A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XIII

We’ve seen any number of reports of “scientists around the world” working to develop effective Coronavirus treatments and a vaccine. Most of these reports assume a cooperative humanitarian distribution of these resources when they are developed. Aside from the inevitable competition between biomedical companies for what will be trillions in revenue, it seems not inconceivable that the outcome of these efforts could also have global political ramifications. While the nation whose scientists are the first to develop effective remedies will almost certainly not seek to exploit the virus as a biologic weapon against its adversaries while protecting its own populace, it will have the capability to resuscitate its own economy while other nations still struggle, and there might also be at least the temptation to secure significant concessions from competing nations in return for granting access to effective treatments or a vaccine. Although one can presume that humanitarian instincts will hold sway among all nations, it nonetheless seems advisable on geopolitical as well as humanitarian grounds for the U.S. to be the first to develop effective means to combat the virus.

As has now been widely reported, in a call with supporters on May 8, former President Barack Obama, who has generally been fairly circumspect in his references to the Trump Administration, observed that the decision by the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to drop its prosecution of former Trump Administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – who has twice pled guilty to lying to the FBI – indicated that our nation’s “basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk,” and at another point during the call, declared the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus response an “absolute chaotic disaster.” Several reports of the call stated that Mr. Obama’s comments were “leaked.” President Trump and his retinue have been predictably yelling about Obamagate – that’s “OBAMAGATE!” – ever since. Although the following reactions are not unique to me, I feel that it remains appropriate to record them here since I had them before I saw others voice them: Mr. Obama has proven himself too savvy a political operative to express such incendiary remarks where they might “leak” unless he intended it. He baited Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump fell for it. The more Mr. Trump attacks Mr. Obama – who will not be on the ballot in November — the less fire the President and his cohort are directing at former Vice President Joe Biden [although Mr. Trump has peripherally included Mr. Biden in his claims, the fact remains that neither he nor his collaborators are calling this trumped up {so to speak 😉 } scandal, “BIDENGATE.”] The attacks seem likely to backfire on Republicans with swing voters in swing states who turned out decisively for Mr. Obama in two elections, will arouse the defensive instinct in those constituencies in which Mr. Obama is particularly strong (Republicans aren’t the only ones seeking to increase turnout within their base), and further tie Mr. Biden to Mr. Obama in the eyes of Mr. Obama’s supporters – which Mr. Biden himself seeks to do at every turn. I note that despite Mr. Trump’s calls upon U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham to call Mr. Obama before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Graham, Mr. Graham has demurred – I’m confident not out of any sense of decorum, but because Mr. Graham must realize that Mr. Obama would relish the opportunity to come before the Judiciary Committee; he would crush the Republicans with swing voters in what would be the media circus of the decade. Only Mr. Trump has seemingly failed to grasp that.

I have genuinely increasing concern that the pressure of the COVID crisis and his falling polls are causing Mr. Trump to become dangerously unbalanced (he does, after all, control our nuclear codes). His widely noted suggestion that the novel Coronavirus might be combatted by injecting disinfectant into a patient’s body was an unnerving glimpse of his grasp of reality. His more recent claim that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine – which at this point even Republicans are generally aware is a medication with potentially serious side effects that the medical community has discounted as an effective way to prevent COVID-19 – seems a particularly blatant rejection of scientific expertise (even prompting an uncharacteristically direct – and commendable — refutation by a Fox News commentator, Neil Cavuto). If Mr. Trump is indeed taking the drug, it doesn’t appear a means to garner him additional electoral political support; it is hard not to conclude that he is actually electing to entrust his health to the Wizard of Oz.  If he isn’t actually taking the medication, and such is ultimately determined (which it will be), he has – and will be shown to have — capriciously risked the lives of those who decide to take it because they have faith in him. Either way, his declaration that he is taking hydroxychloroquine frankly makes him appear less than — to use his own words — “very stable.”

At the time this is typed, the United States, Russia, and Brazil lead the world with the most confirmed Coronavirus cases. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Jair Bolsonaro … a Kingston Trio for one to imagine. Understandably, Mr. Putin would claim the center and sing lead; Messrs. Trump and Bolsonaro would flank him and — appropriately given their records — provide the backup chorus.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XII

