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Archive for March 13th, 2020

The Trump Presidency Is Over

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Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Egan visiting professor at Duke University, writes in the Atlantic:

When, in January 2016, I wrote that despite being a lifelong Republican who worked in the previous three GOP administrations, I would never vote for Donald Trump, even though his administration would align much more with my policy views than a Hillary Clinton presidency would, a lot of my Republican friends were befuddled. How could I not vote for a person who checked far more of my policy boxes than his opponent?

What I explained then, and what I have said many times since, is that Trump is fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office. For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.

“Mr. Trump has no desire to acquaint himself with most issues, let alone master them” is how I put it four years ago. “No major presidential candidate has ever been quite as disdainful of knowledge, as indifferent to facts, as untroubled by his benightedness.” I added this:

Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American.

It took until the second half of Trump’s first term, but the crisis has arrived in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s hard to name a president who has been as overwhelmed by a crisis as the coronavirus has overwhelmed Donald Trump.

To be sure, the president isn’t responsible for either the coronavirus or the disease it causes, COVID-19, and he couldn’t have stopped it from hitting our shores even if he had done everything right. Nor is it the case that the president hasn’t done anything right; in fact, his decision to implement a travel ban on China was prudent. And any narrative that attempts to pin all of the blame on Trump for the coronavirus is simply unfair. The temptation among the president’s critics to use the pandemic to get back at Trump for every bad thing he’s done should be resisted, and schadenfreude is never a good look.

That said, the president and his administration are responsible for grave, costly errors, most especially the epic manufacturing failures in diagnostic testing, the decision to test too few people, the delay in expanding testing to labs outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and problems in the supply chain. These mistakes have left us blind and badly behind the curve, and, for a few crucial weeks, they created a false sense of security. What we now know is that the coronavirus silently spread for several weeks, without us being aware of it and while we were doing nothing to stop it. Containment and mitigation efforts could have significantly slowed its spread at an early, critical point, but we frittered away that opportunity.

“They’ve simply lost time they can’t make up. You can’t get back six weeks of blindness,” Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped oversee the international response to Ebola during the Obama administration and is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told The Washington Post. “To the extent that there’s someone to blame here, the blame is on poor, chaotic management from the White House and failure to acknowledge the big picture.”

Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, the widely respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose reputation for honesty and integrity have been only enhanced during this crisis, admitted in congressional testimony that the United States is still not providing adequate testing for the coronavirus. “It is failing. Let’s admit it.” He added, “The idea of anybody getting [testing] easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. I think it should be, but we’re not.”

We also know the World Health Organization had working tests that the United States refused, and researchers at a project in Seattle tried to conduct early tests for the coronavirus but were prevented from doing so by federal officials. (Doctors at the research project eventually decided to perform coronavirus tests without federal approval.)

But that’s not all. The president reportedly ignored early warnings of the severity of the virus and grew angry at a CDC official who in February warned that an outbreak was inevitable. The Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council’s global-health office, whose purpose was to address global pandemics; we’re now paying the price for that. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

It’s been one rock slide after another, the likes of which we have never seen. Day after day after day he brazenly denied reality, in an effort to blunt the economic and political harm he faced. But Trump is in the process of discovering that he can’t spin or tweet his way out of a pandemic. There is no one who can do to the coronavirus what Attorney General William Barr did to the Mueller report: lie about it and get away with it.

The president’s misinformation and mendacity about the coronavirus are head-snapping. He claimed that it was contained in America when it was actually spreading. He claimed that we had “shut it down” when we had not. He claimed that testing was available when it wasn’t. He claimed that the coronavirus will one day disappear “like a miracle”; it won’t. He claimed that a vaccine would be available in months; Fauci says it will not be available for a year or more.

Trump falsely blamed the Obama administration for impeding coronavirus testing. He stated that the coronavirus first hit the United States later than it actually did. (He said that it was three weeks prior to the point at which he spoke; the actual figure was twice that.) The president claimed that the number of cases in Italy was getting “much better” when it was getting much worse. And in one of the more stunning statements an American president has ever made, Trump admitted that his preference was to keep a cruise ship off the California coast rather than allowing it to dock, because he wanted to keep the number of reported cases of the coronavirus artificially low.

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 8:03 pm

‘I Don’t Take Responsibility at All’

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

This afternoon, on the heels of a widely panned formal Oval Office address, Donald Trump assembled a group of scientific and corporate leaders to talk about dealing with the coronavirus. You can watch the whole thing on the White House YouTube channel.

I suspect that we’ll see one line from this conference played frequently in the months ahead. You can watch it starting at around 1:22:00, when reporter Kristen Welker of NBC asks Trump whether he takes responsibility for the lag in making test kits available.

Trump’s reply:


I don’t take responsibility at all.

