Category Archives: Political

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

What is the 2020 Democratic Message?

On Friday, May 15, House Democrats passed “the Heroes Act.” It’s a $3 trillion pandemic-relief bill, providing assistance to state and local governments, hazard pay for frontline health care workers, election protection, and many other benefits.  Dems concocted a list so long that political pundits asked: “What’s the message that Democrats are trying to send?”

“The Heroes Act” is a symptom of a larger problem: in the face of Donald Trump ranting “Covid-19 is nothing to be afraid of; it’s safe to come out now,” Democrats don’t have a coordinated response.

1. Bad Donald: Many observers have suggested that Democrats adopt a variation of “Trump is a lunatic who is ruining our country” as the Party’s mantra.  This approach is tempting because Donald keeps doing all the wrong things, in prime time. Nonetheless, I recommend that Democrats do not make “Donald bad, Joe good” their primary message.

While such an approach might stir up the deep-blue base, it’s unlikely to attract thoughtful voters who want to understand what the Democratic Party stands for.  And this message won’t sway Republicans who already know Donald is “bad” and don’t care — in fact, seem to love him more the badder he gets.

Besides, the “Trump is a lunatic” channel is already occupied by groups such as The Lincoln Project. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/campaign-ads-2020/the-lincoln-project-mourning-in-america–campaign-2020/2020/05/05/2f99f36a-9761-4011-9b20-9258d3429f1a_video.html))  That is, by former Republicans, such as George Conway and Rick Wilson, who seem fully committed to running weekly “bad Donald” hit pieces for the next six months.

Setting aside this option leaves three obvious messaging choices: leadership AKA “Joe good;” we can do better; and (sigh) the all-too-familiar “blue marshmallow.”

2. Leadership: From here, the best Biden-oriented thrust would be to emphasize his leadership qualities.  That is, build on the fact that Joe is widely perceived as a nice guy with 50 years of experience getting things done — mostly good things, such as the 2009 economic recovery.  A Biden message example: In these difficult times, the United States needs calm seasoned leadership.  A leader to bring us together, not drive us apart.  Let’s restore decency to the White House. Vote Joe…

In other words, the Democratic leadership should not have Joe go negative, but instead let others do that.  (Specifically, they should not have Joe respond to mean Trump tweets, but let others do that.  Dems should set up a “President Tweety” war room.)  Over the next six months,  Joe should be calm, positive, and presidential.  If Trump’s dominant persona is vindictive narcissist, Joe’s should be healer-in-chief.

(This message logic suggests that Biden’s VP pick should be someone who can “lay the wood” to Donald.  Something that Amy, Elizabeth, and Kamala (and others) are very capable of doing.)

3. We can do better:  As a perennial optimist, I believe the U.S. pandemic-depression is an opportunity for a seismic positive change in American society.  For example, the pandemic has made clear the horrific problems with America’s healthcare system; the 2020 election is a good time to begin to fix these — for example, with Medicare for all.

While Joe Biden projects an image of empathic leadership, the Democratic team should broadcast a message of “the United States has to do better; we can do better.”  (I.e., “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”)

Democrats should  emphasize a handful of appealing programs.  For example, Dems want healthcare for everyone — Medicare for all.  Further, Democrats should promise meaningful employment for everyone — a massive effort to rebuild America.  And, Dems will deal with climate change — the green new deal.

I’m emphasizing handful of Democratic program proposals because the campaign emphasis should be restricted two or three.  In 2020, Democrats need to keep the message simple.  The American public is hungry for problem solutions but, in these difficult times, is easily overwhelmed.  Democrats should pick two or three program initiatives and hammer away at them: Americans need better healthcare and Democrats know how to do it…  (By the way: since the Trump campaign is all about Trump, they won’t be providing any real problem solutions.)

4. What’s the message?  Sadly, there’s a real possibility that Dems will not develop a coherent message in 2020.  There’s a real chance that Democrats will repeat the mistakes made in the 2016 Clinton campaign — go all-out wonk, promise something for everyone, and lose message contact with persuadable voters.  We can’t let this happen.

All of us, who think another four years of Trump would be disastrous, should do everything we can to ensure that the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign has a straightforward message: In these difficult times, the United States needs the calm seasoned leadership of Joe Biden. If we work together, America’s best days are yet to come.

