Sunday, August 21, 2022

BTRTN: In the Matter of Donald Trump v. The Truth

Is the rule of law finally closing in on Donald Trump? Or is Donald Trump’s assault on reality finally destroying the rule of law?

It was the phrase on everyone’s lips: a week ago Thursday, Merrick Garland, in demanding that Trump agree that the search warrant be unsealed, had “called Trump’s bluff.”

“We got you now, Trump!” came the gleeful chorus across the gamut of left-wing journalists and pundits.  “If you don’t agree to release the warrant, Donald, you are obviously hiding something incriminating! But if you do agree to release the warrant, then all hell breaks loose – because Merrick Garland would never have approved or been able to obtain this search warrant without probable cause that there was evidence of a crime at Mar-a-Lago. So now we are going to find out something big… like that you stole nuclear launch codes, or that your shake-down of Zelensky was even worse than we thought, or maybe you snuck off with the transcript of the private Helsinki convo with Putin when he told you he had the pee-pee tape! There just has to be a gun smoking in all those boxes that Trump smuggled out of the White House!”

Yes, finally, after Trump evaded accountability in impeachments, grab-them-by-the-pussy tapes, paying off porn stars with campaign money, extorting a vital ally of the United States by demanding dirt on a political opponent under the threat of withholding taxpayer-funded military assistance, allegations of sexual assault by dozens of women, the likelihood that his company will be convicted on tax charges that is clearly implicit in the guilty plea of his company’s CFO, his violation of every emoluments clause ever written, his instigation a bloody coup against the United States government, and his egregious egging on a mob to murder his own Vice President, finally, someone was actually going to bring criminal charges against Donald Trump that were going to stick.

Take a chill pill, everyone.

No boxes came out labeled “Nuclear Launch Codes.” There was nothing on the FBI’s official summary of the items taken during the search marked “Vlad’s pee-pee tape.” There was material marked at the highest level of security clearance with the sexy name “TS/SCI” (Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information) which should only be viewed at a secure Federal office – and which Mar-a-Lago most certainly is not.  

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Presidential indictment. When Trump agreed to allow the search warrant to be made public, he called Garland’s bluff right back. Now, the physics have shifted, and all eyes are on Garland’s choice – to indict, or not to indict, a former President of the United States.

Now Garland is on defense. The Federal judge who authorized the search warrant is now demanding that the DoJ attempt to create a redacted version of the sealed affidavit that provided the legal rationale for the search, citing the public's "right to know." If released, such a document could endanger Garland’s sources, methods, and plans for further investigation. And after Garland had his one exceedingly brief press announcement, he retreated into silence, conceding the airwaves to Trump, Republicans, and Fox News to rip into the DoJ without rebuttal.

Will Garland push forward with an indictment of Donald Trump on one or more of the three potential crimes alleged in the search warrant, crimes that carry jail sentences of three to 20 years, with one including a disqualification from holding public office?

It is possible that Garland could simply claim victory for having forced the return of classified material to the United States, and not proceed with an indictment. But Garland must understand that he has already created an overwhelming expectation that he will proceed with a criminal indictment of Donald Trump.

Let’s review the bidding: Garland asked a Federal judge to approve a search warrant because there was probable cause to believe that evidence of one or more of three major crimes would be found at Mar-a-Lago. The resulting search appears to have produced that evidence. The central question now is whether the former President of the United States participated in one or more of the three crimes.

Unfortunately for the former President, he has already torpedoed his very best defense, which would have been to say over a year ago, “Do you really think I spend my time on moving details? Especially when I did not actually lose?” That plausible deniability has been shattered by what seems to be the primary among many weak explanations he has already offered for the existence of classified materials at Mar-a-Lago: Trump claims that he already declassified the documents prior to leaving office. 

This is a pathetic assertion: there is no paperwork to support it, and CNN interviewed 18 former Trump White House officials and not a one recalls Trump issuing a “standing order” to declassify all materials that he took out of the West Wing to his private quarters. Several pointed out that such a “standing order” could not be practically executed given the paperwork required to declassify documents. At least one rather indelicately categorized Trump’s assertion as “bullshit.”

The document stand-off has existed for a year-and-a-half. During that period, Trump’s lawyer issued a document claiming that all relevant documents had been returned, which was proven by the FBI search to be a lie.  

Then, this past Thursday, US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart unsealed a “procedural document” related to the subpoena, which included the phrase “willful retention of national defense information,” which eagle-eyed legal experts conclude is very likely aimed at the former President. He is the person at Mar-a-Lago who did at one point have authorization to possess top-secret documents… therefore he is the only person who is in a position to “retain” them.

