Monday, September 14, 2020

An Abdication of Duty


As if Trump needed any additional evidence of his incompetence to surface before Election Day, especially right on the heels of his “suckers and losers” debacle, last week Bob Woodward provided audio tapes of the president talking about what he knew about the coronavirus back in February.

Turns out, he knew all about it. He knew it was spread via airborne particles. He knew it spread rapidly. He knew it was “more deadly than your serious flus.”

Unfortunately, the president kept that informant from the nation and downplayed the seriousness of the virus, both in scope and deadliness. He said they had it contained. He said it wasn’t that serious. He said it would go away by April, and then by summer when it got hot. But not a thing he said was true and he absolutely knew that.

In another taped interview with Woodward, Trump told him “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic." This, from the guy whose stock-in-trade is promoting panic to help him get elected; panic over immigrants, Muslims, gays, Antifa, Black Lives Matters, socialism liberals, and whoever else he can whip into Boogieman of the Month.

This single act of deflection on coronavirus constitutes a grave failure at a president’s single most important job requirement: protecting the American people.

But he thought it was more important to prop up the illusion of a strong economy, and therefore, the stock market because he just wasn’t smart enough to realize that this virus was going to devastate the economy if left unaddressed.

This treasonous act is the most profound error of his entire term because it would have changed the course of our existence as we live right now. We’d be about done with COVID like the European countries are. (If not “done,” then on a whole different plane. And certainly not gaining 10,000 cases per day.)

I recall a Facebook meme sent around by liberals that posited that if Hillary had been elected, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. I disagreed. I think it would be better, sure, but there would have been major resistance from the Trump fan club because they’d be resisting anything a President Clinton would want to do. We’d still be polarized on masks.

Now if Trump had come out hard for distancing and mask wearing, testing, and tracing, like the other civilized countries, there would have been nowhere near the resistance to masks that we have now. And if everybody united to stay home, distance and wear masks, for as long as necessary, (instead of until they got bored), we’d have come out the other end on this thing months ago and I’d have been enjoying college football this weekend.*

*Yes, I know the SEC and Big 12 are playing, but I’m a Big Ten guy.

More importantly, if he’d have taken action, we would have at least 100,000 families that wouldn’t be grieving right now.

So now, because they can’t admit they elected a vainglorious idiot, his fan club has to come out and defend the indefensible. This time, they can’t complain about anonymous sources because it’s Bob freakin’ Woodward, the gold standard for investigative reporting since 1974. And they can’t claim Trump was misquoted because he produced the audiotapes (that I presume are free from manipulation. I presume that because Woodward doesn’t play that shit, like a two-bit hustler like James O’Keefe. That, and no one, not even Trump, has complained that the audio was manipulated.)

They tried though. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “The president has always been clear-eyed with the American people," she said, claiming Trump "never downplayed the virus."

All the White House Press had to do was quote from the transcripts: Trump: "I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic,"

With those customary excuses shot down, Republicans are left to claim that it’s Woodward’s fault because he should have leaked the tapes earlier.

That has a grain of truth, in that Woodward could, indeed, have raised the warning months ago. However, he’s an author trying to sell his book and Trump is the fuckin’ president of the United States. It is literally Trump’s job to warn the public of an immediate and easily avoidable threat.

But even an earlier warning from Woodward wouldn’t have done much… Trump’s base would still be scorning preventative measures because freedom and manly stuff and they don’t wanna. The only thing that would have changed our current predicament is Trump doing his job in February and letting the experts formulate the national strategy. All they had to do was run the playbook left by the Obama Administration. Hell, he could still take credit for it all later, right? I mean, he’s taking credit for any success the governors who acted responsibly had, isn’t he?

Yes, he is. Every time he spouts off about how great his response to COVID was, he’s talking about a plan to throw all decision-making to the states. The governors who didn’t listen to the crap coming out of the White House and took action are on the down-slope of COVID activity. The Red States, who pretended there was no problem, are all hot spots. I read over the weekend that the Dakotas lead the nation in COVID positive test rates. (Thanks Sturgis!)

Trump also tried to blame China to Woodward. He said, “The virus has nothing to do with me… It's not my fault. It's — China let the damn virus out."

Again, technically true and not in dispute.  But that doesn’t excuse not taking action. It’s not up to China to combat the virus within America, it’s up to the American federal government and our president abdicated that duty.

And now a word from aging white men on Facebook:

And what I want for MY grandkids is a functioning Social Security system. Keep electing Republicans and that’s gone, and Grandma and Grandpa are out on the street. You make the choice… some amorphous idea like “freedom,” as defined by racist idiots, or a program that we’ve paid into all of our lives, that keeps retirees from starving or losing their houses.


Monday, September 7, 2020

The Nation's 1st Openly Rigged Election


We’re living in an unprecedented time. Never, in the modern era, have we seen one party working publicly and aggressively to rig an election. The Republicans flat-out don’t care what people say about it. They have the Justice Department under their thumb, with an Attorney General who will do the president’s bidding without question. They have governors who are doing the same. They have packed courts to allow whatever suppression tactics they can dream up.

Think this is an overstatement? It’s not. It’s the inevitable conclusion of multiple documented acts on the part of the Republicans:

·        Trump has spent the last year publicly denigrating the concept of voting by mail, (except where he does it.) He calls it rife with fraud, despite there not being any fraud found in the past elections of the states that have had unrestrained mail-in voting for years. This sets the table for later.

·        Then he appointed a Postmaster General who immediately began hampering the Post Office’s effectiveness by removing mail collection boxes, mechanical high-speed sorters, imposing overtime limits, and mandating that trucks leave at a particular time, rather than when they were properly loaded. The goal is to delay mail delivery so as to interfere with the mailing of ballots. The cover is a claim that they’re trying to cut costs. But no one yet has been able to answer how removing automated sorting machines (and sometimes destroying them) cuts costs. Machines don’t get overtime or even regular-time.