While President Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis appears at this point to have hurt his reelection prospects, it would seem that in Republican U.S. NC Sen. Richard Burr’s decision to temporarily step down as Chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, due to allegations that he traded stock inappropriately shortly after he received information in classified Senate briefings about the pandemic’s prospective effects on the economy, the virus may by carom have tossed Mr. Trump a high card. Throughout the President’s term and to the Administration’s evident displeasure, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Burr and the Committee’s Ranking Democrat Member, VA Sen. Mark Warner, has consistently reported on a bipartisan basis that Russia, and not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 15 that the last installment of the Committee’s findings, expected in coming months, is focused on whether the Trump Campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential contest. Mr. Burr’s vacation of the Chair, even on a temporary basis, may have given the Administration the opportunity to stifle and politicize the Senate Intelligence Committee in the same manner that for a couple of years it neutered the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee through its Republican Chairman stooge, CA Rep. Devin Nunes. Any Senate Intelligence Committee Republican that would even temporarily replace Mr. Burr as Chair is either a straightforward Trump supporter – ID Sen. James Risch, AK Sen. Tom Cotton, TX Sen. John Cornyn, and MO Sen. Roy Blunt – or has maintained a namby-pamby profile with regard to the President’s claims and antics — ME Sen. Susan Collins, FL Sen. Marco Rubio and NE Sen. Ben Sasse. None can be expected to resist the intense political pressure to downplay Russia’s involvement in the 2016 or 2020 elections certain to be applied by Mr. Trump and his cohort. To be sure, whether or not untoward behavior by Sen Burr is ultimately established, and regardless of whether the Trump Administration is exerting greater rigor in investigating Mr. Burr’s actions than it is similar behavior by Trump supporter U.S. GA Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Mr. Burr’s trades created an obvious appearance of conflict of interest and constituted a colossal failure in judgment. Since Mr. Burr, 64, has already indicated that he will not seek reelection in 2022, one can sympathize with any uneasiness he might have felt at the damage the virus would inflict on his retirement portfolio, but his lapse may have materially weakened our country’s security just as Mr. Trump calls for an investigation into an “Obamagate” that he cannot describe and craven U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham has announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs plans to hold hearings on – with the obvious intent to discredit — the Russia probe.

This past week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a lead member of the Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, indicated in testimony to the Senate, “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control” if the economy is opened too quickly or inappropriately. Later in the week, Mr. Trump – who had earlier toured a Pennsylvania mask-manufacturing plant without wearing a mask — declared at a news conference with Dr. Fauci standing behind him, “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back.” This dichotomy is obviously just the latest in a long line of conflicting messages sent by the two men (although I – presumably unlike the President — consider Dr. Fauci to have been extremely tactful in marking out their differences). What are the odds that either during the campaign, if the spotlight no longer shines so brightly on the government’s virus response, or after Election Day if the President wins a second term, that Dr. Fauci will be peremptorily removed from his post? The only saving grace: since he turns 80 this year, Dr. Fauci will be able to look back on a full career of service – rather than a career destroyed, like so many others, by Mr. Trump’s malevolence.

There’s a restaurant not far from our home. We first went there a number of years ago on a bitterly cold January Wisconsin night right after it opened, simply because it was too cold to go too far. Rick was our waiter. He and I hit it off immediately. There weren’t many people in the place. The food was excellent. We went back often. Over the years, the business has flourished – a product of wonderful food, excellent service and reasonable prices. Because we were early patrons, we are always treated like VIPs. Rick’s daughter is one of the hostesses. We are seated at one of Rick’s tables. We inquire about his family; he, ours. Since the pandemic hit, we have ordered out from the restaurant every weekend (before COVID, we went periodically, but far from every week). Since March, I, masked, have appeared in the parking lot at the designated time, and Rick, masked, has come out with our dinners. Last weekend, I asked him how it was going. His response: “It depends upon the numbers [of Wisconsin COVID cases]. If they stay stable, we’ll probably be all right [presumably, because traffic will pick up]. But if they go up [which will presumably keep traffic at its pandemic levels], we’re screwed.” For years, we’ve watched this team work hard, seen their efforts slowly bring success. This is just one of millions of groups that either has or soon could see years of effort wiped out … in a matter of 90 days.

This is a difficult time. It seems best to conclude with something I saw recently that although not COVID-related, may, given the time of year, bring a smile to baseball fans with long memories [and who don’t mind extremely blue language ;)]: the late Orioles Manager Earl Weaver in an exchange with longtime Umpire Bill Haller. (Umpires hated Mr. Weaver :)]. Part of the fun of the clip: Mr. Haller expressing doubt that Mr. Weaver would enter the Hall of Fame (he did). Others: the “Sigh; Here we go again” demeanor of Hall of Famer Oriole Firstbaseman Eddie Murray (No. 33); and the occasional views of Tiger Coach Dick Tracewski, a three-time World Series Champion.

