Sunday, April 26, 2020

Continuing adventures: incompetents on parade

            Heckuva job, Brian-ie.

            Not many know Brian Harrison. At 37, he is a might callow to known by anyone, much less to be the person heading up the nation's coronavirus response.

            Surely, a person of such rank must be a certifiable genius, stable, and steeped in matters of public health.

            Not exactly. Harrison's background is in dog breeding. No joke. Insiders in the White House call him the "dog breeder."

            Labradoodles are his specialty. At least they were until he entered Alex Azar's orbit.

            Until the bell tolls as well for for Azar, he is the fifth -- count 'em, five -- secretary of Health and Human Services under Donald Trump. That revolving door is a mighty wind.

            Azar was an assistant secretary of HHS under George W. Bush when Azar summoned Brian Harrison to forsake the good of poodle hybrids and to serve as Azar's aide.

            Harrison came with the new furniture when Azar moved up to run HHS in January. At that same time the dog breeder was assigned to keep an eye on the not-to-worry-much matter of a virus that broke out in China.

            Whom else would you assign? The ottoman? You need furniture you can trust.

            Since January, it's unclear how much of a contribution Harrison has made to keeping us safe vs. how much he's screwed up. Trump doesn't need much help on the latter.

            This episode reminds of the Bush administration's how-to-compound-disaster response to Hurricane Katrina and W's forever-remembered, "Brownie, you've done a heckuva job," to then-FEMA director Michael Brown.

            Brown's background before ascending that role? Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association.

            Horses, dogs, deathly disasters, it's all the same.

            Harrison, Brown, and of course our reality-show president, are the embodiment of the notion that just about anybody can do this governing stuff. Insight and experience? Pshaw.

            Somebody tell us who in the Trump administration has performed up to expectations. Oh, wait. All have done that, if expectations are below sea level.

            The longest-serving Cabinet members are among the biggest jokes,: a mothballed brain surgeon in charge of public housing, the wife of a mega-donor in charge of education policy, and the wife of, ahem, Mitch McConnell doing transportation.

            The other day one of those deep-state figures vulnerable for knowing what he's doing was fired for that very thing.

            Dr. Rick Bright, who was heading up federal initiatives toward creating a COVID-19 vaccine, was booted from his post because he was candid about the medical quackery coming from Trump's mouth.

            Bright had expressed dubiety about Trump's hawking anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine – for the purposes in mind, more clinically called hypedonFOXchloroquine.

            Now the Trump medicine show has him floating things like ingesting disinfectant and injecting sunlight. Quite a few of us would be happy to see him try each of these remedies and see if it changes his complexion from faux mahogany to algae.

            CNN's Chris Cuomo, now able to laugh again after suffering his own battle with the virus, describes the message from this president as, "Take two shots of Windex, swallow this light bulb and call me in the morning."

            Behind this dangerous misinformation campaign are people in high government positions who don't really buy into governing. They have literally bought government as an asset and a business opportunity.

            Trump has overseen a horrendous hollowing out of the entities in place to serve us. Those remaining serve him and him alone.

            In departing, Dr. Bright said it right. Health policy should be based on "science, not cronyism."

            From Katrina to COVID-19, we have seen what happens when we elevate people who believe less in government, and now less in science, than in the cronyism and back-scratching that makes the business world go round. Will we survive this cynical looting of our country?

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Trump summons the Tiki troops

            Some musical selections were overwrought. Some were unintelligible. But when ABC, NBC and CBS joined together Saturday night in "One World Together at Home" to salute health-care workers and the World Health Organization, it was impossible to not be stirred.

            From the physician who sleeps in his garage to not contaminate his kin, to angels of mercy in HIV-ravaged Africa, now in a death duel with COVID-19: just stunning.

            The gut-wrenching sacrifices and courage – it made one want to strap on an AK, unfurl a Confederate flag, link arms on the Capitol steps, stop traffic and help make these health-care heroes' work all for naught.

            Hmm. Where was Donald Trump when so many noted figures stepped forward on TV to call for global unity against a killer virus?

            Well, of course, nowhere except where he could tap, tap, tap out more tweets and admire via Fox News what he sees as a game-changing lick at this tender moment: turning Americans against each other.

