Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Zelenskyy’s Heroism, Women’s Long March To Equality, And Then There’s Ron DeSantis

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” — William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Ukraine update

Last night, Ukriane’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, posted a nine-minute video from the Presidential Office Building on Bankova Street in central Kyiv.

Zelenskyy opened from a window looking out over Kyiv at night (a nice way to show everyone he was really there), and then selfied his way down corridors to his office where he sat at his desk to address the world, as well as the people of Ukraine. His fierce determination not only to defend Ukraine, but, more than that, prevail against a barbaric enemy was on full display. Speaking for all Ukrainians, he said, “I’m here, it’s mine, and I won’t give it away. My city, my community, my Ukraine.”

He closed his address by letting the nation know he had earlier in the day bestowed medals for bravery on 96 “heroes.” He then singled out five and described what they had done to earn the medals. Brilliant stuff.

Zelenskyy continues to unite his country and keep its spine stiff. His leadership, his rhetoric, his example are sharp enough to slice bread. He must be setting Putin’s hair on fire.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, and The Economst has released it’s annual glass-ceiling index, which measures the role and influence of women in the workforce across the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and  Development (OECD).

According to The Economist:

A country’s performance on the index is measured along ten metrics, including the gender pay gap, parental leave, the cost of childcare, educational attainment and representation in senior management and political jobs.

We give more weight to the indicators which affect all women (such as labour-force participation) and less to those which affect only some (such as maternity pay). Paternity pay is also included. Studies show that where fathers take parental leave, mothers tend to return to the labour market (emphasis added), female employment is higher and the earnings gap between men and women is lower.

That “return to the labour market” point is important, given the tremendous difficulty American women are having right now in returning to the labor market due to the ridiculous cost of child care.

It is unfortunate that, in this year’s glass-ceiling index, the United States continues to rank lower in how it treats its women than the OECD average, 20th out of 29 countries.

You may notice the top four countries in the rankings, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway, are Nordic countries so often ridiculed by conservatives as prime examples of “totalitarian socialism.” Actually, these countries have combined successful capitalism with, yes, welfare state benefits that allow their citizens to have a high standard of living, universal health care, and life expectancies higher than most other countries, certainly higher than the U.S.

But all is not Panglossian with the Nordic Model. These countries have large challenges, most notably what to do about an aging population and an influx of immigrants. Time will tell whether they’ll be able to marshal the political will to deal successfully with these significant headwinds.

That said, on International Women’s Day it seems fitting to suggest that, due to the collective culture the Nordics have fostered, their women are much better positioned for success than their peers in America. It pains me to write that.

DeSantis continues to be…well, DeSantis

Yesterday, at the conclusion of a 90-minute virtual video forum (make that show) in West Palm Beach, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and his Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced a new state policy that will recommend against giving a coronavirus vaccine to healthy children, regardless of their age.

Sitting in front of what could have been mistaken for an IMAX screen where hundreds of forum participants were pictured, Ladapo enthusiastically proclaimed, “Florida is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the covid-19 vaccination for healthy children.”

Let’s hope it’s the last one, too. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show more than 40 Florida children, from birth to age 17, have died from COVID-19. Nationally, the number is nearly1,600.

In an interview reported in today’s Washington Post, Peter Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and a leading expert on the virus, said, “To be at such distinct variance from the hundreds of physicians and scientists at the CDC and the FDA is reckless at best and dangerous at worst.”

Look, we get it that Governor DeSantis features himself as the next president of the United States and that he’ll say or do just about anything to get there. This is the man who just last week bullied a group of high school students for wearing masks at an event at the University of South Florida. “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. This is ridiculous,” he told the teens just before slamming his folder on a lectern.

These folks are playing with kids’ lives, all for their own opportunistic and hypocritical ends. I can only hope there’s a special place in hell reserved for such people.

I’ll leave you today with this question: How do you think DeSantis would do in Zelenskyy’s chair on Bankova Street? Or, would he have skedaddled to safety before the fun began?

Just a thought.

 

 

And The Nominee Is?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022

More than 20 years ago, C-SPAN and its academic advisors decided to create a survey instrument, by which “historians, professors and other professional observers of the presidency” would be asked to rate all presidents in ten areas from best to worst. They conducted the first survey in 2000 and, using the same criteria, have repeated it since then every time administrations changed.

This year, 142 scholarly elites completed the survey that asked participants for evaluations in the following ten categories:

  • Public Persuasion
  • Crisis Leadership
  • Economic Management
  • Moral Authority
  • International Relations
  • Administrative Skills
  • Relations with Congress
  • Vision/Setting an Agenda
  • Pursuit of Equal Justice for All
  • Performance Within the Context of the Times

Abraham Lincoln has finished on top in every one of the surveys, including the fifth one just conducted following the change to the Biden administration.

It will come as no surprise to many that Donald Trump finished fourth from the bottom in this year’s survey, his first. He finished ahead of Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan, and behind all the others. Even Warren Harding got more respect from the raters.