So it is now becoming very hard to see how Garland could possibly justify not indicting Trump on charges that relate to illegally holding government documents. It has been proven that they were at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s own public defense includes an acknowledgement that he was aware the documents were there, and his assertion that they had been declassified can easily be proven to be a deceit concocted after-the-fact to attempt to wriggle away from legal responsibility.  More important: the documents do not even have to be "classified" for this to be a crime. The statute relates to wrongful possession of government property, period. The National Archives has the responsibility for determining what materials a President may deem "personal" and which are property of the United States of America. In this matter, the Trump "fog machine" is already working overtime: people are debating whether the documents were or were not "classified," which is irrelevant to the statutes in question.

What’s interesting is that when Trump loyalists and Fox News screamed bloody murder at the search warrant, and threats against FBI personnel suddenly mushroomed, Merrick Garland seemed to believe that releasing the search warrant would mitigate the problem. Implicit in unsealing the search warrant was a belief that once the people understand the gravity of this matter and the likelihood that the President of the United States committed a crime, they would immediately cease their hew and cry, and they would understand that the search warrant was justified.

Oh, Merrick, how naïve can you be? You do not understand Donald Trump and his ferociously loyal base. You may have called Trump’s bluff… but in so doing, you have unleashed the biggest tsunami of deceit yet, a powerful geyser of garbage that is, once again, Donald Trump’s essential communications strategy. Mr. Garland, you have to realize that you are playing one game, but Donald Trump is playing an entirely different game.

Yes, the ball is now very much in Garland’s court. The problem is that Garland may not realize what court that really is.

Garland is familiar with the type of court that has judges and juries, but he may not be at all that familiar with the court of popular opinion. The latter is where Donald Trump plays… and where Trump has a home-field advantage. Once upon a time, facts mattered in the courts Garland has roamed. But it is entirely possible – indeed, likely -- that Donald Trump’s court of public opinion has fully infiltrated our courts. In Donald Trump’s calculus, the issue is no longer whether facts carry the day in court, it is whether he has so thoroughly cemented the unquestioned loyalty of 30% to 35% of the population that no American jury of 12 citizens would ever convict Donald Trump. 

Which is why we are currently witnessing a Manitoba blizzard of utter BS.

Trump is taking the debate directly to his loyalists, using his usual combination of posturing, obfuscating, victimization, playing on the ignorance of his base, and just plain making up crap. Garland is a meticulous man of ideals who respects Trump’s rights in court more than Trump himself. Trump is a charlatan who is out to make sure that there will be at least one die-hard Trumpster on any possible jury in America.

So Trump is casually plastering his loyal supporters with a smorgasbord of absurd justifications, inane explanations, legally preposterous rationales, and sophomoric mind-games that are perfectly calibrated to persuade Imperial Storm Troopers at the Mos Eisley spaceport. He will send these people into jury deliberation rooms stockpiled with a tonnage of unreasonable doubt.

Team Trump is spreading the word that the President has the power to declassify anything, so that -- by definition -- he had the power to declassify anything he took out of the White House. Uh, no, that is not true. Trump could have declassified a certain amount of material before he left the White House, but he did not. If, indeed, some of the documents found in Mar-A-Lago were classified material related to nuclear secrets, the President of the United States does not have the power to unilaterally declassify them.

Team Trump claims that the FBI had planted documents at Mar-A-Lago. This is a heinous hit-job on the integrity of people whose job is to enforce the laws of the United States of America, and is no doubt causal to the rapid emergence of attacks and threats to FBI personnel and buildings. But it is a time-honored Trump tactic dating back to January 6: incite MAGA crazies armed with AR-15s to attack patriotic intelligence agencies, government personnel, and even insufficiently loyal Republicans, all with the goal of intimidating people into submission.

Then there’s the old spin and reverse dunk: Trump predictably claimed that Barack Obama did the exact same thing, only worse. Trump's verbatim tweet: "President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified. How many of them pertained to nuclear? Word is, lots!"

The actual word? Fabrication. The National Archives debunked Trump’s assertion in a heartbeat.

Then there are the Trumpublican enablers who race to say that Garland’s charges are on the orders of Biden in a purely political hatchet job. The sad truth is that if Barack Obama had done one one-hundredth of one percent of the illegality of Donald Trump, Republicans would have screamed bloody murder and the Proud Boys would have called for him to be lynched.

Republicans are saying that the fact Trump held classified information at Mar-a-Lago is not that big a deal, somehow oblivious to the fact that the mere presence of documents at Mar-A-Lago that Trump had not been authorized to take is – by definition -- a Federal crime.

My favorite? The Republicans who screech that a search warrant on a former President is unprecedented! The implication is that because something that has never been done in the past, it should never be done. The reason this search warrant is indeed unprecedented is because there has never been a President so corrupt and so unwilling to accede to legal requirements to surrender documents. Hey, Republicans… there was no search warrant back in 1974 because Richard Nixon surrendered the tapes when ordered to do so.

And to you Republicans who think that it is all just an unprecedented political hit job to destroy a political opponent by threatening jail time, may I remind you who chanted “lock her up” at political conventions?  