Narrowly parsed, and in full context, Trump was referring only to the test kits — and was continuing his (fantasized) complaint that rules left over from 2016, under the Obama administration, are the real reason the U.S. has been so slow to respond to this pandemic.

But filmable moments in politics are not always taken in full context, and at their most narrowly parsed logical reading:

All of these—in full context, and most-sympathetically read—had a meaning you could understand and perhaps defend. None of that context or meaning survived, as those went from being phrases to weaponized symbols.

Will that happen to “I don’t take responsibility at all”? We will soon see.

Other stage business points:

  • A series of CEOs came to the microphone to describe what their companies were doing to speed testing or help out in other ways. Trump caught the first three or four of them unawares, by shaking their hands as they moved away from the podium. All seemed startled, as you can see in the video.

    Then the other CEOs began to catch on, and a following group of them scuttled away from the podium before Trump could grab them for a handshake, or held their own hands clenched together, in a protective prayer-style grasp.

    Finally, (at 1:06 in the video) you can see Bruce Greenstein, of the LHC group, surprise Trump with an elbow-bump rather than a hand shake. Trump himself seemed completely oblivious to the idea of social distancing. It was also notable that one speaker after another touched and moved around the same microphone, and put his her hands on the sides of the same podium.

  • I mentioned earlier today the uneasy and evolving position of Anthony Fauci, who has been the “voice of science” through this episode as he has during previous medical emergencies. The uneasiness lies in the tension between his decades as a respected scientist, and his current role as a prominent member of Team Trump. Can he retain his long reputation as a straight shooter? While maintaining any influence with Trump.

    Make what you will of his body language through the events today. (He is at far left in the picture below.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — including that picture.

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 7:58 pm

Posted in Daily life

On the Market: Taking Stock of One’s Soul

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I wonder if the US lost it soul in the markets. It seems so: the immediate response that the GOP had in the face of the COVID-19 crisis was to propose a tax cut (payroll taxes, in this case). They have a limited range of acceptable tools, it seems. (I’m reminded of a cartoon showing a man drowning, waving his arms, and a man on the dock sees him and calls out, “I can’t swim! Would $10 help?”

Justin E.H. Smith writes in Cabinet Magazine:

At the museum, I am standing with my spouse in front of a Flemish vanitas scene. There is an old man hunched over his accounting books, surrounded by gold coins and jewels; a skull sits on his desk, and Death himself perches undetected above his shoulder. What, I ask her, is the “takeaway” of such scenes supposed to be? That one would do well to start thinking of one’s soul, she says. And I think, but do not say: I thought of nothing but my soul for forty years, never learned the first thing about how money works, and now time is much shorter than in our youth, and I’ve managed to save so little money, and I am worried about leaving you alone in this world without me, with only the small amounts we’ve been able to put away for us, for you, as we move about from country to country, renting one modest apartment after another, like dry old students. O my love, I hate to envision you alone and frightened. Is it wrong for me now to count our coins and to keep our accounting books? Am I compromising the fate of my soul? Is this vanity?

In November of last year, I opened a brokerage account. I had been reading simple, bullet-pointed introductions to financial literacy for a few months before that, manuals “for dummies” of the sort that I am conditioned to hold in contempt when their subject is, say, Latin, or the Protestant Reformation. After this period of study, I determined I was ready to invest the bulk of the money I had to my name, around $150,000, in the stock market (an amount large enough to make me already worthy of the guillotine, for some who have nothing, and small enough to burn or to lose with no consequences, for some who have much more). The fact that I had that amount of money in the first place was largely a bureaucratic mistake. When I quit my job at a university in Canada after nine years of working there, the human-resources people closed my retirement account and sent me the full amount in a single check. That check—the “retirement” I unwittingly took with severe early-withdrawal penalties at the age of forty-one when in fact I was only moving to a job in another country—plus some of the money I had saved over just the past few years from book-contract advances, was to be the seed funding for what I hoped, and still hope, might grow into something much larger through the alchemy of capital gains.

It was driven home to me repeatedly in my early efforts to build an investment strategy that, quite apart from the question of whether the quest for wealth is sinful in the sense understood by the painters of vanitas scenes, it is most certainly and irredeemably unethical. All of the relatively low-risk index funds that are the bedrock of a sound investment portfolio are spread across so many different kinds of companies that one could not possibly keep track of all the ways each of them violates the rights and sanctity of its employees, of its customers, of the environment. And even if you are investing in individual companies (while maintaining healthy risk-buffering diversification, etc.), you must accept that the only way for you as a shareholder to get ahead is for those companies to continue to grow, even when the limits of whatever good they might do for the world, assuming they were doing good for the world to begin with, have been surpassed. That is just how capitalism works: an unceasing imperative for growth beyond any natural necessity, leading to the desolation of the earth and the exhaustion of its resources. I am a part of that now, too. I always was, to some extent, with every purchase I made, every light switch I flipped. But to become an active investor is to make it official, to solemnify the contract, as if in blood.

