Playing Musical Electric Chairs

Generally speaking, NPR’s reporting tends towards restraint, so Thursday morning’s headline stood out: “3 Months Of Hell: U.S. Economy Drops 32.9% In Worst GDP Report Ever.”

Yesterday’s Gross Domestic Product estimate from the Commerce Department was “Horrific,” Economist Nariman Behravesh told the network’s Scott Horsley. “We’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Even that shocking presentation, however, fails to convey the full magnitude of just how screwed we truly are. NPR’s report, and the GDP estimate on which it’s based, are both snapshots—still pictures of a changing scene. And, like all pictures, they leave out what’s beyond the frame.

While the report does acknowledge the cause of this violent contraction—the global coronavirus pandemic—it fails to mention something that pretty obvious, and terribly important.

That awful, terrible, no-good GDP report illustrates the damage that was done to the economy on purpose, to get the pandemic under control.

Well, that didn’t happen. Not even close. According to the latest figures, the virus is killing an American every minute. In other words, most of that effort was wasted. That damage was an investment which returned almost nothing. And that’s not the half of it.

We’re all used to seeing the government issue handouts by now. Banks, insurance companies, you name it—if you’re big enough, and screw up badly enough, Uncle Sam’s got you covered.

This time—largely because the Awful Oaf in the Oval Office screwed up the pandemic response at such an Olympian level—things got so bad the government had to take the unprecedented step of putting some money where it actually did some good: into the hands of ordinary people, who did what they do when they get their hands on a few loose bucks. They spent it. It kept them fed. It kept a roof over their heads.

That is why the economy didn’t fall apart completely—and, of course, that’s ending. Democrats put together a package months ago that might have done some good. Republicans…are acting like Republicans. [See Rant, above.]

Wilbur Ross’s Commerce Department was just following the dictate of the calendar when it issued the report that nearly caused NPR’s correspondent to lose his composure and pull a Howard Beale.*

Ross is a wimp. A real man would have said, “What Quarterly Report? You’re wrong—it’s not time for that.” Or maybe, “The dog ate it.” But, noo….

Once again, the Chief Executive had to step in and take it upon himself to distract the public.

The tweet came from inside the White House, about 16 minutes after the Report was issued:

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the U.S.A. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

Let us be clear about what just went on here: the same morning three of his predecessors eulogized the late John Lewis—a pioneer of the struggle for civil rights, and for a better world—the President floated a trial balloon for a self-serving frontal assault on democracy.

* Howard Beale was the protagonist of the 1976 film Network, a TV anchorman who exhorted his audience to open their windows, stick our their heads, and yell as loud as they could, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Network executives reward him for performing this valuable public service, by arranging for his assassination, live on-camera.

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On a lovely mid-summer Tuesday evening our Wandering Photographer heard what seemed like heavenly voices. He looked over the Mill Pond, whence came the sound; and what did he see but the same old new garage. Up on the next-to-top floor, though, was an actual practicing choir. Maintaining his customary degree of hygienic distance—about twenty feet, minimum—precluded any prying questions about exactly who they were. Suffice to say, though, they sounded wicked good.

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Trump: Delay the 2020 Election?

Everyone Else: Reverse 2016!

Every day the press tells us that some crony of the President has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or invented some brand new grift. Nobody panics, because we have all come to expect that by now. But when Donald Trump tweets that we should postpone the election, well then everyone loses their minds! [Apologies to Jonathan Nolan and Heath Ledger.]

Sure enough, right on cue, the twittersphere freaked out.

Some might argue that anyone reading whatever ill-intentioned idiocy the worst person in the world feels like posting is only getting what they richly deserve. It is distateful and degrading, we cannot deny it; but, there’s no accounting for taste. Even some sensible people, though, whose faces are not permanently bonded to screens, showed a heightened level of concern.

It’s easy to say that it’s only an empty threat, that he has no such power, and therefore he can’t do it. What’s to stop him from trying, though, this person whose greasy thumb is never far from the nuclear launch button? Self-restraint?

Sen. John Cornyn was apparently assigned to deliver Standard Automatic Deflection #1: it was just a joke, “so all you guys in the press, your heads will explode and you’ll write about it.”

Trump quickly rewarded that display of fealty by making a liar out of Cornyn [pardon the redundancy], tweeting, “Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!”

During yesterday’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine [D-Va.] went a little off-topic and asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “Can a president delay a presidential election?” Pompeo tried to dodge the question, and yet Kaine persisted. “In the end,” Pompeo said, “the Department of Justice and others will make that legal determination.”

That is, of course, hogwash, because the Department of Justice has no authority to do any such thing. If Pompeo believes what he said he’s delusional; on the other hand, maybe he knows he’s lying. The same thing goes for something he said to New Hampshire’s own Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: “I fought on the border of East Germany when I was a young soldier.” Not in our Army, he didn’t.

Why are there so many liars in this administration? Because constantly bombarding the public with lies lowers the value of truth—thereby disarming its opponents.

By the end of the day Thursday a substantial number of Republicans had gone on the record saying that there would be no delay of the coming election. That may be irrelevant, though.

Thanks to the abysmal handling of the pandemic, the percentage of votes cast by mail this year is going to explode—particularly among Democrats, who tend to believe in, like, science and stuff. Republican voters, on the other hand, ain’t afraid of no dang virus.

