Monthly Archives: August 2020

Divine Assassin?

Chadwick Boseman, ‘Black Panther’ star, has died

(CNN) —Actor Chadwick Boseman, who brought the movie “Black Panther” to life with his charismatic intensity and regal performance, has died.

Boseman has battled colon cancer since 2016 and died at home with his family and wife by his side, according to a statement posted on his Twitter account. He was 43.

Folks, this is going to be short and bitter sweet.  I may say things which some will find highly offensive.  And, as always, I do not expect anyone to take my view as gospel.  My purpose is only to share a raw and honest emotion in a difficult time.

In several recent posts, I have joked about current events that made we wish I believed in a divine presence.  For example, one can hope that Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s fall from grace was a sign from God.  I hoped He was telling us, “Being a hypocritical conman in my holy name will only be tolerated for so long.”  Maybe karma really is a bitch.

But when I woke up this morning to the above item at the top of my Google News feed, I realized these brief moments of appreciation for the possibility of a sacred father, even in the name of irony or humor, only last so long.  While others turn to their faith to get them through the hard times, my lack of reliance on religion is what keeps me sane.

If I believed in a divine spirit, this morning I would asking him, “WTF?”  It is hard enough to imagine a compassionate God who watches from the sidelines as men of ill-will take down African American advocates of racial equality and social justice.  I will never understand how James Earl Ray and Byron de la Beckwith fit into some grand spiritual design.  By eschewing belief in God, I have the freedom to accept there are more earthly forces that generate such hate.  Forces, as a less than divine being, I can push back against.

Which brings me back to Chadwick Boseman.  If this were part of a divine plan, it was executed with a maximum of cruelty.  Consider the timing of Boseman’s death.  On August 28:

  • Emmett Till is murdered in Mississippi (1955)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (1963)
  • Thousands gather at that same spot to remember King and black victims of police brutality (2020)
  • The NBA refuses to conduct business as usual in support of the Black Lives Matter movement (2020)
  • Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day (2020)

Add to that list the anniversary of the death of an actor who introduced generations of young black men and women to James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson.  And helped spread the spirit of “Wakanda Forever” to a global audience.

Rest in peace Chadwick.  I do not understand why you were taken at such a young age.  And while I hope some day there is a cure for the disease which randomly attacked you, this morning, I am comforted in my belief there is no supreme being who thought depriving the world of your talent, at a time when it was needed more than ever, was a good idea.

For what it’s worth.


Do Stop Thinking About Just Tomorrow


It is no secret every candidate for political office would welcome the opportunity to choose their opponent in an upcoming election.  And some have certainly tried.  On occasion, as in the case of Richard Nixon, they succeed.  His “dirty tricks” campaign in 1972, which included not only the Watergate break-in but also the forged “Canuck letter” which ended Senator Edmund Muskie’s run for the Democratic nomination,  is the perfect example.  But what was the motive?  As explained by “Deep Throat,” later revealed as deputy director of the FBI Mark Felt, the Nixon team wanted to run against George McGovern.  And they made sure they would.

So, in 2020, when journalists and commentators keep comparing the current campaign to 1968, the Trump campaign playbook more closely resembles Nixon’s 1972 strategy.  First, Nixon’s and Trump’s situation going into election season is the same.  At the time, they are both the incumbent seeking re-election.  Second, the method of picking the target for their mischief is identical. Look at the early polls.  Identify the most formidable challenger.  Muskie in 1972; Joe Biden in 2020.  Create an embarrassing situation.  A fraudulent letter to the Manchester Guardian accusing Muskie of using the ethnic slur “Canuck” in reference to Americans of French-Canadian descent in 1972;  the Ukraine conspiracy theory in 2020. Force the candidate to withdraw, which Muskie did in an emotional speech during the run-up to the New Hampshire primary.

