Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

May 19, 2020

Keeping the Elephants Away

By David K. Shipler

                “I’ll tell you why I’m taking hydroxychloroquine,” Trump told his Cabinet after the press left. “Because you can’t believe the so-called experts. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ll prove it. They laughed at me the last time I was down at Mar-a-Lago—the most beautiful resort in Florida, by the way. No, in the country. In the world! Beautiful. The best. And it has the best grass. The grass is amazing. It’s green. Really, it’s green. So I’m down there and I got worried.”
                Eyebrows of worry soared around the table, a condition known as sycophantic supercilium, especially prominent on the otherwise passive face of the Vice President.
                “In the middle of the night, when I get most of my brilliant ideas, I suddenly worried about what would happen if elephants came in and tramped on the grass. Can you imagine?” He looked around the table to make sure everybody was imagining. Sure enough, they were all nodding in acute bouts of imagination. “What a mess. Big holes in the fairway, and you know what comes out the back end of an elephant? I won’t say it because Betsy is here.” He nodded respectfully toward the Secretary of Education, who smiled knowingly because she constantly peddled that stuff-which-could-not-be-named.
                Everybody in the Cabinet was on the edge of their chairs, which were specially designed to have comfortable edges, where Trump wanted them to sit when he was speaking.
“I almost tweeted about it, but then I thought, no, I’ll take action myself. In a bar long ago I heard this story about a guy in some suburb tearing up a newspaper and spreading it on his lawn. I remembered it verbatim, because I have a phenomenal memory, always the best memory in the room. Right? Don’t you think?” Nods of affirmation, a condition known as sycophantic neurocranium.
              “So I figured, if it can work for that guy in some suburb, it can work in the most beautiful resort in the world. ‘Get me a newspaper,' I said. 'No, not just any newspaper. Get me the Failing New York Times.’ So I take the Failing New York Times, which finally would be good for something, and I go out onto the grass in front. The grass was green, did I tell you that? So green! No grass anywhere is green like that.
                “So I start to rip up the Failing New York Times into long strips, just like that guy I heard about in the bar, and I’m spreading them around on the grass when some expert comes up to me—I don’t know his name. I never met the guy. I never heard of him. Have I fired him yet? I should fire him.
“He says, ‘What are you doing, Mr. President?’ I say, ‘I’m keeping the elephants away.’
“He says, ‘There aren’t any elephants around here.’
“And I say, ‘See? It works!’ Just like that guy in the suburbs."
            “What do you think, Mike?”
              The Vice President’s beatific look lit up the room with an ethereal glow.

This is satire. It never happened (as far as I know), which is necessary to point out because people tend to get confused by the satirical reality of the Trump era. It also relies on an adaptation of an old joke, authorship unknown.

April 27, 2020

Covid, Comedy, Music and Other Creativity

By David K. Shipler

(Updated With New Laughs May 17)

                So far, so good in the grassroots creativity department. Undaunted, resilient of spirit, committed to surviving the lockdowns and illnesses as well as possible, people have peppered the online universe with homegrown sarcasm, self-deprecation, dark humor, and uplifting music. Below is a sampling, with links.
                This will be an ongoing service of The Shipler Report, so please send additional offerings—links required—so I can add them to this catalogue. It can’t prevent you from getting Covid-19, but hopefully it will help mental health!


                Busy in Quarantine.

                Israeli Mother on Home Schooling.

                Here's What We Should All Be Doing.

                Restaurant Service from a Social Distance

               One Day More—a Family’s Rendition.

                Trump’s Candidate to Replace Fauci. and her explanation of her parody.

                Family Lockdown Boogie

                Corona Parody

                The Joys (Not) of Homeschooling

                Rooftop Tennis in Italy

                Amber Ruffin's Easter Quarantine Parade

                Bitter Regrets (not funny)

                Julie Briefs Her Pre-Corona Self

                Option B

                Mom on Zoom


                “I Know More…”

                Clorox Chewables

                Saturday Night Live: Bratt Pitt as Dr. Fauci.

                A Plea to the Tune of Wimoweh.

