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

July 18, 2020

Beware of a Cornered Trump

By David K. Shipler

                As President Trump’s poll numbers slip four months before the election, he and his frenzied staff have launched an end game of wild thrashing that could bring further damage to a country they pretend to love.
The closer defeat looms, the more desperate the death throes of a deranged administration. It lunges for levers of power and propaganda. It undermines institutions that stand above politics. It smears physicians who work for the public’s health. It attempts to conceal pandemic data, Soviet-style. It issues absurd decrees to local school boards to open in the fall or else. It dispatches unidentified federal forces to kidnap peaceful protesters. It flails out against measures to ease voting. And these are only the omens. A final spasm—if it is final—seems likely.
                Insurgencies, dictatorships, and the like often tend toward untamed outrages as they are backed into a corner and face annihilation. Similar impulses appear ascendant in Trump’s criminal government, where the rule of law is a minor irritation and self-enrichment at taxpayers’ expense is routine. He has shed his White House of responsible advisers, replacing them with cruel dogmatists whose ideology of ignorance is a plague on the nation. It’s hard to see impediments to the abuses. Trump has no moral brakes. His values are those of a mafia boss who rewards and punishes those who protect or oppose him. Never in U.S. history has a president commuted the prison sentence of the chief witness against him, as Trump did for Roger Stone, who defied every legal requirement to testify on Russia’s alleged collaboration with the Trump 2016 election campaign. No “snitch” was Stone. His silence stymied Robert Mueller’s investigation and enabled Trump to crow, “Hoax!” The full truth may never be known.
Where are the Republicans who chant “law and order” when their party leader ignores the law and sows disorder? Where are the conservatives who don’t fight to conserve the American constitutional system that Trump and his accomplices try to shred? If there is a glaring lesson from the Trump era, it is how easily compromised are the nation’s founding principles, how deferent to autocratic aims are those who wear the camouflage of liberty: Congressional Republicans, right-wing broadcast personalities, self-righteous evangelicals, flinty citizens who make a show of individualism and resistance.
In Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, a state militia loyal to the eventual fascist president, Buzz Windrip, “considered him their general and their god.” The militia was a precursor to the Minute Men, his private troops in black capes or white or khaki shirts, who beat, arrested, and confined—and thereby purged books, manuscripts, and thinkers from the political landscape. In 2020 America, armed right-wing vigilantes have already attacked Black Lives Matter demonstrators, and have been encouraged by the Trump campaign to “monitor” polling places in November. The smell of political violence is in the air.
This fear could be overdrawn—let’s hope so. Trump’s incompetence as a manager might save us. But he has a zealous base and a compliant coterie of collaborators. Consider this passage from Lewis and its familiar ring, describing the fictional Windrip’s supporters before a rally in Madison Square Garden: “Eighth Avenue, lined with cheapjack shops, was packed with drab, discouraged people who yet, tonight, were tipsy with the hashish of hope. . . . they were people concerned with the tailor’s goose, the tray of potato salad, the card of hooks-and-eyes, the leech-like mortgage on the owner-driven taxi, with, at home, the baby’s diapers, the dull safety-razor blade, the awful rise in the cost of rump steak and kosher chicken. . . . Kind people, industrious people, generous to their aged, eager to find any desperate cure for the sickness of worry over losing the job. Most facile material for any rabble-rouser.”
Trump’s mental and emotional disabilities have infected many under him, and they in turn create a loop of reinforcement for his most destructive impulses. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos parrots his dangerous insistence that schools reopen entirely in the fall or risk losing federal funds. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf adopts a callous plan to deport international college students whose classes proceed online (before uproars and lawsuits force a reversal). He and Attorney General Bill Barr begin to mobilize elements of law enforcement for political ends, specifically to tout “law and order” in Portland, Oregon, where the U.S. Marshal’s Service has been deployed in violation of local officials’ demands to depart and halt their violent harassment and false arrests of demonstrators. It would be wise to see Portland as only the first stepping stone toward as much repression as this administration can muster in the coming months.
 Pity Trump and the country he leads. Raised in a family rife with emotional abuse, as his niece Mary Trump has documented, he suffers from narcissism and a fragile ego that deliver him to an unending reliance on lies, conflict, and bullying. His obvious brain dysfunctions prevent him from processing information, reasoning logically, remembering what he said a minute earlier, and governing effectively. He cannot stand anyone smarter or more popular than him, so his economic adviser, Peter Navarro, and anonymous acolytes try to take down Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose credibility in polls far exceeds Trump’s.
The president of what is supposed to be the greatest country in all of human history cannot tell the difference between image and reality, or cares more about image than reality, as he orders a halt in reporting Covid hospitalizations to the CDC and laments the increase in Covid testing because it makes the case numbers go higher. Is it possible that his mental defect means that he doesn’t realize that the actual incidence of infection is a fact independent of how many are detected by tests? Or is he just trying to fool his fellow Americans? And how many will be fooled? Or frightened?
We’ll find out in November.

