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Greetings from “shelter-in-place” California

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We’re all going a little stir-crazy in the Bay Area. The shelter-in-place means that no one is allowed to leave their home, except under very limited circumstances. Even if we could leave, there’s not much to do: gyms and movie theaters are closed, ditto for restaurants, bars and coffee shops (except for takeout), and even the malls are shut down. Freeways are empty; public transit is running, but no one is taking the buses and trains.

I went to Whole Foods yesterday; it’s just around the corner. For the first time, I wore my face mask. Many shelves were empty: frozen foods, canned goods, rice, noodles and, obviously, paper supplies. No prepared foods or bulk foods—I wanted to buy some almonds or cashews, but couldn’t. Oh, well, it’s not the end of the world.

I see Trump every day on T.V. He said the other day he’d give himself a “ten” for his handling of the pandemic. I doubt if anyone else would. I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t his fault—he didn’t start the coronavirus. But he’s been an abject failure as a leader. His pathological lying has come back to haunt him. It’s called karma: for the last four years, he’s lied, and lied, and lied about everything, small things, big things, stupid things, important things…and now that we need a leader we can trust, we don’t have one. Well, I doubt if Trump has the self-honesty to understand why no one thinks he’s going a good job. And I doubt if the people around him are telling him that he brought this lack of trust upon himself.

I thought Joe Biden had the Democratic nomination all locked up, but with yesterday’s primary fiascos—shortage of poll workers, polling places closing, Ohio postponing, misunderstanding and confusion among voters—Bernie Sanders could say, “Wait a minute! We haven’t even had legitimate primary elections in major states. This thing isn’t over!” It’s so important for the Democratic Party to unify, but party unity may be one more victim of the coronavirus. Lord help us if we have a fractious Democratic Party going into the November election, the way we did last time. Circular firing squad and all that.

It’s impossible to play this thing out. Maybe coronavirus will dwindle away during the summer. Maybe it will come roaring back in the fall. In the 1918 pandemic, everybody thought the flu was gone by late summer. No such luck! There was flu 2.0, and it was worse than ever. That’s how viruses behave. COVID-19 is a brand new virus and disease, and nobody knows what it’s going to do next.

I have a confession to make: I wept yesterday. It was during the afternoon. I’d been sheltering in place, like most folks in the Bay Area. The T.V. was on to a news station. Somebody was talking about the economy cratering, and what that’s going to do to America. It took me back to Bernie Madoff, all that exhaustion and fear and panic. I just don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want America to go through this bullshit again: first Sept. 11, then the Great Recession, now coronavirus. It’s just too much. Too much. And despite myself, I wept. What’s happening to America? What have we done to deserve this? Why are we being tormented again? What is it doing to us, individually and collectively? Why can’t things get back to normal? Why can’t we have some years of respite? Why is it always something? Why, why, why? My tears only lasted for a few seconds. Gus was watching me; I scratched his head, and he rolled over for a belly rub.

And now, Gov. Newsom tells us that schools are likely to be closed throughout California for the rest of the school year. Wow. We’re not only getting sicker and poorer, we’re getting dumber. How does a civilization endure?

Coronavirus, and a courageous Judge speaks out


Greetings from the San Francisco Bay Area, where since midnight we’ve been living under the tightest restrictions in the country, due to coronavirus.

Six counties, numbering seven million people, have been ordered to “shelter in place.” This is a concept the Bay Area is used to, because of the vast oil refineries that line northern San Francisco Bay. Every once in a while, there’s an accident; people in the vicinity are told to “shelter in place.” But this is the first time that a shelter order has been imposed on the Bay Area as a whole.

We actually have few cases of coronavirus in the East Bay, where I live (Oakland/Berkeley), but there’s a big cluster of cases to the south, in Silicon Valley, and that was enough to convince the county health directors to band together and shut down the six counties. This morning, the freeways are empty, an odd site, because normally they’d be jammed.

We don’t know how long this will last; the initial order is for three weeks but, of course, if things are bad by the second week in April, no doubt the order will be extended, and maybe expanded. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, here in Oakland the police were under orders to arrest anyone not wearing a gauze face mask (Oakland’s mayor, who refused, was actually brought into custody!). The police are not yet cruising the streets arresting pedestrians—so far as I know. I will shortly leave my house to do a little food shopping, and I hope I don’t get busted!

Anyhow, this is the new normal. It’s very scary and frustrating—worse than an earthquake, really, because earthquakes are over pretty quick, and then you pick up the pieces and get back to living. This pandemic won’t be over pretty quick. It will undoubtedly get worse. Nobody can tell us how much worse. I’ve emailed Gov. Newsom to tell him we, the people, more than ever need trusted leaders, to whom we can look for information and reassurance. I hope the Governor will go on T.V. and address the people of California…not just once, but repeatedly, the way FDR gave his fireside chats.

