Tag Archives: COVID-19

Divine Retribution in the Age of Coronavirus

Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul contracted COVID-19 after holding up a coronavirus relief package. Some people said it was a sign that there is a God. If that’s true, there are many others who probably deserve some divine retribution.

The Speech Trump Must but Cannot Give

Trump's Oval Office speech did the opposite of what it was ...

Some of my commentary about politics is presented in the form of “advice” to the ruling classes. Please understand: I don’t really expect them to take my advice. My advice is not really directed toward them. It is a theoretical exercise.

I am really speaking to you, the people. My goal is to set a standard of behavior and policy to which we ought to expect the ruling class to conform. I set a minimal bar. I know that the ruling classes will not meet the minimum standard to which we are entitled. I want our rulers’ failures to be placed in the sharpest possible relief so we can judge them accordingly and take the next logical step, getting rid of them.

If I were a speechwriter, I would advise President Trump to deliver something like the following from the Oval Office on national television. He will not. He cannot. The system won’t allow it.

But he has to. And he won’t. Which is why the regime is on the way out.

“My fellow Americans,

“I know you are scared. I’m scared too. Anyone who is paying attention is frightened.

“We will lose some of our sons, our daughters, our spouses, our parents and our friends. Even after the coronavirus has been eradicated, it will take years to recover from the economic shock. Pain, suffering and death are inevitable. We will lose many of our best people.

“But I want you to know that we will get through this. America survived the Civil War, which killed 2% of the population at the time, the Spanish Flu epidemic and the Great Depression. The COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as a challenge on par with those horrors, but not greater.

“Today I want to assure you that no American will come out of this economically ruined. It will be tough. But no one will lose their home to eviction or foreclosure. No one will go hungry. The United States government has ample resources to meet the basic needs and necessities of every American. This assurance goes beyond the end date of the present crisis. No one will be asked in 6 or 12 or 18 months when we come out on the other side of this, to pay back rent or back mortgage or giant medical bills.

“This assurance extends to noncitizens. The COVID-19 virus does not care if you are a native-born citizen, naturalized, a permanent resident or an undocumented worker, so neither do I. We are all in this together. COVID-19 is a lowest-common-denominator problem; neglect of the physical and medical needs of the most disadvantaged among us will increase the rate of transmission throughout the entire population. For the time being there are no Americans, there are only people who happen to live in the United States.

“This and many other decisions I will be making in the coming days, weeks and months may be unpopular. I take full responsibility. If you disapprove of my policies, please vote against me in the coming election. Which I personally guarantee you will take place even if most votes are cast online.

“There are no Democrats or Republicans, only the people of the United States. This is not a time to promote conservative, moderate or liberal values—only intelligent, fact-based decision-making. I am open to any and all suggestions of how to address the healthcare and economic challenges that lie ahead of us. For that reason, I am setting up a special White House telephone hotline and website in order to encourage academics, experts and ordinary citizens among our extraordinarily talented people to contact us with any and all ideas that might help.

“Because this is a global pandemic, I am asking leaders along with top medical and economic experts from every country to join me via teleconference at the United Nations next week for an open-ended international discussion of what the world can do to slow and eventually stop the spread of COVID-19. To those countries with whom the United States does not have diplomatic relations like Iran, North Korea and Cuba, we wish to restore full diplomatic relations now.

“It never hurts to talk. Nations with whom we have fallen out should know that our attitude has changed, that we want to engage with them on every level and to help them as much as we can. I am personally reaching out to the leaders of countries that have been hit hardest by COVID-19 such as China, Iran and Italy. High-level liaisons will keep lines of communication open at all times.

“As you know, I have been personally criticized for failing to take the coronavirus threat seriously enough early enough and for failing to order the manufacturing of disease testing kits. Harry Truman, who sat at this desk 75 years ago, said that the buck stops here and he was right. I screwed up. I am sorry.

“As president I am powerful. But I can’t make the clock run backwards. All I can do now is learn from my mistakes, roll up my sleeves and give you my very best, as well as the very best leadership at all levels of government. Toward that end I will provide you with daily press briefings during which I will accept many questions from journalists from around the world, during which I will let you know what your government is doing on your behalf.

