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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Play Ball? Better To Wait Until Next Year

So we were having dinner when my wife said, "It still feels weird that you're not going into the TV room to watch baseball later on. Kind of sad, really."

Now, supposedly, I've gotten a reprieve. Commissioner Rob Manfred has ordained that major league baseball is coming back in late July: a 60-game schedule followed by the regular playoff schedule and the World Series.

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Beyond His Engorged Ego, Trump Sees Nothing

That Associated Press photo of a disheveled, exhausted Boss Trump trudging across the White House lawn with his tie undone clutching MAGA hat in his hand appears destined to become the classic portrait of his reign of misrule: the beginning of the end.

As usual, the debacle in Tulsa, with its acres of empty blue seats, was everybody's fault but Donald J. Trump's. A classic case of over-promising and under-delivering. "We've never had an empty seat, and we certainly won't in Oklahoma," Trump had boasted. Oops!

Hundreds of thousands were anticipated; maybe 10,000 showed. Maybe. The Big Crybaby's campaign alibis that non-violent protesters scared his supporters away from the Tulsa rally. Protesters and the news media that is, which unfairly publicized rising Covid-19 infections there and across Oklahoma.

But it wasn't Black Lives Matter or the largely imaginary Antifa that threatened violence, it was Trump himself. "Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand," he tweeted a couple of days before the debacle "you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene."

People were going to get hurt.

(Hey, darlin', how about we load up the kids and go see the riot?")

On racial issues, Boss Trump's invariable message is "Let's you and him fight." He's running as the candidate of the white people in the red states, period. A gang of bearded white guys in camos carry AR-15s into the Michigan statehouse and he tweets "LIBERATE MICHIGAN." But let Black Lives Matter activists march and chant in city streets, and they're "thugs" and "terrorists."

Thanks to criminals who use civic disorder as an excuse to loot and burn, Trump's threadbare race-baiting plays with a many of his supporters. However, one can't help but notice the growing proportion of white Americans—and not just college kids—among protesters marching in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis. The nation's conscience has been touched.

Now me, I have no use for NASCAR whatsoever. The noise alone would make me crazy. It's also my view that nothing involving an engine can be properly called a sport. That said, the sight of large contingent of NASCAR drivers and pit crews rallying in support of Bubba Wallace after an anonymous coward left a noose in the African-American driver's garage, couldn't help but make one wonder if maybe this time around, things are going to be different.

Message: racial hatred is for losers.

Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, a winner of eleven NBA championships, has been outspoken about racial justice all his life—even back when it was widely resented by sportswriters and fans. Today, at age 86, Russell writes of his hope that outrages like George Floyd's death "are forever behind us and that real, lasting change will finally be realized. Our lives depend on it."

Should that happen, Trump will be the last one to hear about it. Nothing outside the orbit of his engorged ego interests him. This is a guy who thinks people are wearing face masks during a viral pandemic to express their opposition to him. A ordinary sociopath would have understood that asking people to sign waivers agreeing not to file lawsuits if they got sick or died as a result of attending the Tulsa rally was no way to draw a crowd.

Indeed, it's a testimony to the Trump Cult's hold over his perfervid "base" that anybody showed up at all. After all, the greatest country song about the city is about "livin' on Tulsa time." Not dyin'.

(There's another wonderful song called "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma," but it's about homesickness. And tractors.)

So was Trump joking or was he deadly serious when he told supporters at the Tulsa event that he'd ordered "his people" to cut back on Covid-19 testing? Perhaps because she recognized that actually giving such an order would have indicated a depraved indifference to human life, the press secretary I call Dollar General Barbie—a Harvard Law graduate costumed as a country singer—told reporters that her boss was pulling our collective leg.

A real kidder, Boss Trump.

The man himself, however, insists that he was dead serious. "Cases are going up in the U.S." he tweeted on June 23, "because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!"

People would still be sick, see, but nobody would know it. Good for Trump, bad for everybody else. Or so he must imagine, because he's really not all that plugged in to reality.

Faced with a choice between Trump as sadist and Trump as liar, the White House is going with liar for now.

So far, there's no evidence he's actually ordered anybody to fudge the data. But the election campaign's only getting started.

‘Defund The Police’ Is Just Another Political Suicide Note

"No, I don't support defunding the police," Joe Biden told CBS News recently, thereby keeping Democratic hopes for his presidential candidacy alive.

Has there ever been a dumber political slogan?

"Demilitarize," definitely. "Reform," absolutely. But "Defund the Police" is just plain stupid; a political suicide note. What does it even mean?

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Tom Cotton’s Soft-Core Fascism Shames The Times

As one who's had a number journalistic disputes with the New York Times, I've long been mystified at the newspaper's lofty reputation among educated readers. The Times's woeful performance during the 2016 presidential election alone—from its promotion of the Breitbart-inspired Uranium One "scandal" to its obsession with Hillary Clinton's accursed emails and James Comey's grandstanding—ought to have put people on warning.

What's more, if expressing crackpot views were an obstacle to being published on the Times opinion pages…
Well, let's just leave it at that, shall we? One farce at a time.

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Desecrating Religious Shrines And Endangering The Nation

Watching Boss Trump's authoritarian street theater in front of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, I had three related thoughts: first that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

Chaos is Trump's only talent. Empowered by false bravado and Daddy's (and/or Russian Mob) money, Trump blunders into something he does not and cannot understand—the casino business, airlines, professional football, now the US government. He listens to nobody, makes one foolhardy blunder after another, bankrupts or otherwise destroys the enterprise, betrays everyone who trusted him, and blames everybody but himself for the disaster.