https://twitter.com/Super70sSports/status/1261451987733839873

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part X

I ventured some time ago that President Trump’s most critical foreign policy flaw is that he knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing: that his focus on trade, his harping on perceived underpayments by NATO allies, etc., etc., betrays his own preoccupation with money and finance that has frequently hampered his understanding of and ability to effectively deal with global leaders, who generally think in terms of power. I would pose that the President’s chief substantive and political defect during the COVID crisis has proven to be the same: his visceral fixation with the virus’ effects on the state of the U.S. economy, which – arguably because his perception of Americans’ priorities is colored by his own – he sees as the proxy for his electoral prospects. He doesn’t understand that the vast majority of Americans of all political stripes place the highest value on the health and wellbeing of their families, friends, neighbors and themselves; that they view money not as an end but as a means to secure their higher priorities. Since the Coronavirus provides a particularly acute instance in which wellbeing and money can by some measures be considered at odds, it has caused Mr. Trump to be uncharacteristically tone deaf even with his base. Most tragically, his initial and continuing denials of the realities of the virus – reportedly due to his fear of the effect on the economy – has arguably resulted in greater illness and loss of life (and, ironically, damage to the economy) than would have occurred had he acted promptly, decisively, and consistently. At the time this is typed, the New York Times is reporting upon an internal CDC document projecting that virus-related deaths will increase from their current level of 1,750 a day to 3,000 a day by June 1. Even from a purely the political perspective, Mr. Trump’s uncertainty, inconsistency, pettiness and unreasoned behavior (the comment about disinfectant injection being the most disconcerting) has made plain to a wider swath of Americans – perhaps an electorally determinative swath — that he is at least a bit unstable, that his values are different from theirs, and – most crucially — that he cares more about himself than he does about them. I’ve seen various scholars grasping for American historical parallels to the bootless manner in which Mr. Trump has approached the COVID crisis. To me the most apt is obvious: Herbert Hoover, who proved unable to effectively deal with an economic depression engulfing his people — the closest an American President has heretofore come to the apocryphal account of Emperor Nero, said to have fiddled while Rome burned.

The Foxconn saga in southeast Wisconsin provides its own Coronavirus-related kaleidoscope. It is undisputed that the project is now a drastically-scaled back version of that proposed with such fanfare by Mr. Trump, then-WI Gov. (Republican) Scott Walker and then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Republican) Paul Ryan in June, 2018. It seems not unreasonable to assume, given a March Wall Street Journal report that Foxconn’s net profit had fallen 24% in Q4 2019 even before Coronavirus effects and an April Reuters report that its 2020 Q1 revenue was 12% below its comparable 2019 totals, that the company wishes to tap funding sources and perhaps reassess its investments. In light of the Wisconsin’s project’s underperformance, I had wondered whether Foxconn might attempt to take the political sting out of its shortcomings by blaming the virus. The company is apparently taking a different tack: below is a link to an April 9, 2020, CNBC piece indicating that Foxconn has filed paperwork with the state asserting that it has met its contractual hiring targets, perhaps entitling it to incentives approximating $50 million. The piece further indicates that the Administration of WI Gov. Tony Evers is studying Foxconn’s filing, but even if Foxconn is accurate and is entitled to the contractual benefits, the 550 jobs Foxconn claims to have created are reported to be a quarter of those it originally promised by this juncture. This seemingly creates a political optics problem for Republicans: a financially-strapped company seeking millions in incentives for a dramatically-reduced project from a state currently receiving ten times its 2019 unemployment claims while reasonably anticipating declining tax revenues. Foxconn is presumably aware of this; the final (at least as of now) pattern to its kaleidoscope: Medtronic and Foxconn are allegedly partnering to make ventilators at the Wisconsin facility. If brought to fruition, this welcome news and will put a positive face on the project; whether this is any more than talk remains, like other representations related to this Wisconsin facility, to be seen.

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/09/foxconn-says-it-met-hiring-targets-in-wisconsin-now-it-wants-its-money.html

Costco has recently announced that it will not let customers into its stores unless they are wearing masks. This has provoked an emotional negative response from what is obviously a tiny segment of Costco customers, who have been reported as tweeting comments such as, “Im [sic] a free citizen of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA I will not comply with your mask rule! My body, my choice!” While the overall level of American mental acuity may be enhanced if, as we confront a highly contagious and dangerous disease, Charles Darwin’s principle of Natural Selection manifests itself within this segment of our populace as well as within the segment carrying assault weapons while demonstrating in and about state legislatures, one cannot help but fear for all lives endangered by such capricious behavior.

We consider the CDC projection a warning: Don’t get bored, or complacent. Keep your guard up.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part IX

Below is a link to a Washington Post article reporting upon the escalating challenges pressuring Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro. Having recently linked a different article by our son, I would not have cited this one, but for the seeming incongruity – at least to our smug American psyches — it sets forth: that Brazil’s highly-respected Justice Minister and one-time Bolsonaro associate has resigned, claiming that Mr. Bolsonaro demanded the installation of a police chief who would accept the President’s investigation requests and provide information to Mr. Bolsonaro – at a time when Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons are under investigation by authorities; that this week, a Supreme Federal Court Justice ruled that an investigation into Mr. Bolsonaro’s alleged actions was necessary, because “No one, not even the president, is above the constitution and the law”; that Mr. Bolsonaro has fired his highly-respected Health Minister for urging Brazilians to stay at home to combat the country’s Coronavirus spread; that at least at one point Mr. Bolsonaro believed that the drug, chloroquine, would solve the country’s COVID outbreak; that Mr. Bolsonaro listens to only a small circle of advisors, particularly his children; that a former center-right Brazilian president (Mr. Bolsonaro is decidedly on the right) has withdrawn his support of the President, saying Mr. Bolsonaro “looked like a Nazi”; and that one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s powerful supporters in the National Congress has now broken with him due to Mr. Bolsonaro’s “isolation.” The irony that struck me has by now become apparent to you: that despite political stress, a constitutional separation of powers and system of checks and balances is working just as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay envisioned … in Brazil.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/for-brazils-bolsonaro-isolated-by-corruption-probe-and-virus-denial-the-troubles-mount/2020/04/28/de7de790-8951-11ea-8ac1-bfb250876b7a_story.html