The US Reaches the Tipping Point

The United States has reached a critical juncture in the 2020 battle against COVID-19, a “tipping point.”  This is epitomized by a small but hugely symbolic action: Donald Trump’s refusal to wear a protective mask.

In his 2000 book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,”  Malcolm Gladwell defines a “tipping point” as a moment when there’s a critical change of social perspective because a key determinant has reached critical mass.  Donald Trump’s refusal to wear a protective mask symbolizes his attitude about the pandemic: he’s quit fighting it.

1.Trump doesn’t take the pandemic seriously.  During the COVID-19 crisis, Trump has been inconsistent about many things — for example, the role of the Federal Government — but steadfast in his refusal to wear a mask.  On May 5, Donald toured an Arizona facility making N-95 protective masks but refused to don one.  (The factory had multiple signs, “masks required.”) On May 11, when Trump announced that all White House staff would wear a mask, he remarked that he would not.

Trump does not take the pandemic seriously and, therefore, is unwilling to wear a mask , social distance, or take the decisive actions most of us expect the President to take during a national crisis, such as invoking the Defense Production Act to expedite testing.

Whether or not they voted for Trump in 2016, most thoughtful Americans understand that the Coronavirus pandemic is the dominant event of this era and, therefore, deserves to be taken seriously.  Trump’s’s attitude is one of the reasons that a majority of voters disapprove of how Donald is handling the COVID-19 crisis. (57 percent)

Nonetheless, most Republicans are sticking with Trump.  (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/06/senate-republicans-trump-coronavirus-response-240454 )    CNN ( http://Percolating beneath the more general pandemic stress is a political divide cleaving us over the role of government, science and even truth.) observed that wearing a mask has become a red versus blue issue: “Beneath the more general pandemic stress is a political divide cleaving us over the role of government, science and even truth.”

Writing in Think, Liz Plank (https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-s-coronavirus-mask-standoff-reveals-dangerous-ripples-fragile-masculinity-ncna1205441 ) noted: “[Among conservatives] Trump’s decision..[to not wear a mask] is also being hailed as a man’s man portrayal of virility and valor by some of his loyal foot soldiers… as wearing a mask would be ‘a searing image of weakness’ and ‘would signal that the United States is so powerless against this invisible enemy sprung from China that even its president must cower behind a mask.'”

2.  Trump is setting a bad example for his base.  During the past two months, Trump’s approval rating has stayed around 43 percent (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ ).  That means that more than one-third of the country trust Donald to lead the United States and, for the most part, trust his remarks about dealing with COVID-19 (even when he suggests injecting bleach ( https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52407177).)

Therefore, at a moment when we are trying to squash a highly contagious virus, many in Trump’s base are not wearing masks, washing their hands, or maintaining social distance.  They want to open everything up because that’s what Trump has suggested.  Many of these supporters are involved in the protests against their state’s lockdown rules.  (A recent poll found that only 31 percent of Americans approve of these demonstrations (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/majority-disapprove-coronavirus-protests-poll-200511150558609.html ).)

Early indications are that this cavalier attitude is taking a toll.  On May 13, The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/13/new-us-coronavirus-hotspots-republican-heartland-areas ) reported that there’s a “surge” of new COVID-19 cases in the Trump heartlands (red-state towns and rural communities).

3. Trump is not thinking strategically.  Confronted with the pandemic, Trump at first flailed and then adopted a tactic of diversion — he turned his limited attention to the economy.  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 )

Dealing with COVID-19 requires a complicated strategic plan that involves, among other things, securing the necessary testing resources and developing a multi-layered testing plan.  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/11/opinion/coronavirus-depression.html) argues that we must deal with the pandemic if we are going to avert a major depression:

“[This] means crushing the curve: getting the number of infected Americans way down, then maintaining a high level of testing to quickly spot new cases, combined with contact tracing so that we can quarantine those who may have been exposed… we would have to protect all Americans with the kind of testing and tracing that is already available to people who work directly for Donald Trump but almost nobody else… Crushing the curve isn’t easy, but it’s very possible. In fact, many other countries, from South Korea to New Zealand to, believe it or not, Greece have already done it…But you do have to stay the course. And that’s what Trump and company don’t want to do.”