                Trump Musing

                A Spoonful of Clorox

                Trump on Masks

                Lemon Pickers Needed in Florida—Only U.S. Citizens or Legal Immigrants Need Apply
                                Sally Mulligan of Coral Springs, Florida, read an ad in the newspaper for one of the jobs that most Americans are not willing to do, and decided to apply. She submitted an application to a Florida lemon grove, but seemed far too qualified for the job. She has a liberal arts degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree from Michigan State University. For a number of years, she had worked as a social worker and also as a school teacher.
                                The foreman studied her application, frowned, and said, “I see you are well-educated and have an impressive resume. However, I must ask whether you have any actual experience in picking lemons.”
                                “Well, as a matter of fact, I have,” she said. “I’ve been divorced three times, owned two Chryslers, and voted for Trump.”
                                She started work yesterday.

> - There isn't any iceberg
> - It’s a fake iceberg
> - There was an iceberg but it's in a totally different ocean
> - People say it's the biggest iceberg
> - The iceberg is in this ocean but it will melt very soon
> - There is an iceberg but we didn't hit the iceberg
> - We hit the iceberg, but the damage will be repaired very shortly
> - I knew from the beginning there was an iceberg, long before people called it an iceberg
> - The iceberg is a Chinese iceberg
> - We are taking on water but every passenger who wants a lifeboat can get a lifeboat, and they are beautiful lifeboats
> - Look, passengers need to ask nicely for the lifeboats if they want them
> - I really don't think we need that many lifeboats
> - We don't have any lifeboats, we're not lifeboat distributors
> - Passengers should have planned for icebergs and brought their own lifeboats
> - We have lifeboats and they're supposed to be our lifeboats, not the passengers' lifeboats
> - The lifeboats were left on shore by the last captain of this ship
> - Nobody could have foreseen the iceberg
> - I'm an expert on icebergs I've got lots of friends who deal with icebergs, some of the best, really good ice people who know ice
> - Summer will come and the iceberg will disappear, it will go away, like magic
> Donald Trump


                The Music Spreads in Nuremberg (from 2014).

                Harvard Bach Society Orchestra, Sibelius’s 5th Symphony.

                Dancing in the Street

               Randy Rainbow Song

               Hamilton Parody

               Bob Dylan Parody

               Nessun Dorma, Alla Corona

               Russian Ballet at Home

               We Are the World

               Hallelujah by Roedean School, South Africa

               For Tennis Fans

              If Only I'd Known Parody

More to come, I hope. Stay well, everyone.

April 16, 2020

What Makes a "Healthy" Economy?

By David K. Shipler

                Last week, Janet Yellin, former chair of the Federal Reserve, gave an upbeat assessment of the pre-pandemic US economy. “Very fortunately we started with an economy that was healthy before this hit,” she told the PBS NewsHour.  “The banks were in good shape, the financial system was sound, Americans at least overall on average had relatively low debt burdens.”
But how “healthy” was that economy, really? How healthy is an economy whose workers have so little savings that they can’t make the rent after missing just a couple of paychecks? How healthy is an economy whose small businesses have so little cushion that they face almost instant obliteration when their cash flow is disrupted? How healthy is an economy where hourly employees performing many essential services earn so little that they have to go to work sick to keep their jobs? And how healthy is an economy whose housing costs force millions to cram into overcrowded homes in polluted slums replete with high stress, malnutrition, asthma, diabetes, heart problems, and other chronic disease?
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy,” said Fed chairman Jerome Powell in March. It was “resilient,” he said in February. Yellin concurred, citing the old good news in her hope that the “economy will recover much more speedily than it did from any past downturn.”
Recover for whom? The experts look at conventional measurements, which painted a picture of prosperity before COVID-19. The unemployment rate last September hit a fifty-year low, at 3.5 percent, and the rate for people without a high school diploma dropped to a new low of 4.8 percent. The GDP had been growing within the range considered ideal—2 to 3 percent—and Powell reported a rising willingness of employers to hire low-skilled workers and train them.
However, alongside the bright figures on unemployment and job creation, consider a competing set of numbers from before the pandemic: The poverty-level wages for those who harvest our vegetables, cut our Christmas trees, wash our cars, cook and serve our food in restaurants, deliver groceries to our doors, clean our offices, and even drive our ambulances. The 14.3 million households (11.1 percent) uncertain that they could afford enough food, and the 5.6 million families (4.3 percent) where at least one person has had to cut back on eating during the year. The 14.3 percent of black children with asthma, double the rate in the population overall. The 20 percent of children living in crowded homes shared with other families or three generations of their own, and the 50 percent of urban children who have lived in those conditions by age nine.

