Archive for June 2020

Cock-up or Involuntary Manslaughter?

June 29, 2020

The question before the house is whether President Trump’s leadership on combating the coronavirus can be viewed as simply a cockup or involuntary manslaughter?  There is no question that the US response to the novel coronavirus was disorganized, naive, and ineffective.  What is at question is whether the President simple stumbled his way through the pandemic and through ineptitude and little real interest cocked things up.  Or, was the President complicit in extending the Covid-19 trail of infection and with the extension, effectively signing the death warrant for thousands of Americans.

The White House’s fingerprints are everywhere. “ Like I won’t be wearing a mask” to more recently, “there are more cases of Covid because we are testing more”.  The casual observer can detect what leadership looks like by perusing the Johns Hopkins web site and looking at the infections per day for New York or Florida.  There one can see with New York what “flattening” looks like and how masks, social distancing, and isolating can beat down the infection (and death) rates.  Florida is a different story. 

The President is not responsible for creating the coronavirus or for its spread to America.  As commander-in-chief, however, the buck stops with President Trump.  This President assiduously avoids any situation which hints at something he is responsible for… unless it involves praise or reward for him.

The coronavirus pandemic is not over yet and in fact shows no sign of when it will abate.  The President is off campaigning “Trump-style” speaking to large, unmasked, closely bunched spectators.  As with the President’s behavior in his first 3 1/2 years in office, Americans should not expect that suddenly the President should seek facts and truth. 

This translates into “more of the same”.  Unfortunately that leaves Americans to wonder whether the Trump White House’s handling of Covid-19 was simply a cock-up or something more like involuntary manslaughter?

 

Which Side Of History?

June 25, 2020

Terry Gonda, a music director at her parish near Detroit, was told she would be fired because she is married to a woman.  The marriage was not a recent event and Ms Gonda had been active in the church for several years.  Why now, and for what reason?

  • First and foremost, Ms Gonda was not fired for job performance reasons.  Hmmm.
  • Second, bureaucracies move slowly to be sure, so the Archdiocese of Detroit may simply have not gotten around to firing Ms Gonda until last Friday… or was the diocese quietly betting that the Supreme Court would hold that Title VII definition of “sex” did not include LGBTQ members… and just got it wrong.

The Catholic Church has encountered many conflicts with what the Church has defined as dogma and believes as undeniably “true”.  Disappointingly, the Catholic Church has been on the wrong side of history uncomfortably often.  Famously Galileo put forward the notion that planets, including the earth, traveled around the sun, and refuted the church’s notion that all bodies traveled around the earth. (Why would the church even hold such a view?)  But for Galileo,  the Catholic Church disagreed and convicted Galileo in a church trial.  

Being on the right side of history, especially when the reason to be on the wrong side is based upon “dogma” or “unfounded beliefs” begs clear thinking and courage.  Once history vindicates the agonizing choice, everything looks easy.  In the 21st century, with medical science providing plenty of evidence that sexual orientation has a huge body chemistry component, continuing to ostracize LGBTQ humans seems a bit anachronistic.  

Of course recognizing LGBTQ humans does represent a risk for any religious organization.  For years, the average religious participant has been force fed a diet that says the individual church member is “better” than “those people”.  Eternal salvation is there for the asking… of course, with a little donation of currency too.

Wouldn’t one think that in 2020 religions are better than the Detroit Archdiocese example?  

Discrimination

June 20, 2020

The Supreme Court opened this week with a 6-3 decision that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did in fact cover the LGBTQ community when it cited “sex” as an unacceptable reason for denying employment.  In short, if a person can perform the job requirements, then dismissal can only be on the grounds of unacceptable performance.  Playing on a gay softball team does not translate into poor work performance.

Justice Gorsuch, writing for the majority, did feel it necessary to add that in other cases there might be a Constitutional protection for “discriminating” against someone in the LGBTQ community if, deeply held religious views were claimed as the basis for dismissal.  Hmmm.

This is indeed a strange caveat.  Why would a claim to a supernatural spirit justify discrimination when a flat out “I don’t like gays” would not meet the legal test?

In a related case, a Catholic Social Service unit in Philadelphia seeks to regain its status as an approved agency for the city’s foster home/adoption services.  The Catholic Social Services organization was removed as a “vendor” when it refused to adhere to city policy that placements were open to all qualified persons.  CSS refused to make placements to members of LGBTQ families.  The Catholic Social Service argued, however, that their deeply held religious beliefs were inconsistent with placement of any child in a LGBTQ home.  Hmmm.

