September – Living Virtually in the Real World

Life continues despite the challenges and we struggle with the question of reopening schools, going back to work, dining out, even going to the store. Many of us spend more and more time at home relying on the tools of a digital age to stay connected. Here’s another month’s worth of musings.

September 30

Did you watch the debate? It was more debacle than debate, of course. I think Dana Bash on CNN nailed it when, on the air, she called it exactly what we called it sitting here at home — a shitshow.  

A crude term perhaps, but it succinctly captures the essence of what was an embarrassing and often crude performance by Trump. It is as if he equates strength with boorishness and leadership with bullying. He was, by turn, juvenile, petulant, churlish, and more. There was no dignity, no grace, no presidential demeanor. Just a crass and deeply disturbing performance.  

We are… or were once… a global leader. But, over the course of his administration we have increasingly become either a cause for global concern or a laughingstock. And last night cemented those.  

“The debate was a joke, a low point, a shame for the country,” Markus Feldenkirchen of the German news magazine Der Spiegel posted on Twitter. “Roaring, insults, two over-70s who interrupt each other like 5-year-olds — and a moderator who loses all control. The trigger, of course: Trump’s uncouth, undignified behavior.”

The Guardian in the UK called it a “national humiliation” and said, “The rest of the world – and future historians – will presumably look at it and weep,” the paper wrote, adding that Mr. Biden was the only man who looked “remotely presidential” on the stage, and saying that if Mr. Trump was reelected in November “this dark, horrifying, unwatchable fever dream will surely be the first line of America’s obituary.”

“Chaotic, childish, quelling,” was the verdict from Le Monde.  

The US embarrassed itself before the world for 100 minutes,” said the Times of India.  

China and Russia were eager to join the condemnation asserting that we were watching the decay and decline of the American political system. 

You have to wonder if they may not be right.  

We bemoan the fact that many young people are not engaged in the political process. Well, last night’s disgusting display may offer a clue as to why they are opting out of a process that seems so badly broken and irrelevant to the real challenges facing our nation. It’s not cynicism to suggest that what we saw were two septuagenarians bickering and fighting and trading insults but saying nothing. I don’t put Biden into the same category as Trump, but still… is THIS what America needs to face the future? Is this the best we can do? 

I said a few days ago that I could understand the thinking of those who are arguing that we need radical change. Perhaps we DO need a rethinking of the nature of American governance. Certainly, the current system for the exercise of political power is proving itself incapable of meaningful action in the face of daunting crises and existential challenges.   

I am willing to wait and see what follows the election, but it’s hard to believe — even if Biden is elected — that the unyielding partisanship that has paralyzed governance and undercut the essence of our democratic process will be easily overcome. A dramatic retooling and rethinking of how and where the system has failed and what we need for the future may be essential.

But right now we have to worry about just getting beyond this disaster of this presidency. And, of all the horrific things last night, none was more chilling than Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy or denounce their support of those for whom hatred is the norm and who seem more than eager to turn to violence to express it. In fact, the folks who may be the happiest about last night’s disaster may just be the white supremacists, including the Proud Boys who Trump singled out, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”  

Joe Biggs, who according to NBC News and Vice is a prominent Proud Boys organizer, took this as an implicit thumbs up. He said on the right-wing social network, Parler, that “Trump basically said to go f*** them up. This makes me so happy,” he wrote.

The group is selling a shirt online that includes the phrase “standing by” and is sharing a new version of their logo, which I won’t dignify by linking to, which includes Trump’s call to “stand by” as a badge of honor.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” we might ask.  How is it that he cannot bring himself, in today’s world, to denounce white supremacists and racism and hatred.  But, of course, we know the answer. By many accounts he is himself a racist and, even if he is not, he doesn’t care if his supporters are.  He’s made it clear that as long as you “like him” and will vote for him, your views, no matter how repugnant, don’t matter.  

You can be racist, you can be anti-semitic.  You can propagate QAnon tropes that echo those the Nazi’s used when they demonized Jews and other impure subhumans as devil worshippers who drank the blood of infants.  But that’s OK. Like the Proud Boys, QAnon supporters like him; so their vicious and undisguised hate can be ignored.  

Last night Trump also told lie after lie about the electoral process, offering claims — that have been repeatedly debunked — about massive fraud and dark plots to steal the election through mail-in voting.  None of it is true but that doesn’t stop Trump from saying it again and again.  

And there are those who will believe him rather than look at the facts.  That blind support pleases him no end, I’m sure.  He is betting on it as he sets the stage to dismiss the election as a fraud, claim that is was “stolen” from him and that the results are illegitimate.  He counts on supporters who just follow like sheep and is crossing his fingers that the courts — including the Supreme Court — will come to his rescue, despite the will of the voters.  

He won’t care if destroys the faith our citizens have in the integrity of the electoral process — a faith that has been the bedrock of our democratic experience.

Nope.  That won’t matter to him as long as he holds onto power.  And elections are just a pesky nuisance in any event. 

The scary thing is, if there are enough gullible fools out there and enough self-serving Republican politicians who put their hold on power above the national interest, he might just get away with it.  I’ve seen this game played by autocrats and would-be dictators in other nations.  Don’t tell me that it can’t happen here.  Because it can.  

Yes, last night’s debate was a shitshow.  But it was also deeply troubling with chilling moments.  I almost hope that Biden will refuse to go on with a process that Trump has turned into an embarrassing farce.  I think many would be relieved if we are spared a future national humiliation.  

It’s hard to believe we can sink lower or become more dysfunctional.  It is even harder to imagine that this season of discord and division could lead to a major constitutional crisis in the days following the election.  But, sadly, it seems that anything is possible in America today.  

Once we would have said that with hope and optimism, pointing to the strength, resilience, and innovation our nation offered as a land of opportunity.  Now we say it with resignation, trepidation, and dismay, and worry that opportunity may be a “white’s only” dream.  

This is truly an inflection point in our national life. I remain hopeful our choices and our actions will lead us back to a vision of promise for us all. I remain hopeful we’re prepared to fight for all that we have cherished and the values we refuse to abandon.  But, as the enigmatic magic eight ball would say, “don’t count on it.”  The future remains cloudy and storms must be weathered before the skies clear.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

Did you watch the debate? It was more debacle than debate, of course. I think Dana Bash on CNN nailed it when, on the air, she called it exactly what we called it sitting here at home — a shitshow.  

A crude term perhaps, but it succinctly captures the essence of what was an embarrassing and often crude performance by Trump. It is as if he equates strength with boorishness and leadership with bullying. He was, by turn, juvenile, petulant, churlish, and more. There was no dignity, no grace, no presidential demeanor. Just a crass and deeply disturbing performance.  

We are… or were once… a global leader. But, over the course of his administration we have increasingly become either a cause for global concern or a laughingstock. And last night cemented those.  

“The debate was a joke, a low point, a shame for the country,” Markus Feldenkirchen of the German news magazine Der Spiegel posted on Twitter. “Roaring, insults, two over-70s who interrupt each other like 5-year-olds — and a moderator who loses all control. The trigger, of course: Trump’s uncouth, undignified behavior.”

The Guardian in the UK called it a “national humiliation” and said, “The rest of the world – and future historians – will presumably look at it and weep,” the paper wrote, adding that Mr. Biden was the only man who looked “remotely presidential” on the stage, and saying that if Mr. Trump was reelected in November “this dark, horrifying, unwatchable fever dream will surely be the first line of America’s obituary.”

“Chaotic, childish, quelling,” was the verdict from Le Monde.  

The US embarrassed itself before the world for 100 minutes,” said the Times of India.  

China and Russia were eager to join the condemnation asserting that we were watching the decay and decline of the American political system. 

You have to wonder if they may not be right.  

We bemoan the fact that many young people are not engaged in the political process. Well, last night’s disgusting display may offer a clue as to why they are opting out of a process that seems so badly broken and irrelevant to the real challenges facing our nation. It’s not cynicism to suggest that what we saw were two septuagenarians bickering and fighting and trading insults but saying nothing. I don’t put Biden into the same category as Trump, but still… is THIS what America needs to face the future? Is this the best we can do? 

I said a few days ago that I could understand the thinking of those who are arguing that we need radical change. Perhaps we DO need a rethinking of the nature of American governance. Certainly, the current system for the exercise of political power is proving itself incapable of meaningful action in the face of daunting crises and existential challenges.   

I am willing to wait and see what follows the election, but it’s hard to believe — even if Biden is elected — that the unyielding partisanship that has paralyzed governance and undercut the essence of our democratic process will be easily overcome. A dramatic retooling and rethinking of how and where the system has failed and what we need for the future may be essential.

But right now we have to worry about just getting beyond this disaster of this presidency. And, of all the horrific things last night, none was more chilling than Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy or denounce their support of those for whom hatred is the norm and who seem more than eager to turn to violence to express it. In fact, the folks who may be the happiest about last night’s disaster may just be the white supremacists, including the Proud Boys who Trump singled out, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”  

Joe Biggs, who according to NBC News and Vice is a prominent Proud Boys organizer, took this as an implicit thumbs up. He said on the right-wing social network, Parler, that “Trump basically said to go f*** them up. This makes me so happy,” he wrote.

The group is selling a shirt online that includes the phrase “standing by” and is sharing a new version of their logo, which I won’t dignify by linking to, which includes Trump’s call to “stand by” as a badge of honor.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” we might ask.  How is it that he cannot bring himself, in today’s world, to denounce white supremacists and racism and hatred.  But, of course, we know the answer. By many accounts he is himself a racist and, even if he is not, he doesn’t care if his supporters are.  He’s made it clear that as long as you “like him” and will vote for him, your views, no matter how repugnant, don’t matter.  

You can be racist, you can be anti-semitic.  You can propagate QAnon tropes that echo those the Nazi’s used when they demonized Jews and other impure subhumans as devil worshippers who drank the blood of infants.  But that’s OK. Like the Proud Boys, QAnon supporters like him; so their vicious and undisguised hate can be ignored.  

Last night Trump also told lie after lie about the electoral process, offering claims — that have been repeatedly debunked — about massive fraud and dark plots to steal the election through mail-in voting.  None of it is true but that doesn’t stop Trump from saying it again and again.  

And there are those who will believe him rather than look at the facts.  That blind support pleases him no end, I’m sure.  He is betting on it as he sets the stage to dismiss the election as a fraud, claim that is was “stolen” from him and that the results are illegitimate.  He counts on supporters who just follow like sheep and is crossing his fingers that the courts — including the Supreme Court — will come to his rescue, despite the will of the voters.  

He won’t care if destroys the faith our citizens have in the integrity of the electoral process — a faith that has been the bedrock of our democratic experience.

Nope.  That won’t matter to him as long as he holds onto power.  And elections are just a pesky nuisance in any event. 

The scary thing is, if there are enough gullible fools out there and enough self-serving Republican politicians who put their hold on power above the national interest, he might just get away with it.  I’ve seen this game played by autocrats and would-be dictators in other nations.  Don’t tell me that it can’t happen here.  Because it can.  

Yes, last night’s debate was a shitshow.  But it was also deeply troubling with chilling moments.  I almost hope that Biden will refuse to go on with a process that Trump has turned into an embarrassing farce.  I think many would be relieved if we are spared a future national humiliation.  

It’s hard to believe we can sink lower or become more dysfunctional.  It is even harder to imagine that this season of discord and division could lead to a major constitutional crisis in the days following the election.  But, sadly, it seems that anything is possible in America today.  

Once we would have said that with hope and optimism, pointing to the strength, resilience, and innovation our nation offered as a land of opportunity.  Now we say it with resignation, trepidation, and dismay, and worry that opportunity may be a “white’s only” dream.  

This is truly an inflection point in our national life. I remain hopeful our choices and our actions will lead us back to a vision of promise for us all. I remain hopeful we’re prepared to fight for all that we have cherished and the values we refuse to abandon.  But, as the enigmatic magic eight ball would say, “don’t count on it.”  The future remains cloudy and storms must be weathered before the skies clear.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 29

I’d say all eyes are on tonight’s debate, but that just the political junky in me talking. I know that there are boatloads of folks who aren’t paying attention and who won’t bother to watch the debate. And, to a degree, I don’t blame them.

Over time, the debates have more and more been about theater, not substance or policy. And with Trump on stage, “theater” is more likely to give way to spectacle. Ninety minutes of gratuitous and specious personal attacks on Biden. More outlandish lies and invented statistics to tout his performance, and more whining grievances about how unfairly he is treated by the media. It’s going to be ugly. I’ll be curious to see how Biden handles it. 

I can’t believe the debate will really tip the scale, but you never know. I doubt that there are many truly undecided in this polarized environment. I think most of us know where the line is drawn and on which side of it we stand. So it’s hard to see the debate shifting views. The differences are too stark. The choices are too different. 

I don’t worry if there are those who can’t bring themselves to suffer through the debate tonight. What I don’t get are those who are so indifferent to the process that they won’t even vote. In 2016, only 58% of eligible voters participated. I believe it will be higher this time… I hope it will… but who knows. It just amazes me that so many of us decline to be part of our democracy even when the stakes are as consequential as they are this time around. 

That’s part of the reason I’ll bother to watch the debates, too. As painful as it is to see the level or our national discourse debased by the blustering of a schoolyard bully, we need to follow events because the consequences of ignoring it, and seeing an election slip away, are far too great.

Meanwhile, globally, we have now seen 1 million people die from COVID. I mention it not because it’s news… we’ve all seen it coming… but because we need to acknowledge the horrific human costs of this disaster that too many seek to ignore or gloss over. 

“…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 28

I’m not going to belabor the fact that it’s Monday. It is what it is. And it doesn’t feel that different from any other day. I know it’s Monday because I’m doing my part-time telework for State. I know it’s Monday because the morning news anchors are the weekday faces, not the weekend hosts. 

But my day won’t be that much different. A bit more work. A bit less play. But work or play, it all mostly occurs here at home. Maybe I’m projecting, but the dogs seem to have that “I’m bored” look on their faces. It’s like they need a walk to get their spirits up. And I tend to agree. Maybe that’s in the cards, but writing comes first.

