Shelter in Place: The Game

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Three Bets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CV Blues

Hey everybody
come here quick
this coronavirus
’bout to make me sick.

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

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

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

Went to see my daddy
at the county jail
He said, “buck up son
you’re too young to fail.”

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

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

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

Called my doctor
told him my bad news
he said, “Don’t worry Bobby
you’ve just go the blues.”

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

Comfort


Consolation in time of trouble or worry.

Solace.

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

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

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

I’m too young
to turn to stone.

The Pied Piper of Mar-a-Lago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncertainty

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

[Richard Diebenkorn]

A killer stalks the streets.

A terrifying situation
but familiar.

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

Weeks pass
terror morphs into
uncertainty.

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

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

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

Is it the awareness
certainty
is delusion?

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.

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.