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

A Case Of Negligent Homicide

A normal president of either political party would have read by now the dark milestone that the country passed this week, when American deaths from coronavirus passed 100,000 in a space of three months. A normal president would have acknowledged when jobless claims passed 40 million. A normal president would have felt compelled to face up to this terrible reality in a spirit of unity and compassion, speaking to us from the Oval Office or a house of worship. A normal president would not have brushed aside those deaths with a perfunctory tweet, wedged with minimal sincerity into his daily outpouring of poison.

But we know Donald Trump isn't a normal president. He is a perpetrator and a predator. He has proved again this week that he cannot respond appropriately to this monumental tragedy — that he must instead do anything he can to distract us — because he is conscious of his own guilt.

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PompeoGate: The First Scandal Of Campaign 2024

Do you remember Mike Pompeo?

Not the Pompeo who now serves as secretary of state, and who liked to boast that he had restored the "swagger" of the diplomatic corps (even as he served up his own Ukraine ambassador to a White House smear campaign). And no, not the sleazy character who induced the firing of the State Department's inspector general in order to bury an investigation of his own misconduct. This Secretary Pompeo is a flunky of President Donald Trump who lives happily inside the president's ethical vacuum.

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Prescription For A Sick Country

Before June 1, we will almost certainly have lost 100,000 Americans to the coronavirus, along with 25 million jobs. Without powerful government action, this national catastrophe, unlike anything seen here for a hundred years, will continue to ravage the United States. And there is every reason to fear that we will see yet more pandemic disease as this century unfolds.

Yet there is still no sign that the Trump administration is prepared to act with the determination, skill and urgency that the hour demands. Instead, the president consistently demonstrates his mental and moral unfitness to lead — as he did again this week when he idiotically declared that we have so many COVID-19 cases because we have done so many tests.

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The Travel Bans That Failed

Now that President Donald Trump has surrendered the United States to the coronavirus — without much available testing, except for himself and his White House cronies — the toll of illness and death is sure to explode. As America counts the cost of their horrific incompetence, in the midst of his reelection campaign, the president will trumpet his sole attempt to stem the looming pandemic: his closing of the nation's borders to China and later Europe.

"I put the ban on China, as you know," he said at a press briefing on April 20, uttering the defensive mantra he repeats whenever anyone mentions his refusal to do anything useful. Lately, he has congratulated himself that way at least once a day. It's an essential element of the administration's policy of deflecting blame toward Beijing. Sometimes he mentions that he "put a ban on Europe" and even says that his courageous actions "saved many lives."

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Bless Their Hearts: How Red States Screw Blue States

Nothing angers Andrew Cuomo more than the notion that taxpayers in "red states" should resent or resist assistance for "blue states" struggling against the coronavirus. Hearing that message from Senate Republicans provoked the Democratic New York governor to remind the nation several times of the gross disparity between what his state remits to the Treasury and what their states reclaim in federal benefits.

Cuomo noted acidly that New York pays $116 billion more than it gets back annually, while lucky Kentucky, the home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, gets $148 billion more than it pays. By that reckoning, New York has kicked in far more over the past few decades than any of the states whose Republican leaders criticize supposed liberal profligacy.

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Mitch McConnell’s True Colors

If you're listening to politicians, you hear them sing bipartisan praise for the heroes who march bravely into the viral storm every day. They constantly eulogize doctors and nurses, cops and firefighters, but also those who maintain essential services amid the coronavirus catastrophe — from grocery clerks to delivery drivers to sanitation workers, train conductors and traffic engineers. Suddenly, we have all realized that those good people, whose thankless toil we took for granted, deserve our gratitude and respect.

Or so it seemed until Mitch McConnell opened his mouth and proved that, to him at least, those civic accolades mean nothing.

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There Is Nobody Else To Blame

When he isn't watching Fox News or tweeting insults at his perceived enemies, President Donald Trump spends a lot of time hunting scapegoats. Always preoccupied with escaping responsibility, Trump's lifelong delinquency is suddenly a matter of life and death, as coronavirus claims thousands of American lives on his presidential watch. And as it becomes clearer that the United States might have easily avoided the worst consequences of the pandemic — and failed because of federal inaction — it is Trump whose historic reputation will plummet.