April 6, 2020

When Lying Becomes Censorship

By David K. Shipler

President Trump’s frequent lies have been disorienting enough during his three years in office, and especially risky during the coronavirus epidemic. Now he is moving more dramatically across the line into censoring skilled professionals in government. This imposes an implicit threat that some who counter his falsehoods with truth could lose their jobs.
Sunday, when a reporter asked Dr. Anthony Fauci about hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19, Trump interrupted, stepped forward, blocked Fauci from answering, and let stand his own disjointed and ill-informed answer. Trump did not caution against self-medicating, which has already killed one man in Arizona, and made no reference to the warnings by medical experts that the drug can have deadly side effects in patients with cardiac problems.
Last Thursday, Capt. Brett E. Crozier was removed as skipper of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt after sending an urgent, four-page letter to about thirty Navy officials pleading for rapid help in relocating thousands of crew members ashore amid a spreading infection of COVID-19 on the ship. The appeal, leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, might have bypassed Crozier’s immediate superior, a violation of military protocol. But the uniformed Navy wanted a careful investigation, not the summary dismissal executed by Trump’s civilian appointee, acting Navy Secretary, Thomas B. Modly, who told a colleague, “Breaking news: Trump wants him fired,” according to David Ignatius of The Washington Post. (Modly later resigned after flying all the way to Guam to insult and lambaste Crozier to the crew. How does Trump come up with these people?)  
Then late Friday, Trump fired the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael K. Atkinson, for obeying the law in notifying Congress of the whistleblower’s complaint in the Ukraine case that led to the president’s impeachment. Dozens of inspectors general populate government agencies as supposedly independent watchdogs. Their reports of errors, misdeeds, fraud, and corruption have been key to restricting the malfeasance of powerful officials. And Atkinson was required by statute to provide the notification if he found the complaint credible, which it obviously turned out to be.

March 31, 2020

Welcome to the Fourth World

By David K. Shipler

                Americans have a better chance of keeping themselves and others safe by ignoring what President Trump says. He has already contributed to the death of an Arizona man who, along with his wife, took chloroquine (used to clean fish tanks!) the day after Trump misinformed the country about its anti-viral effectiveness. Medical experts criticized the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization for its use, because too much can kill you. In fact, its use against malaria is not necessarily applicable to COVID-19 without careful clinical trials to establish proper dosing. In the wife’s case, it sent her into critical condition. Even doctors who listened to Trump are writing prescriptions to hoard the drug for themselves, depleting supplies for those who really need it for lupus and other ailments.
                This is what the United States has come to. You can’t believe your president, the one who is getting a 55 percent approval rating for the way he is mishandling the pandemic. You shouldn’t have accepted his cavalier assessment that the supposed severity of the virus was just the Democrats’ “new hoax” that would soon disappear. You can’t trust his absurd assurances that sufficient tests and medical equipment are available, or that they’re not really needed in bulk.
You certainly shouldn’t act on his push to fill the churches on Easter and to go back to work—advice he’s now recanted by extending preventive guidelines until April 30. His cavalier, contradictory, self-absorbed briefings have encouraged millions to take the disease less seriously than warranted, which could lead to the collapse of law enforcement, health care, fire departments, infrastructure maintenance, and food supplies as those essential workers drop into sickness.
                Trump is a national security risk. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention. He refuses to talk to governors who don’t fawn over him. He claims to have inherited “a broken system.” Yet he has been in office for more than three very long years, during which he has watched TV compulsively, tweeted his grievances and insults, played lots of golf, come to work late in the morning, and governed the way Boris Yeltsin did in Russia as it descended: by simply firing people, as if the federal government were his TV show, The Apprentice.

