Hope Guides Me Today…

I was up early today. I wanted to beat the heat. And before ten o’clock, the garden was weeded, cilantro and dill harvested, stepping stones leading to the bird feeders were reset in the ground, and the aforementioned feeders were loaded with new treats for the birds.

The garden is a profusion of growth and color right now… but those weeds do need tending. And so I tackled them before the heat and humidity made the day unbearable. It was good.

Democracies need tending too. Weeds need to be plucked and we have to recommit ourselves to getting up early, dealing with the heat and discomfort, to strengthen the body politic.

You see, I love our country, as corny as that may sound to some. I served it for the better part of my adult life and I took pride in that service and that of countless other Americans — official and unofficial — who reflected values that matter.

We were on the side of the underdog. Gave voice to those who had none. Offered hope to the forsaken. We believed in human dignity and human rights. We cared about women and kids, and LGBTQ community members who were often at risk simply because of who they are and who they have loved.

We addressed the challenges of hunger and malnutrition. We fought malaria and Ebola and we led a crucial worldwide effort against HIV/AIDS. We saved the lives of mothers as they gave life. We stood against dictators, and we argued for a world in which the rule of law and cooperative engagement mattered more than the size of your armies. I know this to be true because this is the work I was honored to do alongside the distinguished women and men of our Foreign Service with whom I served.

And at home we did our best to live up to values as well. No — we didn’t always succeed, but our society has continued to grow and change and evolve. Today, more than ever, we are alive to the need to continue that evolution.

I believe that there is a new commitment to address the threat posed to our social cohesion by racism that is far too prevalent and too readily overlooked by those who don’t feel it’s horrible destructive impact on our lives.

I believe that we will find a new commitment to address the existential challenge of climate change. I believe that we will begin to demilitarize our society and the threat posed by far too many guns and gun violence. I believe we won’t allow stupidity and ignorance and mindless bigotry to define us.

I believe a lot of things. And, I believe we as a people are, for the most part, decent and strong and caring, and that we can shape the future.

The virus we are struggling with is horrible. Our leadership is even worse. But on this 4th of July I’m going to let hope guide me. I’m going to remember how proud I was to serve, how my heart would swell as I saw our flag displayed and heard our anthem played, and I’m going to believe that we can and will be all that we stand for and aspire to. We can make it happen. We must.

Happy Fourth of July.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

A Reflection

At times I’ve included among my periodic blog post responses to the some of the weekly questions I’ve been asked to answer for my daughter as part of a present from last Christmas. This is one of them. It’s a personal reflection… a musing… that I’m willing to share if in doing so it gives others a chance to reflect as well. It’s good for the soul.

The question asked how my political opinions have changed over time. Here’s what I said.

“I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any of my family if I say that my political opinions have always tipped towards the liberal end of the spectrum. Nor would it be a shock if I acknowledge that this has led me, invariably, to vote for the Democrats in any given race because their views more closely parallel mine than their Republican opponents. And, if anything, that trend line has become even more pronounced over time as the divide between the two major parties has intensified.

This question, however, shouldn’t be confined to what party do you support in a given election.  It runs deeper than that,  To me, I think it may be more important to ask what do we believe in?  What do we stand for?   

I didn’t think about those questions much when I was voting in my first presidential election in 1972, but now, as I prepare to vote in my twelfth — and no, I’ve never missed one — I think more and more about the question of values and the fundamental principles that has shaped us as a people.

And, as I write this in the summer of 2020, I not only see our nation challenged by a pandemic unlike any we have seen in my lifetime, but I see a nation in pain following the issues that have arisen from George Floyd’s murder. Both compel us to reexamine our assumptions about those values and principles.

I think we are a nation that is struggling to squarely face it’s failure to overcome deeply-embedded racism and social and economic equality that fly in the face of what I believe our nation is supposed to stand for. And I think we are a nation in the midst of a transition that faces tremendous resistance to that change from elements that want to take us backwards rather than forward.

Some folks suggest that there have been other times in our nation’s history just as ugly, just as polarized and just as disheartening.  But I didn’t live through them.  I AM living through this.  And it is hard.

I think that the ugliness we see offends me all the more because I have spent almost 40 years in service to our nation — almost 35 as a career diplomat and another four+ as a consultant/advisor in retirement.  And those years of service forced me to think with greater care about what that service meant, and what the values — enshrined in the Declaration of Liberty and the American Constitution and Bill of Rights — are supposed to mean.

Today we are quick to point to the irony (some would argue hypocrisy) of our founders’ writing with passion about all men being created equal and the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness,  but not recognizing that those words should apply to the black slaves that they held.  But, no matter the incongruity of their views, and the horrible legacy of slavery, we have come to see their words as applying universally — to all women and men.  And as a nation we have tried to advance that message.

In the last century, we stood against fascism and those who massacred countless souls in the pursuit of racial purity.  At home, we began to undo some for the most visible forms of discrimination in our nation.  We have led globally in the fight for human rights, for human dignity, and for men and women of all colors and faiths and political views to be heard and empowered.  We have championed the rights of LGBTQ people, we have led to empower women whose rights have been disregarded, and we have sought to empower youth.  We have cared about the health of people across the globe fighting HIV, malaria, malnutrition, and advancing the cause of maternal health.  We have shared our bounty as a nation and have helped to feed those who hungered and to encourage economic growth.

