Category Archives: Social democracy

Health: Sometimes you have to Spend money to save Money

 

I have learned a few things about our healthy system. Not many I know. First, it is a wonderful system. If you are sick our health care professionals can help. Not always, but often. And the workers are kind, dedicated, caring, and professional. Just what you need if you are sick. I know this from personal experience in a stressful time.

But there is room for improvement too. I have just gone for my 3rd Covid-19 test. And as I write this I am waiting for the results. Do I have a cold or Covid-19? We’ll see.

Yesterday, I was told because of the symptoms we had, Chris and I should go for a Covid-19 test. So we immediately, tried to make an appointment for the test. Thankfully, in Steinbach we can make appointments. A friend of mine in Winnipeg stood in line (yes you heard that right, she stood in line) for about 3 hours waiting for her test. No appointments? Why can’t they make appointments in Winnipeg? Can you imagine how many people can’t stand for 3 hours? How many people gave up in frustration long before they reached the end of the line? How many people did not get tests that they should have got? How many other people were then exposed to these untested individuals who should have been tested?

Why do people who walk rather than drive have to wait so long? Is this because the walk-in tests are given where mainly poor people live? Where many indigenous people live? Are they not important too?

 

For me trying to make an appointment was a very annoying process. They have so few telephone lines that you must phone over and over again after hearing annoying recorded messages. I don’t know how many times Chris and I called. We were both phoning repeatedly. Each time we had to listen to at least part of an annoying recorded message. I know the first time I tried to get a test a few months ago. I found the message very confusing. Again I almost gave up. How many people give up and don’t get tested when they should?

Eventually we got through and made an appointment. Even with the appointment we had to wait in line for about half an hour after waiting a few hours for the appointment. I considered that a reasonable delay. It is not easy to schedule appointments for an entire day and have them all align perfectly.

But why does the province not hire more people to take the calls? Why does the province not hire and train more people to administer the tests? I know not anyone could do the jobs, but surely it would not take that long to train people to administer a simple nasal swab. It should not take a highly trained health care professional.

 

We are experiencing high unemployment in Manitoba. Most of these people are being paid by the government not to work. I am glad they are getting paid. Yet, I know most people would rather work than receive a cheque not to work. In Canadian society jobs give us meaning and a sense of worth. That is why people want to work. At least until they become old like me and believe they have worked long enough. So why don’t we hire people who don’t have jobs to do these jobs? Then phone calls could be handled all day and all night. Why don’t we keep the offices open as long as it takes to get it done promptly? The same goes for administering the tests in a lab. That might be trickier but surely it could be done if we used a little ingenuity. In Manitoba we have been in this pandemic for more than 6 months, why have we not arranged for this by now?

It is important that people get tested quickly. It is important that the test results are available quickly. Not just for me. I am not that important. For others. So if necessary people who contacted me can be told to get tested and also self-isolate sooner rather than later.

Now I am waiting for my test results. This is already more than 48 hours after my test was taken. This is nearly 60 hours since I was notified to get a test. When the test results come, and if I am positive, they will want to contact trace. By the time the professionals come to see me to do that I will likely have forgotten at least some of the people I contacted. After all it is so long ago, and I have trouble remembering whom I saw in the last hour. And I have been staying isolated at home. That means some people who should be tested won’t be tested and will continue to contact other people.

The same reasoning applies to schools. Why don’t we hire more unemployed teachers? I think there are lots of them around. I know some of them who can’t find a job. Why don’t we hire more janitors and maintenance people and keep schools open 18 hours a day? Or more? Then we can have smaller class sizes. Then everyone in those schools, including my precious grand daughters can be safer. The staff and teachers can be safer because they will be able to stay socially distant? Then there will be less community spread and we will all be safer, even those of us who have no direct contact with schools. I think this makes sense.

I know this costs money, but the investment is worth it. Our conservative government likes to avoid spending tax money. But sometimes that is foolish. If we do a better job of this business people can go back to work sooner. Then we can all pay them less assistance. Businesses can avoid bankruptcy. Our economy can grow. Sometimes we have to spend money to save money. That is called an investment.

Imagine too how people can live better and safer lives! This is not just about money.

Doesn’t this make more sense than opening bars and restaurants without social distance requirements?

 

Fox News or Good Government

 

I am not suggesting that all problems created by the prevailing contempt for government in the United State are Donald Trumps responsibility (although in the US the buck stops with him.) In fact it is in part because he tapped into that contempt for government that he got elected. Recall, he was going to drain the swamp!