·        He’s suing states who expand mail-in voting.

·        He encouraged voters in North Carolina to vote twice, just to see if their system was strong enough. Aside from this being a felony, he’s continuing to sow the seeds to backstop his objections later on.

·        He openly pressures other countries to provide political assistance or ammunition (true or otherwise) to use on his opponent.

·        In the face of overwhelming evidence that Russia did and continues to influence voters and hack political opponents, he has done nothing to admonish or punish them in any way. In fact, his administration actively covers up evidence of their activities. Hell, Trump and his officials are sending out doctored videos their own selves.

·        To that end, they’ve ended in-person Congressional briefings on the subject, so that they don’t have to answer questions or even hear concerns.

·        The Attorney General is holding onto the “Durham Report” until just before the election. This is the report he requested to investigate the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference. It’s done, but he’s holding it until he can drop it right before Election Day, (so by the time anyone can look into the shortcomings and improper conclusions, it will be too late.) Essentially, they’re trying to duplicate the Comey statement on Hillary that came in late October of 2016. AG Barr is already on record as summarizing the Mueller report in terms describing the opposite of the report’s conclusion. There’s no telling how skewed his own hand-crafted report will be.

·        Everything about his COVID-19 activities results in voter suppression. They decided early on not to help the big blue states like New York and California. They thought that the more sickness and death in Democratic states, the fewer there are to vote against him. From March to June, he did nothing to stem the spread of the coronavirus in cities, alternately pretending the virus will go away, or that it’s just not that bad. After he threw pandemic planning to the states, he had the Federal Government confiscate supplies purchased by those states. He even criticized Maryland’s Republican governor for obtaining a planeload of COVID tests in secret, so they wouldn’t be commandeered. (Maryland is a rare Blue State with a Republican governor.)

·        In all locations, Trump and the GOP refuse to provide money for essential and low-level workers while pushing for them all to go back to work. He knows they’re putting their life on the line to go to work and he’s counting on a lot of them ending up too sick to vote, or just dead.

·        He’s gathering a force of 50,000 “poll watchers” to show up at polling places and contest votes they think are fraudulent. (Given their lack of access to records, how do you think they’re going to conclude someone is attempting a fraudulent vote?) It’s a show of force to intimidate people of color into not voting. This is a tactic that a government mandate expressly forbids Republicans to use until recently, when a federal court revoked it, saying it was no longer necessary. When Republicans last tried this back in 1980, they recruited off-duty cops and other military men in order to be as imposing as possible. This will be the perfect role for Trump’s camo-clan 2nd Amendment Warriors.

·        He sent a no-name paramilitary force into Portland and other Democrat-run cities, for the simple reason of creating campaign footage of riots and cities in flames. Peaceful protests don’t serve his purpose of scaring people, so he had to ensure there would be a riot. Before that, he had a similar military force beat and tear-gas peaceful protesters, from in front of a church, so he could pose for his Backward Bible photo-op.

·        He’s delaying new citizenships from taking effect. People who started the process at the beginning of the year, have completed all of their assigned steps to citizenship, are hearing crickets from the government. The last thing Trump wants is a bunch of non-native Americans voting. Naturalized citizens or not, they’re still foreigners to him.

·        There is now a fortified wall around the White House, a wall that has been unnecessary for over 200 years. History has shown that it’s not there for security purposes. The Secret Service is more than well-enough equipped to handle trespassers. But it makes sense to have a barrier in case the President decides not to honor the results of an election that removes him from office.

Trump knows that once he loses the protective bubble-wrap of the presidency, the New York State Attorney General and maybe even the new US AG will be after him like puppies after a pork chop. So he will do everything in his power to remain in that bubble-wrap for as long as possible, consequences (like fair elections) be damned.

·        Republicans are actively working to get Kanye West on the ballot in a number of states. It’s already too late for him to be included on the ballot of a bunch of states, thereby nullifying any chance he has of winning. But yet people close to the president’s campaign are still trying to get him on ballots. The only rational interpretation is that they’re trying to siphon off black votes from Biden, via this stunt.

·        All of the voter suppression tactics at the (Red) state level for the last 8 years, like
o   hand-picking voter IDs designed to be least used by Democrats
o   then closing the stations in their neighborhoods that issue them,
o   decreasing the numbers of voting machines in the same areas to ensure long lines,
o   eliminating polling precincts in Democratic areas, to ensure long lines
o   limiting early voting and mail-in voting, to ensure long lines,
o   and a special nod to Florida who after voters approved an amendment to let freed ex-felons vote, required they pay all court fees before they could register. (ie. A modern poll tax.)

Any one of these actions might be dismissed as a misunderstanding of intent or error in judgment, but taken together, there’s only one logical conclusion. This president will stoop to any level to retain power and he’s surrounded himself with others who will provide aid and cover.

And these points don’t even cover what may lie ahead. I certainly think that there are more plans afoot to contest votes in every conceivable way, or discredit any jurisdiction that doesn’t exhibit sympathy for the cause.

I’ve read a number of analyses that predict Trump will declare victory ASAP on Election night when the bulk of the in-person Republican votes are counted but the mail-in Democrats’ votes aren’t. That’s where all the early work to discredit mail-in voting will pay off. He’ll convince his base that he won fair and square and any future votes counted to the contrary must be fraudulent. It’s a scary proposition.

Our only recourse as of now is to vote as early as possible, preferably without relying on the mail. I intend to take my absentee ballot to a dropbox. After that, it’s a leap of faith to hope that it’s properly counted. Some states are trying to change their procedures so that they can start counting mail-in votes earlier, but states run by Republicans will never allow that.