There is much that we did to give meaning to the vision of our founders.  And, although our actions have not always been selfless and although at times we have struggled when our interests and our values clashed, that does not diminish the good that we have done, nor does it lessen the importance of the values we espouse.  

Those values defined my service.  But now, at this moment in time, I see those values challenged by a very different view of the world and of our nation.  A view that calls for us to dominate, not partner.  A view in which further enriching the wealthy matters more than meeting the needs of the poor and disenfranchised.  A view that leads us to walk away from global challenges like climate change and the current pandemic and a view that enshrines excuses over action when it comes to addressing the racism and discrimination faced by black and brown Americans.

Even as we have sought to do good in the world we have failed to honestly address the challenges that confront our own society.  We have made strides, but we have not come nearly far enough.  And those of us who have known privilege and status because we are white have not cared enough or looked closely enough to see the unrealized promises of the American dreams of all our citizens.  Just because we no longer see the visible trappings of segregation — “colored” drinking fountains or toilets or schools or seats on a bus — doesn’t mean we have given life to the promise of equality in our founding documents.  

The murder of George Floyd has been a catalyst to force us to look at ourselves with, I hope, greater honesty.  His death… and those of so many other black citizens… must be a sharp rebuke to our complacency.  And, as the COVID-19 pandemic further accentuates the fault lines of racial and economic inequality, only willful and determined self-delusion would lead any of us to believe that all is right in America today.

So, my political opinions have changed.  Not in terms of who I will vote for, but what I will fight for.  How can I disregard the honest anger, the moral outrage, and the sense of a dream betrayed, that events of the past few years have brought —  and that have been taken to a tipping point as 2020 has unfolded?  How can any of us?  

I care more deeply for the values that shaped my service to our nation than ever before, but I realize I will have to fight harder to finally see them realized too.  I wish that I had looked closer, listened with greater care, and begun the process of thinking more critically about many of these questions long ago.  

I can’t change the past.  But I’ll begin now to be more active.  More engaged.  More vocal.  I’ll transform my political opinions into political action.  And I hope, if I answer this question again in five years I’ll tell you not that my views have changed but that the world around us has.”

Protector or Predator?

George Floyd was buried today. In his death he has become yet another face in a heartbreaking tableau of men and women of color who have died senselessly… needlessly… at the hands of the police in our nation.

The spotlight is shining more brightly than ever before on the actions of police departments across the nation. And the more that light penetrates into the dark corners where injustice and criminality have been hidden, the more we are forced to confront realities that have always been with us, but that we were disinclined to see.

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” looked at the topic of policing in America on Sunday night. It’s on You Tube. Watch it. It is compelling. It is angry. It is heartbreaking. It is frightening.
You may want to say it’s an exaggeration or that he’s a hyperbolic liberal social commentator who always pushes the boundaries to get ratings. You can say it. But that doesn’t make it true. And, even if he pushes his narrative further than you might like (and I honestly think he did very little of that), there are hard truths in his report that you have to acknowledge if you are intellectually honest.

He examined the linkages between white supremacists and the police who, for decades, enforced laws designed to target, suppress and blatantly discriminate against black women and men. The legacy of racism and bias that continues to today. You may not want to see it or admit — but it’s there. As are intransigent police unions that make true accountability impossible and that enshrine a mindset that the police somehow are above the law that they are charged with enforcing.

He also touched briefly on the militarization of our police forces and on the training that many receive that tells them they are predators and if they are not willing to pull the trigger — to shoot to kill — the other “predators” they encounter, then they’d better find a new line of work. Frightening? Hell, yes.

And all you have to do is to look at the video footage of the past two weeks. See how heavily armed the police are. They look like combat soldiers going to war. Not like the defenders or our citizens… not like protectors or guardians. They looked like what they have been created to be… predators.

Now, some will tell you that they have to be armed with heavy weapons. Look what they’re up against, they will say. Look at the weapons that the bad guys carry. Yes indeed. Look. THIS is the price we pay as a society for allowing the trafficking in guns that has become so pervasive. Gun violence is indeed out of control. The bad guys and the ostensible good guys… all armed to the teeth. Somehow I don’t believe that is what the framers of the constitution envisioned with the second amendment. But this too is part of the problem.

How many more stories and video clips do we have to see before we, as a socieity, cry out in revulsion and demand change? Look at the footage on John Oliver’s show or on any new channel. Yes, there was violence on the streets — but FAR too much of it was unprovoked violence by police officers.

Look at the images. Police pushing aside old man with a cane shuffling to get out of the way (not Martin Gugino who was pushed to the ground and left bleeding but yet another old man). Pulling masks off people’s faces to spray them with mace rom inches away. Smashing people’s heads and ribs with batons. Targeting journalists, shooting pepper balls and rubber bullets at folks who had the temerity to record them. Attacking without cause. Even engaging in gratuitously vindictive acts like slashing the tires of protestor’s cars. (Yep… quite a story from Minnesota about that too — with the far-too-familiar lame “justifications” for these senseless abusive acts by police).

There are too many examples to ignore, and we can’t say this is a few bad cops. “

This is a systemic problem. Not just systemic racism, but systemic injustice. A system in which abuse of authority is condoned and protected by laws that shield the abusers, and by leaders who are unwilling to challenge them. A system in which intimidation and violence are given free rein while OUR rights to gather, to protest, to seek redress of our grievances are ignored.

This is not an overreaction on my part. It is a far-too-long-delayed reaction. But that I fear, is what happens when the color of our skin protects us from the realities that those whose skin is a different color live with every day.

