Death Comes to Town

The church bell tolls 12 times.
A tumbleweed careens down
parched mainstreet.

Where is everyone who said they had my back?

At the intersection
Nemesis
dressed in black.

My feet shuffle forward.

Masked faces press against the saloon windows.

I wonder who betrayed Me?
The waitress who didn’t wear her mask over her nose?
The drunk Sacramento couple who wouldn’t wear masks?

The boardwalk creaks.

Grit in my mouth.
Unfinished list in my pocket:
regrets
loves
treasures.

A gopher breaks through the hardpan.

Where have all your brave words gone?

Nemesis’ ivory face
glints.

A barn owl screams.

It’s not over, until it’s over.
Guffaw.

Unamused
Nemesis sets up the table
unfurls the chess board
bids me to move.

White pawn to e4.

Happy Lemming Day

Saturday is America’s favorite summer holiday, Independence Day. In normal times, we celebrate the fourth of July with backyard barbecues or ballpark outings or beach parties. This year, because of the pandemic, most of us will “celebrate”  by sheltering in place.  Fortunately, on the third of July, Donald Trump will inaugurate a new national holiday, “Lemming Day.”

This Friday, Trump will host a political event at the Mount Rushmore national memorial in Keystone, South Dakota.  There will be fireworks and a flyover by the Blue Angels Naval aerobatic team.  According to the Republican South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem, social distancing will not be enforced and masks will be optional.  (https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/30/politics/trump-mt-rushmore-fourth-of-july-coronavirus/index.html)  On July 3rd, Trump supporters will have another opportunity to infect each other with COVID-19.  Like the mythic lemmings, Trump supporters will be encouraged to huddle together and, in effect, commit mass suicide.

You may ask, “What was Trump thinking when he scheduled the Mount Rushmore event?”  Most likely, Donald was thinking, “This event will generate great TV ratings.”  The United States is in the middle of an existential catastrophe, the worst crisis that most of us have experienced, and what’s foremost in Trump’s mind are his TV ratings.

How did we get in this insane situation?

Although there were many explanations for Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 presidential victory, three seem particularly relevant today: 1. In 2016, many voters did not trust Washington politicians, “the elite;” 2. Millions of Americans felt they had lost their chance at the American dream; and 3. A significant number of Americans were angry with Barack Obama, because of the color of his skin, and wanted a “whiter” President.

1.In 2016, most Trump supporters saw Donald as an outsider, someone not part of the American elite.  By virtue of his free-wheeling manner, his penchant for Tweets, and his rambling politically incorrect speeches, Trump has exemplified the “outlaw” outsider.  Unfortunately, Trump disparages science and reasoned discourse.  This defect produced his destructive response to the pandemic — a catastrophe that has sickened more than 2.8 million Americans and killed at least 131,000. Nonetheless, today, millions of Trump supporters trust Donald more than the mainstream media or Washington “experts.”  They are part of the Trump cult — similar to the Jim Jones, “Peoples Temple,” cult that ended in the Jonestown massacre.

2. Many Americans voted for Trump because they felt eight years of the Obama administration had not helped their life chances.  They came to believe that Obama, and the Democratic establishment including Hillary Clinton, cared more for millionaires and billionaires than they did working families.  Donald Trump talked like a populist and they believed  him — because he was more “relatable” than Hillary Clinton.  Many of these voters are no longer part of the Trump lemming cult.  At the moment, they are adrift.

3. Finally, in 2016, there were many Trump supporters who harbored racial animosity.  They identified with Donald’s “white supremacist” tendencies and felt a visceral connection with him.  Today, they are still with him.  Trump’s racist supporters may not agree with everything he says and does, but, for them, he’s the only game in town.

On Friday, Trump supporters — from groups 1 and 3 — will gather at Mount Rushmore and celebrate their guy.  United by resentment.

After the rally, the Trump devotees will return to their hometowns and infect thousands with the coronavirus.  Many will get sick and some will die.  Rather than “make America great” they will accelerate it’s destruction.

Happy Lemming Day.

Bonded with the Blues

1958 summer Sunday afternoon
David’s room
smoking cigarettes
drinking beer
playing records.

Little Richard
Fats Domino
Chuck Berry
doo-wop
folk

We’re competitive.
I played a Josh White LP
David parried with
“Leadbelly Memorial Volume 1”

Side one began with “Goodnight Irene”
ended with “Man going around taking names.”
Side two started with “John Henry.”
When we got to “See See Rider”
the earth stopped.