I could talk about the pandemic, there’s always a story there. But there’s not much that is truly new. The numbers are always in flux but the bottom line is that they’re not very good. But we know that. South Dakota’s new infections are 38% higher than last week and that week was higher than the one the week before. Is THAT any surprise? It’s one of those states with a governor who doesn’t believe COVID is a problem — if she even believes it exists. 

It’s a state where the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally almost guaranteed a super-spreader event and Trump’s big event at Mt. Rushmore — where masks were little in evidence — was probably another. I see Oklahoma’s cases keep ticking up. It seems too far removed from Trump’s rally there for that to be a cause but you have to wonder if it is contributing in the long run. Coronavirus, after all, is a gift that keeps on giving. 

I always wonder why there isn’t a greater degree of distress being expressed by the deaths that we see just here at home. 1,000 a day. It could rise to 2,000 or more as we get into the colder weather. But we seem numb to it all. Here’s a link to one good article talking about why that is.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/09/why-minds-brains-cannot-make-sense-coronavirus-enormous-death-toll/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=SpecialEdition_20200925&rid=BF75CFFC1D8F552C325A71779C53C376

And, although the pandemic and our management of it is critically important, there is so much going on to distract us. I have to admit I couldn’t help but read with fascination the reports on Trump’s tax dodging. We’ve all known that there was a reason he didn’t want us to see his taxes. But his efforts to hide them make them all the more a subject of interest once they are revealed. 

There’s nothing there that truly is a surprise — it’s everything we’ve come to expect from this charlatan. But, even as the carefully built fable of his wealth and his business acumen erodes, exposing the con man underneath, I marvel at some of the details. 

He paid no tax at all in ten of the the last 15 years? Or $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017? The average middle class family paid three times that. Many of us paid a hell of a lot more. We don’t have all the loopholes and dodges he used and few of us would have gone to the lengths he did to avoid his civic responsibility. 

Perhaps, like serving our nation in the military, paying taxes is for “losers” and “suckers.” Yep… he’s the smart one. Why contribute your share of taxes to support our nation’s defense, or education, or to help our most vulnerable citizens, or rebuild our infrastructure? Why pay taxes, even though you’re supposedly one of the most wealthy men around, when you can get every-day men and women just trying to make ends meet to do it for you.

So, sure… the hotshot businessman’s companies are losing money hand over fist and his failures as a business leader excuse him from paying his share of taxes. He claims deductions for using your daughter as a consultant or write off the $70,000 you had to spend to make your hair look good for TV appearances? Really? 

There’s much more to it and we’ll hear stories about this for a few days. Unless he does something totally outrageous to change the narrative — as he’s inclined to do. God only knows what he’ll say in the debate tomorrow night.

This is another example of how we have veered so far off course in America that change is essential. It is time for rethinking and reprioritizing. Maybe, if it provides a catalyst for long overdue change, we owe Trump a thank you for his callous abuse of our processes and egregious abandonment of values and morality in his pursuit of his own interests. But we have to worry that, despite all the failures and mistakes and actions that have harmed our national security and put our future at risk, Trump still could be reelected.

That thought just astounds me. I shake my head in bemusement at the fact that there is still a hard core of his supporters who won’t care that he doesn’t pay taxes. They ignore his affairs, they refuse to believe the women who experienced his predatory behavior, they gloss over his lies, they refuse to see the lack of morality and the fact that he puts himself, not the nation, first in all that he does.  

And, as they work their tails off — and pay their taxes — he will revel in how he contributes nothing and what suckers they are for playing by the rules. But they will tune it out in order to continue to worship at the altar of Trump. The blind adulation is inexplicable to me. 

But that’s what has to be overcome if we are going to take the first step towards reclaiming our nation and bringing (we pray) some degree of decency, morality, and normalcy back to governance in America. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 27

It’s a busy Sunday. I have cooking to do. Multiple projects await. I want to play some piano. There’s way too much to read and I want to do a bit of writing, other than this blog. So I am starting early. When it get’s posted may be another story but I’m getting a start.

I’m not sure what there is to say. I don’t really want to write about the Supreme Court. Judge Barrett may be a fine jurist but, I fundamentally disagree with her views on many subjects. Whether she will be guided by the constitution, precedent and law, or whether she will try to bend those to fit her ideological perspective is the question I guess we face every time there is a nominee to the court. And our tolerance for ambiguity in the answer depends very much on where we sit on the ideological spectrum.

The bottom line for me, though, is not about Barrett herself, but about the process and the hypocrisy of the Republicans rushing this through now after refusing to even consider President Obama’s nominee who was put forward in March — not September — of his last year in office. “The new President should decide,” they all declaimed then. “The voice of the people should be heard.” Now it’s more a matter of screw you and shut up. We have the power and will do what we want. It’s time for change on so many levels and I hope we start with the Republicans in the Senate (right after the incumbent in the White House). 

Meanwhile, the world is approaching 1 million COVID deaths and the virus shows no sign of abating. Last week, India led the way with over 7,000 deaths, but the US was right behind with over 5,000. 

Someone told me yesterday that I should focus on the number of folks who have recovered, not on the negatives. Respectfully, I disagree. The story isn’t that a million people didn’t die. The issues revolve around the fact that 203,000 of our fellow citizens did. Many of them needlessly. We could have done better at protecting our nation — just as numerous other countries did. But we failed. 

And the blame doesn’t go to the governors or mayors as was suggested to me. As states were forced to compete for resources in the midst of a national emergency, as they looked to the federal government for a plan, for a vision, or even for basic information on the threat we were facing, they got bupkis — which, if you’re not familiar with the term, means absolutely nothing. (OK…perhaps that is a bit too strong but the total ineptitude of the government response — of Trump’s response — is unparalleled, I think, in terms of how any president in my lifetime dealt with a major crisis.) 

The failure of leadership, the deliberate misinformation, the lack of empathy… we all know what that list looks like. We’re all entitled to our views. In my view, Trump’s failures and politically driven response — which continues to this day — are an abject abdication of the right to lead. He still mocks masks. He still set’s all the wrong examples. He still puts us at risk.

I was told…”He’s not a doctor,” as if that excuses him. You don’t have to be a doctor to lead. He’s the president for god’s sake. He doesn’t have to be a doctor — he just has to listen to them. But he doesn’t. Instead, he tells us that kids are immune, that it will all go away, that it’s just the sniffles, the hydroxychloroquine is a miracle cure, and more. 

Folks might be inclined to point to New York and argue that it’s all going to be OK… we’re getting back to normal. But we’re not. And New York needs to take care because we’re seeing the pandemic come roaring back in many countries that thought they had it beat. And although New York may be doing OK for now — and I hope it stays that way — they can’t forget the huge price they paid there initially. 

At the end of the day, though, I don’t write to change someone’s mind, and certainly I have no desire to get into endless circular debates. We know what we know and we believe what we believe. I write because for me it helps me to cope, to think and to assess. I write not to offer some absolute truth but my personal perspective. Take from it what you will or nothing at all. 

I do think, though, that this effort has, perhaps, ensured that I will finally — after decades of false starts and excuses about “not enough time” — keep a journal. This process of daily writing is becoming too deeply engrained to stop.. It may at times be self-indulgent, it may on occasion just be meandering flows of words that offer little of note. But it doesn’t matter. It is what it is and that’s good enough for me. 

Happy Sunday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 26

It’s over 7 million COVID infections now in the US. The number seems shocking. Remember when it was just a handful (and Trump told us it would soon go down to 0?). But, as considerable as the number of infections is, the CDC Director reminded us the other day, over 90% of the American public is vulnerable to this disease. 

There are, of course, the glimmers of hope coming from various vaccine trials, but, increasingly, the narrative we hear from the experts is that a) we’ll never be back to the “normal” we once knew, and b) it will likely be the end of 2021 (or later) before we see a stable enough public health environment to really begin to assess what life will look like in the future. 

Will masks in public become a commonplace thing? Will we forever pop a mask on our face as readily as we put in our audio earbuds when we ride a bus or a plane? When we go out shopping? Will we limit our hugs for those we can be sure are “safe?. Will the end of COVID be the end of public health crises for a while or will we see other new diseases emerging? 

Will education be forever changed? Will the concept of the “workplace” be increasingly redefined? What economic sectors will be damaged beyond recovery and what new opportunities will emerge? Will this further spark the introduction of AI, with smart machines replacing human workers in factories where social distancing is a challenge? Will the idea of Universal Basic Income gain traction? Will bio-tech development shift its focus to reengineer our DNA to make us more resilient/resistant to diseases such as this and what other implications — positive and negative — will such efforts have for the future?

The future was going to look different in any event. Like others of my generation, I’ve seen a mind boggling pace of social, economic, and technological change in my lifetime and that pace was accelerating long before COVID, and the pandemic hasn’t stopped it. It has merely distracted us from looking at what the future holds. 

Yes, COVID will leave its mark on the shape of that future, but I’m willing to bet that the revolutions in AI, big data, and biotech will shape it even more. And the climate crisis will likely force further change. We’ve waited too long and done too little and in the years ahead, I’ll wager that our lives will be changed more by that crisis than by this pandemic. 

But, at the end of the day, it’s all interrelated. It will be fascinating to watch IF science and technology and governments and societies adapt quickly and wisely to counter the threats. And if we don’t, I hate to think about just how grim the future may be.

To a certain extent I mourn the passing of the world that I knew. It was a far from perfect place, but there was much beauty and joy there. There were the simpler days, or so they seemed, of my youth. There were opportunities to see the unparalleled beauty of nature… whether the high Himalaya in Nepal, the grandeur of Alaska, the golden afternoon light illuminating the African savannah, and so much more. Life has been rich and rewarding and I hope that it will continue to be so. But it will be different. 

So we face an uncertain future with trepidation. If ever we needed to come together, it is in the face of such challenges. Yet, I worry and I wonder if, instead of a shared commitment to face the problems, the desperate urge to cling to the past — the unwillingness to acknowledge that the world around is changing that we see so manifest in the current environment — won’t make unity far more difficult.

I’m bemused to see where my thoughts took me on this overcast and marginally gloomy Saturday. As is so often the case, when I sat down to write I really didn’t know what would flow out from the keyboard. But, every day, something does. 

And that’s it for today, the 200th day since I began this exercise. Perhaps a toast, tonight, to remember the past, salute the days to come, and mark this 200 day milestone.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 25

I was reading today about the Gnathomortis or “Jaws of Death.” A 33-foot giant marine reptile that you wouldn’t have wanted to run into 80 million years ago. It inhabited the inland sea that split today’s North America into two land masses.

It got me thinking. Perhaps we need a new inland sea with a whole school or herd or whatever you call a copious number of Gnathomortises patrolling the waterway dividing the us and the them. 

You know what I mean and who I mean. If our country is so terribly divided that we cannot agree on even the most basic of things and if a segment of our population wants to believe their bizarre fantasies then let them… but please, give me a Gnathomortis to keep them at arms length.

I saw another of those reports this morning interviewing Trump supporters at a rally in Bemidji, Minnesota. It was mind-numbing. One supporter was shown a video of Biden supposedly asleep in his chair when a news anchor cued the camera to interview him. The anchor’s bemused response was real… she did find a sleeping interviewee when the camera went live… it just wasn’t Joe Biden.  It was the singer, Harry Belafonte.  

When the Trump supporter was shown the original clip of Belafonte asleep — that same clip into which Biden’s image was substituted and a “snoring” soundtrack added — he was at least willing to concede that the “Biden asleep” clip was doctored.  It was fake.  But he didn’t care. 

That was the sad thing. He saw nothing to be concerned about.  And then he went on to say that, even if this representation wasn’t true, he believed it COULD be true. I guess that’s the standard these days. If you can imagine something — if you can believe it is possible — you can act as if it is true. 

That’s the logic in Trumpworld… Trump and his supporters can imagine that all immigrants are criminals and rapists.   And maybe their imagination will tell them that immigrants are also Chinese agents carrying a disease to destroy us.  So, if they can imagine it, then they’ll might want to bar the gates and build a wall around the country. Oh…they’ve already done that?  Right.  Well maybe then Trump and Steven Miller can imagine them to be so dangerous we should just lock them all up in camps.   

I CAN imagine that kind of response from a second Trump administration and it scares the hell out of me.  

There were a few others Trump supporters who were, if anything, even more disturbing.  A couple of them, when asked if they believed the QAnon reports asserting that Joe Biden is a pedophile, offered their whole-hearted endorsement. Really? Honestly and truly? How delusional and vicious have we become?  And when told that the FBI says that QAnon is a domestic terror threat and a danger to our nation they sided with the crackpots, not the FBI. In their world, it only made sense that QAnon which they see as on the side of truth and justice and seeking to expose the FBI, would be attacked by the Bureau.  

Sadly, I don’t think that these folks in Bemidji weren’t oddball outliers. They were, I believe, frighteningly typical of Trump’s core supporters. 

When we listen to discussions on the subject of voter fraud, when we witness the increasingly bitter exchanges between Trump and the medical experts in his administration, or when folks start to opine on hot button issues like racism, climate change, or guns, it is clearer every day that we have two Americas.  One grounded in science and rationality. The other in prejudice and willful rejection of facts.

I know we can’t just split into two camps and never engage again, nor should we. We have to find our way forward together. We need to find our shared values and set our priorities and work for the common good as one people. We need to face the future with our feet grounded in reality — where the problems are challenging enough without adding the wild fantasies that spring from the addled brains of some of the most extreme. 

We have our work cut out for us. 

But, just for this one afternoon, can’t I dream that we can keep the gun-toting, hate-spewing, science-denying, immigrant-bashing, misanthropes at bay? Can’t we let them live on their own side of the inland sea?  There they can feed on each other’s grievances, refuse to wear masks and spread COVID (which they don’t believe exists, anyway) to each other at ever-increasing rates, while we live in peace.

I know that sound’s mean-spirited, but, for this one afternoon, give me those Jaws of Death on patrol between me and them and I’ll ask for nothing more.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 24

The weather has a fall-like feel today. It’s not crisp and cool but certainly not hot. The clouds in the sky just LOOK like fall. We’re getting there. 

So, I guess I could say see… the world hasn’t fallen completely off its axis. The seasons still change. Day continues to dawn anew each morning. The birds sing. There is much that is untouched by the drama we are forced to confront every time we log onto our computers or turn on the radio or tv. 

