Monday, March 30, 2020

Despite Warnings of Medical Supply Shortages Created by Pandemic, the Trump Administration Gave Away Critical PPE to China

As early January, U.S. intelligence warned the Trump administration and Congress about a new virus strain in China and the possibility that it could become a pandemic that made its way to the United States.  Throughout January and early February, increasingly dire reports were issued by intelligence agencies warning about the growing spread of the virus, by then identified as Covid-19. 

It was not like the Trump administration had not been prepped about what steps to take should a pandemic come to the United States.   Days before Donald Trump's inauguration, the incoming administration was put through a simulation calling for a response to a pandemic that originated in Asia.  Part of that exercise included a warning that the pandemic could create shortage of personal protective equipment that would put the lives of health care providers at risk.

Instead of learning from the exercise, the Trump administration ignored its lessons, ignored CDC's playbook for dealing with a pandemic, and ignored the U.S. intelligence agencies warning about that China was not being honest about its containment of Covid-19 and that it could well spread to the United States.  Instead Trump downplayed the danger of the virus coming to the United States and instead heaped praise on his "friend" Chinese President Xi Jinping, on January 24th tweeting:
"China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi."
Two weeks later, on February 7th, the very day the World Health Organization warned that there was a worldwide shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) needed to fight the virus, the Trump administration announced it was sending 17.8 tons of "masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials" to China." 

Less than two weeks later, on February 20th, the United States recorded its first Covid-19 case.  Today, five weeks later, the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases, topping 160,000.  Medical professionals in the United States face critical shortages of PPE.  Instead of gowns, some are wearing garbage bags and reusing single use masks.  Many doctors and nurses are contracting Covid-19 because they lack the necessary PPE to protect themselves against the virus. 

Our federal government failed the pandemic test.  Spectacularly.  Thank God we have competent governors who are qualified and unafraid to provide the leadership the Trump administration is apparently incapable of.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

President Trump's Inability to Lead is Costing Americans Their Lives

Of course, Donald Trump is not responsible for the outbreak of the Covid-19.  But he is responsible for not having this country prepared for the virus hitting American shores.  President Trump was warned by medical experts about the likelihood of  the pandemic months ago..  Trump could have had Coronavirus test kits ready to go or accepted those from the World Health Organization.  He could have directed that the country greatly increase production of PPE (personal protective equipment), such as masks and gowns that are desperately needed by health care professionals.  Likewise, Trump could have pushed for increased production of much-needed respirators and taken steps to use the military to help hospitals increase their capacity.  He could have urged governors to order their residents to stay in
earlier, which would have lessened the spread of the virus. 

President Donald Trump did none of that. As a result, Americans are now unnecessarily getting sick and dying.  In fact, the United States is well on the way to leading the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths. 

Trump does not like receiving bad news.  His aides know that which is why they only try to give him positive news.   Any bad news that gets to Trump is labeled by the President as "fake news" or a "hoax."  Trump then pivots to something more favorable, even if he has to make it up.  And he makes a lot of stuff up.

Donald Trump has no credibility with the vast majority of the American public because he has been lying to them every day for the three plus years of his presidency.  Now, he needs the public to believe him and no one but those in the Trump cult believes a word he says. 

Now that Trump has dropped the ball in leading the country dealing with a pandemic, the President has decided to ignore that and focus instead on getting the economy going, even if it will cost lives.  He appears to be on the verge of ordering people back to work, despite concerns about Covid-19.  Someone probably should tell Trump though he does not have the power to override state governors who have ordered the shutdowns in their particular states.

As far as the economy goes, the federal government will no doubt be pouring trillions into the American economy to keep the coming recession from sliding into a depression.  Running up debt and lowering interest rates in a time like this is understandable and necessary.  But it also highlights why we should not have been running trillion dollar deficits and lowering interest rates during a period of economic prosperity.  Those are options that should have been saved for when the inevitable downturn came, which would have come even without the pandemic.  Instead my Republican Party chose to cut corporate taxes during, a period of full employment, and run up huge deficits.

My Republican friends always ask me why I did not vote for Donald Trump for President since my conservative views more closely resemble those Trump (who was a lifelong liberal until 2015) was professing to support during the campaign.  (I wrote in "Ronald Reagan," for the record)    I sure did not agree with Hillary Clinton's views on pretty much anything..  But unlike Trump, Candidate Hillary Clinton was actually qualified to be President.  In Trump, you had a candidate who clearly lacked the intelligence, the temperament, and the judgment to be President of the United States. 

Unfortunately, nominating, and ultimately electing, a person who is completely unfit to be President, someone who is unable to lead the country in a time of crisis, was not just a bad decision by voters.  It was a vote that now will cost many Americans their lives. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Yes, Virginia, Ohio is Still a Swing State in Presidential Politics

Is it really true that Ohio is no longer a competitive state in presidential politics?  Many political observers have concluded that Ohio, once one of the most competitive and important states when it comes to presidential politics, is now solidly in the Republican column.

