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Posts published in March 2020

War on government

johnson

As a world-wide pandemic silently sulks its way across the globe pulling the international economy into recession or worse, it has become increasingly clear that Americans are facing a political, societal and economic crisis unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes.

And for better or worse, it’s going to be up to individuals, a few insightful business leaders and a relative handful of courageous political leaders to chart the course forward. Our politics is broken, perhaps fatally. Half of the political leadership class is captive to willful misinformation, conspiracy theories, disdain for science and expertise of every kind and devoted to the kind of government that shutdown the White House office responsible for coordinating the response to what we now call COVID-19.

The Republican Party has been fighting a “war on government” since Ronald Reagan infamously labeled government the cause of our problems, not the answer. Whether he intended to or not, and Reagan was less ideological than almost anyone in the GOP today, at his 1981 inaugural the heir of Barry Goldwater heralded the establishment of a new Republican philosophy that continues. There are essentially two Republican policies: tax cuts for the wealthy and unlimited spending on the military. Everything else, perfectly highlighted by Donald Trump’s incomprehensible inability to anticipate and counter a killer pandemic, is expendable, or unnecessary.

When in 2018 our blustering incompetent president shuttered the National Security Council office devoted to preparing for the next pandemic there was nary a ripple of concern. Trump has been lying this week, as every week, saying he had nothing to do with the decision, but videotape has now surfaced where he brags about this epic leadership failure.

“Some of the people we’ve cut they haven’t been used for many, many years and if we ever need them we can get them very quickly and rather than spending the money,” Trump said at the time. How has that been working out?

Some astute observers of American politics can remember all the way back to the early days of the Trump regime when Steve Bannon, Trump’s government hating senior strategist, boasted that his job was the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning, as Fortune magazine pointed out, “weakening regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities.” Bannon’s bombast and stupidity doesn’t look so good these days.

Indeed, as Beth Cameron, a leader in the White House pandemic office that is no more, wrote recently “it is clear that eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response. What’s especially concerning about the absence of this office today is that it was originally set up because a previous epidemic made the need for it quite clear.”

Put another way, Barack Obama created the office in 2014 to combat Ebola and did so effectively, so Trump did away with it four years later because he could.

This utter disdain for expertise and common sense has become the defining feature of the Republican Party and you can see it from Washington, DC to Boise. Congressman Russ Fulcher defaulted to the GOP playbook that tax cuts will cure a pandemic when he was one of 40 House Republicans who voted against emergency legislation to address sick leave for the millions of Americans who are without it, a move considered by health experts as a key strategy to contain the spread of the virus.

“First of all, government shouldn’t be mandating to businesses how they pay their employees, in my view,” Fulcher said in explaining his inexplicable vote. “And secondly, that’s going to put some small businesses out of business.”

Fulcher advocated tax incentives, not “hard mandates” from the government. The rookie congressman will soon enough discover that “hard mandates” are precisely what is required along with massive government spending that preserves jobs and enhances the ability of health care providers to meet the crisis.

Fulcher is the perfect embodiment of a head in the sand political Neanderthal, a dim partisan functionary tethered to right wing ideology rather than real world realities. The same can be said of the Republican dominated Idaho Legislature that is stumbling to adjournment worried not about strategies to protect the sick and those who will be, but devoting its closing hours to passing legislation to prevent transgender females from participating in athletics, making sure Idaho can outlaw abortion when the Supreme Court makes that possible and twice defeating an already inadequate higher education budget.

Legislators debated how many ideologues fit on the head of a pin. Local school boards and mayors got to work.

As the Washington Post noted earlier this week: “For weeks, many on the right, including Trump, minimized the virus, if they considered it at all. Even in recent days, as much of the world shuts down to try to stop its spread, some Republicans mocked what they saw as a media-generated frenzy.

“Their reaction reflected how the American right has evolved under Trump, moving from a bloc of small-government advocates to a grievance coalition highly skeptical of government, science, the news and federal warnings.”