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Gullible, Stupid, Perhaps Dangerous: QAnon's True Believers

Whenever somebody assures me that everything happens for a reason, it's normally my practice to tiptoe quietly away.

People are only trying to be nice. The notion that every kind of personal misfortune—each terrible accident or harrowing diagnosis, every pious wide-receiver rehabbing a bad knee—are all part of God's plan to test our individual faith and resolve is most often a well-intentioned sentimental gesture.

Have faith, is all they're really saying. You're strong enough to handle it.

It's when people start getting specific about exactly what God's plan consists of and where fate and history are taking us that all that the trouble starts. Folly and madness invariably follow. Once they bring the unintelligible prophecies of the Book of Revelation into it, it's too often a one-way trip to Crazytown with no return ticket.

So it is with the burgeoning religio-political cult calling itself "QAnon," as described in an extraordinary piece of journalism in The Atlantic by Adrienne LaFrance. She correctly notes that "[t]he power of the internet was understood early on, but the full nature of that power—its ability to shatter any semblance of shared reality, undermining civil society and democratic governance in the process—was not."

Can I get an amen?

I would argue that the historically unprecedented capacity of Froot Loops and lone dementoes of every kind and description to wind each other up online constitutes as grave a threat to the republic as anything since the Confederate States of America. In his 1704 satire A Tale of a Tub, Jonathan Swift depicted the religious zealots of his day gathered in a big circle, each with a bellows inserted into the posterior of the fellow in front of him, first pumping each other full of hot air and then discharging it in each other's faces.

QAnon's exactly like that, except online.

Remember that sad sack from North Carolina who shot up a Washington, D.C. pizza joint in December 2016 because he'd convinced himself that Hillary Clinton was operating a child sex and torture ring in the basement of a building that didn't actually have a basement?

Well, it turns out that he was a prophet.

LaFrance quotes University of Miami political scientist Joseph Uscinski, who studies conspiracy theories. Whether of the left or right, what they all have in common, he says is "acceptance of the following propositions: Our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places. Although we ostensibly live in a democracy, a small group of people run everything, but we don't know who they are. When big events occur—pandemics, recessions, wars, terrorist attacks—it is because that secretive group is working against the rest of us."

In October 2017, somebody calling himself "Q," see, began posting cryptic comments on online sites where right-wing zealots gather. Posing as an intelligence professional embedded deep in the "deep state," he predicted the imminent arrest and conviction of Hillary Clinton in the aforementioned child molesting conspiracy.

Needless to say, this hasn't happened nor ever will. Also needless to say, however, millions of gullible nitwits obsessed with Hillary's multiple homicides began wetting themselves in anticipation. (It's occurred to me that the manufacturers of Depends adult diapers could be behind the whole thing.)

Supposedly, see, special counsel Robert Mueller and Boss Trump himself were secretly working together to destroy Hillary's evil cabal. Also participating is the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., who was either foully murdered by Hillary in 1999 or Q's secret identity. Initiates differ on this question.

Seriously, they do.

Others believe that Q is none other than Trump himself. I remain agnostic on the question. But either way, Q kept dropping online clues, and nothing kept happening. The cult grew steadily larger. Then came the worldwide Covid 19 pandemic, with its intimations of Apocalypse, and a whole new cast of international malefactors got added to the suspect list: George Soros, Bill Gates, Rep. Adam Schiff, and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

And now Joe Biden, recently accused of being a "child molester" by no less an authority than Donald Trump, Jr.

Two and a half years on, LaFrance summarizes, and the "QAnon belief system looks something like this: Q is an intelligence or military insider with proof that corrupt world leaders are secretly torturing children all over the world; the malefactors are embedded in the deep state; Donald Trump is working tirelessly to thwart them. ("These people need to ALL be ELIMINATED," Q wrote in one post.) The eventual destruction of the global cabal is imminent, Q prophesies, but can be accomplished only with the support of patriots who search for meaning in Q's clues. To believe Q requires rejecting mainstream institutions, ignoring government officials, battling apostates, and despising the press."

Well, I suppose everybody's got to have a hobby.

How seriously to take this particular threat to public sanity? Come November, we may find out.

America Needs A Tough Leader, But Trump Is A Mere Bully

Real men don't wear masks.

Everybody else in the White House has to wear them, and Boss Trump reportedly yells at people who get too close. But he's no sniveling Democrat taking sensible precautions.

Of course, real men also don't wear cake makeup, girdles or platform shoes. For that matter, most don't spend hours each day on their damn hair.

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What’s A Presidential Campaign Without A Sex Scandal?

Oh, thank heaven, a sex scandal. I was afraid we were going to have to talk about death and disease all spring and summer.

Instead, we get to divert ourselves, at least temporarily, with yet another of those ideological Rorschach tests where everybody's expected to factor in gender and political affiliation before deciding if what we're looking at is a sex crime or two birds building a nest.

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When Trump’s Toy Soldiers March On State Capitols, Ignore Them

Watching those rent-a-mob bands of bearded he-men swaggering around state capitols with their Confederate flags and symbolic AR-15s -- what were they going to shoot at, after all? -- reminded me of a scene in the old Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall movie Key Largo.