Their reasoning goes like this:  Barack Obama won the state in 2008 and 2016 by 4.5% and 3% respectively.  But in 2016, Donald Trump won by a comfortable 8%.   While Ohio has one elected U.S. Senator - Sherrod Brown - all statewide elected officials, including the Governor, are Republican. The GOP also has strong majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

However, a closer look at the data suggest Ohio, with its sizable 18 electoral votes, is very much in
play in 2020.

When Donald Trump won Ohio in 2016, he did so with just 51.3% of the vote  That translated into an 8% win only because so many voters in Ohio (5.5%) voted for third party candidates.  Most of those voters were no doubt casting protest votes because of their unhappiness with the two major party candidates.  If the Democrats had run a more popular candidate than Hillary Clinton, many of those voters would have cast a vote for their nominee and the result would have been much closer than 8%.

The 2018 midterms also strongly suggest Ohio likely being a swing state in 2020.  Although Republicans held their ground in state senate races, the GOP lost five seats in the state house in 2018.  And, while Republicans did sweep all the statewide offices in 2018, the GOP winning margin in each race was dramatically down from what it was in 2014.   Below is a table showing those declining victory margins:
Race                      2014         2018
Secretary of State   29.9%      3.2%
Auditor                   17.1%      3.8%
Treasurer                13.4%      7%
Attorney General    23.4%      4.8%
Governor                30.9%      3.7%

It is not hard to figure out what happened in Ohio in 2018.  There was a dramatic increase in turnout in 2018 over 2014, over 40%.  While Republican statewide candidates greatly increased their vote over 2014, Democratic votes went up even more.

Ohio is not like other midwestern states like Wisconsin or Iowa or Minnesota. Ohio has a lot of large and medium sized cities.  It is the seventh most populated state in the country and tenth as to population density.  While those Ohio cities have always been the source of most of the Democratic vote in the state, those urban votes have ben in recent years cancelled out by suburbanites and rural residents voting Republican.  In the age of Trump, that has changed.  Many of those suburbanites who used to vote as a block for Republican candidates, are now voting for Democrats.

That a candidate like Joe Biden could prove very competitive in a more urban midwestern state like Ohio is borne out by the polls.  A Marist poll released on Monday shows Biden ahead of Trump 49-45 in Ohio.

While Biden should avenge Hillary Clinton's loss of Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2020, winning more rural and white Wisconsin will be much more of a challenge.  Likewise, similarly demographic Minnesota and New Hampshire, won by Hillary in 2016, could well fall to Trump in 2020.  Ohio though makes up for the loss of those three states, and gives the Biden a 273-265 electoral college edge, even if you spot Trump every other swing state he won in 2016, including North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida.

Yes, Ohio will be a swing state, maybe even THE swing state, in 2020.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Amazon's Warehouse Practices Endanger Employees as Coronavirus Spreads

The best approach to keep from getting Coronavirus (more accurately called COVID-19) is to avoid groups of people and to engage in "social distancing" by standing at least 6 feet away from other people.   I know from my own experience working at an Amazon facility a few years ago that many of the practices at Amazon warehouses then would be quite problematic, even dangerous, today. So I checked in with a friend of mine this morning who still works at an Amazon facility to see what
changes have been made to make employees safe.

In response to Coronavirus, Amazon is encouraging employees to wash their hands more frequently (more on that in a bit) and hand sanitizer is more readily available.  (Supposedly a $2 raise is also in the offing and anyone who gets the virus gets two weeks sick leave.)  But the practices Amazon uses at its facility, which causes large groups of employees to congregate at several points during the day, remains unabated.

At Amazon facilities, all workers on a shift arrive at the same time.  Hundreds of employees file through the door in close proximity to each other.  They stand next to each at the time clock waiting to punch in.  Then they proceed to a "stand up," a meeting at which employees of each particular department stand right next to each other as a manager makes announcements, conducts stretching exercises, and gives the employees a pep talk (think the rah-rah talks football coaches give their players) to encourage them to work hard during their shift.

After about a few hours of work, employees at the facility are given a 15 minute break; all of the employees head to the break room at the same time.  After about 5 hours of work, employees are given a 30 minute "lunch" break off the clock.  So all the employees go to the time clock, stand next to each other as they clock out and then proceed together to the breakroom where they congregate to buy food or get food they brought from home and put in a refrigerator.  Then the employees sit in close proximity to each other as they enjoy lunch.