Why didn’t Biden suffer a similar fate?  The result of a number of factors.  First, the Nixon experience put us on notice.  It’s easier to conduct a dirty tricks campaign when it is a novel undertaking.  Second, even if the message (Ukraine 2016 campaign interference) was valid, which it was not, the choice of messenger was laughable.  If the Trump campaign was not so steeped in courting aggrieved white voters, you could call this a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Third, the Biden campaign did not get distracted by the attacks.  They stayed on message while surrogates, including the newly empowered Democratic-run House of Representatives, exposed the scheme for what it was, abuse of power.  Fourth and perhaps most importantly, the Trump team could easily be the next candidate for a revival of the 1979 SNL skit, “Dangerous But Inept.”  A product of then SNL staff writer Rob Reiner, the segment opens with Jane Curtain as a talk show host.

Hi, I’m Jane Curtain and welcome to another edition of ‘Dangerous But Inept.”  Our guest this week is Squeaky Fromme, infamous for her alleged attempt on the President’s life [Gerald Ford], and her connection with the Manson family.  Welcome, Squeaky.

You may ask, if 1972 tactics no longer work, is it still possible for a presidential candidate to influence the outcome of the other party’s nomination process?  The answer is a definite YES, but it depends on the incumbent’s ability to assess the electoral landscape years in advance.  Consider the following two examples.  The first is what one might sarcastically label “the Mormon switcheroo.”  Immediately following John McCain’s loss to Barack Obama in 2008, speculation turned to which Republican had the best chance to make Obama a one-term president.  At the top of the list was the very popular Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who had just won re-election with 77.63 percent of the vote.  During an interview on WTOP television in Washington, D.C. in March 2009, McCain himself specially mentioned Huntsman’s having the best chance of unseating the newly installed incumbent.

Therefore, in May 2009, Obama nominated Huntsman to be Ambassador to China, a move that would have made Michael Corleone proud.  “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”  Less than a year into his time on the Obama team, Huntsman supporters formed a PAC to set the stage for a presidential run.  Huntsman resigned his post in Beijing in April 2011 and opened his campaign headquarters in May 2011.  But the damage had been done.  GOP leaders considered his time in support of the Obama foreign policy agenda as being disloyal to the party.  After finishing third in the New Hampshire primary, Huntsman suspended his campaign and Obama’s eventual opponent was the other Mormon Mitt Romney.  If you did not know better, you can imagine George Costanza was a silent partner in this enterprise.

In contrast, newly elected Donald Trump had a similar opportunity.  As luck would have it, Trump’s 2016 opponent was the only person whose unfavorable rating equaled his own.  Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination became more likely when then vice-president Biden announced he would not run for president in the aftermath of his son Beau’s recent death due to brain cancer.  He instead opted to lead a joint effort by the Obama White House and the American Cancer Association with a goal of finding a cure for cancer by the end of the decade.  Reminiscent of JFK’s University of Houston speech launching the Apollo project, it became known as The Cancer Moonshot.  His last official achievement of note was working for bi-partisan passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016 which included $1.8 billion in funding over seven years to support the initiative.

In the tradition of Mark Twain who once said, “I never failed to see an opportunity until it ceased to be one,” the Trump transition team could not recognize the chance to take Biden out of the presidential picture for all time.  Imagine if the president-elect had invited Biden to Trump Tower, lauded him for putting his son’s memory and his family first and then offered him the chance to stay on as chair of the Cancer Moonshot task force.  The phrase, “You’ve been Huntsmanned,” would have had a new poster boy.

Trump is not alone in his inability to see beyond the next transaction.  I have often pondered whether historians will make the connection between Hillary Clinton’s decision to run for Senator in New York and how that choice set the stage for Obama successful challenge of her “inevitable” hold on the 2008 Democratic nomination.  Clinton probably had three political career choices following her tenure as first lady.  Return to Arkansas and continue to build on the base she and Bill had established before relocating to Washington.  Take up residence in her home state of Illinois.  Or follow Bill to New York where he established the headquarters for the Clinton Global Initiative.