Bogart plays a fishing boat captain home from World War II -- a soft-spoken combat veteran visiting the family of one of his soldiers killed during the Italian campaign. Bacall plays the friend's widow, living in a small resort hotel on a remote Florida island.

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Staying Home, To Honor And Protect The Nurses

Back when we lived in the country, I sometimes wouldn't leave the property for days at a time except to walk the dogs. We were unique along our gravel road, where a dog on a leash was an unusual sight. Otherwise, our pets roamed free like everybody else's.

Actually, I suppose, my wife and I walked each other, a daily ritual of connection.

Having worked at home for many years, I've practiced social distancing to the point where Diane sometimes worries about me. An old friend in France, a boar-hunting retired professor, reports that his wife too had been expressing concern about his hermit tendencies. So maybe it's an old man thing.

A bookish old man thing, certainly.

Alain also reports that in his home of Montpellier, the fine for being out and about for no good reason is a stiff 135 Euros, and French cops are notoriously strict. We'd talked about making a pilgrimage to Dordogne later this year to see the cave paintings at Lascaux and to meet with our friends. Now that's not going to happen. I wonder if we'll ever see Alain and Claudie again.

Best not to whine, though. I do expect to survive. Health-wise, I've always been lucky and so has Diane, apart from the macular degeneration that's dimmed her eyesight and caused our move back to town. The good news is that after decades of marriage, Diane and I enjoy each other's company more than anybody else's.

We ain't rich, but we're OK. Besides, what would be the point of expensive furniture with three dogs in the house, the smallest a basset hound? A yacht would be a big bother; I don't even own a canoe anymore.

Our small home in a pleasant older neighborhood in the city Diane grew up in fits our needs just fine. A couple of thousand books, an Internet connection and a satellite-TV, what else could we possibly need? These days, we can spend hours sitting in different rooms reading, sending each other emails—too often about Trump's latest follies and outrages—and also, in her case, keeping up with our sons and her army of friends over the phone. Not to mention emails and texts. The woman is a one-person human relations department.

More than anything, I miss baseball. Three blessed hours a day in an all-absorbing alternate reality in which he-who-must-not-be-mentioned will not be mentioned. When Opening Day comes, I may cry.

As a vulnerable old timer, it has become my patriotic duty to stay home all day, read novels and newspapers, walk the young dogs in late afternoon, and then every evening soon after sundown, escort our elderly Great Pyrenees, Jesse, down the street to where Albert the cat spends most of his time surveying his realm from an elevated perch on a neighbor's porch. He set up headquarters there after we adopted an excitable younger dog.

Albert and Jesse have been close friends since he was a tiny kitten.

Albert climbs down talking, sniffs noses with the dog, rub-a-dubs against his legs and mine, and then gets up on his hind legs asking to be carried home for supper.

The other orange tabby, Martin, often accompanies Jesse and me and sets up ambushes along the way. As near as I can tell, he's never surprised Albert yet. He's younger and larger, but loses every tussle. It's all a big game.

They share the supper dish, and then Albert returns to headquarters. The deal the cats have accepted is that when they're in, the annoying young dog is out.

Watching CNN, I saw Don Lemon interview Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, an E.R. nurse and the president of the New York State Nurses Association. Hers is a different duty from mine. She explained her colleagues' desperate need for protective gear—masks and gowns.

"You know, we started off being concerned," she said. "The concern turned to worry. The worry turned to fear and then to abject terror. And now we're just almost numb. Many of us are ill. We're still trying to work. But the need for protective equipment is essential."

Lemon also interviewed a 28 year-old doctor who'd written her last will and testament. He asked the two women how they found the courage. "Nurses do what they do because that's what we have to do," Sheridan-Gonzalez explained. "We're like the Normandy of this viral invasion. We are on the front lines. We have had casualties. We hope we'll win."

The young doctor, Laura Ucik, begged viewers to take the coronavirus more seriously than she herself had at the start, and to please, please stay at home.

"I had patients who I saw in the office, you know, a week and a half ago, and they were fine, and now they're dead."

So, yes doctor, I'm staying home.

Hardly feeling heroic, but doing my humble, grateful bit.

How Chuck And Nancy Made Moscow Mitch Gag On The Stimulus Bill

One thing we're learning, in our collective sorrow, is how many mayors and governors of both parties there are across America who are infinitely more capable of responding to a crisis than anybody in the White House. New York's Andrew Cuomo, Ohio's Mike DeWine and others have earned justifiable praise for effective leadership throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, although you'd hardly know it due to the relative dearth of press coverage, emergency benefits extended to ordinary citizens by Congress last week could mean economic salvation for millions.

Also largely unknown to the public is that their underappreciated champion has been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—pointedly excluded from the White House bill signing ceremony along with every other Democrat in Washington.

Such are the political facts of life in a nation under siege.

With TV news networks and their star performers focusing upon Rose Garden theatrics, they've neglected the story of how Pelosi and Chuck Schumer outwitted and outmaneuvered GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to where he felt compelled to admit that "because the country was desperate for results…I literally told my own Republican colleagues to 'gag and vote for it.'"

The final Senate vote was 96-0. That's a lot of gagging.

Unlike the original Republican bill with its proposed $500 billion in corporate bailouts, the $2.2 trillion Pelosi-Schumer effort—formally known as the "Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,"—added $150 billion for hard-pressed state and local governments, another $150 billion for hospitals, and $31 billion for schools. That and $25 billion for Food Stamps.

