Categories
society

One Way or the Other.

Successful leadership in a crisis requires trust and steady fact-based decisions. Trump was completely unstable at the best of times, and he had zero trust from anyone who pays attention.

After leadership, you have the logistics of handling a crisis. It’s not that difficult. You simply learn what steps are necessary, what materials needed, and you do the work. A computer could have done it, but not the Trump administration.

A computer would have taken input that said, “Need masks. Need ventilators. Need other PPE.” It would have put out requests to the proper channels to find out availability and begun the wheels of industry a-turnin’. It would have called for shutdowns and distancing. A computer.

The hard part of logistics in a crisis comes from the bad news. Trying to keep people going through it. Keeping focused. The decisions should be self-evident. You get the ventilators. You get the PPE. You close the beaches. You prepare for recovery.

Not Trump. First it was “magically disappear.” Then came “hoax” and “flu” and automobile fatalities. Only now, after a month-plus of fucking around, they’re saying 100 000, if all the right cards are dealt. They had an entire, color-coded plan and they didn’t even look at it!

Which is the whole point: this has never been a serious administration. There’s no commitment to governing. There’s just the fucking around, the schtick. There was never going to be success. There wasn’t any ability or thought to attempt success from. They didn’t just ignore warnings, but treated the warnings with contempt. Warnings are for people who might actually give a shit, who want to do the right thing.

And we’ve seen it downballot, with several prominent Republicans now under investigation for cashing out stocks on the warnings while they didn’t lift a finger to stop the actual mess.

The nation has a choice that it always has, that we all have: do the right thing or suffer the consequences. Either this administration finds the ability to handle the pandemic, and the pandemic runs one course, or they don’t, and it runs a much more costly course.

But let’s be clear on that choice, just as we should be clear about the election in 30 weeks: the choice isn’t even close. The economy will do better if the pandemic is handled properly from here forward. The lives saved will be far greater if the right choices are made, based on science and boring old logistics that a computer can do.

To fail, you have to try. Trump is the don’t bother president. The un-president. The lazy sod that wants to take credit if only 100 000 of our brothers and sisters die. He’s not responsible, whatever happens, because he’s not leading. He’s only there because he was elected, not because there’s a job to be done. Whatever work the administration does is incidental to Trump, or is done to fluff his ego.

Sure, they go through these indecent motions to have him sign off on decisions, but he’s not in charge other than as an obstacle to the various administration factions doing what they want to do. They are required to thank the president, to appreciate him in public. That’s not appreciation, if you’re coerced. Doesn’t matter to Trump, as long as people believe he gets credit for work that he doesn’t even care about.

There are a lot of people sick and dying because of this president’s inability to do his job. There are a ton more trying to patch around him, to keep things working despite Trump. The Republicans in the Senate took this risk, they bet against the nation, when they failed to hold a real trial and failed to convict him for his high crimes. This country owes itself to do better than these jackals.


If Biden were president today, the nation would be far better prepared, on top of which there would be an effort to ensure broad insurance coverage. He would have made healthcare improvements instead of a giant tax giveaway for the rich, and he would be doubling down on healthcare now. Trump never put forward a plan, and the only reason that millions have healthcare at all today is that Senator McCain told Trump to go fuck himself when it mattered most.

Biden would have a national purchase coordinator for masks, gloves, and gowns, with a proper distribution system. The rapidly-depleting stockpile—meant to be a stopgap to distribute to states and localities while production ramps up during a crisis—would have been properly maintained and properly used to get us to full production, which under Trump we’re nowhere near. There would be a much stronger testing capability, so that we could know not just if a sick person has the virus, but if it’s spreading undetected. What we have is so piecemeal as to likely make the pandemic worse in places that are undertesting. What we have in Trump is someone who still denies problems that are clear as day! They’re trying to cobble together blindspot data from community surveys and internet-of-things thermometers.

Joe Biden is not only better, he’s a thousand times better. He will not be a perfect president, but he won’t be incompetent. That’s something to be excited about: waking up to an American presidency that actually cares. Someone who won’t make a very silly bet with tens of thousands of lives, that the virus would just vanish by yesterday. That’s a big fucking deal.

If Biden were president, we would be in a much better position, not waiting to hear how many needless deaths Trump will inflict on our nation through his complete failure to lead.


But there’s another side to be told here. Terminally underfunding the federal government and state governments means we’re always playing catch-up on critical functions. Taxes need to go up. We need to pay for the country we want. That’s more necessary for states, but it’s true for both. That kind of partnership (Trump likes to harp on NATO allies for not spending enough; if he were consistent he would have been saying, for years, that states need to raise their revenues) is what is needed to meet these trials.

There is so much work to be done, and sooner or later the naysayers in the GOP will have to get out of the way of progress, or we’ll keep seeing people die and we’ll keep seeing inadequate governance. Biden can work to push them toward realistic funding and changes, but there has to be internal change among Republicans. They must recognize that failing to pay for government is the same as failing to govern.

