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Save lives or save jobs? A tough call

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Trump has a valid point (I never thought I’d say that!) about the “cure” possibly being worse than the disease. I mean, shutting the whole country down for a long time is not sustainable. I expect we’ve all played this scenario out in our imaginations, and envisioned the same dire result: weeks or months from now, everything comes to a halt, and the country falls apart. That would be the apocalypse, and we don’t want it to happen.

On the other hand (there’s always “another hand”, isn’t there?), sheltering in place seems to be the only way to “flatten the curve,” as they say, and if we don’t flatten the curve, then we turn into Italy. It’s terrible that sheltering-in-place is ruining the economy, but what else can we do?

Well, we’re between the devil and the deep blue sea–between a rock and a hard place. What to do?

For one thing, we talk about it. We have a national conversation. We know what the two sides are: The healthcare people are telling us loud and clear to shelter in place. Isolate in your homes as much as possible. That’s what most of the Governors are telling us, too. Don’t leave your home except under specific conditions, like food shopping. I trust the healthcare experts; I’m not a Republican. Science is real, as many people’s front-yard signs say here in Oakland.

Then there are the economic people—the big businessmen whom Trump likes and listens to. Their argument is: Look, if we go out of business, you’re going to have an apocalypse anyway. Unemployment could go up to 25%, 30%. The service industry will simply evaporate. If you think store shelves are empty now, just wait. Eventually, the planes will stop flying, the Internet will shut down, your phone won’t work. So, the businessmen say, you, the American people via your politicians, have two choices: Either you relax these stay-at-home regulations and let people return to work, or you bail us out with hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars. And trust us to do the right thing with the money.

It’s hard knowing whom to listen to. Common sense tells me that both sides have a point. Is there a compromise in the middle we can agree to?

Maybe. One thing I heard that makes sense is: Keep the stay-at-home orders in place in the hardest-hit areas, while relaxing them in places that aren’t at high risk. This means, in effect, that the nation’s urban areas would remain under shelter-in-place until the curve flattens and begins to decline, while the rural areas could do business as usual. Urban vs. rural: Does that split remind you of another split in America? Sure it does: red states and blue states. Red states tend to be rural and Republican (and red districts are the most conservative of all). Blue states tend to be urban and Democratic, and blue counties and cities are the most liberal of all.

So that could be a possible compromise. Let Idaho stay open for business, if that’s what they want. And let places like the Bay Area, New York City and New Orleans (which I hear is about to explode in coronavirus cases) keep their stay-at-home orders, and enforce them rigorously if people don’t obey.

Beyond finding a compromise, we have to keep our eye on the prize, which is the upcoming election. I am seriously worried—and I think you may be, too—that Trump will find some reason to cancel it. It would be typical of him to find a plausible excuse—coronavirus—claim that we have a national health emergency, and that the election will “sadly” have to be postponed to some future date, which would mean, of course, that Trump would be “pulling a Putin” and remain in office longer than the Constitution allows a president to. At its most extreme and absurd (but I wouldn’t put it past him), Trump could try to prevent voting in blue “unsafe” areas, while allowing it in red “safe” areas. That would guarantee his re-election.

But November is still a long way off. The “curve” could very well flatten by then. There are reports that some scientists expect the coming warm season will slow it down. Flus normally run their course, and coronavirus, after all is said and done, is a form of the flu. The best we can hope for, then, is for this disease to begin slowing down and, eventually, stop, as it apparently has in China and South Korea.

If that happens, we’ll be able to have an election, and campaigning prior to it, without the burden of dealing with coronavirus. If Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, and I assume he will be, even if the Democratic National Convention is postponed, he’ll have his talking points clear: Donald Trump said in February that coronavirus was a Democrat hoax. That was a lie. Donald Trump said that the number of infected Americans would soon be down to zero. That was a lie. Can you believe anything Donald Trump says about anything?

The American people, even most Republicans, know that Trump is a pathological liar. I still think that his personality is his most vulnerable point. Forget the economy; forget foreign affairs; forget immigration and climate change. People are split right down the middle on those things, but just about everyone except for the most purblind Republican can agree on Trump’s indecency and moral unfitness. That should be the central issue of the election.


