Monthly Archives: April 2021

What’s Happening in California?

After a rough year, California is on track to declare “victory” over Covid-19 on June 15th. Nonetheless, the fabric of California society has changed.

In recent months, California has gotten onboard the vaccination train and, as of this writing, more than 38 percent of those over the age of sixteen have been fully vaccinated — and another 20 percent have had one shot. (California is current vaccinating at the rate of 330,000 doses per day.) At the same time, the number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen, as has the number of Coronavirus-related deaths. The state is now averaging about 1400 cases and 75 deaths a day — the lowest per capita rates in the continental U.S. We’re on track to meet California Governor Gavin Newsom’s objectives and “open” the state on June 15th; this means that most businesses will be permitted to reopen, so long as they follow social distancing and mask rules.

At the same time, California appears to be on course for a strong economic recovery.  Recently, the UCLA business school ( forecasted: “A waning pandemic combined with fiscal relief means a strong year of growth in 2021 — one of the strongest years of growth in the last 60 years — followed by sustained higher growth rates in 2022 and 2023…California, buoyed by high-earning technology and professional sectors that shifted to at-home work during the pandemic, will recover somewhat faster than the U.S., even though a full rebound in the tourist-dependent leisure and hospitality businesses will lag.”

Although it was initially forecast that the pandemic would hurt all aspects of the California economy, that turned out not to be the case.   “The most likely source of [California’s] recovery is in the service sectors, as half of jobs lost at the recession’s nadir were in restaurants, entertainment and the arts, hotels and tourism, and other services such as salons or dry-cleaning.” ( )

Overall, in 2020, the California economy did better than expected because of technology.  A recent California study ( ) observed: “[During 2020] with the pandemic forcing the closure of bars, restaurants, theme parks, sporting events and small businesses, lower-wage workers bore the brunt of the losses while the wealthier worked from home. The economic losses started at the bottom of the income ladder and so far they haven’t made their way up to the top.” [Emphasis added]  That is, the economic impact of the pandemic varied by social class — the rich were not as affected as the poor.

Coming out of the pandemic, we can see three important trends.  The first is that the pandemic has exacerbated the already wide gap between California’s rich and poor.  (   Before the pandemic, California was already one of the top five states in terms of economic inequality; chances are that we are now number one. ( )

The second trend is that the wealthy, and information-technology workers, are moving out of the cities into the suburbs and beyond.  (This is particularly true in Northern California.)  [A recent San Francisco Chronicle article ( ) reinforces this notion and dismisses the contention that Californians, en masse, are leaving for other states.]  During the pandemic, these upper-income Californians found they could work remotely — high-speed Internet is well-deployed throughout California.  This trend has driven up housing prices throughout the Golden State.  (It’s also contributed to the statewide scarcity of affordable housing.)

The third trend is that because of environmental challenges — such as the threat of fire and associated poor air quality — California’s most fortunate are moving to the coast.  That means that the price of coastal housing has increased.

There are three consequences of these trends: the first is that as California heads towards the elusive goal of “herd immunity” — somewhere north of 80 percent vaccinated — the unvaccinated will disproportionately be found among the poor and those living in the eastern areas of the state — that is between California’s central valley and the border with Nevada/Arizona.

The second consequence is that as California heads into another summer of fires and poor air quality, the bulk of this misfortune will fall on much of the same population — the rural easternmost segment of the state.

The third consequence is that  the impact of these trends will disproportionately impact Republican voters.  A recent bipartisan survey ( ) concluded: “47% of those we consider most likely to vote are Democrats, while 26% are Republicans and 22% are independents.”  [That is, California has become an overwhelmingly blue state.]  The most Republican areas tend to be in the eastern areas of the state — that is, the areas less likely to be vaccinated, to be able to work from home, and to be able to flee from fires and drought.

Viewed from the proverbial “10,000 feet,” these problem areas can be addressed in three ways:  First, California needs to redouble its effort to vaccinate the poor and those living in eastern areas of the state, i.e. rural Republicans.  Second, while there is already a massive state-wide effort to head off a dangerous fire season, some portion of the rural-residential danger can be mitigated by providing affordable housing — so residents don’t have to move into wooded rural areas to find housing. Third, because the pandemic provided tangible evidence of “the digital divide,” California needs to do more to provide high-speed internet to the poor and to the eastern areas of the state — and the associated training.