Listen to the voices of our black countrymen. Listen to their stories and their fear and open yourself to their pain over the loss of their children, or fathers, or mothers, at the hands of the police.
And please, don’t let those who would preserve the status quo mislead or confuse you or turn this into another cultural battle.

“Defunding the police” isn’t a call for anarchy. It isn’t about abandoning the streets to criminals. Rather it is about rethinking our approaches. Determining the best allocation of resources.
Police aren’t mental health workers, social workers, experts on drug abuse, or countless other issues we ask them to tackle. But they are forced to play roles for which they are unprepared and ill-suited because we haven’t defunded critical programs that build stronger communities and that support critical social needs.

We need to be clear that the debate isn’t between police and no police. It’s about the proper role for police, the proper training, the relationship between police and the people they serve (emphasis on those last words — “the people they serve”), and it is about the need to build safer, stronger, and more resilient communities.
Communities where there are programs to address mental health and addiction. Communities that offer the homeless refuge. That care for the most vulnerable. That build a future together. And where police and communities really work in partnership.

Camden, New Jersey, has been redefining these relationship for years. It offers one positive model. We can do this if we choose to.
Yes… there will be criminals. There will be bad people. And we will still ask those who choose to serve as police to confront them. To help keep us safe. And we need to support those police officers by giving them the tools and the training they need as an integral part of our community.

They should be honored and respected. Presently, they are not. They are what they and their leaders have allowed them to become. Sadly they are now, in many cases, as much of a threat to our citizens, and to our society, as any other proponents of racism and violence.

There ARE good police officers. But the system of policing and the broader criminal justice system is broken. These are the issues that “calls for defunding the police” seek to get at: how we, as a nation, will allocate resources to address these complex issues, and redefine this entire process. It’s time. It’s a debate we must have and we cannot let opponents hide behind false narratives that trying to address the issues means we are soft on crime, or that we are naive idealists who want to throw open the doors wide to criminals, rapists, and drug dealers.

That’s how the narrative will be framed, if we let it. Let’s make sure we don’t. Folks are still struggling to envision the alternatives to the present system. We see it in Minneapolis where proponents of defunding the police aren’t able yet to articulate what reinventing the process will look like. It will take time. It will take discussion and honest and painful exchanges of perspective. It will take admitting to our fears, defining our values, and finding ways to come together with those who may have very different viewpoints.

It will not happen overnight. But it has to begin, and it has to be real, and it has be meaningful. It is work that our children and grandchildren will have to continue. But we fail them if we don’t begin now. Today. Tomorrow. And in November.

Pandemics of disease, of racism, of abuse. They must all be faced.

It’s on us.

Judging the Complicit

I’ve been posting daily since March 11, mostly about COVID-19. But the past few days have found me focused on another crisis gripping our nation. I’ve already shared a few of those posts. And I thought perhaps that when I wrote last night I would today turn my thoughts back to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, what issue is more existential, more threatening to our well-being — to our lives?

But, I can only say so much. Cases are rising globally, the numbers here remain plateaued — and daunting. And, it is hard to look beyond the fact that there is seemingly no national-level leadership, no focus, and no commitment. Tony Fauci says the President barely talks to him any more. Trump seems to have turned the page — at our peril.

Unsurprisingly, the issues of the day, revolving around George Floyd’s murder and the wide-ranging protest and debate this has sparked, continue to hold our immediate attention. Nonetheless, public health concerns could still be addressed, leadership could be shown, and preparations could be made for a second wave in the fall but it doesn’t seem to be happening. While some public health professionals are trying to maintain focus and awareness, without national leadership and vision it will be too little I fear. And even IF the president and others turn their attention to this in a meaningful way, I fear it will also be too late.

Meanwhile, the issues that we have all grappled with over the past few days continue to resonate powerfully across society. Some want to vilify George Floyd, attack the protestors, and chant a mantra of “law and order,” without recognizing that the anger and despair we see in our black fellow-citizens has incubated for years in the stew of unconscious bias, blatant racism, and social injustice. Others want to defund and/or disband the police. Hopefully, we’ll find a path that works for us all.

One theme though, that we hear again and again — because it is true — is that for decades we didn’t understand, we didn’t truly listen, and we didn’t want to face the uncomfortable truths. It’s time we do.

Sadly, however, there are still many among us who don’t want to hear. Who want to hide from the reality. Foremost among them are some of those those who profess to lead. I watched with disgust as a stream of Republican Senators ran and hid and refused to speak as the President and his administration attacked peaceful protestors, vilified them in his Tweets, and as he continues to tweet and retweet messages of division from within the fortress which he has made of the White House.

These senators dodged the questions… said that “they weren’t there” at the protests so they couldn’t answer. Said they were “late for lunch.” Others just ran… scurrying away… refusing to even look at the press or say a word. They hope it will go away — and meanwhile they continue to stall on issues such as anti-lynching laws or how to address qualified immunity for the police.

History will judge them (and us all). But it has been shocking to watch these so-called leaders disappear into themselves as they enable the President in his divisiveness, in his abandoning of the norms of leadership, and in his immorality.

