March 24th, 2020

Will Red-Staters Be Hit Hardest by the Virus?

I hate to delve into politics outside my wheelhouse, mostly on the fear that if I start I may never stop. But New York’s civil courts have ground to a virtual halt due to COVID-19, with all conferences and legal filings halted except for emergencies.

And so I venture for a moment into a different space as I watched Trump be dismissive of the virus for at least 51 days — from a January 22nd interview (“It’s going to be just fine…We have it totally under control” until his March 13 declaration of emergency. And now prematurely discussing people going back to work against the advice of medical professionals.

With this backdrop I think that the folks most likely to be affected are going to be Trump supporters and red-staters. These are the reasons:

First, there are higher percentages of smokers in red states making them more susceptible to the consequences of viral infection;

Second, this population is more likely to believe (at the outset) that the virus is a hoax and, therefore, not take precautions;

Third, this population is less likely to take the advice of government officials, as Trump has talked incessantly about the Deep State out to get him.

Fourth, red states are generally poorer and, therefore, have fewer people with health insurance;

Fifth, red staters have generally lower education levels and are less likely to pay attention to the warnings;

Sixth, with the virus first hitting (predictably) urban areas like Seattle and New York City, many folks will be delayed in thinking that this could really affect them.

Now toss into the mix a few other factors: Coal mining country is chock full of people with lung disease. A particular problem for parts of Pennyslvnia, Ohio, West Virginian, Kentucky and Indiana (among others).

And the Bible Belt could be hit also due to the communal nature of religious congregations. The ultra orthodox Hasidic community has already seen this. The virus, of course, knows no religion. It merely spreads with opportunity.

For many, many people the reality of the virus won’t truly hit home until someone they know has been affected. (In an odd way, this is similar to the advance of gay rights — most people were opposed until they realized that people close to them were gay.)

I would, it should go without saying, hope to be very wrong and that the virus vanishes with people social distancing themselves from each other. This is one of those situations where there is no us/them divide, as anyone can infect anyone else. But humans are social animals, and we gather for dinners, a beer, a religious observance or a ball game among a thousand other scenarios.

Putting together a group that both takes the situation the lightest (generally red-staters), and those most at risk for health reasons (again, generally red-staters) may prove to be a very deadly combination. For all of us.

And on the political front — and this is my only political comment — betrayal is a hell of a thing.

 

December 20th, 2018

Trump and the Presidential Veto

Photo credit Evan Vucci / AP

[Cross-posted from Above the Law]

On Thursday morning Donald Trump threatened to veto all legislation over his wall. No such Trump veto will happen. Ever. On any bill.

I don’t get into the realm of political punditry often as it’s not what I do — I usually confine political comments to those issues that deal with tort “reform” — but today we make an exception because this goes, in essence, to all bills sent to the president.

We start this short analysis with the observation that Trump hasn’t vetoed a single bill. He’s the first president since James Garfield to act that way, and Garfield was only in office six and a half months before being shot dead.

Before that was Millard Fillmore who left office in 1853, who also served a partial term as he took office upon the death of Zachary Taylor. Taylor didn’t veto anything, but was in office only 16 months. Before that was William Henry Harrison, who died a month into office.

The last president to go a full term without a veto? John Quincy Adams, our sixth president who left office in 1829.

And a few more simple observations: First, Trump loves signing things and makes a big show of displaying his signature, even for executive orders.

Second, he campaigned as a “deal maker.” It matters not one whit if you agree or not, or think he’s good or not. This is the persona he wants the world to believe.

And now, with the House of Representative turning to Democratic control, any bill that passes both the House and Senate that is in any way contentious will be the result of bipartisan compromise. A deal.

So if Congress passes a bill — even one that’s a complete anathema to his other policies — he will sign it and claim “credit.” Even if he had nothing to do with its negotiation.

Envision, for a moment, a bipartisan compromise bill on immigration. Imagine it chock full of things Trump claims to hate and campaigned against.

Will he sign it? No, the contents of the bill don’t matter. Because more important than the contents is that he would be able to claim “credit” for something, even if he campaigned against it. ‘Look at me, the deal maker.’

Will Trump supporters have a feeling of betrayal — one of the most powerful human emotions? Possibly. But that’s a column for another day. Trump’s first instinct has always been to look inward as to what was good for him today.

Why write about this now? Because every so often you will see Republican Senators claim that they won’t pass a bill because the president won’t sign it. Don’t believe it. It’s a diversion.

Trump will sign anything.

 

January 17th, 2017

Thanks Obama

I confess I will greatly miss the presidency of Barack Obama. He has the qualities that I most value in a president:

  1. I want  a policy wonk. Fundamental to any leader is an ability to understand that the choices aren’t between good and bad, but between bad and awful. And you want a president with the deep understanding of policy to figure out which is which.
  2. I want someone to appoint qualified people. The vast, vast majority of America has no idea who the head of the EPA, FEMA, Department of Energy, or HUD are. You know why? Because they didn’t become part of any grand screw-up. There’s something to be said for not knowing who they are, as it means they are most likely doing their jobs without conflict.
  3. I want someone that doesn’t make rash decisions.  And that’s because policy is full of nuance. Slow and deliberate is the way to go, so that a president can absorb as much information and as many opinions as possible.
  4. I want someone who can keep his cool under pressure. Every president will face pressure, be it from foreign conflicts, hostage/kidnapping/terrorism or domestic political problems. Being able to take the long view, instead of instantly ranting and raging, is a quality to be admired.
  5. I want a scandal-free administration.  When was the last time a president walked out of the oval office after 8 years without major scandal?
  6. I do not want drama. If there is some sort of drama regarding the White House, it is never, ever good.
  7. I want someone who doesn’t blanch at the prospect of admitting error and reversing course. Every president will make mistakes, and ego often gets in the way of admitting error. But it’s far better than making the situation worse by continuing on, in the desperate hope the bad decision will magically turn good.
  8. I want someone with a fundamental appreciation for the fact that ignorance and arrogance are both awful in a president, and together they can be deadly. And the wisdom to recognize it in themselves.