Thunderous 12-string guitar intro
(Hawaiian slack-key tuning)
amplified by a powerful baritone
See See Rider
see what you done done
(repeat)
you made me love you
now your man done come.

Naive white boys
transported to the land of
da blues.

We played “See See Rider” until
the room billowed with cigarette smoke and
the beer was gone.

We bonded.

Then our lives took different paths:
Bob, child of privilege
left for Stanford and
the corporate world.
David, child of the 99 percent
went to a local college
dropped out
worked as a house painter
drifted into addiction and
despair.

Real-life blues

David passed 18 years ago.
My kindred spirit.

Five Things You Can Do About Racism

It’s been 57 years since Martin Luther King, Junior, gave his “I have a dream speech.” And, 56 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Over this period, too little has changed. The United States has a persistent systemic racism problem that must be fixed.

In the most recent Gallup Poll (https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/312875/race-relations-nation-important-problem.aspx) respondents indicated that race relations were the most pressing national problem: “Gallup’s long-standing ‘most important problem’ question provides important context for measuring the impact of the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis… Some 19% of Americans named race relations as the nation’s top problem in our May 28-June 4 survey. This is, by one point, the highest percentage since July 1968.”

I’m a privileged white man.  Therefore, I broach the subject of racism with trepidation.  Nonetheless, here are five suggested actions that white folks can take to improve race relations.  These are actions you can take at home or in your community.

1.Inquire within. Start your personal work on racism by having a serious talk about race within your family, or circle of friends, or church. In other words, have a meaningful discussion about race with people that you care about but who, perhaps, you’ve avoided having this discussion with.  (Rather than talk about race in the abstract, talk about specific situations that affect your family members.)  This will take time; be prepared to go slow, listen a lot, and (possibly) have your feelings hurt when non-white family or friends tell you of their experiences with racism.

My multiracial family has started this discussion.  It’s hard.  What helps is that we all love each other and want to have a totally honest talk about race.

Caution: If you are a white person, GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.  Racism is best understood on a visceral level.  LISTEN more than talk.

2. Provide financial support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  To be sustainable, the movement needs money.

I’m a member of Indivisible and I trust them.  Recently the leaders of Indivisible provided a list of BLM-related organizations to support (https://secure.actblue.com/donate/indivisible-blm? ): “One of many ways that we can show up is by funneling resources directly to Black-led organizations doing the work on the ground to support the uprising and developing strategies and campaigns to advance racial justice.”  These organizations include: Black Lives Matter Global Network, Color of Change, Movement for Black Lives, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Bail  Out, National Police Accountability Project, and Unicorn Riot.  (To this I would add my perennial favorite, The American Civil Liberties Union.)

White folks need to do more than talk.  We need to act.  Start by writing a check.

3. Hold Police Departments accountable: Take a long look at your local police department.  Compare how your non-white friends are treated by the police with how you are treated.  Be prepared to be shocked.

Americans must “reimagine” policing; local citizens need to reassert control over their police departments and not leave control in the hands of police unions and the white elite.  Reimagining policing will, not doubt, result in reducing the funds that most cities spend on their police departments.

A fair criminal justice system requires national policy changes.  For example, on June 8th, the House of Representatives passed the “Justice in Policing Act:”  (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/08/us/politics/democrats-police-misconduct-bill-protests.html )  Among other things, this bill outlaws chokeholds and limits police-officer immunity.  All of us should support this initiative.

4. Provide Equitable Healthcare:  The middle of a pandemic is a good time to be aware of how race affects the delivery of health services.

African-Americans, and other people of color, are more likely than whites to succumb to COVID-19.  A recent Guardian study (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/04/coronavirus-black-minority-americans-house-subcommittee) noted: “Black and minority Americans are more likely to be infected and die from COVID-19, because structural racism has left those populations with inferior health, housing and economic conditions.”

The Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/blog/racial-disparities-in-covid-19-mortality/? ) found: “Even after adjusting for age, sex, comorbidity, and income, African Americans appear to be much more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than whites are. Most ominously, though, African Americans who contract the virus are dying at disproportionately high rates— their share of COVID-19 deaths is about 1.5 times greater than their share of the state population.”

The obvious solution is an equitable healthcare system, such as “Medicare for all.”  But that’s a way off.  Start by helping your family and friends get adequate healthcare.

