Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Dear Fellow White People: Virtue Signaling is Not Enough; We Have Work To Do

I find myself feeling pretty damn irritable these days.  Like everyone else, I'm a bit stir-crazy from nearly three months of my big excitement being going to Aldi on Thursday mornings when it's not busy.  I've been angry about Trump for over three years. And then there's my just general customary cynicism. And then there's the last eight days, in which four policemen, no different from the many policemen who have been summarily executing black men in the street without trial, finally did it one too many times.

For the last eight nights, there have been demonstrations in big and small cities all over the country.  The American people who aren't part of the Trump Cult have finally had enough.  And predictably, the protests have been co-opted by the usual crypto-anarchists who always end up at these things, and in a more terrifying development, but the neo-Nazis and KKKers who have formed an underground army of loser incel white men, armed with guns to hide their anxiety about their tiny penises, trying desperately to cling to whatever privilege they have left after billionaires have sucked out their livelihoods, blaming people of color for their problems.  It feels like the last stand of white patriarchy, and that patriarchy has made clear that it's not going to go down without an awful lot of blood being shed.

For those of us who remember, and in some cases participated in, the unrest of 1968, this is all depressingly familiar.  We had hoped to live in a different world.  We had hoped to make a difference.  We failed.  I don't know why we failed, but we did.  The millennials want to say we all sold out to Ronald Reagan and Wall Street, but it's not that simple. The truth is that the hippies that the news media covered were NEVER the majority.  And most of them DIDN'T sell out and become stockbrokers.  The stockbrokers are the guys in the plaid pants who ratted out the kids who were walking out of school to go to anti-war protests.

But that's not what moves me to write today. Today I'm here to talk to my fellow white people about virtue signaling.

Yesterday, white people everywhere put black background images on their Facebook and Instagram  pages for what was called "Blackout Tuesday."  This was supposed to be a day for artists and companies to "pause and reflect."  But people hate to let a good opportunity for virtue signaling go to waste, so most people replaced their cover and profile images with a plain black background.  Most of them kept on posting all day anyway, which meant that the advertisers for whom YOU are the product, much as TV programming is simply a vehicle for delivering your eyeballs to advertisers, got their money's worth.

I did NOT change my cover and profile images, because I knew damn well that I wasn't going to "pause and reflect" while reporters were still being attacked in the street and police were advancing on peaceful protesters spraying them with tear gas and pepper spray as if they were that 2" long hornet that found its way into my windowshade in my home office last year.  A lot of bad shit can happen while white people are pausing and reflecting.  I didn't succumb to this exercise in self-righteousness because it seemed not all that much different from those "I'll know which of my friends care about [cancer / domestic violence / autoimmune diseases / animal cruelty / domestic violence] by who shares this" memes that people insist on perpetuating.  I call this, variously, "Facebook Emotional Blackmail" or "Facebook Guilt Tripping." The idea that clicking "Share" on Facebook is the ONLY way to TRULY PROVE you care about the cause in question, and that sharing a black background is the ONLY way to show you recognize what Black people are going through, is  emblematic of the kind of facile, drive-by "caring" to which social media lends itself.

As Madison Malone Kircher noted yesterday at

That day is today and instead of using this movement to reflect on how Black artists fuel culture and sharing resources support ongoing solidarity protests around the country, #THESHOWMUSTBEPAUSED has been co-opted by well-intentioned Instagrammers clogging up the #BlackLivesMatter feed. If you search the hashtag on the app, you’ll find almost nothing but black square posts. A number of black artists, including Kehlani and Little Nas X, have pointed out how this is ultimately an ineffective way to help, given that Instagram is a vital tool for organizing. A great example is the @justiceforgeorgenyc account, a centralized hub for information on daily protests in New York City. A flood of black squares wastes useful digital space that could be devoted to the real cause.
But more importantly, blacking out social media during days of demonstrations, which in an age of corporate media, is often the ONLY place to get eyewitness reporting on the ground, is to black out possible useful information about the protests.  But why let logistics get in the way of a good way for white people to feel all "woke" and virtuous and caring?

Yesterday, the food blog Serious Eats participated in some world-class virtue signaling:

As a food website that publishes international recipes and runs reported feature articles, personal essays, and the like, we’ve long had a commitment to celebrating global culinary traditions. But while we’ve endeavored to be sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation, to represent diverse voices, and to assert that food is always, at its core, deeply political, we are also part of the problem. 
Serious Eats has no Black people on staff at this time, and we’ve never had a Black editor. The underrepresentation of Black voices in food media is well-known and often remarked and reported upon, yet it remains endemic to our industry. That’s not a coincidence, nor is it an idiosyncrasy of media broadly or food media in particular: It is a reflection of the power structures that define the United States, and it is not okay. 
We are committed to making more Black voices heard on our site, to honoring Black foodways, to being a home for Black stories, and to standing back and shutting up to listen to Black voices elsewhere. What that actually means is that we’ll be refraining from publishing new content this week and instead using our homepage to provide a list of links and resources to help people get involved in the necessary fight against racism in this country. We’ll also be using that time to have difficult conversations about our organization and the content we produce, and to plan for the future accordingly.