So will his chances of reelection. The latest Gallup poll shows his approval rating, now mired in the low 40s, has slid six points during the past month.

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Correcting Trump’s Pandemic Lies In Real Time

For weeks now, the nation's broadcasters have faced a moral dilemma every time President Donald Trump mounts the White House podium to deliver his "coronavirus briefing." While ordinary journalistic standards compel coverage of any president's remarks — especially during a national crisis — this president's relentless utterance of falsehoods, propaganda points and potentially deadly disinformation mocks those same standards.

Should media outlets meekly give Trump hours of free airtime to mislead and misinform their audiences? Can they cut short or even ignore his destructive rants without violating their own principles? When the president's speech poses a daily menace to human health and American democracy, how should responsible TV networks present him?

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We Need A 9/11 Commission To Probe Pandemic Failure

Americans are now living — and many, many are dying — with the consequences of a truly historic governmental failure. The administration of President Donald Trump, which bears all the responsibility it is trying to escape, has collapsed in the face of a global pandemic that scientists have long warned would someday arrive. Now it is here, threatening to kill hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions.

Sooner, rather than later, we must learn why this catastrophe occurred, why the United States government neglected to anticipate and prepare for it, and how the nation can prevent or at least mitigate its recurrence. That's why we will need a coronavirus commission to provide answers, along with the same kind of deep and thorough investigation performed by the 9/11 Commission after that disaster.

Knowing that President Trump and his minions lie as routinely as other people breathe, we have to expect that they will oppose any inquiry that might reveal how they botched their fundamental responsibility to protect the country. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ought to launch that process now, by authorizing the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to conduct research and hearings on what is surely the worst intelligence failure since 9/11 and likely the worst in U.S. history.

A serious investigation of the pandemic, its origins and its almost unimpeded swath of destruction would begin by identifying the actual source of the disease and examining how the virus jumped into the human population. Such an investigation would necessarily examine the Chinese government's responsibility in having concealed the outbreak at the very beginning, when it might have been eradicated at relatively little cost.

And then the investigation would probe Washington's ruinous neglect of the pandemic threat as it loomed over this country.

Already it is clear that for months, the Trump White House pretended the "Wuhan virus," as the White House insists on calling it, posed no significant danger to the United States. The president infamously congratulated himself for ordering a ship filled with sick passengers to not come ashore because he wanted "the numbers" to remain low. He told us that the virus would disappear "miraculously," that the disease would vanish in warmer weather, that the first dozen infected would dwindle to zero.

It is equally clear that the Trump administration's approach to the issue of pandemic disease was fatally myopic from the beginning. The 2018 decision to disband the National Security Council's directorate for biodefense and global health crippled the capacity to confront coronavirus as it developed. In the year following that decision, top experts on pandemic disease left the White House. With the Republican right's typical militaristic mindset, John Bolton, then the national security adviser, folded that vital office into the same division that oversees nuclear proliferation and bioterrorism.

In November 2019, the Center for Strategic and International Studies urged the reversal of Bolton's stupid directive. The intelligent and impeccably conservative analysts at CSIS understood why defending against a virus that springs from nature is a very different kind of threat — as former President Barack Obama's experience with H1N1 flu and Ebola should have taught us.

Of course, Trump now claims that he knew nothing about that grave bureaucratic mistake — or the multiple mistakes that led us into the awful trap of delay, dithering and doom.

In the months before the 9/11 Commission was established, then-President George W. Bush's administration tried to forestall an independent investigation of how the al-Qaida plot succeeded. White House officials protested that those who wanted a probe were motivated by partisan politics, which would inevitably taint the findings. They hindered the creation of the commission and resisted providing the documents and testimony necessary to complete its work. But in the end, they were forced to cooperate — and the revelations of 9/11 Commission Report not only exposed Bush's errors but also led to substantial reform of the nation's counterterrorism structures.

Predictably, congressional Republicans as well as the Trump gang will whine that Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who oversaw the Intelligence Committee's impeachment hearings, cannot run a fair investigation of the pandemic disaster. They will conveniently forget the multiple congressional investigations of the 2012 Benghazi attack, a tragedy that resulted in four American deaths (and one for which they exploited Hilary Clinton, as their own caucus leader ineptly confessed).