The list of excuses will go on forever. Trump will claim that certain documents were taken by mistake. That there was a misunderstanding about others. That somebody else did it. That he did not authorize it.

Maybe he will simply explain that he ran out of time to flush all those documents down the toilet at the White House. Or that the toilets in Mar-a-Lago work better.  

What do you think people who watch Fox News and OAN are hearing about this search warrant? That it was outrageous! Trump had been cooperating! He had turned over documents! That Joe Biden is “weaponizing” the DoJ to destroy political opponents!

Obfuscate. Instigate. Agitate. Litigate. Every day is a new TrumpGate.

What we are witnessing is Trump’s carpet bombing of Red State Republicans with any and every possible reason why they should stay blindly loyal to Trump. Given the ferocity of their loyalty to Trump, some of it – perhaps all of it – will stick. And that is all Trump is betting on: that his loyalists will buy the garbage, memorize it, and take it into the jury room,

Let’s simply assume that at some point in the not-too-distant future, Merrick Garland will issue an indictment of Donald Trump. Polls will be conducted, and this much is guaranteed – approximately one-third of the respondents will say that they are absolutely certain that Garland’s charges are unjustified, and that their minds cannot be changed, no matter what information comes out in a trial.

That is to say, roughly four out of every 12 jurors in the United States.

Four out of every 12 jurors will go into secret deliberations and tell the other jurors that a President can declassify any documents he wants. Or that Trump had been cooperating. Or that it is all a political hit-job.

In their effort to find twelve Americans who bring no bias to the jury room, the DoJ will scour jury pools for independents, political agnostics, the overtly apolitical, and some of the 100 million Americans who don’t even bother to vote.  Good luck finding the impartial jury for this one, Mr. Garland.  It’s not impossible. But it is a very, very risky bet… and Trump, Fox, and all the enablers are making the other bet, big time.

Yes, Attorney General Garland, Trump is playing a very different game from yours, and you must start to pay attention to it. You are lawyering through the courts. He is doing that, but he is also communicating to his people. Mr. Garland, you can’t just play one game… you must join both battles.

Some free advice to Mr. Garland:

Step up your communications game. We get it: you need to conduct your investigations in secrecy to protect witnesses and methods. But that is no reason why your department cannot have an official spokesman who is aggressively communicating when Donald Trump makes utterly deceitful and incendiary claims that FBI agents are "planting evidence.” When Republicans attack your processes, you have every right – indeed, you have an obligation – to counter, to defend, and to call out lies.

Communicate that the crimes that were discussed in the warrant are deadly serious. If you tune into Fox News to find out what the Republican bubble is hearing, you discover that their pundits and commentators are making these crimes sound like no big deal. “So he took a few boxes of his documents to Mar-a-Lago. When they asked him to put a padlock on the door, Trump did. What’s the big deal?”

Well, for starters, there is no reason on earth why Donald Trump should still possess top secret documents, and the fact that he is holding them in an insecure facility where they can be copied, stolen, or sold to the highest bidder is terrifying. For all we know, United States intelligence personnel are at grave risk of being identified because of Donald Trump’s sloppy self-indulgence.

But there is actually a bigger point: the issue is not whether some of it contains nuclear secrets. The issue is not even whether the material is classified or not. The issue is that the documents belong to the people of the United States of America… not Donald Trump. Even if Donald Trump had declassified the documents in a proper manner before leaving the White House, it is still a crime for him to have them in his possession unless given that specific permission by the National Archives.

Sure, the violation of certain laws is more serious than others: we don’t incarcerate jaywalkers. But Merrick Garland’s silence is allowing Fox News to paint these laws as some trivial nuisance… a contrivance that allows Democrats to take Trump down. The DoJ needs to explain to people exactly what these laws are and why violating them can earn an ordinary citizen twenty years in the slammer.

And as of January 20, 2021, Donald Trump is just an ordinary citizen.

The requirement that you provide a redacted affidavit is an opportunity to communicate. We read about how the Justice Department is terrified that releasing the affidavit will compromise DoJ “sources and methods,” and will reveal their gameplan for future investigation. Their solution seems to be presenting a version of the affidavit that is so heavily redacted that it will look like pages of black ink.

Hey, DoJ, get creative. Why not propose to Judge Reinhart that you release a written high level summary that addresses the only questions the people really care about: (1) a summary of events that establish that a search warrant was necessary because of a lack of cooperation by Trump’s lawyers, (2) a plain-English summary of the laws that this lack of cooperation violates, and (3) who, exactly, has been involved in the lack of cooperation?