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.”

Summary: At the heart of this tipping point is a profound irony: Trump won’t wear a mask because it projects an image of “weakness.”  At the same time, he’s faced with the very difficult task of responding to the pandemic and he’s quit working on the problem.  He’s abandoned his post,

If this is the new wartime, then Donald Trump is a deserter.

California’s Recovery Problem

Most of California is still under strict “shelter-in-place” guidelines. It appears as though we’ve flattened the curve and, as a result, can ease up on the “lockdown” rules that have chafed most citizens.  However, before we do this, we have a couple of big hurdles to overcome.

On April 29, Governor Newsom amplified his plan for reopening the golden state. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/29/us/california-reopen-coronavirus.html )  We’re in phase one: “[G]overnment and private organizations are working to make it more consistently safe for essential workers, like grocery store employees or nurses. Those workers need more protective equipment and a more robust testing and tracing system.”  Phase two will involve opening lower-risk businesses, such as retail stores with curbside pickups, and “schools and child care facilities.”  (On May 4th Newsom, was more specific: “Under the new guidelines… bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers and others can reopen for pickup as early as [May 8].”)

Phase three would see reopening of higher-risk businesses “[such as] nail and hair salons, gyms, movie theaters and sports without live audiences, as well as in-person religious services.”  “Stage 4 will be the end of the state’s stay-at-home order. That will be when concerts, conventions and sports with a live crowd will be allowed to reopen.”

California is stuck moving from phase one to phase two.  It’s one thing to open lower-risk businesses and quite another to open schools and child-care facilities.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are six criteria that will permit this to happen (https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Bay-Area-has-6-criteria-for-loosening-coronavirus-15242821.php)  — these are criteria jointly developed by the six major Bay Area counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin: 1. Case counts; 2. Hospital numbers; 3. Hospital Capacity; 4. Testing; 5. Contact Tracing; and 6. Personal Protective Equipment.  (Governor Newsom indicated that these criteria will be applied throughout California but he is giving individual counties discretion on the pace of reopening — for example, Los Angeles County — which has the largest number of COVID-19 cases — will proceed more slowly that the Bay Area counties.)

Case Counts: Newsom has consistently been concerned that California’s hospitals might be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of new COVID-19 cases.  Accordingly, he wants the number of new cases to stay flat, or decrease, every day for a two-week period.  At the moment, the six Bay Area counties are meeting this measure.

Hospital Counts: Not every new case of COVID-19 requires hospitalization — some new cases are mild or asymptomatic.  The six Bay Area counties have seen hospital counts slightly decline over the past 14 days.

Hospital Capacity: Governor Newsom wants to ensure that no more than 50 percent of hospital beds, in a county, are occupied by COVID-19 patients.  In fact, in the six Bay Area counties, it is believed that less than 30 percent of beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Testing: The six Bay Area counties set a goal of administering 200 Coronavirus tests a day for every 100,000 residents.  So far none of these counties are meeting this objective:  San Francisco, a county of 870,000 folks is conducting about 900 tests per day.

It’s clear that the pace of testing is the biggest impediment to completing phase two — to opening schools and child-care facilities.

A recent NPR study ( https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/03/849243723/californias-coronavirus-testing-still-a-frustrating-patchwork-of-haves-and-have-) examined California’s testing problem: “It’s hard to overstate how uneven the access to critical test kits remains in the nation’s largest state. Even as some Southern California counties are opening drive-through sites to make testing available to any resident who wants it, a rural northern county is testing raw sewage to determine whether the coronavirus has infiltrated its communities.  County to county, city to city — even hospital to hospital within a city — testing capacity varies widely, as does the definition of who qualifies for testing.”

But the testing situation is improving. As of May 8, California has administered 842,000 tests and for the past week, has tested an average of 30,000 per day On April 29, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that all Los Angeles residents will have access to free coronavirus testing — even those without symptoms.