After thousands die, however, it will be difficult for Trump to argue against an effort to learn why we lost so many of our fellow Americans and how we can ensure it doesn't happen again. If he doesn't want a congressional probe by his adversaries, then he can simply agree to a blue-ribbon, bipartisan panel like the 9/11 Commission — and live in dread of its findings.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The Liberal Virtues Of Andrew Cuomo

Every day, as the novel coronavirus spreads lethally across the nation, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is conducting a televised master class in government that has drawn a wide and admiring audience. Lauded for his elevated and candid leadership, he is underlining the absence of any such qualities in the president of the United States right when they are needed most.

Where President Donald Trump so often sounds feckless, egomaniacal and terribly uninformed, Cuomo appears serious, determined and fully in command of the facts. While Trump dithers and tries to escape responsibility, Cuomo asserts his authority and then accepts the inevitable blame for wrenching decisions. It is all too obvious which one is the adult in the room. Trump boasts of his phony greatness, while Cuomo can rattle off a long list of real achievements.

But the stark contrast between these politicians goes beyond their personalities.

Trump personifies the right-wing Republican revulsion of government, which is why he enjoys the unquestioning loyalty of his own party’s most extreme elements. Under his father’s tutelage, Trump came to see government as a cynical game that rewarded corruption. If government demanded to collect taxes owed, the Trump Organization found brazen ways to avoid paying. If government enforced an end to housing discrimination, the Trumps fought in court to preserve their racial preferences. And if government forbade the self-serving misuse of the Trump Foundation or the defrauding of Trump University enrollees, then the Trumps would look for a way around those rules, too.

The family that Cuomo grew up in regarded government as an instrument to improve society and, for those who served in office, a public trust. His late father, Mario Cuomo, who ran New York as governor for three terms, became one of the most eloquent advocates of Democratic Party principles. Mario’s rhetoric depicted the state as a family, with mutual support as its watchword and pragmatic progressivism as its guiding philosophy. The point of government was not to grab for oneself — as the Trumps did incessantly — but to achieve betterment for all.

It was a compelling vision, even if his own government sometimes fell short of those aspirations. And his decision not to seek the presidency disappointed an entire generation of admiring liberals.

While Andrew Cuomo too admired his father and reveres his memory, he has never enjoyed the same reputation for intellect and charm. From the time he ran his father’s early campaigns, he seemed to be little more than a tough kid from Queens, smart and effective but more ruthless and less compassionate than his father.

The kinder way to describe him in those days was “an operations guy,” less interested in liberal ideals or the fine points of Catholic social ethics than in getting the job done. Many people disliked him, especially if they got in his way.

Beneath the abrasive exterior, however, there was always something else that only those closest to him would glimpse. He has his father’s buoyant confidence and dry sense of humor — and a surprising capacity to comfort the grieving that emerges on private occasions. Those qualities make a difference now, at a frightening moment when the country needs reassurance so badly.

Andrew Cuomo is still an old-fashioned operations guy, which means that as governor, he insists on science, metrics, data and systems that work. In an era when the news cycle has been dominated by Trump’s lies, fabrications and illusions, Cuomo’s refusal to sugarcoat a dire reality is refreshing. So is his capacity to grapple with the details of governance, which have always been part of his life. These are the time-honored virtues of liberalism. And his service in federal and state positions has trained him for this hour in a way that is true of few other public officials.

We can only hope that his sane and sound approach to the crisis will prevail (and that he continues to succeed in mostly suppressing his true feelings about Trump). We can also hope that even at his age, with all his experience, he is still learning — not only about the world but about himself.

What he has showed us lately is a capacity to transcend his perceived limitations and display the decency, strength, humor and inspiration missing from our government. No matter what happens in this year’s election, a rebuilding America will need such leaders badly. If we still have a bigger and brighter future, then this Andrew Cuomo does, too.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

What The Pandemic Tells Us About Our Politics

When Americans are confronting the most threatening national crisis in a generation or more, it would be uplifting to offer a few encouraging words about the president of the United States. And a few is about as many as can be offered at this point. Not only is his performance to date far below what his country needs but he also shows no sign of having learned the lessons that might allow him to improve.