Before the election in 2016 Lindsay Graham called the President a “jackass,” a “nut job,” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” Now Graham condones the President’s worst abuses with the passion of an acolyte genuflecting before the altar of power. He is complicit. He has sold his soul. And so have McConnell, Cornyn, Grassley, Kennedy, Johnson, and almost every one of the Senate Republicans. They have empowered the President in his abuses, in his abandonment of our allies, and in his attacks on our citizens, our values, and our rights. They have ignored his countless lies and, in accepting these falsehoods without question, they acknowledge the power the President has over them.

There’s a fascinating article in The Atlantic. “History will Judge the Complicit” that discussed much of this. The author, Anne Applebaum, suggests that the goal isn’t to convince us of the truth of the lie. It is to demonstrate that the liar has the power to compel us to accept what we know is untrue. When the President lied about the size of the crowds at his inauguration, despite photographic and video evidence that shows the claim to be blatantly false, it began to take us down the slippery slope that finds us where we are today. And today he is lying about the size of the protests yesterday in DC… claiming that these demonstrations — some of the largest ever — were “smaller than expected.”

The President demonstrated his power by compelling his press secretary to tell the known lie about inaugural crowd size, and compelling others in his administration to support that lie. And the Senate Republicans, in refusing to challenge him or recoil from his blatant and repeated lies on countless topics, opened the door for even more abuses while simultaneously acknowledging his power over them.

Their complicity, and the complicity of many others, is as much to blame as Donald Trump for why we are where we are today. They give him the power to diminish us, to demean our values, and to drive us deeper into crisis.

A week ago, Senator Booker said “If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.” It’s worth repeating. We need to love our country more than ever. We need to love our country enough to put truth above politics. We need to love our country enough to not be complicit.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

It Isn’t A Fairy Tale

I feel compelled to write today but I’m not sure what to say. I’m still trying to get my head around all that is happening in our nation as we struggle not only with a pandemic but with the tragedy of George Foley’s murder.

The legitimate anger and the protests have to be uncoupled from the acts of those whose agenda is criminal — we all get that. And no one wants criminal acts, or attacks on police, any more than we want attacks on peaceful demonstrators exercising their first amendment rights.

De-escalation and defusing are essential. Listening is essential. Empathy. Courageous acts, as we see when protestors protect a policeman separated from his cohort, or when we see them protect a store at threat from looters. And it’s the same empathy and courage we see from police officers who take a knee, who march with the protestors, and who engage in dialogue that allows folks to feel heard. It doesn’t solve all the problems by a long shot — but it’s a start.

Threats of massive retaliation aren’t the answer. Flooding the streets with soldiers will not answer long-standing grievances, or ease pain, or help in healing. Tweeting gleefully about “dominance” on the streets of DC after attacking peaceful protestors with tear gas and flash bang grenades says that the president values his photo ops and image more than listening to citizens who truly wanted to be heard.

We’ve all been stressed by the pandemic in so many ways. But last night was the first time I’ve been gripped by fear. As the military police, called upon by a bully and authoritarian leader who rejects the basic principles of our constitution, stepped ever closer to citizens with their hands raised in peace and supplication, I feared the outcome. I feared that chaos would be unleashed. A spark would ignite a conflagration and innocent people would die. I truly did.

On the streets of our nation’s capital. Outside the “people’s house” the President and the Attorney General assembled their forces to be used on our citizens. For show. For a photo op. They unleashed violence on men and women exercising their rights and then crowed about it. Created videos showing the President marching to the nearby church as if he were a conquering hero.

Make no mistake… when he threatens to send in the military if states don’t act the way he wants, he is cutting down yet another guard rail that protects our democracy. The fact that he lacks the authority isn’t the point. That he entertains the idea as appropriate is. And the fact the chairman of the Joint Chiefs didn’t bat an eye… that he was seen as supporting and implicitly endorsing… is deeply troubling.

Months ago I began to write daily about a dangerous virus as one way of expressing my concerns and organizing my own thoughts. I still am. Only this virus is not just a threat to our physical health… it is a threat to our nation’s future, to the health and well-being of our body politic. And if we do not stand now to protect all that we stand for, all we will leave our children is the withered husk of democracy, and another failed state.

Yes. I believe it is serious. Biden said today that America’s story isn’t a fairy tale. We must fight for our values and our democracy and our freedoms. It is never an easy struggle, and the outcome is not guaranteed. I used to make the same point in countries where folks struggled against authoritarian leaders and where the descent into demagoguery and dictatorship was just one more abuse away.

I don’t believe in fairy tale endings either… but I believe that hope and decency and honesty can prevail. But only if we refuse to be cowed. Only if we have courage. And only if we act.

“If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.”

“If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.”

That was something Cory Booker said this morning. I know what he meant.

“I can’t breathe!” The chants in cities across the nation cut deeply across our consciousness. We are in a crisis of our own making. The pain and the cost of the racism 40 million of our citizens must face every day is real. And that’s just in the Black community. There are others… Latino, Asian… the name doesn’t matter. The color of their skin sets them apart in our nation, it can put them at risk, it can spark bias and discrimination those of us who are white will never know.

It’s a tough morning. It’s gorgeous outside but I’m struggling like all of us to make sense of what is happening on the streets in cities across our nation.

But some aren’t trying to make sense of things. They are instead seeking to exploit these moments and to translate their fear and hatred into violent actions. Their actions have nothing to do with George Floyd.

White men, dressed in black, moving silently and with purpose through the crowds to smash windows, to set fires and to fuel chaos. Other white men, heavily armed, threatening, intimidating men and women of all communities. The symbols of white supremacist organizations and of the radical right have been seen and filmed. There’s more than enough evidence already showing that some of those on the streets are deliberately attacking black and minority owned businesses. It’s ugly. It’s frightening.