Categories
society

On the Mirror of Infectious Disease

We are potential vectors. We are potential patients.

That’s true of us as individuals, and it’s true of our various social spheres: home and workplace, town and city, county, state, and nation.

Just as the infected individual has an immune response, so do our social collectives. We limit contact, we increase awareness.

COVID-19 is a danger because it is novel to our bodies. If we’d seen it before, we would be far less susceptible. But as society, we have seen infection before. We could choose to be far more prepared. Preparedness is a vaccine for the unknown.

Just as the individual’s circumstances prior to infection make a difference, so do the community’s. States that expanded Medicaid are more prepared than those who did not. States with large populations tend to have more experience with public health out of necessity that large numbers brings.

But state-prior-to-infection is only one part. How the body reacts, the circumstances of convalescence, is another. Again, we could be prepared, having more thorough plans, but we have a mixed bag. We don’t have a plan for the uninsured. We don’t have a plan for the wage worker. Maybe we’ll get one.

The main thing about infectious disease is that it can be planned for. It is messy either way, but it doesn’t have to be too messy. It is among the predictable disasters. We tend to do poorly with them all, only because we have not chosen to prioritize them, to practice them.

Most of that is the monetary decision, which the market has been correcting for. That, as a society, not as individuals, the choices were made. Build bombs, not hospitals. Build tax cuts, not infrastructure. Build oil rigs, not wind turbines. Build cars, not trains.

Each choice society makes has a consequence. Each individual in a society makes a choice, to go to a crowd in the midst of a plague or not. To isolate if they believe themselves exposed, or not.

Each society that makes a choice has a consequence. The town that gets sick or doesn’t. The county that funded its hospitals or didn’t. The state that expanded Medicaid or didn’t.

The bottom line: if you don’t like how this turns out in your neck of the woods, you should go vote in 33 weeks for other people who (maybe) will improve things for the next time around.

Categories
unAmerican

Democracy and Faith

Not the pulpit and pew kind of faith. The ideas-have-utility kind. That the basic promise of science and reason and democracy are strong enough that you don’t have to pack the court to make it work. That you don’t have to rig elections, gerrymander, or shoe-horn racist questions into the census to get your way. That kind of faith. Faith that your positions are meaningful, and generally right, and if they turn out to be wrong, you’ll change them rather than changing the subject.

Faith that we don’t have to be 100% on the first draft of a law. That we can use statistical process control to make our systems work better than trying to thread the needle. We are not Luke Skywalker, and we don’t need to be.

Faith that the people want change. And that change is easier when it’s a step at a time. That we don’t start walking. We crawl first. We can be guided by the wisdom of evolution, of experimentation.

This is a starting-point problem, in many ways. That there is a false premise that’s been introduced to our collective system. The false premise is that we should ever be acting like someone like Trump acts—not his biting insults, not his bravado, but his mere conviction is his greatest flaw. His idea, and the idea of anyone, who says they hold some special key, some Rosetta Stone. Be it the wall, or tariffs, or whatever it may be.

And that is exactly what makes Trump so sad to a majority of the nation. He rejects our system. He acts as though he has joined a dictator’s club, believes in winning at all costs, believes in none of the things most of us spent at least twelve grades learning about. The American system, imperfect, seeks out perfection. The Trump system, fatally flawed, seeks nothing beyond the next win, the extra scoop of ice cream, the adoring headline. And then lashes out when it doesn’t get it.

We should all reject that, whether it’s in the guise of a golf resort and luxury brand heckler extraordinaire or whether it’s those who say that the GND is the only and holiest of grails rather than a sketch of some things that might work. Or those who say Medicare for All, rather than let’s figure out this healthcare thing, and if it is Medicare for All, great, but if not, great. The important thing is the result and not who had the idea or that it conformed to some chant or slogan or fever dream.

Faith in democracy means pain. It meant pain when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, signing their names and risking their lives. It meant pain for generations who endured slavery waiting for the country to wake up and have a war to put an end to it. More pain struggling to gain the vote. The pain of forever knowing we hesitated in answering the call, turning away refugees and interning citizens, while Hitler took power and took land and took lives. Our nation is founded upon pain, but of faith that that pain will not be for naught. We may be stupid and slow, but we will arrive.

That’s not to say no action is necessary. Just the opposite. But it does underline the type of action. Reform does not mean retaliation. It means girding the system against wrongdoing no matter who would enact it. If the courts do become rotted by neglect of the Senate, rather than packing them, enact reforms on the nomination and confirmation process, enact changes to court procedure, and impeach any judges (and only those) who are not well-behaved.

Similar reforms in other areas, always following the lodestar of a better system and not naive interests of the moment. The destination in our common sight is not “Democrats win” or “Republicans win,” but remains “America wins, and in doing so, earth and humanity win besides.”

Categories
society

Block Grant It All

Instead of sending money for particular things to the states, the federal government should send a single check, along with letters to every citizen of what they have calculated the statewide improvements should be if the money is responsibly allocated and what the results were over the previous period. If the people do not see the predicted results, they can know their state government is to blame and fire them.