Wow!  "Difficult conversations!"  How virtuous!  How "woke"!  Look, I'm not trying to single out Serious Eats, a site I really enjoy. But seriously -- they're just noticing NOW that they have no Black people on staff?  THEY DIDN'T NOTICE BEFORE NOW?  They didn't notice when any of the OTHER Black men and women who have been murdered by police over the last decade that they didn't have any Black people on staff and weren't publishing content by Black authors?  George Floyd had to DIE for them to notice this?  And yet, they publish a letter like this, and all over social media, white people are kvelling about how wonderful they are.

I understand the need to find some light in the universe right now.  I don't want to be a complete Debbie Downer.  I too decided to follow young Jalen Thompson after seeing how he recruited his town's police chief to march with him in O'Fallon, Missouri. I too am moved at the sight of demonstrators embracing police offers as a gesture of reconciliation. But I'm not kidding myself that any of this means anything in the long run IF WE ALL DO NOT CHANGE.

Pointing out these "points of light" are the "All Lives Matter" of the current moment.  It's dismissive of the reality that people of color living in this country deal with every day.  Yes, not all cops summarily execute black people in the street -- or in their beds, as in the case of Breonna Taylor.  But enough of them do, and those who don't are doing nothing to stop them. Yes, not all white people are gun-totin', Trump-supportin' lunatics.  But we have not done enough to say "Enough."  We have not taken enough action inside our own heads.

Virtue signaling is fine, when it's part of an overall soul-searching of how we contribute to the structure that has made the murder of George Floyd and others possible, and how we benefit disproportionately from it. I'm no paragon of racial virtue, believe me, and black backgrounds on Facebook won't make me so. Only I can do that. I MUST do that.  Do or do not. There is no try.

I spent most of my life in northern New Jersey.  In all that time, I never lived in a neighborhood that had any more than MAYBE one or two token black families.  The town where I spent most of my childhood had a "black section" on "the other side of town." It wasn't till I got to high school where I had any interaction at all, most of it through political activism, with people not the same skin color as mine.  The town I moved here from is still 96% white.  The next town over from that one, a pretty tree-lined suburb with a thriving downtown, was for years regarded as less desirable because it has "a black section," tucked away behind the hospital.  It's a pretty, tree-lined neighborhood, but it's "the black section."  To my Jersey eyes, moving here was an eye-opener, because Durham, at least, is less segregated than northern New Jersey is.

But when you grow up without significant day-to-day interaction with Black people, you absorb the messages of the larger culture in spite of yourself, and no matter how bleeding-heart-liberal your parents are.  And then you grow up and you clutch your purse more tightly in the elevator when the Black bike messenger gets on.  Or you feel a pang of fear when you go to Caldor after dark and there's a young black man walking from his car behind you.  It's practically reflexive. And you don't even think about it.  Until you realize that you have to. If you've ever said "I'm not racist but....", you're racist.  You might not be an alt-right, Charlottesville tiki torch racist, but you're racist.  And so am I.  Until that little gut-twist goes away, we're racist.

Racism is a sickness, and it infects far too many of us.  It's hard to acknowledge that.  But we have to.  Symbolic gestures are fine, but we've had symbolic gestures for years.  They're not effective. Dealing with racism starts in our own heads, in our own communities, and at the ballot box.   We may never be "past all that."  We can't erase the history of this nation.  But we don't have to perpetuate it.  We know what we have to do.  It's up to us to do it.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

No, I can't possibly know what it's like. And that's the problem.

Last night Chris Cuomo got all sanctimonious about how Minneapolis erupting in violence is where it stops being a protest.  It was archetypal whitesplaining, and pretty cringeworthy.  In the handoff to Don Lemon, the latter gently chided Cuomo for just that.

It's an important segment for white people to watch.  In an even sadder and angrier vein, Elie Mystal wrote at The Nation yesterday that the only possible conclusion is that white America likes its killer cops.  It's a hard read but a necessary one.

The truth is that we white bleeding heart liberals like to think that we're somehow better, that we know what it's like for black people in this country because we are aware and because we don't defend bad cops. 

Yes, I'm afraid of police.  I'm afraid of police because I had them barge into my residence and trash the place back in 1984 when Mr. Brilliant got caught up in a friend's pot bust and they thought they'd busted up a huge pot ring, instead of his friend who was dealing small quantities and Mr. B.,  who had just purchased under 25 grams for his own use.  This was followed up by months of wiretapping our phone, which caused me to spend lots of time on the phone with my women friends gossiping about this and that and boring the cops to death.  After all that, both guys pleaded guilty to disorderly persons misdemeanor charges, paid fines, and had their records expunged after 10 years.  (The cop who busted them went on to become Chief of Detectives and a rather colorful career, peppered by rumors of corruption and apparent business dealings with Mob figures, eventually stepping down in disgrace.)