• • •

When I was eleven, I learned that a check is the form of currency you use when you do not have any other. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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The US puts imprisons a much higher proportion of its citizens than any other country. Here’s what their life is like.

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In September 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. – Wikipedia

Country Prison
per 100,000
US 2,193,798 737
China 1,548,498 118
Russia 874,161 615
Brazil 371,482 193

Following is a list from Wikipedia of  the worst countries in the world based on the proportion of their citizens they imprison. The US is comfortably in the lead. The list is much longer — these are just the worst. Canada is #142, at 107/100K. Some others:

Japan #207 (39/100K)
Finland #195 (53/100K)
Norway #190 (60/100K)
Sweden & Netherlands (tie) #189 (61/100K)
Germany #171 (77/100K)
United Kingdom: Scotland #106 (149/100K)
United Kingdom: England & Wales #111 (140/100K)
Australia #98 (170/100K)

United States: We’re No. 1!! 655/100K

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 4:30 pm

Good cracker substitutes

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I avoid crackers: high in salt, and in very refined carbs. Some good substitutes, particular if you have a mandoline, which makes it easy to rapidly cut thin slices of uniform thickness:Nante carrots

daikon radish

All have good crunch and are mild tasting. Nante carrots out be best (photo at right), but regular carrots would work if sliced on the diagonal.

If you can find red kohlrabi, that is more nutritious than the green (same goes for cabbage, BTW), but even green kohlrabi has excellent nutritional value.

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 3:20 pm

Hand-washing technique with soap and water — and a better song

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Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Medical, Memes

How the GOP’s War on Government Paved the Way for Trump’s Deadly Incompetence

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David Corn writes in Mother Jones:

Donald Trump’s utterly incompetent response to the coronavirus has become readily apparent in recent days. But this disaster is not a solo enterprise. His catastrophic performance as president during the early stages of the crisis is the culmination of decades of right-wing action aimed at subverting the one entity that can protect Americans from the deadly threat at hand: government.

For many years, Republicans and conservatives have demonized government. In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan, the superstar of the right, proclaimed, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” The well-known conservative strategist and lobbyist Grover Norquist once said, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” The tea party arose in opposition to federal assistance for those Americans slammed by the housing collapse of 2007 and became a movement encompassing anti-government fervor and intense paranoia. And Trump rode this wave into the White House.

On the campaign trail, Trump embraced the right-wing caricature of the federal government as a collection of ineffectual fools who did little more than collect taxes, impose regulations, and hinder American greatness. Trade, health care, the economy—all of this, Trump said, were challenges he could easily take on while delivering spectacular results. Know-how and experience were not needed. Not with a brain like his. Governing was simple.

Trump could only be acceptable to voters who had long been told that government was the problem. He was the antithesis of government experience and expertise. And he made that a selling point and convinced 63 million people to vote for him, as if they were picking a winner on a reality television show. After all, he was amusing and a kick in the ass of the libs who thought credentials and seriousness actually mattered.

Now the joke isn’t too funny. And tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans will die because the GOP’s war on government paved the way for Trump’s incompetence.

Trump entered the White House not taking the job seriously. He fretted over . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 10:42 am

The Cult of Smartness: How Meritocracy Is Failing America

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Conor Friedersdorf wrote a thoughtful review in the Atlantic of Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of the Elites: America after Democracy back in June 2012. It’s worth reading now. It begins:

In an engrossing passage from Twilight of the Elites, a new book about the American meritocracy and its failures, author Chris Hayes directs our attention to an all but forgotten moment in 2009, when debate raged about who President Obama should appoint to a Supreme Court vacancy. Sonia Sotomayor was widely thought to be on his short list. But various liberal commentators, including The New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen and Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, argued that she should be passed over for alternative candidates who they regarded as observably smarter. “Keep in mind the person under discussion is someone who, from humble beginnings in the Bronx, had gained entry to Princeton, graduated summa cum laude, and gone on to Yale Law, where she edited the Yale Law Journal,” Hayes observed. “She had checked off every box on the to-do list of meritocratic achievement. Apparently it wasn’t enough.”

In his telling, that’s one example of the “Cult of Smartness” that has taken hold in American life, a pathology characterized by the mistaken assumption that intelligence is an ordinal quality — that it is possible for observers to accurately rank intelligent people in order from most  to least smart, and that the right person for a job is always the one deemed smartest. “While smartness is necessary for competent elites,” Hayes retorts, “it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy, and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued.”