March 23, 2020

Suffering Spring

By David K. Shipler

                Daffodils came early this year, deceived by a premature spate of warmth, then slapped with reality by a cold snap. But now the most exquisite season in and around the nation’s capital has begun to take hold. The plum tree in front has blossomed along with the magnolias across the street. The cherry trees are at their peak, their feathery white petals blowing off and descending like snow flurries. The azaleas will not be far behind.
                It is a cruel spring of dissonance. It is like that crystal autumn day, September 11, 2001, whose beauty should not have allowed the terror and the death. It is like wartime Vietnam, whose stunning landscapes should not have made room for combat. This should be a soothing time of annual rebirth, with no place for the discords of illness and fear.
                Like a family in crisis, America and every other nation will learn good and hard lessons about itself. This will weld us or break us. We will find common purpose or deepened fissures. If we summon wisdom, we will discover what matters and what does not, who are heroes and who are not, who are leaders and who are not—regardless of their titles, positions, or pretenses.
                 Human beings rarely resign themselves to powerlessness. To flee from war, crime, or hunger, refugees uproot themselves and journey into risky unknowns. Against suicide bombings, citizens search for a semblance of control. They reach for tricks and tactics that seem rational, hoping to reduce the unwanted probabilities. In Israel when buses were being blown up, drivers tried to avoid stopping near buses at red lights. In Lebanon and Vietnam, canny locals stayed off country roads that felt too quiet. Smart cops in every tough city in the world learn to watch and listen all around them, to read body language, if possible to put an engine block between them and a suspect who might be armed.
                 The habit of staking a claim to some small territory of control is surely embedded in our animal survival instinct. Sometimes our methods are futile, often so against random violence. Sometimes they are illusory, giving us a sense of power more imagined than real. Sometimes they are practical, and therefore comforting, as we wash our hands while singing Happy Birthday twice, stop touching our faces, use gloves or paper towels to handle the gas pump, sterilize our doorknobs and kitchen counters, and look to the health professionals’ steady and factual advice. Thank heavens for Dr. Anthony Fauci!
                But there are limits to human powers, of course.

March 11, 2020

Trump's Incompetence Goes Viral

By David K. Shipler 
               Two days after his inauguration in January 2017, President Trump imposed a hiring freeze on the federal government. Within four months, the Centers for Disease Control had 700 vacancies that handicapped infectious disease prevention and control, and impeded aid to localities for emergency readiness. High-level positions in science and policy went unfilled.
                Since then, every Trump budget has sought to slash the CDC’s budget: by 17 percent for fiscal year 2018, by 20 percent for fiscal year 2019, 20 percent for fiscal 2020, and even now—amid the coronavirus—by 15% for fiscal 2021. This after Trump in 2018 dissolved the National Security Council’s global health security team, which existed to manage precisely the kind of outbreak we are now experiencing.
                This might seem odd for a germaphobe like Trump. But it fits neatly into the destructive agenda of the extreme right-wing radicals who have taken over the Republican Party, who aim for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” in the words of Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
                More aggressively than any other Republican administration, Trump’s has emasculated regulatory departments, moved to shred decades of environmental and worker-safety regulations, shredded enforcement of consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws, and tried to tear bigger holes in the social safety net.
     In addition, Trump, Vice President Pence, and other officials have made sure to plant legions of unqualified political appointees in the upper ranks of multiple agencies, producing a perfect storm of  neglect and incompetence. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy by discrediting government as less significant and less effective, which feeds a spiral of discontent and alienation about “Washington” and government in general. The conservative agenda of shrinking the public sector thereby gains public support.

March 4, 2020

The Art of the Phony Deal

Judging by polls and interviews, a large minority of Americans have been gullible enough to believe President Trump when he has boasted of big breakthroughs in resolving the trade war with China, the hot war with the Taliban, the twilight war between Israel and the Palestinians, the risk of nuclear war with North Korea, and the disadvantageous trade relations with Mexico and Canada. In reality, the “deals” he has touted are either non-existent (North Korea), one-sided and fanciful (Israel), wishful thinking (the Taliban), or marginal adjustments (China, Mexico, and Canada).
                Let’s take them one by one, beginning with the latest.
                The War in Afghanistan. To his credit, Trump has consistently sought to withdraw US troops from the endless war, a politically popular position. And he has tried to do it with dignity. His negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, is a savvy American diplomat of Afghan origin who displayed painstaking persistence in gradually bringing the Taliban along. The heart of the bilateral deal is a U.S. troop withdrawal over 14 months in exchange for a prohibition on the Taliban giving sanctuary to jihadists, as it did to al-Qaeda before 9/11.
But the administration also failed to include the Afghan government in the talks. That would have complicated negotiations, probably pushing them past the American elections. The resulting agreement was fragile and began to shred days after being signed. The Afghan government refused to abide by the provision to release five thousand Taliban prisoners. The Taliban responded by refusing to begin peace talks before the release. The Taliban then attacked an Afghan army checkpoint, and the U.S responded with an air strike on Taliban forces. Far from bringing a settlement to the country, the agreement looks like a fig leaf to cover a U.S. withdrawal for Trump’s political benefit.
Israel and the Palestinians. Here, too, a key player in the conflict was excluded from discussion or consideration, which seems to be a pattern in Trump’s methodology.