Only in a landslide will we be able to drop the curtain on this circus of an election.

One Quick Note
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the “suckers and losers” quote unearthed from Trump this weekend.

First of all, The Atlantic must have had that down cold, or else they wouldn’t have published a bombshell story like that. Four separate sources provided the story. Yes, they were anonymous, but in the Era of Trump, can there be any other kind? We all see what happens to those who publicly tell the truth about Trump. They get harassed, threatened, doxed, or fired. Who in their right mind would claim to be an anti-Trump source? It’s the Right’s way of sowing mistrust onto every media source but Fox and the like.

And that made so much richer when a Fox reporter was one of the three independent media outlets that confirmed the story (along with the AP and Washington Post.) So that’s four journalistic entities confirming a story provided by four witnesses.

That, my friend, is air-tight. They have it right.

Naturally, all Trump apologists can do is claim they’re wrong anyway and “Nah-nah-nah-I’m not listening!”

I’ve already seen a meme going around Facebook saying, “Gee, I have four anonymous sources that say Biden”… something or another.

This person clearly doesn’t understand actual journalism. Souces, confirmations, double-checking. That’s what real news outlets do, as opposed to Fox “News” who just runs anything that helps Republicans or hurts Democrats, and worries about accuracy later. Or never.

Man, the Fox brass must have been pissssed about their own reporter backing the story. I refuse to believe it was a change of heart on account of the network. Hannity and Carlson have too much ass-kissing equity invested in Trump to turn on him now.

This is the opportunity for Republicans who truly honor the military to detach themselves from this crazy train. After this story, one can “support the troops,” or support this president. There is no rational way to do both.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Kenosha


The whole thing is exhausting, it really is. It just keeps happening again and again.

No matter how much protest, no matter how many op-eds are written or condemnations received, police continue to shoot or otherwise kill unarmed Black men. Used to be they only had to claim they “feared for their lives” in order to justify a shooting.

Now they’re shooting guys in the back at point-blank range in broad daylight, in front of multiple witnesses and video cameras. A guy, who wasn’t a suspect or involved with the police call in any way but as a bystander and/or commenter, turns away from police and casually walks back to his car, containing his children. Where’s the fuckin’ threat? Besides the notion that “he’s a Black guy, therefore he must have a weapon that he’s about to use.”

And he doesn’t just get shot once… the cop shoots, again, IN THE BACK, seven times! Did he think this guy was the Terminator or something?

And then, in the inevitable wake of protesting this cowardly shooting, some white kid comes in from 30 miles away with a semi-automatic rifle strapped on shoots a guy and has a casual stroll past the cops.

So, the Black guy gets shot because he “might” have a weapon in his car, the white guy gets to stroll down the street wearing an AR-15. And people wonder why there are protests. It boggles the mind.

And it especially boggles me about the lengths people are going to defend the white kid and condemn the Black guy. “Hey, they found a knife in the car!

Big freakin' deal! I have a knife in my car, does that mean that every time I get pulled over, the cops have the right to shoot me in the back too? Jacob Blake was not about to go pull a knife out of his glove box to take on a cop armed with a gun. He wasn’t drunk or high, just a father on duty. The fact that this guy was so scary that he “earned” 7 shots in the back tells you all you need to know about the Kenosha PD.

And the kid, he’s a hero now to the Right, because he took it upon himself to go to a town in which he doesn’t live, and point his gun at people who are exercising their constitutional right to assemble. And that tells you all you need to know about The Right… applauding the white guy for shooting some protesters.

Yes, these “great patriots,” who claim to revere the Constitution, are just fine with vigilante justice and civilian executions.*

*As long as none of “their” people are the ones getting killed.

Here’s a news flash: Talking back to a cop is not a death penalty offense. Neither is disobeying or disagreeing with one. Nor are traffic citations, counterfeit money-passing, unlicensed vending, carrying a knife, looting a store, or throwing a rock. I’m not saying they may not be crimes or violations, but there is a standard for punishment set up in this country and neither cops nor random incel kids looking to feel better about themselves get to decide otherwise.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if any of these “good, white, Christian, conservatives” ever had to live for a week as a Black person does every day, they’d be burning shit down by Thursday. Hell, all a Black family has to do is barbeque in the wrong place or sell lemonade on the sidewalk, and some white woman is calling 911. What happens when they come face to face with actual persecution?

I don’t see how this problem with the police ever gets solved. I know that there are good cops out there but their noble actions are getting over-shadowed. At the moment, the police unions, backed by the conservative, law-and-order, man-in-uniform fetishists, think they’re totally in the right in that every confrontation an “Us or Them” situation that warrants lethal force.

They are not going to go along with any reforms until that mindset changes. And for such a change to take hold, they’ll have to get rid of the die-hard racists, white-supremacists, and sadists who revel in kicking ass.

Or, the penalties for unwarranted violence upon detainees become life-changing enough that they become a disincentive to shoot first and ask questions later.

Good luck waiting for either of those things to happen.

Until then, Wisconsin might as well follow in Georgia’s footsteps, (as reported years ago in The Onion) and update their flag:

Monday, August 24, 2020

Debunkery - The VEEP Edition


The Russian troll farms were hard at work last week, where I came across some of these visual road apples that represent the fruits of their labor.


1)      Who the hell ever said Harris can’t be criticized? No one. But I agree that it would be good to hear criticism based on something relevant, like a policy she issued or stance she took.
2)      Palin was criticized for being an empty vessel, which she was. For Pete’s sake, she didn’t know that there were two Koreas or that there were three branches of government. She campaigned on three things, being cute, dog-whistling the racists, and pitching dirt at Obama.