If you are going for the king, don’t inflict a flesh wound. Look, Mr. Garland, the minute the news of the search warrant hit the cable channels, the DoJ went from sleepyville to Def Con 3.  There are those who wonder if the DoJ decided to play this particular card because of doubt that it will ever be able to successfully prosecute Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection, so it picked a lesser battle, but one where guilt and innocence was a black and white matter. Indeed, most of the charges that will be leveled against Trump – in this matter, and in his role in the January 6 Insurrection -- demand that the prosecution prove intent… which is a very tough standard. The most basic charge in the search warrant – possession – is the easiest to prove: there is no requirement to prove “intent” of any kind.

But we hope that Garland does not simply settle for the lowest hanging fruit. We hope that the DoJ realizes that Democrats – indeed, all thoughtful citizens – will not be content until Trump is held accountable for January 6. As serious as the crimes in the recent search warrant are, they are not as grave a threat to our democracy as Trump’s actions to incite an insurrection for the purpose of accomplishing a coup of our government.

Here’s where things stand: going forward, one of three things happen.

There is a chance that Garland brings charges and convicts Trump. That is one possible outcome. That, of course, is the scenario in which we witness AR-15-toting white nationalist militias hitting the streets with violence that will make January 6 look like bad behavior at second grade recess. But based on what we already know, that is the course of action that appears to be the one that serves Garland's vow for "equal justice under the law."

The second option: Garland brings charges but cannot convict Trump, simply because there is one or more Trump fanatics on the jury who have believed every word Team Trump has been spewing since the search warrant became public. In that case, Garland plays directly into Trump’s narrative of being a politically motivated Attorney General who tried and failed to bring down a political opponent by weaponizing the DoJ.  By now, we all know how this particular game is played. Trump will equate a “not guilty” verdict as vindication, and proof that yet another legal proceeding against him has been revealed to be a witch hunt. 

The third possible outcome is that Garland decides that the odds against a conviction are so high – or the consequences of conviction are so fraught with risk to our society -- that he chooses to not press charges.

And that is when Donald Trump’s assault on truth wins.

That is when the rule of law in the United States is replaced by the rule of opinion. The rule of the mob. The rule of violence.

We do not know what was in the boxes that were taken out of Mar-a-Lago.

But this much we know. We are long past the “end of the beginning.” With his search warrant, Merrick Garland announced that we have entered the endgame. We are at the beginning of the end.

Garland must take the battle to the courts, and to the court of public opinion. To fight with one hand tied behind one’s back is to lose.

In this "end game," the only question now is what, exactly, is going to "end" – the rule of law, or the rule of lies?

Will we be a society that respects the existence of objective reality and truth? Or will we just devolve into the chaos of unsupported opinion, overt disinformation, and rampant propaganda?

Will we be a nation of laws?

Or will we become an authoritarian nation dictated by Trump, his sycophants, his enablers, his blind loyalists, his propagandists, and Fox News?

The issue is no longer whether you are a conservative or a progressive or a Democrat or Republican. 

The issue now at hand is the matter of Donald Trump vs. The Truth. 

Heaven help us if the truth loses.


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

BTRTN: On Covid Data and Magical Thinking

Tom explodes the Covid myths that too many people, many of whom should know better, cling to in rationalizing their risky behaviors.

On March 14, 2020, I posted a piece on early Covid case trends. At the time there were a mere 2,144 cases in America.  But I was alarmed at what I saw and sought to convince readers, including friends and family, of the nature of the threat.  While the piece seems quaint now, and hardly begins to capture the ultimate nature of the threat as we know it, it was educational in stating that Covid was not going to be a short-term blip. (I have included a link to that post at the end of this article.)  At that time, many thought it would be over in a few weeks or months, and were hardly prepared for the behavior changes that would be required.  

We are nearly two-and-a-half years from that point now, well along the Covid road – but I find myself having similar fears today, 92 million reported cases later. 

In the days that followed, still in March, 2020, I began collecting and distributing an email “report” to family and friends.  The one-pager, basically a spreadsheet with some headline interpretations, summarized Covid new case trends by state and about a dozen selected countries.  One of the reasons I did it was, in those days, there were a number of different data sources, but none of them were terribly user-friendly or comprehensive geographically.  Apart from trying to offer that modest public service, my goals were also self-centered; my wife and I used the report to help guide our own behavior, including, ultimately, where we might travel. 

Wendy has long been interested in health care, and in time became a contact tracer for our state.  Between us, we became quite conversant, for lay people, in Covid, and with every twist and turn, that seemed to serve us well.  Between her contact tracing training and experience, her voracious appetite for Covid articles, and my data, we navigated Covid as best as we could and gave advice to others who sought it.  We kept up with an increasingly complex environment, with the politicization of Covid, new variants and offshoots; different types of testing; vaccines and boosters; and finally treatments. 