Contact Tracing:  Contact tracing requires investigating every reported case of the coronavirus, identifying those who may be at risk of infection, and ensuring they are quarantined, to prevent further COVID-19 spread.(https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/27/health/contact-tracing-explainer-coronavirus/index.html)  It’s estimated that each county will need trained contact tracers at the rate of 25 per 100,000 population.  Early indications are that all the counties are very short of skilled contact tracers.  (The University of California at San Francisco has just launched a contact-tracer training program ( https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/05/417346/ucsf-partners-state-develop-public-health-workforce-covid-19-response).)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The six Bay Area counties set a goal that each would have a 30-day supply of PPE including face masks, gloves, and gowns.  Governor Newsom is working with them to meet this goal.  In April he signed a $1 billion deal with Chinese manufacturer to obtain million of PPE units.  This is the website (https://public.tableau.com/profile/ca.open.data#!/vizhome/COVID-19CountyProfile/COVID-19CountyProfile) the Golden State provides in order to track the acquisition of PPE: this shows that million of items have been procured, including 45.9 million n-95 respirators.

Summary: California is stuck moving from phase one to phase two.  On May 8 we’re going to open lower-risk retail businesses.

Nonetheless, it will be a while before we open schools and child-care facilities.  These openings will depend upon the availability of testing — we’re getting there — and contact tracing — the critical path activity.  Opening schools and child-care facilities will also depend upon a rigorous testing protocol which has yet to be made public.  (For example, for a child-care facility: test all staff and students before opening; take everyone’s temperature every day, test staff once a week; and test students randomly.)

Governor Newsom has California moving in the right direction but it will be a while before we meet our phase two objective.  Prediction: July for child-care facilities; August for schools.

California’s Unemployment Problem

We’re in the second month of what looks to be a prolonged recession.  In this article I’ll examine how this savage economic downturn has impacted California and what will likely happen.  While the situation in California will be somewhat different from that in  your state, it is informative to consider the largest state and it should be relatively straightforward to extrapolate to your situation.

The United States has a population of 331 million and a labor force of 165 million.  The April 30th report indicated that there are 33 million unemployed (20 percent).  (On March 23, St. Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard warned the U.S. unemployment rate could hit 30 percent in the second quarter.)

California has 40 million residents and a labor force of approximately 18 million. Between March 15 and April 18, 3.4 million Californians applied for unemployment insurance (19 percent).  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%) occurred in three service sectors: arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodation 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.)

In Sonoma County, where I live, the biggest impact has been on the “accommodation and food” sector, which has, for the most part, shut down.   (Accommodation and food is the largest industrial sector in the county; it includes hotels, motels, vacation rentals, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and brewpubs.)  Outdoor recreation has also cratered.  As a result, the unemployment rate in Sonoma County is also about 20% and will likely increase.  In my small community, we all know someone whose business has shut down or whose friend or relative has lost their job.  Looking at the Bay Area, in general, we all know someone who was working a couple of jobs, in order to make ends meet — participants in the “gig” economy.  Typically, one of those jobs is now gone — such as driving for Uber.  For those who rented out a room or “granny unit” via Airbnb, this source of income has also dried up.

The question is what to do about this job loss.  California, and Sonoma County, are in the process of slowly opening up — easing shelter-in-place restrictions in a manner that does not cause our coronavirus cases to spike.  In Sonoma County it appears the job sectors that will first reopen are residential construction and related services such as landscaping and gardening.

Sonoma County has 500,000 residents and a workforce of 211,000.  One-third of our workers are in the arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodation and food; and ‘other services’ sectors that are predicted to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis.  May 1st is the beginning of what, historically, has been a vibrant tourist season throughout the county.  Because of the pandemic, it’s not going to happen.  This is going to impact wine tasting, river rafting, music festivals, camping on the coast… all the activities that have historically been associated with a visit to “wine country.”

California has “flattened the curve” but has yet to relax most of the “shelter-in-place” rules.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, shelter-in-place will last at least until the end of May.  But on a county-by-county basis there is some relaxation of the definition of “essential” businesses; that is, those business — such as markets and pharmacies — that are deemed to be essential to public health and safety.