Now, look at the very first comment, which shows you how righteous the Radical Right is:

1)      Adulterous? You’re actually going there? Ms. Harris may have had a relationship with a guy early in her career, a guy who had been estranged from his wife for over 10 years. She was single. What’s the BFD?

Contrast that with the current Republican president, who cheated on his first wife with his second wife, cheated on the second wife with his third wife, cheated on his pregnant third wife with a variety of porn stars and Playmates whose silence he bought off, and no doubt had other trysts sprinkled throughout. Why does it matter who the woman slept with and not the man? In this case, or ever?

2)      Pedophiler (sic) and Adulterous Flat Backer?” Where is the evidence or even legitimate accusation that Biden is a pedophile(r)? This is just QAnon conspiracy theory bullshit. (You know, that baseless accusation that the Democrats are running a child abduction, molestation and cannibalism ring and so on. It’s all sizzle and no substance. There’s not a wisp of evidence of any such thing. Just ask the cops who arrested the armed asshole that charged into that pizza joint, looking for a pedophile ring in the basement of a place that didn’t even have a basement.)

You want to talk about someone who runs in pedophile rings?

Trump hanging with known pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.


Trump hanging with the woman who obtained the children for Epstein.

If I was a Trump supporter, well, first check my basement for pods. And then, know that I would never mention anything about sleeping around with women, porn stars, children, or anything else. That just highlights what a piece of shit this president is. I can’t believe they still bring this stuff up.

3)      THIS is the kind of comment that rational people think has no place in political discourse. It has everything, poor grammar, wild and unfounded accusations, and a wild double-standard that rakes the side that didn’t do what’s mentioned on behalf of the other side that did.

Next:

I agree, only a dumbass would post something so utterly stupid.

1)      Pence ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries. So Trump also appointed a guy as VP who “couldn’t even beat him.”
2)      And you know what else? So did every other candidate across time and space; the nominee won the primaries because nobody beat him. Either they couldn’t beat him because they lost in the primaries or couldn’t beat him because they didn’t run. Jesus Tap-dancing Christ, this is a stupid meme.
3)      This is another example of “It’s Not Wrong if Republicans Do It.” Or “It’s Only Wrong if Democrats Do It.” Pool or pond.

And now:

So if you’re not Christian, you’re evil. Got it. Also, fuck you.

You know, I wouldn’t mind if the “Christians” in the public forum demonstrated their Christianity by actually emulating Christ. They could feed the hungry, give money and shelter to the poor, welcome strangers, and commit their lives to help others. But that’s not the Republican’s policy now, is it?

When you can show me the Bible passage about how we have a right to military-grade firepower and armor-piercing rounds, then you can talk to me about evil. Show me where Jesus said, “I got mine, get yours.” Don’t even practice what you preach… go practice what Jesus (allegedly) preached. If you can’t do that, you’re just another hypocrite.

2nd Eye Update
Just to update you on the rest of the cataract surgery I told you about two weeks ago… I had the other eye done Thursday 8/20 and it went much more smoothly. The secret was to keep that left eye open while they're doing the laser prep on the right. That keeps you grounded in reality and helps avoid being sucked into a darkened, swirly-light abyss. So no Big Red Spot of Jupiter this time.

As I write now, I have very good vision in both eyes, although they do burn a couple of times a day. But even if it never gets any better than this, it's a huge improvement. Totally worth it.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mailing It In


I never thought I’d live to see the day where an American election was being sabotaged, right out in the open, by those running the country. This is the stuff of third world banana republics, not the US of A. But here we are.

The current occupant and his accomplices in the Senate have decided to cripple the US Postal service, in order to throw a wrench into any plans to conduct the 2020 election by mail. They claim mailing ballots leads to rampant mail fraud, which is a charge completely without evidence. At least 5 states have been using mail-in ballots for years without incident. Many more states have been aggressive in their use of absentee ballots on request.

Republicans fear that if voting is too easy, meaning that poor people don’t have to take time off work to do it, and people would otherwise have to risk COVID infection while waiting in lines, it might favor Democrats. So Trump began laying the foundation months ago with repeated claims that mail-in voting = election fraud favoring Democrats.

Again, there isn’t a grain of evidence to back this up. There IS evidence that Republicans in North Carolina executed a plan to ask Democratic residents for their mail-in ballots so they could take them to the election HQ for them, and then shit-canned the whole pile. The evidence was so overwhelming they had to redo the election in that district.

So now that their base is all riled up about mail-in ballots, he appointed a big-money donor with interests in a company that competes with the postal service to “run” the operation. And by “run,” I mean dismantle. At least temporarily.

Republicans have been trying to get rid of the postal service for ages. Be aware that when they bring up how in debt the USPS is, it’s because the Republican Congress under the Bush Administration passed a rule that the Post Office had to fully fund, in advance, their entire pension fund, an exercise that no other organization is required to do. They literally created the debt they are now using as a lever to weaken the postal service. They’d like nothing better than to come through for their big donors who represent UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, or the other national delivery organizations.

So now, as the presidential election hits prime time, the race is on to sabotage the post office. They’ve cut back on the overtime needed to get your mail delivered on the day it’s supposed to be. They’re picking up public mailboxes right and left, and hauling them away, so just finding a place to mail your letters, ballots, or anything else, will require more effort. And they’ve removed giant mail sorters from postal complexes all across the country. Congressional Republicans are complicit in all of it. And they've raised the price on mailing ballots, too, so that cash-strapped states are less likely to provide pre-paid envelopes. Not only will people be unenthused about using their own stamps, they're also likely to use too few, thus killing delivery.

These are all stone-cold facts, corroborated by senior post office managers and postal employees nationwide, including the postal worker spouse of a friend of mine. While in theory, I can see where picking up little-used mailboxes might be valid, but certainly not right before an anticipated increase in postal use. And there is zero benign or even valid reason to pull out the high-volume mail sorters, other than “someone” wanting the mail slowed down.