5. Protect Voting Rights: The Civil Rights Act was intended to safeguard the votes of African-Americans, and other people of color.  Nonetheless, for the last 56 years, there have been well-organized white initiatives to nullify the votes of non-whites — and women.  We’ve seen this recently in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Kentucky.

No one denies this is a problem.  See for example, this USA Today story: (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/02/03/black-voting-rights-15th-amendment-still-challenged-after-150-years/4587160002/)  In May the House of Representatives passed the “Heroes Act” which includes funds for voter protection (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/heroes-act-includes-funding-election-officials-need-run-safe-secure); this bill should be passed by the Senate.

Summary: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to end segregation in public places and ban employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  While it succeeded in the first objective, it failed to effectively ban employment discrimination and did not achieve the objective of ending segregation.  In 2020, the United States is a segregated society.

Segregation continues to impact the life chances of African-Americans.  It affects their education, healthcare, housing, employment, and access to capital.  For example, a recent Time Magazine article (https://time.com/5855900/segregation-wealth-gap/ ) noted: “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment among Black people in the U.S. was far higher than among white people (6.0% versus 3.1% in January), and median household incomes were substantially lower ($40,258 versus$68,145 as of 2017). As the COVID-19 outbreak exploded across the U.S., the unemployment disparity continued: unemployment among Black workers rose to 16.8% in May, from 16.7% in April, as white unemployment fell to 12.4% from 14.2%.”

The United States has a persistent systemic racism problem that must be fixed. It’s up to white folks to make the changes required so that the United States can actually become a functioning Democracy, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Patience

Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

1.”Bob, you were born impatient,” my father used to say.

When I first attended Quaker silent meeting, and realized I had to sit in silence and say nothing for sixty minutes, I thought, “I’m never going to be able to do this. I’m too impatient.” Nonetheless, I learnt to sit in silence for SIXTY MINUTES and not fall asleep.

It took years.

2. Basic patience training.

First, I learned the “one step at a time” mantra:
it’s possible to accomplish anything if you undertake the task one small step at a time.
I used this to lose weight by jogging
ran each day and gradually lengthened the distance
completed “Bay to Breakers”
lost 35 pounds.

At Quaker Meeting, I worked out a simple — one step at a time — strategy
First, focus on getting comfortable.
Next, pay attention to what’s up and acknowledge whatever that it is:
money
sex
the 49ers
my kids
a Bruce Springsteen song
whatever.
Then, agree to set this aside
clear the karmic path.
Finally, as a mantra, repeat the historic Quaker testimonies
peace
equality
community
simplicity.
As in, “This week, what did I do to further equality?”
I found this process comforting
once in awhile, I would drop into deep silence.

AMAZING
baptism of the spirit

3. When I finally was able to truly participate in Quaker meeting
I came to treasure the silence.

As a bonus
came a series of self-realizations.
One of them was that my karmic lesson — for this lifetime — is patience.

4. I’m better at tolerating delay than I am enduring trouble or upset.
If we’re sitting in the airport, and our plane is delayed, Kathy gets anxious.
I am stoical.

When I was in the throes of nummular dermatitis
an illness that took me several years to get over
I was able to manifest forbearance.

5. Now I am experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic
a circumstance that requires toleration of delay, trouble, and suffering.
The hard times trifecta.

Q: “Daddy, how long ’til we get there?”
A: “I don’t know. We’ve never taken this road before.”

Every problem is an opportunity
says the Aquarian.
The pandemic is an opportunity to
take it one step at a time
cultivate patience.

California’s Economic Problems

On June 17th, California “celebrated” the three-month anniversary of Governor Gavin Newsom’s “shelter-in-place” order.  The good news is that we’re serious about dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic; the bad news is that the combination of the pandemic and “shelter-in-place” order has had a devastating impact on the California economy.

