Trump Optimistic About Winning Nobel Prize in Medicine ~ The New Yorker

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a Coronavirus Task Force news conference.
Photograph by Yuri Gripas / Abaca / Bloomberg / Getty

Trump said that he was a “lock” to win the Nobel because of his pioneering work in prescribing the drug hydroxychloroquine.

“I’ve been talking about hydroxychloroquine so much that a lot of people think I invented it,” Trump said. “You have to give the Nobel to someone who invents a major drug like that.”

He dismissed any claim that his lack of medical credentials disqualifies him from winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

“Just the opposite,” he said. “The fact that I’m not a doctor makes my ability to prescribe drugs that much more impressive.”

Trump said that he hoped the Nobel committee would be a “hell of a lot more fair” about giving out the Nobel in Medicine than they were in bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I did peace, I did peace great, and I didn’t get the Peace Prize,” Trump said. “If I don’t get the Medicine Prize, then the whole Nobel business is rigged.”

He revealed that his medical discoveries had “blown away” the doctors on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

“When I tell Tony Fauci some of the stuff I’ve come up with, he just shakes his head,” Trump said.

Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul? Anyone? ~ NYT Opinion

He’s not rising to the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s shriveling into nothingness.

By

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

 

Do you remember President George W. Bush’s remarks at Ground Zero in Manhattan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? I can still hear him speaking of national grief and national pride. This was before all the awful judgment calls and fatal mistakes, and it doesn’t excuse them. But it mattered, because it reassured us that our country’s leader was navigating some of the same emotional currents that we were.

Do you remember President Barack Obama’s news conference after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 people, including 20 children, dead? I do. Freshest in my memory is how he fought back tears. He was hurting. He cared. And while we couldn’t bank on new laws to prevent the next massacre, we could at least hold on to that.

One more question: Do you remember the moment when President Trump’s bearing and words made clear that he grasped not only the magnitude of this rapidly metastasizing pandemic but also our terror in the face of it?

It passed me by, maybe because it never happened.

 

In Trump’s predecessors, for all their imperfections, I could sense the beat of a heart and see the glimmer of a soul. In him I can’t, and that fills me with a sorrow and a rage that I quite frankly don’t know what to do with.

Americans are dying by the thousands, and he gloats about what a huge, rapt television audience he has. They’re confronting financial ruin and not sure how they’ll continue to pay for food and shelter, and he reprimands governors for not treating him with adequate adulation.

He’s not rising to the challenge before him, not even a millimeter. He’s shriveling into nothingness.

On Friday, when Trump relayed a new recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all Americans wear face masks in public places, he went so far out of his way to stress that the coverings were voluntary and that he himself wouldn’t be going anywhere near one that he might as well have branded them Apparel for Skittish Losers. I’ve finally settled on his epitaph: “Donald J. Trump, too cool for the coronavirus.”

This is more than a failure of empathy, which is how many observers have described his deficiency. It’s more than a failure of decency, which has been my go-to lament. It’s a failure of basic humanity.

In The Washington Post a few days ago, Michael Gerson, a conservative who worked in Bush’s White House, wrote that Trump’s spirit is “a vast, trackless wasteland.” Not exactly trackless. There are gaudy outposts of ego all along the horizon.

When the direness of this global health crisis began to be apparent, I was braced for the falsehoods and misinformation that are Trump’s trademarks. I was girded for the incompetence that defines an administration with such contempt for proper procedure and for true expertise.

But what has taken me by surprise and torn me up inside are the aloofness, arrogance, pettiness, meanness, narcissism and solipsism that persist in Trump — that flourish in him — even during a once-in-a-lifetime emergency that demands something nobler. Under normal circumstances, these traits are galling. Under the current ones, they’re gutting.

I don’t take responsibility at all.” “Did you know I was number one on Facebook?” To bother with just one of those sentences while a nation trembles is disgusting. To bother with both, as Trump did, is perverse.

Frank Bruni’s Newsletter: Get a more personal take on politics, newsmakers and more with Frank’s exclusive commentary every week.

He continues to bash the media, as if the virus were cooked up in the bowels of CNN. He continues to play blame games and to lord his station over those of a lesser political caste, turning governors into grovelers and suggesting that they’re whiny piggies at the federal trough.

He continues his one-man orgy of self-congratulation, so that in the same breath recently he speculated about a toll of 100,000 deaths in America from Covid-19 and crowed about what a great job he’s doing.

And he continues to taunt and smear his perceived political adversaries. Last week, on Fox News, he called Nancy Pelosi “a sick puppy.” This is how he chooses to spend his time and energy?