California has the resources to fix these problems.  The question is: does the Golden State have the political will to make these changes?

Writing Craft

The craft of writing
We learn from pain
Prepare as for fighting
Practice over and again
Acquire form as you train.

“One true sentence”
Is our goal
provides the entrance
Fills the whole
Pays the toll.

“Let prose be unadorned”
Easier said than done
Begin forewarned
Don’t expect fun
Until the battle’s won.

To a fault
Abjure temptation
Enter the vault
Cause normality to halt.

“Write what you know”
Is the start
Let your words flow
From the heart
Simple is smart.

“Write with attitude”
Keep the edge
Perhaps schadenfreude
Provides a wedge
Step steady on the ledge.

“Maintain a perspective”
A basic rule
For writing effective
Not taught in school
Avoid being a fool.

“Every tale has an arc”
Exposition the sine qua non
Provides the spark
Climactic rapprochement
Revelatory denouement.

“Show don’t tell”
A vital rule
Move the narrative well
Don’t micromanage,  fool
Writing is the painter’s tool

Perseverance the key
You must have spunk
Let your narrative be
Disciplined as a monk
Or end in a funk.

Biden’s First 3 Months

So far, Joe Biden’s presidency has been a success. Recent polling showed his approval rating at 59 percent. Biden has done an excellent job handling the pandemic. He’s managed to pass a significant recovery plan. And his administrative efforts have largely been successful.

The most recent Pew Research Poll ( found President Biden with 59 percent approval (39 percent disapproval) — this rating is deeply split along Party lines, as only 18 percent of Republicans approve of Biden’s performance in office. Interestingly, more voters support Biden in terms of issues than in terms of his personality. For example, about 37 percent of Republicans agree with him on some or “virtually all” issues. Given this finding, it’s most important to evaluate Biden in terms of progress on specific issues.

Coronavirus Pandemic: In general, Americans feel Biden has done a good job dealing with the pandemic. 72 percent of respondents believe the Administration had done an excellent or good job “managing the manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.” It’s Biden’s most significant accomplishment: “While an overwhelming share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (88%) say the administration has done an excellent or good job in managing the vaccine rollout, so too does a much smaller majority (55%) of Republicans and Republican leaners”

Under the Biden Administration, the US is vaccinating citizens at one of the fastest rates in the world. More than 210 million doses have been administered; half of all US adults have received at least one vaccine dose. All US adults (aged 16 and up) are now eligible to receive the vaccine.

Stimulus PlanL The $1.9 trillion American Cares Act was passed in March. It has been very well received. “More than twice as many Americans approve (67%) than disapprove (32%) of the $1.9 trillion aid bill.” “Roughly a third of Republicans (35%) favor the aid package, which received no support from congressional Republicans.”

Domestic Policy: The Pew Research Poll asked participants to rate 15 domestic problems.   Health care was the major concern: “The affordability of health care is high on the public’s list of the biggest problems in the country today, with 56% of adults describing this as ‘a very big problem’ and an additional 30% rating it ‘a moderately big problem.'”

Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on the severity of domestic issues facing the country. “Gun violence, the affordability of health care, the coronavirus outbreak and racism are each seen as very big problems facing the country today by two-thirds or more Democrats and Democratic leaners….By contrast, far fewer Republicans say these are major problems in the country. Four-in-ten say health care affordability is a very big problem, and only about two-in-ten rate the coronavirus and gun violence as very big problems.”

International Policy:  The Pew Poll did not ask respondents about Biden’s performance on international issues — historically, Americans have cared less about International policy than they do domestic issues.  Nonetheless, in his first 3 months in office, Joe Biden has clearly differentiated his Administration’s policies from those of Donald Trump.  Biden had the United States rejoin the “Paris Climate Accords.”  Biden has begun talks to rejoin the nuclear disarmament treaty with Iran — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”  Biden has sanctioned Russia – and Russian citizens and companies — for interference in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and cyberattacks.  (Biden has had a long conversation with China’s  President Xi Jinping, but has not changed sanctions imposed by Trump.)  Biden has embraced our NATO allies and made strides towards eliminating Trump’s isolationist policies.