It is so transparently telling that Trump’s Oval Office speech last week where he made his first faltering effort to get in front of the danger the pandemic represents to all Americans was written by two incompetent ideologues – Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller – guys with no experience whatsoever in the subject at hand. Trump and his speechwriters were practicing public relations, and badly to boot, not engaging in crisis management or presidential leadership.

There are so many mileposts over the last three years that might have flattened his unique curve of presidential malfeasance – the GOP dismissal of Russian election interference and the investigation that exposed it, Trump’s gross mismanagement of foreign policy and ignorant, heartless approach to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, the kids in cages on the southern border, the hate filled tweets and ugly insults, the Senate Republican willingness to ignore the president’s clear efforts at Ukrainian blackmail – but all now fade into our collective rearview mirror.

We are left staring straight ahead at what will likely prove to be the worst American crisis since World War II, coupled with the worst economy since the Great Depression all presided over by a man no serious Republican would hire to manage a car wash.

Trump and Republicans didn’t create the pandemic and the economic meltdown. They merely furthered a notion of government and political irresponsibility that made such a nightmare possible and they labeled it all “American exceptionalism.” But, of course, the only thing exceptional is the ignorance and selfishness. As the writer Howard Bryant says, “We replace destruction with exceptionalism: it could never happen here.” Yet, it has.

There are tough days ahead. We’re in unchartered seas. Personal and mostly non-governmental institutional initiative coupled with charity, decency and honesty will be essential. When we emerge on the other side America will be a different place.

We’ll be either a stronger, better, more decent people without Trump and a lot of his enabling Republicans, or we won’t. America will begin to get well, or our sickness will deepen. No one will save us but us.
 

Welcome to a Covid-19 world

stapiluslogo1

Compared to a lot of people, our household has been hit lightly by the new world of Covid-19.

We work at home, and ordinarily spend a lot of our time there. We only sporadically get together with groups of people (and the one regular group I meet with had our meeting online this week). We visit bars or restaurants only very occasionally. We don’t go to school. We’re not much for watching sports on TV, or live for that matter. We’re in good health.

Not everyone, and probably not most people, is so relatively unaffected.

People all over the country are being affected in different ways and different degrees by the need to contain Covid-19 (which, it should be reiterated, is both much more communicable and about ten times as deadly as an ordinary flu). Some lose their entertainment, some their livelihood, or businesses. There is no real national standard for how we should combat the pandemic; word from the federal government has been, at least until this week, inconsistent. We’ve seen most action taking place on the state or local levels.

It has come in waves: First modest steps, then more sweeping ones. The waves have moved geographically, partly as the big numbers of Covid-19 cases hit. Later-catching places, which may have taken little action at the beginning, move on to stronger steps.

On the west coast, the most extreme actions originally took place where the illness first bloomed, in Washington and California. In the San Francisco Bay area, requirements have gotten to the point of clearing the streets of almost all but emergency or essential traffic. Will it get that far in Idaho? Maybe not, but more extensive requirements, which at the state level have been so far more advisory than mandatory, look to be in the wind.

Oregon (or Nevada) might be worth watching for Idahoans.

At first, as the earliest cases showed up, action in Oregon was mostly limited to the advisory: Recommending social distancing, avoiding large crowds. Then the cases grew, and state action accelerated. For example, after an order by the governor, restaurants and bars in Oregon are prohibited from eat-in service under penalty of law, though take-out is still allowed. Groups above a certain size cannot assemble; many events are prohibited. Schools in Oregon are closed. Church services are going online.

Oregon was not one of the first to do these. Other places - Washington and California among them - with more cases went first. And the restrictions can get even more sweeping. (Have you read Newt Gingirch’s report from Rome, about what life is like now in Italy? It’s sobering, and he was not arguing that any of it is an over-reaction.)

Where these places are going, to some extent, Idaho probably will go, however much many residents in the state will not want it to.