For 40 years, since Saint Ronald was elected President in the United States in 1980, American conservatives have been on a warpath against all government. They have not wanted good government. That government is best which governs least, is what they keep saying. Many of them wanted to reduce the size of government to such an extent that, as one of those conservatives said, it could be drowned in a bathtub. They believed that good government is impossible. Ronald Reagan was the President who said, “the most scary words in the English language are these: “Hello I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

In Canada members of the Conservative Party have commonly held similar views, though usually not as extreme. Ever since then virtually every Republican or Conservative politician and even many Democratic and Liberal politicians as well, have disparaged government and government employees. American and Canadian publics have soaked up this rhetoric for 30 years. Disparagement of government is the water in which they swim and therefore is invisible to them. As a result trust in government has vanished in America and  Canada is not much different.

Yet, in a crisis good government is crucially important. People have to believe their government is telling them the truth or the system will collapse. This pervasive attitude is the real culprit here. According to Garret Grath in a Politico article, that attitude is responsible for the following outcomes in America:

Someday, reports will be written about how the U.S. government failed in its response to the Covid-19 epidemic—failures that will surely have cost additional thousands of lives, additional millions of lost jobs, and additional billions (perhaps even trillions) in economic damages by the time this virus is behind us. And yet while those reports will surely point out specific management failures and lost opportunities to arrest the spread of Covid-19, the most basic conclusion of those future reports could already be written: Donald Trump’s Apprentice-style staffing bake-offs and his oft-voiced predilection for acting officials kept the U.S. government distracted, off-kilter and understaffed.

Trump is obviously not responsible for the appearance of the novel coronavirus—but he is responsible for the government’s spiralling failure to respond appropriately in a timely manner. He has ignored the hiring practices, protocols, norms and expertise that would have given him and the federal government a better shot at defeating Covid-19. Three years into his administration and with a Republican-controlled Senate ready to move nominees through to confirmation, he didn’t build the national leadership we needed. That inescapable fact is Donald Trump’s fault.

The “next 9/11” is happening right now because Trump ignored the lessons of the last one.

There is a heavy price to pay for mistrust of government. And Americans, and in fact people around the world, are now paying a heavy price for that mistrust.

The fact is America has a President who has no respect for government, no competence to govern, and most importantly, likes dumb! He also has no respect for brains, knowledge, or wisdom. After all who needs that when you have Fox News at your beck and call? And what really bothers me is that America still likes this President! This is what they wanted and boy did they get it.

From this analysis Thomas Friedman of the New York Times  has made the right inferences. We are in trouble. But it goes even beyond that. As Friedman said,

And Trump’s vindictiveness toward any career public servant who challenges his narrative has surely contributed to the weak response from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts are afraid to raise their hands to contradict the president.

It is clear that the US and Canada both need strategies for gradually lifting lockdowns in a rational manner. Sadly, particularly in the U.S. it is unlikely to achieve such a plan with so many holes in its government. Instead of good government it has Fox News!

Friedman concluded this way,

In sum, if we are going to save the most lives while getting the most people back to work to prevent an epidemic of unemployment, depression and despair, it is going to require a federally coordinated, democratic version of the China strategy.

But Trump resists that kind of science-based, nationally coordinated approach, because it serves him politically to urge his supporters to resist his own administration’s health guidelines.

Trump seems to think he can bluster, bluff and talk out of both sides of his mouth with Mother Nature — the way he did in real estate and has done on so many issues as president, when his party could always cover for him.

But it doesn’t work that way with Mother Nature. She is not a contestant on “The Apprentice.” She is just chemistry, biology and physics. We’re the contestants on her show. We don’t get to fire her. She gets to fire us.

She throws viruses, hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and pandemics at us to sort out who’s the fittest. And the ones who survive have one thing, and one thing only, in common: They are the most adaptive at generating the chemistry, biology and physics needed to meet the challenge.

That’s all that matters. All those who can’t, get fired or, rather, are returned to the manufacturer.

 

Here is my conclusion: there is no time in recent memory where we have needed more reliance on facts, evidence, and thoughtful reasoning both by political leaders and their bureaucracy. We need good government. Sadly, there is no time where we are less likely to get what we need. That is my sorry conclusion.

 

Contempt for Government

 

Relying on an article by Garret Graff I have pointed out some astonishing vacancies in the Trump administration before and during the pandemic. Some of the critical vacancies occurred in positions directly related to the health pandemic we are now facing. As Graff said,

Last year, the top job at the Food and Drug Administration, the role overseeing the nation’s pharmaceuticals, sat vacant for nearly eight months; the latest occupant, Stephen Hahn, took over in December, nearly a month after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wuhan, China. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees a massive health care network and legally serves to supplement the civilian health care system in an emergency like the current epidemic, there’s no deputy secretary, general counsel or undersecretary for health.

 

All of this is not just a mess. It’s a scandal! And that scandal has been authored by none other than the President of the United States who likes the flexibility of acting appointments!