July 4, 2020

The Paragraph Missing From The Declaration of Independence

By David K. Shipler

In his draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Thomas Jefferson included this denunciation of the King of England’s trade in human beings. It was deleted by the Continental Congress, much to his chagrin. He nonetheless retained it in copies that he sent to those with whom he corresponded, demonstrating that as a slave-owner who detested slavery, he was as complex as the society he guided. On this and every July 4, it is worth considering whether our history would have taken a different course had the men of the Congress been enlightened enough to include it. As the reporters of National Public Radio take turns reading the Declaration to mark every Fourth, they would do well to add this condemnation, noting its unfortunate demise.

By Thomas Jefferson

                He [King George III] has waged a cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.

June 28, 2020

America Without Heroes

By David K. Shipler

Nobody believes in anything.
--Katya Polikanov, age 17
Moscow, 1978

                The trouble with statues is that they are carved in stone or cast in bronze, unyielding to the fluid shifts in surrounding sentiment. They cannot easily be revised. So they are erected in one time and toppled in another, and neither their creation nor their demise carries the nuances and contradictions of the real world. Statues that are celebratory and monumental represent myths, not true history.
                Some national myths are useful as long as they set high standards that the nation aspires to achieve. These include the founding myth of equality and liberty, the myth of racial acceptance, the myth of the American Dream’s promise that hard work brings prosperity, the myth of blind justice holding impartial scales. The distance between the myth and the reality is a gap we should seek to overcome.
Therefore, as Americans rally to tear down and deface the offensive symbols of a shameful past, it is worth considering what vacuums will be opened and how they will be filled. A country without heroes, which is what the United States is becoming, can be a land adrift, susceptible to demagoguery and absolutism. The challenge is to make the empty pedestals into foundations of conscience and self-correction. If destruction is the only result, trouble looms.
                Most historical figures are complicated, not one-dimensional. Statues, on the other hand, are rarely complicated. They honor and revere, nothing more. And they can perpetuate perverse notions of virtue. The Confederacy was not a noble enterprise, unbecoming as an expression of pride in Southern identity and culture. Surely there is more to the traditions of the South than treason, slavery, and a lost and bloody cause that left scars on America. Heroic sculptures of anti-heroes, and military bases named after them, have no place in an honest society.   
But they are part of history, it is argued. Yes indeed, and history should not be erased. Dictatorships do that with abandon to suit momentary political doctrine. But neither should history be sanitized and distorted. Let the Confederacy be taught by scholars who parse the competing impulses of its leaders. Let museums educate in context. If Confederate figures are retained in public squares, let them be accompanied by their opposites: abolitionists, slaves who joined the Union Army, memorials to all the useless deaths of that war. If Jefferson Davis must have a statue, stand Abraham Lincoln beside him.
The risk comes not from cleansing the countryside of abhorrent characters but by the spreading outrage of iconoclasts who want to obliterate too widely. President Teddy Roosevelt is coming down from before the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, despite his legacy of national parks—one of the country’s finest treasures. The problem is the demeaning portrayals of an African and a Native American by his side. You can’t edit bronze. As Bret Stephens suggests, a new statue would be appropriate for a president who “busted trusts, championed conservation, and caused a scandal by inviting Booker T. Washington to dine with his family in the White House.”
Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant were deposed in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Key owned slaves and defended slavery. Grant, however, had a foot on each side of the divide. He came from an abolitionist father and married a Southern woman whose slave-owning father gave him a man named William Jones. Grant, then a struggling farmer in Missouri, also employed freed blacks, and he freed Jones before the Civil War, then led the Union army in its defeat of the South. As President, he supported blacks’ rights during Reconstruction, ordered his newly formed Justice Department to go after the Ku Klux Klan, and endorsed the 15th Amendment giving the vote to African Americans. But his policies on Native Americans were mixed. He wanted citizenship for them, and he tried to negotiate peace, but met fierce resistance from Congress and the Board of Indian Commissioners. Ultimately he sent the army into a series of bloody battles with tribes, enough to cost his monuments their justification.