At those beloved daily briefings of his, where he talks and talks and talks, he sometimes seems to regard what’s happening less as a devastating scourge than as a star-studded event. Just look at the nifty degree of prominence it’s conferring on everyone and everything involved! He has mused aloud about how well known Anthony Fauci has become. He has marveled at the disease’s celebrity profile.

“Become a very famous term — C-O-V-I-D,” he said on Thursday. Was that envy in his voice?

He leaps from tone deafness to some realm of complete sensory and moral deprivation.

“I want to come way under the models,” he said on Friday, referring to casualty projections. “The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model.”

“At least this kind of model,” he added. No context like a pandemic for X-rated humor.

It’s an extraordinary thing: to fill the air with so many words and have none of them carry any genuine sadness or stirring resolve.

I can hear his admirers grumble that he doesn’t do camera-perfect emotions, that Obama was just a better actor, that Trump is the more authentic man.

To which I answer: What’s the point of having a showman for a president if he can’t put on the right kind of show? Performances count, even if they’re just performances. And Trump clearly isn’t averse to artifice. Just look at his hair.

A cheap shot? I’m feeling cheap. A loss of life and livelihoods on this scale will do that to you.

As of this writing, at least 9,600 people with the coronavirus have died in the United States. That’s more than three times the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. New York State alone reported 630 new deaths on Saturday . No school shooting has taken even a small fraction of as many lives.

And while I’m not looking to Trump for any panacea, is it too much to ask for some sign that the dying has made an impression on him, that the crying has penetrated his carapace and that he’s thinking about something other than his ratings? I watch. I wait. I suspect I’ll be doing that forever.

Trump Is Gutting Our Democracy While We’re Dealing with Coronavirus ~ NYT

The president’s firing of the intelligence watchdog who validated the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint is his latest threat to the rule of law.

By

Mr. Bookbinder is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

When President Trump announced late Friday that he would fire the government watchdog who told Congress about the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint, which ultimately led to his impeachment, it touched off one of the most acute threats yet to our democracy. But it didn’t even make the front page of most papers.

That’s understandable. Thousands of Americans are dying every day from the terrifying coronavirus pandemic. People are worried about their own safety and that of their families, as well as about their jobs and livelihood. Questions abound about how the crisis got to this point, whether the Trump administration took appropriate steps to address it, and what steps are needed to minimize the devastation going forward; there is little bandwidth for anything else.

But we can’t afford to ignore the anti-democratic steps the president is taking while the American people are appropriately preoccupied with this outbreak. If we don’t respond to these outrageous abuses now, the damage may be done by the time anyone is the wiser.

The worst of the president’s latest round of steps to undermine checks and balances came not just in this time of crisis, but on a Friday night, the classic black hole for sweeping problematic actions in Washington under the rug.

First, the president announced that he would be firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community. Mr. Trump said in a required letter to Congress that he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in Atkinson; there was not even an effort to disguise the fact that what caused the president to lose that confidence was Atkinson following the law and allowing the truth to come out about Mr. Trump’s lawless attempt to pressure a foreign power to announce politically helpful investigations. Mr. Atkinson will be fired 30 days after the letter went to Congress, the soonest he can be under law, but the president undercut even that law by putting Mr. Atkinson on immediate administrative leave.

Michael Horowitz, the respected inspector general of the Department of Justice and chairman of a council that coordinates inspectors general, went out on a limb to vouch for Mr. Atkinson, praising his integrity and his handling of the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint. Mr. Horowitz is right, and his affirmation that the inspector general community “will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight” is heartening.

But President Trump’s further action makes that claim questionable at best. The president compounded the Atkinson announcement on Friday night with his intention to nominate White House lawyer Brian Miller to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery, a key position for oversight of the just-passed $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is ripe for fraud and corruption without aggressive review. The position demands ironclad independence, particularly with the risk that the president’s company, relatives, customers and donors could seek to benefit from the stimulus package. Mr. Miller, who served for nearly 10 years as inspector general at the General Services Administration, but more recently played a role in the White House’s response to the impeachment inquiry, is precisely the wrong person to ensure independence. A former senior Senate staff member praised Miller’s “loyalty to the administration” in explaining why he’ll make a good choice, even though loyalty is the exact opposite of what is needed.

The one-two punch of Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Miller is, unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg of the president’s dangerous attacks on the independence of inspectors general. Mr. Trump will likely fire additional inspectors general because he and his allies view them as “deep state” operatives who undermine him. Indeed, the president seems to view any independence within the government and certainly any checks on him as intolerable disloyalty; that notion, of course, runs counter to our entire system of checks and balances.