Personnel:the Senate has approved 21 of 23 Biden cabinet nominees. Neera Tanden, the nominee for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, had her nomination withdrawn; she had made too many enemies vis Tweet. Eric Lander, a renown scientist, is Biden’s Science Advisor; he’s been nominated to head a new cabinet position, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; this is still being considered by the Senate.

Biden’s cabinet is the most diverse in U.S. History.

Ron Klain, Biden’s Chief of Staff, has been lauded for running an unusually effective transition and managing a productive first quarter.  Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, has been widely praised for her informative and (sometimes) humorous daily press conferences.

Unity: Joe Biden ran on a promise to unify the nation. A recent Harris-Hill Poll ( found that a majority of respondents (57 percent) felt that Biden has been working to do this: “they think Joe Biden has made uniting the country a priority in his actions so far as president.”

During the past three months, Biden has faced adamant Republican congressional opposition.  Republican members of Congress have seldom supported any move that he has made.  On major issues it’s unusual to find any Republican votes to go along with those of Democrats.

While Democratic-leaning pundits describe the Biden Administration as focused, empathetic, and effective, Republican-leading pundits describe Democratic actions in extremely negative terms.  Conservative voices suggest that Biden is senile, a hollow facade, being manipulated by radical socialists including Kamala Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  They decry the legislative initiatives — such as the proposed Biden Infrastructure plan — as socialist over reach.

Summary: the Biden Administration has had a productive three months, with no help from Republicans.  The bad news is that Congressional Republicans are unlikely to change.  The good news is that, on specific issues, Biden has the support of about two-thirds of the electorate.


World War I vet
Prances through the dark halls of the VA hospital
A forty-five-year resident
“Shell shock”
Stopped speaking after Belleau Wood.

World War II vet
Hands shake beneath the dining-room table
Brilliant mechanical engineer with a penchant for self-destruction
Booze and pills
Crashed his plane at Kwajalein.

Vietnam War vet
When the helicopter flies over
Crawls under the table, crying
Anti-depressants and therapy
Led a covert mission into Cambodia.

Victim of the “dating wars”
Won’t leave her apartment
without female escorts
Anti-depressants and alchohol
Raped by a fellow acting student.

Veteran of the “Trump wars”
Lost his service job and lives at home
“The deep state is coming for us”
Constantly online
Participated in the January 6th insurrection.

The Biden Infrastructure Plan

On March 31st, President Joe Biden introduced his infrastructure plan, “The American Jobs Plan” ( )  It’s an omnibus $2 trillion plan to repair the major holes in America’s infrastructure, and to create jobs.

It’s useful to recall that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, former-President Trump promised to repair America’s infrastructure.  In February 2018, Trump sent to Congress an $1.7 trillion infrastructure “plan” financed by  $200 billion in new Federal spending and $1.5 trillion “from the private sector.”  Trump didn’t follow through on his proposal and it died in the halls of Congress.

Nonetheless, Trump’s infrastructure “plan” was popular with voters. Similarly, President Biden’s plan polls well.  A recent Reuters/IPSOS poll ( ) found that “79% of Americans supported a government overhaul of American roadways, railroads, bridges, and ports.”  And, “Americans also were largely supportive of ways that Biden has proposed to pay for his massive infrastructure bill. According to the poll, 64% of U.S adults supported a tax hike on corporations and large businesses, and 56% supported ending tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.”  However, when filtered through a partisan lens, the findings changed: “Only 45% of Americans said they would support a jobs and infrastructure plan that was ‘recently released by the Biden administration.’ Another 27% said they were opposed and the remaining 28% said they were not sure… only about two in 10 Republicans and three in 10 independents said they supported a Biden infrastructure plan, compared with seven out of 10 Democrats.”

Biden’s Plan: Here’s the first cut of the $2.15 Billion Biden Infrastructure/Jobs plan.  Bear in mind that the entire plan will be modified by the (Democratically controlled) Senate and House.

1.Transportation Infrastructure: ($621 Billion) This allocates $174B for electric vehicles and charging stations.  $115B for road and bridge repair. $85B for “modernizing transit systems. $80B for Amtrak repairs. $50B for “infrastructure resiliency,” funds to deal with climate-related disasters.”  $25B for airport upgrades.  $20B for underserved neighborhoods; “The President’s plan includes $20 billion for a new program that will reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access.”  $20B to “improve road safety;” $17B for inland waterway and port improvements; and $35B for related projects.