Imagine, just imagine, if Hillary had pressed Bill to make Chicago the home of their foundation.  In 2004, when Republican U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald announced he would not run for a second term, Clinton would have been the odds-on favorite to capture the Democratic nomination to become the next junior senator from the Land of Lincoln.  Barack Obama would not have been a rising star who needed to be showcased at the 2004 Democratic National Convention as the keynote speaker.  Instead of being tagged as an opportunist or carpetbagger in New York, Clinton would have been welcomed back to the state of her birth as the returning hero after years of public service in Little Rock and Washington, D.C.  And she could have pressed then Governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint a dynamic African American state senator with a funny name to take her place.

Call it the political version of the “butterfly effect.”  The ripple effect of a decision or action, no matter how insignificant or wise it may seem at the time, can influence outcomes years in the future, including one’s own fate.  Ironically, failure to see that far into the future is what happens when tomorrow is your only time horizon and you “can’t stop thinking about” it.

Quod erat demonstrandum.


Cause, Cause, Effect


Sometimes I find choosing the appropriate metaphor for what is happening in the United State a challenge.  Today is NOT one of the occasions.  Why?  Because two events in the past 48 hours–Hurricane Laura and violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin following the shooting of Jacob Blake–share a common teaching moment.  Both remind us any attempt to isolate the cause and effect of an event is an oversimplification of the situation.

Understanding this helps us separate the symptoms from the root cause that trigger the chronology from one state of being to the next. When examining this sequence of activity it is important to understand it is not “this” caused “that.”  It is more like “this” caused “this” that eventually leads to “this.”  My worst fear is there is no “that.”  There is no terminal episode.  And that fear played out two days ago in Kenosha.

Let’s begin with Laura.  This morning the coastal area of Louisiana woke up to massive destruction which one might say was the direct result of a category 4 hurricane.  But this storm was different from others which have ravaged the Gulf coast in the past.  Historically, hurricanes have gathered strength from the time they form off the African coast, their power derived from the long journey across the warm waters of the southern Atlantic.  In contrast, Laura formed just east of the Virgin Island and remained a tropical storm until it entered the Gulf of Mexico.  Then, it grew from a rain event into a category 4 hurricane in less than two days, unprecedented in the annals of National Weather Service records.

This was no accident.  The speed at which the storm intensified was due to the record high water temperatures in the Gulf.  Again, no accident.  Take one more step backwards and we see the deviation in water temperature is due to a failure to address the effects of climate change.  Due to a belief by some that economic growth and environmental protection are incompatible.  Cause, cause, cause, cause, effect.  But does it really end there?  If Laura-like storms become the rule rather than the exception, future economic, social and national security consequences are yet to come.

When I began this post, I was not quite sure which development was the metaphor which explains the other.  But the chain of events in Kenosha make it a better illustration of the “cause, cause, effect syndrome.”  Rather than a timeline, perhaps a road map covering 244 years of American history is the better teaching tool.

Our trip begins in Philadelphia in 1789 with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.  Article I, Section 3 is a good starting point.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.

Talk about political correctness.  The word “slave” does not appear in the document.  Instead, slaves are referred to as “all other People.”  And are undervalued at three-fifths of “free Persons.”  This morning, Eddie Glaude, Jr., professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, labeled this provision the “code of slavery” which, even though addressed in the Thirteenth Amendment, remains the underpinning of structural racism in American and especially among some police officers.  The life of these “other Persons” still is not worth the same as we “free Persons.”

The second leg of our journey is a long one, lasting 155 years, during which we keep trying to scale the mountain of systemic bias in hopes of seeing the promise land on the other side.  There have been temporary glimpses of that vision but it is never fully realized.  And like Moses, far too many of those who lead us on this journey will not, themselves, enjoy the rewards of their efforts.

Finally, at warp speed, we arrive in Kenosha, Wisconsin where Jacob Blake, a 29 year-old black father of three, is immobilized by a policeman who grabs his shirt and then shoots him seven times in the back.  This is the mid-point in the cause, cause, effect cycle.  The root cause is the “three-fifths compromise.”  Its lasting effect precipitates Jim Crow as too many Americans refuse to accept the Thirteenth Amendment.  And the continuing debate about the value of a black life opens the door to police brutality when dealing with people of color.