To watch President Donald Trump preside over a coronavirus briefing must depress the most cheerful viewer. By now it should be obvious that Trump is no Franklin Delano Roosevelt; he doesn’t even achieve the minimal standard of leadership set by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. Instead of aiming to inspire confidence and trust, Trump shines the spotlight on himself. He insists on groveling praise from all of his subordinates. He spins crucial facts into useless misinformation. He repeats ridiculous boasts about his own brilliance. And he seeks above all to blame others rather than accept responsibility. That includes any reporter who dares to pose a question that doesn’t flatter him.

“What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” asked NBC’s Peter Alexander. “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say,” barked Trump. “That’s a very nasty question.” The softball question wasn’t nasty at all, but Trump reacted like a bully, not a leader.

Sorry, but the best that can be said of the president today is that after weeks of failing to respond adequately to the coronavirus threat, he and his gang have realized that the pandemic is real and will take them down if they continue to do nothing. Under pressure from governors of both parties — and from Republican senators contemplating a November wipeout — he has at last begun to mobilize federal resources to aid the struggling states hit hardest so far. After dithering for days, Trump invoked his powers under the Defense Production Act to command corporate resources needed for the swiftest possible manufacturing of medical equipment.

Until the pandemic struck, the rank incompetence of Trump and those closest to him seemed likely to protect us from at least some of their most destructive impulses. Whatever awful things he might want to do — building border walls, banning immigrants, busting Obamacare — would be tempered by his sheer inability to get anything done.

But the obverse of that principle can be seen in this crisis given that many crucial things that must be done right away are so far beyond his feeble capacity.

What makes the current situation still more dire is the administration’s ruling ideology, which combines the most backward aspects of Republican “conservatism” with Trump’s own “America First” obsessions. It is a combination that may prove extremely lethal in a pandemic and has already damaged our prospects for recovery.

First of all, there is no “America First” policy that can address a deadly disease spreading rapidly around the planet. Whether Trump likes “globalists” or not — and he likes them plenty when his sons are minting multimillion-dollar overseas deals — we live in a world where international air travel and trade guarantee that any contagion eventually reaches our shores. Trump’s ban on travel from China only briefly forestalled the inevitable. What stopped a menace like Ebola and reduced an epidemic like HIV/AIDS was international organization and cooperation — including with nations whose governments we dislike.

Second, the Republican allergy to universal health coverage is now proved outdated and profoundly dangerous. Whether it is “Medicare for All” or another variation, we can only protect all our citizens from disease by providing health care to everyone here — whether they happen to be citizens or not.

Third, the Republican prejudice against “big government” is equally shortsighted and stupid. If we have learned anything in the past few weeks, it is that only government can bring to bear the necessary force to defend society in the face of massive destruction. Trump’s decisions to abolish the National Security Council pandemic office, and cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, shows that he is unfit for his job. For Republicans to defend these decisions is proof that their ideology trumps their commitment to national security.

The only upside to Trump’s bumbling and buffoonish presidency is that if we survive, the lessons are clear. We had better learn them, because another pandemic is sure to come.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

#EndorseThis: Mayor Pete Subs For Kimmel — And The Joke’s On Him

Perhaps Pete Buttigieg — who used to be mayor of SouthBend, Indiana and more recently ran for the Democratic presidential nomination –is looking for a new job. He took over Jimmy Kimmel Live as guest host onThursday night in the strangest possible circumstances – a theater with nostudio audience due to coronavirus restrictions. Instead, they faked a greenscreencrowd, “just like Trump’s inauguration,” he quipped.

Buttigieg quickly pivoted to ask that viewers contactCongress to demand support for the House Democratic legislative package,projecting the Capitol phone number onscreen (202-224-3121).

The poised former mayor smoothly handled the scripted jokes –aimed mostly at him – as well as his political message. And even if you’ve seenit already, you don’t want to miss his clip of Sarah Palin making a fool ofherself on The Masked Singer.

“That’s going to be me in three months, isn’t it?” he mused.

Click and chortle.

Trump Fails, Biden Steps Up

Is Joe Biden president of the United States yet?