2. “Quality of Life at Home”: ($650 Billion) This allocates $213B to “build, preserved, and retrofit more than 2 million affordable homes and commercial buildings.”  $111B for safe drinking water,  $100B for “constructng or modernizing public schools.” $100B for new high-speed broadband networks. $40B to improve public housing.  $18B for Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics.  $12B for community-college infrastructure improvements.  $16B to “plug oil and gas wells and reclaim abandoned mines.” And $40B for related projects.

3. Caregivers for elderly and disabled. ($400 Billion) Biden’s plan will expand Medicaid to provide affordable, quality care for everyone who needs it.

4. Research, Development, and Manufacturing: ($480 Billion) Around $300B would be devoted to improving domestic m manufacturing capacity– including $50B for semiconductor manufacturing. $180N would be allocated to new research and development of clean energy.

As you can see, the Biden Infrastructure/Jobs plan collects many of the elements of previous plans and  links them together.  There are standard infrastructure improvements, such as roads, bridges, ports, and trains, and non-standard items such as home-improvement, removal of lead water pipes, and provision of a high-speed broadband network.  The Biden plan provides funds to deal with the impact of climate change and funds to retrain workers to take on the jobs of the future,

5. Funding: President Biden estimates the infrastructure plan will be paid for within the next 15 years, if his newly proposed “Made in America” tax plan is also passed:

  • Set the Corporate Tax Rate at 28 percent. “The President’s tax plan will ensure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes by increasing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. His plan will return corporate tax revenue as a share of the economy to around its 21st century average from before the 2017 tax law and well below where it stood before the 1980s. This will help fund critical investments in infrastructure, clean energy, R&D, and more to maintain the competitiveness of the United States and grow the economy.”
  • Discourage Offshoring by Strengthening the Global Minimum Tax for U.S. Multinational Corporations. “The President’s tax reform proposal will increase the minimum tax on U.S. corporations to 21 percent”.

6. Process: On April 12th, The House and Senate will begin work on the Biden infrastructure/jobs plan.  It appears this will come up for crucial votes around July 4th.  In the House, only a majority is needed to play the plan.  In the Senate, it will also need a simple majority to pass because of a recent ruling by the Senate Parliamentarian ( ) “Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 can allow for multiple reconciliation bills per fiscal year. The parliamentarian is an expert on the obscure procedures of the Senate, and determines whether certain actions are permitted under Senate rules.”

BB prediction: something close to what Biden proposes will be approved by Congress.

Waiting for Waits*

One step forward
One step back
One to shoreward
One to slack
Sit on da ground
Turn yo’self around
Do the existential hokey pokey.

Drive on the freeway
Drive on the lane
Drive in traffic
Drive in sane
Drive real fast
Drive very very slow
When you get arrested, say
I didn’t know.”

Look up
Look down
Look all around
Look at the ground
Look in lost and found
Do the existential hokey pokey.

Celebrate the Blues
Celebrate Bop
Dance in the corner
Dance ’til you drop
Run through the jungle
Run on the beach
Don’t let ’em catch you
Stay out of reach.

Skip home room
Skip to ma’lou
Skip getting old
Skip turning blue
Skip watching TV
Skip being you
Do the existential hokey pokey.

(* Waiting for Tom Waits to sing this song.)

Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility?

It may be hard to imagine but, a couple of decades ago, Republicans described themselves as “the Party of personal responsibility.” The Grand Old Party imagined itself as the Party of rugged individualists, folks who clawed their way to the top with an unstoppable combination of ambition, perseverance, and moral rectitude. Republicans claimed the moral high ground. No more.

In the last year, we’ve seen Donald Trump, and his Republican cohorts, dodge responsibility for the Coronavirus pandemic and for the January 6th insurrection. Each of these actions was shameful and should  be sufficient to tarnish the GOP for decades.

