The Low Stakes President

”Donald Trump the Narcissist Is Running the Coronavirus Crisis” in The New York Times. Hang in there, because this is full of gems, so forgive my lengthy quotes.

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.


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.


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.”

Donald Trump talks it up like he inherited the country in the worst state the United States has ever been in. He blames every single thing on other people, never taking responsibility for anything. Ask him how he’d grade himself on anything he’s done and he’ll tell you “A+” or “10/10”.

How about when he’s asked about a failing of his administration? “I take no responsibility at all.

This guy has enjoyed a cushy time in office and inherited a growing economy and cratering unemployment. He took on a healthcare system that was far from perfect, but was moving in the right direction after the last administration made some of the best reforms to healthcare in a generation (my wife, for example, could likely not even get insurance at all today were it not for the ACA). He took over when the international community generally looked at the US as a leader in the world.

He’s spent his time in office balling crisis after crisis of his own making. The economy continued to grow at the same rate as it had for years before, and unemployment, a metric he thought was dumb in the Obama years suddenly became proof of his clever leadership. He provoked our enemies and then basked in the glory of not having them nuke us or our allies in retaliation.

And he did all this while getting impeached for requesting help from a foreign government in an election…literally right after a massive dump of information about doing just that in the last election.

He’s a man-child who still brags about his “historic” (i.e. middling) electoral college victory and hypes up his own sub-50% approval rate. He has done nothing to even remotely try and unite the country, and even in the current crisis, has proven to be a divider, not a uniter.

He hates the press, and finds even basic challenges to his apparent “A+” work as “nasty questions” and blurts out “fake news” like a sniveling child who thinks he can control what is real.

He is surrounded by a party of cowards who won’t stand up to him and he’s dragged them into the muck with him.

He is am embarrassment to himself, he’s an embarrassment to the office, he’s an embarrassment to the world.

The COVID-19 crisis is the first genuine large-scale crisis he’s had to deal with as President, and he’s of course blowing it. He denied it was a thing for months, decrying it “shut down” on February 2. In late February he said we would be down to zero cases in a matter of days. Now he says it will be a major success if we can only have 200,000 Americans die of this disease. And of course, because he’s a chronic liar, he now says he called it a pandemic long before anyone else. And when his CDC advises people to wear masks when going out in some public places, Trump undermines them by saying it’s optional and he won’t be doing it. You know, because he’s a big strong man, or something.

When this whole thing is over, and god knows when that will be, the President will have blood on his hands, and I am sure he won’t take any responsibility, nor will his party level the slightest criticism of his performance. He’s a historically bad president, and he’s a reprehensible human being. You may be reading this and think I’m being too hard on him or suggest that “I don’t know what’s in his heart,” but I would contend that this man has shown us exactly what he is about. The presidency accentuates all of your characteristics, both good and bad, and the guy in the office right now is proving that all too well.

Privacy as I Say, Not as I Do

Daring Fireball: The New York Times's Hypocrisy on Ad Tracking and Privacy

Here’s the thing. The NYT’s website is loaded with several dozen ad-trackers. I don’t know if any of them collect location data too, but you’d be a fool to bet against that.

This report from The New York Times ought to be eye-opening for tons of people and it does a pretty good job of punching a hole in the “your name isn’t on the data, so it’s anonymous” argument. Actually privatizing data is more complicated than that, and most companies have no interest in doing so.

But like John says, NYT are not at all above the fray on this one. I wish I could say they should pivot to a 100% privacy-focused monetary system, but I honestly don’t know how they do that without going out of business. Ads pay the bills in a way that no subscription service is going to do in the modern world. News is seen as free, and in a way, it totally is. The news is just information, and once a news source like NYT report something, it’s out there for anyone, regardless of whether people subscribed to the service that broke the news.

Getting that news is not free, and you need to pay people to get these stories, and this is the dilemma that news companies have to deal with. They’d love it if you subscribed and paid enough to allow them to keep doing their work, but unfortunately that’s just not going to happen anytime soon for them or any other major news organization.

Update: Thanks to Nick Heer for pointing out that NTY dropped this form of advertising in Europe due to GDPR and they're actually doing better than before. Maybe there is hope after all.

The publisher blocked all open-exchange ad buying on its European pages, followed swiftly by behavioral targeting. Instead, NYT International focused on contextual and geographical targeting for programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace deals and has not seen ad revenues drop as a result, according to Jean-Christophe Demarta, svp for global advertising at New York Times International.


I'm a little worried about people's memories being too short term for it to matter as much as it should, but this shutdown should be gold for anyone running against Trump next year. Here's an example a candidate could make:

"Remember when Trump shut down the government for months, leaving regular folks like you out of work and without a paycheck? He used regular people from both parties as pawns to appease cable news pundits. Working men and women didn’t get paid for over a month because the president wanted to build a wall that he knows doesn’t work, that Republicans know doesn’t work, that the American people didn’t want, and he said Mexico would pay for. He used you. Remember when La Guardia couldn’t let planes take off because TSA agents couldn’t work? Remember when your tax return that you rely on was delayed because the IRS wasn’t properly staffed? We were supposed to be winning so much that we'd be tired of winning. If this is winning, then yes, we’re tired of it, Mr. President.”‬

Beyond the shutdown, the Trump presidency has been a disaster from a policy perspective. He promised so much “on day one” but almost every major legislation he and the Republican party have advanced has failed. The only major win (the tax bill from last year) was opposed by the public, but they passed it anyway. Maybe he's not the "master negotiator" he says he is.