To be sure, there's still plenty of cash for Fortune 500 companies, but oversight has been added to prevent its becoming a political slush fund.

However, the real game-changers for hard-pressed families as well as the potential salvation of the US economy are two features many voters are unaware of: paycheck-protection loans enabling small businesses to retain employees for up to eight weeks, and that needn't be repaid; also greatly expanded unemployment insurance for individuals who lose their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The original McConnell bill called for one-time $1200 checks to be sent to every taxpayer—definitely useful, but hardly a bonanza. To that, Pelosi and Democrats added unemployment insurance providing an additional 13 weeks of cash assistance to state-funded programs. The CARE Act also expands eligibility to include part-time, self-employed and so-called "gig economy" workers such as Uber drivers and food delivery services, providing up to $600 a week income for those practicing social distancing.

Do the arithmetic. That's upwards of $10,000 between now and the end of June. With plenty to worry about, people can at least quit obsessing about money. They'll have sufficient funds for rent, food, utilities and other necessities. Nobody's got to risk his or her life to keep the children fed.

(Or pets, for that matter. Around our house there would be hell to pay if Martin and Albert, our two orange tabby rodent consultants, ever glimpsed the porcelain bottom of what we call "the endless supper dish.")

And the best news for the economy is that most of this cash would be spent immediately and locally, bolstering enterprises that need it to keep going. So next time you hear some bloviating politico attack the "do-nothing" Democrats, you can thank Nancy and Chuck.

Of course unemployment insurance is administered by the states, many of which impose burdensome regulations required by skinflint legislators ever-fearful that lazy people will take advantage. (Not that we haven't all known somebody who's tried.) But these are special circumstances, and this is where the aforementioned state governors come in. Times aren't normal: it's their collective duty to clear the hurdles and let the money flow.

Anyway, how this all happened is that Pelosi and Schumer pretty much ran a good-cop/bad-cop number on Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who did the negotiating for the Republicans. Or as the Speaker later explained, "we did jiu-jitsu on it, that it went from a corporate-first proposal that the Republicans put forth in the Senate to a Democratic workers-first legislation."

McConnell's a vastly overrated legislative strategist to begin with—mainly good at saying no. When he presented a my-way-or-the-highway trillion dollar package in late March, Democrats shocked him by voting no on a procedural issue. Needing 60 votes to pass, the chamber deadlocked at 48-48.

Republicans threw a big hissy fit. "Is that what we've come to?" ever-melodramatic Maine Sen. Susan Collins asked. "We don't have another day. We don't have another hour. We don't have another minute to delay acting."

OK, fine. So do you want to negotiate with Chuck or Nancy? Good cop or bad cop? McConnell went into hiding. Mnuchin basically gave Sen. Schumer most of what he wanted. Possibly because it was good policy. But certainly because nobody wanted to tangle with Speaker Pelosi, who's smarter and tougher than them all.

With Trump, You Can’t Possibly Be Cynical Enough

During a recent spate of cynicism, I made a prediction to friends: Before this thing is over, Trumpists will be calling the COVID-19 virus God’s will. So let’s get back to work, save the stock market and let the disease sort them out. There are more than 300-million individuals resident in the United States. Surely we can spare a few million old timers who were going to die anyway.

But you almost can’t get cynical enough. Before the day was out, Boss Trump was hinting that maybe time had come to kiss grandpa goodbye: “America will again and soon be open for business—very soon,” he said during the daily performance of the Mighty Coronovirus Art Players. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Interviewed on (where else?) Fox News, the Lt. Governor of Texas suggested that grandparents should be willing to die to protect the economy for their grandchildren.

Let their headstones read: “They gave their all for the GDP.”

Trump is also said to be losing patience with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the universally-respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to whom it has fallen to correct Trump’s mistakes and downright whoppers on national TV.

“A major television star,” was how Trump described Fauci before he made the mistake of confessing his frustration to an interviewer for Science magazine. “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” he said of Trump’s daily blunders. “Okay, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”

Speaking of which, why do CNN and the rest continue to broadcast these absurd spectacles live? They should edit them as they do other press conferences: giving audiences the expert advice they need, and summarizing Trump’s odd pronouncements as appropriate. It’s called journalism.

So anyway, the next performance of the White House Coronavirus troupe went on without Fauci. Who knows how long he’ll last? Possibly Jared or Ivanka can take over at the Center for Disease Control.

But I lapse into mere sarcasm, inadequate to the crisis we face.

Leave it to South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, to supply humane perspective: “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing,” he said “doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world. There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.”

As for Trump, the good news is that he has no constitutional authority to countermand mayors and governors who have shuttered public places in their jurisdictions. He probably doesn’t know that. He has no real idea how government works. In Trump’s mind, he Tweets and everybody obeys.

Look, Trump didn’t cause the CORVID-19 outbreak. It’s one of nature’s nasty little tricks, like ticks, water moccasins, and the bubonic plague; a worldwide biological catastrophe. Or, for that matter, like impassioned mobs cheering leaders displaying all the diagnostic criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. “Moral imbeciles” was the 19th century term.

However, Trump has proven uniquely incompetent to do anything about it. As the contagion spread out of China, wholly unaffected by his purely cosmetic border closing—people could fly from Beijing to Singapore or anywhere else in Asia, and then directly to the U.S. unhindered and unchecked—Trump wasted about six weeks assuring himself and his gullible followers that the worst public health crisis in 100 years was a fake news Democratic media hoax.

