Troubling Times

From a Google Image Search – the intelligencer

Here are our heroes – those who had to play an active role in our national coronavirus emergency. These pictures are imprinted in our brains – the ICU videos with all the signs of the catastrophic struggles to save lives – the rows of beds, the crowd of medical staff around one patient, the worried expressions in their eyes (which are all we can see of their faces) the packages of opened medical devices scattered across the patient, the coded conversations that determine the next steps to stabilize just this one person – a single Latinate word, a lifted eyebrow, a request that sends one of the team off in search of a new medicine, or a piece of equipment. The drama of the moment is gripping even to us, the spectators. It is a drama that has been repeated thousands of times in the past month and a half. It is a drama that continues, although, as the cases decrease, the intensity diminishes.

There are the canyons of our biggest cities echoing with the applause of those of us who must stay home – whose only heroic action is inaction. There are the recovered, applauded by those who labored to save them.

There are the demonstrators. They have had enough of sickness. They feel that they are killing their prosperity out of respect for people who don’t deserve the gesture; the old, the sick, the immigrant, darker-skinned Americans. After all, not all Americans are at equal risk. As the numbers reveal what we knew all along, that COVID19 was killing the old and the less wealthy masses. Youth, and American youth lasts a long time, demands a return to work. The demonstrators are overwhelmingly white. Whiteness lasts a lifetime. These demonstrators who demand to work are not the minimum wage workers who have had to keep putting themselves at risk in jobs considered essential, without the personal protection of masks and gloves or even social distancing (which is free). They labor at low wage jobs in grocery stores, pharmacies, warehouses, trucking firms, fast food restaurants, meat processing plants, burying the dead. They don’t choose to work; they are required to work.

These demonstrators can’t be those workers – they would have to be at work. Some of these demonstrators seem older – perhaps they just want to party and travel, get their massages, their facials, their hairdos. Some look like they may own a small business. Perhaps they would not be demonstrating if the government aid had been more forthcoming. 

But it is the tattooed, bearded, muscle-shirted guys with stony, intimidating faces, and long guns that contrast so jarringly with those whose heroic actions have allowed our nation to control and suppress this killer disease. It is, this time, Americans who do not resist, who do not demonstrate, who stay home and keep their distance, who give up their pleasures for the greater good; these are the Americans who have kept America from turning into a charnel house.

As an American who watches America from the cheap seats and tries to decide what keeps American democracy alive and what forces seem bent on destroying our republic, I have to come down on the side of the heroes, the everyday heroes. What do those with long guns expect America to do – knuckle under to a posse of citizens dressed up like outlaws, purposely using intimidation to get their way, placing America between a rock and a hard place – if the virus don’t get you the bullets will. They can’t think to beat a virus with a gun, so it is the government that must bow down to them. Then we won’t have a government; we’ll have anarchy with mob rule. 

And, because we don’t want a confrontation, it looks from where I sit, as if intimidation is working, although these scary folks chose a moment when the country was almost ready to reopen anyway. Long gun-vigilante-style is working better than the more peaceful demonstrations of other disobedient unarmed citizens. In these days when we have been trying to avoid becoming an authoritarian nation, have been trying to avoid becoming a nation split in two and headed for a second civil war – I am just not sure how people keep these two Americas in mind and still trust that America is one nation, with a singular and unified vision. Why do some Americans feel the need to threaten other Americans with long guns and why does the President of our nation encourage their intimidations? Will they become Trump’s army in 2020? Will the South rise again? And if it does God help our heroes, and all of us. I did not think our Grand Experiment would come to this and I still think it can be saved. Our founders said, “we give you a republic, if you can keep it.” I want to keep it. How about you?

COVID-19 and Paradoxes

From a Google Image Search – Cherry Blossoms, Flickr.com

COVID-19 and Paradoxes

These are such strange days. We all learn that, although we may be alone, we are in no way an island.  Without our nurses, doctors, and hospital staffs we would lose people who we are not ready to lose. Every day we know our highly trained caregivers risk getting the COVID-19 virus and many of them have been infected. Fortunately the virus doesn’t kill all its hosts. Many people barely realize they have it. But without hospitals and first responders, our loved ones could die at home or in a nursing home gasping for breath while we stood by helpless. Most of us do not have access to oxygen, and almost none of us can access a ventilator. If you catch the virus you put yourself in danger. The disease makes life and death a gamble, seemingly based on genetics and bad habits.

Without our truckers and our essential industries where workers take a chance every day and go to work (probably without paid-sick-leave) our grocery stores and drug stores would be emptier than they are. So we are not an island. And we are not all making the same sacrifices, which is difficult for some of us to accept, that almost the only ways we can help are to stay home, order in, and donate to a few hard-pressed causes. Lately, on Facebook, the folks who bought out all the toilet paper and left our store shelves empty, and bought up masks needed at hospitals have been putting up ads to sell their ill-gotten merchandise and charging exorbitant rates ($35 for 10 rolls of toilet paper and they had all the popular brands; $65 for a box of masks). Tempting, but we know we should not buy at these prices and encourage price gouging. 