I'm afraid of police because in 2009 when I was sideswiped by a speeding car on the Garden State Parkway, the officer refused to hear my account and wrote up the report based solely on the account of the 21-year-old male (who was more like the cop) who hit me, who said I cut him off (not possible given where the damage to my car was) and wrote up the report with me as being at fault.


If I should ever get pulled over for a busted tail light, I'm a little old white lady who needs to get her car fixed.  I'm not going to be asked to get out of the car.  I'm not going to be frisked, put on the ground, and beaten. Or have a knee put on my neck.  Or have my shoulder dislocated. I will not be summarily executed in the street because I am white.

Here are things I can do that black people don't seem able to without risking their lives, and the ones who either died or could have died for doing the same things (copied from a friend on Facebook):

I can go birding (#ChristianCooper).
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD's (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones, #Brionna Taylor)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can live (#FreddieGray).


Even in 2020, judging people, especially African-American men, based on color is still entrenched in our power structures.  My anger is white liberal anger; it's the limited way of empathy without similar experience.  When Mr. B. first died people said dumb things about how they knew how I felt, but the only people who REALLY knew what I felt were other widows. When a friend's daughter died, a mutual friend said "You can't possibly know how she feels because you don't have children."  And I replied, "And neither can you, because you get to go home and tuck your very much alive kids into bed tonight."  We can feel badly for the plight of others, but it has limits, because we have not been there.

Like you, I am horrified and sickened at the video taken of George Floyd, begging to be allowed to breathe as his life ebbs away on a street at the hands of people who are supposed to be protecting him as much as others.  I've forced myself to watch it a number of times.  But I'm white.  I can turn it off.  I don't have to watch it.  It triggers my humanity, but not my experience. I don't have to live it.  But every black male in this country lives with that fear.  Christian Cooper could have lived it the other day simply because he asked a woman to leash her dog in accordance with the law.

Seeing photos of unconscious people on ventilators and their families having to make "the decision" during this pandemic has triggered my memories of Mr. B.'s last two weeks because that was my experience.  I get it.  But this?  This is not my experience. It can't be.  I can't know what it's like. And that is a problem.

The list of Black Americans killed by police keeps growing and growing and growing.  And one of the most horrible things about it is watching the people they loved and who loved them, on the news, speaking in a tone of resignation as if they always knew this would happen eventually.  How does one live like that without going insane? And yet Black Americans do, every single day of their lives.

In the midst of this pandemic, I don't see Black people going around saying that wearing a mask to avoid spreading a deadly virus is tyranny.  I don't see them saying that not being able to sit in a restaurant is against the Constitution.  They simply do not have the luxury of saying so.  In this pandemic, Black men are damned if they wear the mask and damned if they don't.  They are more frequently cited for not wearing masks where it's required.  And with black men in danger if they wear a hoodie, imagine what kind of police and civilian freakout will happen with black men in masks.  Imagine if hundreds of black men carrying assault weapons marched on a state house, stopping afterward at a Subway for sandwiches, as white people did recently in Raleigh, NC. Imagine the white panic.

It's really easy for us white people to sit here and tut-tut-tut about rioting, and about how it makes black people look bad, and how it reinforces every stereotype that racists have about them.  It's easy because it's not happening to us.  I watched Chris Cuomo whitesplain the unacceptability of breaking the windows of a police car and cringed, because it was so utterly clueless.  What Don Lemon did to his friend in the handover last night was far more gentle than I might have been in his shoes in explaining WHY people who are dark of skin are exploding.  He wasn't excusing violence.  But when we focus on the angry demonstrators instead of on the perpetrators of the original violence and on their victim, we play right into the racists' narrative of violent black people.  Chris Cuomo should know better.  We all should.  Because if you're white, we don't know.  We can't know.  And we have no business whitesplaining what an appropriate response is when a president exhorts white people to violence every single day, whose criminal behavior and that of most of his cronies goes unchecked, while George Floyd is murdered in the street  for passing a counterfeit $20 bill that he probably didn't even know was fake.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Blogrolling In Our Time

Somehow when I started up this new blog, I missed adding Big Bad Bald Bastard under "Still Brilliant After All These Years."  So I'm rectifying that now.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Trump Pivots -- And I Imagine the Inevitable Campaign Ad

Remember the Iraq War?  Remember how George W. Bush took us into a war with no plan, screwed up that country completely, and then lost interest?