Graff also reported how the Office of Personnel Management (‘OPM’) which is in effect the government’s HR department at a time when the 2 million employees of the federal government face the incredible challenge of working from home while they carry on essential duties, also has an acting Director. Of course it does. Not only that but the acting director of OPM, Michael Rigas took over the position in late March after the OPM director who had been there for only 6 months quit just as the pandemic spilled over. He was also acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (‘OMB’). He has both positions at once. As Graff said, “Wondering how someone can effectively lead one mission-critical organization while simultaneously working as the deputy of another? The answer is you can’t.”

Remember that Trump is already on his 4th White House chief of staff, his 5th homeland security secretary and his 4th defense secretary. That is in 3 years of his administration! This is a record of incompetent appointments that has likely never been matched in the history of American government. And Trump knows the best people!

I know some people get annoyed when I criticize Trump, but I am not really trying to criticize Trump. He is too easy a target. I am criticizing a very common attitude in both the United States and Canada. This is the assumption that governments are incompetent and unimportant and all that counts is the private sector. That is a dangerous attitude and its warts are revealed in an emergency—such as a pandemic.

From the start of his administration Trump made clear his contempt for government. That attitude is shared by millions of Americans and Canadians too, but it has had disastrous consequences, that we can now see clearly. There are many reasons that the Trump administration has failed in its response to the pandemic. Many countries have done a much better job of fighting the pandemic than the United States. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker put is well:

The reasons for the American failing include a lack of preparation, delayed mobilization, insufficient testing, and a reluctance to halt travel. The Administration has, from its start, waged a war on science, and expertise, and on what Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon called ‘the administration state.’ The results are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public health calamity.”

The failure to respond to a pandemic is just one of the problems created by this contempt, but it is a serious one. And we are learning that.

Remember the vacancies are only part of the problem. The other problem, perhaps even more important is the poor quality of the appointments. For example, appointing Grenell as acting Director of National Intelligence, the most important position in American intelligence when he has never worked in intelligence before is heinous. His predecessors were admirals, generals, and head of various intelligence agencies. This is who is in charge of national intelligence!

According to garret Graff, who wrote an article about this for Politico, “At the Department of Veterans Affairs, the few leaders who do exist badly lack experience in crisis response, as the department’s inspector general reported in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.”

According to the New York Times, “At the Department of Veterans Affairs, workers are scrambling to order medical supplies on Amazon after its leaders, lacking experience in disaster responses, failed to prepare for the onslaught of patients at its medical centers.”

Perhaps the lack of appointments and poor quality of those appointed can be explained by the fact that, according to Graff, “The new head of the Office of Presidential Personnel, which is in charge of choosing appointees across the government, was fired earlier in the administration over allegations of financial crimes, and one of its top deputies is still a college student.”

Imagine that a top deputy position filled by a college student. Sounds weird to me.

As I have said this is all as a result of Trumps contempt for government. Americans are paying a heavy price for that contempt. Actually, the world is paying a heavy price for that contempt because almost everything he does in the US affects us here too. And that is a pity.

 

Vacancies in Health

 

Relying on an article by Garret Graff in Politico,  I have pointed out some astonishing vacancies in the Trump administration before and during the pandemic. Some of the critical vacancies occurred in positions directly related to the health pandemic we are now facing. As Graff said,

“Last year, the top job at the Food and Drug Administration, the role overseeing the nation’s pharmaceuticals, sat vacant for nearly eight months; the latest occupant, Stephen Hahn, took over in December, nearly a month after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wuhan, China. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees a massive health care network and legally serves to supplement the civilian health care system in an emergency like the current epidemic, there’s no deputy secretary, general counsel or undersecretary for health.”

 

All of this is not just a mess. It’s a scandal! And that scandal has been authored by none other than the President of the United States who likes the flexibility of acting appointments!

Graff also reported how the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management (‘OPM’) which is in effect the government’s HR department at a time when the 2 million employees of the federal government face the incredible challenge of working from home while they carry on essential duties, also has an acting Director. Of course it does. Not only that but the acting director of OPM, Michael Rigas took over the position in late March after the OPM director who had been there for only 6 months quit just as the pandemic spilled over. He was also acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (‘OMB’). He has both positions at once. As Graff said, “Wondering how someone can effectively lead one mission-critical organization while simultaneously working as the deputy of another? The answer is you can’t.”

Remember that Trump is already on his 4th White House chief of staff, his 5th homeland security secretary and his 4th defense secretary. That is in 3 years of his administration! This is a record of incompetent appointments that has likely never been matched in the history of American government. But Trump knows the best people!

I know some people get annoyed when I criticize Trump, but I am not really trying to criticize Trump. He is too easy a target. I am criticizing a very common attitude in both the United States and Canada. This is the assumption that governments are incompetent and unimportant and all that counts is the private sector. It has been the platform for mockery of the government for decades. Particularly since Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney were elected heads of their respective governments. That is a dangerous attitude and its warts are revealed in an emergency—such as a pandemic. I think it is time we deep-six that convenient attitude. It really is not that convenient in the long run.