It’s spring. Our senses are blossoming. There is more light, days are getting long. We can go out and see our lakes and rivers and oceans, but we can’t meet our family in these places unless we stay 6 feet apart. Now they are saying that the very air we breathe can spread this disease so don’t even walk in someone’s draft. But we are thinking of soft summer evenings and gardens, flowers and smiles, music and conversation. And yet our reality is on display each day. There are refrigerated trucks, long semis collecting bodies in New York City and these lives are left uncelebrated by all but closest family. This shocks me, these long white trucks. It is almost as if someone actually did kill people on Fifth Avenue, and I cannot help blaming the very person who said that he could do this and still get elected.

Speaking of elections; we should be drowning in unwatchable political ads, and voting in primaries and our candidates should be stumping all over America. How can we get rid of a President who fired so many civil servants and changed so many rules that govern national emergencies if the only 2020 candidate we see day after day is the Bumbler? How can we hope to vote out the miserable GOP when half the country, for some inexplicable reason, sees this entire bumbling administration as somehow efficient and effective at handling this national emergency? Half of America follows religiously Trump’s every utterance, regardless of the whiplash engendered by decisions that change moment to moment, that are given and retracted day to day. Despite the white semis lined up in New York to receive the dead.

There have been such touching stories. The brides who go in their wedding dresses to visit a grandparent through a nursing home window and the new moms who make the same trip with their babies. The mom and dad who almost lost their 29-year-old son for no apparent health reason. The reporter who spent 49 days away from her child because she kept having to go into quarantine and the joyful reunion with her little son. All the American children taping hearts in their windows for passers-by to collect. And then the reality hits us once again as someone hears that a loved one has died and they were not even there when it happened. 

People are losing their businesses, which made our lives seem full of elegance, friendship, light and love. All the restaurants where we love to linger at table and just chat. All the sidewalk cafes and fresh air dining. Days spent shopping with friends and speaking of bargains and fashion and decorating. Will our restaurants and shops come back. All the unemployed with no resources to get them through the anxious days. If only the whole unemployment process was better equipped to get money to workers-without-work right away. Will jobs come back? I cannot recall a time when the entire global economy basically had to take a time out and neither can anyone else or we would have some strategies for dealing, even if the best strategy of all was just to do nothing. This is different from even the Great Depression. We cannot have a WPA in times that require social distancing. There is no way to discuss in one small essay all the many, many areas of our lives that have been affected. And although I read an article which said that life returned to normal very quickly after the influenza in 1918, it is difficult to believe that is possible this time.

These are very strange days indeed, surreal even, these days of novel coronavirus. The paradoxes are ripping us apart and putting us back together each and every hour of every day. We have to be strong. We have to make it through with as much grace as we can muster.

Government By Stock Market

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Daily Express

Stock Market – Reacting or Leading – Up Good – Down Bad

Life has become a bit grim all of a sudden. I can’t leave my house because I loved to smoke cigarettes and now I am in a COVID-19 high risk group. High risk means this could be it. Curtains. Bye-bye. The wheel of chance may have chosen the nature of my demise. And, to add insult to injury, my pension is in the stock market which is falling; falling like a rock, and I see no good news on the horizon to lift it up. 

The stock market seems to be ordering the President around. When the market likes what he says he will do, the market rises a bit. When the President doesn’t do what he says, or when he changes his plan, the market reacts. The market seemed to like that people would get checks. But I haven’t heard much about that lately. Stock buyers seemed to like the first iteration of the ever-changing stimulus plan. Today the market started up a bit but by the end of the day, with nothing accomplished, the numbers sagged once again.

We have heard that testing is great and that anyone who needs to can get tested. That is not what I see happening in my city. Every day we hear governors plead for masks, and protective gear for medical staff and doctors; ventilators are on the way supposedly, but we see that this is just hot air and you can’t make concrete objects from hot air. After an entire week which seems like a lifetime no one had received masks, face shields, gowns and these should be the simple things. Don’t you think people who own stock would perk up a bit if they knew that these items which keep doctors and staff from getting sick were being received. Mr. President, can you hear that, get hospitals the protective gear they need and the stock market might tick up. The President says that the Federal government isn’t a fulfillment center, but through emergency powers and FEMA, it is.

Talk about creating temporary hospital space with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers sounded smart. It sounds like states are getting some practical advice from the Corps of Engineers, but they are not actually building facilities, just helping officials find premises that might work, and so far not many spaces are up and running. Having the beds experts predict will be needed would also boost that stock market just a bit. 

Congress cannot agree on a stimulus plan. Republicans want to bail out business big and small, and although businesses have already been bailed out and had giant tax cuts, the stock market seems to like this plan. Democrats want to bail out workers. I’m not sure how the markets are reacting to this, but since stock markets must answer to stock holders I’m pretty sure that if the Republicans get their way stocks will rise again. With a president who keeps saying that things have been “beautifully” completed when we can see that this is a huge exaggeration the kind of stability that keeps the stock market calm is absent. I used to believe that 45 would kill democracy, now I think he might end up killing me and many others. He did not cause the virus, but he is not the calm rational presence we need.