Last week I decided to stop distributing the data.  I had long thought the reported data was far from perfect, underreporting cases early on when testing was hard to come by, and then again more recently when home testing became routine.  But I felt it gave a pretty accurate sense of the trend-line of COVID in various geographies.  But this current U.S. surge, driven by the Omicron Ba5 variant, which experts believe (and wastewater data confirms) is extremely high, is not being reflected much at all in the reported data.  Obviously, the rise of home testing and the ever-diminishing frequency of state and country updates has taken its toll. 

I think that the best potential for tracking COVID now lies in wastewater data.  There are now 900+ reporting sites across the country, and growing, probably enough for good national trending, but not for more local than that (apart from the sites themselves).  Wastewater is an objective way of tracking the presence of the virus that requires no human decision-making.  Unfortunately the CDC wastewater reporting leaves a lot to be desired.  The reports on the site are difficult to interpret.  And while I have not spent a lot of time on it, I have done enough exploring to know that I cannot easily (if at all) get to the granular data that would enable me to create a more user-friendly report (which was my goal with the initial "data.")  

Without good data, we are flying blind.  We have little sense of whether Covid is prevalent in our area or not, whether the trend is going up or down, and thus no clear measures to calibrate the riskiness of activities or travels we may undertake.  And without good data reporting, those who are inclined to wish Covid away cannot be persuaded by compelling numbers. 

Thus to the real point of this article – not to bemoan the demise of solid data, but rather a far worse phenomenon that the lack of data enables:  the rise of “magical thinking” among people who ought to know better. 

Once Covid became politicized, our country quickly sorted itself out into the familiar red/blue divide.  On the one side were those who were Covid skeptics, anti-vaxxers and those who quickly shed, if they ever had it, any sense of shared sacrifice and civic duty to their fellow citizens, people who willfully ignored safe practices of any kind.  On the other side were those who respected the threat posed by the virus, followed the science, and dutifully vaxxed up, masked up and avoided the most risky of settings. 

But now the latter group is splintering, and many previously "like-minded" people are ignoring basic safety practices, thereby endangering themselves, others, and helping the virus find new hosts which give the virus a more ample breeding ground to create and sustain new variants.  The CDC has not been helpful at all in the rise of this splinter group, and has undermined itself with a truly abysmal performance in providing clear, compelling guidance.  On top of this, the leaders of the anti-COVID effort, such as Dr. Fauci (who has been a critic, at times, of the CDC), simply do not have the platform or prominence they once had.  If you want a metric that gives an indication of the impact of all these forces, consider that of the 223 million Americans who are considered "fully vaccinated" (that is, two shots, or one J&J shot), less than half (108 million) received a first booster shot.  Somewhere along the way 100 million Americans more or less gave up. 

With all this has come a rise of “magical thinking” on the part of these formerly responsible people.  It’s not that they simply ignore Covid like their red counterparts; rather, they come up with various “Covid myths” to support doing the riskier activities they now want to do, be it going to the wedding, or the play, or the concert, or the dinner – in short, resuming their pre-Covid lives.  This is a classic case of knowing the answer – “I want to do this” – and then finding the bullet points that provide the rationale.  We hear this all the time, and it is incredibly frustrating and dangerous. 

So let me shred some enabling Covid myths.

·     “Covid is going away.”  It is actually the opposite.  Covid is actually getting worse.  Every new omicron variant appears to be more transmissible, if not more dangerous, than the last.  Tons of people are getting it; the anecdotal evidence among our immediate friends and family is overwhelming and inescapable.  And the higher transmissions are leading to more hospitalizations and deaths. 

·     “Everyone is inevitably going to get it anyway, so you might as well just get it over with.”  Actually, everyone is not getting it, and if you behave reasonably responsibly, armed with the latest information, you can lower your odds markedly (though you can’t eliminate them).  And you don’t want to get this:  if you get it more than once, you are potentially weakening your body more and more each time.  It is far better to avoid getting it, and if you get it, try not to get it again, especially if you are older. 

·     “If you get Covid, you are protected against ever getting it again.”  This, too, is false.  At best you have a month, give or take, with Ba.5. 

·     “Everyone I know is getting Covid so clearly the vaccines don’t work.”  Current vaccines do not protect against getting Covid; rather they protect against the worst effects of it, including hospitalization and death.  But they are quite good at preventing those, and you should stay updated on boosters to maximize your chances of avoiding very bad outcomes. 

·     “OK, if that is true, then the worst that can happen is basically just like a bad cold, and I’m not going to sacrifice for that.”  For some people, a case of COVID is truly quite mild (or even asymptomatic).  But for others, it can be hellish (trust me, we know).  If you have some sort of compromised health status, it can put you in the hospital, even if you are double boosted. And even if you don’t have any underlying health issues, it can put you flat on your back for a week with utterly miserable symptoms (the worst headache or sore throat you have ever had, lost sense of smell, fever, nausea, day after day), and weaken you for weeks thereafter.  And that’s even if you take Paxlovid.  I can assure you this from the personal experience of a number of people I know.  Then there’s long Covid.