Friday night’s actions came at the end of a week of scary departures from democratic practices. Reporting indicates that more and more power has gone to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose coronavirus “shadow task force” of government allies and private sector connections may run afoul of federal law. Mr. Kushner is meanwhile also reportedly playing a significant role in the Trump re-election campaign from the White House, which may also violate federal law. Nepotism and disregard for the law have characterized this administration from day one, but the volume and brazenness of these anti-democratic tendencies is increasing.

Indeed, earlier Friday, the government changed its description on a federal website of the strategic national stockpile to correspond to Mr. Kushner’s description of it as being for the benefit of the federal government, not the states. Also last week, the Navy fired a captain who blew the whistle on the scope of a Covid-19 outbreak on his ship, another example of apparent payback for truthtelling, and the president reportedly wants to have his own signature on stimulus checks to Americans, which may also run afoul of law. All of these autocratic steps come on top of the president’s February purges of officials who testified in the impeachment trial and attempts to meddle in the sentencing of friends and allies convicted of crimes.

Here’s why this matters: times of crisis are when democracies are in the gravest danger of crumbling. We are seeing that play out in the world right now. Hungary, which has watched its hard won post-Cold War democratic reforms slipping away for some time, this week saw its Parliament give Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whom Mr. Trump has praised, unlimited authority, effectively turning the country into a dictatorship. Dictators around the world are using the pandemic to tighten their control.

We’re not there yet. But the president’s attempts to rid the government of those who would provide appropriate oversight and accountability for abuses and speak truth to power, to put in place loyalists who will look out for him rather than providing independent checks, and to empower relatives and disregard laws sets us on a dangerous trajectory. Firing inspectors general and replacing them with loyalists is a serious threat to our democracy. The American people must register our outrage; Congress must investigate the firings aggressively and rigorously vet nominees. If we ignore the erosion of checks and balances because we are preoccupied with more immediate concerns, we may find that our democracy — when we need the institutions of this country the most — is disappearing. Just ask Hungary.

As Himalayas Warm, Nepal’s Climate Migrants Struggle to Survive ~ NYT

Pushed out of their village by a drought and lack of food, a group of Nepalis are fighting to amplify the voices of those forced to relocate by the planet’s warming.

By Bhadra Sharma and

Photographs by

DHYE, Nepal — High in the Himalayas, on a rugged plateau dotted with empty mud huts, an exodus has begun.

In the village of Dhye, crops are stubby, dead stalks. Water is scarce. The only school closed a few years ago. With dwindling food, most families have packed their belongings and left, driven out by a faceless, man-made enemy.

They are Nepal’s climate-change migrants, and there will be more.

“I love this village,” said Sonam Chhiring Gurung, 76, one of the final holdouts, “but I can’t survive here much longer.”

Climate change is remaking the Himalayan region, putting at risk millions of South Asians who depend on its water resources and pushing mountain dwellers in northern Nepal, home to the world’s highest peaks, to build new settlements at lower altitudes.

Glacial melt has accelerated in the 1,500-mile-long Himalayas. Land once used for growing vegetables has become barren. Yak herders say they are struggling to find grazing patches for their animals. Scientists have found that rising temperatures could spread malaria and dengue to new areas of the Himalayas, where mosquitoes have started to appear in the highlands.

Sonam Chhiring Gurung, 76, is one of Dhye’s few residents now. “I love this village, but I can’t survive here much longer,” he said.

 

Around the world, tens of millions of people have already been displaced as a result of a warming planet. Researchers estimate that the number of climate-change migrants — those fleeing natural disasters, droughts or other calamities — could reach a billion by the end of the century.

South Asians are among the most vulnerable. Last year, after an unusually weak monsoon, water nearly ran out in Chennai, one of India’s biggest cities. In Bangladesh, up to 18 million people face displacement by 2050 from sea rise alone, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation. Extreme heat is making people sicker and poorer, and could sharply diminish the living standardsof 800 million people in the region if goals for mitigating climate change are not met.

Warmer Himalayas could have disastrous consequences for the subcontinent.

Last year, in one of the most complete studies on mountain warming, scientists warned that even if the world’s most ambitious climate change targets were met, at least one-third of Himalayan glaciers would melt by the end of the century.

This Is What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis ~ NYT

Trump’s catastrophic performance has as much to do with psychology as ideology.

By

Opinion columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.

Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.

But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.