We can be grateful for that, I guess, and seek to take comfort in nature. (Of course that could lead into a lengthy discussion about climate change and the consequences of ignoring it. But, I wrote about that just two days ago, so…)

No matter how we seek to find our respite from all that batters us, though, the noise and chaos are still there when we next look. It’s numbing. I have to believe that so many of us just long for normalcy. I would welcome days on end when we aren’t worrying about deadly pandemics, threats to our democracy from our own leaders, or efforts by our enemies to subvert our nation’s core institutions — including the electoral process. 

I can’t be alone in feeling weary of the constant yammering and discord. Or every day seeing a new story about racial injustice, or lies from our leaders, or the rise of bizarre and obscene conspiracy theories. I can’t be alone in being troubled by our divorce from science, our preference for fictional narratives over reality, or our seeming disregard for our fellow Americans. I hate it.

My wells of patience and tolerance and understanding are all being slowly sucked dry. And I hate that too. It’s too hard. Days full of worry and anxiety about what will come next. I long for it to end. 

Some day, if we get back to normal, I don’t know if my grandkids or their kids will be able to appreciate just how overwhelming it feels to live in the midst of these crises. Crises of health, of governance, and social comity. 

Just look at the stories we see today alone:

◆Trump asserts he can overrule the scientists at the FDA on coronavirus vaccine guidelines that are meant to protect us all from premature and ill-informed judgements.

◆The police officers whose reckless actions killed Breonna Taylor were not charged with any culpability and demonstrations across the nation erupted in response. Two policer offers were shot during them, but thankfully were not critically injured. I join all who decry those shootings but am nonetheless struck — and dismayed — that the same urgency the police and FBI demonstrated in seeking the shooter was not on display when, for example, Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in Atlanta while jogging (or in countless other cases involving racially motivated acts of violence against black citizens). 

◆Trump refused to assure a peaceful transition of power following the election. Republican leaders dismiss concerns but are already talking about a peaceful transition AFTER court challenges, etc. Since when is THIS the norm in America? If you don’t think our democracy is at risk, think again.

◆COVID infections continue to mount, as do the deaths. Over 41,000 new cases again yesterday and over 1,000 people died. Another story talked about how young people are infecting older family members. Yet people shrug their shoulders. It surpasses my understanding. But still there were other stories showing Trump rally goers who still go mask-less… to what end? To prove their devotion? To show that they are willing to die for Trump? To thumb their uncovered noses at the experts who warn again and again about the consequences only to be ignored?  As I said, the news makes my head swim with the craziness of it all and the misplaced priorities. 

◆Or how about the multitude of stories today about the fake news and doctored videos coming not from the media, that Trump excoriates at every opportunity, but from Trump and his campaign. The Russians are joining in — again — too. The Chinese, to a degree, as well, along with many others who see opportunities to exploit. Opportunities to weaken us further while we war against each other here in America. But Trump nonetheless dismisses the warnings of his own hand-picked FBI Director when he says the Russians are trying to manipulate us. “I like Putin,” say Trump. “And he likes me.”

◆There were stories today about the surging second wave of COVID in Europe. In Britain, in particular, the rise in cases is reaching troubling levels. Yesterday, they saw the highest daily increase since April and are now moving to reimpose restrictions.

◆Midday today, a new headline appeared to tell us that the CDC now projects another 25,000 deaths in the next three weeks in the US! Did you even blink an eye when you read that? Many in our country won’t. But it doesn’t help that the story — which in the recent past would have had universal attention — is now buried amongst so much else that is demanding our attention. 

◆Stories about the Supreme Court battle unfolding, about our economic woes and unemployment, about Congress still being unable to reach agreement on the next steps to help those who are struggling, about Missouri’s Governor Parson who didn’t wear a mask and now has COVID, about unemployment rates, about electoral polls and more.

It goes on and on. It’s not all noise. There are important, even critical, issues at play. But they can too easily be lost in the cacophony and in the pervasive themes of anger, grievance and division that leaves me — and many others, I know — feeling heartsick and sad. 

I’m going for a walk. And I won’t be listening to the news.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 23

If you’re someone who loves America and is concerned about the direction our nation is taking, you find little comfort in the news these days. God knows, there’s plenty to spark anger and leave you fuming…

– The lies that Trump tells about the coronavirus and what a great job he’s done. Those have been so thoroughly exposed for anyone with an open mind and capable of assessing the facts it’s not worth talking about yet again.

– The hypocrisy of the Republican Senators — so manifest in their handling of a possible replacement for Justice Ginsburg — makes me want to weep in frustration. 

You feel so helpless in the face of their callous exploitation of power. No wonder AOC and others on the left are arguing for an intense action campaign to slow down the Senate functioning and to make the Republicans feel the political pain of their choices. They idea of rebalancing the court with additional seats if Democrats win or of granting statehood to DC or Puerto Rico may seem to push the envelope but this is what the Republican’s “we’ll do what we please because we can” approach in the Senate has brought to pass.  

Perhaps it is time for a revolution of sorts. A dramatic reordering of how we do business as a nation. It certainly is time for a call to action on critical issues that face us and on which our choices will define us. Racial, social, and economic justice. Gun control. And, as incredibly important as those issues are, I would have to say the existential threat of climate change is the most compelling of all. 

Even once the pandemic has loosened its hold, these issues will still challenge us and we can’t wait longer to act. There was an excellent (at least in my view) piece in the NYT yesterday. (Sept 22).  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/22/climate/climate-change-future.html 

It is worth a read. It argues that the cycle of climate disasters we’ve unleashed, from drought and wildfires all along the west coast to the major tropical storms marching one after another across the Atlantic, are now locked in. We’ve already shifted the nature of climate reality. But the choices we make in the immediate future will be critical to how we manage these ongoing battles with Mother Nature and whether or not we forestall far worse disasters. 

Even as folks out west choke on some of the most polluted air in the world and the southeast is battered by one named Hurricane after another, we still have those who dismiss the reality of climate change, Donald Tump foremost among them. 

Just look at the pandemic to see the costs of having a science-denier in charge at a time of crisis. His followers join him in scoffing at the facts and the reality we are seeing and experiencing with all our senses. At a time when we will require a united nation prepared to redefine how we do so many things in the face of this threat to our future, we cannot afford to allow him to continue to destroy the environmental protections we have struggled to put in place. Nor can we sit idly by as Trump fails to address emissions — something that even China, in a strikingly bold statement by President Xi at the UN — has vowed to do.

We’re being left behind as the rest of the world gathers its resources to address a threat that endangers us all. And when history asks what America did the answer cannot be… we Tweeted… we denied… we ignored… and we destroyed the future for our grandchildren.

The turning away from science that Trump has led — the dismissal of facts and proven knowledge as “fake news” or partisan badgering — may be the most dangerous part of the horrific Trump legacy.

All is not lost, and the NYT article makes the point that there are things we can — and must — do. But, if Trump remains in office for another term, it is easier to paint a picture of a dystopian future on an environmentally diseased planet than a picture of hope.

That’s not what I want in my “golden years.” It’s not the future I want for our kids and our grandkids. So, if it will take a revolution, perhaps it’s time. Better to lead the charge to demand change than to sit idly by as the world goes to hell in a hand-basket, as my mother would have said. 

Food for thought. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 22

Well, for a day at least, the coronavirus has knocked the political campaign off the headlines. And, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know why. We officially passed the 200,000 death mark from COVID-19. 

It’s a day to remember those who passed more than it is a day for recriminations and blame. It’s hard though, not to feel bitter, because we could have done so much better. We didn’t need to be where we are now. And I can’t imagine how we’ll feel when we reach 400,000 dead. We almost certainly will.

The headlines of the day remind us that this toll is higher than the number of those lost not only in Vietnam, but in the five most recent wars in which the US was involved. The death toll from COVID-19 is like having 911 every day for 66 days in a row or experiencing 109 Hurricane Katrinas over six months. 

This pandemic is more devastating, more deadly, and more costly than any of them, but far too many of us accept it as just one of those things — if we believe in it all. 

The lack of unity and shared determination to fight this disease and to protect ourselves, our families, and our fellow citizens leaves us more vulnerable than ever to its ravages. 

I remember a few months ago when I wrote about the impact of seeing soldiers’ remains in flag-draped coffins lined up at Andrews Air Force Base. It was a sobering visual. What will be the image or event that finally gets through to us all. 

Folks accused Tony Fauci of fear mongering when he said in March that we could lose 200,000 people to this disease. Not only was he right, we’ll end up losing far more than that. 

By January 1 we could see another 180,000 deaths by some estimates. That would mean over 1,800 deaths a day on average between now and then. If we had 95% compliance with mask wearing nationwide we could save 100,000 lives in the days ahead. But that won’t happen. And so, death tolls that seemed inconceivable to many when the year began, will grow higher and higher. Who knows where they will stop?

I want to ask the doubters what will they do when this pandemic touches someone they love. When it takes a member of their family. I wonder if then, when it is too late, they will finally see the reality of this struggle? 

There are those who make us all more vulnerable by refusing to accept that if you want the benefits of living in a society you have to be willing to shoulder the responsibilities that come with it. Like wearing a mask, or not going to the bar or the party that seems so irresistible. 

When did we become so self-centered, so selfish?  When did we come to equate irresponsibility with personal freedom? When did the right to be stupid come to mean more than our shared right and duty to protect our families from this disease? 

The tagline for the “Game of Thrones” is “Winter is Coming.” That’s the way it feels here. The “twin-demic is coming” and if you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention.

Please take a moment today to give a thought, offer a prayer, or an act of kindness in memory of those we have lost. And please…

Be strong, be safe, be healthy.

September 21

I could just scream. First of all, it’s Monday. It just keeps coming around. Seems like just last week we had to bear the indignity of a Monday and here it is again. 

It wouldn’t be so bad if we could hope, as we used to, that MAYBE this week will be cheerier, better, or offer new opportunities. Instead, it’s the Groundhog Day scenario. There is so little to differentiate one week from the other. 

I just heard that a North Carolina couple that had been married for 48 years — he was 67 and she was 65 — died minutes apart in North Carolina from COVID. Johnny Lee and Cathy Darlene Peoples were admitted to the hospital back in August and, when it became clear that they would not survive, they were moved into the same room. They died together holding hands. It’s easy to lose sight of individuals when we’re on the verge of hitting 200,000 deaths from COVID in the US alone, but we can’t forget that there aren’t just statistics. It’s folks like Johnny Lee and Cathy and their kids and grandkids who are mourning today the lives that were cut short far too soon.

I know there are stories of that sort all the time. But this one hit me. For many of us who are in our 60s these stories strike close to home. 

And it left me with a particularly bitter taste in my mouth this morning because it was juxtaposed against the pompous, self-promoter in the White House declaring that he’s done a phenomenal job on handling this virus and deserves an A+.

I try not to be unduly profane in this blog but my only response to that has to be OMFG. How stupid does he think we are. This charlatan, this fraud, this empty vessel. It angers me beyond words to hear him make such assertions. It mocks those who have died. There is no reflection, no self-assessment, no humility in this man. No sorrow for the losses or dedication of himself to do better. None. There is only the braying of a vain and fearful little man who is incapable of meeting the challenges before him.

“We’re rounding the corner,” he said. Again. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. If you believe THAT, you deserve to have Donald Trump as your president for life, just as he’d like. 

Rounding the corner is NOT what you call it when infections are up 19% from one week ago. It’s not what you say when we’re back up to 41,000 new infections a day and climbing. It’s not what you say when 30 states are seeing increases in infections and only six are seeing declines. This is before the weather forces us back indoors and  before the flu season kicks in. 

No wonder some top epidemiologists are warning of an “apocalyptic fall” and fear our medical system will be overwhelmed by the “twindemics” (new terms arise to fit the times) of COVID and the flu in the months ahead.

And, as we contemplate greater time indoors with others, I was struck by the new CDC guidance that talked about the virus being able to stay in the air longer than thought and perhaps travel further than thought. Six feet is suddenly a minimum distance not a comfortable buffer.  

Not great news, but not a surprise. As I read the CDC statement, I applauded them for having the courage to post this guidance which tracks with what many doctors have been reporting. But then I learned, as I sat down to write this, that the guidance has been pulled from the CDC website. They now claim it was posted “in error.” 

Given the track record of this administration of putting politics before science and the clear willingness to traffic in lies and misrepresentation, why do YOU think this was taken down? (And, if you go for the “in error” assertion we really DO need to talk about that bridge I’ve got for sale.)

We can shrug and say just another lie among many. And it is. But when did we start to casually accept lies from our leaders on matters of life and death. The newest lie I read  today was Trump claiming that the Democrats “made up” Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish that her successor not be named or voted upon until after the election.

But, of course, Trump is determined to move on it, and I have to believe that it’s motivated in part by the chance to tear down yet another piece of Obama’s legacy — the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court will rule on the ACA’s constitutionality shortly after the election. Trump, I am sure, would like to add one more Justice who would seal its fate. Never mind that after four years in office, Trump has no plan yet to replace the ACA. Never mind that too many people have already lost their insurance during the pandemic. Never mind that many more are at risk and Trump and his Republican cronies can offer them no alternative.

All that pales for Trump when given the chance to further erode the hallmarks of the Obama Presidency. 

If you can’t live up to what a rival has done, as is the case with Trump, you chose to tear them down instead. 

You don’t hang their portrait. You insult, accuse, and demean. 

Little men turn to petty vindictiveness — especially when they have no accomplishments of their own to which they can point.

It’s true that naming another Justice will please his base, and it may convince the religious right to again overlook his lack of a moral compass and sense of decency. There are a lot of reasons he’ll try. But the fact that it would also give him one more shot at Obamacare eight be reason enough — even if it costs tens of thousands their insurance lifeline in the midst of the worst medical crisis we have ever seen.

Like I said. It has to be Monday. 

There were 237 days until the election when I started writing. There are only 43 left. We’ll get there yet.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 20

Hard to believe that we’re this far into September already. We’ve had temperatures in the 30s at night already. What a change. It’s refreshingly brisk. 