Since real human beings are never perfect, it might be legitimate to regard certain statues as monuments to ideas rather than to people. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a womanizer, unfaithful to his wife but instrumental in raising the conscience of the nation. Should his name be scrubbed from streets and schools, his statues removed because of his philandering? Of course not. As of 2020, at least, King’s statues are safe, as they should be.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were walking contradictions, both slaveholders but central to the democratic values that ultimately made the country freer and more inclusive than they could have imagined. Protesters took down Washington’s statue in Portland, Oregon, then spray-painted it with “1619,” the year the first enslaved Africans landed on the continent. But what if Washington were cancelled out of our history? Would the American Revolution have succeeded? Would the disparate states have relinquished autonomy to form a union? Without Washington as the presumed president, would a consensus for the Constitution have been possible?
These were flawed leaders who transcended their limitations at a crucial juncture of history. Their ideas have proved larger than themselves. If we see them clearly—Jefferson in particular—we see ourselves vividly, in the ongoing clash between our faults and our principles.
Jefferson was a patriarch of the American idea. His declarations on individual liberty still serve as a moral and political compass, yet his belief in the racial inferiority of blacks also endures, embedded in the stereotypes that afflict African Americans today. He abhorred slavery as a “fatal stain” but never abolished it, not as governor, not as president, not as plantation owner. He owned enslaved people inherited from his father and his father-in-law, including Sally Hemings, with whom he had at least one child, DNA tests have shown, and probably five others.
His draft of the Declaration of Independence included an excoriation of slavery as a “cruel war against human nature, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty.” He called it “piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers” and accused England of engaging in “execrable commerce.” He was pained when the Continental Congress deleted this denunciation.
Yet in his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, he describes white skin as “preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers the emotions.” He asserts that blacks “secrete less by the kidneys and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odor.”
He sees less ability than whites to anticipate consequences. “They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome,” he writes. “But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.”
He portrays blacks as primitive in sexuality, emotional capacity, and creative powers. “They are more ardent after their female; but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient.  . . . Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. . . . Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry. Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry.” And so on.
Do we cancel Jefferson because of this? If we do, then we cancel ourselves, for alongside his prejudices, he nurtured momentous concepts of liberty. They remain alive, essential to the progress that the nation craves.
Countries without proud histories suffer. When Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, just seven years after the teenager quoted above assessed her society as lacking in belief, he tried to open the door to historical condemnation—only partway. It was suddenly permissible again to criticize Stalin, as Nikita Khrushchev had allowed in the 1950s. In the bold second chapter of de-Stalinization under Gorbachev, the press was mostly freed to spread the dictator’s crimes before the public, which heard from officials and ordinary citizens who had been witnesses, victims, or even perpetrators. Capricious arrest and exile, mass execution, famine, and even Stalin’s failures in World War II were under scrutiny. It was a heady time.
The delight was hardly unanimous. Many conservative, antidemocratic citizens were uneasy and resentful that their history was being trashed, especially when other Russians took the denunciations farther than Gorbachev intended. They expanded back in time, condemning all that had been revered from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution on. An ecstasy of revisionist truth-telling swept the country, bringing down statues of Lenin and his henchmen, revising the names of streets and other public places. Leningrad reverted to St. Petersburg, as under the czars, whose era of reign became a font of nostalgia.
Lenin’s mausoleum remains in Red Square, but the November 7 anniversary of his revolution is no longer observed. With the exception of the victory against Germany in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, the reverence for modern Russian history has been practically extinguished.
No sensible argument can be made to preserve it, given the monstrous nature of the Communist Soviet Union. But the psychological effects were instructive. In the vacuum, a kind of chaos developed—economic and political primarily, but also spiritual. A weightlessness was felt, with nothing much to grab for steadiness. Where in this exhilarating change could you get a foothold to find solid ground again? I asked Russians at the time. There were no good answers. Who are your heroes? I asked them. There were no good answers. Instead, they have settled on a strong hand at the top, abandoning—at least for a while—their search for pluralistic democracy.
The United States is not at all like the Soviet Union, obviously. But we have no heroes, either. We are not divinely ordained to be a pluralistic democracy, either. And if we discard those whose ideas we rightfully revere as pedestals of that democracy, because they were not also saintly human beings, we lose more than the statues.

June 11, 2020

The Tarnished Badge

By David K. Shipler

Everybody you kill in the line of duty becomes a slave in the afterlife.
--A white Los Angles policeman, in a 1990s computer message.