Now we have Donald Trump, who, having "dealt" with the coronavirus crisis by first trying to "keep the numbers down" by doing nothing, then insisting his administration was doing a great job, has now decided, in the aftermath of the Great Bleach Injection Fracas of 2020, to "pivot" over to an economic message.  He can't control the narrative about the infection and death toll of COVID-19 in this country (which as I write this stands at around 986,000 confirmed infections and over 55,000 deaths), so like an unruly child who breaks everything in the gift shop before being hustled out by his mother, he's leaving the wreckage for the states to clean up and "pivoting" to the economy.

This from Axios:
Driving the news: The Coronavirus Task Force — and the doctors who've become household names, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci — "will continue but take a back seat to the forward-looking, 'what's next' message," a White House official told Axios.

What we're hearing: "Expect to see a pivot from the White House in the days ahead, focusing on the economy and a more hopeful, forward-looking message," one of these officials said.

Trump will host businesses who've been harmed by the coronavirus, and he'll highlight the governors who are reopening their economies in line with the Trump administration's guidelines. That group pointedly does not include Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Some governors are gingerly trying to reopen their states as public health experts warn of a second wave of infections.

What's next: The White House briefings will eventually scale back and come to an end. But in the meantime, Trump's team plans to build his calendar around events that highlight a "safe" reopening of the economy.

The team for weeks has deliberated what a plan to stimulate an economic rebound should look like, one official said, concluding that "POTUS is strongest when he's focusing on things we can win — like bringing back the economy — rather than giving updates on the virus."
And it just might work for him.

Imagine the ad:  The sun is shining.  A man in an apron sweeps the sidewalk by his restaurant's outdoor tables.  He smiles at the camera and says, "We're back -- and better than ever."  A smiling bus boy wipes a table.  A man in a chef's coat chops vegetables on a pristine counter. He looks up and says "We're back -- and better than ever." Cut to a glimpse inside a sports bar, where every table is full.  The tables are placed discreetly apart, but they are full of smiling white people cheering a football game while drinking beer and chowing down on enormous hamburgers and fries.  Cut to a shopping mall, where two attractive women push strollers laden with bags from mall stores.  Two of them look at the camera and say "We're back -- and better than ever."  Cut to a baseball game where the crowd chants "We're back -- and better than ever."  A paunchy white guy is grilling enormous steaks on a grill.  He raises his grill fork, waves it around his suburban domain and says "We're back -- and better than ever."  You get the picture, right?  

Cut to Trump reciting figures that reinforce the idea that he did a great job with the pandemic, to him signing relief bills, to the West Point commencement appearance he's going to do, and so on.  The voiceover in all this is something along the lines of "This country endured a catastrophic pandemic that  the previous administration left us woefully unprepared for.  Yet despite the wreckage left to him by Barack Obama, President Donald Trump steered us through this unprecedented challenge -- and through his strong, powerful leadership, brought us safely to the other side.  And now we're back.  America is back.  We're back, and we're better than ever. And nothing can stop us now."

Cut to a big crowd of white people with Trump standing triumphantly on front of them.  They yell "We're back -- and better than ever" while holding Trump signs.  Trump grins with his trademark "thumbs up."

I can see this ad as clearly as if it were already running.  Perhaps I can see it because it's right out of the Ronald Reagan "Morning in America" playbook. 

Trump's stock in trade is fear and loathing, but a nation wearied by fear may not respond to ads about the Great Brown People Horde that Steven Miller might want.  Buried underneath all of Trump's ridiculous speculation about miracle cures and how he just wants to get this virus crisis behind him, is a marketer's knowledge that people want hope.  They will cling to whatever hope they might be.  I'm quite certain that there are people on ventilators in hospitals all across the country who will never leave the hospital except in a body bag, but because there is a 20% chance that they might get off the ventilator, they'll take it.  We want to hope.  We want to think things will get "back to normal", even those of us who know that whatever comes out of this will at best be a kind of weird, not-quite-there alternate universe version of normal, have trouble coping with the idea that this may just be how we have to live from now on, with spot shortages and masks and no hugs.

Unless the reopenings that are occurring fail because curbside no-contact is not a viable business model, or because we see a renewed spike in cases, or if there is a second wave of the virus in the fall, it is going to be hard to run against "We're back -- and better than ever." (Actually, it's probably going to be "We're back -- bigger and better than ever," given Trump's preoccupation with size.)  

Joe Biden is an inherently cheery, folksy guy and HIS ads, under normal circumstances, would write themselves.  But how does Biden run against Morning in America Redux? Dark visions of the time we live in right now may not resonate in the fall. People will not want to remember.  We are a nation of spoiled whiny-ass titty babies.  The people demonstrating in the street demanding access to hair salons and tattoo parlors show who and what we are.  Jimmy Carter failed against Morning in America.  Walter Mondale failed against Morning in America, even though it wasn't morning for poor people and minorities, and the evisceration of the working class was well underway.  Does Team Joe have the savvy to be able to counteract the old Reagan playbook?  Color me skeptical.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Can this country be saved? (Should it?)