Meanwhile, the under-funded public health bureaucracy dawdled along; testing wasn’t done, masks, protective gowns and ventilators weren’t being manufactured and distributed to hospitals. Why hurry? Trump said it would all blow over. I have friends who remained in active denial until maybe ten days ago.

Perhaps it’s too late, but attitudes are changing. After Trump sneered that he wasn’t a shipping clerk, John Brummett quoted the impeccably conservative GOP state Senate leader Jim Hendren in his Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column: “This is failure of the worst kind. It’s like telling states to go procure F-15s and battleships for self-defense. This is a national crisis. The full power of the USA should be leveraged to solve this problem. Not 50 individual states left to compete with each other.”

Yet after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo all but begged for 30,000 ventilators, FEMA sent 400. That’s 26,600 Americans who are apt to die absent dramatic change. It will be up to exhausted, heartbroken doctors and nurses to decide which ones.

Speaking of battleships, if a Navy captain fails to heed navigators’ warnings, sails into an iceberg and sinks his vessel, he’s promptly relieved of his command. It isn’t even controversial.

No hope of that here, of course. Trump’s surrounded with vassals and flunkies. But worth keeping in mind all the same.

Are They Finally Getting Wise To The Conman In The White House?

As was only fitting on St. Patrick’s Day, my brother Tommy and I congratulated each other on our hardy Irish peasant genes. Centuries of living on dirt floors with pigs, we smugly agreed, have rendered us Micks immune from contagion. 

Um, except for our grandfather Michael Sheedy, who died in the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic—the last time a highly contagious virus with no immunity and no vaccine spread worldwide. He’s buried in Elizabethport, NJ, within walking distance of the salt water that carried his family here from County Cork on so-called “coffin ships” (because so many passengers died at sea) during the Great Irish Famine. He was 32.

That’s basically all we know. Our mother was two when her father died; her mother remarried. We must have Sheedy cousins somewhere, but we’ve never met them.

But no, Tommy and I are hardly immune. Nor is anybody else we love.

Meanwhile, we also agreed that if anything good can possibly come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could only be the decline and fall of Boss Trump, the world’s biggest and most incompetent bluffer. 

Now we begin to understand how the man managed to go bankrupt running casinos. He never knows what he’s talking about, refuses to be corrected, and surrounds himself with incompetent flatterers. Eventually, people quit believing his lies and the merry-go-round shudders to a stop.

Then he’s off to the next scam, playing a savvy businessman on TV, fleecing gullible students at “Trump University,” laundering dirty money for Russian gangsters, whatever. Everything he touches is crooked; the illusion ultimately fades. 

Polls are beginning to show that Trump is pretty much down to the core of his cult-like base. According to the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin: “A new NPR-PBS NewsHourMarist poll finds only 37 percent of Americans ‘now say they had a good amount or a great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from the president.’ Sixty percent have ‘not very much or no trust at all in what he’s saying.’”

There will be far fewer before the COVID-19 crisis ends. Especially now that Trump has reversed himself and begun repeating what experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have been telling him all along. About two months too late. 

Besides, you know he can’t stick to it. 

Remember when Trump kept telling us the virus was, like, this big nothingburger, and Democratic concerns a “hoax” meant to take him down? On January 22, he announced “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”  

One month later, on February 24, Trump said “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. . . . Stock Market starting to look very good to me.”

On March 6, Boss Trump visited the Centers for Disease Control. He said scientists there were awed by his knowledge of immunology “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’” Trump boasted. “Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

Or maybe he’s just full of it. I believe no doctor said any such thing. But who’s going to contradict Trump? A dedicated professional like Dr. Fauci has a profound duty to do as much as he can in the face of the crisis. We’ve all seen what happens to government professionals who contradict the boss.

Then there was this classic Trumpian pronouncement, explaining why he prevented a cruise ship infected with the COVID-19 virus from docking: “I like the numbers being where they are,” he said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

Got that? Trump wanted The Grand Princess, with more than 3000 souls on board, to remain at sea—essentially a huge, floating petri dish of contagion. Not for the sake of passengers and crew, but his own political convenience. If a crasser, more amoral pronouncement has been made by an American president, I’d like to know what it is.

  Oh, and this:  “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s “nasty” question about dumping the White House pandemic response team apparently just because President Obama had created it.

Trump pretended no knowledge of any such thing.  

Down at the county courthouse, this is known as the “Some Other Dude Done It” defense. It almost never works.

Meanwhile, the court flatterers on Fox News have pivoted on a dime. Yesterday’s Democratic hoax is today’s existential crisis, and Trump’s bold, decisive leadership has protected us all. 

Seriously, that’s the new Trumpist line: Big Brother was always right.

But except on the crackpot fringes,  it’s not going to play. This time Trump’s sheer, malign incompetence is going to cost thousands their livelihoods and lives. All but the most far gone cultists will turn against him.

Did The Patriarchy Punish Elizabeth Warren — Or Did She Just Lose?

To hear some people tell it, a loss for Elizabeth Warren is a loss for womankind. Ever since the Massachusetts Senator withdrew her presidential candidacy after finishing third in her home state primary on Super Tuesday, many have described her demise as resulting from dislike and fear of strong women and a victory for the dread patriarchy.

Oddly, nobody says that about Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who'd withdrawn and endorsed Joe Biden only days before. Evidently, some women are more emblematic than others. But hold that thought.