                Within the array of stereotypes inflicted upon blacks in America over many generations, the image of violence stands out. From slavery on, blacks have been seen as dirty, ugly, stupid, immoral, alien, and dangerous. These fictions become more or less prominent with time and circumstance, but they never quite die away. Even when they are not translated into law or practice, they can lurk as “implicit bias” that contaminates behavior. The label “dangerous” is especially pernicious.
                Much of the brutal policing now being protested appears driven by the expectation that blacks will be violent. That supposed trait appears regularly in surveys and simulations. It is an old prejudice ingrained in American society, readily activated by stress and triggering an officer’s split-second fear, which sometimes leads to a shooting, but more often to warrantless frisks and auto searches, handcuffing, and non-lethal physical force.
                The role of racial thinking is difficult to measure precisely. Thoughts and actions do not inevitably coincide, and official statistics record end results, not causes. During traffic stops producing no arrests over a thirteen-month period in 2013-14, for example, police in Oakland, CA handcuffed 1,466 African-Americans but only 72 whites, Stanford psychologists reported. While 72 percent of the department’s officers had handcuffed a black who wasn’t arrested, 74 percent had never done so to a white. Handcuffing blacks was “a script for what is supposed to happen,” the study concluded, a routine presumably based on the violent stereotype but maintained as standard practice. “Norms are a significant driver of behavior,” the psychologists observed. Other experts have seen that rules issued from on high cannot readily overcome a police department’s culture.

June 5, 2020

Protecting Public Health and Civil Liberties

By David K. Shipler

                The novel coronavirus is giving rise to novel surveillance tools. They can help contain the sweep of COVID-19, which is an urgent need, but the monitoring and categorization of citizens could also survive the pandemic with undue invasions of privacy. Legal safeguards are necessary to make sure that doesn’t happen.
                Innovative hardware and software, some rushed into production by profiteers, are aimed at recording and storing peoples’ physiological functions, locations, and immunity levels. As in any new technology, error rates are high, and the consequences of mistakes will be magnified if used to require quarantine or exclude non-immune people from jobs, housing, courthouses, and public transportation. Furthermore, unless information is automatically erased or sequestered, medical records could be combined in databases of extensive personal files accessible to law enforcement and immigration authorities.
The virtue of monitoring is self-evident during the crisis; less obvious are the longer term dangers of doing so. With no treatment or vaccine, self-quarantine and social distance are primary means of curtailing the spread. If people don’t know they’re sick—and neither do their fellow workers, diners, shoppers, passengers, theatergoers, sunbathers, gym users, and the like—the disease cannot be contained as public spaces reopen.
This is a matter of security, and as seen after 9/11, public acceptance of extraordinary measures soars in the moment, then persists long after the need abates. The Patriot Act, which Congress passed hastily in 2001, created exceptions to legal protections that had been enacted in the 1970s. Government agencies had been violating the Fourth Amendment by spying on antiwar campaigners, civil rights leaders, and other political activists. But it’s been nearly two decades since the 9/11 attacks, and Congress has applied only minor patches to the holes the Patriot Act tore in the fabric of civil liberties.
The same thing could happen now.

June 1, 2020

A Mayor as President?

By David K. Shipler

                American voters have never sent a city mayor directly to the White House. They have never regarded being mayor as sufficient qualification. It’s OK to be a corrupt businessman, a mediocre governor, or a senator who hasn’t managed anything more than his own staff. But to work at gritty levels where ordinary folks meet the schools, police, and other essential services? To navigate the intricacies of race? To witness the intimate impact of government callousness or compassion? All that is deemed irrelevant by the political professionals and the electorate. As America burns, maybe it’s time for some rethinking.
Some mayors in this crisis have found the right tone of passionate eloquence to voice the country’s widespread revulsion at Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They have touched the chords of historical outrage over deprivation and oppression. They have mixed moving pleas for peace with scathing condemnations of those whose violence, arson, and looting have sullied the noble purpose of the protests.
The fine words have not always worked. Being mayor is a tough job, and mayors across the country have been exercising tough love. They’re not all good at it, and ingrained cultures of both police and citizens impede progress even by the most enlightened. But they’ve had actual experience at the grass roots, never a bad thing in governing, especially from the highest post in the land.
That experience has not proved persuasive to voters. Grover Cleveland was mayor of Buffalo, but his stepping stone to the presidency was as governor of New York State. Calvin Coolidge was the small-town mayor of Northampton, Mass., but before and after that, he served in the state legislature, from which he was elected vice president; he became president when Warren Harding died.

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 and Music June 26)

                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!


                Flattening the Curve

                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

              The Weight--from all over the world

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.