However, the historians, et al, were not asked to rate Presidents in terms of how consequential they were. And it is here I suggest Trump would finish in the top ten, perhaps even the top five. I base this on one thing and one thing only: His fundamental change of the American Judiciary, principally at the Supreme Court level. Trump succeeded in locking in a deeply conservative bench for decades to come. That was the result of the grifter and reality show star’s Faustian Bargain with Mitch McConnell, senate Majority Leader during the Trump years. Trump craved power and being adored by people who were in need of someone to adore, and McConnell wanted his legacy to be the establishment of a profoundly conservative court. They each got what they bargained for.

Trump had two other monumental accomplishments, of course. The first was passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which was a Christmas present of the first order for the nation’s wealthy, a knife in the back for everyone else, and a means to a significant widening of the ever-growing divide between the haves and have nots. Trump’s second accomplishment was to give the Republican Party an opportunity to exercise noble leadership in the face of his insane narcissistic nationalism and autocratic desires culminating in the January 6th insurrection. Unfortunately, only two Republican leaders, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger, answered the call. The rest of them, every one of them, became profiles in cowardice.

However, these other two Trumpian achievements can be changed. Congress can change tax laws, and Republicans can grow spines. But that Supreme Court thing? That is here to stay.

Which brings us to the imminent Supreme Court vacancy caused by the announced retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.

When he was campaigning for President, Joe Biden promised if he had the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, he would nominate a highly-qualified black woman. With Justice Breyer’s announcement, Biden has reaffirmed that pledge. He will submit his nomination to the Senate in the very near future. It will be a black woman.

How will Republican Senators react to the nominee, whoever she is? How will they approach the hearings to be held by the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Illinois senator Dick Durbin? Will they be able to restrain the natural gravitational urges of their more ambitious and inflammatory members to grandstand opportunistically? Will they be able to keep Trump out of it?

Nominations to the Supreme Court are highly political. History is replete with examples, and this one will be no different. But from here, deep in the winter of the Berkshire mountains, my guess is that with a few unavoidable histrionics from the grandstanding children, Biden’s nominee will sail through like a battleship through fog, with Republicans, trying to appear as honorable adults, saying they refuse to do to Biden’s nominee what the Democrats did to Bret Kavanaugh.

Not that it will make a bit of difference to the future rulings of the Supreme Court.

The Past As Prologue

Thursday, January 6th, 2022

Today is a seminal day in American history. The one-year anniversary of a serious attempt by violent insurrectionists to stage a coup d’état in our nation’s Capitol. This is a day for remembering how close we came to losing our American soul. In the year since the attack, the attack has continued, albeit peacefully. I ask you to bear with me for a moment, for I am struck by the frightening similarities between what is happening in our nation today and what happened long ago in another country going through rough times. That country turned to a devil in disguise, a master manipulator who persuaded its citizens to follow him willingly straight through the gates of hell.

Then: 1918 – 1933

In November, 1918, high-school dropout and failed artist Adolph Hitler was recuperating in hospital from a Mustard Gas attack suffered the previous month on a battlefield of World War I. He’d been a Corporal in the German Army and had distinguished himself as a messenger, running between units to deliver orders and bring replies, sometimes under heavy fire.

While he was in hospital, the war ended and the warring armies signed the Treaty of Versailles, which levied tremendous reparations on Germany and caused rampant inflation that wiped out savings overnight. Hitler wrote later that at that moment he realized his purpose in life was “to save Germany.”

Before the war, Hitler had lived in Munich, the capital of Bavaria in southern Germany, and after recovering he returned there. He was hired by the police as a spy and told to infiltrate a small group called the German Workers’ Party. However, rather than spying on the group he fell in love with its nationalistic and anti-Semitic ideology. He joined the Party in 1919, and two years later became its leader.

With mentoring by the group’s co-founder Dietrich Eckart, Hitler became an unparalleled public speaker, addressing thousands in local beer halls. In 1921 he changed the name of the German Workers’ Party to the National German Socialist Workers’ Party, or the Nazi Party, and the Party’s members elected him leader in July of that year.

In the following two years the Nazi Party grew as Germans responded to Hitler’s rants about how the Treaty of Versailles had emasculated the country, bringing shame and humiliation that had to be avenged. In Hitler’s mind the Weimar Republic had failed its duty to its citizens and had to be replaced. So, on 8 November 1923, Hitler and hundreds of Nazi Party members surrounded the Bürgerbräukeller, one of the biggest beer halls in Munich, where Gustav von Kahr, state commissioner of Bavaria, was speaking. Hitler burst in, fired a shot into the ceiling, commandeered the podium, and declared a “national revolution.” Thus, the Beer Hall Putsch began.