But, as mentioned above, it is the midpoint, not the end.  Our journey from 1789 to the present continues.  Anger over the shooting of Jacob Blake leads to protests in the streets of Kenosha.  And sadly, despite pleas by Blake’s parents not to dishonor their son through acts of violence and destruction, that anger precipitates disorder and lawlessness.  Which causes a 17 year-old with a semi-automatic weapon to drive to Kenosha from his home in Grayslake, Illinois because, as he tells the right-wing website The Daily Caller founded by Tucker Carlson, the night before he kills two protesters and critically injures another, “People are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business.”  More cause, cause, effect.

If there is anyone who honestly believes this is where the story ends, I have a portfolio of penny stocks I am willing to sell you.  The only question is whether this resort to vigilantism, which appears to have been ignored, even supported, by Kenosha police, causes more violence as once peaceful protesters now feel compelled to protect themselves from these self-appointed guardians of the citizenry.  Or will it be a long overdue wake-up call to more Americans who now understand a black man, who at worse, for the crime of having a knife in his vehicle, is gunned down by police while a white teenager who just murdered two people is allowed to spend the night in his own bed.

The destination is still uncertain.  Tonight, we may get the answer to that question.

For what it’s worth.


Selective Empathy


During night two of the Republican National Convention (RNC), one mission of Donald Trump’s campaign was to close the “empathy gap” between the incumbent and Joe Biden.  To make their point, the program included two sitting members of Congress who shared stories how Trump reached out to them in times of sorrow or need.

First, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) related how Trump would call him on a regular basis following his being shot during practice for the Congressional baseball game in 2017.

Donald Trump would call to check on me throughout the following weeks, just to see how I was doing. That’s the kind of person he is. That’s the side of Donald Trump that the media will never show you.

Next came Ohio Representation Jim Jordan (R-OH).  He shared how Trump had comforted members of Jordan’s family following the loss of one of the congressman’s nephews.

For the next five minutes, family and friends sat in complete silence, as the President of the United States took time to talk to a dad who was hurting,  That’s the president I’ve gotten to know the last four years.

Reading about these two moments during the RNC took me back to one of the last dinners my wife and I enjoyed pre-pandemic.  We were visiting a friend in Orlando, Florida when our host raised the following issue that baffled her.  She used the example of a friend who is always there for members of her family, church and community in times of need.  However, this woman was also a strident Trump supporter.  Our friend could not understand why this woman would champion someone whose behavior was the antithesis of her own.

The answer is best summed up by the many variations of the adage about character and integrity attributed to people like UCLA basketball coach John Wooden or author C. S. Lewis.  All contain the same message.  Character is what we do when we think no one is looking.  I would add a corollary.  Character is what we do when there is nothing in it for me.  While aid to those in one’s own circle is admirable, service to the stranger is the true test of empathy and charity.

Which brings me back to the empathy gap between Biden and Trump.  Jacquelyn Brittany, the security guard at the New York Times building, who nominated Joe Biden for president, was just doing her job when they first crossed paths.  She was a stranger whose day was made a little brighter by the simple act of being acknowledged by someone who could easily have been excused for being lost in the moment, a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board.  She, and others, like the Greg Weaver, the conductor on the Amtrak train the then Senator took to work every day, attested to Biden’s character.

In contrast, consider the examples of Scalise and Jordan.  Neither had any personal relationship or interaction with Trump before he moved into the White House.  Trump needed Scalise to carry his water to pass his tax cuts and spending priorities.  And Jordan, who has served as chair and then ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, has become the reliable sycophant aiding and abetting Trump’s shattering of the system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution.  These are hardly purely altruistic acts of empathy, they are business transactions.

Yes, Uncle Joe can be a little goofy at times.  And his natural tendency to get close to people can make some people uncomfortable.  But I’ll take that any day over a human back-scratcher whose clientele is those who can return the favor.