There is plenty of ignorance packed into this defense.  For sure being gay does not put anyone to the front of the line, but factors such as a stable home. adequate income, and willingness to provide care and nourishment for a placement seem more relevant than sexual orientation, especially since the law does not consider LGBTQ members illegal.

Claiming any justification for discrimination based upon “deeply held” religious beliefs invites conflicts such as a Jewish apartment landlord not renting to someone, fully qualified, because the might eat bacon or a ham sandwich.  Not eating bacon is a perfect right for someone to practice whether this choice is based upon personal preference or deeply help religious views.  Applying these views to someone else is an infringement on the other person’s rights.

It is a simple concept that what one believes is a personal choice and totally lies within ones prerogative, but the freedom to believe (including deeply held) does not give moral or ethical license to apply these beliefs to others.  That is in essence what the first Amendment says.

For now, I guess, we should be satisfied that the Supreme Court issued a decision which affirmed the rights of a previously discriminated group.  

The Second Wave…

June 17, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence was given the assignment, like a school child, to write an essay for publication in the Wall Street Journal, with the title “There Isn’t A Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’”.  As the opening paragraph would confirm, the Vice President was tasked to take America’s eye off another example of Trump Administration failure.  Pence writes,

“In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a “second wave” of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”

Without a doubt most everyone would wholeheartedly hope that the Vice President’s words were true.  They are, of course, not even close to being accurate even if one only read this opening paragraph.  What Pence writes is designed to lull Americans back to sleep instead of realizing what a profoundly inept job President Trump has done.

Data on new coronavirus cases and hospitalization tell an important story.  Covid-19 is alive and flourish in America.

For reason not currently explained, certain cities and regions spiked early while most of the rest of the country remained relatively free of infections.  Combining lock downs, social distancing, and protective masks these infected areas “flattened the curve” and then held on to put the virus in a decreasing mode.  So far so good.

Other less effected areas were less rigorous  over protection and decided to open up for business as usual early.  And, to no surprise, infections have begun to rise in these areas.  When those cases are added to the overall national totals, one sees a flattening and then  a plateauing, not a decrease headed to zero.

If news organization are describing recent increases as a second wave, IMO, this is incorrect.  What is being observed in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida is still the first wave.

The Trump Administration has been poorly lead by the President and efforts to combat Covid-19 have instead been lead by State and local health officials.  Worse, the President’s public example, like refusing to wear a face mask and his twitter pronouncements, are akin to dereliction of duty. 

And even worse than that, the President’s insistence to hold a large scale public campaign rally is nearly criminal.  Referring to the upcoming Tulsa rally a a sign of poor judgement doesn’t come close to describing someone chosen in 2016 to be the country’s commander in chief.  Donald Trump is his own commander, and the rest of America is along for the ride.

Hurry November.

Defunding…

June 14, 2020

The “catch phrase du jour” has become “Defunding the Police”.  And just as quickly, a flood of “what does that mean” have followed.  Oh, does that mean shutting down the current police force.  And, then what?

More articulate speakers say something like,”defunding takes some money from the police budget and transfer that money to other programs delivering services to endangered communities”.  When someone calls 911 to report someone threatening to harm themselves, mental health professionals should be dispatched, not police.  Defunding might free up money to hire more mental health services providers  Sound sensible?

The right size for a police department (as we have grown to know them) is likely much smaller than current if duties such as providing mental health services are removed.  Could technology help reduce the manning for traffic control too?  And what about police officers assigned to schools or sitting in patrol cars at construction sites? 

As any student of bureaucracies recognizes, large organizations tend to become even larger ones.  The bigger the organization the bigger the pay check for most all leadership.  Hmmm.

So “defunding” is a no brainer?

Reimagining “police departments” ought to be a no brainer but what exactly should the core mission be?  Most people might say, “police are necessary to enforce local laws and apprehend criminals”.  Once again, what type of laws and who are criminals?

Do we need police to enforce local laws like keeping your yard neat and clean, or any other property type claim?  Or, police to keep a lookout for citizens possessing or using drugs including marijuana?  Or, violating traffic laws such as not obeying stop signs, running though cross walks, or speeding?  Or operating a motor vehicle with a broken tail light?  Or disturbances, such as loud parties at clubs or in private homes?  