When I was a kid, my bathroom reading was a column in the Ladies Home Journal called "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"  I don't know why, as a kid not even ten years old, this column fascinated me.  Maybe it was the endless screaming matches between my own parents giving me a hope that maybe the magazine people could finally get things to quiet down.  (The screaming between my parents eventually stopped in April 1967 when my father decided he'd had enough, but then my mother's screaming became directed at my sister and me, so I'm not sure what we gained.)

Today, we wake up every morning in a country where neighbors are posting on NextDoor where you can find toilet paper and where people are lined up at 3 AM to buy cheap surplus chicken from  processing plants that are either closing or are in danger of closing because of COVID-19 outbreaks. We live in a country where you can be guilt-tripped because you aren't getting no-contact takeout food, which you aren't getting because you've realized that restaurant food has never been about the food, but about the companionship of enjoying it with friends.  It's a country where your hair salon has a GoFundMe to try and pay the rent so that at some indeterminate time in the future it can reopen, where you write checks for your hair stylist, the woman who waxes your eyebrows, your petsitting service, and the woman in your city who for years has been feeding kids in her low-income neighborhood and now finds herself an indispensable resource for a need that seems bottomless. It's a country where hedge funds gobbled up loans that we were told were meant for small businesses, where a pittance of $1200 for every adult in the country was deemed to be sufficient to carry over  people who had to close their restaurant, their beauty salon, their massage therapy practice, and the people who worked for them.

Some of us have been screaming for two decades about the mindless, knee-jerk patriotism that rose after 9/11/01.  It never really went away, as a party in power for much of that time sold us off piecemeal to billionaires who believe themselves ordained by God to have all the wealth in the world.  Meanwhile, the opposition party stubbornly remained locked in a bygone era, trapped in a 1990s "centrism" that was never in the center and was less a sea change than a function of the most charismatic politician since JFK.  That "America Fuck Yeah" patriotism had no resemblance to the country we actually lived in -- the one where a college education, unless you were a brilliant STEM grad from a top college who'd had an internship at Google, maybe got you a job at Starbucks if you were lucky.  It was one where undocumented workers who were required because Americans don't do backbreaking work for pennies an hour, were being exploited by their agribusiness employers for pittance wages. It was one where even tech workers were having to train their own lower-wage replacements, whether here or in India, before being let go.  Black men were being summarily executed in the street, or in their cars, because someone of the same race was seen in the same neighborhood, or because they'd committed some petty crime that for a white person would have meant pretrial intervention and probation.  The middle class was being systematically eviscerated, while the billionaire-owned GOP pointed their attention down the ladder and said "Look!  Look at that [black person/immigrant/Muslim/Jew/whoever]!!  HE's your problem.  HE's the one taking what is rightfully yours!"

And the middle class bought it -- enough of them to put Donald Trump in the White House.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend who I haven't talked with since November.  One of the reasons for that is that every time I talk with her, she insists on rehashing the entire sad story of the 2016 election, and what "we" have to do now -- as if I'm arguing with her.  The amount of energy she expends on what was absolutely a travesty is toxic -- and wasteful.  After I finally was able to get a word in edgewise, I asked her "What is this doing for you?  What is this doing for anyone?  What is this doing for anything?"  Eventually I got her to ask the question, "So what do we do?  How do we fix this?"

It's so much easier to stay stuck in 2016, to rehash the injustices done to Hillary Clinton -- a candidate who, if her husband was the most charismatic politician of the tech era, was probably the least charismatic, and certainly the most tone-deaf one -- than be a cynic like me and face the inexorable fact:  That if we were ever "America the Great", we certainly aren't anymore.  The myth has been held together with spit and glue ever since Ronald Reagan's first act in office was to fire all the air traffic controllers.  The public has been bought with $300 "tax rebates" while billionaires got millions in permanent tax cuts; and poisoned by right-leaning corporate media.

And now here we are, in what George Packer accurately called in The Atlantic this week, a failed state:

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.
Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan—no coherent instructions at all—families, schools, and offices were left to decide on their own whether to shut down and take shelter. When test kits, masks, gowns, and ventilators were found to be in desperately short supply, governors pleaded for them from the White House, which stalled, then called on private enterprise, which couldn’t deliver. States and cities were forced into bidding wars that left them prey to price gouging and corporate profiteering. Civilians took out their sewing machines to try to keep ill-equipped hospital workers healthy and their patients alive. Russia, Taiwan, and the United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power—a beggar nation in utter chaos.
 When the Trumpublican Party passed massive tax cuts for corporation and billionaires in 2019 along with some smoke and mirrors designed to make the masses think they too were getting tax cuts, pundits and economists warned that these unnecessary tax cuts would give little room for stimulative spending in the event of a recession.  And here we are, but it is an election year so politicians of ALL stripes decided it was necessary to throw a pittance of hush money at the masses.  And right on cue, there was Steve Rattner, on the supposedly "liberal" MSNBC this morning, already talking about the "spending cuts" that will be necessary when this is over.