The rest of the night went downhill for Hitler. He had wanted to lead a march on Berlin, as Benito Mussolini had done a year earlier in Rome. This was not to be. His followers tried to take over government buildings, but were foiled by the police. Early the next morning, Hitler and World War I General Erich Ludendorff, whom Hitler had persuaded to join the Nazi Party and help in the Putsch, led 3,000 of their followers to the city center in an attempt to salvage the coup. They were met by state police. Shots were fired. Four police officers were killed, along with 16 Nazis, whom Hitler would later describe as martyrs and entomb in two “temples of honor” in downtown Munich. Two days later, Hitler was captured. He was tried for treason, convicted and sentenced to five years in Landsberg prison. He served one year and was pardoned on 20 December 1924. During that one year, he wrote the first volume of “Mein Kampf” (“My Struggle”), dictating the work to his fellow prisoner and sycophant Rudolph Hess.

Hitler had done a lot of serious thinking in prison and realized a violent takeover of Germany would be tremendously difficult. He concluded that the way to power was through legal means, but that the legal and political means had to be manipulated by the Nazis for the effort to succeed. The way to rule Germany was to win elections. The Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler’s subsequent trial, during which his defense speeches were printed in all the newspapers, grew the Nazi Party exponentially and brought him and the Party to national prominence.

In 1933, nine years after walking out of Landsberg prison a free man, Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

Now: 2021 – 2022 and beyond

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Insurrection of 6 January 2021, America’s version of the Beer Hall Putsch.

Last month, in a long essay in The Atlantic, Barton Gellman persuasively and scarily argued that 6 January was a dress rehearsal.

He began his essay this way:

Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect. The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Gellman is no “Chicken Little.” He has a distinguished and long career. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy for documentary filmmaking, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. When Gelmann writes, smart people read.

As he lays out what is happening in America right now, one cannot help but think how eerily similar the Republican Party’s current actions are to Hitler’s battle plan for taking over Germany. Hitler realized violence would not result in victory. Winning elections and manipulating the election process would allow him to rise to total power, and the rest of the world would welcome him as the new leader of the German people, achieving that distinction by apparently (but not really) fair means.

Will someone please tell me how that differs from today’s Republican legislators, who, understanding that another violent insurrection would not achieve their aims, cottoned on to the idea that changing the election rules in 19 states would set themselves up to win the 2022 mid-terms, the 2024 presidential election, and elections into the future, thereby “legally” allowing a minority to rule a majority in what purports to be a democracy?

As Gelmann writes,

As we near the anniversary of January 6, investigators are still unearthing the roots of the insurrection that sacked the Capitol and sent members of Congress fleeing for their lives. What we know already, and could not have known then, is that the chaos wrought on that day was integral to a coherent plan. In retrospect, the insurrection takes on the aspect of rehearsal.

Right now, many Republican Party wannabe leaders make the pilgrimage to Mar-A-Lago to genuflect at the knee of Donald Trump. Amazingly, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll finds 58% of Republican voters still believe the Big Lie, despite a plethora of audits and investigations, many led by Republican election officials, finding exactly the opposite. These voters continue to believe with biblical certainty that Joe Biden is an illegitimate occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. How can this be?

Today, the very few GOP dissenters to the Lie are being cast out into political oblivion. “2 down, 8 to go!” Trump gloated at the retirement announcement of Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for his second impeachment.

After the Insurrection of a year ago, I, like so many others, believed the insurrectionists were on the far right fringe, out of work unhappy folks angry at the world. Life’s dissatisfied customers. But in the year since we have learned that this is not the case. Most insurrectionists were not members of any far right groups like the Proud Boys or OathKeepers. No, they were the guys next door. Managers, even CEOs of middle of America companies. When this came to light, for the first time I began to think as Gelmann thinks. Now, I’m wondering if there is any way to change what appears to be an inevitable arc of history.

There are currently two voting rights bills languishing in the U.S. Senate, the For the People Act of 2021 and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021.  In order to pass either of these bills requires a carveout to the filibuster, which would allow a simple majority to determine the vote. West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin calls this “a heavy lift.” He, one senator out of a hundred, will not allow this. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t have such qualms when he engineered exactly the same kind of carveout to insure Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court would be confirmed by simple majority. He did, and they were.

Today, 6 January 2022, there will be events and reports all over the country marking the occasion. You won’t see Republican legislators in any of the videos or photos. They maintain it’s just a distraction from the important work of governing, that is, obstructing anything and everything the Biden administration is trying to do.

Their plan is infuriating. And it’s working with a little help from the Coal guy on the Houseboat. Manchin seems to enjoy the spotlight, a one man wrecking ball of American democracy.

Getting From Here To There Politically

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a very big rock at the bottom of a very deep hole at the base of a very large crater on the planet Mars, you probably know there is a very wide chasm separating the Republican and Democratic Parties with respect to domestic policy.

The Democratic Party believes the middle and lower classes have had it tucked to them since the era of Ronald Reagan and the emergence and eventual marketplace triumph of trickle down politics. They point to more than 40 years of stagnant Real Wages, the constant and dispiriting race to keep up with the cost of living in which every step means falling farther behind, and the ever-widening and maddening gulf between the haves and the have nots, the one-percenters and everyone else. Party leadership and President Biden believe something has to be done and now is the time to do it. Ergo, the Build Back Better bill (BBB) currently ricocheting around the halls of Congress.