From the start of his administration Trump made clear his contempt for government. That attitude has had disastrous consequences. There are many reasons that the Trump administration has failed in its response to the pandemic. Many countries have done a much better job of fighting the pandemic than the United States. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker put is well:

“The reasons for the American failing include a lack of preparation, delayed mobilization, insufficient testing, and a reluctance to halt travel. The Administration has, from its start, waged a war on science, and expertise, and on what Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon called ‘the administration state.’ The result are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public health calamity.”

We are learning how costly and dangerous contempt for government can be.

 

Trump knows the best People but where are they?

 

Garret Graff in his analysis of crucial  vacancies in the Trump administration pointed out how  Trump’s failures in filling government positions went well beyond leaving critical vacancies where leadership was urgently required. Trump also made disastrous appointments, notwithstanding his boastful claims that “I know the best people.” Well he might know them but he did not appoint them. One of the more glaringly dysfunctional appointments was John Bolton as the National Security Advisor, often considered one of the most important security positions since Henry Kissinger held the position. He scooped John Bolton probably because he liked his punditry on Fox News. This is what happened:

“Over the course of his administration, Trump effectively has done away with the role of homeland security adviser; when John Bolton took over as national security adviser, one of his first acts was to fire Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert and downgrade the role in rank. Ever since, the Trump NSC has sidelined the officials who filled the role. In February, as Covid-19 loomed domestically, Trump actually even shuffled the Coast Guard official then filling the post out to a new job, overseeing Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery.”

 

Trump’s failure to provide for good government has led to serious weaknesses in the American preparedness for a pandemic. This went well beyond his egregious dismantling of the National Security Council’s pandemic unit, though that may have been his worst decision. As Graff pointed out in his reporting:

“Further afield from the Homeland Security roles, the empty holes in federal organization charts will continue to slow and hamper the government’s ability to respond at the speed and scale necessary to address a crisis of unprecedented complexity.”

Two of the Trump’s cabinet appointments have been particularly weak. These were Ben Carson in HUD and Steven Mnuchin at Treasury. Treasury has of course been vitally important in the economic crisis. Once again, America has paid a big price for this lacklustre appointment from among “the best people” that Trump promised. This is how Graff explained Mnuchin ‘s performance:

“At the Treasury Department, Secretary Steven Mnuchin began confronting the crisis without a chief of staff or legislative director. As Bloomberg reported, “Of 20 Senate confirmed roles reporting to the secretary, seven aren’t filled, and four are occupied by acting officials. The domestic finance unit, which should be handling the brunt of the work related to the coronavirus outbreak, is particularly empty. It has no top boss and is missing three assistant secretaries, who are the next level down.”

Another sensational  failure occurred at the Pentagon where the Navy faced a Covid-19 crisis on its carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt without a Navy Secretary having been approved by the Senate. The last Secretary left under a cloud when the controversy arose over Trump’s pardoning of a Navy Seal accused of war crimes. The replacement for the Secretary that left has also now resigned amid that fiasco. Apparently the undersecretary of the Army will fill the position of acting Secretary of the Navy as well. Graff summed all of this up this way:

To say that it’s less-than-ideal for all of those roles—which serve as each military service’s chief management officer—to be vacant in the midst of an unprecedented, global crisis is an understatement.

 

I would say that itself is an understatement. According to Graff, “Across the building, roughly a third of the Pentagon’s top jobs are vacant or filled with acting officials—an administration high.”

Only someone with complete disdain for government would make such poor appointments and leave so many important jobs unfilled. And that is the problem. the leader of the government has nothing but disdain for government. He wanted to drain the swamp. I wish he would remove the leader.

Critical Importance of Government vacancies

 

Government vacancies in the U.S. , have become critically important for those positions that would have been expected to deal with the coronavirus emergency. Yet,  since Trump was elected an astonishing number of governmental posts, many of them crucial in defending the country against a pandemic, have remained unfilled. Garret Graff wrote a detailed article in Politico setting out those posts that have been left vacant.

For example, the Deputy overseeing the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) whose job it was to oversee preparedness was vacant. So was its chief medical officer, the physician designated to advise the Secretary (Head) of DHS and the head of FEMA responsible to co-ordinate the federal response to emergencies, like Hurricane Katrina, and of course, Covid-19. In fact DHS itself had 600 infections in its own workforce. These are the people whose job it is to protect the public!

 

Often Trump moves one government official from one post to another. But this creates problems too when the position of the replacement must be filled. This can cascade down the government leading to ever greater governmental incompetence; not a good state of affairs during a health and economic crisis. And this is all a self-inflicted wound! This is Trump’s baby. Even Obama can’t be blamed for this one.