After lunch, employees gather to clock back in, then proceed back for a second standup in which they, again, stand next to other employees.   Then another 15 minute break.  Finally, at the end of the shift, people line up to clock out and then file out of the building. Together.  During a shift, an Amazon employee could have easily been exposed to as many as a hundred people.

Now about frequently washing your hands.  That is a good sanitary practice, but it not a panacea.  If someone next to you at standup has Coronavirus and is breathing your air, it does not really matter if your hands are freshly washed.  Nonetheless, like so many things about Amazon, the preaching about handwashing is a ruse.  Amazon still requires your scanner to go off every six minutes or it is considered "time off task," the accumulation of which time can lead to disciplinary action.  Most bathrooms are a good three minutes walk away if not more. Do the math.  Also, taking a break to wash your hands, means you might not meet productivity requirements.  More disciplinary action.

Of course, Amazon will respond to media inquiries saying that they do not stop employees from taking breaks to wash their hands.  That is absolutely correct and, unfortunately, most media will report that response without followup.  Amazon is not punishing employees for hand-washing, but instead punishing employees for the inevitable consequences, i.e. "time off task" and decreased productivity, that result if you frequently wash your hands.

More than hand-washing, I was interested in learning from my friend what changes Amazon had made to practices that encourage, indeed require, employees to congregate together.  I figured to hear about staggered shift start times, staggered break and lunch times, and the elimination of the stand-up.  (There are a lot of ways to convey necessary information to the employees, including sending messages over the employees scanner).  None of that.  All the same practices continue to this day.

Or here is another idea.  How about Amazon providing respirator masks to its employees for use during their shift, at least to those who want to use them?  Amazon sells those, after all.  Nope.

Anyone who thinks Amazon is good to its employees does not know how the company treats its employees.  Amazon received a lot of applause when it raised minimum pay at its facility to $15 an hour.  But what most media types missed is at the same time Amazon was raising employee pay $1 or $2 an hour, Amazon cut out very lucrative performance and attendance bonuses that dwarfed the meager pay increase.  The $15 an hour minimum announcement duped most of the media, as well as a lot of politicians.

It is only a matter of time before the stories of Coronavirus spreading at Amazon warehouses begins.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Trump's Address to Nation Fails to Reassure Nation Anxious About Coronavirus

Last night, President Donald Trump addressed the nation to outline his administration's response to the Coronavirus pandemic.  The underlying purpose of the speech was to calm the nerves of jittery Americans whose overreaction to the virus (more on that at the bottom of the page) is on the verge of sending the economy into a steep recession.   Trump's address was an attempt to replicate the fireside speeches that President Franklin Roosevelt gave during the depths of the Depression.  In those radio addresses, FDR projected calm and competence as he outlined programs designed to save the American economy from the worst downturn ever.  An objective look at those FDR programs reveal that most of them failed to improve the situation.  But the addresses did succeed in giving people confidence that they had a competent leader in office, someone that cared deeply about their welfare.

Trump's address to the nation last night, however, did not project confidence or competence..  It left people with the impression that the President does not understand the public health crisis the nation faces and lacks the personal skills to lead the country during such turbulent times.  The stock market has the same impression which is why every time Trump speaks out about the crisis, the Dow Jones drops another 1,000 points.

When talking about his business leadership style, Trump would brag that he did not have a daily agenda.  Nor did not engage in short or long-term planning.  His approach was to simply react to things as they happen.  While that might be a passable approach in running a family business, that is certainly no way to run a country dealing with a pandemic.

The nation can survive an unfit, incompetent chief executive.  That is, until there is a national crisis, like a pandemic.  Trump's incompetence, ignorance and inability to learn, however, may not be the worst things.  Trump's inability to tell the truth, means he now has zero credibility when he tries to reassure the public during a crisis.

Trump is not wrong that the coverage of Coronavirus and the public fear it is generating is out of proportion to the threat the virus poses.  On television yesterday, I heard an announcer say that Coronavirus was the worst pandemic the nation has ever faced.  Really?  How about the Spanish flu of 1918?  It killed 20 to 50 million people worldwide (some estimates say as many 100 million), including a half million people in the United States.  In just 24 weeks the Spanish flu killed more than HIV/AIDS killed in 24 years.  Unlike Coronavirus which is most threatening to older people, the Spanish flu killed mostly younger people.  (The theory as to why is that older people had experienced a variant of the virus decades  earlier and had developed antibodies that protected them from getting the Spanish flu.)  In 1917, life expectancy in the United States was 51 years.  Because of all the people who died in 1919, life expectancy dropped to 39 years.

So, yes, people are overreacting to Coronavirus.  But is that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The preventive steps people are taking will help stop the disease so we don't have a repeat of a horrific pandemic like the Spanish flu.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Democratic Suburban Turnout During Primaries Should Set Off GOP Alarm Bells

With former Vice President Joe Biden clearing the field and running up impressive wins over his remaining rival Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, it appears that President Donald Trump will get be getting the opponent he feared the most. 