We all know what "spending cuts" means:  It means eliminating or gutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  "But they can't do that.  They'd never be re-elected" you might say.  Oh, it won't happen this year, at least not before whatever passes for an "election" in November.  But you can bet your life that the minute that election is over (and you may rest assured that the GOP WILL prevail, by hook or by crook, most likely the latter), the knives will be out.

Perhaps this is why SARS-CoV-19 has been allowed to run rampant -- to cull the herd enough that there will be little opposition to finally fulfilling the GOP dream.

(Side note:  I have not even addressed the influence of Russia and Vladimir Putin's string pulling on the current occupant of the White House.  Some things are best left to the professionals.  For that, I refer you to Greg Olear, who knows of what he speaks.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The short memory of an inattentive American public

Frida Ghitis, in The Atlantic:

Give the president his due: Trump is a genius. He is a master manipulator, a political alchemist capable of transmuting calamitous errors into political gold. Even as he continues to lie and deceive, the president has seized control of the narrative, taking possession of the national microphone to saturate the public with his self-serving version of events.

And it’s working.

All the fact-checkers, scientists, journalists, doctors, nurses, mayors, and governors may be telling a different story. But Trump takes to the White House podium day after day, crafting a narrative, offering the same staccato sentences over and over—“We’ve done a great job”—taking credit for each positive development, conjuring nonexistent progress, blaming others for every failure, demanding that those around him sing his praises before the cameras, and extorting praise from governors in exchange for federal aid. He repeats this until the extent of his failures, however well documented, fades from the minds of a large segment of Americans, desperate to feel protected in the face of a mysterious and frightening threat.


This is what happens when Americans listen with only half an ear to what's on the 20-minutes of network news.

News junkies like me see his press conferences delivered in their entirety, in real time, followed by an analysis of every lie he tells.  But the network news programs that people may watch over dinner are simple stenographers.  When that's what they hear, that's what they believe.

I always cite the example of my friend whose kids were never allowed to play in their own backyard unless she was out there with them. Every morning, she would have "Good Morning America" on, and in those days of the aftermath of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, every morning they led with a story of a missing [white] child.  So she was convinced that in her suburban neighborhood of one-acre lots and 1970s bi-levels, on a dead-end street, where you never saw a soul outdoors, her kids were certain to be kidnapped if they played unattended, even for five minutes. Whatever gets "out there" first, is the truth.

Remember the Swift Boat Liars -- Jerome Corsi's guys who made ads in 2004 that painted John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, as a traitor?  They got "out there" first, and people who weren't news junkies believed it.  Some of that was because Kerry didn't fight back at all, assuming wrongly that "the American people are too smart to believe that".  But it was also because the Swift Boat Liars got "out there" first.

Trump is getting "out there" first.  Americans have short memories.  He comes out and cites numbers -- big numbers -- and people assume that he's on top of things.  They may know in their hearts what he is, but these are even scarier times than the 9/11/01 aftermath.  And they WANT to believe him. They NEED to believe him.  Because the truth, that the president is a man without a soul, without empathy, without curiosity, without knowledge or any desire to obtain it, a man hopelessly unfit for the office he holds, is just too terrifying to contemplate.

If this is somehow over by the November election, our short memories will kick in.  Trump will get out there on a campaign slogan of "Where Was Biden?" -- as if Biden were the president who dropped the ball and not  him.  And he will win.  Because Americans have shown themselves again and again to be unwilling to face uncomfortable truths.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

What will American society look like when this is over?

"I can't wait till life gets back to normal."

How many times have YOU heard or said that lately?  I know I have both.

I've been wondering of late what life is going to look like after this virus runs its course, after there's a vaccine and its re-emergence every year becomes like the flu.  In order to do that, we have to look at how life has changed and how we're adjusting.

Service businesses. I get my hair cut every five weeks.  I have a short haircut, which needs shaping regularly or it will look like a thinning mop.  The salon I go to is closed, I'm due for a haircut next Tuesday, and it's not going to happen.  And I have no idea when it will.  I'm trimming and tweezing my eyebrows myself and hoping I don't botch it.  I had a pedicure before the stay-at-home order, and won't have another one for a long time.  What little vanity I had has fallen by the wayside.  I think about people who regularly get their nails done, get their hair professionally colored, get facials and Botox and fillers and hair highlights and all the other things we do to pretty ourselves up and how we are all going to have to live with being somewhat unkempt.  There was a time when this "beauty industry" didn't exist.  Look at photos of your great-grandmother.  She didn't create a smoky eye and have lash extensions, and yet she managed to live a life, and even look pretty.  Will this teach us to relax about all this?  Then there are the petsitters and child care workers and handymen and the many other small service businesses that have been largely sidelined.  Will they still be there when we need them after this is over?

