Tag Archives: incompetence

Can A Pandemic Have A Good Side?

Pollyanna here! (I know– this is a rare appearance of my positive side…)

What prompted my question was a series of posts on my neighborhood listserv, which is usually dominated by complaints about trash pickup, potholes and porch thieves. The first of the series was this one:

If there are any elderly or immunosuppressed neighbors who have an errand they cannot run, I’d be happy to help! I work in a nursing facility and know there are many elderly that are fearful of getting to the store.

That was followed by one titled “Be Kind,” which read

Please keep an eye out for neighbors, friends, kids, even people on the street that look stressed. Be kind to everyone since we cannot know the problems they are having with the stress of this slow moving crisis. Whether emotional or financial, it will bring out depression in those trying to keep it together. Domestic violence is likely to increase. It is unlike a hurricane in that we don’t know when, where, how, or how long.

Forty-nine neighbors had responded to that post when I last checked, and the comments were uniformly positive, thanking the poster for the reminder, suggesting ways to be helpful to neighbors, and indicating an intent to check on the well-being of older residents or those with medical problems.

I live in a downtown neighborhood–often referred to (scornfully) as “the hood” by people who assume that urban life is dangerous, faceless and anonymous. I actually know most of my neighbors, who are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, so I was gratified, but not surprised, by the attitudes expressed in these posts.

Also on the potentially positive side is growing recognition that a robust social safety net doesn’t just help “those people”–i.e., the poor or marginalized. If people living paycheck to paycheck (and there are more of them than you think) don’t have paid sick leave, they are likely to come to work when they shouldn’t, and to infect “us.”

And it probably goes without saying that if everyone had access to healthcare, it would be easier to identify and isolate sick folks and thus contain pandemics. Perhaps the virus will help more people understand why a society that protects the most vulnerable is actually better for everyone.

Finally, despite the best disinformation efforts of Faux News, there are signs that this public health challenge is creating a renewed appreciation for the importance of a properly functioning government.

Periodically, America’s historic penchant for anti-intellectualism and distaste for “pointy-headed” experts facilitates the election of a “politically-incorrect” public official.  Previously, this has been a more common outcome at the state and local level, but in 2016 it elevated a toxic and profoundly ignorant man to the Presidency.

When resentment of knowledge unites with fear of social displacement–in our case, the escalating panic of less-educated white “Christian” males facing loss of their dominant status–it creates an opening for the con men and would-be autocrats who view government office as an opportunity for graft rather than a call to serve.

Unfortunately, when an emergency arrives that requires a government solution, the utter inability of these bozos to perform–to use the powers of government for their intended purpose– becomes too obvious to ignore.

The Trump administration’s multiple transgressions against science, the environment and the most basic principles of good government will be responsible for many deaths that  might have been avoided. There isn’t much average Americans can do about that at this point–but going forward, we can and must learn a lesson: competent government matters.

And at a time where so many Americans have displayed their ugliest sides–their racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and more–we can take comfort in the humanity and genuine goodness of so many ordinary citizens.

It may not be enough, but it’s important.

Conspiracy Theories In One..Two..Three…

I still remember a meeting I attended many years ago, when I was in City Hall. A number of neighborhood groups–aggrieved about something I no longer recall–met with Mayor Hudnut and a small group of city officials and accused us of engaging in a devious conspiracy to undermine whatever it was they were exercised about. Bob Cross, then Deputy Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, responded that incompetence usually explains far more than conspiracy. (Actually, as he remarked after the meeting, we would have been incapable of pulling off a conspiracy.)

It was a bit of wisdom I’ve not forgotten.

There are all sorts of ongoing problems with the Iowa Caucuses–working folks often can’t participate, Iowa is over 95% white and unrepresentative of the nation as a whole, and the parties and media pay far too much attention to the results. Perhaps the monumental cluster-f**k this year will prompt a re-evaluation. (I personally favor a national primary…or at this point, even a retreat to those despised “smoke filled rooms.” Trump would never have emerged from a smoke-filled room.)