Biden certainly sounded like the commander-in-chief on Thursdaymorning, when he addressed the pandemic crisis in a sobering televised speech. Calmlyyet firmly, he called the American people to action, proposed a substantive anddetailed plan to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak, and promised to protect thenation from future threats in cooperation with our overseas allies.

If his words lacked the emotive power of a Barack Obama orBill Clinton, the former vice president was more than adequate to the moment – especiallyin contrast to the wretched performance of the actual president on the prior evening.Even Donald Trump must have realized that his flat, monotonous, seeminglyspooked reading of the teleprompter had failed to reassure the country, when marketsreacted with another record-breaking decline.

Drafted by his kooky xenophobic aide Stephen Miller, Trump’sspeech struck an immediately discordant tone. When he referred to “a foreignvirus,” the president echoed moldy tropes of bigotry, dating from the DarkAges, when fearful monarchs blamed the outbreak of plague on Jews and other “foreign”influences. His announced policy initiative – to curtail travel between Europeand the United States – embodied that backward worldview without muchlikelihood of reducing infections or saving lives.

No doubt Trump meant to “re-set” his ruinous approach to thepandemic, realizing that continuing failure will inevitably mean his ejectionfrom office in November. He needed a major adjustment, after weeks ofdownplaying and distorting the coronavirus threat and encouraging his idiot supportersto depict it as a “hoax.” But his speech — devoid of serious proposals toavert catastrophe — only emphasized how poorly he and his cohort are servingthe nation.

Within minutes after the telecast ended, various Trumpminions realized that he had just uttered several damaging falsehoods. Couldthey have been surprised? He said that all travel between the US and Europewould be halted, when in fact the restrictions only apply to foreign citizens. (Permanentresidents and their spouses will also be exempted.) He indicated that all importsand exports would be stopped, although only people and not goods are affected. Andhe claimed that he had persuaded health insurance executives to waive allpayments for coronavirus coverage, when actually they had only agreed to covertesting without charge, not treatment.

Such boobery is depressingly familiar to a nation that suffersTrump’s misstatements and outright lies every day. But this is not what is supposedto happen in an Oval Office speech. And it is not what would happen in a normalpresidency, where a speech of that gravity is subject to the most careful compositionand checking. It is what happens, however, when a puffed-up tyro like Jared Kushneris running the White House.

The arrant stupidity of the speech’s main point is obvious,except to the Trump mindset. Even if restricting inbound travel might reducethe number of infected people entering our borders, any such policy must beenacted only in consultation with the European Union and its leading memberstates. A global pandemic requires global cooperation, not “America First” posturing.

The most glaring omission from Trump’s speech was anyacknowledgment that coronavirus testing is central to a national mitigationstrategy. But the president couldn’t talk about testing because hisadministration has failed to ensure that tests are available in the tens ofmillions, as needed.

What Biden proposed, by contrast, was not only a rapid expansionof testing but a whole series of policy actions that would prepare us againstthe worst. In addition to ramping up test production in both the public andprivate sectors, the Democratic frontrunner laid out a plan for mobile testfacilities, the deployment of military medical personnel and equipment, acceleratedtraining and development of treatments and vaccines, plus much more to dealwith future threats as well as the current crisis.

Biden’s entire plan is well worth perusing (joebiden.com/covid19/).It provides an instant sense of how deeply his team understands government andhow federal authorities can respond to a national emergency. All of thisknowledge is “foreign” to the Trump crew and their Republican cronies inCongress, whose ideological disdain for government is potentially deadly to usall.

As the Democratic candidates cancel political rallies, inaccordance with guidelines concerning crowded events, voters may wonder how Americawill conduct national conventions and even the November election. What’s toobad is that we can’t move the election up by several months, rid ourselves ofthese dangerous incompetents  – and inauguratea government that works.

Until then God bless America, because we really need it.

What A Sane Government Would Do

As the new coronavirus casts a frightening shadow across the nation and the world, it is glaringly obvious how poorly prepared we are for the pandemic — despite many warnings we should have heeded over the past two decades. Perhaps we will again escape without catastrophic consequences, although that is by no means certain.

If we do, it will largely be a function of lucky circumstance. But we may not be so lucky again. And there are many things that a competent and intelligent government can do — could have done — to prevent the worst.