Thinking about these local laws, one can imagine situations where police help is needed and other situations where a warning or photograph plus ticket might be sufficient.  In gated communities many of these local laws are managed by the “home owners associations” without police involvement.  Why couldn’t community based residents association do the same?

If one looks to the other end of the spectrum at violent crime, organized crime, or active shooters, trained professional law enforcement agents are necessary.  Swat teams, undercover agents, and riot control professionals under certain circumstances are essential.

So, defunding discussions need to incorporate essential roles for police and what training, equipment, and type of personnel are necessary.

There might be something more to consider.  Income inequality which has been widening may also play a role in creating an environment which supports a deep rooted cycle of poverty and helps bring out the worst in average people.  Some citizens want protection from life styles and behaviors they suspect dangerous.  Some see “rule” breakers as a threat and seek police action to keep the rule breakers under control.  And those living in poverty, living in rented homes, living on borderline food depravation simply wonder why others (mostly white) have so much while they (mostly black) have so little?  And at this point logic and reason leave the discussion.

“Defunding” might be a place to begin but income inequality and the cycle of poverty seem conditions that must be mastered before there can be any sustainable progress on race relations.       

Swirling Vortex

June 7, 2020

When someone pulls the stopper from a bath tub drain, the water rushes down the drain creating a swirling vortex, pulling the contents with it.  Life in the US seemed a bit like that this past week.  The only question that comes to mind is “where does the water go when it cascades down the swirling vortex.

President Trump soiled his underwear this past week as he strained to keep himself relevant in light of recent polls, the coronavirus, and the George Floyd demonstrations all grabbing news headlines and centerstage on 7/24 cable news.  In a breathtaking 1,2,  3,

  • The President made a fiery speech from the safety of the White House promising to send US military into States which could not manage (his words were dominate) protesters. The speech was targeted to his conservative base who do not understand why people in one city protest the death of someone in another city.  
  • Next the President gave the ok to clear peaceful protesters from LaFayette Square which is adjacent to the White House. Military members in unmarked uniforms proceeded to spray tear gas and rubber bullets at the unarmed protesters driving the group from the Park.
  • Once cleared the “bully in chief” marched brazenly across the Park and across the street in order to stand before an Episcopal Church, a Bible in his hand.  The next day, the President repeated his “uninvited” visit to religious sites with a stop at the National Cathedral.  Nothing in the slightest about these visits was religious or spiritual, just boldfaced “photo ops”.

As the underlying message of President Trump’s antics sank in, former and present senior government and military leaders spoke out denouncing the President’’s actions.  Threatening to invoke an insurrection law authorizing government troops to quell civil protests seems blattently in opposition to the first Amendment

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

A no brainer one would think.  Surprisingly, however, there was as much criticism for the use of Federal Troops against American civilian for whom the troops were sworn to defend.    

Several perspectives should be clear from this episode. 

  • There is a limit that President Trump can cross before national leaders speak up and object to the President’s behavior. 
  • There is no limit to which President Trump will go to (1) stay in power, and (2) gain reelection. 

Over the next few months leading up to the Presidential election in November, Americans must stay alert for Trumpian “dirty tricks” which attempt to sway the election.  The good news is finally there are other Americans with the courage to speak up and call it as it is.

From Virus To Protests

June 2, 2020

Events in the past few weeks are enough to make your head spin.  Without saying so, the nation has had enough social distancing and face masks.  The call to open up and return daily life to something resembling normality is everywhere.  Public health officials make pleas to a largely not listening public.  The consequences of this new cavalier approach to combatting the Coronavirus are yet unknown.  Health officials predict there will be areas with sharp rises in infections and deaths to follow.  Given what can be seen all around us, most people, left to their own will power, will select the “easy” way out.  Hmmm.

And, then came the wake up call.

Thanks to cell phone video, George Floyd’s death this week in Minneapolis, suddenly there was no talk about Covid-19 but instead police brutality.  Senseless death jumped from nursing homes and meat packing factories to “being black” and being in police custody. 

Protests in Minneapolis morphed into looting and disorderly conduct.  Curfews were ignored and out of town protesters blossomed.  “George Floyd” became an icon and a chant protesters all across America learned and repeated.

But there is more.

Major cities from LA to New York City to Atlanta to Chicago to Washington, DC became unwilling hosts to protest groups.  George Floyd was the calling card, the protesters, however, often protesting quite different matters.  Looting, despite all the video cameras in service, flourished each night.  Gratuitous destruction of both public and private property was fair game too.  For what purpose one might ask?