I struggle not to rush to judgment. We don’t really KNOW yet what is happening and who the actors are. I believe that there are those on the left, the anarchist ANTIFA forces, who are irresponsible and dangerous and who may be on the streets adding to the problems. But I also believe it’s not just them, no matter what the White House asserts. If ANTIFA is there, so are the Three Percenters and the Boogaloo Bois and other right wing extremists.

They are just as destructive and when it comes to government and attacks on symbols of authority. They actively seek to accelerate our movement towards what they believe is an impending civil war and, eventually, the collapse of our society.

But they go beyond anarchism with an agenda of frightening racism and toxic hatred directed not just against government, but against men and women whose skin color, or faith, or beliefs are different than their own. It is white privilege on steroids. Anarchist violence, no matter the perpetrators, must be stopped. This violence puts our nation, our society, our future, at risk whether from the Boogaloo Bois or ANTIFA.

But the right wing extremists scare me and disgust me to my core. They are why George Floyd can be murdered, why Ahmaud Arbery can be murdered, why Michael Brown can be gunned down, why Eric Garner can be killed in a police choke hold. There is part of our society who applaud rather than feel outrage. And that is our shame.

We cannot, however, let these groups, and the need to respond to them, lead us to forget the legitimate concerns about racial and economic and social injustice that George Floyd’s death once again highlights. And we cannot let this be politicized. But that, sadly, has already begun.

Trump attacks the “Democratic” mayor of Minneapolis. Emphasizing his party every time he tweets about him. That’s political.

The President tweeted, “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others.” That’s political. It’s for his base.

The U.S. Attorney General has sounded alarm about a threat from ANTIFA anarchists, but is silent on the right wing hate groups who are also there. That’s political.

The National Security Advisor is only focused on ANTIFA as well. They all fall in line with the President.

And, if you’re a Trump surrogate, you avoid talking about or criticizing the white supremacists or Neo Nazis — “those very good people” who brought us Charlottesville.

Our nation is in trouble. And this isn’t the time to divide us. It’s the time to unite us. But we won’t get that from this White House and particularly not in an election year.

I don’t know where this ends. And, even more troubling, this latest tragedy and trauma comes while we are in the midst of a pandemic. And make no mistake, the pandemic isn’t taking a pause while we respond. We’re taking our eye off that ball too. The Atlanta mayor said she hasn’t looked at the corona numbers over the last two days. That doesn’t bode well either.

We can hope that the violence will end — and it likely will (though I think of the sustained yellow jacket protests in France and I wonder). But I worry that, as it does, we’ll just go back to business as usual. We won’t change. And the problems will then fester and erupt once more. And that’s the problem. We NEED to change. That change won’t come overnight but, unless this becomes a focused and determined effort for both our citizens and our leaders, this will happen again and again until we break. We need to understand this, I think, and to commit ourselves to the change that must come.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

Wishing for More Unicorns

(Another post from my daily coronavirus blog)

May 12

Our son Tony created an impressive origami unicorn the other day. I thought I’d share it. But, if you’re looking for other unicorns, or rainbows, or happy stories, I guess you’d better read someone else’s post because mine is a reflection of concern this morning.

Of course, I’ve been concerned about what is unfolding for the past few months. But I can’t help but worry that an unfortunate course is now set and that we, as a nation, lack the will, the mindset, and the discipline, to tackle this as we must. I think it is unlikely we’ll have an epiphany or shift direction and, as a result, this disease is going to kill far more in the United States than would have otherwise been the case and it will very likely do more economic damage in the long term than it would have had we just had the political courage and good sense to hold the line on reopening a bit longer.

Yes, it’s a failure of leadership. But it’s also a failure on the part of many of our citizens. Wearing masks shouldn’t be an issue of political allegiance — but for many it is. And it’s stupid. Working towards the common good — striking a balance between our personal interests and desires and the well-being of others. lt shouldn’t be that hard. But, obviously, there are many who are more concerned about what THEY want to do — go out to eat, get a haircut, go to the beach — than what our nation needs.

I know it is more complex than that… and I know that people are suffering on many levels. But the short term easing of the economic pain for some, risks causing longer term economic distress for all, and will, without any question, lead to far more deaths. How many more? 70,000? 100,000? 150,000? Take your pick. The experts aren’t sure how many, but they ARE sure that we will see them.

Tony Fauci warned of it again today in no uncertain terms. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country.”

“This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.” Fauci is not alone. I’ve not seen a single assessment from a doctor or scientist that argues the contrary. Former CDC Director, Tom Freden, who I know and respect commented recently that he feared the premature reopening “is not going to end well.”

But virtually every state is now caught up in the rush to reopen nonetheless — even though not ONE of them has met even the very low bar of 14 days of consecutive declining cases. We “have” to do it they all assert. And there’s no stopping them now.

They know that they don’t have the testing capacity. Trump can keep making his nonsense claims about how great we are doing on that front but every single measure says we are not only behind many other nations in per capita testing, but we’re woefully behind on the testing levels we need to be to keep workplaces safe and to control outbreaks. Not even close.

Some experts say that we need 10-20 million tests a day across the nation. Admiral Giroir, the leader of the public health service says we can MAYBE get to 8 million a MONTH by June. Maybe. China, will be testing the whole population of Wuhan — 11 million people — in the next ten days. Nope….we’re NOT the global leader in testing by a long stretch.