“My goal is to get every American tested for the novel coronavirus and for the antibodies that show whether you have ever had COVID-19. I will keep you informed about the development of the tests and their distribution and where and how you will be able to get them.

“No one should suffer or die because they cannot receive medical care, whether for coronavirus or other afflictions, due to an overwhelmed healthcare system. We will create a state-of-the-art referral system to transport everyone who needs care to a facility where they can get it.

“The $2 trillion stimulus package that I signed into law after a bipartisan vote in both the House and the Senate is merely a start. We are going to issue regular payments to citizens and businesses to make sure that they can meet their expenses as long as the crisis continues. Those payments will also be put into the hands of noncitizens including undocumented workers, despite my belief that Americans should always come first because leaving out the undocumented means endangering Americans too. Special outreach efforts will make sure that the homeless not only receive their payments but are provided with proper long-term shelter.

“We will get through this. We will defeat the coronavirus. Then we can mourn our dead and resume—as we must—the vibrant political debate that makes our country great.

“Good night.”

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

My Dead French Grandfather Helped Me with COVID-19

Image result for deserted roads covid-19

After my mother died on February 7th I gathered her valuables and photo albums and drove home to New York. But there wasn’t enough room in the car for everything I wanted to keep.

There were tchotchkes like a silly white ceramic salt and pepper shaker in the shape of Arab kings. It wasn’t my taste but it had been there my entire life so I wanted it. There was a box of birth certificates and other official documents from her parents and grandparents back in France. Her bike. She bought a wooden chair for five dollars at a garage sale, stripped off the hideous paint and discovered it was early 19th century Shaker; I didn’t want to let that go.

One more trip to Dayton was all I needed.

Her house sold faster than I expected. Closing is in a month. The buyers want to move in then. So I’d have to get my stuff out. My realtor was generous. She offered to pack everything up and store it for me until the end of the coronavirus crisis. But as a rule I prefer to do it myself. Things you care about get lost and screwed up when you leave them to others.

COVID-19 be damned, I packed up to drive from New York to Ohio.

It was going to be a cannonball run. Twelve hours from New York to Dayton, one day to pack, twelve hours back. I’d only need to get gas once each way. If I needed to urinate, I’d do it on the side of the Pennsylvania’s Interstate 80. As Gary Numan noted, the automobile is the epitome of social distancing.

Aside from the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, my plan entailed the risk of being trapped at some checkpoint or forcibly quarantined as lockdowns continue to spread. Ohio has a “shelter in place” order. There are rumors that nonessential travel verifiable by documentation has been prohibited. The White House wants anyone who leaves New York to self-quarantine for 14 days. As of this writing, however, the highways are supposedly open. But will they be on Friday?

I couldn’t sleep last night.

What if I got sick somewhere in western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio? I wouldn’t have any clue where to go. Would I be able to drive the remainder of the way to Dayton? Would I get stuck there? If I were on my way back, would I be in good enough shape to make it back to New York? There were too many variables to feel good about making the trip.

It’s not like I am particularly risk-averse. I’ve filed conflict reporting, including from Afghanistan. But something kept telling me I was being stupid.

Then my grandfather spoke to me. Not literally. He died over 30 years ago. But I could hear him in my mind, telling me a story for the umpteenth time, so clearly that I re-remembered the timbre of his voice.

The story concerned his best friend.

When France fell to the Germans in 1940, the country was partitioned. The western Atlantic coast and northern France including Paris were subjected to direct Nazi occupation. The center and the south became known as the absurdly misnamed “Free Zone,” governed for the first couple of years of World War II by the treasonous collaborationist regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain. My grandfather and his family lived in the free zone. His boyhood best friend lived in Paris.

A member of the French Resistance, he learned that Jews and others deported to Eastern Europe would never return, that they were being mass murdered by the Germans. He determined to save his friend, a Jew living in Paris.

Using forged papers that could have gotten him shot on the spot had they been discovered, he illegally crossed the line of demarcation into the occupied zone and made his way to his friend’s apartment in Paris.