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Early in the 18th century, while the Spanish Inquisition still raged, the Catholic Church fathers declared an 18-year old girl guilty of heresy, and they did to her what they had done to thousands of others over the previous 200 years: They burned her at the stake.

We don’t know what heresy the girl was accused of. Possibly she was a Jew who had refused to convert to Catholicism under orders of the Inquisition. At any rate, they subjected the girl to the auto-da-féthe “act of faith” by which the flames that consumed her body also would purify her soul, so that it could enter into Heaven cleansed of sin, and sit forever at the side of Jesus.

Even as the Inquisition was expending its last energies in Europe, a new movement was arising: The Enlightenment. Led by men such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Spinoza, Hobbes and Locke, the new movement sought to overthrow what it perceived as the brutal and irrational cult of religious-Christian superstition which had dominated European thought for a millennium, and replace it with what we might today call “secular humanism”—an approach that emphasized the worth of the individual mind and conscience, stressed the importance of science over superstition, and was based upon Greek and Roman philosophical notions of freedom, truth, reason and beauty.

The 18-year old girl’s horrible murder did not go unnoticed. Just to the north of Spain, across the Pyrenees in Bordeaux, Charles-Louis de Secondat, the Baron de Montesquieu, was a wealthy lawyer who had left that profession in order to devote himself to philosophical studies. (Montesquieu’s essays about man and reason became powerful influences on our American Founding Fathers, especially James Madison). How Montesquieu learned of the girl’s death, we do not know; but he wrote about it, in a work in which he assumes the guise of a Jewish man speaking to the leaders of the Inquisition.

In his remarks, Montesquieu—the consummate humanist and rationalist—is scathing concerning the Church’s “crimes.” The Roman Church, he thunders, had become “incorrigible, incapable of all enlightenment and of all instruction; and a nation [i.e. Spain] is very unhappy that gives authority to men like you.” He has a particular message for the murderers who lit the girl’s pyre: “We must warn you of one thing; it is that, if someone in the future ever dares to say that the peoples of Europe had a police in this century in which we live, you will be cited to prove that they were barbarians, and the idea one will have about you will be such that it will stigmatize your century and bring hatred on all your contemporaries.”

By “police,” Montesquieu referred, not to our modern notion of a civic police force, but to older Latin concepts of policy, or politics: the idea that a rational people will tend towards justice and reason, if governed correctly and educated in a rational, scientific way. He meant, in other words, that there apparently was no such moral force in Europe in the 18th century—at least, not in Catholic Spain. If you think about Montesquieu’s warning, it’s clear that it has come true: we look back at the Inquisition, at the psychotic Church “fathers” who burned little girls at the stake, and we indeed do stigmatize them and hate what they did and what they stood for.

A modern version of Montesquieu’s warning might well be adapted for the evangelicals and others who form the base of the modern Republican/Trump political party. Like the Inquisitors of Spain, they too believe they, and only they, know the word of God, and that God has instructed them to do what has to be done in order to carry out that word, and hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Like the Inquisitors of Spain, they harbor no doubts about the correctness of their actions. Like the Inquisitors of Spain, they too engage in heinous acts. Perhaps they no longer burn people at the stake, but they indulge in hateful actions and speech against people whom they consider their enemies, and they enable a president who, by his words and deeds, causes pain, suffering and death. And like the Inquisitors of Spain, they gaze upon that pain and suffering and death and see that it is good, because it is the will of their God.

So here is Montesquieu’s warning, recast for 21st century Republicans: “if someone in the future ever dares to say that the Christian Republicans of America had a moral imperative, you will be cited to prove that those dreadful people, the evangelicals, were barbarians. And the idea one will have about you, and about your leader Trump, will be such that it will stigmatize your century, your political party, your false version of religion, and bring hatred on all your contemporaries.”