Unfortunately, the ripples reach far more than the political realm. People waiting on paychecks, medicine, and other vital materials are getting screwed, if not physically harmed. Republicans don’t care about any of that, not when they’re going about the business of consolidating their power. (Just like I wrote last week.) They cannot be shamed because outrage will fade but they’ll still have their ill-gotten gains.

I think the Administration will put back some of the sorters and mailboxes, but not until it’s too late to mail ballots. They have to know that a Biden Administration will undo all their work and restore the USPS to where it was. So look for the “magnanimous gesture” that will be too little, coming far too late.

But it’s important to them to monkey-wrench the postal service because all their voter suppression tactics are predicated on in-person voting. Mail-in voting gets around all of these barriers Republicans have put in place to keep likely Democrats from voting:

·        Requiring state-issued photo ID
·        Increasing the price of those IDs.
·        Closing places that issue state-issued photo ID in urban areas.
·        Closing voting precincts in urban areas.
·        Reducing the number of voting machine present in urban areas.
·        Hiring 50,000 “poll watchers” whose job it is to “challenge” any voters (people of color) they see fit. (In the early 80s, this “army” was mostly retired military and police, who question and harass anyone who doesn’t look like a poster boy for Wonder Bread. This tactic has been banned by a federal consent decree since then, up until recently, when the Trump administration allowed it to expire and a judge refused to have it extended.

I keep seeing, in other progressive blogs, pleas to vote in person despite the risks. I warn that that’s just what they want us to do. They want to funnel us into their voter suppression machinery, as described above.

We also don’t want to forget the rampant purging of voter rolls without much in the way of confirmation (that it’s warranted) and Florida negating their state’s public vote to restore voting privileges of ex-felons by requiring them to pay all court costs before they can vote. (Basically, a poll tax.) But those are suppression tactics that work on all methods of voting, not just mail-in.

And in their worst-case scenario, in which the Blue Wave happens anyway, they’ve prepared their case to claim the vote was rigged. So then when the various cases wend their ways through the courts, all the judges McConnell rammed through the Senate begin to pay off. Until then, the more doubt and chaos they can sow, the better for them.

When you put it all together, it shows a massive, coordinated effort to keep American citizens from voting (if they might vote Democratic.) Because while they shur love ‘Murca, they shur don’t feel the same about ‘Mucans.

See, this is what they have to do. Their policy positions aren’t going to sway any voters that aren’t already theirs. Are there any new works being proposed? Infrastructure? Tax changes to benefit the non-rich?

No, they have nothing, just fear. Fear of Black people, fear of Brown people, fear of foreigners, gays, trans, Muslims, atheists, liberals and anyone else they think will drive people into their arms.

Maybe if they expanded their interest outside rewarding the rich and placating the religious extremists they use to get elected, they might not have to resort to such un-American activities.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Eyes Have It

Director’s DVD Commentary: This is another “Easter Egg” post; just a little something apart from the usual posting cycle that I’m throwing out here for anyone who may stumble upon it.

I’ve worn glasses since 9th grade and contacts since my sophomore year in college, so I’m pretty used to the eye care routine. But a new problem started last year. When I went in to see my eye doctor to get new contact lenses last spring, I thought my prescription might need an update. But after testing, she gave me the same prescription.

A couple months later I was finding myself unable to read street signs, like at a neighborhood intersection. And the bigger freeway signs, I could read them but not until I got close. And driving at night? I had big trouble reading anything. It got so that I wouldn’t drive anywhere at night unless I was taking a familiar route. There had to be something wrong there.

So in October, I went back to the doctor and asked for a retest. She did and came up with the same prescription yet again. I said, “But I can’t read a freakin’ street sign!

She got out some more equipment and had another look into my eyes and said, “Well, it looks like you have the beginnings of cataracts.”

[blink]

[blink blink]

Shit. I’m old.”

She gave me a referral to an eye surgeon and that set me on a new course for this year. Well, what really got me moving was the appearance of “floaters” in December, where in my right eye, it looked like I was reading through a jellyfish. That got me to the eye surgeon in early January, where they found a small retinal tear, which they fixed with laser surgery in late January. I wrote about that here.

Once the endless series of retinal checkups were done, it was time to turn to fixing the cataracts. (Unfortunately, the jellyfish is here to stay.) In that same post I linked above, I also wrote about how even my “good” insurance leaves much to be desired because it will only cover the bare minimum to fix cataracts.

To review, from the previously linked post, there are two surgery options and two lens options.

The first surgery, the doctor works on me for about 10 minutes to break up the current lens, extract it, and insert a new one.

The second option, I get laser-guided prep first, to break up the lens while making smaller cuts in the eye. This produces less physical trauma to the eye and leaves the doctor with a 5-minute process to insert the lens. They said they would use this technique for every such surgery they do but for one problem: Insurance will only cover the first option.

As for the lenses, the first option is for a single-focus lens that will enable distance vision. I would need glasses or contacts to read a book, newspaper, computer monitor or phone. (Or in other words, about 85% of my waking hours.)

The second option is a multi-focal lens that would allow me to see distance plus anything around arm’s length away. Guess which one Insurance covers.

So, to get full insurance coverage I need to choose a method that will cause more trauma to the eye, with higher risk, and put in a lens that will need nearly constant correction.”

Not wanting to fool around with my vision just for the sake of money, I chose the laser prep and multi-focal lenses. That comes to a total out-of-pocket expense of over $3600 per eye.

I’ve been going through the prep since the end of July, which included eyeball measurements and having to wear glasses for a week before they could take a second measurement (because the constant presence of a contact lens can change your eye dimensions.) It just reminded me how much I hate wearing glasses. Although it WAS nice to be able to just fall in bed without having to remove my contacts.