There will be some feeling that Idaho has been lightly touched by the illness, and compared to many other places, it has - so far. The Idaho Legislature - as this is written - is still meeting (that’s a group of well over 100 people in a smallish closed space), and plans to wrap up the session normally, though at least one and maybe more legislators warn it is unsafe. Governor Brad Little, who has been describing the illness in serious terms and urging appropriate steps to avoid Covid-19, at this writing hasn’t been willing to take mandatory state actions to close schools or shut down places like bars or restaurants.

But that also described places like Oregon up until only a few days ago.

It’s coming for Idaho, too. It’s just coming a few days later.

Get ready for a quieter and more insular life.
 

Prepare

schmidt

The world and my little town seem to be preparing for a wave of Covid19 infections, and some critically ill patients. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen. But just how would we do in the face of such an occurrence?

First of all, I trust most people have common sense; maybe I’m naïve. All my years of doctoring have not convinced me otherwise; although I could tell you some stories that would make you think I’m a fool for holding onto that faith.

But sometimes, common sense isn’t enough. We know the virus can be spread even when the infected person has no symptoms, so common sense won’t help you there. The widespread decisions by colleges, sports associations, and now our President to limit travel and large events may reduce the spread, but these decisions sure have raised the awareness. And common sense won’t keep you alive when your lungs fill with fluid. It is clear this happens to a small percentage of those infected. So, we need more than common sense to deal with this.

We need information, for one. I’ve been happy with the information I have gotten, but I don’t get mine from Facebook. I read reputable websites, the CDC website, my professional sites and local authorities.

Information comes from data, and we are short of that right now. We can infer some from other counties experiences, but that only goes so far. The limited availability of testing is frustrating many. The US has only tested about 65 people per million inhabitants (31,000 test total) as of last Friday. Without adequate data, information can be speculation. Speculation can contribute to fear.

A couple weeks ago testing was available here in Idaho through the state Public Health districts. They were using the CDC recommendations for who to test: symptoms (cough+fever and shortness of breath) as well as high risk exposure (direct contact with known infected person or travel from high risk area). But now, the clinic I work at and many others have a commercial test available. I expect lots more test results in the coming weeks.

Then we are left with the accuracy of the test. This can be frustrating too. The recommended screening test is a nasal and throat swab (long wire Q-tip up your nose and then the back of your throat). But in China, this test was only about 30-60% accurate. Thus, many early cases were missed. A blood test for antibodies is now also available, but it also has limitations. So, more testing would be helpful, but not all questions will be answered.

The number of new cases diagnosed in China has continued to decline since a peak in mid-February. The outbreak started a month earlier. But world-wide we are seeing a steady increase; the US is early on the upward slope. Idaho was one of the last states to report a case. But Washington, our neighbor was one of the first.

Only a few of the people who get the illness get real sick, and fewer die. China had about 4% fatality of their confirmed cases. Interestingly, many of the fatalities in China were in health care workers. Italy so far as seen about 8% death rate in confirmed cases. The US is just 2% fatality, but we are early on the curve again.

When people get real sick, our resources will be stretched. The viral lung infection requires intense treatment.

I appreciate that so many people are paying attention and working hard on this. And I appreciate that people are staying patient and calm. Some states have closed schools. Governor Brad Little has declared each district should make that decision.

We didn’t have church this Sunday, but I’m going to work on Monday. I’ll wash my hands and cough into my elbow. Our clinic has systems in place and we’ll do our best. But I doubt this will be the last time we go through something like this; stay prepared.
 

The [whatever] virus

politicalwords

Most commonly, we're calling this bug that's hit the world - and is spreading around the United States - the coronavirus. The more technically spoken among us have taken to referring to it as COVID-19.

But there are other names. And there's some history here.

The coronavirus is something like the flu - not exactly the same, and the differences are significant - so it's worth revisiting some of the names given various strains of flu over the years.