As Graff said,

“The effect of these vacancies ripple further than most people realize. Since vacant roles awaiting either an official appointment or a Senate-confirmed nominee are always filled by “acting” officials pulled from other parts of the organization or broader government, even more offices are understaffed as people do double-duty and as their own positions are filled with other “actings” behind them. Grenell, even as he fills in as director of National Intelligence, continues technically to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany, meaning that amid the huge economic uncertainty around Covid-19 epidemic the U.S. is without a high-level envoy to the largest economy in Europe. For the 14 months he was “acting” White House chief of staff, up until March 31—another horse Trump changed midstream in the epidemic—Mick Mulvaney was still technically serving as the director of Office of Management and Budget, a normally critical role itself overseeing the nation’s spending. In Mulvaney’s absence, Russell Vought, OMB’s deputy, filled in as the acting director—leaving his own job, normally its own full-time role, to be filled in by others, and so on.”

A number of these vacancies involved “deputies.” This may seem innocuous or insignificant to those not familiar with government. To sum up, Deputies are important! They are not sidekicks. They are the permanent officials that can guide the political appointees who are often not really familiar with the job they have to perform. Graff put it this way:

“In government agencies, deputies are not like the vice president—a spare role kept around, if needed. Often, the “deputy” role is the most important figure in the day-to-day operations of the department or agency—the person who runs the bureaucracy and organization while the principal (the secretary or director) attends to the policy and the politics. Robbing an agency or department of a principal and forcing the deputy to fill in means the organization will be running at reduced effectiveness, with less guidance, direction and oversight.”

 

Crucially he left open as well the position of Office of Director of National intelligence. Remember these positions deal with much more than terrorism or military matters, They also deal with intelligence and health related matters. After 9/11 George W. Bush emphasized how these two positions would make sure the US was never hit by a surprise attack again. As we all know by now, it was surprised again, this time by a virus.

 

Perhaps the most important and egregious vacancy was the National Security Council’s pandemic unit. Trump disbanded that shortly before the pandemic! nI am surprised this has not caused a great uproar.

 

Added to that, as Graff reported,

“Another key post-9/11 reform was the creation of a White House homeland security adviser, a domestic equal to the national security adviser, a post created just days after 9/11 by President George W. Bush and filled at first by Tom Ridge, who would go on to be the first Homeland Security secretary. Presidents Bush and Obama for years had at their beck and call senior, sober homeland security advisers like Fran Townsend, Ken Wainstein, John Brennan and Lisa Monaco; Monaco helped oversee the nation’s response to Ebola and led the incoming Trump administration through a pandemic response exercise in the days before the inauguration to highlight how critical such an incident could be.”

 The Obama administration after the Ebola outbreak created a “Playbook” on how to deal with pandemics. This was a detailed plan created thoughtfully. That, of course has remained unused on the shelf, because nothing good could come from the Obama administration. Instead the Trump administration relied on plans made in the middle of a health emergency.

People have to realize that government is important. The leader of the country must show some interest in it. It is not enough to say tear it down or drain the swamp.  The people should learn, ‘Never again,”  Never again allow someone to lead a government who doesn’t care about it. That is asking for trouble.

 

Disdain for Government has a Price

In April the role of the American Homeland Security Secretary was vacant for an entire year! Remember Trump fired her because he felt she was not tough enough in enforcing his border security policies. She was reluctant to support separating young children from their parents at the border as Trump’s immigration Czar, Steven Miller had required. Imagine that. Remember that the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) has many crucial roles in any domestic crisis, not just military ones. They were created to fight terrorism but a lot more than that. Pandemics are part of their jurisdiction too. That makes sense, as we are all finding out now, pandemics are a much bigger threat than terrorists or even wars. More Americans have already been killed in this pandemic than the Vietnam War! In her place the Acting secretary Chad Wolf, according to Graff “ fumbled through the epidemic.” As Garret Graff reported in Politico ,

Wolf couldn’t answer seemingly straightforward questions on Capitol Hill from Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana about the nation’s preparedness—what models were predicting about the outbreak, how many respirators the government had stockpiled, even how Covid-19 was transmitted. “You’re supposed to keep us safe. And you need to know the answers to these questions,” Kennedy finally snapped at Wolf. Wolf has been notably absent ever since from the White House podium during briefings about the nation’s epidemic response.

Wolfe was a fairly typical Trump appointment. He picks his appointments because they think like him. That is a scary thought. Now imagine that! Obama used to pick appointments because they were smart, even if they would think differently than him. After some of Trump’s nominees for appointment to various government posts met with scorn even by his usually loyal Republican Senators, Trump deliberately moved to appointing “acting” appointments. Those don’t need Senatorial approval, thus eliminating potential embarrassment when their weaknesses are exposed. But there are problems with this approach. As Graff reported,

“Actings” often struggle to be successful precisely because they’re temporary—their word carries less weight with their own workforce, with other government agencies or on Capitol Hill—and they rarely have the opportunity to set and drive their own agenda, push for broad organizational change or even learn the ropes of how to be successful in the job given the usually brief period of their tenure. Anyone who has ever changed jobs or companies knows how long it can take to feel like you understand a new organization, a new culture or shape a new role.