"America Punished Elizabeth Warren for Her Competence," was the title of a fairly typical example by Megan Garber in The Atlantic. A lively stylist, Garber did a terrific job of analyzing what I thought were Warren's weaknesses as a candidate while entirely missing her own point. One Democratic woman she saw being interviewed on TV put it this way: "When I hear her talk, I want to slap her, even when I agree with her." She quotes others describing Warren as "sanctimonious," "condescending," and "a know-it-all."

Yet to Garber, it was Warren's refusal to hide her intellectual brilliance that did her in: "The country still doesn't know what to make of a woman—in politics, and beyond—who refuses to qualify her success." She quotes an Ivy League philosophy professor to the effect that "[m]isogyny is the law-enforcement branch of patriarchy."

Sigh. I see the word "patriarchy," I reach for my revolver. Particularly when it's brandished by somebody a lot higher on the social organization chart than anybody in the unrecorded history of my family.

OK, that's a joke. A famous Nazi said that about the word "culture." I am not a Nazi, and I don't keep a pistol close at hand.

But here's the deal: An American presidential election, for better and definitely for worse, is for most voters an extended TV series. And nobody much is keen to watch "The Liz Warren Show." MSNBC could give her Chris Matthews' old Hardball program, and the ratings would nosedive.

During Warren's epic demolition of a smug and bewildered Michael Bloomberg during the Feb. 12 Democratic debate on NBC, I remarked to my wife "My God, she's a jerk. She's destroying him. But she's hurting herself almost as much as she's hurting him."

I actually used an earthier epithet, which shall remain our little secret. A gender-neutral one, I hasten to add. Anyway, Bloomberg probably deserved it. He certainly stepped into the batter's box without a helmet. But Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum noticed that Bloomberg crashed while Joe Biden soared in voter polls from that point forward. Warren steadily declined.

I've been instructed to leave Diane's own somewhat incorrect reaction to Senator Warren's demeanor out of this column. Her voice! Her antic arm-waving! Suffice it to say that while she and a couple of her girlfriends traveled to New Hampshire to stump for Hillary Clinton in 2016, with one signal exception they did not support Warren's candidacy.

Another friend, an Irish guy from Brooklyn, said she reminded him of the kind of nun who would whack your knuckles with a ruler. And Warren's not even Catholic, although she does appear to have purchased her campaign wardrobe from her local Nuns-R-Us outlet.

Catty and subjective enough for you? Good, because that's how people watch TV. It's an intensely subjective medium. Warren does very well in one-on-one interviews and town hall settings but falls flat on the big stage. Brilliant woman; failed the screen test.

On Super Tuesday, Warren collected 21 percent of the Massachusetts vote, compared to 34 percent for Joe Biden, and 27 percent for Bernie Sanders. She finished a poor third among Massachusetts women too. In the 2016 general election, by way of comparison, it was Hillary Clinton 60 percent, Donald Trump 33 percent.

So don't blame misogyny. Hillary's not exactly Miss Congeniality, yet Massachusetts voted for her. Anyway, Elizabeth Warren's not womankind, she's one woman who ran a fairly incoherent campaign: notably all over the place about her Medicare-for-all proposal and how to pay for it.

I suspect that Warren's being a Harvard professor also had something to do with her defeat. Of course, that could be my own anti-academic bias talking. But her professorial manner didn't help. During the same debate where she eviscerated Bloomberg, she dismissed Amy Klobuchar's health insurance proposal as a "Post-it note." The Minnesota senator bristled.

Even on campus, calling people stupid rarely elicits their admiration. Oh health care, Klobuchar's a pragmatist, favoring an Obamacare public option that's politically feasible, while Medicare-for-All is certainly not—as you'd think Warren's floundering on the issue might have taught her.

Or as Klobuchar herself put it, "You don't put your money on a number that's not even on the wheel."

Had she not withdrawn, I'd have supported Klobuchar, to me the most politically talented Democrat of either gender.

Sanders Likes Party Rules Fine — Until He Doesn’t

During a recent presidential debate, one Democratic candidate came out foursquare against majority rule, and hardly anybody noticed.

On Feb. 19, NBC's Chuck Todd asked all six candidates on the stage to opine whether the person with the largest number of pledged delegates at the Democratic National Convention in July should become the party's nominee, even if that person had fewer than half the votes.

Five said no. Party rules previously agreed upon by all candidates would require a second round of voting, with so-called "superdelegates" (mainly elected officials) participating for the first time. Further ballots might become necessary until one candidate secured a majority: Democracy 101, a simple-minded observer like myself would have imagined.

Sending a candidate unable to attract a majority of Democrats out to do battle with Boss Trump in November would seem to almost guarantee defeat.

Bernie Sanders dissented. Evidently, minority rule would be perfectly OK with him, so long as he's its beneficiary. Otherwise, and almost needless to say, the mind of man can scarce conceive the furor from Bernie and his supporters if things went the other way, and the candidate with a winning plurality turned out to be somebody other than him.

In that case, things would be very different.

But hold that thought.

Anybody who remembers Sanders' high-wire performance during his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton will recall that he refused to concede the nomination even after his opponent had secured a clear majority of party delegates. He demanded an opportunity to win over previously denounced and despised superdelegates, an effort that failed.