And now, on another front. Readers: I hope you take a moment to read this letter from James Dannenberg, one of the nation’s top judges, to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Dannenberg just resigned from the Supreme Court Bar, one of the most prestigious legal seats in the country; membership is required for lawyers who wish to argue before the Supreme Court. In his letter, Dannenberg issued a scathing accusation against Roberts, personally, and against the other Republicans who currently serve on the court: Kavanaugh, Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch.

Dannenberg’s language is extraordinary. “You are doing far more— and far worse– than ‘calling balls and strikes”” he tells the Chief Justice. “You are allowing the Court to become an ‘errand boy’ for an administration that has little respect for the rule of law.”

There’s much more: “The Court, under your leadership and with your votes, has wantonly flouted established precedent. Your ‘conservative’ majority has cynically undermined basic freedoms by hypocritically weaponizing others.” And, in a sideswipe at the court’s Christian bias: “The ideas of free speech and religious liberty have been transmogrified to allow officially sanctioned bigotry and discrimination, as well as to elevate the grossest forms of political bribery beyond the ability of the federal government or states to rationally regulate it.”

What Dannenberg is saying, in essence, is that Roberts, under Trump’s prompting, has allowed the Supreme Court to become what the Nazi courts became in Germany during Hitler’s 12-year Reich: star chambers, beholden to Himmler’s security forces, which existed for the sole reason to glorify “Der Fuehrer” and to punish his “enemies,” who included anyone thought to oppose the Nazi regime.

Roberts, and the other Republican Justices, no doubt will read Dannenberg’s letter. Will they care about it? Probably not. They have not shown the slightest inclination to respect legal precedent, or the rule of law, or the Constitution, or our American values, so far. It’s unlikely that a mere letter will now convince them otherwise. Roberts is said to worry about his legacy, his position in history. If he is so concerned, he’ll begin siding with the four Democrats on the court, and will speak out against the very excesses Dannenberg is warning him about.

But Roberts, who as a Roman Catholic has to obey, not only his sworn allegiance to the Constitution but also the Vatican’s theocratic views, with its homophobia, anti-scientism and misogyny, may be too far gone into radical conservatism to reverse course, or even to understand how un-American he and the court have become. As for Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, we know they’ve been in the pocket of the rightwing Federalist Society all their careers. They’ve made no secret of whom their masters are: the neo-fascist billionaires who got them on the court. And then there’s Clarence Thomas, who molested Anita Hill, never apologized for it, and has consistently opposed any and all legislation designed to help his fellow Black Americans. In many respects—I firmly believe this—Clarence Thomas will be recorded as the worst Supreme Court justice in history.

So thank you, Judge Dannenberg, for speaking truth to power. I wish that every judge in America would similarly speak up and tell Roberts and his gang at SCOTUS that they’re insults to American jurisprudence.

My bad thoughts about a certain Republican woman


There was a woman on T.V. the other day. She wasn’t famous, just an ordinary American, in Ohio. They were interviewing her and her husband about the coronavirus. Her husband had a T-shirt that read “Make America Trump Again.” The reporter asked the woman what she thought about the virus, the spread of disease, the impact on the economy.

“Democrat hoax,” she replied. The camera zoomed in close to her face. It was hard, white, deranged, and utterly convinced that everything she’d heard on Fox “News” was the Word of God.

All I could think was, “I hope you get COVID-19. I hope your entire family gets it. And I hope you lose your job because of it.”

That’s really mean of me, no? I mean, we’re supposed to be praying for each other, not wishing catastrophe on our political opponents. I know, I know. I don’t feel good about it; I used to be a nice person. But I’m sorry, it’s how I feel. That woman—her husband—every single person who still supports Trump and buys into the Republican bullshit—they’re horrible, mean, wretched people. They deserve to get sick.

The reporter, who appeared just as stunned as I was to hear the woman’s insane remark, asked her why she thought coronavirus was a “hoax” perpetrated by Democrats. The woman’s reply was more Fox “News” propaganda. “Just like the Impeachment hoax,” she said. The reporter might have countered, “Impeachment wasn’t a hoax. It was real; it happened,” but she didn’t. Reporters don’t want to argue with interviewees, even when the reporter knows that her interviewee is wrong. I suspect what the woman meant was that Impeachment was a Democratic effort to undo the 2016 presidential election—this, too, is a standard Republican talking point. Well, yes, Democrats did try to undo the last election, if by “undo” you mean throw Trump out of office. But there’s nothing wrong with that; Impeachment is in the Constitution; it is an entirely legal thing to do, and the fact that Trump’s Senate majority—in a trance, marching zombie-like to his orders—acquitted him did not detract from the truth of Impeachment, or from Trump’s egregious attempts to blackmail Zelensky and then cover it up.