It’s also hard to believe that it’s only 44 days until the election. It will be a more consequential day than most election days I’ve experienced. Even more so than 2016. We didn’t expect 2016’s poll to lead to such dramatic changes in our nation. Now we know. 

No matter what happens on November 3, it’s not as though our problems will all suddenly disappear. The cultural divides are real. Trump has exploited them but he didn’t create them. And, Trump notwithstanding, the racism in our society is real. The economic divides and inequality are real. The pandemic, climate change, gun violence… all real. The outcome of the polls will determine how, and if, we address all these issues and many more. 

The paths are so starkly different. It’s really hard to see how our fractured nation will come back to a place where differing views are not unbridgeable chasms. But it starts by removing a leader whose stock in trade is division, chaos, and fear. It’s all he has to offer and he hopes if he can scare folks enough he can stay in power for a long time. 

So 44 days seems so close yet it also feels like a lifetime. It’s a nervous and unsettled time. There is a feeling that we’ve changed and we’ve lost our sense of who we are and what it truly means to be American. And that is perhaps why this Facebook posting… I’m not sure whose it was originally… resonated with me when I read it last night:

“I’ve been wondering why this entire country seems to be under a cloud of

constant misery.

“Why we all seem to be Russians waiting in line for toilet paper, meat, Lysol.

 Hoarding yeast and sourdough starter “in case we can’t get bread,”

“Buying stamps so that one of our most beloved institutions might survive.

“Why we all look like we are in bad need of a haircut, or a facial, or a reason to dress up again and go somewhere.

“Anywhere.

“There is no art in this White House. There is no literature or poetry in this

 White House. No music. No Kennedy Center award celebrations.

“There are no pets in this White House.

“No loyal man’s best friend. No Socks, the family cat.

“No kid’s science fairs.

“No times when this president takes off his blue suit-red tie uniform and becomes human, except when he puts on his white shirt- khaki pants uniform and hides from Americans to play golf.

“There are no images of the first family enjoying themselves together in a moment of relaxation.

“No Obamas on the beach in Hawaii moments, or Bushes fishing in Kennebunkport, no Reagans on horseback, no Kennedys playing touch football on the Cape.

“I was thinking the other day of the summer when George H couldn’t catch a fish and all the grandkids made signs and counted the fish-less days. And somehow, even if you didn’t even like GHB, you got caught up in the joy of a family that loved each other and had fun.

“Where did that country go? 

“Where did all of the fun and joy and expressions of love and happiness go? We used to be a country that did the ice bucket challenge and raised millions for charity.

“We used to have a president that calmed and soothed the nation instead of dividing it.

“We are rudderless and joyless.

“We have lost the cultural aspects of society that make America great.

“We have lost our mojo. Our fun, our happiness. The cheering on of others.

The shared experiences of humanity that makes it all worth it.

 “The challenges AND the triumphs that we shared and celebrated.

 The unique can-do spirit Americans have always been known for.

“We are lost.

“Let’s see if we can get some of these things back starting when we vote on Nov. 3rd.”

“We have lost our mojo.” “We are rudderless and joyless.” Those words feel so sadly true. That is what I hope we can change. I hope for… hope. I long for joy. I want us to find our way back to the America that cares.

I want us to once again be the nation that meets the challenges. I want us to once again see the opportunity that each new day holds rather than facing the morning with dread about what the headlines will hold.

I want my country back. So I voted two days ago. I donated… again… to candidates I believe in. And I will keep on hoping for hope, knowing that I’m doing what I can to effect change. If you can say the same, we’ll all be better for it. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 19

Time for a deep breath.

First, it’s a sad day for America. We lost a tremendous figure in our national life with the passing last night of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. May her memory be preserved and the causes which she championed continue to be advanced by all who saw in her a figure to be admired.

She was more than just a fighter for women’s rights, though, she was certainly that. She advanced the cause of gender equality with vision and vigor and, even though there is still much to be done, her legacy will always cite the difference she made on behalf of women. But her fight for justice wasn’t just for one gender. It was for us all. For all races, colors, and faiths. Woman or man. She never lost sight of who she was or the values that shaped her.

It’s sad though, that her passing — rather than being a moment for reflection on the values she stood for — instantly becomes part of the partisan political divide. And, although I won’t belabor this point, I am almost overcome by the level of hypocrisy on the part of GOP Senators who will now rush to do Trump’s bidding and push through a replacement in the waning days of his term. These are the same self-serving politicians who denied Merrick Garland the opportunity to even have a hearing when President Obama nominated him with much more time left in office than Trump has. 

McConnell and his fellow Trump enablers will offer every excuse and specious justification as to why this is different. But it’s the height of a hypocrisy that would be stunning if it had not become so damn commonplace in the Republican Party.

And yes, it would be deeply disappointing if Justice Ginsburg is replaced by some of the candidates Trump has said he is considering. Not a one has the intellectual or judicial credentials to compare to RBG and some are so blatantly political and partisan we risk seeing the Court’s role perverted in much the same way that Trump has undermined and perverted other institutions of our government. 

The rights for women that RBG championed for so long and the hard-won victories could be eroded. We already see echoes of the horrors of the past with serious questions being raised about women in ICE custody. A whistle-blower has raised concerns about mass hysterectomies being performed on immigrant women held by ICE with suspect medical rationalization. We need to learn the details and the truth of these claims, but don’t think for one minute it could never happen. Just look at our not so distant past. In calling for an investigation, Speaker Pelosi reminded her fellow lawmakers of past horrors such as “the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilizations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.”

A Supreme Court that swings too far right could open the door to so many issues of concern when it comes to women’s reproductive rights and the coercive power of the state. It is deeply disturbing. We need only look at “The Handmaid’s Tale” to see this taken to one troubling extreme. Fiction can become reality. We can pray that it won’t, but Trump’s rush to replace RBG causes many of us to fear the future.

Having said that, I also believe that if the Republicans force an extreme justice down our throats in what I pray are the final days of this administration, it will even further galvanize the opposition. The women who came out in droves after Trump’s election will be further energized and just as they helped to drive the Democratic surge in the midterms we can hope the same will follow in this year’s polling.

We can hope that the righteous anger over Republican hypocrisy and disregard of the rights of women will help us to throw them out once and for all. We can hope that both houses of Congress will tip to the Democrats along with the Presidency. 

The Court is just one of the three branches of our government and we can hope that the other two will once and for all have the courage and the votes to set us on a course to gender, racial and social justice. Trump said this election is a choice between two visions of the future. It is, and I hope that we will see a markedly different path in 2021 as we follow a very different path to the future than Trump and his minions in Congress would give us.

I hope that perhaps the nomination of a new Justice will not move, but I also am taking a deep breath. This is NOT the central issue of the day. The key thing is the election. It’s winning the House and the Senate and the Presidency. It’s about restoring decency and values and hope for the future of our nation. That is what matters most. 

I know that the media hypes every story and they tell us that another conservative Justice on the court could set the tone for a generation. I suppose that is true, but there are so many imponderables. Will the Chief Justice continue to move towards the center. Will new coalitions emerge? And, while not wishing anyone on the court ill, there’s no guarantee that sitting Justices might not have health or other issues requiring them to step down. We just don’t know and we cannot predict. 

But we CAN predict, I think, what our nation will look like if Trump wins another term. This is where we need to keep our focus. 

We can and should pause for a moment to mourn the passing of Justice Ginsburg, and we should use that moment to rededicate ourselves to all that she stood for. And then, we should redouble our own efforts to ensure that her legacy is protected, that we get the legislators who will do so, and we prevent our nation from sliding into a hateful and repressive autocracy. 

Rest In Peace, RBG. We’ll do our best to preserve your vision.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 18

Today we’re spiking again. Maybe that spike would be a good thing if it was in the latest Pew Survey of international views of the US. But it isn’t. The Pew Survey, unfortunately shows us slumping badly. No spikes there.

It was really disturbing to review the survey and to see how the US has fallen. In our partner nations, Trump was rated less likely than even China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin to do the right thing when it came to international affairs. We rank abysmally in perceptions of our leadership, our handling of COVID, our failure to address issues of racial justice, personal freedoms, and more.

In several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Pew Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago. In only one country, South Korea, did we have an approval rating of over 50%. In some nations, such as Germany and Belgium, it has fallen to as low as 26%. 

That’s only the 13 countries that were part of the survey. Elsewhere in the world it is the same. In many places we’re either being laughed at or pitied. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, right? 

It’s more than an “image thing,” though. It’s about our ability to address the challenges we face in the world and to effectively protect our nation’s security and global interests. We’re not stronger today. We’re weaker and more vulnerable. And no… I’m not yet “sick of winning so much” as Trump promised because I’m not sure where the “wins” are. 

Yes. We’re slumping internationally but don’t worry. We’re still number one. Number one in the number of COVID infections. Number one in the number of COVID deaths. And, along with India and Brazil we account for 50% of ALL the COVID infections in the world. 

As I said at the outset, we may be slumping on international approval ratings, but we ARE spiking elsewhere. But as you’ve likely guessed, it’s on COVID infections once again. The timing is what anyone who is following the science would have predicted. 

Do you remember the public health experts who voiced their concern about the Labor Day parties, about schools reopening, and about other loosened restrictions as the summer surge of infections eased? It was too soon, they cautioned. Many of the choices flew in the face of science. They worried we’d see a mid-September spike.  

Well, they were right.  And, as a result, 30 states are once again seeing an increase — a week or two ago it was as low as 17. We had almost 43,000 new cases yesterday compared to 30,000 a week ago. 

Across the world almost 30 million have been infected and we will soon see a million dead — 200,000 of them here in America. And the same science that led to warnings about the Labor Day parties, open bars, and reopened schools, now warns us that it will get even worse. But our leaders refuse to listen. Trump ignores it all and sets the worst possible example. And even though Texas was an epicenter for COVID in the US just a few weeks ago and in crisis, its governor is now blithely suggesting they can ease restrictions. It’s crazy. But that’s what we get.

It could have been different. 

Apparently, back in April, the administration considered sending every American household five masks. They didn’t. They say they didn’t want to cause panic. They, apparently, would rather that people die. And Trump would rather trash mask-wearing than encourage it. 

And so things get worse instead of better and they’re compounded by the misrepresentations and outright lies by Trump and administration officials.  

The latest story revolves around the decision a few weeks back 9one that was criticized intensely by many) that allowed HHS to become the clearing house for data from CDC and other agencies regarding the virus. 

Well, those concerns about possible politicization and abuse of information were not misplaced and we now have a situation where HHS is posting its own items, drafted by god-only-knows who, on the CDC website.  There is nothing to explain the source and they are presented as if they were CDC releases that had been scientifically vetted by the CDC’s experts. 

Do you remember, for example, the much criticized and confusing CDC guidance recently on testing NOT being needed if you had been exposed to the virus so long as you didn’t have symptoms? It turns out that it wasn’t the CDC that had made that judgment at all. CDC doctors and scientists didn’t write that testing advisory. Someone at HHS did. 

Or how about the CDC statement arguing for schools to be reopened as critically important? Yep… you guessed it. NOT written by the CDC experts but by someone at HHS. 

The problems with this are many but most troubling to me is the fact that doctors and public health officials around the country rely on the CDC’s expertise and credibility when making their own assessments. But with these unvetted assertions being offered as scientific fact, this administration is once again making a mockery of science and leaving us with no one we can trust when it comes to understanding this crisis. 

So, for now, we’re on our own. We sure can’t count on the federal government to tell us the truth or to act on our behalf. It pains me to say that, but, sadly, it’s true. 

We each will have to choose for ourselves. Others can do what they want, but here at home in Haymarket, masks will be worn. Hands will be washed. Distance will be kept. And the flu shot — extra strength for us seniors — is on my list for today.

Oh, and yes… 

since I’m tired of deceit, 

since I’m tired of failed leadership, 

since I’m tired of vitriol and division, of misogyny, bigotry and hypocrisy,

since I’m tired of those who favor the rich, the white, and the elites, over all others, 

since I’m tired of seeing our nation further diminished on the International stage,

since I’m tired of Trump,

I’ll vote today — this first day of early voting in the state of Virginia. 

And we all need to do the same. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 17

Where to start? 

Yesterday, Trump called the Director of the CDC confused and mistaken when he testified in Congress that we would likely not see significant distribution of a COVID vaccine before mid-2021. 

There was a time when we’d be shocked and ask who are you going to believe? The Director of the CDC or a politician with no medical credentials except his assertion that he’s smarter than anyone else. But today, as we’ve watched the administration destroy the credibility of our best scientific institutions and watchdogs through its blatant political meddling and manipulation, the answer to that question is, for many, neither. 

There’s no one we can truly believe or trust, but I will still put my money on Dr. Redfield’s answer that we won’t see mass distribution of a vaccine for many months. Trump, however, went out of his way to undercut Redfield’s credibility and professional standing in order to perpetuate the Trumpian lie that he’ll get the vaccine to everyone before the election — and effect a miracle cure of COVID in the process. 

That’s nonsense, of course. But it’s what we can expect from Trump and his attitudes and influence are pervasive. 

We have parents in Massachusetts who knowingly sent their COVID-19 positive child to his high school classes. Now other students have been exposed and are at risk and are quarantined. Some guy attended the Kansas City Chiefs football game. He was positive too. Now thirty folks (so far, those identified as at risk) have been quarantined. I’m willing to bet there are more. The Big Ten has decided to resume college football after all, so we can add that to our list of worrisome and suspect decisions. I have to believe that the money that will fill their coffers from TV revenues made it much easier to convince themselves that Trump is right and that America “needs” college football. Their act isn’t self-serving… its about patriotism and, of course, all will be fine and safe for the players and others associated with the games. Or at least that’s what they tell themselves.

None of this reflects a coherent or rational approach to this ongoing crises, but that’s not a surprise given the environment that Trump and his allies have created. Their constant attacks on science, their dismissal of masks, their terrible examples, all shift the perceptions of at least some in our nation. 

For those folks, it doesn’t matter that infection rates in Europe are kicking up higher each day. They want to believe we’ve turned a corner, as the president asserted, so they ignore the fact that our current daily infection rates of 35,000 – 40,000 are HIGHER than the daily infection rates that led us to shut down so much last April because of the threat that the virus posed.  And those numbers are high even though we are testing fewer (rather than more) and new administration rules have led to many results not even being included.