Let’s start with the basics. First: Narcissistic personalities like Trump harbor skyscraping delusions about their own capabilities. They exaggerate their accomplishments, focus obsessively on projecting power, and wish desperately to win.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump says we’ve got plenty of tests available, when we don’t. He declares that Google is building a comprehensive drive-thru testing website, when it isn’t. He sends a Navy hospital ship to New York and it proves little more than an excuse for a campaign commercial, arriving and sitting almost empty in the Hudson. A New York hospital executive calls it a joke.

Second: The grandiosity of narcissist personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong.

What that means, during this pandemic: Narcissistic leaders never have, as Trump likes to say, the best people. They have galleries of sycophants. With the exceptions of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Trump has surrounded himself with a Z-team of dangerously inexperienced toadies and flunkies — the bargain-bin rejects from Filene’s Basement — at a time when we require the brightest and most imaginative minds in the country.

Faced with a historic public health crisis, Trump could have assembled a first-rate company of disaster preparedness experts. Instead he gave the job to his son-in-law, a man-child of breathtaking vapidity. Faced with a historic economic crisis, Trump could have assembled a team of Nobel-prize winning economists or previous treasury secretaries. Instead he talks to Larry Kudlow, a former CNBC host.

Meanwhile, Fauci and Birx measure every word they say like old-time apothecaries, hoping not to humiliate the narcissist — neverhumiliate a narcissist — while discreetly correcting his false hopes and falsehoods. They are desperately attempting to create a safe space for our president, when the president should be creating a safer nation for all of us.

Third: Narcissistic personalities love nothing more than engineering conflict and sowing division. It destabilizes everyone, keeps them in control.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is pitting state against state for precious resources, rather than coordinating a national response. (“It’s like being on eBay,” complained Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York last week.) His White House is a petty palace of competing power centers. He picks fights with Democratic officials and members of the press, when all the public craves is comfort.

Narcissistic personalities don’t do comfort. They cannot fathom the needs of other hearts.

Fourth: Narcissistic personalities are vindictive. On a clear day, you can see their grudges forever.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is playing favorites with governors who praise him and punishing those who fail to give him the respect he believes he deserves. “If they don’t treat you right, don’t call,” he told Vice President Mike Pence.

His grudge match with New York is now especially lethal. When asked on Friday whether New York will have enough ventilators, Trump bluntly answered “No,” and then blamed the state.

And most relevant, as far as history is concerned: Narcissistic personalities are weak.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is genuinely afraid to lead. He can’t bring himself to make robust use of the Defense Production Act, because the buck would stop with him. (To this day, he insists states should be acquiring their own ventilators.) When asked about delays in testing, he said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” During Friday’s news conference, he added the tests “we inherited were “broken, were obsolete,” when this form of coronavirus didn’t even exist under his predecessor.

This sounds an awful lot like one of the three sentences that Homer Simpson swears will get you through life: “It was like that when I got here.”

Most people, even the most hotheaded and difficult ones, have enough space in their souls to set aside their anger in times of crisis. Think of Rudolph Giuliani during Sept. 11. Think of Andrew Cuomo now.

But every aspect of Trump’s crisis management has been annexed by his psychopathology. As Americans die, he boasts about his television ratings. As Americans die, he crows that he’s No. 1 on Facebook, which isn’t close to true.

But it is true that all eyes are on him. He’s got a captive audience, an attention-addict’s dream come to life. It’s just that he, like all narcissistic personalities, has no clue how disgracefully — how shamefully, how deplorably — he’ll be enshrined in memory.

Will coronavirus signal the end of capitalism? ~ Al Jazeera

The peasants’ revolt after the 14th-century plague saw off feudalism. After COVID-19, will it be the turn of capitalism?

by

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is displayed after the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City on March 10, 2020 [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is displayed after the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City on March 10, 2020 [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

The pandemic begins in Asia, rips through the capital cities of Europe and wipes out at least a third of all human beings in its way. When it is all over, revolts begin, cherished institutions fall, and the entire economic system has to be reconfigured.

That is a short history of the Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, which spread from Mongolia to Western Europe in the 1340s.

Because the economy then was based on local agriculture and crafts, ordinary life bounced back relatively quickly.

But, by radically reducing the number of workers, it gave the survivors increased bargaining power, which soon translated into new concepts of liberty among the population of medieval cities.

That, in turn, started a process of economic change that brought an end to the feudal system and, some argue, triggered the rise of capitalism.

Capitalism’s plague nightmare

Today, capitalism faces its own plague nightmare. Though the COVID-19 virus may kill between 1 percent and 4 percent of those who catch it, it is about to have an impact on a much more complex economy than the one that existed back in the 1340s – one with a much more fragile geopolitical order, and on a society already gripped with foreboding over climate change.