I haven’t been in many closed spaces over the last six weeks, but now – unlike Vice President Mike Pence — wear a mask when I am. I wear glasses, and have been more than a little exasperated that even ordinary breathing into the mask fogs up my glasses. A former therapist colleague of one very close to me advises that if one washes one’s glasses in shaving cream, rinses them and lets them dry before donning the mask, this will prevent them from fogging up. I haven’t tried it yet, but since the source is highly credible and many of those that follow these pages wear glasses, felt it was worth passing along ;).

Even as we continue our battle with the virus, speculation is increasing as to whom former Vice President Joe Biden will pick as his running mate (Mr. Biden has indicated that he will ask a woman). I find that my irritation with former GA Rep. Stacey Abrams – the failed 2018 Democratic candidate for the Georgia Governorship – is mounting. Ms. Abrams, African American, is openly campaigning for the nomination, putting pressure on Mr. Biden and perhaps creating disappointment in the black community if Mr. Biden doesn’t choose a woman of color. I indicated in an earlier post that I did not consider Ms. Abrams a wise choice for certain tactical reasons. I would submit that the most important reason not to choose her – particularly for Mr. Biden, who would enter the White House at age 78, thus needing a running mate that voters are comfortable could assume the presidency on Day 1 — is her lack of appropriate background and experience. In a recent program, “Into 2020 with Stacey Abrams,” Ms. Abrams stated, “I think experience is a combination of issues. It’s competence, it’s skills, and it’s proven deliverables. And I would match my experience against anyone’s.” Maybe she would; I wouldn’t. The weightiest office Ms. Abrams has held in her public career is Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives. Even if effective in that milieu, she hasn’t governed a state, has no experience with the U.S. Congress, and lacks any foreign policy expertise – substantive gaps that swing voters in swing states will probably quickly recognize. At the same time, Ms. Abrams’ refusal to run for a Georgia U.S. Senate seat in 2020 could ultimately cost Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. She narrowly lost to GA Gov. Brian Kemp in a contest marred by alleged voter suppression. Her standing in the state has perhaps since been enhanced by Mr. Kemp’s arguably mixed management of Georgia’s COVID response (he’s been criticized by both Georgia Democrats and President Trump – no small feat).  Because of the health-related retirement of former U.S. GA Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia has two Senate seats on the ballot this year; Mr. Kemp’s appointed Republican replacement for Mr. Isakson, U.S. GA Sen. Kelly Loeffler, has during her brief time in office managed to at least create the appearance that she exploited information from a classified Senate Coronavirus briefing to avoid significant personal stock market losses. Ms. Abrams has huge name recognition in her state. Particularly given the current liberal fervor against Mr. Trump, she seemingly would have been a formidable candidate for a Georgia Senate seat.  In our current political circumstances, I’m dismayed at an apparent opportunity squandered.

I concede that the YouTube video linked below, forwarded to me by a close friend, is perhaps not entirely in keeping with the tone that I generally try to maintain in these pages … but a benefit of writing a blog – apparently, like being President — is the freedom to disregard one’s own guidelines ;).

Enjoy the weekend. Stay safe.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkU1ob_lHCw

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VIII

It is a travesty that the decision as to how and when to reopen the economy is becoming so politicized. While it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that our extreme shutdown over the last six weeks has saved as many or more lives as we have thus far lost to the Coronavirus, there is consensus among economists that the shutdown has already started a recession of now-undeterminable duration. I would submit that while we risk a tragic reappearance of illness and death if we reopen the economy either too soon or inappropriately, there is a credible argument that moving too slowly has its own potential to result in unnecessarily destroyed American lives: irretrievable poverty, serious damage to essential public services, increased suicide, mental-health related violence and suffering, and the general health and other ravages that destitution wreaks. At the global level — since our economy still drives the world economy – an extended and deep downturn will in many parts of the world cause chaos, famine, disease, and terror. Unfortunately, what we need is the measured judgment and courage of an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt. I would venture that Bill Clinton was the only president we’ve had in modern times that combined the acute intelligence, knowledge (in two weeks of briefings and study, he would have made himself a lay expert) and exquisite feel for the rhythms of the country to be able to effectively make such a call. Currently, we have a leader who mused on April 23 that perhaps the virus might be cured by light or disinfectant injections into the body. (Mr. Trump has since said that he was being sarcastic. I suspect that you have seen the tape. He wasn’t.) (A friend commented in an email on Friday: “Have to run and do a shot of Lysol with my lunch.” Too good.)