The Republican Party and its leadership disagree. In a nutshell, they say the whole thing costs too much and will bankrupt the country.

They took a somewhat different stance when they were in power and, with no Democratic support, passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which many consider the quintessential example of trickle down economics in American history. Under this legislation the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that individuals and pass-through entities like partnerships and S corporations would receive about $1.125 trillion in net benefits (i.e. net tax cuts offset by reduced healthcare subsidies) over 10 years, while corporations would receive around $320 billion in benefits. The CBO estimated that implementing the Act would add an estimated $2.289 trillion to the national debt over ten years (emphasis added)( “CBO-Appendix B: The Effects of the 2017 Tax Act on CBO’s Economic and Budget Projections, page 129)

Republicans, said the CBO report was hogwash. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin went so far as to say the Act would pay for itself in ten years and lower the national debt.

Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out that way. Almost every major analysis correctly predicted revenues would fall and debt would increase. Analysis of first-year results released by the Congressional Research Service (the best research service you perhaps have never heard of) in May 2019 found:

  • “a relatively small (if any) first-year effect on the economy”
  • “a feedback effect of 0.3% of GDP or less,” such that the tax cut did not pay for itself
  • “pretax profits and economic depreciation (the price of capital) grew faster than wages,” meaning shareholders benefited more than workers
  • inflation-adjusted wage growth “is smaller than overall growth in labor compensation and indicates that ordinary workers had very little growth in wage rates”
  • “the evidence does not suggest a surge in investment from abroad in 2018” as proponents of the Act had asserted it would
  • “While evidence does indicate significant repurchases of shares, either from tax cuts or repatriated revenues, relatively little was directed to paying worker bonuses”

So, with that kind of batting average it seems a bit precious for Republicans to summarily dismiss the BBB bill and line up the firing squad to kill it. On the other hand, they proclaim agreement with the “goals” of the BBB, while offering no practical applications to achieve the desired results. Just goes to show that since the founding of the country parties in the minority, no matter who they are,  have demonstrated a terrific ability to denigrate what the majority proposes without any responsibility for proposing and implementing their own solutions.

But pity the poor Democrats within the Biden Administration. They’re having to fight the war on three fronts. First, there is the inevitable and total Republican opposition; then they have to appease the Progressive wing of their own party; and they have to do all this while at the same time dealing with a certain Senator from West Virginia. Let us not forget that this is the man who fathered the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc., who, with Gordon Gekko enthusiasm, in 2016 raised the price of life saving EpiPens from $100 to $600 for a two-pack. Why? Because she could. I only mention this because of the old adage about the apple and the tree.

Given Senator Manchin’s knife-through-the-heart death blow to BBB this past Sunday on Fox News, one might be forgiven for thinking that if democrats keep bringing up the bill they’ll be fulfilling Einstein’s definition of insanity.

But, hold on a minute. I suggest the erstwhile coal magnate has gone a bridge too far and given the Democrats a magnificent opportunity. After his announcement, he was almost universally excoriated for it. Even the Coal Mining Union called him out on it. Obviously, this affected him, because the next day he seemed to back off a bit. Therefore, if the democratic muck-a-mucks are magnanimous and warm-hearted and forgive him publicly for this unfortunate error in judgement―sort of welcome him home as the Prodigal Son―he may be grateful enough to work with the President and, with a couple of face-saving tweaks, produce a bill all democrats can support, maybe even a few Republicans when they see the writing on the wall.

I’ve always thought the key to success is the ability to outlast the opposition. Elihu Root said it better. He was Secretary of State and Secretary of War in the Roosevelt Administrations, Theodore’s not Franklin’s. He said, “Men do not fail; they give up trying. Failure is a necessary step toward success.” Mr. Root also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912.

Democrats would do well to remember Root’s words.

What do you think?

News You Might Have Missed

Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

Immunity Passports and Herd Immunity

As time passes, we are learning more and more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. One of the things we are learning is how much we have yet to learn.

For example, a current and pervasive meme involves antibodies an infected person’s immune system makes to combat COVID-19.

Following his bout with the virus in October, 2020, during which he was given an “antibody cocktail,” Donald Trump famously said, “Now you have a president who doesn’t have to hide in a basement like his opponent. You have a president who is immune. Which is a very important thing, frankly.” Although the disgraced former president also said he wasn’t sure how long his “immunity” would last, the cult-of-Trump within the American public heard his “now I’m immune” message loud and clear.

Even before Trump’s “I’m immune” message, six months before, actually, his White House Rasputin, Scott Atlas, from Stanford’s Hoover Institute, told Fox’s Tucker Carlson it was “good news that the virus spreads widely and without risk to the vast majority of people. That’s good news, because we have a better chance of developing population immunity.” He went on to say this “would allow people to develop their own antibodies, and eventually enough people would develop their own antibodies to block the network of contagion.”