So far, California has more than 167,000 COVID-19 cases and 5300 deaths.  We haven’t “flattened the curve” yet; we’re adding more than 3000 new cases per day, mostly in Los Angeles County and the surrounding counties, such as Orange and Riverside.  This means that California is gradually opening up but we have to be careful.  On June 18, Governor Newsom ordered all Californians to wear masks when in public or “high-risk settings.” (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-06-18/california-mandatory-face-masks-statewide-order-coronavirus-gavin-newsom)

The pandemic-induced “shelter-in-place” order has had several noticeable economic impacts:

Unemployment: California has 40 million residents and a labor force of approximately 18 million workers. Governor Newsom expects the state’s unemployment rate to peak around 25 percent later in the year (with the rate for 2020 expected to be 18 percent). The Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/ppic-statewide-survey-californians-and-their-government-may-2020.pdf ) describes a dire situation: “More than one-third of adults (35 percent) report that they or someone in their household have been laid off or lost their job due to the coronavirus outbreak, and half (51 percent) report someone in their house having work hours reduced or pay cut.” [Emphasis added]

According to the Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/blog/early-insights-on-californias-economic-downturn/?),  “The lion’s share of job loss (more than 80 percent) occurred in three service sectors: arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodations and food; and ‘other services’ (a category that includes automotive repair, personal care, and dry cleaning).”  These sectors fell significantly faster than they did during the first month of the great recession — December 2007 through January 2008.  (In contrast, during the great recession, the sector experiencing the most impact was construction.)

As California counties learn to manage the pandemic, more businesses are permitted to open.  Here in Sonoma County, we’ve begun to open restaurants, tasting rooms, bars, movie theaters, fitness centers, galleries and campgrounds — we’re preparing for “cautious” tourism.  As this happens, more furloughed employees will return to work.  Nonetheless, not everyone who had a job will return to the same job or hours.

California outlook: Significant unemployment for the rest of the year —  more than 15 percent.

Tourism: In 2019, California made $145 billion from tourism. This year, by mid-April, the Golden State’s tourism business had stopped.  This abrupt halt cost the jobs of most of the Golden State’s 600,000 travel industry employees. It also had a secondary impact: reduction of state revenues — travel taxes are a key source of revenue for California cities, amounting to $12 billion in 2019.

As California counties begin to manage the pandemic, intra-state tourism is restarting.  For example, in Sonoma County, residents of other California counties are beginning to travel here to visit our wineries and parks.  Nonetheless, we’re not seeing visitors from other states or countries and it’s unclear when we will.

California outlook: Out-of-state tourism is dead for the rest of 2020, resulting in a continued negative economic impact.

Budget Deficit: On June 15th, the California legislature passed a pandemic-crisis budget (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-15/california-assembly-passes-budget-that-depends-on-federal-aid).  Bloomberg News reported that California lawmakers “passed a $143 billion general-fund budget for the next fiscal year that counts on federal aid before triggering spending cuts… The bill they approved is a placeholder of sorts for the fiscal year beginning July 1 as they said they will continue to negotiate with [Governor] Newsom and can make changes later in the summer… California is grappling with a $13.4 billion budget shortfall this year and $40.9 billion in the next as pandemic-related shutdowns slam the economy of the most populous U.S. state.”

If the California budget is not bailed out by Federal aid, then California will be forced to cut funds to education and other critical services.  (Most California schools have yet to reopen and many seek additional funds because of pandemic-related health-safety requirements — such as smaller class sizes and increased cleaning procedures.

California outlook: Later in the summer, Congress will probably pass a stimulus bill that provides funds for hard-hit states and cities.  This will help alleviate California’s 2020 budget pain, but the Golden State’s 2021 outlook is also grim.

Agriculture: Although accounting for only 2 percent of California’s economy, agriculture produces $47.1 billion in revenue. Over a third of the United States’ vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California — it’s the leading US state for cash farm receipts, accounting for over 13 percent of the nation’s total agricultural value.

Since Governor Newsom’s March 17th shelter-in-place order, California farmworkers have been declared “essential” workers and have remained in the fields and packing sheds.  Unfortunately, they are beginning to get sick.

Hispanics/Latinos are 57 percent of California’s infected population — 92,000 of 167,000.  Most of the “essential” farmworkers are Hispanic and more than 50 percent are undocumented (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/us/coronavirus-undocumented-immigrant-farmworkers-agriculture.html).  So far, the pandemic hasn’t caused major disruptions in California’s agricultural production, but it seems inevitable that there will be problems.

California outlook: As the summer progresses, the pandemic is likely to disrupt aspects of California’s food supply.

Summary: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, California’s economy has taken a big hit.  We’re working our way through the crisis but the big problems won’t be solved quickly.

Shelter in Place: The Game

“Four Rules For Life: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.” Angeles Arrien.

Play the game daily.  Possible scores range from -50 to +50, depending upon your performance in each of the four categories.

