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 I: A Postscript … Expanded

In the above Postscript published Tuesday, I noted de facto Democrat Judge Jill Karofsky’s victory over de facto Republican Justice Daniel Kelly, and commented that Ms. Karofsky’s 10-point margin of victory over Mr. Kelly was particularly impressive “… given what I understand was a depressed turnout in Milwaukee County.”

Although I have been writing in these pages for quite a while, I’m still not sure whether anyone but me can readily view entered comments. Soon after the post, a close friend questioned my implication that the Milwaukee County voter turnout was depressed by the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Legislature’s insistence on holding the April 7 election notwithstanding pandemic fears and the grossly reduced number of Milwaukee city polling places. He noted that the Karofsky/Kelly Milwaukee County vote total (which approximated 200,000) was higher than the Milwaukee County vote total in the 2019 Wisconsin Supreme Court race between de facto Republican Brian Hagedorn and de facto Democrat Lisa Neubauer (which approximated 150,000), won by now-Justice Hagedorn by .5%. There are no pure apples-to-apples comparisons — the Karofsky/Kelly ballot included a Democratic Presidential primary not on the Hagedorn/Neubauer ballot, and the Karofsky/Kelly total was roughly half that of the Milwaukee County turnout in the 2018 Gubernatorial contest between current WI Gov. Tony Evers and then-WI Gov. Scott Walker – but the 2019 Hagedorn/Neubauer Milwaukee County vote total – a quarter less than the corresponding Karofsky/Kelly county vote total – is certainly an objective indication that the Republican action did not depress last week’s Milwaukee County voter turnout to any significant degree. Our friend added: “I know that the argument is that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote. Either they’re not very good at it or that is not what is going on. Data doesn’t seem to support the suppression theory.” [Someone very close to me asserts that just because the Karofsky/Kelly numbers weren’t down compared to similar races doesn’t mean that the Republicans’ action didn’t suppress voter turnout in the City of Milwaukee. I intend to leave this debate to them ;)].

The reference to actual Milwaukee County vote totals was a valuable reminder for me: all news sources, either intentionally or unconsciously, emphasize those facts that they consider the most important. After seeing any number of reports about an impending depressed Milwaukee turnout and the indisputably grossly reduced number of polling sites in the city itself, I assumed that the Karofsky/Kelly Milwaukee County vote total clearly lagged the County’s totals in the most comparable state contests – which, no matter which side of the suppression debate you take, it did not. In an editorial published on the evening of April 14, The Wall Street Journal observed, “Republicans may have disenfranchised many of their own voters, who tend to be older and perhaps feared voting in person if they hadn’t requested an absentee ballot.” Without regard to political persuasion, if one believes that the Republicans were trying to manipulate the election process for Justice Kelly’s benefit – which I do – one cannot help but conclude that they were, indeed, not very good at it.

The exchange arising from the Postscript was in another way an excellent reminder for me that I fear is too easily overlooked in today’s partisan environment: it is as important to safeguard the voting rights of those with whom we disagree as it is to safeguard the franchise for those with whom we agree. Although it’s a particularly keen irony if Wisconsin Republicans’ efforts did ultimately significantly depress their own supporters’ vote in last week’s election, any suppression should be abhorred in a true democracy.

The Wall Street Journal said nothing significant in its editorial that our friend hadn’t noted during the day’s exchanges.  Some of us retirees really get into this stuff.    🙂

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part I: A Postscript

[I had no intent to post today, but given the outcome of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race announced last evening, cannot resist  🙂 ]

As part of the above-referenced post on April 6, I indicated the following about the Wisconsin Supreme Court race between incumbent [de facto Republican] Justice Daniel Kelly and challenger [de facto Democrat] Judge Jill Karofsky:

“The currently-projected outcome [of the election] is obviously devastating for Ms. Karofsky, who perhaps anticipated victory at the end of January because a contested Democratic presidential primary would have brought thousands of liberal-leaning voters to the polls. Now – and this ranks among the observations I have made in these pages that I would most like to see proven wrong – she will probably lose, a political victim of the Coronavirus.”

It is hard to overstate my pleasure at noting that I was proven wrong – in a result announced yesterday, Judge Karofsky defeated Justice Kelly – and will thus succeed him on the Wisconsin Supreme Court – by a margin I have seen reported at 55.3% to 44.7%.

I consider Ms. Karofsky’s margin of victory as shocking at the outcome. Two years ago, Democratic WI Gov. Tony Evers defeated former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker by a little more than 1%. Since President Trump has made “Republican” synonymous with “Trump,” the size of Ms. Karofsky’s win over Mr. Kelly – even more impressive than it otherwise would have been, given what I understand was a depressed turnout in Milwaukee County, the largest Democratic stronghold in the state — would seemingly send an ominous signal to the President and his campaign cohort regarding the President’s current standing in a swing state integral to his re-election prospects.

Hopefully, the Karofsky – Kelly result actually reflects current Wisconsin sentiment toward both Mr. Trump and the partisan Wisconsin Republican legislature, although – as the late Marquette basketball coaching legend Al McGuire would say – the November election is still an eon of time away. There is certainly NO room for complacency; this result will cause Wisconsin Republicans to redouble their efforts for November. Even so, and despite the health challenges confronting us across the nation, Wisconsin moderates as well as its liberals should be allowed a moment to savor Judge Karofsky’s victory.

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.