The numbers we need to test are huge. So is the price tag at $10 a test. And, as result, we’ll temporize… we’ll equivocate… and we’ll pay a far higher price later if we don’t pay for the testing now. But, one way or the other, we will pay.

As for contact tracing — another critical factor in reopening safely — studies and data from China suggests that one infected person may generate about 50 contacts. Currently we are seeing 25,000 new cases a day in the U.S. I’ve read that it takes a team of five tracers about three days to find 50 contacts. You do the math.

Currently, we have about 3,000 folks nationwide doing tracing. We’d have to increase that number to 100,000 — and daily cases would have to drop from 25,000 to 5,000 —
just to keep up. Neither of those things is likely to happen.

And as I noted above, there are too many of us who won’t wear masks. That’s another problem. And it is compounded when our leaders won’t set the example, making it hard to shame folks into doing what is right to protect others.

To bring things under control China took FAR more stringent measures than we’ve even considered. So have other countries. But we’re unwilling to accept that such things could be required here… we’re unwilling to accept restrictions and unwilling to be told what to do. It’s a mess of our own making.

And so, we’ll suffer, and we’ll see the further spikes and outbreaks and deaths. And even if we then say OMG, what have we done, and try to put the genie back in the bottle, it will be too late.

And it will be even harder to get people to be more disciplined next time around as this become increasingly political. The President is worrying about his reelection and seemingly more concerned about playing to his base than leading in a time of crisis. That isn’t going to make managing this any easier in the days ahead.

I could go on and on. I already have. So I’ll end by citing Tony Fauci once again. Dr. Fauci cautioned Senator Rand Paul today (as Paul was asserting we needed to reopen schools) that we have to be careful and humble about this disease that is constantly surprising us and challenging our understanding. We can’t be cavalier in assuming our children will be OK, he said. They too are increasingly at risk.

His words are likely to fall on deaf ears, though, in many quarters. Too many decision-makers are already being cavalier about the challenges and their options. They roll the dice, hoping their gamble will be OK — hoping that a resurgent economy and a day on the beach will be compensation enough for the loss of a grandparent or a mother or a child.

My bottom line for today? The choices have been made but we don’t have the will or the resources to make those choices viable. And meanwhile, too many in our society are so consumed with themselves that they aren’t able, or willing, to be part of a viable solution that calls for some degree of sacrifice. And, as a result, I worry we’ll all pay a higher price.

I’ll prepare for the storm to come. Maybe it will blow over. Maybe my weather sense is wildly mistaken.

But I’m not going to bet my life on it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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Another Bit of Crazy…

This morning, when I let the dogs out, both Lo Khyi and Gyptse made a mad dash for the top corner of the yard where they had their encounter with the possum a few weeks ago. They do this every day, perhaps thinking that they will have another chance to demonstrate their prowess against the forest critters whose scent taunts them when we go for walks.

The pups are creatures of habit. Seeking out the same enemy to fight again and again. I don’t want to be like them. I don’t want to sit down to write and seek out the same old negative stories or complaints. But I open the news and am smacked in the face with a new bit of “crazy” and I can’t help but comment.

These issues aren’t just about insults to our dignity, like a possum invading their turf is for my dogs.

Each new bit of “crazy” puts people at risk. People like our son and his partner who are essential workers at their jobs in Minnesota… one of the nation’s hotbeds right now for COVID-19.

Or people like our daughter who may be back teaching “live” in her classroom in the fall. Or our grandkids as they go back to schools that might or might not be prepared to protect them and their families.

What is the latest bit of crazy? Well, first the administration first asked the CDC to formulate a set of guidelines for intelligent and safe reopening of businesses, schools, places of worship and more. That was good.

But then, after receiving the report prepared by some of our leading experts on infectious diseases and how to mitigate their risks, it has chosen to neither use it nor share it.

As a result will we have fifty states with fifty strategies with fifty different standards? Will there be no effort to provide a national vision, guidance, or direction on how to tackle these challenges?

That’s what it looks like. I won’t belabor the risks of premature and uncoordinated approaches that I’ve talked about in other posts. But I have to conclude that this is — in my opinion at least — an appalling abdication of leadership when courageous leadership is needed more than ever.. It is irresponsible and shocking and a failure we can ill afford.

Sadly, however, it is not surprising. All of our experience of the past few years would lead me to conclude that this decision is most likely because the President and those around him don’t like the science. They don’t want to let nasty irritating facts get in the way of their decision making about the economy.

The President wants to go back to how things were three months ago. He doesn’t want to have us accept a new normal that is… new. He wants it to be the way it was. Not different. That’s what he said and we should probably take him at his word..

And so, to get back to “before” he and his team will make decisions unburdened by facts or by science. Decisions that seem to value the level of the stock market far more than the lives and safety of the workers they are urging to return to workplaces unburdened by the nagging nudge of CDC guidelines on safety.

After a while, this starts to seem like it’s just a numbers game to the administration. One where we write off another 60,000 deaths as “just the cost” of doing business — a price we pay to reopen the economy. Each of those numbers though is a father, or mother, or sister, or brother, or child. Each has value that we have an obligation to consider.

This disease will take more lives, no matter what we do. I know that. And I know that not every death is about someone screwing up. Bad things are happening. But we don’t need to recklessly exacerbate the problem. That, however, is exactly what we seem to be doing in pursuit of “getting back to where we were” without carefully calibrated decision-making on how to most effectively restore the nation’s economic health while protecting our physical well-being.