It’s too bad that we People of the World can’t get rid of these strains of superstitious bigotry and stupidity forever, so that Reason, and Reason alone, will rule. There seems to be some metastasizing corruption that keeps spurting out of some humans, in the guise of “religion,” so that for every two steps we take forward, we’re tugged one backward. The new Inquisition has become Republican evangelical Christianity, its Grand Inquisitor Donald J. Trump. And we know exactly how history will treat it, because we’re writing that history right now, and you’re witnessing it.


Trump seems to be getting pretty good polls on coronavirus

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That’s according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll. This baffles a lot of Democrats, so let’s break it down. We all agree that his initial handling, or mishandling, of the crisis was disastrous. He said cases would be “down to zero” soon. He lied about coronavirus being “a Democrat hoax.” For these statements alone, which have and will cost lives, he should have been thrown out of office.

But since last weekend, he’s sprung into high gear. He has his daily T.V. show, with his supporting actors beside him. He knows how to generate headline-grabbing bullet points: direct payments to every American. Closing the borders. Working closely with the Governors and even with Pelosi and Schumer. Producing tests, PPE and ventilators at a furious pace [a lie]. The “curve” should start to go down by mid-summer. We’re doing a tremendous job. And so on.

To the extent Americans see him every day on their television sets (and with so many of us sheltering in place, there’s not much else to do besides watch T.V.), this is somewhat reassuring. He’s there, apparently taking it seriously; better late than never.

So we have to start from there: his effort to rehabilitate himself is working. To tell you the truth, if a pollster called me up and asked if I approve of the job Trump is doing on coronavirus, and “yes” or “no” were my only choices, I’d have to answer “Yes.” If Obama or Biden were president, I don’t know what either would or could be doing now, besides or in addition to what Trump is doing. Maybe they’d have a different approach to the economic aspects of the crisis—more direct help to workers, less to corporations. I don’t know; the administration and the Congress are still working out the details. But Trump seems to be doing what has to be done.

Despite the positive polls, this is not necessarily good news for Trump. He’s getting overall credit for doing his job. That’s a pretty low bar. It’s actually the first time he’s done anything that a majority of the American people approve of. I don’t think he can leverage that into a general uptick in his overall approval ratings—but then, I never underestimate the gullibility of the American people.

Emotionally, I veer between despair and hope. My banker called on Friday to tell me he thinks second quarter GDP and stock market performance will be disasters, but that the third and fourth quarters of 2020 should start us on the road to recovery. Okay. At the same time, I think of industry after industry collapsing: airlines, autos, food service, travel, retail, small business—and I can’t see how to avoid a Depression. There’s a standard meme in political speeches, to the effect that “America is resilient, we can get through anything.” Yes, I suppose so. We got through the last Depression and World War II, we got through the Cold War and Sept. 11, we got through the Great Recession that started under George W. Bush; and maybe we’ll get through this too.

But how long will it last? How much suffering will ensue? And what will be the long-term impact of COVID-19? Americans were already divided; now, we’re physically afraid of each other. Hand-shaking may be dead, hugging a quaint anachronism. But I will give coronavirus credit for this: the supermarkets now let senior citizens like me get in before everybody else. As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing!


Sheltering-in-place is now all of California

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Yesterday, it finally sank in.

The reality of the shelter-in-place, I mean. The order was only given in Northern California on Monday: four days ago, but it seems like months. And we don’t know how long it will last.

The boredom, lack of stimulation, the same four walls. The biggest thing is going stir-crazy. What to do all day long? I have three books I’m reading, one in the bedroom, one in the living room and one in the bathroom. The San Francisco Chronicle keeps me busy for a while. Walking Gus gets me out of the house. And T.V….as much as I love watching it, it’s getting tiresome.

I was out of laundry detergent so I went shopping yesterday morning. The first two supermarkets I went to were out. Finally found some at Target. But lots of empty shelves. I mean, lots! Which makes me wonder…

I haven’t been hoarding, yet, the way so many others are. But maybe it’s time. All those empty shelves are stark reminders, not just of hoarding, but of the fragility of the supply chain. Everything on a store shelf has to be transported there by truck from someplace else. And it has to be manufactured or produced someplace else. A can of soup…a bag of almonds…ramen…a six-pack of toilet paper…a box of laundry detergent…hamburger meat…Clorox…yogurt…eggs…these are things we expect to be there on the shelf when we want them. When they’re not there today, will they be there tomorrow? The next day? When they are there, do I buy just what I need—or do I load up, because who knows how long it will be before they’re back on the shelf again?