For what it’s worth.


Graphic Violence


There is something rotten in the State of Florida.  And it is not just the incompetence of Governor Ron DeSantis’ (aka Mini-ME to Donald Trump’s Dr. Evil) response to the coronavirus pandemic.  When it comes to reporting the number of deaths resulting from COVID19, the Florida Department of Health wants you to believe the DeSantis administration is making great progress.  This has been a two-stage assault on the intelligence of all Floridians.  In May, the Department fired data expert Rebekah Jones, who designed the “dashboard” which daily updated the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.  She was removed after criticizing the administration for changing the criteria by which new cases were reported.  For example, FDOH now excludes individuals who have received positive antibody test results as though they never contracted the virus.

Keep in mind, these numbers were supposed to be the basis on which the state could relax mitigation mandates (e.g. beach closings) and restrictions on group gatherings.  Unfortunately, despite warnings to the contrary, DeSantis moved forward with his “open for business” agenda and Florida became the epicenter (or should that be the EPCOTcenter) of the COVID19 outbreak in the United States.  Which brings me to stage two.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a graph can mask a thousand lies.  Below is a graph from the official FDOH website, dated August 21, 2020, which shows number of new COVID19-related deaths each day.

WOW!  How could you argue the state is not making GREAT progress toward reducing the number of new deaths.  On the website, if you place your cursor on each bar, you see the numbers on which the illustration is based.  That tiny bar on the far right for August 20 (there is a one day time lag in reporting the data) represents just nine new deaths.

There is just one problem.  The dashboard also reports that as of August 20, there were 10,168 total resident deaths due to COVID19.  The dashboard, one day earlier, showed cumulative resident deaths at 10, 067, a one-day differential of 101.  HUH?  How could the cumulative total jump by 101 if there were only nine new deaths.  Because those other 92 bodies were buried (non-pc pun intended) in the previous days’ numbers.   And here’s the proof.

Below is a table which compares the number of deaths from August 12 through August 20 provided by FDOH on August 20 and August 21.  The column headed “20-Aug” is the number of new deaths based on the version of the above chart published on August 20.  The column headed “21-Aug” is the number for the same dates published on August 21.  The next column is the difference between the two days.  The column labeled “Cumulative Deaths” is the total number of resident deaths as of that day.  The last column is the difference between the total deaths on that day and the previous day.

And there lies the deception.  There is such a lag in FDOH’s official certification of a COVID19-related death and its inclusion in the data presented on the dashboard, it will always look like there is a significant decline.  For example, 12 additional deaths on August 12 were not included in FDOH’s database until eight days later.  Previous days’ numbers keep growing over time while current data is under-reported, only to be continuously updated later.  The simple explanation?  If you want to show a continuous decline in fatality over time, adjust the data by date of death rather than the day it was reported or daily increase in cumulative deaths.

A graph using the date an officially certified death was reported would look entirely different.  Using the data for the eight days in the above table, there would be peaks and valleys over the eight day period, ranging from a low of 87 to a high of 229.  But the eight-day average would be 158.75.  A far cry from the visual the FDOH wants you to see.

BREAKING NEWS (11:00 AM, Saturday, August 22)

FDOH just updated the dashboard for August 22.  Below is the revised graph.

Remember that tiny August 20 bar with nine deaths.  In just 24 hours it is now 29.  The number of new deaths for August 21 is six.  But, as has been the case on every previous day, the increase in cumulative death total does not come close to matching the number represented on the graph, 106 versus six.

Do not take my word for it.  Here is the very, very small print on the FDOH website.

The Deaths by Day chart shows the total number of Florida residents with confirmed COVID-19 that died on each calendar day (12:00 AM – 11:59 PM). Death data often has significant delays in reporting, so data within the past two weeks will be updated frequently.

I suggest they add the following:  But that is not going to stop us from presenting it in a way that clearly misrepresents the lack of progress the DeSantis administration is making toward getting this health crisis under control.

Quod erat demonstrandum.