 

Show Up:
Starting score: 5 (if at home)
Penalty points:
-5 never got out of bed
-10 woke up in girlfriend’s bed
-50 her parents were in next bedroom
Bonus points:
+5 went outside
+10 moved in nature
+15 contacted family or friends
+20 walked with a (socially distanced) friend

Pay Attention:
Starting score: 5 (if alpha rhythm detected)
Penalty points:
-5 woke up on couch holding TV remote
-10 turned on TV
-15 looked at Facebook
-20 couldn’t find phone
Bonus points:
+5 any form of meditation (each occurrence)
+10 artistic expression (each occurrence)
+50 felt gratitude

Tell the Truth:
Starting score: 0
Penalty points:
-20 refused to wear a mask
-50 believe the pandemic is a hoax
Bonus points:
+5 look in mirror and see signs of stress
+10 miss physical contact with loved ones
+15 feel apprehensive about going to store
+20 worry this is new normal

Don’t be attached to the results:
Starting score: 0
Penalty points:
-5 believe this will end soon
-20 think everything will return to normal
Bonus points:
+10 view SIP as a growth experience
+20 see an opportunity to simplify
+50 finding ways to help others

Trump’s Three Bets

On June 6th, Joe Biden officially won the Democratic nomination for President.  There’s a stark contrast between the style and policies of Biden and the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.  At the moment, Trump is the underdog; however, we all remember what happened in 2016.  Trump is planning another come-from-behind victory; he’s betting that his positions on three national problems will swing the election odds in his favor.

The current Real Clear Politics polling average shows Joe Biden with an eight-point lead over Donald Trump (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2020/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_biden-6247.html)   Most of the swing-state polls also show Biden with a lead; for example, in Pennsylvania, Biden has a 3 point edge over Trump.

The Trump campaign is betting that, over the next 140+ days, Donald’s contrarian positions on three national problems will favor his candidacy: 1. Nothing will come of the death of George Floyd and the associated protests. 2. The pandemic will fade away. 3. The U.S. economy will bounce back from recession — there will be a “V-shaped” recovery.

1. The death of George Floyd and the national protests for racial justice.  After the horrendous death of George Floyd, some hoped that Donald Trump might change his tone and step forward as a unifier: make an appeal for racial justice and an end to police brutality.  Trump has chosen not to do this.

On June 1st, Trump ordered the police and national guard to break up a peaceful demonstration outside the White House in Lafayette Park.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2020/06/08/timeline-trump-church-photo-op/? )  Since then Donald has adopted a hardline position: the protestors are terrorists, the police require unwavering support, and “systemic racism” is a myth.  He’s running as “the law and order President” and assumes that his base, and undecided voters, will buy this stance.

Trump’s inflexible attitude means that whatever racial-justice legislation passes the House, it will probably die in the Republican-controlled Senate because Trump, and his crony Mitch McConnell, won’t approve of any changes to the status quo.

By taking this position, Trump and the Republican Party are misreading public sentiment.  The death of George Floyd, the wave of videos of police brutality, and the enormous protests indicate the American psyche has reached a tipping point: white voters are ready to tackle systemic racism.  The New York Times reports (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/politics/polling-george-floyd-protests-racism.html):

“In a Monmouth poll released this week, 76 percent of Americans — including 71 percent of white people — called racism and discrimination ‘a big problem’ in the United States. That’s a 26-percentage-point spike since 2015. In the poll, 57 percent of Americans said demonstrators’ anger was fully justified, and another 21 percent called it somewhat justified.”

Prediction: Trump will lose his bet that the American voters don’t want significant changes to promote racial justice.

2. The COVID-19 pandemic.  Here in California, we’ve been operating under the coronavirus “shelter-in-place” order since March 17th.  When will things  be back to normal?  Some would say, “Not until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.  Later this year or next.”

Donald Trump mismanaged the US handling of the coronavirus and, now, desperately wants the pandemic to go away.  Late in March, Donald tweeted: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”  Recently Trump suggested that “shelter-in-place” policies were more harmful than COVID-19.  On May 14, Trump remarked that Coronavirus testing is “overrated,” adding “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases.” (https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/497846-trump-says-testing-may-be-frankly-overrated )

Writing in the Medium ( https://medium.com/@ASlavitt/the-economy-will-not-open-up-without-a-credible-plan-to-address-the-public-health-crisis-28eac8d5a425), former Obama-era Medicare, Medicaid, and ACA head, Andy Slavitt observed: “[The U.S.] had a [pandemic] strategy. Trump gave it a few weeks and then decided ‘liberate!’ Basically, he’s a quitter.”  Donald Trump has turned his back on the pandemic and is now solely focused on opening the economy.

