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

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.

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.