And yet up and down the org chart at DHS, there are people still learning the ropes. DHS is riddled with critical vacancies; according to the Washington Post’s appointment tracker, just 35 percent of its top roles are filled. Its chief of staff, executive secretary and general counsel are all acting officials, and there’s no Senate-confirmed deputy secretary, no undersecretary for management, no chief financial officer, no chief information officer, no undersecretary for science and technology, nor a deputy undersecretary for science and technology.

 

Graff outlined numerous positions with DHS that have had acting appointments or none at all. That is the other way Trump avoids embarrassment. Don’t appoint anyone! Then Trump won’t be embarrassed as his appointees fail or flounder.

Disdain for government in some circles is very popular.  But disdain for government has a price. A high one.

 

Government with Big Holes

 

The pandemic is playing out in the United States at a time when the country was stripped of vast amounts of administrative leadership as a result of Donald Trump’s failure to appoint people to fill an astonishing array of important governmental posts. He blames it on the Democrats—of course—but the real failure is caused by his lack of appreciation for government. Trump thinks government is all part of a nasty Deep State that should be shredded. So why fill holes?

 

Trump has been soaked in the right wing ideology of extolling the virtues of small government. To give one example, where many could be given, as soon as he got elected he announced a new policy for regulations. For every new regulation proposed his bureaucrats would have to suggest 2 that could be dropped. That sounds good no doubt to his base, but such arbitrary rules can and did hamstring government. Trump does not realize that there is such a thing as good government and does not appreciate that we need it. At few times do we need it more than during a pandemic. As a result many critical posts have been filled with temporary replacements or none at all.

Garret Graff reported on this issue in depth in Politico. He pointed out that just when we desperately need good, efficient, and compassionate bureaucracy that bureaucracy is in a shambles of Trump’s making. In fact much of it was done deliberately because Trump wanted flexibility. I suspect he likes this so he can fire personnel without going through the embarrassing process of Senate approval for a replacement, even though the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

Graff started with a reference to a concerning statement by the Surgeon General in April of 2020:

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams promised that we’re entering the darkest days of the Covid-19 epidemic: “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment. Only, it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that,” Adams told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

Adams’ metaphor, evoking the two deadliest—and most shocking—moments of modern American history, came on the fourth consecutive day that U.S. deaths from Covid-19 crossed the 1,000 mark. Across Saturday, Sunday and Monday, more Americans were killed by the novel coronavirus than in either Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 attacks or the Civil War battle of Antietam. The days ahead surely will include an even grimmer toll.

 

Yet Adams’ metaphor of this as our new “9/11 moment” is more apt than he likely intended: Comparing the events is about more than just a story of casualties—it is also a story about government’s failure. Both Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks occurred, in part, because the U.S. government and intelligence failed to see the attacks looming. We were caught unprepared, and Americans paid for that mistake with their lives.

 

After 9/11, we swore to never let that happen again. “Never again” was the mantra handed down to the nation’s leaders by George W. Bush in the White House on September 12. We devoted billions—trillions, even—of dollars after 2001 to fixing the intelligence and information-gathering problems identified by the 9/11 Commission, and Congress and George W. Bush worked through the biggest reorganization of the government since 1947 to create two entirely new entities to help prevent “the next 9/11”: The Department of Homeland Security, an attempt to bring together all the agencies tasked with protecting the country at home, and the Office of Director of National Intelligence, a coordinator for the nation’s 17 disparate intelligence agencies to ensure that the country better understood both the big picture and the small picture of what was happening around the world.

 

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s routine, day-to-day mismanagement of the government has left both organizations—the very entities we tasked as a nation to prevent the next 9/11—riddled with vacancies and temporary officials as the novel coronavirus rapidly spread from a small blip in China to a global health and economic catastrophe. In fact, the four top jobs at DHS and ODNI have all been filled with temporary acting officials for literally every day that Covid-19 has been on the world stage.

 

Those positions were created by George W. Bush—not Obama. As a result Trump’s disdain is less understandable. Nothing Obama did could be good. And they are very important positions and they are not just military or counter terrorist positions either. Intelligence, which Trump has often mocked in favor of getting intelligence from his buddy Putin, is vitally important in many respects, including preparedness for pandemics! Intelligence is broad. And in both senses of the word “intelligence” Trump lacks respect for it, and America, and in fact the world, are paying a heavy price for that disdain. As Graff reported:

While we often think of those jobs as focused on protecting against terrorism, both agencies have critical public health roles, too; U.S. intelligence spent the winter racing to understand how serious a threat Covid-19 truly was and deciphering the extent of China’s cover-up of its epidemic. Just last week, news broke about a special report prepared by U.S. intelligence documenting China’s deception about the disease’s spread—information that, had it been more accurately captured and understood, might have caused a faster, harder response and lessened the economic and personal toll of the epidemic at home.