Corporate office parks.  People whose work takes place sitting at a computer are working from home these days.  I know from experience that especially large companies hate the idea of remote work.  The move towards "open concept office space" that was sold as "fostering collaboration" really does little of that, but is a great way for managers to do surveillance of employees to make sure they're busy. When your people are working at home, unless you are using keystroke loggers, there's a level of trust required that most companies historically have not had.  The assumption is that people will goof off.  But what if they aren't goofing off?  What if they're working more effectively, taking less sick time, perhaps even giving you the time they used to spend in traffic?  When Zoom allows you to have face-to-face meetings online, do you really need to sit in the same room with a pot of coffee and a tray of pastry?  Suppose companies DO decide that remote work is viable during all this.  What happens to all those corporate office parks with their on-site gyms and dry cleaners and cafeterias and huge lawns to maintain?  Do we need them?  Can a smaller facility for OCCASIONAL face-to-face meetings suffice?  Is there a better use we can put that land to, like, perhaps, replacing some of the farmland and forests that we've been clear-cutting for stick-built firetrap apartment buildings?

Restaurants.  Oh, the poor restaurants. It's estimated that up to 75% of this country's restaurants may never reopen.  We've been restaurant-crazy ever since we became foodies with the advent of the Food Network in 1993.  Today, mayonnaise with stuff mixed in is an aioli, everyone knows what a chiffonade is, and thanks to YouTube, everyone is a chef.  Here in Durham, NC, the foodie capital of the south, our downtown renaissance has been largely fueled by a thriving and dynamic restaurant scene and local celebrity chef culture, to the point that saying you have no idea who Ashley Christensen is, is met with the kind of horrified reaction one would get by saying one has spent one's entire previous life in northern New Jersey.  Many restaurants are doing what they can to switch over, at least temporarily, to a takeout-and-delivery model, but not every restaurant can do that, and even so, many people are leery of food of unknown origin and treatment.  It's one thing to simply block out the thought of a line cook who may not have washed his hands, but quite another when a deadly virus is at the front of everyone's mind.

The first casualty has been the Chinese restaurants and takeout joints.  If we are adept at nothing else, Americans are great at ethnic scapegoating, and the family-owned Chinese restaurants that neighborhoods all over the country rely on to deliver tasty, inexpensive Americanized versions of Chinese food in copious portions, were the first to suffer the consequences of American hysteria over a virus that originated in China.  Ordering a quart of wonton soup and a plate of mei fun has never seemed so revolutionary.

With restaurant dining now being just another manifestation of eating at home, many people are not bothering.  Will we go back when this is over?  Probably -- assuming there are restaurants to go to. Restaurants, like hair salons and other mom 'n' pop service businesses, operate close to the edge at all times, and most cannot absorb being out of business for an extended time.   Even good cooks are going to be tired of their own cooking in another few months, but will there be alternatives other than mediocre chain restaurants?

Low-wage workers.  Health care workers are on the front lines of this pandemic, but there is a group of people who are very quietly going about their business, making sure that we have what we need.  They are the people for whom the GOP has nothing but contempt, and the Democrats have long forgotten, enthralled as they have been with technocrats and big donors.  It's the low-wage workers -- the supermarket cashiers and stock clerks and night crews.  It's the restaurant cooks and packagers, the food delivery drivers and Amazon warehouse workers.  These folks are going to work, exchanging money with and handing receipts to people whose COVID-19 status is unknown.  They are keeping us stay-at-homes supplied with what we need (except toilet paper, there's still a shortage as I write this), and they're doing it in most cases for minimum wage or little more.  Last week I was at an Aldi, watching a woman not much taller than I am, putting bottles of ketchup on a shelf.  I said to her, "Thank you for your service."  Now military families may be outraged at that, but with military service, and certainly with health-care work, there is a certain amount of assumed risk.  Supermarket workers aren't usually required as part of their jobs to be exposed to deadly viruses on a daily basis.

These people, not corporate executives (especially the ones Trump is allowing to do commercials at his daily pressers), are clearly the ones keeping what little of the economy remains functional going.  And yet, the GOP is worried that some laid-off low-wage workers might get a few bucks more on unemployment for a few months than their wages.

When this is over, I hope we remember what they are trying to do every single day to keep us stocked with groceries, medications, and paper goods.  And that we fight for better wages for them.