I put up these qualities, instead of issues, because there are thousands of issues that will cross a president’s desk.  Cherry-picking what I liked (or didn’t like) would miss the point about the human qualities that someone should have to be an effective president.

Historians will remember Obama well.

I wish we’d had an election between Joe Biden and John Kasich. It would have been between two fundamentally decent people, regardless of what you thought of their politics, and no doubt focused on policy issues. It would likely have been boring. When it comes to politics, I usually like boring. (And the press would have hated it which is why so much free press is given to the most outrageous candidates.)

The nation is worse off when presidents don’t have these qualities.

 

October 13th, 2016

The Spitballer and The Know-It-All

Hillary Clinton as a kid (actual photograph, previously unreleased)

Hillary Clinton as a kid (actual photograph, previously unreleased)

As some of you have noticed, this election isn’t about politics. It’s about two kids from middle school that we all knew.

The bookworm sat in the front row, did her homework on time and all the time, and raised her hand to answer every damn question.

The other kid never did his homework and sat in the back of the classroom firing spitballs at the front row.

The know-it-all, goody two-shoes, bookworm spent time after school helping others.

Donald Trump as a kid, previously unreleased photograph

Donald Trump as a kid, previously unreleased photograph

The spitballer spent time stealing lunch money and pushing kids on the playground.

The know-it-all took advanced placement classes when she got to  high school.

The spitballer went to reform school.

Fast forward roughly 55 years. The know-it-all is a policy wonk whose idea of fun is to spend Saturday nights reading briefing books on Syrian history. The spitballer is an entertainer who likes to spend his Saturday nights assaulting women.

Both kids now want to be President. Both kids claim they are good decision-makers.

Here’s the thing about making presidential decisions: They are all difficult, or they wouldn’t be on the President’s desk. And no, pardoning turkeys at Thanksgiving for crimes they didn’t commit doesn’t count as a decision.

The President is forced to decide between one option that is awful and one that is worse, and needs the wisdom to figure out which is which, and understand that there are still a thousand shades of gray between the two.

Decisions like this: Trying to solve the 10-sided Rubik’s Cube of Syria that involves Assad, ISIS, “moderate” rebels, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Kurds, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Russia.

Or trying to prevent war in the South China Sea over an area claimed by multiple nations, one of whom happens to be nuclear armed China.

We know that one is cool under intense pressure. The other wakes up at 3 am to pick fights with former beauty queens.

Who do you trust to make those decisions? The spitball kid or the know-it-all?

Here’s the thing: Even the know-it-all is going to screw it up some times due to the enormous complexities of the situations and the unknowables. If presidents get it “right” 75% of the time, I figure they’re doing pretty damn good.

And then Presidents have to deal with their failures, by analyzing the actual facts of a situation, to the best they can actually be ascertained in real time, and changing course if necessary. That means acknowledging an initial error. In other words, it’s not just tactics, it’s an issue of ego.

So there are really two issues here:

  1. Who is more likely to make the right initial call in a complex situation?
  2. Who is more likely to acknowledge error, own that error, and make the adjustment?

I don’t usually use this blog to discuss politics, unless it involves tort “reform,” but this issue is too big to ignore.

I don’t know about you folks, but I’ll take that bookish kid in the front row with her hand up every time, whether I like her or not. She may not get it right all the time when the problems are so complex the teacher doesn’t know the answer, but she sure as hell will have a better batting average than the spitball kid.

Given that this will involve war and peace and actual dead bodies, this kinda matters.

 

 

December 3rd, 2015

More Important than Guns…

MachiinesGunsAndFrenchCheeseIn the wake of yet another spasm of mass murder by gun, this time in San Bernardino, CA, I’m going way off topic into politics again. My apologies. But people keep asking why we don’t have sensible gun laws when most of the country wants them.  Here are three ways to fix it, and they all come down to money:

First:  We have absurdly gerrymandered voting districts, which guarantee safe seats for each of the parties. Safe seats means extremists are more likely to win the primaries, where only the die-hard often come out to vote, and where the election is decided. Check out this incredibly ugly map in an article by Walter Olson.

Badly gerrymandered districts, Olson points out, also reward big money, since it is more expensive to run a campaign and more difficult to meet and get to know actual constituents.

Second: Public financing of elections. New York City has a system that matches small donations in a 6:1 ratio, so that a $100 donation is worth $700 to the candidate (up to a limit). This limits the power of the wealthy, be they corporations, unions, or individuals.

Will this cost a few bucks? Yes, but think what it will save when we get rational, on-time budgets without giveaways to the well-heeled.

Third: Regional presidential primaries. Why it is that Iowa and New Hampshire should play such an oversized role in electing our presidents remains incomprehensible to me, and beyond all logic. Most primary battles are already decided by the time New York comes up to vote.

So, cut the nation up into 4-8 regions and let each state grouping vote on the same day. It empowers candidates who are not as well financed since it is easier to campaign and money spent in one market seeps into others that vote the same day. And this broadens the field of ideas for the electorate. Who goes first? Pick it out of a hat. (One idea is here.)

We won’t get more rational governance from Washington, be it on the issue of guns, the budget or any other subject, if we don’t clean up the manner in which we elect those that represent us.

Having competitive elections is good for everyone. Except those already in power.