·     “Oh c’mon, there’s no such thing as long Covid.”  Wrong.  We still don’t know much about long Covid, and will learn more about it in the coming years.  But some material percentage of people experience long Covid symptoms, with estimates ranging from 5-50%.  These people suffer from brain fog or all-consuming fatigue months after they tested negative after a bout with Covid, and even worse things can happen to organs that have been infected with the virus.

·     “OK, OK, but as long as I’m outside, I’m protected, right?”  Not quite; it is certainly safer outdoors, but being outdoors is not a guarantee for avoiding COVID.  If you are in a reasonably crowded setting outdoors, such as a stadium or arena, or even a crowded outdoor restaurant or wedding reception, the Ba5 variant and its already identified successors (such as the new Ba2.75 from India) will find you.  Better to avoid such places, or mask up.  For outdoor restaurants, better to find one that is less crowded or has excellent spacing, and mask up when dealing with the waiter.

·     “Well, I have Covid now, but all I have to do, according to the CDC, is wait five days, and then I can go out without risk of infecting anyone else.”  Wrong!  Part of the CDC’s madness is that this statement accurately describes their advice, but their advice willfully ignores the fact that 30% of people are still testing positive after five days.  Better to follow President Biden’s example and isolate until you have two consecutive negative tests, and stop counting days. 

·     “But positive tests can linger for 90 days!  You can’t expect me to sit it out for 90 days!”  It is only the PCR tests that can linger that long; the rapid tests that you do at your home does not linger. 

Ask yourself, if you are reading this:  do I lean on these type of arguments to justify risky behavior?  If so, then heal thyself, and help others.  Recommit to the discipline we need to prevent this scourge from continually reinventing itself, and killing tens of thousands along the way. 

The future?  Who knows, but the optimist in me says that between better vaccines and better treatments, ultimately Covid will be controllable at some level that will enable a reasonably safe return to most normal pre-Covid behaviors.  But until that time, please:  avoid indoor dining, wear KN-95 masks when you are indoors with others; wear N-95 masks in airports and on airplanes; avoid stadiums, arenas and any crowded indoor or outdoor spaces.  If for some reason you decide to attend something risky, we'll wear a mask the entire time. 

It would be wonderful if we could recapture something we perhaps had for only a few fleeting moments back in early 2020, that we were all in this together, that we need to sacrifice for one another.  But if we can’t do that, then please, let’s all behave in our own self-interest.  Stay safe, be well. 

Here’s the article from March 14, 2020.  It was called, “Why the Coronavirus Numbers Scare Me”:


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

BTRTN: Democrats, Ask Not What Joe Biden Can Do For You…

Tom with the BTRTN July 2022 Month in Review.

Imagine this presidency.  You, the new president, came to office after a close election, with a razor thin majority in each House of Congress.  Your vanquished predecessor challenged the outcome of the election, without a shred of evidence of fraud, and, far from participating in a peaceful transition, orchestrated a coup in an attempt to overturn the result.  This delegitimized your presidency in the eyes of about one-third of those you govern.  You inherited a world beset by a runaway virus that your predecessor did little to abate, a languishing vaccination distribution program, a sputtering economy, severely damaged relations with your allies, and truly atrocious relations with your opposition party, who’s cooperation you would need in order to pass most of the legislation required to fix the problems, due to arcane congressional laws not suited for these polarized times.  Congratulations!

And yet, in less than two years, you have managed to vaccinate any American who wanted to be, nurtured the country back to some level of normalcy, and returned to productive and unified relations with our allies.  Your legislative record, even in the face of those slim margins, has been astonishingly productive:  you have signed into law several milestone pieces of bi-partisan legislation on issues (infrastructure and gun control) that vexed your predecessors; are on the verge of further breakthrough legislation on climate change (including important provisions on health care and debt reduction) and business competitiveness (particularly in the vital semiconductor industry); and kept Americans afloat during the pandemic with a jobs-driven stimulus package that helped drive unemployment to historic lows.  On top of all this, when Russia unilaterally attacked Ukraine, you formed a coalition of allies to counter the threat, by arming the Ukrainians, who performed exceptionally with those weapons to keep the Russians at bay.  Furthermore, you orchestrated sanctions that isolated Russia on the world stage, enough so that Finland and Sweden felt moved to apply for NATO membership.  American soldiers are no longer fighting and dying in Afghanistan, nor in Ukraine, nor, in fact, in any hostile theater around the globe.

Your efforts have been rewarded with, as might be expected, universal acclaim and a soaring approval rating --- wait, what?  With all this, your approval rating has actually steadily dropped -- about a point each month -- since you took office, from 55% to its current level of 39%.  Worse, you are not just losing Trump-rejecting Republicans and independents who largely voted for you.  You are losing the support of Democrats.  Your approval rating within your own party has dropped from roughly 90% to 75%, and some polls say that three-quarters of them want someone else heading the ticket in 2024. 