You and your family, he told his friend as they smoked together, must leave at once. I have arranged forged documents for you. I will take you over the mountains to Spain where you will be safe.

His friend trusted him implicitly. I understand, he said. Then he went to talk to his wife.

After a time, his friend returned to the living room to inform him that they would not be leaving with my grandfather. They had a beautiful rent-controlled apartment, nice furniture. He specifically mentioned a fine china cabinet. Holocaust rumors seemed so over-the-top. Perhaps, he told my grandfather, everything will be alright.

After liberation, my grandfather returned to Paris where he learned that months after their meeting, his friend, his friend’s wife and their two daughters had been deported to Auschwitz. They almost certainly were gassed upon arrival.

The apartment was bare, the door wide open. Someone, neighbors probably, had taken everything, even the china cabinet.

“My friend died over an apartment and some stuff,” my grandfather remembered. He was still angry. “Never die over stuff. Society can collapse in an instant. Accept the truth, pivot and never look back. It’s the difference between life and death. Never risk death over a stupid china cabinet.”

COVID-19 isn’t World War II and driving to Ohio is hardly on par with waiting out the Nazi occupation of Paris. Yet my grandfather’s lesson was pertinent. I nearly risked myself and everyone that I came into contact over stuff.

Stuff doesn’t matter. People matter.

I’m sure my realtor will pack everything up diligently.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Would You like Some Coronavirus with Your Wealth?

The coronavirus crisis is laying bare massive inequities in society. What’s interesting though is that because we are dealing with a contagious virus, even the rich and powerful can no longer hide from the effects of their perfidy and greed.

3 Things the Government Must Do to Avoid Economic and Social Collapse

Image result for coronavirus closed sign

Americans don’t expect much from their government. But even by the standards of a nation with one of the flimsiest social safety nets in the Western world, the inability and unwillingness of both major political parties to manage and solve the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic is shocking.

President Trump’s lack of leadership is well documented elsewhere so I won’t go into detail here. Democrats aren’t blameless; the DNC-engineered pre-Super Tuesday soft coup against Bernie Sanders replaced a frontrunner whose prescient ideas were tailormade for this crisis with a babbling dolt without an original thought in his foggy brain.

Congress is squabbling over an economic stimulus package as if they had all the time in the world. My favorite part was Mitch McConnell letting the Senate take the weekend off. Hey, Japan, not cool about Pearl Harbor but we’ll get back to you about declaring war in a week or whatever. Meanwhile, experts predict that unemployment could go as high as 30%, significantly worse than the depth of the Great Depression.

But now is not the time to cast blame. The ship is sinking. We can make the captain walk the plank later. Right now we have to fix the problem.

First, we have to save lives.

Trump says he doesn’t want to “nationalize” American companies. Actually, no one’s suggesting that. But they should. This is still a spectacularly wealthy nation with incredible resources and brilliant entrepreneurs. Shortages of face masks, testing kits, ventilators, rubbing alcohol and so on are inexcusable. The federal government must immediately requisition factories, hire workers directly and place manufacturing of needed supplies on an emergency war footing. If a company is already set up to make something we need yet refuses to do so, it should be nationalized and put to work for the American people.

In the fight against COVID-19, the biggest danger to the privileged is the poor health of the underprivileged. You can hunker down in the Hamptons but your newly-purchased freezer full of hoarded steaks won’t protect you from infection as long as others are too vulnerable to protect themselves. Some of the 17 million vacant homes in the United States should be immediately seized to house America’s half a million homeless and other vulnerable populations. The vast majority of prisoners, many of whom are awaiting trial, convicted of minor offenses or convicted of serious crimes but safe to release, should be immediately released from facilities whose conditions create cesspools of contagion.

Healthcare must be free. Hospitals and doctors should send their bills to the government. That debate, along with the canard that we have the best healthcare system in the world, is obviously over.

Second, we have to save the economy.

I’m not normally one to agree with Thomas Friedman, but he’s right when he points out that economic collapse will kill people on a scale on par with COVID-19: “Either we let many of us get the coronavirus, recover and get back to work—while doing our utmost to protect those most vulnerable to being killed by it. Or, we shut down for months to try to save everyone everywhere from this virus—no matter their risk profile — and kill many people by other means, kill our economy and maybe kill our future.”