Great Big Stuff.  I linked here to the eponymous song from "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"  deliberately, which you'll understand about 1:25 into the video.  But for the rest of us, what will our housebound ways mean for the consumer society?  We're not driving, so we don't really need to buy a new car right now.  Designer clothes?  Why, when we're all at home.  And you know what?  Being comfortable and walking around the house barefoot is a lot nicer than teetering around in stiletto heels.  Our dishes are perfectly functional, we're watching movies on TV without 20 bucks worth of soda and popcorn, and we're somehow managing to thrive even with the malls closed.  The only Great Big Stuff anyone seems to want these days is a 30-pack of toilet paper from Costco.  Will we go back to our consumerist ways when this is over?  Or will we decide that we LIKE having fewer cars on the roads, less traffic, lower credit card payments every month because we are charging less consumption.

Medical Conspiracy Theories.  So where are the anti-vaxxers now?  Where are the snake oil salesmen -- the Dr. Axes and the herbalists and the people claiming that something you pull out of the soil in its native form is by definition always better than anything that actual scientists come up with.  These people have been pretty silent these days, while everyone is listening to the great Anthony Fauci explain in language even an idiot can understand what clinical trials are, how a Phase I trial is primarily about safety with efficacy only as a secondary endpoint and why often later trial phases are necessary.  He's educating people about how fast tracking works, how vaccines and treatments will work, and why taking chloroquine in fish tank cleaner is not the same as taking it in a tolerated-dose-tested tablet.

And then there are the health care workers in the trenches -- the doctors and nurses and aides and PAs and NPs and everyone out there who is reporting to work in what is essentially a war zone, abandoned by an incompetent and narcissistic president who STILL refuses to acknowledge what his dithering has done.  These are the people that too many Americans have lumped in with what they call the Great Medical Establishment Conspiracy -- money-grubbing crooks who do nothing but steal money from people, unlike the Great and Virtuous Herbalists and other quacks who also sell stuff online, but for some reason they have of late had more credibility than actual scientists -- on both the right AND the left.  Health care workers do miracles every day -- and now they are likely to be asked to take on the responsibility of determining whose life is saving and whose is not -- because there are not going to be enough ventilators and respirators to go around, thanks to Trump and his "pro-life" GOP.

I hope that we will be kind to all these people and stop the nonsense when this is over.  Yes, let's hold price-gouging pharma companies' feet to the fire.  But let's stop this assumption that science and medicine know nothing.

For more on the post-COVID-19 medical landscape, listen to Dr. Zubin Damania:

Universal health care.'s that "we can't afford universal health care, let's just tinker around the edges of the ACA" working for us?  Seriously.  How's that employer-based health insurance working for people at a time when unemployment claims number in the millions?  COBRA?  Really?  MY COBRA was almost $700/month.  When too many Americans wouldn't be able to scrape together $400 for an emergency, how do they pay that?  Those with families can have COBRA premiums of $1500-$2500/month.  How are they supposed to pay that?  And those without income for a sizable part of the year and who have a subsidized ACA plan may find themselves having to pay back that subsidy at the end of the year BECAUSE of their lack of income.

You can hate Bernie Sanders all you want to for staying in the race long after it's been established that the clueless and out-of-touch Joe Biden will be the one to run against Trump in November.  But if he stays in to keep the Democrats' feet to the fire on universal health care in the face of this pandemic, he'll be doing a public service.  Because the insurance model of health care delivery falls apart in the face of a pandemic like this.

And finally.....

Big Government and the I Got Mine And Fuck You society.  As I write this, Florida's extreme right-wing, Trumpazoid governor, Ron DeSantis is refusing to issue a stay-at-home order until Trump's task force tells him what to do.  Other governors are complaining that they are having to compete with other states for personal protective equipment for their states' health care workers -- like medieval street rabble scrambling for the few potatoes falling off the royal cart.  Viruses don't care about states' rights, or what the Heritage Foundation thinks about big federal government.  There really ARE things that are a national problem. When unemployment is going to be at 30% nationwide, relocating for a job is not even an option.  Every part of our vulture capitalist financial system is up for questioning now and if ANYTHING good comes out of this, it's going to be a long-belated end to the trickle-down idea of capitalism that Ronald Reagan foisted on us in the 1980s, and which the GOP has been using to screw over working people ever since.  It's going to be an end to the idea of "I don't want to pay for your health care."  Because guess what?  We are ALL going to be paying for each other's health care with this, one way or another.

We are NOT rugged individuals carving out the way west with our bare hands.  We are NOT Pa Wilder, building the Little House in the Big Woods and the Little House on the Prairie.   Yes, we are individuals, but we are also living in and part of a larger community.  Right now we are taking care of each other by staying away from as many people as possible so we don't infect them.  We go grocery shopping for our 85-year-old neighbor and our immunosuppressed friend.  We create Zoom meetings to keep in touch while we're at home.  We call people to make sure they're OK.  We take care of each other.

And when this is over, let's continue to do that.  Because it has become clear that I Got Mine And Fuck You is not a sustainable or civilized model to live in.