FEMA is now in the picture and is supposed to help the states focus on local needs. But the stock market ended down despite this new wrinkle. Have all Presidents pegged their policy decisions so closely to the gyrations of the stock market? Clearly in this case the stock market wants what the stock market wants. Meanwhile I am trying to act like I will survive. I will grow tomatoes. I will be able to walk around a store again soon. To hedge my bets, however, I am trying to decide what will happen to me if I lose my income and my house. Thank goodness I discovered Led Zeppelin singing Traveling in Kashmir. So great. When things get dreary I go to Kashmir.

What Coronavirus Teaches US

From a Google Image Search – Miami University

Coronavirus or COVID-19 is teaching us some lessons that have nothing to do with health and, at the same time, everything to do with health, and survival, and how we may have to conduct our lives on Planet Earth. I believe we can say that the lines that separate nations on our maps are not barriers to some invaders, like diseases, viruses, toxins perhaps. Particles that move through the air have no boundaries. They know nothing of nations, barricades, or even walls. Even biosphere-style bubbles with filtered air might not do the trick. 

So I think that what we see happening with COVID-19 incontrovertibly contradicts Trump’s America First view of the world. Clearly it is impossible to see the world as anything other than global. Everything is interconnected. Someone eats a rare animal in China and now we are all deep in the midst of a pandemic. This disease does not seem to affect the young and the healthy very seriously. It affects those who have health problems, weak immune systems, or all of the above especially in seniors who are most at risk. So this might just be a “cull the herd” virus, not the apocalyptic virus it could have been. Yet. But with 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, apocalypse does not seem far away and many have already intimated that a pandemic might be the cause.

We need to think about the earth the way eagles do, the way even ordinary birds do, not as separate nations but, for the sake of order and safety, as one unit – land, water and air – all one continuous geographical unit, therefore requiring global oversight of some kind. This does not have to signal the end of nations and separate governments. We just obviously need more global cooperation and less global competition. From here on out we all rise together or we all fall together. But we will not heed this warning. We will not take this opportunity to tackle global issues globally. Humans know how to cooperate, as we can see people doing right now in trying to lessen the effects of this virus. But we are also ambitious and we are set up to celebrate individual successes; we like power and autonomy, and we can work in teams but it requires an entire library of books to help us learn how to do it successfully. Even with survival at stake, unless disaster is barreling at us in the tangible form of a tiny bug or a giant asteroid, the threat is too abstract to inspire us to coalesce. 

Another lesson that this virus is teaching us is that societies must be healthy in more than one way. Our 45, always focuses on the economy, on money, on keeping wealthy people happy so that they will fund American hegemony and keep people employed. Only employed people matter. If you have mental issues or physical issues which prevent you from finding employment some Americans seem to believe that you are just faking your disabilities; with proper training you could find some kind of job. 

After I retired I worked for several years in a temp job with a blind woman. She had been born blind and had trouble perceiving spatial relationships. A job had to be specially designed and matched to her skills. Since the job was very visual, an auditory and braille approach had to be devised. When the company changed procedures, this woman lost her job because designing a whole new system she could participate in was too difficult. Not everyone can work. And of course there are people who would do anything to avoid a 9-5 job. 

But Trump and the Republicans do not believe in giving away money, even if depriving our poorest citizens will doom those of us who work to infections and viruses. Democrats and Republicans designed a bipartisan bill to help some hourly employees, employees at small businesses and others who will not be able to survive with our businesses all closed down, but some Republicans are already requiring limitations on who can receive help and who won’t qualify. This means that we will not lift up those who need help the most because Mitch McConnell has determined that they do not deserve it. He cannot get it through his senile brain that we are all interconnected; that the fate of people who work rests on what happens to the poorest among us. This virus shows us why conservative economics is nonsense. This virus shows us that with so many people on the earth focusing only on one area of a society does not constitute adequate governance. 

Trump worries about the stock market and tries to get the Fed of adjust something that can only be adjusted by tackling the real problem, the fallout from a pandemic, which is in no way contained to just the health care industry, but is affecting every aspect our society. This lesson is that not only is Social Darwinism mean, and not only will the poor be affected, but social benefits offer advantages to the wealthy as well as the poor. We are all interconnected.

We are also learning that small government is a bunch of hooey. How are we doing in a pandemic with reluctant federal leadership and each state calling the shots for what happens within its own boundaries? Part of this is due to a President who cannot accept that anything might be beyond his control, who tried to spin the facts he was hearing from his medical advisors, tried to spin the virus right out of existence. And why did he spin it? Apparently the virus only bothered him because it was tanking the stock market. He could not imagine that taking care of everyone’s health could be the only way to shore up the markets. 

When Trump speaks to the nation lately it is as if he has been possessed by an alien, like the one in Independence Day who takes control over the Professor’s vocal chords. Governors are leading, but not all governors are created equal and not all states have equal access to resources. In this health crisis we are seeing why small government does not function well when populations are large. We rely on our federal government for stability and calm and intelligent solutions at all times, but especially in times of crisis. We are not even close to having that. So pass that financial package without any limitations and be prepared to write an even better one soon. America is taking a long break from consumerism. What will that teach us?