This is what we’re starting to wonder, I think. How far can this go before…before what? There was a story on the evening news a few days ago about how a local gun store, just south of San Francisco, was mobbed with customers. They interviewed some of them: they weren’t NRA ammosexual wackos, but ordinary people, parents concerned about their families. They’re doing the same mental arithmetic as I am: If things get really bad, there could be roving bands of brigands, banging on doors, demanding…toilet paper! Soup! Canned beans! Bread! Beer!

“Brigand” … an old word, Middle-English in origin, related to the word “bandit.” “One of a roving band,” says my Webster’s. Related also to the word “brigade” : “a large unit of soldiers; a group of people organized to function as a unit to do some work, as a fire brigade.” The word we’re really concerned with, though, is brigandage: “the practice of highway robbery and plunder.” My bathroom book is, by coincidence, “Wanderings,” Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews. In it he describes the overrunning of Roman Europe by bands of Visigoths, Vandals and other “pagans” and “barbarians” who swept in from the East and North and tended to steal, rape, pillage and murder along the way. They were brigands practicing brigandage. They brought on the Dark Ages, which lasted for centuries.

Are we…could we be…No, of course not. This is America. This is the 21st century, not tenth century Gaul. It couldn’t happen here. We have the American military to protect us, police forces, sheriffs’ departments, the National Guard. Don’t we? Surely our men and women in uniform would be in our hometowns and on our streets if there were the threat or actual instances of brigandage? We can rest easy at night knowing that nothing bad will happen.

Right?

There’s been a lot of reporting about how people are not taking the shelter-in-place seriously. They’re continuing to gather in crowds, walk closely, etc. And it’s not just young people: I saw a bunch of old people clustering together yesterday at the entrance of the Oakland Senior Center. A friend of mine yesterday (Thursday) afternoon told me she has a friend who was just fined $400 here in Oakland for not staying six feet away from somebody. That was an eye-opener. Really? But it seems to be true. Here’s a link to Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place ordinance, which is the same as all the other Bay Area counties’: It explicitly states, “Please read this Order carefully. Violation of or failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. (California Health and Safety Code § 120295, et seq.).”

Now, this isn’t as draconian as in China, where the police literally grab pedestrians off the street in quarantine areas and haul them off to jail (which is why China is containing spread of COVID-19). China is autocratic; we’re not. You won’t get grabbed off the street for walking next to your spouse.

But you might be fined!

Things are getting spooky. That’s what I mean by “It finally sank in.” And yesterday, Gov. Newsom made shelter-in-place mandatory for all of California. This is real; it’s happening; it’s not going away. Trump doesn’t know what to do. Governors don’t know what to do. Like us, they’re watching this unfold in real time, throwing spaghetti at the wall, and keeping their fingers crossed it won’t get too bad. I really, really hope it doesn’t. For you, for me, for the poor workers who are getting laid off in droves, for the kids who can’t play with their friends, for us all.


The Coronavirus Strain: a new novel by Donald J. Drumpf

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In the book and movie The Andromeda Strain, the Federal government, at the highest levels, had a secret plan in place to deal with a national emergency, like a killer disease from space. According to the plan, the moment a certain defined event occurred—as it did in the fictional Arizona town of Piedmont–everything else clicked into place, down to the most exquisite detail, and sparing no expense.

Well, here we are living in The Coronavirus Strain. You would think the government would have had a plan in place for something so predictable. Any Hollywood screenwriter might have come up with this nightmare scenario:

A new virus is unleashed on the world from China.

It spreads from country to country.

The American government is oblivious from the start.

The rest of the world collapses.

The American economy falls apart; social cohesion ends.

Legal authority is challenged by private militias of roving brigands.

Well, those are just the beginning scenes of a movie that could be a blockbuster, if in fact Americans were allowed to go to the movies. Which, increasingly, we’re not.

Trump’s strategy is now clear. He had first to overcome the embarrassment of his “Coronavirus is a Democrat hoax” fib. He did that his usual way: barreling through, lying, always thinking in terms of his personal political advancement, trusting in the short attention span of Republicans. We don’t know if this strategy has worked, but he seems to believe it has: he’s going to be the new War President, Trump-as-FDR who led us to victory against a foreign [“Chinese”] enemy.

In Trump World, that makes sense. His voters love him best when he’s the most aggressively combative. They don’t care whom he fights with, as long as it’s a group they can demonize: Muslims, gays, snowflakes, Mexicans, Europeans, the media. Now it’s a virus.

It’s difficult for most of us to watch him on his new daily T.V. show, “Fighting Coronavirus.” His co-stars aren’t very interesting. Granted, Dr. Hunk, the Surgeon-General, is eye candy, and Dr. Fauci, playing the scientist, is the Kramer of the bunch; the rest of them are forgettable. But then, Trump doesn’t like competition. He’s the star, and let no one commit the blasphemy of lese-majeste.

Trump is doing what he has to do; so is McConnell, who told his fellow rightwingers in the Senate to “gag, and vote for it anyway.” I’ve been listening to the debate, as have you; this $1,000 one-time payment seems ridiculous to me. A thousand bucks will maybe pay somebody’s April rent and buy some food. What happens in May? We’re practically being guaranteed this shelter-in-place crisis will be going nationwide, and that it will last at least through (in Trump’s own words) “July or August.” By then, the unemployment rate will stand at a figure not seen in America since the Great Depression. Entire industries—airlines, entertainment, food, automobiles, retail—are shutting down, virtually overnight. One thing will lead to another. The dominos are falling.

The question leading into the November election is, Whom do you trust to lead us through this unprecedented crisis? For most of us, the answer is obvious: Anyone but Trump. Joe Biden is not the most inspiring candidate, but then, compared to the last president, Obama, nobody is. Obama was the gift of a lifetime. Obamas don’t grow on trees; we can’t complain about Biden because he’s not Obama. We have to play the hand we’re dealt, and for Democrats and Independents, that hand is Joe Biden.

I occasionally see idiots on Twitter or Faceback claiming that they’re Democrats but they can’t or won’t vote for Biden. I don’t know who these people really are. They might be Republican-Russian trolls just stirring up anger and fear among Democrats. They may actually be disgruntled Democrats who for one reason or another don’t like Joe Biden. My reply to them, either way, is: Great. Don’t fucking vote for Biden. We don’t want your vote. We—meaning the tens of millions of real Americans who are sick and tired of Trump and his Republican cult—are going to vote Biden in as president, regardless of who doesn’t like him. We have learned our collective lesson from 2016: If you don’t vote for the Democrat, you have no right to complain about the Republican.

The thing about Trump at his daily T.V. coronavirus program is how inauthentic he is. At least when he’s at a MAGA rally, he’s the real thing: thundering, lying, boasting, insulting, mugging for the camera, playing Mussolini. By contrast, on his coronavirus show he reads from scripts, seems tired and listless, the bags under his puffy eyes pink and sagging, his head fat and grotesque. There’s nothing there; he’s just going through the motions that his advisors tell him he has to go through: read the words as printed. Don’t improvise. Act as though you give a damn. If you play this well, you’ll get an Emmy—uhh, we mean, you’ll get through this crisis, and be re-elected. To paraphrase Rahm Emmanuel, never let a serious crisis go to waste. You didn’t expect coronavirus, but here it is: COVID-19 has rearranged the deck chairs. You have as much opportunity to benefit from the new normal as Biden. Maybe even more.

It could be true. But I don’t think so. Biden has been very good at one particular thing: pointing out Trump’s inhumanity and indecency. That’s the winning line. The Republican-Trump attack machine will attempt to portray Biden as sleepy old Joe, but what Biden has going for himself is the aura of decency. Everybody, even neo-fascists like Lindsay Graham, says Biden is a good man. Everybody knows Trump is a bad man. That’s what the choice is going to come down to, in this time of uncertainty and fear: Good vs. evil.


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