Tuesday, March 24, 2020

And Yet, Some Things Never Change

In my last post I commented on how the world changing in unimaginable ways since I last put fingers to the keyboard in this blog last month, made much of what I wrote utter nonsense. And yet...

I didn't get quite everything wrong in the last two posts of February, 2020.

For example in this post, I wrote about the importance of the African American vote. Lo and behold, Joe Biden who was all but left for dead when I wrote the post, won the South Carolina primary by a landslide against Bernie Sanders, largely thanks to the African American voters who turned out for him. In the same fashion, he won every other primary held in southern states as well as Michigan and Illinois. I also wrote that if African Americans turn out for the Democratic presidential candidate in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania anywhere close to the way they did for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, the Democrat will win the election.

Therefore the turnout in the African American community in the primaries must be positive news for the Democrats, except apparently Bernie Sanders supporters.

I wrote last month that many supporters of Bernie Sanders don't seem to be interested in voting for the Democratic candidate, if it is not Bernie Sanders. I said that does not bode well for the Democrats in November. Nearly a month later, with their candidate squarely against the ropes, little seems to have changed. I'm reading more Biden bashing from Bernie supporters than from Trump supporters.

The irony is that when Sanders was winning states and delegates early on in the Democratic primaries, both Sanders and his supporters demanded that the winner of the nomination be the candidate who ended up with the most primary votes, not the candidate hand picked by the Democratic National Committee. Now that Biden has a plurality of the vote, clearly a bona fide mandate, steadfast Bernieites are claiming there is still a conspiracy among Democrats which resulted in all the other serious candidates suspending their campaigns and throwing their support to Biden. But they fail to mention that even Sanders' most reliable base, young people, have all but abandoned him at the polls, even without the one candidate in the race who had a chance to siphon votes away from Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, who has not as yet offered an endorsement.

It's anybody's guess if the possible resurgence of the African American vote will offset the number of Bernie supporters taking their toys and going home by sitting out the election, but chances are they will because many Sanders' supporters did just that four years ago.

I'm adamant about this because the most important issue of our day by a long shot, the Coronavirus pandemic, has only emphasized the gross incompetence of the current president. Once again, given a golden opportunity to step up to the plate and prove his meddle as a leader, Donald Trump has struck out with two outs and the bases loaded.

Let me say at the outset, Trump is NOT responsible for the pandemic. That much is obvious. Less obvious is that he is not responsible for the current collapse of the stock market, although it would only seem fair that since he took so much credit for the good economy he inherited from his predecessor, he should take the blame for its downward swing under his watch. Don't hold your breath for that one folks.

But no, the pandemic is responsible for the current fall of the stock market, not Donald Trump.

That said, I do believe he hasn't helped at all either, and has probably exacerbated both.

First of all, two years ago his administration disbanded the National Security Council's entire global health security unit, the office set up by his predecessor after the Ebola outbreak. Had it been in place, it would have been an essential resource to coordinate government efforts in recognizing the problem early, and taking adequate measure to insure necessary items such as test kits medical masks and other personal protection equipment essential to keep the people on the front lines, health workers safe, would be readily available at a moment's notice. Well its turns out that we are behind the eight ball at the moment, as there is a critical shortage of all those items. Of course hindsight is always twenty-twenty and I'm sure there were valid arguments at the time to close or re-arrange duties in an office that may have become top-heavy. But when asked about the disbanding of the office at a press conference, Trump said that was a nasty question, and that he didn't even know the office had been disbanded. Naturally videos emerged from a couple years ago showing Trump announcing the closing of the office.

Much more serious is that evidence points to the fact that Trump understood the severity of the pandemic as early as January, yet he publicly denied that Coronavirus was any more serious than yearly strains of influenza, until two months later. One could argue that the president didn't want to cause panic among the American people. On the other hand as has become obvious, by not acting sooner, by not influencing the public to avoid large public gatherings from the outset, the virus has indeed gained a foothold in this country that it wouldn't have had we acted sooner.

Here is a timeline of Trump's public comments since the time the severity of virus became known to him:

Granted this is a biased video benefiting from the magic of selective editing. But these are all public comments, he said little or nothing else to claim that COVID-19 was more than just a walk in the park until very recently. You can also find clips of Fox News celebrities mirroring Trump's comments, calling the virus a hoax designed to undermine the president, until Trump finally admitted on March 11 that yes folks, we have a problem here. Not until Trump's address to the nation from the Oval Office that day did his official propaganda wing at Fox change their tune.