            In the face of much embarrassment amid the pandemic, last week he put out his own Song of Hiawatha for the Tiki-torch troopers and gun nuts who form the point of Trumpism's spear.

            In nicely orchestrated spontaneity (See, "tea party"), they came through for him to harvest video footage protesting governors who save lives by listening to health professionals.

            Every one of those governors, every one of those physicians and nurses, thirsts for the day when his or her state is safe for business and all can hug with abandon. But no one who understands the virus is saying now is the time.

            What Trump did with his incendiary "Liberate!" tweets was (1) make those governors' jobs harder and (2) stir the vipers he hopes will be the life force that keeps him in office.

            What he did, in historian Jon Meacham's words, was make this a "partisan pandemic," one addressed "not rationally but passionately."

            Of course, he had already done this in many ways, making his afternoon press conferences nonstop infomercials for him. Someone roll back all that tape and find one glimmer of empathy for all who suffer and strive.

            What he has done, meanwhile, is build a picket fence of strawmen (and straw women, of course, as in "that woman from Michigan") to deflect concerns about all that he hasn't done to keep Americans safe.

            Chief among the strawmen at the moment is the World Health Organization.

            Floating damnably false claims about the WHO, Trump has frozen U.S. contributions to it – over $500 million, a crippling 17 percent of its funding.

            Five hundred million. Hey, that's the sum Trump used to extort Ukraine. It got him impeached. But this withholding of our tax dollars is so very much worse.

            Trump accused the WHO of leaving America in the dark about the crisis in its early days. This might be true if Americans from the Centers for Disease Control were not embedded with the WHO at those very moments. That's right: 15 embedded CDC officials who knew everything about the outbreak at its nexus point.

            Before accusing the WHO of a cover-up, one would assume that Trump did what the Washington Post's Dana Milbank did: talk to those CDC officials. In fact, they reported to the administration in January.

            "Everything that the WHO knew, the Trump administration knew – real time," writes Milbank.

            This doesn't matter at all to the most divisive president in our history. To make his friends froth, he wants enemies. He wants the Tiki troops to don their camo, strap on those carbines, wave those flags, gum up what they can, get some Fox News love.

            Ah, but should a crippling cough and deathly fever visit those protesters, who then will be their friends? It will be health-care heroes whose jobs Donald Trump just made more agonizing.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Our FDR figure is a governor with a mask

           "Just bring me Cuomo," my wife orders the television.            

            With the rest of us, she despairs at the televised clich├ęs -- one more "grim milestone," one more "word from the White House" which translates mostly to self-serving words.

            She suggests Anthony Fauci should call Donald Trump an idiot to his face, get fired, and then start his own health-care information network.

            Meanwhile, everyone is talking about the Cuomos – Gov. Andrew and CNN's Chris -- and well they should.

            Andrew models what government is all about – serving us, not serving an orange emperor. Chris is models survival as he broadcasts while the virus hammers at him.

            These images that will linger after this is history – these and the image of Trump dismissing the virus at a stage that seemed early but which was already too late.

            Franklin Roosevelt began his fireside chats March 12, 1933, in the height of the Great Depression. People wanted to hear from someone in charge.

            This past March, because we had a president mainly interested in his TV ratings and in shutting down reporters' reasoned questions, it became clear who was in charge in America: governors -- for better or worse.

            Where I live in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis, who took office in 2018 in a blue wave that gave Democrats a lock on state government, will be remembered as our FDR figure.

            He is calm and clinical. He has challenged people to do the right thing without sugar-coating any of the horrible facts.           

            Polis has not been a "cheerleader," as this president presumes his role to be. He has been a trusted counselor and someone who acts decisively. He's no poser. But he'll strike a pose if it serves the public interest.

            The day the Centers for Disease Control advised it, Polis wore a personally designed facial covering in a TV address. The reason? People who show no signs of the virus might transmit it unknowingly.

            Contrast with Trump, who shrugged that might be a good thing but he won't do it. 

            Contrast with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Trump wannabe who acknowledged a month after the rest of us knew it that asymptomatic individuals can spread the virus.

            Colorado's Polis followed the model of Gov. Inslee of Washington (deemed a "snake" by His Orange-ness) and set the state on an early and intensive regimen of social distancing.