Throughout Twilight of the Elites, the reader is presented with similarly specific, thoughtful critiques of what’s gone wrong with America’s ruling class. The elites who run things, having advanced to the top of various hierarchies, are performing miserably, Hayes argues, citing failures as varied as Enron, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the Catholic Church molestation scandal, the financial crisis, and the steroid scandal in Major League Baseball. A striking quote from a man named Thomas Day is marshaled to dramatize the parade of failures that helped to inspire the book. “I’m 31, an Iraq War veteran, a Penn State graduate, a native of State College, acquaintance of Sandusky’s, and a product of his Second Mile Foundation,” Day wrote after Joe Paterno’s firing. “And I have fully lost faith in the leadership of my parents’ generation.”

Aside from “The Cult of Smartness,” why are present arrangements — lets call ourselves an “aspirational meritocracy” — failing us? . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some suggested remedies.

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 9:48 am

America Is Broken and the Response to COVID-19 Highlights It

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David Wallace-Wells writes in New York:

What we are seeing right now is the collapse of civic authority and public trust at what is only the beginning of a protracted crisis. In the face of an onrushing pandemic, the United States has exhibited a near-total evacuation of responsibility and political leadership — a sociopathic disinterest in performing the basic function of government, which is to protect its citizens.

Things will get worse from here. According to a survey of epidemiologists released yesterday, the coronavirus outbreak probably won’t peak before May. That doesn’t mean it will be over by May, of course, but that it will be getting worse and worse and worse over the next two months, and for much of that time, presumably, exponentially worse. And so the suspension of the NBA season and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s announcement that they are sick with COVID-19 will seem, in relatively short order, like quite small potatoes. And for all of that time, the country’s response will be commanded and controlled by Donald Trump.

Trump is, of course, the last man in the world you would want in charge right now. In an extremely illuminating interview with Gabriel Debenedetti published this morning, Obama’s Ebola czar Ron Klain described his response to that threat, which he suggested was a relatively good model for how the U.S. might have responded to this one. That response began with 10,000 public-health workers sent to fight and investigate the disease. This administration has sent none, which means it has been, practically speaking, flying blind about the nature of the coronavirus and the challenges it represents to public-health systems. In fact, it’s worse than that; for all intents and purposes, the administration hasn’t been flying at all, spending the last three months sitting by entirely idle and indifferent, rather than scaling up testing regimes, issuing protocols, and preparing for a major surge of patients by developing contingency plans to expand hospital capacity around the country wherever it became needed. If reading about Ron Klain makes you wish he was still in charge, you are surely not alone. But the bigger issue isn’t that he has been replaced by a less competent figure. It’s that Trump had eliminated the office of pandemic response entirely, so that until he appointed Mike Pence — who had bungled Indiana’s response to an HIV crisis a few years ago — no one in the White House even had a pandemic disease portfolio. Why? It is hard to even imagine the reason, aside from the fact that the office was established under Obama and that this president has operated with such reflexive spite and even sadism toward anything his predecessor had touched, whatever the costs to the country—and even his own supporters.

It was just last night, in his disastrous speech, that Trump finally seemed to even take the outbreak seriously, and yet he seemed only capable of conceiving a “response” in terms of border control and tax cuts. This is a particular disease of the president’s, but it is also a representative one: Our leaders have spent so long focused on the value of economic growth they are likely to try to respond to any crisis, even a deeply urgent humanitarian one, as an economic problem to be solved with stimulus. What about hospital beds?

But the dysfunction goes much deeper than the president—even deeper than the levels of the bureaucracy that he touches, through appointments and executive directives. In a functional system, much of the preparation and messaging would have been undertaken by the CDC. In this case, it chose not to simply adopt the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 test kits — stockpiling them in the millions in the months we had between the first arrival of the coronavirus in China and its widespread appearance here — but to try to develop its own test. Why? It isn’t clear. But they bungled that project, too, failing to produce a reliable test and delaying the start of any comprehensive testing program by a few critical weeks.

The testing shortage is catastrophic: It means that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — including some examples of how President Trump has deliberately crippled the Federal government’s ability to respond.

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 9:21 am

OneBlade Day Four, with I Coloniali and Barrister & Mann Reserve Classic

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Today’s shave was much like yesterday’s, though I did linger longer in the lathering, not only because it was enjoyable (with RazoRock’s barrel silvertip and I Coloniali’s very nice lather) but also to ensure the stubble was properly prepared for the OneBlade.

Three passes produced a smooth finish. Again, the blade didn’t exactly glide through the stubble—I could distinctly feel the cutting—but it did the job with no problem and not much additional attention. Four days on a blade brings the annual cost of blades below $100, to $91.25 ($7.60/month). OTOH, the shave is not so pleasurable as with a new blade (DE or OneBlade).

Sharpologist has an excellent (and thorough) article on using GEM blades in the OneBlade, something that apparently OneBlade tried strongly to discourage by some design changes for version 2 (the current version).

A splash of Barrister & Mann’s Reserve Classic, and I’m ready for the weekend, when I’ll continue to practice social isolation…

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 8:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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