On the night of November 3rd, Trump can declare victory while millions of Democratic votes still wait to be counted. He could tweet, “those uncounted, mailed in ballots are no good. They were all postmarked Beijing,” and half of his hat-wearing minions will believe him.

What would happen then?

We already know. It’s not good.

A bipartisan group of “political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics” met in June and conducted “what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy,” according to a piece by Boston Globe staffer Jess Bidgood, published on July 26th.

They set out to answer some questions, troubling questions, but hardly far-fetched: “What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in?”

Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official Rosa Brooks, a co-organizer of the Transition Integrity Project, said, “All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse. The law is essentially … it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.”

Anyone wanting a glimpse of the future should read Bidgood’s exemplary 2,000 word piece today.

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The City’s Pop Up Portsmouth plan to bolster local businesses was making progress. Then it discovered City Counselor Esther Kennedy had pre-emptively registered that trade name. The team came up with a workaround, and the program is moving forward. Other than a slight delay, the only real damage was to Kennedy’s reputation. On Sunday, these protestors met to demand her resignation.

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Loan Terms Imposed by Mnuchin “Could Accelerate U.S.P.S. Demise”

by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

July 30, 2020

Leading Congressional Democrats are warning that an emergency loan agreement announced Wednesday by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy—a major donor to President Donald Trump and the GOP—could “accelerate the demise of the Postal Service” by giving the administration unprecedented access to the popular agency’s internal operations.

“Secretary Mnuchin and the leadership of the U.S. Postal Service appear to be exploiting this public health pandemic to hold the Postal Service to unreasonable loan terms without even consulting Congress,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) in a joint statement Wednesday evening.

According to a loan term sheet made public by the lawmakers, the U.S.P.S. will gain access to $10 billion in emergency funding approved by Congress back in March provided that the agency adheres to a number of requirements, including providing the Trump administration with “historical and protected business, financial, operational, contractual, and planning data that Treasury may determine is necessary to evaluate U.S.P.S.’s current and future financial condition.”

The agreement also requires U.S.P.S. to give the Treasury Department access to proprietary information about the Postal Service’s private-sector shipping contracts and bars the agency from accessing the emergency funds if its “cash balance exceeds $8 billion.”

In a statement, Mnuchin hailed the deal as a step in the direction of “the president’s goal of establishing a sustainable business model under which U.S.P.S. can continue to provide necessary mail service for all Americans, without shifting costs to taxpayers.” In April, Trump called the U.S.P.S. a “joke” and demanded that it dramatically hike package prices amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused a sharp decline in mail volume.

Maloney, Peters, Connolly, and Carper said Wednesday that the terms agreed upon by Mnuchin and DeJoy—who took over as head of the U.S.P.S. just last month—”would inappropriately insert the Treasury into the internal operations of the Postal Service.”

“These terms would severely limit the Postal Service’s access to capital and could accelerate the demise of the Postal Service that all Americans, especially seniors, small businesses, veterans, and those living in rural communities, rely upon every day, especially during the pandemic,” the lawmakers said. “We will not stop fighting to protect this critical service that communities depend on and to ensure that every American can safely participate in the November elections.”

The new loan agreement comes as DeJoy continues to rush ahead with sweeping operational changes at the U.S.P.S. that postal workers believe are part of a deliberate effort to sabotage the beloved government institution and put it on a path toward privatization—a longtime goal of the conservative movement.

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, U.S.P.S. leadership launched a pilot program that could result in significant delays in mail delivery by barring postal workers from sorting packages during their morning operations. In Portland, Maine, letter carriers allege they are being instructed to delay first-class parcels in order to prioritize Amazon packages.

“Undermining and degrading the Postal Service helps frustrate the customer, which sets the stage to privatizing it,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told The Intercept. “The Trump administration is on record for raising prices, reducing service, and reducing workers’ rights and benefits.”

Motherboard reported Monday that “post offices around the country are slashing their hours—including during the busiest times of day—with little notice as yet another abrupt cost-saving measure” implemented by DeJoy, previously the CEO of New Breed Logistics, a private firm with a history of union-busting activity.

“In addition to West Virginia and New Jersey, post offices in Berkeley, California; Petersburg, Alaska, Youngstown, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tennessee have announced similar plans to reduce hours,” Motherboard reported. “All of the changes Motherboard has reviewed were announced only by signs hanging on the post office doors.”

In addition to harming the credibility of the U.S.P.S.—which ranks as the most popular government agency in the United States—DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures also threaten to disrupt upcoming elections as a record number of Americans turn to vote-by-mail as the safest way to cast their ballots amid the pandemic.

“The Trump administration’s attempts to politicize, privatize, and gut U.S.P.S. in the middle of a pandemic and unprecedented vote-by-mail is one of the biggest scandals in American politics right now,” Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman tweeted Wednesday.

In an op-ed for NJ.com this week, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) warned that “the electoral implications for the destruction of the Postal Service are momentous.”

“If it is forced to curtail its service,” Pascrell wrote, “our ability to hold a national election could be obliterated.”

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Not Yet, Sadly

We got a call the other day from a gentleman inquiring when we might return from exile to the land of newsprint.

Our editorial mind, coming from yankee stock, is always questioning our own judgment. Are we being too cautious? Then we venture out.

No. Not yet. It’s not just the risk, which is itself real, it’s the uncertainty on top of it.

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