In the wake of Iowa’s inability to issue immediate results, Talking Points Memo blamed complexity and an app that was definitely “not ready for prime time.”

Experts in cybersecurity and election administration told TPM on Tuesday that the app chosen by the Iowa Democratic Party failed to handle the complexity, providing an example of what not to do in administering an election.

But incompetence isn’t an explanation that feeds the fevered imaginations of conspiracy theorists.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders identified a donor who had given money to both Mayor Pete and to the company that developed the flawed app (as had four of the Democratic contenders) and concluded that Pete was part of a clandestine effort to rig the election. Anti-Bernie folks responded by identifying a guy with a “commie background” who has  donated to Bernie, so Bernie’s a commie.

For the record, Bernie’s campaign has said the caucuses were not rigged.

Business Insider reported that GOP operatives were gleefully piling on.

Amid the chaos surrounding the delayed results of the Iowa caucuses, multiple Republicans have pushed conspiracy theories that imply the process was rigged against Sen. Bernie Sanders.

With so much confusion in Iowa, some in the GOP saw an opportunity to be exploited.

There is no evidence whatsoever the caucuses were rigged, but some Republicans are pushing this conspiratorial narrative in what appears to be a fairly transparent effort to divide Democratic voters. The primary season is already heated, with supporters of the various Democratic candidates often duking it out online.

A column in the Washington Post summed up the various elements of this mess that should genuinely trouble Democrats, and the lessons this exercise in breathtaking incompetence should teach.

Transmitting results digitally opens up a whole cyber-world of hacking risk — yet Iowa insisted on doing it anyway. Organizers did try to guard against disaster by requiring precincts to include snapshots of an on-paper count. But there’s a lot more they didn’t do, such as test their system statewide or tell any security experts the name of the for-profit company that constructed the app in a hurried two months. (That name, by the way, is “Shadow, Inc.” Now don’t you feel better?)…

Iowa party officials started by crying “user error” to explain the struggles many precinct captains had downloading and uploading. Okay, if “user error” means very few people could use the app without encountering an error. Some encountered limited bandwidth because so many individuals were accessing the program at the same time, which the party might have anticipated considering they were running 1,681 caucuses simultaneously. Some in rural areas ran into poor wireless service, which the party also should have anticipated considering, well, it is Iowa. The next day, officials began to blame a “coding issue.”

The Iowa imbroglio, in other words, so far reveals lots of incompetence and little insidiousness. More tech isn’t always better, and, in this case, it was worse because a product wasn’t fully tested and didn’t function as it was supposed to.

The first two sentences of the column pointed to the real issue: Americans’ widespread distrust– distrust that encourages belief in conspiracy theories.

Want to cause countrywide confusion and sow doubt in the integrity of our democracy? Apparently there’s an app for that.

Indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Benefits From Our Asinine Immigration Policies

For those who asked: the Kindle version of Living Together is now available.

___________________________

Between the tariffs that are destroying the markets of America’s farmers and raising the price of consumer goods in the United States, and an insane and racist approach to immigration that is making it difficult for businesses to hire the people they need , Donald Trump has managed to vastly improve the economy… of Canada.

As Time Magazine has recently reported,

On a recent Tuesday, Neal Fachan walked down a dock in Seattle’s Lake Union and boarded a blue and yellow Harbour Air seaplane, alongside six other tech executives. He was bound for Vancouver to check on the Canadian office of Qumulo, the Seattle-based cloud storage company he co-founded in 2012. With no security lines, it was an easy 50-minute flight past snow-capped peaks. Later that day, Fachan caught a return flight back to Seattle.

Fachan began making his monthly Instagram-worthy commute when Qumulo opened its Vancouver office in January. Other passengers on the seaplanes go back and forth multiple times a week. Fachan says his company expanded across the border because Canada’s immigration policies have made it far easier to hire skilled foreign workers there compared to the United States. “We require a very specific subset of skills, and it’s hard to find the people with the right skills,” Fachan says as he gets off the plane. “Having access to a global employment market is useful.”