Officially, Trump campaign officials say otherwise.  They point to supposed flaws with the likely Democratic nominee - Biden's mental decline, his constant gaffes, and the fact his son, Hunter, pretty clearly traded in on the Biden name and position to make money.  Of course, to raise those issues about
Biden is to overlook Trump's own apparent mental decline, his constant gaffes (not to mention his daily lies), and that three of Trump's four adult children (Don, Jr., Ivanka and Eric) appear to have no actual skills except cashing in on the Trump name.  Sure the aforementioned attacks on Biden would be rife with hypocrisy, but when has hypocrisy ever derailed a Trump attack on an opponent?

There are real reasons to fear Biden as an opponent.  Unlike the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, Biden has an appeal to white working class men and women, many of whom live in rust belt, swing states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  In 2016, Hillary received tepid support from African-Americans, many of whom decided to stay home on Election Day.  Biden though has enthusiastic support from black voters. 

Trump's Electoral College win in 2016 was razor thin.  If just 39,000 votes in three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, had flipped Hillary Clinton would have been president.  Thus, if Biden does slightly better than Hillary in reaching out to blue collar white voters and encouraging African-Americans to vote, that will tip the balance to the Democrats.  After all, it is not like Trump has expanded the narrow political coalition he won with in 2016.  Add to that the fact that, since his support skews older, many 2016 Trump voters will have passed away before being able to cast a vote in 2020.    It does not take much to wipe out 78,000 votes.

The 2020 Democratic primaries though reveal that the GOP has a much, much bigger problem.  Turnout for Democrats has been through the roof in the primaries.  The new Democratic voters Sanders promised would come to the polls have indeed to the vote for Biden.  While the increased turnout reveals an enthusiasm which would be bad enough news for Republicans, the big problem for the GOP is where that increased Democratic turnout is taking place - the suburbs.

Suburban voters turned out in the 2018 general election to vote against Trump and for Democratic candidates for Congress. The result was an historic 41 seat gain by Democrats in the House.   Now those former Republican leaning suburban voters are participating in Democratic primaries.  That means those suburbanites are dead set on voting against Trump in 2020. 

That would be a major change.  Although Trump lost some GOP support in the suburbs in 2016, the Republican voter defections were at the margins.  But President Trump has proven to be much less popular in the suburbs than Candidate Trump.  In every special election since 2016 and the 2018 mid-terms, Republican-leaning suburban voters have been casting ballots for Democrats.

The 2020 Democratic primaries show the trend of suburbanites fleeing the GOP will not only continue, it will exacerbate.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Joe Biden Only Choice for Reagan Republican Conservatives

Today Senator Minnesota Amy Klobuchar decided to end her campaign for the Democratic nomination President.  Yesterday, Mayor Pete dropped out.  It is being reported that both will endorse former Vice President Joe Biden.  While former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains in the race, he will probably end his candidacy this week after Super Tuesday's results roll in.

Who will be left then?  Socialist Bernie Sanders, wannabe socialist Elizabeth Warren, and Tulsi Gabbard.  Gabbard, who is is barely even showing up in election results, seems to have an agenda that
does not include actually getting elected President.  Gabbard, who interviewed with President-elect Trump for a cabinet position in 2016, appears exclusively on Fox news.

In short, the once crowded moderate "lane" is about to be occupied by only one person, Biden.  Nonetheless, it will be a struggle for Biden to overtake Sanders who starts out this new electoral phase with a lead in delegates, more money and more enthusiastic supporters.

Biden is far from a perfect candidate  He is too liberal for my tastes on numerous issues..  But, unlike President Donald Trump, Biden is intelligent, honest, competent, knowledgeable, and has the capacity and willingness to learn about things he does not yet know.  Unlike Trump, Biden has a respect for the Constitution, the rule of law, and democratic norms and institutions.  Unlike Trump, Biden is willing to work across the aisle with those with whom he disagrees.  And most importantly, unlike Trump, Biden truly cares about the United States and its people.  While Trump plays the role of a patriot to his gullible band of supporters, Biden is an actual patriot.

I cannot begin to express how embarrassing it is having Donald J. Trump as President these past three years plus. That embarrassment has been made so much worse by the fact that Trump, a lifelong liberal Democrat, was able to con his way into securing the GOP nomination and ultimately the Presidency.   It may take Democrat Joe Biden to rescue the Republican Party from its pending self-immolation over the cultish worship of a failed businessman (but successful con man), who is completely unfit to be President of the United States.

For real conservatives, those who believe in the principles that Ronald Reagan espoused in 1980, there remains only one choice for President in 2020:  Joe Biden.