It’s unclear how long it will take to reopen the hardest hit sectors: arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodation and food; and other services.  In Sonoma County, there’s no indication when the “arts, entertainment, and recreation” sector will reemerge — this summer there’s not going to be any music festivals and access to our beaches and rivers is likely to be severely restricted. “Accommodation and food” is similarly challenged — some restaurants are surviving on a “take-out” basis but others have chosen to stay shuttered or go out of business; many motels are closed  but a few have opened as temporary refuges for the homeless.  “Other services” is a big category that includes automotive repair, personal care, and dry cleaning; automotive repair is a permitted activity, as is dry cleaning; on the other hand, “personal care” services — barbers, beauticians, fitness trainers, etcetera — are moribund.

California’s Governor Newsom has proposed a program where the state would pay restaurants to prepare and deliver meals to shut-in seniors.  This will provide employment for some dormant workers.  There’s also talk of hiring folks — with little experience — to do the leg-work required for COVID-19 contact tracing.  In Sonoma County that will provide a few thousand jobs.

By June, Sonoma County is likely to have 50,000 unemployed workers, who have little hope of returning to their jobs until at least 2021.  Their lives will not return to “normal” until shelter-in-place is lifted and that won’t happen until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine (or the equivalent).

We’re entering a depression.  To help these workers, we need a massive Federal/State program on the scale of those seen during the Great Depression — the Works Progress Administration.

Trump’s Trifecta

We’re in the middle of a slow-motion catastrophe.  The consequence of disease, depression, and Donald. Here are a few thoughts about what we can do about this dire situation.

The Pandemic: The best summation of our current situation was written on April 18 by New York Times science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr, “The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/health/coronavirus-america-future.html)  “In truth, it is not clear to anyone where this crisis is leading us… Exactly how the pandemic will end depends in part on medical advances still to come. It will also depend on how individual Americans behave in the interim. If we scrupulously protect ourselves and our loved ones, more of us will live. If we underestimate the virus it will find us.”

“Resolve to Save Lives, a public health advocacy group run by Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the former director of the C.D.C., has published detailed and strict criteria for when the economy can reopen… Reopening requires declining cases for 14 days, the tracing of 90 percent of contacts, an end to health care worker infections, recuperation places for mild cases and many other hard-to-reach goals.”  Donald Trump is not willing to apply these criteria and is pushing states to reopen early.  Some Republican governors are obliging.

Donald McNeil noted: “[Recently, a science writer] analyzed Medicare and census data on age and obesity in states that recently resisted shutdowns and counties that voted Republican in 2016.  He calculated that those voters could be 30 percent more likely to die of the virus.”

McNeil does not believe that we will see a COVID-19 vaccine soon: “Dr. Fauci has repeatedly said that any effort to make a vaccine will take at least a year to 18 months…. All the experts familiar with vaccine production agreed that even that timeline was optimistic. Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccinologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, noted that the record is four years, for the mumps vaccine.”

This is the new normal.  Until we have a vaccine — or the equivalent — we have to keep doing what we are doing despite what Donald Trump, and his lackeys, say.  We have to continue to follow the advice of health professionals and scientists: shelter-in-place, minimize social contacts, and support polices that will lead to a rapid increase in testing and, hopefully, the discovery of a vaccine.

The Economy: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the global economy has collapsed.  There’s debate about whether we are in a recession — negative GDP growth for two quarters — or a depression — a more severe recession.  For those who are out of work, or whose savings have been destroyed, these distinctions do not matter.  What’s important is recognition that we are in a financial emergency unlike anything we have experienced.

For the unemployed who are sheltering in place, there’s a natural tendency to want to go back to work.  Donald Trump has said, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”  Many of his followers believe him and nurture a belief that if they go back to work they will not contract COVID-19.  (This has led to the premature opening of states such as Georgia.)

The problem with this position is that it flies in the face of grim reality: COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease with a grim mortality rate (6.9 percent worldwide).  Not everyone who contracts COVID-19 gets sick but those that do often are very sick — ask Chris Cuomo about his symptoms.  (Those who get sick suffer from Hypoxia — loss of oxygen in the body.)

Not only is COVID-19 very dangerous and contagious, but also many who get it do not develop symptoms — perhaps 14 percent or more (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2009316 ).  That means that until we get widespread testing, we will not be able to identify the silent COVID-19 carriers in our community.  (It’s not sufficient to merely take someone’s temperature to see if they are “sick” or not.)