Even if we exclude everything going on with his closest allies quitting or going to prison, the whole Russia thing, the damage to our institutions, the fact casual racism is more acceptable than it was just 2 years ago, and the fact we've been made more divided than in a long time, this presidency has been a disaster.‬

For the Record: Things Donald Trump was Elected to Do

Donald Trump is about to be our 45th President, and I think the American people have made a terrible mistake. As some have said, you can't just stick your head in the sand for 4 years or move to Canada. Nor can you be like the Republicans in 2008 and decide that when the President says "yes" you ay "no." We need to work together to improve the country, even if we don't have the president we deserve.

In the spirit of this, I wanted to compile a short list of the promises Donald Trump has made to his supporters. These are not things that he was elected in spite of, he was elected because he promised to do these things. Trump will be the first to tell you that he's a guy who "tells it like it is" and doesn't blow smoke, so one can only assume he's dead serious about all of these. We'll revisit this as time moves on, and judge Trump on how successful he is at fulfilling these promises.

  1. Build a physical wall between the US and Mexico
  2. Make Mexico pay for that wall
  3. Deport 10+ million illegal immigrants
  4. Kill Common Core
  5. Eliminate net neutrality
  6. Eliminate Department of Education
  7. Repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act
  8. Rebuild the nation's infrastructure, by investing $1 trillion
  9. Defund Planned Parenthood
  10. Ban Muslims from entering the United States
  11. Create a database for Muslims living in the US
  12. Assign and special prosecutor and lock up Hillary Clinton
  13. Kill the families of terrorists
  14. Waterboarding and torture are fine methods of interrogation
  15. Make Apple build it's products in the United States
  16. Grow the economy by 6%
  17. Kill the Dodd-Frank Act
  18. Kill the Consumer Protection Act
  19. Eliminate gun-free zones in schools

It's going to be an interesting couple of years.

Why it's Hard to Have Sympathy for Republicans Who Don't Like Trump

NOTE: Please pardon this deviation from tech for one day. I don't like to get too political on this site, but I had to write something about the election. If you were curious, this clip of Chris Cristie spewing trash on a morning show today pushed me over the edge.

There are plenty of Republicans out there today who are begrudgingly voting for Donald J. Trump for president this November. They are not thrilled about him being their nominee, but they simply can't bring themselves to vote for another party. "Well sure, he's overtly racist and is woefully unprepared, but at least there's an (R) next to his name on the ballot."

What a sad position to put yourself in. You are so loyal to your party that you will vote for a sociopathic liar who says something on camera and then calls you a liar for quoting him literally minutes later. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, but no objective observer could say she is less qualified or less prepared to take office and command the position better than Donald Trump. You may disagree with me here, but I'm sorry, you're 100% wrong. A big part of this blog is focused around seeing other points of view (usually revolving around tech, not politics), so it takes a unique situation for me to make a claim that something is 100% black and white.

But the title of this piece is that I don't feel sorry for these distraught conservatives. I don't feel sorry for them because this is the party they have been fostering and encouraging over the past decade. They celebrate people who "say it like it is" even if that's saying things that are horribly racist, homophobic, or misogynist. They celebrate people who are anti-intellectual and take pride in making decisions based on their gut, more than information. They cheer on the 1% of scientists1 who say global warming is a hoax, and dismiss the other 99% as conspirators. More people than you would think still think Obama was born in Kenya and is somehow unqualified to be president.

Those above positions should be at most something held by a fringe third party in the United States, not one of the major parties.

I say all this as someone who used to be a Republican! In the late 90s and early 2000s I identified more with the Republican party than the Democratic party. I was happy that George W. Bush was elected in 2000, and I was actually kind of okay with it in 2004, but since then I have swung far to the left. Part of that was growing up and deviating from the politics of my parents, but a big chunk of it was a general disgust with the Republican party I saw around me. It was a party where faith thumped facts, shouting trumped reasoned debate, fear of the other trumped inclusiveness, and homophobia thumped loving thy neighbor. I was disgusted with the party in the mid-2000s, and it's only gotten worse since then.

So don't tell me that you are a proud Republican but Trump does not speak to your Republican values. He absolutely does. He's the disgusting mouthpiece of your party now, and you only have your own party to blame. You had 17 choices in the primaries, and you chose Donald Trump. You ran governors, well known politicians, and even a Bush, and you decided the best option was this loudmouth racist from New York. Yes, Donald Trump is a terrible candidate for president, but he is the best the Republican party could do in 2016.

What happened to the party of Lincoln? The party of limited federal government? Those are distant memories of a party that doesn't even deserve to be called the "GOP" anymore. Please tell me what's "grand" about the Republican party today. The party has devoted the past 8 years to saying whatever the opposite of Barack Obama says 100% of the time, and embracing fringe groups into their ranks, normalizing terrible groups.

Meanwhile, the last 8 years have seen Barack Obama still be one of the most productive presidents in history, and Republicans just want to blow it all up by electing Donald Trump because he's a "wild card." So don't tell me Donald Trump accidentally got the nomination. It wasn't someone else who cast 14 million votes for him, it's you. You personally may not have, but the party you have hitched your saddle to did, and they did so decisively.

  1. Usually scientists who don't personally study climate, by the way.