Maybe the most deadly form ever appeared around the end of World War I in 1918, a worldwide pandemic involving the H1N1 virus that may have infected 500 million people around the globe and killed 50 million (One of whom was a grandfather of Donald Trump). They key efforts to combat it were "isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly." (Sound familiar?)

It was dubbed the Spanish flu, though Spain doesn't seem to have had any special role in connection with it (the virus apparently came from birds).

That was the worst, but there have been others, from the Asian flu of 1957 to the Russian flu of 1977 to the swine flu of 2009 (which actually was linked to pigs). Except for the wine flu, most of them seem to be named - with the naming effort mostly centered in the United States - for places from far away, whether they had much to do with the illness outbreak or not.

This week, President Trump referred to a "foreign virus" (do virii have citizenship?) as the culprit behind the current illness. A number of Washington figures have taken to calling it the "Chinese flu" or the "Wuhan flu," which at least is a connection to where the illness first erupted, but may be an indicator of an intended marker: Who to blame for this. (Never mind, of course, that China is one of the nations hardest hit by the pandemic.)

It seems the naming of flus tends to relate more to what we think about ourselves and who we don't much like, than about the actual origins of a strain of flu. For which, after all, no one really wants to take credit.
 

Corona pandemonium

jones

When a President is confronted with a serious emergency, the public has a rare chance to see the stuff he’s made of. With the coronavirus (covid-19), Trump had his opportunity to shine. His response has been an unfolding disaster.

From the start of the looming crisis in January, Trump seemed more concerned about the effect of covid-19 on his prized stock market, rather than the health and safety of the American people. We were told that the initial dives of the stock indexes gave the public good investing opportunities, rather than being warned that the country needed to mount an emergency response to protect public safety.

His rosy talk about the disease has had a dramatic effect on the stock market, but not the one he expected. Savvy traders knew the happy talk was completely out of place and pushed the panic button. If you fear the captain is cluelessly steering toward the rocks, you jump ship. The traders’ over-reaction has had the markets in continuing turmoil and will likely have significant adverse effects across the economy in coming months.

Every public health expert was warning in January that the covid-19 virus would reach the U.S. Rather than gearing up to confront the threat, Trump consistently tried to gloss over the danger to preserve his political standing.

Disease experts warned that widespread testing was essential to find out who was infected by the covid-19 virus. If you don’t know who has it, you can’t stop its spread. We flat failed to produce and distribute testing kits and are still way behind the efforts of less powerful nations. As of March 9, we didn’t know how many people had been tested in the U.S., but the most educated guess was around 2,000. South Korea had tested over 180,000 by that time.

On February 26, our President was telling us there were 15 cases in the U.S. and they would somehow go away. He said, “And again, when you have 15 people--and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero--that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” Since that time the virus has spread across the country and we are seeing an increasing number of fatalities.

When meeting with drug company executives on March 3, the President insisted that a coronavirus vaccine was likely to be available in short order. As he put it, “I’ve heard very quick numbers, that of months.” Both government experts and drug execs tried to dissuade him of the idea that a quick fix was just around the corner, cautioning that it would be over a year before a vaccine could be deployed.

Trump has also tried to shift the blame to others, claiming that the Obama administration adopted some sort of rule that changed testing requirements. Nobody, not even Trump, has been able to find that phantom rule. Even if it existed, Trump is in the fourth year of his term and should have long ago laid the groundwork for combating a pandemic. What he did do in that time is substantially reduce spending for pandemic response.

The most critical element in combating a pandemic is to level with the people--be honest in telling them about the nature of the threat, what is being done about it and the problems that need to be overcome. When the public comes to believe that the President is making politically-inspired happy talk in a disaster setting, panic can easily set in and impede an effective response.

The people need to see signs that the President’s first and foremost concern is their safety, rather than his political standing. They don’t want to hear quibbling over the death rate of covid-19 because their loved one is just as dead at .1% as 3.4%. They want decisive action, not misleading happy talk.
 