Therefore, if folks go back to work early and do not maintain social distancing — that is difficult to do in jobs like hair stylist or massage therapist or fitness instructor — then they run the risk of spreading COVID-19 and making the situation worse.

There are no simple choices here.  As long as Trump is President, we are likely to pursue unwise economic policies.  Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/22/top-economist-us-coronavirus-response-like-third-world-country-joseph-stiglitz-donald-trump?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other ) recently observed, ““If you leave it to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell [the Republican Senate majority leader] we will have a Great Depression. If we had the right policy structure in place we could avoid it easily.”  Stiglitz noted, “14% of the [U.S.] population [is] dependent on food stamps… the social infrastructure [can] not cope with an unemployment rate that could hit 30% in the coming months.”

What this means is that we have to both hunker down — suffer through the impact of the depression — and do everything we can to get Trump out of office (and elect a progressive Senate and House of Representatives).  Trump is making a bad situation worse.

Donald Trump:  We’re way past the point where we hoped that Trump would grow into the job.  What we see is what we’re stuck with for the next nine months.  Trump is incapable of the leadership this catastrophe requires.

It would be better if Trump retired from the scene and left the day-to-day decision making to Vice President Pence and congressional leaders.  But, of course, Trump won’t do this.  He will continue to blunder around the oval office like the proverbial bull in the china shop.

Trump is dangerous.  First we saw him deny that COVID-19 was a problem.  Then we saw him claim that his Administration had everything under control.  Next he claimed that “Anybody that wants a test [for the coronavirus] can get a test.”  Then we saw him push hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure…

Now we’re seeing Trump try to open up the economy before it is safe to do this: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”  He’s actively supporting armed protestors that are trying to “liberate” states like Michigan.  He’s at the edge of fomenting civil war.

There are 270 days before Trump is out of office.  During the next 9 months he’s liable to say and do a lot of crazy things.  And no Republican will stand up to him.

What we have to do is stay cool.  And we must work as hard as we can to remove Trump, and his Republican lackeys, from office.

Newsom’s Plan for California’s Recovery

On April 14, California Governor Gavin Newsom detailed what will be required before the Golden State can begin to open up, shake off the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom’s grim assessment stands in marked contrast to the position of Donald Trump.

While acknowledging that California has made significant progress “flattening the curve” of the pandemic, Newsom cautioned that it was premature to declare victory: “As we contemplate reopening parts of our state, we must be guided by science and data, and we must understand that things will look different than before.” (https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/04/14/governor-newsom-outlines-six-critical-indicators-the-state-will-consider-before-modifying-the-stay-at-home-order-and-other-covid-19-interventions/ )  California currently has 28,156 Coronavirus cases and a mortality rate of 3.4 percent — compared with 5.1 percent for the U.S.

Newsom presented a six-part plan that will enable California’s leaders to determine when to begin to “dial back” the current stay-at-home order:

  • The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed;
  • The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19;
  • The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges;
  • The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand;
  • The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing; and
  • The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.

1.Testing: Throughout the United States, approximately 1 percent of the population has been tested  — 3.4 million.  California has only tested 227,600 — .5 percent.  Newsom points out the obvious: we need to do more testing.  Two questions need to be examined: “How prepared is California to test everyone who is symptomatic?” and, “Does California have the ability to identify contacts of those who are positive to reduce further transmission?”  (Of the 28,156 California COVID-19 cases, 10,146 are in Los Angeles County; where, so far, testing has been inadequate.)

2. Protecting the most vulnerable:  In California, the coronavirus has struck all sectors of the community.  Seniors and “special circumstances” populations are particularly vulnerable.  Newsom pointed out two obvious questions that need to be examined before we modify the stay-at-home order: “Are older Californians and the medically vulnerable living in their own homes supported so they can continue appropriate physical distancing?  and, Has California developed a plan to quickly identify and contain outbreaks in facilities housing older Californians, those living with disabilities, those currently incarcerated, and those with co-morbidities? ” Obviously adequate testing is a pre-requisite.  But so is additional financial support for older Californians.

