Saturday, May 16, 2020

A Post Wherein I Ask A Question About Stable Geniuses And Pandemics

I believe the following facts are not disputed:

  1. Donald Trump has asserted he is a very stable genius.
  2. Donald Trump took his oath of office on January 20, 2017.
  3. China placed Wuhan province on lockdown on January 23, 2020.
  4. The number of days between the inauguration and the lockdown is 1,098.
For the purposes of debate, let's stipulate to the following
  1. The Obama administration left the nation's pandemic response capabilities in the horrendous shape Trump claims that it did.
Those facts and stipulations leave me with a nagging question: Why was a self-proclaimed stable genius not able to recognize and rectify the alleged gaps in the nation's pandemic response capabilities within those 1,098 days?

I know I am not the first person to ask a question such as this, but I have yet to see a serious answer. Please leave any serious responses in the comments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

What Have We Learned?

The question posed in the post's title has been nagging at me for the past week. Over 70,000 Americans have died from the virus and the unemployment rate has jumped from 3.5% to 16% in less than a month. I fear that the death and sacrifice may be in vain.

The sardonic angel on my left shoulder wants to me to type "Americans value toilet paper and haircuts more than anyone realized" and hit publish. The better angel on my right shoulder wants me to think about an answer or answers. Therein lies the stereotypical rub; each answer or partial answer produces yet more questions.

One thing seems obvious, the nation remains divided. One of the most obvious Covid 19 related examples is the disagreement about the death toll. An Axios poll shows that most Americans doubt the published numbers, but a majority of Democrats believe the totals are too low whereas a plurality of Republicans believe the numbers are too high. In short, Americans are now arguing about what the facts are not the implications of the facts. 

One's politics may and probably should color one's interpretation of the facts, but it should not color what the facts are. The death toll should not be a debatable proposition. It should be the same question as "is it raining?" It is either raining or it isn't; the death toll is 70,000 or it it isn't.  One can argue whether rain is timely or one can argue about how to best respond to a novel virus that has killed 70,000 Americans. Arguing about the numbers, however, precludes discussion about the best way to respond to the pandemic.

Second, sound bites have replaced solutions. These paragraphs from an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner illustrate the situation. First, 
Those arguing for a more rapid lifting of coronavirus restrictions have a refrain that goes something along the lines of: "Isolate the elderly and more vulnerable populations, and let everybody else go on with their lives."
The problem is that those advocating such a strategy have not done a very effective job of explaining what that would look like in practice. 
The most obvious way to "isolate" older and more vulnerable Americans would seem to be to put them in specialized living quarters along the lines of nursing homes. Yet these homes have been proven to be absolute death traps. 
Well done soundbites confirm one's views or trigger those who hold opposing views, but they solve nothing. Carefully considered plans based on the best facts available may ameliorate the current problems, but as noted above, Americans disagree about basic facts.

Third, Americans may have perverted the meaning of freedom. I'll let this Tom Nichols tweet speak for itself and urge the reading of the entire thread.
Finally there's a lack of leadership. Damon Linker writes about a "quality" that he has "come to appreciate, admire, and miss terribly through the civic desert of the Trump administration: the capacity of a president to rise above partisanship to speak from and to the nation as a whole."

Linker continues,
This isn't just some idle quality that sentimental Americans like their presidents to possess. It's one of the two fundamental responsibilities of the presidential office — to serve both as head of the executive branch of government and head of state. The second of these duties is as essential as the first — and for all of Trump's difficulty handling the managerial and policy challenges of running the executive branch, his inability to speak in high-minded terms about the good of the nation as a whole, about the need to rise above factionalism, and about our capacity to feel a part of a whole that's larger than ourselves is total, is one of his greatest failings as president. And it's been even more glaringly obvious since the pandemic took hold in mid-March.
Our education seems woefully inadequate to the task of fighting the virus and responding to the economic troubles that beset the nation.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Quotation Of The Day: 2020 South Dakota Republican Legislature Edition

I have been reading What Are We Doing Here?, a collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson is the author of Gilead, a novel that I contend is one of the best novels of the century.

In the essay which gives the book its title Robinson writes a seemingly perfect description of the Republican majority in Pierre during the 2020 session.
. . . these lovers of country, these patriots are wildly unhappy with the country they claim to love and are bent on remaking it to suit their own preferences which they feel no need to justify or fully articulate. Neither do they feel any need to answer the objections of those who see their shaping and their disciplining as mutilation (23).

Monday, February 3, 2020

As Iowa Democrats Caucus, I Worry

Democrats will caucus in Iowa tonight to begin the process of nominating their 2020 candidate for president.

I have numerous fears, but I will list only a few here.

First, the two front runners, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are too old. One hopes that with age comes wisdom, but tech has changed the world in ways that make it difficult for folks over 60, let alone folks approaching 80, to adapt.

Second, and much more importantly, both of the front runners have a cult problem. Trumpism has illustrated many faults in America's current system, but none may be more dangerous than the tribalism fueled by the cult of personality.

The Bernie Bros of 2016 have not gone away. If Sanders in the nominee, their fervor will ratchet up exponentially and promote an overblown Trumpist response that will take fear mongering to unprecedented heights. The McCarthy era will seem tame and civilized in comparison. (If he is not the nominee their fervor may still ratchet up exponentially but their target will be the Democrats' nominee.)

Whenever one points out that Trumpism is a cult, one is faced with the response that Obama's popularity also fueled cult-like behavior. Whether the charge is true or not, Republicans will turn out the base by contending that Biden is trading on or attempting to revive Obama's legacy and, therefore, Obama's cult of personality.