The question always returns to these diehard Republicans. Nothing will convince them of Trump’s unfitness. Nothing will change their minds. They are beyond fact, beyond evidence, beyond reason or even common sense. One third of the American public, perhaps more, has lost the ability to think critically, or to arrive at a moral judgment of a profoundly immoral man. That is even more dangerous to the future of our country than coronavirus.

And so here we are. As more and more sections of America shut down—entire cities, as well as entire industries—and more and more people sicken and die, and the economy crawls to a halt, what will that Ohio woman and her MAGA husband think? Perhaps their little midwestern suburban community isn’t feeling the impact yet, the way, say, Seattle and New Rochelle are. But it will come to Ohio, just as surely as it came to Washington State and New York State. And the virus will scythe its way through the woman’s community, through her family and her life and perhaps her livelihood. Will that change the way she views Trump? No. “It’s not his fault,” she’ll argue. Somehow, she’ll find a way to blame it on Obama (Trump has already begun this process), and I’m sure she’ll manage to drag Hillary into the blame game.

I gave up on people like that Ohio woman years ago, as soon as I realized how mentally ill they are. How can you rationally communicate with someone who thinks coronavirus is “a Democrat hoax”? They’re probably the same person who thinks that Adam and Eve and little Cain and Abel played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. I’m not even sure we belong to the same species; if we do, I pray for the future of my species. The only way for me to be convinced I’m wrong about the Ohio woman is for her to admit she was wrong about Trump. And what are the odds of that?

So be safe! This is already starting out to be a horrible week. My life savings have lost 30% of their value in the last ten days. We’re in uncharted territory, and there’s Trump, trying to figure out how he can use the crisis to get re-elected. Maybe, he’s thinking, he can just cancel or postpone the November election, “in the name of national security.” I wouldn’t put it past him. Democrats would howl; Republicans would yawn, and pray to Jesus to save President Trump.

Poor Dr. Hunk


America’s Surgeon-Hunk is Jerome Adams. Well, actually, that’s not his official title: officially he’s the Surgeon-General. But I think you’d agree that on the Hunkitude Scale, Dr. Adams is a perfect 10!

I mean, he’s right out of Central Casting, which is why Trump appointed him as America’s #1 doctor, back in 2017. Trump is famously said to favor, for his appointees, people who look the right way, and Dr. Adams certainly has the bedroom eyes, square jaw and all-American handsomeness to play a hot young doctor on T.V.

Adams is a Pence guy: Pence made him famous. When our pious Vice President was Governor of Indiana, he appointed Adams as the State Health Commissioner. Adams played his politics close to the vest, but there were hints that he was in the pocket of the far right. For example, while he was Health Commissioner, he was involved in a vaccination fight in which extremist Christians were opposed to vaccinating young people against the Human Papillomarvirus. At first, Adams was in favor, as he indicated in a letter. Then, when the Christians went batshit, his department changed its position. As the news site Rewire reported, “It is unclear what role Adams himself played in this controversy. We do not know, for example, whether he argued vehemently for the original letter or swiftly agreed to modify it. We only know that the original letter upset Pence’s far-right allies in Indiana and that a second letter was written, all while Adams was heading the IDHS (Indiana Department of Health Services).”

Well, an ambitious young doctor-politician has to do what he has to do to climb the greasy pole, right? At any rate, Adams, who has figured prominently standing just behind Trump and Pence during their daily T.V. coronavirus press events, came out the other day in strong defense of his commander-in-chief. Trump, obviously, has come under legitimate and sustained attack for his response, or lack of it, to the coronavirus crisis. From his initial “It’s a Democrat hoax” to his later lie that the coronavirus test is available to anybody who wants it, Trump has seen his credibility—never high to begin with—further erode, to the point where his re-election (which is the only thing that matters to him) is endangered. So here comes Dr. Hunk, who “told White House reporters Saturday that there should be no more ‘criticism or finger-pointing’ at the Trump administration’s coronavirus response. No more bickering. No more partisanship,” he added. “No more criticism or finger-pointing. There’ll be plenty of time for that.”

Look, Dr. Hunk may be the prettiest face in D.C., and he may even be a fine physician, but a political expert, he’s not. Somebody should do some ‘splainin’ to him. “Doc, you chose to enter the administration of the most nakedly partisan, finger-pointing president in the history of this country. You have chosen to stand with and support a president who routinely criticizes anybody and everybody he hates—which is pretty much half the country. And your president also has chosen to lie about science—the very science you claim to respect. So, please, don’t lecture the White House Press Corps, or anybody else for that matter, about partisanship.”

