Monthly Archives: May 2020

Gratitude: Four Steps

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

Once I was thankless
now I am grateful.

(I was taught to give thanks but not to be thankful.)

 

My path to gratitude began with awe.
Summer morning surfing at Little Corona.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
(The water is warm but I have goosebumps.)

 

 

Next came mindfulness.
Quaker Meeting
entering the pool of silence.
Waiting for the doors to open.

One led to simplicity.
Focussing on the essential.
(Swimming naked in the pool.)

A second opened to gratitude.
I am thankful that
I am.
(Possessions do not define me.)

Life in lockdown is elemental.
Down to the bone.
Each day an opportunity for
gratitude.

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.