They still think that bars being open is more important than kids going to school safely or reducing potential risks to our most vulnerable. And THAT — like so much else — can be laid at the door of our anti-science, self-serving president, who cares only about how this will affect him and his election prospects. It’s disgusting and distressing to the nth degree.

The threat hasn’t changed. The virus hasn’t changed. It’s as dangerous as it was in April. But our will to act and to lead and protect ourselves has been eroded because of those who listen to Trump and his minions.  Bill Barr actually asserted that the “national lockdown” (which never existed) was on a par with slavery in terms of its restrictions on American’s civil liberties. He actually compared a rational effort to respond to the greatest public health crises our nation has faced in our lifetimes to slavery.  OMG.

Yes… today is one of those days I’m giving vent to outrage at the stupidity, and all the more so because we see it coupled with the horribly troubling things that this administration does on almost EVERY front. 

We can’t allow the pandemic to lead us to forget the dangers of undercutting environmental protections while our nation suffers ever greater ravages each year due to climate change. 

We can’t ignore the administration’s assault on fundamental rights. The attacks on the media. The assault on peaceful protestors in DC. Its efforts to drown out justified pleas for racial justice by clamoring instead about law and order. 

We can’t stand by silently as peaceful protest is lumped in with criminal violence and while this administration chips away at our constitutional rights to engage in free speech and to petition for the redress of grievances. 

I am not an alarmist, but I am deeply troubled nonetheless by the conduct of this administration and about what our future will be if they are reelected. Bill Barr, who is supposed to protect and defend the rights of all, is leading the charge towards despotism and autocracy on behalf of Trump. We risk the erosion of our freedoms and constitutional protections and, if this continues, one day they will disappear altogether, along with the nation we once knew as America. 

When Barr suggests that the Justice Department should consider sedition charges against not only protestors exercising their constitutional rights, but against the mayor of Seattle, he sends a clear message of what we can expect in the next term. 

Woe betide any who speak out or have a contrarian view. Protesting is not sedition. Leading a city and making choices that Trump disagrees with is not sedition. The mayor and protestors across the nation are not traitors. 

But Trump and Barr prefer to label all of us who disagree as unAmerican and question our patriotism. It is they, however, if anyone, who undermine the fabric of our constitution and society. 

Yep. I can tell by the speed with which my fingers are hitting the keys that today is an “outrage” day. And it should be. We’re entitled. 

We’re struggling for the future or our society. I hope we are up to the challenge.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 16

We can always use some comic relief and Trump gave us some last night. In the course of his town hall on ABC, he asserted that “By the way, a lot of people don’t want to wear masks, a lot of people think that masks are not good.” When asked by the moderator, “who are those people?” he had an answer: “waiters.” Not epidemiologists. Not public health experts. He said, “Well, I’ll tell you who those people are: waiters.”

Okay, folks, so there we have it. Waiters doubt that masks work so we should just forget about them and get on with our lives. 

THAT was the evening excerpt from the gospel according to Donald. Hallelujah. It would have been enough, all by itself, but Trump didn’t stop there. No… he had to double down on stupidity. 

He asserted again that the virus will go away all on its own. No need to worry. We will “develop a herd mentality,” Trump said. “It’s going to be herd development and that’s going to happen, that will all happen.” He didn’t discuss the countless deaths that would accompany this process. But we have to cull all those weaklings out the herd, right? 

This is Trump at his best. Sure, he misspoke — he meant “immunity” not “mentality.” But the danger inherent in the approach is the same no matter the word used. He’s reckless and thoughtless and a danger to us all. I can only hope people can see it and will act.

Meanwhile, this virus that Trump says will just go away on its own… someday… is still very much with us. Over 50,000 students on campuses across the country have been infected since school started. The latest 14-day quarantine is at Colorado University of Boulder for all students living in the city and the University of Arizona is urging students to shelter in place until the end of the month after a large number of positive cases.  

Many of these students just refuse to listen. Maybe I wouldn’t have either when I was young (though, I was the type of kid who might have). They can’t believe that a little party can hurt them. The 1,500 folks who descended on a home in New Jersey didn’t believe a mass gathering could hurt them either. But public health officials are beside themselves nonetheless because it’s not just the young people who love a good party — COVID does too. Yep, COVID is a great guest that you’ll never forget, and you don’t even have to attend the party! There was the wedding in Maine, for example. 65 people in attendance. So far, there are at least 176 infections that stemmed from that gathering. Like I said, COVID loves it when we have a good time together. The more the merrier.

Don’t worry though… COVID will go away just as soon as enough of us…maybe 200 – 250 million get infected. The herd will lead the way. Don’t YOU want to be part of that herd mentality… I mean immunity?

Thanks for trying to make us all laugh last night Donald, but… somehow… it makes me want to cry instead. But that’s the way it works far too often here in COVID-land. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 15

There are lots of challenges we’re tackling, I know. One of them, for me, is just keeping up with all that is unfolding. When I set out to chronicle the COVID months with a personal blog, I had not necessarily planned for it to morph into a broader look at current events. It’s hard, though, to talk about the challenges posed by the pandemic in isolation from all the other crises and concerns that we face. And it’s the totality of the challenges we face that make these days so dauntingly difficult for many of us.

Take today. There are multiple stories about vaccine trials — about nasty side effects and of the challenges of acceptance and distribution when the time comes, and sobering reminder of just how long it may be before this pandemic is truly under control.

Or how about another set of headlines from today? Stories of twin disasters — the devastating wildfires from California to Washington on the west coast and Hurricane Sally hitting Louisiana and Florida. Add to the unprecedented hurricane action with six active storms in the Atlantic. One more storm and we’re out of names… we have to move to the Greek alphabet.

To offer context, in a normal year we might have 12 named storms. So far this year we have had 20 with two months to go.We have continued protests over police violence and abuse of power on hand and the unprovoked and deplorable shooting of two Sheriff deputies in LA. God knows that such acts aren’t the answer. And just as there is nothing that justifies what we have seen happen to so many black Americans at the hands of the police there is nothing that justifies this act of evil either.

But these issues, too, are part of the interwoven narratives that we grapple with this summer.Another college dorm, this time at NYU has been quarantined. 195,000 of our citizens are now dead from COVID and, of course, that number keeps growing. Over 550,000 children have been infected despite Trump telling everyone that kids are effectively immune (another bit of BS that some folks nonetheless cite as gospel). And Trump officials attack the scientists at the CDC with the Deep State accusation even as the same officials try to politicize science, doctor facts, and suggest that Trump supporters buy their ammunition now and be ready.

This Trump appointee has accused the CDC scientists of sedition and plotting to get Trump. His paranoia and delusional charges, though, resonate among the conspiracy theorists who flock to Trump’s banner. Just try and weave all THIS together into a coherent picture of a day in America during the pandemic!And then there is the craziness of a president who refuses to even consider that these wildfires, unprecedented in intensity and scope, might really be a manifestation of climate change– as the experts suggest.

He refuses to listen. He pushes back on science and scientists and ignores the evidence before him.He — the “very stable genius” — apparently knows better. The problem, up and down the west coast, is apparently “forest management.” And just watch… it will “get colder” and all will be well. Just like COVID would go away when it got warmer.It’s painful and it’s frightening to watch our nation be increasingly divorced from both science and rationality. But, that’s what we’re getting.

Neither the fires nor the hurricanes have anything to do with climate change he says. But denying the threat posed by climate change does nothing to change the existential nature of the threat, just as denying the virus has done nothing to change the devastation it has done to our people.His rallies are, by their very nature, a denial of all the measures that medical science and the public health community beg us to respect. Trump defies the science, he mocks it, and he puts all those who trust him, and the nation as a whole, at risk as a result.

Yes… it’s a crazy time. And every one of these threads, and many more, are part of the complex reality of life in America today, if you choose to try and follow it. I can’t blame those who have opted not to.

As for me? I’m just trying to keep my head on straight and find a course that will lead me to calm waters. The seas will undoubtedly remain choppy over the coming weeks, but we can hope that there will be a safe harbor for us all at journey’s end. It’s too painful to contemplate the alternative of a shipwreck on the rocks of a Trump reelection.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 14

It’s another Monday. Can I just stop there?  Doesn’t that say it all?

Or maybe I could just copy a post from a few weeks ago. It seems like the news is pretty much the same. 

I could take the report of Trump’s rally in Tulsa and just substitute Las Vegas. It would be a time saver. Last night, Trump once again held an indoor rally.  This one was in las Vegas and had several thousand folks.  No masks were in sight, and they were all jammed together. What do you think will happen? Any guesses? 

But, of course, just as in Tulsa, Trump doesn’t seem to care. The governor  of Nevada criticized the actions — which violated state rules regarding gatherings during the pandemic — as selfish and reckless. They were. And, just as in Tulsa, people will become ill. But, Trump will have moved on to do damage elsewhere and he and his supporters will call any reports of illnesses from the rally “fake news.” We know the script by heart by now.

So…that’s not really new.  So what else to talk about?  I guess I could look at the numbers. They’re higher than they were a while back so that would be different. But, then again, the numbers are higher EVERY day. So that’s not really new either.  And, we all probably decided months ago how we will respond to them.  Either we care and we feel the pain of these deaths or we don’t. 

Given his failure to lead, and his refusal to respect the advice of his own experts when it comes to social distancing and mask wearing, Trump seems to be one of those who doesn’t care. But that’s not new either.  Not to us or to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have suffered. 

Meanwhile, I heard some newscaster express his relief the other day that “we’re getting back to normal.”  Hi was talking about sports and now that the NFL season kicked off yesterday and other sports are being played things must be right as rain.

I know what the newsperson was trying to say but it troubles me when people are thoughtless about their words and the message they send.  Others hear that it’s normal and eagerly agree.  But it’s not.  

Things are NOT better.  We may not be setting new records every day — and thank God for that — but the pandemic has gone nowhere and we’re no better prepared, it seems, to manage a new surge.  We haven’t built the degree of public support we need for a full-fledged effort against the virus and as winter comes on along with flu season we’ll be indoors even more and it WILL get worse.  

Trump’s administration will continue to play games with the numbers and he will continue to lie about the reality of this crisis to protect his political agenda and we try to fool folks into believing we’re getting back to normal when we’re not. 

He continues to mislead us about “turning a corner” when we should be bracing ourselves for the next 200,000 deaths. 

And, although Trump wants to offer the stock market as a barometer of our economic health, it’s yet another misleading marker. Overall, our economic growth is down 9%.  We have seen over 57 million people file for unemployment due to COVID, and, although some have since returned to work, the number of individuals claiming benefits remains extraordinarily high – more than twice the peak of the great recession of the Bush years. 

Globally, it’s worse. During the 2009 recession, growth receded by about 2% in the developed nations that account for 80% of global production. Currently we’re seeing an almost 7% drop. In India, growth has dropped by a stunning 25% and in the UK by 20%. 

It’s not just our physical health that’s at risk. It’s our economic vitality as well, and if we see another huge surge, and possible slow downs or shut downs as a result, there’s no telling how bad the overall economic impact will be. 

Trump says he didn’t want to create a panic. Instead, he has created a disaster. 

In his song Stormy Monday, T-Bone Walker said, “They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad…”   And Wednesday and Thursday and so on and so on.

Amen to that.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 13

It was a beautiful day here in Northern Virginia. If only we could shut out the rest of the world and it’s woes, we’d be doing OK.

I was up early today. Good friends were coming for a socially-distanced back yard visit. I tackled the weeds and wild grasses that were growing along the walkway to the back. It was still cool and crisp. Not quite fall-like but you could sense it was coming. 

When our friends came by it was shocking to see how the kids had grown in just the few months since we had last seen them. Two of the three now matched or topped their mom’s height. These kids that I had read “The Hobbit” to not that long ago and who had been excited to watch Totoro with us, were now in high school (two of them) and the youngest, who had been just a little guy when visiting us in Nepal is now in 7th grade.

The dogs, who had come to know them all well when we were in Uganda together, consider them part of the pack and were excited to have the reunion. It was nice. It was peaceful. It was almost normal… if you ignored the masks and the inevitable discussion of the pandemic.

But there isn’t much that’s normal these days. We’re struggling, I guess, to figure out just what normal will look like. Is it the wildfires burning out of control in the west? These are hellish events that many experts attribute to climate change. There’s a good article about this in today’s Washington Post. It says that “studies have documented an increase in acres burned in large fires across the West due to global warming, and projections unanimously show that the region is trending hotter, drier, and more susceptible to large blazes to come. For example, a study published in August shows California’s frequency of fall days with extreme fire-weather conditions has already more than doubled since the 1980s.

“But the geographic scale of this disaster, including the way that so many of these fires behave once they begin, is an indicator to scientists that this disaster is unprecedented in modern times, and a dark precursor of a future without steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.” 

That’s a pretty troubling note and, if you believe that climate change is an existential threat to our future, this is just another note that hits home. If you’re Donald Trump, of course, you ignore it — just as you do the pandemic. He doesn’t give a damn about climate change — it’s more fake news, you see — and those are states that vote for Democrats anyway, so, why help them? 

It’s yet another example of failed leadership that never used to be “normal” for us but today it is so commonplace we hardly remark on it.   Rather than being outraged, we have come to accept, as a “given,” that we have a president who doesn’t lead and who only cares for those who flatter and applaud him. 

Of course, it is also true that it never used to be normal for a president to revel in being  “vicious” as part of his campaign strategy — but that’s what Trump promised his partisans in Nevada last night. 

It never used to be normal for a president to claim he is “probably entitled” to a third term because he’s been “so poorly treated.” 

And it is far from normal for any candidate in American politics to keep asserting that if their opponents win it will be because they have rigged the election. But that too, is Donald Trump laying the groundwork for whatever madness he will attempt if he is defeated. 

The reality of today is that the word “normal” and Trump will seldom be found in the same sentence.  