There is a link immediately below to an article recently appearing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Dr. Richard Levitan, opining that reduced oxygen saturation in the lungs without acute patient distress is an indication of COVID pneumonia and that such hypoxia can be detected in its early stages through use of a pulse oximeter (available without a prescription, but given a COVID-related run, perhaps now unobtainable by consumers until mid-summer). This piece particularly resonated with us because we have family experience with the danger of hypoxia and value of pulse oximeters.

https://www.startribune.com/what-i-learned-during-10-days-of-treating-covid-pneumonia/569857042/

There is a link immediately below to a Washington Post article by our son, describing Brazil’s perilous Coronavirus situation, wildly aggravated by the wantonly counterproductive actions of President Jair Bolsonaro. Mr. Bolsonaro’s complete denial of the virus’ danger makes President Trump by contrast appear reflective, cautious, and competent. Brazilians’ health has been left to responsible local leaders and their own diligence.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-brazil-testing-bolsonaro-cemetery-gravedigger/2020/04/22/fe757ee4-83cc-11ea-878a-86477a724bdb_story.html

There is currently what I consider a tempest in a teapot over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent comments that he didn’t favor having the federal government provide the states Coronavirus-related relief, and that he was instead “in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route.” This was an absurd comment, even for Mr. McConnell. State and local governments employ between 15 and 20 million Americans, and the two levels of government collectively provide police, fire, sanitation, highway, and a host of other services valued by all Americans of all political stripes, not to mention … health professionals. Sen. McConnell has been in the Senate too long – obviously for many reasons, but in this context, due to his seeming obliviousness to the optics of his negotiating ploy. State and local governments of both red and blue states are going to be unable to provide critical services without federal help. An article in The Atlantic following Mr. McConnell’s comments suggested that he sees forcing states into bankruptcy as a means to require certain states to shed their wildly underfunded pension liabilities — while at the same time protecting their bondholders. I think the piece is hyperventilation. In this time of crisis, not even Mr. McConnell – although he alluded in his comments to an unwillingness to bail out states’ underfunded pension funds — can believe that being saddled with responsibility for leaving local governments without help in serving their constituents or for forcing states to terminate their pension obligations to thousands of Americans (many of whom are Trump supporters) can be an advantage politically. Candidly, I believe that for once, Mr. Trump gets it even if Sen. McConnell somehow doesn’t – part of the reason why I think progressives and commentators have overreacted to Mr. McConnell’s trial balloon. Democrats shouldn’t provide one cent of concession to his ploy, and let him swing. Whether such optimism is properly placed obviously remains to be seen.

As we grapple with the disease and its many consequences, it’s a pleasure to add entries to these pages that may bring a smile. Below is a YouTube in which Mr. … er … Trump provides another perspective to his claim that he was merely being sarcastic in his comments about light and disinfectant ;).

https://digg.com/@digg/trump-disinfectant-impression-NZUFSuel

As we begin another week: Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VII

After inevitable Presidential grandstanding, last week the Trump Administration issued guidelines about opening the economy generally in keeping with health experts’ recommendations. The President told Governors, “You’re calling the shots.” Soon afterward, he tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” in an attempt to score political points against three Democratic Governors performing in the manner suggested by Administration guidelines. Given the size and complexity of the challenge we face, the President’s de facto encouragement of states’ opening up their economies without regard to his Administration’s own guidelines is not only asinine political pandering, but might have tragic consequences for a percentage of our citizens who actually place credence in his and his chorus’ propaganda.

It is commonplace for talking heads to intone, “The Coronavirus doesn’t care if you’re from the city or the country, white or black, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, etc., etc.” Actually, I would submit that it does. It is undisputed that the virus is highly contagious and spreads through close human contact. Close human contact is unavoidable (at least without rigid shutdown orders) for city dwellers, while generally more readily avoidable for rural residents; it is frequently unavoidable for those working at close quarters in lower-paying service jobs, while frequently more avoidable for those whose white collar jobs enable them to work from home; it is frequently unavoidable for those of lesser means (often minorities), who tend to live in tighter clusters in rented units, while being generally more avoidable for those whose families can shelter in individual homes. These are, of course, generalities; but which categories of our people are most likely to be subject to the brunt of any virus resurgence if Stay-At-Home orders are lifted prematurely?

In the first weeks of the shutdown, I saw more exercise equipment commercials during daytime hours than I can ever recall. Old ads for the Total Gym, featuring movie and TV Star Chuck Norris, proliferated. Clearly, the manufacturer saw the opportunity presented by the virus, and aired the ads it had available; in one spot, Mr. Norris – unquestionably in great shape for any age – mentions that he is 76. Mr. Norris is now 80.