1 October 2016

Dear Citizen of the State of Freedonia,  

We have sent your state $30 billion for 2017-18
as part of the Great America First Transfer Act
(GAFTA).

By our projections, Freedonia should provide
the following improvements:

1. 10% increase in total healthcare enrollment.  
    1. 10% decrease in obesity rates.  
    2. 3% decrease in heart attack fatalities.  
2. Infrastructure improvements:  
    1. State roads improved from D- to C-.  
    2. State bridges improved from C to C+.  
3. Poverty down from 15% to 13%.  
    1. Reduced unwanted pregnancy 10%.  
    2. Improved access to education 50%.  

If these improvements are not realized, the
agency recommends you vote for different people.
Note that failure to see improvements will
result in reduced funding, and if failure
continues, Freedonia will be placed in
receivership.

1 October 2018

Dear Citizen of the State of Freedonia,

We sent your state $30 billion over the past two
years 2017-18 as part of the Great America First
Transfer Act (GAFTA).

They have performed as follows:

1. 2% increase in healthcare (expected: 10%).  
    1. 12% decrease in obesity (10%).  
    2. 4% decrease in heart attacks fatalities (3%).  
2. Infrastructure improvements:  
    1. No change in state roads (D-; expected C-).  
    2. State bridges worsened (C-; expected C+).  
3. Poverty remained unchanged at 15%.  
    1. Unwanted pregnancies up 5%.  
    2. Diminished access to education.  

Due to the overall failure to meet the benchmarks,
the 2019-20 GAFTA grant will be for $24 billion. A
subsequent failure to improve will result in the
state losing control over GAFTA funds and a
takeover by the federal government.

By our projections, Freedonia should provide the
following improvements:

...

We urge you to vote next month. Freedonia may
benefit from new leadership that can deliver the
needed improvements to Freedonia.

Conservatives want smaller government, but they seem reluctant to put their mouth where their money is. Make the government tell people when they’re being screwed by lousy governance. Given that a majority of state governments are Republican-controlled, they should be eager to make such a change.

Under a block-grant-plus-reporting system, the people would know if their government was not effective. They would be able to compare such a report to the other 49 states and see where things stand. It would increase transparency while returning much control to the states, where conservatives say it belongs.

We have good measures of what healthy governance looks like. We just have a complicated system that often thwarts its delivery. And we have endless fighting over whether we should have good governance or more tax cuts. A block-grant system cuts through all of that. It says to conservatives, either you can deliver on your promises, or the public can vote you out.

A copy of the information would be affixed to the top of all ballots, and incumbents would be clearly marked.

Categories
design

Restricting Power’s Reach

Why did the Governor of New Jersey’s office have the power to retaliate for political purposes by creating a massive traffic jam? Is that the sort of government we can accept: one in which such power exists, only to be checked after-the-fact through whistleblowing and journalism?

These are the same basic question: can you give power, or to use the security term, can you give access to a capability while still restraining the capability? Or will we forever rely on having good people who cannot be corrupted, cannot have a momentary lapse of reason, in power? And given that we cannot rely on that, mainly because psychology shows that’s a fantasy, are we always one cross man away from ruin?

The founders of the U.S.A. did not believe so. They took pains in constructing the Constitution of the United States to have so-called separation of powers. Meant to give the capability to act to the three branches, but with specific limitations meant to forestall any runaway branch from sinking the ship.

Now we are faced with not the challenge of electing good men, but restraining any who sit in the seats of power from abusing their position. One of the ways to accomplish that is to fragment the power, but we can also make it mandatory that the power be used in the light of day.

If the New Jersey Port Authority had been required to publish, in real time, their reason for the closure of the lanes, would that have been sufficient? More importantly, maybe, would have been a notice requirement. “Ten days from today we will be closing these lanes…” People would have planned around it, and reporters would have preemptively asked questions.

We can all imagine emergency scenarios for breaching this sort of protocol, and we can also imagine requiring, in the aftermath, a full debriefing for emergency executions.

But we face another problem: there does not seem to be the least clamoring for actual reforms such as these. Nobody seems to think anything was wrong other than the hearts of men in this scenario. Just a few bad apples, bad actors, bad bad bad. They were bad, no dessert for them, coal in their stockings, no T.V., you’re in big trouble mister.

The nation was founded by those who saw through this sort of foolish adherence to consequentialism. Maximal liberty was promised to the citizens, not the leaders. The leaders invariably give up some liberty in assuming their positions. That is not to say that abuse of the public trust is to go unchecked when it does occur, but it is to say that we have no reason to leave the keys in the lock.

We ought to, in every area we find vulnerability, examine and apply the same basic principles that our Constitution holds up, to restrain the powerful from abusing their positions. Not just for our sakes, either. For theirs too, for the positions of power are obviously prone to abuse, and giving them the restrictions gives an excuse to a power-mad executive: “Sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”