3. Strengthening hospitals and health systems:  California’s hospitals/health systems are barely covering our current caseload — 25,833 active cases; there’s a statewide shortage of masks and PPE (personal protective equipment).  Newsom wants to address these shortages to make sure California has the capacity to deal with a sudden influx of coronavirus cases.  “Do we have adequate bed capacity, staff and supplies such as ventilators and masks? Can our healthcare system adequately address COVID- 19 and other critical healthcare needs?”  It’s estimated that California is short several hundred million masks.  Recently Newsom signed a deal to procure millions of masks each month. (https://calmatters.org/health/coronavirus/2020/04/california-coronavirus-mask-shortage-solution-deal-newsom/ )

4. Developing Therapeutics:  “Have we built a coalition of private, public, and academic partners to accelerate the development of therapeutics?  Have we identified potential therapeutics that have shown promise?”  When Governor Newsom speaks of therapeutics he means not only a COVID-19 vaccine but also the related antibody-blood test.

5. Strengthening the ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing: Newsom mentioned that the new California normal will likely include substantial social-distancing measures.  “Have we worked with businesses to support physical distancing practices and introduced guidelines to provide health checks when employees or the general public enter the premises?  Do we have supplies and equipment to keep the workforce and customers safe?”  Once again, an important element of this is fast reliable testing.

6. Developing the ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary: “Are we tracking the right data to provide us an early warning system?  Do we have the ability to quickly communicate the need to reinstate these measures?”

Several things jump out from Newsom’s presentation.  The first is that we won’t be ready to start reopening California until we have substantially more tests — we’ve only tested 227,600.  Newsom talked about ramping up testing to a level of “tens of thousands per day.”  In two weeks, he plans to report back on our progress reaching this goal.  By May 1, the Golden State should have at least tested 1 million (2.5 percent).

By May 15, California should have received it’s first big delivery of masks and PPE.  If this happens, and testing has expanded — to perhaps 10 million residents, this might be the time to begin reopening the Golden State.

The second thing Governor Newsom made clear, is that  when California reopens things will look different as.  For example, when we go to our favorite restaurant we’ll be wearing masks and be tested at the door; the restaurant is likely to configure fewer tables and have disposable menus.

The third thing that Gavin Newsom made clear is that he is an authentic leader.  Watching the April 14th Newsom speech was to be reminded how inadequate Donald Trump is.  Newsom was calmly informative — he spoke for about 30 minutes and then handed the microphone to the state’s public health officer, Sonia Angell. It was impossible to imagine Trump giving a similar presentation.

Postscript: On April 17, Donald Trump presented his recovery “plan” (https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6840739/Guidelines-PDF.pdf ) and punted to the states: “You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told U.S. governors, according to an audio recording provided to the New York Times.  Trump acknowledged the importance of comprehensive testing but did not propose a national plan for rapid testing.  In California, we’r fortunate to have a governor who has stepped into this leadership breach and prepared a real plan for recovery.

How Long Will We Shelter In Place?

It’s disconcerting to be in a novel situation where we have no control over what’s going to happen next. That’s where we find ourselves in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. In California, we’ve been sheltering-in-place for two weeks and Governor Newsom indicates that it will continue “for as long as it takes.”  Here’s my prediction of how this is going to play out.

1.Shelter-in-Place isn’t going to end soon.  Life won’t return to “normal” until there is a Covid-19 vaccine.  Until there is a reliable, widely-available vaccine, most of us are going to have to live sequestered lives.  Experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, tell us we won’t have a vaccine for at least a year.  (https://www.newsweek.com/coronavirus-vaccine-treatment-antiviral-speed-covid-19-1491292)  So be prepared to hunker down for an extended period.

In Sonoma County, where I live, county officials have just received the results of a detailed analysis of how effective our “shelter-in-place” program has been. (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10871235-181/during-a-surge-1500-sonoma) The good news is that it seems to have made a big difference in the number of cases here (95).  The bad news is that the number of Covid-19 infections will not peak until June and then begin a gradual decline that will stretch out for 300 days — unless we have a vaccine.