This Friday I witnessed two events that clearly demonstrate the difference between real leadership, and the clown show the administration in Washington has always been. At Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker's announcement  that his state was to enforce a stay-at-home policy, one of the speakers at that press conference was the chief epidemiologist at the University of Chicago, Dr. Emily Landon, As the Governor and the Mayor of Chicago stood at a respectable distance and listened attentively. Dr. Landon gave a blunt, impassioned, and brilliant address about what we could be in for if we don't act now. She relayed an anecdote from the 1918 influenza pandemic which killed millions around the world. It turns out that while the city of St. Louis enacted a stay-in-place order to stem the spread of the deadly virus, the city of Philadelphia hosted a large parade to send off soldiers headed off to WWI. One week later, Philadelphia hospitals were overrun and thousands died, far more than in St. Louis.

As we are seeing today in New Orleans who allowed their celebration of Mardi Gras to take place a couple weeks ago, that city is now seeing a greater increase of new cases of COVID-19 than other cities around the country.

On the same afternoon as Governor Pritzker's draconian announcement that he was forced to choose between "people's lives and their livelihoods". the president of the United States held a similar conference at the White House. At the dais, going against all pleas for social distancing, was a slew of people huddled together as if they were in a rugby scrum. The president, still trying to paint a pretty picture of a pandemic, touted his enthusiasm about an anti-malaria drug that might have positive results against the "Chinese virus" as he referred to it. He was challenged by an NBC reporter who asked if his over-optimism about the drug was doing a disservice to the American people who deserve to know facts, not just the president's hunches. (my words not his). "I'm a smart guy, I feel good about it" was the president's response. After a back and forth between the reporter and the president, the reporter asked, "with nearly 200 dead and 14,000 sick, what do you say to the American people watching you right now who are scared?" The president's response was: "I'd say that you are a terrible reporter. I think it's a nasty question and a very bad signal that you're putting out to the American people." He accused the reporter of "sensationalism" and then went on a brief tirade about the news organizations of NBC and COMCAST.

Now to be fair, watching the unedited version of the exchange instead of just the soundbites that made their way across all platforms, the reporter was goading the president on for several minutes before the outburst. That said, annoying as the reporter may have been to him, there is no room for childish outbursts from the supposed leader of the free world in response to a pandemic. To add insult to injury, one of the reporters asked if Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was standing behind Trump at the press conference would comment on the drug. Politely, trying to speak the truth yet not wanting to directly contradict the president, Dr. Fauci said that while not discounting the possibility that this vaccine may prove helpful, any evidence to that effect was purely anecdotal, that testing was still underway, and that a "cure" as the president claims is still several months if not a year away. Incidentally since that day, Dr. Fauci has not been heard from at one of Trump's daily press briefings.

Today, two days later, the president still doesn't get it, or simply doesn't care. Despite unanimous consensus from scientists and health care professionals all over the world who assure us that the pandemic will get much worse before it gets better, and that the only way to reduce the amount of carnage, is for all of us to avoid social contact and stay home for two or three months at the very least, today the president told his nation that he expects that everyone will be back at work in two weeks.

Meanwhile his premature announcement about the anti-malaria drug, chloroquine , has caused a massive run on the medication, causing shortages and an astronomical increase in price, leaving people who take it for other illnesses, such as lupus, left without a medication they depend upon. Others have died taking the drug (which has serious side effects) without a doctor's supervision, assuming it would cure them of COVID-19.

For three years, Donald Trump's malfeasance, gross negligence and incompetence have done a great deal of harm to our country, to its credibility its democratic institutions, and perhaps most significantly, to its unity. Up until two months ago, most reasonable Americans could breathe a sigh of relief that at the very least he was not at the helm during a real crisis. Well he his now and people are dying because of his initial inaction, his indifference to the severity of the situation, and his insistence on lying to cover up the true nature of the pandemic.