Ground zero

rainey

O.K. So, here’s the thing.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed 78,000 COVID-19 cases in China a week or so ago. Statistically, infected people less than 60 years of age had a death rate of 1.92%. Over 60, the rate was 15.6%.

I am 83. We live in Sun City West, AZ. Bordering SCW on the East is Sun City. On the Southwest, Sun City Grand. All Del Webb communities. Together, the unincorporated population is about 92,000. Since the minimum accepted age is 55-plus, an educated guess would be about 80% are over age 60. Many of us much older.

Given the results of the CDC research, you can understand why we have a lot of nervous neighbors. Why Barb and I are a bit unsettled.

One of the major draws for these senior communities is communal activities. Beautifully equipped workout facilities. Nearly a dozen Olympic-sized pools, both inside and out. Club rooms and associated equipment for about any type of activity you can think of from Artistic Hand Lettering to Zymurgy. And some 350 groups in between. If you like doing something as a craft or leisure activity, we got it in spades! Clubs, clubs, CLUBS!

The three communities also have about 18 golf courses, public and private. “Swingers” here are more into golf equipment than switching spouses. Several of the courses are open to the public, drawing people internationally. Even PGA and LPGA tourneys attracting the big names. And bucks!

We’ve got a very large, well-equipped library with the very best resources from hundreds of thousands of books to virtual reality classes. Large car clubs, metal crafting and woodworking - all fully equipped with the best tools found anywhere.

So, where am I going with this? What’s the point?

Just this. Effective immediately, everything but the golf courses have been shut down. Closed. Locked up tight. Even several churches have deserted parking lots on Sunday morn. Empty. There’ll be more. Soon. And I suspect even golf courses will close as more testing for the Coronavirus results in higher positive numbers.

COVID-19 and about 70,000 inhabitants over the age of 60 with no place to go and nothing to do. Nearly everything they came to Arizona for has been taken away - some for a few weeks - some indefinitely. Our “snowbird” clientele is particularly unhappy. Winter rents here for a 2br/2 bath go $3,000 a month - and up. Some folks with homes elsewhere are packing up.

And Cactus League Spring training for major league baseball? Dozens and dozens of games in local MLB ball parks. People from all over the country come here and pay big, big bucks for rent, entertainment, food and sitting in the sun watching favorite teams. Late February to early April. Not this year. Closed last week. Empty.

It’s strange to drive through these very active retired communities and look at the empty parking lots. Everywhere. Panic buying has come and gone so even grocery and drug stores have little foot traffic. Not even cars parked in driveways.

As senior “cities,” we’ve got the obligatory on-campus hospitals and nursing homes. Also several funeral homes and crematoriums. All busy, even on normal days. How busy - and overloaded - will they be in, say, 60 days or so?

Shopping here. From Dollar Store to Nieman-Marcus. Dozens of shopping centers. All look to this time of year for their best sales incomes. Not this year. Restaurants, theaters, performing arts and more depend on the winter influx of people with dollars to spend. Not now. And it’s gonna hurt.

If a pandemic like COVID-19 went looking for a cushy breeding ground, the old Del Webb Communities here - and in California, Nevada, Florida and elsewhere - offer some of the best. If you throw in Flagstaff, Mesa, Tucson, Prescott and a few others, there are likely several dozen similar setups for us old folk just in Arizona. Hundreds of thousands of people over the age of 60 - many in their 80's - all packed together, ripe for the pandemic of the day.

Still, people here don’t seem to be feeling sorry for themselves even as they admit to living in communities of high risk. No, there appears to be an outbreak of helping others. I’ve found several online postings looking to create daily call links to check on friends and neighbors. Heard some chatter at the grocery store of several people going door-to-door daily in their neighborhoods to knock and have brief conversations - without going inside - so those alone will have someone to talk to and won’t feel so isolated.