One school of thought apologizes for these mobs’ behavior by pointing to the totally unnecessary 9 minutes the police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck.  Brutality begets brutality, they say.  Others point out that a large fraction of the protesters are not black and many of the looters appear to be seeking items that can be quickly resold.  Hmmm.

Think about

  • burden of college debt
  • income inequality
  • healthcare availability
  • good paying jobs availability
  • affordable housing
  • racism

Each of these factors seem terribly unfair and not part of the American Dream yet each is a real event in younger American’s lives.  “Catch 22” abounds with this list.  If someone does not risk college debt, then the odds of getting a good paying job are dim.  Without a job, healthcare insurance is problematic, without adequate healthcare, bankruptcy is just an illness away.  Affordable housing is a challenge for most Americans and certainly all those earning below the average wage.  And all around the rich get richer… 

In most American cities, the demonstrations which begin as a “George Floyd March” are soon consumed with protesters with other issues also on their minds.  For them the deck is already stacked against them, so what is there to lose, they think.  

So, if one were to think about a national strategy to bring these many marches under control and soon to an end, what would be a wise approach?  How about government “dominating” protesters?  How about government simply using a little more tear gas or more rubber bullets, or more arrests and jail time?  Hmmm.

One would hope our elected representatives could understand that the marches and demonstrations (including lootings and arsons) are only loosely connected to George Floyd and are more aptly viewed as a storm which has been waiting to rage. 

The current Administration is incapable of dealing with this level of complexity and can boast experience only with subjects which can be deconstructed.  Analyzing complex social and economic problems is simply not in this Administration’s wheelhouse.  

What say about

  • Paris Climate Accord
  • Trans Pacific Partnership
  • Iran Nuclear Agreement
  • Trade War with China
  • Trade War with the rest of the world
  • Unfunded Tax Cuts for the Wealthy
  • Damning the WHO During a Pandemic

Hmmm.

Scorched Earth?

June 1, 2020

This past week “Twitter”, for the first time, placed a fact check notice on a President Trump’s tweet.  The tweet in question claimed mail-in voting was akin to voter fraud.  Since there is no evidence to prove this, and plenty of data showing success with mail-in ballots, Twitter simply suggested to readers to check these “additional facts”.  That act of belated bravery has brought the full fire of President Trump.

A few days later, George Floyd’s senseless murder in Minneapolis police custody brought outrage in black communities around the country.  In Minneapolis crowds rioted and burned a police station and looted several nearby establishments.  Understandable but totally unacceptable behavior.  President Trump used the occasion to “dog whistle” his posse by tweeting “When looting starts, shootings start”, a tweet aimed at empowering his supporters, especially those prone to wear MEGA hats. This time Twitter blocked the tweet with a message saying the tweet violated Twitter policy on encouraging violence.  Hmmm.

Both Twitter and FaceBook have shamed themselves in the past by allowing clearly bogus post to remain for view.  Even cases where posted video’s had been doctored, or in others, facts were ignored, or in still some others where crude, vile, and uncouth statements were made, FB and Twitter stood silent.  For some reason, Twitter has now gotten a backbone and with a baby step has said what the real world has known for months… President Trump does not tell the truth.

Mark Zuckerberg, FaceBook CEO, still clings to the idea that FB has no responsibility to fact check much of anything posted, and absolutely nothing of a political nature.  This apparently reflects FaceBook’s strategy to keep away from law suits by saying FB has no editorial involvement.  If the post is wrong, then the problem lies between the offended and the poster.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, has apparently made the decision that the President has hijacked Twitter and is turning the platform into a Trumpian  political tool.  In the fullness of time, no Trump, no Twitter.   

Offering “fact check” information for someone so prone to distort truth seems a rational and reasonable act.  Readers can still see what the President said (1st Amendment) but can also see additional fact checked information.  

Hmmm.

With over 100,000 coronavirus deaths, and plenty of evidence that Trump’s management failed in time of need, and with polls showing the earth moving away from the President and to his presumptive opponent, Joe Biden, there is no reason to think President Trump will clean up his act in the final months of his reelection campaign.  Instead, it is far more probable that President Trump will use “scorched earth” tactics, with no holds barred as he seeks reelection.

Dorsey, for whatever his reasoning, has acted bravely and even in the baby-est steps provided an example for others to follow.