Competent and intelligent government is not what exists in Washington now. We know that not only because everything President Donald Trump has said about COVID-19 is precisely false, or because the Trump administration has screwed up the simplest preparations for its spread, but because two years ago, this president dismantled the agencies created by his predecessor after the Ebola outbreak to cope with a future medical crisis.

Now, of course, Trump insists that former President Barack Obama is somehow to blame for his own government's flawed response. We can only pray that veteran officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and state public health agencies around the country can bring this situation under control before tens of thousands or more are endangered.

So far the federal officials who must deal with the present crisis have neglected to take some very basic steps. For instance, as Elisabeth Benjamin of New York's Community Service Society has pointed out, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar could require all federally regulated insurance plans to cover coronavirus testing and treatment without co-payments of any kind, encouraging people to get tested without fear of cost. Unsurprisingly, the useless Azar has failed to take that kind of action.

But what if we were to have a federal government capable of something more than a pathetic, inadequate and self-serving tweet? What if we were to have a president who understands that wasting billions more on the military is far less valuable than building a robust defense against pandemic disease?

That kind of president would reconstruct the nation's public health systems, renewing their depth and resilience. Such a president would propose legislation providing billions of dollars to local hospital systems for training all staff in how to prevent infection; for stockpiling effective masks, protective gowns, mechanical ventilators and related devices; and for ensuring additional bed space in case of national emergency. At the moment, the Trump administration's health policies have imposed additional stress and costs on hospitals. We need a government that supports public health capacity.

But Americans also need a government that can learn from this crisis and conceive creative solutions to the emerging problems. At the moment, hospital executives are rightly concerned that as more people are infected — or merely fear infection — they will crowd emergency rooms, potentially endangering hospital staff and one another. Some experts have suggested it would be far safer and more efficient to bring testing into affected neighborhoods in mobile units, operated by personnel in protective gear, speedily serving thousands of patients and getting them into care or quarantine right away if necessary.

A sane government would likewise bolster our foreign assistance and monitoring agencies, working in cooperation with other governments to detect and forestall dangerous disease vectors before they can leap oceans and deserts into our homes. That was how the Obama administration was able to mobilize a successful international crusade to stop Ebola.

Today, of course, the shortsighted imbeciles in power complain about "globalists" and seek to destroy those programs. And in the same demagogic fashion, they warn against any universal health insurance program that might cover undocumented workers and their families — as if it's better to deprive them of care, rather than ensure that they don't spread a pandemic illness.

We need to stop being so stupid. We must ask all candidates for president how they will deal with the next global medical threat, and judge their answers according to reality, not ideology. Whatever happens in this awful moment, we know one thing: A pandemic is going to happen again.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

How ‘Conservatism’ Could Kill Us All

Nothing confirms the human need for strong, honest, and competent government like a looming pandemic. The possibility that thousands, or even millions, could die from a randomly transmitted virus reminds us of our species' vulnerability — and why society cannot exist without institutions that can protect us from such staggering existential threats.

Only government can impose quarantines and precautions when necessary. Only government can trace contacts, control transportation and monitor communities. Only government can ensure that drugs, medical devices and care will be adequately distributed — and that sufficient resources will be directed toward production of a vaccine as soon as possible, without regard to profit.

At a moment like this, it suddenly becomes clear that every problem — indeed, the most pressing problems — cannot and will not be solved by "the private sector." If that seems blazingly obvious, please inform the Republicans who constantly tell us they want to "shrink government down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Facing a potential catastrophe, those old jeers from the right sound utterly mindless.

But that is precisely the outlook that has undermined our social defenses against a global pandemic, despite many warnings over the years from experts and academics that it was coming. President Donald Trump personifies the impulse to ignore the peril while insisting on prejudice, rather than science. It is exactly the same posture that he and his enablers take toward climate change. When he put on a stunning display of ignorance at a press conference meant to reassure us about the coronavirus, it was because he is capable of nothing more.

Trump alone isn't responsible for the attitudes that undermine our response to the pandemic danger, of course. What passes for conservatism now is more akin to nihilism, promoting attacks on government and spending no matter what essential purpose they may serve. (Only the military, that mammoth of unconscionable waste, is exempt from right-wing dogma.) In the service of tax cuts for the ultra-rich, no vital program can be assured of adequate funding.