Herd immunity from having had the disease is a belief that won’t die. Two months ago “Health Coach” Christian Elliot published a mega-viral blog post entitled Eighteen Reasons I Won’t Be Getting A Covid Vaccine. One of the reasons? “I already had Covid.”

Reputable journals, newspapers and website have published fact-based research debunking this “I’m immune because I had it” drivel. As far back as 24 April 2020, around the same time Scott Atlas was mythologizing with Tucker Carlson, The World Health Organization (WHO) tried to put the matter to rest when it published Immunity Passports in the context of COVID-19. From the beginning of the article:

Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection. There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.

For the article, the WHO reported on 17 studies investigating whether having had COVID-19 produces antibodies (it does) that prevent recurrence of the disease (unknown). Seventeen studies, and not one reporting having had COVID-19 prevents short or long term reinfection.

To make it even clearer, further on the WHO said:

As of 24 April 2020, no study has evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans.

But none of this stopped Donald Trump from perpetuating the medical myth the following October after his recovery.

This Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole thinking just confirms once again there has never been a fact that Trumped a deeply held belief.

Fifty-three percent, eh?

The Gallup organization made news this week with its latest poll in which it reported 53% of Republicans believe Donald Trump was cheated out of the presidency. This has been confirmed over and over again in the six months since the election—an election Joe Biden won by more than seven-million votes. Makes it seem as if a big swath of the country thinks a fraudster sits in the Oval Office.

But does it really? Let’s look a little deeper.

For decades, Gallup has surveyed the party affiliation of Americans, that is, U.S. adults identifying with the Democratic Party or who said they are independents leaning toward the Democratic Party; and, U.S. adults identifying with the Republican Party or who said they are independents who lean toward the Republican Party. In recent years, the gap between the two, a Democratic advantage, has been between four and six percentage points. In the first quarter, 2021, that gap grew to nine percentage points.

In Gallup’s Q1 survey, 25% of U.S. adults identified as Republicans and 15% as Republican-leaning Independents, for a total of 40%. This compares with 30% identifying as Democrats and 19% as Democratic-leaning Independents, totaling 49%. Thus, the nine point gap.

Now, back to the 53% of Republicans who believe Trump was cheated. Fifty-three percent of 25% is 13.25%. Fifty-three percent of 40% is 21.2%. Presuming not every, single Republican-leaning Independent believes Biden stole the election, we can say somewhere between 13.25% and 21.2% of U.S. adults believe the stolen election Big Lie. I’m betting it’s closer to the bottom number.

And that, my friends, is Donald Trump’s true base.

Who needs an independent commission?

The last time a violent mob invaded Washington, D.C. was 24 August 1814 during the War of 1812 when the British set fire to the White House and the U.S. Capitol, destroying the Senate Chamber and the Library of Congress. They burned most everything to the ground. Only torrential rains stopped the blaze. President James Madison wasn’t at the White House when this occurred, but his wife Dolly was. She took command and rescued everything she could. After that, with American soldiers escorting her, she was able to make her escape.

Two-hundred-seven years later, on 6 January 2021, a weaponized and organized mob of our fellow citizens stormed the Capitol in a violent insurrection. Five people died and the mob trashed the place to the tune of $30 million, according to the Architect of the Capitol. President Donald Trump wasn’t in the Capitol when the mob arrived, but his Vice President Mike Pence was. With the mob chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” the Secret Service, like the soldiers who helped Dolly Madison, spirited Pence and his retinue out of the building to safety.

Thus far, 494 people have been arrested and charged for participating in the insurrection. They are from all parts of America and from all levels of society. Knowing the who, what, how, and why of this national obscenity seems to me to be a not too radical idea, the responsible thing to do. However, Republicans in Congress maintain that, because congressional committees are looking into the matter, an independent commission is unjustified and a waste of time and taxpayer money. They say the country needs to look forward, not back.

Being kind about this type of argument, I have to say it is full of what makes the grass grow green and tall. Perhaps the summit of Republican silliness was reached last night when Mitch McConnell, calling the whole thing a “purely political exercise,” told reporters that democrats, “would like to continue to debate things that occurred in the past,” as if investigating an assault on Democracy during which a violent mob was trying to find the Vice President of the United States in order to kill him was something akin to investigating how a new city parking lot strangely came to be on the corner of 6th and 7th. McConnell couldn’t even call the insurrection what it was; for him, it’s now just a “thing in the past.”

It is a tremendously sad commentary on our current society that the U.S. Senate, because of Republican opposition, will most likely not  approve an investigation by an independent commission into the 6 January insurrection. People, what have we come to?

History will not be kind to us in this moment. It will give us what we deserve.

A Day For Gloating!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

In early 2003, I was honored to be part of a group that wanted to bring better health care to some of the neediest citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dr. Bob Master, former Commissioner of the state’s Medicaid program, had the idea that if a number of us put our collective heads together we could actually do that. With him leading the effort, we created Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), an HMO dedicated to serving people who were dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. These were the Commonwealth’s sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor. Paradoxically, their health care was woebegone, but the cost of providing it was astronomical.

