Abbott of Texas, suddenly realized what was happening (even as his lieutenant governor said the equivalent of “oh well, folks gotta die”).  And now it’s spreading in the Midwest.

The novel coronavirus is surging in several Midwestern states that had not previously seen high infection rates while average daily deaths remained elevated Monday in Southern and Western states hit with a resurgence of the disease after lifting some restrictions earlier this summer.

Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma are among those witnessing the largest percentage surge of infections over the past week, while, adjusted for population, the number of new cases in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama still outpaced all other states, according to a Washington Post analysis of health data.

Experts also see worrying trends emerging in major East Coast and Midwest cities, and they anticipate major outbreaks in college towns as classes resume in August.

Whether it’s karma or epidemiology, Covid-19 is ravaging the places where Trump and his deniers defiantly refuse to wear masks and threaten those who do, often with weapons.

No one should take any schadenfreude from this. What we should take from this is that willful ignorance and political posturing have become as deadly was the virus itself.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Isaias — Day 4

Isaias is still a tropical storm but could become a hurricane again by the time it gets to the Carolinas, and it’s on track to go through New Jersey, New York, and New England as a heavy weather system.

Raging Fire

It’s getting worse, not better.

The United States has entered a “new phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, Deborah Birx, the physician overseeing the White House coronavirus response, told CNN on Sunday. Outbreaks are increasing in both rural and urban areas, touching isolated parts of the country that once counted on their remoteness to keep them safe.

“What we’re seeing today is different from March and April,” Birx said. “It is extraordinarily widespread.”

Alaska, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma are among the states witnessing the largest surge of infections over the past week, according to a Washington Post analysis of health data. Experts also see worrisome trends emerging in major East Coast and Midwest cities, and anticipate major outbreaks in college towns as classes resume this month.

At least 4,641,000 coronavirus cases and 151,000 fatalities have been reported in the United States since February. Close to 50,000 new cases and 478 deaths were reported on Sunday, a day of the week when numbers are often artificially low because some jurisdictions do not report data.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans showing very little interest in doing anything about the economic impact because at least a third of them think that it’s not the job of the federal government to do anything.

The Trump administration is looking at options for unilateral actions it can take to try to address some of the economic fallout caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic if no relief deal is reached with Congress, according to two people with knowledge of the deliberations.

The discussions are a reflection of officials’ increasingly pessimistic outlook for the talks on Capitol Hill. The White House remains in close contact with Democratic leaders, but a wide gulf remains and deadlines have already been missed.

It’s not clear what steps the administration could take without the help of Congress on issues such as lapsed enhanced unemployment benefits or the expired moratorium on evictions — the two matters President Trump has recently identified as his highest priorities in the ongoing talks. Both of those programs were authorized by Congress earlier this year but were designed to be temporary.

If you think a vaccine will be the savior of us all and we’ll all be saved and back to normal, well, that only works on Star Trek when Dr. McCoy comes up with a cure ten minutes before the episode ends.

In the public imagination, the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine looms large: It’s the neat Hollywood ending to the grim and agonizing uncertainty of everyday life in a pandemic.

But public health experts are discussing among themselves a new worry: that hopes for a vaccine may be soaring too high. The confident depiction by politicians and companies that a vaccine is imminent and inevitable may give people unrealistic beliefs about how soon the world can return to normal — and even spark resistance to simple strategies that can tamp down transmission and save lives in the short term.

Two coronavirus vaccines entered the final stages of human testing last week, a scientific speed record that prompted top government health officials to utter words such as “historic” and “astounding.” Pharmaceutical executives predicted to Congress in July that vaccines might be available as soon as October, or before the end of the year.

As the plotline advances, so do expectations: If people can just muddle through a few more months, the vaccine will land, the pandemic will end and everyone can throw their masks away. But best-case scenarios have failed to materialize throughout the pandemic, and experts — who believe wholeheartedly in the power of vaccines — foresee a long path ahead.

“It seems, to me, unlikely that a vaccine is an off-switch or a reset button where we will go back to pre-pandemic times,” said Yonatan Grad, an assistant professor of infectious diseases and immunology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Or, as Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen puts it, “It’s not like we’re going to land in Oz.”

Mixing metaphors: he’s in Oz, I’m on the Enterprise. The point is the same: it will take years before it’s under control, and it may never be eradicated.

All of these scenarios could have been prevented or drastically reduced if we had had competent and caring leadership in the White House.  Remember that.  And wear your fucking mask.

Sunday, August 2, 2020