Half of America’s annual growth in GDP has been attributed to increasing innovation. While the media and politicians are focused on Trump’s crisis at the southern border, tech executives and economists warn that the growing delays and backlogs for permits for skilled workers at America’s other borders are a more significant challenge. The risk of losing both skilled workers and the companies that employ them to Canada and other more welcoming countries are arguably a bigger problem for our economic future than a flood of refugees–even if those refugees were the problem Trump and his white nationalist base insist they are.

“Increasingly, talented international professionals choose destinations other than the United States to avoid the uncertain working environment that has resulted directly from the agency’s processing delays and inconsistent adjudications,” testified Marketa Lindt, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, at a House hearing last week about processing delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Lindt’s organization finds that USCIS processing time for some work permits has doubled since 2014, a fact cited in a May lettersigned by 38 U.S. Senators on both sides of the aisle asking USCIS to explain the processing delays.

The backlogs in processing have particularly benefited our neighbor to the north. Canada has adopted an open-armed embrace of skilled programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs at the same time the U.S. is tightening its stance. Research shows that high-skilled foreign workers are highly productive and innovative, and tend to create more new businesses, generating jobs for locals. So each one who winds up in Canada instead of America is a win for the former, and a loss for the latter. “Really smart people can drive economic growth,” says Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in Washington, D.C. funded in part by cable, pharmaceutical, television, and tech companies. “There are not that many people in the world with an IQ of 130, and to the extent that we’re attracting those people rather than the Canadians doing so, we’re better off.”

This is what happens when voters resentful of “smarty pants elitists” elect an intellectually-challenged President who is equally threatened by people who actually know what they’re doing, and consequently refuses to appoint competent people to important government positions.

We live in a complicated world. If the Trump Administration has demonstrated anything, it is that appointing ideologues, crooks and simpletons to manage that complexity is a recipe for disaster.

What About The Children?

I haven’t blogged about the children separated from their parents at the border, because–really–what can I say? It is so horrific, so diametrically opposed to what rational people want to believe about our country, that it is overwhelming.

It was bad enough when the news of this inconceivable aspect of Trump’s “zero tolerance” first emerged; it was worse when we saw photos of children in cages and read reports of the “privatized” facilities charging taxpayers big bucks to warehouse bewildered, frightened children. But then the courts ordered that families be re-united, and we could tell ourselves that the damage would be limited. (Yes, some children would probably carry that trauma into their adult lives, but at least they would be back with their parents.)

But early this month, we woke to headlines that should–but probably won’t– shame every Trump voter. ABC News reported that “thousands” more children had been taken from their parents than previously reported.

President Donald Trump’s administration does not know how many migrant children were separated from their parents at the southern border in the year before the “zero-tolerance” policy launched, and is unlikely to figure it out, according to court papers filed Friday night.

Last month, an internal government report found that during the Trump administration, thousands more kids may have been separated from their parents at the border than was previously known and that a “steep increase” of separations began in the summer of 2017, almost a year before the “zero-tolerance” policy was announcedby then-Attorney General Jeff Sessionsin the spring of 2018.

NBC highlighted the government’s admission that it was probably unable to reunite the children with their families.

The Trump administration said in a court filing that reuniting thousands of migrant children separated from their parents or guardians at the U.S.-Mexico border may not be “within the realm of the possible.”

The filing late Friday from Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of the department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, was an ordered response in an ACLU lawsuit challenging the government’s separation of thousands of children at the border since the summer of 2017. The estimate of “thousands” comes from the HHS Office of Inspector General’s January report and pertains to children separated before the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy came into effect in 2018.

Sualog said her office doesn’t have the resources to track down the children, whose numbers could be thousands more than the official estimate.

This administration is the perfect marriage of evil and incompetence.