From my perspective, the vision for the economic reopening seems is as clouded as the vision for the medical response has been. The administration’s preferred strategy seems to be a matter of lifting restrictions and hoping that jobs and sales miraculously reappear. (They might want to suggest as well that we invest in coffins… there may be a boom in sales).

Is it too much to hope for a plan? I guess so. And I guess it’s too much to hope that the CDC recommendations will be shared. And I guess it’s also too much to expect our President would have spoken out to decry folks being shot for asking others to wear masks. And I guess it’s too much to expect our leaders to set an example by wearing masks and keeping a distance when they venture into health facilities and factories to demonstrate their leadership. Obviously, I have wildly misplaced hopes and expectations.

It galls me though that at the same time the President wants men and women already struggling with the challenges before to us to be “warriors” risking themselves to reopen the economy. And he suggests we’ll all be okay, if only we are careful — if we wash our hands and keep at appropriate distances. We’ll be ok if we just do… well, if we just do all the things that our leaders apparently AREN’T willing to do. Go figure.

We don’t have a phalanx of doctors taking the temp of anyone who might enter our presence. We don’t have the luxury of testing at the drop of a hat. We don’t get to fly in our own plane, limos, etc. But we are told we should be the warriors. We should take the risks. And we should do so despite the lack of a vision, a plan, or even a chance to hear from the CDC experts our tax dollars support.

I’m sure that the administration will tell us that they have a plan. But if the disjointed, seemingly ad hoc choices they have offered so far are a plan, they have certainly failed in inspiring most of us to believe In it.

So, as long as there’s enough “crazy” out there, maybe I’ll be like the dogs and keep chasing that possum. It keeps me busy at least as I navigate in this brave new world.

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Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

(From my daily COVID-19 Blog. Post for May 7. https://diplodogsinretirement.org/cancel-everything/

“Birdie with the Yellow Bill”

The StoryWorth question that I got this week was: “What about being a child do you miss the most?” It’s Interesting question to receive and reflect on at a time when the COVID-19 virus makes many of us long for a simpler time.

I’m one of those folks who looks back upon their childhood from the vantage point of many decades, and smiles.   It was the 1950s and the early 60s.  It was a different time.  My world was bound by Snelling Avenue — a very busy street to the east, St. Clair, marginally less busy to the north, and a warren of alleys and streets lined with single family homes extending for block after block in the other directions. 

Those were the neighborhoods in which we played; through which we walked to get to school; and where I lived from 1953-1961.  It was safe and it was inviting.  It was where I learned independence — venturing farther afield each year on my bike.  Exploring.  Playing.

We lived at 1604 Berkely and that was the base from which I launched my explorations.  There were no fences separating our back yards and we ran freely through them all.  We picked and ate the green apples on the Anderson’s tree next door.  We ran across the sloped hills that separated the Strehlow’s house from Mrs. White’s, and then again from ours (Mrs. White lived next door with her dog Bimmy).  You could run across the yard, roll down the hills and come home grass-stained and dirty just in time for lunch or dinner.

Two doors down were the Mickos and their kids (Cynthia and I were in the same grade), and across the street, on the corner were the Armstrongs (they too had kids, including Bill — aka Bumper — also a classmate).  Across the street were the Cassidy’s and the Brotts (one of the girls in that family was my sister Chris’ first nemesis). They weren’t classmates, however. They went to public school and and we were at Nativity Catholic grade school.  Not that that mattered so much to us but that was the first time I realized that there were different “identities” that would define us in life.

One of our favorite “playgrounds” was the vacant lot up on the corner of our block that bordered Snelling. There we creating a variety of games. Nonsensical in retrospect but great fun at the time. “Trucks, cars and busses” was one. It had something to do with racing from the street side of the lot to the “safe” zone on the other side of the path that diagonally bisected the lot as designated vehicles raced by on Snelling. At home we played “7 steps around the house” which was a version of “freeze”…you were allowed seven free steps in an effort to circumnavigate the house but after that, if the person who was “it” saw you move (they’d stand with their back turned and spin around quickly to try and catch you motion) you had to go back to the beginning. We played “war”  (it needs no explanation, I think). We combed the yards looking for four leafed clovers. 

There was always something, it seemed. Maybe we offered the plaint I hear from our grandkids at times…”I’m bored”… but I don’t remember every really feeling bored. There was always something to do.

It’s funny how vivid some of the memories are now. I remember the lilac bushes blooming in the spring and the Lillies of the Valley that grew along side the house.  I remember the huge leaf piles my dad would build in the fall as he raked, and the smell of the burning leaves (yes…we did open burning back then) on a late fall afternoon.  And I remember the big trash barrels (large metal drums) in the backyard bordering the alley where Dad burned the trash too.

In the winter we’d shovel out the back yard (or my older brother would) and then he’d flood the flattened space surrounded by banks of snow to make a homemade ice rink. I wasn’t much of a skater but it was still very cool. And I remember the shacks he’d build in the spring with his buddies. I was always so excited when he’d allow me to explore his handiwork. I remember our garage…creepy and full of cobwebs. The car was parked on the street or in the yard alongside the garage while the structure itself was used for storage of anything and everything it seemed.