The foreign policy effects of the crisis currently appear mixed and developing. No one could be surprised that North Korea’s recent testing of a short range cruise missile indicated that Chairman Kim Jong-Un (who himself is reportedly currently suffering from non-COVID physical ails) has no intent of suspending his nuclear program because of the crisis. On the other hand, there are reports that the disease has entered the North, and that if it passes rapidly there as it has elsewhere, the regime has no effective means to check its spread. Iran naval forces have initiated skirmishes with U.S. and other nations’ ships in the Persian Gulf, but a number of high Iranian officials have the virus and the regime is clearly currently focused on its own virus outbreak. (There are accounts of a philosophical split among U.S. foreign policy experts as to whether the U.S. should ease or harden its Iranian sanctions while Iran is under such stress. “Hawks” believe hardening the sanctions during the epidemic will cause the regime’s downfall; “Doves” believe that easing the sanctions during the crisis is the appropriate humanitarian response. With very little research, and although there is intellectual weight to both positions, I favor relieving sanctions. Foremost, it is the right, humanitarian – dare I say American – thing to do. Additionally, however, it seems to me the wise strategic step. Any replacement regime that views American sanctions as having added to the suffering of the Iranian people will not be any more favorably disposed to the U.S. than the current regime – nor will the Iranian people themselves; and it’s a little harder to call your adversary, “The Great Satan,” if it provides relief when you desperately need it.) Finally, there are reports of potentially dangerous interactions during the last month between U.S. and Russian air forces over the Mediterranean Sea initiated by the Russians. While no one can doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would leverage the Coronavirus to press his strategic international objectives if he could, the virus is crippling the Russian economy and the recent sharp drop in world oil prices caused by the COVID crisis is presumably causing Mr. Putin to direct his attention to his domestic challenges.

If – a huge if – we come out of this crisis more united (given our toxic political climate, clearly a challenge) and with a less adversely impacted economy (given our overall financial strength, a real possibility) than a number of our principal adversaries, and we leverage our advantages to assist those across the globe still favorably disposed toward us, we will have an opportunity to reclaim some of the strategic advantages either tossed or frittered away by the Trump Administration over the last three years.

We are blessed to live in a part of the country with enough open space that we can walk in our city parks and maintain appropriate social distancing (at this point, it seems that the vast majority of our area’s residents are mindful of social distancing). Even so, I note that while on our walks, I now maintain the same watchfulness regarding the whereabouts and approach of our fellow park patrons … as I employed last summer for bear sign as we hiked in Alaskan national parks. [All that is lacking is the call, “Hey, Bear” as we trudge along ;)].

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VI

As millions of people lose their jobs – and for many, their employment-based health insurance as well – it may, for a pivotal segment of our electorate, transform government-run Medicare for All from a “socialist” idea into a preferred policy position. Depending upon how the COVID crisis evolves in the coming months, finessing any such transition in voter sentiment could present a challenge for President Trump and Republicans. It might, ironically, also present a challenge for former Vice President Joe Biden if U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders presses Mr. Biden too overtly to embrace it. I would submit – and hope that Mr. Sanders will recognize — that even if Mr. Biden simply maintains his call for a “Public Option” to augment the Affordable Care Act, the pandemic’s impression upon the American psyche will, for good or ill, probably tilt public sentiment and selection toward a government-operated health care system.

Despite last week’s verbal skirmishes between President Trump and state Governors, and irrespective of any White House guidelines guiding states as to how to ease Coronavirus prevention behaviors and reopen businesses, I agree with those that suggest that the economy is going to open up slowly no matter what the President declares or state governments implement. The United States is a consumer-driven economy. Drawing upon the basics of the project planning methodologies in which I was tutored at times during my days in corporate America [my primary tutors being among those that follow these pages  ;)], I would offer that consumers have “Needs,” “Should [Have]s,” and “Nice [to Have]s.” Food, prescription drugs, ATM cash, doctor visits, and car repairs all are or can be Needs; these have continued through the crisis. Visits to close family, barber/hair stylists, and dental hygienists seem among the “Shoulds” to which most of our people are likely to more readily return when the economy reopens. But until there is an effective way to identify disease trends and hotspots, and/or a widely-administered effective vaccine, how enthusiastically will they engage in Niceties? If during May, our citizens can return to favorite restaurants, how many will? If youth activities officially open, how many will allow their children to participate? How likely are most to quickly return to the mall rather than buy online?

That said, I’m of two minds regarding WI Gov. Tony Evers’ recent extension of his Executive “Safer at Home” Order through the Memorial Day Weekend. Assuming that the surge of Wisconsin’s new cases will have passed by Memorial Day, Gov. Evers is commendably attempting to avoid a resurgence of the Coronavirus in the state by limiting the increased human interaction that accompanies the Holiday. On the other hand, the Memorial Day weekend is a pillar of revenue generation for much of the state. At the time this is typed, approximately 75% of the state’s 4000+ reported cases are in Milwaukee, Dane (Madison, for those that read these pages from outside the state), and the counties in proximity to Milwaukee County. Waushara County – in the middle of the state, where we spend one of our favorite weeks of the year every August – has two reported cases. Although Milwaukee area and Dane County residents (as well as Illinois residents from in and around Chicago) – likely transmitters of the Coronavirus – provide much of their tourism revenue, upstate financially-strapped communities and small business owners – for whom all have sympathy — may wish to ignore the danger. Mr. Evers may be inviting civil disobedience by being perceived to have prematurely imposed a quarantine on a majority of the state’s counties that (1) need the money and (2) have thus far experienced few COVID consequences. While extending his original order into May was a necessary step, it might ultimately prove to have been wiser for him to have taken the approach of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo: extend the quarantine to May 15, and let the data existing in early May inform further extensions that might have included Memorial Day.

Speaking of Gov. Cuomo: although later last week, Mr. Trump in effect backtracked on his earlier declaration that the President’s authority to address a crisis such as a pandemic is “total,” since he is clearly nettled by both Mr. Cuomo’s proactive leadership during the crisis and the generally positive response Mr. Cuomo’s efforts have received, there seems no small irony that in No. 67 of The Federalist, Andrew Hamilton (writing as “Publius”), advocating for adoption of the Constitution, sought to reassure Americans leery of the danger of a monarchial presidency by declaring that under the Constitution, the President’s power would be akin to “[t]he authorities of a magistrate, in few instances greater, in some instances less, than those of a governor of New York …” [Emphasis Added]

We consider Friday, March 13, to mark the beginning of our self-isolation, since it was the first night that we didn’t go out to dinner as we normally would because of Coronavirus uncertainty. We both woke up on April 13 feeling … the blahs. Whether our doldrums arose from a letdown after Easter, or because it coincidentally marked the end of our first month in self-quarantine, the feelings were unmistakable. Our virus-related behavior changes are no longer arrestingly novel, merely humdrum. Perhaps you are feeling or will feel the same. We are resolving to keep at it. If you are among the fortunate experiencing no virus symptoms, it seems likely that the safeguards you’ve been employing have been working. It seems reasonable to suggest that getting through the remaining period of this crisis – no matter how long that might be – may depend upon your diligence and constancy. If you’re getting restless and assessing your odds of surviving a COVID-19 infection, you might find the recent Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal articles linked below – although much of what is related in couched in qualifiers — sobering antidotes for cabin fever.

https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-04-10/coronavirus-infection-can-do-lasting-damage-to-the-heart-liver

https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-ravages-the-lungs-it-also-affects-the-brain-11586896119

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part V

The political impulses of the Trump Administration’s response to the Coronavirus (to be contrasted with the efforts of its chief health experts) have been largely a profile in cowardice. President Trump — unwilling to assert the broad presidential authority to effect a coordinated national response to the crisis that he has been all too willing to wield for his political purposes — has sought to cast primary responsibility for virus response upon the states. Although it can be readily predicted that Mr. Trump will try to rewrite history during the fall campaign, it’s not unfair to state that the three virus-related aid packages passed thus far are law primarily due to proactive Congressional efforts. The President’s electoral prospects may hinge upon his ability to defy the impression of his office most deeply engrained in the American psyche since the Great Depression, most succinctly put by President Harry Truman: “The Buck Stops Here.”

I’ve found interesting New York Times Columnist David Brooks’ suggestion on the PBS NewsHour in recent weeks that Democrats’ funding priorities, although well-intended, have been (literally) misguided: Congress’ furnishing of funds directly to people by extending and enhancing unemployment insurance (UI) programs (while perhaps necessary to avoid citizen backlash from any perceived “business bailout” that is a residual of the Great Recession) provides employers a counterproductive incentive to lay workers off, while if Congress would have instead directed more of the UI-targeted aid to businesses on the condition that they retain and pay their employees, the funding would have incented employers to retain jobs.

[Note: at this time, Democrats are blocking a Republican-backed bill that would provide an additional $250 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan program for small business, until Republicans agree to back additional funding for health care providers, states and cities, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for needy families. While anyone that has watched Mitch McConnell perform as Republican Senate Majority Leader over the years can well understand the Democrats’ approach, this delay in assistance to small business is extremely unfortunate both substantively and because of the complete lack of trust between the two party caucuses it indicates continues to exist even in a time of crisis.]

Although it has been a bit colder of late, it has been for the most part unseasonably warm in southern Wisconsin during the crisis. If we were not now battling the Coronavirus, there would be numerous articles pointing to the mounting effects of Climate Change.

Over 50 years ago, Author Victor Lasky quoted Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of last century’s greatest American political dynasty and survivor (some would say, profiteer) of Prohibition and the Great Depression: “I’d rather have whiskey than money.” As seeming proof of the wisdom of Mr. Kennedy’s assertion, alcohol beverage sales were reportedly up by more than 50% in the latter half of March. A recent observation by Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan (worth repeating, whether or not it stands up to historical scrutiny): “[N]o nation in the history of the world has closed both its churches and its liquor stores simultaneously and survived [Emphasis Ms. Noonan’s].” Our household has thus far tried to do its share to maintain this vital American industry ;).