Nancy LeTourneau sums things up succinctly in The Washington Monthly: "In the end, Sanders has gone from refusing to concede the nomination in an attempt to woo superdelegates, to negotiating their elimination from the first ballot, to now suggesting that the rules he negotiated shouldn't be followed. The only thing that ties those three positions together is a determination of what would be in the best interests of Bernie Sanders."

To Sanders supporters, it follows that an unseemly outbreak of democracy at the Democratic National Convention must be prevented. A so-called "brokered convention" would be a sinister and dangerous thing. Writing in The Nation, the venerable left-wing magazine that endorsed Bernie, political scientist Edward Burmila warns that "A Brokered Convention Would Be an Ugly Act of Self-Sabotage."

Subhead: "Are establishment Democrats really willing to destroy the party on live television?"

Although he believes that political junkies yearn for the excitement of a contested nomination, Burmila warns that "Democrats should know intuitively that a wild, public fracturing at the convention in Milwaukee would be a very bad look. Imagine the 24-hour cable news cycle and social media full of video clips of a compromise nominee being booed, an angry walk-out … It could, and very likely would, get ugly."

Ugly, that is, unless an impassioned minority got its way.

In short, Sanders supporters essentially threaten to take the Democratic Party hostage. Unless they win, the contest was crooked — precisely the kind of thinking that makes Bernie my next-to-last presidential choice among candidates of both parties. Indeed, probably among all eligible American adults not named Tulsi Gabbard.

Marxist dialectic can be a very supple and complex thing. Also seductive. Yes, a contested Democratic convention would be an unruly mess. No doubt about it. A united party would certainly stand a better chance against the Great Divider. It would seem to follow that Real Democracy in 2020 requires minority rule by the zealous and enlightened. Basically the "woke," as current slang has it.

Or as the ruling class of pigs put it in Orwell's Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Of course, nobody quite puts it that way.

Do I exaggerate? Could be. However, I provoked great anger from Sanders supporters recently on Facebook for saying I believe in majority, i.e. 51 percent, rule. If that means horse-trading before or during the Democratic convention, then so be it. For this I was denounced as a tool of the billionaire class, an enemy of universal health care, a racist, a possessor of extreme wealth, and a recipient of bribes, among other sins. My antagonists gave both the straw man and ad hominem logical fallacies a real workout.

Even my Scrooge McDuck jokes failed to mollify them. Frankly, it was like nothing so much as reading my emails from Trumpists.

So forget all this happy talk about how beating Boss Trump is Job One. Should any rival candidate — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, whomever — succeed in putting together a majority coalition that denies Sanders the nomination, then evil will have triumphed in the persons of "billionaires," "corporate Democrats," "sellouts," "establishment whores," etc.

Look, if Bernie wins, he wins. But to the extent people think that they're helping their man with this stuff, they are badly mistaken.

Democrats’ Rules May Lead To A Contentious Convention

“Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans.” –Will Rogers

With roughly 1 percent of the 2020 primary votes cast and more or less counted, Democrats are tempted to panic. Partly, it’s traditional. “Democrats in Disarray” is a perennial headline at this stage.

That said, there are good reasons for concern. Bernie Sanders appears to be verging upon a conniption fit. His campaign sent out a recent fundraising email complaining, “We are under attack — from the corporate media, from the Democratic establishment, from Buttigieg and Biden’s super PACs, and from the corporate media.”

You read it right. Sanders is so alarmed by press criticism that he assailed the “corporate media” twice in one sentence.

Hint: All news media is corporate by definition.

Elsewhere, Sanders has taken to arguing that a plurality of earned delegates — not a majority — should suffice to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

What with Bernie polling around 26 percent nationally — more than anybody else, but far short of a majority — it’s obvious why this idea appeals to him. Not to mention to his enraptured supporters, many clinging to the poisonous myth that nefarious DNC operatives cheated their hero in 2016, despite his losing to Hillary Clinton by several million votes.

Anyway, it’s not going to fly. Come hell, high water or Michael Bloomberg — who hasn’t yet appeared on a single ballot, and who could fall on his expensively barbered face in televised debates before he does — a Democrat will need an actual majority to win the party’s nomination to face Boss Trump come November.

Even if it tears the party apart to reach one.

Which it could well do.

Yes, Donald Trump took the Republican nomination in 2016 with 45 percent of the vote. That’s because GOP rules dictated winner-take-all apportionment of party delegates. Also because too many no-hope candidates stayed in the race too long. Hence Trump’s plurality gained him 70 percent of the delegates.

However, as Mike Tomasky explains in The Daily Beast: “Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally … Yes, there is a threshold that candidates have to hit to get any delegates at all, 15 percent. But the way this race is shaping up, it’s not crazy to think that four or five candidates could hit that threshold in most states.”

Sanders, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and, yes, Michael Bloomberg. That’s too many candidates. The headline over Greg Sargent’s Washington Post column puts it this way: “As Bloomberg Rises, Democrats Are Stumbling Toward Disaster.”

Sargent envisions Democrats ending up in a King Kong versus Godzilla death match between Sanders, the great scourge of “millionaires and billionaires,” and Bloomberg, a guy so rich he could buy and sell Boss Trump 20 times over.

(Unlike Trump, Bloomberg inherited nothing and has never been accused of bankrupting a casino, running a scam “university” or laundering cash for Russian mobsters. He earned his pile the old-fashioned way: on Wall Street.)

Sargent thinks it’d be ominous to see Bloomberg’s billions funding attack ads against Sanders and his idealistic army of small donors.