How can this be?  There are really two answers, one for everyone, and a different one for the Democrats.

The first answer is a single word:  inflation.  Biden is getting crushed by a global marketplace force that he did not instigate, nor can he control.  Inflation is not soaring due to the Biden Stimulus (as his opponents would have you believe).  Rather, inflation has been caused by the laws of supply and demand.  Demand is just fine, thank you.  But global supplies – food, gas, labor – have been sharply curtailed by a combination of the pandemic, which disrupted both supply chains and the availability of labor, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused grave shortages in energy (as the West forsook Russian oil) and food (as Ukraine grain shipments have been stymied).  The only real tools to fight inflation, now over 9%, are to solve the root cause problems of Covid and Russia – talk about a challenge – and use monetary policy to put the brakes on the “demand” side of the equation, which is the Fed’s domain, and they are on a rate-hike frenzy to achieve that mission.

So…Biden did not cause inflation, nor does Biden command the tools necessary to tame it.  And yet he shoulders the blame.  The president may be the most powerful person in the world, but the presidency is no match for global forces such as Mother Nature and the global marketplace.  And inflation is a global problem, not just a U.S. one.

Sure, inflation has not been Biden’s only problem.  He has hardly been perfect.  His communication efforts on Covid have been mixed to poor, his Afghanistan exit looked hideous, and he has made statements about inflation’s duration and Afghanistan’s Taliban threat that were as premature as Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration years ago.  But even the best presidencies have their nicks.

The second answer involves why Biden’s approval rate is dropping among Democrats.  Biden is facing a backlash from the left.  And it is all about expectations.

The Democrats are a big tent Party, a coalition built among a diverse set of white, elite liberals and various minorities who have been marginalized for centuries.  The constituencies care about an array of issues, self-organized into a loosely allied set of interest groups who are rightly demanding urgent action on climate change, gun control, immigration reform, reproductive health rights, voting rights and election integrity, police and criminal justice reform, access to health care at lower costs, student debt and much, much more. 

In order to get elected – with the existential threat of four more years of Donald Trump hanging in the balance – Biden did what he had to do to motivate everyone in the big tent to get out and vote:  he made promises.  He championed the rather quaint notion that he could revive the lost art of working across the aisle to achieve bipartisan legislation that would address these issues.  This claim struck virtually every jaded political commentator as hopelessly naïve.  The progressives, however, believed him, perhaps a little too much.  They expected Biden to act immediately on their specific cause in return for their support.

But as the month’s passed, various sticks were poked in the spinning wheels of congressional machinations to enact the Biden agenda by Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.  The media, filling the void left by the absence of Donald Trump, breathlessly tracked every twist and turn in the Manchima saga, giving the perception that absolutely nothing was happening. The progressives, rather hysterically and prematurely, felt betrayed.  The Biden Administration does not manage optics very well.

But what was lost in all of this is what the Biden Administration is actually pretty good at -- which was the actual substance.  One by one, those promises are being kept.  Maybe not when measured against the lofty ambitions of the left, but clearly material progress, adding up to trillions of dollars and meaningful progress.  FDR may have been inspiring, and LBJ knew just how to grab those lapels, but it sure did not hurt that each had Democratic supermajorities in Congress to get the New Deal and Great Society through.   Biden has exactly a four-seat edge in the House, and Kamala Harris in the Senate.  Plus he has little – no, zero – leverage over Manchin.  The left wants Manchin “punished” by stripping him of his committee chairmanship, which would simply drive Manchin to the GOP in a heartbeat, allowing Mitch McConnell to snatch the Majority Leader’s gavel from Chuck Schumer within seconds.

Congress acts in linear fashion.   You can only vote on one bill at a time.  You cannot do everything at once, and every single Democratic Senator and every House bloc essentially has veto power over everything; and congresspersons love the attention that that veto power grants them.  It is a process that requires an exceedingly large amount of patience, and the left exhausted their quota of that long ago.

Despite all this, Biden – the master of the “art of the possible” – has compiled a legislative record that is already impressive and could become historic before the midterms:  the stimulus, the infrastructure bill, and the gun control bill have been signed into law, and, quite likely, the climate change (a.k.a. “Inflation Reduction Act”) and business competitiveness bill will be passed soon.  There is an election reform bill being worked on by a bipartisan group of Senators, and action on student debt is still possible, and who knows what else.

Biden is getting little credit for this legislative record, nor for his COVID vaccination distribution program, the actual accomplishment of exiting Afghanistan, the near perfect handling of the Ukraine invasion, the near-full employment status of the economy and yes, even the sudden drop in gas prices over the past month.  Biden also just undercut one of the major critiques of his Afghan exit – that it would strengthen terrorist activity without any “on the ground” intelligence to track them – with the remarkable “over the horizon” killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Yes, we are safer now under Joe Biden’s leadership.