You can switch channels to try and find something else to ease your mind, but all roads seem to lead back to Trump. Today I didn’t want to hear about the vileness being spewed in Nevada, but the next channel was highlighting the challenges faced by  college towns during the pandemic. This is yet another worry for health experts as positivity rates keep climbing. In Tucson, home to the University of Arizona, and a few other schools, the rate is 8.8% and climbing. 

School leaders acknowledge that, although they try to stop the parties and the gatherings that will spread the disease, it’s a losing battle. They say that they feared this would happen. The school president — a doctor — says they are no longer trying to prevent the spread. The best they can do is to test, trace, and treat. 

And, of course, it all leads back to… Trump.  It’s not that Trump caused the virus — we all know that.  But his refusal to lead, to acknowledge its severity, and to develop a plan — any plan — is why the US has raced to the bottom in terms of developed nations and their efforts to protect their citizens. 

I’m so tired of the pandemic I could weep but I know that the next few months will almost certainly be worse than ever and that continued vigilance and care will be essential. 

And I’m tired beyond words of Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric, of his petulant whining, and his belief that any sort of crude, vicious, and cruel attack is ok because none of the rules of decency in social interaction, much less in leadership, apply to him.

Oh yes. I wish I could have put a bubble around this morning. Locked it in place and not emerged until this was all over. But we can’t. And we can’t ignore it or look away — no matter how much we want to — because we must be part of the fight for change. This is our country too. It doesn’t just belong to him and that small but rabid group of supporters for whom Trump’s divisive and destructive message resonates. So we must do what we can. 

Trump was right about one thing last night — and I don’t find myself saying THAT very often. He said, “At no time before has there been a clearer choice between two parties or two visions, two philosophies, two agendas for the future.” How very true. This will be a defining moment for us all.

People have complained that their vote makes no difference. That the politicians are all the same. Well, there’s no question about the differences now. As much as I love our country and am proud to have served it, I don’t want to live in the future that Trump sees for our nation, and I pray we won’t get there. But, if we don’t vote, if we don’t fight, if we don’t speak out… who knows. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 12

It’s a Saturday afternoon and I’m finally sitting down to do a quick entry here. There’s really little new to offer today. 

There are reports that Trump appointees are adding their political spin to CDC reporting on the pandemic, raising further questions about the scientific integrity of the content that we’re seeing from them. It’s a shame, because in the years that I worked with them I aways felt we could count on the CDC for honest and objective assessments on the medical issues we confronted. Now? It’s just hard to feel the same level of confidence.

And that’s so very frustrating because now, more than ever, we need to be able to trust the guidance that we are receiving. We need facts and we need science-based discussion, not conspiracy theories and politically-driven nonsense. 

The latest figures from the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation are truly sobering. To remind, this is the institution the Trump administration relied on heavily for its estimates early on in the pandemic. I doubt that Trump will cite their figure these days. IHME’s numbers have been fluid as they track closely how well or how little nations are adhering to key prevention protocols; social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene, etc. 

As of today, they are warning of a “deadly December” when deaths could hit 2,000 – 3,000 a day, based on current compliance efforts on masks, etc. If we get lax and if restrictions are eased, they predict numbers as high as 10,000 a day. Absent a huge effort to improve how we are dealing with this crisis in terms of prevention efforts, we will see in just the next 3 and half months, as many deaths as we have seen in the past six and half. 

We could easily be over 400,000 dead by January 1, and if we are stupid enough, we could exceed 600,000. It’s not about politics. It’s not about scare tactics or conspiracy theories. It’s about the grim realities of a virus that doesn’t give a crap about who you vote for. It’s all about science and medicine. Globally the same realities apply. If things stay as they are now there could be 2.7 million dead by January. If folks ease up on their efforts, we could see more than 4 million dead. 

Of course, there’s also a scenario where, if we really did move to universal mask wearing, if we limited social engagement, if we prioritized public health, we could save three quarters of a million lives globally and 115,000 here in the US. But it’s hard to believe that we’ll take such steps. Look at the idiocy of the Trump rallies. Of college football in Texas where there will 25,000 in the stands. Look at the pictures we saw from Labor Day. 

Or consider the impact of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally back in early August. We don’t, as a nation, track the data we’d need to truly quantify what happened there, but one study, using a highly math-centric methodology led researchers to estimate “that the rally led to more than 260,000 new cases around the country—or 19 percent of the 1.4 million new infections recorded in the US between August 2 and September 2, 2020. What’s more, they put a price tag on all those additional estimated infections: a whopping $12.2 billion, between hospital costs and lost workplace productivity.

Now, depending on whether you believe COVID is real or not, you can fuss and fume about the study’s accuracy but, even if we assume there are flaws, it still seems a staggering reaffirmation of the risks we all worried about as we watched this unfold. The South Dakota governor still denies that this was a problem. But on August 7, when the rally began, South Dakota had 94 new COVID cases reported that day. Over the next three weeks, new cases rose steadily from 94 to a peak of 334 new cases a day on September 3. 

And that’s just in South Dakota. Most of those attending the rally were from other states where they too dispersed. And all these newly infected folks spread the virus to others. We all know how it works. We’ve seen the movies about killer plagues. But it’s not fiction. What we’re dealing with isn’t a screenplay. 

Even now, even this late in the game, leadership and focus could help turn things around. It could shift the trend line of the IHME projections. It could save lives. Protect our families. Minimize the economic costs that are so troubling but that get so little coverage it seems. 

I don’t want a “deadly December.” But “want” has nothing to do with it. It will be what we make it as a nation, but with Trump at the helm I have little hope. Hide the facts, obscure the reality. Blame Bob Woodward or Joe Biden or China if you are one of the victims who ends up in the ICU. But don’t blame Trump. He has “no responsibility” for any of it. That’s what HE says, at least. 

And that’s it for a Saturday afternoon. 

52 days. Elections have consequences. Enough said.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 11

9/11. Where were you? I was in my office at the State Department. I was watching CNN trying to make sense of what had just happened when I saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon. You knew that the world had changed forever. 

Today we watch the COVID death toll inexorably climb towards 1,000,000 globally and 200,000 in the U.S. This, too, will change the world forever. 

We’re a long way from the end of this crisis. But then, cataclysmic events are not “one and done” sort of events. We felt the reverberations of 9/11 for years.  We still do.  Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq followed. The war on terror. A sense of vulnerability and uncertainty that changed how many viewed the world. It fed into the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-other sentiment that we see today.

And now COVID. We can’t begin to assess the longer term implications fully because we’re still in the middle of the crisis. But the world will not be the same. How we live, work, and educate our children, will all be colored by this experience. 

We’ve seen how very vulnerable we can be. How easily supply chains can be disrupted and how quickly even dynamic and strong economies can be thrown out of kilter and the costs for those who are already living on the edge. 

We’ve seen how the lack of preparedness can result in chaos and needless deaths. And we’ve seen that all the challenges are compounded exponentially when leaders lack the capacity and vision to deal with them.

We adapted to the changed reality that followed 9/11, and we will adapt to the changes COVID brings, but not, I hope, too quickly. We’re in too much of a rush, it seems, to somehow incorporate this into a revised understanding of “normal.” We risk becoming too accustomed to the pandemic and too cavalier in our approach to what remains a dangerous and deadly threat.

We look at a COVID tracking map and breathe a sigh of relief when we see lots of dark and pale green. Yes… it’s true that numbers of infections have been dropping and so have deaths (though we’ve seen a sudden surge again). But we have to look beyond colors on a map. 

We ARE down… from over 70,000 new infections a day. We ARE down from 1,200 deaths a day. But we are still at highly threatening levels of 35,000 plus new infections per day and 800-1,000 deaths a day. Compare those numbers to June when we were worried that our level of 20,000 a day was way too high of a plateau, and it presaged bad things ahead. And so, our current levels are even more worrisome — notwithstanding that they are down from the peaks we saw during the summer surge. 

Tony Fauci says we should “hunker down.” We haven’t seen the impact yet of Labor Day holiday goers who didn’t take precautions. We haven’t begun to see the impact of schools being reopened. We haven’t begun to experience the added complication of flu season. There’s plenty of challenges ahead yet.

And then there are the Trump rallies where thousands stand, cheek by jowl, with not a mask to be seen. And, as noted a day or two ago, all the deaths and infections notwithstanding, and no matter the pleas of his public health advisors, Trump still blows off mask-wearing and seeks to bully reporters into taking them off during press conferences. 

His supporters, who hang on his every word at the rallies, tell you that there “is no COVID.” They say that it’s a plot to bring down America. It’s fake news. And if it does exist only 10,000 have died from it. They have their theories and their explanations and their rationalizations. They don’t feel the need to excuse their recklessly dangerous behavior because they don’t believe there is a problem in the first place. 

And THAT is another reason why we have to worry all the more about what lies ahead. If 25-30 percent of our fellow citizens see this as reality… despite all the evidence… then the rest of us are at greater risk and, yes — we need to hunker down.

We will emerge from this, as we did from 9/11, with a far different understanding of the world in which we live and with societies across the world changed. But, for the moment, we need to focus on getting through the ongoing threat. Unfortunately, unlike 9/11 which brought us together with a sense of tremendous national unity and commitment to each other, this crisis finds us divided into opposing camps.  And that makes finding a way forward that much harder.

So hunker down… it may not sound elegant but it captures the need of the moment. 

53 days to go. Check that you are registered, and… VOTE!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 10

There are days when it is all too much to makes sense of. There’s the Woodward book, “Rage” that I wrote about yesterday. There’s a whistleblower from Homeland Security who talk about how officials there have directed that intelligence reports be manipulated to fit the Trump political agenda. There are the daily reports of cases — today’s was from Louisiana — of systemic bias in policing. This time, two teens in Louisiana were arrested. They were waiting in line to enter a bowling alley. Police had a report of someone with a gun in the area and so, of course, the answer is to handcuff the black kid in line. The black kid, I’d add, who did not have a gun. And then while you’re at it when his brother approaches you, if you’re a cop you push him to the ground, hit him, cuff him, and arrest him for “interfering.”

From New York to Louisiana to California. In every corner of our nation, stories like this are routine. But Trump and Barr deny systemic racism and Trump tells Bob Woodward that he “really drank the Koolaid” when Woodward suggests that people like him and Trump need to rethink their perspective on systemic racism.  Woodward suggests that  “white privilege” has been an intrinsic part of his and Trump’s lives and they might need to work harder to understand the black experience and perspective. Trump scoffs at the suggestion.

What else is in the headlines? A 28-year-old teacher in South Carolina dies three days after her coronavirus diagnosis. Although she was teaching virtually, she had been at the school doing prep work about ten days before her diagnosis. But don’t worry… the whole “going back to school thing” is totally safe. Trump told us so. Oh… yeah… I forgot. He “downplayed” the whole thing. He didn’t want to scare us, you know. Thanks, Donald. That’s right… please don’t scare us… let us die from a pandemic fully confident that everything will be just fine. 

One of the latest quotes from the Woodward book has Trump saying “The virus has nothing to do with me,” Trump told Woodward in their final interview in July. “It’s not my fault. It’s — China let the damn virus out.”

It’s not his fault. It has nothing to do with him. That’s his view. His failure to lead. His failure to act. His shirking of responsibility. His seeming lack of concern for the deaths of almost 200,000 Americans. None of it is his fault, apparently. He is a leader who takes no responsibility for anything that goes wrong, while making it clear that anything that goes right is all about HIS personal engagement. Most folks would tell you that you can’t have it both ways, but Trump isn’t most people, is he?

Unlike almost any sane observer, he seems to believe his own perverse claims that his handling of the pandemic is a triumph of American leadership. “It could have been millions dead” he tells us. And that becomes the new measure of success. Millions of us aren’t dead, so we did great. Never mind that our death toll and infection rates are among the worst in the world. The fact that we haven’t experienced some apocalyptic reckoning makes it OK. 

Yes… he compares us to a truly horrible, but hypothetical, worst case scenario to excuse his failings. But he conveniently never mentions all the nations that have actually — and not hypothetically — done so much better than us. Nations that had a strategy, that built consensus for action, and that, most of all, had leaders who cared and made the hard choices required of them. 

It’s scary how he can redefine reality and people accept it as “normal.” 

And, if you really want “scary” there’s this. “We are going to win four more years,” Trump said at a rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, last month. “And then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”

It’s not the first time he’s talked about staying in office beyond a second term. The chant of “12 more years” isn’t just overly enthusiastic supporters, I fear. From all that he has said, and from the way that he acts, I find it fully credible that this man… this very dangerous man… believes he can and should disregard the constitution and stay in power indefinitely — like the dictators in Russia and China and North Korea that he so admires.

His constant efforts to undermine the integrity of the electoral process and people’s faith in it are part of the process. He will cry foul. “I was cheated,” he’ll whine. “I have to stay. The whole thing is a fraud. It’s only right that I stay on to save us from those dangerous folks trying to steal the election.” 

I can hear it already. I could script it. I’ve seen it play out in third world nations with struggling democracies where power hungry dictators, determined to milk the system for all they can, refuse to ever leave power. There’s always an excuse it seems and, if the excuses fail, they rely on force and intimidation and threats.

We laugh at Trump when he says things like this, but we shouldn’t. We should consider these statements — and there have been plenty of them — to be fair warning. I appreciate that people don’t want to be seen as alarmist or as over-reacting every time he opens his mouth — which is constantly. But I worry that by shrugging our shoulders and dismissing all this as “Trump being Trump,” we leave open a door that we should be rushing to slam shut. Ugh.

There is so much that is not right in America. It’s troubling. I haven’t given up hope for the future or my intrinsic faith in our values as a nation or in the majority of our citizens. But, this morning at least, I’m feeling stuck in a gloomy present that has little do with the weather. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 9

It’s a cloudy Wednesday. May even be edging towards more fall-like weather, though, I won’t hold my breath for that. It also means we’re edging closer to flu season which has a whole new meaning this year. We usually have gotten flu shots anyway but will be getting them even earlier this year. Probably next week. There’s just too many concerns not to.

The morning is already gone after having done some of my contract work for State. And there’s still my oral history transcript that needs review and editing. And then there’s the work that I do almost daily on behalf of Engage Nepal. And this blog… can’t forget this blog. It’s busy. Surprisingly so. Even with retirement, and even with a raging pandemic, life remains full. 