In every regard, Donald Trump mismanaged the pandemic. When he left office, at noon on January 20th, he was responsible for 25 million U.S. Covid-19 cases and 400,000 related deaths. It’s an understatement to say that Trump did a terrible job; it’s more accurate to say that he made a bad situation much, much worse.  The prestigious medical journal Lancet ( recently observed: “Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic—compounded by his efforts to dismantle the USA’s already weakened public health infrastructure and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage expansions—has caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. His elimination of the National Security Council’s global health security team, and a 2017 hiring freeze that left almost 700 positions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unfilled, compromised preparedness… The number of people without health insurance had increased by 2·3 million during Trump’s presidency, even before pandemic-driven losses of employment-based coverage increased the number of uninsured people by millions.”

It wasn’t entirely incompetence.  Trump politicized the pandemic.  He had a chance to act responsibly and, instead, chose “the dark side.”  In a recent CNN documentary (, Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the Trump White House, said, “I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse.  There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”  (In other words, Trump is responsible for 300,000 of the 400,000 deaths that occurred on his watch.)  In the same CNN documentary, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases specialist, said: “Trump’s demands for a reopening of the country in contravention of the advice of government health experts came as ‘a punch to the chest.'”

(On March 29th, Trump responded to the CNN documentary ( calling Birx and Fauci “self-promoters.” “They had bad policy decisions that would have left our country open to China and others, closed to reopening our economy, and years away from an approved vaccine — putting millions of lives at risk.”)

The truth is Trump made a political calculation that it was in his best interests to discount the pandemic.  In the 2020 presidential election exit polls ( ), Trump voters were much more likely to report that “the recent rise in coronavirus cases” was NOT a factor in their vote.  Only 15 percent said the pandemic was “the most important issue” in their vote  – most Trump voters said the most important issue was “the economy,” because they trusted Trump to reopen the economy.   Most Trump voters saw US efforts to contain the coronavirus as going “very well” or “somewhat well.”  Most Trump voters saw wearing a face mask as a matter of “personal choice” rather than a “public health responsibility.”

Trump set an example for his base: minimize COVID-19, refuse to wear a mask, and disavow social distancing.  After being hospitalized with Coronavirus, Trump tweeted: “Don’t be afraid of Covid,  Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

This reckless attitude has greatly influenced his base: A recent PBS/NPR/Marist Poll ( found that 30 percent of respondents have no intention of being vaccinated for the Coronavirus: 49 percent of Republican men. (And of course, Red states are now rushing to reopen.)

Trump has never taken responsibility for the pandemic.  In an August interview ( he claimed the Coronavirus was “under control as much as you can control it.”  When asked about the rising Coronavirus death toll, Trump responded: “It is what it is.”

My point is not to belabor Trump’s incompetence or his lying.  I want to emphasize Trump’s absolute failure to take responsibility for the mistakes of his Administration.  Thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses are his fault.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, we’ve seen remarkable evidence of Republican incompetence: the 9/11 attacks, the unnecessary war in Iraq, and the 2008 financial crisis — to mention only a few.  Trump’s failure to handle the Coronavirus pandemic stands alone as a testimony to GOP self-serving greed.

Trump may be gone.  (I hope.)   But, the appalling failure of the Republican Party must not be forgotten. They can no longer claim  the moral high ground.  The GOP is not the party of personal responsibility.  At best they are incompetents; at worst, traitors.

Sappho and Beauty

Some men say an army of horses, and
Some men say an army on foot, and
Some men say an army of ships
Is the most beautiful thing on the black earth.
But I say it is
What you love.

A fragment aged 2700 years
Brings Sappho to our shore
Her words ring in our ears
Commanding us with ancient lore
To ponder our hearts once more.

And lovely laughing
Oh it puts the heart in my chest on wings
For when I look at you,
even a moment,
no speaking is left in me.

Sappho’s love is one of passion
Practiced, I am sure
In her epoch’s fashion
Physical love and something more
Awe floods through the door.

Here to me from Crete in this holy temple
where is our graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
with frankincense.

And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping

In this place you Aphrodite taking up
in gold cups delicately
nectar mingled with festivities:

Awake Sappho, and pour
Your beauty on this parched land
Let it splash across the floor
Take the virgins by the hand
Restore our hearts with something grand.

Yet I love the finer things . . . this and passion
for the light of life have granted me brilliance and beauty.
[a Fragment from Sappho’s “Old age poem” believed to be written when she was 60]