One might say much the same to Anthony Fauci. Now, Dr. Fauci, who’s been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, actually is one of my heroes. He found himself at Ground Zero in the battle against AIDS, and did a pretty good job (despite the opposition of the Reagan administration) at getting as much money as he could (which wasn’t much) to combat the new disease. It can’t have been easy—nor can working for the current president be easy. There are times when Fauci, standing behind Trump as the president lies and brags, looks like he wants to throw up. But when you’ve been a government bureaucrat as long as Dr. Fauci has, you learn to “go along to get along.”

You have to feel sorry for guys like Fauci and Adams. I don’t know what political party they belong to, but they’re both scientists, and so they have to care about stuff like facts and truth. Their boss, Trump, obviously doesn’t; they have to walk that tightrope of being loyal to the team, on the one hand, and being respectful of their Hippocratic Oath, on the other. I like to think that, if I were in their position, I’d quit, hold a press conference, and tell America that Trump is literally killing people through his stupidity and indifference. That neither Fauci or Adams has done this—that Adams has done just the opposite, and defended the indefensible—is not encouraging, in a man who is supposed to be America’s top doctor in a time of worldwide pandemic.

The presumptive Democratic nominee is Joe Biden


One of the dumbest memes out there—promulgated by Bernie supporters, supposedly as an insult—is that Biden is “the establishment” candidate, while Bernie is the people’s choice.

This is absolute nonsense. Who is “the establishment”? It’s the people, like me, who voted for Biden—who have consistently supported him: Blacks, suburban women, gays, and increasing numbers of white union members without a college education.

Are they some kind of elitist “establishment” cabal? Give me a break. Are Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker “the establishment”? What an insult to the real Democrats, who work hard and pay taxes, who support our communities and love America, and who stood on long lines in South Carolina, on Super Tuesday, and yesterday, to cast their votes for a man they believe is decent, capable and moral—in such sharp contrast to the monster currently befouling the White House.

Pundits say that Biden needs to be extremely respectful of Sanders’ supporters, but the opposite is also true: Sanders’ supporters need to be very careful how they characterize Biden voters. Bernie Bro’s split the party four years ago; Bernie’s colossal ego didn’t permit him to admit defeat, and he, in essence, elected Trump, by signaling his followers that it was okay to resent Hillary and not vote for her. Will Bernie bro’s do the same this time? Look: Bernie Sanders has been indisputably defeated. Yesterday’s primaries were a blowout. Democrats, who understand perfectly what’s going on, voted for the one person who they believe can and will defeat the monster. Bernie Sanders needs to understand this, and to clearly instruct his people to stop their childish sulking and  stupid conspiracy theories, and get with the Democratic program.

Here’s where we are: Democratic voters overwhelmingly believe there is only one candidate who can beat Trump, and that’s Joe Biden. In real time, Biden is rebuilding the 2008 Obama coalition. The monsters in the Republican Party have already signaled their strategy: they have to paint Biden as mentally incompetent. Democratic voters, thank God, are not buying this BS. Every Democratic vote for Biden yesterday was, in essence, a message to Republicans: go fuck yourselves. You can lie all you want about Biden, about Democrats, about science. You can issue all the Trump-style smears and insults you want. Your act has worn thin: your lies only convict yourselves and prove your indecency.

To tell you the truth, I don’t give a damn about Republicans. I used to: no more. Any Republican that continues to support the monster has forfeited all rights to my consideration. People have to make a stand. It was true in the 1930s in Germany; it’s true today in America. We are facing exactly the same choice.

But what if Bernie Bro’s remain stubbornly irredentist? This will be a problem—make no mistake about it. We were unable to enlist them in 2016, which is why we lost to the monster. I don’t pretend to fathom the mental state of Bernie supporters who preferred to see Trump win over Hillary. How perverted that was, how incomprehensible! This time, we can only hope and pray it’s different. The stunning switch from Sanders to Biden in so many college towns in the recent primaries tells me that students are smart pragmatists. They know that the important thing is to defeat Trump. They know that the only Democrat who can defeat Trump is Joe Biden. They’re voting their heads, not their hearts: nothing wrong with that.

So stay tuned for the smears from the always-reliable Republican attack machine. As ugly as Republicans get in these attacks, they’re going to be even worse this year, because of the added poison of Trump’s garbage dump of a mind. We know what he is: resentful, angry, vengeful, feral, pathological. But this is exactly why we’ll win in November, in a Blue Wave that will sweep the nation. Americans are sick and tired of the clown show. We’re ready to move on—and the first step will be to throw Trump, his crooked family and his insane acolytes onto the ash heap of history.

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