I don’t think we really need to “let” many of us get the coronavirus. That has already happened.

News coverage that emphasizes test results is an idiotic distraction. Roughly 1/10 of 1% of American citizens have been tested. We know nothing about the COVID-19 status of 99.9% of the population. We don’t call elections based on 0.1% of the poll results and we can’t draw real conclusions from the testing so far.

However, there is reason to believe that many, many people have already had it.

Roughly one out of five people who get the coronavirus will never know it because they are asymptomatic. COVID-19 was first identified in early December in Wuhan, China. Although the median incubation period is 5 days, it can be as long as 11 days. That means we are talking about a pandemic that dates back to late November 2019.

When did it arrive in the United States? Probably in a day or two, the amount of time it took for one asymptomatic and/or incubating carrier—people like this account for about 10% of new infections—to board a plane and fly across the Pacific Ocean. Roughly 10,000 people a day flew from China to the United States at that time.

This is not a new thing—and you should feel good about that.

Let me explain.

The number of new cases in the U.S. has been doubling about every three days. Get a calculator and start multiplying by two: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024. That’s 10 three-day periods, aka the month of December. Keep going. By the end of January you’re at over a million. By February, a billion. The U.S. population is about 330 million. So when New York governor Andrew Cuomo says that 40 to 60% of the population is going to get the coronavirus, he’s being conservative.

The rate of transmission will stop increasing exponentially at some point. Some patients will die. The virus will run out of new Americans to infect. But mostly, we are going to recover and emerge with full or partial immunity to COVID-19. Many, many Americans have already had coronavirus, recovered, and are now fine.

Must they stay at home too? Maybe not. The U.S. government must pull out all the stops to test everyone, not just for current infection, but for past infection. A team at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York has developed a promising test for acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that lets you know if you’ve ever had it. We don’t know if it’s possible to be reinfected by coronavirus or, if so, whether a second bout would be equally or less severe. But there are promising signs that the human immune response can tackle COVID-19.

If COVID-19 patients can emerge with total or near total immunity to the strain, they can help people who are sick. There’s no risk of them transmitting the infection or of contracting it. They are the key to restarting our economy. We can’t waste a moment finding those people and getting them back to work.

Third, we have to save people’s individual economies.

As we saw after the 2008-09 Great Recession, there’s not much point saving banks or corporations or the stock market without targeting individual American citizens for direct relief. Bernie Sanders has proposed that the United States Treasury pay out $2000 per person per month until the end of the coronavirus crisis. Sounds right.

Republicans want an absurd regressive form of means testing—the poorer are you are, the less you would receive. Saying they don’t want to subsidize millionaires, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi also want means testing but from the other direction.

Both are ridiculous. There’s no time for detailed analysis or a new government bureaucracy to determine who gets what. Checks and wire transfers need to go out yesterday. So what if Bill Gates gets one?

It’s time to act, not to blame. But if there’s no action or if the action is late and/or insufficient, there will be plenty of blame to go around. And there will be no limit to the rage of the survivors who are suffering against politicians who did not do what was needed to be done.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

The Government That Cried Wolf

For as long as anyone can remember, the United States government has wallowed in fear mongering. Now there’s actually a real legitimate threat to the national health, and many people, especially the young, aren’t listening to warnings.

Think, Don’t Hoard: How to Survive the End Times

Image result for afghanistan 1999

It feels like the end times. A mysterious invisible killer stocks the land. Wild rumors abound. The government is useless. There’s no sense that anyone knows anything, much less is in charge. Could America become a failed state?

Yes, but not yet. Yes, but not because of coronavirus. Late-stage capitalism will ultimately destroy the current sociopolitical governmental system, not COVID-19. A vaccine will come online either later this year or early next year; that will be the beginning of the end of this scourge. Before then, many if not most Americans will have contracted the disease and recovered from it. Businesses will reopen. People will go back to work. The stock market will resume its climb.