February 21, 2020

Could Bloomberg Really Beat Trump?

By David K. Shipler

                Michael Bloomberg’s tone-deaf paralysis in the Las Vegas debate puts a boldface question mark behind the growing assumption among many Democrats that only he can defeat President Trump in November. One debate fiasco might matter little in the end, given that many more people are seeing the flood of Bloomberg TV and internet ads. And maybe he’ll do better next time. Still, 19.7 million viewers watched his first. But if he gets the nomination, voters will see him extensively, out from behind his screen of commercials. He could use a serious makeover.
                His advantage is his money: his generous philanthropy on the liberal side of such issues as gun control and climate change, his decisive contributions to Democratic candidates, the networks of loyalty that he has purchased in cities throughout the country, and his extensive campaign organization. He knows how to direct his dollars effectively, and his ex-Republican centrism will surely appeal to moderate Republicans who are disaffected with Trump.
                Yet voter turnout is crucial, and that depends largely on a candidate’s appealing demeanor, vision, and forward-looking agenda. Trump has built a wall of zealotry. To break through it, a Democratic opponent needs a surge of young and minority citizens moved by passion and belief, plus a middle-spectrum of voters in swing states. Right now, Bloomberg looks like nothing more than the candidate of last resort. That’s not enough to drive enough people to the polls.
There is a sharp hunger in the land for decency. There is a thirst for honesty, candor, authenticity—all traits that Trump supporters mistakenly attribute to the president. Depending on which citizens you ask, the country is impatient for reform and afraid of it, welcoming and resentful of demographic diversity, idealistic and cynical about politics in America.

February 13, 2020

The Soviet Republicans

By David K. Shipler

                The most stirring statement of any witness in the House impeachment hearings last fall came from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council, who opened his testimony with thanks and reassurance to his father, who had brought his family to the United States for “refuge from authoritarian oppression” in the Soviet Union.
                “My simple act of appearing here today,” Vindman declared, “would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing concern through the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions, and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.
                “I am grateful for my father’s bold act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant where I can live free of fear for my and my family’s safety. Dad, [that] I’m sitting here today in the US Capitol talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”
                Did Colonel Vindman misread his adopted country?
After honoring a subpoena and testifying under oath on President Trump’s “inappropriate” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Vindman got death threats so alarming that the Army and local police had to provide security. The Army considered moving his family to safety on a military base. And this week, after acquittal in his impeachment trial, an unleashed Trump had Vindman escorted out of the White House and then threatened him (by tweet) with unspecified military punishment. This was part of a widening pattern of retaliation by the Trump apparatus against impeachment witnesses and other independent thinkers in government.
The United States is not the Soviet Union, of course, and it’s a good bet that Vindman would never think it was. Furthermore, invidious analogies between Trump and various forms of authoritarianism—fascism, Nazism, third-world dictatorships—are so common that they have lost their bite. So it’s important to recognize that while the American constitutional system is under immense strain by Republicans impatient with its messy checks on their power, the restraints have not yet broken.
Nevertheless, to one who lived in Moscow from 1975 to 1979, there is a queasy taste of familiarity in the impulses of Trump and his Republican followers. There is a certain kind of political actor, whether Soviet or American, who cannot stand dissent and debate, who derides facts and truth, who sees all behavior through a lens of personal or ideological loyalty, and whose values extend no farther than immediate victory and the expansion of authority. In this mindset, truth-tellers are “enemies of the people,” to quote Stalin and Trump. Policy differences constitute warfare in which argument and rebuttal are not enough: Opponents must be destroyed through smears, propaganda, and retribution.