The sad thing is that during times of crisis, the people turn to a president to provide leadership, comfort, and above all, the truth. During such times, a president's approval rating usually goes through the roof. Not so with Donald Trump. A good sixty percent of Americans believe he is not to be believed or trusted. The good news is those sixty percent at least, will not be taking anything this president says seriously, and despite his rants about how "the cure can't be worse than the disease", will work to protect themselves and the rest of us. The ones who do take him seriously well all I can say to them is, good luck to you, just don't go anywhere close to me or my loved ones.

God willing Trump will not be president come next January, but since we're stuck with him at least until then, the least he can do is provide some useful information to the people of this country to help get us through this crisis.

Short of that, maybe he could just shut the fuck up and let the adults in the room do the talking.   

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Difference a Few Weeks Make

Never in all my years on this planet, have I experienced such drastic change as we have in the past month. I look back at the time when I wrote my two last posts, just about three weeks ago, with a certain blissful nostalgia. Yet how could I have been so wrong and naive?

The wrong part came in the first post where I wrote that the president's "perfect phone call" with Vladimir Zelensky, while leading to his impeachment, also...
...all but killed Joe Biden's life-long dream of being the principal occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Thank goodness I added the "all but" because as of today. Biden is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party in the upcoming election. What I didn't see coming was the effect Biden's landslide victory over Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina primary would have in subsequent states. Up to that point, the primaries had been held in non-diverse states with largely white populations, with the exception of Nevada which has a significant Latinx presence. Sanders won all but one of those states with Biden coming in a distant third or fourth. It appeared that Sanders' momentum could very well carry him on to becoming the party's standard bearer, with the only real challenges coming from Pete Butigieg or possibly Mike Bloomberg. It seemed as if the only person in the world who believed Biden had a chance was Biden himself, who alone understood the critical importance of the African American vote, which carried him over the top in South Carolina, all of the southern states that have held primaries, and Illinois and Michigan. Sanders won the biggest state of them all, California, but as of this moment, it's Biden's contest to lose.

However as we've seen in the past month, who knows what the future brings?

Needless to say, the election is peanuts compared to the global crisis of COVID-19 and Coronavirus .

In my final post of last month, while I recognized the seriousness of the virus, I was still in denial about the impact it would have on the world. After all, we've been through countless epidemics,  SARS in 2003, H1N1 in 2009, and Ebola from 2014 to 2016, just to name a few. Yes thousands of people perished all over the world from those deadly viruses, but those of us who didn't, the vast majority of people on the planet, got through those crisis without experiencing much disruption of our lives.

Previously I thought about what we are about to face over the next several months as a being terrible inconvenience. I became irritated when I heard folks likening this experience to the Depression and WWII. That is until I heard my elders, people who actually lived though the Great Depression and the great war, make that very comparison.

The truth is, none of us knows what this virus may bring nor how many of our loved ones, or even ourselves will survive. Our very survival depends on tremendous sacrifice from all of us, giving up many of the things that back in those wonderful days of the first two months of 2020, we took for granted.

The Governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, declared that his state, the state in which I live, will be on shut down until further notice. Only people whose jobs are deemed essential to maintain health, safety, and provide the basic necessities for living, will be allowed to go to work. People have been instructed in no uncertain terms that with only very limited exceptions, we are to stay at home . He told the people of his state that he was in the very unenviable position of having to choose between "people's lives, and people's livelihoods."

It was an ominous message, but one that needed to be heard, and a truly courageous move on his part.

Many people will die as a result of this virus. Those of us who survive will suffer hardships, some of them terrible. While (the collective) we will certainly survive this in the long run, our immediate future is very cloudy indeed.

The American Vice President made a particularly un-helpful comment the other day. He said that during this time of crisis we should all spend more time on our knees rather than on social media. Including the inevitable vulgar responses that comment will inspire, the truth is that while prayer may be a comfort to many, we need social media now more than ever. As we're holed up in our homes trying our best to not kill our immediate loved ones, (don't lie, you all know that thought will cross all your head sometime in the coming weeks and months), social media will enable us to reach out to our loved ones afar, our friends, colleagues, acquaintances and perfect strangers all over the world, all of whom will let us know we're not alone in our time of trial.

Despite the cliche, we're all in this together, and seeing folks in at least five continents outside of our own experiencing what we are, that is fighting a common enemy, may, just may help to in the long run help make the world a smaller place and bring us all a little closer together.

One can only hope in silver linings.

Much love from Chicago. Stay safe and well.