In the meantime, many of us are wondering: how would/will we survive in an apocalyptic scenario without a somewhat benevolent government to run things?

I have good news for you: it is possible. Not easy. Not fun. But it can be done.

I know because I have seen it.

For decades Afghanistan was the epitome of a “failed state,” a nation whose government is no longer able or willing to supply essential services to its citizens. The 1978 CIA-backed overthrow of a Russian-supported regime prompted the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, which was followed after withdrawal by a brutal, grinding civil war partly resolved by the victory of the Taliban in 1996. They ruled until 2001 but didn’t built much infrastructure before being themselves driven out of power by the United States after 9/11. I was there under the Taliban, long before the U.S. and NATO began reconstruction in the mid-2000s.

Afghans were utterly dependent on themselves. Not only did the Taliban government fail to provide services like mail delivery and garbage collection, the Taliban made people’s lives miserable through arbitrary edicts and a psychotic religious police force that beat Afghans in the streets willy-nilly.

Try to imagine, if you can, what it would be like to live in a country that didn’t have a single inch of paved road, just muddy ruts. No one has a phone. There are no newspapers. Radios and televisions are banned, which is fine because you have no electricity and no stations are broadcasting.

Inside your house, there’s no running water. You have to walk to a communal well if you are lucky enough to have one nearby that isn’t polluted. There’s a good chance that a local thug controls the well and forces you to pay for water. It gets blazing hot in the summer, but there’s no air conditioning. It’s freezing cold in the winter but there’s no heat. You could burn some wood but you can’t find any because everyone has already chopped down all the trees.

Under the Taliban you can’t send your daughter to school. But you can’t send your son either because there probably isn’t a local school at all. No one has work as we know it. You exchange odd jobs in a 100% unemployment economy where cash has stopped circulating; everything relies on barter.

There is a certain freedom. Without a public records office you don’t need a deed to move into an empty house. But of course you can’t sell it if you leave. There’s no DMV so if somehow do you acquire a car you can drive it regardless of your age. On the other hand, if someone steals it, there’s no police to report it to.

If you did get that car, you probably would only want to drive it around your neighborhood. If you tried to drive to a different town, you would almost certainly be robbed and killed.

Sounds like it would be impossible to survive, right? But millions of Afghans did. Some of them even had children. Life went on. How? It’s almost unfathomable for us Americans, so accustomed to our creature comforts, to imagine.

Not that they could have afforded to anyway, but Afghans did not hoard. Situations in which survival is precarious require you to be nimble. That includes being able to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice. If you manage to accumulate some possessions, you want something highly portable: cash (in Afghanistan, that meant US dollars), jewelry, gemstones. A year’s worth of toilet paper weighs you down.

I have met more than my fair share of survivalists in the United States. Typically their instinct is to hunker down on a remote plot of land, stockpile weapons and supplies, fortify a perimeter and arm up to fend off potential marauders. They are foolish. When the crap hits the fan, the best armed man will not be able to fight off a dozen invaders. It’s smarter to pack up and go if your area turns into a battle zone.

What you really need to stock up on are two items: personal relationships and IQ points. Both make the difference between life and death.

Good friends welcome one other into their homes. If one home is lost, they can squeeze together into a second one. A good friend might have a skill or a possession that you might need—they can stitch up a wound or drive you somewhere in their car.

You make yourself useful in a failed state by exactly the opposite means you would use in ours. In the United States in 2020, it pays to have excellent skills in one or two areas, to be the best at what you do in your specialty. Not in Afghanistan in 2000. Dangerous places work best for people who are renaissance men and women, those with a wide variety of skills. Learn to do a lot of things fairly well. Shoot a gun, drive a car, cook, sew. Translate a foreign language, ride a motorcycle, fish, hunt. You can sell those skills to people who don’t have them.

Most of all, stay sharp and think nimbly. Hone your instincts. Watch for changes that might affect you and the people you care about. Prepare to drop everything you are doing at a second’s notice and take off if need be. We are all descended from people who lived this way. Those who didn’t died. Survival is in your DNA.

I don’t think you’ll need raw survivalism for the coronavirus apocalypse. But it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)