Category Archives: Social democracy

Clean Air

 

When we were in Paris a couple of years ago we noticed that there were places in the city where the government had provided electrical sites to charge their electric cars. Manitoba does this as well but to a very limited extent. In discussions with an American he asked me, “why should the government pay for that? ”Why should I have to pay for someone else to charge his car?” I would say in response that we should all pay for that because we all want a clean environment. Clean air is a public good and we should all pay for it. Besides, the government spends billions (many billions) subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. Surely it can spend a little to subsidize cars that don’t pollute the air and don’t increase our greenhouse gas emissions. Though I recognize that electric cars are not all good either. Life is rarely that simple. We all have to realize that there are many public goods that are important to a good life on this planet. We must all pay for those. The French have learned this. Canadians and Americans not so much.

One good thing about the Covid-19 pandemic is that we are starting to appreciate (not nearly enough of course) that the common good is important. Often more important than private goods, no matter what those who hoard the private goods tell us. It’s time to start thinking for ourselves.

Is it really the fault of the homeless?

 

Manitoba has the second highest rate of deaths from Covid-19 iun Canada. Only Quebec has more.

Recently, I heard Manitoba health officials said the reason Manitoba was in such poor shape during this pandemic was because Manitoba had so many homeless and poor people. I believe that is true. But is it really the fault of homeless and poor people? That  begs the real question—why does Manitoba have so many poor people? And why have Manitobans not cared about them? At least until now.

Now some people are starting to realize that during a crisis we are only as strong as our weakest members. Inequality in other words is dangerous. I wish more people learned this valuable lesson. Reducing inequality is good for all of us. It is not just poor people who benefit from such measures—we all do.

 

Economic Nonsense

 

There is one person in our family—and only one—that as soon as she is required to go for a Covid-19 test, she will get it immediately. She moves to the head of the line. And she gets her results the same day. She gets that benefit because she is important. The work she does is important. She is a care worker in a long-term private care facility for mentally challenged adult men. I agree with that. This is important work. If no one is on the job these men can’t survive. If she is not on the job it is not that easy to get a replacement.  Who wants to do such work? Who wants to change the diapers of adult men? Who wants to work shifts often through the night for low wages? I believe she also has the longest seniority of anyone in our family. She has worked there for many years.

Yet—and this is the interesting part—she is nowhere near the highest earner in our family. Rather she is woefully under paid. This is totally unfair. Our health care system recognizes her importance. Our economic system does not. That is also woeful. We bad. This is nonsense!

 

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.