 

Yet Trump has churned through officials overseeing the very intelligence that might have helped understand the looming crisis. At Liberty Crossing, the headquarters of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the government will have been without a Senate-confirmed director for eight months as of next week; last summer, Trump accepted the resignation of Dan Coats and forced out the career principal deputy of national intelligence, Sue Gordon. Coats’ temporary stand-in, career intelligence official Joseph Maguire, then served so long that he was coming close to timing out of his role—federal law usually lets officials serve only 210 days before relinquishing the acting post—when Trump ousted him too, as well as the acting career principal deputy. In their place, at the end of February—weeks after the U.S. already recorded its first Covid-19 case—Trump installed U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as his latest acting director, the role that by law is meant to be the president’s top intelligence adviser. Grenell has the least intelligence experience of any official ever to occupy director’s suite.

Graff reached the following conclusion in his investigation into this crucial issue: “The government agencies designed to protect us are riddled with vacancies and temporary officials. No wonder we’re facing a catastrophe.”

And we know what that is the case.

Dumb-as-we-wanna-be

 

As we watch America flounder from afar some of us have pity for them. They are led by a President who is the least qualified President in history. He is a man who makes decisions on the basis of “hunches” and “instincts.” He has never given any indication that he ever read a book. He has said that his favorite book is the Art of the Deal which he wrote (with the help of a ghost of course.) He has no respect for science or expertise. He ignores the advice of his best advisors, such as the leaders of the various intelligence services. Instead he relies on people like Vladimir Putin because Putin tells him things “strongly.” That is good enough for Trump. It doesn’t hurt that Putin has no regard for truth either. Added to that, this is a President who has nothing but disdain for government so places no importance to having it run well. He has no respect for career bureaucrats who are often exactly what we need, particularly at times like this when the world faces an economic crisis and health crisis at the same time. He dismisses them as members of something called” the Deep State.”

But this post is not about Trump. Everyone knows what he is like. More importantly the American people knew before they elected him that this is how he was. The American people, even though not a majority of them, voted him in to power. About 55 million people voted for him nearly as many as voted for a much more obviously qualified candidate. Many of those people still support him.

That is the issue. The American people don’t care about science or expertise. They too are content to rely on hunches, instincts, feelings, and above all faith. That is what matters. They have faith in Trump and in fact have religious devotion to him. Trump said, truthfully for a change, that he could stand in Times Square and murder someone and his supporters would still support him. If that is not religious devotion what is?

Ignoring facts, reason, data/evidence, and science can only go so far. I think the United States is nearing the end. And Canada is not that far behind.

Thomas Friedman author and columnist for the New York Times, characterized this attitude as “Dumb as we wanna be.” Then he said the following:

This pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated the fact that over the last 20 years we as a country have weakened so many sources of our strength. We’ve simultaneously eroded our cognitive, ecological, economic, social, governance, public health and personal health immune systems — all the sources of resilience we need to get through this pandemic with the least damage to lives and livelihoods.

 

All these immune deficiencies are the logical outcome of how we’ve let ourselves go as a country, how we’ve let ourselves be dumb-as-we-wanna-be for so many years — devaluing science and reading, bashing public servants for political sport, turning politics into entertainment, not to mention adopting horrible eating habits that have left 40 percent of Americans obese.

Dumb-as-we-wanna-be is epitomized by the guy in Austin, Texas, who last week shoved a “park ranger into the water while the ranger was explaining to a crowd the need for social distancing,” as CNN reported.

Warren Buffett was right: When the tide goes out you see who’s swimming naked. And now it’s us. We are still exceptional, but now it’s in the fact that we lead the world in total coronavirus cases and deaths from Covid-19.

 

It seems remarkable that a country that has so many of the best universities in the world should have turned its back on them. How did that happen? It’s an interesting story. It didn’t happen over night. Kurt Anderson in his book Fantasyland described how that happened over about 500 years from the time of the arrival of Puritans on the shores of North America. It came gradually, very gradually, as a result of 5 centuries of the disparagement of reason in favour of faith and feelings and an array of temptations away from reason. It is an incredible story and all of us are now in 2020 suffering the consequences of that as we face a health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time . This is not a good time to discover that we have abandoned reason.

 

Capitalism: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Capitalism has brought enormous benefits to society. Millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty.