Surgery day for the first eye was last Thursday. A couple days before that, they called to collect payment in advance. These guys weren’t fooling around. I figured they want payment first so that in case I sneeze while they’re firing laser beams into my eyeball and they accidentally laser off the top of my head, they’ve already got my money in hand.

When we showed up that morning, I was relieved to see that they had several walled off waiting rooms, so Sweetpea didn’t have to spend an hour and a half waiting in the car. The first thing they did, of course, was to give me the eye dilation drops. And THEN, they thought it was a good time for me to read and sign off on eight pages of waivers, disclosures, and other documents that presumably hold them blameless if they should laser off the top of my head.

So here I am, with my rapidly deteriorating short-distance vision, putting my nose to all this paperwork, and trying to sign on the dotted lines. Seems like they could have planned that out a little better, you know? Like, email me the paperwork packet the day before?

Anyway, they took me back and got me on a gurney pretty quickly. Then there were more eye drops to start numbing my eye… which I’m all for. Numb away, I say. So I’m in the room, right beside the big laser thingy, but we have to wait. The doctor is in another room, still working on someone else. Meanwhile, they had to keep putting in more numbing drops, as I’m lying there on an angle with my head below my feet. I’m just sayin’ it’s not the most comfortable way to lie around… half-blind, blood all up in my ears, and listening to the nurses shoot the breeze.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, it was go-time. The doctor came out and I was next on the assembly line for the laser prep. The anesthesiologist did his thing and I was supposed to be rendered loopy.

I was happy to see that the laser gizmo wasn’t like I was envisioning:

Sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their head. (Source)

What they actually do is lower this big machine down into your face and then the “eyepiece” goes right onto your eye. (Hence then need for all the numbing drops.) You’re told to look at the light up until you have no choice because the lights are all you see. Then everything kind of went dark, like my eye was immersed in a large cup of coffee with cream. And psychedelic colors shooting around. It was cool, Starbucks should totally work on something like that.

I understood that with this kind of setup, the odds of lasering off the top of my head were slim. But then I realized that any kind of mishap here would result in burning a hole from the front of my head to the back. That wasn’t as comforting as I’d hoped it would be.

My enjoyment of the “light show” was short-lived, however, because I was becoming acutely aware that this was starting to feel very uncomfortable… as if someone put a finger on your eyeball and started pressing. Any latent loopiness seemed long gone.

At one point, the sensation caused me to flinch, which they said, “broke the suction between the machine and my eye.”

Gah! They were sucking on my eyeball? I should have insisted on more numbing drops. In fact, I should have had them give me a whole bowlful so I could numb my whole face!

They said they had to “start over,” but I think that was only to make me feel bad because once they did, it was only another minute more.

Then they wheeled me into another room for the lens implantation. I don’t remember much about that part. I think I was still too traumatized over the idea of eyeball suction to worry about them sliding a new lens into the hole they just cut in my eye.

But the next thing I knew, they were walking me back out to the parking lot where Sweetpea had the car pulled around. They taped a plastic shield over my eye, I presume to keep me from poking at it. It would have been much more fun to wear if it was black, so I could pretend to be a pirate.

They said I only had to wear it while sleeping though, for just a couple of days. Or did I hallucinate that? I hope not because that’s what I did, starting with the nap I took immediately upon getting home. That was glorious.

A little later, I ventured a look in the mirror. Yeesh.

Looks like the Big Red Spot of Jupiter on there.

Sweetpea told me the spot might give me super-powers, so I’d better come up with a Superhero Name. I decided on The Eye-Talian. One look from this eye will make bad guys crave pasta and wine. And who can go around being a villain when they’re full of pasta and wine?

So, how did it work? Not too bad, so far. Every day my vision seems to be a little better, a little sharper. This was my left eye, my “reading up close” eye and I can read my computer screen without any trouble.  And I can see reasonably well at distances. But reading the newspaper or my phone has been a problem. I have to wear readers to see them clearly. But when I compare eyes, just looking around the room, things seem brighter through my new eye.

It’s like with that eye, there’s a new LED bulb lighting the room. With the other eye, it looks like a dimmer, yellower, traditional bulb.

I know it will take a while before things stabilize. Sometimes it feels like I have a really old contact lens in there, that needs changing. And sometimes, the eye will burn and water for no apparent reason. I’ve been using all the prescribed eye drops so I’m hopeful that will subside.

But it’s really nice to get up in the morning and be able to see something… at least the things on my left. I have another week of putting in one contact lens, then Thursday I go in for them to do the other eye. Knowing what to expect really helps. Maybe I’ll see if they can crank up the loopy-juice this time, or failing that, scare me up some nitrous oxide.

I’m investing a lot of time and money into my eyesight. I only hope that in the years to come, the world is still worth looking at.

2nd Eye Update
I had the other eye done Thursday 8/20 and it went much smoother. The secret was to keep that left eye open while they're doing the laser prep on the right. That keeps you grounded in reality and helps avoid being sucked into a darkened, swirly-light abyss. So no Big Red Spot of Jupiter this time.

As I write now, I have very good vision in both eyes, although they do burn a couple of times a day. But even if it never gets any better than this, it's a huge improvement. Totally worth it.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Can You Really Call it a Conspiracy When it Happens in Plain Sight?


As we find ourselves being consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to remember these moments when the Republican leadership is showing us who they are and what they care about.

Look what they’re doing right now, aside from NOT passing an effective pandemic relief bill. And I don’t just mean Trump! Mitch McConnell is obsessed with eliminating employer liability, (a long-time Republican dream). He is insisting that the next pandemic package contains immunity for employers who force employees to come back to work, don’t supply PPE or take reasonable precautions, and then see their employees get sick.

