Saturday, April 25, 2020

Donald Trump, MD

There is nothing Donald Trump likes more than being in front of television cameras, except maybe being in front of thousands of his groupies at political rallies, where he can say anything he wants to and people will cheer. Why anyone would enjoy sitting and listening to someone brag about himself (untruthfully most of the time) is a question for another day. But since public gatherings are verboten, Trump has to settle for his daily coronavirus “briefings,” which have turned into a bizarre collision of reality TV and political campaigning.
Most politicians in similar circumstances would allow the scientists and medical experts to give the briefings. Not Trump. This is free publicity, and he simply cannot resist the chance to try to look important. Unfortunately for him, these briefings have turned into quite a fiasco for the president. As the weeks have passed and the death toll has mounted, the briefings have morphed from Trump trying to convince voters that he has handled the pandemic excellently to him insisting that we need to open the economy prematurely to him promoting a miracle cure (hydroxychloroquine) to him spouting abject nonsense (wondering aloud about the possibility injecting disinfectants). None of this, of course, should surprise anyone. Nor should the fact that his administration’s handling of the pandemic has been one long, horrific train wreck.
As I write, the total global death toll from COVID-19 is 204,274. The data is incomplete from many countries, but this number represents the confirmed and reported deaths from the novel coronavirus. Deaths of Americans number 54,256. To put this in perspective, the United States has a population of around 328.2 million. World population is about 7.8 billion. In other words, the U.S. is home to 4.2 percent of the world’s inhabitants. But we currently have experienced 26.6 percent of the world’s coronavirus fatalities. The numbers don’t lie. The U.S. government has handled this pandemic in an incredibly incompetent manner. By comparison, South Korea has only 242 deaths. South Korea has 51.6 million inhabitants, which is .66 percent of the world’s population. They have experienced .11 percent of the world’s coronavirus deaths. Taiwan has 23.8 million residents, or .31 percent of the world’s population. They have experienced 6 deaths. Yes, 6, which translates into a minuscule .00003 percent of the world’s coronavirus deaths.
What is the difference? Well, there are several factors, but first among them is the fact that these countries (and others in Asia) were ready for the virus and took it seriously very early on. They had learned from the SARS outbreak in 2003. Taiwan had a fully operational national health command center and immediately took steps to control the spread of the virus. Next, testing and tracking were handled expertly. Their leaders also were more concerned about the health of their people than in how the pandemic would reflect upon them.
By comparison, the pandemic has revealed the Trump administration to be exactly what it is: a pathetic mixture of incompetence, political posturing, and blame evasion. Yes, the U.S. did not prepare well for this after the SARS scare or the H1N1 outbreak. But exactly five years before the current pandemic, President Obama warned of just such a potential disaster and pleaded with Congress to take the necessary steps, because, he said, this is not a partisan issue. This obviously didn’t happen. But even though Trump has sought to blame his predecessor (as he does for just about everything), most of the blame must fall on Donald Trump. When he was first warned about the virus and the danger it presented, he was more concerned about his reelection prospects and the stock market than about the human lives early action could have spared. His deflections and empty assurances are well documented and should never be forgotten.
But in addition to Trump’s senseless delays, we must add his administration’s complete failure to provide for adequate testing and tracking of the active cases. As is only appropriate, Trump’s administration was caught with its pants down. And when this failure became all too obvious, what did Trump do? He punted. It’s up to the states to do the testing and to get their own supplies. And so we have a mad scramble with states bidding against states for scarce commodities instead of having a coordinated national plan. The contrast between America and the countries that dealt expertly with the pandemic could not be starker in this regard. So, here we are, nearing the end of April, and we still don’t have enough swabs or reagents to test adequately enough to “open the economy” safely, even though Trump is chomping at the bit to do just that and some of his Republican governors are throwing caution to the wind. But opening the economy without adequate testing and tracking is just an invitation to see a spike in new infections and deaths.
Of course, Trump gives his administration an A+ grade for its handling of the pandemic, but the numbers alone reveal the truth about that lie. Instead of competent leadership, what we get every day is two hours of Trump offering up “miracle” cures, empty hopes, and, now, dangerous nonsense. The pandemic briefings have gotten so monstrously idiotic that Trump’s aides and advisors (whatever that term even means to such a self-absorbed bore) are worried that he is damaging his reelection chances with his obnoxious, self-centered performances. Yes, this is still all about Trump, not about the tens of thousands of Americans who have died, usually without having family members present. But if he does stop the daily coronavirus carnival, it will not be because he wants to let the real experts speak, but because his sad act is hurting his reelection campaign.
Personally, I’m torn. I would love to see him go hide somewhere and just shut upand stop tweeting. Maybe he will, but I doubt he can resist the allure of the spotlight for more than a day or two. On the other hand, part of me wants him to continue with his “briefings,” but only because they let everyone who watches see just what a disaster he is as a president, as a leader, and as a human being. I am sure that his aides are correct. If he keeps dominating the briefings, he will lose the election, which would be the only silver lining on this particularly dark cloud.
Have you noticed that Trump has not once even tried to be our Consoler in Chief? Do you remember Obama singing “Amazing Grace” after one terrible massacre and weeping on camera for the victims of another? Do you remember George W. Bush after 9/11? Do you remember Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing? These were appropriate responses to horrific disasters, but these calamities pale in comparison to the steady carnage of this pandemic. Yet Trump has no consoling words for a devastated nation. He still thinks only of himself, of optics. How pathetic.
What I cannot believe is that there are still so many Republicans who support this massively unfit president who has been revealed by the smallest of organisms to be the smallest man to ever occupy that great office.
I placed the letters MD after Trump’s name in the title to this post. Although he fancies himself to be a medical expert, those letters do not stand for medical doctor. They stand for moronic demagogue, or perhaps moral disaster. Both are accurate. Take your pick. But please, don’t vote for this utterly contemptible man in November.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