So far, most Democrats don’t appear to mind. Whatever he’s doing, Bloomberg’s doing in broad daylight. Indeed, you’d be hard put to miss his omnipresent TV commercials, all dedicated to advancing his candidacy rather than tearing rivals down.

Another reason many don’t mind is that there are many Democrats, like former Clinton campaign aide James Carville, who are convinced that Bernie and his enraptured supporters are leading the party “to the farthest reaches of left-wing zombie land.”

“There is only one moral imperative right now, for the very fate of American democracy,” Carville says: “defeating Donald Trump. That’s all that matters. And I am scared to death we are about to blow it.” Blow it, that is, by advocating “mile-high fantasies that are likely to lose swing states.”

Fantasies such as open borders and Medicare for undocumented immigrants. Such as doing away with nuclear energy and fracking. Such as free college tuition for all, and student debt forgiveness.

People who worked their way through school and paid off their loans, Carville says, “don’t want to hear this [stuff] … It’s just not a winning message.

“You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals … vote from jail cells,” Carville says.

Question: Is he out of his mind?

No, he’s just an ideologue in love with his own voice, and who hasn’t faced a serious opponent for many years.

I’m an Amy Klobuchar man myself, partly for the same combination of dumb reasons everybody chooses candidates. She’s funny; she’s sensible. She talks politics, not ideology. She somewhat resembles my sainted wife. She comes on TV, I start smiling. Can’t help myself.

But come Super Tuesday, no drawing to an inside straight: If Amy’s not running a close third, she needs to give it up.

And so does everybody behind her.

Can America Survive The Internet?

If nothing else, the internet has exploded the myth of human rationality. Remember when Al Gore was going around talking about the “information superhighway”? Twenty years down the road, it’s more like the Freeway of Delusion.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell would not have been surprised. “Man is a rational animal — so at least we have been told,” he said. “Throughout a long life I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement. So far, I have not had the good fortune to come across it.”

Russell was thinking of World War I.

Evidence of mass irrationality abounds. Absurd falsehoods and crackpot conspiracy theories once touted by street-corner eccentrics carrying hand-lettered signs now circle the globe at the speed of light. As recently as a generation ago, intellectual gatekeepers like CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite and NBC’s David Brinkley presided over the news divisions at their respective networks, and were widely believed to deliver accurate information.

“If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” President Lyndon Johnson allegedly said after a critical on-air editorial in 1968 questioning American claims to be winning in Vietnam. Some have disputed the quote. But the story resonates because its essence was true. People believed Uncle Walter. Within two weeks of the broadcast, LBJ decided not to run for reelection.

Such an outcome would be unthinkable today. The most influential pundits during the 2016 presidential election spoke Russian. And most of what they peddled was sheer make-believe: poisonous fictions about Hillary Clinton’s dismembering children while simultaneously being at death’s door due to her failing health, etc.

No internet, no Russian trolls.

Also, in all likelihood, no President Trump.

Mere journalism of the traditional kind hardly stands a chance. Indeed, if one had no other reason to subscribe to Facebook, it would be to track the remorseless march of folly across the political landscape. Just this morning, for example, I learned from one Facebook friend — a prominent local citizen — that Sharia law is sweeping the nation. Christian children are being converted to Islam in public schools, while Americans everywhere are forbidden to criticize the ideology of Osama bin Laden.

It’s a given that all Muslims are, by definition, terrorists.

So yes, the terrorists have won, thanks to the spineless traitors of the “Democrat Party.”

Lots of “likes,” and plenty of “shares.” Yes, a person would have to be intellectually disabled to believe this kind of crude propaganda. But it’s not really a matter of belief — or intellect. Fear of the “other” goes straight to the primitive core of the human brain, the “fight or flight” part. Arguing against it is like trying to talk a dog out of fearing thunderstorms. People are mainlining this drug all over the Internet. It’s a form of mass hysteria. By comparison, the staid Trumpists on Fox News resemble, yes, Walter Cronkite.

But here’s the deal. This particular example of psychotic propaganda almost certainly originated not in Russia, but right here in the USA.

According to an eye-opening report in The Atlantic by McKay Coppins, the production and dissemination of far-right internet memes has shifted to the United States. (Not that the Russians are out of business, far from it.) The Trump campaign in particular is operating a heavily funded Internet propaganda shop from the 14th floor of a gleaming high-rise just across the Potomac River in northern Virginia.

“Every presidential campaign sees its share of spin and misdirection,” Coppins explains, “but this year’s contest promises to be different. In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view — one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting.”

Given Trump’s personal fondness for conspiracy theories dating all the way back to the “birther” fable of Barack Obama’s mythical birthplace in Kenya, it’s to be expected that the GOP campaign will double down.

Coppins created a fake Facebook profile listing himself as a Trump supporter, and spent the impeachment trial absorbing what came over the transom. “I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions,” he writes. “But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline … the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.”

At a deeper level, he explains, the purpose of flooding the zone with even the most absurd propaganda isn’t necessarily to persuade people of a particular line of thinking. It’s to instill in the body politic, as the political philosopher Hannah Arendt said about the followers of Hitler and Stalin, “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.”

The goal isn’t so much loyalty as submission, she wrote: citizen/subjects who “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true.”

Crafted by 18th-century rationalists, the U.S. Constitution assumes a populace capable of recognizing its own enlightened self-interest and acting upon it. Can it survive the age of the Internet?

Good question.