It’s no different than requiring employees to work around dangerous machinery without providing guardrails or kill switches. Then they don’t want to be sued when someone gets sliced and diced? In the old days, OSHA would be all over them. But now, the GOP Senate is basically throwing them into the grinding gears. They seem to relish going back to the past when employers were bulletproof and could require anything they wanted from their peon workers.

No one’s forcing them to go to work,” I hear the conservatives respond.

But they are. If the business is open, one can’t claim unemployment, so workers have an impossible decision: stay home, starve, and be evicted, or risk their health and lives to go to work under dangerous conditions. And now the GOP wants to remove the only thing incentive there is for employers to do the right things by their employees.

Republicans could bolster unemployment insurance but that’s the last thing they want to do. It’s against their DNA to just give money to people who need it. In fact, this explains the entire GOP response to COVID... What is required in the moment, to stem the spread of this virus, is that which Republicans are committed to never do. It’s a philosophical impasse that they cannot get around, which leaves them with nothing to offer but things that make matters worse.

Like ordering the schools to reopen, as Trump’s toady governors are doing. As we’ve already seen in the schools that have opened, it’s a clusterfuck. Immediately kids and staff are coming down with the ‘Rona and their classes have to go into quarantine. That’s exactly what the health experts predicted. That’s exactly what everyone predicted aside from the science-denying head-in-the-sand-ers.

This happened because states like Georgia didn’t do the hard work to make schools safe again. They just went through the motions of cleaning some stuff, along with a lot of happy talk about how important it is to get kids back in school. They didn’t spread out the desks or limit class size. They didn’t require masks to be worn at all times. “Safety theater” is what it was, just like we see with the TSA.

They know we don’t need everyone’s shoes to go through the scanner. But they do it to put on a show, to make everyone feel better about flying. The shoe thing came about because one lone guy tried to hide a bomb in his shoe. Good thing he didn’t try to hide it in his ass, or who knows what kind of indignities we’d be subjected to in the name of “safety?”

It is especially galling that this “Pro-Life” party, is sending children straight into what could be a lethal danger. And if not fatal to the children, then possibly to everyone with whom they come in contact. And it’s not like it’s an A/B situation where either you get better or you die. There have already been longer-term ramifications involving ongoing damage to heart and lung functions. And who knows what they’ll find in the years to come?

This is how they revere and preserve life?

Republican politicians and donors have never cared about any human lives except their own. The entire “pro-life/anti-abortion” stance is about controlling women, pure and simple. Because if it wasn’t, you’d see some evidence, wouldn’t you? It would be Republicans clamoring for things that help people: higher wages (minimum or otherwise), or SNAP benefits, or health care for all. The pro-life bullshit is all an act... a pose. It’s a hat they put on when they want votes from evangelicals. It’s like that old bit from George Carlin:

Unlike a lot of other crap that gets tied to Carlin, I guarantee this is a real quote; I’ve seen him do it on one of his HBO specials.

What they care about is money. You think the Koch Brother cares about abortion laws in Louisiana or Mississippi? Hell no. He doesn’t care about anything but what he has to pay for, and then only about how to get out of it.

Which brings us to Social Security. Mitch has been making noise about privatizing Social Security for years. In fact, the only reason he hasn’t done it yet is he hasn’t found a way to make the Democrats take the blame for it. Last year, they were planning to do it during Trump’s prospective 2nd term. They say they have to because of the soaring deficit… which they created with the 2017 tax cut for the 1%.

So that’s pretty clear then, huh? Exacerbate a deficit with a huge tax cut for the rich, remedy it by reducing the Social Security that you and I plan to use for retirement. Sound like a good deal to you? Now add to that the fact that Social Security isn’t even counted in the deficit… it’s a single entity unto itself, and it’s self-sustaining through payroll taxes (which Trump is also trying to cut).

I can’t believe Biden isn’t out there hammering on this issue every single day.

The Republicans will do this stuff because they have zero shame. Nada. They will do anything to acquire, consolidate, and prolong their power.

Remember the landslide of criticism when Mitch decided not to allow a sitting president to appoint a Supreme Court justice, as is the president’s constitutional prerogative? Mitch didn’t give a shit what anyone had to say. He did what his benefactors wanted him to do, made the move, and ignored the backlash. Now look at what we have today. Does anyone still talk about Merrick Garland and the stolen SCOTUS seat? Nope. But Mitch and his crew still have a stacked Supreme Court.

With Republicans, the ends always justify the means.

But they can’t do it alone; they need to get their base behind them. That’s where social media makes it so easy to spread suspicion and disinformation. The Russian troll farms are laughing their asses off at us, at just how easy it is to fragment the country.

Here are a couple of examples I found over the weekend:

At first glance, this looks damning, right up until you realize that it’s just a poll of what people think. And what it shows is that Americans aren’t good at contextualizing big numbers. This is an attempt from the Right to convince people that 167,000 deaths in 5 months is no big deal. The only problem with that is that it IS a big deal. We went to war over 3000 deaths. We should demand nothing less over a number 55 times higher.

Again, this is the “pro-life” party? It boggles the mind that a group of people will tie up the government over the right to get rid of a grape-sized clump of cells but dismiss 167,000 sentient, human, American lives out of political expedience.

Here’s another tactic:


This is another one that looks bad at first glance. The inference is that someone who sought help for leg pain got tagged as being a COVID victim. But is it really evidence of medical malfeasance?

There are three basic debunking paths that I see here.

First of all, how do we know this is a legit document? The fonts show some irregularity. Sometimes there’s a big space after a small “s” and sometimes not. The font seems to be different between the “Health Issue” and “Display Names” fields. All of those are signs of tampered text. Although given the clumsiness of the name blocking, font manipulation might not be in this meme creator's skill set.