Nonetheless, the problem persists.  As of this writing, more than 2 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 — those that we know about — and more than 110 thousand have died.  The U.S. has reached a plateau and is adding 21,000 cases each day.  California has had an uptick in new cases and is adding 3000 cases per day — mostly in Los Angeles County.

In his most recent interview ( https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/health/fauci-vaccines-coronavirus.html), Dr. Anthony Fauci said the pandemic is far from over: “Where is it going to end? We’re still at the beginning of really understanding.”

Prediction: Trump will lose his bet that the COVID-19 pandemic will suddenly disappear.

3. The economy.  Although the United States is officially in a recession, the stock market apparently believes the financial anguish will be of short duration.  Donald Trump hopes this is the case. On June 5th, the national unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent.  Trump hailed this as “the greatest comeback in American history.”  Adding, “This leads us on to a long period of growth. We’ll go back to having the greatest economy anywhere in the world.”

Writing in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/08/trump-is-running-economy-without-plan-rebuild-it/? ), Catherine Rampell took issue with Trump’s enthusiastic outlook:

“All net U.S. job gains since 2011 have been wiped out [by this recession]. The unemployment rate remains higher than it was at any point during the Great Recession, and millions of people who have jobs still can’t secure enough hours. Once we adjust for such underemployment, people who want to work but have given up looking and a persistent worker misclassification issue that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has struggled to solve, it becomes clear that about a quarter of all Americans who wanted to work last month couldn’t find sufficient work”

The Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/ppic-statewide-survey-californians-and-their-government-may-2020.pdf ) describes a more dire situation for California: “More than one-third of adults (35%) report that they or someone in their household have been laid off or lost their job due to the coronavirus outbreak, and half (51%) report someone in their house having work hours reduced or pay cut.” [Emphasis added]

On June 10th, Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, gave a sombre assessment of the economy (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/10/business/economy/federal-reserve-rates-unemployment.html?).  He said, “millions of people could remain out of work for an extended period as central bank officials estimated unemployment will be at 9.3 percent by the end of 2020.  ‘This is the biggest economic shock, in the U.S. and the world, really, in living memory.'”

Prediction: Trump will lose his bet that the US economy will quickly recover.

Summary:  The economy has been the centerpiece of Trump’s presidency, but now it is in the tank.  Donald can’t brag about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, because he’s done a terrible job — shown no leadership.

As the summer drags on, Trump’s shortcomings will become more apparent and his poll numbers will fall.  As Donald gets desperate he’ll double down on his claim to be “the law and order President.”  Expect more racism and calls for violence.

Grindstone Blues

Hey everybody
I’m talkin’ to you
No way around it
got them grindstone blues.

Uh,uh,uh
I got the grindstone blues
just me and you
what’re we gonna do?

I called my momma
but she ain’t home
got no money
and I’m all alone.

Uh,uh,uh
got the grindstone blues
just me and you
what’re we gonna do?

Went to my girlfriends’and
she locked the door
yelled “you’re contagious
don’t come around no more.”

Tried to go to work but
my boss got sick
he laid us all off so
I can’t work a lick.

Went to the store but
forgot to wear a mask
policeman clubbed me now
my head’s in a cast.

Uh,uh,uh
got the grindstone blues
just me and you
what’re we gonna do?

Comfort


Consolation in time of trouble or worry.

Solace.

At the end
my mother, Lillian,
could not be comforted.
She’d turned to stone
blocked the possibility of solace.
In the last hours
Mom lay on her hospital bed
close enough to touch
unreachable by love.

I had a difficult relationship with Lillian
yet
see elements of her in myself
wonder if I’ve lost MY ability
to be comforted.

These are grindstone times.
I must
stay cool
let myself be comforted.

I’m too young
to turn to stone.

The Pied Piper of Mar-a-Lago

A familiar children’s tale is “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” It’s the story of grim revenge: a man is hired to do a job, does it, isn’t paid, and responds by abducting 130 children. Now Donald Trump is enacting a similar narrative: leading thousands of Americans to their deaths from COVID-19.

Based on a 13th-century German legend, The Pied Piper has four parts: The town of Hamelin hired the Pied Piper to get rid of its rats; the Piper took care of the problem; the town refused to pay him what they promised; and the Piper responded by luring away most of the Hamelin children.