These Arizona senior “cities” are tough places to get acquainted. Most housing is designed for living “out back” with large patios, Arizona screened living spaces and citrus trees behind the house. People come and go through garages in front and, unless you make extra effort, you might not see the folks next door for months. You’ve also got those damned “snow birds” flitting in and out during the year.

So, even in adversity - or maybe because of it - it seems there are people deciding to reach out to help each other which makes for some good news even as we try to dodge the COVID-19 bullet.

None of these musings are meant to downplay the seriousness of this worldwide calamity. All of us - wherever we live - are being put to the test. Good Lord willing, we’ll get through to the other side.

But, if you’ll pardon me, as a “senior” senior, it often feels we’re living at “ground zero” these days. All 92,000 of us.
 

COVID-19 at ground level

stapiluslogo1

(UPDATE: Idaho's COVID-19 cases have now jumped from none on Thursday to five as of Sunday morning.)

The United States is a big place, and when we look at national problems that nonetheless touch down locally, we often miss what we might observe at closer range. So: What does the COVID-19 outbreak look like at ground level?

In the Northwest, Idaho has but two reported cases (one reported Friday at Ada County and a second reported Saturday in Blaine), not enough to draw many conclusions; but Washington (a major center for the illness) has reported 568 positive diagnoses, and Oregon 30, enough to draw some general outlines. They are of course preliminary at this point, since the numbers are sure to grow in time to come, and a week or month from now the picture could look different. (I'll try to revisit this if it does.) But present, as of the Friday reports on their state health websites, here's what the states of Washington and Oregon are saying about the who and where of coronavirus.

By way of location, 67 of Washington's 568 cases are "unassigned" (and it's a little hard to know what that means). Those located by counties aren't distributed evenly. Of the other 501 cases, the state reports 328 in King County (Seattle area) and 133 in Snohomish County (the Everett area, just to the north), and another 19 in Pierce County (the Tacoma area, just south of Seattle). That means a small geographic area, albeit thickly populated, accounts for 480 of the 501 assigned locations. A dozen other counties scattered around the state report cases, all listing from one to three instances.

Oregon's situation provides a slightly warped mirror of that. Of the 30 reported cases, exactly a third come from Washington County, the populous suburban area west of Portland. Eight of the rest come from Linn County,the area anchored by Albany but also including Lebanon, which is the site of a veterans home where nearly all of that county's cases are reported. After that the numbers drop greatly; the nine other Oregon counties reporting cases list either one or two each. (Multnomah County, home of Portland, lists only one case.)

This suggests, for now, that COVID-19 doesn't travel that easily far afield and blooms bigger in specific locations, which account for the great bulk of its instances, such as the contained health facilities in the Puget Sound and the Albany care facility where contagion spread quickly. Or so it looks for now; we'll see if the trend holds up in coming weeks.

Washington does not indicate how many cases result in hospitalization, but Oregon does: 11 cases out of 30 resulted in hospitalization so far. On the other hand, Oregon did not break down the deaths to date, but Washington did: 37 out of 568 confirmed cases, which if it holds up may indicate a higher death rate than most officials have suggested so far.

Washington also reported more women than men with confirmed cases (55% to 42%, with the remaining 3% "unknown"). And it reported an odd pattern according to age: The number of cases (cases, not severity) so far has increased with age. It said 21% of cases involved people 80 years or older, 18% in their seventies, 15% in their sixties, 14% in their fifties, and down to 2% for those under 20. Does that indicate something about how the disease spreads?

While testing has been limited in the Northwest as elsewhere, most of the tests have gone to people who either have been exposed, or might have been, to someone with the virus, or exhibit what they think might be symptoms. Of the Oregon test results in so far, 337 reported negative and 30 positive. The ratio has been similar in Washington: 6,001 reporting negative and 568 positive.

We're still early in this. But getting a little more specific information, something we can assess at ground level, may help us put some parameters on what often has felt like a vague, albeit quite real, problem.
 