But OK, for argument’s sake, even if it IS a faithful copy of an original document, there are two possibilities where this is perfectly normal.

1.      Body aches are a symptom of the ‘Rona. Not the prime ones, but more like secondary symptoms. That would make this a legit diagnosis and neuter any validity to the meme.
2.      The patient could have been an asymptomatic carrier, which makes up 40% of COVID victims. A guy comes in with leg pain from whatever source, they test him for COVID and find out he’s a carrier. Again, a perfectly rational scenario with invalidates the presumption of this meme.

Lastly, what if it IS a dubious finding and someone is trying to pad COVID stats. That’s one place, or maybe even one doctor. Is there any evidence that this is happening all over the country, or hell, all over the world? That would be a surprise to the hundreds of thousands who are freakin’ DEAD from this thing.

And no, that can’t be laid off on every death being lumped in with the COVID deaths. The gross death counts are way up here and all over the world, compared year over year. The variable is the coronavirus. That’s the ingredient that caused the uptick.

So no matter how hard they try, they can’t whitewash the deaths. There are way more dead people this year as opposed to last year, not by a statistical anomaly, but by a fuck-ton. This. Is. Happening.

The only thing we’re gaining from the denial and finger-pointing is more sickness and more death.

Courtesy of the “Right to Life” party.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Hi, Call Me Rona. I'll Be Staying a While

At this point, I don’t think we’re going to be rid of the ‘Rona for years. No amount of testing and tracing is going to counteract the willful ignorance demonstrated by the virus “truthers.” The stupidity is running roughshod over social media, with conspiracy theories intertwined with misinformation and denial.

And even when a vaccine becomes available, I guarantee we’ll be having the same fight, featuring people who think Bill Gates is trying to plant microchips in everyone, we’re being sold an unnecessary cure for a bogus illness, vaccines are an affront to their “liberty,” and that it will be released before it’s proven safe.

OK, that last one is pretty much spot on. And someone is going to make some serious bank on it, probably the pharmaceutical company that gives the most to Republican Super PACs. I’m anxious to see a vaccine as anyone, but I’d rather not be the first to try it, not without reading up on the testing protocols and results.

And, even if the vaccines are effective, it’s going to take serious time to get even the willing portion of our 338 million Americans vaccinated.

So a person gets vaccinated. Then what? What’s to show anyone that it’s been done? Are they going to issue COVID Vaccine Photo ID Cards? They ought to, or else anyone could waltz down to the bar, claim to be vaccinated, and infect the whole bar room. ( I know that when I get mine, I don't plan to plunge headlong into a crowd possibly infected strangers, just to crash-test my immunity.)

Combine this limited response with the fact that in the best-case scenario, the adults are put back in charge in January and THEN, maybe, we can have an actual federal emergency response besides, “States, it’s on you; we’re out. (But we’ll gladly take credit for any effective action you might do on your own.)”

One down-side of putting it all on the states is that the states have a varying degree of incompetence, either willing or inadvertently. States like Florida and Georgia listen only to Trump (from March-June) and take it upon themselves to hide, torpedo, or whitewash the data.

Florida is firing state health agency workers who dare to report numbers (the actual ones) the governor doesn’t like. Georgia has been caught on multiple occasions fudging the data on its COVID graphs. On one classic X/Y axis graph, they maneuvered the dates along the bottom (X) axis so they were out of chronological order but produced the declining line the government wanted.

Georgia also manipulated their “COVID density maps,” that showed, via color, where the most cases were by county. They used a floating color scale where the lighter colors meant few cases and the dark blues were meant the most. That’s not dishonest in itself, but over time, the state would change what the colors represented so that you never saw the counties change color. But if you compared the map to the previous map, you’d see that, say, dark blue went from 1500-2000 to 2000-2500.*

*I read this in a blog post over the weekend, to which I was trying to link, but for the life of me, I can’t find it again. (Update: It was one of Infidel753's Sunday links, which he graciously added in the first comment below.)

Naturally, the Facebook meme-sters are muddying the waters with disinformation as well. Like with this one:

Here’s why this is bullshit. New York and New Jersey became hotspots months ago. They hit peaks in April and May and have been trending down since then. Florida started off slowly but then shot upwards in COVID deaths around the beginning of July. They’re just getting started.


So to compare these states using overall totals, even using percentages to population, is dishonest. We don’t know the full story in Florida yet and with all things considered, it looks like it’s going to be a real shit show. Media hype doesn’t enter into it, but that’s what conservatives want you to think.

They’re perfectly content to let people die as long as the economy takes off again (and thus reflects well on their idiot leader.) I don’t know why it’s so difficult to grasp that the economy is never coming back until this virus is under control. Republicans want the end results, they just don’t want to do what it takes to get them, so they’re going the short-cut route. (Declare victory, move on, and blame the consequences on others.) Meanwhile, 157,000 bodies are stacked up, tens of thousands of which could have been avoided if we had some federal leadership from the outset and the will to do the difficult thing.

Other civilized countries have defeated this, but not us. Other civilized countries didn’t consider public health to be a political matter. But we did. And now we’re a laughing stock, again, for a whole new reason. Our response was so piss-poor, Mexico, Canada, and the European countries have us on their no-admittance list.

Did you ever, in a million years, think America would become such outcasts? All it took was to put Republicans in charge. When the philosophy of a party is to dismantle the government, how can anyone be surprised when they refuse to govern?

Maybe some of the moderate GOP governors will come around under the next administration. That way, with federal guidelines, they can grudgingly take the steps needed to get the virus under control and absolve themselves of responsibility for the short term losses.

I mean, it’s easier to play the aggrieved party and campaign on re-establishing everyone’s “liberty,” than to make an unwilling public eat their philosophical vegetables.