So the Trump budget actually aims to reduce funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — an idiotic proposal released just before the arrival of the coronavirus. The timing was perfect. And in fact, Trump and his minions have repeatedly vandalized the nation's bulwarks against pandemic disease.

Exactly two years ago, the money budgeted by former President Barack Obama's administration to deal with the Ebola outbreak in 2014 began to run out, and the Trump White House allowed that to occur, even though it meant reducing efforts to prevent a pandemic in most of the countries where we should be keeping watch.

The aim of that program was to stop any disease outbreak at the source, rather than allow it to leap oceans into the U.S. homeland. Among the 39 hotspot countries that saw this program eliminated were Congo, Pakistan, Rwanda — and China. Remember that the next time you hear a Republican politician barking about "wasteful" foreign aid. The simple truth is that a minimal investment in global health could have provided substantial insurance against the kind of menace we now confront.

The politicians who hate government also tend to be remarkably incapable of executing the most important government functions. Obviously, this is true of Trump and his gang, who have left an extraordinary number of posts vacant simply because they don't understand why it is necessary to fill them. In other instances, their empty-headed disregard for the purposes of government has led to the abolition of indispensable agencies and offices — notably, the National Security Council global health security division.

For the past three years, Trump and the Republicans have busied themselves with attacks on our government's intelligence capabilities, our health systems, even the health coverage that would enable Americans to cope with an epidemic like coronavirus might become. They railed against "the deep state"; they sabotaged fundamental services; they behaved as if society needs no sentinels or guard posts; and now they pretend to be able to protect us.

If America escapes tragedy this time, it must be taken as a warning: Never entrust the future to these numbskulls again.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Trump’s Corrupt Pardon Spree Has Just Begun

The power of the president to grant pardons as stated in the Constitution is unconditional, as President Donald Trump has observed. But as he prepares to bestow that favor on Roger Stone and perhaps other felons who have protected him, someone should advise him that a corrupt pardon is nevertheless a crime that can be prosecuted, if not overturned.

So Bill Clinton learned soon after he pardoned Marc Rich on the last day of his presidency, Jan. 20, 2001. Public anger exploded within days after Clinton granted a conditional reprieve to the infamous “fugitive financier,” who had skipped to a Swiss chateau, evading trial on charges of tax evasion, sanctions violations and conspiracy. Among those most infuriated by Clinton’s surprise decision were the federal prosecutors who spent years chasing Rich.

Suspicion centered on generous political and charitable donations by Rich’s ex-wife over a period of years to various Clinton campaigns and the Clinton Foundation. Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, swiftly announced that her office had opened a criminal investigation of Clinton — the president who had appointed her. That probe continued for a few years under the watchful eye of James Comey, chosen by then-President George W. Bush to replace White.

No doubt Comey and his boss, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft — who had voted to convict Clinton in his Senate impeachment trial — would have relished indicting the former president. The investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, however. Clinton’s actual motive was to reward then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who personally called the Oval Office three times seeking a pardon for Rich in the midst of peace talks with the Palestinians. (As usual, under the “Clinton rules,” the former president’s eventual exoneration went unnoticed in major media outlets.)

But the immediate outrage over Rich’s pardon inflamed media outlets for weeks, setting the stage for both congressional and prosecutorial inquiries. Today the same politicians of both parties who screamed about Clinton are silent.

Have none of them noticed the massive flows of donor money surrounding the Trump pardons? Never mind the blatant influence peddling by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and various other presidential cronies and supporters. If the Rich donations were suspect, what about the cash poured into Trump’s coffers by those seeking pardons and their advocates?

Dallas Republican donor Doug Deason and his billionaire father gave more than a million dollars to the pro-Trump America First PAC. Their generosity seems to have greased the pardon of David Safavian, a former federal official convicted of obstruction and perjury in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, have given more than $200 million to Republican causes, including at least $30 million to Trump-related committees in recent years and $500,000 to a defense fund for Trump aides coping with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. They asked that Trump pardon junk-bond crook Michael Milken and got their wish. (Mrs. Adelson also got the Presidential Medal of Freedom.)