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part IV

In mid-March, even before WI Gov. Tony Evers issued his first Coronavirus-related Executive “Safe at Home” Order for Wisconsinites, Bishop Donald J. Hying dispensed with Madison Diocese Catholics’ obligation to attend Mass on Sundays for a specified period due to the Coronavirus. Sunday Mass attendance is a fundamental obligation of Roman Catholicism. For Bishop Hying and other U.S. Bishops to dispense with this obligation (including and past Easter) was undoubtedly a torturously difficult decision undertaken after the deepest prayer and reflection. While this lay Catholic would submit that Bishop Hying’s action was unquestionably the correct one, practically and theologically (Luke 14:5: “[W]ho among you, if your son … falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?”), I suspect that Church hierarchy is nonetheless concerned as to how many of the clearly dwindling number of practicing Catholics, having been separated from their customary Sunday ritual for weeks, will return to the pews when the crisis passes.

There is endless commentary as to how the Administration’s handling of the pandemic will affect President Trump’s prospects for re-election.   Here is mine: it’s too early to tell. Immediately below this is a link to The Week site, setting forth the 10 things that The Week felt we needed to know on September 15, 2019 – now about as far in the past as we are from Election Day 2020. There is not a word in The Week report regarding Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president or resulting impeachment proceedings, the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, the impending Coronavirus (which didn’t surface for another 10 weeks), the death of Los Angeles Laker great Kobe Bryant, etc. There are too many unknowns that will occur between now and Election Day.

https://theweek.com/10things/861287/10-things-need-know-today-september-15-2019

If a Democrat was in the White House, how likely is it that prominent members of the U.S. Evangelical movement would be proclaiming that the Coronavirus is a plague unleashed upon us by the Almighty due to our Godless ways? As IBM used to challenge NFL fans: You make the call.

Although it is frequently difficult during this contentious time in our nation’s journey – and assuredly not always easy for one of Irish temperament — may we maintain respect and regard for each other.  Today is Good Friday, within the most sacred season of the Christian year.  April 8 marked the beginning of Passover; we have a Jewish member of our family, and so are Jewish as well as Christian.  Ramadan commences April 23; while we have no Muslim members, frequently lost in the world’s discord is a point Huston Smith made in The World’s Religions: “Like the Jews, the Arabs consider themselves a Semitic people.” For these three and all Faiths – and for those who do not embrace faith — this is a good time to reflect on what must hold us together.  As the Lord – revered as a holy man by the majority of the world’s religious — taught:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you … For if you love those that love you, what reward shall you have? … You therefore are to be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-44, 46, 48.

[Note: I take solace from the fact that although He loved the Scribes and the Pharisees, He clearly wasn’t shy about calling them out for their behavior   ;).  See Matthew 23: 1-39].

Stay safe.

As We Endeavor

I am pretty sure that this is the longest I have gone between posts since I began blogging in earnest in 2017. Adjusting our routine to the current normal, as well as performing customary tasks such as yard work and income tax returns, have consumed a surprising amount of time.  (I’m aware that we don’t need to file until July; but if – admittedly a big if – things are actually improving as summer dawns, who — unless one is glad of the opportunity to defer a significant payment — will want to do taxes then?)  I have, as I’m confident is true of all of us, a number of different reactions to the challenges we face, but they will wait a bit. One of the unexpected benefits of blogging is that one’s friends send you information and links that they find of particular interest. Several are included below:

For those looking for a practical manner to combat the virus and stay safe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFmaSNP6_z4

For those interested in many different views regarding how we as a people might come out of this crisis with new perspectives of our world:

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/19/coronavirus-effect-economy-life-society-analysis-covid-135579

Although the federal government has now extended its social distancing guidelines though April, for those that wish to indulge (perhaps a repeat, but well worth another few minutes) in one of the few light experiences occasioned by the crisis we face:

https://twitter.com/kenolin1/status/1242852430582341639

For those that would appreciate sustenance for the spirit:

https://youtu.be/3eXT60rbBVk

If you have the means – many of us do not — order from your favorite local restaurant. You want to help ensure that it’s still there when the crisis passes. Consider whether there’s anything you can do to assist other small businesses you appreciate that might have trouble surviving the next few months.

Use FaceTime (full disclosure: I can’t, but TLOML can). It will enable you to see, as well as hear, those to whom you need to stay most close.

Your phone and email accounts list a lot of contacts. Among those are people you care deeply about that, due to life’s demands, you haven’t been in contact with for a while. Communicate with them. You may never have a better opportunity.

The numbers of potential U.S. deaths projected yesterday by Drs. Fauci and Birx have been described as, “sobering.”  I understand why, in their positions, they have accompanied grim projections with restrained tones; I consider the numbers scary.  Stay healthy and safe.