            True, some in Colorado thought that, oh, skis strapped to one's feet could ward off the virus. By and large, Coloradans have taken this seriously.

            Is it working? Yes. 

            Traffic data shows that vehicular traffic has been cut in half in the Centennial State compared to a month ago. One of the most striking figures was the 80 percent decrease in weekend traffic through the Eisenhower Tunnel to Colorado high-country splendor.

            Is the drop slowing the advance of the disease? Yes. In early March, state-acknowledged cases of the disease were doubling every day. That rate has slowed to a doubling each five or six days.

            Not to paint a too-rosy scenario about this. The fact is we have no clue about this matter because of the miserable federal response regarding testing. Remember, of course – history will – that Donald Trump said back on March 12 that "anybody that wants a test can get a test."

            Ah, Mr. Rosy Scenario. This explains why so many Americans have taken my wife's lead and muted the TV whenever the health-care hack posing as our chief executive takes to the screen. 

            As I type this, however, she is listening to New York Gov. Cuomo.

            He is the Churchill of this moment. Chris Cuomo is the Edward R. Murrow. Donald Trump? You tell me. Rodney Dangerfield? 

            Every American right now should demand that his or her governor be a Roosevelt. If not, that faker should be replaced by the ballot.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Apprentice President's pandemic

           Donald Trump says impeachment was a big distraction. No time to prepare the nation for COVID-19 and to golf. He had to choose one obligation. He chose golf.

            The lie is that Trump was multi-tasking all along. He had something else going on – something aimed at post-president life. No, not a presidential library. A Netflix docu-series.

            The realization hit me after hearing Sen. Kamala Harris say that while self-isolating she watched the hit series "Tiger King," and that "nothing could be more outrageous than that."

            Oh, I don't know.

            How about a reality TV star who becomes president and then presides over the worst health crisis in a century?

            Would you watch this?

            In this health crisis, he calms the nation by predicting that 15 initial cases will shrink to "almost zero." They don't.

            In this health crisis, he scapegoats health-care workers who put their lives on the line and lashes out at pro-active governors who can't get the help one would expect from the federal government.

            In this health crisis, while people die he remarks on his TV ratings, comparing them to reality hits and "Monday Night Football."

            In this health crisis, he calls himself a "war president," but won't pull the trigger to address the most acute needs, like protective gear. Colorado, for one, has to go to China to get it. Apparently America doesn't do cotton and plastic.

            "Make America Great"? How about making masks?

            Trump clearly has a great docu-series lined up when he exits. We'll not only get to see him in all his behind-the-scenes decisiveness back when he was president, we'll get to see all the ways he and his family have been making America great.

            Melania -- self-isolating before most knew of such a thing as a Fauci.

            Ivanka -- cashing in on, um, everything as days of executive privilege run out.

            Don Jr. -- another book the Republican National Committee petty-cashes onto the New York Times best-seller list.

            Oh, and Jared Kushner -- a great man who changes the face of this great land, or at least his rental properties, via federal subsidies.

            Last week, there was Jared, the man this president has designated to head up just about everything he can think, think, think of. This time it's the medical supplies medical workers aren't seeing. They should not hold their breaths for this. Call Jared? No, call the statehouse.

            In "Tiger King," viewers get to know side characters who flesh out the mind-blowing deeds of a criminal animal park owner. In the docu-series about Trump (tentatively titled, "Ego Fiend") he can bask in similar pleasures.

            We have Friends of Donald like Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who just the other day acknowledged finding out that COVID-19 can be shared by people without symptoms. Yes, Mr. Gov. This is true. Some of the super-spreaders have time slots on Fox News.

            We have Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida. While the COVID flash fire roared elsewhere (except maybe on Sean Hannity), DeSantis was OK with bonfires and spring breakers on the Florida coast.

            Those who live in the Deep South have a term, "gnat line," for where heat and humidity keep bugs lively. They should call it the "squat line," as in leaders doing squat to protect the health of their constituents. This applies to a killer microbe just as it applies to the Affordable Care Act, which is treated as a plague.

            The CDC advises masks for those who might carry the disease but don't know it. Let's just say that masks seem wise for any public official who, like Trump and his Southern bros, did too little when much was needed.

            Whatever the case, this is going to make one hell of a docu-series.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.