CCA was a Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan, known in the business as a D-SNP. D-SNPs were created by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA), and are overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The potential afforded by the MMA was what intrigued Bob Master. He realized that if correctly harnessed, the power of the MMA could do a world of good for people at the lower end of the health care totem pole. And he was right.

Over the years, CCA took on the persona of The Perils Of Pauline, going from crisis to crisis. Our Board, comprised mostly of academics and clinicians, constantly fought above its weight. But, thanks to health care leaders in Massachusetts who saw the value of what we were trying to do, we were always rescued from our own folly. With their help, we grew and thrived—precariously.

In November, 2015, after Bob Master retired as CEO, the Board made the best decision in its history, hiring Chris Palmieri to take over the reins. Chris was a health care executive possessed of zeal, deep dedication to the cause and profound intelligence. Under his leadership CCA  for three years running was ranked number one in its class of health care providers nationally. I chaired the Board during this time and had a ring-side seat to the growth and respect CCA achieved.

During this time, the Board was deeply concerned about the diversity of our employees. We wanted them to look like the thousands of members we served. Great effort went into making that happen. It wasn’t easy, but management established protocols and stuck to them.

My term as Board Member and Chair ended 31 December 2019, but, as you can imagine, I have avidly followed the organization, especially as it navigated the terrible 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. During the last year, under Chris’s leadership, CCA has continued to perform at a superior level. I never doubted that it would.

Today, though, is special. Today, the Boston Globe published its rankings for diversity in hiring of all Massachusetts firms. When I saw that CCA ranked Number One in the Commonwealth!, I thought my chest would burst with pride. This is a remarkable achievement, brought about by the entire organization taking to heart the idea that all of us, working together, are better than some of us, working in ethnic, gender, racial and demographic silos.

Slowly, America is moving to a more inclusive society. After the darkness of the last four years, we are coming into the light. Although much work remains, diversity accomplishments and the recognition that comes with them, as demonstrated by Commonwealth Care Alliance, will propel us toward becoming all that we can be, not what we have been.

How Far We Must Go

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

In 1675, the first and one of the deadliest wars ever fought on what is now American soil began. Fifty-six years after the sailing of the Mayflower, the tenuous Native American-Puritan bonds, built with careful distrust, burst asunder with disastrous results for everyone.

In 1616, European traders had brought yellow fever to Wampanoag territory, which covered present day Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The epidemic wiped out two-thirds of the entire Wampanoag Nation (estimated at 45,000 at the time). So, when the first batch of Puritans landed in 1619, Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, was on high alert. He waited until 1621 to meet the new immigrants, and then forged a guarded relationship between his people and theirs. In late-March, 1621, he and Governor John Carver signed the Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty. In the Treaty the two peoples agreed to do no harm to each other, to come to each other’s aid if attacked by third parties and to have equal jurisdiction over offenders: if a Wampanoag broke the peace, he would be sent to Plymouth for punishment; if a colonist broke the law, he would be sent to the Wampanoags. In addition, the Wampanoag leaders agreed to tell neighboring indigenous nations about the treaty.

For fifty years, the entente, occasionally fraying, held. But as more and more English immigrants arrived with weapons native Americans had never seen, and as the new immigrants began asserting themselves more and more over the indigenous nations, it became a when, not an if, a war would break out.

When Massasoit died in 1665, his son Philip became Sachem. Philip had few of his father’s diplomatic skills, and his people were becoming more and more angry at the dictatorial actions taken by the white people. After three of his trusted lieutenants were executed by the pilgrims in a woeful miscarriage of justice, Philip had no choice but to go to war if he wished to remain in power. In 1675, he did just that.

King Philip’s war brought tragic consequences for all. As so often happens, the white settlers of Plymouth Colony grossly underestimated the tactical skill of the warring indigenous nations, but in the end European firepower won out. Before the war, historians estimate about 80,000 people lived in New England. Nine-thousand died during the fourteen months of King Philip’s War, more than 10% of the total population. Proportionately, that’s more than in both the Civil War and the Revolution. One-third of the towns in New England lay in ashes, farms were abandoned and the fields lay fallow. Philip was hunted down in Rhode Island’s Misery Swamp and killed. His body was quartered and pieces hung from trees. The man who killed him, John Alderman, sold his severed head to Plymouth Colony authorities for 30 shillings.

And so we come to war’s end in 1676, and Josiah Winslow, the governor of Plymouth Colony, had a problem. Namely, what to do with hundreds of native Americans—surviving leaders of King Philip’s War and their families.

Winslow decided to get rid of them by loading them all, including Philip’s wife and nine-year-old son, onto several ships bound for the Caribbean, one of which, ironically, named Seaflower.

As Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his masterful Mayflower (Viking Penguin, 2007):

In a certificate bearing his official seal, Winslow explained that these Native men, women and children had joined in an uprising against the colony and were guilty of “many notorious and execrable murders, killings and outrages.” As a consequence, these “heathen malefactors” had been condemned to “perpetual slavery.”

Thus, joining Rome and other ancient societies, our white ancestor enslaved a conquered people.

Yesterday, 345 years after the Seaflower sailed from Plymouth harbor, a jury of his peers, a diverse jury, convicted Derek Chauvin on all three counts of murder in the death of George Floyd. What struck me most, the image that cannot be unseen, is the smirk on Chauvin’s face as he kneeled the life out of a man who did not look like him. I imagine it to be the same look Governor Winslow had on his face as he signed the certificate condemning hundreds of indigenous people, who did not look like him, into perpetual slavery.

How far we’ve come. How much, much farther we must go.

 

Sidney Powell’s “No Reasonable Person” Nutty Defense

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

In early February, 2021, an Associated Press-NORC* poll found 65% of Republicans believed Joe Biden was not legitimately elected President of the united States. One week ago, a Monmouth University National Poll found exactly the same thing. Nothing had changed in a month and a half. Why do you suppose that is?

 

 

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that since the election, in fact since well before it, authority figures in the Republican Party, including the President, insisted the only way Donald Trump could lose the election would be through massive fraud. One of the leaders of this disinformation campaign is the lady pictured here: Attorney Sidney Powell, Trump’s on-again off-again lawyer in his attempt to overturn the election result.

Powell manufactured far-fetched claim after monstrously far-fetched claim of election fraud beginning two days after the election. Powell and her team of conspiracy theorists filed more than 60 lawsuits around the country that all died in court. But that didn’t stop her and her sidekick Rudy Giuliani from sharing their bird-brained ideas from the stage of the Republican National Committee in a November press conference carried on C-Span. Neither did it stop them from doing the same dozens of times on Fox News and Fox Business, never challenged by anybody from the network.

When none of that worked, Powell went for the big time and won the Gold Medal for the craziest claim of 2021 (thus far). To wit, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems conspired with Venezuela’s communist leadership, ditto with Cuba, and “likely” China to create software to fix the election for Joe Biden against Donald Trump. On 8 November on Fox Business she was interviewed by Maria Bartiromo and claimed Dominion created a secret “algorithm to calculate the votes they would need to flip. And they used the computers to flip those votes from Biden to—I mean, from Trump to Biden.”

In late January, after the Dominion Voting Systems leaders had heard this lie a few thousand times, they had enough and sued Powell, Giuliani and others for $1.3 billion for defamation. That’s billion.

Yesterday, Powell’s defense team responded to the lawsuit. It’s 90-page filing can be summarized in two words: Just kidding.

In legalese, what her lawyers said was, “no reasonable person would conclude that [Powell’s] statements were truly statements of fact.” Moreover, her high-priced defense team writes that Dominion itself “characterize(s) the statements at issue as ‘wild accusations’ and ‘outlandish claims,’” and that “Such characterization of the allegedly defamatory statements further support Defendants’ position that reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact…”

In otherwords, if the company she defamed considers the accusations off-the-chart lunacy, then nobody else could ever possibly believe them.

Finally, the Powell team claims she never knew her accusations were false. “In fact,” they write, “she believed the allegations then and she believes them now.” So, she’s not guilty; she’s just crazy.

This would all be riotously funny if it weren’t so deadly serious. Deadly, as in five people died and more than 140 were injured at the Insurrection of 6 January, a day, to quote Franklin Roosevelt, “that will live in infamy.”

But notwithstanding the Insurrection, could Sydney Powell’s defense team actually be right? Would no one believe her claims, as well as all the other ridiculous claims made by Trump apologists, because they are all so nutty? The early February AP-NORC and the mid-March Monmouth University polls, as well as the Insurrection itself, appear to give the lie to that defense. Sixty-five percent of Republicans still believe Biden cheated his way to the Oval Office. They’re getting that belief from somewhere. And unless we figure out how to disconnect this significant faction of the American public from the Big Lie, it will continue as a grotesque cancer on our society.

In the 1930s, Joseph Goebbels made famous the Big Lie.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

We have seen this movie before. And it never ends well.
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* The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, founded in 1941 whose name is now officially NORC.

 

Deception, Deception, Deception (Tennessee Williams – The Glass Managerie)

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive.
Sir Walter Scott: Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field

The last 24 hours have not been the best for Ted Cruz.

First, the situation: Citizens of the Lone Star State are living through their worst weather crisis since 2010, (and that includes 2015’s Hurricane Harvey) in which at least 24 people have died, millions have been without power for days, water pipes have burst all over the state, and now two million are under orders to boil water, presuming they have any to boil in the first place. With that terrible scenario, Cruz, the Trump toady, who, to this day refuses to acknowledge that Joe Biden defeated the former president, boarded a United Airlines plane with his family last night and jetted off to Cancun, Mexico, where, as I write this the temperature is a balmy  84 degrees and the water is fine and fit to drink.