Let us consider the massive changes the pandemic has already forced.

First, the partial shutdown of daily life in large parts of China, India, most of Europe and numerous states in America.

Second, significant damage to the reputations of governments and political elites who either denied the seriousness of the crisis, or in the initial stages proved incapable of mobilising their healthcare systems to meet it.

Third, an immediate slump in consumer spending across all major economies which is certain to provoke the deepest recession in living memory: share prices have already collapsed and this, in turn, hurts middle-class families whose pension funds have to invest in shares. Meanwhile, the solvency of airlines, airports and hotel chains is in doubt.

In response, states have launched economic rescue packages so massive that most people have not yet got their heads around the implications. The US government will inject two trillion dollars into the economy – through a mixture of direct payments to citizens and loans to business – more than half of what it collects in taxes in a year.

Meanwhile, the central banks have switched to a new and aggressive form of quantitative easing. Just as after the last global financial crisis in 2008, they will create new money to buy up government debt – but this time, it is not going to be gradual, or focused on the safest government bonds. Introduced as a panic measure in 2008, it seems quantitative easing could be with us for decades.

Politicians are busy reassuring voters that it will be a “V-shaped recession” – a sharp slump followed by a bounce-back, because the “real economy”, they claim, is sound.

Collapsing foundations

To understand why that is over-optimistic, let us use the metaphor of a building.

In the 2008 financial crisis, it looked like the “roof” – the finance system – had collapsed onto the main structure which, though it was damaged, stood firm and we eventually rebuilt the roof.

This time, by contrast, it is the foundations that are collapsing – because all economic life in a capitalist system is based on compelling people to go to work and spend their wages.

Since we now have to compel them to stay away from work, and from all the places they usually spend their hard-earned salaries, it does not matter how strong the building itself is.

In fact, the building is not that strong. Much of the growth we have experienced during the 12 years since the last financial crisis has been fuelled by central banks printing money, governments bailing out the banking system and debt.

Instead of paying down debt, we amassed an estimated $72 trillion more of it.

Unlike the time of the bubonic plague, 21st-century trade and finance systems are complex – which, as we learned in 2008, means they are fragile.

Many of the assets circulating in the finance system are – just as in the run-up to the 2008 crisis – complicated bundles of IOUs issued by banks, insurance groups and other financial companies. Their value lies in the fact that they give the holder a claim on future income.

Our gym memberships, our student loan repayments, our rents, our car repayments this year, next year and beyond are already counted as “paid”, with people in the finance system taking sophisticated bets on how much they are worth.

But what happens when we do not go to the gym, do not buy a new car? Some of those IOUs become worthless and the financial system has to be bailed out by the state.

The unthinkable is here

Even though most ordinary people do not understand how dangerous this is, the people in power do. That is why they have persuaded the central banks to effectively nationalise the bond markets.

This means that states are issuing debts to bail out people and companies – as with Trump’s two-trillion-dollar deal – and those debts are being swallowed up by another part of the state itself – the central bank.

Left-wing economists, myself included, have been warning that, in the long term, stagnant growth and high debt were likely to lead to these three policies: States paying citizens a universal income as automation makes well-paid work precarious and scarce; central banks lending directly to the state to keep it afloat; and large-scale public ownership of major corporations to maintain vital services that cannot be run at a profit.

On the rare occasions that such suggestions have ever been put to investors in the past, the response was usually a polite head-shake or, among people who witnessed the collapse of Soviet communism, outrage. It would kill capitalism, they said.

But now, the unthinkable is here – all of it: Universal payments, state bailouts and the funding of state debts by central banks have all been adopted at a speed that has shocked even the usual advocates of these measures.

The question is, are we going to do this enthusiastically, and with a clear vision of the society that emerges on the other side, or reluctantly, with the intent to revive the system that has just broken down?

Let us understand why economists have been so hostile to these crisis measures up to now.

With universal income payments, British conservative politician Iain Duncan Smith pointed out, the problem is they might “discourage people from going to work“.

When it comes to state ownership and attempts to plan production (for example, the current scramble for ventilators), free-market economists believe such attempts at human control get in the way of the market, which, in their opinion, functions as an intelligent machine, bringing order to the world in a way no planning agency or government can ever do.

As for the funding of state debts by central banks, this is seen as an admission of moral defeat by capitalism: It is entrepreneurship and competition that are supposed to drive growth, not the Bank of England or the Fed printing money and lending it to their treasuries. Therefore, a capitalism permanently reliant on these mechanisms is unthinkable to most traditional economists.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

%d bloggers like this: