The Supreme Court puts freedom of religion above freedom from dying

So this is what a conservative majority of the Supreme Court looks like, eh? With her recent confirmation, we have a 6-3 conservative majority with the addition of now Justice Amy Coney Barrett. In one of Justice Barrett’s early decisions, she quickly showed the conservative majority’s power and proved Chief Justice John Roberts the newest “moderate” on the court. In a recent  5-4 decision, the Supreme Court nixed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to temporarily ban worship at houses of worship in the state’s hot covid-19 zones.

Places packed with people of course are natural zones for spreading this coronavirus. Infections there get passed on, not just to congregants in these houses of worship, but to people outside them, some of whom will also pass it on. It all spreads the disease but, hey, your right to worship in the First Amendment is apparently is more important than your desire to not catch this often-deadly disease. Maybe this is because there is no amendment is in the Constitution saying you have the right to a functioning public health system that can take obvious measures in the name of public health.

“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the opinion said. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

Thanks for clarifying that, justices. It’s not like Governor Cuomo issued an edict closing houses of worship permanently. He did it until the disease was under control in these hot zones. This allowed worshippers, but also those who don’t worship there or practice religion at all, to avoid infection and potential death. Until now, this was a perfectly reasonable standard. Now, the Supreme Court is okay with you being dead of covid-19 if it temporarily infringes on someone else’s religious liberty.

I’d like to say this is something new, but the conservative majority has been around since the George W. Bush era. It now just has another member and an expanded majority. Sometimes these decisions expanding liberty are good, such as in the case of allowing universal gay marriage, even though marriage is not a right actually spelled out in our federal constitution. But at other times, it’s been bad. The Supremes decided you have the right to own a gun no matter what, and since that time lots of people have died who would not have had they upheld common sense gun control laws where it was obviously needed.

The premise of liberty seems to be that risk is inherent in the exercise of liberty. It’s just that until fairly recently, this risk was born on those wanting to exercise their liberty instead of everyone else. While about a third of gun-related murders are suicide, the rest are homicides, most likely inflicted against family members, neighbors or other intimates. This decision is just more of the same, except had Justice Ginsberg not died and had not Justice Barrett so quickly replaced her, it would likely have been 5-4 the other way. In other words, sanity would have likely prevailed.

The Supreme Court’s decision here essentially is a death warrant for at least thousands of Americans, and will sicken tens or hundreds of thousands more. Most likely, if you could poll these people (it’s hard to poll dead people) they would disagree with this decision, but apparently, they don’t matter. Preventable death is an unfortunate consequence of having so much liberty.

This is what happens when you put ideologically strict constructionists in our courts. Real life is not allowed to have any impact on their decisions. Instead, these decisions are based not on what our founding fathers really thought about these liberties, but on what they think they might have thought about them, had these founding fathers never interacted in the real world at all.

It’s likely that this court will find new and similar ways to expand liberty, like by denying women the liberty to have an abortion because the liberty to fetal life is somewhere in the U.S. constitution, in their minds. Fetuses without brains even capable of cogitating will be endowed with future freedoms thanks to our enlightened Supreme Court, I’m betting. I’m betting this court will find ways to reduce social benefits because laws like social security weren’t explicitly in the Constitution either. And we’ll all feel freer if we stand on our own two feet, and pay-as-you-go for life, they will figure. Freedom through bad circumstance and a rigged economic system make living better!

I just hope we survive all this liberty. Chances are many of us won’t. And we’ll enjoy a new unarticulated freedom inherent in the Constitution: the right to a premature and miserable death so that others can exercise their freedoms stupidly and/or with malicious intent.

What progress!

Time to buy a pitchfork

So my wife is in a funk. Her dying friend finally died yesterday. Otherwise she is obsessing over the possibility that somehow Donald Trump will win reelection. She doesn’t want to live in a world with another four years of Donald Trump in it. In the event he does win, I hope I can keep her from jumping off a cliff.

While anything is possible, I still believe that Trump is destined to lose, barring some sort of turnaround that is hard to imagine and would probably require Trump getting a brain transplant. Ideally, Trump would lose gracefully but that definitely would require a brain transplant.

Much more likely is that Trump will claim he has won and will send out armies of lawyers to various swing states trying to invalidate mail in ballots and such. It’s also possible that Republicans will ratchet voter disenfranchisement up to 11, and somehow keep ten times as many people of color from voting as they have in the past. Maybe that would do it.

But Republicans don’t necessarily control all swing states, and not all Republican governors are as crazy as Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp. The Supreme Court unwisely inserted itself into the 2000 election, famously flipping Florida’s electoral votes. It’s possible they might do the same and meddle in lots of states. If they do that not only do we need to fear another four more years of Trump, but also we can effectively kiss our republic goodbye.

The party conventions have demonstrated the electorate has not moved. It’s as polarized as electorate as it’s been for many months. We can expect a so-called miracle vaccine in October that Trump will hope to ride to reelection. But voters already seem to expect this scam and at least the educated ones know a vaccine can’t be trusted until it undergoes a much larger clinical trial than can happen before the election. Also, a vaccine won’t be a cure. At best it might offer something like eighty percent immunity, and it’s likely that the coronavirus will keep mutating, requiring new vaccines and boosters over time. Things won’t go back to the way they were before but we will get better at dealing with it and its impact will lessen over time.

So other dirty tricks will likely be tried: doctored photos of Biden and some call girl, perhaps. Basically, Trump has to persuade voters that he can do a better job in the next four years than Biden. Given his track record, it’s no wonder opinions about Trump are largely set in stone by the electorate now.

Moreover, things will just get worse. They already are getting worse. Our president believes the 17-year-old gunman that killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin was defending himself somehow, although there is plenty of video evidence that is laughable. It’s a new level of crazy, even for Donald Trump and you know he’s only going to get crazier. Soon he will be openly supporting white vigilante groups. This does nothing to broaden his coalition and might even help fracture it. His supporters have an unusually high tolerance for disbelief, but some small minority of them must retain enough sanity to say “Enough!”

covid-19 deaths will continue to worsen as a second wave begins, with the first wave never really ending. The flu season will add to the mounting casualties and of course there won’t be anything resembling a plan to fix it. He won’t suggest that parents do something pragmatic, like keep their kids from going to school. He’s all for the Silence of the Lambs. Most parents though will keep them home, at least if their school system is stupid enough to demand they keep coming to school anyhow.

So realistically, the best and most likely case for Trump is that he will say the election was rigged and he tried all he could do to unrig it, but the Deep State had it all fixed. So he will, with much bellicose and bluster, eventually accept his defeat. He likes an audience though so most likely he will keep us guessing until the end, while groups of vigilantes supporting him raise occasional violent ruckuses and his Justice Department turns a blind eye to it all. The true impact of his defeat though will be measured in how many Republican casualties go down with Trump’s ship. The size of an expanded House Democratic majority, and a new Senate majority will indicate the real size of the Republican disaster.

So I understand where my wife is coming from. We are mostly fear-based creatures and Trump will pull all the strings, even when it gets comical. I get similar nightmares, but then when I awake I realize the fundamentals of the election haven’t changed and almost certainly won’t change. It will be hard to call the election on Election Night because of all the absentee and vote-by-mail ballots. Since Democrats will disproportionately cast them, it may appear briefly that Trump is ahead somehow. Florida will be the key. It has mail in ballots down to a science. They’ll all be counted by Election night, except perhaps for some overseas military ballots. If he loses Florida, he’s toast. If he somehow keeps Florida, he is most likely toast unless a whole lot of states suddenly flip in unexpected ways contrary to late polls.

As I’ve noted, it’s the time between Election Day and the inauguration that really has me worried. It remains to be seen if the white power structure can peacefully cede power, and Trump will find it his interest to fan the flames. A run to the local hardware store may be in order: I may need a pitchfork.

No shortcuts to controlling covid-19

Early in the Trump Administration, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts”. The term that could have come out of George Orwell’s book 1984. By definition a fact is not disputable, but Ms. Conway made them so. Apparently, if actual facts won’t provide the answer you need, you invent another fact instead.

Since then the Trump Administration has been inventing all sorts of alternative facts, otherwise known as lies. And with the exception of a small group of die-hard Never Trumpers, Republicans have embraced Trump’s truthiness. It does solve a lot of messy problems, like having to admit reality is, well, real. Decide on your new reality and move forward. Problem solved!

But their world of alternative facts is crumbling. You can deny reality if you want, but at some point it cannot be denied. In canceling the Republican convention, Trump was acknowledging reality that getting covid-19 is in fact a lot worse than getting the sniffles; in fact it can kill you. Rather than tell Trump he was full of crap, Republicans simply decided they weren’t going to his convention. So to avoid humiliation not to mention all the covid-19 cases that would invariably result, Trump had to cave.

Obviously, most Republicans are perfectly fine with those other people getting covid-19, but not them in particular. After all they can stay in their gated communities and buy their kids private tutoring if needed. That’s true of most Republicans who control the party, but obviously not all of them. Many of them aren’t quite so moneyed.

Here’s a prediction that’s pretty easy to make: virtually no school district in the country will open for in-person classes this fall. All it takes is one kid in a school district to test positive to close the schools. In the unlikely event a school superintendent won’t; parents will make the choice for them. They won’t put their children in jeopardy and will keep them home.

So far, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is continuing to buck the trend, insisting that all Florida schools will reopen on time in a few weeks. But he will buckle like Trump did because actual facts will force him to do so. He looked so popular when the state’s infection rate was relatively low but obviously that has changed. He’s already more unpopular than Trump is in the state. Assuming he wants to win reelection in a couple of years, he’s got to pivot. He will, but it’s unclear whether voters will forgive his insistence that their kids were fair game in Trump’s world of alternative facts.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, the Republican Party is melting. Reality is catching up with the party. Donald Trump is melting too, and bringing down much of the party with him. In many ways, this is a perfect political storm. As much as Republicans hoped to escape reality by inventing their own facts, reality won’t bend. The coronavirus will keep doing what it is doing and will kill people regardless.

False hopes like herd immunity and throwing caution to the wind won’t do much beside leaving many more of us dead or victims of the disease. Restarting the economy hasn’t saved us. In fact, it’s made things much worse, prolonging the disease, greatly enlarging its impact and slowing our recovery, putting us at a competitive disadvantage to other more enlightened countries.

It’s actually a lot worse than that. Effectively, no Americans can travel internationally until we contain the virus. Even traveling state-to-state is chancy. If you wanted to visit me in Massachusetts, after August 1 in most cases you would have to self quarantine for up to two weeks before or after coming or get a covid-19 test showing no exposure within 72 hours of arrival. If you don’t quarantine before coming, you must also produce a negative exposure test to get out of quarantine. There’s even a form you have to fill out. Violations can cost up to $500 a day.

It appears that the coronavirus won’t listen to all the truthiness out there. Let’s hope one result of all this mess is the end of truthiness and alternative facts, along with the Republican Party.

Disney is going to screw the pooch

Donald Trump deciding to hold an indoor rally in Tulsa was a bad idea. As I noted in my last post, Herman Cain likely contracted COVID-19 at the event, along with probably many others, which is likely singularly responsible for most of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma.

After Trump’s recent event at Mount Rushmore, the girlfriend of his son Donald Trump Jr. reported testing positive for COVID-19, prompting the couple to drive back to New York.

After six months even Donald Trump is starting to realize the optics look bad. Yesterday, he was seen wearing a mask in his visit to Walter Reed Hospital. The Republican Party is considering moving their convention to an outdoor venue. They would be much wiser to act like the Democratic Party and hold it virtually. If they hold a convention, I bet half the invitees won’t attend.

So why the hell is Disney opening up Disney World on July 11? In the history of bad corporate decisions, if they follow through, this is likely to be seen in retrospect as one of the stupidest corporate decisions of all times. If Trump’s optics look bad, consider what Disney’s short term pursuit of profits is likely to do with their family-friendly, squeaking-wholesome brand. If I had any Disney stock, I’d be putting in a frantic sell order.

Yes, of course Disney is claiming that it’s all quite safe. Attendance will be limited. Everyone will be required to wear masks. There will be social distancing. Doubtless they will be sanitizing surfaces regularly. But this is not just any theme park. This is the biggest theme park in the world. It brings in people from around the world. There are too many people in too confined a space coming from and going to too many places for this not to become a new super spreader event. Unlike a one-time Trump rally in Tulsa this is a super spreader that is likely to keep on spreading, making moot a lot of the efforts elsewhere to control the disease. It is likely to ensure a continuing set of COVID-19 casualties in the months ahead.

Consider what happened in and around New Orleans during Mardi Gras this year. It resulted in a spike of cases in the city and the state, but because people came from all over the world for the event, attendees carried the virus back home. It likely did a lot to spread the disease and likely killed thousands. It’s hard to say for sure.

Who knows what the effect of reopening Disney World will be? Umm, anyone with a brain. This is a state that had over 15,300 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. In any rational state, the Department of Public Health would lock the gates. It would be a no-brainer.

But Trump apologist “Governor” Ron Desantis, who is having a hard time even shutting the bars down, is running Florida. He wants to open the schools next month too, five days a week, damn the torpedoes, not to mention the students and teachers. St. Donald tells him it will all be fine.

Trump sent in the troops to quell protests in Washington D.C. If he wants to do some good, why not send in the troops to shut down Disney World or any other theme park that thinks it is safe to open up? This is a public health emergency. What Disney is going to do will be Mardi Gras on steroids. It’s going to spread the virus across the country and, if other countries lift their airline restrictions on our country, the rest of the world too.

This is just an appalling lapse of judgment on Disney’s part. Walt would be appalled, but more importantly perhaps its shareholders will be appalled when they discover the value of their brand is going to sink along with its share prices when this thing takes hold and the finger pointing starts.

This should go without saying, but don’t go to Disney World. If you have reservations, cancel them. If you have friends who have been there recently, shun them. Petition your governor to require Disney World attendees to go into a two-week quarantine if they are foolish enough to go there, or really any place in Florida.

This one company is likely to infect millions of us and kill tens of thousands more of us. Shut it down now, Disney, to protect your brand and what’s left of your good name.

Trump is doing everything wrong

Our national horror show continues with no relief in sight before November 3rd, now thankfully less than four months away. That’s when I am certain Trump will lose reelection spectacularly. This is simply because he is doing absolutely everything to lose it, and to take as many Republicans down with him as possible too.

It’s hard to believe that any politician can be as inept and stupid as Donald Trump. But then he ran as an anti-politician. In that sense alone he has vastly exceeded expectations. He’s turning off almost all possible voter groups and will be left with only the hardest of his core group, a group that is fully vested in his nihilism and anarchy. You know, those few uninfected Boogaloo Bois.

It’s like he is taking secret orders from Vladimir Putin. It’s like he has a secure line to Vlad who tells him exactly what and how to mess things up next, which he quickly executes. I’ve never been big on conspiracy theories, but at this point Occam’s Razor definitely suggests he is compromised by Russian interests.

Recently he had his toady of an attorney general, Bill Barr, fire the head of the Southern District of New York office of the Department of Justice, the very man charged to oversee a variety of sensitive investigations into Trump and his businesses. I sometimes wonder what he’s got on one of our local representatives, Richard Neal. Neal is in charge of the House Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the House. Neal could examine and hold hearings on Trump’s tax returns, but Neal won’t take it up. It must be some great dirt on Neal, who has a viable challenger this year in local Holyoke mayor Alex B. Morse.

So while Trump is terrible at governing, he’s proven unusually adept at protecting his own interests. He’s created a government of toadies and sycophants that exist to further enrich him and help his interests. He’s managed to shutdown almost all investigations that could damage him, or at least postpone them until he is out of office.

It would not surprise me in the least to find out that after Biden’s inauguration he discreetly flees the country and we find our “president” exiled in Russia. The arm of the law will eventually catch up with him otherwise, and we all know that Trump won’t allow himself to be held accountable for anything if he can avoid it.

Meanwhile, The Donald is busy doing everything he can to destroy our country and lose the election, leaving no stone unturned. He’s either planning to lose or (because he is so tone deaf) he can’t figure out that he can’t win reelection by only doubling down for the craziest of his supporters. If the election were held today he’d lose the popular vote by ten percent at least. To the extent he has a strategy, it’s to try to deny people likely to vote against him the opportunity to do so, by trying to disallow mail in voting.

The most likely result of the election will be a huge electoral rout of Trump and Republicans in Congress, which will likely cascade down to the statehouses too. If any president can manage to bring back the overwhelmingly Democratic Congresses of the 1970s and 1980s, it will be Donald Trump.

He actively promotes death every day. He went to Tulsa, held a rally and people are getting sick in Oklahoma as a result. One of them includes former presidential candidate and pizza chain magnate Herman Cain, cheering without mask at his rally. His most recent rally at Mount Rushmore will doubtless claim more too. One is apparently the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr. who recently tested positive for covid-19.

If Republicans are stupid enough to hold their convention in Jacksonville, that alone will wipe out a significant number of elite Republicans. Most likely though even Trump won’t be able to command his minions to attend. It looks like they are finding reasons not to go. Survival is a pretty powerful instinct. Even Florida, or at least the host city of Jacksonville, doesn’t want them anymore. Meanwhile, Florida’s hospitals are nearly overwhelmed with covid-19 cases. The situation in predominantly red states like Florida is only going to continue to get worse.

And now his most recent insane suggestion: send the kids back to school five days a week. He’s says he will to cut federal funding to school districts that don’t comply, although he doesn’t have the authority. He wants to turn our schools into super spreaders. Nothing like having our children infect their families, teachers and communities, making our already record-breaking covid-19 infections exponentially worse. Think of all the orphans in the making! That’s progress!

It’s all leading up to a great crescendo of awfulness timed to arrive around Election Day. We’re still in the first wave of this thing. We may never get to a second wave, but if we do it’s likely to arrive in the autumn on top of the seasonal flu. There’s plenty of room to make things worse. We have about three million confirmed cases, but that’s only one in 100 of us so far. But there will be many more awful things to hit: record rates of evictions, high unemployment, likely little more in the way of relief checks and when Wall Street realizes the underlying fundamentals, a second collapse of stock markets.

It’s just insane, which arguably makes Donald Trump insane. He may not be clinically insane, but his narcissistic personality disorder though effectively makes him insane. He will continue to act in what he thinks is his own interest no matter how many of us it kills. He has empathy only for himself. And he will relentlessly fight any actions to improve the situation.

Stay safe. Stay home. Use masks. Wash hands frequently. Pay attention to your local health officials. But plan to risk life and limb to vote on November 3rd, because this may be the only way to keep those of us who are still sane alive.

Chaos causes more chaos

For those of you pining for anarchy, look around. Happy yet?

You should be ecstatic. For the rest of us, it’s feeling a lot like hell. Yesterday’s job report showed a 14.5% unemployment rate and more than twenty million newly unemployed people. The real unemployment rate is likely above twenty percent. Meanwhile, civil society is getting increasingly uncivil. Although less than thirty percent of us want to stop social distancing, those thirty percent are making a huge ruckus. They want to go back to the way things were, as if that were suddenly possible. Who cares if it kills grandma? Real freedom means being able to eat a Big Mac at 2 AM.

A few dozen of these idiots were protesting locally in Northampton, Massachusetts on the Coolidge Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River. The good news is that Massachusetts’s idiots are not quite a stupid at Duval County Florida idiots; some of who are rubbing shoulders on Jacksonville area beaches. About half of our protesters were wearing masks and at least attempting to keep a social distance. I hope they got it out of their system and returned to staying at home. We’ve managed to plateau COVID-19 infections here locally. It wouldn’t take too many of these protests to push the rate up again. And these idiots would be some of the most likely to contract the disease, and show Darwinism in action.

We spend billions of dollars a year supposedly to mitigate the risks for pandemics like we are experiencing. This crisis has revealed how poorly these agencies are doing their jobs. The Centers for Disease Control apparently has a set of guidelines for more safely opening up local economies. But they won’t see the light of day because the Trump administration won’t let them publish them. The part of our government that is supposed to function, the Executive Branch, is being held hostage by a constantly vacillating “president”. Voters elected Donald Trump because he was going to bring change to Washington.

Well good news there! Trump has brought change to Washington. He’s changed our government from one that often worked in the interests of the people to one wholly captive to his constant changes of mind, mood swings, tweets and general obnoxiousness. He has no idea what he is doing because he has spent his career running things chaotically. And his narcissism makes him impervious to criticism.

He’s a seventy-something Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes), still in his terrible twos. I was all for his White House COVID-19 task force shutting down. They weren’t doing anything useful anyhow, because doing something requires a plan. Trump is incapable of adhering to any plan and will change his mind on a dime if he thinks it will improve his reelection prospects. The result of course is chaos. A chaotic mind with power is bound to cause a lot of chaos.

So of course we’re not doing the sensible stuff other countries have done to get them out of their COVID-19 quagmires. The USA has 5% of the world’s population and as of today 32% of its reported cases, and the number of reported cases vastly undercounts the likely number of cases. We also have 28% of the deaths, also probably vastly understated.

The testing that we are actually doing is a tiny fraction of the testing needed to determine whether it is safe to reopen local economies. There is no coordination or marshaling of resources so the pandemic can be fought logically. Trump finds it convenient to push responsibility onto the governors. It’s easier to do this than think and plan, things he is utterly incapable of doing. And of course, it allows him to blame others. Meanwhile his son-in-law Jared Kushner has been trying to deal with the issue by getting unpaid interns to dial around for masks and personal protective equipment. They have no experience in this and have proven ineffective, but neither does Jared Kushner.

We do have this entity called the Defense Logistics Agency whose mission is to adroitly find, marshal and distribute supplies just for things like this. It has 26,000 people trained to do exactly this who could be put to work. Logistics though is anathema to this administration. Logistics implies thought, order and planning. It’s quite likely that no one in the White House even knows the DLA exists. If Trump wanted to help his reelection prospects, he could put a general in charge of the effort then shut up about COVID-19 and let the professionals do their work. But of course he can’t. He will vacillate on anything. The DLA’s role in this crisis is ancillary at best.

Trump likes to say that nobody knows more about X than he does. The truth is just about anyone, even you, know more about X than he does. I suspect any of you reading this could do a better job of managing the procurement of nasal swabs than Trump or Jared Kushner. In fact, when Trump says nobody knows more than me about X, it’s a sure sign his narcissism is acting up again and he feels the need to cover for his deficiencies. Nobody knows more about nuclear proliferation than Donald Trump, someone who hardly ever reads. Yet some of his supporters actually believe this stuff. The truth is, Trump is dumb as dirt. By applauding this idiot his supporters are revealing they should be considered dumb as dirt too.

Trump’s one skill is simple carnival barking. He knows how to throw up a show. He knows how to entertain. He knows how to project what he wants to project. He gives his supporters what they want: validation, outrage and entertainment. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we need competence and true governance, something he is incapable of.

The result is the chaos all around us: twenty million unemployed and a country rapidly devolving into third world status. If that’s what you voted for, congratulations. Trump is doing a great job.

It’s not just #FloridaMorons, it’s about 40% of us with a death wish

Few things get me hopping mad, but this article did:

Local news aired photos and videos of Florida’s shoreline dotted with people, closer than six feet apart, spurring #FloridaMorons to trend on Twitter after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) gave the go-ahead for local beachfront governments to decide whether to reopen their beaches during a news briefing Friday. Duval and St. Johns counties have reopened their beaches, while Miami-Dade County officials said they are considering following suit.

While it made me mad, it didn’t particularly surprise me. Florida was late to the game to shut things down, so I shouldn’t be surprised they are taking the first to take steps to open things up. Texas plans to ease restrictions this week too. Protestors in many states are clamoring to open things up in their states. Chilling at home with Netflix is proving too challenging.

Most people are finding the coronavirus inconvenient. I know we are. But I sure don’t want to open everything up, not without some credible data that shows us that the risks of doing so are minimal.

At best, these governors seem to think that because it appears they hit their death peak, that’s enough and it will be all downhill from now on. At worst of course there are a whole lot of Republicans who are all for sacrificing grandma, or really anyone, to bring back the America they knew before all this began.

Curiously, none of these people advocating this seem to be willing to put their own lives at significant risk. They could perhaps volunteer as the visitors’ desk at their local hospital sans mask, or take food to shut-ins, or volunteer to sit behind the cash register at the pharmacy counter at their local CVS. They want others to do these things, probably for at or near the minimum wage.

And of course a lot of these Republicans think coronavirus is a big hoax, as if all those COVID-19 deaths happening inside and outside our country aren’t happening, despite refrigerator trucks outside of hospitals with corpses and mass graves being dug at an island off the Bronx. Then there are the usual conspiracy theories run amok: it was created in a lab and it’s part of a secret plot by Democrats to destroy our freedoms. As if freedoms were not connected to our shared social responsibilities.

Science of course doesn’t matter to them. All those virologists and epidemiologists that get advanced degrees to study this stuff can be discounted if it goes against their prejudices and inclinations. Unlike during the 1918 Spanish flu, we not only know what causes this, but what we can do about it. During the Spanish flu, Philadelphia held a parade and it made the flu rampant in the city. It’s not hard at all to predict those Jacksonville, Florida beaches that were opened up yesterday, where plenty of people weren’t social distancing, will soon cause a spike in local COVID-19 cases.

Of course all this staying at home and social distancing is inconvenient and painful sometimes. For many people, there is no income coming in except a $1200 government handout, the sort of handout many of these people would have been against just a couple of months ago. Of course, it’s okay if it helps people like them, just not those others.

Many are wondering how long it will be before they get evicted for not paying rent, which about a third of renters aren’t or can’t pay. People in general have been living on the margins for decades, their increased productivity propping up stock prices, but never their bottom line. No wonder that 40% of households don’t have $1000 saved for an emergency. So some of them have to believe that it’s all a hoax because they have to go to work to make money to keep themselves from hunger and/or homelessness.

Republicans though specialize in cognitive dissonance; so of course so many of them can’t wrap their heads around the idea that this is just the way it is and what we are doing is the least painful way to get through this. Absent widespread testing (only 1% of Americans have been tested) and good empirical data, we simply don’t know. So opening up things will just make things worse.

But it probably won’t work anyhow. My mayor can declare that all the parks are reopened and we don’t need to wear masks or worry about social distancing, but I’ll still stay mostly homebound, and use gloves and a mask anyhow. Sensible people will. We know the risks are real and potentially deadly not just to people we don’t know, but to us. And because we won’t go out when things are uncertain, we won’t spend like we did, so the economic hit is likely to continue.

Polls say that’s 60% of us are sensible people, which means four out of 10 of us don’t get it. That’s roughly the percentage of people supporting Trump. All that disinformation has been crammed into their brains; they can’t see beyond it. To make it much worse of course our “president” has been promoting quack cures and encouraging people in certain states to “liberate” their states. Umm, inciting insurrection is a federal crime.

All this likely means that instead of flattening the curve, it’s likely to rise, last longer and kill a lot of people who’d otherwise survive. There are only a few ways out of this thing that will work. The sensible way is to do a lot of widespread and compulsory testing and contact tracing, until we have a vaccine that will inoculate us against the virus. But we don’t have the tests we need, we have at best a half hearted infrastructure for carrying it out, and we mostly lack quick and affordable tests to determine who has it or has been exposed to it.

Or we can drag this thing out interminably and allow millions to die unnecessarily because, apparently, many of us are too stupid to follow the advice of the people trained to deal with this stuff.

I’d care less if it took out only these foolish and ignorant people. They’re going to cause a bumper crop of Darwin Award nominees this year. But many of the rest of us still doing the sensible things will get this virus anyhow, in spite of our best efforts, because people like them will put so much more of it into our environment.

Ignorance kills. As much as Trump and many Americans want there to be an easy way out, there isn’t one.

Things should never go back to the way they were, if we’re smart

I suspect that in retrospect March 2020 won’t be remembered so much for the COVID-19 crisis, but as the catalyst for finally remaking our society into one that works for the people again.

It’s all pretty crazy and hellish right now, but it’s made crazier and more hellish because we’re trying to deal with COVID-19 and our economic crisis by using old rules that no longer work.

Take our Federal Reserve, for example. In reality, the Fed doesn’t have a whole lot of tools left in its toolbox. Its most effective remaining tool is that it prints the money. By effectively throwing out unlimited sums of money, it’s trying to keep our economy from collapsing altogether by underwriting our banks and businesses. It seems to be buying us some time, for example, by keeping banks flush with cash when in times before the Federal Reserve (the Great Depression) there would be a run on banks. But dropping the federal funds rate to 0% isn’t going to help at all. It did in 2008, but won’t anymore. Both businesses and consumers are already in hoc up to their eyeballs. We already can’t afford the debt we got. It’s hard to see how acquiring more of it will help the economy.

In just a few weeks our real unemployment rate is now likely over ten percent. Much of our economy has ground to a halt. It may prove to be ephemeral, which I first thought, but with some weeks to look at what’s going on, I no longer think so.

COVID-19 has thrown nearly the perfect monkey wrench into our economy, which had been hanging by a thread because it was based everyone spending beyond their means. Most companies made it worse. Instead of hoarding cash when times were good to get, they used borrowed money to buy back their own stock, which executives then sold to increase their personal wealth and their companies more fragile. Most people just get by, or have fallen behind, a victim of wages that rarely increase. Mostly, our productivity went into shareholders’ pockets instead. If they couldn’t afford the debt they had before the crisis, they won’t be able to now that it’s here.

All this was made considerably worse by our administration’s counterproductive approach to dealing with a pandemic. The $2.2T relief bill passed by Congress and signed into law won’t be nearly enough. A one time payment of $1200 per person and $500 per child won’t get us through this crisis. At best it will pay a month of rent or a house payment, plus a few other expenses. Expanded unemployment benefits will be a lot more meaningful to most people, if they can get them. It’s hard to apply for unemployment when so many others are doing the same thing. Until the U.S. Treasury bails out states’ unemployment funds, the funds in these accounts won’t last long.

Most likely COVID-19 will keep us at home for months, and when we are allowed to open businesses again, it will be tentatively. The doctors that Donald Trump refuses to listen to expect a resurgence of the virus later in the year unless we maintain strict social distancing. A vaccine is likely at least a year away, so things couldn’t go back to normal until those of us who don’t have it are inoculated against the virus. So most likely we can expect a year or more of doing what we are doing now, with systems under strain if not collapsing all around us.

But the economy really can’t come roaring back, not unless it works a lot differently. Those who get jobs back will be lucky to get what they had before and a wage similar to what they had before. Government cash will help, but it won’t be nearly enough, which will leave people more impoverished in general, and more financially fragile. Without laws requiring debt forbearance, or debt forgiveness, growth looks unlikely.

Which means the only way out is through political change, which hopefully will come in November. People generally vote in their own self interest, so there should be plenty of motivation. Then there’s Donald Trump doing the best to kill off his own supporters. Even if they are smart enough not to follow his advice, a lot of his supporters are poor white people, mostly in rural areas with health care networks that are already fraying at the seams. COVID-19 mostly hasn’t hit rural America yet, but it will, and it will make New York City look like a walk in the park.

These problems won’t solve themselves by a lack of government. You can see now what the lack of government has done: left us largely unprepared for a pandemic. Meaningful change happens through a government that acts in the people’s interests and works to proactively prevent exactly what we are going through now.

It won’t get better though if we keep doing things the way we have always done things. That’s why the Fed’s actions feel so toothless, at best postponing the inevitable. The Fed can’t innovate its way out of our crisis because it has a limited set of tools, and it’s used pretty much all of them. The Trump administration simply doesn’t have the imagination to do what needs to be done. It hopes for short term miracles, which is why Trump is promoting Hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. People have died, are dying and will die for Trump’s bogus medical cures.

We the living who get through this by doing sensible things like staying at home and washing our hands regularly have an opportunity in 2021 to remake America into a country that meets our needs again. We could start to use money not to bail out companies, but instead to create a clean and green infrastructure. Then perhaps we can expect to see a real light at the end of our tunnel.

God won’t save you from COVID-19, but science might

Everyone’s feeling out of kilter these days. Most of us are feeling somewhat scared too.

It’s reasonable to expect that in the weeks ahead we will feel more scared, as the COVID-19 crisis gets much, much worse. When people we know, particularly family and celebrities, are felled by the disease we’re going to be looking for escape from this hell. For some it will be from a bottle of booze. For many perhaps it will come by praying to God that you or people you know will be spared.

There is nothing wrong with either prayer or meditation. Both have proven mental health benefits. It helps us feel connected to the larger world and helps many find solace in difficult times. Whether God saves you or not you’ll never know for sure, but science can probably save you, if you pay attention to what scientists and medical professionals are telling you to do and follow their advice. If God has a higher power at work, it’s the power of science.

What we are experiencing in 2020 is hardly new to mankind. Aside from the many wars mankind has endured over the years, natural disasters and pestilence have been periodic killers too. It’s been a while though since we’ve seen a pandemic, so it’s new and very frightening. In my 63 years, I don’t think we’ve had a proper pandemic here in the United States. Still, what we are going through now is hardly unplowed territory. Since the early 1980s we have been dealing with HIV and its AIDS disease. We’ve made progress but most of the progress has come through boring things like monogamy and practicing safe sex.

The religious among us seem to be in two camps on COVID-19. Some see it with the frame they gave to AIDS and HIV: God is punishing us for all our rampant sinning. Then there are others, like Jerry Falwell Jr., who swallowed the Republican KoolAid and reopened Liberty University after Spring Break. I’m guessing he figured his students were too godly to get COVID-19.

Falwell should be practicing penance at the moment, but if he’s not his students are. Some are likely to pay with their lives. For many younger people, catching the disease is no walk in the park. It will kill them. Heck, it killed the guy who first discovered the disease and tried to get the Chinese government to do something about it. Instead, he was punished. He was 33 years old.

I was on a cruise this month. Fortunately, no one was infected on the cruise. Two weeks later we show no signs of the disease, but while on the cruise we were meticulous about regularly washing our hands. The cruise line was meticulous about squirting our hands with sanitizer when we went to eat too. Before the cruise we spent a night at a Rodeway Inn in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Eating their free breakfast in the morning, someone on the P.A. system was saying the way to fight the disease was to stop listening to the liberal news media.

He should have listened. There’s no more cruising going in and out of Fort Lauderdale and won’t be for a long time. He’s probably one of much of the hotel staff that’s been laid off because of the disease, made much worse because their Republican governor Ron DeSantis put profits over public health, doing much to spread the disease as spring breakers brought it back home. Florida still lags other states in keeping its populace at home. Maybe he’s figuring that God will save them.

God’s not coming to his rescue. He didn’t come to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s rescue and he won’t be coming to your rescue either. I can say it’s because God doesn’t exist, which is likely, but I can’t prove it. What I can say is that with if God exists, its a removed and impersonal god, that shows no interest in your life in particular. It didn’t keep people from getting the plague either. Even back then though the smarter ones inferred that it had a lot to do with people being clustered closely together. Today, others like my friend Tom are using the same strategy: flee to the country and hope to ride it out there. You can also do what health care professionals are telling us to do. That’s what we’re doing.

It’s human to be scared by all of this. For most of us it will be one of the major events in our lives, and a shared world trauma. Some of us cope with stress better than others. Religion is supposed to give us ways of coping with this kind of stress in particular. If so, I don’t see much evidence that it’s working. Part of the stress of the religious is their cognitive dissonance. They know what their religion is telling them is crap, but they can’t admit it to themselves.

The successful people are going to acknowledge that it is crap and move on. This is not to say that religion is necessarily bad, but certain flavors of it can be quite toxic, and a lot of religious Americans are in this camp. Most are evangelicals. If we are at the first stages of Armageddon, it’s going to be sending many more of these Christians to early graves. Of course, a lot of us less religious folk will be felled by it too. But fewer of us will because we will largely heed the advice scientists like Dr. Fauci are giving us.

To me, following their advice is something of a balm because it’s likely to actually work. It may also be my nature, but although concerned I am markedly happier than most of the people around me. It comes not through choosing ignorance, but learning what works to keep from getting infected and then doing it scrupulously. I’ve learned there are ways to be less afraid of COVID-19 and things you can still do an enjoy to give you pleasure and meaning.

Here’s some of what I’m doing. You might want to see if these strategies work for you too:

  • I stay mostly indoors
  • I keep surfaces I touch clean with appropriate disinfectants
  • When I go out shopping, I am careful. I bring sanitary wipes, stay calm, and keep a social distance. Since I am age 60+, I take advantage of special shopping hours for us more at-risk people.
  • I mostly succeed in not touching my face
  • Some face touching will happen anyhow. So I try to wash my face with soap and water once a day too. Keeping it clean means if I touch it I probably won’t get infected if I then touch my mouth or a mucus membrane.
  • I wash my hands periodically throughout the day, with soap and water, at least for twenty seconds, being very thorough to clean all surfaces
  • I try to get outside once a day and take a walk. Walking is quite safe if you maintain a social distance. There are parks and trails nearby. Seeing people makes me feel connected to them. The fresh air and sunshine feels good too. Hearing the birds and feeling wind on my face makes me feel alive.
  • When the weather permits, I open up the windows and enjoy the fresh air. There’s no coronavirus in the air unless someone coughs on you. Outdoor air is likely healthier than indoor air anyhow.
  • I keep busy doing stuff: consulting when it is available, indulge in my hobbies and try not to obsessively watch the news. Watching Star Trek Picard was a great distraction.
  • After going shopping, I wipe surfaces and things I touched, including groceries I brought in if possible. I leave stuff that’s not too perishable in the garage for a few days. And I wash my hands.
  • I count on layers of protection. The most likely way of acquiring the disease is from touching your face and then touching your mouth or nose. I keep both hands and face clean.
  • Realize this is not forever.
  • Chat with friends and family virtually. Be positive but realistic. Encourage them that by doing sensible things they are likely to be survivors.

In one way we are lucky: our finances won’t be stretched by this crisis, so that’s a huge relief. Most of you won’t be so lucky, but you will get some relief from the government. Hopefully it will let you ride the financial impacts for a while without feeling like you are in a financial crisis too.

By doing these things, you are also being virtuous. In addition to hopefully putting yourself in a healthier space, you are also helping society. You are helping to cut the transmission of the disease so others can survive it. You are making things less stressed for our overtaxed healthcare workers. Your actions may be boring, and make you feel lonely, but it’s vital. Staying at home helps not only you, but everyone.

Keep praying to God if that gives you comfort. We know what kills people now when pandemics occur. In the past, we didn’t know so we attributed it to the supernatural. Trust that God revealed science for a reason, and that it wants you to place your trust in our scientists. One to 3 percent of us who get the disease won’t survive it, but most of us will, but only if we stop doing the stupid stuff.

Stay safe and stay positive. This won’t last forever.

Coping by moping

In the week since I last wrote, life has been wholly upended for most Americans. But in many ways, life is unchanged for us. There’s just the two of us (four if you include two cats). Being retired, we are minimally impacted by COVID-19.

For us, the biggest financial impact is our stock portfolio. It’s down $180K at the moment, or about 19% from its peak on February 19. It will probably go lower, but the good news is that we don’t draw it down much, just $1900 a month and that comes from selling bond funds. So the stocks inside it wait for a more prosperous time when share prices recover.

Those with money that survive it will be the winners. On Monday we met virtually with our financial adviser. We actually bought some stocks on the theory that they are historically cheap and over time will recover. It amounted to 5% of the portfolio so it wasn’t that risky. Since no one can time the market (although I got lucky), those with money buy incrementally when values go down precipitously should eventually reap nice profits. I think that’s what our financial adviser is doing. Since he is paid as a percent of our portfolio, if he’s right, then he too will be enriched some years hence. Meanwhile, a steady pension and social security provide the bulk of our income. I can’t see those going away.

The government may give all Americans money to get through it. If so, we are unlikely to spend it. Since we don’t need it I hope there is some means testing. I’d rather it go to those who do need it, which is most of us.

In truth, being retired already, things haven’t changed that much for us. Mainly there is a lot more washing of hands and cleaning of surfaces than there used to be. We shop minimally and go through an informal protocol of bringing sanitary wipes with us when we shop to wipe surfaces like shopping cart handles. When we get home we wash hands and clean things we touched. So far it’s working. Eight days ago we got off a cruise ship and flew home, and there are no signs of COVID-19 here. Some items were in short supply at the store, or not available. But so far coping hasn’t been hard. Coping is accomplished mostly through moping. I do have some consulting work that generally keeps me busy. It hasn’t dried up at all, for which I should be grateful. Thankfully, it’s all work that can be done remotely.

We have plenty of incentive to be sanitary, because the one thing we can’t count on now is our health care system, at least if we come down with something serious. We might get some advice from doctors over the phone. But if we need hospitalization, as this thing gets worse it’s unlikely that we will get it.

I got my hair cut yesterday. It was our last opportunity as our hairdresser is going on hiatus starting Monday. It was all done carefully, but there was some risk. It’s likely that my hair will get quite long before it is cut again.

As this drags on, we will miss things like going out to dinner and travel. There is no place to go, and it certainly won’t be on a cruise ship. Unless we want to take in a mountain vista nearby, we might as well stay home. All this of course will just feed the recession sure to come, which looks like it could easily topple over into a depression.

This would be a good time to spend some money to stimulate the economy, but that too has risks. I wouldn’t mind a bathroom on our upper level, but not at the cost of having construction workers in my house for weeks on end bringing in who knows what with them. I bought a new car last year and we really don’t need to replace my wife’s car. The house is well furnished, so there is no need to replace anything.

The YMCA is closed indefinitely so exercising with weights won’t be happening for a while. What exercise equipment we have at home is cardiovascular. My principle form of exercise is walking, and that’s at least still okay. When I go walking I see plenty of neighbors, so at some level it’s like nothing is happening. Generally they are keeping their social distance, but I see couples not doing so. The park across the street from us is closed, but that hasn’t kept people from parking in the part that isn’t closed and walking around it. There were a few hundred people in the park yesterday. Occasionally I do see questionable behavior. A group of kids on bikes on the local path were probably breaking protocol. I just don’t think they care and figure they won’t get it.

What I do know is that this is just ramping up. Its economic consequences are already evident and will get much, much worse. A month from now the threat won’t be so much not being able to find toilet paper, but from having a supply chain under strain. As grocery clerks and pharmacists get sick, things will get much more dicey. I’m already seeing cops parking along the sides of the road in places they normally wouldn’t, I think mainly to signal to the community that big brother is nearby. I expect in time we will see them guarding grocery stores and pharmacies. We may think this is the new normal.

I do believe all this is temporary and things will rebound nicely when it is over. But it’s likely to last longer than thought. Complacency may set it, bringing a resurgence of the virus. Clearly, it’s going to have huge ripples. When it’s over, society is likely to be reorganized in pretty fundamental ways. We probably will see this time as a period of great change where things we took for granted, like an abundance of local retailers, largely come to an end.