What to Do with the Money?

We live in strange times. Here we were, cruising along, living under the delusion that our economic prosperity was invincible. But in a few short weeks, a simple viruswhich may or may not even be complex enough to be considered a living thinghas brought the world economy to its knees. In the past two weeks, a staggering 10 million American workers have applied for unemployment benefits. And we have not hit the peak of the pandemic yet. The economic pain will increase drastically before it decreases.
But as Paul Krugman pointed out in his column this week, this is not a normal economic contraction. It’s more as if we have intentionally induced an economic coma in order to save society and as many of its members as possible. This is the effect of the unfortunately named “social distancing” we are practicing and the stay-at-home orders from government.
Krugman also points out another difference between this economic contraction and a “normal” recession: it affects some sectors of the economy dramatically, while other sectors are booming, and still others are seemingly untouched, although if the coma lasts long enough, eventually all sectors will likely feel the pain. The industries that are most affected are those based on dense public patronage: restaurants, airlines, educational institutions, sporting events, movies, theaters, concerts, conferences, amusement parks. Many retail establishments are closing or offering curbside service only. Other industries, however, are seeing the opposite effect. Grocery stores, teleconferencing, ecommerce, digital media, and, of course, some aspects of health care are seeing increased activity. And then there are those organizations and industries that are largely unaffected by the pandemic.
For the moment, I am in one of those organizations. I work for BYU as editorial director at BYU Studies, a scholarly Mormon studies journal, but even though the university is largely deserted, trying to offer course instruction online, BYU Studies is still chugging along, trying to pull together another quarterly journal. We have always been mostly unaffected by the university’s academic calendar, and the pandemic did not change this. Some of my colleagues have been working from home. Our student programmers and interns are mostly working remotely, some even out of state. But three of us have been showing up nearly every day, doing our work as usual. Even if Utah implemented a stay-at-home directive, going to work at the Joseph F. Smith Building at BYU would be pretty much the same as staying home. For one of my coworkers, it would probably be safer, because she has kids running around her house. BYU Studies has a fairly spacious office suite. The three of us work in different rooms. The large building is pretty much empty. It is rare to see anyone in the hallways. There is hand sanitizer everywhere. Student custodial employees come around periodically and disinfect doorknobs and countertops. I feel as safe there as at home. So I will likely continue to drive in to work until I’m required to do otherwise.
The other aspect of my job that makes it far different from many others in our pandemic-stricken economy is that I don’t worry about getting a paycheck. BYU is not going out of business, and it is backed by a church with massive reserves of wealth. So my paycheck is not likely to be in jeopardy during this economic contraction. My wife, on the other hand, tutors math in our home, so her income has taken a hit, but we can still live comfortably on my salary, so we are not hurting.
What I am getting at here is that my wife and I, and many others in our current macroeconomic predicament, do not need the money Uncle Sam is planning to send our way soon. I am also just a few years away from retirement. I have a very adequate pension from DMBA, as well as a 401(k) that I have been feeding for quite a few years now, so I don’t need any extra money for retirement either. Because of this, I feel particularly fortunate. But I also feel a bit guilty. My wife and I will probably get $2,400 from the government in relief money. We don’t need it, and we have talked about this and have decided we should give the money somehow to those who have been sucked into the economic vacuum created by COVID-19. The question is how. I’ve entertained the idea of going to restaurants and dropping $100 tips on the employees. But even though I’m sure most of them could use the help, they are actually working and still getting paid. So maybe that’s not the best idea.
I’m sure there are better ways to pass this relief money along to those who most need the relief. So I’m asking you for help. Are you aware of channels through which we can get this government windfall into the right hands? Who needs it most, and how can we make sure it gets to them? I’m sure you have good ideas I haven’t thought of.
The other reason I bring up my own financial situation is that there are many in our society who are in the same boat my wife and I are in. Many people are still employed, as I am, and many are retired and are living on pensions or retirement funds that are little affected by the employment crisis. I would hope that most of these people will do what my wife and I are planning to do.
It’s obviously too difficult for the federal government to distinguish between those workers who are financially secure and those who aren’t. They’ve set some arbitrary upper income limits to the relief payments, but beneath those limits are many like me who don’t need the money we’ll be receiving. So, really, it’s up to us to make this program work for the greatest good. And isn’t that what being members of a society is all about?