We had our freedom but weren’t totally without supervision — most all the adults in the neighborhood would offer “corrective guidance” if it was called for — and there was routine that provided a degree of comfort and stability. When I was small, in the mornings I’d watch the early morning cartoons and then Captain Kangaroo — my generation’s Mr. Rogers.  

After, I’d go out to play but Mom would call me home a few minutes before noon every weekday during the summers so that I could watch “Lunchtime with Casey” (Casey Jones and Roundhouse Rodney, his sidekick) while I ate my lunch.   Then, in the afternoons there was Axel and his Dog…a Twin Cities classic. Axel lived in his treehouse with Towser his dog and Tallulah his cat — all you’d ever see were their paws. And he had a magic “spyglass” that opened up the world and through which you could view Our Gang comedies and more cartoons. He and Nurse Carmen, who was regularly featured , also appeared in the morning on Saturdays keeping and we never tired of his goofy “Scandihoovian” accent and jokes. And every program ended with a terrible play on words starting with “Birdie with a yellow bill, hopped upon my windowsill, cocked his shining eye and said….” and it would be followed with things like. “how do you like your water Luke…warm?” or what is your boyfriend’s name, Jessie….James?” Somehow he made it work.

In the evening there were “wholesome” shows like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Lassie, or the Donna Reed Show.  They reflected the perception, if not the reality, of that time.

It wasn’t all days of sunshine and childhood frolic. Like any time, there were challenges.   I’ve mentioned before “fallout shelters” and the worries about nuclear holocaust (no small thing… lol), but it seemed far away, intruding on our childhood consciousness only sporadically at best. And, at least until JFK’s assassination and the turmoil of the mid-late 60’s, the days of childhood were, in many ways, golden.

It was different then.  Simpler.  And that’s what I miss.  I miss the simplicity of a childhood where everything seemed more peaceful, gentler, and just…easier .  I miss the days of innocence and freedom.  Of rolling down hills, of catching grasshoppers, of watching the sunlight filtering through the trees.  

Maybe the passage of the years has filtered how I see those days…perhaps time has softened the edges and memory retouched the blemishes… but I’ll treasure — and miss — those days nonetheless.

In The Garden

I’ve discovered in the past few years (after many seasons overseas interspersed with busy and demanding stints in the states), that I like gardening.  I’m not obsessive or a competition gardener.  I know the names of many of the flowers and flowering shrubs that went into the ground but some whose names I forgot minutes after I purchased them.  I didn’t care.  I bought them because I thought they were pretty and, if hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies liked them then so much the better.

The garden is a mishmash.  And interspersed among the perennials I look forward to seeing rise anew each spring are wildflowers and other seed mixes that will produce unexpected delights into the autumn.  It’s crazy and wild and not carefully tended but it is nonetheless nurtured with affection that, as time goes by, may blossom into love.  

I enjoy, I find, putting my hands in dirt.  Digging… preparing the soil… removing old growth if needed.  There is a richness even in our less than stellar soil.  Insects and earthworms.  Life in abundance.  

This year I’ve been antsy to do something in the garden. I think that as we confront the challenges of COVID-19 and the tragic losses it has brought, the sense of renewal that comes with spring seems even more important this year.  I’m eager to be dealing with planting, nurturing, and witnessing the rebirth of the garden.

So, on Easter Sunday, on the way back from the grocery store, we also stopped at the Garden Center.  Not for long… and we WERE masked and gloved.  But we grabbed some of what we needed and yesterday, again masked and gloved, we got the rest… including king-sized (and very heavy) bags of organic soil.

New soil was spread yesterday in the back garden we created two summers back.  It’s where the lemongrass, mint, basil, parsley, and cilantro grow these days… along one leg of the L-shaped patch.  Those plants are now in the ground… strikingly green against the black soil that has been added to the garden.  The other long leg of the L is awash in seeds… wildflower seeds… for pollinators… a mad mix from which the strong will flourish then we’ll be surprised to see a more delicate bloom push its way through in any event.  

More seeds were spread across the top of the yard where butterfly bushes and the new (from last year) peony are promising to flower early, and where the honeysuckle is already out of control, and where the wild grasses are coming back as other flowering plants are also coming to life.  The rhubarb, now in its fourth year, was transplanted from it’s huge pot to the garden as well.  Dill seeds were sown in one corner… can we really attract swallowtail butterflies as they claim?  The catmint is coming back along with other hummingbird attractors.  

The white bleeding heart is flowering and has grown like crazy while the red flowering plant is making a comeback to )even though overzealous weeders from the lawn service had, we thought, murdered it last year).  

Pots and planters are filled with marigolds and impatiens and pansies and more.  Color is back.  It’s good.  More seeds were sown in other pots hoping for more flowers… and cilantro.  Rosemary and basil are growing with the chives on the deck.  

Even inside the plants have all been tended.  The orchids are blooming, the Swedish Ivy (a clipping originally came from a plant in President Obama’s Oval Office), the shamrocks are huge and my grandma’s snake plant and it’s descendants are growing like crazy…as are the various Christmas and Easter cacti.  

And, finally, today I replaced the prayer flags.  It seemed the right day to do it.  As I celebrate the start of another year —  this is 67— and Nepal starts another year — 2077 — what better way to mark the new beginning than with fresh prayer flags.  

It was a lot of work yesterday and today to help kickstart the garden’s annual rebirth.  My back is a bit sore and it was tiring.  But it was worth it.  It felt right.  Especially under the circumstances.  It felt necessary.

It was good.