I wouldn’t have to do this blog, I guess, but after six months of writing daily it has become a part of the routine. These are my moments to get grounded and to try and make sense of all that is happening — to try and cut through the noise to decide what makes sense to me. 

When I look back over 180+ days of entries it is fascinating in its own way to watch the progression of our understanding and the shifting tides. Looking back, it seemed inconceivable that Trump was as clueless as he appeared in March. And now Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” suggests that he wasn’t without knowledge of the pandemic. He just chose not to share it publicly. He didn’t want to create a panic, he said.

Whether it was a misguided concern for the public reaction or a more calculating concern about his reelection prospects, his choice was a poor one. Once again we see errors of judgment and failures of leadership that are appalling in a man who wants to be reelected to lead our nation. 

“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on February 7. He also said that the coronavirus was maybe five times “more deadly” than the flu. He acknowledged that young people were getting it too. He knew that this virus was “… a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable.” And, at another point he acknowledged, “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”

But publicly, he continued to insist that the virus was “going to disappear.” He told us it was more like sniffles than the flu. He disparaged the wearing of masks. He attacked those who spoke out about the virus as alarmists.  And he failed — again and again — to act. 

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, even as he had declared a national emergency over the virus days earlier. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

What a self-serving, horrible man. What a terrible leader and what abysmal judgment. And there’s no denying this… Woodward taped the conversations with Trump’s blessing.  And now we hear him in his own words. 

There’s not a single surprise in any of this. The only surprise is that Trump actually sat for the interviews and let them be recorded. Perhaps his narcissism led him to believe he could shape the narrative of the book. I don’t know, I only know that these excerpts alone are damning, and there is much, much more.

This book may reveal a more details, but the man himself has been “revealed” to all of us. We know who Trump is. This book just confirms, in Trumps own words — and in the words of many who know him or worked for him — what we have already seen. The question, though — as I’ve asked before — is whether that matters to any of those who supported him in 2016. I hope that it will matter to some. Time will tell. 

Meanwhile, even if you could excuse him downplaying it publicly, couldn’t he have tried to act? Tried to address the problem that he knew was in front of him? There’s yet another report from experts suggesting that we need to be testing at least 200,000,000 people a month if we want to fight this pandemic. Something we have been told for months. Yet, here we are 6 months into the crisis and we are still testing at only around 30,000,000 a month, and there is NO sense of urgency from this administration to fix it. There’s no sense of urgency to stem the rise in deaths. There’s no sense of urgency to do anything other than to attack his foes and to do whatever he can to get reelected. 

It’s criminal. It’s frightening. It’s depressing. 

I’m enough of a masochist that I’ll read Woodward’s book just to ensure that my anger remains red hot — not that it needs to be further stoked. I can’t conceive of another four years like we have been through and I fear our nation will be changed beyond recognition if we must be endure such a fate. That’s incentive enough to donate, to speak out, and to vote.

55 days to go. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

September 8

I could start with one of the those lines like… “just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier…” but you’d know right away that it’s just an attention getting device. Because, of course, things can ALWAYS get crazier in Donald Trump’s America, especially when Trump himself is driving the crazy train. 

A few years ago I would have been incredulous if you suggested I’d speak that way about our President — even if it was an incumbent not of my choosing. But this is what Trump has done. He has lessened the office and demeaned the role. That is not good for America. I only hope that the damage is not permanent. 

Yesterday was another day of absurdity. He held a press conference where he proclaimed the US to be “absolute leader” in terms of fighting the pandemic. I don’t even need to break that down — anyone who has any understanding of the situation knows just how ridiculous this claim is and the extent to which it invites mockery of the man who made it. 

But he couldn’t stop there. He had to try to bully a reporter into removing his mask as he posed a question to the President. Repeatedly, he suggested that the reporter do so, claiming he was too “muffled.” The journalist refused to be cowed or bullied, however, and kept telling the President he would “speak louder” until Trump was compelled to concede that he could hear the questioner. Of course, that didn’t stop Trump from doubling down on his apparent disregard for the importance of masks. When he couldn’t get the one to remove his mask, he pointedly lauded another reporter, who did remove his mask to speak, as being “so clear” and easy to hear.

Really? Is that the measure we should care about? Is it better to risk exposure to COVID so that questions posed to Trump will be clearer? 

Again and again, he signals his disdain for masks and people who wear them — even as every expert tells us that this, along with distancing and hand hygiene, is the best possible defense to the virus that has killed almost 190,000 of our citizens as of today. 

This is what passes for leadership in his administration. It is ludicrous, I know, but no one laughs because his failures have led to far too many deaths and will lead to far too many more. 

And crazy didn’t end there. Trump is under assault for callously insulting comments about those who have served our nation and who have died or been seriously injured in the course of that service. And how does he handle this sort of situation? He turns and attacks the leaders in our military services. Men and women who have served for decades as career professionals. Men and women who have risen through the ranks and earned their positions of leadership through their performance and because of their records of accomplishment. 

He says that they don’t like him. Why? He says it’s because he gets in the way of the wars that the generals want to start on behalf of the defense contractors and companies who profit from them. Hearing him trot out some garbled version of President Eisenhower’s concerns about the military-industrial complex from 60 years ago…(ok, 59 if you want to be a stickler) seemed more than a little bizarre. 

There have, of course, long been issues about the defense establishment, the massive budgets, and the potential for problems in the far-too-close ties between the military and civilian defense sector. Those are issues that most would agree merit the exercise of care, both by those within the military, and those who have responsibility for its oversight. But that wasn’t Trump’s real issue yesterday. He’s not really worried about those issues or the conduct of the generals. 

 No. What he really wanted… and still does… is a way to shift the conversation from the reports about his disrespect of the military — reports that seem highly credible given his past history. 

So what better way to change the narrative than to accuse someone else of something — a common Trump tactic. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what you’re really accusing them of, that you’re not sure who specifically you’re accusing, or that you don’t have a single fact to lay on the table. What matters is the accusation and the chance to shift the focus and give your base something else to focus on.

Yes. It was quite a day yesterday. Add in a bit of third grade level name-calling (Joe Biden is “stupid”) and a rambling and disjointed narrative that was all over the board and you’ve got a performance that was vintage Trump. 

The fact that it was also another day in which the presidency was further debased is not even news any more. 

But perhaps the worst thing of all was lost in the silliness of some of his other statements. His heavy-handed hinting that he’ll roll out a vaccine before Election Day, though, could be the most harmful thing he did yesterday and it could end up costing even more lives. 

We know that there will not be sufficient time, in the less than two months remaining before the election, for a vaccine to get through the phase three trials. There will not be enough time for the scientific evidence to be evaluated. And there will not be enough time to really determine either the efficacy or safety of a vaccine. 

But the more he touts this idea of a vaccine soon, the more he fuels concerns about whether that vaccine — and by extension ANY COVID-19 vaccine — can be trusted. And, in sowing these doubts while linking the vaccine and politics, he will make it even harder to get the level of compliance and participation we will need once a fully approved version IS produced. And that may help perpetuate the pandemic and put us all at greater risk. But Trump doesn’t care. I doubt that the thought crossed his mind.

Yes, the crazy train is getting up a head of steam. And truth and rationality better get out of the way or they’ll be mowed down.

So breathe deeply. We’ve got a long way to go yet.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 7

It’s Labor Day. Do you wish someone a Happy Labor Day? Thank them for the their labors? Or just be grateful for a holiday? I’m not really sure. I’ve never thought about it much and, out of a desire to do a quick blog this morning and just enjoy the day, I’m not going to look it all up!

What I do know is today has always marked the “end” of summer — for what that is worth. As a kid it meant it was time to go back to school. No more days of riding bikes and playing with friends. No more being allowed to stay up later or sleep-in in the morning — not that I remember sleeping-in much. 

I can remember days spent wandering in the woods on the grounds of St. Catherine’s College with a makeshift net on a pole with the goal of catching one of the turtles that lived in the pond. I can remember catching grasshoppers to see if they spit on your hands and chasing butterflies we’d keep in jars until we let them go (with an occasional fatality, I’m sad to report).

Summers were different then. And Labor Day was the traitorous holiday that brought them to an end. It was a good time in life.

This year, school has already begun for some and certainly the divide between summer and fall will be even more blurred. Work and school and life in general has a very different rhythm in this century than it did 60 years ago and the pandemic has certainly given a very different syncopation to that rhythm. 

But Labor Day may still prove to be traitorous. It is so hard to believe the reports we’re seeing of huge parties, of people gathering recklessly, with no regard to social distancing, no masks… no care. I fear that this will mean more infections, more deaths, more disruption, and pain and sorrow in the months ahead. Thanks, Labor Day — for nothing.

But then, it’s really not the holiday is it? It’s us. It’s the many among us who seem unable to remember or accept that the pandemic is real, and that there is true danger in what we are experiencing. There are too many who seem unable to accept that, in a society, we have a responsibility to each other. A duty, if you will, to have each other’s backs and to recognize that we rise or fall together.

I saw a story today about the election that said — accurately, I think — that we no longer have any doubts about Donald Trump’s character. The election will answer the question about whether we care that he’s a bully, a narcissist, a coward, and more. In some ways it will be a measure of who WE are. Not who Trump is. 

Well, perhaps Labor Day — or more broadly, how we act in this time of national crisis — is a similar measure of who we are. A measure of how — and whether — we really think about the issues before us as a nation. It’s a measure of a lot of things, but most of all, a measure of whether we care. 

Another 200,000 of us are likely to die in the months ahead and perhaps the toll will be even greater if we are more irresponsible today, and in the days ahead, than the public health experts think. I don’t want to be the reason, though, that someone I care about dies. And as part of that 65+ crowd, I don’t want to spend the next few months feeling even more vulnerable and at risk as the virus surges again. 

I believe an awful lot of folks feel the same way, and I believe there are many, many people who will act responsibly and with care for others today. Sadly, however, there are enough on the other side of the equation to make this another another traitorous Labor Day.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 6

Four years ago, as the election campaign unfolded, some folks told themselves that the demagoguery and misogyny and racism that lay at the heart of the Trump campaign was just for show. It was theater. It was meant to secure his base. He’d be more traditionally presidential and reflective if elected. They were wrong. It wasn’t theater. It is who he was… and, who he still is.

Division and discord is his only path forward. Making us fear each other. Or more to the point, making white men and women fear the “other.” He wants to be the strong man leader who will protect us from the dark vision — figuratively and literally — he seeks to scare us with.

What misbegotten world is he living in where, as the President of the United States, he can declare that “Black Lives Matter” is a symbol of hate? It’s a world where he has banned federal agencies from conducting racial sensitivity training related to “white privilege” or the “critical race theory” that recognizes that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture.

According to the memo put out by the Office of Management and Budget, that training is “un-American propaganda.”

Trump says “we want our sons and daughters to know the truth,” but, that truth, apparently, doesn’t include the history of slavery, racism, and police violence.
Yesterday he threatened the funding of school systems that are using the “1619 Projects” — free curriculum that reframed American history around the date of 1619 when the first slave ship arrived in America. That’s a truth he obviously doesn’t want our kids to know.
It’s all pretty depressing.

Kamala Harris yesterday rebuked Trump and Barr for their refusal to acknowledge systemic racism in the US, saying that they are “spending full time in a different reality.” She said, “We do have two systems of justice.” One for black Americans and one for whites. And all you have to do it look around you to know that it is true.

Trump will tell you that he’s not a racist. So what will you believe? His words or his actions?

Unless you’re willfully deluding yourself, no one has the excuse this time around of pretending you don’t know what you’re getting with Trump. We’re getting a man whose view of the future is one that is uncompromisingly lily white. You’re getting a man filled with fear and anger. A man who, despite all his wealth and privilege, has a litany of grievances that seems unending. A man who dismisses women, people of color, and people with disabilities (including, apparently, disabled veterans) with equal disdain.
If all this sounds like the gospel of Aryan purity preached by another leader in the past — a leader who plunged the world into war and who murdered millions who did not meet his definition of those fit to be in society — it’s because they are part of the same vision of intolerance and bigotry and hate.

I can’t imagine another four years of this. I want to say we can’t sink lower into racism and misogyny. I want to tell you that we won’t further hurt the most vulnerable in our society in order to advance the interests of Trump and his wealthy cronies. But I know better. It will be all that and more.

We’re less than two months to Election Day. I’ll hold on until then. Nothing — including the pandemic — will stop me from doing my part to take back our nation. And I know I’m not alone.

So now to get on with my Sunday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 5

Some of you may recall that a few weeks ago, as I was feeling disheartened about the future of our nation, I drew a comparison to the struggles I was having getting a flag holder mounted properly here at home and the symbolism of the flag that couldn’t fly to where our country is these days. I still wanted to fly the flag, though no matter how disappointed I might be with current leadership. What that flag stands for matters — or at least it’s supposed to — and I wanted to have it fly outside our door.

The good news is that since I wrote I did find a holder that works and I’ve been flying the flag proudly for a few weeks now. The less good news is that almost every day there continues to be a reason to feel heartbroken at the depths to which we seem to fall.
I won’t belabor what is all over the press. The reports that Trump has called those who serve, and those who have died in service to our nation, suckers and losers. He denies it as do his surrogates. But they always do. Sadly, given the track record of lies and false denials, given the attacks on heroes like John McCain, and his comments about how the folks who do their duty and pay taxes are also suckers, well… it’s very easy to believe he said it.

And, Biden’s anger and disgust, yesterday, over Trump’s reported comments was more than just seizing the political moment. I think he felt the same outrage and disgust and sickening sense of despair we all do at the thought that the commander-in-chief could show such little respect or concern for those who risk their lives in service to our nation. And his anger and dismay reflect the stark contrast between him and Trump. More than anything else, it seems to me that this election is about character, and our choice about who will lead us for the next four years will speak volumes about who we are as a nation. I pray we are the nation I think we are.

And now, as we ease into the long weekend, we’re already behind the curve when it comes to the pandemic. Yesterday we saw over 50,000 new cases of the virus. What does that suggest about where we’re going to be in a few weeks after folks return from their jaunts over the holiday?