I can’t even get my head around what those mothers and fathers must be feeling, let alone the terror experienced by small children suddenly bereft of their parents. I think back to when my own children were young and they were the absolute center of my life. (I’m still pretty fond of them.)

How can any parent fail to empathize with mothers and fathers frantic to protect their children from the daily threats posed by civil disorder? I would have gone to similar lengths to find a safe environment for my children.

The people who came with children to our southern border evidently believed what most Americans believed until Trump–that this nation of immigrants would greet them with justice and compassion and help them save their children. They couldn’t have foreseen what actually happened–that their children would be taken from them, that their whereabouts would be unaccounted for, and the country they’d pinned their hopes on wouldn’t care.

The richest country in the world “lacks the resources” to find the children they stole. The “can do” country didn’t bother to keep records.

It’s heartbreaking and inexcusable.

 

File Under: From Your Mouth To God’s Ears

When someone made a positive prediction in her presence, my grandmother would employ a favorite  “go to” phrase: “from your mouth to God’s ears!” It was her way of saying she certainly hoped that whatever was being predicted would turn out to be true.

Grandma has been gone for quite some time, but that phrase was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this report from Politico.

As many as five Democratic-led House committees next year could take on DeVos over a range of issues such as her rollback of regulations aimed at predatory for-profit colleges, the stalled processing of student loan forgiveness and a rewrite of campus sexual assault policies.

“Betsy DeVos has brought a special mix of incompetence and malevolence to Washington — and that’s rocket fuel for every committee in a new Congress that will finally provide oversight,” said Seth Frotman, who resigned as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s top student loan official earlier in protest of Trump administration policies likely to be examined by Democrats.

In any other administration, DeVos’ “special mix of incompetence and malevolence” would have garnered far more media attention. Trumpworld, however, has such a monumental amount of both that she has had to share that attention with others in the abysmal cohort comprising our nation’s current administration.

Among the incoming committee chairs antagonistic to DeVos is Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). She’s in line to lead the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing education funding, and–like the other incoming chairs identified in the article–she’s coming to the job with her sights firmly set on DeVos.

The panel’s oversight work, DeLauro said, will focus on ways to “hold Secretary DeVos accountable for her agency’s failure to uphold federal protections for our students.”

DeLauro called DeVos’ record on student debt issues “appalling,” citing the administration’s moves to eliminate Obama-era rules meant to cut off funding to low-performing colleges and make it easier for defrauded borrowers to obtain loan forgiveness.

“I will make sure Secretary DeVos knows Americans want her to protect students and veterans, not the for-profit school industry,” she said.

Maxine Waters will head the Financial Services Committee; earlier this month she accused DeVos of a “full-on attack on civil rights protections for students—particularly students of color, students with disabilities, transgender students, and survivors of sexual assault.”

A number of watchdog groups have brought lawsuits that can serve as agendas for these committees:

Groups like American Oversight, National Student Legal Defense Network and Democracy Forward have all filed multiple lawsuits against the department — many focusing on its ties to the for-profit education industry.

“We are certainly hopeful that the Department of Education will cooperate with the incoming Democratic chairs’ oversight requests,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, which published a list of oversight topics for Democrats to take on after the election. “However, given this administration’s track record when it comes to following the law, it would not be surprising if Congress has to use subpoenas to get any useful information.”

Trump’s cabinet–with a combined net worth estimated at $14 Billion–is filled with appointees chosen mainly for their deep antagonism to the missions of the agencies they head. (Total ignorance of the matters under the agencies’ jurisdiction is a plus.) But even in that pathetic assembly, DeVos stands out.

Hostility to public education? Check. Lack of even the slightest understanding of education policy debates? Check. Devotion to her fellow plutocrats who are making fortunes by ripping off students and taxpayers? Check. Total lack of respect, regard or concern for the students DOE supposedly serves? Check.

When Politico’s mouth gets to God’s ears, bring popcorn.