2. The United States is going to be segmented into quarantine zones.  We can already see this with the news that states adjacent to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are restricting travel from the three states — that have about 50 percent of the U.S. Coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile, “shelter-in-place” orders vary from state to state.  That’s a particular problem in the South where the number of Coronavirus cases is exploding, particularly in Florida and Louisiana.  That suggests that certain areas of the United States will soon become so toxic that travel restrictions will be issued.  BB’s prediction: There will be four quarantine zones: the northeast; the south — including Texas; the center — Nebraska to Ohio; and the west — Colorado to California.

3. Some states will “recover” from the Coronavirus crisis before others do.  That doesn’t mean their shelter-in-place programmed will be over.  It means that these states have “flattened the curve;” for example, Washington started social distancing on March 11 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/01/lockdown-coronavirus-california-data/) and for the past week, the number of new Covid-19 cases has diminished.  Here in California, there’s a growing consensus that we have “flattened the curve,” particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area where we began aggressive social distancing on March 14.

As noted above, the Sonoma County shelter-in-place program appears to be effective but will  continue for the foreseeable future — until there’s a vaccine.  Before that happens, we’ll hit several important milestones.

Milestone I: In a major area, there are no new cases.  Obviously, it will be a good sign if there are no Coronavirus cases in your area.  Sonoma County forecasts this will happen around the end of 2020.  That won’t mean that we can abandon “shelter-in-place” but it will mean that there will be a heartening reduction in demand for hospital facilities; and we can adopt other interventions, such as aggressive contact tracing.

Milestone II: There’s a test available that permits us to identify individuals who are immune to the Coronavirus.  Several companies are working on an antibodies test: “The tests are designed to detect whether a person has developed antibodies to the COVID-19 virus, indicating that they were at one time a carrier and may have built up immunity.” (https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-germany-covid-19-immunity-certificates-testing-social-distancing-lockdown-2020-3 )  “Gerard Krause, the [German] epidemiologist leading the project, [said] that people who are immune ‘could be given a type of vaccination card that, for example, allows them to be exempted from restrictions on their work.'”

An American biotech company is testing the entire community of Telluride, Colorado, to determine which of the 8000+ residents have Covid-19 antibodies.  (https://abcnews.go.com/Health/antibody-testing-colorado-town-provide-forward/story?id=69856623 )  Once again, the notion is that these residents would be exempt from the “shelter-in-place” restrictions.

Here in the Sonoma County, once we get antibodies tests, we’ll first use them to test those on the frontlines of the pandemic: healthcare professionals and first responders.  Then we’ll test other critical professionals, such as employees at nursing homes and community health centers.

Milestone III: Creation of Safe Zones.  On Monday, Donald Trump announced that 1 million citizens had been tested for Covid-19.  Given that the U.S. population is 330.5 million, that means that .3 percent of residents have been tested.  Trump said that tests were being generated at the rate of 100,000 per day. (https://www.wired.com/story/video-coronavirus-testing-in-the-us/ )  That’s woefully inadequate.  Even if the U.S. tested 1 million citizens per day, it would take more than 11 months to test us all.  (On March 29, the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/us/testing-coronavirus-pandemic.html ) detailed the U.S. decision errors that led to this testing crisis.)

If you are in an area where there are few or no Covid-19 patients, you may wonder why folks in your area need to be tested and why you have to shelter-in-place.  The answer is that a large percentage of those infected with the Coronavirus are not symptomatic.  “As many as 25 percent of people infected with the new coronavirus may not show symptoms, the director of the [Federal] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/health/coronavirus-asymptomatic-transmission.html) You, and everyone in your area, needs to be tested so you know whether you are truly safe.

Unless there’s a dramatic increase in the rate of testing, there’s no alternative but to “shelter-in-place.”  In the meantime, we can use the test kits we receive to test potential Covid-19 cases and to create safe zones.

Sonoma County has 95 Coronavirus cases.  We’ve tested 1915 individuals in a county of 500,000 residents (.38 percent) — our testing has been delayed by the unavailability of swabs.  As we receive more intact test kits, the logical way to use them — beyond testing suspected Coronavirus patients — is to first test healthcare providers, and their families, and then emergency responders, and their families.  At a certain volume of test availability, we will be able to create safe zones; for example, determine that a cluster of nursing homes is Covid-19 free.

How long will we shelter in place?  Months.  Probably as long as it takes to develop and deploy a Covid-19 vaccine.