Meanwhile, every day there’s another example of the challenges of trying to maintain business as usual in academia during a pandemic. This time it’s the University of Wisconsin – Madison that has quarantined the students in nine fraternities/sororities. They’re showing an almost 10% positivity rate in recent testing. You’ve got to believe more of those kids will be testing positive soon. Those who violate the isolation or quarantine orders could face a court order and/or fine of up to $10,000, as well as university sanctions against the student.

We’re seeing such challenges play out across the nation. And what happens if these schools that were so confident that they could reopen end up having to close? Do they send these kids back home to infect their parents and siblings and grandparents? I know that there are no easy answers, but there are so many instances where leaders aren’t doing the critical thinking that’s required. That’s really troubling too.

‘Then yesterday, I heard a report about how the PAC 12 conference had a great plan for deploying a new type of rapid testing for college athletes. Yep… they were going to test all of them every day — or something like that — and were really confident that they could keep everyone safe and make sure that football or basketball or other sports could all be played.
Well, we’ve already heard so many claims about how safe we’ll be if we go back to school, or out to dinner, or to the movies, that our heads spin. I’m deeply skeptical. The virus has been smarter than us at every turn. I don’t think we’ve got it’s number yet. Sorry.

But more than that, I have to ask, is this really what we should be focused on? Making sure that a handful of college athletes can get tested while as a nation we are struggling on so many levels. When I think of all the vulnerable people, all the critical concerns, and all the other ways we might use these resources, I have to wonder about our priorities.

Of course, there’s a lot of money in college sports, especially at the Division One level. And to be honest, that seems to be what is driving this. And somehow that seems off the mark. Maybe that’s just me, but it feels like another discordant note in what is already a raucously off-key symphony.

On the plus side, it’s a beautiful day today. The best weather we’ve seen in months. Sunny, low humidity, and pleasantly warm, but not hot. There’s nothing discordant about THAT and I hope to enjoy it. So, I’ll stop writing and start “weekending.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 4

It’s Friday. A long weekend lies ahead for those who are gainfully employed. That number, however, remains far smaller than it was six months ago with over 11 million jobs also listed as fatalities of the COVID crisis. I’m shocked at how much those losses have been glossed over. The markets have dropped a bit again, but have never been an accurate reflection of the economic pain and suffering experienced by so many. Many of us with pension and retirement funds have been easily able to weather the market vagaries. The generally strong performance, despite the initial huge drop early in the pandemic, has left folks reassured.

But there are all those fellow citizens who aren’t in the market. Who aren’t given comfort that the investment funds are doing well because they have no money to invest. They have no retirement account. No 401k. No Thrift Savings Plan. They’re worried about having enough to pay rent. To pay for their kid’s medicines. They’re worried about putting food on the table.

They’re facing impossible choices about meeting the basic needs of their families that they shouldn’t have to face in America. And they’re largely ignored and forgotten. Congress can’t get it’s act together — largely due to partisan politics — and the White House doesn’t care, it seems. They seem to assume that these folks aren’t likely to vote or, if they do, they’ll vote for Biden so they aren’t a priority.

To me, it feels like they’ve been forgotten. And if that’s true, it shouldn’t be.

And it seems that many of us are just as eager to forget about, or at least minimize, the challenges that lie ahead. The surge we saw in July and early August got folks’ attention. And now that it is easing, we’re already hearing reports of greater laxity again in terms of mask wearing and diligence about distancing and hand washing.

We’re stuck here at a new — and totally unacceptable — normal of 40,000+ cases a day. Fauci says that’s way too high and it’s hard to dispute. Those 40,000 new infections can easily translate into 1,500-2,000 deaths a day and we’re hearing warnings from the experts that the death toll could rise to 3,000 a day or more in the coming months.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — a source previously cited by the White House with some frequency — now predicts that we could see over 410,000 deaths by the end of the year if current trends continue. And, if we were to listen to Trump’s latest advisor, Scott Atlas, who argues we should pursue herd immunity, that number could exceed 600,000 in just the next four months. That would mean over 100,000 deaths a month.

Even if we imposed stricter mask mandates — neither Iowa nor Missouri, where cases are now spiking has mandates in place — we would still likely see 300,000 deaths by January 1 — a pace of 75,000 deaths a month or roughly 2,400 a day. The CDC, even with Trump pressuring them and seeking to control information flow, suggests that almost 25,000 more people will die in just the next 20 days. And we’ve seen that Memorial Day and the 4th of July were triggers for new surges and you have to fear that Labor Day will be as well.

The bottom line is that whether we’re “surging” or not, overall, things are getting worse, not better. More people are getting infected. Not fewer. And more people are dying every day… not less. This is ugly. And Trump doesn’t even bother to talk about it.

He offers a few platitudes and a false promise of a vaccine being around the corner. That’s what he wants everyone to believe and focus on. Not the deaths and the unrelenting infection rate. Not the toll this is taking on families across the nation. Not the economic havoc it wreaks on those who aren’t anywhere near the 1%’ers income brackets.

And so he pressures the CDC and the FDA about therapeutics and vaccines. And meanwhile things go from bad to worse. It’s Friday… but even THAT doesn’t make it feel any better.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 3

I heard a commentator today talk about how nice it would be to wake up and NOT be immediately assaulted by the latest outrageous statement by the President. Not to have our sensibilities pounded by outlandish conspiracy theories and by conduct that smashes all the norms of presidential behavior (or of decent adult behavior for that matter). Wouldn’t it be nice to just be normal. To have a government that just did its job and a President who wasn’t on our minds and in our faces every day? What a lovely thought. Maybe in a few months… maybe.

Meanwhile, though, when our leaders offer us lies and distortion every day our understand of the world around us inevitably distorts as well. Facts are no longer facts and there is no objective truth — only the latest story line. In some ways it is, of course, blatantly obvious what is happening but its impact is insidious. As time goes by people tune out all the news and outrage gives way to numbness and even acceptance. In our heads we are pleading “just make it stop” and, even if the truth does make an appearance we hesitate to recognize it as such.

There’s so much of this pandemic that has tested our resilience and that pushes many folks into depression and despair but it has been compounded, I think, by the three+ years that have preceded it. Over the past few years Trump’s relentless assault on the media, on our institutions, and even the government agencies that he leads, has diminished our faith and confidence in them all. And that, coupled with the daily doses of lies and distortion, has left us with nowhere to turn for hope as we confront this pandemic. 

People just don’t know who or what to believe anymore and the confusion is compounded as our understanding of the virus constantly shifts and the guidance changes. Worse yet, though, is that seven months into the pandemic the divisions within Trump’s administration have become sharper and more dangerous to all of us. The CDC and the FDA have both seen their credibility seriously undermined by political interference from the White House looking to sell a narrative that we’re ready to “go back to normal” and the President is spearheading huge breakthroughs. Neither is true, and most of us know it but it doesn’t stop Trump from trying and, in the process, making it harder for us to believe anything we hear from those agencies. 

And now, Dr. Scott Atlas, the newest addition to Trump’s stable of medical advisors is offering a highly controversial set of arguments that undercut the messages from Tony Fauci and Deb Birx and other medical leaders who have tried — with limited success, sadly — to get the nation on one page on what this virus is and the dangers it poses. Atlas advocates for a reduced effort to fight the virus in the general population, believing we can protect the most vulnerable while developing herd immunity. He dismisses the value of masks and the value of social distancing.

There is so much evidence that suggests this could be a disastrous approach. That’s why it has been looked at and rejected by so many countries and their public health experts. If the idea of 200,000 or 300,000 deaths shocks your sensibilities (and it does for most of us, even if a majority of Republicans reportedly find it “acceptable”) then how do you feel about 2 or 3 million, or more?

But, as crazy as it may sound, it all gets lost in the static of this Orwellian world where truth is a malleable concept — where it is what the leader declares it to be, pure and simple. 

I really would love to wake up and not be outraged. I would love to wake up and have the truth be the truth, have facts be immutable, and have a president who is, well, a president. 

Today seems as though it should be a Pascal day so…

“Laughter is your brain getting so excited, it forgets how lungs work. ‘Har Har!’ It’s the best malfunction.”

These are times when we could all use a “best malfunction.” Hope you have one today.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 2

I think that I may have the answer. We’ve slipped through the cracks and fallen into an alternative universe. That’s all that can explain it. An alternative dimension where the president of the US is a renowned storyteller loved for the fanciful narratives he spins. Did you hear the one about the “shadow people” that surround Joe Biden? Sends shivers down my spine. Or how about the plane full of mysterious thugs who are out there “somewhere,” going “somewhere,” to do “something” that is apparently very bad because these thugs are all anarchists and leftists and criminals.

I’m not sure — the narrative gets a little murky in the Trumpiverse — but I think these bad thugs might be shadow people? Maybe they are the spawn of shadow people? I really don’t know. But Trump said it on Fox news and elsewhere so it must be so… right?

And of course, in this dimension there is a president who wants to now compare blood tests with Joe Biden because he thinks that Biden is using an “enhancement.” I don’t know what that REALLY means… it beggars the imagination to contemplate. But this is what we have come to. Fantasy claims grounded not in evidence but only in the roiling froth of Trump’s imagination. That is what passes for leadership and discourse in today’s world?

As I said… it has to be an alternative universe.

If only I could slip through the cracks and get back to the real world. Because, it’s not possible in the real world that the president of the US, after visiting Kenosha, Wisconsin, could have spent so much time there spouting off about so much, but never… never… saying Jacob Blake’s name. Never acknowledging him as a person… a man who was gunned down with seven shots in the back at point blank range by the police. In the real world I know the president of the United States would never compare the violence of that horrific act to a missed golf shot. Never would have said the police officer “choked.”

God preserve us in this strange land in which we find ourselves. It is a land where Trump can’t be bothered to talk about the Corona virus pandemic even though more than 1,000 people died from it yesterday. He cannot be bothered to mention them or to mourn them any more than he can be bothered to talk about Jacob Blake, or George Floyd, or Brianna Taylor, or Rayshard Brooks. He can’t be bothered to take the pandemic seriously even though 22% of those tested in Iowa, just 300 miles from where he spoke in Kenosha, came up positive.

No. He’ll continue to ignore it all. We won’t discuss the more than 25,000 new infections on college campuses just since those schools holding classes in person reopened. He’ll ignore the findings of a National Institute of Health panel that reviewed data on the use of convalescent plasma in the treatment of coronavirus and found nothing, based on “well-controlled, adequately powered randomized clinical trials, that demonstrate the efficacy and safety of convalescent plasma.”

No. He doesn’t like findings like that. Just as he didn’t like scientists who determined that he was mistaken in pushing hydroxychloroquine. So, instead, he’ll continue to claim, after pushing the FDA into issuing an emergency use authorization, that this is a major treatment breakthrough, even though, apparently, it is not.

But these days, if you don’t like the facts, you can make up your own. At least if you’re Donald Trump. The truth doesn’t matter. Casting yourself as the hero in your own stories is what counts. Getting reelected on a mountain of lies is what counts. Hiding and ignoring the failures of your leadership behind the cloak of your fables is what you do and you hope folks will blindly believe.

Well, shame on any one of us who accepts this nonsense. You can choose to vote for Trump if you want. But don’t hide behind the fables when you do so.

Maybe you care more about the next Supreme Court justice than you do about human decency or good leadership. Then vote for Trump.

Maybe you’re more worried about your place in the pecking order as a white man than you are about the fundamental values we espouse as a nation. Then vote for Trump.

Maybe you subscribe to his vision of returning us to a 1950’s version of America that is white and christian and where women and minorities all knew their place.  Then vote for Trump.

Maybe you believe that climate change is a hoax, maybe you believe that kids being gunned down in their classrooms is an OK price to pay to prevent restrictions on a gun culture that it out of control.  Then vote for Trump.

Maybe you fear change, maybe you fear social justice and equality. Maybe you fear (if you admit it) people who are different than you. Then vote for Trump.

But don’t wrap yourself in some fable. Don’t pretend you do this for the nation. You do it for you. It’s your choice.

So let’s put our beliefs and our values — not fiction and lies — on the table and vote on them. I’ll take my chances. Will you?

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

September 1

Really? It’s September? And we’re still struggling with the pandemic? If you had told me in March when we canceled our trip to Iceland — out of what seemed then to be an excess of caution — I would have been shocked. But here we are. 

The story today… and I won’t even call it the “big” story because it has been apparent for so long… is that Trump is trying to change the conversation from the pandemic. No kidding. He wants to talk about law and order. He wants to talk fear and the threat posed by the radical left. Of course, we can disregard the radical right. We can make excuses, as he did, for the Kyle Rittenhouse who shot three people in Kenosha, killing two of them. THAT’s okay. He’s a Trump supporter. And so were the folks shooting paintballs at protesters. That was okay too. Because they like him.

But god protect us from those who care about racial justice… from those who are disturbed by police killings and violence… from those who recognize that criminal justice is failing citizens of color. He wants to reframe this election as a discussion about law and order. He doesn’t want to talk about justice or decency or reform or GOD FORBID… the pandemic.

Don’t despair though. There’s really good news this morning. The Department of Health and Human Services, apparently, wants to spend $250,000,000 of our tax dollars on a public service campaign to inspire hope about the pandemic. Be still my racing heart. 

Seriously though… really? The idea might not be inappropriate IF the government were actually leading and committed to an effort to fight the pandemic. It might be okay IF Trump was calling for masks to be worn, urging smart choices, respecting the science. It might be okay IF he seemed to care, even a little, for those who are suffering and for those who have died. But he want’s to pretend none of that is our reality. He wants to change the conversation.  So please… don’t waste our money to give us hope if you’re not serious about fighting the pandemic. Don’t.

And so begins another month. Trump is off to Kenosha despite the requests by the governor and local officials that he not come. But seeding discord, perpetuating discord and sowing anxiety and fear, will be his stock in trade, I fear, for the next two months. I hope we’ve got the strength to weather this. We’re in for a quite a ride — and the pandemic, sadly, will keep us company all the while and no amount of ignoring it will make it go away.

That’s all I have the stomach for this morning. So I’ll just close with this thought for the day from Pascal…

“Magic is just science with your eyes closed, maaan.”

Ponder THAT one for a while. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.