In either instance, the fear their "chosen one" will be replaced by someone they fear has a personality cult will elevate Trumpists' zeal to new, more dangerous, and insane levels. (As a side note, Democrats do not seem to understand how much fear motivates Trump's most fervent supporters.)

Third, Democrats are looking at the fact that Trump "is the only president in the history of Gallup polling who has never had the support of a majority of Americans for even a single day" as a reason to believe that they have an easy path to win the popular. If 2016 showed anything, it's that the popular vote doesn't matter. Trump's election team is likely targeting key precincts in swing states and charting a path to another minority victory. Democrats seem blissfully and dangerously oblivious to the electoral map.

Finally and most importantly, Democrats seem focused on purity rather than defeating Trump. Defeating Trump and his authoritarian tendencies should be a primary goal; it should be the only goal.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

HB 1078 And Exempting Guns From The Sales Tax: A Minor Musing

It's difficult to take  HB 1078, a bill to exempt guns, bullets, and gunpowder from sales tax seriously.

First, some of its sponsors frequently seem more interested in triggering the libs than they are in passing productive legislation.

Second, it's entirely possible the bill is merely a vehicle for a scorecard issuing group with a name like People Perpetuating Pistoliers into Perpetuity to point out someone they deem a Republican in Name Only (RINO) lacks perfect fealty to the Second Amendment.

For this post, let's stipulate that Representatives Pischke, Hammock, Mulally, and Weis along with Senators (Phil)  Jensen and Monroe have every intention of passing this legislation.

Their argument likely proceeds as follows.
  1. The right to self-defense is a human right.

  2. That right is enshrined in the Second Amendment.

  3. With rights come responsibilities and citizens have a duty to carry firearms to protect themselves.

  4. When South Dakota taxes guns and ammunition, the state places an onerous burden on citizens' efforts to exercise that right and fulfill their duty.

  5. No state should place onerous burdens on the exercising of rights; therefore, items necessary to exercise a right, in this case guns and ammunition, should be exempt from the sales tax.
One wonders if sponsors Pischke, Hammock, Mulally, Weis, (Phil)  Jensen, and Monroe have thought through the ramifications of the argument because points 4 and 5 tacitly admit that South Dakota's sales tax is regressive.

Further, if humans indeed have an inalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," it follows that they have a right to items, like food,  that are necessary to exercise the right to life. If the solution to solve regression is exempting items from the sales tax, then there shouldn't be any argument against exempting groceries

I haven't heard the the bill's sponsors speak on the issue, but they may believe guns are more necessary than groceries. That's a tough argument to win. People need to eat more frequently than they need to use a gun for self-defense or any other reason. I'd wager that they and everyone who reads this post has eaten more often than they have used a gun in self-defense.

Perhaps their argument is that states as an entity should protect guns and not protect butter. That analogy has a fraught history.

In short, legislators Pischke, Hammock, Mulally, Weis, (Phil)  Jensen, and Monroe seem to have been too clever by half. In creating legislation that tacitly admits that South Dakota's tax structure is regressive, they are laying the groundwork necessary to eliminate the sales tax on food. I doubt that was their intention.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Republicans In United States Senate Prove South Dakota Republicans Fail Self-Reliance Test

Over at Dakota Free Press, Cory posted about Senate Bill 54, legislation written to prevent South Dakota communities from banning plastic bags and straws. I commented on his post that South Dakota Republicans, some of whom must be part of the every day carry (EDC) community, should show their dedication to preparedness supporting the carrying of metal straws and reusable grocery bags.

Today, Republicans in United States Senate have shown South Dakota Republicans the error of their ways. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr handed out fidget spinners to some of his colleagues for their edification, enrichment, and enjoyment during the Donald Trump Impeachment Trial.

Let's leave aside for the nonce the worry that these spinners may violate the rules the Senate established for the trial. Let's ignore the fact that that these spinners may be a not so subtle message that the Senators using them are not taking seriously their oath to be impartial jurors. Instead, in a spirit of bipartisanship, let's celebrate the fact that Republicans in the United States Senate are demonstrated their dedication to preparedness, albeit belatedly, by making fidget spinners part of their EDC.

Maybe South Dakota Republicans can follow that example and drop their opposition to individuals making metal straws and reusable grocery bags part of their everyday carry.

Monday, January 20, 2020

I Have To Pay Myself $50 Because I Erred

. . . .in an unuttered prediction about the South Dakota Legislature and Drag Queen Story Hour.

During the spring and summer of 2019, conservative intellectuals engaged in an internecine conflict because they disagreed about how to best conduct the next phase of the Great American Culture War. One could tell they were intellectuals because they used terms such as "appeasement" and did not accuse each other of being "cuckservatives."

On the one side, conservatives steeped in the traditional liberal order believe that the power of the state should not be leveraged in matters of morality. Others, led by Sohrab Ahmari, assert,

"Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. " 
Government, Ahmari asserts, can be a tool to "enforce our order and and our orthodoxy." The catalyst for Ahmari's desire for government intervention was a Drag Queen Story Hour held at a public library. (This Wall Street Journal article describes one such story hour and, miraculously, doesn't seem to be hidden behind a paywall.)

When I read Ahmari's screed or manifesto or disjointed musings, I said to myself, "Self, I bet you $50 that the at least one South Dakota legislator will file a bill banning Drag Queen Story Hour or sponsor a resolution condemning Drag Queen Story Hour on the first day of the session."

This morning, I skimmed the list of bill titles. I saw nothing related to drag queens or story hours. I did see two bills about libraries, but the text did not ban story hours, drag queen or otherwise.

I don't know how Speaker Haugaard or Representative Deutsch missed this opportunity to prove their cultural warrior bona fides, but I went to my wallet, my change jar, the cup holders in my car, and my couch cushions and found $7.89. I still owe myself more than $40.