Trump face palm

johnson

The greatest vulnerability for most politicians is not the unwise vote they cast a dozen years ago, or the youthful but still stupid favorable comment made about a bearded Latin American dictator. No, the real vulnerability comes when an elected official’s political position intersects with a requirement for competence.

Gaffes can be managed; being awful at your job in public can be fatal. Think about some of the great political leaders of the not too distant past, and then if you dare, think about leadership today.

Franklin Roosevelt was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and earned an Ivy League law degree, but still had few demonstrable skills beyond a sunny personality when he won the presidency. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said FDR possessed “a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.” And the great political analyst of his day, Walter Lippmann, dismissed Roosevelt as a “pleasant man who without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.”

But Roosevelt was a born leader – decisive, informed, careful, yet willing to take a calculated risk. He surrounded himself with serious, smart, intelligent people who he empowered and for the most part listened to. Roosevelt’s leadership during World War II is reason enough to rank him among our greatest presidents.

For sure FDR made mistakes with personnel, but he was smart enough to put General George Marshall in charge of the war effort and dispatch his most trusted aide, Harry Hopkins, to deal directly with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. Roosevelt was not a manager or meddler, but a grand strategist and his principle skill was as a communicator.

Churchill, most historians agree, was a meddler, but also a brilliant synthesizer, a leader constantly prodding and pushing his subordinates to do more and do it better. And Churchill accepted advice. As his most recent great biographer Andrew Roberts recounts, not once during the entirety of World War II did Churchill go against the unanimous advice of his top military advisers, a remarkable fact given that Churchill trained as a soldier and fought battles on three continents by the time he became prime minister.

No one in their right mind would suggest that the two great wartime leaders were anything but competent at their jobs. Tragically, and one hopes not fatally, we can’t say the same.

Three events – at least three that we know of – converged in short order to highlight the abject incompetence of the current American commander-in-chief. Dealing with a raging pandemic, a fragile economy shaken by the COVID-19 virus and the 20-year military quagmire in Afghanistan has laid bare Donald Trump’s true skill, which is to say he has no true skill useful to the current perilous moment.

The Republican politicians – think the Idaho delegation – who have belted their own reputations to the incompetence of a guy none of them would trust to manage a Dairy Queen (and I mean no respect to soft serve ice cream) deserve everything they will endure in the weeks and months to come. They have wrapped themselves in ineptitude hoping that partisanship would mask their own and the president’s failures.

Since most politicians default to thinking that their position will always prevail, they’ve been hoping – praying more likely – that what has happened over the last few days would somehow not be visited on Trump and his cabinet of bozos. Now it has and they own it.

Oklahoma Republican Congressman Tom Cole, hardly a Trump basher, nevertheless put a fine point on Trump’s ineptitude this week when he chastised the administration for its persistent and cavalier dismissal of the threat of a serious health emergency.

Cole was warning back in 2017 that Trump Administration inattention to budgets and personnel at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health would likely bite Trump where he sits. That prediction has now clearly come to pass. During a hearing this week Cole said the coronavirus outbreak and the abject failure of the administration to aggressively meet the crisis was a “sort of vindication of the bipartisan judgment over the last several years that this was really an area we needed to make investments.”

The Trump Administration has proposed steep cuts to these agencies in each of its four budgets, leaving Congress to devise, largely without the help of the agency experts its own funding and staffing priorities.

Trump actually said when it still must have seemed to him that he could employ ignorance to bluff his way through a pandemic that “some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years. And if we have a need, we can get them very quickly.” Right.

The bumbler-in-chief when on: “And rather than spending the money — and I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”

Tell that to the hospital workers who will likely be overwhelmed soon with patients who need services which in many areas just may not be available.

As world markets tumbled from unrealistic and unsustainable heights, Trump went before the camera to peddle his unique brand of nonsense. No Churchillian honesty and candor for the guy who bankrupted a casino, rather we get bombast and misinformation. The number of coronavirus cases in the country stood at 15 at the time with every credible expert predicting a serious increase almost immediately. “Within a couple of days,” Trump said, it “is going to be down to close to zero.” We are now well over 1,000 cases.