Yet it also has a dark side. A predatory side. This side is uncomfortable. This side is also revealed from time to time. For example, it was brought to light in the COVID-19 pandemic. It brought out the best in people; it brought out the worst in people. As Charles Dickens once said,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

It seems like Dickens was writing about the times we live in. Paul Krugman a Nobel Prize winning economist was alert to the sinister effects of capitalism. This is what he said,

“Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on workers. The economy has plunged so quickly that official statistics can’t keep up, but the available data suggest that tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, with more job losses to come and full recovery probably years.

But Republicans adamantly oppose extending enhanced unemployment benefits — such an extension, says Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican, will take place “over our dead bodies” (Actually, over other people’s dead bodies.)”

Is this what western democracy and capitalism has come down to? I will help the sick and poor only over my dead body!  Is this not predatory capitalism at its most ugly? Over our dead bodies…

What do the Senators have in mind? This is Krugman’s view:

“They apparently want to return to a situation in which most unemployed workers get no benefits at all, and even those collecting unemployment insurance get only a small fraction of their previous income.

Because most working-age Americans receive health insurance through their employers, job losses will cause a huge rise in the number of uninsured. The only mitigating factor is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which will allow many though by no means all of the newly uninsured to find alternative coverage.

But the Trump administration is still trying to have the Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional; “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” declared Donald Trump, even though the administration has never offered a serious alternative.

Bear in mind that ending Obamacare would end protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions — and that insurers would probably refuse to cover anyone who had Covid-19.

Finally, the devastation caused by the coronavirus has left many in the world’s wealthiest major nation unable to put sufficient food on the table. Families with children under 12 are especially hard hit: According to one recent survey, 41 percent of these families are already unable to afford enough to eat. Food banks are overwhelmed, with lines sometimes a mile long.

But Republicans are still trying to make food stamps harder to get, and fiercely oppose proposals to temporarily make food aid more generous.”

 

How much more brutal do the Republicans, standing in for the corporate elites want things to get? I really don’t know how far they are willing to go. Are they really willing to let 41% of American families starve, as Graham seems to suggest? That seems to be a starting point. But where will it end?

Again here is Krugman:

But we’re only now starting to get a sense of the Republican Party’s cruelty toward the economic victims of the coronavirus. In the face of what amounts to a vast natural disaster, you might have expected conservatives to break, at least temporarily, with their traditional opposition to helping fellow citizens in need. But no; they’re as determined as ever to punish the poor and unlucky.”

In the past so-called Conservatives have claimed such draconian policies were necessary because otherwise the poor who received handout would lose their incentive to work. Why work when you get handouts? Forgetting first of all, that the reality is very few people prefer handouts to work. Forgetting that in America and Canada work is part of most people’s self-identity and sense of worth. People without work lose their sense of worth and even in many cases their sense of identity. They are also forgetting that currently with unemployment in the US standing at 14%, the highest rate since the Depression, there is no work to be had! Nonetheless, as Krugman said,

“What’s remarkable about this determination is that the usual arguments against helping the needy, which were weak even in normal times, have become completely unsustainable in the face of the pandemic. Yet those arguments, zombielike, just keep shambling on… There was never serious evidence for this claim, but right now — at a time when workers can’t work, because doing their normal jobs would kill lots of people — I find it hard to understand how anyone can make this argument without gagging.

Added to that there is a lot of hypocrisy among Conservatives who also claim that we can’t help the poor and sick any more than we do because it will increase the deficit and impair our ability to help the sick and poor in the future. First of all, letting them die will not help them in the future! Secondly, it is obvious that they don’t want to help any more than they are doing now and this attitude is not likely to change in the future.”

Finally, as Krugman pointed out,

you still hear complaints that spending on food stamps and unemployment benefits increases the deficit. Now, Republicans never really cared about budget deficits; they demonstrated their hypocrisy by cheerfully passing a huge tax cut in 2017, and saying nothing as deficits surged. But it’s just absurd to complain about the cost of food stamps even as we offer corporations hundreds of billions in loans and loan guarantees. 

Krugman sought an understanding of the motivation of Conservative parsimony. This is how he explained it:

“So what explains the G.O.P.’s extraordinary indifference to the plight of Americans impoverished by this national disaster?

One answer may be that much of America’s right has effectively decided that we should simply go back to business as usual and accept the resulting death toll. Those who want to take that route may view anything that reduces hardship, and therefore makes social distancing more tolerable, as an obstacle to their plans.

Also, conservatives may worry that if we help those in distress, even temporarily, many Americans might decide that a stronger social safety net is a good thing in general. If your political strategy depends on convincing people that government is always the problem, never the solution, you don’t want voters to see the government actually doing good, even in times of dire need.

Whatever the reasons, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Americans suffering from the economic consequences of Covid-19 will get far less help than they should. Having already condemned tens of thousands to unnecessary death, Trump and his allies are in the process of condemning tens of millions to unnecessary hardship.”

Grim words or grim reality? You decide.