The Pied Piper of Mar-a-Lago also has four segments:

1.Contract: Hamelin had a rat problem and hired the Pied Piper to deal with it.   In 2016, those who voted for Donald Trump hired him to fix a problem: the economy of the United States was not working for the ninety-nine percent and the government needed to be shaken up.  Hamelin hired an outsider to exterminate its rats; Trump’s base hired a Washington outsider to “drain the swamp” and “make America great again.”

2. Action: The Pied Piper fixed Hamelin’s rat problem — legend says by playing his flute and leading the rats away from the city.  It’s not clear that Trump fixed the problem that his base hired him for, but he did shake up Washington and, for the first three years of the Trump Administration, the stock market went up 52 percent (by-the-way: during the comparable three years of the Obama administration, the market went up 78 percent).

3. Breach of Contract: The Pied Piper fixed Hamelin’s rat problem but his contract was not honored; instead of the promised sum of 1000 guilders, the Hamelin city fathers offered 50.

Donald Trump wasn’t looking to be paid in money — although he’s made a lot of money by capitalizing on his position.  Trump seeks public favor; he wants to be acknowledged as the greatest President in U.S. history.  Many times, he’s claimed this accolade; for example in 2018 at the United Nations, he boasted, “I don’t believe there has been any administration in the history of this country that has done more in two years.” (https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/25/politics/donald-trump-un-speech-laugh/index.html)  While his base appears to accept this boast, it’s rejected by others — at the United Nations speech, Trump was laughed at.

Not all Americans view Trump favorably.  On December 18, 2019, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives.  (On February 5, 2020, he was acquitted by the Senate.)

4. Revenge: After his contract with Hamelin was broken, the Pied Piper responded by abducting most of the town’s children — legend says 130.

Trump has not been acknowledged as the greatest President in U.S. History.  In fact, he was impeached, and, more recently, has been lambasted for his incompetent response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Trump retains support of his base, he is a controversial figure — as of this writing, Trump is disapproved of by 53.6 percent of voters and approved of by 42.6 percent. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ )

The Pied Piper of Hamelin took his revenge with a horrific act: abducting the town’s children. Donald Trump is taking his revenge by advocating policies that, so far, have resulted in the deaths of 103,000 Americans.

Analysis:  There are three interpretations of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  Some observers treat this tale as an allegory: the event occurred during a period when Bubonic Plague ravaged central Europe — a plague many believe was transmitted via fleas on rats; from this perspective, observers contend the Pied Piper represents death and the tale serves as a reminder the plague caused the deaths of of many children.  Other observers view the tale as transactional: the town elders didn’t pay the Pied Piper so he took their kids and either held them for ransom or sold them to others.  Finally, some see this as pathological: the Pied Piper was cheated and responded by killing 130 children.

Donald Trump is contributing to the deaths of many Americans by his overall lack of leadership and his egregious behavior: not wearing a mask, not observing the protocols of social distancing, and, in general, not taking the pandemic seriously.  No one interprets this behavior as allegorical but there are observers that see Trumps response as transactional or pathological.

TransactionalTrump botched the US pandemic response and this has diminished his chance of reelection.  Rather than admit he made a mistake, Trump has chosen to ignore or minimize the pandemic; he has bet everything on the US economy recovering — regardless of the human cost.

PathologicalTrump is vindictive.  No doubt he found the impeachment process humiliating.  Donald has to be aware that a majority of Americans believe he abused his power: “52 percent … say they believe Trump abused the power of his office by asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent to influence the upcoming election, compared with 41 percent who disagree.” (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/nbc-wsj-poll-country-remains-divided-over-trump-s-impeachment-n1128326 )  Viewing his behavior from this perspective: Trump is pissed off and this informs his pathological calculus: if you support him, you should live; if you do not, you should die.

Uncertainty

Attempt what is not certain.
Certainty may or may not come later.
It may then be a valuable delusion.

[Richard Diebenkorn]

A killer stalks the streets.

A terrifying situation
but familiar.

We’ve learned to respond to emergencies
fire
flood.
A pandemic isn’t that different
at first.

Weeks pass
terror morphs into
uncertainty.

What’s your level of comfort
in the face of
protracted
uncertainty?

How long can you live with the knowledge
a killer stalks the streets
everyday?

What sustains you
in this strange new age of
omnipresent fear?

Is it the awareness
certainty
is delusion?