Despite all this, the majority of Democrats want Biden’s head.

Democrats are guilty of very lazy thinking in somehow completely missing the root causes of our biggest issues (Covid and Putin), the mood of our electorate (center right), the composition of Congress (nothing near a mandate for progressive action), how laws actually get passed (it’s up to Manchima), and the composition of the Supreme Court (six conservative votes).  Blaming Biden for inflation, gas prices, Dobbs v Jackson, and the failure to pass, 18 months in, every desired piece of legislation, et al, is insanity. 

This is no time to whine about legislation that does not meet the full realization of progressive aspiration, nor to complain that Biden has not addressed every issue as yet.  This is a time to celebrate our wins, and organize to hold onto the Senate and, yes, even the House, so that we can do even more in the next two years, thus laying the groundwork for four more beyond that.  Bashing Biden is not only undeserved, it serves no useful purpose.  In fact, for Democrats, it is literally self-defeating.  You want Trump back?  Keep bashing Biden.  Any Democrat who is atop the ticket in 2024, even if it is not Biden, is going to have to defend the record, and they will and they should.  You cannot beat the Republicans by criticizing your own party, not in the world we live in.  You have to motivate them to get out to vote.

Republicans have been very focused on winning elections for over a decade now.  They focused locally first, winning statehouses and state legislatures.  Then, having amassed state power, they managed to win the presidency in 2016 with Trump, despite losing the popular vote.  Trump and McConnell then captured the Supreme Court, and then drained the Federal government of power, letting it slide to the locals, where the GOP calls the shots.

What have the Democrats done in that time?  Well, we managed to win back the White House, Senate and House, because Trump was an idiot, but we failed to understand that slim majorities are not sufficient.  The progressives perhaps assumed that Schumer could reconcile our way to some wins, and kill the filibuster to secure the rest.  Somehow, no one noticed that a certain red state Democratic Senator, who might be open to support some rather substantial progress, had no interest at all in the full progressive agenda or in nuking the filibuster, and he was not alone in that.  And he had veto power over everything.  Why is that so difficult to grasp?

We shouldn’t spend our precious time, breath, energy and resource bashing Biden – instead, we should figure out how to win enough elections to do what needs to be done. 

First order of business:  let’s change the “woe is me” narrative.  It starts with backing Biden.  Let’s get behind the guy.  He defeated Trump, he’s thwarted Putin, he passed legislation that none of Bush, Obama or Trump could get through, and some that none thought possible, he’s restored our global relationships and, perhaps above all, integrity and sound decision processes to government.  On the whole, facing massive, massive challenges, he is guiding us well through extraordinary times.  He deserves full-throated support from the Democrats.

The bottom line:  ask not what Biden can do for you, ask what you can do for Biden.


In this section we typically highlight an incident, or a quote, or some happening that is too much to believe.  But this month, the madness is simply pervasive.

On the one hand, the January 6 committee has done a simply stupendous job awakening America to the very real threat Donald Trump – and his party – pose to democracy.

And on the other, as outlined above, the Democrats have once again organized themselves into a circular firing squad, with the man who saved us from Trump, Joe Biden, in the middle.


Joe Biden’s approval rating for the month of July dropped again down to 39%.   


Biden’s “key issue” ratings on average dropped another point from June levels, although there was another 3-point dip on the question of whether America was on the “right track” or not.  That particular number, now down to 19%, has to be extremely concerning for the Biden Administration, although clearly this reflects Democrats exasperation with more than Biden (note the large gap between the 19% and Biden’s 39% approval rating), and presumably that dissatisfaction is directed at the Republicans in general for some combination of January 6, SCOTUS and Congressional gridlock.


In July polling, on average the GOP continues to lead the Democrats on the generic ballot, but the gap has been reduced from +3 to +1, or back to the level seen earlier in the year. 

Using BTRTN’s proprietary models (which have been extremely accurate in midterm elections), if this lead was still in place on Election Day in 2022, and adding in +4 seats for the net impact of redistricting, the GOP would pick up about 24 seats and take over the House with some room to spare.  While this would be quite a decisive move, it would be of lesser magnitude than the losses experienced by Bill Clinton (-54 seats), Barack Obama (-63) and Donald Trump (-40). 


The “Bidenometer” rose in June for the first time since January 2022, increasing from +2 to +11.  Biden can thus continue to claim that, from an economic standpoint, America is “better off” than it was when he took over from Trump.

The increase was driven by an improvement in the GDP, a drop in the price of gas, and a rise in the stock market.  These gains were offset by a modest drop in consumer confidence, and there was no change in the unemployment rate. 

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +12 means that, on average, the five measures are 12% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +11, the economy is performing slightly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, the consumer confidence is higher, the GDP is stronger and the Dow is higher.  On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move slightly upward to +11 under Biden.



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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.