And then there’s the Pogue family, also from Dallas, which forked over $85,000 last year jointly to the president’s reelection committee and the Republican Party — and got a gift-wrapped pardon for its patriarch, Paul Pogue, a construction magnate convicted of tax fraud. Pushing the Pogue pardon was former Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who brayed loudly about the Rich case.

If the Trump pardons look sketchy, consider the fact that Trump simply ignored the Justice Department process that is traditionally employed in evaluating such requests. He knows that the law enforcement apparatus headed by Attorney General William Barr will let him abuse his power freely, while perhaps uttering a feeble protest. Or not.

We will soon see how far Trump will go in abusing the pardon authority. He appears to be preparing to do far worse than handing out clemency for cash. The judge who sentenced Roger Stone to almost four years in prison accused the dirty trickster of lying to “protect the president.” When Trump pardons Stone, Paul Manafort and others implicated in the Russia scandal, he will cap the most troubling cover-up in American history.

If Clinton was subject to investigation and possible prosecution, then Trump should be too.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Authoritarians Are Always Gangsters

Authoritarian governments almost always operate in a style that resembles organized crime outfits. Despite their ostentatious populism, such regimes exist to enrich thuggish rulers and enable corruption in high places. The Trump administration is a perfect example.

But in order to maintain an aura of legitimacy, especially in a country with democratic norms and traditions, authoritarian bosses constantly proclaim their devotion to justice, their determination to right wrongs, and their adherence to law and order. So even as President Donald Trump and his attorney general, Bill Barr, pervert the legal system to cover up official crimes and protect presidential cronies, they are creating a narrative of justification for those acts.

From the very beginning of the Russia investigation, Trump has aimed to derail investigations of appointees and associates who might implicate him in criminal activity. He urged James Comey, then the FBI director, to bury the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s unlawful conduct. Then he fired Comey, and later he repeatedly tried to get rid of special counsel Robert Mueller. The Mueller Report describes in appalling detail a dozen attempts by Trump to kill the investigation.

At the same time, Trump and his lawyers sent clear messages to all the gang members caught up in the investigation: Don’t talk. We’ll take care of you. They “dangled” pardons to buy silence, with Trump openly considering clemency for the potential witnesses he praised as “brave” and “strong.” His former campaign manager Paul Manafort signed and then violated a cooperation agreement with Mueller. So did Flynn. Longtime adviser and dirty tricks specialist Roger Stone never talked, although he knows everything.

While Trump’s efforts to stop the investigation continued behind the scenes, the public face of his propaganda apparatus declared incessantly that the Russia probe was “a hoax.” Not only was there no reason to investigate Russia; according to Trump, the real culprit in 2016 was Ukraine, which Trump also blamed for framing Manafort. (Discovering, or perhaps inventing, evidence that will “exonerate” Manafort is among the chief preoccupations of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s trips to Ukraine.)

Never mind the meticulously documented findings of nearly every U.S. intelligence agency and official including his own FBI director, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and the Mueller investigation. And never mind the multiple convictions of Flynn, Manafort, Stone and others in Trump’s orbit.

The logic of Trump’s ongoing campaign is plain: If the investigation was a fraud, then the prosecutions of Trump associates that emerged from that investigation were, by definition, unjust. But the president can rectify those “injustices” — by granting pardons to the men who could have testified against him.

It’s as if a mob boss had the authority to pardon any underlings who might implicate him (instead of having them whacked).

Emboldened by the Senate’s impeachment acquittal, despite his obvious guilt, Trump now feels free to fulfill the obstruction conspiracy. He is certain that the Senate Republicans — not to mention his wholly owned attorney general — will do nothing to oppose the brazen scheme. They are all implicated in his criminality now.

By uttering a few little squeaks of protest, they help him create a scrim of normality around his gangsterism. So various senators tut-tutted Trump’s latest intervention in the sentencing of Stone as “inappropriate.” And so, Barr himself complained publicly that Trump’s tweeting about the Stone prosecution makes his job “impossible,” which simply means that Barr and the Republicans prefer assaults on democratic norms to occur in the back room, without too much noise.

When lawful government is restored someday, Trump may have to answer for having misused the pardon power for obstruction of justice. There is a firm precedent in the Justice Department’s investigation of former President Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Until then, the American system of justice and constitutional liberty will remain in the gravest jeopardy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.