Next, a fellow traveler took a picture of the Junior Senator on the plane bound for Cancun.

Then the photo went more viral than Covid-19 presenting Mr. Cruz with a bit of a public relations nightmare. So, thinking quick like a bunny he released a statement saying his daughters had wanted a vacation so, like a “good dad,” he accompanied them to Mexico and was immediately returning to Texas to…well, here’s what he said:

“This has been an infuriating week for Texans. The greatest state in the greatest country in the world has been without power. We have food lines, gas lines and people sleeping at the neighbors’ houses. Our homes are freezing and our lights are out. Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too.

“With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon. My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on and homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe.”

Did you notice the “Like millions of Texans” line?

Cruz’s statement makes it seem as if all along he was planning to drop off his girls in Mexico, then jump on the next plane out to return to Texas “to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.” Of course, he was pulling quite the overnight bag behind him through the Cancun International Airport. Makes one wonder.

And then Edward Russell, a reporter for Skift, who writes on the airline industry, scooped everyone by revealing his sources at United Airlines confirmed to him that Cruz was originally booked — with the family — through Saturday, the 20th, but rebooked his trip early this morning — after the fecal matter impacted the spinning instrument — to return this afternoon.

As Cruz was awaiting departure, but before Russell broke his story, the Senator told reporters, “Yesterday, my daughters asked if they could take a trip with some friends, and Heidi and I agreed, so I flew down with them last night, dropped them off here and now I’m headed back to Texas.”

Sources within United Airlines subsequently confirmed Russell’s story to NBC News.

We’ll have more about the continuing Texas tragedy later, but Cruz’s hypocrisy, lack of sincere empathy and smarmy superior attitude deserve to be called out and condemned. Texans deserve better than this. We all do.

Thoughts Of The Day

Monday, January 18th, 2021

Was Azar intentionally lying, colossally incompetent, or both?

Given the last four years, I’m guessing Door Number 3.

Because both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, administered 21 and 28 days apart, respectively, Operation Warp Speed’s initial plan, announced in early December, was to hold back half the supply to make sure there was enough for the second shots. At the same time, the Trump Administration was saying it would vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, 12 January, as it became apparent the first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were proceeding much slower than predicted (the 20 million prediction had turned into an 11.4 million reality), U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar announced the government was making all of the coronavirus reserve vaccine supply immediately available, urged states to provide shots to anyone 65 and older and warned governors that states with lagging inoculations could see their supply shifted to other places.

You could hear the collective country-wide sigh of relief. Help was on the way.

That is, until three days later when we learned the only place the “reserve supply” existed was in Alex Azar’s imagination, because the Administration admitted to state and federal officials it stopped stockpiling the second doses at the end of last year as it attempted to hit the 20 million goal. The reserve supply no longer existed. The states were left to scramble again, as they have throughout the pandemic. Remember the PPE fiasco? States were forced to compete against each other and the Feds to get any. Remember the Administration’s leadership about masking? Neither do I. I could go on.

This latest FUBAR catastrophe led President-Elect Joe Biden to tell the world the vaccine rollout was “a dismal failure.” Seems fairly accurate to me.

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse” – Benjamin Franklin

Here’s the way it worked. After the election, which he lost, Donald Trump spewed lie after lie about how he actually won “in a landslide.” And he convinced millions of people this was so. A new Quinnipiac poll reports 73% of Republicans believe there was “widespread fraud” in the election, which allowed Joe Biden to win. Trump’s two-month assault on truth led to the 6 January armed insurrection.

It is questionable whether he would have persuaded his millions of followers to believe the lies if he had not had profound assistance from Twitter, Facebook and conservative media. Case in point: the conservative outlet American Thinker which, with no investigation,  bought the Dominion Voting Machines stole-the-election line – again and again.

Yesterday, American Thinker “screwed its courage to the sticking post” and apologized. It was not one of those, “We did a bad thing, but we did it because…” things. No, this was an apology that would have made Ben proud. Here it is in full:

We don’t know what prompted American Thinker to so abjectly fall on its sword. I choose to think optimistically, believing journalistic ethics won the day. Regardless, this is how you do an apology.

Speaking of optimism

Why not end on a lighter note?

Back in pre-pandemic times (you remember those, don’t you?), when you wouldn’t think twice about sitting in a pub with friends discussing the metaphysics of Sartre, I once did just that with two friends, one a conservative republican with whom one could actually debate policy issues with smiles all around; the other, an MIT engineering professor.

We were talking about how people so often view the same thing in different ways, which led us to a discussion about optimism. That led to further discussion about the differences between people who were naturally optimistic and those who were naturally pessimistic.

One of us brought up the old glass half full or empty screed. I, the eternal optimist, said to me the glass was always half full. My conservative friend said he couldn’t help seeing it as half empty.

My friend from MIT said, “There’s too much glass.”

Stay safe – and, if you can, optimistic.