Asked a few days later if he’d been briefed that as many as 100 million Americans could be exposed to the virus Trump didn’t exactly channel FDR in a fireside chat. “I’ve been briefed on every contingency you could possibly imagine. Many contingencies. A lot of positive. Different numbers, all different numbers, very large numbers, and some small numbers too … Be calm. It’s really working out. And a lot of good things are going to happen.”

Amid all the other chaos this week we haven’t heard much about Afghanistan. We will. It, too, will be a disaster.

We are all advised not to touch our faces these days, but in moments like we’ve been experiencing a face palm every few hours seems entirely reasonable.
 

Budget and other rationales

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Idaho’s colleges and universities are hurting in the pocketbook, and may hurt more, and the reasons are not all obvious.

At the University of Idaho, officials have been dealing with big budget shortfalls by encouraging early retirements and seemingly whatever other money-saving efforts they can find. But the crunch is on elsewhere, too.

That might suggest budgets for higher education, especially in a time when state revenues have been rising, should be increased, at least somewhat. But not, apparently, in this session of the Idaho Legislature.

The legislature’s budget panel, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, voted for a college and university budget that included about a third of a percent increase in state general funds.The role of higher education in the state’s economic engine does get pointed out by institution advocates, but often to little avail. If you wonder why pressures on budgets and for tuition and fee increases are so strong, this should give you a clue. But this year, there is more.

Usually, budgets proposed by JFAC are adopted by the House and Senate floors without a lot of debate. Not this time: The higher education budget was rejected on the House floor, without precise instructions over how to adjust it to make it more acceptable.

The reason certainly wasn’t that the budget level was too small.

In his debate comments, Representative Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens may have pinpointed the concern for many of the “no” votes:

“I think the problem is curriculum, and the bureaucracy that is moving that curriculum. … We’re talking about equity and inclusion instead of reading, writing and arithmetic. Why is it that university towns, every time they’re polled, show a socialist bent? It has to come from those that are teaching the curriculum. So the whole bureaucracy itself in my mind has already turned left, and we’ve gotta figure out a way to stop rubber-stamping these budgets and begin to send a message that we do have a say in what’s taught and we do have a say on who they’re hiring, for what purposes they’re hiring them. That’s my problem.”

Comments for his allies on that issue mostly seemed to align with that view. One of them said, “I can’t imagine the number of vice provosts that must have been hired by these universities when we’re talking about equality and inclusion instead of reading, writing and arithmetic.”

What doesn’t align with this view very well is a string of other comments the legislature received from outside: Not from Democrats or social interest groups, but from a collection of the state’s top corporate leaders.

About a week ago, top executives from Micron Technology, Hewlett-Packard, Chobani and Clif Bar sent a letter to legislators expressing concern about the legislature’s approach in this area, specifically concerning two bills on transgender issues, a subject that remarkably now is related ideologically to university budgeting. From the letter:

“We proudly talk about its strong and growing economy, and how it’s one of the best places in the nation to do business and live. Most important, we talk about the welcoming, big-hearted spirit of its people, and why our employees are so grateful to live and raise their families here. This is a well-earned reputation and these bills targeting transgender Idahoans puts that reputation at risk and goes against creating a workforce that welcomes all. Passage of these bills could hurt our ability to attract and retain top talent to Idaho, and it could damage Idaho’s ability to attract new businesses and create new jobs. With respect, we ask you to support all of Idaho’s diverse communities and reject these measures.”

That came on the heels of a letter from Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters which, while not specifically mentioning those bills, carried a similar message.

You wouldn’t be seeing those sort of comments if the issue at hand were “socialism.” Or about bloated budgets.

It’s about culture, and what kind of culture Idaho and its legislature will have going forward.